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  1. When we came to Northumberland for the first May bank holiday earlier this year, we did a really nice walk near a village called Harbottle. We enjoyed it so much that we decided that it was worth repeating on this trip to Northumberland too The walk starts from a Forestry Commission car park just outside Harbottle. Harbottle is just under 40 miles from where we're staying in Hexham, so we had a drive of about an hour to reach the car park. I thought it might be busy being a bank holiday, but when we arrived there were only a handful of other cars in the car park. There had been quite a lot of other people walking in the Simonside hills yesterday; this seemed deserted in comparison. It was good to park without any problems anyway and we set off along the trail, following a sign uphill towards the Drake Stone. This is one of those walks where you get most of the uphill out of the way straight away. The path led us quite steeply uphill through a forest, then out into an open area of moorland. Before too long we had a view up to the large stone we were walking towards. The Drake Stone sits on a hill above Harbottle and is said by local legend to have supernatural healing powers. The path to get to the top was a bit steep and rocky in places, although not as steep and rocky as the Simonside walk had been yesterday. The views across the surrounding countryside were lovely when we turned around. Soon we had made it to the top This was the enormous Drake Stone. It was so large it was actually quite hard to fit it all in a photo! The views from the top were great, even though it wasn't the sunniest of days. Once we'd finished admiring them, the next part of the path led us around the Drake Stone and down the other side of the hill. We were walking towards Harbottle Lake. The path was a bit steep again in places, but I was better prepared for Northumberland this time around and had remembered my walking pole The walk instructions had warned that the area around the lake could be boggy. It didn't seem too bad today, but we did find some boggy bits as we climbed up through the nearby forest on the next section of the walk. The path through the woods was lovely. Though there were a few steep bits here too. This bit was definitely a lot easier with a pole Once we came out of the forest, the path levelled off into a nice flat track. I loved the views of the heather here... ...and also the views of the patchwork fields. I loved walking past all these cows slightly less Soon we were back down to the level of the road, which we crossed. We then followed another path alongside a river and through fields. From here we had a view back up towards the Drake Stone on the hill above us. Soon we were back in the village of Harbottle, not far from where we'd left the car. When we came here last time, we had a drink in the beer garden of a pub here which is also home to a pizzeria. Today we had come back planning to eat and we weren't disappointed! We split a meat pizza and a bolognese pizza between us; the bolognese in particular was amazing It was a great end to what has been another fun walk in Northumberland
  2. When we woke up this morning it was a lovely bright sunny day in Hexham We didn't have firm plans for the day in advance, but when we saw how nice the weather was we decided to make the most of it and try out a walk which I'd seen described online as one of the most scenic in Northumberland. The walk was in the Simonside hills near Rothbury, a drive of about 30 miles from where we were staying in Hexham. The walk started from a Forestry Commission car park, hidden down a narrow single track road. It was the sort of place you can only find if you already know it's there! Luckily there was plenty of place to park though, and the parking was free. We set off following a path through the trees. The route initially led us through the forest, which was really beautiful. We had tantalising glimpses of views as we walked. The path soon began to slope uphill and before long we were out of the trees. The walk was a circular one, only 4.5 miles long, but the description suggested it would take 3 hours. The path continued to lead uphill and our efforts were soon rewarded by a view of the hills beginning to appear through the trees. There was about 250m of uphill to do in total (it was very sunny, that's why I'm pulling a strange face in this photo ) We were climbing to the top of this hill. There were some beautiful views as we went up, but it was quick a steep, rocky path. Eventually we made it to the top Well, I think this bit was the very top! There were some amazing views from up here. I could see why it was described as one of the most scenic walks in Northumberland (Standing on this rock wasn't as scary as it looks ) Now that we were at the highest point, a relatively flat path led us across the top of the hills. There were wonderful views in all directions. Eventually the path began to gradually lead downwards. There was lots of heather everywhere and it looked amazing. The only problem was that it also seemed to be a habitat for a lot of flies! I don't seem to have got bitten by anything, but I feel like I spent a lot of time trying to swat them away from me. Soon the descent became quite rapid. We were now quite a long way below where we'd been walking. The path was easy now, starting to lead us back towards the trees. There was still lots of heather everywhere, but fewer flies down here We were most of the way through the walk now, on the final stretch back towards the car park. The last bit of the walk took us along a forest road... ...and then down through the forest itself. We made it back to the car and then headed to the nearby village of Rothbury for a late lunch Rothbury itself seemed like a really pretty village. We had a bit of a stroll around before getting back in the car to head back to Hexham. We've been really lucky with the weather today and managed to get away from people while enjoying great views, so all in all it's been a very successful day
  3. Another bank holiday, another trip to Northumberland It feels like we've been to Northumberland quite a lot over the course of the past year, but it's a really lovely part of the country and - most importantly for a bank holiday - it's quite remote and (hopefully!) going to be a bit quieter than holiday hotspots like Cornwall. We made a reasonably prompt start from home this morning, but ran into a bit of traffic on the drive north. Some of the delays seemed to be caused by people travelling to Leeds for a festival, so the congestion eased up a bit once we were past the junction for Leeds. I'd planned for us to stop en route to Northumberland at a place called Fountains Abbey. I'd wanted to stop here on previous trips north but hadn't been able to, because it's a National Trust property and during the pandemic it was mandatory to book a 30 minute slot. Home to Fountains Abbey was a journey of about 136 miles and with a distance like that it's almost impossible to predict when you are going to arrive. So I'd always had to find other alternatives which didn't require prebooking to visit. We'd actually driven past Fountains Abbey earlier this year when we visited the nearby Brimham Rocks. One advantage of "Freedom Day" having passed is that it's now no longer required to prebook for the National Trust. So today I was quite excited that we were finally going to get to visit Fountains Abbey It was after 1pm by the time we arrived and parked. Initially the car parks looked quite full, but it turned out there was a large overflow car park with plenty of space. Phew! Before long we had our first glimpse of the abbey. The abbey was founded in 1132, as a very enthusiastic National Trust volunteer explained to us at the entrance. It survived until 1539, at which point it was dissolved by Henry VIII. As you can tell from the pictures, the abbey is quite a popular place to visit and there were certainly plenty of visitors today! Once we left the main lawn behind and started following some of the paths around the grounds, we got some quieter views though. The ruins were really impressive; it was clearly an enormous monastery in its day. I knew that this National Trust property was a World Heritage Site, but what I hadn't realised until a National Trust volunteer explained to us is that it's not because of the ruins of Fountains Abbey, but because of what's located next to it. This is Studley Royal Water Garden, which is apparently one of the best preserved examples of a Georgian water garden. This isn't the sort of garden which has flowers; it's more of a landscaped garden with different pools and water features. It was a really pretty place to walk around, even though it was quite a cloudy day. At the end of the water garden we found a tea room, so we stopped for a quick coffee. Then we strolled back along the opposite side of the water garden... ...and back towards the abbey. From this side we could see what enormous windows it must have had! Then it was back in the car for another 75 miles or so towards Hexham, where we're staying in a cottage I found on Airbnb. It's got a cosy living room... ...a little kitchen... ...and an outdoor area with a beautiful view of the countryside The bathroom is rather posh... ...and the bedroom looks lovely too. I think it's going to be a nice place to stay for the next few nights
  4. We had a long day of driving ahead of us today so we made a fairly early start, setting out straight after breakfast in the hotel. We were due to catch a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull in the early evening and the journey from Whitehaven to Oban was around 227 miles. The first part of the journey was not very exciting as we drove across Cumbria towards Carlisle, then onto the motorway which would take us across southern Scotland towards Glasgow. We navigated the outskirts of Glasgow, before driving on a bridge across the river Clyde towards Dumbarton, where we wanted to visit the Asda superstore This is where we stopped to stock up on food when we were on our way to the Isle of Islay earlier this year and, while I hadn't seen any specific advice this time about it being difficult to buy food on the Isle of Mull, a bit of googling had identified that the biggest supermarket on the island seems to be a rather small Co-op on the high street in Tobermory. It seemed to make sense to stock up in advance! Once we'd bought a reasonable amount of non-perishable food and wine, we got back in the car and began the more scenic part of the journey, which took us along the shores of Loch Lomond. The weather forecast today had been sunshine and showers. The further we got into Scotland, the more we seemed to have showers rather than sunshine! We parked at the small village of Luss to stretch our legs near the lake. It's a pretty little place, but as you can see it was rather damp today. And Loch Lomond itself was looking rather misty! When the shower turned into heavy rain we got back in the car and continued northwards towards Oban. The rain was torrential for a while, but the sky began to clear up a bit as we got closer to our destination. We stopped about 25 miles outside Oban for a short walk. The path took us alongside Loch Awe; not as well known as Loch Lomond, but this is the third largest freshwater lake in Scotland. Behind us we could see a mountain with a large waterfall running down it... ...while in front of us we had a view towards Kilchurn Castle. The castle is a ruin but it still looks quite impressive And it's definitely in a really pretty location. As you can probably tell, the weather was still a bit windy even though the rain had eased off We walked around to the opposite side of the castle to get a better view of the loch. The rain was starting to pick up again by this point, so it was time to head back to the car. It took slightly longer to drive the remaining miles to Oban than I'd expected; the roads were quite slow and winding. In the end we arrived around 16.50, which gave us just an hour until the final check in time for our ferry. We'd been hoping to get a nice meal in the town, but given the time constraints all we were able to do was park the car and rush to the local Wetherspoons where we at least knew we'd be served quickly. Oban looks like a pleasant little town. Slightly bizarrely, there's what looks like a replica Colosseum on a hill behind the town We made it through our meal with plenty of time to check in for the ferry and soon we were on board for the short ferry journey to Mull. The trip only takes around 45 minutes from Oban, so it wasn't long before we got our first views of the island on the horizon. We sailed past what looked like a castle on our way into the port of Craignure. Before long we had arrived on a brand new island It's difficult to find accommodation on the Isle of Mull; at least, it's difficult in August and at short notice. So I'd struggled a bit with making bookings for this holiday. I managed to find what looked like a nice cottage to stay in, but unfortunately it was only available from Saturday night, and all the Saturday ferries to the island were completely booked up. I could get a slot on a ferry for this evening, so in the end I decided to go for it and spend the first night in a rather overpriced hotel just outside Craignure. As it was the only place on the island with availability when we needed it, we ended up paying a rather extortionate £200 for one night. This is what £200 gets you on the Isle of Mull Not exactly worth what we've paid, but we intend to try and get our money's worth out of breakfast in the morning!
  5. When we woke up this morning the weather seemed distinctly better than it had last night After breakfast we had a little stroll around the gardens where we're staying and then set off in the car. We were heading towards Ennerdale Water, the most westerly lake in the Lake District, and also one of the least visited. It wasn't terribly easy to find, which perhaps sheds some light on why it's less visited, but we got there in the end - even if the journey was a little slow at times As soon as we parked and walked out of the car park, we had a beautiful view of the lake. While there were other cars in the car park, there weren't many other people visibly around, which was nice. I'd deliberately tried to find somewhere which would be reasonably quiet despite the fact that it was school holidays, and it seemed like I'd succeeded It's possible to follow a circular trail around the lake, which is about 6.5 miles in total. We decided not to do the full loop, because the final stage of the walk would involve climbing across Anglers Crag, which you can see in the photo below. The walk description referred to it as "a short exposed scramble" so I didn't really fancy it Instead we planned to walk along the opposite shore of the lake, turning around and retracing our steps before we got as far as Anglers Crag. It was a really lovely walk, even if the sky wasn't as blue in the Lake District as it had been nearer the coast. There were little bits of sunshine through the clouds at times though We reached the far end of the lake and crossed over a river. There were some spectacular views here. The path continued to be quite flat for a while, leading us towards a forest. We walked around the end of the lake... ...and then started walking alongside the other shore. The path started to get a bit rockier here... ...but the views were still really lovely. We continued walking for a while... ...but decided to turn around at the point I didn't fancy crossing this stream Then it was back the way we had come. Across the river again... ...and back to where we'd parked the car. From Ennerdale we drove back towards Whitehaven and decided to go and have a look at the coast. We ended up at a place called St Bees Head, a few miles south of Whitehaven. It was no longer looking quite so sunny at the coast... ...and there were some rather large waves! We walked along the sea front for a little way. There was a walk you could do along the cliffs here but it was incredibly windy by this point, so it didn't really feel like the day for it! Instead we decided to head back to the hotel and enjoy our nice room
  6. We had a long day of driving ahead of us today, with approximately 300 miles to cover. We didn't want to just drive straight home though, so we made a reasonably early start from Newton Stewart. While overall we probably prefer staying in Hawick, the advantage of overnighting in Newton Stewart was that we could drive home via the M6, and that meant that we would be able to stop off in the Lake District without making much of a detour Tim had found some National Trust walks in the Lake District online and we decided to try one which started from the small village of Hartsop. It wasn't a place we'd ever heard of before but we had a really scenic drive there, starting with a drive through the Galloway Forest Park as we left Newton Stewart, and then driving along the shore of Ullswater as we got closer to Hartsop. The walk instructions started from a car park in the village, but that was unfortunately full by the time we arrived. Luckily an enterprising farmer had opened up a field and was charging £5 for parking. £5 felt a bit steep, but it did give us an opportunity to get change from some of the Scottish bank notes we'd acquired during the holiday. We'd deliberately taken cash out in Dumbarton in case we weren't able to pay for things by card on Islay and Colonsay, but then we hadn't actually ended up needing to use it. Just the views from the car park itself were impressive. From where we'd parked it was only a walk of five minutes or so towards the official start point for the walk. The walk was quite easy initially, taking us along a small tarmac road. The views were already spectacular without us needing to walk anywhere. The road soon started to lead uphill. It was a bit tiring, but the scenery made it worthwhile We climbed increasingly higher. The track was leading us alongside a small stream. Before crossing the stream, the route unexpectedly required us to climb over a stone wall. This hadn't been mentioned in the National Trust instructions! I made it across in the end and then thankfully there was a proper bridge to cross the stream. The path was then quite narrow for a while, taking us up the hillside and away from the stream. This then led to a wider track, which was much easier to walk on. We were walking towards Hayeswater reservoir. The lake is actually natural, but was dammed and used as a reservoir for the town of Penrith until 2005. It was in a really beautiful location and definitely worth walking to From the reservoir we had to turn around and retrace our steps a bit. We passed the steep little path where we'd come up from the stream... ...and continued on a wider path which ultimately took us downhill. On the way we passed little waterfalls on the stream. The path led us back towards the village of Hartsop. On the way we had to negotiate a field of cows. I wasn't a huge fan, but luckily they just stared at us as we went past! Then we were pretty much back where we had started and it was time to set off on the long drive home. The Lake District is really beautiful and it was a great place to end the holiday
  7. This is a holiday which has been planned completely at the last minute. I handed in my notice three months ago and yesterday was my final day at work. It wasn't finalised until quite recently that I would be able to finish yesterday and take the coming week off as holiday and that uncertainty, combined with the general uncertainty caused by Covid, meant that we hadn't booked anything in advance. I only starting looking at possible destinations on Monday night and it was Tuesday/Wednesday before I was actually making plans and bookings. But we do now have a plan and quite an exciting one, which involves visiting several new Scottish islands. We really enjoyed the islands we visited in Scotland last year, so hoping that this trip will be equally fun. The first step for today was just to get as far as Scotland and so I booked a hotel room to stay overnight in Hawick, which is fast on its way to becoming our most-visited Scottish town! While there isn't anything particularly exciting in Hawick itself to necessarily merit coming here so many times, it's in a really convenient location and around 260 miles from Nuneaton, which is about the limit that feels reasonable to travel north in one day. With so many trips to Northumberland and/or Scotland since the pandemic started, I've been running out of ideas for places to stop en route. There are plenty of National Trust places that look interesting, but you still have to book a slot on weekends and it's prohibitively difficult to predict what half hour slot you might arrive somewhere in when travelling such long distances. After a bit of googling for non-National Trust places on Wednesday night, I came up with the suggestion of stopping at a place called Aysgarth Falls in the Yorkshire Dales national park. It was in the right general direction, just a slight diversion from the A1M, and it looked really pretty in photos. We didn't start packing until this morning, so it was around 11am before we left home and probably about 2pm when we pulled up at the car park for the falls. Unfortunately, in what seems to be becoming a bit of a theme for this year's travels, the car park was completely full and, with numerous other people circling round trying to find places to park, there didn't seem to be much chance of finding a space. Slightly disappointed, we drove back up the small road we'd come down to the main road where we had just driven past what looked to be a pub serving food. I thought perhaps that if we had lunch now, by the time we'd finished eating then the car park might have calmed down a bit and we'd have more luck getting a space. This seemed like a good plan, but we made the cardinal error of committing to going into a pub and being allocated a table without actually seeing what was on the menu When the menu arrived it was.... limited. There were only four main options for lunch, of which the only one I could conceivably stand a chance of eating was a steak and mushroom pie. I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about this, but figured I could probably pick the mushrooms out and it was definitely the best available option. Tim asked for mine to come without the unspecified vegetables mentioned on the menu and to swap what looked like very chunky chips for skinny fries. Unfortunately, the day continued to go not quite according to plan when the kitchen was out of skinny fries. Tim negotiated for me to have bread instead, which seemed to cause great commotion in the kitchen and necessitate two further trips to our table by the waitress, first to ask whether I wanted sliced bread or homemade bread, and secondly to ask whether I wanted white or brown Eventually the food came and the pie hugely surpassed my expectations; the meat was really nice and I didn't find a single mushroom in it! The bread was very nice too, although slightly bizarrely after all the fuss of asking me whether I wanted white or brown and me asking for white, I got a mixture of both types. This had all taken quite some time, so by the time we'd also had pudding and then settled up, it was nearly 4pm and I was feeling optimistic that the car park for the waterfalls ought to have quietened down a bit. We drove back down the road and the good news was that there were indeed now a handful of spaces available We parked and started following a sign posted trail towards the Middle and Lower Falls. There are three parts to the waterfalls, with the Upper Falls being the smallest. It felt like we only had to walk a few hundred metres from the car park before we reached the Middle Falls. This time last week we had been in Wales, visiting the enormous waterfall at Pistyll Rhaeadr. This one didn't seem quite as impressive, although the view was perhaps slightly better from a distance. After another 10 minutes or so of walking, we came to the Lower Falls. Initially we saw them from a distance... ...and then we were able to climb down onto the rocks and get a closer view. From here we could look down the River Ure in one direction... ...and get a close-up of the falls in the other direction. Perhaps our waterfall expectations are just too high, but overall we found them a bit underwhelming and decided to give walking to the even smaller Upper Falls a miss! Instead, we got back in the car and drove onwards for another couple of hours towards Hawick. It actually turned out to be an unexpectedly scenic drive, because rather than taking us back to the A1M, the SatNav drove us through the Yorkshire Dales national park and across into Cumbria, before taking us over the border into Scotland. With arranging the holiday at such short notice, I'd been struggling to find accommodation even in Hawick, which normally has a reasonable amount of options to choose from. We're therefore staying for tonight in a fairly small hotel with a random extra bed in the room Tomorrow should be more exciting as we are driving further north to the town of Ardrossan, where we are catching a ferry to the Isle of Arran. Unfortunately, the ferries were also really booked up at such short notice, so it will be a long day; I think it will be around 21.30 by the time we are finally checking into our hotel on the island.
  8. It was time to head home and check up on the cats today, but not before having a final Devon adventure. We'd already ticked off the national parks of Exmoor and Dartmoor, but the Devon guidebook also strongly recommended visiting the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This wasn't a place that we were familiar with, but it was a nice sunny day and we decided to give us a try The guidebook had specifically recommended walking along the coastline outside a small village called Beer, so that was where we were headed. It was around 60 miles from where we'd been staying, on the far side of Exeter, but we needed to drive as far as Exeter anyway to get home, so it wasn't too far out of our way. We arrived around 11am and parked in a clifftop car park. Even from the car park itself, the views were wonderful. The cliffs were really unusual - some of them were white, while others were a deep shade of red. The guidebook had suggested a walk, but we didn't really need it in the end because there was a clear path to follow. There were some beautiful views of the sea as we walked. It looked very calm today. There were also some great views of the cliffs. At various points we had the option of climbing down to beaches, but we decided not to. It looked a long way down (and a long way back up!). Plus although they probably look sandy in the photos, in reality it looked like they were mostly pebbles. The path continued indefinitely - it was part of the South West Coast path, which goes all the way from Somerset, around Devon and Cornwall, to Dorset - so we had to be careful not to walk too far. We decided to stop at this point, when the path started sloping quite firmly downhill. Well, we just went a little bit further to get a better look at the view It was really lovely here (though quite sunny, so hard to keep my eyes open for a photo!) We turned around and retraced our steps to the car. There were lovely views walking back in this direction too When we got back to the car we drove a little way down the road into the village of Beer itself, where we found a nice pub to sit outside and have lunch. It was a lovely end to what has been a really fun trip to Devon
  9. The good thing about staying in the middle of Devon is that it gives us lots of options for where to travel. Yesterday, we went north to Exmoor. Today, we decided to go south to Dartmoor. Our first stop was a place called Castle Drogo, right on the edge of Dartmoor. Castle Drogo isn't a real castle, having been constructed between 1911 and 1930. But the property is owned by the National Trust and has a reasonably large car park, which you can park in to do walks on the estate, even if you're not interested in visiting the property. The estate includes views of the Teign Gorge and I had found a walk on the National Trust website which we were planning to attempt. We had a great view as soon as left the car park behind and started walking towards the main path. It was quite cloudy and overcast this morning, but that just made the views towards Dartmoor look more atmospheric As we headed towards the woods, I was surprised to see that there were still bluebells out The path led us above the treeline initially. As we walked, we began to have views down into the gorge of the river Teign. The landscape was quite rocky on this side of the gorge. And the gorge itself was so deep that we couldn't even see the river at the bottom. The path was absolutely beautiful though After a while the path led us quite steeply downhill through a wood... ...until we eventually found the river Teign We crossed it via a bridge called Fingle Bridge, which was built in the seventeenth century. From here a flatter path ran alongside the river for a while. We could see back up towards the opposite side of the gorge where we'd started and it looked like we were going to have a long walk back up to the car! For now, the path was mostly flat though Eventually we came to a bridge... ...and crossed over the river. From here the path did lead back uphill, but it was gentler than the way we'd come down. I was amazed when, partway along this path, we came across some wild ponies As we emerged from the woods, there were some beautiful views once again. The path led all the way around the side of the hill. We had some great views back down towards where we'd been in the gorge. Once we got back to the vicinity of the car park, we were able to look at where we'd been on the map. We'd walked from the "you are here" sign all the way down to Fingle Bridge, then along the far side of the river and back up. It was only a four mile walk, but with all the up and down it felt longer! We had some refreshments in the National Trust cafe before setting off on our second activity of the day, which was a scenic drive across Dartmoor. We followed a beautiful road, which took us to the small village of Postbridge. We parked for a while in Postbridge and went for a stroll. Postbridge is famous for having a clapper bridge, similar to the Tarr Steps. This one is estimated to be 700 years old It doesn't feel scary when you're standing on it because it's quite wide and flat, but it looks very high above the river when you see it from a distance. Our roadtrip ended in Tavistock, which turned out to be a pretty little place. We had a stroll around, admiring this beautiful church. We had actually been hoping to find some food in Tavistock, but drew a bit of a blank. The owners of the cabin we're staying in had recommended a pub with good food, so we decided to drive to that instead. Unfortunately that was also unsuccessful, as it turns out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. But in the end we did find a lovely place where we were able to sit outside in the sunshine Tim tried a Devon pasty, which looks very similar to a Cornish pasty, but apparently is chunkier and has less swede. I opted for a slightly less exciting cheese baguette We had puddings too, before heading back towards the cabin for an evening of attempting to find a strong enough phone signal to post a blog
  10. It had rained quite a lot overnight and was still quite damp when we woke up this morning. During breakfast we just managed to get enough of a signal to check the forecast, which suggested it was actually going to be a reasonably dry day, with not more than a 30% chance of rain at any point. After a short morning stroll around the area where we're staying, we decided to head north today towards the Exmoor National Park. I had invested in a Devon guidebook prior to this trip, and one of the things it recommend as being a highlight of Exmoor was a place called the Tarr Steps. Google had suggested this was only around 35 miles from where we were staying, although the journey ultimately took longer than I expected thanks to the small and winding roads! We arrived some time after 11 and were happy to find that there was both space in the car park and a parking machine that accepted cards A small path led downhill from the car park. The path took us to the Tarr steps, which are what is known as a "clapper bridge" across the river Barle. It's essentially a bridge made out of huge slabs of stone, thought to date from at least medieval times. The bridge was a bit busy when we arrived, but soon emptied out a bit so that we could take some photos Although the bridge looks like it's been here forever, it's actually been washed away several times by floodwater and had to be rebuilt. Luckily the river was nice and calm today! We followed a short circular trail which leads alongside the river. It led us through a pretty forest... ...with some lovely views of the surrounding countryside. After a while we crossed the river... ...on a normal bridge this time... ...and walked back in the direction we had come. We had a final view of the Tarr Steps... ...followed by a bit of an uphill climb back towards the car. Our next destination was a place called Valley of Rocks, about a 20 mile drive away across Exmoor. We got a little glimpse of the sea as soon as we parked, which was exciting It was a rather unusual landscape, in some ways a bit similar to the Brimham Rocks which we visited on the way to Northumberland last month. Some people were climbing to the top of the rocks, but we didn't fancy that. Instead, we walked towards the sea. We followed a narrow coastal path. We didn't have to walk very far before we turned round and found the most amazing views I didn't know what to expect from the north Devon coast, but I didn't expect it to be quite this beautiful. It was difficult not to keep taking the same photos over and over again Obviously it wasn't a circular walk this time around, so we had to be careful not to walk too far. It wasn't a hardship to turn around and walk back towards views like these, though! All in all we've had a lovely day in Devon And the weather turned out to be a lot sunnier than I expected when I got up this morning
  11. I had planned to take a week of work in June for a while, but planning an actual holiday to take has been complicated. Firstly, by the fact that I've handed in my notice at work, so for a while it wasn't clear if/when I was going to be able to take off all my holiday. Secondly, by the fact that our trusted cat sitter is also on holiday this week. In the end we decided that the best solution would be to go away for two short breaks of three nights each, that being the longest we can leave the furry members of the family unattended, and make a trip home in the middle to top up the water and cat feeders Having spent all our holidays since Covid so far driving north to Northumberland and Scotland, this time we decided to try something different and explore another part of the UK. And so, a couple of weeks ago, Tim booked a place for us to stay for a few nights in Devon. As soon as we started driving south, we got reminded why we normally prefer driving north So many people everywhere! We struggled to even get out of Nuneaton due to road works, then got caught up in a lot of slow-moving traffic as we navigated the M42 around Birmingham. Things picked up for a bit once we made it to the M5, but before long we encountered an ominous warning sign, informing us that there was a delay of 30 minutes between junctions 14 and 20. There did indeed turn out to be quite a delay as we made our way very, very slowly around Bristol. We were actually planning to leave the motorway slightly after Bristol for a detour to Cheddar Gorge. When researching earlier in the week, I thought this looked like a nice place to break the journey and I'd calculated that if we left home around 10.30, we ought to be there by 13.00. We did actually manage to leave home shortly before 10.30, but with all the delays on the roads it was around 14.30 by the time we were finally driving through the small village of Cheddar. Cheddar looked... busy! The car parks in the village itself all looked full and for a moment I thought we might have a repeat of our experience in Scotland last week where we'd driven a long way to get somewhere, then found that it was impossible to park. But there are a lot of parking spaces along the gorge itself, so in the end we found somewhere without too much difficulty. We had to pay £5 to park; rather frustratingly, the car park machines only take coins, but luckily it was possible to pay via an app as well. Cheddar Gorge is a bit unusual, in that the south side is owned by the Longleat estate and is quite heavily commercialised, with all sorts of paid attractions. You can pay to climb some steps to the top of the gorge on that side, for example, and in normal times there are also caves that you can pay to go into, although I think those are closed at the moment because of Covid. The north side of the gorge, however, is owned by the National Trust and it's perfectly possible to walk around it without buying any expensive tickets. My plan was to follow this walk from the National Trust website, which started from the National Trust information centre. The centre seemed to have closed down, but we found the right place anyway and set off up a small lane. This quickly turned into a grassy path, leading quite steeply uphill. The National Trust instructions were full of warnings about how the path could be muddy in places. We were lucky today in that it was very dry, but I can imagine parts like this are a nightmare when it's been raining. In parts the path was also very rocky. In the excitement of actually arriving somewhere and being able to get out of the car, we'd forgotten to put our boots on so we were going up in trainers. Wouldn't really recommend In some places the uphill climb was made easier by steps. It was still pretty steep though! Eventually we climbed out of the wood and passed through a gate, from where we had a nice view down to the (very flat) countryside below. The path led alongside a wall for a while... ...from where we got our first glimpse of the gorge. There was still a bit more uphill to go... ...but the views were definitely compensating for the climb now. At one point we could even see down to the sea. The path levelled off for a while and we enjoyed the views of the gorge. Cheddar Gorge is the largest gorge in England. It's definitely a very popular tourist destination and we did encounter far more other walkers than we've done on any of the walks we've done in Northumberland. Although it looks quite cloudy in the pictures, it was actually really bright so I struggled to keep my eyes open for a photo The path ultimately led along the length of the gorge and then downhill. The downhill was a bit gentler than our route uphill had been, which was good. Before too long we were down at the main road which runs through the gorge. The National Trust walk instructions required us to cross the road and climb up the opposite side of the gorge. We had a look at it, but the path looked even steeper and more uneven than the way we had come, so we decided to give it a miss, Instead, we started walking back to the car along the side of the road. There were actually some really good views of the gorge from the road. A lot of the time there was a bit of a path by the side of the road as well, so you could stay away from the cars. We passed several groups of people who were climbing the rocks. Before too long we'd made it back to where we parked the car. We still had around 90 miles to drive before we got to our final destination of Petrockstow. Fortunately, the traffic was nowhere near as bad now that we were past Bristol We arrived some time before 7pm and checked in. This is rather unusual accommodation for us - we're staying in a log cabin! It's absolutely beautiful inside, with a living room... ...kitchen... ...and bedroom. The only catch is that there's no WiFi! But it seems like I've got (just about) enough of a phone signal to use my mobile data allowance to post the blog
  12. The apartment we'd booked in Hawick was really lovely, but the blinds on the windows weren't very thick and the shape of the windows meant that the blinds didn't fully cover them. This was the resulting brightness in our room prior to 5am. That meant we had a reasonably early start to the day. We couldn't complain about how beautiful and sunny it was once we stepped outside in Hawick though After yesterday's failure to park, today we were planning to visit a (hopefully!) less popular tourist attraction; a small waterfall in the Kielder Forest. The car park was around 30 miles south of Hawick, and we were relieved to find when we arrived that there was just enough space left to park From the car park, a marked trail led us past a farm... ...and then towards the forest. From there we followed the path through the forest, alongside a stream. We crossed a bridge... ...and had a view of a tiny little waterfall. When we reached the main waterfall, it was much bigger Perhaps not quite as impressive as an Icelandic waterfall, but still very pretty. The best thing about it was that we had the views all to ourselves, which is quite unusual for a beauty spot on a bank holiday From the waterfall, the remainder of the trail took us back uphill... ...across the bridge by the smaller waterfall... ...and then alongside the river. At one point, as we were walking higher above the river, we could hear loudly gushing water nearby. We looked down and realised we were now walking past the top of the waterfall The path continued through the forest... ...finally coming back out in the open by the car park. It was a fairly short walk compared to our hillfort trek on Saturday, but a pretty one. And it was definitely a bonus to be able to enjoy the waterfall without hordes of other people
  13. It was a beautiful sunny day this morning when we woke up in Hawick. I'd decided it might be nice to do something in Scotland today rather than travelling to Northumberland again and when I was researching options last night, I found a National Trust place called St Abb's Head. It looked like it would have some beautiful coastal walks, and it was only about 50 miles away from Hawick, so we decided to give it a go. We had a lovely drive through the countryside towards the coast, with blue sky everywhere. It was only when we got within a couple of miles of St Abb's Head that we saw what looked like a large black cloud on the horizon. As we got closer, we found that the entire coastline was swathed in mist. And when we got to the National Trust car park at St Abb's Head, we found that it was both tiny and absolutely full. Oh dear! We didn't have a back-up plan for the day, so we weren't quite sure what to do. In the end we drove a few miles down the road to the nearby town of Eyemouth, where we eventually managed to park by the harbour. When we got out of the car I was slightly confused about why there was a crowd of people looking down into the water. It turned out there was a man feeding seals From the harbour we followed signs for a coastal path. It was quite windy and I was wearing my coat, but other people were getting ready for a day at the beach As you can see from the photos, it was quite misty here too. The coastal path led us along the top of a small cliff. From here we could see back towards the town. Or, at least, we would have been able to if it wasn't so misty! From the top of the cliff we could just get a tantalising glimpse of what the scenery at St Abb's Head would have been like on a different day. What we could see looked really beautiful The clifftop was supposed to be home to a fortress. It was another one of those fortresses where there isn't really much left to see. There were a few canon dotted around though. There wasn't a lot else to see in Eyemouth, so headed back to the car. Looking at the map, we realised that we weren't very far from Berwick-upon-Tweed, so we decided to give up on the idea of spending the day in Scotland and head back to England instead. Admittedly, Berwick is England's most northerly town. According to Wikipedia, it's located further north than Copenhagen We made it to Berwick without any difficulties and managed to park on the second attempt. The first attempt failed as, although we found a car park where parking was free, it required getting a special parking disk from the visitor centre. Luckily we then found a long stay car park, which was also free and didn't require a disk. The long stay car park was actually in a great location, because we were able to climb up straight from there onto Berwick's ramparts. There was a really nice path which led along the ramparts for quite a long way. On a clearer day I think there would have been some really good views of the sea. As it was, we could just make out a misty kind of blue in the distance I didn't know what to expect of Berwick, but it seemed like a really pretty little town. We continued past various fortifications... ...and came to a place where we had a view out over the river estuary. It was still quite misty in some directions... ...but as we turned a corner we could see that things were starting to look a bit brighter inland. At this point we got our first glimpse of a series of bridges across the river Tweed. First of all there was an old bridge, which looked a bit worse for wear. Beyond that was a more modern road bridge, which looked rather ugly. And beyond that was a very impressive-looking railway bridge. Once we got past the road bridge, we had a better view of the viaduct. There was a nice path along the river here, so we were able to stroll along, getting closer to it. At one point we were even lucky enough to see a train go across it The weather had definitely improved now and it was really sunny, though still a bit windy. We got closer to the viaduct and eventually walked underneath it. From the opposite side we could look up towards Berwick Castle. The path continued along the river, out of the town and into the countryside. It obviously wasn't a circular walk though, so we figured this was the point at which we'd better turn back. We had some clearer views on the way back, passing a lighthouse which definitely hadn't been visible earlier. The view of the sea from the ramparts was now a lot clearer as well Berwick was a really nice place to visit and we had a good time, even if it wasn't quite what I had originally planned
  14. When we woke up in Hawick this morning, the weather was not as sunny as the forecast had promised. The sky was rather cloudy and it looked distinctly like it might have been raining overnight. It was dry now though, so before we set off towards Northumberland for our main adventure of the day we decided to have an early morning stroll around Hawick. When we first visited Hawick last year, we were told to visit Wilton Lodge Park, which is apparently one of the best parks in Scotland. It's certainly a lot bigger than our park in Nuneaton. Once you get to the edge of the park and turn around to walk back to the town, there are some lovely views of the hills behind Hawick. I particularly liked this view with the bright yellow gorse. The park was so large that we accidentally got 7,000 steps walking around it So I was quite pleased to have an excuse to sit down for a while, as we had a drive of around 50 miles to get to our destination in Northumberland. We were planning to drive to a place called Breamish Valley in the Northumberland National Park. It was a very scenic drive, first of all through the Scottish Borders to Kelso, and then south into Northumberland. The day was still quite cloudy though and the views were all rather hazy. We were looking for a car park called Bulby's Wood, from where a marked trail was supposed to start. The car park itself wasn't terribly well marked so it took a while to find it, but we got there in the end and parked on a large grassy field next to a river. The walk was a suggestion from the Northumberland National Park website called the Breamish Valley Hillfort Trail. It was only 4.5 miles, which sounded like a manageable distance, although it did start by leading straight uphill from the car park. By this time the sky had cleared up and it looked like it might actually turn into a sunny day We certainly felt rather warm as we continued to trek uphill. Before long the river and the car park looked very far beneath us. Very far indeed! At the top of the hill was the Breamish hillfort. The walk was supposed to feature the remains of five different hillforts. This one was by far the most impressive; I ultimately struggled to even figure out where the final two were It didn't feel like it would be worth doing the walk to see the hillforts. But it was certainly worth it to see the views The good news was that now we had got to the top of the first hill, the path flattened off for a bit and the walk became a bit easier. We followed a grassy path across the top of the hill until we got to the remains of the second hillfort. There really wasn't a lot to see here, but in the photo below you might just be able to make out some bumps in the ground, which apparently were the remains of the fort's ramparts. From here the path became steeper and narrower, leading downhill through a small gorge. The path was well signposted, so there was no chance of getting lost. From here we had another uphill climb to the top of a hill called Cochrane Pike. There was supposed to be a hillfort here too, but to be honest we couldn't see it There were great views in all directions though From the top of the hill we followed a nice grassy path again. As you can probably tell, it was a little bit breezy up here! After a while, our path began to take us downhill. We had walked across the top of the hill above the trees in this photo, before climbing down into the gorge and back up again, so we could see that we were now starting to swing back round in a circle towards the car park. The path downhill was quite steep at times, but it was definitely easier going down than up. At the bottom of the hill was a little stream which had to crossed by stepping stones. It required quite a big step! Then it was another grassy path to take us back towards the car. Somewhere here we missed another hillfort or two! Even if we didn't find all the hillforts, it was a fun walk with some great views We were quite thirsty by the time we had finished, so drove to the nearby town of Wooler to find something to drink. Wooler was a pretty little town. And it had some patriotic bunting! From there it was another hour or so to drive back to Hawick. Once I got back inside the apartment I could see that I look rather... pink! It seems to have been a mistake not to wear suncream today, although it definitely wasn't obvious when we woke up this morning that the day was going to be so bright and sunny!
  15. We enjoyed our trip to Northumberland for the first May bank holiday so much that we were keen to return to the same part of the world for the second bank holiday. The only problem was that we hadn't booked anything in advance, and the second May bank holiday falls during school half terms, meaning there is a lot of demand for accommodation. When we started searching on booking.com at the start of this month, we couldn't find anything suitable available in Northumberland at all, just a handful of apartments which felt more like they were on the outskirts of Newcastle. That was disappointing, until we hit upon the idea of looking for accommodation just across the border in Scotland too. That turned out to be more successful, and we ultimately managed to book an apartment in Hawick, the small town in the Scottish borders where we first stayed last August. Driving from Nuneaton to Hawick is quite a trek (258 miles), so we wanted to make a stop en route. Last time we were in Northumberland we had looked into visiting a place called Hamsterley Forest in Durham. We didn't manage to fit it in in the end, because it was raining so much on our final day that we just had to drive straight home, so today felt like a good opportunity to make amends. We left home around 10.30 and it was some time after 2pm when we finally made it to the vicinity of the forest. It turned out to be quite a confusing place to arrive at for the first time, with numerous signs to different car parks in all directions. We eventually parked in a small car park which felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and found a picnic bench to eat our lunch. Once we'd had some food we set out to explore and soon found ourselves on a riverside path. Much to our surprise, this turned out to be a Gruffalo-themed trail. As we walked along we found several sculptures of characters from the book. First of all we found the owl... ...and then the snake. The view on the opposite side of the path was really pretty too, as we passed a field covered in bright yellow flowers. Having walked along this path for a mile or so, we came to the forest's visitor centre and main car park (where we probably should have parked!). There was a cafe here so we stopped to get a coffee and I had a slice of the most amazing chocolate orange cake, which tasted just like a jaffa cake! From there we retraced our steps back along the Gruffalo trail... ...and found that the path actually continued, higher, on the opposite side of the road from where we had parked. As we walked on this side, we had a beautiful view of the forest. We also found more Gruffalo sculptures. There was a squirrel... ...a fox... ...and my absolute favourite, the mouse The drive from the forest to Hawick was another two hours or so, so we needed to make our way back to the car. We arrived some time after 6pm and found the apartment we'd booked without any problems. It was self check-in, which definitely makes life easier. Considering it was one of the few available places left on booking.com, it really is a nice apartment. We've got a spacious living room... ...a small kitchen... ...and a bedroom with some rather startling cushions! It's really centrally located in Hawick too, so as soon as we step out of the door we have this view of the town hall All we've had time to do this evening is get some food in Hawick, but we're looking forward to exploring the local area on both sides of the border over the coming days
  16. We didn't have fixed plans for today, so once we'd had dinner last night we started to do a bit more research on the local area. In the course of doing so, I came across the Northumberland National Park website, which has a useful facility to search for walking routes based on distance and level of difficulty. I came up with a few possible options and we narrowed it down to the Drake Stone and Harbottle walk, which was described as being a moderate circular walk Northumberland is a huge county and so the starting point for the walk, a Forestry Commission car park just outside the village of Harbottle, was a 44 mile drive away. It was a very scenic drive though and the weather seemed to be holding up okay, with only a few spots of rain as we got closer to our destination. We parked the car and began following an uphill track, which was signposted as "Drake Stone". I was slightly unnerved when we passed a sign which seemed to imply that we were near a Ministry of Defence shooting range. The landscape was very scenic though, as we continued to climb higher. I maybe hadn't read the walk instructions attentively enough to appreciate quite how much uphill there was at the start of the walk, and so when we reached this cairn I thought perhaps we were at the top. I certainly felt out of breath enough for this to be the top It turned out there was still quite a way for us to go. Our destination, the Drake Stone, was the large rock on the top of this hill. The path upwards was quite narrow and a bit challenging in places... ...with lots of rocks to clamber over. But eventually we made it to the Drake Stone! Legend says that this large stone has supernatural healing powers. Our path led us around the stone and down towards a small lake. There were several other large rocks in the landscape. I had a great view from this one The route led us down towards the shore of the lake. The instructions for the walk warned us to stay on the path, because the shore of the lake was very boggy. As we walked we had great views back towards the Drake Stone on the horizon. I was slightly disconcerted by another warning sign as we began to leave the lake behind and climb uphill again, towards a forest. The path carried on straight through the forest for quite some time. At times it was a bit muddy underfoot, though there were often logs placed to help you find your way across. Some were easier to balance on than others! After a while the path began to lead quite steeply downhill. Sometimes a bit too steeply for my liking If this was a moderate walk then I was glad we hadn't chosen a difficult one! Once we left the forest behind us, the path widened out to a much easier trail. The views across the Northumberland national park were really beautiful. The path was leading us downhill, towards a village and the main road. A sign had warned that there was a bull in the field, but luckily we only met these rather placid cows. We crossed the main road and followed another path alongside the river Coquet. This part of the walk seemed far more relaxing As we strolled through the fields we realised we could see up to the Drake Stone, on top of a hill on the opposite side of the river. The final bit of the walk took us back across the river, to the small village of Harbottle. The weather was getting a bit cloudier by this point, but we just managed to sit outside in the beer garden of the local pub for a quick drink and then walk back up the road to the forest car park before any drops of rain fell Unfortunately, the weather forecast doesn't look too good for tomorrow, so this might be the end of our adventures in Northumberland for now. But we've really enjoyed visiting this part of the world again and I feel like we'll be back again at some point in the future
  17. When we came to Northumberland for the first time last summer, one of the things we wanted to do was see some of Hadrian's Wall. We initially assumed this would be relatively easy to do, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult and on our first trip we failed to track down any of it at all. On the way back from our Scottish islands trip in September, we were more successful and visited a section of the wall by Cawfields quarry. When I was researching things to do this weekend, I realised that the cottage we are staying in is really close to some of the sites along the wall and in particular to Housesteads Fort, so that was where we planned to visit today. Slightly confusingly, Housesteads Fort seems to be owned by the National Trust, managed by English Heritage and have a carpark owned by the Northumberland National Park. In practice, this means that you can get in for free with a National Trust card, but you need to pre-book your slot on the English Heritage website and pay £3 for parking before you leave. It doesn't seem to be the most popular of National Trust destinations; it only occurred to me to book a few days ago and there was still plenty of availability for mid-morning slots. We were booked to arrive at 11am, so we had a leisurely start to the morning, enjoying the local bacon, eggs and bread which the owner of the cottage had left for us. Then we jumped in the car for a short 4-mile drive towards the fort. We arrived, parked and found that it's actually a 0.5 mile walk from the carpark to the fort itself. A 0.5 mile walk up this hill We made it to the top, slightly out of breath, and found a small museum. It was open, but didn't look wildly exciting, so we decided to give it a miss. Instead we climbed slightly higher to the fort itself, which we entered through the south gate. Housesteads Fort was built in 124 AD. There are quite a lot of visible remains here, including houses, barracks and latrines. We also had a good view of Hadrian's Wall itself, leading up to the fort. Although it was a bank holiday weekend, it wasn't terribly busy here. And although I'd been expecting it to rain, the weather just about managed to stay dry. The National Trust website had suggested a walking route from the edge of the fort, but initially we struggled to find our way on to the path. In the end we had to climb down from the fort, go around this farm and back up again. We found the path eventually There were some beautiful views out across the countryside. We were right at the bottom edge of the Northumberland national park, so the views in this direction were towards the Pennines. On the opposite side, the path was just below Hadrian's wall. The path was a bit up and down at times. The sun had come out now and it actually felt quite warm walking in the sunshine. There were still some dark clouds on the horizon, though. After a while the path led downhill, alongside the wall. We passed a farm... ...and had a view down towards a small lake. It's hard to see in the photos, but on the left hand side of the lake are Hotbank Crags, topped by trees. Our route took us up to the top of the crags. It should have been a really scenic path. Unfortunately, there were lots of annoying black flies everywhere (all the black dots on the photo below are flies in front of my camera, not birds in the sky!) From the crags the path led steeply downhill, back alongside the wall. As we descended, we got a glimpse of what is apparently one of the most photographed trees in the UK. This is Sycamore Gap, although from this angle it wasn't completely clear how the location gets its name. Once we climbed further down and walked past the tree, it became clearer. The sycamore tree is situated in quite a dramatic dip - or gap - in the landscape We enjoyed the view for a while, before turning around to retrace our steps in the direction of Housesteads Fort. The weather got progressively colder and windier as we did so, and we only just made it back to the carpark before the first rain drops started to fall. It rained quite heavily for a while, so after a brief stop in the village of Haltwhistle to pick up some supplies, we headed back to the cottage for the rest of the afternoon. We were lucky that we managed to get such a scenic walk in before the weather turned
  18. For this bank holiday last year, we had booked to go on a long weekend to Monaco. Well, really a long weekend in a place called Menton in France, because Monaco is way out of our budget, but the objective was to visit Monaco and add another small European country to our visited list. The pandemic meant that trip ultimately didn't happen, but this time last year EasyJet gave me the option to rebook the cancelled flights for May 2021. Back in May 2020, this seemed like an excellent idea; I didn't think for one minute that we wouldn't be back to normal life by May 2021! Little did I know Obviously life is not yet back to normal and my flights got cancelled for a second time. For a while I assumed we would just spend this weekend at home, but when restrictions started to ease a bit in the UK it became clear that it should at least be possible to book a self-catering stay within England. We enjoyed our trip to Northumberland so much last year, that we decided to take the opportunity to head up to the same part of the world again We didn't make a terribly early start this morning - and Northumberland is quite a long way away from Nuneaton - so today has predominantly been a day of travelling. When researching the route a few days ago I did, however, track down a place for us to make a stop around halfway through our journey. This rather unusual landscape is Brimham Rocks, a short diversion from the A1(M) in the general vicinity of Harrogate. I'd never heard of Brimham Rocks before, but the land is owned by the National Trust and we were able to use our membership cards to park for free in the carpark. We followed a path, signposted as a scenic route, through the rocks. Some of them were enormous, and there were some very unusual shapes. I wished I could better remember my geography lessons to understand how/why they'd eroded in this way The walk through the rocks wasn't a very long one, but that was fine because the weather was constantly on the verge of threatening rain. We did find a small picnic area, where we just about managed to eat our sandwiches before a shower hit. Luckily the shower wasn't too heavy, so we just got slightly damp as we took a different route back to the car. From the edge of the rocks there were some nice views out across the surrounding countryside. From Brimham Rocks we had another two hours or so of driving before we reached the cottage we are staying in, near a small place called Bardon Mill. It's really cosy inside There's a nice bedroom... ...and a well-equipped kitchen, where the owners have even left us some food (including local bacon) for breakfast By the time we'd checked in the weather had improved a bit, so we went out for a stroll to explore the neighbourhood. There are a few other houses around, but otherwise we're pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There were some beautiful views as we walked around the surrounding lanes. Even if the weather isn't forecast to be great this weekend, it looks like this is going to be a lovely place to stay
  19. After our late finish last night, we didn't make a very early start to the day in Hawick. It was around 10am by the time we checked out and our first destination was the nearby town of Galashiels, where we stopped off at McDonalds for breakfast We had another fairly long day of driving ahead of us to get home. Our plan was to stop off in Northumberland and try to track down Hadrian's Wall. We'd actually tried to find part of Hadrian's Wall previously, when we were in Northumberland for August Bank Holiday, as a lady at our hotel had recommended that we go to Hexham to visit it. We'd driven through Hexham on the way back from Kielder Water one day and even followed a short driving route which was signposted as being a Hadrian's Wall tour, but failed to see anything which looked like a large wall! I think part of the problem was that there are lots of forts and other sites which you can visit along the length of the wall, but most of them are run by either English Heritage or the National Trust and in the current climate, you have to book your visits to both in advance. I'd thought about trying to fit in Hadrian's Wall when we were driving up through Northumberland at the start of this holiday, but when you've got a journey of more than four hours, it just felt too difficult to predict within which half hour interval we might possibly arrive at one of the sites. So ultimately we visited the waterfalls of High Force and Low Force instead. On the way back I was more confident of success though, having googled and found a car park at a place called Cawfields where the internet suggested that it was possible to park and walk to a part of the wall without having to pay to go inside anywhere. We put the postcode into the Sat Nav and off we went. It took around 90 minutes to get from Galashiels to Cawfields. The car park is owned by the Northumberland National Park and is located on the site of a former quarry. We paid £1 for parking and set off down a path in search of the elusive wall. After climbing up a slightly muddy track, we got our first glimpse. There was indeed a reasonable stretch of the wall here Finally, we'd found it A small path enabled us to walk alongside the wall for a while. We didn't want to go too far though, because we knew we still had quite a few hours in the car ahead of us to get home. Luckily there were no accidents or major delays today and we made it back home by 7pm after what has been a really exciting holiday
  20. I had the first two weeks of September booked off work for what was originally supposed to be our Croatia-Montenegro-Albania adventure. Now that that obviously wasn't happening, we needed to come up with an alternative plan. We enjoyed our week in Scotland at the start of August so much that Scotland naturally came to the top of the list when were discussing places to go in the UK. In particular, we were conscious of the fact that, while we've explored a fair bit of the Scottish mainland now, we haven't yet been to any of the islands. I don't think we would ordinarily give up the opportunity to spend two weeks somewhere warm and sunny in favour of travelling to cold, wet and potentially midge-infested islands off the coast of Scotland, so if we were ever going to visit places like the Outer Hebrides, 2020 felt like the year to do it The Outer Hebrides were my initial plan and I purchased a Bradt guidebook for the region, but Tim came up with a more ambitious itinerary which would involve fitting in the Shetland islands too, plus a brief visit to Orkney. The way things are at the moment it was difficult to know whether it was a good idea to go ahead and make bookings or not, but with about two weeks to go we decided to take the plunge. Nothing dramatic has gone wrong between now and then (touch wood!) so this morning we were able to set off as planned on the first leg of our journey, towards Northumberland. It really doesn't feel like very long since we were last in Northumberland We had about five hours of driving ahead of us today, so last night I tried to come up with a plan for where we could break the journey. When we drove up to Hawick at the start of August, we stopped at a forest near Richmond, which felt like a good mid-point to the journey. Looking at a map of the same general area last night, I came across an idea for a walk we could do which would involve seeing two separate waterfalls. A Google Image search suggested that both would be more impressive than the rather uninspiring Dog Falls which we visited on our way back from Glen Strathfarrar a few weeks ago. We left home around 10.45 in the end and, with a stop for petrol and another for McDonalds coffee, it was around 3pm when we arrived at the Bowlees visitor centre, where I'd read there was a big car park. It turned out to be a "donate and display" car park, which was an interesting idea, although we weren't able to donate very much towards our parking ticket due to an extreme lack of coins! Leaving the car park behind, we crossed a bridge over as small river and then followed a footpath through a field. It was only a matter of minutes before we turned a corner and got a view of the first waterfall, Low Force. I had read that this was the smaller of the two waterfalls, so I was impressed by how big it was. It reminded me a little bit of the Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland, on a smaller scale. Although all the water we saw in Iceland was beautifully clear, and this water was a rather murky shade of brown! The water was flowing impressively fast, though! Once we'd finished admiring Low Force, the path led us across a narrow bridge called Wynch Bridge. It was built in 1830 and there were signs up saying that only one person should walk on it at a time, which didn't really inspire confidence We made it across though and once on the other side, the path led us to another great viewpoint of the falls From there the path led us along the side of the falls. There were some really interesting rock formations... ...and some beautiful countryside views too The route was a little bit rocky and muddy at times, but there was a clear path to follow. After a couple of miles we arrived at a viewpoint for the second waterfall. This is High Force, with a drop of 21m. Definitely more impressive than Dog Falls It wasn't a circular route, so once we'd seen the waterfall we needed to retrace our steps. That wasn't a great hardship though as there were some lovely views on the way back too. Before long we were back at Low Force and ready to set off on the remainder of our journey. There were another couple of hours of driving between where we were in Teesdale and the hotel we were staying at in Northumberland. The Sat Nav decided to take us on a scenic but narrow road across the Pennines, where at one point I had to get out of the car to open and close a gate. It then tried to take us down an even smaller road which required crossing a ford, but we drew the line at that and managed to navigate an alternative way back to the main road! We hadn't had any lunch, so once we crossed into Northumberland we found a village pub to stop and have dinner. By that stage we were only 30 miles or so away from the hotel where we're staying tonight in the village of Crookham, which is close to the Scottish border. I was just expecting a standard bedroom... ...so was impressed to find that we've got a little living room as well It's been a long day of driving, but it's nice to be on holiday again and I'm feeling excited about the rest of the trip
  21. We enjoyed our trip to Bamburgh a few weeks ago so much that we knew we wanted to return and go inside the castle properly if we were ever in this part of the world again. When we booked this last minute bank holiday trip to Northumberland, one of the first things I did was to go on the Bamburgh castle website and book tickets for today. They've got quite a good system where you can pay online for a specific day and then enter the castle at any time on that day. It's a lot more convenient that the National Trust system of being tied to a particular arrival time! Although we didn't need to be at the castle by a specific time, we made a fairly early start this morning, arriving not long after the castle opened at 10am. I'd also been able to pay for parking in the castle car park online. Just stepping outside of the car in the car park, the views were already pretty impressive. We could see down towards the village of Bamburgh in one direction... ...and up towards the castle in the other. As you can see, we didn't have very far to walk from the car park to the castle entrance. Unfortunately it was so sunny that it was a bit difficult to smile for a photo We walked up past a poster depicting the history of the castle through the ages, which was about as far as we'd been able to get last time without paying. This time we were able to continue through the archway into the castle grounds. The great thing about being here just after opening was that there were very few other people around. We could see a few other visitors as we strolled around the ramparts, but for a Bank Holiday Monday it was still very quiet There were some lovely views out to sea. And some great views of the castle itself. As we walked through the grounds we could see this strange round tower in the distance. It turns out that this used to be Bamburgh Castle's windmill, built for the local villagers to use. Today it doesn't have any sails, but it was still interesting to see Having walked as far as the mill, we could look back towards the castle keep. From this side of the castle we could also look back down to the village. Last time we'd been here people had been playing cricket on the village green, but today it looked quite peaceful We walked past the clock tower... ...and could see that the grounds were starting to get a bit more crowded now. It was still far from overrun with people though It was time to go inside the castle now. In one of the first rooms we came across this beautiful model of the castle. The interior of the castle was very grand. There was a very good one-way system in place around the rooms and all visitors had to wear face masks. It worked pretty well, though it was slightly frustrating if you got stuck behind people who were looking at every single exhibit in a room very slowly and you had to try and stay appropriately socially distanced from them until you could find an opportunity to overtake I think we're probably bigger fans of exploring the outsides of castles rather than the insides! Once we emerged into the sunlight again we had some more beautiful views out across the sea. The coast is really lovely here, with lots of little sanddunes. That was the end of our castle tour, so we set off down a little path towards the village. We wanted to get some views of the castle from the village green. It was definitely worth the climb down From here you can really see how long the castle is. Once we'd finished admiring the views, it was time to walk back towards the car park. We climbed back up the little path to the side of the castle and retrieved our car. We had a long 5-hour drive back to Nuneaton ahead of us, which wasn't helped when we got stuck in some Bank Holiday traffic on the A1, but it was worth it; we've had a really nice weekend, staying in some amazing places, and it was especially fun to have the opportunity to visit Bamburgh properly today
  22. After I'd finished the blog last night we went out for a stroll around the hotel grounds. It was starting to get a little bit dark, but it was still a really lovely place to walk around. The interior of the hotel is really beautiful too. There are some gorgeous stained glass windows. And when we came down to breakfast this morning we found the breakfast rooms were rather grand too! We had the breakfast room almost to ourselves, so there were no concerns about social distancing! Ordinarily there would have been a breakfast buffet, but we'd been asked to fill out a checklist to choose the food we wanted the night before. The problem was that with not being about to see the food as you would at a buffet, it was difficult to know how much to order. I ordered a croissant, for example, expecting to get something fairly small, and ended up with one of the biggest croissants I've ever had All the food was beautiful though, and the benefit of having such a large breakfast was that we definitely weren't going to need any lunch. Before we set off for the day's adventures, we had another walk around the hotel grounds in the sunshine. It felt a bit like we'd woken up and had breakfast in a National Trust property Our plan for today was to drive to Kielder Water. This decision was mainly based on having driven past a sign to Kielder Water when we were on our way to Scotland a few weeks ago and vaguely remembering having learned about it in geography lessons We hadn't done a lot of research for this trip - partly because I've spent most of my free time recently planning another trip to Scotland (plus Tim hasn't had any free time!) - and we weren't able to do much research this morning, because there's no Wi-Fi at the hotel. So we had a quick look at the map, chose a place which looked like it was in the general vicinity of Kielder Water and put it in the Sat Nav. This would have worked fine, except for the fact that there were some roadworks we didn't know about. Our route - somewhat surprisingly - quickly took us out of England and across the border into Scotland, passing through the towns of Kelso and Jedburgh. At some point we turned off onto a small road which was signposted Kielder Water, but after travelling down it for the best part of ten miles we found that it was closed for roadworks and we couldn't actually get as far as Kielder! So we were forced to retrace our steps and attempt to approach Kielder from another angle. It didn't really matter, because the countryside we were driving through was all so beautiful. Eventually we found a main road and passed back from Scotland into England. We paused at a viewpoint on the border to take some photos. It was a wonderfully sunny day today and we could see for miles. Shortly after crossing the border we finally saw a turn off signposted for Kielder Water. Excellent! The sign said something about a forest road, which sounded scenic... It turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than we had expected! Kielder Forest Drive is a 12-mile gravel road which leads through a remote part of the Kielder forest. It's apparently one of the highest roads in England, reaching a peak of 457 metres at Blakehopenick. There's a slightly unusual structure built to mark the highest point. It was very scenic though! Driving on a gravel road meant that it felt a bit like being in Iceland - and our car got rather dusty in the process - but the views as we travelled along were definitely worth it. As we reached the end of the forest road we emerged into a much busier, touristy area at a place called Kielder Castle. To be honest, the castle didn't look very impressive and was mostly obscured by food wagons! We parked the car in the hope that we would be able to find a path to walk to Kielder Water itself. Parking turned out to be more difficult than expected, because the car park machines only appeared to take coins. Eventually, after consulting a forest ranger, we managed to find one that took cards and we were sorted! There were numerous marked trails starting from around the castle and we followed one of them for a mile or so, through a forest and along by a river. There was no sign of Kielder Water though, and the path was a bit muddy, so after a while we turned around and walked back towards the castle. Rather than retrace our steps along the forest road, we turned onto a main road which looked like it ought to take us around the edge of the lake. After a bit more driving, we finally managed to find Kielder Water Kielder Water is the largest man-made reservoir in the UK. Work began on building the reservoir in 1975, being completed in 1981. It took two years for the valley to fill with water. We found a lakeside path and set off for a stroll. It's possible to walk around the entire reservoir, but the path is around 27 miles so we didn't fancy it today! We had a good walk though, and after the rain of the past few days it was really nice to be outside in the sunshine. It definitely looked like there had been a lot of rain here; at one point, we came across this flooded road. We took that as a sign to retrace our steps and walk back towards the car park. Our breakfast had kept us going for a long time but we were starting to feel hungry now, we were on the look out for somewhere to get dinner. Our route back towards the hotel took us over the border into Scotland again and we stopped in the town of Jedburgh, which was the largest place we'd driven through today so seemed like the best bet to find restaurants. We'd actually been to Jedburgh once before, during our 2010 road trip around Scotland. Unfortunately, that day it was pouring with rain and we ended up having a rather mediocre lunch in a cafe attached to a woollen mill. It turns out that on that occasion we had missed the town's main sight; the ruins of Jedburgh abbey. We found an Indian restaurant which was open and had a nice meal, which was only slightly marred by some rather noisy drunk locals on the opposite side of the restaurant. Despite that, we've had a lot of fun today and really enjoyed exploring some more of Northumberland
  23. Our original plan for this weekend was to go to Luxembourg. We had visited once previously, on a day trip from an Esperanto event back in 2009, and we didn't either remember it very well or have any decent photos. But then, of course, Covid-19 happened and our flights to Luxembourg were cancelled by BA quite some time ago. We didn't initially make any alternative plans, but when we were driving back from Scotland a few weeks ago, we were pleasantly surprised by what a beautiful county Northumberland seemed to be. Tim did a bit of research on booking.com and found a nice hotel with a vacancy in a location very close to the Scottish border. To break up the journey a bit, we decided to travel partway on the Friday evening, stopping overnight in Yorkshire. We didn't end up setting off quite as early as we'd hoped on Friday, so it was already dark by the time we arrived at the Hazlewood Castle hotel where we were staying. Once we'd checked in we could just see enough to be able to tell that we'd have a lovely view out the window in the morning. Sure enough, when we woke up in the morning we did After breakfast we set off for a stroll around the grounds. It wasn't the sunniest of days, but it was still really pretty here. And we could actually see a little bit of blue sky behind the hotel The hotel is set in really lovely grounds. And the building itself is really impressive too. It was definitely a nice way to start the morning We didn't have fixed plans for the rest of the day, but we knew we weren't far away from Harrogate - a town we've never visited before - so we decided to make that our first stop. It looked really pretty as we were driving through it, but then once we'd managed to park and started strolling around we found it quite busy and difficult to stay socially distanced from people. It seems to be a really green town though, with lots of parks and open spaces. There were some really beautiful flower displays... ...and we also found this slightly strange tree stump which looked like a replica of the Eiffel Tower, among other things, had been carved into it. The sky was getting cloudier as we walked around and it felt like it might start to rain soon, so we decided to head back to the car. Our next destination was York, a journey of around 30 minutes. York is beautiful but wow, if I thought Harrogate was busy, York took busyness to a whole other level! We mostly kept our masks on while walking around, because staying the right distance away from people was really difficult. Especially on narrow streets like the Shambles! We made our way down to the river, where things were a bit less chaotic. The water level looked really high though! We had lunch in a wine bar which was nice and quiet, although it did have markers on the walls to show where flood waters had come up to in previous years. Some of them were over our heads! After lunch it was back to the car for the rest of our journey northwards. I've always thought of York as being quite a northern town but we had another three hours to drive before we reached our final destination of the Tillmouth Park hotel where we are staying for the next couple of nights. The hotel is really lovely For some reason we got our room upgraded, so it's much bigger than I was expecting and we have windows on both sides. And the view out the windows is really pretty Fingers crossed the weather is going to be dry tomorrow and we'll be able to explore Northumberland, while avoiding people
  24. We had a relaxed start to the morning in Hawick before setting off on what would be a long journey home. As with yesterday, we didn't necessarily want to travel by the most direct route, and instead had planned what we hoped would be a scenic diversion. Our diversion meant that, when we left Hawick, rather than driving south we actually drove slightly northeast toward the Northumbrian coast. In total it was a journey of around 50 miles on small roads, but it was extremely scenic as we travelled around the edge of the Northumberland National Park. Our destination was the small village of Bamburgh, which is famous for its historic castle. We knew we were getting close when we saw this view on the horizon. What we hadn't realised was that Bamburgh was an incredibly popular tourist destination. Having driven for miles through Northumbria hardly encountering a single soul, it was a surprise to arrive in Bamburgh and find it packed to bursting. It was so busy that, after several attempts at driving around the castle car park in search of a space, we decided to give up and see whether the Sat Nav could direct us to another car park. The Sat Nav identified that there was another car park about 2 miles away, so we decided to give that a go. We found it without any difficulty, but it turned out to be located on the edge of the Lindesfarne Nature Reserve and it would have been a difficult walk back into the village along a main road. We got out of the car to take a brief look at the view, before jumping back in and driving back towards Bamburgh. On our second attempt in Bamburgh we got lucky and Tim managed to find an empty space along the main road. We parked and got out for a stroll. The village itself is extremely pretty. The church of St Aidan's was originally built here in 635, although the present church dates from the 12th century. But the most impressive thing about Bamburgh is definitely the castle. A Celtic fort was originally built here in the fifth century, coming under the control of the Anglo-Saxons in 590. At this point the settlement was known as Bebbanburg rather than Bamburgh. The fortress was ultimately conquered and destroyed by the Vikings, but the Normans later built a castle on the same site and the origins of the present day castle stem from that time. Earlier this year we'd been watching a DVD of 'The Last Kingdom' about the Saxon Uhtred from Bebbanburg, so that made visiting Bamburgh particularly exciting It would have cost £11.85 each to go into the castle, so we decided not to do it today. It looks like an enormous site and it would have been a rush to get around everything quickly before continuing our long journey south. But it was possible to stroll around the green underneath the castle and walk up to the entrance walls for free. As we climbed up the slope towards the castle, we had a good view out across Bamburgh. A game of cricket was being played in the middle of the village green. Soon we arrived at the castle entrance. From here we had a great view out to sea We could see out towards what I assume were the Farne islands. It was a really lovely place We were able to get a little way inside the castle courtyard... ...where there was a display of the life of the castle through the ages. That was all we could see for free, so we headed back downhill again. Hopefully we'll be back in this part of the world again some day and have time to go inside properly There was just time for a final stroll around the green... ...before we needed to head back through the village to the car. From there we had 247 miles to drive to get back home. We probably added a few on to that by following a signposted scenic route which took us around some more of the Northumbrian coastline, but it was well worth doing Overall we've had a really great holiday, despite the fact that it wasn't quite what we had originally planned for this week in August. My rough calculation is that we've driven around 1,500 miles and walked approximately 144,000 steps, so it's definitely been a busy week The accommodation hasn't been quite as cheap as it would have been in Latvia, but the views at places like Glen Coe and Bridge of Orchy have more than made up for it!
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