Tag Archives: nature
September 15, 2017

All aboard the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top of Wales

All aboard the famous Snowdon Mountain Railway to the top of Wales

Snowdon from Mountain Railway train Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

The air freshened and the clouds twirled closer together. A seagull landed on a nearby rock and squawked loudly. The sun played hide and seek as we wondered which would win. For a few minutes the world disappeared in a damp, grey mass and we felt bereft … Seagull on top of Snowdon North Wales

Then, just as quickly, the sun returned, the sky turned peacock blue and the seagull shook its wings and flew away to play on the thermals. Below us spread the most dramatic scenery in Wales; craggy mountains, grass-covered slopes, river valleys, glittering lakes and in the far distance a golden eyebrow of beach beside the sea. I was finally on the top of Snowdon, at 1,085 metres the highest mountain in Wales and somewhere I had wanted to get to for many years.

On top of Snowdon Mountain North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

View from the top of Snowdon

Twice before I’d attempted it. The first time many years ago, as a school teacher taking a group of school children on a hike up the mountain. Sharon, a feisty young girl, had an accident on the Miner’s Track and I had to accompany her back down to Llanberis. The second time, my boyfriend and I drove all the way from the Midlands, turned up at the Snowdon Mountain Railway ticket office to be told that the it was too windy and the trains were cancelled. This time I was on a tour with Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries and we were having the best weather imaginable.

Clogwyn Halt Snowdon Mountain Railway Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Our group had been driven by coach to Llanberis from Llandudno on the North Wales coast and got one of the earliest trains up the mountain. One of the pleasures of being on a tour is having all the organisation done for you; no queueing, tickets in hand and no hassle. For the train buffs amongst you, the Snowdon Mountain Railway is narrow gauge, 4.7miles long and is Britain’s only public rack and pinion railway. It started in 1896 and has been operating ever since, taking millions of tourists to the peak of one of the loveliest mountains in the British Isles.

Wyddfa and Snowdon Mountain Railway

Our train was pushed by illustrious steam engine Wyddfa (Welsh for Snowdon), built in 1895 and still going strong. I had a chat with Stoker Paul, who explained that the engine originated in Switzerland (the Swiss know a thing or two about mountain railways) and pushes the train UP the mountain via the rack and pinion system. There was a great feeling of anticipation as we chugged out of Llanberis Station, over a river, past a slick of waterfall and through ancient oak woods. ‘Sir Richard Moon built his railway knowing that the journey his little trains would make, would offer us a magical panorama, that until then, had only been available to the intrepid climber.’ (From the excellent Snowdon Mountain Railway Souvenir Brochure)

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon collage

Wyddfa steam engine

As we slowly emerged into a more barren landscape, in the distance peeked the summit of Snowdon. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were as the sun shone and there was not a rain cloud to be seen. A couple opposite me said the last time they’d been, 23 years ago, the weather had been very different. “But, even on such a drizzly, windy day, we got glimpses of the amazing scenery and loved it. We had to come back but didn’t really expect it to such glorious weather.”  We climbed higher at a steady pace, occasionally running parallel with walking paths where hardy hikers made their way up and down the mountain. We got close up to mighty rocks that would give geographers a huge thrill. Overhead a bird of prey checked out the land; maybe a peregrine falcon?

View from Snowdon Mountain Railway carriage Wales - by Zoe Dawes

View from the carriage window

I spotted the ruins of some stone huts, apparently the remains of one of the oldest settlements in Wales. We stopped at appropriately named Halfway Station (500m above sea level) where we filled up with water and another steam train passed us on its downward journey. We waved at the passengers in the carriages opposite. Everyone had big smiles’ this is the sort of trip you’d have to be a very miserable git not to enjoy. The Llanberris Pass was clearly visible far below in what is known as the Cwm Hetia, Valley of the Hats. To our right, enormous curved mountains loomed past and we got superb views of many lakes, rivers and hills out towards the Lleyn Peninsula and over to Anglesey.

Snowdon Mountain Railway Train at the summit - photo Zoe Dawes

Engine 11 Peris at the top of Snowdon Mountain Railway

The steepest part of the track is before the summit and the our trusty engine chuffed out more smoke as it bravely pushed its heavy cargo of carriages up and round the corner to the Snowdon Summit Visitors Centre. We stepped down from our carriage, through the cafe and gift shop and out the back of the centre, up to the rocky point which is the actual summit of Snowdon, 1085m. There must be very few mountains that have such a perfectly formed point, enabling so many people to reach the top, get their souvenir photo and enjoy the breathtaking scenery all around. We’d made it, on a unique, never-to-be-forgotten railway journey to the top of Wales …

Zoe Dawes on top of Snowdon - North Wales

On top of Snowdon

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

I travelled to North Wales courtesy of Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries. Our group stayed in Llandudno at the very comfortable Dunoon Hotel, with superb food in charming surroundings. We also had an excellent Italian meal at the Wildwood Restaurant in the town centre. We had a great time travelling on four steam railways in the area, including the splendid Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Llanberis Station Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Our group at Llanberis Station

Great Rail Journeys Railways & Castles of Wales Tour includes a stay at the award-winning Dunoon Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Snowdon Mountain Railways plus excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon and Conwy CastlesGRJ Independent can also tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to Wales on an individual basis. 

Rail Discoveries Railways of Wales Tour includes a stay at the Kensington Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Llangollen Railways, a horse-drawn boat trip on the Llangollen Canal, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon Castle. Read about our four Steam Train rides in North Wales here.

Are you a fan of Narrow-Gauge Railways? Read my review of Small Island by Little Train – a Narrow-Gauge Adventure by Chris Arnot.

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Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - image Zoe Dawes

August 5, 2017

The Langdale Valley, majestic heart of the Lake District World Heritage Site

The Langdale Valley, majestic heart of the Lake District World Heritage Site

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The hard work and commitment of a great many people has paid off and the Lake District World Heritage site now joins other renowned UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, Mount Teide in Tenerife and the Rocky Mountains in Canada. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know how much I love the Lake District and also visiting World Heritage Sites, so to have this on my doorstep is VERY special. You can read more about the Lake District World Heritage site here. A few days after the result was announced I went to stay in the very heart of Lakeland, in the Langdale Valley. Here are some of its highlights.

Great Langdale Valley

Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Valley includes some of the most impressive mountains (called ‘fells’ in the Lakes) in England. These craggy peaks provide a dramatic backdrop to an area where man, beast and nature live together in relative harmony. Langdale means ‘Long Valley’ in Old Norse, a hint to the ancient history of this quarrying and farming area. Very often the fells are shrouded in mist in this valley, adding to its moody magnificence. Dry stone walls ribbon across the mountain sides, sheep meander willy-nilly and picturesque farm buildings create its architectural charm. The peaks of Crinkle Crags, Pike o’ Bisco and the jagged ridge of the Langdale Pikes are the grand masters of this landscape.

Elterwater

Elterwater Common Langdale Valley Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The village of Elterwater (meaning Swan Lake) spreads out across valley, vying for space with the Herdwick sheep which wander its lanes and graze on the Common.  An easy stroll takes the walker to Elterwater tarn; good flat path but can get very muddy if it’s been raining recently. The Britannia Inn is the hub of the village, serving excellent ales, an interesting choice of wines and superb food. There’s also a cafe and a bus stop, a couple of hotels, a large time-share property and plenty of self-catering cottages for all the visitors who come to stay here. Good Life Lake District Cottages has their main office here, housed in a quaint stone building which usually has a Herdy wandering about outside the door.

Chapel Stile

Chapel Stile village in Langdale Valley, Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Rambler (Bus 516) stops on the main road through Chapel Stile, dropping off visitors and locals in this tiny hamlet. A narrow lane of old quarrymen’s cottages wends it way up twards Silver Howe. The 19th c Parish Church of Holy Trinity was built on the site of the original chapel, in the local green slate which has been quarried here for centuries. Chapel Stile is well-served by the excellent Langdale Co-Op. This shop sells absolutely everything you could wish for, whether you’re camping, self-catering or out for the day. Tasty Cumberland sausages, Hawkshead Relish (I can highly recommend their Black Garlic Ketchup!), micro-brewery beer, tent pegs, wet-weather gear, fridge magnets, tea towels and oh so much more. Upstairs in Brambles Cafe, gossip is exchanged and walkers rest their feet whilst having a cuppa or more hearty meal. Every year they hold the Langdale Gala here, a classic Lake District show with Cumberland Wrestling, fell races and dog show.

The Old Dungeon Ghyll

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Langdale Valley in Lake District World Heritage site

Towards the end of the valley lies the Old Dungeon Ghyll, one of the most famous pubs in the Lake District. Tucked right up against the mountain side, this venerable old hotel was the meeting place for climbing clubs from around the country, drawn by the challenging peaks outside the door. I love the Hiker’s Bar, which has remained unchanged for decades and features the original cow stalls and stone floors.

Hiker's Bar Old Dungeon Ghyll - Langdale Valley

You can get a great pint, a coffee, lunch, dinner and if you’re lucky with the weather, sit outside and enjoy the scenery.

Little Langdale Valley

Little Langdale Valley in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

From the Old Dungeon Ghyll the road winds up towards Blea Tarn and into the charming Little Langdale Valley. Driving up here takes nerves and good brakes as the road has some steep, sharp twists and is very narrow. Kamikaze Herdwicks wander out in front of the car and the view is most distracting.

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

There’s a National Trust car park for Blea Tarn (tarn = little lake); it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with brown pike in the water, alpine flowers in spring and tiny orchids in summer. However, it’s the view of the Pike o’Bisco and the Langdale Pikes laid out for your delectation that tops all that. I’ve walked here a few times but Blea Tarn has never looked as lovely as it did that July afternoon with marshmallow-soft clouds reflected in the shallow water and sunlight flittering across the peaks.

Three Shires Pub

Three Shires Inn Langdale Valley

Voted Cumbria Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2017, the Three Shires Inn is at the conjunction of the three old counties of  Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, now bundled together as Cumbria. It’s a pretty pub with decent food and lively atmosphere, though limited parking which meant on this recent visit I had to give it a miss. The road heads off towards the twin passes of Wrynose and HardKnott; not for the faint-hearted. A short walk brings you to one of the most photographed sights in the Langdales, Slaters Bridge, an old pack-horse bridge and also enormous Cathedral Cave.

Stay in Church Gate Cottage

Church Gate cottage in Chapel Stile Langdale Valley Lake District

I stayed in Chapel Stile with Good Life Lake District Cottages in a charming holiday home called Church Gate. Tastefully restored and attractively decorated, it sleeps four people in two bedrooms. The kitchen has a large fridge-freezer, dishwasher and large oven. A cup of tea tastes so much better in one of the cute Herdy mugs. There are games and books in the dining area and a wood-burning stove for cosy nights in. The back door leads out to a sheltered little cottage garden, ideal for evening drinks outdoors. Impressive views can be seen from the bedrooms across the village towards the mountains. I slept really well in the very comfy double bed and on Sunday morning woke to the sound of church bells and sheep bleating in the field opposite – perfect.  More details and how to book Church Gate cottage here.

With the village shop just down the hill and a pub, Wainwrights Inn, five minutes’ walk away, Church Gate is an ideal place to stay and enjoy the Lake District World Heritage site. Many thanks to Natalie and the team at Good Life Lake District Cottages for another very enjoyable weekend.

More lovely places I’ve stayed in and around the Langdale Valley.

Daw Bank Cottage, Chapel Stile

Jonty’s Cottage, Elterwater

Braegarth Cottage, Elterwater

Knipefold Barn, Outgate 

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Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage Site

 

June 30, 2017

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

Top Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking – all a newbie hiker needs to know

In our latest World Travel Blogger series, hiking expert Rebecca Crawford shares her top tips for a beginner hiker/walker.

Hiking is so much fun, and can be therapeutic at best! You get to exercise and connect with nature at the same time, which unravels a world you had no idea existed in the first place. If you’ve never gone on hikes before, there are a couple of things you need to know before you actually get on that trail. Keep in mind that no one knows everything; but it sure does help having a few tips that will guide you through this awesome adventure and make your first trip a memorable one.

Beginners guide to hiking

Beginners Guide to Hiking

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts as you embark on your backpacking journey, as well as some tricks you can use to make things better and easier on the trail. Read on for a full guide on just what you need to know as a beginner hiker.

1. Do your Research

The moment you decide that you want to start hiking, you should start reading extensively on the subject, as well as watching online tutorials and documentaries so that you get a scope of just what it entails, and what you will need to look out for during your first hike. For instance, you can research on the best pocket knife to use during your hike. There is a whole wealth of information out there, especially on online platforms like YouTube. You can also join hiking communities that are made up of other hikers who will be more than willing to show you the ropes.

2. Plan ahead

Beginners guide to Hiking - map reading

For every successful hike, there was intensive planning behind it. You have to plan out your hike before you embark on it. Get a map and study the trail so that you can get a feel of the place. Get enough gear to last you the whole trip, including food and money. And most importantly, if you will be staying in hotels, make your reservations in advance to avoid the last minute rush.

3. Prepare your Hiking Gear

Beginners Guide to Hiking - walking boots

We all know that you can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are going for a hike. It has to be after days or months of preparation, which also involves purchasing the right gear for your trip.You will need a large and comfortable backpack you can use to carry your clothes, food, sleeping bag, footwear and a camera if you are into photography or you want to capture every moment of your adventure.

For your sleeping bag, ensure that you purchase one that’s lightweight and can fit about two people comfortably, especially if you will be sharing it with your hiking partner. It should also pack small because you will be moving around with it for the rest of your trip. Since this is your first trip, we advise that you borrow a sleeping bag so that you can first try it out and know what to look out for when you will be buying your own.

Pack enough canned foods and water purifiers because you just don’t know the next time you’ll come across fresh drinking water or food. If you are hiking in a large group, it’s better if you carry a stove along with you, to heat food and water, and a large tent you can all sleep in.

4. Get an Experienced Hiking Partner

Beginners guide to hiking - walking

Even after watching tons of hiking documentaries and interacting with other enthusiasts, you should not think that you can handle going out on the trail by yourself. This is because nothing ever prepares you to face the real situation. We recommend seeking out an experienced partner for your first trip. They will help you manoeuvre the trail easily as they teach you the hiking basics that will help you on your subsequent trips

5. Safety First

Beginners Guide to Hiking - First Aid Box

You are going out in the wild and this makes you susceptible to animal attacks as well as diseases from eating contaminated foods and water. Safety has to be one of your key priorities. Ensure that you have a way to keep animals at bay,  especially when you are sleeping. Moreover, bring a hand sanitizer with you to use before handling foods and most importantly, always carry your first aid kit with you. This also means that you have to know basic first aid beforehand to be able to use the kit effectively when the time comes.

6. Keep it short

For your first trip, you want to keep it short because let’s face it, you are never quite prepared to be on the actual trail and even if you have planned for a longer trip, in most cases, you won’t last until the end. Always plan for a shorter trek and keep advancing to longer hikes, and with time as you gain confidence on the trail, you will find yourself going for days without even realizing it.

7. Avoid pitfalls

Snakes crossing Osoyoos Canada

During your research and interaction with other hikers, there are a couple of things you should avoid at all costs. For instance, there are trails you should avoid, plants you should not eat, and other general blunders you should not commit. Always stick to your plan.

8. Be Respectful

When backpacking, you have to learn to respect nature as well as other hikers trekking on the same trail as you. For instance, we advise that you always give the hikers trekking uphill the right of way. Another trick is to always have a plastic bag with you that you can use to carry trash with to avoid polluting the environment.

Also, do not feed wildlife you encounter on the way and never should you talk loudly or play loud music while on the trail. Keep in mind that people resort to hiking to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

9. Hike Your Own Hike

The Paper Bridge Lake District

You will hear this a lot; especially among other hiking enthusiasts. It only means that despite everything you have learned from other people and sources about hiking, when on the trail, it’s all about you. You should focus on getting the most out of your experience with nature and not try to conform to standards that have been put out there by others.

10. Practice

Lastly, you will never be good at hiking unless you are prepared to put a lot of work into it. The first few trips will be tough and you will feel like giving up. Don’t! Keep going back to the trail and trying to be better at it, and eventually you will.

Concluding Thoughts

We hope that you have learned a thing or two about hiking for beginners. We only give tips to improve your hiking experience and you should not feel pressured to get it right the first time. No one does. Just focus on having the best experience and everything else will fall in place.

Loved the tips given? Comment and let us know what you liked best and what we left out. Do not forget to also share this post with other hiking enthusiasts, family and friends.

Author Bio: Rebecca Crawford lives in USA, but loves hiking all over the world. Her favourite is Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. It usually takes 16 days, but she likes to slow down, enjoy mountains, company of other adventurers and take more pictures, so it took her 28 days last time. Another of her passions is the ocean, so all short and long hikes along the ocean shore bring a lot of joy. She also writes for Hiking Mastery.

Read more:

Top 3 benefits of walking in the great outdoors

An ideal walking holiday in Yorkshire

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

 

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 

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