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!
The other week most of the photographs I took were of mushrooms, both in my local woods, and on bike rides around the city. The first ones, were a mountain of mushrooms in the “fairy village”, I had noticed them on a previous bike ride and thought it would be worth returning with the camera.
Whist photographing the mushroom mountain I noticed a tiny baby mushroom growing out of a log – I needed to use the macro extension tubes to get close enough. It is hard to tell the scale from the photo, but the lush green plants surrounding the mushroom is actually moss. The mushroom was less than one centimetre high.
After I got back from my photo walk in the woods, I went out for a bike ride, taking my X100V along in my rucksack. I am unsure if it is the weather, or if I am more attuned to seeing mushrooms, but they seem to be everywhere in the woods at the moment. The X100V is not the best camera for this type of photography, but it is the best one that easily fits into my bag.
Later on in the week, I went back to the woods with Owen and Henry, Owen was excited to see the mushroom mountain by the fairy village. It was even bigger than when I photographed it. Henry was just happy to be messing about in the woods, but I managed to get him to pose for about three seconds. Unfortunately I was too slow to capture my friends from Godiva Trailriders who rode past us on their Saturday morning ride.
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: 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.
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.
When I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 I thought that my sports photography days were in the past. However, I really enjoyed photographing the British Downhill Series at Llangollen last year, and a few other mountain bike races since. The only problem was that I felt I was being held back by the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2. When Fuji launched the X-H2S camera with a stacked 26 Megapixel sensor and improved autofocus my interest was piqued. Especially as they announced it with a mountain bike video! I did have some reservations, as the camera was aimed at hybrid (stills and video) shooters and hoped that Fuji would have carried over the new technology to the next X-T camera aimed at photographers. Instead, they went for a higher resolution, 40 Megapixel, sensor. My ideal camera would have been the sensor from the X-H2S, in the body of the X-T5, but sadly Fuji have not made that (yet!), so I have to choose between the high resolution stills model, or the fast hybrid camera. Luckily Fuji UK free 48 hour test drives, so I would be able to try both options. I decided to test the X-H2S first and booked the loan in to coincide with the first round of the Racers Guild Winter Series Downhill race at Cannock Chase.
My first reaction on unpacking the camera was that it is a chonky beast – I had not appreciated how much bigger it would be than my X-T2. After failing to attach the supplied strap, I threw on some Peak Design tethers, so I could use my Peak Design Slide strap. The strap lugs on the X-H2S are much better than on the X-T bodies which require metal rings between the camera and strap (or anchor in my case), it is only a minor point, but one that made me warm to the X-H2S. On my lunch break, I quickly dialled in some settings, and went for a walk in my local woods, to try and test the autofocus on some squirrels. I did not have much time, nor were the squirrels cooperating, but I did get a glimpse of what the subject detect autofocus was like. However the first real test was in the evening when Owen was at his karate dojo – Henry and I went to a nearby park. Henry was typically reluctant for photos, but I managed to grab a few shots with my 35mm f1.4 prime lens fitted to the X-H2S. This lens is known to be slow to focus, so I could not come to any conclsions about that, but chasing Henry around the play ground was a good test for the handling of the camera – such as quickly switching to a slow shutter speed for the photo on the roundabout. Upon getting the files in to Lightroom I really liked the Nostalgic Negative film simulation, which is not available on my previous generation Fuji cameras.
The race was on Sunday, but we also had a fun plan for the Saturday – Owen and I were going on a boys mountain bike trip with my friend Partho. The original plan had been a trip to one of the “top ten XC trails” with Partho, which was one of my goals for the year. However, Owen needed to come with us, so it changed to a boys trip to the Forest of Dean to keep the driving time down. Then we realised that there was a big event on there, and plan C formed – a return visit to Sherwood Pines for Owen to try and meet his goal of a 20km bike ride.
We rode the full length of the red-graded “Outlaw” trail, which was not quite long enough for Owen to meet his goal, so we added on another short loop, starting on the blue-graded “Maid Marian” trail, then rejoining the last few sections on the “Outlaw” trail. Before heading out for the second loop, I swapped my hydration pack for my camera bag, to get some shots of Owen and Partho on a new section of the blue trail. I chose a berm, with good lighting, set the X-H2S to 15 frames per second high speed shutter, activated the “bicycle” AI focus mode and called for Owen, and then Partho to drop in. I felt like I got good shots of them both railing the berm, then quickly packed up my bag and chased them down the trail. It felt great to be riding at my pace on a fun section of trail, even if I had a heavy camera bag on my back. As I caught up with the others Partho even managed to get a photo of me airborne over a jump.
We completed the loop, and celebrated Owen achieving his goal with some lovely brownies that Partho had brought with him. The excitement only lasted until we were back at home and I had downloaded the images to Lightroom: none of the eleven frames of Owen were sharp, and only one out of seven of Partho were sharp – the one above. The shutter speed, 1/500th of a second, should have been fast enough, so it could only have been missed focus. Disappointing when I had such high expectations for the autofocus on the X-H2S.
Not feeling fully convinced with the autofocus on the X-H2S, I decided to also take my X-T2 with me to Cannock Chase, just in case it was needed (thankfully, it wasn’t). After walking down the track I found a good corner to shoot from, but again, the AI autofocus was struggling, so I started going back up the track to try a few more angles. For the last few runs of practice I was shooting head on, as the riders came down a long chute – and the AI autofocus was working well. It seemed that it needed to see the rider for a bit before tracking then – maybe this is something that I could have tweaked in the advanced settings, but would need more time with the camera to be sure. Another option would have been to disable the subject detection autofocus and to just use a single focus point, like I would have done on the X-T2, but in the heat of the moment I did not consider that option.
Now knowing how to play to the camera’s strengths, I stayed at the bottom of the chute for the first race runs. The photos were nicely in focus, and I had been able to get a shot of most of the riders. However, they were not what I was hoping for, they were lacking in dynamism, execept for the riders that were jumping.
For the second race, I went back to the first corner I had scoped out. I had come up with a plan to work around the autofocus limitations I had experienced earlier – I would switch the camera to manual focus (I missed the SCM focus switch from the more traditional Fujis) and pre-focus on the exit of the corner. The 15 frames per second burst mode would allow me to pick the sharpest frame. As well as being better for photography, there was more of a party atmosphere at this corner, as it was towards the end of the track, next to the biggest drop. Riders were finishing their runs and gathering around this area to watch the faster racers coming down on their runs. Once again I was reminded just how fun it is to watch mountain bike racing in person, even at a grassroots level, the fact that I was able to photograph it was the icing on the cake!
When I got home, I had some issues importing the files to Lightroom, I do not know if this was a hardware or software issue on my MacBook Pro, or anything to do with the Cfexpress Type B card used in the X-H2s. I tired importing both from the card reader Fuji had sent with the camera, and by connecting the camera directly by USB, but both had issues. It is something that I would need to investigate more in the future, but I would not rule out the camera based on this. As I understand it, the Cfexpress Type B card is part of the reason that then camera is so fast in use, but I thought that it was worth noting the import issues. Otherwise, I was happy with the image quality, it is the quality I would expect from a Fuji X camera.
My preconceptions of the X-H2S were that I would love the autofocus, but hate the handling, I was wrong on both counts. I was underwhelmed by the autofocus, although I expect that with more time, tweaking of the settings and learning how to work with the camera I would be happier with it. Experienced camera reviewers believe that the autofocus on this model is pretty much on a par with Canon and Sony’s high end cameras, so will have to trust them on that. After initially thinking that the camera was huge, I grew to appreciate the size and handling – I even managed to forget to take a camera strap with me to the bike race, so held the camera all day – I am not sure that would have been as doable with my X-T2, which is a much smaller body. I was shooting in shutter priority mode all weekend, but adapted to the different “PASM” controls easily – I thought this would be a deal breaker for me, but I think I could manage.
Although I am yet to try the X-T5, the X-H2 has overtaken it and is now top of my wish list for my next camera. However the reason I use wish list is that there is a big price jump from the X-T5, especially when you consider the need for a Cfexpress Type B card and that there is no “kit” package with the 16-80f4 lens available for the X-H2S. However, my main takeaway from the weekend is that I probably need to prioritise a new telephoto lens, rather than a new camera body. When I bought my Fuji 55-200mm lens I liked the compact size and versatility, but after a few years I am coming into its limitations – the autofocus could be better and I either use it at the wider end or maxed out at 200mm for wildlife, where it is not really long enough. So an upgrade to the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 lens is in order, and my aspirations for wildlife photography will have to be put on hold. 50-140mm is the Fuji equivalent of the 70-200mm lens that I used on Canon for many years and is the go to focal length for sports photography. So even though my expectations for the weekend went out of the window, I still feel like I have come out of it with some clarity on what camera kit I will purchase next.
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.
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.
Henry, who still feels like the baby of the family, is starting school today! It is not as big a change as it was for Owen starting in reception, as Henry went to the preschool at school last year and went to holiday club in the classroom he will be in this year. It was nice walking to school and seeing all of Henry’s classmates from nursery, most of whom he had not seen all summer, it was also reassuring that he would have some familiar faces in his class. Henry only went to school for a few hours this afternoon, and I was surprised that parents were bringing the children into the classroom and getting them settled – Owen’s first day was in 2020, during Covid, so we just left him at the door. Having us there seemed to make it worse for Henry, but he soon settled down and was telling the teacher about our recent bike ride at Sherwood Pines, despite us not having ridden at Sherwood Pines for months. Hopefully, this was nerves, rather than mistrust of the teacher! I was quite proud that before we left him, he had already written his name in the writing area.
As with Owen, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Henry some questions, to record how he has changed over the years:
Shoe size: 11K
Bike: Frog 48
Favourite colour: Blue
Favourite food: Spaghetti bolognese
Favourite book: The Adventures of Paddington: Hide-and-Seek
Favourite thing to watch on TV: Alice’s Wonderland Bakery (an Alice in Wonderland spin-off on Disney+)
Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Going to Saltburn-by-the-Sea
What do you want to be when you grow up? He does not want a job, he wants to be a princess.
This year Owen and Henry are starting school on different days, so I am doing separate back-to-school posts. Stay tuned for Henry’s tomorrow – in the meantime, Jen and I are taking Henry for a special day out in Birmingham, before he starts school tomorrow.
Once again, the school holidays have flown by and Owen has gone back to school, starting in year three. Of course, after six weeks of waking up early, he decided to have a lie in this morning. I am sure that moving up to the “Junior” part of the school will be exciting for Owen, as they start to learn more exciting things, such as computer programming, there are also more options for extra curricular activities. I am sure that Owen will also be excited to see his friends again, he did see some at holiday club towards the start of the break but has not seen anyone for a couple of weeks whilst we were on our summer road trip. Towards the end of last term, there was a lot of karate talk between Owen and his friends, so we have started taking Owen to karate lessons. He has only been to a few so far, but seems to be enjoying it.
As usual, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Owen some questions, to record how he has changed over the years:
Shoe size: 13.5K
Bike: Orbea MX20 with a Haro Frontside 16 BMX for riding to school and a Vitus Nucleus 24 that he needs to grow a tiny bit more before he can ride it.
Favourite colour: Red
Favourite food: Pepperoni pizza with olives and pepper
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.