A Travellerspoint blog

Paris

Our Final Fling

sunny 22 °C

5 September

Flying early to Paris was great as it gave us the rest of the day doing what Parisians do, live life without a care in the world. Delighted to be back on familiar soil with our turtle homes on our backs we strolled the streets of the Latin Quarter in search of our favourite kebab shop. After lunch we headed behind Notre Dame and came to a rest in a cafe outside the Pompidou centre. As the hours passed writing in our journal and discussing the past months we decided to make the effort and change venues for the grand distance of 2 blocks for a drink.

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In the early evening we made our way on the RER to Perreaux to meet again with our friends Philippe and Emilie, sharing pizza and chatting before finally crashing for the night.

6 September

With only days of the trip left up our sleeve we made the most of our time in Paris. Starting at the Moulin Rouge we bought tickets for the evening show and shopped like crazy for hours, and hours, and hours (not to mention Steve's addition... HOURS). With a short hissy fit stop at Sacre Coeur only minutes into the shopping marathon Camilla was finally relieved to end in Zara. After months of daydreaming, window shopping and an occassional glance inside we made some much needed clothing replacement decisions.

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Our shopping trip was not complete as Camilla made it clear she would be remaining behind unless a suitable birthday present for Mum was found. The shopping (and sightseeing) continued with visits to old favourites including a stroll outside the Louvre, visit to Place de Concorde, shopping up the entire length of the Champs Elysee before a second Steve style shopping related hissy fit completed the shopping day.

Back in the Pigalle district with all the red lights we entered the Moulin Rouge to find a full house buzzing with anticipation. The show was full of energy and a real feast for the eyes and ears with wonderful costumes (many of which were very small), feathers everywhere, a balancing duo, comedian juggler / drummer, ventriloquist, swimming pool complete with 3 m long pythons and half naked bather, song, dance and our first bottle of real French champagne for the trip.

7 September

Still in search of the perfect present we commenced our day with a walk through the Jardin du Luxembourg where we stopped for a goats cheese sandwich we continued towards Montparnasse via every boutique store along the way. Finally, we came across just the right gift... it's a suprise.

Under the Eiffel tower we finished the rest of the cheese before ending up in a little typical cafe / bar / brasserie for dinner. Waiting for the sun to set we emerged later for a final view of the Eiffel Tower at night. Underneath the structure is a huge rugby ball and thousands of fans watching the opening ceremony via big screens filling the air with intermittant cheers and crys.

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Saying farewell to the icon we walked to the Arc de Triumphe for a look at night then finally retired from being a tourist for the day.

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8 September

Catching the train in with Emilie we parted ways at Nation station and headed to the Saturday markets under the Eiffel Tower. What a great display of colour with all the fresh food, clothing, flowers and jewellery on such a sunny morning. Setting ourselves up in the gardens around Hotel de Invalide we ate fresh roasted ham and chicken before walking across the stunning Alexander III bridge, via the souvenir stores outside the Louvre then onto the pond at Jardin du Luxembourg to meet Emilie. Children were playing with hired sailing boats in the larger ponds around town and pushing them off the walls with long wooden sticks. Of course it was difficult to resist but due to a lack of time it will have to wait until next visit.

We returned to Perreaux with Emilie to meet Philippe and have an aparatif before returning to St Germain des Prix for our final evening meal together. Munching through confit of duck, marine salad and roasted bass fish we had a wonderful night in an extremely busy restaurant tucked away in a covered alleyway. The vibrance and life around eating out in Paris is so evident when you can find these little gems and share them with friends.

9 September

Today we were all going to be tourists. Philippe and Emilie were our guides and selected Fountainbleau Forest for a picnic lunch. Stocking up on supplies of cheese (6 varieties), baguette and fruit we headed to Barbizon village for a quick visit before eating. Coincidently the art focussed village was holding a street fair with traditional folk music, sculpture, clay turning and glass blowing exhibits and taste testing of local cuisine. Deep into the forest we cleared a space between the rocks and settled into a couple of hours of eating, making bridges out of fallen branches and generally having a great day out.

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After lunch we visited the grounds of Fontainbleau Palace, a truly immaculate estate then returned for an eveing of playing Nintendo WII and laughing into the night. We will miss our friends and hope to either return or see them in Australia soon.

Posted by snchall 08:57 Archived in France Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Touring Britain - Week 5

Family fun and unexpected surprises in Scotland

all seasons in one day 0 °C

29 August

The beauty of waking up in a bed and breakfast rather than the tent is that there is nothing to organise or prepare, just wander downstairs, say yes to a full cooked breakfast and gaze out the window at the lightening morning. We were committed to only one task today, climb Ben Nevis mountain, the largest in Britain at over 1300 m. Although it does not compare is size to those we have walked in Switzerland the hike starts a measly 50m above sea level, the rest is up to us.

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About 2.5 hours into the progresssively steeper section of the walk on loose rocks we commented that there had not been a single step taken in a downward direction. Another hour later and we both felt the burn creeping into our legs and to make things even more interesting the visibility declined rapidly from endless views down glacial valleys to a mere 20 metres ahead. Thankfully the mountain was crawling with likeminded crazy hikers and the path was well marked with cairns, large mounds of loose rocks which grow over time as passing walkers add their contribution to ensure the safety of those who follow.

Now deep in the clouds and swimming through the cutting wind filled with pellets of icy water we finally made it to the top of Britain. A truly surreal landscape lay before us with cutting flints and jagged cliffs slipping in and out of view. It didn't matter that the panorama was obscured by cloud cover, or that the journey up took 5 hours, we knew long beforehand that the only sight we looked forward to seeing was each other smiling back with the satisfaction that comes after such a lot of effort.

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Down is harder than up! Knees knocking and heads bobbing we rolled back down with the realisation that our young knees don't feel young anymore. At the bottom we took a final glance up the valley of Glen Nevis at the ancient landscape and towering hills before a final nod indicating that a tick in our 'must do list' for the trip can be entered. Dinner was an extravagant affair in the carpark of the B&B. Sounds terrible but eating out gets very tiring so a quick mash of vegetables and rice was great. Sleep came moments after we entered our room, what a great day.

30 August

After another cooked breakfast all we craved was fresh fruit and a cup of tea. Back on the road again we headed to Neptune's Staircase, a series of 8 interconnecting lochs which make the passage from the North Sea to the Atlantic possible via Loch Lochy, Loch Ness and through the fjord around Fort William. Chatting to the loch attendants we learnt all there is to know about lochs, basically the water from upstream runs into the lower loch, who would have guessed!

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Lazily strolling across the top gate and to our surprise a steamtrain heading to our next destination was casually puffing down below. Ok, ok it was kind of planned that we would see the steam train go over the Glenfinnan viaduct some 15km away but we had lost track of time, the race was on. Driving recklessly out of the carpark we topped out our speed chasing the train at a hair raising 30 miles an hour while Camilla hung out the window to capture some great images of the train in full flight running along the loch. At Glenfinnan viaduct (used on the way to Hogwarts in Harry Potter) we joined the other 30+ trainspotters with time to spare. After the excitement, which lasted around 30 seconds, was over we visited the information centre and learnt what we could of the numerous highlander battles before climbing the monument.

Lunch was enjoyed next to Loch Lochy Laggan Loch (we had fun with that name for hours) before following the cross country lochs including Loch Ness. No sighting of Nessie was made however we were visited by 3 jet fighters at low altitude when admiring Castle Urquhart from distance.

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Onto Inverness our time was spent wandering through town, across the bouncy suspension bridge and stocking up on supplies for the evening meal. On cousin Anne's suggestion we aimed at the Cairngorms, a picturesque mountain range, to find accommodation. Later in the evening we finally came to a stop at a sport and recreation holiday park where we enjoyed a walk along Loch Insh before retiring.

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31 August

Leaving Loch Insh and the Insh marshes behind we visited a stronghold for the Scottish army, Ruthven Barracks, set in the centre of a valley commanding awesome views of the surrounding countryside. In Dunkeld we stopped at the Police Station / Corner Store / Cafe / Post Office / Souvenir Shop to post the Britain book back to Rob and Sarah in London (thanks guys) then set ourselves up by the river for tea. Admiring the fast flowing waters with rich coloured tanin we noticed a fly fisherman going through the motions of casting at an angle where the light caught the whip of the line and fall of the droplets perfectly.

Through Cupar we dodged the hundreds of schoolkids out for lunch and continued on our way to the birthplace of golf. At St Andrews we resisted the temptation of running for a look at the famous 18th hole on the Old Course, instead choosing to set up on the beach for our final self catered hot lunch of spaghetti bolognase with mushrooms and spaghetti. The cooker and kitchen set has been one of the greatest investments on the trip as it has given us the opportunity to vary our diet, remain mostly healthy and enjoy cooking local ingrediants often with a better view than even the fanciest restaurant.

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At the 18th hole we realised it looks like most other golf courses so to amuse ourselves we watched a couple of groups tee off and wished that we could join. Unfortunately there were three reasons we couldn't; 1 - Dress code, 2 - Own set of clubs, and 3 - Justify the $600+ green fees for two players! Camilla received a consolation in the form of her first golf glove and some souvenir golf balls to be lost at a course back home.

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Now inspired to learn golf and return one day on a bigger budget we stopped at St Andrews Catheral ruins before taking the scenic drive down the east coast via Crail.

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After enjoying watching the countryside roll by we made a final, and somewhat hurried stop due to cutting it fine for dinner back at Anne and Douglas', at the Firth of Forth with its towering road and spetacular rail bridges. With a howling wind it was an impressive sight seeing the Firth of Forth waters below whipped up to whitecaps. Crossing the road bridge we were funneled into an unplanned detour around Edinburgh which made us hopelessly late for dinner (approx. 45 minutes which on Camilla's watch is unforgivable).

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Arriving at Anne and Douglas' we delighted to be welcomed back, enjoyed fine Jamie Oliver cuisine kept warm in the oven and after chatting about the weekend ahead we slept like drift wood.

1 September

With the most hectic month of travel now behind us the day promised to be great with Anne, Douglas and daughter Gale as our guides. First stop was the not to be missed Falkirk wheel. Similar in rise to Neptunes 8 canal locks the Falkirk wheel rotates boats from a higher canal to the water below using less than 10 kettles worth of electricity per turn. Camilla and Douglas combined their efforts to explain the physics behind the masterpiece (Archimedes and displacement of water balancing calculations) while Steve, Gale and Anne admired the asthetics before a cup of coffee in the cafe.

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Next stop Castle Campbell set in a ravine over the pretty town of Dollar. As we approached the castle as if planned a Russian bride and Scottish groom were piped into the courtyard with us in close pursuit. Adding to the ambiance of our visit were the familiar tones coming from the bagpipes which carried effortlessly to our ears even at the top of the tower.

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On our descent we bumped into the happy couple after the ceremony and became onlookers to the festivities to follow in the garden. As planned, Anne led us up the nearby Bunk Hill which as a child she use to climb and wave down at her Grandma in Dollar. We waved and were not surprised to receive little interest from the townfolk below.

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Relaxing in the car we drove past the Wallace monument on our way to Stirling Castle. Reflecting on our luck at coming across a wedding complete with piper at Castle Campbell we joked that in order to top off the day a full pipe band outside Stirling would suffice. After touring the grounds and exploring the many rooms of the enormous complex we found ourselves looking down from the turrets at, you guessed it, a full pipe band on the lawn outside.

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Topping off the day we treated our guides (and ourselves) to a lovely dinner at the Riverhouse Restaurant. In the evening we had drinks at the Orchard Park Hotel, formerly the infirmary where Mike Hall, Douglas and Englands current Prime Minister were all born. We enjoyed a great day with great company.

2 September

North Berwick, east of Edinburgh, was our major destination for today where we would be meeting up with Laura (eldest daughter) and her boyfriend Paul. On our way we stopped first at a country motor museum where the real action was outside. As if our luck from yesterday was continuing we chatted with the owners of almost 20 classic cars on a touring trip around Scotland. Deciding that we had learnt sufficient amounts about cars we skipped the museum and instead opted for coffee in a local art gallery.

Meeting Laura and Paul at the station we walked around the corner to the local pub for a wonderful Sunday roast (don't forget the trimmings). Full and satisfied after lunch we took a long walk on the beach and before we knew it Anne had jumped into the North Sea without a wetsuit while we remained dry and warm on the sand. Next stop the Bass Rock Bird Centre for refreshments in the sun (Irn Bru and Ribena juice). While Anne was sorting out her hair after the swim she dropped her hairclip down onto the rocks below the deck which was immediately taken as a token by a seagull to a nearby rock where it was later recovered by Steve. From the information centre we looked through a telescope at Bass Rock (aproximately 5km offshore) at the 10,000+ ganets and other sea birds, covering the rock like snow.

Informed of the fact by Laura we were encouraged to joined her in Edinburgh that evening to watch the final fireworks in celebration of the international art festival. Without delay the proposition was accepted and we headed into the limelight. Amidst the increasing crowds of people a dull rumble could be heard and was later identified as our stomachs. We ate at the very swish Brown's Restaurant and only in the nick of time received the bill before making a mad dash to Castle Street to watch the spectacular. Almost an hour later we revelled in our first impression of Edinburgh Castle illuminated by a stunning display of light and sound.

3 September

Keen to see the sights of Edinburgh in daylight we drove to the closest Park & Ride and whipped into the centre of town. Strolling up the Royal Mile we chose Deacon Brodie's Tavern for a traditional fair of haggis and chicken with real cider for lunch. It may not look pretty but haggis is certainly tasty, particularly edible if you don't think or know what is in it. After filling our bellies we went onwards to the castle where we searched for fireworks debris (easy to find as it was everywhere) and explored the many interesting exhibits including the war museum and crown jewels vault. Enjoying the fabulous commanding views from the castle walls whilst listening to the audioguide we learnt more of Scotlands colourful history.

On our way back down the Royal Mile we ducked in and out of many 'closes', the narrow alleyways leading to the living quarters and houses of the town folk. Stepping through each entrance to discover the underbelly of Edinburgh it is easy to imagine the city in centuries gone by as little seems to have changed. We visited the writers museum and thoroughly enjoyed the Robert Louis Stevenson exhibition before closing time then strolled down to Holyroadhouse, noted the Queens absence, and therefore enjoy tea once again without her company.

The rest of our afternoon was spent walking up the hills behind Edinburgh along the crags and then upwards to Arthur's Seat. With amazing views as far as Crail and North Berwick we soaked up the last of the afternoon sun before descending to Grassmarket, lower part of the old town, for nachos at a dinky pub.

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4 September

Our morning started with a cooked breakfast prepared by Anne before we headed out with her and Jennifer (youngest daughter) to the Burrell Collection and Pollock House. The Burrell Collection was aquired over the lifetime of Mr Burrell and included numerous fine examples of art and furnishing from around the world. Pollock House on the same estate presented beautifully. The four of us enjoyed tea in the old kitchen before parting ways where we then ventured through the house admiring the architecture and gardens.

Using the Park & Ride we made our way into the heart of Glasgow and strolled down the busy Buchanan street, through Georges Square and then to the banks of the river. Using the comprehensive metro (one big loop) we jumped out at the Museum and Art Gallery where we spent the rest of the day until closing. The museum had one of the best presentations of natural history in a modern context and some wonderful Scottish art pieces as well as many famous painters such as Picasso, Renoir and Degas.

Our final evening in Scotland was spent in the company of Anne, Douglas, Gale and Jennifer as we ate and laughed well into the evening. We packed our bags properly for the first time in weeks and again were surprised it all fits. Saying our farwells, as we were leaving at 5.30am tomorrow, we thanked them for a wonderful time and look forward to seeing Anne and Douglas in Australia in November.

Posted by snchall 04:01 Archived in Scotland Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Touring Britain - Week 4

Visiting Family Friends in Derbyshire

all seasons in one day 20 °C

22 August

Arriving before opening time at Calke Abbey (back in England) we stopped at a lookout nearby overlooking the resevoir where a number of farmhouses and a small bridge were submerged in the flooding back in the late 1800s. Finding our way back into the immense estate of the Abbey we set up under a twisted old oak tree for tea, scones and LOTR. Deeply engrossed we were stirred from our reading by the sight and sound of more than 500 stampeeding sheep. Laughing at the display the most interesting aspect was listening to the huge variety of 'voices' as they baaa'ed' and we now fully appreciate the term to follow like sheep.

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Once we made it into Calke Abbey (NT) it was easy to appreciate the baroque mansion, which was commenced in 1701, for its quirky inhabitants. The family has long since left yet the 1000+ taxidermied animals and extensive collection of natural history artifacts impress upon us the eccentricities of the previous owners. The house is unique compared with others that we have visited in that it has primarily been preserved in a state of decline rather than restored. Finally, from the courtyard where plumbing work uncovered a 13th century skeleton our visit ended by taking the 200m service tunnel to the brewery and bakehouse.

Sudbury Hall (NT) was our final house for the day with notable inclusions such as the costume trail displaying many outfits used in the BBC adaptations of Jane Austen novels, interior rooms used in Pride and Prejudice (BBC) and the exhibition of popular toys over the last 100 years. Our visit also included a long stop in the shade of a large moss covered tree overlooking the lake and reading LOTR.

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This evenings destination would be another of the regions finest establishments. Arriving on the doorstep of Brian's (Mike's/Dad's friend from school/scout days) we felt right at home after a warm welcome and a wonderful meal of Chilli Con Carne prepared by Elaine, Brian's girlfriend. We all enjoyed a night of getting to know one another and planning our coming days in Derbyshire.

23 August

Today we woke up late (after 8am) which was bliss before mustering up the energy for a 'Sunday' (today is Thursday) consisting of tea, breakfast, tea, internet, Chilli Con Carne reheated, movie (Amelie), tea then welcoming Brian home from a day at w..., w.... it is too difficult to say but we will try again, w...ork!

Fully rejuvenated we joined Elaine in the early evening in her garden for a Pimms cocktail before toddling off to Duffield for the grand tour of unmissable family history sights such as the Hall family home, high street, scout hall and school. After the tour we walked along the quite streets to meet Frank and Beryl, Brian's parents and old time friends of grandma and pa. It was a real delight to be invited into their home, shown the agricultural prowess of Frank with his tomato house and how the neighbourhood trade in home grow vegetables affects GDP. On a lighter note we really cherished our time drinking tea and indulging in Beryl's fresh baked cookies while listening to them reminisce about life in Duffield and happy memories from when the Halls lived in England. We wish them the best of health and happiness and hope to visit again in the not too distant future.

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A perfect finish to any 'Sunday' came at Brian's suggestion. We ate at George's seafood take away and had a fabulous meal of Haddock and Cod. Unfortunately, due to popular demand the supply of mushy peas had been depleated so baked beans would have to suffice, nevertheless a great meal at the end of a great day.

24 August

Our first day in Derbyshire commenced with a scenic drive to Lyme park, the famous film location and fascade of Pemberly in the BBC Pride and Prejudice. As the house did not open until 1 pm we spent the morning walking through the extensive grounds. At one point, far from the safety of the house, we were confronted by a placid herd of highland cattle. They may look cute and cuddly from a distance or when being showed, however close up they are not dissimillar to hairy, smelly and horned cow.

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Far more attractive was the herd of speckled deer (50+) we encountd on our way back up to the house. Splashing out we joined the guided tour which engaged us in the family history and the constant alterations done to the house over the years. Lunch was enjoyed by the pond, infamous for the scene where Lizzy encounters Mr Darcy soaking wet. Our reenactment had all the sizzle and romantic intrigue of a herd of highland cattle. Steve needs to watch the series a few more times to get the scene just right.

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Back in Denby with Brian and Elaine we visited the Dead Poet's Inn, a wonderfull dinkey English pub for traditional ales, ciders and wines all leading to a bundle of laughs. Dinner was a team affair of chicken topped with stirfry vegetables listening to the beach boys and then watching the Rolling Stones tour DVD.

25 August

Today proved to be one of our busiest days yet under the leadership of our local guides. Starting the tour of Derbyshire we stopped at a great second hand bookstore before heading to Matlock Bath. A short stroll along the river in the sun took us to the Victorian era bath house, petrifying spring, aquarium and hologram display. Feeling lucky we plaed the 2 pence slot games, winning 10p and losing 30p. Upwards and onwards we followed our noses to the Bakewell farmers market then into the home of the original Bakewell pudding.

Settling ourselves amidst the colourful flowers in a small park the four of us devoured our freshly baked goodies for lunch. While the girls chose to window shop the boys ducked off to the Orvis flyfishing tackle and hunting store with a strict time limit in place. Needing more than a quick shop to work off lunch Elaine guided us to the Froggarts Edge walk (NT), a precipice commanding stunning views over the Derby countryside.

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After our short exertion our blood-tea levels were critically low so we made a bee line to Eyam, a small medieval village devastated by plague in the 1600s. When we arrived we were unexpectedly surprised to come across the tradition of dressing the town well in thanks for the years supply of water. Elaborate plaques were erected using local flora embedded in clay to make images and by the looks of them would have taken hours upon hours to prepare. Who would have thought a tea house in England could be busy enough to run out of tea cups! Thankfully some delicious Eyam lemon cake kept us calm. Walking through town we learnt from plaques on each house how the plague, which was spread from London via textile deliveries, had killed a large proportion of the townsfolk. In one household the tragic circumstances left a women to bury her husband and 7 children in only 9 days.

To lighten the mood for the afternoon we visited Moors Head lookout, significant as one of the beautiful places Brian took Mike and Chris (Steve's parents) when they visited on their honeymoon over 30 years ago. Our final tourist stop for the day was the amazing Chatsworth House Estate. With the late afternoon sun catching the gold leaf window frames the house glowed from every angle throughout the parkland.

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Brian and Elaine had earlier made reservations at their favourite pub and treated us to a delicious meal at the Old Poets Corner in Ashover. Warm and drowsy from great fish & chips and pork blood pudding sausages both with heaps of mushy peas (finally) we had one last stopoff on the way back to Brian's.

With only a faint light on the horizon Brian pulled over at the edge of his fishing club resevoir. In the brisk still night air we stood in silence the suddenly made out the silouette of a squadron of migrating geese coming in to land on the glassy surface. The sounds of night animals mixed in with the chatter of numerous birds in the darkness filled our senses and left a lasting impression of the beautiful English countryside.

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26 August

Taking charge in the kitchen we prepared the best Aussie / English breakfast possible for our hosts. The delicious breaky (if we do say) fueled us in preparation for our first flyfishing lesson with only the next door neighbours petunias as a target. We tried our hand at the art of casting with a hookless line and now can't wait to try properly back home. A walk through Duffield was selected for the day from a comprehensive book on treks starting and ending at a pub.

As we followed the course Brian retold tales of his childhood growing up in the area and how he and Mike/Dad explored the fields, river, narrow stoney paths, forest and nearby chimney stack. Behind the gardens of Little Eaton the path led us down to an abandoned railway, small stream and relic of an old mill wheel before climbing back up to fields on the plateau. Settling in the grass for a picnic lunch in the sun Elaine's mothers cheesy scones went down a treat along with sambos and apples. The temptation of the surrounding blackberry bushes was too much for Steve and soon after we were all collecting berries for a creation later that evening.

Walking back to our starting point at the Bridge Inn it seemed only fitting to have a quick beverage before returing to Brian's for our first roast chicken in months including all the trimmings. To follow was the promised fruits from our labour, a fresh blackberry and apple crumble. Desert never tasted soo good. Eating by the back fence as the sun set over the distant fields. The adjacent cow paddock to the back fence was full of some very curious bovine who must have smelt desert as the entire herd congregated only feet away. Camilla the cow whisperer made friends quickly patting thier wet leather noses while Brian contemplated a potential future in farming.

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27 August

Unfortunately our morning commenced with farewells to Brian and Elaine who have been wonderfull hosts over the last 5 nights. It has been great sharing so much time chatting, laughing and forging a new friendship, we look forward to reciprocating their generosity soon.

Our only stop for the day was along Hadria's Wall (NT) where we learnt some of the details regarding the 125km long baricade erected to keep the Northeners out of the Roman Empire. Birdoswald Roman Fort (NT) was an interesting visit with ruins to explore and some good exhibits. Further east we stopped for tea at Cawfields mile-castle and quarry set against a picturesque row of crags jutting out of the surrounding farmland.

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On the road again we failed to restrain from one of the worst indulgences, KFC before arriving a bit later than expected in Glasgow, Scotland. Standing on the doorstep of Douglas and Anne's we were excited to meet relatives from the other side of the world for the first time (Anne is Mike's cousin). After a warm welcome and a hot cut of tea we slept soundly with plans to head further north tomorrow and return to Glasgow later in the week.

28 August

Leaving early in the morning we stopped on the banks of Loch Lomond where, as if on cue, a kilt clad piper jumped out from behind the bushes and started playing. Excited by this chance encounter with a wild native piper we wondered what lay ahead of us in the Scottish highlands. A pit stop for tea by a stream and we drove to the Falls of Lorne, a horizontal tidal phenomenon through a narrow gap leading out to the sea. Little did we know that later in the day we would cross the road bridge see the falls running in the opposite direction as the sea pushes its way up the valley into the Loch.

Our lunch venue was in the delightful seaside town of Oban. Perching on the wharf alongside the seagulls we ate while watching the ever moving scene of boats, pipers and birdlife.

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After lunch we made the rare decision to go our seperate ways, Steve attending a tour of the Oban distillery (oldest and one of the smallest in Scotland) famous for their 14 year single malt while Camilla strolled the town window shopping and soaking up the atmosphere. When we met up Steve explained in full detail the process of making fine whisky and proudly displayed an investment that will be enjoyed on many special occassions in the years to come.

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Our afternoon was spent driving the scenic roads around Lochs and through valleys to Fort William. As the camping equipment has been honourably dismissed from duty we nestled into a stunning B&B by the water for the night. Dinner was enjoyed in the park opposite watching the sun crack through the clouds in the final moments of our first full day in Scotland.

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Posted by snchall 00:12 Archived in England Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Touring Britain - Week 3

Coastlines, Gold Mines, Mountain Climbs and happy times in Wales

all seasons in one day 10 °C

15 August

We were lucky enough to be able to pack our drenched tent between showers this morning before driving to Stratford-upon-Avon. We are not sure what the difference between 'upon' and 'on' (as in Walton-on-Thames) therefore we developed the theory that 'upon' means town is divided by the water course, and 'on' is that town sits on one bank. Parking in the centre of town we wondered the quaint streets with umbrella's in hand and were shocked by the photo's taken recently of the flooding and surprised at how well the town has recovered.

As tourists it is our duty to clutter the streets, buy items at twice there value, support the tea house industry and have a cheesy photo of us standing in front of famous people's birthplaces. Outside Shakespeare's birthplace we hoped to feel the literary vibe, but remember he was only a baby at this point so we gained no additional creative inspiration. Opposite his first home we discussed the value of purchasing and packing a leather bound Oxford limited edition of his complete works before looking at the price tag. Outcome, we still have space for other souvenirs and will return to hunt for a second hand copy instead.

Strolling past the Avon lock (NT) and canal we ducked into a traditional soft toy shop then made our way back to the car for a long drive into Wales. Navigating around Cardiff we assessed the closest campsite which proved to be too dingy (which says quite a lot) and therefore continued onwards to the Gower Peninsula. In retrospect the decision was perfect for us as we sat on the windy hilltop campsite in Oxwich Bay surrounded by the stunning views across the Bristol Channel to England.

16 August

After a night being battered by fresh winds we awoke feeling free of the burden to enter the bustle of a city. Quite the contrary, we were some of the small few who chose to walk the hills behind Rhossli Beach early in the morning. With clear views across the farming district and out to Worms Head we enjoyed hot chocolate and vegemite & cheese sandwiches sheltered in a rocky outcrop near the beacon (193m).

Joining a 70+ year old couple for the scramble back down hill (hope we are that good after our 50th wedding anniversary) we crossed onto the wide flat expanse of sand to investigate the few remains of the shipwreck Helvetia (1887). It was at this point that Camilla had a feeling of connection with the place given that her maiden name is Gower. GO GOWER POWER!

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Climbing back up from the beach onto the jagged cliffs we ventured out to Worms Head and watched a pair of grey seals frolicking in the cold sea below. Returning across the land spit we found an alcove amongst the cliffs for a few pages of LOTR and took our leave when the wind whipped up around us. The Gower coastline and peninsula (NT) has been a real pleasure to visit and explore, just the outdoor medicine we needed.

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17 August

Overnight there was heavy rain making the act of packing the tent all that more enjoyable. Leaving the Gower Peninsula behind we turned north to visit Aberdulais Falls (NT) where there is the remains of industry spanning more than 400 years. Harnessing the power of the waterfall and river a great tin plate factory was the last production facility in situ. We learnt a great deal (everything we now know) about tin manufacture and Wales prominence internationally. Admiring one of Europe's largest waterwheels still in operation we became mesmerised by the sloshing and lapping of water while deep below where we stood a huge turbine was converting the channelled water into electricity. Next stop, 10 feet across the path for tea and welsh cakes (aka drop scones), then a second helping before moving on.

Dinefwr Park (NT) and castle car park was the next elaborate venue for our culinary delights with a quick pesto and red salmon spaghetti (one of the best yet) before visiting the house. After enjoying the small number of rooms open to the public we stood at the back gate watching a herd of white cattle grazing and a number of spotted deer at the edge of the woods (sound strenuous?)

Having now visited a number of houses and castles we decided to shake it up a bit and headed directly underground at the Celtic, Roman and Victorian Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Ginger (aka Steve), our red headed guide, kept us shaking the narrow underground passages with laughter whilst relaying sad stories of the difficulties experienced by the workers. Luckily we had a volunteer 7 year old boy (the age most boys started work in the mine) in the group to help with demonstrations.

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After leaning over an 80ft vertical exit shaft where the quartz was thrown then carted outside Camilla became the victim of the next demonstration. Requested to step onto a wooden trap door nearby her task was to jump on the count of 3 as hard as she could. With perfect effect and timing she lifted her foot and tapped her toe with a cheeky grin. Encouraged by all she reluctantly stamped as hard as she could the second time which gave the desired effect. Every cavern and passageway thundered then echoed. When asked how deep we estimated the hollow below to be, all the guesses exceeded 80ft similar to the adjacent hole. The group gasped when Ginger explained that Camilla was standing above a sheer drop of approximately 80 millimetres.

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Relieved to be out in the fresh air we decended into the valley learning more of the local geology before commencing our search for huge amounts of our own welsh gold. After a total of 10 minutes of panning we realised why this mine went bankrupt numerous times, and why welsh gold is the most expensive in the world.

In the afternoon we drove to Aberystwyth on the Atlantic coast. Although the clouds threatened to break we braved the cold wind to explore the castle ruins and watch the seaside town slip into evening as the funicular made repeated climbs up the mountain behind.

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Nearing exhaustion and taking stock of our soaking tent, 3 continuous weeks of sleeping on the ground and long, needing to charge camera equipment and the driving rain we found a lovely 600 year old farm house B&B. Yawn, snore...

18 August

Driving north we came to Porthmadog where we took a quick break for a walk to the info centre and admire the Welsh Highland Railway Station. After reading the weather report we decided to see the Bourne Ultimatum (great). As the afternoon came to an end we unfortunately were turned away from a number of B&B's (not because of how we smelt thankyou), in particular a georgous one nestled under Mount Snowdon in the National Park. After almost 2 1/2 hours we found ourselves back where we started having completed a loop around Snowdonia. Concerned with the dark clouds and light rain we gave in to the call of common sense and pitched in the waning light.

19 August

Although the clouds hadn't cleared it was possible for us to pack the tent without getting too wet and drive into the seaside walled town of Caernarfon. Our tourist activities commenced with Camilla leading us on a historic walk around the walled sections of the village and harbour. During our walk we learnt of the development of the town, trading community life and most importantly that at The Black Boy Inn a room, a bottle of gin and a lady for the night "to help with the washing of sailor clothes" used to cost 4&6.

With perfect timing Camilla had us arrive at Caernarfon Castle just as the huge doors opened. We explored this semi ruinous structure, still classified as a Royal property in service completely alone. Letting our imaginations run wild we ran around like arches, guards and royalty until more sane visitors arrived.

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Determined not to have a repeat of the night before where we found ourselves homeless we drove directly (do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars) to Plas-y-Coed, the cute B&B in the National Park. Greated with open arms and a sympathetic smile Cory, our host and owner, made us feel right at home. After unpacking we drove off to the postcard picture perfect little town of Beddgelert for a Sunday roast beef lunch (with all the trimmings). Lyn's Cafe was full of locals and their families, obviously a great location to wash down a big roast with a cold glass of milk.

Stuffed to the brim we took a walk along the swollen river in a slight drizzle to Gelert's grave (NT). Gelert's death was one of the great tragedies in the aristocratic family of the area. One day his master went hunting and could not find his trusty canine companion anywhere. When he returned from the hunt he could not find his son either and instead came across Gelert covered in blood next to the stained sheets of his sons cot. Enraged, he drove his sword through Gelerts chest where the poor animal let out his final howl. At the sound of his dying yelp he was answered by the scream of his masters son in the next room laying beside the savaged body of a wild wolf. Distraught by his mistake the master buried Gelert in a place of honour and never went hunting again. The town is now named after the faithful brave hound.

We enjoyed a light meal in the garden back at the B&B for dinner where Steve received a gift from above just before his first loving mouthfull. Fortunately his enormous head was just big enough to absorb the enormous poop a plane sized seagull delivered. After the bombing a bath was in order and for the rest of the evening we amused ourselves with LOTR and tea by the fire.

20 August

Siting at breakfast early'ish' on this fine Monday morning Camilla explained to Steve with no detail spared how determined she was to make today a "Sunday". This would entail sitting by the fire, reading, drinking tea, long bath, snoozing, more tea and then being served dinner before bed. At what precise point in time it was decided that we would climb Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, is impossible to say. "Sunday" has been officially postponed on account of good weather.

Like all good climbs we started at the bottom, trudged through ankle deep mud, dodged mountain sheep, clambered across stiles (fence ladders), enjoyed fabulous views and finally made it to the top. At 1085m Mt Snowdon commands breathtaking views of the numerous lakes, valleys and coastline of Snowdonia as well as the puffing cogwheel mountain steam railway.

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The feeling of accomplishment on summiting was great, yet a little difficult to bask the serenity of the surrounds with the hundreds of others, in partcular those who cheated and caught the train half way up. With a windchill factor near zero the countryside below had a crisp clean and dramatic feel unlike other regions we have visited, brilliant.

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Our path down took us across a jagged ridge and finaly stopped, or so we thought, at the Wr-wyddfa steam railway station. Although tired Steve is capable of mustering unknown quantities of childish excitement at the prospect of seeing another steam engine pull alongside. The excitement was short lived when we both realised after that we had only just missed the last bus for over 1 1/2 hours. Onwards we strode, another 2.5 miles (approx. 2.5 gazillion kilometres) back to our refuge in the valley. At least the day ended like a Sunday for Camilla with dinner at the Snowdonia Hotel (Chicken Kiev and Steak & Ale Pie), a hot bath and tea by the fire.

21 August

After another big hot breakfast we chatted to Cory about her amazing travels throughout the world. Our travels recommenced with a scenic drive through northern Wales to Erddig House (NT). Some of the notable points of interest include the 18th century out buildings still in near working order such as the laundry, bakehouse, sawmill, smithy and joiners shop. The residing family held their servants in high esteem attributing great works of art and depicting their loyalty and hard work through poetry. Camilla has been admiring the same china mug in ALL NT souvenir shops and finally let herself indulge with the purchase of a beautiful tea mug. As the evening approached we pitched our very own stately home down wind of a cattle stable complete with amorous bull.

Posted by snchall 10:21 Archived in Wales Tagged automotive Comments (0)

Touring Britain - Week 2

Bronze Age Burial Chambers to Residential Castles

all seasons in one day -17 °C

8 August

Our morning began with an underground exploration of Halliggye Fogue (EH), an ancient Cornish Iron Age burial chamber or shrine. The interlinking unlit passages required some ducking and weaving to navigate with our head lamps on. Luckily we made it out past the deadly (looking) massive (if you are an ant) spiders.

Halliggye Fogou as seen without the torches

Wow, it is really dark in here!

The next stop was far more photogenic.

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St Michael's Mount was founded in the 12th century and following the English civil war the St Aubyn family have retained a residence in the castle. We enjoyed egg sandwiches and tea on the windy island watching the tall ship and other sailing boats enjoy the breeze. As it was high tide during our visit it was necessary to do a little bit of boating ourselves with the resident ferry masters to get over to the island and back to the mainland.

After another scenic drive through the hedges we made a short stop at Tregiffian burial chamber which strongly resembled a large rock with a small gap underneath. Unfortunately over the thousands of years the nearby road has encrouched on this site and destroyed the rest. Arriving at what we thought was our final destination, give that you can't drive further west of Land's End, we only remained for a short time. Uninterested in an overcrowded novelty park we opted for hot chips at Sennen Cove watching the summer frivolity and sea birds.

Determined for a full day of sight seeing we filled in the rest of the afternoon and evening with a 100km scenic drive to Tintagel head campground.

9 August

Tintagel Castle (EH) presented a concise summary of the King Arthur legend and history entwined, far more than we learnt from Spamalot. Set on a cliff edge Tintagel Castle began as a trading settlement for Celtic kings during the 5th and 6th century and remains in ruins which were still in good working order until the 13th century. The view of the bay far below and adjacent coastline is stunning.

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We ventured into a vast sea cave which led us through to the other side of the peninsula on which the castle rests. Back in the bay we admired the 20m+ waterfall crashing onto the sand and pebbles before making its way to the sea.

Tintagel's longest standing complete building is the Old Post Office (NT) dating from 15th century and preserved as it was used back then as a farmhouse and residence. The narrow staircase, rickety roof beams, low doorways and small rooms gave us reason enough not to buy a 550 year old home if you want to maintain good posture. To top off our absorbtion of Cornwalls history and delightful farm scapes we sat for a while on a rock wall eating a selection of cornish pasties we saw being made earlier that morning on our way to the castle. They don't come any better or bigger!

Leaving Tintagel we took a short detour through Boscastle harbour and village on our way to Arlington Court (NT). Unfortunately we were late by 15 minutes to view one of Britains largest collection of horse drawn carriages. Instead we amused ourselves with the extensive collection of model ships (50+), massive shell collection and art throughout the house before strolling in the formal garden and green house.

Deep in the Exmoor National Park we set up camp in the corner of a field with the sound of a nearby creek lulling us into sleep, horses standing quietly on the hillside silouetted by moonlight and the canopy of the Hawkcombe Woods keeping the dew off the tent till morning.

10 August

You may be wondering if we are all 'castled' out yet, and to you we say NEVER! Castle hunting has become rather addictive and for today our first catch would be Dunster Castle (NT). Owned and lived in by the Luttrell family for 600 years we thought it was a bit drafty but certainly good for entertaining. While Steve was admiring the art, furnishings and grandfather clocks Camilla was riveted to a page of scribbled notes in a glass cabinet in a dark corner under the oak staircase. It seems there were a few holes worth picking to pieces in the 1800's instruction manual attached to the portable medicine chest. In particular the bleeding of 12 ounces for treatment of early fever goes against all modern day knowledge.

After cheese and tomato sandwiches in the shade of a huge oak looking out towards the Bristol Channel we ventured in to town as our supplies of traditional clotted cream and lemon meringue fudge was critically low. Without further delay or a moment to lose we made our way post haste for the 14:55 train from Minehead on the West Sommerset Heritage Steam Railway. After careful deliberation over the question to catch or not to catch, Steve is adamant that it is far more exciting to see the action from the platform.

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Full of fudge we thought some exercise was in order. Hiking from the carpark we slugged our way up to the tallest point in Exmoor, Dunkery Beacon (NT) at 519m. It took all of 13 minutes at a stretch and the view was well worth the exertion.

11 August

Stourhead Gardens (NT) was featured in the recent production of Pride and Prejudice which made for a lovely morning tour.

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We were assisted by a GPS transceiver with audiovisual guide to the grounds and estate which should be read as an indicator of how large the gardens are. Although fairly accurate the GPS plotter would have run us into a number of large trees if directions were followed blindly. Most of our day was absorded at Stourhead so we decided in the late afternoon after a visit to the house that a drive to Bath would be all we could manage.

Having found a suitable campsite we squeezed onto the last pitch available with Teilo and Kathy, a very firendly couple from Brisbane. As dusk fell the four of us caught the bus into town for a walk past the baths, abbey and down to the river Avon with the attractive Pulteney Bridge. Even though it was only 9pm when we started hunting for dinner most of the pubs had stopped serving so we took a local's recommendation and were delighted by the Eastern Eye Indian restaurant. On the return bus journey to camp we experienced the unfortunate disgraces of drunken aggression from youths who evidently were generally dissatisfied with riding the bus, the driver, the seats, windows, each other or anything else for that matter.

To guide us down the narrow path back to camp Teilo produced his trusty wind-up torch and we all slept well as the midnight rain shower started.

12 August

Today would be dedicated to bathing, well visiting the Roman Baths in Bath actually. We avoided the shower drenching us by remaining in our tent till it stopped later that morning. Catching the bus into town we spent about an hour and a half in the Roman bath centre, testing the water temperature and admiring the plumbing before finally tasting a drop from the kings spring in the famous Pump Room. Originally the water was believed to have healing qualities and upon tasting the 46 degree water with its mineral rich after taste it certainly was bad enough to be medicinal.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for an all Australian, outdoor, campside, sing along, tong turning mouth watering, lip smacking gastronomical BBQ! As we finished the last morsel of grilled scottish salmon we chatted till late with Teilo and Kathy. It was very nice to share our campsite with friendly likeminded Aussie travellers, we wish them well on their adventure.

13 August

Dyrham Park (NT) was our first stop for today. Walking down the kilometre long drive we detoured into the woods and spotted a young family of speckled deer. Points of interest in the house included wonderful paintings of Amsterdam depicting harbour and village scenes from the late 1700's and as always an impressive kitchen complex.

After a quick sandwiches lunch in the parking lot (this is totally normal in all National Trust country houses, usually equipped with picnic tables) we headed off to Lacock Abbey and village for the afternoon. Totally saturated with historically interesting tales a point of interest in the Abbey was the famous window which William Talbot used as the subject for the first negative / positive photograph. Walking through the rooms it was also of interest to note that Harry Potter was filmed here using the cloisters and basement for scenes. Finally we had a quick read and paraphrase of one of the few copies produced of the Magna Carta.

A walk through the lovely village of Lacock was not sufficient exercise to offset the carrot cake from the local baker-ess wearing complete 1800s attire. We enjoyed the streets used in the BBC productions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma while desperately trying to imagine the avenues with horse and buggy instead of cars.

Our final stop for the day would take us back 5000 years in time to a point where Avebury was home to a small developed farming community (not much has changed in that time evidently). Pondering the immense stone circles, long stone lined procession way and deep moats around the town rivals Stonehenge for intrigue, historic significance and mangnitude of effort to develop so long ago.

With the late afternoon sun on our shoulders we walked through wheat fields up the hill to admire the man-made Silbury Hill (commenced at the same time as the pyramids although not as impressive) and delved into the West Kennet Long Barrow burial chambers. Much of our current understanding of the healt, diet and rituals of ancient communities is learnt from the burial chambers making a visit both fascinating and ominous.

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14 August

At the third campsite we had tried the night before we found ourselves approximately 10km outside of Oxford. We awoke to the drumming of heavy rain on the tent skin under an apple tree in the back paddock. Taking Sarah and Robs' advice (NZ friends in London) we decided to try the 'Park and Ride', a system of strategically placed parking lots linked by buses to the centre of town. A great idea to keep the crazy tourists out of the city and help maintain better air quality and less congested roads (think about it Sydney)

At the Royal Blenheim Pub we enjoyed a burger they claim to be the best in Oxford (SnC rating - 8/10). The rain finally subsided sufficiently for us to dash to Christ Church although there was no real need as we look like mountaineers in our wet weather gear. The famous dinning hall was used in Harry Potter and as it was presented ready for dinner it is easy to imaging the 100+ diners sitting to dinner under the watchful eye of the church leaders, or in Harry's case Dumbledore. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking town and hiding from the rain in a hot dank internet cafe blogging.

Back on the Park and Ride we extended our pantry inventory to include soy sauce which added the perfect element to a feast of rice and green vegetables whilst singing 'Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but meeee...'

Posted by snchall 07:42 Archived in England Tagged automotive Comments (0)

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