Wow. It’s been ages since we’ve done anything with the blog. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get much done other than the basics. Here it is, more than ten months since Russell was born and I’m only getting down to documenting his third to sixth months. It’s amazing really. Going back, looking through all of our photos and videos of him and seeing how much he’s changed, how far he’s come in such a short period of time. At the time, it seems like he’s not learning fast enough, but wow, the stuff that’s happened in ten months! Amazing! I don’t have a lot of time to write about it, so I’m just going to put up a bunch of photos that we took between November 2012 and February 2013.
Our cancelled christmas meant we were unexpectedly here for Hogmanay (that’s scottish for new year’s eve). It’s a very popular holiday here and things tend to book up quickly, so we weren’t sure what to do. We’d tentatively decided to drive to Stonehaven, which is a town a few miles south, to see folks march to the harbor swinging enormous fireballs around and then pitch them into the sea (what else can you do with enormous fireballs?). It was going to involve some struggling with parking and traffic, which is never much fun on New Year’s, so we weren’t as psyched as we wanted to be. But Lo! At the last moment we got a call from Johannes and Jane, who had booked a hostel in the Lake District and had two spare bunks. They were leaving at 4pm so we quickly threw some food together and packed.
We arrived that evening at the house that the family of one of Jane’s friends had rented for the holiday. They had a great spread of yummy food out and we spent the evening in chatting and eating until midnight, and then we drank champagne and sang auld lang syne, followed by a little walk down to the shores of Lake Windermere to watch fireworks and floating paper lanterns drifting over the town. We don’t put much stock in this particular date, but if we did have lofty expectations for New Year’s eve, the pleasant evening spent with these warm and lovely people would certainly have exceeded them.
In the morning we got our first glimpse of the Lake District. We’ve passed it on the M6 a few times now and I’ve watched the exits go by a little wistfully because I’ve heard it’s very nice – and you can even see the pretty hills and lakes off in the distance from the motorway. It was easy to see what all the fuss is about when we breakfasted looking out the windows of the hostel onto Lake Windermere at the little sail boats floating in reflections of snow-dusted hills.
We’d never stayed in hostels until we moved to Scotland. I don’t know if it’s just us or if north americans in general just aren’t on the hostel wavelength. My prior conception was that they were just for young hippy backpackers, usually in big cities — and maybe in Canada and the US they are. But over here anyway they are often in really beautiful remote settings, and they are full of people of all ages, including families with small children, from lots of different backgrounds and countries but with a general outdoorsy-ness in common. They’re a great inexpensive option for a group of people who want to stay close to outdoor activities and cook and eat meals together, especially in the winter or during midge season, when being outside in the evenings can be uncomfortable. We are hostel converts. This particular hostel in Ambleside definitely ticked the “great location” box, but was a little more crowded and unfriendly than the others we’ve stayed in.
On New Year’s Day we went for a walk for a few hours up a hill called Red Scree. It took about an hour or so to reach the summit, and it was cold and very windy! But we hunkered down in a rudimentary shelter and had a quick chilly break and bite to eat before descending the far side and followed a pretty valley back to the village. After another couple of hours we were enjoying teas/ales in a pub.
Back in the crowded kitchen at the hostel, we conquered adversity and put together an epic feast. Soba noodles with veggies and puffed tofu accompanied by sushi buns comprised the first course; second course was delicious veggie chilli and rice, with strudel a la mode for dessert, topped off with whiskey over a game of black-out bridge.
The next day Johannes — in his infinite enthusiasm — had us up bright and early to go check out some local bouldering. We started out in nearby Brant Fells, which was a short outcrop on top of a hill near Ambleside. The bouldering was well-suited to climbing without a crash pad, since it was quite low and the landings were grassy. It was pretty muddy around the base though, and the climbing required thoughtful feet, so keeping our shoes clean enough to stick was challenging. Brad and Johannes quickly become absorbed in the traverse of the outcrop, which was a puzzle of delicate moves on small holds. I got shut down quite quickly on a little reachy bit. I probably could have worked something else out eventually, but I confess to being a bit of a weenie when it comes to climbing in cold conditions, and it was quite cold, so I contended myself with taking pictures and walking around the hill to stay warm. The views were great so I didn’t mind.
Later in the afternoon, after some lunch at a little cafe in Ambleside, we moved on to the Langdale boulders, which were challenging in a different way – steeper, more committing. They are in a really lovely setting and I’d love to go back sometime with a pad. It was getting dark so we didn’t stay long – just long enough to fire off a few of the “easier” problems and to admire the subtle ancient carvings in the side of one of the boulders (those are off limits for climbing of course).
Then it was just a matter of saying our goodbyes and heading back to Aberdeen. A fine Hogmanay!
Christmas this year didn’t go according to plan, but we made the best of it really. We had planned to visit family and friends in Canada. It was a good plan and we were psyched. Then unprecedented amounts of snow fell on the UK, first shutting down trains, then schools and finally airports. Everything closed five days before Christmas. We checked our flights online the night before and sure enough our flight from Aberdeen to London was canceled and also the main flight from London to Halifax. Canceled. They canceled Christmas. They obviously have no idea. Better send in the clowns.
So there we were, we had no flights, no lights, no tree, no food, no plan. We were both also horribly sick with head colds. We spent that day following twitter posts, airline website updates, searching vainly for customer service phone numbers and the fine print of the terms and conditions. All very hard to find and vague. The numbers we called didn’t connect to anything other than a dial tone. We got excited when we got into the voice menu only to be transferred back to the dial tone. We ate frozen pizza, watched a movie and then went to bed early.
We awoke to frozen water pipes. The landlord suggested we locate the water main in case we need to shut it all off in the event of a burst pipe. He also suggested that we stuff blankets in next to the frozen pipes, if we can find them. We dissected the house and became experts on its crawl spaces and we turned up the heat. Our water came back on around 4pm.
There was a flurry of condolences from local friends and offers to get out and do stuff. It was very touching. We have some seriously great friends here. We were still horribly sick.
We were also on the hunt for a snow shovel. Snow was coming down steadily. I shoveled the drive three times already and there was another foot down again. According to the sales person at the B&Q the truck with the shovels was stuck in the snow somewhere south of the city.
The cat sitter dropped off our key to the house with a festive note explaining we wouldn’t get our money back but that she was happy to provide a receipt for adding to our insurance claim. We called her but there was no answer.
We picked up some Christmas lights and new decorations. Amelia found the box of old decorations and decorated the conservatory. We blew the dust off the Christmas CDs. We have about six of them.
I decided to make almond croissants. Almond croissants require croissants that are two to three days old, so there was the small matter of making the croissants first. The day before Christmas Eve was spent working the pastry dough and finally baking the croissants. That took pretty much all day. They turned out amazing.
We spent Christmas cooking and eating and drinking as it should be. Our friend Dan dropped by in the early afternoon and we ate Meme’s awesome salad rolls with my “sushi” buns, complete with ginger, soy and wasabi and a few small glasses of sake. We went for a walk.
Dinner consisted of more traditional “fayre.” Vegetarian haggis, purple mashed potatoes and green beans sauteed in butter and garlic. Dan made a tasty apple crisp for dessert. Ok, so it wasn’t that traditional, but somehow it all worked. Even the purple mashed potatoes. We thought they just had purple skins, but no, they were purple all the way through.
In the evening we enjoyed mulled wine and whiskey. We listened to our Christmas CDs and played mountaineering Monopoly. I lost because the rent for staying in the base camp on Trango Tower was extortionate. I had to mortgage K2 and Everest and it just went downhill from there.
On boxing day we went climbing! Or tried to. The day was cold and overcast. We’d heard a crag near to place was in good condition so we went over for a look see. It was fun walking into the place in the deep snow. We carefully picked our way down the snowy clifftops to the coastal climbing areas below. No one else was around of course. Ice and snow covered everything. There were a few small but impressive walls of ice that formed from seepage in the cliff. The rock was mostly dry and in fine condition except for the deep snow on top. We managed one climb. It wasn’t much fun due to the cold winds blowing off the North Sea and lack of sunlight so we packed it in and headed home again. At least we got out!
Back at home I followed through on the almond croissant plan. I cut the remaining croissants in half and basted them in sugar water. I made almond paste and spread it inside and on top. I shook some slivered almonds onto the tops and popped them in the oven for ten minutes. They were so good I almost died.
All in all it was a fine Christmas despite the unlucky turn with our flights being canceled. We enjoyed some excellent snowy weather, each others company and the company of a good friend. We made and ate some new amazing foods and managed an outdoor climb on boxing day. We relaxed and read books with tea close to hand and cats purring on our laps.