I understand what you mean when you say that 11 and 12 went the wrong way. I once tried switching back to 10.10, however, I had to look for another distro for the following reasons:
- Not possible to update anymore (it seemed as if I couldn't even get the updates for the 10.10 version)
- New programs will not necessarily work as some of them may need certain library versions, while the existing ones are out-of-date.
- It's much more worthwhile to return to 10.04 for the time being. As long as you want to keep away from the newer 11 and 12 Ubuntus (avoiding bloat is always a good idea), the LTS Lucid Lynx will serve your needs well for a year or so.
If you wish to stick to a stable distro, I recommend choosing something of a more lightweight nature, such as some debian-based distro. I myself am using Crunchbang and I can easily recommend it to anyone - the current stable release doesn't really differ at all from the testing branch (yes, it's a debian-based linux) in terms of appearance and performance (around 80 MB of RAM used on startup), therefore it is easy to notice that this is much more stable - unlike mainstream Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, which are always trying to catch up with the trends.
Crunchbang is just an example, you may wish to review the lightweight versions of Linux Mint (namely LXDE desktop) or others which also give you a choice of a more resource-hungry desktop. Recommendation: stick to lightweight window managers as they are stable, do not consume much resources (if any at all given today's computers' specs) and, if configured right, look rather elegant with minimal compositing and a nice GTK skin (that is why I use crunchbang, it has a default selection of great themes).
To add to 10.10, it's kernel version is a bit dated and you would probably want either the latest 2.6 release or the 3.x kernel (10.10, as far as I remember, uses the older 2.6 release).