So, the birthday happenings didn't stop with the weekend (and if you've missed that see Landmarks first).
After a late night run dropping off the younger members of the Famous Five across London, we carried on forging East to our late night destination, the lovely Bell Inn in the quaint hilltop hamlet of Horndon on the Hill. Felt like a treasure hunt, finding the key in a little box and a note directing us up old wooden steps to our cosy room above the 15th century inn.
and after a good night's sleep we could see better where we'd climbed last night in the dark
and the front of our pub
and explore the lovely Horndon on the Hill
with it's ancient Woolmarket.
We'd hoped to peek inside the interesting looking Grade 1 listed church of St Peter and St Paul, built in the 13th century, but sadly it was all locked up.
So no chance to warm up there and I tell you - it was absolutely freezing cold. The Beast from the East was forecast to start tonight and already snowflakes were trying their best in this little corner of Essex.
But, hardy Northerners that we are, we wrapped up and headed down to the Thames Estuary, just 5 minutes drive away, to the lovely little nature reserve - Thurrock Thameside Nature Park - beautifully thought out, overlooking Mucking Flats and marshes and Canvey Island.
Note how the new visitor centre mimics the shape of the oil terminals on Canvey Island - and inside they had an amazing log burner surrounded by seats, sort of Viking friendship hut style - very welcome on a day as cold as this!
Just look at that snowstorm working it's way across to us from Canvey Island - to our right
and to our left the sky is still blue- but we had to quickly dive into the visitor centre as the snow storm created a complete whiteout for 10 minutes or so!
But we soon venture out again
it's so very wild and very beautiful - and see how quickly the sky changed as yet another snowstorm passed over
But now it was back into the car and overland to the town of Maldon - famous for it's salt
Fascinated by the last of the Thames Sailing Barges, lovingly restored and moored up. These were built late 19th century and early 20th and you can even take trips on them in the summer around to Mersea.
A kindly local let us peek on board
But it was onwards and upwards and a little hike out to St Peter's Chapel on the edge of the marshes of the Blackwater estuary at Bradwell-on-Sea on the Dengie Peninsula
wild and totally wonderful and icily cold
with an amazing fragile coastline made of cockle, beyond the salt marshes
But it was back to our cosy Bell Inn for the most fabulous meal and a blazing log fire.
We set off from Essex as the 'Beast' started and just got back to Sheffield before it caught up with us there and we were snowed in for 3 days!
And finally, a week or so later, Mike had another post-landmark birthday celebration, this time at the cosy Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone - more log fires and more fabulous food and lots of lovely friends
'twas hard to drag ourselves away from the fire . . .
But we were soon revitalised by a quick hike around the lovely dale of Water-cum-Jolly, through the eerie drippy tunnels of the Monsal Trail and back along the muddy banks to Monsal Dale.
Fabulous week all round!