Escape London, to Prison

1 Nov

Escape London has been ominously quiet of late.  Apologies.  Life has been encroaching upon valuable writing time.  It’s becoming apparent that to properly blog, one must set aside a decent amount of time each week for due care and attention, not so easy when said blog’s subject is focussed on trying to get away from a computer screen.  I never owned one of those hideous Tamogotchi things for the simple reason that I didn’t want the added responsibility of keeping a digital-being alive.  Life was always hard enough as it was back then, simultaneously trying to maintain a steady flow of penny sweets and catching as many frogs as possible was time consuming.  Perhaps I should have followed in my Brother’s footsteps and gone down the Tamogotchi route, the experience would have better prepared me for the on-line beast I’m now trying to raise.  Having said that, he abandoned his after about 2 days, preferring to let my Mother (who was infinitely better equipped) tend for his pet.  At least I’m still trying to help mine grow.  I still have hopes and dreams about its future, I just need to learn that Escape London’s needs come first.  The frogs will have to take a back seat for a while…

Frogs - they can be time consuming

Despite my lack of reporting, there has been opportunity to flee London to pastures new.  Most recently, courtesy of a surprise trip to Oxford and an overnight stay in a prison cell.  This sounds as if I were caught frequenting with the wrong side of the law and perhaps there would be a more exciting story if this were true.  It’s not.  My girlfriend simply understands, begrudgingly accepts (and secretly embraces the fact) that I have a penchant for weirdness.  Generally this rears it’s head with a morbid fascination in Serial Killers, an admiration for criminal masterminds and all tales of unlikely heroism and adventure.  So, as a surprise she arranged for a couple of days in Oxford, staying at the rather magnificent Mal Maison , a working prison up until the 1970s.  They have done a brilliant conversion, complete with Shawshank-style interiors, imposing ‘cell’ doors and moody lighting throughout.  The difference being that Mal Maison have gone to town with luxurious fittings and interior design, making this feel like a prison for very. important. prisoners.  The restaurant and bar were also superb, with great service, amazing food and suitably fancy drinks.  There would be no attempts to tunnel out of this prison, quite the opposite, we left reluctantly.  A 25 year sentence would be welcomed here.

...The only prison where inmates plead to have their sentences extended

A quick note on Oxford.  It’s great!  For those of you who have never visited I would heartily recommend it, we managed to fit LOADS into our trip.  We punted our way down picturesque waterways until we reached the Thames and the Oxford Boat Club where we lost our nerve at the sight of the Oxford Rowing Club in training and promptly about-turned.  We visited the Harry Potter-esque Bodleian Library which was every bit as magical as you could hope for.  The covered market is also well worth a look whilst there.  As far as a short break away from London goes, Oxford manages to tick every box, it’s easy to get to (1hr 30min from Paddington), has plenty to keep people occupied, hundreds of places to explore and has a prison to sleep in.  What more could you want?

A Magical place to learn

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Escape London: to the West Highland Way

7 Oct

Escape London (EL) wants you to visit the wilds of Scotland and her beautiful scenery.  It’s an incredible place, allows infinite adventure and for the most part, smells nice.  Scotland shares the same land mass as England.  Some people find this hard to believe, but its true…Scotland is not THAT far away.  Yet, ashamedly EL has only been there twice.  Once on a jolly to Edinburgh and more recently to walk along the famous, glorious West Highland Way, Rob Roy’s old stomping ground.  Quite the adventure.

When EL says adventure, picture Lord of the Rings; now exchange Aragorn for Withnail, Gimli for Rab C. Nesbitt , Legolas for Begbie, Frodo for Wee Man, Gandalf for Uncle Monty and Gollum for…Gollum.  Now for every sword drawn in the film insert a pint consumed and you’ll get the idea.  Our group consisted of those who were unfit and those who were exeedingly unfit.  But between us we shared a great determination and a love of the outdoors, what more can you ask for?

Taken near the start of the journey...

We travelled from Euston to Glasgow and then on to Helensburgh by rail for £94 return (1st class on the way back worked out cheaper than standard for some reason).
From Helensburgh we got a lift to Loch Lomond and caught a ferry from Inverburg over the Loch to Rowardennon.
Once at Rowardennon you basically head North until time runs out on your trip.  The ideal would be to reach Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis.
All equipment was taken with us in backpacks; you’ll needs tents, sleeping bags, roll mats and warm clothing for the journey.  Sturdy footwear is essential.
The journey home is a rather special one, described here as one of the most stunning rail journeys on Earth…

The train journey to Scotland IS undeniably long, around 6hrs (8hr including delays) and of course, in order to fill the time we had a drink…an 8hr drink.  Escape London will not even attempt to explain the route from Glasgow to Helensburgh, there’s no point.  Suffice to say, our group blended nicely with the locals outside of Glasgow Station. Fortunately we had free accommodation secured for the first night; Neil, one of our intrepid crew, has a house near the start of the hike.  We were greeted after our mammoth drinking session by Neil’s Mum, complete with a hearty broth and rounds of whiskey (Escape London should point out that the Whiskey was at our request, Neil’s Mum is not an alcoholic, but she has no sense of smell…interesting fact).  We soon passed out.  Escape London ‘slept’ up-right in a chair next to a drafty window using a conveniently placed door mat for a blanket.  The perfect preface to 3 days of arduous walking.

Escape London would like to seize this moment to inform you that this blog is merely a vessel to give people ideas, to lend a few pointers for adventurous people to follow…loosely.  Embarking on a 14 hr drinking session, then sleeping for 2hr the night before departing on a 70mile hike is probably not best practise.  It was fun, but the following morning was not.  A 6am wake up call, a fresh cup of coffee and off we went on a short drive to Loch Lomond and the start of the hike.

Arriving at the Loch was strangely surreal.  A hazy mist hung low over the mirror-like water and as the early morning sun slowly burned through the haze everything appeared out of focus.  For us anyway.  We loaded our huge backpacks onto benches and sat with heads resting on arms, groaning from time to time.  We didn’t look good.  Here we waited for the Ferry which would make the journey South and across the Loch.  So far, so un-surreal, but the tranquil morning was about to be destroyed.  A coach load of oriental tourists arrived, followed by another.  Barely able to lift the weight of our shrivelled, dehydrated brains, we managed to twist our necks and squint in their direction.  At least 50, camera snapping, smiling Chinese students descended down to the side of the Loch.  The sound of hundreds of shutter lenses filled the morning air.  An innumerable amount of photos were taken of every single aspect of the car park, the Loch, the trees, the grass and us.  We even witnessed friends taking pictures of one another whilst in picture-taking position, snapped and saved in digital format for eternity.  It felt like a bad trip, like all of a sudden the bats from Fear and Loathing were descending upon our rotting corpses, intent on seizing every possible pixel of our anguish and posting it on-line for the world to see.  Perhaps Escape London sounds a little melodramatic here but this whole paragraph could have been summed up with ‘we were pretty hungover’, which would have been dull.  We ran for our ferry.

Sitting together on the ferry, gliding across the beautiful water we all suddenly felt alive.  Hangovers were forgotten.  We were suddenly in the middle of some truly staggering natural beauty and for the first time the group felt genuine excitement about what we were doing.  The scale of the task also began to sink in.  The ferry trip alone was around 20min in duration, going rather inconveniently in the opposite direction to our route.  Glancing at the shoreline it was difficult to discern an actual path, however it was obvious that the terrain was far from flat.  The Loch itself stretched away into the North, further into the distance than our bleary eyes could fathom.  We soon arrived at the most Southerly tip and start of our hike, each of us laden to the point of collapse with largely useless camping provisions.  Only Sarg was able to stand comfortably.  He had packed according to the Internationally recognised code of the part-Irish, pale-faced fool.  He had a sleeping bag, a couple of packs of fags and a strong desire to drink whiskey.  He did manage to get his hands on a waterproof, which thankfully was surplus to requirements anyway.  We took solace in the fact that we’d hidden a rock in his backpack to make life slightly more uncomfortable.

Smiling, hungover faces before the walk begins...

Rhythm is a word rarely used when describing anyone in our group.  It simply doesn’t quite work, yet for these 3 days of physical exertion we each found our own natural walking rhythm and technique.  And they all worked pretty damn well.  The funniest, by some margin, came in the form of Ian, our very own Captain Escargot.  As the time passed and the miles began to thread slowly by underfoot, it became clear (to Ian at least) that his only chance of finishing the walk was if he employed the ‘perpetual motion’ method.  Escape London is using the term ‘motion’ loosely; there were times, when ascending a few particularly steep sections of the route that looking back at Ian was similar to gazing at a perfectly still image of the Scottish landscape. But it worked, we would all set off at our various paces, a few of us (Jack, Sarg and Escape London) truly believing we were achieving SAS levels of performance.  Neil and Nick seemed nicely in synch as well, walking at a leisurely yet determined gait throughout.  (Perhaps we have discovered our own natural phenomena, as when women spend too much time together and their feminine cycles fall into synch, so as we progressed our footsteps fell naturally in time with one another.  I may conduct a proper experiment and try and get it published.  In fact that’s a shit idea, I won’t.)  And then came Ian.  Ian, just shuffled his way, unceasingly towards the final resting point of each day.  We worked out that on the second day’s exertions Ian ‘walked’ at his snail’s pace for a full 14miles without a single break.  Water and food was consumed on the move, he even overtook the rest of us a couple of times as we lay and recuperated in the sun.

The West Highland Way really does need to be experienced first-hand to really appreciate its beauty and the allure of the challenging path.  At one point we discovered a wondrous wood that quite possibly only exists in our minds.  It was literally teaming with nature.  Waterfalls sparkled in golden sunshine, little squirrely creatures sat on mushrooms playing cards and smoking cigars and streams laced their way lazily through the trees.  Bears lay in the deep pine-needle carpet casually receiving massages from Caramel Bunnies.  They didn’t even look up as the 3 of us came staggering along the path.  We ran down the hills, not due to our enormous levels of energy but because it was easier than fighting against gravity.  The bouncy platform also made our strides huge, we positively bounded through the forest like mountain stags, pausing only to bathe ourselves in the  streams that followed our route downwards.  This all sounds a little fantastical…because of course, it is; anyone who actually saw us would have witnessed a vastly different spectacle…6 dirty, smelly, foul-mouthed homeless looking men stooping to drink out of puddles on the forest floor.

The only other aspect that remains unmentioned is of course the free camping.  Scottish law allows free camping all along the West Highland Way, you can literally find an area you like the look of and set up camp.  Perfect.  It is absolutely vital that you hold respect for the environment around you and leave no trace in your wake as you leave your site.  For those of you who like your amenities, there are campsites along the way, but that’s cheating (admittedly we cheated on the first night).  The feeling of camping alone in the wild is all too rare these days and was an experience that will last long in the memory.  Plus you can build a PROPER campfire.  Our group has a certain, bordering on obsessive, affinity towards fire.  So entranced with the dancing flames were we, that at some point around 4am, Escape London recalls slapping Nick on the back, only to discover a layer of frost covering the back of his coat.  Looking behind for the first time in hours was like looking at a scene from a Christmas card, everywhere shone white in the moonlight, ice covered everything.  We’d sat, facing the fire for so long that each of our backs were frozen without us realising.  That’s fire love.

In short, get yourselves to Scotland.  And explore.

Escape London, in a pair of speedos…

21 Sep

Escape London recently decided to return to his pond weed roots.  He went swimming.  It’s a commonly known fact that swimming has always been the second best thing a human can possibly do with their clothes off.  Apart from the obvious, swimming sits upon a watery throne as the single most free-spirited pastime us mere mortals can enjoy.  After-all when you’re in water, you FLOAT.  It’s like flying without the horrid inevitability that a face full of earth awaits your fall.  When swimming, WE’RE in control.  Touch the bottom?  It’s our decision…(although having been programmed from a young age to fetch rubber bricks from the depths of a pool, we invariably head straight down within seconds…)

An essential part of our childhood development

Escape London would recommend finding your own patch of wild water to lay claim to and explore.  Sharing a pool with 10,000 screaming, over-excited children, intent on drowning one another soon loses it’s appeal, generally after you’ve ‘accidentally’ elbowed 3 of them in the face.  Admittedly, Escape London feels slightly guilty for his hatred of children in swimming pools, they’re simply unable to repress their absolute delight at the sheer volume of fun surrounding them.  It’s different for adults, over the years the International swimming pool code has slowly woven it’s way into our very existence…we have learned to accept that running on pool side will never be tolerated, bombing is unfathomably frowned upon and petting must only be attempted if both parties are absolutely positive the coast is clear.  Whoever designed that sign is a cruel, but brilliantly effective fun tyrant and has power beyond their own reckoning.  Imagine if our highstreets adopted a similar approach:  ‘Will Patrons kindly refrain from: Pillaging, Pissing, Vomiting, Smashing each other’s face in, Setting fire to other people’s property, Shooting people in the back of the head’ etc posted every 10m down our roads…all our government would then require is a task force of highly trained whistle blowers, dressed in bright uniform and sitting in high chairs, to instil the fear of God into those foolish enough to break the code.  Just a suggestion.

The Internationally recognised rules of swimming-pool engagement

Does going for a swim at your local pool really COUNT as Escaping London?  Escape London will leave it with you to decide.  Obviously it’s preferable to head for the wilderness, swan-diving  from perilous cliffs into crystal clear coastal waters and away from the beady eyes of the fun police.  It’s here that the International Swimming code of conduct is forgotten, left to disintegrate like the skank around a pool filter.  You can run, jump, flip, scream with glee, play fight, pet away like sea rabbits and generally laugh in the face of the fun tyrant and his cronies.  Escape London likes to jump off things whenever the chance arises, water or no water, it’s fun and worth noting that our jumping careers are finite…imagine looking back on our lives, nestled uncomfortably in our wheelchairs, wistfully wishing we’d jumped more often, contemplating wheeling ourselves straight off the edge of our nursing home balcony, attempting a 360 somersault before drowning in the pond below.  Our final moment of conciousness a fuzzy image of the ‘no bombing’ sign before our corpse is feasted upon by ravenous Coy Carp and tadpoles.  Yearning to do this for no other reason than an intrinsic guilt for not having stuck two fingers up at the fun police while we had the chance.  So go wild-swimming, go before the closest we get to a good dive is being dunked in a bath by a burly, slightly perverted  nurse with anchor tattoos.

Keep jumping while you still can!

Escape London is not claiming to be David Walliams, nor is he a Big River Man like Martin Strel (please check this guy out, he’s an absolute hero) http://www.martinstrel.com  …but he simply enjoys the feeling of being in water.  How great is swimming?  It’s difficult to express in words exactly how high the levels of excitement climb.  Imagine the sound of the 10,000 afore-mentioned screaming children, echoing around the cavernous confines of your local pool.  These ensnared bellows, bouncing from window to wall, mixing into a frenzied cacophony of unhinged, red-bull fuelled hysteria, go some way to achieving what plain words cannot.  Swimming is fun in its purest form.

David Walliams is a massive advocate of Wild Swimming...great inspiration

Escape London was confronted with a diving pool the last time he attended a public baths.  As mentioned earlier, the only thing that beats splashing around in water, is splashing into water.  Diving from a great height, with reckless abandon whilst simulataneously attempting to look cool whilst flying through the air is not easy.  Unless you practise.  Escape London dived so many times, that the highly unfashionable short-shorts (handed down from his father around 10 years ago) were stretched down below the knee.  That’s how good diving is… Even Escape London’s trunks were unable to maintain their composure.

Swimming wild, or ‘Free Swimming’ wins hands down though.  There’s something undeniably invigorating about swimming in the wild…It makes you feel alive.  There’s a certain fear that comes with swimming into the ocean, way out of your depth and with no clue as to what lays beneath, it heightens every one of your senses.  There’s the panic, the spasm inducing alarm that comes from brushing against an unknown object when out at sea…it’s a ridiculous level of fear, of helplessness that wont vanish until you’ve smashed 25 of your finest ever front-crawl strokes to reach a perceived saftey.  Yet when relaxation arrives and you find yourself floating gracefully on your back, gazing at the blue sky overhead and looking to the shoreline in the distance, you really do feel amazingly free.  The slowly undulating waves, the uninterrupted sound of nature and a proud tingle in your muscles from the physical exertion are hard to topple.

Swimming = happy

Don’t just take Escape London’s word for it though…There are various websites, societies and associations that cater for every wild swimmer’s desires…Check out a couple here: http://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com , http://www.wildswimming.co.uk .

These guys will help you plan your next wild swim in great detail, from deciding on the right kit, the location, the time of year and recommending hidden gems for you to explore.  This time of year is actually ideal for a spot of wild swimming, the English sea is the warmest it’ll ever be having been heated throughout the Summer and the crowds of school children are back where they belong…leaving us with miles of beaches, coast line, rivers and lakes to ourselves.  So, get the speedos and wesuits on and get out in the wild for a free adventure that’s hard to beat.  And remember, whenever you get the chance…flip the Fun Police the bird..

Escape London, to Hedsor House

13 Sep

Glorious place for a party...

Escape London wants everyone to escape to Hedsor House this coming weekend (17th -18th Sept) and do their bit for charity whilst partaking in a little hedonism.  Hedsor House is hosting it’s annual charity event in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières.  This unique event promises revellers a one-night festival experience within the stunning grounds of Hedsor House.

A crowd of 1000 well known socialites, key influencers from the world of fashion, art and music will gather on the stunning lawns of Hedsor House to be entertained by the likes of world-renowned beatboxer Shlomo, Joe Driscall, Rocketeers and Kaya, all fresh from performing at world famous Glastonbury festival.  Hedsor House itself is famed as one of the UK’s most beautiful venues with recent guests including Mark Ronson, Nicole Kidman and Ricky Gervais.  This historic manor house in Buckinghamshire is pretty much the perfect escape this weekend, what can be more perfect than bouncing your way through an evening of great music, surrounded by beautiful countryside all in the name of a great cause?

Great charity, great cause

Every penny raised by Hedsor 2011 is going directly to Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders), the independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid in more than 60 countries to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural or man-made disasters or exclusion from healthcare.  MSF is one of the leading charities combating the crisis in East Africa.  The previous event, Hedsor 2009, raised enough money to immunise 75,000 children from measles, a killing disease in many areas of Africa.   Hedsor 2011 aims to raise even more.  Tickets are running out so you’ll need to book quickly if you’re to experience this utterly unique, extravagant event. www.hedsor2011.com

Mark Shephard, Founding Partner of Hedsor House says:

“Having worked on the ground with Médecins Sans Frontières in Pieri, South Sudan and Kenya, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of their work.  MSF gets to the very heart of the most desperate areas of East Africa where the current struggle with conflict and severe drought has been well documented by the media.  Many believe that they are powerless to help, but events and fundraising initiatives like Hedsor 2011 demonstrate otherwise.”

Marc DuBois, Executive Director of MSF UK said:

“As Mark Shephard, who has worked for MSF out in the field, well knows, MSF people like a good party almost as much as we like saving lives.  We’re very excited about this event, raising both funds and awareness for our work in humanitarian emergencies across the world.”

Party at the house

The event attendees will include a superb guest list of socialites and key influencers from the worlds of fashion, art and music.  Hedsor 2011 has allocated a small number of tickets to be purchased by the general public, please visit http://www.hedsor2011.com.

The event is in association and supported by Hedsor Events, Peroni Nasto Azzuro, Westons Cider, Delhicious Foods, Bordeaux Wine Investments, Class Act, Pussy Natural Energy, Firefly and 4Front Security and who have all most generously provided their products and services for the event.

For further information, please see www.hedsor2011.com

This way to the party...

About Hedsor House

Set in 85 acres of glorious parkland and reached by a 1km wooded driveway, Hedsor House is a magnificent events venue located in Taplow, Buckinghamshire offering first class facilities and service for conferences, meetings, training events, bespoke events, private functions, weddings and filming. From hosting King George III and Queen Victoria in centuries past to hosting Nicole Kidman in The Golden Compass and Mark Ronson’s recent star-studded birthday party, Hedsor House is steeped in history. www.hedsor.com

The event is being organised by the three brothers, Mark, Hamish and Nick Shephard, to whose family Hedsor House belongs.

In all honesty, Hedsor House would make a pretty perfect destination for a retreat from the London slog throughout the year, but that feeling you get when you know you’re doing something good, whilst having an incredible time nicely warms the cockles.  Tickets are limited so please make haste and get yourself booked in for a night of hedonism, with a twist of eccentricity.  Escape London


Upcoming Escapes…

8 Sep

Escape London LOVES a good music festival and Bestival is a very, very, very good festival.  Besitival is now widely accepted as the final great  music extravaganza of the Summer, clinging desperately to the dancing coat-tails of our fading British sunshine and refusing to succumb to the ever-shortening Autumn days.  For those of you in the dark, the festival takes place on the Isle of Wight (that little island off the the South Coast of England) and promotes itself as a weird and wonderful fantasy land, created for those who love their music served with a healthy dose of fancy dress.

Fans this year will be musically spoiled for choice, ears will be massaged and pounded in equal measure by the likes of Pendulum, Bjork, The Cure, Primal Scream and fresh from her Mecury victory, PJ Harvey.  See: http://www.bestival.net/ for full line-up and more info.

Tickets are sold out but put Bestival in your diary for NEXT year.  Happy raving Escapers!

Another option for the coming weekend is perhaps an unlikely suggestion from Escape London…The Thames Festival.  Escaping London…IN London?  Never?!  Yes, it is within London, but it’s one of those rare events, like the marathon, where the  London behemoth transforms into an entirely different entity.  The entire length of Southbank and beyond takes on a party atmosphere.  Crowds become sociable, music fills the air and a firework display brings the event to a glorious climax.  Escape London has experienced the festival over the last three years first hand.  In fact Escape London has been PART of the event having sold delightfully lavish head wear for the enigmatically elusive P&G Hats  http://www.pandghats.co.uk/ (sadly not attending this year’s event).  If you are unable to Escape the city this weekend and are at a loose end, the Thames Festival is well worth a peek.  More info here:  http://www.thamesfestival.org/

For those of you lucky enough to have some money laying around and fancy an indulgent treat, how about a trip into the Hampshire countryside to Lainston House?  A splendid, 17th Century country house hotel in the midst of beautifully maintained parkland, the Lainston staff take great pride in royally spoiling anyone who sets foot through their grand entrance.  Escape London previously worked as an event organiser at Lainston and has personally witnessed the delightfully and sumptuous service.  The luxury comes at a cost, many of the best things in life have a habit of doing so, but it is well worth the money.  Escape London would also hasten to add that Lainston’s location home-delivers Hampshire countryside direct to your door step.  100’s of walking routes are nearby, some of the cleanest rivers in the world run through the area and the former capital Winchester is a 2min drive.  Check out http://www.lainstonhouse.com before checking in!

Escape London, on a survival weekend.

6 Sep

As far as Christmas presents go, Escape London can think of very few gifts able to rival a survival weekend.  OK, it wasn’t the most exciting thing to unwrap (it was a piece of paper) and admittedly it wasn’t as immediately enjoyable as say, a frizbee.  But the opportunity to be thrown towards the wild and taught how to live using the surrounding environment is about as perfect a present as Escape London has ever been given.

Trueways Survival School are responsible for the running and organisation of the courses.  There are numerous options as to the level and duration of the lessons ranging from beginner (which generally lasts 1 weekend) to expert (up to a week of survival), and they have locations all over the UK that run courses all year round.  More info can be found on their website: www.truewayssurvival.com

Having experienced the course, Escape London feels it necessary to inform all that the most important part of the entire event is the preparation.  Escape London rocked up to the location in the heart of some Hampshire woodland, armed with a thin sleeping bag, a fleece, a pair of walking boots and a penknife.  These few items were DEFINITELY inadequate.  As Escape London started making conversation with a couple of other ‘survivalists’ it quickly became apparent that more gear was required.  Much more.  The very best thing you can do is, at the booking stage read all information on the website.  Trueways have taken the time to write, in great detail and with a commendable use of the English language, the exact equipment  required for the duration.  All us budding Bear Grylls need to do, is read this and then bring the dam stuff.  Simple.

a Tarpaulin a.k.a basher, is an essential piece of kit.

Standing around in a large group in a beautiful meadow it was clear that those attending had taken their own preparation seriously, overflowing backpacks lay discarded across the clearing like slumbering rescue dogs.  Millets must LOVE Trueways.  Our brilliant instructor introduced himself and went through his impressive military background and an overview of what we’d be learning over the 2 days.  It was at this point that he inquired as to whether everyone had read and obtained everything on the kit list.  Everyone unanimously (in most cases smugly) nodded their heads.  Apart from Escape London.  ‘Hands up anyone who DIDN’T read the list’.  My solitary hand stood out like a signal beacon on that bright summer’s morning.  After being graciously kitted up it was on with the surviving and everyone was divided into small teams to go and build their shelters.

Perfect place for a survival weekend.

Escape London shared an encampment with a Serbian guy named Milosh and a Policeman named Gareth.  It was clear from the offset that both men had their own personal agendas.  They were impossibly difficult to get conversation from.  These guys were solo-survivalists, Robinson Crusoes, and initially, Escape London peered over at the infinitely merrier pockets of survivors dotted around the woods and yearned to swap groups.  They were shedding a jovial light on survival, laughing and joking as they constructed their sleeping areas.  Not so in this part of the forest.  Our team cast a forlorn and morale-sapping shadow across the woodland floor.  It was as if we’d unwittingly crept into the evil forest Mirkwood from Lord of the Rings.

Bath break

Milosh was a fraudulent survivor anyway.  The gangly man had his own bloody TENT which he erected beneath his tarpaulin.  What???  Gareth busied himself arranging a huge array of military-issue weaponry.  He had at least 6 knives in a variety of sizes and shapes, all of them huge.  One eye would remain firmly open this night.  No amount of open-ended questioning could get a proper conversation going.  Perhaps Milosh and Gareth’s lack of social grace was a good thing?…if things were to descend into chaos and disaster over the weekend, Escape London would find it far easier to eat these sullen, silent companions knowing nothing about their lives.  How can you dine on a man whose Golden Spaniel eagerly awaits his return the next day?  It was quickly decided that these two would serve as nothing more than survival skill benchmarkers and possible food should push come to shove.  Survival is about finding positives, small victories that can make the difference between life and death.  Escape London felt it was already getting the hang of things.

Not part of the course, but worth a try.

In retrospect Escape London is satisfied at having survived with limited equipment.  After all, survival is not a choice but a necessity, one does not decide on the luxuries afforded in a real-life survival scenario.  There were certain levels of jealousy when witnessing Gareth chopping into wood with his giant, military issue knives; and when Milosh pulled out his single man tent/sleeping bag combo, there were slight pangs of envy towards the warmth he would surely experience that night.  But, that’s CHEATING!  Escape London created a nest of fern beneath his (borrowed) tarpaulin and slept in a sleeping bag designed for temperatures no colder than +10 degrees, surely this was a luxury in itself?

City life is draining.  It’s almost as if our carnal needs to survive, to find sustenance, shelter and water have been replaced with obtaining business, picking up new clients and increasing the bank balance.  It takes a weekend, sleeping under the stars with only the very minimum of basic needs to realise that real life is something much more important, entirely more fulfilling and definitely more fun.  Trueways, as well as offering vital lessons in surviving off the land, also gave Escape London a well needed break from the norm.  There was almost zero brain activity required outside of the lessons.  Other than; where do I get more fire-wood from?  I’m pretty hungry.  Which tree should I climb next?  Nothing else registered.  This was bliss of the highest blissfulness.

Don't eat Foxgloves!

Without going into too much detail, pretty much every basic survival technique and routine was covered during our time on the course.  The well informed and eloquent instructor with years of experience in the forces showed us the ropes in great detail.  Everything from obtaining water from various sources to setting snares and traps.  It was all taught in a hands on way and the differences between bushcraft and survival skills were pointed out at every opportunity.  There was plenty of time to explore and wander through the beautiful woods as, after the last session finished at 5pm, the evening was ours to do as we please.  Escape London stole quickly away from his camp, leaving Milosh and Gareth to sharpen sticks in silence.

Building a signal fire is one of the weekends lessons

Escape London will reveal nothing more about the weekend other than to inform everyone that Milosh and Gareth went home to their Spaniels and military armouries alive and well.  There was no need to resort to eating one another and, apart from a VERY cold night with little sleep, things went exceedingly well.  This course comes with the highest recommendation, it’s a brilliant way to escape the pressures of city life whilst at the same time learning some really cool facts to impress your friends down the pub.  Did you know that, to keep a small fire going for 24hr requires in the region of 1 tonne’s worth of wood?  Escape London didn’t either….

Escape London, to the Cheriton Beer Festival

2 Sep

Escape London has a great deal of time for the annual August Bank Holiday.  Not simply due to the obvious benefit of a 3 day weekend (that goes without saying).  Escape London loves this long weekend for a certain event that has forced its way into local tradition.  The Cheriton Beer Festival, hosted by the infamous Flower Pots Inn and it’s award winning brewery is now the primary event of the calendar.  Set in the midst of the wonderful Hampshire wilderness between Alresford and Winchester, Cheriton appears as if created by some form of Enid Blyton-regurgitating deity.  The village is an unspoilt, pristine series of houses, babbling rivers and carefree ducks surrounded by Granny Smith green countryside.  People may accuse Escape London of waxing in an overly lyrical fashion here, but the place really is pixel perfect.  All in all, a rather nice setting for a piss up…of gargantuan proportions.

Now, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have heard about the Flower Pots Inn and the yearly Ale extravaganza that it provides.  There’s a reason for this.  If one is to google the event, there appears to be almost no obtainable information.  Go to the Pot’s own website, there’s but a solitary sentence afforded to it.  The only place Escape London was able to locate even a whiff of beer festival belch, was here http://www.shantscamra.org.uk/beerfestivals/ , half-way down the page is a little snippet, a foamy, watered down dreg of info.   Rather gloriously, it states that the Flower Pots Inn keeps the festival a secret, due to it’s already overflowing popularity…those in the know, go.   How can Escape London heap more praise on a mini-beer fest that requires not a jot of advertising?  Folk simply understand that the August Bank holiday means a weekend of sitting in the sun, drinking warm Ale and hugging complete strangers.  And, like tankard bearing lemmings, they stumble and descend upon Cheriton year after year.

Escape London likes a beer, enjoys a Cider even more and as you might have gathered loves it when they’re coupled with a great setting, an adventure and some good friends.  The tradition has taken on it’s own little intricacies, akin to the minute ingredients added together in the Flower Pot’s own award-winning ales.  Eascape London and friends have their own recipe for the perfect pint of fun.  For a start, the initial walk to the Pub must have adequate rations (i.e Strongbow) to survive the entire night should the party find themselves lost en route.  There are many paths that lead from Alresford to Cheriton and Escape London is pretty sure that a new direction has been experimented with every year.  The wander through woods and fields is possibly one of the highlights of the festival, its a time for climbing trees, rolling in grass and consuming beer.  The hike can last anywhere between 1 and 4hrs in duration.  Another pre-requisite (for some) is to adorn extravagant attire for the occasion.  If one is to collapse in a drunken heap, one must do so looking one’s very best.  This year Escape London went for a waistcoat, trouser and shirt combo with a slick side parting.  Thirdly, drinking games are a given.  They appear in various forms and at times will induce tears, however they are a vital ingredient and play an important part of the night.  When added together with a healthy dose of ‘Hey Jude’ played by the local tribute band, this potent mixture can smack you in the face like the flailing arm of a bearded beer enthusiast…yet you’ll find yourself wanting to hug him for it.

From miles around folk make their way to Cheriton.

The beer festival itself is of course only a blur.  Escape London believes that the secret nature of the event is achieved through attendees’ inability to provide any concrete evidence that the party ever ACTUALLY happened.  It’s a mangled mirage on the horizon, an enigmatic happening that feels the next day, as if it all took place underwater, beneath the frothy surface in a pint glass.  This is largely down to the incredibly strong ales and cider on offer.  Folk decide that it’s a great idea to consume the strongest of the strong ‘because its a beer festival’.  Day turns to night incredibly quickly.  Curry is consumed in vast quantities from the perfectly placed food tent, the exotic smell lingering in the nostrils and on clothes for the next week.

Dancing is the one thing that Escape London is positive takes place during the night.  Cast your mind back to the jigging of the ‘poor folk’  below deck on the Titanic, it was pretty frantic and a bit boisterous.  Up the tempo and passion by around 7.3% (the average alcohol content of the Cider on offer) and you’re halfway to realising the spectacle that awaits anyone falling into the dance tent.  Carnage.  Expect face-fulls of beer.  Crowd surfing.  Total stranger embracing.  Impromptu micro-phone thrusting.  Ballad screaming.  And massive amounts of new found love for EVERYTHING; the world, nature, music, beer, the person next to you and when Angels rears its head even Robbie Williams becomes ‘a hero’.

To conclude:  The beer festival takes place the same August bank holiday year in year out and is up against stiff ‘eventy’ competition, Notting Hill Carnival manages ensare 1000’s of people,

The perfect setting....

religiously grinding on the streets of London.  Yet The Flower Pots Inn is packed to the rafters every year, without a whisper of a marketing campaign.  They don’t want, nor-need many more people to flock their way, things are brewing nicely as they are.  Yet if you can draw yourself away from the throng and fancy a decent countryside frolic, there really is nowhere quite like the Cheriton Beer Festival.

Escape London, to Wyndstock: a costume garden party

31 Aug

The beautiful Pylewell House, perfect setting for Wyndstock

Escape London does exactly what it says on the tin:  It escapes London at every given opportunity.  Not because it dislikes London, but because it feels drawn to all things wild, weird and wonderful.  With that in mind, Wyndstock was the obvious choice to begin this August Bank Holiday weekend.  Wyndstock was initially whispered invitingly in my direction by a good friend.  It sounded perfect, a costume Garden Party down by the sea in the New Forest.  It felt as if Wyndstock had somehow been blown merrily along to me, carried on the breeze of a mid-Summer’s afternoon.  It was to be kept a secret, divulged unto only the closest of friends, to those who would bring something unique and charming to the partie’s beautiful banquet table.  And, put simply Wyndstock worked.

Crowds gather for an impromptu dance lesson.

A small, eclectic crowd of around 400 people slowly gathered in the grounds of  the sprawling estate, early Saturday afternoon.  Having steadfastly battled through the Bank Holiday traffic they wound their way carefully through the 80 acres of forest, water gardens and manicured lawns…all aiming for a small gathering of tents, tucked away in a secluded corner in front of the magnificent Pylewell House.  Those of us lucky enough to have secured Glamping tickets were in for a treat, an encampment of mini-tepees with blow-up mattresses, duvets and pillows, complete with Wyndstock goody bags, awaited our arrival.   Having been forever resolute in avoiding the luxury of Glamping, Escape London is not afraid to admit that it was pretty dam comfy in that Tepee.  Perhaps, on special occasions a Glamp here and there would be forgiveable?  It certainly keeps one’s girlfriend happy.  Food for thought.

Having arrived early, Escape London and friends had the run of the grounds.  Skipping joyously through the afternoon showers our group of four drank heartily from a bar, adorned with hanging plants, fairy lights and flowers.  The enticing lawn was home to the various games and activities, (Boules, Croquet and Badminton) which would fill the next couple of hours.

One of the benefits of having a party set in 80 acres of land is the chance to explore, wander and get lost, whilst swigging from copious bottles of cider.  Following the red ribbons tied to various posts and fences lead party goers into the heart of the water gardens, a host of lakes, woodland and pathways in the midst of the estate.  A boat was found, hidden away in a bush and of course, commandeered.  A plucky bunch attempted to negotiate the algae-clogged lake with only half an oar and a pineapple with which to paddle.  They looked the part, sort of, but got nowhere.

Wyndstockers attempt a channel crossing with a pineapple for a paddle.

The rest of the afternoon was spent basking in the sunshine playing boules, drinking more Pimms and Cider than is wise and learning new moves on the dancefloor.  Regular dance lessons were offered on the lawn and enthusiastic folk ‘itched’ their way through the Charleston whilst giggling uncontrollably.  For those with less rhythm but a creative eye, there was the age-old favourite ‘make an animal out of vegetables’ activity table.  There were some suitably odd creations and a few that will probably be snapped up by Pixar for their next feature.  Escape London decided to throw his on the fire in a sacrificial offering to the Gods, there is no explanation as to the thought process behind such an act.  It just felt, right.

Escape London cannot take credit for this masterpiece...

As the night progressed, food was served, this was perhaps the only part of the event that didn’t run quite as smoothly as hoped.  There were a few mutterings of discontent from the crowd as news spread that much of the feast had run out by 8.30pm (dinner was promised to be served until 10pm or everyone had been served) but it was soon acknowledged that a meagre meal was not a life or death situation and people bravely moved on.  The fire was lit, the 3 small hot-tubs were overflowing with arms, legs and other stuff and the party was in full swing.

The wonders of Wyndstock...

 

In all honesty, Wyndstock becomes somewhat of a blur post-dinner.  Escape London recalls toasting nicely by the huge bonfire, embroiled in excellent and important conversations with those around.  There was also a fireworks display whose show was well and truly stolen by an escaped dog.  An excitable, cheeky little rapscallion who took obvious delight in evading capture for the duration of the spectacle.

Wyndstock firework display.

Attention was finally focussed towards the dance-floor, as always Escape London was quick to unleash the one move from it’s repetoire…the bounce.  The music was (possibly) ecclectic and definitely fun.  Special mention also needs to be offered to the man wearing the ‘Owl Lamp Hat’.  For those of you who were there, you’ll know the one I mean.  It was an awesome adornment.

And the prize for most magnificent hat, goes to....

The following morning saw bleary eyed revellers bathed in the sunshine of an end of Summer’s Sunday.  As weary bodies emerged from their various tents and tepee’s it was clear that the morning after the night before was a painful but happy occasion.  The promise of  a hearty cooked breakfast had people queuing outside the marquee in a bedraggled line for a good couple of hours.  Again, this wasn’t the smoothest of operations and many were left many without their promised helpings, but Wyndstock is in it’s infancy and will learn from these small errors on an otherwise impeccable scorecard.

Glorious end to Wyndstock

Escape London and friends made the most of the beautiful morning down on the coastline paddling in the sea, climbing trees and discussing adventures from the night before.  We were unanimous in our praise for the event:  Wyndstock had been unique, charming, well planned and above all enormous fun.  As with all new events there were teething problems, but these only revealed themselves in the form of the food service, not a bad effort considering.  Wyndstock will hopefully continue and establish itself as an exclusive, essential Summer party for those in the know.  It’s certainly going straight in the diary for next year and Escape London will be fervidly searching for an Owl-Lamp-Hat in the meantime…

Escape London: For the August Bank Holiday

25 Aug

Right then city dwellers and adventure lovers, the last Bank Holiday weekend before Christmas (weep) is almost upon us and we’re simply spoilt for long-weekend adventure choice.  Loads of us will opt to remain on the thudding streets of London, bouncing to the beats emanating from the Notting Hill Carnival.  Still more will be dancing away on the sodden grass at SW4 and as always, there are events galore along Southbank and all over London.  However, you’re reading this because the 3 day weekend presents you with a rather lovely opportunity to escape the confines of the City and bask in pastures green.  That’s what I’m doing.  Here’s how:

Saturday morning see’s us depart for the rather wonderful sounding Wyndstock Festival, down on the South Coast in the New Forest.  We have been promised, amongst other things, outdoor hot tubs, food served by candlelight under the stars, wild swimming, croquet, live music and DJ’s and (for those too posh for bog-standard camping)…GLAMPING.

I’ve not witnessed this festival before, but it comes HIGHLY recommended by friends who attended her twin event at the start of the Summer.  I’ll be back with a review  next week.  Please see:  http://www.wyndstock.com/about-wyndstock/ for additional info.

After breakfast (generously included in the ticket price of £80), we’ll be headed further North into Hampshire, specifically the charming market town of Alresford for a beer festival in the neighbouring village of Cheriton.  An annual event for die-hard Ale and Cider enthusiasts and locals who love a boogie, this is a brilliantly traditional beer celebration, complete with sticky floors, Pogues tribute bands and a curry tent to help wash down the furry Ale.  Held at the famous Flower Pots (who have their own highly regarded, award winning brewery http://www.flowerpots.f2s.com/beers.html) the setting is perfect, surrounded by miles of open countryside and a huge marquee in the garden this event is a heady mix of strong local alcohol, spicy food and crazy dancing.  Again, there’ll be a review (possibly fuzzy review) early next week!

Escape London: The Snowdon Effect

24 Aug

This is a post delivered in the least conventional of forms, describing adventures in the least conventional of ways and depicting an ascent of Snowdon by the least conventional of groups.

Firstly, I’ll give you the bare essentials:

  • Drive time from London to Snowdonia (Llanberis) takes around 4hr 30min on a good day.
  • Accomodation is varied in Llanberis, we stayed in the famous Pete’s Eats Bunkhouse http://www.petes-eats.co.uk/ It’s uber basic but uber welcoming and offers the biggest mugs of tea with a great breakfast in the morning.
  • Due to weather conditions we were forced to take the Pyg Track to the summit of Snowdon.  This route is fairly achievable for all fitness level with very few hairy moments to speak of.
  • The alternative route (which I completed a few years ago) is the Crib Goch Ridge, this should not be attempted unless you have a good head for heights, a decent level of fitness and are walking with somebody experienced.  Don’t just take my word for it though read http://www.rockclimbingcompany.co.uk/Snowdon_Crib_Goch_Scramble.html for further info.
  • We were up and down the mountain in about 5hr, despite taking a huge detour and climbing in gale force winds.  On a Summer’s day you should be able to knock at least an hour off this time.

Right, back to the story, when I say group, there were 3 of us:

Firstly myself, Dan Layton.  I love the outdoors and always have done.  Give me a chance to escape the city into the hills, down to the coast or up a mountain and I’ll race you along every path until we get there.  I’d take a tent over a Travelodge every time.  A steaming early morning brew, heated over an open fire beneath the stars vs a Mocha Chocca Whatta from Starbucks?  There’s no contest.  So I arrange hiking expeditions as often as life permits.  On this occasion there were a number of reasons behind the trip.  I work in recruitment; it’s intense, fast-paced and at times demoralizing.  I work hard, throwing myself into each and every day and I need these breaks.  I yearned for a release and the chance to feel enriched by good people and wild surrounds.  Another trail steering me towardsSnowdoncame in the unlikely form of a pitiful moustache slowly taking root on my upper lip.  The whiskers clung there perilously, as if not sure they were in the right place.  They gave the impression that the slightest gust of wind would cause a hairy avalanche of pathetic proportions.  The pre-pubescent-like growth was in the name of charity and this trip toNorth Waleswould see me almost double my thus far meager sponsorship.  Part of the deal was that I had to dress in attire ‘befitting a man with a moustache’.  I went with a 1920’s explorer theme.

Then there was William aka ‘Sarg’.

He had deemed walking boots surplus to requirements, instead opting for the slightly less conventional approach of carrier bags, worn over his socks with a pair of trainers.  His blood has a high Irish content, that’s the only way in can possibly justify his thought process.  An amateur racing driver and a massive advocator of whiskey, Sarg was primarily excited by the drinking and driving (not at the same time) elements of the trip.

Last but not least; Jack, who when fully kitted up resembled a Polish train driver (I’d never seen one before either, yet the description fits perfectly).  He had brought a set of Nordic walking poles, a hip flask and very little else.  Suffice to say, his motivations also centered largely around finding places to drink.  Jack was to be sadly disappointed upon discovering that the ‘Pub at the top’ was entirely fictitious. 

We arrived late on the Friday evening having driven through some of the heaviest rain fall we had ever experienced.  Snowdonia no longer had roads, only brown, curdling rivers along which we slowly negotiated our way through the dark.  By the end of our first night in Llanberis the 3 of us had been warned away from the mountain by just about every local in every pub we came across.  Contemplating an attempt at the summit was apparently, ‘ridiculous’.  There were severe weather warnings issued across the region and wide spread flooding was rife, yet we felt it our duty to at least try.  It’s not as if we were attempting Everest, was it?  Friendly landlords looked at us despairingly, as if this were the last time anyone would set eyes on us alive.  They even offered us free bottles of water, trinkets to take with us to the grave, on our departure.  People seem to care more in these parts.  They appear to have a genuine concern for outsiders and share their local knowledge and wisdom openly.  I guess this is an attempt to assist us with avoiding death.  A couple of hours later, around 1am and whilst dancing drunkenly to ‘Firestarter’ on the jukebox of a deserted pub, this made me feel warm inside.

Stood in the car park at the foot of Snowdon the following morning, we groggily cast a vote on whether or not to tackle the Crib Goch Ridge.  Based on the advice from our new friends in the pub, the gale-forced gusts attempting to force rain through our very flesh, and the fact Sarg felt perhaps his trainer/carrier bag combo may not be as sturdy as first thought, the vote was unanimous:  Pyg Trail to the top.  Easy.  It took just over 10min before Sarg and the Polish Train driver had been forced into a concentrated silence by the treacherously slippery conditions and physical exertions that ensued from taking a ‘short cut’ around the first lake we came to.

The lull in conversation was interrupted by a tirade of expletives from Sarg.  The ‘short-cut’ was proving to be a ridiculous idea.  Each of us continuously found our boots wedged in the sodden, muddy grass and the wind was doing its utmost to bludgeon us to the ground in submission.  What should have been a 20min journey around the picturesque lake, turned into a 2hr struggle of epic proportions.  Sarg and his carrier-boots weren’t faring particularly well.  He kept stumbling over the surplus bagging and ended up crawling for long stretches at a time.  Jack was holding himself together marginally better yet sweat poured from his forehead in torrents rivalling the surging river cascading down the mountain.  Yet he could only muster an occasional sigh to reveal is discomfort, words were beyond him, the profanities that Sarg so readily threw into the mountain air were simply out of Jack’s reach.  And it pained him enormously.

We finally made it to the main trail and collapsed for a while to recuperate.  We encountered other walkers for the first time that day.  I’d become used to Sarg and Jack’s eccentric appearance yet they seemed to be creating pure fear in the hikers.  Sarg looked like a rabid homeless man who had been dragged to this spot, on his knees the whole way fromLondon.  Jack wasn’t even able to make eye contact with the poor people, he was still doubled over, either dry-heaving or gasping for breath, it was difficult to tell the difference.  I attempted to deflect attention from the two of them by striking up a conversation.  30seconds later they were making their excuses and beating a hasty retreat.  This was confusing.  I’m usually pretty good at striking up a rapport with new people, it’s a strength of mine. I put it down to my disgraceful friends, until I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the puddle below me, suddenly it all made sense.  It was probably best to get this hike over with as fast as possible before we were arrested or taken into care.

The remainder of the ascent went in much the same fashion, a slow yet deliberate journey interspersed with stunning views and bouts of nature’s fury.  The Polish Train Driver and I even managed to race the final 100m of the ascent.  Sarg joined us there, amongst the mist about 10min later.  There was no happiness in his expression, not even a trace of relief, he wanted off and after slapping the summit stone, he promptly turned 180 degrees and began shuffling his shredded carrier bags back down the path.

After Jack had overcome the shock of there being nowhere to obtain a beer we sat and enjoyed a well earned Rich Tea biscuit.  The cloud broke, allowing us a beautiful, uninterrupted view over Snowdon’s Horseshoe and the surrounding valleys.  This is what we had travelled here for, we both sat in silence, a Polish Train Driver and 1920’s gentleman, united by the tranquil beauty that stretched into the distance before us.  This really would be my dream job.

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