The Journey South from Scotland

Saying goodbye to our lovely cottage, we began our journey south. But not before one last exploration of Scotland.

Ben Lomond
Ben Lomond

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.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond

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.

Beginning of Glen Douglas
Beginning of Glen Douglas
Mountains along the Glen Douglas Pass
Mountains along the Glen Douglas Pass
Glen Douglas Pass
Glen Douglas Pass

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.

Across to Arghyll Forest
Across to Argyll Forest

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.

Loch Long
Loch Long

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 Priory
Lindisfarne Priory

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.

Holy Island of Lindesfarne
Holy Island of Lindesfarne
Holy Island of Lindisfarne
Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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.

Holy Island Beach
Holy Island Beach

Our holiday complete. We celebrated my birthday before returning to London and normality.

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Struggling up Ben Lomond

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.20171026_130617

Undeterred, Chris insisted we climb Ben Lomond. So we set off along the Main Path to the summit from Rowardennan.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Searching for Giant Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

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).

View from Edinburgh Zoo
View from Edinburgh Zoo

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.

Penguins Rock
Penguins Rock

We enjoyed watching them play in the water fountain and look inquisitively at the humans watching them behind the glass.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins
Northern Rockhopper Penguins
King Penguin
King Penguin

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.

Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros
Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros

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.

Oriental Short-Claw Otters
Oriental Short-Clawed 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.

Oriental Short-Claw Otter
Oriental Short-Clawed Otter

Making a U-turn we headed towards the Pigmy Hippos, which I absolutely loved. I wasn’t expecting them to look so shinny!

Pigmy Hippos
Pigmy Hippos

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.

Cassowary
Cassowary
Gelada Baboons
Gelada Baboons

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.

Tigress
Tigress

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.

Antelopes
Antelopes
Zebras
Zebras
View of the plain with zebras in the foreground
View of the plain with zebras in the foreground

Having watched them for a while, we wandered back down and into the Wallaby Outback walkthrough.

Swamp Wallabies
Swamp Wallabies

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.

Goeldi's Monkey
Goeldi’s Monkey

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.

Brown Capuchin Monkeys
Brown Capuchin Monkeys
Common Squirrel Monkeys
Common Squirrel Monkeys

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.

Sun Bear
Sun Bear
Bali Starling
Bali Starling

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.

Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees

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…

White-Faced Saki
White-Faced Saki

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.

Flamingos
Flamingos

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.

Barbary Macaque
Barbary Macaque

Ring-tailed Lemur

Drill
Drill

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!

Stay tuned for more of our Scotland holiday!

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.

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

Slowly ticking off the bucket list – Natural History Museum

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.

 

 

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.

Blue Wale Skeleton
Blue Wale Skeleton

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.

Hintze Hall
Hintze Hall

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!

Minerals display
Minerals display

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.

Inspired by Italy – Painshill Park

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.

Walled Garden Potting Shed
Walled Garden Potting Shed

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.

Vineyard
Vineyard

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!

Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
Gothic Temple
View from Gothic Temple

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.

Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
Ruined Abbey
View through Ruined Abbey doorway

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!

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

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.

Crystal Grotto
Crystal Grotto

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.

 

Serpentine Lake
Serpentine Lake

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.

Waterwheel
Waterwheel

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!

 

 

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.

Turkish Tent
Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent
View from Turkish Tent

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.

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines
Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines

Paris 3 – Celebrating at the Palace of Versailles

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

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…

Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles
Crowd waiting to enter the Palace of Versailles

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.

The Gold Gate
The Gold Gate

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.

Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina
Patisserie at Restaurant Angelina

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.

La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
La galerie des Batailles (The Gallery of Battles)
View into Chapelle Royale
View into Chapelle Royale
Salon d'Hercule ceiling
Salon d’Hercule ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Vénus ceiling
Salon de Mercure
Salon de Mercure
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors
Le galerie des Glaces Hall of Mirrors

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.

South Parterre
South Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Orangery Parterre
Latona's Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo's Fountain and the Grand Canal
Latona’s Fountain & Parterre looking down towards the Great Lawn, Apollo’s Fountain and the Grand Canal

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!

This is Part 3, read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

 

Paris 2 – Sightseeing along the Seine

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

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.

Padlocks at Pont Neuf
Padlocks at Pont Neuf

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.

The Louvre
The Louvre
Musée d'Orsay
Musée d’Orsay

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.

Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background
Palais Bourbon with Eiffel Tower in the background

As well as the classic Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais and many, many bridges.

Eiffel Tower
Eiffel Tower
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Pont Alexandre III with Eiffel Tower in the background
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III
Nymphs of the River Seine on the Pont Alexandre III

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.

Indiana Cafe
Indiana Cafe

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.

This is Part 2, to read Part 1 click here.

 

Paris 1 – Wandering the streets on Bastille Day

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.

Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower
Graffiti artwork on our walk to the Eiffel Tower

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.

Church of Saint-François-Xavier
Church of Saint-François-Xavier

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.

Hotel les Invalides
Hotel les Invalides

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.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower

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.