A wander around Thetford Warren

We are so lucky to live in the area that we do. We’ve had so much to do this weekend that we were unable to get away; however after blitzing the to do list yesterday we decided to go for a nice walk and a cuppa tea somewhere local today, for a change of scenery.

Just 10 miles down the road lies Britain’s largest lowland pine forest, Thetford Forest.

We headed to Thetford Warren, a (free) English Heritage site that is a rare example of a rabbit Warrener’s lodge, a now lost local industry.

After a quick look at the building remains, we put our best foot forward and set off on the well signposted 4.5 mile Beech Trail. The trail takes you through woodland glades, along grass and sandy tracks, past tall pines, and Rhododendron Bushes (sadly we’ve missed their peak now). Occasionally the track is overlapped by another trail, some of which are bike trails

Nearby is High Lodge which is a hive of activity, with numerous walking and cycling trails along with a Go Ape. You can also get refreshments from the cafe there. Our trail, the Beech trail didn’t go as far as High Lodge but at one point we were very close to the car park (payable)

Parking at Thetford Warren is free though and far enough off the main road to enjoy a peaceful cuppa and cake in Ruby after our walk.

We really enjoyed our walk and will definitely return for a similar day sometime soon. Isn’t it amazing how a walk and a cuppa in the Campervan makes you feel like you’ve had a mini break, even if you’re only 15 mins from home!

If you’re not local enough to enjoy Thetford Forest as a day trip, we’ve heard the following campsites are really good and very local:

Puddledock Farm 9 miles/ 15 mins

Dower House 11 miles/ 18 mins (this is on the outskirts of our village!)

Other things to do in the area:

National Trust Oxborough Hall

Lyndford Stag Walks

Knettishall Heath Walks

English Whiskey Distillery Tours

Where do you like popping to for a local walk/change of scenery? We’d love to hear so comment below.

Also if you find yourself in this neck of the woods, let us know

Until next time

Lx

🇬🇧 A weekend camping in our capital; London 🇬🇧 8-11th June 2018

After a fairly stressful week this week trying to source not one, but two sets of new wheels for Ruby (thanks Yodel for loosing a wheel!) it was looking uncertain whether we’d actually manage to get to London for our pre booked weekend of Birthday celebrations for Keefy. Thankfully whilst I slaved away at school on Friday morning, K managed to sort it all out and after our gig on Friday afternoon, we set off towards London, via Bury St Edmunds to pick up a wheel then carried on towards to home for the next three nights, the Caravan and Motorhome Club Crystal Palace Club Site.

New wheels for Ruby

Our route from the M11 took us through London on the North Circular- a risky manoeuvre for rush hour on a Friday, however Google maps was insisting the M25 was a car park, so we obliged and sure enough 3 hours later we had arrived at the leafy Crystal Palace Site. Before pitching up, we had the small matter of taking off the spare and replacing it with the new wheel we’d just picked up. Keith managed it, with some help from the warden who had a brilliant winch- ours was next to useless.

The pitch was lovely- we were on a grass one with electric but it was surrounded by trees and shrubs, and nicely landscaped. It was also really large! Whilst K showered, I got on with dinner, burgers and salad and we enjoyed a gin together toasting the terrible week turning out ok.

We had an after dinner stroll to the pub; just ten minutes walk and you’re right in the hub of Crystal Palace where just about every type of restaurant and takeaway is available if you don’t fancy cooking.

Saturday dawned bright and fresh; we knew as the alarm was set for 7:30am, a very rare occurrence for weekends and camping trips! 🤣 The reason for our early start was that we had pre booked tickets to visit the Cabinet War Rooms, for 10am. The transport link into London from the site is excellent. Almost outside the gate is the number 3 bus stop which takes you directly to Trafalgar Square, the journey takes an hour and costs just £1.50 (or free if you’re over a certain age and have a bus pass!)

The Queen had kindly laid on a birthday celebrations for Keith- our arrival at the CWR coincided with the gates opening for Trooping of The Colour. We felt very underdressed in our jeans and flip flops!

The Cabinet War Rooms were fantastic. We spent almost 3 hours exploring the endless underground corridors and rooms- the hub of the British War Logistics and where Churchill lead us to victory.

After the war ended, the underground war office was closed- with everything left inside, maps, office items and everything else, and not found until about twenty years later- with everything as it was on the day we won the war. The map room you can see above is completely original and how to was left/ found.

There is an extensive Churchill museum which has many of Churchill’s clothes and personal items. It was an absolutely brilliant way to spend the morning and we highly recommend it- but advise you to prebook.

We managed to time our exit so that we enjoyed the Battle of Britain fly past which was lovely!

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Having lived in London for many years we’ve done most of the normal tourist sites many times before so after lunch at Bubba Gumps, we spent the afternoon having a wander around Soho taking in the atmosphere and having a drink stop here and there.

Keith had no idea, but I’d arranged for his friends to meet us at 5pm at Covent Garden for the evening, his face was a picture!

We enjoyed a curry at the Strand Tandoori and then a drink on the river Thames, at the Tattershall Castle- right opposite the London Eye, before catching our night bus back to the campsite.

Sunday morning arrived and we had a little bit of a woolly head. Obviously dehydrated.. Ahem 😜. Nothing that a eggs and bacon bap and a cold can of coke didn’t fix! We were back into London, this time in or “above average” camping clothes. We were being treated to Brunch at AquaShard (up the Shard) by Keith’s Dad and stepmom.

It was the first time we have eaten there and it was excellent. It’s not cheap, but the quality of the food was great and the views are marvellous. Definitely the best restaurant view in London.

After a long leisurely Brunch we bid farewell to Barry and Valerie and as the sunshine was glorious had a stroll down Southbank, stopping at a couple of bars on route before making our way back to Ruby on the number 3 from Trafalgar Square.

We just scratched the surface of London activities as we’ve done many of them before. What we can’t understand is why we’ve never stayed at this campsite before!

At just £25 pn we highly recommend it for a London trip- but, be quick – sadly it’s closing at the end of this year! Sad face.

Trip info

Until next time

Lx

Our Annual Scotland Pilgrimage – May 2018 Part 3; the Trials and Tribulations of making our way back down South

Thursday – Time to leave Harris. I was so emotional, I cried as we sailed out of Tarbet!! It is SUCH a beautiful island, however the realisation dawned that we will never be able to visit again as the chances of us getting such amazing weather again are just so slim, we will never recreate this week away again! I was an emotional WRECK! A hungover emotional wreck after our meal last night!

We landed on Skye, and made our way back to mainland Scotland over the bridge and back over Invergarry, which is a nice scenic run. Traffic in Fort William was horrendous so we didn’t get to our prebook C&CC Club site at Glencoe til almost 6pm. The site was only booked as a stopover to break the journey back south up, and to empty, fill, enjoy one showers etc. We’ve wild camped in Glencoe many times before right in the heart of the mountains but this was a nice scenic campsite on the outskirts.

Sadly our luck with the weather was about to catch up on us, and out luck was about to change. First of all, the dreaded midges made a dramatic entrance around 7pm. There were foul, aggressive little blighters, and no matter what we had to prevent them we couldn’t get them to leave us alone. An hour later, we were so uncomfortable that we made the decision to pack up and drive south! So two hours after arriving we were on our way again. Britstop bible in hand, we rang an overnight stopover near Gretna, explained that we may not get there during opening hours but please could we stay. Of course came the friendly reply. 3.5 hours later, we were pulling off the M74 at Gretna Green and bang. We had a blowout. 😦 Luckily, we were less than a mile away from the Britstop (actually, it took me a while to realise that it was a blowout and not a dodgy road surface). We carried on tentatively and limped into the carpark around midnight to access the damage. Thankfully I’d not wrecked the rim by driving on a blowout. There was nothing we could do so we got the bed out and attempted to sleep. 

Friday By 7am Keith was up, dressed and ready to change onto the spare. An hour later and we’d got the spare on, but our confidence in these fabulous looking 20 inch rim and low profile racing tyres was diminished as its our second blowout in 9 months. Our moods were pretty rock bottom too (or so we thought!)  – We were tired from the journey, confused about what to do with the wheels – should we sell these popular wheels and replace them with normal T5 wheels. In doing that are we going to loose value on Ruby as the wheel rims are eye-wateringly high in value – they came with Ruby and do look swanky and generate a lot of interest in her. Are we putting ourselves in danger driving on these low profile tyres? Are they meant just for show and light driving? Ruby is our only vehicle so we use her lots. Since the end of March we’ve done 3500 miles and 3 weeks of that we were in China (not in Ruby lol!)  Our load rating is ok but why are we getting blowouts? So many questions and things to consider. Load Ratings, Inch of rims, wheel types… the list went on and it became clear we needed to get home. 

We rang our next stop, Dufton Caravan Park and explained and they were so kind, and told us not to worry and they would hold our deposit so we can use it when we rebook.

2 hours along the way I’m sure you can imagine our faces as half way down the A1 there was another bang. Keith pulled straight onto the hard shoulder and out we got, fully expecting to see another Blowout. Thankfully (as the spare was already in use!) it wasn’t a blow out. What the blinking hell was it? We get back into Ruby and tentatively start her up and she sounds like she’s been chavved up to the max with a super exhaust on. Not only that but there is thick black smoke billowing out of the exhaust. Oh My God. Exactly 12 hours after having a blowout we are now sat on the side of the A1 (thankfully we limped to a section of a drive to an equation centre- so were off the main carraigeway) calling out the RAC. You just couldn’t have made it up. 

2 hours later, Mr RAC Mechanic arrived, instantly spotting our spare, well it does stick our like a sore thumb! “You look like you aren’t having much luck” he says. We fill him in on our previous 16 hours. By this time, I’m fairly sure our engine has given up. Keith’s pacing tells me he’s thinking the same thoughts. The tension in the air was palpable and the silence between us was fraught with anxiety which is very rare for Keith and I.

It took Mr RAC mechanic man less than 5 minutes to reassure us that our engine was not dead, and that actually the problem was that the turbo hose clip had popped and come off. This didn’t mean much to either of us, but Mr RAC Mechanic man smiled and said, you’ve got two options. 1) I’ll call out the tow truck and they will tow you home or 2) I’l source a new part for you locally this afternoon, and come back and fit it for you, at no charge other than the part itself. “How much is the part likely to be” we ask? “oh, £40 max” he chirps! I don’t know if it was the stress of the last few hours, the long journey or whether I’m just a highly emotional lass, but my bottom lip began wobbling AGAIN and next thing I know I’m blubbing again!! What a relief.

2 hours later, and only £33 lighter, we were back on the road again.

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Thankfully this time we got all the way home without anymore drama other than two hold ups due to accidents and we managed to get home 24 hours after leaving Glencoe and more importantly, in time for a fish and chip supper to celebrate National Fish and Chip day! 

Despite the trials of the last 2 days, and arriving home two days early- we absolutely adored our trip to Harris. The weather couldn’t have been better and I’d recommend a trip to anyone who hasn’t visited this wonderful part of the world.

For us, we may give the West Coast a miss now for a couple of years, just because we are sure to be comparing it to this trip. Also, I don’t think we will go the last week of May again – it was so busy and those midges really were awful on Thursday. We were told but he wardens that they’d been around since Monday and they were just so intense. So perhaps back to Easter Scotland trips for us I think. 

Also – make sure you pre book your CalMac ferries – even just to get to Skye. We met two families who hadn’t and therefore couldn’t take the ferry as it was full. It’s a long way back to Fort William from Mallaig and then at least 2 hours from Fort William to the Skye bridge. 

Until Next Time

Lx 

Our Annual Scotland Pilgrimage – May 2018 Part 2: The Isle Of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Sunday Continued – on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

After disembarkation we pulled into the Isle of Harris distillery carpark to meet Rodney from Surf Lewis. We had hired some wetsuits and snorkelling equipment for the duration of our stay, and he very kindly agreed to meet us off the ferry to give us the equipment. Wetsuits, fins, snorkels etc in hand, we waved bye to Rodney – we are meeting him again on Wednesday as we have booked a Stand Up Paddleboarding session with him. Next stop was Huishnish Beach. I was worried about this as our ETA was 5pm – when we visited in 2012 it was very quiet and we stayed here fore two days and barely saw another soul. Now though, toruism has well and truly hit, and I knew Huishnish was a popular spot. To get there you drive for 40 mins over a mountain pass for 14 miles and Huishnish is the dead end. If we got there and there was no space, I’d have been very disappointed and we’d have to retrace our steps. 

Thankfully the luck of the Irish was on our side and there was a small space for Ruby to squeeze in to. As we turned the corner and saw Huishnish for the first time in 6 years, it literally took my breath away. It is absolutely BREATHTAKING. The beach is just stunning.  We wasted no time and got straight into the wetsuits – this is our first time in wetsuits and I’m sure we caused a lot of amusement to our fellow campers. It was honestly like trying to truss a chicken! 

Our first experience in a 5mm wetsuit in the Hebrides was just amazing! Rodney had sorted us with the whole kit- hood, gloves, shoes, fins etc. I adored being in the sea, it looked so inviting and now we were able to enjoy a swim. We got our snorkels on and had a little look around the rocks. 

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After our swim the prime spot had become available! We wasted no time, so still in wetsuits, we moved Ruby and vowed to stay there for at least 2 nights. We used the shower facilities (£1) and got on with dinner, overlooking the beach and sea – a salmon and prawn risotto washed down with a lovely white wine. 

We didn’t get the chairs out because our side door was facing the view and to embrace the view from our pitch meant we struggled to open the boot with the bikes on- so we used Ruby’s step for seating which worked really well! We felt like proper Veedubbers now! 

Monday dawned another beautiful sunny and hot day. We couldn’t believe our luck! We enjoyed sausage sandwiches before donning the wetsuits and snorkelling gear and trying some snorkelling out on the other side of the bay (the right hand side) As it was so uncharacteristically hot, we couldn’t leave Jazz in the van – it was mid 20s and just way too hot to leave a dog in a vehicle, so he came down to the beach with us and we took it in turns to snorkel.

I’m not sure what Jazz made of the wetsuits! Exploring the underwater world was really fun – we saw lots of colourful sea-weed and plants, sand eels, pollock, crabs etc. We used following underwater camera

【Upgraded】Action Camera,Campark ACT68 Sport Cam Wifi 4K/1080P Full HD Underwater Camera with 170° Wide-Angle 2 Inch LCD Display with 2 Rechargeable Batteries and Mounting Accessories Kit

It cost only £25 and was absolutely amazing!! Would highly recommend. It came with all the fittings needed to attached to helmets, bikes, surfboards, arms, legs – you name it. 

Snorkelling Highlights Video here

After ham and cheese paninis for lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach on our inflatable sofas, chilling. I don’t think I can remember such a relaxing campervan trip. It felt like we were on a beach holiday!

For dinner, Keith knocked up an amazing bbq, we’d picked up some venison steaks from the Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Stable shop that you pass on the road to Huishnish. This along with some sausages and chicken and a rice salad was yummy. 

We walked up the hill to the 5 campervan with electric spaces to watch the sun go down and I tried to use my drone but it didn’t have enough battery (we were off grid and with the heat and the coolbox, the battery was struggling a touch so we didn’t want to charge anything non essential) That was a shame cos I bet it would have been a good view. 

Our solar panel is doing well, Keith’s placed it on the roof and it’s soaking up the sun from 7am to 9pm!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B013VVUQM6/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=advinamot-21&camp=1634&creative=6738&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B013VVUQM6&linkId=3f554e22dcfacad0b676fa9c1c4e699a
Tuesday

With a bit of a lump in our throats we bid Huishnish a fond farewell. Before leaving we used the motorhome service point to empty the loo and refill the water tank for just £3. Considering the parking was free, and showers available for just £1 this is excellent value. We actually shoved a fiver in a donation box to say thanks. Up the hill is a 5 space campervan site with electric for £5 a night but you have to time it well to get a space during peak sunshine I imagine!

On the way we stopped and watched a golden eagle through the binoculars- what a special moment that was, neither of us has seen one in the wild.

We popped into Tarbet to pick up some local gin. On the way we tried to stop off at two more snorkel trail locations but sadly we could not for the life of us find the correct place. In our opinion – North Harris Wildlife trust could probably do with signposts at the locations and visible parking as at one point we drove 2 miles down a farm track trying to find the place and could not find it!

During this period of time, my phone went nuts (without me realising) and decided to emergency call 112. I had no idea about this and because there is absolutely no phone signal I was blissfully unaware that my phone had not only rang 112, but had also text my dad, my mum and Keith (who also had no phone signal!) to tell them I was sending an emergency SOS message and where my location was. 

Once buying the gin, we carried on towards Luskentyre beach – which is regarded as one of the best beaches in the world. Again we’ve been before, but it still doesn’t fail to impress.

The size of the beach is just overwhelming! We managed to get a great spot overnight spot overlooking part of the beach – provided by the West Harris trust and only £5 a night.

We set our stall out and enjoyed steak and stilton wraps for lunch before taking a walk on the beach with our wetsuits and trying some more snorkelling.

This time we snorkelled in with the tide all the way back to Ruby, taking it in turns again to stay with Jazz and always keeping one step ahead of the tide. We saw lots of crabs and had a lovely time. It’s just so nice to be underwater where you wouldn’t normally be as the water despite being crystal clear is blooming cold!

 

We both had a solar shower to wash the salt water off when we returned to Ruby and enjoyed some gins, before cooking with meat another wonderful seaview, chicken fajitas.

Yellowstone Camping Shower – 20 Litre

 

What a cracking spot. 

Wednesday arrived and it was time to set an alarm as we had to leave at 9am to get to Scalpay for our 10am Stand up Paddleboarding Lesson (SUP) I have fancied giving this a whirl since we saw people giving lessons on the Norfolk Broads. Just as we arrived on Scalplay i received many worried messages from Dad and Jenny asking if we were ok. It was at this point we realised what had happened with my phone – they had received an emergency message from us and then couldn’t get hold of us for almost 24hurs due to no phone signal. Quite understandably they were going out of their minds with worry!! Sorry Dad and Jenny! Mum on the other hand, had replied – “glad your having a good time!” It turns out that Apple to Apple (which is what our emergency SOS message was to mums phone) just sends a map link to your location. Apple to Samsung which is what it was me to Dad sends an upscaled “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SOS MESSAGE”! Whoops! A quick phone call to say we are fine cleared the air and put Dad and jenny’s mind at rest!

Back to the paddle boarding . The weather couldn’t have been any better. We met Rodney again at the designated place and along with 6 others donned our wetsuits, and took our boards to the water. Luckily the wife of someone also taking a lesson wasn’t taking part, and had her own dog, so offered to look after Jazz too, as the heat (which was totally not expected when we booked it) was too intense to leave him. God knows what we would have done had Ruth not been there to Jazz sit! 

The SUP lesson was FAB!!! We are complete beginners and have no balance, so our hopes were not high that we would achieve the end result of standing up. However, we both managed it and it was exhilarating, exciting and quite hard work. I can’t think of a more lovely way to experience the coast line of this stunning island.

 

Lessons are £40 and Rodney was just a brilliant and patient teacher. I can’t recommend the experience enough! See our video highlights here

Feeling completely exhilarated and little sad that our Hebridean adventure was nearly over we handed our wetsuits back to Rodney and waved goodbye.

We made use of the spotlessly clean and FREE showers at Scalpay Community Centre before booking a table for evening meal at the Anchorage Restaurant, Leverburgh, the opposite end of the island. If we had any criticism of the Isle of Harris it would be that despite fishing being a huge part of life here, we found it impossible to find some fresh seafood to buy and cook. We were both craving a seafood meal so decided to splash out on an evening meal. We visited the Anchorage when we last visited and had a fab meal, so table booked, we jumped in Ruby and made our way to the south of the Island. 

The restaurant were happy for us to stay overnight in their carpark, right next to the ferry to North Uist, so we made use of the time before our reservation by having a HUGE tidy – wetsuits and snorkelling equipment had put a serious strain on our storage – we managed, but we had half of Luskentyre beach gathered on the floor!  As the weather has been so good we haven’t packed Ruby’s bed away since Saturday so we’ve effectively had a fixed bed which has been nice.

 

Ruby with the Cal Mac ferry behind

Ruby soon was sparkling clean and organised again, so we went for a couple of drinks in the restaurant garden – I enjoyed the Barra Gin, before dinner. We even managed a celebrity spot – we only sat next to THE Billy Connelly! Amazing – such a gent (sorry no pic as I didn’t fully realise it was him – I said to Keefy he looks and sounds like Billy Connelly, then later on instagram I saw someone down the road at an art studio had posted a pic of him!) 

We had a brilliant meal, it really is a spot to visit if you like fresh fish and seafood. We both had identical meals – hand dived scallops to start, fresh cod with chive mash and pak choi, and chocolate fondue. It was FABULOUS.

 

Read our next instalment here

 

Until Next Time

Lx 

Our Annual Scotland Pilgrimage – May 2018 Part 1, Norfolk to Arisaig

Thursday

Is it me, or has this half term just flown by?! It only seems like last week that we were returning from China, but in fact we’ve been home for 6 weeks now and therefore it’s surely time for another road trip. May Half Term for the last few years has been earmarked as our annual jaunt up to our most favourite travel location of them all, Bonny Scotland. Thursday is our mad busy day at work and we don’t finish in Thetford until 7pm. We parked a fully loaded Ruby the Campervan at school, then Mum delivered Jazz the pampered pooch to the school gates at 7pm, and by 7.10pm we were on  A14 heading towards Carter Bar border crossing near to Jedburgh. 

This year we were particularly excited as the weather forecast was looking amazing! I think this excitement and the fact that we avoided every traffic jam going, helped us pitch up just after midnight at the large lay-by at the Border Crossing on the A68 Jedburgh road (Carter Bar) 

Friday dawned disappointedly cloudy, but this enabled us to make a very quick exit from Carter Bar as we weren’t distracted by the view. We shared our space with a traditional romany gypsy cart and horse, but for the first time ever, no other motorhomes. We had quite a drive today as we were skipping through our normal stopovers of Loch Lomond and Black Mount in order to get to Silversands Arisaig in one day. We did however make exception for the Loch Lomond Farm shop, a traditional stop for us to line Ruby’s fridge full of local fresh meat and ale and cider. 

We had a quick picnic “on the Bonny Bonny banks of Loch Lomond…..” before carrying on the A82 up past the Bridge of Orchy, Black Mountain, Glencoe and then Fort William.

We were noticing that the traffic was a lot heavier than other years, in fact we were nearly unable to get parked at the Glencoe viewpoint, definitely no cuppa this time, so instead we stopped at the Glenfinnan monument for a cuppa and a quick leg strech before arriving at Arisaig Silversands campsite at 5pm. 

We’ve been to this site several times previously. In our opinion, its one of the best beachside campsites in the UK. Especially if you book early and manage to get one of the beach front pitches. The showers and loos are basic but clean. And just look at our view!

We got the gas grill out and set about cooking a burger feast from our farm shop haul for dinner before enjoying a sensational sunset and a wee dram.  We couldn’t believe when we looked at the clock, expecting it to be near to 9pm – it was actually nearly 11pm and still pretty light.

Saturday

The weather was just glorious! Our plan was to unload the bikes and cycle round to nearby Camusdarach Beach which is where Local Hero was filmed, just like we did last year. However, the weather was just so gorgeous, and the beach in front of Ruby looked so inviting, we decided that we would stay at the campsite all day and enjoy the campsite beach and have a chill.

Out came the self inflating sofas and we made the long (10 metre) walk to the beach which is where we stayed ALL DAY!

We’ve never ever done this on a camping trip – we always try and cram in some cycling or walking or exploring. Jazz loved it as because the beach was empty he got to do lots of off leading which we normally can’t do as he’s not the most obedient pup in the world!

 

 

We actually managed to get sunburn – this is a first for us in Scotland. We felt like we were in Greece on a beach holiday. It was perfect. A perfect day has to end in a perfect BBQ, and Keefy did not let us down on this.

After another incredible sunset we hit the sack. A lovely relaxing day.

Sunday

We had a relatively early start today as it was time to wave goodbye to our stay at SilverSands. We waved a sad goodbye to owner Jim, around 9am and drove the short distance on the coast road to Camusdarach Sands. As the beach was quiet I had a play with my drone and Keith pretended he was Peter Reigert (Mac in Local Hero) and went for a long walk along the shoreline.

See drone video here

The weather was just beautiful again. Around 10am, we set off to Mallaig, and after stocking up on some supplies at the Coop we boarded our first of two ferries that day – Mallaig to Armadale (Skye). 

The journey was smooth and enjoyable, we had the binoculars out looking for wildlife. We were first off the ferry which was handy as we had to drive across Skye from Armadale to Uigg for our next ferry to the Isle of Harris. Skye was looking wonderfully green against the bright blue sky. We were desperately looking for some local fresh fish to take with us to cook as we were fairly sure we were going to be on the sea again tonight, but as it was Sunday there was nowhere other than the coop open. I managed to get some Hebridean salmon, but that was it. The Sunday closing also prevented us spending a sizeable amount in Uigg at the Isle Of Skye Brewery shop! If you are passing through, we highly recommend the Skye Red and Skye Gold Ales. 

After a quick ploughmans lunch in Ruby whilst queuing for the ferry, we loaded onto the slightly larger ferry, the CalMac Hebrides Ferry. We were so excited, its been a plan to revisit Harris after our last visit in 2012 and the weather was just incredible and looked set for the week. The ferry journey was a lovely and smooth 90 minute journey. We sat on the top deck looking for whales and dolphins and enjoyed an Isle of Skye red. It got so hot we actually needed to move to the shade! 

You can read our next instalment here

Until Next Time 

Lx 

A Cheeky escape to Chirk; May Bank Holiday 2018

Friday 4th May

Ruby the VW Campervan is nestled amongst 4 other motorhomes beside the Oxford Canal in Warwickshire. We are at Britstop number 427/18 and for the first time ever, we are sharing our Britstop location with other vans! In 6 years of using Britstops, we’ve never encountered other vans!

This weekend’s mini escape has been a little topsy turvy to say the least. We were supposed to be going to see Tears for Fears tomorrow in Birmingham, which meant bank holiday camping plans were difficult. Then, Keith popped onto Arena Birmingham’s website 2 days ago to get parking directions when he noticed TfF wern’t listed this weekend. A little bit of digging and we discovered that the gig had been been cancelled. Thanks for letting us know.. not. Thank goodness I have a nosey OCD husband otherwise we definitely would have been non the wiser and would have turned up.

As soon as we found out the gig was off, before we even investigated rescheduling/refunds, the next step was to embrace the fabulous weather forecast, and our now completely empty diary and get ourselves onto a site somewhere for the weekend. All the forums/facebook pages I follow had been saying May bank Holiday had been fully booked all over the country for ages so my hopes were not high and I went to work extraordinarily hacked off to say the least.

Happily my husband is some sort of miracle worker and found us a site within an hour – vaguely in an area that we wanted to visit at some point this year, Chirk. Our preference was of course the Camping and Motorhome Club’s “Lady Margaret Park” in Chirk – it ticked all our boxes, we’d had several people recommend it and it had near enough direct access to the Llangollen Canal and it’s cycle route to Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Obviously it was fully booked already, but the warden told us to keep trying. During work on Thursday my email pinged with the email “Booking Confirmation – Lady Margaret Park” – Keefy had managed to get us on THE site we’d wanted. Woo!

I had work until 4pm Friday so we decided to break the 4 hour trip to North Wales with a popular Britstop half way. We phoned ahead, booked a table for dinner and off we tootled, sunglasses on feeling pretty chipper.

Britstop 427 offered a very warm welcome, the landlord liked the look of Ruby – and we enjoyed showing her off like proud parents, especially as we gave her a little makeover this week.

We had a beer on the canal side before heading inside for a delicious meal and crashing out early. It’s been a hell of a week!

Saturday

We had peaceful night tucked away in the pub car park, but were keen to get up and on, as we still had to get past Birmingham. We were just having a cuppa when much to our surprise we found ourselves with some guests..! See video……. 🤣🚒

It delayed our departure a touch, but was fascinating to watch Warwickshire Fire Servie carry out a drill. Ruby gained a few more admirers from the fire crew and we were treated to a serenade of Morning has Broken. One of the more surreal mornings we’ve had, thats for sure!

Our journey to Chirk was smooth – a highlight was spotting Ruby the VW’s twin!

After a quick stop at the local butcher’s in Chirk of course we rolled onto the club site at midday exactly. It took us a while to set up as it’s been some time since we’ve been out on site with all the dry weather gadgets but it was soon time to have lunch – steak and stilton wraps, before having a little wander into town.

We enjoyed our walk, which took in the Chirk aqueduct and viaduct – which are positioned so close to each other that from a distance it looks like they are double decker.

We wandered across the aqueduct back into England and found my dream house.

We then picked up a couple of bits that’d we’d forgotten from shop before walking through Chirk tunnel – an amazing piece of engineering – a canal tunnel that is almost 500m long – so long that you can barely see the end of it!

It’s very cool – boats can only go through single file and have to have their light on so people know they are coming. We watched boat go through alongside us, and then some canooists we waiting to go through next. I quite fancy a go at that myself.

Back at the site – it was glorious weather so we tried out these self inflating sofabeds that we got off Dad and Jen for Xmas. I say self inflating – what I actually mean is “self inflating if you run around in circles wafting your arms around looking like a complete tool!” Our next door neighbour actually took pity on me and came to ask if I wanted to borrow his air pump – then looked mighty confused when I say thanks but this is actually how you’re supposed to do it! Once inflated though my goodness, they are comfy – it’s like you’re floating on a hammock!

We had a delicious bbq for tea which featured some welsh dragon sausages and welsh lamb leg steaks from the butchers down the road, before we both crashed out again at 9pm!

Sunday

Another day of sunshine was forecasted for today – we could hardly believe our luck! After a tea in bed watching the rabbits behind us, we got on with breakfast – a full English on our outside gas ring. I love cooking al fresco- and is there anything greater than walking through a campsite on a sunday morning with all those AMAZING smells tickling your nostrils. No, I don’t think so either!

Whilst I got on with breakfast, Keith prepared the bikes and by 10.30 we were off on our way. We joined the canal tow path just by Chirk Station – and the first bit towards Pontcysyllte aqueduct is especially beautiful – steep banks either side, lush green trees and banks upon banks of bluebells and wild garlic. Just wonderful.

In actual fact – the whole cycle all the way to Llangollen (9 miles each way linear) was just breathtaking. It has absolutely worked its way to our (imaginary for now) list of top cycle routes in the UK.

The main feature of course is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the UK’s longest and highest aqueduct, which has now received World Heritage Site status. As such it is absolutely heaving with people, on the tow path on bikes and foot, and on the canal in canalboats and canoes; but who can blame them.

We just loved it there. We walked our bikes across the aqueduct, then carried on the canal towards Llangollen (you have to go over the bridge, cross the road and then take the new tow path). This stretch was another breathtaking sections, and the 4.5 miles to Llangollen just flew by.

At Llangollen you have the option to take a boat trip on a horse drawn barge. We didn’t fancy the trip but enjoyed watching the horse pull the barge – we’ve never seen this before.

We turned back round at this stage but you can carry on to Horseshoe Falls. After stopping for an ice-cream at the sweetie barge and a quick purchase of some souvenirs (some of you reading this will know we are suckers for souvenirs 😜) we soon found ourselves back at Ruby – exhausted but completely overwhelmed by the scenery.

After a chill on the inflatables (and causing amusement to yet more campers on the Caravan and Motorhome Club Site!) we cooked fajitas for dinner and had a little evening stroll down across the border back into England, to the Bridge Inn for a swift one whilst watching the sunset, before bed.

What a cracking day. You can view our Llangollen Canal cycle video highlights here.

Monday

Monday dawned way too quickly – we were having far too much of a good time to have to pack up and start spinning Ruby’s wheels back home! Luckily we were both feeling it, so after packing up, we drove the mile down the road to Chirk Castle National Trust in a hope to procrastinate!

Arriving early worked in our favour – I bagged a prime seat within the castle courtyard at the cafe in the sun and read my kindle whilst Keith went inside then we swapped (Jazz obviously wasn’t allowed in and it was WAY too hot to leave him in Ruby so we were tag teaming!)

We had to do the same for the formal gardens and woodland unfortunately as dogs weren’t allowed in there either – only the estate grounds for the furry ones. I assume this is because of the actions of selfish dog owners in the past leaving their poop.

The gardens were lovely, but I don’t think either of us enjoyed visiting them without each other. Especially seeing all the families and couples enjoying picnics etc. 😦 But if you don’t have a dog – I’m sure you would just love it there!

All too soon, it was time to hit the road – we couldn’t put off the impending bank holiday journey home any longer. Luck was once again on our sides though it seemed as we got home in 4 hours exactly  with no traffic jams. Unlike the poor folk who were queuing to get out Norfolk on the A11 – we hit no traffic problems whatsoever.

Lady Margaret C&MC site – you have won us over and we will most definitely return. How’s next weekend?! Joke. 😞

If you haven’t yet visited this area and enjoy off road easy cycling, this is a must for you.

Until next time, which is departing in just over 2 weeks, eek and is one of our favourite trips of the year – our annual pilgrimage to Bonny Scotland. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Lx

Grand Tour of China; Part 7. Shanghai

Thursday 19th

This morning we were treated to a proper lay in! We weren’t departing our hotel until 10am, and cases weren’t needed to be outside until 09:15. Of course, my body clock woke me up at 05:30 so I had a relax and at 06:30 went down to the hotel spa for a swim, sauna and steam room which was a very nice experience. We used the time to give our cases a huge sort out and then popped down to for breakfast. Our hotel, The Pan Pacific in Suzhou was set amongst the most glorious gardens with fish ponds and beautiful flowers. Outside the hotel grounds the hotel backed into a huge park which was just gorgeous so we went for an after breakfast stroll. It was beautiful – there was even a Chinese man playing some flute by one of the flower bushes – just lovely.

At 10am we assembled and caught the coach to Suzhou station. By this time my head was starting to ache with dehydration that bottle of red last night, and we were struggling to find some water – but Mary our tour manager came to the rescue with a spare bottle she had – thanks Mary ❤️!!

The train journey to Shanghai was very short at 25 mins; I felt sad it was our last train journey of the trip, and I think others in our group felt the same. When you’re travelling as part of a group, after a couple of weeks you feel like you’re one big family. There is no porterage and the cases generally need to be stored in the large luggage storage areas above your seats. Seats were always allocated alphabetically so we always sat near the same group of people- so Keith and I helped with putting the cases of those near to us up above and I know others helped those sat elsewhere. We had our train beer buddy’s and on this journey Keith had some ice cold beers from the hotel Minibar which he shared to Arthur who had always had a beer at a similar time to us. It just always felt like we were part of a happy family.

We arrived at Shanghai and straight away I liked its vibe! We offloaded our cases to a van which was taking them straight to our hotel. We then boarded a coach which had ice cold water AND beer on board – they know the brits so well(!) and off we went on a magical tour of Shanghai. The weather was extremely hot so those beers went down a storm with everyone!

Our first stop was the Yu Garden and Bazaar in Shanghai’s historic district. The gardens were absolutely breathtaking and despite being packed with tourists, it was a fabulous place to visit. We particularly liked the Dragon Wall. Fairly sure Keith would like to recreate this at home! 🐉

After this we got some free time to explore the Bazaar and pick up some souvenirs. In my head is expected Shanghai to be a very pushy place with cheap knock off handbags on every corner. Not sure if this is the case but elsewhere in Shanghai but it certainly wasn’t the case here. There was tat obviously but wasn’t as offensive as I thought it may be! We picked up a few bits to add to our every expanding suitcases – thank goodness for 30kg luggage allowance!

We made a stop the Bund Area of Shanghai for some photos – this is the area right by the river and you get great photos of the sky scrapers. Behind us were the older historical buildings then across the river were all these interesting shaped sky scrapers. What is interesting is that the sky scrapers went built until 1990s and before then the area was farm land and houses! What a difference!

After this we were dropped back at the hotel where the rest of the afternoon and evening was free. Most of the group went on an organised excursion to an acrobatics show but as we’d seen something similar elsewhere we gave it a miss, instead choosing to take ourselves across town on the metro and visit Shanghai Tower, the 2nd highest building in the world.

The journey across town on the metro was easy enough, having visited Hong along at the start of our trip it was very similar, and the colour and number combination was very easy to follow- and extremely cheap.

Shanghai Tower is located near to some other very interesting sky scrapers – the skyline here is just remarkably interesting. Next to it is a smaller building that looks like a bottle opener!

The Shanghai Tower also has the fastest lift in the world- we travelled 18 metres per second to reach the top of the building. Incredible. We timed our visit just to catch the sun setting and it really was a beautiful sight. My favourite though was when the twinkle lights came on all around the city. You get a great view of the river from the top. At some points it felt more scary than others – the sheer drop down was messing with my head!

We enjoyed the visit hugely and also at the bottom there is a great exhibition about the evolution of the high rise tower. Really fascinating and well worth our £18 entry charge.

We headed back on the metro and after a burger opposite the hotel, we settled in for the night.

Friday

Our last day in China ☹️ started with probably the worst breakfast of the trip sadly. The Pullman Shanghai seemed vastly over stretched for the amount of guests that descended on breakfast and we struggled to get a seat!

At 9am we all met for one final time in the reception. The rest of our group had a great time last night at the acrobatics show so everyone was in good spirits. Our first stop for the day was the French Concession area of town which is now a trendy area full of bars and restaurants, but once upon a time was full of colonial families. We had some free time so on Mary’s recommendation visited an old Shanghai house museum which was a fascinating insight to what these old colonial house would have looked like inside.

After this it was back on the coach to head to the Jade Buddha Temple. This was an interesting place right in the heart of residential Shanghai. The Jade Buddha itself was amazing (but no photos allowed)

We enjoyed our final lunch together and were dropped back to the hotel at 1:30. At this point it was billed as free time, which some of our group enjoyed. But Mary and Cathy, the local guide offered to do an addition activity – going to ride on the Maglev, the worlds fastest and only Magnetic Levitation train! Obviously we jumped at the chance so a group of 12 or so made our way on the metro to the start of the Maglev line.

The Maglev travels at speeds of 431km ph – but, it only reaches this top speed twice a day, once mid morning and once mid afternoon. We got there for the 3pm train and experienced it at full speed on the 30km ride to the airport, which took only 7 minutes!!Travelling at 431km ph felt incredible!! Where the track bends tenet lift the outer track and the train precariously leans. Just wow!

We took the return journey and experienced the top speed again! Afterwards everyone was buzzing! It’s just not everyday that you can say you’ve travelled at the fastest ground speed possible.

There was an interesting exhibition underneath the station that we enjoyed before we waved bye to the rest of the group who were going to visit the Shanghai Tower.

We nipped back to the hotel for a freshen up and then headed out for a dumpling dinner at place near to the hotel recommended to us by Cathy our local guide.

We had beef noodles and 10 dumplings between us, full of shrimp and other gorgeous fillings. We had traditional soup dumplings, a specialty for Shanghai and they were Devine! And only £5.90 for the whole lot! Amazing and our favourite meal in China.

At 6:30 we met the tour guides and rest of the group who were booked on tonight’s additional add on excursion- a boat trip on the river.

We absolutely loved this- again a fantastic opportunity to see this marvellous skyline from a different perspective. It’s so relaxing on the river and was just a perfect way to finish our trip.

We have had the most incredible trip, once again Great Rail Journeys have provided us with a trip of a lifetime. While in China we covered nearly 2500 miles by rail, river and bus. Add to that the travel by air from London via Hong Kong (12950 miles)

We  visited  five of China’s major cities:

Beijing – 18.8 million

Shanghai- 22.7 million

Chongqing – 7.4 million ( 30million if the population of the province is included)

Chengdu.  – 10.2 million

Wuhan – 7.6 million

Xi’an – 8.7 million

We sailed 400 miles along China and Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world. We have also visited the world’s largest dam. (thanks Mary for sending this info!)

Now it’s time to head back to 🇬🇧 and straight back into work.

Until next timeLx

Grand Tour of China; Part 6. Wuhan and Suzhou

Tuesday 17th

We spent last night in the super luxurious Marco Polo Hotel on Wuhan’s waterfront. We arrived around 7:30 and our meal was included at the restaurant buffet. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I hear about hotel buffets, but my word, not this one! The selection of food was tremendous! It had a huge sushi collection and I could have, and probably would have, feasted all night solely on this had it not been for the tempting noodle bar serving fresh local “Wuhan style” noodles. I won’t tell you how many times Keith and I went up to this! 🐷Wuhan style noodles are dryer than the others with no soup, just pickles and a slight dollop of something chilli- like on top. A great technical description there 😂Sorry – no photos either, we were too busy slurping!

After dinner we had a quick stroll down the waterfront, which reminded me of the South Bank in London.

It’s obviously a very trendy spot, youngsters were roller skating around and chilling, there were some buggies with neon lights being rented and couples courting. Across the water the skyline was lit up and lights were flashing. It had a great vibe and many on our tour said they could have happily stayed a few nights there. I think tourism in Wuhan is on the increase though – even Teresa May came to visit earlier this year!

We were off to the Yellow Crane Tower this morning, which is the third greatest tower in China. There has been a tower on that site for 1300 years but over the years it’s been on the receiving end of several battles and therefore has been rebuilt several times. Geographically, Wuhan is an important location as has two rivers that join into one. The views from the top of the tower were fabulous. Inside there was some fascinating art work and poetry.

On the route to the Yellow Crane Tower, Jennifer, our new local guide gave us a fascinating insight into life as a married lady over the years in China. The mother in law features a lot! 😂 Listening to her commentary, despite her flawless English, I suddenly felt a long way from home, and thankful to live somewhere that respect equal rights and freedom of speech.

After lunch, we were taken to a local supermarket, similar in size to Cite Europe in Calais. We had a 5 hour train journey to Suzhou and we were encouraged to buy train picnics as our arrival time at the hotel would be after 9pm.

I find foreign supermarkets fascinating and clearly this was no exception! Keith and I chose two massive tubs of noodles similar to pot noodles but much better – for 50p each. Perfect!

The remainder of our day was spent travelling on the train – snoozing, reading, eating and catching up on blog writing.

Wednesday

After our late arrival we were given a slight lay in- we had a gentler day scheduled today.

Suzhou is known as China’s Garden City. We are right on the outskirts now of Shanghai but the pace is here much slower and the city is surrounded by lots of canals, not too dissimilar to Venice.

Our day started with a rickshaw ride from the hotel around the older streets of Suzhou.

We made a stop at a very local food market and enjoyed watching the locals shop for fresh fruit, veg and meat.

Then we were back on the rickshaws to our next destination, UNESCO site The Master of Nets Garden. This is a traditional Chinese garden, and what was fascinating was that it’s 2000 years old.

^ this guy was having a sing song as he was walking around – such a lovely moment ^

^ original flooring ^

Despite being busy, it had such a relaxing and serene vibe. We enjoyed some traditional tea in the courtyard amongst the bonsai trees towards the end of our visit. We really enjoyed our visit.

After this we visited a silk museum. We got to see the whole process from Silk Worm to product and actually there was no hard selling and the visit was hugely interesting. We avoided buying some silk bed sheets but I did have a go at hand stretching some silk to make up 1000 layers that is needed to make a duvet.

After lunch we had a canal boat ride along some of the tiny canals which have houses backing onto them.

Some of these streets were over 1000 years old and it was a great way to see locals going about their daily business- for example, this guy washing his hair!

These two were in their traditional red wedding outfits having ore wedding photos

We had an early finish today and were back to the hotel for 4pm so we took advantage of the lovely pool area and I even had a sauna. We enjoyed a beer across the road at the local bar before opting for a pizza in the hotel bar for tea.

Keith hi jacked the hotel grand piano to play some relaxing cocktail music which was lovely to see. And we enjoyed a bottle of Italian red wine- something that we’ve been missing!

Tomorrow we leave Suzhou for our last stop of the tour before home- Shanghai. We really loved visiting Suzhou today and feel we have seen the real traditional China today. We’ve loved seeing the locals going about their daily life- a simple “Knee how” (hello) and they wave like mad and smile cheerily at us!

Until next time

Lx

Grand Tour of China; Part 5. Cruising on The Yangtze River

Saturday 14th

We didn’t have to set our alarm today although breakfast finished at 8:30 so we were up at a reasonable time. All meals were included and were of the buffet style which suited us. We had a mixture of Chinese and western- the bread on board was fresh and still warm- well received by most of our group I think!

The first day of the cruise passed very quickly despite not really having to do too much other than relax! The morning was spent watching the world go by from our private balcony although some in our group attended a demonstration and talk about Chinese Medicine and acupuncture by the ship’s doctor. We attended an interesting talk about the river by the ship’s director Stephen- in which he talked more about the villages under the water. It turned out his family had had to move when he was 12 years old. I’m really struggling to get my head around the fact that complete villages are underneath where we are sailing. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the families who generations of whom had lived in the same house in the same village, suddenly having to relocate. It’s just mind boggling!

After lunch we took the included excursion to the Red Pagoda (Shibaozhai Pagoda) – an interesting and old building built into the cliff face.

The walk to and from the Pagoda was lined with locals selling all sorts of stuff and of course we just had to buy yet more souvenirs including a Chinese dressing gown, table runner, fans etc!

After our little adventure off the boat, we headed for a cheeky cocktail in the bar, which has panoramic views. I tried the cocktail of the day – “The Red Pagoda” whilst looking out at the real thing.

Saturday evening arrived and the whole ship was dressed to impress as it was the Captain’s Welcome Dinner. Our group looked fabulous, everyone had made such an effort. Keith even wore a blazer 😍

We enjoyed glasses of fizz whilst the Ship’s Director introduced the senior crew and captain; before a good ol cheesy boogie to Shake my Tail feather etc. Then it was time for dinner.

After dinner there was a staff cabaret show, which despite not being to our taste so much, everyone else found entertaining. Nonetheless the evening was great fun and I was adoring my first taste of cruising!

Sunday

Our cruise continued today through some absolutely sensational scenery, The Three Gorges. The most dramatic gorge was first – the Qutang Gorge. At this point the mountains on each side of the river were steep and imposing- one spot is so scenic it’s made it onto the 10 Yuan note.

The ships director gave interesting commentary throughout this stretch and Keith and I sipped on cocktails. I was in heaven! It didn’t matter that the weather wasn’t great, it almost made it more dramatic. I really really loved this journey!

The following two pictures are probably my favourite- the sense of scale is truly incredible! (The cruise liner behind us was of similar size to the one we were on)

The above picture shows a very small farm house which is the only occupied house now on this section of the river. There are no roads, no electricity and no running water but 4 families still live there.

After lunch Keith and some of our group were given a private tour of the Bridge which Mary our tour manager had organised. I didn’t go as I was reading on our balcony. Keith however loved it and came back full of admiration that actually the boat wasn’t being driven by a computer like most ocean liners; in fact three men worked side by side for 4 hours at a time in total silence, driving the boat manually using a small wheel. He also couldn’t believe that our boat, which holds 340 passengers can float in just 6ft of water!

We passed through the Wu Gorge where we then transferred onto smaller boasts to take us down one of the narrow tributaries, the Goddess Stream.

I don’t even really know how to describe this- even the pictures don’t really do it justice. It was simply breathtaking.

The height of the cliffs either side of the narrow stretch of water was just incredible. Let’s not forget that the water level has also been raised in the last 20 years so before that the gorges would have been even higher!

During the excursion, all the local guides stopped at a kind of make shift pontoon (don’t panic- it was safe!) where they performed a local folk song and asked us to join in with a dance. It was such a surreal but special moment!

(Keep your eyes peeled on the video above for a familiar face joining in! 😂 ) pic below just in case the video doesn’t upload properly .

Keith said it reminded him of the film Apocalypse Now!

By now the grey skies had vanished and we were treated to blue skies on our return to the larger ship.

So of course Keith and I squeezed in a quick cocktail before returning to our room for a super quick shower – we both managed to shower (I even managed a hair wash!) and change in 14 minutes! That has to be a record!

Tonight we had our disembarkation instructions for tomorrow and then it was the Captain’s Farewell banquet- another great meal. We also sang Happy Birthday to 2 members of our group.

The staff on the boat were fabulous. By far the best service we’ve received so far in China. And so happy and smiley! We will be sad to wave goodbye in the morning!

Monday

Disembarkation of the ship was at 08:00 and via funicular railway.

Disembarkation was earlier than normal as we should have been passing through the Three Gorges Dam Locks. Sadly, increased river traffic meant congestion for the locks and therefore the Chinese Government have just recently banned cruise liners from passing through in order to ease congestion. So rather than passing through the 4 locks overnight, we moored up at Mao Ping, and were transferred onto coaches along with local guides who took us to visit the site of the Three Gorges Dam and the Locks and the ships elevator which is actually the largest in the world. Sadly you don’t get as good a view as if you’re actually on the elevator or the locks but this wasn’t Great Rail Journeys fault, nor Century Sun- it’s been banned by the government.

We then drove through the third gorge via coach on the road. Not quite the same as on the river but still very pretty.

Today the weather has improved so much- we’ve had blue skies and lovely warm weather. We were taken to lunch a little earlier than scheduled due to the change in itinerary and therefore had an hours free time in Yichang. Luckily there was a lovely park and waterfront area so Mary organised for us to have an hour here relaxing- which was enjoyed immensely. Some of the group went to a local museum with our new local guide, Jennifer, but we chose to have a wander along the river and enjoyed an ice cream.

Around 3pm we were transferred to the railway station where were boarded our next train, the bullet train to Wuhan- a journey of 2 hours. The journey was smooth as we’ve come to expect and we passed lots of paddy fields. It’s so relaxing travelling by train (and also a great opportunity to catch up on blog writing!)

Until next time

Lx

Grand Tour of China; Part 4. Chengdu

Thursday

Today we were off to visit Wenshu monastery, which was fairly local to the hotel. We learnt about Buddhism – May was a practicing Buddhist and was keen to show us how to use incense etc.

We then took a coach for a long journey out of Chengdu to Leshan. On the journey we passed a lot of agricultural land including vineyards which supply the main Chinese wine – The Great Wall, tea plantations, rape seed fields and more.

We had lunch and then boarded a local boat to view the Giant Buddha. Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone statue in the world. It is carved into a mountain range and at 233ft it really is a phenomenal sight. Apparently, it’s possibly for two people to enter it’s ear cavity and ten people could have a picnic on the Buddhas toenail!

I slept most of the journey back to Chengdu, a hectic term has caught up with me! Before we arrived back at the hotel we made a stop at Jinli street which is a reconstructed old style street. I was pleased to be visiting as it was in my list of things to see in Chengdu. In reality though, it was a bit busy and extremely whiffy for our liking. There was lots of street food like duck heads, pigs knuckles etc to try and they didn’t look particularly appetising to us! We did manage a street beer though and it was a good place to people watch!

I think Jinli St got a reaction from our group similar to marmite- you either loved it or hated it! We were free to have our own dinner tonight, and so we decided to try a Chinese Pizza place in the nearby shopping mall. One thing that is taking some getting used to is that the restaurants tend to be in shopping malls!

Keith had a Sichuan chicken (read that as blinking hot!) and shrimp/fruit “half and half” and I had shrimp, fruit and extra cheese. It was lovely actually and a nice change to rice dishes.

Friday

I had another restless sleep last night, as tends to happen when an exciting highlight event is due to take place 😂 I worry that we’re going to miss the alarm! Today we were off to see the Giant Pandas 🐼

Unlike some other tour companies, we were not going to the zoo to see these magnificent creatures; instead we were going to see them at the Panda Breeding Research centre. We took a golf buggy up to the top of the reserve and then were guided down through the various enclosures. The first sighting was of course the best- I may have had a few tears and I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one!

They were adorable- we saw loads, each one displaying a different character it seemed.

My favourite was “Mr Cool”- who was far to chilled out to eat his bamboo sat up like a normal panda 🐼 instead he laid down on his side with his arm propping his head up, his leg doing similar whilst munching on his bamboo.

Apparently pandas eat pretty much all day! Sounds like my sort of life right now- So much food!

We really enjoyed our visit and could have easily spent all day there but we had a train to catch; we were off to Chongqing, which was where we were boarding our home for the next three nights- the Century Sun Luxury river cruise liner.

We spent a couple of hours in Chongqing before it was time to board and it looked quite a pleasant city. Which would explain why it’s population is over 30 million people! Isn’t that just an insane amount of people?! The reason is largely because in the last 40 years The Chinese Government decided to flood a large section of the Yangtze River. This was to control floods that were happening regularly and so that they could build a large dam/hydroelectric station to generate much needed power. So new cities were built and large populations of people who lived beside the river were moved out, their houses then submerged as they flooded the valley.

I was particularly excited about our river cruise as I’d never done a cruise before – ocean or river. We decided to purchase the drinks package so that we could let our hair down a little. But actually it was pretty good value for money- it cost around £150 for the two of us and we were on the boat three nights and two full days. A round of drinks was about £12 so we easily made it worth it.

Setting sail from Chongqing was beautiful- it was after dark and the waterfront was full of lit up buildings. Suddenly it felt like we were in a hybrid of New York and Hong Kong.

We enjoyed a few cocktails before hitting the sack for a very quiet and much needed deep sleep

Until next time

Lx