03 January 2016

2015: a life-changing year

I started 2015 in England, finished it in Wales, and in between there were New Zealand, the United States and Nicaragua – an interesting year, to say the least, and a life-changing one for me!

My lovely friend Sarah was kind enough to let me board with her during the six months I spent in Cheshire and we enjoyed some lovely days out together. This was one of them: a long walk beside the River Weaver to Dutton Locks, followed by lunch at a riverside pub. (You can see more photos here.)

My favourite thing about living in Wincham, in Cheshire, was the range of places I could easily walk to and I quickly developed some favourite circular routes that took me around lakes and alongside a canal, across fields and over streams, through woodlands and along a lime avenue. This long lime avenue was one of my favourite places, for the trees, for the daffodils in the springtime, for the way its character changed with the seasons. (Great Budworth’s lime avenue features in two blogs, this one about lime avenues and this photo blog showing the changing seasons.)

Once I had made the big decision to relocate to Britain, I headed back to New Zealand to sell my apartment,  pack up all my worldly possessions, and say goodbye to my fabulous friends and favourite places. One of the best things about my apartment in Auckland city was the view and I will never forget these amazing sunrises. (More of these stunning scenes here.)  

This is the quintessential Auckland to me, with the easily recognisable harbour bridge in the background, just a few of the huge wealth of boats lined up at Westhaven Marina, bright blue skies and a cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), albeit a cultivar, in the foreground. A walk around the harbour side and coastal beaches is always good value. (Here’s a walk I always enjoyed.)  

And so it was farewell Auckland, hello Wisconsin, for a far-too-short week-long visit with my wonderful friend Trudey and her equally wonderful husband Roy. And what an incredible week it was, with road trips across the state to visit family, to Washington Island with a group of Trudey’s lovely women friends, and a fun day out at the Bristol Renaissance Fair, plus many delightful hours spent watching these juvenile Bald Eagles. As I’m a keen birder, these were very special times for me.

Next stop, a three-day visit to Chicago, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. It was superb. I cruised on the river, walked miles, caught up with fellow photographer and internet friend Lauri … and so much more. I loved this amazing city. I must go back!

From Chicago to Granada, in Nicaragua, for a week of photography, in workshops organised by the great team at The Giving Lens, helping to mentor these incredibly talented young adults from Empowerment International, a charitable organisation that helps the impoverished children of Nicaragua achieve a better future for themselves. It was an unforgettable week of making new friends; enjoying beautiful scenery and amazing experiences; of learning and giving back; of laughter and smiles and tears. (You can see a selection of my photographs here.)   

When I arrived in Britain, I stopped over briefly in London – always a treat and always so much to see and explore. Though it was unplanned, this time I spent hours walking in London’s wonderful and enormous inner-city parks.

Cardiff is my new home, at least for now. It's a beautiful city, close to the sea, not far from the mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park, and with amazing parks; it has a castle and is chock-a-block full of history; it has all the conveniences of big-city living yet has the friendliness of a small town. The photo shows Roath Park lake, just ten minutes’ walk from where I’m living.

In September I had a delightful visit back with Sarah in Cheshire, partly to catch up and partly to collect a suitcase full of winter woollies I had left with her. We had a couple of great days out, to the mighty Beeston Castle with its panoramic countryside views, and a day at the seaside at Formby Sands and Southport.

Back in Cardiff, I enjoyed the halcyon days of a long Indian summer and then the incredible beauty of autumn, with daily walks to enjoy the ever-changing colours of the beautiful British trees, dressed in their autumn finery.    

Discovering the good places to birdwatch in and around Cardiff has been great fun. The huge variety of birds here is a constant delight, and I seem to see something new every week, but it’s the charming little robin that is my particular favourite. That flash of red breast on a grey wintery day, its pretty little song, and its friendliness are a constant source of joy.