Tag Archives: nature
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.

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 6, 2016

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip
At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff Canada

Zoe and Ali at the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

When you go on an RV road trip in Canada, you’re guaranteed a great many memorable moments, whichever part of the country you visit. But when you drive through British Columbia and Alberta via the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary these moments tumble over each other almost every hour. Here are just a few that stand out, but there were many more …

1. Walking in the desert at Osoyoos

Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre - Osoyoos - Canada

Osoyoos Desert – Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The heat is the biggest surprise. The sun beats down as we walk though scrubby bushes and stunted trees. The heady scent from a herby shrub wafts past, bringing back vague memories of the wilder parts of Greece. Travel companion Ali is wearing a hat to keep cool as we walk through the desert. Yes, we’re in Canada, not a place you think of as really hot or with a desert, but at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre we learn about this unique ecology and wildlife, including the Western Rattlesnake and the Cayote. We learn about the Osoyoos Indian Band, who run the Desert Centre and nearby RV Park and admire Smoker Marchand sculptures. It’s fascinating, surprising and very hot.

2.  Eating cherries on the road

Cherries from a farm shop in Okanagan Valley Canada

Cherries at the farm shop

We buy a kilo of big, fat, sweet and oh so very juicy cherries from one of the farm shops along the Okanagan Valley. It’s late spring and the whole area is bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables in this very fertile part of southern Canada. We’ve been told to get the cherries as it’s the best crop for years. We’re on our way to the Rockies but have a long way to go and these deep red globes of delicious goodness keep us going all the way to Revelstoke. Fortunately there is a market and we can stock up again; luckily they last until our first glimpse of the Rockies.

3.  The Pipe Mountain Coaster, Revelstoke

The Pipe Mountain Coaster Revelstoke

Ready, steady, go …

‘Keep off the brake. Don’t be a chicken!’ The words of the bearded Canadian guy in the queue, resound in my ears as I zoom down the sheer drop VERY fast. I desperately want to pull brake, but two things stop me.

  • I’m worried I’m going so fast I’ll tip out
  • I don’t want to be a chicken.

I’m on the Pipe Mountain Coaster in Revelstoke, British Columbia. Riding up in the gondola, the Monashee Mountains and Columbia River spread beneath us. Whizzing down the mountain, I’ve no time to look at the view. Fir trees flick past as the little cart twists, turns and at one point appears to shoot off the edge, accelerating past a ski run on its way down 1.4km of track at up to 26mph. All too soon, I’m at the end, exhilarated and wanting to do again – me no chicken!

4  BBQ at Dutch Lake Resort, Clearwater

BBQ burgers at Dutch Lake Resort Canada - photo zoedawes

Burgers for dinner

The sound of wood chopping has stopped and there’s smoke wafting in through the door of the RV. Ali’s got the BBQ going and I’ve finished preparing the salad and opened a couple of beers. Beef burgers from a local butcher sizzle merrily on the metal rack we’ve just bought from Dutch Lake Resort shop. A couple of guys from the RV next door come over to chat whilst we wait for the burgers to cook. The sun’s setting over the lily-strewn lake and frogs start croaking in the shallows. The tantalizing smell of onions and burgers get the taste buds going. Love eating outdoors in Canada …

5.  The Rockies from the top of Whistler Mountain

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram - Whistler Mountain - Canada - photo zoedawes

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram

At last I’m here, on top of Whistler Mountain gazing out across the most famous mountains in North America. Their pointed tops ripple across the horizon, perfectly mountainy. Snow glitters in the late afternoon light and a ribbon of river ripples through the wooded valley. A lake of startling blue water glistens and winks upwards. Quirky Jasper town curves alongside the railway track and birds glide on the chilly thermals. Neither words nor photos can do justice to this awesome sight.

6. Relaxing by Medicine Lake

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake in the Rockies - photo zoedawes

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake

The calm waters ripple briefly as a duck floats serenely past. At the end of the lake tower the jaggy peaks of the Rockies, reflected in shimmering symmetry. I drink in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Medicine Lake in the heart of Jasper National Park, in Alberta. Delicate white and yellow wild flowers bend their dainty heads in the gentle breeze and overhead a large bird wheels its way across the cloud-flecked sky; too far away to see if it’s a bald eagle. A stone lands with a resounding splash to my left and two children giggle; the spell is broken and it’s time to move on and explore more …

7.  Driving the RV along the Icefields Parkway

RV on the Icefields Parkway The Rockies Canada - photo zoedawes

RV on the Icefields Parkway

After hundreds of miles we are finally driving along one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Banff. Every twist and turn reveals more mountains until we feel completely surrounded. We are running parallel to the Continental Divide from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park stopping off at the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Pass, Stutfield and Athabasca Glaciers, Peyto Lake, Wildfowl Lake and Lake Louise.  We see mountain goats, many birds, wild flowers and tourists. It could take us a few hours; it actually takes us all day, every mile a miracle of natural wonder and delight …

8.  The unbelievable blue of Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake Alberta Canada - photo zoedawes

Peyto Lake

You have to see it to believe it …

9. Cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel

Cocktail on the Terrace Banff Springs Hotel Canada

Cocktail on the Terrace

After all the driving, staying in campgrounds and sightseeing it’s so relaxing to have a Mojito on the terrace of the splendidly luxurious Banff Springs Hotel. With panoramic views of the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains, it’s a suitably fitting place to absorb scenery and reflect on our epic road trip through the Rockies …

10. To boldly go – to Vulcan

RV outside Trekcetera Museum Alberta

RV outside Trekcetera Museum

From the sublime to the … well, not ridiculous, but definitely surreal. Walking into a room with wall-to-wall costumes and artefacts from Star Trek, being shown round by a flamboyant and highly entertaining TV and movie enthusiast, dressed as a 19th C dandy cowboy, is a really quirky contrast to the natural wonders we have seen over the past couple of weeks. The Trekcetera Museum in Vulcan (the town name came first) has the largest collection of Trekkie memorabilia in Canada and we feel vaguely hysterical as we leave to find a bottle of wine for our last night sleeping in our trusty RV. Live long and prosper …

Trekcetera Museum Vulcan

Trekcetera Museum

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign, driving the RV from Vancouver to Montreal. 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.

memorable-canada-pinterest

Read more about our Canada RV road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: History in the Rocky Mountains

Heather on Her Travels: Foodie Adventures – Ontario and Quebec

Travel with Kat: Top 10 things to do in British Columbia

On the Luce: Calgary to Toronto – Unforgettable Moments

November 4, 2016

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka
In search of the quokka - Rottnest Express - Fremantle - image zoedawes

The Rottnest Express in Fremantle

What on earth is a quokka?

Aye, that is the question. I get an email outlining the itinerary for our blog trip to Western Australia and there, on Day 1, it says we’ll be visiting Rottnest Island, with its ‘casual atmosphere, picturesque scenery and some of the world’s finest beaches.‘ Sounds lovely but I’ve never heard of Rottnest Island. As soon as I type Rottnest Island into Google, the words ‘quokka‘ and ‘animals‘ come up. I am intrigued. I need to know more …

Parker Point Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Parker Point on Rottnest Island

Western Australia website says, ‘… you’ll meet the cutest mini marsupial, found only in Western Australia, the world famous quokka, as well as many unique plant and animal species. Apparently, Rottnest Island Golf Course is being ‘plagued by an explosion of quokkas.’  It’s described as the ‘happiest animal in the world’ and the internet is alive with photos of grinning quokkas.  Good heavens. What on earth is a quokka?

The quokka - happiest animal in the world.

The quokka – ‘happiest animal in the world’. Photos from internet

The Quokka

The quokka is small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath. Wikipedia

Even more intrigued, I am now really looking forward to seeing one of these quirky creatures.

Quokka eating a leaf - Rottnest Island in Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Quokka eating a leaf

Rottnest Island

We board the Rottnest Express in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia and in less than half an hour we’ve arrived in another world, where life moves at a more leisurely pace, bicycles replace cars and the elusive quokka has taken over the golf course …

Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Thomson Bay

We get on our hired bikes and pedal off towards the Visitor Information Centre. Whilst a helfpful guide shows us where to go on a map, all I want to know is where the quokkas are. Will I get to see one easily? Are they shy? Where’s the best place to see them? ‘Oh they’re all over the place. You’ll see plenty in and around town and they’re not at all shy. You can take photos but please don’t touch them or feed them.’ I’m starting to feel quietly excited …

Rottnest Settlement and quokka - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Settlement and quokka

Downtown Rottnest (the Settlement) is a short tree-lined walk of shops, cafes and a bakery. We leave our bikes and there, next to the bike stand, is a chubby quokka fast asleep under a tree. I stoop down to take a photo and the quokka wakes up. It gives me a quick stare then starts grooming its tummy. Looks cute but definitely more rat than cat-like! Outside the bakery a quokka is on the table eating crumbs, surrounded by ooohing and aaahing admirers. In front of the supermarket, one is hopping along looking vaguely shifty; there’s a big sign saying No Quokkas.

No quokkas here - Rottnest Island

No quokkas here

I set off with the other bloggers on a bike ride round the island, but it starts to rain so I decide to go to the little Museum, housed in one of the Victorian buildings left from the days when Rottnest was a prison island for Aboriginal People. There is an excellent exhibition telling the sad story of these prisoners, as well artefacts from the days when the island became a holiday resort. In the middle of the room is a cabinet with a stuffed quokka, bearing the title, The controversial Quokka. 

Stuffed quokka in Rottnest museum

Stuffed quokka in museum

Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people and Rotto by many), was named Rotte Nest (Rat’s Nest) by a Dutch explorer in 1696. The island was overrun with quokkas but the introduction of foxes and destruction of their natural habitat meant their numbers dwindled almost to extinction. The island is now a designated protected area and there are about 12,000 quokkas living on Rottnest.

Quokka on the town - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka on the town

When the rain stops, I get the Hop-on, Hop-off Explorer Bus which goes round the coast. The island is ringed with gorgeous, sandy beaches and enticing bays. I get off at Parker Point and go for a paddle in the shallow, translucent waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a bit chilly but the sun’s out and I can imagine how refreshing it must be in the height of summer.

Rottnest Island Beaches Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Island Beaches

Walking on round the coast, people pass on bikes, waving hello as they glide by. I flag down another bus at Salmon Point and we head off past Wadjemup Lighthouse towards Cape Vlamingh at the western end of the island. At the bus-stop a group of tourists are gathered round a quokka on its hind legs, begging for food. Cameras and videos capture the moment; these little creatures are real super-stars of Western Australia.

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh

The bus winds its way past the Salt Lakes and holiday homes before arriving back at Thomson Bay. I get off and have a look at the historic buildings. As well as the old prison Quod, there’s a chapel and a quaint little Picture House, showing Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. Quokkas are everywhere, particularly under the Island Tea Tree and Rottnest Island Pines, where they find their favourite food. I see a group of them in a wooded area near the Picture House and sit down to watch them. One wanders over to have a look at my rucksack, which has some fruit inside. This curious chap clambers all over my bag and camera trying to get at them. He’s very close and the temptation to reach out and stroke his furry back is almost overwhelming. I grab my iPhone and video him (or maybe it’s a her?). I take a photo; my hand is shaking at being so near, not wanting to scare him away …

Up close with a quokka - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Up close with a quokka

Eventually he gives up and potters off. It’s time to meet up with the others at Hotel Rottnest for a bite to eat before we leave the island to return to Fremantle. I’ve not managed to get the famous ‘quokka selfie’ but I have got VERY close to one of the world’s rarest and cutest wild animals. It’s our first day here and already I’m a bit in love with this part of Australia, but even more, I’m totally besotted with the quirky quokka.

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island

You can see more of beautiful Rottnest Island in this Quirky Travel Guide video, which also features the quokka clambering over my rucksack!


I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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In search of the quirky quokka - zoedawes

 

October 25, 2016

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland
Autumn trees beside Tarn Hows Lake District - image zoedawes

Beside Tarn Hows

What’s your favourite time of year? Some love the tantalizing flirtatiousness of spring, others the voluptuousness of summer days and for some it’s the crisp, frosty cold of winter. For me it’s always been autumn, with its vibrant colour, abundant produce, luminous light and the surprise of warm sunshine in between the rain and mist. With the Lake District on my doorstep, I take every opportunity to go LEAF-PEEPING (yes, that’s what it’s called in North America). On a recent stay at Knipefold Barn, near Hawkshead, I had the chance to experience early autumn colour in the Lake District.

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn, Cumbria - - zoedawes

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn

For a couple of days I drove, walked and sailed (if you can call the Windermere Car Ferry sailing!) around some of the loveliest scenery in the south of Cumbria. Here are 3 of my favourite beauty spots within a relatively short distance of Knipefold, where you can easily find plenty of vivacious autumn colour

1.  Waterhead at Ambleside

Waterhead at Ambleside - autumn in the Lake District - image zoedawes

Waterhead at Ambleside

The view from the top of Windermere at Waterhead, near Ambleside is sublime any time of year, but in autumn those huge trees that line the road, turn every shade of the rainbow. Across the lake, towards Brathay, you can see more trees, pushing each other out of the way to show off their coats of many colours. It’s a very popular place to stop to enjoy the view. I was there over half-term and there were plenty of children paddling in the water plus a group of students learning how to canoe.

Windermere from Waterhead, Ambleside lake district - photo zoedawes

Windermere from Waterhead

Pop into one of the hotels on the shore for a meal or grab a hot drink from one of the cafes nearby. Walk along the road past the lake to find the rather uninspiring, but very important ruins of Galava Roman Fort.

2.  Tarn Hows 

Tarn Hows in early autumn, lake district - photo zoedawes

Tarn Hows in early autumn

One of the most popular autumn walks in the Lake District is round pretty Tarn Hows, between Hawkshead and Ambleside. Tarn Hows, originally 3 smaller tarns, is planted with a combination of fir trees and a wide variety of native English deciduous trees, giving it some of the best autumn colour in October and November. You can walk either clockwise past Tom Gill Waterfalls or anti-clockwise, which is the way I always go. A herd of Belted Galloways was grazing quietly beside the water, their munching adding a quiet counterpoint to the bird-song and rustling of leaves. When the sun came out it seemed to set the trees on fire …

Autumn colour at Tarn Hows in autumn Lake District - image zoedawes

Tarn Hows in autumn sun

The circular route is suitable for all access with relatively small inclines. You can borrow a Tramper from the National Trust office in the car park if they are open.

3.  Claife Viewing Station

Claife Viewing Station Windermere west shore Lake District - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station

This new addition the Lake District attractions, is a brilliant place to view autumn colour all around Windermere. Claife Viewing Station, built in the 1790s, was designed to showcase the glorious views of the lake from its west shore and the surrounding countryside, using tinted windows to ‘enhance’ the experience. ‘Yellow created a summer landscape, orange an autumn one, light green for spring, dark blue for moonlight …’ The National Trust has restored the ruins and visitors can now experience this unique place for free all year round. It was a real pleasure to gaze out across the lake, admire the the trees turning colour and feel a part of local history.

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere

I had a tasty Cumberland Sausage and Appleby Cheese toasted brioche at the Cafe in the Courtyard and walked down the path to the little bay near the quaint car ferry. Leaves twirled down to carpet the ground in gold, yachts slooped gently on the lake and a pair of swans drifted by …

Knipefold Barn

Knipefold Barn from the garden

Knipefold Barn from the garden

There are barn conversions, and then there is Knipefold Barn, one of The Good Life Cottage Company’s many charming properties in the Lake District. This 3-bedroom self-catering accommodation is built to the highest specification. From the Lakeland slate floor in the entrance hall, to the top-of-the range kitchen and bathroom fittings and elegant wooden staircase, this place has got luxury written into its ancient walls. Set in a tiny hamlet, a short distance from Outgate and only 5 minutes’ drive from popular Hawkshead, Knipefold Barn has all the comforts of home, and then some. I loved the enormous oak-beamed living area, situated on the top floor, to make the most of the view. It sleeps 5 and would be the perfect place for a family holiday, celebration or friends get-together. You can see more in this Quirky Travel Guide to Knipefold Barn.

Many thanks to Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company, for her warm welcome and providing the ideal place from which to explore the delightful autumn colours of this part of Lakeland.

August 1, 2016

The many faces of Beatrix Potter

The many faces of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter

Say the name ‘Beatrix Potter’ and no doubt images of cute bunnies, dim-witted ducks, sailing frogs, frisky squirrels, naughty kittens, mischievous mice and perky pigs come to mind. Her little books have had a place of many children’s hearts for over a hundred years. At my son’s birth he got two copies of ‘Peter Rabbit‘, a Peter Rabbit mug, crib mobile, wall frieze and romper suit. I cross-stitched a picture of her most famous characters for his bedroom and his great aunt and uncle gave him a set of Beatrix Potter books for his christening.

Tales of Beatrix Potter books

However, there was far more to this unassuming but determined woman than cute books for children. Anyone who has read any one of the 24 Tales can see a writer of great perspicacity and insight, as well as wit and intelligence.

‘Old Mrs. Rabbit was a widow; she earned her living knitting rabbit-wool mittens and muffetees (I once bought a pair at a bazaar). She also sold herbs and rosemary tea and rabbit-tobacco (which is what we call lavender).’

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny pub 1904

Beatrix Potter – 150 years of creativity

Beatrix Potter with her sheepdog Kip at Hill Top - image National Trust

Beatrix Potter with her sheepdog Kip at Hill Top – image National Trust

Beatrix Potter was a woman of many parts. As well as her writing, she was also a passionate naturalist, superb artist and illustrator, farmer, sheep-breeder, conservationist and benefactor of the National Trust. She spent her childhood living in London, where she and her brother Bertram kept many pets including mice, rabbits, a hedgehog and some bats, as well as collections of butterflies and other insects. The family holidayed in travelled to Scotland and the Lake District and her interest in the natural world showed itself in detailed drawings of animals, birds, insects, trees, plants and particularly fungii. Had she been born in a different era there is no doubt she could have gone on to be an eminent botanist had she wanted; her uncle, eminent chemist Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, recognised her skill and got her a student pass to the Royal Botanical Gardens at KewShe produced a paper on mycology (the study of fungi) but chose not to pursue this interest, in favour of her writing and illustrations.

Beatrix Potter nature drawings - image zoedawes

Beatrix Potter art

Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was originally published in 1901, at her own expense, adapted from a private letter to Noel, son of her childhood governess. She told him the story of ‘four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter’. A close family friendCanon Hardwicke Rawnsley (a great name for a character in a novel), one of the founders of the National Trust, helped her to get it published by Frederick Warne & Co, who went on to publish all her children’s tales.

Beatrix Potter - Peter Rabbit in Hill Top Shop - image zoedawes

Peter Rabbit

Following on from the death of Norman Warne, to whom she was unofficially engaged, Beatrix bought Hill Top, a farm house  in Near Sawrey in the Lake District in 1905. It seems that her interest in writing waned as her love of country life and farming grew. She married her solicitor, William Heelis, in 1913 and they moved to Castle Cottage, opposite Hill Top. (This property is also owned by the National Trust but not open to the public.) Above it is Moss Eccles Tarn,  one of their favourite places to relax; well worth a short walk from the village.

Moss Eccles Tarn Near Sawrey

Moss Eccles Tarn

Settled into farming life, Beatrix Potter helped to save one of Cumbria’s most famous faces, the hardy Herdwick Sheep. She bought Troutbeck Farm where she bred Herdwicks. Her interest in science resurfaced in her experiements to help cure sheep diseases. She regularly attended Lake District shows, where her award-winnning Herdies were greatly admired. A few years ago I met a Cumbrian farmer who knew her and said she knew more about sheep breeding than many of the local farmers. Today Herdwicks can be seen roaming all over the Lakeland Fells, thanks to her dedication to the breed.

Beatrix Potter and Herdwick Sheep - photo hop-skip-jump.com

Beatrix Potter and Herdwick Sheep: photo hop-skip-jump.com

Beatrix Potter also contributed to the conservation of the Lake District. The Heelises became partners with the National Trust in n 1930, buying and managing fell farms and surrounding land, including Tarn Hows, one of the area’s most popular lakes. She did continue writing but her prolific days of literary output were replaced with farming. She became very famous and often went to great lengths to avoid the many visitors that sought her out in Near Sawrey. She died at Castle Cottage in 1943, leaving almost all her properties to the National Trust; her husband only survived a couple more years and the residue of her estate was then also handed on to the NT.

Pigling Bland and Pig-wig bridge Beatrix Potter

Pigling Bland and Pig-wig

Her love of the place she knew as home for over 30 years and had visited since a child, comes over in her writing and drawings. Many Lake District places can be recognised from her books; I once took my young son on a Beatrix Potter Walk visiting scenes familiar from her illustrations. When Pigling Bland escapes from the grocer with Pig-wig, she wrote,

‘They ran and they ran and they ran down the hill, and across a short cut on the the level green turf at the bottom, between pebble beds and rushes. They came to a river, they came to a bridge – they crossed it hand in hand – then over the hills and far away she danced with Pigling Bland!’

The Tale of Pigling Bland pub 1913

Celebrate Beatrix Potter in the Lake District

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth on July 28, 1866, the Royal Mail issued a lovely selection of Beatrix Potter commemorative stamps featuring Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddleduck, Tom Kitten and Benjamin Bunny.

Beatrix Potter commemorative stamps

 There are a great many events throughout the Lake District remembering this woman’s extraordinary achievements. The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, is a wonderful place to take children, showcasing all that is magical about the author’s creative universe. There was also a specially written play called Where is Peter Rabbit.

Where is Peter Rabbit play

Where is Peter Rabbit? – image The World of Beatrix Potter

On a Travelator Media visit to Hill Top earlier this year, I had the chance to discover more about Beatrix Potter in the house she loved. It’s a veritable shrine to her literary and farming legacy, being very much as it was in her day, with some fascinating artefacts. As one of the National Trust’s most popular UK premises there’s a timed-entry system so I suggest avoiding summer weekends if you can.

Zoe Dawes outside Hill Top

Outside Hill Top

I also enjoyed the many illustrations to be found the Beatrix Potter Gallery in charming Hawkshead, in the tiny premises that were originally her husband, William Heelis’s offices. Both places have got various special exhibitions and events planned this year. Check their websites for more details. BUT you don’t need to attend a special event to enjoy the stunning landscape that inspired Beatrix Potter; do as Lucie does and go for a walk in the Lake District …

Mrs Tiggy-winkle by Beatrix Potter - image zoedawes

Mrs Tiggy-winkle and Lucie

‘Lucie climbed up in the stile and looked up at the hill behind Little-town – a hill that goes up – up – up into the clouds as though it had not top!’

The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle – pub 1905

June 7, 2016

Summer Time in the Garden of Eden …

Summer Time in the Garden of Eden …

The Eden Project Cornwall zoedawes

A bee hums to himself as he gathers nectar from a giant daisy, his stripey jacket furry, his wings whirring to keep him secure. The white petals and bright yellow hearts epitomize the simple pleasure of a summer’s day.

Bee on daisy at Eden Project zoedawes

A couple pose for a selfie in front of an even bigger bee, made of metal, perched precariously on the side of a bank. Grasses whisper to each other as a gentle breeze shimmers over them. An enormous steel hefts a rope of hemp across his angular shoulders, highlighted against a deep blue sky. Purple and yellow irises sway to and fro on thin green stems, enjoying their brief time in the sun. The Eden Project in Cornwall is at its very best in summertime  …

Eden Project irises - zoedawes

A little boy runs along the path chasing a butterfly , which gracefully swerves away over a bed of bright orange alstroemeria enticing it to tarry a while on their delicate petals. The midday heat builds up as more people swarm in through the gates, but this particular Garden of Eden can take thousands of visitors on any day, and still have space for more. Gazing over at a willow bull, an elderly couple seem perfectly at peace with the world, enjoying a few moments’ rest before heading off into one of the space-age biomes.

Willow Bull and Biomes - Eden Project - zoedawes

Tropical heat drips from every leaf and plant in the Rainforest Biome. Exotic foliage stretches up towards a walkway in the sky and water cascades through fern-strewn banks. Rubber trees rub shoulders with coffee bushes and bunches of bananas trundle overhead on a never-ending circuit.  Weird totems from Africa lurk in the shadows and a wooden boat loaded with spices is set to sail off to far-flung shores. Baobab smoothies and rum cocktails provide refreshment for over-heated explorers.

Baoabab bar Eden Project - zoedawes

It’s a relief to get out of the humidity into in the fresh summer air, where the scent of roses mingles with newly cut grass and sun cream. Overhead a figures whizzes past, shrieking with delight; England’s longest zipwire has another fan. In the Arena, busy people are putting equipment on a big stage ready for the Eden Sessions, a series of music festivals that make the most of the natural acoustics in this unique setting.

Eden Sessions Paloma Faith eden project

Entering the Mediterrean Biome on a sunny day is to be transported to colourful world of vibrant planting, scented herbs and quirky strangeness. Bright red geraniums flourish against blue-painted walls and purple bougainvillea cascades over terracotta pots, evoking memories of Greek islands and Spanish holidays.

Red Geraniums Mediterranean Biome Eden Project

Beneath gnarled cork trees a herd of cork pigs snuffle for food and pose for photos. Spiky proteas from South Africa grow not far from a rainbow of fragile Californian poppies. Cactii, palms and huge aloe vera plants vie for attention and, in the afternoon heat, a myriad of delicious scents mingle enticingly. Amidst a tangle of vines, the Greek god, Dionysus, represented as a bull, is surrounded by wild dancers, heads thrown back in an ecstasy of passion, adding a weird pagan element to the bright surroundings.

Rites of Dionysus Eden Project - zoedawes

Meandering round the terraced slopes outside, a wooded dell draws the eye with its sun-dappled shade. At its heart lies Eve, queen of the Eden Project. Head on hand, her face is a mosaic of glittering mirrors, her hair a riot of wild flowers. She voluptuously embodies the spirit of this magical garden, forever gazing in wonder at the amazing achievements of this earthly paradise …

Eve at the Eden Project Cornwall - zoedawes

The Eden Project video montage

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The Eden Project in summer - zoedawes

May 31, 2016

Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls, Menorca

Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls, Menorca

As we neared the sandy hillock, a flash of water flittered across the skyline. A little breeze riffled across the grass and a seagull cried out as it wheeled away towards the distant town. The sea slowly spread out in shades of turquoise, jade green, deep purple and bright blue. My horse’s ears pricked as she snorted the sea-salt scented air and did a little jig of anticipation.

Cami de Cavalls Son Bou Menorca - zoedawes

Son Bou Beach

“Tana thinks she’s going for a canter along the beach, but we can’t ride there between May and October,” explained Gemma, my riding instructor and owner of Son Bou Rutas a Cavall. We walked nearer to the sea and stopped to admire the stunning view. To our left stretched a long sandy beach and the popular resort of Son Bou. To our right, rocky cliffs edged the ocean and a clearly marked path wound its way along the northern coast of Menorca.

Son Bou horse riding Cami de Cavalls Menorca

Gemma on Estelle at Son Bou

We were on the Cami de Cavalls, a historic route that circles the coast of Menorca (Minorca), an island off the coast of mainland Spain. Restored and fully opened in 2011, this ancient path may have been used by the Knights of James II in the 14th c. During the 1730s Governor Richard Kane had it cleared for use by the occupying British troops and it was marked on the first map of Menorca, drawn up by French cartographer in 1780.

The Cami de Cavalls

Cami de Cavalls at Son Bou Menorca

Cami de Cavalls route

Totalling 185 km, the Cami de Cavalls is divided up into 20 stages, and ” … crosses gullies, rocky zones, valleys, wetland and farming areas; it connects ancient watchtowers, lighthouses and trenches and it leads to a great deal of coves and spots of the island. (Cami de Cavalls 360) Menorca is a MAB (Man and Biosphere) UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which recognises its significance balancing socio-economic development and the preservation of the environment. Menorca has a unique combination of dune systems, gorges, marshlands and other geological attractions, with pre-historic archaeological remains and a traditional agricultural system. The Cami de Cavalls passes by all these areas, ensuring a fascinatingly diverse route, including Mahon, the capital and Ciutadella, the old capital. Popular with walkers, cyclists, mountain bikers and runners, without doubt the most enjoyable way to travel this route is on horseback.

Rider and walker Cami de Cavalls Menorca - zoedawes

Gemma talks to walker on the Cami de Cavalls

On arrival at the Rutas a Cavall Riding School, I met Gemma who has over 30 horses as well as a few donekeys and chickens. “I love horses and have rescued many since the recession hit our country. You’ll be riding Tana, a Menorcan Horse; she has a lovely temperament and is very gentle. She was winner of ‘Most Beautiful Mare’ in the fiestas a few years ago.” I was absolutely delighted to be riding a Menorcan Horse. This breed is renowned for its grace and agility during the famous Menorca Fiestas, where they rear up on their hind legs in the midst of enthusiastic revellers. I’ve been on many family holidays to Menorca but never had the chance to ride one of these majestic horses before.

Tana the Menorcan Horse

Tana the Menorcan Horse

Mounting Tana seemed a bit daunting (I hadn’t been riding for many years and wasn’t very fit!) but Gemma provided a stool to step up onto. She takes people of all levels and ages, going from gentle walk to hearty gallop, depending on ability. Having checked stirrups and tightened Tana’s girth, Gemma mounted her horse, Estelle, a magnificent black stallion with lots of fiesta experience. The Cami de Cavalls goes past the stables and we were soon ambling along a narrow, tree-shaded path, with spring flowers on either side and early butterflies drifting about.

Tana and Zoe on Cami de Cavalls Menorca

On the Cami de Cavalls

The path opened out into a wide valley. Gemma told me, “This gorge has one of only two working water wheels left on the island. There are turtles breeding again in the river and we occasionally see eagles here. A nature reserve ensures all the wildlife is protected.” It was really peaceful riding along this track, occasionally passed by walkers and once, a group of cyclists who were half way round the island on a cycling club holiday.

Riding through a valley near Son Bou Cami de Cavalls Menorca - zoedawes

Riding through the valley

Lying under a tree, a huge bull gazed placidly over his harem as they grazed on lush spring grass. A family of holiday-makers hurried by on their way to the beach. Two women with sturdy walking sticks said a cheery good morning and a group of Spanish runners jogged by, waving water bottles as they passed. Every so often Gemma dismounted to open a gate. She has an ingenious way to keep it open whilst other riders go through; she places a stone in the angle between the gate post and gate. I eventually got the knack of dislodging it as I rode through, enabling it to swing shut. Menorcan gates as things of beauty; carved by master-carpenters, they’re made from olive wood and have a graceful curve.

Opening a Menorcan gate with horse on Cami de Cavalls

Menorcan gate on the Cami de Cavalls

Eventually we came out to Son Bou beach, the longest on Menorca. In the distance wind-surfers were zipping over the waves and a tiny yacht sailed off towards Majorca. We walked up the sandhills to the top, from where we got a splendid view of the north coastline. The sea glittered enticingly beneath us and the sun enveloped us in a warm embrace. Tana stood very patiently whilst Gemma took lots of photos to capture the moment, whilst passing walkers admired our beautiful horses.

Zoe on Menorca horse Cami de Cavalls

On the sandhills at Son Bou

Being early in the season (May) there were not too many people about, so we posed to our heart’s content …

Tana and Zoe horse riding Menorca

Tana and Zoe at Son Bou

Tana and Zoe on sand hills at Son Bou Menorca

Good girl Tana

Admiring the view on horse at Son Bou Cami de Cavalls Menorca

Admiring the view

Eventually we had to return, though I would have been happy to ride on for much longer. As we went past a herd of horses, a young mare came galloping down the hill. Gemma shooed her away – apparently she was especially interested in our very fine stallion, Estelle. On the horizon a young foal raised its head and gazed across the meadow at us, whilst its mother and other horses grazed nearby.

Foal and other horses Menorca - zoedawes

Foal and other horses

Clouds were starting to roll in … Spring in Menorca is a lovely time to visit but the weather is quite changeable and rain looked imminent. “Shall we trot?” asked Gemma. “OK, I’ll give it a go.” With a gentle nudge, Tana set off at a brisk trot and I managed to keep my balance. Fortunately it wasn’t far to go and as pretty wild flowers flew by, I got into a bit of a rhythm as we came up the lane back to the riding school. Dismounting rather shakily I gave Tana a piece of carrot and a big hug; she really had made a dream come true …

Tana and Zoe Rutas a Cavall Riding School Menorca

Thank you Tana!

Video: Horse Riding along the Cami de Cavalls


You can find out more about Son Bou Rutas a Cavall – Horse Riding in Son Bou here

Son Bou Rutes a Cavall Menorca

Many thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my Travelator Media stay in Menorca, in partnership with Spain Tourism.

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Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls Menorca

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