A Quiet Corner in Slovenia

Bled and its perfectly formed lake located in the Julian Alps is in the Gorenjska region of Slovenia, not far from the Austrian and Italian borders. A lake just the right size for a comfortable stroll around its shores with spectacular views from all sides. We found ourselves there for a week in June 2012 when my OH attended a conference. Not far from the airport it was a quick transfer to the Hotel Golf, an ugly sugar-cube building above the lakeside, which had pluses and minuses.

The plus was a lakeside room with wonderful panoramic views. The minuses included no air-con, a steep climb back to the hotel from the lakeside, poor breakfasts and a noisy bar close-by where the natural amphitheatre of the lake basin amplified the sound.

The 6 km trail around the lake is long enough to take in the views of the island with the Church of the Assumption which demands a climb up the 99 stone-step staircase; visitors should ring the bell for good luck, and a local tradition at weddings is for the groom to carry his bride up these steps. Behind the island the background is of the Karavanke mountains. The castle is perched on the high limestone mass at the north of the lake and you will see the colourful traditional Pletna boats and boatmen who will row you over to the island; swans, ducks and fish swim in glacial waters so clear you can see the bottom. There are convenient benches for you to rest and absorb the beauty surrounding you.

The lakeside town is charming and popular with lovely cobbled streets in the old town, plentiful lakeside restaurants serving the famous Bled cake (kremna rezina), a delicious custard and cream confection, and the lovely neo-gothic St Martin’s Church below the Castle. The castle can be reached up a steep route from the Castle beach, or slightly less tortuous routes by road from behind the Bledec hostel. The castle offers magnificent views and is an interesting medieval fortress, well worth the effort of getting there.

When you are tired of the scenery around the lake you can visit Vintgar Gorge, 4 km north-west of Bled. A public bus will get you there and back. The 1.6 km gorge carves its way through vertical rocks and you alternate between paths and boardwalks alongside the River Radovna and its waterfalls, pools and rapids crossing over wooden bridges. It is a lovely cool place to visit on a hot day.

The Triglav National Park covers almost the entire Julian Alps and offers a completely different experience. Majestic mountains, steep gorges, clear mountain streams and traditional farms. Take an exhilarating and spectacular drive up the hairpin bends of the Russian Road to the Vršič Pass which is on the border with Italy.

Triglav National Park
Triglav National Park

Not only is it special for the views and scenery, but there is a history behind its existence. It was built by Russian prisoners-of-war in 1915 and because the road had to be kept open all year round, prisoners were kept in camps to shovel off the snow. In 1916 an avalanche buried one of these camps killing around 400 prisoners and 10 guards. There is a small cemetery near hairpin 4 and a beautiful Russian Orthodox Chapel on the site of the camp at hairpin 8.

Hindringham Hall

Hindringham Hall is privately owned, but the gardens are open to the public each Wednesday during the summer season and four times a year there is a tour of the house itself. We booked one of the two holiday cottages for a fortnight in the North Norfolk countryside, though I was worried that being four miles from the wild north coast, to which I am strangely drawn, would be too far. I should not have fretted, as it was an ideal location. Far enough away from the madding crowds, but close enough to visit regularly enough. And entering the five-barred gate, driving down the long gravel driveway and crossing the moat bridge leading to the hall was a lovely experience – for two weeks we could pretend to be Lord and Lady of the Manor 😉

The village of Hindringham is typical of many small villages in the countryside today (not only in Norfolk) where there are few, if any, amenities. There is no village store or post office, no butcher or baker or indeed a candlestick maker, and the only pub is a bar in the cricket pavilion – aptly called The Pavilion – which is run by the community and only open on a Friday evening! Oddly enough though there is a Primary School, a large village hall and the church so you might have expected a shop at least.

Parts of Hindringham Hall were probably built from some of the stone torn down from the nearby Binham Priory, but it has been extended over the generations. It is now a handsome stepped-gabled building with a complete moat and a characterful history. There are not many fully moated houses remaining in the county; Oxburgh Hall (which has historical connections with this hall) is another.

The gardens are in several different sections, some outside the moat and the more private areas within the same plot as the house and bordered by the moat. In late summer they were probably not showing at their best, but there is still enough of interest to spend an hour or two drifting around them and finishing with a nice cuppa on the lawn. The walled kitchen garden was impressive for its well-stocked soft fruit bushes, salads, potatoes, beans and fragrant herbs mingling with the sweet scent of the colourful jewel-like sweet-peas. The buddleias alongside the moat opposite our cottage were smothered in butterflies the whole time – Large Whites, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Commas and a profusion of Peacocks. Within the private, walled, west lawn to the side of the house various clematis clung to the walls or pergolas, stone urns frothed with Pelargoniums and beautiful Romneyas stole the show, their egg yolk centres gleaming within the startling white, crêpe petals.

Roses and clematis wound their way around the thick rope-hung poles bordering the gravel driveway near to the front of the house and vibrant blue African Lilies provided splashes of intense colour. The roses were already ‘gone over’ by the time of our visit, but I am sure they would have been lovely.

I needn’t have worried being away from the coast. Sitting, relaxing in the sunny, private garden of the cottage lazily watching the bright blue damselflies and red dragonflies flitting around, spotting the heron fishing in the moat, listening to the ducks and solitary black swan calling, seeing a sky streaked with oranges and lemons and stars shining from an inky background and drifting off to sleep with echoes of the soft hoot of a tawny owl is really what a holiday is all about.

The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross, Binham

The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross, Binham was only a mile or so away from where we were staying so the first historical place we visited. The ruins of the 11th century Benedictine monastery are impressive, especially the nave which is now the parish church. The Reformation in 1539 saw the closure of the monastery and the buildings were dismantled. In fact the original building of Hindringham Hall where we stayed (in a cottage, not the actual hall) was built from stone from the monastery!

The most striking feature of the church at Binham Priory is the oddly blocked-up west front and windows which were bricked up between 1738 and 1780. It is an impressive building due to its size and the contrasting brick and stone work. It is also important from a historical aspect as an example of Early English gothic architecture in the 13th century. The west window (top) is thought to be an early example of ‘bar tracery’ in England. It certainly is very beautiful. In the spandrels and heads of the arches a variety of patterns are pierced into the stonework: quatrefoils, cinquefoils, trefoils and sexfoils,  culminating in the octofoil at the head of the west window.

Foil = Lobe or leaf shape formed by joining of curved shapes in tracery: trefoil  (three), quatrefoil (four), cinquefoil (five), sexfoil (six),  octofoil (eight)

Inside the church is light and bright. The font is perpendicular – 15th century – and has eight sides. It is known as a Seven Sacrament font because of the carvings around the bowl, each one of which illustrates one of the sacraments of the church. This is a particularly East Anglian design and none are known elsewhere; there are 16 in Norfolk and 12 in Suffolk remaining. It would have been brightly painted.

The Poppy Head Pews are another interesting feature of this church. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the benchends became more elaborately carved, with panelling and figures of people or animals, often humorous and frequently decidedly secular. Not all benches had backs to them (as in Cawston Church, Norfolk) and those which did had simple designs, some of which were added at a later date.

There are two misericord benches at the east end of the church decorated with a bearded head and foliage and the remains of the former rood screen which was painted over after the Reformation. The original medieval painted saints are now showing through.

In a beautiful quiet corner of the North Norfolk countryside, only a few miles from the coast, this former priory and church are well worth a visit and I was very impressed by the small museum inside and the information panels.

Travel Journey of the Week: The Emerald Isle

This week’s place from Liberated Traveler is Ireland, so I have had to cast my mind back to the one and only time I visited this country for four days in October 2003. I could only have four days because at the time I was doing a PGCE course to become a secondary school teacher. Although it was half-term and in theory we should have had a week’s holiday, the training school insisted we went in for three days for additional lectures. So making the most of a very cheap Ryan Air flight to Dublin from Birmingham (£1 one way) we arrived in a very wet Dublin airport on an early Wednesday evening. Continue reading Travel Journey of the Week: The Emerald Isle

Norfolk: Castle Acre Priory and Castle

The village of Castle Acre lies further south of the county, only 4 miles north  of Swaffham and 15 miles east of King’s Lynn. It is well worth the drive to see such a lovely medieval planned settlement with the broad tree-lined Stocks Green where you can find a café and a pub. The town was entered in the 12th century by the Bailey Gate, now the only remaining gate of the town. Many of the houses in the town have been built from blocks of stone from the priory.

We stopped here on our way to Oxburgh Hall which is south of Swaffham mainly to see the Priory, but we were quite taken by the charming village and the castle too.

Castle Acre Priory, which is under the care of English Heritage, is a beautiful and peaceful place with some of the most intact Cluniac priory buildings in England. For 450 years it was the home and workplace of monks and their servants, a refuge for pilgrims and a stopping point for royalty, clergy and nobility. While rooted in the economy and society of Norfolk it was also part of a vast monastic network centred on the great abbey of Cluny in France. Walking around this site you get a feeling of the size and serenity of this place and if you use the audio tour provided then you can listen to the monks tales and walk in their footsteps.

Whilst in Castle Acre we also visited the Norman ‘motte and bailey’ castle which was abandoned in the middle ages, and although what little of the building left is in ruins, there are impressive earthworks.

A great day out except for the weather which was a little damp!