What makes a fab weekend ?.

Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure in British Politics (the ultimate Bovril person you might say).
Whatever your thoughts on her as a Prime Minister and a person, there’s a quote of her’s, I think we can all agree with.

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.

I’ve had a couple of adventures and weekends away like that recently, so I thought I’d write about them.

The amazing Making Tracks team setup their 90 meter rig at Chester Cathedral.

For only £2.50 I got to see dozens of 00 guage trains both old and new (it runs until the 3rd of September, so if you haven’t been go now).

The event is assisted by Chester Model Centre, who I frequently visit and have repaired numerous old trains for me.

Interesting thing is one part of the Making Tracks rig is a replica of Rugby railway station, where co-incidentally, I’d be visiting the following day (more about that later).

Another interesting thing is that Making Tracks are a team of volunteers who are headed up by Pete Waterman (formerly of Stock Aitken and Waterman). He was there at the event, and as much a gobshite as I remember (but I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t care 🙂

Later that evening, were off to Liverpool. I previously worked in the city and really enjoyed it, with so much going on after work.

Since then, a new restaurant has opened, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. The food was superb and set us up nicely for the evening.

Gordon wasn’t actually there, this is a poster of him, in the window.

In November, Nikki and I will have been together for 10 years.

Not long after we got together, she suggested a trip to the theatre. I hadn’t been many times, so thought I’d give it a go.

We ended up going to London to see the Book of Mormon. I was blown away by it.

So I was delighted a while later when it was on in Liverpool and (after 2 years of Covid nonsense) we were able to go and see it.

I won’t spoil the story, but if you watch this song from the Tony awards, it captures the power of the play.

I’m not religious at all, but I frequently listen to this song, both to make me laugh and to inspire me.

So, on Saturday, up early some toast and tea before we head of for our weekend road trip.

Nikki decided not to come as she finds bushcraft tedious and due to her father’s love of aeroplanes and being made to go and see them lots of times, hates that too.

Mike decided to join me, and Nikki let us use the car so we were all set.

Our first stop was the Bushcraft show. It’s been running for a number of years, but I’ve never got around to going (in truth I haven’t done any bushcraft activities in a number of years, so didn’t know what to expect).

We wandered around and I saw a lot of familiar faces. There were lots of vendors there, so I bought some equipment (probably more than I should have to be honest).

The food was excellent so we looked around to find somewhere to sit down and eat our chicken burgers.

In the picture above, you can see over 300 people sitting enthusiastically waiting for the next talk of the day.

And they would!. It would be the legendary John “Lofty” Wiseman. SAS Survival instructor for 26 years and author of the SAS Survival handbook which I purchased when I was 17.

The book contained all sorts of interesting things (too many to mention here) but one thing that facinated me, was the idea of a tobacco tin survival kit and what to put in it.

A smoking friend gave me a tin. My grandma helped me put the sewing items together and my mum helped with the medical kit.

I got hold of the other stuff from fishing shops and a magnifying glass and some tweezers from a Christmas cracker. I found that painting matches with nail varnish makes them waterproof !. I was all set.

There wasn’t much optimism in my life then and not much to look forward to. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but once I had my Survival kit tin, I knew it was just a matter of time before adventure called.

But as we sit around a table with a few old guys, who’s this ?. The legendary man himself is sat at the same table.

I’ve found before that amazing people like Chris Bonington have no pretentions and are quite charming when you meet them.

As was Lofty. I told him about buying his book and how it had changed my life. He seemd genuinely delighted (it can’t have been the first time someone had said that to him) and insisted I sit down and have a photo with him.

An incredible experience to finally meet my hero. Shortly afterwards he headed to the stage. His talk lasted an hour and it was really interesting.

He talked about life after Covid. About storing plenty of water in your house, planting your own vegetables and having a years’ worth of tin food in your Garage.

While talking about his work on Duncan Dares, he mentioned the Wilkinsons Sword Survival Knife I remember from my youth (ludicrously over engineered and farcically expensive but I really wanted one). He commented that it had a bottle opener on the blade.

He joked, any man who can’t open a bottle without tools deserves to perish :).

He finished with another joke: My father went to prison for his beliefs… He believed the night watchman was asleep 🙂

We had more plans for that end of the country, so I found myself staying over in Cambridge (I’d been there twice before when my company were paying) this time I realised how expensive it was. I stayed at the Ibis Cambridge Central Station – the cheapest I could find @ £160 a night for a twin room (nothing flash) city centre car parking overnight £28.

We had a few drinks around the town, then Mike found this really good curry house called the Tiffin Truck. The end of an amazing day, I drifted off to slip with a real sense of contentment (and relief that I hadn’t crashed Nikki’s car).

In the morning I start another special day, so what else for breakfast than Scrambled eggs on toast at a respectable restaurant next to our hotel called the Station Tavern (Cambridge is expensive, but they do things with style).

And were off on our next adventure – The Duxford Air Museum. IF YOU FIND PLANES BORING (like someone I’m in love with who’s initials are NY), you should probably SCROLL DOWN TO THE PICTURE OF THE MAN ON THE WHITE HORSE BELLOW.

If you don’t find planes boring, the one above will rock your world.

The SR71 Blackbird. Designed in the 60’s with pencils and paper.

It remains to this day, the fastest plane in the world and that morning I finally got to see one for real (it’s the only one outside the US).

At the back, they had removed the engines so you can see how big and powerful they are.

This is the only plane in the world that can fly on continuous afterburn (for several hours). It flies at Mac 3, which is about 34 miles per minute and normal flying height 85,000 feet, about 18 miles in the air.

No wonder that the X Men fly around in one !.

The Imperial War Museum Duxford (to use its full title) has several exhibtions over an enormous site.

For £30 I thought it was amazing value, and they even had WW2 fighters and bombers that you could watch take off from the runway.

Wandering further around the American part of the museum, they had an explanation of the War on Terror and pieces of the Twin Towers.

Further along, this metal tube is part of the famous Iraqi supergun.

The Cold War exhibition was very interesting to me (it was my era), and they even had an original section of the Berlin Wall.

You might remember the Greenham Common women, who protested about American nuclear weapons on British soil.

This is the trailer that would have launched the weapons (they weren’t going to be launched from the base I found out, they would drive away quickly so they could still fire if the base became “compromised”.

On the left is the Tomahawk Cruise Missile it was designed to fire. They aren’t typically nuclear capable, but these ones would have been.

Using older technology, they had a bult in map that allowed them to fly nap of the earth, to avoid detection and interception.

Greenham Common closed in 1992 and the protesting women all went back home.

Above is the U2 spy plane similar to the one flown by Gary Powers in 1960.

On the bottom left is the Soviet SA2 missile which shot it down. The Americans had believed the plane couldn’t be hit at 60,000 feet.

Gary Powers was put on trail (you can find out about it in the film Bridge of Spies). This lead to the design of the SR71 Blackbird, which could fly at 85,000 feet. It was also made so it could outrun any missile fired at it (and still could to this day).

In other parts of the museum, they had “enemy” aircraft.

Here, a Mig 21.

Messerschmitt from the WW2.

One of my favourite planes, the Tornado.

And another, The Typhoon Eurofighter.

It’s interesting that a lot of American ordnance is named around native Americans. Tomahawk missile, Apache Gunship, Chinook Helicopter.

British Planes seem to be named after “wind” based themes (Tornado and Typhoon and the next generation will be called Tempest).

Bombers have an amazing relationship with people.

For example, when I say this is a B52, some of you will start humming Rock Lobster.

Mike standing under the wing of one. It’s longevity is such that it’s one of the few planes in the existence where you, your father and your grandfather could all have flown one!.

Equally, when I mention the name: Lancaster Bomber, some of you will think of a pint of real ale.

A fascinating museum about the parachute regiment showing them equipped for action throughout the ages.

And finally, the P51 Mustang.

Featured in the film Top Gun Maverick. The plane in the film, actually belongs to Tom Cruise (you can buy old ones for about $4 million).

With that over, I head to the shop, buy a few books, and our weekend is over.

Driving back, I reflect on my experience. I’d seen one of the biggest 00 guage train installations, met Pete Waterman (not sure if that’s a plus), eaten at the Bread Street Kitchen, Watched book of Mormon, met Lofty Wiseman, had drinks and a curry with a mate and seen an SR71 blackbird. I was exhausted but euphoric.

A bit like the day Margaret Thatcher was describing.

Following weekend, a more modest, but no less exciting proposition.

After 6 series, the Peaky Blinders finally finished, with Tommy Shelby on a white horse in front of Chrome hill in the Peak District.

I’ve always been a massive fan of the “blinders”.

On a previous trip, Nikki and I had been in the Museum of Liverpool (I’ve said before how good I think it is).

There was an entire new section called Scouse not English, and an explanation of why scousers are seen as loud and boisterous. At one point, a young lad on camera says, there’s no point, some people are never going to respect us, but if were loud then at least we’ll be listened to!.

In another section of the museum, they had Tommy Shelby’s hat and pocket watch.

I’ve previously stood in Tommy Shelby’s office at Arley Hall, but I found out lots of locations in Liverpool had been used in the filming of the Peaky Blinders. I got in touch with Mike who lives in Liverpool somewhere and we organised to have a Peaky Blinders, day out.

Peaky Blinders “home” and betting office on the depressing looking Watery Street in the series.

In reality, it’s called Powys Street. On the right, just before it was done up, and used during filming of the Peaky Blinders.

On the left is what the street looks like now.

And with Mike acting as photographer, I get this picture of me with the peaky blinders “house” in the background.

We wandered around a few places and had a couple of drinks.

Mike had never expressed any interest in the Peaky Blinders, so as a thank you for helping out, I got him his own hat. It isn’t as good as mine though, my hat is official PB merchandise, purchased from the Black Country museum.

Where to finish the day. Well, where better than the Peaky Blinders bar, where we have a few pints, sporting our new hats.

Back in Town

Delighted to be back Blogging again. Loads of interesting things have happened including a walking trip to Rivington and I finally got to see the 7 arch bridge.

A lot of the stuff is about Chester and things that are happening here. I really am luck to live in such an amazing place and thought I’d write a bit more about it.

Well, it only happens 6 times a year, but tomorrow is the Chester Globetrotters meeting.

Two really interesting talks. Nikki will be compering, drinks afterwards and dinner with friends later.

It’s at Chester museum, 1pm, for a 1:30pm start, if your around in Chester, come along.

I was briefly seeing a girl some years ago.

She was status obsessed. One quote by her that I remember was during dinner, she asked “Don’t you ever wish you were really successful”.

To which I replied: I’ve always wanted to work in computers. I do. So I am sucessful.

One thing that delighted me was when she criticised my clothes and as an antidote bought me a Hugo Boss shirt as a gift.

The shirt far outlasted the “relationship”. I loved that thing and wore it all the time until it practically fell apart.

I’m going to buy another one this year.

The Hugo Boss shirt came into my head earlier this week after reading something in a book I’ve just bought (The Modern Gentleman’s Handbook.)

Apparently, in the 1800’s shirts were incredibly valuable. Most people only had one and even the wealthy only two or three.

If a chap got into a spot of bother and things were about to turn physical, by agreement, all concerned would pause and remove their shirts so as not to damage them in the affray.

A person who kept a cool head and avoided this situation was said to have “Kept his shirt on”. This is why, we use the phrase “Keep your shirt on” today.

Interesting some of the things you hear while out hill walking. The original Advanced Passenger Train from the 80’s could be viewed at Crewe Heritage Centre.

Due to covid, it was closed, but as soon as it re-opened I jumped on the train to Crewe to see it (and it turned out there were quite a few other interesting things to see as well).

The main thing about the APT was that it could “tilt”. The problem with trains in the UK (and a lot of the world) is that once a train goes around a bend it has to reduce it’s speed significantly. This train was designed with what was then the most advanced technology available in the world. It was cancelled when it was around 96% finished (more about that later).

In the 70’s Rail travel was pretty grim and unreliable.

I remember those days well. Nobody got the train unless they had to and the idea of actually enjoying a train journey as I do now, was unheard off. The only thing it had going for it was it was a lot more comfortable than a coach 🙂

Above is the first class seating. I was able to walk around the train and sit down. Although it was built in the 80’s the seats are still very spacious and comfortable.

Back then, the idea of a bar you could just walk up to like a pub was unheard off (of course in first class you would be served meals at your table in the manor of a restaurant). Bars like this are pretty standard now on most Virgin/Avanti trains (more about that later).

I found a seat and watched a 45 minute video they had about the history of the train. It really was fascinating.

As I continued to wander around, they had 2 HST 125 trains, this one in it’s original livery like the one I’d seen at the Rail Museum in York.

Train strikes have returned to the UK recently, and much talk has been made of how hard it is to drive a train considering they are paid 60k

I’ve never driven a train, so it would be daft to comment, but this is the drivers cabin of a 125 HST. Not sure I’d want to sit in this all day long.

Amazing. One of the first Manchester Trams in it’s original colours (they are sort of yellow now).

When they came on the scene, they revolutionised travel in Manchester (as they continue to do today).

It was a tram like this, which enabled me to get a job at IBM. A bus into town, then the tram to Sale.

I used to sit in the same seat (well most of the time) every day on my commute to work.

So just for fun, I got someone to photograph me back in that seat with so many happy memories.

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It took me about 25 mins to walk to the Heritage Centre from Crewe Railway station.

On the way back, I found they had a vintage bus that travelled there and back every 30 mins, so I travelled back on that.

As I stand on the platform about to head back to Chester, I spot an Avanti Pendolino.

Italian made, they can lean, use the same technology as the APT and are capable of incredible speeds on all kinds of track.

You see the technology we failed to finish off, was bought by the Italians. They made it work, then sold it back to us.

But there’s a positive end to the story. As well as a really nice café and a brick a brack shop (more about that later) they had several Hornby train installations. One of them was the 80’s version of the APT (they have a newer version but it’s £500 quid !).

A week later I bought one myself and here it is on my test track at home.

And it actually lean’s when it goes around the bend 🙂

An imminent adventure weekend planned in about a fortnight.

I’m fascinated by survival and Bushcraft, and I’ve spent literally weeks living outdoors, catching my own food and living in a shelter I’ve built myself (the one above took me an hour to make and I slept in it for 3 nights.

But the journey began in 1986 when I bought the SAS survival handbook.

I didn’t have the money or resources to do much adventure then, but I made a tobacco tin survival kit and practiced a lot of the things taught in the book.

After all these years, I’m heading down to the Bushcraft show to actually meet John “Lofty” Wiseman, the author of the book.

There’s lots of other stuff going on there, and many of the famous names from bushcraft will be giving talks. Theres a chance to learn new skills and see lot of bushcraft equipment in action.

It is possible to take a tent or bivvi out, but instead, I’ve decided to stay in a hotel overnight near Duxford Air Museum.

The 2nd part of this amazing weekend on Sunday, will allow me to visit the museum and see some of the worlds most amazing planes first hand. The Wessex helicopter that rescued the SAS from the South Sandwich Island during the Falklands conflict.

They also have a P51 Mustang (the plane at the end of Top Gun – Maverick, believe it or not, that one is actualy owned by Tom Cruise). An Avro Vulcan, a Spitfire, I’m really looking forward to it.

But most of all, the plane above, the SR71 Blackbird. Designed with pencils and paper in the 60’s it’s still the fastest plane in the world. Capable of Mac 3 (which is 35 miles a minute) it could fly faster than any missile fired at it. It also holds the record for the highest flying plane at 85 thousand feet (16 miles in the air, incredible).

It won’t be flying, they’re all grounded now, but It’s the only one outside the United States.

For nearly 10 years, Chester had no Cinema or Theatre.

Lots of other alternatives were introduced like a restaurant showing films with a meal (Chez Jules), The Chester film society who put on films church halls, Tip Top productions who performed Theatre in a basement and Chester Theatre in the Park.

We now have Storyhouse, which is a combined theatre, music venue, cinema & library (with a bar !). I was initially worried that many of the alternatives would fall by the wayside, but needn’t have worried.

Nikki and I went to see Little Women at Theatre in the Park (were going to see Romeo and Juliet next week).

The shows aren’t cheap (for the best seats, it’s about £45) but sitting in the sunshine and watching a play “In the round” is well worth it we think.

We’re watching something at the actual Globe Theatre in London later in the year, and I’m really looking forward to it (were going to see the Tempest, Frank explained the plot to me some years ago).

Speaking of outdoor entertainment, I was passing Harkers Arms the other evening (probably the best pub in Chester) and saw some Morris Dancers performing.

Wine tasting at Vin Santo recently. Previously Corks out, we had loads of fab evenings there when we first started seeing each other, so we were delighted when it re-opened under new management with Tom and Sino onboard.

But you can’t keep a good man down, so Simon has now opened a wine shop on Brook Street, near my house.

I’ve worked in lots of different industry’s over the years, but it’s much the same for me, as I work in IT.

So, as an employee of a Civil Engineering company I have little knowledge of what our lads do on site, most of the time.

So I was delighted to see the other day that we were doing some mods to our site. We had a digger and a tipper truck in the yard and they were hard at work.

Speaking of work, I’m really lucky with the people I work with.

In construction, time is money. There isn’t time for politics and flannel here.

Face to face communication is the prefered form and it’s quite common for people to visit my office (which has recently been decorated, thanks Ian).

Here, the excellent Ant from estimating pops down to seek assistance. To his right is my “official merchandise” Peaky Blinders hat.

Upstairs at the Grill, modelled on a New York steakhouse, is probably the best venue of it’s kind in Chester.

It’s a bit of a ritual that I go there every year on my birthday.

Due to covid and other reasons, I haven’t been there for 3 years, so when it opened recently I had a late birthday treat.

In the film Se7en, a key plot vehicle is that the government monitor what books you buy and rent so they can profile you.

I wonder if that happens in real life ?. If so, it’s a concern to me. Two interesting books I’ve read recently are Never split the difference and 100 deadly skills.

Never split the difference is written by Chris Voss. He was the chief negotiator for the FBI. In conventional negotiation you might say split the difference. In the world he occupies, that would mean 8 hostages, 4 are released, 4 are killed, so that’s not an option. The books tagline is negotiate as though your life depended on it.

100 deadly skills has some fascinating stuff about how to steal a car, how to get rid of a body (there’s practically a disclaimer on every page). My favourite is how to get into a building via the 4th floor (made me think of the window cleaners at the Liver building, pictured above).

Since January, I’ve visited Latvia, Majorca and Bratislava. Three new countries, so on track for 90 by end of year. At this rate, I should have joined Travellers century club by 2024 and have a certificate hanging in my kitchen.

In the Brick a Brack shop at Crewe Heritage Centre, they had all kinds of interesting stuff (some of it more interesting than useful). I managed to get a cup and saucer from Virgin Trains First Class. One thing that fascinated me and I honestly thought I’d never see again, was this spanner.

Years ago, when you bought a Raleigh bike (something like a Grifter or a Chopper) you got one of these spanners. It was heavy being made of stainless steel, but you carried it in the back pocket of your jeans. You could literally strip down your entire bike, with this tool and some spoons from the kitchen for tyre levers.

Not much use with my present bike (most of my tools are titanium) but for 99p a superb souvenir.


First post of 2022

I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I was feeling a bit down (as I think we all do sometimes). Piles of notes and ideas, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and write.

Well, I’m back in town now, so what have I been doing ?.

At Christmas we visited Lanzarote (I’ve resisted the urge to post pictures of people with tattoo’s and shaved heads drinking pints in the sunshine) instead, I favour this view of the Volcanic area, which we went to see on a day tour.

The trip wasn’t perfect, I had some sort of Kidney infection while I was there, but overall, I think being out in the sunshine was just what I needed (and beers for £1.50 per pint).

I’m trying to retire from Facebook, but there are still quite a few people who I communicate with regularly on there, so it’s proving more difficult to let go than I’d have liked.

I got a new friend request recently from my friend Amanda. We worked together at Arthur Andersen several years ago. Not sure what happened, but the request didn’t seem to work. Anyway, if you’r reading this Amanda, I hope things are going ok.

Two significant things happened when I was in my 20’s, and I was sat at my desk at work on both occasions. I remember thinking that they would both change the world and how privileged I was to live through them.

Nelson Mandela was released and aparthied, which had blighted humanity for so long had come to an end.

The other was The fall of the Berlin wall. The end of the cold war. For most of my life, the threat of planetary destruction had hung over everyone and it was finally at an end.

So, just as covid in the UK seems to have progressed to a sensible point after 2 years, Russia (not the Warsaw Pact, nor the USSR) are back causing mayhem and destruction. My thoughts are with the people of Ukrain who I got to meet on a trip there 2 years ago.

Just before Christmas, I finally upgraded my train board. It has 2 circuits now, controlled by bluetooth and a station, bridge and various “people” milling about the station.

A few friends know that when I was very young, my dad bought me a train set (the best one in the shop, the brand new Intercity 125 by Hornby). My mum thought I might break the train so put it away for several years. It was during this time, that my dad died. When we unpacked the train, it no longer worked and so we gave it to a jumble sale.

I have several trains now (as you can see in the picture above) I have a reconstructed 125, but it’s not the real thing really.

I only found out when I started collecting 00 gauge trains, how hard they can be to come by.

When Hornby bring out a train they do a run of that model and that’s it. So if you decide a few years later, that you want that train it’s a trip to ebay and 2nd hand. I ended up rebuilding one from parts.

On May 15, 2021, EMR retired their final Intercity 125 trains (the real one’s, which I saw at the York train museum) a 4 day national farwell tour was arranged with the train painted in its original livery. To commemorate this, Hornby launched this set earlier in 2022 and I managed to get one.

Out of the box and running on my test track. Working exactly the way my dad would have seen it in the shop in Oldham 40 years ago.

Since I started collecting trains, loads of my friends have been giving me their old trains (either from childhood or belonging to relatives). Many of them don’t work, but those amazing guys at Chester Model Centre have been able to fix them all for a tenner each 🙂

Valentines once again, and I cooked (ok, the same Seabass recipe I cook every year from Jamie Oliver, but I think I cook it well).

Flowers for Nikki. The shop I normally use has closed down, so this year I went with a smaller local shop and some simple red roses.

On another romantic note, my old friend from Phonak, Dan Hand is getting Married in April. Nikki and I are looking forward to attending.

I had a day trip up to meet up with Nick and Julie in Manchester recently. We’ve started to get drink in the Brew Dog. At first, I thought it would be poncy, but it’s actually got a really good vibe. While there, on a Manchester related theme, I saw a guy with a coat from Pretty Green (Liam Gallagher’s brand) that I’m going to buy.

The Globetrotters (a group I attend for interesting travel talks) hasn’t run for nearly 2 years (but due to restart on May21st, when Nikki and I will be giving a talk on Namibia)). It’s normally here, that we meet up with our friend Andy from Llandudno, which sadly hasn’t happened.

So, we headed for Llandudno to meet Andy and had a few drinks and dinner around the town (The Cottage Loaf is a superb pub there). I was also able to do another “somewhere I really wanted to stay when I was younger” experience by staying at the Grand Hotel.

The location is amazing, but “Grand” it certainly isn’t (when we arrived after an evening out, the police had been called to throw some idiots out of the bar!) but the view of the ocean was spectacular and overall, a superb weekend away.

The following day, we ate a medeocre breakfast and then went walking up to the Great Orme.

I own various Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman multi-tools. I also have some larger knives I’ve used on Bushcraft courses, and even larger ones I’ve used in the Jungle.

One thing I’ve always wanted is a pocketknife, made from Damascus Steel. When I saw the Civivi Trailblazer made from this steel, with components made of titanium and carbon fibre, I decide it was time to invest in a late Christmas present.

The great news is, the blade is under 3 inches, doesn’t lock, and doesn’t support 1 handed opening so to all intents and purposes is street legal (which is fine, as most of the time, mine is used for opening parcels and cutting string 🙂

I’m presently at 84 countries so only 16 more before I can join the Travellers Century Club and have my certificate hanging on my kitchen wall. So what adventures have I actually got planned at the moment?

In the UK:

  • Easter in Bath/Bristol with Darwin Escapes
  • 3 Days walking in the Peak District (Hayfield)
  • Weekend in Manchester – Stephen Hawking exhibit.
  • Weekend in Liverpool – Book of Mormon & Dr Who exhibit
  • Long weekend in Anglesey with my Brother
  • Bike-packing weekend in Cheshire
  • Long weekend in London (various stuff and Coldplay at Wembley)
  • Walking group Christmas weekend in Abersoch

Not as many overnight trips in the UK this year, as my main intention is to get out travelling abroad.

Overseas this year:

  • Majorca – walking and cycling
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Guernsey/Jersey
  • Greek Islands (2 weeks summer touring)
  • Sicily (2 weeks over Christmas)

I’ve said for a while that 2022 is when Europe will re-open for adventure travel, and 2023 the rest of the world.

Trips booked for 2023

  • Costa Rica – 2 weeks, back to the Jungle
  • The Wonders of the Silk Road – 2 weeks, includes a trip to the Dervaza gas crater pictured above

I’m off to the National Outdoor Expo this weekend at the Birmingham NEC. I’m hoping to find some ideas and inspiration while I’m there.

But you can’t go away all the time (you need some sort of job to pay for all of this, and with that some sort of house to go back to when you’ve finished work 🙂 – So I’ve also been doing a lot of what I call adventure at home.

Chester Storyhouse is somewhere I go practically every week to either watch films, watch a play or get a drink and read some travel books. Chester Northgate development will be completed this summer and we’ll finally have a “proper” 6 screen cinema.

I also enjoy watching films with the Chester Film Society, Dinner & Film at Chez Jules and an injection of Am-Dram at the Chester Little Theatre.

Corks Out in Chester has closed down, but the property has been re-opened by Vin Santo. They’ve started doing evening wine tastings again (Nikki and I used to go there when we first got together so it has lots of memories) so we’ve booked all 3 of them.

Last but not least, home entertainment. I absolutely love watching Billions. I’m also enjoying/looking forward to, the final seasons of Peaky Blinders and Better call Saul. I’m working my way through Halo Infinite, I’ve done battle as the Master Chief since first playing in 2002.

To finish off, a quick word about my sister Emma’s small business Regenr8.

I think everyone is conscious of the planet at the moment. The great thing about Emma’s clothing range is that they are environmentaly friendly, recycled and just as comfortable as any of the clothes I have from Rohan (who set the bar quite high).

I couldn’t recomend them more highly, and as proof, this truly awful picture of me modeling a superbly comfortable hoody in my kitchen.

Thanks once again for “tuning in”. Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

One summer… August to September

Chester Zoo – Aug

My sister and her little family had wanted to visit Chester Zoo to celebrate Emma’s 40th birthday.

Due to various problems (Emma catching Covid from one of the school children she looks after, the Zoo actually closing…) it was cancelled 3 times.

Finally all the stars were in alignment and we had a day at the Zoo. It was especially nice for Nikki and I, as although we live in Chester, we hadn’t been in over a decade.

There were just too many things to describe here, but at one point we had a nice picnic (people everywhere were keen to get out and do things, so the picnic area was packed and we were lucky to find a free table).

I spent a total of 7 hours at the Zoo and still didn’t manage to see everything.

Above, the Jaguar enclosure, one of hundreds of amazing things to see at the Zoo.

One sad thing, is the Monorail I remember from school trips in my youth, has been removed (apparently, it was costly to maintain and practically impossible to get parts for).

Buxton – August

We decided to have a relaxing weekend in Buxton.

In my youth, I’d go camping there, with Frank, and later Caz, Jane Smith and various other friends.

We’d normaly walk into town to buy fish and chips from the chip shops (and on later trips, mis out the chippy and just go to the pub).

On every occasion, we walked past this spectacular hotel (The Palace) and I always said, one day I’d stay there.

And so with Nikki’s help to organise it, I finally did . They even had a guy playing Piano in the evening.

Unfortunately, the weather was awful. No matter. We got our bikes out of the car and I put the wheels back on them.

We did a sort of freestyle route of Nikki’s own design to get to Bakewell.

We stopped on the way to have a drink at the Bulls head in Monyash which I’d visited some years before with Frank Walmsley.

We continued on to Bakewell, where we wandered around the shops and got some lunch.

On the way back, we pedalled along the Monsal trail and passed through the tunnels (I’ve done it before, but it’s still an amazing route, either by bicycle or on foot).

And back at the end of the Monsal trail, just a few miles from Buxton.

An evening meal at the amazing Simply Thai (we eat there whenever were in Buxton).

Next morning, weather was atrocious. We did a short walk, then headed for home.

Liverpool – August

In the Rough Guide – First trip around the world, they talk about something called the Mount Fuji principle.

Less than 1% of people who leave in Tokyo have ever climbed Mount Fuji, even though it’s on their doorstep. The basic idea is that we can mis opportunities for adventure because theyre near to hand and “we can go there any time”.

With this in mind, Nikki and I decided to have a day out in Livepool an catch up on some interesting things there (both old and new).

First was an AI (artificial intelligence) exhibition at the World Museum.

The had this reconstruction of the difference engine designed by Charles Babage (and only lately acknowledged, Lady “Ada” Lovelace (who lent her name to the programming language).

I was working at IBM, when their AI computer the Deep Blue succesfully beat Gary Kasparov at Chess. I read about it at the time and he was a very bad sport. So you you could say, he was beaten at his own game.

IBM built on this achievment, and decided to create a new challenge. A computer that could understand spoken questions, but could actualy anlys the question that was being asked and answer it quickly in detail.

Amazing. The idea was for the IBM Watson to compete in a game of Jeopardy. For those that don’t know, your given the answer and you have to reply with a question. Simple enough for humans, but quite complex for a logic driven computer to do.

To make it really competitive Watson played against people who’d won at Jeopardy many times and offered massive financial insentives to the winner. The Watson won (with its 28000 cores).

They had the original studio setup in the exhibition. I’ve seen this on Youtube many times, but to stand in front of it was pretty incredible.

They had another section which showed deep data mining running in real time on Google searches and things like face book. You could do things like pick a politicians name and it would tell you if they were popular or not and if it was increasing or decreasing.

I’m pretty happy with the world as it is, but I can see how some people find this kind of thing quite sinister.

But in reality, I’m not convinced. When we talk about “Machine Learning” and “Data Mining” what we actualy mean is the AI equivalent of lots of date and looking for paterns.

I remember being in the Shropshire Arms in Chester on New Years eve some yearsa go. The landlady was in her late 40’s and had grown up in a pub. The landlord was about 25. At about 11pm, they had to get the Police to sort out a problem with a table of 5 lads.

The landlady had commented at about 7pm, that table will be a problem, keep you eyes on them. The youthfull landlord had said everything would be alright.

Was the landlady’s years of experience and recognising signs of trouble early on, any different than AI. Is it actualy groundbreaking, or just getting machines to do what people have done for hundreds of years 🙂

It was lunchtime by now. We met up with Matt at Brascoe. I used to visit it frequently when I worked in the Liver Building, it was good to be back and the Chicken Fillet burger is as good as it’s always been.

In the afternoon we visit the Naval War Rooms.

A massive underground facility, the Battle of the North Atlantic and various other activities were fought from here.

The place was truly enormous, yet during the war people would have wandered around on the pavements above, oblivious to what was going on 50 metres beneath them.

It’s run by volunteers as a charity. I’m always happy to visit things like this and as well as my ticket I also bought some stuff from the shop and made a donation. If you don’t, these things disappear, and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever and future generations will never get to see them.

Harrogate & York – August

Nikki’s family had organised a family get together for Nikki’s mums birthday.

Harrogate was the chosen location and Lyn (Nikki’s sister) and Vic (her husband) would be travelling to join us from their home in Spain.

We stayed in a rented apartment which was well appointed and cheap. Evening meal at a popular Greek restaurant nearby then off to bed.

In the morning, we did a walking tour of Harrogate. Some really interesting stuff, the place is mainly known for it’s mineral spring water which has medicinal property’s.

I was interested in the Swan Hotel. Agatha Christy disappeared for 11 days in 1926 and over 1000 police officers were assigned to find her (it’s been used as a plot vehicle for Dr Who).

The following day we decided to visit Harlow Carr.

Quite a long walk through fields, parks and forests, we finally arrive at the Royal Horticultural Society – Harlow Carr.

Nikki and her mum are a lot more interested in plants and gardens than I am, but this place really was amazing. Literally thousands of plants from all over the world.

There are few things more relaxing than wandering around in nature, in a place like this.

The next day, I decided to do my own thing, so headed off towards York.

My first stop was the train museum. I never visit York without going here, I love trains (full size and 00 guage).

This is the famous Mallard Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley it holds the world record as the fastest steam train in the world (126 miles an hour).

Wandering around, they have the only Bullet train outside Japan and the original Eurostar.

A re-creation of Stevenson’s Rocket, in it’s original colours.

And my favourite, a recent addition, the 125 HST. In service for over 40 years, it was finally retired. Repainted in it’s original livery, it did a farewell tour, before being donated to the Railway Museum York.

Like the Mallard, I have one of these in my set at home (very hard to get hold of, they’re at least 30 years old, but are due for re-release at Christmas this year (in case your reading this Nikki 🙂

Leaving the Train museum, I wander around York. It’s a Sunday, and quite busy with lots of people on day trips from Leeds.

Shambles street. The first time I walked down here, I was 8 yeas old on a school trip.

York Minster was open, but you had to book slots to go in. The next available opening was in 3 days time, so I just took this picture.

Another staple from my school trip days, the Castle Museum, York.

They have all sorts of cool things in there, like guns and uniforms from the TV series Sharpe. They also have old kitchens from the 80’s and it’s that quirkiness that I really like.

But again, tickets available, but the waiting time was 2hrs. I wasn’t going to queue for 2 hrs, so I’ll go there next time.

I found a nice pub, and had a couple of pints, while I wrote out my diary.

Our final day in Harrogate. Lyn and Vic had invited everyone out for breakfast to the Ivy.

What an amazing experience. Delicious coffee and scrambled eggs. Amazing service and just the simple pleasure of friends and family around a dining table. A bit more exploring around Harrogate, and then it’s time for home.

Lake district 2 – September

With summer fast disappearing, and having had such a good time at Darwin escapes, Keswick Reach.

We normally only visit the Lake district for long weekends or New Year (if we’ve got a whole week off, we usually go overseas). Since we were “forced” into it a week in the Lakes, it gave us a lot more time pursue interesting projects we’d not been able to do before.

First afternoon, we took the bikes out for a recce. We found a nice pub and they even had Bacon flavour fries.

Next day (almost at the front door) was Binsey Fell. The weather wasn’t brilliant, but Nikki planned an excellent circular walk. We were out all day, and on our return a cold can of beer from the fridge and a hot bath.

Following day, we were luckier with the weather.

We drove to the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. Run by volunteers, it was extremely well organised and comparatively cheap for the uniqueness of the experience.

The carriages themselves were quite small (the railway had originaly been used to transport munitions during the war).

The journey lasted about half an hour with spectacular views of the countryside. It stopped for half an hour before embarking on it’s return journey.

But we were walking back across Muncaster Fell and some of the best views and scenery of the trip.

Following day, we do a bike ride to Keswick and back.

Visited all my usual haunts, managed to find a birthday gift for Nikki in the Rohan shop and as usual managed to avoid the Pencil museum.

We had a day driving out to St Bee’s head.

We did some coastal walking, I remember that the weather was awful, but fish and chips in the small cafe were the nicest I ate on the whole trip.

We’d heard great things about Bassenthwaite Lake Station so we cycled over there the next day.

Basically, an isolated railway line going nowhere, with an old train parked on it, and run as a café/restaurant.

We found the staff unfriendly and unhelpful. The train was nice to look at, we bought coffee, it started to rain, they didn’t tell us there was a compartment at the back we could have sat in out of the rain.

Jon Kiblonski from 42nd street told me some years ago, you vote with your money. I work hard for mine, so I was happy to “vote” for a hotel nearby which did superb food and wine and seemed delighted that we’d chosen to eat there.

On our last day, we wandered around the forest and a place called Brock Holes.

Not a major project, just an exploration and a chance to relax in a forest (I’m at my happiest, when I’m in a forest).

I had a nice piece of Steak that evening at the camp restaurant. When I checked out, I found out, the 2 “pay to watch” films we saw were free. If I’d known, I might have watched a few more 🙂

Anglesey 2 – September

Our final adventure of the season.

A return to Anglesey, this time to stay at Amlwch.

Nikki went out walking with the group, I just wandered to the coast to relax. Amlwch was pretty quiet but it had a curry house and we really enjoyed the food there.

A pretty quiet trip really. More a chance to catch up with friends (Brian, Gareth, Tony & the Uni Bods).

We stayed at the Dinorben Arms hotel and when I came to check out, I noticed this nice Teddy bears, that they had there.

With the adventure season largely over, it was time to get back to more domestic adventures.

Something I’d been waiting for the 18 months. The James Bond film, No Time to Die. I booked our seats A1 and A2 in the massive IMAX cinema at Cheshire Oaks (I’d later find out, from Dale at work, that they aren’t all the same size and the IMAX in Manchester is twice as big).

The film was superb (amazing to just be back in a cinema once again). But as I’ve said before, your not really in a cinema for very long, within a few minutes your in space, in a car travelling at high speed, trekking through a jungle. Thats the magic of cinema).

Nikki’s dad John was someone I really liked and respected. I was very sad when he died and after the funeral we went to scatter his ashes in a beautiful park he’d always enjoyed.

As we were leaving, they had plants for sale, and I bought some roses. I’ve always called them the Dad Roses, as just like John, they live life on their own terms and decide to flower at a time of their own choosing.

I was delighted when once again “Dad” had decided to brighten up my garden.

Chester Cathedral host’s all sorts of interesting things, and isn’t just a venue for religion (when Frank Walmsley visited a few years ago with Na, there was an art exhibition, and we got to see Damien Hurst’s sheep thing !).

More recently a group of train enthusiasts set up a massive installation. I know from experience with my own train set, this must have taken hundred of hours and cost tens of thousands of pounds.

But it was worth it, they had dozens and dozens of different trains setting off and arriving for the 2 hours that I was there.

Our love of Artichoke in Chester where we frequently go for drinks and Sunday lunch is no secret.

What I’ve probably not mentioned before, is they have a Winebar on the Chester Row’s called Paysan. It was closed for a number of months and only recently re-opened. It was nice to be back in there with a glass of wine.

Another example of how life is returning to normal.

One summer… July

Worcester, Malvern & Forrest of Dean – July

We had a week booked off and accommodation in 3 places we’d not visited before. Our first stop was Worcester, on the way we visited Avoncroft museum of historic buildings.

These Prefab houses were built to meet the post-war housing shortage (3 million houses were destroyed in the UK during the 2nd world war). 155,623 were built in Britain – 7600 of these in Wales. This aluminium example is from Llandinam Crescent, Gabalfa, Cardiff.

Following a design competition thirteen designs were selected for manufacture, and the Arcon Mk V, of which this is an example, was the most popular. They were built at an average cost of £1,209.

I looked around inside. Although dated, it looked like a pretty comfortable place to live with 2 bedrooms, a comfortable living room and a functional if not elegant bathroom. Lots of storage and small, so it would have been easier to clean and cheaper to heat in Winter. I love my house, but I could comfortably live in one of these.

This example was originaly built to last 10 years and was still being lived in 50 years later.

This Medieval town house is featured on all of their literature and was the first building in Avoncrofts collection. Mid 15th-century it’s a typical medieval “hall house” with a central hall a smaller private rooms around the outside.

We arrive in Worcester at our hotel, the White house.

Sometimes it can be hard to find where carparks and hotels are once your on a busy street (I know that Sat Nav’s can find a postcode, but for finer details, we’ve started to use google and do a “virtual” drive around the area in advance, so we know what to look for)

We used this technique in Worcester as the carpark was in a hidden alleyway off the main road).

In the evening, we went out for dinner then came back to have drinks in the hotel bar. We took the drinks up to our room as we were interrupted by an “important” football match.

The next day, we wander around Worcester. Another beautiful day, we start by a walk along the river.

Cathedral’s are nothing new to us (we live in Chester) but this one was incredible.

I work in Civil Engineering now. Although my job is still in IT, I know some of the machines and equipment we have at our disposal to build things and so it’s all the more amazing to see this massive structure built with nothing more than manual labour between 1084 and 1504.

We spent some time in the Museum of Royal Worcester. It had loads of interesting historical things about the monarchy and it’s relationship with Worcester.

From here, we visited the Commandery. It was from here, The Battle of Worcester took place on 3 September 1651 and was the final battle of the English Civil War, which began in 1642.

On one side Charles the 2nd (who’s father had been captured and beheaded earlier in the war) with 14,000 Scotsman. On the other, Oliver Cromwell and the 28,000 strong New Model Army (the actual soldiers, not the rock band from Bradford).

With all this talk of fighting, it was time for some refreshments. There was a nice café there next to the Canal, so we had lunch.

Another fab evening at a Mexican restaurant (we don’t really have one in Chester so it was a real treat), then our last full day in Worcester. We decided it was time for a bike ride, so we looked for a nearby target destination.

I’ve always loved that scene from Bells, 2nd season of Black Adder. “Bob” is talking to her father, and I’ve always remembered the line “For the last time, your mother is a live and well and living in Droitwhich”.

I saw on the map that Droitwhich was 10 miles away on quiet paths and canalsides, so that sealed it. If you haven’t seen the scene, you can watch it here: Bob scene from the Black Adder.

It was a quiet peaceful day (we met some losers on the canal who wouldn’t move out of the way, but otherwise a perfect cycle journey).

I’ve got to say that Droitwhich is quiet (and when I say quiet, some mean people would describe it as “gods waiting room”). The people were very nice, and we had lunch there before heading back (Nikki had some sort of salad nonsense and I had a cheeseburger).

Off to our 2nd destination, Malvern. The town itself is at the foot of a hill so popping out for a pint can be an exhausting business.

We stayed at the Great Malvern Hotel.

It was run by a couple, and some of the reviews said the lady was charming, but the man was grumpy and obtuse. I took exception to this. Rani was indeed lovely, but Jeremy wasn’t grumpy, he was focussed and matter of fact.

Maybe he wasn’t very good at small talk, but I knew, if the heating broke, he’d pick up the phone and sort it out. I read stuff on Facebook about “be kind”, “be nice to people” and that’s mostly true, but sometimes bluntness will get you what charm won’t.

In the afternoon, we went for a bike ride around some country lanes (30 miles, 3 pints).

The following day, we walk up to Malvern hills.

It was amazing, a 40 minute walk from the front door of the hotel and your were staring at this “hill corridor” with views for miles around.

We took a different route down, wandering through a massive forest.

The following day we did the other part of the hills and visited the British Camp Hill Fort.

Our 3rd and final destination, The Royal Hotel in Ross on Wye.

It was a very nice hotel, but a bit “big and corporate”. We spent the afternoon wandering around the town, and even had something to eat at Wetherspoons, which we don’t normally do.

The following day, the thing I really wanted to see. The forest of Dean.

We cycled around it for hours without leaving the forest. There was even this enormous lake, right in the middle of it.

Trails run through it endlessly, so the next day, having cycle’d all around it, we put on our walking boots and trekked around for several hours.

The day after, one final stop, Goodrich Castle

I think anyone who’s ever watched Robin Hood loves a good “castle”.

We headed home and completed our holiday, with dinner at Artichoke in Chester (one of our favourite eateries).

End of Lockdown – July 19th

Now back home.

The full lockdown end didn’t happen when it was supposed to and we had to wait until the 19th of July.

No more masks on the train to work, you could get drinks at the bar and a host of simple things that we were now able to do.

To celebrate, Tony and I went out for a curry.

Yes, you probably recognise this picture, it’s the standard one I use whenever Tony and I go to the Bombay Palace, this isn’t an actual picture from the evening (we were having to much of a good time to bother taking pictures).

One summer… March to June

Not much happened last year apart from an early return from Sri Lanka and a weeks holiday in Northumberland.

So this year we decided to chase every possible adventure in the UK and work around Covid restrictions to have as normal a time as possible.

At home, midweek we’d watch a webcast from Wanderlust magazine (with Pizza delivery). For real life entertainment, we watched 2 plays at Chester’s Theatre in the park.

At weekends, we’d either have a film night or sometimes live comedy, streamed from Just the Tonic – Working from home.

It gave me an insight into what life must have been like for my parents, living in the 70’s.

I wanted to write about everything I’ve done this year, and since most of it happened over summer choosing a title was easy.

I was inspired by a TV series from 1983 featuring Billy and Icky (who everyone at school were talking about at the time) shown over 5 Sunday evenings 🙂

Cheddar Gorge – April

Easter was largely a none event and lockdown was still in place. You could however stay in self catering accommodation.

Cheddar (named after the cheese) looked nice, so we decided to go there. On the way, we visited the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire. I’ve done lots of things like fly in a helicopter and go on a steam train, but never seen a real “hillside” white horse.

Darwin Escapes offered various sizes of lodge. Self catering isn’t normally my thing, but I have to say, it was luxury (obviously the price was inflated as everyone would be holidaying at home).

Nikki’s mum had joined us on the trip and the 3 of us got on rather well.

The lodge had 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, a wine cooler, washing machine, dish washer and even a kitchen sink.

The thing I liked most was the lounge area where you could stretch out and relax. I normally stay in hotels, my room usually has a chair to sit in, but to relax I have to go to the bar downstairs. It was nice to be able to have dinner, relax and then walk 10 feet to bed.

I’d brought some of my bush craft gear, so on one evening, I sat on the veranda and carved a spoon.

We could walk direct from the site on a circular route to take in the Gorge.

Geologically, it’s spectacular to look at lots of people around and fab to be out for a whole day.

After walking all day, I was delighted that the weather was nice, so we could sit outside the bar and have a cold beer (drinking alcohol in pubs and bars was still banned but you could drink outside, so long as it wasn’t raining. Luckily the weather was fantastic).

On our 2nd day, after a hearty breakfast, we did a walk around Cheddar reservoir (which obviously, was quite easy to navigate, you just kept the water on your left, until you got back to the place where you started).

The area we stayed was close to Glastonbury (made famous by the music festival held there, which I’ve manged to avoid).

On the way home, we decided to visit Glastonbury and we found a walking tour on the internet. There seemed to be lots of Nepalese/Mystic type shops there, that didn’t really resonate with me.

The highlight was a walk to the Glastonbury Tor. Some loon’s were doing a traditional chant inside the Tor which I found irritating. They invited me to join in, instead I enjoyed the views from the top of the hill.

Lake district – May

We’d not been back long, but were still keen to get out and about.

We decided to do something similar, this time Darwin Escapes site in the Lake District – Keswick Thanet Well.

Since the 3 of us had got on so well previously, we kept the team together for this trip.

We don’t really like long drives, so we try to break up the journey out by visiting somewhere interesting on the way there, and the way back.

Driving to castles during lockdown has become something of a joke her in the UK. But we drove to Brougham Castle and our eyesight was fine. It took us about 2 hours to explore the castle then we carried on our way.

Nikki was keen to see Mayburgh Henge. According to some people (and I’m not one of them) It’s as historically significant as stone henge. To me, it was some stones in a field, but as requested, I took a picture of Nikki and her mum.

We got set up in our lodge, had something to eat, and some nice wine.

The next day, for orientation, we visited Keswick.

I first visited Keswick nearly 30 years ago, when my friend Lee Sawbridge chose it as a camping destination. Since then, I must have visited the town over 100 times, but it’s still special to me (and it has a Rohan shop).

Although we stayed a whole week, we didn’t do as much on this trip, as the emphasis was on relaxing. Up in the hills, we found a small lake (not surprisingly called Small Water) and we had lunch.

One highlight though, was a walk around Haweswater and Harter Fell. The weather was fantastic all day.

Nikki’s mum and I were looking forward to the final episode of Line of Duty. Internet on the site wasn’t very good. I was debating how we’d stream it, or maybe wait to the end and download it all once finished. Sometimes you just can’t see what’s right in front of you.

Nikki’s mum commented simply – There’s a television over there on the wall, why don’t we just watch it on that 🙂

Bedgelert camping – June

Camping to me used to involve a tent, a bit bigger than the coffin I’ll eventually be buried in, drinking hot chocolate from a stove in the porch, while trying to read with a head torch ignoring the rain outside.

But Nikki has a fantastic tent, with chairs, you can stand up in it. For this trip, I even got hold of some camp beds.

Beddgelert is a place we’ve always been fond off, so we headed for there. Disappointingly the campsite we’ve previously enjoyed (right near the town) has now closed so we used the one 2 miles away in the forest (very commercial, but it had what we needed).

Our tent has everything we need, but since the sun was out, we had a barbecue and laid out our food on the camp table assigned to us.

When we go away, we can take our gear and our bikes, or our gear and our camping equipment. But due to space restrictions we can’t take all three.

We’d done our research and found that we could rent mountain bikes direct from the campsite.

The campsite is right next to a forest with loads of mountain trails, so we did that for 2 of the days.

I was disappointed that the Steam Train that passes through Beddgelert wasn’t running (well it was, it just didn’t stop in Beddgelert).

For day walks, we did a different route up Moel Hebog and on another day, a fairly flat walk to the Cwellyn Arms and had a few drinks before walking back.

We wandered into the town for dinner and drinks a few times, but were disappointed that the Hebog restaurant which we really like hasn’t re-opened (the whole town has been flooded in recent months).

Llangollen cycling – June

I’ve always enjoyed visiting Llangollen. Main reason is, I can ride there on a bike (it’s about 27 miles). They also have a Steam Train and some amazing pubs, so It’s no surprise that our walking group are frequent visitors.

I’ve previously cycled there and carried all my gear in a rucksack on my back. More recently, Nikki and I cycled there and hired a pod. On this occasion, we decided to stay in The Hand hotel (daft name, great hotel).

So we pedalled over and as we arrived at Wrexham, Met up with Brian, Sue and Aled who joined us on the journey (and joined us in the bar later, for a fantastic afternoon).

In the morning, after a cooked breakfast, we cycled back the hard way over “Worlds End”. Agonising at times, but what an achievement, I’d never done that route before. Luckily, the world didn’t end , we got back to Chester and had Sunday lunch at Artichoke.

*We had a good time. Such a good time in fact that I completely forgot to take any pictures. These are ones from previous trips, but I think they capture the ambiance of the trip.

Anglesey for David’s birthday – June

My brother and his wife Leigh love spending time in Anglesey.

Since it was his special birthday, we were invited to join them to celebrate.

We were staying at the Victoria hotel. On the first day we arrived, we did a nice coastal ride, got back, got showered and then met David for a slap up dinner at Dylans. With spectacular views across the straights and amazing food, it’s the nicest place I’ve ever eaten on Anglesey.

The next day, up early, breakfast and then an in-land journey, this time around Bangor and lots of places from camping trips of my youth.

Of special significance is this picture. I’d agreed to ride 500 miles in a calendar month for SSAF, the armed forces charity. I’d been counting up my miles and by the time we reached Bangor Pier, I’d completed it.

That evening, we had a low key meal in a lovely hotel called the Gazelle (which is a bit daft, as I have never ever seen a Gazelle, anywhere in Wales, apart from the Welsh Mountain zoo !).

*To be honest, I’d completed the 500 miles, a mile and a half before the pier, but a photo in front of a bus stop wouldn’t have been the same would it ?

Return to Manchester (for a weekend)

I’ve lived in Chester for over 20 years. Moving there was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But…

I’m not from Chester, I’m from Manchester and that will always be my home.

Nikki decided she’d like to visit Manchester for a long weekend.

I couldn’t wait !.

We’d be staying at the Midland hotel. It really is nice in there, and since I booked with Travelzoo over a year ago, we got a fantastic deal.

Nikki had meetings all day, but I’d booked the afternoon off. Getting off the train, I had a walk around and then went to meet my old friend Nick in the Bank (a pub, we weren’t paying in cheques or anything !).

On the way, I was disappointed to see Debenhams closed down. I bought my first video recorder and various other thing here (my brother and I would meet each weekend and go to the cinema. Afterwards it would be MacDonald’s or Pizza hut, then we’d go and treat ourselves to something nice.

Another thing I was surprised to see, was Manchester Town Hall. It’s featured in loads of tv programs like Ripper Street, and Foyles war. It’s got a bit rundown, so they’re doing it up.

I hadn’t realised just how much work is involved. It won’t re-open until 2024 and portakabin’s stacked 4 high, tells you how many people are involved.

In the evening, drinks at the Midland and dinner at the black cat.

In the morning, breakfast at the hotel (someone we met in the lift, couldn’t run to the cost of breakfast, so he’d been sent out to buy MacDonald’s.

We’d decided to visit Media City.

When I was last there 15 years ago, it had the Imperial war museum of the North and the Lowry centre. I was disapointed to find that water taxi’s no longer run, so I took the same route my friend Frank led on my original trip.

Media city is on the Manchester Ship Canal. But the much smaller Rochdale Canal runs a similar route, so wandered along that for 3 miles.

A strange sort of telephone box entrance and we’re inside the IWM.

They had most of the original artefacts including this amazing Harrier Jump Jet (which are much smaller than you’d expect them to be with only a 25 foot wingspan).

The museum is specifically about War, and the impact it has on people. They are very specific that it isn’t a military museum.

But there are loads of interesting things in there. There’s a section on medical advances due to war. Superglue didn’t exist before the Vietnam war !.

A temporary exhibition about Aid Workers.

In this picture, an original Karimore Jaguar S75 rucksack.

From here, you cross a bridge to Media City, which is like an Island.

There were various things going on, but there was one specific thing I’d come here to see. The Blue Peter Italian Sunken Garden.

I’d seen it constructed as a child week by week and I was really upset when it was vandalised. When Blue Peter moved North, I heard that the Garden had moved with it.

I asked a few people working at a bar, but they’d never heard of it. Then I realised they were about 20 and wouldn’t have been born when it was constructed. They told me about a place called the Blue Peter garden, and this was it.

After all those years, I finaly got to sit in the sunken garden. It even has the original statue of Petra in the corner.

A visit to the Lowry art gallery, in the Lowry centre.

It has the largest collection of Lowry painting in the world.

Interestingly, my favourite picture by him is one of Piccadilly Gardens. That was commissioned and hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery (which I’d be visiting the next day).

Having spent the whole day exploring, we had some dinner, 2 bottles of wine and then decided to head back to “town”.

Looking down the ship canal at this amazing view. But I was shocked to see, some people had climbed onto the bridge.

I can only guess at what these idiots were doing, but one of them was clearly photographing the other.

If he’d tripped I wonder if the camera would have captured the last moments of his life. Some people are too stupid to be allowed out of the house.

Our final day in Manchester. We visit the Manchester Art Gallery. It’s a lot bigger than I remember it.

There were loads of cool pictures and installations. My favourite was this picture showing Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. I’d read about it and it sounded harrowing. This picture captured it perfectly.

Manchester’s “new” law courts. I remember when they opened, they caused controversy as the architect had modelled the buildings on filling cabinets. Not particularly inspiring.

The area of Spinningfields didn’t even exist when I left Manchester. As we wandered around, we were struck by the amazing buildings. You can see why Manchester is now considered Britain’s 2nd city.

We were heading for the People’s museum, but I stopped on the way to take this picture. A canal-side bar called the Mark Addy was a place we frequented in my youth (Mark Addy was a character from the book, The Manchester man).

It was tragically run down and abandoned. Quite sad really. I’ve heard since that it flooded several times (one one occasion, completely submerged), and 10 years ago finally closed.

Inside the peoples museum, there was loads of stuff about the history of politics in the UK, the Trade Union movement, Suffragettes and the Miners Strike.

Lots of interesting visuals like this one with Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher.

They also had the one used by Nigel Farage (the phony one that’s meant to look like immigrants coming into Britain, but was actually taken during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia).

But by far, my favourite thing was this. The famous “Donkey Jacket” worn by Michael Foot at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. He as pilloried wearing it at the time, but in reality, the coat was purchased from Harrods.

Sunday lunch and then train home.

There’s loads of other stuff I could have written about, but I’ve tried to pick the unusual stuff.

Looks like the Covid experience may be coming to and end.

The search for adventure continues…

Update: Final Covid projects and 100 day plan.

bar

ok, so this blog hasn’t been updated in absolutely ages. Why you might ask?

Well, like many other people, with the possible end of Covid in sight, I set myself a series of projects and goals (with a 100-day countdown).

Just to show what is possible, above.

Built by my old friend Andy Ogden and his family, a superb garden beach bar, made from pallets and the like during the first lockdown.

I don’t pretend to understand joinery, but even I can see how impressive it is.

So, the theme of this month’s blog is what projects/jobs I’ve been doing. Some of them are useful and some a bit wacky, I’ll leave you guys to decide.

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My goals have been a bit more modest.

This one for example involves me learning to tie 3 new knot’s every day.

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January and February is usually the time I go through my outdoor gear and prepare for the adventure season.

I decide to replace/upgrade a few things and also treat myself.

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I’ve had various lighters over the years (I’ve never been a smoker, but if you’ve ever made fire from friction, you know why).

This is an authentic Zippo. It’s engraved with Trust No One, just like the one used by the Cigarette Smoking Man from the X Files.

It’s also modified with a USB chargeable plasma igniter, rather than the normal petrol one which makes it a lot cleaner and a lot more reliable.

wb1

I’ve treated myself to several new things from the Rohan shop, including their Flex Jeans, which they say are the most comfortable Jeans you’ll ever wear (and I agree).

Additionally, I’ve upgraded my travel washbag. I take a bigger wash bag on longer trips with stuff like insect repellent, but for shorter trips I just take the basics.

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This is the one I now use for short trips – it’s is the same size as my old one but opens out like a tray, rather than the traditional “hang up” ones.

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When I was 17 there wasn’t much going on in my life, but I got hold of a book called The SAS Survival Handbook – by John “Lofty” Wiseman.

It had loads of stuff about Deserts and Jungles (places that were impossible for me to visit at the time, but I had my dreams and my enthusiasm).

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It inspired me to make a tobacco tin “survival kit”.

I got hold of a tobacco tin and with help from my Grandma I was able to get needles and thing for the sewing kit.

The local fishing shop helped me with the fishing equipment and my mum advised me on painkillers and imodium.

I spent ages getting it perfect and even lit candles of different diameters to see which would light for the longest.

During the lockdown I’ve completely re-created it. I don’t know if I’ll ever need it (I’ve done so many Bushcraft courses I can improvise most of the thing in there from the forest) but if I do need it, it’s there in my pocket.

parang

“Lofty” also talked about knives and cutting tools and went into great details about something called a “Parang” (pictured above).

I learned it was basically a native machete used in the Borneo Jungle.

I’ve been in Jungles in 4 continents and used various practical cutting tools like this.

During the lockdown, I’ve setup a high shelf in my kitchen with all 4 of them on display.

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One thing I’ve been pleased about, is my work.

Although I work in IT, I’m classified as a Construction Industry key worker. This has meant I haven’t missed a single day’s work throughout the whole of the lockdown.

After my experiences in 2009 I can’t describe how much of a relief that’s been.

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Speaking of work, some of my friends and colleagues noticed a delivery of tennis balls was left on my desk (I’ve never expressed an interested in sport, so they were a bit surprised).

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They were even more surprised when, during lunchtime I proceeded to cut them all in half!.

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They needn’t have worried.

Nikki and I are going camping soon and I’ve upgraded us to some camp beds.

In order to protect the tent floor, the “half” tennis balls go underneath the legs of the bed.

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Since I’ve spent a lot more time at home, I’ve been upgrading my wall “real estate”.

I’ve got a new X Files – I Want to Believe Poster, bought a new picture of the Fighting Temeraire and an amazing poster of Escape from New York.

My Alan Turing news article from the MEN in 1997 has been reframed along with my “Jane Smith” picture of Crib Goch.

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I went over to Liverpool for an evening at my old haunt the Town House, where I had a few drinks (and some chips, which I bought) with Matt and Mike.

Also met up with my old mate Nick from Newton Heath. Out of everything I think the thing I missed most was going to the pub with friends.

Can’t wait to stand up and walk about in the Lock Keeper after the 19th of July.

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A regular fixture during lockdown was a streamed comedy event, we watched most Saturday evenings at 9pm.

Just the Tonic productions – Working from Home, had some brilliant comedians and lots of short sets so constantly switching tone.

One particular comedian I really enjoyed was Marcel Lucont. Playing a witty, aloof Frenchman, I howled with laughter.

Best thing, he’s actually appearing at Theatr Clwyd in a few weeks and we’ve booked to go and see him.

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I’ve caught up on a lot of reading.

I was fascinated by the story of Bernie Madoff who recently died in Prison.

One minute he was the go to guy who everyone wanted to work with, the next he appeared in court in a bullet proof vest.

People lost billions of pounds due to his Ponzi scheme over several decades.

Interestingly, after appearing in court for the first time, he was allowed bail and returned to his Penthouse.

One of the people on the ground bellow, held up this sign !.

Well, thanks once again for “tuning in” to johnsunter.com.

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…

 

Getting organised.

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Some years ago, I was at Fairbridge Drake’s Applecross centre in the Scottish highlands.

One evening there was a slide show about the activities of the centre and I was delighted to see a picture of  me in a Snow Hole from a previous trip.

At the end of the talk, I was given the slide to keep. Problem is I didn’t have a slide projector, what could I do ?.

So it stayed in my memories box for 30 years.

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As some of you know, Nikki’s father tragicaly passed away last year.

He left hundred of slides, mostly of Aeroplanes. We bought a slide scanner and converted them all to .jpg (the intention is to put some of them up on the internet for any interested party to look at).

It gave me the opportunity to finaly scan my picture from the Snowhole.

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But with all the scanning, it got me to thinking about my own digital posessions. They’ve drifted into my universe (god, am I really writing this crap, I’ve been stuck at home too long 🙂 and like the long neglected contents of a garage, badly needed organising.

So I went through everything and broke them down into the following areas and bellow I’ve written the strattegy I used in each case.

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Documents

I’ve got letters applying for my first ever job, complaints to the Gasboard, you get the idea.

It took several hours to sort them into catagories, then I put them into dropbox. I always know where they are, they’re backed up and I can access them securely from my phone or any internet enabled device.

Any paper documents I had, where the original wasn’t needed (like a Will), were scanned and put into the relevant folders.

I also have a shared dropbox with Nikki, with secure copy of things like passport/driving license etc. If I’m away travelling (if that ever happens again:) and something happens to me, Nikki can easily get access to these from a phone, tablet, computer in the lobby of a hotel etc.

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Photos

I scanned all my photo there weren’t digital.

Then I went through every picture and catagorised them. Where there were duplicates, I ordered them by year (so Lake District 2014, Laked District 2015).

Where I had random pictures (I have a picture of some loon walking across the Shropshire Union Canal when it was frozen over) I put them in a catagory called Misc

This job took 2 whole weekends to complete. Once done, I put them up on Dropbox.

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Music/podcasts

I had a lot of Tony Robbins motivational stuff that I’d converted from cd. I also had quite a few podcasts that I’d downloaded (BBC’s 50 things that changed the modern economy is superb). I organised these into a podcast section and put it up on dropbox. I put any downloaded music into a similar folder.

I decided going forward, I would simply use Amazon Music. Anything I wanto listen to now, is on a playlist on my phone, Alexa or my pc with it’s Harmon Kardon speakers.

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TV and Film

I rationalised my DVD collection and just kept a few special ones. Everything else was digitised.

With quite a lot of tv series and films, this took quite a while to organise. The the main thing here, was to make it easily available (otherwise, it simply wouldn’t get used, which was the whole point of this entire project).

With the help of my friend Matt, I setup a Plex server. It enables me to stream tv content to any tv or tablet in my house. So when I’m in bed if I feel like watching a random episode of Spooks or the New Statesman, there it is.

For newer content, Netflix and BBC I Player are all that I need. If there’s something I want to watch and simply can’t get anywhere else, I can buy the dvd on Amazon and play it on my Xbox.

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Books

I always like to have interesting books around me on my book case. I went through and any I didn’t read or out of date travel guides were deposited at the charity shop.

For fiction stuff, I relly totaly on my kindle.

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Gaming

I’m not a massive gamer, but I’ve played all the Halo and Call of Duty games.
In the past I’ve always bought the box set from Tesco or wherever, but now I just download it.se my home etc, I’ve got copies off them off site (pretty much what I’ve been doing at work for decades

Conclusion

It was 20 years ago in a very volatile personal situation that I had to re-organise my life. I remember reading Alvin Hall’s book Your money or your life.

One key thing I got from the book, was about having simple file box and having every important document (birth certificate, insurance document) in a place where you can put your hands on it in 10 minutes.

Once I’d done that I felt a lot more relaxed about things, knowing that everything was where it belongs. Times have moved on, but the principle is still the same, once you’ve organised everything you feel much more relaxed.

Happy times in a world with no adventure

snow

Hard to write an adventure blog when they’re isn’t much adventure about.

But outside it’s snowing at the moment, which offers garden based adventures.

Walking group, Globetrotters and Chester cinema club closed (to say nothing of every pub and restaurant in the land).

Not much chance of any overseas exploring on the horizon and even James Bond has been put back to November.

Alexa

But…

Every day, the days get longer and the end of COVID-19 and a return to normal life gets closer.

Gnome

Speaking of Friends (ok, I know Alexa isn’t a proper friend) my neighbour recently moved out.

I’ve always maintained if you want good neighbours, start by being one yourself. In the 3 years that he lived next door they have been charming and helpful but always respected my privacy.

With 1 exception. I was woken at 3am in the Morning to shouting. I got up, walked down to my living room and turned on the lights. And there was my neighbour.

While talking excitedly to a friend on the phone I’d gone to bed and left my front door open. My neighbour had come home from work seen the door alerted me to it. I can only imagine what would have happened without his assistance.

Why was he coming home at 3am ?. Well, he was a Merseyside Police officer. He was proud of what he did, but he appreciated discretion and didn’t want too many local people knowing. So I told no-one.

They moved out just before Christmas. I was sad to see him leave, but he left me this Gnome. I always admired it (he said he hated it).

To Kieran, Marcella & Arthur, the best of luck in your new home.

mmap

I start each year with a Mindmap of goals for the year.

This year, I’ve kicked everything off with a 100 day plan, starting on the 4th of January and ending on the 14th of April.

It’s an attempt to kick-start things off this year as between SAD & COVID-19 lockdown it can be hard for anyone to get motivated.

But in life, you get what you focus on, and I’m focusing on various career, financial, domestic and adventure goals and the 100 day finish line.

nutra

A very important tool in this, is monitoring.

One problem I’ve occasionally found, is you seet a goal and a deadline, and you only start to worry when the deadline is looming.  With monitoring, it’s done every day and every week and makes you “stick to things” if you know what I mean.

For my weight and fitness, I use a mixture of Nutracheck & my Garmin watch. One monitors what I eat and drink, the other one monitors my activity. If I stick to the plan I’ve worked out I should be significantly healthier (and lighter) at the end of the 100 days.

metrics

Another thing I’ve setup is a routine habit monitor in 1 note.

It has things in it like make bed every morning and drink 2 litres of water. Just simple things, but as theyre done every they form into solid habits, so you don’t even know your doing them. Pick 10 yourself now, and track them every day for 100 days.

You’ll be amazed by the results.

xmas_train

It’s become an annual ritual at Christmas that my dining table is taken over by my train setup. I like to add something new each year.

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In times gone buy that might be something simple like a bridge but this year I treated myself to a Mallard.

In its iconic blue, the steam train was the fastest train in the world at 126 mph in 1938 (I’ve seen the real one at the train Museum in York).

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Of all my trains, my favourite is the 125.
I was originally given one as a gift by my father. I was too young (I would probably have tried to eat it) so my mum put it away. When we got it out a decade later, it didn’t work, so we gave it to the school jumble sale.

30 years later, the only way to get that train, was to buy a broken one, buy a working one of similar design and have the frame transplanted onto the chassis (by the experts at Chester Model shop).

Problem is, it still doesn’t run very well due to its age. So I was delighted to see that Hornby have re-launched the 125. A brand-new train that will run like a dream.

I think you can guess what will be racing around the dining table next Christmas.

fw

Like a lot of people, with little else to do, I’ve been catching up on “box sets”.

At Christmas, Nikki’s mum was talking about Foyles War, so I looked it up.

22 film length episodes. 8 series over 15 years. Originally set in Hastings on the coast, it tells the story of an “ordinary” detective solving crimes in wartime with all the problems and dilemmas that presents.

The last 2 series are set in London, Foyle leaves the police and works for MI5 in the early days of the Cold War.

The first 7 series were actually filmed in Ireland, but the last was filmed almost exclusively in Liverpool (although Chester is used for a street Market, and Manchester Central Library briefly becomes the court at Nuremberg).

I watched the final episode yesterday. I remember Nikki telling me a while ago, that work at her office had been disrupted due to filming.

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And the picture above is it !.

A key character is shot on the steps of the Port of Liverpool Building on Man Island, which passes nicely for the MI5 building in London.

The series is a genuinely intriguing drama/whodunnit with realistic interesting characters. If you’re bored, watch it, it should kill quite a few long dark evenings.

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Speaking of intrigue, I had a Call of Duty fest over Christmas.

I finished COD – Modern Warfare, I started and completed COD – WW II, and I’ve almost finished my favourite COD – Black Ops, Cold War.

I remember playing the first Black Ops game some years ago. In one level I was “dropped” into Vietnam and everything seemed familiar for some reason.

I was quite well-read on military history at one time, and I realised, having read many first-hand accounts, that I was in the middle of the Tet offensive.

In another level of the game, after shooting down several Soviet helicopters, I receive grateful thanks from Jonas Savimbi of UNITA, during the Angola independence conflict !.

I won’t spoil the new Black Op’s game, but it has some amazing action taking place in the Lubianka building (the KGB headquarters where you get to wander around) and a personal meeting with Ronald Reagan !.

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I just wanted to finish with something novel.

Stupidly, I had to dash out of the house and get something. I was gone for 2 hours and while walking home, realised I’d left the oven on.

Fish fingers and chips don’t need 2 hours at 200 centigrade, so I expected chaos when I got back.

But no. I discovered the oven has a special feature where it can recognize it was meant to be turned off (I have no idea how) and shut itself down.

The food was slightly burned, but otherwise, everything was OK.

I love technology 🙂

Near and far, the search for adventure continues…