So that was the longest I've spent away from my boat, cat, boyfriend, and work for a fair old while. It was lovely, but kind of strange! In the end, visiting home was like a proper holiday, since internet and phone signal is so dismal in our house that I mostly gave up on it and enjoyed being offline.
Spent time exploring the countryside. Places I've been many times before, of course, but just nice to take another proper look. I'm normally up there once a year at Christmas, so it was nice seeing Northumberland and Cumbria whilst everything was so richly green. Thirlwall Castle struck me as a good shoot location and I wondered why we've never used it before. Countless bits of quiet woodland too, beams of sunlight streaming down to the forest floor, another beautiful photoshoot option. Bleak Tindale on the North Pennines, a place where I used to go trekking as a small child before Freddie came along, was well worth a visit. There's nothing there really, just a few houses and scarred moors from open cast mining, but it's beautiful. I love barren landscapes more than lush green ones, I think. Lambley Viaduct was stunning too. And whilst up North I saw deer in our back garden; siskins, great and blue tits, woodpeckers, and doves in the front; bunnies everywhere; and of course I played with the family dogs, Reggie and Poppy. Poppy had a rough start in life bless her, and doesn't trust anyone except mum. But by the end of the week we'd made friends, which was gratifying. Sometimes I think people get up in animals' business too quickly and too intensely. Sometimes you need to ignore them, keep interactions very short and sweet, let them choose to come and check you out. Poppy must be the worst we've ever had, in terms of nervous/afraid rescue dogs, I had to keep reminding myself to move a bit more slowly and deliberately than normal, to be a very calm presence. But isn't it a wonderful gift animals give you, when they finally decide they're your friend.
We didn't make it to Appleby Fair as my mum was sick, but we did get to the Cumberland Show the weekend after. Some of the equestrian classes were poorly subscribed, but it was a lovely day anyhow and I thoroughly enjoyed watching everyone in their beautiful turn-out. I was also impressed with the riding and atmosphere in general. Often enough you see many over-bent and tense horses in very strong bits, with countless other bits of tack designed to control and control some more, then spurs used on every stride further deadening an animal that is already dead to the leg... But the majority of animals I saw at the Cumberland Show were in some degree of lovely self carriage, fit, not over-fat (as show animals often are), and rather relaxed looking. You felt you could take any of them out for a full day's hacking without any trouble at all. All rather workmanlike and the youngsters were allowed to be youngsters, if you see what I mean, not just clamped down into a false or damaging shape to look pretty. And we had a couple of side-saddle ladies! Always lovely to see, so elegant. And I did find myself thinking that side-saddle, in a way, is a good proof of fitness and self-carriage in the horse, since you don't have your legs and seat to hold them together quite so much. I'd really love to try it one day. The closest I ever got was pretending whilst hacking Fred through my village! I would fling my right leg over to the left, kind of hooking it around the pommel of my GP saddle, and just try to sit tall and straight. Fred was such a good little horse. Opinionated, stubborn, a pain in the arse when he didn't want to do something (we had a lot of napping and jump refusals in our time), but ultimately very safe, sensible, and trustworthy. Stroppy ponies teach you to ride, and I don't think I ever felt in danger with him. What a gem.
I also got a bit of study done whilst at home. I've begun working my way through some of the series on EponaTV, anything relating to biomechanics or veterinary (and how those things pertain to training and management). It's very interesting. I also read Gerd Heuschmann's book Tug of War. It was a smaller book than I had expected, but very well written. Small and concise and provocative! As its author intended, I'm sure. But the good thing about reading it was that I realised how much I've learned about the topic in the last couple of months. Or rather, that I've consolidated a lot of stuff that I already half knew. Now I need to deepen that knowledge, read around the topic (since despite it being a matter of well, engineering, people do still have different opinions and interpretations of the science of equine anatomy/biomechanics), and generally keep my eyes open. Pay attention. Challenge myself. Be prepared to be wrong, be prepared to learn.
Took the Hadrian's Wall bus (the AD122, for anyone thinking of visiting) to Hexham one day. The scenic route is far nicer than getting the 685 along the A69. Had lunch with a friend, bought a book, relaxed in the sunshine, it was lovely. Also had a little bit of a driving lesson with my brother. I was pretty useless, but it's a start. Did fine at first, then my feet sort of forgot how to get moving without stalling, haha. As ever, the problem is that I found it all rather boring. How I'm going to put in enough practice when I have zero interest in it?! Maybe if I make it a regular thing, book some lessons, so that I have no choice in the matter?
I will confess, I didn't think about work once whilst I was away. Except to wish I'd arranged some photoshoots of pretty things. So I think the "year off" plan remains a good one, as it will let me focus on the fun, sparkly side of my work and give me the freedom to continue studying new things.
But yes, a lovely visit up North. It was a bit of a culture shock coming back to Birmingham! Even returning to the boat. I kept saying, "oh yeah, we live on a boat don't we!" I'm at a strange point in my life maybe, wondering which way to go and when. I love the countryside and I love the city. Which ticks the most boxes? I can't tell right now. So I suppose, hurrah for public transport!