From little acorns

I’ve long been intrigued by the UK’s National Trails. They are long distance footpaths scattered around the UK that follow historical or geographical patterns, like Hadrian’s Wall, the Thames, or the best of the lot, the South West Coast. The South West Coast Path is the best of the lot because, as it says in the title, it follows the coast – and the sea is the best geographical feature there is. It also tracks through some of the most beautiful areas, with the gorgeous Cornish beaches, Devon cliffs, and the lovely Jurassic coast.

It was on my Life List to complete various walks that touch upon all the national trails, and that might still be an ambition of mine, but I’ve suddenly become completely obsessed with the Coast Path. The real passion started when Mr C and I visited Minehead and stumbled upon the start of the path.

There’s something totally exciting about being at the start of something, isn’t there? It makes you want to follow, particularly when there’s an arrow on the pavement showing you exactly which way to go.

At the time, we just walked a little way, and then turned back. I started plotting and planning in my brain, researching others who had completed the walk, wondering how and when we could squeeze walking 630 miles into our busy schedules.

Mr C solved the problem. During the current heatwave, we headed to Studland and found the other end of the Path.

Having walked maybe a kilometre at either end, “that’s good enough, right?” he asked. People will totally believe that we also completed the slightly more massive middle section?

I’m not so sure he’s off the hook that easily, but it’s a fun start. I don’t know how or when we will manage to squeeze in any more of the coast path, but I do know we’ve at least hit the highlights at each end.

Portrait of a lizard

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t find me in the reptile house of any theme park or zoo. I’m not that keen on zoos anymore, and dude, there are snakes in there. However, our visit to Drayton Manor was on one of the coldest days of the year, and snakes do at least have the right idea when it comes to sleeping somewhere warm.

I was snapping pictures here and there, still testing out the reaches of this iPhone 8 Plus camera – a huge improvement on my last. And somewhere along the way, I took this:

I never thought I’d be using portrait mode on a lizard, but damn if it wasn’t worth it.

Thomas Land

It’s been a bit of a busy year, so expeditions and adventures have been few and far between, but every December we are obliged to leave the house. The brilliant Giggles Advent calendar features jokes from many contributors of which I’m honoured to be one, and to make a fun and interesting video, Mr C and I look for new places to explore.

This year, it was Drayton Manor – the medium sized theme park that features a large section of ground designated to Thomas the Tank Engine, otherwise known as Thomas Land. They were turning Thomas Land festive, and we thought what better place to capture a Christmas joke.

Along the way, I tested out some more of the brilliance that is the iPhone 8 Plus camera, and the results continue to be astounding.

Tour of the city

I found myself with a spare hour or so whilst in Bath recently, and suddenly remembered something I’d spotted online – an audio walking tour of the city. Rather than having to wait at a tour stop and join with a random group of people to be ferried around the famous streets, this was a solo adventure. The site offers two tours, for free, and the one I opted for was the Jane Austen Walking Tour.

You can download in advance or on the go, and you get 15 individual mp3 tracks that guide you around the city and its sights. There’s a pdf map too, which I only referred to when checking the starting place – although this was outside the Roman Baths, so not too hard to find. I plugged in, and listened to the first track and at the end, it tells you where to walk with some really decent directions, and then tells you to play the next track when you arrive at your destination.

I really enjoyed the tour. It had interesting facts, sometimes interviewing historians about the place, sometimes reading relevant passages from Jane Austen’s book, but always limiting each section to just a couple of minutes so there was no time to get bored. I did feel a bit conspicuous at the start, loitering around some of the areas and gazing up at the buildings, but by the end I’d got into a good pattern of listening as I arrived and then perusing as I passed.

The tour fixed all the things that I don’t like about some of the more touristy tour experiences – the loitering, the boring bits, the inability to go rogue on the way round. Here, you’re totally in charge. Follow it in order at your own pace, pause it to go shopping, skip bits, mix it up, it’s all down to you and which mp3 you opt to listen to next.

This got me thinking about what a great idea it is and how it’d be great if more people did audio walking tours. A quick search proved that there are other ones available out there, including the VoiceMap app and a handful of things to listen to here as well. I’d like to go one step further and have audio guides to more rural walks – coastal paths, or national trails – because I’m starting to grow my love for walking but I require a lot of direction along the way. It’s a great addition to my walking library though, and I know now that Jane Austen would have been aware of the Sally Lunn bun! I’m definitely going to check out more of these types of experiences in future.

It’s a Grand Place, Brussels

I was allowed to lift my head from my study books for two weeks recently, to head to Belgium for a fortnight work trip. It was crazy busy and there wasn’t a lot of time to be a tourist, but I did manage to snap a couple of pictures in Brussels.

It’s a lovely place, full of juxtapositions of old and new, and a big mish-mash of languages. I wish I could have had more time to spend nosing around, but had to settle for just a few glimpses of the sights.

I did get to have a waffle, though, so no major complaints. Now I have to head back to the books!

Half castle, half fort, all awesome

My interest in forts, bunkers and castles is well-documented, and recently I managed to squeeze in a visit to another place of interest that falls into this category. Somehow, it is both fort and castle, as Hurst Castle on the south coast was initially a Tudor dwelling, converted into a sea defending fort during the war. The castle is at the end of long shingle walkway that takes it out of you if you try and walk it. Well, so I’m told. Naturally, I took a boat.

What I love most about forts is there are just so many nooks and crannies. There are so many places to hide, and thus so many to investigate. I was dashing down the paths, up and down stairs, in and out of rooms, some of which were dark and quite intimidating. Never has my iPhone torchlight come in handy quite so much.

Some of the rooms have been converted to displays about the local lighthouse heritage association, but I was more interested in those that had been left mostly alone. The underground theatre, the shower block, particularly the gunpowder room – a huge dark circular room at the bottom of a dank staircase.

Then of course, at the top, you’ve got the lookout towers and some pretty impressive views. Looking across the fort, you get a really clear idea of the juxtaposition of old and new (or old and not quite so old), where the stone castle meets the brick fort. So many great lines and corners, just truly a joy to behold.

Open top bus tour of the New Forest

Much of the UK experienced some very hot weather in July, weeks of sunshine and muggy conditions bringing out the sandals and making it hard to sleep. That being the case, it’s typical that when my parents invited me on an open top bus tour of the New Forest, it absolutely poured down.

The New Forest Tours are really quite a good deal. £14 may seem a bit pricey to start with, but you can jump on and off any of the three routes at any time for a limited period. Upgrade your ticket and you can get weekend and week-long extensions, so if you’re holidaying in the area, it can be a good way to get round.

The central part of the tour, where two routes start, is Lyndhurst – a nice little village, although very busy. We managed to have a quick wander round before hopping on the bus, and despite it raining before-hand, we made our way to the top deck.

The precipitation held off for the start of the journey, although we experienced an interesting phenomenon. The bus whooshing past the wet trees, whilst not hitting them directly, provided enough movement for water to flick directly at us. It was like being on the water rides at a theme park. Thankfully, the weather was still in its muggy stage so despite the rain and the occasional dousing, it wasn’t cold.

Remaining decidedly British about the whole thing, we stuck it out, ending up the only people on the upper level.

We got off the bus at Hythe, where a quick glimpse across the water to the Southampton docks showed several cruise ships waiting to go out. The rain moved back in again so we stopped off for a quick cup of tea before hot footing it back on the bus.

We only planned to do the green route, but the sun came out as we were winding our way across the beautiful New Forest towards Lyndhurst. Briefly, we pondered extending our trip to include another route, but with the weather so changeable, we decided to call it quits. Even though it had been a damp day, it was still a lot of fun, I got a handful of pictures, and managed to notch up another open top bus tour for my Life List collection.