Henry’s Summer Holiday 2021

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

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

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

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

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.

Another Attempt at the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

During the lockdown at the start of 2021 the local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders created a challenge segment on Strava to encourage local riders to get out and push themselves during the lockdown. I had three attempts, and as mentioned in my post about it, my goal had been to complete the 13km, mostly off-road, loop in less than one hour, but only got down to 1:06:30 before the lockdown ended.

I was confident that with drier trails, riding my hardtail and the lure of a Five Guys burger (from their recently opened restaurant by the finish line) at the end I could beat my target time. However, life got in the way and it was only in September that I was able to have another attempt. The first part of the loop, out of the city centre, felt busier than earlier in the year, but I think that helped me pace myself, rather than setting off too quickly like my previous attempt. I also took the slightly longer route up the ramp from the tunnel under the ring road. On my previous attempts, I had ridden up the stairs, arguably more impressive, but ultimately slower. I was feeling in much better shape as I rode over the railway and through Spencer Park. However, the place I noticed the difference the most was riding up the Fletchamstead Highway towards the Kenilworth Road – I expect that the choice of bike, and tyre, that helped the most here.

Heading into the second quarter of the loop, which is arguably the hardest, I knew that there was a slight change to the trail, which cuts out the boggiest section. Unfortunately for my normal riding, it is also the most fun section, but for this ride, speed was the priority. At the top of Gibbet Hill, the halfway point of the ride, a quick time check showed I was five minutes ahead of my goal. So I allowed myself a minute resting before dropping into the fastest, most technical section, down the hill towards Wainbody Wood. This is probably my favourite trail in Coventry, there are a series of small jumps, a “north shore” raised wooden section. I was particularly proud of myself on the lap of Wainbody Wood, as rather than slowing down and riding around a tree stump on the trail, I hopped over it without slowing down. I noticed that this, mostly off-road, middle section of the loop was much quieter than during lockdown – I barely saw anyone.

With time in hand I was feeling confident until I popped out of the woods by the A45 and saw that the next bit of pavement that I needed to ride on was closed for roadworks, this was annoying for me, but would have been much worse for a wheelchair user, or someone walking with small children! I had to deviate from the route and join the main carriageway of the Kenilworth Road. I think the roadie next to me at the traffic lights was surprised to see a mountain biker shoot off so fast when the light turned green. Annoyingly he sat right behind me, which combined with the queue of traffic, due to the roadworks, meant I could not turn on to the trail I needed, and took a detour via the Coat of Arms Bridge Road to rejoin the trail and carry on the final push to the city centre.

When I got back to Lady Godiva, I checked my watch to see that I had taken roughly fifty minutes to complete the loop, seventeen less than in March and well under my target of an hour. It was time to get that burger!

I had left my bike lock locked to the bike rack, so ordered my food on the app and popped into the restaurant to collect my reward! I could not have been in there for more than ten minutes, but when I came out I noticed that the rear tyre on my bike was completely flat. Not wanting to let my burger get cold, I sat on a bench overlooking the bike rack and enjoyed my celebratory lunch, whilst pondering how my tyre could have lost all the air. After my burger, I noticed the end of the valve stem on the floor, and as I was pondering if I could have knocked it when I locked up the bike, a group of students came over and said that they had seen someone with a metal bar levering at my bike! My only guess is that they hoped that by immobilising my bike I would leave it there until town quietened down. Rather than risk that happening I pushed my bike all the way home. I had thought about buying a tube in town but figured that I could probably walk home quicker than fixing my bike.

After that disappointing end to my ride, the final kick in the teeth was that Strava did not recognise that I had completed the segment! After comparing the GPS traces, it was within the first 16% of the segment – before any of the diversions. My only assumption is that it was down to worse GPS coverage with leaves on the trees. However, working on the basis that the time for the official competition had lapsed and that I know I beat my target with plenty of time to spare I am going to call it a success. I also set nine “PRs” on Strava, so in addition to my celebratory burger, I am treating my bike to some swanky Muc-Off tyre valves Amazon affiliate link, to replace the broken one.

Owen’s First Day of Year One

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

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

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

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

Roadsters in the Elan Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throwback Thursday: Dorset 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaydon Gathering

On the second Tuesday of each month, the British Motor Museum at Gaydon holds a gathering for car enthusiasts. Usually, I cannot make it as I take Owen to his swimming lesson, but this month the stars aligned – there was no swimming lesson, the sun was out and it was even the eighth anniversary of buying my MR2 Roadster.

After work, I jumped in the MR2 and set off to Gaydon, via the scenic route of course. It was great to get out for an evening drive – something that I need to do more often! I got to Gaydon and managed to park next to the only other MR2 Roadster in attendance. My parents were also there, so we had a look around the cars together. I was impressed at the turnout, the cars ranged from a pimped out Hummer to pre-war cars. I particularly liked a little blue Lotus Elan, which made my MR2 look big.

The plan had been to grab something to eat there, but my parents had already eaten, and it just looked like a standard burger van, so we just had ice creams and then I picked something up on the way home, after another fun evening drive in the MR2. I am not sure when I will manage to get to another Gaydon Gathering, but it has reminded me that I need to get out in the MR2 more often!

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!

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.

Owen’s Fifth Birthday

Today was Owen’s fifth birthday. For once the boys actually gave us a bit of a lie in. Just before 7:00 we heard shouts of “it’s my birthday”, “I’m five” and “wake up Henry, it’s my birthday”. To say Owen was excited would be an understatement! Owen was a lucky boy and had lots of presents, the Lego being a firm favourite yet again (in the photo above he is using the Lego iPad app for instructions) and he spent the morning playing with some of his new toys.

Unlike last year, we were able to have a few of Owen’s friends round for a small party in the garden. There were four of Owen’s friends and a little sister who is friends with Henry, so it was good to watch them all playing together nicely. As it was the last day of the school holidays they were probably all pleased to see each other again. Jen had made another amazing birthday cake, this year with a Mario Kart theme.

After the party it was nice to hang out at home with the boys Nanny and Grandad. All the excitement had tired Henry out, so whilst he had a nap and Owen played trainsets with his Grandad I managed to see to a few jobs in the garden. With all the excitement, the boys ended up having a busy day, so I think Owen will be going back to school for a rest tomorrow, before birthday part two, with Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow!