Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lake District

The Lake District, Cumbria, in England's north west, is one of the country's most popular holiday areas. I can see why. Mountains and lakes always make for spectacular scenery. It's a very popular spot with walkers, hikers and climbers - not that I'm any of those! There were plenty of them about though, even in near freezing temperatures. Hardy souls.
I stayed one night in Ambleside, at the north end of Lake Windemere and one night in Kendal, the south end. Windemere is England's largest lake. It's quite narrow (1.5 miles) but very long (11 miles) and is very scenic.

Boats and snow

Ambleside is a pretty little town. Quite hilly though. It's less touristy than the bigger towns - Windemere, etc. Every second shop sells outdoor gear for the serious hiker. I bought a hat :) I stayed in the Queen's Hotel at the top of the hill. Haha, every time I went up to my room I had to pass a portrait of Betty Windsor. Kind of an old fashioned place :) Comfy though and reasonably priced for bed and breakfast. Wifi too.
From Ambleside I drove up to Keswick, past Thirlmere - another of the lakes. I took the back road rather than the main A road so was able to stop a few times to take pics without having to worry about getting in the way of traffic.


Keswick is also a pretty town. The central section is for pedestrians only - very pleasant.
From there I headed back to Windemere. I had thought about taking the lake cruise to get some pics but the thought of standing about in the freezing cold for a couple of hours changed my mind.
I decided to just drive back to Liverpool but only got as far as Kendal - just a few miles down the road. I'd had enough of driving by then.
Woke up the next morning to discover it had snowed overnight.


It wasn't a lot of snow by local standards but it looked very pretty. I was a bit nervous about driving in it though. You have to drive for hours up into the alpine areas to see snow in Australia and I haven't done that for many, many years. So it was all a bit new and fantasy land like to me.
It took a while to get the car cleared so I could see where I was going - very thankful it has a good heater!
The drive back was uneventful. Just a few miles down the road is the motorway and there'd been no snow there at all.
English roads are in excellent condition given the incredible volume of traffic they carry and the dreadful weather. Not just the motorways either, the A and B roads are just as good. (Unlike the US where the roads are terrible.)

Anyway... apart from the cold it was a pleasant couple of days. I think I'd like the revisit the area when it's warmer - cruise the lake, take more pics, etc., because it really is a pretty area.


Next trip is to Egypt. It'll be good to get warm!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not much to report

I haven't been doing much since the Cotswolds trip. The weather up here in the north west is miserable: cold and wet. Gale force winds last week uprooted the big tree in the back yard - it's currently awaiting insurance assessment.

And the tree came down

I went into town the other day, the one when it didn't rain, and checked out the John Lennon peace monument in Chevasse Park.

Imagine: Peace and Harmony

I really like the monument itself - vibrant colours and a distinctly musical theme in the main section with peace doves above. There's a strange white tent thing to one side with Give Peace A Chance printed on it and another billboard type thing with words from Julian Lennon.
What I didn't like was the position of the monument. It's very central to Liverpool's main shopping precinct - that's okay as it means there are plenty of people around to see the monument. But.... it's right next to an amusement park/fairground. It's kind of difficult to imagine peace and harmony (the message of the piece) when there are people on rides screaming their lungs out right next to you.
It needs to be in a proper park with trees and grass and open space and, well, peace.

I'm currently investigating my next trip..... I think I'll go to Egypt. Fed up with the miserable weather here.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tewkesbury and Gloucester

My final day in the Cotswolds consisted of a trip through Tewkesbury and Gloucester. The former has an abbey which greeted my arrival with all bells ringing. There are 13 bells - proper ones, not pre-recorded like so many places these days - and they sounded very impressive. Inside was just as musical as the organist was practising on the big pipe organ. The ladies in the gift shop weren't impressed but I thought it was fine. A very majestic sound.

Outside Tewkesbury Abbey

I had a pleasant stroll around the town - lots of Tudor style buildings - and then headed over to Gloucester. This is a much bigger place and, naturally, more populated. I wanted to have a look at Gloucester Cathedral as it was used as a film location for the Harry Potter films - the cloisters in particular.

Harry Potter contemplates his latest predicament

Unfortunately there was an art show of sorts inside so it was pretty damn crowded. There were sculptures all over the place, most of which didn't impress me - too much pain and suffering for me. Along one wall of the cloisters were a series of outstretched hands, sticking out from the wall, all holding something: a packet of chips, a sandwich, etc.
The cathedral itself is not as big as something like Canterbury but it does have some very nice stained glass.
I wandered onto the main street of town and decided to have lunch at The Pig Inn In The City (I think that's its name). Nice enough pub but 45 minutes is a bit long to wait for lunch, especially the roast of the day.
Anyway, after lunch I strolled around the dock area.

Gloucester dock

It's much more aesthetically pleasing than Salford Quays in Manchester but I think Liverpool's Albert Dock is still the best I've seen.

On Sunday I'd planned to take the long way home to Liverpool but ended up on the motorway anyway. The day is over by 4.30 - 5pm now and I don't like driving in the dark. I got back just in time to see Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0.

Got a birthday dinner to go to tomorrow night but not much else is happening this week. I got a large print of one of my photos, framed, to give as a present.

Evening light

Looks good, even if I do say so myself :)


Friday, November 5, 2010

The Cotswolds and beyond.....

I've seen a lot over the last few days and I've only scratched the surface of what this area has to offer.
Tuesday: Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle.
Wednesday: Chipping Campden and other local spots
Thursday: Avebury and Stonehenge
Friday: Tolkien and Blenheim Palace.

Stratford, of course, is all things Shakespeare. I came across Anne Hathaway's cottage first. 7 pounds 50 to get in plus a pound for parking. The cottage is quite big - thatched roof, interior beams, fully furnished, etc. Photography not allowed inside. The beds look particularly uncomfortable!

Anne Hathaway's cottage

The town itself is very pretty. There's the Avon River of course, plus a canal. The narrow boats moored there all seemed to be cafes and ice cream vendors. There's a signpost on the canal: 199 miles, 154 locks and 99 hours to Liverpool by canal. :)

Avon River

Shakespeare's birthplace is right on the main street. I didn't go in for the tour but wandered randomly round the town instead.

Birthplace of William Shakespeare

There's an interesting, very old, Tudor style building next to a church not far from the town centre. Like Canterbury, it turned out to be a school so I couldn't get in. Pub names mostly refer to Shakespeare or his plays in one way or another. The one place I forgot all about was the Globe Theatre. Unforgivable, I know. Maybe I'll get back there some other time.

From Stratford I headed into Warwick and checked out the castle there. 18 pounds to get in plus 5 pounds to park! Expensive day out. It's a bit Disney inside but interesting nonetheless. The falconer was doing his thing when I got there so I stopped to have a look. I'd missed the first bird, it was just being put away, but I was just in time for the Sacred Falcon. Apparently he's a youngster, still in training. Probably explains why, when his hood was finally removed, he flew away and didn't come back. I saw him later over the other side of the castle, so he hadn't gone far.
The Great Hall is amazing. Not huge but big enough and it's full of medieval weapons and armour. There are two full sized, fully armoured knights on horseback in the centre area of the hall. Swords, spears, pikes and various pieces of armour grace the walls. It would have been the perfect place to take Yr 8 history classes for an excursion!
I've got some reasonable photos but haven't uploaded them yet for some reason.

The next day I was treated to a 2 hour tour of the local area by Barry, the owner of the B&B where I'm staying. It's part of the package if you stay 3 or more nights. Me being me I didn't really want to go, thinking it'd be a waste of time. But now I'm glad I went. He showed me a lot of places I probably would have missed on my own. The Cotswolds is a beautiful region. The trees, well the leaves, are all yellow, gold, red, rusty brown. Just gorgeous. There were a lot of cars parked along one stretch of road and Barry got all excited. "Hunt followers", he cried. So we stopped and waited. Sure enough, a whole lot of people on horses accompanied by hounds appeared. I thought fox hunting was outlawed here now but it still goes on. Barry said I was privileged to see it but I'm not so sure. Thankfully, the hounds didn't flush a fox - that would have been distressing I think.

The hunt

One of the places we went through was Chipping Campden, the nearest town. I went back for a closer look in the afternoon. Apparently Johnny Depp stayed there a few years ago while filming something or other. Very nice place.
Being in The Cotswolds is like being in The Shire.

Autumn in the Cotswolds

Yesterday I went further afield - to Avebury and Stonehenge. Avebury is about an hour and a half's drive from here. It's a small village but is surrounded by one of the biggest stone circles in Europe and England's largest. The circle has a diameter of about 1000 feet. It is, in turn, surrounded by a huge ditch and earth rampart. The only way to photograph the whole thing would be from the air. The circle is spread over a number of fields, many of which have sheep grazing in them as well. It pays to watch where you walk!
Stonehenge is about 30 kms further south so I thought I might as well wander on down, seeing as I was so close. Absolutely awesome. I was impressed by the scale of Avebury but its size means, for me, it lacks the impact of Stonehenge. It truly is a magical place. You have to be quick though as they close it up at 4pm at this time of year. 6 pounds 90 to get inside the huge chicken wire fence that stops people just wandering in from the road. It's worth it though. It's easy to see why it's such a magnet for alternative culture types.


There's a rope barrier around the henge to stop people wandering through the stones - a result of too much damage done in the past. The good thing about that is that it's possible to get a decent, people-free photograph. :) The sun was going down as I was there. I would have loved to have stayed longer but they were ushering people away by then.


The drive back to Mickleton - two hours in the dark and drizzling rain - was not so good.

Today I thought I'd go to Oxford, just over an hour from here. First off I went to Wolvercote cemetery to pay my respects to my favourite author: JRR Tolkien. I found the town of Wolvercote (sort of north Oxford) and stopped at the pub for directions to the cemetery. A bloke there said "Oh, that's at the other end of town, five mile drive." So I got directions and off I went. Hahahaha, 'five mile drive' is not an indication of distance but it is the name of the road the cemetery's on. Three minutes away.

Pilgrimage #2

He's buried there with his wife, Edith. The headstone refers to them as Luthien and Beren. Very touching.

I decided to bypass Oxford as traffic is horrendous there. I went to Blenheim Palace instead. It's the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Huge place with even huger grounds and gardens. Photographs are not allowed inside but I snuck some anyway. Photos of the grounds are limited as it was raining constantly. Bleah! I wandered around for a while though - determined to get my money's worth. Another 18 pound entry fee. However, I was able to trade my ticket in for an annual pass so I can go back at any time for free - weather permitting.

Today is November 5th: Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes night. I went to Chipping Campden to see the fireworks but it was still raining, and getting heavier. I was fed up with being wet, and especially fed up with my camera getting wet, so decided that I'd give it a miss. There will be more displays tomorrow in the area so, weather permitting, I might get some fireworks pics.

I have one more day here. As I type, the plan is to go to Gloucester. That might change though.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Went for a bit of a drive today

And ended up in Mickleton, Gloucesterhire (Glosst'sher). From Liverpool it's straight down the M6 for a couple of hours, bypass Birmingham and take the Stratford exit. It's about 20 minutes south of Stratford-upon-Avon and west of Oxford if that helps :) It took me an hour less than I thought to get here because I forgot to turn the car's clock back an hour. Duh.
However, now that Samhain (Summer's end) has been and gone, 5pm ticks over and it's dark. That can only mean one thing.....early starts.
I wish the motorways had stopping zones. So many photographic opportunities on the way down - mostly trees. It's Autumn here and the trees are just gorgeous. Hopefully I'll take a few decent snaps while I'm here.
Tomorrow's agenda is to go to Stratford and explore all things Shakespeare. I've never been a fan of The Bard but I have a sister who is. I passed through a bit of the town on the way here and it looks beautiful. Caught a glimpse of an old bridge across the river - definitely going to photograph that.
Also on the agenda for this week is Oxford, Warwick (it has a castle; have to go!), Blenheim Palace, Bath, the countryside. Who knows what else? The Cotswolds area is known as the Heart of England and not without cause. The little bit I've seen already is stunning.
Meon Hill is another photographic possibility - it's supposed to be the inspiration for Weathertop. Must go have a look.
I got to the B&B (, home for the week, at about 5. Too dark, sadly, to start exploring so I settled for a welcoming cuppa then showered (in a proper shower, not a shower-in-a-bath) and headed off to the village, Mickleton, in search of dinner. Two minutes down the road is The King's Arms. Had a very tasty (although a tad overpriced) burger with "proper chips". The publican reminded me of Imran Khan so I might go back before the week's out :)
I'm back at the B&B now, got the place to myself tonight. Comfy :) It'll get more populated as the week progresses apparently. Hopefully that'll be a good thing.
For now I'm going to kick back and read.... got The Gathering Storm (Robert Jordan) on the mac's pretend kindle. The next volume (volume 13!!!!) of the series is due out tomorrow. Hopefully there's a bookshop in Stratford.....