October 2015 saw us make the first of four visits to Northern England.
This one was a hit and run exercise – there had been sightings of the Northern Lights on the Northumberland coast, so that’s where we headed.
A quick delve into the realms of booking.com and we came up with a guest house in Seahouses for Saturday night and a cut-price deal at the Hampton by Hilton in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Sunday.
After a fish supper, we headed to the beach path between Seahouses and the guest house and spent an hour or so on a bench staring out to sea in a northerly direction.
Guess what? No Northern Lights for us!
The following day saw us having a hearty breakfast and walking back into Seahouses for a spot of photography and a general mooch around. The National Trust shop came up with some goodies, as did the RNLI shop.
Lunch came and went and it was time to head for Newcastle.
After working in Newcastle for years, I thought that I knew the way to the hotel, especially as it was around 300 metres away from where I worked.
What I didn’t realise was the the road layouts had changed in a big way, so all of the shortcuts I used to use were closed off or open to buses only.
Still, we found the hotel, parked the car in a nearby car park (£12 a day…), went for a walk, had a coffee and then changed for a night on the town.
Not into the type of garb favoured by those wandering around the Quayside or Bigg Market you understand. No, we chose more sensible clothing to combat the colder weather being encountered…
Monday was a shopping day around Northumberland Street, Eldon Square and in the Baltic Art Centre shop. Lunch came from M&S and by then it was time to head home…
Life’s a beach…
But not for long as we were back in the North East three weeks later.
We’d got a good deal at Redworth Hall Hotel for a couple of nights, had a pretty decent Sunday lunch at a pub on the outskirts of Darlington and then headed into that town for a mooch around my old stamping ground.
Once at Redworth Hall, the bar and log fire beckoned, as did the following morning’s visit to the National Railway Museum‘s outpost Locomotion in nearby Shildon.
That was followed by a weather beating visit to the local multiplex to catch up with The Lady In The Van before a pre-pack salad plus accompaniments was bought as an BYOB evening meal back at the hotel.
Alnmouth beckoned next – one of our joint favourites in Northumberland because of the village and the beach. The B&B wasn’t wonderful, but the pub meal a few doors away was.
After a drive up the coast to Seahouses, lunch was declared and taken, but a couple of the places we’d been into before were closed for redecorating or just closed due to lack of volunteers. So it was time to hit Bamburgh.
The car park was almost empty, as was the beach which proved tempting enough to inspire a wander and provided a bit of inspiration to use a couple of my camera’s not often used functions such as the black and white mode…
Bamburgh Castle – hand held in black & white
Same castle, same day, different side, but as the sun goes down…
A nearby pub provided a good excuse to go inside to warm up as it had coffee on tap and an open fire too. Our digs for the night were thankfully chintz free, but unstaffed after check-in, so we were left to our own devices until the following morning.
Which ensured that there was just one thing to do – head to the pub!
Steak and ale pice plus cider for Caroline, Lamb Cutlets and Guinness for me plus coffees were a great way to almost end the day. The warmth in the pub and the walk back to the room along with a full day of fresh sea air ensured that our respective night’s sleep were long and undisturbed until the alarm went off the following morning.
When the Grace Darling Museum and RNLI shop were visited, along with the local butchers who did a very fine line in pies, pasties and sausage roll. So lunch was bought, drinks purchased at a mini-market/petrol station on the A1 and then it was time to head home via Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
John Lewis sold us an iPad Mini 2 and case, Lush got some more travel size shower gel and shampoo bar sales and M&S sold us a couple of ready meals to have at home.
Was that it for the year?
Nope, because rock and roll got in the way and ensured that there were a couple of good nights out.
The first was to see prog rocker Fish on his Farewell to Childhood tour at Sheffield City Hall. Tickets were booked, as was rail travel and a night in the Holiday Inn Express.
Although this was originally billed and booked as a standing gig, ticket sales had been so good that the concert had been moved into the main hall – a seated venue.
After checking into the hotel and getting a cab into town, fodder had to be tracked down. Posh nosh in a pub? Fine stuff in a restaurant?
Nope. we hit Yates instead… and it pretty good too!
As we were now fed and watered, we decided to join the queue to get into City Hall, and ended up in prime seats about four rows back from the stage.
French band Lazuli impressed with their support slot, but would Fish?
It wasn’t the best show I’ve seen him do, but that was down to a cold apparently as his between song banter revealed.
The older solo stuff was mixed with more recent songs, but the main course was the playing in full of his old band’s Misplaced Childhood album.
A sense of deja vu kicked in as I’d last heard the whole of it played live back in the 1980’s and some of the solo stuff was heard in the 1990’s on a week following Fish around on his Highlands and Islands tour.
Mind you, a week later there was an even bigger sense of deja vu in Last Of The Summer Wine country – Holmfirth.
This was a good night out seeing a guy that’s been around so long that there’s calls being made for him to do the Legends slot at next year’s Glastonbury – Roy Wood…
He’s back at Picturedrome in Holmfirth in a couple of weeks and it’s very tempting to get tickets for the show, especially as they’re just £20 each.
All the hits and more from a pretty long career were delivered with aplomb and I surprised myself when I realised how many of the lyrics I actually knew. The band were as tight as they come and the show was only marred by the pillocks trying to video it on their mobile phones…
Given the amount of Christmas jumpers being worn in Picturedrome, there was one song that just had to be played – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. And it was.
So a good night out to round off the 2015 year of travelling.
The 2016 year of travelling wasn’t as hectic, but plans are already afoot for the 2017 travel year as the first trip is already booked and largely paid for!
The only surviving TSR-2 at RAF Cosford Air Museum
A reminder of a former employer, Abergavenny
Lyme Regis harbour, Dorset
The Thatcher we approve of – Thatcher’s Cider Shop, Somerset
One batch of raw materials at Perry’s Cider, Somerset
Just coast to show…
Now that most of the wall to wall sports coverage is out of the way, television in the UK is getting back to what passes for normal over here.
There’s no chance of me watching either Strictly or Bake Off, but a few old favourites have materialised on BBC2 and the Travel Channel recently.
The Travel Channel has been showing a selection of classic Palin travels and I’ve ended up re-watching episodes of Himalaya and Around The World In Eighty Days, even though I’ve seen them before and have both the books and the DVDs of each series too.
Both were rather watchable, as was the first episode of the Michael Portillo vehicle Great Continental Railway Journeys that was on BBC2 last night.
Whilst Portillo is still a political commentator, to my mind he’s made his mark as the presenter of his programmes on the joys of travelling by train in various parts of the world.
Yes, his choice of jackets can be rather flamboyant, but his love of rail travel shines through. Last night’s show involved travelling around Switzerland, something that I did back in the 1980’s.
After a night or two in Geneva, the rail passes were pressed into action to get us to Interlaken where a tent was pitched to use as or Swiss base.
When the sun was out, it was time to head into the mountains. When it wasn’t, it was time to hit the cities.
Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Zermatt and the Jungfrau were stops on sunny days, whilst Zurich, Basel and Berne were stops on our city days.
Portillo also visited Montreux, one stop that we didn’t make on that 80’s trip, but I did stop off on the Lake Geneva shoreline a few years later although there was no smoke on the water during that visit…
Portillo’s next stop? Morocco, but whether he calls in at Rick’s Cafe American is yet to be revealed!
And finally we have Coast.
There are a few boxed sets of this on the shelves downstairs, but I must admit to being a little disappointed when the new series started last week.
The reason? The mix of new footage was good, but there were too many clips from previous series for my liking. I will take a look at tonight’s instalment to see whether things improve, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for a new segment to appear and to appeal to regular viewers…
Mind you, I gather that Neil Oliver has also made Coast New Zealand, so hopefully that will be coming our way soon.
On a different note, watching the footage of Geneva on Great Continental Railway Journeys brought back memories of wandering around that city.
Most of it was written up for a travel piece in The Northern Echo newspaper back in the day.
What did surprise me was that one line stayed in the article and was published in all its glory.
It referred to an observation made whilst walking from our digs to the railway station for the train to Geneva Airport…
“The ladies of the night working the day shift.“
And none of these grey clouds either!
“What time is it?”
As Sunday mornings go, this was an early start.
Two cups of coffee and a shower later, it was 6.50am and we were in the car and heading up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to see Caroline’s daughter take part in The Great North Run.
The Mission were on the car’s CD player – ideal driving music as we headed up the road for two hours and took the quiet roads into Newcastle, found a car park and went for second breakfasts.
Greggs bacon butty and coffee deal for me plus a doughnut & coffee combo for Caroline and then we hit the Tyne Bridge for a longish wait.
Some guy called Mo Farah came along on a warm-up session, then the wheelchair racers, visually impaired runners, the women’s elite and then the men’s elites – including that man (and now three times winner) Mo…
And then came the pack – around 57,000 runners, all heading for South Shields. I spotted The Red Arrows before the red, white and blue smoke was activated for their flypast as the masses ran past with at least one Paddington Bear as part of the proceedings!
Caroline’s daughter found us, took the suncream and headed off. We stayed on the bridge until the last runners came along and then tried to get the Metro to the finish line.
The emphasis here was on the word tried. The first train was full and whilst we did get on the train, it was packed and standing room only so not even Jeremy could have sat on the floor to read Private Eye! Allegedly…
Whilst we boarded this train after a few stops it was packed and I’d had enough of playing sardines. So we got off the train at Pelaw and headed back into Newcastle in search of lunch at a pub I hadn’t been into for over thirty years – The Northumberland Arms, just off Northumberland Street.
With two Sunday roasts, a pint of bitter shandy and a half of cider coming to just over £13, this was a result, especially as the beef was cooked properly, unlike some pubs we could mention where it’s served pink and bloody.
Pink and bloody awful is my view on that!
Now that we were fed and watered, the going got tough as the tough went – shopping! I’ve had a £5 John Lewis gift card in my wallet for six months and this came in useful for a couple of small purchases that came to £5.20…
We didn’t find anything we needed in Lush this time around, but I did get some useful info in the Apple Store as to what was happening about imminent operating system upgrades on my iPad Mini 2 – wait for a few days or a week, see what’s being said on the forums and then make the decision to upgrade, because once it’s done, you can’t restore the old one!
After rattling around the M&S Food Hall for a while, we settled on the stuff for our Sunday night evening meal.
This wasn’t any old reduced price food, this was Marks & Spencer’s reduced price food as we’d hit the time of day when the price changes were done on food coming up to its due date. Two packs of bakes and a two for £2.50 deal on packs of cheese scones and we were sorted…
Our coffee in the upstairs restaurant was also cost effective as my customer loyalty card had a freebie loaded onto it for a free cup of coffee after 2.30pm. Two medium Americanos for £2.30? That’ll do nicely!
Once we’d retrieved the car and negotiated our way back onto the A1M for the journey back to Yorkshire, we reflected on the cost of this grand day out.
Petrol used came to around £20, car parking was £3 for the full day, first breakfast for me was £2.25 at a motorway service area, second breakfasts for two was a total of £4, Sunday lunch was a total of £13.50, a pen and pair of scissors cost me 20p once the gift card was used, our M&S food hall bill was £5.65 and that last round of coffees was £2.30.
With the total bill for the day out coming in @ £50, we reckon that that was a result, so much so that we may do the same thing again shortly!
Nowt like this in the University of Sunderland
Was like this on many an occasion though!
The song that’s just finished on iTunes was the Status Quo version of The Wanderer, a tune that couldn’t be more appropriate when writing about Coimbra, because wandering around is the way to appreciate the city.
First ports of call on our first full day in Coimbra were all university related.
Velha Universidade is a mix of 16th-18th century buildings with its Clock Tower, Biblioteca Joanina library and sweeping views over the city. Caroline spent more time exploring the buildings than I as I went in search of things that I could relate to.
The surroundings were much grander than those at my alma mater and it was interesting to look down into lecture rooms which were steeped in history rather than concrete and plasterboard.
The student cafe wasn’t posh by any means and there wasn’t a barista in sight as I ordered um bica to top up caffeine levels.
This was one aspect of life in Portugal that I’d come to appreciate – that the simpler places were more relevant to me than those aimed at foodies, hipster beardies and those who like to pay over the odds for a cup of milky coffee with a chocolate topping or a fancy design marked out on the top of the milk.
Whilst I’d been sampling the coffee, Caroline had been heading to the heights around the top floor of the University and then the Clock Tower.
Once we caught up with each other, it was time to head back into the student cafe for a very cost effective lunch. Students, lecturers and tourists mixed together in the queue and whilst Caroline ordered a salad, I ordered some good old fashioned comfort food – the Portuguese take on sausage and mash and a bottle of Sagres Radler.
Although the dining area was a bit crowded, we managed to grab a table on the balcony/sun trap behind the serving area…
Once lunched out, it was time for our time in Biblioteca Joanina. It was impressive in several ways, but the overall experience didn’t do much for me.
Heathen tendencies? Quite possibly, even though I have studied history.
I’ve slowly, but surely become more interested in the history that we didn’t learn about at school – 1900 onwards, the political intrigue of the 1950’s and 1960’s, technology and the stuff that’s now coming to light about Thatcher’s Britain on so many different levels.
But I digress. Once back outside, we started to wander around Coimbra via its back streets and alleyways. A few bits and pieces were picked up along the way, along with a couple of pairs of ear rings for Caroline.
Our second full day saw more of the same as we had a restful day doing nothing more than mooching around the centre and down by the riverside.
Cafes in squares or near the Tourist Information Centre provided food and refreshment and the Science Museum the last piece of brain fodder before we headed back to Casa Pombal for a siesta, shower and our last evening meal in Coimbra before we went to Lisbon for the flight home.
And we went back to the scene of the Great Pig Cheek Encounter. The same guy spotted us and pointed us in the direction of a good table overlooking the Jardim da Manga fountain and handed us the menu.
If memory serves me right, Caroline stayed away from the pork stew by having a fish course whilst I went for an identifiable meat course (details are hazy as I don’t have the receipt to refer to), but on this occasion there weren’t any problems with either choices main course.
With wine, beer, desserts, Moscadet and coffee rounding off the meal, we didn’t need any energy drinks to give us wings to get back to our digs for our last night in Casa Pombal.
Packing up didn’t take long after breakfast, but as we’d booked a lunchtime train back to Lisbon, we had time to kill. A little bit of mooching time gave way to coffee and a read of a Brit newspaper before more coffee, a light lunch and a wander back to the railway station.
With Lonely Planet Portugal quoting rail fares between the cities as €20 each, we were happy to book advance first class tickets for €15 each.
Yes, the advance bookings for travel and digs had limited us a couple of times and this was one of those times. Three nights in Coimbra had been one night too many and we should have headed back to Lisbon sooner.
Our last night in Portugal was spent at Casa Oliver, but on a room only basis. The wander into Lisbon centre stretched the legs a bit more as we negotiated quite a few people heading out for a stroll, something to eat or a family night out.
Ristorante da Vinci beckoned once more for a meal, dessert and drinks before the walk back to Casa Oliver. Only we didn’t walk it all as we had a few euros left to use on our Viva Viagem travel cards, so we hitched a lift on Elevador da Gloria.
We’d walked past Elevador da Gloria on several occasions, but had never got onboard. It was Saturday night and busy as many headed from one area to another to bars, clubs or their hotels. We didn’t have an early night, but we needed to pack in readiness for our Metro ride to Lisbon Airport for the flight home.
Sunday morning came around all too quickly and after checking out of Casa Oliver, it was time to find breakfast. Fortunately the cafe we’d visited the previous day opened at 8am, so that was the destination for a breakfast of coffee and a couple of pasteis de nata each.
Coming up – home thoughts on Portugal…
Pinhao station in the Douro Valley
Tranquil – and then some… from on land
Or from onboard a river boat…
And on the inside for hot dogs…
With port producers along the way
Just one of many famous names seen on the hillsides above the Douro
All quiet on the station
Until the train arrives…
A day along the Douro is a trip worth taking by train from Porto.
It’s a long day out, but having taken it, I can see why most recommendations are to split it over two days and have a night in a hotel or guest house.
Like most great train journeys, it’s one to take home in the memory rather than on a camera’s memory card.
The journey to Pinhao from Porto was a smooth one. We’d taken a couple of snacks and bottles of water with us for the journey, but once we’d got to Pinhao, taken a look around and bought the t-shirt I’d wanted to buy during the previous day’s visit to Sandeman’s wine lodge in Porto, it was time for a leisurely lunch down by the river and the area where the river boats pulled in.
In among the small boats of the kind we boarded later on in the day, the river cruise boats pull in to allow passengers time ashore to explore and then board again for another night and day of the same old, same old.
We took a two hour trip up the Douro on a small boat with a covered area and the added attraction of a port tasting session whilst we were afloat. As we’d been out in the sun and had coated ourselves with Factor 50 rather than Factor 30, I stayed undercover on the boat, as did the captain’s dog (who obviously knows a good thing when he sees it!).
The ride was a smooth one (as was the port), but once over, it was time to find a cold drink and an ice cream before taking another wander around Pinhao and then the short stroll to the station and the train back to Porto.
Although Pinhao had appeared to be a quiet place, the station platform suddenly filled up with people wanting the train down the valley.
When the train arrived, we found seats, emptied the water bottles, thought about the day, pondered another meal at the restaurant we’d found the day before and placed bets as to how long it would take us to pack our bags before heading off on the next part of our road trip the following morning…
A local restaurant for local people and those in the know…
And a good place to chill out…
A grand day out on a sunny day in Porto
Yes, the sun started to shine on our fourth day in Porto, so t-shirts, SPF trousers, sun cream and walking shoes were donned as we wandered towards the banks of the Douro.
View from Ponte Dom Luis I
Yes, it’s that bridge!
Heading to that port wine lodge – by cable car…
Down by the lazy river…
Ribeira from Vila Nova de Gaia
Sandeman’s Don – an early marketing success story
One barrel to rule them all?
Ribeira from the middle of the Douro
Street life, Ribeira style…
Thursday was a grand day out. Yes, we wandered aimlessly, took a mode of transport that neither of us are fond of (that cable car), had a few coffees, booked a tour/tasting session around and in Sandeman’s port lodge, had an Italian lunch, that tour around Sandeman, tasted a couple of fine port wines and then headed out on a boat trip on the Douro.
Once back on dry land, we wondered whether the teenagers clinging to the bridge had what it takes to live up to their bravado in getting onto the bridge and part of the way across it or whether they’d bottle it rather than jumping or diving into the Douro.
Whilst it was tempting to try and find a cafe in Riberia for a coffee or a beer, seats were at a premium so we headed away from the riverside and found a bar with nice cold beers in both standard and redcurrant flavour varieties.
As we’d been out for a while and had sampled both port and beer, we headed back to Rivoli Cinema Hostel via Sao Bento railway station and a fodder stop. With the weather finally in our favour, we’d decided to make the most of it by spending Friday exploring the Douro Valley by train, feet and another river boat trip.
Yes, there was a queue for tickets at Sao Bento and some potential customers were getting a bit shirty because they didn’t understand the queueing arrangements. We held our place, made ourselves understood, got our tickets and then headed to a local restaurant for a well deserved evening meal at a nearby restaurant…
Tomorrow’s post? To Pinhao – and beyond!
We’d have liked to spend more time in Suffolk, but the original plans were scuppered thanks to a business meeting back in Yorkshire. Fortunately, we saw enough to make us want to revisit the area and ensure that the time was devoted to pleasure rather than business.
Neither of us had been to Suffolk before, but taking a look at comments made in Lonely Planet’s Great Britain guide and the National Trust handbook, there was more than enough to take a look at at least once, if not twice in some cases.
As the forecast was in our favour, accommodation and food costs plummeted as we decided to use a trusted Vango backpacking tent for the trip. No, you can’t stand up in it, but there’s plenty of room inside, especially when the rest of the kit is stored in the Skoda next to the tent.
The first day was a mix of travelling, eating and finding our way as we still use road books rather than rat nav. Campsite choices had been made via www.ukcampsite.co.uk. The first was Mill Hill Farm Caravan & Camping Park near Darsham (£13 a night for two people, that small tent and a car) and the second was Brighthouse Farm near Lawshall (£8 a night plus £1 each for shower tokens).
After a decent night’s sleep, some good coffee and a couple of bacon butties, we set off with the intention of heading to Southwold for a wander around and Sunday lunch. That didn’t happen.
The Southwold part did, but lunch ended up being coffee, scones and ice cream at a beach cafe after a front tyre punctured and the wheel nuts wouldn’t budge.
I’d taken my phone with me to deal with business matters, but it took a while for the road rescue operator to a) confirm that I did have cover with that insurer and b) realise that we were over 200 miles from home and didn’t know what was in the village apart from the much repeated road name attached to a road sign and a post box that were in plain sight…
When the rescue service turned up, everything was sorted in five minutes. The local tyre provider was closed for the day, so we headed off in search of a new tyre elsewhere and/or lunch. The tyre search was abandoned after an hour, so we headed for Southwold.
Once parked, we headed onto the pier Southwold Pier is one of those that has been looked after and whilst the shops along it were a bit on the pricey side for us, the views, Steampunk style features and more meant we spent time looking rather than glancing and wandering off to somewhere else.
Like the prom… Well, I was on the prom and Caroline was on the beach as I have problems walking on soft sand or snow. While Caroline made the most of the waves upon the sand, I sauntered along taking photos of the pier, beach huts and Southwold’s famously inland lighthouse. The town itself is reminiscent of town centres of old (well, the sixties and early seventies before developers turned towns into identikit locations) with only a few names that I recognised from home.
With Sunday trading hours and the earlier puncture time-bombing our exploration of Southwold, we only had time to take a look around a couple of places. We did make a promise to ourselves to make a return visit at some point, even if it was just to take a longer look around the Adnams shop and to book a place on the same company’s brewery tour.
It could be pure coincidence, but in the ten days prior to posting this piece, Southwold has been spotted in a repeated edition of Coast and on the DVD of Tony Benn: Will And Testament...
With a sudden rain shower putting a real dampner on things, we headed back to the car and onwards to Aldeburgh. Yes, it was Sunday after 5pm and it was still raining, but there were a few places open and as we’d been cheated out of lunch, a decision to go for a sit down fish supper was made.
With Caroline choosing the Mid-Shipman’s Choice at The Upper Deck Diner, I decided to go for The Admiral’s Choice and went for mushy peas as a side order. Big mistake. I know I have a healthy appetite, but the portion size almost got the better of me! The coffee went down well, but any thoughts of having a dessert went right out of the window…
After getting the tyre replaced on Monday morning, one place that wasn’t in the guide books beckoned – Flixton Air Museum. A poster in the washing up area at Mill Hill announced its presence to one and all and the low key approach to promotion paid off, because it was a gem that was both free to enter and worthy of a couple of hours wandering around.
Now I have been to some air museums which charged admission fees that weren’t worth the money, but with displays including classic planes such as the Lightning, Sea Harrier, Canberra, Meteor, Hunter and Javelin, there was enough to make me want to put a decent donation into one of the collecting boxes around Flixton’s hangers. MIG fighter at Flixton… Fortunately there were a host of other items in the museum to keep Caroline’s interests up. One display in particular fascinated her as it caught the attention of her artistic eye. Some exhibits were recovered parts of crashed aircraft – part ghoulish, but also with that previously mentioned air of fascination too. My thoughts went in a different direction as my late father apparently survived forty-odd missions onboard Lancaster bombers.
With NAFFI scones and coffee for lunch, we headed back to Aldeburgh for an afternoon of wandering along the beach (or the shingle in my case as fishing boats and other items provided interesting photo opportunities). With Caroline investigating a large sculpture she’d seen further along the coast, I decided that it was time for an ice cream and a cold drink and a chance to wonder why I’d not listened to more of Benjamin Britten‘s music. One better day – fishing boat on the shingle at Aldeburgh The following day saw us striking camp and heading off towards Brighthouse Farm, but there was a major stop to be made.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Caroline’s the history buff and I’m all for Horrible Histories, but when you have a brace of National Trust cards between you and one of their crown jewels isn’t far away, then yes, you do spend best part of a day exploring Sutton Hoo. With the main finds on display in The British Museum, it’s good to know that the replicas on show at Sutton Hoo don’t disappoint. That large version of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet (as seen above) is above the door of the main visitor interpretation centre, but the smaller version inside is exquisite.
I didn’t go on the tour around the burial chambers, but Caroline did and was rather enthusiastic about the experience afterwards. Would we go back to Sutton Hoo? Oh yes, but we would ensure it was out of term time or early on before any school parties arrive.
With two days and nights left, we made our way up to Brighthouse Farm to find that the site fees were smaller than those mentioned on their website, so we paid that £8 per night instead of £12 and found that we could spread out and even have our own picnic table to cook by and eat at.
Although we’d taken some food with us, we did buy locally too and found some local ales and cider to help the meals go down. Although we have cooked from scratch in the past whilst camping, we were being lazy this time and most of our food came from packets or tins in order to save money and gas.
With no sore heads the following morning, it was time to head out once more and give our National Trust cards another outing or two. It’s not often that there’s two properties so close together, but the plan had been hatched to head to Lavenham to look around Lavenham Guildhall and to have lunch before heading out to the much larger Melford Hall.
Lavenham is almost like the land that time forgot. The roads are relatively quiet, the car parking is free, the place is peaceful and the only signs that you’re not in the land that time forgot are cars, the modernised innards of the Co-Op and the name of a well-known chef that’s at the top of one of the pub signs near the Guildhall.
The Guildhall is quite small, but it tells the story of the area and the local blue cloth too. The platter on offer for lunch in the small cafe was more akin to a posh ploughman’s lunch, but both plates went down well, as did the coffee and soft drinks.
What we didn’t realise when we went to Lavenham is that it has been the location for major feature films such as Witchfinder General and the last two Harry Potters whilst the area (including Lavenham) was used as the setting for a television series that’s still being shown today- Lovejoy.
We didn’t get the chance to explore the village of Long Melford, but Caroline took time out for a wander around Melford Hall, although parts of it were closed at the time of our visit as the roof had leaked and some damage to carpets and furnishings had occurred. The gardens at Melford Hall (a National Trust property).
We did however wander around and take a couple of relaxed drinks in the garden, but as closing time beckoned, it was time to head back to the campsite and a chilli that benefitted from the addition of red wine from the bottle that had been bought to accompany that evening’s meal.
After packing up the camping kit the following morning, we headed off in a northerly direction once more, but we did have one major stop to make along the way. Ickworth near Bury St. Edmunds is suitably grand National Trust property with the house only open on certain days of the week.
The grounds are more accessible however with the gardens, shops and restaurant being open virtually all-year round. I decided to sit outside and chill whilst Caroline explored the main house, but it was one of the hottest days of the year and with little in the way of shade available, I headed back into The West Wing to find somewhere cool to sit before heading in for lunch and then back to the car for the drive home.
Our five nights and six days in Suffolk were relaxed, peaceful and very pleasant. As we headed home, we reflected on the fact that we’d never been there before and could quite easily have spent at least another five days on a more thorough exploration of the area.
We’d like to explore Southwold some more and have more time on the beaches or the chance to head over to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve and the associated remains of the adjacent Atomic Weapons Research Establishment…
We’d also spend more time at Aldeburgh and explore more of the towns and villages that we missed as we drove around. Oh, and might even call in at IWM Duxford Air Museum on the way there to see whether Guy Martin’s Spitfire is still there…
It’s six years since we first visited North Norfolk, but the tally of visits now stands at eight and we reckon that there could be a few more. The decision to base ourselves in an en-suite room at the self catering Deepdale Backpackers hostel at Burnham Deepdale for a few days paid dividends.
We’d decided to go indoors rather than on the adjacent campsite as the weather forecast hadn’t been wonderful and my camping kit was still here, there and everywhere after moving house (we’ve used the campsite on two occasions now, and there’s no problems with it at all – quiet, relaxed and as laid back as the hostel).
So, there we were, 160 miles from home, with some walking kit (The Peddar’s Way is nearby), some food and a couple of maps and no idea of what we were going to do or where we were going to go.
Did we know what was in the area? Not really, even though North Norfolk had been featured on Coast, Countryfile and had served as one of the locations for the Stephen Fry series Kingdom. Fortunately, the reception area at Deepdale Backpackers is also a tourist information centre, so leaflets were picked up and read over that night’s evening meal/lounging around with a bottle of wine.
There are numerous wildlife sites to explore too, but the main attraction is summed up by the name of a that was the name of a shop on the main road out of Wells-Next-The Sea for a number of years – Big Blue Sky…
I’ve got back into photography and Caroline’s an artist when she’s not working as a nurse, so light can be quite important to both of us in many ways.
We’d holidayed in St. Ives and Paphos a couple of years beforehand and had appreciated the way the light changes through the day – something that I’d also noticed when driving through Glencoe a few years ago, whilst having the first coffee of the day on a campsite in The Lake District last year and in Haworth a couple of weekends ago.
Many of those staying at Deepdale Backpackers were heading off to the RSPB sites at Snettisham or Titchwell, whilst others were heading to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust site at Cley Marshes. Others were heading to Pensthorpe, a reserve site that had provided the BBC with an ideal location for Springwatch.
Now we aren’t too fussed on birdwatching, but we had heard about one regular event that was worth getting up for in the early hours of the morning. It was (and still is) the Wader Spectacular at RSPB’s Snettisham reserve.
Getting up early was a shock to the system, but after a couple of mugs of strong coffee, the car was pointed in the right direction, parked up and we headed down to the beach to see what all the fuss was about.
And we weren’t disappointed as it was one of the greatest free shows we’ve ever seen. As the tide comes in, waders such as Knot gather together before suddenly taking off and wheeling and performing aerobatics over everyone’s heads.
Around a hundred or so people were also witnessing this and every one of them was in raptures as the thousands of birds took off and flew in almost silent formation for several minutes before heading inland towards nearby lakes. It’s a cliche I know, but words can’t describe the experience, even though we’ve witnessed it three times.
Snettisham isn’t the only beach we’ve walked on in North Norfolk – those at Hunstanton, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Sheringham, Cromer and Holkham all spring to mind. Hunstanton’s is below the multi-hued cliffs whilst Wells is a fair walk from the harbour and town centre.
Sheringham and Cromer are interesting at any time of the year – unless of course it’s February or March and the temperature without the wind-chill factor is below zero! The beach at Holkham is quite possibly one that you’ve seen without even realising it.
Remember the beach that Gwyneth Paltrow walks on at the end of Shakespeare In Love? Yes, it’s Holkham Beach. It can get busy at times, especially when the sun’s out, but if the car park’s quiet then it’s a gem. As is the nearby Holkham Hall.
The gardens, grounds, museums and house are all open to the public, although it’s best to check exactly when various parts are open to the public. On the occasions when Caroline has taken her touring bike to Norfolk or she’s hired a bike, she’s loved riding through the grounds of Holkham Hall, especially when it’s early in the morning or late afternoon.
As Caroline’s a history buff (I’m more into Horrible Histories…), she went around the hall on a guided tour and spotted that one part looked familiar. On asking the guide why, it was because the hall had been used as a film set. When Keira Knightley’s character is running upstairs with her hair on fire in The Duchess, the staircase is in Holkham Hall, but the room she runs into is in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
Steam trains are also a part of the North Norfolk visitor experience. The Poppy Line runs between Sheringham on the coast and the inland town of Holt. It’s a short trip and once you get to Holt, there’s a bus service to take you into the town centre.
Holt may be small, but it’s a busy town, so if you’re planning on driving instead, then it’s worth getting there early as car parks fill up quickly. Although there’s a host of interesting shops in the town, one fine reason to visit is Bakers and Larner’s department store.
It’s shopping as it used to be – refined, unhurried and with a very good food hall. As a past customer of Fenwick’s in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a one time only customer of Fortnum & Masons in London, I always ring-fence some of the holiday budget when in Norfolk in order to stock up on a few things.
At least one picnic lunch is bought, alongside chocolate and a box or three from the selection of Turkish Delight that lines the shelves. Bread, biscuits, coffee, cider and beer have also found their way into the shopping basket with the result being a bigger bill than we would get at our local branches of Sainsbury’s or Lidl!
The train’s starting (or finishing depending on which way you journey) point of Sheringham may be small, but it’s a town with a good YHA hostel (2014 was the first year in which we haven’t stayed at Deepdale Backpackers – both are equally fine hostels though!).
Apart from the steam trains which depart from a site adjacent to a Network Rail station, there’s many small specialist shops, a good RNLI shop (got to give them a plug as they’re out when others aren’t and their bags of fudge/boxes of teabags are rather good ) and a few places to get a decent lunch too. Cromer Pier and lifeboat station
Down the road is Cromer with its fine beach, pier and lifeboat station. There’s also the lifeboat museum and plenty of places to wander around at your leisure. It’s a great place to stretch your legs in at any time of the year, but with that light at its best, autumn is the personally preferred time to visit and because it’s quieter, parking is a lot easier.
Even though we’ve visited the area so much in recent years, there’s still places we haven’t been to yet.
We’ve flashed our National Trust cards at most of their properties in the area and whilst Caroline’s been exploring the houses and gardens of Blickling Hall or elsewhere, I’ve explored the North Face of the tea rooms and read a few chapters from a book or Kindle file or sat down and made notes about the trip or business ideas. The gardens at Blickling Hall, a National Trust property
We’ve also headed out on one of Bean’s Boats from Morston Quay to take a look at the seal colony on Blakeney Point and Caroline’s tasted and bought a few bottles of different ciders from Whin Hill Cider in Wells-Next-The-Sea.
Caroline’s also explored the area by bike too on her own tourer or on a hire bike from Deepdale Backpackers. Cycle routes are well documented and signed, but Caroline also makes her own up and lets me know by phone when there’s a signal where the best place is to meet up for lunch (preferred favourite is the cafe at Holkham Hall – very good sausage baguettes, scones, slabs of cake and either coffee or interesting cold drinks).
Whilst it’s tempting to head back to North Norfolk this February, camping at Deepdale Backpackers may be out, but they do have Tipis, Yurts and Shepherd’s Huts available as whilst we have tents, we don’t have a camper van that can be parked up and used for the duration (Deepdale Backpackers do have one to hire though).
There’s always the hostel and en-suites though and there are occasional offers posted on the Deepdale Backpackers’ website. If you don’t fancy cooking then there’s a mini-market at the adjacent petrol station, a pretty decent cafe that does good breakfasts, lunches and afternoon snacks plus a couple of good pubs – The White Horse and The Jolly Sailors – in walking distance. http://www.deepdalebackpackers.co.uk http://www.yha.org.uk
Most enjoyable films
Most enjoyable piece of music
Happy by Pharrell Williams – the only song that caught my attention in 2014. Yes, the music scene has changed somewhat since my days of seeing more than 160 bands in a year!
Most enjoyable television programmes (as seen here in the UK – not sure whether they’re available elsewhere!)
Great Continental Railway Journeys – is Michael Portillo stepping into Palin’s (Michael, not Sarah!) shoes as our leading travel broadcaster?
Speed with Guy Martin – still crashing (at 90 miles an hour with just a scratch on his crash helmet in the last one of the latest series), but getting various records along the way.
Marshall amplifier documentary on BBC4 – can’t remember the exact title, but it was the story of the UK’s iconic rock amp brand
My Autobiography by Guy Martin
The Moon’s A Balloon by David Niven
The People’s Songs: The Story Of Modern Britain In 50 Records by Stuart Maconie
UK Destinations (further afield on the agenda for 2015!)
Suffolk – unexpected pleasure that’s going to get at least one return visit. There will be a piece on here in early 2015.
North Norfolk – the place of many visits now. Relaxing, peaceful and a delight. There will be a piece on here in early 2015 too!
Langdale Valley – two visits in a month. No mobile phone reception and the week in an apartment was nice and quiet – unlike the two campsites visited over the August Bank Holiday weekend. That weekend was a one-off, because I don’t usually head off on a Bank Holiday!
Up the Langdale Valley from above Elterwater Village
The view from Southwold Pier – complete with inland lighthouse…
Take your pick of those on the North Norfolk coast…
Flixton Air Museum, Suffolk – wasn’t in the guide books, a poster was spotted on the notice board at a camp site.
National Media Museum, Bradford – first visited in 2000, plenty of other visits since!
Salt’s Mill, Saltaire – galleries, a good book shop, art shop, home shop, outdoor shop and a busy diner too.
Fodder Bailey’s Torte at Treeby’s Gallery Cafe, Keswick
Bacon, sausage and egg bun, Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale – look for the motorbikes and you’ve found the right place!
Lamb Rogan Josh and Chapatis at The International, Bradford – good choice before or after a film at the nearby National Media Museum or a show at The Alhambra (or a gig by The Mission at Rio’s).