Revisiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – Part 1

Having been holidaying in Tenby, a popular seaside resort in the south end of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park since I was a child, I know that area of the park at least pretty well so when we decided to include this park in South West Wales in our Welsh National Parks Road Trip itinerary, I knew I wanted to make sure we included some places and activities there I’d either not done before, or hadn’t done since I was much younger while still revisiting what I consider to be some of the park’s highlights for my friend who had not been before to see.

Views walking along the sea wall from Wisemans Bridge to Saundersfoot

With this in mind, we planned a 5 night stay in the area. With many of the hotels in the park itself sold out or way too pricey by the time we got around to booking and many holiday parks only offering the standard Sat-Sat, Mon-Fri or Fri-Sun stays which didn’t suit our itinerary, we eventually decided on a roadside motel in the small village of Llandissilo, a few miles north of market town Narberth and, while quite a way outside of the park, a pretty central location to reach all parts of the park from with pretty much everywhere being within a 20-40 minute drive!

Arriving early on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t what we had planned – we’d expected to spend most of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but the weather had had other ideas – so we made a hasty decision to stop off at Wisemans Bridge at the southern end of the park and the closest point of the park to our motel. When we had to queue along the a-road out of Carmarthen into the park, I should have realised how busy everywhere would be on a Saturday afternoon and we arrived to find all the spaces in the free car parks at Wisemans Bridge completely full. Continuing on, we came to the car park for Coppets Hall, a small bay lying between Wiseman’s Bridge and the popular seaside town of Saundersfoot. Although busy, the car park had an attendant who directed us to park along a grass verge despite there not being an actual marked space there. It didn’t cost much for a couple of hours parking so all paid up, we picked up the coast path and headed through the old railway tunnels and on to the sea wall path back towards Wisemans Bridge.

Rocky coastline at Wisemans Bridge

The Wiseman’s Bridge to Saundersfoot walk is one of the easiest walks along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path being along flat and wide paved footpaths so it didn’t take long to reach the pebbly beach at the other end. We spent a bit of time wondering along the beach looking in the rockpools revealed at low tide before retracing our footsteps back to Coppets Hall and walked in the opposite direction to the bustling town of Saundersfoot where we treated ourselves to an ice cream and wandered around the harbour.

After returning to Coppets Hall, we drove to our motel to check in deciding to have dinner in the restaurant on site realising it was unlikely we’d find anywhere with space for us to eat out at that evening!

For our first full day in the park, we had booked tickets to visit Skomer Island. Worried about things getting booked out, we had done this quite a bit in advance which meant we couldn’t check the weather first.

Walking along the coast path near Martin’s Haven

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side that day. Arriving in Martin’s Haven to check in for our boat trip an hour before it left, we were met by high winds and heavy rain. After checking in and looking around the small gift store,we found the rain had eased a bit so I decided to go for a walk along the coast path while we waited for our boarding time. The views were stunning as I watched the waves crash up against the rocks.

Once it was time to board, we walked down to the small bay and onto the awaiting boat. Just as we set off, the rain started to pour once again making for a rather uncomfortable crossing only cheered up by a seagull deciding to hitch a lift on the corner of the boat to save him the flight across!

Arriving at Skomer, we climbed a set of steps up to a ranger station where we were met by an island ranger who explained a bit about the island, what we might see and the rules for our visit.

Above, and below, exploring Skomer Island

Because of Covid restrictions, the paths around the outskirts of the island had been made one-way in an anti-clockwise direction from the visitor centre and picnic area at the centre of the island. We had 4 hours until we needed to be back at the ranger station and were told that that should be more than enough time to walk the perimeter and be back with time to spare.

As we set off along the path to the centre of the island, the rain finally stopped and we made it about half way around the perimeter path before it started up again. The path around the island lead to many beautiful viewpoints from the cliff tops but wildlife wise, being slightly too late for ‘puffin season’, we instead had to make do with spotting a seal frolicking in the waves crashing against the rocks below.

The pouring rain and strong winds made the last section of our walk slightly more uncomfortable than we’d have liked and with not stopping as long as we otherwise would have to enjoy the views and speeding up our pace a bit to get out of the rain, we ended up back at the centre of the island quite a bit sooner than we had expected to.

The rain sets in again as we walk the coast path on Skomer Island

Luckily, we managed to find an empty bench in the covered picnic area so spent the last hour on the island having a leisurely picnic lunch and looking around the small visitor’s centre before making our way back to catch our boat back to the mainland. Just as we were about to depart, we spotted another seal playing in the surf then scrambling up onto the rocks just off the island.

The rain had stopped again making for a much drier and more pleasant boat trip back to the mainland. Arriving back late afternoon, we drove back to our motel and change into some drier clothes before going for dinner there.

Above, and below, taking Reggie the Alpaca for a walk

The next day, we were pleased to wake up to a much drier day and a forecast of some sunny spells! We had booked an alpaca trek for that morning and tickets to Heatherton World of Adventures for that afternoon so after breakfast, drove out to a farm near Manorbier to meet our furry friends for the morning. Having never walked an alpaca before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but it turned out to be a really fun activity even if we were technically just walking around a field.

My alpaca, Reggie, was pretty obliging, trotting alongside me and posing for photos when we reached the halfway point in return for a few handfuls of food.

After returning Reggie to his pen and saying our goodbyes, we drove on to Heatherton, an activity centre just outside of Tenby. This was a place I’d always go on a cloudy day with my family when I was younger. Back then, it was a much smaller affair and billed as a ‘country sports’ and golfing centre. We’d spend our morning on the pitch ‘n’ putt course and our afternoons trying out archery, pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting, croquet, boules, and, of course, take a few trips round on the bumper boats. Now the park has extended to occupy a site across the road from when the original activities are still housed and the list of activities on offer has more than doubled to include baseball, ropes courses, slides, a hedge maze and many many more. I mainly just wanted to revisit all my old favourites for nostalgic reasons so we bought an 8-credit pass which we calculated to be enough to spend on all these with a couple left over for anything else that took our fancy.

Upon arriving, we couldn’t quite believe how busy the centre was, especially as passes had to be pre-booked due to ongoing Covid restrictions and were supposedly limited each day. We struggled to even find a parking space in the overflow but once we had, went to pick up our passes from the main reception. Seeing that there were long queues for everything, we went with the one that currently seemed to be the shortest/moving the quickest and that was the bumper boats. Within 10 minutes we were sat in the boats – which didn’t seem to have been updated at all in the slightest since my original visits in the late ’90s – racing (well, more like crawling) around the small course trying to bump into the other boats. Great fun!

Having forgot to take our lunch with us that day, we grabbed sandwiches from the on-site cafe before our next activity. We went with pistol shooting next. Although we were the next group to take part when we joined the queue, there was a loong, tedious wait as the group before us had their safety talk then slowly worked their way through their 20 pellets but once it was our turn, it was a fun activity to try out and when I collected my target after our session finished, I hadn’t done too badly!

It was another long queue next, this time to try out laser clay pigeon shooting. This was always my favourite when I was younger as I was always pretty good at it but not today, as I failed to hit all but 2 clays as they flew through the air! At this point, having only averaged one activity an hour since our arrival and with still over half of our credit to use up, we were slightly worried we wouldn’t get through everything but as we headed across the road to try out the park’s new Dragon Slide – where you sit in a giant rubber ring, a bit like a water park slide but without the water! – we found a much shorter queue time and were on and off in 5 minutes. The slide was so much fun that we decided to use another credit up to ride it again!

Crossing back under the tunnel to the other side of the road again, we found the crowds had started to empty out a bit. We had 3 credits each left to use, 2 of which we knew we wanted to spend on the still extremely busy Adventure Golf, the other, we originally planned to use on archery but seeing there was still quite a queue for this and no queue at all for the bumper boats next to it, we decided to jump on these again instead!

Having left Adventure Golf to the last hoping the crowds would clear, we decided it was now or never and went to get our clubs and golf balls and were warned that we’d have to queue to play each hole. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad with just one group in front of us to wait for each time. Seeing how busy the park had been put us off booking to go to Oakwood, a nearby theme park, over the next few days as we worried we’d just be spending the whole day queuing so instead we decided to use the day we would have spent there exploring the coast a bit more.

It had been a fun start to our time in Pembrokeshire and we still had a few more full days left to explore the park as well as the morning before we left for Snowdonia. With the weather forecast not looking too bad, we were looking forward to spending a bit more time out on the coast.

Brecon Beacons National Park

After a few weeks of planning, we were starting a 2-week tour of Wales concentrating our time mainly on the country’s three National Parks. First up was the Brecon Beacons, situated in the middle of South Wales. The park was one I’d driven along the outskirts of many a time, bypassing it on an A-road at least once a year for the last 25 years as we headed on family holidays to South West Wales and I’d visited the town of Brecon as a ‘halfway to our destination’ stopping off point many times over. But I had never crossed that busy A-road to see what lay on the other side!

At the trail head to climb Pen y Fan

We arrived at our motel for the next three nights early evening on a Wednesday. We were staying in the town of Merthyr Tydfil just outside the southern end of the park as prices were a lot cheaper here than to stay in the National Park itself but in just a 5 minute drive, we were across the park boundaries.

After settling in to our room, we went out in search of dinner thinking that we’d have no problem getting a table anywhere on a Wednesday evening.

As restaurant after restaurant told us they were full though, we began to realise we were once again going to have to plan ahead for our meals this trip, pre-booking and making sure we were back in time rather than seeing where the day took us and grabbing something wherever we ended up. Finally finding a Pizza place that could squeeze us in, we had dinner a little later than we’d hoped but still found time to fit in a walk around town after our meal.

Sheep near the top of the mountain

Our itinerary for our stay in the park was more a list of ideas and suggestions than a definite plan. A walk up Pen-y-Fan, the highest mountain in Southern Britain, was top of that list and we were keeping an eye on the weather to decide which day was looking best for it. The weather looking to be ok and expecting the National Park to be pretty full with the August summer holidays in full swing, we were up early for our included breakfast at our motel the next day, aiming to be at the car park for the main path to the top of Pen-y-Fan by 9am to beat the crowds.

While the car park was by no means empty when we arrives, we did comfortably find a space and when we returned later to find cars parked everywhere in the main car park, along the road and in lay-bys within a mile or so either way, were glad we made the effort for an early-ish start.

View from the top

The weather was pretty clear for the most part, the sun shining as we set out. The path was easy to follow and the instructions I’d downloaded from a National Trust circular walking route helped us work out which of the two peak we were aiming for when the path split – and it’s a good job it did, We reached a very windy peak of Pen-y-Fan just as the cloud started to move in, some kind of view still visible to us from the top but just minutes later, we made our way across to the peak of Corn Du, the second peak to find ourselves completely immersed in fog and cloud and unable to see Pen-y-Fan, or anything else, anymore!

On top of Corn Du in a cloud!

From Corn Du, we retraced our steps back down the path we had walked up rather than taking the circular route down an alternative path to the road. Exhausted, but feeling a sense of accomplishment, we collapsed into the car feeling grateful that we had a space so close to the path entrance so that we didn’t have to walk any further, and treated ourselves to our packed lunch and a nice hot cup of tea from a flask!

Lunch over, we drove north and seeing the National Park Visitor Centre signposted, decided to use the facilities, get some more park information and buy some souvenirs. There were a number of walks signposted from the visitor centre of varying lengths and difficulties but deciding we’d done enough walking for the time being, we moved on to do a circular scenic drive through the east side of the park.

Above, and below, Gospel Pass drive

Driving up towards Brecon, we turned off back into the park and followed an extremely narrow, steeps, twisting and turning track which, judging from the grass growing up the middle of the road, is rarely used. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic and just as we were wondering where the sat nav was taking us, the road opened out to reveal Gospel Pass, the road we were aiming for, in front of us.

This mountain pass is seen as a ‘must-do’ drive in the Brecon Beacons for it’s stunning views and we made our way along it past pretty countryside and wild horses roaming the hills. We pulled up at Hay Bluff, a parking area from where we could admire the views.

Llanthony Abbey ruins

After taking in the scenery, we continued along gospel pass, the road again narrowing and heading through woodland. Eventually, we reached Llanthony Abbey. The abbey ruins are free to visit and there was a cafe on site run by neighbouring Llanthony Priory Hotel for refreshments.

From here the road continued to a main A-road which we then followed west back to our Merthyr Tydfil Hotel giving us a few hours to relax and freshen up before our dinner reservation in town that evening.

The next day we were once again up early, this time to drive out to the car park at the start of the Four Waterfalls walk. As the name suggests, here there is a circular path with paths leading off it at various intervals to see four waterfalls!

Above, and below, on the Four Waterfalls walk

Finding the car park almost empty at around 9am, we chatted to the car park attendant who explained to us that none of the waterfalls are visible from the main circular trail and that the paths leading down to each of the falls were quite strenuous. He recommended we did the loop in reverse to see the most impressive waterfall first so if we were to decide we’d had enough at that point, we could just retrace our steps back still having seen a pretty good waterfall!

Although we were pretty sure we’d not give up after one waterfall, we decided to take his advice so we could at least get the waterfall with the most steps up and down out of the way first!

The main path to the waterfall exit was easy but we could straight away see why we were warned over the path to the waterfall itself. The steps down were often uneven, made of slippy blue stone and way too deep for our short legs to manage easily without grabbing onto something for support as we lowered ourselves down – and often there was nothing to grab on to! But it was worth it once the waterfall was revealed. It was possible to scramble across some rocks to go behind the waterfall but seeing as we’d had a tough time just getting down to that point, we stayed to admire it from the base of the steps before climbing back up to the path again – surprisingly, it was easier going up than down!

We continued along the path which narrowed, had frequent unpaved sections and rocky sections and was in itself, not an easy walk anymore, until we reached the next branch off to another waterfall. Again, we found a steep path with loose gravel sections, muddy areas and even a few boulder sections! It certainly made the walk more interesting though. It took us about 3 hours to complete the full walk with stops for a bite to eat along the way and taking our time across trickier sections of the path and we made it back onto the main paved section of the path back to the (now packed) car park just as it started to rain, grateful that it hadn’t rained while we were scrambling over already slippery rocks to see the falls!

Pretty views from the lay-by opposite Crai Reservoir

After a lay-by late lunch stop, we looked at a map and consulted our list of itinerary ideas deciding to loop around to the centre of the park and visit one of the park’s many reservoirs. We decided on Crai Reservoir which would put us back on a road heading towards Merthyr Tydfil again rather than taking us out of the way. We had read that there was a path you could walk there towards the reservoir dam with great views across but upon pulling up at the car park across from the reservoir, we couldn’t actually find this path!

There was a bridge across a valley stream leading off from the car park which offered a pretty view of the hills and some footpaths signposted up into the hills but across the road, we walked along the grass verge alongside where we could barely even see the reservoir peeping out from behind dense hedgerow, never mind find a path to access it.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Giving up and returning back in the other direction, we walked a bit further south of the car park to a driveway down to a house where there was a public footpath sign which seemed to be pointing along the side of the house’s grounds but a path was barely visible and overgrown with nettles to the point that we weren’t completely sure if it was even there or if the sign was pointing along the road we had just walked along instead.

Not wanting to end up walking across private property, we instead returned to the car and, as it was now nearing 3pm anyway, took a scenic way back to the southern end of the park looping background to our Merthyr Tydfil motel.

Nearing the castle

With no rush to get to our Pembrokeshire National Park destination the next day, we had planned to spend the majority of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but checking the weather, we saw there was heavy rain forecast the next morning. We checked to see if there was any availability at the Dan yr Ogof Welsh National Showcaves but fond all the timed slots already sold out so decided to see what the weather was like the next day and take it from there.

We did indeed wake up to heavy rain and cloud and decided our original loose plans to hill walk to a view of a glacial lake Llyn y Fan Fach or to drive along Black Mountain Pass at the west side of the park were probably not worth it as the views wold be obscured by cloud.

Exploring the castle ruins

Instead, we decided to begin our drive to Pembrokeshire making a stop at Carreg Cennan Castle on the edge of the Brecon Beacons along the way.We had downloaded instructions for a circular walk around the castle providing views it without having to pay to go in but once there, the weather still not great, we decided to pay the small fee to visit the ruins instead. Luckily, the weather started to clear just as we were about to leave so we got to see a bit more of a view from the top!

It was great to finally see what lay on the other side of the busy A-road bypassing Brecon that I’d driven down so many times in the past and as it turned out, our 3 nights in the Beacons was nowhere near enough time to see anywhere near all the park has to offer but it was a start. I was glad I had the chance to visit and definitely plan to return sometime!

A Wales National Parks Road Trip

Who’d have thought when our US National Parks Road Trip planned for last summer had to be cancelled that we’d be unable to reschedule it for 2021 either?! But with Covid still dominating new headlines around the World, the US still not allowing UK visitors and strict rules on entering and exiting the UK still in force over a year on, we realised pretty early into the year that making any plans to travel out of the UK was not a good idea. Despite some travel being allowed out of the UK to the few ‘green/amber list’ countries who will have us, with all the uncertainties over how long countries will remain on these lists for and all the complicated – not to mention expensive – testing rules to travel, we decided we were best to make summer travel plans a bit closer to home again.

In the beautiful Brecon Beacons

We had a few early discussions about possibly travelling to Ireland, a country I’ve seen very little of, for a road trip around the coast but not being sure if we’d both be fully vaccinated in time to go there, that idea was soon put hold for the future and our thoughts returned to the UK National Parks.

After a successful 2-week trip to the National Parks of Northern England last summer, we narrowed this year’s options down to the parks in Southern England, a trip up to Scotland for a mixture of National Parks, isles, highlands and cities or heading west into Wales. We eventually settled on visiting the 3 National Parks of Wales, a country I am very familiar with having holidayed there at least once a year for the last 27 years. In fact, my annual family holiday is usually taken in Tenby, a seaside town in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park but as this is mainly spent as a beach holiday with the occasional trip out to other nearby beaches, there was plenty of the National Park I’d not seen as well as some activities and attractions I’d not visited since going as a teenager which I wanted the opportunity to relive. I figured I could then play tour guide on the day we planned to spend in the southern end of the park which I know and love.

Regularly visiting Snowdonia National Park too with a friend having a holiday home at the southern end of it as well as often taking out of season trips there with the dog meant I was somewhat familiar with this area too although once we started looking into what to do there, I soon realised I’d actually seen very little away from the southernmost tip where the seaside town of Barmouth is located.

One of the many waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons was a National Park I was totally unfamiliar with outside of the town of Brecon itself where my family would often make a pitstop at en route to Tenby so I decided to concentrate my initial research here.

Looking at a range of websites, blogs etc on each of the parks, we eventually came up with a plan to split our time with 3 nights un the Brecon Beacons and 5 nights at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Snowdonia National Park respectively during which time we’d tackle some of the big hikes including Pen-y-Fan and the Four Waterfalls Walk in the Brecon Beacons and, of course, Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park.

On Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire National Park

Despite pretty much having our trip all planned out, we put off booking longer than we usually would as we waited to see what restrictions would or wouldn’t be eased. Then, just as we were starting to think about booking hotels for our stay, our plans had to be briefly put on hold as my friend suffered an injury which could have put an end to any hiking and long days driving followed by a death in the family.

When we finally came to book some places to stay we found very limited availability and extremely high prices, especially as we’d decided to book fully cancellable options just in case things changed before we went.

Walking an alpaca

We eventually settled for a pub/motel room in the town of Merthyr Tydfil, a few miles south of the Brecon Beacons National Park and just a short drive from some of the walks we planned to do. The motel was within our budget and included breakfast and its location was also convenient for eating out in the evenings as there were plenty of cheap and cheerful chain restaurants just a short drive from the town centre.

For Pembrokeshire National Park we had to stay quite a way out of the park in a roadside motel near the town of Narberth. The motel cost us a lot more than we’d wanted to pay but was still the cheapest place we could find. It did include breakfast though and although being a bit out of the park, was at least pretty centrally located meaning we never had more than a 40 minute drive to the north or south end of the National Park from there.

Snowdonia proved to be the most difficult and expensive park to find accommodation for and we ended up having to split our stay between 2 places, choosing a small farm guesthouse just outside the south-west end of the park for the first 2 nights and a chain motel in Bangor, a seaside town north of the park for the final 3 nights.

Visiting Snowdonia National Park

With our accommodation finally sorted, we moved on to the activities. Whereas many of the activities and attractions in the park are usually turn up and go, many of them currently had pre-book only rules which can be difficult when you’re going somewhere with very unpredictable weather! We had the National Welsh Showcaves at Dan-yr-Ogof pencilled in as a rainy day activity for the day we left the Brecon Beacons in case it was too wet to hike but decided to hold off booking in case the weather did turn out to be ok.

As soon as we realised it was almost certainly going to pour down that morning, we went to book only to find we were too late and it had sold out. That wasn’t our only booking failure – we also left booking activities at the popular ZipWorld attractions in Snowdonia way too late, finding the Velocity 2 zipline and the mountain coaster we really wanted to do both sold out until the autumn (we did eventually manage to get a cancellation slot on the ziplines at a later date!)

We did manage to pre-book a boat trip to Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire National Park – something I’d wanted to do for years – but pre-booking weeks in advance meant it was pot luck with the weather and, of course (spoiler alert!), it ended up absolutely pouring down that day.

About to zipline over an old quarry in Snowdonia

We were luckier with the date we picked to walk Alpacas or that would have been miserable too. Other activities such as visits to Heatherton World of Activities and Oakwood Theme Park both in Pembrokeshire, we decided to leave til the last minute and check on the weather and luckily, when we did decide to attend Heatherton, there were plenty of tickets left booking the day before we attended.

Despite everyone staycationing leading to accommodation prices shooting up and activities selling out way in advance, our trip was, overall, a success and while it still wasn’t quite up there with our US adventures, we were grateful to be able to get away at all and had a pretty great time.

East Sussex and Kent coast

A UK Staycation

After months of lockdown over the winter, I was desperate for a break and with Spring approaching, UK staycations in self-contained accommodation were finally to be allowed. With the opening date for holiday parks, holiday cottages and lodges overlapping with the second week of the school Easter holidays, we decided to look for somewhere to go for a few days, just looking forward to a change of scenery.

Winchelsea Beach

With Wales, our normal port of call for a UK staycation, remaining closed to visitors from across the border for the time being, we had to look elsewhere. Having family in Kent we’d not seen for a while, we started to look at availability in the south of England, thinking we could tie in a get-together while there.

Prices were sky high with everyone desperate for a getaway, especially in the more obvious holiday destinations around Brighton. Deciding to leave booking to the last minute, we eventually managed to grab a bargain 4-night stay at in a static caravan at an East Sussex holiday park.

It was a long drive from the Midlands down to the small seaside town of Winchelsea and by the time we arrived we were pretty exhausted. Not wanting to cook, we took a drive into the nearby town of Rye, hoping to grab some food from the local chippy. Unfortunately, we found both of the town’s Fish and Chip shops closed on a Monday. Not being able to find or settle on anything else, we ended up heading back to the holiday park and its local Co-op, finding what we could from the groceries we’d brought with us and grabbing a few extra items from the convenience store.

On the bech at Camber Sands

The next morning, we had arranged to meet with family at Winchelsea Beach. They were not expected to make it there til a little before midday so with Lily the dog chomping at the bit to be walked, we headed down a bit earlier. We were disappointed to find that with the tide in, the beach was pebbly, the shale stone hurting Lily’s paws so instead we had to walk her along the coast path that ran along the top of the sharply steeping beach.

Messaging our family who were more familiar with the area, we asked if there was any sandy bays they knew of nearby and they suggested Camber Sands, just a 20 minute drive along the coast. Quickly changing our plans, we arranged to meet there instead at around noon and turned around to walk back to the small Winchelsea Beach car park.

With it being a warm-for-April, sunny Easter holiday day, the main car park at Camber Sands was busy and the charges seemed a bit steep but luckily, we found some on-road parking nearby and cut across a playing field to reach the dunes backing the beach. Following one of the well-trodden paths that had been made through the dunes, we soon emerged the other side to be greeted with an absolutely beautiful stretch of golden sands to our right which gradually turned to pebbles to our left.

We made our way down towards the beach cafe where we’d arranged to meet our family members who had also just arrived then walked down towards the sea to find a space to sit out and picnic together.

A stroll on the beach at Camber

After lunch, Lily and my 6 year old niece paddled happily in the sea. The tide was starting to go out and we spent the next few ours strolling along the sand, paddling in the shallows, and, once away from the busier end of the beach (by the car park and cafe), we even found time for a family game of French cricket!

Away from the crowds, with the warm sun shining and the sea sparkling, we could have been anywhere. The beach at Camber is definitely up there with some of the best I’ve been to in Europe and further afield!

Above, and below, at Bexhill-on-Sea and, further below, St Leonards-on-Sea

3 hours later, we decided it was time to make our way back to our cars and saying our goodbyes, we returned to our spacious caravan back at the holiday park exhausted.

After dinner, we took Lily out for an evening stroll in Winchelsea around the playing field behind the beach where a local children’s football club were finishing a practise session, then up to the coast path retracing our steps from our morning stroll.

The next day, we decided to have a ride our further along the coast to explore the area further. Driving out past an extremely busy-looking Hastings, we stopped instead at the quieter Bexhill-on-Sea. Like Winchelsea, the beach here was pebbly while the tide was in but we enjoyed spending an hour or so walking along the wide, grass-lined promenade, sitting out in the sunshine on a bench overlooking the sea to eat our picnic lunch. After lunch, we briefly walked Lily down to the sea, being careful not to stay too long on the pebbles before returning along the promenade to our car and driving back towards Winchelsea.

Our next stop was at St Leonards-on-Sea. Unfortunately, the weather had changed for the worse and the sunny spells from the morning had been replaces by cloud, some passing drizzle and a bitterly cold wind. Parking at the southern end of the town, we took a quick walk down onto the beach hut lined pebbly beach then battled against the wind to take a stroll along the promenade and back.

On the way back to Winchelsea, we took a slight detour to the small village of Icklesham.

Hogg Hill Mill sat on top of a hill

My mother is a huge fan of The Beatles and my sister-in-law had informed her a recording studio belonging to Paul McCartney lay just outside of Winchelsea and it was possible to follow a public footpath running alongside it. After looking it up, we found our way to Hogg Hill Mill, a former post mill which had been converted into a recording studio.

Reaching the former mill

Seeing the building lying on top of a hill, we found a small pull in to park by the gate signposted as a public footpath and dutifully all marched up the hill so my mother could get a photo with the studio in the background!

Returning to the holiday park, we ventured out again in the evening to once again walk Lily around the playing fields behind the beach, this time heading up to the coast path and wandering along towards Rye Nature Reserve before looping back to the car.

Wanting to give Lily another run on a sandy beach, the next morning we returned to Camber Sands first thing.

Back on Camber Sands briefly, and below, the intriguing landscape of Dungeness

After Lily had a run around and splash in the sea, we drove east across the border into Kent to visit Dungeness. Situated on the Kent headland, Dungeness is part of Romney Marsh and is both a private estate and part of a national nature reserve. The barren, almost destitute headland was like something out of an apocalyptic movie with rusting machinery, empty shacks and rotting boats sporadically dotted across the land, paths and the occasional boardwalk leading down to a shingle beach and the sea.

Further along, a lighthouse, which can sometimes be climbed for views across the bay, lay along with a busy cafe and more boardwalk walks across the land.

Greatstone-on-Sea

After spending some time exploring, we continued along the Kent coast, stopping at Greatstone-on-Sea where we found another pretty, but pebbly, beach. Taking a walk along the grassy promenade, we then continued into the town of New Romney and along towards Dymchurch where we hoped to make our final stop of the day.

Unfortunately, we found Dymchurch to be incredibly busy and, unable to find somewhere to park, had to turn around and head back towards Winchelsea and our holiday park.

After another walk along the Winchelsea coast path that evening then again the next morning, it was time to say goodbye to East Sussex and Kent but we’d enjoyed spending a few days exploring part of the UK we’d not seen before.

24 hours in Boston

Ending our 5-week road trip with a day in Boston, MA

After 5 weeks on the road, it was time to say goodbye to our trusty hire car. Pulling up at the Alamo terminus at Boston Logan International Airport, we scrambled to get everything we needed from the various compartments of our vehicle before making our way to catch the free shuttle from the car rental centre to the main terminals.

Swan Boats docked for the evening in Boston Public Gardens

Then we hopped on to the Silver Line bus to shuttle us into the city. With it being early evening, traffic into the city was heavy but we eventually made it to Boston’s South Station, transferring here onto the Red Line to reach our Back Bay area hotel.

All checked in and not wanting to completely waste the evening, we went for a walk finding ourselves in the Boston Common-adjacent Boston Public Gardens.

George Washington statue in Boston Public Gardens

The sun was starting to set and the sky was a beautiful red colour as we wandered through the grounds past the Swan Boats all docked for the evening and then out of the park past the George Washington statue. We then walked along Newbury Street down to Copley Place stopping to grab a drink and a snack before looping back round to our hotel.

Leaving Boston Harbour

The next day, we had a late night flight out of the city back to the UK meaning we had the full day to enjoy in the city. Having both been to Boston before – this was my third stay in the city – we’d seen a lot of the main sights before. So, wanting to do something a bit different, we had pre-booked a whale watching trip with Boston Harbor Cruises.

The Boston skyline disappearing in the distance

Getting up and out early, we made a pit stop at a Starbucks for breakfast then walked through the city past Boston Common following the Freedom Trail markers down to Boston Harbour. Arriving at the harbour area a little are than needed, we took a stroll along the waterfront until it was time to check in for our tour and board our boat.

It was a large boat and we took a seat inside by the window, staying put for the first few minutes as we left the harbour, a commentary from one of the crew members explaining to us all how the morning would run and a little about what we could see looking back at the Boston skyline.

We soon decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and head up to the open deck where we could move about more freely and enjoy the skyline views unobstructed.

Everyone trying to get a glimpse of our first whale.

As we moved further and further away from the city, our guide continued to give us information on our surroundings and we when far enough out to sea, we eventually slowed to begin our search for whales. Even without the excitement of spotting some marine life, it was the perfect weather for just cruising out at sea watching the World go by. But as it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait before our first whale spotting.

A whale in the distance

Suddenly everyone onboard seemed to be out on the top deck as we all tried to find a space to get a look at our first whale of the day! Luckily, it was the first of many sightings and we even came across a pod of whales floating at the surface as they enjoyed the sunshine before seemingly showing off to us waving their fins and splashing around!

After spending some time watching these magnificent creatures, it was time to turn around and make our way back to Boston harbour. It had been a really exciting way to spend the morning though and we were really glad we’d decided to book the activity.

With a few more hours to spare, we walked to Boston’s Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch then followed the Freedom Trail markers back towards Boston Common stopping to look around in Quincy Market and passing Boston landmarks including Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

Arriving back into Boston Harbour

Finally finding ourselves back at Boston Common, we enjoyed the last bit of sunshine before walking back to our hotel to collect our luggage and making our way back to Logan Airport ready to fly back to the UK.

It didn’t feel like 5 weeks had gone since we arrived in Miami.

The Old State House

Since then we’d certainly had a lot of adventures – my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, exploring Savannah, visiting Charleston and Congaree National Park in South Carolina state, learning about the history of Coca Cola in Atlanta, line dancing the night away in Nashville, encountering black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoying the beautiful views along Blue Ridge Parkway, segwaying in Washington DC, visiting Baltimore city, returning to New York, enjoying a sunset sail in Rhode Island, becoming a Junior Range at Acadia National Park in Maine, visiting New Hampshire’s White Mountains and learning all about ice cream production at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Vermont to name just a few.

While I was sad to say goodbye for now, with a few more States still to tick off and plenty more to see, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I returned for another epic trip.

A road trip through New Hampshire and Vermont

We were on the last few days of another epic US road trip and after following the New England east coastline north into Maine to visit Acadia National Park, we were now looping round back to Boston via stops in New Hampshire and Vermont.

We had been on the road for almost 5 weeks at this point and the start of our journey in Florida seemed like a very long time ago.

Looking down at the ski lift terminus fromthe summit of Cannon Mountain

Travelling from Miami to Walt Disney World then north to Savannah, Georgia and into South Carolina, we’d then ventured away from the East Coast heading towards Atlanta, Georgia, up to Nashville and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and then driving north through the Blue Ridge Mountains and back to the East Coast to visit Washington DC, Baltimore in Maryland and New York City. The final leg of our trip had been through the New England states, so far making stops in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and briefly passing through New Hampshire to reach Maine.

Leaving this state behind early this morning, we were now heading back into New Hampshire to visit the White Mountains.

Above, and below, views from Cannon Mountain

Our first stop was at Cannon Mountain, part of Franconia Notch State Park. Arriving mid-afternoon, we took the aerial tramway up the mountain to enjoy views over the New Hampshire and the White Mountains, the surrounding states of Maine and Vermont and, on a clear day, even Canada. Unfortunately, today was not the clearest of days and it was cold and windy on the viewing platforms at the top of Cannon Mountain but the views over the White Mountains were still pretty. After spending some time on the observation decks and hiking along the summit rim trail, we hopped back onto the aerial tramway to begin our descent.

Following the Flume Gorge Trail at Franconia Notch State Park

From here, we continued to another part of Franconia Notch State Park, Flume Gorge. Here, we followed the 2-mile loop trail which takes visitors past the natural gorge at the bottom of Mount Liberty.

There was lots to see along the trail, including waterfalls, pretty streams and pools and the oldest covered bridge in New Hampshire state.

After completing our hike, we continued to the town of Lincoln where we’d be staying overnight, grabbing a pizza dinner from one of the local restaurants.

Above, the oldest covered bridge in New Hampshire state, and below, following the Flume Gorge Trail

The next morning, we had booked a White Mountains Alpine Ziplining Adventure just outside of Lincoln town. After checking in and getting our equipment, we were taken along a series of bridges and up to platforms from which we ziplined across the trees. A really fun and exhilarating way to enjoy the mountain views!

We then began our drive to the state of Vermont. Making good time, we decided to take a detour to Danville after spotting an advert for a corn maze there during our lunch stop. We thought it sounded like a fun way to spend a bit of time.

Above, and below, having fun lost in a giant corn maze in Vermont

What we didn’t bank on was the maze being so huge and what we thought would be an hour’s activity took us the rest of the afternoon as we got more and more lost inside the complicated corn labyrinth! We had a really great, if sometimes frustrating, time trying to find our way out and were elated to finally ring the bell at the maze exit about 3 hours later!!

Above, off for some cheese sampling at Cabot Visitors Centre, and below, sampling different strengths of Maple Syrup at Morse Farm

Despite it being late afternoon, we still managed to fit a few more of our planned stops en route to our overnight stop in Stowe including a visit to the Cabot Cheese Visitors Centre where we sampled some of the products and at Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier to try some maple syrup products but unfortunately, spending all that extra time trapped in a corn maze meant an evening arrival in Stowe, too late to spend any time exploring the town and visit Sunset Rock or hike the Pinnacle Trail as we’d planned.

We did make a quick trip into Stowe’s pretty town centre the next morning, having a quick look in some of stores along the main street but we had a long drive to Boston ahead of us to return our hire car so couldn’t extend our visit any more.

Ingredients for ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory

We still had a few more stops in Vermont to make along the way, the first of which was just outside of Stowe at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory where you can take a tour of the premises. The tour was short but interesting and we grabbed some ice cream before we left. Next up was the nearby Cold Hollow Cider Mill where we tried the famous Cider Donuts.

We had a few more food related stops at other farm shops in Vermont but unfortunately made a wrong turn onto the highway and had to drive an hour out of our way before we could turn around and return in the direction we needed to be travelling in. This put us too far behind schedule to allow anymore stops if we were going to make our deadline to return our hire car to the depot at Boston Airport that afternoon.

Enjoying an ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s after our tour

Making up a bit of time, we made one stop for a late lunch at a road side Cracker Barrel before finally reaching Boston on schedule late afternoon.

It had been a long road from Miami, Florida to our final destination of Boston, Massachusetts but we’d had a lot of fun along the way. Now, we had just over another 24 hours of our trip left before returning back to the UK late the next day and we were determined to make the most of it!

An East Coast USA Road Trip: Acadia National Park

Briefly passing through the state of New Hampshire en route to Maine

I was nearing the end of my 5 week USA road trip and after spending time in Miami, Orlando, Savannah, Charleston, Atlanta, Nashville and Gatlinburg, we’d driven through the Blue Ridge Mountains and across to Washington DC, visited Baltimore and New York City. The last leg of our trip was a loop of the New England states and after ticking off Connecticut and Rhode Island and driving through Massachusetts, today we’d be leaving our motel on the outskirts of Boston to drive north towards Acadia National Park in Maine.

Driving north from Massachusetts to Maine meant briefly crossing in to the state of New Hampshire. We’d be spending more time in this state on the way back towards Boston after our visit to Acadia but for now, always on the lookout for interesting or fun roadside attractions, we made a quick stop in New Castle at Great Island Common, a small coastal park that’s home to a giant picture frame you can pose inside.

It was fun and pretty early morning stop although probably not worth the cost of parking is you’re not staying for long!

From New Castle, NH, we crossed the state border into Maine where we had a few more fun stops planned to break up our journey to Bar Harbor, where we’d be staying for the next few nights.

Lenny, the chocolate moose at Len Libbies Candies

First up, was a giant arm chair just randomly sat on a grassy area by a furniture store in the town of Kittery. After clambering on to try it out, we continued Scarborough where we visited the roadside store Len Libbies Candies to see it’s giant chocolate moose sculpture and buy some sweet treats for our journey.

Next up, was a stop at a business park in Yarmouth to peer in at ‘Eartha’, the World’s Largest Rotating Globe, rotating so slowly, we weren’t actually sure it was moving at all at first!

Our lunch time stop was in the town of Freeport where, after grabbing a Subway sandwich, we took photos with a giant L.L. Bean Boot car. We were also very excited to find a British shop in the town selling the UK made Cadbury’s chocolate we’d recently found ourselves craving!

The welcome sign at Acadia National Park

It was a long drive from Freeport to our motel on the outskirts of Bar Harbor. With time getting on, we made one last stop at a Denny’s along the highway for dinner, finally arriving at our accommodation early evening. Finding an ice cream and desserts shop near to our motel while out walking that evening, we grabbed a delicious crepe stuffed with Nutella and strawberries to eat before settling down for the night, ready for an early start the next day.

The following morning, we enjoyed a pancake breakfast at a local restaurant before driving towards Acadia National Park. We began our day at the Hulls Cove Visitor Centre to pick up park brochures and, of course, a Junior Ranger booklet to fill in along the way!

Above, and below, views from Cadillac Mountain

We had planned to drive along the park’s loop road, stopping off at some of the park’s highlights along the way. We’d been warned that the park often got busy and parking could be difficult to find at some of the main sites after mid-morning so had made sure to get up and out as early as we could.

Our first stop was at Cadillac Mountain where, luckily, there were still plenty of parking spaces available. Walking up the the viewpoint from the car park, we then spent almost an hour hiking over the rocks and enjoying the beautiful views.

At Schooner Head Outlook

Back in the car, we entered the one-way section of the loop road. We diverted off briefly to drive down to the Schooner Head Outlook, parking up and hiking down along the Schooner Head Trail for a bit to get a better look.

Above, and below, our lunch spot overlooking Thunder Hole

Next, we had hoped to stop at Sand Beach but found the area to be overrun with visitors, the car park full and no spaces anywhere along the road either. A bit further along the loop road, we did eventually manage to find a space to pull in and park at to walk down to the coast path and see Thunder Hole, so called because it is said to sound like a clap of thunder when the water hits the rocks at certain times of the day.

Scrambling further along the rocky coast path, we found somewhere to sit to have lunch with a view before returning to the car and continuing along the loop road a bit further to Otter Point.

At Otter Point

After enjoying more beautiful views, we followed the loop road inland towards Jordan Pond. As well as the picturesque lake, this part of the park is also home to restaurants, gift stores and conveniences and is therefore a popular spot on the loop road. With it being mid-afternoon, everyone seemed to have arrived at the same time and despite multiple loops on the car park, we could not find a space.

An Eagle Lake overlook

As this part of the park lay just off the one-way section of the loop road, we decided to drive on and return later when we hoped it would be a bit quieter. Instead, we continued our loop of the park, stopping briefly at a viewpoint for Eagle Lake and then exiting the park back by the Hulls Cove Visitor Centre to drive into Bar Harbor instead.

With our motel lying on the outskirts of Bar Harbor, this was our first visit to the main town. After wandering around looking in some of the stores, we walked down to the pretty harbour and along the sea front.

The marina at Bar Harbor

After spending a bit of time in the town, we decided to return to Acadia and make another attempt at finding a car parking space at Jordan Pond. The couple of hours that had passed since our last visit had made a huge difference and this time we had a choice of spaces!

Above, and below, back in Acadia National Park at Jordan Pond

We visited Jordan Pond House first looking around the gift store and enjoying the views overlooking the lake in the distance then walked down to the lake front following the path along the shore for a while. The views across Jordan Pond with the two hills of South and North Bubble behind it were really pretty and we were glad we made the effort to return and spend some time here.

Ice cream!

That evening, we returned to our motel grabbing dinner at a neighbouring restaurant then returning to the dessert store for ice cream before spending some time completing our Junior Ranger booklets.

The next morning, after checking out, we returned to the Hulls Cove Visitor Centre to hand our booklets in and earn our souvenir Junior Ranger badges before setting off for New Hampshire and the White Mountains.

We had one more stop to make in Maine, at a roadside attraction in the town of Bryant Pond – the World’s Largest telephone!

Then it was time to wave goodbye to this pretty state and continue with the last few days of our adventure.

A New England Road Trip

Travelling through New York state and Connecticut to Newport, RI then on through Massachusetts

We were on the last leg of an epic road trip through the USA.

Driving through New York state

Starting weeks earlier in Florida with a few nights in Miami and a visit to Walt Disney World, we had then travelled on through Georgia to the city of Savannah, up into South Carolina to visit Charleston and Congaree National Park, back across into Georgia passing through the city of Atlanta, through Alabama and into Tennessee returning to the city of Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, into North Carolina and Virginia where we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway and into Shenandoah National Park, across to Washington DC and then up to Baltimore in Maryland and through Delaware and New Jersey to New York City.

Entering the state of Connecticut

After a busy few days in the city, we were now departing our New Jersey motel and driving north to Rhode Island. Our journey took us briefly through New York state and then into Connecticut, a state my only previous experience of was stopping at a couple of stations while travelling by train from Boston to New York many years ago!

Arriving at the PEZ Visotors Centre

We had plans to make a couple of stops in Connecticut, including one at Yale University to tour the campus grounds, but, as often happens on our road trips, time got away from us and with a sunset cruise to make in Rhode Island that evening, we had to cut down our itinerary.

We did at least manage a quick stop at a Connecticut roadside attraction – the Pez Visitor Centre. The centre was a like a museum dedicated to the character candy dispensers with displays showing hundreds of dispensers from over the years organised by character or theme. There was also a chance to peer into the factory to see the PEZ candies being made.

Reaching the state of Rhode Island

After a quick stop at the Cracker Barrel for lunch, we continued on to Rhode Island where we’d be staying overnight in Newport.

The Breakers, one of the Newport Mansions

After checking into our motel on the outskirts of town, we decided to use the rest of the afternoon to visit one of the historic mansions in the area. We had pre-booked a two-house ticket which gave us a choice of a few of the mansions in the area and aimed to tour one this afternoon and another before leaving Newport the following morning.

We decided to start with The Breakers, a huge mansion built in the late 1800s as a summer residence for members of the Vanderbilt family. Upon entry to the house, we were given audio guides to listen to and guide us around. It was interesting to explore the house with its opulent furnishings and reminded us of visiting National Trust properties in the UK.

After touring the mansion, we drove down towards Newport’s pretty waterfront area and spent some time looking around before our sunset cruise was due to depart. It was a beautiful evening and Bowen’s Wharf was bustling with visitors sat outside at the bars and restaurants, enjoying the sunshine.

Above, and below, a perfect evening for a sunset cruise

The rest of our evening was spent enjoying a Champagne Sunset Sail through Newport Harbour and Narragansett Bay on board Schooner Madeleine, a sailing yacht. It was the perfect weather for the cruise, the sunset was really beautiful and it was nice to chat to the other passenger and the staff on board.

Rosecliffe, another of the historic Newport Mansions

The next morning, we went to visit another of the Newport Mansions. We had done some research to see if we could find a house that contrasted a bit with The Breakers and had decided to visit the smaller but equally beautiful Rosecliffe, a mansion which has also been used in a number of films.

The grounds of Rosecliffe

Touring the house and grounds took us longer than planned and we therefore had to abandon our plans to take a stroll along the Newport cliff walk so we could get back on the road towards Boston, Massachusetts and fit in as many of the stops we’d planned along the way as possible!

Newport – and from what we’d see, Rhode Island in general – had been a really pretty place to visit and we felt we could have easily spent more time exploring there but maybe we can return one day in the future to see what else the smallest state in the USA has to offer!

Entering the state of Massachusetts

Leaving Newport late morning, we then began our drive out towards Cape Cod. We’d predicted we’d hit some traffic but were delayed more than we expected and arrived in Hyannis, which we’d planned to be our first of a few stops along the coast, much later than we’d have liked.

Hyannis Harbour

Finding somewhere to park, we began our wander around the pretty town along Main Street lined with its many gift stores, cafes and restaurants. Hungry, we chose one of the cafes to sit in and grab a BLT for lunch then continued to look around the town, grabbing an ice cream and walking down to the harbour.

If we’d had more time, we’d have liked to have visited the JFK Museum but unfortunately, we had to cut our visit to Hyannis short if we were to make our destination at a reasonable time and fit in a few more stops along the way.

The portico containing Plymouth Rock along the sea front

Instead of continuing along the peninsula to the Cape Cod National Seashore Visitor’s Centre as originally planned, we turned around and began our drive up to the town of Plymouth. This pretty coast town is where settlers first arrived in America and the famous Plymouth Rock marks the place where the Mayflower ship is said to have landed on the shore.

We walked along the sea front towards the huge stone portico surrounding the rock. The tide was out so the large boulder sat on the sand in the middle of its walled compound. It was a lot smaller than I expected it to be!

Enjoying a chocolate chip cookies at the birthplace of chocolate chip cookies!

From Plymouth, we continued towards Boston making one final stop to stretch our legs in Whitman, where a historic marker shows the place where The Toll House Inn once stood, said to be the place chocolate chip cookies were first invented!

We neared the city of Boston towards the end of rush hour but still found ourselves caught in traffic with our Sat Nav directing us to a ridiculously busy tunnel that seemed to run directly under the city. Finally making it out, we continued north of the city to Wakefield where our motel for the night was situated.

It had been a busy couple of days and tomorrow we’d be heading towards one of the most anticipated stops of our road trip – Acadia National Park in Maine.

An East Coast road trip: NYC

Spending 3 nights in New York City

We’d been on the road in the USA for weeks travelling through Florida with visits to Miami and Disney World, on to Savannah, GA, up through the state of South Carolina to visit Charleston and Congaree National Park, on to Atlanta, GA, into Tennessee to visit Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, spent a day in Washington DC before arriving in Baltimore, MD. Now, it was off to New York City and after a stressful drive through New Jersey state, we were breathing a huge sigh of relief to finally arrive at our motel accommodation in Jersey City, just across the river from Manhattan.

It was already late afternoon and we had evening plans in the city – tickets booked for the sunset hours at Top of the Rock, one of the three observations decks to choose from in New York City.

The view of downtown Manhattan from the Top of the Rock observation deck

Now we just had to find our way to the nearest New Jersey Transit station and catch the PATH train the few stops into Manhattan. Sounded simple enough and we’d researched train times, routes to get to midtown and where to get tickets from. What we hadn’t prepared for, was rail works meaning the line we needed to get to midtown was closed. This, coupled with there being less trains because of the Sunday service timetable, put us into a bit of a panic that we wouldn’t make our Top of the Rock timeslot!

The only trains running into Manhattan were running to the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan which meant we’d then have to catch a subway train up to the Rockefeller Centre. Luckily, I’d spent enough time in New York over the years (this would be my 10th visit to the city) that I was pretty familiar with the transport system.

On the Top of the Rock observation deck overlooking Central Park

The platform at the New Jersey stop was extremely busy but when the train arrived, we managed to squeeze on. We were given free transfer tickets to use on the subway at the other end to make up for the inconvenience and were soon on our way on the uptown line to the Rockefeller Centre. From here, we quickly found our way to the Top of the Rock entrance just in time for our timed entry slot.

Top of the Rock has always been my favourite of the three observation decks on offer in New York. There’s more space on the viewing decks than the Empire State Building and I prefer the view, especially as you get the iconic Empire State Building in your pictures. I also prefer my observation decks to have an outdoor viewing area so you can avoid glare from windows in your photos, something the Freedom Tower’s observation deck lacks. Historically, I’d always found Top of the Rock to be the quietest of the three attractions too and had never had to fight my way into a space to take a photo.

That was until tonight anyway. Whether it was because we’d booked one of the sunset viewing slots or because it was a just a busy Sunday summer evening,I had never seen so many people up there! It made our visit a lot less relaxed than my previous visits had been and we stayed for less time than we probably would have done otherwise.

Despite the crowds, the views from the top were as amazing as ever.

After our Top of the Rock visit, the only thing on our mind was food. We had originally planned to eat before our Top of the Rock timeslot but our delays driving through New Jersey followed by the train problems getting into Manhattan meant we didn’t have time. It was late and we didn’t really want to hop on a subway to a different part of the city but Times Square was busy and everywhere we looked at either had queues or, predictably, an overpriced menu. So instead, we decided to catch the train back to New Jersey figuring we’d be able to find something once back there.

The view of Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty Pedestal

With the train delays, it took us a while to get back and once we did, we found the malls we had passed walking to the station earlier closed for the night along with the restaurants. Luckily, the McDonalds not too far from our motel was still open so we resorted to grabbing some fast food from there to satisfy us.

The next morning, the trains were back to running as normal so after breakfast, we walked to the station to head into Manhattan. Despite it being my tenth visit to the city, there is always something new to experience and I like to make sure I always do something I haven’t done before.

This time, I would be returning to Liberty Island to visit the iconic Statue of Liberty but for the first time, actually going inside the statue. Despite visiting Liberty Island twice before, I’d always had an island only ticket so not even been as far in as the pedestal which the statue stands on.

Once in downtown Manhattan, we made our way to Battery Park to catch the ferry across, enjoying the skyline views as we looked back at the city. Our tickets this time, gave us access to the crown of the statue and we knew there were a lot of steps to climb to reach this so, with some trepidation, we handed our tickets in at the entrance to the pedestal and began our climb. There was an option to take an elevator to the pedestal for anyone who didn’t want to climb the entire up but we decided to walk it taking our time and enjoying the views whilst catching our breath once we reached the lookout point.

Then, from the pedestal, we began our climb up to the crown. It was a strange feeling being inside the huge statue and being able to make out the shape of the the gown as we climbed up through the hollow structure. The stirs got narrower the further we climbed and when we finally reached the crown, the viewing deck there was extremely compact meaning we didn’t feel comfortable spending a lot of time there. After a quick chat with the park ranger who told us a bit about the statue and what we could see, we took a few photos of the view and what was visible of the structure itself and then began our descent. It was a really interesting experience getting to climb up inside the statue and if you can manage the 354 steps to the crown (or just 162 from the pedestal if you use the elevator!) then I’d definitely recommend going up there!

After our climb, we caught the ferry over to Ellis Island where the Immigration Museum stands. Having both visited the museum previous trips, we opted to stay on the ferry and continue back to Manhattan.

That afternoon, we had plans to meet up with a friend from the Trek America Northern states tour we’d done, a New York native. Our meeting point was the amazing Grand Central Station and from here we made our way to Washington Square Park, one of those places I had passed many times over the years but never actually stopped at. The small park was buzzing as groups sat around the central fountain. Walking out of the park under its large, marble arch, we made our way towards Nolita. We were in search of ice cream and our friend recommended the area’s Milk Bar, a ‘hole in the wall’ dessert shop specialising in milk flavoured products. Here, I tried their ‘cereal milk’ flavoured ice cream, supposed to taste like the milk left in the bottom of the bowl after a bowl of sugary cereal. I was a little unsure after my first taste – the smell was more of sour milk than cereal milk! – but found myself quite enjoying it by the time I took my last spoonful!!

From Nolita, we strolled west into Greenwich Village to find the ‘Friends apartment’ – the building used for the exterior, between-scene shots in the famous comedy show. Being a huge fan of the series, I’d visited before but my friend hadn’t so we thought we’d stop by while we weren’t too far away.

Downtown views from a pier along Hudson River Park

After taking a few photos with the building, we continued west along to the Hudson River Park, the pedestrianised greenway which runs north to south along the west side of Manhattan. Strolling along the walkway and along some of its piers, we paused to take photos of the views across the river and of the downtown skyline as the sun started to dip.

The sun setting over the River Hudson

In need of some proper food, we then walked in land again towards Chelsea Market. The market is known for its abundance of food stalls but with so much on offer, we couldn’t settle on anything. Deciding to see what else the area had to offer, we eventually decided to grab some typical New York pizza from a local pizzeria before heading back across the Hudson River to our New Jersey motel.

Interviewing my travel mascot, Mr Ted, at the NBC Studios

We had one more day left in the city and plenty more to pack in. First up was a trip back to the Rockefeller Centre where this time, we’d be visiting the NBC Studios. I love doing the studio tours in LA and while I knew there wasn’t a lot in the way of films and major TV shows filmed here, I’m a fan of old skool Saturday Night Live and mainly wanted to see the studio it is filmed in. The studio, and that used for Jimmy Fallon’s late night chat show, were so much smaller than they appear on TV!

Despite not being familiar with a great deal of the shows mentioned by our guide, it was still really interesting to get a look inside both of these studios as well as a news studio and various other production areas.

Off to shop at Bloomingdales

From the Rockefeller Centre, we headed uptown, popping to Bloomingdales for a bit of shopping and then Dylan’s Candy Bar for some souvenirs and snacks to keep us going on the road for the next few days! It was almost lunch time and while we knew we wanted to eat at the always entertaining but rather touristy Ella’s Stardust Diner that evening, we also really wanted to visit Serendipity, a New York restaurant that had been on my places to visit list for years but I hadn’t yet made it to!

Visiting Serendipity

What we really wanted to try was it’s frozen hot chocolate but after being seated in the quirky dining room, we noticed there was a minimum charge per person that was quite a bit higher than the cost of the frozen hot chocolate between us would have been.

We debated just leaving but really wanting to try the famous dessert, eventually found settled on a plate of fries to share and a drink to just tip is over the minimum spend once the frozen hot chocolate was added in.

It was worth it as the dessert was delicious, like a huge, extremely cold, chocolate milkshake!

After demolishing the delicious dessert, we started to work it off by walking to Central Park where we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine.

While in the park, we made sure to tick off our favourite park highlights including some of the bronze statues, the boating pond, the lake, Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain.

Above, and below, dinner at Ella’s Stardust diner

After all that walking, we were soon hungry again so made our way out of the park and back towards Times Square to visit the nearby Ella’s Stardust Diner. A complete contrast to the small, cute surrounding of Serendipity earlier, Ella’s Diner is a huge, loud diner where the waitstaff are all Broadway wannabes who sing to entertain you as you eat. It’s always great fun and this time was no different.

After dinner, we walked to Times Square to take some last minute photos of the bright lights. You can;t visit New York without taking in a show so we finished our trip to the city at the theatre watching Frozen on Broadway.

Heading back to our New Jersey motel, I was sad to once again say goodbye to the bright lights and noise of the city. We’d crammed a lot in to our short visit but there was lots we hadn’t got round to. Hopefully sometime in the future I can return again. For now it was back on the road ready to visit some of the states of New England.

East coast road trip: DC to NYC

Driving through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey

After a short visit to Washington DC, we were back on the road, northbound to the city of Baltimore in Maryland. My only experience of visiting the state of Maryland before had been a bus journey to its airport on a previous visit to DC, a cheaper alternative to flying from Washington DC’s own airports, so I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of this east coast state.

Stopping for ice cream

The majority of our road trip so far had been spent in the hot and humid southern states. So far, we’d sweltered in the state of Florida, visiting Miami and spending a few days at Walt Disney World, passed through the state of Georgia visiting the beautiful city of Savannah, drove through South Carolina state taking in the city of Charleston and Congaree National Park, continued back into Georgia state with stops including the city of Atlanta, travelled into Tennessee to revisit Nashville and stop by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and taken a long drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Shenandoah National Park to admire the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Now, after a morning stop at the Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington DC, we were enjoying a scenic drive along the National Park Service owned Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Baltimore

After a quick lunch (and ice cream!) stop along the way, we were soon in Baltimore checking into our motel in the Downtown/Inner Harbor area of the city. We had booked tickets for a late afternoon visit to the Washington Monument, an 178-ft tall column in the pretty Mount Vernon area of the city, dedicated to President George Washington. Deciding to walk from our motel, wandering through the immediate area around our motel was not the safest I’ve ever felt in a city and we were glad when we reached the historic Mount Vernon neighbourhood.

Reaching Mount Vernon Place where the Washington Memorial stands, we were greeted by the friendly curator who gave us a bit of history about the monument and the surrounding area, recommending some of the local museums if we had time the following day (it was already 4.30pm and they all closed for the day at 5pm).

Above, and below, views over Baltimore from the Washington Monument

We had to climb 227 steps up the narrow spiral staircase to reach the viewing platform at the top of the monument. Once at the top, we caught our breath while admiring the views over the city. Then, after returning back down the stairs to the base of the monument, we were rewarded with an ‘I climbed the monument’ sticker!

Inner Harbor

From the monument, we wandered back through the Mount Vernon neighbourhood along its mansion-lined streets and down to Baltimore’s waterfront, an area which has been, and continues to be, the focus of huge renovation and rejuvenation in Baltimore. With it being a Saturday evening, the area was bustling and there was a great atmosphere as families, couples and groups of friends took strolls along the sea front and visited the many attractions, bars and restaurants.

Above, by the waterfront in Baltimore, and below, on a dragon pedal boat

We took a walk through one of the malls for a bit of souvenir shopping then walked along the harbour. Spotting a pedalo boat hire company along the front offering a range of different boats, we couldn’t resist and even paid extra to one with a dragon head on the front of it! We spent the next half hour or so bobbing around the harbour among all the other pedalo boats enjoying the views and a bit of friendly banter with some of the other groups out on the water.

Pedal boats are hard work though and we were in need of some well-deserved fuel next so we called in one of the bars overlooking the harbour for a bite to eat. With it being a busy Saturday night, there was a long wait for a table so we opted to eat at the bar instead, watching the busy bar tenders reminding us how they deserve all their tips and more!

Heading back to our motel, we decided this evening was as good a night as any to do some long overdue laundry.

View from the pedalo

Making our way back to our room after loading the machines, we were unable to get back in! Assuming it was a key card issue, we returned to the reception to get a new key but that didn’t work either. It turned out there was an issue with the locking system to our room which was unable to be fixed that evening. The door could be opened from the inside but not from outside meaning one of us had to stay in the room the whole time.

Luckily, we were checking out the next morning and had no plans to go out into the city again that evening or the next morning but it was a bit inconvenient that only one of us could go and get the laundry from the machines once it was done so the other could then let us back into the room after and that we had to go to breakfast one at a time the next morning!

New Jersey

After that little adventure, we checked out the next morning to continue our drive towards New York City. Not wanting to drive in Manhattan, or pay the huge parking fees at the city hotels, we’d actually be staying across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

A pit stop in the state of Delaware

Our drive took us briefly through the state of Delaware. Having made a stop in Wilmington on a previous US road trip, today, apart from a quick pit stop at an Interstate rest area, we continued on until we reached New Jersey.

With it being a few days since our last stop at a roadside attraction, today, we were excited to be visiting the town of Edison, NJ, home of the World’s Largest Lightbulb!! Driving through New Jersey with its busy turnpike’s was one of the most stressful journeys of our trip so far, and possibly the most stressful drive of any of our trips, so we breathed a sigh of relief to reach our destination – Menlo Park, Edison.

Entering the state of New Jersey

The town of Edison is, of course, named after inventor Thomas Edison and the lightbulb sits atop of the Art Deco Edison Memorial Tower as reminder of his amazing legacy. A small museum was next to the tower but with it being a Sunday, was unfortunately closed when we visited but it was still a fun stop to see the huge lightbulb!

From Edison, we continued our drive towards our motel on the outskirts of New York City.

The Edison Monument in New Jersey

Just when we thought our drive couldn’t get any more stressful, we hit roadworks and were redirected. Not quite understanding the diversion signs, we ended up taking a few wrong turns before finally finding ourselves back on the right track only to then find out our motel was right on the edge of the entrance to the infamous Holland Tunnel which joins New Jersey to Manhattan and we had to edge our way across numerous lanes of queuing traffic in time to exit into the hotel car park or end up in the tunnel heading to Manhattan!

Somehow we made it across into the lane we needed in time and found our way into the hotel grounds. Glad to have finally reached our destination, we checked in to our motel for the next 3 nights and got ready to head into New York City for the evening.

New York had always been a favourite city of mine and I was excited to return and see what adventures the next few days would bring!