Archive by Author
November 18, 2017

Quirky Travel Review: Slow Travel – North Devon and Exmoor guide book

Porlock sign Exmoor

“Our Slow guides to British regions are the foremost of their kind, opening up Britain’s special places in a way that no other guides do. Discover the spots that aren’t normally publicised, meet the locals, find out where the best food can be enjoyed indulge in a little cultural foraging and discover the Britain you never knew existed with our expert local authors.”

This introduces the Slow Travel series of excellent guide books published by Bradt Guides. I am a huge fan of the the Slow Movement, the ideals of which are  incorporated into Quirky Travel.  On a weekend of stargazing and sightseeing in Exmoor last winter, Ian Mabbutt, owner of West Withy Farm, gave me a copy of  Slow Travel: North Devon and Exmoor by Hilary Bradt. What a delight this book is.

Slow Travel North Devon and Exmoor - Bradt guide bookIt’s divided into easily accessible sections covering the Cornish border, seaside coast of North Devon and Exmoor, Lundy Island, Barnstaple and inland, Exmoor National Park, Minehead, Dunster and eastern fringes of Exmoor. There’s plenty with lots of useful information, with the emphasis on encouraging us to slow down, take in the sights, sounds and inspiration that this area encourages, whilst getting around with the environment and local inhabitants playing a key part.

I’ve stayed on the north Devon coast many times at a friend’s chalet overlooking Woolacombe Bay. We based ourselves there to explore the various beaches, villages, tourist attractions and gentle countryside around.  Woolacombe has had a revival recently, having gone from top seaside resort in the mid 20th century, to fuddy-duddysville towards the end, and now quite a ‘cool’ surfing centre.

Woolacombe Beach Devon

I was pleased to see that the book focused on the wonderful bays and beaches nearby, rather than very crowded Woolacombe. Tiny Grunta next to Morte Bay gets a mention, as does little Lee You could spend hours here investigating the pools, collecting pink quartz or walking up the fuchsia-lined footpath to the village and its delightful pub, the Grampus Inn.” 

In the chapter on Lundy Island, off the north Devon coast, I learnt that Lunde øy is Norse for Puffin Island and that it was well known to Scandinavian pirates. Hilary Bradt’s obviously a keen ornithologist and she writes eloquently about the bustling bird life on the island, including the puffins, gulls, razorbills and guillemots, fulmars and Manx shearwaters. It’s also the only place in the UK where you can find all five species of shallow cup coral. I didn’t know there was one species of cup coral; now I want to go to Lundy just to see all five …

The_Jetty Lundy Island North Devon

Lundy Island – image Michael Maggs

I love the insets sharing quirky tales, little known facts and folk tales, often written by local residents or from Hilary’s vast store of Devonian knowledge.  The book is a joy to read from start to finish – whether you are travelling in mind, spirit or body.  “This region has so much to offer the Slow Traveller; cliff paths for walking, sea for rolling breakers for surfing and sandy beaches for lounging, hidden coves, and wonderful Exmoor with its heathery hills and deep valleys, combes, where rivers tumble over mossy stones on their way to the Bristol Channel.”

Exmoor ponies overlooking Bristol Channel

Exmoor ponies overlooking Bristol Channel

You can get your copy of Slow Travel: North Devon and Exmoor here

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Quirky Travel Review Slow Travel Devon and Exmoor

November 6, 2017

A funky Food Tour of hipsterish Hintonburg in Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu - Hintonburg Food Tour - Ottawa

Art is In Cafe menu

The smell of freshly baked bread mingled seductively with caramelized onions, thai curry, toasted cheese and clam chowder. A buzz of chatter hummed round the industrial-chic cafe as customers tucked into wholesome, tasty food in one of the most popular, and off-the-beaten trail cafes in Ottawa. I was at Art is In Bakery with guide Stefanie Siska of C’est Bon Cooking at the start of a unique food tour in Hintonburg, known as the ‘Burg’. It’s a hip neighbourhood of the city that’s up and come, reinvented itself from a hard-core working class district to THE place to go for eating out, independent shops, creative businesses and quirky coffee houses.

Art is in lunch - food tour Hintonburg Ottawa - collage Zoe Dawes

Art is In lunch

I was given a behind-the-scenes peek round Art is In cafe. From a whirl of very busy chefs, plate after plate of delicious food emerged; light-as-air croissant, door-stop sandwiches and scrumptious pancakes. In the bakery next door, crisp baguettes, hearty wholemeal loaves and many more tasty bakes were being loaded up for delivery around the city. It was a wrench to leave this foodie heaven and emerge into the unprepossessing surroundings of City Centre Avenue industrial estate.

Hintonburg Ottawa

City Centre Avenue – Hintonburg

However, our next stop on the food tour, punnishly named ‘Beyond the Pale Brewery, was only a couple of units away. This brewery is most definitely on the funky scale with beers called Pink Fuzz (grapefruit), The Darkness (oatmeal stout), Saison Tropicale (pineapple) and their classic Pale Ale Project. Brewer Shane Clarke told the story of two mates setting up one of Ottawa’s most popular and distinctly quirky breweries. “We want people to have fun with our beer. Whether it’s tasting with us at the brewery, drinking at home with friends and family, enjoying a pint at one of our great licensees, or joining us at a festival to spin the Wheel of Cask.”

Beyond the Pale beer

Beyond the Pale beer

We headed off then to the Happy Goat Coffee Company, hidden away down a side road you’d never come across by accident. But the cafe was heaving, with chatty people trading gossip whilst a guy played the piano. “At “Happy Goat Coffee” we promote the niche coffee market by encouraging neighbourhood-based small batch coffee roasting” My cappuccino was definitely a cut above the Costa brigade – and who wouldn’t love a place that provides bone-shaped dog treats for its canine customers?

Happy Goat coffee - Food tour Ottawa Canada

Happy Goat coffee

With coffee you’ve got to have cake, haven’t you? At Suzy Q Doughnut Store, you get the best BEST doughnuts in Ottawa, judging by the queue out of the door onto the street. Flavours include Raspberry Cassis, Salty Caramel, London Fog, Sugar Munnki, Bloop and the Canadian star, Maple Bacon. Lording it over the store is a large moose head garlanded with flowers.

Suzy Q Maple Bacon Doughnuts - Ottawa Food Tour

Walking the streets of Hintonburg is a bit like walking on a film set. You can imagine a Canadian version of ‘Friends’ being set here. Stefanie said it was one of her favourite suburbs of Ottawa as it has its own distinctive brand of ‘cool’, being both friendly and interesting. She pointed out the decorated water hydrants, part of city art that is prevalent throughout the country. We called into Maker House, a furniture and craft store on Wellington Street. They also have a branch in downtown Byward Market. Here you can find a huge variety of top quality artisan wares. I fell in love with a silky-smooth wooden platter featuring the Maple Leaf commemorating Canada 150 birthday celebrations but it was heavy (and expensive) so I had to content myself with a couple of delicate Birch Bark bookmarks.

Birch Bark bookmarks Ottawa

Birch Bark bookmarks

After all the filing food and drink it was a relief to stop by Simply Raw Express, a ‘vegan, gluten-free, plant-based, organic restaurant, specializing in cold-pressed juices and clean eating.’ Stefanie explained it was set up  in 2006 by Natasha, best-selling author and raw vegan of 23 years. Regular readers will know I’m more of a steak and chips woman, but I must admit the Collard Wrap filled with hummus, cabbage and a side of spiralized carrots with a Peaceful Warrior smoothie – bananas, kale, hemp & flax seeds and Sun Warrior protein (phew!) – was simply delicious.

Simply Raw organic vegan food - Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Simply Raw wrap

By now I was starting to feel extremely full, which was a shame as the next place on our C’est Bon Food Tour was a funky little Mexican restaurant, La Cocina. Stefanie suggested we had a drink first and a refreshing margerita quickly materialised. I’m ashamed to say I could barely do justice to the spicy tacos (made with ‘in-house hand pressed corn tortilla) but I can most definitely recommend them.

La Cocina Margarita Mexican restaurant Ottawa

La Cocina Margarita

Finishing off our drinks, it was time for the last stop – Stella Luna Gelato Cafe. Oh yes, superb Italian gelato in the suburbs of Ottawa. The last time I had such smoothly divine ice-cream was on a weekend in Rome; this was just as good. The multi-award winning gelateria is the genuine article. Master Gelato Chef Tammy Giuliani ‘combines old-world techniques and recipes with a passion for finely prepared food.

Stella Luna gelateria - Hintonburg Ottawa Food Tour

Stella Luna gelato

I met both Italian Tammy and his Canadian wife, whose love story is behind the success of their ice-cream, cakes, tarts, pies, crepes and coffee. It was only polite to have a tub of their Chocolate Sundae (rich chocolate, maple, bourbon, candied pecans with a fudge ripple) with a dash of Strawberry … A truly scrumptious end to a really excellent food tour.

Many thanks to Stefanie Siska of  C’est Bon Cooking for a fascinating and very tasty glimpse into the food and drink on offer in Hintonburg. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Hintonburger - Food Tour Ottawa Canada

Hintonburger

Check out Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Discover Ottawa, Canada’s charming capital city 

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the capital city

Escape to Upper Canada Village, Ontario

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Canada

Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

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Ottawa Food Tour Canada - image Zoe Dawes

October 25, 2017

Top 10 reasons to choose an escorted tour of India

Delhi Station porters

Porters at Delhi Station

“Here, ma’am, over here. Take your bag? Porter for you. I help you onto train …” A cacophony of voices ricocheted around Delhi Railway Station as we trotted down the stairs onto the busy platform. It was early morning and we were on our way to Kalka to join the Toy Train to Shimla. But first we had to navigate the chaotic melee that is to be seen at every big city railway station in India, find the correct carriage and make sure our luggage came on board with us. Fortunately I was on a Great Rail Journeys award-winning escorted tour and had nothing to worry about.

Ganesh Elephant God Shimla India - photo Zoe Dawes

Our wonderful guide, Farouk, had everything organised and it was a seamless, if noisy, transition from our hotel to the station and the Shatabdi Express. A coach had taken us from the 5-star Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel in the heart of the city to the station entrance from where our suitcases had been whisked away. The next time we saw them was on the train. All we had to do was follow Farouk, wait on the platform til our train arrived and take lots of photos of the lively scenes all around us. This was just one of the many advantages of being on an escorted tour in India.

10 reasons to choose an Escorted Tour of India

1.  Knowledgeable Tour Manager

Farouk Escorted Tour Manager Great Rail Journeys India

Having a dedicated tour manager who knows the lie of the land and can smooth away all the hassle of travel, is a huge benefit. They ensure your trip is hassle-free from the moment you come through customs, throughout your trip until you check back in at the airport. Farouk, our escort, dealt with a myriad of issues, from ensuring our hotel rooms were ready, booking meals, handing out train tickets, answering questions about Indian etiquette, liaising with local guides and keeping us all together as we wandered the streets of Shimla and scattered around the Taj Mahal.

2.  Smooth transitions from place to place

Agra street scene India - photo Zoe Dawes

Agra street scene

One of the biggest time-consumers on independent travel is getting from A to B and on to C. Travelling around a foreign country can be stressful, especially if you don’t know the language. India has many pluses, but public transport can be very challenging for some visitors. On an escorted tour everything is taken care of, so you can enjoy the journey, with transport, tickets and luggage all magically sorted.

3.  Accommodation organised in advance

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel Lobby Delhi India

Taj Diplomatic Enclave Lobby

With so much choice, choosing where to stay in India is a dilemma. Can you trust the web description? Is the Trip Advisor rating accurate? Where exactly is this hotel in relation to the sights you want to see? On a reputable escorted tour, this is all taken out of your hands. They will choose good hotels because they want happy customers. In Delhi we stayed at the excellent Taj Diplomatic Enclave Hotel. Great Rail Journeys only chooses the very top hotels so satisfaction is guaranteed.

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms Shimla

Oberoi Cecil Lounge and bedrooms

In Shimla we had two nights in the delightful Oberoi Cecil, It’s famous not only for its local heritage but also because Mohan Singh Oberoi, the founder of Oberoi Hotels, started work here, rose through the ranks and eventually bought the hotel. The food, a combination of international, pan-Indian and local Himachali dishes, was superb and the service second-to-none.

TIC Mughal Agra banquet India

ITC Mughal – the biggest Indian bread you ever did see

The uber-luxurious ITC Mughal in Agra was another perfect hotel. We each stayed in a gorgeous suite and were treated to a delicious Mughal Banquet which included the biggest Indian bread I’ve ever seen. (even bigger than the Bradford Naan!)

4.  Value for money

Woman at the Red Fort Agra India- photo Zoe Dawes

Woman at Red Fort Agra

A trip to India is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday but, whatever your budget, you want to know you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck, if you’ll pardon the expression. Taking into account all your costs (see Point 5), an escorted tour can be the most cost-effective way of travelling. Whether you go for more economically priced tours, or splash out on a top-quality company like Great Rail Journeys, you can be sure that you are getting excellent value for money.

5.  Easy to budget

Closely linked to point 4, you can easily budget because just about everything is included. For example, on the Indian Golden Triangle Tour I sampled, scheduled return flights, 5-star hotel accommodation, superb meals and filling packed lunches, rail and coach travel, transfers and porterage, guided tours and dedicated Tour Manager are all included in the booking price. That meant we only had to pay for drinks, tips and souvenirs – which are a bargain in India.

6.  Tailored excursions to make the most of time and place

The Toy Train in the Himalayas Shimla India- photo Zoe Dawes

The Toy Train in the Himalayas

Good excursions should be a winning combination of stress-free organisation combined with well-informed local guides who take visitors rounds sites, share interesting stories and intriguing facts at a pace suited to the group’s level of fitness and interest. The major highlights of our trip included the Toy Train to Shimla, city tour of Delhi and to Agra for the Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, which was more lovely than I had imagined. That visit was enhanced by our tour guide, who brought the love story of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to life with fascinating information about the building and the significance of the architecture.

7.  Bespoke experiences to enhance local knowledge

Raj Ghat Mahatma Ghandi Delhi - photo Zoe Dawes

Raj Ghat – memorial to Mahatma Ghandi in Delhi

All good tours will have some unusual experiences to enhance their customers’ enjoyment. It might be a cookery lesson, wine-tasting, sailing on house-boat, wild-life photography or joining  in a traditional festival. On our trip, we watched locals taking part in a temple blessing, saw the sun rise over the Himalayas and heard an excellent talk on Shimla and the history of the British in India from charming historian Raaja Bhasin.

8.  Relatively risk-free giving peace of mind

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas - India - photo Zoe Dawes

Fast food on a railway platform in the Himalayas

The best tour companies have fine-tuned their holidays to ensure that customers have a smooth and risk-free trip. India is a vibrant, colourful country with a somewhat lax approach to health and safety … With guides chosen for their attention to detail and drivers chosen for their experience of the crazy Indian driving habits, we were in very capable hands, even on the exciting journey back down the mountain road from Shimla. Advice on what food and drink to try ensured that I for one, avoided Delhi Belly and was able to experience superb Indian cuisine with no side effects.

9. Freedom and flexibility

Marble sculptors in Agra Market India - photo Zoe Dawes

Marble Sculptors – Agra Market

Select your escorted tour carefully and you will get both free time and flexibility in the programme. These trips are often packed with things to see and do, which can be tiring.  I’m sure you will find plenty of options to suit your own tastes. I need a break to just wander around on my own. On our trip, we had some free time in Agra and I went off with a couple of others from the group to explore a local market. Others relaxed by the pool, chatted at the bar, read a book, slept or had a indulgent Spa Treatment.

10.  The company of like-minded people

Great Rail Journeys escorted tour Taj Mahal India

At the Taj |Mahal

This is one of the biggest selling points of an escorted tour. Because everyone has chosen the same trip, you can be sure that you will find plenty of people who share your own interests. On Great Rail Journeys a common denominator is often, but not always, a love of rail travel, for which India is rightly famous. However, many people go on their tours because of their desire to see famous sights, learn more about the culture and traditions of India and to experience these memorable moments with others.

I travelled to India courtesy of Great Rail Journeys; I am grateful them for enabling me to fulfill a life-long dream in such a marvellous way. Special thanks to our guide Farouk for his unfailing care and good humour, to all the friendly staff in the hotels we stayed in and to all the wonderful people we met along the way who made this trip so special.

If you’d like to go on a similar trip, take a look at Great Rail Journeys escorted tours of India, specially tailored for the 50+ demographic, and start planning your trip of a lifetime now 🙂

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Top 10 Reasons to choose an Escorted Tour - Pinterest image Zoe Dawes

October 16, 2017

What are Britain’s ULTIMATE happy places and favourite holiday activities?

What makes you happy on holiday? Where are you happiest? Recent research by SACO shows that 2/3 of us would not bother to go abroad for our holidays if we could guarantee good weather. Our happy places include Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands and happy activities include a pub lunch in the Cotswolds, building sandcastles in Blackpool beach, visiting the Roman Baths in Bath, exploring Exmoor and, of course, walking in the Lake District.

Britain’s Ultimate Happy Places

Britain's Ultimate Happy Places

I love that one of our favourite activities is getting rained on. So very British! Looking for somewhere special to stay when enjoying your happy places? There are plenty of choices on this blog. Just search accommodation or check out serviced apartments such as those on offer in London by SACO.  My favourite activity is stroll with friends beside a lake on an autumn day anywhere in the Lake District. What’s yours? Do share your own suggestions in the comment box at the end of this article 🙂

This post is brought to you in collaboration with SACO.

October 6, 2017

My worst airport fiasco: forgotten perfume, luggage mix-up, irate passengers and stolen music

Washington Dulles International Airport - photo Joe Ravi

Washington Dulles International Airport – photo Joe Ravi

What’s the worst airport disaster you’ve had? Hopefully nothing TOO serious but I bet quite a lot of you have lost luggage, missed flights or been stuck at the airport due to a strike or major delay. These days, just getting through security can be a nightmare. One of my most memorable airport fiascos involved a flight to South Africa from Greece in the late 1980s. It started off badly. My boyfriend and I were flying from Athens; the old airport was on the way to Piraeus and we had left it late to get a taxi. I remember the smog-fuelled struggle to get out of the city and along the crowded, dismal road to the airport, fretting about missing our flight. We got there with just enough time for Mike to get some perfume from the Duty-Free for me and some alcohol for his family. It was not until we were getting off the plane at our stop-over that I realised I had left the bag with my big bottle of Chanel No 19 perfume AND body cream on the shuttle bus. Nice present for whoever found it …

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

South African Airways Boeing 747 (old logo)

However, the real problem was in Africa. Due to political instability in many parts of the continent, South African Airlines had to fly rather circuitous route to get to South Africa, still in the grip of apartheid. I can’t now remember which airport we had to stop in, but I THINK it was Luanda in Angola. We were one of the first off the SAA plane. We’d been told that our luggage would be transferred to the next flight on to Johannesburg and we were to wait in the airport terminal until that flight was called. In those days the airport was little more than a big shed, with lots of gun-toting soldiers who seemed to have little idea what was going on but were very big on looking important. There was a rather shabby little bar but we didn’t have any local currency so we just found a couple of rickety chairs and prepared to wait.

We’d been told by the cabin crew that the stopover would be for about an hour but that there had been some problems at the airport and we should listen out for announcements.  No-one seemed to know what was going on and there was no tannoy system. Every so often someone would shout out the name of a flight and there’d be a mad scramble of irate passengers trying to see if it was their flight that had been called. We kept missing announcements but, after about three hours our flight was called and we went to the exit to board the plane. As the flight attendant checked our ticket she said, “Did you get your luggage checked on board?” We said no, because on the plane we’d been told it was going to be loaded onto the plane automatically. “Oh no,” she replied. “Didn’t you hear the announcement? The porters are on strike so everyone has to get their own luggage and take it out to the plane.” We looked around and all the other passengers were nodding in agreement and looking amazed that we’d missed this vital piece of information. “OK, you have to go over there to that building and identify your cases. Then get a trolley and take them out to the plane.”

Luggage - old suitcases

Old suitcases

In a huge heap on the floor of a vast warehouse were hundreds of suitcases. It took us ages to find ours, wheel them out to the plane, an unnerving experience in itself and hand them over to the guys who were waiting to load them on. They’d had to hold the plane up for us. The engines were going and the pilot glared at us through us through cockpit window as we ran up the steps. Entering the cabin, the passengers were also looking really angry as we caused everyone to wait on the plane in sweltering heat for almost an hour as we had to wait for another departure slog. We slunk into our seats muttering apologies and keeping our heads well down. By the time we arrived in Johannesburg we were over fours hours late – and very tired.

At the airport

At the airport

These days, you can easily claim for flight delays and it’s worth checking before you fly what the terms and conditions are for your ticket. With airlines like Monarch going into receivership and companies like Ryan Air cancelling flights left, right and centre, make sure you have good cover.  Read my Top Tips for Stress-Free Airport Travel for more help.

PS. On the return trip from South Africa, my suitcase was broken into and all the cassettes (yes it was that long ago) of wonderful African music I’d bought were stolen. We didn’t have insurance cover … lesson learnt.

This article was written in collaboration with FlightDelayClaims4U. What’s your worst airport fiasco? Do share in the Comment below – with any tips for avoiding it in future!

September 30, 2017

Upper Canada Village: escape to another era where life is slower and more relaxed

Horses Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Carriage horses on Church Street

The children squeal with delight as a piglet clambers over the back of its brother to get a better place in the sun.  A huge sow slowly rolls over in the gloopy mud, grunts and flops back into contented slumber. A tussle breaks out as three youngsters nip ears and legs before deciding it’s all too much effort and collapse in a piggy heap on top of each other. Just another day of buccolic pleasure in Upper Canada Village, not far from Morrisberg in Ontario.

Pigs in sunshine - Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Happy pigs

Less than 60 miles (90kms) from Ottawa, Upper Canada Village is a unique visitor attraction depicting life in Ontario around 1866, when the pace of life was much slower. Many of the 40 historical buildings were transported here from nearby villages which were flooded to make way for the St Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. It gives a vivid idea of 19th century agricultural practices including caring for livestock, growing crops and harvesting vegetables. Attractive gardens showcase the plants and flowers that would have been grown in the summer. Staff dressed in clothing of the period carry out domestic tasks and discuss what social life, music, religion and politics would have been like at the time. They demonstrate how cheese, bread, shoes, tin jugs, brooms, furniture, dresses and hats were made.

Crafts at Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Demonstrating crafts and housework

I’m visiting Upper Canada Village with local travel blogger Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now on a day out from Ottawa. It’s a school trip day and lots of children run around the grounds, stopping to pat horses and watch sheep being shorn. Wandering along sunny paths and through shady nooks we pass the Woollen Factory and Saw Mill before reaching elegant yellow house. On the veranda a young woman in a vivid orange dress sits reading a book.

Robertson House Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Robertson House

Inside Robertson Home we learn how a well-to-do middle-class family would have lived. The parlour has ornate decor with family portraits and lots of knick-knackery typical of the Victorian era. Further on we find the Bakery where a young man is showing how the bread is made. Later in the day we see the baker’s horse-drawn cart collect the bread; it’s sold on site and served in the Village Cafe and at Willards Hotel.

Bakery Bread Upper Canada Village - collage Zoe Dawes

From bread oven to table

We have lunch at Willards Hotel,  with Customer Service & Corporate Communications Manager Susan Le Clair. Willard’s Hotel is one of the oldest buildings on the site, constructed in the late 1790s and restored to the style of the 1850s. It’s now a restaurant where we are served by costumed waiting staff with food from the period. I have the local bread and cheese platter – very tasty. Susan explains the philosophy of Upper Canada Village. “Our aim is to show what it was really like to live and work in the 19th Century. Many people in Canada have little idea of what that looks like and this place is ideal to teach visitors some of our important history in an engaging and fun way. It’s especially popular with families and people come back year after year. We have a diverse and interesting Educational Program that enable young people to discover their past in engaging and fun way. Although we’re usually closed in the winter months, we do have special events including our very quirky Pumkinferno at Halloween.” 

Susan Le Clair in the livery Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Susan Le Clair in the Livery

After a delicious meal, Cindy and I go off to explore more of the village. In the distance we catch a glimpse of some people floating by on some sort of craft. It’s the horse-drawn tow scow which pootles back and forth along the village canal from the dock behind Cook’s Tavern to the Tenant Farm. A tow scow is ‘ … a flat hulled barge that is drawn along the canal by a horse walking along the bank. Two villagers (one at the bow, and one at the stern) help steer the scow using long poles. In typical village life, the scow would be used to transport heavy goods to mills and other distant locations.‘ (Upper Canada Village website.)

Horse-drawn Tow Scow in Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Horse-drawn Tow Scow

We climb aboard and listen to the gentle shuck of the boat on the water as we pass the Pier Light. A flock of Canada Geese pecking around in the grass, honking as we pass and overhead birds swoop and dive across the clear blue sky. Time seems to slow down and the ‘real world’ fades away as we drift along. Beyond the canal, the wide open waters of the Saint Lawrence River glitter and ripple as ship sails past; an incongruous reminder of 21st century Canada.

Tow Scow trip Upper Canada Village Ontario

Tow Scow on the canal beside St Lawrence River

 The tower of white-painted Christ Church peaks out above the trees near the canal. On the front cover an excellent book, ‘A Village Arising – the Story of the Building of Upper Canada 1957-1961 and After‘ by Peter Stokes, there’s a photo of the church being hauled along the road from Moulinette to the site of Upper Canada Village on top of flat-bed trucks. We peak inside; the interior is similar to a Scottish Presbyterian kirk and includes box pews, a gallery and a cast iron stove.
Christ Church - Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Christ Church

Just round the corner from the church is brick built Cook’s Tavern, which serves Ginger Beer and Sarsaparilla,  based on the popular 19th century tonic made from the root of a South American plant (Genus Smilax).  Commonly referred to as “root beer”, these tonics contained a variety of roots, such as ginger for tang, sassafras for flavour and sarsaparilla to make it foam. Outside, a few people are waiting for one of the horse-drawn wagons to take them on a 20 minute drive round the village. It’s late afternoon and the school groups have left; the place is quiet, with a tranquil atmosphere very different from the frenetic excitement of the morning.

Cook's Tavern Upper Canada Village

Cook’s Tavern

Exploring some of the back lanes of the village we come across a farm with a large-horned cattle in the fields and a tiny calf in a paddock. I get up close to take a photo and the farmer asks if I want to buy him. We haggle a bit and then I seem to have bought him for a couple of dollars. “Now you can take him back to the barn.” I think the farmer is joking but no; the next minute, a rope is thrust into my hand and I am taking a calf for a walk …

Walking calf on farm Upper Canada Village - Zoe Dawes

Walking my baby back home

After a full-on day it’s time to go. On our way out, we have a quick look at the gift shop and exhibition centre, which tells the history of the area. Outside the little train that runs round Upper Canada Village is setting off on its last ride. We stop for a photo of the monument commemorating the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, a nationally significant battle in the War of 1812 that halted the 1813 invasion of Canada.
Upper Canada Village

As we drive onto the main road back to Ottawa I can still hear the sound of children’s laughter, feel the soft muzzle of the wagon horse and smell that freshly baked bread. Upper Canada Village is a charming place of sensory and historic enjoyment that magically encapsulates an idyllic moment in Canadian history …

Days Out from Ottawa

This is just one of the many day trips you can take from Ottawa. I also visited Merrickville, a pretty village on the banks of the Rideau Canal, Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, Fultons Pancake House and Sugar Bush and spent a very relaxing day at Nordik Spa-Nature, a luxury spa at the entrance to Gatineau Park.

Many thanks to Susan Le Clair of Upper Canada Village for showing me round and sharing stories about this unique attraction. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Check out Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

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Discover Ottawa, Canada’s charming capital city 

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A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

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Upper Canada Village – LOVE IT? PIN IT!

Upper Canada Village Ontario - Pinterest - Zoe Dawes

September 22, 2017

Quirky Travel Photo: Little African boy by a stream in Rwanda

Little boy by the road in Rwanda - photo zoe dawes

Little boy in Rwanda

On a very long coach trip through Rwanda from Kigali up to Volcanoes National Park, we stopped en route for a ‘comfort break.’ As soon as we got off the bus, we were surrounded by a gaggle of children and adults who seemed to appear from nowhere. All curious, some holding back and others venturing closer, they wanted to say ‘hello’ and see what we were wearing and holding. This little boy caught my eye with his delightfully shy smile and, as I crouched down to talk to him, he came closer and closer. Finally he reached out a tentative hand to my camera so I handed it to him to have a look. Another member of our group came up and called to him to have his photo taken.

Little boy being photographed Rwanda - photo Zoe Dawes

I stepped back, clicked and got this shot. He sums up the warm welcome and friendly faces we saw throughout our memorable trip to Rwanda with Uber Luxe Safaris, a country coming to terms with a tough past and and embracing an exciting future.

Read more on Rwanda

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5 great reasons to visit Rwanda

Love it? Pin It!

Little boy in Rwanda Africa - Pinterest poster Zoe Dawes