Box Hill: Happy Valley Walk in the Surrey Hills

In early January, with a new urge to get fitter, Chris and I went on an excursion to the Surrey Hills. We weren’t quite sure where we were headed but knew that if we kept driving, we would soon find somewhere. Which is exactly what we did.

Deep in the heart of the Surrey Hills is Box Hill – so called because of its box-like shape as it sticks out from the landscape. It was a rather cold day and the ground was sodden from the previous days’ rain. But that wasn’t going to stop us.

View from Solomon’s Memorial
Misty view from Solomon’s Memorial

Upon arrival, we first headed to the information point where we decided to make our way towards a viewpoint, or Solomon’s Memorial, that we’d passed on the drive up. Despite the fog, the view was beautiful as we looked down into the valley with Woking sat in its centre.

We began to walk along the hillside, yet it soon became too muddy for us to continue. Turning on our heels, we headed back to the visitor centre where we picked up a number of maps – the Box Hill Hike, Happy Valley Walk, Hill Top Stroll and the Juniper Top Walk.

Hill Top Walk at Box Hill
Walking along the hilltop at Box Hill

Looking at the maps, we felt that the Box Hill Hike may have been a bit too much for that day, whilst the Juniper Top Walk and Hill Top Stroll wouldn’t get us our steps. Therefore, we decided on the Happy Valley Walk.

Starting at the visitor centre, we took a detour to the Box Hill Fort, which was built in the late 18th century when there were fears that London may fall and take the British Empire with it. One of thirteen forts of its kind, it was built as a last-ditch attempt to save the capital of the empire.

Box Hill Fort
Box Hill Fort

Now, the fort is in a state of disrepair, cordoned off and graffitied to its roof. In truth, it was a fairly sad sight. But, it was also interesting to find out about the fears of London being overturned and the lengths that they went to in order to secure it.

Returning to the Happy Valley route, we passed through the car park and into the dense forest. Here was where it got really muddy. Not wanting to head back again, we slipped and slided our way through the trees.

Through the forest on the Happy Valley Walk around Box Hill
Looking through the trees at the start of the walk

Coming to a clearing, we wandered out to look down from the top of Lodge Hill – a view which arguably rivals the earlier viewpoint. From here, we could see a number of people walking up the side of the opposite hill on what appeared to be a proper path.

view from the Box Hill Hike path
Trying to find a less-muddy path

Keen to not be wading through mud for much longer, Chris started down the valley to see if we could reach the path. However, upon reaching Zig-zag road, we realised that there was a very steep drop and no path on which to walk down.

view from the Box Hill Hike path
Looking over to moody skies

Abandoning that idea, we headed back up the hill and onto Broadwood’s Tower. A really lovely tower, it looked magical surrounded by all of the trees. The tower was built around 1817 as a memorial to the Battle of Waterloo and stands above Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.

Broadwood’s Tower
Broadwood’s Tower

After exploring the tower, we soon came to a series of incredibly steep steps. The mud had not gone away and there were a few moments where things got a little treacherous as we slipped down the valley side. We were concentrating too hard to count the steps.

Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.
Juniper Hall, the former Broadwood family home.

At the bottom, it was almost like we’d entered a Black Mirror episode with the absolute silence and eerie dusk that was creeping in. The valley bottom at least was fairly dry and this part of the walk was easy.

At the bottom of Happy Valley
At the bottom of Happy Valley

But the hardest part was yet to come. A steep incline takes you back up the hill to Juniper Top. Once again in dense woodland, we joined the Juniper Top Walk that took us back to Donkey Green and the car park.

Walking through Happy Valley
Walking through Happy Valley

We had  aquick pit stop at the visitor centre before deciding to also incorporate the Hill Top Stroll into our day. The walk took us back to Solomon’s Memorial where we began down the hill to the right.

Solomon’s Memorial at dusk
Solomon’s Memorial at dusk

Navigating in the fading light, we made our way along to Labilliere’s Grave, the gravestone of an eccentric man who had lived in the below town of Woking and requested specifically to be buried in that exact place face down. Definitely worth the trek in the dark to barely see!

Circling round, we ended up back at the Box Hill Fort before returning to the car park and on to home.

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European Mini Break: Sforza Castle, Italy

Day two, we decided to explore the Sforza Castle. But not before spending far too long in a lovely bakery nearby our hotel, Mr Moussa. We first sampled the croissants: Chris chose plain whilst I had apricot marmalade. It was all of the tastes of Christmas! We shared a few mini tarts before ordering chunks of focaccia. Definitely a feast of Italy.

Sforza Castle, Milan
Sforza Castle

Positioned at Milan’s centre, the Castle was unlike any other castle I have seen with red brick and white details. The area had been massively restored over recent years to reveal the majesty of former times.

Fountain at Sforza Castle
Fountain outside Sforza Castle

The castle was originally a Visconti fortress but later home to the mighty Sforza dynasty, who ruled Renaissance Milan. Like Milan’s cathedral, the castle has undergone many transformations, including the addition of 12 bastions under Spanish command in 1550 and Napoleon’s draining of the moats and removal of its drawbridges during his reign.

Interior wall of Sforza Castle
Interior wall of Sforza Castle

Upon its transfer from military use to the government, restoration works were carried out by Luca Beltrami in the 19th century. Today, the castle houses many specialised museums, including works by Leonardo Da Vinci, who was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza to decorate the castle’s walls from 1494, and Michelangelo’s final work, the Rondanini Pieta.

Inside Sforza Castle walls
Inside Sforza Castle walls

Wandering around the courtyard, we attempted to enter one of the many museums housed in its walls. Turns out you need tickets from the opposite side to which we’d entered. We hurried through a little embarrassed!

Restoration of the interior walls of Sforza Castle
Restoration of the interior walls of Sforza Castle

Unfortunately, the queues were ridiculous for the museums so we decided not to buy tickets and instead head to the surrounding park, Parco Sempione.

View towards the Arch of Peace in Parco Sempione
View towards the Arch of Peace in Parco Sempione

The largest city park in Milan, it houses the Castle, Arch of Peace and Arena Civica. The Arch of Peace is a beautiful neoclassical structure replicating the Arc de Triumph in Paris. It was built in 1807 by architect Luigi Cagnola under the Napoleonic rule. This new gate marked the place where the new connecting road between Milan and Paris would begin, the Strada del Sempione.

Arch of Peace
Arch of Peace

When the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy fell and Milan was conquered by the Austrian Empire, work on the gate was abandoned. Until, in 1826, it was resumed again for Emperor Francis II, who dedicated the monument to the 1815 Congress of Vienna. After Cagnola’s death in 1833, Francesco Londonio and Francesco Peverelli brought it to completion in 1838.

Arch of Peace
Arch of Peace

Standing 25m high and 24m wide, the Arch of Peace is decorated with a number of bas-reliefs, statues and Corinthian columns. These decorations depict major events in Italian and European history, including the Battle of Leipzig and the Congress of Vienna. There are also subjects from classical mythology, such as Mars, Ceres, Minerva and Apollo imagined in the sculptures. As well as allegories of the major rivers in North Italy, for example the Po, the Adige and the Ticino.

Taking the outer path, we meandered through to the Arch of Peace, where we sat and listened to a woman singing for a while. It was definitely a moment of “wow we’re actually in Italy”.

Inside the Arena Civica
Inside the Arena Civica

Continuing along, we followed the neoclassical walls of the Arena Civica, a multipurpose stadium, where sports and concerts are often held. That morning there had been a sponsored run for breast cancer awareness.

Wall of the Arena Civica
Wall of the Arena Civica

The sun was out and we warmed our faces as we took in the scenery. With lots of lakes and trees in their autumn splendour, the park was really beautiful.

Feeling hungry, we walked to the Duomo stopping at Martini Cafe for a final pizza. Not quite as good as the first, but it certainly filled a hole!

Our holiday at an end, we made our way to the airport watching the sunset on our way.

Duomo di Milano
Goodbye Duomo

European Mini Break: Duomo di Milano, Italy

The first of our mini breaks to Europe, we set off for Milan in the north of Italy. With a budget of £200, I thought I’d done pretty well as we caught a €5 shuttle bus to the centre. Arriving at the central station, we headed straight to the Duomo (Cathedral) as we intended to make the most of our limited time.

Central Station, Milan
Central Station, Milan

As you exit the station, your eyes are met with the incredible marble structure of Milan’s cathedral. We made our way to the ticket office, where a rather confusing system was in place. On your visit, I would recommend using the self-service stations immediately rather than waiting an exceptionally long time for your number to be called. Joining the fairly long queue, we gradually made our way into the Duomo.

Duomo di Milano
Duomo di Milano

The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete, with many architects and engineers undertaking its building in this time. It is the largest church in Italy and the third largest in the world!

Duomo di Milano
A closer view

Construction began under the direction of Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzi in 1386, to celebrate the ascension to power of his cousin Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Three hundred employees led by first chief engineer, Simone da Orsenigo were to embark on the work under the “Fabbrica del Duomo”.

Side angle of the Duomo di Milano
Side angle of the Duomo di Milano

The Duomo was originally intended to be made of red brick in Lombard Gothic style; however, the appointment of French chief engineer, Nicolas de Bonaventure drastically changed plans. Under influences from new trends in European architecture, it was decided that the brick structure should be panelled in marble in a style not typically Italian, but French.

Paintings inside the Duomo di Milano
Paintings inside the Duomo di Milano

Gian Galeazzo Visconti gave exclusive use of the unique pink marble from the Candoglia quarry, from which workers would transport the mountains of marble to the centre of Milan via the waterways. At the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402, the cathedral was almost half completed. Yet, construction drew to a halt due to lack of money, not picking up again until 1480.

Over the following centuries, many architects and sculptors would be commissioned to produce beautiful marble pieces for the cathedral, yet the exterior would largely remain untouched until the 17th century.

One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo
One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo

At the beginning of the 17th century, Federico Borromeo and Pellegrini had devised a new, Renaissance appearance for the cathedral. Its façade largely incomplete, Pellegrini was able to design a “Roman” style one, with columns, obelisks and a large tympanum. However, in 1649 the new chief architect Carlo Buzzi reverted the façade to the original gothic style.One of the many marble sculptures in the Duomo

Finally, on May 20th, 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the façade of the Duomo to be completed by Carlo Pellicani. After a promise to reimburse the expenses, the Duomo’s exterior was complete just seven years later. Napoleon would later be crowned King of Italy at the Duomo, and a statue was placed at the top of one of the spires in thanks.

Duomo di Milano Organ
One of the organs

I was amazed at the 45m height of the ceiling, with delicately engraved pillars and beautiful stained glass windows. Even the floor was audacious.

Floor of the Duomo di Milano
Floor of the Duomo di Milano

We wandered around the space, taking in the information on past popes and archbishops. The statues were incredible, including the below, which is Duomo’s most famous statue: The Saint Bartholomew Flayed (1562), by Marco d’Agrate. You can see how the saint shows his flayed skin thrown over his shoulders, revealing the muscle structure underneath.

St Bartholomew statue in Duomo
St Bartholomew statue

Soon we came around to the back of the cathedral, where we found a life-size cast of the gold Madonnina, which sits atop the cathedral spire.

The Madonina replica in Milan's Duomo
The Madonina replica

In 1762, Francesco Croce, architect to the Veneranda Fabbrica received the commission to build the main spire of the Duomo. He suggested that the Great Spire should be decorated with a statue of the Virgin Mary carried up to heaven by angels.

Main stained glass window in the Duomo
Stained glass window

The making of the statue was entrusted to the sculptor Giuseppe Perego, who proposed several models in 1769, before the current design was decided upon. In June 1769, the work for the model was begun by sculptor and model maker Giuseppe Antignati, while the blacksmith Varino made the supporting framework.

Main stained glass window in the Duomo
Stained glass window up close

The Madonina was raised onto the main spire of Milan’s Duomo in late December 1774 and remains the symbol of the city and patroness of the Milanese people. She is composed of embossed and gilded copper plates, supported on a framework which is now in stainless steel. This framework was originally iron, but had become dangerously corroded. Restoration work in 1967 replaced this with a new stainless steel structure and involved the dismantling of the copper plates and mordent re-gilding.

The main altar in the Duomo, Milan
The main altar

After fully exploring the Duomo, we headed to the attached museum. However, I was a little disappointed in the lack of information. Each sculpture had a name attached but it was almost assumed that you would understand the significance. There was also a significant lack of history.

Gold head of God
Gold head of God

Nevertheless, we were able to see sculptures that sit on and within the Cathedrals walls up close. And for €3 all in, it was definitely value for money.

Miniatures of the statues decorating the facade of the Duomo, Milan
Miniatures of the statues decorating the facade of the Duomo, Milan

The Duomo sits next to Milan’s famous shopping centre, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. With an impressive glass dome and three floors, it is a real show of beauty. With a huge choice of places to eat, we eventually decided upon La Locanda Del Gatto Rosso. Genuinely, the best spaghetti carbonara I have ever tasted and most amazing pizza – but surely that’s what you’d expect in Italy.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

After enjoying our lovely meal, we crossed the road to Venchi chocolate shop. Delighting in their gelato cones, it was then time to head to the Hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn North. Whilst being fairly far out, it was a beautiful hotel and we were spoilt by the views of the city.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ceiling
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ceiling

It was then time to get ready for an evening in Navigli. We entered an area filled with shops and restaurants either side of the canal. All the lights reflecting in the water, we sat down to enjoy a few drinks at Luca E Andrea. As it was Italy, you couldn’t go far wrong with the wine!

Navigli
Navigli

Taking in the atmosphere, we met a lovely American couple. We spent the rest of the night picking their brains about New York and the Italy tour they’d undertaken- garnering ideas for future adventures.

We moved on together to an “Irish” pub, which was weirdly a club… We swiftly moved on and headed for bed.

Dynamic and Wild: Spurn Safari

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.

Spurn Point Lighthouse
Spurn Point Lighthouse

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.

View from the top of the Lighthouse
View from the top of the Lighthouse

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!

View from the top of the Lighthouse
View from the top of the Lighthouse

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.

Artillery Battery from World War I
Artillery Battery from World War I

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.

Earthstar Fungi
We even came across some Earthstar Fungi

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.

Another one for the Bucket List – V&A Museum

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.

17th century dress
17th century dress

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.

17th Century harp
17th Century harp

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.

Ornate ceilings in 17th Century French style
Ornate ceilings in 17th Century French style

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.

Harrods exterior
Harrods exterior

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?

With everything from ornaments to jewellery, homeware to toys, there is something for everyone. I love some of their Christmas Gift Ideas, Personalised Gifts and Stocking Fillers! Make sure you check them out.

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.

Neptune and Triton
Neptune and Triton

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.

Engraved rifles
Engraved rifles
Decorated nautilus shell
Decorated nautilus shell

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.

Flower Pyramid
Flower Pyramid

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.

Medieval Oliphant (Ivory horn) derived from Islamic art
Medieval Oliphant (Ivory horn) derived from Islamic art

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.

Column from a raised pulpit with carvings of religious figures
Column from a raised pulpit with carvings of religious figures

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.

Stained glass windows with religious effigies
Stained glass windows with religious effigies

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.

Boar and Bear Hunt Tapestry
Boar and Bear Hunt Tapestry

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.

Enjoy this post? Tick off more of my London Bucket List with me here.

Mystery Tour of Southeast England

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 Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

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.

Dunorlan Park
Dunorlan Park

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.

Ornamental Fountain
Ornamental Fountain

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.

Dunorlan Park Lake
Dunorlan Park Lake

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.

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle

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.

Battle camp
Battle camp

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.

Koi Carp
Koi Carp

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.

Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle
Looking through a window at Bodiam Castle

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.

 

 

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.

Hastings Beach
Hastings 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.

Hastings Beach with Pier
Hastings Beach with Pier

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.

Fishing net shops
Fishing net shops

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.

Anchor
Anchor

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.

East Hill Cliff Railway
East Hill Cliff Railway

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.

View from the East Hill Cliff Railway
View from the East Hill Cliff Railway

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.

View from the Hastings Country Park

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…

Sunset on a perfect day
Sunset on a perfect day

My favourite place to holiday: Robin Hood’s Bay

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.View from the beach at Robin Hood's BayThe 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.View from beach at Robin Hood's BayThe 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. View from the cliff top at Robin Hood's BayAfter 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.View back towards Robin Hood's Bay

Fed and happy, we headed back home, stopping to take in the view as we went.

Top 5 walks around Richmond upon Thames

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.

  1. River Crane Walk
River Crane Walk
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.

Bench along the River Crane Walk
Bench along the River Crane Walk
  1. 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.

The walk towards Kingston
  1. Bushy Park
Bushy Park
Bushy Park

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.

  1. 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.

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View from Richmond Bridge
  1. 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.

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Looking toward Richmond along the walk to Ham House

Do you know of any other walks in this area? Let me know in the comments!

Lake District Chronicles: 8

Fearing a torrential downpour, we decided not to do the full route pictured on the map and find our own way back to Keswick – which in hindsight was not very wise.

Skimming Stones in the rain: Keswick to Walla Crag

It was about this time last year, I had finished my final exam of third year at university – and it was all over! So, we decided to celebrate with a trip to the Lake District. I had picked up a map on directions from Keswick to Walla Crag the previous summer, and was yet to try it. Therefore, we set off on a fairly cold May day to Keswick.

Walla Crag Route Map
Walla Crag Route Map

After stopping to buy some lunch at the local Booths, we wandered through the centre of town to reach Keswick’s Town Hall and Tourist Information Centre – the start of our walk. Following the same route to the Castlerigg Stone Circle, we were soon in open countryside with Derwent Water far below us. Climbing through trees and fields, we spent a lot of time stopping to take photographs despite the overcast sky.

Woodland on our path to Walla CragHowever, we soon came to a dilemma. I had been so busy enjoying the walk, I had unwittingly led us the route of Castlerigg Stone Circle and we needed to fall back on ourselves to reach the correct path. Not exactly as planned, but the slight detour was worth it for the fantastic views across Derwent Water and towards Blencathra and Skiddaw.

Looking towards Blencathra
Looking towards Blencathra

Upon reaching the ascent of Walla Crag, we realised that we had misjudged the gradient and, for an easy walk, it was pretty steep! We followed the path around to Surprise View, which gives an amazing panoramic view across the whole of Keswick and Derwent Water. But now the rain was creeping in as the clouds darkened and spots of rain formed on my glasses.

View from Surprise View
Surprise View

Fearing a torrential downpour, we decided not to do the full route pictured on the map and find our own way back to Keswick – which in hindsight was not very wise.

We followed a less traversed path along the side of one of many stone walls that section the Lake District’s landscape, before reaching an even steeper descent. With the sound of a waterfall nearby, we attempted to navigate the ill-formed path, jarring knees on too high steps and slipping on loose gravel as the rain began to fall more heavily. Reaching the cover of some trees, we sought a quick break to recharge the batteries and nurse an injured ankle. Mosquitos had found us, however, and came in droves, driving us to keep moving as we continued our descent.

Descent from Walla Crag
Descent from Walla Crag

Making our way through the Great Wood, we found ourselves at the edge of Derwent Water. The rain was coming down thick and fast by this point – perfect weather for skimming stones of course! It became the mission to find the best stone to skim as we dodged along the banks using the trees as cover.

Looking out across Derwent Water
Looking out across Derwent Water

Eventually, we gave in to the inevitable and enjoyed the rain, seeing how far we could throw our rocks and collecting the best as we went. All too soon we were making our way back into Keswick, where we found a café for a hot drink to warm us up as the rain still fell.

Returning to Keswick
Returning to Keswick

It was the weekend of Keswick Midsummer Festival, so we sat for a while in the shelter listening to the acts and watching those stood in the rain getting drenched – but really, what did they expect in Cumbria? Some of the acts where pretty good and we would have liked to stay longer, but were restricted by the bus timetable.

We returned to Lancaster looking like drowned rats but perfectly happy with our little adventure.

A 10 mile “wander” around Teddington Lock

A gorgeous 16C caught me by surprise when I went for a walk yesterday. The sky was grey and I’d worn my thickest jacket thinking it would be cold – but it was glorious!

I’ve lived in Teddington for three months now so felt it was high time I explored the lock, which is only a mile from my house. Perfect for a short wander to clear my head. Or so I thought.

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Teddington Lock

I have a wonderful, if not slightly reckless, habit of finding myself in places where I can lose myself completely, which naturally leads to never quite wanting to leave again. This was one of those occasions.

Upon reaching the lock, which is a quick wander down from Teddington high street, I found that hundreds of other people had had much the same idea. The nearby pubs and tearooms were teaming in the bright sunshine that had luckily broken through the clouds. People were out in force on the water, on boat tours or yachts, a family came past in bright orange kayaks and there were a number of barges and rowing boats spotted along the way.

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Teddington Lock

There are two bridges across the lock and, to avoid a group of cyclists, I decided to explore the base of the first bridge. All I found was an overgrown footpath and a dead end, but the smell transported me back to Yorkshire and wandering through the countryside. I found myself encased in wildflowers, their scent filling my nostrils and taking me a million miles away. Yet, a gate prevented any further exploration and I had to return to the bridge.

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Half-way point

After crossing, I was faced with a decision: 3 miles to Richmond Park straight ahead, 3.5 miles to Ham House and Gardens to the left, or 1.75 miles to Kingston Bridge to the right. At this point, I was still convinced this was just a short wander along the river, so chose the Kingston path.

The path divides in two with one strand following closely to the banks of the Thames, the other is a sturdier path further up the bank. I chose the higher path, which took me through woodland before emerging into the open sunlight with views of the river.

Taking pictures as I went, I meandered along the path listening to the sound of the river mixed with children’s laughter and the chitter-chatter of their parents. Until I reached a line of houses where the path turned into a tarmac road. Not really wanting to wander through Kingston, I decided to head back but, this time, I took the lower path.

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Half mile tree, just before Kingston

Now my view was less obstructed, I could photograph the expanse of the River Thames with the sun now on my face. Having only traveled a mile or so, it wasn’t long before I was back at the signpost. To go home, or not to go home?

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View back towards the lock

Not to go home.

I decided to continue along the path towards Ham House and Gardens, not expecting to reach the stately home but knowing the walk would be pretty. After following the edge of the lock, I was soon immersed in woodland. I heard the sweet calls of blackbirds and robins flitting through the trees. I love being among the trees, it’s a place where I feel safe and at home. The fresh smell of new leaves and various wildflowers intermingled with the earth as I wandered.

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The path to Ham House and Gardens

The path is fairly similar the whole way along with the Thames to your left and woodland on the right, which made it easy to lose track of how far I had walked. It wasn’t until I saw the outcrop of Eel Pie Island that I realised I had almost walked as far as Ham House! So much for a short walk…

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Ham land

I sat on a bench for a little while, admiring the beauty of Eel Pie Island and growing envious of the houses there. As I looked, however, I suddenly noticed two little eyes watching me and a couple of pointy orange ears. A fox. Realising I was not a threat – I could not easily traverse the water between us – he settled down to sun himself. I admired him for a while before continuing my walk.

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Eel Pie Island

By now it was getting late and I had set myself a target of turning back once it had reached 5pm. It was 4.54pm. I carried on forward a short way until the woodland opened up to reveal a car park and what I can only assume is the ferry point between Twickenham and Ham House. I could see The White Swan on the opposite bank and Richmond looming in the distance. I sat for a while taking in the view.

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View towards Richmond

The journey back was harder. My feet suddenly felt the 19,884 steps (according to my Samsung Health app) I’d taken and my lack of preparation meant I was in dire need of a drink. Barely pausing, I power-marched back to the lock, reliving all the beauty of my walk there and being startled by squirrels who interrupted my path.

After walking roughly ten miles, I collapsed on my bed, tired but feeling wonderfully fulfilled.