Capturing our love for art, adventure and learning
It has been WARM, DRY and SUNNY! These 3 words are enough to help anyone living across the British isles break out a little smile. After a dark cold winter, we had a gloomy wet spring and now summer is finally upon us. Daytime temperatures are around 16 to 22 celcius which means we've packed away all our winter gear. It is now nice enough to head out in shorts and t-shirt. Best of all, it is still possible to enjoy the outdoors without soaking our clothes in sweat.
We've clocked several hundred miles and travelled across the Yorkshire Dales, Lake District and Brecon Beacons. We've found ourselves exclaiming in immense joy and awe as we drive along tiny country roads. It is a feeling we haven't felt since we left Sapa, Vietnam and Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Click here to read about all our other travels!
Now let's get to the fun parts!
SOUTH WALES (The Big Pit Coal Mine)
We drove over 2 hours before we got to South Wales. I was telling the kids that we had entered another country in the same country. We had crossed borders without our passports! It is a very unique union we've got here in Britain. The drive into the hilly parts strained our car's little 1 litre engine and there were many sections where we had to get down to gear 2 before we could make progress.
We had never gone down a mine shaft before and we definitely knew nothing about mining. The Big pit is an amazing destination that's both educational, reflective and enjoyable. We got our free underground tickets before we headed to a waiting area.
Our guides greeted us and brought us to a room to get kitted out with a special mining headlamp. The battery was strapped to our bodies and we had to wear a hard hat too. I was pleasantly surprised that they had equipment that fit children. They do weigh quite a few KGs but it was manageable even for Matt and Gwyn. We had to surrender ALL battery operated items because they can cause a spark and set off certain gases that the remaining coal may give off. All watches, car keys, mobile phones and cameras had to be put away on the surface before we took the "cage" down the shaft.
We got down 90m underground and was led through various tunnels, shown the equipment used and told about the dangers miners faced. It was both a fascinating experience and a really reflective one. At one point, the guide instructed us to all turn off our lamps and try to see our palms in front of us to illustrate the darkness miners experienced in Victorian times. Women, children and men who couldn't afford candles (yes they had to buy their own to work the mines) worked in absolute darkness. Horses that were used to pull carts stayed underground for the rest of their lives once they entered the mine. The immense hardship and dangers they faced in that darkness is absolutely shocking.
Out of these "dark satanic mills", homes were warmed, trains had steam and ships sailed across oceans. The dirty coal as we call it today advanced civilisation. I applaud the Welsh government for preserving the coal mine and funding the museum. It is completely free to visit and I think that helps us put things into perspective. Yes, we need to care for our environment and use cleaner fuels but we also need to remember the sacrifices of those who came before us too.
We also got to ask many questions along the way and Gwyn asked the guide if she could try the tool that miners used to shovel coal into the cart. She got what she asked for! Her response was most hilarious "OH IT IS SO HEAVY! I don't think I can work here". I asked the guide how people did their "business" underground...he said "ANYWHERE!" and "sometimes they put a pile on the conveyor belts carrying coal up to the surface as a joke". Oh gosh....
We headed off to the mining simulator after we got back up to the surface. It was a light and sound show where machines from different eras come to life as miners shared their stories. A quick lunch later we headed off to scale the highest peak in South Wales.
Pen y Fan
Measuring 886m above sea level, we thought it wouldn't be that tough to scale because our starting point was somewhere around 500m above sea level. The sun was out and the place looked absolutely gorgeous.
10 minutes into the hike the burn in our quads and calves became pretty real. The incline was pretty punishing for amateur hikers like us. The sun felt pretty hot but the wind was intense and cold. It wasn't the most pleasant of climbs but we pressed on. Along the way we met the real champions: the sheep. They scale the peaks in search of the best tasting grass and hang around with their friends on perilously steep sides of the mountain. Unaffected by the wind, they graze leisurely while we huffed and puffed our way up.
At around 780m just shy of the summit, the wind became very intense and the clouds blocked off the sunshine. Our muscles were crying out for a break. The children were increasingly whiny and it became clear we've reach our limit for the climb. We popped a few sandwiches into our tummies in that crazy wind and headed back down. The view was absolutely liberating.
My ankles were sore and unstable for a few days after this climb and I realised that my boots didn't provide sufficient support. Wear proper hiking books with ankle support if you intend to climb here! The downhill is especially punishing on the joints because it very uneven and rocky on portions of the trail.
We decided the next trip was to be a little more leisurely before we attempt anything like the Scafell pike (Highest point in England)...
Once we had recovered and stopped aching, we found our way to the Lake District via the Yorkshire Dales. The Ribblehead Viaduct is one of those scenic places that you can't miss in this area! Built between 1870 and 1874, this iconic viaduct cost more than 100 men their lives to build. It is still being used today!
Windermere Lake, Brockhole on Windermere (Lake District)
Travelling with two kids also meant that we can't do much passive sight seeing for too long. They kids like to do things. These lively little ones prefer to be out there doing something that appeals to all their sense. We got to this amazing lake front destination and took a short stroll before we sat down to have a nice picnic by the waters. They also got to burn off some energy at the playground after a sugary snack and long car ride.
I mean just look at it. It is AMAZING! You don't have to pay an entrance fee to enjoy it and the kids aren't fussing about sweating buckets. If the day ended here, it would have been pretty satisfying already. Then we saw a sign "Boats, Kayaks and Paddle-boards for rent". I looked at Debra in the eye and we both agreed without a single spoken word that WE HAD TO GO ON THE LAKE IN A BOAT! I headed straight to the rental booth and asked if I needed a boat license to drive and they said I didn't need one. It was GAME ON.
We paid £40 for an hour and they fitted us with life jackets of the right size before briefing us about the health and safety rules.
The kids were a little terrified in the beginning because it was their first time on an open top boat driven by their father haha! The kids were absolutely thrilled as we cruised along the lake. We kept checking with them if they were enjoying the activity and they said they were! They even suggested I buy a boat so we can do this again...ermm....
We didn't plan to do a boat ride because we didn't know we had this option but it turned out to be one of the best change of plans ever. We manage to catch a glimpse of the Wray Castle and the beautiful hills surrounding the picturesque lake.
What are your plans this summer?
Let us know in the comments what would be fun for the kids. We are always open to new ideas! We are happy to connect via chat and social media channels too!
One year ago in April 2022, we gave up all we've known to travel for 7 months across South-East Asia. (If you're interested and want to read those, click on the blog categories at the bottom of the page to see our travels by country!) We walked on through the wind, through the rain, through the tears, had our dreams tossed and blown. We tried to find healing for our grief and a way forward but nothing seemed to work. We tried out best to walk through the storms with our heads held high.
Life can be rough. In fact, it can be rough for an excruciatingly long time. It is so easy to lose sight of it all in a storm. But I hope that whatever your circumstances may be, you'll walk on. I hope you'll walk on with hope in your heart and that you'll never walk alone.
We just said goodbye to April 2023 and it looks like we've finally seen off the worst of the storms. The shadows of the storms of life along with the gloomy bitterly cold winter has gone. We can finally see glimpses of the golden sky. We are here we are in the United Kingdom settled like we've been here forever. The kids are done with their semester of homeschooling, I've turned 12,500 words into turn-it-in while Debra has kept us all happy and alive with yummy grub.
As you will notice with the pictures below, we've shedded the layers of thick clothing because t-shirt weather is finally starting to arrive. We've been so blessed by a couple of days of amazing sunshine and balmy 16-19 celcius weather.
With the deadlines sorted, I've had a lot more time to hit the motorways in search of places we can explore and enjoy. The kids didn't get their Easter or Mid-term breaks because I was really busy and we decided to have our schedules align. But now...they get a long break with me!
We got the ball rolling with the RAF Midlands museum that really gave us great insights into the history of human conflict. Matthias and I were excited to see the Spitfires and Messerschmitts and other historic aircraft we've watched about in documentaries. I can't say the same for the ladies. They are amazed at these planes and the stories behind them but they just don't have the same fascination with machines as the boys do. I don't mean to generalise what do you think?
We had the opportunity to visit an apple orchard in Cotswold this week. No luck with the apples because apple picking season is in summer so we still have a little bit of waiting to do. Having lived our entire lives in a city, we were absolutely clueless about the times crops are sown and harvested. We'll keep learning! We did manage to buy some apple juice and enjoyed a nature trek around the property. The cool air and warm sunshine made everything look so stunning.
For a person who takes cleanliness very very seriously (wifey reckons it is OCD...), I still can't decide if I like cleaning a salty, gritty, mucky car or one that's an insect graveyard. One thing for sure, the scenery is a feast for the senses and the soul. It is worth cleaning the car for.
With an abundance of daylight nowadays (Sun rises at 530am and sets at 830pm), it is a lot easier to plan days out. It is nice that we can drive home in the evenings and still make it home with daylight to spare. What a contrast from the 230pm sunsets just a few months ago. We managed a nature walk/farm visit + Cotswold (Bourton-on-the-water) in the same day!
That's all for today's episode of our lives. We recognise that though we live pretty extraordinary lives, all we want is to savour the ordinary things. What you and l want is to experience love, our beautiful world and joy in our hearts. We hope our journey through grief, change and uncertainty resonates. We don't know when but we know there'd be better days. Press on and walk on with hope in your hearts.
Sharing our love of art, travel and learning with you.