Wednesday, 23 January 2019

NATIONAL TRUST


NATIONAL TRUST VISITS 2018

Every year at about this time, I write a summary of my visits to National Trust properties during the previous year. I have been a member of the National Trust for four years now, and in that time I have had the pleasure of visiting some truly wonderful places, and 2018 was no exception. I am happy to say that I also managed to fulfil two of my lifetime ambitions in the process. Here is a summary of four of the properties visited in 2018. For more in-depth information and for charges and membership details, please visit: www.nationaltrust.co.uk


FELBRIGG HALL & BLICKLING ESTATE

Whenever I am travelling within the UK, I will always look out to see what National Trust properties are in the area I am visiting. It was no different when in April I found myself spending a few days on a road trip which took in the beautiful county of Norfolk. I was very happy to find that there were two very substantial National Trust properties for me to visit within a short distance of where I was staying.
 
FELBRIGG HALL

 

 
The first of these was Felbrigg Hall, a magnificent house with some beautiful stained glass windows dating back to the 15th century. Set in 520 acres of wonderful parkland and woods, Felbrigg Hall is an absolute delight, and even comes complete with a herd of very friendly, inquisitive cows which came to greet me and pose for some photos. Close to the famous seaside town of Cromer, Felbrigg Hall is easily accessible and provides ample parking along with a garden shop, gift shop, cafe and toilet facilities. The parkland is open from dawn to dusk, but as opening times for the house vary, please check the National Trust website prior to your visit.


 

Post code for Sat Navs: NR11 8PR


BLICKLING ESTATE
 
 
 
 
The second property visited on this trip was Blickling Estate, an incredibly well preserved Jacobean mansion with a very impressive 18th century long gallery. Visitors, with an interest in books, will be extremely impressed with the marvellous, inspiring library, housing over 12,500 volumes.




Surrounded by a formal garden, the house is a joy to visit, and with the gardens leading onto undulating parkland, the opportunity to wander free is there for all. There is the obligatory gift shop for all those delightful little purchases, 3 very tempting cafes to tend to your culinary requirements, a garden shop and a very interesting second hand book shop.

For entrance charges and opening times please refer to the National Trust website.
Located in Aylsham, the post code for Sat Nav directions is: NR11 6NF

HADRIAN'S WALL & HOUSESTEADS FORT


One of the lifetime ambitions that I mentioned in my foreword, was to visit Hadrian's Wall. I have travelled to the north of England on many occasions, even venturing over the border into Scotland at least half a dozen times. However, for whatever reasons, I have never managed to find the time to visit Hadrian's Wall or any of the many forts and towers that are scattered along the way. The scale of the wall is very impressive, and it is both the scale and the amazing history that has always appealed to me, and fired up my imagination. So, in July I found myself setting off on yet another road trip, this time taking in all four corners of the UK. I was determined, on this occasion, to finally take the time to visit this very famous and historic wall.



I was heading to the Dumfries area of Scotland and had planned a route that would allow me to view both the wall and an old Roman fort, with a diversion of approximately sixty miles. The part of the wall that I had selected for my visit was near Housesteads Fort, a remarkably well maintained Roman fort, cared for by the National Trust. Close to the town of Hexham in Northumberland, the site was easy to locate using the NE47 6NN postcode provided by the National Trust on their website.




There is a charge to use the car park as it is not run by the National trust, but this is only a few pounds, and the car park provides ample parking. There is a small visitor centre with a gift shop, toilet facilities and a cafe area. From the visitor centre it is a ten minute walk to the site of the fort, and just a little further beyond the fort is Hadrian's Wall.
 


Unfortunately, due to time restraints, my time at Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads fort was shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, my visit was most enjoyable and I even managed a short walk along the top of the wall. The views were amazing, and even though the weather was somewhat inclement (typical British summer!), it did not dampen my enthusiasm, or, evidently, that of other visitors, with many people walking along the wall and visiting the fort.

I left Houseteads fort very pleased that I had made that sixty mile diversion. Both the wall and the fort far surpassed my expectations, and I would urge anybody with an interest in history, or even just a love of the beautiful British countryside, to pay this historically rich and extremely interesting site a visit, you won't be sorry you did.



THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY





Following on from my visit to Hadrian's Wall, I spent a few days in Scotland before travelling by ferry across the Irish Sea to Belfast. It was to be in Northern Ireland that I would fulfil another of my lifelong ambitions, to visit The Giant's Causeway!

The Giant's Causeway is located just a few miles north east of the town of Bushmill in County Antrim. Bushmill is famous for its whiskey as well as being the gateway to the causeway. Having seen countless documentaries over the years about these incredible Basalt columns, and having heard the stories surrounding their formation, I was excited and intrigued to finally get to see and touch them, for myself.



Formed by ancient volcanic eruptions between 50 and 60 million years ago, the causeway is made up of some 40,000 interlocking columns. Unesco declared it a world heritage site in 1986, and in 2005 it was named as the 4th greatest natural wonder in the UK by a Radio Times poll.

The columns form stepping stones leading from the cliff out to sea, and it is these stepping stones which led to the stories of two battling giants. Most of the columns are hexagonal and the tallest of these is a very impressive 12 metres high!

On arrival at the site, visitors will find ample car parking close to the visitor centre. It is then a downhill walk of approximately 20 minutes from the visitor centre to the causeway. However, a shuttle bus is provided, at a small charge, for both disabled visitors and those preferring not to walk. There is a coffee shop, gift shop, bureau de change, and toilet facilities within the visitor centre.


 
Although a very popular tourist destination, the site did not appear overcrowded on my visit, and as the coast and the coast path is open from dawn to dusk, there is ample time and opportunity for all to view and even stand on this historic site. I spent some time exploring the fascinating columns and sitting amongst them, gazing out to sea, and understanding perfectly just how the mythical tale of the brawling giants came about. The sun was setting as I left to continue my journey, and this stunning, picturesque scene made the moment seem even more magical. It was an experience that I will never forget!






Tuesday, 18 September 2018

TEN THINGS TO DO IN SALISBURY WILTSHIRE UK

MUCH MORE THAN JUST A CATHEDRAL

 
With Salisbury having been very much in the news lately, I got to thinking "What is there to do in Salisbury"? I have never actually visited Salisbury itself, although I have been in the area and visited Stonehenge on several occasions.
 
Just a quick glance at www.visitwiltshire.co.uk  gave me a number of options for places to visit and things to do, here is a random list of ten:
 
1/    Old Sarum, originally an Iron Age hill fort, it was re-used by the Romans, Saxons, and the Normans.
 
2/    Saint Thomas' Church with its medieval "Doom" painting.
 
3/    The Market Place where regular markets have been held since 1227.
 
4/    The Salisbury Museum.
 
5/    Salisbury Cathedral.
 
6/    The Salisbury Playhouse, great for theatre buffs.
 
7/    Many parks including the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, with views of the Cathedral.
 
8/    Wonderful walks along the River Avon.
 
9/    The Avon Valley Nature Reserve.
 
10/   Oh! and of course there's that little known gem called Stonehenge, just a mere 8 miles away. 
 
Well I hope this helps to whet the appetite of any potential visitor to Salisbury, seems to me that there is a lot to do there, sounds like a great place to visit.


Friday, 24 August 2018

MINI-CRUISE WITH CMV


MARCO POLO


Marco Polo is a mid sized cruise ship owned and operated by Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV). With a passenger capacity of around 800, accommodated in 425 cabins, the ship has a very homely, almost country house feel. Sporting a dark blue hull, this cruise ship looks every inch your classic ocean liner.

CMV are Britain's newest privately owned cruise line, specialising in small ship, no fly cruises from the UK. Home based in Tilbury London, CMV operate out of 11 UK ports. With a fleet of 5 ships to their name, CMV have a high guest satisfaction record of 95%, and 40% repeat passengers. To read my review of Astoria and its fascinating history, another of Cruise Maritime Voyages cruise ships, please click on the following link:
 https://independentworldtravelreviews.blogspot.com/2017/04/cruise-maritime-voyages.html
 

Originally built in 1966, Marco Polo benefited from a £3 million refit in 2009. This is evident in the stylish and comfortable public areas that await guests to this ship. Most public areas are conveniently located on the same deck, making navigating the ships facilities an easy task. There is everything that one would expect from a ship of this size, from bars and lounges, to Library, card room, and the obligatory photo shop, and shopping arcade. There is also a reception desk, information desk and booking desk for future cruises. Entertainment is altogether a much more subtle, but none the less entertaining, affair than on a lot of the bigger cruise ships, with a show lounge for live performances as well as live music in the ship's bar areas.












There is a spa which includes a sauna and provides various massages and treatments, along with a reasonably equipped gym. There is one outdoor swimming pool and three hot tubs. For anyone wishing to jog or walk away their cruise, the deck above the Promenade deck does allow for a complete circumnavigation of the ship.





There are two large forward facing viewing areas, as well as a fair amount of seating around the pool. The ship is equipped with ten zodiac landing craft which are used for shore excursions in eco-sensitive areas. Although, now some 42 years old, Marco Polo has all the latest navigational aids and benefits from biological waste treatment.

There are 425 cabins, of which 292 have a porthole or window. There are no cabins with balconies, and only 2 cabins are wheelchair accessible. There are 4 lifts onboard, although if you are able, it is usually quicker to use the stairs. With some 15 cabin price grades there should be one to suit all budgets, from a standard inside cabin all the way up to the 2 junior suites or the 2 large suites. The largest of these suites (Dynasty and Mandarin) are spacious, well equipped cabins with a separate living area, large bedroom and marble bathroom with full size bath tub.










All your culinary needs are taken care of in The Waldorf Restaurant, where waiter service is the norm and smart attire is required, here they operate a two sitting dinner service. Alternatively, you may choose to dine in Marco's Restaurant where the atmosphere is less formal and all meals are self service.






 




Having never cruised with CMV before, although no stranger to cruising, I booked a one night mini-cruise for my wife and myself on Marco Polo. The cruise would take us from the Essex port of Harwich to the London port of Tilbury. These short weekend mini-cruises are a great way to try out new cruise lines and ships, and is also a perfect introduction to cruising for those who have never cruised before. Usually very keenly priced, this one night mini-cruise had prices starting from just £59 per person.

My wife and I were booked into a Premier Outside cabin and had been given an embarkation time of 3pm, embarkation and disembarkation times are based on your cabin grade and deck position. We arrived at the port of Harwich at approximately 2:30pm and parked in the designated car park, we had pre-booked the car park at a cost of £11. Along with other passengers, we were then taken by bus to the cruise terminal. Check-in was very quick and we were onboard by our allocated time of 3pm.



As we stepped onboard we were greeted by a member of staff who then showed us the way to our cabin, carrying our overnight bag for us. The cabin was of a reasonable size with two large windows which afforded us good views of the port. The shower room was very small, with very little space to put your toiletries etc. There were two single beds which had been pushed together, with a bedside cabinet either side, there was a dressing table and a reasonably sized wardrobe. It was nice to see that there were power points to enable us to charge our phones, and also tea and coffee making facilities.





 
Once our luggage was stowed away we made our way to Marco's Restaurant where a good range of hot and cold food was being served. After having something light to eat and drink, we returned to our cabin in order to get our life jackets as it was time for the compulsory safety drill.





Having been briefed in what to do in an emergency, we set about exploring the ship. For a small ship there is a surprisingly good amount of public areas, and nowhere seemed crowded at anytime. We were due to depart Harwich at 6:30pm but an announcement informed passengers this had been put back to 9:30pm, so our plans to watch the sail away prior to dinner at 8pm were dashed!

Dinner in the Waldorf Restaurant was a very pleasant, stylish affair, we shared a table with another couple, and, as you tend to do, swapped cruise stories whilst enjoying a five course meal. After dinner we strolled around the ship and took in some of the live entertainment in the Captain's Club, a very relaxing bar lounge area.
 

 
 
We then retired for the evening, first having set the alarm for an early call. Cabins had to be vacated early, by 7am the next morning and disembarkation would commence at 8am, breakfast would be served from 6:30am.

The next morning, as instructed, we vacated our cabin by 7am and had breakfast in the Waldorf Restaurant, breakfast can also be taken in Marco's Restaurant. We kept our small overnight bags with us, although passengers were allowed to store baggage in the show lounge prior to disembarkation. We disembarked at 8:30am and made our way to the car park to take up our places on the coach for the return trip to Harwich, this had been pre-booked at a cost of £20 per person. We arrived back in Harwich just after 10am.

For more information on CMV and Marco Polo, please visit the cruise lines own website at: www.cruiseandmaritime.com




Friday, 10 August 2018

AN IRISH ROAD TRIP (WEXFORD)


FERRYCARRIG HOTEL




My wife and I were coming to the end of our seven day road trip around Ireland. We had driven some 646 miles since arriving in Belfast in Northern Ireland, from Cairnryan in Scotland. Along the way we had visited Bushmill and the Giant's Causeway, Letterkenny, Galway, Gort, Limerick and Cork, and even got to kiss the Blarney Stone! We would end our Irish road trip in Rosslare in Southern Ireland, where we would catch the ferry to Fishguard in Wales in order to continue our journey home to the east coast of England.

After such a whirlwind tour of Ireland, visiting some wonderful places and staying at some of Ireland's best hotels, I was looking for somewhere we could spend a relaxing and comfortable night at our final port of call, somewhere to chill out before our journey home. I think I found it in the Ferrycarrig Hotel.

The Ferrycarrig Hotel is a large hotel complex with 102 bedrooms, spread over 4 floors. With views over the beautiful River Slaney estuary and perfectly located for our needs, close to Wexford and just a short distance to Rosslare, the hotel proved a great choice and a perfect way to end our Irish road trip.





 



 
There are three grades of guest room, Standard, Superior, and Delux, as well as Junior and Executive Suites, large Family Rooms and Interconnecting Rooms. All rooms of Superior grade and above feature either Balconies or French Doors. There is an entire floor reserved for adults only with Standard rooms featuring French Doors.

Facilities at the hotel are extremely comprehensive with something for everyone. Crazy Clubbers, the kids club that runs throughout all the main school holidays and bank holidays, is open from 10am to 1pm, and again from 7pm to 10pm. Here, young children can be entertained with face painting, dancing, board games, drawing, arts and crafts, football and the resident clown Giggles.




For adult guests, there is the Ferrycarrig Active Club, featuring a state of the art gym, 20m pool area, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi, there is also a children's pool with water jets and fountain. Instructor led fitness classes are available and there are a number of treatment rooms.

After all that exercise, you may wish to unwind with a drink in the Dry Dock Bar. Here you can partake in casual dinning including light lunches or a full evening meal. The bar has stunning views of the river and it is possible to dine inside or out, dependent on the weather. The Snug Area is exclusively for adults only.
 




 



 
Reeds Restaurant is a wonderfully relaxed bistro styled restaurant, and has been named best hotel restaurant in Wexford for two years running, 2016/2017. The restaurant is renowned for using local produce in its recipes and produces some excellent dishes. A three course meal including coffee can be ordered from the Table d'hote menu for approximately £39. Reeds Lounge is an adults only dinning area, located within Reeds Restaurant, allowing guests a more peaceful and relaxing dinning experience.



 
My wife and I arrived at the hotel around 5:30pm, having driven from Cork where we had stayed the previous night, visiting Waterford along the way. The car park is built on two levels and we parked in the higher level, conveniently close to the steps that would take us to the lower level and the entrance to the hotel. We were greeted at reception by a very friendly member of staff who checked us in and gave us all the information we needed. We also made a reservation for dinner in Reeds Restaurant for 6:30pm.

We used the lift to take our luggage to our room and settle in before dinner. The room was of a good size and was comfortably furnished with everything you would expect from a four star hotel. Our room featured French doors, complete with safety rails to prevent any accidental falls, which opened inwards allowing some fantastic views of the river. As we admired the views, we were joined by a family of swallows who had made their nest just 3 to 4 feet from where we stood. They were clearly not shy and obviously well used to being up close to people. They gave us great enjoyment watching their skilful aerial acrobatics when busily flying in and out of their nest. Wonderful!



 
 
 
 


After snapping a few photos of our new found feathered friends, we made our way down to the restaurant for dinner, exploring the hotel along the way. There were plenty of interesting, well furnished public areas for guests to sit and relax. Although a large hotel, it still managed to feel intimate and welcoming. We were warmly greeted on entry to the restaurant by our waiter, who showed us to our table by the window, and presented us with the choice of two menus. As we were dinning early, we could choose between the usual menu or the early bird menu. At just 28 euros for three courses, the early bird menu represented excellent value for money and we both made our choices from that menu.
 


 




The food was delicious, the service excellent, and my glass of Merlot went down a treat and complemented my meal perfectly. Unfortunately, plans to take an evening stroll after dinner had to be abandoned as the weather had taken a turn for the worse with strong winds and rain, not a good omen for our sea crossing tomorrow!

After a good nights sleep we returned to Reeds Restaurant for breakfast. A comprehensive array of hot and cold food greeted us and we had a very fulfilling meal. Once again, we sat near the window, this time watching with interest the wading birds as we relaxed and enjoyed our meal. After breakfast we explored the hotel some more before spending some much needed relaxation time in the excellent Spa.
 


 
 
 
We checked out of the hotel at 12:30pm, by which time the weather, thankfully, had begun to improve and the sun was attempting to shine. We then drove a very short distance, just half a mile, to the fabulous Irish National Heritage park, a must visit if you are ever in the area. From there we made the short journey to Rosslare in time for our evening ferry crossing to Fishguard. We had experienced some wonderful times and met some lovely people during our tour of Ireland, and our final stay, at the Ferrycarrig Hotel, was the perfect finale to our trip. What wonderful memories we will have!

There are a wealth of places to visit in the Wexford area, among them are Wells House, Johnstown Castle Gardens, Selskar Abbey, The Saltee Islands, Hook Lighthouse and, by far my favourite,The Irish National Heritage Park.



The hotel features free Wi Fi, check-in is from 4pm and check-out by 12pm.

The address for the hotel is Ferrycarrig Hotel, Ferrycarrig Bridge, Wexford. Telephone +353 (0) 539120999

For further information visit: www.ferrycarrighotel.ie The hotel is also on Twitter and Facebook