Monday, 14 September 2015

Weekend walks: Hadrian's Wall and High Force.

A wonderful place to be.
A Walker.

Taken from an inscription on a sculpture along the walk at High Force.

What a lovely pair of boots

The August Bank Holiday weekend was a dream. Not strictly travelling in the true ('staying over') sense but worth an entry on here nonetheless. Prompted by the purchase of a pair of lovely new boots, and following some gentle arm twisting (no names mentioned, Marie), a car full of (mainly urban) north eastern ladies headed west for a ramble along Hadrian's Wall on a fine Saturday afternoon.

Marie, Amanda and Kathryn at Steel Rig

We started our walk from the Steel Rig car park (if you're planning a jaunt yourself, bring change, it's £4 for the day) and with the generous planning of Ms Drago we did a six and a half mile loop around the wall. For novice walkers, like ourselves, this route allowed for the perfect chat to ramble ratio. It wasn't too taxing but we did feel like we'd been on adventure. Mainly because we did a lot of climbing (up and down), had contrasting changes of scenery (rock face, lake, farm land, open fields and woodland), experienced all four seasons in a matter of hours and did some genuine team work. Two quite specific memories capture the day perfectly, both of them demonstrating our (most excellent) team work; KG's courageous battle with a bog (sadly, she failed, evidence below) and coming head to head with A LOT of angry cows and (at least) one bull, all of whom really didn't want us treading on their patch, which happened to be right in front of the gateway back to the car park.

Kathryn's bravery
The route included the filming location for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Sadly we forgot to take a picture of the famous dip with the tree (which you can see beautifully photographed here).

Hadrian's Wall
In a handful of hours we collectively experienced genuine moments of fear, comradery and proper belly laughter (the type that brings real tears).  When it comes to hanging out with the lasses, there's certainly still a place for coffee shop catch ups and girly cocktail evenings but the leisure-hike is definitely my new favourite thing.

Hadrian's Wall

Bitten by the need to be outdoors again before we settle in for 6 months of rubbish weather, Monday afternoon saw me and Mr D lacing up our boots and heading towards England's largest waterfall, in Teesdale, High Force.

High Force admission tickets

Although we live so close and have driven by this famous waterfall before, this was our first visit. Parking here is easy as there's an official car park, handily next to a pub, just over the road from the waterfall walk. (If you're planning a visit here, remember to bring change. The car park was £2 per car and admission to the waterfall walk is £1.50 per adult. Opening times vary depending on the time of year, so best to check before setting off.)

High Force from the Waterfall walk.

We walked down to High Force first to take in the fall from a distance, it's pretty impressive (and a bit slippy). Then we headed back up to the car park and set off on one of the wee ramble routes suggested at the car park.

The map routes in the car park

Public footpath near High Force

A footbridge across the Tees

There's one main route (a loop) which can be extended, depending on how far you want to walk. We set off from behind the pub, walking across several fields and past a few farms in the direction of Low Force. Unlike Saturday's walk, which was planned and accompanied by a map, we decided to go off the public footpath signs. It was pretty easy to navigate. We walked a five mile loop past Low Force and up to the south side of High Force. Although this does include a bit of an incline, the force at the top of the waterfall is mighty impressive (and a little scary) and very much worth the climb. The route at this time of year was so pretty, the wild flowers surrounding the path were a gorgeous palette of pinks and purples.

Wild flowers along the river

We were pretty lucky weatherwise, but on the return leg it started to rain. In an attempt to warm up and dry out we rewarded ourselves with a pub dinner. After a bit of deliberation (there are a few really great looking pubs in the area) we finally deciding on the Crown at Mickleton. This was pretty much our perfect pub. Lovely staff, cosy surroundings, nicely designed interior and really good food. We're planning a return visit very soon.

Mr D crossing the River Tees

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Seven days in Pembrokeshire

Happy New Year! Where did 2014 go!? Although it was jam-packed with lots lovely times it seems to have all happened so quickly. Too quickly. Looking back through our instagram feeds earlier this week (a great memory store), we've had loads of adventures, achieved a fair bit of home improvement, got to grips with having a produce-bearing garden and spent a lot of time in front of the (newly installed) wood-burner.

Our little wood burning stove
One particular and relatively recent highlight of 2014 would have to be our anniversary mini-break to the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. With the help of airbnb we found two amazing little getaways - Cwm Hill, a crog loft near New Moat and Wendy, a vintage railway carriage in Aberporth. Both properties were owned by the same host, Dr Greg Stevenson (a lecturer, author and TV host). We found them as we were just about to book another of Greg's rentals, in Ireland. He has a wonderful portfolio of holiday homes, all of which can be found at When we saw his Wales listings we fell in love with both immediately. J was taken by the cottage and I really wanted to stay in the carriage. When we realised they were only an hour apart we decide to spilt the week across both sites, and I'm so glad we did.

Cwm Hill, New Moat
Cwm Hill was idyllic and very remote.  It's received the accolade of Best UK Star Gazing cottage and so when we arrived at around 6pm on a December evening we were totally in the dark and, if truth be told, a little scared. With the aid of the car headlights, we spotted two little chimney pots and made our way down to the cottage gates by foot. Once inside, with a glass or two of vino (to remedy the nerves) and a roaring stove, we knew that we had found a really special place and settled in right away.

Cwm Hill, New Moat
Although we would have both happily stayed bolted up in the cottage the whole time, reading, pottering or playing board games, we managed to wrap up warm and head out for a couple of day trips. First stop was Narbeth, a cute market town with some lovely shops. We then headed to Tenby, a beautiful coastal town with an almost Mediterranean feel to it (and plenty of pubs, which necessitated a pub lunch, of course). Both places were worth braving the cold for and are probably twice as nice (and busy) in the summer months.

Almost every entry in Cwm Hill's guest book suggested a trip to Barafundle Bay, a National Trust site around 40 mins drive away. We're glad we heeded their advice - the bay must have been, on that sunny Tuesday in December, the most perfect (and totally deserted) beach in the UK. The colour of the sea was something special - our photos don't do it justice. The guest book also suggested the Tafarn Sinc, a local pub which has been in existence since 1872 - we willingly obliged with a swift pint on the way back and we'd concur with the praise of previous guests, it's a gem worth seeking out, not least for the mannequins waiting to greet patrons on arrival.

Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire
Cwm Hill was perfect - the bed was super comfy, the couch long enough for two slouchers, the shower was hot and powerful and the stove burned beautifully. We'd return in a heartbeat, it's a really special place to escape to.

Cwm Hill, New Moat
Our next holiday home was utterly charming, in a very different way. Wendy (built in 1908) resides by the sea at Aberporth after retiring from service in the 1930s. The drive from Cwm Hill to Wendy included two lovely towns Fishguard and St David's (the latter is actually the UK's smallest city) which should have warranted proper stop-offs but as the weather took a turn for the worst we were eager to get to our destination.

The view from Wendy's stoop
Wendy, Aberporth
Wendy looks out across the Irish Sea. A short walk left takes you to the seaside village of Aberporth (handy for wood and food supplies) and to the right, the beach at Tresaith. The guest book here recommends a walk along the cliff edge to a nearby pub at Tresaith. Naturally, three hours (more likely, four) were very well spent at The Ship Inn. They serve healthily large glasses of vin rouge and a very good sticky toffee pudding. 

The Ship Inn, Tresaith
(That's a pint glass next to the wine, not a half)
We've always wanted to go to Portmeirion so on our third day we made the 5 hour return drive to the famous Welsh coastal town. Thankfully the weather changed as we drove north and by the time we arrived the light was fantastic. The village is quaint and magical, and because of The Prisoner and Festival No.6, visually familiar. Being December it was also pretty much deserted, which added to the pleasant uncanniness.

Portmeirion beach

Portmeirion beach

Portmeirion beach
Portmeirion Village
We loved Wendy, but really fell head over feet for Cwm Hill. We're so grateful to Greg for the opportunity to stay in such amazing places and are considering another stay at some point soon, possibly this summer or better yet, September (if we're quick enough to get tickets for Festival No.6 this year...).
Portmeirion beach*
*a little over-filtered
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