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

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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)

Wander & Lust’s Australia

Dear readers,

For this post we’ve decided to do something a little different, and while we are both writing on the same subject, we are describing different places. This is because we have decided to write a post about our favourite places in Australia, a country that we have both spent a considerable amount of time travelling around, albeit before we started travelling together. Australia is also the country where we first met, on a tour of the Red Centre, which you can read all about in our post here. So, as we spent our time travelling around different parts of the country, our choices for our favourite places are naturally different also. I’ve always had a list in my head of my top five places in Australia, which are, in no particular order, Sydney Harbour, The Blue Mountains, Katherine Gorge, Uluru and the Red Centre, and The Whitsundays. They are all very different to each other and I’ve never really had a definitive favourite, so I have decided to write this post about The Blue Mountains as it was the first of these places that I visited, and one of those that I have visited the most.

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The Blue Mountains National Park is in New South Wales, approximately 80 kilometres from Sydney. The national park covers over 1,000 square miles, and it is a section of the much larger Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The area is actually a large plateau that has been intersected by erosion from rivers, and not a mountain range as the name suggests. As such, the prominent features of the area are large flat plateaus divided by deep river valleys, all of which have been covered in thick vegetation. This made it a formidable barrier for the early European settlers in Australia, and it wasn’t until 1813 that the area was first successfully crossed and the lands to the west opened up for settlement. Rich resources of coal and shale were also discovered in the Blue Mountains, and activity soon started to extract these resources from the environment. The desire to settle and farm the land to the west of the Blue Mountains, coupled with the mining activity within the area, resulted in the origins of the roads and infrastructure that allow access to today’s visitors. Easily accessible from Sydney either by road or by train, the Blue Mountains is the perfect destination for a day-trip or weekend away from the city.

Whenever I had a weekend free, or even just a day, the Blue Mountains was always right up there at the top of my list of options. It is such a contrast to the city environments of Sydney or Newcastle, and a fantastic place to get in touch with nature. Despite it being a hugely popular tourist destination, it is still easy to find peacefulness and tranquility, and an escape from busy city life. Even from Newcastle, where I was living, the area is easily and cheaply accessed by the NSW train network, although it isn’t the quickest and takes about four hours each way. So I was quite happy to jump on a train to Katoomba, via Sydney, and spend a day or two hiking and exploring the area, and I’m also happy now to show you the wonderful places I found.

The Three Sisters

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This is the most famous and iconic Blue Mountains landmark, found just on the outskirts of the township of Katoomba. The Three Sisters are a rock formation of three pillars that have been carved from the sandstone by erosion, which now overlook the Jamison Valley. They are particularly striking as they catch the light from those typical Australian sunsets, and unsurprisingly this is when the lookout is busiest. Despite this, the lookout at Echo Point has been built large enough to accommodate this surge in visitors and never seems too crowded. Still, if you are looking for a bit more solitude and tranquillity, then it’s better to go earlier in the day. The lookout also provides a stunning view of the Jamison Valley, and I always found looking out into that vast wilderness very relaxing. It was always nice to just stand there and listen to the calls of the local wildlife, it’s far enough out of town that urban noise isn’t much of an issue here during the quieter times of day.

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If the view alone hasn’t quenched your appetite, it is possible to get up close and personal with Meehni, the first of the three pillars (her sisters are called Wimlah and Gunnedoo). Just behind the information centre is a walking track that takes visitors, via another lookout, to the Giant’s Staircase, a set of over 800 steps that have been carved into the rockface to take visitors down to the valley floor. Just a little way down the steps is a short raised walkway which ends at a small platform perched on the side of Meehni, and this is your chance to touch and feel the rock for yourself. You then have the option to either carry on down to the valley floor to walkways at the base of Scenic World (more on this shortly), or to retrace your steps back to the information centre and Echo Point.

Scenic World

Also just on the outskirts of Katoomba is Scenic World, another popular tourist destination. Here you can choose between three modes of transport (or do all three!) to explore the valley floor and nearby Katoomba Falls. The Scenic Skyway is a cable car that travels across the valley past Katoomba Falls, allowing a unique view of the waterfall that isn’t possible any other way. The Skyway also has a glass floor giving more unique views of the valley floor and the forest it holds. The trip across the valley is fairly short, after which you then have the choice to disembark and walk back or to continue on the Skyway for the return journey.

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Following this, the other two activities have been built to transport visitors to the valley floor and back up again. The Scenic Railway is your best bet for getting to the bottom, the steepest passenger railway in the world with an incline of 52 degrees! It really does feel like you are about to be lifted from your seat as you head down the steepest sections, and it was hard not to end up hanging onto the net covering the carriage as it sped through the trees. The train has been upgraded since I visited, the new train now has a fixed roof and seats which can be inclined through 20 degrees so that visitors can make the experience more or less terrifying to satisfy their thrill-seeking needs! Once at the bottom, and when your heart has stopped racing, there are walkways which take you around the valley floor and explain what it would have been like here during the mining days. The railway is also a relic from the mining activity here, originally constructed to haul the coal and shale up that had been mined out of the valley. These walks are also a great chance to get close to the local wildlife, in particular the elusive Lyrebird which can be spotted rummaging in the undergrowth. To get back up, the last of Scenic World’s options is the Scenic Cableway which is another cable car that takes visitors back to the visitor centre. On the way up it passes a large outcrop of rock quite closely, and allows one last chance for some spectacular views of the Jamison Valley.

Grand Canyon Track

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The Grand Canyon Track is a reasonably challenging walk that winds its way around the valley floor near Blackheath. It begins at Evan’s Lookout, which is worth a visit anyway for the views across the Grose Valley, and meanders for about four miles alongside Greaves Creek. The walk is definitely not for the inexperienced, yet not too challenging to deter most walkers and the rewards are certainly worth the effort. It really feels like you have been transported back to prehistoric times as you make your way past, and sometimes through, the dense vegetation that has flourished in the damp environment.

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Probably due to the amount of time required to complete the walk, allow at least four hours, there aren’t many other walkers about and I think I saw more wallabies than people on my hike! This adds to the feeling of isolation and tranquility, and it’s easy to form a good connection with nature here. Along the way there are a number of waterfalls and overhangs to further ignite your imagination and intrigue, and the creek is never too far from the track. Climbing back up to the lookout at the end of the track is easily the most challenging part of the walk, make sure you’ve saved some energy for this!

Wentworth Falls

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The last place on my list is Wentworth Falls, a spectacular waterfall near to the town of the same name. An easy walking track provides access to the waterfall from the car park, with fantastic views of the waterfall plunging into the valley below from Fletcher’s Lookout, about halfway along the track. The surrounding rock has been eroded in such a way that has created a natural amphitheatre, with the waterfall centre stage as the main attraction. Carry on to the end of the track, and here it is possible to get very close to the falls. A series of cascades that precede the waterfall itself lead into a natural infinity pool, all of which can be accessed and enjoyed to your heart’s content. If you’re lucky, you may even find some yabbies in the river as I did! The views of the river disappearing off of the end of the cliff are simply breathtaking, not to mention the cascades and the views of the valley as well.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of The Blue Mountains, and that it may have encouraged some of you to visit this wonderful place. I wish I were still able to visit whenever I wanted, as there is so much more to this area that I have yet to explore, but I am sure we will visit again next time we are in Australia and tick a few more items off of the list!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear readers,

As Mr Wander said already, this is a bit of a different post from our usual. Maybe because we are a bit nostalgic of Australia or maybe because we want to share a bit about our time before Wander met Lust, we decided to write a post in which we talk about different places, our favourite place in Australia. I have to be honest, for me it is extremely hard to choose my favourite place in this wonderful country, although I guess my soft spot for Uluru will make my heart slightly favour this place over all the rest. As we have already talked about this magical place in one of our previous posts that you can read here, I thought I would tell you about the city that was my home for three months: Adelaide.

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Adelaide is the capital of South Australia and it was named after King William IV’s wife. The territory chosen for its settlement, near the River Torrens but not close enough to the sea, was criticised but its founder, Colonel Light, had a clear plan, he wanted a rectangular layout with perfectly perpendicular streets and he wanted the city to be completely surrounded by parklands. This plan is perfectly visible even now that the city has grown outside the parkland ring.

After a month in Sydney and one in Melbourne, Adelaide was my last chance to find a job, but I have to admit that I didn’t work too hard to find anything until then. Once we arrived in South Australia, my partner found a job in Gay’s Arcade and introduced me to his employers. I was lucky enough and they hired me as well, so we both ended up working there for a few months. The Arcade is quite interesting with nice places to eat and shopping, and the Caffè L’Incontro where we worked is a nice place to taste some good quality Italian food if you are around.

I was lucky to spend the end of summer and beginning of autumn in Adelaide and I could enjoy its beaches a bit and its parks a lot and I am totally in love with basically everything. The city itself is easy to cross on foot, probably only taking 30 minutes at the most from one corner to the other. The transport is quite nice as well, with a tram crossing the city vertically and arriving to the beach in Glenelg. Other nearby locations can be reached either by train or by bus, with also long distance connections by train, bus, and plane.

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There are so many places I would like to talk about, please forgive me if I end up talking about all of them on a very long post! Let’s see a bit what the city centre and its surroundings have to offer.

Museums

  • South Australian Museum. This museum is extremely interesting, with some very different exhibitions. From time to time they offer tours of specific sections and I was lucky enough to get into one and learn a lot about Aboriginal culture, not just through artifacts but also through language facts, which are always interesting for me. There are some recordings of lost languages as well and it is sad but wonderful to be able to have that kind of proof.
  • Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. This art museum promotes Aboriginal art and gives space to contemporary artists who mix traditional and modern techniques to express the wonderful culture of the Kaurna, the people of Adelaide. The name of the museum comes from the name the Kaurna used to call the Adelaide plains, the land of the red kangaroo.
  • Adelaide Botanic Gardens. A beautiful mix of flora and architecture, this park is, in the website’s words, “a living museum” and it is jaw-dropping. You can have a self-guided tour with the information available online or you can join a free tour that is on almost every morning at 10:30.
  • Adelaide Gaol. Adelaide is one of the few Australian cities that has no convict history, but the old jail is still worth a visit, on a normal tour or, I guess, for a ghost tour, if we consider that the prisoners executed there were also buried in the grounds of the jail. No longer in use, The Gaol is still a modern structure because, after all, the city was only founded in 1836, less than two centuries ago. It is not far from the city centre, but you may want to add it to your bike ride, as you can hire free bikes in Adelaide, here you can find all the information you need on Adelaide free bikes.
  • Aboriginal walks. The original culture seems still very strong in Adelaide and several activities can guide you to learn more about the Kaurna people and their culture. You can find some information here to take part in one of the walking tours, or you can do a self-guided tour by following these instructions to follow the steps of the Kaurna people.

Parks

  • Belair National Park. My favourite place to go to after a few hours of work, this place is half hour by train from Adelaide and it is nice for walking and exploring with different kind of tracks, but you also have a wide space for family activities, barbecues, horse riding, and celebrations. The access is free and allowed during daylight, although once I took the wrong path on my way back to the station and I found myself at dusk a couple of metres from a red kangaroo. They are cute and all, but wild kangaroos grow a lot taller than those you find in parks, which are also often females and therefore smaller. It was impressive and he was as startled as I was I guess, but he didn’t move at all, and rightly so, I was in his house. Let’s just say that after that evening I remembered exactly when to leave.
  • Hallett Cove Conservation Park. Another incredible park in the suburbs of Adelaide is Hallett Cove, inhabited for centuries by the landowners, the Kaurna people. Many artefacts were found and are now in the museum, but the park is not only famous for its archeological importance. Discovered by chance by a farmer who was looking for his sheep, the park is of great geological importance of different eras. Dating back to 600 million years, some rock folds are all that remains of an old mountain range.                                                                                          Hallett Cove Park (15)More recent but of inestimable value, is the Permian glacial pavement that dates back almost 300 million years, when Australia was united with Antarctica. This pavement shows the presence of the glaciers and their retreat. Last but not least, the Sugarloaf is a mountain that looks exactly like a sugar mount, hence the name. Its layers, now exposed by the erosion of the winds, tell the whole story of the area and the geological changes. This park is easily reached by bus and a short walk from the bus stop.
  • Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty Summit. Mount Lofty is part of Adelaide Hills and what is left of the mountain range created in the Precambrian era that we have seen in Hallett Cove. Its summit is quite popular for its views of the city and now includes a modern café and visitor centre and some television towers. The walk from Waterfall Gully is also quite popular and a steep 4 km return hike. If you are not too confident of your capacity to complete it, you can do what I did and just reach the summit by bus and walk down. As I said, it is quite steep and you notice that even on the way down because your muscles will have to make a good effort anyway. The waterfall is worth the hike and it is a nice spot to stop and have a snack while you watch the wildlife going about.
  • Morialta Conservation Park. One of the most known parks in the area, Morialta is not only famous for hiking but also for climbing. Only 10 km away from the city centre, it is easily reached by bus. The park is also part of the same mountain range as Mount Lofty and has three falls and Fourth Creek and its name comes from the Kaurna word meaning “ever-flowing”. The views are incredible and the scenery is breathtaking to say the least, especially from the top and seeing the whole drop. I went in May when the rain has not given the falls all their strength and still I loved it!
  • Port Adelaide or Semaphore. Not really a park, they are nice coastal suburbs that can be reached by bus and offer the usual beach activities with a plus for my taste: boat tours of the bay and the chance to see the dolphins. Nearby is the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and it is a nice experience. It is not guaranteed that you spot these beauties during the trip but it is interesting to see the uses of the harbour and to learn a bit more about the area. Of course, when we spotted some dolphins on our way back we were all a lot happier.
  • Himeji Garden. This small Japanese garden is inside the city area and it is a present from the Japanese city of Himeji when it became Adelaide’s sister city. If you have visited other cities’ Japanese Gardens such as the ones in Sydney (or in Japan, of course!) you won’t be too surprised but this garden is quite beautiful in its simplicity and definitely worth a visit.

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Extras

  • Hahndorf. Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, this town is one of the top tourist attractions in the area. Built by Prussian emigrants, it guards its original architecture and has several restaurants serving German cuisine. I stopped at the German Cake Shop for strüdel and I highly recommend it, not only the cakes are scrumptious and all the food looks as good, but the place is also extremely nice, crammed in cuckoo clocks and decorative plates and beer steins. You will feel like the place is going to fall over you but it is also cozy at the same time. Walking about in the town you will find some extremely curious shops and attractions such as the fairy garden, try to make the most of your visit!
  • Glenelg. It is another suburb of the capital and a beach town. Close to the city, it is at the end of the tram journey from the city centre and it has quite changed over the years. I have to admit that I mainly went for the beach and nothing else, but the town is quite modern and vibrant and offers much more to see and to do. Just a geeky addition: Maybe you know it has been named after the Scottish name, but have you noticed that the name is palindrome? Yes, you can read it from both sides and it reads the same!
  • Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. This park is currently closed but I am glad to find out that it will reopen in 2018. It was my favourite place and I used to take the bus to Aldgate, as I had no car and no other way of reaching it, and then walk for 45 minutes. I have to admit it was worth the effort every time and I ended up making friends with a grey kangaroo that was extremely cute, you can see our farewell chat here. The first time we ended up there it was because it is supposed to be one of the few places in Australia where chances to see a live platypus are around 75%. Platypuses are quite shy and not easy to spot, and I have to admit I was not successful at the first try, but the park used to offer a night package with accommodation, dinner, and walk at dusk and then we spotted them. The package was a great experience, sleeping in cabin in the woods, having a nice meal at the restaurant and being able to enjoy the park before opening time the morning after, not to mention waking up and finding a wallaby on your doorstep at dawn. Yes, the kookaburras were quite noisy but it is a fair price to pay. I hope the new owners keep the spirit of the park and I can’t wait to repeat my visit and, maybe, meet my kangaroo friend once again!

Now, dear readers, I am too nostalgic and I have to leave you or I will end up booking a plane ticket to Australia, but stay tuned!

Ms Lust

The eighth wonder of the world

Dear readers,

This time we are taking you to one of the world’s most famous destinations, to what Kipling apparently called the eighth wonder of the world, and more importantly to Mr Wander’s favourite place in New Zealand: Milford Sound. If you, like me, are not a native speaker, you may wonder the reason behind the name. Sound, in English, is “a narrow stretch of water forming an inlet or connecting two wider areas of water such as two seas or a sea and a lake” (Definition 4 from Oxford Dictionaries online). Milford Sound, therefore, is one of the fjords of the Fiordland region and it is simply breath-taking, no wonder Mr Wander insisted on going there. He had already been a couple of times during a rainy season and I have to admit that his pictures are incredible, but even at the beginning of winter, when the water is not at its maximum capacity, the scenery is stunning. New Zealand is a not a new country but its geological position grants the country high peaks which, combined with a continental climate, creates an enormous amount of glaciers and waterfalls. But, before we arrive in Milford Sound, let’s follow the path that we followed with Mr Wander.

If you consider a straight line, Queenstown and Milford Sound are not too far away, but there is no straight access and the route goes through Te Anau, which means that the drive is 5 hours long. As I may have explained in our previous post, congestion is not a concept that is known in these roads; if you stop, it is to admire the beauties that surround you, not because of queuing. We stopped for a few photos along the road, some immediately after leaving Queenstown, but our first real stop was in Te Anau. This is a fairly big town in the South Island and its lake is the starting point of some interesting tours. To reach Milford Sound, the road is not the only option, there are also cruises that include Doubtful Sound, or there are trekking trails that start and finish in Te Anau and take you around Fiordland for five days. If you are not going to visit the North Island, Te Anau is also your chance to see the glowworms, we did that visit just before leaving the country and we strongly recommend it, not only for the incredible sights that are the caves and the worms, but also because it is extremely instructive.

As I said, we stopped a few times on the way to Te Anau as well, but the most famous stops, and also the most impressive ones, are between Te Anau and Milford Sound. The first very well-known one is at Mirror lakes. As you can see from this slideshow, the water is so calm that the surface is perfectly reflecting and it mirrors the Earl Mountains with their forest in the background. The day was not at its best, just a bit gloomy, therefore the light in the picture is a bit strange, but you can definitely appreciate the incredible perfection of this water.

Driving a bit more towards Milford Sound, another famous spot is The Chasm. Now, when I first talked to Mr Wander about my wish to visit the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye, he said that he could help break the wait by taking me somewhere similar in New Zealand. I was a bit sceptical, and the initial sight of the Chasm didn’t help. Between the name and the fact that the car park doesn’t offer any sights of what’s hidden a few hundreds of metres away, I was not really expecting too much from this place, but I was gladly wrong. A small path on the left of the car park takes you to some impressive waterfalls by the Cleddau River. Milford Sound was named after Milford Haven in Wales, and the Cleddau River also takes its name from Welsh. The first encounter with the waterfalls is this stunning pool. Unfortunately, it was too cold to even think of going in, that would have to wait for the Scottish Fairy Pools, but it was beautiful and peaceful.

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The whole walk is extremely relaxing, we were lucky that there were not too many people. The flora is lush and seems to embrace you, with many of the paths being just wide enough to walk on a single line. There are two bridges over the river and from where you can admire the waterfalls before closing the loop and returning to the car.

In Milford Sound we stayed in Milford Sound Lodge, basically the only accommodation you can find there. The place is quite nice, with wooden cabins and shared bathrooms, and a restaurant that served scrumptious food. When we arrived we headed to Milford Sound itself to enjoy the sunset over the fjord and have our car eaten by keas a bit more, the stop on the way before crossing the tunnel didn’t seem enough! The tide was out, so we could walk quite a bit inside before it started becoming dark and we headed back. As I said, dinner was very nice, and a hot soup was definitely welcome. The restaurant has an old piano and some music books but I didn’t manage to convince Mr Wander to give it a go, he hadn’t been practicing for quite a few years and was feeling a bit self-conscious, especially because the restaurant was full.

The next morning we went back to the fjord to enjoy our cruise trip. The scenery is simply breath-taking, you sail along the fjord to see the different rocks and waterfalls. The previous times Mr Wander went, he saw a lot of seals, but this time there were only a few lazing under a bit of sun. On the other side, though, we were lucky enough to be followed by some bottlenose dolphins who also live there and were happy to play in the wake of our boat. You know how much I love these animals, so you can imagine how happy I was. The staff on the boat were extremely friendly and happy to help, and the cakes were just scrumptious, so don’t worry about your stomach while you are there either.

In front of the pier you can take a small path just behind a few old buildings from the first settlement in the area. This track will take you up to a viewpoint for you to enjoy the beautiful sight that is the whole fjord, I am adding this collage for your reference so you can see all the names of the peaks as well.

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The drive back was a bit of a new experience for both of us, which is always a precious thing. I was there to know about the country Mr Wander had been living in for a few years, and to be able to discover something new together was very nice and important for me. The first stop, though, was Marian Falls, one that Mr Wander had visited already and even more that we managed to do, up to Lake Marian. While trying to find some information about the falls, I learnt that these one are actually cascades. Since the word for waterfall in Italian is cascata, I went to look online the difference between a cascade and a waterfall. If you are interested, according to the Oxford Dictionaries:

Cascade, 1) A small waterfall, typically one of several that fall in stages down a steep rocky slope.

Waterfall, A cascade of water falling from a height, formed when a river or stream flows over a precipice or steep incline.

I know, they use the terms reciprocally to explain the other, but it is clear I think. And yes, Marian Falls are a cascade, as you can appreciate on this picture. I have to admit it was not an easy thing for me to reach them. They are beautiful, of course, but to reach them you have to walk on a swing bridge over the Hollyford River. Here is a picture of me divided by awe for the beauty of this place and regret for walking on the bridge! The whole walk to Lake Marian takes approximately 3 hours in total and we couldn’t fit in our schedule, so here is another reason to go back to Piopiotahi!

Piopiotahi is the original name for Milford Sound. The Māori called this place Piopiotahi, which means single piopio, an extinct bird that used to live in New Zealand. The legend says that Māui, a hero in Polynesian culture, tried to win immortality for mankind and died in the attempt. When the birds heard of his death, a single piopio flew to Milford Sound in mourning. It is not just that this story is beautiful, I love how the Māori culture is attached to the land and gets from it not only strength and nourishment, but also the names of the places. Their pragmatism is refreshing and insightful compared to the invaders that had to replace the original names using others borrowed from English places to try and delete the local culture.

Driving a bit further back home, we stopped at Lake Gunn, a spot that Mr Wander missed in his previous visits because it is not as clearly signalled as the others. Lake Gunn is another beautiful body of water surrounded by mountains. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful weather that afternoon and you can see how the colours create an incredible painting that needs no filter even with a picture taken with a smartphone!

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The walk that starts at the lake is an easy one and it is 45 minutes long but you can add a bit of difficulty starting from other car parks near the mountain range or the creek. On the way to Milford Sound we also stopped near Lake Gunn on the other side of the road to discover the beautiful and pristine Lake Fergus. Less known than its neighbouring Lake McKeller, this body of water is connected to Lake Gunn just on the other side of the road. Trust me, it doesn’t matter how many places of this kind you find along your way, every single time you see the mountains and forests reflected in the perfectly calm surface of a lake in this region, you will be astonished!

Our last stop on the way back was also a bit of a detour to see Lake Manapouri. This place is famous for various reasons and beauty is one of them and definitely deserved. The lake is the country’s second deepest, hosting a huge variety of wildlife and fauna, and also includes an incredible amount of islands. With four arms, it is known for the different activities such as kayaking and countless hiking tracks and trips. The lake also hosts a power station, the biggest underground power station of the southern hemisphere, which can also be visited. The presence of this structure raised concerns for the environment a few decades ago and made the lake a symbol for the protection of the nature.

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If you love hiking and are planning a trip to the South Island, take your time to explore Fiordland. We took advantage of a Bank Holiday and it was quite busy, therefore we could only stay one night in the accommodation, having to reduce the amount of our hiking, but there is so much to do that we will have to go back and do what was was left. Stay tuned!

Ms Lust

***

Dear readers,

This post is a special one for me, as it is about my favourite place in New Zealand and, as far as our travels have taken us thus far, the world. That place is Milford Sound, in Fiordland on New Zealand’s South Island. As such, it is a place I have visited on many occasions, so instead of describing a specific trip (such as when I took Ms Lust there) I will outline my recommendations for anyone wishing to visit this wonderful place.

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There are so many quotes and inspirational messages out there telling us not to focus on the destination but to enjoy the journey, and for nowhere is this more true than Milford Sound. The sound itself is utterly beautiful, it wasn’t without reason that Rudyard Kipling described it as the 8th Wonder of the World, but there are so many equally beautiful places to stop and enjoy on the two-hour drive from Te Anau (which everyone must travel through to get to Milford). The only other option is to take a scenic flight from Te Anau or Queenstown, something that I never had the chance to do myself, and I’m sure this is just as impressive as the drive, if not more so. Each time I have made this drive it has taken me a lot longer than the four hours that Google claimed, and there are still places along the route that I am yet to have explored. For those of you without your own transport, a coach tour is the easiest option, and the places that these tours most commonly stop at will be included. So please sit back and relax, as I take you on a trip through beautiful Fiordland, from Te Anau to Milford Sound.

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Te Anau

If it were situated in almost any other part of the world, Te Anau would be a tourist hot-spot in it’s own right. But nestled amongst the multitude of magnificent vistas and jaw-dropping landscapes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, this lake-side town feels rather ordinary in comparison. The combination of Lake Te Anau and the wonderful backdrop of the mountain range provides a beautiful scene, just not one that can compete with similar towns that are situated in the mountains, rather than close to them, such as Queenstown or Wanaka. Happily though, Te Anau finds itself at the start of State Highway 94 (better known as the Milford Road) and as such has found it’s calling as an obligatory stop for most travellers making the pilgrimage to Milford Sound. After leaving Te Anau, you won’t find any supermarkets or petrol stations until you arrive back again on the return journey. So this is naturally where everybody stops to refuel and refresh before beginning their journey through the mountains, and Te Anau has grown up purely to service these needs. There are some tourist attractions here to tempt a more prolonged stay, and the glow-worm caves on the other side of the lake are definitely worth a visit (Real Journeys operate tours, as well as Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound excursions). The start of the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is also just on the other side of the lake, and it is common to see hikers taking advantage of Te Anau’s amenities either before or after completing the 60km trek. Yet for most visitors here, Te Anau is nothing more than a ten-minute stop for last minute supplies and a toilet break before heading off in the direction of Milford Sound.

Te Anau Downs

Mistletoe Lake

 

The first area you will come across is Te Anau Downs, the last cluster of houses before the road leaves Lake Te Anau and heads into the mountains. Signs will point you towards Lake Mistletoe on the right, where you will find a small gravel car park and a walking track. The walk is fairly short and pleasant enough, taking you through a woodland area to the lake. The lake is really nothing to write home about, especially compared to what is still to come. I’d really only recommend doing this walk if you have a lot of time to spare, it’s certainly not worth missing out on one of the stops further along the route for this. Just a few metres down the road there is another small car park on the left-hand side, which offers a good opportunity to enjoy the lake before the road turns away from it. There is a jetty which can be walked along, and the views from the end are better than those in Te Anau. There isn’t enough here to cause you to linger too long though, and soon you’ll find yourself back on the road and heading towards the Eglinton Valley.

Eglinton Valley and Mirror Lakes

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From this point onwards, the road has a lot more twists and turns as you venture through the Southern Alps. After just over 20 km a break in the trees unveils the Eglinton Valley, and your first Fiordland photo opportunity awaits. There’s no set viewpoint, just three or four lay-bys to choose from which all offer essentially the same views, so it’s entirely up to you where to stop. The Eglinton Valley is quite wide and flat, with the fast running Eglinton River flowing between the mountains on either side. I don’t think this area was used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings, but it most certainly could have been.

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At the end of the valley the trees return to obscure the landscape, and, after only a few kilometres and a couple of bends, signs for Mirror Lakes come into view. This is the first of the stops that is on every tour company’s itinerary, and if you’re unlucky to arrive at the same time you will be greeted by a road half-blocked by the convoy of buses parked here and you’ll have to fight your way through the crowds to see the lake. Mirror Lakes is exactly what it sounds like, a small lake just by the side of the road which is usually sheltered enough by the wind to provide stunning reflections of the adjacent mountains. The water is also incredibly clear, allowing all of the hidden treasures (mostly fallen trees!) in its depths to be viewed by all. If it does happen to be too windy at the time then it will be an incredible anti-climax, as the lake itself is not all that impressive. But don’t despair, as there’s always another chance to see its famous reflections on the return journey.

Lake Gunn

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This lake is a little bit further up the road, about another 20 km, and by this point you are more than halfway to Milford Sound. The second half of the journey is definitely the more interesting half however, as the road becomes more and more mountainous, the views get more impressive with every kilometre, and the stopping places are ever more frequent. If you manage to spot the sign in time to make the turning (I missed it twice and only managed to actually stop here on my last trip to this area, when I took Ms Lust to Milford Sound), there is a small car park with a very short walking track through to the lake. I can’t comment on how it would be on a more windy day, but when we visited it was very unclear why this lake hadn’t been given the title of Mirror Lake instead. The water was as flat and clear as glass, and gave perfect reflections of the surrounding landscape. It was difficult to see where water gave way to sky, as even any floating driftwood was perfectly reflected. The lake is a lot bigger than Mirror Lakes, so I imagine it would need to be a very calm day for it to be like this, and that we were just incredibly lucky. Once you have seen the lake, there isn’t too much else to keep you here (although it is a great spot for a picnic if you arrive around lunchtime) and it’s then time to head into the very heart of Fiordland.

The Divide

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From here until you reach your destination, there are stops at less than 10 km intervals if you choose to see them all. I would highly recommend all of them, but it will depend on the amount of time that you have. As such, The Divide is only suggested if you have a lot of time in hand, as it is quite a lengthy stop and not worth missing any of the following places for. The Divide is the start or finish point (depending on which direction it is traversed) of the Routeburn Track, a 32 km walking track from Paradise near Glenorchy to The Divide. In case you hadn’t guessed already, this is a stop for those that like hiking, and the purpose of stopping here is to get a feel for the Routeburn Track by walking the first section of it, the Key Summit Track. This track is a steady climb up to the top of Key Summit, and you will need to allow for three hours to complete the walk out and back again. Once you reach the summit, you are rewarded for your efforts with wonderful views of the Lower Hollyford Valley and the surrounding mountains. Low level clouds hindered the views somewhat when I completed this walk, however the snow capped mountains peeking through made up for it instead. There is a short nature walk that can also be completed at the summit, I recommend it if you have an extra 30 minutes to spare, which passes a variety of natural vegetation including bogs, alpine tarns, and shrubland. There are boardwalks through the wet areas around the bogs, so don’t worry too much about getting dirty! After this, and once you have finished enjoying the views, take the track back down to the car park and head off once again in the direction of Milford Sound. Don’t get too comfortable though, as the next stop is just around the corner!

Pop’s Viewpoint and Falls Creek Waterfall

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About 2 km further up the road from The Divide, you will see a viewpoint signposted on the right-hand side. This is Pop’s Viewpoint and the red metal gantries give another opportunity to see the Lower Hollyford Valley. Down below is the Hollyford River, and the hanging valley to your left is home to Lake Marian (more on that shortly). You may also hear road traffic from down in the depths of the valley, and if you look to the road you will see that it now starts to descend and soon you will also be driving along the valley floor. Once there, a small bridge passing a waterfall signals that you have arrived at Falls Creek Waterfall. Unfortunately every time I have driven past here there has been construction work on the bridge and it has been very difficult to walk along to take photos. The bridge is only one lane and you really have to time it well in between passing vehicles from both directions! An easier place to stop is a gravelled area on the right just beyond the bridge. It still isn’t possible to walk back to the waterfall, but from here you can clamber down to the river rapids below. The water is fast flowing here, and a scattering of medium size boulders in the water provide some great photos and allow you to get right into the river without getting wet (hopefully!). Here is also where you are most likely to first meet Milford Sound’s most notorious residents, the sandflies. Similar to the midges found in Britain, these are small biting flies which will happily use you as a feeding station and leave you with many, very itchy, bites. Insect repellant is the must-have item for anyone travelling to Milford Sound at any time of year, you will thank the heavens if you have it and curse yourself if you don’t. The Māori legend is that sandflies were created by the goddess Hine-nui-te-pō after the creation of Fiordland. People were so stunned by it’s beauty that they stopped working and just stood around gazing at it instead, so she created the sandflies to bite them and to get them moving again. This story makes perfect sense to me, as from here on it will probably be frustration with these little terrors that will encourage you to move on from each place.

Marian Falls and Lake Marian

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In between Pop’s Viewpoint and Falls Creek, you may have noticed a sign for Lake Marian on the right. This is another stop for hiking enthusiasts, however there is a smaller walk that is definitely worth 30 minutes or so out of your journey. After turning off of the main road, you will need to continue down a gravel track for about a kilometre before reaching a car park for the Lake Marian track. The walk to the lake itself requires at least three hours and a lot of effort, however the falls are just a short ten-minute walk from the car park. Some raised boardwalk sections signal that you have arrived to the falls, which are somewhere between waterfalls and rapids. A series of small drops create a cascade in the river and the large boulders that have fallen into the water’s path create some dramatic currents. The surrounding vegetation here is thick and lush, this area of the world sees a lot of rainfall, and it really does start to feel like you are stepping into a prehistoric world. If you decide to continue along the track to Lake Marian, you will not be disappointed. It is a hard, uphill walk through forest, landslips, and open shrubland, which eventually brings you to the lake at the top of the hanging valley. This lake is perfectly nestled within some of the larger peaks in the area, and its remoteness creates a true sense of tranquility. It seems that not too many people make the effort to climb this far, and I only saw a handful of other hikers when I completed the walk. Again, the views were a little spoiled by some low lying clouds, but the rain held off so I was happy! I would have loved to have returned for another go in sunnier weather, but unfortunately the opportunity never arose.

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Monkey Creek and Homer Tunnel

The last stop before the tunnel is Monkey Creek, another favourite of the tour buses. A car park on the left-hand side of the road gives access to a small creek, where tour guides encourage their guests to fill their water bottles and sample the pure water as it makes its way down from the mountain tops. It’s also a great chance to get some photos of the valley and the road winding a path through, but other than that there isn’t any need to linger for too long. If you haven’t had the pleasure already, here is also where you will most likely encounter keas, the world’s only alpine parrot. They are large, green parrots, most easily recognised by the bright red colour of the underside of their wings. These cheeky birds are certainly not shy, and they are commonly found in Fiordland destroying cars (they have a strong affection for rubber and plastic) and harassing tourists for food! As the signs state, please do not feed them as it discourages their natural behaviours and you may also get a nasty bite from their extremely sharp and powerful beaks. There is no need to be scared of them however, and I always enjoy watching their cheeky antics wherever I come across them.

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Following Monkey Creek you will be heading through the Homer Tunnel, a 1.2 kilometre long tunnel through the mountains which was opened in 1953. This completed the Milford Road and provided a route through to Milford Sound. The tunnel is one way only, controlled by traffic lights at either end. You may find that you have to wait for quite some time for the lights to change, there is an information board to tell you how long the wait will be, and in some cases you may even have enough time to get out and explore the immediate vicinity. The tunnel itself is very much as I imagine it was when it first opened, simply a hole cut through the mountains without any of the dressing-up (smooth walls, lighting, etc.) more commonly found in Europe. As you exit the tunnel, you will be presented with a fantastic view of the valley before you, and the road heading down to the valley floor. There is a gravel car park just on the left to allow for a photo opportunity, and it’s well worth stopping even just to play with the keas for a few minutes! After this, I hope your car has good brakes, as you are now heading straight down to the valley floor for the final stretch into Milford. There is still one last stop to come before that, and this one is one of my favourites and definitely not to be missed.

The Chasm

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Just as you reach the bottom of the descent into the valley floor, signs for The Chasm will appear on your left. This is another staple of the tour bus itinerary, however they rarely stop here long enough to allow guests to explore the best part. A short ten-minute or so walk from the car park takes you to two boardwalks. Prior to even reaching these, the thundering sound of crashing water echoing through the forest should tell you that there is a waterfall here. The first boardwalk passes a hole in the rock to give a view of the waterfall itself, and then the second boardwalk takes you over the waterfall and allows views of how the water has carved a unique artwork into the rocks. Swirling eddies have created many bowls and holes in the surrounding rocks and have turned the area into something that resembles a Swiss cheese. The holes vary immensely in size, most probably determined by their age, and create a truly unique environment. The waterfall itself is impressive as well, due to the sheer force and noise of the water.

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If you are here on a bus tour, this is likely to be all that you will have time to see. For those with their own transport, a slight detour should be taken on the way to the waterfall. Just before the donation box there is a path cut into the shrubland on the right. This leads you down to the lagoon formed at the base of the waterfall. Very similar to the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye (full report here!), this is a secluded, calm, beautiful waterhole which feels extremely remote and isolated from the hordes of tourists above. The water is beautifully blue and clear, and incredibly enticing. Due to the sheerness of the surrounding rocks it isn’t possible to walk round to the base of the waterfall, yet it is possible to swim there instead. Having only visited in winter I wasn’t brave enough to do so myself, but I can imagine that it is an absolutely incredible sight to behold. As for returning to the main path, you have two options. Either retracing your steps back through the shrubland, or clambering up the rocks to the top of the waterfall and back to the boardwalks. Someone has attached a rope to the rocks to enable the climb, yet it is still only advised for those who are sure on their feet and able to pull their own body weight up the rock face. This isn’t a very well-documented place and I am very grateful to the person that informed me about it, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone that passes through here with their own transport.

Milford Sound

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So, after a few more kilometres through the valley, this brings you to the end of the Milford Road and your journey, as you arrive at Milford Sound. The Sound is actually a fiord which was carved out by a glacier as it passed through. This created a deep basin with almost vertical sides which over time has filled with water. The result is this stunning landscape of a vast sea inlet surrounded by tall mountains and waterfalls, all almost completely covered in lush, green vegetation. It is said that the landscape changes dramatically depending on the weather at the time of visit or just before, as the number of waterfalls goes from a dozen or so to hundreds after significant rainfall. The only way to really see the fiord is to go on one of the many boat cruises that leave the jetty throughout the day. I have been on three cruises with three different operators, and I can honestly say that there isn’t much difference between them. They usually last for about 90 minutes and they all follow the same route, taking you right through the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea before heading back to port. Along the way you will see evidence of the glacial erosion that formed the fiord, as well as the chance to get up very close and personal to some of the permanent waterfalls (bring a waterproof jacket!). The views are simply stunning and my words could never do them justice, it is a wonderful, tranquil, and immensely beautiful environment. It is also an environment rich in wildlife, and you are likely to see a variety of marine creatures on your cruise. Seals are very common here, and there is one rock in particular that they seem to enjoy lazing about on. Unfortunately there was only a few there when I took Ms Lust, usually there are a good number of them fighting for their own sunbathing spot. Fiordland crested penguins are also residents here, although a lot harder to find, and you may be as lucky as we were to see bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside your boat.

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After, or before, your cruise, there are some short walks in the area that are worth doing. The pier close to the jetty is a good spot for some photos of Mitre Peak and start of the fiord, while the lookout that can be reached via a path behind the cafe is another beautiful vantage point from which to enjoy the scenery. If you came with your own transport, there is a walk that starts behind the main car park which takes you around the shore to enjoy some less crowded views. This is definitely worth taking 30 minutes or so to do, and, if you are staying overnight, this is the perfect spot from which to enjoy the sunset. Although you are facing in completely the wrong direction to see the sun setting, the changing colours of the sky create a wonderful backdrop for the prominent Mitre Peak. If you do stay overnight, and I would highly recommend it as it is the only way to see the sunset here and it permits a more relaxed journey, then you will have to stay at the Milford Sound Lodge, the only accommodation in the area. The lodge caters for all tastes and budgets, and the restaurant on site is very good.

So that about sums up my experiences in this fantastic corner of the world, and I hope it has been inspiring. From here, there is nowhere else to go other than to retrace your steps back along the Milford Road to Te Anau, stopping at any places you may have missed on the way there. Then, it’s time to start planning the next visit, as this place will keep you coming back for more and more. I certainly don’t think I could ever get tired of it!

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

WPC – Bridge

Dear readers,

It’s time once again for the weekly photo challenge, and this week’s topic is ‘Bridge‘. Having just come back from our trip to the Isle of Skye for Ms Lust’s birthday (which you can read all about here), it seemed too much of a coincidence not to include a photo of one of the many beautiful old bridges that are to be found on the island.

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However, it’s unlikely that anyone will be going to Skye just to see the bridges, as the landscapes themselves are the main draw and the bridges simply add to the aesthetics. 

That’s not quite the case for my next subject, which is also my favourite bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge may not be the main attraction in Sydney Harbour, as it is next to the famous Sydney Opera House, but it certainly was for me. 

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This is the first photo (of many!) that I ever took of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, after having walked through the city in order to see the Sydney Opera House. I hadn’t even given the bridge a moment’s thought, but as soon as I saw it dominating the views of the harbour I was instantly awestruck. Ever since then, this has become my favourite place in Sydney and I always try to visit no matter how short my stay in Australia is. 

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This photo was taken during Vivid Sydney, a light festival which sees many of the city’s famous sites being lit up at night. At this time of the year, the bridge really does live in the shadow of the opera house, which is lit up with colourful artwork projected onto the famous sails. However, the bridge does get a light show of its own and it is still a part of the festivities. The bridge’s time to shine comes at New Year’s Eve when it becomes the showpiece of Sydney’s New Year’s firework display, and then it really does get a light show to be jealous of!

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I couldn’t find any good quality photos of the bridge during the firework display, so I chose this one of the last sunset of 2012 forming a beautiful backdrop for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I never get tired of this wonderful view, and I can’t wait for our next visit to Australian shores and to this fantastic piece of engineering.

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

***

Dear travellers,

As a translator, the concept of the bridge is something important. For those of you who don’t know, the etymology of the word “translation” is the latin for “bearing across”, and a bridge is the perfect image of what a translation does, because it bears the meaning of a text from one language to the other. It is not surprising then that, when I needed to clear my thoughts while living in London, I would go walking from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge and just make sense of things, or at least try to.

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Tower Bridge is impressive both from a distance and from up close. If you are lucky enough to be walking on it when a tall boat is passing, you can see it opening in front of your eyes. You can also visit it and walk through the history of its construction. I enjoyed the visit a lot and I even managed to look like I am not regretting standing on the glass floor on top of the road!

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In our post about Rome, you may have noticed not only my love for the city, but also how strongly I feel the internal contrasts of this capital. There could be many examples of this, but just think of how the metropolis, capital of the Italian State, contains in itself another capital city, actually a city-state, the Vatican City. Many bridges are famous and impressive in the Eternal City, but the sunset starting to paint Saint Peter in pink behind Ponte Sisto makes this spot and this bridge one of my favourite sights of our trip.

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Thank you for travelling with us, see you soon!

Ms Lust

 

 

Scottish fairies, Islands, and Highlands

Dear readers,

If you have read the post about our trip to Rome, you’ll know that we like to buy holidays for each other rather than presents for our birthdays. So in June, I have the pleasure of planning and taking Ms Lust on holiday for her birthday. As I did in January, Ms Lust had given me a shortlist of three destinations, and it was then left to me to choose which of these we would go to. Although they had been given in no particular order, it was clear that Ms Lust’s top choice was to go to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This was more due to a particular place on Skye rather than the island itself, but we’ll come back to that later. I’d wanted to visit here myself for a long time too, so it was an easy decision to make in the end and I was soon looking into our options for visiting the Isle of Skye.

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As it would just be me driving, I had decided to book a flight to Glasgow and then hire a car to drive the rest of the way. It didn’t really make it any quicker or cheaper, but I didn’t fancy 10 or 11 hours of driving each way, especially with only a few days to make the most of or in which to recover. So we arrived in Glasgow after our morning flight from Stansted, and went to pick up the hire car. I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to wait too long, but my delight soon faded. Why is hiring a car in the UK such an arduous and complex process? I don’t want to start moaning already though, we had a fantastic time and I’d rather be talking about that!

With the hire car sorted, we set off on our way to Skye. We still had approximately five hours of driving before we would get there, but we also had plenty of time to stop and go exploring along the way. I’d planned a rough route to take, not the most direct in order to take in as many sights as we could. After leaving Glasgow, we first made our way through Loch Lomond National Park. I had visited here before on holiday many years ago as a child, and was curious to see how much I would remember. We found a place where we could park and eat lunch, and we were able to walk down to the loch from here.  In all honesty it reminded me of standing by the lake in Queenstown more than anything else, the landscapes are so similar although I have to say that Loch Lomond is a lot more peaceful!

As we drove further through the national park, we then found an unexpected treasure, the Falls of Falloch. Located on a river that feeds into Loch Lomond, a short walk from the car park past some smaller falls led us to this amazing place. I always prefer places which require a little bit of effort to reach, rather than simply parking the car, stepping out to take a few photos, and then getting straight back on the road again. I feel that it makes you appreciate it more and that the destination is somehow improved by the journey to get there. Definitely worth the walk, the falls erupt from the surrounding woodland and provide some stunning views. A viewpoint has been constructed at the end of the track, but there are plenty of other spots which give spectacular views of their own.

Back on the road and continuing our journey north, there were so many places that we wanted to stop at but it simply would not have been possible to stop everywhere. The weather was also beginning to turn on us, with the frequent showers becoming heavier and heavier, and we didn’t want to risk getting caught in a downpour so early in the holiday! We did manage to fit in a few quick photo stops before reaching Glencoe however, where we would also stop to see the famous Three Sisters.

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At this point I realised that we would be unable to complete part of my planned route, which created more decisions to make. Although we weren’t going to be staying on the Isle of Skye itself, I had wanted to take a ferry from Mallaig to the island and to drive through the Sleat peninsula on our way. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and strong winds had meant that the ferry had been cancelled. As for our route, this now meant that we would have to stay on the mainland and leave Skye until the following day. However this meant we would not now be going past a couple of places that I had wanted to visit, and we had to decide whether to take a detour to still be able to visit them or not. In the end we compromised to make sure we wouldn’t be arriving too late at our accommodation, and we would drive out to Glenfinnan and back but the coral beach at Morar would have to wait until our next trip to this area.

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Glenfinnan is originally famous for being the site where the Jacobite uprising began, when Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard here in 1745. The Glenfinnan Monument was built in 1815 to memorialise those that lost their lives in the battles that ensued, and it is still standing today by the banks of Loch Shiel. Today however, it seems it is more famous for its viaduct, used as a filming location for the Harry Potter films. Fortunately the two sites are a stone’s throw from each other, and we were able to see both in between the increasingly frequent rain showers.  Now time was starting to run out and we set off for the last leg of the day’s journey to our accommodation in Craig, near Plockton and a 10 minute drive from the Skye Bridge onto the island.

Another one of my AirBnB finds (click here for a signing up discount), we were staying in a lodge on a farm that seemed to be used more for tourism purposes rather than agriculture. We didn’t have much time to see the animals, but the setting was incredible and made for some fantastic views as we were leaving and returning each day. We arrived with time to spare and took the opportunity to freshen up before heading out again to find somewhere for dinner. As I mentioned before, Plockon was the nearest town and we had been told that it has a good reputation for food. This was to become our destination for dinner a couple of times, and we were never disappointed. Most of the restaurants in this area take advantage of the local produce available, especially seafood, and we were able to try some wonderful Scottish dishes during our stay (including the odd haggis here and there!).

The next day would be the start of our explorations of the Isle of Skye, and also the first of two days that I had planned more thoroughly. For this day, we would be travelling around the most northern peninsula of Skye, the Trotternish peninsula. A huge, 30 km long landslip here has created some of Skye’s most famous and dramatic landscapes, and it was our intention to try and see as many as we could. Our first stop was the Fairy Glen near Uig, probably the least well-known of the day’s excursions and therefore the least crowded. Located a few kilometres down a single-track road unsuitable for tour buses (hence why it was so quiet!), I was glad I had looked up directions before leaving as there were no signs for this attraction until we actually arrived and I would never have found it otherwise. Fairies feature heavily in Skye’s folklore, and there are many sites on the island that are attributed to these magical creatures. The Fairy Glen doesn’t really have its own story, it is simply named due to the landscape found there looking like something straight out of a fairy tale. Everything in Skye, and the Scottish Highlands as well, is incredibly green. The mountains, lochs, and waterfalls make the scenery so beautiful anyway, but I guess living in New Zealand had made me a little less awestruck by this than I otherwise would have been. What is different to New Zealand is the greenness that covers absolutely everything. It may have been because we visited at the start of summer, but it really does make every landscape look magical. And with the unique shape of the land at the Fairy Glen, it really is easy to see how it got its name.

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This was our only stop on the west side of the peninsula, so we made our way eastwards to our next destination, the Quiraing (I have yet to find out how this is pronounced, any help is greatly appreciated!). This is the first of the landscapes created by the famous landslip, which has exposed some wonderful geological features. When seeing the sign directing us over ten miles down a single-track road to such a well-known tourist spot, I had horrifying images of having to stop every two seconds to let the constant convoy of hire cars and tour buses past. Luckily I was worrying for nothing, and the road was reasonably quiet. I had been tempted to continue on the main road around the top of the peninsula, in retrospect I am glad that we didn’t as I would probably have missed the Quiraing altogether! There is a car park just on the side of the road, with a walking track starting on the opposite side. How far you go and how long you stay here is entirely up to you. The main features of the Quiraing are actually visible from the car park, and after walking approximately 200 metres down the track the landscape really opens up into some stunning views. For the more adventurous the track continues, and there are walks of various lengths and difficulties that can be completed from this starting point. For us, our itinerary was too busy to stay for too long, and we were content with just completing the first section of the walk before heading back and continuing down the east coast.

Our next stop was our first real experience of how busy Skye can get, and the car park at the Kilt Rock viewing area was jam-packed when we arrived. Kilt Rock is a cliff where the unique geology has created a sheer face that resembles a kilt. Also just in front of the cliff is a small waterfall called Mealt Falls. There isn’t much here to keep you too long, just a couple of viewpoints which are only about 20 metres from the car park. So after taking a few photos from each, we were soon back on the road and feeling like it was time for something to eat. My biggest piece of advice for anyone travelling to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is this: plan everything as well as you can. Unfortunately in terms of when and where we would eat, I hadn’t done so and left us with very few options. Skye is a very rural area and although it has become a busy tourist destination, some things still operate at their own pace. As such, not realising that everything would be shut on Sundays, we were left with nowhere to have lunch until finishing our trip around the peninsula and returning to Portree.

So we carried on and proceeded to our next stop, Rubha nam Brathairean or Brothers Point, another often overlooked beauty spot. Again this is probably due to the lack of signs, we also only found it due to my earlier research. Basically just a layby on the side of the road with a footpath on the other side, it would be easily missed. I even missed it on the first pass, noticing the footpath sign just as it was too late to stop and we had to turn around to go back. We were very glad that we did go back, as after a walk along the footpath we were rewarded with some great views of the Skye coastline. It would have been easy to have spent a few hours here exploring, but our stomachs were becoming angry and encouraged us to head back.

The last stop on our itinerary was possibly the most disappointing, the Old Man of Storr. Similar to the Quiraing, this is a landscape formed by the landslip. The Old Man of Storr itself is a natural obelisk that was left protruding from the landscape. This is another of the main tourist spots in this area, and even when we arrived late in the afternoon it was still very busy. The footpath up to the Old Man of Storr is a long, steep slog which we were told would take two hours to reach the top and back. With no time nor inclination for a walk of that length, we decided to start and see how far we would get or if we would find a good viewpoint on the way. The truth is, the view from the footpath is particularly disappointing. The whole way up you are directly in front of the ridge and the Old Man of Storr, which makes it very hard to identify where it actually is. To be completely honest, the views from the road both before and after the car park were much better, thanks to being able to view the landscape from a different angle. It may be that it is truly wonderful once you reach the top, but we weren’t prepared to spend so much time and effort to find out and after about fifteen minutes of climbing we decided to head back down.

After this we really did need to find somewhere to eat and we parked up in Portree, unfortunately it seemed that everyone else had had the same idea. Every restaurant we tried was full, with waiting times all being about an hour, so in the end we gave up and drove on to the next town, Sligachan.  Here we were more fortunate, and we found somewhere to satisfy our haggis cravings on only our second attempt. It had been another very long day, but we had seen some fantastic landscapes and we were ready for more!

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The next day was Ms Lust’s birthday, so she was in charge of what we would do. I had made some suggestions but there was one place that was absolutely non-negotiable. The place that Ms Lust had wanted to visit, and basically the whole reason we were visiting Skye, was the Fairy Pools. Another of Skye’s enchanted areas, this is a cascade of waterfalls on a stream of incredibly clear water that has run down from the mountains. Again this isn’t very well signposted from the main road (I think the locals are trying to keep some of these spots to themselves!), it really is worth doing your homework beforehand to be able to find these places. The Fairy Pools really are spectacular, and one pool is particularly beautiful. Two pools, one with a waterfall dropping into it, connected by an underwater arch, provide reason enough for the name. These were the pools we had also earmarked for a swim, which we had brought wetsuits along for. The climb down to the pools is fairly dangerous, especially once the rocks have become wet and slippery, but the advantage of this is that you get the pool more or less to yourself if you are willing to make the descent. We did, and instantly were thankful that we had. It is such a beautiful place and, despite the water being so cold, swimming here is something I will remember forever.

After our swim, we dried off and continued a little further up the path. It is possible to walk all the way back to Sligachan, marked as a 4.6 kilometre walk. We didn’t go that far, even just a few hundred metres further gave us the chance to see so many other pools that were equally as beautiful. Plus we hadn’t started the day as early as planned so we now needed to get back on the road. Our next stop was to be Dunvegan Castle, after Ms Lust had decided she would prefer a cultural stop to break up all of nature and landscape stops we had been making.

Dunvegan Castle was originally a medieval castle built in the fourteenth century, and the ancestral home of the MacLeod clan. Since then, various clan chiefs have made their own additions and, although they have been made in the same style as the castle, it now seems more like a stately home. The castle sits on the shores of a loch and offers great views of the loch and the surrounding countryside. Inside there wasn’t too much to see, the main draw is the infamous Fairy Flag which is said to bring good luck. An heirloom of the MacLeod clan, it is said to have been raised in battle at times when defeat seemed inevitable, and every time the clan have gone on to be victorious.

Included with the ticket is access to the castle gardens, which we had a short walk around. With neither of us being particularly interested in horticulture, we were there mainly for the views it offered of the castle. As a result, the price of the ticket seemed a little expensive as we were only there for about an hour, but it was an interesting visit nonetheless. Once we had finished at the castle, we only really had time to head back to our accommodation to prepare for dinner. Naturally we made a couple of quick stops along the way, one of which was to finally take a photo of this bridge that we had passed so many times already! As we made our way back, we said our goodbyes to the Isle of Skye as the next day we would be heading back south.

After going for breakfast at our new favourite cafe in Kyle of Lochalsh, we set off on the road back towards the lowlands of Scotland. We hadn’t gone too far however before it was time for our first stop of the day, at Eilean Donan Castle. I had found out about this castle while researching the holiday, and as soon as I saw it I decided we had to go. I instantly recognised it as the castle from The World Is Not Enough, and later found out it had been used in the filming of Highlander as well. A truly iconic, typically Scottish castle, it just had to be worth a visit. And it really was, a lot more of the castle is open to the public than at Dunvegan Castle, and it is wonderful to be able to explore both the inside of the castle and the ramparts. I guess the fact that it costs only just over half as much to get in as well is what makes the ticket for Dunvegan Castle seem a lot.

The location of Eilean Donan Castle is just perfect, protruding into the water at the meeting point of three lochs. The piper playing by the shore to greet visitors finishes off this perfect setting, it felt like a true Scottish experience. We spent a lot longer here, but we had to be wary of time to make where we would have enough spare for some stops on our way to Stirling. So after exploring the castle to its extent, it was time to continue heading south.

I had made a slight detour in order to be able to see Loch Ness, which didn’t really live up to my expectations. I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but it really is just like all the other lochs we had seen on the trip. I guess I was always going to be disappointed unless I had actually seen Nessie’s head poking out of the water! With my curiosity satisfied, our next port of call was one we had been putting off since the first day on Skye. We had decided we should visit a whisky distillery while in Scotland, and our first choice had been to visit the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. With all the other visits we wanted to make here we simply hadn’t had the time, so out next choice was to stop at the Edradour distillery near Pitlochry on our way to Stirling (I came here with my parents and it has been my father’s favourite whisky ever since, so felt I needed to get it for myself!). Unfortunately we weren’t going to make it here before closing so we had to find another option, which turned out to be the Dalwhinnie distillery. I had never heard of this whisky before, but I’m certainly glad we stopped here. After a tour around the distillery and the storage sheds it was time for the important part, the tasting session. I personally prefer the pasty taste of west coast whiskies, and after smelling the malts of both Dalwhinnie and a west coast whisky I wasn’t expecting too much. I was pleasantly surprised and have certainly found another whisky to add to my drinking list, it is very smooth and flavoursome, give it a try!

After a brief stop in Perth for dinner at a great restaurant, we finally arrived in Stirling and found where we were staying. I had some reservations about the place I had booked, as I knew it was part of the university’s halls of residence, but it really was a great place to stay for the night. Considering it was also basically free as a package with our flights to Glasgow, I can’t praise it enough!

So our final day in Scotland was to be spent in Stirling, and I have to admit I hadn’t planned too much. Apart from the National Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle, I didn’t really know what else there was to see here. So we began the day at the National Wallace Monument, a huge tower that was built in 1815 in memory of the great William Wallace. It sits on top of a hill overlooking Stirling Bridge, the site of Wallace’s famous battle with the English, and there are fantastic views to be had of Stirling and the surroundings after climbing the 246 steps to the top of the monument. We were also lucky to have gone on a day when they have presentations to explain more about William Wallace and how he came to be the symbol of freedom in Scotland. Another very interesting visit, I really thought I would only be taking memories of fantastic landscapes away from this trip, however I learnt a lot about Scottish history and whisky as well!

After getting a bit lost waking back down through the woods from the monument, we had to decide where to go next. Stirling Castle seemed a bit expensive, and warranted more time to visit than the couple of hours we had left before having to head back to Glasgow for our flight home. So we ended up exploring the old part of Stirling city, and discovered some more interesting places to visit. Unfortunately the Old Jail was closed, but we had a look inside the Church of the Holy Rude which is the only church in Britain to have held a coronation other than Westminster Abbey. We also walked up to the castle for a walk around the grounds, and then by this point it was time to be grab some lunch and head to Glasgow.

So after battling our way through Glasgow’s rush hour traffic to reach the airport, it was time to say goodbye to Scotland for now. We have seen so many amazing places while we were there, and also so many more that we need to come back for. But by this point we really were weary travellers, trying to fit so much in to only a few days had left us very tired and, although we had had a fantastic time, the call of home was becoming very strong!

Happy travels,

Mr Wander

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Dear readers,

Or should I say travellers? I guess I should, I take you on a new trip with me, so… dear travellers, today I want to tell you about our most recent trip, so I want to apologise for overwhelming you with details, but everything is incredibly fresh in my mind. Two years ago, in July, I read one of those articles about holiday destinations, you know, one of those “10 holiday destinations out of a fairy tale” or similar. There I saw the Fairy Pools and I started dreaming of visiting them. As they are in the Isle of Skye and not too easy to access, I postponed the visit until now. I know, there are tours available, but I honestly could not find the information about them. I actually emailed some of the touristic websites and was basically discouraged about doing it without a car. The situation might have changed in the last two years, but now there were groups exploring Skye, so I cannot understand why this lack of information.

Anyhow, when I said that to Mr Wander, he started looking up our options and planning everything. Living in Cambridgeshire, driving up to Skye would have taken about ten hours, so we decided to fly to Glasgow and then rent a car there. The time was about the same, but a lot more relaxing. Also, with all our love for our Delilah, a brand new car, even of the same size, was a much better experience for a trip like ours and all the hours of driving involved. Not to mention that I have no idea how much we would have spent in souvenirs and memorabilia if we had not had the limit of a hand luggage allowance to keep us at bay!

So, landed in Glasgow and collected our car, we immediately headed towards the Islands. The weather was not great but it was so quintessentially Scottish that we cannot complain. Actually, it rained a lot while we were driving, which made it perfect for exploring during moments of rest. Monday, the day we had planned for the Fairy Pools, was dry and nice, and our experience was perfect, but I will go back to that soon. On Saturday we drove from Glasgow to our accommodation in Craig with a few random stops on the way, first of all in Loch Lomond for a quick bite, we got our lunch at the airport but we were anxious for being in the road so we hadn’t eaten yet. It was only about 11 a.m., but we were up since 4 a.m., so it was more than fine to have lunch then, and that spot was a perfect excuse for a stop.

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Soon after that, another unplanned stop came up when we saw the sign for the Falls of Falloch. We had no idea what was there (well, falls, of course, but what to expect) but we had a nice surprise, as you can appreciate from our shots. As this was at the beginning, just after a bit of rain, the paths were a bit muddy and required a bit of care sometimes, but some people were there with simple trainers, so our beloved trekking shoes that accompany us since Australia were not afraid of sinking in there. Something we realised there was that the water in Scotland has a distinctive yellow-reddish colour, not just there but in the other waterfalls and rivers we saw during our five days there.

Something we wanted to do on our way to our accommodation was to see the steam train going over the Glenfinnan viaduct as this is the one that was used for Harry Potter’s Hogwart Express, but we were a bit late. We still managed to take a shot of the viaduct from the National Trust parking as then is when it started raining heavily and we decided to give the walk a miss.

We arrived fairly early in Craig and we had a bit of time to settle in before going for dinner. We were staying in a farm that has a few cabins rented through AirBnb. The place was overlooking the sea and it was beautiful to look out of our terrace every day. They had plenty of animals that we could feed. I don’t find this activity so incredible because of my origins, so we gave it a miss as well. Coming from a small town in Sardinia, it is nothing special for me, as we always had farm animals at home. Hens and rabbits were always there, and we often had geese and turkeys; we even had a baby goat and a lamb for a few months.

For dinner, we went to Plockton, one of the bigger towns near us, and we had some haggis and fish at the Plockton Hotel. I was not too keen on haggis, but as a starter, and accompanied by whisky, I decided to give it a try, and I was not disappointed. The fish was obviously good, as there is always fresh supply around there. As a matter of principle, I don’t really trust a British pub that doesn’t include sticky toffee pudding in its menu, and  I was happy to see that all the places we chose for our dinners had it at the top of their list. Of course, as a result, we had had it every night apart from Sunday. I am sometimes disappointed when they warm it up too much and the sponge becomes a bit bitter because it is slightly burned, but I have to say they were all quite good there. If I had to choose, I would probably say that I preferred the first one, because the sponge was quite soft and not dry at all and there was so much caramel sauce. Here is a collage of the three, sorry for the bad quality of some pictures, when tasty food is involved I can’t focus (pun intended!).

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Sunday was all dedicated to exploring the natural beauties of the Isle of Skye and we were lucky enough to arrive at the different locations in between rain showers, although it was quite windy the whole day. Our first stop was in Kyle of Lochalsh for breakfast at Hector’s Bothy, a place so nice and with such a good quality of food that we repeated on Tuesday as well, while we got take away cakes on Monday. We then headed to Fairy Glen, where there actually was a girl dressed like a fairy posing for a photoshoot, or something like that. All we know is that it took her and the photographer half an hour to choose the spot and then they were gone immediately, I didn’t even see her without a coat, but maybe they only needed one shot and I missed that exact moment. We went hiking a few hills and I started climbing this rock that from a certain perspective, looks like Harry Potter’s sorting hat. Of course, when I arrived to the top I realised that the path was very narrow and I had to look down to climb down and I regretted my choice. When I pointed out to Mr Wander that I am an idiot and he shouldn’t follow an idiot, he wisely said that at least he is not afraid of heights. Taking in all the wisdom of that reply and realising that I am actually a bigger idiot than I thought, I started climbing down pretending I was fine.

Our second stop was the Quiraing, a mix between the Monument Valley (from what I can see from pictures) and the Sella del Diavolo in Cagliari. Then it was really windy but we fortunately only had planned a short walk to see it from the distance and we were not planning on going through it and doing the whole walk. All along the way there are several scenic spots that were on our list, so we stopped at Kilt Rock (you can easily guess the reason behind the name just by seeing the photo with the layers of rocks and sediments), Brother’s Point (Or Brothers’ Point, can’t find a definitive spelling), where we went on a short hike down to the rocky beach surrounded by sheep eating grass and seaweed, and the Old Man of Storr. Here is where I gave up, the walk is too long, I am not fit at all for walking up a mountain, and all we could see from there was a rock blending with the rocky slope behind it and disappearing to our eyes. It was actually a lot more impressing from the side of the road where it was distinctly visible.

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Dinner time saw us in Portree, where the restaurants were all booked and the waiting time for a table was one hour. When at the last place we were told that we could sit at the bar and grab a table when someone got up, I had two seconds to imagine myself fighting with people to sit down first as in musical chairs and I just walked out with a frowned face and a scorned “No, thank you!”.

Monday was the day we had planned for the main thing of our trip: Swimming with the fairies! We had a quick breakfast at home and we headed towards the Isle of Skye once again. The walk to the Fairy Pools is short, but then we had to climb down a little cliff to reach the famous location. I was not pleased with that, but there are worst things done for a lesser reward, so there I went, screaming while sort of jumping down, but immediately happy when down. As always when I see water, I have to rush, so I put on my wetsuit as fast as I could, I tried to rush Mr Wander to stop taking pictures and to come, and I went in. The water was freezing, so much so that I had to go in twice and go back out before actually finding the strength to go to the end. As I explained in an earlier post, I don’t know why my body floats so much, but between that and the freezing water, I didn’t feel too comfortable going under the arch, so I decided to climb on top of it, and there I was, swimming with fairies under the waterfall. The legend says that, as I am clumsy and I had a mouthful of water while swimming, I am now slowly becoming a fairy as well, or so I like to tell myself.

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Call it hypothermia or nice weather, getting dressed again and walking back to the car was not half as hard as I expected it to be. I forgot to mention that, on our way to the pools Mr Wander managed to take his longed for picture of a Highland coo in all its beauty and fluffiness, see his profile here for it. After the pools, we headed to Dunvegan Castle, a building that is a mix of an actual castle and a stately home. As it is still inhabited by the owner, just a small part of it is open for visits. It is very nice, with some interesting pieces of furniture and the fairy flag. This is a piece of silk that, according to the legend (not one I just made up, a real legend, forgive the oxymoron), was used by the fairies to cradle the baby of the chief of Clan MacLeod when the nanny left him in the room to go partying. The gardens are also very nice with different styles in different parts of it, but I have to admit that half hour is more than enough for the visit, which makes the price of £13 a bit too much for a ticket.

Back home, after a quick shower, we headed to Plockton again for a delicious dinner with langoustines, seabass, and salmon cakes… and sticky toffee pudding, of course! Only bad side was that we thought we had to wait half hour for our table and we got a beer for the wait but our table was available in five minutes and we had to stick to our beer instead of wine to accompany our seafood.

Tuesday we left our accommodation and we headed to the Highlands as we were going to spend our last night in Scotland in Stirling. On our way, we stopped in Eilean Donan Castle, the castle that featured in Highlander and 007 – The World is not enough. Totally in love with Queen and Sean Connery, you can imagine how happy it made me to be able to visit this place. As in Dunvegan Castle, photography is not allowed inside, but there are plenty of beautiful spots outside for great shots, and the visit is absolutely worth the price. You can hear about the reconstruction, as the castle was in ruins until the beginning of the XX century, and of the history of the MacRae, the owners of the castle, and their allied. Outside, you can see Lea MacLeod playing the bagpipe and it is wonderful with the castle as a background.

Driving to Stirling, we quickly stopped in Loch Ness for a few shots, and then we tried to arrive on time for a whisky tour at Dalwhinnie Distillery. As it closes at 5:15 p.m., the last tour starts at 16:30 and we were spot on. I have recently discovered whisky as a nice drink, because I finally tasted some good ones. As any other alcoholic drink, when we are young, we start with the cheap, commercial stuff and we decide we dislike it a lot. It happens with beer, initially too bitter for young taste buds, especially when confronted with common lager (that was my experience). I had a similar experience with wine, hating red wine for a long time, until I realised that it is not just about pairing it with food, which is extremely important, but also about finding the ones you like. In my case, it is mainly Cab-Sauv. With whisky it is the same, Jack Daniel’s is cool, and it was the one the guys I liked in school liked, but it is nothing special if not mixed with something else. I know, JD is whiskey, but that makes little difference, both words were used in the beginning and then whisky settled in the UK while whiskey is the one used in the US and Ireland. Anyway, in this visit I found out something else: Mr Wander and I totally disagree on whiskies, as he likes the more peaty ones (the one from the West Coast, we learnt at Dalwhinnie), while I like the smoother ones, like Dalwhinnie itself for example, but we both enjoy the visit greatly and we loved the tasting with chocolate truffles. We learnt the dos and don’ts when drinking whisky and we also got our tasting glass as a souvenir, so we happily headed to dinner.

We stopped in Perth in a fancy restaurant called The Bothy in which we were not ashamed at all of walking in with our hiking shoes and our gym bags. The service was a bit slow, but the food was of incredible quality, so we had more haggis with neeps and tatties, some meat, and our beloved dessert, of course. Dinner was quite relaxed and gave us time to plan a bit what to do the next day in Stirling before heading to the airport. Our accommodation was a room in the halls of residence of Stirling University, a compact, brand new room that was perfect for the night.

Wednesday morning we had a filling breakfast at Café 33 before going exploring. check this place out if you are around, it is small but the food is delicious and the staff very friendly, like everyone else we encountered in these days in Scotland. The walls are covered with motivational and funny messages that are for sale and it feels kind of crammed, but the place was not too busy. After breakfast we went to the National Wallace Monument, where we learnt more about the Battle of Stirling Bridge and William Wallace. If you watched Braveheart, you must know what I am talking about. Every 45 minutes on specific days, you have an actor in costume telling you the history of the battle and then you can climb up the monument. There, confronted with one of my not so natural enemies, a spiral staircase, I climbed up all the levels up to the crown to enjoy the view of the actual battle grounds. There are four levels in total, with history boards, memorabilia, and activities for kids (and us). To reach the monument we took the complimentary bus shuttle, but we walked down through the parks before doing some final shopping.

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As it was still a bit early, we headed to the city centre and we visited a few more spots, the Holy Rude Church, where you can find an interesting panel about King James’s Bible, Mar’s Wark, a building in ruins in front of the cemetery, and Stirling Castle. As we didn’t have time to visit this one, we just enjoyed a quick walk around the entrance and one of the guards shouting: “GET OFF THE WALL, SIR!” to someone that we couldn’t identify.

Our time was over, not just the parking ticket, but in general, and it was time to go back to the airport and fly back home. I have to admit that this trip was a wonderful treat and that Mr Wander spoiled me more than he usually does, so I will always treasure these memories, but the celebrations were not over, as my self-present was a ticket for Shakespeare’s Comedy of errors in the forest on Thursday, so the holidays may have ended on Wednesday night, but partying was still on the rest of the week!

Thanks for travelling with us, see you in two weeks,

Ms Lust