A belvedere in the sky

We’ve been coming to Seattle regularly for over ten years now and staying close to Lake Union, which we’ve always been able to see from the apartment where our daughter Chloe has lived in the hilly Queen Anne district of the city.

Through all this time the sight and noise of the seaplanes taking off and landing on the lake has been a constant background from about 8.00 am onwards. Surprisingly it has been rather relaxing.

Seeing these small craft moving across the lake, at first slowly and then speeding up for take-off has been a daily reminder of Seattle’s connection with the Pacific coast and the many islands which dot the Puget Sound and the route north to Vancouver Island and Alaska.

It’s also a constant reminder of a key part of the city’s history, because it was in a hangar on the east shore of Lake Union in 1916 that William Boeing built his first B & W seaplane and saw it fly later that year across Lake Union. This was the start of Seattle’s major industry, aircraft manufacture, best known today for Boeing’s Dreamliner series.

This year though there has been one big difference in our experience of the seaplanes. To our delight I was this year given by Chloe for my birthday tickets for a return flight to Orcas Island, 70 miles by air from Seattle and a world apart. No longer was it just a case of us watching the seaplanes!

We were to travel up the coast on a fantastic viewing platform to rival any of the other belvederes we have included in this Lakeland Belvedere website. The photos in this blog give an idea of what you can see from the small 6 and 8 seater seaplanes that fly every day in and out of Seattle. The top photo shows the inside of the cockpit with Orcas Island opening up for us in the distance. Photo No 2 shows the seaplane arriving to pick us up for the return journey at Rosario and the pilot jumping out to secure the plane to the dock. Photo No 3 is of the plane flying low above the coast line as we flew to make an unscheduled beach pick up of a passenger on a neighbouring island.

For our return I was allowed to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, which provided even better views. Photo 4 shows the small Smith Island with a sandbar (covered at high tide) in the shimmering evening sun; and Photo No 5 is of an uninhabited island. Photo No 6 is of our return to Seattle with Lake Union opening up for landing. The house we were staying in is just below the radio mast on the left on Queen Anne Hill.

If you get the chance arrange yourself a trip.

Trompe l’oeil: ways of seeing

I’ve always been interested in words and their origins, so it came as no surprise when in my early teens my parents gave me a shorter Oxford English Dictionary for my birthday. This thumping great slab of a book with over 1500 wafer thin pages – in the days before online dictionaries – taught me that English has such vitality and richness because it has drawn so much from other languages.

Unlike France, where Government has banned the incorporation of English words into the lexicon, English has shamelessly raided French. RSVP, Poste restante, à la carte, Grand Prix are just a few common examples.

Two French phrases have always intrigued me for their conciseness and subtlety. L’esprit d’escalier (staircase wit) is the response you should have made, but only thought of too late when the discussion was over.

Trompe l’oeil (deceives the eye) has been a term in the art world for centuries, describing paintings and drawings that create an illusion, that encourage exploration of the subject matter with fresh eyes.

In a sense this is part of a wider discourse on the role of art, which John Berger explores in his book Ways of Seeing (Penguin Modern Classics).

Over the years the Trompe l’oeil ‘treatment’ has been applied to architecture and buildings and more widely in other fields; and by a range of artists like Salvador Dali, Magritte and M S Echer.

Attached in this blog posting are some Trompe l’oeil examples I have found or created with a camera in the US and Germany over the last few months.

At the top is a picture of the shop window of local store,‘Englische Antiquitaien’ in the town of Konstanz, in Germany which our Queen Elizabeth appears to be about to enter, bag in hand. Behind her a couple holding hands are crossing the street. Given the interest shown round the world in the birth of George, the UK’s new royal baby, the choice of his great grandmother may well have attracted attention and customers to the shop.

The second picture is an arresting image of a multi storey apartment block with an impressive portal in downtown Chicago, where we are staying this week. It’s near the Gold Coast neighbourhood and is in fact the work of Richard Haas, the American muralist on a blank wall.

The two photos below are shots taken in Bellingham, a port town north of Seattle near the border with Canada. The first shows two seagulls flying above some miniature sailing boats. The second is of town life in the northwest with an unusual mix of 19th century horse and carriage and 21st century motor cars. Why not suggest some explanations and titles for these two images in the Comments section below?

Moving at speed on foot

I first became in interested in moving at speed in the mountains 29 years ago. Wild camping in Borrowdale, I’d set off early shortly before eight o’clock from Seathwaite Farm and met a couple on Esk Hause about 9.30. They had got there from Grasmere, much further than I’d come.

“How have you done it?” I asked. The answer was footwear and fitness. Their light running shoes were more than half the weight of my leather boots. Later at the end of a long day, I had done about 5500 feet of ascent, and my feet were hot and tired.

Shortly after this encounter, I tried out this new technique with a new pair of Vibram-soled shoes, running down from Caer Caradoc in Shropshire. The next day a large blister on the front of my large toe told its story. I hadn’t found the complete answer, though I still use the same shoes for fellside gardening. The problem I now realize was they lacked a restraining tongue and ankle support.

The practice and technology for running in the mountains and on the flat has much changed and improved over three decades. Now I have five pairs of footwear for different conditions – trainers for the gym, US Asics running shoes for road and cross country, Swiss Mammut approach shoes (See opposite) for longer walking, rubber spiked Innovate shoes for fell running and Teva sandals for summer and alpine walking; and I am mostly free of blisters!

It’s a reminder that outdoor sports and running is now big business. Every day here in Seattle’s Queen Anne district well over 100 people run or fast walk past the house; and last week over 600 people, including myself took part in the annual ‘Crown of Queen Anne’ fun run – in which the winner completed in half my time.

The map of this month’s runs planned for the USA (see opposite) shows just how popular running of all sorts has become and this is a worldwide phenomenon. Companies too like New Balance are noticing this change, according to a New York Times 9 July article in the Business Section, “Campaign redefines running as a social activity”.

The company in 2011 spent $14.4 million on advertising and now dubs this change as ‘Runnovation’. Posters with slogans like “Hit the wall on purpose” and “Redefine Girls Night out”, promoting more women’s involvement will be encouraging more of us to take up the sport – and like me spend more money on running shoes! The photo below shows ‘women hitting the steps on purpose’ in Seattle’s Queen Anne area!

For the record probably the best mountain footwear for me has been a pair of Teva sandals, used at up to 2,500 metres in the Alps, India, North America, Africa, Scotland and elsewhere.

The only big innovation I haven’t yet tried is the Vibram FiveFingers footwear, which some friends swear by. But that could change with a visit to Seattle’s REI outdoors shop. After 29 years maybe I should be giving a Vibram product another chance!

Catbells and fell running

With the weather set fine just now, I’m always keen to get up onto the tops for some exercise, to smell the heather and grasses and feel the wind in my hair.

You don’t need to be a fitness freak, super athlete or regional champion to get started on fell running, which is why I often suggest Catbells as a good place to start, if you think you might become interested and want to give it a try.

Situated about three miles from Keswick, it’s easy to get to by bus, bike and foot. Taking a car to the foot of Catbells is more tricky now as there are restrictions on parking in the immediate vicinity. But if you don’t mind a half mile walk you can usually find somewhere, unless it’s a really lovely day in high season. Evenings are easier too. Bank holidays are best avoided.

You can approach the mountain from the east via Grange, from the southwest via Little Town or from the north, which is the direction I normally choose, as it leads you up the crest of the mountain.

There’s a good path, which unfolds gradually, giving you a growing sense of the local landscape. Derwentwater is magnificent beside Keswick and to the north Bassenthwaite opens up. Then there are the views of the high tops of Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north and the Langdales to the south.

Don’t think you need or should run all the way. Even the best fell runners will walk on the steepest sections. It’s about 1250 feet of climbing to the top of Catbells, which at a good pace will take you anywhere between 20 to 35 minutes.

If the going is getting a bit tough or the weather is changing, you can miss out the top and drop down to the right on tracks over the fellside. This will take you back to your starting point.

From the top you can proceed southwards almost until you reach the saddle, leading up to Maiden Moor. There’s a track leading off to the right, which drops steeply over the grass and then onto a stony track. Take care when you are running here, as the path is constricted in places.

The path veers continually round to the right as you drop down, so that you are now running parallel with the route you had taken on the way up the mountain. The path now is simple and easy for running and the route is clear. (See bottom photo below).

Near the end you pass a farm half hidden (see photo) and then you reach a parking point (See bottom right photo below), about 300 metres before the cattle grid on the bigger road. The descent will be much quicker, so an hour should be enough to complete the whole round.

If you try this out do let me know, by posting a comment below at the bottom of this blog.

UK makes waves in the US

My blogs this last month may seem like a new version of Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’. The reason’s simple. Our new grandson, Finlay here in Seattle needs lots of feeding and attention. Mostly from his mother, it’s true, as the picture of Chloe (opposite) reading Finlay his first book shows.

But she needs respite and sleep, so there’s plenty of time to read and type, provided you have the skills to hold the baby in one hand and control the laptop or read the newspaper with the other!

It’s always good to have a chance when we are over here to read a hard copy of the New York Times (NYT), which is thrown onto the porch in a small plastic bag sometime before 6 am every weekday.

The NYT brings me current views and breaking stories across the world. Back in the late 1990s for instance I first heard of smoothies as the ‘politically correct’ fruit shake in a NYT article. But this time, when I was looking for tennis news, the defeat of Serena Williams in the women’s singles at Wimbledon appeared to have diluted the NYT’s interest in the rest of the event.

But I was wrong. Come the final, interest in Andy Murray revived. Not only that, but in Sunday’s edition (7th July) the final match was front page news.

Murray’s win, making him the first Brit to become Wimbledon men’s champion for 77 years, received top coverage with a picture of him after completing the third and final set. I liked its neat caption – “Rule Britannia” – only 3 days after all America had been celebrating Independence Day on the 4th July with BBQs and fireworks! See photo opposite of the giant firework display over Seattle’s Union Lake, which we watched from the house.

That wasn’t all though that the UK had to offer New York. This last Tuesday’s front page of the NYT’s Arts Section (9th July) had a huge front page battle scene photo from the Manchester International Festival.

The first two pages of the Section were devoted to an enthusiastic and detailed review of the current production of Macbeth in the city, which has Kenneth Branagh co-directing and in the title role, his first Shakespearean stage performance for more than a decade. This is being staged in the deconsecrated St Peter’s Church in Ancoats – now home of the Halle Orchestra and Choir, in which Lindsay has sung for over 20 years. (See photo below, where the Halle Choir was preparing for a rehearsal).

I’ve been arguing recently that Manchester, largest city in the north, is fast becoming a world city. Now others are starting to realise this too!