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Ellan Vannin

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Laxey Wheel – just one of many great sights on the Isle of Man

Yes, I know that it’s quite a while since Caroline and I visited Isle of Man, but there’s been quite a few adverts and programmes on television over the last couple of weeks here in the UK highlighting the island and its many charms.

As well as coverage of the iconic TT Races over the last fortnight – the build-up, the classic races of recent and not-so-recent years, profiles of current riders and legends such as Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop, there’s been segments shot on the island in programmes fronted by bike nut Henry ColeFind It, Fix It, Drive It on More 4 and The Motorbike Show on ITV4.

It’s been a while since I last rode a motorbike (1975 to be exact, around the back lanes near Glenridding in the Lake District), but I suspect that now would not be a good time to give it another go thanks to some small balance problems after having that stroke in 2004…

Our journey to Isle of Man started with a train ride to Liverpool and a wander down to the Hampton By Hilton hotel once we arrived. After checking in, we headed out to explore the area surrounding the hotel.

There had been a small festival taking place on that Sunday, but it was winding down as it was nearing 6pm, so we contented ourselves by just strolling around and seeing what was out there. As we’d not had lunch we were on a mission as we were beginning to feel the need – the need to feed!

The pub we’d spotted earlier in the day had already stopped serving food, so a nearby group of restaurants looked very, very tempting. Yes, they were chains, but by that time we were passed caring…

No tables were available at our preferred choice, so we ended up going to another pizza place a few metres away. Calamari was tried for the first time, but after polishing off the bowl, Caroline and I came to the same conclusion – what was all the fuss about?

Our respective pasta and pizza courses were more impressive, as were the desserts and the coffee that rounded the meal off. Yes, it was a budget busting bill, but hey, we were hungry and that’s all that counted at the time we ordered the food, wine and beer.

After a good night’s sleep, breakfast really set us up for the day, but not in the way we expected. Yes, Caroline went for the light option and I opted for the full English, but we ended up making different coffee choices.

I’m not a fan of machine coffee, but I tried a black coffee with some cold milk and it didn’t impress. The next cup though did hit the spot, largely because I hit the Espresso button three times before adding a smidgen of milk. Not perfection, but a distinct improvement on that first cup!

As we were getting ready to head back upstairs for our bags before checking out, one of the restaurant staff invited us to help ourselves to croissants to take away with us. Whilst we grasped a couple each for lunch, the lady offered us a couple of paper bags and napkins to stash the croissants in.

So there is something to the concept of getting a free lunch!

Once we’d retrieved our bags and checked out, it was time to head towards the sea cat Manannan for our shortish hop across the Irish Sea.

One of the first things we noticed after landing at Douglas was the friendliness on Isle Of Man, starting at the aptly named Welcome Centre when we sought and bought our travel and heritage smart cards.

This friendliness continued as people stopped to ask whether they could help us as we made our way to our hotel, searched for eating places and started to use those smart cards. It was our own politeness though that bagged us the last two seats on the Manx Electric Railway between Douglas and Laxey the following morning.

We’d normally leave such an impressive sight such as Laxey Wheel until near the end of our trip, but we had seen the ten day weather forecast for the island and it did not look good. So Laxey it was for the first part of the day out and the summit of Snaefell the rest.

Caroline had seen Laxey Wheel before on a previous visit to the island thirty years before our visit, but I’d only seen it on Coast, World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides (that man Henry Cole again…) or in photographs.

Once seen, Caroline’s insistence we head there was fully justified.

You can see the wheel just from the entrance gate and there were many people who did just that, but got not further than the gate. Once inside the gate, you get the feeling for the scale of the wheel known as Lady Isabella and for the site beyond the impressive water feature.

After a coffee in a nearby cafe and lunch in the Laxey station cafe, the next phase of the day kicked in – a ride to the summit of Snaefell and back on the Snaefell Mountain Railway via The Bungalow, just one of the many notable places on the TT Mountain Course.

Walking around on the summit brought some impressive views as were luckier with the weather than Julia Bradbury and a film crew had been whilst filming a programme segment on Snaefell for ITV.

We had been lucky with the weather, but had come prepared with mountain jackets in our day sacks and by wearing fleeces and walking trousers rather than the t-shirts and shorts favoured by some fellow explorers.

We weren’t that lucky the following day though when we visited Peel – those waterproofs did come out of the packs. Caroline made good use of the heritage aspect of those smart cards whilst I hit the motorcycle museum, had a kipper bap for lunch and sheltered in cafes so I could rest my left leg that was complaining after being cramped on the trams the previous day.

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Thursday’s visit to Port Erin on the steam railway was a delight. Fine weather, a good lunch next to the beach and plenty of fresh air made the day, which was just as well as the weather closed in for the rest of the week.

We did make it to Castletown and Ramsey, but the rain gods had the final word on those days. Saving grace? Crossing the TT finishing line  – on a service bus to Douglas rather than on a high powered motorcycle!

This is just a taster about Isle Of Man. There will be more over the next couple of weeks when I have days off. We will be returning to Isle Of Man, but in the summer months and we will take the car so we can do the whole of the Mountain Course and explore the parts we didn’t get to…

It won’t be over the TT weeks or when there’s other racing taking place. These will be watched at home if for no other reason than we’ve seen what the hotel rates are for those particular times when fans head to Isle Of Man to watch the racing and their heroes at play…

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Still here!

Yes, still working..

The above pics from the wisepacking archive may give you a hint as to recent travels.

There’s still the Isle of Man pieces to come along with items on Dumfries and Galloway and Suffolk too.

Plans for further afield are being made, but flight prices are high for our dates at the moment, so there is both a Plan A and a Plan B being put together.

In the meantime there’s a busy time coming up at the day job, but writing sessions are being rostered to clear the log jam that’s occurred in recent weeks.

And besides, Caroline and I have both had one of those money can’t buy impromptu experiences.

Something to do with being invited to sit in the driver’s seat of an iconic British steam engine!

Three legged race…

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Laxey Wheel

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One of the little trains that helped inspire a certain tank engine…

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Sea, sun and a sandwich by the beach – Port Erin

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And the last day in Douglas

The term Three Legged Race was our name for the basic plan for our recent visit to Isle Of Man.

The decision to head there was made at relatively short notice as Caroline and I had a two week break coming up, but hadn’t planned anything.

I’d held up a road book with a circle indicating four hours driving time from Wisepacking Towers, but wasn’t expecting Caroline picking out Isle Of Man as a destination for this upcoming trip.

By close of play two days later, we’d got return train travel booked to Liverpool, a night in Liverpool before the outward ferry trip, two return seats on the fast cat running between Liverpool and Douglas, , seven nights in Douglas, found out about smart cards for use on our travels and made sure that travel insurance was also in place.

With no motor sport or other festivals taking place over our visit, we did have to amuse ourselves, but we’d got a few things sussed.

Some came from the only guidebook we could find, some of it came from the Tourist Board’s brochure and website, but there was also some prior knowledge coming into play too as Caroline had made two visits to Isle Of Man about thirty five years ago.

More to come over the next month or so!

North Norfolk II

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Ready to roll – Caroline on a pretty good hire bike

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Just part of the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea

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The tide is low – and then some…

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Wash and go. Or wash and boldly go?

It’s Tuesday on a hot week in June and Caroline and I are heading off in different directions. Although Caroline had taken her cycling kit, she hadn’t brought a bike.

Fortunately we knew that there was bike hire available at Deepdale Backpackers and that the bikes in question were all very much on the new side. After making her choice of steeds and gearing up, we arranged to meet at the beach cafe at Wells-next-the-Sea.

One plus point of having visited Wells so often is that I’ve sussed out where the free car parking is. Yes, it’s a few minutes to get into the centre, but it’s also the difference between giving the local council money or local traders.

Which is what we do when we’re in the area – at Whin Hill Cider, a couple of preferred coffee stops, local fruit & veg shops or bakers or the locally owned mini-market.

After a couple of stops to make small purchases, I made my way down to the harbour and then along the footpath that follows the road down to the beach. The last time I was down here there were some serious television vans down there making a commercial for Lloyds Bank.

Not today though. The car park was filling up and there was a stream of people heading to the beach and in some cases coming back again because of the restrictions placed on walking dogs on that nearby stretch of beach.

It wasn’t long before Caroline appeared, a good move on her part because it wasn’t long after that a cycling club turned up and filled the rest of the bike racks outside the cafe.

This had had a makeover since out last visit and was now apparently being run by the Holkham Estate. Although tidied up, it hadn’t gone all hipster beardie on us and the prices were still quite affordable, hence the numbers sheltering from the sun in the cafe and the greater numbers sitting outside and slapping on SPF 30.

Once lunch was over, we hit the beach. Well I did for a few minutes and Caroline did for a lot longer. I still have problems walking on soft sand following that stroke a few years ago, but I was also conscious that there were a heck of a lot of people around, so the beach wasn’t as quiet as the ones I’d been walking on in Northumberland a few weeks beforehand.

Ice cream was the order of the day when Caroline returned and we were both rather intrigued by the Wash ‘n’ Wag device pictured above.

Wet and sandy dogs go in, very wet and clean dogs come out, much to amusement of those gathered around, especially when the dogs came out and start the usual rigmarole associated with shaking themselves dry.

With Caroline heading back to Deepdale on the bike, I was put in charge of finding food for the evening meal. Well two evening meals actually as I ended up buying stuff for both  Tuesday and Wednesday night’s cooking sessions.

When it came to Wednesday, Caroline was back on the hire bike, heading this time in the direction of Holkham Hall. As I’d had a sleepless night because of the heat (despite the fan in the room being on all night), I drove down, bought some coffee and started to read a couple of short books on the iPad’s Kindle app.

Not only does the cafe do good coffee, they also do a very good sausage baguette. Coffee and one of those came and went for lunch whilst Caroline chose something with a rather more healthy attitude to go with her coffee.

Once done, we made arrangements to meet up for coffee and cake at the cafe near Creake Abbey. This has also had a makeover, but the coffee and cake were first class and not out of the way expensive either.

With time running out on the bike hire, it was time to head back to Deepdale. Whilst there were thoughts of staying on another night, we decided not to.

Which was a good move as we awoke to find that it was throwing it down. A brief respite gave us the chance to make a dash to Deepdale Cafe for breakfast and then head back to pack our bags and head for home.

We’d enjoyed the break and the changes at Deepdale will ensure that we’ll return for more of the same… And to take photos of the revamp!

http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk

Next up  – Two days, hostel and hotel, a new tyre and lots of rain!

Northumberland II

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On the beach…

Where were we?

Ah yes, heading into Alnwick for some fodder for an evening meal.

I’ve made quite a few visits to the town over the years. Some for work, but most have been for pleasure. My best friend from University lived a few miles away and even had her wedding reception at Alnwick Castle, but there were quite a few nights out on pub crawls or single bar nights, usually at Oscars.

Which appeared to have closed down when I drove past it a couple of times. Parking in the town centre was a problem, but a bit of local knowledge came in handy as I headed out of town in the direction of Barter Books and turned right into Lidl’s car park.

With shopping for a couple of meals and breakfasts done, it was time to head back to Calico Barn for coffee, food and a snooze before catching up with email and then switching the iPad to Kindle mode for the rest of the night.

Wednesday wasn’t quite a repeat of Tuesday’s meanderings. Yes, I did some more work and then tried to get into Amble again afterwards, but that mission failed thanks to parking issues once more, so I just ended up mooching towards Alnmouth again and then headed to Newbiggin-by-the Sea.

After getting back to Cresswell, I drove past the hostel and turned onto a side track that led to the car park at Druridge Bay. It was busy and there had been a load of builder’s waste dumped near the footpath to the beach.

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Druridge Bay

Although I’ve visited Northumberland many times, this was the first time I’d been to Druridge Bay. It may have been half term, but the beach itself was pretty empty.

The above photo doesn’t do it justice, because it is a great beach and I’d only wished that the lighting conditions had been better from a photographer’s point of view.

One thing was blindingly obvious. I’m pleased that environmentalists stood up to the powers that be over thirty years ago and fought a successful campaign against plans to build a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay.

Little did I know that there was a public enquiry taking place down the road which was discussing plans for opencast coal mining near Cresswell. BBC’s Look North covered it in their 6.30pm news bulletin that night and whilst the public enquiry is over, the verdict isn’t due to be released just yet…

After a while on the beach, it was back to Calico Barn to freshen up, have a meal and relax for a while. I was due to be the only one staying in the hostel for a couple of nights, so I could spread out, take the best seat in front of the TV and have a beer or two.

There was a knock on the door though as two Dutch cyclists who were heading onto the adjacent campsite were wanting somewhere to buy food or get a meal. Caroline and Luke rode past and whilst I shouted to them in the hope of catching their attention, the wind took my words elsewhere and they didn’t hear me hollering!

I suggested that they try Cresswell village to see what was available in the pub or indeed at the caravan site shop, so off they went. When Caroline and I spoke later on, it transpired that she had heard something, but had dismissed it as she rode back after another long bike ride.

Thursday saw a bit more work going on until about lunchtime so lunch was taken at The Drift cafe just along the road from Calico Barn.

Which was rather busy. A bacon and haggis roll was ordered along with a Coke Zero and both went down well, especially that bacon and haggis combo… The two Dutch cyclists were also in there and the steady stream of customers suggested that The Drift is a rather popular feeding station.

After a drive around, I ended up in a couple of places I remembered the names of from news bulletins during my days of living in both mining communities and towns or cities in the North East of England.

Ellington and Lynemouth had been proud mining communities, but those days were over. When I asked locally what had happened to those people who had worked at the collieries, I didn’t get that much information apart from the mention of a mental health facility opening up in the area.

On returning to Calico Barn, it was time for an early meal and a plan for another relaxing evening. Then a couple of large cars pulled up containing two families who had booking in at the last minute. Peace and quiet did go out of the window, so I retreated to my room and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, all was quieter than New Year’s Day. After a snack, a beer and a phone conversation with Caroline, I turned in for the night, only to be woken up by those two families returning at 11.30pm. I was not amused…

Friday was departure day, so my stuff was packed up and left until I headed up to the caravan park to pick up Caroline, her bike and her couple of bags. Once done, it was time to get my bags and then let Caroline look around Calico Barn for a potential weekend base for her cycling club.

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Calico Barn Independent Hostel, near Cresswell, Northumberland

After that, it was time to go home. On relatively quiet roads and motorways for once!

Next week – North Norfolk in June…

Granada II

Where were we? Oh yes…

Caroline headed off towards the Generalife and Summer Palace and I got more and more engrossed in the book I was reading on my iPad’s Kindleapp. My phone was off as usual, but on checking my watch, I realised that I hadn’t seen Caroline for quite a while.

So the phone was booted up and I found that there’d been a missed call, a voicemail message and several texts in the last quarter of an hour…

Caroline had taken a wrong turn and had ended up outside the entrance to the Alhambra complex. She’d also misplaced her ticket too, so she couldn’t get back in to come and find me.

We did find each other once I’d booted up my phone and a spot of shopping in the Alhambra souvenir shop was called for and then a coffee and cake stop back down in the city centre.

We’d spotted Cafe Lisboa earlier in the day, our order was taken and coffee and some rather cake was delivered to our table. As we’d been out for nine hours, we headed back up to White Nest for a siesta, shower and change and then a search for an evening meal.

There were a few places open on our last night in Granada, but we wanted a change from tapas or even shared dishes like those served in the Moroccan place the night before.

An Italian restaurant was spotted and food and drink was duly ordered. I’d love to tell you the name of the place, but the receipt was misplaced and it wasn’t in a guidebook, but the food, drink, desserts and coffee all hit the spot.

There was once place left to go though on our way back to our room. I’d misplaced the bag containing the things I’d bought at the Alhambra shop and there was only once place it could be – Cafe Lisboa.

It took a while to get myself understood, but it was there and was handed over. As we left, a pact was made with Caroline. If we needed second breakfasts the following morning, I was buying and we’d have our second breakfasts down at Cafe Lisboa.

The mini market around the corner provided us with some soft drinks, bottled water and a bar of chocolate before we headed back to do some reading and then chase some zzzzs.

Although we were up early and packed, we didn’t have to check out until much later, so we wandered down to White Nest’s dining room and found that yes, the breakfast choices were limited again (White Nest to their credit did post a reply to my review on booking.com which apologised for the limited breakfast fodder due to the school group).

So there was only one thing for it – down to Cafe Lisboa for second breakfasts! Coffee and croissants were ordered and duly arrived – but the croissants were huge, and just as good in their own way as the pieces of cake we’d had the day before.

It wasn’t just the croissants that were huge. An American family with a father who looked like he went to the same barber as Gibbs from NCIS had ordered a cooked breakfast and it looked like the size of that cooked breakfast had defeated them.

As we still had time on our hands, some shopping time was called for, but we also needed a cash machine as the two of us needed a few more € to cover any purchases in Granada, in Malaga the following day and any final snacks or drinks in the airport before the flight home.

As Caroline wandered around one shop looking for things to take home for her grandchildren, I picked up one item and could hear Caroline groan in the distances as I walked to the cash desk with a blue and white plush bull.

The groan turned to a longer groan and an extended eye roll when I pushed the plush in the right place and a bull sound came from within the toy’s innards… Nothing was said though, either by Caroline or the lady taking my cash to pay for the blue and white bull.

It was now approaching check-out time, so we headed back, picked up our bags and wandered down to the nearest taxi rank to get a cab back to the bus station.

Yes, it wasn’t something we’d normally do, but as we’d noticed that it wasn’t a straightforward route to the bus station, it would save us a whole lot of time.

Lunch that day came courtesy of Aldi. Their store was just a few hundred metres away from the bus station, so that was the stop of choice for both food and drinks for both lunch and the bus ride to Malaga.

Coffee levels were topped up in the bus station cafe though, but when I bought a beer too, there was a small tapas plate as part of the deal. We’d heard about the free tapas plates in Granada, but this was the one and only time we’d experienced the custom.

Apparently it’s the thing to do in Granada – buy a beer in a bar and you get free food. For those without beer intake limits, it’s a bonus, especially if you’re on a bar crawl, but for those like myself who are on beer intake limits, it’s an interesting snack attack.

When the bus arrived and we headed inside, we swapped notes and agreed that we’d use buses again on our next trip around Andalucia.

Yes, the bookings had been done a few months before we travelled as a means of saving money, but we’d been impressed by the comfort levels and the on time nature of the journeys, even though we hadn’t been on the best buses on the fleet or had paid full whack for the four bus rides we’d been on.

On Saturday – Malaga in festival mode and time to go home…

Mezquita

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Mezquita on the right, and a few potential visitors too

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Yes, you’ve guessed it, another queue!

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The outer walls of Mezquita – and a couple of horse drawn carriages too.

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Puente Romano with Torre de la Calahorra over the bridge

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Down the alley

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And into the main square

After the Alcazar and a spot of lunch, it was time to head in the direction of Mezquita to have a seat, relax, buy some tickets and head inside.

With the ticket machines out of order when we looked, it was join the queue time again as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. The ticket seller was grumpier than one of the Seven Dwarves, but we thanked him anyway and headed in the direction of the Mezquita’s main entrance.

Whilst there’s photos on here of scenes around the Mezquita, there are no shots of the interior, largely because of the No Photography sign that I’d seen on the way in.

Caroline and I adhered to this, unlike quite a few others who were using cameras and  phones to take shots inside the building. Not only that, but there were also those who were sending and receiving texts or even calls inside Cordoba’s Mosque/Cathedral.

Now you may have realised by now that I’m not a fan of visiting churches etc and it’s usually Caroline who heads inside whilst I take a wander around the local area either taking photos or reading/chilling out with a coffee or beer as the case may be.

I was intrigued by Mezquita though, especially as it’s a former mosque that’s been expanded since becoming a cathedral.

Yes, it was busy, but we decided to look around Mezquita in an organised way rather than heading off in the haphazard manner that some were heading off in. We were surprised by the amount of noise and vacuous conversations that some were indulging in as they wandered around looking at their mobile screens rather than at the building’s historic surroundings.

Although there were many aspects of Mezquita that I found fascinating, there were others that I just couldn’t relate to at all, even though there were plenty of people looking at these Christian elements of the interior.

As it turned out when we swapped thoughts later on, Caroline hadn’t really related to these elements either, just as she hadn’t with some aspects of the Cathedral in Seville when she’d visited that building a few days earlier.

I decided to take a seat while Caroline wandered back to an area that she hadn’t been able to look at a few minutes before and I could’t help noticing how many were glued to their phones or making/taking calls inside the building rather than waiting until they got outside.

As a non-believer, even I know that there is a time and a place for using a phone and that a Sunday afternoon inside of Mezquita was neither the time nor the place…

When Caroline arrived back, we decided to have a seat somewhere and relax for a while before heading back to the hotel for a siesta, shower, change and evening meal.

We ended up in a bar/restaurant that I’d been into a couple of hours before and I was rather surprised to find that the barman was already pumping up a glass of beer for me. A second was ordered and paid for so Caroline and I swapped notes on Mezquita and did a spot of people watching too.

One thing that Caroline and I both agreed on was that if we do go back to Cordoba, a night visit to Mezquita is definitely the way to go as a means of having a quieter, less intrusive experience.

Although we headed out for an evening meal, everywhere was busy with it being Father’s Day, so we ended up in once of the few places with room to spare at the tables in their courtyards.

It wasn’t the best meal we’d had on the trip so far and it was a good job we’d got a large bottle of water with our first drinks as service for both food and drinks was a little on the slow side.

Desserts didn’t come into play that night and neither did a drink at the Irish bar just around the corner from our hotel. Although there was a rather large display in one of the windows of the bar, it wasn’t possible to get one of my favourite Irish beers or one of Caroline’s favoured whiskeys, despite their brands being heavily promoted in that display!

So it was to be an early night rather than the one that we’d planned. Bags and clothes were prepped instead for the next day’s bus ride to Granada

More on Monday!