Flashback Friday #37

A flashback from 2014 to a country I adore. Not sure when or even if I will ever make it back there again. The thoughts of that long flight fill me with dread every year I age. But it is a country full of wonderful sights and nature and perfect for a road trip or two.


Journey to the red centre

It was August 2003. We were in what felt like the middle of nowhere in the thriving, spirited outback centre of Alice Springs.

Some of you may know Alice from the 1950 novel by Nevil Shute or the subsequent film ‘A Town Like Alice’. We were there to set off on an adventure into the deep centre – to the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park about 463 kms  direct by road from Alice in the Northern Territory of Australia.

It is one of those iconic places that you fear will not live up to the hype. That you will arrive and be disappointed. And it was a long drive to be disappointed at the end of it.

Setting out in our hired Toyota Land cruiser (a giant beast that was total overkill as there was only the two of us, but the smaller Rav4 was unavailable) we headed for our first stop in Kings Canyon.

Red-Centre-Way

Feeling adventurous I decided that we would travel west through the West MacDonnell Ranges to Glen Helen, along the Mereenie Loop Road which is unsealed most of the way but passes incredible places along the way like Standley Chasm, Palm Valley and the Glen Helen Outback resort (all of which we had explored during the two previous days.) Nowadays I believe you need to purchase a permit to travel along part of this route, but then it was not required. And it is now known as the Red Centre Way. You cannot travel on an unsealed road in Australia in an ordinary hire car so make sure if you want to follow this route that you book a 4WD.  All you have to deal with are pretty bad corrugations in places which take some adjustment in finding the optimum speed where you are not shaking the teeth out of your head, nor going so slow that you feel every bump! It is a lovely drive through some beautiful desert country, certainly more appealing than the much longer detour along the sealed highway.

If you don’t make any stops along the route the drive to the Kings Canyon resort is around 3 1/2 hours. There  you will find 300 metre sheer cliff faces and a palm-fringed swimming hole and you can take the Kings Canyon Rim Walk for breathtaking views over the red landscape. We stayed in a basic cabin and enjoyed a walk in the valley before heading to the restaurant for barbecued steaks and a live country music band who invited people to get up and dance.  Of course things will have changed since this trip and you can now have an ‘Under a Desert Moon Fine Dining Experience‘ which will more than likely set you back a whole lot more than what we paid for the entire trip!

sky

Leaving Kings Canyon the following day (though I would recommend spending two nights at the resort if you can as there is much to see) we continued south along the Luritja highway for 300km to Uluru which is a huge monolith created some 600 million years ago.  As we reached the Lasseter Highway we could see the third largest monolith in the distance – Mount Connor –  (located 100 kms east of Uluru) which never gets much of a mention, but is quite a sight, rising up in the middle of the desert. You can book a 4WD day trip from the Ayers Rock resort which includes dinner at the Curtin Springs Station’ homestead and provides you with a quintessential Aussie Outback experience.

crested pigeons

So on to the main event – Uluru. If I had thought that Mount Connor looked impressive I was totally astounded by this rock which is accepted as the largest Monolith in Australia and claims to be the largest monolith in the world. After dropping off bags in our accommodation in the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge, we set off for the base of the monolith to have a walk and then to get into position to see the sunset.

uluru

You don’t have to spend a fortune when visiting this part of the world (which is now rated to be the third most expensive resort to visit) as you can camp or stay in cabins and drive around yourself taking in the views and the park, and walk around the base (9 km) or in Kata-Tutja. Of course if you want 5* luxury spa hotels, flights over the rock, rides on camels or Harley Davidsons and dine outside under the stars with gourmet dining, then you can. But we didn’t.

uluru-2

The next day we got up early to watch the sun rise. The rock really does glow and there is something very magical about it. Its history, its significance in Aboriginal culture, its location, the peacefulness. Even with the crowds it still feels special. We carried on to the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) which are further on into the park and where there are two walks open to everyone: The Valley of the Winds, a 7 km beauty that makes a loop to two spectacular lookout points, takes about three hours and is easy-going. Do it in the early morning to avoid the crowds and the Walpa Gorge Walk, an easier 2.6 km stroll that takes in a nice representative of the native wildlife and plants of the park.

olgas

I can’t recall which trail we followed, but walking between the steep walls of red sandstone, listening to flocks of finches, looking at the wild flora, and above all, the feeling of space and no crowds of people, was my favourite part of the trip. Like Uluru, these rock formations are most spectacular at sunrise and sunset when the light seems to give them a magical red glow.

the-olgas

Returning to Alice along the Luritja Road we turned off onto Ernest Giles Road (unsealed for about 70 km) for a ride on a rich red and dusty road – take care though, as this is the one and only time that I literally took off! Driving too fast over a hidden dip, the land cruiser flew through the air before landing somewhat shakily on the other side, after that I took things a little more slowly.

red-road

A few kilometres before the road joins the Stuart Highway leading back to Alice we passed the Henbury Meteorite Conservation reserve where we stopped for a stretch of legs and a walk around this unusual site. Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve contains 12 craters which were formed when a meteor hit the earth’s surface 4,700 years ago. The Henbury Meteor, weighing several tonnes and accelerating to over 40,000 km per hour, disintegrated before impact and the fragments formed the craters.

meteorite

Uluru was even better than I had imagined, despite the amount of tourism (and I suspect it has increased over the past 10 years) and  unexpectedly the walk in Kata Tjuta and the drives on those mystical red dusty roads through the Outback were additional highlights for me.

Have you visited an iconic site? And if so did it live up to your expectations or were you left feeling a little bit cheated?


This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.

Flashback Friday #36

This post was written in 2013 after a lovely holiday in Norfolk. We did actually consider moving to Norfolk as we really enjoyed our time there, but soon realised that the part we loved the most (north coast) was prohibitively expensive. Hard to believe this was 8 years ago!


Just Back From… North Norfolk

We managed a little getaway break in the windmill at Cley-next-the-sea back in January just as the snow arrived across the country. Literally snowed in we could only venture a little way along the windswept, wild north coast so promised ourselves a return in less inclement weather. The upside was that the coast was practically deserted apart from a few hardy twitchers, and we saw lots of wild geese flying overhead in formation.

We returned for two weeks in mid-August, not the period I had visualised because I feared the north coast would be over-run with families during the school holidays, but life conspired against me to sort anything out in June. At least it would give us a fair impression of what life is like there in the hustle and bustle of the summer. With the temperature and humidity soaring, sun shining and the big, blue skies you associate with Norfolk it felt like the driest county in the UK, though rivals have sprung up to dispute this. Whatever, it was dry enough whilst we were there other than one day of persistently heavy showers.

Landscapes

What is so special about North Norfolk? Well it has to be the sheer openness of the countryside – the peace and solitude found away from the major arterial roads – where you can stop and observe cornfields and church towers poking up into the wide sky. The landscapes and the seascapes are calming and you feel as though you have space to breathe under that big Norfolk sky.

Driving along those narrow roads and single lanes is not for the faint-hearted though as some idiot usually in a huge 4WD is likely to come flying around a blind bend in the middle of the road and scowl at you as if you have no right to be there. Several times I was thankful that I had practically crawled around such a bend because at least one of us could hit the brakes and stop before a collision. My rather low-slung VW Jetta however, is not really built for the off-roading that she was forced to do on so many occasions and has returned slightly worse for wear.

History

From a historical viewpoint, North Norfolk has it in spades, from lovely old stone-built churches with square or round towers to ruinous abbeys and priories torn down by the infamous Henry VIII. Don’t just admire the churches from the roadside though, step inside and you will find surprising light and airy spaces, imposing windows, interesting fonts and carved Poppy Head pews.

I will write separate blogs on some of these places that we visited as they each deserve more space than I can give them here. Staying in the countryside only a few miles from the north coast meant that we passed through several small villages each time we went out. One of them, Walsingham, is an unusual village with a long history of pilgrimage, but Little and Great Walsingham together offer much more to explore from medieval hostelries, an original Georgian courtroom at the Shirehall and a prison – the Bridewell or House of Correction dating from the 16th century to the barns at Great Walsingham where you can visit the Barns Café famous for ‘pies, puds and tarts’ and have a light lunch or afternoon tea and browse amongst some lovely galleries. Walsingham is also the start of a Narrow Gauge Railway to Wells.

Grand Homes

There are many gorgeous stately homes in the area too, the most famous of all being Sandringham which is Queen Elizabeth’s country estate. We didn’t make it to Sandringham, but Holkham Hall has lovely park walks and deer, Fellbrigg Hall has a wonderful walled garden, Blickling estate also has lovely gardens and a very interesting interior and a little further south you can find Oxburgh Hall one of the few houses with a complete moat and again a very interesting interior. We actually stayed in a cottage in the grounds of another house with a moat, Hindringham Hall, which has to be in one of the quietest spots in the county and which was originally built with some of the stone from the destruction of nearby Binham Priory. (the links will take you to separate posts about each place)

The Coast

The north coast is what struck me the most about our visit in January. Of course then we had the advantage of seeing migrant birds over-wintering on the marshes, but naturally I was drawn back to it in the summer. The coastal path from Cley to Blakeney is a lovely stroll along the flood wall with views across the Blakeney Freshes. The footpath now runs alongside the new route of the River Glaven, which was moved inland in 2006 to prevent flooding. The areas that were fresh water marsh and the old footpath route are now exposed to saltwater and tides and are quickly turning into saltmarsh.

For several centuries, Blakeney was a busy commercial port exporting corn and wool and importing a variety of goods, including coal and timber. Today, the quay is mainly used for recreational activities, such as sailing, bird-watching and walking and youngsters sitting on the quay, quietly ‘crabbbing’.

To walk along the shingle spit to Blakeney Point where you can see grey seals you need to start from Cley Eye. This is a long and challenging walk along the shingle. Though if you time it right at low tide there is a chance of sand to make it easier. Allow around 5 hours for the return walk from the car-park. Norfolk may not have hills, but just try walking on shingle! The shingle ridge runs for 8 miles (13km) from Weybourne cliffs to the end of Blakeney Point. It’s constantly being reshaped by the sea, and is growing westwards and moving inland over time. Alternatively you can take a boat from Morston Quay out to the point to view the seals.

One nice thing about the Norfolk Coastal Path is that you can do it in stages as there is a regular Coasthopper bus which will take you back to your starting point. The downside is that these buses stop running early in the evening so don’t rely on it to take you to a coastal pub and back.

The best walk has to be from Holkham beach ‘where the sky meets the sea’ over the sand-dunes and along to Wells beach where the 122 colourful beach-huts snuggle beneath the tall pines and then walk back alongside the pine woodlands to the car-park on Lady Anne’s Drive. Warning though, it gets very busy at either end of this walk on a sunny day.

Another lovely walk is within Sheringham Park – head up to the Gazebo where you get a 360º view of the surrounding landscape, including the coast. There are 192 steps to reach that position though, so it can be a bit hard on the old knees.

The Broads

One further highlight was popping over to the Norfolk Broads which are on the east coast and quite some distance from where we were staying. However, we decided to continue over there after visiting Blickling Hall as it was quite an easy route into the north broads. We stopped for an early evening meal at the Fur and Feathers in Woodbastwick, adjacent to the Woodforde Brewery, where we enjoyed local fish and chips washed down with a half pint of Bure Gold, a classic aromatic golden ale with a citrusy flavour. Afterwards we parked outside the church at Ranworth and walked down the lane to the start of a boardwalk through tall reeds and marshland out to the private Ranworth Broads, where we sat after a minor shower, to watch great-crested grebes and Egyptian geese paddle and dive in front of us and terns and swifts fly overhead as the late evening sun slithered towards the horizon. It was sublime.

Lowlights have to include the sound pollution of the RAF / USAF jets screeching overhead during the daytime – but at least they have the decency to observe Monday – Friday hours. I also wish I’d known how impossible it would be to eat out at any of the coastal pubs. Even in the middle of the week all tables are firmly reserved. But the Farm Shops at Walsingham came to the rescue with superb cuts of steak, juicy burgers and home-made pies and tarts. In truth if it wasn’t for the fact that Walsingham is just a wee bit too pious for me, I’d happily live there (and I do have the name for it). Great fish and chips from the Riddle too.

Finally I have to confess that there is something about the architecture of North Norfolk, with its square towered churches, ruins, windmills, flint and brick walls, steep pitched roofs and Dutch gable ends that appeals to me. That and the space and the country lanes criss-crossing through endless fields of corn and wheat and the big blue sky


This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.

Flashback Friday #24

Just Back From… the Cotswolds was written in June 2013 after a lovely spring break to celebrate the OH’s birthday. Spring was a little late that year.


the old post officeWhen you think of the Cotswolds it is the warm honey-coloured limestone and cute thatched cottages inviting romance and tranquillity that spring to mind and where market towns (formerly centres of the wool trade) have wide squares and streets and are the centres of activity. Brooks and rivers bridged by tiny stone arches  meander through the hidden villages in the rolling hills and farmland where country pubs have flagstone floors, beamed ceilings and inglenook fireplaces with log fires.

You may also think about crowds of tourists and visitors up from London for the day, often on large touring coaches; ancient churches and manor houses; picture-book tea-rooms; expensive antique, retro and vintage shops. You’d be right about all of these things, but there is another side to the Cotswolds to be explored if you look.

The Cotswolds district is mainly in the counties of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire with parts of Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Somerset at the edge. It is an area filled with hundreds of small towns and villages that don’t appear on the calendars and book covers or hog the limelight, but are equally attractive. Discover them by driving along the plethora of narrow, winding roads which often provide the most amazing views over the Wolds and the valleys. There are public footpaths, national trails and bridleways galore. Find yourself in a charming and unspoilt village away from the main tourist spots and walk around listening to the birdsong and admiring the chocolate box cottages and striking parish church. In the late spring sunshine, with so many shades of green it is impossible to count, you may stumble across a woodland carpeted with bluebells.

adlestrop laneIn the north of the region take a romantic circular drive from Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold stopping at Broadway Tower and Country Park for a picnic with a view, Broadway village with its wide main street, Snowshill Manor with its collection by the eccentric Charles Paget Wade, Snowshill Lavender farm in the summer, and Hailes Cistercian Abbey ruins, a most peaceful spot on the Cotswolds Way. Continue through Guiting Power with the ‘Hollow Bottom Inn’ and the picturesque Lower Slaughter with the tiny River Eye running through it.

There are dozens of lovely homes and gardens for you to visit, some owned by the National Trust, others in private ownership. Some are large estates such as Sezincote or Hidcote and attract the coach parties, others are smaller and often quieter. All are worth a visit.

sezincote

The Cotswolds is a vast region and requires several days to explore it thoroughly. We only touched on a small part in four days; there is a lot more to discover.


This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.

Just Back From… Mid-Somerset

I have waited four years to write another ‘Just Back From’, it’s not only been the pandemic that has interfered with our lives over the last four years. My middle son has been seriously ill and hospitalised for months at a time (2017 and 2019) and then my mother-in-law needed extra support until her death in late 2018. Fortunately for us we live in a county that is visited by millions of other people each year so we are one of the lucky ones where every day can seem like a holiday.

Our first break away was looked forward to both with anticipation and some degree of trepidation. What was it going to be like ‘out there’ among people, going to restaurants, being in a town/city? We were suffering from social anxiety after over a year of keeping to ourselves.

Cathedral Green, Wells

This trip to Wells, the smallest city in England, was long overdue. I had wanted to go there last spring, but then the pandemic hit. We considered the autumn, but decided to wait. And we are glad that we did. Fully vaccinated and with a birthday to celebrate we chose the week before the half term in the hope that everywhere would be just that bit quieter and when restaurants could open for indoor service again.

Wells Market Square

It wasn’t the usual May weather: this year May has been very wet and cold, but it was hopeful for a warmer end to the week. Raincoats were duly packed, just in case, and the itinerary was left fluid. There were a few “must sees” – the main being Wells Cathedral – and Glastonbury.

A drive through the north Somerset landscape took us to Chew Valley Lake not far from Bristol airport where we had hoped to have a couple of walks and look for some interesting birdlife, but the walks were inaccessible due to repairs in the car park and the weather turned wet. We drove back via the famous Cheddar Gorge (the B3135) and the village of Cheddar, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, but decided against stopping. Climbing up to the top of the gorge is beyond us now and definitely not in the rain. Those who love exploring caves may like to stop at Wookey Hole, again, not for us, but we love the name!

Nunney Castle

On a drive to Frome we diverted to Nunney where there is a picturesque moated castle that dates from the 1370s. Its builder was Sir John de la Mare, a local knight who was beginning to enjoy royal favour.  It is situated in a very pretty little village with a lovely church and grounds.

Frome itself was a huge disappointment. We had considered whether we could move there given it is a market town, but it seems rather downtrodden and the dismal weather didn’t help. I was hoping for nice river walks, but we couldn’t find any.

We spent a day in Wells itself, walking the 20 minutes across fields from our B&B on the outskirts of the city to enjoy the Bishop’s Palace Gardens before going into the Cathedral. The moat around the gardens is impressive and we loved seeing a swan family complete with five cygnets.

No, not this swan, this is a sculpture

Rain arrived in the afternoon whilst photographing Vicar’s Close, so after a well needed coffee sitting in the gardens under an umbrella, we decided to give up and head off back to the B&B. Feet sore and legs tired. Walking all day is not what we usually do.

Vicars Close

We took the bus in on the Wednesday morning to visit the open-air market. Now that is well worth visiting. Lots of lovely stalls including a great fresh fishmonger. There are some great restaurants and cafes in Wells and lots of shops. The only downside was that the impressive iconic West Front of the cathedral, featuring 300 medieval carvings,  is covered in scaffolding!

Wells Cathedral West Front
Bishop’s Palace Gardens
Entrance to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens

Our day in Glastonbury turned out to be one of the best days of the week, bright and sunny and warm. Perhaps a tad too warm for climbing up the tor, but we gave it our best.

Market Cross, Glastonbury

It is a unique town “…in Glastonbury history, myth and legend combine in such a way that most visitors cannot fail to feel the “vibes” and powerful atmosphere of the town. For not only is Glastonbury the cradle of Christianity in England but is also reputed to be the burial place of King Arthur. where many of the shops are involved in the sale of mystical objects and artifacts. Glastonbury with its myths, legends and ley lines has become a centre for New Age culture and spiritual healing.” from (The History of Glastonbury)

Glastonbury shops

The abbey and the grounds are lovely and tranquil and we enjoyed wandering around for a couple of hours before driving closer to the tor and stopping to go into the Chalice Wells Gardens for an hour. More will be written about all the gardens on my flower blog in due course.

Glastonbury Abbey ruins
Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Chalice Wells Garden

Whilst in the region we also headed up to Lacock Abbey and Village up north in Wiltshire, near Chippenham.

Lacock Abbey Cloisters

The whole village is owned almost in its entirety by the National Trust and the unspoilt village has been used in many period dramas such as Cranford and Downton Abbey (and for those who care, apparently some of the Harry Potter films). The abbey located in the centre of the village was founded in the 13th century, but due to covid only a few rooms were open at the time. We had a very enjoyable walk around the Abbey grounds and the cloisters at the abbey and a brief look at the the Fox Talbot Museum, devoted to the pioneering work of William Henry Fox Talbot in the field of photography, before heading to the Red Lion for a leisurely lunch and then a wander around the village. However the charm of the buildings is spoiled by the number of cars parked in the village. It is a shame they don’t have a car park on the outskirts for the villagers and ban parking altogether.

Lacock Village

More gardens were visited at the end of the week in sunnier climes, this time heading south to East Lambrook Manor Gardens, the home of  plantswoman Margery Fish who famously said “When in doubt, plant a geranium.” And yes I came away with several. A 15 minute drive from there took us to Montecute House (NT) and coffee then we returned for lunch at the Rose and Crown in East Lambrook before finishing the day at Barrington Court (NT) another 15 minutes away down the road. All built out of the lovely local honey-coloured hamstone.

We had a good week away, despite unsettled weather and enjoyed driving through the Somerset countryside and lots of little villages due to some interesting routes provided by Florence (our SatNav). If you are big on shopping then the Clark’s Village (retail outlet) on the outskirts of Street / Glastonbury or Kilver Court in Shepton Mallet, with its designer shops may interest you. We visited Kilver Court, but only to go to the gardens there which have been designed around a viaduct. They are quite interesting with the rock garden and pools and the small nursery attached has some very interesting plants for sale.

Going away in these odd times was different. It felt quite strange to be amongst people on fairly busy streets, though most people respected your space. Masks were worn in every shop and restaurant (until seated), staff wore masks or visors and tables were kept at a distance. You do have to be patient and tolerant with the service though as we found it tended to be very slow in many places. To be expected as businesses had only just opened to indoor service when we visited. Many hospitality venues are struggling for staff too. And it is best to book tables especially at the weekend and check if booking to venues is required.

PS You can tell that we are unused to going away from home. For the first time ever I managed to leave my camera battery charger at home. So many photos were taken using my phone which drained the battery as you can imagine! One way to limit the number of photos taken.

Flashback Friday #21

Road Trip: USA California – San Fran to Carmel

On a visit to California, a few years ago, we had to travel to San Diego from San Francisco and decided that it might be fun to drive down the coast using the PCH rather than fly between the two cities. So from that decision a little road trip was born.


This is the first section between San Francisco and the lovely town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Distance: 133 miles via Halfmoon Bay, Santa Cruz
Time: 3 hours without stopping

The PCH (Pacific Highway) is one of those iconic drives that should be done in a pink Cadillac convertible with the top down making the most of the azure blue skies and brilliant Californian sunshine with plenty of Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas CDs on board. In reality this was February and an open top car was not an option. We ended up with a Chevvy, but a poor imitation of the Chrysler PT Cruiser with black tinted windows; the skies were gun-metal grey. Not the ideal start, but hey it felt good to be on the road.

We began our journey in San Francisco and immediately headed southwest on to the Cabrillo Highway at Pacifica to follow it south to Monterey and Carmel – our first stop. This is not a long section, but it can take a long time, as there are plenty of scenic viewpoints to stop off at on your way down the coast and in the summer there are several roadside food stalls to entice you.

Half Moon BayThe section between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County is prone to periodic landslides and road closures and one stretch is known as the Devil’s Slide*. This particular stretch of road reminded me of Chapman’s Peak Drive in the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, as it hugs a similar steep promontory with equally stunning vistas. We stopped at Half Moon Bay to admire the surfers and the beautiful beach until the rain sent us scudding back to the car.

*(This stretch of the Cabrillo Highway has since been replaced by a road tunnel).

Don’t forget to stop at the family run Duartes Tavern in Pescadero which is a little further south and only 2 miles off the state road; it is still run by the 4th generation of Duartes and home to the worlds most divine Olallieberry Pie, world-famous Cream of Artichoke Soup, and Crab Cioppino. We, on the other hand have had a full breakfast there and no complaints. In this small town you can also find interesting craft shops, artichoke bread and a goat dairy. If you have the time a stroll along the Pescadero State Beach back at the junction with Highway One may bring you into contact with harbour seals among the sand dunes. Continue reading Flashback Friday #21