Changing Hands & Another Coast to Coast – October 2019, blog

If you have tried to access the website or blog over the summer and found it unavailable we apologise, we have suffered some technical difficulties that took far longer to sort than we could ever have expected. However if you are seeing this now that should mean we are back on line as before.

Summer 2019 sees the beginning of a change at Helix House. 

After thirty-seven years running Helix House here in Oxford, Kerstin and Clive are happy to be handing over the directorship to their colleague Yan-Chee Yu. There will be a gradual changeover in the next two years before we both step down as directors leaving Yan in sole charge. We do not have plans to fully retire and hope and intend to still be seeing a few of you in years to come, if in somewhat more restricted hours, giving us more time for growing vegetables, laughing, Zen, writing, lecturing, helping to bring up our grandchildren and generally lead more spacious lives. Naturally there will be changes at Helix House, but all good ones we hope. 

Yan would like to maintain the character and nature of Helix House. We fully expect it to remain a friendly, human-scale place of integrity, healing and nourishment, guided by best practice and the needs of all who seek our help. Many of you will already know that Yan brings with him considerable experience and particular gifts as an osteopath and has already been working with our small team for three years now. 

With Helen we say farewell to Cathy and welcome Yan as a director

On the hottest day (34C) of the year Cathy, Helen, Yan, Kerstin and Clive met up for lunch at the local Chester Arms both to say good-bye to Cathy as she leaves us for new adventures and also to celebrate Yan’s newly becoming a third director of Helix House. Many of you will know Cathy for her cheerful presence at the desk, efficiently keeping the office running. We will miss her and wish her well for the future.

Coast to Coast

While most of these blogs have an explicitly health related theme, occasionally, after some little adventure, I have written a bit of a travelogue. 

Variety being the spice of life, stepping away from our quotidian existence for fresh air and wide-open spaces, was often, in former times, the major prescription for those with the means, who visited their doctor. So here is another prescription to encourage you to get out and move, if you can. Those old doctors were right, we are now able to research the common sense experience that generally humans, who are, after all, part of nature, do better when in nature. It heals, soothes, restores and connects us.

nice piece of research showed that when participants viewed nature scenes, the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love lit up, but when they viewed urban scenes, the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety were activated. It appears as though nature inspires feelings that connect us to each other and our environment. 

Our cycle route from West to East Coast across the north of England

As some of you know two years ago Clive and three friends cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats.  You may have helped him raise lots of money for the The Sunflower Trust Charity, (thanks again). This summer he reprised his 16 day, 2010 Wainwright walk, 200 miles across the hills of the north country from Coast to Coast, but this time an easier, four days, across the Lakeland and Pennines on a bicycle. However, having tired of those endless hill climbs Clive celebrated his impending stepping down from running Helix House, by splashing out on an electric bike.

Quite recently the technology has advanced enough for this particular new breakthrough to be at a tipping point. With the move towards more cycling commuting and the growing popularity of cycling for recreation, the industry forecast a 6.3% compounded annual growth rate leading up to 2025 for the global electric bike segment. Some of Europe’s leading bike makers are forecasting that more than half of all bike production will soon have some form of assistance in the future.

Last year according to Germany’s Two wheel Industry Association (ZIV) (Observer 25/8/19), 39,200 electrically powered-cargo bikes were sold across the country, compared with only 36,062 newly registered electric cars.  In some places like Friesing, near Munich, people can cash in an extra 500 euro premium if they can prove that they are using their new bike to replace a petrol or diesel-power vehicle. Two or three wheel cargo e-bikes have become the new status symbol in eco-conscious areas to drop off and carry home the kids along with the daily shop. 

The mighty ‘Beast,’ otherwise know as the, Gazelle CityZen T10 HMB 2019 Electric Hybrid Bike. OK, I did like the Zen part, but mainly chose it on its quality Dutch engineering!

Whatever the future, it has to be said that e-bikes are a lot of fun and do take the sting out of those long, sometimes rather agonizing, 2000-foot climbs up the hills in places like the Lakes and Pennines. A perfect solution for those of us who feel we have done enough hard hills over the years and no longer get the same buzz out of hill climbing as some hardy souls still do. You still have to pedal and, on a 50 mile + day, you need to keep a watchful eye on your battery and not go wild, but you can get all the joys of exercise, mountain views, companionship, and gentle adventure, and not get totally shattered at the end of each day! 

Day One 

The cycle route starts, like the Wainwright walk, on the west coast, this time in Whitehaven, once the third port of England, dealing in locally mined coal, and tobacco from the West Indies.  Now sadly a rather diminished port, its old Georgian buildings looking a little in need of care, dependent on the Atomic Power station near by for work. 

For us our first afternoon took us on a route that follows old disused rail lines through mining villages such as Clear Moor, the only point at which the Wainright and cycle, coast to coast, cross. The route at first skirts the mighty Lake district, but eventually, via higher ground through LowewaterThackthwaite and the Winlatter Forest descends to the attractive village of Braithwaite soon arriving at our first stop, the  busy Lakeland town of Keswick.

Grand cycling country in the Lakes, especially when it is dry and you are astride a magnificent e-bike.

Day Two 

Was 75km, and  involved a 1138m ascent altogether. It was damp as we eased out of Keswick with Blencathra on our left, but soon the sun came out as we headed through Troutbeck to Penrith for lunch

By the time we climb out of Penrith the sun is out and slowly the mountainous backbone of England, the Pennines, loom into view. We know we must climb up over there before nightfall. However the two of us, out of the five, who are on e-bikes, need not worry, as our trusty e-bikes will take the edge off that long climb. Once over the sharp challenge of the Hartside Pass  we are all rewarded by four miles of an exhilarating, zoom, down-hill run to our night’s destination at the Youth Hostel at the charming Pennine village of Alston on the river South Tyne still high in the hills. 

We stop to admire the village straw wo/man competition. The queen wins our vote!

Now we are a bonded team of five, expertly lead by ‘the human compass’, Gerald. With his lifetime work in computers and his experience as a mountain rescue volunteer in Wales, Gerald guides our route with the calm expertise of an experienced traveller, fully equipped with the latest in on-bike guidance. 

Gone are those stops to get out the map, as these days the entire route can appear, in bight size chunks, on the handlebars in front of the owner of such great tech. We four, Sue, Dave, Henrike and Clive are happy to leave this to Gerald’s unstoppable competence and energy. 

Day Three

A leisurely, if hilly 45 km, 865m. ascent day, starts with a steep ride up Alston’s evocative high street across wild rolling grouse moors, stopping at the brilliant, newly refurbished, Wesleyan Chapel, turned café and village hall, in one of the highest villages in the country, Nenthead. 

Wonderful country.

This old zinc mining village, is just one of many remains of the nineteenth century mining industry of these high, windswept Pennines. Eventually we swoop down to eat tea and scones at Stanhope. How quickly one grows fond of the more wild and lonely villages, making this stop in Stanhope, the green and tranquil market town at the heart of the Durham Dales, seem positively urban by contrast. This does not last long; as there is a long hard, (for some!) climb back onto the high Moor for our nights stop at Edmundbyers at the Youth Hostel/Pub. The only such combination I remember staying in. With few other facilities most of the village seems to be in the bar. We know that our penultimate day will take us back to the more urban world of Consett and Newcastle, so rather relish the quiet remoteness of the village. 

Creative use of old Consett industrial steel turned into striking sculpture along the cycle route.

Day Four 

Our route takes us along yet another disused railway through Consett. Consett sits above the rural Derwent valley near the boundary of County Durham and Northumberland, high on the edge of the Pennines. At 900 feet above sea level, Consett is the third highest market town in England one of the highest towns in the United Kingdom. In 1841, it was a village community of only 145, but it was about to become a boomtown expanding rapidly to today’s 25,000 inhabitants. 

Dave and I celebrate another hill and another beautiful county.

Sitting below this Pennine village was coking coal, blackband iron ore and, nearby, limestone. This transformed the small village into one of the major steel towns of the UK, only ending with the closure of the, still profitable, steel works, by the Thatcher government in 1980. Many thousands of people instantly became unemployed and local people saw it as “The Murder of a Town”. Today much regeneration has staunched the worst of the wounds and some choose to live in Consett, high in the Hills and commute into Durham and Newcastle. 

This day, while having its hills, was mostly a gentle 65km run down to Newcastle with a welcome diversion, before Gateshead, to view up close the 200 ton, Gormley sculpture,  ‘The Angel of the North’ that stands over the A1 welcoming the driver to the North East. Stepped into 500 tonnes of concrete below the mound, it is said to be able to withstand 100 mile per hour winds, not a bad precaution in the North East. The A1 motorway is right next to it so it’s seen by one person every second – that’s 90,000 people every day or 33 million every year. 

From the Angel we enjoyed the excellent cycle paths through Gateshead and crossed over the Millennium Bridge, after witnessing its impressive raising and lowering to allow river traffic through, into Newcastle and cycled out along to our end point, unlike Robin Hoods Bay of the Wainwrights route, this time at Tynemouth and the North Sea, so completing our coast to coast. 

We five get up close and personal to the magnificent Angel.

From there it was a short and wet ride along the coast to Whitley Bay for our final stay together in this northeasterly seaside town, our only significant rain of the trip. However you do it, try and spend some wonderful time moving, healing, soothing, restoring and connecting in nature this year. Its never wasted. Have fun.

Sunshine on the Millenium bridge in Newcastle

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