A Travellerspoint blog

Travels with parents

Sometimes funny, sometimes stressy but always enlightening (aka NO MORE ROONS!)

semi-overcast 20 °C

Its been a couple of months since the actual adventure but I find myself getting busier and busier (a symptom of staying in one country too long perhaps) so its only now I come to write of the places we went the things we saw, the food we ate and the people we encountered.

On March 30th my mum and dad arrived for their much awaited third trip to the UK. This time my sister was pregnant and wee baby Johnson was due a week after they were expecting to get home so you can guess that their minds were perhaps a bit diverted.

Having done no more than book a weekend in Rome we were pretty much able to just write a list of places they wanted to see and plot a course. We started out over Easter travelling first to Great Yarmouth to show mum and dad a true British seaside resort town (and the seals near Horsey). We got to do lots of shopping for tack and ate fish and chips that were NOT good strolled the promenade and just soaked up this uniquely British tradition. Anton and I stay in a wicked cottage we hire through a friend of Anton’s mums and it was fantastic to be able to show mum and dad one of the places I've spoken about so much. It was also a chance to take Jack somewhere with us. As a huge dog he’s a little hard to take everywhere! But Great Yarmouth loves our dog and we can't walk more than 50 yards at a time without being stopped so people can pat him!

After a couple of days in Great Yarmouth we headed for Lowestoft as Dad wanted to see if he could buy some fresh fish there (turns out he couldn't) and then Thetford, which was a lovely little town last time we went but has gone to the dogs in the intervening months!

We had one night at home to do the necessary before we set out on our next little jaunt first going to Betws-y-coed in north Wales. My Grandmother went there on one of her trips here with my grandfather (this is going back to just before I was born so its been a while...). We stayed in a farm stay B&B (fabulous views) in a wee village called Clawddnewydd after spending about 1 hour in the actual town we had been to see (it was sooooooo busy you could hardly move). The next morning we set out from the B&B for Chester stopping on the way to see a bit of Ruthin and a random castle on the map. Once in Chester we took the tour of the city walls and shopped and ate and generally enjoyed the atmosphere (despite the chilly weather). A bustling place, it is fantastic to wander around the most complete old city walls in the UK passing old buildings and new apartments and walk around a bend or out past a tower and see beautiful landscaped grounds or the back gardens of old town houses or the magnificent high street or (best of all) these teeny little shops that just service the foot traffic on the walls. After exhausting ourselves seeing as much of this pretty city as we possibly could we headed north to Blackpool - everything that Chester is not!
The weather was grey, cold and dismal - all you can really expect from the first week in April. It was going to get fabulous though.
Blackpool is not a place you visit because you want some high brow culture and tasteful living. The hotel we stayed in was rubbish apart from the excellent breakfasts - absolutely grotty - but the cultural experience of visiting one of the UKs seaside gems was well worth it. We went to Bingo that evening for a laugh. Sat in a room that knows more about blue rinse and ciggies than you could write in an encyclopaedia, we got our heads around how the games all worked (something you MUST be able to get a degree in) and started having a go. I won £7.50 and still do not know how! That pretty much sums up the evening really.
The next day after a walk around and a wee visit to the donkeys on the beach we headed south again to ...brighter climes. Having booked into a BnB we have enjoyed in the past (Bridge Farm - highly recommend it!!) we were eager to be able to get to Cheshire and begin the green, lush northern experience (well - after Blackpool you would be!).
Bridge Farm has Jodrell bank on its back door (almost literally) and is just a stunning 15 century building with 19th century buttery added when the train line went through the area. Complete with fake window (thanks window tax) and low ceilings/beams/doors with honest to goodness latches rather than handles this place is a truly wicked experience. Set near to Holmes Chapel, Knutsford, Wilmslow and so on it was well placed for walks. We particularly enjoyed going around Aulderley Edge (if you happen to be reading Jane Austin when you get to this part of the world your appreciation of the books will double!). The hazy weather lifted considerably so we were able to actually see some of the views but it was short lived!
We spent an entire day at Tatton Park - wandering all over the park and seeing the white deer (real name??) and watching the model planes being flown around and just enjoying this most glorious of estates. we also got ourselves into the gardens and the house which was a terrific experience. Considering the number of ruins we would come across after this little excursion, when I look back now the experience of being at this immaculately preserved house was just brilliant. The gardens just go on and on with such a huge variety of style covered - Japanese, the Maze, Traditional, Bluebell wood etc etc. The topiary and the vege gardens were worth the time we spent just soaking up the size of the operation. To stand in the gardens and imagine this magnificent house at its peak, entertaining or just getting through each days requirements, is astounding. You almost wait for a maid or kitchen hand to come out to gather herbs and vege for the next meal. You can also imagine a swinging '20s lawn party when you stroll out in front of the house to enjoy the view across the park and can totally understand why the more recent members of the family were such adventurers!
Tatton park estate is so well preserved and maintained I'd recommend it as the only estate you'd need to see to get a really good idea of what it was to be upper class in the UK (and get a feel for the working classes in these houses).

After Tatton park we had Treantham gardens to go before heading back to our little flat land home in Cambs. We moved from Bridge Farm to a neat little dairy farm BnB south of Congleton. Farms - that’s dads idea. Its his way of being at home away from home! but it was fabulous and your hosts are just so good at it! The breakfasts are phenomenal, the rooms/houses are full of character and the people are very relaxed about guests in their homes.

Trentham Gardens is enormous and quite commercial. With lots of shops you can imagine what we did for the first hour or two! Shopping itch scratched (not the nicest metaphor - sorry) we then aimed for the Macaques enclosure which was wicked and I will pop some photos up here because they roam free and can actually get quite close. The whole enclosure is absolute huge and it took ages to walk around (that and you keep stopping to photograph macaques or watch them leap around the trees or see the little ones have fights over carrots) but was fab.
From the macaques we aimed for the sensory experience of a foot adventure - walking a course made up of all sorts of surfaces including cold water, mud, pine cones, hay and stones. You can imagine the squealing when we walked through mud up to our calves and the challenge of then not slipping over as we went across little streams and along smooth wooden planks... It was extremely good though it did take a while to wash the mud off!

And finally it was time to head back to Long St Anton and get back to the real world for a day or two before heading off on the next adventure... (come back and I'll tell you more)

Posted by TravelMc 07:53 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

New Zealand

The true mother land of the long white cloud

all seasons in one day 23 °C

I have reached a definite point in my travelling career where I spend more time going home that doing any real travelling. I think you could say I emigrated without even realising it. Christmas has now become the focus occassion and home the venue for my adventures. Amazingly being a tourist in your own country is eye-opening and kinda good fun - the swagger you get because you speak the lingo, understand the road rules and all the food makes sense is born of pure confidence tinged with the touristy arrogance of one who's been away far far far too long to really know whats going on!

This Christmas was one such adventure. Another occassion to be with the people I love, meet the new members (one in particular has become a personality you'd be happy to travel around the world to meet - no insipid droolers in my clan!!) and drink a lot of L&P - something I can't say I spent an enormous amount of time doing when I lived there but its funny what you miss, hey?!

Arriving in Auckland is like a relief. The accents sound weird, the people look like people should look (tanned for pities sake), and the sky is blue, bold and so far above you you just know the country has mountains! As I said its funny what you miss.

As usual the weather was tropical in comparison to the 5 degree drizzly greyness and fog that waved goodbye at Heathrow. 22 degrees, sunshine and occassional cloud said 'kai ora, welcome home'. Christmas day itself was spent at the airport in Singapore wallowing around the pool and shopping until it was time to get food or get on the plane. I highly recommend spending time at Changi airport if you can. 7 hours can easily be swallowed up by the pool, the shops, the food, the movie theatre and even a free tour of the city - its just a great place to have as your transit point.

I never quite know what touristy things should be done when I'm at home. Having seen it from the ground floor everything seems a bit too...touristy. That said I've had 5 years of being a tourist and traveller so I guess you just pick a direction and run with it. The direction chosen this time around was a tour of the north cape. Effectively one long sand dune, the north cape is a place with which I feel I am deeply connected. I spent every school holiday of my childhood and then some camping in a wonderful small spot called Houhora, my maternal great grandparents raised their family a few miles further north in Nagtaki digging for karui gum and running the local stores, and I studied archaeological digs and the prehistory of the area all the way through Uni. So a tour of the place seemed an interesting thing to do.

It hasn't changed outwardly in 25 years. The drive up to Kaitaia took us through places I either vividly remembered or didn't know at all but it was still the most beautiful thing you could wish to see. Greens and blues - sky, ocean and tree covered hill - blended into each other or clashed at a yellow strip of sand. We could hear cicadas everywhere and for the first time in 2 years I knew it was summer. Tane Mahuta - largest of the known Kauri trees still standing - was a great stop. Such a short walk from the road and you wouldn't otherwise know it was there!

Arriving in Kaitaia I was surprised at how busy it was. I can recall it being a dying area where most of the shops were boarded up and the people unemployed. Now however its got a pak n save, warehouse and postie plus - sure signs things aren't going too badly.

The bus that was to take us to the north cape arrived right on time the next morning complete with local moari tour guide, asian tourists and sleds for the sand dunes at the top of 90 Mile Beach. First stop was the Kauri cafe, then onwards north stopping every half hour or hour to expell us onto the white silica sands in admiration of their purity or the best ice creams in the north (complete with dinosaur sweet on top) or to buy the sweetest freshest sweetcorn the north has to offer (3 for $1 - a bargain). We stopped at Houhora which was very nostalgic. The guide was good friends with the former manager of the place as was my pappy. They had a good chat about old times while I watched a boat called the Cara be put on the water. Its exactly that kind of thing that gets more spiritualist people worked up about fate and coincidence!

Then we continued north driving through ever larger Avocado orchards and Tribe owned lands. Slowly but surely the roads got smaller and in rougher condition until eventually we were driving toward Cape Reinga along a metal road (for the foreigners out there thats an unsealed road) arriving just before lunch. One good thing about the poor state of the road is it discourages billions of tourists ravaging the place - only several thousand make the trip on bus and in car a year. However there must be enough to support a troupe of local Maoris - we were entertained by them breifly as they put on a show at the base of the lighthouse. From The pinnacle of the country we turned south once more (or south west I guess) heading to a nearby inlet for lunch.

I hadn't realised it but my dad had spent a bit of his youth (misspent?) travelling around the country surfing and being a pain in the butt to the locals and we visited quite a few spots he recognised from those days. As I said I have a deep connection with the area and its not all my fault! :-)

After this it was time for that oft neglected sport of sand dune sledging. I can tell you now that it's neglected because those dunes are a long way up, there aren't any rope tows and its a lot of work if you want to go down more than once!

The sledges we had were traditional snow sledges for kids. They don't work so well for folk over, say, 13 stone. On the reverse side if your on the much lighter side of 9 stone you fly down the slope watching your life flash before your eyes and wondering if the sledge has brakes or steering! Well worth the effort but possibly not a second go if you value your internal or external body parts(the sand blowing off the top of the dunes was saving me the hassle of shaving my legs and filling my lungs at the same time).

Then it was on to 90 mile beach to race along it at 80km/hr in the bus stopping here and there for that all important photo of little Timmy wading in the water or that personal exploration of the absorbant properties of dune-based sand. The beach is not infact 90 miles long - our lovely driver told us it was 76 or so. A mere short stroll one end to the other (if you walk marathons for fun)! Its the only beach I have so far come across that is a recognised highway and is governed by the same road rules as the other highways in the country. Not sure what the road rules say about mooning buses of tourists as you overtake them but I can say the older ladies on our bus thought it was hilarious...

As you can imagine we were one of many buses doing the tour that day. While we never had more than 2 other buses loads unloading at the same spot we did get to see a group get growled at for consistently being late to the bus and saw another couple of young lads be asked to apologise to their group for delaying them for 25 minutes! And - best of all - we got to see one bus stuck in the sand at the off-ramp on 90 Mile Beach. Why the driver picked the part of the ramp that was all sand and no solid base I don't know but you can bet he felt like a Wally for doing it and probably wont ever do it again!

From this part of the beach we were all of 20 minutes from the Kauri Cafe again. This is the stop where the buses all go to get the sand and salt washed off so you can bet the people who own the place are making megabucks of the double tap! Fortunately I neither need nor can afford a $62,000 Kauri Guitar or a $300 t-shirt so I stuck with el-cheapo presents like possum socks and greenstone necklaces.

While I've buzed over the trip pretty quickly here it was so cool to do this trip. Its the kind of thing locals only do if they really have to because Aunty Matildas come for her first big trip and you don't know enough about where she wants to go to be a good tour guide so I felt quite privilged to be able to walk onto the bus with that confidence and touristy arrogance that says 'Take me! Show me!' (I mentioned this earlier didn't I?!). Its truly good to be a tourist on your own doorstep. Good for the national pride! Give it a go some time. I'm sure you will surprise yourself and you meet the nicest people when you travel! :-)

Posted by TravelMc 08:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

29 is a successful number


Post-soul searching period (pre 29th Birthday) I came to the conclusion, as I rode my beautiful motorbike to work along the misty roads in rural East Anglia, that I had successfully managed to stay alive for a heck of a long time. Life is good.
Success is purely about your own perspective. Sometimes you just have to adjust your perspetive a little.

I seem to be in a rather unadventurous period. However, I have still managed a few adventures. I have been photographing things like I know what I am doing, have visited weird and wonderful villages all over the country, have plotted the 'monopoly mile' which I anticipate renaming to something more correct and I have found myself in the lucky position of doing a bit more acting. Its not hollywood or the bbc but its darn good stuff.

A few months ago I did a monologue as a part of the first annual Camfringe Festival. WriteOn is a group of writers, actors, directors who are all there to give the writers the chance to workshop pieces/have pieces read and performed/develop their own creative ability. Its great. The monologue I did was call Red Riding Hood by Anne French. About a young independent women and her confrontation with a middle-aged do-gooder who can't understand anyone walking 'without a dog'! I felt it was hilariously funny if a little twisted by the end. The director Matt really brought out the humour and (thankfully) I managed to get laughs by following script and direction as well as I could.

Its been many months since I last tread boards. Rowing takes up all the time I would normally have for rehearsal (fours head in Nov - watch out for updates). It was great to get the chance to do it all again.

I have another part in October to play with this group - I am an art teacher called Clare. The piece reads really well so it will be interesting to see what its like 'live'.

I do love acting.

Also - sad of sad news - our rooster, Barney, has disappeared. If you see him send him home. He has two chickens he needs to be keeping an eye on! :-)

Other than that I feel like I am doing much of the same stuff. Its still a case of constant wonderment to travel around some of the places I see regularly. After nearly 5 years here I still get a tingle when I see a 'truly English' setting. I have heard of yet more places to see and itch to get the bike out for a really good long tour. If I'm honest I'm too chicken to do it yet but I'm sure I will get there.

I'm hopeful that the wondermen lasts a lifetime. Its a beautiful world!

Posted by TravelMc 08:05 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

A General Entry of thoughts

blah blah blah

semi-overcast 20 °C

It is now September. I keep getting asked if this birthday is 'the big one'. I'm not sure I find this complimentary but I take a lot of delight in being able to deny it. Its my 29th actually, thank you very much.

I like birthdays. The only bad one so far was 25 when I had a mini flid about being 25 and having achieved nothing in particular. Then I realised I was on the other side of the world, I'd seen more of the world than a lot of my friends and I'd met some of the most brilliant people - basically I got over my flid pretty quickly. When you have Rome in yoru basket of memories and the opportunity to visit it lots more what can possibly bring you down? Turning 29 apparently can!

So I guess I've started a bit of a soul search. I've questioned myself quite a lot lately. I have a few goals but not the single-minded drive about achieving them just yet. I really must change this. (see what I mean?!)

Oh - I have also had a pre-midlife crisis.
But I believe I have mentioned this previously. As an update we are getting along nicely though today I seem to have decided to drive like an idiot. Thats stopping right now.

I think I am in need of a goal. I like plans, making them, working on them then seeing them come to fruition. I like having something to focus on.

Perhaps 2 weeks off rowing has finally gotten to me?

If you have any thoughts on what I can get up to let me know. All (tasteful) suggestions considered!

Ciao - Travelling Mc.

Posted by TravelMc 07:45 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)


Like tetrus but with rowers!

sunny 32 °C

Cambridge university has two annual races known as 'The Bumps'. The main ones are the May Bumps or 'The Mays' (you may bump in May - you may not!)

For decades, many rowers from the university have stayed in the area and continued to row at the town clubs and - as you'd expect - they wanted to have all the excitement of Bumps even if they weren't at college anymore. And so Town Bumps were born.

Occurring in July (after the University year has finished) the Town Bumps involves all the town clubs and a few from out of town racing over four evenings - Tuesday to Friday. They kick off from Baits Bite lock and head up stream towards the railway bridge (you can find maps of the Cam on line if you want to see what I mean).

There are 2 divisions for women and 3 for men (to accommodate the number of boats entered). You have up to 20 or so boats in a division. Each boat in a division has a specific start point along the edge of the river - one behind the other - so that the entire division races at once - each boat chasing the boat in front and trying not to be caught by the boat behind. When you have overlap or your boat or oars (blades) touch that is a bump and the cox of the boat that has been bumped must acknowledge this by raising their hand. Then you get down to all sorts of technical details that you can find online if you are interested but I wont cover them here.

Once you have bumped the boat in front/been bumped you both pull over to the edge of the river and allow all the other boats still racing to get by you. If you don't bump or get bumped you must row right to the finish of the course - called a 'row over'.

Then the next day you do it all again. The only difference beign where you start and who you are chasing. Bumped boats swap starting place with the boats the bumped them, row overs stay the same.

If you bump the boat ahead on each of the four nights you get 'blades'. If you get bumped on each of the fourn nights you get 'spoons' (blade and spoon being words used to talk about the oar you row with).

Right explanation over - now onto the all important information:
!!!!!My boat got Blades!!!!!
We bumped within 50 strokes on each night and managed to earn our blades in less than 150 strokes overall! We didn't even make it to the first corner of the course before we had bumped.


This is my crew heading for the bump (only a stroke or two away) versus Simoco on the second night. I'm in the bow seat at the front of the boat and am the first person to feel any impact - the action seat. It was brilliant if darn scary the first couple of times. Brilliant because you can see what is going on and you can hear the other boat and you know straight away when the bump has happened. Scary because you are the first thing that will get hit by the other boat or rowers oars if things go wrong or they wont concede and you have to row through them (what happened on the first night).

Once you have bumped you then get willow branches and leaves to put in your hair and down the back of your one-piece so the people watching the racing can see you have bumped. Then they clap and cheer as you go past which is awesome!

Then there is the party on the final night ... but thats a story for another time.


Posted by TravelMc 03:41 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged boating Comments (0)

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