Tag Archives: Culture

Travels in Spain, Valencia and The City of Arts and Sciences

On the second day of our visit to Valencia we did the same as the second day on the previous occasion that we visited – walked to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and then to the beach.

It was more or less the same sort of day and you can read about it here.

Here are some new pictures – click on an image to view the Gallery..

The next time I visit Valencia I am going to go inside the exhibition halls, but today the weather was just too good to be indoors.

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Travels in Spain, Valencia Old Town

Two years ago I visited the Spanish city of Valencia.  I liked it, I liked it a lot and said that I would like to return quite quickly so this year I did just that.

Here are some new pictures.  Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

I did mostly the same things so instead of repeating myself you can find my previous post about Valencia here.

Cornwall, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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“Heligan is a modern miracle, once the estate of the Tremayne family, it was definitively scuppered – like so much else – by the First World War. It lost the great bulk of its staff and its thousand acres or more lapsed into almost complete decay.”  – John Fowles

After a couple of days we had exhausted all of the obvious local National Trust options that were close by and with no real appetite to tackle the dreadful A30 again we decided to stay local even though this involved putting hands in pockets and paying an entrance fee.  We chose the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ which cost £55 for a family ticket.

Heligan, it turns out is one of the most interesting estates in all of England. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of WW1, this Sleeping Beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Even without Alan Titchmarsh!

The name says it all I suppose. These gardens on the south coast of Cornwall near Mevagissey had once been a thriving country estate, but went into decline after the First World War and lost to the sands and weeds of time.

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The story of the lost gardens of Heligan is now the stuff of legend. When the ecologist Tim Smit and local builder John Nelson entered the estate sometime in 1990 they made a pivotal discovery – the magnificently named Thunderbox Room, which had been the gardener’s lavatory.

The pair found signatures scribbled on the flaking plaster along with the date August 1914, as they prepared to leave and go to war.  These were the men who had looked after the gardens and the pair resolved to rediscover them.  Twelve left, only three returned and the nine lost their lives on the battlefields of France.

After the war the owner John ‘Jack’ Tremayne declared that ‘he couldn’t live with the ghosts of the place’ and left Heligan for Italy. No Tremayne has lived there since.  With a desperate shortage of labour in the post-war years the gardens were abandoned and left to return to nature.

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In 1990, work began on what is Europe’s largest garden restoration project and now it is possible to get an idea of what a Victorian estate may have looked like.

And what a splendid job they have made of the ambitious restoration and we discovered a lot to see and do in the gardens and surrounding woodland. The northern gardens around the house consist of a productive vegetable and fruit area and some pleasure grounds, which include various aristocratic distractions such as an enclosed Italianate garden and the pineapple pit where the fruit is grown under glass in rotting manure. From the formal gardens the estate slopes south towards Mevagissey and the highlight is the ten acre jungle garden because the combination of a south-facing valley and mild Cornish climate makes this perfect for exotics.

I always worry about taking children to see gardens for fear that they might be bored but there was no chance of that at Heligan.  We walked for almost five miles along the paths, running, skipping, jumping, climbing (the children of course, not me) and after our picnic on the lawn and as we left we declared the day to be a resounding success with no complaints from us about the entrance fee which we all agreed was very good value for money.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Cornwall, Value For Money with the National Trust

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With the weather much improved, the sun shining and the temperature rapidly rising we could now begin to make plans for the rest of the week with a whole lot more confidence.

We are all members of the National Trust so one of our plans was to take full advantage of this and see how many places we could visit without spending a penny on admission.  The annual cost of a joint membership is £120 and I have discovered before that it is quite easy to get all of that back in only a few days.

First of all we visited nearby Lanhydrock, an aristocratic Victorian country house, an upstairs/downstairs sort of place with a succession of perfectly preserved rooms and exhibits.  I especially liked looking around the kitchens and the food preparation areas probably because in the social hierarchy of the time that is where we would most likely have found ourselves.

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It was a busy place and I was surprised to learn that it is the tenth most visited National Trust property in the UK.  First, by the way, is the overrated Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon at Lanhydrock exploring the house, a walk in the garden and an Easter Egg hunt for the children.  Without National Trust membership the cost of admission would have been a whopping £53.75 for all of us.

Next up was Trerice close to Newquay, an Elizabethan manor house that was once the home of the powerful Arundell family where little it seems has changed since it was built in 1573.

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It has a nice garden and some interesting rooms and a hands-on dressing up in Tudor clothes rack for the children.  This is a good feature of the National Trust, they know children are going to be bored out of their minds in the house and gardens so they lay on several distractions.  Mine bypassed the clothes and went immediately for the medieval armour helmets.  The poor man on duty nearly had a fit when he saw my three trying them on for size and almost dropping them on the stone floor.  William’s chosen helmet was almost as heavy as he is. The man was greatly relieved when we put them down again and moved on and so was I because I wasn’t looking forward to explaining the damage to the Board of the National Trust.

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Outside in what was once the farmyard there was a barn with more children’s activities, egg painting, brass rubbing and more dressing up.  I left the children to it whilst I explored the gardens and the old orchard outside.  I especially enjoyed this visit.

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Total saving on admission price at Trerice was £47.25 and after only two visits we were almost in credit on our membership fee.

On another day we visited St. Michael’s Mount at Marazion but I am saving that for a full post later because it was an especially good day out.  Total saving on admission prices £56.00.  I was feeling really good about all of this.

On the return journey from the island retreat we stopped over at the country house of Godolphin, once home to the family of the same name who were once the richest landowners in the whole county with an immense and obscene amount of wealth based on exploitation of minerals and mining.

It is a pleasant little house and garden but the house it seems is rarely fully open because it is let out as a holiday home by the National Trust.  It wasn’t open when we visited but the children enjoyed the gardens and the activities that were laid on for them,

I thought that the place was overpriced and our total saving on admission price was £31.50.

On the final day in Cornwall we visited Tintagel.  We wanted to visit the castle (English Heritage, not NT and prepared to pay) but it was closed so instead we went to the National Trust Old Post Office which quite frankly was a bit of a let-down and I would have been very annoyed indeed if we had paid the full adult admission charge of a combined £9 for just a couple of rooms and a tiny garden.

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Adding all of that together that was a total of £197.50 in saved admission charges on the day but of course to keep things in perspective I have to say that if we hadn’t been members then we certainly wouldn’t have gone to all of them!

Within the last year we have visited other places as well…

Hadrian’s Wall and Seaton Delavell in Northumberland (total saving £32.40) and Oxborough Hall, Sutton Hoo and Ickworth House in East Anglia (total saving£59.20) so overall I think membership has provided value for money and I shall be happy to renew without any grumbles when it is due for renewal in June.

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, The Wye Valley

River Wye

When I was a young boy we used to go quite regularly to Cornwall on family holidays. I last visited Cornwall for a holiday (I have been there since for work) in 1975 when I stayed in a bed and breakfast at Crantock village near to Fistral Beach at Newquay.  On that occasion to get there I drove a route through the Wye Valley, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this time I was keen to replicate the journey.

We were staying with Lindsay (my sister) and Mick in Lydney in the Forest of Dean so this made the quest quite easy to achieve.

I especially wanted to visit two places on the route, Symonds Yat in England and Tintern Abbey in Wales.

We started at Symonds Yat and drove to the visitor centre at Symonds Yat Rock which is a high vantage point with wonderful panoramic views of the River Wye.  The river is the fifth longest in the United Kingdom after the Severn, Thames, Trent and Great Ouse and for part of its course provides the natural border between England and Wales.

Two pictures at Symonds Yat Rock, forty-five years apart…

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That black shirt was always one of my favourites but it wouldn’t fit me now that’s for sure!

Symonds Yat Rock and View

From the visitor centre we followed a footpath through the forest and down to the fast flowing river and then took a gentle walk along the English west bank and back to the car park to the car that we had left there earlier.

From there we drove along the side of the river, along the route of ancient Offa’s Dyke, eventually crossing over the river and moving into Wales.

Some things in life stick in the memory like velcro and for me one of these was my first ever visit to Tintern Abbey.  As the road follows a sinuous course from the north it enters the attractive stone built village and after negotiating several turns quite unexpectedly the Abbey comes into view and rises majestically at the side of the river.  I remember it as a wonderfully powerful WOW moment.  This can never be repeated of course and I was ready for it this time but I still found it to be a special moment.

Now, I might be mistaken but I seem to recall that in 1975 you simply parked the car by the side of the road and just walked into the grounds of the ruined Abbey which was in the middle of an empty farmer’s field but you cannot do that anymore.  The Abbey is managed by the Welsh Government, welcomes seventy-thousand visitors a year and has all of the trappings that can be expected at a tourist attraction; a pay and display car park, souvenir shops, a café selling cream teas and a massive pub and restaurant and a forest of invasive signs.

Tintern Abbey

The Abbey cost £8 to go inside which seemed rather expensive so we didn’t bother, we saw what we could from the outside and then went to the pub for lunch instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil, looking for something beneath. Bluebell roots lay limp against the earth where they’ve been pulled up and cut through, and around the base of the larger trees are deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.

And, the following morning as we left the forest on the first leg of our journey to Cornwall we glimpsed sight of a magnificent male beast foraging close to the road.  A lot of people in the forest consider them to be a pest but to be honest we considered ourselves to be very lucky to see them.

Wild Boar Forest of Dean

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, Pub Philosophy

Somewhere along the way I spotted this sign which I thought was rather witty…

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Good, but not as funny as this one that I spotted a couple of years ago in Westport in Southern Ireland…

Double Espresso and a kitten

A Postcard From Puglia

Postcard From Puglia

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”  –  Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

Read the Full Story…