Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Dog walk along the Ilex Way

On Monday mornings I usually take Barney for a walk along the Ilex Way, which is an avenue of Holm Oak trees nearby, and a lovely place for dog walking.  It is possibly the best known avenue of  Holm Oaks/Ilex trees in Great Britain.  The Holm Oak is usually found in the Mediterranean, and is a tall broad leaf evergreen tree.   The trees form an arch over the avenue all the way along.  I took this picture back in December when it was a little bit misty, and very atmospheric. 

Yesterday it was a bright sunny morning so I took some more photos.

The trees have grown very large now, and some have had to be trimmed or even felled.  There was a lot of damage in the 1987 hurricane.  The gaps have been replanted and those trees are now quite mature.  There is a lot of wildlife among the trees.  Barney always loves to chase the grey squirrels!  There is always lots of bird song - quite magical.

These trees were planted in the 19th century when the land was part of the Goring Hall estate.  Goring Hall was built in 1840 by David Lyon and it is said that the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon stayed there as a guest many times.  Goring Hall is now a private hospital, but has been a private boarding school. 

To the south of the avenue are farmers fields down to the sea

There is a well trodden path across the famers field, which we usually take to walk back, and that   brings us to the cricket and football fields.

There are usually lots of other dog walkers to chat to and walk with, and dogs for Barney to play with. The walk takes about 45 minutes, but there are lots of other paths you can take for a longer walk.   And finally, here's Barney!


Monday, 4 March 2019

Spring Flowers

Just playing with my camera in the garden.  Dainty little snowdrops, bright sunny daffodils and blue muscari.  As a bonus, I took a selfie with my springer spaniel Barney

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Holidays Part 2 - Scotland

Our next holiday came about because Maurice's nephew, Mark, decided to cycle the length of the country, ie Lands End, Cornwall to John O' Groats, Scotland.  Mark actually lives in Australia now and flew over specially to do the cycle ride with some old friends.  Thus, we couldn't resist motorcycling to Scotland and meeting them in John O'Groats!

As we live on the South Coast of England (straight down from London), we had a lot of miles to cover.  We organised our route and hotels and B and B's along the way.  Our first stop was in the Lake District, just 5 minutes off the motorway.  It was a lovely country hotel, and after a lovely dinner there we found this lovely canal just opposite.

We set off early the next morning as we wanted to see Hadrian's Wall, a wall built by the Romans which spanned the north of Britain.  We went to a really great visitor centre called 'Vindolanda'.  We found it really interesting especially the Roman tablets which were found there quite recently.  They are one of the few surviving examples of Roman handwriting.

We still had a long way to go for our next overnight stop at Loch Lomond, in Scotland.  We had booked a farm B and B, and we were not disappointed!   This is the view from the dining room!

Our host was really friendly, and we spent some time talking to her about the sheep farm before heading into the little village of Luss for dinner.  Luss is a pretty 'conservation village', situated right on the shores of Loch Lomond, and is full of pretty cottages and flowers.

The next day, after a lovely breakfast with some fellow German guests, our travels took us through Glen Coe, a famous glen where many battles between the clans of Scotland were fought.  The mist covering the tops of the hills made it more evocative.

Further on north we stopped at the town of Fort William for lunch.  Whenever we are here we like to stop at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, which overlooks the training grounds used in World War 2.

We were now well and truly in the Highlands of Scotland, but still a long way to go! It was a long gutty ride after this to get to our next night's accommodation.   Eventually, we turned off the main road on to the Mam Ratagan pass and were treated to some glorious views.  The pass is about 10 miles of single track road.  It must be an interesting road in the winter!

We arrived in the little village of Glenelg, situated right on the coast at the narrowest point between the mainland and the Isle of Skye.  We stayed the night in this inn, and were treated to a fabulous cèilidh band while eating dinner.  

It was a gorgeous morning and we woke to this view across the strait of Kyle Rhea to Skye.  

We decided to take the little ferry across to Skye and ride round and back across the Skye Bridge.  The Kyle Rhea ferry is the last operating manual turntable ferry in the world!  It is just a few minutes ride across the narrow strait. The water races through here and there are very strong currents.

Onwards and upwards - we rode right up to the top of Scotland for a night's stay on the north coast at Durness, stopping at Ullapool for lunch.  Durness has the most beautiful white sandy beach!  The weather over the summer had been hot and sunny, and even the north of Scotland had temperatures in the high 20s!  Lovely for all the RV holidaymakers up there.  We had a lovely dinner in the RV camp, and a sunny evening stroll along this magnificent beach.

The following day was the day the cyclists were on their last leg - and here they are cycling the last few hundred yards into John O Groats!  They had completed over 900 miles in 12 days, starting at the most extreme south-west of the UK, to the extreme north-east.  I am in awe!

 After we had celebrated with the cyclists we all made our way back down to Inverness for dinner and a night's stay.  The following day we set out for Aberdeen, somewhere we had not been before.  Lots of people told us not to bother, and apologies to Aberdonians,but they were not wrong!  It is called the granite city because it is built from granite.  Unfortunately, this gives it a fairly motonous grey tone, which is not very joyful!

So we were not sorry to leave Aberdeen early the next morning on our way to Falkirk.  We wanted to see the Kelpies, two 30m high horse heads built to liven up the park by the Forth and Clyde canal.  They are awesome, and certainly lifted our spirits!  These photos give you some idea of the scale.  

We also wanted to see the Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift linking the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal.  We had tickets to go on a boat trip and had time to take photos and have a coffee before it was our turn.  It is quite a feat of engineering!  


The view from the top

Our holiday was coming to an end now and we left Scotland the next morning.  We decided to stop near the town of Dudley so we could visit the Black Country Museum, an open air living museum.  I have a family connection, as my great grandparents were chain makers near here in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.  We were especially interested to see  the chainmaking demonstration, and I was thrilled to see an exhibit about  the lady chainmakers strike in 1910 for a minimum wage.  I wonder if my great grandmother was involved?  Something I am interested to research further.

And so we made our way home.  I hope you have enjoyed my whistle stop tour of Scotland (with a little bit of England).  I have really enjoyed writing this and looking back on our holiday.  We did a lot of miles, and it was long days of riding on the bike.  There were other places we would have liked to have stopped at along the way, but we ran out of time!  I am glad we did it, especially meeting nephew Mark and his cyclists, but I doubt that we will go back up to the very north of Scotland again.  It is a very long way!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

2018 Holidays - Part 1. The Balkans

Did you know that we are motorcyclists?  My husband loves motorbikes and rides every day to work.  I like to go on the back of his bike in the Summer when it is warm and hopefully dry!  Hence we mostly go on motorcycling holidays.  More recently we have joined organised guided tours and love them!  It is so nice to go with a group, and not have to worry about booking accommodation or choosing restaurants  for dinner.   In 2017 we joined a guided tour of Romania, and were keen to do more of Eastern Europe, specifcally the Balkans.  So last June we flew to Belgrade, Serbia to join a tour by 'Beyond Usual Motorcycles' .  The company is run by the fabulous 'Tosh.'  He couldn't have been more friendly and helpful!  It wasn't a big group, just us two and twin brothers from Canada, who interestingly had been born in Serbia and visited Belgrade frequently to meet relatives still there.  But they didn't know the rest of the country so had chosen the motorcycle tour.  Tosh provided the bikes and a back up van to carry our luggage (and for me to ride in if I needed to). 

 Here's Maurice on his bike:

And here are the group.  From left to right, Sam (One of the twins), Milan ( the van driver), Tosh (our guide and owner of the company), Mike ( the other twin) and Maurice ( my husband)

Here's the view from my seat on the back of the bike.  If you look carefully you can see my phone reflected in the wing mirror!

On our first day we rode along the mighty Danube all the way to the far East of Serbia to the town of Negotin where we spent the night.

The following morning our first stop was at a little village of wine cellars, called Rajacke Pimnice. Local wine was kept in these huge barrels in these old stone houses.  Sadly, they are falling into disrepair now, as the young people are leaving the village for the bigger towns.

The Serbian countryside was very green and picturesque.  The villages didn't look as poor as the Romanian villages we rode through in 2017.  Farming is more mechanised in Serbia -no horses and carts as in Romania, but the tractors were very old.

We crossed the border into Montenegro at Pjevlja.  It was cool to cross a border, and of course we had to take photos!  We carried on riding through the Durmitor National Park.

Lots of tunnels through the mountains!

We stopped for the night at Zlatar, and had a lovely walk around Black Lake.  So beautiful!

We came down to the coast of the Adriatic Sea above the Gulf of Kotor. Stunning view!

We descended and rode along this beautiful part of the coast until we arrived at the pretty old town of Kotor, where we had a couple of hours to look around, and have lunch.  It was really hot at this point, well into the 30s, which makes for very uncomfortable riding!

We stayed the night just along the coast in the town of Herceg-Novi, in a huge concrete hotel that definitely harked back to the Communist era!  The hot weather came to an end with a huge thunderstorm overnight that did a lot of damage to the town!  You can see the black clouds coming in in this picture:

And then we crossed another border into Bosnia-Herzegovina.  (Republika Srpska is one of two constitutional and legal entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina)

A popular meal is barbequed lamb.  We were very grateful of this yummy dinner after riding for miles in the rain!

 Our last night was spent in the lovely little village of Mokra Gora.  This is 'Drvengrad', a re-creation of an old village of this area by the film director Emir Kusturica.  It is set on the slopes of Mount Zlatibor, a most stunning setting.  All the little houses are wooden, and it has all the facilities a tourist could wish for: comfortable rooms, restaurants, swimming pool, cinema etc.

So that was it!  A week spent riding around the Balkans.  I am sure we will go back.  We didn't go to Sarajevo or Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Croatia.