Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Early Autumn


As the wind begins to pick up, we are braced and ready ahead of tomorrow's incoming storm. I hope any damage will be minimal, I've already secured everything that I can in the garden. 

Last weekend, coinciding with the equinox, we experienced our first proper taste of autumn. Saturday began all dewy and fresh, becoming warm and sunny by mid-morning. I decided that I would get outside while I had the chance. The challenging week at work had taken it's toll, and getting caught in the crossfire of some strained relationships had left me feeling rather discouraged. Fresh air was called for, so the weekly shop and household chores could wait until the following day. 

Not too far from home we have one of my favourite National Trust properties, Sizergh Castle, where even when I don't much feel like walking very far, I can easily be persuaded to visit, as the gardens there are so beautiful.  Even better, at this time of year the orchards are full of apples and pears.

We took our time walking around the garden, following the paths in the same direction we always do, with Lily being extra careful to avoid getting too close to the beehives :) Familiarity means we get to appreciate the changing seasons there, and the Rock Garden, especially, is displaying some beautiful rich shades of autumn colour.

The Kitchen Garden is always worth a visit, and where we often catch a glimpse of Charlie the cat.

And it was there that they had all their different varieties of apples for sale. I paid for a small bag, which would provide me with more than enough cookers to make two batches of apple sauce and some crumbles, as well as five Ribston Pippins to go in the fruit bowl.

And the following day, while the expected wind and rain kept us indoors, I spent a lovely afternoon in the kitchen, filling the house with the delicious aromas of warm apples and cinnamon.

Last week, we enjoyed visits to two prospective secondary schools. Between us, we must have clocked up miles walking along corridors :)  Lily has now made her final decision and yesterday we submitted her application. It won't be until March that we find out whether or not she has secured a place, but I gather it is highly likely that she will be successful. It was quite a difficult decision in the end, but I am very happy with her choice. We are very fortunate to have some excellent schools in this area.

Following a couple of chillier nights, yesterday I made the switch to our winter weight duvets. The summer ones will now be aired, before being stored away until spring. The central heating came on very briefly the other morning, and I now am watching carefully as to when the grass will need it's last cut of the year. Autumn is here.

J. X

Sunday, 17 September 2023



Mog is demonstrating, beautifully, exactly how I would like to have spent my weekend. Instead, I've been catching up with housework, getting the weekly shopping done and tackled a huge pile of ironing, which had been threatening to completely engulf the dining table. I'm feeling tired.

Being back at work has been a lot harder than I'd envisaged. My days are long and there never seems to be enough time to complete everything I need to do each day. My working hours are the same as before, but, without going into too much detail, my actual workload has increased. I realise it's very early days, so I'm hopeful that the situation will ease going forwards, but if it doesn't, then I may need to re-evaluate my position. All that aside I'm enjoying being back with my colleagues again, it's almost like I've never been away :)

Lily's start to the new school year has been a positive one, although I never expected she would be making the return while wearing a summer dress. It just didn't feel quite right, the weather being so warm. Thankfully, the unexpected heatwave has since been replaced with 'proper' back to school weather, by which I mean we can see our breath in the early morning air. The other day, I even made an apple crumble. Autumn definitely has one foot in the door now. This week, we will be visiting several secondary schools to make our final decision, before completing the application for her place next year. This is something which felt so far off when she first began primary school all those years ago now, and I'm not sure I'm ready for this next big step.

With the autumn equinox falling at the weekend, I'm hoping things will feel a little more settled for me as the days get even shorter. I should know to expect a certain level of unease as we transition from one season to the next, as for some reason these in-between times usually leave me feeling somewhat out-of-sorts. Soon it will be time for hunkering down, cosy night's in and warm sweaters. I think I'm ready for it. 

J. X

Sunday, 10 September 2023

Sea and Sunflowers


Just a few days before school started back for the autumn term, we took our final trip of the summer. This was a two day break that we should have taken at the beginning of August, but I had changed our plans because of the weather. The idea was to travel up the West coast of Cumbria, starting at Ravenglass, driving north towards Silloth, then finishing off with a morning at the sunflower field at Waverton.  As it turned out, the sunflower field would have been closed, but we could still visit if we went on the Sunday morning instead. So we decided to simply switch our journey around and drove in the opposite direction, meaning the sunflowers would be first on our itinerary.

The sunflower field was so pretty. Even though many of the sunflowers were past their best, there were plenty still growing and I'd already decided that we would bring home some of the heads, so we can plant the seeds next year. Lily loved sitting on the huge swing seat situated in amongst all the sunflowers and we had such a nice morning wandering around the field. Farmer Neil kindly said we could pick as many of the flowers as we would like, and I would have gathered armfuls if only I'd been going straight home afterwards. Never mind, I'll look forward to growing our own next year, perhaps just not quite as many!

After spending a lovely morning in the sunflowers, we journeyed on towards Silloth, a small Victorian seaside resort on the Solway Firth. It was here that we enjoyed our picnic lunch overlooking the sea, before Lily spent some time playing at the splash park on the green. After a much needed cup of coffee (and once I managed to persuade Lily to leave the splash park), we made our way back to the car, walking past the Big Fella Sculpture a little way farther along the promenade. It's much bigger than it looks.

Driving south, our next stop was Allonby. There isn't really much I can say about Allonby, other than it is a small village by the sea, has quite a nice beach, and it is home to a very popular ice cream shop. I had heard good things about it, so I thought we should give it a try. I even joined the queue, which is something I don't do very often! Was it worth it? I'm not sure that it was, but it was okay.

From Allonby, we continued our journey south towards Whitehaven, where we stayed overnight. Now, this was a pleasant surprise, and after dinner we spent a lovely evening down by the harbour, walking along the pier and then out to one of the lighthouses. 

I promised Lily a sunset. And the one we got was quite spectacular. The first photograph was taken while we walking out to the end of the North pier, the second was taken from the North Pier Lighthouse out towards the West Pier Lighthouse, and the third one was taken as we were heading back towards the car.

The next day we awoke to another beautiful bright morning, and after a brief walk around the town centre, including a lengthy browse in a rather fascinating old bookshop, we set off for the next stop on our journey, which was St. Bees. At first glance there didn't appear to be a lot there, but we turned along a road next to the station and at the end there was a large car park, which led on to a huge expanse of beach. On this particular day it was quite busy, with families making the most of the hot weather while they had chance, including ourselves :) Taking off my shoes there was just time for a quick paddle, the water was lovely and warm. St Bees Head is one of the starting points for the Coast to Coast walk, so I followed the coastal path uphill for a short way, retracing my steps again just before the track turns inland, heading east. I'd love to complete the walk one day, maybe in a few years. 

The final stop on our west coast road trip was to Ravenglass. Raveglass is situated on the estuary where three rivers meet, and it was here we took a short walk out to see the remains of a Roman Bath House, then on returning to the village we caught sight of one of the small steam trains, which had just pulled into the station. We didn't take a ride on this occasion, but maybe we can look forward to one on a future visit.

It was also here that I got to enjoy probably the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted.
And I didn't need to queue!

J. X

Saturday, 2 September 2023

September 2023

It may be September now,  but finally we're experiencing the warm sunny weather that might have been more suited to earlier on in the summer. Still, I'm here for it, even though just last week I had been seriously contemplating whether or not to dispose of a few of my numerous bottles of little used sunscreen, and then possibly unearthing some of my warmer sweaters from the darkest depths of the wardrobe. Then again, I should have realised we would see an improvement in the weather, just as soon as we were preparing for the new school year. Isn't it always the way.

Since returning from Belfast, I've been indulging in some serious down time. Anchoring myself at home, the garden is looking tidier than it has done all summer so far, and I've enjoyed some shorter walks straight from the doorstep. I've also been Blackberry picking, which is always a fun activity, not to mention the delicious treats I can make with them. They have been washed, weighed and bagged, and are now tucked away at the back of the freezer. I'm sure I'll be making compote at some point, but the Blackberry Vodka is already steeping quite nicely at the back of the cupboard, in anticipation of the colder months ahead. 

In the garden, the tomatoes still seem to be a little while off ripening, but the sweetcorn looks to be growing remarkably well, which is pretty good going, considering they were planted only as an experiment. This afternoon, I've re-potted both of the apple trees and I've noticed some small thorns appearing on the 'lockdown lemons', which I've read is a good sign that they're maturing.

Earlier this week, Lily and I took a trip into town for the annual back to school shopping trip. Never one of the most joyful activities, it proved to be fairly painless in the end. Especially as we managed to get nearly everything on our list first time, which is almost unheard of.

In other exciting news, I am very pleased to say that this week, after walking up Gray Crag and Thornthwaite Crag, we have now reached the halfway point in our Wainwright bagging journey. That's 107 fells! There's still a long way to go, but I'm quite proud of our achievement so far. 

This morning, at the library, Lily received her certificate for completing the Summer Reading Challenge. I'm not sure how many years the scheme has been running for now, but it has always been very popular and is a great incentive for those more reluctant readers. I am going to try and continue our visits to the library going forwards, as I'm sure we would both benefit from reading far more than we already do.

This week, I also received some positive feedback on the first study module I submitted. It is always useful to learn new skills and, if I get the opportunity, I would quite like to complete one more course before the end of the year. But there is still a lot of work on the house which I need to complete, so that might need to take priority for a while. 

On reflection, it has been a very enjoyable break, and the weather has been very kind each time I've been away. Still, summer's not over just yet...

J. X


Sunday, 27 August 2023


Just two days after returning home from our recent trip, we were off on our travels again, only  this time we were flying. After a very early (even by my usual standards) start, we enjoyed an incredibly smooth flight, arriving in our destination of Belfast by mid-morning. Why Belfast? Well, quite simply because it was somewhere we had never been before :) And we had such a good time.

After a late breakfast, we checked our bags in at the hotel and went for a wander around. Again, we were blessed with some lovely weather for our sightseeing. This came as quite a relief, as in an attempt to get all my clothes into just my hand luggage, I had taken the unusual and possibly reckless decision to leave my waterproof jacket at home. 

Our hotel was down beside the River Lagan and we needed to cross over the footbridge, passing The Big Fish and The Beacon of Hope (or Nuala with the Hoola), whenever we went into the city centre. We didn't notice at first, but The Albert Memorial Clock, which came in very useful for helping us to find our bearings, has a slight lean to it.

The City Hall is such a beautiful building and it was here that we ate our picnic lunch in the garden each day. Inside, there is an exhibition outlining the history of Belfast, and gives a fascinating insight into the city and it's culture, with a rather poignant Reflection Space, where we were able to read individual's lived experiences of The Troubles. It is also well known for it's many stained glass windows, which commemorate various historical events, and contributions to the city by individuals and organisations. 

On our second morning in Belfast, we walked the Maritime Mile. This took us out towards The Great Light and beyond, passing Titanic Belfast, SS Nomadic and HMS Caroline. The last photograph above is taken from what would have been the slipway where the Titanic first launched. As is often a tradition these days, people have placed padlocks there, engraved with their names and significant dates. 

In the afternoon we walked back into the centre of Belfast, where we were able to take in the views across the city from the very top of the shopping centre. You can see the clock tower and the huge Harland & Wolff cranes, which dominate the skyline. The glass roof acted like a greenhouse and it was incredibly hot in there, so we didn't hang around for very long. Instead we went to indulge ourselves in a little bit of shopping. I know! I'm not entirely sure who I am any more ;)

After such a busy day, it was a relief to sit down and enjoy our evening meal, before taking in the sunset from down by the riverside. There was also a brief pause to experience a drink in McHugh's. A lively Irish bar and the oldest surviving building in Belfast.

On our final morning we visited Titanic Belfast. This imposing building, located at the side of the Titanic Slipway where we had been the day before, houses a brilliant and interactive exhibition telling the story of The Titanic. Seeing the exhibits and reading about the personal experiences from some of  the individuals on board the ship was a captivating experience, especially discovering certain details I hadn't been aware of previously.

Then all too soon, it was time to return home. We had a brilliant time in Belfast and I would definitely like to go back again some time.

After a busy couple of weeks it feels good to pause and catch my breath. The beginning of the school year is almost upon us, which means there will be uniform to sort out and a new daily routine to navigate. There is definitely a change in the air, and autumn is fast approaching. I have resigned myself to the fact that summer, this year, was in fact the three weeks of good weather we experienced back in June. 

J. X

Monday, 21 August 2023

Hadrian's Wall

Only a few days after we returned from London, we were on the move again, this time we went just a little way over the border into Northumberland. 

For the last couple of years I have been promising Lily we would visit Hadrian's Wall but for various reasons it just didn't happen. I think mainly I had been waiting for  spell of decent weather, so that we could go camping. With this seeming more and more unlikely, I booked us into a Youth Hostel instead, still hoping the weather gods would be kind to us, so that we could at least enjoy a nice walk. 

The Youth Hostel is attached to a visitor centre and it's really lovely. Modern and spotlessly clean, it contained everything we needed and more.

After a short stop on the way, to meet up with a friend, we arrived late in the afternoon, but still an hour earlier than our checking in time. This worked out well, as we left the car at the visitor centre and walked up to Winshield Craggs, which is the highest point on the wall and on a completely clear day you can see for miles. Our view was still pleasant, however, and the many flying ants at the summit thought so too! Thankfully they didn't bother us, but we made a hasty retreat back to the hostel and ordered our evening meal. Fish and chips for Lily, vegetable lasagne and a glass of wine for me :)

After a good night's sleep - I got the bottom bunk - and a rather tasty cooked breakfast, we checked out of the hostel, and headed east, in the opposite direction to the previous day. Again the path took us alongside the wall, but this time passing Milecastle 39 and then on towards Sycamore Gap.

The heather was looking beautiful and the landscape really appears to be welcoming the late summer now.

We walked out as far as Crag Lough, then retraced our steps back to the visitor centre. Here we spent a while enjoying the interactive exhibits and walked on the living roof, before heading for home. We took the scenic route over Hartside summit, stopping off at The Village Bakery in Melmerby for some delicious cake. Well, it was my birthday after all. 

J. X

Saturday, 19 August 2023

Summer in the City


Last weekend, Lily and I went on our previously postponed trip down to London, and even though we didn't get the high temperatures that had been forecast, it was at least warm and and sunny, which made sightseeing a far more pleasant experience than it would have been a week earlier.

Once we'd arrived and dropped off our bags, our very first stop just had to be the new water park on Clapham Common. Now I realise this wouldn't rank high on most people's London itineraries, but ever since our previous visit, when it was still in it's construction stage, Lily had been desperate for it to be open. This happened officially at the end of July and it has since proved to be incredibly popular. It is a great facility and Lily had a wonderful time running in and out of the various water features and fountains, while her big sister and I spent a lovely afternoon chatting in the sun.  I didn't take long before I decided that something fizzy was in order, and so we treated ourselves to some passion fruit martinis :)

The following day began with a trip on the cable cars at Greenwich. It was only a short ride, but was a lot of fun to do and gave us some amazing views across the city. 

I had been a little worried in that it was rather breezy that morning, but thankfully our car remained quite steady.

Moving away from Greenwich, we enjoyed a quick walk along an unusually quiet Oxford Street, then went for a wander around Covent Garden. It had been years since my last visit, but it hadn't changed a bit, and was still just as lively and bustling as I'd remembered. There were so many people milling around here, and lots more just stood about watching the street performers. It was nice for a little while but it felt good to then make our escape to Regent's Park, where we could relax and enjoy our picnic lunch and a much needed cup of coffee, followed by a walk around the beautiful rose garden. 

From there, our morning took on a more gentle pace. Away from the busy streets we walked along the canal to Little Venice. The tow path was lovely and quiet, and it certainly didn't feel like were right in the centre of such a large city. The slower pace was welcome and the brightly painted houseboats were such a delight to see. 

The next morning, we walked along by the Thames. Because we couldn't visit London and not see Big Ben! Stopping off at the Jubilee Gardens near the London Eye, we walked right along South Bank towards Millennium Bridge, then across to St. Paul's Cathedral. From there we headed to The Monument (on my list to visit next time), before catching the tube to Euston, for our journey home.

Being such a contrast to the slower pace of life I'm more accustomed to, I do enjoy our trips to the city, and yet, I'm often surprised at how easily we both adjust to it  when we arrive. 
But for now, it's good to back home,  for a short while at least :)

J. X