Tag Archives: walking
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

 

November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

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, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.

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The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

July 26, 2016

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca
Es Grau cottage with flower pots Menorca - image zoedawes

Pots of flowers in Es Grau

Summer time and the living is … hot and humid and the beach calls. It’s the only place to be on Menorca (Minorca) in July and August. Lying on a sun lounger taking in the rays, plunging into the deep blue Mediterranean to cool off, lunch in a seaside bar and maybe siesta like a true Spaniard. However, during the off-season in Menorca, in spring and autumn, even winter, the sun shines without being scorchio, the island is lush with flowers and vibrant colour, beaches are less crowded and you can walk about in comfort.

Marguerites on cliff top overlooking Addaya Bay, Menorca Spain - image ZoeDawes

Marguerites on Addaya cliff top

Outdoors on Menorca

One of the best things to happen to Menorca in recent years, was the opening of the Cami de Cavalls, a 185km circular route round the island, tracing a historic route passing many places of interest and some gorgeous scenery. In summer you may get a tad overheated but off-season is the perfect time to walk, run, cycle, or do what I did this spring – go horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls. It’s the perfect way to see the island. [Read Heather Cowper on hiking around Menorca for more tips.]

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls Menorca - image zoedawes

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls

There are plenty of other walking and cycling routes on the island, the smallest of the Balearics. Menorca derives from its size compared to Majorca – 47 km x 17 km and its highest point, Mount Toro is just 400m. Having a meal beside the sea tastes just as good off season and you’ll not have to queue for that special table. Menorca is designated a UNESCO Bisophere Reserve because of its unique bio-diversity. Albufera and its bay Es Grau is a haven for wild birds within its dunes and marshland. It’s also a great place to enjoy tasty seafood.

Meal by the sea in Es Grau Menorca - image zoedawes

Meal by the sea in Es Grau

Beaches on Menorca

There are more beaches on Menorca than Majorca and Ibiza put together. The popular ones can get very crowded during the summer holidays but off-season are much less frenetic. You don’t need to get there early to bag a sunbed; just bring a towel and if you feel like a swim, the sea is very tempting. It does take a while to warm up so choose a shallower beach like Arenal d’en Castell, if you want a dip in spring.

Sun loungers on Arenal Beach, Menorca, Balearic Island, Spain - image zoedawes

Arenal d’en Castell Beach in spring

At Binibeca there’s a great beach bar which serves basic food, cold beer and cocktails – ideal for sundowners. The sandy shore is perfect for making sandcastles and the inner bay is sheltered from the stronger currents further out.

Binibeca Beach Bar lspring sun on Menorca - image zoedawes

Binibeca Beach Bar at sundown

Nearby Binibeca Vell is a photographer’s delight. White-painted cubes house tiny bars and restaurants, souvenir shops, boutique hotels and self-catering apartments. Built in the 1970s to look like a traditional fishing village, it attracts visitors all year round but is best visited off-season; this photo was taken in May and hardly anyone was around even though it was a glorious day.

Binibeca Vell fishing village on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Binibeca Vell

Cala Galdana is one of the best family beaches on the island; a delightful bay dotted with graceful trees and excellent facilities for all ages. I stayed at the Artiem Audax, an adult-only hotel overlooking the bay. Not far from here are some of Menorca’s picture-postcard-pretty beaches including Cala en Turqueta, Macarella and Macarelleta.

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax

Other popular beaches include Cala en Porter, setting for the last of the Menorca Fiestas in September, Sant Tomas and Son Bou, bordered by sand dunes and the very busy Cala en Blanes, the nearest Menorca gets to a mass tourist destination.

Places to go when it rains on Menorca

Menorca Naveta in the rain - image zoedawes

Heather Cowper and Zoe at a pre-historic Naveta in the rain

Menorca does get more rain than the other Balearic islands but there are lots of things to do indoors when the weather changes. Check out my Top Tips for Culture Lovers on Menorca for some great ideas including museums, art galleries, historic sites and foodie venues. How about a guided tour round a winery? Binifadet started growing vines in the 1970s and has been selling quality wines since 2004. They have a high-tech wine production centre over two floors, producing not only red, white and rose,  but also a very good sparkling wine. Their wine labels are works of art, including the very quirky Merluzo. Binifadet Restaurant serves superb Menorcan cuisine with a contemporary twist. I especially enjoyed their cheese platter, monkfish and prawn croquettes, roast Mediterranean vegetables and cheese cake with wine jam. (Read Kathryn Burrington‘s excellent article on Menorcan Food and Drink.)

Binifadet Winery Menorca - image zoedawes

Binifadet Winery

On a rainy, cloudy or windy day (beware the nippy Tramontana) hire a car and explore the island. Mahon has plenty to occupy you, whatever the weather.

Mahon


There’s a major road from the modern capital Mahon in the east, to the old capital Ciutadella in the west. Many road fork off the north and south taking you down winding country lanes to coves, bays and beaches on both coasts. Signage has improved greatly over the years and it can be fun getting lost amongst the stone-walled lanes. Stop off in quaint villages, search out local bars and restaurants and eat like a local. Visit the famous Cova d’en Xoroi for a unique Menorcan experience; the huge cave has been turned into day-time bar with night club. If, like us, you can’t see the renowned sunset view, at least you can enjoy a pomada (Menorca gin and bitter lemon) sheltering from the elements.

Cova den Xoroi pomada Menorca - image zoedawes

Pomada at Cova d’en Xoroi

Off-season weather on Menorca

In spring and autumn you get some beautiful weather; sunny days, light breezes, occasional showers – though it can also rain very heavily and get very windy too!  Temperatures range from about about 18°C – 24°C but it gets cool in the evenings. Bring clothes suitable for an English summer, ie layers and you should be fine. A waterproof jacket, sturdy walking shoes and maybe a brolly can all come in handy. I was in Menorca one January when it snowed, much to the delight of the locals. The snow had barely settled before it melted but it was fun whilst it lasted. However, it is the spring flowers that I love the most. In April and May the island bursts into glorious technicolour; blue cornflowers, white and yellow daisies, lacy elderflowers, bright red poppies … Don’t take my word, get out there and see for yourself …

Spring flowers in Menorca - image zoedawes

Poppies by the roadside

Visitor Information for Menorca

To plan your holiday in Menorca visit the Menorca website and www.Spain.info or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram. If you need a guide to show you the sites of Menorca, I can highly recommend Menorca Guides Luis Amella. Thanks to all for a lovely trip

Menorca gate and spring flowers - image zoedawes

Menorca gate and spring flowers

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Off-season Menorca - The Quirky Traveller

November 3, 2014

My Top 10 Lake District views

View of Haystacks from Buttermere, Lake District - image by Zoe Dawes

I’m often asked what is my favourite lake in the Lake District and I always find it difficult to say. Each stretch of water in this glorious part of the world, from northern Bassenthwaite Lake to the justifiably popular Windermere has its own appeal.

Yachts on Windermere, Lake District - image by Zoe Dawes

Yachts on Windermere

Depending on the day, my mood and where I’ve been recently, it’s usually a close run thing between Derwentwater, Buttermere and Rydal Water. Here are my favourite lakes (in no particular order) with my favourite Lake District views in Cumbria. If you’re a photographer you’re almost guaranteed to get a good shot from these places.

Wasdale Head from Wastwater

Kayaks on Wast Water, Lake District - image Zoe Dawes

Kayaks on Wast Water

In 2007 this was voted Britain’s Favourite View, and Wastwater attracts many people each year to see what Wordsworth called its ‘long, stern and desolate’ aspect. I find Wastwater (or Wast Water as it’s also known) rather ominous with its dark and dangerous screes tumbling down to inky black depths.  However, there’s no doubting its evocative appeal with England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, hiding away in the background.

Bassenthwaite Lake from Dodd Wood

Bassenthwaite Lake - image Osprey Watch

Bassenthwaite Lake – image Osprey Watch

One of this country’s rarest birds, the Osprey, has been nesting in Cumbria for many years on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake. The Osprey Watch Centre is based at Dodd Wood and during the summer months the combination of catching a glimpse of an Osprey catching fish, swirling overhead or nesting (albeit via a webcam) as well as views of this large stretch of water, is a winning combination. Plus you can win a point in a pub quiz by saying that there really is only ONE lake in the Lake District because Bassenthwaite is the only one to be officially defined as a lake!

 Towards the Jaws of Borrowdale from Friar’s Crag

Borrowdale and Derwentwater from Friar's Crag, Lake District - image Zoe Dawes

Derwentwater towards Jaws of Borrowdale from Friar’s Crag

Take a gentle stroll alongside Derwentwater, one of the loveliest lakes in the Lake District, to Friar’s Crag. It’s said to have got its name because monks used to leave from this point to get to St. Herbert’s Island where a hermit lived. There are old pine trees and a seat to enjoy the scenery including that sinuous fell, Catbells.  At the end of the lake are the dominant twin peaks called the Jaws of Borrowdale, imagined by nervous Victorians as a place of gothic horror. In reality it leads to a very attractive valley and Buttermere.

Haystacks from the shores of Buttermere

Haystacks from Buttermere Lake District view - image Zoe Dawes

Haystacks from Buttermere

From the edge of pretty Buttermere it’s easy to see why the Lake District’s greatest champion, Alfred Wainwright loved Haystacks so much.  He asked for his ashes to be scattered by Inominate Tarn, nestling in its curvaceous folds.  To the right of the lake tumbles Sour Milk Ghyll and if you are lucky you may see the red squirrel, thriving in this beautiful area.

 Ullswater from the ferry

Lake District Fells from Ullswater ferry - image Zoe Dawes

Lake District Fells from Ullswater ferry

The scenery around Ullswater is stunning and from anywhere it’s a photographer’s delight. However, if you take the Ullswater ferry around the lake you can get an ever-changing panorama without having to move from your seat, sailing past fells, little hamlets and elegant houses, from Howtown down to Pooley Bridge.

 Grasmere from the Fairy Cafe

Rowing boats at Fairy Cafe on Grasmere, Lake Diistrict - image Zoe Dawes

Rowing boats at Fairy Cafe on Grasmere

In front of the Fairy Cafe are a number of colourful wooden rowing boats bobbing and undulating in the reedy shoreline of Grasmere.  You can sample a wide variety of teas as well as tasty snacks whilst you watch the light flash across the water or, if you’re feeling energetic, hire one of the boats and row around the lake, as Wordsworth did as a young boy.

 Rydal Water from the wooden bench

Rydal Water bench in the Lake District

Rydal Water bench

There’s a little wooden bench overlooking Rydal Water that is possibly my favourite view in the world. In the middle of the lake is Heron Island and in the distance is the rocky outcrop The Lion & The Lamb perched on top of Helm Crag. The poet Coleridge used to live in the  quaint white cottage on the other side of the lake. When you are looking for peace and quiet, for a spot that feels ‘away from it all’ and yet is easily accessible this the place to go.

 Windermere from Bowness jetty

Windermere from Bowness jetty Lake District - image Zoe Dawes

Windermere from Bowness Jetty

The busiest of all the lakes, Windermere is the easiest place to get a feel for the Lakes without having to travel far. Go round the side of lake opposite the Glebe at Bowness-on-Windermere and you’ll find a wooden jetty pointing northwards. There’s a lovely view of the fells, little islets, yachts and ferries twirling  around each other as they sail along its 10 mile length. If you’re lucky you may be there when the mists swirl across the water and it’s even more magical …

 The Gondola on Coniston Water

Steam ferry Gondola on Coniston Water Lake District - image Zoe Dawes

Gondola on Coniston Water

One of the most well-known sights on Coniston Water is the graceful Victorian steam boat, Gondola, restored and owned by the National Trust. She takes passengers to historic Brantwood, John Ruskin’s house and glides over to other stops around the lake.  This is where Donald Campbell lost his life attempting to break the world Water Speed Record in Bluebird, after which the lakeside cafe is named. Looming over the water is the Old Man of Coniston and many other impressive Lake District fells.

 Tarn Hows from the footpath

Tarn Hows in winter - image Mjobling

Tarn Hows in winter – image Mjobling

Not strictly a lake, Tarn Hows is a  man-made stretch of water and has one of the most popular flat walks in the Lake District. Looked after by the National Trust it’s accessible by wheelchair and pram, making it perfect for everyone.  Almost circular, there are wooded paths all around and in the Lake District in winter you often get crisp clear days when the snow-capped mountains glitter tantalisingly in the distance.

Hopefully these will inspire you to visit these Lake District views and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe.

May 2, 2014

To France in the footsteps of WW1 poet Wilfred Owen

To France in the footsteps of WW1 poet Wilfred Owen

Grave in Ors Communal Cemetery, France - by Zoe Dawes

The contrast couldn’t be greater. One grave smothered in gold-embossed plaques, bowls of flowers, ornate urns and emotional messages. The other a simple white marble headstone, a couple of wooden crosses, fading paper poppies, a little Canadian flag  and a tiny rock plant struggling through the lumpy soil.  Yet this is the one we had come to see, the grave of a well-known soldier, the grave of a poet, a dreamer, a hero. Wilfred Owen, a young man lost on the battlefield of World War 1 amidst the horrific, senseless destruction that conflict creates century after century …

Wilfred Owen grave - Ors village, France Photo by Zoe Dawes

Wilfred Owen’s grave in Ors

Wilfred Owen - WW1 poetWilfred Owen was shot dead during a madly brave and stupidly pointless fight in the very last week of WW1.  Flanked on either side by Private W.E. Duckworth and Private H. Topping, both of the Lancashire Fusiliers, Lieutenant W.E.S. Owen, Manchester Regiment lies not far from the canal he died trying to cross, shot by the German troops on the opposite side of the water.

Earlier that day a group of us, staying in Arras, had met Jacky Duminy, mayor of Ors, a village in Northern France on the ‘Western Front’, at Maison Forestiere.

Jacky Duminy. mayor of Ors, at Maison Forestiere - photo Zoe Dawes

 M Duminy has been the driving force behind getting this unique art work established to Wilfred Owen, “… not a museum, not a memorial, but a quiet place for meditation, reflection and poetry”.  On a quiet tree-lined road between P0mmereuil and Ors, the stark white building stands out in solitary remembrance.  It is here the poet and fellow soldiers of the 2nd Manchester Regiment, rested on the night of October 31st, 1918, while plans were being drawn up to attack the nearby German troops.

Maison Forestiere near Ors - Wilfred Owen site, France

 The Wilfred Owen Forester’s House has been transformed into an art installation by British visual artist Simon Patterson in collaboration with French architect Jean-Christophe Denise.  M Duminy led us down via a circular path into the cellar where Owen sheltered with over 20 fellow soldiers.  Inscribed on the white wall is a quote from his last letter to his mother, including the very poignant words, “There is no danger here, or if any, it will be well over before you read these lines.”  He was shot on November 4th and his mother got the news of his death on November 11th 1918, the day WW1 officially ended.

Wilfred Owen letter, Maison Forestiere nr Ors France - photo Zoe Dawes

With 10 of us squeezed into the brick arch-roofed cellar it was fairly cramped.  On that night in 1918 many more were squashed in, but they seemed in good spirits as they knew the war was nearly over and hoped soon to return home.  Kenneth Branagh’s voice came etherally over the audio system, reading out his letter.  As a mother and ex English teacher who tried to inspire teenagers to appreciate war poetry through Wilfred’s Owen’s raw verse, I found it extremely moving.

Wilfred Owen Cellar in Maison Forestiere - photo Zoe Dawes

From here we went back up into the main part of the house, now a white shell, with Owen’s most famous poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘ engraved across one wall.  A continuous loop of his war poetry is read out in English and French, lines projected onto the walls. Slowly everyone tuned into the reading, the calm atmosphere and the evocative voice speaking of horrors from a hundred years ago.

'Dulce et Decorum Est' Wilfred Owen. Inside Maison Forestiere - photo Zoe Dawes

One that resonated particularly was

‘Exposure’

“Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us … 
 Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent …
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient …
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.”

We then set off on a 7km walk into the nearby forest, Bois L’eveque, literally following in Wilfred Owen’s footsteps, the route he and his troops took to the canal. The trees were in full fig, vivid green leaves almost blinding in the spring sunshine. Birdsong surrounded us, such a contrast to the noise of battle that would have ricocheted through the wood in 1918.  Bluebells cut a swathe across the ground, vying for floor space with bright yellow celandines and dainty white anemones …

Bois L'Eveque - forest walk in Wilfred Owen's footsteps to Ors, France - photo Zoe Dawes

Eventually we emerged onto a little lane that led us across a railway line to a sign saying, ‘Tombes de Guerre du Commonwealth.‘  Five minutes later we found the ‘Ors British Cemetery’ with neat rows of 107 white military gravestones and a simple cross.  Here are buried many of the victims of the nearby battle at the canal, the youngest being only 17 years old.

Ors British Cemetery near where Wilfred Owen was killed in WW1 in France - photo Zoe Dawes

Just a few metres away is the Sambre-Oise canal and here it finally hit me just how awful this war had been.  It’s such a narrow strip of water and so many died trying to float rafts across this now-tranquil stretch of water, gunned down by the enemy, who’d holed up in La Motte Farm, just visible through the trees.  M le Maire was being interviewed by a French journalist about Wilfred Owen as we took in the scene, trying to imagine what it would have been like almost a hundred years ago, in the final hours of the war to end all wars …

Jacky Duminy at Sambre-Oise canal

A trio of guys had set up fishing rods nearby and a few baguettes leant against their big green umbrella. A girl in lycra ran past, a woman walking her dog said bonjour.  All so normal, everyday and peaceful … Is it fanciful to hope those young men somehow know how their deaths were not totally in vain?

From here we walked on past the Western Front plaque, telling the story of Ors’ wartime travails.  It has a quote from Owen’s ‘With an Identity Disc’.  M Duminy told us how the village, on the front line, was badly bombed in both world wars, though many of the buildings have been beautifully restored.

Ors Western Front plaque - photo Zoe Dawes

Finally we arrived at Ors Communal Cemetery.  In the entrance a huge crucifix towers over the many family graves.  Hidden at the back, in a plot of land that is forever ‘home’ is the resting place of a 25 year old young man who, along with a handful of other poets, managed to convey, in searing language, a little of the reality of one of the world’s worst conflicts.

Ors Communal Cemetery with British War Graves Wilfred Owen

Futility

Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds, –
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved – still warm – too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Wilfred Owen's grave in Ors Communal cemetery, France- photo Zoe Dawes

We travelled across to France with My Ferry Link and shared the trip with their friendly and informative representative Ellie. They put together a fascinating weekend with the Nord-Pas de Calais Tourist Board. We stayed in the Hotel d’Angleterre in the historic city of Arras. For more information on the Maison Forestiere in Ors click here to download the Wilfred Owen trail.

During this weekend trip we visited a huge French military cemetery (biggest in the world) which was a complete contrast to the simplicity of Ors. Read about Notre Dame de Lorette here.

February 20, 2014

Top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

Top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

Whilst many people head off for some winter sunshine, why don’t you buck the trend and discover the joys and delights of the UK in winter?  You’re guaranteed not to get too hot (unless you go too close to one of those pub fires) or have to expose more flesh than is absolutely necessary.  As long as you have the right clothes and a positive attitude you are guaranteed to have a great time.  As one of Britain’s most famous walkers, Alfred Wainwright said, “There’s not such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.”  

Winter walk Buttermere in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

Britain is made for ‘changeable’ weather and some of our most traditional attractions come in the form of an oak-beamed inn or a quaint cottage art gallery. Or maybe you feel really brave and will just wrap up warm and go for a bracing walk across a Yorkshire moor or a Northumberland beach.

Bamburgh beach Northumberland - by Zoe Dawes

Here are my top 7 reasons to visit the UK in winter

1.  Our pubs and hotels are at their best in winter.  Imagine arriving in a Cornish village and opening the door of a traditional old country inn, all oak beams and comfy nooks.  A blast of warmth hits you and the smell of wood smoke mingles with locally-brewed real ale.  You find a chair next to the blazing fire and very soon you’re tucking into a plate of freshly-cooked local food.  Winter heaven.

2.  You’ll save time because you won’t have to queue to get into your stately home or theme park of choice.  Restaurants, pubs and cafes will find you a table immediately as there are fewer visitors in the UK in winter.  Whether you’re in Belfast, Cardiff,  Glasgow, Liverpool or London, attractions in the big cities will be less crowded and you may have some of the smaller places completely to yourself.

Piccadilly Circus, London - by Zoe Dawes

3.  You’ll also save money (see #2) because in winter hotels, B&Bs, holiday homes, caravans and other accommodation is MUCH cheaper than in the summer months.  If you see a place you fancy staying in, contact them directly either by phone or email and see what deals they can offer.  Everyone’s becoming an ace bargainer these days so release your inner carpet-seller and get haggling.

4.  You’ll literally see more of the UK in winter.  Many of our trees are deciduous and lose their leaves, revealing more of our fantastic landscape than in leafy spring and summer.  The skies are often clearer and the countryside seems to come into sharper focus in the winter months.  On a grey or wet day, pop on a pair of wellies (wellington boots in case you’re not sure), don your packamac, get a fancy brolly and set off to splash in puddles and sing in the rain.

Winter sun over Windermere in Lake District - by Zoe Dawes

5.  Outdoor light is very different from other seasons of the year.  You can get incredibly clear skies which give an amazing clarity to those mountains in the Lake District in winter. A misty fog swirls evocatively across a Scottish river.  The low-lying sun filters through bleached-out clouds above a deserted moor. Perfect for photography and artists of all kinds.

6.  Many places such as the National Trust properties, are now open during the winter months and even if the houses or attractions are closed their their gardens are open.  You will be able to spend more time looking at that Pre-Rafaelite painting or quirky installation in an art gallery.  You won’t be herded through historic castles past priceless artefacts – you will be able to gaze and absorb every detail.

Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum - by Zoe Dawes

7.  People have more time to chat, to help and show you around. Travel and tourism businesses that are open in the winter rely on visitors like you and really appreciate that you have taken the time to visit their establishment.  Brits are far less reserved than our stereotype would imply!

Lancaster Canal in winter snow at Carnforth, Lancashire - by Zoe Dawes

Make sure you check websites for opening times as they may vary quite a lot – and go make the most of the UK in winter.

January 24, 2014

Discover Denbighshire

Discover Denbighshire

Digital Denbighshire is a brand new concept cooked up by Denbigh County Council to get more and more of us to explore the history and countryside which is all around us.  The adaptable website contains activities for pretty much anyone looking to get out and about in Denbighshire  in North Wales.

Whether you're into photography, local history or walking, whether you're out with the family or out with the dog, you can simply download a printable PDF file or view it on your internet connected device. Here you'll find directions of how to get to Denbighshire, activities to take part in and other local attractions. It provides you with a great opportunity to check out something different to do in a wonderful part of the country, all the information you need is right at your fingertips.

Welcome To Denbighshire – An infographic by the team at Digital Denbighshire

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