In 2023, I’ve visited two countries: England, obviously, and France.
Over the course of the year, I have spent at least some time in the following English counties:
This doesn’t include any counties that I have passed through without stopping.
Most distant points
The furthest compass points I have been to are:
Furthest North: RHS Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Furthest South: Futuroscope, near Poitiers, France
Furthest East: Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Furthest West: Chester Zoo, Cheshire
I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t go very far north in 2023. We will be going further north this year, but are unlikely to go as far south as we don’t have an international holiday planned.
Methods of transport used
I have driven quite a bit this year. As my car’s MOT is due each autumn, I can only estimate the mileage, but I reckon it’s around 10,000 miles over the course of the year. Quite a bit of that was in France.
Train travel has been almost exclusively to and from work – indeed, I’ve only visited four railway stations this year, and every train has been a diesel-powered train. This includes the one heritage railway that I’ve been on, which was the short remaining section of the Derwent Valley Light Railway at Murton Park, near York.
I’ve been on two trams in Manchester, and a few buses, both locally and in Leeds and York. Plus, ferries for getting to and from France. I have not been on an aeroplane since 2015.
Music listened to
My full 2023 last.fm stats are not yet available, but over the year I have scrobbled 13,194 tracks – just 254 less than in 2022. That’s an average of 36 songs per day. Assuming each song is an average of 3 minutes, that’s 39,582 minutes over the year, or 659.7 hours or around 27.5 days. In other words, I spent almost a month listening to music last year.
Whilst I don’t exclusively listen to music on Spotify, on there, pop was my top genre, following by trance, rock, pop dance and Europop this year, according to my Spotify Wrapped. My most-listened to song was ‘Shut Up and Dance’ by Walk The Moon, which I listened to 12 times. To be fair, it is a good song.
Unsurprisingly, Within Temptation was my top artist – I own six of their albums and I’ve seen them live twice.
I log the beers and ciders that I drink using Untappd, and this year I consumed 35 such drinks (a decrease from 58 in 2022). Of those, 13 were from Brewdog, which may have something to do with what I got for Christmas in 2021. Several of these were non-alcoholic beers and ciders.
I’ve had my Fitbit Versa 3 on my wrist almost all of the time this year, and have taken a total of 3,695,427 steps – an average of just over 10,000 per day. It also estimates that I have climbed 11347 floors, walked 2,717.1 km and burned 1,079,223 calories through exercise.
Time spent learning French
I started Duolingo’s French course on the 1st January 2022 (so I have a two year streak now), and in 2023, I spent 4,947 minutes learning – that’s 82 hours or an average of 13.5 minutes per day. I also learned 4657 new words in French last year. I’m aiming to complete the French course, which will probably see me well into 2025.
So that’s 2023 quantified. I’m sure I could offer more stats, like photos taken, podcasts listened to etc. if I tracked these throughout the year. As it is, I’m relying on various web services that track data for me that I can refer back to. I wonder how 2024 will compare?
The main event to happen for us in January was getting our solar panels installed. Nearly a year later, and they have saved us around £850 so far, both by reducing our energy usage from the grid, and income from selling our excess electricity back to our energy supplier. This means that it’ll take about 11 years to get a return on our investment, although we’re on track to pay off the cost sooner than that – hopefully late in 2024.
January isn’t very conducive to days out, being a cold month with short days, but we did fit in a visit to one of the large Chinese supermarkets in Manchester. Except it was the week before Chinese New Year and it was packed. January is also my blogiversary month and so my blog turned 21-ish years old.
We had a day out at Dunham Massey, one of the National Trust properties within an hour’s drive of home. It’s actually a good place to go to at this time of year, as it has a Winter Garden with plenty of flowering irises and snowdrops.
On a different weekend, but in a similar part of the country, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Quite a bit of the museum is currently shut for renovations, but we enjoyed the Turn It Up exhibition (which is now at the Science Museum in London). One tip – if you’re driving from the east of Manchester, you can park for free at Hollinwood tram stop, and then take the Metrolink direct to Deansgate-Castlefield. Our (then) seven-year-old was fascinated by the tram, as it leaves the old railway line formation to travel across Manchester’s city centre streets like a bus – we don’t yet have anything like that here in West Yorkshire.
We made yet another trip across the Pennines to Manchester, to visit the newly-reopened Manchester Museum, at the University of Manchester. It’s expanded a bit since our last visit, with new temporary and permanent exhibitions. However, the previously-excellent café now only serves vegetarian food (or it did when we went) which is a shame when you have a child who only wants to eat a ham sandwich. Thankfully, there are other eateries nearby – I recommend the Navarro Lounge.
Somewhere that we’d been meaning to visit for some time was Martin Mere, and we finally got around to visiting in March this year. It’s primarily a sanctuary for wild wetland birds, but they also have some Asian small-clawed otters, flamingoes and other birds that live there. Part of the site was closed due to avian flu when we visited so we’ll aim to go back sometime soon.
Closer to home, we went to Hardcastle Crags, a National Trust property overlooking Hebden Bridge. As well as the woodland walk, there’s a mill which is now a café and visitor centre. It’s off-grid, so all its electricity is generated from solar panels and a hydroelectric turbine, and it has composting toilets as it’s not connected to the sewerage system. There’s also a lot of information about how they are incorporating natural flood defences like leaky dams to prevent the sorts of flooding the area experienced on Boxing Day in 2015.
I also re-started regular blood donations. My last successful donation had been before the pandemic; I’ve since been back a couple of times and will be going again some time in January.
My wife also started swimming lessons, with the same company that teaches our child. At present, she has a half hour one-to-one session each week and is making good progress. Unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to learn properly as a child.
May the 4th is our wedding anniversary (yes, we know – Christine came down the aisle to the Imperial March). And the 4th May 2023 marked our tenth wedding anniversary. We’re still very much in love with each other and we celebrated with a quiet lunchtime meal at the Engine Social in Sowerby Bridge. May is also my birthday month, and I turned 39 this year.
We also had a trip to Cannon Hall Farm at the start of the month – it’s somewhere we go to at least once a year as there’s plenty for young kids to do. New for 2023 was the nocturnal animal house.
We made the first of three trips in 2023 to RHS Garden Bridgewater, north of Manchester, having bought an annual RHS membership with Tesco Clubcard points. It’s a lovely place to visit, with some formal gardens mixed with woodland and an excellent play area.
It was also around this time that Christine got a diagnosis of sleep apnea, and started using a CPAP machine. Her health and wellbeing has improved massively as a result. If you, or someone you know, is a heavy snorer, it may be worth you/them speaking to a GP to get a referral for a sleep assessment.
Across the Pennines again for a trip to Heaton Park, one of the largest public parks in northern England. There’s a lake, some excellent playgrounds, some animals and gardens, and often a visiting funfair.
We also made a brief visit to RHS Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, including a meal at Betty’s. Indeed, we’ve visited all but one of the Betty’s locations now – we just need to go to the one in Northallerton next.
I last visited Jodrell Bank with my parents, probably in the 1990s, so it was nice to go back again. Much has changed since, but it’s still a working observatory and as such it’s a ‘radio quiet’ zone where you must switch off your mobile phone.
July is when we usually set off on holiday, and this year we stayed at a campsite to the south of Tours in France, in the Loire valley. On the way down, we called at RHS Wisley, the first and largest of the RHS gardens, and stayed a night at the Brooklands Hotel at the historic racetrack in Surrey.
Some of the places we visited included:
Parc des Mini Chateaux – like a model village, but all of the models are of castles (châteaux) in the Loire valley.
Château du Clos Lucé – Leonardo da Vinci spent some time here and several of his inventions have been recreated in the castle and the gardens, both of which are great.
Château d’Ussé – allegedly the inspiration for the story of Sleeping Beauty, and includes a walk with rooms set up to tell each part of the story.
Château du Riveau – a castle and gardens which has only (relatively) recently opened to the public. It’s very whimsical, with some amusing sculptures in the garden and bizarre taxidermy.
We also had two bigger days out. Another place that I haven’t visited since the 1990s was Futuroscope, a theme park full of futuristic architecture and lots of different cinemas showing 3D and 4D films where the seating moves. As we went in late July, we didn’t stay for the evening show as dusk was way after our bedtimes, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day.
The second big day out was to Zooparc Beauval, one of the world’s biggest and best zoos. We’ve been before, in 2018, so we focussed on the new areas that weren’t open last time, and then our favourites. It’s one of the few zoos in the world to have Giant Pandas, and has had some success with breeding them too with a couple of youngsters there when we visited.
We started the month in France, but only just as we arrived back in the UK on the 3rd. We called in at the Hotel Chocolat Factory Shop near Northampton on the way back.
One of our friends from university turned 30 (yes, there’s a bit of an age gap between us and some of our friends) and so we had an afternoon at the Leeds City Museum. Yes, the above photo of boomboxes is a museum exhibit, because you’re old.
August is always a super busy month for me, as I work in university admissions, but we briefly called in at the Piece Hall in Halifax for Calderdale Pride 2023. And over the bank holiday weekend, we went to Chatsworth. We didn’t go inside the house, but we explored some parts of the gardens that we hadn’t been to before, and the farm is always worth a visit.
Back at Christmas 2021, we received some gift vouchers for Chester Zoo, and with the validity running we found a free weekend to go. A large part of the zoo is being redeveloped at present, but we got to see the new flamingo enclosure, and my favourite red pandas were awake for once.
We also had a morning at the Askham Bryan Wildlife Park near York, although this was partly to kill time whilst we waited for hospital visiting times to start. My dad ended up spending over two months in hospital this year with a number of health issues, probably brought on by Weil’s Disease. He’s on the mend, although he’s still building up strength in his legs having been off his feet for so long.
Due to Dad’s health issues, we had a subdued celebration for my wife’s 40th birthday, but we did have a lovely meal at Tattu in Leeds.
And so to this month. As my family is a little spread out, with some of us in Yorkshire and others in Oxfordshire, my cousin normally hosts a pre-Christmas meal in mid-December. However, it’s her turn to get a new kitchen and it wasn’t ready in time, so ended up hosting a meal for nine people at short notice. We managed it; Christine cooked cassoulet with some duck legs that were cooked using the sous-vide method for 36 hours in our Instant Pot.
There’s only 32 hours of 2023 remaining in my timezone, so it’s time to review the things I’ve consumed this year and pick out my favourite content.
Note: all links below marked with a * are Amazon referral links, and so I receive a small amount of commission from any purchases. But please feel free to buy these from a local, independent tax-paying shop, or borrow them from your local library, as I did with several of these recommendations.
Favourite book of 2023
So far I’ve read 95 books this year, although to be fair, quite a few of these were bedtime stories for our eight-year-old. Those aside, my favourite book was ‘These Impossible Things’ by Salma El-Wardany*. It tells the story of three young British Asian women, who are navigating the divide between family and cultural expectations, and life as a young person in the UK in the 21st century. It’s very well-written, with very relatable characters. This is El-Wardany’s debut novel and so I’m interested to see what comes next.
Honourable mentions: There were a few books that I awarded five stars to on Goodreads this year:
We haven’t been able to watch many films this year, and those that we have seen at the cinema have tended to be child-friendly films. We’re also behind on Marvel films and haven’t seen any in a couple of years. Of those that we have seen, probably my favourite was the Barbie movie, which was just hilarious all the way through. We saw it a few weeks after it came out and there were several of us laughing out loud in the cinema.
Honourable mentions:Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Amongst Thieves* was fun, and it was good to see Hugh Grant playing an antagonist for once. And it was nice to finally see a sequel to Chicken Run – I had the first film on VHS, which gives you an idea of how long ago since that came out, and meant I’ve had to explain to our eight-year-old what a ‘VHS’ is.
It’s also worth noting that we are planning to see Wonka tomorrow.
Favourite TV show of the year
Again, we’ve not had much time to watch TV this year. When you work full-time in a different city to where you live, and have a child who has school and homework and weekend activities, there’s not a lot of time to keep up with TV. Of the shows that I have seen bits of, The Repair Shop has filled that niche of being interesting, comforting and educational.
Favourite audio series of the year
Okay, so I basically created this category so that I could tell you about Felicia Day’s ‘Third Eye’*. It’s an Audible exclusive, and is more akin to a radio play rather than an audiobook. But, it has a narrator in the form of Neil Gaiman and is split into chapters. Felicia Day wrote the script for TV several years ago, and although no TV channels picked it up, it’s become a very good audio series with Day playing the lead character. London Hughes, Alan Tudyk and Wil Wheaton provide some of the other voices.
So – these are the things that I have watched, read and listened to in 2023. Next year, I’m hoping to catch up with the Marvel films we’ve missed (especially now that the pace of release has slowed down) and continue to read more things. Maybe I’ll manage 100 books across the year this time?