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June 2, 2017

Discover picture-perfect Painswick in the quirkiliciously quaint Cotswolds

Discover picture-perfect Painswick in the quirkiliciously quaint Cotswolds
Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees Painswick

Visiting villages in the Cotswolds is like eating a box of really good chocolates; one or two are divine, the whole box makes you feel slightly queasy. They (the villages) are all so achingly pretty, with mellow-stone walls, rambling roses and pastel foxgloves, manicured lawns, thatched roofs, quaint pubs and shops selling fudge and chi-chi things for the ‘home’ at ridiculously high prices. They have wondrously English names like Bourton-on-the-Water, Chipping Sodbury and the sinister-named, but oh so charming Upper (and Lower) Slaughter. 

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

However, if you’re looking for a slightly less known Cotswold village then search out Painswick. Calling itself the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds‘, it’s only 6 miles from Gloucester and yet it’s as if the 21st century hasn’t got here yet.

Painswick – Queen of the Cotswolds

St Mary's Church and Yew Trees Painswick - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

A gilded weather-cock sits on top of the splendid spire of St Mary Church, getting a bird’s eye view of Painswick and surrounding countryside. Built over 600 years ago, this delightful church has a number of intriguing features to attract visitors. The ceilings were repainted and gilded in the 1970s, the lecturn is made from applewoood not stone, and the font dates to from 1661.

St Mary's Church Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church Painswick

High above hangs a model of Sir Francis Drake’s Armada flag ship, the Bonaventure. (The word ‘nave‘ is derived from the Latin word for ship, navis.) In the oldest part of the church is a beautiful mosaic from Italy and a wooden Memorial Screen carved by a Belgian refugee in the First World War. My eye was drawn to the colourful embroidered kneelers hanging from the pews. There are over 300, made by the parishioners in the 1980s.

Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees

The yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard were planted in 1792. Legend says 99 were planted and a hundredth will never grow. I visited with a friend on a gloriously sunny October day; they’d been clipped in August and were looking magnificent. On the Sunday following the 19th of September the church holds the ‘Clypping Ceremony’ (from clyppan = to embrace) during which the clergy, choir and children walk through the churchyard and a join hands in a circle around the church. A sermon is preached from the steps near the tower and the children are given buns and coins for joining in.

Painswick Rococo Garden

Painswick Rococo Garden - photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick Rococo Garden – photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick has England’s only surviving complete rococo garden. Designed in the 1740s, it’s described as a ‘theatrical set for holding intimate garden parties, ripe for riotous pleasure and romance’. Painswick Rococo Garden. With quirky follies, a maze, woods, fruit and vegetable gardens plus a cafe and gift shop, there’s certainly a lot to see. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit this attraction,  but my friend assured me it is well-worth a visit. Next time …

Painswick Village

Painswick signpost

Painswick signpost

There are a great many fine buildings in this village, which used to be a thriving centre for the Cotswold wool industry. Bisley Street has quite a few medieval houses; their low doorways indicate the age of these buildings. The oldest building in Painswick is on New Street. Built around 1428, it used to be a post office but sadly it’s no longer in use. Grander houses can be found all around and we were tempted by attractive Cardynham House Bistro for a bite to eat. Behind the church are the Spectacle Stocks, which were last used in the 1840s.

Painswick village

Painswick village

We picked up a leaflet of walks in the area from the tiny Tourist Information Office near the church Lych Gate. The Cotswold Way runs through the village and there’s a path along Painswick Stream. Our final stop was the Victorian Town Hall where a craft fair was being held. It appeared very popular with locals and the few tourists who were pottering about. There’s plenty to see in this attractive village and we felt we’d found a very special corner of the busy Cotswolds …

Find out about Stratford-upon-Avon and William Shakespeare here.

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Guide to Painswick Cotswolds village - The Quirky Traveller

April 19, 2017

The top 3 health benefits of walking in the great outdoors

The top 3 health benefits of walking in the great outdoors
Walking is man's best medicine - Hippocrates Photo: Nk'Mip Desert Centre, Osoyoos Canada

Nk’Mip Desert Centre, Osoyoos, Canada

In today’s non-stop world of digital input and 24 hour news, with people stuck for hours at a PC or almost permanently attached to a smart phone, many of us struggle to find time for ourselves. External pressures create stress and mental health issues are surfacing at a more rapid rate than at any time in our history. Eating habits have changed, with more people putting on weight and we’re generally far less active than we used to be. One simple activity has been proved to help alleviate all these problems for just about everyone, irrespective of age and circumstances. WALKING is available to most us – and it’s free.

The Health Benefits of Walking

1.  Walking improves your physical health

Walking in Rwanda jungle

Walking in Rwanda jungle

‘Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.’ NHS UK

It’s great news that such an easy form of activity can produce such significant effects. Simply swapping the escalator for the stairs or walking to the shops instead of going in the car makes a difference. A recent study on the health benefits of regular walking says it can add 7 years to our lives and help repair DNA. Ideally we need to be doing 10,000 steps a day but any walking can help. I don’t manage anywhere near that most days, but then at weekends aim to do at least that, if not more. You can walk alone or with family and friends. There are plenty of walking groups and hiking holidays if you’re looking for company.

HF Walking Holiday Castle Howard

HF Walking Holiday Castle Howard

On a lovely walking holiday in Yorkshire, I hiked about 5 miles a day; the oldest walker in our group was 78 years old and I couldn’t keep up with her!

2. Walking improves your mental health

Guided walk on Galapagos Islands Ecuador - photo zoe dawes

Guided walk in the Galapagos Islands

‘A good walk can do wonders for your mental wellbeing. … Being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue.’  Walking for Health

For many years I have been prone to depression; not the crippling clinical depression that some poor folk suffer from. More a low-level, debilitating feeling of gloom and pointlessness. There’s usually a reason; money-worries, relationship problems, health issues, family stuff. I’ve had counselling and therapy, which has helped and my doctor has always recommended old-fashioned ‘fresh air and exercise’ to counteract it. (Family members and friends who have it much worse than me have been helped by medication, CBT and other therapeutic techniques). On a trip to the Galapagos Islands I was feeling very low due to some personal problems, but walking in this stunning landscape, communing up close with nature (and swimming with sea lions!) and a good chat with a friend, left me feeling heaps better.

St Patrick's Chapel Heysham Lancashire - Zoe Dawes

St Patrick’s Chapel

I often go to one of my favourite places near where I live, Heysham Barrows in Lancashire, which has great views across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District.  After a brisk walk and a sit down beside the ancient chapel, the moody blues are blown far away across the water …

3.  Walking improves your spiritual health

Walking boots - overlooking Grasmere in the Lake District

Overlooking Grasmere

There are spiritual benefits to walking (at least once daily) if you consider that walking is a solitary activity that allows the opportunity for prayer, meditation and high thought. But it is also a time to reflect and process as well as to express appreciation for natural beauty  Sharecare

Being outdoors in beautiful surroundings can be wonderful for the spirit as our minds and bodies. There has been a lot of talk recently about mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. In this way we tap into what some call our soul or spirit. Deepak Chopra, a well-known supporter of alternative medicine, advocates Mindful Walking as a way to, “ … provide a deeper connection to the spirit.” One of the reasons the Lake District and many other National Parks around the world, are so popular, is that they are places where our soul reconnects with its natural source. Strolling near water ie the sea, lake, river, pool, in or near mountains, amongst trees, flowers, grass and other natural sights can bring peace and harmony if you give it a chance …

Lake District Walking sign

Lake District Walking sign

TWO other benefits are for CREATIVITY and SOCIABILITY; I’ll be writing more about that in a future post. I wrote this article partly in response to the Easter interview with Prince Harry who spoke so movingly about the death of his mother and suffering from mental health problems as a result. He and his brother Prince William are raising awareness of mental health issues and their high profile contribution will hopefully help more people to talk about depression and mental health.

The other trigger was Julia Bradbury commenting on BBC Radio 4 about the physical and mental health benefits of walking. As a business coach, I offer #walkntalk coaching sessions where the client and I go for a walk to explore the issues that concern them. Invariably, just being outside and moving rather than stuck in an office, frees up the thought process and solutions to problems present themselves more readily.

“If you seek creative ideas go walking. Walk n Talk with The Quirky Traveller

Maybe this article will persuade you to get out and have a good walk more often; it’ll do you a power of good in more ways than you may have imagined. Do leave a comment sharing your thoughts on the positive impact walking has had on you any time – I’d love to hear from you.

Click here for info on Walk n Talk with The Quirky Traveller

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Top 3 Benefits of Walking

March 30, 2017

Quirky Travel Photo: a blue-footed booby in the Galapagos Islands

Quirky Travel Photo: a blue-footed booby in the Galapagos Islands

Blue-footed Booby on Espanola Island Galapagos Ecuador - photo zoe dawes

Razor-sharp beak pointing towards the sky, the blue-footed booby flaps its wings in a couple of wide-angled swooshes, then returns to preening its brown and white feathers. Its bright blue feet seem to be suckered onto the rock, never slipping as it grooms and turns about, having a good wash. Beside it, flopped out as if totally exhausted, lies a young chick, all white, fluffy down and head akimbo.

I’m realising a life-long ambition to see one of these very quirky birds in their island home of the Galapagos Islands. Actually, it was initially my Mum’s dream to see them. She loved birds, especially the blue-footed booby with its blue beak and feet. We were probably watching a David Attenborough documentary the first time she showed me one, laughing at its comical appearance and hilarious name. Sadly, she never got to see them in the wild, but I am remembering her as I take photos of this one with its young.

Blue-footed booby and chick on Espanola Island Galapagos Islands Ecuador - photo zoe dawes

I’m in Ecuador on a trip with Metropolitan Touring, specialists in South America travel. We’ve already seen the historic sights of Quito, the first UNESCO World Heritage Site and spent a few days in the cloud forest at Mashpi Eco Lodge. But the highlight of this life-enhancing trip is a four day cruise on Yacht La Pinta to see the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. On the first day we visited San Cristobal Island and the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Centre, where the highly-endangered giant tortoises are bred. Day 2 took us to Punta Pitt with its large colony of bachelor sea -lions; one of the main highlights was swimming with sea lions, something I’ll never forget. On the third day I finally got to see the blue-footed booby and many other birds, including rare waved albatrosses, red-footed and nazca boobies and thousands of red and black marine iguanas. Our final day was spent at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, to see the giant tortoises, reared here to be released onto the islands in a unique breeding programme.

The Blue Footed Booby and Galapagos wildlife on video

The blue-footed booby settles down on the rock beside its chick, takes a brief look at the English woman grinning at it, sticks its beak in its feathers and goes to sleep. My dream is realised; and reality is a thousand times better than the dream. Hope Mum’s getting a look too …

NB: The name booby apparently comes from the Spanish word bobo (“stupid”, “fool”, or “clown”) because the blue-footed booby is, like other seabirds, clumsy on land. They are also regarded as foolish for their apparent fearlessness of humans. (In that case all the creatures in the Galapagos Islands must be foolish becuasue none of they seem to fear humans!)

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Blue-footed booby and marine iguanas Galapagos Islands - image Zoe Dawes

Want to find out more about the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador? Click links

No Place on Earth like the Galapagos Islands

Swimming with Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands

The Culture, History and People of Quito, Ecuador

Mashpi Lodge and the Heavenly Hummingbirds of Ecuador

More Quirky Travel Photos here

March 21, 2017

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District
Relaxing beside Grasmere in the Lake District Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Relaxing beside Grasmere

The stone hits the water with a splosh and rippling arcs curve further and further out towards the fells in the distance. Light peeks through darkling clouds as the weather god makes up his mind whether to shower Grasmere with sunshine or a wee bit more rain. A flash of brightness indicates the decision has been made and the clouds slowly part to reveal the blueness that’s been hiding there for the past couple of days. It’s spring in the Lake District, no better place on earth to be at this time of year …

Grasmere Lake on a spring day in the Lake District, Cumbria - zoe dawes

I’ve found a little bench at the end of the lake and am enjoying a rest after a gentle meander along the shore. It’s Saturday afternoon, halfway through my weekend break at Dale End Loggia, a pretty little holiday home looking over Grasmere, not far from the popular village made famous by William Wordsworth. Earlier in the day, I’d met my aunt and uncle, who live in Kendal, and we’d gone round Allan Bank, one of Wordsworth’s homes in this area. It’s got a quirky charm, with minimal decoration and rooms where children paint and women make lace. A huge map of the area encourages visitors to place a marker to show their favourite view.

Grasmere map at Nationals Trust Allan Bank

I have no problem choosing one; looking out from the balcony of my bijou residence at Dale End. That morning I’d eaten my breakfast outside and watched the light shifting across the lake, the hotel opposite reflected in the dark waters, listening to Canada Geese cackling in a field nearby. Behind me, sheep munched merrily on the first spring grass and early morning walkers strode up the lane, waterproofs and rucksacks prepared for whatever the day would bring.

Breakfast Dale End Loggia Grasmere Lake District

A trio of ducks pootle past, a female and two males. It will soon be time for ducklings. Easter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air. The trees are budding and spring flowers are peeking out. I lie back and enjoy the luxury of simply ‘being in the moment’ … My reverie is interrupted by loud barking. Two dogs are having a chat, their owners idling beside the water. Eventually one of them is dragged off to continue their walk and peace returns.

Dogs beside Grasmere lake, Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia – Grasmere

I’d arrived at Dale End Loggia on Friday afternoon. I was immediately drawn to the view from the balcony. Neat lawns stretched down in front of the building, a converted cow byre. I could see all along the lake. To the left, the village and Helm Crag, known locally as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ due to the craggy rock formation on the top of the hill. Mountains surround the area and opposite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust lie waiting for visitors from around the world. I can just make out the Coffin Route, a delightful and easy walk from Grasmere to Rydal, above the hotel. Grasmere Island, recently acquired by the National Trust, floats in the middle of the lake. Whatever the weather, this is beautiful, relaxing place to stay and I love it.

View of Grasmere from Dale End Loggia, Lake District

Grasmere from Dale End Loggia

Dale End Loggia is ideal accommodation for a couple wanting a romantic break or a solo traveller looking for a base from which to explore the southern Lake District. Or a busy travel writer in need of an escape from the digital world and some inspiration for a book she’s been talking about writing for decades … The Good Life Cottage Company kindly offers me this l’al place to stay and I am in seventh heaven. Its open plan, L-shaped design is compact and well-equipped. There’s a kitchen with all mod-cons, seating in front of huge windows to enjoy the scenery outside, a small table for meals or work-station, big comfy double bed and bathroom with shower. A stream with a tiny bridge, runs through the charming sloping garden and there’s a picnic table for eating out and enjoying the view on warmer days . With walks from the front door and only five minute’s drive to Grasmere village, it’s got everything you need for a Lake District holiday.

Dale End Loggia and garden overlooking Grasmere - image zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia and garden

During this weekend I visit the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, which is just coming into bloom beside Wordsworth’s family graves and stock up on Grasmere Gingerbread. I pop into the Herdy Shop and the Heaton Cooper Gallery and but sadly too late to have a slice of lemon meringue pie in Baldry’s, one of my favourite tea rooms in the Lake District. I buy a prawn paella from the Co-op to have on Friday evening with a bottle of appropriately named ‘Quirky Bird’ wine kindly left by Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company. On Saturday night I drive to Zeffirelli’s Cinema in Ambleside to see a film and get some excellent fish and chips from The Walnut Fish Bar.

Grasmere and Ambleside Lake District

On Sunday morning I will try to write, for that is what I’ve come here for. I’ll be totally relaxed and have no excuse for this area has most definitely inspired me. But the lake will call and, after a desultory hour tapping away at laptop, I’ll give up and go outside. I will take one last walk around the garden, admiring the daffodils flowering beneath a budding tree. A wood pigeon will coo gently above me and a group of children will romp along the lake path on their way back to the village. I will slowly pack up my bags, check the doors and windows are locked and reluctantly say farewell to my weekend retreat. I will go down the hill to Faeryland Tea Garden for one of their legendary scones and sit by the lake in the cool spring morning, remembering all the ways I have enjoyed this weekend.

Faeryland tea and scones beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Faeryland tea and scone

But that is all to come. For now I am still enjoying sitting here on the bench, listening to the water cascading over the rocks into the River Rothay as it makes its way towards Rydal Water. For this moment in time all is right with the world in this special place amidst the hills of Cumbria …

Bench beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Bench beside Grasmere

Dale End Loggia

Have a look round Dale End Loggia in this short video filmed during my stay.

If you’d like to stay at Dale End or are looking for a Lake District holiday cottage, contact The Good Life Cottage Company. Locally-run and well established, they know what makes a great holiday. You can follow them on Twitter: @cottagesinlakes  and Facebook: thegoodlifecottageco. I’m delighted to be working with them sharing with you some of their charming places to stay and things to do in this beautiful part of England.

The Langdale Gale: a traditional Lake District Show Jonty’s Cottage Elterwater

A Lake District weekend in lovely Elterwater Braegarth Cottage Elterwater

Travelator Media out and about in the Lake District Daw Bank Cottage Chapel Stile

Three very special cottages in the Lake District  The Malt Kiln Broughton Mills  The Woodloft Elterwater Swallows House Skelwith Fold

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A relaxing weekend Grasmere Lake District

 

February 25, 2017

On being coverted to a Motorhome Holiday, having resisted for many years

On being coverted to a Motorhome Holiday, having resisted for many years
Motorhome by Okanagan Lake Canada

Okanagan Lake Canada

It was at delightfully named Peachland in British Columbia, that I knew I was hooked. Sitting on a folding chair, ham salad on lap, gazing out across tranquil Okanagan Lake, surrounded by mountains, the early summer sun shining, all was right with the world. Our motorhome waited patiently in the lay-by, ready at any moment to take us further on our journey across Canada. But for now, we sat and enjoyed the view and appreciated the simple pleasure of lunch al fresco on the journey of a lifetime.

Beside Okanagan Lake Canada

Enjoying the view

Prior to the Canada Road Trip, I had never driven anything bigger than the school mini-bus and very little experience of motorhome travel. My grandfather had an old Bedford campervan but never took us on trips in it. I’d been on a couple of caravan holidays when I was a teenager; in those days caravans were fairly basic and I remember the rain dripping in through the roof on a stormy night in Wales. More recently I’d travelled to Cornwall in a friend’s campervan on a family holiday but we’d not stayed in it. Though a VW campervan is synonymous with cool surf-dudes, I had a bias against caravans and motorhomes, thinking they were a bit fuddy-duddy, for ‘oldies’ and definitely not ‘my thing’.

VW Campervan at Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show NEC Bormingham

VW Campervan at Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show

Rocky the RV changed all that. Photographer Ali Bailey and I travelled over 3,000 miles from Vancouver to Calgary via the Rockies, in a Cruise Canada RV (Recreational Vehicle) and felt so attached to our motorhome that we gave him (oh yes,) a name. What I loved was taking everything with us, not having to unpack and pack every night, being able to stop in the middle of nowhere and rustle up a meal (or use the loo) and the cosiness of having our own ‘home on the road’.

BBQ by motorhome in Jasper Rocky Mountains Canada

Eating out in the Rockies

I was nervous about driving such a big vehicle but surprisingly quickly got used to it and by the end of the trip was actually enjoying it. We stayed at some lovely campgrounds; Canada is well set up for motorhome sites, which are usually ‘fully-serviced’ ie with electricity, water and sewage connections. They’re also very convivial places. Highlights included waking up on our first morning to a glorious sunrise over Osoyoos Lake – our pitch was on the water’s edge.  Chatting to the ‘good  ol boys’ from mid-west America about the upcoming elections beside Osoyoos Lake, eating kebabs and burgers cooked on our BBQ in Jasper, waking up to hear elk wandering around outside the motorhome and drinking beer as sun set over the Rockies in Banff.

Motorhome memories in Canada

Motorhome holiday memories

Since returning to the UK I’ve been extremely envious of anyone who owns a motorhome … Two of my best friends bought one a couple of years ago and rave about the freedom of the road and the fun they have getting away as often as possible. They’re fanatical cyclists and simply strap the bikes to the back of the ‘van’ and off they go. So when I got an invite to this year’s Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show at the NEC Birmingham I leapt at the opportunity. Five halls crammed full of every kind of caravan, motorhome, campervan, tent, holiday home and accessories you could ever wish for.

Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show NEC Birmingham

The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show

On the first day of the show, the ‘Caravan Club’, founded in 1907, announced its brand new name, ‘The Caravan and Motorhome Club, in line with the increased interest and motorhome ownership in the UK and around the world. Chairman Grenville Chamberlain explained, “We’re responding to today’s market and becoming more inclusive whilst retaining our core values and heritage.” Marketing Director Harvey Alexander was clearly very excited about the changes. “Our new logo and name reflect the evolving nature of the club. It may take some members time to get used to the change but so the overall response has been incredibly positive.” Everyone I spoke to thought it was an excellent idea and would will encourage more people to join ‘the biggest touring community in Europe’.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club - new name and logo

The Caravan and Motorhome Club

I think it’s a very positive move. As a recent convert to motorhome holidays, I can vouch for the pleasure to be had taking a luxurious ‘home from home’ on the road and choosing different places to stay along the way. Find out more about The Caravan and Motorhome Club here.

Arctic Adventure Caravan

The ‘Arctic Adventure’ Caravan

As I was leaving the show, I had a quick look at the #ArcticAdventure Caravan. It will soon be setting off to the Arctic Circle, 5,000 miles through 12 countries in just over two weeks. Now that really is quirky travel. Wonder if they need a travel blogger to go with them …

Take a look inside our Motorhome

December 13, 2016

A weekend of stargazing and sight-seeing in Exmoor

A weekend of stargazing and sight-seeing in Exmoor
Exmoor Blagdon_Cross_Startrails - image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

Star Trails; Exmoor – image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

“Starry, starry night …” Don McLean and Vincent Van Gogh would love Exmoor at night. I have NEVER seen such a star-studded sky in the UK, as the one I saw whilst staying at West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages. On arrival on the edge of Exmoor, the night sky took my breath away. Ablaze with a myriad of sparkling lights, it looked as if a child had thrown a huge bag of glitter up into the darkness.  It was almost impossible to make out familiar constellations such as The Plough and Orion because they were embedded within so many others. The Milky Way arched overhead in a whirling mass. With virtually 360° visibility in this area and very little human habitation, it’s not surprising that Exmoor was named Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve.

Stargazing in Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage - West Withy Farm Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage

Ian, owner of West Withy Farm, showed me round Upton Cottage, a converted haybarn, which sleeps 5 in homely comfort. In the lounge a large telescope sat waiting to be used; you can hire it by the day here and the garden has a plinth on which to use it. On the second night, astronomer Seb Jay of Dark Sky Telescope Hire came over to give a talk on astronomy and the skies overhead. It was cloudy so we didn’t use the telescope, but he had a ‘live-sky’ programme on his laptop to show the constellations, asteroids and planets that had been so clear the night before. It was a fascinating evening and I learnt a great deal about our amazing universe …

Exmoor star gazing with Seb Jay

Astronomer Seb Jay

Over the weekend I visited a number of interesting places in Exmoor: here are a few highlights.

Dulverton, Exford and Simonsbath

Exmoor signpost in Exford - image zoedawes

Signpost in Exford

The pretty village of Dulverton has got a number of independent retailers, including boutiques and antique shops, plus a good variety of pubs, cafes and restaurants. I had dinner at Woods Bar and Restaurant; a warm ,welcoming place, combining a pub atmosphere with quality dining. Owner Paddy is passionate about seasonal local food, sourcing much of it off his own farm, and wine; he has over 400 to choose from. (It’s been National Wine Pub of the Year for 5 years running.) I can highly recommend the confit of lamb shoulder; meltingly delicious.

Dinner at Woods Dulverton Exmoor

Confit Shoulder of Northcombe Lamb

The next day I set off to explore more of Exmoor, going through a number of quaint villages with thatched roofs and attractive pubs. At the White Horse Inn by the bridge in Exford a horse and rider trotted by as Christmas decorations were being put up.

Exford and river Exe Exmoor

Exford

In Simonsbath, a tiny hamlet, the smell of sawdust filled the air as a young man cut up logs beside the River Barle. The moor spread out all around as I headed towards the coast and two of Exmoor’s most well-known towns.

Lynton and Lynmouth

Lynmouth Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Lynmouth and Cliff Railway

I remember visiting Lynmouth with family on a hot, sunny day a few years ago. It was really busy and delightful. In winter the museum, chippie and souvenir shops may be closed but you can wander along the jetty overlooking  the river mouth and get a real feel for its historic and literary past. In the early 19th C the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed here briefly with his young wife, Harriet. The Rising Sun Hotel is a picturesque sight with its thatched roof and excellent position overlooking the boat-bobbing harbour. Above the excellent Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre is the Pavilion Dining Room with great views over the Bristol Channel.

Lyton Town Hall Exmoor

Lynton Town Hall

The Cliff Railway, open between February and mid-November, connects Lynmouth to Lynton. It fits the ‘eco-traveller’ remit as its two carriages use the weight of water to pull them up and down. Lynton has a genteel Victorian air with some decent touristy shops and a splendid Town Hall, somewhat larger and fancier than you’d expect in such a small town. Not far away is the Valley of Rocks, a fairy-tale collection of rocky towers and hillocks with a splendid cliff-walk. It’s exhilarating and uncrowded in the winter months.

Porlock

Porlock Exmoor

Porlock

Apparently Coleridge was interrupted in the composition of his epic opium-induced poem Kubla Khan, by a ‘person from Porlock‘. On the day I visited, the people of Porlock were more intent on getting ready for Christmas, than visiting poets. It’s the heart of Lorna Doone country, as the local hotel indicates, and Porlock Bay Oysters are in great demand. They are the first Pacific Oyster site in England & Wales to achieve the top A classification. Sadly none were available when I was there; a good reason to go back.

Dunster

Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - image zoedawes

Dunster by Candlelight

Possibly the most famous festival in Exmoor, Dunster by Candlelight is a glorious event held over two evenings in the run-up to Christmas. The medieval town opens its doors to visitors from around the world. The shops are brightly-lit, candles decorate the streets, performers entertain the crowds and a procession of costumed revellers carries a stag shoulder-high, accompanied by musicians and enthusiastic participants. I got the Park and Ride from nearby Minehead and spent a magical few hours watching the fun, wandering round the shops and enjoying carol-singing in Dunster Castle.

Read more about Dunster by Candlelight here

Exmoor Ponies

Exmoor ponies at Foreland Point - image zoedawes

Exmoor ponies

No visit to Exmoor would be complete without seeing the hardy Exmoor Ponies. Living all over Exmoor National Park, there are particular places you’re more likely to find them. I saw them on Haddon Hill, overlooking Wimbleball Lake and also at National Trust Foreland Point, on the rolling moorland road between Lynmouth and Porlock. They roam freely across the moors, but are not truly wild, being owned and looked after by various people. You can get fairly close but don’t try to touch them. In winter their thick coats give them extra protection against all weathers. Exmoor also has herds of wild red deer and plenty more interesting wildlife.

Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre

Exmoor National Park

Many thanks to Visit Exmoor for hosting my weekend, and to Ian and Lorena of West Withy Farm for their warm welcome, hospitality and invaluable advice on what to see in this beautiful area in south west England. Check out their website for details of stargazing weekends – a whole new world could open up for you …

Quirky Travel Guide to West Withy Farm 

November 27, 2016

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

OK, so Heysham may be more well-known for being home to a nuclear power station than for its historic attractions. It’s an ugly blot on the landscape of glorious Morecambe Bay. Visible from virtually any point around the coastline, one good reason to go to Heysham is that you can’t see the power station from here, unless you peer round the point. So, now you know the worst, let’s look at the reasons why you should visit Heysham Barrows.

St Patrick's Chapel at Heysham towards Morecambe Lancashire

St Patrick’s Chapel towards Morecambe

This little promontory at Heysham provides an escape from the suburbs of Lancaster and Morecambe, with stunning views across the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man, the Lake District fells and the Lancashire coast. It’s had visitors going back to time unknown. Evidence of Stone Age (Neolithic) man has been found around the headland including stone axes and hammer heads (now in Lancaster Museum) and Barrows (burial places) can be found in the area. The curious Heysham stone graves near the chapel ruins are thought to date back to the 11th century. Four of the indents are body-shaped and two are straight-sided, cut into the rock and often now filled with water.The holes at the top were probably for wooden crosses and it is possible that they could have been used not for one body each but for the bones of many dead people. They are some of the earliest known graves in Christian England.

Stone graves at Heysham overlooking Morecambe Bay

Stone graves overlooking Morecambe Bay

According to an excellent article by Sandhak, ‘Evidence is too abundant for there to be any doubt that St Patrick was the first to preach the gospel in Heysham. St Patrick was a Roman, the son of a Roman and grandson of a christian preacher … The date of the Chapel at Heysham can be assumed to be about 445 AD … ‘ You can read more about St Patrick and the history of Heysham here. Others think the chapel may date back to about 750AD. Whatever the truth, the chapel, with its curved Anglo-Sazon style arch, adds a romantic, gothic feel to the headland, overlooking Morecambe Bay.

St Patrick's Chapel, Heysham Lancashire - image zoedawes

St Patrick’s Chapel across Morecambe Bay

This area is owned by the National Trust and the noticeboard has information on St Patrick’s Chapel. It shows an artist’s impression of what the chapel and graves may have looked like may have looked like hundreds of years ago.

St Patrick's Chapel National Trust Information Board

St Patrick’s Chapel Information Board

Behind the chapel is a walled section which rises up to a rounded peak; this may have been part of a small monastery. I love to walk up the hill and sit on the wall looking out across the sea and simply enjoy the fresh air and lovely views. In autumn the gorse is a vibrant yellow, adding a welcome dash of colour. I was there in September for a photo shoot with photographer Clare Malley. It  was rainy and overcast when we arrived but the skies cleared for a while and the gorse positively zinged against waters of the Bay and the misty mountains of the Lake District.

Gorse bushes on Heysham Barrows overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Gorse bushes overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Nearby is St Peter’s Church, a simple Victorian building used by the local inhabitants of Heysham. The old village has a quaint atmosphere with attractive cottages, a decent pub and a couple of very good cafes. It’s benefiting from the regeneration of the area, following the opening of the new M6 link road. Heysham Port provides ferries and freight shipping to the Isle of Man, Ireland and UK ports and this road is speeding up connections to the rest of the country.

St Peter's Church Heysham Lancashire

St Peter’s Church

Of course, this means it is now easier for tourists to visit Heysham and hopefully get up on the Barrows for a bracing walk in some of the loveliest scenery in Lancashire. Just make sure you keep your eyes ahead and don’t look at the hideous carbuncle round the corner; it’s well worth the trip.

The Quirky Traveller on Heysham Headland

On Heysham Headland

 

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