Seldom Said

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's a bit late now, as we're already halfway through January, but here's my now-traditional new year round-up, which this year comes with pictures.

January and February last year are a bit of a blur, so I'll not attempt to say anything about them. I seem to remember making an effort to see various friends, as I'm prone to behaving like a hermit in these dark cold months. All I want to do is hibernate...

Summit family In March, we took Iestyn up his first hill: the Sugar Loaf near Abergavenny. There's an established tradition in Alice's family that kids have to walk up this hill under their own steam in order to claim their first pair of walking boots. It'll be a while before Iestyn manages that, but we thought we'd give him an idea of the challenge involved, to give him something to contemplate. He was really very well-behaved, but didn't like it on top very much as it was really cold and blowing a gale.

The gang's all here On Easter Monday we met up with my oldest group of friends, back in dear old Ampthill. The occasion was Keith's first visit to the UK since he emigrated to Australia in 2005 and the venue was his parents' house. This was pure nostalgia for me and the lads: we spent many a happy weekend there in our youth, playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, and it was amazing how little it had changed in the intervening twenty years. It was splendid to see Keith and Caroline with their three boys and the weather was kind to us, so our collective hordes of small offspring happily ran riot in the garden.

Rain man Colwith Force At the end of April we returned once again to our beloved Ambleside in the Lake District, for a week's holiday with Alice's mum and dad. The lamentable weather limited our walking activities, but my mother-in-law and I consoled ourselves by taking lots of photos of waterfalls (swollen by the torrential rain) and Iestyn seemed perfectly happy walking in the wet - he was, after all, safe and dry under the waterproof hood of his backpack.

The most disappointing part of the holiday was the discovery that walking downhill was causing excruciating pain in my left knee. I wasn't at all sure that I'd be able to do the Great Manchester Run at the end of May, but by that stage it turned out that my knee didn't hurt at all when running - most peculiar! I didn't manage to beat my personal best time from 2006, but I was still pretty happy with my result and a bit less depressed about my knee. I subsequently went to a physiotherapist, who has been helping me to sort things out, but both knees have been plaguing me throughout the year - largely, I think, because I haven't been doing anywhere near as much, running, walking and cycling as in previous years. As I've just signed up for the GMR again this year, I'm hoping to do something about that by getting back into a regular routine.

Grab hat Mountain mummy In June we paid an unexpected visit to Scotland, staying in a child-friendly B&B in Helensburgh that we'd used once before. The occasion was a sad one - the funeral of one of Alice's closest friends from university - but knowing that she would have wanted us to make the most of it, we took full advantage of the fine weather while we were there to take Iestyn up his first Munro: Beinn Ime. It was magnificent! The weather was gorgeous and we embarrassed a number of fellow Munro-baggers by overtaking them on the way up, in spite of the extra load that we were carrying.

Shoulders The following day wasn't quite as pleasant, so we took the little chap to Dumbarton Castle. Foolishly thinking that we could wheel him around in his pushchair (I had confused Dumbarton's precipitous fortress in my mind with the more accessible Edinburgh castle), we left his backpack behind, so he ended up riding on my shoulders as we climbed the many hundreds of steps. This was all fine and dandy until I found myself descending a narrow and precipitous stair and suffered from vertigo, whereupon Iestyn decided that he wanted to climb off my shoulders! I hastily backed up and moved him into a more secure position before summoning up my courage and gingerly making the perilous descent.

Goldilocks? Pitchers We'd arranged to meet one of my email correspondents from Canada (Bryan) in Glasgow that afternoon, as he was making a lightning visit for a family occasion, but unfortunately his brother missed his flight, so our paths failed to cross. Our trip into the city was far from wasted, however: we visited the splendid Burrel Collection and then went to the Botanic Gardens for a quiet picnic - only to find ourselves in the middle of a carnival! Another unanticipated bonus...

Final stretch Wind and sea The following weekend we joined Alice's dad for the last stage of the Offa's Dyke Path, which he's been walking in sections for the best part of a decade. Meeting up with him en route proved a bit of a challenge, thanks to the maze of narrow country lanes that we had to negotiate, but after some mobile phone shenanigans we did eventually track him down. The weather wasn't entirely pleasant, but that wasn't going to stop Bryn taking a celebratory dip in sea at Prestatyn at the end of his epic journey...

Castle Crag Bassenthwaite Later in June we spent another week in the Lakes, this time staying in Keswick in a deliberate attempt to do some walking in areas that we'd not really frequented before. Our ambitions in this regard were a little restricted by the weather - rain at first, then high winds - but the sun did favour us with its presence eventually so we had three magnificent walks: one in Borrowdale, one in Newlands and one near Skiddaw. We had to abort the summit-bagging sections of the first two because Iestyn was complaining about the wind, but we simply extended the walks to take in some lower-level delights instead. The latter walk, climbing a rather modest hill called Dodd, offered the most spectacular views of all the surrounding hills, plus a bonus for Alice: loads of bilberries to pick!

Big changes were afoot in July as Alice went back to work, Iestyn started at nursery and I began working part time. I now work just three days a week and look after the little chap on Thursday and Friday. Alice found going back to work a daunting prospect, but soon discovered that everyone was delighted to have her back, which made it a bit more tolerable. Iestyn took to nursery very quickly and seems to be a big hit with all the staff, who keep telling us that they've never come across a baby who smiles, dances and sings quite as much as he does.

On the edge Foxlow Edge We didn't manage as much walking in July and August as we'd have liked, mostly visiting tamer places such Dunham Massey, but Iestyn and I did join our friend Andy in August for a mid-week walk in the Peak District and Alice came with us for some great walks on Shining Tor a few days later. I suffered awful migraines after both walks, which finally forced me go to the opticians to get some prescription sunglasses.

Looking out Hall window The latter half of August, all of September and the beginning of October saw us in a state of utter disarray at home, as building work took place on our house. At the end of it all we were delighted with our new roof, loft room, staircase, en suite shower, downstairs loo, boiler and bike shed, but it was a bit of a trial while it was all scaffolding and plaster dust. We'd also had some new stained glass windows fitted earlier in the year, so the house is looking proper fancy now, I can tell you!

Friendly Rainbow hill We did get away for another walking holiday in September, however, which provided some welcome relief. We rented a rather odd cottage in Scotland, not far from Tyndrum, intending to tackle some of the tasty Munros thereabouts. Sadly the weather once again left much to be desired, but on the days when the sun did actually show its face we had some excellent walks. We made it half way up one Munro before the wind once again defeated us (walking with a baby in a backpack is like having a big sail on your back), but mostly stuck to the valleys. We also visited the wonderful Oban Sea Life centre on a particularly damp day, which is always a treat.

Unfortunately we seemed to spend most of the remainder of 2007 suffering with various illneses. The first of these - a dose of the dreaded winter vomiting virus - was the most alarming, as it involved a few days in hospital for Iestyn, but the most recent never-ending series of colds and a stiff dose of flu that have afflicted all of us over Christmas and New Year have tested our powers of endurance to the limit.

Daisy We did manage to have a jolly enough Christmas in spite of this, with my family coming up to stay with us, but our mood took a dive on the day after Boxing Day, when we made a sad discovery: our little cat Daisy had died in the night. She'd been living on borrowed time for a year and a half and had had a long and happy life, but we loved her dearly so it was a real wrench to lose her. Rest in peace, little striper.

The new year has had a rocky start so far, as I've fallen viction to the flu and Alice has only just starting to recover from the after-effects. Thankfully, however, Iestyn has bounced back with gusto and is currently attempting to eat five meals a day (when he can get them!) and we all seem to be on the road to recovery now (at last!) after a trying few months. So here's hoping that we manage to see, play games with and/or speak to you all sometime very soon!

Inconsequential thoughts rarely worth muttering out loud