Monday, 8 October 2012


We made it, we climbed the highest mountain in England. I know for some people this is a mere stroll but for us it was an adventure, one the boys will treasure and remember.

It has taken me until October to write this blog about our adventure in July, because I was unsure which story to tell. The one of thrill and excitement, achieving our goal? Or the one of the horrendously difficult time I had? I want to write both, but they seem to contradict. How can I say I had an amazing time, when it was one of the hardest things I have done in a long time?

I am reminded of something my eldest son said when were discussing getting a dog, "Mum it might be a lot of work, but it will be a lot of love!"...Still now those words resonate inside me.

So here are my two stories of our adventure, side by side yet apart:

Version one:

Jack FM blaring out, we journeyed up the motorway, excited and not sure what our next few days would be like. Gradually the gentle rolling hills of the south, rose up, then towered around us as we entered the Lake District. The boys constantly asking me, how high is Scarfell Pike, compared to that mountain over there? Or that one? My nonchalant replies waved off many mountains as mere nothing compared to the where we were going.

We turned into our campsite, delighted at the small rustic stone village that it nestled in; surrounded by grand mountains.

We picked a quiet spot, which looked dog friendly and put up our tent, and started to discuss our plans for the next day.

I rose at dawn the next day, awoken by bird song and all the unfamiliar sounds of camping. My doggy and I enjoyed the fresh smell of the grass as I sat and sipped my freshly brewed tea. Today was the day for our long and carefully planned hike. We packed up sandwiches and racksacks, with snacks and drinks, then headed to the cosy wooden beamed cafe on the campsite that served full English Breakfasts.

I am a bit of a coward driving when it comes to roads that drop off to one side steeply into dramatic valley's. So when the sons excitedly pointed out the views on route to Scarfell, I squealed and stated that I had to concentrate on the road!

Finally we started up our climb, it was easy to navigate as we could follow the other mountain enthusiasts. Our dog thoroughly enjoyed romping up and down the path, making it look easy, he did the odd bit of sheep watching, but these mountain sheep are smart, spot a sheep dog a mile away and scarper. The boys were delighted as we entered cloud height as they claimed they had never walked inside a cloud before.

As we neared the summit the wind was very strong and the fog dense, we did the English thing and put our best foot forward, whilst wearing our winter woollies in mid summer. Our path was marked with cairns, but the dog walking 10ft ahead could smell the way by tracking the previous adventurers, he led us to the top.

We grinned and felt exhilarated at achieving the summit. We sat down on top of a huge cairn, supping our water bottles and nibbling Kendal mint cake. We giggling at the dog when he nearly got knocked off his feet by a huge gust of wind and my hat tried to fly away. Then we clinged tightly to the trig point and took the obligatory summit photos. We bounced back down, feeling a sense of achievement and pity for people we passed that were still heading up.

The rest of the holiday, we climbed another small mountain, drove motor boats, went 'Go Ape' and took a trip on a lake cruiser. Fun, fun, fun!

Version two:

After months of planning and tripping over camping gear, I struggled out of bed with a days hard labour ahead of me and a night of diarrhoea behind me. Downed some breakfast, have to eat will need the energy, rushed to the toliet again, then off the lump camping gear out to the car. Off we go, I realised as we headed out, I might need to stop regularly and quickly on the motorway. So at the first service station I purchased some Imodium. The journey was uneventful, until we hit the 3 hour traffic jam on the M6, this may have been the inspiration for eldest sons descriptive writing in my last blog. So our 5 hour journey became an eight hour journey.

When we arrived I dragged myself slowly out of the drivers seat to go register at the campsite office, I staggered in and handed over my paperwork relieved to be there.

The campsite was wooded and we choose a corner where the dog wouldn't be a nuisance, unfortunately this was the furtherest possible spot from the wash block. We soon discovered that if you stake a Border Collie on a long lead, they will attempt tent sabotage, he proceeded to walk around and around all the tarp poles and camp chairs, then in one 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em' style moment tried to run after a ball and send us and the tarp flying.

Our first night was horrendous, drunken weekend campers decided to have a party until 4am, every time I woke still needing to rush to the toilet, the loud laughing would magically quieter down, then as I snuggled back in my sleeping bag they would start shouting again.....Arghhhhhhh! I wanted to go remove their tent pegs in the dark and throw them in to the cow field next to us.

I awoke at 5.30am by doggy trying to escape out of big sons sleeping compartment, so I gave up on the idea of sleeping at that point! Big son woke with a bout of diarrhoea, so over breakfast we crushed up an Imodium tablet and sprinkled it on our toast. Praying that we could manage today's climb.

It was an hour and half drive to the base of the mountain. We decided to walk it gently and slowly, pace ourselves! It took us about seven and half hours to climb it, as we were obviously not on top form.

After the hour and half drive back to the campsite, we arrived to find our tent slightly worse for wear from the strong winds and rain, the cover on the top at blown off so rain could get in, and the tarp was flapping, with poles every where again! So first job was to fix the tent. We then grabbed a very quick expedition food dinner and collapsed in to our sleeping had been a very long far.... I kept being woken by our tarp bashing the side of our tent as the strong wind and rain whipped around us, after a few hours being annoyed by it, I gave up and got up to take the tarp down and pack it away.....snuggled back down....

....I was woken at 11pm, by little son calling "Mum, mum I feel sick." So in the pitch black I struggled out of my sleeping bag and tent to go check on him. He was getting frantic, I had the 'mothers knowing' and called for him to scramble quickly out of his tent incase he was sick.... he didn't ...and yes he did over everything in his tent! I couldn't see the damage clearly in the pitch black. So I fetched my lantern and assessed the situation. One puke covered kid, sleeping bag, clothes, favourite teddy, floor of tent... I had no spare sleeping bag, so I grabbed one of our survival bags we carry up the mountains, cleaned off the son and put him in the bag. Planning to attempt a cleanup proper in daylight....this is the point when I phoned Hubby in tears, I want to come home, I can't take it!

It all seemed slightly better in the morning, I managed to cook us bacon for breakfast on my tiny camp stove, and I discovered that the campsite had a superb washing machine and tumble dryer, plus shop to buy cleaning equipment. So whilst favourite teddy went round and round the big glass fronted washing machine, the boys played pool and I scrubbed sick up.

Here's the weird bit... We had a great time!

Clinging on to the trig point on Scarfell Pike

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Exam nerves...

 Preexam nerves are hitting. No I am not doing any exams, but my eldest son is doing his first iGCSE, as a mock to practice for next summer.

Are mothers allowed to be nervous? It seems crazy, I guess all the memories from the exams of my youth are being recalled. Is it that as a home educator I can't just ignore it and relax knowing the school has it all in hand?

 All the physical details are booked and planned: exam paid for, triple checked he is booked for the right papers, arranged to stay with my Aunty and Uncle who live near the exam centre and little son is booked to have major fun with various relatives for a few days.....oops forgot about the dog! Being a Mum is complicated.

 I felt like blogging today, I was inspired by big son. He did a practice exam paper today. For two hours little son, the dog and myself whispered and crept about the house; try doing an Australian accent, followed by a Hong Kong accent, whilst whispering, with a dog sat on your lap with his head shoved under your chin, one arm around little son and a book in the only free hand...not easy, I told you being a Mum is complicated! When I got in a bit of a muddle and my accent turned in to a cockney one, then Little son had a credible attempt at the whispered Australian accent.

My inspiration came from two angles, the descriptive writing my son did as part of his paper which reminded me that I do enjoy a bit of descriptive writing. Then when big sons English tutor commented on my incredible lack of skill at grammar (noted from Facebook). I felt inspired to have a go at improving it, by using it.

Here is big sons descriptive exam writing from today, he says, it's bad mum, its bad mum, but I think he might have a little of the exam nerves too.

The Traffic Jam by 'Big Son' aged 14
Polluted grey sky rules our mood today, emotionless flocks of birds on a mission to seek a better place, flying in perfect formation; only blacking out the sky more.

Far off grey mist looked as if it was the scouting party for the sky, who slowly scrutinised our movements and plans to attack us with its forces of rain, lighting and thunder. Sitting on the motorway only gave me joy in the fact that a huge narrow lorry looked ominously over my car covering me with a shadow casted by the invisible sun; what is good about this is it blocks my curious view from seeing how far the traffic jam went.

I opened my window to hear what I didn’t expect: bleak silence. I got panicky for a small moment as I thought I was deaf, but I heard my engine which seemed to be vague as if it was a mile away. Then I heard a sudden crash of metal as the queue moved forward then I heard a car alarm as I thought someone had been hit. A burly bald man built like a bear opened his door and ran to the car behind him and shouted some abuse at the driver.  It was obvious that bear man’s car had been hit; he was now holding up the entire lane to my left. As I smelled mind altering fumes it seemed I was drifting away in to a state of mindlessness. In my half dazed state I almost didn’t notice the traffic as it rumbled in to twenty mile an hour life.  I travelled down the road and went past the cause of the jam, a car had flipped over on top of a caravan. Shards of glass and metal were scattered around inside the orange radiating barriers. The shards were so ominous I become quite disturbed. I pulled off at the next junction, relieved to be away from the mayhem.
Ok I know his grammar is better than mine, I am feeling a little paranoid! I think I will stick to maths.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Dreams over breakfast...

...Sitting here listening to my youngest son play his guitar, cuddled up with my border collie...could life be better? I love watching my kids grow and learn...

 This morning over breakfast youngest son was telling me how he wishes 'Cherub' existed, this is an organisation that trains child spies in the book he is reading, The RecruitAlong with wanting to be a spy, he wanted to know what were the views like from the top of Mount Everest, iPad came out, over sausage and eggs we googled mountain views, came across an interesting blogWe especially liked the facts about how most of the year because of the jet stream there are 118 mile an hour winds across the top of the mountain.Then his eyes got bigger at the thought that Mount Everest is getting higher ever year by a few centimeters, he started calculating how high it would be in a thousand years.'s very hard to type a blog with a wet dog nose snuffling under your iPad, the dog has worked out how to flip the cover of my iPad shut, so I have to look at him instead!...

I asked young son if he knew what acclimatisation mean't, he said no but when I said its your body adjusting to the reduction of Oxygen as you climb the mountain, he then said, oh I know how climbers deal with that, they go up the mountain, then come down a bit to rest, then go up some more, so they gradually adjust to the lack of Oxygen.

...Oh ok! Now the Border Collie is snuggling up to me, by pushing and wriggling, knocking my iPad out of my hand...shove off Mutt!...

Then we checked the weather for the Lake District, we head off in two days for the mountains, I am seriously excited now. Camping equipment is piled up on our floor, I am getting slightly fed up of tripping over it, so I will be happy to get it all organised in to my car on Saturday. The weather is going to be perfect and the day we climb Scarfell Pike is looking to be the best day, so I have checked I have enough batteries for my camera so I can get some mountain photo's.

Young son is now planning in his head, he wants to climb all the highest mountains and he asked whilst munching his sausage,"If I climb enough mountains, do you think I could climb Mount Everest?" ...I love big dreams.

Son's on a mountain in the Italian Alps

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Turning off the Sat Nav...

Now our boys are older Hubby and I try and escape once a week for a quiet coffee and actually talk to each other. Today was no exception.

We headed out, firstly to a rough looking farm shop, with scruffy ponies and rusty farm equipment....It's lovely being in a rural area, we are so near a modern town yet you can find slow country life with all it's charm only a few miles away.

In the farm shop we were served by a hard working farmer, wearing dirt as evidence of his labours. We tried to stroke the small shy cat who was cuddled up in a box of bird food, grabbed a big sack of dog food then headed off to find a café.

At first we decided play the game 'follow the first brown sign you see to a destination'. We ended up at Shaw's Corner, the country home of George Bernard Shaw a playwright from the last century. I was counting on the National Trust tradition of tea rooms, the thought of coffee cake with walnuts was making me hungry.

Unfortunately the National Trust failed us, but this didn't dampen our spirits. As we had not explored this part of rural Hertfordshire before we felt adventurous, also curious about how many of the huge houses tucked away here, with embossed iron gates, belonged to famous celebrities.

Our next game was turn off the satellite navigation & drive. We ended coming off unknown lanes into a village near to ours. As we pulled onto the high street we spotted a lovely little restaurant which looked like it might serve coffee. It was beautiful I knew instantly this would have to become a new favourite place to eat, with low beamed ceiling and cosy corners filled with cushions. We grinned at each other satisfied that our travel games had led us somewhere lovely which we may never have discovered.

Hubby mentioned to me how this is so like when we chose to home educate the boys. We had no map to guide us, no sat nav to direct us, but we don't regret it....

Journey with no map.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Why get out of bed?

The roar of the river was in competition with desperate cries for help from my youngest son, who was eight years old. He was stuck in his kayak half way down a fast moving weir. My heart started pumping double time as adrenaline rushed through me. My husband and eldest son had just shot the weir and were paddling hard to hold position near the bottom to wait for us, I knew I was going to have to rescue him.

 The water was drowning out my shouts of reassurance back to him as I paddled fiercely over to the bank to abandon my kayak on some rocks. Amazing how you never forget to pray in these situations, usually along the lines of "Oh God help!", which was the prayer on my lips at that moment. I stood on the rocks that led out over the river, I could see myself being washed over the weir if I didn't take care, the water in the middle was a couple of feet deep and a strong flow. My sons cries where getting more desperate as he was helpless to do anything, I yelled back, but again he couldn't hear me, no time to waste I got on all fours and clambered out across the slippery cold rocks. I inhaled hard as I entered the icy water, there seemed to be a ridge of rocks just where the water tipped over the edge, I managed to wedge my feet under it as I crawled up to my neck in water, holding on very tightly. I got to the middle where I could reach the end of my sons kayak, my mind was working fast, do I pull him up or give him a big shove down? I decided down, hubby and big son could drag him out quick if he capsized at the bottom.... It worked and he didn't capsize.... Feeling pretty shaky by the time I reached my kayak again, I dragged it over the rocks to the bottom of the weir, I didn't need the thrill of shooting it.

This river trip was in France on Haute-Saône Doubs a river that flowed through the eurocamp site at Bonnal. Very beautiful wooded area of Burgundy. All I can say is the French idea of a gentle family canoe trip down the river, didn't quite match mine. Our 'trip', or should I call it 'adventure' was a catalogue of trials; I had to rescue my youngest a number of time, from weirs, trapped under brambles upside down, difficult weirs where the only way to avoid them was dragging the canoes up slippery banks, my husband capsized in a really deep bit, lost his glasses and we ran out of crunchy bars.

 After about five hours of paddling my youngest was getting tired, so he came along side me and held our kayaks close while I paddled us both, I started to teach him how to keep going when something is tough, I pin pointed a tree or bush up river from us and we made that our next goal to achieve. After seven hours and a final weir which I plainly refused to even go near, but the alternative was drag the canoes over a large mound of nettle strewn ground. I felt nettle stings were favourable to more traumatic child rescue missions. We were about to enter our kayaks again and I took one look at little son, his lips were turning blue... That's it I declared we are abandoning the kayaks and walking to warm up... After about a mile we found we were back at the campsite, we arrived at 7.30pm after leaving midday, just as the receptionist was locking the door of the camp office where we needed to return our paddles...needless to say, that evening we treated ourselves to delicious French cuisine at the local restaurant.

This all happened a couple of years ago, but I thought of it again as I have found myself talking to my boys in the last few days about 'mental strength'. Explaining to them how sometimes we want to give up in a moment of hardship, either physically or mental, but we have to stop and remember what we were trying to achieve when we started and ask ourselves do we still want that goal?

Both boys have ambitions for the future that will require significant strength of mind and body to achieve, they are quite determined and set on their ideas. So I am now using their aims as focus for motivation when they are struggling either with exam work for my eldest or exercise and self discipline for my youngest... It's that question we all have to ask ourselves..."Why get out of bed today?"

At our post 'kayak adventure' meal...
"We made it Mummy"

French food is good recovery food...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Life is for living...

Running with sons is fun, we went running today through the woods. It's a very up and down route, good for preparing our mountain legs I tell my boys. The woods near us were lovely today, with fresh damp smell of the trees, and Woodpeckers and Jays lively over head. It was very muddy, but call me crazy I love running in mud far more than pounding a pavement.

The boys haven't always come running with me, in the last year they have started to ask me if they can come join me on my runs, which made me grin. I started running three yeas ago, determined to regain some vigour and bounce. The boys have watched me run and train for a race in CaniX (cross country running with dogs), which is really noisy, especially on the starting line with the dogs barking and the huskies howling all excited to run. You harness you dog to your waist with a bungee lead and off you go... Like a rocket! I have labelled my dog "a random speed generator" as he loves to run, but then gets distracted and suddenly stops in front of me or veers off the path after a squirrel, but the low branches he dives under are the most dangerous... So yes, CaniX is a danger sport.

I have found there is three ingredients for fitness and sports when home educating; example, inspiration and opportunity. So setting an example, by heading out myself for two years three times a week running, and doing a strength work out at home with the boys watching me and giggling when my dog tries to sit on my face when I am doing sit ups. Now they join in, both are very motivated and want to be strong.

For inspiration, we have watched Born Survivor avidly, Bear Grylls is now my youngest male role model for adventure and what you can achieve physically. My eldest has been inspired to exercise and sports by his determination that he wants to be a pilot, he knows he needs to be fit and is now fixed on that. Also inspiring is our dog, having an energetic working dog living with you who thinks being active is the best thing EVER.. add waggy tail so movitating to movement.

The boys have had endless opportunities for all different sports, through scouting, AirCadets, and group events with other home educators. I had my eldest at one time begging me to buy him kangaroo legs after trying them at a Scout Jamboree camp.

I am slightly bias about sports as I have always preferred adventure sports, like sailing, hiking, basically any sport that takes me some where beautiful or wild... The boys are very competitive so any thing that they can achieve and claim as a victory motivates them.

So in conclusion, anything that inspires or motivates my boys to be able to enjoy life and be active counts as sports too me... Life is for living.

CaniX racing with my dog

Monday, 2 July 2012

Capturing Beauty...

I have seen so many beautiful things when out walking my dog, here is a few I caught on camera.  These were taken all in the same field....every day I head out with a camera and dog, early in the morning. I have been there for those special photographers dream moments, where the light is just perfect and the flora and fauna pose for you.

I love photographing beautiful things it's like trying to capture all that beauty to keep it for a life time, to look back... sigh...but what was reality to get those amazing shots I wanted, it was patience, consistency, loss of sleep and lots of getting wet, cold and muddy.

When I first started home educating my eldest son the reality of what it will cost to do this really hit me, and what skills I needed...I am not talking about education qualifications or intelligence. I went from school to polytechnic to work, with barely a break, with all of these I had someone else telling me what to do and when, but suddenly it was all up to me. Two things I really noticed was I had to learn rapidly huge amounts of patience and bundles of self discipline. I have lost sleep, had crying children with me wondering what to do, a trashed house, no time for me and .... well the 'and' is I have been there to catch those beautiful amazing moments in my children's life and write them on my heart...sigh... so worth every minute.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Moments in between...

My heart sings to the tune of one song at the moment "Appreciate the little things". Today's walk was full of little things, the tiny white moth that fluttered out from the grass at my feet, the grand looking heron that swooped over my head, the fresh summer rain that cooled me down, all so insignificant yet so beautiful.

I was trudging through the field at the top of the hill next to the small parish church and noticed another small thing, on the edges of the field which is planted with beans this year, few stalks of wheat, seeded from last years crop are pushing their way up through the beans, this made me think...

...I started to think of all the small seeds we plant in our kids as they are growing up, we often think we are having no effect, but then years later they shoot up and bear fruit when we think the season has past... I thought about my own childhood, one of my favourite things was snuggling in the arm chair at the end of the day next to my dad while he read me 'Swallows and Amazon' stories tales of adventure in the Lake District, this was just one small seed that has sparked a life long love of the Lake District. I have always longed for the adventures of sailing on Lakes, camping and mountain climbing.

I can see my boys imaginations being sparked by books and inspired for adventure, especially Bear Grylls Junior edition of 'Mud, Sweat and tears' . My youngest son is reading it in bed every night and gives me enthusiastic book reviews over breakfast in the morning (along with bad jokes, thanks Aunty & Uncle for buying him a joke book for his birthday!).

Well I am going to keep enjoying the little things, this blog will probably end up full of them.

Here's a bad photo of a picture on my wall that says it well...

... the caption is "Life is not about the big catch, its about the moments in between."

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Where your feet tread...

I love walking, today was no exception when I headed out with my dog early this morning. The wheat fields are so tall now when you look out over them they are like a soft shimmering golden carpet. I take great delight in walking through them running my fingers over the tops of them.

The sun was shining today, with a fresh breeze blowing my hair as I refreshing. Skylarks added music to my walk and swallows were swooping by so energetically.
When I tread the paths across the small valley where I live, I always get the feeling that they belong to me. It's as though as I trudge through the fields and woods they become mine. My love for them grows as I watch the seasons change and enjoy the little surprises and stories they bring, like when I looked up one morning and saw a Little Owl swoop on to the branch above my head, and I paused for a while excited to watch it, or when I past under a tree and heard a Cuckoo sing out above me, and then the sad moment in mid winter when I found a fox that didn't survive the cold.

Walking seems to be special some how, if I drove past the same lanes and fields in a car or even a bicycle it wouldn't belong to me in the same way. The slow steady passage of a walker, stepping in the mud, avoiding the nettles, getting wet feet in the puddles, it's becomes part of you, remains in your heart.

I see Home ed like this too, as I walk through life slowly and steadily with my kids, it's like we belong, you start to notice the seasons of their lives, see the small changes in their learning. You enjoy the small things again, like this morning my youngest and I took time to play guitars together and learn a new song, we spent a good few hours lingering on it, trying to make a pleasant sound... Happy days.

"Where your feet tread belongs to you...

 ... my little valley."

Monday, 25 June 2012

Catching petals...

I am very excited, as I am planning a trip to the Lake District with my boys. I had this in my heart to do for a number of years, but this year my heart is singing with joy at the idea of it. This could be for a number of reasons, one of which is I am feeling fitter and more energetic than I have in a long while, thanks to No Excuses Workouts, or just that it's the right time.

In their usual competitive style both boys are very motivated by the thought of climbing the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, and another mountain which I have loved from my youth, Helvellyn, which has a scary looking edge to scramble along.

A quick google search for Helvellyn (mainly because I wanted the correct spelling) revealed a poem by Sir Walter Scott. He tells a romantic description of the mountainside and of how he came upon the spot where a walker had died and the story of the walkers faithful dog had remained at his side for months until found by a shepherd.  Wainwright also wrote a poem about this 'Fidelity'.

Well I remember as a child coming across the commemorative stone of this tale that some one has erected on the mountain, being a romantic it has remained in my heart for years, the story of the faithful dog who never left his masters side...I am wondering what the boys will think seeing it, knowing their personalities, I think my eldest will be fascinated and curious to know more and my younger son will be touched by the romanticism much like I was, and give his own dog a big hug.

This is when my home education head takes note, I will read the poems to my boys when we are back in our tent after the expedition. The moment of standing on the mountain, surrounded by wild beauty, with a distant tale of old in your head is when children's imaginations and interest is sparked. These learning moments are like catching petals falling from a tree, you have to quickly seize the moment but not too tightly or you crush the petal, then know when to drop it before you spoil it's beauty.