Thursday, 24 December 2015

My 2015; a review of the year

With apologies to our friend James from whom I pinched this idea. I thought I'd take a look back at my 2015, month by month, and the fun I've had in the big wide outdoors.

As the year opened, Chrissie and I were mourning the passing of Dixie, our precious boxer, who'd left us for more heavenly pastures just before Christmas. Bless her memory. This was taken on her last summer trip across Europe in 2014.

It wasn't the easiest of times but we found ways to soldier on. We bought a bigger backpacking tent and, joined by James and Reuben we spent a cold, January night with Tilly near Mermaids Pool on Kinder. We were cosy in our winter bags and Tilly slept in her warm Hurrta, fleece coat.

Also, in January, we spent a week or so in Grantown-on-Spey in the van. We had some wonderful walks, mostly low due to the snow. It was damn cold and we beat a hasty retreat having seen a forecast of heavy snowfall, crossing the Drummochter Pass just before it closed.

A predominance of wet weather in February saw lots of prepping for my upcoming LEJOG cycle tour. I made a final decision about the route and loaded it into my bicycle satnav. I was doing lots of cycling to maintain, if not improve, cycling fitness. Chrissie joined me on a route through Lyme park on a bright but particularly icy day.

March saw us dashing up to Northumberland in the van, following widespread reports of views of the Northern Lights. Tilly was suffering a resurgence of her spinal problem so could only manage short walks. We exercised her as much as possible each day then went cycling. We DID get an early morning view of the Northern Lights but only faint so no photos were possible.

For me, April 2015 was very much the month-before-LEJOG. Final prep was done, the focus being on EXACTLY what to take with me. Eventually, the moment came to organise this mess on the spare bed ...

... into some semblance of order, so it fitted into the five luggage bags on my beautiful Thorn touring bike.

Then, in May, I was off. The journey took the whole month. The tale's already been told on here so now I'll content myself with these thoughts. First, among other things, the endeavour taught me what I'm capable of, both physically and mentally, in my 6th decade of life, and secondly, the journey was made so much easier thanks to the support of many kindnesses from friends and strangers, many of whom I met through the weird, unexpected medium of the internet. Thanks again to you all.

I finished just in time for Chrissie's birthday in June and, having met with her and Tilly in John O'Groats, we journeyed south and home. Along the way, this little bundle of mischief joined the Crowther household.

Pebbles is our fourth boxer, but she's Chrissie's umpteenth, my lovely wife having been born into a household with two boxer dogs. Anyone who knows puppies will know that, for the first few months of their life, everything revolves around them, but we did manage to get up to the North York Moors in the van, giving her a first taste of life in our home-on-wheels. This photo was taken as she cuddled up to Tilly during a visit to my parents' home in Wetherby as we drove to the Moors.

In July, I reacquainted myself with backpacking, taking Tilly for a three day walk across the Peak District from Yorkshire, back home to Derbyshire. Thankfully, due to invaluable help from our vet and Tilly's orthopaedic surgeon, our lovely lab was back to good fitness, aided by appropriate medication.

At the beginning of August I had another short solo overnight on Kinder to try out our new Hilleberg Enan.

The Enan was bought, primarily, cos, also in August, Chrissie went on an amazing week-long adventure with James in Sarek, Arctic Sweden. No apologies for posting one of James' fabulous pics here, showing Chrissie; tiny in the jaw-dropping landscape. Read all about the trip here on Chrissie's blog.

They had a terrific time. So much so that Chrissie and I are off to a different part of Arctic Sweden in August 2016.

Just after Chrissie came home we set off in the van for a four week trip to Brittany. We were looking for some gentle, pup-friendly walking and relaxation.


At the start of October, my friend Chris invited me to join him on a two night backpack in the Lakes, starting from Keswick and finishing in Grasmere.

Later in October I cycled the Way of the Roses, from Morecambe to Bridlington, again with Chris, camping along the way.

We had a weekend on the edge of the North York Moors in the van along with James and Reuben in early November. It was horrible weather across most of the UK but we stayed dry, mostly.

And the end of November saw Chrissie and I backpacking together, minus dogs, in fresh snow on the lower slopes of Kinder, trying out the tent we were thinking of using for our Arctic Sweden trip.

Although the tent was adequate, we came to the conclusion our 3-person tent would be more comfortable for the journey so ... in December, we left the dogs with friends and took off on a two nighter on the North York Moors, declaring the big tent a hit for two, especially in poor weather. It was chilly; note ice in second pic.

It's been a fine year for adventures great and small.

But, in a cruel twist of fate, on 19th December, the final Saturday before Christmas, the very same day as last year when Dixie passed away, we were forced to let Tilly, our beautiful chocolate labrador, join her boxer pal. Another Christmas tinged with sadness.

God bless Tilly.

Thank you sincerely for all the supportive messages we received here and on Twitter. Bless you all.

The day after Tilly left, we threw all we needed into the van and dashed off up to the North York Moors again to meet up with James and Reuben and clear our heads. Tears were shed and memories shared. We had a very, very wet walk. So wet we took no pics but here's a quick one of James' new camper, alongside ours. A Fiat Doblo fitted with an Amdro Boot Jump camping unit, it's a very clever little motor; read all about it here.

And the postcript. Well, in a repeat of previous events I reckoned we didn't need two dogs again, which goes no way to explain why, on the 23rd December, this tiny bundle of fluff arrived in our home.

Islay (the "y" is silent) is another chocolate lab girl.  She'd been sold by a breeder to a family in London who, after three weeks, decided they didn't want her. Destiny took a hand and, as the breeder went to collect her again, we made a decision and she came to spend her life with us.

So Christmas will be a bittersweet experience here; a mixture of sadness and fun. Soon, it will be the start of another new year. I pray my tears will be replaced by happy memories. A new era begins with two, relatively new pups. We have lots planned but, as ever, it'll all be built round our love for our dogs.

Merry Christmas and the very happiest of new years to all of you from me, Chrissie, Pebbles, Islay ... and Dixie ... and Tilly, who live, with love, in our memories forever.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Farewell to my very best pal

Irony is a cruel master. Twelve months ago to the day, we lost our beautiful boxer, Dixie and today we bade farewell to Tilly, our gorgeous labrador.

Tilly came to us in January of 2009, having been born on 20th November the previous year. Here she is at her first home when we went choose her with my daughter Abi and her boyfriend Dave (now son-in-law).

A cuter puppy you never would see.

Our boxer, Dixie was seven when we brought Tilly home. She'd missed my previous dog, Ragga really badly, seeming quite depressed at times. Ragga had gone in July of 2008.

I said we wouldn't have two dogs again but, whilst away on holiday over Christmas, I weakened and Tilly joined us within a couple of weeks of returning home. Despite Dixie trying to bite her head off on the first day, the two soon became firm friends.

We bought our motorhome in 2010, having first rented one to make sure the dogs were ok with it, such is our devotion to our canine companions. They lapped up the experience and we embarked on four years of travelling with the intrepid pair, usually ensconced in the first-class sleeper seats as we motored down the highway.

In 2011, Chrissie walked the Pennine Way with Dixie, but, after a particularly tiring day, Tilly was drafted in as number-one-understudy.

2012 saw us on a six week summer trip to Scandinavia. The dogs had so much fun and it was a delight for us to be traveling with our much loved pets.

Though we've both loved all our dogs dearly, we've had his and her dogs for many years. I enjoyed many backpacking trips with my special lab and she reveled in carrying her kit in her panniers.

As Dixie became less agile, Chrissie took Tilly backpacking too. Here, they were on a trip in the Dales.

Tilly was just seven this last November so, sadly, she didn't have a long life. At the age of three she had an operation to cure elbow dysplaysia, which worked, but we were warned it may lead to problems later on. At five, she began suffering with a spinal problem. She was in screaming pain if she jumped up anywhere, even if we lifted her. This was treated with a drug and, thankfully settled down, but not before Chrissie and I had taken turns sleeping downstairs with her (our dogs normally sharing our bedroom at night) to avoid her hurting herself by climbing the stairs. Over the next couple of years we had resurgences of both these problems and, as predicted, she developed arthritis in her elbow and her spine lost some mobility. Laterly she stopped running altogether and refused to walk unless attached to me by her lead. On the final morning I had to carry all 30kg of her back home down our street.

I can't imagine ever loving a dog more than I have Tilly. I retired, early, in 2007 whilst Chrissie carried on in the world of full-time work until 2014. As a result, I had Tilly as a companion on many solo trips leading to a very close bond between the two of us. After losing Dixie last year, this became especially noticeable to Chrissie hence our adoption of yet another boxer pup, Pebbles just this last June.

And, in time honoured fashion, a new bond was formed.

Tilly is gone now. I like to picture her running free again, with Dixie, free from the pain that so often plagued her short life.

I'll miss running my fingers through her chocolate fur. I'll miss following her as she led the way on hillwalks. I'll miss cuddling her in the tent as we whiled away evenings together. I'll miss tickling her as she, every night, came to lie at my side of the bed for ten minutes or so, before finally settling into her own bed. I'll miss that especially tonight.

I'll finish with a couple of fabulous pictures taken not long ago by our good friend Sara Porter, a pro photograper, at her studio in Stockport.

God bless my very best pal, my special dog, Tilly.