Henry’s Summer Holiday 2021

At the end of each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them on my blog.

On the first day of Owen’s school holidays, the boys and I grabbed our cameras and went for a walk in our local woods. Henry walked so well. I chose this photo as we had lots of walks in the woods – it is great having them just at the top of our road.

This photo has already appeared in Spot the Difference – Cannock Chase Water Splash. Henry and I were at Cannock Chase for a Little Rippers MTB x Ready Steady Riders ride. Owen was meant to be with us, but he had to self isolate due to one of his classmates having COVID on the last day of term. It was good to get out for a group ride with just Henry – I managed to convince him to ride into the river to recreate a photo I had taken of Owen when Henry was only three months old.

Henry loved our trip to Bluestone in Wales! This was not my favourite photo from the trip, but it gave the best context of what Henry did on holiday – he loved playing in the sandpit in the Serendome.

Bluestone 2021

After our trip to Bluestone in 2019, Owen regularly asked when we would be going back. It was a great holiday, so we booked a short break for May 2020, our last opportunity for a term-time holiday for a while. We all know how that ended! So we moved our booking to 2021, during Owen’s school summer holidays.

On our previous trip, we were in my BMW 120i, which was not at all suitable for a family holiday – packing was much easier with the van! We broke up the journey at Dare Valley Country Park, where we had a nice lunch outside in their courtyard. After lunch the boys checked out the adventure playground, then the new pump track – the reason that we were there! The pump track (and family-orientated downhill trail, with uplift service) only opened this month, but I had heard good things about it. I was impressed with the asphalt pump track, the only niggle I have with it is that there is not a natural exit point, without crossing the track. Both of the boys rode really well. Henry was not at all phased by the biggest rollers and berms he had ridden, despite all bigger kids whizzing around. Owen was in his element, just putting in lap after lap.

From our stop, it was another ninety minutes to Bluestone, which Henry slept for most of. In total on the way from Coventry to Bluestone we saw 124 VW Transporter leisure vans (only T5 or newer, not including panel van etc) – we only saw one MR2 Roadster.

We had the same type of cabin as our last visit – a detached “upside-down house”, just down the hill from last time. Inside it was almost identical, but with different views out of the windows, which I found a bit confusing. The house was nearer to the “village” centre, so we took the boys down in the evening to explore and burn off some energy on the playground. It only took Owen 76 seconds to run back to our front door!

Our first full day started with a three bike convoy (Henry on the Mac Ride on Jen’s bike) to “The Hive” a large soft play centre, which was new since our last trip. The boys loved it – Henry especially, as he has missed out on soft play sessions and this was his first proper exposure. We then moved on to the Serendome, an undercover, but just about outdoor, area with loads of activities for the kids. The “building” area, which was Owen’s favourite, had been replaced with an area for craft activities, but the disappointment was short-lived once the boys got to the sandpit, where they played happily until Owen’s “Wacky Racers” pedal car session. Owen had not been old enough for the pedal cars on our first trip and was very excited to drive his car, which he christened “The Crazy Giraffe”. After a brief slalom to test driving abilities, Owen led out the first drive down the hill, stopping to collect coloured discs at a few points down the hill, then full pelt into the crash-pad at the bottom. Next was a timed hill climb back to the start – Owen did particularly well on this. The last run down the hill was a test of smoothness, a small bucket of water was placed on the car, with instructions not to spill any. Owen managed to not spill any at all – which I was very proud of. The races finished with a couple of celebratory laps around the Serendome.

In the afternoon, we left Bluestone and headed to the beach – Freshwater West, as we had enjoyed our previous visit there. It is a big beach, with dunes at one end and rocks at the other. We were able to get parked at the rocky end and set up our base near the rock pools. The boys enjoyed digging and paddling, although Henry was not too keen on his hands getting sandy. Owen and I took a walk down to the sea, although as it was just after low tide it took a while! On our way back to the van we got ice cream from Cafe Mor. Just like in 2019 I wished we had been there when we were planning to eat – the burgers looked, and smelled, amazing! At least the pizzas we had delivered to our cabin when we got back to Bluestone were really nice!

On Wednesday morning I managed to escape for a solo bike ride in Canaston Woods, whilst Jen and the boys had breakfast. It was a shorter version of the loop that I did last time, as I chose to stay nearer to Bluestone and repeat a particular loop. It was good to get out and ride some longer and more technical trails that I am used to at home in Coventry.

After a quick shower to remove the muddy evidence of my bike ride, we all got on our bikes and rode up to the Blue Lagoon pool. Unfortunately, they did not have the wave machine working, but the boys still enjoyed the lazy river. Owen was not quite big enough to go on the water flumes, but did get a chance to show Jen how well he can swim on his own now, albeit with a float belt and pool noodle. It has been over a year of (interrupted) swimming lessons since Jen last saw him swim and he has made good progress! Henry seemed to be his usual happy self and particularly enjoyed splashing around in the baby pool. After swimming, we went to the “village” coffee shop for “Welsh cream tea”, which was a normal cream tea but with added Welsh cakes – something I can certainly get on board with!

In the afternoon we walked down the steep ravine to Camp Smokey, for BBQ food and s’mores. Henry could not wait for his marshmallows to be toasted, he just gobbled them up! After our meal we took the long way back to the house, along the nature trail – the boys did well, walking all the way, and they still had the energy to run around the playground for an hour! After a busy day, we retired to the cabin and watched a film and gave the boys a relatively early night.

Our last full day at Bluestone started with another trip to the Hive, then to the Serendome. Owen got to play in the water play area, which he was upset to have missed out on earlier in the week. From there we left Bluestone to explore Narbeth. On our last trip, Jen had a quick look around and had found a nice Spanish deli. Our plan had been to have lunch there, but we had chosen the day their cafe was closed. Instead, we found Oh Crumbs! where Henry ordered a huge plate of waffles with brownies and marshmallows. Fortunately, he needed some help to finish them!

The plan had been to head back to Bluestone, but Henry was sleepy and Owen was being difficult, so we decided a longer drive in the van and change of scenery may help. I had heard about Llys y Fran on the Little Rippers MTB FaceBook group. We did not really know what to expect as we followed the signs pointing us down increasingly smaller roads into what felt like the middle of nowhere. Then all of a sudden we pulled up in a big car park that was mostly full. As we drove around trying to find a space Owen spotted the pump track! Henry was asleep in his car seat until just as Owen and I were kitted up and ready to head to the pump track and a little voice piped up “Henry come too”. Unfortunately, we had not really come equipped for riding the pump track – we only had our bikes to ride from the cabin to the van, no kneepads or full-face helmets etc. So we decided to take it easy.

When we got to the pump track we discovered that it was not just one pump track, but two, and a skills area! The smallest pump track would have been great for Henry, Owen enjoyed the bigger, asphalt, track, but before long we pedalled up to the top of the skills area to see what the trails were like. The short green graded line was nice and flowy, Owen rode it well, so we went back to the start to hit what we thought was another green graded line, but turned out to be the first section of the main mountain bike trail around the reservoir. Again, it was nice and flowy, but we just had a longer pedal back than expected! Next, we tried the blue line in the skills area, Owen set off first, but failed to get over the bridge feature – which to be fair was pretty steep for a blue graded trail, especially as you came up to it blind. After some help, he completed the trail and went back to the pump track where he was happy looping around it. Jen joined us, with Henry on the Mac Ride on her bike, and after swapping the Mac Ride onto my bike, we decided to check out the mountain bike trail around the reservoir.

Owen set off first, having already ridden the first green section, he was confident and shot off into the distance. Jen struggled to keep up – at this point I should have realised that the green-graded (easy) trail was actually trickier than the blue-graded (medium) trails she had ridden previously. After his laps of the pump track earlier in the week, Henry had decided that he liked corners again, so he was giggling away as we brought up the rear of our train. The second section of the mountain bike trails was also graded green but notched up the difficulty again. Jen was not at all confident riding it, although Owen was fine. At this point, I suggested heading back to the van, but Jen decided to push on around the reservoir on the gravel road. There were plenty of other families riding and all seemed well. I had a look at the next mountain bike section as we rode past, noting that the grading had increased to blue, and it looked a lot more technical – too technical to ride with Henry on my bike and for Owen without his protective gear. A while later we crossed the stream and the head of the reservoir, I noticed that the sign indicated 2 miles back to the visitor centre via the route we had come, or 5.5 miles via the way we were going. As it had been an easy ride up until that point I thought nothing more of it. Then the steep climbs started! I just about managed to struggle up the climbs with the extra weight of Henry on my bike, but Owen needed to push (of course I had left the tow rope back at the cabin). Because what goes up must come down, we then came to some seriously steep descents. Steep enough that Owen and Jen opted to walk down them. I think Henry would have also preferred to walk, but I wanted to keep momentum up for the following climbs. This part of the ride felt never-ending – we had definitely bitten off more than we could chew. But we were not about to go back up the super steep hills we had just come down! We had to keep on going – especially as we had a dinner reservation to make! As we eventually neared the dam we stopped to talk to the ranger, who informed us that he speaks to a lot of people who think it will be a flat ride around the reservoir. He also broke the news that we would not be riding across the dam, but would be descending to the valley floor, then back up the other side. At least it was a gentle gradient on tarmac, rather than more steep gravel sections. Henry and I powered ahead, put my bike in the van, then walked back to meet Owen and Jen, so I could take their bikes back to the van whilst the boys had a brief play on the playground and we could take the selfie above – as I had not actually taken any photographs all ride!

Somehow, we just about managed to make our dinner reservation at the Bluestone Pub, where we enjoyed a well-earned meal! The boys still had enough energy left to finish our stay as it had started, with a charge around the playground on the way back to the cabin. It was good being back at Bluestone, and the boys are already asking when we can go back. However I do not feel like I am in a rush to go back, whilst it is a great place to holiday with children, as there is plenty to keep them occupied, I did not really feel like I had much of a rest. We were ferrying excitable children to various activities, then supervising them. I do really like the concept of a car-free “village” and I am sure that we will go back in a few years when the boys are older they will be able to partake in different activities, so it will be a new experience for them.

We were not going straight home from Bluestone – in 2019 we had called at the Forest of Dean and decided that we would like to spend more time in that area. Our first stop was for lunch and a bike ride at the Cannop Cycle Centre. After eating our takeaway lunch in the van we headed for the family cycle trail, with Henry on the Mac Ride, and his balance bike strapped to my back. The plan had been to do a short ride on the family cycle trail, but the boys were being difficult, so we went straight to the playground at Beechenhurst, the non-mountain biking Forestry England site in the Forest of Dean, which is just over a kilometre away from the cycle centre. Incidentally, I think having the split sites works really well, rather than the usual mix of hardcore mountain bikers and families going to the cafe/playground/GoApe. After a good run around the large play area, the boys seemed a bit happier, so we went back to the cycle centre to hit the pump track. The skills area at the Cannop Cycle Centre is perfect for families, and Owen got straight on with riding laps of the pump track with the other kids there. Henry was a bit more reluctant but ended up doing some great riding on his balance bike, starting higher and higher on the start ramp each time he went around. Unfortunately, Owen was in a foul mood again by the time we got back to the van, culminating in him refusing to drink any of his water, then dropping the bottle as soon as we had set off, then claiming he was about to die of thirst. Henry being the helpful little brother that he is kindly offered Owen his drink. Of course, this was not good enough for Owen, which Henry responded to with taunts of “drink it, Owen”. Sensibly, at this point, Owen realised that when a two-year-old is mocking your tantrum it is best to give up and stayed quiet for the rest of our journey (which was completed before he died of thirst).

Our next stop was at Ross-on-Wye, a town I had driven through on many occasions, but never visited. Tea and cake were first on the agenda, we went to The Ginger Nut Cafe, which had tasty looking homemade cakes in the window. Suitably refuelled, we had a short walk around town, well as much as you can with two small boys, before heading back to the van and our hotel. Opposite the hotel, there were two combine harvesters “eating the wheat” as Owen would put it, which were good to watch as we had our dinner. I am going to finish this post here because the next part of the trip deserves a post of its own. The boys loved being back at Bluestone and are already asking when we can go back…

Owen’s First Day of Year One

After what felt like a long summer holiday, Owen went back to school, to start Year One. Coming into the holiday I was worried about how we would manage to fill six weeks, but Owen seemed to have had something on most days. We had some great bike rides, at 417 Bike Park and Cannock Chase and our main holiday to Bluestone. However there is an element of relief that we no longer have to find something to occupy him during the week!

Owen really flourished in his Reception year, even with a big stint of homeschooling – I am particularly impressed at how well he has learned to read and write. He can read books himself, and even to Henry (if the stars align and they both sit still)! Hopefully the more structured learning environment in Year One will bring him on even more, although I know Owen will miss playing in the building area.

Like last year, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Owen some questions, to record how he changes over the years:

  • Height: 115cm
  • Shoe size: 13
  • Bike: Orbea MX20
  • Favourite colour: Red
  • Favourite food: Toad in the hole
  • Favourite book: Oi Aardvark Amazon affiliate link (he generally loves all of the “Oi” series of books, and this is the latest one we got from the library)
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Pokémon: Diamond and Pearl iPlayer link
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Ride our bikes at Cannock Chase
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A digger driver

Roadsters in the Elan Valley

The Elan Valley in Mid Wales has been high on my list of places to visit – the only question was, do I take the MR2 or the mountain bike! Partho and I both had a free Sunday, and with existing plans to ride bikes together in the week, it was an easy decision to take our sportscars for a much needed Sunday morning run out.

We met at Droitwich for a McDonalds breakfast, then headed west. I had not specifically chosen the route, but the sat nav picked a mix of twisty single carriageway A and B roads, the natural environment for an MR2 Roadster. With great roads and little traffic it was one of the best drives I can remember. For reference the route was A4133 – A443 – A456 – B4362 – B4356 – A488 – A44.

We spent a few hours cruising around the valley, looking at the dams and taking photos. I was surprised to see that whilst one of the reservoirs was full, others looked quite empty. The roads in the valley were mostly small single track roads, so I was glad that I was in a small car. In fact, I found the roads we took to get to the Elan Valley more fun to drive than the roads when we got there. The views were stunning however, especially when the sun came out so that we could see them! I was surprised at how quiet it was for a Sunday in the summer holidays, there were no traffic jams and we had no trouble parking at any of the viewing points. We mostly followed this guide, which coincidentally also features an MR2 Roadster.

After our lap of the dams, with many photos taken, we took the mountain road to Devil’s Bridge. Again, this was mostly a singletrack road, but was generally well sighted, so we could press on a bit and work the cars. We missed the turning for the big hotel at Devil’s Bridge, so stopped for Cornish pasties and Welsh cakes at the tea room next to the campsite. As Partho had to get back home, we did not pay to view the waterfall, and from what I have heard since, that may have been a good job!

After lunch, I turned round and drove back over the mountain road to Rhayader, then back home along a similar route. Unfortunately, the twisty roads that had been so fun in the morning meant that I was unable to overtake the three lorries in front of me, so the drive home was not quite as fun. Despite that, it was still good to get out in the MR2, which ran perfectly, other than the 12v cigarette lighter socket which no longer works.

I loved visiting the Elan Valley, it was a good drive over, and I felt that it had a good balance of remoteness and ease of access. I already had plans to return with my bike, but I will also return with Jen and the boys, as we will all be able to explore together, both in the van and on some of the lower level cycle trails around the reservoirs.

Throwback Thursday: Dorset 2020

This time last year, we were on holiday in Dorset, with my parents, brother and sister in law. For some reason this post has sat in my drafts since then, so before we head back to Bluestone for our 2021 summer holiday I though I had better publish the post from our 2020 holiday…

Even before “the virus” our summer holiday plan for 2020 had been a staycation – a trip to Dorset with my family. After our trip back to Bluestone earlier in the year had to be cancelled, we were glad to be able to get away at all. This was exactly the sort of trip I had bought my van for, and we were glad of all the space – packing was a lot easier than for our trip last year, despite taking way more stuff. Given the rubbish weather and traffic on the way down, we gave up on our plan to stop for a bike ride en-route and ended up having a van picnic. The photo below, taken on my iPhone on our picnic stop is one of my favourites of the year. It was a long drive, but the boys were good, and it was totally worth it when we saw the lovely house that my parents had booked for the week and we tucked into our fish and chip dinner.

The house was in Burton Bradstock, and we spent the weekend around there, checking out the beach – which the boys loved. I even went for a swim in the sea! I also got out for my usual Sunday morning bike ride. Not knowing the area, I had planned a route on Komoot. It was not great, the bridleways I followed existed on the map, but they were not trails, so it was a bit of a slog riding across fields. Then the path I was following disappeared, the gate between fields must have grown over, as I spent ages searching round a field for a way out. It was also raining. Whilst I was out, my parents and Owen had gone for a walk along the coast path to West Bay, the next village along from Burton Bradstock – it was a long walk for Owen, including some steep climbs and descents, and he had done really well getting there, but my Mum did not think he would make it back. So when I got the call to come and collect them in the van, I did not feel too bad about abandoning my planned route and and heading straight back to Burton Bradstock along the mostly flat valley road. It was probably my hardest ride of the year, but still good to get out somewhere new.

After collecting my Mum and Owen from West Bay, we all went to the beach again, as the weather had improved slightly – although, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, it was not exactly sunbathing weather! I made the most of the “atmospheric” light to take plenty of photos. We also used a big flexible builders bucket to make a giant sandcastle! As always, the boys absolutely loved the beach – to them it was like being in a limitless sandpit!

After a few days with the whole family at Burton Bradstock, the four of us decided to get in the van for a day out. The plan had initially been to have breakfast and then a bike ride at Symondsbury Estate. We had a nice breakfast, albeit somewhat spoilt by Owen getting stung by a wasp. After breakfast we looked around the shops, and at the animals, the pigs being our favourite, but ultimately decided that the bike trails there were unsuitable, the bike park was closed and the mountain bike route was too long and hilly for Owen. Our back up plan was Moors Valley, which I have covered in another post. We enjoyed our morning at Symondsbury and would definitely go back if we are ever in the area again.

We also had a trip to Lyme Regis, which felt a lot more “traditional seaside town.” The boys enjoyed another beach to play on, whilst I walked around “The Cobb” (ancient harbour wall) for some photography. We also had ice creams and Cornish pasties. We did look at heading to the fossil beach, but with two tired boys, we decided it would be better to head back to the van to give them a chance to nap, as we drove round to the other side of the fossil beach at Charmouth. Owen and I tried to find some fossils amongst the millions of pebbles on the beach, but I am convinced that people who know what they are doing would have already got the good ones before the hoards arrived! So instead we bought one from the gift shop, after eventually managing to convince the boys to leave the beach! That evening, my parents looked after the boys, whilst Jen and I went out for dinner at the village pub with my brother and his wife. The food was good and it was nice to spend some time with them, as they would be driving back to Kent in their Morris Minor the next day.

Simon and Sophie chose a good time to leave Dorset – the weather had turned for our last few days! It would not be a British summer holiday without some rain, but as I braved the rain for a solo clifftop walk, I could not help but feel sorry for the fields of campers that I walked past, in the knowledge that as wet as I was, I would be returning to a warm shower! We did venture over to West Bay and had a lovely ice cream at Cherries Ice Cream Parlour, which almost made up for the rubbish weather! Along with the ice cream, my highlights of the day were: parking my van in a line of other VW Transporters, and taking one of my favourite photos of Henry, who was not bothered by the weather!

Our last full day started with an ill-advised trip to the beach, the rain had stopped, but the sea was particularly rough. Rough enough to knock my Dad over! Fortunately he was able to get out, as later on we saw on the news that there had been people swept out to sea in that area. In the afternoon, the boys stayed with my parents, whilst Jen and I went to the beach cafe for afternoon tea – something we had been looking forward to all holiday! We walked back along the cliff top. Once again, a few days later we heard that the cliff we were walking on had collapsed – it does make you think about the power of the sea/nature, that even in the summer a popular holiday destination can still be dangerous.

On the way home from Dorset we stopped at Ashton Court in Bristol to break up the journey with a bike ride. Owen rode really well for the most part, but my lasting memory is being last in line, behind Owen and Jen, with Henry on the front of my bike, and seeing Owen expertly ride down some rocky drops, Jen stopping before the drops as she was unsure about riding them, then just hearing a wail as Owen sailed over the top of a berm further down the trail. Fortunately he was not hurt, but it served as a reminder to both of us that his confidence exceeded his skills on the bike! Given how much his riding has improved since then, we will have to get back one day so that he can conquer that section.

I enjoyed our trip to Dorset, and despite the significant increase in people holidaying in the UK, it did not feel as busy as Devon or Cornwall, even away from peak season. We did not even scratch the surface of the activities on offer, so I would be more than happy to pay a return visit. Possibly staying further inland, as despite being in a coastal village we were still a long way from the sea – and up a huge hill. It was also good to get away with my extended family, the boys see their grandparents regularly, but rarely get to spend quality time with their uncle. As our first big trip in the van, I am pleased to say that it worked really well, naturally we managed to fill the cavernous boot, but were still able to get the bikes out en-route. Having space to move around inside was especially handy when hanging around waiting for the rain to stop. In fact, I am pretty sure that it was this trip that started Henry’s obsession with “driving”…

A Week of Bikes

I had booked last week off work to coincide with the second week of Owen’s school Easter holidays. The idea had been to decorate the boys’ bedroom, but Jen and I got that finished by Monday afternoon, which left the rest of the week for bike adventures.

British Cycling Skills Training

I had seen on Twitter that British Cycling were running bike skills courses in Coventry for children aged four and over who are already confident on pedal bikes. This sounded ideal for Owen – especially as he has not had any coaching since he tried cycle speedway last year. I also let Owen’s friend’s parents know so that Owen would have a friend there – as the only thing better than riding bikes is riding bikes with your friends!

The skills training was very basic – riding around a basketball court – but it was good for Owen to have reminders about things like checking the bike over before a ride and starting to pedal with your strongest foot, rather than scooting. He did really well at taking his hands off the handlebars (one at a time) – something which we had been practising unsuccessfully previously. Owen was already good at picking lines – you have to be when you ride off-road on a rigid bike with small wheels, so he did well on the line choice drills, which were avoiding an increasing number of “hedgehogs” (cones) on the track. The final activity was “bike limbo”, which Owen had another advantage for, being the smallest rider there.

After the training, Owen and his friend were able to have a ride around the park together – first stopping at the skate park, where Owen did not hesitate to get stuck in with the teenagers on skateboards. At one point he rode over a ramp and shouted out “that was sick!”. Owen’s friend was a bit nervous about going onto the skatepark, but seeing Owen encouraged him and he managed to conquer the ramp too. After the skate park, the boys went to the playground, where it was Owen’s turn to be encouraged to climb things that he would usually be nervous to go up – it was great seeing the boys playing together, as that is something that has been missed with all of the lockdowns, and we do not really know what Owen gets up to at school. We finished the trip off with a stop at the ice cream van. It was mad to think that the previous day Owen had woken up to snow at my parents’ house and there we were in the park, wearing T-shirts and eating ice cream! As I was not riding I was able to take my camera – which really has not had enough use in 2021.

Snibston Colliery Country Park

With Henry at nursery all day, Wednesday had been planned as the big day out on the bikes. I had heard about a new blue graded mountain bike trail at Snibston Colliery Country Park in North Leicestershire, so we decided to try it out. A bonus of travelling across the border to Leicestershire was that their school holidays had already finished, so it was quiet and we were able to park the van right next to the pumptrack.

After a few laps of the pump track we decided to explore the trail. It has quite a clever layout with two short loops that can be ridden near to the car park, or a much longer loop incorporating the shorter ones at the beginning and end. At the split between the two shorter loops, there is also a skills training area, which was our first stop.

The skills area was split into three graded sections, the easiest section was very basic, with two berms and a roller – it was even more basic than the pump track. We rode this for completeness before moving on to the middle graded section – which was perfect for Owen, with a few small drops followed by either a skinny or a small rock garden. We did quite a few laps of this before I heard the unmistakable sound of parts falling off my bike as I landed one of the drops. The right brake lever squeezing straight to the bar was a good indicator that I had a problem with my front brake, which was confirmed when I looked back up the trail and spotted my brake pads. However, I could not find the split pin which was meant to keep the pads in the brake. I have always hated the split pin design that Shimano use on their cheaper brakes and my fears were realised, I had not bent the pin sufficiently when working on my brakes the previous evening – I will be replacing the brakes on my hardtail with higher-end parts, once the current bike parts shortage is over. With no pin, I was able to bodge a repair with a small twig, but I was not confident that the fix would last, nor was I confident that I should be using my front brake. Owen carried on sessioning the skills area, including the hard graded section, which had some big jumps.

With the full loop out of the question, I asked Owen which of the shorter loops he wanted to ride back to the van – he chose based on which one had the most “skull and crossbones on the map” – i.e. technical trail features. This chosen section of trail was also the finisher for the full loop, so I was expecting good things. We were not disappointed! The trail made the most of the limited elevation, twisting left and right, swooping up and down. Possibly right at the top of the blue grading scale. Owen coped well, only needing to push up a few of the steeper uphill sections, where he had failed to carry enough speed into them because he had stopped to check bits out before rolling into them. On a trail with so many elevation changes, it was hard to see what was coming next when you are so low to the ground. It was good to see that the mental side of Owen’s mountain biking skills is matching up to his physical bike skills.

My brake bodge had held up, so we went round to complete the easier of the two short loops back to the van. Then Owen did a few more laps of the pump track and had a good play on the playground. On a related note – it was good to see that in the “digging area” they had decided to use pea gravel, rather than sand, it seemed just as fun to dig with, but did not get everywhere in Owen’s clothes and the van. On the way home I treated us to a McDinner – Owen must have worked up a hunger, because he finished his burger before me, which never happens!

We will definitely have to go back to Snibston Colliery Country Park to finish off the full loop of the blue trail. Possibly with Jen and Henry too, as it seems like a great place to visit with kids of all ages.

Hicks Lodge

© Sean Flood

On Thursday Owen and I had arranged to ride with a small group of friends at Hicks Lodge – our favourite place to ride together. Owen rode so well – I had taken the TowWhee, but it was not needed, Owen pedalled around the blue graded trail himself. At a good speed too. It was only after our ride that it clicked due to the lockdown and poor winter weather, we had not ridden there for six months – but even so, it was great to see Owen’s progression.

© Sean Flood

It was especially good to meet up with some friends and ride together, I am sure that this spurred Owen on to ride so well. We cannot wait until restrictions are lifted and we can ride with bigger groups again.

Coombe Abbey

Since discovering that the hole in the wall kiosk at Coombe Abbey Country Park sells doughnuts, I had planned a ride with Jen and the boys from Brandon, through the woods and across the fields to Coombe Abbey, for some doughnuts and a play on the playground for the boys. With Jen and I off work, Owen on school holidays and Friday not being a nursery day for Henry it seemed like a good time to go.

It was an easy ride from Brandon, especially for Henry who was on the Mac Ride. It probably took us longer to drive to Brandon from home. Seeing the full car park at Coombe Abbey made me think we had made the correct decision to ride in. The boys were happy to get onto the playground and Jen and I could have some coffee and doughnuts. I had been a bit nervous about the ride back to the van, as it was all slightly uphill, but Owen took it in his stride.

Ready Steady Riders with Henry

On Saturday, it was Henry’s turn to ride – on his second trip to Ready Steady Riders. He obviously remembered it from his first trip because he started to get excited as soon as we pulled into the car park! He only needed a few laps with my support before he was off doing laps on his own. Towards the end of the session, the riders were taken over to ride on the “big track” – the championship spec BMX track that will host the Commonwealth Games BMX race. However, knowing that Henry was not yet up to it I let him stay on the smaller Strider track for some solo laps, which he seemed to enjoy.

Solo Ride

After five days of riding with the boys, I managed to get out for a solo ride – a blast around my favourite local loop. The best trail on this is a bridleway which you have to hit at the correct time of year, usually April, as in winter it is too muddy and by the summer it is too overgrown. Unfortunately I seemed to be a couple of weeks too early for the bluebells in the woods. Nevertheless, it was great to get out and enjoy the countryside on my Orange Four or a lovely spring morning!

Sherwood Pines

This is “bonus content”, as it actually happened the following weekend, but as it was such a good trip out I decided to include it anyway.

A few months ago I had agreed to buy Owen’s next bike second hand, from another member of the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group. The plan was that we would meet at a trail centre at a mutually convenient time, this was the reason for our trip to Sherwood Pines. The plan had been for Owen and I to ride the blue graded trail before the meeting the seller to collect the bike, but by the time we got to Sherwood Pines we only had an hour – I figured that we would just about have enough time to ride the ten kilometre route.

On the first singletrack section Owen caught up with the family in front of us, managing to sneak past them before the second section – a newly built flow trail. Owen rode this bit so well, keeping his speed and picking good lines. I would have loved to have stopped for some photos, but was conscious of the time. After this there were a few climbs, which Owen was always going to struggle with on his sixteen inch wheeled, singlespeed bike. And some idiot had forgotten to bring the tow rope. We ended up needing to push a few sections, but there was no moaning (from either of us!) and Owen was often straight back on his bike as soon as the gradient leveled off. The ride. continued in this vein, with Owen riding confidently on a trail which is rougher than he is used to. It was only in the final kilometre that I could tell he was starting to flag a bit. We were only a fraction over the hour completing the loop, which I was pleased with.

After collecting Owen’s new (to him) bike, which I am sure will be appearing in a blog post soon (after a service and some small changes to personalise the bike for Owen), we went to the skills loop, which Owen enjoys riding. It is less than 100 metres long, so I can leave Owen to ride laps on his own, which I know he enjoys. I was following him, on probably his twentieth lap, when all of a sudden he hit a jump at a funny angle and flew over his handlebars. Fortuantely, unlike at 417 Bike Park last year, he was unscathed, but it was a good point for us to end our ride and head to Ikea to pick up the last few bits needed for Henry’s new bed.

Riding with Owen so much over the last few weeks, I have really noticed a progression in his riding – he is more than ready to make the next step up in bikes. Having gears, better brakes and bigger wheels will open up more trails for him and allow his riding to progress to the next level. And as for Henry, his riding is also progressing rapidly – he has only really been riding his balance bike since his second birthday, less than two months ago, and he is already super confident – I fear that he may be riding a pedal bike before the year is out!

Henry’s Second Birthday

Yesterday was Henry’s second birthday! He seemed to enjoy his day being the centre of attention and all the minions themed goodies we had set up for him, including a life sized minion balloon. As you can see above, the bubble machine was also went down well! It feels a lot longer than a year ago that we were able to have loads of visitors at home for his first birthday party! This year was a much quieter affair – other than a few door step visits, it was just his Nanny and Granddad (our childcare bubble) who were able to come for Sunday Lunch, and the amazing Minion cake that Jen made.

Looking back at my post about Henry’s first birthday I noted how his language was behind Owen’s at that age, and it has not really improved, he is gaining a few words a week, but is nowhere near as chatty as Owen was aged 2. Maybe because he cannot get a word in edgeways with Owen about. Last year I said that Henry was probably cheekier than Owen, and that has not changed, he always has a cheeky look about him, however he is very kind hearted, always wanting to help. Hopefully this will continue through the “terrible twos”! He also likes his routines, for example he knows that we use the “pho” (phone) in my pocket to FaceTime my Mum before bedtime – so at dinner he will pat my pocket and say “pho Mama”. Then when we are speaking to my mum, he asks for “Baba”, his name for Grandpa. He really loves both sets of grandparents, his face lights up whenever he sees them, especially face to face and we cannot go past a black Range Rover Evoque without him saying “Baba car” or “Nana car” at every red hatchback.

Over the last few weeks, Henry has really started to get the hang of riding a balance bike and is starting to look like a proper little mountain biker. I decided that his second birthday was as good a time as any to take his Strider off the rocking base it has been attached to – the first thing he did in the morning was to sit on the bike. In the afternoon, when our guests had gone, I took Henry out for a ride round the garden, which soon turned into along the lane behind our house, then round the block. At each opportunity to turn around, I would ask Henry if he wanted to go home, but he would shake his head and point further down the road, until we got to the “Baba car” at the end of our road. Once I had eventually got him pointing back towards home, it was only right at the end that he dropped the bike and put his arms up for a carry. I think his ride was 750m, but given that was ten times as far as his previous longest ride (last weekend) I think that was really good going! Looking back, Henry was a bit later getting started on his balance bike than Owen, but I think he has already surpassed Owen on his second birthday. I cannot wait to get him onto the balance bike track when Ready Steady Riders are allowed to start running their balance bike sessions again.

It is mad to think that the baby of the family is no longer a baby. With Owen back at school I am really looking forward to “Daddy and Henry Fridays”, especially once we can venture out in the van or MR2, as we have not had the same opportunity to spent time just the two of us as I had with Owen.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2020

At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.

We have formed a childcare bubble with my Mum and Dad, so it was nice to be able to get out for a walk around Coundon Park with Jen’s parents between Christmas and New Year. The boys loved seeing their Nanny and Granddad. I had never really explored the park further than the playground and it was good to see the Peace Orchard and Coundon Wood. We will likely head back in future.

Another walk in the woods! We did a lot of this in 2020. Of course, Henry loves the puddles! Another, less photogenic, time, he managed to fall in to this puddle. Then Owen’s welly got stuck in the mud and he stepped into the puddle in just his sock. That walk got abandoned quickly…

On New Years Day, I decided to fit the Mac Ride to my bike, this is a selfie from Henry’s first ride. He loved it! As he is able to hold the handle bars, and move around a bit, he seems to feel more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

After our ride together, Henry helped to clean my bike. Both the boys seem to love using the Muc-Off spray and brushing the bikes. I even bought Owen a special Muc-Off x Frog Bikes kit for Christmas.

Owen’s First Day at School

For Jen and I, it is hard to believe that our little boy is starting school today! It does not seem that long ago that he was a tiny baby in an incubator at the neonatal unit – now he’s a smart little dude heading off to school in his uniform!

I have no doubt that Owen will enjoy school, he is very inquisitive and enjoys learning about numbers – he can already write his name and count to one hundred! He has met his teachers a few times, and had a settling in session earlier this week, where he definitely appeared to be truly settled in – exploring the classroom and adding his own commentary to the teacher’s story at story time. He just about managed to stay on the ride side of the line between being expressive and disruptive, although he has probably identified himself to the teachers as “one to watch”.

Along with the mandatory photo in school uniform for social media, I thought that I would ask him some questions and record the answers see how his answers change each year:

  • Height: 108cm
  • Shoe size: 10.5
  • Bike: Frog 43
  • Favourite colour: Red
  • Favourite food: Yorkshire Pudding
  • Favourite book: Super Worm (Amazon affiliate link)
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Blippi
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Trip to Dorset (blog post coming soon!)
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A postman

Owen Tries Cycle Speedway

On most of our bike rides from home, Owen and I pass the cycle speedway circuit on Hearsall Common, and Owen usually asks if he can ride it. On our ride last Tuesday (with Jen and Henry too) we stopped to watch the racing – their first meeting of 2020. Later that evening I noticed on the Coventry Cycle Speedway Facebook page that they would also be restarting junior coaching sesssions on Saturday morning. Owen was very excited – he has been missing his Ready Steady Riders sessions over the past few months and must have been looking forward to bike coaching from someone other than me!

For those who do not know what cycle speedway is – it is a form of cycle racing held on small shale oval tracks. Four riders, two from each team competing, race against each other in a short sprint race. Oh, and the bike have no brakes! (Owen was riding his regular bike, with working brakes).

After a rush to leave the house, we ended up being the first to arrive – a novelty for Owen and I, but when people arrived they were friendly – Owen loves telling people about his bike! It was good that Owen was not the only first timer, nor was he the only under five. Like everything these days, there had to be coronavirus measures, so each of the riders had a cone in the centre of the track to stand by when they were not riding. I think our only newbie errors were wearing shorts and me keeping Owen’s drink, rather than sending him on to the track with it – given the speed of the riders, I can see why they do not cross the track to get drinks etc.

As soon as Owen got on the track he was off like a shot, putting in laps with the other riders – with a huge smile on his face! Owen’s first test of listening to the coach, Myke, was when the group got split up, with the older/faster riders going first (the session covered from preschoolers to teenagers!). Of course Owen wanted to ride with the fast ones, rather than his allocated group. His listening was much better when he got out onto the track for the younger riders’ structured warm up – speeding up and slowing down as instructed. I always find it interesting watching the boys when they are with somebody else – usually it is only the moments before I am spotted at nursey pick up time, so it was good to watch Owen from the spectator area. He was taking instructions and participating in the group – he is definitely more outgoing than I was as a child!

The main area of coaching for the session was line choice in the corners – something that will transfer well to Owen’s riding on mountain bike trails. Cones were set up to mark the entrance, apex and exit of the corner and the riders took it in turns to ride through on the racing line. Owen got the hang of this quickly, (including the queuing system with two metre gaps due to help with social distancing). I also noticed that on the run from the corner exit to the back of the queue he was practicing his mountain bike “attack position” (pedals level, knees and arms bent) – a proud Dad moment for sure!

The last part of the session, was Owen’s favourite – races! Again the riders were split into their groups, and some given a handicap, starting further around the track. Owen did some great defensive riding, taking wide lines to prevent other riders from overtaking. I have no idea if it was intentional, maybe he picked it up from watching the racing earlier in the week, but it was impressive! Being the smallest rider, he came last in the races, but what matters is that he was trying hard and having fun!

After the session had finished, we rode home through the woods, with Owen asking to stop and session a few trickier bits of trail. He was so pleased with himself after the ride and deservedly so – not only did he ride well, he listened to the coach and behaved well too.

Cycle Speedway is completely different from the mountain biking that I enjoy, and would like to encourage Owen to also enjoy. However a lot of the skills are transferable and any time on the bike is good. Having a good local club, means that Owen will be able to go regularly, so will benefit from the structure and commeraderie of training with a team. It would be a two hour round trip for any similar mountain bike coaching for him, which I think would detract from the fun. We will definitely be going back to more of the club’s cycle speedway coaching sessions.