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Over Easter, I paid a visit to Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales with the bloke. Our last stop before we headed home was to the city of Ripon, which is officially a city but it is the size of a small town and one of the smallest cities in the UK. The city is close to the UNESCO world heritage sites Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, and one of the main attractions is its large cathedral.

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First, we parked the car behind the market square and had a quick wander around. However, not a lot was open in the town as the day was a Bank Holiday (Easter Monday). Market day is on Thursdays, and the city also holds a special parade with people in fancy dress and floats parading the area based on a tradition dating from the early 1100s.

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The city also has a horn-blower tradition; a horn is blown every morning in the market square, and the horn is the symbol of the city. 

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We discovered an attractive street with nice views over Ripon Cathedral. There's also an attractive canal through the city.

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Ripon Cathedral dates from the 7th century. The history of the cathedral can be read here: http://riponcathedral.info.

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One of the features in the catacombs of the cathedral is a small shrine that is meant to represent the place in Bethleham where Jesus was born. 

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I took a few more photographs in the cathedral and had a look around before we had to rush off to go home so that we could get home at a decent time and ready for work the following day.

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Have you ever visited Ripon?

The Summer Ireland Road Trip

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Early last summer, my parents and the bloke and I went on a road trip around Ireland. We started off in Belfast and went around the island of Ireland counter-clockwise, taking in some beautiful scenery and ancient monuments. The road trip lasted thirteen days in total, and we were a little rushed for some aspects and could have had a couple of more days added on to the journey.

Part of the problem for some of the rush was that many of the places that we stayed at had breakfast included, but breakfast started at 8:00 in the morning. I prefer early mornings for travel so that we could cram as much travel time into the morning and use the 9:00-17:50 hours for visiting the monuments. I would have preferred an earlier breakfast. Also, I did not factor lunch into the stops as I generally skip lunch and have a breakfast and then a larger dinner (after 17:00) when I travel so that I can plan seeing as much as possible in a day, but my father is now a diabetic and needs to have regular meals, so I did not factor this in. If I were to do the trip over, I would have made some adjustments or tried to add at least a couple of extra days. I'm reluctant to say that I would have missed any place from the trip off as we saw so many wonderful places. 

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Generally, I felt that the trip was a little bit rushed because we were not able to get an earlier start and we had to then factor in lunch along the way, which was not always easy in some of the more remote places. In the UK, you can generally find a shop or a cafe somewhere, but this was not the case in some of the remote areas of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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Now, with this in mind, I will describe my iternerary in case any of my readers which to adapt it to their needs. The timings are pretty accurate here, and I'll explain any areas where we ran in to problems.

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Day 1:  We flew in to Ireland on a morning flight. We were booked into the Ibis Belfast Centre Hotel, which is a walk to the tourist sites for a weekend in the city. My impression of Belfast is that it was a small city. On the first day, we walked to the Titanic Quarter, which was the most distant area from the hotel. If I were to do this again, I would get a taxi back and get a taxi between a couple of the sites as it was a long walk from the Titanic Museum to the Titanic Pump House. Read more about my visit to the Titanic Quarter, which included the Titanic Museum, SS Nomadic, and the Titanic Dry Dock and Pump House.

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Day 2: On the second day, we walked around the city and visited the town and grounds of the city hall (we could not get inside due to an event) and St. George's Market. After having a wander around the market, we walked to Belfast Botanic GardensWe tried to book a taxi tour to see the murals, but this did not work out, so we walked back through one of the side-streets and got some photographs of Belfast Murals. Afterwards, we walked back in the opposite direction, had a quick look at the oldest pub, and we went to the cathedral quarter and looked inside Belfast Cathedral - St. Anne's before it closed for the day. 

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My additional posts cover the weekend in general:

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Day 3: On the third day, we checked out of the hotel in Belfast and took a taxi to the airport. I did not realise that there were two airports in Belfast when I researched, so we went to the wrong one when we went to pick up the rental car and had to wait for another taxi to take us to the other airport, which resulted in a loss of time at the other places we planned to visit. After we picked up the rental car, we went to the Ulster Folk Park and then went across the street to visit the Ulster Transport Museum, which is on the same site. The Ulster Transport Museum has an excellent exhibition on the Titanic and some items found on the wreck the ill-fated ship. We spent most of the day at the Folk Park, which we found really interesting exploring the historic buildings and way of life. 

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After our visit, we drove along the coast to visit Carrickfergus Castle, which is a very intact castle museum that we could explore. The castle was not too busy, so we were able to make the most of it.

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After the castle visit, we headed toward Ballycastle. On our way, we stopped off at the Dark Hedges, which is used in films, including the 'Game of Thrones' television series. This was extremely popular when we visited in the evening at sunset. Our bed and breakfast was located in Ballycastle, and we walked into town in order to have dinner and explore the seafront and the attractive village.

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Day 4: The fourth day was a busy one for us, and we managed to get an early start. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I was a little worried about the heights, but the rope bridge was not an issue at all. In fact, we had an early morning pleasant 15-minute walk to the rope bridge, and we were the first visitors and had it to ourselves for a short while.

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After the visit, we drove a short way down the coast in order to visit Giant's Causeway in order to see the natural rock formations and to learn about them.

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Afterwards, we drove up the coast again and stopped at Bushmills Distillery and had lunch and a tour of the whiskey distillery here.

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Our last visit along the Causeway Coast was to Dunlace Castle ruins.

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Afterwards, we headed in to Londonderry, where we stayed the evening. We had a quick walk around part of the Londonderry city walls (we had to finish the tour the next day), and we enjoyed dinner here.

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We also saw the Bogside Murals, which documented the history of Londonderry only a few decades ago, and which is still a major aspect of the city.

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Day 5: After our nice bed and breakfast in the Bogside area of Londonderry, we drove to Inishowen Peninsula and stopped off at Glenvin Waterfall, saw Crandonough Cross, went to Malin Head, and went to Gap of Mamore. There are many other attractions on this peninsula to visit, but we were only driving through to explore as much as we could.

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After our visit, we headed back from the peninsula and stopped off at Grianan of Aileach, which is an ancient fort with amazing views.

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Our final stop of the day was a quick drive through Glenveagh National Park and visited Glenveagh Castle. We loved the gardens of this castle, and if we had time, we would have walked as it would have been a pleasant walk along the lake. However, we got thr bus as the walk would have taken about an hour each way. I recommend the castle grounds, and we felt the castle tours were not as nice. 

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Day 6: We stayed in Donegal on the night of the fifth day, and Donegal is the location where some of my ancestors came from. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast with lake views. In the morning, we explored the small town and the ruins of the abbey. We walked along the harbour and went to Donegal Castle.

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After we had explored Donegal, we drove to our next stop, Belleek Pottery (a quick stop) and Marble Arch Caves. If we had had some time, we would have toured the Belleek Pottery museum, but we did stop at the shop. On the way to the caves, we actually got a little bit lost on our way here as it was not sign-posted well.

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Had we had the time, we would have explored the towns of Sligo and Cong, but our next stop was Galway, which was a fair drive away, and this is where we stayed for the night. 

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We had a quick walk around the town of Galway before the shops closed. Galway is a very touristy town, and it seemed slightly souless due to this. Although, the Spanish Gate was attractive, and the town has many tourist shops and pubs. This is a popular tourist destination, and the majority of the town catered for tourism.  

Day 7: As we did not have breakfast the next morning, we were able to make an early morning start to drive an hour to Clonmacnoise ancient monestary. We were the first to arrive to see the attraction, and a large tour group turned up afterwards, but we were able to see quite a bit before they turned up.

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After this visit, we headed back into the opposite direction in order to go to the Burren area of Ireland. We headed through some attractive villages here before visiting Ailwee Caves and Doolin Caves and Kilmacduagh monestary ruins. My preference between the two was Doolin Caves because of the giant rock formations inside. It has the largest stalagmite in Europe. 

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Before heading to our hotel, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. We did not have long before the tourist area closed, but we were able to see a little of it. Afterwards, we walked along the sides of the cliffs for some nice views. However, I have seen better sea cliffs and views, so these were a little under-whelming.

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Day 8: We really enjoyed our hotel in Doolin, but the next morning, we had to check out in order to drive to Bunratty Castle and Bunratty Folk Park.

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The castle was too busy with tourists, but we really enjoyed the folk park, which was similar to the Ulster Folk Park. We had light rain on this day, and it did get a little harder at times.

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After the visit, we headed to Kilfenora to have a light lunch at the cafe in the visitor's centre, a quick nip around the corner to see high crosses at abbey ruins, and then we met up with Tony from Heart of Burren Walks so that we could get a little taster of what the national park has to offer us. We followed Tony to a location in the Burren and saw a rare bee orchid as well as other plants and geological features; we were told a little bit about the history of the Burren. We got caught up in the rain off and on, but we still had a nice visit.

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I would have liked to have driven past "Father Ted's" (the television series) house, but we did not have time as we needed to head toward Dingle Peninsula in order to get to our bed and breakfast. I'd struggled to find a closer place to stay. I ideally wanted to stay in Adare and also explore it, but we only had time to drive through. This town looked like a great place to explore, and I'd booked ages ahead and still could not find availability in a hotel or bed and breakfast, so this may be on the list of places to visit next time.

Day 9: We stayed on a farm (bed and breakfast) at the entrance to Dingle Peninsula. It was actually more like a bed and breakfast and less of a farm, and it also catered to mini-buses full of tourists. Our first plan for the day was to drive up Conor's Pass, but there was a cycle race going on which shut the road, so we had to re-plan. Instead, we decided to follow the road around Dingle's coast. We drove counter-clockwise.

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Our first stop was Gallarus Oratory, an early church. Afterwards, we continued to follow the coast and stopped off at a couple of nice areas with sea views before ascending the mountains. I would have loved to have gone to the beehive huts along the road, but we did not. We admired more views and headed back into the town of Dingle where we ate lunch at a pub and enjoyed an ice cream.

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After lunch, we took a boat trip around Dingle harbour to see Funghie the Dolphin before heading out of Dingle and driving up Conor's Pass on our way to our next destination, Kilarney.

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We arrived in Kilarney in the late afternoon. Whereas Dingle was warm and sunny, Kilarney was completely the opposite. We were met with downpours while we stopped off at the ruins of Muckross Abbey.

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After the visit to the abbey, we explored Killarney National Park and drove up to Torcross Waterfall for an amazing view of the waterfall and then up the mountain to Ladies View, where we saw a beautiful rainbow. We had dinner that evening in Kilarney. We had to drive to the centre as the hotel was too far to walk there, and we did not see much of Kilarney; the town itself is very touristy and not the most attractive town.

Day 10: Our plan for the morning was to visit Skellig Michael island to see the beehive huts. I'd pre-booked the boat, which left at ten in the morning, so it was an early morning start. However, the weather was again very wet and rainy. I really want to go to Skellig Michael, so we will have to visit again and pray that the weather is nice. When we got to Portmagee, we were told that the boat trip was cancelled due to the bad winds and weather. So, we continued to drive the Ring of Kerry.

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Kenmare was our lunch stop, and we also walked to the stone circle close to the centre of town. We then headed back to Killarney and stopped off at Ross Castle and took ride on the jaunting cars first and took in the beautiful national park and some history. After our ride, we visited Ross Castle.

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Our next stop was to the Gap of Dunloe, and we arrived in the early evening as the jaunting cars and hoards of tourists had left. I could see that the place is a popular one. It is a beautiful place. We drove up the hill to see the beautiful views and then back down. At the entrance of the Gap of Dunloe is a restaurant, and this is where we ate dinner.

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Day 11: We stayed in Kilarney again, and the next morning, we had another early start to visit the villages of Kinsale and Cobh before heading into Cork. Kinsale was our first stop, and it is a quiet harbour village. We ate breakfast here before driving to Cobh, which is the last port that Titanic sailed from. There's a Titanic exhibition here, a cathedral, and a beautiful Victorian garden seafront. I also saw many cats in Cobh. After we had seen enough, we drove to Cork for lunch and had a quick wander around the market.

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Our next stop was Blarney Castle, and we spent the afternoon here. We enjoyed the castle and the gardens. Of course, the castle is famous for its 'Blarney Stone', which we saw before heading back to Killarney for our final night.

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Before we headed back to the hotel, we visited the Meeting of the Waters, which was not advertised as a long walk but ended up being a long walk. We saw a deer and nice scenery, but we wished we'd given it a miss as it was not as beautiful as expected.

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Day 12: I woke up on my birthday on this day, and we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Cahir Castle. Again, the weather was rainy and wet for us.

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After the morning visit, we made our way down the road to the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, where we explored the ruins of the ancient monestary associated with St. Patrick. The beautiful monument was sadly covered in scaffolding, so I was not able to get many good photographs, and the weather was dreadful here. Unfortunately, we did not learn much here as the venue was catered for busloads of tourists, and the introduction video was in three different langauges before it played in English; we'd have had to wait over two hours for the English video to be played again. I think that they need to have English subtitles at least. After Cashel, we walked a couple of blocks away to have lunch and then drove to Hore Abbey at the foot of the hillside to explore the ruins.

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After our visit was finished, we drove a little further away to the Rock of Dunmase near Portlaoise. This is the ruins of a hilltop castle, and it is free to visit. We were the only ones to visit, and we had a nice walk around, but we did suffer with the rain.

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After that stop, we headed down to Kilkenny where our bed and breakfast was for the evening. The weather had improved for us when we arrived. We had a walk around the town and climbed one of the only accessible round towers at St. Canice Cathedral. Afterwards, we walked to the town to look in some of the shops, have dinner, and look at the castle. I was surprised with a birthday cake when we arrived back at the bed and breakfast.

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Day 13: We left Kilkenny in the morning to drive to Wicklow Mountains, and our first stop was Glendalough village and monestary. After our visit to this beautiful location of ruins, we drove through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. I was not keen on the landscape of the national park and found it to be too barren.

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We did stop at a small waterfall on the way and then arrived at Powerscourt Waterfall, which is the largest waterfall that we saw on the whole trip.

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After the waterfall, we drove north to Trim Castle, which was used in the film "Braveheart". We had lunch in Trim at a bakery before our guided tour of the castle.

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The last stop of the day, before we headed back down south to Naas where our bed and breakfast was located, was to the Hill of Tara, the seat of the Kings of Ireland and a place of mystery and history. We then drove to Naas and had dinner at a nice restaurant in the town. Unfortunately, this was the worst bed and breakfast as the host was rude to us and asked us not to bring our luggage indoors.

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Day 14: Newgrange and the surrounding tombs were high on my list of places to visit in Ireland, so I wanted to make sure that we had secured the morning to have plenty of time to see them before we needed to head back to Belfast for our flights. We got stuck in bad traffic around Dublin on our way from Naas. On the way to Newgrange on the motorway (a few miles away) on the hottest and sunniest day of our trip, the car tire blew. The car rental company had given us a dodgey car with three normal tires and one winter tire, and the winter tire was several years old and an import from Germany. Apparently, tires from Germany are sold cheaply to Ireland because Germany has tighter regulations on the wear and tear of the thread, so used tires are sold on. 

We were not happy as we missed seeing Newgrange and were stranded on the motorway, trying to speak to the car rental company, Enterprise. We were stranded in the hot sun, on the phone and waiting for call-backs, to expensive international numbers as we were still in northern Ireland. Finally, we were taken to a service station. Enterprise eventually did refund us for the car and the tire that we had to pay for. 

The situation could have been a lot worse, but this left a bad taste in our mouths at the end of a pretty good trip. We were then taken to the airport and flew back to England. I will never rent with Enterprise after the appaling service and lack of duty of care for not checking the tires and making sure that the car was safe. We could have been killed. 

Sometime, I'd like to visit Newgrange as well as the other places that we failed to see. 

A Weekend in Bristol and Dinner at Graze

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A few weeks ago, I went to Bristol to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' charity sculpture trail. I lived in Bath and worked near Bristol for nearly three years, so I know the city, but I knew the city before it was regenerated. I always thought that Bristol was a little bit rough when I lived near it (hence why I lived near it and not in the city), but as I've visited over the past few years, I've found it to be pleasant. I took a lot of photographs during my last visit which show how beautiful the city is.

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The bloke and I walked along the harbour, and we took in the iconic view of Bristol with the colourful houses on the hill. This is a popular and beautiful view of the city.

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Further down is a kiosk (known as Brunel's Buttery) selling breakfast items and drinks. The bloke and I stopped here and had a bacon sandwich here. We've stopped here before after walking for awhile. We watched the ships sail past on this beautiful summery day.

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I have been into the MShed museum in Bristol, which is located on the waterfront. I have never actually spent that much time in the museum, but this is one of the attractions in the lovely city. It is always popular. On busy days, the steam train runs up and down the track along the harbour. On this visit, we saw a tall ship.

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Bristol also has a lot of spires and its university and other attractive buildings, parks, and market squares.

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There's an artist who creates dogs from sand. I've seen him before.

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One of our stops was to the park to look over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I have been here a few times. Unfortunately, the scaffolding is up on one of the towers. The bridge was engineered by Brunel, who was from Bristol and is highly-regarded as one of its famous residents.

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We walked across the bridge and into parkland with the city of Bristol on the horizon. We did so much walking that I had blisters on my feet.

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One of my favourite areas of Bristol is College Green. There's a lovely green area with flowers and attractive buildings and a lot of shops, cafes, and restaurants in this area. However, you will need the energy to walk up this steep hill.

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After walking around, we had worked up an appetite. We ended up in Graze, a grill restaurant. We started off with a bottle of Prosecco. This was a nice end to the long day of looking for the Shaun the Sheep sculptures. We were blessed with nice weather, so we sat outside.

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The bloke had lamb chops, which came with vegetables and new potatoes. He said that he enjoyed these, but he would have liked more as the portion was small.

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I had the spring poussin (baby chicken). This came with dumplings and spring vegetables. It was also drenched in a very runny/watery sauce, which detracted from the meal. This sauce was not cooked well and it had the flavour and consistency of water. I could have done without it.

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The dessert choice was also good, and the desserts were my favourite part of the meal. The bloke had the chocolate honeycomb. I had a bite and it did taste delicious. I am less keen on the honeycomb/crunchie items, but the chocolate hit the spot.

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I had the lemon and meringue, which also tasted delicious. I could not finish it all. The main course was too small (in portions), and the desserts were too large (in portions).

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We slept in the next morning for a little while, and our first morning stop was to Piano&Pitcher restaurant on the waterfront for brunch on Sunday. I had the cooked breakfast, and the bloke had a bacon sandwich. 

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I had a non-alcoholic cocktail, but it was mostly ice. I was disappointed.

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On the way to continue our journey through the city, we saw locks of love and more boats.

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In the evening, after walking around Bristol Upfest street art fetival, we had dinner at Prezzo, which is a chain of Italian-themed food. The bloke had the mushroom chicken, and I had the bacon and chicken.

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This was soon followed by ice cream and a slice of chocolate cake.

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I do like my visits to Bristol, and I need to make another trip soon so that I can see my neglected friends. My life has been far too busy for far too long now!

A few weeks ago, I went to Salisbury to see the Baron's Charter Sculpture Art Trail. Salisbury is one of my favourite towns in England, and it's been a few years since I last visited. While we were looking at the sculptures, I took some photographs around the city. I've taken so many photographs around Salisbury in the past, but I can never resist to get more when I visit as it is such a photographic place.

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I can never resist getting photographs of both sides of the old gates into the Cathedral Close. An ex-boyfriend used to work on the building next to the wall on the outside of the close, and the building was like a maze inside with low ceilings and small rooms and wooden beams. It used to be a bookstore, and it had a sheep hanging above the door. Salisbury was known for its sheep trade, so I imagine that the shop sold wool at one time. On this visit, however, the sheep was sadly removed. I hope it hasn't been removed forever.

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The cathedral is also picturesque, and although I have taken hundreds of photographs in the past, I can never resist taking more. The fascade of the cathedral is covered in statues, and it has one of the tallest spires of any cathedral in the country. The cathedral is also one of my favourites in the UK; it's beautiful inside. The Magna Carta can be seen inside, and there's also an ancient clock and a model of Old Sarum, which is just a short drive down the road.

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I used to work in Salisbury for a short time in 2000, and I would sometimes take my lunch to the grounds of the cathedral. I remember once that an older lady sat next to me and started to talk to me. She mentioned that a relative used to work in London in the second World War, and, if I remember correctly, his job was to clean Nelson's Column.

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On one of the buildings in the Close, we spotted a row of seagulls that were evenly-spaced out on the top of a roof.

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After we spent some time walking around, we went to Côte Brasserie for lunch. The restaurant is located in 'The Maltings' area of Salisbury, which contains a little canal behind the library, mill, and supermarket. The canal is always filled with swans, ducks, and other birds. This restaurant is a chain, but I have never been to any of the restaurants in the chain before.

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To start, we had bread and butter to share. This was fresh and slightly-warm.

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The bloke ordered steak and chips, and I ordered the weekend special 1/2 roast chicken with gratin potato and french beans.

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Service was a little lacking, and we were not asked for desserts or drinks afterwards, and we paid the bill and left. 

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Our next stop was the park, Queen Elizabeth Gardens. These gardens join the Water Meadows, where there is a pleasant trackway to a water mill, which is a pub-restaurant. I love walking through these water meadows with pasture of sheep on one side and beautiful views of Salisbury Cathedral on the other side. A small stream also runs through the gardens, and it's always full of children on summer days. There are minnows in the stream, and the children catch them.

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We had ice cream from an ice cream truck that is located in one of the entrances of the gardens, and we enjoyed the sun.

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Our last stop on the way back to the car was to have a quick look around the market as some of the stalls were getting ready to close up. We stopped at Cafe Patisserie in Salisbury, which was not here during my last visit. In fact, I noticed many of the shops were more of the "high end" variety in the town now with more shops that used to only been seen in London heading out to the historical towns. I had a strawberry tart from here as the smell of the strawberries from the market stalls made me a little hungry. (I also did buy strawberries and peaches from the market.)

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More posts I have written about Salisbury in the past include An Autumn Day in Salisbury and Salisbury Cathedral.

Bournemouth Candlelight Nights

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On every Wednesday evening throughout the month of August, Bournemouth keeps alive a tradition of candlelighting that begun in 1896. The tradition started when Princess Eugiene of France came to visit the town, and her route through the gardens was lit by candles. Today, the tradition is kept alive by colourful jars of candles placed on wooden frames in the Lower Gardens of Bournemouth. Many of the frames with the lit candles are made into shapes, such as cruise ships, sailboats, Union Jack flags, and some spell out words.

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A little over a decade ago, I lived in Bournemouth for a short time in order to complete my MSc in Advanced Computing degree. I've been visiting the town for a few years before that, and I always remember seeing the candles and wooden frames in the summer, but I never knew the significance of the tradition.

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I arrived in the Lower Gardens at about 8:00 in the evening, but it was not dark enough to light the candles (in my view), and lighting them starts at 8:00. Small sticks of candles were given out, and I did ask for one, but I was told that they were only for children. (However, adults were lighting the jars as many could not be reached by children.) As it was still light out, I looked around for a place to get supper, and the places I wanted to visit had 45-minute waiting times, so we settled for an Indian restaurant for a mediocre curry. 

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When we arrived back in the Lower Gardens from supper, dusk was coming to an end and we managed to see many lit candles, but a lot of these had burned out by then. We managed to find a few candle sticks on the grounds and tried to locate jars that needed to be lit. We managed to find and light a couple. 

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Afterwards, we headed to Sprinkles Bakery, which is a new ice cream and bakery shop in Bournemouth and located not far from the university buildings in the town centre. They had so many different flavours of ice cream to choose from, and they had some nice-looking cupcakes too. I choose chocolate brownie ice cream and Skittles ice cream. Yes, that was an odd combination, but it tasted nice.

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The time was getting later, so we started to drive back to Basingstoke; I wanted to stop off at Burley in order to catch a glimpse of the shooting stars. When we got near Ringwood, the major road through the New Forest was shut northbound, and later on, the M27 was shut for road works too. This year, we've seemed to hit all of the construction work and road closures and have to go out of our way to get back home. I joked that so far, this year has been a "Diversion Year" as we're in "limbo", living month-to-month.

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First, we took the detour to Burley and found a place to park up to see the shooting stars. Everyone else had the same idea of a parking space, though, and the road closure made the road even more busy with constant traffic. Despite the disappointments beyond control, we managed to see a few shooting stars and a couple really large ones. The best one we saw was when we'd just got out of the car and started to look in front of us. 

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More of my photographs from the evening are posted below. This year's candlelight nights were not as nice as I've seen in previous years (a few years ago). 

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For those interested in seeing Bournemouth's Candlelighting Nights, there is only one more opportunity this year: August 26, Wednesday. Lighting the candles starts at approximately 8:00 in the evening and continues until after dusk has ended.

Formerly, this small patch of green along Whitechapel Road and White Church Lane, was called St. Mary's Park. It was named after the church that used to stand here, St. Mary Matfelon. This area of London has a lot of history and diversity. It was once a slum area, the site of the Jack the Ripper murders, a place that attracted immigrants, and a place becoming gentrified as the City of London expands.   From 1250 to 1286, a chapel (St. Mary Matfelon) made from Kentish chalk was built here and and nick-named "white chapel" because of the church's white colour, and this is how the area got its name.

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The church was rebuilt in the late 1600s using red bricks and again in the late 1800s. It was the first to have trees planted in order to absorb gases from the overflowing graves, which was a problem in London because there was not enough space to bury the dead.

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In the 1600s, this area was filled with tanneries. A little later, many of bell foundries existed in this area to make bells for churches and companies. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry still exists, and I had a tour here last March, which you can read about

In 1940 during the Blitz, the church was hit by a bomb and damaged. Afterwards, it became derelict and used by criminals and squatters. In 1952, it was struck by lightning and completely demolished afterwards. All that remains are some graves and some of the floor. A few graves were notable people. The executioner of King Richard the 1st is meant to be buried here.

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In 1978, the area saw more sadness as Bengali clothing worker Altab Ali was murdered in Alder Road in a racially-motivated attack. The park was used for demonstrations after this happened, to raise awareness. The park was dedicated to him in 1994 and renamed.

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In 2012, the park was reconstructed and an archelogical dig took place. Some remains were uncovered form the past churches, and monuments were created. These are on display in the park.

This park has undergone a lot of change and reflects the diversity of the area today.

Yesterday, I paid a visit to Wardour Castle on a very rainy day. The castle was built in the late 14th century for Lord Lovel in the reign of King Richard II. Wardour Castle is unique because it is a six-sided castle, and the castle combines its defenses with its guest rooms in the same building. The castle is located near Tisbury in Wiltshire and is located down narrow country lanes, and it is a ruin.

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Lord Lovel was inspired by French castles, so Wardour Castle was built in a similar design. The castle had two functions as described - defense as well as a beautiful and impressive residence. 

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The castle came to ruins in the Civil War in 1644. It was never restored, and a new castle (stately home) was built nearby. Shortly after it became a ruin, the castle became known as a "romantic ruin" for people to visit and explore the beautiful historical castle and its gardens. "Romantic ruins" were popular attractions.

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We had the free audio guide on our tour, and this helped to make the ruined castle come to life. The guide told us that the fascade of the castle had changed to meet the needs to impress visitors. Decorations were added, such as the Jesus bust above.

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Seats built into the thick walls were also added later on.

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The entrance hall gave way to an inner courtyard with several doors off of them and a well in the middle. The most beautiful door was the highly-decorated one with the wide staircase. This led to the Great Hall, and this is the door that visitors would use. The sculptures and carvings of this door can be seen and still impress.

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The doors above led to another wing of the castle, but this no longer exists. In the grass area outside, brickwork follows the footprints of where the walls originally stood. Other doorways lead to a ground floor kitchen and storage area, including the steward areas, and some lead to staircases to other chambers that the staff probably used.

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The kitchen and pantry are located off the Great Hall, which was the most impressive room where people would gather and eat and entertain.

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Rooms up the staircase and clustered around the Great Hall were the chambers.

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I saw some amazing views over the lake and the gardens. The new castle (which is occupied and does not offer tours) can also be seen from here.

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The castle was used in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" starring Kevin Costner.

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Last but not least, we were shown the grotto. In the times when the castle was visited as a "romantic ruin", a grotto was built with hidden areas and ferns, water features, and flowers. These grottos were the rage then. The grotto is in a state of disrepair now, but I could imagine its beauty when I walked through it and explored some hidden areas.

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A stone circle at Tisbury was also moved and placed in the castle grounds as these were also viewed as past history and "romantic" of this time. I did not see any trace of the stone circle, but the audio guide mentioned it.

Overall, it was a nice visit to the castle. The castle is located near Tisbury in Wiltshire in England. It can be visited daily, and it is owned by English Heritage.

On a Friday toward the end of last month, I paid a visit to Lavender Fields in Hampshire, England. Lavender Fields is a farm that grows lavender and arranges items (such as soaps, perfumes, food) to be produced from the lavender. These items are then and sold in a shop on site. I have driven past the farm, near Alton in Hampshire, a few times in the past.

I wanted to stop in, drawn by the beautiful flowers. A stressful few months and overtime earlier in that week prompted me to take a half a day off and visit the farm. Lucky for me, this was the final day for tours before shutting for the season. However, there are other 'Open Days' earlier in the season from June until late July, and I'm sure that one could stop in to the shop on site and pay a small amount in order to get some photographs of the lavender fields. These fields would actually be a perfect setting for family photographs, fashion photographs, or photographs of children/pets.

Originally, I was not a fan of lavender because it's always been associated with a scent popular with grannies. However, after a trip to Hvar island in Croatia, I actually enjoyed the scent and the beautiful purple flowers growing on the mountains. You can see a few of my photographs here. Lavender is a naturally calming scent, and many products exist to aid in relaxation and sleep (or de-stress). 

The day that we visited was pouring with rain, and the weather was the worst that it had been in awhile, but we did not let this stop us from visiting and enjoying ourselves. In fact, a large bus load of people turned up for a tour as well.

Instead of having the tour and being told about the lavender and history of the farm from outside or in the lavender fields, we listened to information inside a tent before walking to the fields. The rain had died down somewhat, so we managed to get some shelter before it started to pour again and we headed into a barn to listen to the remainder of the chat. We were shown the equipment used to harvest and press the lavender.

The chat was followed by a dash back to the tent where afternoon cream tea was served for us to enjoy. The warm tea was welcome as were the scones with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam.

When we finished the afternoon tea, I wandered back into the fields to take a lot of photographs. The rain did not ease off, but I think I was able to capture some nice photographs despite the weather. 

In addition to the rows of lavender (I'd estimate that it was two or three acres next to the road, and this isn't their main crop), the fields were also transformed into wildflower meadows. These were filled with cornflowers, which are my absolute favourite flowers (I like daffodils too) and my wedding flower. In addition, there were red poppies and yellow daisy-like flowers and a few other types of wildflower mixed in.

I believe that some fantastic photographs can be shot here, particularly in the dusk or dawn light. Despite the weather, we had a good time. More photographs frm my visit can be seen below.

Last Saturday, I met up with some good friends in order to attend this year's Battle Proms picnic and concert. This year marks 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, and the Battle Proms celebrate this event with music and patriotic displays. This year also marks 75 years since the Battle of Britain. The events of the afternoon were a showcase of horses in the battlefield with people in fashion during the Napoleonic times (British and French 1700s military and civilian fashion), a Spitfire fly-past, World War II era tribute singers, a classical music concert, canons, and fireworks. Much of the music was inspired by wars. This was also a charity event to support veterans.

The event took place at Highclere Castle. The castle (more technically a stately home) is used in filming the popular television series Downton Abbey.

My friends were delayed in traffic, so I watched the display of the horses while I waited for them. The horses and their riders demonstrated battle moves that would have been used in the Napoleonic Wars. Some of the riders were redcoats (British), and some were French. 

When my friends arrived, we set up our picnic area and ate, nearly finishing in time for the Spitfire fly-past. I didn't get any picnic photographs, but we had a couple of bottles of wine and cheese or ham sandwiches (with crisps) and fruit, followed by dessert.

Music followed with several songs, and the larger canon was fired along with a troop of redcoats firing muskets and smaller canons being fired during the song "1812 Overture Op. 49" by Tchaikovsky.

Later, "Wellington's Victory - Battle of the Vittoria, Op. 91" by Beethoven was played, and 193 canons sounded during the song along with musket fire and fireworks.

All of the popular battle songs were played, including "Jerusalem" and "Rule Britannia" too, and fireworks signalled the end of the finale. We also had "God Save the Queen" (queue flag-waving), and "Auld Lang Syne" was played by bagpipe. A lot of flags were waving. Apparently, 10,000 people were in attendance.

The weather was decent, although slightly chilly, but all of us had a good time. 

I was not aware of Battle Proms before and found out about it in January when I was looking for information about any special events taking place. I was particularly looking for information about another anniversary of Trafalgar or similar events, which I went to in Portsmouth in 2005, and I came across this special concert. I assumed that this was a one-off concert, but the concert does take place annually at various locations throughout the summer months. For more information, visit: http://www.battleproms.com

After our visit to Wicklow Mountains, we drove up to Trim Castle. I was curious to see the castle, which is in a state of ruin. The castle is also famous for being the location where some of the film Braveheart was shot in 1994. The castle was transformed into a set for the Mel Gibson film, and photographs can be seen here from this time. A lot of locals from Trim were also employed as extras. There's also a sign outside the north wall of the castle with some information and photographs of the set at the castle. I must say that I am not a fan of the film, but I found its role in the film interesting. 

The castle can be toured, and there's a guided tour of the keep. Before we went to the castle, we walked down the main street in search of a place to eat lunch.

We popped into a small bakery and cake shop, and I had soup and a slice of carrot cake, which was nice.

Trim is a small and attractive Irish town, but we did not walk too far as we wanted to explore the castle.

We entered the castle through the gate, which is over the moat. This gatehouse was rebuilt in the 13th century. Guard accommodation was within this gatehouse, and a prision is below. There's also murder holes above. The original gatehouse was built in 1180, but there was a timber-framed one before.

To the left of the gatehouse upon entering is the solar and the great hall. The solar, also known as Magdalen Tower, was redeveloped as private apartments. It was built to defend the ford just below it. 

Next is the river gate (or water gate), which is near the river. This area took boats from the river to bring supplies into the castle. A passage was cut through the rock to the door of the cellar of the Great Hall to take the boats. 

The interior of the cellar is above, and the boats would be kept in the harbour. The views from the Great Hall looked over the abbey of St. Mary's, which is located across the river.

A couple of other towers, in states of ruin, are along the river.

We then walked around to the Barbican Gate. This gatehouse has a rare design as it is built as a cylinder tower. There was a system of overhead traps as well as systems for lifting bridges and gates.

The tower also was designed for archers to defend it. The walkways around can still be explored, but there's not much of them left.

The castle replaced a wooden fort and was built in 1175. The town of Trim built up around it. We explored the keep, but all visits to the castle keep are guided. We learned a lot about the keep and the castle and its history, saw very old grafitti, and were told ghost stories. 

The castle is a fine example of a military stronghold. 

Not much exists inside the middle of the keep now, so we had to navigate from one area to the other via wooden walkways. We could explore the chapel and the quarters of the owners on the sides.

Some of the castle was still well-maintained, and we had to climb down and up some narrow staircases, but this was minimal.

We took in excellent views over the castle's grounds. In the photograph below, the ruins in the distance are St. Mary's abbey.

Before we left, we had a glance at a book that was filled with photographs during the filming of Braveheart. The castle was transformed into a set for the film.

This was a nice castle to visit.

Have you ever been to Trim castle?

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