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.

 

Road Trips: Northumberland


Northumberland, the northeast part of England, is an area that’s not all that familiar to me and my husband. My only experience with this region is driving through it en route down from Scotland on a long-ago bus tour, and a brief overnight visit to Sunderland a couple of years ago. We’re going to do some day trips and road trips in September out of the Manchester area and invited a friend to come along on one of them. He suggested Northumberland to my husband and they even found a nice inn in a small coastal town called Seahouses that we could use as our base. I started to surf the net.

There are a number of castles in the area including Bamburgh and Alnwick and I realized this is also the spot where the Holy Island is located, just off the coast. Holy Island is or was the home of a very old abbey, Lindisfarne where some famed illuminated Gospels were created. There’s a castle ruin as well and it’s also famous for being raided by Vikings! I have heard of this place through another friend that has been here and I always thought it would be very interesting to see. So … that’s on the list!

Picture of Holy Island Causeway which is also known as Lindisfarne causeway. The island is linked to the mainland by a three mile long causeway, built in 1954. Twice each day the tide still renders the road impassable for 2 hours before high tide and 3 hours after.

Picture of Holy Island Causeway which is also known as Lindisfarne causeway. The island is linked to the mainland by a three mile long causeway, built in 1954. Twice each day the tide still renders the road impassable for 2 hours before high tide and 3 hours after.

You access the island by a causeway and have to watch for the tides so it’s only accessible for part of each day. Visits have to be timed around that. We can see that perhaps in the morning and go to one of the castles in the afternoon or vice versa depending on the tides. There may also be a quick stop in Sunderland to see friends on the way home.

On the way to Northumberland we have to cross from one side of the country to the other and if we drive north then east, we can follow the route A62 that follows generally the line of Hadrian’s Wall, the old Roman fortification built to keep out the Scots. There are several excavation spots with museums and visitor centres along the way and I think we’d all find that really interesting, too. English Heritage owns most of them so I may buy an online overseas visitor pass which you can purchase for a 9 day or 15 day range (single, or more people up to a family size pass)  as long as you have your passport or other ID that shows you live outside of the UK. Check. (as long as they don’t look at my husband’s ID, too!)

There are so many interesting and historical places to visit in the UK and in Europe that day trips and road trips are a real delight.

Day Trips: The Snake Pass

SnakePassRouteWhen I travel to see my fiance, now my husband, in the UK, we usually take a few day trips by car. There are lots of nice places out of the Manchester area that make for a good road trip. We’ve often gone to  York, into the Peak District or up to the Lake District, among other places, and we’ve also gone across the border into Wales as well. My next visit is in September so we’re starting to decide where we might go.

One scenic route I’d heard was really nice was through the north of the Peak District National Park across the Snake Pass. G. loves driving along twisty, turny roads so he won’t mind at all. There is a particularly pretty stop off at the Ladybower Reservoir and there is sure to be a country pub or two along the way to choose for lunch. I always say Google is my friend so I’ve learned this about the pass. It’s got an elevation of 1680 feet at it’s highest point. It is the main connector road between Manchester and Sheffield but can be closed in the winter if the weather is bad. It’s actually been closed as I write this for road works and repairs so I will expect it to be in top form in September.

The Ladybower Reservoir was built in the Upper Derwent Valley in the Peaks in the mid 20th century and two local villages were “drowned”. One was demolished completely but apparently you can see the remains of the other one if the reservoir is low. It’s a very picturesque spot and an interesting place to visit so maybe we’ll stop there to stretch our legs.

As we circle back up north of the area into Yorkshire, we thought we might stop in the village of Holmfirth, famed for the filming location of The Last of the Summer Wine, which is one of the longest running sitcoms ever. It aired from the 70s for just over 30 years. I have seen the occasional episode but I haven’t watched it much. It was very popular in the U.K. and the village is a tourist attraction now. It’s got lovely stone cottages and shops and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. We may stop off there on our return leg.

Driving the pass without stopping really shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours or so but with stop offs, it will make for a grand day out!

What to do, where to go

View down the harbour

View down the harbour

For the first year in a very long time, I have no specific travel plans. In May, I’m getting married and for the two weeks my fiance/husband will be here in Canada, we will be busy with wedding/post wedding stuff so it’s not likely we’ll be going anywhere or doing any day trips. I’ll visit him in the UK in September and we have some wedding stuff to do, because we’re going to have a small reception there for our friends and family on that side of the Atlantic who weren’t able to travel here for the wedding. We will probably be able to do some day trips though, maybe a few days’ road trip, even. So I guess we can get our heads together and start thinking about where we could go for a 3 or 4 day road trip. I don’t think we’ll have the funds for a flight/hotel type trip to The Continent but who knows?

There are still plenty of destinations in England that I haven’t been to and would love to see. There are some interesting spots in the North of England including Hadrian’s Wall with a Roman museum, and there’s a few castles and abbeys as well. Or we could head to the Midlands, the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, all around that part of the country.  Any suggestions would be lovely.

I’m also planning to take a couple of days off in July which will make a 5 day weekend in early July. I’ve been thinking of some sort of road trip, maybe with my Mom. The next question is where? I did look at the map and wondered if she’d be interested in a trip to Campobello Island, just off the coast of New Brunswick. We might even be able to do a bit of cross-border shopping while we’re there and visit some relatives in Saint John, NB either on the way out or on the way back. Or both.  We could go to Prince Edward Island, instead. We have relatives there and there’s some nice places to visit on the Island. Cape Breton is another good choice.

It’s lovely to be planning something even if I don’t really know anything definite. I’m just wool-gathering on a very frosty day and thinking of ideas. No doubt you’ll hear more if and when I do decide on something!

Fall Road Trip, Part 2 : Boston and home the long way

Boston Common roundabout

Boston Common roundabout

Boston

For our second full day, we are taking the train into Boston, just a 35 minute ride by commuter rail. It was hot today, hotter than yesterday and a little more humid. We had another nice breakfast and walked to the train station which is only about 10 minutes away by foot. There’s a major construction project going on so you have to walk a long way up to the platform rather than take a bus or taxi right in. En route we saw something we didn’t expect, a Tardis! Well, not a real one, a painted electrical service box. Remember where we parked the Tardis, dear!

We arrived at Boston’s North Station which is attached to the arena, formerly the location of Boston Garden, now rebuilt and sucked up into the corporate world like most of the sports arenas around and owned by Toronto Dominion, TD Centre or something is what it’s called now, home to the Boston Bruins (NHL) and the Boston Celtics (NBA) (that’s hockey and basketball, respectively.) Out front of the complex is a statue of former Bruins defence star, Bobby Orr depicted in full flight as he jumped across the goal crease after scoring the winning Stanley Cup goal in 1970. I remember that game!

We went to the main road where we could see the tour trolleys going by from different tour companies. They all pretty much do the same tours and routes so we hailed one that was about to stop. He was more than happy to take our money and we hopped on for the orientation tour of Boston. What we didn’t expect was the comprehensive tour of all the road construction sites in the city and the horrendous traffic in the old historic centre. The poor guide kept apologizing and said he was running out of things to say. He said he had 2 hours of material for what was turning out to be a 3 hour tour!

Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall

We skipped the last quarter of the tour, because we were getting bored with sitting and going nowhere fast and walked over to the touristy Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall area. They are two old buildings that were used for plotting revolutions and political things and a market and are now used for art exhibitions, and lots of shops, food stalls, and a tourist information centre. Quincy Market is all food stalls inside and lined with souvenir and arts/crafts stalls along the outside. The old warehouses on either side of the area are also now shops and restaurants. It’s a busy spot but quite pretty on a sunny day like today.

Kurt Cobain's wrecked Guitar. Hard Rock Cafe, Boston

Kurt Cobain’s wrecked Guitar. Hard Rock Cafe, Boston

We wandered through there and then decided to get lunch. Lo and Behold, there’s a Hard Rock Café just behind it so we thought that was as good as any. You can be sure of a good meal there. Our server, Cam I think was his name, was really good, not just with the menu but with our questions about the memorabilia, too. We found out that the chain has specialists that buy memorabilia at auctions or directly from artists or via bequests in wills, too. After we ate, he took us into another room which is used for private functions and showed us some of the items in there which were pretty impressive, and all hidden away from the general public. In here we saw a smashed guitar owned by Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain, one of Madonna’s pointy-busted costumes, and Guitars owned by Eddie Van Halen and also Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead.

We followed the red brick road, so to speak. Boston has a red painted brick trail through the city that you can walk that passes by most of the historic buildings and locations related to the War of Independence in the 18th Century. It’s called the Freedom Trail. We walked past a few of these buildings including the site of the Boston Massacre of 1770. Because it’s so warm, we really didn’t want to walk around too much in the heat and wanted to do something besides just walk around anyway. We decided on the Boston Science Museum and Planetarium and flagged down a taxi to get there quicker than we could walk, even with the traffic, though it likely wouldn’t have been a long walk, maybe about 20 or 30 minutes from where we were. If it wasn’t so warm and our feet not so sore, we could have done it ourselves!

The Science Museum is quite large and though a lot of it is set up for kids to learn via interactive displays, it’s still interesting for adults. They have special shows through the day and there’s an Imax theatre and the planetarium which we particularly wanted to see as neither of us had been to one before. The fee for the museum is a bit pricey then you add on more if you’re going to the Imax and Planetarium shows. You can just pay for those individually outside the museum entrance if you are only attending a show in one of those.

We had a cold drink in the cafeteria while we waited for the Planetarium show at 3:30 which was about moons in the solar system. You sit back and recline and look up. The ceiling is the movie screen with the stars and moons and planets and the rest of the action going on over your head and it’s very cool. The show lasted about 40 minutes. They have different ones through the day and you really could spend all day in the museum seeing the exhibits and shows. We had about 45 minutes before they closed to see some of the other halls so we checked out the maps and models, dinosaurs, the space exhibit that had a couple of space capsule recreations, the Mercury and one of the Apollo mission ones.

By the time we left there at 5 we were done in and it was still quite hot. Since the museums and attractions all closed at 5 anyway and there wasn’t much else to do until we decided to eat, which would be later, so we decided to get the train back to Salem and find somewhere to eat there .

Even though our stay in Boston was brief, it was enjoyable. Boston is a huge city so it’s busy and since the city centre is old, the roads are narrow which clogs up traffic. You’re better off walking or taking the subway (underground/metro) system to get around. There are a lot of really nice buildings, some fine museums and galleries and more history than you can shake a stick at. Boston Common is the oldest one in America, Fenway Park is the oldest baseball park in the league and the shopping and dining is world class. For foodies, there’s a Chinatown and an Italian neighbourhood and there’s lots of excellent seafood. If you’re into sports, it’s a haven with four major league sports teams calling Boston home. (hockey, baseball, football and basketball) Nearby Cambridge is the home of MIT and Harvard Universities and those are also interesting places to investigate.

On our return, we walked back into Salem centre from the Train station, which wasn’t far, and looked into a couple of shops that were still open before coming to the square next to the Bewitched statue. There were several restaurants there, one with a very odd name, Naumkeag Ordinary. Let’s have a look.

The menu wasn’t large but it had some interesting items and they also do specials on Thursdays because it’s Farmers’ Market day and they devise a couple of specials using things they get from the market. We had some lovely apple cider and shared a pate plate to start. Graham had a steak and I had a mustard crusted haddock which was melt in my mouth good. Probably some of the best fish I’ve ever had! Graham’s steak was excellent as well so we did well.

We walked back through the pedestrian street where the Tourist Info centre is. It’s dark now but there are still one or two stores still open and we had a good look round one that had a lot of really off beat souvenirs. We got back to the hotel, another footsore day! The air conditioning felt so good! We chilled out (Ha!) and caught up with emails and things.

The road home

Old Streetcar, Canadian themed

Old Streetcar, Canadian themed

And here we are on Friday evening in a Best Western hotel in Portland, Maine. We got on the road this morning after a light breakfast. Our initial destination was the Kittery Outlet shopping area. It was only about an hour and a bit away from Salem. Graham was successful in his quest for new jeans and sneakers and I found a set of really nice casserole dishes. We had a quick bite to eat and headed back out again. We aren’t sure where we are staying tonight, we’re going to wing it tonight and tomorrow night but it’s still early so we’re going to see what we might discover along the way.

And what we found was the Seashore Trolley Museum  in Kennebunkport. We got to have a 30 minute ride on an exquisitely restored streetcar with narration from a volunteer conductor on the history of public transit in the area. We could wander around the barns and they also have transit cars, train cars, busses and the like all over acres of the site. We looked in the barn where they are currently restoring some trams and trolleys, which can take years. One of the trams they’re working on is from Blackpool! Graham joked that he probably rode on that tram as a kid!

Then we went over to the other barn where the finished cars are and there were some really lovely ones including one with a lot of lacy ironworks, with a Canadian Flag and beaver décor on it! They said it can take 5 or 6 years to completely restore a streetcar due to scarcity of materials and original mechanical parts. I love obscure museums and this one fit the bill but it was just too hot to tramp around for too long! We bought an ice cream and a cold drink in the museum shop and sat in the shade for a bit then headed back to the car. Time to start keeping an eye out for a place to stay and we picked this Best Western hotel in Portland with a government rate of acceptable.

We got an early start the next morning with sunny skies overhead. We expected we might be able to make our way all along the Maine coast back to the Canadian border today. We were wrong.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

Our first stop was the Portland Head Lighthouse which was only a short drive away from the hotel. This is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and was built on instructions from George Washington in 1791. There’s a nice little keeper’s house that has a little museum in it and the views from the park are really wonderful. There’s another lighthouse in the distance called Ram Island Ledge lighthouse which makes a nice point of interest in the photos with the Portland one close up. It was already quite hot so we didn’t tramp around Fort William Park to see the remnants of an old fort. We visited the gift shop and then got on our way.

We decided to follow the US 1 route through the coastal areas though didn’t often actually see the sea. We drove through nice little towns and rural areas though the going was slow, having to shift down to 45, 35 or even 25 miles per hour through the main streets etc. The sun has gone behind the clouds and we wondered if it would rain but it held off and there were still sunny breaks. In one place we went through, we saw a little food stand called Red’s Eats. I don’t know what Red was selling but it must have been damn good because people were lined up around and down the block. There must have been about 50 people or more in the queue!

For our lunch break, we came across a restaurant on the edge of a cove at Lincolnville and thought that might be a good place to stop. It was called The Lobster Pound and Andy’s Brew Pub. We could watch people stroll across the rocky beach poking in the sand for clams, perhaps, with a few boats out on the water. The food was quite good and the service was as well. We didn’t try any of the brew pub’s ale because we were sharing the driving but it looked interesting. It was a large restaurant with almost all good views over the beach.

Away from there, we meandered along but we were finding it a bit frustrating as it was slow going most of the time. We ended up deciding that we’d never get back to New Brunswick tonight if we stayed on this road and we were already 2 days in the car, looking at another one, minimum, plus I needed to be 2 different places tomorrow if at all possible, I couldn’t put either of them off until the next day. It’s Decided. We would break off from the US 1 and head up to route 9 which goes cross country from Bangor to Calais and the border to St. Stephen and stay there overnight. I found a motel in Woodstock, called ahead and booked it and away we went through rural Maine. The road was pretty quiet and we had it to ourselves most of the time.

We had one coffee stop along the way and topped up the gas tank at the point where it rejoined US 1 with the sky going really dark quite quickly. It’s definitely going to rain and sure enough, just as we got back in the car, the rain started to hurl down! Luckily, we were right at the Duty Free shop and I pulled in to the parking lot, intending at least to wait out the worst of the rain. It eased up enough so we went into Duty Free to use up the rest of our American money.

We got to the border just as it was going dark, still raining a bit. We answered the questions, told them how much we’d bought. Yes, one bottle of alcohol. No, no beer or wine or tobacco. I don’t know whether that was the reason (since most people stock up on all those things) but they decided to have a look at our receipts in detail and look through the car. Whatever. We had nothing to hide.

It didn’t take long and we drove across and back into Canada, found the motel in St. Stephen (The Winsome Inn) and once we’d pulled out what we needed for the night, we nipped back down the road to a diner for a meal. The diner was called McNay’s and was an old fashioned no frills place with excellent homemade food. Nothing fancy about the restaurant but sometimes those are the best places and this is one of them.

Our last day was mostly driving again but we stopped in at Moncton to visit friends at lunchtime. It would have been a longer visit but I also needed to stop in Amherst to drop into a funeral home. The husband of a good friend had passed away and the family visitation was from 2-4 this afternoon and I really wanted to stop to see her even if it was just a short visit. It was. We got there about 5 minutes before 4 but they were all still there so I got to see her and talk to her a little.

It’s another 2 hour drive home and by the time we go there, we were more than ready to be out of the car! It took two trips to unload everything and there’s a mountain of laundry to do but we’re here. We really did enjoy the trip and I wouldn’t mind going again. I’d still like to drive through the rest of the coastal Maine area and stop off at all these nice places, shops, lighthouses, and museums. I’d also like to go to Boston again but would likely fly there and stay put for a few days, maybe taking day trips by train to some of the other places in the area, possibly including another visit to Salem. Or not. But road trips are fun and we’ll be doing more of them.

The longer version with more detail, should you prefer it, is here on my main website.
There are more photos here.