It has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition each year, that I take myself off to the centre of London to enjoy the magical light displays and decorations that our fantastic capital has to offer. In previous years, there have also been river side Christmas markets, the infamous Winter Wonderland (which can be seen from planes flying over the city) and even a trail or two (last year being the 12 days of Christmas Snowmen).
This year I was in more need of some festive cheer than normal and so after nine months of staying away from the city centre, I found myself wandering in to see what delights were to be found.
Walk too fast and you would miss this 19th century shopping mall. Cutting through Piccadilly to Bond Street, this gem is oh so pretty.
Traditional red baubles hanging from the ceiling, Christmas trees dotted along the through path and a Moet & Chandon festive love swing, very understated, but classic.
You cannot miss Bond Street off your list of festive spots. Not only do you have the overhead twinkling lights (this year, looking very peacock inspired), but you also have the numerous high end shops competing with decorative shop fronts.
Cartier, is by far the most impressive for me this year. Dressed to look like the entire store is wrapped as a present with a lion peering down on the eager shoppers below and red and white lighting….it really does stand out amongst the other shops in this exclusive street. You would fail to miss it when walking down Bond Street, even during daylight hours.
Venture a little away from London’s West End and you will find Leadenhall Market. Decorations here are minimalistic, however I always love visiting. Not only will you find it rather deserted at the weekends (so perfect for pictures), but the building is so impressive and it so charming amongst the sky scrapers that tower around.
Be sure to look up to the glass ceilings. Though a permanent feature and not just for Christmas, they seem extra high above the glorious Christmas tree.
Covent Garden and the surrounding areas never fail to impress each year. Though, in recent years the market itself follows the same decorations, with giant shimmering baubles, mistletoe and, by far, the biggest Christmas tree ever (I would not want to decorate it, thats for sure), there is always different displays around the market too.
We have seen numerous Lego displays, including Santa and his sleigh several years back (which you could climb on board for a picture) and giant snow globes.
This year the Lego presence was evident, with Mario and Santa nestling amongst foliage and a free exhibition (tickets must be booked in advance). Additionally this year, you will find a display of Christmas trees all sponsored and decorated by stores around the market.
Make sure you visit Conduit Court too and talk a walk through the Covent Garden Infinity Chamber. This tunnel of changing lights and mirrors, is bound to add to the Christmas vibe.
Annabels – Mayfair
You may not be able to enter the private members club in Berkeley Square, but you can certainly admire the Nutcracker themed decorations they have displayed out front.
With the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy playing out and the giant soldiers standing proud over the square, it is enough to stop everyone in their tracks. The display was even stopping traffic as passengers paused to take a quick snap.
If you have time you can even sit in the square to admire the view, whilst spotting a number of luxury cars pass by…… you do have the Ferrari showroom on the opposite end after all.
Fortnum & Mason and the Ritz
Located on the iconic Piccadilly, and just across the road from Burlington Arcade are the world famous Ritz hotel and Forntum and Mason store.
Every year I wander down to enjoy their classic displays, with Fortum and Mason’s advent calendar shop front and the Ritz traditional decorations with red and gold.
Keeping consistent with their lights was Regent Street. From the bottom at Piccadilly to the top end past Oxford Circus, you will find the twinkling angle lights, that simply just look magical.
With the street closed to traffic you can wander the street, aimlessly, enjoying the real festive charm.
Simple. But powerful.
Some might say that the lights in Carnaby Street this year are somewhat dull. I, however, lured in by the bright purple colour (my favourite), and the powerful messaging, playing homage to the NHS and key workers in 2020 – found them rather joyful.
Half way down the street be sure to stop to take a picture against the purple angel wings (if you have indeed been an angel this year of course).
Hays Galleria and City Hall
The area on the Southbank of the river, with The Shard towering over, is usually bustling this time of year with Christmas market stalls and jolly shoppers in pubs and restaurants. Sadly, this December, no market was to be found due to restrictions and it was rather unnaturally quiet. That said, great for photo opportunities, as usual I wandered through Hays Galleria, with its simply dressed Christmas tree and twinkling lights wound around the columns.
I then ventured to the area just before City Hall. With the Tower of London and Tower Bridge in the background you will find the brightly lit Christmas installation. A stag standing proud with a fox and a robin resting on its back. Against the backdrop it looked so magical.
Christmas at Kew
Last but not least, Christmas at Kew! I think possibly my favourite, due to the numerous light installations.
I have been lucky enough to work as a steward for a number of years, so I really get to appreciate the event full with visitors (and experiencing their joy), but also when closing, without anyone around.
Each year I have worked, the team at Kew have provided a fantastic show! With the Temperate and Palm houses, plus the Treetop Walkway being the main attractions!
Though the fairground is not available in 2020 it is still a wonderful evening out for all the family to enjoy. And one I will enjoy working for years to come.
So, there you have it. My top magical Christmas spots of 2020. I’m sure there are many more that I just have not discovered yet. I would love to know your recommendations too, so I can hunt them out next year!
When I first moved to the county over 14 years ago, many commented on the fact that I would become an “Essex Girl.” Maybe from a lack of education or from watching too much TOWIE on their part, who knows, but I was quick to point out that there is much more to the county than fake tan and stilettos. In fact, it is very rare for me to come across such stereotype. Maybe due to fact that I’m more likely to be found hiking the 350 mile long coast line rather than downing cocktails at the Sugar Hut.
As such I wanted to share some of my favourite spots in Essex, so you too can enjoy just some of what the county has to offer.
If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me!
Head to this village, just a short drive from Colchester and you will find Tiptree. Most famously known for Wilkin & Son’s jam and preserve production, fruit farming in the village began in 1864 and still remains today. Here, you can visit the shop, small museum and have a traditional afternoon tea.
If you are in the area be sure to stop by the Messing Maypole Mill – a grade II listed Tower mill, dating back to 1755.
Located at the end of the 13 mile Chelmer and Blackwater navigation you will find Heybridge Basin, with sea lock. The basin itself was dug out of the marsh to enable sea going vessels to enter the canal and unload cargo – which would then be transported inland by barges into Chelmsford.
The area provides many peaceful walks for hikers, including sea wall paths and canal towpaths of varying lengths. There are even a couple of popular pubs and a Tiptree tea room to enjoy as pit stops.
With a population of under 7,000, Mersea is the UK’s most Easterly inhabited island. The picturesque atmosphere provides amazing views across the Blackwater Estuary and due to the coastal location proves to be a popular spot for holiday makers.
The island also offers a perfect location for walkers, with a 13 mile loop round the coastal path, if a challenge is what you are after. If an adventure is not for you simply take in the beaches with the iconic coloured huts or enjoy a bite to eat in the fishing village area.
Step into a Constable painting and visit the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is Dedham Vale. Located on the Essex-Suffolk border it compromises the area around the River Stour and is known for being “Constable Country” due to the paintings by John Constable.
The National Trust area, is another that is popular with hikers throughout the year. You can wander the many marked paths, stroll along the river and stop by the pretty village of Flatford, where you will discover Flatford Mill, Bridge Cottage, The Granary and Valley Farm.
The small seaside town, in the Tendering area of Essex, is one of my favourite spots to get away. With its sandy beaches and colourful beach huts, it is bright on even the dullest of days. Unlike most sea side towns, Frinton remains unspoilt due to its lack of seaside amusements.
The beach is a treat the whole year round, though if it is a gentle walk along the surf you are after, be sure to time your visit for low tide. High tide reaches the sea wall, making it impossible to walk the length, meaning the promenade is your only option (which in peak periods can be packed with beach hut visitors).
If you continue your beach walk from Frinton, you will reach its neighbour, Walton-on-the-Naze with huts a plenty, pier with amusements and plenty of local amenities.
The Naze is a peninsula north of the town, with a small nature reserve great for bird watchers and hikers. On one of my many visits this year I completed a 10 mile loop from Frinton, incorporating the Walton sea front and nature reserve too. Seemingly, it is not a well walked path and can become quite boggy in the winter – so I encountered very few people on route – but was rewarded with some marvellous views.
Naze Tower is another point of reference, as it was a sea mark to assist ships on this fairly unmarked coastline. As the Naze erodes over time, the tower and surrounding wildlife continue to be at risk with sources expecting the area to crumble into the sea within the next 50 years.
The 6,000 acre forest stretching from Epping to Forest Gate in London, is one of my favourite stomping grounds. Once a royal hunting ground, this wonder of a forest offers areas woodland, heath, rivers and ponds.
Due to its range of track and grass paths, it is popular with hikers, cyclists, runners and horse riders. For many years the forest has been my safe haven, with its miles and miles of pathways and hills enabling me to extend distance whilst training for various events.
Throughout the year, Epping Forest remains a hot spot, for humans and a multitude of wildlife (keep an eye out for cattle and deers in particular).
The resort town on the Thames estuary is a hot spot for families, especially in the summer months. Though, perhaps not as picturesque as the likes of Frinton and Walton, it is one that offers a little more traditional seaside charm. With a Sealife Centre and Adventure Island amusement park, fish and chip shops and pubs, it is a particularly popular spot for a family day out.
More famously, it is home to the world’s longest pleasure pier. At 2,158km, it is just over a mile long. Should you not be up for the walk out and back, you can board the railway and enjoy the ride.
However you reach the end, I would thoroughly recommend stopping in to the Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop, “Tea Beside The Sea.” Offering a selection of refreshments, including Afternoon Tea, it is the perfect spot with a view.
Owned by the National Trust, Hatfield Forest is another favourite of mine. The Site of Special Scientific Interest, just three miles east of Bishops Stortford, offers a variety of forest trails for walking, running or riding, and a lake for fishing. Hatfield is the only remaining intact Royal Hunting Forest, dating back to the time of Norman Kings.
If it is a long hike, cycle or run you are after, you can extend your route to include the Flitch Way, following the former railway from Bishops Stortford to Braintree, 15 miles in total (one way).
The final spot on my list is the small town of Coggeshall. I discovered the charming location simply by passing through.
Eight miles east of Braintree you will find the attractive town centre. Made up of nearly 200 listed timber-framed buildings dating back to the 14th century.
When passing through I just spent an hour or so exploring the streets, where I discovered leaning houses, historic buildings, specialist shops and a real olde world village vibe.
In the absence of international holidays and city breaks, I have taken the opportunity to make the most out of my National Trust membership in 2020. Since the sites reopened in the early summer months the majority of my staycations have been centred around my National Trust “bucket list.”
I have had a membership for over 18 months now, but have only made use of the sites that are in the vicinity of home and using the car parks when heading out for walks nearby.
Lately I have been particularly drawn to the “Garden of England,” Kent. Not only does it have an amazing coastline, with challenging hiking paths, but it is also rolling hills, countryside and an abundance of National Trust sites and houses to explore.
I have by no means finished my adventures into Kent, in fact I think another cancelled weekend break will lead me there again soon, however I wanted to share some of my favourites to date to provide some inspiration for your own staycation or even a day trip.
The White Cliffs of Dover
Needing no introduction, the cliffs are perhaps one of the most famous landmarks on our coastline, symbolising home and integral to our war time defence.
I have visited a number of times this summer and I can say without a doubt the cliffs provide one of the most tranquil and rewarding hikes. Even if you are not up for a long walk, you can venture the short distance to South Foreland Lighthouse and back – soaking in the views.
This 14th century moated castle was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, in order to protect the area from French invasion during the 100 year war.
Here, you can explore the interior ruins of the castle, along with the surrounding grounds and area of Bodiam itself – a peaceful spot for a summers day out or an Autumnal walk.
The English country house, with formal gardens, woodland walks and another 14th century moated castle, is a real gem and one of my top National Trust locations to date.
The moated castle itself is like something out of a fairy tale or Disney film – such beauty and charm in one spot. I only spent a couple of hours here, but you could easy spend the whole day exploring the estate. It is one I will most definitely be returning to when I have the chance.
This picturesque 14th century medieval moat house is something quite special. Surrounded by typical English country gardens, woodland walks and lakes, offering reflecting views back over to the moat house, the picture perfect 700 year old Grade I listed building is well worth a visit.
Take time to speak to the National Trust staff who eagerly share their knowledge of the building and its surroundings.
This grand country house, and former archbishop’s palace, is situated in the 1,000 acre Knole park to the south-east of Sevenoaks. The house itself ranks in the top five of England’s largest houses, totalling four acres. Doors to the house have recently re-opened so visitors can explore the rooms inside, with a one way system in place to comply with social distancing measures.
Knole is another location that could provide a jolly day out. After you have finished taking in the grandeur of the house, you have the whole park to explore, with long walks and an abundance of wildlife – in particular the Deer! On my visit, in mid autumn, it was bang in the middle of rutting season. The sound of the bucks on arrival was incredible. By the end of September these magnificent creatures are all fired up, their antlers are fully grown and they are desperately holding onto their harem of doe. Fighting happens when bucks attempt to steal doe’s from another harem, which can be impressive to watch.
As with all wild animals this can also be rather dangerous, so it advised to keep your distance and watch respectively at a distance. National Trust staff are nearby, who are extremely knowledgeable, so its worth taking time to talk to them and learn all about these beautiful creatures.
The former home of Sir Winston Churchill has long been on my list of places to visit. As with Knole, at the time of my visit they had recently reopened the house. However, my time was limited this time round so I simply enjoyed an autumnal walk through the grounds, including the walled garden, lake, rose garden, apple orchards and even the family pet graves.
When you arrive at the house, it is clear to see why Churchill loved the location so much. With 20 acres of grounds surrounding the house and a further 57 acres of parkland it is an oasis of calm in the English countryside.
With plenty to explore for all the family, it is a great day out within each reach of London and the surrounding areas. If in season, it’s worth popping into the shop to pick up a bag of apples grown in Chartwell’s own orchards.
These are just a handful of National Trust gems that are certain to provide a wonderful day trip or form part of a longer staycation to the Garden of England. Some locations are within a short drive from another, so if you plan the day right you can easily combine a number of locations in a single day trip**.
I will certainly be arranging further trips in coming months to see what else beautiful Kent has to offer.
**Regardless if you are a National Trust member or not, all visits must be pre booked, so ensure you do so in advance to avoid a wasted and disappointing journey.**
If you are looking for a short staycation, the South East of the UK provides the perfect getaway. Within easy reach of London and the surrounding counties you will find a mixture of quaint cities, countryside and coastal paths all offering opportunities to blow the cobwebs away.
After another cancelled trip, and refusal to spend any annual leave vegging on the sofa, I decided to visit a couple of locations that have been on the list for some time.
The cathedral city of Canterbury was the first stop on my list. Having not visited since my school years, when we were studying the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, I could only vaguely recall the visit. I remember seeing the cathedral and the sights related to the tales themselves. But, as with most school trips, you don’t take time to appreciate your surroundings as much as you could.
My first port of call when visiting was Canterbury cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170. The journey of the pilgrims to Becket’s shrine, which then went on to be the framework of Chaucer’s tales.
With social distancing restrictions in place I arrived to find the Christ Church Gate closed, and staff asking visitors if they had pre booked tickets. Stupidly, I didn’t think to check to book online, so thought I would be missing out. Luckily, being a quiet Friday morning, I was allowed to purchase tickets on the door. Though, I would recommend booking in advance if you can!
Once inside, it is recommended to give yourself as much time as possible exploring both inside and the cathedral grounds. With restrictions in place, I imagine it was quieter than it would be normally, and therefore rather tranquil. I was able to roam through the cloisters, side chapels and admire the stain glassed windows, dating back to the 12th century, without worry of holding other visitors up or people being in the way of pictures.
Westgate and Westgate Gardens offers a serene spot on the banks of the River Stour. The Medieval gates, defending the city, were constructed in the 14th century. Build from Kentish ragstone and blue-grey limestone, with a drawbridge that is still marshalled by wooden doors and a portcullis.
If you wander through the gardens you will be able to explore the manicured gardens, the Victoria Tower House (now home to the Lord Mayors offices), a Norman Arch from the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and even the former London Road Gate.
A tranquil spot to stop for lunch and watch the activity on the river, you can even take to a spot of punting or a row boat tour from the high street.
If time is on your hands there is plenty to explore in the city, including St Augustines Abbey, Beany House of Art & Knowledge, the Roman Museum and even the Canterbury Tales attraction (which I remember from the school days). Should none of this take your fancy, simply enjoy wandering the medieval cobbled streets, stopping in the local cheese and food stores. At the time of my visit there was even a street food festival to add to the atmosphere.
Without a doubt, any trip to the city will be one for all to enjoy.
Just an hours drive from Canterbury you will reach the pretty coastal town of Rye, West Sussex.
Start your visit wandering through The Landgate, the last remaining of two gates build to defend Rye from invading forces, which started in 1066, before taking your time to amble the picturesque cobbled high street. Here you will find an abundance of pubs, tea shops, cafes, local stores and chocolate shops, and even some antique stores too.
Venture off the main street and you will discover Mermaid Street, probably one of the most instagrammed streets within the town. The chocolate box houses teamed with a steep, cobbled road is simply stunning. A good pair or trainers or walking shoes are needed to explore here, heels will be of no use!
Explore further and you will discover the redbrick Lamb House, once owned by writer Henry Tower, (sadly closed during my visit), St Mary’s Church overlooking the town and the 14th century Ypres Tower, which formed part of Rye’s defences.
Now the tower is Rye Castle museum, with paintings and displays detailing local history and even a ‘Gun Garden” with views out to the harbour and the English Channel in the far distance.
The small town was busy, despite being a week day, so I would recommend visiting off peak and arriving early to make most of your day.
I simply spent my time wandering the quaint town and making the most of the early Autumn sunshine, a picture perfect setting for the end of my whistle stop staycation.
Both locations are filled with history and have plenty to keep all entertained. Though, as with most attractions in current times, it is worth checking restrictions for entry and where possible book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Just a short drive from London and the surrounding suburbs you will find the fishing and seaside town of Ramsgate. Home to the only Royal Harbour in the UK, the coastal town offers an array of bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as stunning architecture and views across the marina.
In the height of summer you will find the town packed with tourists looking to spend time on the award winning sandy beaches and take in the chalk cliff coastline.
At the time of my visit, in June, many of the bars and restaurants were offering takeaway service only. Undeterred, eager beach goers flocked here and the surrounding areas looking to take advantage of glorious weather.
It was here that I started a 10 mile coastal route that would take me to Botany Bay and back. The gentle path is a hike that links the three historic coastal towns of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. So, if you wanted to head out one way, you could walk the whole route to Margate (which is just under 10 miles itself) and return on public transport. On this particular visit, I chose a route that would see me come back on myself to my starting point.
Heading out early on a sunny Saturday morning, I was rewarded with bright blue skies, warm weather and a jammy parking spot right on the marina.
I had checked the tide times prior to arrival to plan out my route and with my trusted backpack and walking boots I set off along the promenade at beach level. If you find yourself following the route during high tide, there is the option to walk along the cliff top path. However on this beautiful day, I remained alongside the beach with the chalky cliff views for 95 percent of the hike.
Dumpton Gap was on of the first significant sights to highlight on route. If you walk along the shore during low tide you will find wide stretches of beaches with rock pools and cliffs as a back drop.
Continue following the path in a northernly direction and you will reach the sandy cove of Viking Bay, the most popular traditional beach in Broadstairs. The bay offers everything you would expect from a classic seaside resort including a small pier, promenade and changing huts. The beach was previously awarded a blue flag and in the summer can be one of the busiest beaches in the area, with lifeguards and excellent facilities from the town.
During my visit I was happy to discover the ice cream shops and even the toilets had re-opened, allowing me to plan a pit stop on my return journey.
From here I continued on a little to Stone Bay, another glorious stretch of beach. At high tide, I’m told that this area almost completely disappears, so its worth checking the tides before venturing further here.
Beyond the bay, with the tide not at it lowest point, I had to take a detour away from beach level. Here the path continues along Cliff Promenade, where you will find some of the most spectacular houses in a private estate, with sea views. The path clearly marked as a byway, so I had no worries about the change of view before reaching North Foreland Lighthouse.
Here I continued along the road for a short while, until I reached my turning point of Kingsgate Bay, a short distance from Botany Bay beach.
I had timed the hike just right and had arrived at the bay at low tide. The beach is best known for its sea caves, rock pools and cliff arch. During high tide the beach can be cut off on both ends, so I was extremely pleased to see that the low tide allowed me, not only to explore the rocky pools, but also walk through the arch itself.
If you do find yourself visiting during low tide, ensure that you have appropriate foot wear. Naturally the rocky service can be slippery with algae and sea water, so flip flops are not advised! I had removed my walking boots on the beach, to quickly put them back on around the caves and pools.
Time it right and you will be sure to get enjoy some beautiful scenery and walk through the arch too! If not, simply enjoy the view from above at high tide – you will not be disappointed.
From this point, I started my return journey to Ramsgate. And as the tide had become at it’s lowest point of the day, It allowed me to stay at sea level for the majority of the hike back. I removed the walking boots, socks and even packed away the flip flops, opting for a leisurely stroll back along the surf.
As it was approaching mid day, on an extremely warm day, the coolness of the sea was bliss. I spent time enjoying the view, taking a copious number of pictures and effortlessly topping up my tan. A quick stop off in Viking Bay was had for ice cream and before I knew it I was back in Ramsgate, following the surf until I hit the marina wall.
During my visit, it was clear to see that the whole coastal area was loved by many. From locals running and walking their dogs, to families with children enjoying the glorious beaches.
I’m sure to return to complete this path again soon, covering the whole route to Margate and I would thoroughly recommend it to eager walkers and hikers.
Just one word of advice, you must, must, must check the tide times if you want to enjoy the path at beach level. Don’t get caught out!
With 2020 being the most disrupted year for travel, I have lost count of the number of trips that have been cancelled. Gone was the dream beach holiday to Santorini and the ultimate adventure to trek the Great Wall of China, just to name a few.
Therefore, rather than waste my annual leave sulking at home, I decided to use this year as the one to make the most of what our country had to offer. With the weather remaining on our side, I decided to book a two part staycation to south Wales and the Cotswolds over the August bank holiday weekend incorporating some locations that had been on my bucket list for some time.
Day One – The Gower Coast
After the long drive arriving in the early afternoon, the first port of call was the Gower Coast. Just a 30 minute drive from Swansea city centre the Gower Peninsula is home to 30 beautiful beaches, cliffs and scenic coast line. The Area of Outstanding Beauty is popular with hikers, birdwatchers, sunbathers and surfers. With the Wales Coast path running around the coast line, here you can enjoy miles of coves, cliffs and salt marshes further north. Or if strenuous activity is not your thing, then you can simply enjoy the numerous beaches.
We spent some time following the coastal path from the National Trust carpark at Southgate, towards Pobbles Bay and the iconic Three Cliffs. Despite being a bank holiday, the area was relatively quiet and all visitors remained respectful in keeping their distance and even the weather behaving – offering us picture perfect views of the coast out towards the Bristol Channel.
Tired after our long journey, and with a busy day planned the following morning, we headed back to Swansea city centre to our hotel for an early dinner and bed.
Day Two – Pembrokeshire
Having always heard great reviews about the Pembrokeshire coast line and the surrounding areas I wanted include some of the sights into this trip.
Therefore, at the break of dawn (and to avoid the inevitable crowds), we headed further west and in just under an hour and a half we had reached our first stop of the day, the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks.
The dramatic natural rock arch and pillars can be found on the south west of Pembrokshire. Access to the area means driving through an army tank range. Generally the track is open most days, however it is advisable to check before you visit to ensure that you are not disappointed.
Both the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks have formed naturally due to years of erosion, as storms battered the coast pebbles have slammed against the rocks and over time, sand particles worn away therefore dissolving the limestone they are formed from.
In the case of the Green Bridge of Wales, erosion has been occurring on both sides of a small headland, caves formed which have extend further as a result, forming the arch that you see today. The arch also lost a considerable amount of rock to damage during the storm in 2017.
Venture a little further down the coastal path, still within the army range, and you will find Huntsman’s Leap. The deep, narrow gorge attracts many visitors and is extremely popular with climbers. At the time of our trip there were many avid climbers tackling the sheer drops and many standing aside watching them do so.
Just a short drive away you will find the National Trust owned Stackpole nature reserve. This area offers a wonderful stretch of coastline with beaches like Barafundle Bay, and lakes further into Stackpole Court itself. As most locations in the area, this offers the perfect setting for hikers and beach goers alike.
If you are a little more adventurous it boasts many activities including kayaking and coasteering. On this occasion we just followed the many walking paths the estate had to offer, before heading to our third stop of the day.
A short drive from the Pembrokshire coast you will find Carew Castle. The castle offers over 2,000 years of history, telling the tales of the knights of the realm. Due to the pandemic, visits to the castle are pre booked only. So if you want to explore the castle itself, then it is recommended to book in advance to avoid disappointment, especially during peak seasons. Alternatively, you can explore it from the outside as its stunning location is overlooking a 23 acre Millpond, and Tidal Mill, all linked by a mile long circular walk that is suitable for all the family. It also offers fantastic views back over to the castle itself.
The final stop on day two was Tenby. The picture perfect Victorian seaside town, with colourful houses along the sea walls, was heaving with tourists on the bank holiday weekend. With the glorious weather, many visitors were enjoying its charming streets and award winning beach. Here we stopped for a late lunch, ice cream and even some old fashion fun in one of the arcades. Tenby is one of those locations I would love to revisit during out of season as I imagine it would be stunning all year round.
After our stop in Tenby it was time to head back down the M4 and onto our second hotel, in Witney, ready for the Cotswolds the next day.
Day Three – Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water
Having never spent time in the Cotswolds before, other than passing through, Bibury was at the top of my list for the final day of our whistle stop tour.
Described as “the most beautiful village in England” by William Morris, it certainly didn’t disappoint. On arrival it was clear to see why it’s featured on many lists of the most beautiful Cotswolds villages. With the historic 14th century cottages in Arlington Row, referred to as the most photographed cottages in the country, and the Arlington Mill surrounding the River Coln, this picturesque village is a photographers dream. The National Trust area offers free parking, along the main high street, tea shops, inns and even a trout farm, where you can pay a small entry fee and feed the fish.
Venture a short drive away and you will discover Bourton-on-the-Water, another pretty village that is dubbed “the Venice of the Cotswolds.” Here we simply enjoyed a stroll through the village, along the River Windrush, taking in its beautiful bridges and Cotswold stone houses. Being a bank holiday Monday, the village was full of brimming with tourists. Therefore, after a delightful afternoon tea and a stop at the old sweet shop for souvenirs we decided to beat the traffic and head off home.
If you had more time on your hands, or visiting with children, then there is plenty to keep you entertained in Bourton-on-the-Water. The Birdland Park and Gardens, the Model Village and Cotswold Motoring Museum (the home of Brum) are all within easy walking distance of the village. My only recommendation, come out of season when crowds are less of an issue.
Our whirlwind tour of south Wales and the Cotswolds was just what we needed to break away from the stress of day to day life. In the absence of our usual summer holiday, this gave us the perfect opportunity to explore a taster of each area, with a view to incorporate our favourite spots into another trip in the future.
There is nothing like a good hike to blow away the cobwebs. As we all know, raising your heart rate through exercise does wonders for not only your physical health but mental health too.
After years of running and the subsequent injuries that come along with it, I have found myself drawn to long adventurous walks. Whether it is a short steep climb, clambering over hills and mountains or wondering through vast forests and coastal paths, hiking has become a staple part of my week.
In lockdown I had to find paths close to home that not only allowed me to keep distance from others, but also kept my mind occupied. And as restrictions started to lift, longing for the feeling that I was on holiday, I scoped out more picturesque and challenging routes within an easy drive from home.
As a result, Dover was my adventure away from home. Just over an hours drive, I headed to the National Trust carpark where the route promised scenic views from the get go. On the first occasion I visited after rules were relaxed somewhat the carpark was open, and has been ever since, though other facilities such as toilets and cafe remained closed.
This is a great starting point, especially if you want to avoid a very steep hill start from the port up to the top of the cliffs (which I did on my second visit a month later).
From here the coastal path is clearly sign posted with “English Coastal Path” waymarkers. Keep the sea to your right, follow these and it is impossible to get lost.
Along the route you will pass the Dover Coastguard station on your left, before following the path round where you will find horses grazing the steep inclines and (when the season is right) vast poppy fields, before reaching the South Foreland Lighthouse.
Having visited twice in recent months, I can guarantee whatever the weather, the views are outstanding. With the glorious white cliffs reflecting on the sea even on a stormy day it is recommended to stop and take in your surroundings.
Follow the path onwards beside the lighthouse, to head inland for a short section. Once here turn right and right again and you will find yourself on the marked Saxon Shore Path.
Here the path starts a steady decline into St Margarets Bay. At this point I followed the path down to the beach on the bay – a small rocky section between the cliffs – before picking up the path again up a steep zig zagging staircase. You can avoid this by finding your way through the village, but if your legs can take the incline, its worth taking a break to the shore.
Once at the top of the stairs, turn right and follow a further incline through the kissing gates and you will reach a beautiful view point to look back on the cliffs. From here you can see the light house you have passed along the way.
Continue on for a few more minutes and you will reach the Dover Patrol Memorial. The Grade II listed obelisk, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was built in memory of the Dover Patrol of 1914-19 and the lives then lost in the Second World War. The monument stands at the half way point of the path from Dover to Deal, so if you are looking for a long distance walk you could continue on to Deal and return to make the hike a 20 mile round trip or for a one way trip simply hike the Dover to Deal path in one direction.
On both occasions visiting the area, this was my turning point. It offers the perfect stop to take a break and have some refreshments, before returning and heading back in reverse.
The route offers a wonderful scenic path, with many inclines that challenge even the seasoned hiker. However, as with all hikes, come prepared for all weathers and eventualities. The path can be rough and rocky, and in wet conditions, rather slippery. A good pair of walking boots or trainers are a must, along with a back pack with drinks and snacks if you plan a long hike, and a weather proof jacket. As I found out, the weather on the coastal path can change in an instant – even on a summers day – so come prepared!
2020 has been, by far, the most horrendous year for everyone across the globe and with a wide number of travel restrictions in place many have been left with cancelled holidays. As such there has been a natural growth in the number of staycations within the UK.
Despite spending the majority of my annual leave on international holidays and city breaks, seeking the guaranteed weather and different cultures, I do love a staycation. As with others, by mid summer I had not left the UK since lockdown began in March, I had numerous battles with travel companies due to cancelled trips and was seeking an opportunity to simply get away.
Therefore, I used one of the many credit notes I received from the travel company (who I will not name, not wanting others to experience such shocking customer service), to book a night away.
I wanted a mix of coastal adventure, as my heart always aches for the sea, alongside a little culture of a city. Therefore I booked a night’s break in the centre of Norwich and planned a number of stops over two days to explore the surrounding areas.
So what did we get up to?
Located a short drive from the popular Wells-next-the-Sea you will find the 18th century country house in the centre of Holkham. The hall, built by Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, is set within a 25,500 acre estate. Today, it is still a lived-in family home, which is open to the public to enjoy. Surrounding the hall you will discover a mix of parkland, farmland, forestry, wildlife (look our for the deers), walled garden and even a boating lake.Visitors are encouraged to bring along a picnic, follow walking trails and cycling paths for a good family day out.
At the time of visiting, on a sunny July weekend, the estate was hosting “Feast in the Park,” an event boasting a selection of street food and drinks, all from local producers – including the Adnams Brewery from the neighbouring county.
Just a short walk from Holkam Hall you will find Holkham Nature Reserve and Beach. Covering 3706 hectares from Wells-next-the-Sea to Burham Overy, you will be able to explore the mix of salt and grazing marshes, sand dunes, woodlands and beach. For the avid hikers, the Norfolk Coastal path runs straight through the area. As a great hiker myself, I am planning to come back to experience the path and the views it had to offer. During this break, however, we were simply enjoying the views and coolness of the sea on an extremely hot day.
If visiting the reserve and beach I would recommend two things. Firstly, as always, check the tide times so you can make the most of the day. Secondly, if you don’t enjoy lugging your belongings to the beach park in the reserve car park, rather than Holkham Hall. And, if you really struggle, bring along a trolley to cart everything with you. The walk to the coast line, when the tide is out, can be a long one – especially on a hot day.
On a hot day there is nothing better than a nice boat trip to help cool you down and in this area of Norfolk there are plenty opportunities for this, whilst experiencing the wildlife at the same time. Blakeney Point, just a short drive from Holkham, is owned and protected by the National Trust. Here you will find 6.4km of of shingle and sand dunes – which are home to a colony of seals. As the area is protected, the only way to reach the point and see the seals in their natural habitat is by boat.
We booked our trip with one of the many companies that provide an hour long tour, Beans Boats. Available all year round, with times subject to the tide, the tour was a fantastic way to experience the seals up close. The boats are not allowed to land ashore, however, you still receive an amazing view. If you are lucky, you will even get a performing seal who will swim up close to the boat.
The medieval city of Norwich has an abundance of culture, from its cobbled streets, Tudor houses and imposing gates. Despite being rich history and unbelievable quaint, it is also famous for a number of things – including Colmans Mustard, which has been its home since 1814. Admiral Lord Nelson was educated here, hence why Norfolk is known as “Nelson’s County.” Delia Smith is the joint majority shareholder of Norwich FC and Hugh Jackman is a huge fan of the club, due to his mother living nearby!
You can easily spend a good day wondering the streets of the charming city. Having visited two years in a row I would recommend the following.
The heart of any city, and it is no different here. Admission is free and on a usual summer weekend, you would find copious numbers of tourists exploring the grounds and Cloisters. On our visit, in the midst of a pandemic, we enjoyed an unusually tranquil setting.
Missed on my last visit to the city, this time round I was determined to explore this cobbled lane dating back to the Tudor period. We wondered the picture perfect street early without an influx of cars or pedestrians and on a beautiful sunny morning we were rewarded with an idyllic setting.
Though one of the most underwhelming castles I have seen to date, the medieval fortification stands proud in the centre of the city. It was founded by William the Conquerer after the Norman conquest of England as he wanted a fortified place in the centre of Norwich. We did not spend time in the castle itself, as we were pressed for time. However, it is a steeped in history and definitely worth the visit if time is on your side.
The traditional seaside town, less than an hour from the centre of Norwich, offers an award winning family beach, shops selling local produce and stunning coastal walks. Here is where we ended our staycation. On arrival, shortly after lunchtime, we found the tiny town packed with enthusiastic beach goers, families and dog walkers. Simply finding a parking space was a challenge and the high street was bursting with pedestrians as the paths simply were not big enough to cope with the volume of tourists.
Though lovely and traditional, I much preferred my visit to the neighbouring Cromer. That said, we spent a short time here, feasting on fish and chips before heading home.
The whistle stop tour along some of the scenic coastal locations and the picturesque city of Norwich was just the ticket after a long period of lockdown.
Not only did it help recharge the batteries, but it gave me plenty of hiking inspiration for the autumn and winter periods. I love the coast all year round, especially during the periods where tourist numbers drop and you have the beach to yourself.
It has been some time since I have felt the passion and creativity to write a blog post. As I stepped off the plane after my last adventure, the UK was starting to enter into a period of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst I started the year feeling optimistic and unfazed by the events that were occurring in China, a sense of panic and anxiety caused by the unknown was setting in.
As with most people around the world, I completely understood the severity of the situation and respected that we all had to play our part. Not only to save the health service, but to keep our loved ones, especially those vulnerable, safe. That said, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will understand that travelling and keeping fit have formed a major part of my mental and physical wellbeing. When the government announced the social distancing restrictions and lockdown measures back in March, I felt myself fall into a state of panic. Not only was I worried about the loved ones who relied on me on a regular basis, I also found myself over thinking, concerned about redundancy and my own well being.
Gone were my four spinning classes a week, running club and my ability to wander freely around the world and even our own country. I found myself rapidly heading towards that black hole. The whole situation was unprecedented, no one had any answers and no one could tell us when we could get back to “normal” life.
Since the lockdown began, it has been a consistent battle to keep my head above water. Luckily for me, working in digital marketing, work has thrived and my mind has been kept busy throughout the working week. Aided by the removal of news channels and some social media apps from my phone I have managed to keep somewhat of a level head during working hours.
However, evenings and weekends have been a struggle. With the lack of physical contact with friends and family, and the ability to work out as usual and travel the world, I feel that I have been in a constant fight with myself. Some weeks have been great, with me using the extra time to myself to hike miles and miles. When the restrictions lifted slightly in May, I was excited to extend my hikes to coastal paths within easy reach of home.
On the flip side, there have been weeks where I have found myself refusing to leave the house – feeling too tired mentally at the end of the working day to venture out for a walk, even to this day, and just getting into bed. Thereby, my physical health has been affected too.
The absence of freedom has played an unbelievable impact on all aspects of my health. And, whilst I am incredibly excited about the lift in some FCO restrictions to travel I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts on how travelling can be a great benefit to your mental health.
Obviously, if travelling is not your thing, then it is not likely to reduce stress levels. However, if like me, you are one of the many in the world that classes yourself as a wanderlust, then travelling the world can allow you to break free from the monotony of day to life. Life can be unbelievably stressful, as we have seen in recent months, and travelling can give you the opportunity to escape. To wake up late, to laze by the pool with a good book or explore a foreign city at your own leisure without having to worry about time!
With lockdown in place and working from home, I have not had that segregation between work and life. In normal circumstances I work from home 4 days a week, however even I struggled with the adjustment as I was simply not allowed to go anywhere else.
When I go on holiday, the minute I step into the airport I feel free and excited. From picking out destinations for my next holiday from the departure board, to the copious amount of wine in the bars – every minute fills me with a sense of adventure and as such the stress levels deplete. I even enjoy the rigmarole of security!
So to not have this luxury……..
2. Travel can lead to a long term mood booster.
As you can imagine, everything relating to travel keeps me in an upbeat mood. The end of any great travel adventure keeps me in a state of adrenaline. And whilst I always enjoy coming home, to discuss the places I have been with friends and family, the first thing I do is plan the next trip. I always have to have something booked to help get through the day to day of life, because having an adventure to look forward to keeps my mood elevated.
3. Travelling gives you a sense of independence.
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece about travelling as a solo woman, and about how travelling alone has given me a sense of independence and freedom. I enjoy travelling with others too – but I have been less reliant in recent years of having someone to go with. Where I used to worry about being alone, foreign language and the fear of not knowing where to go, I now cherish everything. Many people say to me how amazing it is that I can just “take myself off” alone, even if it is a day hiking by the coast in the UK. To me this has become the norm. My partner doesn’t always want to travel like I do, he doesn’t want to go to places I want to go. So what’s the alternative? Wait for someone to go with me? I might be waiting forever if I do that.
4. Travelling is a change of scenery.
Travelling anywhere, UK or overseas, gives us that change of scenery that we all need. I love home just as much as I love to adventure, however slipping away to the unknown, into a hotel with crisp sheets (which you cannot quite replicate at home), to just get a break away from it all – it’s just bliss. We all need a little time out from time to time and travelling enables us to do just that.
Until recently, with lockdown, there was no change in scenery. We have been luckier than some countries with the restrictions that were in place, however when you have the freedom to move further afield taken from you it can be rather disconcerting. I struggled massively with this in the first month of the restrictions. Suddenly, everyone on earth had started running or training for the Duke of Edinburgh. My usual routes were littered with people, who since are no where to be seen. I had to find new routes around home, that were isolated and that gave me that change of scenery I needed. Local ordinance survey maps were purchased so I knew all the local footpaths in my area and hikes were plotted out to kill time at the weekend.
The point is, in lockdown and in regular daily life, we need that change of scenery.
5. Travelling provides education to new cultures and experiences.
Everyone who travels will know how exciting it is to land in a new country, a new city and experience the culture it has to offer. From local cuisines and customs, meeting local people and experiencing monuments you have previously only seen in books or on screen. The education you receive from travelling not only teaches you about the world, but it helps you appreciate what you have. Since travelling became a big part of who I am, I have less and less desire for the material things in life.
Okay, I still enjoy a splurge in the Mulberry sale from time to time, but generally I don’t have a want for “things.” For me, it is all about life experiences, of which travel is the core. Even my niece and nephews opt for a day out as a gift for birthdays and Christmas as they too see that experiences are a fundamental part of life!
With restrictions lifting and we start to form a new normal way of living, I find myself somewhat anxious of what will come. Our travel industry has by far been one of the most, if not the most, affected industries from COVID-19, not just in the UK but in locations far and wide that rely on the tourism industry to survive.
And whilst it has given us an opportunity to slow life down, to take time to read books, do puzzles and be with immediate members of your household, I for one cannot wait to get my mental health back to full capacity. To be free to wander the world, for new experiences and to support the travel industry getting back on its feet.
Seville, the capital of the Andalucía region in Spain, is famous for flamenco dancing and it’s beautiful Moorish architecture. The sunny city was also the location of my most recent adventure.
Packing my wheelie case I jetted for a mid week break for some winter sunshine in the city that Lonely Planet named the top city to visit back in 2018, and I was not disappointed.
Like previous adventures I booked this trip in the Lastminute.com sale, selecting the Catalonia Giralda Hotel as my base. The small, yet modern hotel, was located just a short ten minute walk from the main tourist area therefore I imagine a lot quieter than most.
Over the course of two days, I managed to pack in a number of the main sites, eat my fair share of Tapas and enjoy a number of Sangrias! When in Rome, as they say!
I had a number of highlights during my visit!
Sevilla Cathedral & La Giralda
Sevilla Cathedral is the third largest church in the world, the worlds largest Gothic church and has been registered as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1987. The impressive building occupies the site of a mosque that was built in the late 12th century. Normally, I don’t pay to enter cathedrals as I find that, other than the stained class, the outside is much more impressive to look at.
That said, I wanted to not only climb the 34 ramps to the top of La Giralda, it’s bell tower, but I also was very interested in the roof top tour you can book to admire the structure and sloping roofs from the best vantage point.
For only €16 you can complete all three – exploring the inner cathedral and bell tour, followed by a booked time slot for an hour and a half on the roofs with a knowledgeable guide. By far the best views of the city!
The Alcázar of Seville is the royal palace within the city. The UNESCO listed palace is still in use by the Spanish Royal family today. A standard ticket at €11 provides you general entry to the palace, but paying a little extra will grant you access to the chambers and state rooms on the upper floors.
The most famously photographed features of the palace has to be the Patio de las Doncellas (the Patio of the Maidens) and Patio del Yeso (the Patio of Plaster).
The majority of the palace complex is built in a Mudejar style, which was often used for non-Islamic Moorish buildings.
It is recommended to spend a good couple of hours here, wondering the courtyards and gardens, admiring the stunningly carved ceilings and colourful tilings throughout.
If visiting during peak seasons it is advised to prebook your tickets to avoid lengthy queues in the blistering heat. Luckily, being both off peak and relatively cool compared to the summer months – my wait was just ten minutes.
Plaza de Espana
The southern area of the city is dominated by the leafy Parque Maria Luisa, where you will find the extravaganza that is Plaza de Espana. No trip to Seville would be complete without visiting this magnificent monument built for the Ibero-American Exposition around 100 years ago.
The impressive plaza is created in a semi-circle, with a canal and curved palace. Here you can take a stroll around the plaza, admiring the architecture that is dominated with colourful tile work throughout, hire a boat to row along the canal or take in the street performers that offer entertainment in the form of music and flamenco dancing.
Despite the beauty and atmosphere of this attraction, the locals state it has two issues. Firstly – there is no shade, which can be a problem in the fierce heat. Secondly – there is no bar to enjoy a drink. Therefore they prefer Plaza de America just a short distance, which offers both these missing elements.
Las Setas del Encarnación (incarnations mushroom) is located in the old quarter of Seville. The wooden structure is one of the newest additions to the city completed in 2011 and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world.
Here you can pay €5, to explore the upper levels for a unique view over the city. Although I visited at lunch time, it is said that the views around sunset are particularly spectacular.
Santa Cruz & Triana
The Santa Cruz & Triana districts of the city were wonderful to explore at a leisurely pace.
Dominated by narrow cobbled streets, colourful buildings and orange trees both areas were vibrant and energetic.
I enjoyed a number of hours between visiting the main attractions just wondering down random streets, window shopping and taking in pit stops at Tapas bars.
The two days in Seville was a wonder, a great escape from the dreary wintery English weather. Had more time been available I would have liked to venture further outside the main city centre to see what else this beautiful region had to offer.
Six years ago today I was jetting off to Istanbul, for a trip that promised rich history and culture.
The city, formally known as Byzantium and Constantinople, lies across two continents. One part of Istanbul lies in Europe, with the other in Asia – separated by the Bosphorus straight. The 31km waterway not only connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, but it also acts as boundary between the two continents.
During my two night stay, I spent my time on the European side, which had a number of iconic attractions to explore.
The Blue Mosque
A trip to Istanbul would not be complete without taking time to appreciate the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“The Blue Mosque”). Built between 1609-1616 it remains a functioning mosque to this day, attracting large numbers of visitors every year. There are two stories that surround it’s name, with the most common is that it’s interior is covered with Blue İznik tiles. The other story is based on ancient sailers, who sailed by the mosque on the Marmara Sea, saw the blue colours of the sea reflected in the mosque.
When visiting it is important to bare in mind the dress code; men must wear long trousers and women need to cover their hair, arms and legs from the knees up.
Hagia Sophia Museum
Before becoming the museum it is today, Hagia Sophia was formerly part of the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. Constructed in 537 it was the World’s largest building and an engineering marvel of it’s time.
With the interior composed with 30 million gold tiles and a wide flat domed roof, it is a building that is not only iconic, but simply stunning. It is a sight in Istanbul that cannot be missed.
Once home to Ottoman Sultans between the 15th and 16th centuries, this grand palace is a popular attraction within the city. The grounds within the palace walls include myraid buildings, courtyards and royal chambers – all finished with Iznik tile work and rather opulent architecture.
In visiting the palace you will learn the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. And, if you have a little extra time, perhaps book a guided tour, which will allow you to skip the long entry lines and give you a more comprehensive experience of the palace.
The Grand Bazaar is the world’s biggest and oldest covered markets. Covering 30,700 square meters with over 60 streets and alleys, it is a place where you can pick up a great bargain, but it is important to know what is worth purchasing and be prepared to haggle!
Whilst visiting we saw numerous shops offering jewellery, antiques, carpets, leather goods and spices. Even if you are not intending to make a purchase, a visit to the Grand Bazaar is recommended.
Located just a short distance from Hagia Sophia you will find the Basilica Cistern – the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that are found below the streets of Istanbul. For just €10 you can visit the Underground Palace and experience this vast cistern. Measuring approximately 452ft by 212ft and holding 80,000 cubic metres of water, the ceiling of this impressive structure is supported by 336 marble columns.
In the heart of the Old City you will find Sultanahmet Square. It is here where you will not only enjoy picture perfect views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but you can also find a number of historical sites, cafes and shops within easy reach too. Allow plenty of time to take in the atmosphere and, if the weather allows, simply take an alfresco lunch whilst enjoying the sights.
The city has a great deal to offer tourist by both land and sea. If time allows, taking a short (and reasonably priced) trip along the Bosphorus is a great way to get a different view of Istanbul.
When we visited, in the height of winter, the bitter cold did not hinder our experience. We sailed along the shore taking in the views of the palaces, luxurious hotels, fortresses and even expensive homes of the wealthy inhabitants.
Located in the Galata quarter of Istanbul the medieval structure was used as a watch tower to defend the city. Today you can head to the top of this 220 feet tower to appreciate a panoramic view of the Blue Mosque and surrounding buildings.
It is recommended to try visiting at both day and night to enjoy the city from both perspectives.
After experiencing a Hamam during a previous trip to Turkey, this was on the top of my list of things to do during my stay. Luckily our hotel provided this service so a “Traditional Style” Hamam was booked in. This is the one to book if you want the real Turkish bath experience. During the session, which takes place in an impressive marbled room, the attendant washed, massaged and scrubbed, including my hair, before a final soapy wash followed by a cold rinse. It was by far on of the most relaxing and luxurious experiences I have had whilst on holiday, resulting in a restful sleep (before the call to prayer at 6am).
Although you can easily fit in the main sights within a weekend, if you too are time restricted then the “hop on, hop off” bus services are worth considering.
My short trip to the culture filled city meant that I did not manage to see everything Istanbul had to offer, so I have no doubt I will incorporate it into another trip in the distant future.
One of the greatest joys of travel is not just seeing the world, but the people you meet along the way.
During my trip hiking the Atlas Mountains I met some amazing people, of all ages and backgrounds. Some I knew I would not likely see again, others I would keep in touch with via social media and then there were a few who were potential to be life long friends.
A small group of like minded ladies, with a love for all things outdoors, with similar life values branched away, to form a perfect adventure holiday group. The location for our break away – the Scottish Highlands.
When most people were spending their mid January weekends feeling blue and hibernating with Netflix on the sofa – we ventured to the freezing temperatures and stunning scenery of Glencoe.
Flying into Edinburgh on a cheap Easy Jet flight, we met with one of the group members who lives in the area, before venturing to our luxury cabin two hours away. Arriving at sundown meant that we could not appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Therefore the evening was spent enjoying the warmth of our cabin, eating a hearty meal to fuel for the next day and catching up since our last adventure.
Pap of Glencoe
The first day of our trip saw us take to the Pap of Glencoe – modest in height compared to the neighbouring mountains. However the walk boasted to be short but steep and rough hill walk, with a “sensational view.” After combating the Atlas Mountains, the 742 metre height paled in comparison. Though this did not make the journey any easier.
The first stages of the trek saw us follow the main road from the village of Glencoe, up a gentle hill path and across the hillside – before meeting a rather challenging stream of water cascading down from the mountain top. Hardy, water resistant boots are a must to cross the terrain which, in the height of winter, is not just wet but rocky and boggy too.
From here we started a steady climb up stonier terrain that was testing to the seasoned walker, due to recent wintery showers in the region. To add to the challenging conditions, we experienced a sudden turn in weather. The bright blue skies shifted, turning a moody grey, the bitterly cold wind picked up and we were succumbed to a heavy snow shower. Waterproofs and extra layers were quickly donned to ensure we were protected against any conditions that would expect further up the mountain.
At 430 metres the path starts to curve left, up further rocky and boggy terrains, which at this point was covered in a fresh layer of snow. It is here you can really start to appreciate the views.
We followed this path for a short period before the dome of the Pap could be seen ahead. From here the challenge really started to become apparent, as in the distance we could see other walkers on the ascent, clearly scrambling to get to the summit.
Not only did the path not seem clear, but it was apparent that this was something we needed to take seriously. With the cold, wintery conditions one wrong step could be fatal so concentration was paramount.
We made our steady scramble to the top, taking care to ensure we were following the steps of the person in front, following the tracks of climbers before us and stopping regularly to keep together. Despite climbing numerous mountains before this one, the Pap is the one that terrified me the most.
Slowly we made our way to the summit and the views were just as promised – sensational. The snow storm, that had passed over just an hour or so before, had cleared offering picture perfect scenery.
The only issue? The dramatic temperature drop. The wind had picked up and whilst we had been protected climbing to the top, the summit provided no such protection. Exposed to the elements, we spent no longer than a couple of minutes taking in the view. The idea of a lunch picnic was out of the question.
We had to start our descent quickly to prevent us feeling the chill. Slowly we reversed our steps, at times using our back sides to aid our journey. Our lunch was spent munching on pre-made sandwiches (and left over lasagne for some) perched on the the rocks whilst other walkers passed us by.
It was, hands down, the best lunch view I have experienced to date.
Conscious of time and daylight hours, we didn’t linger and continued our downward climb. The snow fall quickly melting in the blazing sunshine made the descent just as difficult as the upward climb. Snow melt, turning the rocky paths into rivers and bogs. Thank heavens we were all prepared with sturdy boots and walking poles.
Soon enough we were back down to the start, in the village warming ourselves up with hot chocolate and coffee at the Glencoe Cafe.
Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge
Our second day called for something of a more gentle terrain. Despite not being able to attempt Ben Nevis due to precarious weather conditions we headed to the vicinity to explore Nevis Gorge.
Boasted as one of the best short walks in Scotland our route promised dramatic and beautiful views of the gorge that leads to the stunning Steal Falls.
Though not as challenging as the previous days climb, the paths were still rocky and rough, therefore great care was needed.
The path through the gorge, maintained by the John Muir trust, was one of the most tranquil walks I have experienced to date. Starting early meant that we had the paths and gorge all to ourselves all the way to the waterfall.
We followed the path, where it opened out to grassy meadows, surrounded by the mountains and the Steal Falls directly ahead.
The waterfall is the third largest in Scotland, reaching 105 metres down the rock face. However, to get to Steall Falls itself and to see it close up, you will need to embrace the adventurer within you. The only way to get close to the rock face is to cross the wire bridge over the river.
Personally, I was unable to find the courage to cross what I could only describe as an accident waiting to happen. In my mind I was assessing all the things that could go wrong and came to the conclusion that I could not take the risk.
That said, I encouraged members of our group who found their daring side. With baited breath we watched as they made easy work of the wire bridge and cheered when they successfully reached the other side without incident.
Once returned safely, though not back across the wire bridge, we paused by the river banks for our lunch before making our way back to the start. Perfectly timed, as an influx of visitors had started to make their way up the path and through the gorge. We had successfully enjoyed uninterrupted views – something we would not have received had it been the height of summer.
After the adventures to get back from the waterfall, there was an array of soaked boots so further walking would require replacing footwear.
Therefore, after a short break for hot drinks in Fort William, we decided to head over to Glenfinnan to visit the infamous “Harry Potter Bridge.”
The railway viaduct overlooks both the Glenfinnan monument and the waters of Loch Shiel. Despite being mid January there were a number of tourist exploring the area, with the avid Harry Potter fans following the 15 minute trail up close to the bridge.
After the weekend hiking, we simply took on the short climb to the view point admiring the bridge from afar. Sadly we did not time it to see the steam trains passing by, but were pleased to fit in this attraction none the less.
With satisfied, yet tired legs we spent the evening relaxing again in the cabin before our return flight the following afternoon.
Time really does fly when you are having fun and the weekend had been just that!
Our small group had spent four active, yet relaxed days laughing and enjoying each others company – further cementing the fact that our adventures together had just begun!