Owen’s Eighth Birthday

Owen turned eight earlier in the week, although his birthday party only happened today. His actual birthday started off fairly low key, opening his presents, then going to school. After school all his grandparents came to visit for tea and cake, and of course, more presents. Then we went to Hickory’s Smokehouse for dinner – it was not in our plan, but Owen had mentioned to a few people that it was his favourite birthday tradition, and Jen and I did not really take too much convincing!

Rather than a big party, like the last couple of years, we took Owen and a couple of his best friends to Laser Quest and then for lunch. I joined the boys for Laser Quest, and we had the place to ourselves! The boys decided that they were going to team up against me – I did not get off to a good start by starting in a dead end, but I did manage to get the highest score of the game, albeit lower than the boy’s combined score – probably because I had more targets to shoot at. After our games of laser tag we did a round of the space themed mini golf, which is the reason there is a photo of Astronaut Owen), it was only a small 9 hole course, but we enjoyed it. Finally we went on the VR experience, I went on a car race one, which made me feel a bit sick, and the boys went on an underwater adventure – which must have been very realistic judging by how loud Owen screamed when the shark swam up to him. After Laser Quest we joined Jen and Henry at Pizza Express. I think that the smaller party worked well, as Owen could spend more time with his closest friends, their only disappointment was that they could not carry on the celebrations into the afternoon.

Wales with Owen

A few weeks ago Owen and I finally made it to Bike Park Wales, we have been wanting to go for ages, but various things had got in the way. We came close to going last year, we had passes and a hotel booked, but then Owen had to go to hospital. Earlier in the year we won a competition, on the Little Rippers Facebook group, for a “parent and child pass” at Bike Park Wales, which is a new offer which makes it cheaper to ride there with kids. One of the dates coincided with an Orange Bikes event, also in South Wales, so a plan was formed.

Owen and I drove down the afternoon before, taking a detour to Porthcawl for fish and chips, and some photophotography/playing on the beach. The fish and chips from Beales were good and we enjoyed exploring the seafront. I got a couple of good photos. Owen had play on the beach, but unfortunately he missed out on his favourite seaside activity, as the arcades did not take contactless and I had left my wallet in the van. We stayed at the Premier Inn at Caerphilly, ready to hit Mountain View Bike Park in the morning.

After a fairly restrained visit to the breakfast buffet, we drove the short distance to the Orange Gathering at Mountain View Bike Park. We got there early, before the event started, and hit the pumptrack after signing on. Owen managed about three laps before ending up on the floor. Not the start we wanted, especially as we still had the main event later in the day. We thought it best to leave the pumptrack and explore the trails, the short green loop went well, so we added on the “8 ball” blue trail, which was a bit rougher. Owen seemed to be struggling, he was not feeling 100%, but I could also tell that he had not been riding his bike much. He should have been fine on the trail, he has ridden worse, but his confidence was knocked. Fortunately, after a rest, and a look at the Orange bikes back at the event, a session on the skills area, practising drop offs, helped, and Owen rode really well on the “Twister” blue trail, which to me felt harder than “8 ball”. As we climbed back up to the start we noticed another trail, alongside the huge jump lines that looked fun. It was the “Jamming” red trail, and after another family told us that it was fun, we decided to give it a try. Owen loved it! We did another lap of “Twister” and “Jamming”, then went back to the event for pizza before the short drive to Bike Park Wales.

I was not sure what to expect at the Orange Gathering, but must admit that I came away slightly underwhelmed. I had hoped that they would have some merch on sale, but it just seemed like they had their demo fleet to test and I definitely do not need another Orange bike! The new, made in the UK, MsIsle hardtail looked great though. And seeing the bikes in different colours has made me rethink my plans for the Clockwork Evo, which I was going to get powder coated in “Norlando Grey” to match my Four. Now I think I will go for a brighter colour. There did not seem to need too many other Orange riders at the bike park, but maybe the afternoon was busier. However, I was really impressed with Mountain View Bike Park, the trails were compact, but well maintained and the cafe/bike shop were nice. If we were ever in South Wales again I would call in for an afternoon. I thought that it would be an ideal place to break the journey if we went to Bluestone again.

As good as Mountain View Bike Park was, we were both excited for our afternoon at Bike Park Wales. As we arrived we saw people parking on the approach road, but decided to risk driving up nearer to the car park, hoping to find a space, which we did. We also got checked in quickly, I guess most people had been there since the park opened at 10:00. The deck outside office/cafe/shop was buzzing with people, it reminded me of spring days at a European ski resort. The food looked good too, but we had already eaten and we were there to ride!

We took the green trail down to the uplift pick up point, which was further away from the cafe etc than I had expected. There was a push/climb to get to the uplift too, which was also unexpected. I was pleasantly surprised that despite it being a sunny, sold-out, day, we got straight onto an uplift bus without waiting. The system they have in place is very efficient. The uplift seemed to go on forever, much longer than at 417 Bike Park, which is my only previous experience. From the top of the uplift there was also a short, fairly flat, pedal to get to the trailhead.

We chose the green-graded “Kermit” trail for our first descent, as it is the easiest trail in the bike park, but also one of the longest. After dropping in we had the trail to ourselves. It started off twisting between lines, then there was a traverse out in the open, with scenic(?) views over Merthyr Tydfil. With a few more curves before a sneaky short uphill section which spat us out at the terrace. As unwelcome as the sudden climb was, it showed how much thought had gone into the park, as it slows the riders right down before joining a busy area.

We rode straight back to the uplift pickup for another lap, discussing which trails we would ride, settling on “Melted Welly” into “Roller Disco” into “Blue Belle”, all blue-graded flow trails. As we were about to drop in, Owen said that he was not feeling well and that he did not want to do another lap after this one, which as disappointing, but not surprising as he had not seemed himself all day. We enjoyed our second run down the hill, well maybe not the surprise climb on “Melted Welly”, but the downhill bits were great. It was a shame that we had to leave after only two runs, but Bike Park Wales was even better than I had expected, and I had very high expectations! I am sure that we will be back there later in the year to do some more runs!

My Fortieth Birthday

I only usually do birthday posts for the boys, but it was a big one for me today! The last few months have been pretty stressful, for various reasons, and plans for the day got changed, not to mention a birthday weekend away being cancelled. But in the end, it was just nice to have a day off work and spend time with family and friends.

After presents and cards with Jen and the boys, we got soaked walking to school. And then got home to a broken washing machine – it had sounded poorly for a while, so at least we already have a new one on order to be delivered later in the week! With the bad luck out of the way, the fun stuff could start – we took the MR2 to meet Partho for breakfast at The Barn At Berryfields. Given the poor weather, I had not been expecting to drive the MR2, but I figured that all of the rain overnight would have washed the salt off the road. It was good to get out with Jen in the MR2, even if it was just a short trip, with the roof up. Breakfast was tasty (as always at Berryfields) and not too big. It was great to catch up with Partho – he had made a card for me with photos spanning our 25 years of friendship, which was a really nice touch.

After breakfast, I packed the van and went to Leamington Spa to ride the new mountain bike trails on Newbold Comyn. It was cold and rainy, and my kit was still wet from yesterday’s even wetter ride, but I was not going to miss out on one of the few things that was able to go to plan. Even if my shopping trip to Leamington was scuppered by a too-good-to-miss Cyber Monday deal last week, and my Clockwork Evo, which I had hoped to ride, still being in bits in the garage. Jen had also hoped to do some shopping in Leamington, but her trip was replaced with a trip to her parent’s house to sort out the half-washed load of washing. I had a short but fun ride on the excellent trails – which were holding up surprisingly well given the recent weather. I can confirm that being forty is no barrier to jumping your bike and having fun in the mud!

By the time I got home and cleaned up, it was time to pick up the boys from school and meet my parents at Hickory’s restaurant for some BBQ food with my mum and dad. Dad convinced me to share the BBQ platter with him (I did not take much convincing) – it has been quite a few years since I last had the platter, so it was good to try the latest version, as it has all of the main things from the menu, which has been subtly updated in the years we have been going there. I will certainly be ordering some of the newer dishes on future visits. We came back home – to our newly refurbished living room(!) for birthday cake. Jen had asked me what I wanted, and I said “Devil’s Food Cake”, but it turned out that my mum has a unique take on Devil’s Food Cake, so Jen asked her to make it instead. It was a lovely cake, Henry also seemed to enjoy it, asking for a second helping. I am very lucky that both my wife and my mum make great cakes!

With the boys in bed, I ended the day with a wee dram of single malt, building the Lego Porsche that Jen bought me and thinking that as birthdays go, this has been a pretty good one!

Where we have been 2023

The boy’s school has got a geography display, showing where students have travelled to this year. They asked for parents to share some photos for the display, and I could not resist sending a few in. As I had collated a group of images I thought I would also share them here.

Cheddar Gorge Panorama

Cheddar Gorge: from our Somerset weekend. The boys, particularly Henry, did so well walking around the top of the gorge. It was a long walk for little legs. I was not sure that the panorama would work well, so I snuck in a photo of Owen too.

Lake Windermere: from the first stop on our summer road trip. I had been tempted to send in one of the photos that Owen took, but did not have them to hand.

Hadrian’s Wall: also from our summer road trip, but I thought it would be relevant as Romans are one of the history topics at school.

The England/Scotland border: I just wanted to see if a photo of the van would make it on to the display.

The Tweed Valley: I do not think anyone else at school would have appreciated the Tweed Valley, so I added a shot of Owen riding at Glentress. I skipped out Edinburgh from the second part of our road trip, as it looked like someone else had already submitted a photo for that.

Saltburn-by-the-Sea: This photo of the pier at Saltburn, from the last stop on our road trip, is one of my favourite photos that I have taken this year. I also felt like I should add in a photo of Henry, as I had included a few of Owen.

The boys have not seen the display yet, but the geography teacher has thanked Owen for the photos. I do not think we have got any more trips planned with the boys in 2023, but when we are on our travels next year, I’ll be sure to get some more location photos just in case.

Summer 2023 Road Trip: Part 3 – Saltburn-by-the-Sea

This is the third post in the series about our summer 2023 road trip, where we stayed in the Lake District, the Tweed Valley and Saltburn-by-the-Sea (this post).

After picking up cakes from the bakery in Peebles, we started the drive south, back to England. After enjoying our visit to Birdoswald Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall on the way to Peebles, we decided to stop at Corbridge Roman Town just across the English border. We had not checked that there would be a cafe – so it was a good job that we had picked up some cakes before we left! We ate our “lunch” sat amongst the ruins of the Roman town. The boys loved clambering over the ruins as they played hide and seek. I much prefer this sort of historic attraction to one that is all roped off. What struck me about the town was how well-engineered things were, with buildings with raised platforms for storing grain, and water systems. And of course that these were still visible two thousand years later! From Corbridge we carried on south, skirting around Newcastle and catching a glimpse of the Angel of the North, and as we got nearer to Saltburn, eventually arriving on roads familiar from our trip to Staithes last year.

We arrived in Saltburn too early to check in to our Airbnb, but we were able to park on the street outside, and went straight down to the beach – the boys had been looking forward to it all holiday! The tide was in, so there was no space to build sandcastles, but it was great for jumping in the waves. When we visited Saltburn last year we had fish and chips at The Seaview Restaurant, however, it had been featured on a BBC food programme, so is now super popular, and we could not get a table. Last year, we spotted Tomahawk Steakhouse across the road, so we booked into there instead. It was a good move – the food was great, and we had a nice sea view. Whilst we were waiting for our food we saw a fire on the headland in the distance, which started to get bigger. By the time we had finished our main courses, the fire brigade had arrived to put it out.

As we finished our dinner, it became clear that there was going to be an epic sunset, so I rushed back to the flat to grab my camera and tripod, for a photography session on the beach. Saltburn is one of the few places on the east coast of England where the sun sets into the sea, as the town faces north, so I was hoping for some epic photos. I was probably a few minutes too late for the best, golden, light, but stuck around on the beach for another hour or so and was rewarded with a lovely pink and purple sunset. I mainly shot around the pier, and my favourite composition was directly under it, with a neutral density filter on my lens to give a longer shutter time to blur the water. But when I got the pictures onto my laptop, I preferred the one at the top of this post, looking back at the pier and the pink sky, again with a neutral density filter to blur the water. As I wanted to move quickly, I had only taken my camera, with standard zoom, tripod and filters with me – which I regretted as I climbed the steps up from the beach to be met by a crowd lined up to photograph the “Super Blue Moon” over the headland, which had earlier been on fire. Nonetheless, it was probably my best photography session of the year.

The plan for the last full day of our holiday had been to have a beach day – but the weather did not agree with our plan! As it was a bit grey and windy, we had a quiet morning at the flat before trying to get a table for lunch at the Sea View Restaurant, again our plans were scuppered, this time by an extremely long queue. So we went for a round of mini-golf, to see if the queue went down at all. It did not. After our round of mini-golf, which I won, the queue was even bigger! Instead, we got a takeaway, and sat on the beach to eat it – the fish and chips were good, even if the boys did not really appreciate them. We also managed to avoid any seagull attacks. In the afternoon we returned to the beach. It was cold, but the boys still managed to do some digging, whilst Jen and I wrapped ourselves up against the wind. The boys and I also had a windy game of frisbee. As the beach at Saltburn is lower than the town, there are a lot of steps to climb back up. Fortunately, there is also a Victorian cliff railway to take you back to the town – we made use of this to get back to our Airbnb. Walking back, we noticed that the corner shop at the top of our road had a great butcher/deli/cake counter, so we picked up some things for a light dinner and some cakes for afternoon tea. Although it was not the beach day that we had hoped for, it was nice to have a relaxing day. In the evening Owen and I went out for a walk with our cameras. The light was not as good as the previous evening, but it was still nice to get out together.

Before setting off for home, we had another little walk around Saltburn stopping to pick up breakfast at another little bakery, where their “meal deal” meant it was cheaper for us to also pick up some cakes! We ate our breakfast (but not the cakes) on a bench overlooking the sea, which was a really nice way to end our time in Saltburn. We broke up our journey home with another English Heritage stop – at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, chosen because it had a playground and cafe, and only added a few minutes to our route. It was nice to explore the gardens and stretch our legs, but I think we were all quite keen to get back home by this point, so did not stay for too long.

I feel like this whole road trip has been one of our best family holidays. Heading north for our main summer holiday was always going to be a risk, but other than our planned beach day, the weather was mostly pretty good, in particular the days we were in Scotland. The multiple-stop road trip is my favourite type of holiday, but not always easy with small children, now that the boys are older it worked really well. We managed to keep all the drives below two hours so the boy did not get too bored. Despite it being our longest trip with the boys, and also having bikes and kit for all of us, we managed to pack sensibly and did not have to perform much “van Jenga”. We packed smaller cases for both the Lake District and Saltburn, only emptying the van fully when we were in Peebles. We wanted to try a UK road trip as a trial run for a future European road trip, and other than the longer distances involved I think that it will work well. As we were driving home, one of my main takeaways from the holidays was how much I enjoyed visiting all the small bakeries. The thing is, that we actually have a really nice bakery near our house, so we are going to make an effort to go there more and keep the holiday feelings going.

Summer 2023 Road Trip: Part 2 – The Tweed Valley

This is the second post in the series about our summer 2023 road trip, where we stayed in the Lake District, the Tweed Valley (this post) and Saltburn (coming soon).

Our second base for this trip was the Scottish Borders, more specifically the town of Peebles in the Tweed Valley. Mountain bikers will need no introduction, but for everyone else, the Tweed Valley is a mountain biking hot spot, with some of the best trails and infrastructure in the world. It was the venue for the Mountain Bike XC competitions at the World Cycling Championships a few weeks before our visit, and is home to many professional mountain bike racers.

As we drove up the A7, a route I remember from visiting my granny when I was younger, we stopped for a quick photo at the border. Arriving in Peebles, we found our holiday cottage tucked away down a quiet pedestrian street near the town centre. It was nice to have secure bike storage there, rather than worrying about the bikes being left in the back of the van. Once settled in, we went out for a walk to explore the town, starting with a walk around Hay Lodge Park, then across the Tweed on a footbridge and back into town on the main road bridge. We walked up the high street, picking up some food for breakfast, and finally calling in at Jim Jack’s Fish and Chip shop to get our dinner. Jen and I had haggis supper (deep fried battered haggis and chips) – one of my favourite meals – and the boy had sausages. It was good to be back in Scotland!

The plan for our first full day in Peebles had been to go for a family bike ride, either at Glentress trail centre or along the cycle path between Innerleithen and Peebles. However, the boys did not want to go out, they just wanted to stay in and watch TV. So rather than forcing them out of the house, I went for a solo ride at the Golfie. These semi-official trails in Caberston Forest, above Innerleithen, are known as “the Golfie” because the access point is next to the golf course. The trails have been cut into the steep hillside and are known as some of the best in the world, having played host to Enduro World Series rounds over the last few years. As the trails are unofficial there are no signposts, but thanks to Trailforks, I was able to find the trails. I decided to start with the lower section of the Wardell Way, as there was not a big climb to the start, and was one of the easier graded trails. After what felt like a long slog up the fire road I got to the entrance to the trail – it looked steep, rocky and loose and I could not see where the trail went. Quite an intimidating trail to drop into! The ride down was good, at the limit of my comfort level, but it is good to push yourself sometimes! The trail mostly cut across the slope, with the occasion tight hairpin bend and I was buzzing when I popped back out on to the fireroad. Having survived the first trail, I decided to climb even further back up the fire road to ride “Flat White”, possibly the most well-known trail at the Golfie. It was a long climb, but not too steep, and there were plenty of other riders out, despite it being a working day in Scotland. I did not need to check the map to know that I had arrived at “Flat White” – I recognised the entrance from many Instagram posts! After the tame start, in the photo above, “Flat White” got serious – it is a series of steep corners down the hill, peppered with the occasional drop. As I was riding down I noticed lots of toadstools by the side of the trail, which always makes me think of getting a speed boost, like on Mario Kart – however, given the steepness, I did not need a speed boost! Usually, I would have stopped to take a photo, but I felt like it was safer to keep riding, starting again on the trail would have been tricky. It was by far the most technical trail I have ridden, and I really enjoyed it! The Golfie more than lives up to the hype, and I am glad that I was able to ride there, even if it was just a short taster.

After lunch at the cottage, we had another walk around Peebles, stopping for an ice cream at Caldwell’s on the high street. Then in the evening, we went to Franco’s Italian Restaurant, after a recommendation from a friend. We all loved Franco’s – the food and service were great. I was particularly impressed with Henry, who ordered spaghetti bolognese and ate it himself, without making a big mess. Despite his earlier ice cream, Owen insisted on ordering a large sundae for dessert, then struggled to eat it – Jen and I had to help, and I can confirm that the ice cream was good too. Once the boys were in bed, Jen and I watched the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on television – because we would be going to Edinburgh the next day.

The boys knew that we would be going to Edinburgh, but what they did not know was that we would be meeting up with my parents, who were also having a few days in Scotland, nor that my cousin Valerie would be joining us from Paris, and that my Auntie Isabel would also be getting the train down from Aberdeen to join us. Part of the plan was to drive to Tweedbank, near Galashiels, to meet my parents and get the train along the new (in 2015) Borders Railway. It meant driving in the opposite direction to Edinburgh, but it is a scenic railway journey and goes through the village where my dad grew up. Even after arriving at Tweedbank station, and parking next to a white Porsche Macan S “just like Grandpa’s” the boys still had not figured out the surprise. We had kept the secret for months, and the plan worked perfectly – the boys had no clue until they actually saw my parents and cousin at the station. It was a nice train ride through the Borders to Edinburgh, giving us all the time to catch up, Henry really took a shine to Valerie, who he had not seen since he was a baby. Then after the train pulled into Waverley Station, we met my auntie, which was another surprise for Owen. Henry had only met Isabel when he was a little baby, so did not remember her.

Even though we were too late to book tickets, we walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle just to have a look. It was busy, both with tourists and workers dismantling the seating from the Tattoo the previous evening. Unfortunately, this meant that we could not get to the walls to admire the view over the city, so instead, we walked back down the hill to Princes Street Gardens, stopping for a photo at the scene of the last trick on Danny MacAskill’s Inspired Bicycles film – one of Owen’s favourites. It was a nice day, so we sat at the cafe in the park for a bit, enjoying ice creams and coming up with a new plan. We decided to visit the planetarium at Dynamic Earth, at the bottom of the Royal Mile. After a lot of walking, it was nice to sit down and watch a couple of short films – one about satellites and another about deep sea creatures. From the planetarium, we walked back to the New Town for a meal before getting the train back to Tweedbank.

We had planned to ride at Glentress on our last full day in Peebles, but it was becoming apparent that Owen was actually not feeling very well, rather than just being reluctant to ride. After a full Scottish breakfast at a hotel in town and a quick look around the shops he had perked up a bit, so we drove to Glentress. The revised plan was that Jen and the boys would go for a chilled ride while I did a short loop on the blue/red trails. By the time I got to the top of the first descent, “Berm Baby Berm,” I got a message from Jen to say that Owen was feeling better, found the trails too tame and wanted to ride with me. It was a fun ride back down to the cafe, on the blue-graded trail. There were plenty of optional, bigger, features to make the trail more technical – almost as if it had been specifically designed for the differences in abilities when parents ride with their kids. I caught up with Jen and the boys at the cafe and adjoining bike shop – which the boys had already scoped out. Owen has got a bit too used to getting a treat from the bike shop whenever we ride anywhere with one and this time it was a Fox hoodie. I also treated myself to a Glentress T-shirt, but Henry was left disappointed, as they did not really have anything small enough for him. Owen and I decided that we would ride as far up the hill as he could, then ride back down. He liked seeing the remnants of the bigger features from the XC World Championships course, which we had watched on television a few weeks previously. Owen seemed to be struggling on the climb – I think the adrenaline from the earlier ride had worn off, so we rode back down at the first opportunity. It was a fun ride back down though, further than he had ridden with Jen and Henry earlier, and I was happy with the photo I got of Owen on the boardwalk section. It was only when I was processing the photo that I realised how ill he looked. As we got back to the van we spent some time watching the trail builders working with their digger, which Owen loved. For years Owen said he wants to be a “digger driver” when he grows up and I think driving a digger and building trails would be the dream!

Back in Peebles, we had a post-ride treat lined up – a visit to Cocoa Black, a chocolate cafe! We had cakes and one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had. We also bought a chocolate haggis to bring home with us. Owen still was not feeling great, so Henry and I took a walk to the park, and back along the river – spotting a heron on the way. We had dinner at the house – Jen and I had lasagne pies from the butchers in town, and they were great!

After packing up the van, we had one last thing to do before leaving Peebles – visit The Fat Batard Bakery – I have been following their Instagram account for a while and their cakes looked amazing, but our final morning was the only chance for us to visit, so we bought some cakes for the road, and pointed the van south to start our return journey.

I really enjoyed visiting the Tweed Vallet, and feel like it is somewhere I will return to, especially as Owen missed so much of the riding. There is a lot of trail work happening at Glentress, so it should be even better, but even without the mountain bike facilities it just felt like a really nice place to visit, and a lot easier to get to than the Highlands.

2023 Goals Update

I usually like to check in on my goals for the year at the end of June, but due to the issues with my blog server, I have reviewed them two-thirds through the year, rather than halfway through. You would have thought that would have given me more chance to check off goals, but we will see…

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

Done! I cannot be too smug though, as it was a carryover goal from last year. Given how much time this took in the spring, I am not sure why I have committed to doing another certification, AWS Certified Security – Specialty in the Autumn.

Rebuild my Orange Four

Also done! Again, a recycled 2023 goal, but it has been great being back on the Four, especially at the Golfie earlier this week. I have been riding it so much that it needs a service now. The Clockwork Evo is also due a big rebuild – it was a good job I got the Four finished when I did. Fortunately, I now have Maurice, my new-to-me urban bike, for running errands around town, as the Four is too valuable to leave locked up outside shops. Currently, I have a commuter bike in the work stand for Jen, it was a freebie from a friend, but is taking a bit of time to rebuild, as I am not used to a lot of the road bike/SRAM components and everything needs a thorough clean.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

Not yet, but this is a good project for when the weather is rubbish.

Photograph more bike races

Another goal that I have achieved – I photographed the Cannock Chase Winter Classic cross country race in February, which I did not get around to blogging about, and the Racer’s Guild Downhill at Stile Cop in May. I hope to shoot a couple more races in the autumn too. Henry has joined the local cycle speedway club, so I expect that I will also shoot some cycle speedway races.

Take a wildlife photo I am happy with

I am not sure that this photo of a bee on a sunflower in our garden really counts… I have got better at spotting wildlife, both small ones in the garden, like the bee, or bigger ones when out and about, including a couple of herons and a buzzard.

Complete at least three 50km bike rides

This one is going to be a big fail – I have not even done one, nor am I sure when I will do one. I feel like I have been riding more often though, fitting shorter rides into my week. My longest ride of the year so far did not even reach 30km and that was on the 8th January. The Clockwork Evo is a better bet for long rides than the Four, so really should get that back on the trails again and see what I can do before the trails get too muddy again.

Ride 20km with Owen

Another fail, we have done a couple of 17km rides, at Llandegla and Sherwood Pines, but the full 20km has eluded us. It is getting increasingly difficult to get Owen out on the bike, although he enjoys it when we do get out. I am sure that he could do a 20km ride if he wanted to though.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

The plan was to go to Bike Park Wales in the summer holidays, but by the time I should have booked it, Owen had only done 2 MTB rides and I was not sure that he would have been able to safely ride downhill trails, so I had to give up on that idea. He has asked to go to 417 Bike Park though, which we may do between Christmas and the new year, as he will have a new bike to try out.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Not yet, but still on my radar. Partho and I had a trip planned earlier this month, but the planned full day trip turned into a brief trip to Cannock Chase, then we cancelled as the weather was rubbish

Ride some more of the “10 of the best XC trails in the UK” with Partho

At the start of the year Partho we doing well at getting out for monthly rides together, but life has started to get in the way. The closest I can claim to riding any of the “10 best XC trails in the UK” are riding some of the Glentress Blue trail earlier this week, and a few rides at Cannock Chase, including a full lap myself, and most of a full lap with Partho.

Tidy my office

Well it must have been tidy at some point, as I treated myself to a new keyboard and desk mat. It has got messy again though.

Tidy my garage

With all the ongoing projects this has not happened, nor have the 3 extra bikes to squeeze in to the garage. Although a tidy garage may help with the projects, so I should probably crack on with this…

MR2 jobs

The poor MR2 has been a bit neglected this year, at the bear minimum it needs a good wash.

Van upgrades

The van interior was insulated and carpeted earlier in the year. I also fitted a Loaded Bikes rail with fork mounts in the back, which makes transporting bikes easier. I also bought an awning. We have had some good roat trips, but other than testing the awning with the boys at Mallory Park, we have not had any day trips to set up the van and have a barbeque or picnic.

Monthly blog posts

Given that my blog was officle of the best part of two months, this is obviously a big fail!

Flagged emails

I had been making good progress on getting through my flagged emails, but currently I am on 595 (up from 536 at the start of the year), but my excuse for that is that I am on holiday from work and have recently been flagging a lot of emails to deal with on my return to work.

Get my weight down to 85kg

I think this is going to be a tough ask, I think I will be happy to get under 90kg by the end of the year! The trend of the year is downwards, but my last weigh in was before setting off on holiday and eating out a lot…

Life just generally seems to be busier this year, especially as the boys are getting more into their own things. Later bed times for the boys, and often having to work/study in the evenings after collecting the boys from school are reducing available free time, so next year I may need to slim down my goals accordingly.

Summer 2023 Road Trip: Part 1 – The Lake District

This is the first post in the series about our summer 2023 road trip, where we stayed in the Lake District (this post), the Tweed Valley in Scotland and Saltburn (coming soon).

We decided to head north for our road trip this year with our first stop, for three nights, being in the Lake District – somewhere that Jen and I have only ever visited briefly, and somewhere completely new for the boys. We are staying in a camping pod on a farm near the village of Troutbeck, above Lake Windermere. It is beautiful here, there are three (ensuite!) camping pods, and a communal hobbit house, in a field with a stream/waterfall running behind them, and a view down the valley to the lake.

After managing to load the van up with minimal fuss, the drive up the M6 was not too bad. Other than the usual traffic hotspots we managed to make decent time. The boys even managed to alternate napping, so there was minimal squabbling in the back of the van! After exploring the pod and hobbit house, we walked to the local pub, The Queens Head, for dinner. After the long drive, it was nice to stretch our legs. Once the boys were in bed, I was hoping to benefit from the dark skies to get a photo of the Milky Way, but the cloud cover had come over.

We spent our first full day in the Lake District on a cruise on Lake Windermere. We drove to Bowness and got on the “red cruise”, which covers the lake’s northern half. Henry was not too sure about the boat at first but then decided he enjoyed it. Our first stop was at Brockhole, the National Park visitor centre, where the boys loved playing on the adventure playground. After a few hours at Brockhole we got on another boat and continued our cruise to Ambleside, where we took the scenic route to the village centre, via the ruins of a Roman fort. After a quick ice cream stop, we walked back to the pier to catch the boat back to Bowness. The return leg was on a much bigger boat, and we had much better views across the western shore. The cruise was a great way to see the lake, especially being able to hop off at various points. Back in Bowness, we went for an early dinner – pizzas at the Tap Rooms, before heading back to the pod, to play the Lakes edition of Monopoly in the hobbit house.

Saturday in the Lake District started with Parkrun – Jen and Owen both did Rothay Parkrun, back in Ambleside. Owen even set his fastest Parkrun time! Henry and I played on the playground, took photographs and cheered them on. From Ambleside, at the northern tip of Lake Windermere, we continued around, by van this time, to Wray Castle – a Victorian castle, now owned by the National Trust. Every guide I had read about “what to do with kids in the Lake District” mentioned the great playground at Wray Castle. Unfortunately, it was closed. Nonetheless, we still had a good time. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of Victorian-era photography, showing life in the Lake District. I had also read about the “flat, traffic-free” cycle route along the western shore of the lake, from Wray Castle to Claife Viewing Station, another National Trust property 7km to the south, so we decided to ride there. The terrain was mostly flat and mostly traffic-free, but with a few steep hills chucked in, and a few sections of narrow road shared with cars. The boys coped well with the ride, but there was no way we would be able to coax them 7km back to Wray castle – and up the hill that the castle is at the top of. So Jen stayed at Claife Viewing Station with the boys and I rode back as quickly as I could to get the van and drove to collect them. Due to the geography of the western shore, the ride back on my bike was only five minutes longer than the return journey in the van, which took the long way around, along Esthwaite Water and past Hill Top, the former home of Beatrix Potter. After picking up Jen and the boys we caught the car ferry across the lake back to Bowness, which was much busier than the previous day. It took us a while to find a parking space, and even then it was a long way out of town. We had another (early) pub dinner, at the Village Inn – Jen and I both went for their speciality, Hungarian Goulash. We got dessert from the ice cream shop we had spotted the day before, which we ate down by the lake.

After packing up our pod, one of the downsides of multiple-stop road trips, we set off north, over the Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding and along Ullswater, to be M6. The van coped much better with the pass than Jen’s FIAT 500 did when we last drove over it probably ten years ago! Before crossing the border, we stopped off at Birdoswald Roman Fort, on Hadrian’s Wall. I have driven to Scotland many times but had never stopped at Hadrian’s Wall, so this felt like a good opportunity, especially as Owen has been showing an interest in the Romans. We were caught in a heavy rain shower whilst exploring the remains of the fort, so headed inside to look at the exhibits and grab some lunch. The “build yourself a model Roman wall with Lego” exhibit went down very well with the boys! After having learned about Roman forts, and Hadrian’s wall, we walked/climbed on the wall before continuing north to our next stop.

We all really enjoyed our short time in the Lake District, especially staying in the camping pod. It felt like we barely scratched the surface of what was on offer in the Lake District. Jen said she thought it was one of the nicest places we had been with the boys and it is definitely somewhere that I would like to return to.

Bike Check – Rebuilt Orange Four

After what feels like the world’s slowest rebuild, I am finally back on an Orange Four mountain bike. Except that it is not my old one, well mostly not…

My last ride on the Four was on the 31st of December 2021 – a session at the pumptrack, it was feeling tired and in need of a full rebuild. The next day I swapped the wheels and brake pads onto my other bike and left the Four hanging in the garage for a few months. In what was to become the norm for this project, work was in fits and starts, the first bit of progress being after I struggled riding my hardtail at Woburn. At the time I thought that my difficulties were due to all of the roots across the trail and riding a hardtail, but I did also test positive for Covid the following week. At least it gave me some motivation, and the enforced time at home gave me the opportunity to strip the bike down. After the tedious job of removing the stickers, I could send the frame to the Orange factory for a repaint, and the suspension to Fox UK for a full service. The suspension came back quickly, but I had not heard anything from Orange. Until a large box unexpectedly arrived at the door, but it did not have my frame in, it was an updated warranty replacement, still painted the new colour I had asked for! I still do not know what was wrong with my old frame, but the new one looked great in the lighter “Norlando” grey colour.

The worst part of the build was fitting the headset cups, as the tool I have does not seem to play well with Hope headsets, which is all I use on my mountain bikes. Hitting setbacks like these seemed to put me off spending time in the garage and are probably the reason that the build took so long. As the wheels from what I am now calling my old Four, had been fitted to my hardtail I needed to build up some new wheels. I had one decent Hope rear hub from the hardtail, after an expensive trip to my local bike shop, Albany Cycles, I hard the remaining components to make my perfect wheelset for trail riding – Hope hubs, DT Swiss XM481 (30mm internal) rims and back DT Swiss spokes/nipples. The bike shop recommended using the Squorx nipples, which needed a special tool, but it made the build a lot easier. Unfortunately, the rear wheel of the hardtail (which was the wheel originally fitted to my old Four) died last autumn, and could not be repaired, so it seemed logical to pinch the new rear wheel that I had built up for the Four, and fit that to the hardtail to keep me riding. Meaning another expensive trip to Albany Cycles for the parts to build another wheel.

This took us into 2023, and realising I had been without my bike for a whole year motivated me to spend more time in the garage, and the bike slowly started to come together, until there were two main jobs left, both of which I had been dreading: servicing the dropper post and fitting the rear brake, which now had to be routed through the frame. As I stripped down the dropper post, I began to remember just how bad it had been the last few times I rode the bike, it needed a full service, including an oil cartridge – the parts for this came to over £100. The dropper post I had fitted on my hardtail had not even cost that. However, remembering that the dropper post on the hardtail was not great, I did the sensible thing and bought a One Up dropper post, more expensive but with better performance than either of my existing dropper posts. As the One Up post did not come with a remote lever, I also ordered a Wolf Tooth remote – I have one on the hardtail and it works well, spares are readily available and it can be mounted to brake levers directly, rather than adding another clamp on the handlebars. I did manage to resist the version with the purple anodised lever – it worked out as twice the price of the standard black version I bought. On the subject of purple bling, purple tubeless valves and a black/purple version of my go-to saddle (SDG Bel Air 3) also found their way onto the parts pile, along with the purple parts removed from the old Four. I also have some fresh DMR Deathgrips to fit, also in purple.

The dropper post and remote proved easy to fit, which gave me some hope for the rear brake. I decided to buy a new hose, as although the new frame was the same size as the old one, the hose routing was slightly longer, and this was one job I did not want to do twice! Routing the hose was not too tricky, but getting the rubber grommets to fit was an absolute nightmare, which I am dreading having to do again. I made a last-minute decision to fit the same brake pads as on the hardtail, which were originally on the Four, Shimano finned sintered pads, as I was fitting new brake discs – when it came to bedding in the brakes I was glad of this decision, as have bedded in nicely. Every mountain biker seems to swear by a particular brake pad, I have tried a few over the years, but keep coming back to Shimano pads for Shimano brakes.

The final step was fitting the tyres and setting them up tubeless. I made the decision early on in the build process that I would use the Maxxis Minion DHR/DHF tyre combination. For years it was almost the defacto choice for mountain bikers without a tyre sponsor (and occasionally even riders sponsored by their competitions rode DHF/DHR tyres with the Maxxis logos Sharpie’d out), Continental and Michelin seem to have caught up with Maxxis, but their tyres are only available in a 2.4″ width, which I fear may be a bit too wide for the rear end on the Four, so I have stuck with 2.3″ Maxxis tyres. The front, DHF, tyre is the only part of the build that I am unhappy with – it has a wobble. I noticed on the first ride, just up and down the road to bed in the brakes, and worried that I had messed up the wheel build somehow. Putting the wheel back on the wheel-building stand vindicated my skills, the rim was perfectly true, it was just the tyre that was deformed. Online research has indicated that this is a fairly common issue with some models of Maxxis tyres.

Spec

Parts in italics are carried over from my old Four:

  • Frame: 2019 Orange Four, size medium.
  • Fork: Fox 34 130mm travel
  • Shock: Fox DPS
  • Wheels: Custom build, DT Swiss XM481 laced onto Hope Pro4 hubs. DT Swiss spokes, nipples and washers and Muc-Off valves.
  • Tyres: Maxxis Minion DHF/DHRII set up tubeless.
  • Brakes: Shimano XT M785 levers and calipers. Shimano RT-76 180mm discs. Shimano J04C pads.
  • Drivetrain: Shimano M785 11 speed mech and shifter. Sunrace 11-46T cassette. Blackspire 32T chainring. KMC chain. Shimano XT BB-800 bottom bracket. Race Face Aeffect cranks. Crank Brothers Stamp 7 pedals.
  • Cockpit: Renthal Fatbar Lite. DMR Deathgrips. BrandX 50mm stem (temporarily to confirm size). Wolftooth ReMote dropper post remote. One Up v2.1 150mm dropper post. Ride Works seat clamp (made in Coventry!). SDG Bel Air 3 saddle.

The First Ride

After all of that work, what was it like to ride? Bloody awesome!!! The suspension is not quite fully set up to my liking, but on my first proper ride, at the Forest of Dean, it felt super fast, to the point I was carrying too much speed into some corners, after being used to a bumpy ride on the hardtail for the last sixteen months. Fortunately, the new brakes and grippy tyres allowed me to reign in the speed and make the corner safely. I hit a variety of trails – starting on the blue-graded Verderers Trail, then switching to the new red-graded Adit Trail, which is more natural (read as muddy) with a fun final descent. Then after a short stop for lunch, some suspension tweaks and swapping to my full-face helmet, I hit the downhill trails. After the long ride/push up the hill I hit the Countdown and Launchpad trails – both fast, flowy and seriously fun trails. I was really tempted to hit them again, but on the push back to the top, I decided that as fun as they would be, I would get more benefit from riding the last sections of the Verderers Trail, which are not quite as fast, but still flowy and fun. I felt like a bit of a wally riding down the blue-graded trail with a full-face helmet and goggles, but re-riding some of the sections from the morning let me confirm my updated suspension settings. And it was good to ride the longer, slightly rougher, Verderers Final descent to get experience with the bike on a different trail. As you can see from the muddy image below, the Four has been suitably christened!

The ride was split into three Strava sections, as my Apple Watch was running low on battery, so I had to switch to recording on my phone, then a third for the downhill session after lunch.

Henry’s February Half-Term Holiday 2023

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 share them.

This picture is from our family ride at Hicks Lodge – Henry did so well riding the blue trail.

Photo: Bob Craik

The boys stayed with my mum and dad in the Cotswolds, and took a trip to Cogges historic farm.

On the way back (sort of!) from collecting the boys from my parents house we called in at 417 Bike Park for Henry’s first visit to “the barn of dreams”.

Photo: Jennifer Craik

Whilst I was photographing the Cannock Chase Winter Classic mountain bike race, Jen and the boys rode their bikes up to the playground at the local park.