North Coast Journey

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The Magic of Scotland’s Northern Highlands

My new book is published!

Further to my award winning books in my ‘52 Weekends‘ series, North Coast Journey is a richly illustrated, magical odyssey through the highlands of Scotland’s far north.

The dramatically changing coastline, awesome mountain scenery, scattered cottages in sparsely populated landscape, abundant wildlife and birdlife, and welcoming community hubs make this a very special adventure for people of all ages.

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The discoveries I share are diverse. I invite you to travel routes taken by skilled drovers herding hundreds of cattle through wild scenery. Weave your way through ancient landscape to spine tingling settlements and monuments made by our ancestors in prehistory times. Surf some of the finest cold water waves in the world. Visit crofts and castles were you will be made most warmly welcome. Explore at ease through 10 clear stages; each offering the bonus optional detours to yet more fantastic discoveries.

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The essence of the book is to slow down, to connect with the north highlands in a meaningful and respectful way.

I invite you to nourish your spirit in nature, to be inspired by driech damp weather and golden sunshine days, to observe mountains express moods of light and shade through veils of mist and drifting cloud. To enjoy the tang of salty sea air as wild wind whips surging white horses and to peer into the ocean mirror as it reflects passing boats and romantic sunsets in the bewitching hush of calm, flat days.

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I invite you to feast  – on simple pleasures! To connect with local people in diverse communities, to reach dreamy beaches and secluded coves off the beaten track, to saunter footpaths with heart-stopping island views, to be still, to hear bird song, the rhythm of softly lapping waves, the uplifting sound of silence, and so much more!

North Coast Journey is based on my authentic, first-hand experience, my knowledge and extensive research. I am thrilled to share this beautiful, romantic and magical new adventure with you.

Whatever you do, don’t rush it!

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How to Make Magic Memories

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On my writing desk, my personal copy of my book 52 Weekends by the Sea, stuffed with inspiration and discoveries all around the British coast.

I show you perfect places to make magic memories, all backed up with tried, tested and trusted tips: where to eat, where to stay and who to check out, because meeting the locals is a great way to experience any place!

Take yourself away:  experience breathtaking moments, like the romantic vision that appeared at the end of a glorious day on the vast sands of West kirby, with Hilbre Island and the mountains of Snowdonia beyond. I managed to capture it with my phone. Simply wonderful…

Discover West Kirby and the Wirral peninsula in Weekend 14 of 52 Weekends by the Sea. Buy it now from Amazon.

 

 

Beside the Seaside on Whitley Bay

Whitley Bay! You only have to say the name and I conjure up that great swathe of sand, racing north sea waves, iconic St Mary’s lighthouse and a long, long  promenade currently undergoing regeneration as part of a £36 million project to improve facilities along the North East coast.

Bracing! Whitley Bay

Ahhh! Bracing! Whitley Bay

My book 52 Weekends by the Sea reveals an unexpected delight in Whitley Bay: the fabulous skate park in the Panama Dips. Designed with the insight of young people who knew exactly what they wanted, the skatepark a big success much loved by locals and visitors. Watching the action on skateboards, scooters and BMX bikes makes for great entertainment.

 

After the exertions of the skate park, pop into the Rendezvous cafe on the prom for a traditional nut sundae and views across along the prom and out to sea.Family run since the 1960s, the unfussy yet cheery Rendezvous is a family and dog friendly Whitley bay institution.

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The simple pleasure of a traditional nut sundae at the Rendezvous Cafe

For coffee and art, pop into the neighbouring Links Gallery, where tables are decorated with old postcards of traditional Whitley Bay scenes including this wonderful helter skelter on the sands.

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Thrilling helter skelter rides at Whitley Bay

Shipping News!

IMG_1027River Mersey south bank drama

The wonderful Wirral peninsula oozes maritime history. Viking invaders liked the place so much they moved in; Thingwall village became their great meeting venue, the first parliament to be established in Britain.

Medieval Benedictine monks from Birkenhead Priory made the first Mersey river crossing. Rowing 90 minutes to Liverpool, their route was made more famous by the iconic Mersey Ferries that ply daily between  landing stages at Seacombe and Woodside on the Wirral, and the  Pier Head in Liverpool. While the monks are long gone, the 850 year old priory remains and is a fascinating visit.

Shipbuilders at the Cammel Laird yard have launched many famous vessels that contributed to significant world events including  the CSS Alabama, a ‘commerce raider’ sloop built in 1862 for the Confederate states of America to do battle with Union merchant ships.

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CSS Alabama sloop-of-war

For the Royal Navy, the yard built two Ark Royal  aircraft carriers, the first in 1937 and the second in 1950, this legendary warship was the largest vessel to be commissioned by the Royal Navy.

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The Queen launches  Ark Royal at Cammell Laird, May 3 1950

The great tradition of the Navy’s Ark Royals began in 1558 with the English fleet’s flagship in the Spanish Armada campaign.

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CSS Alabama sloop-of-war

Grabbing the headlines in 2016 is a polar research ship named in honour of Sir David Attenborough, though it made a narrowly infamous escape from the more jolly moniker of  Boaty McBoatface in a public poll.

In a diplomatic resolution to the delicate problem of what might be deemed an appropriate name for a Very Important Ship,  a lucky sub sea vessel operated remotely from the Sir David Attenborough won the Boaty McBoatface title. David and Boaty are due for completion in 2019.

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The best view of the Liverpool waterfront is from Birkenhead docks; go and be astounded. If you are lucky, you might see one of the famous road bridges across the Great Float, a vast inlet of water, rise to allow ships passage to or from the Mersey, the event is especially spectacular when small and mighty tugs are called upon to assist.

This video reveals some of the drama.

 

 

Discover Wirral in Weekend 14 of my award winning book 52 Weekends by the Sea, published by Random House Virgin Books and available from booksellers and Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard from: Dylan Thomas Boat House

‘and there is nowhere like it at all’

Dylan Thomas 

Free spirited poet Dylan Thomas and his vivacious wife Caitlin managed a tempestuous marriage within the confines of a modest boat house home on the shore of the Taf estuary in Talacharn, as it is known in Welsh, or Laugharne in the English spelling.

From childhood, the poet’s affection for the ‘timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town’, complete with a castle, was steadfast and after periods of homelessness and short lets, the family home in Laugharne spurred a creatively productive time in the poet’s life, although three quarters of his poetry was written in four years between his 16th and 20th birthdays.

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan and Caitlin, a ferocious, fiery, loving warring couple shared their Bohemian existence with their children Aeron, Llewellyn and Colm.

Often broke, often drunk, heaving in and out of infidelities, the couple depended on the support of friends and family; even the boathouse was a gift bought for the family by Margaret, the wife of historian AJP Taylor and a passionate admirer of the poet.

The poet's long johns?

Poetic long johns in the garden 

Having come to the rescue by hosting homeless Dyland and Caitlin in their Oxford garden summerhouse for a month, Margaret went on to purchase the boat house, which the poet had much admired since childhood.  Dylan, Caitlin and their children took up residence from 1949-1953. Many believe that Margaret hoped, in vain, to share the home too.

Today the atmosphere of the boat house is sedate, though if walls could talk there might be some extraordinary recounts of extraordinary events here. Open to the public, the poet’s home is simply furnished in period style. Estuary views inspire. It’s a friendly, lived-in kind of place – I especially liked the witty touch of clean washing – this was a couple renowned for airing their ‘dirty washing’ in public!

The modest writing shed where Dylan Thomas wrote 'Under Milkwood'

The modest writing shed perched on stilts where Dylan Thomas wrote ‘Under Milkwood’

Dylan’s writing place was a shed on stilts, still in situ, clinging to the cliff and floating above the muddy foreshore. Peer through the window to see  scattered scrumpled sheets of paper and Dylan’s blue and white stripy mug on the table with a sea view. It seems as if the poet may return at any moment. Perhaps he’s just at Browns, (where the bar number was his telephone contact) or the Three Mariners;  among his favourite watering holes.

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas' writing shed

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

From the boathouse allow about an hour for the circular walk along a woodland path to a beautiful smallholding and up a steep sunken lane, from here it’s a short way to a small iron gate behind St Martin’s church. Go through the churchyard and over the bridge to discover the couple’s grave, marked by a simple white cross, quite different to the fine Welsh slate headstones all around it.

How may times must Dylan Thomas have strolled this woodland path?

Often Dylan Thomas strolled this woodland path

Dylan died in New York in 1953, Caitlin, who was 39 at the time, died in 1994. Unlike may great poets buried with pomp in Westminster Abbey, Dylan lies at peace on a Welsh hillside, though St Martin’s church has a replica of the poet’s memorial stone in Westminster Abbey.

Visiting the Dylan Thomas Boat House is especially lovely in the low season when you will have time and space to soak up the atmosphere and the views.

At the end of my walk I returned to the basement tearoom to sit outdoors in the sunshine, accompanied by ‘Humpy’ the resident gull. Far from aggressive with humans, Humpy is so named because he arches his back as soon as any other bird glides across his path.  Look out also for the tame timid robin called Dave. As Joyce, one of the lovely kitchen team explained, ‘there was always madness when Dylan lived here and there’s definitely still some of it about today!’

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Humpy gets the hump!

Humpy gets the hump!

Postcard from: The Serpentine Lido

 

Capital swimming in the heart of London!

Capital swimming in the heart of London!

As someone who loves to swim, I am always excited by inspirational swimming places.

I’ve even dedicated a chapter of my book  52 Weekends by the Sea to one of my favourites: the unique heated seawater Olympic size experience of  Stonehaven open air Art Deco pool.

Here’s another favourite: the Serpentine Lido in London’s Hyde Park.  The beautiful 110 yards open water swimming area was created in the Depression of 1930 by George Lansbury. His vision for healthy recreation was also the first opportunity for mixed bathing and sunbathing in the Royal Park.

Check out this wonderful Pathe clip of swimmers in caps and costumes diving in with delight on the opening day.

Thanks goodness the rowing boats are no longer permitted in the swimming area!

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The Lido and lovely children’s paddling pool are open through weekends in May and seven days a week from June 1 to September 12. You’ll find all the details here: https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/sports-and-leisure/serpentine-lido

A great place for summer refreshment whether or not you are a swimmer

A great place for summer refreshment whether or not you are a swimmer

 

Occasional visitors to the swimming area

Occasional visitors to the swimming area

The  experience of swimming in Hyde Park is spectacular, the environment is beautifully maintained and I am especially impressed by the new wildflower plantings; a conscious move by the Royal Parks to reverse the decline of Britain’s wildflowers and to create beautiful bumble bee feeding stations. The park gardeners have done a spectacular job!

Hyde Park wildflowers

Hyde Park wildflowers

 

 

Postcard from: Porth Y Swnt Centre of Coastal Excellence

Aberdaron, wild west Wales

Aberdaron, wild west Wales

The Welsh Government celebrates three centres of coastal excellence; Swansea Bay, Pembrokeshire and Aberdaron, where the new National Trust visitor centre Porth Y Swnt opens on March 28.

Named in a competition won by local schoolgirl Elliw Jones Evans. Porth Y Swnt translates as Gateway to the Sound, an evocative name in keeping with the unspoiled landscape. Aberdaron is the gateway to Bardsey Sound, the treacherous passage to Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey Island.

Glorious daffodils; , the national flower of Wales

Glorious daffodils, the national flower of Wales

The wild Welsh LLyn peninsula is hugely inspirational. Here priest poet RS Thomas wrote haunting verse about his vulnerability, struggles with faith and deep connection to land and sea.

Thomas is among my favourite poets and I was hugely privileged to receive permission from his family to include his poem The Other in my book 52 Weekends by the Sea.

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On a recent visit to Porth Y Swnt, builders were busy with finishing touches ahead of the grand opening on March 28 2014.

Set in stone: Sion and Mike fix firmly poetry at the door

Set in stone: Sion and Mike fix firmly slabs of poetry at the threshold of Porth Y Swnt

Evocative poetry at the threshold of Porth y Swnt

The poem ‘Aberdaron’ by Cynan

I suspect many visitors will share the sense of longing and devil-may-care rebellion expressed by Sir (Albert) Cynan Evans-Jones CBE,  known simply as Cynan, in the Porth Y Swnt threshold poem Aberdaron.

Here the first verse in Welsh, followed by a translation of the  full poem in English.

Aberdaron

Pan fwyf yn hen a pharchus

Ac arian yn fy nghod,
A phob beirniadaeth drosodd
A phawb yn canu ‘nghlod
Mi brynaf fwthyn unig
Heb ddim o flaen y ddôr.
Ond creigiau Aberdaron
A thonnau Gwyllt y Môr

Aberdaron 

When I am old and honoured

With silver in my purse

All criticism over

All men singing my praise

I will purchase a a lonely cottage

With nothing facing its door,

But the cliffs of Aberdaron

And the wild waves on the shore

 

For there I will discover

In the stormy wind and its cry

Echoes of the Old rebellion

My soul knew in days gone by

And I will sing with the old passion

While gazing through the door

At the cliffs of Aberdaron

And the wild waves on the shore

The landscape of poets; Aberdaron

The landscape of poets; Aberdaron