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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

January 3, 2017

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day
Kendal Castle - Manor Hall

Kendal Castle – Manor Hall

The kite’s red wings rattled noisily as it soared higher and higher over Kendal Castle into the clear blue sky, its string held firmly by a guy in a big puffa jacket. “Can I hold it, Dad? Please, can I?” begged the young girl beside him. “OK, but you must wrap it round your hand REALLY tight.” An anxious few moments as he transferred the string in a complicated manoeuvre to her small fist. She squealed with delight as she felt the kite’s impatient tug as it swooped and flipped in the chilly breeze, silhouetted against the afternoon sun.

Kendal Castle and kite Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Kendal Castle and kite

It was New Year’s Day and perfect weather for a walk to blow away last year’s cobwebs and overindulgence from the night before. Having just had lunch with my aunt and uncle, who live in the town, I’d come up to Kendal Castle for some fresh air.

Kendal Town and River Kent from Kendal Castle - photo zoedawes

Kendal Town and River Kent

Kendal town spreads out towards the Lake District fells (hills), the River Kent flowing gently towards the coast. Hard to believe that a year ago it burst its banks in one of the worst storms we’ve had for years, flooding houses and businesses, causing huge damage and many to be homeless for far too long. I wandered over to the ruins of the medieval Manor Hall; children were scrambling over the walls and chasing each other around the lower vaults.

Playing at Kendal Castle Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Children at Kendal Castle

Kendal Castle was probably built in the late 12th century as a fortified home for the Barons of Kendal. It was sold to the Parr family a few hundred years later. Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr was once thought to have been born here, but as the castle was already in disrepair in the 1500s that’s not likely. The Manor Hall and the North West Tower (originally called the Troutbeck Tower) plus a couple of underground cellars and walls the courtyard and moat. are all that’s left now. Throughout the site there are information boards telling the history of the castle and illustrating what it might have looked like when it was the inhabited.

Kendal Castle Tower and view Cumbria

Kendal Castle Tower and view

The wind was cold but the sunshine brightened up the day. New Year’s a time for reflection, looking back as well as forward. I thought of all the amazing places I’d been lucky enough to visit over the past 12 months. Highlights included having a female gorilla in Rwanda walk over my feet, clambering across the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, feeding flamingos on Aruba in the Caribbean, driving through the Rockies on a Canadian road trip and finding the quirky quokka in Western Australia. However, I always love coming back home and on the first day of a new year, this is exactly where I wanted to be …

Kendal Castle and Tower

Kendal Castle and Tower

Sitting on a wall beside the tower were two young girls, oblivious to everything but their conversation. I thought of all the dramatic changes in the past year, the famous people, part of the fabric of our growing up, who’d died, and the major shifts in world power. The future is always unclear, but this new year brings greater uncertainly than for many a long time. The future is in the hands of these youngsters; we owe it to them not to mess up the present …

Sitting on Kendal Castle walls

On Kendal Castle walls

As I wandered back down the hill, a woman in an electric wheelchair zoomed past, her scarf rippling out behind her. She waved and said, “Gorgeous day isn’t it! Makes you happy to be alive.” It was and it did …

For lots more really useful information on arts and culture, heritage, shopping, activities and much more, check out Visit Kendal.

Kendal Castle Video


September 27, 2016

A delightful walking holiday on the Yorkshire coast

A delightful walking holiday on the Yorkshire coast
Surfer walking along Whitby Cliffs, North Yorkshire - zoedawes

Surfer on Whitby Cliffs

Striding along the cliff top, the surfer added a somewhat incongruous element to this view of Whitby by the North Sea on the Yorkshire coast. I was here on a walking holiday with HF Holidays, and enjoying the great weather before going to Larpool Hall, where I was staying for 3 nights.

Whitby Abbey Yorkshire - walking holiday - photo zoedawes

Whitby Abbey

Walking Holiday: Day 1 – Whitby

Famous as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, dramatic Whitby Abbey dates back to the 13th c. I spent an hour wandering about and taking photos, watching children having a go at archery and listening to the excellent audio-guide. Then I headed off to Robin Hood’s Bay, one of the North Yorkshire Coast’s most popular tourist spots.

Robin Hoods Bay Yorkshire - zoedawes

The tiny harbour marks the end of the Coast to Coast Walk, which starts near where I live, on the Cumbria coast, at St Bees. It was lovely to see so many people enjoying the summer sun, sitting outside the pub, dabbling in the rock pools, paddling in the sea and sunbathing on the beach. A perfect summer’s day.

HF Holidays - Larpool Hall - Whitby Photo zoedawes

HF Holidays – Larpool Hall

I arrived at Georgian Larpool Hall in the late afternoon and was welcomed by friendly Assistant Manager Sally who showed me around. My en-suite single bedroom overlooked the courtyard and had everything you’d want for a few days’ stay.

Larpool Hall - Whitby - HF Holidays

Larpool Hall

I had missed afternoon tea but was in time to meet fellow guests and go for the introductory walk with Christine Brook,  our guide for the next few days. HF Holidays runs with a large team of volunteer guides who play a huge part in the success of the company. Christine gave us a bit of history of the Larpool Hall, then we went along the railway trail which goes past the back of the house.

Hf Holidays walking group on Whitby Viaduct - photo zoedawes

Christine and walking group on Whitby Viaduct

We stopped at the local secondary school which has a replica of a Celtic Cross to commemorate Anglo Saxon poet Caedmon, who looked after the animals at Whitby Abbey in the 7thc AD. On our walk back we saw the abbey silhouetted  in the evening sun and caught a glimpse of a North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train puffing into the town centre.

Whitby Harbour, abbey and steam train - yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Whitby Harbour

Back at Larpool Hall, there was just time to get changed before Christine gave us a briefing about the next day’s walk, along the coast. I was a bit unsure of the protocol for dinner but a helpful waiter explained it was free seating so I joined one of the circular dining tables. The food is excellent – I can see why guests love it here. I’ve been on a number of group holidays and sometimes the food lets it down. Not at Larpool Hall.

Meals at Larpool Hall HF Holidays Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Meals at Larpool Hall

Table-talk was convivial and everyone was very friendly. I was there on my own but not for one minute did I feel lonely. After dinner about 40 of us took part in a lively General Knowledge Quiz, ably chaired by Christine. Every evening there was an organised activity but they’re not compulsory; I spent one evening chatting with fellow guests at the bar. There was a stunning sunset; sadly the maxim; ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight‘ was not so accurate.

Sunset at Larpool Hall Whitby - photo zoedawes

Sunset at Larpool Hall

Walking Holiday: Day 2 – North Yorkshire Coast

The Cleveland Way - Runswick Bay to Staithes - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

The Cleveland Way – Runswick Bay to Staithes

The next morning was overcast but dry. After an excellent cooked breakfast, I collected my packed lunch. The day before, I’d ordered a sandwich from a list of fillings and bread; it was waiting in the dining room, along with a tempting selection of ‘ingredients’ which include fresh fruit, raw vegetables, cheese and crackers, dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cake, biscuits and loads more.

Packed lunch selection at HF Holidays Larpool Hall Whitby - image zoedawes

HF Holidays Lunch

Our mini-bus took us to Runswick Bay, the starting point for our coastal walk to Staithes. Originally a fishing village, now it’s a very popular tourist destination. The quaint fishing cottages are mostly holiday homes and it has one of Britain’s few independent Life Boat Stations. It was misty so the views across the Bay were limited but it wasn’t raining and we were all in very good spirits.

Runswick Bay Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Runswick Bay

We set off along the Cleveland Way, following a well-marked path that took us along what would be a spectacular coastline, had the sea fret not rolled in and obscured our view. Access to the little bay of Port Mulgrave is currently closed due to erosion of the cliffs. Christine explained the old harbour was used to transport iron ore, which was mined locally and taken to Jarrow for processing. Through the mist we could just make out some old buildings and the remains of the pier.

Port Mulgrave on Cleveland Way - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Port Mulgrave

We arrived in Staithes in time for lunch, which we ate on the attractive harbour front. Formerly a mining/fishing village, Staithes is on the way up, as can been seen in the rebuilding and new shops opening up everywhere. BBC TV children’s series Old Jack’s Boat, starring Bernard Cribbins, is filmed here and there are plenty of souvenir and craft shops, plus an Art Gallery. Staithes was home to the Staithes Group, a 19thc art colony.

Old Jack's Boat Staithes

Old Jack’s Boat banner

The quirky little Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre has a comprehensive collection of  Cook memorabilia, collected by the owner in charming higglede-piggeldy displays. There’s also a unique exhibition of photographs and objects telling the story of Staithes. It’s one of the best small museums I’ve ever seen.

Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre

Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre

It started to rain as we got into the mini bus to take us back to Whitby. Some went back to Larpool Hall and a few of us joined Christine for an afternoon walk round the town. Even in the pouring rain, Whitby has an evocative charm all its own. We saw Captain Cook’s statue, the Whalebone Arch, the hotel where Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula‘, the jet shops along the little lanes and the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey.

Whitby in the rain - HF Holidays - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Our group in Whitby rain

Our walk back took us through Pannett Park, where we stopped off at the Art Gallery and Whitby Museum. We got back to Larpool Hall in the late afternoon, nicely worn-out after our day’s walking and ready for another delicious dinner.

Walking Holiday: Day 3 – Castle Howard

Castle Howard and Atlas Fountain - Yorkshire - zoedawes

Castle Howard and Atlas Fountain

The sun shone throughout our final day of the walking holiday. Our coach driver dropped us off on the edge of the Castle Howard estate and we took a leisurely stroll past the Temple of the Four Winds, the Mausoleum and the Pyramid – and a very fine herd of Angus cattle.

Yorkshire HF Walking Holiday - Castle Howard - photo zoedawes

Our day was spent exploring the grounds and interior of Castle Howard, built between 1699 and 1702. The top of the famous dome is being re-gilded but the beauty of the house is still apparent, especially when viewed from the splendid Atlas Fountain. I ate my packed lunch in the delicately scented Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden - Castle Howard Yorkshire- photo zoedawes

The Rose Garden

Every room in Castle Howard is a treasure trove of beautiful paintings, impressive sculptures and exquisite furniture, much dating from its heyday in the Georgian era. The interior view of the dome (restored after a serious fire) is breathtaking and there is an interesting display of photographs from the filming of Brideshead Revisited. The Howard family Chapel has lovely Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones.

Inside Castle Howard - collage zoedawes

Inside Castle Howard

On our way back to Larpool Hall we crossed the North Yorkshire Moors which were flooded with purple heather. That evening dinner was very lively as we shared our favourite parts of the walking holiday. Christine organised a little quiz for those staying in and took me down to the town centre for the last night of the Whitby Folk Festival. Listening to sea shanties and blues music sung in a traditional pub seemed a very fitting end to a very memorable few days on the Yorkshire Coast.

Singer in pub Whitby Folk Festival

Singer in Whitby pub

Many thanks to HF Holidays for inviting me. You can find out more about their Walking with Sightseeing Holidays here. Thanks also to Christine for cheerful guidance on the walking holiday and to Sally and the team at Larpool Pool for being so helpful and friendly. Finally, a special mention to the friends I made during the trip and to my feisty fellow walkers. It was a real pleasure to spend time exploring the Yorkshire coast and surrounding area together.

In front of Temple of the Winds, Castle Howard - HF Holidays - zoedawes

Our walking group in front of Temple of the Winds, Castle Howard

August 13, 2016

Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare on a summer’s day

Stratford-upon-Avon and Shakespeare on a summer’s day
Stratford-upon-Avon boating - image zoedawes

Boating on the River Avon


On a sunny summer’s day Stratford-upon-Avon is the epitome of Englishness. Families picnic on the grass. couples canoodle under trees, canal boats moor up beside a pub, ice-creams are scoffed, dogs are walked and swans are a-swimming.  Children splash beneath an elegant sculpture of two of these famous swans, outspread wings reflecting blue sky and greenery.

'The Swan Water Fountain' Christine Lee Stratford Stratford upon Avon - image zoedawes

The Swan Water Fountain – sculptor Christine Lee

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is buzzing with people booking tickets for the latest Shakespearean play and enjoying a drink on the terrace overlooking the river. On the lawn at the back, there’s an air of laziness; in the heat of the midday sun it’s tempting to just flop down and soak up the rays.

Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre Stratford - image zoedawes

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Wandering along the river, the sounds of a brass band waft over the water; they’re playing ‘Summertime’ and at this moment, the livin’ really does feel easy. On a day like today the troubles of the world fade away and we forget our worries in the simple pleasures of a sunny Sunday in Stratford.  In a glade a group of players act out a tale for an appreciative audience of kiddies and grownups. The quaint Chain Ferry slowly shuttles passengers across the Avon and a rowing boat drifts past enormous weeping willows.

Stratford upon Avon River Chain Ferry - image zoedawes

River Avon Chain Ferry

The tall spire of Holy Trinity Church towers over the trees. It’s the burial place of William Shakespeare; thousands of visitors come every year to see his tomb with its inscription warning those who might disturb his rest,

“Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

Shakespeare Memorial and Tomb Holy Trinity Church - image zoedawes

Shakespeare’s Memorial and Tomb

The market along the canal is doing a thriving business and there’s a big queue at the canal barge selling ice-creams and lollies to all and sundry. Stratford is busy with tourists from all over the world and visitors from the surrounding Cotswolds villages and Midlands towns. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, in Henley Street, strangely lacks any sign to denote its importance, but next to it is The Shakespeare Centre entrance; it’s expensive but very popular. He was born there in 1564; part of the house was his home and the other was a wool store and glove-maker’s shop. Giggling Japanese girls take photos in front of its half-timbered walls whilst local shoppers stroll past, familiar with its historic significance.

Shakespeare's Birthplace and The Shakespeare Centre Stratford - image zoedawes

The Shakespeare Centre & Shakespeare’s Birthplace

When Shakespeare had become famous and made his money, he retired to Stratford-upon-Avon and lived in a fine house called New Place. All that remains of this medieval building is the foundations and the gardens, accessible via Nash’s House next door. It’s currently being renovated, so is closed, much to the disappointment of the Americans, who’re on a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Bard. Colourful murals depicting Shakespeare’s plays decorate the hoardings hiding the works and a banner exhorts us to ‘snap a selfie’ and show our support for New Place – so we do.

Shakespeare New Place Stratford - collage zoedawes

New Place

Back at the river, the world and his wife and kids continue to enjoy the summer sun but it’s time to leave. But there’s just time for a couple of photos beside the huge Gower Memorial; Shakespeare is seated gazing out across the main road, surrounded by characters from his most famous plays; Prince Hal, Falstaff, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet.

Hamlet and Yorick statue Stratford - image zoedawes

The Gower Memorial – Hamlet and Yorick

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

Hamlet Act V, Scene I

I visited Stratford with friends on a sunny Sunday in August. The town is currently celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on the 23rd April 2016. There are lots of events planned for this year or you can do what we did and just wander round the town and along the river Avon, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying Shakespeare’s legacy at your leisure.

Shakespeare Gower Memorial Stratford

Emmie and Mary with Hamlet

October 6, 2013

Derwentwater and Catbells in the Lake District, Cumbria

Derwentwater and Catbells in the Lake District, Cumbria

Boats on Derwentwater, Lake District, Cumbria - photo by Zoe Dawes

Renowned for its many beautiful lakes and impressive mountain scenery, the Lake District in Cumbria attracts walkers from all over the world. Some of the mountains are very challenging and attract serious climbers and mountaineers.  But you don’t need crampons and hefty nylon ropes to enjoy this area.  In every local newsagent from Kendal to Carlisle, from Appleby to Ulverston you can find hundreds of guide books, maps and leaflets on walks  to suit all ages and abilities.   A relatively easy though challenging enough walk is Cat Bells in the north of the Lake District.  It takes about three hours to climb and you will need decent walking shoes or boots.  (See below for appropriate clothing.)

 Derwentwater and Catbells

Keswick Launch and Cat Bells, Derwentwater, Cumbria - photo by Zoe Dawes

There are various ways to get up to distinctly sinuous Catbells or Cat Bells – its unusual name MAY be from a distortion of “Cat Bields” meaning ‘shelter of the wild cat’.   You can park near Portinscale and follow the signed path near the old Grange road, but a more attractive route is via Derwentwater.  Give yourself the whole day so you can enjoy the town of Keswick and also the lake trip as well as the walk.  If you’re coming by car, you can either park in the town or beside the Theatre By The Lake.  First wander down past the lake to the end of the little headland for one of the loveliest views in England.  Friars Crag inspired Canon Rawnsley to raise subscriptions to save it for the nation and so the National Trust was founded.  The panorama takes in Derwentwater, the Jaws of Borrowdale and the fells all around, including Catbells.  Ruskin said it was one of the finest views in Europe … It’s delightful at any time of year.

Derwentwater Ferry

Derwentwater Ferry

Go back to Keswick Launch jetty and get a ferry across the lake to Hawse End.  (NB there is only a limited service in winter.) Follow the road up across the cattle grid and you’ll find a well-marked path on the left that will take you up Catbells.  The route winds and wiggles quite steeply up Skelgill Bank so make sure you take plenty of time to stop and enjoy the scenery.  When you think you’ve reached the top, you haven’t  – there’s another summit further on! You won’t have it to yourself as it is very popular but the view makes the huff n puff all worthwhile.

Cat Bells summit and Lake District View - Photo by DAVID ILIFF

Cat Bells summit and Lake District View – photo by David Iliff

You can return back the way you came or go down via Hause Gate (don’t know why there are two different spellings) and through Brandlehow Woods, and get the ferry back from there or Hawse End. Here is the walk in more detail.

Be Prepared

Derwentwater from Friar's Crag

Derwentwater from Friar’s Crag

Cumbria and the Lake District are renowned for the ‘changeable climate‘!  You will need to dress comfortably for possibly all kinds of weather – rain, hail, snow, wind and, if you’re lucky, maybe even sunshine.   You can set off in glorious sunshine and find that fog or rain descends on you very quickly, so do check the weather before you go walking and take appropriate precautions. Wear comfortable hiking boots, waterproof jacket and a hat if it is at all likely to be cold.  Be sure to have a map and mobile phone.  Take plenty of water and things to eat as you’re bound to use up a lot of energy on this walk.

July 12, 2013

5 places in the UK to enjoy the great outdoors

5 places in the UK to enjoy the great outdoors

5 beautiful places in the UK to enjoy the great outdoors

 Go over the sea to Skye, wander in Wordsworth's footsteps, take the easy route to the top of one of Britain's highest mountains, set sail for new horizons or make a pilgrimage to Holy Island. Here are a few of my top choices around our wonderful country for you to enjoy this summer – or any time of the year …

1.  The Isle of Skye

The Quiraing on the Trotternish Ridge, north of Portree, Skye photo

The Quiraing on the Trotternish Ridge, Skye – photo

What's not to love about stunningly beautiful Skye, epitome of  the Highlands and Islands of Scotland?  The majestic mountains of the Cuillins and Quirang ranges give it an impressive grandeur, its seascapes are sublime and there is a great choice of places to stay and delicious fresh local food.  The main town of Portree is a colourful mix of fishermen's cottages, excellent restaurants and a busy working harbour.  I visited one Easter and we got every bit of weather imaginable, from a snow-blinding blizzard, pouring rain, thick sea mist and blazing sunshine – and this  little island looked glorious throughout!       

2. The Lake District

Wast Water and Scafell Pike - photo by Amatire

Wast Water and Scafell Pike – photo by Amatire

The loveliest place in England – well, I'm completely biased as it's on my doorstep, but everyone should visit the Lake District at least once.  With its many lakes, tarns, rivers and fells, picturesque villages, adventure activities, literary links, historic towns, welcoming pubs and world-class accommodation, there really is something for everyone. Top Tip – avoid the summer crowds around Lake Windermere and the south lakes – head for the quieter far north or west to dramatic Wast Water and Scafell Pike, setting for ‘Britain's Favourite View'.

3. Snowdonia

'Enid' and heritage coach steaming up Snowdon - photo

‘Enid’ and heritage coach – Snowdon Mountain Railway – photo

Described as the ‘crowning glory of North Wales' this wild and dramatic landscape is also full of surprises. I find the mountains rather daunting but love wandering along the river at Betws-y-Coed or up to Gelert's Grave at Beddgelert.  Children love the Ffestiniog Railway which curls up to the mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog from Portmadog, not far from quirky Portmeirion.  I'll be honest – I've never managed to walk up Snowdon but the 5-mile rack and pinion Snowdon Mountain Railway gives everyone the chance to get to the top. But do leave plenty of time – it's a long slow haul there and back.

4. Dorset

Brownsea Island, Poole - photo by Zoe Dawes

Brownsea Island Poole in Dorset – photo by Zoe Dawes

If you're a lover of literature you'll be familiar with Thomas Hardy's Dorset with its quaint villages of thatched cottages and rural countryside.  But this country is  also a great area for sailing.  Weymouth took centre stage for yachting during the Olympics and its legacy is seen in some excellent facilities just outside the town, near the long sandy stretch of Chesil BeachBournemouth is fun for water sports of all kinds and Poole has a big marina with sailing for all levels. I love getting the little ferry over to Brownsea Island where Baden Powell took the very first Scouts and red squirrels romp around the woods.

5. Northumberland Heritage Coast

Bamburgh Castle and beach Northumberland - by Zoe Dawes

Bamburgh Castle and beach – by Zoe Dawes

Want to really get away from it all? Fancy walking in the footsteps of St Aidan and St Cuthbert in some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Britain? Eat fresh crab sandwiches beside the fishing boat that caught the crab that morning? Then Northumberland's inspirational coastline is for you.  From the attractive and much fought-over Border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed it's not too far south to dramatic Lindisfarne or Holy Island, ancient centre of Christianity in the Dark Ages.  A bit further along the coast is one of my favourite places – impressive Bamburgh Castle overlooking undulating sand dunes and a splendid beach, great for bracing walks and oodles of fresh air.  You can read about the Northumberland market town of Morpeth here.

Of course there are very many more places to explore around this beautiful country so make sure you get out into the great outdoors and try somewhere new for a change!

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May 13, 2013

Walking round Reykjavik – Europe’s most northern capital

Walking round Reykjavik – Europe’s most northern capital

If you’ve been to Iceland you’ll understand the singer Björk.  Born and raised in Reykjavik, she epitomises this country’s quirky, eclectic energy.  Visitors on holiday can get a brief glimpse of Iceland’s natural attractions and history by doing The Golden Circle, including Gulfoss (Golden Waterfall), the geothermal field of Haukadalur where Strokkur Geyser erupts very few minutes and the UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir National Park where the original Parliament met.  All this is can be done in a day trip from Reykjavik, Iceland’s historic and vibrant capital city.

Reykjavik and Hallgrims Church Iceland = photo zoedawes

Reykjavik with view of Hallgrims Church

In spite of a very changeable climate that Brits will feel at home in and those from warmer countries may find ‘challenging’, Reykjavik is one of the party capitals of Europe.  Lively techno and hard rock bars vie with cool cafes and trendy eateries.  But it’s the fascinating cultural scene, unusual architecture, every-changing seascapes and crisp, sparkling air that I loved.  Standing on The Square  one look at the unassuming, low level Alþing (Parliament House) tells you that this is a country that seems at ease with its identity and has no need to dominate. The white-walled Cathedral next door would not look out of place in a provincial town.  And that’s the secret of Reykjavik’s appeal – it’s small, accessible and utterly charming.

Tjörnin, Reykjavik Iceland - photo Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi

Tjörnin – photo Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi

The best way to explore the city is on foot. In a few hours you can see all the main sights ‘downtown’ – we had a guide but it’s not difficult to navigate.  With the sea on one side and linear streets you can’t get too lost.  In front of the Tourist Information Centre on little Faxaflói Square we were shown a rather strange looking sculpture of tall concrete stakes with steam coming from the running water.  Apparently this represents the founding of the city when a Norwegian Viking settler farmed this land and called it Reykjavik aka ‘steamy/smoky bay‘.

Faxafloi Square sculpture Reykjavik

At the nearby Landnamssyningin (Settlement Exhibition) I tried to imagine what ancient island life was like around 1000 AD from the remnants of a turf wall and some Viking objects.  Can’t say I succeeded but worth a try!  Much more appealing was the Kraum Centre for Icelandic Craft in House No 10 Adalstraeti,  said to be the oldest wooden house in centre of the city. As you can imagine, these houses are prone to fire and decay being so near the sea so it is amazing that any have survived.  There was an intriguing collection of pottery, jewellery, household utensils and clothes, all with a definite Icelandic twist in their creation and construction.

Kraum Craft Centre Reykjavik

Shoppers are well catered for with a great mix of international names and very high quality local  brands.  In the city’s largest shopping centre, Kringlan (a few minutes’ drive from the heart of the city, you’ll find names like Karen Illen, Deisel, Next, Zara and Hugo Boss.  One of the most well-known local names is 66°North, created in 1926 to provide outdoor clothing to protect the fishermen and labourers from the extremes of Arctic weather. Now uber-fashionable, their garments combine practicality and contemporary design.  I got a very snug fleece that looks good and is very cosy on the Lake District fells in winter!  If you have time, just go off the main streets to discover quirky little shops selling all manner of tempting goodies.

The Sea Hat shop - Reykjavik

Laugavegur is the main shopping street.  Woollen items are a favourite and the Hand-knitting Association of Iceland has a couple of shops in town.  Or you could try a quirky chocolate volcano on an iced cake from a bespoke chocolatier …

Chocolate volcano on iced cake

Heading towards busy Hafn (harbour) we could smell the fishing boats before we saw them.  Serious looking craft bedecked with industrial-strength nets were bobbing about near the ferries, a military vessel and other shipping that regularly sail around these chilly waters.  There’s also a ferry taking day-trippers over to Viday Islandwhere we had dinner one memorable night.

Hafn - Reykjavik Harbour

Looming over it all like some enormous honeycomb is the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.  Home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, this state-of-the-art building was only completed in 2011.  Music concerts, opera , art exhibitions and international conferences are held all year round  and there are a couple of shops as well as an excellent restaurant.  Eating a delicious lunch of fresh seafood and local dishes we had a breath-taking view of the harbour’s icy blue waters as the sun shimmered through the geometric windows.

Harpa Concert Hall Reykjavik

This is a glimpse of a few of the highlights of Reykjavik’s attractions.  Look out for the next article on the city’s Art Museum and Culture House, lovely Tjörnin (The Pond), a boat trip to Viðey Island,  a privileged glimpse inside the Höfði House, where Gorbachov and Reagan met for the Reykjavik summit and a visit to the Presidential Palace to meet the outgoing Icelandic President.

President's Residence Reykjavik

I travelled to Iceland courtesy of easyJet, offering regular flights and holidays to quirkilicious Iceland, and stayed at the luxurious Hotel Borg, in the heart of the city on Parliament Square.

Parliament building Reykjavik

Read about my experience of The Iceland Golden Circle here. It’s very quirky and special!

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