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The 100 Best Walks Challenge – Buttermere And Hay Stacks

One of my first retirement challenges is to complete 100 of the best walks in the UK, as a way to increase my fitness, but also as a way to introduce myself to many areas of the UK that I’ve not visited before.  As my fitness builds I’m going to be starting 100 of the best hikes in parallel, walks being easy and 4-6 miles and hikes being more challenging 6-12 miles.  The 100 best walks and hikes have been pre-determined by books of those names.

This blog posts describes the second of the best walks, which was meant to be an easy stroll around Buttermere, an old favourite, but not much of a challenge. 

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As we strolled through along the shaded lake side paths though Rob and I decided that we needed something more from the walk and since it was only just past lunch time we picked a footpath and started to climb up from the lake. 

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After about 5 minutes of climbing I asked a couple where they were going and they tempted us into doing the Hay Stacks circular walk, which sounded achievable at around 4 hours.  We set off at a good pace leaving the much more seriously attired couple in the dust.

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The climb was gloriously hard work, but well within our capabilities, with just the right amount of well trodden paths and scrambles to make it interesting and of course with superb views. I’ve not climbed many Lakeland Fells yet, something I intend to remedy now that I’m retired, but according to Wainwright Hay Stacks is up there with the best, he said:

for beauty, variety and interesting detail, for sheer fascination and unique individuality, the summit area of Haystacks is supreme. This is in fact the best fell-top of all

After we reached the summit though the walk was only really just beginning as the return to the lake entailed a long winding, unstable, rocky path. Those scrambles that were so much fun coming up were less fun going down and some of the steep tracks took their toll on my toes, Rob (being indestructible) was of course fine.

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Two blister plasters later and all the difficult parts of the walk were over and as we were making our way down the gradual return to the lake I remember saying to Rob:

There’s something about a hike like this that makes me feel a special sort of alive

It’s definitely true that the mix of exertion, accomplishment, adrenaline and endorphins makes a heady mix!

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We glided around the rest of the lake, which looked incredibly peaceful as the wind had dropped and the sun was going down, leaving it glassy smooth.  

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After the only missed turn of the walk we headed directly for the Croft House Farm Cafe which topped and tailed the walk and was the 18th cafe in my ‘30 cafes in 30 days challenge’. 

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Overall it was a great day, with even the 4 hours driving being effortless, traffic free and very enjoyable as I was listening to the fascinating book Sapiens.

The route we followed is shown below:

Hay Stacks with Rob

As usual I’m writing this post up on the following day in Caffe Nero, before another, more relaxed, walk around Fairhaven Lake with Paul.

Favourite Walks – Rivington Ramble

The Rivington Reservoir system provides me with a perfect local walking location.  It’s only a 40 minute drive from my breakfast cafe of choice and yet is a fair substitute for the Lake District that’s twice the distance and twice as busy.  It doesn’t provide the variety of the Lakes of course, but provided you are prepared to explore widely there’s certainly plenty to appreciate.

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Of particular note is the fact that although at first glance the whole area appears to be shaped by nature, peer a bit more deeply and almost the whole landscape has been shaped by man, in the service of man (water) and as a result is also cared for by man too.  That means well marked walking routes and well maintained paths provided you stick to them. 

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Stray onto the public footpath network and things can get a little soggy but then the compensation of more opportunity to explore. There’s also a lot of farmland and plenty of opportunity to walk through fields with sheep and cows for company, which is an added delight.

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I was particularly surprised to see quite a few small lambs still doing their thing, most of them had been fattened up by now but a few still had a spring in their step.

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On a day like today, that started cool but soon warmed up, I really appreciated the mix of dense wooded trails as well as high grassland paths and a few quiet roads, there’s plenty of decent hills as well.  All that woodland means lots of opportunity for squirrels and I can’t get enough of them scampering around.

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On of my favourite features of the area is the opportunity to admire the huge construction project that created it.  Massive dams blend into every scene and huge overflows connect the reservoirs, it really is impressive.

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Of course no walking destination would be complete without an excellent cafe and Rivington doesn’t disappoint.  The Great Hall Barn is worth a visit in it’s own right, it’s an amazing feat of engineering both inside and out.

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I’m particularly in awe of the huge tree trunks that form the core of the internal frame, seated into huge rocks to prevent them rotting through contact with the ground.  The food’s fantastic too!

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Walking around it’s easy to forget that all this natural splendour serves a purpose, it’s our water supply (actually Liverpool’s) so their’s no swimming or motor boats allowed, which is an understandable shame.

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It’s also worth noting that I stayed in the lowlands, there’s a whole other world awaiting anyone prepared for a decent climb, but that’s another walk and another blog post.  Today was all about the water!

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I took a particularly meandering route today, which I wouldn’t recommend unless your objective is to get a sense of the whole place.  I’ve included it below for completeness. 

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I’m writing this post in the afternoon of the day of this walk.  I’ve just woken up from a nap, one of the unexpected delights of retirement!

The 100 Best Walks Challenge – Windermere’s Brant Fell to School Knott

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One of my first retirement challenges is to complete 100 of the best walks in the UK, as a way to increase my fitness, but also as a way to introduce myself to many areas of the UK that I’ve not visited before.  As my fitness builds I’m going to be starting 100 of the best hikes in parallel, walks being easy and 4-6 miles and hikes being more challenging 6-12 miles.  The 100 best walks and hikes have been pre-determined by books of those names.

For my first walk I chose an old favourite, staring at the wonderful #4 cafe, that used to be called Bowness Cafe, which I’ve been visiting on-and-off for probably 20 years. It does a fantastic ‘classic’ bacon and eggs with some of the best toast in the UK, top quality!

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Well fuelled by by #4 I head down to the lake and then wind my way up through south Bowness hotels and guest houses to a very narrow footbath that leads up to Post Knott, a superb viewpoint over the lake and a great rest stop that’s much appreciated before the steep climb up to Brant Fell which provides another superb viewpoint.  I’ve climbed to Brant Fell many times, sometimes with the kids and it’s dodgy in the wet or ice, the twins once slipped, and slid, down it’s steep muddy, grassy, side on the back-sides: they were not amused.  The view though is one of the best in the Lakes, even on a cloudy morning (it cleared up shortly after).

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From there I add a short loop into the walk that brings me back to Post Knott, which provides fantastic views of the rural lakes, before a nice shaded walk that leads through some amazingly green farmland.  I love this side of the lakes, not the fells, but the working grassland farmland and it’s beautiful farms.

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This rural part of the walk provides some of the richest green’s I’ve ever seen, a benefit of lot’s of rain and sunshine and well manured grassland, this part of the walk also provides some glorious shaded sections, which particularly benefit from the sunshine, shimmering through the canopy.

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I just love walking through the farms, it’s easier going than the fells and I get to do a bit of sheep watching, unfortunately I’m a little late on this walk to see the lambs hopping about, but I wasn’t disappointed as sheep never fail to delight.

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Leaving the farms, it’s then a short walk back up to School Knott that provides a glorious view of Windermere and Bowness with their mountainous backdrop (see above).  I like to walk down through Windermere town from here, enjoying the park and stopping off at Booth’s supermarket for a snack (they have a nice cafe there too) and then walking down the main street which allows me to soak up the quaint houses and hotels and look enviously in the estate agent windows and browse the outdoor-pursuit shops.

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It provides a nice gentle wind down to the walk and deposits me back at the car-park.  I tend to park in the centre now, just opposite #4 cafe, it costs £5 for 4 hours which is perfect for the walk, if it’s topped and tailed by a cafe break.

I mapped the walk (below) with the iOS app Outdoor’s running unattended on the iPad in my backpack. This is my preferred way to map, because running on the iPad I save my iPhone battery and I get a nice high resolution screen-grab of the Ordinance Survey map of my route.

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I’m writing up this walk while sitting in Caffe Nero in St Annes, my go-to cafe in rest days.  The picture I’ve chosen to decorate the top of this post is of Windermere/Bowness nestling by the lake and dominated by mountains, just glorious!

One Week In – First Thoughts On Retirement

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I’ve just completed my first full week of retirement and my first impression was that not much had changed.  I’ve been winding down for years and the last few months while recovering from a bad flare involved very little work.  My first impression then was that this first week had been just more of the same, that was until I looked back on that first week in more detail.  It was then that I started to notice some significant differences.

The biggest of these was that I had been moving much more, in fact I’d been in fairly continuous motion throughout the whole week, sure I sat and read for a few hours spread through the day and spent a couple of hours watching TV, but add it all up and I’d been in motion for at least 10 hours and often more, each day.  That motion had been a mix of walking, cycling, gardening, housework and a couple of small home improvement projects with a few stretches and body weight exercises scattered throughout for good measure.

All this movement was enabled by more energy.  When I’d been working I would typically move around during the morning but then stay at home, exhausted and mostly sitting from lunch-time onwards.  This last week the fatigue seems to have dissipated, I’ve taken a 45 minute nap every afternoon but I’ve kept going all day, often going for a cycle ride in the afternoon and an evening walk too, it’s really a radical change.

The increased energy might have been fuelled by movement, as part of a virtuous cycle, but I think it’s more likely to be down to the higher levels of will-power that I have available to me now that it’s not being consumed by work.  That extra will-power means that I’m eating exceptionally well and mostly sleeping well too and have less stress.

The increased movement, improved diet, better sleep and lower stress all mean that I’ve been able to significantly reduce my meds, gradually weaning off them over the last 10 days and that must be helping too, although lower levels of meds have their challenges, I’m feeling better able to cope without them than I have for many years.  Most of my meds provide a prop to help me get through the days and nights, help with sleep, help with pain … but they just suppress symptoms.  I’m hoping to direct more energy at working on the root causes now and to challenge the symptoms on my own.  As a result I won’t have to put up with the side-effects.

I’d worried that I would start to stagnate in retirement, spend more time reading and watching TV, spend less time with people, but that’s not how it’s played out so far.  I’ve actually spent less time in those solitary pursuits than I did when I was working and spent more time with friends and family, quite a surprise.

So up to this point all my reflections have been positive, but there are some hints of issues to come.  I’ve felt a bit disconnected from the world, a little adrift, with nothing to drive my days, I need to drive them myself.  I’ve taken some first steps to address this ‘drift’ already:

  1. I’ve bought a watch that tells me the day and date and chimes on the hours.  The watch helps me stay connected to the flow of time, the chime keeps me conscious of the need to do something constructive every hour. 
  2. I’ve setup a whole host of repeating tasks in the todoist app, these provide a background rhythm to my days and weeks, wash the car, vacuum throughout, clean the windows …
  3. I’ve started working on 30 day challenges, the first being to visit 30 different cafes in 30 days
  4. I’ve scheduled six short breaks away from home over the next 4 months and started to plan for each of them, to increase the level of anticipation.  I’m turning each of them into a mini project, which is quite a change for me as I usually don’t plan at all
  5. I’ve started to take a different approach to learning, rather than just reading a book I’m going to research more widely, go on visits, watch lectures, and do some practical projects.
  6. I’m increasing the amount of food that I grow, up to about 50% by volume of what I’m eating right now
  7. I’ve introduced more variety into my days, to avoid getting into a rut, for example visiting 30 different cafes will help me discover more favourites to add to my list, walking the hundred best walks will introduce me to more of the country, trying a new food every day will help me vary my diet …

One week in then I’m happy, I’ve made a good start and seen some positive results.  I’m pretty sure I will have plenty of health challenges and others to face soon, but I’m laying the groundwork for more resilience to these, which I will explore in future posts.  Of particular interest to me for example is how I’m going to get through those difficult winter months!

I’m tapping this post out in Caffe Nero Lytham, still my go-to place for starting the day when I’m staying in the local area.  I’ve been particularly happy with my first stumbling attempts at doing more photography, this post is illustrated by a shot I took while visiting Brockholes nature reserve with Debbie last week, a visit that resulted in me discovering the Ribble Way long distance river walk and reminding me that I really must cycle the Preston Guild Wheel with Chris.

My First 30 Day Challenge: Visiting A Different Cafe Every Day

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As I explained in my last post, I’m embarking on a series of 30 day challenges and my first is close to my heart, cafes.  I love visiting cafes, sampling the atmosphere and relaxing while chatting, eating, reading and writing.  I must admit though to enjoying the routine of mostly visiting my local handful.  This first challenge gives me an excuse to explore a bit more broadly, maybe discover some new favourites and to shake up my routine.  It’s also a challenge that’s not going to put too much stress on my body as I try and build up my resilience before any more physical challenges.

The ground rules for this challenge are as follows:

  1. By ‘different’ I mean unique physical locations, not unique chains
  2. There’s nothing stopping me visiting more than one cafe a day (but only one a day counts) and additional visits need not be to new cafes
  3. I can visit cafes that I’ve been to in the past, it would be torment not to visit some old favourites
  4. The implied objective of this challenge is to travel a bit, not just visit 30 different cafes in St Annes!

Every 30 day challenge I’m also stamping out a bad habit, in addition to establishing a new one.  In this case I will be:

not eating anything containing added sugar for the next 30 days

This challenge starts on the 15th of June.

Naturally I’m writing this blog post in a cafe, but already I’m thinking of all of the wonderful old favourites that I’ve given myself an excuse to visit again and all of the new gems that I’m hoping to discover.  It’s going to be fun, and in the spirit of this post I’m decorating it with a photo of the Beach Terrace Cafe, which will surely make my shortlist.

30 Day Challenges

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From what I’ve been reading 30 days is the minimum length of time that it typically takes to establish a new habit or to replace an old one.  30 day challenges sound like a good way to have fun with the idea, and adding a few challenges into my life is definitely something that’s an important part of retirement. 

My current plan is that every 30 days I will try and achieve one positive challenge, and one negative (i.e. stop doing something).  These 30 day challenges will need to align with my over-arching challenges for the next two years:

  1. Achieve the level of physical health that I enjoyed in my twenties
  2. Complete the ‘100 best walks’ in Britain as defined by this book.  Of course it’s worth remembering that all plans need to adapt to changing circumstances, I’m not training for the Olympics, I’m having fun
  3. Spend more time with people than I spend with screens

I’m tapping out this blog post in Caffe Nero Lytham, I came on my bike.  Cycling is definitely going to be involved in some of these 30 day challenges, but not the first one.  The photo I picked to adorn today’s post is of St Annes beach a couple of evening’s ago, taken during an evening walk with a friend of mine.

Living On A Fixed Income

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Now that I’ve retired from traditional work I have to face up to the fact that for the next 10 years I’m living off a fixed lump sum and thereafter living off a pension who’s value waxes and wanes with the vagaries of the stock market.  Although I’ve lived for 20 years with a fixed salary, I always knew that I could work for longer if I needed more money before I retired.  Now that I’ve decided to retire my net income is essentially fixed and substantially less than my previous gross salary.  As a result I’m already feeling a change in my attitude to money.  Every time an idea for a holiday, a day trip, a new gadget, or a meal out pops into my head it’s quickly followed by a nagging voice reminding me that I’m not replenishing ‘my pot’.  This is a shame, because I’ve never been one to worry about money, or to horde it, but I do like the warm sense of security that comes from having ‘enough’.

Since I don’t want to live the rest of my life worrying about running out of money or depriving myself of experiences in order to preserve my sense of financial security I need to change the way that I think.  The best way to do this that I’ve come up with so far is to start paying myself a ‘wage’ and to partition that monthly wage up for different purposes, allowing a surplus to develop that I feel comfortable spending.

For example imagine that I pay myself a wage of £2000 a month, from this I might decide that I’m happy to partition £200 for hiking day trips and encourage myself to spend up to that limit (I already operate a system a little like this for household repairs and saving for a new car so I know it stands a good chance of working)

The real benefit of a system like this is that I can use these pots of money to encourage myself to live the kind of life I want to.  Partitioning money for personal travel, family holidays, gadgets, gardening etc. and crucially having a clear intent that I should be spending that money, secure in the knowledge that it’s affordable.  The alternative is to live as frugally as possible, to delight in my simple life and simple needs, to be content with walking along the beach (rather than hiking in the Lakes) listening to podcasts on my iPhone 4s (rather than audio books on my 6 plus) enjoying the food I’ve grown in my garden (rather than eating out).

In the end I think I will blend the two approaches,  I won’t have enough money in my various buckets to fund all the experiences and things that I fancy, so I will end up appreciating things that don’t cost money just as much.

The photo introducing this post is of St Annes beach, my goto location for low cost inspiration.  I’m writing in Caffe Nero where I’ve been for a couple of hours drinking the free iced water.  Jennie and I are going out for brunch later though and then on to watch Jurassic World, a nice balance of frugality and costly experience.

When Work Stops Being Fun

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The main reason that I decided to retire was that work had stopped being fun. For over three decades I’d loved my work, it provided me with friends, status, accomplishment and lot’s of laughs and excitement, but gradually that changed.  Conference calls replaced face to face interactions, strangers replaced friends, accents that I struggled to understand became more common, progress became illusive, bureaucracy increased, working hours extended, accountability fragmented … the fun was being systematically squeezed out.  These changes seem to be pervading large companies, in their drive for ever lower costs, and global consistency they are perhaps inevitable, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to like it,  I don’t, perhaps others do.

Everyone finds different kinds of work fun, in fact pretty much anything can be fun with the right team and attitude, for a while, but for me sustainable fun comes from the following working environment:

  1. Working with people that I know well
  2. Working collaboratively, face to face, in a high performance team
  3. Working with talented people and helping them develop
  4. Working in a well designed work place
  5. Having full accountability to get the job done, without lots of ‘stakeholders’ trying to ‘help’ by second guessing me
  6. Working with a small number of customers for an extended length of time, so that I got to really understand their business
  7. Working with customers in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust
  8. Doing work that had a positive impact on my users lives
  9. Being able to really take care of my team
  10. Doing challenging work that was within my capabilities
  11. Having enough time, people and funding to do a good job, invest in the future and respond to the unexpected
  12. Avoiding politics and focusing on progress

For most of my career I was able to tick off most of this wish list and feel that I was working towards the others,  for a good few years I managed all of them.  In the last decade though it’s become ever more difficult and as my health has declined I’ve become ever less tolerant.  Work always has it’s frustrations, for which the fun (and pay packet) needs to compensate, for me the time has finally come to an end.

I’m writing this blog post in St Annes Caffe Nero, it’s a lovely sunny day and I’m feeling great.  I will soon be off for a walk along the beach, enjoying the view captured in this posts photo.

My Life After Work

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Well that’s it, this is the last part of a series of posts reflecting on the end of my traditional working life as I finally retire from work today. This post explores my first tentative steps towards laying out what my life’s going to be like now that I’ve retired and in many ways it’s going to follow the direction that I’ve set for myself over the last couple of years, but with a few important tweaks that are enabled by a different perspective, more time, energy, freedom and stability.

One of the most important changes that I’m going to make is to spend more time moving and less sitting, in fact I want to spend some time moving in every waking hour of the day as well as two or three hours of continuous movement.  I believe we are born to move and specifically to walk, but I’m going to be cycling and swimming too.  Of course when I’m in a flare I will need to moderate this aspiration, but my intent is clear.  To start me off I’m going to do the 100 Greatest Walks in Britain that might take a while!

I’m also going to spend a lot less time thinking and much more time doing.  Of my 40 working years, 30 of them were doing years, only in the last 10 did I start to transition to a pure thinking role and while I enjoyed it, I’m a doer at heart and a builder more specifically.  I’m going to really enjoy doing more and spending more time working with my hands and less time with my finger-tips.  I’m going to really relish the sense of progress that comes from having more time to spend gardening and doing DIY. My initial focus this year is growing my own fruit and veg.

I’ve also spent a lot of my life distracted, my mind has always been full of whirling ideas, deep in discussion, writing, listening to podcasts or watching TV.  It’s rare that I get to deeply concentrate, to be fully mindful of my minute to minute experience, I’d like that to change.  I’m not meaning that I will be spending hours a day in meditation (perhaps 20 minutes) rather I will be really focusing on, for example, the natural world as I’m hiking through it.  I’m also going to learn much more about the geology, fauna & flora of the UK and I’ve already got the books ready!

I’m also conscious that my life had gradually shifted from one focused on interacting with people and nature, to one where I spent ever more time in front of screens, often with a headset stuck in my ear.  I’m going to make an effort to gradually unwind from that screen dominated life.  That’s going to mean spending a lot less time indoors, and much more time outside.  Focusing on experiences and less on things and on learning about the natural world rather than technology.  I’m going to spend more time reading paper books too, sourced from my own large library, or the even larger one at the end of the street.

I will also be going back to my first love and doing some programming again and I will continue to research and write about my life and my life-long passion to help people live more productive, effective, rewarding and happy lives, but I will be focusing more on expressing my creativity than on the accumulation of knowledge.

There will still be periods of challenge though, working through nasty flares in particular and for that I’ve lined up a few years viewing of superb long running TV series, starting with shows like Star Trek Next Generation, Babylon 5, Deep Space 9 and Battlestar Galactica, but I will also be watching all of the classic documentaries about the natural world. 

In summary a simpler life, more in tune with my evolutionary heritage.

For all of my friends who read this, expect a call soon inviting you out for a good chat, over breakfast, lunch or a good hike – maybe all three Winking smile

I will be traveling a lot more and living a much more opportunistic life, less dictated by routine, so it’s fitting that I decorate this post with a picture of my beloved Filey beach and one of my most treasured early morning experiences as I watched a seal pup scamper back into the safety of the surf a couple of years ago.

Today Is My Last Day At CSC

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This post is part of a series reflecting on the end of my traditional working life as I prepare for retirement this week.

This is a difficult post to write, I’ve been in paid work in some form or another for over 40 years, 30 years in traditional employment and 16 of those with CSC. It’s mostly been an incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable experience and it’s with some sadness that I’ve allowed it to come to an end.  It helps that I’m voluntarily withdrawing from the world of work and that I’m financially secure, but it’s still a bit like embarking on a journey for which I’m poorly prepared along a path that’s not well trodden.

Retiring at 51 essentially means that I’m embarking on a lifestyle that I need to be able to sustain for another 30 years, at which point, perhaps, I will be entering my old age and trundling along for another few decades.  Thirty years is a long time, there’s going to be many changes in the world during that time and I need to be adaptable enough to find something fulfilling to do for all this time.

During my thirty years in traditional work I’ve changed jobs in some substantial ways about every two years, that’s over fifteen jobs in my working life.  I’ve needed all those job changes too, because each one has become stale for me after a couple of years and I’ve needed the injection of energy that comes from change.  As a result my retired life needs to be one devoted to learning and challenge as well, but wrapped around a core of relaxed acceptance that’s required to manage my health.

I’ve given a lot of thought to my last day.  I’m already overwhelmed by emotion as I draft this post and that’s not been helped by all of the kind comments via Facebook and email over the last few days.  My Asperger’s means that too much emotion essentially incapacitates me, I’m unable to speak or even think clearly.  My first response then was to run away, to spend my last day at home, avoiding the people and places that have come to mean so much to me, after all, I will continue to see many of them outside of formal work.  However as the time approaches, I’ve realised that it would be a shame not to mark the end of my working life in some small way.

I’ve decided that I will finish my working life, in much the same way that I’ve lived it.  I will start with a few hours in Caffe Nero and finish write this blog post, then I will head out for a walk along the beach, and finally I will end up on Chorley balcony, where I’ve met with so many of my friends over the years in hundreds of fascinating informal meetings.  The only change will be that this time there will be cakes (come to think of it cakes aren’t that unusual) but hopefully there will be an avoidance of goodbyes! 

I’m finishing off this post in Caffe Nero in MY windows seat, watching a sunny St Annes come to life.  Much of my future life is going to be focused on learning to enjoy the simple delights of my home town, so I decided that today’s post would be illustrated by it.