Once again we are into the final days of the year, and I am sitting in the in-between, that gap between Christmas and New Year's where I have no idea of day nor date and am loving my existence while punishing my digestive system to its very limit with leftovers and snacks. The outside is dark and uninviting so why not keep the curtains drawn, eat selection boxes and watch film after film after film? Perhaps it is worth being at least a little productive, so a touch of reflection on 2023, the things we achieved and things we missed. I try to focus on the positive here at Love Our Adventures, extolling my love for our favourite places and happy memories, so I will put my major complaint about 2023 forward right now and get it over with: boy, the weather sucked this year. Going back through my camera roll there are only a handful of blue skies, and they all seemed to fall during the earlier part of the year - sure, that glowing blue sky looks inviting, but as it was taken on the morning in February you just know it was brutally cold. With that said, there were certainly other factors to complain about, including issues at home that needed tackling as well as a bereavement - but this is all about the happier moments, and we will be focusing on those. So let us start, as I'm sure you could have guessed, with January...
The year started out DIY heavy, a great option for when you are stuck in on the cold wet days of the first quarter of any year and are looking for something to feel like you're utilising your time wisely. On top of keeping myself busy, the main motivator was getting the carpet done, but before we could do that two rooms needed tackling first: the hallway and the downstairs bathroom. We had decided to run laminate flooring in both, with the idea being we would have a shoe-approved space within the house because once the new carpet was in Rox sure as hell wouldn't be letting anyone walk on it with shoes! While I had done a pretty stellar job carpeting my own office the year prior, I was banned from tackling the rest of the house (frankly, letting some professionals carpet the whole house in a single day sounded preferable to me doing it over about six months...), but I felt like laminate flooring could be fun to fit! A big jigsaw of pieces, how hard could it be? We opted for Scotia as the finishing touch as there was nothing wrong with the current skirting boards and didn't feel like ripping them off just for the sake of getting it flush underneath. A trip to Wickes and some online ordering got me everything I needed, including some new big boy's toys such as a Mitre Saw and Jig Saw to make the whole process easier. One of the laminates we liked was on offer, which is always a bonus, so we grabbed the right amount and then a box extra to allow for a few mistakes. The weekend arrived and I was underway, masking out tricky cuts with cardboard and making cuts in the garden/conservatory (weather dependent). All-in-all, I feel it went very well! There were challenges along the way, as well as a few mistaken cuts (I only made 2 cuts backwards, which I think isn't too bad going!) and a bit of a fight making the transition work through the doors, but I think the end result was well worth the hassle. Unfortunately, the hassle for me wasn't done, as the downstairs toilet was now leaking... But, after days on my knees working to get the flooring done, I decided I had more than had my fill of DIY for now and left that one to a professional to fix.
The issues with the toilet certainly marked the end of DIY and the start of professional help - but things would go very smoothly for it! With the entranceway looking fresh, we were able to finally commit to a nice, fresh, soft carpet that didn't look like it had been in place since the 70s! We followed recommendations, did some comparison shopping and found a nice company we were happy with, both the people and the price. We handled clearing the old carpet out of the way ourselves and decided to do this right away to avoid discovering any nasty surprises too close to the fitting day to rectify. Luckily, things went well, aside from a handful of rooms being a nightmare to scrape up the ancient and basically melted underlay and a single stair riser having come loose, which I was able to re-seat with some creative use of screws and an L-bracket, things went well. The downside was this left us in a colder house of Marley Tiles and splintery floorboards for a couple of weeks while we waited for fitting - not the most pleasant way to live, but thankfully it was only 2 weeks before they were here, and thanks to the efficient work of the fitters we had beautiful new carpet throughout in a single day. I wasn't completely out of jobs, as using the scraps left behind I was able to carpet the cupboard under the stairs - an essential job as I'm sure you understand! The challenges weren't over, however, as not to long after our sluggish and unreliable boiler decided now was the time to really give up holding on, so a new boiler was another expense to tack on to the year (thankfully, this was one we had been expecting for a while and had put the money aside for). All this is just part of the fun in owning a house, and while stressful, these changes make it feel more and more like a home, and this doesn't even cover new furniture and decorations that really add some of the finishing touches to it!
Okay, enough time indoors, let's move to the outdoors adventures. Between dealing with all of the above, the year started slow but many of the regular haunts helped to fill out the drearier days. The National Trust provided vouchers that allowed us to bring guests along for free, so we decided to take my parents to Shugborough Hall, a favourite of ours and a great taster of all things National Trust. It must have gone well, as they are members now (oh and, to the National Trust, I still haven't received my commission cheque yet! 😛). One of the biggest achievements for me, which was almost a fluke, was achieving my next highest step-goal with the 60k "Saturday" - I have no idea why I called it that, as it was a Monday, but I guess as all the previous ones had been Saturdays It would be a shame to break a pattern! Perhaps one of the best days for weather I got to enjoy walking, even if it was a little chilly that early into the year, but it was taxing and left my feet sore and blistered. I have no idea when I will go for another step goal, it will come as no surprise that they are getting more and more challenging to hit, so it tends to work well if I "forget" how much the last one hurt before I try the next one...
Most of my cycling was done in the earlier part of the year too - with the highlight being a lovely ride around Bewdley and Stourport-on-Severn, exploring stretches of the River Severn I haven't seen properly since I was a child. Unfortunately, my cycling has been lacking a bit considering I all but gave up on the hobby around the middle of the year, but after months and months on end of getting geared up in full water-proofs, freezing my way around and kind-of love-hating my riding I decided it wasn't worth it anymore. It isn't worth losing my love for cycling because the British weather is a bit of a dickhead. It is important to note, that I didn't give up cycling exactly, I just decided I would wait until there was some better weather on Saturdays so I wouldn't be riding in the pissing-down rain, but it just didn't come! Honestly, it was such a frustrating year for weather, with the few sunny and warm days persistently falling Monday to Friday, so all I could do was stare at them from my office window as work kept me pinned to my office chair.
Shrewsbury became a more frequent stop for us this year, with multiple trips to the riverside town culminating in a proper full-day visit in the spring which saw us taking in two particular sights we loved. Granted, Shrewsbury is lovely on the whole, and anyone looking for somewhere along the Severn to explore would not be disappointed, we were pleasantly surprised by both Shrewsbury's Castle and the Prison tour. We loved these for very different reasons, the castle being a more traditional day out for us but the prison being completely unexpected - a bleak view into life as a prisoner, it was really eye-opening and a great motivator to never break a law!
Anyone reading this who thinks I was honestly done with the DIY jobs doesn't know me too well, as another task came around. This one was mostly outdoors, the fixing of the Jeep's leaky differential - I won't retell the story here as I covered the entire thing here, but I will say it was a challenging and fulfilling job, that apparently makes us more skilled than just about any specialist I spoke to! Getting the Jeep back on the road was a great achievement in my books, and an essential part of adventuring to the farthest reaches of the UK is going to need a working car, so a success all around!
Our adventures wouldn't stop, looking to enjoy more than just the great outdoors we wanted some experiences too! This led us to a combination day of Jurassic Creek Adventure Golf and the Little Owl Farm Park - a brilliant day which saw us playing around an exciting minigolf course, but it is fair to say that getting to cuddle piglets at the Farm Park was unquestionably Rox's highlight of the year! We also decided on an overnight city stop, checking out a good portion of what Nottingham has on offer, especially its food and alcohol options! Not only that but delving below the streets on Nottingham's Cave Tour, as well as its stunning castle, we were well entertained for the entire duration of our stay. The city was great, better than we had expected, and Nottingham will be one we will pop back to in the future again for sure, this all ensured the middle of our year had plenty of interesting things to keep us occupied.
The year is ticking by quickly now, I think we did well to still make the most of it considering it wasn't the driest or brightest days, but September would be once again upon us and it was time to visit Wales once again. Much like in 2020 and 2021, we missed our May trip to Wales but this was not down to any worldwide disasters but a bereavement in the family - the silver lining to such a sad occurrence was that we were buzzing to finally return to Snowdonia and its many beautiful stops. As per usual, I had many potential stops we could do across the week and, as a fail-safe, we built several additional days depending on the weather and other factors - this turned out to be a blessing because the year continued as it had been and this was a competitor for the wettest visit to Wales we had ever had. I know there is a bit of a joke around Wales being nothing but rain, but in our experience, this is simply not the case - until this holiday! Still, wet weather has never really stopped us, and it wasn't about to now.
We ended up exploring a varied little collection of great attractions throughout our week in Wales, which saw us not only doing the usual walking in nature with beauty spots, but also going on a steam train adventure through the heart of mid-Wales and finally exploring the likes of Beddgelert, a town we have passed through and even stopped in multiple times, but never for much more than a pit stop. Highlights of this holiday include those previously mentioned as well as a couple of beautiful woodland adventures in the form of Coed Abergwynant and Coedydd Maentwrog, a charming manor home and grounds at Plas Brondanw and a quick stop at one of the prettiest lakes in Wales: Llyn y Dywarchen. Rather than retread the highlights already outlined in each of these articles, I'll wrap up on this by saying: It was a brilliant, albeit wet, holiday full of great food and drink with some spectacular places, Wales continues to surprise and I will keep visiting for years to come!
The year would round out with a Christmas city break in Liverpool, what a great way to end the year's adventures! As I discussed in the write-up of our weekend break, Liverpool had never really been on our radar but in hindsight, it seems like such a missed gem for us - it is a brilliant city for a weekend stop, with plenty of things to see, do and perhaps most crucially eat! We had a blast, plus its Christmas Market is one of the better ones in the country, so if you're after something festive it cannot be overlooked. That pretty much sums up our year in adventures, although I have glossed over plenty of the old favourites which kept us company on the odd sunny weekends, including trips to Wenlock Edge, Cannock Chase and Pendeford Mill to name a few. We can also add trips to Worcester and Bridgnorth, places I've never really spoken about here despite having visited them multiple times, so perhaps they can be ones to properly explore and write up in 2024...
So our adventures were rained on but still a success overall - what about life? Well as mentioned previously, cycling fell by the wayside this year, as I sit here now on a week-long break from work I've been TRYING to get a ride in but Elin, Fergus, Gerrit and whatever the next storm will be all but guaranteed I won't be heading out any time soon. In its place, I signed up for the gym, which has actually worked well for me. I'm a little over 6 months into 3 visits a week at my current gym and find it a great way to look after myself and hopefully improve my cardiovascular health, as well as hopefully get a little stronger too! As we rapidly approach the new year and many of you will be prepping for your resolutions to clog the gyms for 2 weeks before resigning, I would like to impart some advice:
- First and foremost, don't do it as a resolution and, even more importantly, don't do it the first week of January! Everyone will pile in for a brief while and this is the most miserable time at the gym, if you have to do it as part of a new year, then wait until the 15th-22nd of January, when the gyms will more or less return to their status-quo. Better yet...
- Join a gym in Spring! Wait for the lighter days and warmer weather before heading to the gym. You will find it far easier than dragging yourself from your dressing gown in January and will be much more likely to stick with it. Speaking of sticking with it...
- Get a local, and I mean LOCAL, gym. Honestly, having your gym be more than a 10-minute drive away is going to add to the mental tax each time you need to find motivation to leave. While not available to everyone, if you can have your gym be less than a 5-minute drive away or, even better, a few minutes walk away, you will be so much more likely to stick with it than someone who has to sit in traffic to get across town to their gym.
My love of the garden continued well into 2023, with the addition of a pop-up greenhouse giving me a little space to try my hand at growing more plants from scratch. I actually had some good luck with this, plenty of plants grown from seeds and bulbs were able to give my garden a lovely splash of colour. A familiar sight from 2021 came around again: the local pigeons decided to rear a little featherless gremlin again in our tree. Baby pigeons are strange to look at, to say the least, but at least it is a bit of nature and we were lucky to have it take place in our garden! Plus, our usual hedgehog visitor made his presence known on more than a few occasions and a frog moved into our little frog pond - brilliant!
That just about rounds up 2023. But of course, it wouldn't be an "in review" post without reflecting back on the goals from last year, which were...
- Finally get the carpet done in the house, as well as the tiling
and laminate flooring so we can start to feel like the house is complete
- Arrange a camping trip somewhere, ideally local, so we can test out our camping set-up and see what more we need
- Ride my first 50-mile ride
- Maybe jet off somewhere international, or at least plan a trip for 2024
We start off strong here, managing to sort out all of the flooring excluding the tiling this year. The tiling is specifically the conservatory, I opted to leave that until the "better weather" arrived in the summer, but it never did - I'm still calling that one a success and I'm sure one warm weekend in 2024 will let me finish it off... Points 2 & 3 were admittedly both failures, again I largely want to blame the weather for those, especially the camping as the trial run of new camping gear should not be done in a constant torrent of downpours. The last one is still up in the air at the moment, but the trip in 2024 is largely in the works... So a mixed bag, and I'm happy to let some of these roll over to 2024, so to set some goals for the coming year:
- Again, Arrange a camping trip somewhere, ideally local, so we can test out our camping set-up and see what more we need
- Again, Ride my first 50-mile ride
- Visit, at least, 3 new cities
- Climb 1 mountain
Obviously, I'm placing my faith in the UK weather to play along with some of these - but I'll be optimistic about the year to come and hopefully will each of these into existence. Finally, to round this little retrospective off, let us look back at some of the stats for the year:
Top 3 most visited articles of 2023
The number 1 spot remains completely unchanged for the most-read article of the year, and why not? It is a great spot! Our classic Cannock Chase article disappeared off the top 3 for the first time (admittedly only just, missing out on 3rd place by only 200 views!), with Rhaeadr Cynfal taking its place - I loved this walk, so I completely understand this being a popular one! Rhiwargor remains as popular as ever, a great walk on Laky Vyrnwy that anyone who finds themselves in the area should do. One thing is for certain, you all seem to love waterfalls which is great, because we do too.
Top 3 most frequently taken quizzes of 2023
All new quizzes entered the top 3 this year, but by far the stand-out was the historical flags of the world - this quiz was taken about 5 times more frequently than the rest! I'm just glad you're all happily quizzing away - don't forget this year's big quiz is available for all your New Year's Eve needs...
The most popular tool or game in 2023
This year's new addition did well! The weekly crossword has proven a bit of a hit amongst some folks, so it will be sticking around for the foreseeable future for sure...
That concludes this year's retrospective, thanks again for all of the love, playing games and completing crosswords. Have a great 2024 and we will see you again for all the next adventures!