We have just spent a super-chilled seven days in Menorca and, whilst I don’t have any particular “days out” or “adventure” posts to share, I thought I’d post a few holiday snaps and write a little bit about what we got up to!
We have just spent a super-chilled seven days in Menorca and, whilst I don’t have any particular “days out” or “adventure” posts to share, I thought I’d post a few holiday snaps and write a little bit about what we got up to!
If you haven’t read it, please go back here to read the first part of our visit to the Eden Project. In part one I wrote about the rainforest biome. In part two I will be writing about the Mediterranean biome.
Entering the Mediterranean biome was certainly a different experience from the last. Light and airy it felt much more comfortable and a lot less wild. Created to emulate landscapes of the Mediterranean, South Africa, California and Western Australia and showcase the incredible plants that grow there, the Mediterranean biome is a huge and fascinating space.
Upon entering we were greeted with the strong smell of olives and wafting herbs. At the entrance is a patch where cacti and huge sprouting aloe veras grow. I adore cacti so I was particularly interested in this part of the biome.
Much like the rainforest biome, there are winding paths that reveal secrets around every single corner. The Mediterranean biome had a huge and varied array of plants and flowers that I had never seen before but were certainly very beautiful.
The carefully tended flower beds were a riot of colour, with each plant seeming to be in competition with the last. Vibrant petals, unique designs, flowers with fur and fluff and an array of South African proteas; every kind of flower you could think of, the Mediterranean biome had it all.
Also much like the Rainforest biome, the Mediterranean biome had stone stairways winding up to higher levels to explore. However this biome did not have a tree-top walk or viewing platform at the very top (which suited me just fine.)
In the vineyard was an assortment of amazing Bacchanalian sculptures and just past those was a large al fresco dining area. The food smelt absolutely delicious but we decided we would eat lunch at the pasty shop we had spotted on the way in so we gave this one a miss.
We spent perhaps an hour in the Mediterranean biome, wandering around and pointing out the incredible plants to each other. This was a little less time than we had spent in the rainforest. The area seemed to have a little less to explore but in terms of plants and flowers it was more interesting and varied.
Outside we took a walk through the gardens, soaking up the sunshine and admiring the pretty views.
We stopped for lunch at the pasty shop as I had been desperate to try my first Cornish pasty! My only complaint was that it was a 40 minute wait to be served (eek!) but nonetheless the pasty was delicious. Even the little robins and sparrows were flapping around the tables, eagerly awaiting a peck. For those who don’t fancy waiting though, there are lots of alternative options. The Eden Project has several restaurants serving good quality meals and snacks.
After our late lunch we meandered through the remainder of the gardens, stopping to take photographs of the little water features and wildflowers.
Our last port of call was the ‘The Core’ a little visitor centre of sorts with interactive displays.
Inside was a huge wall of recycled fridge freezers and a ton of alphabet letters. This kept us entertained for a good while as we’re basically just overgrown children at heart.
The Core is also home to the impressive seed sculpture by Peter Randall-Page. The seed is one of the biggest sculptures in history to be made out of a single rock. The huge granite sculpture started life as a 167-tonne boulder and took more than two years to create. I loved this sculpture because as I think I’ve said before, I really love novelty oversized things.
All in all we had a wonderful time exploring the Eden Project. I would like to go back again and explore more of the surrounding areas outside of the biomes. I also think depending on what time of year you visit the experience will be completely different so I’d be interested to go back in Autumn!
The rainforest biome is home to many exotic species of plants and covers everything from the Tropical Islands, Southeast Asia, West Africa and Tropical South America. As we walked down the damp pathways we were surprised and delighted at every corner. The Malaysian Hut with its’ vegetable plot and paddy field was particularly interesting and looked as if it had been scooped up from a real rainforest.
I was excited to get up close to the Titan Arum which is the worlds largest perennial herb. This exotic and rare plant looks incredible and when fully open, smells of rotting flesh. Fortunately it wasn’t open when we were there although that could have been quite a unique experience!
Eventually we came across the canopy walkway; a series of precarious looking rope bridges weaving high above the plants below. On one of the bridges clouds of steam curled up from below creating an interesting fog effect that everyone wanted to stop and take photographs in.
At the heart of the rainforest biome is an impressive crashing waterfall, sending spray out across the path and pooling in a little pond below. This pond contained the most enormous lily pads we had ever seen.
For those who are very brave, there is a swaying metal staircase that leads to a suspended platform right at the very top of the biome, affording impressive views of the entire rainforest. I was not so brave so I let Gareth go ahead without me, armed with my camera whilst I sat and watched a brown lizard crawl across a canopy. Looking at the photos he took I can tell the view was beautiful but it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.
One of the wonderful things (and there are many wonderful things) about The Eden Project and the rainforest biome is the sheer amount of unique and interesting things there is to see. Cacoa pods hanging from branches, bunches of green bananas growing high above, wild rubber plants and incredible pineapples springing up from the ground. The Eden Project takes the secrets and beauty of the jungle and reveals it to you bit by bit as you make your way around the 240 metre long structure.
Of the two biomes this was my favourite but honestly I enjoyed exploring both. Keep your eyes peeled for the next post in which I will be talking about the Mediterranean biome!
The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun shone hotly on the day we decided to visit Tintagel Castle. The perfect weather to be climbing a steep cliff!
So I will admit it. Although Tintagel Castle is surrounded in history and legend, I really wasn’t aware of its’ existence until Gareth decided we were going there. The main lure for me was that it’s an English Heritage site and we get in to those for free. I wasn’t expecting much.
Situated in the picturesque village of Tintagel, the iconic castle is famed for its’ links with King Arthur (Geoffrey Monmouth named it as the place King Arthur was conceived.) The ruins sit high up on a cliff overlooking the sea. There’s a small beach there too, with the famous Merlin’s cave tunnelling in to the rock face.
Gareth laughed at my need to stop for a cappuccino at a homely looking cafe. And for then clutching on to it for dear life as we descended an impossibly steep hill on the footpath to the castle. (Obviously London, he poked fun at me.)
As we rounded the corner we were greeted with the welcoming site of the sea. Shouldered by rolling hills, the path down to the sea and beach was a very pleasant walk.
As we reached the ticket office it turned out I had failed to print out the necessary coupons to gain free entry. (I didn’t know this was even a thing.) Luckily entry to the castle is very fair at just £8.50 per adult.
We decided to explore the small, stony beach first as the tide was out and that meant we would be able to venture in to Merlin’s cave.
In the cold, damp of Merlin’s cave we heard pigeons cooing overhead, obviously discomfited at our intrusion. We had fun clambering over rocks and stones to peer in to the small rock pool with a dark glossy surface.
Outside on the beach I marvelled at how blue the sea was (a million miles away from Southend!) and we ambled from rock pool to rock pool. I was so desperate to find a star fish. I’m sad to say I didn’t find one. I did however, come across lots of little fish and curious jelly-like creatures.
From the beach we began our ascent up the cliff. A winding stair case goes all the way up which makes it easy enough to get to the top. But make no mistakes, your calves will start to feel the burn once you are done with all the stairs.
At the top, the ruins of the castle are accompanied by little plaques describing what each room is. I found the ruins to be interesting but the thing that really captured my attention was the view which was nothing short of beautiful.
We sat for awhile just taking in the views (and catching our breaths.) It really was lovely to be up there in the sunshine. I can imagine that if it had been raining it would be quite a different experience.
All in all we spent 3 exciting hours exploring Tintagel Castle ruins and the beach. I am so pleased we went as it was truly stunning and unlike anything else I have experienced before. I would say this is the least child-friendly of the locations we visited due to the amount of steep hills, stairs and general climbing. (So it’s a good job we don’t have children!) Just something to bear in mind if you’re looking for a family day out.
On the day we decided to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan it was positively dreary and had been raining all morning. I hadn’t done my usual research so I wasn’t sure what to expect, I just knew that a bit of drizzle wouldn’t dampen our holiday plans.
Situated in St Austell, Cornwall, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is both historic and mysterious. Described as a ‘genuine secret garden’ because it was lost under overgrowth for decades, the Lost Gardens is set on 200 acres of woodland, ‘jungle’, fields and gardens. Admission is a very reasonable £14.50 per adult.
As soon as we entered the Gardens I started to feel quite excited. Exotic-looking trees loomed ahead and swallows darted around weaving in between the outside cafe tables, chirping noisily.
We decided to walk through the woods first. Upon entering we were greeted by a signpost that read ‘The Giant’s Woodland Adventure’ and a rather large head curiously peeking up from the ground.
The woods are a truly magical place to walk through at this time of year with the floor carpeted in brilliant bluebells. As we walked we came across the Mud Maiden, a giant sleeping sculpture. She looked so peaceful laying there on the damp, mossy earth, her hair made of daffodils and ivy hugging at her shoulders.
Eventually we came across a peculiar bee hive. Not a real, functional one but an oversized version with lots of fun facts and images of bees plastered to the walls inside. It felt as if the more we walked through the woods the more interesting and unique things we saw. It truly captured and sparked my imagination. I can’t help but think this would be the most enchanting place to visit for children.
Finally exiting the woods we were greeted with a narrow, gravelly path, flanked either side by lush green ferns, towering trees and unusual plants.
We walked down a steep hill, past a murky pond that was framed with flowers and plants. This part of the gardens is known as ‘The Jungle’.
As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t done my usual research. So I didn’t realise that the gardens had a rope bridge. Personally I’m not a fan of heights, particularly not ones of the ‘this doesn’t feel safe, my body is actually swaying’ variety. But the rope bridge, stretching across the pond, looked incredibly adventurous. Plus a tiny little child was doing it so I’d have looked pretty pathetic if I backed out. I clung on to the rope with white knuckles, managing to avoid looking down and taking small steps. I have to admit, it was actually pretty fun and made me feel like I was really in a jungle. (Apart from the bit where the man behind me over-zealously swayed the whole bridge with his clumsy steps, causing me to feel sick and the child in front to scream out… that wasn’t so fun.)
Off of the bridge and back on to solid land we began walking down hill across a wooden path way that weaved in and out between tall trees.
At the bottom of the hill we came across a curious structure called ‘The Witches Hat’. From here there were several paths we could have taken. We opted for the one that led down to the ponds and Kingfisher Walk as we had been told by employees that Kingfishers were regularly spotted there.
Peering in to one of the ponds I was delighted to see lots of tiny black tadpoles darting about. Although we sat for awhile in the bird hide we didn’t catch the glossy orange and blue feathers of a kingfisher. Just a lone robin and the calls of crows overhead.
From the ponds we walked up a treacherously steep hill (Cornwall is just basically a hill it seems) and towards the manicured gardens. The first we stopped at was the Flower Garden which, curiously enough, didn’t seem to have that many flowers in at all. Regardless it was still very picturesque and charming.
From the gardens we walked to the farm. The strange thing about The Lost Gardens of Heligan is that it almost feels as if you are cramming several days out in to one. Just as you become immersed in woodland you are in the jungle. Just as you are exploring the jungle you are in the gardens. And as soon as you’ve taken in the neat greenhouses and carefully planted trees you’re in the middle of a farm! Yes, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is a curious place and time does feel a little irrelevant there. I think that is certainly part of the fun though.
On the farm I was pleased to spot more chaffinches. I love these little birds but rarely get the chance to see them up close. In a pen outside we saw chickens and ducks scratching at the ground. In a barn we saw adorable piglets playing and chasing each other, sheep, lambs and cows.
From the farm we took a dusty path and exited in to what felt like more jungle. Beautiful pink blooms flowered on the trees and it was a real pleasure to walk among them, listening to the bird song as we went.
We came across unexpected surprises at almost every turn; little trickling water features and incredible plants and flowers like nothing we had ever seen before. This for me was pretty impressive as we have explored many gardens together.
When we finally reached the end it felt as if we had been in the gardens for an entire day. It was actually closer to three hours. I honestly could have spent more time there though, just wandering around and taking everything in. If I ever have the chance to go again I will most definitely; the Lost Gardens of Heligan was the highlight of our trip for me and the memories of it will last forever.
I have always wanted to visit Cornwall. Growing up, my mum had shared lots of fond memories of her own childhood holidays there. I wanted to see the sights for myself!
Prior to visiting Cornwall I had made a little ‘bucket list’ of things I wanted to see and do. We have just got back from a wonderful trip and so I thought I would share that list.
Please look out for more blog posts as I should be posting one each day this week. These will go in to more detail about some of the wonderful places we have visited!
Stay in a cottage
Nuthatch is a small and cosy cottage nestled at the top of a very steep hill, surrounded by dense woodland to one side and vast, open farmland to the other. At the heart of Bodmin, this cottage was the perfect location for us to ferry to-and-fro across Cornwall. Plus just look at it, it’s charming!
I loved staying in this little cottage, even if it was impossibly cold in the evenings. Inside were traditional wooden beams, a spacious bedroom, a bath tub and a small but perfectly formed kitchen/living room area. The kitchen window overlooked a field of gentle cows. We would rush to that window every time we heard the metallic calling of a pheasant, who would strut down the lane past the cottage every evening.
An English Heritage site, Tintagel castle is iconic with its’ links to King Arthur. We visited on the warmest day of our trip, the sky a brilliant blue and the sun beaming down from high up in the sky.
The site itself is absolutely stunning and exceeded all of our expectations. From the stony beach with it’s dark Merlin’s cave and rock pools filled with mysterious creatures to the castle ruins and impressive cliffs- everything was simply wonderful.
There’s lots of walking up steep hills and endless staircases though, so if you’re planning to make the trip I can’t stress that sensible footwear is key.
Visit The Eden Project
The Eden Project has long since been on my ‘To Do’ list and was one of the major reasons I wanted to go to Cornwall in the first place.
The iconic honeycomb-esque biomes are even more impressive in person than they are on TV or the internet. The vast structures loom up high and are surrounded by tall quarry walls which frame them quite picturesquely. Inside you become immersed in rainforest or mediterranean climes. My personal favourite was the rainforest with it’s curious lizards and partridges lurking in the foliage. The rainforest biome is also home to the Titan Arum which is an absolutely monstrous perennial herb with the largest collection of flowers in the world.
Visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Probably the highlight of our entire trip, the Lost Gardens of Heligan delighted, inspired and sparked my imagination to its fullest.
These historic gardens are set on 200 acres of land and are truly impressive. Personal highlights for me were the incredible giant structures and the swinging rope bridge which had me feeling like a forgotten character in an Indiana Jones film. Seriously though, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is an absolute must if you’re going anywhere near Cornwall.
Eat a Cornish pasty
Of course you can’t go to Cornwall and not sample a traditional Cornish Pasty! The first one we ate was at The Eden Project where we had to wait a (harder to digest) 40 minutes for it to be served! After that we stuck to the traditional bakeries where pasties and cakes are incredible and seem to (scarily) become a staple part of the holiday diet.
…and Cornish ice cream!
Go to the beach
I had heard good things about the beaches in Cornwall but even so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on one filled with golden sand, not a pebble in sight!
…and look in rock pools!
I’m not sure why but I have always been fascinated with rock pools and peering in them to see what strange creatures dwell there. Even now at the old age of 27 I still want to stick my nose in them and see what I can find. I definitely spent more time than is probably acceptable just walking from rock pool to rock pool. I had hoped to see a Starfish but unfortunately that was not to be. I did see a lot of other interesting things though!
Visit fishing villages
We really wanted to explore the fishing villages/villages of Cornwall and get a taste of what life is like on the coast. I think we actually did pretty well as on this trip we managed to see Port Isaac, Padstow, Fowey, Perranporth and Newquay! (Not bad for a Monday-Friday.)
Port Isaac is famously known as being the location for the TV program Doc Martin (although I didn’t personally know this when we went there.) Funnily enough when we visited they where filming a scene for this show and, as we rounded the corner Martin Clunes was just standing there which was pretty surreal. We were ushered to the side whilst filming commenced. Coincidentally Port Isaac is very picturesque.
In Padstow we ate the nicest fish and chips I have ever tasted and managed to locate a lucky pixie for my mum. In Fowey we ate hot pasties from the bakery and shopped in the independent little shops selling quirky mugs and bits and bobs.
It seems to me as if Cornwall is just one gigantic hill! Every village was treacherously steep to climb and certainly a workout for the calves.
All in all Cornwall is a beautiful part of the world and I throughly enjoyed our little holiday there. I would definitely go back!
I have never been to a country show before. I guess I’ve never really lived close enough to the countryside for it to be a thing. When we saw the Weald Dog and Country Show advertised, I wasn’t really sure what it was all about but I thought given the bank holiday weekend it might be nice to spend my Sunday doing something other than napping. (Although I did manage to find the time to do that too.)
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much was going on at Weald. As we entered I saw masses of tents, stalls, food vans and various ‘arenas’ seated out with straw bales. The atmosphere was lively, with lots of excitable dogs running around, people clutching boxes of hog roast and children with fistfuls of ice cream. I’m not usually a fan of overly busy or packed out events but Weald is a really big, open space and this country show was very well organised.
Naturally I wanted to see the cute farm animals first so we headed over to the stalls and pens that were owned by Gemma’s Farm. Honestly, it took all my willpower not to stuff my pockets full with adorable fluffy chicks. The Silkie chicks in particular really melted my heart. I’ve always wanted to own Silkies as they are such friendly balls of fluff.
We stopped to watch a training exercise hosted by Canine Security. If I wanted a dog before this show it was only compounded further by this and the sheer volume of adorable dogs all around us. I must admit, the smaller ones did look particularly kidnap-able (but don’t worry, I didn’t steal any dogs. This time.)
Sheep racing was another fun event that drew a large crowd of mostly excitable children who were used as obstacles.
I definitely had a soft spot for Bellini who was just five weeks old, rather small and an absolute cutie-pie.
The Weald Country Show had a really good mix of stalls, activities and events which made for a packed itinerary. We just drifted around however, catching shows as we passed them and sampling the freebies. It was really great to see lots of local businesses selling local produce and I was particularly pleased to see the RSPB stand recruiting members.
One stall that we found particularly interesting was the Brentwood Model Boat Association. This quirky stall was packed with realistic miniature boats that were impressively detailed. I even spotted a tiny Steve Zissou. One man was driving a model boat on the big lake and it was fascinating to watch!
We stopped for a bite to eat before watching the Motorbike Stunt Team perform in the main arena. This team consisted of a mother and son duo and although I’m not really in to the whole motorbike thing, I found myself really enjoying the show and cheering them on. This was clearly a crowd-favourite as a huge swarm of people gathered around the sidelines.
And of course, no country show would be complete without a birds of prey display. Sadly we missed the main World of Wings flying event, however I was pretty happy with just observing the birds. I was particularly fond of the Tawny Owl.
Another super-fun stall was one selling hats, gloves and accessories all made from Alpaca wool. To the side of this stall was a little pen with three alpacas inside. I have seen alpacas before but none as cute as these guys; I definitely wanted to get in the pen and give them a cuddle.
On one stall we sampled the most amazing toffee vodka and fruit liqueurs. (I’m happy to report we purchased a couple of bottles.) I was also fascinated by the stall selling Antler cut offs (and I’m kind of regretting not purchasing one now. Not that I have any use for it whatsoever.) And of course, I naturally gravitated to the stall selling bath bombs and products.
All in all we spent around three hours wandering around the stalls and watching the displays. It was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday and, as I mentioned previously, so well organised. I will definitely be looking out for more country shows to attend!
Please note, the following post has been sponsored by Essex Business School at the University of Essex. Please read through to the end to find out more about the fantastic competition they are running over on Instagram and for your chance to win £500 worth of Summer days out across Essex and London. All views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and Southend-on-Sea is my personal recommendation.
Southend-on-Sea holds many fond childhood memories for me. Long, sunshine-filled days spent on the beach, skipping stones in to the sea, burning my tongue on hot, salty chips and returning home on the train with hands sticky from candy floss and sand.
That’s why, when the Essex Business School at the University of Essex asked me to pick one of my favourite days out in Essex, I immediately thought of the seaside town.
A short drive from us, Gareth and I decided to spend an afternoon exploring Adventure Island and building some more recent memories.
Upon entering the park we were hit by the smell of smokey sausages and burgers wafting up from the food stalls, the bright lights and sounds of playful screams carrying on the wind. It rolled over me like a wave of nostalgia and I was instantly transported back to the summer I spent with a friend, gobbling up candy floss like it was going out of fashion before riding the Scorpion eight times, only stopping to empty the entire contents of my stomach, (like some terribly misguided afterthought.)
Although it pains me to admit it, I’m not quite as brave as I was was back in those days. Looking at some of the newer (admittedly slightly more impressive and scary-looking) rides I wondered how I would fare. Gareth is of a similar disposition so at the very least I felt in safe company. We decided to start things off small. And when I say small, I really do mean small; we got on the Kiddie Coaster (yes, that’s the actual name of the ride!) Sizing up the miniature roller coaster I felt pretty confident. 1. There was a queue of young children waiting to get on the ride, and if a young child isn’t scared by it, than nor am I (just who was I kidding?) 2. The ride doesn’t have any loops. Any terrifying vertical drops. No stop/start element to make you feel as if your heart is going to explode. 3. It lasts all of two minutes. Max.
It was fine, really it was. Maybe I spent the entire ride holding on to the metal bar until my knuckles were white, my stomach somersaulting as I listened to the girl sat behind me (of about four) laugh and exclaim happily as my life flashed before my eyes but… it was fine.
Anyway after that we didn’t go on any more roller coasters and the day was all the more fun for it. I was happy to discover that the Crooked House was still standing and just as crooked as ever as this was always a childhood favourite. Afterwards we stumbled in to the sunshine disorientated and slightly dizzy. I’m not sure if Gareth really got it but you can’t visit Adventure Island without paying the Crooked House a visit, it’s a must!
The Big Wheel was a gentle ride that we both greatly enjoyed, especially as it affords views across the whole park and the sea. The giant spinning turtle (Archelon) swings were another firm favourite, making us feel really rather relaxed considering we were in the middle of a theme park!
There’s an indoor element to Adventure Island that wasn’t around when I was a kid. This space has soft play and rides for younger children. I think this is a fantastic idea as when the weather turns and it’s not so warm there’s still something to keep the kids occupied. I have to admit, I’m a big fan of carousels so I definitely eyed up the shiny, galloping horses and wondered if it was socially acceptable to have a go. As the ride was aimed at children though I thought probably not!
The great thing about Adventure Island is that no matter what your age it will reduce you to the mindset of a small, excitable child. After a fun (albeit exhausting) morning of dashing between the rides we decided to head out and have some lunch on the beach. And when you’re by the seaside there really is no better option than hot chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. The lunch of a well-adjusted adult, I promise.
After lunch we decided to check out the Pier which extends an impressive 1.34 miles in to the Thames Estuary making it the world’s longest pleasure pier. Naturally we opted for the train.
I have never taken the train down the pier before so I was pleasantly surprised by the experience and how much I enjoyed it. The retro-looking carriages rattled down the tracks at a slow enough pace that we were able to really take in the views.
At the end of the pier we were happy to spot Ruddy Turnstones (which we affectionately named ‘sea-quails’ because of their resemblance to one of our button quails.) After a little research we discovered that the RSPB were protecting the Ruddy Turnstones at Southend-on-Sea so we felt quite lucky to see them!
All in all we had a wonderful time at Southend-on-Sea. There really is just so much to do and see; truly there is something for everyone!
Now you have read about one of my favourite days out in Essex, how about sharing some of yours?
Would you like to win up to £500 worth of days out across Essex and London and have a fun-filled summer packed with adventure? The Essex Business School at the University of Essex are running a competition over on Instagram to find Essex’s Best Youth Tourist Attraction. (And trust me, the prize is a good one!)
This competition celebrates the launch of the new and highly anticipated BSc Tourism Management degree in Southend-on-Sea. If you want to see the world with an international career in travel and tourism, it’s not too late to apply for October 2017 entry.
How do I enter?
If you’re aged 16-25, you have until 18 May to snap a photo of your favourite place to visit in Essex and post it on your Instagram. Make sure to name your attraction in the caption, and let our friends at the Essex Business School know why you love it so much. It could be anything; from your local park to the bowling alley. Maybe like me you love to spend a day by the sea! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #essexyouthtourism and tag @essexebs so they can see your entry.
The most photographed attraction will be crowned Essex’s Best Youth Tourist Attraction 2017, but the most creative, inspirational or fun photo will win the summer prize package. Follow @essexebs on Instagram to keep up-to-date with the competition and find out the winner!
For full terms and conditions please read here!
What’s the prize?
The winner will receive:
Pretty great huh? So if you’d like your summer sorted this year, get your camera at the ready for some Insta-worthy days out!
I just want to preface this post with an explanation; I will not be including the name of this organisation/company because although the experience wasn’t wholly negative it also wasn’t the best ever either. And I really don’t want to spread any bad vibes or tread on anyones feet – this is just my personal experience.
Anyway we booked in for this particular Birds of Prey Experience Day when we saw it advertised on Groupon at just £15 per person. Most Birds of Prey handling days are over double that in price so it seemed like a really great deal – especially for a whole two hours.
Now, myself and my partner have been to many aviaries, bird centres and bird experience days so we did hold a certain level of expectation. We have both held and flown different types of owl and hawk and have always enjoyed the experience so we were really looking forward to this one.
When we arrived we were instantly disappointed to find that there was over 30 people in our group. That’s about 20 too many if you’re wondering. We knew from the offset that with so many participants we would not be doing a whole lot of flying/handling of the birds. Another thing to note was that there was just one person on hand to show us the birds.
After a 40 minute introductory talk we were finally allowed to handle our first bird which was a brown chested barn owl. Barn owls are lovely creatures so I was quite happy to hold one again. We had to line up and take it in turns to have the bird fly to us (just once.) Unfortunately this process took a matter of minutes to experience personally and then another 30 odd as we stood waiting for everyone else to have a go.
Nevertheless the barn owl was a pleasure to hold and to fly.
After flying the barn owl we flew and held a Harris Hawk. I have handled these before on a couple of occasions so again, this was nothing new to me but Harris Hawks are very lively birds and I enjoyed holding this one. Actually, as the hawk was much perkier this process took much less time than the previous and we probably each held the hawk for mere seconds before it was taken from us and instructed to fly to the next person.
And in terms of flying/handling the birds that was it. I’m not going to lie; I was very surprised and quite disappointed that in two hours we were only able to hold two birds – eek! But as I mentioned earlier, the problem was that the event was oversold and there really was just too many people!
Next we were treated to some talks on different birds and shown a very beautiful Goshawk and Crowned Eagle. The remainder of the time was spent showing us these birds and educating us on how they are reared/handled and their numbers in the wild.
The talks were very in-depth and informative and it was nice to see these wonderful birds up close. If I have one criticism though it’s that there was more talking involved than actual experience.
All in all we had an enjoyable time holding, flying and getting up close and personal with the birds. However, I really don’t think I’d do this particular experience again as there are so many others out there that are much more hands on and personal. If you’re thinking of going on one of these experience days I recommend doing thorough research before booking anything!
Firstly I just want to apologise for the weird publishing schedule lately; I have been incredibly busy and not putting out posts as frequently as I would like. Whilst there may be a few kinks for me to iron out, I’m going to endeavour to publish more content next month. That out of the way…
I am a big fan of impromptu trips and exploring places I haven’t seen before so, when we found ourselves at Calke Abbey on a sunshine-filled Wednesday morning I was very happy. Calke Abbey stands on the site of a medieval religious house and is a Grade I listed property that sits just outside Ashby-de-la-Zouch (AKA the home of Adrian Mole and KP.) The Baroque Mansion was passed in to the hands of the National Trust in 1985 and is affectionately described as ‘The Un-stately Home and Country Estate’.
As we were on a flying visit to Gareth’s hometown to partake in some early birthday celebrations with family members, we had the pleasure of visiting Calke Abbey with his parents which was lovely.
We started out with a walk through the grounds and up a winding hill to a wooded area, past an enclosure filled with beautiful fallow deer. As we walked we noticed fun sculptures of insects and animals which we guessed were part of a trail.
Gareth’s dad had mentioned that around this time of year the woods were filled with bluebells and, as I have always wanted to see the bluebells in Spring I was keen to take some photographs. We were in luck as the further in to the woods we walked the more we saw, the ground littered with a sea of flowers gently bobbing in the breeze.
There are lots of different walks that you can take around Calke Abbey, and the one we took looped around in a circle that brought us up a hill then back down and around to the front of the mansion. I imagine I added quite a bit of extra time to that walk, stopping every so often to take photographs! Naturally I was particularly drawn to a tree filled with bird feeders and chirping. I was excited to spot a pair of chaffinches among lots of other garden favourites such as the little coal tit I managed to snap a photo of.
After our walk we headed to the mansion. Entrance to Calke Abbey is £13.50 per adult. I think this is really reasonable and I would be more than happy to pay that for the whole experience, although on this occasion Gareth’s parents very kindly treated us to the day out.
I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect from Calke Abbey; I certainly didn’t expect it to be as intriguing as it was.
Inside Calke Abbey we were immediately greeted with the site of dusty glass cabinets filled with curious taxidermy; stuffed otters with fish clamped permanently in their jaws, birds captured in mid-flight and impressive stag heads mounted to the walls. The first room was impossibly full with a wooden table at the centre set with tea things and a faux cake, a grey coat casually slung over the back of one chair. Something about this set-up left me feeling as if the room had only recently been left, as if the occupant would appear at any moment and resume tea. This left me deeply reminiscent of Dennis Sever’s house which is designed to leave you feeling as if you have stumbled upon one families abrupt exit from the property.
On the first floor of the property the rooms are dark, lit only by lamps and flickering candles (fake of course.) There is a strange mix of opulence, disrepair and clutter. Each room seemed to be in competition with the last in terms of what it could contain. Threadbare armchairs and elaborate paintings in ornate frames sat side by side; it really was quite unique to see.
In one room the contents of drawers from the Breakfast Room were laid out and displayed on tables. As we poured over carefully preserved insects, shells and other curios I couldn’t help but wonder about the family that had lived there and collected all this stuff with such earnest. I think that this was one of the rare occasions where a walking tour of the building would have actually been not only useful but extremely interesting.
One thing that became obvious with each room was the inhabitants love of taxidermy. I honestly think there were enough stuffed birds and animals on display to rival that of the Natural History Museum. I particularly enjoyed perusing the cabinet of pheasants, even if the colour had somewhat been bleached from their initially vibrant feathers.
I particularly enjoyed a room that resembled a tea parlour. (But really, I have no idea what the rooms purpose was.) With lots of little round tables and chintzy chairs, this dark room felt cosy yet strangely claustrophobic. I’m not sure if all the stuff was placed for us to view or if it was very much a part of the Harpur’s everyday life. The latter would not surprise me if it were the case; the sheer volume of possessions in the house would inevitably lead to clutter on every surface.
The library was another room of interest. With shelves lined with impressive leather bound books, we were reliably informed that unlike most estates, the books were all completely readable and not fake. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Ostrich egg which was given as a 21st birthday present.
Unlike the lower floor, the upper floors were in state of disrepair with peeling paint walls and original wallpaper that had somewhat succumbed to the damp. One ceiling looked particularly precarious with a great big crack through the plaster. We were informed this was being held up and suspended from above. Some rooms seemed to be mostly for storage, with old rocking horses, dolls houses and small nursery chairs stashed away to gather dust, unloved but intriguing all the same.
We walked a loop of the house and ended back down on the ground floor and by a cold stone passage that led to the kitchen. This was a large, open room; still cluttered but this time with useful kitchenalia.
In the kitchen I came across a little door that led to another side room. This room really made me think of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and for me, was quite reminiscent of ‘The Room’. This is my favourite photograph from the day, it feels really characterful to me.
We ended our tour with a walk through a cold, bricked tunnel and brew house, lit by an eery orange glow. As someone who enjoys exploring tunnels, caves and dark spaces I found this really interesting.
Finally we stopped for tea and the most delicious scones I have ever tasted, complete with thick cream and sweet jam.
All in all Calke Abbey is a wonderful day out. Not restored but instead preserved, it is like stepping in to a time capsule and is deeply interesting. With its’ collection of strange and unique objects, I feel that Calke Abbey is the type of place you could visit time and again only to spot something different on each occasion. I really hope that I will have another opportunity to pay it another visit as this has been one of my favourite days out of 2017 so far.
I have always thought that it is difficult to take photographs of beautiful things; what you can capture with the camera lens is invariably different to what you can see with your own two eyes. I actually find it a lot easier to take ordinary or even ugly things and snap them in a flattering light. Anyway, I knew this would be the case when we visited Hever Castle because quite frankly the place is amazing.
Childhood home to Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle is situated in Hever, Kent and stands proudly on 125 acres of grounds and award-winning gardens. It was actually the latter that attracted us to Hever Castle in the first place as we both love to walk through manicured gardens and I adore looking at flowers. On Sunday the sun was shining and it was incredibly warm for so early in April; it was the perfect day to pay a visit.
Entrance in to the grounds and castle is quite steep at £16.90 per adult but let me be upfront about it; it’s so worth it.
Entering the grounds I was immediately enamoured with the gardens. Even so early in to Spring such a lot of work had gone in to them. Tulips bobbed in the breeze, roses were blooming and the air was thick with the scent of lavender. Upon entering we walked through the walled gardens which were immaculately kept and very impressive.
We walked through these gardens for a little while, taking in the surroundings and marvelling at just how nice everything was (me desperate to capture a shot of a bee.) On our walk we discovered that there archery lessons going on in one of the fields. There is a small fee for those who want to take part but you choose how many arrows you want to pay for and it’s very reasonably priced. Naturally Gareth wanted to have a go at this despite my protests about my lack of hand/eye coordination. In the end I relented and it was a lot of fun (even if I was utterly hopeless.) One of the great things about Hever Castle is that there is a lot to do with mazes, archery, craft activities and more to keep you occupied for the whole day; it’s a true family day out.
Afterwards we stopped for lunch at the one of the restaurants. I believe there are three of these, each serving delicious food from stone baked pizzas to handmade sausage rolls, sandwiches and cold lemonade. We ate on the grass in the sunshine.
Later we explored the water maze which was a really fun little attraction that seemed to amuse all the children; Gareth and myself included. We were definitely giggling as we tried to avoid the spouts of water that jetted up randomly as we navigated our way to the centre and safety. I’m proud to report that we remained completely dry.
Finally we stopped for ice creams (our first of the year; mine wild strawberry and cream his chocolate) before heading inside the castle. At first we were not sure if we should skip it, having spent a long afternoon walking through the gardens. Eventually we decided to venture inside as we had paid for it and didn’t want to miss it if it was particularly stunning.
The castle has a rich history spanning over 700 years so it is definitely not one to miss. Inside the castle walls are beautifully decorated bedrooms, elegant libraries and dining rooms. There is definitely a feeling of opulence about the place but that aside it’s just really interesting to imagine Anne Boleyn growing up in a space like that (and then imagining yourself growing up in a space like that.)
Overall we had a fantastic day at Hever Castle and I can’t recommend it enough. From the vibrant flowers bordering the gardens to the magnificent castle and all the interesting activities to immerse yourself in; there truly is something to please and delight everyone. I can’t wait to pay another visit to this wonderful place.
Weald is one of my favourite country parks and for good reason; whether you’re walking in Autumn, Winter, Spring or Summer it’s really beautiful and there’s plenty to see.
On Sunday I found myself home alone and without any plans. I hadn’t visited Weald this year and with the sun shining down I decided it would be a good time to take a walk.
If you have read my Spring Appreciation Post you’ll know that this season is one of my favourites. I just love all the flora and fauna that’s around this time of year. I knew that Weald would be just lovely.
With the sun warming my skin I walked down towards the deer enclosure and the vast lake at the bottom of the hill. I always like to visit the deer when at Weald as they are such sweet little creatures. You can actually buy food to feed them with at the cafe. Lots of families had spent the morning feeding the deer though, so instead of desperately seeking out the pellets in visitors hands, the deer basked in the warmth- clearly overfed! (So I didn’t bother to buy any deer food on this particular trip.)
After spending some time watching the deer and the ducks I decided to head back up the hill to the little cafe and get myself something to eat. The cafe sells lots of goodies; soft plush animals, books and pin badges. I purchased a cup of sweet tea and a generously sized scone with butter and jam. I took my food outside and ate at one of the benches as the weather was so pleasant.
Weald is composed of many rolling hills and hollows, meadows and woodland. After eating and still clutching my cup of tea, I trundled up another hill and some concrete steps to reach a wooded area where the floor was littered with buttery yellow daffodils and soft green moss.
Weald was very busy with families playing football, flying kites and picnicking. Laughter and children’s excited squeals were carried on the gentle breeze and I could feel my mood lighten as I took in the scenes unfolding around me. Blossoms had started to bloom and Weald was a riot of colour once again.
As I mentioned earlier, there is plenty to see at Weald; all that’s required is a keen eye. I spotted lots of different types of fungi, flowers and plants. As I stooped to snap a cluster of mushrooms a young child approached me and asked me what I was taking a picture of. As I pointed out the mushrooms the child exclaimed in delight “I’ve never seen mushrooms outside before!” His mother helpfully reminded him that they weren’t edible (thank God for responsible adults.)
I walked for around two hours, taking time to sit and soak in my surroundings every now and then. I left Weald feeling much happier and positive. More Spring walks are definitely in the pipeline and I can’t wait to get my picnic basket out again!
We are all guilty of it to some extent; curating our own lives and serving up only the very best bits to our friends and family. I guess it makes sense; who really wants to open up Instagram and browse hundreds of pictures of the daily commute, that shameful microwaveable meal you bought last Monday when you were too bloody tired to cook something wholesome or that crying in the shower selfie.
Sunlight filters through lush green leaves and the sky is a brilliant blue, dappled with soft, lazy clouds. The scent of lavender hangs on the crisp air and birds can be heard singing and chirping from high above. Everywhere you look there is life and colour; Spring heralds a new season and new beginnings.
There’s something about the seasons Autumn and Spring that speaks deeply to my soul. One brings death, the other brings birth; both bring a spectacular change in the flora and fauna around us. Both dazzle me with their beauty.
And there’s something about Spring that always makes me feel like I have a fresh start. A fresh chance to take adventures, appreciate natural beauty and find inner peace. March through to July are happy, calm months for me. I enjoy sitting outside in the comfortable climate and soaking up my surroundings. Walks in the countryside are particularly pleasing; I still feel a thrill every time I see a white cotton tail darting out of sight or spot some delicate crocuses pushing through the soil to soak up the sun.
The moment I spot daffodils I feel that Spring is on its way in. The buttery yellow flowers are symbolic of the changing of seasons to me, and I love how cheerful and bright they make everything seem. I love the flowers that begin to bloom as it gets warmer, and the heavily scented blossoms that hang from the trees. I love to watch the butterflies finally emerge with their powdery wings, and the bees buzzing between the flower beds and borders of a beautifully manicured garden. Most of all I love to watch the birds collect twigs and straw to make their nests, raise their young and start to fill the mornings with their beautiful song.
Spring feels like a gasp of fresh air after the dark nights, stark trees and bitter chill of Winter. It is a beautiful season and it is almost upon us. Can we all just take a moment to appreciate how wonderful that is?
The ground was thick with frost this morning, but with the brilliant sunshine beaming down and chasing away the cold it was a lovely time to take a walk. We decided to visit Langdon Nature Reserve as we have driven past it a few times but have never stopped to take a proper look, plus it is only a short 15 minute drive from our house which makes it ideal.
The Essex Wildlife Trust reserve is set on 461 acres of woodland, meadows and former plot land gardens and at the very heart sits a huge, glassy lake, filled with ducks and water fowl.
A shop and cafe are nestled in the parking lot. We did not stop to eat here but we did take a quick peek and it looked very cosy, serving cakes, sandwiches and crisps as well as the all essential garden bird feeders and fat balls.
Next to the cafe/shop was a small manicured garden with benches and lots of bird feeders. We spotted plenty of plump, well fed robins as well as blue tits, great tits, sparrows and dunnocks. Areas with bird feeders are always my favourite so we spent a lot of time here, lurking around and listening to the birds.
Walking through the reserve we spotted lots of different species of birds – some we couldn’t identify, as well as a little mouse/water vole (I couldn’t get close enough to check!) The area was abundant with wildlife with the lake being a real hub for water fowl. The lake had actually frozen over from the cold and the ducks looked quite happy to skid and flap across the ice.
The park also has a wonderful Peter Rabbit trail to keep younger minds occupied and happy. As someone who read and adored Peter Rabbit and friends as a child, I myself really enjoyed wandering around and spotting the beautiful wooden sculptures. Mrs Tiggy Winkle was always my favourite so I was delighted to find her!
All in all we spent an hour at Langdon Nature Reserve and really enjoyed it. The mix of open fields / woodlands and water worked really well making it a good all round country park to walk in with something interesting to spot around every corner. In the summer time there is fruit picking in the orchard with apples, pears, cherries and more – so I will definitely be heading back then to pick some fruit!