Exploring the North York Moors National Park

We were nearing the end of 2 weeks on the road visiting some of the National Parks of England. Concentrating on the North, we had so far spent time in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District and Northumberland National Parks and now it was back to Yorkshire to visit the second of its 2 National Parks, the North York Moors.

A flying visit to Whitley Bay en route to North York Moors National Park

Leaving Ashington, our base for Northumberland National Park, we travelled down the coast making an early morning stop north of the city of Newcastle at Whitley Bay where we took a brisk walk along the seafront. We then bypassed Newcastle City and crossed the Tyne Bridge and made a second stop, this time to see the famous Angel of the North sculpture up close (it was smaller than we thought it would be!).

Whitby views from the top of the 199 Steps

It was then time to continue on back to Yorkshire where we eventually passed a sign to say we were within the boundaries of the North York Moors National Park. We had decided to assign the afternoon to visiting the coastal area of the park, leaving the next day, our only full day in the park, to get out onto the moors. So with that in mind, we followed the road signs to the seaside town of Whitby.

View of Whitby Abbey and church on the cliff top

Arriving at midday on a Sunday, we soon found ourselves in a queue of traffic into the town and into the harbour car parks. After a few loops of all the car parks in the area with no sign of any spaces becoming available any time soon, we decided to give up and head back out of town to the park and ride we had passed a mile or so out! Here, there were plenty of spaces available and,for £5 each, we got a return bus ticket into town.

It was the first time I had used public transport since the pandemic began but the buses were regular enough to be pretty quiet and it didn’t take long for them to reach the town centre.

The beach at Whitby

Whitby was busy enough that we felt the need to wear our face coverings in some parts of the town, mainly narrow streets that were like bottleneck, pushing people walking in every direction together into small spaces but once we got away from the main streets and harbour area, it was easier to socially distance and we felt much safer.

Whitby harbour

We followed signposts to Whitby Abbey, walking up the 199 Steps to the church grounds at the top and stopping there for a while to take in the views over the bay (and catch our breath!). Entrance to the Abbey was by pre-booked ticket only and we had decided not to go in but it was possible to see quite a bit of the Abbey building from outside.

Returning to the town, we got ice creams from Sprinkles Ice Cream Parlour then walked along the pier and down by the beach before catching the bus back to the car park and driving to check in at our hotel. As with the other National Parks we had visited, we would again be staying just outside of the park to keep the cost down, this time staying 2 nights at a Premier Inn near Middlesbrough.

The Goathland Hotel aka The Aidensfield Arms

On day 2, we drove back into the park this time taking the scenic route driving along more narrow, steep roads, passing through the small town of Grosmont, across pretty heather covered moors and and eventually arriving at our destination of Goathland.

The ‘Aidensfield Stores’

Goathland is well known as the village which doubled as Aidensfield in 90s TV show ‘Heartbeat’ and the town continues to play on this connection keeping up a sign saying ‘The Aidensfield Arms’ on the side of The Goathland Hotel, and shops such as the Aidensfield Village Store still selling Heartbeat related souvenirs.

After parking up, we walked straight through the village past all the shops and cafes and headed down the road toward the Mallyan Hotel, dodging the many sheep roaming freely around the roads, pavements and grass verges everywhere!

At the side of the Mallyan Hotel, is the trail head leading to Mallyan Falls. Taking a circular route, we followed the trail down lots of steps into a wooded area then along the river before scrambling over precariously balances rocks to finally see the waterfall come into view!

Views hiking from the waterfall back to Goathland
Stopping off in Beck Hole

Scrambling back over the rocks to the path, we then followed it alongside the river, up and down more steep steps and past some fields to the tiny village of Beck Hole where we stopped for a quick break next to the river before following the path for a long uphill walk back to Goathland.

After a walk around the village, we returned to the car just after midday and began our drive towards the south end of the park and the Hole of Horcrum. We parked at Saltergate car park from which there are sweeping views of the Hole of Horcrum. After taking lots of photos, we turned right and followed the path around the edge. From here it was possible to turn left and follow a path down into the hole or to continue around the edge. We continued straight on, crossing a stile onto a path that lead through Levisham Moor, surrounded by purple heather.

The Hole of Horcrum
Walking the moors along the perimeter of the Hole of Horcrum

While it is possible to do a complete loop of the Hole of Horcrum, we had only paid for 2 hours parking, not long enough to complete the 5 mile circular route, so after a while, we turned back and retraced our steps back to the car park.

Another view of the Hole of Horcrum

After lunch overlooking the Hole of Horcrum, we continued our drive through the park heading towards Pickering, then looping back north through the pretty riverside village of Hutton-le-Hole.

From here we continued to follow the road north as it opened out into beautiful hill top moorland, driving carefully to avoid the sheep milling around on the roadside or even in the road itself and stopping at pull in points to get out and enjoy the view.

At the Danby National Park Centre

Our final stop of the day was in Danby at the National Park Visitor Centre. The centre was part gift shop and part interactive exhibition centre with displays outlining the history of the park. After having a look around, we took a stroll around its woodland walk area before returning to the car and waving goodbye to the North York Moors National Park.

It had been a fun 2 weeks road tripping around the north of England to visit a total of 5 National Parks and we found that they all had something special to offer and that maybe we should make more time in the future to spend time exploring what is really just on our doorstep!

Watch my adventures in the North York Moors here:

Northumberland National Park

And a flying visit to Scotland!

A quick visit to Scotland and below, visiting Gretna’s Blacksmiths shops

A hastily arranged 2-week road trip visiting the National Parks of the northern England had so far taken us to the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District National Parks. Now we were travelling further north to see Northumberland National Park, a park which before planning this trip, I admit I didn’t know existed! I mean, I knew of the area of Northumberland but just didn’t realise that part of it had national park status!

Looking at our route to the park from our Cockermouth base in the Lake District, we noticed just how close we were to the Scottish border so we decided to make an unscheduled pit stop in Gretna Green, pulling in to grab photos with the Welcome to Scotland sign then paying a quick visit to the Famous Blacksmiths Shop, a tourist stop with shops, restaurants and conveniences.

Housesteads Fort

Waving goodbye to Scotland, it was back to England to drive towards Hexham and visit Hadrian’s Wall. We had booked a timed entry ticket into Housesteads Fort, the ruins of an old Roman Fort next to part of the wall. Housesteads is jointly owned by the National Trust and English Heritage and is therefore free to members of both although there was a standard charge to park.

The fort ruins

Once parked up, we made our way up a long, uphill path towards the ruins in the distance. At the top of the hill, there was a building with a queue outside so we assumed we had to first go here to get our tickets scanned and gain entrance to the fort grounds. In fact, this was a small museum about Hadrian’s Wall.

Our tickets allowed us entry to the museum so we had a quick look around before walking back towards the ruins. Here there was an entry point and our tickets were scanned before we were allowed in to explore.

Stood on Hadrian’s Wall

With the ruins being outside and visitor numbers being kept low with timed entry tickets, we were not required to wear a face covering but were advised that there was a one way system in place around the ruins. It was interesting to see the remains of the Roman fort. Sections of the buildings were labelled as to what room they would have been and there were information boards providing more details and history as to what we were looking at.

Hadrian’s Wall ran along the rear of the ruins so we made sure we had photos with it before we left.

Hiking to Sycamore Gap

It is possible to walk from Houseteads to Sycamore Gap, one of the most photographed parts of Northumberland National Park but as it was a wet and windy afternoon, we decided to drive back on ourselves slightly to Steel Rigg car park from which the walk to Sycamore Gap was shorter.

At Sycamore Gap

We took a circular walk heading out alongside Hadrian’s Wall, scrambling up and over some steep hills before finally emerging at Sycamore Gap where a lone sycamore tree lies in the valley between 2 hills. From here, we returned to the car park on a less hilly public footpath path through fields and over stiles.

After our brisk walk in the wind and rain, we continued to our base for the next 2 nights, a Premier Inn in Ashington, north of the city of Newcastle and just outside the Northumberland National Park’s boundaries.

Entering Northumberland National Park

This was the park we had done the least amount of research on only really knowing that we wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall so that evening we used the park’s official website to look up walks we could do in other areas of the park.

Riverside walk in the Cheviots

So the following day, we decided to drive north towards the Cheviot Hills area of the park. Here, we parked in Hethpool car park and followed an easy circular walking route alongside a river, past Hethpool Linn waterfall and through fields offering views of the Cheviots Hills. We were hoping to spot a wild Cheviot goat or two along the way but unfortunately couldn’t spot any on the hills!

From Hethpool, we drove back to the pretty town of Wooler where we visited a local bakery for tea and cake before heading into the Beamish Valley area of the park. We pulled into Bulby’s Wood car park to eat our picnic lunch by the river.

View of the Simonside Hills driving through Northumberland National Park

Next we drove to the town of Rothbury. Parking slightly out of town, we followed the riverside path into the centre, looking around the shops there before looping back around.

From Rothbury, we took the scenic route back to Ashington driving south through Northumberland National Park towards Elsdon, pulling over regularly to enjoy the scenery before heading east back to our hotel for the evening.

While we had enjoyed our time in Northumberland National Park, we wish we had looked into what the park had to offer a bit more past the obvious visit to the Hadrian’s Wall area. Our favourite part of the day had been our drive through the park from Rothbury towards Elsdon and wished we had reached this part of the park earlier in the day and had time to do some walks here.

But for now, it was time to leave for our final park on our 2 week road trip, the North York Moors.

Watch my vlog of my trip to Northumberland National Park here:

Visiting the Lake District

Hastily rearranging our planned 5-week tour of US National Parks to a 2-week tour of UK National Parks, the Lake District was my ‘must do’, somewhere I had talked about visiting for as long as I could remember but never getting around to making plans to actually go!

So following on from our 3 nights in the Peak District and 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales, we would be making the Lake District our next 3-night stop on our road trip.

Visiting the animals at the farm park

Trying to emulate some of the activities we would have down on our US trip, we stopped off along the way at Lakeland Maze Farm Park to have a go at their giant Maize Maze. Usually, this would have been a “let’s see what the weather is like on the day and decide then if we want to do it” type of activity but with Covid-restrictions rendering spontaneity obsolete, if we wanted to visit any type of attraction, it had to be pre-booked well in advance. Unfortunately, it had rained most of the morning for our hike around the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail in the Yorkshire Dales and as we left there, there was no sign of a change in this weather as we drove north-west.

Stuck in a huge maze in the rain, traipsing through mud and huge puddles, wasn’t the most fun we had all trip and as the rain got heavier, we resorted to using the maze map we had been handed as we checked in to find our way out quicker than we otherwise would have! Once safely out, we spent a bit of time saying hello to the animals at the farm before continuing to our Travelodge accommodation at the north end of the Lake District National Park in Cockermouth.

Lake side at Ambleside
Down by Lake Windermere – Ambleside Marina

For our first full day in the park, we had pre-booked a return boat trip across Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the park, travelling from Ambleside to Bowness-on-Windermere. Luckily, seeing as we’d booked outside seating on the boats, the weather had dramatically improved from yesterday and the sun was even trying to shine!

Our transport across the lake

Expecting the Lake District to be the busiest of the National Parks on our road trip, we had booked the first boat of the day to take us to Bowness. We parked up for the day in Ambleside town on the large, and rather expensive, Miller Bridge car park from where it was a mile walk to the waterfront. Being early, the car park was almost empty. After taking some pictures of the lake, we checked in and boarded the boat to Bowness.

Crossing Lake Windermere with Lake Windermere Cruises

With the boat acting as public transport between the towns, we were required to wear our face coverings for the duration of the 30 minute journey and every other row of seats was blocked off to ensure social distancing between parties.

It was a pleasant ride across the lake and once in Bowness, we had just over 2 hours to explore before we had to be back at the marina to catch the boat we had booked back to Ambleside.

Walking to Post Knott

Before departing, we had looked up short walks that could be done in the area and decided on a 1.5 mile walk to Post Knott for views over the lake. The mainly uphill walk took us through the busy town and then along a steep public footpath bring us out at Biskey Howe Toposcope. The views here were already pretty impressive and we took a moment to take some photos and catch our breath before following the route instructions we had downloaded and continuing on to Post Knott for more views over the lake before retracing our steps back into the town.

View from Post Knott
Bowness-on-Windermere marina and, below, at Cockshott Point

After stopping off at one of the many bakeries on offer to grab a slice of delicious looking cake, we walked back towards the marina and took the short lakeside stroll to Cockshott Point, a grassy lakefront area with a stony beach and we sat here to eat our cakes before wandering back in time to catch our return boat to Ambleside.

Bridge House, Ambleside

Once back, we strolled into Ambleside town and had a pre-booked lunch at the George Hotel before spending the afternoon looking around. Ambleside was smaller and slightly less busy than Bowness. We found our way to Bridge House, a small house built on top of a bridge which you can normally go in and look around but was currently closed due to Covid restrictions, and then we took the circular hike out into the woodlands to see Stock Ghyll Force, a nearby waterfall.

After a busy day, we walked back to the car park where we found cars now queuing to get in and find a space and as we drove out of Ambleside, we passed miles of traffic queuing to get into the town even though it was now late afternoon proving we were right about this being the busiest of the parks we would be visiting.

View from Whinlatter Pass on the way to Whinlatter Forest Park

Day 2 in the Lake District and, again trying to replicate activities we’d have down on our planned US road trip, we had booked a segway adventure at Whinlatter Forest Park. We arrived at 10am to find an already packed car park and only just managed to find a space to park up in then went to check in for activity.

Segway fun at Whinlatter Forest Park

We had segwayed multiple times on our visits to the US and in Europe but it had always been in city centres whereas in the UK, it’s only allowed off-road on private land. Our previous segwaying adventures had always been lengthy 2-3 hour tours but today’s would be just an hour, 20 minutes of which were spent setting us all up on the segways and practising before our segways were finally put into the easier to use full-power mode.

Riding on a gravelly surface with lots of quite steep up and down sections made the session more challenging – and a lot more fun – than we had expected and we really appreciated a stop at one of the highest points of the forest park which offered beautiful views across the Lake District. It was an amusing way to spend an hour and we were really glad we had booked it.

The view from one of the highest points in Whinlatter Forest Park

Segway session over, we returned to the car to find the packed car park had now been closed off with ‘sorry, we are full up’ signs outside the entrance. I’m not sure what we’d have done if we’d have booked an afternoon segway session!

Narrow roads as we inadvertently drive along Newlands Pass

With no set in stone plan for the rest of the day other than to spend it exploring the Lake District further, we had looked up the possibility of hiring canoes, kayaks or even a motor boat for that afternoon only to find everything fully booked days in advance so instead, we thought we’d do a circular walk of one of the lakes. After some investigation, we had settled on Buttermere Lake which various sites had told us was one of the quieter, lesser visited of the lakes and which only took a few hours to walk the entire circumference. So with that in mind, we started our drive towards the National Trust car park there.

Beautiful scenery along Newlands Pass heading towards Buttermere Lake

What we didn’t realise was that the drive from Whinlatter to Buttermere would take us along Newlands Pass, a beautiful scenic drive but also one of the windiest, steepest one track roads we’ve ever encountered! As we neared Buttermere, the drive was made more challenging by cars parked in pull in places and other inappropriate places slowing down traffic in and out of the village.

Waterfall along Newlands Pass near Buttermere

We could tell straight away that Buttermere was not going to be quiet at all and that we’d be lucky to find a parking spot but we gave it a go anyway trying both of the village car parks to no avail. It would seem that the Lake District, in the summer months at least, is one of those places where you need to get to your destination for the day early, preferably before 10.30am in order to get a parking space and then you need to stay in that place for the rest of the day because if you move on, you’ll probably not find a parking space at your next destination!

The site of our unplanned lunch stop

Unsure where to head for next but knowing that we would not be exiting Buttermere the way we came in – we’re not sure our car would have made it up the 25% gradient hill! – we kept driving until the road widened out and we spotted a place to pull over. It was still pretty scenic where we were and sheep were milling around on the road and in the open meadows around us so we had lunch in the car and, seeing as there was no reception to get on line, consulted a map.

Viewpoint on our circular walk around Grasmere Lake

We decided to try our luck at Grasmere, a town and lake which we had passed on the way to Ambleside the day before. Luckily, Grasmere had a huge car park and an even bigger overflow car park which we easily managed to find a space in! Relieved at finding somewhere to go, we walked into the town centre.

It was very busy with queues reaching around the block to enter its famous Gingerbread store and even for ice cream. We found a quieter ice cream store inside a church cafe and indulged in what we felt was a well-deserved treat then looked up walks we could do in the area as we sat and ate them.

Walking alongside Grasmere Lake

We decided on a 3.7 mile circular walk around Lake Grasmere and screen shot the easy to follow instructions before setting off. The walk took us out of the town and up to a viewpoint then through parkland running alongside the River Rothay where the path eventually opened out to the lakeside before looping back into the town. Apart from the initial steep path up to the viewpoint, the walk was mainly flat and easy and there were beautiful views across the lake. A perfect way to finish off our Lake District adventure!

Next up, 2 nights in Northumberland National Park

Watch my adventures in the Lake District here:

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Entering the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The second stop on my tour of UK National Parks was 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales. Having spent a good portion of the day hiking in the Peak District, it was early evening by the time we arrived. We had again chosen accommodation outside of the park’s boundaries, this time in a Travelodge near the town of Skipton.

For our first of 2 full days in the park, we had booked to visit the nearby Bolton Abbey Estate. The site has 4 car parks to choose from and, having not visited before, we were unsure which to pick but eventually booked into the Riverside car park as it seemed to be somewhere near the middle of the grounds. We deliberately chose an early slot so we could make a full day of our visit and we arrived to find the car park almost empty and just a few dog walkers about.

At Bolton Abbey Estate
The priory ruins at Bolton Abbey

Seeing the priory ruins in the distance, we decided to walk along the river in that direction. It was a pleasant walk and it didn’t take us long to reach the priory. We were able to look inside the chapel which is still used for services and then we walked around to explore the ruins behind the main building structure.

From here, we walked back towards the river heading for the park of the estate we were most looking forward to – the Bolton Abbey stepping stones. Here, visitors can choose to cross a rather wide section of the river by hopping across a series of stepping stones.

It was harder than it looked with some of the stones being quite widely spread and one or two wobbling a bit as we trod on them and as much fun as it was, it was also quite a relief to safely reach the other side!!

The Valley of Desolation

After walking back along the other side of the river and making a quick visit to the cafe near the Riverside car park for a delicious locally produced chocolate Brownie, we followed signposts to walk to the Valley of Desolation. It was a relatively short and easy walk out to the very pretty waterfall.

After a picnic lunch, we finished our visit with a walk along one of the shorter trails through the ancient woodland of Strid Wood. An information board as we entered this area of the estate showed maps of the circular walks available and details on the length and difficulty of each walk and we found coloured the signposting of the trails once we were in the woods to be really easy to follow.

By the time we left Bolton Abbey Estate mid-afternoon, the car park was full and the park was extremely busy with families walking, picnicking and playing in the river and we were glad we’d thought to come early and seen it while it was quiet first thing in the morning.

Next, we drove to the town of Pateley Bridge to visit England’s Oldest Sweet Shop. On the drive there we had our first experience of some of the park’s narrower, steeper roads which were even less fun to drive along in the worsening weather. The quaint town of Pateley Bridge was busy for a Sunday afternoon and we had to queue for 10 minutes or so to enter the traditional sweet shop. After browsing the shelves and buying a couple of gifts, we called into a cafe further along the street for ice creams before driving back to our hotel.

At the Upper Falls

Day 2 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park we drove to the north end of the park, starting the day with a walk to Aysgarth Falls. Arriving just after 10am, we parked at the very quiet National Park Visitor Centre car park and followed the signposts across the main road to pick up the trail leading past the different parts of the falls. The trail took us through woodland to the Middle Falls then to Lower Falls before looping back to the now packed car park.

Arriving at Wensleydale Creamery

From here we followed the signs pointing in the opposite direction to the short trail to the Upper Falls. It was another easy, mainly flat walk along the trail and it didn’t take long to see all three waterfalls. While we enjoyed the walk, the falls themselves were not as spectacular as the Valley of Desolation waterfall at Bolton Abbey.

From Aysgarth Falls, we drove to the busy town of Hawes to visit Wensleydale Creamery. As well as a shop, restaurant and cafe, the creamery also offers the Wensleydale Cheese Experience – a museum and interactive exhibit which also allows you to peak in at the Wensleydale factory.

At the moment, some of the more interactive exhibitions are closed due to Covid restrictions so the entrance price has been reduced to reflect this but it didn’t stop visitors from wanting to enter and we faced a 30 minute wait to get our ticket and enter! The museum and its exhibits were interesting but our favourite part was watching the cheese being made in the factory.

Peering into the factory at the Wensleydale Cheese Experience

With queues for the Wensleydale shop reaching back and around the corner, we decided to follow our visit to the Wensleydale Cheese Experience with lunch at the Creamery’s cafe in hope that the store queues would subside in the meantime. After a delicious Wensleydale and Yorkshire Red Cheese on Toast lunch, we found the store queues had not gone down much at all so sucked it up and joined the end.

It took about half an hour to reach the main gift store but after looking around that, we then had another 10 minute wait to enter the cheese section! We couldn’t leave without buying some Wensleydale to take home with us though.

Ribblehead Viaduct

Although our visit to Wensleydale Creamery had taken a lot longer than we had anticipated with all the queues, we still had a good portion of the afternoon left so we decided to drive back to the southern end of the park for a stop at the village of Malham. Along the way we passed Ribblehead Viaduct so pulled over to take a few photos before continuing our drive along more narrow, steep, winding roads.

Malham Cove in the distance

While Malham village itself is a lovely place for a quick stop with its array of pubs and cafes, we were there to do the walk to Malham Cove, a curved, limestone cliff just outside of the town. We parked at the National Park Visitor Centre car park and walked through the busy town to the trail head. The trail ran alongside a babbling stream and with the sun deciding to suddenly shine, it was a pretty settling for an afternoon stroll.

It didn’t take long at all to reach the cliff face and we stopped there for a while to watch some adventurous rock climbers scale it before retracing our steps back to Malham and driving back to our Skipton hotel for the evening.

We had one more morning left in the Yorkshire Dales National Park before driving to our next stop, the Lake District, and we planned to spend it at the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, a 5 mile circular trail that takes in 5 waterfalls as well as woodland and views of the Yorkshire Dales. The trail is on private land and therefore an entrance fee of £7 per person is charged. Parking was free of charge and again, arriving early at 10am, the large car park was quiet.

Unfortunately, we picked a grey, miserable day with some heavy downpours but while it made the trail muddy and slippery in parts, it did seem to make the falls look more dramatic! It took us just over 2 hours to complete the trail and we stopped for a look around the shops in the village of Ingleton before returning to the car park for a picnic in the car as the rain started bouncing again.

It had been a fun few days in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and we definitely felt we had got a good taster of what the park has to offer. Like with the Peak District, we could have easily filled another day or so hiking out to other beauty spots in the park or visiting other towns and villages and we would happily return to the area in the future.

Watch my trip vlog here:

Find out what I got up to on the next leg of my road trip, visiting the Lake District, here.

A short break in the Peak District

Deciding to spend 2 weeks on a road trip around some of the UK’s National Parks, none of which I’d spent any time in before, we kicked off our trip with 3 nights in the Peak District National Park.

To keep costs down, we had chose to stay in a chain budget hotel in the Derbyshire town of Chesterfield, right on the edge of the park and no more than 40 minutes drive from any of the areas on our ‘to see’ list.

A stop by the river in Matlock

As we made our way to the hotel midweek in the middle of August, it was an uncomfortably hot day with thunderstorms predicted for the evening and rain forecast for the next 3 days. Not exactly the perfect weather for a visit to a place where we planned to spend the majority of our time outside walking! We briefly entered the Derbyshire Dales part of the park that afternoon with a stop in the town of Matlock.

Looking down from a viewpoint on a walk towards High Tor.

Having spent a week planning our trip, we had discussed the possibility of visiting Matlock Bath’s Heights of Abraham attraction, a cable car ride up a cliff side with panoramic views and a range of attractions on offer from the top but as it was our travel day, we were unsure on what time, or even if, we’d make it on time for a stop in the area and, of course, with Covid-restrictions in place, any activities had to be booked in advance. As we left that morning, ride slots were still available for that afternoon but, making good time, we checked again as we nearer the area to find they had now all sold out. We realised that spontaneity on visiting attractions this trip was out of the question and we were going to have to book well in advance for anything else like this we wanted to do on this trip.

Instead of the cable car ride, we spent some time wandering into Matlock town and through it’s pretty park then back along the river detouring up a steep path towards High Tor to a view point before wandering into the neighbouring Matlock Bath, where we found a very touristy High Street lined with arcades, fish and chip shops and random money-grabbing attractions. In an attempt to avoid the busy footpaths, we crossed over to Derwent Gardens, a riverside park, and took a stroll along the river before returning to our car and continuing our drive to our Chesterfield hotel which would be our base for the next 3 nights.

Officially entering the Peak District National Park

For our first full day in the Peak District, we had booked an early slot to visit the recently reopened Chatsworth House and gardens near Bakewell. As we drove into the park we spotted a millstone boundary marker and seeing as it is a bit of a tradition on our US National Park trips to get a photo with the park entrance signs, we decided to pull over and do the same here!

Chatsworth House and, below, inside the house

Organisation at Chatsworth House was well done. We were careful to arrive just before our ticketed time slot and after parking, we had our mobile tickets scanned and were shown to an area where sinks with hot running water had been installed and asked to go up in our social groups to thoroughly wash our hands then put our face coverings on before being allowed into the house.

Only a few tickets were available for each time slot to cut down the number of people in the house at one time and a one way system was in operation around the property and we were asked to distance from the other groups that we were not attending with. This mainly worked except for times when groups in front stopped for an extended period to look at something or ask questions of the staff. If the corridors or rooms we were in were narrow at this point, it meant you were unable to overtake and had to wait for the groups in front to move on before you could get any further causing some queues to advance to the next room.

After looking around the house, we went for a walk around the impressive gardens. On a nice day, it would be possible to spend the day just in the gardens at Chatsworth alone but although we hadn’t had the thunder and rain storms which had been forecast, there was the occasional drizzle and the threat of rain in the air so after wandering down to the fountains and through the rock garden we decided to call our visit a day and move on.

Bakewell Bridge and, below, some of the many Bakewell bakeries on offer in the town

Since it was only a few miles away, we decided to head to the town of Bakewell next. We found that the signposts to the car parks around the town would disappear before we actually found the car park we were aiming for and ended up at a large, but seemingly very out of town parking area in a field. After parking up and paying for a couple of hours’ stay, we found there we weren’t on the outskirts after all and there was actually a shortcut into the centre over a bridge across the river. While the town had attempted to encourage visitors to socially distance with roadside parking areas now being use as coned off pavement extensions, we still found the town to be way too busy for our liking. We visited the National Park Centre there to pick up some souvenirs but unfortunately, the few park exhibitions there were cordoned off due to Covid restrictions so the centre was operating as little more than a gift shop. From here we made our way to the famous Bakewell Pudding shop and glanced through the window at the baked goodies on offer. The puddings themselves didn’t look particularly appetising and the cakes on offer seemed alittle overpriced so we moved on to find another bakery eventually settling on the Bakewell tart shop where we got a very generous portion of Bakewell tart for a more reasonable price.

We finished our visit to the town with a walk along the river to see the historic Bakewell Bridge before returning to the car and driving on to the town of Buxton.

St Anne’s Well in Buxton

Buxton was much quieter. We parked at the Pavilion Gardens and walked past the Buxton Pavilion into the lower part of the town where we visited the old Pump Room which now doubles as a visitor centre. While mainly just a gift store now, part of the building has been left as it would have been in Victorian times and information boards give an insight into the spa town’s past. Just outside is the historic St Anne’s Well from which you can fill your water bottle with natural spring water.

Part of the original Pump Room at the Buxton Visitors Centre

We picked up a leaflet outlining the Buxton Heritage Trail from the visitor centre which contained a town map pointing out the highlights. Many of the places mentioned were around the visitor centre area so it didn’t take long to walk to some of these. We finished our visit with a walk through the beautiful Pavilion Gardens before driving to the nearby Buxton Country Park for a late afternoon walk up to Soloman’s Temple.

Hiking in the Peak District – walking to Soloman’s Temple and, below, Soloman’s Temple and the view from the top

Rather than using the main car park, we parked at a smaller car park at the back of the park from which it was an easy hike to the rotunda on top of a hill. It was possible to climb a few stairs to the top of the building from which there were 360 degree views across the Peak District. The country park was a really great place to walk and get out in the open after spending time in the busy towns.

With the weather forecast now showing sunny spells rather than the originally forecast rain, we decided to spend the next day cycling the Monsal Trail, a former rail line now converted into a space for walking and cycling stretching from Bakewell to Wye Valley. Bikes can be hired from either end so we drove to the old Hassop Station near Bakewell and parked up for the day, arriving around 10am so there’d still be plenty of bikes to rent.

Map of the Monsal Trail at Hassop Station
Cycling across Monsal Viaduct

Cycling towards Wye Valley, the track was at a very slight, almost unnoticeable incline. It was just under 8 miles to the end of the trail and we’d been provided with maps showing the villages lying just off the trail should we want to visit them as well as the position of the Monsal Viaduct and the four tunnels along the route (which were great fun cycling through!!) so we could track our progress along the way. We chose not to leave the trail to venture into these villages at any point but there was a cafe at the old Millers Dale station directly on the trail which we stopped at for a well lunch. Once at the end of the trail, we turned around and cycled back the other way.

Another view along the Monsal Trail

Instead of returning our bikes as soon as we got back to Hassop station, we continued on to Bakewell to ensure we had fully completed the trail. It was a short downhill ride from the old station at Bakewell into the town centre and we headed straight to a cafe we had seen the day before to get well-deserved ice creams. Exhausted, we wheeled our bikes back up the hill to Bakewell station again and picked the trail back up to ride the mile back in the other direction to Hassop and finally return our bikes.

Although it is possible to complete the whole trail in under 2 hours, we took our time on the outbound cycle, stopping regularly to enjoy the views and read the information signs dotted along the trail and managed to make a day out of the activity, not returning our bikes until 3.30pm – more than 5 hours after we hired them. A really fun day out!

The trail head for Mam Tor

The next day, we’d be leaving the Peak District National Park for our next stop in the Yorkshire Dales National Park but we had one more activity planned that morning before heading off. Having spent most of our time in the south of the park we drove a bit further north instead to the Hope Valley region where we planned to walk up Mam Tor, a large hill in the High Peak area of the park. It was a Saturday and as we drove to the National Trust owned car park, we found cars already parked all along the roads around the area wherever they could fit. It was only 10am but the site was extremely busy and the car park was very tight, made worse again by people parking where they shouldn’t and not just in the marked bays. Luckily as we struggled to manoeuvre our way out of one section of the car park, someone parked there left and we managed to grab their space. Our National Trust membership gave us free paring here.

Mam Tor now in the distance as we make our way back along the circular walking route

We followed the circular walking route from the National Trust’s website for our walk but many people were just walking to the peak of Mam Tor then returning back down the way they came. The instructions for the walk were easy to follow and the walk wasn’t too difficult at all with the steps up to the peak of Mam Tor not being too steep. The worst part was descending along a narrow, overgrown, sandy trail down the side of the hill towards the woods.

Evidence of a landslide walking back from Mam Tor

Once back down on the ground, the last part of the trail back up hill to the car park seemed to go on forever, especially as we seemed to complete the trail up to that point pretty quickly, but there were plenty of places to stop for a breather under the pretense of taking in the scenery!

And with that it was time to say goodbye to the Peak District. It had been a fun few days and we felt we had fit a lot in but as always, there was plenty more on our list of possible things to do which we hadn’t got around to such as walking in The Roaches near Leek or touring some of the many caverns in the area. I guess I’ll just have to go back someday!

Watch my vlog of my trip here:

Find out what I got up to at the next National Park on my road trip, the Yorkshire Dales, here.

A UK National Parks Staycation

Like many people, I had big trvel plans for this year, namely a 5-week mammoth USA road trip passing through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Arizona visiting a variety of National Parks. Luckily, while our route was planned, we hadn’t got very far in the booking process with just our return flights to LA and our first 2 nights’ hotel accommodation booked by the time we went into lockdown. We put our planning on hold and thankfully, as it became more and more apparent that our trip had no chance of going ahead, our flights with Norwegian Airlines were cancelled and promptly fully refunded and we went ahead and cancelled our LA hotel reservation.

While travel to the USA was out of the question, as restrictions in the UK slowly began to be lifted, we started to wonder if a trip here would be a summer possibility. While I’ve extensively explored the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and a range of European cities, there is very little of my own country I have spent time seeing in anywhere near as much detail. Trips here for me mainly consist of city breaks to see a concert where more time is often spent travelling to and getting ready for our night out than sightseeing, or a few days somewhere on the Welsh coast walking my dog on the same 4 or 5 beaches each time. With our original trip being based on visiting USA National Parks, we wondered if we should maybe spend some time in the UK Parks.

So, still unsure if our trip would even become a possibility, we tentatively started doing some research.

With Wales and Scotland under separate rules and restrictions to here in England, we decided we should plan to stay away from the parks there in case we were still not allowed across the borders by the time August rolled around. That straight away cut down the possibilities to 10 English National Parks. The Norfolk Broads on the east coast, the Southern Downs, New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor in the south and the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Lake District and Northumberland National Parks to the North. Living in the Midlands, any direction would suit me as nowhere is very far in comparison to the distances we’d have driven in the US.

After some research, we decided rather than being over ambitious and attempting a full 5-week road trip taking in all of the parks when local lockdowns were very likely to come into force and disrupt our plans, we would concentrate on the parks in one area of the country and aim to spend about 10-14 days on our trip. Having seen a number of reports on crowds rushing to the south of England, we eventually decided to head to the parks in the north and came up with a 14 day itinerary during which we would hopefully spend time in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Northumberland and then the North York Moors. We’d begin our adventure midweek to avoid weekend traffic and made sure the days spent in the Lake District, the park we expected to be busiest, were also midweek when it might be slightly quieter.

By the time that it looked as if lockdown would be relaxed enough for our ideas to possibly come to fruition, we found that with everyone being forced into staycations, accommodation options were either very limited or extremely expensive so rather than staying in the parks themselves, we opted for chain hotels in towns on the outskirts of the park – making sure we went for the fully cancellable room options of course, just in case!

Hotels booked, a basic plan of possible activities was next. Covid restrictions meant spontaneity was not as much a possibility as usual. Attractions including National Trust properties, farm parks, boat trips etc were all working on a time-slot booking system and spots were filling up quickly but we were pleased to see most places offering transferable or even refundable tickets in case circumstances changed and visitors couldn’t it.

We wanted to stick with outdoor activities for the main part anyway so were banking on the weather staying mainly dry at least so we could busy ourselves with a range of walks to see the parks’ highlights. In preparation, we found the postcodes for all the car parks we might use and collected together as much change as possible – which is more difficult than it sounds in a world where contactless card payments are preferred everywhere – in case any of the park machines were cash only.

With the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme running Mon-Wed throughout August, park attractions weren’t the only thing we couldn’t be spontaneous with. Most restaurants were also operating a book ahead only policy so we had to think ahead as to where to eat on our trip sometimes booking more than a week in advance. Staying in the towns on the outskirts of the parks at least gave us more choice with this and allowed us to vary our cuisine a bit more. The scheme helped us to keep the cost of the trip down a lot along with finding various online vouchers to use at chain restaurants for the remaining days of the week and we kept the cost of eating out down further still by carrying a box of cereal with us for breakfast, buying rolls to make our own lunch and even taking a flask of hot water with us each day to make our own tea!

As we set off for the Peak District, we were fully expecting to have to give up and head home from our trip before reaching the end either due to weather issues or local lockdowns suddenly coming in but surprisingly we made it to all 5 of the parks on our list without interruption. It was certainly very different from our experiences of visiting the National Parks of America in the past with the UK parks being large areas containing lived and worked in towns and villages rather than being actual parks like in the US with an entrance, exit and a route to follow through taking you past all the highlights. We discovered early on that it was best to mainly keep out of the villages and towns after we arrived in Bakewell to find crowded streets and very little social distancing going on and from that point forward we aimed for open spaces where we could hike out to beauty spots on easy to follow trails, keeping a distance from others.

It was great to see a bit more of our own country, to get out into the countryside and go hiking and to drive through such beautiful scenery and while not quite as exciting as the trip we had planned, it was an adventure we would probably never have planned or experienced in normal circumstances.

Keep checking back for my write up of what we got up to in each park starting with our visit to the Peak District!

Touring the Deep South USA: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Entering the state of Georgia en route to Tennessee

Day 2 of our 8-day tour across the Deep South USA with Trek America and a pre-tour stay in New Orleans and an interesting start to the trip in Alabama, we were now driving through a corner of the state of Georgia and into Tennessee – the state where we’d actually be spending 5 of the 7 nights of our trip.

A game of Cards Against Humanity on the van

Keeping ourselves occupied on the van with a group game of Card Against Humanity and making a few stops along the way to stretch our legs (including one at a gas station in Georgia so we could all officially say we’d set foot in that state!), the time passed quickly and we were soon arriving in our first Tennessee destination of Gatlinburg.

Setting foot in Georgia state

Having not left Birmingham, Alabama until mid-afternoon, it was already dark as we pulled up to our hotel on the main Gatlinburg strip. We were given an hour to settle in before meeting in the lobby to head to dinner together.

Arriving at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and below, a dusting of snow on the trees

We followed our tour guide to the Smoky Mountain Brewery for dinner where I had one of the nicest pizzas I’ve ever eaten! Some of the group sampled some of the the beers on offer and stayed on at the bar after but as we had an early start the next day, most of us headed back to the motel.

The following day would mainly be spent exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As a huge fan of the American National Parks, this was the day of the trip I was most looking forward to. After a pit stop at a local supermarket to grab sandwiches for lunch and snacks and drinks for hiking, we drove the short distance from Gatlinburg to the entrance of the park, jumping out the van for the traditional photo with the park sign.

First stop, the Visitor Centre!

The area had experienced its first snow of the season, just a light dusting over night but enough to linger on the trees this morning. As we drove further into the park we were all agape at just how beautiful it looked – the autumn colours of the trees mixed with the glistening snow. Our guide pulled over a few times so we could take pictures but they failed to capture the beauty before us in full.

Views changing as we drive through the park

Our first main stop in the park was at Sugarlands Visitor Centre to use the facilities and pick up any maps, leaflets and souvenirs we wanted. After meeting back up at the van, our guide told us that the weather meant the road leading to the area she was planning to take us hiking in was closed so we’d have to make alternative plans.

Beginning our Abrams Falls Trail hike

Instead, we spent well over an hour in the van driving through the park to go hiking in a different area.

The journey didn’t feel anywhere near as long as it was as we passed more stunning scenery – streams and waterfalls glistening through the trees alongside the road, endless woods showing their autumn colours and then wide open stretches of meadowland.

Not a bad spot to sit and have some lunch!

Once we reached our destination near the Cades Cove area of the park, we found the Abrams Falls Trailhead and followed the moderately easy, 5-mile roundtrip hiking trail alongside a river, through woods and rocky areas opening out to Abrams Falls itself – a pretty waterfall and lake.

Here, we sat for lunch, enjoying the view, scrambling over rocks in the lake and climbing up behind the waterfall before hiking back the way we came.

Beautiful autumn colours looking out from the closer to the waterfall

Being tired, what had seemed an easyish hike out, felt longer and more a chore heading back and most of the group slept on the van back to Gatlinburg afterwards!

Downtown Gatlinburg

We were back in Gatlinburg mid-afternoon and had the time to spend as we liked. Making arrangements to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner in the evening, my sister-in-law and I decided to go and explore the small mountain resort town.

Autumn displays decorating the main Strip

As we had driven in the night before, my first impression had been that it was in a similar vein to the holiday towns of Wisconsin Dells and Branson, Missouri – a tourist trap full of souvenir shops and expensive attractions – but as we wondered down the main strip, downtown Gatlinburg endeared itself to me a lot more and seemed to have a lot more charm about it with its surrounding mountains, European mountain resort themed ‘Village Shoppes’ area and its breweries and distilleries dotted around.

Arriving at Ole Smokey Distillery

Later, we met up with the rest of the group deciding on the Texas Roadhouse for dinner – my first visit to an American chain that is now one of my firm favourites! – before visiting the Ole Smoky Moonshine distillery.

Here, we took part in a Moonshine tasting session where for $5, we were provided with shots of Moonshine – various flavours and a range of strengths – to sample along with a hilarious commentary from our fast-talking host.

A band plays outside the distillery

Many of the group bought bottles of Moonshine to take along for the rest of our tour after while the rest of us sat out in the courtyard rocking chairs enjoying a live band playing country music while we waited for them to make their purchases.

Belting out the cheesy pop tunes at karaoke night!

Not wanting the night to end just yet, we found ourselves in a small karaoke bar just off the strip and seemingly full of locals. I’m not sure what they made of us demonstrating our singing talents to a range of cheesy British pop hits by the likes of 5ive and Westlife. Hopefully they appreciated some of the groups’ attempts at some Dolly Parton country classics a bit more!!

Exploring Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains had been a really fun part of our trip and I was already making plans in my head to return to the area on a roadtrip I was mentally planning for the near future as there was so much more of the National Park to see. But for now, it was time for our Deep South adventure to continue and tomorrow morning we’d be leaving for Music City itself, Nashville!

Denver, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park

A trip to the Mile High City

The D&F Building on 16th Street

It had been a busy few weeks. The start of our trip in Vancouver seemed like a lifetime away; Seattle and Portland nothing but a distant memory; 10-days in Alaska had passed in a blink of an eye and now we were onto the final leg of our adventure, a 2 night stopover in Denver, Colorado on the way back to the UK.

Swinging chair fun along 16th Street Mall

Arriving in Denver early morning after an overnight flight from Anchorage, Alaska wasn’t ideal, especially as there were no rooms available for an early check in at our hotel. But we fought through the tiredness, grabbing some lunch to give us some energy, and caught the train into the city centre from the suburb we were staying in.

Colorado State Capitol
The Mile High club

From Union Station, we found our way to 16th Street Mall and started walking towards the state capitol building at the far end. We passed the D & F Tower, stopped to play on some of the twirling chairs laid out in the middle of the street and popped into a few stores along the way but still, the tiredness along with the affects of the high altitude of the ‘Mile High City’, made our walk take a bit longer than it should have!

Finally reaching the state capitol building, we posed for photos on the steps marked ‘one mile high’ then wandered around the park across the street before exhaustedly beginning our walk back.

As we returned, we detoured past the city’s Convention Centre to see the huge blue bear sculpture that appears to be peering into the building!

After a while, we decided to hop onto the free tram that runs up and down the main street to take us back to Union Station.

Posing with some Denver art

We decided to stay on a few extra stops and took a quick walk across to the river before catching the train back to our hotel where it was finally time to check in!

After dinner, our evening was spent catching up on lost sleep.

The next morning we were up early to catch the train back into the city. After grabbing breakfast at a train station cafe, we waited outside to be picked up for our day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Being short on time, we had opted to take a small group one day highlights tour to the park which lies less than 2 hours’ drive from Denver.

A quick rest stop

We were picked up on time by our bubbly tour guide/minibus driver and began to make our way out of the city towards the mountains looming in the distance. We made a stop in a small town just outside of the park to pick up our included lunch orders then continued to the Estes Park entrance of the park.

At Sheep Lakes Overlook

Our first stop inside the park was at Sheep Lakes Overlook, a meadow area, to see if we could spot any wildlife but there wasn’t anything about.

We continued along the road through the park stopping at viewpoints along the way as we gradually climbed to a higher altitude.

View from Falls River

We stopped for lunch at the Falls River Visitor Center Area just as it began to rain, the cloud slightly obscuring the view.

Looking out from the Falls River area
Following the Alpine Ridge Trail

After lunch, we began a rather precarious uphill drive in a thick fog that had descended up to the highest visitor centre in the park, Alpine Visitor Center.

We were given free time here to walk up the Alpine Ridge Trail which ended at a view point over 12000 feet above sea level.

Despite it being a relatively short hike, the high altitude made it physically exhausting and our lungs were burning by the time we reached the peak! Unfortunately, with the cloud, there wasn’t much of a view at the top but we were at least pleased to say we had made it up there.

Spotting a marmot
Beautiful mountain view

After looking around the visitor center, it was back on the bus to begin our descent through the park. We stopped at a boardwalk area to take another short hike to a viewpoint and spotted a marmot sat out on the rocks!

We pulled over a few more times on the road out of the park to enjoy the views now that the cloud was beginning to clear then it was time to leave the park.

We made one last stop on the way back in the town of Estes Park where we bought ice cream and wandered around some of the souvenir stores before heading back to Denver.

Down by the river

Millennium Bridge

I had one more morning in Denver before flying back to the UK.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining so I caught the train back into the city and took a walk along the river.

Spotting a trolley bus traveling along the riverside, I decided to get a ticket and take a ride. The trolley bus took us along the Platte River and back with the driver telling us some of the history of the area.

Back by the Colorado State Capitol

After my stroll along the river, I walked back towards 16th Street Mall. A free tram runs back and forth along the street so I hopped on and took a ride back to the capitol building then walked back towards the station again. Everything looked so much better now the sun was shining!

!6th Street Mall

I detoured off 16th Street to walk to the pretty Larimer Square area, the oldest block in the city and now home to a variety of bars, restaurants, cafes and small independent stores.

After a look around and a bite to eat, it was time to wave the city, and the USA, goodbye after another incredible adventure!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Denver here:

Watch my vlog of my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park here:

Related pages

Alaska: Denali National Park

In Denali Village

As we left our overnight stop at Maclaren River, there was one topic of conversation on the bus – would we join the “30 per cent club” and get to see Mount Denali? We’d been told that the Alaskan Range is so often covered by cloud that few visitors to the park actually see Mount Denali itself but we were all hopeful that over the next 2 days, the weather would clear enough for us to get at least a glimpse!

Arriving in time for lunch, we went straight to Denali Village rather than stopping to check in at our cabin accommodation and had some time to grab a sandwich and look around the local stores before heading into the park itself.

Watching the sled dogs demonstration

Our first stop in the park was at one of the park’s visitor centres to look around and grab any information we wanted for the next few days. The park runs a series of shuttles to take visitors around the park and after a while, we met at the bus stop outside the centre to catch a shuttle to the Denali Kennels for a dog sled demonstration.

Before the demonstration begins, visitors are able to wander through the kennel area to meet the park’s sled dogs which, being a total dog person, I absolutely loved being able to do! Then we found spaces in the viewing area as the park rangers led the demonstration with a little help from their 4-legged friends.

Glimpsing Mount Denali

Some of us had taken up the optional extra of a scenic flight over the Alaskan Range that evening with a glacial landing so after our visit to the kennel, we were dropped at the airfield where we were kitted out in some special boots to stop us slipping on the ice before boarding the third small aircraft of our trip so far.

On board our small plane

Like our previous two scenic flights in Anchorage and Wrangell-St Elias National Park, this was not a cheap excursion but we knew we’d not get the chance to visit this part of the World again for a long time, if ever, so we saved hard in order to make the most of these experiences.

Mount Denali
Glacial landing

The saving paid off as this was without a doubt the absolute highlight of our entire trip to Alaska. The views as we flew over the mountains were absolutely beautiful and to top it all off, from above the clouds, we joined that 30% club and caught a glimpse of Mount Denali. It was strangely quite an emotional experience!

Snowball fight!

Landing on the glacier at the end of our flight was also an amazing experience. The air was so crisp and clear and we had a fun time letting our inner child out and playing in the icy snow in between taking photos and standing gaping in awe at the surrounding scenery.

Pizza!

After flying back, a shuttle bus took us to our accommodation of cabins just outside of the park and we met with the rest of the group at the Pizza Pub across the road to share our stories.

Hiking in the National Park

We began the next morning back in Denali Village to grab some breakfast then a quick stop at the park entrance to take pictures with the sign.

It was a miserable, wet day meaning there was little chance of catching another glimpse of the elusive mountain.

Evidence of beavers!

Today, we had tickets to ride the Denali shuttle. This 8-hour round trip was one of the included experiences in our Alaskan Highlights Tour. We had a bit of time to spare before the shuttle left so we spent some time hiking in the rain on the short trail out to Horseshoe Lake, keeping an eye out for beavers along the way.

Spotting a moose from the shuttle bus

Then we boarded the shuttle bus to see more of the park. We saw plenty of wildlife in the park from the very first few minutes of the trip but it was mainly caribou and moose.

Teklanika River

The bus made a few stops on the way around giving us the chance to stretch our legs, take bathroom breaks or take a short hike.

We stopped at a viewpoint for the Teklanika River and then at Polychrome Pass where we walked to a Mount Denali viewpoint but the rain and low cloud meant all we could really see was the river below us.

At the information area at Toklat River

The other main stop of the day was at the Toklat River Rest Area where there was an information area along with a gift shop then it was back on the bus to our final stop, Eielson Visitor Centre.

Here we took a short hike out to another viewpoint. Still no sign of Mount Denali but we did see a really cute arctic ground squirrel!!!

Bears in the distance!

From Eielson, we boarded the bus again to return to where we started. The return trip was mainly uneventful except for when we finally spotted bears! It took us until our penultimate day in Alaska and they were pretty far in the distance but we were excited that we had at least ticked that off our Alaska bucketlist!

Back at the Toklat River rest stop in Denali National Park

Once back at our cabin ground, it was time to get ready for our last group meal of the trip as tomorrow we’d be heading back to Anchorage. We went out to a local restaurant where we had an excellent 3 course meal and reminisced about our amazing trip.

Our final day on the Alaskan trip was quite low key. We stopped for lunch in the town of Talkeetna, famous for its mayor once being a cat called Stubbs! Then continued to former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin’s home town of Wasilla looking to see if we could see Russia from there (we couldn’t!).

Spotting caribou from the Denali shuttle bus

Then, with one last blast of our ‘morning song’, Joe Croce’s I Got a Name (despite it now being the afternoon, it had become out tour anthem!), we were back to where we started 10 days before. Some of the group were heading straight off that afternoon and, having already spent time exploring Anchorage before our tour started, we were off to the airport to fly out of Alaska that night but there was time for one last meal with some of the group so we walked downtown and went for a meal together at the Hard Rock Cafe.

It had been an amazing trip with so many highlights. Looking for bears at Lake Clark, wildlife spotting while cruising through Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, kayaking out to see magnificent icebergs in Valdez, taking a scenic flight and hiking across a glacier at Wrangell-St Elias National Park, canoeing down the Maclaren River and joining the 33% club by actually laying eyes on Mount Denali! But now, it was time to say our final goodbyes to the group and it was back to Anchorage airport to wave goodbye to this beautiful State!

Watch my Denali National Park vlogs here:


Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and McCarthy

Spotting a bald eagle just outside of Valdez

After an exhausting but amazing day kayaking out to an iceberg field in Valdez, it was back on the van today to set off for our next stop on our Alaskan Highlights tour of Alaska, the historic town of McCarthy from where we’d be exploring the largest US National Park, Wrangell-St Elias.

The long, straight road ahead!

After a quick breakfast stop in Valdez, we began our long drive, stopping just outside of Valdez after spotting a bald eagle in the trees on the roadside and then again at an overlook for Lowe River.

Roadside stop on the way to McCarthy
Casper the Friendly Ghost mural in Chitina

We made more frequent stops at various viewpoints to stretch our legs along the way including one at Liberty Falls State Recreation Area to see the waterfall.

Another delicious dessert
No traffic on the road bridge!

Our lunch stop today was in the small town of Chitina. As we’d once again made our own lunch up to keep costs down, we again bought a dessert to share at the cafe the group were eating at!

The road to McCarthy was long and bumpy and following yesterday’s exhausting full day’s kayaking excursion, after lunch, I did something I rarely do and fell asleep in the van!

I woke up just before our final stop before McCarthy at an overlook for the Copper River. We stopped at a long road bridge crossing the river from which there pretty views of the chalky river flowing through the canyon below. The road was so quiet, we sat on the bridge posing for photos – something we’d rarely be able to do on road bridges in the UK!

Our McCarthy guesthouse

Once we reached the vicinity of McCarthy, we stopped and parked up near an old railroad bridge. We were told to retrieve our luggage from the trailer and to take it over the river bridge and once on the other side, we would be met by vans belonging to the guesthouse we were staying in who would take us the rest of the way into town as larger vehicles such as our tour van are not advised to drive the last stretch of the road.

The hotel’s cosy common area

We were staying at Ma Johnson’s Hotel, a historic guesthouse in the town. There was no wifi, no power points in our rooms – we had to use the few in the communal areas – and bathrooms were shared rather than being en suite but it had a real charm about it and the rooms were really lovely. The whole town was like something time had forgot with its swinging saloon doors and Wild West style fronts.

About to board our small aircraft

That afternoon, some of us had opted to take a scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias National Park so, after a bit of time to settle in to our accommodation and look around the small town, we met at the front of the hotel to be shuttled down to the local airfield and board our small aircraft.

Flying over the ghost town of Kennecott

The flight was an amazing experience with stunning views of the park below. We flew over the braided Copper River, over the ghost town of Kennecott and then over mountains and glaciers, the scenery taking our breath away as our pilot told us about the history and geography of the area and answered any questions we had as we communicated with him through our headsets. We had saved furiously before the trip to be able to do these optional extras as we knew they would be what made the trip and while this was certainly not the cheapest optional extra on offer, it was absolutely worth every penny.

Pulled pork dinner
Diet Coke summing up the trip so far!

After our flight, we were dropped back in McCarthy town and all went for dinner at local diner, The Potato, where I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich. The group was really starting to gel now and the banter was in full flow as we were all on a high from our scenic flight experience.

Day 2 in McCarthy and we were off to Wrangell-St Elias National Park for a glacier hiking experience. Once again, we were picked up and shuttled out of McCarthy, this time to the old mining town of Kennecott, now a ghost town, where we met our guide for the day and got kitted out with special grips that fitted over our shoes enabling us to walk on the icy glacier.

Starting the hike across the glacier

Taking a short hike out to the glacier’s edge, we followed the glacier trail until the rocky path disappeared to be replaced by ice. It was surreal walking across the seemingly endless icy plain which we had been flying over the afternoon before. We came across huge walls of ice and deep crevices with no bottom in sight. We stopped for snacks and drinks sat out on the glacier and stopped to fill up our water bottles from the icy springs – the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever tasted!

At the National Park Visitor Center in Kennecott

After returning to Kennecott and handing back our equipment, the afternoon was free for us to either explore Kennecott or to return to McCarthy. We decided to stay in Kennecott, grabbing some lunch and visiting the national park visitor center before signing up for a tour of the old abandoned copper mine.

The mill in the old copper mining town of Kennecott
In our protective gear to enter the old mill

The tour was really interesting, taking us through the town of Kennecott hearing all about its history and then up into the remains of the old, red mill building. Although the building had been stabilised to allow visitors in, we had to wear hard hats in case of any falling debris!

After the tour, we caught the shuttle back to McCarthy taking another trip to the Potato Cafe for dinner and relaxing after a busy day.

The next morning, we had breakfast and spent some time down by the river before we were dropped back at our tour van ready to set off for our next destination, an overnight stop in Maclaren.

Watch my vlog of my visit to McCarthy and scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias here:

Watch my vlog of my Wrangell-St Elias glacier hike and visit to Kennecott ghost town here: