2016: a year in review – my top 10

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.

Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:

1. Running the London marathon

The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.

Finished!
Finished!

The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.

2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-ghent descent

We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.

3. Family backpacking adventures

Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn
Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn

I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.

Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham
Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.

4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford

“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.

Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.

6. Descending into Gaping Gill

Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent
Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent

This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!

7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.

Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve
Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?

8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!

9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France

Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany
Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany

Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.

10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor

Moon from RSPB Otmoor
Moon from RSPB Otmoor

Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!

What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?

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My British bucket list: 100 things to do in the UK

There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.

My bucket list favours outdoor attractions, walks and great scenery as that’s what I enjoy. It may look like I’ve ignored vast swathes of the country and prime tourist attractions but that’s because I’ve already visited many of them!

What’s on my bucket list?

  1. Wild camp on Dartmoor.
  2. Walk a long distance path. We’re walking the South Downs Way across four weekends.
  3. Cycle the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon.
  4. Spend a night on Lundy Island, Devon.
  5. Enjoy a weekend break in Lincoln.
  6. Join a tour of Highgate Cemetery, London.
  7. See the Purton Ships graveyard, Gloucestershire.
  8. Brave the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Cumbria.
  9. Camp on Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
  10. Climb Up at the O2, London
  11. Watch a Highland Games in Scotland.
  12. Spend a week exploring the Isle of Anglesey. We watched the best sunset in Wales at Newborough Beach.
  13. Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  14. Visit the Italianate village of Portmeirion, Gwynedd.
  15. Stay in a castle.
  16. Enjoy the Gower Peninsula beaches.
  17. Explore the Isle of Harris.
  18. Go wildlife spotting on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
  19. Explore Neolithic Orkney.
  20. Visit a lavender field.
  21. See Britain’s only desert at Dungeness beach, Kent.
  22. Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland.
  23. Enjoy the waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall.
  24. Stay in an Airstream caravan.
  25. Explore the deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset.
  26. Visit a tin mine in Cornwall.
  27. Spot dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, London.
  28. Walk around the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye.
  29. Discover the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
  30. Watch the British Firework Championships in Plymouth, Devon
  31. Ride Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe at Bethesda, Gwynedd.
  32. Tour Ramsgate’s war tunnels, Kent.
  33. Watch the seabirds on Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire.
  34. Go pony trekking on Exmoor.
  35. Spot Banksy’s art in Bristol.
  36. Have fun in Margate, Kent
  37. Stay overnight on the Knoydart Peninsula.
  38. Attend the Cotswold Olimpick Games, Gloucestershire.
  39. Enjoy the seaside at Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan.
  40. Search for dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
  41. Walk in the Mourne Mountains, County Down.
  42. Explore the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Lochaber.
  43. Take a boat trip to Smoo Cave, Sutherland.
  44. Cycle from Bournemouth out to Hengitsbury Head, Dorset.
  45. Visit Dennis Severs’ House, London.
  46. View the Kelpies in Falkirk.
  47. Explore Kinver Edge and the cave houses, Staffordshire.
  48. Admire the Devil’s Bridge, Ceredigon.
  49. Walk along Brean Down, Somerset.
  50. Discover Hawkstone Park follies, Shropshire.
  51. Visit a deserted underground station.
  52. See the treasures at London Silver Vaults.
  53. Go fossil hunting in Charmouth, Dorset.
  54. Explore the ruins of Denbigh Castle, Denbighshire.
  55. Have an adventure in How Stean Gorge, Yorkshire.
  56. Discover the coastal scenery of Duncansby Head, Caithness.
  57. See the apes at Trentham Monkey Forest, Stoke-on-Trent.
  58. Enjoy the rock formations at Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire.
  59. Tour Brighton’s sewers.
  60. Go puffin spotting on Rathlin Island, County Antrim.
  61. Take a boat trip in the Lake District.
  62. Relax on Man O’War beach, Dorset.
  63. Climb Low Fell, Cumbria.
  64. See the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
  65. Drive the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ to Applecross, Wester Ross.
  66. Take the train from Exeter to Teignmouth, Devon.
  67. Learn about the historic Coffin Works, Birmingham.
  68. Go on a wildlife safari.
  69. Walk up Pendle Hill, Lancashire.
  70. Ride the Kyle Line from Lochalsh to Inverness.
  71. Walk along the shingle on Chesil Bank, Dorset.
  72. Enjoy the views from the summit of Box Hill, Surrey.
  73. See how the Roman’s lived at Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex.
  74. Watch the seabirds at Bass Rock, North Berwick.
  75. Walk the woodland trail to Puck’s Glen, Argyll.
  76. Stroll around the fishing village of Crail Harbour, Fife.
  77. Explore Great Orme Copper Mine, Conwy.
  78. Enjoy Dewstow Garden and Grottoes, Monmouthshire.
  79. Climb Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire.
  80. Learn about the past at Killhope Lead Mining museum, County Durham.
  81. Explore maritime history at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent.
  82. Cycle the Plym Valley Trail, Devon.
  83. Wander around Eyemouth harbour, Berwickshire.
  84. Discover ancient Wistman’s Wood, Two Bridges, Dartmoor.
  85. Enjoy the plants of Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll.
  86. Go caving.
  87. Go underground into a Cold War bunker.
  88. Buy some blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market, London.
  89. Experience life in The Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.
  90. Explore the coastline at Robins Hood Bay beach, North Yorkshire.
  91. Cycle the Red Squirrel Cycle Trail, Isle of Wight.
  92. Descend into the mine at the National Coal Mining museum, West Yorkshire.
  93. Hunt for wildlife at RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire.
  94. Explore the valley around Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire.
  95. Learn about our industrial heritage at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire.
  96. Follow the Black and White village trail, Herefordshire.
  97. See the Severn Bore.
  98. Discover our history at Battle Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex.
  99. Zoom down the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide, London.
  100. Enjoy the views from Ratagan Youth Hostel, Ross-shire.

Completing my bucket list

As I complete items on the bucket list I’ll be adding links from this page to my blog write up so do pop back from time to time to see how I’m getting on.

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?

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Review: Hi-Tec walking boots autumn & winter 2016 collection

I rarely accept product reviews on this blog but when Hi-Tec contacted me to see if we’d like to test some of their new autumn & winter 2016 range walking boots I jumped at the chance. I’d just booked a short walking break to Llangollen and the timing was perfect.

We tested two pairs, a ladies boot for my teen daughter and a child’s walking boot for my son. Both pairs were used on a variety of surfaces, from muddy woods to stony hillsides to concrete paths. The weather was surprisingly dry for late October so we didn’t get to test their waterproofness. Although that didn’t stop my son from trying!

How did we get on?

Hi-Tec Bandera II waterproof ladies walking boot

My daughter tested the Bandera II waterproof ladies walking boot. I’d ordered size 6; her usual size is 5.5 but I wanted to allow enough room for some thick walking socks. This was the right decision as she said that they were quite a snug fit.

Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women's walking boot
Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women’s walking boot

My daughter’s immediate response after putting the boots on was how heavy they were, but I think this is more a reflection on her usual footwear than the boots themselves. After ten minutes or so she pronounced them very comfortable. No breaking in required!

Hi-tec boots beside the Llangollen canal
Hi-tec boots beside the Llangollen canal

The boots have a suede and mesh upper with a waterproof membrane and rugged sole. This provided good grip on all of the surfaces we encountered, including some slippy muddy sections on the hills around Llangollen. I wouldn’t recommend them for rockier mountain environments but they’re pretty much perfect for lower-level walks.

Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women's walking boot
Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women’s walking boot

My daughter loved the style and colour of the boots, even though she generally steers away from pink. If pink doesn’t float your boat you can also purchase them in blue tones (or cornflower and sprout according Hi-Tec marketing speak).

Hi-Tec Trail Ox Mid waterproof kid’s walking boot

My son tested the Trail Ox Mid waterproof boot. For years his choice of walking footwear has been trainers in the summer, wellies in the winter. We’ve bought him boots that he’s barely worn. But after a couple of hours walking in these boots he announced “These make me feel like I can walk however far I want”. Strong praise indeed from a fussy 11 year old.

Trail Ox Mid Waterproof kid's walking boot
Trail Ox Mid Waterproof kid’s walking boot

As you can see from the pictures the boot comes with a Velcro strap instead of the traditional lacing option. I wasn’t sure about this; in a size 5 boot it felt a little babyish. That said, my son took to it straight away. Easy to put on and get off without the bother of tying laces. His kind of footwear.

Hi-Tec kid's walking boots
Hi-Tec kid’s walking boots

The boots also feature the Big-Fit system which is a great idea. This consists of two insoles, one of which can be removed as feet grow. This increases the shoe by approximately half a size, perfect for my son who is due a growth spurt.

When my son learnt they were waterproof he took this as a sign to get them wet at every opportunity. Be that dangling his leg precariously into Llangollen canal or paddling in the River Dee. I’m not convinced the waterproofness is supposed to be under full immersion conditions but he wasn’t deterred and they held up well to his testing methods.

Are they really waterproof?
Are they really waterproof?

The verdict

Both kids absolutely loved their boots, with the biggest praise for how comfortable they were straight from the boxes. Neither experienced any rubbing or blisters. They’ve been worn on three separate day walks to date so it remains to be seen how durable they are. But so far, so good!

Disclosure: Hi-Tec provided these boots to us for the purposes of an honest review. All opinions stated above are my own.

More info:

  • Pop over to the Hi-Tec website to see more of their 2016 autumn & winter range of walking boots.
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Review: Aladdin panto at the Oxford Playhouse

A couple of months ago I saw the flyer for this year’s Oxford Playhouse panto, Aladdin. As I glanced over the familiar Korky Paul illustrations I noticed something was amiss. Where was Peter Duncan’s name? He, of Blue Peter fame, who has written and directed every Oxford Playhouse panto I’ve seen. He, who is personally responsible (not that he knows it), for my panto entertainment. A quick ferret through the internet and I discover he’s touring in Hairspray, the musical. How was this allowed? And what does this mean for the Playhouse panto?

I felt a little more reassured after Googling the replacement writer and director, Steve Marmion. He’s a panto veteran and has already co-written an earlier version of Aladdin. Embracing the change of team we visited on opening night; read on to find out what we thought.

Kiran Sonia Sawar plays the role of Princess Rose with gusto and a strong Scottish accent. She knows her mind and isn’t going to be married off to any old prince. Aladdin (Adam Samuel-Bal) is a rather vain character who eventually realises that boasting he’s a prince isn’t going to please the Princess. Abazanezer (Paul Barnhill) played an entertaining baddie and did a rather fine Kate Bush impression. Although the thunder clap and lighting effects that accompanied the appearance of Abazanezer proved too scary for the youngster behind me!

After a shaky start I really began to enjoy the show. My highlight of the first half was Widow Twanky’s (Nigel Betts) striptease walk through the desert to find Aladdin’s cave. I won’t give too much away but if you’re going watch out for the child on the bicycle.

The second half opened in the cave. I loved how Aladdin and Widow Twanky were positioned in the pile of rocks, they pulled some great faces during the scene. The Salt-N-Pepa combo song was rousing and I enjoyed the Genie (David Rubin) dancing with sticks.

The stand out performance of the panto was Rochelle Rose, the Spirit of the Ring, singing Hello whilst Aladdin and Princess Rose floated about on a magic carpet. I’ve got to the stage of turning the radio to a different channel whenever that song comes on as I’ve heard it way too much. But the performance last night was stunning. My daughter, a huge Adele fan, suggested it was even better than the original.

I thought the overall choice of songs was excellent, although ‘Rub the ring’, supposedly a Tolkien reference, had my other half and I sniggering for the wrong reasons!

Widow Twanky had the usual variety of fun costumes. Her Little Pony outfit was only surpassed when she came on near the end riding a swan, a la Rod Hull. Her big pants provided handy storage for the sweet throwing and there were the usual birthday announcements, sing song and ‘It’s behind you’ scene. I don’t remember any ‘Oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is’ routine though.

There were niggles though. Wishee Washee, the dog, gets the audience to howl at regular intervals, which I know is all supposed to be part of the panto fun but my kids found it really annoying. There’s also a strange assortment of animals and a random duck appearing at various points which we just didn’t get; what was the point of them? And finally, there were lots of ladies and gentlemen in the seats as well as boys and girls; please remember us when speaking to the audience!

All of the supporting youngsters sang and danced with great energy; there was a street dance theme running through most of their performances and this was also reflected in the boy’s outfits. My daughter was most impressed with a girl performing from her school but there was probably an element of bias in this judgement!

I loved The Blues Brothers when I was younger so the final song, Shake your Tail Feather, was a treat. The audience were encouraged to stand up and join in and it was a fitting finale. Our verdict? Not as good as last year’s Beauty and the Beast (which was a classic) but still very enjoyable. Mr Marmion has proved a worthy successor to Peter Duncan. Go see.

Have you seen Aladdin at the Oxford Playhouse? What did you think?

More info:

  • Aladdin runs until Sunday 10th January 2016. Some dates are sold out but there’s still plenty of availabilty. Tickets cost from £15 and are available from the Oxford Playhouse website.
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