Tag Archives: culture
January 28, 2017

Dunster by Candlelight on a winter’s eve in Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight on a winter’s eve in Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight - medieval village in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor

The giant stag, carried aloft on strong shoulders, glows an unearthly white. Cowled figures carrying candles walk silently past. Lords and ladies dressed in rich flowing garb stride proudly past. Children carrying lanterns are shepherded down along the road. A musician plays a tin whistle as the procession wends its way past hundreds of people lining the streets of the medieval Dunster. Every shop is brightly lit and there’s a carnival atmosphere, mixed with a sense of awe.  It’s the 30th anniversary of Dunster by Candlelight, a weekend of festivities and general merry-making that attracts visitors from around the UK and overseas.

Dunster at night Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Dunster at night

Dunster is in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor National Park in south west England. The village developed over the centuries around Dunster Castle which dates back to the 11th c. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the castle was in the Luttrell family for hundreds of years; it’s now owned by the National Trust. The wool and cloth trade brought wealth to the area and the octagonal 17th c Yarn Market still stands in the heart of the village. Nowadays, Dunster is famous for being one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England. I’d never been before, so to see it during the Dunster by Candlelight festival was a real treat.

Dunster by Candlelight town and Castle Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight

Buses shuttle visitors from nearby towns; I got on at seaside resort Minehead overlooking the Bristol Channel. I follow the procession from its starting point at Dunster Steep near the car park.  Villagers dress up as nobility and peasants, carrying racks of candles in jars or playing instruments. Two stilt walkers tower over us, one dressed as the devil with very realistic horns. We wend our way along the High Street past the Yarn Market towards the castle, lording it over us on a hill above the village. Turning off along Church Street we pass St George’s Church, where a choir sings Christmas carols. In a walled garden a man wielding a chain-saw is carving an eagle out of a tree trunk.

Dunster Wood Cutter

Along West Street we are entertained by a band of energetic drummers and candlelit Fire Spinners twirling and swirling. Collecting boxes are shaken and filled by generous onlookers. ‘The heart of Candlelight focuses on raising funds for St Margaret’s Hospice, which provides so much comfort for those who so need it’, writes Chairman Andy Fay in the excellent Dunster by Candlelight programme leaflet. Father Christmas waves as we walk by.

Dunster Father Christmas

The procession ends at the 17th c Water Mill, where the miller is milling by candlelight. The mill still produces flour and has a popular Tea Room. The stag is gently removed from its plinth and the racks of candles are laid down. There’s a general air of merriment and relief. The following eve, Saturday, the villagers will be doing it all again, but for now they can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening’s events.

Dunster Castle

I make my way up to Dunster Castle, focal point for the village, brightly lit and enticing with the smell of BBQ sausages and burgers. The Stables have been converted into a Christmas Market, selling local food and drink and handmade gifts. People jostle each other to get a better look at the tasty treats on sale. I’m tempted by tiny Christmas Cakes, some very moreish-looking frosted baeks and jars of home-made preserves. I finally choose chocolate dogs and a bottle of Spiced Somerset Chaider.

Dunster Castle Christmas Market products

Inside the castle the Quantock Musical Theatre Choir is entertaining an appreciative audience in the Drawing Room. In each of the ground floor rooms an enormous Christmas Tree, beautifully decorated, adds a festive note to its historic contents. It feels as if the Luttrell family have invited us in to help them celebrate a very special Victorian Christmas.

Dunster Castle Christmas Exmoor

Back in the town I head off to the old Tithe Barn, where a man with a python round his neck is scaring and enthralling the audience in equal measure. Beside the path I find Ian Mabbutt and Seb Jay with a large telescope pointed up into the winter sky. Ian runs West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages, where I am staying whilst in Exmoor. Seb, a noted astronomer, runs Dark Sky Telescope Hire. “Exmoor is a great place for stargazing; it’s Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Once you get out of the populated areas, the stars take your breath away.”  Later that evening, back at West Withy Farm, Seb gives a master class in the skies above us.

Dunster Christmas Bauble

Dunster Christmas Shop lures me in with its charming display. Among the Santas, bells, elves and snowmen I see a pretty bauble with a hand-painted scene of Dunster; perfect souvenir of my visit. (More on the Dunster Christmas Bauble here.) In the street outside a man with a marked resemblance to Harpo Marx is playing a piano whilst another man juggles fire and plays a harmonica on top of it. The audience are laughing delightedly at their antics; it sums up the joyful spirit you find at Dunster by Candlelight. One day I will return to see Dunster by Daylight …

Dunster by Candlelight street artists - Exmoor - photo zoe dawes

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.

Read more: A winter weekend in Exmoor

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Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - Pinterest

January 14, 2017

Quirky Travel Poem: The Owl and the Pussy Cat

Quirky Travel Poem: The Owl and the Pussy Cat
The owl and the pussycat Ian beck

Oh, to go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat … The classic children’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, has been a family favourite for many years; I used to read it to my son, Alex, at bedtime. It weaves its quirky magic in every line, taking us on an extraordinary journey to an imaginary land, ‘where the Bong Tree grows’. It’s got everything we could wish for in life: adventure, food and drink, money, music, dance and romance. It’s also stars two of our favourite creatures, an owl and a pussycat, plus a pig and a turkey.

A Book of Nonsense (c. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear

A Book of Nonsense (c. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear

In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat. It was either written for his patron, the Earl of Derby’s daughter OR three-year-old Janet Symonds, daughter of Lear’s friend, poet John Addington Symonds. The term runcible, used for the phrase “runcible spoon”, was invented for the poem.’ (The Owl and the PussycatWikipedia)

The Owl and the Pussycat -Edward Lear illustration

The Owl and the Pussycat – Edward Lear illustration

Many artists have illustrated the poem since it was published in 1871, including Lear himself. He was a talented artist and became an ‘ornithological draughtsman‘ getting work with the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 with the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate. We have a beautifully illustrated version by Ian Beck (see above). His brightly coloured paintings bring this charming nonsense poem alive in a delightful way. (We also have anohter Ian Beck illustrated Lear poem – see The Jumblies). Read the poem and remind yourself of Lear’s literary quirkiness!

The Owl and the Pussycat - illustration by Toadbriar

The Owl and the Pussycat – illustration by Toadbriar

The Owl and the Pussycat

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.
II
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Edward Lear 1812 – 1888
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear - illustrator LoneAnimator

The Owl and the Pussycat – illustrator LoneAnimator

December 13, 2016

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy in Exmoor

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy 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 

December 2, 2016

Historic sights: 48 hours in Rome, Italy

Historic sights: 48 hours in Rome, Italy
The Trevi Fountain - 48 hours in Rome - photo zoedawes

The Trevi Fountain

“It’s like travelling through history… The people are great, they’re very friendly, which makes a difference.” Dany, concierge for Citalia Holidays in Rome, was introducing me to his favourite city, sharing some top tips and insider secrets to help make my 48 hours in Rome a big success.

‘Live’ video of Dany, Citalia Concierge, talking about Rome

I’d never visited Rome before; it had been on my Dream Destination list for decades. Arriving mid-afternoon, I was picked up from the airport and whisked to The Ariston, a chic hotel very close to the railway station in the city centre. Here is my itinerary and suggestions for a truly memorable time in the Eternal City. NB: I didn’t go inside all of the sights so take that  into account in planning.

 48 Hours in Rome

Take a bit of time to get your bearings. If you have a concierge, do use them or whoever is local, to get an idea of what is possible in a short stay. You’ll want to see the main sights, but be realistic. They are simply awe-inspiring and you may want to spend quite a time at each one. There are usually BIG QUEUES so it’s worth doing research and booking tours or tickets in advance. Public transport in Rome is not brilliant; the Metro only has two lines which barely touch the major sites. Trams and buses go all over the city but traffic often slows it down.

Day 1 – late afternoon and evening

Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica - 48 hours in Rome - by zoedawes

Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica

One of Rome’s greatest basilicas, Santa Maria Maggiore, is not far from the station and my hotel, so I walked up to see it. Its nave and splendid mosaics date back to the 5th Century AD. It towers over the busy piazza, and its ceiling is a stupendous gold avenue that showers light into its cavernous interior. There are some beautiful paintings and sculptures and beneath the alter is a crypt with a statue of a Pope and a crystal reliquary said to contain wood from the Holy Crib. St Jerome and the superb Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini are buried here.

Italian Dinner and Rome by Night

A tour of Rome by night gives you a chance to see the city’s magnificent monuments lit up, giving a whole other perspective. I went on Gray Line’s ‘Panoramic Rome Bus Tour by Night with Traditional Dinner‘, with hotel pick-up and guide, Sandra, whose in-depth knowledge and enthusiasm for her city added to the enjoyment of the evening. A small group of us started out with a 3-course meal at Fontana di Venere, a pleasant restaurant in the city centre.

Dinner at Ristorante Fontana di Venere Trastevere Rome

Dinner at Ristorante Fontana di Venere

We were joined by a larger group and went to see the Trevi Fountain, recently revealed in all its refurbished glory. The marble glowed brilliant white and the turquoise water glittered as a steady stream of coins cascaded into its curved basin. Completed in 1762, Taming of the Waters is the theme of the gigantic Trevi Fountain and the statue of Oceanus dominates the scene.

Throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain - 48 hours in Rome - zoedawes

Three coins in the Fountain

Sandra said, “Stand with your back to the fountain. Throw a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder and you’ll return to Rome for sure.” I threw three coins in the fountain, just like in the song, as I had already fallen deeply in love with this city and definitely want to return.

The Colosseum at night - 48 hours in Rome

The Colosseum at night

Then it was on the coach to the Colosseum. It really is breath-taking in size, architecture and historic significance. We drove round it as Sandra gave us its story then walked up to it via the Arch of Constantine. It was wonderful to finally see it. We drove on round many sights and then across the Tiber to Trastevere, where we wandered the narrow streets and enjoyed the friendly, lively atmosphere amongst restaurants, bars, shops and charming buildings.

Trastevere at night - 48 hours in Rome

Trastevere at night

I got back to the Hotel Ariston at 11pm, tired but very happy, having already got a flavour of this magical city.

Day 2 – Morning: Roman Rome

The Colosseum and Horse Sculpture - Rome

The Colosseum and Horse Sculpture

Getting the Metro to the Colosseum means coming out directly opposite – a real WOW moment. Even if you’ve seen it in the evening, it’s still impressive. Pay extra to get a ‘jump the queue’ ticket to avoid the queues or, if time’s limited, walk around it just get a feel for its magnificence. The ticket includes Palatine Hill, where Romulus founded the city and Emperors built their palaces and the Forum, ancient Rome’s centre of temples, basilicas and public spaces. This could take you all morning or afternoon, to really enjoy at your leisure. I got a great view of the Forum from behind the Capitoline Hill, along with a very photogenic seagull!

The Forum - and seagull! Rome in 48 hours

The Forum – and seagull!

From here you can walk through the lovely Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo in 1538, with an impressive statue of Marcus Aurelius overlooking the city below, between two huge statues of Castor and Pollux. the Capitoline Museums house one of Italy’s finest collections of classical sculptures. Again, if you want to visit the museum, make sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy it.

Capitoline Hill from Cordonata Staircase - 48 hours in Rome - zoedawes

Capitoline Hill from Cordonata Staircase

Just round the corner, in Piazza Venezia is Il Vittoriano, or Altare dela Patria. This mish-mash of ornate styles in honour of Victor Emmanuel, first king of united Italy, is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and has one of the best views of Rome from the top.

Il Vittoriano - 48 hours in Rome

Il Vittoriano

By now you’re probably hungry and need to refuel for your 48 hours in Rome so head towards Historical Centre and the Pantheon where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars. Or do what I did, which was to grab a pizza slice and make my way over the Tiber to Vatican City.

Day 2 – Afternoon: Vatican City

The Vatican City - 48 hours in Rome

Vatican City

Book a tour for the Vatican Museum. It reduces queuing time and there’s so much to see your guide will help you through the fascinating maze of world-class artworks here. Ancient Greek sculptures, Roman statues, priceless votives, intricate tapestries, beautiful mosaics, early maps, religious icons, gilded ceilings, paintings by renowned artists …

Vatican Museum Treasures - 48 hours in Rome

Vatican Museum Treasures

Every room and corridor was crammed with people gazing in awe at the every surface, being gently chivvied along by guides and we only scratched the surface of the Vatican Museum. Finally we came to the Sistine Chapel. It is simply breath-taking. Every inch of the walls and ceiling is covered with colourful frescoes by Michelangelo and his acolytes. We had twenty minutes to take it all in – and, in spite of the crowds, I’d have happily spent all afternoon there.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling - image wikipedia

The Sistine Chapel ceiling

The final part of the tour was to St Peter’s Basilica and, because Pope Francis had declared a Jubilee, we were allowed in through the Holy Door, along with thousands of pilgrims from around the world. At the end of the nave Bernini’s ornate Baldacchino towers above the High Altar. Michelangelo’s Pietà draws the crowds, but every inch of this enormous church demands attention.

Michelangelo's Pieta in St Peter's Basilica - Rome - photo zoedawes

Michelangelo’s Pieta in St Peter’s Basilica

As we left Vatican City I looked back at it lit up and knew I’d have to return another time to spend more time uncovering its cultural treasures.

In the evening you’re spoilt for choice where to eat. I returned to Trastevere, in a quieter corner and had an excellent meal at Le Mani in Pasta. (Read more in article about Food and Drink in Rome.)

Spaghetti Carbonara at Le Mani in Pasta - Trastavere Rome

Spaghetti Carbonara at Le Mani in Pasta

Day 3 – morning: Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo and the Pantheon

You’re probably a little tired by this stage in your 48 hours in Rome but there’s still so much to see. There’s the Pantheon, Piazza Novona, Aventine Hill, Castel Del Angelo, more museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants … I got the Metro to the Spanish Steps, which were relatively quiet early on a Sunday Morning. Children played and drank from the quirky boat-shaped fountain, a chestnut seller kept warm over his brazier and horses snorted as they waited for tourists to show round town.

The Spanish Steps - 48 hours in Rome

The Spanish Steps

It’s like Montmartre in Paris at the top of the steps; artists paint popular scenes and cartoonists encourage you to look ridiculous. I wandered off along the path towards the Villa Borghese. There are wonderful views across the city here. I didn’t have time to visit the Villa but went down into Piazza del Popolo just as midday bells rang out across the square from at least three churches …


I walked along Via del Corso past huge churches, fashionable shops and people enjoying the late autumn sun. My final stop on was the Pantheon. Formerly a Roman temple c 126AD, it’s now a church on the site of an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. Sadly I couldn’t go inside as it was time to leave. However, I am most definitely coming back for another Roman Holiday; 48 hours in Rome just isn’t long enough!

The Pantheon - 48 hours in Rome - zoedawes

The Pantheon

Many thanks to Citalia, leading specialist in Italian holidays, who organised this 48 hours in Rome weekend. They earned the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula for six consecutive years.  The Citalia team are friendly, expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Rome page.

This trip was a Travelator Media world-wide campaign. Find out more about Travelator Media here.

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48 hours in Rome with The Quirky Traveller

November 16, 2016

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains
Tete Jaune - logo for Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives Museum

Tete Jaune

History in the Rocky Mountains

Jasper

A hiker strides out into the wilderness of one of North America’s most renowned regions. He is Tête Jaune, the legendary pathfinder of the Yellowhead Pass through the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Part Iroquois and part European, (Métis) Pierre Bostonnais was a fur trader and worked with the Hudson Bay Trading company in the Rockies. He is now the logo for the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, an excellent little museum in Jasper, Alberta, showcasing the fascinating history and culture of the area.

Jasper Museum exhibition in the Rocky Mountains

Jasper Museum exhibition

Explorers and traders forged a way through the Rocky Mountains, in the pioneering days of the early 1800s. Trading with the local First Nation people, they were intrepid adventurers whose everyday life is recreated in tableaux throughout the museum. When Jasper Haws took command of a small provisions depot in 1815 it became known as Jasper’s House and became the centre for a small community responsible for meeting transportation and supply needs, caring for horses grazing in the valley, and trading goods for meat and furs with Aboriginal groups, including Iroquois and Métis peoples. Grainy black and white photos show earnest men wielding guns and tools, digging, fishing, building and relaxing, in what must have been extremely inhospitable conditions. Even today, Jasper has a ‘wild-west’ feel to it, enclosed by the mighty Rockies and prey to every kind of weather, often in one day.

Jasper Trading Post

Jasper Trading Post

The railway brought huge changes to Jasper and surrounding area, connecting it to the outside world so much easier. As the population of the town grew, the good times rolled and prosperity boomed. The opening of W.S. Jeffery department store meant locals did not have to wait months for basics and luxuries. More women came, bringing style and elegance and music and dancing became popular. The first tourists began to arrive, eager to see experience the ‘wilderness’ for themselves.

Stylish Jasper history in Museum - Rocky Mountains

Stylish Jasper

There’s a fairly lengthy but highly informative film ‘Jasper – Just Passing Through’ which tells the story of Jasper from the very early days of civilization, to the arrival of surveyor David Thompson and the Hudson Bay Company, up to the present day. Equally important is the life of the First Nation peoples, who first traversed the Athabasca Valley through the Rocky Mountains, using the land that is now Jasper National Park, as seasonal hunting and gathering grounds. There are some lovely objects on display, including moccasins and beautifully embroidered bags.

First Nation objects in Jasper Museum Alberta - image zoedawes

First Nation objects

Visitors who arrive by rail or vehicle will invariably find themselves at the Jasper Park Information Centre. The oldest building in the town, it’s officially designated as a Canadian National Historic Site. Built in 1913-1914 as Jasper National Park administration building, it became the visitor contact centre in 1972. It was one of the first rustic style buildings to be built in a Canadian national park. The staff there are extremely helpful and if you are stuck for accommodation (book ahead if you can) or want to know what to do and where to go, this is the place.

Jasper National Park Centre Rocky Mountains

Jasper National Park Centre

Opposite is one of the most famous landmarks in the town; the Two Brothers Totem Pole. Erected in 2011 to replace the original one, it was made by the Haida people, it is 13.7 metres tall and painted in traditional Haida colours of red, black and blue. Splendid carvings include a grizzly bear, a frog and a raven, topped by a Brother gazing out over the Rockies, ‘ … represents the timeless values that will help present and future generations of Canadians to connect with national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.’

Jasper Totem Pole - Rocky Mountains - photo zoedawes

Jasper Totem Pole

Banff

At the opposite end of one of the world’s top roads, the Icefield Parkway, is Banff, a more genteel mountain town than Jasper, and the home of Canada’s first National Park. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, railway workers discovered hot springs in 1883, though known by local First Nation peoples for thousands of years. Realising they would become a visitor attraction, the president of CPR built the Scottish baronial style Banff Springs Hotel and the rest is tourism history. To protect the springs from over-commercialisation, the area was declared a National Park and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is hugely popular with tourists today.

The Rocky Mountains from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site Banff Canada- photo zoedawes

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

To get an insight into the First Nation culture and pioneer history of the Rockies, there’s not better place than Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. It’s an accessible size with interesting objects well-displayed. The original collection was started by locals Peter and Catharine Whyte and includes, ‘artifacts that help tell the stories of Aboriginal people, artists, immigrants, guides and outfitters, climbers, surveyors, hikers, explorers, adventurers, skiers and residents of the town and area. Artifacts pertaining to the development of Banff National Park are also included.’

Rocky Mountains Park - Whyte Museum Banff

Rocky Mountains Park Exhibitions

There are a couple of art galleries with changing exhibitions; they showcase local and national artists with a very eclectic and often thought-provoking slant. This very attractive and seemingly innocuous sculpture of the Rocky Mountains, a road and some mountain sheep appears very innocuous until you see the blurb. It’s actually a protest by Denise Smith against the controversial Glacier ‘Skywalk’ the Icefields Parkway.

'Skywalk' by Denise Smith Whyte Museum Banff

‘Skywalk’ by Denise Smith

There are plenty of other places to get a feel for the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, including the taxidermy heaven of Banff Park Museum. Dating to 1903, the timber-framed building was designed to house a unique collection of all the animals found the National Park. Along Banff Avenue are a number of historic buildings from the early days of rail travel, which add to the town’s heritage charm. For a glimpse into its luxurious past and present, take the Historical Tour at the imposing and stylish Fairmont Banff Springs.

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

A knowledgeable guide explains how the hotel came into being, takes you through various majestic halls, ballrooms, corridors, restaurants and bars, telling amusing anecdotes about the hotel’s founder, staff, visitors and ghosts! Thanks to my charming guide Tom.) Have a cocktail on the terrace overlooking the sinuous Bow River and mighty Rocky Mountains and feel a part of the unique fabric of this towering region of Canada. Unforgettable …

Cocktail on Banff Springs Hotel terrace Rocky Mountains Canada - zoedawes

Cheers from Banff Springs

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

More on our Travelator Media #explorecanada RV trip from Vancouver to Montreal:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Travel with Kat: The Wildlife of Canada’s Clayoquot Sound

On the Luce: Exploring Ontario’s Provincial Parks

Heather on Her Travels: A Perfect Day in Montreal

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Rocky Mountains Canada - History and Culture

October 14, 2016

An Arabic cookery lesson at Beit Sitti in Jordan

An Arabic cookery lesson at Beit Sitti in Jordan
Beit Sitti - Amman Jordan - image zoedawes

Beit Sitti

“Food is the soul of the family. Food is our way of showinghospitality but it is much more than that. Our grandmother lived in this house and she loved cooking for us. We wanted to preserve her legacy and show how traditional Arabic food is made.” I was in the kitchen area of Beit Sitti (Grandmother’s House), surrounded by beautiful objects on tables and walls, including many family photographs, in the heart of Amman, capital of Jordan.

Beit Sitti Amman Jordan - collage zoedawes

Beit Sitti interior

Maria Haddad and her sisters set up Beit Sitti in the family home to teach visitors how to cook and to offer a uniquely personal dining experience. Maria was explaining the history of the house, situated in one of Amman’s oldest neighbourhoods – Jabal al weibdeh – and the importance of Arabic cookery in Middle Eastern culture.

Arabic Cookery ingredients - Beit Sitti

Arabic Cookery ingredients – Beit Sitti

12 of us had gathered at Beit Sitti to learn how to make some simple Arabic dishes. The ingredients were laid out in front of us. Huge aubergines (eggplant), plump tomatoes, zingy lemons, tiny cucumbers, glossy onions, chubby garlic and bunches of herbs, scented the room with a taste-bud-tingling fragrance. “We’ll be making Fattet Makdous, a fried eggplant dish with toasted pitta bread, yoghurt and cucumber dip  followed by Muhallabieh with Osmelieh (orange blossom milk pudding with vermicelli) plus some other side dishes.”  Maria gave each one of us tasks and very soon the kitchen was a hive of busy cooker bees.

Arabic Cookery at Beit Sitti

Beit Sitti - preparing an Arabic meal - zoedawes

Preparing the meal

I was put in charge of chopping the cucumber for the dip. Others were preparing the fattet makdous and osmalieh, making up a tomato salad and frying pitta bread. All the while, Maria told stories of her family and the development of this unique dining experience in Jordan. She and her sisters were keen to ensure it was a personal and informal. “We collected traditional recipes from our grandmother and others and wanted to share the love we feel for our food, teach some basic Arabic Cookery but also to give participants the chance to eat the food they cooked in homely surroundings.”

Making osmalieh - Arabic cookery - Beit Sitti Jordan

Making osmalieh

Once I’d finished chopping cucumbers I had to saute onions and tomatoes then add the aubergine mix to the pan, stirring for 10 minutes til cooked. Stefan took the pitta, which had been lovingly made into little circles, to the garden to get it cooked in the outdoor oven. From the raised garden there was a good view out across the city.

Beit Sitti outdoor oven - Amman Jordan - image zoedawes

Beit Sitti outdoor oven

Another ‘cook’ made a paste from garlic and added yoghurt and mint to the cucumber, then scattered mint on top, creating a beautiful bowl of cooling dip to accompany the meal.

Yoghurt and cucumber dip - Beit Sitti - collage zoedawes

Yoghurt and cucumber dip

Whilst a large table was being laid with attractive plates and cutlery, the meal started to come together. Having assembled the cooked aubergine mix and fried pitta bread in layers in a large glass dish, Maria took a large pot of yoghurt and poured it on top of the mix in a thick layer. Then she swirled gloriously sticky pomegranate molasses across the top and it was ready to serve.

Arabic cookery Yoghurt and Fattet Makdous Beit Sitti

Maria adds yoghurt to Fattet Makdous

We sat down at the table and the dishes were spread out in front of us. Bottles of coke, Sprite and iced water were poured. Before we could start, there was a flurry of camera shutters as we all tried to capture this vegetarian banquet. Then we passed round the dishes and silence reigned as we enjoyed the culinary fruits of our labours …

Arabic cookery - Beit Sitti vegetarian meal - Amman Jordan - image zoedawes

Beit Sitti lunch

After our meal I bought a jar of pomegranate molasses and a few other products key to Arabic cookery; when I got home I was going to try some of the recipes and I wanted the original flavours. Needless to say, no photo could capture the pleasure we got from its exotic flavours and scented delight. However, this little video may give you an idea of what we experienced.

I travelled to Jordan courtesy of Visit Jordan. Many thanks to our guide Berhan for his unfailing courtesy and indefatigable knowledge and to everyone I met in this beautiful, welcoming country. Read about fulfilling a lifelong ambition to see Petra here, one of the world’s most famous historic sites.

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Arabic Cookery - Beit Sitti Amman Jordan

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

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