Destination: Home

60 days away from home is a long time to live out of a suitcase. So, home can be a welcome destination to relieve some travel weariness, to get back into a familiar routine, but also to provide opportunities to recall and relive some of the experiences from our travels.

Different locations, cultures, and the people we met when travelling away from the normal environment provide some real pleasures. Often these experiences, many on a “bucket list”, will never be repeated and are to be treasured.

Another often under-estimated aspect for ensuring enjoyment from travelling and getting the most out of the experiences themselves is the planning for, and anticipation of the holiday. A recent Huffington Post article advised that a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that “planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.” We certainly put a lot into the planning for our trip.

So now, we have enjoyed the planning and build-up to the many places to be visited, and secondly seen many parts of the world we have never seen before as well as renewing acquaintances with other more familiar but faraway places. It now remains to enjoy that third aspect of holidays – the memories.

So, out come the photos for examining, editing where necessary, identifying and naming and arranging for albums, slide shows and hopefully a photo book of selected shots. Although now at home, it is anticipated that we will be able to continue to enjoy our 60 days away for many years to come.

 

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London Revisited

So, what can you really achieve in a few days in this great city? By way of a disclaimer, firstly we had already been here several times, we were suffering from a little bit of travel fatigue after more than six weeks away from home and lastly with one very sore foot our normal enthusiasm for sightseeing (requiring walking) was somewhat diminished.

London celebrates

London celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday

Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry

Tower Bridge from the Greenwich ferry

 

 

 

 

 

Our hotel, not far from Paddington station, was well situated for both our arrival from Oxford and our intended departure to Heathrow. Armed with 48-hour hop on – hop off bus passes and an Oyster cards for the tube we were ready see a few sights but at a slower relaxed pace.

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

london kensington palace2

 

As we all know timing is often very important in life. We managed to time our visit to arrive in London on the Friday of a long weekend along with the thousands of other visitors. There were people everywhere and I couldn’t remember such crowds but, London is geared to cope with tourists and it is amazing how everything functions so well. Did I mention timing? This particular weekend also saw the London 10k fun run on the Sunday with many inner city roads closed resulting in diversions to the ho-ho bus routes.

So in a way the crowds and the road diversions contributed to our being able to sit back on the bus and relax while taking in the sights. Taking full advantage of our 48-hour tickets, on the Sunday we spent a couple of very pleasant hours travelling up and down the Thames to visit Greenwich. All in all, we certainly got full value from the ho-ho bus passes.

At the National Gallery

At the National Gallery

A Streeton

A Streeton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But what else did we do? We spent a couple of hours relaxing among masterpieces in the National Gallery, including one Streeton. We had a ride on the London Eye enjoying the view, which when we last took the ride was limited to about 50 metres. We spent some time savouring the historic journey that Westminster Abbey provides, topped off by a visit to Kensington Palace and an exterior inspection of Buckingham Palace.

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station

Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station

 

There was a little shopping, a very little, and a visit to Kings Cross station and Platform 9¾ on behalf of grandchildren. Evenings saw us retiring early mostly but we did see a couple of shows in the West End, namely The Book of Mormon and the Carole King story of Beautiful, both extremely professional and enjoyable experiences.

These few days were punctuated by light lunches and dinners mostly at local pubs where we love the wholesome meals (and for me, the local ales). For our last night we were tossing up between a nearby Greek taverna or an Italian restaurant, either of which would remind us of our recent enjoyable cruise.

We probably have not done London justice on this occasion, if that is ever possible, but we have reacquainted ourselves with the wonderful variety that this great city has to offer.

PS      The Greeks won last night, taking us back a month or so to our visit to that favourite part of the world with a quite memorable meal.

 

 

Oxford

Oxford – the first and still one of the primary places of learning in England.

Oxford is all about education and its development over the centuries, and one cannot fail to be impressed by how this permeates every aspect of the city’s life. Most of the magnificent array of buildings are dedicated to learning although the city was also of strategic royal importance being situated in the centre of the country.

Among the buildings we were privileged to visit: the Ashmolean Museum, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Christ Church College with its Cathedral.

Christ Church College

Christ Church College

Access and transport in and around Oxford is dictated by the narrow medieval streets. For day visitors the pain is eased by park and ride facilities for local buses, with another option being the hop on – hop off buses stopping there too. Walking in the town centre is easy, but it seems that the twelve thousand odd students all own bicycles. Watching the skill with which cyclists, motorists and numerous buses and tourist coaches co-exist is quite intriguing.

Our hotel was some distance from the centre of town and on arrival we decided to walk onto town along path beside the River Thames. It was about an hour’s leisurely stroll dodging other walkers and cyclists and watching the dozens of eights crews practicing. It was lunchtime by the time we reached the town and the Head of the River pub so we naturally had (another) pub lunch (and ale). Between the cycling and the rowing, the Oxford students appear to be a very healthy lot.

Oxford was the end of our road touring that started in Edinburgh three weeks ago. The Peugeot 308 had proved a pleasure to drive on all types of British roads. Handing back the car quite close to the Oxford railway station we were able to walk to our train to Paddington, London.

PS      Even though constantly on the lookout, we did not manage to see DI Lewis or his sidekick Hathaway but we certainly saw many of the locations from that TV series.

 

Lacock, Wiltshire

I can’t remember where the recommendation to stay at Lacock in Wiltshire came from but we certainly owe that person a vote of thanks.

Travelling can be quite tiring so having an opportunity to slow down for a time is greatly appreciated, and Lacock provided that opportunity.

The Old Rectory B&B

The Old Rectory B&B

What does one want from a B&B? Friendly hosts, a comfortable bed, a good shower, a simple continental breakfast (so one is not tempted to over-eat), ample parking and pleasant surroundings. The Old Rectory at Lacock has those. Location is also important and this B&B is only a five minutes’ walk from the centre of the delightful historic village with its pubs and restaurants.

Arriving on Sunday was not the best timing as the day was fine and the crowds were out in force. Luckily we were staying for two days and these were much more relaxing. Although the temperatures are not always as high as we would like them in the UK in May, holidaying at this time of year is a little less congested.

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey

Apart from the houses in the village that apparently have not changed much in the last two hundred years, the 13th century Lacock Abbey was a really pleasant surprise. It survived Henry VIII’s Dissolution and the English Civil War, and became a family home for many years before being given to the National Trust and becoming a film set for Harry Potter. Another discovery was that the last private owner, William Henry Fox Talbot, was an important pioneer in photography.

Castle Combe village

Castle Combe village

Finally, Lacock is a convenient base for taking day trips to any of the numerous nearby sights, and sites, such as Castle Combe, Bath, Bradford-on-Avon, Avebury and Stonehenge to name just a few. It is well worth a visit.

Five Days Touring

Wednesday saw us leaving the Isle of Man (IOM) and embarking on a driving tour of the Heart of England across numerous counties. Our itinerary was based partly on recommended destinations, some on guidebooks and others on mere whim and wrong turns when Bruce (TomTom, who you have met before) was difficult to understand at some intersections and roundabouts.

Before leaving the Isle of Man we had met some English holiday-makers in our hotel lounge and one older gentleman, with a noticeable limp, reminisced with us about his own TT riding experience (maybe the cause of the limp) when he used to ride at over 90 mph (although today of course they reach speeds of 200 mph). He was very proud, and I daresay justifiably so, of his racing history. While hubby discussed the TT his wife gave us some recommendations of places to visit on tour towards London.

The Crown, Nantwich

The Crown, Nantwich

We took heed of her suggestions and the following morning set off for Nantwick in Cheshire. This proved to be another quaint town with many half-timbered buildings including The Crown pub where we stayed.

Canal and narrow boats, Nantwich

Canal and narrow boats, Nantwich

The town is known for the battle of Nantwich in 1644 when the Parliamentarians defeated the Royalists. Thursday saw us walking the town and the nearby canal with its long narrow boats before driving to Anderton and the world’s oldest operating boat lift.

Boat Lift, Anderton

Boat Lift, Anderton

Not being able to resist a boat trip we joined a bus load of tourists from Stratford-on-Avon on the River Weaver. We were the youngest on board and only got seats because two of the oldies had pulled out.

We had booked online to stay at The Crown pub, which looked like the best option in town, but believe me buildings dating back to 1585 are not always the most comfortable. Despite sleeping uphill because the floors sloped every which way and hitting our heads on low doorways and the wall next to the bed we did enjoy our stay, but two nights were enough.

Friday, and we were on our way to our next arranged destination at Yatton in North Somerset to meet up with a distant cousin. On the way we visited the market town of Ludlow in Shropshire, another of the recommendations from our IOM friends, before bedding down at the poshest digs of our tour in the Hilton near Yatton. We really needed a little bit of comfort to revitalise.

The Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

The Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

On Saturday we headed for nearby Weston-super-Mare, a favourite tourist centre in that part of the country. It was low tide and we had trouble seeing out to where the sea started.

The Grand Pier Amusements

The Grand Pier Amusements

The Grand Pier was very grand, with the biggest assortment of arcade games for kids of all ages that I have seen. Our return trip took us up through the scenic Cheddar Gorge but poor weather did not permit stopping to walk and see more of the views. The Old Inn where we had our family reunion dinner at night had the lowest ceilings and doorways to-date but was very cosy.

Driving

Driving

The Sunday drive to our next B&B at Lacock in Wiltshire was not meant to take long. We enjoyed a morning tea in Bradford-on-Avon and then took a few diversions, mainly thanks to Bruce and inputting conflicting instructions. The result was a circuitous trip through a range of typical English countryside including where over-hanging trees formed continuous tunnels, past rolling fields, through villages with their stone houses adjacent to the roadway and parked cars where waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic is necessary, and narrow one-lane roads between hedgerows and regular passing points, if you are lucky, or squeezing past with both vehicles touching the vegetation. It was fun.

The Old Rectory, Lacock

The Old Rectory, Lacock

The destination, Lacock, is only a small village, but has a large parking area at one end and this was completely full of visitors who had come to see the abbey and buildings that are said not to have changed much in two hundred years. The village is used for many movies and TV series because it has retained that character.

We are now in the Cotswolds and have two days to investigate this charming village and others nearby. Here, we are staying at The Old Rectory, which it once was, a large house perched on a hill in spacious grounds just five minutes walk from the village (and the George Inn). Our room, The Vestry, is spacious with ten feet high ceilings.

We already feel that we will be able to have a relaxing time before heading to our penultimate stop (before London) at Oxford.

Snaefell

Snaefell, the (Norse) Snow Mountain, is the highest point on the Isle of Man at 610 metres above sea level. On a clear day it is possible to see all the coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Unfortunately, today was not a clear day.

Manx Electric Railway

Manx Electric Railway

The afternoon trip to Snaefell started in Douglas on the Manx Electric Railway which is a light rail (tram) service using rolling stock and permanent way dating from 1893 and some of which are still in service.

The first part of the trip is a 30-minute ride from Douglas to Laxey. It was bumpy and noisy as the train rattled and even screeched its way around the windy hilly coastline at about 20 mph, blowing its whistle at the dozens of public and private road crossings along its route.

At Laxey we changed to another train for a further 30-minute ride, climbing to Snaefell. The grade to the top averages 1 in 12 and uses a centre third rail and calliper braking system for safety.

Laxey Wheel

Laxey Wheel

We had made a mistake with the scheduling of our Snaefell trip because the wonderfully fine sunny day of yesterday had been replaced by a cloudy afternoon today and further deterioration was in prospect. As we climbed the mountain from Laxey the clouds enveloped the summit and started to roll downwards.

Until we disappeared into the mist we had a great view of the famous Laxey (water) Wheel and the picturesque valley. By the time we passed the level crossing of the mountain road that is part of the TT course the visibility was limited and at the summit we could see at least 20 metres in any direction.

Our train at Snaefell

Our train at Snaefell

After a short stay and warming coffee, the trip down was punctuated by a brief stop at the TT course road which was shrouded in a real “pea souper”. A bank-up of traffic in both directions and police attending suggested there was an accident in the vicinity. I wondered how TT riders would handle such conditions if they occurred in a couple of weeks time.

 

Jenny's long-awaiting view of Scotland from Snaefell

Jenny’s long-awaiting view of Scotland from Snaefell

The weather gradually improved as we returned down to Laxey and then Douglas but the mist was now all pervading and it was difficult to see where the sea finished and the mist started.

Maintaining our sense of humour, we still had an enjoyable afternoon.

Ballaugh, Isle of Man

Ballaugh in a small village in the north-west of the Isle of Man, about half an hour’s scenic drive from the capital Douglas, and it has a number of claims to fame. (If you need to know more about the Isle, Wikipedia is a good start).

IOM ballaugh old church

Ballaugh Old Church

Probably the least important fact about Ballaugh is that it was the stomping ground of my Manx Morrison ancestors. As far as I can tell, great-great grandfather William Morrison was born in Ballaugh, as were at least two earlier generations back to the mid-1700s. More family research is required in this area.

In terms of real fame, the village is on the Isle of Man TT course and famous, or maybe notorious, because of the Ballaugh Bridge where bikes usually become airborne as they scream through. The bridge was the site of a death a couple of years ago when a rider struggling with brake problems hit the wall of The Raven pub at an estimated 170mph.

Ballaugh Bridge

Ballaugh Bridge

The Raven with Rowan and Padding

The Raven with Rowan and Padding

 

 

 

 

 

Being one of the more dangerous motor cycle circuits, primarily because it all on public roads, there is a lot of significant padding around poles and buildings next to the road to help protect riders who come to grief. The Raven pub has always been padded but the publican advised that since the tragedy the padding has been doubled.

That leads me to another point. The Raven was visited during an earlier Manx tour that I took with brother Trevor in 2010, for a meal and a pint. I was instructed that I really did need to make a return visit and being an obedient child we decided to stop there for a pub lunch.

IOM ravens clawAgain it was most pleasant and maybe could have been more so if I wasn’t driving. Apart from providing a great value pub lunch (I had my usual soup) I tried the Raven’s Claw ale brewed especially for The Raven and can attest to its quality. It is apparently a very popular brew and the publican advised that during the two weeks of the TT, he sells over 4,000 pints. This has contributed to making The Raven the number one pub on the Isle of Man.