Saying goodbye to our lovely cottage, we began our journey south. But not before one last exploration of Scotland.
Beginning at the tip of Loch Lomond, we drove north along the A82 through Luss and on to Inverbeg. Tight to the loch edge, we got a full view of Ben Lomond and the surrounding mountains standing proud. It was a fantastic feeling to see the mountain we had conquered in front of us.
Reaching Inverbeg, we diverted off through Glen Douglas. Taking us along a single track road, we were immersed in the mountains. In full autumn colours, it was incredible.
Passing through some army bases, we came out to the A814, which took us along the edge of Loch Long. Here we could see across to the Argyll Forest with its magnificent evergreens that border the banks of the loch. A place to visit next time.
Continuing south, we split off from Loch Long to discover Gare Loch and the more built-up towns of Helensburgh and Dumbarton. Scanning across to the opposite side of the River Clyde, we could see Greenock and Port Glasgow.
Sight-seeing over, we began the long drive down to Newcastle: our next destination. As we neared the city, we diverted to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Chris was especially interested in visiting this outcrop of land as it is temporarily cut off from the mainland at high tide.
Lindisfarne is one of the areas I often visited on family holidays as a child, so holds a lot of sentimental value. We took a peek at the Lindisfarne Priory before exploring the beach and some of the quaint shops dotted around the village. A yummy carrot cake and coffee was consumed at Pilgrim’s Coffee House.
Realising the time, we wandered a short way down to the castle, which was unfortunately under refurbishment, before jumping back in the car for the last night of our trip – an Antarctic Monkeys’ gig in Newcastle.
Our holiday complete. We celebrated my birthday before returning to London and normality.
Our first full day in Drymen, we decided to go exploring. But, by the time we reached the starting point of the Ben Lomond trail, it was already after 1pm. With an estimated 4-6 hour trek ahead of us, I did warn that we would be returning in the dark.
Undeterred, Chris insisted we climb Ben Lomond. So we set off along the Main Path to the summit from Rowardennan.
You almost immediately start to climb through the lower trees. It was a perfect day as the sun joined us for short bursts and we were only slightly spattered by the expected Scottish rain. Trees in full autumn colour, the views were spectacular as I stopped every 5 minutes to take photographs.
The path is well-trodden and definitely one of the easier trails I have climbed. Obviously, it is a popular walk. Today, however, we almost had the mountain to ourselves.
This first section of the walk is fairly steep, with uneven steps climbing the high gradient sides. As with most mountain climbs, we did not immediately begin to climb Ben Lomond, but circled around onto the ridge via its neighbouring mounts.
Upon reaching the ridge, the trail evened out and became almost easy as we meandered along. Inclining gradually, the views only got better. Every time we turned around, we gasped with the beauty presented before us.
As the sun broke through and drizzle continued in the surrounding valleys, a weird phenomenon occurred. Not a drop of rain fell on us as we observed an incredible full rainbow that kept us company for the rest of the journey.
As we got further towards the summit, which loomed through the cloud before us, we met more and more people returning. Only 20 minutes left, 15 minutes, 5 minutes. Their estimations were definitely optimistic as we struggled up the last steep climb to the summit.
One hundred metres from the top, my legs suddenly gave way – I’m not as fit as I once was! Chris had to seriously use his powers of persuasion to get me that last little bit. I could not turn back now!
But we made it. Utterly exhausted and now a little wet as the rain drew in. The top of Ben Lomond was soaked with huge puddles everywhere. The view was worth the pain.
With the light fading, we could not stay long at the top. It now became a race to the bottom before darkness ensued. Our knees buckling as we traversed the steep steps to the bottom, the journey seemed much longer than on our way up.
At points, we slipped and ankles were twisted, but we continued with the backdrop of a pink and purple sunset. Truly beautiful and something we would not have seen had we not been walking down the mountain at this time.
Nevertheless, the last couple of hundred metres were attempted in complete darkness. With the aid of our mobile phones, we were able to make out the path and get down safely.
Definitely exhausted and muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time aching, we were very satisfied to have completed Ben Lomond. Absolutely worth it.
Saying goodbye to the gorgeous garden room we had been staying at in Edinburgh, we headed on towards Drymen. But first, we took a detour to Edinburgh Zoo.
We had booked before visiting onto the 10.45am viewing of the Giant Pandas. The Zoo is home to the only giant pandas in the UK. The female, Tian Tian (Sweetie), was unfortunately kept inside during our visit. Yet, we were hopeful to see the male, Yang Guang (Sunshine).
Both pandas have identical, but separate enclosures as giant pandas are entirely solitary animals that only meet during breeding season once a year. However, it seemed that Yang Guang didn’t want to say hello us to that morning. He was tucked up warm in his bed!
Deciding that we should come back later, we continued onto Penguins Rock. The large enclosure houses three different species of penguin: Gentoo penguin, King penguin and the Northern Rockhopper penguin.
We enjoyed watching them play in the water fountain and look inquisitively at the humans watching them behind the glass.
Continuing on, we came across the Rhinoceros enclosure. We were impressed by the size and variety of habitats provided by the zoo, but it was a little cold for him that day. We found him in his home, which is open for the public to walk through. I was amazed at his size! I don’t think I’d ever been as close to a rhino before.
Wandering round, we came to the Tapir enclosure, where we saw her asleep with her beautifully striped baby. We passed through the bird enclosures, where we saw snowy owls to rainbow lorikeets, on to the Banteng (an animal between a cow and a deer) and the Visayan Warty Pig enclosure before reaching the otters.
It looked empty until the first otter poked his head out of their hidey-hole. Suddenly there were five Oriental short-clawed otters scampering to get a drink at the pool. One curious individual decided to go for a wander away from the group.
Making a U-turn we headed towards the Pigmy Hippos, which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t expecting them to look so shinny!
Stopping by the Cassowary, who looked at us suspiciously, we carried on to the Egyptian Vulture and Gelada Baboons. We watched the baboons for a while as there were a lot of babies clinging to their mothers. At one point we saw sudden movement and screams as a fight broke out. We have no idea what caused it but it was interesting to see the group dynamic.
Climbing now, we reached the Scottish Wildcat, who was hiding pretty well at the top of a tree. Then we saw some people crowding around an area. When we entered the zoo, we were informed the Tigers and Lions would be cordoned off due to it being their breeding season. I was really disappointed as they are my favourite. Yet, at this point, there was one tigress visible in her enclosure.
I was over the moon!
Continuing on, we reached the Zebra and Antelope African Plains. It was beautiful to walk out across a bridge into the enclosure and look out at the zebras silhouetted against the Scottish landscape.
Having watched them for a while, we wandered back down and into the Wallaby Outback walkthrough.
Leaving them to sun themselves, we visited the Koalas before making our way to the Small Monkeys Magical Forest. I couldn’t believe how tiny some of these monkeys are. This little guy was a bit of a character.
It was time to visit the Squirrel and Capuchin monkeys, who are currently taking part in research by the zoo to understand their behaviour more. Whilst we didn’t get the chance to see an experiment, it was interesting to read about. Plus, the Squirrel monkeys are especially cute.
Realising that it was almost time for the Penguin Parade, we headed back stopping at the Sun Bears, Brilliant Birds and Gibbons as we went.
Taking a prime seat in the Penguin Café, we enjoyed a pasty as we watched a small group of penguins being directed through the crowd of people. Whilst not quite the “parade” we were expecting, it was lovely to see the children so excited.
After a short break, we took in the Wee Beasties exhibit before rushing back to the Chimpanzees Budongo Trail. Another centre of research, this building housed our closest relative. With many rooms for the chimps to hang out in and lots of viewing platforms for us, the centre is definitely set up well with plenty of information on the zoo’s Ugandan conservation work.
Content we’d taken in the Budongo trail enough, we moved on to the Lemur Walkthrough and Monkey Walkthrough – except they were all tucked up in their houses! A little too cold maybe…
Moving on, we saw the flamingos dancing and spotted a Red Panda in the top of its tree. We then said hello to the Pelicans and caught a glimpse of the meerkats. The day coming to a close, we decided to try the Panda enclosure one last time.
Though of course, Yang Guang had decided to show his face this time and everyone had had the same idea… There must have been a hundred people waiting. So we dipped into the Monkey House where we saw Drill and Barbary Macaque, Diana Monkeys and more Capuchins.
Pretty exhausted, we jumped in the car for the drive to Drymen near Loch Lomond. After a little struggle to find the cottage we headed out to eat.
We found Drymen Inn, which I would highly recommend to anyone in the area. My Chicken Stroganoff was the best I’ve ever had!
Holiday in full swing, it was time for the 5-hour drive to Edinburgh! But not before exploring York in an hour…
Already over an hour into our journey, it was time for a pit-stop in York. And an opportunity to try the “LADBible Famous” Yorkshire Pudding Wrap.
Nestled in the heart of York, we found one of the York Roast Co. shops. With a choice of Turkey, Pork, Ham or Beef with stuffing and sauces, our taste buds were spoilt. Settling on the Pork with applesauce combo, we did a quick tour of the main sights.
Stopping off to eat beside the Minister, we admired the architecture before trotting back along through The Shambles. A glimpse at the wall and it was time up. Back in the car and on to Edinburgh.
The next day presented us with a rainy morning that soon cleared for us to explore Edinburgh. Our host had kindly recommended a parking place half way up Arthur’s Seat, which made the trek to the top a whole lot shorter!
The wind buffeting us off the summit, we were greeted with views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.
Turning west, we could see out towards inland Scotland. Truly a magnificent place to take in your surroundings.
View from Arthur’s Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat
View from Arthur’s Seat
Climbing back down toward Holyrood Palace, we decided not to go in with our muddy boots and instead headed to the tourist information. Chris had been wondering along our way what this large white dome was. We found out. Known as Dynamic Earth, it is a centre for interactive learning.
It was decided, that was where we were heading. But first, we stopped for some official Scottish Hog Roast at Oink. Definitely filled a hole.
Dynamic Earth was fantastic. Taking you on a journey through time, the exhibits discover how the Earth has changed, from the big bang to the future of space exploration. The interactive nature of the museum was incredibly engaging and, even as a twenty-three year old, I found it fascinating.
I would definitely recommend for children and adults alike.
The day wasn’t over yet. We headed back to our apartment to freshen up for the evening. A friend had recommended Bread Meats Bread as a dinner option. We cannot thank him enough.
Genuinely one of the best burgers I have tasted, it was well worth the twenty-minute wait to be seated. With only three restaurants across Glasgow and Edinburgh, this place is wonderfully original. The Maple Sweet Potato Fries are to die for – just thinking about them makes my mouth water! With the burger exceeding expectation, you need to try this.
Finished drooling, we headed to a local bar: The Beer Kitchen. Intending to try a few bars before a ghost tour of the city, we were side-lined by Scrabble and the ambiance of an open fire.
Naturally, this led to us missing the intended ghost walk. Able to join a later one, we took a late night walk by St. Giles Cathedral and the surrounding streets. Returning to our starting point, we joined the rest of the people on the ghost walk.
Our tour guide, David, introduced himself and outlined the itinerary. First, it was a visit to the underground vaults.
These vaults aren’t officially underground; they are a series of chambers formed in the nineteen arches of the South Bridge in Edinburgh. Completed in 1788, they were originally used for trade and businesses. However, as the condition of the rooms deteriorated due to damp, these tradesmen moved out, paving the way for Edinburgh’s poorest. Cramped into these tiny rooms, disease was rife and many died. It is believed to be haunted due to a number of stories circulating around the deaths of children.
At multiple points throughout the tour, we were left in these rooms in the pitch black. I won’t spoil it by saying what happened.
It was the third of these rooms when I began to feel a little frightened. We were told the story of a pregnant woman, who had experienced hearing a ghost rasp that she wanted her baby and ran scared through the passageways. In these slums, women (or child snatchers) would profit from the poor by taking their babies and selling them. Could this be a ghost of a child catcher?
Unscathed we continued on our tour of Edinburgh’s most haunted. This time, we were taken to Greyfriars Kirkyard. The graveyard holds many stories, from Greyfriars Bobby (the loyal dog that guarded his master’s grave) to the poltergeist of “Bluidy MacKenzie”.
“Bluidy MacKenzie” was Lord Advocate during the prosecution of Presbyterian Covenanters by order of Charles II. After the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, Mackenzie imprisoned 1,200 Covenanters in the field next to Greyfriars Kirkyard. Some were executed, and hundreds died of maltreatment.
The graveyard was first recorded as haunted after the violation of MacKenzie’s mausoleum. A homeless man broke into the grave, which houses many important figures, with violent ghost attacks being reported thereafter.
We were taken through into the so-called Covenanters’ prison. Our guide divulged stories of these violent attacks and once more we found ourselves in the pitch black. I won’t tell you what happened next.
After a closer look at MacKenzie’s mausoleum, the door of which has almost been kicked in, we called it a night.
A little tacky and maybe a little too political at points, the ghost walk was worth it for the history. If you want to learn more about Edinburgh’s darker past, then enjoy!
It was my birthday week – cause who only sticks to a day?! So, we decided to go on holiday to Scotland making a pit-stop at my parents on the way. This provided the perfect opportunity to finally visit my dad’s workplace: Spurn Point. After over three years as Heritage Officer at the Nature Reserve, my dad was able to showcase his pride and joy to me as we joined one of his Spurn Safaris.
Spurn Point sits at the very tip of the Humber Estuary along the coast of East Riding of Yorkshire. An important habitat for bird migration in the spring and autumn months, Spurn is a key area of conservation. But it is also very susceptible to the elements.
During the tidal surge of 2013, the road to the point was washed away creating what is now known as the wash-over. At certain tide times, this turns Spurn Point into the only island in Yorkshire. With the loss of a road down to the point, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust invested in a Unimog to cross the sandy beach with passengers. This created the opportunity for Spurn Safaris: guided tours of the nature reserve.
Today, it was our turn.
A quick briefing and we were off across the sand. It was interesting to see the difference between the Humber Estuary on the right and the North Sea to the left. I don’t know of anywhere that offers such an insight into coastal diversity.
It wasn’t long before we reached the newly refurbished lighthouse: the tallest in the north of England. Here we were given the history of the lighthouse’s use in shepherding vessels through the mouth of the Humber Estuary. As we climbed the spiraling stairs, we found the rooms on each floor displayed the current shipping radar and how the landscape of Spurn has shifted over the years.
The Trust also houses an Artist in Resident who is showcased in the lighthouse. This season’s artists had created wild charcoal images of the nature reserve and a group of students had contributed some wonderful poetry. Dynamic, raw and ever changing being a common thread.
From the top, you are granted incredible views of Spurn and the surrounding area. Even on one of the windiest days of the year, the landscape was breath-taking. I fully understand why my dad loves it here so much!
Venturing further onto the point, we came to a number of buildings. Some were once the homes of the lifeboat crew and their families, these cottages now only house the on-duty staff since being cut from the mainland. Yet, it was good to see the RNLI still operational at Spurn.
Old army barracks and a VTS Tower also sit at the point but are now disused. A tour around this area revealed the artillery batteries positioned during the First World War as a line of defense. This expanded our understanding of Spurn as a military base, highlighting its position as more than a nature reserve.
Following our guide through the thick shrubbery, we were instructed on the significance of such a military history and Spurn’s importance in securing the Humber as a port. We also uncovered the natural prominence of this place as we spotted redstarts and chiffchaffs beginning their autumn migration.
Thoroughly tired out, we bundled back onto the Unimog to return to the mainland. On route, a lovely grey seal decided to say hello. We watched him dancing in the waves as we crossed the wash-over.
A quick bite to eat at Spurn’s quaint café, the Blue Bell, and we headed back to the warmth of home.
Life has been a little hectic recently, but you’ll be glad to know that means lots of posts for you! A couple of weeks ago now, we did a mad tour of Northern England and Scotland, so keep your eyes peeled for those blogs. But for now, I will take us back to the beginning of October, when Chris and I explored the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Another one ticked off the bucket list (almost). Entering from the Tunnel Entrance, we found ourselves in the Europe 1600-1815 exhibit. If you’re a fan of the ornate and beautiful, then I would definitely recommend.
We were treated to seventeenth century silver and traditional clothing. I was blown away by the ornate carvings on the below harp and even got to take part in a traditional dance – much to the delight of bemused spectators.
The interiors took me back to the Palace of Versailles and its exquisite painted ceilings and gold trimmings. Of course, they are of the same era.
Taking a short excursion from the museum to find somewhere to eat – which I would highly recommend – we ticked off another bucket list item. Harrods.
Neither of us had ever visited the famous department store, so it was a little adventure into the unknown. Teaming with people, it has definitely become more of a tourist attraction than a place to buy your bedding from. But, of course, we were adding to that trend. We took some photos with the famous Harrods bears and enjoyed a little early Christmas shopping.
Speaking of which, as we are all already counting down to Christmas, I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic site I’ve found for purchasing gifts! Uncommon Goods are working to change the way business is done by making sustainability a part of every decision they make. This doesn’t just mean being “green”. They focus on creating a positive workplace for their employees; only sell hand-made, recycled or organic products; as well as being environmentally conscious in their business practises, such as sourcing paper from FSC certified forests. There is also an option to donate to charity at the checkout. Pretty awesome right?
Anyway, overwhelmed by the strong scent of perfume at Harrods, we returned to the V&A. As the museum is so large, we decided to stick to the European displays. A quick visit to Rome, we admired one of the first works of Gianlorenzo Bernini. In Baroque style, the sculpture dramatizes a scene between Neptune, the classical god of the sea, and his son Triton. Fitting since this sculpture was positioned within a fountain.
We moved through the exhibit, taking in the baroque style through to the history of the Thirty Year War and the firearms and armour that were used. I was amazed by the intricate carvings on the rifles. Everything in this era seemed to be over-the-top yet astonishingly delicate.
The final area of this section highlighted the interest of 17th and 18th century Europeans in the Asian and “Exotic”. Ming dynasty-styled vases and ornate cabinets, these objects were a sign of wealth and beauty.
Time to head back further in time. Crossing to the opposite side of the hall, we came to the Medieval and Renaissance 300-1500 exhibits.
The first room presented us with beautiful carvings and engravings from thousands of years ago. Stone and ivory were the main building materials. Naturally, religion was a huge part of the buildings and ornaments we uncovered here. From beautiful archways to the first whale-bone ornament, the religious motifs were present.
In this period, churches and monasteries were increasingly built or rebuilt in stone. Both inside and out, they bore images that were either didactic, with moralising scenes from biblical stories, or decorative.
In later years, the gothic style would take over. These stained glass windows are from various monasteries in France and depict many of the scenes of the bible, from the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne to St Peter, the Old Testament to King Louis IX.
At the end of this section, we came to a majestic tapestry. The Boar and Bear hunt is an incredible piece of work depicting the hunting practises of the 15th century. Hunting was popular amongst the aristocracy of the period. Bears and otters were hunted primarily for sport, whilst deer and boars were also prized for their meat. We were fascinated by what we learned when taking it all in.
We headed home exhausted after only covering a small section of the V&A’s collection. It is definitely a place that requires multiple visits.
August Bank Holiday, I finally had Chris all to myself for an entire day. And he had planned a mystery tour of Southeast England for us.
With only a slight idea of where we were going, we headed out in search of breakfast. We had hoped to find somewhere along the way, but one hour later (with a very hungry Hazel) we took a diversion into Royal Tunbridge Wells. Suddenly remembering a place he’d been before – which had a café – Chris took us on a wild goose chase. No name and only a slight inkling that it actually had a café, I wasn’t very hopeful. But he came through.
Dunorlan Park was beautiful. The bacon and sausage sandwich very much appreciated. Finishing our breakfast in the gorgeous 27C heat, we naturally headed straight for the ice cream. Then it was time to explore.
Idyllic in the summer sun, we wandered through the gardens spotting the ornamental fountain and impressive trees. Once part of the 78-acre gardens of the grand mansion built by Yorkshire millionaire, Henry Reed, the park is Grade II listed. The gardens contained within were designed by renowned Victorian gardener, Richard Marnock in the 1860s.
Another stunning feature is the 6-acre boating lake. Lots of people were out kayaking and playing in the pedalos. Definitely a place to revisit when we have more time.
Having had a nice break from driving, we continued on our journey to the main surprise. I tried to figure out where Chris was taking me. I knew it was close to Hastings, so I had some ideas, but it wasn’t until I saw the brown sign “Bodiam Castle” pop up a few times that I guessed.
Bodiam Castle is your classic castle. It’s the kind of castle that every young child imagines. A picture perfect monument with its symmetrical towers and large circular moat.
Upon arriving, we found multiple groups of people dressed in period clothing. There was an archery section where we watched some young children do worryingly well! As well as a number of tents and workshops set out like a battle camp. We never found out quite why there were these displays of 14th century England, but it definitely made the day more fun.
Crossing the bridge into the castle, we watched the gorgeous Koi Carp – with one rather spectacular orange one catching our attention. We explored the castle top to bottom, from picturesque views of the surrounding countryside to the servant’s quarters.
Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II. Its primary role was to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War.
However, the structure and details of the castle with its quadrangular shape and position in an artificial watery landscape suggest that it was designed to impress. Attractive as much as it is defensive.
Looking down into the Courtyard
View from top of the Castle
Inside Bodiam Castle
Looking down into the Courtyard
Well worth a visit, the castle remains in good condition and certainly has lots of history attached.
There was one last stop on our mystery tour. The beach.
Our final destination was Hastings, a seaside town on the southeast coast of England – and landing place of William the Conqueror. It is most known for the 1066 Battle of Hastings, fought on a nearby field where Battle Abbey now stands.
Arriving around 5pm, we headed straight for the seafront. Met by a shingle beach, it’s not quite your ideal picnic spot, but it was lovely to be beside the sea again. We wandered through the amusements area, eyeing up the Crazy Golf and Go-Karts as we went.
Continuing along the shore, Chris showed me the old net huts. Originating from the 16th-17th century, these huts were traditionally used to store fishing gear made from natural materials which would rot if left in the open. They have vastly changed over the years, but were recently awarded Grade II* listing and are almost as they were in 1865.
We also found a huge anchor which had once held centre stage on the pier. It was here that we realised the East Hill Cliff Railway was still running.
Having been convinced it had fallen into disrepair, we had to go up. The funicular railway was opened in 1903 by Hastings Borough Council and originally operated on a water balance principle. The line was modernised between 1973 and 1976 with an electric system and new cars added.
Despite knowing it must be safe, at points you certainly felt like you could fall off! The view, however, was a fantastic distraction. There was a hazy mist hanging over the scene making Hastings appear dream-like as we looked down upon it. At the top, you can explore Hastings Country Park which is the perfect place to relax in the sunshine – there are also steps if you don’t fancy the (almost) vertical railway.
Unfortunately, it was nearly time for the last car down – and we didn’t fancy the steps – so we couldn’t spend too long at the top. Just enough time to take in the view.
Our stomachs rumbling, we headed for the nearest Fish and Chips shop – and it was divine. After incredibly efficient service and enough chips to feed an army, we were definitely satisfied. Thank you very much, Fish Hut. Much better than Wales…
It was getting late, but the lack of people on the Crazy Golf tempted us to stay longer. We couldn’t resist a game, our competitive edges coming out. Far too much fun was had, especially when I managed to hit a hole in one! With only one point in it, I think we were both winners.
The light fading on a perfect day, it was time to head home. But not before a stop at the arcades – and no, Chris did not get me the Iron Man toy…
I finally ticked off one of my London bucket list items in visiting the Natural History Museum.
After first getting lost – yes, we got lost… My friend from uni and I were crowded into a packed first exhibit: Mammals.
In an attempt to escape the crowds, we went upstairs to the Whales and Dolphins section. It was incredible to see the life-sized skeletons and not-quite life-size blue whale model. However, upon returning to the ground floor and trying to find a café through the throngs of people, we decided to find somewhere quieter.
And we found it, in the Images of Nature exhibit. We whirred away the early afternoon hours taking in images of dodos and SEMs of insects. It allowed for the majority of the visitors to filter through whilst we caught up on life.
Image of Nature exhibit
Image of Nature exhibit
Making a break for it, we made our way to the Dinosaur exhibit. Still rather crowded, we were rushed through reading about the various fossils and skeletons on display. Nevertheless, it was still pretty awesome to see all of the display and an animated T-rex, which was a little less scary than we had hoped!
Finally, we made our way through to the main attraction – the 25.2 metre blue whale skeleton. Positioned majestically above the Hintze Hall, it certainly was a centrepiece.
The hall itself is also incredible with its elaborate design created especially to represent all the wonders of the natural world. The ceiling is covered in delicate paintings of flora with carvings throughout the walls and pillars.
After admiring the architecture as much as the blue whale, we climbed up the grand staircase to the first floor. Here we entered the minerals exhibition. I am fascinated by minerals and crystals so we may have spent far too much time picking out our favourites from the many, many cabinets. It was also fairly empty by now – thankfully!
Realising the day was slipping by, we made a last visit to the Vault, where the most precious minerals are kept.
Thoroughly exhausted, we decided to home. We hadn’t even scratched the surface.
Any recommendation of when is best – and less busy – to visit the museum would be much appreciated! I will be going back.
A couple of weeks after my return from France, we visited Painshill Park. A grade I listed 18th-century landscape garden envisioned by the Honourable Charles Hamilton, 9th and 14th child of the 6th Earl of Abercorn. The gardens boast 158 acres of woodland, shrubberies and a vast lake, as well as a large Vineyard.
Inspired by his exploration of Italy and his Grand Tours of Europe, the gardens were one of the first designed in the naturalistic style brought about by the Landscape Movement. There are hints of this influence everywhere, from the Renaissance-style Crystal Grotto to the Chinese Bridge.
It was lunchtime by the time we arrived, so our first stop was the café next to the entrance. We enjoyed fresh sandwiches and a delicious lemon drizzle cake before exploring the walled garden. Teaming with vegetables and a lovely potting shed, it was very quaint, fully allowing us to immerse ourselves in the past.
There are a number of routes around the park, but we chose the historical route. Naturally, this path led us to most of the main features of Painshill Park – other than a slight detour to the ruined abbey. Almost immediately, we found ourselves looking down upon the Vineyard. Hamilton planted the two and a half acres with Pinot Noir cultivar, as well as Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc hybrids, to produce Hamilton’s Painshill Sparkling Wine. Stretching down the steep hill to the River Mole, the vineyard looked magical in the summer sun. You could easily imagine yourself in the Italian countryside.
Our first time around, we completely missed the Amphitheatre as we wandered through woodland to the Gothic Temple. The temple stands atop the hill presenting us with beautiful views down towards the Serpent Lake and its bridges. Later in the day, we saw a couple having their wedding photos taken there and I can completely understand why!
Making our way slightly off the trail, we came across the Ruined Abbey. The abbey looked surprisingly new for a ruin and later research revealed that it is, in fact, a mock representation. Nevertheless, the accompaniment of a couple of swans made for some idyllic pictures through the abbey’s arched windows. Not wishing to disturb a group having a picnic too much, we continued along our route.
Walking through the woodland and carefully planted gardens, we came out into the open to find the Chinese Bridge. A couple of people were feeding the birds from the bridge meaning the area was teeming with ducks, geese and swans. Making our way through and over to one of the islands, we were faced with the Crystal Grotto. Unfortunately, due to lack of staff, the Grotto was closed on this particular day. All the more reason to come back again!
Undeterred, we got as close as we could in order to see the unbelievable structure. Completely man-made, the crystals were intricately placed to form the cavern by celebrated grotto maker Joseph Lane in 1760. However, during a period when the park fell into disrepair, the grotto roof collapsed meaning a full restoration was required.
In 2013, Heritage Lottery funding enabled Cliveden Conservation to restore the folly, which historically has been recognised as the finest stalactite Grotto in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of crystals – calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite – including originals recovered from archaeological works, were skilfully embedded with lime mortar onto a framework of inverted wooden cones, to recreate the incredible stalactite effect of Joseph Lane’s original folly.
I have never seen anything so unusually beautiful. Stunning in its strangeness, the grotto almost looks like skulls eroded together with shimmering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Wishing we could have gone inside, we continued along the historical route passing along the edge of the lake and back into woodland. It wasn’t long before we came across the Waterwheel. Still operative today, the Waterwheel was built by Bramah & Sons in the 1830s to replace the original and is one of the largest working wheels in the UK. It was restored in 1987 and continues to pump water from the river Mole into the Serpentine Lake.
Conscious of time, we decided not to visit the Hermitage but instead carry on towards the Gothic Tower through the Alpine Valley. Positioned upon a high-point in the park, the tower’s red brick stands out against the landscape. The tower is accessible to the public and there is a quaint café on the first floor where we stopped for a drink. We then trekked up the many steps, stopping on the various floors to find out more about the history of the park. Upon reaching the top, we were treated to picturesque views of the Surrey countryside – even despite the power lines!
View from Gothic Tower
View from Gothic Tower
Clambering back down the spiral staircase, we started the loop back towards the entrance passing through the Elysian Plain, which surrounds the Temple of Bacchus. Presumably inspired by Greek mythology, which can interpret the Elysian Plain as a place where heroes were sent when granted immortality, the area is full of colour. Hamilton’s Temple of Bacchus was originally home to a collection of antiques collected during his Grand Tours to Europe. It featured a seven-foot marble centrepiece statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, as well as 12 marble busts of Caesars. However, these pieces were sold in 1797 and the current foundations of the temple are currently undergoing restoration.
Unable to enter the temple, we continued on to the Turkish Tent: another feature of the park that has been recreated. There were no standing remains of the original 18th-century tent, so it was from drawings that the conservationists were able to reconstruct what might have been. With its beautiful blue edges and a fantastic view of the park, we spent a long time taking in the scene.
Making our way back to the café, we realised we had some time before the site closed. So we headed back to find the Amphitheatre where Hamilton would have entertained his guests. A cast of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines is the main feature which we admired whilst enjoying the late afternoon sun.
Earlier in the holiday, we had booked tickets to the Palace of Versailles. So we awoke early on my sister’s birthday to pack and give presents before the journey. The palace is roughly 20 miles from the centre of Paris so it took us over an hour to make our way there – especially with one of the underground stations being closed. By the time we arrived, there was already a pretty long queue meandering up and down the square outside the palace gates. This was when we really regretted not a having had breakfast…
Despite having pre-bought tickets, we had to queue for an hour and a half at least before finally entering the palace. Where we promptly found ourselves in another queue. It is very popular.
Finally, we were seated in the Palace restaurant, Angelina where Heather enjoyed a luxurious 21st birthday lunch. My favourite part, naturally, was this beautifully crafted patisserie that was pure decadence.
We then explored the palace at lightning speed. I would have liked to spend longer reading in all of the rooms but the mass of people was far too much to contend with! Still, it meant we had chance to see every public room in the complex and still get an hour to enjoy the vast gardens, which would quite easily take a day by themselves.
Everything is extravagant and intricately beautiful in its majesty. From the painted ceilings to the garden’s gold fountains, the gorgeous bedrooms to the incredible hall of mirrors, I cannot even put it into words.
We then went to sit in the gardens in the scorching sunshine. As I said earlier, you could spend a whole day in the gardens so we didn’t even scratch the surface. Nevertheless, what we did see was beautiful. At this time of year, the palace has it’s Musical Fountain displays, which I would have really liked to have seen. For another time.
Definitely somewhere I would like to visit again, I highly recommend the Palace of Versailles. But suggest you leave plenty of time to explore and potentially stay closer than we did!
Not wanting to carry our bags all the way around the palace, we had left them at the hostel (not realising they do actually have a baggage hold there). This meant we needed to return to the hostel from Versailles before jumping back on the metro to Gare du Nord.
It was terribly stressful in our fatigued states but we made it to the station with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, there were huge delays on the Eurostar and we ended up standing for an hour in queues waiting for the train to be ready. It has seriously made me question using the Eurostar again, despite its convenience and cost.
Nevertheless, despite the not so happy ending to our holiday, we left feeling like we’d had the best long weekend of our lives. Paris, we will be back!