The drive back to London – Part two of three; Nunney Castle.

Monday 21 December 2015 – Nunney Castle, Somerset.

My drive north east wards from the lovely church of St Michael on Burrow Mump took me through the historic town of Glastonbury, which I must confess to not expecting when I was vaguely planning my route over breakfast. I tried to stop at the tor, but some moron had parked their small truck almost completely blocking the road to the car park. Given this was a rental car I was not willing to bump the curb and squeeze through. I am sure I will return to Glasto one day. Though, music fan that I am, I will still be avoiding the festival (or maybe it is because I am a music fan…)

I was looking for the small village of Mells – and I did set the sat nav for this one as it is way off the beaten track. I was fortunate to pass through the town of Nunney, which conveniently has a small castle that is free to visit. Most excellent!

Nunney Castle was constructed in the 1370s when Sir John Delamare was given licence to build a castle by King Edward III after returning with a small fortune from the Hundred Years War. It is supposedly modelled on castles he had seen when on duty in France, though this has been hotly debated.

The castle remained in the extended family through the 1500s before finally being sold in 1577 to the Praters. Like many Catholics the Praters sided with the royalists during the civil war and the castle was severely damaged during a siege in 1645. It has slowly fallen into disrepair since,  being gifted to the crown in 1926.

It is a lovely building, and was an unplanned and unexpected surprise bonus for the day. I took a walk around the outside.



From the car park entrance you cannot see if there is a bridge across the moat into the castle, so I was delighted when I walked around to the far side of the small castle to find there was a way in, through the walls destroyed in the civil war.


There is not a lot to see inside the ruin itself, for its height I was quite surprised how small it actually is inside the walls.  It must have been awful living in here during the siege.


I didn’t expect to be visiting a ruined castle today, so even though it was raining and a bit unpleasant (again) this was an excellent mid-day stop – if only I had found some lunch!


St Mawes and St Just of Roseland.

Sunday 20 December 2015 – St Mawes, Falmouth, Cornwall.

I had a much better sleep last night than I did the night before. The hotel room is really comfy, though a little warm for my liking. I was awake early and got a bit of typing done on yesterday’s post before heading down for breakfast when the kitchen opened at 8:30. Another nice breakfast!

The weather was not anywhere near as poor as yesterday, the wind has died down significantly – to merely strong, and there was only showers forecast – heavy ones, but still only showers. I decided to try for the ferry over the harbour to the Roseland Peninsula and the village of St Mawes again,  so headed out soon after breakfast. Grabbing a coffee on the way I was at the wharf just as the small ferry arrived, they were definitely running today, Yay.


The 20 minute journey started off smooth enough, but as we hit the middle of the harbour, the swell briefly picked up and we rocked and rolled for a while until we were safe in the lea of the far point.IMG_9682

My first stop for the day was St Mawes Castle, the little sister to Pendennis Castle that I visited yesterday. I could see it on the headland as we crossed the water.



The ferry arrived safe and sound in the small inner harbour at St Mawes and I spotted this great sign on the wall of the wharf.


St Mawes is on old fishing village that has mostly turned to tourism over the last twenty years. It is a pretty place, with lots of the sights common to this part of the country, cute thatched roof cottages and old stone buildings.



Like Pendennis, St Mawes Castle is run by English Heritage, and because I finally signed up yesterday for a year, it was free admission. Not that this is a particularly expensive place to visit. I was surprised to find other visitors here today.

The first view of the castle was a good one ! Like Pendennis it has been really well preserved and looks spectacular.


St Mawes was built at the same time as its big sister between 1540 and 1545 to ward off the threat from Spain and France to the Fal river – and access into Cornwall and England. With the harbour being over a mile wide at the entrance and the artillery of the day only having a range of half a mile, it required artillery forts on each side of the harbour for complete protection. The castle was used militarily up until 1905 when the guns were removed. it was a tourist attraction from 1920 until WW2 when it was re-armed to guard the Fal again, becoming a tourist attraction after the war.

The clover leaf design is really cool, multiple layers of defence and the round walls supposedly made it harder for enemy cannon balls to penetrate. It was quite an amazing design. I really liked, it is now one of my favourite castles. I think English Heritage have done a good job here !

I haven’t used my big old DSLR for ages, I took it away on this trip so I could spend some time with it, remind it that I love it dearly, but it is not user friendly if I am going out with El to do something that is not supposed to be photograph related. I was intending on some sunrise/sunset photography with the tripod, but there was no sunrise or sunset to be seen on any of the days I was away. I had some issues with it not handling really strong contrasts, and blowing out the highlights in one corner of the sensor, hopefully it is a me issue rather than a camera issue. Much as I would like to get a 5dMk2 or Mk3, even second hand they are a lot of money! I must admit I really enjoyed using it over the weekend and it will get some more work outs.

I took my usual walk around the outside of the fort first, I really liked the areas on the walls where Henry VIII’s crest was mounted.



The geometry of the fort is wonderful, I spent well over an hour in this small space, and could easily have taken a lot more photos than I did, and this is just a small part of what I took.


Down the back I discovered a stairwell down to the gun batteries, I was the only person I saw venture outside, so most people would have missed this area. The batteries and a store room were built in the 1850s – trouble with the French again. The main fort was converted into a barracks as new technology allowed for bigger, more powerful guns to be used from the battery. The walls protecting the ammunition store were really thick and hidden behind quite deep earthworks.



Continuing my walk around the grounds eventually led me to the entrance to the fort.



Like Pendennis, the inside had been partially set up like it would have been in the 1700s, and there was an audio guide to take with you explaining what life was like at the time, as well as describing the castle itself. It was all quite interesting.



The weather was sticking to forecast and the skies were actually quite clear when I left the castle. Before I left this morning I had decided that if it was fine I would walk to the tiny hamlet of St Just of Roseland, about 2 miles up the Fal from St Mawes.

The direction was sort of a guess, walk near the water…


The sign was so old, worn and mossy that it was totally unreadable, but there was an arrow heading that way, so I was sure it was OK to walk in that direction.


The walk was not particularly interesting, just along the bottom of farms, near the rivers edge, it was pretty muddy in places, specifically where National Trust had their gates.



At the end of the path at the bottom of the village there is a small shipyard, so I headed up the hill and found the entrance way to the church there. The view down through the gate, down a steep tree lined graveyard to the church was quite lovely, sadly my photo was not.

The graveyard is really big, and looks like it is still being used as there are a number of recent grave stones, unlike so many London grave yards that are close to full now. I loved this Cornish cross, and the mosses growing on the old headstones made for a really interesting view.



There has been a church on this lovely river side site since the 6th century, though the church is relatively modern, having been built in the 13th century. It is such a lovely building in a very special location.




The church grounds are a large garden filled with many exotic trees, palms and things that are very un-English like, the warmer temperatures in this sheltered valley allow some unusual things to grow. I do not know what these were but it looked like a field of large dead bats…


Before heading back the way I came I stopped for a drink of water and a snack bar, it was past mid-day now and I was starting to get peckish. I almost regretted this as when I was most of the way back and checked my watch I realised I was very close to the departure time of the hourly ferry. I picked up my pace and power walked back to the castle, breaking into a run down the road back to the wharf, I arrived just as the ferry was backing out, damn. All that effort, and I am so unfit it was an effort wasted. I resolved to go to the pub and wait, sacrifices had to be made.

When I turned around to head back up the wharf I spotted this massive storm cloud sweeping in across the harbour, I stopped to take a couple of pictures of the ferry moving into the storm – you cannot see it in under the rain in the second shot.



I had just got into the pub and was sitting myself down upstairs when the storm hit, it was ferocious with rain and hail and strong winds – all lasting about 5 mins. I could hear people screaming on the road outside as they were walking down the hill and received an unexpected soaking. I really enjoyed the pint I had in that pub !

By the time I left just under an hour later, the sky had cleared and it looked like my journey across would be fine. I took a couple of pictures of the small harbour before boarding the ferry.




The ride over was pretty good, there was one moment when the swells were quite high and I got quite wet trying to take photos of Pendennis point – luckily I swung my camera out the way before the spray hit me.


As we arrived into Falmouth another storm cloud arrived, I made it most of the way to the end of town before it hit. I got the first hit of hail and the sudden heavy rain before getting into another pub, where I also had a pint while I waited it out. This pub was not so nice so I did not linger, and left as the last remains of light rain fell.


The rest of the afternoon was not spent doing anything useful, I watched football on my laptop, then uploaded photos from the day before heading back into Falmouth for dinner. I was surprised at how many places were open for dinner on a winter Sunday night, pleasantly surprised as it meant I had a choice. I chose a place close to the hotel, which just happened to make a really nice pizza…


I really liked Falmouth, and I am a bit surprised by that, I know I did not stray far from the main tourist sections of town, but it is the last weekend before Christmas and town was busy with local – and not so local shoppers, and it had pretty good vibe to it. As I said back on my first post about Falmouth I had not done much research and was really surprised to find the ship yards, and drunk students on Friday night. This gave me an impression of the town that was not warranted, and it was pleasing to have my opinion change.

PS. Not very happy with the relationship between Windows Live Writer 12 on my Windows 10 PC and WordPress. Formatting did not come across as I set it up in Writer and my photos look a bit crap. I didn’t have this issue on my old laptop. Tomorrow’s job is to find a new blog writing tool. I was warming to Writer after I was forced to switch from Blogdesk.

Pendennis Castle and Falmouth.

Saturday 19 December 2015 – Falmouth, Cornwall.

It was a really windy night, and it is now a really windy morning. The wind was howling around the hotel making things whistle and creak all night long. The weather is pretty lousy this morning too, rain is forecasted for most of the day and with 30mh winds blowing in off the sea I don’t think I will be doing too much coastal walking. But there is a castle, or two to visit – so not all bad !

After a very nice, and not too large Cornish breakfast I got myself organised and was out the door for 10:00, opening time for Pendennis Castle. My hotel is one street back from the beach and wow, the wind was so strong! It wasn’t raining when I left so I made the most of the time and took a couple of photos of the sea before power walking up to the distant castle.

The Lerryn Hotel, where I am staying, I have the near balcony room, but the view has been pretty much entirely grey since I have been here.




At the top of the hill I took a detour around the back of the castle to see if there was a view over the wall, which there wasn’t, but there were a couple of trees just begging to have their photo taken so I happily obliged. I love trees without leaves, most of the trees in and around Auckland are evergreen, so I am just not used to seeing so many naked trees. Such a clear marker of seasons changing.


As I discovered last night on my stroll in the dark, there is a decent, though empty moat, and high walls separating me from the castle.



Once across the moat and through the entrance I decided to do something I should have done about five castles ago – I joined English Heritage for a year, hopefully this will not mean I stop visiting English Heritage run castles now I have paid the fee. I am planning on doing two today, so a decent start.

Like St Mawes Castle, a sister castle on the far bank of the Fal River, Pendennis Castle is a Henrician castle built under Henry VIII between 1540 and 1545 to protect the river from a perceived threat by both the French and the Spanish. I was surprised to learn today that the harbour at the entrance to the River Fal is the third deepest harbour in the world, after Sydney and Rio. This made it very attractive as a naval base, though it was never really used as one at all. The castle is one of a string of castles built across the south coast after Henry decided to annoy the French and Spanish when he rejected the Catholic church.

The castle was expanded during Elizabethan times with the majority of the outer buildings and the high walls being added then. As an artillery fort the site was continued to be modified up to and just after the end of the Second World War as new artillery technology was developed. The fort was abandoned by the military in 1956. A story I heard while I was there was the that most damage done to the fort since a siege during the English Civil War was caused by the MOD in the 60s when they destroyed a temporary barracks building by blowing it up – and cracking the walls of other buildings in the process.

As it wasn’t raining once I was on site, I decided to follow my usual tactic of walking around the perimeter, looking at the views and checking out the outside of the tower.

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I headed down toward the WW2 observation post and had a look at the window.


I tried to find my way to the WW2 gun emplacements below, but my efforts seemed quite fruitless as all the paths were gated off – reading the map was going be a last resort obviously. I eventually came across a tunnel… I so love a tunnel.


This led the way under some earthen defences to the gun emplacements. There was a small group having a tour while I was there so I tagged along and listened in. Turns out the group were the only other visitors on this miserable day – and they were Kiwis too. The wind was really howling on the point, the whistling as the wind passed through the mast was incredible.


I walked around the grounds a little bit more, before finally entering the Henrician artillery tower as the rain arrived again. I liked the gargoyles, sadly I got rain on my lens, but I have decided to keep the photo anyway.

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The inside of the artillery keep was decked out like it was in the 1700’s, including a very loud soundtrack that kicks in when you walk in the door – a bit of a surprise.


The roof was locked off but I was told I could go up there if I re-barred the door once I was back inside, I could see why once i was on the narrow steep, circular stairs to the roof, they were quite wet and slippery. I met one of the Kiwis on the stairs and we took it in turns to go out on the roof and have a quick look around, while the other held the door closed in the ferocious wind.

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Down from the roof I headed over to the more recent barracks block – only a hundred or so years old and had a coffee and piece of cake for a late morning tea, and that was pretty much my last act in the grounds and I left the castle soon after.


I decided to replicate the walk I did round the moat last night.


And then headed down to the sea front to visit Little Dennis, a small coastal blockhouse. The wind was so strong here, I was struggling to stand still to take photos. It is right on the tip of the point with wonderful views across a blustery sea to St Mawes.

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This ice cream seller was very keen, surprisingly I saw a couple with ice creams as I walked up from Little Dennis, so I suppose his efforts paid off. Good on him, it was not nice out there, but at least it was not cold…


I took the coast path around the point rather than walk on the roads like last night.


There were a couple of guys living in tents on the edge of the forest, they must be facing very tough times to choose to be in a tent with wind like this. The coast path was pretty greasy, but so much nicer than walking on the road.

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Soon enough I was back in civilisation, I walked past the ship yards that caught me so much by surprise last night, it was raining pretty hard by now and this was the last photo I took before hiding my camera away in my back pack – and putting a rain cover on the pack as well.


It was a short, but wet and not particularly lovely walk into the waterfront area of Falmouth. Money has been spent in the area nearest the port, with new restaurants and bars including a Pizza Express which I am pondering for tonight, I do love pizza and there is something special about the anonymousness of a chain restaurant when you are a solo eater. There is a Rick Stein’s fish restaurant but it looks too stale for my tastes, though I am sure it is lovely, pricey too I bet. By the time I had passed round the back of the new buildings the rain had passed and I could ditch the rain cover and get my camera out again. I sort of liked the waterfront, it is big yachting harbour, so slightly reminiscent of Auckland and other yachty places.

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Falmouth has allowed itself to be taken over by tourism, as I was walking down the hill from the castle I passed a new waterside development of ‘exclusive’ apartments and a lot of the old buildings in town have become shops or tacky bars and eating places. Who ever thought that the old harbour master building would make a good Mexican cafe and hairdresser was badly misinformed/taking a kick back or something. I understand that towns need to keep relevant and make money, but sometimes selling your soul is not worth the price.


Having said that, so far I kind of like Falmouth, but it has not made the most of its waterfront, unless you count car parking as a value add. All the small wharf areas are full of cars, I have tried to miss them when as I have taken photos, but they are there.

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I was planning on taking a ferry over to St Mawes to visit the sister castle to Pendennis, but due to the really strong wind the ferry was cancelled for the day.


Time for a new plan, it was only afternoon and I had pretty much seen all of Falmouth’s waterfront area. I headed up to the art gallery for a quick peak. Nice building, some interesting local art as well.


That was pretty much my day, it was definitely my day photographically. I went back to the hotel and uploaded and edited photos, watched some football and had a rest before heading out for an early meal. Back in time for the final two episodes of The Bridge season 3.

A nice time so far in Falmouth.

This new laptop I am using is Windows 10 based. So far I am really liking it, a far better experience than I expected –  except the version of Windows Live Writer I have been using to write and manage blogs screws with images uploaded to WordPress. Boo Hiss !!! I hate writing blogs in Wordress, time to find a new writing tool. So far I have loved and lost Blogpress and now Live Writer, hopefully the next tool find is as good and lasts longer….

Colchester – far more interesting than expected!

Saturday 25 April 2015 – Colchester.

My last post was all about a training walk on Box Hill for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk I WAS going to be doing in July. As the ‘was’ suggests I am no longer doing the walk. After lots of serious thought I knew I was not going to be able to do this walk justice, I have done virtually no training since the start of the year and having done a 55km run I know what a 100km walk is going to feel like without training. I also know how my body feels now and punishing it further is not going to help. So, partly because it was unfair on my team mates who seem to have more time than me, partly as it would be unfair on El if I work half the weekend and then walk the rest, but mainly because I just don’t think I can do it I have pulled out. Luckily it was early enough for my spot in the team to be easily filled.

As always seems to be the case at the moment, the main reason for my life being so busy is work. I had a bit of a slump week this week so decided last night that I was going to take a day out. I have not had a whole day to myself since I went to Dartmouth before Christmas and I just needed some time when the only interactions I had with other humans was to order food and drink.

Not wanting to spend too much money, but still wanting to do something that got me out of London, I decided to go to Colchester in Essex. It wasn’t ideal, there was no beach for instance, but it was close enough, cheap enough and it had a castle and a river.

The other reason for visiting Colchester was there are frequent, direct trains from Liverpool St Station, Walthamstow also has a line to Liverpool St; home to Colchester was therefore not much more than an hour and no hassle at all. In my book that it always an incentive, inner-city travelling at the weekend is too reminiscent of commuting!


From my limited experience it seems to be the tradition for old towns that are local centres to be surrounded by wide, busy pedestrian unfriendly roads that need to be navigated round and over if you are walking from the station. Colchester was no exception. I had no map, and had only vaguely consulted Google Maps on the train, but when I got to the River Colne and a path that led in the direction of a park I decided to leave the road behind and see where I ended up. Good (not) to see the river is (not) in good health.



My decision to leave the road was a good one as I found myself at the end of Castle Park, which was going to be my first stop.

Colchester’s main claims to historical fame, is it is Britain’s oldest recorded town (from AD 79) and also has the oldest Roman era city walls in the country. The Romans built their first British fortress in Colchester soon after the invasion in AD43, this became the centre of a colony which was then sacked by Boudica’s army in AD61. Soon after this event London became the capital of Roman Britain, who knows what would have happened if the sacking never took place ? The famous walls were built when the city was rebuilt from AD65-80 and are almost 4 miles long.



All that remains of Colchester Castle is the keep, the largest remaining keep in Europe. Construction was completed in 1100 and it was built on top of the old Roman temple. Like all such buildings it has a chequered history and while it was serving as a prison in the 1640s it was the home of the Witchfinder General, Mathew Hopkins. I imagine it was not pleasant to be under investigation.


Like a lot of these old buildings it was built over a few decades using the various materials that were around, including stone and bricks salvaged from the old Roman buildings. I love the randomness of the window openings.



The castle has an excellent local museum inside, it was 7 pounds to enter, which I thought was good value for what was there. It was interesting and very child friendly with loads of (un-museum like) ‘Please touch’ signs on various activities. It was also pleasing to see that it was quite popular with the Colchester community with a few families looking around.


I really liked this chariot race game, these two couples were really enjoying themselves Smile Though I will say they dig hog it and I didn’t get a go. Though I am sure that if I had asked…


There were quite a few things of interest to see inside, I liked this tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis, who dies in Colchester soon after arriving in Britain in AD43. This is one of the earliest complete tombstones in Britain.


And another sculpture from the same period, the Colchester Sphinx.


I left the museum in search of the next piece of history on my list, St Botolph’s Abbey. Not having a map meant I got a bit misplaced. But I did find this really cool section of the city walls – I love the weeds growing out of this almost 2000 year old piece of history.


I passed by St Mary’s Church which I had read about in the museum. During the civil war in 1648, Colchester was besieged for many months by the Parliamentarians, the Royalists inside the town placed a small canon on the top of the church tower to fire over the walls, eventually it was hit by return fire and destroyed. When the church was later rebuilt the top of the tower was repaired in brick rather than the original Roman stone.


After a bit of faffing, some road side Google Mapping and eventually some random good fortune I found the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory. Unfortunately so had some people doing a model shoot who were hogging the place so, much as I like to take photos sans people, in this case I couldn’t and I ended up leaving in a minor huff.


The priory was the first Augustinian priory in Britain and like the nearby castle was completed around 1100. A long with many of the other leading Catholic orders, such as St Marys in York, it was dissolved by the order King Henry VIII in 1536 and a number of the buildings were torn down. The church as was allowed to remain to serve the local people but it was destroyed during the civil war. it is quite pretty and peaceful.




It was now past lunch time and my tummy was rumbling. When I was planning the trip last night, I had decided that I would find a nice pub to lunch in, drink a pint of decent ale, read my book, write some stuff, get myself organised with a few lists – I do love a list. Basically relax and unwind. But i couldn’t find a nice pub to lunch in. I did find the new art gallery though.

What a cool building, such a great contrast to the small old tower nearby. The gallery is very nice inside, big, airy and light. The exhibitions were not really to my liking, but the coffee and cake were fab.


The last thing on my list of things to do was to find Bourne Mill. Resorting to Google Maps again I found my way quite easily to this old building on its man made lake on what used to be the edge of town.


The building is managed by National Trust, so I finally got to use my membership card for the first time since I signed up two years ago. The mill was originally built in 1591 from stone left behind during the dissolution of the abbeys in 1536 and was built as a fishing lodge on a series of ponds made by the abbeys along a small stream that fed into the River Colne. It was converted into a fulling mill in 1640 and then into a corn mill in 1840 when the gables were added.



I followed path down the side of the very overgrown stream as far as I could towards the River Colne with the intent of following that back to where I started at the foot of Castle Park. The start of the stream walk was quite nice, at least it was quiet, but it soon popped out on to some busy edge of town roads.


There was sort of a path following the river, though on this side of town it was not the charming river side walk I was hoping for…


There is a ton of building going on around here, flats going up everywhere, I am guessing just to fuel the ever increasing fire for cheaper housing to meet the demands of those forced to leave London as it is now too expensive to live in.


Crossing back into the centre of town, it is clear to see the line between the water haves and have nots, there is a weir at the edge of town that keeps the river running through the parks nice and high and full and far more attractive. Though I am assuming that is due to the river being tidal more than anything more subversive. Still it was nice to be walking through the park again once I passed through its gates.

I headed back up into the centre of town to try and find one of the council website advertised friendly village pubs, but all there seemed to be were large bars with tattooed punters drinking lager outside. Not my thing at all. I wandered around for a bit before giving up and heading back towards the station. My dream of an afternoon relaxing over an ale or two dashed, though I did stop for one in a not too bad pub, but there were no longer serving lunch so I didn’t stay. The one place that looked like it could have been a decent pub in the old Dutch quarter was closed.


It had been a good day out, I enjoyed the old bits and the new gallery, it was nice to walk by a river, though it wasn’t a nice bit of river to walk by. It was nice to not have to talk or listen to anyone, and I could refocus myself a bit away from the madness and pressure of work.

I shall do it again.

The BEST thing that has happened in the last week is I have finally booked my many times postponed trip to New Zealand to see my family. As it now pretty much winter in NZ I have made it a quick visit with no ‘holiday’ time, just 10 days there and a lot to do. It is my grandson’s 1st birthday so I am really pleased to be able to be there for that, plus my oldest son is coming over from Australia as well. Double awesome, I get to see all three kids together!

Back to the coast!

Sunday 21 December 2014 – Dartmouth, Devon.

The past few weeks have been rather busy, with work taking over far too much of my life again, not quite to the levels it did before I left New Zealand in 2011, but far more than I want it to – the price that is paid for delivering systems projects, and being a bit too hands on. In a sustained effort to meet the deadline date for the project I have worked quite a few evenings lately as well as the past five Saturdays, effort worth putting in, but I ended up delaying the project for a couple of weeks anyway. It was close but not quite.

The good news is that I am now banging away on my laptop keyboard while sitting on a train heading down to Dartmouth on the Devon coast. I have been looking forward to getting away by myself for a while, taking some time to do some photography and some walking and enjoying a bit of solitude. I surprised myself by really badly wanting to get out of London for a few days, something I did not think was possible. I, of course, miss the sea and the hills a lot, but have found places in London that have allowed some relief from the madness of living in a city of eight million, and while I have always taken the opportunity to escape the clutches of the city – I have never before felt an urgent NEED to.

I have taken a week off work – it was going to be two, but there is too much to do so I return to the office next week with the expectation of being able to knock off a load of stuff while the school is effectively closed. With a week off under my belt, the start of the new year will be a little more relaxed then the end of this one.

Dartmouth was chosen for a number of reasons, mainly through lack of choice as to places to go, but it does have a castle and is on the South West Coast Path, so fulfils my most basic holidaying needs. I was hoping to go somewhere wilder, but rental car prices quadruple this time of year so I have been limited to place I can access by public transport – and with it being a Sunday in winter in rural England there is a surprising lack of that as well. Even Dartmouth – which is fairly well known, albeit small place is not accessible by public transport on Sundays. There is no train service at all and the bus from the closest train station in Totnes does not run on winter Sundays. I will be forced to take a cab.

The journey has been a pretty good one, starting at Paddington.

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The train was a little late out of Swindon but made up time before Taunton and hit the coast at Dawlish Warren to schedule. Dawlish Warren holds a special place in my memories – and not for a good reason !

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When I was supporting my friend Mal on his epic run of the South West Coast Path back in June 2012 I was on walking/running duties when we arrived in Dawlish Warren late one evening, we misplaced the path and ended up doing an hour long and pointless loop of the golf course that juts out into River Exe. We were tired and hungry and it was dark by the time we got back to where we supposed to be. I think some bad words were said…. I briefly cover the run here. I should mention that Mal is about to embark on an even bigger venture next year – running 50 marathons on 50 days, each with a classic New Zealand peak. Massively epic and you should read about and support it here

We saw way too much of this place…

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The train line through Dawlish is right on the coast and was washed out this time last year in the winter storms, it must have been a great relief to the people of Devon and Cornwall that the line was repaired after some major work. It is a short, but lovely piece of railway and I managed to get my camera briefly out one of the windows in the doors. Unlike Sri Lanka, there is no standing in an open doorway in the UK! There is something magical about looking at the view and the side of a train as it winds its way around a bend on the track.

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I arrived in Totnes to discover the taxi was almost twice as much as I was told, a slight uplift on the week day rate, but still I was definitely mis-informed on the taxi price, I hope the price increase is not the same everywhere else in Dartmouth or this could be a very expensive holiday.

After checking into the B and B, I dumped my suit case (I cannot believe I am travelling with a case and not a backpack!) grabbed the camera bag and headed off into the drizzle to check out Dartmouth Castle. To avoid the disappointment of finding it closed I had looked it up on the internet and knew it was open until 4:00 today, but closed during the week – so I had to visit it today. I made it there with plenty of time for a change.

The all too familiar sign, some good – mostly good memories.

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As a castle, it was not overly interesting, though it has been well preserved as it was used by the military up to the end of the second world war. The castle was started in 1388 to defend the small town of Dartmouth just up stream from the mouth of the River Dart. The tower was an addition in the fifteenth century and was the first coastal castle built to take big cannons, covering the width of the river. When the tower was built to house cannon a similar tower was built in Kingswear on the other side of the river – and I hope to visit that soon as well…

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It was a rather damp exploration of the castle, drizzling for virtually the whole time I was there. Looking back towards the town.

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And across the river to Kingswear Castle.

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I was surprised to find this wee robin sitting on a sign just outside, I shot this photo on my wide angle lens. I was that close to it.

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I was quite keen to get back into town to find a pub to watch the Liverpool v Arsenal football match at 4:00, being a keen Arsenal supporter I was desperately hoping to not see a repeat of the 5-1 thrashing we received at Anfield last season… I took a few photos on the way back into Dartmouth.

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Hopefully more on Dartmouth later in my visit as the old town, where I am staying is quite quaint and worth a good explore.

The small town of Kingswear is on the opposing bank of the River Dart and I will visit there either tomorrow or Tuesday.

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Oh yeah, the football was a two all draw, not what I wanted, but better than last time!

Donnington Castle.

Saturday 05 July 2014, Donnington Castle, Newbury.

All of a sudden July has become a very busy month, with me not being home for more than a couple of days. With a full on fourteen day trip to New Zealand starting on Monday it was nice to have a bit of a relaxing weekend away before I went.

With school exams now over El decided to take her sons away for a weekend to celebrate the end of another school year, so she booked us to go to a golf based hotel near Newbury in West Berkshire. Neither El or I are golfers but one of the boys is keen so as it was their holiday this was where we went. We all had a good time, though I must admit I did eat way too much – good food!

Once the holiday was booked I had a look around for things interests to check out in the area and found Donnington Castle was within walking distance. A castle –  YES !!

Like so many castles, Donnington has had a complex history and a broad range of owners and residents. In 1386 the lord of the manor of Donnington, Sir Richard Abberbury was granted permission by King Richard II to build the castle, and the tower that remains is from that period. In 1398 the castle was sold to Thomas Chaucer, the son of the famous poet, who gifted it to his daughter. It was later taken from the family by the Tudors after the family fell out of favour. It was returned years later and swapped owners from then until its destruction after the English Civil War as the owner at the time, Sir John Boys was on the losing side. The gate house and tower that are standing now are as it was left in 1646 – over 350 years ago, that is so cool. The castle has been under the governance of English Heritage since 1946 and what remains is in great condition.

It was only a ten minute walk from the hotel, so even though there were some clouds looming on the horizon we decided to take a risk and head out there soon after we arrived.

As with most castles it was built on the top of a hill, albeit a rather small one. I am always bubbling with anticipation when I approach a new castle or other ancient ruin. In this case I was really hoping that we would be able to go inside and walk up to the top of the tower, but alas it was gated off and access was not allowed. There were some great wild flowers on the road up the hill.



The towers were in excellent condition and it was interesting walking around them, I am constantly amazed at how these castles were constructed so long ago, from such a diverse range of stone and other material. It was obvious from the boarded up windows and the mast on the top that the roof was accessible, I guess it was just not considered overly safe.








The clouds started to come over as we were rounding the castle so we decided to beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel before the rain set in for the afternoon. P1030860


The following day this balloon drifted over the hotel, it was great timing as I had been looking for an excuse to take a photo of the fields over the road from our room, and it just was enough to make the shot more interesting.


It was a good weekend away, nice to spend some time out of the house before I left for New Zealand the following day.

Hadleigh Castle

Monday 02 June 2014 – Hadleigh Castle, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.

Way back at the beginning of April I took a walk along the Thames Estuary from Leigh-on-Sea to Southend, and just before we entered Leigh-on-Sea on the train I noticed a small ruined castle on a hill and decided that I should make a visit there soon. Once home I discovered the castle was Hadleigh Castle and when a quite day and a dry spell arrived at the same time I took a trip out there.

Hadleigh Castle is on a small farm gifted to English Heritage by the Salvation Army in 1948 and is in turn surrounded by the Hadleigh Country Park, which is owned by the Essex Council and was the venue for the mountain bike event at the 2012 London Olympics.

The building of the castle started sometime in the early 13th century when the land was gifted to Hubert de Burgh by King John I for favours rendered. A few years later the de Burgh family fell out of favour with King Henry III and they were stripped of the castle and land and it became a royal palace for a while before falling into disrepair in the middle of the century.

There was a revival of its fortunes under Edward II and III in the 14th century but after that there was little interest in the castle by the royal family and it was finally sold to Lord Richard Rich in 1551 and it was dismantled so the stone could be sold.

The castle is built on a low clay hill over marshes and farmland over-looking on the banks of the Thames Estuary and has been subject to much subsidence over the years. I saw a piece of the castle lying in a ditch as I was walking across from the coastal path.

After a few nice days, with me getting all excited that summer was on the way and I could get out and about again, we then settled into almost two weeks of off and on rainy weather. When the forecast suggested a few hours of sun and high cloud before a late afternoon of rain I thought sod it, grabbed a ticket and jumped on a train from Fenchurch St to Benfleet. I decided to walk from Benfleet up to Hadleigh Castle and on to Leigh-on-Sea where I would have a coffee before heading back to London. In theory I would miss the rain.

The train journey took about forty minutes and then it was another ten minutes of “thinking I know where I am going” walking until I reached the gate of Hadleigh Country Park.

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The path took me along the bank between the estuary and the flat lands of the park,

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And away in the distance the gentle hill of the Olympic mountain bike course, which I think is open for the public to ride. As a side note I have now bought another bike, a year after my last one was stolen, it is a mountain bike and once I get my fitness up I will see if I can ride here, once I have a couple of test rides under my belt. I am soooooooooooooooooooo not ready to do any decent bike rides right now.

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I crossed the railway lines that I would travel on later in the day when I return to London on the train.

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A glimpse of the only remaining tower of the castle in the distance.

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The path up to castle from this side is surprisingly steep!

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There is not a huge amount left of the castle, some of the outer wall is passed through on approach.

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I was surprised with the number of visitors there, at least a dozen other people were visiting or relaxing in the grounds – I fully expected to be the only person there. The view to the south and over the Thames is quite impressive – as were the clouds moving in from the west…

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The remains of the kitchen.

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The last remains of one of the towers built under Edward III.

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This tower, also from Edward III is the most preserved piece of the castle.

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With the rain pending, I took a last look around and then started down the much gentler path towards Leigh-on-Sea, turning back for a couple of last shots.

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I was walking fairly fast down the path back towards town, and once there decided to flag the extra walk from the station to the cafe area about a kilometre away. I jumped on the next train and headed home.

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It was a good few hours out, I explored another old castle and got to see a bit more of the area close to London – an area that most Londoners will never see themselves!

Of course it never did rain at all 🙂

Castles, beaches, views and almost a sunset.

Monday 03 March 2014 – Swanage.

After a fairly solid sleep I was up pretty early again, but the view out the window had me back in bed for a while with a cup of coffee and yesterday’s paper. It was raining and there was no way I was heading out early with absolutely no hope of a sunrise. I waited till the dot of 8:00 am and was down in the restaurant for breakfast, this time I asked for a break between my fruit and my eggs on toast. I think I introduced a whole new level of stress to the staff with that request…

I had another big day planned, with a shorter coastal walk as well as a visit to a couple of castles. I love castles, and have done since I was a child when I visited some with my family. If you have followed my blog for a while you will have probably worked out I am a fan of all things old. Coming from New Zealand where anything over a hundred years old is considered historic it is great to be visiting places that are ten times older and more.

My first stop was nearby Corfe Castle, I had driven past it a couple of times and had been really looking forward to visiting it, it was one of the many reasons I chose Swanage as a base.

I parked on the far side of Corfe Castle village and walked through the town, the village is dominated by the castle on the hill. The whole village is built of the same locally mined sandstone as the castle, they love their rock around here!

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The sun was shining when I entered the castle and thankfully the wind had dropped significantly from yesterday, so I was in for a nice walk around.

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Corfe Castle was developed over a five hundred year period, starting from the early twelfth century. Sadly it was destroyed by an act of parliament during the English civil war in 1646 as one of the final outposts of royalist resistance. What I saw today was pretty much as it was at that time it was blown up.

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I love how the walls are sagging over the steep side of the hill, I guess one day they will just roll down to the stream below.

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I really enjoyed walking around and exploring the place, but as I started walking up to the top keep the clouds were gathering on the horizon, so I picked up the pace a bit.

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And the rain started to fall just as I made the exit gate, a shame for the people arriving as I left, sometimes it pays to be up early!

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I stopped for a coffee in one of the small coffee shops and the rain stopped soon after I finished my coffee, and I got to carry on with my day. The clouds over the castle looked amazing from the car park though.

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My next stop was Lulworth Cove, not too much of a drive away. The roads here pass through a large military camp which has a live firing range for tanks and cannons and all sorts of things. I sneakily stopped on the side of the road just before the range as I saw some (I think) wild ponies in the light flooding among the trees, I should have grabbed a better lens, but figured outside a military base was not a place to be stopping with a camera…

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I parked at Lulworth Cove at walked up the hill and over to Durdle Door. As I started out the weather was lovely compared to yesterday – I was in a t-shirt and unzipped hoodie and worked up a bit of a sweat walking up the coast path , though a shower moved over once I was over the top and the rain jacket was soon on again.

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Man O’ War Bay.

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Luckily it didn’t last and by the time I was down at Durdle Door the sun was shining again. The seas were looking pretty good here, nice even, though large swells – and no, I was not tempted to swim…

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Durdle Door is a large hole in the limestone rock and is a major tourist and photographic attraction. Surprisingly it is part of a private estate owned by the Weld family, who also own Lulworth Castle – plus about fifty square kms of Dorset. At least visiting the site is free, though of course parking isn’t!

The steps down to the beach have been destroyed in a recent land slip, as there were a few people down on the beach I made my way down as well. The way down was incredibly slippery and very muddy and I was lucky to have my trail shoes on as I didn’t fall over – looking at the state of some other people’s trousers, I was a fortunate one. I am really glad I ventured down though.

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Once back up the bank I walked down the steps on the other side and visited Man O’ War Bay.

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On the way back up to the hill top walk to Lulworth Cove, I spotted the lovely Durdle Door Holiday park, a bit of a blight on the English countryside !

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Lulworth Cove is lovely though, as are the numerous cottages in the village. When I visited here two years ago it was absolutely rammed with people, so it was quite pleasant to visit when it was empty – though not much was open for coffee and lunch.

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After a very average sandwich, but a spectacular ice cream cone I jumped back in the car and drove over to Lulworth Castle.

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The castle was built as a hunting lodge in 1610 and was purchased by the Weld family in 1642 (it is still in the family !) It was the residence of the family up until it was sadly destroyed by fire in 1929. The exterior has been fully renovated, but the interior is just a large shell, but interesting nonetheless. The whole time I was at he castle I could here gunfire in the background, I guess it must be what a fire-fight over the next hill sounds like. Something I have no desire to hear.

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Next door is the Chapel of St Mary, built in 1786 once the persecution of Catholics ended in Britain. It is a lovely building and I would have liked to have seen in-side, but it was all closed up.

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It was getting to be late in the afternoon and the sky was still looking good so I decided to go o Kimmeridge Bay and see if I could catch the sunset I missed on Saturday. I stopped just outside the town of Wareham and took some photos of the flooding there.

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I made it to Kimmeridge reasonably early and took a walk around the beach as the tide was out, it was a good time to play with the camera as the sun slowly set. I took a load of photos.

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The storms have created a massive pile of sea weed on the shore.

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As the sun was slowly setting I watched the big thick clouds move their way slowly across the sky towards me, and with a sinking feeling I knew that there was going to be no sunset again !! I guess, to be fair, the sun was still going to set, just not in a spectacular display.

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I made my way around to the point anyway and met another photographer there who pointed me to “the” spot for sunset photos, he had been there a million times before so was out today photographing the surfers. Surfing in that cold water – madness!

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I lurked there for a while and then moved down to the waters edge for a bit, but then the threatened rain started to arrive so started making my way back towards the car.

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I got back to the good spot and the rain stopped so I lurked there for a bit and took a bunch of photos of the clouds that were going to block the sunset, and left again as another shower hit. The clouds were damn good though !

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Once I made it back up to the car the rain stopped again, so I hung around and watched a very light sunset struggle through the gloom, though the sky did get very colourful and a little liquid at times.

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Once dark settled in I packed up and went back to the hotel for dinner and a glass of wine before collapsing into bed nice and early with my book.

It had been a long but very enjoyable day. Great to see so many lovely places and with much relief I really enjoyed taking photos again.