Looking back at 2017, I’ve had some amazing experiences and been to some incredible places. My plans may have had to change a bit from my original hopes for the year and from February onwards I had to stay in my home country, but all that has meant is I’ve gotten to discover more great things about the UK.
In honour of 2017, I’ve compiled my favourite 17 experiences from the year, starting with the 2 foreign trips I took at the beginning of the year.
My first holiday of the year, back in January was rather special as it was to a new country for me, the 16th country I’ve travelled to and I got to travel with one of my best friends, something I always love doing.
We only went for 3 nights for the purpose of a city break, rather than the typical summer sun beach holiday Malta is famed for. We based ourselves in Valletta with a foray to Mdina on one day.
Kicking the trip off in style we joined a Champagne tour of Casa Rocca Piccola, a traditional Maltese Mansion and the last remaining one of its kind in Valletta. The tour was lead by the Marquis and his wife and are held every Friday evening. I can highly recommend going.
Valletta is such a small city that it’s easy to see over just a couple of days and still feel like you’ve fully explored the place. I loved circumnavigating the city on foot stopping off at the Saluting Battery, the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens overlooking The Grand Harbour, the Malta Experience Show and Hospice Tour, Fort St Elmo and round to Marsamxett Harbour with views to Sliema and Manoel Island.
The interiors of the co-cathedrals in Valletta and Mdina are awe-inspiring and Mdina itself boasts a cute network of back alleys in beautiful sandy coloured stone. All the buildings are adorned with the traditional coloured Maltese balconies and shuttered windows, unlike anywhere else on earth and it’s this architectural detail that will be the everlasting image that pops into my head when I think of Malta.
In February I travelled to Texas to stay with friends who live in Baytown. It was my third trip to the Houston area but somehow I’ve always managed to miss seeing much of the city itself. This time I decided to rectify that and spent a couple of days walking around Downtown Houston exploring the architecture, iconic buildings, parks and the Buffalo Bayou.
I spent a further day exploring the collections at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH), followed by lunch at Hotel Zaza and a walk around Hermann Park and Rice University Campus.
I also visited two other MFAH sites: Rienzi, which is the MFAH house museum for European Decorative Arts and the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, which houses the MFAH collection of American Decorative Arts.
I returned to the San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas State Park, something I’ve done every time I’ve been to Texas. I just love the views from the top of the monument where you can see for miles in every direction.
To compliment this fabulously cultural itinerary, I also indulged in a spot of outlet mall retail therapy and I got to eat at my 2 favourite restaurants: The Monument Inn fish restaurant and Chilli’s (their Molten Lava cakes are epic.) I cannot wait to go back again!
One of my most special weekends away in 2017 was in mid December when Mr TJG and I returned to our wedding venue, The Inn On The Lake, situated on Ullswater in the English Lake District. The occasion was to celebrate Mr TJG’s birthday and the purpose of the break was to chill out and relax. Laptops were left at home and board games and books were brought instead. We ate and drank around the clock, played games and relaxed by the open fire in the lounge.
We stayed in a lake view balcony room waking up to the view we fell in love with on our first visit 5 years ago and the reason we chose this place to get married at.
The rooms are pure luxury with incredibly comfy beds and it may have been a cold December weekend, but it didn’t stop us from wrapping up warm and taking our drinks out onto our private balcony with a pack of cards. We couldn’t feel our fingers by the time we’d finished the game, but it was wonderful all the same as with no-one else outside it felt like we had the place all to ourselves.
I love visiting the hotel at this time of year as all the festive decorations look fabulous. I’ve never seen so many decorated Christmas trees in the one venue. The hotel is so warm and inviting that you just want to stay longer and unfortunately our time there shot past way too fast.
It wasn’t just Mr TJG that got a great weekend away for his birthday. For mine back in October, we took a very spontaneous 2 night trip to Cardiff to see the ‘Tails in Wales’ Snowdog Sculpture Trail. I’m a huge fan of these amazing public art trails that are springing up in various parts of the country through the summer and autumn and have seen a fair few this year including Hares in the Cotswolds and Knights in Lincoln. The sculptures are sponsored by local companies to raise money for local charities, in this case ‘Ty Hafan’ and once the trail has finished the sculptures are auctioned off.
Knowing Cardiff quite well, I devised an itinerary to try and see as many of the sculptures as possible over the 2 full days we were there, including the ones on the outskirts of the city and in the neighbouring towns of Penarth and Barry Island. I did rather well if I don’t say so myself, as we managed to see 86 of the 100 Snowdogs. There were some gorgeous designs, my favourites being “Life’s a Beach” who sports an umbrella/parasol, “Sun Dog” with his chef’s hat, musical “Baffi” in his cute bow tie and “That Snow Tiger” who looks out to sea from the Cardiff Barrage.
The first of many trips with my Mum in 2017 was on a spa break at the Welcombe Hotel in Stratford. I love a good spa break and have been to some great ones over the years. Find a fabulous spa and it’s worth every penny you’ll spend!
Part of the Hallmark Hotels Group, The Welcombe is a Jacobean beauty on a grand scale with an award winning restaurant, spa and golf course. It offers a country house experience in beautiful oak-panelled rooms with magnificent open log fires and towering ceilings with elegant chandeliers. It provides the perfect setting for a super indulgent and relaxing break. The Italianate gardens are gorgeous and from those there’s a stunning vista over the golf course. The Welcombe is also home to my perfect facial, I just wish it was closer so I could get one more frequently.
A further Mother-Daughter highlight of the year was our city break to Hereford in November, primarily to explore a city I’d never been to. However we did venture out of the city to Herefordshire’s only country park, Queen’s Wood, which was stunning with its autumn foliage. Ludlow Food Centre also tempted us in on our way home where I bought all sorts of tasty morsels and gifts.
Hereford Cathedral is a beauty and as we were there over Remembrance weekend, the cathedral tower was lit in red. We also caught the last weekend of a fascinating sculpture trail called Ferrous which was part of the city’s festival of artist blacksmithing. There were numerous sculptures dotted around the cathedral, art gallery, library, the black and white house, as well as many shops and were an exciting insight into what you can achieve artistically with this material.
Back in May I set out to explore the Norfolk Broads on a week’s self catering holiday with my Mum and Dad. Yes, Dad got to come with us on this one! The Broads are one of the UK’s 15 National Parks and constitute over 120 miles of navigable lock-free waterways formed from 7 rivers and the flooding of many medieval peat workings when sea levels started to rise. As a result, the landscape features watermills, dykes, reedbeds, grazing marshes and wet woodland and is a veritable treasure trove for birds and wildlife.
We stayed in the village of Rockland St Mary and spent the week walking, driving and boating around the Broads, exploring various water and windmills such as Berney Arms Windmill, Horsey Windpump and Thurne Mill; castles and priory remains at Burgh Castle, Olave’s Priory and Caister Roman Fort; the charming towns of Wroxham, Chedgrave and Loddon and gardens at Raveningham, Fairhaven and Alby. We clocked up 25,000 steps in Norwich one day taking in the city’s two cathedrals, the Guildhall, the castle museum, the Plantation Garden and riverside walks. We explored the National Trust estate of Blicking Hall and crossed the border into Suffolk one day to castle hunt at Framlingham and Orford. We packed so much in and I walked more steps that ever before in a week on my Fitbit that I kinda needed a holiday to recover.
I spent a week in September in Northern Northumberland staying in the village of Warren Mill near Bamburgh. Though not originally planned, 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 fascinating journey through 1000+ years of history with the castles providing a great starting point to explore a town or village. Full days were spent exploring Bamburgh, Berwick and Lindisfarne at length 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. Then from Norham Castle I detoured to Floddon Field, the site of the 1513 Battle of Floddon and nearby Twizel Bridge built 2 years previously.
I arrived in Northumberland with just a couple of places I knew I wanted to see such as Lindisfarne and Bamburgh and researched where I wanted to go from the wealth of local brochures, leaflets and maps I found at the accommodation. Many places I’d never heard of and I ended up with a fabulous itinerary. I couldn’t have planned a better holiday! It just goes to show, it doesn’t always pay to have plans set in stone when travelling. Surprise and spontaneity play their part!
Another Sculpture trail I followed in 2017 was the “Sitting With Jane” book bench trail in Hampshire. Created to celebrate the centenary of 200 years since Jane Austen’s death, the 25 benches were 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 designs linked to scenes of Regency England and the landscape in which they stood, quotes from Jane’s books and often used the colours associated with the fashion of the era. Like the Snowdog Sculpture trail described previously, the book benches had been sponsored by local businesses in aid of the local ARK Cancer charity.
I planned our 4 day itinerary from the downloadable app so we managed to see all the benches and discover places I would never have found or thought to visit without the sculpture trail’s existence, such as the extremely picturesque Chawton village, the town of Alton, Beggarwood Park and Oakley Hall Hotel. And that’s why I love these projects so much: they’re a great way of exploring an unfamiliar area. Finding the last book bench took us to Winchester, a new city for me where I fell in love with the cathedral there. Such a stunning building!
Read more about my trip to Jane Austen’s Hampshire in my Summer 2017 blog
Mr TJG and I always do something to celebrate our wedding anniversary and in 2017 for our third anniversary, we went back to the North Yorkshire Coast where we had our mini-moon. We visited the fabulous country estate of Castle Howard en route to the coast and then spent 3 days exploring Robin Hood’s Bay, Ravenscar, Scarborough and Flamborough Head. We indulged in a luxurious afternoon tea at the Raven Hall Hotel while sat in the lounge with a stunning view up the coast.
Our trip to Flamborough brought back so many great memories from my childhood as I was 9 when I last went. My family used to holiday there on a regular basis. It is a perfect beach to go rock-pooling and fossil hunting and luckily the tide was out when we got there which meant we could explore all the nooks and crannies in the rocks and rather excitingly we noticed a family of seals basking in the sun including 2 youngsters. They’re such beautiful creatures!
The Asylum Steam Punk Festival that takes over Lincoln every August Bank Holiday was definitely one of my most memorable experiences of 2017. It was 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 a jazzy array of stunning outfits; the bigger, crazier and more intricate, the better. Anything goes and if you just happen to be visiting the city unaware of the festival, you’ll find yourself in the minority of people around the city centre 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.
It wasn’t long since I was heard telling someone not to bother with Manchester’s Christmas Markets as I didn’t think they were up to much. This was based on previous experiences many years ago where I found them overly crowded, dirty and selling the same old stuff on every stall. Boy, how I could have chomped on my words…
I happened to be in Manchester to see a show at the end of November and intended to have a cultural day out beforehand. However, I got drawn in by the impressive chalet huts of one of the markets and before I knew it I’d spent the whole day checking them all out. Now covering 8 different sites in the city, there is far more variety of produce than I remember, even amongst the German style Christmas decorations. In addition however there was a profusion of local crafts and food stalls. I found a wealth of Manchester-themed art on display as well as all sorts of gift stalls from clothing and accessories to lighting, ceramics, cushions and confectionary. And all of these were wrapped up in gorgeous wooden chalets, some of them very elaborate and others real conversation starters due to being topped by pyramid windmill carousels or in the case of the Dutch Stroopwafel stall, encased in an actual turning windmill.
Food stalls were located at each market, not just at the main Albert Square site which meant queues weren’t as severe as I remember and the food and drink offerings went beyond just the typical German Bratwurst and Hog Roast, featuring French bistros, crepe stands, curries, stews and paellas; even an American Grilled Cheese Stall. One stall sold all imaginable favours of strudel and another, every style, size and shape of baklava. It really is a world class affair and never again will I put it down.
There was an obvious presence of crowd control officials which was great to see as well as plenty of areas to consume food and drink around food stalls and bars, many of which were covered (a necessity in Manchester.) There was also a profusion of bins which meant I wasn’t stepping on bits of sausage and other detritus here and there. All these aspects enhanced the experience – Manchester has really cleaned up its act and I would now recommend their markets to anyone.
Just a week after my Christmas market high in Manchester, I found myself travelling to Birmingham to check out their Christmas markets. I’d been inspired to visit by other travel bloggers and having only ever been to Birmingham for evening concerts and gigs, I was excited to see Birmingham by day.
I spent a couple of hours looking round the market areas which I didn’t think were as good as Manchester’s, but the highlight for me was seeing the iconic buildings I’d seen in photographs such as the Selfridges building in the Bullring and the city library, one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever been in. There’s lots of building work going on around the Town Hall and library area but I imagine this area will be fabulous once it’s complete and I’d definitely return then. I’d want to tour around the canals, the Jewellery Quarter and visit the Art Gallery on my next visit too.
Despite living so close to Liverpool and going into the city on a semi-regular basis, you’d be surprised to learn I had not actually been up the Anglican Cathedral tower until 2017. The joy I felt when I emerged from the top of the steps out onto the roof cannot be quantified. For so many reasons I was in my element and that’s why this event has made it onto this list, proving that you don’t need to travel far and wide to have an exciting and memorable experience. Not only had I beaten the anxiety I felt ascending the stairs up the side of the vast and cavernous open space of the cathedral’s bell tower, my heart pounding fast and breath short; but when I emerged into fresh air with blue sky and clear visibility still evident, my heart sang and I spent so long drinking in the amazing views. My camera shutter was widely exercised and I could quite happily have stayed up there for hours! I have visited Liverpool Cathedral a number of times over the years and each time, either the tower wasn’t open, I didn’t have time to go up, or the weather wasn’t favourable towards being able to see much. So on this occasion when all three things came together in my favour, I was so happy to finally get to do the tower tour…and it did not disappoint! This is the best possible vantage point from which to see Liverpool and I can highly recommend to anyone visiting.
I always struggle to decide what I want to fit in when I head to London as there’s so much to choose from, but on my last trip it was with one goal in mind: to see the David Hockney exhibition, an artist I’ve loved since my teens when I studied him at school. It was an excellent compilation spanning 6 decades of his work, including some of his most recent works that I’d never seen before. It turned out to be the most visited exhibition for any living artist across all the Tate galleries with them staying open till midnight each day of the final weekend due to public demand. I was so pleased I’d managed to see it and my Tate membership meant I didn’t have to pre-book a ticket and settle for a specific time. I could just turn up to the exhibition entrance and get straight in… a huge perk!
Towards the end of June, I travelled to Derby to see the weeping window of poppies, an installation that has been making its way around the country since the original project in 2014 at the Tower of London “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” saw thousands of ceramic red poppies spill from a window of the tower into the moat. I was so moved by this sight that when I learnt the weeping window element of the installation was to tour the UK as part of the centenary celebrations of World War I, I knew I had to go see it somewhere. I just didn’t know where to choose.
I’d visited Derby for the first time in 2016 and particularly liked the architecture of the Silk Mill, part of the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO Site, so when I found out the poppies would weep from the Silk Mill, my decision was made. What made this experience so much more awe-inspiring and indeed more emotional than in London was how close you could get to the poppies and that you weren’t amongst millions of other people. It was a far more intimate experience, thus intensifying the feelings and emotions generated by the poppy and what it stands for.
You can read more about the Weeping Window in Derby here.
I’ve had some fabulous travel experiences in 2017, but the year ended with the arrival of Roger, my totally cute and adorable Terrier Cross. Originally my Gran’s dog, he’s come to us as she was no longer able to look after him. I’d fallen in love with him so much I couldn’t bear the thought of him being re-homed unless it was to us.
So, Mr TJG and I are now proud parents to this wonderful bundle of fur who puts a constant smile on my face. And my my, how life has changed! I am getting fit and fast with daily walks as December has been packed with the ‘Great Outdoors’ featuring country parks, river walks, woodlands and beaches. Getting outside and playing around with a dog has provided such a feel good factor that I just want more of that. So I see my focus in travel shifting a bit and owning a dog does mean changing some travel habits. There’s no way I’ll stop doing city breaks and visiting historical and cultural sites, but they’ll be more planning required for some trips and they’ll be others that Mr TJG and I can’t do together or we’d need a dog sitter. I love my self-catered trips in the UK and I can see more of those on the horizon staying in dog friendly cottages. I can’t wait to take Roger to the Lakes, the Dales, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Coast for the first time. I’m sure he’ll love it as much as we do!
So those are my top experiences of 2017!
What were your top travel moments from 2017? Was there somewhere really memorable you discovered? Please share in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about them!
I can’t believe that it’s Christmas already. It doesn’t seem two…