Travelling from the far west of Cornwall means that you don’t reach another county for a good hour and a half. So we haven’t been very far over the last couple of years since the first lockdown. Last week though we headed east to celebrate a significant birthday – that of our second eldest granddaughter who turned 18. I was there at her birth, though only just made it as she was over her due date and I had to return home to begin my final term of teaching practice for my PGCE. Oh, how long ago that time seems.
Whilst in the south-east I managed to visit a few of my favourite places in the area (we lived on the Hampshire/Surrey/West Sussex border for seven years back in the 2000s) and enjoy a few walks with my daughter along the River Thames. As usual the weather there was several degrees warmer than it ever is in Cornwall, the sun shone, the sky was blue, there was chocolate cake and I did a lot of walking!
River Thames Walks
I was surprised at how countrified the towpath along the river can be once you are away from the suburbs. We strolled towards Sunbury from Hurst Park / Meadows in Moseley where the river was busy with paddleboarders, kayakers and canoeists plus the inevitable rowers, with plenty of swans, ducks and geese.
On the towpath towards Ham from Kingston it was much busier and noisier due to the low-flying aircraft overhead. But once again after leaving the delightful Canbury Park towards Teddington Lock it feels like you are almost in the country. Stunning houses along the river front once again. And so much blossom!
RHS Wisley Gardens
The flagship gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society are at Wisley in Surrey, very close to the M25 motorway Junction 10 with the A3. It has been transformed since my last visit in 2015 and is extremely busy, especially when events like an Easter Egg hunt is on. The main changes are at the Welcome entrance and at Hilltop which is where the model gardens and allotments used to be. Now it is a centre for gardening science with a library and three new gardens surrounding it. There is a permanent exhibition that demonstrates the benefits of gardens for wellbeing and gives tips for creating garden spaces that improve the natural environment in a changing climate and a series of free talks, demonstrations and interactive sessions are offered daily.
Diva by Mark Swan
Erythronium californicum ‘White Beauty’
Cercidiphyllum japonicum f. pendulum
Pulsatilla / Pasque flower
Sweet Chestnut Bird Hide by Tom Hare
Naturally I cannot resist photographing the beautiful plants and flowers, but it was lovely to see a variety of sculptures around the garden, including this one in the Cottage Garden.
Devil’s Punch Bowl
Once upon a time I used to drive along the old A3 all the time as we lived close by to Hindhead. We lived there in fact the entire 5 years it took for the A3 tunnel to be built and suffered the long delays caused by the roadworks. However now it has been dug up and a lovely all-weather circular path (2.5 miles) made along the former road joins the Devil’s Punch Bowl to the Hindhead Common where the Celtic Cross and the Sailor’s Stone can be found. I stood looking at the sweep of the track trying to work out my bearings, but it was very confusing. Chatting to a chap coming the other way, who also used to drive along this road we both agreed that it all looked very different.
On the way to the Devil’s Punch Bowl I stopped off at Watts Chapel. I have posted about this delight before (click on the link), but I had missed one of the friezes (Owl) around the chapel so I wanted to go back and find it.
The light wasn’t much better than on my previous visit, but at least it wasn’t raining. I took very similar photos as before, but here are a few more details I captured this time round.
Kingston Street Art
Coming back into Kingston we found some hoardings that had been creatively covered with street art.
Of course I cannot finish this post without showing you the marvellous cake created by the 18 year old for her birthday, it tasted as good as it looks.
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.
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.
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.
When 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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
Whilst in the region we also headed up to Lacock Abbey and Village up north in Wiltshire, near Chippenham.
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.
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.
This post stems from a visit to London in late April 2014 – hard to believe this was seven years ago! Seven years! And yet I remember it as though it was last week.
Just Back From… London
It’s a funny old world. I lived a little more than an hour away from London for 7 years, but in all that time I’d never spent a day there other than for attending meetings for work. So a train in, a tube to the location and back again, sometimes with a glance at some interesting architecture, thinking I really should bring a camera with me next time. Never spent any time in recent years exploring the city. I didn’t like London you see. I found it dirty, noisy and too busy so all I wanted to do was get in and get out as quickly as possible.
I have ‘done’ the tourist things years ago – Buck Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Camden Lock, Greenwich Market, but never been interested in what else it has to offer, until now, when I decided that I should at least visit the splendid museums that lie within the centre and are free. I like free. And Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. I like gardens.
So last week I accompanied the OH who was going there for business purposes and found myself in a reasonable hotel a spit away from Earl’s Court. With three days at my disposal. And a tube strike for two of those days. I dislike the tube at the best of times but at least it gets you to where you need to go, usually. Now buses, not only are they complicated, but also they are slow. On account of all that traffic you see.
On my first day I spent an hour and a half going round in circles as I attempted to get across to Chancery Lane tube station to go on a London walk. Eventually it dawned on me that there was no way I was getting anywhere close to the centre as Circle, Central and Piccadilly lines were not running. Had I realised that at the start of the journey I could have made my way differently, but by the time I’d sussed out an alternative route it was too late. Frustrated now, by all the hopping on and off tubes going nowhere, I opted for some fresh air in Kew Gardens, but even that was a challenge as it involved a tube to Turnham Green, a walk to a bus stop, a bus to Kew Gardens Station and a walk to the gardens. Phew! I was quite exhausted before I even got there! Continue reading Flashback Friday #19