Category: Adventure

Visiting Woburn Safari Park

Saturday is usually the day that Gareth and I try to have a day out and do something a bit different. This weekend he decided we would go to Woburn safari park. I had heard a lot of good things about it so was pretty excited. It’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed – and the day was full of unexpected discoveries!

When you drive through to the park you are greeted by wandering deer and goat. You can either walk through or drive through. We decided to drive through first and then do the walking bit so we could go at a more leisurely pace and see everything.

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As we drove through the park we came across a wide range of fascinating animals. A lot of my photos were taken through the car window so are not perfect and I didn’t manage to snap everything we saw. To give you an idea of what kind of animals reside in this area, we saw bears, tigers, lions, monkeys, giraffes, elephants etc all divided up in to different sections. This was super fun but watch out for hoggers- people who stay in the same spot watching the animals for too long and blocking the road!

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My personal favourite was the lion enclosure. Such beautiful animals. The lions seemed to be everyones favourite so there was a bit of queuing – it was worth it though.

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We also enjoyed driving through the monkey enclosure and spotting the tiny babies- one even sat on our car bonnet which was a pretty fun experience!

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Having a groom on our car

In the monkey enclosure I spotted a black squirrel. I have never seen one of these before and I didn’t even know they existed – my first surprise of the day!

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It probably took us about 40 minutes to drive around and see the animals. It could easily take you less or longer depending on the kind of people that turn up on the day!

Once we felt satisfied we’d seen everything we decided to walk around. Upon entering we were greeted by a lake with swan boats.

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And we discovered some fairy mushrooms! I think these are Fly Algaric but I could be wrong. Either way I was really, really excited to see these as I have never seen them in real life before.

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The area for walking around at Woburn isn’t that large so you probably won’t need a map to get around it all. It is divided up in to different sections though so if there’s something you especially want to see it could be helpful to get one.

The first area we came across was Desert Springs. This was a series of wooden walkways through meercats (a crowd pleaser) mongoose (my personal favourite) and porcupines.

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From there we walked to the Lorikeet walk through. This was an enclosed area with a small pool, bridge, bird feeders and, you guessed it, a lot of lorikeets. You can buy nectar to feed the birds. This costs 70p and is a 70p well spent as it’s so very fun to have them land on you! One landed on my shoulder and proceeded to screech in my ear, evidently not interested in the nectar at all! As Gareth and I are bird people, we really enjoyed this one.

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After this we stopped for lunch in the main canteen area. I wasn’t expecting much to be honest, not after the poor fare we found at London Zoo! However we were both pleasantly surprised at what was on offer and how nice it was! Whilst there wasn’t much in the way of cold food (just a few sandwiches and packets of crisps) the hot food counter had a lot of delicious options on offer. Gareth got a steak and ale pie, chips and gravy whilst I got Cumberland sausage swirls, chips and mushy peas – everything tasted amazing! Although it wasn’t cheap. If you’re bringing a family and don’t want to overspend it might be best to pack something yourself.

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After lunch we stopped by the elephant meadow. There is a gallery of seats on which you can sit and just watch the elephants do their thing

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After that we visited an Australian walkthrough with lots of wallabies and rheas. This was quite a wooded area and it was fun to walk through and get just that little bit closer to the animals.

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Next to this walk through was another filled with tall trees and tiny squirrel monkeys. These were so adorable! We caught them at feeding time when there was much frenzy on the ground and the keeper gave a little talk about them. I loved the little babies clinging to mums back – how cute!

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From here we visited the family of otters. I just love their little faces and cheeky manners. These were also being fed so we were able to get a good view of them.

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There are quite a few walk-through experiences and chances to get close to the animals in Woburn safari. I think this is one aspect I enjoyed most and found quite different from other zoos I have visited. Towards the end of our day we walked through another monkey enclosure across wooden pathways- this one with various types of lemur.  And lastly a meadow filled with chickens and goats who you could stroke if you chose to (we did!)

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All in all we spent about four or five hours at Woburn – this is a lot longer than we usually spend at zoos or attractions. There was a lot to see although it wasn’t spread out over a leg-achingly long distance- it was all quite together and easily manageable to get through.

My favourite part of the day was seeing the Lorikeets and feeding them nectar. Gareth’s was seeing the lions. There is something for everyone here I think so I would definitely recommend it!

Last but not least, I’ll be making some changes to my blog shortly – so please look out for those!

 

 

 

Picking Pumpkins at Foxes Farm

Ever since we spotted the sign at the side of a dirty road some weeks ago and discovered pumpkin patches exist in Essex, we were determined to go.

For some reason fate intervened week after week and for one reason or another, to my extreme dismay, we were unable to make the short trip. However, the sun shone this morning and nothing was stopping us so we finally drove down to Foxes Farm Produce, Basildon and the wonderfully exciting Pumpkin Patch.

We arrived at around 11 o’clock and the carpark was already full with families heaving giant pumpkins in to boots of cars and excited children clad in wellies. Shrieks of laughter hung on the air as families raced ahead with wheelbarrows to find the best pumpkins.

Entry to Foxes Farm Pumpkin Patch is free – you just pay for the pumpkins you take home- and you can take as many as your arms will allow.

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Upon entering the Pumpkin Patch we were greeted with stacked hay bales – which the children clumsily clambered on, and wooden containers holding hundreds of pumpkins in all shapes, sizes and shades. There was also a stall set up serving hot food and drinks. We gave this a miss as we’d already eaten.

Further on was a sprawling field absolutely heaving with pumpkins. These had all been pre-picked for ease of collection (and health and safety) and some sat precariously in huge piles. I was surprised to find white pumpkins (or corpse pumpkins as I called them) as I hadn’t seen these before and didn’t know pumpkins came in different colours! That seems funny to think of now but at the time I hadn’t considered the possibility.

There was also a field with corn in although we didn’t really explore this- we were much too excited racing around the field, finding the best pumpkins (the best pumpkin has a nice twisty stalk) and getting caught up in the excitement around us.

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The corpse pumpkins

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The atmosphere was fantastic. Lots of families, children and couples having fun selecting pumpkins and laughing with delight. If you have children, the Pumpkin Patch is an absolute must.  We easily spent around an hour there just looking around. We wanted to get one of everything we could find so in the end selected a munchkin pumpkin, a regular pumpkin, a corpse pumpkin, a small white pumpkin that looked like a garlic bulb, and a rounded red one that looks just like a giant onion! We also picked up a pumpkin for Gareth’s nephew and a tiny one for his baby niece! In total we spent £14 pound which was a complete bargain for the whole experience.

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Omelette models our haul of pumpkins

 

 

An Autumn Walk (photographs)

You may have read my Autumn bucket list a couple of posts back. If so you’ll know that one of my entries was to take plenty of walks in the countryside, collect conkers and soak up the lovely atmosphere.

On this particular walk I collected up plenty of shiny conkers and met some beautiful deer. I hope you enjoy the photos and they get you in that Autumn mood!

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A Trip to RHS Garden Wisley

A few weekends ago we decided to make the 50 minute drive to RHS Garden Wisley. You may have read about our trip to RHS Hyde Hall recently (if not you can read about it here!) We were so impressed and had such a nice time that we thought we’d visit some more of the RHS gardens.

Entry to RHS Garden Wisley costs £11.70 per adult IF you buy in advance online. (We didn’t do this but I recommend it.)

Upon entering the gardens I was immediately very impressed with them. There’s some beautiful landscaping and the gardens are larger than those at Hyde Hall with separate areas for different shrubs/heather etc.

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My favourite part of the gardens were at the start. The gardens rise up in tiers with concrete steps leading up a hill to further levels and rock gardens. Amongst the rock gardens are some very pretty streams/ponds and waterfalls. At the top you get a magnificent view of the whole park including the greenhouse.

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One thing we really liked about the gardens were the variety of plants including all the pretty wildflowers which added splashes of colour to every walkway and path.

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RHS Wisley has a greenhouse (which I can liken to that of Kew Gardens.) Inside is an assortment of trees, ferns, cacti and succulents and a big waterfall at the heart. This area is set out very well enabling you to get around efficiently and see everything you’d want to.

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There are several lakes and ponds winding through Wisley and the added water features provide plenty of space for ducks and various water fowl.

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One area we found ourselves particularly attracted to was the heather garden which had a beautiful aroma and plenty of colour. At the end of these gardens is a wonderful bird lookout from which we spotted goldfinch. We didn’t get much time to spend in the hide so I’d like to go back again with my camera and see what I can snap!

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Both of us absolutely loved RHS Wisley and can’t recommend it enough. It’s a large garden but two hours should be sufficient enough to see the majority of it making it a great day out for families with younger children. It’s particularly interesting to those with a passion for ornithology or those who enjoy getting back to nature and spending time somewhere particularly beautiful.

Bedfords Country Park

I’ve been having a rough time of it lately and I’m pretty scared about the week ahead. With all this noise going on in my head I thought it would be nice to go for a long walk and get back to nature. We decided to try a new to us country park and picked Bedfords Park which is a 15 minute car ride away in Havering. I was not disappointed. The park was abundant with wildlife with captive red deer, lots of birds, bees, butterflies and wildflower meadows. If you find yourself with some free time and the need to walk like I did, I can’t recommend it enough. I managed to snap a few photographs of my favourite wildlife moments – I hope you enjoy.

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This is guys – acorns on the trees mean it’s practically Autumn!

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Where’s your favourite spot to walk when you need to think? Let me know in the comments below.

 

A visit to RHS Garden Hyde Hall

Today we woke up and decided upon adventure. Our last few weekends have been lovely but incredibly lazy and we thought it time we got out exploring again. Luckily for me the weather was somewhat overcast (perfect for healing tattooed arms) yet warm with a cool breeze. After some researching we settled on RHS Garden Hyde Hall because it’s a 20 minute drive from us, a relatively cheap day out and because we’d almost visited before – before turning away at the last moment.

I have to say, I may have just found my new favourite place in Essex! I am so glad we paid a visit.

Upon arrival the staff were very helpful, explaining to us where everything was and highlights of the park. We were handed a map and headed off in search of flowers! The garden itself is not huge although it is a good size with plenty to see and explore. If you’re going to pay a visit an ideal amount of time to allocate to your trip would be about 3-4 hours. You can easily explore the gardens in around 2 hours but if you want to take your time (and lots of photos) it’s best to allow for a little more than that.

The gardens are divided up in to sections, with a large pond and converted barn at the very heart. The converted barn cafe is a gorgeous building strung with fairy lights and serving fresh handmade cakes, sandwiches, soups and more. I tried the Victoria sponge with a cup of tea whilst Gareth went for chocolate – we were both surprised and delighted with our choices – if you’re paying a visit to RHS gardens I can’t recommend the cake enough!

The gardens are full to the brim with beautiful flowers, sprawling herbaceous borders, shrubs and fragrant pines.  Alongside all this natural beauty you will find a plethora of birds including goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, sparrows, pigeons, song thrushes and many many more. I happily snapped away at as many birds as I could – feeling particularly excited at spotting some goldfinches.

We spent a good few hours in the gardens just marvelling at how beautiful everything was. Both myself and my lovely boyfriend were very impressed and will be visiting again. I took far too many photos to edit, but here’s a snapshot of our day.

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Mama duck and her ducklings. Aren’t they sweet?

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A beautiful song thrush taking a load off on a bench.

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The stunning goldfinch is my favourite bird – so we were happy to spot lots of them!

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Are these giant leaves or do I have a tiny boyfriend? You decide!

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Another beautiful song thrush

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Juvenile

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We found a fried egg!

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A bumble bee rearranges his pollen.

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Gareth caught this little sparrow in flight

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The beautiful converted barn

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An unusual spot for England!

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Blackbird pecks eagerly among the shrubs

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This song thrush was in the process of smashing a poor snail against a rock!

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Thanks for reading!

Beautiful Paris; The Catacombs & Notre Dame (unedited photos)

In March my feet started to itch and I decided I wanted to visit Paris. I had been only the year previous in February but it’s such a lovely city that I wanted to visit again and this time, with my lovely boyfriend in tow. So I booked us an impromptu and very last minute trip and off we went! For three nights and four days we spent our time wandering around the beautiful city and soaking up the familiar yet exhilarating sights. I toiled with the idea of blogging about our adventures for some time yet life got in the way and two months rolled around without me doing a single thing with the amazing photos I took. So here it is now – a little late. Just some unedited photos of our trip and some brief descriptions of famous landmarks!

The Catacombs of Paris

Picture the scene; it’s dark, the air is thick with the smell of damp and the cold stone floors are slick with water that drips methodically from the jagged rock ceiling. You’re in a dark, twisting tunnel with loose, gritty floor. You find yourself there after descending an impossibly curved staircase that seems to spiral down in to the very centre of the earth. You know that at any corner you could be faced with the grostequely fascinating – hundreds of skulls and ribcages and thighbones – arranged intricately to form columns and designs. Sounds like a scene straight from an Indiana Jones movie doesn’t it? And that’s because visiting the catacombs of Paris is the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’ve stepped straight in to a lost world. I have visited the catacombs before and I will visit again. It is unlike anything else you will experience. Whilst I don’t know the exact history of these winding caves I can tell you it is beyond fascinating. The tunnels wind on for what feels like a lifetime – all the while as you ramble through them you have that prickle of dread and anticipation – because seeing human skulls laid out like they are is a really crazy experience that will stay with you. I found myself thinking about who the remains belonged to, what they would have looked like, how they got there etc. This is definitely one for the adventure seekers at heart.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame is impossibly beautiful. It rises up magnificently to the sky and, it stands alone which seems to make it all the more impressive. Architecturally it is stunning – with carved columns and huge stained glass windows. I feel like I throw the word ‘beautiful’ around a lot when I’m describing the sites in Paris but this is just…wow. Breathtaking. Again, I have visited Notre Dame before and I will again. It is without any doubt my favourite thing in the entire city topping even the Catacombs. The ceilings rise up and away and even though Notre Dame is permanently crammed full of tourists it feels very spacious. The stained glass windows are a real treat for the eyes – with the sun filtering through beautiful shades of gold, red and blues they look like jewels. I don’t have the words to do this place justice so you’ll have to go by the unedited photos and take a look for yourself.

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Thanks for reading – there’s more to follow soon!

 

RSPB Rainham Marshes – a few shots

On Sunday we were blessed with lovely sunny weather so we decided to make the most of our RSPB memberships and head over to Rainham Marshes reserve. The marshes were absolutely fantastic and whilst I didn’t get the shots I wanted, I did get to see a lot of wildlife and my most favourite- goldfinches! For anyone wanting to visit Rainham Marshes for the purpose of bird-watching I cannot recommend it enough. It is a lovely area also so if you’re not interested in the birds you’d still get a lot of enjoyment out of the walk. When I return I will make sure to take photos of everything and review it properly but for now here are some quick shots of the kind of wildlife you can expect to find there!

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A lone goldfinch

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A dunnock feeding on the ground
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A great tit feeds whilst a blue tit looks on

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A lovely greenfinch with his grey cheeks
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Greenfinch, goldfinch and a sparrow

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A trip to Kew Gardens

I have wanted to visit Kew Gardens for a good few years now but have always put it off for some reason or the other. However, my current job permits me free entry and the weekend before last (with the sunny weather) was the perfect opportunity to finally make that trip. It’s taken me a little while to get around to blogging about it, mostly because of how many pictures I took (and therefore had to edit- lazy, sorry!)

We drove down to Kew Gardens in the car – there isn’t really a specific car park or parking – you can park along outside the walls of the garden. Not ideal and we have read this gets busy very quickly. Luckily we arrived early, around ten and we managed to park okay- so if you’re planning on driving to Kew Gardens I’d recommend getting there nice and early!

When we arrived it was lovely and sunny and the air was unexpectedly warm for  late March. Both my partner and I were able to enter for free which was a lovely perk. Upon entering these vast gardens we were met with an appealing sight for the eyes, a beautiful lake and carefully arranged beds of flowers.

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By the lake there was a big glass structure- a tropical house filled with exotic palms and greenery. Inside was really hot and steamy, with water dripping from plant tendrils and thick air fogging up my camera lens. Because of this all of my pictures are a little foggy! I think it illustrates perfectly what it was like to be inside though.

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Rambling through the greenhouse it felt like we were exploring some exotic forest. Among all the lush green foliage was an array of unusual plants and seed pods which were all very interesting to observe.

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From here we walked past the lake and through to another large glass building – the structure much like a greenhouse. This was divided up in to sections, such as ‘desert’. We wandered through cacti patches (my favourites) and beautiful lush ferns. At the centre of the greenhouse was a large pond filled with darting fish and lillie pads.

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Love a cactus!

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After our stroll through the green house we were decidedly hungry and set out in search of a cafe. Walking through Kew Gardens you get to see some really beautiful scenery – tall trees and carpets of flowers.

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At the cafe (which I believe is reasonably priced) we stopped for lunch. This was a fantastic cafe with a great selection of hot food as well as freshly prepared cakes, packed lunches and more. Gareth had sausage and chips whilst I had the child’s packed lunch! Don’t be fooled though, the packed lunch was filled with delicious goodies and I was quite full after eating it!

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After lunch we strolled through the gardens with no real plan set in mind – just soaking up the sunshine and our beautiful surroundings. We were fortunate enough to spot a beautiful woodpecker.

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And a magpie too!

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Eventually we came to a bamboo garden. This, as you can imagine – was filled with bamboo – The Minka House – which is a traditional Japanese farmhouse – also stands here.

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Nothing to see here
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Stopping on the bench to rest our aching legs.

From here we crossed the river. Looking at our map we decided to head towards the treetop walk where we would get a lovely view of the entire gardens.

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As you can see, the tree top walk (pictured above) is pretty high up. Once at the top I was a lot less interested in the view than I had anticipated and concerned myself more with keeping my balance! I never really thought I had a problem with heights, but the metal flooring is pretty rickety (albeit very safe and secure I’m sure) I wussed out! And whilst I did make it the whole way round I certainly wasn’t snapping any pictures OR letting go of the railing!

Back on solid ground we rested a little before heading to yet another green house. There are many of these dotted about, but the largest one of all was closed during our visit. The main attraction of this green house was the big pond in the centre, and the lillie pads and flowers that grew there.

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Back outside again I snapped every flower I could possibly find as we walked. There were a great many trees laden with blossom which was beautiful to see swaying in the breeze. Flower beds were all neatly manicured and the colours were very pretty and spring appropriate.

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The last port of call for us was the rock garden. Upon entering this part of Kew Gardens we were greeted by a brilliant blue peacock sunning itself on a rock! Being a bird person, this was particularly exciting for me to see.

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The rock garden was filled with lovely plants, flowers and shrubs as well as tumbling water features. Towards the end of the garden a small green house sits. Inside are beautiful plants – some potted, some growing in the earth.

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After this we decided to call it a day as we were both really tired from all the walking we had done! I had a wonderful time at Kew Gardens and can’t recommend it enough. We didn’t even get around half of the gardens so we’ll definitely be back to see the rest of it when the weather is warmer and the flowers are fully in bloom. Spring at Kew is beautiful however so I definitely think it’s worth a visit this time of year. If you’re planning a visit make sure you set aside a whole day to explore – the Gardens are really large and there’s a lot to see!

 

 

 

A trip to Tropical Wings

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a proper day out. When we were living in London we spent almost every weekend ferrying ourselves in to Essex and beyond for big adventures but since moving to Brentwood we have been enjoying a slower pace of life and the ample countryside around us. Yesterday however we had the itch to explore and because I have wanted to visit Tropical Wings for awhile we decided it would be a good destination.

Tropical Wings is a small zoo with a family focus and it is located in South Woodham Ferrers. It’s very reasonably priced costing £10.95 per adult and £8.95 for kids. Of course, we unlike most at the zoo, did not (and do not) have kids…but I just really like wildlife and getting the opportunity to use my camera! So don’t be put off of going if you don’t have children.

The zoo itself is quite small but it’s a good size. You can get around all of it (at a moderate pace) in around an hour to two hours (we were there for the latter) and there’s a lot of really interesting animals there. If you want to see the bigger animals such as lions, zebra and hippos this probably is not the zoo for you. However it did have a plethora of interesting creatures including wallabies, Capybara, birds of prey, otters etc as well as farmyard animals and the more traditional ‘pet’ animals such as rabbits, guineapigs and chickens. The animals are really well kept too with ‘natural’ enclosures and plenty of space which was nice to see. The grounds are well maintained, everything is clean and it’s a really great place to visit. With some of the smaller zoos the upkeep isn’t always great, but Tropical Wings was really nice.

We started out in the butterfly house. In there it was very warm and there were hundreds of gorgeous butterflies floating around and landing on unsuspecting visitors! This was a highlight of Tropical Wings for me. We even spotted some quail (and as you may know, I love quail!) and some exotic birds which I couldn’t identify. I love having the aspect of walking around with animals and insects flying about doing their thing. Although some of the parents in there were rude and it made me cringe when one man in particular pushed a buggy out through the doors releasing at least two beautiful blue butterflies in to the cold. I hope those were put back in – and I’m sure they were, it just annoyed me a little to see someone be so inconsiderate!

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An exotic bird in the butterfly house

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From here we moved on to the birds of the world section. Naturally this was always going to be my favourite, but when I saw there were zebra finches I was even more excited! I know what you’re thinking. I have a whole charm of the creatures myself at home/why would I pay to see them. And yes, that’s true but zebra finches are amazing little creatures and it’s really interesting to see a big aviary of them together. There were a lot of chestnut flanked zebs in there too. I could easily have taken a pocketful of them home. I didn’t though!

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A Harris Hawk – there are some flying displays throughout the day. We caught a glimpse of one.

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Whilst wandering around we came across a great many unusual creatures, some of which I (sadly) couldn’t identify. Luckily for us the animal enclosures were all accompanied by signs that identified the animals and highlighted some interesting facts. I really should have jotted these down for the more unusual creatures however being the organised person I am, I didn’t!

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This is one of said creatures I couldn’t identify! It was really large and adorable.

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Blending in with our surroundings and being oversized kids
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Improvement?

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As we walked around we came across a North American Turkey that was really friendly. He came right up to us and seemed very interested in my camera! If you visit the zoo make sure to say hi to him. Turkeys aren’t necessarily the most beautiful or exotic of animals, but this little guy had a big personality and it really shined through.

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The picture is blurred but this little guy was the best!

The zoo also has a wallaby/Mara walk-through. This was particularly fun and it was lovely to see a wallaby with a little baby stuffed in her pouch!

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A mara and wallaby having a relax in the hay

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Close up of the baby – Gareth took this photo!
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A capybara and her babies – look how adorable they are! Just like oversized guineapigs!

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Finally we ended up in what I’d call the pets/farmyard corner. As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of chickens, goats, rabbits, guineapigs etc. I believe that they have a corner where you can experience the animals and hold them (don’t quote me on this!) But that wasn’t an option when we were there. If it was I would have definitely snuggled the bunnies!

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All in all we both had a great time at the zoo and I couldn’t recommend it enough. If you’re thinking of taking a visit, you can find the website here

This last picture is not from inside the zoo, but just outside. I absolutely love sparrows and there was a great many of them flying about and making nests. The whole site feels very natural and that’s just one of the reasons it’s so lovely.

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Walking for mental wellbeing

I find that as I get older, I am more open about my mental illness. It’s not something I generally tell people when I first meet them, or bring up in discussion but it’s not something I go to great lengths to hide anymore. This past week I have been feeling particularly down. I’m unwell at the moment so I think that has had its’ part to play, but generally the mood has not been good and I have found myself feeling really upset.

One thing I find that helps to lift my mood is walking. I know they say exercise releases endorphins (and I’m sure it does) but I don’t particularly subscribe to intense cardio sessions when I feel miserable. What is more manageable however, is a nice walk.

Since moving back to Essex I have been tremendously lucky in what I have around me. There are beautiful thick woodlands and country parks that sprawl across acres. I have explored many rambling paths and stood at the edges of many glittering lakes. I have fed deer, ducks and watched colourful birds. I know I’m lucky to live so nearby to so many wonderful places, so I try to take advantage of that as much as possible. Most weekends I am outdoors.

The other day was not a good day for me. I was feeling particularly unwell and down in the dumps after finishing my day of working from home. However, the sun had made a rare appearance which did seem to brighten things a little. Gareth and I decided to drive down to Chalkwell to take a walk by the sea. My aunt had mentioned it in conversation at the weekend, and I had fond memories of lurking about in the beachy mud over there when I was a child. We got in the car and made the 40 minute trip down.

When we got there the tide was out, but the sun shone brilliantly and I could feel myself relaxing and starting to feel happier. We took a long walk on the empty beach, searching for sea glass and revelling in the quietness. Although it was not warm, I felt fine in a jumper and jacket and I very much enjoyed feeling the sun on the back of my head. I find that the nicer the scenery the more I start to relax. The longer I walk the more my problems seem to melt away also, almost as if I’m leaving them behind me. I have always liked the seaside, and although it may sound strange, to me it is more enjoyable during the colder months when it is empty yet beautiful. When other people can’t interfere with my experience.

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Empty and wonderful

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Stretching my legs 

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It doesn’t have to be the height of summer to be beautiful by the sea

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This lovely pic was snapped by Gareth
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As was this one!

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We found a bedraggled looking Winnie

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Posing with my egg necklace
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Looking serious but lovely. Don’t worry, he had a good time really!
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I told him to look serious!
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He is a natural behind the camera!

We walked for a long time, taking photographs and enjoying the beautiful views. We walked all the way up to Southend where we stopped for a cold beer. By the time we reached Southend the sun had set, and it was dark and much colder. The walk back to the car was chilly to say the least, but as my legs began to silently burn, I felt a lot more positive in my mind.

Sometimes I think when you’re feeling rotten, the best thing to do is to do something else. To remove yourself from a situation or a place, and to take yourself outside where it’s easier to breathe and you can think more clearly and freely. Empty or quiet spaces are really what I’d recommend for people feeling stressed and frustrated. The woods can be really good for this. I find that a lot of people are dissuaded from walking around the winter months because of the cold, but I think it’s the perfect time to get out there. I really enjoyed my walk by the sea, and think that I will go again before it becomes too busy to be a relaxing experience.

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Day three: The Forum, Palatine Hill and parrots.

On our last day in Rome we woke at six but snoozed until eight. Almost overcome with exhaustion yet not wanting to waste time this felt like a good compromise. My legs had seized up and were sore but today we had planned to see the forum and walk up Palatine hill.

Ideally it’s best to visit the Colosseum and forum together because they are in such close proximity. We would have done this ourselves but, not wanting to miss the Capuchin Crypts (and not being able to find out if they’d be open on a Sunday) we chose to break our time up and leave the forum to last. Besides, this way we had more time to give to our surroundings.

We stopped first for breakfast. Our last day in Rome required a breakfast befitting of such an occasion. I had a beautiful custard pastry and milky coffee whilst Gareth had a pain au chocolat and freshly squeezed orange juice – this was vastly nicer than the offerings of the hotel and left me feeling ready to take on the day.

We took the Metro to the Colosseum.

When we arrived at our destination, we wandered around for a while stupidly unable to find the correct entrance.

Inside the forum were beautiful and intriguing ruins and as we rambled further among them I felt as if I were in a story book or film set. Some of the charm was lost to the pain I felt in my legs as I struggled on. Often I had to take a seat on a bench. Sometimes this was pleasant, especially when I could hear the melodious sounds of a violin waft on the breeze (it felt like a private concert.) Other times it was frustrating as I willed my poor legs to work so I could explore this exciting place. Although there are plaques up to briefly describe what everything is, not much information is given. For those who want to learn the history I’d recommend a tour. Personally I just enjoyed soaking up the surroundings and feeling as if I’d stepped in to a text book.

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As we walked around the Forum we came across this adorable bunny who didn’t seem very shy!

We eventually found ourselves traversing up Palatine hill and taking in the views of the forum below us which were stunning. At the top we came across orange trees, fountains and exotic green parrots feasting on seeds and berries. I was truly surprised to see parrots as I hadn’t expected them at all. I also caught site of two chaffinches which made me happy.

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And that was it. Our trip to Rome was over and it was time to catch the plane back to rainy England.

I had a wonderful time in Rome and saw some beautiful and extraordinarily interesting things. It’s more than possible to see a lot in a short space of time but if you’re thinking of visiting Rome as a weekend break I’d recommend sticking to the main attractions – they are more than worth it!

 

Day two: The Colosseum, Capuchin Crypts and pizza.

We woke early on Saturday morning and my legs ached like they hadn’t before. Standing on my feet I felt unsteady and like my legs were untrustworthy. However, I didn’t have much time to contemplate my aches and pains because we had booked a tour of the Colosseum at 10.40.

We showered and dressed quickly before heading down to the cafeteria of the hotel for breakfast. Usually this wouldn’t be done, but it was included in the booking and we were trying to keep costs down. The breakfast was pleasant enough – a selection of warmed croissants, fresh fruits, juices and coffee. I wouldn’t say it was one of the finer meals we ate in Rome but it was fuel for the busy day ahead.

We arrived at the Colosseum early to collect our pre-booked tickets (thus enabling us to avoid the horrendous queue that would form just an hour later.) Eager to start seeing more of Rome we decided to have an unofficial snoop before the tour started. The structure itself is very iconic and magnificent to see in real life- it loomed up in to the sky and we felt very excited to see something we’d read about in books and watched in films so many times before.

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After a quick look around and some snaps we assembled at meeting point 3 and waited for our guide to arrive. One of the reasons we booked the tour as opposed to walking around ourselves was that in a tour you can access the upper and lower levels of the Colosseum -something which you cannot do if you decide to go it alone. Included in the ticket price is also access to the Forum and Palatine Hill which are just metres away and well worth a look.

The tour itself was very informative and our guide helped us to imagine how the Colosseum once was. Tales of gladiators fighting lions sparked my imagination and as we wandered through the ruins I imagined to myself all of the weird, wonderful and horrifying things that had taken place where I stood.

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The view from the lower levels – you can only access this if on a tour.
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The view from the upper levels of the Colosseum was fantastic.

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Throughout the tour my legs began to seize up and I felt increasingly uncomfortable so afterwards we sat and rested on a bench for a while before searching the back streets for a pizzeria. We found a small cafe and ate hot, fresh slices of Margarita pizza washed down with cold lemonade. Lunch was delicious and everything I had hoped it would be. Refreshed and content we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved 30 minute nap.

Batteries temporarily recharged once more we hopped back on to the Metro and towards Barberini in search of the Capuchin Crypts.

Inside the small, quiet museum we learned about the Capuchin monks and observed objects that belonged to them including rusted pocket watches and retooled books. No photos were allowed inside the museum or crypt and I respectfully abided this despite my burning desire to capture every tiny little thing I saw. The winding museum led us down in to the crypts which were dull – lit only by faux flickering candles.

Inside were ornate patterns and designs spread carefully across the walls and ceiling, macabre lampshades made of human bones. Hooded skeletons guarded the crypts, humbly bowing their skulls down to the gritty soil beneath them.
I have visited the Catacombs of Paris and as such, did not anticipate feeling ‘creeped’ out by these crypts. How wrong I was. I learned that no one really knew how the bones had come to be in the crypts or who had arranged them in such a manner. I felt a shiver crawl across my shoulders. Some of the skeletons still had withered skin that clung to their skulls and looked to be mummified. This combined with the thick hooded monk cloaks made them look terrifying. The detached thigh and shin bones placed to make shapes were easier to digest but having no idea of the sort of man who might arrange them as so made the whole experience feel unnerving. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Capuchin Crypts for anyone who wants to see something different and unique. The experience was haunting but grossly interesting.

From here we roamed the area until we came to a cafe. Outside we sat and had a glass of red wine whilst observing the bustling streets. I was happy to see a pair of chirping sparrows and fed them crumbs which they greedily pecked up.

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We fed the sparrows over a glass of wine.

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When the wine had been drunk we wandered further in to the city and perused the shops and busy cobbled streets until my legs felt as if they were on fire.

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Muscles screaming we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and rest some more before the evening ahead.

Once again we headed for the Trevi fountain and the plethora of restaurants that surrounded it. We settled for a small restaurant with outside seating and heat lamps to keep us toasty. Here we had beautiful cold beer and bruschetta to start, followed by spaghetti and meatballs and lashings of salty Parmesan cheese. Although it was not comparable to our first nights dinner, it was still delicious and very enjoyable.

After a very quick stop by the Pantheon, we headed back to Pepy’s bar, as we had done the first night. Here we had bourbon served with bitter dark chocolate and chatted about our adventures in to the night.

By the end of our second night in Rome we had walked 30 miles.

Day one of Rome: Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica & lasagna

I’m painfully aware that my last blog post was a whole 12 days ago…the reason for this is that I have been extraordinarily busy! I guess now is as good a time as any for an update and I’d like to talk about my recent trip to Rome.

I have decided to break up each day in to a post (I went from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.) The reason for this is the sheer volume of photos and stories I have to share! (Please bear with me.)

We left our flat late, half an hour late to be exact. Even though we’d carefully laid our plans the night before and had set up the timed lamps, cleaned out all of the bird cages and packed – we still didn’t make it out on time. Rushing to the airport, we boarded the plane – just. Our flight took two bumpy hours before we landed in Italy. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the air was crisp – not quite cold yet not particularly warm either…my ideal weather. We took a taxi to the hotel (Hotel Gambrinus) and as our taxi hurtled its way through the cobbled streets and outskirts of the city, I marveled at the beautiful old buildings that looked set to crumble at the slightest touch. By the time we reached our hotel I had decided my jacket wasn’t to be needed that day.

At the hotel we quickly decanted and arranged our belongings about the room. Our stop was quick – being in Rome from Friday to Sunday meant that time was against, it was precious and we didn’t wish to waste it.

Our first stop in Rome was to be the Vatican, and as we walked along the dusty pavements to the Metro we saw that the streets were lined with orange trees, heavily laden with fruit.

We decided to take a tour of the Vatican museums and walk the (quicker) route through and to the Sistine Chapel. We moved slowly from room to room soaking up all there was to see. The rooms were opulent with floor to ceiling paintings or carefully carved statues of marble. The thing that most impressed me (even more so than the art on display) were the ornate ceilings with their beautiful depictions, paintings and carvings in rich inky blues interjected with gold and swirling patterns. Each room seemed to be in contest with the last and I found myself drifting through them with my head craned skywards.

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A stylish spiral staircase in the Vatican museums.
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Stopping for snacks to keep us going. The pizza snacks were bland but we were fans of the bacon.

Along our way we saw Matisse and Dali and felt quiet satisfaction at being able to recognise something. At the end of our route we came to the Sistine Chapel. Of course everyone in this room had their eyes fixed firmly to the ceiling and that iconic painting The Creation of Adam. Photographs were not permitted here and without the clicks of flash the room seemed darker and stiller. Much more peaceful than it had been moments before outside of it. I thought the paintings were amazingly beautiful but architecturally the chapel is not spectacular.

From here we moved out on to the grounds and strolled through them with the sun on our faces. We walked further still towards St Peters Basilica stopping for our first taste of gelato at a grubby vendor. Unfortunately the ice cream tasted stale and I worried we would be sick so the limp coned ice creams went in to the bin and our first lesson of Rome was learnt – do not buy from street vendors!

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The Basilica is very beautiful to admire from the outside, but inside it was breathtaking. The ceiling rose up so high it was almost lost but I could make out yet more magnificent paintings and depictions of Rome. The Basilica felt very special to me was a real highlight of the trip. I would recommend this to anyone wishing to visit Rome.

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On our back we stopped at a proper gelato bar and got our first real taste of the city. I had a delicious chocolate and Nutella cone that tasted just like a frozen Ferrero Rocher and burst with flavour in my mouth. Gareth had chocolate and stractiatelli.

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Gareth thinks Jesus is cool.

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Back at the hotel we quickly changed in to smarter attire before hopping back on the Metro in search of dinner. In Rome there are two lines A and B – we quickly established which lines we needed to take to get where (or rather, Gareth did) and it was simple enough to get around.
We headed to the Trevi Fountain because we had wanted to see it and we had heard there were a lot of restaurants around it. By the time we got there it was dark. The fountain was much larger and more beautiful than I could have anticipated. The water was aqua and highlighted with spot lights that reflected and sparkled on its surface. The fountain was bustling with activity. Tourists stopping to take photos of the enchanting scene, street vendors selling selfie sticks and Italians having a quick kiss by the water.

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We ate nearby in a pretty restaurant that was covered in ivy with twinkling fairy lights poking out from between the lush green folliage. Inside the walls were lined with tempting bottles of wine and the atmosphere felt relaxed and happy. The tinkling of glasses, scraping of cutlery against plates and the gentle murmur of Italian accents made the place feel welcoming. Our service was wonderful and we were recommended a strong red wine which we sank half of as we hungrily made our way through the basket of fresh breads. We both ordered lasagna and I can say with confidence it was the nicest meal I have ever eaten in a restaurant before. Beautifully rich and creamy, every bite of the lasagna was like a slice of heaven that left me wanting more.

After our meal we wandered through the city and came across a bar called Pepy’s. There we ordered Italian Iced Tea (just like a Long Island Ice Tea but with amaretto.) At night the street sellers come out in force and try to sell you all manner of rubbish from collapsible baskets, to hunks of goo and laser pens. Sitting outside the bar we were constantly swatting away the sellers like flies, although one managed to coerce one euro out of us for two African bracelets.

By the time we curled up in bed much later that night we had walked 15 miles.

Thorndon Country Park

It was a grey weekday- and as we rolled through the car park, gravel crunching satisfyingly beneath the wheels of our car, I noticed that Thorndon country park was just as busy as it had been the weekend before. I wondered to myself if it was always as busy, or if everyone was there out of guilt from overindulging over the festive period.

We parked the car and stepped out in to the chilly air. This time we came prepared. Instead of flimsy trainers and battered chelsea boots, we were clad in (definitely not cringe-inducing) matching black wellies. I delighted in striding purposely through the murky puddles and to my favourite bird-snapping spot just outside the cosy little shop that sells hot chocolates and pin badges.

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As I did last time, I stood frozen to the spot just by the bird feeders. At first I watched the blue tits and great tits squabble over the best places to peck at the peanut granules, but then unable to resit I grabbed my camera and took some photographs. I stood there for a long time, my fingers growing numb and tingly with cold, my nose positively glowing. This time I managed to capture some of the beautiful blue tits I love so much – darting around in that frantic manner they adopt when you stand just a little too close, fighting off bigger birds to defend their territory. I took a lot of photos of the birds – not wanting to spam this post (too much) I have created another just for the birds (so go check it out.)

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Determined not to miss out on the rest of Thorndon like the last time however, I eventually managed to tear myself away from the feeders and take the muddied path in to the woods. The first thing that struck me about Thorndon was the beauty of it. The paths although slippery and littered with an obstacle course of branches and puddles were wide and open – allowing the woods to feel safe and well-traversed. That said the trees and shrubs were magnificent in size and gave the feel of wilderness. I’m not sure how a place can feel so open and familiar yet leave you with the impression that you could get lost for days, but somehow that’s the feeling it imparted on me.

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For those that haven’t visited before, the woods have a very popular Gruffalo trail for younger children. I often saw wooden sculptures with small children clinging to them, grinning gleefully at the cameras their parents clutched. Thorndon is a great place to take children if you have them. Even if you don’t, (like me) it’s still a wonderful place to take a walk.

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We walked for a long time, following signposts for squirrel and bird trails, stopping every now and then to listen to the bird calls, or to take a photograph of something beautiful and wild. The woods were thriving with squirrels that bounded playfully from treetop to treetop – and I must have counted at least six robins singing their distinctive song. I was surprised to see so many. Along our way we also saw a chaffinch, a bullfinch, nuthatch, multiple tits and a tiny green bird that we couldn’t identify from our position down on the ground.

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Throughout the woods there are clearings. Some spaces created with benches to eat at and gates to keep dogs from bounding in. One clearing we came across did not have these gates or benches but the ground was soft and mossy and damp with raindrops. Small ponds had formed in places and reeds had gathered around them. The thing that struck us most about this clearing was the beautiful smell in the air – like incense curling in the sky and snaking its way up our nostrils. Of course it wasn’t incense at all. It was the smell of wood smoke combined with the dewy grasses and trees. I wish I could have bottled up the scent and taken it home with me – it was very enchanting.

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As we rambled further in to the woods we eventually found ourselves off the beaten path. We began to realise that we hadn’t seen or said a cheery good morning to a stranger in at least 20 minutes and no bright-eyed dogs were in sight. The bushes and brambles became thicker, wild and tangeled…much less manicured than they had been when they framed the paths we had taken earlier. We came to realise that we were completely lost. How funny that we could even find ourselves lost and unable to find our way back in such a relatively small space (500 acres.) Using my partners GPS we managed to find our way back through the woods and to the cabin where we drank lemonade and poured over the photographs I had taken.

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I haven’t visited Thorndon in the summer but I imagine it is just as (if not more) beautiful during that season. I am looking forward to exploring even more of the green spaces that surround me but for now, Thorndon is my favourite.

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