Since I last wrote I’ve been out and about in Wales exploring my old university stamping ground.
It’s for quite a while been my spiritual home in many ways – and I thought (that apart from family members) this was something relatively unique to my circle of friends – but it turns out that it’s not.
Lately more and more people have mentioned that they too have a connection to the location and both bloggers (and a more intimate partner in crime) have told me they also love it.
It’s been almost three years since I’ve seen its sea and countryside and I’ve honestly missed it – so I spontaneously decided late last week that I had to go back for a short weekend break.
On a nice day the view is to die for – and when you climb Constitution Hill (which I did shortly after arriving on Saturday afternoon) in the right weather there are few things that are more lovely.
This place has a lot of memories for me – but although many of them are happy ones there are also more than a few that have a tint of sadness or pain associated with them.
I was last in Aber in August 2016 (shortly after starting Slimming World link).
Once my initial joy about being able to walk along the promenade with my father and climb the 300ft up to the top of ‘Consty’ I was faced with a different and all too familiar reality (link) when I was shouted at on the street and called names because of my size.
In some ways I managed to lay those demons to rest this weekend because I not only did I return as the man I’ve always wanted to be (both fit and healthy) but I did so with my partner – which underlines just how much my life has changed for the better.
Although we both have ties to this region I think it’s safe to say that we found ourselves experiencing it with a fresh perspective thanks to the benefit of a second set of eyes and memories.
Despite thinking we both knew what was in store there were quite a few nooks and crannies that one of us had visited in the past, but the other hadn’t. As we strolled and reminisced throughout the weekend we were never short of thoughts and experiences to share.
It was all somehow different and new because of this.
I’ve walked along the promenade before and watched the sun go down on the beach many times – but rarely had I done it feeling as happy and contented as I did on Saturday evening.
Aside from my ‘mushyness’ (which I am from time to time prone to) there’s much around Aber to explore – and after a lovely night’s sleep in a quiet hotel deep in the Valleys outside the town (with it’s own waterfall in the back garden!) we awoke to a busy Sunday itinerary.
Our first port of call was to be Devil’s Bridge.
This is an absolutely spectacular slice of nature where majestic waterfalls meet endless wooded views filled with wildlife. Furthermore – if you get there before 9.30am it’s also a bit of a bargain.
The turnstile leading down from the (free) car park is coin operated – and unlike paying when there’s an actual person on the till it costs £2 (2x £1 coins) as opposed to £3!
If you want to do the Waterfall Walk (which I highly recommend) just remember that it’s a bit of a steep climb at times – with the steps that you navigate being both deep and uneven – so I wouldn’t suggest doing this when it’s raining or if you struggle with mobility.
However – if you’re able to do it then it’s totally worth the effort because as you wind your way around the valley the view continually surprises and delights.
There are many many carefully placed viewing platforms that provide the perfect spots to watch the raging torrents of water as they flow down from under the road bridge into the valley below.
It’s easy to lose time here – and we did.
All in all we spent a blissfull hour and a half in the completely deserted natural beauty of the location lazily watching the water roaring downwards and peering at all of the interesting plants and rock formations.
If you’re a geography geek it’s magical!
However – all of the rocks and plant life pale into insignificance when faced with what I spotted in a tree just before leaving. Red Kite numbers have been carefully nurtured back up to a really healthy population in the surrounding hills and they are everywhere.
However – even though you regularly see them circling the valley and floating on the currents high above where you walk I’ve never seen one this close or in it’s natural habitat feeding.
(if you want to see a video of this head over to my instagram feed here)
After we’d spent a while watching this majestic bird eat it’s (rather unfortunate) lunch the next port of call was Nant Yr Arian – which is another local Red Kite haunt, and it was in this location that we’d planned to watch their daily feeding show – but only after a walk, bite to eat and cup of tea.
Once we’d fed and watered ourselves (I had a delicious baked potato with rather decadent looking filling of tuna that was heavy with mayonnaise) we headed off for a hike.
It’s fair to say that visiting this place represents another milestone – because on my way home from Aber in 2016 I decided to give walking around the hills a go.
As a heavier man it was really really hard work (link) and throughout my time there I was continually boiling hot and sweating buckets. In contrast on Sunday I wore three layers and a wooly hat and was still chilly in the shade!
When I started on my weight loss journey back then I wasn’t really au fait with what Apple Watch could do for me – and I hadn’t started exercising in any serious way – nor did I realise that I could track my walks with workouts.
I was wearing it because I thought it looked cool and at the time was more concerned with being able to move rather than travelling further and faster or keeping a note of where I was going or what I was burning off.
The wonderful thing is though that Apple Watch didn’t care. It was paying attention the whole time and keeping a historical record of the day for me to look at later.
All in all on the 15th August 2016 I walked (in between lots and lots of sitting, puffing and panting) 3.52 miles and took 7,200 steps – yet despite this relatively short distance (at least compared to my current standards) my overall expenditure for the day was an incredible 5,630 kcal.
Back then I walked only the yellow route (the mid distance and difficulty route) and ignored the green and red ones.
In contrast on Sunday (as well as walking all round Devil’s Bridge in the morning) my partner and I explored everything.
Instead of just one path, we walked the green, yellow and red routes that criss-cross the hillsides and woods near the visitor centre.
During Sunday I (we) covered 8.64 miles, took 18,504 steps and climbed the equivalent of 96 flights of stairs.
In contrast – even though I did around two and a half times as much on Sunday compared to that day in August 2016 I burned less than 2/3rds of the calories – underlining just how much more effort it took to move around when I was 31st.
The joy of exploring Nant Yr Arian these days is when we’d finished I also had plenty of energy in the tank to do other things.
It’s truly incredible how much I can do now compared to what I could accomplish in a day back then.
My current level of fitness also meant that I also got to experience the entirety of what the location had on offer – and the views are just stunning.
When you choose to venture deeper into the forest it’s no less wonderful – and as you stroll around it, the delightfully dappled light of a sunny day continually dances over the soft, mossy floor that you’re surrounded with.
Once we’d finished walking (and treated ourselves to more coffee and tea) the only thing that remained was the red kite feeding display, and we seated ourself on a grassy hillside to watch.
I’d never been around for this before – and I’d seriously been missing out. There were in fact so many Red Kites that the air seemed like it was filled with flies.
Everywhere you looked they were swooping and diving to collect the food from the small patch of land that the staff were throwing it onto.
This swarm of birds persisted for around 45 minutes – and while they were all together they performed arial display after arial display, all the while continually calling to one another and looping endlessly around in breathtakingly intricate flight paths.
They are not only beautiful beyond words – but next to impossible to capture with my current hardware – so you will have to imagine the spectacle we were treated to rather than endure the ridiculously blurry shots I captured with both my phone and compact camera.
If I’m honest though – even with all of this amazing beauty surrounding me I’d been preoccupied throughout the weekend with one thing.
Weighing in at Slimming World.
It’s fair to say that I’ve been avoiding this for a while – and doing so had meant that the reality of what my scales told me around a week and a half ago was pretty sobering.
In the evening, after a rather large blow out they had reported that I was a depressing 15st 2lbs.
Taking this as a wake up call I began to try and work my way back towards some semblance of being back on plan, reducing my food intake, and choosing speed food over free food as well as cutting down on anything that could be classified as a syn.
This was also my approach whilst on holiday and whilst I did choose to indulge (having museli as well as a cooked breakfast for instance) I cut the fat off my bacon, refused toast or fried bread and left behind the fatty, unappealing sausage that would probably have made me feel sluggish and guilty for the rest of the day.
In a similar way – when out for a meal in the evening – I chose a baked spud (instead of chips) a side of roast veg and had it topped with a low fat beef chilli. At all other times my partner in crime and I munched on carrots and fruit as we explored.
None of this made my underlying worries go away though – because I’d commited to Angie that I’d weigh in on Monday I returned from holiday – and being away from home, eating food that I hadn’t cooked and not being able to weigh myself meant that sleep was at times hard to come by.
I’m a worrier and no mistake.
When I finally rocked up at group on Monday though the exercise and good choices had meant that I’d managed to turn things around quite a bit – and had dropped from 15st 2lbs to a far more reasonable 14st 5lbs.
However – I wasn’t out of the woods.
Since I’d recently re-set my target weight to 13st 7lbs this good result still represented a need to lose a further 9lbs in order to get into the upper end of my target weight. Furthermore I’d left myself just over a week and a half in which to do it if I didn’t want to pay at the next meeting (you get one week of grace to get back to where you should be at SW before fees apply).
God bless my consultant though. She’s an absolute diamond.
She sat down next to me before image therapy started, rubbed my arm, looked me in the eye and was completely honest.
‘You look great the way you are.’ Angie said.
‘You were a bit gaunt before. I think you should raise your target weight back up a bit.’
Honesty – the relief was like a hod of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders when she said this. To have someone whose opinion I trust (and she’s not alone) tell me this helped me realise that I’ve been burying myself with guilt over a few pounds.
In reality I’ve managed to keep all of this weight off and still continually live an active and healthy life at the same time.
I’m not a failure dammit. I’m a success!
So – I agreed with her that I will re-set my target to where I was when I won the MOTY competition and go for 14 stone. At this weight all of my clothes fit perfectly and I feel both vital, confident and alive.
Anything else is just a number.
So internet – my next weigh in is Saturday 20th April – and by then I have to get rid of 5lbs.
I can so do this – and what’s more I once again feel in control.