Half-term Bike Rides with Owen

Owen has been off school this week, so I also took a few days off work, with the plan that we would get out to ride bikes together. We had planned to ride at Cannock, but the trails were closed due to fallen trees from the recent storms.

Hicks Lodge

Hicks Lodge, was actually our “Plan C”, after Cannock Chase and Snibston Colliery Park, which we drove to first, only to find the trails also closed. Hopefully, I will get to complete that trail one day! Fortunately, it is only a short drive from Snibston to Hicks Lodge, so Owen did not even bother to take his bike kit off. The route took us past the end of the road I lived on in the late 1980s, so we took a quick detour to see where I learned to ride a bike.

Hicks Lodge is a safe choice for riding with kids if a little tame for Owen now. The trail was a bit damp, but we were just glad to be riding. We only did one lap but repeated some of our favourite sections. Owen was taking it easy, so when we re-rode the last section I asked Owen to ride it at top speed and pretend it was an enduro stage – it worked, he rode much better and said that he enjoyed it more too!

417 Bikepark

The plan after this ride was to drop Owen off with my parents, so 417 Bikepark on the edge of the Cotswolds was the obvious choice. It is also Owen’s favourite place to ride. We started off in the “barn of dreams”, the indoor pumptrack. Owen was on his BMX, as his mountain bike was still muddy from Hicks Lodge. There was another little boy there on a BMX too, so it was nice watching them riding round together.

Before Owen tired himself out, I dragged him away to swap bikes and get goggles on to hit the downhill trails. We started off riding the lower portion of the blue graded “Cheese Roller” trail, which featured a steep corner that Owen was too nervous to ride on our previous visit. It was the same on his first run, but he walked around it and continued to the bottom of the trail, slowly. We pushed our bikes back up to the bottom of the steep corner, but this time I put Owen’s bike into a harder gear, which seemed to help him on the way down, as he was able to carry more speed, especially over the four big tabletop jumps at the end of the trail.

After pushing up it was time to let the bus take the strain, so we jumped onto the uplift bus to the top of the hill and rode back down the blue graded “Blue Racoon” trail – Owen’s favourite. He was going well until we came to a(nother) steep right-hand corner and pulled up to the side of the trail. I rode it first, then coaxed Owen down – he did so well. It must have given him a confidence boost as it took me a little while to catch him back up! Owen enjoyed the trail so much that we repeated the bottom section before stopping for lunch.

Fueled on confidence and tuna sandwich Owen was on fire after lunch – he rode the tricky corner on “Cheese Roller”, claiming he did not even realise that was the corner! He also rode the bottom section much quicker than in the morning. There was a queue for the uplift, so we pushed back up and rode the lower section of “Cheese Roller” again, but faster. Then we got another lift to the top – Owen was getting into the swing of it, waiting to hand his bike to the driver, then for me to put my bike on the trailer and collecting his bike at the top and going to the top of the trail whilst I unloaded my bike. His second full run on “Blue Racoon” was faster, and the scary corner was despatched with ease.

At this point, we had to buy more uplift tickets, before continuing down “Cheese Roller”. This was Owen’s fastest run – he even got the tiniest bit of air over one of the big jumps at the end of the trail. He was buzzing when we got to the bottom. Then we got in the uplift queue behind YouTuber Ben Deakin, who was doing some coaching. I gave Owen the choice of another run down “Blue Racoon” or attempting a full run of “Cheese Roller” – he chose “Blue Racoon” and set off quickly – looking so much more confident than he had in the morning! At one point he had a bit of a wobble out of a fast berm but managed to hold on to it and continued down to the bottom of the trail. After such a good run we decided to call it a day on the downhill trails as Owen wanted to do more laps of the pumptrack, although it had gotten busier.

I was so proud of Owen, especially how he conquered his nervousness about the steep corners and how well he rode after lunch. He was also by far the youngest rider on the downhill trails but rode (and behaved) sensibly – queuing for our last uplift he told me that it was “the best day ever”! I also had a great day, it did not matter that I was riding at Owen’s pace, it was just nice to be out on the bikes together. And after a wet and windy start to the year, it felt like Spring was starting to arrive – the sun was out and we even saw our first lambs of the year on the drive across the Cotswolds to drop Owen off with my parents.

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.

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.

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…

A Special Bike Ride Behind the Hospital

Just over five years ago I remember looking out of the window of the neonatal “Transitional Care Unit” at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, holding a very small, and slightly yellow, baby Owen. I said to him “one day we will ride the trails out there” – today was that day!

He was probably ready to ride the trails a while ago, but we had never got around to it. I decided that it would be good to do it before the weather turned and it got too muddy. We started from Binely woods, taking the bridleway across to Combe Abbey Country Park – partly to avoid paying for parking, but mostly because it is a nice ride through the woods. Jen and Henry even joined us for this part of the ride but stopped off at Combe Abbey for the playground. Owen and I carried on past the hotel, through the woods and out the back of the park. For some reason I have it in my head that the bridleway out the back of Combe Abbey is really steep, I had even brought the tow rope to help Owen, but it was not needed. He climbed the hill with ease. From the top of the hill, we were able to look down over the hospital. I told Owen how small he was, how he had been in hospital for almost three weeks and that I had told him we would ride up there together. He did not seem to bothered by it all but humoured me with a selfie with the hospital in the background before we rode back to join Jen and Henry at the playground for ice cream.

We ended up having a lovely family afternoon out – the boys were on good form and the weather was lovely. It is hard to believe that it will be October next week! I would not normally consider 9km, on easy trails, to be a special ride, but I had been looking forward to this for most of Owen’s life, so it was nice to get it checked off.

Owen’s First Day of Year One

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

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

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

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

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”…

Spot the Difference – Cannock Chase Water Splash

On Sunday we were meant to have a family ride at Cannock Chase, joining in with the Little Rippers MTB x Ready Steady Riders ride. Unfortunately one of Owen’s classmates tested positive for COVID during the last week of school, meaning that all of Owen’s class had to self isolate for the start of the holidays. So it was just Henry and I that made the trip to Cannock.

Knowing that we would end up at the water splash, and remembering the photo I took of Owen at a Little Rippers ride in 2019, I dressed Henry in the same yellow shorts and Little Rider Co jersey, with the aim of recreating the photo. Whilst Henry is a better rider than Owen was at his age, Henry is not as keen as Owen was. He has learned that bike rides mean sweets, so was constantly pestering me for snacks. Then at the first uphill section, he asked for a lift on the Mac Ride on my bike. To be fair, he was the youngest rider there and was not able to keep up with the other children.

When we got to the water splash, he remembered our previous visit, and asked for his sunglasses, as his face got wet last time. He also asked me to ride through slowly. After riding through on my bike, I removed Henry’s Strider from my rucksack and tried to coax him to ride through himself. Eventually, the combination of all the other children having fun riding through the water and seeing the photo of Owen on my phone convinced him to ride into the water – I quickly followed him in and snapped a few photos before Henry realised that he did not like wet shoes!

From the water splash, we rode back to the van, swapped to clean shoes and went to the playground. After riding together, it is always lovely to see the children playing together nicely with their new friends. Without Owen and Jen, it was not the ride that I was expecting, but Henry and I still had a good time, and I managed to get the photo I had been planning!

2021 Goals Update

So far 2021 has been another tricky year, especially with the lockdown and homeschooling at the start of the year. Overall I do not think I have made as much progress on my goals as I would have liked, other things have cropped up and I am also trying to factor in some downtime each day. The biggest excitement for me this year has been Henry turning from a baby into a little boy, especially over the last few weeks where he has began speaking more than just the odd word. He has also really taken to his balance bike. I must stop using selfies of us on my bike for these posts though – I have just noticed that I used similar photos on my 2021 post and my 2020 mid-year goals update.

Catch up on blogging

This is my nineteenth post of the year, but I do still have a bit of a backlog. I still have at least five posts in my drafts folder that I need to finish, and a few more post ideas in my head… I also need to do some blog maintenance and tidy up the structure of my posts.

Publish more of my software work

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.

Take a good wildlife photo

The only wild animals I have pointed my camera at are Owen and Henry! I have noticed plenty of robins and squirrels in my local woods, typically they only allow me to get close when I do not have a camera. We will also be signing up for membership at Twycross Zoo, so I am sure that I will at least get some animal photos.

Ride 1,000 miles

This is certainly one goal where I am overachieving, I am already past 500 miles so far and not too far off 600! It has definitely been a case of little and often, as I have not done any particularly big rides. Most of my rides have been with Owen and/or Henry, so less than 10km. However, all the riding probably explains why both of my bikes need a service. I am almost tempted to try and push for 2,021km, to beat my record from 2015. I am comfortably ahead of my friend Partho in our annual “who can ride their bike the furthest” challenge too.

Another cycling challenge that I would like to complete is the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge route in less than one hour. There is now the added bonus of a Five Guys restaurant at the finish line on Broadgate in the city centre. I just need to do a brake overhaul on my hardtail bike and I will be good to go.

Ride somewhere new with Owen

Owen and I have done a lot of riding together. We rode at Snibston Colliery Country Park in our “week of bikes” at Easter, but that ride was cut short by mechanical problems on my bike. We have also ridden the new blue graded trail at Cannock Chase, including our “long weekend of bikes“. We have got a few trips planned later in the year where I am sure Owen and I will ride some more new trails.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

All three of the cars have had a wash this year – the MR2 before I had even started back at work! Unfortunately, both the MR2 and van could do with another wash though. The Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) cordless pressure washer I bought has certainly made this easier, as I do not need to run power and water from/through the house.

Declutter/sell stuff

I have sold a few things on eBay/Facebook marketplace, but I still have a fair bit to go. We have also done a decent job of passing on baby bits that the boys have grown out of.

Does anybody want to buy a 24″ wheel kids bike? Or a camera bag? Or a tripod? Or a Lee DSLR filter kit?

Tidy my garage

It was tidy at one point! I even got some Topeak bike hooks (Amazon affiliate link) to tidy up the bikes. However, after rebuilding Owen’s new bike and a few other projects, it is back to being messy.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is probably the goal I am doing worst at – after a good start, I have put on some weight on during the lockdown. There is still time to turn it around though.

Outside of my goals, I have spent a lot of time at my desk, either working at my day job or on various software development projects, which I hope to be able to share soon (see goal #1). After a quiet start to the year, due to the lockdown, we have lots of exciting plans for the summer and early part of the autumn, so I hope to have some exciting posts in the coming months.

Bike Check – Owen’s Orbea MX20

Owen got a new bike for his fifth birthday – an Orbea MX20 Team Disc. It is a proper mini mountain bike, with gears, fat tyres and hydraulic disc brakes. Orbea have discontinued this model, so I bought a 2018 model secondhand, then gave it a refresh.

Of course, during the refresh there were a few upgrades, mostly to fit with the green colour scheme Owen has had on all his pedal bikes. The changes from the standard specification are:

  • SDG Slater Pro Kit in green (pedals, saddle and thinner handlebar/grips) – the handlebars are trimmed to 590mm.
  • 40mm BrandX stem
  • Green gear cable housing
  • Hope stem cap in orange (fitted by the previous owner)
  • RRP mudguard in green
  • Decathlon bottle cage

Owen has now had a few chances to ride his new bike, and the verdict is that he “loves it”! He is getting the hang of the gears, and already finding how much easier they make riding up hills. The larger wheels and much more powerful brakes also give him more confidence to ride faster on trails. It is slightly too big, but at the rate he is growing that will not be a problem soon.

As I am a bike geek, there are a few jobs still to do: I was not able to set the standard wheels and tyres to run tubeless. The wheels are already set up for tubeless, but the tyres seemed to be too loose on the rims. Hopefully new tyres will help. I would like to replace the brake levers – Owen has smaller hands than me, but bigger brake levers. My other concern is the rear derailleur – it is too close to the ground and does not have a clutch mechanism to keep the chain in place. This will likely drive an upgrade to a ten-speed drivetrain – fortunately, I have some of the components spare, freshly removed from my hardtail.

For me, the best thing is the opportunities it opens up for Owen and I to ride together. Even after a few weeks on the bike his pace and confidence on blue graded trails have increased, and he is also able to cover more distance. This bike, combined with our TowWhee tow rope will allow us to ride more trails together, so I am looking forward to a summer of adventures with Owen.