Discovering the Woods

heather and tit

Our weekend started in a flurry of activity – work for me and a 30k run for Tom |shucks.. so sorry to miss that..:|

So a lazy Sunday explore in the golden light seemed the best of plans. We ambled off without a map, up some common downland (the same spot where we slept a few summers back).

coast view

From the top, we could spot the nearby pine forest that we’d never explored together. Any new patch of wilderness is crying out to be investigated.

branchesbark

It was worth fighting through the undergrowth on the lee side of the hill, to get to the top complete with climbing tree and swing. We soon discovered we were not alone. The top of a hill this perfect, is too irresistible to not ride down. The woodland is scattered with seriously tempting downhill trails (though I completely lack the mtb skills.)

climb and swing

I was happy to settle for a slow pace, the chance to notice the small flutterings and leaf rustlings that are usually drowned out as our muddy feet come crashing through. Trying out tiny footpaths, collecting pine cones, and generally putting the world to rights felt like the right kind of pace for this slice of winter sunshine.

Buzzard

Photos by the ever-talented Tom Pratt.

The Five Ingredients of a Good Coffee Shop

CoffeeShopIngredients

There are few things that I find myself overly opinionated about, but coffee shops are one of them. You could say I should shout about something more important, but then you would be failing to realise quite how important these beverage stops are.

Done well, a coffee shop can be the centre of a community, a welcome slice of calm, or inspiring dose of conversation. For that to happen, the following things are non-negotiable.

Seriously good coffee
The kind that tastes good in its simplest form, without the need for extra froth/syrup/gingerbread toppings.

Friendly staff
Surely everyone prefers to start the day with a genuine smile and a few easy words. Extra points for remembering the regulars’ usual order.

Free and easy wifi
An internet connection that really works is a rare treat. So many places promise wifi, only to offer the equivalent of a string and a tin can.

Carefully chosen music
I like to hear what different staff will choose in the morning: always a better variety than radio, with the added delight of no radio adverts. If you host live music events, all the better.

Plenty of space
Like it or not, the coffice is a real thing. The busy hum of a cafe is the best thing for focusing on a task. I like space enough that I can sit quietly in a corner and finish my thoughts, even after I’ve finished my coffee. That only works if you’re not taking up the last table in a tiny hole-in-the-wall (though I do love those places too!)

With good music, plenty of space, and friendly baristas who know the locals, you have the makings of a genuine community space.

Other seemingly-unimportant things on which I hold strong opinions: campsites, banter, and acrylic wool. I’ll save those for another day…

(This post was inspired by my favourite local: Mettricks.)

Running in the Snow

South_Downs_Snow

What better way to beat the January blues than run away for the weekend, on a last minute adventure to the not-too-distant South Downs. If we were sentimental about it, I could also say we were marking the fact we’ve been together fifteen years (sentimental? Me?!)

Snowy_Heart

We woke up to the lightest dusting of snow in our little corner of Petworth and threw on our running gear to go in search of the highest point around. This is the first time I’ve ever run in the snow. It felt strange to head out in to the white stuff without multiple bulky woolly layers, but I’ve learnt that as long as your toes, fingers and ears are warm, the rest of you will cope just fine.

Rusty_JumpsTommy_Runs

After a couple hours exploring the high land (high by southern standards at least) we ambled back down to the now-muddy puddles and shrieked our way through icy streams on the trail back home.

We filled the rest of our weekend with hearty pub food, exploring old towns, and ambling at a delightful easy pace, bulky woolly layers firmly restored against those winter winds. A weekend away in January is a Prust tradition I’m very happy to uphold.

SignpostUnicorn_Inn_Heyshott

S is for Skating

Huts

You might have spotted in my alphabet list for 2015 a potentially foolhardy S: skateboarding.  I spent my childhood way out in the countryside, at the top of a steep gravelly drive.  Not ideal for learning to skate, though I did have a classic 80s board, with neon deck and hot pink wheels.  I got as far as sitting and rolling hesitantly.  

secretbeach

So here I am twenty years later with renewed resolve to learn a useful and generally pretty awesome skill.  Walking is slow, bikes are bulky, and buses are just painful.  The obvious addition to my epic commute is a nifty penny board.

It’ll be a while before I’m whizzing round anywhere on these four little wheels.  For now, I am having great fun throwing myself in to something that is deceptively difficult.  I spent the first few days in the house, pushing myself from staircase to countertop, and balancing on the carpet, figuring out where my feet should go.

wheels

I’m enjoying being terrible at something, knowing I can only get better.  I would have been way too self-conscious to try boarding in my teen years.  Now I couldn’t care less.  I’m looking forward to the day I can breeze by, without my trailing, shuffling foot.  Even at my slow faltering pace, this S in my alphabet is seriously good fun.

stones
sunset

2014: The Year in Books

bookshelves

2014 was the year that I discovered my love of nature writing, the slow pace and startling discoveries made by others. I often plough through fiction and forget much of it, but I usually hold on to the pictures painted in a nature book: the creak of a wild wood in Suffolk, the buzzing insects on a still day in New Mexico, the dark peaty depths of a Cumbrian bog in November.

The natural world is pretty incredible, in its vast greatness and its tiny delicacies. I suspect we are all struck breathless by it at times, yet we don’t talk about it very much. Instead we talk about the immediate: our next meal, what’s coming up on the channel, or what he said to her yesterday. So, reading the words of someone else, hearing how nature inspires us individually, feels like a joy shared.

My favourite book of the year was H is for Hawk. Helen Macdonald’s tale of taming Mabel the Goshawk is wild, beautiful and heartbreaking. With her exploration of wildness, our place in it, and how we choose to respond, it was the perfect read to end the year.

I’m starting out this January with Badgerlands: a delve in to the dark, deeply trodden trails of badgers across Britain. With thoughts of Grahame’s Badger and his perfectly appointed winter kitchen, it’s a good book for the season.

With thanks to Laura who got me reading (and writing!) more these last twelve months.

Flower

Alphabet15

currently

2014 was peppered with things done purely because we wrote them on some coloured paper last new year’s eve. We flew a kite, learned to lindyhop, found some dinosaur footprints, and spotted some constellations. There are plenty of things we did not do. We didn’t learn to play the xylophone or grow a pumpkin. I avoided running a race and I still hold doubts about the wisdom of nettle soup.

These coloured pieces of card lingered around our house for the whole year, quietly burying in to the bookshelves or the kitchen table pile (every house has one of these, right?!) only to be uncovered weeks later and remind us of all the little things we wanted to do in 2014. Being a lister, I’m much more likely to do things that I write down. Without the alphabet year, the lindyhop class wouldn’t have happened for starters.

So, I’m launching in to another year with a fresh set of letters and plans. Maybe I’ll revisit 2014 and grow a pumpkin after all. But for now I’m focusing on the bright, shiny newness of January with some new (and some more achievable!) challenges. I’m stuck on a few letters. If you have any suggestions, please chip in! Even better, write your own Alphabet15 list and do something new for 2015.

Alphabet15