From London to Lincolnshire: Part One – From City Commuting to Country Cycling

Hello friends. It’s been a while. I’m going to blame it on dodgy Internet connections which meant I struggled to find a private space to write for about a year. But I’m back and ready to fill you in!

I have recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire from London and as a teacher I have kind of a luxury in that I have the six week summer break to settle in to my new place, refamiliarise myself with the way of life “up here” and generally relax before the September madness begins.

One way I decided to get acquainted with my new adopted city of Lincoln and the surrounding area was to get out on my bike to explore. I found a cycle route called the Water Railway, so called because the tracks follow what used to be a railway between Lincoln and Boston, which seems to have been finally closed around 1980 (although don’t quote me on that… I’m no expert). If you do the whole thing from Lincoln to Boston, you will cycle 31 miles – not something I think I could achieve even if I wanted to. Luckily there are many stopping points along the way and I decided to choose Bardney as mine, which is 9 miles from Lincoln, making it an 18 mile round trip (and slightly more to get back to my house which, I might add, is right at the top of the hill near the Cathedral).

I started the main route from Waterside South and it was pretty straightforward… all you have to do is follow the path. It runs alongside the River Witham and is more or less flat, perfect after navigating some of the steep streets of Lincoln to get there. Along the Water Railway there are also many places to stop and rest, as well as historical signs, some of which I read, and some of which I just cycled past as I was keen to get to my destination. However it would be good to take more time over it if you were particularly interested; there was information about each place along the path (including Washingborough, Fiskerton Fen, the Five Mile Bridge, Bardney Lock) as well as information about the old stations and ferries that would travel along the river to Boston (taking six hours each way – according to one of the signs I took the time to read).

It was a great place to see wildlife and, along the way, I saw (in no particular order): a hedgehog, a heron, some swans, cows, possibly a kestrel, some martins, dragon flies… this might not seem that special but it was to me, after cycling to work in London and not seeing anything natural (except perhaps an urban fox if you’re lucky).

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There were also several artistic sculptures and pieces along the path which I suppose are there to add interest, as it could otherwise get quite dull; after all, you are more or less cycling miles along what seems to be a straight and relatively even path. One of my favourites was some metal cows, and when I passed it on the way back, there were real cows on the opposite bank.

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One of the most interesting parts of my venture along the Water Railway was my stop in Bardney, particularly at Bardney Tearooms. I admit, I really didn’t know much about Bardney before I cycled there, but I knew I would find a cafe there to stop at. What I didn’t know was that Bardney Tearooms appears to be housed in the old station building and there are what seems to be the original station signage on the front and the old gate which would have been opened out at the level crossing. Inside, the tearooms were very quaint and had a kind of 1940s feel (possibly there was some wartime memorabilia but I might be making that up).

 

 

After stopping there for a cheeky ice cream I decided to head back to Lincoln. I found it somewhat easier on the way back as I had more of an idea of the distances involved, but I was also cycling into the wind which made it harder. Finally, when I came off the Water Railway at Waterside South, I had the ascent to the Cathedral Quarter and admittedly, there was one street where I got off and pushed (but according to the map, the gradient was more than 1 in 7, if you know what that means)!

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After being used to cycling in London alongside the traffic, it was really nice to get out into the open and cycle for a long stretch. In London I would always cycle with a high-vis jacket and helmet and I’m not going to stop doing that as I think they keep me safe, however at points I did feel a bit silly wearing it all, because you could probably get away with not doing that on the country paths. The advantage of London is that it has properly marked cycle paths and I was worried initially that it wouldn’t be as safe in Lincoln, however to my pleasant surprise, some of the busier roads had off-road cycle paths and crossings that you can cycle over when the light goes green. At Bardney Tearooms I also picked up a detailed map of Lincoln which has a key for each road according to its safety for cyclists.

So hopefully before I return to school in September, I will get another chance to try out a cycle path in Lincoln. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I look forward to writing many more now that I have Internet 🙂

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Edinburgh Hogmanay

Yes, it’s a little late now and most people have moved beyond new year’s excitement and into the more dreary mood of January (or at least that’s the general feeling I’m getting around me at the moment)… but I really wanted to share my experience of celebrating New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh as it was my first Hogmanay.

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Watching the midnight fireworks through the trees on Princes Street

It was my second trip to Edinburgh after visiting in October 2014 (you can read it about it here if you like) and I was surprised to find just how familiar the city felt to me. I also expected Edinburgh to feel slightly intense in the lead up to this huge event, as I’m sure London would, where around a major event I would expect at least an air of anticipation and at most a mad frenzy. However I was pleasantly surprised that the whole time I was there, Edinburgh felt relaxed, chilled and had a really positive vibe. It was as if throwing New Year’s party attended by thousands was a walk in the park.

On New Year’s Eve there were several different events on in the city centre, including the Old Town Ceilidh and Concert in the Gardens (featuring Paolo Nutini). I did wish I had been able to get tickets to the live concert as it would have been cool to hear some live music on the night, but although I booked well in advance (in October) it was sold out even then. The moral is, if you are interested in attending, book tickets really early.

I had tickets to the Street Party which meant that from 9pm to 1am I joined the crowds on Princes Street, sang, drank and danced along to pop music; we even managed to get our photo up on the big screen. Every hour leading up to midnight, there was a small firework display up at the castle, giving a taster of the display to come when the clock struck twelve. I had such a great time street-partying that I didn’t even really notice the time ticking away and the countdown seemed to go by in minutes, not hours. Before we knew it, we were watching the beautiful New Year fireworks at midnight, and one hour later, having danced some more, we were singing Auld Lang Syne before the Street Party finally finished.

It was one of the most chilled, happy, positive New Year’s Eves I have ever celebrated and I would definitely recommend it if you are thinking about doing it. Just make sure you get bookings in early so you don’t miss out.

From London to Australia…

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Today is a big day. Later I will be catching my first ever long-distance flight and will be away for nearly a month. It’s going to be the biggest trip I’ve ever done. I’ve got a huge backpack and my passport. Everything seems ready.

I’m comforted and happy that I am looking forward to this trip and have been more organised with the planning of it than trips I did last year. One of the first blog posts I wrote on here (about 4 years ago now!) was called ‘Travel’ – simply about how I enjoy travelling; at the time I thought travel would always be something that made me feel excited, happy, adventurous.

However in the last year, I lost interest in travel and didn’t feel excited about trips anymore. I felt scared deep down, but on the surface it was like I felt nothing. I didn’t plan trips with anticipation like I had before. I can see now that maybe that is because I had lost interest in everything I had enjoyed. When I realised I’d lost interest in travelling, I felt I had lost a part of myself and I didn’t know if I would get it back again.

But after several months of positive changes (and lots of them, in all different parts of my life, including food, drink, house move, new hair cut, just generally taking more care of myself), it is like the Me That Travels is back!

And here I am, ready to go, I even prepared this map of my trip (it’s quite technical and I think you can zoom in to see things closer). I’ll keep in touch as best that I can, maybe not on here but perhaps on Facebook and Instagram! See you on the other side of the world 😉

Ynys Mon: Old and New Memories

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Last week, on May Bank holiday weekend, I went on a somewhat risky holiday to North Wales.

  • Risk 1: the weather – everybody knows that Britain does not have the best weather… and especially in North Wales it can be very wet and windy. I was just praying it would be dry!
  • Risk 2: nostalgia – should you ever go back to a place you once held happy memories? The risk is that the changes you find from past to present are upsetting, or stirring up old memories could be emotional in a way that you are not prepared for.

This was not a typical British holiday. My sister, parents and I were going to be staying on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon in Welsh – and sorry for those who know there should be a circumflex on the o but I can’t get my computer to do it!), which we left about 21 years ago, when my sister and I were 7.

Old memories

I have a lot of happy memories from my time there, and nearly all of them involve being in the outdoors, on the cliffs, at the seaside, in the woods and in all weathers, too. Splashing at the windy, cloudy beach, in wellies shaped like frogs; searching the woods for the Three Bears’ house (thanks Mum & Dad!); being pelted in the face by hailstones at school pick up time; a school trip on a life boat; walking past long reeds and grass, thinking of the adders that could be lurking there; picking honeysuckle from the roadside as a gift to a teacher (a little bit of a teacher’s pet, clearly!)

I left a piece of my childhood heart in Wales and I really wanted to go back, most specifically to the South Stack, where there is a lighthouse and where we used to go and look for puffins with Dad. This is a place I always remembered fondly.

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South Stack

New memories

Going back 21 years later, it was time to look back but also to create new memories in the present, being older and wiser and more able to appreciate the stunning scenery around us. We won the gamble we had taken on the British weather as it was sunny and warm throughout our stay, with hardly any wind on our trip to South Stack and Holyhead mountain. It felt like a miracle to see the sea with no white breakers and to be walking around Anglesey in short sleeves… and having to put sunscreen on my fair British skin. I was no longer the child hiding her face in her coat to stop the painful white ice-stones pummelling into me. (As you might have guessed from that old memory, that was the day I learnt what “hailstones” were).

Another new memory I will take with me about Wales is a sense that it holds some kind of spiritual, magical feeling. There were times when we were walking through woods with the sunlight slightly breaking through the leaves, the flowers and undergrowth dappled with light, a peace around us, everything so still but also as if it was somehow waiting to come alive. I’m not sure I am really describing this feeling very well, but when you think about Welsh myth and legend, with the red dragon emblem, it does feel appropriate that this sense of magic seems to live and breathe in the Welsh landscape and countryside.

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a sense of spirit and magic

 

Scenery

I have mainly written this post so that I can let the photographs I took really speak for themselves about the beautiful landscape and scenery of our trip. The sunny weather was the perfect backdrop to show it off, but also, if it had been gloomy, it might have brought out a different “moody” feel to the landscape. Whatever risk there is with the weather, this nostalgic trip has awakened a deep love in me for this part of Wales, this “home” I left, and still carry with me in my heart.

South Stack and Holyhead Mountain

 

Woodland Walks

 

Coast and Beach

 

Snowdon National Park – Llyn Idwal

Abandoned Berlin: A Visit to the Spreepark

A week ago today I found myself doing something I never even imagined I would  do: digging a hole under a fence with a stick… entering somewhere “forbidden”- and that was the old abandoned theme park, ‘Spreepark’ in Berlin.

To find out more about this park’s history you can visit the Abandoned Berlin website here. To summarise briefly, Spreepark was once a major attraction in former East Germany, but after German reunification in 1989 its demise began. There were many problems when new owners took it over, visitor numbers dwindled, and it finally closed in 2001, leaving behind remnants of fun fair rides and attractions.

The remains were weird and wonderful, featuring dinosaur heads, swan boats, mammoths, boarded up houses, train tracks, a Viking boat, to name just a few – and of course there is the iconic Ferris wheel which looms eerily over the empty park.

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Before this trip to Berlin I had never actually heard of the park… but a friend of a friend recommended it to us before we left. Not knowing the extent of security involved in protecting the park, we thought it would be worth a visit as an abandoned fun fair sounded creepy and worth investigating. But when we looked it up online to find out exactly where it was, we discovered the Abandoned Berlin website, and were somewhat shocked to find that there was apparently a high-level security fence, guards and dogs onsite.

On the other hand, the author of Abandoned Berlin made it sound like a lot of people manage to get in, and don’t take this level of protection very seriously. There is even a story about a 90-year-old woman who got in for a ride on the Ferris wheel – but then had to be rescued when the wind carried her up but not back down again. If a 90-year-old woman can get in for a bit of fun, then, well, surely anyone can!

So last Monday my friend and I went to check it out and I have to admit I wasn’t really taking the threat of the fence, guards and dogs very seriously. I mean, it was a Monday afternoon, and I figured there was bound to be more security on a Saturday night (if people try to get in for some drunken hilarity).

But when we saw the fence and the signs reading “Betreten verboten!” we began to feel more nervous… even scared. And even though the Abandoned Berlin website had made it sound easy to get inside under the fence, many gaps under the fence (where other risk-takers had clearly entered before) had been securely concreted up. Not to mention that the fence ran along a main path which was in constant use by runners, and people taking leisurely strolls by the riverside on a Monday afternoon… it seemed as if it would be impossible to a) find a point of entry and b) get in without anyone noticing.

Our plan wasn’t to do anything dangerous – just to get into the park, see the crazy stuff inside, and take a few photos… but it seemed unlikely that it would actually happen. It also seemed a bit over the top to have all this security for something so derelict and forgotten… but there was an incident when other “visitors” set the park on fire, so I guess those people have just spoilt it for those people like the 90-year-old woman who just wanted a last ride on the Ferris wheel.

After walking quite a long way down the path, and some unsuccessful attempts to climb the fence (the gaps were too small for our feet), we decided that crawling under was going to be our best option and kept an eye out for an un-concreted gap underneath.

We had just passed the Ferris wheel on the other side, and the main gate which was securely locked, when a little further up the path, we saw our opportunity. There was a small gap which looked like it could be made bigger so that we could slide underneath. The gap, although it could still be seen by passers-by, was still fairly concealed by trees, allowing us to work on it without being noticed too much.

I surprised myself and my friend by my determination and zealous attempts to make the hole bigger by digging ferociously with a large stick. I was finding it all rather funny and suspected that the talk of guards and dogs was (at least today) nothing to worry about. The only fear I had was that a passer-by would see us and report our antics.

My friend and I made a good team and looked out for people passing by. One old man passed and clearly knew what we were getting up to, but seemed to give us nothing more than a knowing look and slight smile. This seems to be the prevailing attitude to people entering Spreepark.

We were very nearly done with enlarging the hole when a young woman approached us. I wondered what she was going to say… and then she asked us, “Do you know how to get in?” We told her of our plan – she seemed surprised but also keen to follow suit. She told us she had come to Berlin only to get into the abandoned places. She left to fetch her friends who had been scoping out the other side of the park.

Shortly after she left, we decided to try our hole out for size. I went first… putting my legs under first, pressing into the ground, and doing a kind of ground-limbo to get my rather curvacious upper body under the fence. A quick wriggle and I was through!

Haha! I had broken into a theme park! My friend threw her rucksack over, I caught it, and then she was also sliding under the fence. We were both in! We took a photo to celebrate the occasion and then we hurried off through the undergrowth in search of the crazy and creepy remains.

We followed a path, past a pile of rubbish and abandoned huts, which led us to the central attraction area. There was a building made to look like a station, with a train track inside it. There were lots of stinging nettles too which made the photo opportunities slightly painful.

Further on there were some boarded up houses – perhaps formerly fun-houses with play areas, or perhaps a house of mirrors. Now it was all empty and forgotten.

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We came across some swan boats, parked at the side of the central area, next to just one car which looked like a face, wearing a hat and Harry-Potter-style glasses.

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There was a Viking boat, which looked more like a shipwreck, and a lot of tree trunks which looked like they once could have been a seating area.

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Most creepy was the Ferris wheel, which was still turning steadily, making a quiet, metallic creak as it went. “Eeeeeee….. eeeeee” – it was the only background noise we could hear.

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There was absolutely no sign of guards or dogs.

We didn’t stay long – just long enough to have a run around, take a few pictures, and then get out of there!

We headed back to the fence. I had a delirious panic that our gap had already been concreted up… but no, there it was…

A quick limbo under and we were safely back on the other side – with the photos, a few bruises and nettle stings to prove it.

The girl we had met before was there at the gap, now accompanied by her friends. They watched us re-enter the legal side of the fence. We left them discussing their entry, and a few minutes later we saw them running along inside the park. They, too, had been successful.

On a trip to Berlin, this is not the conventional attraction, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are the adventure-seeking type who can cope with a bit of adrenalin and the thought that a guard with a dog might have to escort you out if you happen to get caught.

To be honest, I can’t quite believe I did it, but sometimes the rules are there to be broken 🙂

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Venice: A Feast For The Eyes

Last week I spent two days in Venice, and I was truly taken away by its beauty. I have actually visited Venice before, but the first time around I must have been walking around with my eyes closed, as it hadn’t made much of an impression on me at all. My first visit was several years ago, and I hadn’t thought of going back again (I really must not have been all that impressed…) but as it happens, I went back to attend a wedding in nearby Vicenza, stopping for two days in Venice first. I’m really glad I got the chance to go back, as this time, I had my eyes wide open ready to take in the stunning scenery waiting around every corner and across every bridge!

Venice is a city like no other and I found it incredibly romantic. The romantic cliche of Venice is a ride on a gondola – but actually this doesn’t interest me at all – I find it a bit “cheesy”! The romance I saw was in the architecture in the streets, the canals, bridges, piazzas, fronts of houses with flowers spilling out of window-boxes… everywhere I went there was something simply beautiful to look at.

I’ve included a photo gallery to share some of the beauty with you… enjoy!

Jo

Simple Pleasures: Bruges

Ever since I returned from a lovely short break to Bruges, Belgium, I have been trying to find a spare hour or two to sit down and share my experience, but got totally caught up in meeting friends, planning, teaching, writing reports, partying… I have just been generally very busy, which is great, but I have also been longing for the little bit of quiet me-time that this blog gives me. So here I am, taking the opportunity of a coach trip back to London from Oxford to sit and indulge in this little bit of peaceful self-expression.

Returning home and immediately getting swept up in what seems like a whirlwind of activity only seems to highlight to me just how much my trip to Bruges was a much-needed escape to a tranquil, very attractive little town where it was possible to enjoy the simplest of pleasures. I have decided to compile a list of these things to share with you today…

Simple Pleasure 1: Spending some quality time with Mum

It was the first time that my mum and I had actually gone away together and I had been really looking forward to it. Bruges was a great location for us as we both enjoyed meandering the narrow, cobbled streets and taking in the beautiful scenery of the canals, bridges and distinctive buildings on the water’s edge. We also enjoyed a bit of shopping, sampling chocolates and biscuits in the numerous confectionery shops, as well as going to the more modern clothes shops, and other unique boutiques. And the best part of going shopping with Mum is that she always makes sure to treat me to a few gifts along the way 🙂

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Simple Pleasure 2: Chocolate

Belgium is famous for its chocolate, and in Bruges, there are chocolate shops in what seems like every street, every couple of paces, and, as you walk by, you are not only tempted by the sight of piles of perfect little sweet-treats in different shapes and sizes, but also by the delicious smell wafting out of the stores as you pass by. It is impossible to resist…

Simple Pleasure 3: Drinking beer in the sun

There is something really relaxing about sitting outside by the water, soaking up the sun, enjoying the warmth on your skin and drinking a cool, refreshing, light beer. I enjoyed it when I lived in Spain, and in my summer visit to Amsterdam, and it seems as if whenever I am “on the continent” and it’s warm and sunny, it would be a shame not to. Mum didn’t partake in this… but I enjoyed myself!

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Simple Pleasure 4: Sunbathing in the park

During our visit, the weather was quite changeable and not particularly warm until the afternoons when it was perfect weather for sunbathing in the park. After spending a lot of time on our feet exploring Bruges, lying down in the sun was so relaxing that we both fell asleep (turning our pale British skin a little bit pink… typical tourists!)

Simple Pleasure 5: Fresh Fruit from the Market

Although we were quite touristy on our visit to Bruges (in that we did the whole boat-trip-on-the-canals thing, bought lots of chocolate, and got sunburnt), one of the things we did that the locals do is visit the market place on Wednesday morning, which was filled with different food stalls and flower stalls. I bought a traditional Belgian bun (delicious) and we also bought some fresh cherries, which we took to the park with us and picnicked on them before we fell asleep.

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So that’s the last of my list; it might not seem like the most adventurous holiday, but if you just want a peaceful retreat, where you are guaranteed picturesque scenery, delicious confectionery and tasty, refreshing beer, then Bruges will be your ideal destination. I hope you enjoyed reading and that you enjoy looking at the photos… now I have to get back to being busy again!

Jo