Category Archives: europe

Wordless Wednesday # 2: Gloucestershire breather

#2 Coopers-Hill-Gloucestershire

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Filed under europe, nature, travel, uk

The beauty spots of northeast England

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

My visit back to the UK coincided with the start of summertime and I wanted to show D-man a little of my English life. We had left Stroud and Gloucestershire behind, crossed through seven counties in five hours and were now cutting through the northern section of the North York Moors.

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Five minutes away from our destination I stopped the car and stood and gazed over the fields of my childhood, this green valley of protection and dry stone walling. Down there was my family home, down there were my mum and dad and many of the people who knew me through my growing up. It was the first time I’d been back to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in nearly two years and I felt a flutter of excitement. Spring sunshine sealed the feeling.

Some days later I headed over to Farndale to catch the end of the daffodil season. Like the dwindling display of flowers, the crowds too had left this beauty spot, and we walked quietly and undisturbed through puddles of squelch alongside river banks loaded with long grasses, wild garlic and forget-me-nots. The river ran brown and swollen and spilled out over the pathway.

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The last of the daffodils

The last of the daffodils

Sharing the path

Sharing the path

Garlic goes wild

Garlic goes wild

My favourite childhood tree

Revisiting my favourite childhood tree

Views out of the tree

Views out of the tree

Moving on to more historical and quaint sights, I took trips out to Saltburn, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby. From winding mazes of tightly packed streets through to pirate graves and a history of smuggling, I was transported back to my childhood.

A Saltburn pier stroll

A Saltburn pier stroll

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Robin Hood's Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay

A moody day at Robin Hood's Bay...

A moody day at Robin Hood’s Bay…

...and yet the icecream van was doing business.

…and yet the icecream van was doing business.

The snug streets of Robin Hood's Bay

The snug streets of Robin Hood’s Bay

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Finally, a drive to York saw us dodging ambling sheep and took us past the Millennium rock and along the Roman road past Castle Howard. The city streets resonated with tourists and shoppers and echoed with the click of cameras. We sat down to a British pub dinner at one of the oldest inns, right in the heart of the city, glimpsing York Minster through gaps in the cosy courtyard.

Roman roads near Castle Howard

Roman roads near Castle Howard

York Minster intricacies

York Minster intricacies

Stepping back in time

Stepping back in time

D-man runs up to Clifford's Tower in York

D-man runs up to Clifford’s Tower in York

And then before I’d had time to consider touching the Roman heritage of Hadrian’s Wall and the wild beauty of the Scottish borders, to trek the coast-to-coast route or amble up the landmark of Roseberry Topping, our time up north was over.

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

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Is cheese chasing just good British fun or something more serious?

The hill, if you look closely

The hill, if you look closely

Dangerous, stupid or just a bit of English fun? It’s definitely one of the more bizarre British customs that I’ve come across.

Bad press surrounding the cheese rolling competition held annually in Gloucestershire had seemingly promoted the event. Any publicity is, well, publicity, I guess. Local and international competitors gathered, ready to run a race down a near vertical strip of pitted farmland and claim victory in front of an adoring – and somewhat tipsy – crowd.

Take Kenny Rackers, for example, a 27 year old who travelled over from the US with only one thing on his mind: to win. ‘I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race,’ he told journalists. ‘I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practising. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win.’

Having ambled up along a winding road into what felt like private farmland, I just made it in time for the end of the first race. I nestled my way in to the front of the crowds and there stood Kenny, clad in stars and stripes and holding high the mighty cheese. ‘I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,’ he said. People queued to get pictures. Celebrity cheese chaser. Nice work.

...closer...

…closer…

...and finally... Cooper's Hill...

…and finally… Cooper’s Hill…

...and crowds.

…and crowds.

A moment of celebrity

A moment of celebrity

I looked up at the top of the hill, some 200 metres away. Clustered with squatting people, it looked as though they were having to hold on to tufts of grass to avoid falling down. Occasionally someone did. The photos, quite frankly, do not do the steepness justice. Coopers Hill has become infamous for this one day, once a year. The rest of the year, though? Pah. Mountain goats, maybe?

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

I watched the next race, a flurry of tumbling bodies, bouncing bodies. The cheese, replaced this year by a foam replica, hit a chunk of earth and split off to the side. Legs struggled to keep up with downhill momentum, tumbles followed tumbles and tripped others up. At the finish line men walked around dazed, a blend of naked torsos and smudged mud make-up.

And so it repeated and repeated until I watched a man flip and then stop still. He tried to shuffle, but then lifted his leg. His foot stuck out sideways, and a sea of people groaned.

And it's all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

And it’s all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

The free for all downhill scramble

The free for all downhill scramble

Home time?

Home time?

The crowd, revved on a good dose of bystander adrenaline and cider blur, started to disperse to the tune of an ambulance siren. Paramedics brought out the stretcher and the health and safety boohoos rubbed their hands in delight with the ammunition newly granted to them.

Another victory for sensibility over tradition? Let’s hope not. At least the grandmother who had until this year provided the cheese could rest assured that the police wouldn’t be knocking on her door, again. ‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured,’ she told the Telegraph days before the event.

Yet the appeal of the event doesn’t seem to be fading. Thousands of people still climbed up to Coopers Hill to watch the somersaults, and plenty of people still entered the competition knowing full well the dangers involved. Like the running of the tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, this event has associated risks. What’s wrong with the competitors taking some responsibility for themselves?

So is it dangerous, stupid or just a bit of fun? Quirky, sure. I’ll go with that.

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Going green in Gloucestershire

Sun blazing down on us, a bitey breeze keeping things cool, it was one of those perfect British days where you drink in the freshness of the air and turn your face up to a lightly white streaked sky.

Marching across the green grass fields of Gloucester towards a spring festival at an alternative education centre, I felt cheery being back in the UK. If I’d known that within a few minutes I’d be playing the moon in a zodiac demonstration and introducing D-man to my yearly childhood practise of maypole dancing, then maybe there would have been an even bigger bounce in my step. Maybe.

England, my sister said, was showing me its best side, a gold explosion of dandelions and sunshine, new life bursting out of branches and the otherside of a wintertime, warmth finally giving all its inhabitants some vitamin D therapy after two long, wet summers.

England, my sister told me, was persuading me to not give up on my home country, totally.

Views down over Stroud

Views down over Stroud

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Country traditions live on

Country traditions live on

The following day brought more moments in amongst the greenery, this time within the grounds of an imposing country manor. We walked off a locally sourced Sunday lunch and played poohsticks on a trickling stream where swans and cygnets persisted to paddle against the current. We ambled up past crumbling stone buildings and into yet more green fields, nodding good afternoon to other walkers.

Some English formality

Some English formality

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Trimmed lawns

Trimmed lawns

Springtime in an English country garden

Springtime in an English country garden

Cygnets choose the hardest route

Cygnets choose the hardest route

And it all felt, well, quintessentially British countryside. Far from the rugged and somewhat aimless adventuring I’ve been doing in the last two years, it was not without charm.

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Only an Aussie would see a snake in England

Pic from wikipedia.org

Pic from wikipedia.org

With the myth of the venomous daddy longlegs truly busted, the only deadly creature I’m aware that we have in England is the adder, a slithery snake of a thing often seen sporting a brown zigzag overcoat.

‘Just ‘adder’?’ asked D-man, ‘not ‘death adder’?’   

‘Erm,’ I thought quickly, racking my brain for any hidden information that might boost the reputation of our only venomous beast. I found nothing. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just an adder. But it can kill.’ 

Rewind back from this conversation, maybe ten minutes in time.

Having been in the UK for less than a week, D-man and I had trained west from London and were now enjoying a British springtime walk in the woods overlooking Stroud in Gloucestershire. An early summer sun shone down through spindly branches on which bright green buds unfurled and leaves leftover from last autumn lay crunchy underfoot. D-man suddenly stopped.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘I just saw something. Do you have snakes here?’ He didn’t move.

‘Yep. Where did it go? What did it look like?’

D-man pointed to a heap of dead branches and leaves. I rustled the pile with my feet, but he pulled me back.

‘Careful!’ he said, ‘Get away!’

And there it was: the different attitudes that Aussies and Brits have to snakes. For me, having grown up in England, the sight of a snake is a cause for celebration. On the few occasions that I have seen grass snakes and adders I have sat and watched and followed them when they moved.

D-man, an Australian through-and-through, has grown up with regular sightings of some of the world’s deadliest snakes and has had a healthy fear and respect instilled in him through snake awareness classes in school and real life survival tales of friends of friends.

Would the adder have come for me, had I disturbed it? Possibly. Would I have died, had it bitten me? Probably not. What I didn’t tell D-man was that no one has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975. Instead I let him run with the idea that I was both curious and courageous in my pursuit of a snake sighting.

Or just completely stupid. And totally, totally un-Aussie.

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5 things to do in London in a day

Over 30 million tourists visit London every year. 30 million. That’s nearly half the UK population (and doesn’t even take in to account the residents). One city with so many people? Somehow it works.

As a Brit, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the city, and after brief breaks to the place I’ve always been happy to retreat back to ‘normal’ England. Now, though, I was seeing it through tour guide eyes, showing D-man around and trying to pack in as much as possible within a short amount of time.

So here is a list of what you could do in a day. More realistically, you will probably want to spread the activities out over a couple of days. I’ve not even included museums or galleries, gardens or markets or shops. The Science Museum, Tate Modern, Kew Gardens, Brick Lane, and more and more and more. So much more. Ah, another time, another list.

For now though, let’s run with this very standard tourist list of things to get the London experience started:

1. Start your day by swinging by some famous streets, sights and places

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Watching the shooting of a Bollywood music video in Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Trafalgar Square cliché?

Picadilly Circus curves

Picadilly Circus curves

Of course it exists. At King's Cross train station.

Of course it exists. At King’s Cross train station.

Big Ben put into perspective

Big Ben put into perspective

2. Squish in amongst the crowds to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

When did this become such a HUGE tourist attraction?

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Crowds start to gather outside of the palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Fighting our way through the crowds at Buckingham Palace

Perfectly in time.

Perfectly in time.

3. Boat trip down the River Thames

Let's go join to procession

Let’s go join to procession

Spying St Paul's Cathederal

Spying St Paul’s Cathederal

Tower Bridge and the Shard

Tower Bridge and the Shard

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

One less thing to worry about at the Tower of London

Every room has a river view

Where every room has a river view

4. Watch the sun set over the city from high on board the London Eye

Ready to join the queues?

Ready to join the queues?

Views down on to the South Bank

Views down on to the South Bank

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

Time it right to get the best dusk views.

5. Wind down in one of London’s many theatres

Cultured. We can but try.

Cultured. We can but try.

And then you could finish the day and party on until daybreak at Fabric or one of London’s many clubs or squat parties. We didn’t. Wiped out from a day of flights and now a day in London, D-man, me and my mum headed back to our comfy airbnb find.

My guess is that at the end of the day you too will be tired. Your feet will hurt. You may decide that you don’t like the shuffling crowds, that this city of 8 million people and hoards of tourists is too chaotic and the depths of London’s underground belly too claustrophobic. You may groan about high prices, about sold out shows, about the fact that this city doesn’t seem to sleep.

But stop. Take a breath. You can’t really deny that London is a bold, beautiful city, alive with diversity and culture, can you?

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Terror threat touch down at Heathrow Airport

www.travelola.org

Walking towards the unknown

The airport had been shut down. No one was allowed in. Police pointed us along cordoned off walkways, away from Arrivals, away from where my mum would be waiting. We were displaced ants, stumbling confused inside a massive, empty anthill.

D-man was here with me, his first trip to Europe. What a welcome.

We queued as per usual for passport control and customs. People muttered. No one knew what was really going on. No one would tell us. Something about an abandoned car? A car bomb, maybe?

Dusk was falling. Like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film we dragged suitcases up the centre of a road sided by concrete towards silent flashes of blue and the next set of instructions. Neon yellow policemen jackets stood out against the low light greys, orders barking out of big guy mouths.

‘Going saaarf, get in that line. Norf, ova there’. Arms flailed.

I didn’t know how I’d find her, but I did, holding a place in a queue of people trying to push on board a snaking bus.

And finally, after nearly two years, I got my mama cuddle.

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And just when I started to feel settled…

…I decided to pack my bags and head home.

Home to Europe.

Only this time I would be a tourist in my own country. Countries.

It had been nearly two years since I’d set off from the UK to solo travel South America. How might things have changed? Would I recognise my old life? Would my friends be strangers? Would I feel displaced, neither at home in Britain nor Australia?

I felt the travel excitement bubble up in my belly, and each day the longing to hold my friends and family in tight cuddles grew stronger. In the last year Skype had brought me news:  friends  married and  fell pregnant. My sister gave birth to her first child, my first nephew. My Oma battled a heart attack and fought for her life. My other grandmother gave up the fight to finally reach a place of calm.

And I, like many a travelling expat, felt so far away from those closest to me. Time to return and see and experience the changes for real.

But life, ever playful, gave me something else to ponder.  The sun reappeared and dried out a good few months of damp, and each day closer to my departure date brought me closer to people in my Aussie life. And then I saw it clearly: I was part of a new community. Things and people were starting to become familiar. I was starting to belong. Anticipating that a glimpse of what I’d left behind in the UK would make me too drunk dizzy to get back on a plane to Oz, they made me promise I’d return.

But, really, I didn’t know the outcome, how I’d feel reimmersed in my native culture. I had heard  that a growing number of  Europe to Australia emigrants  return to their home country within a year, so I kept my mind and options open and boarded that first flight to Singapore looking forward to little else but a mama hug some 27 hours away.

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Show me some Melbourne street art

www.travelola.orgI first became aware of street art tours when a fellow blogger posted photos of a trip that they’d been on in Buenos Aires. Street art seems to be growing in popularity and gaining acceptance; it’s been associated with enhancing community cohesion and giving disenchanted youths an outlet to express their frustrations. Of course there’s far more to it all, but I’m not the one to talk about this sub-culture. What do I know? I just like looking at some of the stuff. Little more.

With the rise of street art acceptance, street art tours were always an inevitable progression, and they’re too gaining in popularity. Go to London, San Franscisco, Bangkok or Melbourne and you can find a tour that promises to give you a taste of the latest contemporary art trend.

Whilst I have some questions about how such an underground scene sits within a commercial and mainstream context, I do lean towards street art over concept art, and so, following a tip off from a local, I skipped the tour and just went to the art direct.

This is easy enough for anyone to do as Melbourne’s laneways are infamous and printed up guides tell you exactly where to go. You’d struggle NOT to see any street art. But there is a good chance that without a guide you might miss the really good stuff, just like I probably did.

I’m also pretty sure, though, that there are walls of undiscovered street art away from the tourist eye, and like with any industry, what the mainstream get access to is hardly representative of the overall scene.

For now, this was all I was getting.

www.travelola.org

www.travelola.org www.travelola.org www.travelola.org www.travelola.org www.travelola.org

Do you reckon they’d let me buy the Ganesh spray job from Hosier Lane (see top pic)? Would anyone really notice if I bought those bricks, say for $1000,000? I’m just going to hunt down a Monopoly set.

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Speed boats vs. sailing boats

It was a fun way to start this trip away, spending Sunday morning bouncing across a bit of chop on a little speedboat. Out at sea you get such an alternative vista of the world – of the land at least – back towards Poole and the surrounding coastline. You step outside your norm, you observe and escape at the same time.

But which is the best way to go about doing it – under motor or sail?

I don’t really know the politics, but have observed quite a split in opinions. If I had taken my Day Skipper teacher’s advice, I wouldn’t have stepped on to a boat called Delirium, but I wasn’t going to start getting funny with friends. I’ve noticed how often speed boats seem to take on more hedonistic, dangerous names whilst sail boats rely on more romantic, playful names like Restless or Kids’ Inheritance. These names seem to be an extension of the differences between sail and motor.

Whizzing along in a speed boat is fun – the wind whips your hair into a knotty, exciting mess, the spray blasts into your face, you feel alive. Speed boating is thrilling and naughty; you burn fuel, you create excess noise, and if you’re honest, you pose a bit (or a lot, in some cases). In terms of sailing, physically interacting with the elements and successfully harnessing the breeze gives you a huge sense of achievement.

Sailing is often viewed as being much more smooth, real and rugged; there is dignity in sailing, – something upright and honest about its nature.

My hippy side pulls towards the hard graft and reward of sailing, of a communal effort to get the yacht moving, of the peace created by nature carrying you over the water; but don’t get me wrong, I do get why people love their speed boats.

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