Needing to justify my idea for a long haul concert break Down Under to a city I had been to many times before, I decided instead to make my trip a New Zealand vacation with a stop off in Melbourne for the concert on the way home. I’d never visited New Zealand before so it would be somewhere new to explore before joining meeting my Melbourne-based friend in her home city for the gig.
I’d be travelling solo until I reached Melbourne so decided a tour would be the best way to see what New Zealand had to offer in a relatively short time – I had 2 weeks in total which was to include the 2 nights in Melbourne. After researching and reading through various itineraries, I realised I’d only have time to see one of New Zealand’s two islands and South Island seemed to come most heavily recommended.
There were a variety of options aimed at solo travellers including Kiwi Experience, a flexi-travel option where you weren’t tied down to specific travel dates but still had a ready made, mapped out itinerary, the use of a tour guide and the chance to meet fellow solo travellers along the way but deciding this was aimed more at younger backpackers in their early 20s than someone in their mid-30s, I instead opted for the award winning New Zealand small group tour company, Haka Tours.
The adventure travel company got rave reviews and catered for a more open age-group than the 18-38 tours I’d done with Trek America so I was hoping there’d be at least some 30-somethings in my group and it wouldn’t just be hard-partying youngsters!
The groups were slightly larger than the 13 maximum on Trek with Haka buses catering for groups of up to 20 passengers but even at full capacity, this sounded like a better option than the groups of 50 herded around by companies such as Kiwi Experience and Contiki.
So I found a 7-day tour of South Island on Haka’s website which fitted in with my other travel plans and even left me with a few nights between the end of the tour and the gig in Melbourne which I decided to spend in Adelaide, one of the few Australian cities I hadn’t visited yet, and decided to take the plunge and book it.
Having recently come off a Trek America Tour across the Southern States of America with one hostel too many for my liking, I decided to take Haka Tours up on their offer to upgrade to private rooms on their tour. While I didn’t really mind hostel life too much, this at least gave me peace of mind that I could get an early night without being disturbed by any night owls in the group as well as meaning I’d have an en suite at some, although not all, of our accommodations over the week.
The tour was to start in the city of Christchurch. Haka Tours owns some of it’s own hostels, including one on the outskirts of Christchurch but we were advised that as this was full with another group at the time of our departure, we would instead depart from the more central Christchurch YHA. I booked a night at the city’s Ibis hotel for my first night in the city then would move to the YHA for the night before the tour began.
The tour’s itinerary sounded really exciting with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Wanaka and Franz Josef before returning to Christchurch via a ride on the TranzAlpine train.
Activities for each stop could be booked in advance on the Haka Tours’ website and there was so much to choose from, I couldn’t fit everything I’d have liked to do in! I stayed away from booking the more adventurous activities like bungee jumping and skydiving and instead plumped for tamer activities including a full-day tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown.
With everything booked and my onward travel plan to Australia sorted out, I was excited for my New Zealand adventure to begin…
While not a stop on my UK National Parks road trip this summer, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a park very close to my heart after visiting it at least once every year for the last 27 years. As a child and teenager, our annual summer holidays there were spent mainly on the beach at Tenby, only venturing further afield on rainy days where the beach was no longer an option.
Back then, our summers were mainly warm and sunny so these trips out of Tenby were rarities. Now our visits tend to be out of season, early September or late March and even on the occasions we do make it there at the height of the British summer, the weather is rarely nice enough to be able to sit on the beach for hours on end so instead, we’ve spent a lot more time getting out and exploring more of what the park has to offer. And what it has to offer is a lot. Enough to make it my favourite place in the World. Despite all the travelling I have done the last 10 years, I am yet to find anywhere that matches the beauty of Pembrokeshire.
I spent some time revisiting some of my favourite spots and at seeing some parts of the park I’d not been to before on a trip earlier this summer.
In recent years, Tenby has been our base for most of our trips to Pembrokeshire National Park, usually hiring a static caravan at one of the Penally holiday parks. This year, due to demand for staycations and our trip being a bit of a last minute decision, we ended up staying inland near the market town of Narberth, right on the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthernshire county border but once settled in to our accommodation, Tenby was, as always, our first port of call on day 1 of our trip.
Parking up at Penally Station just outside of Tenby, we followed the coast path signs choosing to take the turning down to the beach at the Kiln Park junction rather than continuing along the path which runs behind the dunes.
We walked along South Beach enjoying the views of Caldey Island which lies a few miles off the coast of Tenby. In a normal year, it is possible to take a day trip over to Caldey Island with boats regularly departing from Tenby Harbour – or Castle Beach at low tide – every day except Sunday. We last did this a couple of years ago and spent most of the day walking up to the lighthouse and along the island’s coastal paths enjoying spectacular views along the way.
From South Beach, we took the path off the beach and up to the Esplanade which offers more beautiful views of Caldey Island and also the much closer St Catherine’s Isle. St Catherine’s Isle has recently reopened to the public in the last few years although I’m yet to visit.
Tenby is a walled town and we entered at the Arches and wandered through to grab an ice cream from one of the many shops selling them. During the summer months, Tenby closes its centre off to traffic between 10 and 5 meaning the many cafes and restaurants can put their tables out in the street during these times.
After wandering through the town, we exited by Tenby’s North Beach. This huge sandy beach is my favourite of all the wonderful beaches on offer in Tenby. We stood at the viewpoint on the cliff and took in the view of the beach, the harbour and Tenby castle before following the path down to the golden sands.
When the tide is out, it is possible to walk around from Tenby North Beach to Castle and South Beach but unfortunately this wasn’t the case today so instead we followed the path back off the beach and through the harbour.
From the harbour we walked up towards the remnants of Tenby castle upon the hill top for more spectacular views over the bay and a chance to visit Tenby’s lifeboat station, before returning to Castle Beach and walking back to Penally along South Beach.
Amroth, Wisemans Bidge and Saundersfoot
Day 2 and we returned to another old favourite – following the coastal path from Amroth to Saundersfoot and back. Parking up at the back of the small coastal town of Amroth, we walked to the end of the beach and turned up the road until we saw the acorn signpost pointing out the coast path.
We followed it up a steep hill through the woods until it opened out onto a field and past a caravan park before leading back down hill onto the road into Wisemans Bridge.
Here we walked alongside the pebbly beach and then followed the sea wall path to Coppets Hall Beach on the outskirts of Saundersfoot. The tide was out enough to walk along the beach from here to the main beach in Saundersfoot where we grabbed tea and cake from a cafe in the small town and wandered around the harbour before retracing our steps back along the coast path to Wisemans Bridge and then Amroth.
That evening, we had a ride out to Carew Castle and Tidal Mill to do a circular walk around it. Parking at the castle is free and from the car park, we walked back up to the main road, crossing it to follow signs to the small village of Carew Cheriton. Here, we stopped to look around St Mary’s Church, parts of which date back to the 1300s before following a riverside path from the village and across a wooden bridge which brought us back out at the main road across from the village of Milton. A public footpath across a field which took us back to Carew Castle where we followed the path looping up to the Tidal Mill and around the mill pond.
When the tide is in, the walk looping Carew Castle offers beautiful views of it reflected in the mill pond and it looks especially pretty at sunset and we often do a shorter version of this walk just following the path around the castle and Tidal Mill without detouring to Carew Cheriton and Milton followed by drinks at the pub across the road!
Lydstep, Skrinkle Haven and Manorbier
Day 3 and we drove a bit further up the coast past Tenby to Skrinkle Haven, a part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path nestled between the more popular beaches of Lydstep Haven and Manorbier. Following the road signs to Skrinkle Haven, we drove past the YHA and up to the cliff top car park. From here there are amazing coastal views in both directions but the main attraction is the view of the beautiful Skrinkle Haven beach.
We picked up the coast path and wandered along it until we came to a set of steps leading down to the small Church Doors Cove, so called because of door-shaped caves carved into the cliffs by the sea. After climbing back up the steps from the rocky beach, we continued along the coast path a little further but came to Ministry of Defence land which the path seemed to detour around. While we had heard it is now possible to once again access Skrinkle Haven beach itself from the coast path after it was closed off for years, we couldn’t quite work out how so instead, decided to retrace our steps back to the car park.
Skrinkle Haven lies just down the coast path from the popular town of Manorbier with its castle and sandy beach. While we didn’t visit Manorbier on this trip, we have in the past and it’s definitley worth a stop, especially if you follow the coast path up from the beach in either direction for more beautiful views.
Instead of driving north to Manorbier today, we instead drove back towards Tenby stopping at Lydstep. Here there is a national trust car park and circular headland walk although it can be a little difficult to find and access as it is down a narrow one-track road with an unpaved section at the end a steep hill at the very end up to the cliff! It’s definitely worth it though.
From the cliffs there are views across to Caldey Island and down to Lydstep Haven beach backed by the caravans on it’s upmarket holiday park. After walking a loop of the cliff, we returned to the car park and walked down the steep hill towards Lydstep Haven Beach. When the tide is out, it is possible to access sea caves from here but today, we just walked along the pebbly beach before climbing the hill back to the car park.
Freshwater East and Barafundle Bay
The beach that was always our rainy day ride out when we visited as kids, Freshwater East is a dog friendly, long sandy beach which is great to visit at low tide when the cliffs and caves at the far end of the beach become visible.
After walking along the sands, we attempted to follow the circular ‘family walk’ along some of the coast path and up into the dunes which we remembered taking in the past but found that some of the arrows and numbered posts were missing. We managed to find our way around using a bit of guess work and from what we remembered from before and eventually found ourselves back at the car park.
After lunch on the beach, we continued along the coast to Stackpole Quay where we parked up at its National Trust car park to begin our walk across the coast path to Barafundle Beach. Often finding its way onto the ‘best beaches in the UK’ lists, Barafundle is a bit of a hidden gem. With no direct access, the only way to reach it is to hike across the headland to it.
From Stackpole Quay, this is a relatively easy half mile hike from which you eventually follow a few steps down to the bay. As a child, it was always a beach I longed to visit and spend the day at playing on its golden sands and swimming in the sea, but with its isolated location and complete lack of facilities, I can now see why my parents were never as keen on the idea and we always stuck to Tenby’s North beach on sunny days!
Today however, I happily spent an hour or so sat on the beach and walking down to the sea front before walking back along the cliffs to the car park at Stackpole Quay.
Bosherton and Broad Haven South
We headed a bit further up the coast the next day to visit Bosherton Lily Ponds, another go to location on a rainy day when we were younger!
Another National Trust Car Park from which we followed the path down to edge of the lily pond to begin our walk. We turned left, following the sign to Broad Haven South, to take the anti-clockwise route around. The walk was mainly flat and eventually brought us out at the junction with Broad Haven South, a large sandy beach home to Church Rock, a rock formation just off the coast.
After stopping for snacks, we returned to the path around the lily ponds continuing to follow it around and enjoying the views across the lily ponds. Whether or not the lillies are in bloom, this is a really pretty walk and a great place for spotting wildlife too. My favourite part of the walk is crossing a couple of long bridges across the pond.
The bridges are open on the one side and quite narrow which can make it a challenge if someone starts walking across from the opposite direction!!
After our walk around the lily pond, we took a short drive to the next point on the coast path, St Govans. St Govans is a small chapel built into the cliffs. From the car park, you can walk down some steps to the chapel and even go inside. I continued down the cliff from the chapel to the small bay beneath to enjoy the views before climbing back up to the car park.
From the car park, we followed the coast path along the cliffs to the point overlooking Broad Haven South beach. The views were again stunning.
Stack Rocks and the Green Bridge of Wales
Our final stop today was to see Pembrokeshire’s famous rock formations, The Green Bridge of Wales and the Stack Rocks. We followed the signposts to the Green Bridge down a long road towards the cliffs which lead past Ministry of Defence land and parked on the free car park.
A path from the car park split in 2 directions and we took the right fork towards the viewing platform for the Green Bridge.
After admiring the views and taking plenty of photos, we followed the coast path along the cliff to see the Stack Rocks, rock pillars lying just off the coast. We continued along the coast path for a while, enjoying the views before looping back to the car park and calling it a day.
Freshwater West and Angle
It was off to one of my favourite Pembrokeshire beaches today, Freshwater West but first, after a wrong turn, we made a quick stop at the nearby West Angle Bay. This is a small beach, especially when the tide is is, but at low tide, it can be fun to walk to the rocks around the edges of the beach to explore the rock pools!
From Angle, we finally found our way back to Freshwater West and as usual, the first glimpse of the dramatic combination of cliffs, dunes, beach and crashing waves was breathtaking.
Freshwater West is known for its strong waves and surfers can often be seen bobbing around in the sea here. The beach is also famous for being used in one of the Harry Potter films – Shell House was built into the dunes here for the purpose of filming and although it has now been dismantled, the beach is often visited by fans of the films and books to see the site of Dobby’s grave. The 2010 Robin Hood film starring Russell Crowe was also filmed at Freshwater West!
Today, we began our visit with a walk along the cliffs to a seaweed drying hut sat on top. From here there were beautiful views across the bay. We retraced out steps back down to the road and followed the path down to the beach taking a long walk along the sea front to the rocks and cliff at the far end before returning to the car. A great way to spend the day!
We took a break from the coast today for a bit of family fun at Heatherton World of Activities, another favourite from family holidays of the past! The park is situated not far from Tenby by the village of St Florence. Currently, visitors have to pre-book passes for the activities so the park can keep attendance down and social distancing can be maintained. We opted for a 6 credit pass and used up our first 2 credits on a round of Adventure Golf then spent the rest of our credits on activities including pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting and, our favourites, the bumper boats. A really fun day out!!
While we didn’t have chance on this trip, other fun family days out we have enjoyed on past visits to Pembrokeshire have included visits to Clerkenhill Adventure Farm for a round or two of Frisbee Golf and Oakwood Theme Park which we like to visit on an ‘After Dark’ day when the park and rides stays open until 10pm ending the day with a firework display.
Broad, Little and Sandy Haven
Today’s destination was Broad Haven. Not to be confused with Broad Haven South by Bosherton, this Broad Haven lies further up the coast and is a long sandy beach backed by a row of cafes and shops.
The tide was going out as we arrived meaning there was a huge expanse of sand leading down to the sea. We paddled along in the shallows and with the tide going out, were able to walk around into the next bay, Little Haven. On days when the tide is in, it’s still possible to walk between the two beaches but over the cliff top on the coast path instead.
After a few hours, we left Broad Haven when, in typically Welsh fashion, the weather changed from glorious sunshine to cloudy with the threat of rain. With it still being early afternoon, we consulted our map on the back of the visitor magazine Coast to Coast and decided to visit Sandy Haven, an area we had not been to before.
Arriving just as the rain set in, we parked at a pull in just off the road and followed the coast path signs through a holiday park and out towards a rocky beach. This was a lovely, hidden away location, spoilt only by views of a power station off the coast in the distance. With the tide out, an array of rock pools were revealed and we had fun carefully scrambling over the rocks along the beach to find a way down to the sea.
We began today with a ride out to the city of St Davids. As well as being the only city in Pembrokeshire, St Davids is also the smallest city in the UK!
We parked at the top of the town and walked down the main street towards the city’s cathedral. The Cathedral was open for visitors to look around. Next to the , is the medieval ruins of the Bishop’s Palace but as admission was by pre-booked ticket only, we couldn’t explore this any further.
Solva and Newgale
After grabbing a delicious ice cream in St Davids, we returned to the car and drove down the coast to the town of Solva, a place we had driven through many times but never stopped in.
We parked by the pretty harbour and decided to follow the coast path signs to see where it took up. A quite steep, muddy track eventually opened out to give us amazing views over the harbour, and, as we continued further, we found ourselves on a cliff top with beautiful coastal views.
Rather than following the path any further, we returned the way we had come and instead, drove to the next bay, Newgale Beach. Like Freshwater West, Newgale is a popular surfing spot. The beach here is pebbly and we didn’t stop long before continuing our drive back to our accommodation making one last stop at the tiny bay of Nolton Haven along the way.
The Blue Lagoon
Not to be confused with the Centre Parcs-style Pembrokeshire holiday park of the same name near Narberth, today we were visiting The Blue Lagoon, a former slate quarry in Abereiddy. The quarry has since flooded, the slate giving it the colour that gives it its name.
A visit to this area of Pembrokeshire had long been recommended to us but for some reason, we had yet to make it there until today.
Parking for the Blue Lagoon is behind the small beach of Abereiddy. From the car park, we followed the coast path a short distance to the Blue Lagoon viewpoint. Straight away we could see the contrast in the colour of the water here to the colour of the sea. There were some visitors swimming, kayaking and jumping into the lagoon but we stayed on land and decided to follow the coast path a bit further along up to the cliff top overlooking it.
From here, we walked along the cliff top path, a small cove soon coming into view in the distance. We continued along until we reached a signpost at the top of some steps reading Traeth Llyfn, or Llyfn Beach. We took the steps down to the secluded beach where the tide was out enough to reveal a pretty sandy cove and the perfect place to sit down for a while, enjoy the beautiful scenery and have a snack.
After climbing the steps back up to the coast path, we walked back towards the Blue Lagoon and Abereiddy Beach where we sat and had lunch.
After a quick stop at another secluded beach, Abermawr, we continued up the coast for an afternoon visit to Strumble Head, another part of the park we had never visited before.
Here we walked down to get a closer look at the lighthouse before following the coast path south for a bit to get beautiful coastal views and views looking back towards the lighthouse.
After retracing our steps back towards the car park, we walked down to a wildlife viewing hut built onto the cliff, looking out to see if we could spot any of the birds, seals or sea creatures listed on the building’s wall.
Failing to spot anything other than a few noisy seagulls, we returned to the car to drive back.
As always, we had had an amazing time exploring the Pembrokeshire Coast and out walking along the coast path and it had been fun to visit some new places along the way as well as revisit lots of old favourites and I can’t wait to go back.
One of my favourite cities to visit in Australia; so what are my tips for what to do and see in Sydney?
Pretty much the first place I always head to on a visit to Sydney is Circular Quay, the area surrounding Sydney’s famous harbour. From here, you can walk to its famous Opera House on the one side of the Harbour or around to The Rocks area by the Harbour Bridge on the other side of the harbour.
On the Opera House side, the sea wall doubles as a seating area where you can relax in the Sydney sunshine taking in the stunning views or grab a drink at the Opera Bar sitting out at one of its tables overlooking the harbour watching the local ferries roll in and out and the occasional huge ship dock across at the Sydney Cruise Terminal.
Circular Quay and The Rocks area are full of a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants although they are mainly in the more expensive price range due to their location but if you can afford it, its a great place to sit and watch the World go by.
Its also the place to go to catch one of the many commuter ferries or to take a cruise on Sydney harbour. We took an exhilarating ride on the Sydney Jet Boat which is great fun if you don’t mind getting drenched!
Sydney Opera House
While I have never seen a performance at the Opera House, no visit to Sydney is complete without a photo outside the iconic building. On my first visit to the city, I took a guided tour of the building to learn more about the building’s design. While the tour was quite short, it was really interesting to go inside the building to see and hear about where the performances take place.
Outside the building is the Opera Bar where you can get a drink and enjoy the views of the Opera House and across the harbour. If you are lucky enough to ever spend New Year’s Eve in the city then a highly recommend the Opera Bar’s new Year’s Eve Party right in the thick of the action!
Sydney Harbour Bridge
The harbour bridge dominates the views around Circular Quay and there’s a multitude of places to get the perfect photo of the structure. But it’s also possible to get a lot closer to the bridge. Cruises sailing both past and under the bridge can be booked leaving from both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. I taken ferries heading back into Sydney at dusk to see the bridge under the red glow of the sky as the sun sets behind it.
To get closer still, it’s free for pedestrians to walk across the bridge. I took a route through The Rocks area and up to the Sydney Observatory before crossing the bridge to Milsons Point and visiting Luna Park, a small amusement park on the Northern shore of Sydney Harbour before catching the ferry back to Circular Quay from Milsons Point ferry terminal. There are some great views of Sydney Harbour looking across to the Opera House from the Bridge but unfortunately, for safety reasons there’s a mesh fence up along the walkway stopping you from really taking a photo in front of this view. It is possible to hold the lens of your camera against a gap in the fence to take photos of the view though.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and have the money to splash out, the most exciting way to see the bridge is from the top of it. On my first trip to the city, I took part in a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb in which small groups of people are taken on a guided walk up to the highest point of the bridge.
We were given a special suit to wear and equipped with all the gear we’d need to attach ourselves safely to the bridge and move along it before being give a quick training session on a practise ‘bridge’ inside the bridge climb terminus before setting out on our adventure. The hardest part was climbing the vertical ladders onto the bridge but after this it was more like a walk up a hill than a climb and was a lot easier than I expected it to be.
As you’re not allowed to take your own cameras, our guide took pictures of us when we reached the top and we were provided with the group picture for free on our return. Copies of individual photos taken were available to purchase upon our return to the centre after our climb. This was a really fantastic experience and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Sydney!
As part of our Bridge climb experience, we were given free tickets to visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. As the name suggests, this allowed us to enter the Pylon on the south side of the bridge where a small museum is located detailing how the iconic bridge was built. After looking around the museum, we made our way to a viewing deck on top of the pylon which offered stunning views across Sydney Harbour and – unlike during our bridge climb – allowed us to take our own photos of and with the view. You don’t have to have participated in a bridge climb to access the Pylon Lookout, anyone can buy a ticket and visit.
The other well-known harbour in Sydney is Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is home to a range of tourist attractions including Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife Park, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the World’s largest IMAX screen.
Darling Harbour is a great place to head for an evening out. It’s Cockle Bay Wharf area houses a variety of restaurants, and bars and clubs line both sides of the harbour.
Lying to the rear of the Opera House, Sydney’s pretty Botanic Gardens are the perfect place for a stroll or to sit relaxing in the sunshine.
I like to follow the sea wall along the harbour to Mrs Macquaries Chair for great views and the perfect place to get a photo with both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the same shot!
Beaches and coastal walks
The most famous of Sydney’s beaches is, of course, Bondi Beach. Bondi is in a suburb of Sydney and I’ve always caught the public bus out of the city to get there and back.
Whenever I’ve been in the sunshine, the beach has been busy with tourists and locals sunbathing, surfing or soaking up the atmosphere but on my last visit, I arrived to torrential rain, finding the area unsurprisingly, almost deserted!
As sunbathing wasn’t an option, I instead took the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, following the coast path from next to the Bondi lido. It was a really pretty walk and if I had time, I would have continued to follow the path to the beach at Coogee, catching the bus back to Sydney city centre from there but instead, I turned around once I reached Bronte and returned to Bondi to meet my friends.
Manly Beach is another beach easily accessible from the city. We took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walking down its Corso, lined with shops and restaurants, to reach the main beach.
We spent a fun day sunbathing and swimming in the ocean but again, if, like me, you can’t stay in one place for long, you can take a coastal walk past the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to Shelly Beach.
Fans of Australian soap Home & Away might want to head to Palm Beach in Sydney’s North Beach district. Palm Beach doubles as Summer Bay in the soap and is instantly recognisable to fans of the soap with its lighthouse and golden sands. The first time I visited, we took a guided tour of the North Beaches which had Palm Beach as its main stop and were lucky enough to find filming was going ahead that day.
The cast were more than happy to chat and take photos with fans between takes. Since then, I have returned taking a long bus ride out of Sydney to get there and while no filming was happening that day, I still had a great day walking up to the lighthouse for beautiful views across the peninsula before relaxing on the golden sands.
On my last visit to the city, upon the recommendation of a Sydney-sider friend, I took the ferry out to Watsons Bay.
While the beaches there were not the best Sydney has to offer, I followed the South Head Heritage Trail, a pretty walking track that loops round past the Hornby Lighthouse and back.
From here, I walked up to The Gap viewing area on top to watch the ocean crashing into the rocks below the cliffs, continuing on along the coast to Macquarie Lighthouse. From Watsons Bay, I caught the bus back to the city, hopping off at Rose Bay for a stroll down to Rose Bay Beach.
Day trips out
Apart from heading to one of the many beaches, its possible to take a range of organised tours out of the city.
I took a fun day trip out to see the highlights of the the Blue Mountains. Leaving Sydney, we stopped off at Featherstone Wildlife Park to meet some friendly kangaroos and wallabies before driving through some of the pretty Blue Mountain villages and stopping off at some stunning viewpoints.
We spent the main part of the bay at the Scenic World attraction where we rode on the glass-bottomed scenic skyway, the World’s steepest railway and the scenic cable car for more beautiful views. Our tour stopped at Sydney’s Olympic Park on the way back before we took a sunset ferry ride back to Sydney.
Other tours you can take from Sydney include day trips to Jervis Bay and to Canberra, the country’s capital city, both of which I plan on doing on my next visit!
While I’ve never stayed any further south than the Museum/Hyde Park area of the city, from here at least, Sydney is a pretty walkable city with both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in easy reach. On one of my first visits to the city, I made use of the city’s hop on off bus but while the commentary was occasionally interesting, I didn’t feel that it took me to anywhere I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to. I have also made use of the city’s efficient rail service with trains running regularly to Circular Quay from Central Station. From here you can connect to the city’s airport service too. Sydney Opal cards can be purchased from convenience stores and used on public transport including local rail services and the buses out to Bondi Beach. It’s even possible to venture out to the Blue Mountains on public transport rather than driving or using an organised tour if you are so inclined!
Sydney is definitely a great city to explore with plenty of things to see and do. Let me know if you’ve been by sharing your tips in the comments!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
It was the final full day of our tour across America’s Deep South with Trek America. So far, we had spent time in New Orleans, Alabama, Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains, Nashville and Memphis and today we would be travelling to the state of Mississippi to visit the city of Natchez.
I had passed through the state of Mississippi once before on a previous road trip through the Southern States of America but that day, our only stop in the state had been at a Burger King so I was looking forward to spending just a bit more time and seeing a tiny bit of what the state has to offer.
We made one stop on the way from Memphis, for lunch at a roadside cafe/green grocers store called The Tomato Place which had a range of delicious sandwiches and toasties on offer. Then it was on into the historic centre of Natchez.
Our first port of call in Natchez was at the visitor centre for Natchez National Historic Park. Here, we spoke to the park rangers and looked at the displays and exhibits to learn about the history of Natchez, completing the complimentary Junior Ranger activity booklets to earn a Junior Ranger badge each!
We had some free time in the area next, to explore, during which some of us decided to take a tour of one of the historic houses to find out more about life in Natchez during the Antebellum era.
After our tour, we spent a bit of time in the park overlooking the river before going to check in at our motel for the evening right on the Mississippi/Louisiana border.
It was the last night of our group tour so in the evening we went out to a nice restaurant by the river for a final group meal, stopping to watch the sunset over the Mississippi River after. Then it was back to the motel for a few drinks around the pool, reminiscing about our adventures over the last week.
Tomorrow, we would be heading back to New Orleans where our tour would come to an end.
After leaving Natchez early, we arrived in New Orleans late morning, stopping at a roadside bar to pick up cocktails to drink as we toured the Garden District. My sister-in-law and I had visited the area during our pre-tour stay of New Orleans just a week earlier but it was nice to have a guided tour this time. We all felt a bit strange drinking cocktails from brightly coloured plastic glasses as we strolled through the Lafayette Cemetery #1 and past the mansions lining the streets but when in New Orleans…!
Our next stop was at Louis Armstrong Park, on the edge of the city’s French Quarter. We wandered through the park looking at some of the sculptures dotted around the area.
Then it was time to say goodbye to our tour guide as we were dropped back at the gateway hotel in the French Quarter. Most of the group would be staying on in New Orleans for a few extra days but as we had stayed before the tour, we would be flying out that evening.
Before waving goodbye to our new friends, we all took a walk into the French Quarter, revisiting the French market, looking inside St Louis Cathedral and strolling along the riverside. Then, after grabbing some Pizza fries for lunch at one of the nearby bars, it was time to say our goodbyes.
We’d had an incredible time exploring America’s Deep South region. We’d seen a lot, had a lot of fun and felt we had learnt a lot along the way too.