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!
On our second day, we decided to visit Notre Dame. Unfortunately, my sister really was not very well so we decided not to wait in the queues to go inside but continue on to find a river cruise along the Seine.
Making it to the western tip of Ile de la Cité, we jumped on one of Vedettes du Pont Neuf cruise ships. For €14, it was definitely value for money as we were taken on an hour cruise along the Seine. Our guide, dressed as a French maid, pointed out various landmarks and attractions providing the history alongside.
We were introduced to The Louvre with its more than 35,000 works on display at any one time and the Musée d’Orsay, where an impressionist exhibition was taking place.
We passed the Palais Bourbon with its classical colonnade added by Napoleon, which sits across from the Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI was executed.
As well as the classic Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais and many, many bridges.
Of course, there were also some incredible views of Notre Dame as we passed back around the island.
Despite minor sun stroke, we were very pleased with our short tour of the main Parisian attractions – they have all been added to the bucket list!
Our energy wavering, we headed for some lunch, coming across the quaint restaurant Frou Frou. Unfortunately, our French is pretty much none existent, so ordering was a little confused but the food was incredible. It may even have been my favourite meal of the holiday. Traditionally French with duck perfectly seasoned and a dip that I could die for. Needless to say, I was very impressed.
My sister was struggling with being unwell so we headed back to the hostel for a nap before venturing out again that evening. We headed out to see what was nearby to our hostel and found a delicious Tex-Mex restaurant called Indiana café. Now, I’m no expert on the whole cultural appropriation concept, but using Native American Indian masks as decoration didn’t sit right with me. Yet, morals aside, the food was tasty and we left feeling very content.
Deciding a little wander was needed to walk off our Burgers, we explored the area a little more. However, we soon were confronted with a homeless shelter and a lot of men in terrible conditions asking us for money. It was quite horrible to see but an unfortunate reality of many cities. At least there was a shelter for them.
Wishing to get back to our room now, we hurried through the streets and crashed for the evening.
After a day breather from Wales, it was immediately on to celebrate my sister turning 21 in Paris. We took the 7.01am Eurostar from St Pancreas, arriving a Gare du Nord at 10.26am local time. Unable to sleep on the train as it was so cold (like seriously, take at least 10 blankets. I had goose pimples!) we headed straight to our hostel, the FIAP Jean Monnet.
Navigating the metro system in Paris certainly was an experience – they have opening windows underground! With the help of google maps we managed to locate our hostel and the route we needed to take. Check in time wasn’t technically until 2pm but we were allowed immediately into our tiny room.
Everything was clean and tidy but the lack of air conditioning in the 27˚C+ heat was a little uncomfortable. Evenings were definitely noisy, especially on the Saturday night and the area was slightly more on the dodgy side in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris. The breakfast was a disappointment – we did not attempt it again. Nevertheless, for £67 a night, we couldn’t complain.
After a quick nap to recharge the batteries, we wandered through the streets of Paris to the Eiffel Tower. A nice three mile walk, it was perfect for fully taking in the atmosphere of Paris and exploring some areas we might not otherwise have done.
It was Bastille Day, France’s national day, and we spotted the dregs of the Bastille Day Parade travelling through the city. There was a fantastic feeling of patriotism, especially as we neared the Eiffel Tower where the evening celebrations would take place.
Before setting off, we stopped for a bite to eat at this Café/Restaurant called Fourteen and got our first taste of Paris. We sat outside in the earlier afternoon sun as our waitress ran across to the bakery across the road to retrieve our fresh baguettes. You really can’t get better than that!
On our journey we passed many beautiful buildings, including the Church of Saint-François-Xavier and the Hotel les Invalides.
The Hotel les Invalides is a collection of buildings all relating to France’s military history. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
As we had approached from the southern side, we were unable to enter into the complex, which is only accessible (to our knowledge) from the northern side. Something for next time!
Finally, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower. We could not get too close as everything was fenced off for the concert and fireworks taking place that evening. Nevertheless, we found a spot to sit and wait as the crowds teamed in and the orchestra practised for a night of opera.
Our stomachs starting to rumble, we decided to get some tea. Wandering down the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet we found Le Bouquet de Grenelle. Looking perfectly tacky, the food here was nothing to scream about but the serving staff made our night. They were attentive the entire evening and a little bit of flirt goes a long way! I don’t think we stopped laughing.
A few glasses of wine down and the clock only just hitting 8pm, we decided to forgo the fireworks and head back to the hostel. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
Day 3 presented us with grey skies and drizzle. Thankfully, we were all feeling the need for a rest day. The worst of the rain was waited out “playing” snooker in the games room, reading and doing jigsaws. Because, yes, we are all old ladies.
Yet, a chilled morning gave us chance to book our cruise to Puffin Island in order to spot, you guessed it, some puffins! Our plans for the next day sorted, we headed into the pretty seaside town of Beaumaris where we had a lovely meal at the George and Dragon.
Wandering the streets, we window shopped and admired the multi-coloured houses along the seafront. Eventually making it to the pier where I remember crabbing with my Dad and sister many many years ago, we were mesmerised by the hundreds of jellyfish floating past. We must have spent an hour spotting the Lion’s Maine jellyfish as they floated past.
Luckily, we arrived back at the car just before it started to rain. Upon our return to Henllys, we continued to enjoy the games room and taught a couple of our friends how to play chess on the giant outdoor board. We made full use of the swimming pool, sauna and steam room again that evening.
The next day was once again a little miserable but we had booked onto the Puffin Island boat trip at 11am, something we’d been saying we needed to do since day 1. I would highly recommend the Seacoast Safaris. Their skipper was informative and intent on giving us the chance to see some Puffins – even circling out to sea in chase of these tiny birds.
We learnt some of the history of Anglesey and the Menai Strait, but the main focus was the many seabirds living on Puffin Island. From Cormorant to Kittiwake, the island was teaming and we almost ticked off our check list. Upon reaching the island, the boat slowed so we could squint to see the seabirds – scanning for any puffins. In doing so, we caught a glimpse of a seal resting below the rocks.
You could sense the passion of the skipper as he meandered out to sea spotting puffins flying above and bobbing on the surface. We must have seen about twenty or more! Definitely impressed. Returning to the shore, we were all a little frozen so warmed up back at the apartment before playing some more chess and board games. A lovely last full day.
Our actual last day was spent playing more chess and board games before the long journey home. The sun had decided to join us again making for a beautiful departing view and even an ice cream once we were in Chester! All in all, a wonderful holiday spent with my best friends in a beautiful place.
At the beginning of July, it was finally time for our long-awaited Girl’s trip to Anglesey, Wales. I set off from London to meet my uni girls in Chester, from where we travelled to the HPB site, Henllys near Beaumaris.
The first day was, naturally, spent travelling – especially as we were converging from all corners of the country. Nevertheless, after a slightly less smooth journey from London, the drive from Chester to Anglesey is beautiful. Views span through open countryside and over the River Dee to The Wirral. Unfortunately, no image could quite capture it.
Upon arriving at HPB Henllys, we decided to explore our home for the next five days. The view from the site is incredible, stretching across the Menai Strait and over to Snowdonia where vague glimpses of Mount Snowdon could be spotted.
Henllys is a beautiful former Franciscan Friary converted into apartments. It boasts its own golf course, a games room and swimming pool – which we made good use of during our stay. This first evening, we picked out a number of chick flicks for the coming nights and some leaflets on what to do in Anglesey. I have to admit, for exciting fun adventures, it’s not the best place. But for long countryside walks, Puffin watching and quaint shops, cafes and restaurants, it’s perfect.
On Day 2, we ventured out to Holy Island at the western tip of Anglesey. We travelled the half an hour journey on advice that the beaches were some of the best in Wales. However, upon arriving at Trearddur Bay, we realised it was a little chilly for paddling. With not a lot around, we jumped back in the car and headed to South Stack Lighthouse.
With incredible views across the Irish Sea, we spent a long time wandering along the clifftop where people were watching the myriad of seabirds. My friend swears she saw a seal but, unfortunately, it was very elusive to the rest of us.
Realising we were all a little hungry, we ventured to Holyhead to find some Fish and Chips. To our disappointment, we found the grumpiest lady in the world who served us tasteless chips and cheap sausages – I didn’t even try the fish but the batter looked rather soggy. Definitely not recommended!
We wandered through the seaside town a little only to find grey concrete and not much else. Disheartened, we returned to Trearddur Bay just in time for the best part of the day. The sun was out and the sand wonderful and warm between my toes.
Setting up camp with our beach towels, we took it in turn to guard our bags whilst the others paddled. The water was freezing! Refreshing after baking in the summer sun.
Suitably burnt, we headed back to our apartment in time for some homemade dinner and a quick play in the pool. In-built into the side of the hill with panoramic windows, the view from the pool is amazing.
The last couple of months have been incredibly busy, lots of new things have been happening in my life and I’ve spent a lot of my time travelling – but only so I can write lots of wonderful posts for you! Paris, Anglesey… but first I’m going to take you back to North West England and Arnside.
I returned to Lancaster to see my friends from university and get a taste of that lifestyle once again… as well as go on a little hike up Arnside Knott. Despite living in Lancaster for three years, I had never been to Arnside, which is only a short train journey away. Close to the beautiful Silverdale, Arnside is a quaint little place with a lovely view out over Morecambe Bay.
Upon arriving at the station (after a frantic dash in Lancaster – it wouldn’t be us if we weren’t late), we set off immediately up a footpath that climbed from the flat shoreline. We had to chase after my friend, Dave, who claimed he knew exactly where he was going. Before getting us completely lost.
Thanks to Google Maps, we managed to work out the route, backtracking on ourselves hugely before realising we could have simply crossed over the field. It was definitely one of those days.
But eventually, we were on the right path and climbing the steady slope of the hill. Despite not being the highest elevation at only 159m (522ft), you still get incredible views across to South Lakeland, the Kent Viaduct and Morecambe Bay.
It was a beautiful walk and one in which you could easily spend hours exploring all of the detours and meandering paths across the hilltop. There are various viewing points along the way highlighting what you can see in the distance, including the Old Man of Coniston, Crinkle Crags, the Helvellyn range and Skiddaw. The cloud was low, however, so we could not quite see the more distant fells- which still didn’t make the view any less beautiful.
Along the way, we found many piles of logs from which we fashioned a group of walking sticks and a den that I promptly got stuck inside… it’s the perfect place to bring children to run around and play in nature. The area at the top of Arnside Knott is pretty wide, with much to see and explore. We could have wandered for hours, if it wasn’t for our need of coffee and to return to Lancaster for the Warriors celebrations (a sporting event between Lancaster University’s colleges).
We descended via a different path which took us along the opposite side of the fell and trekked through bracken before reaching the road into Arnside. It was time for a quick stop for some well-deserved coffee and cake at the lovely Ramblers Café and Take-away. The café itself is pretty small, so good luck getting a table! But it is well worth it if you’re able. They have a huge selection of coffees and delicious food, which I definitely need to try more of!
Despite the weather not being the best, we went to drink our coffees (and teas) on the end of the pier before heading to the train station and home.
Catch other adventures in my Lake District Chronicles here.
On a recent trip back up north, I visited one of my favourite places in the world: Robin Hoods Bay. It’s a place that always takes me back to childhood camping holidays at Middlewood Farm campsite, which has a well-trodden track down to the beach. The area around the beach is a complete honey pot with cute gift shops, holiday cottages and plenty of places to eat and drink.The drive through North Yorkshire to reach the bay, which is close to the seaside town of Whitby, is beautiful in itself, but nothing quite beats the view from the top of the cliffs. There is a carpark at the top of the hill (which is usually incredibly busy) where you can walk down the many steps to reach the beach.The beach is a haven for children and I spent many holidays rock-pooling with my Dad and sister, finding crabs and anemones – even a lobster once! This time we stopped for ice cream from the van which is always there and it was wonderful. We sat with the sea creeping in and the last families packing up their beach towels in time for tea. After eating our ice creams, we went to discover whether our favourite place to eat was serving. Unfortunately, a Tuesday evening after a bank holiday Monday, Ye Dolphin was only offering drinks. We still sat in the lovely old bar lined with beer bottles and quirky pictures, taking in the atmosphere. Beginning to feel hungry, we wandered through the cute back alleys between holiday cottages back up the hill to eat at the Victoria Hotel, which has a beautiful view along the coastline.
Fed and happy, we headed back home, stopping to take in the view as we went.
After having lived in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames for the last seven months, I thought I would share my top 5 walks around the area.
River Crane Walk
This was the first walk I did when I moved to Twickenham in November last year. It was fairly late in the afternoon with the winter nights drawing in fast, but it was beautiful to see the orange sun shining through the trees and listen to the bird’s evening chorus.
The walk is pretty easy and can be accessed from the Staines Road in Twickenham via Meadway. We turned left onto the footpath which follows the river along to Hounslow. There are plenty of benches with intricate carvings along the way as the path meanders along the riverside and it is perfect for an evening stroll. Read more here.
Teddington to Kingston
The walk between Teddington and Kingston (via Teddington Lock) is a must for the summer. With sweeping views of the River Thames and the shade of trees, there are plenty of places to sit and relax or enjoy a picnic by the river. The walk itself is flat and paved for the most part and, at only 1.5 miles, it is an easy walk for all the family. Follow the signs to Teddington Lock from Teddington high street and turn right after crossing the bridge to reach the path. I decided to turn back upon entering the outskirts of Kingston, but you can continue into the town centre for plenty of cafes and shops. Read more here.
Whilst living in Teddington, I was amazed to find that I could walk for 10 minutes down Park Road and suddenly be in open countryside. The road takes you to the gates on Chestnut Avenue from which you can explore the entire park along various paths. Following the road, you will eventually find yourself at Hampton Court Palace (somewhere I still need to explore). However, I tend to take the right fork through the trees that takes you either round to open parkland if you turn right onto Cobblers Walk, where I have watched beautiful sunsets, or towards The Pheasantry café and woodland gardens if you continue straight. Whichever way you choose to go, the park is teaming with wildlife, including the many deer that call it home.
Twickenham to Richmond
Despite exploring this route in the depths of winter (gloves and scarves at the ready), it still amazed me how beautiful Richmond looks as you approach along the Thames walk. It was mid-afternoon as we neared the town, its red brick blazing in the late winter sun. The path itself is encased in trees and a little rough in areas but otherwise very walkable. We walked from Staines Road, Twickenham to the opposite bank towards Ham House, but turned back here as it was rather muddy and we were losing the light. The view along the Thames is incredible and well worth the 3 mile walk from Twickenham and is easily accessible from Twickenham riverside off Church Street. Both Twickenham and Richmond have pubs and restaurants in abundance, so there are also plenty of options to refuel along the way. Read more here.
Teddington Lock to Ham House
Teddington Lock tops my list mainly because of my experience getting lost and wandering forever along the banks of the Thames in beautiful sunshine. The walk takes you through an overhanging of trees and is the least busy of all the walks listed, allowing for you to completely immerse yourself in your surroundings. Again following the signs to Teddington Lock from the high street, turn left upon crossing the bridge taking the path along the Thames to Ham House. The path is easily traversed with a couple of benches for pit stops and emerges from the trees to wonderful views across to Richmond – once again shining orange in the sun. You can continue along this path to Ham House and on to Richmond joining the Thames path to Twickenham, which can make a nice circular walk I intend on attempting soon. Read more here.
Do you know of any other walks in this area? Let me know in the comments!