We’d been talking about this trip for a long time so, when a small bequest from my Grandmother and my Long Service Leave were both available, we headed off for nearly 12 weeks, leaving Dad and Stu to fend for themselves. I’m not sure we’ll ever be allowed to do that again. This was my first trip, but Mum and Dad had been four times before, so I had the advantage of insider knowledge which served us well in many places.
Thursday 17 May (Dublin to Moira):
After way too many hours in planes and airports, we arrived in Dublin and picked up our hire car. A stroke of luck there, with a free upgrade to a 4WD. We had one place to visit today and then intended to drive until jetlag kicked in, so that’s what we did. Only visit of the day was to the burial mounds at Knowth, and my first taste of the beautiful greens of Ireland. We made it there despite the detailed directions given to us by the nice man at the garden centre. He even drew us a map – to somewhere, but not to Knowth. The first thing I discovered about Ireland is that every Irish joke you ever heard is true. The second thing I discovered is that they’re nowhere near as funny as the real thing. Nothing you want to find is signposted and asking directions gets you pointed in the wrong direction, but in the most charming way. My Irish genes must have surfaced today: Driving north on the motorway at the regulation 100km/hr, I was surprised to suddenly see the speed limit reduced to 60, and equally baffled as to why everyone was flying past me. It took a few moments to realise that we were now in Northern Ireland and, being part of the UK, 100kmh had changed to 60mph. The first time I’ve gone from one country to another without even realising it. Jet lag kicked in at Moira, where we found a B&B with the help of the ladies at the Banbridge Information Centre, had dinner at a nearby pub and were less than impressed by having to pay £3 for a small bottle of very ordinary Australian wine.
Friday 18 May (Moira to Portstewart):
Driving to the Causeway Coast via the beautiful Glens of Antrim (or at least one of them), I’ve made another discovery. No matter how narrow and winding the road, it’s OK to stop anywhere. Taking photos is no problem here. Just pull up, snap and move along. Today we stopped at Garron Point, from which you can see the Mull of Kintyre. Well, I may have glimpsed it through the haze. It wasn’t the best day for it. The the lovely Moravian village of Gracehill. Somewhere along the way we deviated from the main road and ended up having a very twisty, hilly drive. This gave us our tagline for the trip: “We never take wrong turns. We just take the scenic route.” It served us well, as we took quite a few “scenic routes” over the next weeks. At the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, it was windy enough that they had considered closing it, so I was a bit dubious about the crossing, but decided I would. It wasn’t too bad on the way across because I was the only one on the bridge and just had my own rhythm to deal with. A different story on the way back with others in front of and behind me, but I made it. The bridge was traditionally erected each year and used by salmon fisherman to cross to the island. At 20 metres across and 23 metres above the water, it’s not the most challenging adventure in the world, but hard enough for those of us who are a bit dodgy about heights.
The weather worsened on the short drive from Carrick-a-Rede to the Giant’s Causeway, but I managed not to slip or get blown away whilst on it. Would love to see it on a fine day. It’s geologically fascinating, but the legend is much more fun.
Our accommodation for the night was at Rick’s Hostel – an independent hostel in Portstewart. Interesting place which definitely has “character”. We weren’t entirely sure that the sheets were clean. Like most hostels, though, we met fun people – a man and his son from Donegal who were there for the surfing, and Phil and his mates who were in town for Phil’s stag night.
Saturday 19 May (Portstewart to Donegal):
Mostly driving today, with the specific aim of getting to Donegal. We stopped at Mussenden Temple which looked really interesting but was, unfortunately, closed – Australians just get going too early. We walked through the ruins of the house which naturally had no roof to protect us when it started to rain.
Roe Valley Country Park, where we had morning tea, looked lovely and would have loved to walk, but the rain put us off. We had planned to stay at the Youth Hostel in Donegal, but after driving through the hills to get there it looked quite deserted and was unstaffed till 4.00pm so we headed towards town where we found an independant hostel that ran rings around the previous one in Portstewart. Well kept and inviting with friendly hosts. For the first time in my life I watched the FA Cup final in daylight – with Tony from Glasgow and Matthew from Colorado. Afterwards, we went for a drive to Killybegs to see where Frederick Beattie (my Great Great Grandfather) signed up for the Royal Marines. We can’t find any record of him earlier than that. Much to Mum’s disgust, I think, I insisted on investigating a couple of cemeteries. I love old cemeteries, even if I don’t have any connection. The first one we stopped at seemed to be Catholic which was unlikely to have any connection. The second was at the Church of Ireland in Bruckless and I did find a Beattie grave, so maybe there’s a connection there. Haven’t found it yet.
Sunday 20 May (Donegal to Cong):
The craft village was closed on Sunday, so we stopped to ask directions to the castle. A lovely Irishman said he’d direct us there if we gave him a lift. He jumped in the back seat and pointed us in the right direction. We were a bit concerned about our handbags on the back seat, but shouldn’t have worried. I think he was too drunk to formulate the thought to steal anything. Had we been breathalysed, we may have been done, just from the fumes. He did assure us he wasn’t a murderer. Who could doubt a drunk Irishman at 9.00am on a Sunday morning? Donegal Castle was smaller than I expected. We had a really interesting and informative tour guided by Christina. After a fine morning, being Ireland, it started raining again. Luckily this was another mostly driving day. We had lunch at a nice pub in Sligo before heading to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery where we were lucky with the weather, managing to walk round with just a light sprinkle. This was very different to Knowth, though equally interesting. A self-guided tour which is never as good as a personal guide, but still good.
On to Foxford to see the woolen mill (no, it’s not a mill made of wool) that was started by nuns during the famine to provide work for men who couldn’t make a living otherwise. Despite the odds, the mill succeeded and is still operating. The audio-visual tour was well done with commentary, photos and models. Next stop: Cong Youth Hostel, run by a lovely couple who couldn’t decide if we were Australian or New Zealanders. He asked us to say “fish and chips”, so of course I said “fush and chups” and he declared us New Zealanders until we presented him with an Australian flag. Luckily the Irish get the Australian sense of humour. The John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man” was filmed in Cong, and the hostel plays the movie every night. Guess that’s a lot easier these days with DVDs than the old style movies. Anyway, we did watch it. Can’t say it’s the best I’ve seen.
Monday 21 May (Cong to Doolin): Leaving the hostel we drove through the beautiful grounds of Ashford Castle and into town, where we walked through the old abbey and around the town – a lovely little village and lots of fishing in the area.
After leaving, we drove through the Connemara – have you ever seen so many rocks and rock walls? Morning tea by the roadside at Furnace Lake. There were heaps of buses which were generally pulled up in inconvenient places, releasing hordes of tourists to scare the cattle. Our best weather so far was reflected in the beautiful aqua of Gallway Bay. We weren’t particularly impressed with the Aillwee Cave, though we did learn that you can get a YHA discount, even if it’s not on “the list”. The lady on the gate used to be a member and gives a discount to anyone who asks. Travelling towards Doolin we passed through The Burren – a remnant of the Ice Age with amazing Arctic vegetation.
Tonight was a pub crawl. There are 3 pubs that have traditional Irish music every night. There is one new and rather clinical looking place, but it was deserted. I suspect it’s aimed at the cattle-scaring bus passengers, but no atmosphere. We started with dinner at McDermott’s where we waited for the music to start and listened for a while. Moved onto McGann’s and then to O’Connor’s and finally made it back to our B&B about midnight. If anyone tells you that you can’t do a pub crawl with your 70-ish mother, don’t believe them.
Tuesday 22 May (Doolin to Killarney):
Mostly driving today. One place we did visit was Craggaunowen Village with recreations of prehistoric and early Christian aspects of everyday life.
I really enjoy outdoor museums as they seem to really give you a feel for the times they are depicting. We stopped in Adare – a lovely village with a row of beautiful thatched cottages. Mum says that last time she was there there were hardly any visitors. Now, sadly, well and truly on the tourist track.
We avoided the Cliffs of Moher where they wanted €8 just to drive in and look. I can’t imagine cliffs that are that great. I’m sure we’ll see others. Today we drove through a town called Castleisland, which doesn’t appear to have a castle and most definitely isn’t an island. I love Ireland. Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is at Killarney Youth Hostel. Looks great.
Wednesday 23 May (at Killarney):
We drove out to the Dingle Peninsula, around Slea Point and through Connor Pass. It would have been lovely (I know because I’ve seen the postcards) but most was blanketed in fog, so we only had glimpses. We had morning tea in Dingle where we didn’t quite get lost, but did have to carefully retrace our steps to find the car. At Slea Point we stopped at a famine cottage. Walking up to it through the fog and looking at the conditions they lived in I can only think how depressing life must have been. No wonder so many people wanted to escape for a better life. Had a lovely chat with the Garda when we were pulled up for a random rego and licence check. Just like work – there’s no escape for these things. Blennerville seems an odd place for a windmill, but there is an explanation. I guess you could google it, but why not go there and find out. They also have a display about the famine, emigration and the coffin ships. Today we got caught in a tourist trap. We drove out to Muckross House and pulled in where we saw a sign for parking for the house. We were immediately accosted by a jaunting car driver who offered us a 1 hour ride for €20 each.We turned him down and walked into the grounds, intending to walk to the house. Turns out this was not the main parking area and the house was 2 miles away. The driver followed us and offered a discount. We kept walking and after about fifty yards the price was €10 each for a half hour ride. We were a bit of a captive market so took him up on the offer and had a lovely short ride.
Tuesday 24 May (Killarney to Castlecomer):
This morning we headed back to Muckross House and were lucky to get an early tour with an excellent guide. I hope the Queen never comes to visit me – Victoria and Albert’s visit in 1861 ruined the family. They spent all their money in preparation for the visit – on amazing things like hand painted silk wall coverings and installation of a fire escape. Did you know that Queen Victoria had a fear of fire and only wanted to stay somewhere if there was a fire escape?
Next stop was Blarney where we scaled the very steep steps to kiss the Blarney Stone. It was one of those things you think you have to do. I’m glad I did, but I don’t think I’ll go back. Don’t really want to go up all those steps again, for one thing, and not too keen on leaning backwards over the void.
We headed for Castlecomer to visit relatives, who insisted on us having “a cup of tea”, which actually consisted of of bread, meat, salad and pie, as well as the tea. It was a bit embarassing as they all sat and watched us. Back to Foulksrath Castle, which operates as a youth hostel, where we had secured beds in the female dorm. Sometime during the night, the girls who were on the other side of the room came in and, judging by the noises emanating, it had suddenly converted to a mixed dorm.
Friday 25 may (Castlecomer to Tullamore):
The family graves at the cemetery in Castlecomer were very hard to read and one was broken. Much deteriorated since Mum’s last visit, sadly.
On the way to Tullamore we visited the Blackwater Bog Railway , where peat is taken to fuel the power station. The type of fuel and method of extraction may be vastly different, but the destructive effect on the land is similar to other types of “mining”. I wonder how long it will take to run out. They been digging it a long time and there still seems to be a lot of it there.
Our bed for the night was at a B&B that Mum and Dad had stayed at before and told us about, so I enjoyed meeting Doreen and Christie. Dropped our bags and headed for Suncroft and a drink at Moore’s Well – a pub owned by Emerald’s Father Dan’s brother John. John had just left for a wedding so we didn’t see him. Father Dan said later that it was probably a good thing he had just left, and not just come back. Back at the B&B, Doreen had “a little lunch” ready for us. At 6.30 at night? Really? After “lunch” she took us for a drive to a graveyard dating back to 500AD (unfortunately locked up; I’d have loved to have a walk around it) and a drive to Charleville Castle which is very imposing. We were about ready for bed, but Doreen had other ideas, taking us on to Bridge House Hotel for tea. Luckily it was election night so we were eventually able to escape and went to bed while the locals sat up watching the election results. Saturday 26 May (Tullamore to Dublin):
Dropped off our hire car at Dublin Airport, bussed into town and walked to the hostel. We instantly decided we’d be getting a taxi back to the airport. Visited the Dublin Writers’ Museum where the first point of interest on the audio guide was No 2. Of course it was. This is Ireland.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town and avoiding the rain. Over the river to Temple Bar to find where the musical pub crawl starts. Alas, too wet for us to do that tonight. Sheltering in a doorway we met a man who knew where our (very) small town is – he used to work nearby. Pre-dinner drinks in the pub as there’s no alcohol allowed in the hostel. Chatted to 2 mad Scotsmen over for the Bank Holiday weekend. Allegedly they were both speaking English, but one had to translate for us. Couldn’t understand a word the other said.
Sunday 27 May (In Dublin):
Got the first hop-on-hop-off bus of the day and did the full circuit with live commentary – so much better than the recorded one. On the 2nd circuit we got off at Trinity College which was interesting but didn’t really hold any meaning for me. Much more meaningful was the Guinness Storehouse where I poured (and drank) the perfect pint! Pity the poor bugger who owns the land. He’s not making any money out of it. Arthur Guinness took out a 9000 year lease at the outrageous price of £45/year. Laughing! Last stop on our tour was the Archaeology Museum where we saw the bog men.
Pub for dinner where I set the barman the challenge of finding me a wine that wasn’t Australian. It took him half an hour, but he did find it.
England’s south and Cornwall
Monday 28 May (Dublin to Guildford): Today we met a leprechaun. Chatted to a lovely little old Irishman who told us about Youth Hostels 60 years ago and was very sad that his new shoes had been stolen from under his bed last night. Flew to Gatwick where friends picked us up and had a lovely drive around the local countryside on our way to their home at Guildford. A quiet day. Tuesday 29 May (in Guildford): Our hire car arrived and we took it for a spin to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. A lovely house and village. Easy to see where many of her influences came from. We only took “the scenic route” once on the way back. Dinner with our friends at The Grantley Arms and, hooray, steak and kidney pie! Much preferred the name of this pub to “The Slug and Lettuce”. I think I’d have trouble eating there – especially the salad..
Wednesday 30 May (Guildford to Alfriston): We visited Winston Churchill’s home, Chartwell, which was full of fascinating information about his life – not just as Prime Minister. The gardens look beautiful and peaceful but the rain sent us dashing back to our car so we didn’t get to enjoy them. At Tunbridge Wells we drove down Forest Road to see if we could figure out where Stu used to live, but no luck. A stop at Battle where I enjoyed the audio tour of the 1066 battlefield and a quick look around the Abbey, before heading to Polegate to visit a distant cousin and then on to the Youth Hostel at Alfriston – a 16th century house with so much atmosphere. Unfortunately not so much atmosphere at the 13th century Star Inn where we had dinner. Thursday 31 May (Alfriston to Salisbury): Heading for Salisbury we stopped at Wilmington to view the Long Man chalk figure,
Beachy Head with its view of the impressive white cliffs names The Seven Sister and its beach of very coarse sand (rocks) and then to a spot overlooking Eastbourne for a walk.
At Brighton we “did” the pier and had a nutritious lunch of chips and ice cream (not together) and avoided being attacked by the seagulls. The weather was perfect for a walk on the beach, but the, um, sand (rocks) got the better of me.
We ended up at the Salisbury Youth Hostel. Friday 1 June (Salisbury to Beer): Well, of course I wanted to see Stonehenge. I half expected to be disappointed, as you sometimes are when you see something so famous. But I loved it. True, you can’t walk amongst the stones, but it’s still very impressive.
Portsmouth Historic Docks also didn’t disappoint. Easily a full day to be spent here, though we didn’t have that long. We managed to see Nelson’s “Victory”, the Warrior and Henry VIII’s flagship “The Mary Rose” and the Mary Rose museum which fives a fascinating glimpse of Tudor life.
A long drive (in time, not distance) then to Beer, via the New Forest, with its wild ponies. The quietest wild ponies I’ve ever seen. They didn’t seem too bothered by people. Beer (yes, that’s it’s real name) is lovely, though hilly. The “beach” would benefit from more sand and less rocks.
I briefly thought I was back in Ireland when I saw the sign at the hostel advertising their cold breakfast which consists of “a maximum of two hot items”. Huh?
Saturday 2 June (Beer to Boyton): Visited some friends in Somerset on the way to Cornwall. More wild ponies on Datmoor. We stopped for a while and I went for a short walk. Although the day had started out fine, the mist was rolling in and it was easy to imagine how someone could quickly get lost. Our accommodation in Cornwall is at The Doll’s House – a tiny cottage on a farm. I only hit my head twice on the sloping roof above the bed on day one.
Sunday 3 June (at Boyton): Visited Lanhydrock – a 17th century house that is the epitome of “Upstairs Downstairs”. The family here treated their staff very well, but there was still the obvious line that wasn’t crossed. Paid an afternoon visit to another distant cousin in St Austell and arrived back at the cottage to the news that there’s a problem with our Glasgow accommodation and we’ll have to make alternative arrangements.
Monday 4 June (at Boyton): At last, a fine morning and the chance for an early walk. I was rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of a roe deer as it escaped through the hedge. At Boscastle there was a lot of flood mitigation work being done. The little town was badly flooded in 2004. There is a witchcraft museum here that I particularly enjoyed. We visited the old Post Office at Tintagel, but didn’t have time to see the castle, according to legend where King Arthur came from. My favourite town today was Port Isaac – the town where Doc Martin is filmed. A beautiful little village with streets steep and narrow enough to deter the tourist coaches but not, apparently, motorised wheelchairs.
Tuesday 5 June (at Boyton): Fabulous weather today for a “long” day driving. Although we did pass through Penzance, the only pirates we saw were at Land’s End where the parking attendant took £3 from us and the official photographer wanted £9.50 to take a photo of you under a sight that says “Land’s End”. Somehow we resisted. I guess this used to be a nice spot but now it’s just a lot of commercialised rubbish.
We drove through Mousehole, another little fishing village with even narrower streets than Port Isaac, and to St Michael’s Mount where we walked across at low tide and I climbed to the top. The origin of “Jack and the Giant Killer” came from one of the legends about this place.
Lizard Point, the most southerly point in mainland England, is such a contrast to Land’s End. So quiet and unspoiled. No shortage of quaint Cornish fishing villages – not really a surprise on the coast of Cornwall, I suppose.
Wednesday 6 June (at Boyton): I thought I’d enjoy the Tamar Otter Park. I love otters. So yes, the otters were cute, but the rest of the park was a bit of a disappointment. Padstow, home to Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver, was touristy, crowded and commercialised. We witnessed a seagull attack on a couple who’d just bought some chips. Still not sure which happened first – they dropped the chips or the seagulls attacked. But the end result was they same. Seagulls got a feed and the couple retreated into the nearest shop for their own safety. The Bedruthen Steps are steep and difficult for those of us not quite as fit as others. At low tide the beach is exposed and there are dramatic views of the cliffs behind. Easy to imagine smugglers braving the rocks and the rips to hide their spoils in there. I don’t know if they actually used these, but let’s say they did.
Thursday 7 June (at Boyton): Beautiful weather for a drive to Jamaica Inn to visit the Daphne du Maurier museum. Some fascinating examples of smuggling devices, though a little more labelling and some indication of the dates they were used would have improved it. Somewhere, somehow my camera has crashed and I’ve lost 500 photos. Thank goodness for Mum’s. The Charlestown Shipwreck Museum is probably not the greatest museum I’ve ever been to, but was interesting enough.
Friday 8 June (at Boyton): Met yet another distant cousin in Tavistock
then visited Buckland Abbey which was Drake’s home. Well presented and interesting for its chequered history and many different lives. I’m not too sure how keen I am on the Tudor remedies. Here’s a couple: Baldness: Anoint the head with grease of a fox. Gout: Boil a red-haired dog in oil, add worms, pig’s marrow and herbs. Make an ointment of the mixture and rub on the affected area.
Finished the day with a drive to the beach at Bude before dinner at the pub.
Saturday 9 June (Boyton to Chadlington):
Mostly driving today with a stop at Clovelly – a fishing village where the buildings are maintained using traditional methods and materials. No motor vehicles are permitted in on the cobblestone street and goods are transported on wooden sleds – hand held or drawn by donkeys. The quaint effect is somewhat spoilt when you get to the bottom and realise that there is a back street where residents use their vehicles. This little street is either known as Up Along or Down Along, depending on whether you’re going up or down. Not much fun on sore feet. Wear very comfy shoes and avoid stilettos.
We stopped at a boot sale but failed in our mission to find some valuable trinket buried in a box of stuff. Guess we’ll have to go back to Plan A and pay for the holiday ourselves.
Our accommodation in Chadlington (near Chipping Norton) is a converted stable (hence its name “El Establo”) behind the old school teacher’s house. Much more comfy than a castle.El Establo
Sunday 10 June (at Chadlington):
I feel like I’m living in an episode of Midsomer Murders or an Agatha Christie story. And loving it. Fortunately no one is dead, as far as I know. As long as I don’t see Tom Barnaby or Miss Marple, I’ll be OK.
This morning we went to Spelsbury to listen to the church bells, then on to Burford to look at the shops up and down the High Street.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at Chedworth Roman Villa. There was a good audio tour which explained everything that you can see, and some things you can’t. How clever they were at heating their houses. Wouldn’t you think the English might have adapted this? We were lucky enough to be there on a day when they had displays and demonstrations, amongst them were mock fights, a display of medical implements (it’s probably best not to think too hard about what they were used for) and a display of Roman games. I had quite a long chat with this lady and would have liked to buy some but she had none for sale.
Up to Stow-on-the-Wold and a visit to the Rollright Stones – a stone circle less impressive in the size of the stones than Stonehenge, but more impressive from the point of view that you can walk amongst them – and the Druids won’t bother you at all.
Monday 11 June (at Chadlington):
Stratford-on-Avon today and plenty of Shakespearean history. The town was busy but I found it quite peaceful. I especially enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s cottage which had a very tranquil feel. The cottage contains original furniture and it turns out the family was very enterprising in turning into an early tourist business 200 years ago by naming it after its most famous resident.
Other lovely towns we visited today were Broadway and Stow-on-the-Wold.
Tuesday 12 June (at Chadlington):
I will always remember that Tuesday is market day at Morton-in-Marsh. Probably has been for hundreds of years and probably will be for a long time to come. It’s also the market where I bought an amazingly comfy pair of shoos. I think I should have bought 2.
Bourton-on-the-Water is nice but how dare all those tourists be there when we want to visit! Behind the pub there is a model of the village. Behind the model of the pub is a model of the model. Cute!
There’s a fun Dragonfly Maze, which is really for kids, but what are we if not big kids. It has a puzzle to solve as you go through, which makes it a bit more interesting than an ordinary maze. I found this on the net before we left home, but no one we asked seemed to know much about it in the UK.
Off to the Slaughters (Upper & Lower). Lower Slaughter seems to be the more popular but with little parking there still weren’t too many people at any one time. I’ve always loved the idea of being able to walk from one village to the next, so I did this here. mum parked at the hotel and waited for me to arrive and reward myself with a pint or 2. Absolutely gorgeous sitting on the terrace, but the atmosphere was somewhat spoilt by the arrival of a helicopter to pick up some guests.
Tonight we went to The Duke of Cumberland’s Head to watch some Morris Dancing. no one seemed to know anything about it, but fortunately the sister of one of the dancers set us straight and we waited. The two sides then danced at the front of the pub, often spilling onto the road, as did some of the spectators. The drivers who had their way blocked didn’t seem to mind. Lots of fun.
Wednesday 13 June (at Chadlington)
I was very excited to visit the Uffington White Horse, though a little disappointed that you can’t actually see the whole thing from anywhere on the ground. Kind of ruins the impression, but I still enjoyed walking up to it and seeing it. A nice walk and a great view from the highest point in Oxfordshire.
We visited Waddesdon Manor. Very grand and elaborate but I really felt it was too over-the-top. I suppose it had the desired effect on those who it was designed to impress, but not on me. At one stage I had tears in my eyes. I was looking at the display of stuffed birds and suddenly realised that one case was full of many of the species that regularly visit our yard. I much prefer them alive.
This evening I went to a bell ringing practice at Shipton-under-Wychwood. It was something I thought sounded typically Cotswoldish and I really enjoyed it. Really nice people who asked me with great enthusiasm if I was a ringer. Sadly not, but would have loved to give it a go. I did get to climb the clock tower to wind the clock, though.
Thursday 14 June (at Chadlington):
We were supposed to catch the train to Oxford today, but it was cancelled – not an uncommon occurrence, apparently – so we went by bus instead. We took a walk with a local guide who was very knowledgable. An excellent 2 hours. I would like to do the Morse walk which is only on a Saturday, so not this time.
We visited the Natural History Museum and the covered markets and had lunch at The Bear – a 13th Century pub with the walls and ceilings covered in cut off neck ties. Apparently in days gone by if you cut off your tie and gave it to them, you would get a free pint.
Friday 15 June (at Chadlington):
Snowshill Manor today. This house if full of – well – stuff. The house was bought and restored by Charles Wade to display his collection. The only criteria for something to be included were that they were hand made or that there would be none left if he didn’t rescue them. Nothing is labelled, so you don’t always know what you’re looking at, but there are guides through out the house to inform you if you’re interested in asking.
Had a look at the beautiful thatches in Chipping Campden and walked up and down the High Street. Yet another beautiful, and typical, Cotswold village. Loving it.
Off again to Stow-on-the-Wold where a man stopped to ask me directions to Tesco. You should have seen his face drop when I said, in my best Australian accent, “Mate, I’m a long way from home.” But he cheered up when I pointed him in the right direction, as I’d just walked from there.
Saturday 16 June (Chadlington – Edwinstowe):
Mostly driving today and installed ourselves in the purpose-built Youth Hostel at Edwinstowe. I went for a walk through a small corner of the little bit of Sherwood Forest that’s left. When you’re standing alone in the forest, it’s easy to imagine the Merry Men disappearing into the undergrowth. An easy walk to the Major Oak and back to the hostel around the edge of the cricket field where there was match in progress.
We enjoyed a pint whilst watching the end of the cricket match – Edwinstowe v Everton. I felt sooooo English.
We were considering going to Nottingham Castle tomorrow but the recent storms have knocked out the power so we decided against it.
Sunday 17 June (Edwinstowe – York):
We visited the Plague Village of Eyam, where the people decided to quarantine themselves so as not to spread the plague. I remember seeing a TV programme about a DNA study of the descendants of the survivors and there was reference to this in the museum. We couldn’t get into the church as there was a Sunday service on, but did see the vertical sundial outside.
We were looking for some well-dressing and the lovely people at the museum directed us to Cressbrook.
Could I just say at this point that I hate pay-and-display parking? Either you put too much in the meter and waste some of your time (and money) or you put in too little then have to run back to top it up or leave early and miss something. I’d much rather pay as I leave and pay for the time I’ve been there.
Well Dressing (which I’d never heard of) is the practice of decorating wells to give thanks for the continued supply of water. Mum and Dad had seen it on a previous trip. We only found one dressed well. I think we were a bit late in the season.
After lunch on the village green at Litton, we headed for York.
We were later than we intended but I did have time to climb the 275 steps to the top of the Minster and explore some of the excavations down to Roman level beneath. As usual, I enjoyed the underground more than the over-ground and was eventually kicked out at closing time.
Nice dinner in a pub and then a short walk in the rain on a small section of what’s left of the city wall.
Our B&B was in a very comfortable room on a farm run by a bit of an odd couple. I think she does all the work and he does all the drinking.
Monday 18 June (York – Osmotherly):
We had no particular plans on where we were heading today.
Stopped at Fountains Abbey where we thought we might spend an hour. It could have been even less as the river had reverted to its original course in the weekend flooding and had flooded parts of the abbey. We were warned that the tour guide would “do his best”, which he certainly did, keeping us entertained for nearly 2 hours.
This put us behind the schedule that we didn’t have, so we got to Eden Camp just before 3pm. Eden Camp was a WWII POW camp housing mainly Italians and Germans. It’s been set up as a museum with a different theme in each hut and is really well done. It closes at 5pm and 2 hours just isn’t enough. Once again got kicked out at closing time. Is a theme developing?
On to Goathland – better known to many as Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat – which was very quiet so late in the day. They are not ashamed of the TV fame here and it’s very different to Port Isaac where there’s no real sense of Doc Martin. Here I can imagine Nick Rowan and Greengrass and many of the other characters.
Thought it was about time to find somewhere to stay, which we did at the Osmotherly Youth Hostel.
Tuesday 19 June (Osmotherly – Clarencefield):
Another day with no definite plans other than a couple of particular stops to make.
The first was Hadrian’s Wall where Mum waited at the visitors’ centre while I walked up to the wall. It was cold and misty but the 10 minute walk warmed me up.
Despite the mist, the scenery was lovely and could only get better. Traded cameras and photos with two couples from Wales. The strange Welshman who took my photo suggested I take my shirt off. Since his wife was right beside him, and the weather was awful, I can only assume he was joking. I told him to meet me back there on a fine day.
Heading into the mountains, we realised we’d taken the scenic route (wrong turn) somewhere, so made a navigational adjustment which we also got wrong and ended up heading into the same town twice from the same direction. I love the UK country roads. No matter where you are going, you can always correct and correct again. In Australia you would end up 500km from where you meant to be.
We eventually made it to Gretna Green where I failed to elope but did tour the Old Smithy, before looking for accommodation for the night.
Found a room at the Farmer’s Inn at Clarencefield which was motel style and the biggest and best room we’ve stayed in so far, and had a nice dinner in the pub.
Wednesday 20 June (Clarencefield – New Lanark):
We thought we’d never get away this morning. We’d finished our breakfast when the owner (or perhaps the owner’s mother) came in to clear the table. We now know not only her entire family history but also the history of every dog she’s ever owned and all about her 7 month old great grandchild.
Our only planned stop today was at Culzean (pronounced Kulleen) Castle which was Eisenhower’s base during WWII. Really nice spot, a spectacular display of small arms in the armoury and lovely grounds where we walked to the Swan Pond.
The on to New Lanark Youth Hostel.
New Lanark is a village that was built specifically to accommodate local mill workers.
A very comfortable hostel.
Thursday 21 June (New Lanark – Glasgow):
I was disappointed this morning to find out there’d been a badger walk last night. I definitely would have gone if I’d known.
Off to Glasgow to meet very distant cousins. Lovely, welcoming people who we were supposed to stay with but due to building issues we ended up in a lovely B&B. I can’t imagine living in that tenement for so many years.
Eileen and Mum went off for afternoon tea and Eric took me to see Pollok House and the Burrell Collection which I enjoyed, particularly the art (the Cezanne was my favourite) and the huge tapestries. I’m not sure I really did them justice.
Friday 22 June (Glasgow – Bridge of Weir):
The B&B couldn’t accommodate us for a 2nd night so we arranged to go to another distant cousin’s for the night. Before that we went into Glasgow to the Kelvingrove museum and art gallery which had an excellent local focus, and the transport museum where the Clyde ships were particularly interesting.
We walked to the Tenement House which has been preserved much as it would have been in the early 1900s, so it was a glimpse of what life would have been like for my Great-Grandmother before they emigrated to Australia when my Grandmother was a small child.
Dinner at Hagg’s Castle Golf Club which is apparently “the place to go” in Glasgow. Nice meal, but I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Then to our cousin’s place at Bridge of Weir. So jealous. They not only have a stream through their back yard, but their very own waterfall.
Midsummer in Scotland
Saturday 23 June (Bridge of Weir to Oban):
A sleep in! How does that happen with so much daylight? Cousin Liz took us birdwatching at Lochwinnoch Nature Reserve. In one of the hides a lovely man helped me identify ones that I didn’t know (most of them). Helpful folk in the Visitors’ Centre also identified birds visiting the feeders. I enjoyed this. Not so sure Mum did.
After lunch we drove to Arrochar on Loch Long – this is where the MacFarlanes were from. At the church they were having a flower show so we got to meet some of the locals and have a cup of tea and some genuine home made Scottish shortbread. What a beautiful spot overlooking the lake. I might have to lodge a land rights claim.
We drove the length of Loch Lomond and on to Oban to another distant cousin’s place – Moira and Doug.
Sunday 24 June (at Oban):
I was up early, before everyon else, so went for a walk around the harbour. Very quiet on a Sunday morning.
Doug and Moira took us for a drive around the sites. Great to have a local with knowledge and passion to show us around and tell us the stories about Pulpit Hill, where the protestants came to worship when the Catholics were in power; McCaig’s Tower which was supposed to be an art gallery but was never finished; Dunstaffnage Castle, now a ruin but is the seat of the Campells and the chief must sleep there one night a year to retain it. Other stories about the chief’s son who murdered his father of the eve of the father’s wedding to prevent him marrying the mother of his bastard son. And the flying boat that, during WWII left Oban with 8 people on board. It crashed and the sole survivor made it to help. Then rescuers found 8 bodies in the wreck. Wait, what?
The highlight of lunch at The Manor House was my dessert of pink champagne jelly with berries . and what would be wrong with that?
A quiet afternoon and dinner at home. A lovely day.
Monday 25 June (Oban to Tobermory):
We caught the ferry to the Isle of Mull with seagulls hovering over the back the whole way, waiting for a feed. They are truly rodents. On landing, we headed straight to Fionnphort to get the ferry to Iona, a lovely, tranquil island, though very windy.
Returning to Mull we drove the long way round the island on narrow, winding roads to Tobermory and the Youth Hostel – very comfy. This town is very pretty with its coloured buildings. It’s the site of a children’s TV show called “Balamory”. Never heard of it but it’s big here.
Lots of bird watchers out and about, many looking for the white-tailed sea eagle.
The scenery here is wild and dramatic. I would love to spend more time here.
Tuesday 26 June (Tobermory to Loch Duich):
We’ve seen a lot of beautiful scenery today. Starting with a walk around Tobermory and a visit to the local distillery shop. We’ve met a few people who are here for the McLean gathering.
We caught the ferry from Fishnish to Lochaline then drove through the Highlands to Glencoe with it’s imposing mountains and tragic history.
Mum was hoping for a piper at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, but no luck. It seems I’m not destined to hear one in the Highlands.
We found a B&B on the shore of Loch Duich then drove to Plockton, the setting for Hamish MacBeth. This is a nice, remote spot though I had no sense of the show and they don’t seem to acknowledge it at all.
The little village of Duirinish, which we saw on the way in, looked even quainter but isn’t right on the water.
Wednesday 27 June (Loch Duich to Carbisdale Castle)
The monster failed to appear at Loch Ness for us today. Disappointing but not surprising. But you can always remember your visit by purchasing one of the expensive souvenirs.
At Culloden we saw an excellent presentation explaining the use of the weapons, a film about the lead up to the battle and a guided tour of the battlefield with a kilted guide who must have been freezing, especially when it started raining. Then again, he’s probably used to it.
I didn’t get the same overall sense of the battle here as I did at Battle. Possibly because the lie of the land prevents you getting a full view of the battle field. But well presented.
At Brodie Castle we unexpectedly caught a free guided tour.
Then on to our accommodation for the evening – Carbisdale Castle which is a youth hostel. What a great building to get lost in. Which we did … twice. Once on our way to our room and once on our way back to the car. And some poor backpackers followed us, thinking we knew where we were going. They realised their mistake when we all ended up in the basement.
Thursday 28 June (Carbisdale Castle to Kingussie)
No ghosts appeared during the night, but if there actually are any they probably got lost. We managed to navigate the corridors successfully but we did see a few people scratching their heads. Maybe that was the midges. They were savage.
Mum really wanted me to have some sort of wildlife experience so we headed to the North Kessock Dolphin & Seal Centre. This turned out to be an information centre and they directed us to the most likely place to see dolphins and perhaps some seals. We drove too far and ended up at Cromarty where we saw a lot of water and a lot of people looking at the water, but no wildlife. Back to the right place at Fortrose where we watched some more water and, just as I was about to leave, a seal poked its head up. It flitted briefly on the surface as if to say, “I’ll let you get a glimpse but not to much. Just stand there and wait for the next one”.
We headed for Newtonmore where there is a Highland Folk Museum in 2 parts – artefacts at Kingussie and a village and other buildings at Newtonmore. We particularly liked the 1700s village. Of course when we got there, it was much bigger than we’d imagined so we decided to stay in Kingussie the night. We’d been planning to try to get a B&B for 2 nights.
Found a room in the High Street and had dinner in the Monarch of the Glen Bar at the Star Hotel.
Friday 29 June (at Kingussie);
Without knowing it, we’d landed in one of the towns used for the filming of Monarch of the Glen, with some scenes filmed in the street opposite our B&B. “Duncan” is, according to the locals, exactly the same in real life as he was in the show.
The museum at Kingussie is much larger than we’d expected with over 1500 items reflecting the history of the area, and several typical buildings housing some of them.
In the afternoon we want baci to Newtonmore to enjoy the things we’d missed yesterday – displays of the 1930s and recollections of wartime rationing.
Today’s interesting fact: Britain’s WWII debt to the US was only paid off in 2006.
Saturday 30 June (Kingussie to Edinburgh):
We headed first of all to Dollar to another distant cousin for lunch then on to Edinburgh to our B&B after a few navigational challenges.
We got directions to the bus stop and headed for town where we had dinner at the Tollboth Hotel and then took the Ghosts & Ghouls tour, though no ghosts appeared to us. I wouldn’t mind doing this again when it’s not the middle of summer and they days not so long. It would be more atmospheric in those little alleys if it was dark.
Sunday 1 July (in Edinburgh):
We bought an all day bus ticket and headed back into town and a walk in the gardens before going on to Leith for a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Apart from the dining room, which is very formal, the yacht is surprisingly not particularly grand or luxurious. But there would have been plenty of staff to look after your every need.
Back in town we did some shopping and walked up the Royal Mile. The Queen is currently in residence at Holyrood House for the opening of the Parliament, so it’s amazing there hasn’t been a terrorist attack here, instead of in London and Glasgow in the last 2 days.
Popped into Gladstone’s Land – a house originally built in the 1500s and later extended. The most amazing thing to me here was how vivid some of the original decorations still were.
At the castle I was just in time for a guided tour. Though it probably wouldn’t have been as detailed as the audio guide, I do prefer the live commentary and the opportunity to ask questions.
Down through the Lake District and on to Wales
Monday 2 July (Edinburgh to Elterwater):
We only took one wrong turn on our way out of Edinburgh. Is this a record? Through the lovely Borders towns and onto the very beautiful Lake District where we are staying at the Elterwater Youth Hostel. This building was originally a farmhouse and barn built in 1692. I still can’t get my head around the age of things.
I borrowed a book of local walks and headed off, but the oncoming storm persuaded me to take the shortened version.
Tuesday 3 July (Elterwater to Arneside):
We drove through Honister Pass to Hill Top – Beatrix Potter’s house. Although she never lived there, she did use it for work and entertaining the local ladies.
I love that lots of scenes from the cottage are in pictures in the books. Our timed ticket meant that we had to wait an hour and a half to get in but it was worth it, and we still had time to visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery. This has many original drawings and picture. I love Jemima Puddleduck – she always looks so ditzy.
After dinner we went for a nice walk along the front where there were lots of signs warning about quicksand and fast rising tides. I’ve heard about these tides and would have loved to watch to see just how fast it is.
Wednesday 4 July (Arneside to Northop Hall):
A stop at Port Sunlight to visit the Lady Lever Art Gallery and view the huge collection of Wedgwood. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the tapestries.
Next stop, Chester and a walk around the city wall which is still very much intact. This gives you good views of the old city and I can imagine some of what it might have been like way back when.
The information centre at Mold (I don’t think I’d want to live in a town with that name) found us a B&B in Northop Hall. This is a little town you’d probably never just happen upon.
And, for some obscure reason, I appear to have no photos.
Thursday 5 July (Northop Hall to Leominster):
First stop this morning was Llangollan (pronounced Clangocklan) where we took the horse rawn canal boat ride. Everyone aboard agreed this was a very peaceful experience. The smooth ride without the intrusion of engine noise or vibration was quite soothing and only disturbed by one low flying duck. Thanks to the Welsh cob named Tog who did all the hard work.
Back in town, I wondered if it was always this busy, or is it because of next week’s international eisteddfod. I noted in my diary that if “eisteddfod” had been spelt incorrectly, it would be Mum’s fault. And, indeed, it was incorrect. But only by 1 letter. She had an extra “d” on the end so I reckon I’ll give her that.
We drove out to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct where my toes tingled as I stood in the middle and looked down. Is it really only 126 feet high?
It rained all the way to Powys Castle and the whole time we were there. Beautiful murals on the ceilings. I wonder if I could get Stu to do this next time we’re painting the house.
Still through the rain to Leominster – pronounced Lemster – is nothing here pronounced the way it’s spelt? It’s like being in a foreign country. Oh wait…
The youth hostel here is an old Priory There seems to be bells ringing all the time – hopefully practice has just started and they won’t be ringing every hour through the night.
Friday 6 July (Leominster to Loughor):
The jokes on me … the bells did ring every hour through the night., but not as loudly as in Tobermory.
This hostel seems to be on the road for cyclists dong the ride from Lands End to John o’ Groats. We’ve met a few staying here.
Friday is Market Day so of course we went during our walk around town before heading to Hay on Wye. I’m never bringing Kim here. We’d never see her again. As it was I buried myself in books and maps in the basement of one shop, but did eventually have to emerge.
On to friends John and Sue at Loughor for the next few days.
Saturday 7 July (in Loughor):
John and I went for morning walk along the estuary where there used to be a busy port, but you’d never know it now.
A beautiful day and John and Sue took us to Carew Castle and Tidal Mill,
then to St Govan’s Head, which is an army tank firing range but is open to the public when not being used. Fabulous views and a nice walk along the cliff top. There were lots of people climbing the cliffs. That’s one activity I’ll skip, thanks, but I did walk down to the chapel that’s built into the base of the cliff.
Sunday 8 July (in Loughor):
How could you not go to a car boot sale while in the UK? And so we did this morning. Then John and Sue took us for a drive around the Gower Peninsula. A relaxed day that included an ice cream at Joe’s at The Mumbles and ending with dinner at the local tavern.
Monday 9 July (in Loughor):
I thought about posting some of my books and papers home, but pricing it decided I’d carry it and dump some if my bag was too heavy. John and Sue took us on another lovely drive around more of the coastal areas and then to St Fagan’s, a wonderful open air museum – just the type I love. All sorts of historical buildings that have been moved from elsewhere, including a row of cottages showing the progression of lifestyles over about 200 years.
There was a group of children dressed in period costume and getting a grilling from the school ma’am in the old school house. Also a church, which had been moved from its original location near John & Sue’s, being given a new life.
Dinner was at The Reverend James – a pub around the corner from the house – then home for dessert.
Heading towards London, via a little town called Paris
Tuesday 10 July – Loughor to Betwys y Coed:
Heading north, today was mostly driving with only a couple of stops. First was Port Meirion – an odd place, built by Clough Williams-Ellis to demonstrate that an area could be developed and still retain its beauty. Perhaps he achieved that with this odd assortment of buildings, or perhaps he created something interesting and quirky that has its own beauty. I’m going with the second. It’s weird and wonderful and he was definitely not afraid to indulge in his eccentricities.
The other stop for the day was at Corris where there are a lot of buildings made of slate. Lots of walls made of slate. Even headstones made of slate. And this region is famous for … ?
The Youth Hostel tonight is at Swallow Falls at the back of the Hotel. Another lesson in not quite believing everything you see on the internet, but it’s OK. After dinner I went for a “walk” to the Falls. “Walk” was a bit of a loose term. I paid a pound to go through the turnstile and stand on the viewing platforms. Nice enough falls but probably not worth a pound. Hopefully the money goes to maintaining the area.
Wednesday 11 July – in Betwys y Coed:
I don’t think Mum wanted to stay another night but, even though it’s not the greatest room, it wasn’t that bad. Having deposited myself in one spot I was happy to stay.
Today we went to the slate caverns where we did 2 underground tours. Perhaps not the best value for money that we’ve had, but interesting and worth doing once.
We drove up through the mountains but couldn’t see the top of Mount Snowdon for cloud.
We stopped at Plas Newydd – not to be confused with the other Plas Newydd. This one is the country seat of the Marquess of Anglesey. One of the attendants told Mum that she looked like Lady Anglesey. Somehow I don’t think the Lady of the house would have had windblown hair, hot pink socks and worn out walking shoes. But you never know.
One of the main attractions in this lovely house is the fabulous mural by Rex Whistler in the dining room. He must have had the most fantastic sense of humour. I’d love a copy of it with all the details, but it would have to be full size to do it justice.
After taking the scenic route home we had dinner at the hostel, dessert at the pub and a walk to “The Ugly House” which actually wasn’t all that ugly.
Thursday 12 July – Betwys y Coed to Forest of Dean:
We stopped at Church Stretton for no particular reason other than a walk around town. We found the library and took a twist out of their free internet then too a wrong turn – oops, I mean the scenic route – somewhere in the Forest of Dean on the way to our accommodation.
It’s hard to navigate properly when some of the towns on the map don’t appear to actually exist and some of the villages you go through aren’t on the map. The reason for coming this way was for Mum to try to find a place called Bishopwood – not on the map – that she and Dad found by accident last time. All to do with family history. No wonder they found it by accident. So did we! Luckily we took another scenic route.
We had no luck with the family history but we managed to find our accommodation at The White Horse Inn at Soudley (not on the map, though Upper Soudley is, but we never found it). This is a gorgeous little pub and we had their only room. I got to have steak and kidney pie and then a few drinks in the tiny bar with the friendly locals. Great little local pub. One to come back to.
Friday 13 July – Forest of Dean to Guildford:
A pleasant day driving back to our friends’ place at Guildford via Cherhill, where we had a great view of the white horse, and Woodhenge, which is as disappointing as Stonehenge is impressive. A bunch of concrete stumps where timber posts once stood. Don’t bother.
Saturday 14 July – at Guildford:
A car hire company who didn’t do what they said they would … what a surprise. They were supposed to pick up the car but didn’t so our friends followed us to the depot then dropped us home. A relaxed day apart from that.
Sunday 15 July – Guildford to Paris:
What a fuck up! We waited at the appointed time and place for our feeder bus to pick us up. Well, a feeder bus did just that. We checked that it was the right company and I guess we’re partly to blame for not checking we were going to the right place, but neither did the driver check that we were on his list. All he knew was that he had 2 passengers to pick up there. I guess the driver of “our” bus also didn’t check. Turned out it had been early and picked up 2 different people – the ones whose place we took. All became clear about an hour into the trip when the driver got a call and checked our names. Oh shit!
Well, it serves them right. We sat in a layby at Basingstoke for about an hour and it cost Shearings £200 for a taxi to take us to Dover. Presumably it cost them something similar to get the other people to their destination. Our coaches missed their ferry slot and had to rebook on a later one – The Sea France Rodin – faster and better, apparently, than the original. Some of our fellow travellers seemed to think it was our fault that we were all late and made us feel a bit uncomfortable.
The crossing was smooth and, once we were on the road in France, our driver provided a good commentary. I didn’t realise we’d be driving through the Somme. It looks so peaceful that it’s hard to imagine it as a war zone. And yet, if you block out the powerlines and the motorway, it’s also easy to visualise groups of soldiers fighting, winning and losing little battles for one rolling hill, one small cluster of buildings, one little village at a time.
More difficult to comprehend is the sheer number that died for it.
Our hotel in Paris is very basic. I know it’s budget accommodation, but I’d have thought the budget could stretch to a small cake of soap, sufficient toilet paper and enough length in the shower curtain to make it at least somewhat useful.
Although it was quite late, I decided to have a drink at the bar before bed. I met some of our fellow travellers who didn’t seem to blame us for today’s delays, so that was nice.
Monday 16 July – In Paris:
Mum and I decided to do all the optional trips as well as Monet’s Garden and Versailles, and are glad we did. We would never have seen as much of Paris on our own. A drive around the city included, of course, a stop to view the Eiffel Tower and a lesson in essential words to learn before visiting this city … “Non, merci”. You’ll get sick of saying it but it’s essential to ward off the sellers of tacky souvenirs. A drive along the Champs Elysses. Maxim’s has a very unimpressive frontage. Somehow I expected it to be much grander.
The Louvre is huge – 700m long. We won’t get to visit this trip. We did a river cruise which was good. The guide on the boat had very impressive language skills.
A visit to Fontainbleu after lunch where we toured the huge chateau and were surprised to find that in France it seems you can take photos – even flash photos – inside.
This evening we saw the lights and another stop at the Eiffel Tower to see it twinkling, and a stop at the Arc de Triomphe. Pity it was raining there. Paris is lovely at night.
Our fellow travellers seem, for the most part, to be over any offence taken by the delay. We have become “the ladies from Basingstoke” and the butt of many good humoured jokes.
Tuesday 17 July – In Paris:
Monet’s Garden this morning was lovely, though the house was quite crowded and difficult to move through. There is a tranquillity about everything, even with so many people about.
We had lunch on the terrace of a little hotel and it was very French. I used my bad schoolgirl French to order lunch and didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended when they didn’t speak back to me in English.
Versailles, I thought, was rather a disappointment. Don’t shoot me. Perhaps it would have been better if we’d gone on a day when it wasn’t so hot or so crowded, but with so many jammed in it was impossible to enjoy. An audio guide might also have helped but for some reason we weren’t allowed to have them.
The gardens, on the other hand, were much better. It’s difficult to imagine the full scale of them when we only saw one little corner. If I went back I would spend more time in the gardens. Not sure, though, that I’ll be back.
An enjoyable evening at our dodgy hotel, despite the alleged chicken at dinner. My knife bounced off it so I didn’t even try to eat it.
Wednesday 18 July – In Paris:
This morning we walked up to Sacre Coeur for some nice views of the city and bought a few tacky souvenirs on the way back down.
My sister had given us instructions that we had to buy her a Hard Rock Cafe shirt, so our driver dropped us off and pointed us in the right direction. We decided we’d walk to the Eiffel Tower where we would meet up with our group.
The walk was leisurely, long and very pleasant. It was another very warm day and the English are all complaining about how hot it is. Our walk took us past the Louvre and through the Tuillerie Gardens where we had a casual lunch, along the Seine and up to the Tower where we couldn’t find our group. So we caught a taxi back to the hotel. This had the added “benefit” of taking us around the Arc de Triomphe – an experience in terror that you really should experience, but not as the driver.
I had heard the stories about French drivers, but they were only partly true. They are actually madder that portrayed. The first morning, we saw a small car reversing out of a side street, and he wasn’t giving an inch to the coach. The car won. The next day we saw a car changing lanes – perpendicular to the flow of traffic. So our cab ride through the chaos around the Arc just reinforced our opinion. Not a lane marking to be seen and cars going in all directions amidst the flow of motor scooters and push bikes. This performance is a “must see” in Paris and, if you’re brave enough, “must do”.
2 weeks in London … The final installment
Thursday 19 July – Paris to London:
My theory for our last evening in Paris was to get an early night, in preparation for our early start this morning. Oh well, it’s always good to have a plan so you know when you’ve strayed from it. Sitting out the back of the hotel singing and drinking does not make for early nights. Perhaps it’s a good thing that someone complained and we were sent on our way at 11.00pm. I wonder if that’s the first time Mum was ever kicked out of a bar for being raucous (or any other reason).
The trip to London was uneventful, but we did double check that our names were on the list for the 2 buses we needed to catch.
Our drop off point was Victoria Station and, not wanting to cart our luggage on public transport, caught a cab to Carr-Saunders House where we were staying. This is LSE student accommodation and very basic. There wasn’t even really the self catering facilities we were expecting – just a microwave but no crockery or cutlery. But we had our own room with toilet and bath and down the hall was a shared shower so. The price included breakfast and is very cheap for London so no one was complaining.
A walk around the area revealed plenty of pubs that do quite reasonably priced meals, and a Tesco where we can get frozen meals, so I’m sure we’ll manage.
Friday 20 July – In London:
I made sure I rang my daughter today, before the release of the final Harry Potter book. She would be in lock down once she had the book, until it was finished.
We organised our London Passes and I was introduced to the mysteries of the Tube which, it turns out, is not actually all that mysterious. The map may look confusing but is ridiculously easy to follow and the trains come at very regular (and short) intervals. Easy.
We went for a walk towards Buckingham Palace, intending to watch the Changing of the Guard, but ended up watching the Changing of the Horse Guard instead (in the rain). It seemed like a good day for a museum so we went to the British Museum where we took 2 of the tours – “Enlightenment” and “Money”. These fabulous, informative and free tours are conducted by volunteer guides.
The Rosetta Stone seems hard to get close to as everyone else seems to be trying to do the same thing. I enjoyed the Elgin Marbles – I’m not sure the Greeks deserve them back, considering the state of disrepair they were in when they were taken.
A takeaway dinner and a drink at one of the local pubs finished off our first full day.
Saturday 21 July – In London:
Bought our 7 day Oyster Cards which will give us unlimited travel in zones 1 & 2. I feel like a local!
We did a London Walk which at ₤5 (₤1 off for the London Pass) was great value. I’ll definitely pick a couple more of these to do. I reckon we found the best lunch deal ever at Embankment Tube. ₤2.70 for a sandwich, drink and choice of chips, fruit or cake.
We went to Notting Hill and Portabello Road markets. I have to be honest, it’s just another market only even more crowded than some, and I wasn’t keen, though the setting is lovely.
We’ve had a bit of rain, though obviously not as much as some. We sat down to watch the news and there’s been flooding all over the place.
We went out to meet Mum and Dad’s neighbours who are in London to visit their daughter. Got in about 11.00pm. I just love the Tube – so easy to get around and it’s great for people watching as well. Maybe not so great in peak hour with all those sweaty people jammed in together. I don’t understand why they all wear their jackets.
Sunday 22 July – In London:
Sunday is Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park but I think we were too early. There were very few speakers and they weren’t particularly entertaining.It was a beautiful day so we went to the Changing of the Guard. And so did just about everyone else in London.
Afterwards we walked in Regents Park, enjoyed Queen Mary’s rose garden and sat and listened to a jazz band for a while. Lots of people were out enjoying the sun.
Then Westminster Abbey for an organ recital. The Abbye is closed to the public on Sundays, but they do have a half hour recital which is a good way to see part of it for free, as well as being able to enjoy the music.
We have walked for miles and our feet are killing us.
Monday 23 July – In London:
I could say we only did one thing today, but really we did lots of things in one place. We spent the whole day at Hampton Court Palace where there are lots of different stories to be told – and of course a maze to get lost in. Before it started raining we walked through the beautiful gardens where we saw there world’s longest grapevine.
There were some people playing Royal Tennis. The rules look very complicated.
We did a guided tour of what’s left of Henry VIII’s apartments and then the audio tour of the kitchens – amazingly interesting, especially the commentaries by the experimental food historians who actually do what the Tudors did. They get the cookware and eating implements made then try to replicate the processes.
The next audio tour was of the King’s Apartments and a chat to one of the wardens who had lots of extra interesting information about ghosts, protocol in the Royal court, toilets, yeomen and one of the paintings.
The final audio tour was of the Georgian rooms. Perhaps not as interesting as the others, but still worth the time.
In between there were entertaining enactments of snippets of history played out in various parts of the palace. I wonder if these are on all the time or if it’s only because it’s the summer holidays. Either way, so glad we got to see them. They bring it to life just a little bit more.
The whole place was so much better than Versailles. Absolute value for money for a whole day out. Although we did this on our London Pass, I would happily pay the admission and spend another day there. And as this was the first day of our London Pass we must now maximise it for the next 2 days.
Tuesday 24 July – in London:
Oh my aching feet! What a start to the morning – all the way to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral. 163 steps to the Whispering Gallery. This was as far as Mum went as she’d been to the top before. Another 119 steps to the stone gallery and the final slog of 152 steps to the Golden gallery. Well worth it, though, especially with the audio guide.
More steps at the Tower of London which was so much more than I expected. I really thought it was just a tower, but more like a small village … of towers. The Crown Jewels are definitely worth seeing and you should also do the very entertaining introductory tour with a Beefeater. later we watched a pantomime-style re-enactment of an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. Lots of fun and historically fairly accurate, it seems.
A walk across the top of the Tower Bridge and a display about slavery was next. The highlight was as we were leaving. Alarms were going off and the Bridge was about to open to let a ship through. Despite this being Mum’s 5th trip to London and having spent 2 weeks there each time, this was a first for her and she was as excited as a small child at Christmas. Later on that day we saw it open again while on a river cruise which was relaxing and gave us a different view of some of the sights.
We’ve now more than got our money’s worth out of our London Pass and still have a day to go. Pub tea near home then bed … and wishing for my foot spa.
Wednesday 25 July – in London:
Day 3 of our London Pass and we managed 3 of the 4 things on our list.
First was Kensington Palace – a curiously disappointing experience. There was a nice display of photos and film clips of Lady Di and an interesting display and interpretation of costumes, but not much apart from that. The advertised Princess Margaret display wasn’t open, which disappointed Mum.
Out in the gardens, a memorial to Lady Di was being created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her death. Each person could create a gold leaf flower to be put in a series of displays. Gold leaf is hard to work with when it’s windy. I was really happy that I was able to be part of this.
The Royal Mews displays the very elaborate carriages used for various state occasions. You have to pity the poor horses that have to pull that 4-ton gold coach, though.
I enjoyed the Britain at War display, especially the personal recollections and stories of encounters with Winston Churchill. The replica of the tube station with “all the comforts of home” and the Blitz Experience give a sense of what it must have been like. But of course we could just walk out into the summer sun without fear, so you can never really know what it was like unless you were there.
After dinner we went back to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys. This is free but you do have to write away for your tickets will in advance. This ceremonial locking of the gates has taken place every night for over 700 years.
As you might gather, they did let us out again.
Thursday 26 July – In London:
Another big walking day today, starting with the “Old Mayfair” London Walk through some of the most expensive real estate in the world. There are a lot of embassies here, and armed police patrolling the streets. Apparently, if you take a photo of the Israeli embassy, your camera will be confiscated. Purdy’s Gun and Rifle Manufacturers can fit you out with their cheapest shotgun for a mere ₤55,000, or one of the 2 elephant guns manufactured every year for ₤100,000 each.
After the walk, Mum went shopping and I went to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. I preferred the second, or at least what I saw of it. It was great to see so many kids enjoying the Science Museum, but I wonder if I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more if the focus was more inclined towards adults. Perhaps I’ll go back sometime on another trip.
This evening I did the London Walk “The Ancient City at Night” which took us down small alleys and back streets that I’d probably never have gone to otherwise, and would probably never find again if I wanted to. We went past Harry Potter’s wand shop and saw the London Stone in Cannon Street.
Friday 27 July – In London:
We took a guided tour of Lords this morning. An interesting mix of nationalities on the tour, but all from cricket-playing former British colonies. The tour included the Committee Room and the dressing rooms. Apparently, when there’s a game on, no one can go in there without the team’s permission. The guide told us that the he’s never known the Australians to give anyone permission, including John Howard (very wise) and Steve Waugh after he’d retired. You’re not allowed to take photos inside the dressing room. So we won’t mention the one that Mum took of me.
We only had an hour and a half at the Imperial War Museum this afternoon, so only time to see 2 sections: The Children’s War and The Secret War. I definitely need to go back. This is another one of my favourite museums in London. So many to see, and so much time needed in all of them.
Saturday 28 July – In London:
We sorted out some tickets this morning – for Buckingham Palace on Monday and for Mamma Mia this afternoon. Then it was off to Fotnum and Mason’s and Hamley’s Toy Shop. Just for a look in both cases but I was tempted by the ₤50 yo-yo that they let me play with.
Mamma Mia was a fabulous show and I’d love to see it again. I’m amazed at how long shows run for here. Not like at home where it’s only a few weeks at the most.
Afterwards we went to Bayswater then walked across Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park before finding an Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge where we enjoyed a pizza.
Sunday 29 July – In London:
This morning we went to Greenwich where we enjoyed the Royal Observatory and the Maritime Museum, followed by a walk through the lovely markets.
We took the bus back to Covent Garden where there are lots of street entertainers – some of them very good.
Then to Harrod’s where I failed to buy anything. I preferred Fortnum and Masons which I thought had more of a personal feel.
We were going to do another London Walk tonight, but our legs were protesting so we opted for a very early night.
Monday 30 July – In London:
This morning we toured Buckingham Palace, or at least a small part of it. Although it’s very grand, as you’d expect, it still has a quite nice, intimate feel about it. The audio tour was excellent. Because this year is the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary, there is a special display to commemorate it. I wonder if they ever use all those dinner settings and rather elaborate things like gold cream jugs.
Next stop was Madame Tussaud’s. Of all the things on this trip, this was the biggest disappointment. It was on my “must do” list but now I wonder why. It was very crowded which is to be expected at this time of years, but really it was the models that were disappointing. Many of them were quite good but a lot we didn’t recognise and, as they weren’t labelled, could only guess at who they were supposed to be. Even some that were labelled I couldn’t recognise even when I did know who they were supposed to be.
There was one we couldn’t fail to recognise, though.
I then went to Monument to climb to the top. Just my luck, it has been closed for refurbishment – for 18 months. Oh well, will have to save that for the next trip. So I headed back to the Imperial War Museum and spent another hour and a half there. There’s still more to see but I do feel like I’ve done it justice now.
Tuesday 31 July – In London:
I went to the V&A where I took the free introductory tour followed by another one of one of the galleries. If you’d asked me before I went if this would be my favourite museum I would have said “no chance”. Not that I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, but “a museum of design” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of describing this collection.
I met up with Mum for some shopping in Oxford Street followed by dinner with a friend, a walk across the Millennium Bridge, saw some of Anthony Gormley’s life sized naked sculptures of himself and even found one at ground level for our friend to have her photo taken with.
Wednesday 1 August – In London:
I did another London Walk, “Legal and Illegal London”, this morning. It explained a lot about the Inns of Court and protocols and procedures, but none of the obsure, interesting titbits that have been sprinkled through the other walks. I did,however, get something to add to my growing list of things to do next time I’m in London … sit in on a court case at the Old Bailey.
I just made it to Hampstead in time to meet Mum for another walk around there. I think this one was my favourite. What a beautiful village so close to the heart of the city.
A walk through Leadenhall Market then back home for a last drink at our “local” before packing.
Thursday 2 August – Last day in London and heading for home:
Our last day! We went to Trafalgar Square and did an audio tour at the National Gallery – or at least a very small part of it. Then the Bank of England Museum. I was surprised how big this was. I think I was expecting one room but it was much more than that and well worth a visit.
Back to Carr-Saunders Hall to pick up our bags and wait for our mini cab to Heathrow.
Waking up with the flu didn’t augur well for the flight home and a delay of several hours in Singapore didn’t help. Airport floors do not make comfortable beds.
But we made it home with lots of great memories and plans for future trips.