I can’t believe that it’s Christmas already. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was just starting my Christmas shopping (and I start early in the year, lol) Now the big day has been and gone, I can’t help but think: Where has the year gone? And where has Travel Junkie Girl been? I don’t just mean on my travels, but my blog presence too.
For those of you who follow me on the blog or social media, you’ll be aware that I haven’t published anything recently. In fact it’s now five months since my last post and that’s because I’ve been incredibly unwell and unable to concentrate on writing.
This has really saddened me as I love to write and have really enjoyed producing content for the blog. However, after a prolonged period of illness, I’ve spent the last 8 months undergoing various tests, procedures and a couple of operations, whilst seemingly getting worse and worse with severe problems swallowing, acid reflux and sickness, making eating and drinking very difficult and draining. As you can imagine, this has made travelling somewhat difficult and my wings have certainly been clipped, ruling out travelling abroad completely and limiting what I could do in the UK. Even going out for a meal or to the theatre was out of the question and many plans have had to be either changed or cancelled, including some foreign trips.
Finally many months on, I have a diagnosis of an oesophageal dysmotility condition and related stomach problems with a programme of treatment to hopefully sort things out. Touch wood… so far the medication seems to be working so I’m feeling considerably better. Phew!
Despite all the problems I’ve experienced though, I’ve still managed to get out and about in the UK maximising what time I have felt well enough and discovering new corners of England. So while I haven’t got any full blog posts about the places I’ve been yet, I’d like to share a snapshot of my English travels as a taste of what’s to come on the blog once my head is back in the game.
Up till now words just wouldn’t form on the page and I can’t count the number of blog posts I have written in note form but been unable to formulate into sentences! It’s like my brain has been in a constant fog… but hey, fingers crossed its jumped back into action now and let’s hope it lasts as with all these blog notes building up, I’d love to get them fully written and start sharing!
So let me take you on my summer tour of England, from the furthest reaches of the Scottish borders to approximately 15 miles from the South Coast in Winchester. Here goes….
As Spring turned into summer on that stupidly hot week in mid June, I was staying on the edge of the Peak District not far from Ashbourne in a lovely holiday cottage for a few days with family. Self catered trips are perfect when you’re not well as you can come and go as you please, you have different places to relax and get comfy in your own space (and in your jim-jams if necessary) and most importantly for me this summer, the ability to eat and drink when I wanted, not when I had to in B&B’s or restaurants.
Unbeknownst to us, we poddled into Ashbourne one day to be greeted by the annual carnival, the streets awash with colour, festivities and A LOT of bunting! There was such a good atmosphere and although we’d only popped in to drop my aunt at church and nip to the supermarket, we ended up staying for the day taking in all Ashbourne had to offer. We watched the main carnival procession and saw a fabulous local art exhibition at the town hall where you could vote for your favourite piece. It was a wonderful example of a spontaneous day out and demonstrated that you don’t always have to have your itinerary on a trip all researched and planned out, something I normally do when going somewhere new to make sure I see as much as possible. My FOMO usually kicks in if I don’t!
Also that week we spent a day at Crich Tramway Museum, where you can step back in time in the recreated period village and ride on a number of restored trams along a mile-long section of track.
Many buildings in the village have been rescued from demolition in other areas of the country and painstakingly rebuilt to be given a new lease of life here. Indoor exhibitions chart the history of the tram and you can see a huge variety of trams in various stages of restoration in the tram sheds. While in the village, grab a scone in Rita’s tea room or a beer at the Red Lion Pub and watch the trams pass by. Then take a tram to the far end of the line, admiring the views over the valley and walk back to the entrance via a woodland sculpture trail. You’ll spot the Crich memorial up on the hill above which is worth walking up to on leaving the museum for amazing panoramic views.
The Tramway Museum makes for a great family friendly day out and with everything on offer, it’s still fascinating to those who aren’t immediately intrigued by the humble tram.
A further day was spent at Carsington Water, a large reservoir lake on the Southern fringe of the Peak District. There are many attractions at the main visitor centre and you can set off on a number of different walks from here, including a trail that circles the entire lake.
Towards the end of June I returned to Derby to see the weeping window of poppies. When I learnt that the poppies were going to be weeping from the Silk Mill, a fabulous building in Derby city centre, I knew I had to return to see them. I also managed to fit in several things I didn’t get to see last time I was there, culminating in a tour around the Royal Crown Derby factory, a great choice for anyone interested in ceramics. You can read about my emotional return trip to Derby here. It’s the last blog post I managed to write this summer.
During the first week of July I had my friend Ed visiting me so I took him out and about around the local Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester area.
We visited Tatton Park, a beautiful country house and gardens set in a massive deer park with several lakes. The house and gardens are managed by the National Trust and the wider estate by the local council. It’s a place I’ve been to many times!
However this time was a bit different as we were attending the Stars and Stripes American Classic car show. I’d never considered going to one of these before, but as Ed was into these kind of cars, we went, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it!
We also went into the house and gardens, and I realised as I toured around the house that in all the years of coming here, I’d never actually been inside. And boy was I missing out. The rooms are stunning!
I took Ed on a sightseeing day of Liverpool taking in the cathedral, Albert Dock, the waterfront, the Museum of Liverpool and Matthew Street. I’m very familiar with the city so tried to put together the best whistle-stop tour I could for Ed based on his interests. Oh and finally I got to go up the cathedral tower and WOW, the views from the top are amazing! I can certainly recommend going up on a clear day for visibility and the majority of the work is done for you by the lift system, the last steps being squared around the cavernous bell tower.
A couple of days later we went into Manchester and again, I worked out a walking route to show Ed the best bits of the city. It was really an architectural tour taking in the Town Hall, Central Reference Library, Manchester Central, the Bridgewater Hall, Deansgate Locks, the Beetham tower, Urbis, Exchange Square and the cathedral.
The highlight of the day for me was that I went into John Rylands Library for the first time. Now that’s some seriously impressive architecture! I can understand why it regularly features on the list of the most beautiful libraries in the World. Unfortunately the historic staircase I’d seen in photographs was not open due to the BBC filming that day. I guess I’ll just have to make a return trip!
I also took Ed on a walk round one of my favourite places: Alderley Edge, a beautiful wooded landscape on a high point overlooking the Cheshire Plain near Macclesfield. There are a couple of impressive escarpments where rocks have eroded and the woods give way to fabulous views over the county towards Greater Manchester and the Pennine Hills. The area is well known for its links to witchcraft and wizardry.
We then continued on my quest of visiting new places in Cheshire by heading to Norton Priory near Runcorn. I’d been threatening to go for years since living in Warrington. The site consists of the extensive priory ruins which you get a fabulous view of from the first floor of the museum building, as well as a huge collection of excavated finds in the museum and a walled garden. I can recommend buying their pressed apple and pear juice made from onsite produce. It’s delicious!
Continuing with the car show theme, the following weekend Mr TJG and I went to the local Cheshire Steam Fair which is held annually on the opposite side of Warrington to us. Usually it’s the place to avoid at all costs on the day as access is a nightmare and the roads get very congested. This time we sighed in anticipation and joined the queue!
Once in, what we discovered was fascinating and an experience worth doing once in your life. It was a fantastical mix of old steam vehicles and traction engines. Old vehicles in general seemed the order of the day with lines of tractors, motorbikes, classic cars, even army trucks on display; accompanied by a huge market area resembling a car boot sale but made up of vehicle memorabilia and related products. All this surrounded a big show arena, the centrepiece of the event, which featured car parades, motorcycle and quad bike stunt shows and our personal favourite: the terrier and lurcher show.
There have been many other Cheshire firsts throughout this summer and I can’t wait to bring you them on the blog. These include a Delamere Forest hike, Blakemere Craft Centre and Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre.
At the beginning of August, my Mum and I took a trip to Hampshire. Now I have to say this wasn’t in my plan for the year, but as a massive fan of sculpture trails, the moment I learned of the “Sitting With Jane” book bench trail, (centring around Basingstoke) designed to celebrate the centenary of 200 years since Jane Austen’s death, I knew I just had to find a way to visit before the trail ended. So, two weeks later we found ourselves en route to discover Jane Austen’s Hampshire.
There were 24 book benches distributed around the areas of Hampshire that featured in Jane’s life, from her birth place at Steventon, to where she is buried at Winchester Cathedral, with the largest amount situated in or near to Basingstoke. Shaped like an open book, these benches featured quotes from Jane’s books in designs linked to scenes of Regency England and the landscape in which they stood. Many also used the colours associated with the fashion of the era.
Like all large public sculpture trails that are popping up around the UK and further afield, the book benches had been sponsored by local businesses in aid of a local charity. This one was to raise funds for the ARK Cancer Charity to build a specialist cancer hospital in Hampshire.
After downloading the app we were on our way and it was through app that I planned our 4 day itinerary, the last day dedicated to Winchester, a city I had not yet visited. By planning the trip this way, we managed to see all the benches and discover places I would never have found or chosen to go to without the sculpture trail’s existence, such as the town of Alton and Beggarwood Park on the outskirts of Basingstoke. And that’s the reason I love these projects so much: they are a great way of exploring an area, particularly one you are not familiar with.
We spent the large part of one day in Chawton, the village where Jane lived for the last 8 years of her life and where she wrote and published most of her main works. Her brother also owned a property in the village and both properties are open to the public as the Jane Austen’s House Museum and Chawton House Library respectively.
The latter has a lovely tearoom which was ideal for refreshment as we couldn’t get in the village pub just opposite the museum due the number of people. The beautiful village church just next door to Chawton House is where some of the Austen family are buried.
The village is extremely picturesque and I could quite happily have moved in to several of the houses…talk about a serious case of ‘house envy’!
Unfortunately our day in Winchester was spoilt by the weather somewhat. The driving rain was so bad you could barely make out the tops of the buildings on the main street. As a result we didn’t stay outside for long, but it did mean we spent longer in the cathedral than perhaps we normally would have done, which is magnificent by the way! Silver linings and all that… Then after flexing the plastic with a bit of (rain-induced) retail therapy in the city’s shops, we headed back up north knowing that at some point soon we’d be back.
Mid August, Mr TJG and I spent a relaxing week self catering at a cottage in Golcar, situated in the hills above Huddersfield, West Yorkshire with a group of friends. During this time, we explored Holmfirth, centre of Last of the Summer Wine country, a programme I loved watching as a teen. We spent a day in Skipton, one of my favourite Yorkshire towns and explored the Media Museum in Bradford. We also discovered the Standedge Tunnel, a 3.5 mile long canal tunnel through the Pennines for the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. It is Britain’s longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel and you can take a half hour journey into the end with commentary about the building of and need for the tunnel.
I rounded off August with a trip to Lincoln for the Asylum Steam Punk Festival, my first experience of the spectacle that is steam punk. By the end of the first day I’d fully embraced my inner steam punk and glammed myself up Victorian style ready for a gin-tasting night and a further 2 days of tea-duelling, jet-pack racing, costume parades and parasol duelling. There’s also a wide ranging seminar programme and numerous markets dotted around the city selling everything you could imagine related to steam punk.
The city comes alive during Asylum, the streets awash with jazzy arrays of stunning outfits; the bigger, crazier and more intricate, the better. Anything goes and if you just happen to be visiting the city centre unaware of the festival, you’ll find yourself in the minority of people in normal everyday clothes. I got so swept up by the amazing atmosphere that it’s hardly surprising I ended up in full steam punk regalia by the end of day 1! I’ve even been to a couple of other events since.
Perhaps what’s so special about Lincoln Asylum is its setting: a fabulous medieval city centre. The event takes over the university campus, the castle grounds, cathedral grounds and main town square as well as a number of other venues around the city centre. It really is the perfect setting!
My last trip of the summer was to Northern Northumberland, staying in the village of Warren Mill near Bamburgh. Although not necessarily the original plan, the trip became a castle hunt, taking in 8 different castles over the week. I discovered the pleasure palace at Bamburgh, the romantic ruins of cliff top Lindisfarne, the village castles at Ford and Etal and the wild cattle and ghostly encounters at Chillingham. Riverside ruins at Norham lead downstream to the superb city wall defences at Berwick. Then to top it off I visited the castle to rival all castles: the majestic stunner of Alnwick, home of Harry Potter fame.
The week was a journey through a 1000+ years of history with the castles providing a great starting point to exploring a town or village. Full days were spent exploring Bamburgh, Berwick and Lindisfarne and from Chillingham I walked up to the summit of Ros Castle, an old Roman fort providing exhilarating 360° views stretching as far as all the castles previously listed.
The foray to Norham Castle led to detours of Floddon Field, the site of the 1513 Battle of Floddon and the nearby Twizel Bridge built 2 years previously and most likely used by both armies at the time due to it providing the only dry river crossing of the River Till in that area.
Delving back even further into history I visited the Duddo Stones, Northumberland’s answer to Stonehenge and carbon dated at 4,200 years old. Situated at the top of a small rise 2 miles north of Etal and a good 15 minute walk from the road, the five Duddo stones stand at head height commanding an impressive vista in all directions. I could easily have stayed here all day nestled against a stone with a book soaking up the excellent fresh air in a calm and relaxing atmosphere.
So as you can see, despite my heath concerns, I’ve still managed to flex my wings and flit to a few places the full length and breadth of England.
Yes, lots of things have had to change or be cancelled, but I’m really happy with what I’ve managed to do over the summer when for much of the time I was feeling so rough I was largely confined to the sofa or bed.
I continue to amend plans according to how my health is, something I’ve been used to doing for many years as I also have another long term health condition that regularly governs what I can do (but that’s a whole other story.) Sometimes life seems like such an uphill battle, but getting out and about and discovering new places really fuels my motivation and zest for life, qualities that are often subdued by illness. Those places don’t have to be far away either or require a plane journey. It could just be an outing to a different country park, a different piece of coastline or a different town. I get just as much out of those as any of my previous trips abroad. Don’t get me wrong – some of those foreign trips have been the best and most memorable holidays of my life with lifelong bucket list entries realised; but travelling to lesser known parts of the UK reminds me how much I love my home country and how much I still have left to see here. It’s such an accessible country to get outdoors in and I can’t wait to focus my travels on other ‘yet to be discovered’ areas.
Watch this space….
All I have left to say for now is: Merry Christmas everyone and here’s to a great year of travels in 2018. Where are you off to in the New Year? Leave me a comment below and let me know.