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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Kent Castles - Day 4

I had the biggest breakfast ever this morning so it was a good job that the porter was keen to do all the luggage handling, with me just counting and telling him where to load it all! 

We had a slightly earlier start this morning, leaving the hotel at 0930hrs. We avoided the motorway on our scenic journey through to west Kent on this very clear, fresh, sunny autumn morning to our destination, Hever Castle.


There have been three main periods in the construction of this historic castle. The oldest part of the castle dates to 1270 and consisted of the gatehouse and a walled bailey. In the early 1500s the Bullen family bought the castle and added a Tudor dwelling within the walls and so it became the childhood home of its most famous inhabitant, Anne Boleyn. It later passed into the ownership of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. From 1557 onwards the Castle was owned by a number of families including the Waldegraves, the Humfreys and the Meade Waldos. Finally, in 1903, William Waldorf Astor invested time, money and imagination in restoring the Castle, building the ’Tudor Village’ and creating the gardens and lake.

Hever Castle is now a tourist attraction, drawing on its links to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, its mazes, gardens and lake.



There is an annual events programme with assorted events including jousting tournaments and archery displays in the summer months and an annual patchwork and quilting exhibition in September. The castle has also become the venue for a triathlon. The Castles to Country Houses exhibition contains a collection of 1/12 scale model houses ranging from the medieval to Victorian periods.

The castle offers three floors containing antique furniture, Anne Boleyn's prayer books, instruments of torture, and a large collection of Tudor paintings. There is also a museum of the Kent Yeomanry. The remains of the original country house timbers can still be seen within the stone walls of the fortification, while the gatehouse is the only original part of the castle. It has the oldest working original portcullis in England.


The grounds of the castle include a yew maze, planted in 1904. There is also a water maze, opened in 1999, the object of which is to get to the folly at the centre without getting wet, while in the children's adventure playground there is a tower maze. The castle gardens contain a wide range of features including an Italianate garden, rose gardens, a herb garden, and topiary.


When we walked through the entrance, down the drive through the trees and around the corner to the sight of the castle standing proud in glorious sunshine with a back drop of the blue sky and surrounded by trees in their autumn colours, I can only describe it as being like a Fairytale. It is a very impressive building in a stunning setting, which was the climax at the end of a successful tour.


We had an easy journey home, all of our feeder vehicles were in position and waiting for us when we pulled in the yard. The transfer of luggage went smoothly and before many minutes, all passengers were in the back of a mini bus and on their way home. I have had a very enjoyable few days and I am not looking forward to the mundane day to day work of school runs and university sports until I next go on tour, which as far as I know, will be at Christmas. So this is me signing off until then. Keep safe everyone. x

Kent Castles - Day 2

I arrived for breakfast at 0830 hrs this morning where they had laid on a very good spread. We left the hotel at 1000hrs, destination Leeds Castle.


Leeds Castle is in Kent, 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Maidstone. A castle has been on the site since 1119. In the 13th century it came into the hands of King Edward I, for whom it became a favourite residence; in the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a residence for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len, to the east of the village of Leeds.

The last private owner of the castle was the Hon. Olive, Lady Baillie, daughter of Almeric Paget, 1st Baron Queenborough and his first wife, Pauline Payne Whitney, an American heiress. Lady Baillie bought the castle in 1926. She redecorated the interior, first working with the French architect and designer Armand-Albert Rateau, who oversaw exterior alterations and added interior features such as a 16th-century-style carved-oak staircase), then with the Paris decorator Stéphane Boudin. During the early part of World War II the castle was used as a hospital where Lady Baillie and her daughters hosted burned Commonwealth airmen as part of their recovery. Survivors remember the experience with fondness. Upon her death in 1974, Lady Baillie left the castle to the Leeds Castle Foundation, a private charitable trust whose aim is to preserve the castle and grounds for the benefit of the public. The castle was opened to the public in 1976.

IMAGE TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA

An aviary was added in 1980 and by 2011 it contained over 100 species, but it was decided to close it in October 2012 as it was felt the foundation could make better use of the £200,000 a year it cost to keep the aviary running. The castle and its grounds are a major leisure destination with a maze, a grotto, a golf course and what may be the world's only museum of dog collars.

It is a Grade I listed building (first listed in 1952) and recognised as an internationally important structure. In 1998 Leeds Castle was one of 57 heritage sites in England to receive more than 200,000 visitors. According to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, nearly 560,000 people visited the castle in 2010.


The castle was a location for the 1949 film Kind Hearts and Coronets where it stood in for "Chalfont", the ancestral home of the aristocratic d'Ascoyne family.

It was the set for the Doctor Who episode The Androids of Tara.


Lorraine and I had planned to go to Tenterden from here, just to stop for an hour to try and add a little more interest to the day, but only two days ago, there was a major fire in the centre of the high street. It is only a small place and so this devastation would have taken out half the village so that idea was scrapped. Instead we stayed at the castle all day but offered an early return to the hotel for those who wanted it because it is only 5 minutes down the road.


After we had done the first run back to the hotel we went straight back to the castle and went into the maze and the grotto. The grotto was amazing. The highlight of the day for me! 



You descend into the grotto at Leeds after finding your way through the yew tree maze, down a dark flight of steps, your feet gingerly feeling for the next flight down as your eyes take in the rather impressive underworld. The world you find is submarine rather than subterranean, an undersea cave decorated with shells and corals and Nereids, sea nymphs, stand in niches along the walls.



A tape loop (or the modern digital equivalent) plays the sounds of the sea - waves, wind, seabirds – and a fruity, actorly voice intones ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. Ariel’s song from “The Tempest” seems more appropriate:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.


We took the remainder of our group back to the hotel at 1600hrs. Plenty of time for a jacuzzi before dinner. Our meal this evening, once again was very tasty and it seems I am not the only one enjoying the food. After dinner I briefly chatted to some of our group before making my excuses and disappearing off to bed. Sleep well everyone. Goodnight x

Kent Castles - Day 3

I am loving the breakfast in this hotel! After filling my tummy and a couple of cups of good strong coffee, we set off for Canterbury.

Canterbury is a popular tourist destination: consistently one of the most-visited cities in the United Kingdom, the city's economy is heavily reliant upon tourism. There is also a substantial student population, brought about by the presence of three universities. Canterbury is, however, a relatively small city, when compared with other British cities.

Parts of the city have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many historical structures remain, including a city wall founded in Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and a Norman castle, and perhaps the oldest school in England, The King's School. Modern additions include the University of Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, the University College for the Creative Arts, the Marlowe Theatre, and the St Lawrence Ground, home to Kent County Cricket Club. The city lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a local government district.


Once I had dropped everyone off I was a little bit naughty and dashed for a photo of the cathedral before taking the coach to the coach park a little out of town.

We hadn't been here for long before the heavens opened and it poured with rain. The rain didn't stop until we left. We were parked at the back of Starbucks so I gave Lorraine an umbrella and we went for coffee. 

While I was locking the coach, Lorraine was struggling with her umbrella. She thought she had it sorted and was stood waiting for me. Once I'd locked up, I looked at her and just as I was going to say 'you're umbrella doesn't look fully open', it closed around her head! She was stood in the pouring rain with an umbrella stuck on her head and I couldn't stand up straight for laughing! It was just like something you'd see in a comic strip and once again, I didn't have my camera handy. It gave me an enormous amount of entertainment for the rest of the day and I am still having fits of giggles at the thought of it!

We went to pick everyone up at 1430 and were expecting to see a line of drowned rats stood waiting for us but they were all surprisingly dry. They had all found things to interest them and keep them out of the weather, whether it was one of the many museums, the cathedral or one of the other UNESCO sites, or the Canterbury Tales. They were certainly not wet, cold and miserable like we had expected and had all enjoyed their time.

Next, we set off for the Medway for a short visit to Rochester. Lorraine and I had decided to add this to the itinery so everyone was pleasantly surprised to learn we were making an extra visit today. A city steeped in history, dominated by a fine Norman Castle and Cathedral, bounded by the maritime traditions and spirit of past British naval dominance on the River Medway.


The town was for many years the favourite of Charles Dickens, who lived nearby at Gads Hill Place, Higham, and who based many of his novels in the area. The Diocese of Rochester, the second oldest in England, is based at Rochester Cathedral, and was responsible for the founding of King's School in 604 AD, which is the second oldest school in the world. Rochester Castle, built by Gundulf of Rochester, has one of the best preserved keeps in England or France, and during the First Barons' War (1215–1217) in King John's reign, baronial forces captured the castle from Archbishop Stephen Langton and held it against the king, who then besieged it.


This was the first time I had visited Rochester and I liked it very much. It is only one small high street but everything you find there is independent, individual and in keeping with it's surroundings. We were only here for just over an hour which, for us today, was long enough. Although it had stopped raining it was getting bitterly cold and would soon be dark. 

We arrived back at the hotel at 1700hrs. Just in time to get layered up to stand out on the golf course to watch the firework display from Leeds Castle. We were told we would have the best free view and that the fireworks would fill the valley. Everyone was a little disappointed to find that we couldn't see the fireworks but I did see a hare, an owl and found a very haunted looking cabin in the woods! Needless to say, I didn't explore that one!

Our menu this evening was disappointing although I did enjoy the food that was served. The majority of our people have disappeared straight after dinner to pack their cases because tomorrow we are heading home. That left an empty bar for Lorraine and I to enjoy a glass of wine in peace before I disappeared to watch the X factor on +1! 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Kent Castles - Day 1

After a few weeks of not touring I'm finally back on tour. It's been a long few weeks without it! I'm only away for the next 4 days so just a short one, but once again, I am working with my good friend Lorraine so I know it will be fun.

We set off at 0830hrs heading south and before we even got on the motorway there was a good buzz on the coach. Lorraine and I were chatting and laughing which filtered through to everyone and created a really good atmosphere.

Our lunch stop today was at the Pantiles in the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. The town came into being as a spa in Georgian times and had its heyday as a tourist resort under Beau Nash when the Pantiles and its chalybeate spring attracted visitors who wished to take the waters. Though its popularity waned with the advent of sea bathing, the town remains popular and derives some 30% of its income from the tourist industry.

The Pantiles is host to many cafés, restaurants and bars as well as an abundance of independent shops. We stayed here for 2 1/2 hrs. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time here and were spoilt for choice with where to have lunch. 

We had just under an hour of travelling left before we arrived at our hotel. We are based for our few days at the Marriott Tudor Park Hotel Golf and Country Club. As we were driving in to the hotel, there was a man walking across the car park, just where I needed to put the nose of the coach before backing up to the reception. The man looked up at me as I very gingerly turned toward him, not wanting to cause him to panic. The look on his face when he looked up to see there was a woman driving this 13m coach was one of total horror! It was priceless, I wish I'd had my camera handy! Both Lorraine and I were in a fit of giggles. When I first started driving, the look of horror was one I saw regularly, but over the past few years it has become far more common to see women driving large vehicles and it was a look I had forgotten! 

My room is very comfortable, there is a pool, gym and spa available to hotel guests and our meal this evening was very nice. Lamb steak for main course, my favourite! The only criticism I would have of the hotel so far is that the red wine that is served by the glass, of which there are 4 choices, is cheap and nasty. I would have expected a lot nicer wine to be served, especially at the prices they are charging. Even so, I suffered a glass with my meal before disappearing off to my room to have some time to myself :-)

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bournemouth Tour - Day 5

Today we are visiting Kingston Lacy NT which isn't far out of Wimbourne Minster. We set off at 10am again today and travelled through the pretty little villages of Hurn and Parley Cross with their lovely little thatched cottages.

Kingston Lacy is a lavish family home built to resemble an Italian Palace.


There’s plenty to see, from grand, beautifully detailed carvings, to intimate family souvenirs and even strange curiosities such as an ‘I owe you’ note from a king.

It is an art lover’s dream. You can take a look at rooms teeming with paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel. In the Egyptian Room you can discover the largest private collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts in the UK.

Outside, it has a terrace with urns and vases overlooking a vast lawn. There is also a Victorian fernery, a cedar walk, a lime avenue and a sunken garden which was made in 1906.


Once again today, the weather was on our side, so many of our group enjoyed one of the free garden tours. I took myself off on the woodland walk and found a little, 2ft high door in a tree trunk. Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, I opened it to find absolutely nothing. Just the tree trunk! I was disappointed!

Everyone really enjoyed this visit. A few people said how there is so much here that it can't all be done in a day. No matter what your interest, you will find something here to enjoy.

At 2:30 we left and travelled back to Wimborne Minster where we were booked in for a cream tea at the model village. I couldn't go in here because there is no parking for me, but everyone took great pleasure in letting me know what I had missed. The most gorgeous cream tea with scones fresh from the oven and lashings of jam and cream. The model village itself, they weren't too impressed with. The general opinion was that it was all a bit tired looking and in need of a lick of paint. 

We arrived back at our hotel just before 5 and had a couple of hours to relax before dinner. Our meal this evening I think was the best of the week. I had mushrooms in blue cheese sauce topped with bacon for starter, followed by medallions of lamb in garlic and rosemary which was absolutely delicious. It's going to be a shock tomorrow night when I'm back at home and having cheese on toast!

There was a pianist performing in the lounge this evening, which was very pleasant, but not many of our group stayed to listen because we are leaving in the morning so they have all gone to pack. It was warm enough tonight to sit on the terrace for a short while before I retired for the night.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Bournemouth Tour - Day 4

The weather folklore of the moon halo is correct. I woke up this morning to the sound of heavy rain, strong wind and a crashing sea. So after breakfast I headed out to try for some good stormy weather photographs. All I managed was rain on the lens! So I gave up on that idea and went to clean my coach.

Today is a free day. Karen has her man friend coming to visit her. He must be keen, he's had a three hour drive to get here and he's only staying for a day. Good for her, I say. Especially at her age!

Once the coach was spick and span I went to do a rekki on a hotel over on West Cliff. The hotel in question had been suggested to the MD but he sounded unsure of the place and has asked me to check it out while I'm here. I don't think it's up to our standard to say the least. 

After a very wet walk to get there and back, the sun came out. Typical! So I decided on a glass of wine on the terrace. 

Since I was last in this hotel in July, a shed has appeared on the lawn with a large mirror ball mounted on the top, which is a product of this years Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival. It is described as being 'conceived as both a sculptural work on the outside and a working observatory on the inside, it reflects and magically inverts the silent world using beautifully simple technology of the mirror and the lens. Based on a typical Bournemouth style beach hut, but sitting atop is an enormous, shining ball of stainless steel. Inside, the hut has a tardis of sensations - with familiar daylight transformed into a coloured haze as steps lead to the interior of the dome. Three lenses are installed inside the sphere, which, acting together, create a 360-degree camera obscura, delivering an inverted vision of the world outdoors.' 


The receptionist laughed and told me off when I asked if I could go in the shed. 'Its not a shed!' It gave an interesting view and also distorted sound. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the world go by. Several of our group have visited the Russell Cotes Museum and Art Gallery and have all said how good it is and how much they've enjoyed it.

Another very good meal this evening. I think I need to employ a chef at home!

Bournemouth Tour - Day 3

Our destination this morning was the New Forest. We drove the scenic route to Lyndhurst, where we met our guide for the next 2 hours, Phil. I have worked with Phil before. I wouldn't describe him as the best guide I've worked with but he does give some good points of interest. The route he takes us on, I think could be better. We could do so much more in the time we have, hence the scenic drive to meet him.

However, we could be lucky because today is the day of the 'drift'. The pony round up. It is quite a sight and I was hopeful of a glimpse for my group to see this event. The drift is when all the ponies in the new forest are rounded up so they can have a general health check and this years foals are branded for proof of ownership. Lots of riders on horse back with hounds and a few quad bikes head out into the forest to herd up all the ponies. The ponies get quite unsettled by this activity and being flight animals, the drift moves at quite a pace. Once they are herded into their enclosure they are left for about an hour to settle and for the foals to find their mares. Foals are branded, all ponies are wormed, de-loused, feet checked and trimmed, teeth checked and rasped, before being released back out onto the forest.

(image taken from the New Forest Equine Directory)

When we drove across the forest, we did see a few riders with hounds but we think they were preparing to start. The ponies were looking calm and relaxed and we were unfortunately a little early to see any of the action.

The other thing that happens in the forest at this time of year is that the pigs are released. This is so that they can 'clean up' the forest floor. The main purpose of the pigs, is to eat the green acorns which are poisonous to the ponies. The pigs are only in the forest for the length of time that the green acorns are there, then they are rounded up and taken back to wherever they came from. We did see quite a lot of pigs. All of which looked to be enjoying their feast.


Our tour finished back in Lyndhurst where there was time for lunch before this afternoons visit to Highcliffe Castle.

The castle itself wasn't particularly exciting. It looks good from the outside, but inside is little more than a ruin. However, there is some interesting art work displayed. There is a very nice tea room with an abundance of outdoor seating. It's a gentle walk down the zig zag to the beach where The Needles were clearly visible, seven miles away. The weather today has been glorious. It would have been quite a different day for us today had the weather been bad but we must have been good kids to have the sun shining on us.

Another lovely meal this evening followed by a glass of wine on the terrace. I was quite excited by the moon halo in the sky. I'm a bit of a geek about the weather! According to weather folklore, the sighting of a moon halo means there is a storm on the way. I hope that's wrong!


Karen was coming out with little comments about her experiences of getting old. 'You can't lose weight when you get older you know, it's so much more difficult'. I spose it would be when you're staying in nice hotels with good food and you eat everything that's put in front of you and more! Then she pulls a fan out of her bag saying, 'I'm having a private summer!' Then she's telling me about how because she's getting older, she keeps finding hairs sprouting from places they shouldn't be sprouting from! She made me laugh and it's some good ammunition for mickey taking!

After admiring the moon halo one last time I went off to my room to be greeted by the sound of the man in the room next door, farting like a trooper! Nice! Goodnight x

Monday, 14 October 2013

Bournemouth Tour - Day 2

I'm getting really used to these slow, lazy starts to the day and a good breakfast.

I meandered out to the coach at 9:30 this morning to find one of the hotel porters stood admiring it, which is a bit of a worry because he will probably grow up to be a coach spotter! After a quick chat with him about my 'good looking machine' I collected my passengers for today's excursion.

It is a lovely morning, quite different to yesterday. The sun is out, the sky is blue and everyone was looking forward to our trip just up the road to Christchurch.

It was a bit difficult to drop off today because it is market day and so there are road closures in place to accommodate it. But it's a nice bit of added interest for everyone. I parked the coach down by the harbour and before anything else I had a few phone calls to make. One of which was to our own products manager back in the depot about an idea I've had. It's a bit of a long shot and would need a lot of thought and consideration but the initial response I've had was positive. Next step, write it all down and present it to the MD. I'm excited about this but I'm sorry, at the moment it is top secret and if I tell you I will have to kill you.

So once the coach was locked and safe I headed back to town to find Karen. I tried to phone her to find out where she was but she wasn't answering. It didn't matter though, I heard her before I saw her, even over a bustling market! She was having so much of a good time with two of our gentlemen passengers that she hadn't heard the phone. I was bought a coffee before going to explore.

I had left all of my 7 toothbrushes at home so I had to buy another. I also had a finger nail disaster the night we before we came away so that needed a quick fix. So after the important things were taken care of, we had a mooch through the market before heading for the Priory.


The Priory is very impressive looking and the architecture of churches and cathedrals etc always amazes me. I just can't get my head around how these structures were built, at the time they were built, without the use of machinery. They are always so detailed and intricate and it always impresses me.


We went for a quick look inside where we were greeted by a lady in a robe who was very keen to tell us about 'the miraculous beam'. I left Karen stuck with her while I went for a quick look. Karen didn't take long to catch up. We found the story of 'the miraculous beam', and the beam itself. The short version is that during the construction of the Norman priory, a beam was cut, ready for installation, however, once hoisted into place, it was found to be too short for the purpose, as this was at the end of the working day, the embarrassed workers went home, intending to work out a solution the next day.

On returning to work the next morning, it was found that the beam was now 1 foot longer than needed.  Installation was completed, with no hitch.

As the priory was being dedicated to Christ, it was assumed that Christ had intervened, and extended the beam.

The original Town of Thuinam, was renamed Christchurch in honour of this event.



Whilst we were in the church, I sinned. It was a slip of the tongue and I really didn't mean to but I swore. I was told to wash my mouth with holy water!


We left the Priory, walked past the castle ruins and down to the harbour, where we had a bite to eat before picking up the troops and returning to the hotel for afternoon tea. 


The hotel was very busy when we arrived. There was a wake and the WI book club monthly lunch. I didn't have space to park, someone had removed the cones which was reserving my space so I had to block about 10 cars in while I got my passengers off. One very snooty lady approached me and said, 'you're blocking me in, you're in my way, are you going to move?' To which I replied, 'actually, had you not parked in my clearly marked reserved space, I wouldn't be in your way!' and continued to help my passengers off. So with a huff, the unpleasant lady stomped off to sit in her car and wait! Bad manners irritate me. Don't be rude to me and I won't be rude back!


Once the coach was parked for the night Karen and I went off to town, trying to find out if the dotty train was still running at this time of year. We found no information at the train stop, so we went to the cocktail bar instead! It was the first time I have been to a cocktail bar and drank coffee!


We had another very nice meal this evening except that we have had to swap table with 2 of our passengers because they weren't happy with where their table was positioned. So we are now slap bang in the middle of our group with eyes on us from all directions. Lots of our group were interrupting our meal to talk to us and we didn't get a moments peace. So after dinner I disappeared for some 'me' time and chilled in front of the telly.


The end of a successful day. Everyone has enjoyed themselves and there is some good banter going within our group. It's a good feeling when everybody's happy and part of that is down to you. Goodnight.

Bournemouth Tour - Day 1

I collected all my passengers this morning and we headed south in the pouring rain with no hope of it easing up. All of my passengers were a little disheartened by the weather. But this week I am working with my friend and colleague Karen, who is very loud, very outgoing and a lot of fun. We were chatting and laughing and enjoying ourselves as soon as we hit the road and it didn't take long for our mood to become infectious throughout the coach and people started to relax and get in the holiday spirit.

This week I am driving our latest touring coach which is very comfortable, drives nicely and has the WOW factor when it is seen on the road. So although it's not unusual, once again this week I am the best looking coach and driver in the coach park and I haven't even seen the competition yet! ;-)

As we were travelling, the rain continued and I had to decide where I was going to take our group for a lunch break. Although I get a lot of pleasure from dropping my passengers in the middle of a city that they don't know in the pouring rain, I decided to be kind today. We went to Haskins Garden Centre near Southampton Airport. As far as garden centres go, this one is very nice, with a wide selection of good food which to be honest, is a bit over priced, but I don't worry about that because I get mine for free! There is also a Hobbycraft store next door, just in case anyone needs new knitting needles or crochet hooks.

We got in touch with our hotel to see if they would mind us arriving early because the weather was getting worse and I could see no point in dragging out the day. The hotel had no problem with that so after a leisurely lunch and a spot of retail therapy for most, we made the short journey on to our hotel in Bournemouth.

This week we are staying in the Hotel Mirimar on East Cliff. I'm a lucky girl lately. Last week my favourite hotel, this week a hotel equally as good but lacking in eye candy! 

The Mirimar describes itself as the 'country house hotel overlooking the sea'. The staff here are so helpful and the place has a real family, homely feel to it, without lacking in quality. Guests are expected to dress for dinner which is served silver service. When we arrived, refreshments were served in the lounge while the porters delivered our luggage to our rooms. We had a nice relaxing afternoon settling into our new surroundings before this evenings dinner. I lay in the bath and watched last nights episode of the X factor on catch up.

This is another hotel, just like the Imperial last week, where we, as a group eat from the same menu as any other guest in the hotel, which is becoming more and more unusual. Our food was as good as I had remembered it to be and nobody has had a bad word to say about anything. 

So after dinner and an easy day, I left Karen to entertain the troops while I disappeared to my room to watch tonight's episode of X factor on catch up. I hope Shelley doesn't get voted out tonight!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

North Devon Delights -Day 4

The weather this morning was much better than yesterday and we left the hotel at 10am for Lynton and Lynmouth, avoiding all the road closures! The road down through Watersmeet and on into Lynmouth is very pretty following the course of the river Lyn down a very steep hill, round hairpin bends, through craggy rocks and is not much fun to drive in a large vehicle. In places, a cyclist coming towards you would cause a problem! The passengers are always very quiet on this stretch of road and I think it's because they are all holding their breath!

Lynton lynmouth cliff railwayThe small rural town of Lynton and coastal village of Lynmouth guarantee an escape to those wishing a complete change from the busy pace of modern life. Set in the heart of Exmoor National Park the twin resorts are far from industry and commerce. It would be natural to assume that their appeal has relied solely on incomparable scenery and that they have no claim to any remarkable happening in the past or indeed, the present. Take time to look a little closer, for they boast an impressive history that is not only diverse, but is surprising, fascinating, and most of all - notable.

The Lyn Rivers that tumble through deep wooded valleys as a series of small waterfalls meet at Lynmouth and flow across a rocky shore to the open sea. A small harbour flanked by the famous Rhenish Tower hints that a herring trade once sustained the community. The small town of Lynton originally supported by sheep farming, stands high on the cliff above its sister village.


Lynmouth became known throughout the world for the disaster that struck in August 1952. On the night of the 15th, after continuous rain throughout the day, the East and West Lyn Rivers rose suddenly and filled with the waters from their Exmoor catchment. Large boulders and rocks were carried in the flow towards the village, destroying houses, roads and bridges. Many lost their lives during that dark and terrifying night. The whole of Exmoor was affected and considerable damage was caused on the Barle, Exe, Heddon and Bray but the worst effects were at Lynmouth. This is because the water draining from most of the northern side of Exmoor ends up in the East and West Lyn Rivers, which join at Lynmouth. Hundreds of thousands of years ago these rivers used to run to the sea much further to the west but during the Ice Age the side of their valley was eroded by the sea and, as a result, they fell to the sea along a much shorter and steeper course. This makes the waters descending on Lynmouth particularly fast and erosive.


Although not the biggest flood Britain has had, it was one of the most spectacular and most studied. Interest was shown in the small scale as well as the larger effects on the landscape. Green studied the effects on river courses, erosion and deposition and Gifford and Kidson studied landslipping and its causes in the upper reaches of the Exe. Whilst it is still possible to see landforms created by the flood and to calculate its flow from remaining flood channels, most of the evidence of the flood has now disappeared, although parts of the West Lyn - the Glen Lyn gorge and part of the headwaters near Woolhanger - are now a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest for the evidence they show of the flood. At first it seemed that the flood confirmed the theory that most of the shaping of our landscape occurred during such violent events that were perhaps hundreds of years apart. However, work by Anderson and Calver on how the great scars and piles of boulders left by the flood have largely been removed by commonplace fluvial activity has changed our view of the shaping of landscape. Few now remember the disaster but its study has had far reaching effects upon our understanding of erosion and the way we deal with floods.

There is a conspiracy theory that the flood was caused by the British Military experimenting with cloud seeding. Operation Cumulus was a project of the UK government in the 1950's which was investigating weather manipulation.


On a lighter note, Lynton and Lynmouth have a water powered funicular cliff railway. The high cliffs separating the two towns (then villages) were a major obstacle to economic development in the 19th century. Because of the remoteness of the area, and rugged geography, villagers had to rely on the sea for most deliveries of coal, lime, foodstuffs and other essentials, which had then to be carried by packhorses and carts up the steep hill to Lynton.

The cliffs also posed problems for the burgeoning tourist industry. Holiday makers began to arrive at Lynmouth on paddle steamers from Bristol, Swansea and other Bristol Channel ports, from about 1820. Ponies, donkeys and carriages were available for hire, but the steep gradients led to the animals having only short working lives.

The first proposals for a rail-based lift, able to carry passengers and goods, were made in 1881, although this first scheme was to have been steam powered.

Opened on Easter Monday in 1890, the railway has been in continuous use ever since. An Act of Parliament formed the Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company in 1888, and a further Act gave the company perpetual rights to the water from the Lyn Valley.

The railway is now classified as a listed monument.

Of the two towns, I much prefer Lynmouth. It is far smaller than Lynton with its run of the mill high street shops which can be found anywhere. There are independent shops with their unusual items, a very nice art gallery where I nearly always end up buying something every time I look! There are several places to eat from tea rooms to pubs to hotels. Or just take away a Cornish pasty. The museum of the flood with its old photos is an interesting visit.

After spending 3hrs here we left for our next visit at Marwood Hill Gardens. It was quite a nice garden with a stream running through and a couple of man made lakes in the valley at the bottom of the garden. It was far too steep a hill for most of my people to even attempt it. It was a reasonable walk from the parking area, also hilly. This place is unsuitable for the slightest immobility problem. And there weren't even any flowers!


And the access to the garden for the coach was just stupid! A country lane where I kept meeting traffic, no one could pass, everyone had to reverse into driveways, field gates or up the hedge so I could get through. I asked at the garden about another route out which turned out to be even worse. Especially when I'm trying to squeeze past parked cars in a tiny village with a great long queue behind me and I come face to face with a tractor towing a plough with a great long queue behind him! Neither of us could go anywhere! 20mins to sort out that little issue! All good fun!

We finally made it back to the hotel after a couple more similar traffic problems, ie car drivers without a brain! Another lovely meal this evening and a glass of wine in the bar. Tomorrow we are going home, no visits planned, so I have decided to stay in Barnstaple for lunch before setting off.

It's been a funny old week. Not had any problems, passengers are nice, hotel is the best, but for some reason this week has been all work and no fun and I'm feeling a little flat. But I can't put my finger why it is. Having said that, all the passengers seem to have enjoyed their time which is all that really matters.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

North Devon Delights - Day 3

This morning we have a free morning in Barnstaple so I stayed in bed until 8:30am before going for a nice leisurely breakfast of porridge with a big fat dollop of clotted cream and golden syrup followed by bacon and toast, all accompanied by lots of strong, hot coffee.

After breakfast I spent some time washing, cleaning, hoovering and polishing my coach before heading into Barnstaple.


Barnstaple’s early history is unknown, although a few prehistoric flints have been unearthed in the area.  However by the reign of King Athelstan, Barnstaple was sufficiently well established to become one of four “Burhs”, and as such was granted the right to mint coins.  The earliest coin discovered so far dates back to King Eadwig’s reign (955-959). At this time Barnstaple had already become an important centre of commerce and it is said that King Athelstan granted the town a charter, which gave the town folk the right to hold markets and a fair.  

Medieval Barnstaple had become an important trading centre dealing in wool and woollen material, so much so that 2 burgesses were sent to represent the town in Parliament. 

The late 16th and early 17th centuries were periods of vast change. The Great Quay and Little Quay were built to accommodate the great increase in trade. Tobacco, wine and spices were imported and wool and pottery, along with a variety of other goods were exported. Barnstaple pottery has been found in archaeological excavations as far away as Maryland, USA. This era of prosperity was abruptly interrupted in 1642 by the Civil War during which the town changed hands four times. Evidence of the skirmishes can still be seen at the Penrose Almshouses in Litchdon Street where bullet holes are clearly visible in the door to the far left of the entrance gate.

The pannier market has charm and a friendly atmosphere and is one of Britain's largest indoor markets. There's something for everyone.

Largely unchanged in over 150 years, Barnstaple's historic Pannier Market has a wide range of stalls, with everything from fresh local produce, flowers and crafts, to prints and pictures, fashion and much more. Ideally located on the bustling High Street, the market is a must-see attraction for all visitors to the town.


The market boasts two café's each offering varied menus at great prices and a relaxed atmosphere, where you can sit and watch the world go by. 

Open all year round from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm, there really is something for everyone on every day of the week, except Sundays and bank holidays. And if the market is not enough, there is a great mix of national and independent shops and other attractions nearby.

The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon is the perfect way to find out more about North Devon. The collections and displays cover the natural and human history of this beautiful part of the country. Highlights of the Museum include the Tarka Gallery, the Story of North Devon and the Regimental Collection of the Royal Devon Yeomanry.


Barnstaple Heritage Centre offers great entertainment for all the family including quizzes and games, brass-rubbing and children's costumes, in the fantastic  hands-on exhibition. On a Journey Through Time, you can experience Saxon Life in Barnstaple, find out what was on offer in the Medieval Market, listen to merchants trading at the Tome Stone, and make sure the enemy does not surround you as the Civil War reaches town! Escape the battles to reach the genteel 18th Century, and tread the boards with John Gay's Beggar's Opera. And when you have found all the missing mice, follow the Heritage Trail, through the Floral Arch to the delightful Gift Shop.

This afternoon we were due to visit Marwood Hill Gardens but the rain has been so persistent this morning and so many people have dropped out of the visit that we have made arrangements to go tomorrow instead. My courier was concerned about our elderly passengers slipping on the sloping wet grassy paths while I was concerned about people getting on my nice clean coach with muddy dirty feet! So that has resulted in me having a day off, playing princesses in this lovely hotel!

North Devon Delights - Day 2

After a very comfortable night and a good breakfast served by my favourite Egyptian waiter, we left the hotel at 10am for today's visit to Arlington Court N.T.

Arlington Court is on the A39 to Lynton and was going to be an easy day for me. Wrong! We were heading out of Barnstaple on the A39 when I saw a sign saying 'ROAD AHEAD CLOSED' accompanied by a sign saying 'work starts 14/10/13'. Confused! Is it closed or not? I decided that because the signs were not at the end of the road where large vehicles had a choice of another route, they must be just preparing for the upcoming roadworks, so I carried on with plenty of traffic coming towards me from the supposed roadworks. We were only 3 miles from Arlington Court when we hit a road block, had to do a U-turn and find another way.


The main roads in this area are not very good for large vehicles so I wasn't going to risk using a country lane. So I was left thinking on my feet how we were going to get to our destination. I turned onto a road to skirt around the roadworks, went around the corner to see a sign saying 'THIS ROAD WILL BE CLOSED 8/10/13'. Panic! What was the date today? It's the 7th, I should be OK. So finally we arrived at Arlington Court, although we had to go a long way round, but the passengers appreciated the scenic drive and how I had navigated my way.


The first part of our visit to Arlington Court was a guided tour of the carriage museum. The group was split into two with a guide each. 


The Carriage Museum in the stables has a vehicle for every occasion from cradle to grave. Currently on loan from the Houses of Parliament is the Speaker’s State Coach, a glorious, gilded carriage with over 300 years of history.

Image taken from Wikipedia

After our tour of the carriages we were free to explore the house and grounds. Arlington Court is an unexpected jewel on the edge of Exmoor, a complete family estate held by the Chichester family for over five hundred years. The collection consists of treasures for all tastes, from model ships to shells, collected over several generations. The house itself, built in 1823 and extended in 1860, has an austere facade. 


However, inside the cosy rooms purvey a homely, family atmosphere.


Jacob sheep and Red Devon cattle graze the estate and provide seasonal dishes for the restaurant menu. There are over 20 miles of footpaths to explore, including the popular lake walk, which is just under two miles and tours the man-made lake and bridge piers of an unfulfilled Victorian dream. The formal Victorian garden with conservatory was rebuilt in 2012 and is planted with exotic species and a walled garden providing produce for the tea room and flowers for the house. There is an abundance of wildlife to discover including two species of bat roosting in the cellars, an ancient heronry and a birdhide, to view nature at its best.

After 4hrs here we had another scenic drive back to our hotel. We just skimmed the edge of Exmoor before following the route of the river Bray back to the main road and into Barnstaple arriving at our hotel in time for an included afternoon cream tea.


The other drivers at work keep having a friendly dig at me for always getting the cream of the work. Well boys, today I certainly have the cream and it was lovely!

I had a couple of hours to myself then before dinner and went for a long soak in the bath where I fell asleep. Dinner again tonight was excellent accompanied by a nice glass of wine. I just love staying at this hotel :-)