adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary, Week 7: End of the Road(trip)

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

We continued travelling north, following the picturesque lochs and valleys to Mallaig. Here we boarded a car ferry for a somewhat “bumpy” voyage to the Isle of Skye where we drove across the bare, windswept, mountainous spine to reach the blue waters and sheltered bays of Skye’s beautiful north coast.

img_1191The Isle of Skye has a reputation for wild, wet and windy weather and it well and truly lived up to this reputation for our journey around its coasts. However, we saw enough through the horizontal rain and obscuring mist to enjoy Skye’s rugged beauty, to appreciate her volcanic geology, and to admire those hardy, tenacious individuals that were able to make their livings here.

 

We crossed back to the mainland via the gracefully arching Skye Bridge… with an icy cold south-westerly gale doing its best to get us airborne. We visited two castles on our way to Inverness, both of which revealed the usual stories of invasions, medieval arms races, ever-changing alliances, inevitable betrayals, and power-seeking, war-mongering, egomaniacal despots – with brief periods of peace between the senseless, wasteful, bloody battles. But the views were superb.

img_1192Scottish highlanders have never forgotten “the 45s”, those clans who rallied to the cause of installing Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne in 1745. Charlie’s ill-conceived plans, however, came to a terrible, bloody end a year later at Culloden, an otherwise unremarkable field just outside Inverness.  Standing where 1,500 “rebel” highlanders were cut down in less than an hour, and listening to real stories from the perspectives of the routed Jacobites and the victorious government troops, sent awful chills down our spines.

img_1194Heading east from Inverness, we explored the Moray Coast, surprised to find long sandy beaches on parts of it. Not so surprised to find ruined forts, ruined palaces and even a ruined cathedral (at Elgin). We also stumbled upon the remains of a very ancient Pict fort at Burghead, and a tiny 17th century man-made harbour at Portsoy that was still partly operational. We passed through several very neat little fishing villages trying to survive after the collapse of their traditional fisheries.

On our last day with the car in Scotland we felt that we just had to visit Dunnottar Castle. It was as if we had been saving the best ’til last. Dunnottar was breathtaking – slowly revealing itself as the whisps of morning mist rolled away, perched on an island of sheer-sided basalt, tenuously tethered to the mainland by a single steep, sinuous path. The defenders of this imposing fort were able to withstand the onslaught of Cromwell’s army for eight months, thus saving the Scottish Crown Jewels!

img_1195We left the coast and drove on to Edinburgh via the tortuous roads that wind through the majestic Cairngorms National Park, following the River Dee for much of its path through the deep glacial valleys where, in its quieter moments, it reflected the snow still clinging to the looming mountains above. Wow!

img_1196Edinburgh presents a harmonious mix of the very old and the very new, and tangibly buzzes with the melting pot of humanity coursing through its labyrinthine, cobbled streets. Naturally we explored its iconic Castle, perched atop those dark, dolorite cliffs, ominously dominating the city below. But we also investigated the pokey 17th Century alleys and houses hidden beneath the streetscape of today, providing us with a fascinating insight into those smelly, unhygenic, crowded and generally impoverished times.

What would a visit to Edinburgh be without paying homage to Grayfriars Bobby? Or spending time in the not-quite-as-austere-as-it-should-be St. Giles Cathedral? Or climbing Calton Hill to view the unfinished “Acropolis” at its summit and to take in the view over this magical city

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adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 6, Heading North

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

Leaving Chester, we crossed the bleak, browned grasslands of the high Pennines into Yorkshire. York itself was like a living museum; the presence of the Romans was still palpable and the subsequent Viking and Anglo-Saxon influences are also obvious. One place which typified this was the huge Minster that dominates the town. Below its floors can be found whole Roman walls and roads. Above the floors one can read the chequered history in the many architectural changes to this magnificent structure.

York - Shambles
York – Shambles

From York we now headed northwest to the Lake District. But on the way we detoured first to the little town of Ripley where we explored the enchanting walled garden belonging to the local castle/mansion. We then stopped off at Fountains Abbey, another huge Cistercian abbey destroyed by Henry VIII’s mob. The beautiful 17th century water gardens here are now under the protective wing of the National Trust and are superbly and lovingly preserved.

On we drove towards the west passing through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales under increasingly threatening skies which decided to unleash their bucket loads of snow just as we were entering the steep mountain passes leading to the Lakes. Around every corner was a Christmas-card scene of snow-covered ground and conifers bending under the weight with bewildered sheep wondering where their grass had gone. The steep, narrow, icy roads made for some treacherous driving but it was well worth it in the end – as we gazed with delight out the window of our Ambleside hotel at a spectacular view of towering snow-shrouded peaks!

IMG_1185With our intended cruise on Coniston Waters cancelled because of the “inclement” weather, we drove down the western side of Coniston Waters to Greenodd and back up along the eastern side of Windemere, with the snow-capped mountains providing a dramatic backdrop to the windswept lakes. We had 10 minutes of rare sunshine just as we left Windemere, allowing me to capture a few stunning reflections. Near Carlisle we stopped at Birdoswald, the site of an excavated Roman fort, built in the second century as part of Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northernmost boundary of the vast Roman Empire, keeping those pesky marauding Scots at bay. We even got to walk a little of the famous Wall itself.

And so, on to Glasgow, which, like Cardiff, is another industrial city successfully re-invented as a cultural capital. The miserable weather encouraged us to explore Glasgow‘s museums, including the newly opened and very modern Riverside Transport Museum and the fabulous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Each in their own way defining the considerable impact this city has had on the social, industrial and technological milieux not only of Britain, but on the rest of the world.

IMG_1188Northwards once more; but first we decided to climb the 400 steps to the remains of the historic Dunbarton Castle, perched strategically atop a massive volcanic plug, guarding the windswept River Clyde. We journeyed alongside the enigmatic Loch Lomond, experiencing brief periods of sunshine and rain in equal measure, following a waterlogged zig-zag path into the Scottish Highlands.

If you would like to explore the wild and beautiful North of England why not try our Yorkshire and the Lake District self-drive tour.

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 3, Cornwall and Bath

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys explore Cornwall, the beautiful South Western tip of England before travelling back East towards Bath.

lands endOur next stop was Redruth. From here we ventured to other locations in Cornwall, including the quaint harbour town of St Ives, with its confusion of cobbled lanes and its tiny fishing boats bobbing defiantly in the Atlantic swells. Under increasingly threatening skies we drove on to the southernmost tip of England – Land’s End – where we managed to catch glimpses of the storm-battered basaltic cliffs through the rain squalls. We sought refuge in a warm clifftop cafe where we devoured, as you would expect, Cornish Pasties.

 

Our next stop was the beautiful little coastal village of Marazion. We were here to walk to St Michael’s Mount, an 11th century Benedectine priory-turned-castle set imposingly atop a craggy island located just offshore and reached only at low tide via a rocky causeway.

St Michael's MountHeading northwards now and we hugged the Cornish west coast for as far as we could. We stopped in at Tintagel, home to many of the Arthurian legends but with an even more fascinating real history revealed by its ancient ruins. We were early arrivers, so had the whole headland to ourselves. The views up and down the wild coast, framed by decaying siltstone castle walls and bathed in early morning sunlight were, like the climb, literally breathtaking!

 

And so, on to the fabulous city of Bath, a place literally dripping with ancient history, especially Roman. Naturally we toured the meticulously excavated old Roman Bath complex where the very professional and highly evocative audio and visual presentation really brought the ruins to life. We especially liked the emphasis on recreating the lives of “ordinary” people rather than the usual preoccupation with the lives of the “ruling classes”. The digital simulations and 3D models enhanced the real sense of traveling back in time.

 

Bath - Bath Abbey 2We also visited the beautiful Bath Abbey where we were almost brought to tears by a young soprano, Maria Brown, filling the vast space with her enchanting voice. A walking tour of the nearby attractions, including the Royal Crescent and Victoria Gardens and we were replete with the splendour of this most wonderful of cities.

Visit Cornwall and Bath on adeo Travel’s very popular West Country Legends self-drive tour, or perhaps our Corners of Cornwall small group tour.

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 2, Going West

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys head West, stopping at the historic town of Salisbury and the mysterious Avebury standing stones before continuing to the beautiful Devonshire coast.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The next day found us heading southwest in our near-new, canary yellow Citroen DS3. We drove to Salisbury, checked in to the Grasmere House Hotel (in a room with a four-poster bed, no less) then checked out the spectacular 13th Century Cathedral that dominates the town. We were fortunate enough to hear a service with the harmonious voices of a full choir filling the cavernous interior. Walking back through ancient irrigated fields called “water meadows” we were reminded just how long this area has been occupied and farmed.

The next day saw us winding our way north through narrow, soggy roads to the little village of Avebury. Here we became utterly absorbed by the thousands of years of history that confronted us. From the Neolithic standing stones, mysterious circular trenches and huge conical hills, to the 600 years of continuous habitation of Avebury Manor, captured in the refurbishment of its rooms, with each room reflecting a particular era of occupation. On our way back to Salisbury we visited Old Sarum, another Neolithic site of mysterious meaning, later used as fortification or as a place of worship by various conquerors.

Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle

We left Salisbury under clear blue skies and headed for the coast. Our trusty satnav took us along narrow, windy, pot-holed tracks that pass for roads here, eliciting a large sigh of relief from us both when we eventually arrived at our first destination; the evocatively named Durdle Door. A heart stopping descent on foot down a slippery track, buffeted by an icy gale coming off the sea and we found ourselves on a beach of fine pebbles nestled beneath towering cliffs of chalk, with our eyes compellingly drawn towards the enigmatic stone arch that gives this part of the coast its unusual name. The climb back up to the carpark was literally breathtaking!

The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast

On to Exeter. What a fabulous, friendly place this is, surrounded by rich green pastures which start just minutes from town. We went on a guided walking tour of “Medieval Exeter” discovering snippets of its history, from the Roman walls and bridges to the gothic churches. We passed through 600-year-old doors and viewed twisted medieval houses, all with interesting stories to tell. We lunched in the Spring sunshine by the quayside before enjoying another tour, this time of the fabulous spire-less 12th to 14th Century Cathedral with its distinctive Norman towers, intricate vaulted ceiling and soaring stained glass windows.

Leaving Exeter, we headed west, right through the middle of the Dartmoor National Park. The weather couldn’t have been any kinder to us, brilliant sunshine, no wind, blue, cloud-flecked skies. Dartmoor is littered with the eroded remnants of a 300-million-year old granite intrusion, leaving huge boulders (called tors) atop steep hills of sodden peatmoss. Also littered across the landscape are quiet little villages sheltering in the deep, green valleys, beside fast flowing, ice-cold streams. The patchwork of fields is delineated by mile after mile of dry stone walls – many of them much older than the 14th century church we visited in Widecome in the Moor.

If you would like to visit the places described in this blog, we recommend our West Country Legends self-drive tour or the Best of Devon and Cornwall escorted coach tour.

A Day in St Davids #AdeoOnTheRoad

A few weeks ago I took advantage of the 3-day Bank Holiday weekend to travel down to Pembrokeshire to enjoy a weekend in the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. I spent a fab weekend taking in the spectacular scenery, incredible history and, of course, sampling quite a few tea rooms and pubs.

There’s a lot to see and do in this teeny weeny city. Here are our top tips for having a great day out in St Davids:

  1. Get there by public transport!

It’s better for the environment and gives you the opportunity to sit back, relax and concentrate on the gorgeous Pembrokeshire scenery! The Pembrokeshire Coastal Bus services run along the coast seven days a week during the summer and there is also a comprehensive local bus service. Find more information here.

Whitesands Bay
Whitesands Bay
  1. Travel back in time!

St David’s is a classic welsh village – sorry, city! – complete with pretty cottages, cosy pubs and, oh yeah, an enormous 12th century cathedral and bishop’s palace. The gothic ruin of the Bishop’s Palace and contrastingly well-preserved Cathedral are certainly worth exploring.

St Davids Cathedral
St Davids Cathedral
  1. Walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path!

Some of the most beautiful parts of the Welsh coastline are located within walking distance from the city centre. If you have an afternoon free to explore the coastline a recommended walk follows the Welsh Coast Path around St David’s head to Whitesands Bay. You can even jump on a shuttle to avoid walking along the narrow windy road back to the city.

  1. Take a boat trip to Ramsey Island!

Another must for nature lovers is Ramsey Island, an uninhabited RSPB nature reserve where you can spot thousands of rare birds and enjoy splendid views from atop the highest cliffs in Wales. If you want to explore the island RSPB wardens lead guided walks throughout the summer. Thousand Island Expeditions have exclusive landing rights for the island but there are plenty of other boat trips that will take you around the island to explore the wildlife at sea level.

Typical British Weather
Typical British Weather
  1. Eat!

Okay, after all that you must be starving! Try the café at Oriel Y Parc gallery for lunch – it has great gluten-free and vegan options for anyone with special dietary requirements. If you’re staying overnight in St David’s we recommend grabbing dinner at one of several traditional pubs located on the town’s main square. But remember that this tiny city gets extremely busy during holidays and weekends so, if you’re visiting at these times, it’s advisable to book!

 

All in all, The City of St David’s is definitely worth the extra effort to travel to and we thoroughly recommend a visit! Why not see for yourself on our Castles Coasts and Celts small group tour or Our Wales Explorer Tour.