As 2021 draws to a close it's nice to look back at the good times from another year of getting out and about hiking and exploring with a camera. It's been another tumultuous year for all of us, making the precious moments spent with friends, family and out in the countryside all the more special. More than ever, I'm grateful to be able to get out with a camera in my spare time. Here's a little video of some favourite moments from the year and below are some highlights - thank you to everyone who made the good times great this year.
Photography related highlights included:
* stumbling across another, even bigger badger set near home and watching six of the cubs playing from a discrete distance away. In mid-summer I hid behind a tree near their set to watch them play and then tiptoed away so as not to disturb them, such wonderful creatures, a joy to see a big, healthy family in the woods near home - amazing to think that before 2020 I'd never actually seen badgers in the wild before, I feel incredibly lucky to have seen them.
* finally making it up to visit brilliant wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre's red squirrel hide - I booked Neil's hide for a morning and what a magical morning watching the little red squirrels it was - absolutely recommend this experience to anyone who loves wildlife, whether you're a photographer or not! More about my visit in a separate blog here: A morning with red squirrels, at Neil's hide in Cairngorms National Park
* visiting Neil's red squirrel hide also gave me the opportunity to do something else I'd long wished to do, and that was to have an all-too-brief explore of Cairngorms National Park using Aviemore as my base - it was my first visit and it won't be my last, can't wait to go back for more of an explore! I was very lucky to go in early May and catch a late fall of snow, which looked stunning on the mountains and made for a superb low level walk recommended by a friend, from Coylumbridge to remote and beautiful Loch Einich and back.
* photographing 3 friend's weddings, starting with the lovely Katy and Matt in May, then Mark and Judy in July, and finishing with Megan and Alex (and little Arthur), Sinead's family in November - 3 very different and just perfect weddings. Thank you to the lovely Nic and family too for their family photoshoot to help me keep my hand in ready for November's wedding. And that is me now retired from weddings, my first retirement :-).
* returning to John O'Groats to finish the last leg in person of a virtual Lands End to John O'Groats challenge completed with work friends. This trip was basically a great excuse to return to Duncansby Sea Stacks for another explore - amazing place, so atmospheric.
* doing another Northumberland calendar with the lovely team at Northern Heritage.
* continuing to hike the Northumberland stretch of The Pennine Way - I still haven't finished! Hopefully next year - it's been so brilliant that I'd love to do it again.
* I've started re-hiking (and sometimes running) the Northumberland Coastal Path, having previously hiked it with a friend when I first moved to the North East about 16 years ago now.
* doing my first photo club talks - I don't really do them due to day job and other commitments but I'm very glad I did these two this year. The first was for Alnwick Camera Club after a very persuasive and just lovely email from Dawn from the club and then a boozy prep meeting before the talk with Dawn and Jane - love these ladies, they are a hoot and Alnwick Camera Club gave me a very warm welcome. The second was for Rob and Valerie's NHS Royal Derby Hospital and Sheffield Northern General Hospital Camera Club, who also gave me a very friendly welcome and it's always a pleasure catching up with Rob and Valerie. Both clubs kindly made a donation to charity in lieu of any fee. It was Jane Coltman from Alnwick Camera Club who told me about the beautiful, tree-lined road at Callaly for Autumn colour, which led to me getting a bit lost in the woods and finding a gorgeous ancient beech tree, so thank you to Jane for that tip too :-).
* munching bilberries, blackberries and an abundance of wild raspberries while out exploring - the bilberries this year were especially abundant and delicious, I picked enough for a friend to freeze and make into a bilberry pie from a recipe handed down through her family.
I could rabbit on and on - as anyone who does photography and hiking knows, every day you step outside is a good day, and, if you don't get any photos, it really doesn't matter as you'll have at the very least had a good walk.
Ooh, another highlight before I go was a dog photography shoot with a friend's dog, aided by her and her two sons - we were incredibly lucky and picked a stunning Autumn day for it and the boys had great fun throwing piles of fallen leaves into the air while Katy helped me photograph their dog, Hudson (a quite-bonkers and completely lush cocker spaniel) as he leapt into the air to catch them - that was a brilliant day, makes me laugh just thinking about it.
That's enough of my rambling, thank you to everyone for making these times and everything else we did in 2021 such fun. Here's to 2022 and the adventures ahead!
Post note - had thought about doing an advent calendar countdown to Christmas for years, finally did it this year, choosing a Winter in Northumberland theme, a great excuse to rummage through photos from icy, frosty and snowy adventures around beautiful Northumberland over the years.