French Roadtrip: Days 4 and 5 – The Long Drive Home

It is a long drive from Brittany to Coventry, but at least we were on our own schedule for this part of the trip, so decided to split it over two days, with an extended stop on the first day. I had planned to stop in Honfleur, a lovely little fishing port, but realised that it wouldn’t be suitable for Owen, so decided to stop a few miles away in Deauville, so that Owen could run around on the beach and dig some holes!

After another great breakfast, we said our goodbyes to Michel and Collette, my Mum’s cousins who had been hosting us in St Brieuc, and my parents, who were extending their trip with a few days in the Massif Central. We made plans to meet Simon and Sophie in Deauville, then set off, initially retracing our route from day 2. It took around three hours to get to Deauville. Owen only slept for the last hour, despite still seeming tired from his late night previously. There were a few traffic snarl ups around the Caen ring road, but we made good time and even managed to find a parking space right next to the beach. Ideal when you have a grumpy toddler who just wants to dig holes in the sand!

Whilst Owen was building, then immediately destroying sandcastles, I went to find some ham and cheese baguettes for lunch. Deauville beach is really well set up, with a boardwalk, little cabins (named after Hollywood stars, who may or may not have visited Deauville) then little kiosks selling beach essentials – including lunch! After eating our baguettes we walked along the beach road, checking out the impressive old buildings. The Normandy Hotel, where my Mum used to work, was the highlight, with its half timbered exterior. We then walked back along the boardwalk, stopping for ice cream. I found my new favourite ice cream flavour – chestnut. I’m not sure where else I will be able to get it from again. Although I do know some chestnut farmers, so have got them on the case! Whilst we were eating our ice creams, Simon and Sophie turned up, so we spent some time with them whilst Owen played in the sand some more. When it was time to leave, he ran all the way down the boardwalk to the car – quite a long way for someone with such little legs! It was a good job he was tiring himself out, as we had almost another three hours of driving ahead of us.

Our overnight stop was in Le Touquet, and we spent most of the drive looking out for tractors with Owen – he seemed way more impressed with them than the huge bridges we went over. As we were getting closer to Calais we noticed that most of the cars on the road were British registered, which I thought was funny. Not having been to Le Touquet before I wasn’t expecting to drive through pine forests on the edge of town and was pleasantly surprised to see that everything was really well set up for cycling. We were less impressed with our hotel, which felt really tired and due to a strange layout we were in the 153rd of 156 rooms down a really long corridor. At least the location was good – right on the beach! The town itself seemed nice though! We walked along the beach, past the wake boarding pool, the beach bars, kids clubs and volleyball courts to the town centre. I wasn’t prepared for just how busy the town centre would be – there were people everywhere, shopping, drinking and generally having a good time. As we were all pretty hungry, we went to the first place we found, a little pizza restaurant just off the main street. The pizza was amazing! I love that in France you can get pizzas with an egg on – quite a rarity in the UK. Owen was a bit of a monkey during dinner, I guess he had loads of pent up energy, after being cooped up in the car most of the day. So while Jen did some last minute shopping in town, I took Owen down to the beach for more digging! This is the photo at the top of the post. Once again, Owen enjoyed himself on the beach, hopefully two beaches in one day made up for all the time stuck in the car!

The tractor and combine harvester conversations we had been having with Owen in the car must have been playing on his mind, as he work up at 5:45 asking about combine harvesters! We let him get into bed with us, forgetting that toddlers seem to have an inbuilt need to sleep perpendicular to anyone else in the bed. With only a tiny slither of bed to balance on, I didn’t manage to get back to sleep. At least this meant we were ready to leave early for the relatively short drive up to the Chunnel. When we got there we were given the opportunity to take an earlier train – result! Jen had never used the Le Shuttle, and was wowed by how seamless it all was. We were pretty much straight off the motorway and onto the train! Before long we were speeding along under the English Channel. Whilst I was stretching my legs Owen took the opportunity to commandeer the drivers seat, thinking he’d get to drive the next leg of the journey. He was so upset when I put him back in his car seat.

We’d worked out that it would only be a twenty minute detour to visit Jen’s sister, Heather, in Hackney. So as it was her birthday it would have been rude not to call in! I love the drive into east London, with the Canary Wharf skyline, Olympic Park and the O2, then through the 120 year old Blackwall Tunnel. At this time on a Sunday morning it was a pretty easy drive too. Owen was very excited to see Heather, especially as this was the first time he had been to her flat. We had brunch at the cafe around the corner from Heather’s flat. As I was in East London I felt that it would be rude not to have smashed avocado on toast (and of course post it to my Instagram story).

I was surprised at how easy it was to get from Heather’s flat to the M11 for the start of the final leg of our journey – two hours back to Coventry. I was back on familiar roads, and driving on the left, so it was the easiest drive of the trip. We were home by 14:00, exactly five days since leaving, having covered just over 1,000 miles!

French Roadtrip: Days 2 and 3 – Brittany

We woke up to rain, not ideal on holiday. After a good breakfast at the hotel in Coutances, we loaded up the car for the drive to Brittany. It was still raining. At least it was a good opportunity to test the new wipers and RainX on the windscreen of the BMW. My main niggle with the car since getting it, is that there is no intermittent setting on the wipers, only an “intelligent auto” setting. Which isn’t that intelligent. Even on the most sensitive setting it waits until you can’t see anything ahead, then wipes the screen. I found an old bottle of RainX in the garage and thought it would be worth a try. I wish I’d thought of that a few years ago, as it worked a treat! Even in the heaviest rain I could leave the wipers set to auto and I could see the road ahead clearly!

Just because I could see where I was going didn’t mean that the journey went smoothly. Our first stop was in St Malo, and we had been sent directions to the car park we were meeting everyone at. However the directions opened in Google Maps, and we find that whilst the directions are usually spot on, they aren’t communicated well. It seems to be a lottery if it tells you the road name/number to turn on to and doesn’t show the number of the exit from roundabouts. To be fair we also didn’t have the audio mix tuned, so I could barely hear the turn by turn instructions, so we took a few wrong turns. I think I’ll stick to using Apple Maps.

When we arrived in St Malo the car park that we were looking for was full, so ended up parking somewhere else anyway. It was still raining. The plan had been to have a walk around the old town, but no-one really felt like it, so we followed my Dad straight to his favourite ice cream shop – Sanchez. He seems to have a favourite ice cream shop in every town we visit! 11:00 isn’t really ideal ice cream time, but it was somewhere we could sit in the dry, and I’d heard Dad saying how good this place was for a few years,. So we had to try it out. I had a giant sundae, with coconut, white chocolate and banana ice creams. It was good, but even I struggled to eat it! The plan had been to get “galette saussice”, for lunch, but I was so full of ice cream I couldn’t face one, so shared with Owen. For those that don’t know, a “galette saucisse” is a buckwheat pancake wrapped around a sausage. It is a typical Breton street food and one of my favourite lunches in France.

From St Malo we drove an hour along the coast to St Brieuc, where fortunately the weather was better. We were staying with my Mum’s cousin Michel and his wife Collette. We saw them in the UK last year, but it is probably 25 years since I last visited them. I didn’t really remember their house, but it is lovely, with the living areas (and a massive garage, with workshop) downstairs, then the guest bedrooms upstairs. The downstairs is very modern, with each of the guest bedrooms decorated with a different theme. Jen, Owen and I were in the historically themed room, with a Louis XIV wardrobe that Michel restored in his workshop. The wardrobe was an ideal place to hide all of the breakable ornaments from Owen – as it is very much the sort of house that a two year old could cause trouble in! Michel is also a petrolhead and has a lovely classic Simca 1000, that was manufactured in the year he was born, so we did some tyre kicking. Owen liked the “old car” too.

We drove into the centre of St Brieuc for a walk around, then down to the harbour, where the Rosengart car factory used to be. We had a little walk around, looking at the boats and one of the cars made in the factory. On the way back, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some essentials: milk for Owen, chestnut puree for me and wine for Jen! Owen was disappointed that this supermarket didn’t have a tank of live crabs/lobsters, unlike most other French supermarkets. Michel did a BBQ in the evening – french sausages and merguez (a spicy north African sausage), which was one of the foods we particularly wanted to eat on our trip – result! Michel and Collette are great hosts (they used to run bars), and we had a lovely three course meal, with the sausages/merguez as main course. Owen loved watching the sausages being cooked on the open fire, and wolfed his sausage down. Then stole some of my Mum’s merguez too! We had to break our “no iPad after dinner” rule, as toddlers and extended French meals are not an ideal combination – something I remembered from when I was a little boy. He sat happily on my Mum’s knee playing tractor/digger games whilst the grown ups chatted, mostly in French.

After his late night Owen had a short lie in, and when we got downstairs Michel had just arrived with croissants for breakfast from the local bakery – they were still warm! They were the best croissants I have ever eaten, they were so light. Nothing like the croissants you get in the UK. The bread was amazing too, and this is just from their local neighbourhood bakery. After breakfast we went to the beach at Les Rosaires, as we hadn’t really done anything aimed at Owen and digging holes at the beach is his favourite thing to do. We were there about an hour, Owen made sandcastles, paddled in the sea, explored rock pools and generally had the time of his life! However, we had to leave, as we had to fit in a three course lunch before our afternoon excursion!

Collette made us an amazing lunch – cockles, pot roast pork and raspberry panna cotta – I think they also grew/caught everything in the dinner apart from the pork and the milk! As is the way with French meals, it took a wee while, so we were late leaving for the pink granite cliffs at Ploumanach. The drive took just over an hour and Owen slept for most of it. When he woke up we were in a little seaside town that reminded Jen of Lulworth Cove in Dorset, and me of 17 Mile Drive in California. We had to carry him past the ice cream shop and the beach (“sandpit” in Owen’s words), then up the hill to the pink granite outcrops. He absolutely loved it there! Climbing on the rocks and posing for photos. I also like to think he was taking in the amazing views and wondering what geological and ocean forces were at play to form these amazing rock shapes. As the grown ups were taking their time walking back, I sat Owen on my shoulders and carried him to the beach, to do more digging in the sand. I’m not sure where he learned to do it, but he has taken to using my head like a steering wheel if I’m not walking the way he wants to go. Then if I mention it, he tries to steer me off the path or into something. He is such a cheeky little monkey!

Michel led us back the scenic route to St Brieuc, so it was already past Owen’s bed time when we got back. Collette made him egg and toast for dinner – his favourite. He had also asked for baked beans, not understanding that you don’t really get them in France. As we’d had a large lunch I was expecting a light dinner, but it was a 6 course job, including the aperitif and cheese! Aperitif (nibbles), mackerel pate, mussels, cod in white sauce, cheese and fruit salad! We were all stuffed after that. After his dinner, Owen had perked up a bit and didn’t want to go to bed, he sat quietly on his iPad, until the fruit salad came out. He took a liking to the homegrown blackcurrants, stealing them from my Mum’s bowl, then requesting more from the serving bowl! He actually stayed up later than his grandpa!

French Roadtrip: Day 1 – Normandy

We are in France for a few days visiting my Mum’s family. As we are visiting a few different places we are roadtripping in my BMW – our first proper road trip as a family of three! Our ferry left Portsmouth at 9:00 this morning, so we travelled down to the south coast yesterday.

As I was loading the car Owen asked to sit in the drivers seat, it is one of the few places where he can sit still for ages, so I took advantage. The only problem was that he thought he was going to be driving us down the motorway. He was absolutely gutted when eventually removed him and strapped him into his car seat. He had a proper tired two year old tantrum. Luckily within a few minutes of setting off we saw a tractor, which cheered him up. Then before we even got to the city centre he was asleep!

The journey south was uneventful, we called in at Itchen Valley Country Park in Eastleigh, to let Owen have a run around and stretch his legs. The drive took us two hours and Owen woke up just as we pulled into the park. Owen enjoyed both the playground and the play trail, which had animal themed play equipment dotted around in the woods. It also looked like there was a decent, albeit flat, bike trail, but there wasn’t room for my bike on this trip. Only a few minutes off the motorway it makes a much better stopping point than a service station!

All the fresh air made us hungry, so we tackled the rush hour traffic and drove to Whiteley for dinner. It is a nice little out of town shopping/leisure area, which seemed to cater well for kids with animatronic dinosaurs and sand pits to play in. We ate at Bar + Block, a steakhouse which I think may be coming to Coventry soon. Jen and I enjoyed our steaks, but I’m not sure Owen was too fussed about his – he still has a lot to learn!

In the morning we woke up early and called into McDonalds for breakfast on the way to catch the ferry, on the basis it would be cheaper and probably better than what was on offer on the ferry – we were right! Despite the early start, we only just got to the port in time. It has been well over ten years since I last caught a ferry from Portsmouth (I think it was 2005, when I first had my mk1 MX-5!), but it seemed strangely familiar. Owen was very excited to get on the ferry, looking out of the window at all of the activity on the Solent and waving at the boats.

The crossing wasn’t great, Jen and I don’t really have sea legs – I suppose that is because we live about as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK! Owen didn’t seem too bothered though, wanting to explore the ferry. It was funny watching him wobbling around as the boat pitched and rolled. We were definitely glad to dock at Cherbourg and that we will be coming home on the Chunnel!

The first stop of our trip was a very small village called Gonfreville, where my Mum grew up, to visit her friend Christiane. Gonfreville is about an hour south of Cherbourg, slightly longer with a boulangerie stop for lunch. The French really know how do make a perfect ham and cheese baguette. Jen’s theory is that it is down to the butter, and Normandy butter is supposedly the best in the world. Owen slept the whole way, only waking up when he heard my Mum’s voice, as they had arrived at Christiane’s a few ays before us. The excitement of being on a farm, with rabbits and an excitable dog meant that Owen woke up quickly and was soon practicing his French, by saying “bonjour” to everything!

We worked out it must have been seventeen or eighteen years since I was there, as I remembered Christiane’s granddaughter being about Owen’s age – she’s twenty now! My brother Simon and his wife Sophie also joined us, which made both Owen and Lola, the dog, even more excited. We had a drink, ate some cake and looked at old photos, including one of me as a baby. Owen and Jen thought that was funny. I’ve seen photos of me at around nine months old and I looked exactly like Owen did at that age, but at a few months old we looked nothing alike.

Leaving Christiane’s we had a tour of Gonfreville, my Mum showing us the houses she’d lived in and her old primary school. We drove in convoy to Coutances, which was our overnight stop. Our hotel was on the edge of town, so we dropped our bags and walked into town, down a steep hill and then up the other side. It was hard work in the sun, especially pushing Owen’s pushchair, so our first priority in town was to get an ice cream! Suitably cooled down we had a wonder around town, Owen particularly liked the public gardens, with ponds, a playground and a maze. We also went to see my Mum’s secondary school before walking back down, then up the hill to the hotel. I haven’t been to Coutances for over twenty years, some bits of it seemed familiar, but I’m glad my Mum knew where we were going.

We had a bit of downtime before all meeting for dinner. As is the French way, dinner seemed to last hours, so whilst Owen was well behaved to start with, he was getting grumpier and grumpier as the meal went on. Jen and I both had melon and parma ham to start, chicken tagine for main and apple tart for dessert. All the food was really good, Owen seemed to enjoy his too and seemed keener to try new things than he was in San Sebastian a few months ago.

I didn’t manage to take any photos in Normandy, so the one at the top of the post is of Owen, whilst I was loading the car back in Coventry.

Owen’s First Bike Race

Just nine days after his second birthday Owen took part in his first bike race! Strider UK had set up a balance bike race as part of the warm up for the third stage of the Women’s Tour arriving in Leamington Spa. A short oval track was marked out with cones in the finish area and the competitors were given numbers for the front of their bikes – Owen was #21!

First up was a mass start practice, to let the racers learn the track, and to size up the competition. It was pretty clear that Owen was the smallest competitor. He was also the slowest, thanks to his “interesting” line choice. Being a little mountain biker means that Owen isn’t interested in riding on flat tarmac, it is much more fun riding over lumps and bumps – in this case the cones marking out the track! He rode over every single one, until he got to the end of the track, then wanted to carry on going, rather than turning back towards the start. Fortunately I’d followed him round and was able to wrangle him round the corner.

The kids were split up into ages groups for the first race, with Owen up first in the two year old category. He was quick off the line, but quickly overtaken by the other riders, most of whom were almost a year older, which makes a big difference when you’re only two. Once again Owen rode over all of the cones, and by the time he was negotiating the turn the winner was crossing the line. All of the other racers had finished by the time Owen was on the back straight, but the crowd really got behind him, banging on the barriers and cheering him on – Owen loved it! He finished last, well down on the rest, but with a huge smile! That is what matters most.

After the age group races it was time for individual time trials. I decided to go round with Owen, to make sure he made the turn. The commentator said he could tell Owen was a mountain biker – “the next Danny Hart”, as he was hitting all the cones, despite a ten second penalty being applied for each cone hit. The times weren’t published, but I think it is safe to say that Owen would have been in last place.

Luckily all the racers got to go on the podium for a medal – especially exciting as they were using the Women’s Tour podium, which was on the back of a lorry. Owen was pleased with his medal, but even more pleased with the toy Strider bike he was given too.

Owen really enjoyed himself, which is a good job as he’s been entered in another race later in the year, at the Birmingham Strider track, which should hopefully play to his strengths more as the lumps and bumps are mandatory!

Owen’s Progress on the Balance Bike

Following on from Owen’s bike check post, and wanting to build his confidence on the bike, I put his bike in the boot of the car when we went for our usual Friday afternoon trip to the park. When we got to the park he was excited to put his helmet on and got on his bike, excited for the 100m ride from the car park to the playground. However we didn’t get out of the car park, before Owen gave up. He then seemed annoyed at me having to carry the bike all the way to the playground. After a fun session on the swings, slide and roundabout, Owen was again keen to get back on his bike – but this time rode it all the way back to the car park! I was so proud of him, as this was much further than he’d been on his bike before. Owen seemed pleased with himself too, as when he got home he got straight back on his bike to show off to Jen!

The next morning, Jen had a Eurovision party to prepare for, so based on the previous afternoons’ success I decided to take Owen to Ready Steady Riders, which is a Strider balance bike coaching session, on a special mini BMX track, next to the Perry Barr BMX track in Birmingham. Owen had a bit of a tantrum when we got there, as I wouldn’t let him ride his bike in the busy car park, but he really didn’t want to walk! After carrying both Owen and his bike to the safety of the park, I let him set off again on his bike. It was about 200m to the gate for the BMX and Owen made it most of the way, only needing to be carried for the last section. However, when he saw that there were other little boys there on their bikes, he was straight back on his!

The Strider track was awesome, a starting gate, four straights with bumps and jumps, connected with three big berms finishing off with a little banked chicane. Owen was so excited when he saw it, joining the track at the nearest place! Owen’s legs weren’t quite strong enough to get him up the bumps on the straights, so I needed to give him a helping hand, and also occasionally catch him on the down slopes, but even on this first lap his riding improved from beginning to end, he was getting more confident and obviously enjoying himself. At the end of the lap he was keen to get back for another one, this time tackling the berms on his own and using his feet to brake. We did a few more laps like this, Owen was the slowest rider there, but then 24 hours previously he’d only ever ridden the length of our garden! Kazzi, the coach, took over helping Owen round for a lap, which he seemed to respond well to. By this point he was really enjoying himself, making “wheeee!” sounds down all the slopes and carrying a bit more speed.

I could tell that all the excitement was starting to tire Owen out, he gets very stubborn when he is tired, and it was about his usual nap time, however we still had more of the session to run. About this time Owen started to take an interest in the start gate, the faster kids were using this for the start of their runs and Owen thought it looked fun. So we climbed up the hill and Owen took his place, for the start. 3, 2, 1, go! The riders surged forward towards the first hump on the track. Owen didn’t want to go over the hump to start the lap, he wanted to go back to the gate to do more starts. After a few of these, he decided that the bike was an inconvenience. Kazzi knew straight away how to sort this, asking Owen if he wanted to try her daughter’s bike – which worked for half a lap!

After a few more starts, and falls on his own bike, Owen decided that he was going to have a go at climbing the first hump on his own, getting upset at my offers of assistance, but even more upset that he couldn’t do it. After screaming at the hump, and at me, he decided to ask for his cot! Easier said than done when you are in the middle of a park! Getting a tired and grumpy Owen back to the car, along with his bike and safety gear wasn’t an easy task. Every few metres he wanted to be carried/to walk/to go on his bike or to have his helmet or kneepads taken off or put back on – all classic signs of a tired Owen. When we eventually got back to the car, Owen did his usual trick of demanding to “drive” (to sit in the drivers seat), which was handy for keeping him occupied whilst I loaded the car. When I got him into his seat in the back he was asleep within minutes, barely waking up when we got home and Jen transferred him into his cot. I’ll definitely be taking him to Ready Steady Riders again, hopefully before the race he’s been entered in next month.

On the Sunday, Owen wanted to play in the lane behind our house, jumping in puddles – that bloody Peppa Pig has a lot to answer for… Unlike Daddy Pig, I’m not a fan of puddles, especially in my new Danny Macaskill Five Ten shoes, so I decided to get my bike out and practice some skills whilst Owen splashed around. Seeing my bike made Owen want his bike, so I got it out, got his helmet on and we went on our first bike ride together! It was only up the lane behind our house, but it was a good little adventure, we met some friendly dogs and explored the top section of the lane which is a dead end. Owen fell off his bike whilst turning round at the top, and couldn’t be persuaded back onto the bike, so I ended up carrying/pushing the bikes back to the house – I’m sure Owen will learn soon enough that the downhill bits are the fun bits and I’ll be pushing/carrying the bikes up the climbs!

I’m so proud of the progress that Owen has made on his bike this weekend and the fact that he now seems to be enjoying his balance bike, rather than being scared of it. The photo at the top of this post has even made it onto the lock screen on my iPhone, as seeing Owen enjoying his bike is one of the best feelings!

Snowy Weekend

The Beast From The East/Snowpocalypse struck the UK last weekend and although Coventry seemed to get off fairly lightly my plans to take the MR2 on track at Silverstone were scuppered, but we still managed to have a good time without leaving Coventry!

Since returning back to work after paternity leave, my weekend starts on a Friday, usually with Owen’s swimming lesson in the morning. Driving to the pool, the roads were actually clearer than they had been on the previous evening’s commute – where I witnessed a car leave the road in front of me. Owen enjoyed his swim, but was a little monkey when he got home. He was probably getting cabin fever, as he’s spent most of the last week at home, as he had picked up a stomach bug at nursery and we didn’t want a repeat of our trip to Yorkshire last year where he passed on his bug to everyone he met! Unfortunately we couldn’t get out to play in the snow, or even work on bikes in the garage (which Owen loves), as it was just too cold and windy. So we lit the fire, settled down in the lounge and waited for Jen to get back from work.

Fortunately the wind had died down by Saturday morning and everywhere looked lovely covered in a thick blanket of snow. Jen’s Parkrun was cancelled, so we were able to run some errands, before getting Owen into his snow clothes to play in the garden. This wasn’t the first time Owen had played in the snow, and he was excited to get out in it. He really enjoyed himself – especially throwing snowballs! He also copied Jen making a snow angel, and loved crawling around in the deeper snowdrifts in the garden.

Playing in the snow tired Owen out, so while he was having his nap I managed to get out on my bike. It was only for a short ride around my local trails, but they were transformed in the snow and I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of fresh snow under my tyres. I am used to the trails I ride most weeks chasing with the seasons, but it is usually a gradual change, rather than an overnight change with the snow! I also liked being able to follow other tyre tracks and seeing which parts of the trails other people were riding.

The snow had started to melt by Sunday morning, so we went out to Hickory’s Smokehouse for breakfast. All of the playing in the snow must have made Owen hungry, he polished off most of his fry up – we’ve never seen him eat like that! Whilst Owen was sleeping off his breakfast I went out on my bike again. The snow on the trails had mostly turned to slush and mud, so it was tough going. I ended up having to abort my ride and ride home on the road as I ran out of time. We spent the afternoon visiting Jen’s mum and dad, looking at photos of Owen – it is amazing how much he has changed, even over the last six months.

The weekend hadn’t gone to plan, the weather was rubbish, but we still managed to have a good time. I was rested and ready to hit the ground running when I got to the office on Monday morning, which was useful as work has been really busy over the last few months, hence the lack of updates to this blog. Things should be retuning to normal soon though.

Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

A Look Back at 2017

2017 is going to be a tough year to top! The main highlight was taking 9 weeks parental leave to spend with Owen – I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to take such a long break from work again and it was great bonding time with the wee man at such a key point in his development. If any fathers to be are reading this and are considering taking shared parental leave I’d seriously recommend it, and also checking out the series of blog posts I did documenting my time off!

The first few months of the year, before my paternity leave started were fairly standard, I took the MR2 to a few Pistonheads events – a visit to Prodrive and took it on track at Silverstone. I also had my annual trip to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, which proved to be quite a key day for me.

The spring was by far the best time of year – I was on paternity leave and in addition to spending every day with Owen I managed to fit in a wedding, some climbing, a big bike ride in the Cotswolds, project managing a garden renovation, a holiday in Croyde all culminating with Owen’s first birthday party! I think it is pretty safe to say that I made the most of my paternity leave!

Summer was all about mountain biking – starting off with buying my dream bike! 15 year old Lewis would have been very excited at having an Orange mountain bike, a full suspension Orange mountain bike would have seemed other worldly! I hadn’t planned on buying one, but after demoing one at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, I had to have one. This meant my old bike could be fitted with a child seat for Owen, and he seemed to like his rides round Draycote Water and along the Monsal Trail. Owen even managed to sneak into the GMBN Bike Vault! We also had a fun trip to North Yorkshire for Jen to run the York 10km race, me to ride my bike on the North York Moors and Owen to share his stomach bug with everyone we met. I also started to settle into my new four day week at work. It has meant a pay cut, which isn’t ideal, but getting to spend the extra time with Owen has been worth it. Fridays usually start off with mountain bike videos, then Owen’s swimming lesson followed by a nap. Then lunch, a walk to the butchers and/or the park before waiting for Jen to get back from work.

The main event in autumn was our trip to Cyprus for my best friend Partho’s wedding, after the initial stress of getting there, we had a great time, both at the wedding in Limassol and relaxing in Protaras afterwards. There were so many firsts for Owen, the big one being his first flight on aeroplane, and he coped well with all of the new experiences. After getting back from Cyprus I had my best bike ride ever, a loop of the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase where everything just clicked. Unfortunately I had a really bad ride back at Cannock Chase a few weeks later. I came off my bike on a tricky section of trail, aggravating an old knee injury. This happened at the top of a hill, at the furthest point of the trail from the car park. I managed to gently ride back to the car, mostly annoyed that I’d done all the hard work climbing, but missed out on the fun descents. However, when I got out of the car at home my knee had swollen up and I was in a fair bit of pain. It took about a month, and a lot of exercises from the physio to get the full range of motion back, but it is on the mend now.

At least my injury coincided with the bad weather, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending my evenings at home at my computer, working on websites and generally being a geek. We also won a new project at work which has been keeping me occupied, so I’ve not missed mountain biking as much as I thought I would. I did manage to take a trip to the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my Dad. Christmas was an extra special time now that Owen can appreciate what is going on, I don’t think he understood exactly what was happening, but he certainly liked having an advent calendar, the brightly coloured tree in our living room and seeing Santa Claus in the run up to Christmas. He also enjoyed being the centre of attention throughout the festive period, spending time with his aunts and uncle and especially all the new toys that arrived for him! I’m sure next year will be even more special again, as Owen starts to understand what is going on. After Christmas I was able to get back on my bike for a short local ride but mostly enjoyed spending time at home with Jen and Owen.

At the start of the year I set myself six goals on my look ahead to 2017 blog post, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in meeting them:

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

I currently weigh 87kg and have been under 90kg for over six months. When I reviewed my goals in June I set a stretch goal to keep my weight below 87.5kg, which I have just about managed.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

Must try harder in 2018! I’ve barely driven the MR2, and only did one track session at Silverstone.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Llandegla was hard but awesome, I’m looking forward to a return trip.

Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride

Yes. I also had some good rides in the Cotswolds on natural terrain.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I took my compact camera out with me on a few rides, but what I really wanted to do was a proper photography mission on my bike, which I didn’t get around to. Another one to carry over to 2018!

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I wouldn’t say yoga is part of my weekly routine yet, but it is getting there. I did have a few months of practicing yoga two or three times a week, but when I injured my knee at the beginning of November I let the yoga slip, as I just didn’t have the required mobility in my leg. Yoga has been replaced by knee exercises from the physio, along with some upper body weight training, but I’ll be looking to phase the yoga back in over the next few weeks.

Aside from the goals I laid out at the start of the year I feel like I have accomplished a fair amount, especially as I’ve had to balance work, family life, training and personal projects, which was an accomplishment in itself. I’m most proud of how much my fitness had improved over the first ten months of the year, I seem to notice it most at places I ride my bike occasionally, such as Cannock Chase, I found myself riding straight past places where I would have normally had to stop for a breather. Hopefully six weeks off the bike hasn’t undone all of that good work! At the start of the year I said I wanted to clock 100 active days, do at least 1x Everest climbing and log more kilometres on the bike that my best friend Partho. Even with six weeks off the bike I managed 100 active days, although two off them were swims, 1.8x Everest of climbing and most importably rode over 400km more than Partho. Up until my knee injury I had ridden my bike at least once a week from the second week of the year, which probably had a lot to do with my improved fitness.

I have been trying to expand my technical skillset, from front end developer to full stack developer, this blog has been moved to an AWS EC2 instance, which has taught me a lot about running a web server and has lead to a few other interesting projects. I have also been brushing up my PHP and MySQL skills, which I hadn’t used since graduating from university in 2007, at the moment I’ve only been using it for a small personal project, but it is something that could expand one day…

I also feel like I’ve shared in Owen’s many accomplishments this year – he has said his first words, taken his first steps, been on his first bike rides and charmed every person he has met. He is also turning into a little petrolhead, “car” seems to be his word for anything he likes and he could happily play with cars all day. I wonder where he gets that from…

Long Weekend in Yorkshire

Jen’s fitness goal for 2017 was to run the York 10km race, and as our main family holidays were earlier (Croyde) and later in the year (Cyprus), we decided to take a few days off work and turn it into a summer mini break.

Our first stop was with our friends, Helen and Phil, in York. Phil and I, along with his son William, had been planning a bike ride whilst the girls ran their race on Sunday morning. However, that plan was vetoed, so we sent Owen and the girls into town and went for a bike ride on the Saturday afternoon instead. Phil had chosen a great route, with some off road sections and a stop at an ice cream boat! After the bike ride Phil fired up the pizza oven for a pizza party! Our other friends, Hayley and Will and their children, also joined us. The kids all had a good time together, especially once the bouncy castle was set up. Owen was the youngest there, but got stuck in playing with the bigger kids, even if he couldn’t keep up with them. We all had a lovely evening eating pizza and playing with the kids.

I woke up on Sunday with a dodgy belly – thinking that I’d disproved my theory that “there is no such thing as too much pizza”, and discovered the “pizza hangover”. However, in reality I think I’d caught the stomach bug that Owen had earlier in the week. Unfortunately he seems to have spread it to everyone he came into contact with at the weekend. Phil and I took the kids to the Knavesmire to watch the start of the race, then walked further down the course to cheer the girls on, managing to spot them in the crowd of over six thousand runners. After the race we went to Hayley and Will’s for a BBQ. I cycled over with William – I think we were both still excited about our new bikes, so didn’t need any excuses to ride them. It was less than half a mile up the road, but as William is only just starting to ride on the road I felt a great responsibility. I can’t wait until I am able to ride with Owen. Owen must have sensed this, as at the BBQ he was sat on a little trike and looked so pleased with himself. He sat on it for at least half an hour – he never sits still, so this was unheard of. After getting off the trike he crawled over to my bike and looked at it as if that was his next target now that he’d “mastered” the trike. After the BBQ we drove to our next stop an Airbnb in a secret valley in the North York Moors. It really was in a secret valley – located about a mile from the nearest road, but the hosts were lovely and the cottage was perfect for the three of us.

I woke up feeling much better and snuck off for an early morning bike ride. The Airbnb was on some trails mentioned in my Good Mountain Biking Guide book – this was genuinely a complete coincidence! As I didn’t want to eat too much into our day, I did a shortened loop, which started with a brutal climb up through some sheep fields. Looking back towards the Airbnb I could see how it got its “Secret Valley” name – you couldn’t see it at all! The next section of trail was really boggy and just as difficult as the climb. Fortunately the return leg was much more fun, except for the part where I came round a corner and hit another boggy section. The bike stopped dead, but I carried on into the bog. By the time I got back down to the secret valley I was covered in mud, but had a big smile on my face.

After a quick shower we went to Helmsley to meet another of our friends, Els, who had got the bus out to meet us. After a brief tour of Helmsley and some elevenses we all set off to the seaside! When we got to Scarborough we quickly checked off a lot of the traditional seaside activities – fish and chips, 2p machines and slightly disappointing funfair, before heading onto the beach. Owen loves playing in sand, so he was in his element, digging, crawling and throwing sand around etc. I’m sure he could have stayed there all afternoon, but we had to meet Jen’s cousin Virginia, who we have stayed with on previous trips to Scarborough.

We had a nice catch up before driving back to the Airbnb. Before dinner, we had a visitor to the cottage – Vinnie, the owner’s puppy, who befriended Owen. They crawled around the cottage after each other and seemed to be having a great time together. All the reviews had mentioned how good the food was, so we were very excited about dinner. We had lamb tagine with roast potatoes, and homemade bread to mop up the sauce. All of the ingredients came from the farm, from the lamb, to the pickled wild garlic seeds and the wildflower garnish. It was one of the best meals we’d ever had! Jen has said that she is going to try and recreate it sometime – which I am looking forward to. For dessert we had mille feuille and the custard was infused with flowers from the local hedgerows. It wasn’t something I would have chosen from a menu, but I really enjoyed it.

Our last day in Yorkshire started with a pre-breakfast walk up the farm track, with Owen on my back, to see a calf that we’d noticed on our way out to Helmsley the day before. When we got to the field it mooed at us, then walked over to see us. It certainly liked the attention. We had breakfast at the Airbnb, which was just as good as dinner the previous evening. I was actually quite sad to be leaving the secret valley, I could have spent another day there.

The original plan had been to call in at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the way home, but given that the weather forecast was for heavy rain we decided to go to York Designer Outlet for some shopping. It was Jen who wanted to go shopping, but me that ended up buying loads of things – new work shoes and Jen’s Christmas present, which she had already been dropping lots of hints about. The real winner was Owen, as you can hire little cars to wheel kids about in – he absolutely loved it! After pizza for lunch we drove back to the shire, the heavy rain didn’t let up until we got to Nuneaton for a quick stop off with Jen’s Mum and Dad. All the way down the motorway I had been trying to work out if I could get the car back home just as it clicked over to 75,000 miles, but the odometer just clicked over to 74,999 as I pulled onto the drive.

Owen in the GMBN Bike Vault

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I’ve been a fan of the GMBN YouTube channel since it started and have had many attempts to get my bike included in their Bike Vault feature. Finally it happened, and with a “Super nice” rating to boot. I had to use my secret weapon – Owen, I had a feeling his cuteness would work. It was especially apt as the theme of the show was “mountain bikers of the future”. I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to Owen at 19m35s.

The photo was taken at Kingsbury Waterpark, whilst Jen was doing Parkrun there – something we are trying to do more together – like our ride around Draycote Water last weekend. We have also got a few more family rides planned over the next few weeks.