Our local area

Dear readers,

For this post we’ve decided to focus on an area that we often overlook, probably because to us it doesn’t feel too much like travelling, which is the area that we currently call home. We’ve been living here for over a year now, so we’ve had a good chance to explore and now we’re happy to bring you our tips for places to visit in Cambridgeshire, our own little slice of England.

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To try and avoid creating two almost identical accounts, I’ve decided to arrange mine by the activity rather than the location, however the places are all still in Cambridgeshire. For a more geographically based post, see Ms Lust’s which follows mine.

Museums

St Neots’ Museum – This small museum is a wonderful way to spend an hour or so, and conveniently located in St Neots’ town centre. The museum is housed in the old police station and town jail, and the first part of your visit will be exploring the original cells and prisoner’s facilities. Some of the cells have been made into dioramas and, combined with the information boards on the walls, it really gives you a good impression of what it would have been like to be imprisoned here. Following this is the main part of the museum, a series of rooms filled with artefacts from the town’s long and varied history. Starting with items from prehistoric times that have been found in local archaeological digs, the age of the exhibitions become more and more recent as you work your way through. The biggest collections are from the Victorian period and the two world wars, with recreated street scenes and rooms from these periods. The museum finishes with the obligatory gift shop, with some nice local craftwork and a second-hand book section which provided me with some new travel literature to enjoy!

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Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely – This whole area has a strong connection with the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, with Ely having been his hometown. His former home has been restored to how he would have recognised it and turned into a museum of the great man’s life. Each room tells a story of daily life in the 17th century, as well as information and artefacts more personal to Oliver Cromwell and his family. Most of the items seem to be replicas rather than original, but they create a setting that is both educational and interesting. There are also activities in the rooms for kids, both big and small, ranging from brass rubbings to dressing up. All in all it’s definitely an interesting visit, and engaging enough to spend an hour or two here.

Stately Homes

This area seems to be very rich in stately homes and historic buildings, with many of them sharing connections with one another. Catherine of Aragon spent her final years in this area after Henry VIII announced their marriage null and void, and she stayed at both Buckden Towers and Kimbolton Castle. Kimbolton Castle is now used as a school, as is Hinchingbrooke House, yet it is still possible to visit both of these houses on their open days. See our posts on our stately home visits for more information on these and other homes, you can find them here and here.

Churches and Cathedrals

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Ely Cathedral – Ely is one of the smallest cities in Britain, and is probably most famous for its cathedral. Built on the site of the former abbey, this majestic building stands over the city and dominates the skyline. Inside, the cathedral seems even bigger, with a huge vaulted ceiling way up in the heavens. There are stained glass windows seemingly everywhere and the central octagonal window feature is spectacular. The ceilings are also a masterpiece in their own right, with magnificent paintings covering almost all of them. After exploring the full extent of the cathedral, the Lady Chapel is your next destination. The chapel is accessed by a corridor leading from the cathedral, and you enter into a large open room. Much less decorated and lavish than the cathedral, the chapel is more what you expect at an abbey. Aside from the altar which dominates the room, there is no furniture or seating. The walls have been adorned with decorative masonry and some small statues, many of which were damaged during the Reformation. This chapel was obviously designed purely for worship rather than show, and it is a clear contrast from the cathedral next door.

Peterborough Cathedral – I cannot tell you too much about Peterborough Cathedral, despite having visited on two separate occasions, as we have been unable to explore it properly due to ongoing services at the time of our visits. From the outside the cathedral is huge and imposing, standing guard over its wonderful grounds. The cathedral is walled off from the city centre, with huge doors that are closed after hours to deny access. We have only caught a few glimpses of the inside of the cathedral, but I can tell you that it looks very impressive. The nave seems impossibly long, made to look even longer by the vast vaulted ceiling above it. Stained glass windows feature throughout the front façade, and I imagine there are a lot more to be discovered in the body of the cathedral. Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that, and that we’ll definitely be trying again to visit on our next day in Peterborough.

The great outdoors

Cambridgeshire isn’t really renowned for its countryside, with the Fens taking almost all of the publicity that the area does get. There are some wonderful parks and nature reserves all over the county however, and here are some of our favourite ones:

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Grafham Water – This Anglian Water owned reservoir is just a stone’s throw from the bustling A1, yet it is such a peaceful area and great for getting away from the noise and commotion of urban life. Grafham Water is one of the biggest reservoirs in England, so the recreational areas are vast. All kinds of activities are catered for, from lazy afternoon strolls around the lake right through to watersports and rowing. There are also barbecue stands dotted around for using disposable barbecues, make sure to bring one with you to take advantage of them! Barbecuing by the water in summer is a real delight, and I for one am already looking forward to next year’s visits. We haven’t noticed too much in the way of wildlife ourselves, but I’m sure the different environments here are all teeming with wonderful creatures both big and small. Being just around the corner, our visits haven’t been too long, but it would be easy to spend a whole day here enjoying the surroundings.

Hinchingbrooke Country Park – This is a more recent discovery of ours, and one we plan to make much more use of in the future. A large parkland area just outside of Huntingdon, this park really has a bit of everything. The car park and entrance are situated within a small woodland, with a network of walking paths throughout. After this you reach a large open area, with a small cafe, children’s playground, and outdoor gym facilities. From here there are a number of options, depending on what your recreational desires are. The park has a number of small lakes located just alongside the river, and a walk along this section provides an excellent opportunity to spot squirrels and waterfowl. Another route takes you through a wildflower meadow and wide open spaces perfect for a picnic or a stroll. Lastly there are more woodland areas, one of which is reached after passing by another lake. Here you will find a birdwatching hide with views across the lake, with a keen eye and a bit of patience you may even see a kingfisher (like we did!). So no matter what brings you to the countryside, you can be sure that Hinchingbrooke Country Park has it!

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Paxton Pits – This is a nature reserve just outside of Little Paxton, that has been created in areas excavated by quarrying. This has resulted in a number of lakes, which have become a haven for migrating birds. There are two options for walks, as well as the connecting Ouse Valley Way, which take you around either the smaller lakes at the southern end of the reserve, or the larger Heron Lakes at the northern end. Both walks have birdwatching hides available for use, where you can relax for a while and see if you can spot any of the current residents. As well as the birdlife, an area has been created especially for otters and there is reported to be a colony now living at the reserve. Also, if you visit around dusk, keep your eyes peeled for foxes and badgers, which also live in the reserve. This is a great place for birdwatchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys a nice stroll through the countryside. Just one word of warning, parts of the reserve border the ongoing quarry works and also share some access routes, so be careful and watch out for any quarry vehicles.

Riverside Park, St Neots – The main park in St Neots runs alongside the River Great Ouse and it is a great place for relaxing and recreation. The area north of the town centre is mainly large open fields so perfect for ball games and other sports, and it is also where most of the park’s events are held, such as the annual Dragon Boat Festival. On the other side of town, the park becomes more wooded and more suited to walks along the river and finding more secluded spots for a picnic. The main walking track passes alongside the river, through a camping and caravan park, and brings you to the river lock at Eaton Socon. Here there is the River Mill Tavern, which we would definitely recommend for a spot of lunch or a well-earned drink! The paths continue to follow the river as part of the Ouse Valley Way, and you can walk as far as your heart desires. Following the path in the other direction from the town centre would lead you to Paxton Pits, and onwards towards Huntingdon and St Ives.

Another area that is great to get out and about in is the stretch of river between Huntingdon and St Ives. Encompassing the villages of Hemingford Grey and Hemingford Abbots also, there is a wonderful circular walking route that will take you to all the best spots. Starting in the town of St Ives, the walk takes you across the river and through a wildflower meadow. From here the river is always a welcome companion as you make you way to Hemingford Grey, where you are met by a quaint parish church. A short walk through the graveyard brings you back to the riverbank and the path continues past some houses with possibly the best view from their front gardens in the area. Don’t forget to look back as the river bends round to the right, as there is a fantastic view of the river passing by the church. As you reach Hemingford Abbots you will walk through the village centre and past a typical village pub. We didn’t stop, but it looked like a great place for a drink or food stop. After the village the walk brings you back across the river at Houghton Mill, which again is worth a stop if you arrive during its opening hours. Turn right here down Love Lane and the path winds through a wooded area until bringing you back to St Ives, where a short walk through the town will bring you back to your starting point. This walk can be started and finished at any point along the route of course, and the five mile circuit took us a couple of hours to complete. Great for a relaxing walk on a lazy weekend, it would be easy to make a few stops and make a whole morning or afternoon of it.

This brings me to the end of my post, and you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Cambridge at all in a post about Cambridgeshire. Well, we thought Cambridge deserved a post of its own so we’ve added that to our list of upcoming topics. Stay tuned!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

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Dear travellers,

As you may know, although we try to be out and about as much as we can, we are based in Cambridgeshire and we’ve just realised that we haven’t really taken you around in our area, so we have decided to dedicate some time to this before we go exploring Europe a bit more in the following weeks. This post is about some activities and visits you can do in the area, but we will soon take you on a different tour with our favourite places to eat in our neighbourhood.

Cambridge itself is fairly well-known and we won’t include it in this post, it will have one of its own.  Just to give you a brief introduction, Cambridgeshire is now formed by different districts that were once separate because in the 1970s Huntingdon and Peterborough joined Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely to form the current country. Follow me around a few towns in this area that we call home.

St Neots and neighbouring villages

St Neots is one of the main towns in Huntingdonshire and, although it doesn’t look as big, it has a population of around 40,000 people because it includes several neighbouring villages such as Eaton Ford, Eaton Socon, Buckden, and Little Paxton. The town is well connected with London by train and some people commute daily to the capital.

After being in the area for over one year, we finally managed to visit St Neots Museum and we definitely recommend it. Located in the old police station and law court, this museum offers you a good variety of exhibitions. The visit starts with the prison and you can see the cells and learn a bit about the old punishments and local convicts. After this initial section, the museum opens to the collections, starting with some prehistoric findings such as mammoth bones to include also some findings of the period of the Benedictine priory in the village and an exhibition about life in the Victorian era. The main feature of the museum is probably the Kimbolton Coin Hoard with coins dating from the Iron Age and found in the neighbouring village of Kimbolton.

The ticket costs £3 and there are some additional activities that you can find on the website. There is also a small bookshelf with secondhand books that are very interesting and in mint condition, so you have plenty of ways to support this local museum!

Something I really like about St Neots is the Priory Centre, as they always offer nice theatre shows, mainly thanks to the Riverside Theatre company, their actors are extremely talented!

St Neots is crossed by the Great Ouse River , which also gives the name to a famous walk that takes you around for 150 miles, the Ouse Valley Way. In St Neots, the river is surrounded by a big park, The Riverside Park, that sort of splits the town in two. The size of the river offers many activities, and rowing is definitely popular, with a rowing school as well. In August, the town hosts the Dragon Boat Race, if you are interested in a day of family fun while cheering your favourite team. One of my favourite walks takes you from St Neots starting the the Riverside Park and finishes in Eaton Socon passing through the lock just next to the River Mill.

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As I said earlier, many neighbouring villages are part of St Neots, and Buckden is one of them. The village offers a few interesting things, starting from the Buckden Towers, a building that has seen many famous visitors and residents during the centuries and is now part of the Claret Centre and belongs to the Claretian Missionaries. There is an open day in September and then private visits can be organised according to its website. For more details about this, you can read our previous post on stately homes here, where you can also read about Kimbolton Castle.

Just outside Buckden, thanks to the River Ouse, you have Buckden Marina, a small marina with a leisure centre just on the side. You can enjoy a river cruise or exercise a bit. The gym is not extremely big, but the swimming pool is definitely the most accessible one in the area for swimming.

If you are interested in parks, though, one of the most interesting in the area is Paxton Pits, near Little Paxton. The different walks are of medium difficulty and are extremely enjoyable, and you can also enjoy a drink in the café before or after you start. The visitor centre offers a nice insight of some of the specimens that live in the reserve and also shows some ancient findings and fossils. If Paxton Pits is the best place for an immersion in the nature and wildlife, another famous park is Grafham Waters, a big reservoir and park. If you are planning a barbecue, this is definitely your place.

Huntingdon

We have already talked to you about Hinchingbrooke House in Huntingdon in our second post about stately homes (check it here), but the town has a few more spots that may be interesting. The town centre could be a lot nicer if it didn’t give the impression that the shopping area is slowly swallowing the old buildings, but the surroundings are definitely worth a visit. If you like parks, something more on the line of Paxton Pits is Hinchingbrooke Country Park. This is a nice park both for families and people who want to train outdoors, and for people who like more exploring. The parking is quite small and may discourage you, but it seems to be easier to park there after 6 p.m., when it is actually free. You have a café and an area with an outside gym and it is very popular among runners. The paths are quite easy and offer a nice break. Among the elusive wildlife, you may be lucky enough to spot a kingfisher.

Peterborough

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One of the most famous towns in Cambridgeshire, apart from Cambridge, of course, is definitely Peterborough. Since we have sort of traced Catherine of Aragon’s steps from when she was sent away by Henry VIII, first to Buckden, then to Kimbolton Castle, we cannot forget to talk about Peterborough Cathedral, her final resting place. This gothic building is of extreme beauty and it seems actually something separate from the city despite it being in the centre. The cathedral is surrounded by walls and after the evening service the gate is closed down as to separate this building from the mundane life. We have never managed to visit it properly as we always popped in during services or choir sessions, but we are planning to go soon, probably for one of their tours by candlelight, check their website to know more.

Ely

If we talk about cathedrals, we must talk about Ely, the Cathedral City. Once called the Isle of Ely due to the fens surrounding it and making it an island, Ely is now not an island anymore as the fens were drained in the 1970s. The cathedral is majestic, built initially by the Benedictine monks even before the town. The cathedral has gone through some major refurbishment in the past decades as most of it was becoming unsafe, and you can now appreciate the beautiful ceiling and the gothic structure in all its beauty. Several activities and concerts are organised regularly and I would recommend you check out what is on.

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Ely is also famous for being the hometown of Oliver Cromwell and, just a few minutes walk from the cathedral you can visit his house. It is extremely interesting, both for all the historic information about Cromwell, and on a more general cultural level as it shows many details about the life in the XVII century. It is definitely worth a visit!

St Ives

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While we have visited the Cornish St Ives quite well, we didn’t really dedicate too much time to the one in our area. We went there to do one of the walks suggested by the National Trust, a route that is part of the Ouse Valley Way and starts and finishes in Houghton Mill. We actually started and finished in St Ives but we suggest you follow the original itinerary as it seemed quite hard to find a pub that would serve food in the afternoon when we arrived back in St Ives. The walk is easy and takes about 2 hours to be completed and takes you through some very nice bits of land. Just keep in mind that you will be crossing meadows and there are farm animals, in case that is an obstacle for you, it definitely was quite challenging for me, but walking through Love Lane kind of paid off!

I hope you enjoyed walking with us around our local area, stay tuned for more in the following weeks!

Ms Lust

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Stately homes and castles – part 2

Dear travellers,

Although the main season of Stately Homes sees many of them closing for the winter season, many stay open all year, especially those who are part of the National Trust circuit. We have done our best to fit as many as we could in the summer months and we are planning to visit more of those that stay open over the winter.

You may have read our previous post dedicated to the beginning of our tour. If not, or if you would like to refresh it, here is the link. Today, we are going to take you on another tour, I hope you are ready!

Hinchingbrooke House

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Similar to Kimbolton Castle (featured in part one) this stately home is now owned by and used as a school. Hinchingbrooke House is open more often though, and visits are possible on most weekends throughout the school summer holidays. Also like Kimbolton Castle, its current primary use means that most of the rooms have been redecorated and re-furnished, yet the house’s history has still been well maintained. The library is still kept in its original state, including the stained glass windows (although one has been damaged by an errant cricket ball, which is the reason ball games have now been banned!), and it is probably the most elegant exam room I have ever seen! The drawing room has also been maintained in its original state, which is where you will be served your complimentary tea or coffee and cake at the end of your tour.

As for the rooms that have been converted into classrooms, some original features have been retained and preserved. A fireplace with graffiti from dates throughout the house’s history stood proudly in one classroom, while in another an original window that had been discovered during renovations is framed as would be any wonderful work of art. The building has had many previous uses, and started out as a nunnery. There has also been many modifications and additions made to the building at various points during its history, and it is very interesting to be able to see where one style finishes and another starts.

This was one of the most enjoyable tours I have had of a stately home, entirely thanks to the volunteers that provide them. £5 a head for a guided tour from an enthusiastic former student with a real passion for the house and its history, with tea and cake at the end, really was a bargain and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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This is a small stately home that we have seen so many times on our way to our regular food shopping and never really paid attention to. When we finally looked it up, we realised that it is now a school but that it opens to visits on Sundays during the summer school holidays.

The building is a mix of Tudor style and earlier architecture that belonged to a nunnery dating back to the XIII century. The entrance leads immediately to a former banquet hall with a fireplace showing the crest of the family. The Montagues were in the navy and the crest represents this activity with the motto Post tot naufragia, portum (after so many shipwrecks, a haven).

The house belonged to the Cromwell family before passing to the Montagues but it was with the Montagues that it started being the centre of British naval history, as the Earl was not only an admiral himself, but he was also patron to James Cook. Hinchingbrooke House is said to have hosted the first recorded barbecue in history when one of the guests was a Polynesian man, Omai, who roasted mutton on heated stones in the grounds as it was traditional in his land.

Another food related story is the one about the creation of the sandwich. The Montagues were the Earls of Sandwich and the Fourth Earl, John, used to have salt beef between two slices of bread when he was on admiralty duties and this food then took the name of sandwich from him.

Apart from the legends, also including some ghost stories, the building itself is in incredible shape and I was surprised to see that the furniture and paintings are very well kept despite the fact that the house is in constant use for the school. There is a clear distinction between the part that belongs to the nunnery, with narrow spaces, and the Tudor part, more open and with straight walls.

The library is beautiful, with bookshelves all around the room and big, bright, tall windows decorated with stained glass. The grounds are not extremely big but very nice, and you can enjoy a tea and cake there, as you have them included in your ticket at the end of the tour.

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Highclere Castle

This house is probably the most famous as, for those of you that haven’t watched the series, Highclere Castle is the stately home featured in Downton Abbey. Naturally this makes it a very popular place to visit, and therefore tickets must be prebooked well in advance. We managed to secure tickets for the bank holiday in August, and endured the months of waiting for the day of our visit to arrive.

Save for the first episode (which Ms Lust made me watch so I would recognise the main parts of the house) I have never watched Downton Abbey, so the link between the two was a little lost on me. I was clearly in the minority however, and it seems that Highclere Castle has tried possibly a bit too hard to try and appeal to its popular fan base. Almost every room contained large prints of previous filming taking place in it, along with many other photos and artefacts from the series dotted around the house. This spoiled it a bit for me, as I wasn’t interested in Downton Abbey and would have much preferred to have seen Highclere Castle as it was originally intended.

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The house itself is very impressive from the outside, and one of the largest stately homes that we have visited. The rooms inside are still very beautiful and adorned with many extravagant paintings and ornaments, once you can see beyond the more recent paraphernalia. I was particularly impressed with the Ancient Egyptian exhibition in the basement. One of the previous owners of Highclere Castle was Lord Carnarvon, who is remembered most famously for backing Howard Carter’s excavations in The Valley of the Kings, namely those that led to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Naturally this features heavily throughout the house, and is the reason for the exhibition. The first room contains actual artefacts recovered from digs in The Valley of the Kings, including jewelry items and an almost complete sarcophagus. The following rooms use replicas to recreate scenes from inside Tutankhamun’s tomb, with a burial chamber and a room built to allow visitors to see what Howard Carter’s first glimpse of the treasures buried inside would have been like. I found the whole exhibition really interesting and actually enjoyed that more than the tour of the house, it almost even made up for not having visited the tomb when we were in Luxor earlier in the year (click here for our post about that trip).

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Tickets are allocated for morning or afternoon entry to the house, and as we were driving down just for the day we opted for an afternoon ticket. Arriving a little early, this gave us time both before and after the tour of the house to explore the grounds. Compared to a lot of the stately homes we have visited, the grounds at Highclere Castle were a bit plain and disappointing. There is a small temple which offered great views of the house, yet unfortunately this seemed to be a popular place for picnics and it was full of people for most of the day. The gardens were well kept, if not a bit disorganised and poorly planned, but for the most part the grounds seemed to be nothing more than open fields. All in all I’m glad we went, not for anything to do with Downton Abbey but for the Ancient Egyptian exhibition and the house’s connection to one of the greatest discoveries in modern history. But in saying that, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to return.

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This castle is probably more famous as Downton Abbey as it has been used as Lord Grantham’s mansion in the TV series. Despite this, the castle has its own history that has little to envy of the fictional story. The property belongs to the Carnarvon family and part of the basement is dedicated to the Egyptian expedition that discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Remember our post about Luxor? That same one! Anyway, let’s go back to the castle for now. The visits are not usually scheduled on weekends but you have access on Bank Holidays. Due to the fame of the place, I recommend you book before you go. You can choose the morning or the afternoon visit and decide to include or not the Egyptian exhibition.

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The castle from the outside is a lot less majestic and impressive that you may expect from the TV series but the grounds are extremely pleasant. Photography is not permitted inside, which makes it a wonderful experience, as otherwise it would all be crammed with people trying to take pictures with the characters’ life-size reproductions. The visit follows a one-way path and is extremely enjoyable, both for Downton Abbey’s fans and not, as the rooms are lively and it can be seen that the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon still use the house to entertain despite usually living in a nearby cottage. Check out her blog about real life in Downton Abbey.

Lanhydrock

During our trip to Cornwall (our post can be found here) we stopped in at a National Trust property on the way back, Lanhydrock Estate. Situated just south of Bodmin Moor, this stately home boasts huge expanses of outside space as well as the home itself. From the carpark, a short walk down a tree-lined avenue brings you to the gatehouse, now used as a ticket booth and information point. Passing through this imposing and impressive structure brings you to a wonderful view of the house entrance and the pathway and grounds leading to it.

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Once inside, as with many National Trust properties, the rooms have been furnished using items from the same period as the house, if not having been left with the house as well. In this case, the decor is mainly from the Victorian period, and each room shows obvious signs of this. I’ve always found the Victorian style of artwork and decorating to be slightly disturbing, with harsh features and a sort of dark quality about it. Here was no different, with most of the rooms containing stuffed animals as hunting trophies and eerie cardboard cutouts of the long-departed residents. Nevertheless the rooms were still impressive, I particularly enjoyed the library and long gallery, and every area of the house is open to visitors, right down to the servants quarters and the kitchen.

Back outside we had a quick look around the sculptured gardens surrounding the house, which are wonderfully understated. They are by no means grand or extravagant, yet they are very well taken care of and a nice place for a short stroll. At the back of the gardens is St Hydroc’s Church, a small parish church that serves the estate and the local community. The church is situated very close to, and is the focus of the views from many rooms in the house. There is nothing particularly grand or spectacular about the church, it is much like any other small parish church in England, but there are some connections between the church and Lanhydrock’s residents that are nice to discover. We didn’t have time to explore the grounds outside of the gatehouse, all I will say is that they seemed very extensive and well-maintained. That was the end of our visit here, as we had to continue our journey home, and I would definitely be keen to return, if we are in the area again, in order to explore further.

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You have already seen some images in our previous post about Cornwall but we still have to tell you almost everything about this visit. The house was destroyed in a fire at the end of the XIX century and it was rebuilt as a family home. Some of the rooms really show this aspect, especially the kids’ rooms with all their toys.

The access to the house is granted by a gatehouse that looks more like the ones you expect with a drawbridge, but the garden inside and the house are very different. The Drawing Room is very peculiar, looking immense from one side thanks to the big window at the end, on the opposite wall; if you just stand in front of the window, though, the optical illusion disappears and the room just becomes a big room divided in two by some folding screens and too full of pieces of furniture and decorations to feel homely and comfortable.

The library definitely is my favourite space, as usual. The room is big, with books covering all the walls and an empty central space that, together with the wooden walls and the majestic plaster ceiling, makes it feel peaceful and embracing. Some of the most important books are kept in glass displays covered by thick fabrics embroidered with literary quotes. They are beautiful to see, and one of the main features of the library is a book that belonged to Henry VIII and helped him obtain the annulment of his marriage.

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Probably the most disturbing aspect of the house is that it is filled floor to ceiling with examples of taxidermy, a very common practice in the past centuries. The rooms are decorated with carpets made out of tigers, head trophies, and full dioramas with stuffed animals and gives you a strange feeling of oppression in some rooms.

The servants’ quarters and the kitchens are probably among the most interesting I have visited to date, with plenty of rooms dedicated to different functions and real objects and food to clearly explain the use of each space. The fridges and freezers were a big advance at the time and you can admire how they would keep their food fresh, you can see cakes, jellies, cheese and butter on the table ready to be taken upstairs, the oven and the utensils to prepare the bread, the sugar and the spices in their storage place, and plenty more.

The estate includes the grounds and a chapel just on the the side. The grounds are famous for their colours and decorations, with the perfectly shaped trees and the carefully kept flowerbeds.

Wimpole Estate

Wimpole Hall is one of our local National Trust sites, and one that had been on the wish list since we first joined. When we heard that there was to be a local produce fair held in the grounds, it seemed like the perfect excuse to finally tick it off the list! And we were certainly glad that we did as it turned out to be a delightful place to visit. The house is not as big or as extravagant as some that we have visited, but it has been incredibly well preserved both by the National Trust and the previous owner. A lot of the furnishings are not original as the contents were once sold off separately to the house, yet a lot of them have been recovered and, where that hasn’t been possible, replacements from the same period have been used.

The tour of the house gives a full impression of what life would have been like here in its heyday, with all areas of the house open to the public. The tour begins in the reception rooms, with the Yellow Drawing Room being the main attraction. This huge room was a late addition to the house, but instead of an extension being butted onto the building, walls and ceilings were ripped out to create a space for this wonderful room. In total seven rooms were destroyed to make enough space available, and Queen Victoria was suitably impressed when she was received here on her visit to the estate.

As you work your way around the house, you will come to the largest library owned by the National Trust. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the library fully, but you can step inside the doorway and view the vast collection of books. The reading room just at the entrance to the library is accessible, where some of the collection can be seen a lot closer. My other favourite rooms were the gallery and the chapel, the latter of which you can catch a glimpse of at the entrance to the house. The gallery is not as long as those we had seen before, but that made it no less impressive and the grand piano is always a welcome sight in my eyes. The chapel is ornate, but not oppressively so, with fantastic artwork covering the walls and ceiling.

I have to say that I found all the rooms at Wimpole very charming, and a nice change from the usual style found in stately homes. They aren’t filled to bursting point with ornaments, paintings, and statues in order to show off the wealth and taste of the owners. They are all decorated, still with very fine and expensive things, in a much more restrained style, with the decorations used to enhance the features of the room rather than as focal points themselves. This for me is more impressive, as it shows a more sensible and less egotistical approach, and I found it much more enjoyable. It may just be because a lot of the contents of the house have yet to be recovered or replaced, but in my opinion it is all the better for it.

After finishing the tour of the bedrooms and reception rooms, it is also possible to explore the lower levels and the real working rooms of the house. The kitchen, larder, and preparation rooms are all open for viewing, along with the produce and artefacts that would have been used. Also the servants quarters have been preserved and are free to walk around, giving a real insight into how life would have been for them. Wimpole Hall really felt like we were in a grand home that was still in use, but the family were on holiday and had taken their staff with them. A lot of stately homes feel more like museums, with the collections that the house contains being the main draw. Here was completely different, and it was obvious that the National Trust had wanted to showcase the way of life rather than the treasures they had obtained, and they have done a wonderful job of just that.

Near the end of the tour, just before entering the servants areas, was a real surprise, a bath house that had been built into the house rather than as a separate building. At the end of a small, plain corridor was this huge room made completely from marble, yet painted in parts to look convincingly like wood, and the huge bathing pool seemed to come out of nowhere. Using state of the art technology to heat the water and even to run a heated shower, this really must have been the talk of the town! I thoroughly enjoyed walking around Wimpole Hall and I can’t wait to go back nearer Christmas when the house is turned into a Victorian Christmas setting. We also didn’t explore the grounds too much due to the weather, so I’m sure we’ll be back there very soon.

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Another building managed by the National Trust, this home seems to be the favourite of the neighbourhood as it was full of families that seem to know the estate pretty well. I have to admit, the estate seems a place that offers something for every age, more than some others.

The last owner of the estate before the National Trust was Elsie Bambridge, Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, and probably this literary background is part of the magic I found in this house. The library is a dream for any booklover, with the only downside that you cannot walk around it but only admire it from the door. Apparently, the library was bought by the Bambridges with the estate from the previous owners, while most of the furniture and decorations were added in style at the end of the XIX century by the Bambridges.

The bedrooms are quite modern compared to other stately homes, with an adjacent bathroom for both main rooms. Yes, the lord and the lady of the house preferred to have separate bathrooms, we can but support their choice! Despite having a fully functional bathroom, though, the lady of the house seemed to prefer to bathe in front of the fireplace in her bedroom. I can’t understand this, but I guess old habits are hard to die.

The estate is vast and in front of the house is a 2.5 m long parkland that looks like an immense driveway. It is not something that was not completed, it was created like that to offer a long, undisturbed view from the house.

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We went the week of one of the produce fairs and I would suggest you do that if you can, as you can find local produce of extremely good quality and the price is ridiculously cheap. The estate also includes a farm and the folly in the distance. Having grown up in the countryside, the farm is not interesting at all for me, but the folly seemed nice to explore, although the rain prevented us from doing so.

Hatfield House

Hatfield House was our most recent visit and, with it being just around the corner from my workplace, one that we had overlooked for quite some time. This is the house that Queen Elizabeth I had stayed at during her sister’s reign (Queen Mary I) and it was where she was informed of the death of her sister and her own ascension to the throne. This was obviously a reason to visit in itself, but we’ll get back to that later. The estate consists of many buildings, with the visitor centre, ticket office, gift shop, and restaurants being housed in what appeared to be the old stables. These are all gated off from the main part of the estate, and it isn’t until you proceed through the gates that the house comes into view.

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Rather than the stone façades that most stately homes exhibit, Hatfield House is built from red brick and more reminiscent of Hampton Court Palace (understandable as they both were built at a similar time). A long driveway leads up to a large fountain in front of the house, which at the time had been replaced by a modern sculpture that I hope is not a permanent feature (it would be wonderful in a more suitable setting). The house itself is very grand and this continues to the interior as well, which is evident from the very first room. The walls are filled with portraits and other fine artworks, mostly of royalty and nobles from the Tudor and Stuart periods, and grand, old staircases ferry visitors between the different areas of the house. There are a few dining rooms along the way, each presented as if an extravagant meal will be forthcoming, and the usual bedrooms and drawing rooms which are all filled with wonderful artworks, statues, and furniture. This house also has a fantastic and extensive library, brimming to the rafters with ancient books on all manner of subjects. Whenever we go into a room like this, I always wish I could cosy up in one of the fine armchairs for a few hours with a book from the shelves, unfortunately I think this may be frowned upon!

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On this visit we had more time to explore the grounds after touring the house, and we were also fortunate to have fairly decent weather. The gardens surrounding the house make for a nice stroll, with fountains and statues dotted amongst the flower beds. A part of the gardens was not accessible due to a wedding at the time of our visit, yet we could still see into the garden if not actually enter it. After this came the main reason for our trip, the spot where Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have been told that she was now queen. This is a short walk from the house, along the tree-lined driveway, where the gardens give way to more open parkland. The original tree is no longer there, but the spot is still marked by a tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.

There are a number of walking paths around the grounds, and we chose to continue our walk and see what else we could discover. We first came across a castle folly, built on the bank of the river. It isn’t possible to go inside the folly, however there are no doors, just gates, and it is still possible to see what it is like inside (fairly spartan to be honest, it didn’t look like it gets much use anymore). Then we walked down to the river bank and walked along for a short while, which was a really pleasant place for a walk despite the motorway noise in the background. By this point the path swings back round to begin heading back towards the house and, starting to feel a little tired, we took its advice and decided to return also. A small French market being held in the grounds provided us with some well earned treats to enjoy, and with that we went back to the car contented and having thoroughly enjoyed our day at Hatfield House.

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This beautiful mansion just closed for the season and is probably one of my favourites. It is part of the Treasure Houses circuit and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget that you have a 2×1 voucher for your next visit to another house of the circuit and that the entry to the house is free for the whole season after the first time. It is famous for having been the place where Queen Elizabeth I was residing when Mary died and she was proclaimed Queen of England.

Parking is a slow process but there is plenty of space. A little train takes you around the farm and crosses the parking area. Before arriving to the house, you have to cross the food court. The entrance to the church is also under an arch before this area. When we visited, part of the grounds were occupied by the French produce market and I have to admit that you find products of very high quality, it is worth a stop. The garden this year also hosted an exhibition of big top hats that were decorated by local groups.

In front of the main entrance there is a contemporary water sculpture by Angela Conner. The house is majestic outside and inside, with wooden stairs and decorations. The Marble Hall welcomes you with its marbles, of course, and a beautiful wooden balcony. In this room you can already guess the incredible amount of art that will await you in the rest of the house. At the end of the room is the famous Rainbow portrait in which Queen Elizabeth I holds a rainbow in her hands. The tapestries are slightly damaged by the passing of time but the paintings and furniture pieces are incredible. Another famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is on display in King James Drawing Room along with many other precious paintings and a life-size sculpture of King James I. This portrait is called the Ermine portrait, as it features a little ermine on the queen’s sleeve.

The Winter Dining Room is another impressive room with four tapestries representing the four seasons. As for the library, you already know my love for them and this picture can explain to you a little how much I loved this one.

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On the ground floor you can admire several examples of weapons and armours along the armoury and then enjoy the sight of a full working kitchen on the lower level.

The grounds are quite vast, as it is to imagine, with the oak tree under which it is said Elizabeth received the announcement. It is not the original tree, but one that Queen Elizabeth II planted in 1985 to commemorate the event, but it is the same spot. Further along you can see the folly (with the highest amount of ladybirds ever seen by human eyes… well, by me!) and apparently the vineyard. We could not find it but we still enjoyed a good stroll through the woods.

* Bonus feature – Twilight at Burghley House*

Burghley House featured in our first Stately Homes post, as it was one of the first homes that we visited. On hearing about their Twilight Tour evenings, held over a long weekend in October, we couldn’t resist a return visit. This turned out to be a spectacular way to see the house and the organisers did a superb job. As usual, we entered through the kitchen and the change in atmosphere was immediately apparent. The low level lighting and quieter, more relaxed ambience was the perfect start to the tour, as we enjoyed our welcome drinks before moving on to the main body of the house.

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The bedrooms and reception rooms were even more impressive, as the light dimmed further and seemed to enhance the beauty of all the exquisite furniture and artwork. A even nicer touch were the musicians that were playing in some of the rooms, really making it feel like we were a guest there for a night of fine dining and entertainment. It was definitely worth the return visit, not only for the change in ambience and mood, but also for a second chance to see the little details that we may have missed on our first visit.

They saved the very best until last, and the final room definitely left us with some very happy memories. This was a large hall, possibly a banqueting hall, that had been completely cleared to make a huge open room. The large fireplace at the far end of the room had been lit, and it was the perfect environment in which to enjoy another drink while listening to the harpist playing beautiful music. It was a wonderful experience and one which I am incredibly grateful that we decided to try. The evenings have finished now for this year, but if you live in the area I would highly recommend going for an evening during next year’s event.

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You probably have read everything about Burghley House on our previous post about stately homes but, if you want to catch up, you can find it here.

The house offers a twilight event for a few nights and you can enjoy the house in dim light and with live music and readings in different rooms. The tour starts with a glass of prosecco to enjoy in the kitchen before heading to the upper level. The staff are available in the rooms to help you exactly as during the day but you have no audio guides. The connection is not the best but you may still be able to access the website and check out some of the paintings as they are all listed in there.

Among the live activities, I have particularly enjoyed the Baroque Choir in the Pagoda Room and the harp music by Soraya Vermeulen. Check her out, she is amazing and really lovely to talk to, you should keep this in mind if you want to hire someone for your event!

The Twilight events are over for this season but you still have some events for Christmas in the grounds. The house itself will close to the public on 29 October, so you still have a few weeks to visit if you want. We may go back, but we still have a few more houses to visit. Stay tuned!

Mr Wander & Ms Lust

West Country wanderings

Dear readers,

Our most recent trip was one that we had been looking forward to for quite some time, and we had been planning it in one way or another ever since we arrived back from New Zealand. Partly because the West Country is by far my favourite area in England, and partly because Ms Lust was keen to explore more of that area after having visited Devon previously. So, in order to take Ms Lust to an area that she hadn’t seen yet, we settled on Cornwall and in particular the far southwest tip, an area that I had yet to venture into either. We found our accommodation on AirBnB (click here for a signing up discount) and immediately started planning surfing lessons, cream teas, beach visits, and all the other wonderful things that Cornwall is famous for.

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We had planned our trip for just after the school summer holidays, in the hope of avoiding the busiest periods while still catching some sunny, summer weather. For the most part we achieved the first of those goals, and there wasn’t really anywhere we went that was overwhelmingly busy. On the second point we were less fortunate, and the wind and rain that met us on the M6 (under an hour into our six hour journey) was destined to be the main feature of our holiday. Undeterred by the inclement weather (since when has a bit of rain ever managed to dampen an Englishman’s spirits?!) we drove on and before we knew it we had arrived in Painswick, a small village in the Cotswolds that I had earmarked for our lunch stop. We were running a little behind schedule and didn’t stop for too long, just enough for a drive around the village and a short walk around the village church and its famous yew trees. There are 99 yew trees throughout the church graveyard, each sponsored by a local inhabitant or business, and it is reported that any efforts to grow the 100th tree have all been unsuccessful. The village itself is a typical Cotswold village, with romantic stone houses and narrow lanes, yet close enough to the M5 to allow for a quick stop without too much hassle, definitely worth a visit if you are going past. Suitably refreshed, we got back on the road and began the next leg of our journey through the wind and rain, to our first destination in Cornwall, Newquay.

One of our absolute ‘must-do’s’ while we were in Cornwall was to visit one of the Fat Willy’s Surf Shack stores, to buy a replacement car sticker for my sister and for Ms Lust to see where her acquired hoodie had come from! As it is the original, we decided we would go to the store in Newquay and also have a quick tour of the town and beaches. With our shopping finished (Fat Willy’s t-shirts and Cornish pasties, diving straight into local culture!) and my pilgrimage to the Walkabout bar completed, we took the short walk down to Towan Beach to complete Ms Lust’s first Cornish experience. With it still not being particularly beach weather, we only stopped long enough for a quick paddle and a walk around the caves before deciding to head back to the car. I have to say that I was a little disappointed by Newquay, and it seems to have lost a lot of the charm that it had when I last visited. Maybe it was because of the miserable weather, or that I have remembered it in a better light that it actually was, but the town seems to be suffering from a distinct decline. Add to that the ever-present stag and hen parties that are attracted to Newquay’s ‘party-town’ reputation, and it no longer seems like such a great place to visit, for me anyway. In saying that, I’m sure I will return again next time we visit Cornwall, if only to visit my favourite surf shack!

On arriving back at the car we discovered that the surfing lesson we had booked for the following morning had been cancelled due to the weather, so it felt like an appropriate time to complete the last section of our journey to our accommodation so we could start planning what we would do instead. We stayed in Mount Hawke for the first three nights, a small sleepy village just a few miles from St Agnes. There really wasn’t anything to keep us in the village for anything other than eating, as we had found a nice restaurant just around the corner from our accommodation. The village was a good base location for exploring the area though, as it was not too far from the coast yet also within easy reach of the main road through Cornwall, the A30.

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We decided to start off by exploring the immediate area, and found a National Trust tin-mining site just 15 minutes away. With further research I also found out that the cafe there was famous for its ice creams dipped in clotted cream, and with that I was convinced! Although I had been to Cornwall four times previously, I had never been to the area known as the Tin Coast which is named for the old tin mine buildings that are found there. So with two excellent reasons to visit, we couldn’t say no and, after breakfast, we made the short journey to Chapel Porth beach. Again, it wasn’t really beach weather, so we began with a short walk up to the mining buildings of Wheal Coates, perched on the cliffs, in order to earn our ice creams. The walk was easy enough, although it became very windy when we reached the top of the cliffs, and we were soon rewarded with the well-preserved engine house to explore. Unlike some of the National Trust engine houses in the region, this one is not in a working condition, yet the building is fully intact albeit minus a roof. Further up the cliff were some more buildings that were obviously also part of the mining complex, however these were not in such good condition and the wind became too strong for us to linger too long. We retraced our steps back down the cliffs and to the cafe, where we eagerly ordered our reward, their famous ‘Hedgehog’ ice creams. This is a vanilla ice cream cone, with a dollop of clotted cream, and then rolled in roasted hazelnuts. I’m sure its calorie content requires a more strenuous walk to burn off, but we felt we deserved it anyway! With the weather improving, we decided to go onto the beach to enjoy our ice creams and for a bit more cave exploring. Almost every beach in this region has at least a few caves, which is what made it a haven for smugglers. We didn’t find any contraband, but that didn’t stop us checking every cave we came across, just in case!

Despite having just eaten a month’s worth of calories in one go, it was now lunch time, so we decided to go to St Ives to find more Cornish pasties. I’d never been to St Ives before, and I found absolutely nothing that would make me want to return. The town is built on the side of a steep hill, surrounding a typical Cornish harbour and its complement of fishing vessels. Seemingly the destination of every tour coach in the county, the place was overrun and incredibly crowded, and what was more worrying was that this seemed to be the norm. Undeterred, we set about battling our way through the crowds to find some pasties, which we then took down to the harbour to eat while enjoying the view. This was probably the biggest mistake we made during the entire trip, as anyone that has been to Cornwall will know, and we were barely halfway through our pasties when Ms Lust was attacked by one of the local seagulls. These are not your normal seagulls, they are huge and the abundance of unwary tourists with food has made them very intimidating and most definitely not shy! After fighting them off and finding a safer place to finish our lunch, we returned to the town to see what all the fuss is about. St Ives is a beautiful little town, yet there isn’t really anything that sets it apart from any of the other harbour towns in the area, they are all beautiful. Maybe it’s because of the poem, or because of the Tate gallery that has opened here, but for whatever reason St Ives has found fame and this is its biggest problem. As I said before, it is overcrowded with tourists, and as a result it has become very commercial in order to capitalise on its popularity, which has in turn destroyed much of its charm. Unless you are on a coach holiday and have no choice, I would definitely avoid St Ives in favour of some of the less famous towns such as Port Isaac or Boscastle. However our trip wasn’t all bad, and we managed to find a great place for a cream tea, much to my surprise! Due to the popularity of St Ives, I was expecting the cafes and tearooms to be geared towards quantity rather than quality. However we spotted that 57 Fore St was surprisingly quiet as we walked past, and decided to trust our instincts and give it a try and we were not disappointed. The place is a little quirky, and it almost feels like you’re walking through someone’s home, but the view of the harbour from upstairs is fantastic and the cream teas were delicious. If you do go to St Ives, definitely check this place out!

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It was then time to leave St Ives and we set off towards another popular tourist destination, Land’s End. The original plan had been to park at Sennen Cove and walk along the coast to Land’s End, but time and the weather forced us to alter this and to drive straight there. This was another place I had wanted to go to purely because of its reputation, and again I was left a bit disappointed. Land’s End is privately owned and a mini village full of shops and attractions, all designed to deprive tourists of their holiday money, has been built separating the car park from the main attraction. So you are forced to walk through this avenue of tackiness (fortunately everywhere had closed by the time we arrived) to reach the famous signpost and the views out to sea. It is nice to be able to say that I have now been, yet it isn’t a place I would never think to come back to. The views are very dramatic and rugged, especially if the weather is as terrible as it was when we were there, yet it isn’t any different from so many other places along the Cornwall coastline. So we took our photos of the signpost, and quickly retreated back to the car to find refuge from the wind. As darkness approached we began our trip back to our accommodation, and started looking forward to the following day. I felt like our Cornish holiday hadn’t gotten off to the best of starts, however that just meant there would be plenty of opportunity to improve!

The weather had disrupted plans for our surfing lesson again, so we changed plans and moved forward our visit to St Michael’s Mount. This is another National Trust property, and the counterpart to Mont-Saint-Michel in France. It comprises of a small island just off of the beach at Marazion, and accessible at low tide via a man-made causeway, on the top of which a castle has been built. Subsequently more buildings were added around the harbour on the island, and a small community was formed. There are still people living on the island today, both in the castle and the surrounding houses, most of which are employed in the running of the property and the island. Visits can be made either by foot at low tide or by boat, however the boat is subject to weather conditions.

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When we arrived at the car park on the mainland, we were informed that the boat would not be in operation due to the weather and that we would need to wait until 1pm for the causeway to open. Marazion is also home to a wonderful, long, sandy beach, so we decided to spend the extra time that we had strolling along it in search of a shipwreck that had been uncovered in the area. The shipwreck never showed itself to us, yet it was still an enjoyable, although at some points quite bracing, walk up and down the beach. Arriving back at the causeway in time for the opening rush to have subsided a little, we joined the train of people making their way over to the island. The causeway has been recently relaid and is quite easy to walk on, however we were warned that some of the paths on the island were quite steep and, as they are all cobbled, treacherous in some places. This is mostly likely why the castle was shut on the day of our visit as well, as the wind and the threat of rain made the walk up to the top of the island too risky. We wouldn’t be able to tour the castle after all so, determined not to have come here for nothing, we went straight to the cafe for a cream tea (do you see a pattern emerging here?!). Just as good as the one we had had the previous day in St Ives, but with the added bonus of an extra scone, again we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cream teas in such a busy tourist hot-spot. By the time we had finished, the weather had improved, although we were still not allowed to venture up to the castle, and it made for a pleasant walk around the harbour and the island village. It is a wonderful little place to visit, although I am sure it takes on a different light during the storms that frequent this area and there is a small exhibition that gives a glimpse into that side of island life. We stayed on the island almost until the causeway had to be closed for the incoming tide, and by the time we arrived back at the car it was starting to become late. It also seemed like we would finally be able to have our surfing lesson on the following morning, which meant an early start, so we called it a day and went in search of dinner.

After an early breakfast we set off for Gwithian beach for our surfing lesson, albeit still a little dubious of the weather conditions. It was certainly less windy than it had been the previous two days, however it still felt like a storm was never too far away. Nevertheless we changed into our wetsuits and carried our surfboards down to the beach, where we stayed for a little while for some tuition and instructions before getting into the water. This was something like my tenth surfing lesson, which have spanned over seven years in both Australia and previous trips to Cornwall, and I was yet to manage to stand and control the board. The closest I had gotten before were a few lucky moments on my feet, before the board quickly tipped me back into the waves a second or two later. So as the lesson seemed to be coming to a close, and I hadn’t managed to do any better, I resigned myself once again to the fact that I will possibly never get the hang of surfing. Ms Lust had already gone back to the beach at this point, and I have her partly to thank for what happened next. With only a few chances left to grab a wave, and the instructors wise words echoing around in my head, I looked up to see where Ms Lust was and that was all it took. I was up! Not only up but controlled and balanced as well, and able to ride the wave all the way into the shore. I could hardly believe it, all I had needed all this time was to have a beautiful woman waiting at the beach for me to grab my attention. I’d been told countless times by every instructor to keep my head up and never followed their advice, and now I saw where I had been going wrong all this time. I managed to catch one more wave before the lesson ended and, proving it hadn’t been a fluke, repeated my new found surfing skills and rode the wave once more to the shore. Ms Lust hadn’t enjoyed her first surfing experience all that much, but for me it was the best lesson I had had and why I highly recommend Gwithian Surfing Academy if you are looking for lessons in this area. I will probably never take up surfing seriously, I may never even have another lesson, but I am so glad to have finally mastered the very basics at least so I know it wouldn’t be completely pointless to go again.

The surfing had tired us both out quite a lot, so we dialled back our plans a bit and decided to find somewhere for lunch before heading to our new accommodation for the last night. We found a great fish and chip shop in Hayle and drove to the beach there to eat them, although we had learnt our lesson and stayed in the car! The accommodation was a bit of a drive away and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, where we were met with a beautiful cabin to stay in and even some gin and tonics to welcome us! Another AirBnB find, and definitely one of the best we have stayed at, you can find it here. We got some well-earned rest in before going for dinner, and then on to our theatre plans for the evening. I had come across Minack Theatre in an article online, and as soon as I saw it I knew we had to book tickets for whatever show would be on while we would be there. That show turned out to be Cyrano de Bergerac, a play I had studied a little at school and one that I knew we would enjoy. So I booked the tickets well in advance and as a result, most of our holiday had been planned around this visit.

Minack Theatre is an open-air amphitheatre that has been built on the cliff top near Porthcurno. Resulting from the vision and hard work of Rowena Cade, she built the theatre with her gardener, Billy Rawlings, by carving it from the cliffs at the end of her estate. The first performance, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, took place on 16 August 1932 and there have been performances here ever since. The backdrop of the roaring sea crashing into the cliffs below adds to the drama of the performances, it really is a wonderful place to watch a play. There seems to be a new play every week, with two performances a day on weekdays, so you are sure to find something that interests you. The tickets are not expensive either, which is what surprised me the most as it is such a famous attraction, and I think I would be there every week if I were to live in the area!

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After a good night’s rest we found ourselves facing the prospect of the long drive home, as our holiday was drawing to an end. That in no way means that we had finished exploring however! The route had been carefully planned to include a few more stops along the way, and after breakfast we set off in the direction of home. As is so often the case on an English holiday, the weather seemed to be returning to a more summery disposition just as we were leaving. We didn’t feel too upset about this though, as there was still some rain about as we arrived at Lanhydrock Estate and we had had an excellent time over the last few days despite the weather. Lanhydrock Estate is a stately home owned by the National Trust (you’d never guess that we’re now members!), just to the south of Bodmin Moor. As such, and also because this post is long enough already, we’re going to save our views on our visit here for our next stately homes post, which will be out fairly soon.

After Lanhydrock Estate we went for a short drive to the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery and Cafe, for what would be the most disappointing moment of the entire trip. Prior to leaving, I had a spent some time researching the best places in Cornwall for Cornish pasties and cream teas. One of the places that came up in almost every list for cream teas was the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Cafe, and with a name like that who can resist? So there we were waiting for our cream teas, and when they arrived I couldn’t help but to feel devastated. The scones resembled rock cakes more than scones, the teapot didn’t look like it have ever been washed, and worst of all was the cream. It was clotted cream, so at least they got that right, but it was the amount that was the issue. Sitting in a miniature plant pot was a scoop of cream barely big enough for one scone, and certainly not enough for the two scones we had been given. Naturally we asked for more and to be fair it was given without any issue or question (I imagine they get asked this a lot), so we carried on in hope that looks can be deceiving. They weren’t and the scones tasted as bad as they looked, the tea was ok but nothing special (you had to pay extra for anything other than English Breakfast!), and we realised that this place gets by on its name alone.

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Our final stop was another short drive away, the small harbour town of Polperro. Situated at the bottom of a steep hill, you are greeted by a huge car park and a deep sense of dread that you’ve been tricked into driving to another St Ives. Maybe it was because we arrived just as everything was closing, or maybe the town is a bit too far off the beaten track to attract too many coach tours, but it seemed relatively quiet and peaceful. A tourist tram made from an old milk float will take you to the harbour for a nominal fee, along with tales of the torrid journey that awaits you if you decide to walk back (we did it and it really wasn’t bad at all!). The harbour is small and pleasant, with a small beach and some caves to explore. The houses and shops are all still very traditional and it seems like tourism hasn’t affected these too much so far. All in all it was a nice place to have a final pasty and a stroll before leaving Cornwall, but I didn’t find anything to make me linger for too long. Well worth a visit if you are in the area, probably not worth the hassle if you’re not. So with our tour of Polperro complete, so too did our Cornish adventure come to a close. We walked back to the car and began the long drive home, already promising to return again soon.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear readers,

You may have seen a few of our pictures from our road trip to Cornwall, but here we are to tell you more about it, follow me around the south west coast for a tour of pasties and cream teas!

This is our itinerary, a bit planned and a bit modified by improvising and by the forces of nature, and I’ll take you through it in case you want to follow it in your trip. As the posts are usually very long, here is the short itinerary and here is the longer version if you are up to read more about the places.

We have a great tendency of always leaving later than planned, and this time was no exception. We were on the road at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, our day one.

Day 1

This first bit was quite plain, with a long drive through counties until our first stop, which was also our lunch break. Mr Wander had planned to stop in Painswick, which ended up being a nice decision. We initially stopped at the Rococo Gardens but we immediately decided not to visit them as it would have added two hours to our already delayed schedule; if you have time or are on a more relaxed schedule, you may add it to your itinerary.

Include a stop at St Mary’s Church. Again, if you are not on a tight schedule as we were, save some time for it as it is worth the visit. The churchyard is said to only be able to host 99 yew trees because the devil would always destroy the hundredth, although the count of the trees is always different depending on the source. In 2000, every town in the Diocese of Gloucester received a yew tree to plant for the millennium and the church was confronted with the dilemma of planting it and defying the legend. It seems that the tree is still there and healthy, as you can read here in the 100 reasons to love the Cotswolds.

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After Painswick, choose your next stop accordingly to your interest, whether it be the beach, food, or shopping. We drove straight to Newquay because we wanted to pop into Fat Willy’s before it shut. You have two shops in Newquay, but the one in Fore Street also has women’s t-shirts and we went there.

If you are hungry and it still opening time, Jamie’s Pasties in Central Square is your place. It is hard to miss, with a yellow front and canopy. Apparently, the shop has been renovated recently and is now also selling memorabilia such as t-shirts with their logo. The choice is quite good and even going at closing time we still had five or six flavours to choose from. I totally recommend the chicken and chorizo one it if you like spicy food because it hits you quite hard towards the half of the pasty. Have it by the beach for a nice sight of the house with the bridge and of the surfers.

Our AirBnB place booked in Mount Hawke, we went back on the road. The place was not bad but could have benefited from a bit of hoovering. Mount Hawke is a small town with very little to do but we were just a few metres away from the Old School Bar and Kitchen and we decided to try their menu for dinner. The place is very nice and so is the food and the music, and the pub is dog-friendly, in case you are interested, and their breakfast choice is also pretty good although only available Saturday and Sunday.

Day 2

We were supposed to go surfing but the weather was not so favourable and the lesson was cancelled, so we decided to head to Chapel Porth and have a walk around the beach and the tin mines. The beach is a National Trust location and has a little kiosk from which you can get some food and drinks. It is not the best for breakfast, the website is not very clear on that. You have a few tables outside but the options for breakfast are just some baguettes.

The walk from the beach to the Wheal Coates engine house is a short, easy walk on the cliff but the wind can make it quite difficult reaching the second half. The engine house is not in use anymore but it is just nice to have a walk around and see the scenery.

Not to miss at Chapel Porth is its famous ice-creams called hedgehogs, basically a waffle cone with vanilla ice-cream, clotted cream, and roasted hazelnuts. Another version is the foxy, which has flapjack crumbs instead of hazelnuts. Definitely thumbs up! There are more walks on the cliffs and along the beach, and we decided to explore that a bit, with the coves that make it quite impressive and give for very nice framed pictures (this is me, courtesy of Mr Wander).

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Full from the hedgehog and willing to explore more, we headed to St Ives. The town is much about tourism and it seems to be a favourite stop of bus tours, which makes it busy and chaotic. The fact that there is car park for thousands of cars at the top of the hill should give you an idea. There is a bus service to and from the car park but if you are not tired you can do what we did and walk to town and just get the bus on the way back as the road is quite steep.

If you think that a pasty by the harbour is a good idea, think twice and read the full version of the post to find out why. As it was late and all the pasty shops were closing, we got ours half price in Warrens Bakery which, quoting their website, is “one of the UK’s top three craft bakeries and the World’s oldest pasty maker”. Chicken and asparagus is a debatable choice and probably not the best combination but the quality was good. 

If instead of a pasty you fancy a cream tea (or you can have both as we did), you can walk to the end of the harbour and then back up Fore Street to stop at 57 Fore Street. It is a very nice bar with the tasty and incredibly sweet décor of a summer house. When we arrived, they were not serving food anymore but they serve cream teas all day. We sat upstairs and got our order. Definitely thumbs up, the scone was only one but soft and fresh, buttery and delicious, with our individual pot of clotted cream and jam for an average price.

If you are not tired of travelling, you can do what we did and drive to Land’s End, bearing in mind that the shopping and amusement area is going to be closed by the time you will arrive, which is all positive in my opinion. We arrived when the rain and the wind were increasing and it was honestly quite hard to even hold the phone still at all for pictures. Do not miss the model village just outside the entrance.

Despite a lunch of pasty and the cream tea, we still wanted to go for some dinner and we decided to check out the Miners Arms pub in Mithian. The pub is quite renowned in the area and serves local food. Mr Wander was not impressed with the Sunday roast but my salad with brie was nice, just too generous in brie if anything, which is not bad at all. The pub itself has a varied history and the building still shows the original structure, with low ceiling and wooden beams. Unfortunately, we were too full for giving the desserts a go but the list was definitely interesting.

Day 3

Something to say is that if you want some breakfast during the week, especially Monday, you should plan ahead and have some food at the accommodation. We tried with no luck to find somewhere open for breakfast in Portreath, in two cases despite the fact that the information online on Google and on the place’s website clearly stated “open”. After a few failures and a full coffee shop, we decided to go for something fresh from a bakery and I had a bacon and cheese pasty at Portreath Bakery. When Mr Wander told me the history behind the Cornish pasty (check it here), it made sense, but when I had the pasty for breakfast I understood the power of this whole meal in a pastry case.

After this stop, we were ready to head to St Michael’s Mount. Something to keep in mind if you plan to visit Cornwall, apparently, is the wind, as our plans were shaken or cancelled a few times because of it. In the case of the Mount, if the day is too windy, not only the boat doesn’t operate, but the castle is not open to visitors either.

The rock is the British version of the French Mont-Saint-Michel and was built by the same monks that were living in the French monastery, or at least the chapel and the church that preceded the castle. The castle belongs now to the St Aubyn’s family who still lives there. The rock is part of the National Trust’s network but you have to park in Marazion and you will have to pay £3.50 even if you are a member. If you decide (or the weather decides for you) to walk, you have to wait for the tide to uncover the path. We tried to find this shipwreck that I read about, but we couldn’t, we don’t know whether because it was still covered by water as the tide was not out completely, or whether because sometimes the storms cover it again in sand. Let us know if you manage to find it on your visit.

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The walk to the Mount is pretty short but you better wear comfortable shoes, especially because the small streets to reach the castle are also of cobblestones. If you visit on a day in which the castle is closed, you have the café and the harbour to visit, which is not much, but the Island Café is nice and the food not bad at all. We had a cream tea, as you could guess, and we loved it. Two scones, with a delicate butter scent, soft and fresh, really delicious, accompanied by a pot of jam and a pot of clotted cream each. All washed with an individual pot of tea that was just perfect. Trust me, it is worth but it is a good idea to have it as a meal.

There is also the Island gift shop that sells many nice items and especially cruelty-free hand-made soaps and candle by Sapooni. We couldn’t resist a soap bar called “Wanderlust”! We left at about 5 p.m. as the tide was going up again and everyone had to leave the rock by 5:30.

You have a few choices around for dinner, and we decided to give The Unicorn a go, mainly because of the name and the fact that the sign was at the junction we turned every single time and we became curious. The place is a hostel and pub and must be pretty busy during high season; it was actually pretty busy even now that we went, at least for dinner. The menu is pretty simple but not bad, I had the vegetarian burger and I really loved it, it didn’t destroy after a bite like they usually do, and the chips were not bad at all; what you don’t want to eat, though, is the slaw. The pub also has a pool table, in case you like playing, and it is dog-friendly.

Day 4

Tuesday was the day of our surfing lesson. We booked with GAS Surf School and I believe we can recommend them (Mr Wander is the expert here as for me it was the first time). The guys kept us up to date moving our booking (originally for Sunday, day 2) due to the weather. We started at 10:30 and the lesson includes wetsuits and boards also a little after the lesson. You may know me or may have understood by now that I am happy as soon as I am in water, but you will find my opinion about surfing in the extended post.

Our instructor was definitely nice and helped me a lot. I stress on myself because I was the only one at her first intent, the rest had tried a few times before and were pretty good already. Well, he helped me with the right waves and telling me when to stand and so on, so I definitely recommend you book with them if you want to try as well. If you want, they obviously also rent the gear.

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If you are hungry, fish and chips to go at Sanders is a good idea, maybe a bit greasy, but that is exactly what you expect it to be! We had our last night booked near Praa Sands and I have to say that Lynne’s place is the best I have been in all my AirBnB accommodation, and it is so by far. The annex is just delicious and elegant, with all details taken care of and an incredible level of cleanliness. If to that you add that the host is just lovely, definitely it is a not to miss if you are unsure where to stay, just bring some coins because she has a little bookshelf and you can buy the books for charity.

We went for dinner at Sandbar in Praa Sands to have a quick bite before the theatre that we had booked and we liked it so much that we went back for breakfast the day after. Sandbar is a bar and restaurant by the beach and offers traditional pub food. The big windows open to the beach and there is an open terrace that must be lovely in summer but that night was pouring. Their soup and calamari were really good and their focaccia definitely deserves the best score, both for the soup and as garlic bread. The place is also dog-friendly, at least up to the arch that divides the dining area.

If you are in the area, definitely do your best to fit Minack Theatre into your schedule. The theatre itself is worth the effort, as it is carved into the cliff, as you can see here and it was created by the lady who lived in Minack House, Rowena Cade, for the performing of The Tempest, which would have suited the weather very much. Dating from the ‘30s, this theatre is majestic and scary at the same time, as the stage seems to be just directly over the sea and the seats are very steep. The acoustic is somehow complicated, especially in a very windy day like we had on Tuesday, and we were lucky enough to be sitting in the front rows on the left side, as we were close and a bit sheltered from the wind anyway but, mainly, we were sitting on stone and not on grass. We had our rain jackets and our blankets, but you can also get a rain kit from the theatre for a small fee. We watched Cyrano de Bergerac, as you have seen from the picture, and it was very nice, although a bit unsettling for me sometimes as I am used to both the original French and the Italian translation and I somehow missed the lines and rhymes that Rostand is famous for.

Day 5

As day 5 was the day we were coming back, we were not supposed to leave too late in order to do some visiting and manage to be home at a decent time. It didn’t happen. Our first stop was Lanhydrock, a country house managed by the National Trust. Just a glimpse of the chapel here, but we will tell you more in our post about stately homes.

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As per our plan, we left after a quick visit to the chapel and we went to The Duchy of Cornwall Nursery for afternoon tea. Do you remember when I said that I am not a big fan of fancy and trendy places because the quality and service are never up to expectations? Well, this is exactly the case. Two dry, rock-hard scones, a plain one and a raisin one, and jam and cream that was barely enough for only one scone. The tea was nice, but even the milk jug was not happy to be there, as you can see here! The service was ok but nothing to be happy about, even before we asked for a double dose of cream. Definitely not worth the little detour!

The last stop was Polperro, a nice fishing village with a heritage tram service that takes you from the car park to the actual town as cars are not really allowed in the narrow streets near the harbour. The journey is £2 return but, if you get the last tram and have to walk back, don’t be scared by the driver making it sound terrible, it is not a long walk and definitely it is not steep either, you will enjoy it. The tram journey gives you a discount on pasties at the shop next to the stop, but it seemed all sold out when we arrived, so we kept walking a bit further and got one at the Polperro Bakery. As it was late already, the terrace was not out, but the bakery has a door also to the rear square and it is nice to sit there if you have a chance. As we didn’t want to walk down to the harbour with a pasty, we just sat in the square benches until we finished. I got a vegetarian one and I enjoyed it, although I find it a bit more doughy than the ones I got the previous days. If you manage to arrive early, visit the museum and stop for cream tea in one of the nice tea rooms you find on your way, we would love to ear your feedback as we arrived after closing time. With low tide and at the end of the day, the harbour was very quiet but still nice to walk around, and the beach was covered in seaweed but also nice, especially because the sky started clearing again and gave us a perfect postcard for the end of the holidays with no need for a filter.

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We left with this sight and we got back home at about 11 p.m. but once again feeling so tired and so rich. Although these words did not bring Ulysses to a happy journey, allow me to quote Dante:

“fatti non foste a viver come bruti,

ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza”.*

Keep travelling, keep exploring, and keep pushing your boundaries,

Ms Lust

*“Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,/ But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.’” (Inferno – Dante, translation by H. W. Longfellow)

Our side of London

Dear travellers,

One year ago, we were just coming back from New Zealand and for me it was finally the chance to show my London to Mr Wander. There were a few places that I loved and a few from where I used to chat to him while relaxing on a stroll. Little by little, we managed to tick the list and we want to share our favourite spots with you. London is so big and full of offers for things to do to suit everyone, and you can find countless lists. If you are visiting for the first time, you may still want to do the usual things and I am not going to tell you not to, although in all my years here I still haven’t been to some of the not to miss places and I don’t feel like I am missing anything.

Museums

The main museums in London are free and you can spend hours in them. The temporary exhibitions are separate and you have to buy the tickets. The Natural History Museum is my favourite because of all the animals and natural things to learn. The building itself is nice and, when at full capacity, the main entrance is mind-blowing, with the giant skeleton of the diplodocus welcoming visitors before they meet Darwin on the main staircase. Dippy, as it is called, went on tour for a while and the building is undergoing some refurbishment, so at the moment the visit may be slightly disappointing. Also, there were talkings of replacing Dippy with the skeleton of the blue whale that is currently in one of the rooms. The plan is to sensibilise visitors on the species that are in current danger of extinction. Maybe, this will be what will greet you when the refurbishment is over. The section with stuffed animals is interesting although slightly disturbing. Due to the change of laws since taxidermy started, most of the specimens on display are fairly old and faded because of the long years on display under strong lights. One of the most recent is the panda near the cafeteria, a famous guest of the London Zoo, Chi Chi, that was stuffed when she passed away in 1972. 

If you happen to be in London on the last Friday of the month, do not miss their Lates. After regular closing time, part of the museum opens again at 6 p.m. and you can enjoy a drink while walking around the rooms in a dim light and have a slightly quieter experience. Another chance to see the museum under a different light is Behind the scenes tour. This visit will take you through the Darwin Centre and you can see some of the specimens not on display, such as the giant squid and specimens collected by Darwin. You need to book for this visit but it is definitely worth to do it.

The NHM is in South Kensington together with two other major museums, the Science Museum and the V&A. I am not a science geek, therefore I have never enjoyed the Science Museum too much, but I would still dedicate it a bit of time if I were you, most of the people I know love it and totally recommend it. The V&A is a difference story. I have not visited for the first three years, I was not curious at at all, and when I finally did, I regretted my previous decision. The museum is incredible, with splendid artwork from Asia that will totally seduce you. I had the chance to be invited to a talk after closing hours and those ceramics and silverware in dim light are incredibly beautiful, and so is the building itself.

I am not a big fan of the British Museum and I know that it is a debatable opinion, but I can’t think otherwise. The building is beautiful from outside, but once inside it feels completely different, too open, modern, and too similar to a warehouse. The collections are impressive, that is not the problem, but something is not right, those high ceilings give an idea of openness and space that is not actually reflected on ground level, the museum is too crowded, constantly, and feels oppressive. The Rosetta Stone is not to miss but easily missed. The symbol of translators, it is always surrounded by so many arms with phones trying to focus from every angle that it is almost impossible to see the stone. The same is said for the Egyptian section, it is hard to walk through and it feels as we were about to knock some precious artefact on the floor. They are basically all behind glass but the feeling is there nonetheless. If you have seen the Egyptian Museum in Turin you won’t miss too much.

The National Gallery is probably the most accessible because it is in Trafalgar Square. It is absolutely worth the visit. It covers some of the main artistic currents and it is a pleasure to walk in, both for the building and for the art exposed. Some paintings are the most famous and are always surrounded by many people with smart phones again, but most of my favourites are not among the most wanted, so I am lucky. One of my favourite paintings of all time is Leonardo’s Virgin of the rocks and for that there is no chance, cornered as it is in a small room, it is luckily big enough to overlook smartphones and reaching arms. The same can be said for Van Gogh’s section. I have often claimed Raphael as my ancestor, a bit joking but not with a bit of hope that the common surname and region of origin may mean something. Well, uncle’s paintings are often surrounded by enough quiet for me to always enjoy at least Pope Julius II’s portrait. As I love Caravaggio’s work and it is too dark and gloomy, I usually don’t have to fight too much so pop in to enjoy his masterpieces and say hi to Saint Jerome in the same room. You know, he is the patron saint of translators, I feel a visit is the least I can do when I am there. 

On the actual square, there are a few permanent things to see and a few that change, like the sculpture on the fourth plinth. For a long while, I remember a ship in a bottle, then a blue rooster. Currently, it shows a sculpture called Really Good by David Shrigley.

Walks

Embankment is my favourite spot, for a long time I went back there in the evenings to walk along the Thames and relax. It was a sort of therapy to reconcile with the city because, no matter how hard the day had been, the immense beauty of the landscape could soothe me and would remind me of why I loved the city. Start at Westminster station or Charing Cross and walk along the river on the north side, seeing the London Eye on the other shore. Reach the boundary dragons and then walk back a little to then walk up to Strand and pop in to the Twinings shop in 216 Strand, a narrow shop that has been there since the XVIII century and offers a wide selection of teas and coffees, tasting and recipe ideas, and some classes to be booked in advance. You can buy single bags of many varieties and find some exclusive ones that are not available in shops. You won’t regret it!

As I said, I love walking along the river, and the other shore is equally good, just more crowded. If you prefer, instead of starting at Westminster Bridge, walk a bit along Embankment before and cross on the following bridge to avoid the crowds around the aquarium and the London Eye. You should arrive just in front of some of the restaurants and, if you keep walking, you arrive at Waterloo station. There are so many things to see and beautiful spots to capture in your photographs along this side. You can walk up to Tower Bridge and get a few good shots of all the landmarks around there: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge itself, and the Tower of London. At the moment, you also have some open bars near the bridge and if the weather is good you can enjoy a drink there. You will always also find a soft ice cream van and the little kiosks that sell caramelised peanuts, my favourite treat during the long London walks. 

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I have to admit I walk a lot, so maybe you don’t have to follow all my suggestions if you get tired very easily. If you are an explorer, instead, remember that it is said that you can walk around all London just hopping from one park to the other. Well, I have done a fair bit of that starting in Hyde Park, from Marble Arch or Wellington Arch, and ending up either in Hammersmith on one direction or in Vauxhall on the other. If you want more ideas, check out this article with some great walks. I have done most of the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Walk and I love it.

Walking or not, there are two things I would tell you to visit in Earl’s Court if you are a fan:

Doctor Who’s Tardis is just outside the station, behind a kiosk. It is not open to visit (you would get lost), but you can take a picture before the Doctor leaves again;

– Freddie Mercury’s house in Logan Place. You cannot visit it, you can just see the wall with the love messages and the flowers. I cannot explain why, you just need to have grown up with Queen and will understand. I have been there several times and met nice people and bitter neighbours, but I love going back. As last time with Mr Wander we didn’t take a picture, here is a shot from 2015.

Tower of London and Ceremony of the Keys

The visit to the Tower of London is definitely worth it despite the high price of the ticket, but it takes a long time. If you decide to go, give it priority because it will take up most of the day. I am not a fan of jewels at all, and all those displayed there, all at once, are quite disturbing, but there are so many more sections of the tower that have so much story behind them, that it makes up for it. An alternative visit you can do is the Ceremony of the Keys. You can do both, as they are pretty different from one another, but you really need to plan the second one a lot better and in advance. The first time I went, it was not that known and the waiting list was three months, but last time I checked it was over a year!

It is something that stayed as it has been for hundreds of years, which means that photography is not allowed but that you can enjoy it fully. The Tower used to be a castle, then a prison, and is now a museum with incredibly valuable items to be preserved. Every night, the tower is locked by the guards and a small group of people is allowed to watch from a small distance and escorted by one of the Yeoman Warders. The protocol hasn’t changed apart from the monarch’s name and it is humbling to witness it. Before and after, the guide will explain a bit about the history of the tower and of the main (free or forced) visitors. That part is the same that you also have for the day tour, but the rest is nothing similar to it or any other tours. 

Check availability and save your confirmation because you will lose it if you have to wait one year before you use it! The ticket is free and there is just a small booking fee to pay online.

Food and drink

Don’t worry, this section won’t be an all Italian list, not only I am not a big fan of Italian cuisine over the rest, but I am able to cook fairly decently myself, therefore I prefer to have Italian food at home or in Italy and to enjoy other flavours when in the big city. If you follow my Instagram, you will know that I am a big fan of British pubs and their food, therefore I will give you my top three places in London.

It is no surprise that my favourite pub is along the Thames and near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the views are among the most beautiful you can have (and London is not short of them), the food has always been good, and they even accept bookings for groups. I never had problems when I tried to celebrate something there. Oh, wait, I haven’t given you the name yet! I am talking of the Founders Arms. On the side of the Tate Modern and a short walk from St Paul’s through the Millennium Bridge, the pub has an interesting menu that has changed a few times since the first time I went, and a good choice of beers; you won’t find my favourite, but their stout is not bad either. If you book, the table will be inside, but if you find available tables outside just go for them, few things beat relaxing with a pint looking at the beautiful skyline. Even I willingly sat outside for dinner in winter, that says it all!

If you are in the centre and fancy a bit of Irish atmosphere, my second favourite pub is your place: Waxy O’Connor’s. Just next to Piccadilly Circus, this pub is a huge wooden maze with several levels, countless steps, and furniture that recalls a gothic cathedral (including a confessional!). I booked there a few times as well, and it takes a while to find your table when you arrive, both because no one has any idea and whomever is sitting there usually takes the signs away hoping to be able to keep the table. The pub usually gets pretty busy and you will struggle to enjoy your drinks if you don’t have a table. The prices are what you can expect in central London and the food is average, I just love the actual ambiance and decor of the place, especially the huge tree climbing several levels along the staircase.

If you are going for a more elegant night, the Madison is the place for you. It is the sort of place where you won’t be allowed in if you are wearing trainers, so plan your outfit accordingly if you are thinking of going there. The prices are not scary as you can imagine for a rooftop bar overlooking St Paul’s. You have the main bar and restaurant with sofas in front of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, the terrace with the incredible views, and another bar with no seats inside mainly to serve the terrace.

Now a few tips before leaving you:

– Register your Oyster card (or your contactless card if you pay with that instead) on the TfL website or you are likely to be charged extra. I have used my Oyster all the years I have been living in London, but now I only go once every 6-7 weeks and I use my contactless card. Before registering, Mr Wander and I got charged different amounts a few times, but the refunds were immediate when we finally remembered to register.

– Walk or use the bus when you can. At peak times, some stations are so crowded that it takes ages to even reach the train, let alone getting on it. Also, some stations are so huge that you may end up walking for almost ten minutes inside the station itself, so you may as well do it outside.

– It may seem obvious but few people seem to keep these two things in mind: use bags that you can close and remember to fasten them against rain and pickpockets, and stand on the right and walk on the left in escalators.

Looking forward to our next trip to London to discover more places, stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

When we were originally planning our return to the UK, it seemed like the obvious choice that we would return where Ms Lust had been living previously, London. As it turned out, this wasn’t to be the case, and we ended up living in Cambridgeshire instead, but we still travel down to London regularly to see friends. I’d never been a fan of London, it has always seemed too crowded for me, but I have to say that I have enjoyed it a lot more having Ms Lust to show me around her favourite spots. So, here are some of our favourite places that we have visited in the past year in London, in no particular order.

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National Gallery

This was the most recent of our visits, and was only decided upon in the spur of the moment, on the tube on the way there to be precise! We were travelling to London for some chores and to meet friends, but we had a few hours spare in between to fill. As we were going to be near Trafalgar Square anyway, the National Gallery seemed like a good choice. I’m not much of an art aficionado and I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, however I was very mistaken and the two hours we spent there just flew by. I’m glad I had Ms Lust with me to act as my guide as the place is like a maze, I would definitely have been lost in there for days if I had been on my own!

I’m not going to try and describe the works that are there, as I would only end up embarrassing myself and it’s probably better if you look it up or, even better, go and see it for yourselves. Anyhow, I’m sure Ms Lust will provide a brief commentary on the main masterpieces. To begin with, it seemed to be just portrait paintings, mainly of a religious vein, which were not too dissimilar to those that we had seen in the Vatican City and not really my taste in art. I’m more of a landscape art fan and happily these types of paintings began to feature more and more as we worked our way through the museum. The museum is set up so that if you follow the suggested route, you will be working your way through history and the associated periods and styles of artwork. We missed the first section and possibly a chunk in the middle, but we still managed to see at least two-thirds of the museum in the couple of hours that we spent there. I was also quite glad that it wasn’t too busy, despite it being a rainy Saturday during the school summer holidays, and there was only a few crowds of people near the most popular artworks, such as the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci. Elsewhere there was plenty of visitors, but it was quiet enough that you could still make your way around the museum in comfort. If you’re looking for something to do for a couple of hours, whether on a rainy day or just to fill some time, I’d definitely recommend giving the National Gallery a go. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself like I did!

Natural History Museum lates

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The Natural History Museum has always been on my wish list of places to visit in London, and when I found out about their late night openings I was even more determined to go. Occurring on the last Friday of every month, the museum stays open beyond its usual closing time and the doors aren’t shut until 10pm. I’m still yet to have visited the museum during the daytime so I cannot make any comparisons between the two, all I can say is that it was a lot more relaxed and quieter than I would expect it to be during the day. Drinks and snacks are available for the evening session, which adds to the relaxed atmosphere as people stroll around the exhibits whilst enjoying a glass of red.

Our visit was just a little too late to be able to see Dippy the Diplodocus before he embarked on his nationwide tour, and his temporary replacement, Hope the Blue Whale, had not yet been given her new home. Nevertheless there was still plenty to see and do and we ended up spending a good couple of hours exploring the museum, and we now have a perfect excuse for a follow-up visit! It isn’t quite Night At The Museum, but it’s close, and it’s a fantastic way to meet with friends for a drink or two and hopefully learning a few things along the way.

Ceremony of the Keys

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Until only recently, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where in the city you would find the Tower of London, so I certainly had never visited before. Almost as soon as we had decided that we would be leaving New Zealand and returning to the UK, Ms Lust jumped on the internet and started looking into booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys. This ceremony is an ancient tradition that has taken place here since the 14th century, in which the keys of the Tower of London are brought out for the gates to be locked for the night. Nowadays it is possible for members of the public to witness the ceremony taking place, and a limited number of tickets are made available each day. The tickets are free (with just a small booking charge applicable) however it is necessary to book well in advance, especially if you are planning to include it as part of a holiday to London. We booked in July 2016 and the earliest tickets we could get were for February 2017, the website currently advises that the ceremony is fully booked for almost a year!

The ceremony is not particularly long, the entire event takes just over 30 minutes and includes some storytelling about the tradition, and it takes place entirely outside, so it is necessary to wrap up warm and to be prepared for rain (this is the UK after all!). I won’t go into describing the ceremony itself too much, photography is not permitted in order to preserve its heritage and uniqueness so I think describing it in detail would be just as damaging, all I will say is that it is a wonderful experience and a taste of true ‘Britishness’. Reputedly one of the oldest surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night for over 700 years, you won’t find many more chances to witness history like this.

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As we had booked tickets for a weekday and had to come to London after work, we only had time to arrive in time for the ceremony itself. Due to the nature of the ceremony, all the guests are subsequently escorted out of the Tower of London via a side gate at the end so I still need to come back one day to visit properly!

Hyde Park

We’ve been here together a number of times now, for a variety of reasons, but the most important reason for mentioning Hyde Park comes before any of those. It was a photo that Ms Lust took in Hyde Park, while enjoying a day off work, that really ignited our existing friendship and led us to where we are now. I was still living in New Zealand at this point and it was from this photo that we started chatting a lot more and I eventually convinced her to come and join me. The rest of this story has already been told, you can find it here if you need to fill in the gaps!

Ever since my first trip to London with my family when I was young, Hyde Park has always been my favourite of London’s parks. I’m not sure if it’s the size that impressed me, the variety of landscapes, or both, but whatever it was has stayed with me and, if anything, is stronger now than it has ever been. The park is vast and provides an excellent area for walking, running, cycling etc., while the kiosks beside The Serpentine are great places to grab a quick lunch to enjoy by the water. There really is something for everyone here, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for an hour or two.

Battersea

Battersea always conjures up two images in my head, the power station that became a national icon after the campaign to save it from demolition, and Battersea Dog’s Home which found fame as one of reality TV’s early stars. Despite this, I had never been to Battersea or even seen the power station from across the river, so when Ms Lust asked me to choose where we should go in London one day, Battersea sprung to mind. After a bit more research we discovered that Battersea Park is also well-renowned, so we added that to the list as well.

After getting off of the tube at Vauxhall, and taking a few clandestine photos of James Bond’s London office, we opted to walk along the river to Battersea. This turned out to be a mistake, as the power station is currently being redeveloped and a lot of the walkway has been closed due to the associated construction work. Forced to walk through back-streets and housing estates instead, I have to say that I was very disappointed with the power station. Swathed in scaffolding and construction site fences, while the famous chimneys battle with cranes for air superiority, it’s certainly no longer the symbol of industry that it once was. Destined to become expensive apartments and a swanky new shopping complex, a small part of me wishes Fred Dibnah had had his way all those years ago. In my mind this wonderful building should have been turned into a museum, preserving its dignity and honouring its past, not degraded into becoming a showpiece for the privileged few.

We continued on to Battersea Park, however after our long walk to get that far we weren’t in the mood for exploring too much more. So we sat for a little while by the lake and had a bite to eat before catching a bus back across the river. The park was pleasant and seemed to be a popular place to visit, but Battersea had already been ruined for me and I won’t be hurrying back there any time soon.

Waxy O’Connors

We’ve been to a number of pubs in London but this is the one that has really stuck in my mind. An Irish bar located in Soho, this place is truly unique. The inside is a maze of bars, rooms, and staircases, all appearing as if they had been carved out inside a tree. I would not have been at all surprised to have seen a few Hobbits or Goblins enjoying a drink, it really did give the impression that it is straight out of a movie. I’m again thankful for having had Ms Lust as my official guide, it is possible I could have been lost here for days as well! We only stopped for a quick afternoon drink, however I would love to come back here for St Patrick’s Day, the atmosphere must be incredible.

Tardis

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For all the Doctor Who fans out there, London is home to a must-see. Amongst all of London’s quirky police paraphernalia, such as Britain’s smallest police station on Trafalgar Square, remains one of the last few surviving police call-boxes. That’s right, if you want to see a real-life Tardis all you have to do is pop over to Earl’s Court, and take a short walk out of the tube station. I was expecting it to be more popular than it seemed, anticipating a small queue of fans waiting for a photoshoot, but we were the only ones there that seemed to be even vaguely interested in it. Definitely worth a quick stop or a detour if you are in the area.

That’s all for now, but with more trips to come there’ll be additions to the list in the near future.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!

Dear readers,

It has been almost a year now since we returned to the UK from New Zealand, and in this time we have spent many wonderful weekends and holidays exploring the island that we now call home. The bank holiday weekends are a perfect opportunity to venture a little further away from home without having to take any extra days off from work, and this post is all about our trip to Portsmouth and Winchester during the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in May. It was only about a week before the actual bank holiday that we realised that we hadn’t yet booked anything, and I quickly went about searching for places we could visit. Originally we set our sights on Durham, I had found available accommodation and knew that it is a beautiful city to explore. However, on the very next day, the news headlines were full of stories claiming that the bank holiday weekend was set to see some excellent sunny weather, and the weather forecasts were all similarly upbeat. So that was all it took, the plans were quickly changed, and we found and booked accommodation in Portsmouth instead, ready for our first British seaside weekend. Unfortunately, with about two days to go, the outlook changed and it seemed that the prospect of an early start to summer had been a little optimistic. The weather forecasts, as they invariably do, had made some swift u-turns and were now predicting a very wet weekend. Still, it was now too late to change our plans again, so we prepared for the worst and devised some plans for making the most of the weekend.

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A final check of the weather report before we left home showed that the wet weather wasn’t due to hit the south coast until mid-afternoon, so we had a brief window to try and fit in as much “seasideness” as possible! A trip to the British seaside could never be complete without tucking into some fish and chips on the beach, ideally without being washed away! As we would be arriving around lunchtime, that looked like the perfect way to start the weekend. After much research, a suitable fish and chip shop had been found and we made a beeline straight there after having checked in at our accommodation. Only a short walk to the seafront, it gave us plenty of time to arrive at the beach before the storm, which was now visibly approaching on the horizon. Although I’ll never turn down the opportunity to have fish and chips anywhere, it always seems so much better at the seaside. I’m not even sure that the quality of the fish is any different, it is the smell and sounds of the sea that just makes it seem like a more authentic experience. Juggling the tasks of eating and guarding your food from greedy seagulls, accompanied by the soundtrack of screams from individuals brave/stupid enough to go into the sea, brings back so many memories from my childhood, and I was extremely happy to be able to now share this experience with Ms Lust. We managed to finish our lunch on the beach without any sudden downpours or unwanted attention from the local seabird population, but it was now very clear that the rain wasn’t far away.

South Parade Pier was just a couple of hundred metres further along the beach so we decided to head there for another British seaside tradition, the amusement arcades. Happily we are both suckers for the two-penny machines and we were content to spend an hour or so playing with these while the weather battered the coast. Once we had become bored of the amusements, we ventured back outside to find the rain still coming down heavily. As there was an ice cream shop conveniently located next door, and under the same canopy so there was no need to go out into the rain, we popped in here for an ice cream, we were determined to stick to seaside traditions even if the weather wasn’t! It was clear by the time that we had finished our ice creams that the rain wasn’t likely to stop any time soon, so we donned our waterproofs (another British tradition, never leave home without them!) and walked back to where we were staying. Both tired from the day spent travelling and a heavy lunch, we ended up falling asleep for a few hours and were delighted to find the sky a lot less foreboding when we woke up.

Up until this point, having spent all of our time in the suburb of Southsea, Portsmouth hadn’t felt any different to me than just another generic British seaside town with nothing to really set it apart from anywhere else. However, as we walked along the seafront to Portsmouth harbour, and its plethora of bars and restaurants, it was clear to see that I had been wrong. The first glint of hope had come as we walked past Southsea Castle, a coastal fort dating back to the 16th century. We didn’t have time to visit the castle but the walk past was pleasant enough for it to stick in my memory, the surrounding parkland provides an excellent distraction from the nearby reminders of the tackier side of the British seaside. The real treat was still yet to come, and as Portsmouth’s harbour came into view I immediately realised I had been too quick to judge. The area has clearly been recently modernised and redeveloped, into a vibrant waterside complex. There are bars and restaurants everywhere, but not in any way overwhelming, and the most impressive of these is the Spinnaker Tower, which must have incredible views from the viewing decks and restaurant at the top. We also weren’t able to enjoy this ourselves as we had a dinner reservation to get to, and the weather still wasn’t great and would have limited the view, but it is definitely something I would like to do if we went back to the area. As I said, we had reservations, at the Loch Fyne restaurant. Being a national chain and fairly well known, I won’t go into too much detail about it, all I will say is that we had a fantastic meal and would definitely eat at Loch Fyne again whenever we get the chance.

After dinner, we went for a bit more of a stroll around the harbour before deciding on a suitable place for an after dinner drink. Although we weren’t too sure whether it was a pub or a brewery from its outside appearance, we decided on The Old Customs House and we couldn’t have made a better choice. The exterior was fairly plain and unimpressive, hence our confusion, yet the interior felt more like something that should be found in a stately home. A large double staircase greeted us as we entered and we made our way through to the bar. The bar area is separated into a number of rooms, each resembling a library or a drawing room. The room we chose had only four tables in it, with armchairs and stools dotted around, which made it feel very cosy and homely, and it was the perfect place for a relaxing, after-dinner drink. As we left, we had to decide whether to walk back to our accommodation and brave the weather, or to see if we could figure out where and when to get a bus back. In the interests of simplicity we decided to walk, and fortunately it only rained lightly during the half hour or so that it took. We took a more direct route back, through Portsmouth’s university area, which gave an interesting insight into the nightlife of Portsmouth. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but it actually seemed like a really cool place to go for a night out, and there didn’t appear to be much trouble or fighting going on. Certainly not what I had anticipated from a naval town such as this!

The following day, we decided that we had probably seen the best of Portsmouth already and that, as it still wasn’t ideal beach weather, we would head to Winchester after having had breakfast. We looked up where would be best for breakfast in Portsmouth, and on arrival to The Parade Tea Rooms the queue suggested that it had a well-earned reputation. Unfortunately, the food didn’t live up to the hype and I can only really judge it as satisfactory, certainly not anything to write home about. This wasn’t helped by being seated directly under the air conditioning and next to a very loud, large group, and we were quite happy to be leaving once we had finished eating. Refuelled, we then hit the road again and made the 50 minute journey to Winchester, of course taking the more scenic route through the South Downs National Park.

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On arriving in Winchester, we found somewhere to park and set about exploring the city. There are a number of suggested self-guided walking tours of the city and we initially began with one of those. The first stop was the magnificent Winchester Cathedral, which houses the equally magnificent Winchester Bible. Believed to have been commissioned in 1160, it is considered to be the greatest Bible ever made in England. Each page features vivid, detailed illustrations and historiated initials, although the illustrations were never completely finished. At the time of our visit, the area of the cathedral where the Bible is usually housed was undergoing restoration, and a temporary home for it had been provided. It was still possible to see the Bible behind its glass casing, and some of the most colourful and impressive illustrations had been recreated on wall banners around the room. Its new home, when completed, will provide visitors with even more information about the Bible and a better viewing platform for it, while the Bible itself is also undergoing restoration and rebinding.

The cathedral’s other claim to fame is that it is the final resting place of Jane Austen, she passed away in July 1817 after travelling to Winchester to seek medical help. At the time of her death, she was mostly unknown as a writer and many of her novels were still yet to be published. Because of this her funeral was a very low-key affair with only four attendees, and her original gravestone makes no mention of her writings. This has now been resolved with a brass plaque on the wall opposite her grave, paid for by her nephew in 1870 from the proceeds of his memorial to his aunt. Above this, a stained glass window was also erected in her memory in 1900, which was paid for by public donations.

The one feature of the cathedral that has really stuck in my mind is the crypt, one of the earliest sections of the cathedral which would have been built in the late 11th century. The crypt itself isn’t open to visitors, but there is a small viewing platform which can be reached via a few stone steps. You are then presented with an eerie scene, as a sculpture of a man looking into his hands has been placed in the middle of the crypt. Due to the cathedral having been built on land which is very prone to waterlogging, the crypt often floods during rainy periods and the water can reach as far up as the waist of the sculpture. Fortunately it was dry when we visited and it was possible to see the full extent of the crypt, despite the rain that had scuppered our beach plans! In the early 1900’s, the cathedral was in danger of being completely destroyed due to it’s waterlogged foundations, and is only standing today due to the immense efforts of a diver named William Walker. Brought in to help with work to underpin the cathedral’s foundations after large cracks started to form throughout the cathedral, he spent six years working underwater to excavate the existing foundations and to place concrete sacks to strengthen and seal them. Only once he had completed this task could the water be pumped out and further work completed to safeguard the cathedral from subsidence and subsequent collapse. In honour of his efforts, there is a statue of William Walker in the cathedral along with his diving helmet.

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On leaving the cathedral, we had a quick walk around the Dean Garnier Garden. Situated just beside the cathedral, it was a pleasant distraction for about fifteen minutes but as neither of us are particularly horticulturally-minded we didn’t linger for too long. We continued our stroll and then came across Wolvesey Castle, also known as the Old Bishop’s Palace. Built for one of the old Bishops of Winchester, it has now been reduced to ruins and is in the care of English Heritage. Entry is free and there are some information panels dotted about to help understand the functions of each room. There isn’t too much to see here, but it’s definitely worth spending an hour to visit.

Following this we felt that we had managed to see the major attractions in Winchester, so we continued our walk along the river until it brought us back into the city centre. All that walking had given us an appetite, so it was definitely now time for lunch! We found a nice pub for lunch, which was then followed by a final walk through the rest of the city centre to bring us back to where we had parked the car.

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So that basically brings us to the end of our trip to the British seaside. Unfortunately it wasn’t as ‘seasidey’ as we would have liked, but I think we’ve both been in the UK long enough now to not rely on the weather too much. We still managed to have a great weekend despite the rain, and I’m certainly looking forward to returning to this part of the country again at some point, hopefully with the sun shining!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

A very famous Italian song says something like “winter at the beach is an concept that the mind cannot conceive”. I find my strength in water, but I have never understood the beauty of visiting the seaside in winter and I have always quoted this song to those that claim that the beach in winter is extremely romantic. If you go to the beach, you need to be able to dive, snorkel, pretend you know how to do synchronised swimming, and all those things of the same style that tell everyone that you are an adult only according to your passport.

With this introduction, please feel free to ask what on earth I had in mind when I suggested to go to the seaside for May bank holiday when I knew it was going to rain. The answer will be that I have no idea. The previous week was incredibly hot and that, in a Sardinian brain, equals going to the beach, and so we did. We packed our flip flops and sandals, our strapless tops and dresses (or whatever Mr Wander’s version of that is), and we drove down to Portsmouth for the weekend to have a full British seaside experience. Of course, that also includes torrential rain. Anyway, let’s not go that far yet.

As usual, Mr Wander took care of the booking and found one of the best places we have been in so far. According to AirBnb, it was a lucky find as it is usually booked. The room was huge, with a very tall but comfy bed and all one can wish for, namely a dresser with mirror and a majestic bow window. The bathroom was tiny, more reminiscent of the ones that you find in a boat than of anything else, but it was brand new and with a decent size shower enclosure, so no problem at all. There was also a small separate kitchen with all the essentials and, in hindsight, we should definitely have had breakfast there, as the place we choose was disappointing to say the least.

As we arrived just before check-in time, we just left the car there and left for exploring. Lunch was sorted, if we want to say so, as we were planning on having fish and chips on the beach just before the storm. We headed to the Southsea roundabout where our research said we could find one of the best fish and chip places in town. Well, all I can say is that:

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While waiting for the food, just in front of the shop is a mural with the map of the city. it is an interesting project that was unveiled in 2012 and uses the technique of the trompe l’œil (literally, trick the eye). From a balcony at the top, a few people unroll a map of the city with some of the business listed. Around the map, more characters that are famous for the city (the founder and other renowned people), pop in from the windows or the street. Some important British people, such as most recently Henry VIII and Robin Hood, are painted in the likeness of Portsmouth residents. I say most recently because the peculiarity of this mural is that it is an ongoing work of art, with characters and places added every year.

We got our lunch and we headed to the sea, as the sky seemed to be holding off for the moment. We had time to enjoy our fish and chips while trying to understand what the huge platforms were that we could see offshore, but we had to leave soon after as it was starting to rain. We went to the arcade, the seaside quintessential attraction. We tried to win a cuddly toy, we played at the 2p machines for a while, and we left with some tokens in our pockets that were not even enough for a Chupa Chups. At this point, it was raining without mercy and we just walked next door to have a handmade ice cream at the Ice Cream Emporium. We chose it because we didn’t want to get wet but we didn’t regret it. The place is tiny, with a decent choice of flavours. All in white and aquamarine tones, it is decorated with ropes and boat-like gizmos that make it quite happy. At the back there are a few tables in perfect 1970’s American diner style. We could have probably stayed there for a while longer but the rain was not showing any sign of wanting to end soon, so we gathered all our courage and left anyway. We were less than 10 minutes walk from the accommodation and we tried to be as fast as we could. We were a bit tired after the trip and the undesired shower and we just fell asleep for the whole afternoon. We may have not explored too much, but we woke up to a sort of clear sky.

We decided to try our luck again and we walk to the harbour for dinner, also because we wanted to see a bit of this island city. Oh, yes, do you know that Portsmouth is the UK’s only island city? We hadn’t planned any cultural visit, we are not ashamed of admitting it, but now we feel we should go again for a bit of visiting rather than just relaxing. We just went for a walk along the coast and had a glimpse of the castle while walking to Gunwharf Quays. We had booked a table at Loch Fyne and we had plenty of time. The Quays are pretty distinctive, as they are modern and crammed with restaurants and pubs, but the most surprising feature is the Spinnaker Tower that makes you feel like you are in Dubai for a moment. Almost in front, is a huge figurehead from the HMS Marlborough. This figurehead represents the Duke of Marlborough and was used on the ship built in the second half of the XIX century. After being the flagship of the fleet for many years, the ship passed to be used for training engineers and then for the Torpedo School. When the ship was broken up in 1924, the figurehead was placed in its current position and, with the Spinnaker Tower on its side, it provides a perfect shot in perspective.

I have to admit that I often avoid restaurant chains and I usually prefer to go to local pubs. Probably because I have worked in a few places of this kind and I know that quality doesn’t come automatically with the name of a chain, I’d rather try small businesses and independent restaurants. For this reason, I had never been to any Loch Fyne in all my years in the UK. I am glad I trusted Mr Wander this time, because we had a really nice dinner. As it had stopped raining and it was not supposed to start again before 10 p.m., we wanted to sit outside, but we had to go inside anyway for dinner, and that was the only downside of the night, I would say. Before actually ordering for dinner, we had a Spritz outside enjoying the nice quiet between storms.

The dinner was good in general, but I have to say that my happiness arrived with dessert. By rule, you know, I don’t trust pubs that don’t offer sticky toffee pudding, but I am more flexible with restaurants, they can offer Eton Mess instead. Well, they did and I loved it, the cream was simply scrumptious! Mr Wander opted for whisky instead, in preparation for our tour of Scotland.

After dinner, hoping for a longer truce from the weather, we went for another drink at the Old Customs House, a pub just in front of the restaurant with a huge terrace and also plenty of space inside, definitely our choice as it was starting to become quite chilly. The building was used as the administrative headquarters of HMS Vernon until the late 1980s and dates back to 200 years earlier. When it was acquired by Fullers, it was not refurbished until 2012, when it went through a massive renovation in record time. As it is now, the place shines without having lost any of the old style fashion. With a huge double staircase to go to the toilets and a few small rooms with comfy sofas and armchairs apart from the main rooms with the bars, the pub makes you think of one of those gentlemen clubs that you imagine when reading Sherlock Holmes adventures. The atmosphere, together with their selection of beers, made us immediately agree that we made the right choice, judge for yourselves:

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The walk home was not bad, even if it started raining, as it was not much. Despite the cultural offer, we were not keen on staying in Portsmouth the following day after breakfast, and we decided to go to Winchester. Before leaving, we stopped for breakfast at The Parade Tea Room and we regretted it quite a lot. The place was full with a queue at the door but, as everyone was waiting for big tables, we could sit down immediately because they had one for two people. After all my work in restaurants I should have known better: If a place is full, don’t stay, the service and food will be bad. I didn’t listen to my experience and we ended up with a horrible breakfast. The room does not receive enough fresh air, therefore the air conditioning was trying to compensate by blowing cold air in the corner. The result was that the quality of the air was still bad and we had to eat with our jackets on. The wait was as we were told but the food was far below average. I had the vegetarian breakfast and the sausage was dry and tasteless, probably reheated a few times, definitely not fresh. The toasts came already buttered, which is a horrible habit. I understand you don’t want to waste your butter by putting some on each plate, but I don’t want butter on my toast, so I should be informed and given the choice. The egg was dry and overcooked. The cutlery was dirty, with old food stuck all over it, and after changing two knives and a teaspoon from the self-service desk, we gave up. To complete the picture, the need for tables was so bad that they were obviously trying to take stuff away as soon as possible to make people leave. Overall, definitely a thumbs down and I place I would never suggest!

We drove to Winchester without really knowing too much because, as I said, we didn’t really plan to go there. The place was a great surprise, I loved it very much and I was quite relaxed at lunchtime when we chose a pub that seemed not too bad but, as the rest, seemed to have suffered from a shortage of staff during the bank holiday. The main feature of the city is the Cathedral without any doubt, and a visit to it won’t disappoint you in the least. The cathedral is undergoing some major refurbishment but even with some parts being closed, it still takes your breath away. Pure Gothic style, the building dates back to XI century and is the longest Gothic Cathedral in Europe. The stone vault is more recent as it replaced the wooden ceiling in XIV century and it creates an incredible perspective that goes from the main nave to the choir, a beautifully chiselled wooden structure that, at the time of our visit, was used by the Danish choir for practice for the evening concert. We sat for a while, listening to them, before resuming our visit. Several famous people are buried in the cathedral, but no one deserved in my eyes more interest than Jane Austen. The author moved to the city hoping to find a solution for her condition but passed away soon after and was buried there. Her nephew, later, dedicated a plaque to her recognising her talent and her work.

One of the most important features of the cathedral is the Winchester Bible, a precious copy of the Bible in four volumes that dates back to XII century. Written by a single scribe, it was decorated by several artists with illuminations, which are decorations made with gold and silver leaves, and precious stones. For the fact of being the largest and best preserved example, the specimen is extremely precious and it is kept in special display cases that keep constant temperature and light. To protect the volume on display, photography is not permitted, but you can find out more about it and the rest of the cathedral on their website. The Bible is usually on display on the right side of the transept but that area is currently closed for refurbishment and the book now has its installation on the left, near the crypt. Here, a modern exhibition features a life-size statue of a man looking at the water in his hands. The crypt gets submerged during rainy months and offers a peculiar mirror effect.

Next to the cathedral and offering a beautiful view of it, there was a monastery and what was the monks’ dormitory is now the Dean Garnier Garden, a walled garden maintained by volunteers and open to the public. A short walk away from the cathedral is Wolvesey Castle, also known as Old Bishop’s Palace, a medieval castle that was the residence of the Bishop of Winchester for a few centuries up to the English Civil War. The building doesn’t exist anymore and the ruins of the ground floor are now an English Heritage site that can be visited for free. As the ruins are near the river, a short walk along the water will take you to the city centre again and took us to our late lunch at about 4 p.m.

That was all for our first trip of the year to the glorious British seaside and we are still waiting to repeat the experience. I am actually longing for some sea water on my feet but the weather doesn’t seem keen to cooperate. Will we be able to repeat before we go to Cornwall? Stay tuned to our profiles to find out!

Ms Lust