A Week in the Cotswolds

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As a Brit, I am well aware of the need to prepare for all eventualities weather-wise when going on holiday in my own country; hence I packed both my umbrella and rain jacket when my family and I went for a week’s stay in the Cotswolds.  It was the beginning of July, the first week of Wimbledon; it was bound to rain at some point, wasn’t it?  Actually, no, it wasn’t.  In actual fact, it was really quite warm, with temperatures getting up to 29 degrees most afternoons.  It was the kind of weather that many go abroad for and here it was in my own country, and did I moan?  You bet!  Just like a true British person, I moaned it was too hot; typical eh?  Luckily, I had also packed a hat and plenty of sun protection, so still went prepared for anything, and as we were doing a fair amount of walking and I was wearing trousers and walking shoes most of the time, that didn’t help with the heat factor.  Yet the clear blue skies were immense and the views were beautiful, and with no rain our days were spent outdoors without any interruption, so I was grateful for the weather, in the end.

We stayed in Cirencester, which is a convenient base for any visit to the Cotswolds; it’s a pretty little town, but with plenty of places to eat in the evenings, such as the usual chains of Pizza Express and Cote Brasserie, both of which were good but to give a shout to a local independent, I highly recommend Malt and Anchor – quite simply the best fish and chips I’ve ever had!

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Blenheim Palace was first on our list of must-sees and we arrived just as the gates opened, which was a good thing as it became quite busy, although we were there during the week in term time, so it wasn’t as busy as it can be.  We chose not to do the palace itself, primarily due to the difference in price; it was about £10 less to just walk round the grounds and gardens, and as we enjoy that, we went for the cheaper option.  However, I’m not quite sure how anyone does all of it in a day anyway, as we didn’t leave until late in the afternoon and we had looked round most of the grounds, although not all.  I think if you really wanted to get the full experience you would need two days.  A word of advice, take some food with you unless you’re happy to pay out quite a lot throughout the day to keep you going as you look round.  Like many of these places, they have you trapped, and although the food was fine and there was a reasonable range on offer, it was pricey.

IMG_0999The highlight for us was the butterfly house, which was wonderful, and I suggest you visit there first before the crowds.  It’s near the pleasure gardens; you can take a little steam train to it but there’s really no need as it’s only about 10 minutes from the main house, and the train charges both ways.

Day three of our holiday was one of the hottest ones; 29 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, which was lovely for our photographs (if not for us) as we wandered through the trees at Westonbirt Arboretum.  This (to use a well-worn phrase) is an absolute must if you are ever in the area.  Unsurprisingly, arriving early is the best option, hence our being pretty much alone for the first hour or so as we strolled the first of two guided walks.

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Upon arrival you can pick up a map which details the routes and also where the restaurant is, which is reasonably priced and serves tasty cakes and lunches; good-sized portions too!  You’ll certainly be fuelled and ready for more walking.  If you’re OK with heights then you must walk along the raised walkway, which gradually ascends into the canopy, providing fabulous views across the grounds and the opportunity to observe craftspeople at work in the wood shop below.

On our fourth day we once again arrived early at another highlight of the trip; Broadway Tower, the highest point in the Cotswolds.  The drive up to it is a little tricky; rather narrow roads in places so beware, but once there, you can park and have a cup of tea and cake before walking to the tower.  Early is definitely important with this attraction as you won’t be able to truly appreciate the view with dozens of other tourists in your way.  It only costs £5, and there are exhibitions on each floor as you walk up to the top, concerning the tower’s history and place within the landscape.  With luck, you will have a clear day and far reaching views across several counties.

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We were fairly lucky (as you can see from the photo) but I think on an even clearer day, we would have seen more.  As I mentioned, getting there for when it opens is key to having the opportunity to photograph and admire the scenery around you.  We were there around half an hour, and as we were leaving many more visitors were arriving, including a coach full of people!

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The afternoon was spent sheltering from the sun in the past inside the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, which is in Bourton-on-the-Water.  The village itself is an essential stop on the tourist route through the area but we went principally for the museum and were not disappointed; it was wonderful!  There’s a reason you enter the museum through a door which looks like the Tardis, as it has so much in such a small space.  Not just classic cars but motorbikes, caravans, cameras (I was ecstatic at that point), boxes, tins, old signs, toys and other memorabilia; so much in fact we had trouble deciding what to photograph and I’m sure if we go back, there will be things we missed that first time.  Each room is themed around the cars and artefacts from a particular period and as you walk through the music changes accordingly.  It was lovely and put big smiles on our faces.  The village itself was very busy as we arrived later in the day, so we couldn’t really appreciate it and at lunchtime it was quite a task to find somewhere that wasn’t already full.  Fortunately we walked away from the river and found a good restaurant called L’anatra Italian Kitchen, which is part of a hotel; the service was friendly and the food was tasty.  It was a good find as it was off the main route through the village, and therefore was a little quieter.

We visited Gloucester and Cheltenham, both briefly, as I’m afraid neither appealed to us, so we didn’t stay long.  Cirencester is much nicer and as I said before, a good base with plenty of local amenities.  Despite the heat, it was an enjoyable break, and we hope to return to Westonbirt later in the year to see the trees in all their autumnal splendour, and to visit the Motoring Museum again.

For more information on the places I have mentioned, click on the links below:

http://www.blenheimpalace.com/

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

https://broadwaytower.co.uk/

http://www.cotswoldmotoringmuseum.co.uk/

All photographs ©VCUZZELL2017

 

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A Return to Mottisfont

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IMG_0965IMG_0924  In a previous post; Endings and Beginnings, I wrote of a rather chilly visit to Mottisfont last December.  It was lovely, even in the depths of winter, and my family were eager to return in the summer, and yesterday, we did just that.

We arrived just before the gardens were due to open as it gets very busy.  Walking boots on, we had a chat with the friendly staff at the entrance before heading straight for the Coach House Cafe for tea and a scone, which set us up nicely for a few enjoyable hours of exploration.

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The flowers had taken a bit of a battering the night before in a thunderstorm but the colours were still strong and the smell of lavender added to overall calm sensation of the gardens.  It was hard to know what not to photograph there was so much to see!  My mum impressed me with her plant knowledge and my brother took inspiration for his patch of garden back home.  I don’t have a garden so it was lovely to wander among the foliage and listen to the birds flitting back and forth overhead; so healing and inspiring.

After the walled garden, we made our way into the house itself, which my brother and I had only seen part of at Christmas.  You could easily spend a good hour or more exploring each of the rooms, which have so much detail; I loved the old wireless radios and cameras.  Returning to the garden we made our way along the river bank and marvelled at the salmon jumping upstream.  It was so peaceful; just the sound of water and the trees, with the occasional splash from the fish.  The route back to the house cuts across some fields which were knee high with grasses either side of the path, and ended up at the circle of trees which I had photographed back in December on a sunny winter’s day.  Unfortunately, although much warmer yesterday, it wasn’t sunny, so I couldn’t re-create the shot.  However, I tried to do so with as many as possible.

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It was lovey to see the gardens in their summer greenery and we’re planning to go back in October in order to see the trees in all their autumnal glory.

If you’d like to visit Mottisfont, here’s a link for more information:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

I visited at my own expense.  All photographs are ©VCUzzell2017

 

 

 

Have blog, will travel: re-assessing my goals

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This is the first post for Blogging 101, a free Word Press blogging course. The first assignment is to introduce, or in my case, re-introduce myself to the blogging world.

If someone asked me to describe myself, I would say ‘late-starter’. I have often felt that I haven’t quite got going yet, and as we move into another year and I start another blogging challenge, I’m more aware of that than ever.  However, when looking back over the last two years since I’ve been blogging, I realise I have achieved quite a lot, so maybe I’ve finally started ‘living’.

While yoga was part of my initial inspiration for my writing, and continues to be a fundamental part of my life, my focus has now shifted more towards travel and places I’ve visited (both near and far), along with local walks. I have become more interested in writing about the natural world, and my challenge when doing so is to try and describe what I have seen and experienced in such a way that my readers are able to feel they were there with me.  Yet, as regards my late start in life, I have also begun to travel further more frequently than before, overcoming considerable anxiety about the unknown in order to do so.  I still get anxious when I go somewhere new, but I’ve learnt not fight it, and tell myself it’s normal and it will pass, which it does.  So, when re-assessing my aims for my writing, travel is certainly at the top of the list, and I’m already planning day trips and holidays for this year to provide inspiration.

Following that, it is nature writing and photography, which has been my passion since I was a teenager that I wish to share on my blog. After university I lost my creative impulses and didn’t take photographs for about a decade.  That all changed in my early thirties, when the call of the camera encouraged me to start again, and now as I’ve entered middle-age (crikey!) I hear that even more, and my other goal with this blog is to be more creative more often.  I took it for granted when I was younger that I could just mess about with my camera all day; whereas now with work commitments, it’s not so easy to find the time and head space to be inspired.

In effect, my goals for my blog are quite simple; to see and do more in life. The more I see and do, the more I can photograph and write about.  Speaking, or indeed writing, as someone who feels she has done very little so far, that is really important.  I’m much more concerned with collecting experiences now than possessions, although that hasn’t stopped me buying books!

 

Travel to perfection

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Taking my kind of 'selfie' at Hurst Castle.

Taking my kind of ‘selfie’ at Hurst Castle.

Packing for my holiday next week; I mustn’t forget my camera, sunscreen, a good book and a professional photographer. Um … what?! Yes, crazy as it sounds, people are now buying a holiday package which includes a photographer who will take perfect social media friendly snaps of you in exotic places, just being all casual and having perfectly composed fun.

I’m greatly puzzled by this development. Have people become so self-obsessed that they now feel the need to have a photographer follow them around on holiday and take suitable shots of them ‘experiencing life’? What happened to the slightly rubbish pictures your mum and dad used to take, in which you’d bound to be missing the top of your head? Why does everything have to be so polished and photo-shopped to death nowadays? Also, I like to take photos of what I see and what interests me. I might get my travelling companion to take a couple of cheesy shots of me standing with a silly grin on my face somewhere well-know, but apart from that, I don’t want lots of pictures of myself, I want images of what I saw and experienced in that place.

It seems that some individuals are losing the ability to just enjoy life without having to record every single thing they do. Has existence now come to mean how present you are online, as opposed to how present you are in your life?

There’s obviously nothing intrinsically wrong with sharing your holiday snaps on Facebook etc. but to go to the lengths of hiring someone to manufacture your image to such an extent online, seems to be an f-stop too far.

What do you think? Would you like someone to make your holiday into a photoshoot? Let me know.

Here’s a link to the article which inspired this post:

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/aug/27/instagram-professional-holiday-photographer-hire-trend

Exploring Manchester, and beyond

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Tatton Park Gardens  Media City

As a teacher of international students, I’m often embarrassed to realise they’ve seen more of my own country than I have.  So, I’ve decided to make more of an effort to see as much as I can, and not just explore abroad.  With that in mind, I went to Manchester with my brother for a couple of days this week.

Manchester is easily accessible by train from London; the Virgin trains are comfortable, and the tilting around corners is cool!  Our hotel was only a ten minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly station, and we emerged into a busy Monday afternoon, with shoppers buzzing past us as we made our way to our temporary home.  Having checked in, we went out to explore the city centre, which I have to admit didn’t look too great on a cloudy afternoon, and the crowds were considerable.  However, if you love shopping, you’ll be quite happy working your way through all the high street shops along the main high street, the large shopping centre, and the quieter, cobbled streets nearby with the more exclusive boutiques.

There’s a lot of regeneration going on in the centre at the moment, with half-demolished or built buildings and cranes everywhere you look, creating new apartments, hotels and eateries which will really add to Manchester’s appeal.  So, give it a year or so and I think it will be much better to walk around.  There are little quiet pockets, with fountains and water cascading down alongside seating areas, which offer a respite from the noise of the central shopping district.

On our second day, we ventured out into the surrounding countryside to Tatton Park, Visit England’s Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2014, and a 1,000-acre parkland, with a neo-classical Mansion, 50 acres of gardens and a farm.  It’s easy to get there via Manchester Piccadilly on the Northern Line and takes just under 40 minutes to Knutsford, which is the closest station to Tatton; from there it’s roughly a ten minute walk through the small village to the edge of the park.  Now, if you love waking, as I do, then it’s no problem, but it took myself and my brother about 40 minutes to walk to the Mansion.  You can drive through the Park, and many were, but I suggest a good pair of shoes, something to nibble on, a camera and enjoy the view as you walk past magnificent trees, sailing lakes and deer relaxing in the sun.  By the time you get there, you’ll be ready for one of the scones or cakes for sale in the café.  Later, after you’ve explored the beautiful gardens and Mansion, you can have lunch there, or take your own and sit and admire the view back across the park.  You’ll need to rest and refuel before the walk back!  Trust me, it’s worth it though, and we didn’t even walk the whole of the parkland, we didn’t have time.

Our third day was ‘museum day’ for us and the sun was shining, making the city all the more pleasing to look at.  There’s some interesting architecture there, if you look up above the shop fronts.  We started the day with a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, a fascinating exploration of trains, planes and automobiles, computers, the cotton industry (obviously significant in Manchester’s history), various forms of energy, from electricity to nuclear power, and all within five listed historic buildings.  There were quite a few school parties there during our visit, and there’s certainly plenty to get children engaged.  However, as big kids, my brother and I were happily amused too.  I really recommend a visit here.

After lunch we took a tram out to Media City to visit the Imperial War Museum of the North, the Lowry and Media City itself, as I’m a big fan of radio and one of my favourite programmes is broadcast from there, so I wanted to see what the presenters often talk about as they can look out onto a paved seating area in front of the studio.  Now, I have to admit, the Imperial War Museum wasn’t quite what we had expected, it’s mostly interactive exhibitions, with various videos being projected onto the high walls above you.  It’s primarily a large, open space which has been divided up into various sections, and is by no means uninteresting but didn’t quite grab my attention.  However, like the MOSI, children loved it, and were running around exploring all they could, and that was great to see.  The museum itself is free to enter, but for just over £1, you can take the lift up the tower, which provides far-reaching views, but be warned if you’re afraid of heights as you can see straight down between the steel beneath your feet!  The Media City area is quiet and peaceful, and as it was early afternoon, we joined workers having their lunch and walked along the canal, enjoying the warm weather.

We only spent two whole days in the city, and I was quite pleased to return to my quiet little home the next day.  I love visiting cities but only for a few days because the noise really gets to me after a while; I guess that’s because I grew up, and still live in, a small-ish seaside town.  On the whole though, I would recommend Manchester, especially if you’re a shopaholic, but also for the surrounding countryside and interesting museums it has to offer.

Now, where shall I go next?

Photographs and text ©vcuzzell2015

Links to relevant websites:

http://www.mosi.org.uk/

http://www.tattonpark.org.uk/home.aspx

http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-north

Writing 101: Day 16: Third Time’s the Charm

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(Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings.  Describe a day in which you came upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.)

You’d be surprised what people bring in here.  January of course is the busiest time.  We’re up to our eye-balls in unwanted presents and New Year clear-outs.  Round here you can pick up some good quality stuff; name brands and the like.  The local well-to-do ladies shed their clothes every season like skin.  Of course, you sometimes get the other type of donation, when someone’s passed on.  It’s hard for the relatives.  One young girl came in the other week.  I say young girl, she was to me, but I guess she was about 30; had a load of men’s clothes and shoes.  Lost her dad, she had.  Not fair on someone so young.  Still, working here, I’ve realised how loss is often tied up with gain, for someone, and many people will benefit from her donation.

At the moment, we’ve got a lot of video cassettes; can’t shift ‘em.  Mind you, I read the other day that some might be worth quite a bit; people looking for old films or something.  No-one listens to CDs either.  It’s all downloading and the like nowadays, so we’ve got piles of them, almost up to the ceiling.

Books?  Yes, loads.  Naturally, they’re a good seller for us.  We had a load of Penguin classics in the other day.  They’ll go well.  Oh, yes, and that 50 Shades book; we’ve had quite a few of those in too.  But we do get some interesting books, like a curious one I found a few weeks ago in a big box.  As good as new it was; a travel book, with lots of lovely photos in.  It must have been a present and they didn’t want it, which was a shame.  There was a message inside.

To a friend who has yet to see all the pictures of the world, but one day undoubtedly will.  Love Nick x

I thought, I wonder if they’d donated it because they’d gone off travelling.  It got me thinking too, and that’s when I made my decision.  Yes, it was the book that finally made me do it.  It was something we should have done together after retirement, but when I lost him I sort of went off the idea.  Didn’t fancy going alone, so I stopped work and started volunteering here three days a week, but I always thought about it and watched lots of those travel programmes on TV.  So, when I came across that book it felt like a message, something telling me ‘now or never,’ you know?  So, tomorrow is my last day.  I’ve sold the house and I leave from London on Friday.  My first stop is Paris.  We went there for our honeymoon, so it seemed right.  Then I’ll just keep going until the money, or my body runs out, whichever happens first!

(This was inspired by a Lonely Planet photography book I bought in a charity shop  six years ago, which had the message below in it.)  

©vcuzzell2015

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Hello anxiety my old friend

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I often joke that the frown lines on my forehead have been there since I was born.  I was ten-days late, so was clearly worried about venturing out into the big world from the start.  That sense of anxiety about the unknown has remained throughout my life, and it’s only in recent years, that I’ve begun to be more adventurous, and explore further afield than my own country.  Yet despite wanting desperately to see as much of the world as possible, I still get really anxious when going somewhere new.  At first I used to try and fight it, ignore it and often just get plain cross with myself, but obviously none of that helped.  In the end, it was something a friend said which enabled me to finally let go of my worries.  I mentioned my nervousness about travelling and she said, ‘oh everyone feels like that.  It’s normal.’  There I was, thinking there had to be something wrong with me for getting so stressed, and not realising this was how other people felt too.  Hooray!  Since then, if I ever feel anxiety lurking as I get ready to meet the unfamiliar, I just think, no problem, that’s ok.  I have realised that when I became upset with myself for being worried I was making it worse, and so now I just say it’s fine and know that it will pass.  As the attached short article below says, using the breath is a brilliant way to ease anxiety, and I recommend it, along with viparita karani; it’s one of my favourite poses and is a great all-rounder, so give it a try.  Most of all though, just give yourself a break!  It’s not always a bad thing to be anxious, especially when it comes to new situations and places.  It probably helps you to be better prepared and take a bit more care, which can’t be bad thing.  So make friends with anxiety, and learn to love your inner worrier.

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/11/3-yogic-ways-to-ease-anxiety/