Cat Down II

When one member of a much-loved double act passes away, there's always the thought that the other one might not last too much longer.

Way back in early 2017 we took custody of Moff and Koop - somewhat unlikely names for a couple of, already, very old black cats.  We believe that they were 18 years old when they came to join us.

Moff was with us until early 2020 when the years caught up with him - but Koop kept going until today. 

The records at the vets logged her as being 22 years old - and until recently she'd just kept plodding along. 

She had particularly enjoyed the recent warm weather and would follow the sun around the garden searching for the warmest spot (and when that failed, she'd repeat the exercise inside).

Koop, April 2021

Monthly Report, April 2021

Still in LockDown (mostly) - but it is good to feel that the LockDown is gradually lifting - just soon enough to allow a dash for the North at the end of the month - so the blog post gets written in a Premier Inn just outside Carlisle en route to the ferry from Aberdeen.

The routine of the local walks has been enhanced by the emergence of the signs of spring, with just the occasional reminder that the process of warming up isn't always linear.

  • Reporting Days: 30

  • Location: Mostly Oxford

  • Miles walked: 88 (no excuses, just lack of enthusiasm for the local walks)

  • Miles driven: 650 (almost half of these on the last day of the month)

  • Gardens Tended: 2

  • Puffins Seen: None (except on the Sumburgh Head webcams)

  • Photographs Taken: Dozens (mostly bluebells)

  • Vaccinations Received: None this month

  • Laternal Flow Tests Completed: 3 (all negative)

Always good to see the fritillaries reappearing

The bluebells are running a bit late this year

Some days were warm enough to sit out

And warm enough to encourage the blossom

Bird life gets ever more active during April

And occasionally there is a wee reminder that winter has only just gone

Monthly Report, March 2021

While we continue in LockDown (we are still in LockDown?) there is a distinct element of deja vu in these monthly reports. I've continued to stick (mostly) with the regular rota of daily walks - taking in the local park and nature reserves, often dreaming of exotic far flung places such as mountains and beaches.

So, what was Memorable in March?  

We've marked the first anniversary of LockDown (what already, and we're still doing this). 

We've finally have glimpses of spring - and it has even been warm enough to drag the garden furniture out and have morning coffee outside.  Being able to sit outside made a big difference during LockDown One (as we didn't call it at the time) and hopefully while we're still 'minimising travel', it'll help this time too.

And I've had a first vaccination, so at least my left arm should be safe now.

And, by the numbers

  • Reporting Days: 31

  • Location: Oxford

  • Miles walked: 99 (I'm blaming boredom with the local walks)

  • Miles driven: 350

  • Gardens Tended: 2

  • Puffins Seen: None (but the usual garden suspects feed requirements are pushing me towards bankruptcy)

  • Photographs Taken: Dozens (mostly daffodils)

  • Vaccinations Received: One 

Having attempted to use my map collection to ward off Wanderlust (#MapBoxAtoZ) in February, I turned my attention to the guide book shelves during March (#GuideBookAtoZ) - and in April I'll dig out some favourite photographic locations and themes (#photosAtoZ).

GuideBooks: Reshelved

Monthly Report, February 2021

Another month spent in LockDown - so instead of wandering the Austrian mountains in search of strudel (February last year) or the Shetland beaches in search of whales (February most years), I got to spend another four weeks in search of snowdrops around the paths of Headington.

So, by the numbers

  • Reporting Days: 28
  • Location: Oxford
  • Miles Walked: 92 (it was a short month)
  • Miles Driven: 120 (well, there is a LockDown On)
  • Gardens Tended: 1
  • Puffins Seen: None - but lots of sparrows, starlings, magpies and red kites - plus the occasional jay, dunnock, jackdaw, blackcap and goldfinch
  • Photographs Taken: Dozens (mostly muddy paths)
  • Vaccinations Received: None :-(

Snowdrops in Stoke Place

Snow and Ice in the C S Lewis Reserve

Muddy Paths at Shotover

Scarlet Elf Cups at Sydlings Copse

Geese on the River at Parson's Pleasure

Frog Action in the Lye Valley

It would be good to think that it might be possible to go somewhere before the end of March - but I fear that a little more patience might be required.

February Virtual World Tour via the Map Box


Road Trips

"I Wish I Could Go Travelling Again".  Stacey Kent, Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007)

The daily rummage through my map box has, perhaps inevitably, triggered nostalgia for past road trips.

Two of my favourite road trips were in North America - only six months apart.  Firstly joining up a series of National Parks in and around the Rockies in the US in September 2006, then driving between Vancouver and Athabasca in northern Alberta in Canada in April 2007.  

The first trip was entirely vacation, and the second (mostly, -ish) a work trip.   

The US trip was very vaguely planned - hotels were booked a day in advance and the standard dinner conversation theme was 'where do we go tomorrow?'.  The Canadian trip was booked in advance (couldn't be late for the various work meetings in Vancouver, Edmonton and Athabasca) with quite a lot of guess work about how long the driving was going to take each day, given that April is still snow season in that part of Canada.  My one real concession to the weather was renting a 4x4 truck rather than a standard 2-wheel drive compact we had for the US trip.

The US trip started (and finished) at Denver airport, and meandered through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas and Nebraska, and featured time in Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier and Badlands National Parks plus Devils Tower and Scotts Bluff National Monuments - and at Mount Rushmore.  And to ensure a taste of genuine Americana, the list of hotels included Comfort Inns, Quality Inns, Days Inns, Best Westerns plus a variety of Motel 6s and Super 8s. And once we got back to Denver Airport (not in the original car - it gave up the ghost somewhere in rural Montana) we'd clocked up just under 3000 miles.

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Glacier National Park (the US one) 

Mount Rushmore

Devils Tower / Bear Lodge Butte

The Canadian trip started with a few days in a waterside hotel in Vancouver (conference venue) - just round the waterfront from Stanley Park and in a room with an awesome view across the Coal Harbour marina.  By virtue of good planning the next meeting was in Edmonton three days later which gave me plenty of time to drive the 1300 km, stopping off in Revelstoke and Lake Louise en route (passing through Mt Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho and Banff National Parks).  After Edmonton a short (by Canadian standards) drive north to Athabasca.  Next confirmed stop after that was to drop off the rental truck back at Vancouver Airport - but the opportunity to spend a couple of days around the Jasper National Park wasn't one to be passed up (although I did manage to resist the temptation to head up the 'scenic route to Alaska', maybe next time).  By the time I dropped the truck off at the airport I'd clocked up just over 2000 miles.

Glacier National Park (Canadian one)

Lake Louise

Off-Road / Columbia Icefield

Moose Lake (British Colombia)

At this point, I'd settle for the opportunity to do the road trip from Oxford to Aberdeen, but one day long road trips like this will seem possible again...


So how do you counter wanderlust in a LockDown in the middle of a pandemic?

Do you reflect on places you've been to in the past?  Or do you plan speculatively for trips you might be able to do at some point in the future?

Do you browse through the old photographs of places you seen? Or unfold the old maps to revisit the paths you've walked, the trains you've ridden and the roads you've driven?  Or browse the old guide books that you've bought both for trips you've taken and for trips that were planned and didn't (for various reasons) ever happen?

Over the last 11 months, I've tried all the above strategies. 

The latest ploy is digging my way through the 'old maps' box - this is where all maps (with the exception of Ordnance Survey maps) wind up.  This is a mix of 'proper' maps comparable to the OS maps, and usually associated with places we've gone on walking trips, road maps (of various scales) and 'scenic' maps which have been acquired when I've not been able to find real maps.  Some of the maps are associated with trips from the 1980s and 1990s - other are so new that they were bought for trips last year that ultimately got Corona'ed.

Recently, I've spent time 'wandering' around the Achensee, along the banks of the Charles River in Boston and through the French Pyrennes.  I've toured Denmark, wandered the Old Town in Edinburgh and been back to The Faroe Islands, and rounded off the week by heading back to Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps.

And does this work in fending off symptoms of wanderlust (you know, itchy feet and a deep desire to spend more money at Stanfords in London or to plan trips on  No, of course, it bloody doesn't.  Makes it much worse, but it does at least help the time pass.

Monthly Report, January 2021

It would have been good to have started the year (as I have done in past years) by spending time in the snow in the Cairngorms, then heading to Shetland for a spot of Viking spotting (Up Helly Aa season) and wave watching.

However, although there is plenty of snow in the mountains and both snow and waves on Shetland at the moment, the Vikings have been stood down for another year and I'm trapped in Oxford.  

Reporting Days: 31

Location: Oxford

Miles walked: 95 (really not good enough)

Mile driven: 250

Gardens Tended: 2 (I'm counting filling the bird feeders as gardening)

Puffins Seen: None - but lots of sparrows, starlings, magpies and red kites

Photographs Taken:  Dozens (mostly trees)

Christ Church lagoons

Lye Valley

Misty in Bury Knowle Park

Blue skies in the University Parks

First Snowdrops

Snow in Bury Knowle Park

Happy Birthday / Sumburgh Head

I think it's important that birthdays get marked.

This is particularly true for 'round' birthdays - those that end in a "0".

So, it must, it would seem to me, to be very particularly true of birthdays that end in "00".

Today (15th January 2021) is one of those birthdays - Happy 200th Birthday (Lightday?) to the Sumburgh Head lighthouse which was first lit on Monday 15th January 1821.

I first visited Sumburgh Head in January 2007, when it was a mere 186 years old - and over the last fourteen years I've visited many, many times.  

I've visited in every month of the year, sometimes hoping for whales or puffins, sometimes to get a fix of the history associated with the Head or the lighthouse itself, sometimes to watch passing boats and sometimes to watch the waves either out on the the east side or rolling into West Voe - and sometimes just in search of coffee. 

Here are a few of my favourite pictures (one from each month of the year) of the Sumburgh Head lighthouse - from my first visit in January 2007 through to my most recent visit just a few weeks ago.

January 2007

February 2005

March 2011

April 2018

May 2019

June 2011

July 2020

August 2014

September 2012

October 2010

November 2019

December 2020

And once again - many Happy Returns of the Day - and may your light always shine brightly - and thank you for all the fish.