Day 9 – The Coastal Path – Durlston to Dancing Ledge and Back!


Day 9

Mai and I rose early, breakfasted on cereals (no more English cooked breakfasts), packed up a lunch into our old brown canvas rucksack, packed our boots and anoraks and set off for Durlston, where we would park the car for the walk.

As we travelled from Bournemouth onto the Isle of Purbeck (which is not an island but a spit of land that encircles Poole Bay and faces both the Isle of Wight [a real island] and across the English Channel to France) it was raining lightly and we wondered what the day held in store. We passed by Corfe Castle, always a landmark in this area and a place I had taken Mai when she first visited UK with me (her previous trips had been confined to major cities). Then on to Durlston, a small town on the coast, from where it was signposted to the start of the walk. One thing heavily in favour of the UK is that it has more public footpaths (protected by law) than any country I have ever been to. They criss-cross the whole of the UK and are classified as major paths that traverse the whole of the country from north to south and east to west, round the whole of the coastline of the UK and across major geographical and geological landmarks; and minor paths that used to connect every village and hamlet. In UK you are never more than a hundred or so metres from a footpath!

The cafe garden at Durlston Head

It was still fairly early when we arrived at the Visitor Centre and it was just opening for the day. The rain stopped abruptly as we got out of the car and I rejoiced that our determination to do this had convinced the weather to let up on us. It never rained again until we got back into the car for the return trip! We booted ourselves and carrying the rucksack we explored the toilets (useful before a journey) and the exhibits at the Visitor Centre before starting off at the well signposted sign to where we would join the Coastal Path itself. We had travelled hardly three hundred metres before we hit the coast and also a cafe built into an old fortification through which the coastal path proper crossed the small garden overlooking the sea.

                               The view towards Bournemouth   Old Harry Rocks and in the distance a balloon

The lighthouse on the cliff

Early though it was, we could not give up the chance for a hot cup of coffee and explore the garden, which we found overlooked a massive globe of the world set onto a promontory below the garden. We finished our drinks and walked down some steep steps to the globe to explore.

The graffiti stone    The Globe with cleaner below

Caves in the cliff below                        
A lone yacht

Here there was someone laid down cleaning the globe and the surrounding large carved stones. As I recall, the globe, fully 3 metres in diameter, portrayed the major continents and distances, and the carving around it was a call for peace and harmony. It was a good place for such a sentiment. I also liked the special stone set up to combat graffiti.

Coastal flowers along the way

We then set off along the coast path proper. Here, it was much used by occasional visitors who came to see the views and perhaps make it as far as the local lighthouse, which was about a fifth of the way to Dancing Ledge. The path was therefore well made with gravel and thus could have taken a wheelchair.

As we travelled on we passed an underground passage down to a ledge below, which had been a sort of small place for cargo unloading from sailing ships in the past. When I was a boy the passage was still open and you could go down it and stand above the raging sea below. Now, due to rock falls, it was too dangerous and blocked off to the public. Nearby was the local lighthouse, standing on a promontory above the sea. Here was where most people stopped who were not hikers, but we forged on firstly down a steep valley at the edge of the sea and then up again, past the lighthouse and on up to the wilder country beyond.

Some photos of Mai for a change – you can tell I was lagging behind all the way!

Her now, we were solitary. Only true hikers tended to venture beyond this point and there were few of them on this still wild and cold summer morning. We walked up and down the valleys topping the cliffs, stopping regularly to take photos of the views and eat a bit of chocolate or, of course, the hikers constant standby, Kendal Mint Cake. I also took over the camera for a while and took many photos of Mai, a first for this trip, as she trudged up slopes or stopped to view the cliffs and the sea beyond.

Views on the way

I won’t say soon, as soon is not a word to be used by an old man when trying to appear younger than he is and keep up with his younger and fitter wife; but after a long hike, we made it to a place where there was a path down to a ledge by the sea. We took it and found ourselves on a small solitary ledge where we sat for a while in silence taking in the beauty and tranquillity of the scene.

More views on the way

Mai on the ledge and looking over the cliff to the swirling sea below

Moving on, Dancing Ledge eventually came into sight, although it took much longer to get there. On arrival we left the path and scrambled down to the large ledge below. In past times, it had been used for a number of purposes, but one of them was for young people to take sailing boats to the ledge in the early evening and then dance the night away to the accompaniment of fiddle, fife and drum and maybe some brass instruments as well. Here we were in the middle of ‘Hardy” country, the famous British writer who wrote romantic and tragic novels about this area which have lasted down the ages, the Mayor of Casterbridge; The Trumpet-Major; Jude the Obscure; and many more. He had lived nearby and knowing the history I am always transported back to those nineteenth century images of formally dressed men and their long haired women dressed in the beautiful, though impractical, clothes of the time. Here I imagined them turning and swirling in dance by the light of flares and disappearing into the shadows to make romantic love.

Dancing Ledge

We found a sheltered spot with a place to sit by ourselves and started on our lunch. I am sure it was my other staple of pork pie, together with crisps and an assortment of sandwiches and hot coffee from a flask to wash it down. We tarried a while but this was a hikers natural stopping off point and there were maybe a dozen people here, so craving more of the solitariness and togetherness that Mai and I value, we packed up and set off for our return.

More of Dancing Ledge

We were not going back the same way, as I had seen from our detailed OS (ordnance survey – the detailed maps that cover all of the UK) map, that there was a parallel path further up and away from the cliff path, that would allow us to walk back to where we had come from, but give us different and more panoramic views, and so it proved.

Berries and Brambles

However, the first trudge up to top of the hills rising behind the cliff path was a trudge indeed, especially just following lunch, and despite my conditioning gained by living at 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) in Addis Ababa and having walked in the Simien Mountains up to 4,300 metres (above 14,000 feet), I was knackered! However, with Mai’s encouragement, I pushed on to the top and we started along the ridge in the direction we had come, now with the cliff path well below us and on our right side.

More flowers along the way

This upper path proved to be a great idea as although we were travelling back in the same direction as we had come, the views were seen from a different standpoint and we were at the same time in the countryside. We walked steadily across the ridge, passing over dry stone walls that marked field boundaries and again, stopping from time to time to take photos and look at the scenery.

Views from the ridge

Soon we came upon signs of habitation, not people, but cows. We circumvented one herd and then as we approached the lighthouse again, we found another, with an old bull laid on the top of the ridge looking down on his companions below. We passed through these, keeping a wary eye on what were several massive beasts and entered another field. At the edge of this field was another wall and on the other side of it was another bull, this time wide awake and looking dangerous. Not wanting to have to run from the bull, we instead scrambled downhill to the path we had come on and for the last fifth of the journey retraced our steps back to the cafe, where again we stopped for refreshment before returning to the car and home.

More photos of the ridge, the lighthouse and the Bull

 The day had been a fitting end to our journey around England. We had seen the real England of my youth, the lovely countryside, the unparalleled history and the great traditional English of the north. What better end than to return to my roots on the south coast. Soon we would be jetting back to Addis and Hanoi, both of which I call home; but this England always stays in my heart.


Day 8 (2) – Stratford-on-Avon, the Cotswolds and Home


Day 8 (2)

As we entered Stratford it was raining and we circled the centre of town three times before we found a parking space in the car park of a main hotel next to the river and very central. The traffic is bad in the centre of Stratford at all times, but I believe half of it is caused by people circling to find a parking space!

As soon as we left the car and headed to what we thought was the town centre, the rain began to fall hard and spying the public information centre we headed to it for information, but mostly for shelter. Funnily enough it seemed as though every tourist in Stratford had the same urge for information at the same time – I wonder why! After buying some trinkets including a mini-book of the sonnets and a plaster image of Shakespeare’s house (or was it Ann Hathaway’s Cottage), the rain that was previously falling like ‘cats and dogs’ (I am not sure but that phrase might just Shakespeare imagery as so much of colloquial English is) was now slackening and we ventured out under our already soaked umbrellas and anoraks.

The Shakespeare statue – the last picture looks like Lenin to me!

Crossing the road we came upon the Shakespeare statue with him on a plinth looking vaguely like Lenin (I wonder if the sculptor was of about that time and he was trying to make a point), surrounded by lesser statues of characters from some of the main plays. I believe Henry V, Hamlet, Othello, and ‘whatisname’, the fat guy from Henry V and (is it?) Henry IV was there – mind’s a blank! After an extended Mai photo session, we then turned our way to the river bank, passing some narrow boats on which I gave a probably unwelcome lecture to Mai who had not seen such things before.

Narrow Boats and Boathouse on the river

Then on my insistence we crossed the river seeking peace from the main town and walked some way along the river to a ferry crossing. Unfortunately the ferry had just left for the other side and we did not fancy waiting for its return, so we wended our way back across the river and into the town proper.

Swans and Canada Geese on the river

I think Mai was entranced by being in Shakespeare’s birthplace and snapped off photos left and right, but I was grumpy, still damp, a bit fed up as I had seen it all before (but of course I had also forgotten where things of interest were) and not relishing the drive from the Midlands back to Home that night. We traipsed a few streets and took some photos of real or unreal (that is nineteenth century copies) Elizabethan buildings and then returned to the car, to dry out and then head south. We had not done justice to Stratford, but sometimes it goes like that!

‘Olde’ buildings in Stratford

Mai expertly navigated us out of Stratford and down into the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds is a beautiful place, full of narrow roads and ancient mills, bridges and houses and slow flowing streams in what is termed the ‘heart of England’; but today it was damp and wet and uninviting, and so we passed through, looking out of the car windows, but not inclined to stop and explore further.

More old buildings in Stratford

As evening drew near we were back on the outskirts of Salisbury and dropped into a filling station for petrol and also to buy some food as we were famished, not having eaten anything substantial since breakfast. We circled the centre of Salisbury in the rush-hour, but eventually found our way out, secure in the notion that we had a bed for the night tonight. Mai phoned ahead to my Mum to give her our ETA and soon, although in the dark, we were on familiar roads down to the M27 and home.

My mother welcomed us as long lost souls and tired but happy we unpacked, checked our mileage in the little black car that had served us so well (was it 1400 or 1600 miles?) and settled down back in my Mum’s little retirement bungalow. I was anxious to show Mai a bit of my beloved South Coast Path and now armed with her first ever pair of hiking boots, Mai was anxious to test them out. Thus, we resolved the next day would be a walk along part of the coastal path from Durlston to Dancing Ledge and back. And so, happily, to bed.


The Roads of England

Day 8 – Kenilworth Castle


Day 8

When we came down for breakfast the next morning it was raining hard. The breakfast was again a good English one presented by the very pleasant husband of the dour lady we met the night before. Mai had taken several photos of the room which was probably the second best (after Whitby) of our journey and we had spent a comfortable night. On leaving the guest house landlady was much more pleasant – maybe she was having a good day or maybe she had got over the ‘old Englishman with young Asian’ perception adopted by so many people we met. This was strange if true as her husband was obviously West Indian! The English are often very judgemental without knowing the facts, but then I suppose that is inevitable when their knowledge is confined to television news reports of child brides from Thailand and Cambodia. They would of course not recognise both that Mai is Vietnamese and approaching forty (Vietnamese always look younger than they are) or that we had married in UK as it was easier to do so than in Viet Nam. Anyway, enough of English prejudices and lack of knowledge of the world. We packed our bags for the last time on the trip and having put them in the car, we walked across the road to Kenilworth Castle in the rain and on into the Castle.

The entrance to Kenilworth Castle in the rain

Kenilworth Castle quickly proved to be worthwhile. It is on a massive sight and includes buildings from the 10th Century onwards to something like the 18th Century; it was a royal residence for most of that period; it has a beautiful garden first prepared for Queen Elizabeth the First by her then favourite; it has beautiful views over the countryside around. It has both ruins and a gate house furnished in a 16th Century puritan style and finally it has a converted Elizabethan stable block that has been converted into a good exhibition place and cafe. Not surprisingly, we spent most of the morning there.

Views of the medieval parts of Kenilworth including the Great Keep

The Great red sandstone Keep, though a ruin, is one of the best in England and the surrounding partially preserved buildings of the medieval period are very impressive including the banqueting hall of kings in which it is supposed that Henry V decided on war with France which ended with the famous victory at Agincourt. Thus, if Shakespeare is to be believed (!), it was here that the ambassador of France presented the young king Henry with tennis balls that prompted Henry essentially to promise to play with those of the Dauphin.

It was getting dryer now as the rain was dispersing, leaving behind large puddles that we had to straddle and making the stones floors of the medieval buildings slippery. Nevertheless, I just had to go wherever we were allowed to and traipsed Mai up and down spiral staircases and out onto battlements overlooking the countryside beyond.

Finding an archway to the garden beyond, we entered the garden that had been built by a past owner of the Castle who had been a favourite (lover?) of Queen Elizabeth the First and built the garden in honour of her visit there. At that time a moat and lake had surrounded the Castle and spectacles had been staged in the lake including tableaux and fireworks to delight her. We stood on the battlements where she must have looked out over the lake to view the sport.

Elizabeth the First’s garden

On closer inspection, the flowers and plants of the garden were no less beautiful and Mai took many photos of them, glistening wet and dripping rain drops. Here were not only flowers and flowering plants, but strawberries as well. For authenticity the garden had obviously kept to the plants available in the period and in walking around it, we could imagine ourselves being there in the Elizabethan period. Indeed, I recall making a low sweeping bow to Mai which embarrassed her and made the few other visitors shy away from us as though I was a ‘looney’.

The flowers, plants and statuary of the Elizabethan Garden

We wandered from the garden to the rear of the castle and on around the inner castle mound to enter the ruined Elizabethan wing from the rear. In its time, this wing, though several hundred years younger than the medieval wing rose nearly as high as its predecessor, but was filled with high fluted windows which seemed to rise five metres in height on every floor.

Views of the Elizabethan Wing

Having climbed around the Elizabethan Wing we then returned to the front of the site and off to the left to examine the Gatehouse. This had been maintained and now restored through the ages and internally was decorated in the Puritan style of a keeper of the Castle of the period. Here we could wander around and see furniture and bedding of the period as well as an exhibition about the history of the Castle.

From the Gatehouse it was only a short walk to the last remaining attraction comprising of the huge Elizabethan stables. Here we could again wander around a small exhibition that included children’s size costumes of the period (of course they fitted Mai) and a fine painting of the Castle in its heyday.

We then sat in the cafe and had a morning coffee (or maybe it was chocolate) and some local cakes. Thus repaired after a marathon of visiting we set off back to our car and out onto the road South.

The Elizabethan stables including its hammer-beam roof and a painting of the castle in its heyday

The environs of Kenilworth

Day 7 – North Yorkshire to Kenilworth via Middleham and Riveaux


Day 7

Coming down in the morning we were faced by the sight of our friend, the hotel owner, in jeans and tartan shirt with the sleeves rolled up his strong hairy arms and over it a frilly “pinnie” (apron to the uninitiated), ready to serve us breakfast. Now Yorkshire farmers (and ex-farmers) tend to be large, muscled and rather conservative, especially in their dress, so to see our host so accoutred was an interesting sight. However, good strong but gentle man that he was, he was entirely sanguine about it all. This was probably because despite being an ex-farmer of nearly my generation, he was intelligent and well read and even though he was farmer bred, he did not have to think like one.

The countryside of North Yorkshire

Anyway, he served up a great breakfast, just as we liked and had ordered it. After some more chat, Mai and I set off to find me a shirt as I had noted the previous evening that I was fast running out of clean ones. We crossed the road and into a truly old-fashioned haberdasher that was just opening its doors. I thought that by now such places had disappeared from all of England; indeed I swear the nicely sycophantic owner had a tape measure around his neck in the true “are you being served” fashion. Like a whirlwind Mai sorted through the shirt racks and quickly came up with a selection. (Mai has to be forgiven for not understanding the niceties of “olde Englishe” shopping where you wait for the assistant to assist you and chat about the weather for half an hour before the buying actually begins; She’s “foreign” you see!) Largely in honour of our friendly ex-farmer host, I selected a true farmers shirt, such as “gentlemen” farmers wear – cream with small understated red, orange, green and black tartan, made by Cambridge and of their Bernard (as in St Bernard the dog) Town and Country Wear collection of thick warm and comfortable cotton – also perfect for hiking. On reaching the counter and preparing to pay (very reasonable) I spied a notice offering hiking boots at reduced prices. Drawing Mai’s attention to this (as I felt bad in my great hiking boots at Aira force when Mai was wearing trainers) I asked the assistant whether they had Mai’s diminutive size (size 3) and of course seeing they were reduced, they had several pairs. After much trying-on and some advice from me, Mai chose a pair that although cheaper were very much like my own ultra-great German/Austrian/Swedish (I forget) hiking boots. It was one of those great and unexpected buys and we both felt good as we left the shop. The haberdasher also felt good having made such a sale so early in the morning.

We then wandered around Hawes and saw a beautiful steam gurgling through the centre and under a bridge on which we stood. Unfortunately, we had left the camera behind and never took any photos of Hawes.

Middleham Castle

Back at the hotel, we packed up and off to the nearly Middleham Castle. Unlike others where I knew I had been before but got muddled about, I knew I had never visited Middleham. Arriving, still early and warming in the morning sun, we parked right outside the castle, showed our pass and entered. Middleham had a long history in which it had been a royal dwelling in the North and parts were still well preserved although much was ruined in the way I like these things to be – I hate done up castles!

More of Middleham Castle

The castle was relatively big and complex, added to over a number of centuries before falling into disuse. We wandered around happily for an hour before again setting off, this time, at Mai’s request, for the great abbey of the North, Riveaux.

A final look at Middleham Castle

Riveaux is built in a North Yorkshire valley, surrounded by the craggy hills left behind by the melting ice of the last ice age. It has a magnificent set of ruined buildings and an even better English Heritage staff and services such as the hand held guide, special exhibitions of life in those times and good cafe and gift shop.

Riveaux Abbey

We parked the car in the car park (price UKP3 to discourage hikers parking there, refundable on entry, flashed our pass again and we were in. Again we spent a further hour or more wandering the ruins and looking at the exhibits, before we repaired to the cafe for a late lunch so memorable that I have to record it. I had a huge ploughmans including 2 large slabs of different cheeses and half a large pork pie and Mai had a large pork and apple pie and salad, all very good quality, indeed surprisingly so given that cafes in such places are often dire.

The Majesty of Riveaux Abbey

Both Riveaux and Middleham provided a great day out and the beauty of the ruins set against the majestic North Yorkshire countryside showed England at its best. I was glad that this largely untouched area of England had remained the same as I knew it some forty years ago and was largely still devoid of tourists. The South can be pretty, but is overpopulated and the people tainted by modernism. The Lake District is nice, but again full of tourists in the summer season and dour, cold and wet in the winter. The Midlands is an industrial waste ground full of pylons and blackened countryside. If you want to see the real old England and feel the warmth of its people, go north of York and spend time in North Yorkshire and along the North Yorkshire coast. Mai took more photographs at Middleham and Riveaux than at other parts of our journey and for this reason this chapter is full of just a selection of them. But oh, I wish we had taken some photos of Hawes, a typical North Yorkshire market town, but then there is always another time!

Details of Riveaux Abbey

It was late afternoon when we left Riveaux and the task ahead of us seemed impossible, at least for us, as we had booked in for the night at our next destination, Kenilworth in the English Midlands. We made our way to the A1 motorway and quickly south, coming upon Sheffield around six p.m. Making a classic mistake with the M40 to get onto the M1 (I always miss the turning) we lost some time and ended up going through Chesterfield and past its church with the grotesquely bent spire, before joining the M1 and quickly travelling south. We rang ahead to say we would be later than expected (thanks to cellphones) and travelled on. We stopped off briefly at a motorway services and grabbed some food for later. It was approaching darkness when we found Kenilworth and the guest house close to the castle. The welcome by the landlady was brusque (why are they like that when their husbands are nice mousey creatures?) and we settled into our large and well-appointed room. A shower and clean up later we sat down to sandwiches and half a pork pie (left over from Mai’s lunch) and tea from the room and watched television until we were sleepy. The telly offered Jeeves and Wooster in the guise of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie and I happily watched it until bedtime.

A last look at Riveaux Abbey

Day 6 – The Lake District and on to North Yorkshire


Day 6

After showering and packing we headed over to the Border Gate pub where we were again welcomed and seated for breakfast. Here again was Damien from the previous night and following a good breakfast (hot served, cold self-served) we headed off down the motorway for a further look at the Lake District.

Flowers and leaves in the morning sun

During the morning and early afternoon we tended to charge from one lake to another, stopping only for a morning break at a very pleasant farm cafe overlooking Derwentwater. Here we had tea on the lawn in front of the farm and overlooking the lake. The tea was obviously served by the farmer’s wife and daughter and we had a pleasant and relaxing sit down taking in the views before moving on.


In order of visiting, we passed by Basinthwaite and Derwentwater; over the Honister Pass to Buttermere; on to Crummockwater, Loweswater and Ennerdale before heading for the main road around the southern coast of the Lake District and back across the north/south motorway and into North Yorkshire.

Views at Basinthwaite and Derwentwater

Derwentwater, an impressive house and wild strawberries

Wherever we saw a suitable spot for getting out and having a little walk, we did so, and in the morning sun it was both romantic and peaceful, for however many people are crammed into the Lake District in the summer, it always seems peaceful outside the towns. Mai’s map-reading had reached the height of Master as she navigated us through minor roads and over remote passes with little to no traffic. Similarly, her photographic eye had improved to the extent that all the photos she framed were good and some magnificent in catching the mood of the country as we moved from one photo-opportunity to another.

Honister Pass



The journey was only marred by yet another pub landlord who refused to serve any food at 2:20 despite a large sign outside the pub that advertised that it served until 2:30! I would love to see how these people would react to living in other parts of the world where work is a matter of life or death or is just a cultural obsession. As we walked back to the car I wondered how this smarmy self-satisfied git would react when China had taken over the world and instituted the Eastern work ethics on these lamentable lazy arrogant uneducated people. Unfortunately, he will be long dead by then and good riddance say I.

Loweswater and Ennerdale

My good mood, destroyed by this ‘prize pillock’ of a landlord, improved as we crossed out of the Lake District into the majesty of the countryside of North Yorkshire. I have long loved this wild place with its castles and abbeys nestling in wonderful scenery and I was looking forward to seeing more.

By now, it was getting into late afternoon and the need to find a bed for the night again became an issue. We passed through several small towns and at least at one drove round it twice in an attempt to identify a suitable hostelry, but to no avail.

As evening drew near we approached Hawes, a place I had never visited before. Outwardly, it looked like a “biker” town with a number of leather clad ruffians on large motorbikes loudly charging up and down the main street. However, we stopped and Mai asked at a local hotel called the Bulls Head whilst I kept the car engine running at the side of the road. The pleasant woman Mai spoke to (who turned out to own the place with her husband) was welcoming and suggested she had two possible rooms. I parked the car properly on the wide expanse of tarmac fronting this side of the main street and followed Mai into the hotel. I am sure it only had five or six bedrooms at most and ours was a relatively small room on the first floor, but crammed with a full size four-poster bed, television, coffee and tea and all the usual accoutrements. The bathroom although exclusive to us was across the hall, but this proved not to be a problem and had perhaps the best shower of the whole journey.

Flowers on the way

Unpacked and refreshed we turned our minds to food and an early dinner as we had missed lunch due to the “asshole” of a landlord in the Lake District (may his head fall off at an inconvenient moment and a permanent tattoo be drawn across his chest pointing out his obvious lack of male virility!) On the suggestion of the hotel owner we made our way just along the street to a cafe/gift shop called Chaste. I was not expecting other than a half-hearted fish and chips or gammon and egg, but seated as the first customers of the evening and presented with a menu, I quickly changed my mind. Here in a small town in the middle of the nowhere of North Yorkshire was a 6 table cafe verging on gourmet! After a long perusal of the menu accompanied by the usual tonic water, I chose a marinated Wensleydale (we were close to where they make the real thing), courgette and mushroom millefeuille followed by the inevitable treacle tart and custard; Mai chose her two starters, one a duck salad and the other a ham and pork terrine and for dessert some nice blueberries and redcurrants in some sort of sugar web. It was magnificent and made up for the trials of the day; indeed I grew glad we had missed lunch and parting with money to the “prize pillock” landlord. Unfortunately, as we heard later “Chaste” was new to the town and I fear will not last long as tastes there are probably limited by a lack of suitable clientele. However, I wish them well.

After dinner we had a short walk around the centre of the town to let our dinner go down but quickly repaired to the Hotel where both the owners were sitting in the entrance/breakfast room/sitting room. We quickly fell into a conversation with them that lasted more than two hours over the large cups of tea they provided us with and they related their history of giving up farming and opening the hotel and we of course talked mostly about Viet Nam and other parts of the world. They were interested as they were amateur travellers and had seen some far-flung and unusual places and wanted more. It also came out in conversation that they had stayed in exactly the same room in the same hotel in Whitby as we had done – small world, or rather like people tend to do the same things. We got them planning to visit to Vietnam in the next year and left them our email addresses should they do so.

Eventually, we thought we ought to leave for bed, and my faith restored in the goodness of English people, we went off for a good sleep.

Day 5 – Around Carlisle and a Day Trip to the Lake District

Following a passable breakfast we went online and secured a room for the next night at the Premier Inn just outside Carlisle as the Hallmark Hotel in which we were staying could not accommodate us. That settled we packed up the car again and then left for a walk around Carlisle.

We set off through the centre of the town and then wound our way left and right towards Carlisle Castle. As we walked we found ourselves on top the old City wall and then amongst the lane type streets of the old town, eventually coming to the inner ring road, on the opposite side of which was the castle. Again, I had it in my head what Carlisle Castle looked like, but in fact it looked nothing like that in my memory.

Some aspects of Carlisle Castle and the Drum Tower of the City Gate

Once inside the castle we wandered around looking at the fine exhibitions of Carlisle history, the local army regimental museum and the views from the walls. Then wending our way back to the centre of the town, we stopped for a quick coffee and then on to the main shopping street. In the centre of the City is a pedestrian precinct and in it were playing a combination of a pipe (bagpipe) band and a brass band, all children and teenagers. They were very good and Mai took a video on our versatile camera to capture the music as well.

Pipe and Brass Band Flowers in Carlisle

Mai then led me to a Clarks shoe shop where I assumed that she wanted to buy some shoes. However, what she wanted to buy was shoes for me and despite my opposition and encouragement to her to search for shoes her size (impossible in England as Mai wears size 3) she ended up buying three pairs of shoes for me in the sale.


Some views of Carlisle City

Thus footed for years to come we returned to the car and set off to the south for the first time, heading for the Lake District. As always, time was pressing and so we took the motorway south and as soon as we turned off it we were at Ullswater. As others do we drove around the lake and stopped and drove and stopped wherever there was a good view and a parking space. The views were great and the lake very full. To the South of the lake we again stopped for tea and a bite to eat at a farm cafe.

Ullswater with Sails and Ducklings


Continuing on we came to a place called Aira Force and having no idea what it was, we entered and found it was a National Trust woodland walk to a waterfall “forced” through the rocks. For the first time in many years I put on my hiking boots and professional walkers anorak and with Mai still in her trainers and her new red anorak, off we went. It was another chance find – a further serendipity on our trip.

More of Ullswater 

The walk was interesting and not too taxing and the site of running water in the river and through the “force” was as always psychologically impressive.

When we returned we stopped off at the cafe for a sandwich and hot chocolate and watched the birds, throwing them a crumb here and there. We also bought some Kendal Mint Cake which impressed Mai as she had never seen such a thing before.

Back in the car we headed for Windermere, but on arriving rather wished we had not as it was as crowded by holidaymakers as usual. Therefore we did not attempt to stop in Windermere itself but found our way out to the road that took us along the lake.

We found a car park next to the lake and spent some time walking to its edge and taking photographs from a grassy hillock which formed part of the car park.

Windermere Lake and Surroundings

It was getting late and although we had a room booked we had yet to make it back to Carlisle and so we cut across to the motorway and back north. We also phoned to inform the hotel of our late arrival.

The Premier Inn, like many of its type was just off the motorway and consisted of a bedroom block and a large pub attached called The Border Gate. It was still light when we checked in and I was pleasantly surprised by the politeness and efficiency of the reception staff. We unpacked and relaxed with a cup of tea (there it is again in every English hotel) and eventually made our way across to the pub for dinner. It was very crowded but as it was so big we easily found a table by a large bay window. Our waiter, Damien introduced himself, gave us menus, told us of the specials and got us some drinks. I remember that between us we ordered a smoked haddock welsh rarebit, potato soup and duck in a parcel. The food was surprisingly excellent as was Damien, the waiter. I had a dessert of hot toffee pudding (what else) and Mai had a meringue basked filled with wild fruits. Again, both were good and we had a really good dinner and probably the best (other than the Lincoln Pie Shop) of the journey so far – and this was a Premier Inn! Despite the large turnover of customers, the whole “crew” as I found out the staff liked to be called were excellent and well deserved the extra large tip that I proffered when we left. Satisfied, we walked the few steps back to our room and settled down for the night.

Another long day, but our dreams were full of the day’s experiences.

Day 4 – Alnwick to Carlisle

We woke relatively early and after having a cup of tea we made our way downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was in the hotel restaurant which we quickly learned had been decorated from the interior of the S.S. Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic. Given the prices of the room and its mouse-hole nature that we had endured the previous night, I thought this had a certain irony to it. However, the breakfast was fine, except of course for the mandatory self service.

Whereas I wanted to see the back of Alnwick as soon as possible, Mai was interested in a morning walk after breakfast. So we checked out and packed up the car and walked across to the town square where we saw that a local farmers market was just opening up for the day. It was not enormous, nor did it have a vast range of produce, but it was worthwhile because the “natives” were very friendly and in doing so cajoled us into buying things. We were the first customers of the day as many stallholders were still “setting out their stalls” (what a quaint English phrase and very applicable at this moment). We bought a well made ginger cake, some biscuits and a number of herbal soaps that Mai would take back to Viet Nam with her for Mother and Aunties on her next trip. I sometimes wonder whether the people who sell produce in farmers markets do so for the conversation and companionship or to make money. Certainly relatively little money is made after outgoings and that is hard earned, so maybe it is just an ancient gene in these stallholders that makes them want to sell their produce in the old fashioned friendly and people oriented way. Whatever it is, I am sold on farmers markets but it did remind me that we should have been doing the self same thing in Provence at that moment and there the produce was much better and the markets larger and more varied.

We made our way back to the car in the still early morning sunshine and set off north again. We bypassed Craster and Dunstanburgh as they had their chance to impress the previous day and so we drove straight past on the coastal road heading for Bamburgh. As we passed I thought that maybe I will walk across the cliffs to Dunstanburgh and have a Craster kipper again one day, but not today!

Bamburgh is a huge and impressive castle basically built on the beach together with a small town which is really more of a large village, that sits just up the road from it.

Bamburgh was another place etched in my memory as being both beautiful and powerful. However, I had never had a chance to visit it. When we arrived we parked in a new car-park opposite the castle and walked up the steep rise to get to it. As we found out and I had forgotten, there was a car-park at the top as well. Here my mind played tricks on me again. This was the castle I knew from 30 years before, but it setting looked different than I remembered. My mind flipped as to whether this was in fact the castle I knew or another one (for I have visited nearly every castle in England) and my mind mulled this over all the time we were there. Even as I write this I am not sure and feel I have mixed two castles into one in my elderly head.

It was possible to visit, but again time was pressing and the morning so lovely that we decided to circle the castle by means of the sand dunes surrounding it on its seaward side. This proved to be a lovely little walk with fine views of both the castle, the wild environment around it and the North ea with the Farne Islands in the distance.

The walk in the dunes

One of the Farne Islands

The sea-shore

We got back to the car and drove on as we had a long way to cover today. So again I thought, maybe I will get to see the inside of Bamburgh one day, but not today!

We saw plenty of birds, butterflies and flowers on our walk

Now we were heading for Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island, an island off the north east coast that can be approached at low tide by means of a causeway. To get there was a fairly long drive and so we cut off the coastal road and on to the A1 and were there in no time. However, the tide was in and thus a visit was out! We took some photos and as we walked back we saw a White Transit Van go straight through the water, astonishing the long line of cars and lorries waiting to cross. He was either a local who knew the depth or a madman. Whichever it was, he made it, but no one followed his example. Back at the car we moved on again and again I thought, maybe I will get to see Lindisfarne again one day, but not today! And today this thought was becoming monotonous!

Lindisfarne in the distance

The causeway

Mai testing the ever freezing water of the North Sea

We retraced our steps a little and then dived west for the first time to take us across country to Carlisle on the west coast. To do so we chose to take ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads marked on our map to make the journey more interesting; and so it was. I much prefer driving on little roads as you never know what might be of interest around the next corner. There is also far less traffic so it is more peaceful and you can take in the countryside around you. Mai’s was really getting very good at map-reading, however we sometimes got lost, but always found our way again.

Soon we passed a sign saying we were in Scotland as the small roads we travelled on criss-crossed the border.

The border country was beautiful in the intermittent sunshine and Mai stopped me now and again to take photos. At one point we had to retrace our steps as a bridge was out on the small road on which we were travelling. However, we soon came to a crossroads onto a wider road and as I turned left onto it Mai spied something called Teviot Water Garden. Mai suggested we stopped and I turned the car around and we entered. This was a garden centre come café come beautiful exhibition of flowers and shrubs set into a garden bordering the Teviot river. What a haven of peace and tranquillity and what a find when we were also feeling hungry.

The Teviot water garden and Teviot river

Mai was truly in her element literally focussing (with the camera) on the flowers and plants in the steeply sloped garden. I have been to many garden centres in my time, mostly with the sinking heart of the non-gardener to which such a visit means hard work and major earth moving. All the garden centres I knew were kind of semi-industrial places, totally lacking in charm, where you manoeuvred a flatbed trolley around concrete and shingle floors and paid enormous bucks for the privilege of doing buying stuff that would inevitably die on you anyway. However, this was a place that showed non-gardeners what they could aspire to even if they did not live on the bank of a beautiful slow flowing river that gently stroked the weeping willow cascading into it like a green waterfall, frozen in time, dappled only by the fleeting sunlight between the gathering clouds, warming its leaves. (Poetic eh, but that is how I felt!).

Some of the flowers in the Teviot Water Garden

Returning reluctantly to the garden centre building we looked around the extensive shop which was much more than a normal garden centre, for here they smoked their own salmon and anything you brought in for smoking as well as having a large selection of specialist pickles and jams and even – yes – Pork Pies!! We had a sandwich and tea in the café that overlooked the shop area and then went down and bought packets of seeds for our garden in Addis Ababa; pots of specialist pickles like Yorkshire Pickle and another flavoured with apple; and of course, a large pork pie!

On our way again we soon found the border again on a major road south. Here we stopped in a lay-by on top of a hill that comprised the border and a view-point for the many tourists using that road.

Piper and fans on Scottish border

Mel freezing, looking at the view


A last view of Scotland







Nice driving picture by Mai


We got out of the car, but the wind was fierce and freezing. I walked over to an information plaque which helped me pick out where long lost battles had been fought within view of the hill. Mai joined me just as I retreated to the car to warm up. Here also was a Scottish piper playing and having his picture taken for money. A few plaintive notes earned him a pound or two.

And so ended our visit up the east coast of England to Northumberland and Scotland and now we were heading west and then ever south. The turning point had come.

The weather was turning sour as we entered England and it started to rain. However, as we headed west to Carlisle we had one more stop to make. I had never seen the Roman Wall and so we took the road that ran parallel to the wall and stopped at Housteads. The rain kept off for the long late afternoon walk from the car park to the wall itself. On the rocky path I wished I had worn my walking boots but instead I had leather moccasins on that had thin soles and gave no rest to my poor old feet.

To tell the truth I found the Wall a disappointment. I suppose I expected something like the Great Wall of China instead of a low level broken wall that stretched off into the distance and was somewhat lower than many of the surrounding field walls (no doubt built with stones from the Roman wall. Anyway, we dutifully walked around in the gathering gloom and found it mildly interesting. However, of most interest were the sheep who wandered freely outside the site and were unafraid of the numerous visitors still trekking to the Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall at Housteads – plus clever kneeling sheep

Back at the car park we found that the kiosk selling tea and coffee was still open and so we treated ourselves to a cup of hot chocolate each before running back to the car as it was raining again.

It was getting on for dark when we finally got to Carlisle and following the directions we got when Mai booked the room, we found the train station and so the hotel easily. We had booked forward as spending good tourist time finding a hotel as in Alnwick was an experience we did not want to repeat. We parked in the car-park at the back of the hotel and once we were ensconced in our room, having had trouble as usual with the electronic key, we decided we were just too tired to go down or out for dinner, so we had a feast of the Pork Pie, sandwich and biscuits that we had bought and drank the complimentary tea.

It had been a long but worthwhile day and we slept soundly.