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a day out in the London countryside…

The popular Lee Valley Ice Rink, one time rehearsal venue for Dancing on Ice, is less than 5 miles from the Monument in the city of London; in the far corner of the car park so obscured by the arched rink building you could easily miss it, is the gateway to the Walthamstow Marshes.

This 100 acre oasis located in the London Borough of Waltham Forest was designated by Natural England as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest in 1985 as it is one of the few remaining areas of semi-natural marshland left in London.

The River Lee bobbing with a myriad of brightly painted narrow boats creates a natural border between town and country and boardwalks criss-cross some of the more protected areas offering close-up views of the flora and fauna without impacting on their habitat.

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Elsewhere well trodden grass paths cut through the meadow and marshland, clusters of trees providing secluded spots, perfect for relaxing – we really must remember to pack a picnic next time!

Wildlife at the walthamstow marshes

All that and Herbie loves it here too… the perfect place to while away a few hours, take in the peace and quiet and enjoy the tranquility of this very special and unspoilt part of the city.

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Trains run frequently from London Liverpool Street, the journey takes less than 20 minutes, the Bus takes a little longer but at £1.50 one way is a great way to see the vibrant community of North London on your way. There is also plenty of parking with rates from as little as £1 for a few hours.

A weekend in West Norfolk

This time of year we’re usually headed off to Kernolou but after failing to find a suitable channel crossing we decided to make the most of the lovely weather with a long weekend trip to Norfolk in the Bedford Bambi Campervan.

A quick glance at the map showed the M11 as being the quickest route, however cruising speed in the Bambi varies between 45-50 mph so we opted for a more leisurely path following the A10 up through the leafy Hertfordshire countryside, onto Cambridge and the Isle of Ely and made our first stop at the pretty market town of King’s Lynn.

More than just a sleepy market town awash with historic buildings, beautiful old Merchant’s Houses and cobbled streets, King’s Lynn has been an important port since the 12th century and was the first Hanseatic town in Great Britain.  We were both quite enchanted with the town and fascinated by its architecture and maritime past so we’ll definitely be back to explore further.

On this occasion though we wanted to get settled in the for weekend so after a brief stop for a bite to eat we continued the journey onto our base for the next few nights at Hilgay, which is situated just a few miles from the picturesque town of Downham Market.

Lodge Farm Meadow is a Camping and Caravanning Club certified site which allows for just 5 caravans or motorhomes and up to 10 tents at any one time so on a site of over five acres this meant plenty of peace and privacy.

It takes less than half an hour to set-up camp including erecting the small awning that hooks over the back of the campervan.  By this time Herbie was starting to get a little restless so after a long and lazy walk to give him some much needed exercise we settled down with a glass or two of red and relaxed in the glow of the sunset over camp.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast we headed off to Hunstanton, a Victorian seaside town described on the website as an elegant resort. First doubts started to creep in with the appearance of the ‘Land Train’ quickly followed by the sight of hordes of under-dressed crowds thronging the beach and boardwalk, itself lined with souvenir shops and penny arcades. Not quite the genteel resort we’d conjured images of and so after devouring a punnet of chips each we headed off into the calm of the countryside.

Next stop Sandringham, the Norfolk retreat of HM the Queen.  There are over 200 acres of parkland to explore and enjoy which we made the most of.  Dogs are not permitted in the gardens or the house so instead we visited the pretty little church of St Mary Magdalene with its stunning decor and amazing stained glass. The church is used regularly by the Royal Family for worship and is also open to visitors during the summer months.

St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham

Another fine day followed and we headed over to Brancaster Beach, four miles of golden sands which forms part of the National Trust’s Brancaster Estate.

Herbie loves the beach and we had a lovely couple of hours walking along, splashing around before returning to the campervan via the sand-dunes.

We’d certainly worked up an appetite and on leaving the car-park spotted the Ship Hotel where we enjoyed a delicious lunch before heading back to base camp for our last night in Norfolk.

How lucky we were with the weather, we’d enjoyed lots of sunshine and unusually high temperatures for the time of the year with just one thunderstorm overnight to douse the parched earth.

A return visit to East Anglia and in particular Norfolk, a stunning part of the country is most definitely on the cards for later in the summer.

 

Our Farm & Fens weekend…

The weather looked set fair for the weekend, so early Saturday morning we loaded up the Bedford Bambi and headed up to the Fens and a return visit to the lovely Gayton Farm (more of this in my previous blog)

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By lucky happenstance when we arrived these lambs were playing in the field; they were born at 04:00 that morning, amazing how strong and lively they are for just a few hours old.

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Although not particularly sunny, it was a warm humid afternoon and perfect for a hike across to Quy Fen, (a Site of Special Scientific Interest), a few miles from base camp at Horningsea.

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Herbie loves the open countryside

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After a quick glass of wine at the local we went back to camp and following a rather splendid steak dinner (cooked al fresco), we settled down for a little Eurovision entertainment.

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It rained through the night, hard enough at times to be woken by the tinkling on the roof of the Bambi….

A lazy Sunday morning for us (Robin and Carolyn were up early and away to South Suffolk where they were showing their prized Belstead Lincoln Reds).

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After the obligatory fry-up we burned the calories with another yomp across Field and Fen before returning to break camp ‘helped’ by one very reluctant to leave puppy!

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I’m sure we’ll be back soon to this stunning area of the country, but I think we’ll give Kent a try next time; the harbour town of Whitstable is about 60 miles south-east so well within the range of the Bambi!

return to Cherbourg…

St Malo is by far the most convenient port for us in northern France, however on rare occasions when we can’t get a crossing we use either Caen or Cherbourg.

In the summer months Brittany Ferries operate the Normandie Express, a daily service between Portsmouth and Cherbourg with high speeds of up to 42 knots giving a nippy journey time of just 3 hours.

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This month we were on one of the first crossings of the season and very fresh it was all too.  There is a new Club Lounge with extra-comfy seating which is spacious enough to recline without impacting on your nearest neighbour.  In-seat USB connections are a real bonus and complimentary hot and cold drinks are provided at the beginning and end of each journey. Well worth the extra few pounds…

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Also new for this season is a small range of hot meals from Le Cafe, a very welcome addition.  Cooked breakfast was keenly priced and very tasty it was too; the perfectly scrambled eggs, tomatoes and sausages were accompanied by a rather strange (and unnecessary) mashed potato affair. For later in the day there is a limited but good choice of hot food again well priced at around £5.00 or a choice of delicious soups for £3.50.

Of course there’s a shop, just the one but it sells all the usual papers, magazines and things you never knew you needed plus wines, beers, spirits and tobacco; oh and giant Chupa Chups.

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We disembarked just a few minutes earlier than scheduled and after a very brief queue at Cherbourg French border control we were whisking our way down the peninsular. It is a bit of a gruelling drive home at around 7 hours with a few short stops, but much nicer for pampered pooch who only had to endure being left for 3 hours instead of the usual overnight in the kennels on the ferry.

Time then for feet up and a relaxing glass of something sparkling…

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I’ll be adding more pics and info to the Normandie Express page shortly, but in the meantime check out our oh so favourite Brittany Ferries ship, the MV Bretagne

Quimper Cornouaille, ville capitale

Our closest city, one that we never tire of visiting, Quimper is the cultural and administrative capital of Finistère; it derives its name from kemper, the Breton word for confluent as the rivers Steir and Odet meet here and flow gently out to the ocean at nearby Bénodet.

These rivers wend their way through the town criss-crossed by a myriad of bridges each adorned with bold colourful displays of flowers.

Quimper floral bridges

The skyline of the old town is dominated by the flamboyant gothic Quimper Cathedral, properly known as La Cathédral Saint Corentin de Quimper; we’re talking ancient here – construction started in the 13th century.

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The cathedral is also hauntingly beautiful at night…

The city, once the ancient capital of Cornouaille, found wealth in the production of Faïence, the art of tin glazed hand-painted pottery, in the early 1700’s. Quimper faïence is still made and can be found in the boutiques of the old town, some of the older rarer items being valuable collectors pieces, although the inevitable tourist tat is widely available.

There’s performance to be found on the street corners from traditional Breton entertainment to jazz improv…

While the supermarkets, diy stores and the like encircle the town on outlying retail parks, in the centre there is a plethora of independent shops and some popular high street brands with just one small charming department store from the Eurodif chain.

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Each Saturday there is a market selling fresh produce from the local area and of course the inevitable rotisserie stall, the aroma from which drifts through the marketplace tantalising the tastebuds. Hard to resist.

Another must visit is the rather delightful emporium known as Maison Georges Larnicol, originally from Brittany and now with stores in Paris and beyond, Georges Larnicol is one of the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France.  Here you’ll find exquisite chocolate delicacies along with macarons and his signature kouignettes, miniature, caramelised versions of the classic Kouign amann.

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Their mouthwatering desserts are served at the Restaurant Le Petit Gaveau located just up the street from the store.  Another one of our favourite restaurants is L’Anchoiade, Quimper which we discovered one very busy New Year’s eve, the house speciality being the exceptional Parilladas – for more details of both see the eat here section of my site.

We’ve stayed overnight on several occasions, the Escale Oceania is a popular option for us, it’s just a stones throw from the old town and is one of the more pet-friendly hotels in the area.

Of course no visit to Quimper can be complete without sampling a delicious sweet or savoury Crêpe, a true Breton staple and always a good reason for a return visit!

 

 

 

a trip to the Fens…

So the Easter weekend weather wasn’t predicted to be great but that didn’t put us off taking a last minute trip out to the Cambridgeshire Fens.

After the obligatory supermarket pit-stop to top up on goodies we hurtled up the A10 at a staggering 45mph (excluding hills); Bambi really was on top form after its recent very extensive service.

Our destination for the weekend was the enchanting little village of Horningsea, located just a few miles north of Cambridge city centre.

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Gayton Farm & Campsite, which according to their Facebook page is a mixed farm of Arable land and Lincoln Red Cattle, home of Bespoke Bridlework and of course the campsite that is run by the very charming Carolyn and Robin who couldn’t have done more to welcome us and make our stay thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s clear both are passionate about everything they do, during our stay Carolyn and Robin were painstakingly constructing a large decking area at the rear of their house as well as taking care of the farm, the Bridlework business and of course playing host to the field of campers! Industrious from dawn to dusk, theirs really does appear to be a true labour of love.

Gayton is a Camping and Caravanning Club Certified site which means it’s limited to just 5 motorhomes or caravans and up to 10 tents at any one time which engenders an air of exclusivity enhanced by the tranquil setting and stunning views over acres upon acres of flat open farmland.

On first impression you might think that this is so good they’ve done it before and indeed they have… at Lynchets Farm & Campsite just 30 odd miles down the road at Great Chishill before taking their successful blueprint and recreating it at Horningsea.

Facilities are outstanding, they’ve just finished putting the final touches to the new washroom/toilet block which is kept immaculately clean. Each pitch has electrical hook-up and a couple are full service.

The village is home to two country pubs; we only made it to the nearest one, the amazing Crown and Punchbowl which is expertly run by those good folk at CambsCusine. We’ve previously sampled their outstanding hospitality at the Tickell Arms in Whittlesford and St John Chop House, Cambridge. All highly recommended!

During the daytime we enjoyed bracing walks across the Fens and along the River Cam, although Herbie is never able resist the pull of a country pub and dragged us into several during the course of the weekend, so naturally we felt obliged to partake in the odd pub lunch or afternoon Prosecco…

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Next week we’re back off to Brittany for a rest!

a very balmy weekend…

The picturesque village of Ashwell situated in the rolling downs of rural East Hertfordshire was our destination for this weekend.

New thatching at Ashwell

Although less than 50 miles north of London, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

View from the Loves Lane Campsite - Hot Air Balloon descending

The village is well catered for with a convenience store, traditional butchers, a quaint coffee and gift shop and no less than three pubs; The Three Tuns, Rose and Crown and Bushel & Strike.

Three Tuns Ashwell interior pub

While we just missed lunch service at the Three Tuns we enjoyed a glass or two of Prosecco in the lovely beer garden.

Three Tuns at Ashwell, Beer Garden

A restored 14th century cottage, home to the local museum is now open a couple of times a week showcasing local artefacts and houses a Resource Centre due in part to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Ashwell Museum

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Ashwell Springs, a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest is also a source of the River Cam; coincidentally the village itself was once home to Erasmus Darwin, great grandson of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist and biologist.

Another celebrated resident, Kiki Dee was the first white British artist signed to Motown and erstwhile duetting partner of Elton John; both having achieved their first No 1 single in 1993 with ‘Don’t go Breaking my Heart’.

Loves lane Ashwell

We stayed at Loves Lane, a Camping and Caravanning Club certified site.  Sheltered, peaceful, and with immaculately clean facilities this really is a hidden gem and one that we look forward to staying at again.

Bedford Bambi parked up and pitched at Loves Lane Campsite Ashwell Hertfordshire

The annual village open day Ashwell at Home has for the last 30 odd years taken place on a Sunday afternoon in May; another good reason for a return visit.

return to the shires…

First outing this year in the Bambi saw us making a flying return visit a couple of weekends ago to the Shires and the rather splendid Hertford Camping and Caravanning Club site (see also my previous blog).

After a warm welcome and speedy check-in the lovely Em showed us to this agreeable little hard-standing pitch not too far from the main entrance and well placed for easy access to the facilities block.

 

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Bambi pitched up at Hertford Camping and Caravanning Club

Although a large site with some 250 pitches, it is so well laid out with different areas that you never feel cramped and this early in the year it wasn’t overly busy so we really were spoilt for space and privacy.

We took H to the designated dog walk that pleasingly meanders through woods past a lake to open countryside, ideal for a game of chase.  Afterwards he enjoyed a rest and nap while we set up camp.

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It’s just a short walk into the town which has a huge variety of pubs and restaurants, our favourite being the very dog-friendly Dog & Whistle.  We were too late for lunch but thoroughly enjoyed a nice glass of red or two before making our way back to Balls Park, stopping off at the local Sainsbury’s to pick up some supplies and non-essential goodies!

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Following another bracing stroll through the Hertfordshire countryside we returned to the campervan just in time to hunker down before the wet and windy weather set-in.

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After dinner which consisted of a bowl of delicious steaming-hot chilli and rustic bread accompanied of course by the obligatory glass of red, it was time to relax in front of the iPad for some Saturday night trash television.

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The following day brought us blue skies and fresh air aplenty; after an invigorating early morning walk we treated ourselves to a simple but hugely satisfying breakfast of egg and bacon muffins before packing up the campervan and heading home to London and the reality of the working week ahead.

This week the little van has gone into the garage for a service, MOT and spring-clean in readiness for more outings, antics & adventures…

Down beside the side of the silvery sea…

When we were kids our neighbours used to go on holiday to Whitley Bay; I had no idea of the whereabouts of what we then imagined to be an exotic far-flung destination.

Until yesterday.

Historically in Northumberland but now part of Tyne & Wear the little seaside resort of Whitley Bay flashed before my eyes as we passed through on our way from Newcastle on the ‘Metro’ allegedly the first rapid transit light rail system in the uk.

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We alighted two stops later in the small town of Tynemouth at the rather impressive Grade II listed Victorian station that formerly served as a mainline railway station used by the thousands of day-trippers and holiday makers from the late 1800’s onwards.

As we strolled along Tynemouth’s main street, populated with the ubiquitous gift shops, chic coffee shops, trendy bars and restaurants, the ancient castle and priory ruins loomed before us, dramatically perched on the rocky headland.

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By this time a very patient H was much in need of some exercise and so we headed down to the award-winning Longsands beach that even on this fresh February morning was awash with dog-walkers, children playing in the soft golden sands and even a couple of brave souls who waded into the chilly, silvery waters of the North Sea for a somewhat brief bathe.

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At the far end of the beach the lights of a distant bar restaurant beckoned, the firm damp sand underfoot helped speed our way across. Lunch for me consisted of the freshest Mussels in a garlic and parsley sauce while the other half opted for the most amazing looking burger.

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Another much shorter stroll took us to Cullercoats station and the Metro whisked us back to Hebburn in no time… we’ll be back to visit this rather enchanting stretch of coast because oh, we do like to be beside the seaside!

Heading North

This weekend found us on the 08:30 Virgin East Coast from London to Newcastle for a weekend of birthday celebrations with the other half’s family. It’s been a while since I’ve made a long distance train journey and was very pleasantly surprised!

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As we were travelling with precious pooch we opted for 1st class; roomy comfortable seats, free WiFi, entertainment and power sockets to charge up our phones and tablets make all the difference to a 3 hour journey.

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On  board catering has come a long way too… Virgin have teamed up with James Martin (him off the tele) to create a range of new menus…

After a selection from the Bakery Basket Ian opted for the Breakfast Roll, crammed with rarebreed Yorkshire back bacon while I opted for the Great British Breakfast, succulent sausage served with a rasher of that delicious bacon, grilled tomato and flat mushroom complimented by the creamiest black pudding and topped off with a perfectly cooked egg.

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The freshly brewed coffee was freeflowing and fairtrade tea was also available. The menu is very aptly named ‘A Tasty Journey’ and it was simply first class – hats off to Virgin!

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