Final day in England

The Aussies have departed us and from what I hear via email they are enjoying Paris and were last heard of on a cruise down the Seine. Thanks for your email Paul, and yes I am sure we will thoroughly enjoy work this week which will in no way be spent thinking about you two tripping around beautiful France 😉

For our last day we drove them down to London via a favoured spot, Kew Gardens. Our memberships had arrived by the time we got back from Wales so that was great timing. The weather was looking rather dull leaving Bristol but by the time we hit London it was positively warm (see we do get a “summer” on occassion – this will be counted as summer day number 10)

Kew was looking spectacular as always and I think we all had a nice relaxing time. Paul and I even managed to get a wee kip in. Then it was off to Kew Gardens Station underground to drop the travellers before departing for Bristol.

Trains, rain and driving tours

Day two of pouring rain in the Snowdonia National Park. Actually the day started out as a sun shining day with a bit of warmth to its rays however by the time we had finished breakfast the cloud cover had rolled in, then by the time we got to the car the temperature had dropped and it was raining. Four seasons in one day.

While passing through the Snowdonia National Park we stopped at a great lookout and a number of curious birds came out to accoust us for food. I have included a photo of one of them.

We were intending to head for the Snowdon Railway again but it was obvious that the view would be minimal and possibly the train even cancelled. Instead we headed to Ffestiniog where some well known railway tours run from.

We arrived in time for a cup of coffee and the arrival of the 10.50am steam train. So it was cameras to the ready for lots of photos. Paul even got the opportunity to stand in the drivers area (including swapping caps-coal and all) for some quick snap shots before the train departed for another station. We were rather keen travellers and ended up meeting the train at its next stop, Blaenau Ffestiniog. The smell of a steam engine is wonderful. A number of months back I posted my favourite smells, I think I need to add this one to that list.

Another notable stop was lunch at the Red Lion in Dinas Mawddwy. The rain was still pouring down but we talked away a fair bit of time in here eating a Ploughmans lunch or a homemade pie, a pint of cider or ale and a homemade dessert to finish. Dating from the 12th century this place has seen famous bandits and many travellers in its time.

Tomorrow our aussie mates continue on with their journey until we meet up with them in France next month. Guys, it has been wonderful travelling with you both. We have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with you both, your sense of humour, your incredible toleration of the early morning starts and generally just spending time with you. Viva la France.

The Welsh tour

We woke up this morning to rainy skies. A good day for a driving tour and for the most part it did stop raining when we wanted to walk around until the end of the day when it just poured down. It is now 9pm at night, the sun is still up but it has stopped raining, hooray.

First stop today was to Lanberis for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Due to the weather it was only running 1/2 way up the mountain so we decided to wait until tomorrow to see if it is any better. The driver from Betws-y-coed through the Snowdonia National Park to Lanberis was spectacular. It reminded me a bit of Scotland and the South Island of New Zealand. The rainy weather has only added to the mysteriousness of the area.

After Llanberis we headed to Caernarfon to have a look at the castle on the water. Work begun on the castle in 1283 under the orders of Edward the 1st however there was a motte and bailey here before this built by the Normans and also a fort under Roman rule. It was inspired by buildings seen at Constantinople and the most striking aspect of the castle are the polygonal towers and colourful bands of stone running through the walls.

We then crossed Menai Bridge across to the Isle of Anglesey to visit the Beaumaris Castle. It was pouring down by the time we got here so no pictures to show as we didn’t even get out of the car.

Finally the next place on our list to see was Llandudno which is a seaside resort location. With its curved long expanse of beach, wonderful seaside mansion-like homes, expansive promenade and decorative pier with amusement attractions it seems to be the quintessential seaside holiday location for Brits and Welsh alike. Beautiful location if only the sun would shine for us! However, even in the rain we had fun.

By this time we were all a bit wet so we headed back to our accommodation for some chinese food for dinner and a quiet night it blogging. Tomorrow we head back home.


Well we are here in Snowdonia National Park staying in a town called Betws-Y-Coed. Good luck to you if you can pronounce it. We got us this morning to a drizzly day and currently waiting for our hot cooked breakfast to be served.

Yesterdays highlights of our driving tour include a coffee stop in Chepstow before heading off to lunch in Ludlow, then Llangollen and Welshpool where Paul really enjoyed seeing the train stations that he is familiar with. Sharon has enjoyed the English/Welsh countryside and continues to keep saying “it looks so English” (amazing how we do forget where we are). Here are some shots for you.

The Aussies arrived

To all the friends and family of Sharon and Paul they have arrived safely however we are successfully managing to tucker them out every day.

The weather has been stunning bar a few overcast and windy days in London. Bristol has turned on the fine weather (although we are all still wearing our jumpers through the British “summer”).

Notable things we have seen and done over the last 3 days – mastered the double decker bus system in London (far cheaper than the tube and much more interesting viewing wise), attended church at All Souls in London, took a driving tour from Bristol to investigate all the nooks and crannies of Wells Cathedral, went through Cheddar Gorge, ate a proper English Cream tea (except with coffee – does that make it an English Cream Coffee?), tried Scrumpy (traditionally made cider specific to our West region), had to try some cave matured cheddar cheese of course and finally after picking Steve up from work we had a picnic at a lookout over Bristol and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

So far we have all travelled well, no murderous tendencies yet and really looking forward to getting to Snowdonia. Just a pity that our friends can’t stay longer as there is so much to see, do, talk about and just generally spend time with these fabulous people. Here are a few pics of what we have seen so far.

My close encounter

We happened upon a boot sale on the way to Longleat Estate. There was a man with a most incredible European Owl. I couldn’t resist a closer look and ended up with an encounter closer than I expected. He/she was incredibly beautiful. I could feel the warmth from the owls feathers and the warm smell as I held him/her to my cheek. Wonderful. It was an incredible honour.

Kew Gardens, London

Early to bed then an early rise on Saturday saw us heading to London for the day. To be correct it was a suburb of London, Kew.

Only 2 hours from Bristol, Kew Gardens are set in the lovely surrounding suburb of, surprisingly, Kew!. All the benefits of going to London for a lovely day out without actually going into the city centre.

After I had recovered from the nose bleed shock that they call the entry price (13 quid each) I can happily report that a day spent here is well worth the loss of blood. Take my advice and strongly consider the yearly membership, we are getting a joint one, which provides you free entry for the year plus tickets for 6 additional friends and access to a number of other gardens. Check their website for all the options available

There is so much to tell but only a short amount of time that I am likely to keep your attention, so here is Kew in a whirlwind tour. Doors open at 9.30am and close at 7.30pm with the glasshouses shutting during summer at 5.30pm. We decided to keep the glass houses to the end for some reason that doesn’t seem clear right now. We also took in our own lunch, water and snacks to keep costs down. Plenty of places to picnic but as always never any BBQ facilities supplied like back home. First off we headed to Kew Palace where we looked at the beautifully manicured box hedges, gravelled paths, kitchen garden, vine covered walkways and medicinal gardens. You have to pay extra to get into the palace so we passed on this. We then made a stop at The Orangery restaurant to have a look inside. The building is lovely with spacious ceilings and top to bottom windows that provide a wonderful environment full of light. Of course we had to purchase a coffee and cake from here (breakfast!) and eat it on the lawn. Next there is a large lake which we explored, photographed all the baby ducklings, gosslings etc and generally enjoyed the cooling and peaceful water. We then moved on to the lookout over the Thames River at the end of the park. To get to here we walked through rhododendron gardens, bamboo gardens and the largest compost heap in the UK (surprisingly did NOT smell rank).

It was getting close to lunchtime by now so we headed for Queen Charlotte’s Cottage which was built as a picnic house (seemed appropriate for our own picnic location). I can tell you now they obviously didn’t picnic like we did with our burner, toast maker, meat and cheese selections. We topped this off with a cappuccino. We can be rather civilised when we have to 🙂

The Redwood Grove was quite nice mostly to see the intense red bark of these giants. They are relatively baby trees but still impressive. Then it was on to the Japanese Gateway which to me was amazingly accurate in relation to the style and feel of the gardens I have seen in Kyoto. There is a chinese pagoda next to the Japanese exhibit but we were disappointed that you couldn’t go into it.

By this time it was now about 3pm and we still hadn’t even got to the glasshouses yet. Our feet were starting to get really sore and we were slightly dehydrated as we had drunk all our water so we stopped and filled up at a water fountain. After refilling we headed to the glasshouses before we were no longer able to continue walking!

If you only had half a day and had to choose between two of the enclosed displays I would pick the Temperate House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory (with the Palm House being a very close second). The Temperate House structure is just beautiful in itself without even taking into account the displays inside. While the Princess of Wales Conservatory has a number of unique displays such as a large cactus and succulent collections and a stunning orchid collection. Each has its own unique attributes. As I was already feeling quite dehydrated I found the Palm House to be quite difficult due to the extreme humidity. It was, again, an incredible building with stunning displays of tropical plants but I think we left this too late in the day for me to truly appreciate. Hence why we have decided to get the joint membership so we can come back again and again and again.

Recently opened in the garden is the tree tops walk. Thankfully this is included in the cost of your ticket, personally if it wasn’t included I wouldn’t have paid to do it. A nice walk up to the canopy of the trees where the walkways lead you around the top of the trees so you can see what happens up there. Nice to do but not a key highlight of the day.

Finally, we did the Waterlily House. Loved it in here with the massive bright green lilly leaves. There weren’t that many lillies flowering but those that were were lovely to see.

We managed to spend 9 hours at Kew Gardens and still missed a couple of smaller areas. It is an incredible place to spend a day with the kids, family,as a couple or a day out solo just browsing, reading or generally lazing about. In bad weather you can just focus on the greenhouses or the galleries in the grounds. I would also strongly recommend the Marianne North Gallery to see all her wonderful botanical colour paintings. There is no point me trying to describe the display you just have to go in and see it to believe it. Wonderful!

If I had to pick my favourite items or particular plants from the day it would be the wonderful Atlas Cedar trees, the flowers on the Tulip Tree, listening to the sounds inside a Eculyptus tree through headphones (also inhaling the smell of the eculyptus), the intense citrusy smell of Philadelphus X Lemoinei and finally the hundreds of plants I knew and the thousands I didn’t!

Before hitting the road we found an incredible Italian restaurant called ASK Italian. This place was incredible. The food magnificent, very well priced, service was very friendly and totally focused on ensuring the customer was happy with everything (very rare in England!), there was even a visit to the table from the owner to make sure we enjoyed everything. Glasses were chilled, cutlery polished and good quality finally the desserts were dreamy! What can I say besides 9 out of 10. We will be visiting again.

It was time to hit the road as the sun dropped below the horizon bringing the end to an incredible day. Kew Gardens? Well worth every penny, and more.

One of those moments

I was in London for work over the past two days. I came out of my hotel this morning to head for work which is based at Millbank, right on the River Thames (next to MI5 if I might add). Anyway, I had one of those "oh my goodness" moments when I had to call Steve. Here I was walking down along the Thames River with Big Ben and the parlimentary buildings in front of me, the Millenium wheel, full sunshine and walking along into work past all the tourists. I don’t really have that much of a passion for London but this was one of those days when you just go "I can’t believe I am here". Totally cool. Thought I would just share that with you. Now however, I have had a very long day after a long day at work, my train trip home, straight to a birthday party down at Bristol Harbour and now time for bed. Night.

Sorry – out sick

This weekend was a dud one. Not feeling too crash hot this weekend and as I am spending two days in London this week for work I really needed to have a quiet one. So besides visiting a friend for dinner and returning my library books that was about as exciting as it got. How tragic! Good news is that we are both feeling a bit better. Seriously, this country is going to kill us with all its bugs. Heaven help us if Avian Influenza decides to jump species!

I have recently finished a book though that might be of interest. Titled “Lift the Label” which is about arming yourself with the knowledge as to where your goods come from and taking this forward to make changes in your life. Knowing how they were produced, where, and by what means. From a Christian perspective it then outlines the charge to us from a biblical aspect as to how the bible points out to us that our duty is to protect those weaker and more vulnerable than us. To put into action the commandment “to love your neighbour as yourself” and taking control of your purchasing power to ensure it doesn’t harm others. Not stopping there it talks about how to be “wind changers” . A person who brings about change by talking to others. I would suggest this means not harping on at them and making them feel bad about their choices in comparison to yours (as many people do) but imparting knowledge and guidance so people know that there are choices and what those choices mean. Showing a committment to your choices and being a positive advocate in what you do and say. In saying all this though I am finding that there are many obvious choices I can make i.e. the very large range of Fairtrade products which I can substitute where possible, however the really hard task is clothing. I have a general idea what I am looking for i.e. if it is extremely cheap, someone paid the price for it, hence I look elsewhere. However, what clothes can I buy that are ethically traded (besides t-shirts!) or other shapeless, badly designed clothes. If anyone knows somewhere that does great, ethically traded clothes, please let me know.