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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.

September 15, 2017

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

Snowdon from Mountain Railway train Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

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

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

On top of Snowdon Mountain North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

View from the top of Snowdon

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

Clogwyn Halt Snowdon Mountain Railway Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

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

Wyddfa and Snowdon Mountain Railway

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

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon collage

Wyddfa steam engine

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

View from Snowdon Mountain Railway carriage Wales - by Zoe Dawes

View from the carriage window

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

Snowdon Mountain Railway Train at the summit - photo Zoe Dawes

Engine 11 Peris at the top of Snowdon Mountain Railway

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

Zoe Dawes on top of Snowdon - North Wales

On top of Snowdon

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

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

Llanberis Station Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Our group at Llanberis Station

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

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

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

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Snowdon Mountain Railway North Wales - image Zoe Dawes

August 5, 2017

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

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

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

Great Langdale Valley

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

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

Elterwater

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

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

Chapel Stile

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

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

The Old Dungeon Ghyll

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

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

Hiker's Bar Old Dungeon Ghyll - Langdale Valley

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

Little Langdale Valley

Little Langdale Valley in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

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

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

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

Three Shires Pub

Three Shires Inn Langdale Valley

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

Stay in Church Gate Cottage

Church Gate cottage in Chapel Stile Langdale Valley Lake District

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

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

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

Daw Bank Cottage, Chapel Stile

Jonty’s Cottage, Elterwater

Braegarth Cottage, Elterwater

Knipefold Barn, Outgate 

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Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage Site

 

July 28, 2017

Experience the nostalgic pleasure of steam train railways around North Wales

Four steam trains in three days – what a treat. I was on on a very special trip to experience the delights of North Wales Heritage railways, sampling itineraries from specialist railway tour operators Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries.

Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway steam train Merddin Emrys

Engine driver Paul on Merddin Emrys

The heat is overwhelming. There’s a smell of coal dust, hot metal and sea-salt. Steam hisses and a seagull squawks overhead. Adults ready their cameras, children giggle with excitement and the sense of anticipation builds. “Keep right in to the side there and watch that pipe; it’s boiling hot and will give you a nasty burn if you touch it.” Engine driver Paul ensures I’m ensconced in my tiny corner of the cabin, gives a brief nod to stoker Andrew, a piercing whistle shrieks across the river estuary out to sea, there’s a chuff-chuffing from the steam train and we are on our way.

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

I’m on the very splendid Merddin Emrys, a push-me pull-you Double Fairlie locomotive built in 1879, on the  Ffestiniog Railway, fulfilling a life-long dream to travel on the footplate of a steam train. The Festiniog Railway Company, in North Wales, is the oldest surviving railway company in the world. It opened in 1836 to take slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for export around the globe. We used to holiday in nearby Llandudno and I remember seeing the little train chugging along the track and wishing we could go on it … and now I’m finally here.

Minffordd Station - Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Minffordd Station

The train slowly gathers speed as we pass fields of sheep and quaint cottages. People wave as we rumble through Boston Lodge and cows stop grazing to gaze at us as we steam by. At Minffordd, where we pass another steam train going in the opposite direction, I have to leave the engine and join the other passengers in one of the lovely old wooden carriages. We slowly start the steep climb into the mountains where the scenery becomes wilder through the glorious Snowdonia National Park. Sunlight glimmers through wooded groves and we disappear into a tunnel before doing a loop-the-loop at the Dduallt Spiral.

Ffestiniog Railway Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Afternoon tea arrives; a plate of local Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith (fruit loaf) are most welcome. Against railway rules I put my head out of carriage window and watch the steam train puff its way round the curve of the narrow-gauge track. The sight and sound of this sturdy little engine brings back many memories of childhood and a world where time seemed to go at a much slower pace. We arrive at Blaenau Ffestiniog Station and we have a quick look at the brand new, very luxurious, Pullman Observation Carriage, with beautiful wood panelling and maps of the railway route carved onto the tables. On the platform we watch as Paul and Andrew jump on top of the engine to check it and fill it with water.

Steam train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

With its twin funnels and gleaming red livery,  Merddin Emrys is a fine example of a Victorian steam train and I feel privileged to have spent some time in its company.

Welsh Highland Railway

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

We had started the day in castle-dominated Caernarvon, boarding the Welsh Highland Railway, UK’s longest heritage railway, that took us inland, past the foot of Snowdon and on to the pretty village of Beddgelert. Our train was pulled by a mighty fine black locomotive, NG/G16 No.87, built in 1937, originally used in South Africa and rebuilt in the Ffestiniog Railway’s own Boston Lodge Works. En route we got superb views out towards the Lleyn Peninsula, beside old slate mines and tiny railway stations, past lakes emerging from steamy windows, near rushing waterfalls and on up into the mountains.

Lake View from Welsh Highland Railway steam train North Wales

View from our railway carriage

Clare, our very informative host from Ffestiniog Railway Company, outlined our route on the map and gave us some facts and figures about the company and its rolling stock. Well-equipped walkers got off at one of the halts to hike up Wales’ highest peak.

Welsh Highland Railway route

Welsh Highland Railway route

As we crossed the impressive Glan-yr-afon Viaduct I gazed up towards the summit of Snowdon, shrouded in mist. This stretch of the track is one of the steepest gradients in Britain, 1-40 and we snaked our way back down through the forest toward Beddgelert, Snowdon playing hide and seek along the way.

Welsh Highland Railway steam train Snowdonia - North Wales

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

As we disembarked in Beddgelert, the rain arrived, not so unusual in this part of Wales. However, by the time we’d got our coach to the quirky village of Portmeirion it had stopped and the sun was peaking out again.

Llangollen Railway

Llangollen Railway Station and 80072 steam train

Llangollen Railway Station and Steam engine 80072

The following day we headed off into the valleys for a ride on the Llangollen Railway, the only standard-gauge heritage railway in Wales. As with many other railway lines, this was originally built for the mining industry, but Llangollen has been a tourist destination for many years. It’s a very attractive town on the River Dee and the railway is its biggest attraction. The quaint Station Building sets the scene with old suitcases piled on the platform and uniformed guards, drivers and other staff bustling about making sure everyone gets aboard in time for departure. We had a reserved carriage all to ourselves again, with scones, jam and cream laid out on crisp white linen – very civilized. The velvet-upholstered seats and lacquered wood panelling all conspired to give that feeling of nostalgia for rail travel in stylish luxury.

Llangollen Railway reserved carriage North Wales

Reserved Carriage

We were being pulled by beautifully restored locomotive 80072, built in Brighton in 1953 to run on the south coast, but left to rot for many years after the Beeching cuts of the 1965, which is when the Llangollen Railway also closed for main-line travel. There are few transport sounds more evocative than the huffing of an engine as it builds up steam on its way out of a station. We got that experience a number of times as there were a three stops along the line, which runs beside the sparkling River Dee, to Corwen. The return journey was equally delightful and everyone thoroughly enjoyed our very special steam train journey.

Llangollen Railway steam train -photo Zoe Dawes

Llangollen Railway steam train

After lunch we went on a leisurely glide along the Langollen Canal on a horse-drawn boat – perfect end to a perfect day.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon Mountain Railway - photo Zoe Dawes

Wyddfa

On our final morning we set off early to get the 9.30am Snowdon Mountain Railway steam train from Llanberis Up the Mountain. We went up and down in glorious sunshine, pushed up by Wyddfa, a Swiss-built engine from 1893, driven by Paul and stoker Robert. It was a truly epic journey – watch out for the story in another article …

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

I travelled to North Wales courtesy of Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries. Our group stayed in Llandudno at the very comfortable Dunoon Hotel, with superb food in charming surroundings. We also had an excellent Italian meal at the Wildwood Restaurant in the town centre.

Dunoon Hotel Llandudno

Our group at Dunoon Hotel

Great Rail Journeys Railways & Castles of Wales Tour includes a stay at the award-winning Dunoon Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Snowdon Mountain Railways, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon and Conwy Castles. GRJ Independent can also tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to Wales on an individual basis Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017.More details Railways and Castles of Wales.

Rail Discoveries Railways of Wales Tour includes a stay at the Kensington Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Llangollen Railways, a horse-drawn boat trip on the Llangollen Canal, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon Castle. Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017. More details Railways of Wales.

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway

Love Narrow-Gauge Railways? Read my review of Small Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot.

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North Wales Steam Railways

 

June 19, 2017

A quartet of very different Lake District books

Four special Lake District Books Cumbria

“I’m coming to the Lake District on holiday. What book would you recommend?” Well, that really depends on what kind of book you’re looking for. There are so many Lake District books: traditional guide books, walking books, novels, biographies, photography books, children’s books … Here are four of my favourites.

Lake District Books

I Never Knew that about the Lake District - Christopher WinnI never knew that about the Lake District by Christopher Winn

Did you know that Fletcher Christian, he of Mutiny on the Bounty, was born in Cockermouth? Or that the ‘Yellow Earl‘, past owner of Lowther Castle, was the only man other than Winston Churchill to have a Cuban cigar named after him (the Lonsdale Cigar)? Well, if you read ‘I never knew that about the Lake District‘ you’ll find out hundreds of fascinating snippets and facts about the area. The book is divided up into geographical sections ie The Central Lakes, The Lakeland Coast, Windermere, so it covers Cumbria, not just the Lake District National Park. Charming illustrations by Mai Osawa add to the this delightful book’s appeal. It would make a great gift for a fan of the lakes; I was given it as a birthday present and regularly dip into it. Note to the author: the 201o edition could do with updating as a few things have changed eg many more local breweries and visitor attractions now.

More about I never knew that about the Lake District and other books by Christopher Winn

 

Dances with the Daffodils - Matthew ConnollyDances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly 

I chose this book from a host of books by local authors laid out on our tables at the Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017. (Well done to the organisers for an original way to support Cumbrian writers.) Author Matthew Connolly explained how the novel was inspired by the story behind one of the most famous English poems, William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The poet’s sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, wrote an entry in her diary on April 15th 1802 referring to a walk she and her brother took beside Ullswater where they saw daffodils that ‘tossed and reeled and danced’ in the wind. In the book, Luke, who’s returning to the area after 20 years of travelling, visits the lake and sees a ‘thin, gypsy-tanned woman … hopping along the lane like a chaffinch,‘ admiring the daffodils, beside ‘… a tall and ugly mantis of a creature.’ (William). Luke is immediately attracted to Dorothy, ‘as she knelt among the daffodils like some pagan goddess.’ I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant love story, especially seeing Dorothy in a different light, as a feisty young woman, torn between her love for her brother and another. It’s also a love story to south Lakeland, its local culture and heritage, which the author clearly knows well.

More on Dances with Daffodils here

Photographer's guide to Lake District by Ellen BownessThe Photographer’s Guide to The Lake District by Ellen Bowness

‘The Lake District is a beautiful part of the UK and it’s jam-packed with photogenic locations, from lakes and fells to waterfalls and caves.’ The opening to this gem of a book says it all; here is a comprehensive guide to the best places to get the perfect photo of the top sights in the Lakes. Local Ellen Bowness is a self-confessed travel photography addict who shares her professional knowledge of the area so the rest of us can find the perfect location. The book includes directions, maps, parking and satnav information as well advice on the best time of year to visit. Many popular sites feature, including Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater, Grasmere and Castle Rigg Stone Circle, but also lesser known gems like Innominate Tarn,a favourite of Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright and Ritson’s Force at Wasdale Head. One for photographers of all levels from beginner to expert.

More on The Photographer’s Guide to the Lake District here

Small island by little train - Chris ArnotSmall Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot

OK, this book is not only about the Lake District; it’s a journey round the nation’s narrow-gauge railways, but it has a very interesting chapter about one of this area’s most popular tourist attractions. In a chapter entitled ‘Return Ticket to Red Squirrels’ author Chris Arnot travels on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Light Railway. which runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. He also meets some of the enthusiasts who run L’al Ratty, as it’s known locally. He talks with Peter Van Zellar, who sums up the appeal of this country railway. “You are conscious of being part of the scenery but, beyond the track, that scenery changes every day. You might see a buzzard one minute and a herd of red deer the next.” The author shares some local history and has a humorous style reminiscent of Bill Bryson and his Notes from a Small Island, on which this book is vaguely modelled.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by publishers The AA for review. It fits very nicely within into the Quirky Travel niche.

More on Small Island by Little Train here.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some Quirky Travel Lake District Books. What’s you favourite book about where you live? Please leave your thoughts and any recommendations in the Comment Box below 🙂

June 12, 2017

Quirky Travel Review: Verdant Works Jute Museum, Dundee

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee - image zoe dawes

The Scottish city of Dundee is said to be built on ‘Jam, Jute and Journalism’ and a visit to Verdant Works Jute Museum introduced me to the Jute industry, about which I knew nothing.  Housed in a former jute mill in the Blackness area of Dundee, it was opened in 1996 as a museum dedicated to telling the story of this aspect of the textile industry.

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee

Verdant Works Jute Museum

‘The jute collections cover the entire history of the jute industry. It covers topics such as manufacturing, research and development, end products, quality control, textile engineering, the industry’s Indian connections, and the lives of the workers. Objects include machinery patterns, jute and flax products, small tools, technical drawings, plans, and quality control and testing equipment.’ Wikipedia

Moisture tester Dundee Jute Museum Scotland

Black and white images of factories belching smoke, enormous machines, men, women and children dressed in drab clothing standing proud (tired?) beside this equipment flicker through the film auditorium. Until the 1857 Factory Act was introduced, limiting working days to 10 hours, it was common for young boys to toil for up to 19 hours a day. Other facts leap out; in 1863 the average life expectancy for a Dundee man was 33 years. By the end of the 19th century the production of textiles was the dominant industry in Dundee, directly employing around half the working population. Their textiles were being distributed all over the world …

Jute - Dundee and the World, Scotland

Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, an imbalance in the labour market that gained Dundee the nickname of ‘she town’. It created a unique and tough breed of women, born out of being the main providers for the family. The mill girls were noted for their stubborn independence. “Overdressed, loud, bold-eyed girls” according to one observer and often ‘roarin’ fou’ with drink – characteristics that caused consternation among the ‘gentlefolk’ of Dundee. verdantworks.com Women continued to play a key role in Juteopolis until the well into the 20th century.

Female Jute factory worker, Dundee Scotland

It was salutory to find out how market forces were at work over a 150 years ago. In 1855 the first jute mill in India was set up, using machinery and workers from Dundee and by 1900 had taken over as the world’s leading jute producer. (I remember working with shoe-makers in Clarks factory Kendal, where the footwear manufacturer was closing down UK production as it had all been outsourced to Eastern Europe and South East Asia.) The jute museum does an excellent job of combining fascinating facts, industrial equipment, historical reconstructions and hands-on experiences.

Verdant Works Jute production Dundee

Displays include the wagons transporting raw fibrous jute, massive machinery, information boards on the complex process involved in production, colonial life in India, office managers, the daily lives of factory workers and modern-day uses of jute. It’s gives an excellent insight into one of Scotland’s most important industries. Verdant Works Jute Museum is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Dundee.

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee Scotland

Many thanks to Visit Scotland for hosting me in Dundee, Jennie Patterson for showing me round and sharing her passion for the city, the owners and staff at Tay Park House for their hospitality and Dundee City for a very enjoyable visit to Dundee.

More about Scotland: Delicious Food and Drink in Dundee

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Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee Scotland

June 2, 2017

Discover picture-perfect Painswick in the quirkiliciously quaint Cotswolds

Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees Painswick

Visiting villages in the Cotswolds is like eating a box of really good chocolates; one or two are divine, the whole box makes you feel slightly queasy. They (the villages) are all so achingly pretty, with mellow-stone walls, rambling roses and pastel foxgloves, manicured lawns, thatched roofs, quaint pubs and shops selling fudge and chi-chi things for the ‘home’ at ridiculously high prices. They have wondrously English names like Bourton-on-the-Water, Chipping Sodbury and the sinister-named, but oh so charming Upper (and Lower) Slaughter. 

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

However, if you’re looking for a slightly less known Cotswold village then search out Painswick. Calling itself the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds‘, it’s only 6 miles from Gloucester and yet it’s as if the 21st century hasn’t got here yet.

Painswick – Queen of the Cotswolds

St Mary's Church and Yew Trees Painswick - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

A gilded weather-cock sits on top of the splendid spire of St Mary Church, getting a bird’s eye view of Painswick and surrounding countryside. Built over 600 years ago, this delightful church has a number of intriguing features to attract visitors. The ceilings were repainted and gilded in the 1970s, the lecturn is made from applewoood not stone, and the font dates to from 1661.

St Mary's Church Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church Painswick

High above hangs a model of Sir Francis Drake’s Armada flag ship, the Bonaventure. (The word ‘nave‘ is derived from the Latin word for ship, navis.) In the oldest part of the church is a beautiful mosaic from Italy and a wooden Memorial Screen carved by a Belgian refugee in the First World War. My eye was drawn to the colourful embroidered kneelers hanging from the pews. There are over 300, made by the parishioners in the 1980s.

Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees

The yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard were planted in 1792. Legend says 99 were planted and a hundredth will never grow. I visited with a friend on a gloriously sunny October day; they’d been clipped in August and were looking magnificent. On the Sunday following the 19th of September the church holds the ‘Clypping Ceremony’ (from clyppan = to embrace) during which the clergy, choir and children walk through the churchyard and a join hands in a circle around the church. A sermon is preached from the steps near the tower and the children are given buns and coins for joining in.

Painswick Rococo Garden

Painswick Rococo Garden - photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick Rococo Garden – photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick has England’s only surviving complete rococo garden. Designed in the 1740s, it’s described as a ‘theatrical set for holding intimate garden parties, ripe for riotous pleasure and romance’. Painswick Rococo Garden. With quirky follies, a maze, woods, fruit and vegetable gardens plus a cafe and gift shop, there’s certainly a lot to see. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit this attraction,  but my friend assured me it is well-worth a visit. Next time …

Painswick Village

Painswick signpost

Painswick signpost

There are a great many fine buildings in this village, which used to be a thriving centre for the Cotswold wool industry. Bisley Street has quite a few medieval houses; their low doorways indicate the age of these buildings. The oldest building in Painswick is on New Street. Built around 1428, it used to be a post office but sadly it’s no longer in use. Grander houses can be found all around and we were tempted by attractive Cardynham House Bistro for a bite to eat. Behind the church are the Spectacle Stocks, which were last used in the 1840s.

Painswick village

Painswick village

We picked up a leaflet of walks in the area from the tiny Tourist Information Office near the church Lych Gate. The Cotswold Way runs through the village and there’s a path along Painswick Stream. Our final stop was the Victorian Town Hall where a craft fair was being held. It appeared very popular with locals and the few tourists who were pottering about. There’s plenty to see in this attractive village and we felt we’d found a very special corner of the busy Cotswolds …

Find out about Stratford-upon-Avon and William Shakespeare here.

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Guide to Painswick Cotswolds village - The Quirky Traveller