Henry’s Third Birthday

The baby of the family is no longer a baby – Henry is a proper little boy now. Although he will insist that he is a “big boy”! We had a pretty quiet day today, with a trip to the zoo whilst Owen was at school. The main celebrations happened yesterday, with visits from grandparents and extended family. Henry loved seeing everyone and getting presents. Henry is an independent and resourceful little boy, so after the celebrations had stopped he snuck off upstairs to where he had already identified his main present to be hidden, then came downstairs with a big smile on his face and his new toy in his hands. Luckily for Henry, he manages to be incredibly cute when doing this sort of thing, so usually gets away with it.

Two has been a great age for Henry. Since his last birthday his speech has really come on, and he has become a right little chatterbox! He also has a great memory – remembering things that have been said to him weeks ago, or where things have been left. He is also great at recognising cars, especially Renaults (like Nanny’s). We seemed to mostly avoid the “terrible twos” with Henry – of course, there were a few tantrums, especially when he was tired, but he is generally good-natured and likes to be helpful. As I wrote in my recent post after our visit to Adrenaline Alley, Henry’s confidence has improved in the last few weeks – he is getting much more confident around other children. With all of the lockdowns over the last two years, he has missed a lot of the opportunities to socialise that Owen had, so it is good to see his social skills improving.

Henry showed some signs of turning into a “threenager”, but a lot of it was probably down to tiredness after a busy day, and me not understanding Henry’s vision for his outfit. Hopefully, he will continue to be his good-natured and loving self as he navigates being three. It should be an exciting year – moving to the pre-school at Owen’s school, potty training, holidays and hopefully learning to ride a pedal bike.

Henry and Daddy Day

Since changing jobs and working full time again, I have missed my Fridays off with Henry, but we ended up with a Saturday to ourselves and made the most of it! We started off with the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday at Birmingham BMX track. It has been a while since Henry last went, and both his riding and attitude have improved considerably. He was happy to just keep doing laps of the balance bike track, the only wobble he had was when the bigger kids went for their session on the full-size BMX track – however, once we had agreed that he could do the big track session on our next visit he got on with riding the balance bike track. With only three other riders it was a good session and they all rode well together. Henry only stopped to pester me for snacks! At the end of the session, they were invited to join the group on the big track, who were being filmed for the Commonwealth Games, Henry looked a bit nervous at the top of the big ramp, but did not hesitate to drop in, in fact, he did not even wait for his name to be called! As the light was good I brought my camera kit along and got some nice photos.

After the bike track, we went to Sutton Park to meet my friend Partho, and his dog Otto. Otto is a miniature dachshund and Henry’s “favourite dog”. Henry often asks to see photos of Otto on my phone. Otto seems to like Henry too! Henry was so good holding Otto’s lead, they looked so cute together walking through the park – everyone walking past commented! After a solid hour of riding and a long walk, Henry was starting to flag towards the end and needed carrying, but it was nice to be out in the park. Then, having worked up an appetite we grabbed some lunch at the pub. Henry was flagging by this point and even got to the second stage of tired toddler – the mad half hour. Otto loved having an excitable Henry to play with and it was so cute watching them play together, however, I knew it was time to get Henry to the van for a nap. Before we left, Henry had just enough energy to get into Partho’s car, sitting next to Otto. He asks to do this every time he sees Otto in the car – Henry is a stickler for routines and sitting in the back of Partho’s car with Otto is another one of his favourite routines.

By the time we got out of Sutton Coldfield, Henry was fast asleep in his car seat after a very busy morning! It has only been two months since I started working full time, but he seems so much more grown-up than when we last had a Daddy and Henry day out. It is hard to believe that he will be three next week!

Henry at Adrenaline Alley Skatepark

Hen at Adrenaline Alley

Henry’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, organised a trip to Adrenaline Alley in Corby, the biggest indoor skatepark in Europe – I knew Henry would love it, so put his name down straight away. Since telling him about it, every weekend he has asked if we are going to “the big skatepark”. Because the skatepark is indoors, two-year-old logic means that Henry thinks that his coach must live there!

The trip just happened to be arranged on the stormiest weekend of the winter, so I was not bothered about missing my usual Sunday morning ride, and was actually quite looking forward to a road trip in the van with Henry! As a special treat, I moved Henry’s seat to the front, next to me – which he loved. He gets a much better view out of the front of the van than he does in my MR2 Roadster, so was excitedly telling me all the things he could see.

Henry at Adrenaline Alley

We were in a different part of Adrenaline Alley to when Owen and I visited back in 2020, and it seemed like a better set-up, with a good viewing area/grandstand for parents. Henry got stuck in and did some good riding, only stopping to pester me for sweets after each lap, because for some reason Henry seems to associate skateparks with snacks. At one point there were some races and Henry won his race against the other smaller boys, he also did a good job of waiting patiently before and after the race. Henry did not want to try riding down the roll-in, but made use of the quieter track to do some more laps, before declaring that it was “time to go home”. Fortunately, I was able to convince him to ride some more after a rest and some more snacks. Henry did some of his best riding towards the end of the session, so I am glad he went back out. It was also good to see him jostling with the bigger boys to get to the front of the queue – obviously, normally I would not condone that sort of behaviour, but Henry can be really wary of other children, likely due to lack of opportunities to mix with other children over the last few years, so I am glad to see him getting more confident.

Then it was time for cake, as the trip was a belated sixth birthday celebration for Ready Steady Riders! We all went to the cafe, via a tour of the skate park and gatecrashing a YouTube video. Again Henry was really good in the cafe singing “happy birthday” and helping to blow out the candles on the cake, then when it was time to leave he gave his coach a big hug. He managed to stay awake for most of the drive home, counting the wind turbines, albeit missing out the numbers three, four and five. He also told me that he will be six on his next birthday.

It was great to have a bike trip with Henry, as it is usually something that I do with Owen. Henry did some good riding but I was most impressed by his attitude and behaviour. I am going to try to build on this by taking him to more Ready Steady Riders sessions, at least until he starts to ride the pedal bike that he will be getting for his birthday next month…

Top Five from 2021

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case, 2021. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2012.

Henry got a bubble machine for his second birthday, in March, and although not technically perfect, I love this photo of him experiencing it for the first time. He looks so babyish compared to the proper little boy that he is now, eleven months later.

Another shot from earlier in the year. Owen and I had a week of bikes during the Easter holidays. This was a lucky shot whilst Owen was riding the skatepark, but I really like the colours. It was my phone home screen for a while too.

Chesterton Windmill is a bit of a cliche for photographers in Coventry, however, I was yet to visit with the camera. I had planned a silhouette shot backlit by the sunset, but this shot was from an initial scouting trip, one summer evening when I just needed to get out of the house. I am sure that the sun would be better positioned for a dramatic sunset in winter, but the sails were removed for maintenance in the autumn, so I will have to try again another year.

An early morning blat to the Elan Valley with my friend Partho was one of my highlights of 2021. As well as the drive, we also spent some time taking photos of the cars and this was my favourite.

I love the colours of this lorikeet from one of our many visits to Twycross Zoo. I am especially impressed as I was with both of the boys at the time and this was a quick shot.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2021

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.

On my last Friday “Daddy day” between finishing my old job and starting at the new one, Henry and I went to Cannock Chase. It was meant to be a Little Rippers Meet, but that did not quite work out. I thought that Henry would really enjoy the new play trail, but he had his own agenda. I did get him to do a few laps of the “Butterly loop”, including riding this skinny. Technically, the photo is not great, but I like his expression.

On New Year’s Day I took the boys for a welly walk in our local woods – it was so muddy, but we needed to get out of the house. Henry likes posing in this tree.

Henry enjoyed sitting at Jen’s piano, he would play us a tune (well, some random notes) and sing along. He is really starting to show what his particular interests are. Hopefully the piano/music is something that he will continue with.

Henry and I had a few rides out in my MR2 Roadster, he seems to be turning into a right little petrolhead at the moment and made a few requests to “go in the sportscar” and who was I to argue?

A Look Back at 2021

2021 has been another difficult year with all that has been going on in the wider world, and also at work. However, there was a light at the end of the tunnel – after fourteen years in my old automotive job, just before Christmas, I started a new role with a tech consultancy. My old job had stopped being about software development, and the office was moved fifty miles away. After a particularly frustrating day at the office and commute, I uploaded my CV to a job site and my phone did not stop ringing for a week! It turns out software developers are in demand. Outside of work, it feels like the year has flown by – we had two good holidays, to Wales and Essex (blog post to follow) and lots of good bike rides.

As well as becoming a full-time geek, I have had a good year for new technology. Apple finally released their AirTags, after breaking my trusty iPhone 7 – I replaced it with an iPhone 12 Mini, which has been a great device. I bought a cheap Synology NAS to test the water for a new backup strategy, it worked so well that I ended up keeping it, as I do not feel that I need the latest version. Then, after many years of waiting, I finally upgraded my 2010 iMac (and 2015 MacBook) with a new 14″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ 4K monitor, which is set up as a docking station. The M1 Pro Mac is a revelation, Photoshop Lightroom opens almost instantly and it is nice to be able to work away from my desk sometimes. Lastly, Jen got me some AirPods for my birthday, which have been getting a lot of use. The reason for so much technology this year is simply that I have not upgraded anything for a while – hopefully, this will last me for a few more years, but hopefully not all needing to be replaced at once.

I have not used the MR2 Roadster as much as I would have liked, but the highlight was an early morning blast to the Elan Valley, with my friend Partho in his BMW Z4. The low point was finding out that it needed new tyres and had a hole in the rear subframe. I knew the tyres were old and worn, but I had not expected the handling balance to change so much with new tyres. Even on the cold and damp December roads, I could not break traction, which reminded me of when I first had it. The van has been great too, both on holidays and day to day, but especially for all of the bike trips we have done. Unfortunately, it has had a bad few weeks. On the way back from Cannock Chase with Henry (on our last Friday “Daddy day”) a car bumped into the back of us, then drove off, when we were waiting at some traffic lights. Then earlier this week, I scraped the roof on a lower than advertised height restriction. I just need to remind myself that the van is a workhorse, and is always going to pick some scuffs.

I had another good year on the bike, riding further than last year. More rides have also been with other people – rides with Owen, family rides and some really good rides at Cannock Chase with my friends. More riding has meant less time in the workshop, so I am going to need to catch up in 2022.

At the start of the year, homeschooling for Owen was hard for everyone involved, although there were a few projects that we enjoyed together – such as when I filmed Owen doing some maths work. As he moved into year 1 at school it has become apparent that he has got a talent for maths – I was particularly impressed when he had to explain the “part-whole model” to my brother, who is a maths teacher and is also a doctor of maths.

Owen’s bike riding has come on really well in 2021. The key moments were getting his Orbea MX20 mountain bike (one of three new bikes this year!), joining the Peddlamaniacs cycling club and the opening of the new blue graded trail at Cannock Chase. A new interest for Owen in 2021 has been video games, particularly Super Mario – the Mario Lego set (Amazon affiliate link) he got for Christmas went down very well!

Henry has had a good year too, he has become a proper little boy, chattering away – often about Nanny’s handbag and/or car or when my mum slipped on ice and broke her wrist earlier in the year. His catchphrase for the year has been “do it by myself” – which probably shows just how independent he is getting. He knows what he wants and makes it very clear – one evening when I picked him up from nursery, the teacher told me that she had thought Owen was stubborn, but Henry is ten times as stubborn. He does seem to be making friends at nursery, at last, which is a good sign.

Since his birthday, Henry has really started to get the hang of his balance bike, to the point where I think he is ready for pedals – if his legs are long enough for Owen’s old Frog 43 14″ bike. He loves going to the pump track, or skatepark, and seems to have a great memory for which snacks he has eaten at each track, then demands more of the same on subsequent visits. He is also becoming a little petrol head – he can identify his favourite cars: Renault, Range Rovers and FIATs, from quite a distance. His favourite Christmas present was a model Porsche Macan – to match Grandpa’s new car.

At the start of the year I set myself some goals. I posted a halftime update in June, but here are the final results:

Catch up on blogging

Narrow pass – I have shared 32 posts this year, including quite a few I had wanted to catch up on. However, I still have quite a few in my drafts that I need to finish and publish.

Publish more of my software work

Narrow pass – In June I wrote “I have a few more repositories on my Github profile, including the Twitter Bot I blogged about. I have a few more projects to finish off and share too. Ideally, I need to combine this with the previous goal and blog about these projects.” I have not done much more in the second half of the year.

Take a good wildlife photo

Fail – I did get out to the woods with my camera but did not manage to photograph any wildlife. I had also spotted a heron on a few bike rides, so returned with my camera to try and get a good photo. I was excited to see it there, but as soon as I got the camera out of my bag it flew off. I was pleased with some zoo photos, including the lorikeet above.

Ride 1,000 miles

Pass – This was an easy pass. So much so that in June I had set myself a stretch goal of 2,021km, which I failed to achieve.

Ride somewhere new with Owen

Pass – Owen and I rode together loads this year, it has been great. The photo above was taken at Thetford Forest on our October holiday. We also enjoyed the new trails at Snibston Colliery Park and the blue graded trail at Cannock Chase.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

Fail – All of the cars had a thorough wash at some point in the year, but given that they are all filthy now, I cannot claim a pass.

Declutter/sell stuff

Partial Pass – I have sold quite a few items, including a bike, but seem to have added more things to the “to sell” pile.

Tidy my garage

Partial pass – With the family fleet of bikes increasing in size, installing some Topeak bike hooks (Amazon affiliate link) to get the bigger bikes off the floor has made a difference. However, the workbench is still a mess.

Get my weight down to 85kg

Massive fail – Keeping my weight down has not really been a priority this year. My dad has done a really good job of losing weight this year, showing me that it can be done. I will need to try harder next year.

Whilst I have missed a few of my goals for the year, I have achieved one of my main life goals of getting back into a software development job, which was not something I was expecting for 2021. Another positive is that we, as a family, have managed to avoid catching coronavirus. It feels like it has been closing in on us, with close contacts at work, school and nursery testing positive, but test after test have come back negative up to now.

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.

Malverns Classic – Henry’s First Bike Race

On the way home from our holiday at Bluestone we called in at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival. We had planned to go in 2019, but it was rained off, and then in 2020 it was cancelled due to Coronavirus, so I was pleased to eventually get there. In 2019 Owen was meant to be racing his balance bike, but he was too old this time and Henry got his first opportunity to race.

After seemingly always being late to Owen’s races, we made an extra effort to get to Henry’s race early. In the end, we were too early, but it did give us time to grab a bacon roll for breakfast and for the boys to get a ride on the pump track before we trekked up the hill for Henry to practice on the dual slalom course. Henry’s balance bike coach, Kazzi from Ready Steady Riders, was running the racing, which I had hoped would reassure Henry, but the first run down was very slow. I do not know if it was the grassy hill or the crowds, but Henry seemed really nervous. Fortunately, I was able to run down with him and coax him down. For his second and thirst practice runs, I convinced Henry to ride to each of the slalom poles and grab them, which got him to speed up a bit.

I was not sure what to expect by the time the racing started, Henry made a very reluctant start, but after the first corner, he picked up the pace and shot off down the track. However, as we were walking back up the track Henry was clapping and cheering for the other racers coming down, which made me proud – sportsmanship is way more important than winning! Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from the race, I was helping Henry the whole time, and the official photographer has not yet shared the images online.

After Henry’s race, we went back to the main event arena. My first priority was to go to the Schwalbe Tyres stand, as I had noticed a small defect on one of the tyres on Jen’s bike. I was expecting to be advised to replace the tyre, but they took the bike and swapped the tyre for us free of charge! Whilst that was happening we called by our friends at Little Rider Co, Henry took the opportunity to do some shopping and kept running up to us carrying various jerseys from their stall – eventually settling on one from their just launched “urban series”. Most of his kit is hand-me-downs from Owen, so I don’t mind buying him something new occasionally. There was a free funfair for the kids, so Jen took the boys there and I had a quick look around the rest of the trade stands.

On my tour, I had discovered the Strider area – to which Henry got VIP access as he was riding his Strider. The boys both got to have a ride around their small track – Owen loved this as other than a couple of laps of the pump track he had not been able to ride much. They were also given little Strider toys, like the one Owen got at his first bike race three years ago, which still gets played with regularly.

By this time the action was starting up on the Dirt Wars course, and knowing that Owen loves watching bike tricks on TV, we took him to see some for real. We sat on the grass, in the sun, for about an hour watching the riders doing all sorts of unfathomable stunts on the huge ramps. It was great to see all of the families and groups of friends enjoying the festival atmosphere, with bike racing/competitions happening all around, however, the boys seemed to have had enough, so we decided to quit whilst we were ahead and finish our journey home to Coventry.

I will certainly be going back to the Malverns Classic in 2022, but I am not yet sure if this will be a solo trip, with my friends, with one boy, or even as a whole family thing. Eight years after my last camping experience (Le Mans 2014) I could even be tempted to go for the whole weekend…

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…

Dorset 2020 – Throwback Thursday

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”…