Going down the road

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

Blue Rocks fishing village, Lunenburg County

We’re about to hit the road again. In about 3 weeks, we’re going to fire up the iPods with driving tunes and head south. Not that far south, just to the south end of the province of Nova Scotia and drive the loop around the tip and back. Even though this is one of the smallest provinces in Canada, it’s also one of the most beautiful (but I’m not objective!). Nova Scotia is almost entirely surrounded by water. Only a small neck of land about 20 miles wide attaches us to the rest of Canada. That means a lot of beautiful coastline, dotted with lighthouses, beaches and quaint, historic fishing villages along the way.

My husband hasn’t seen a lot of the province and there’s plenty of it I haven’t seen either. I’ve been down along the south shore part of the way but not all the way around. We’ve made tentative plans but as everyone knows, plans change on a whim. But as of now, We’re going to head down the highway to start off, to get past the parts we’ve already seen and visited.

Our tentative Itinerary:
Shelburne, visiting a local micro brew, checking out the town that has a lot of historical old buildings still standing. This will probably be our lunch stop and afterwards, if we have time to fit it in, a stop at the nearby Black Loyalist museum in Birchtown.

I say “If we have time” because we want to drive the coastal road the rest of the way to Yarmouth where we’re pitching up for the night. We have to have something to eat before going out to the woods for a session at a small observatory! That was a discovery in a tourist brochure we picked up and it sounded so cool that we booked it.

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Gilbert Cove Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

For day two, we’re heading around the tip of the province and along the north shore, one of the pockets of French Acadian Nova Scotia. Beautiful beaches and little towns and a French university along here. We might fit in a visit to Port Royal near Annapolis Royal to see the reproduction of the old French settlement, founded in 1605 by Champlain. From there, it’s down across several long, narrow islands to Brier Island for the night in a lodge. The next day, we’re going whale watching out on the Bay of Fundy, another bucket list event. The companies here guarantee sightings but knowing Mother Nature, I will be cautiously optimistic.

Once we’ve done communing with the whales, seals and dolphins, we’re off to a Bed and Breakfast near Annapolis Royal. We’ve been to Annapolis before but will likely drive into the town for our meal and have a walk around. It’s a very nice place and has gorgeous gardens and the remains of an old fort, Fort Anne.

Our final day takes us through the Annapolis Valley on the way home and we thought we’d stop at a military aviation museum in CFB Greenwood, an air base near Kingston, NS. A casual meander through the Valley, perhaps a stop at a farmers’ market or two, and we’ll be back home by the end of the day.

The things you find on the way to a toilet

Lepreau Falls, New Brunswick

Lepreau Falls, New Brunswick

We were heading west on Hwy. 1 through New Brunswick on our recent overnight trip to and from the US/Canada border (that’s a story for another time). We’d just passed Saint John and decided we needed to find a gas station to use the public toilets and would fill up the gas tank while we were at it. We came off the highway at exit 86 where a sign indicated there would be a gas station. We turned onto a smaller road and found it. But it turned out that both of their public toilets were out of order! Yikes! That shouldn’t be allowed, it really shouldn’t.

I leaned over and asked the busy cashier where the next one was. He thought a minute and said there was something about 10 minutes down the road but someone else in the queue suggested Lepreau. Ok, that’s good. We started driving and passed a sign for Lepreau Falls and drove over a bridge that was signed for the Lepreau River. We’ve got to be close. But we didn’t see anything that might have a public facility in it. Nothing. No more houses. We turned around and took the little road for the Falls but it looked pretty quiet.

My husband thought perhaps it was a park and might have public facilities. Sure enough we spotted a small shack like building that had potential and to our relief, it was indeed a two sided public toilet (one side for men and one for women, naturally). We parked and availed ourselves.

When I came out of my side of the building, I could hear water running and went to the back of the building where spotted a wooden planked and fenced platform with a picnic table and it overlooked a view of a lovely little waterfall! That, then, was Lepreau Falls.

We went back to have a look and take a few pictures. It was a very pretty place and we noticed on the drive out, there were 2 or 3 more look off points over the the falls and the river, again with picnic tables. I have since discovered this is a provincial park and there is camping nearby as well.

The things you find on the way to a toilet! Little discoveries like this are what make road trips fun!

Impromptu Road Trip!

StAndrews-Map

Well now.

For all my moaning about not having an upcoming trip to plan, one just fell into my lap. It’s only a quick road trip for a “YAY!!” reason but it counts!  We will be organizing a major trip, hoping to do that next year sometime depending on how the savings are mounting up but until we know for sure, I could only do some general websurfing.

I have the first week in August booked off holidays from work. I booked a rental car yesterday morning, and we had a couple of possible day trips or an overnighter to my cousin’s cottage, exploring the south shore of Nova Scotia. Backtracking a bit to June, my husband was informed that his application to be a Permanent Resident of Canada was approved. We’ve been waiting for the official paperwork/certificate to arrive at the office of the Immigration consultant who would then have us in for a meeting to go over the last bits and pieces. We knew that we would have to cross the Canadian border for an official “landing” though we had thought we could actually do it here in Halifax.

Yesterday, I called the office and they said they were just going to call me and tell me they’d received the papers but also to tell me that we couldn’t do the interview in Halifax and we’d have to go to the border after all. That means…road trip!

It’s about a 6 hour drive to the US border at St. Stephen, New Brunswick/Calais, Maine. There is another border crossing a bit further north at Houlton, Maine and it’s about the same amount of driving time. It’s a long way to go to come back the same day so an overnight in a hotel is in order. While looking around, I came across some nice hotels at St. Andrews, New Brunswick and have discovered that it’s a historic old resort town and a lovely little spot.

It’s high tourist season but I did find a nice place and booked it. I discovered today that it’s closer to the border than I thought. I got mixed up with directions on Google maps yesterday but when I double checked today, it’s only about a half hour. That’s great and gives us a little more time to see a bit of the town in the evening. If we leave early, we can get to the border mid afternoon. I don’t know how long it will take there, but, optimistically, let’s say about an hour and we can then be in St. Andrews by about 4 pm. A good few hours yet until sunset with time to walk around and take in the pretty main streets and little shops..

Perhaps a bit more exploring in the morning before heading out on the road again.  A possibly stop in St. John to have a cuppa with a cousin and a stop in Moncton for supper with my best friend and home by dark! It’s a quick trip but it’s necessary to gather up and tie  the red tape in a bow. I don’t think we’ll go into the US and do any shopping this time but another trip might be planned to do that, and visit Campobello Island perhaps.

I’ll write another post later on the town of St. Andrews. It’s quite historic and is one of Canada’s 10 Most Beautiful Towns, in the opinion of this site (though I beg to differ on their inclusion of Niagara Falls. The falls themselves are amazing but the city is neon-tacky. Also, a few of their choices are cities, not towns but that’s being pedantic, I suppose. I heartily endorse the lovely Mahone Bay in my own province)

Virtually a castle

Beaumaris

Beamaris Castle, Wales

The digital enhancements of the same view. Photo from the Welsh Government site.

The digital enhancements of the same view. Photo from the Welsh Government site.

Here’s something that is quite interesting and it caught my eye because we have visited this castle. The Welsh Government has invested some money to enhance the visitor experience at Beaumaris Castle in North Wales on the island of Anglesey. Beaumaris is one of the ring of castles that King Edward I built to intimidate and contain the Welsh in the late 13th century but this one was never finished. He ran out of money and was a bit distracted by trying to hammer the Scots into line.

Now, there will be many improvements to the castle for the visitor including an interactive app that will show, digitally, what the castle would have looked like if it had been finished.  Technology can add greatly to the whole experience, providing extra information and ideas. With this app, you should get a much better feel for what it really looked like 700 years ago. So many castles, abbeys and cathedrals are only ruins or shells and are shadows of their former selves. I find this kind of thing immensely interesting.

We visited Beaumaris on a lovely spring day a few years ago. It’s a very pretty drive through North Wales and the town of Beamaris is small with some pretty shops and a couple of very old pubs. The views from the walls over the Menai Strait are lovely and there is even a beach to walk on if the day is nice.  If you are in the area, check it out, and nearby Carnaefon Castle as well.

Beaumaris P1050239

Road Trip: The Snake Pass

Derwent Dam

Derwent Dam

While in the UK in September, we took the car out on the road for a few day trips. Blackpool was one, you can read about that here. Another was to the Peak District National Park, which covers the north-central part of the midlands of England. It is one of my favourite parts of England (of the areas that I’ve been to so far!) with rolling hills, the Pennine mountains, and plenty of interesting places to visit. There are, as in most areas, some nice country pubs, too! I’ve visited a few different places in the area before, including Chatsworth House, Eyam, Glossop, Buxton, just to name a few. The Peak District mostly contained in the county of Derbyshire, with the edges bleeding over the north, east and west borders. The Pennines dip down into the northern part of the area. There are lots of very scenic drives with excellent views from the higher roads.

We decided to go down into the heart of the Peaks into the Derwent Valley, heading in a southwest direction from Manchester. One route I had never been over is the Snake Pass which starts just outside Glossop and the views were supposed to be pretty great. The road trip started and ended in heavy traffic and it took us ages to get through Glossop but once out of that, we were straight onto the Snake Pass and climbed up into the hills on the narrow, winding road that had amazing views across the valleys surrounded by hills covered in purple heather. I believe they do close it at times in the winter. They’d get snow up this high sometimes even if it’s raining in Manchester. The weather today is perfect.

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

View from the Snake Pass, Peak District National Park

The road traverses the hills and eventually you descend into the Derwent River valley, where there are some large reservoirs. The biggest one is the Lady Bower reservoir which you can see from the main road and it’s joined to the Derwent and Howden reservoirs in a T shape. The Derwent and Howden dams bracket a reservoir that occupies a spot where there used to be a village. The residents were relocated and the village flooded.

By the time we got there, we were ready for lunch and found a really nice pub on the shore of the Lady Bower reservoir, called the Yorkshire Bridge Inn. It’s quite large inside with various rooms and an outside beer garden by the water. We had a really nice meal in there with a very helpful barmaid who drew us a little map to the other dams in the area.

We drove through that area after lunch, stopping in a parking space so I could take photos and then at the visitor center for some more pictures and an ice cream break. This area is also known for being a training area for the Lancaster bombers in World War II and there are information posters and boards up at the visitor centre. We walked a little through the trails to the back of the first damn but it wasn’t letting out an overflow like I’d seen in a photo. I know nothing about dams and thought we’d see the water being passed through it. I suppose that only happens if the water is particularly high which it wasn’t today.

We drove down the very narrow road along the reservoirs, stopping by the dams for more photos. It was quiet, with trees along the road and the sun shining on the water. There were hikers and people on bikes occasionally, along with a car passing now and then. You had to pull over carefully, there’s only barely just enough room for two cars to pass. The road doesn’t come out so we had to turn around and come back out the same way. It really was a pretty drive along the water. Water always makes the scenery that much nicer, don’t you think?

We didn’t want to come back to Manchester through the Snake Pass so we pulled up a map on the GPS and decided on a route, plotted it and took off, wondering where the GPS was going to take us to get to the other road, a bit further north, the A628 I think, which would cross back over the Pennines and the lower Yorkshire moors. It’s always a bit interesting and a bit disconcerting when the GPS (or “Satnav” they call it here) leads you down some narrow roads and lanes to get where you want to go. It’s taken us in circles in the past so we never know for sure if it’s right! Usually it is, mind you and we’ve seen some nice scenery following its lead.

The road back across had a lot more traffic and several times through small towns we were slowed down to a crawl. I think we also passed some more reservoirs as well. Closer to Manchester the roads got wider and busier. We had a really nice day out, driving and enjoying the scenery. There are some really nice rural areas in the north of England, the Peak District, the Lake District and the Yorkshire moors and dales. Some of it is a bit bleak looking but even that has its own beauty.

Blackpool beside the sea

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

Blackpool Illuminations along the Promenade

One of the places that brings back fond memories of childhood for my husband is the city of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England. Blackpool was and is a very popular place to take your family for a summer holiday, seaside towns being a big draw for the British. Blackpool has been a big attraction since the early Victorian era and really boomed once the trains came. There are miles of beaches and three piers were built out over the sea. The piers contain games, rides, market stalls where you can buy kitchy souvenirs and a bucket and spade for sand architecture. There are lots of food stalls as well.

Along the promenade, the road that follows the seafront, and in the general vicinity are hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants, exhibitions and Bingo halls, theatres, shops, and lots of other things for the average holiday maker to do and see. There’s a large theme park at the south end, called the Pleasure Beach. Trams traverse the coast back and forth, and on the beach, the kids can get donkey rides. It really can be quite a tourist trap, but I will admit there’s a lot of things to do as a family, there can be some really good entertainment featured as well and who doesn’t like the beach and the fresh, sea air?

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

Blackpool Tower on the Promenade, rife with attractions

I mentioned early in the summer that we were planning a day trip here on my recent visit to the UK. My husband’s family spent many a holiday week in Blackpool and he has fond memories of it. I have to confess, I find it a bit over the top and tacky but it does have it’s pluses, too. The Blackpool Tower is pretty neat and I always like to go up in towers and high places. It has a beautiful Victorian ballroom as well where you can still go for a cup of tea and a dance around the room, accompanied by a cheerful bloke playing a massive pipe organ.  If you like arcades or scary rides, (which I don’t!) then you will be oversaturated by choice. There’s also some world class theatres and venues where  you can attend shows, concerts and gigs.

Blackpool is only 60 miles from the Manchester area so it’s very easy to do a day trip there which is what we did early in September during my visit to the UK. One other thing that Blackpool has is the annual Illuminations and I really did fancy seeing those.  Blackpool city council erected what may have been the first electric street lighting in 1879. It was an event that nearly 100,000 people came to witness. In 1912, to mark a Royal visit to open a new section of the promenade, a display of lights was erected along the street. This was in May and it was so popular that they did it again in September. It was hugely popular and they did it again the next year but World War I put a halt to it until it was revived in the 1920s and aside from a 10 year break through WWII and post-war economics, it has been a yearly tradition, growing bigger and bolder every year. It stretches 6 miles along the Promenade.

Since we planned to stay late to see the lights, we didn’t head out until mid morning, arriving close to lunchtime so that was our first order of business. Food. I don’t know why we picked a pub on the Promenade because I’m sure there were probably much better ones away from the main “drag” where the food was better. This one, a Weatherspoon’s franchise, was very Meh and disappointing. We should have known better, restaurants in the thick of the tourist area generally aren’t the best places to eat. Mind you, most of Blackpool is a tourist area but I think venturing back from the main Promenade will give you better choice and quality. Lessons learned.

We walked behind the Tower (having been up there on one other previous visit) because I wanted to see the Victorian Winter Garden. The Winter Garden was built in 1878. It’s got several venues in it, with theatres, a ballroom, restaurants and exhibition space. We couldn’t go into the ballroom and there was an inside illuminations exhibit also going on which we didn’t visit. We walked through the lobby and up into the main concourse to see the glass roof and dome and peek into the Spanish section which is all done up like the interior of a Spanish pirate ship. It was very nice, what we did get to see of it. Outside, along one of the exterior, less decorated walls of the building were panels of street art which were all interesting to see. Not always sure what the artists were getting at but it was still neat.

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

From Blackpool Central Pier to the South Pier and Pleasure Beach rides

We then walked down by the beach, watching the children get donkey rides and then went over onto the Central Pier to walk out to the end. School is back in so Blackpool was fairly quiet and most of the rides were still or only had one or two people on them. There were still quite a lot of people but not that many families or children. The pier is lined with a wooden bench built into the sides with old white painted wrought iron bench backs. They are often worn through and rusted and the wooden seats are in very bad repair and I’m sure can’t be very safe. I suppose it would cost a lot of money to restore all this.

As we got near the end of the pier, we noticed a guy running hell bent for leather across the vast expanse of beach to the water’s edge. Graham reckoned the beach was so wide he’d be exhausted by the time he actually reached the sea! About 10 feet before the edge, he stopped and stripped off his swimming trunks and charged into the water, completely naked! Graham shook his head mournfully and said “On behalf of the entire Northwest of England, I apologize”. The guy’s friends were running along behind him and one of them stopped and picked up his trunks, eliciting an angry response by the swimmer. What did he expect? He later came out, covering his bits with his hands, to join his group and no doubt, persuade them to give him back his swim gear.

We had a drink and sat in the sun for a bit and then decided to take the bus to the far northern end of the city, where the illuminations began. We thought we could hang out there for awhile, have our evening meal and then make our way back once the sun set, enjoying the lights, even if we hopped on and off the bus to go ahead a few stops at a time. We got there, and discovered there really isn’t much there to do. It’s all larger hotels, no shops or anything to look at. We had a drink in one pub we found and decided what we’d do is get the back all the way back to the Pleasure Beach where we’d parked the car. We could find somewhere there for our dinner and by that time, the sun would be going down. We would then drive the “strip” to see the lights from the car. All the traffic goes along there slowly so people can get a good look and we would be able to as well.

It’s all right, planning, but plans don’t always go the way you expect. We missed the last bus, which apparently stopped at 6. Doh! Never mind, the tram was still running but they won’t take our all day bus pass so we had to buy tickets. We found a little Indian curry house near where we parked. We were ready for it, too, and it was quickly getting chilly so we were glad of a warm place to sit! The food was good and cheap, what else can you ask for?

The slow drive along the Promenade, with the iPod hooked up to the car stereo for a soundtrack, was fun. There are a variety of light displays, more traditional bulbs, and LED lights, tableaux, signs and two of the old fashioned trams were decorated up elaborately, one like a ship and one like a train. Very good! The far north end had lots of scenes lit up either by spot lights or were made from the lights themselves. Four styles of a sun, Daleks and the Tardis, Alice in Wonderland, American Natives, Dancing girls, a haunted house and more. I think I liked this section the best. It was difficult to photograph from the car, though. I did get some good photos and I did some video clips as well. We enjoyed the ride so much we turned around and came back down the other way and then headed home.

Visiting Alnwick Castle and Gardens

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percy family for 700 years. When the line descended to a female, the man she married took on the Percy name so that it wouldn’t die out. The Percy family themselves have been in England since just after the Norman Invasion so they’ve been around a very long time. They were the Earls of Northumberland until the end of the 17th century and after the male line died out there, married into the Dukes of Somerset, and after a couple of generations, the Earldom was restored/created by George III in 1766 and the numbering system restarted. They were the couple that returned to Alnwick which had fallen into disuse. Sir Hugh and Lady Elizabeth Percy restored, revamped, landscaped and rebuilt Alnwick into a luxurious palace. The castle has been further renovated and restored in the Victoria era to the Italianate decor we see in many of the State rooms now. The current Duke is the 12th.

The castle has been open to the public since 1950 and is currently open to the public during the spring, summer and early fall months. The family still lives there in the winter and you can see lots of evidence of this as you tour the State rooms, where there are family photos, beanbags for the dogs to lie on and a large flat screen television in the library. The castle sees 800,000 visitors a year. I would expect some of that stems from the use of the castle for some exterior shots in the first few Harry Potter movies. There are many types of souvenirs related to the movies in the gift shop, including wands, costumes, sorting hats, “house” scarves, etc. The castle was more recently used for a Downton Abbey episode in 2014 and will be used again in the final season of the series for an episode. Those scenes included inside shots in the State Rooms. I always enjoy seeing places on television and in movies where I’ve visited!

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Alnwick Castle Gardens

Also on the estate is the Alnwick Garden, a garden with many different areas in it. Some of the sections will be nicer during different times of the year than others. For instance, there’s a large cherry tree orchard. We visited in September but in the spring, with the cherry blossoms in bloom, it would be really beautiful. Otherwise, they’re just trees so we didn’t bother.

The gardens were designed by two Belgians, Jacques and Peter Wirtz. The Duchess of Northumberland was instrumental in spearheading the project and the result is a very interesting place to wander and explore.

We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and drove the half hour or so south along the coast to Alnwick. We found a parking lot in the town centre next to the gardens and surprisingly enough, it was free! It was also nearly full so we were lucky to find a spot. The official castle/gardens parking area wasn’t too far from there, I discovered after coming home, and it doesn’t cost very much to park all day. Free is better. Since the sun was out but the overall forecast was dubious, we decided to do the garden first, just in case. The whole main garden with all the smaller sub-gardens is walled in, with an atrium style cafe at the entrance. We didn’t go through the whole thing for two reasons, one being the weather, two being that there were parts of it we didn’t think would be worth it (see comments about the cherry orchard). We were also driving back across to Manchester and we wanted to fit in the castle before heading on the road and we didn’t want to be driving at all hours.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the "tree tunnels"

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the “tree tunnels”

So the garden, first. The main central feature is a large cascading fountain with the jets shooting from either side in timed fashion. Along the sides and top of it are what looks like tunnels made of trees which, upon closer inspection, are shrubberies or something like it, growing over a metal frame. You can walk through these tunnels and there are some benches in there as well for a place to sit. Near the entrance there’s a labyrinth made of bamboo trees and branches. We had a scoot through that and managed not to get lost in it. We passed through the rose garden but those blooms were pretty much passed their prime.

One garden we did quite enjoy was called a serpent garden. It was filled with S-shaped topiaries made of holly that curved and circled around a series of water sculptures each with frameworks of highly polished stainless steel. It’s a bit hard to explain but they were all really interesting. One of them used gravity from a pond further up a hill which fed the fountain as it filled up and poured out. Another had water flowing over the edge of a circular frame and it was as clear as glass. It was all about how water moves, relying on various aspects of physics. It was really interesting.

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

Alnwick Castle Gardens, the Ornamental Garden

The only other part we took in was an ornamental, more formal garden at the top end of the fountain. G. and M. wanted to rest their feet for a bit and weren’t as interested in looking at flowers and plants and sculpture so they sat on the garden benches while I had a lovely look around, taking photos and looking at everything. There was still a lot in bloom but it must have been spectacular in July.

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

Alnwick Castle Courtyard

We decided that was enough and headed down to the castle. The castle walls are high but instead of a moat, there are now sheep grazing in the fields and low hills surrounding. As impressive as the castle is as you approach it from across the park, it’s even more so when you go through the gates and enter a courtyard with the cobbled stones under foot and the high, imposing walls of the keep and the inner castle walls surrounding you. You look up. Your jaw drops down. It’s not majestic as such, and not impossibly high, it just takes you by surprise.

When you enter, you’re in a room that has pretty much every inch of the walls covered in arms, armaments, guns, swords, and the like. You cannot take photos inside the castle and there are security cameras everywhere so I didn’t even risk a “Hail Mary” shot from the waist! There are guides in all the rooms, both to watch for cameras and to answer questions. They all know the history of the castle and the Percy family really well. You can ask them pretty much anything and they’re happy, and enthusiastic to talk about it all.

There’s a grand staircase to climb, with fancy plaster work, paintings and gorgeous antiques and artifacts all around you. At the top, you can look over a viewpoint into the chapel which is lovely. You then traverse through all the State Rooms including a gorgeous library that is filled with groupings of comfortable chairs and sofas, two storey high walls lined with books, walls and tables containing family photos and pictures. It looks very much like it’s still lived in and enjoyed by the family. There are drawing rooms, reception rooms, and an extravagant dining room. The paintings are priceless as is some of the furniture and we were told later by the woman in a small shop there that one pair of cabinets is the most expensive set of furniture in the world. French, one of the Louis kings, I forget if it was XIV, XV or XVI. I spied at least one Canaletto on the walls, a painter whose work I do like.

As the castle was used for Downton Abbey last year, there are poster boards through some of the rooms with photos from scenes that were filmed there, with background information and displays of some of the props and costumes, as well. You will also see some exhibits on various members of the family that served in World War I, II, and even as far back as the Napoleonic wars. There’s a small gift shop in this area but a larger one over by another courtyard where there are a couple of restaurants as well. In that area there was also a video presentation on the filming of Downton Abbey and over in an alcove is the magnificent Percy family State Carraige which was recently restored to be used for the wedding of the daughter of the current Duke and Duchess a couple of years ago.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

Even though it was a bit chilly, we sat and had a cup of tea/coffee and a piece of cake out in the courtyard. We had a mooch through the gift shop and decided, since the clouds were descending and the rain was imminent, we would not take the extra time to see some of the smaller museums in the gates around the castle walls. They have a lot to see, including activities put on for kids (broom flying lessons!) and for families through the summer. You could spend all day there even without going through the gardens.

Another really neat place to eat, though we didn’t do it, is a tree house restaurant just outside the walls of the gardens. You can also walk through the treetops on ramps and rope bridges. We thought we better hit the road, since we still had a few hours’ drive ahead of us. All in all, though, it was a lovely day, surrounded by history and beautiful things.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

Housesteads Roman Fort from above. Photo from the English Heritage website

While I was in the UK recently, my husband and I and his best friend went on a three day road trip to the northeast area of Northumberland. Our friend, Mal, had been there before but neither of us had been and there are quite a lot of interesting historical things to see. It was Mal’s suggestion and we thought it was a fine one. I knew, after doing some high level research, that we’d only make a bare glimpse at what the area has to offer but a little taste is better than nothing. Now, what can we put on the “To Do” list?

One place I’d always wanted to see was Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman occupying forces built it, all 73 miles of it, just below what is now the border between England and Scotland, a narrow “neck” of the island of Great Britain. It stretches from present day Carlisle in the northwest to Corbridge in the northeast, which is not far from the city of Newcastle. Emperor Hadrian came to Britian in 122 A.D. and the construction began shortly after. The plans were to build a guarded gate, or Milecastle, at every mile with observation towers between. In all 14 forts were built. There were large ditches on the sides of the walls, which were built of stone and sometimes turf. The plans changed with the addition of a handful of forts for extra protection and it took about 6 years to complete. There’s a pretty good overall history of the wall On the English Heritage website.

The wall was manned and staffed for the next few hundred years until the Roman Empire started to fall. Mainly, the wall and forts were abandoned, with the stone removed for local building over the centuries. What was left was the subject of a campaign of protection by historians and archeologists from the Victorian era forward. There are a number of sites remaining, some of which have been restored and preserved. We looked at the guide books and websites and decided on the Housesteads Fort as the one we wanted to visit. A number of them are situated off the road and a bit of a hike into the hills. In many areas, you can see the turf rising. There isn’t a lot of actual stone wall left but there are sites where you can see it and Housesteads is one of those, having quite a lot of the foundations of the fort and settlement along with a good stretch of the actual wall. Chesters Roman Fort is another very good site as is Birdoswald.

Housesteads it is, then. It was a few hours’ drive from Manchester after picking up Mal. We arrived around lunchtime on a cool day. It had been raining a bit all morning but had stopped just before we got there. We had brought a picnic though it wasn’t a great day for it. Never mind. We had our sandwiches and bought our entry tickets for the site. Remember I said a lot of the sites are a hike up into the hills? This is one of them. We went round the back of the visitor centre to face a path that climbed up for what we were told was a half mile uphill all the way. It might not have been a half mile (just under 1 KM) but it was bloody close. I’m definitely not one of the agile, and most definitely not fit but I was determined. I made the men go on ahead without me and took my time walking up the hill, 50 steps at a time, stop, rest the legs, take a few pictures, continue, 50 steps, repeat. Finally, I got to the top!

There are plenty of information boards around to tell you what you’re looking at and there’s a small interpretive museum and a gift shop just outside the ruins as well. The fort sits on the top of a hill with a ditch plummeting down behind the back wall. The views over the rolling hills are amazing, even under dark and threatening skies. The sheep certainly don’t mind. The wall appears to have been built to keep the incoming “barbarians” from what is now Scotland out, traditionally because they couldn’t be conquered. That probably isn’t exactly the case. They probably just decided that was the far border of the empire as they saw it.

To the left inside the garrison walls are the barracks. There’s the remains of the commander’s quarters, the headquarters building, what is probably a hospital and a granary, with the foundations of what would have been a raised floor to keep the damp from the grain. On the front left corner there is what they say is the remains of a latrine, too. We had a walk through the site and stood looking out north over the beautiful landscape, imagining the hordes of angry Scots/Pictish warrior storming the ramparts. My husband quipped that the Romans were probably standing there in their leather skirts, knees knocking in fear and in the cold north winds. He commented that the Scots were way “harder” than the Italians, after all. A nearby couple overheard him and chuckled to themselves.

We spent some time there then looked into the museum but really didn’t get a good look. It was crowded with a group of school kids and was too small for that many people. We left them to it. I had a quick browse through the gift shop and I wished I had bought a fridge magnet there because the visitor centre back down at the parking area didn’t have any nice ones. We partook of the facilities and headed back on the road, northeast to the little town of Seahouses on the coast, our base for the next two nights.

More about Hadrian’s Wall here.

More of my photos here.

Wishlists

Mount Fuji, Japan and the springtime cherry blossoms

Mount Fuji, Japan and the springtime cherry blossoms

While perusing my itinerary for my upcoming trip to the UK to see my husband, I got thinking about my travel wishlist. It does change from time to time but several destinations never seem to drop off the list. Friends and family always say I’ve traveled “extensively” and while I certainly have gotten on a plane, train or into a car numerous times, the list of my travel destinations isn’t really that long when I compare to people that have *really* traveled far and wide.

Positano, on the Amalfi coast of Italy, One of the locations in Only You

Positano, on the Amalfi coast of Italy. Almost the furthest away from Home I’ve been

Google is a wonderful thing. You can ask it pretty much anything and according to them, the distance between where I live and Amalfi in Italy is 6153 km which is the farthest away from home I’ve managed, making Italy the country furthest from home for me, so far. We plan to go to Hawaii either next year or the year after and that will break my record by close to 2500 km. Excellent!

The majority of my travel has been to the U.K. since I’ve been in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend/fiance/husband who is making plans to emigrate to Canada soon. We’ve driven around Great Britain a bit, visited London a number of times and flown out to a few places on the Continent and to Ireland as well. Some of those places are on my list to revisit some day. We nearly made it to Paris last year but that had to be canceled.

It’s tough, really, trying to decide between going back to a place you really enjoy and trying somewhere new. My husband hadn’t traveled very far afield before he met me so many of the places we’ve gone together were new to him, with some new to me as well,  and there will  be trips to take to show him more of Canada when he moves here, both places I’ve been and some I haven’t.

My own personal wish list currently looks like this, in no particular order:

  • A river cruise in Eastern Europe
  • Iceland
  • Portugal – Lisbon and Porto
  • China and Japan
  • New Zealand and Australia
  • Barcelona and Madrid

It’s not that likely that we’ll ever get to the other side of the world but who knows? One of the main impediments is, as most people find, money but the other that intimidates me is that long flight. Even breaking it up into segments gives you some very long hours in the air. If money was no object (ha!) then we could be a lot more comfortable in business class or first class but the odds are not in our favour. The other destinations are possible, though. We have direct flights to Iceland from here in Halifax during the spring to fall season, and the cruise, Portugal or Spain definitely an add on to a visit to family and friends in the UK sometime.

Return destinations include Paris, Copenhagen, Boston, New York, New England, Scotland and Ireland. The first trip we ever took together was to a wedding in Ireland as it happens and it would be fun to go back and do a road trip around the country. I’m probably going to retire in 3 or 4 years, maybe a goal could be to take a post-retirement trip of a lifetime. I’ve always thought it would be cool to fly around the world and stop off various places. That’s probably a bit much to finance I suppose but it costs nothing to dream!

Day Trips: Blackpool

Blackpool is a seaside town in the northwest of England. It has been a firm and traditional summer holiday destination for well over a century. It has all the seaside traditions – sand, donkey rides, arcades, piers (three!) with attractions and there’s lots of shops and places to have fish and chips along the seafront. There are streets upon streets of small hotels, guest houses and B&Bs. There are Bingo Halls, theatres, exhibitions (some tacky, some not) and there’s a huge theme park filled with rides and games called the Pleasure Beach. They even have the Blackpool tower, a mini-Eiffel like structure on the seafront that has a grand ballroom in it and an observation deck high in the sky.

My husband spent many a happy holiday there as a child. They took the bus, or “charabanc”, “chara” for short. They did all the things families do. There were many great memories. He’ll be emmigrating to Canada and wants to see Blackpool one last time so we’ll jump in the rental car and drive up from Salford, just about an hour’s ride away by car.

I’ll confess. Blackpool has always felt a bit tacky to me, a tourist trap, but I’m not British and these seaside wonders are not ingrained into my psyche.  Also, I grew up in a city by the sea so the ocean isn’t as much of a novelty. We did go once before, for an afternoon and we went up in the Tower, found a Doctor Who exhibit and had a walk along the seafront for a bit.

In September, I think the weather will be a bit warmer than it was on the day in the month of May when we went last time. Maybe a paddle in the sea while walking on the beach might be something we’ll do. I think I’d like to walk out along one of the piers, perhaps take the tram to the Pleasure Beach (though you won’t get me on those enormous roller coasters for love or money) and see what other interesting or dubious things to do away from the sea front streets.

One thing I do want to see is the Illuminations. The Blackpool Front (the seafront) and streets are lit up with neon decor, some of it very artful, from the beginning of September through early November so whatever day we decide to go, I want to stay late enough to see the lights turned on. There are indoor illuminations too, at Illuminasia in the Winter Garden.

Other possibilities, if we have the time include a peek into the Winter Garden Opera House, and the Grand Theatre, two wonderful old Victorian theatres.  There’s the World Fireworks Championships on several dates in September, that would be pretty amazing, I would think. We shall see what we have the energy to do! I anticipate plenty of rests with cups of tea/coffee, maybe a fish and chip meal and a sit down to watch the sea.