25 Facts About My Travels And Me!

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Favourites, Firsts, Scary Moments and more!

In the first yeat of writing my Travel Blog I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with my readers especially when I read responses to questions I pose such as what destination is top of your Travel wish list; your favourite holiday spot or travel tip; most memorable experience? etc. I’m regularly asked about my about my own travel experiences too so I thought I’d be nice to share some of my Travel Facts with you. Here they are:

No. of Countries visited – 51 (I don’t think I’ve missed any)

No. of Cruises taken – 28

It’s certainly a fantastic way to see the world and get a taste of destinations you may like to explore further.

Favourite Travel Destination Abroad – The Greek Islands.

I’ve visited 9 plus the mainland and it’s hard to choose a favourite although for beauty it has to be Santorini!

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Favourite UK Destination – The Lake District.

One of my favourite walks is around Derwentwater (shown).

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Favourite City – Sydney.

Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship was fabulous and the city itself is great to explore and relax in equal measure. I just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK.

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First Holiday Abroad – Magaluf, Majorca…well, it was the 1980’s!

Age first travelled abroad – 20

Favourite Travel Tip – Have a printable ‘Holiday’ checklist to tick off items as you pack

Mostly travel as – A couple

Although we’ve had some fantastic family holidays to celebrate ‘Big’ Birthdays! including mine!

I Took My Honeymoon in – London for 4 nights (running a business meant no time to go abroad)

It’s Hard To Believe But – I didn’t visit the Lake District until  I was 30! especially being from Northumberland! and we loved it so much we returned the following weekend and visit regularly now. I didn’t visit Wales until my 40’s either.

Favourite Holiday Cocktail – A great Mojito

My Holiday Rituals are – Wherever possible the first alcoholic drink I have on holiday is a Pina Colada. It’s not my favourite cocktail but it’s a proper taste of the Tropical and symbolises the start of fun times ahead!

We always holiday in December and never leave home without an advent calendar!

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Favourite Airport – UK Newcastle; Overseas Singapore

Favourite Holiday Outfit – A shift dress and wedge sandals

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Cruise evening wear…

I’d love to – Fly first class return to New Zealand

Worst ever flight delay – 23 hours!! From Newcastle to Cyprus

I missed a flight to – London…for my honeymoon!

I thought our 10.40am flight was 11.40am. The lovely folks at BA understood and put us on the next flight in 2 hours. I was so tired following the 2 day celebrations that I wasn’t too bothered and sitting down for a coffee we both agreed it was the first time we’d had to ourselves to catch our breath and reflect on the lovely wedding we’d had.

Favourite Holiday Reading – I love a great crime thriller so anything by Peter James. If you have any reading recommendations I’d love tho hear them.

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Most Memorable Holiday Moment – Being proposed to on the deck of a cruise ship under the Caribbean stars!

I love that my Husband had the forsight to carry out such a romantic proposal and you can read more about that magical moment and our Disney Cruise.

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Scariest Holiday Moment – getting stuck in a strong current while swimming in Cyprus.

It was such a horrible experience and proved that effortless swimming out can turn perilous in the most calm and blissful setting.

A close second was on a visit to a farm in Honduras where I was scratched and bitten by a playful Oscelot who decided to use my leg as a sctatch post! One year on I still have the scars. Word to self – never enter a cage with a wild animals! (just to be clear I wasn’t mauled but I got a canny shock!).

I’ll Never – drink Tequila again!

Enjoying great company on board a cruise in the Caribbean I had what I now refer to as ‘My Tequila Moment’! I’ll spare you the gory details but it was messy…I’m sure you get my drift! it became the first AND last time I’ve ever drank the stuff!

I Dream of – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.

Upcoming 2017 Travels – South American Cruise; Sandals Resort stay in Jamaica; Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard.

This image is from our visit to the beautiful town of Stavanger in Norway.

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Destinations I’d love to visit soon – Abroad: Hawaii, New Orleans and Austria; UK: Peak District, Kent and more of Scotland following my visit to Dumfries and Galloway. You can read about my visit here.

So there you have it, just a few random Travel Facts. Do you share any of my experiences or favourites, have a book recommendation or maybe a ritual or tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

A Jewel in Yorkshires Crown

Driving to Yorkshire in the glorious sunshine, I was glad we’d chose this weekend for our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, a luxury Scarborough Hotel. We left home early on the Saturday morning to enjoy some delights of North Yorkshire and Scarborough before heading to the hotel later in the afternoon.

Exploring the North Yorkshire and Scarborough area

My husband Ron and I love Yorkshire and have visited many highlights of the area including Scarborough, a fantastic seaside resort with an amazing array of attractions and only 2 miles from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel. We had decided in advance to visit somewhere new and being lovers of a countryside walk, chose Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve, a short drive from the hotel. Heading along the A171 toward Scarborough and knowing we were nearing Robin Hoods Bay, we realised we couldn’t continue without paying another visit to this beautiful seaside town. It’s picturesque twisting streets, which tumble down toward the family friendly beach, were once the scene of cloak and dagger smuggling operations.

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These days it’s the perfect place for a day out with breath taking views towards the sea at every turn. There’s an informative visitor centre along with a good array of independent shops, pubs and places serving fish and chips and ice cream.

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After standing to soak up the glorious views, we took an unexplored path down toward the bay where the tide was out. We passed people sitting on benches sketching the coastal scene, while others were enjoying beach and perhaps looking for fossils, as Robin Hoods Bay is home to the Dinosaur Coast.

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We visited an interesting shop selling fossils and marvelled at the displays of real and replica dinosaur bones. It’s hard to believe these creatures once roamed our planet.

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After we’d finished exploring, we continued our journey to Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve where we planned to enjoy the scenic trail along the river Derwent. It’s only a short drive from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, which we passed on the way. We initially parked in the wrong spot which meant we had an unexpected but pleasant uphill walk and back through a different part of the woodland.

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When we arrived at the correct location and joined the trail via a bridge over the river, we were so pleased we’d decided to visit. The linear route of 2.7km (there and back) is a wooden boardwalk which skirts the river as it winds its way through spectacular woodland. It’s an enjoyable, easy going walk with many seats along the way and passing points which are also used as viewing platforms. The sun shining through the trees cast a beautiful dappled light on the clear water creating a peaceful atmosphere.

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The woodland has an abundance of plants large and small and is a haven for wildlife including the elusive deer. The area also forms a link to the ancient wildwoods of the past when much of England was hidden beneath broadleaf woodland. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any wildlife on this occasion but that didn’t take away from our enjoyment. During our walk we chatted about the many interesting places we have visited in Yorkshire which include the coastal delights of Scarborough, Whitby, Staithes, Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace and Goathland with its gushing waterfall ‘Mallyan Spout’. All these and more are easily accessible from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, making it an ideal base for exploring. There really is something for everyone. Leaving the woodland feeling happy and looking forward to the next part of our adventure, we made the short journey to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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On arrival we were certainly impressed by the look of the hotel where a lovely pathway led us through the gorgeous front garden toward the hotel entrance. At this point I instantly felt that we were in for a real treat staying here.

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Entering the reception, I noticed it was well stocked with leaflets and literature regarding local attractions. We were quickly checked in by friendly staff who confirmed our dining preference before escorting us to our suite and explaining the hotel facilities along the way.

Our accommodation, the Skipton Suite, was located on the ground floor with sweeping views across the hayfields from the separate lounge area.

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The spacious suite was neutrally decorated with quality oak furnishings providing a classic country feel. We felt immediately at home in the comfortable lounge which featured a flat screen TV and music system. Complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water were a welcome touch.

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Centre stage in the bedroom was a gorgeous king size sleigh bed which was longer than some we’ve slept in making it comfortable for Ron who’s tall. The storage was impressively plentiful too, making this ideal for a longer stay.

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The luxurious feel continued into the fantastic bathroom. I was delighted to see one of my favourite features, a twin vanity area along with a lovely deep bath, walk in rainfall shower and a plentiful supply of quality toiletries from Gilchrist and Soames.

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Tempting as it was to just relax in our suite, we were eager to explore the beautiful hotel grounds which feature well maintained gardens and courtyards.

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It is evident the gardens are designed to be fully enjoyed by guests. There are numerous well placed seating areas to enjoy a relaxing drink, the company of friends or to read the Sunday papers as we did.

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Pathways featuring rose covered pagodas lead you around the gardens toward interesting sculptures and views of the surrounding countryside.

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As we’d checked in early afternoon we decided to relax in the bar/lounge area which was comfortably furnished and featured a welcoming inglenook fireplace. It’s a great place for a social gathering or relaxing conversation.  The Bistro can be found just off the bar area too. We found the drinks to be reasonably priced and  chatted with staff who were very friendly including Jay, the operations manager, who explained the hotel has just had plans approved for a luxury Spa at the Hotel. I’m sure this will be a popular facility once completed.

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After spending the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of our suite we headed to the Courtyard Restaurant, our choice for our evening meal.

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We were shown to the lounge area by Jay where we made our choices from the menu. While the description of the dishes was unusual, we were offered an explanation of any dishes when presented with the menu.  The restaurant, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, wonderful feature tree and courtyard views, felt like a special place to dine.

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On being shown to our table, I noticed the tables were well spaced out allowing for great conversation. This restaurant, which is recommended in the Michelin Guide, is known for its innovative menus and the quality of its food and is regarded by many as the best restaurant on the Yorkshire coast. The restaurant holds 2 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and head chef David has worked in top Michelin star restaurants.

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David has an ethos of creating simple dishes that showcase the flavours from ingredients which are mainly locally sourced. We certainly agreed that all our courses were wonderfully flavoursome and of a size that allowed us to enjoy all three courses along with Amuse Bouche and great bread with homemade butter.IMG_8175 (3).JPG

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I enjoyed: Yorkshire Carrots with Hay, Goats Curd and Olive; 100 Day Salt Aged Beef with Onion, Miso and Seaweed; Opal White Chocolate with Vanilla and Green Tea

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Ron enjoyed: Pig Head with Preserved Vegetable, Apple and Coriander; North Sea Pollock with Leek & Potato, Yeast and Hens Egg; The Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream

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The Courtyard Restaurant has a lovely atmosphere which added to our wonderful dining experience and I can understand why it is so popular. Feeling relaxed and happy we headed back to our beautiful suite.

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Following a great night’s sleep, helped I’m sure by the quality bedding, we arose to the peace and tranquility of our countryside setting. We headed off for an early breakfast to allow time to enjoy the gardens. This was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and offered a simple but inviting continental buffet to compliment the hot breakfast menu. Ron chose the full Yorkshire breakfast while I opted for an omelette which we enjoyed immensely along with the quality fresh coffee…perfect!

We collected our pre-ordered newspaper from the reception and headed into the garden to enjoy a relaxing read. We’d got our eye on the perfect spot the day before and fortunately for us no one had beat us to it!

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Looking out over the peaceful gardens, we could easily have spent the whole morning enjoying the tranquility of our gorgeous setting however, we had an hour and a half drive to get back home to attend a surprise birthday party that afternoon, so feeling both disappointed to leave mixed with looking forward to the party, we said our goodbyes to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a relaxing break, to explore the surrounding area or host a celebration. Ron and I even mused that it would be amazing to hire the full hotel for a special celebration for family and friends.

Have you visited Ox Pasture Hall Hotel or enjoyed special days out in North Yorkshire? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June xx

Our stay and meals at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel were complimentary in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dumfries and Galloway

Putting the ‘Bonnie’ into Scotland!

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I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.

So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.

The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.

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I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.

We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating  it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.

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We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.

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The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went.  The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.

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The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.

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I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.

Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.

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We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.

Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.

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At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.

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We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.

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We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.

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What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.

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Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing  green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!

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The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!

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The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.

The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!

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Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me.  I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).

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We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.

To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.

We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.

If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks again for reading, bye for now. June xx

 

 

My Holiday Keepsakes

…and the ‘Beach Hut’ full of travel treasures!

I regularly bring a reminder of my travels back home, be that an entry ticket to a fantastic experience, a handmade craft or beautiful pebble/shell from a favourite beach. Whatever the item, it’s always a happy reminder of a certain moment or place in time. I often buy items that can be displayed in my home and love the feeling you get..you know the one..when you’re transported straight back in time, with a fond smile spreading across your face! this could happen when you walk into a room and your eye is drawn to one of your fabulous finds, when you pick pick up an item to dust or put on a piece of handcrafted jewellery.

Apart from the reminders of happy holiday moments and travelling tales, I love the individuality that keepsake pieces bring to your home. They add personality on our spaces in a way that some chain store items can’t (that’s not to say they don’t sell lovely things) and there are some beautiful treasures to be found on your travels at home and abroad.

One of my all time favorite keepsakes is this cuddly toy from a visit to Loch Ness about 15 years ago, not long after I’d got married. It still makes me smile and now my Granddaughters love it too!

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As far as interiors go, the ‘Nessies’ live in my Granddaughters room. Throughout the rest of the house you will find homewares from a variety of countries including some favorites shown here from visits to Vietnam: Lacquerware (Vietnam is famed for its lacquerware or ‘son mai’), wooden animal puzzles and a silk lamp; and from Tortola in the Caribbean: a Cat ‘trinket box’ puzzle.

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Some decorative items I bring back are smaller and usually displayed in the ‘Beach Hut’. No, I don’t actually own a beach hut, but there is a special little room in my house which has affectionately been given that moniker. I’ll let you guess which room it is. It’s safe to say it puts a smile on all our visitors faces.

The items on display come from places including Hong Kong, Mexico, Greece, Barbados, Curacao, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Vietnam, and more…even Northumberland!

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My keepsakes find their way into the garden too.

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Of course, many keepsakes don’t go on display. It’s those little items which hold great memories, like a key card to beautiful hotel room, ticket to an event, a guide book, restaurant business card or a well worn map. Some people love to make a scrap book, for me it’s my ‘holiday box’ which holds a whole host of treasures from which I won’t be parted. I love to rummage through this box from time to time in a way that you used to look through holiday photographs, you know, the printed ones! This particular photo is for presentation purposes only, everything has now been piled..I mean placed…back inside!

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Jewellery is another treasure I often bring back from my travels and I have pieces that I wear often and always with a smile. Most are inexpensive, brighten up my outfits plus jewellery is a perfect way to mark a special occasion on holiday such as a birthday or anniversary. Here are two of my favourites which were bought just because I loved them: Bracelet from the village of Plaka in Crete; Hematite necklace from Samana in the Dominican Republic.

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Sometimes I bring back treasures that I can eat or drink (they never last long enough to be called keepsakes!) such as preserves, good wine from a vineyard or sweet treats such as Greek Baklava and Kataifi. Pictured here are treasures from vineyard visits: the bottle from a delicious wine from Italy and a (full) bottle of Cotto, a grape syrup from Kefalonia .

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I’m also a big fan of all things Disney and have some special keepsakes including these two: A fabulous Cinderella’s Carriage musical snow globe, a wedding present bought at Disney World for my husband Ron and me; and one of our world hopper passes from our visit during Disney World’s 25 year celebrations.

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Other favourites include this handwritten scroll, a gift from an artist during an excursion in Vietnam; a wooden strawberry I bought for Ron on the Caribbean island of Dominica which, when opened had the message I Love You on a sticker in the lid (which has since been lost) and was a bargain at only  $1 USD; a playing card which was used during a magic trick I helped with in Spain.

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I’ve so many fabulous finds that are special to me and evoke memories of romance, fun, excitement, fear (tower of terror anyone!!), fabulous sights, smell, taste and more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in some of my memories and I know you’ll have lots of your own. I love your comments so it’d be great to hear about some of your favorite holiday keepsakes.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June xx

 

Northumberland National Park

It’s truly a National Treasure

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It was no surprise to hear that Northumberland National Park (NNP) was voted National Park of the Year at the COUNTRYFILE magazine awards 2015/16. The area is well known for the famous Hadrians Wall and Fort remains however, there is so much more to see and do in this beautiful part of North East England which covers an area of 1,049 km or 405 square miles. I regularly enjoy days out and short breaks here with my husband Ron.

I’ve always loved Northumberland. I was born and raised in one of its many mining towns only leaving to join Ron in Sunderland, which was actually a part of the old Kingdom of Northumbria many centuries ago.

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So, you can imagine my delight to be invited along, as a guest of NNP Authority, to experience  some highlights of what the park has to offer. I was part of a small group from Travel Massive (Newcastle) and our host for the day was Duncan Wise, Visitor Development and Marketing Manager for NNP. His friendly manner, enthusiasm and knowledge helped make our day a big hit.

After setting off from Newcastle with my fellow travellers, including Ron, we headed to the first stop on our itinerary, Rothbury, on a road I’m very familiar with. This time however, neither of us were driving so we could enjoy the fantastic scenery even more. One point to add is that the main road into Rothbury, the B6344 road at Crag End, has now been reopened after being closed for major repairs.

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Rothbury, on the edge of the NNP, is one of most popular and picturesque towns in Northumberland, It’s also close to many major attractions and the coast. On arrival we headed to Tomlinson’s Café and Bunkhouse, a fantastic base from which to enjoy the surrounding area with many public footpaths and cycle tracks starting only metres from the property. It is also perfectly placed for cyclists wishing to enjoy all or part of The Sandstone Way, England’s first long distance mountain bike trail. It’s approx. 120 miles/192 km long and runs along the Sandstone Ridge in North Northumberland. Starting and finishing at two of Northumberland’s most historic towns, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham, the route will take you through a landscape full of beautiful scenery, breathtaking views, historical sights and charming villages.

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The café is large and airy with a welcoming atmosphere and the modern rustic décor suits the building perfectly. We were welcomed with hot drinks in the comfortable lounge area where Duncan gave us an overview of the NNP. We were joined by owner Jackie who told us of the buildings origins, it was formerly a school house, and explained the wonderful facilities on offer. A tour of the Bunkhouse showed it is ideal for families, groups and solo travelers, offering comfortable rooms with en-suite facilities. 21 people can be accommodated over the three light and airy rooms of 6,7 or 8 beds. There’s also a Double en-suite room.  The communal lounge has amazing views toward the River Coquet along with a large TV, Sky and WIFI which is free for guests, plus a small kitchenette. The rates are purse friendly too at £20 per bed or £25 with mini breakfast, tea or coffee. It’s easy to see why it was awarded a Trip Advisor certificate of excellence in 2015.

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They also have a range of bikes for hire catering for all abilities and will soon be introducing electric bikes for hire. I took the opportunity to try one of these bikes and liked the idea of the little surge of power just when you need it. I enjoyed it so much I’m considering buying one.

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Leaving Rothbury, we headed to the Simonside Hills and Lordenshaws. I’ve not visited this area before and its beauty was evident immediately even in the inclement weather. Climbing one of the footpaths gave fantastic views toward the Cheviot Hills, Sandstone Ridge and the coast. The landscape is home to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, Bronze Age burial grounds and prehistoric ‘cup and ring’ rock carvings made by our ancestors although it is still not truly known what the carvings mean. There are posts pointing to areas of interest, with QR codes to scan with your smartphone for more information.

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From Lordenshaws we headed toward Greenhaugh for lunch. We drove through the Grasslees Valley and Otterburn Ranges which are used for military training and are home to the second largest live firing range in the country. The ranges can be explored and have some of the most spectacular views in the NNP, although visitors should be aware that parts are closed when the red flags are flying.

We had a brief informative stop in Elsdon, the largest village within NNP with a population of around 240 people! NNP is the least populated of The Parks of England and Wales, having a population of about 2000, that’s just two people per square mile. Elsdon features lovely stone houses in a picturesque setting surrounding the village green and is home to a popular tea room which serves the legendary homemade Gibbet cake. Popular with cyclist and walkers alike, it’s a starting point for many countryside walks.

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We also stopped briefly to view the remains of a Tosson Tower, a Peel Tower built around 600 years ago as a home for the Ogle family and a defence against invasion by the Scots.

We arrived in Greenhaugh, which is one of those places that makes you want to move to the countryside. It’s only small but as one local told me, It the equivalent of their ‘city’ in a parish with a population of around 160 people. This area is home to some beautiful Hay Meadows which have an abundance of wild flowers and would be ideal to explore on foot. Our venue for lunch was The Holly Bush Inn which promised a lot with its Kerb appeal and it certainly delivered once inside. Passing a welcoming open fire in the bar, we were seated in one of the two dining areas. Both are decorated stylishly in differing themes. We were introduced to owner Mary and her son Frankie who run the Inn together. As well the bar and dining facilities the Inn offers 7 beautifully decorated en-suite rooms and a Stargazers Apartment.

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IMG_7324IMG_7310For lunch, Ron and I opted for the Lamb Stew using local produce. I love stew and this did not disappoint, it was accompanied by crusty white bread and was comfort food at its best, both delicious and warming. Ron and I then headed into the rear gardens as the sun had put in an appearance at last! The gardens feature a large fire pit and have fantastic views across the countryside and expansive sky, perfect to enjoy some Stargazing. At approx. 580sq miles, the skies over Greenhaugh are the darkest in England and were awarded Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Skies Association. A quick chat with the chef who was enjoying a break, revealed how passionate he is about creating great home cooked food.

IMG_7332IMG_7334Returning inside Mary offered us desert and needing no persuading, we opted for Eton Mess (me) and Rhubarb Crumble (Ron), both were scrumptious and served at the large trestle table which is placed to encourage people to mix. It works, as we enjoyed a chat with a couple who were staying in the area.

In a nutshell, this Inn serves up great food, facilities and friendly service and I’m happy to say, at the time of writing I’ve already been back! (but that’s a story for another day).

Our itinerary took us next to Hesleyside to experience a new event known as Mestival

Hesleyside is the ancestral home of the Charlton family. Their beautiful country house is set in woodland and has grounds designed by Capability Brown. This made for a stunning, if not unusual setting, for a 10k fun run of mud, mud and more mud with various obstacles thrown in to add to the challenge.running-81715_1920.jpg

 

It really did look like Muddy Good Fun (as the promotors put it) and if I’d been younger and without neck issues, I’d have loved to give it a go. But as a spectator, it was great to see the huge smiles on the muddy faces of the participants, especially the kids, who were bombarded with water bombs by family members.

We didn’t have much time to enjoy the live bands and stalls but the atmosphere was great despite the weather. Sheltering from rain, we observed people taking part in games and even Ukulele lessons. We even bumped a friend who was there to take part.

Last stop on our tour was The Battlesteads Hotel and Observatory. I was looking forward to this for two reasons. Firstly, I’d already had the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks in their sunny garden so was looking forward to returning; secondly, I’ve always wanted to visit an Observatory.IMG_7359

There was no sunshine this time but at least the rain had stopped. The garden had been enhanced even more since my last visit and was very impressive! It still had the raised herb beds I remembered and these are just a small nod to the wider sustainable tourism ethos of the hotel. Beyond this, further gardens of homegrown produce blended into the countryside views and the Hotels own carbon neutral heating system, the first to be installed in the county, is discreetly tucked away.

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We were joined by Astronomer Roy Alexander who delivers the various Stargazing courses available. He explained that the Hotel and Observatory are located in the Dark Sky Discovery site of Wark Village. This combination offers the beauty of the dark skies with the comfort of modern day facilities. These include an inviting bar with restaurant, 22 individually decorated en-suite bedrooms and 5 newly constructed eco lodges.

Moving on to the observatory we were seated in the warm room, where you could help yourself to tea and coffee. From the very beginning, Roy held our attention with his enthusiasm for his subject as he spoke passionately about his background in science to the present day, before talking about the delights of the dark skies.

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Many people have a dream to see The Aurora Borealis or ‘Northern light’s’ and he explained they have been visible clearly on many occasions before providing information about apps which can help identify the best place and time to view them.

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As well as Pointing out easy ways to identify popular constellations using binoculars Roy then explained how to adjust them correctly before sending us outside to have a go. I also held a piece of meteorite and touched a piece of Mars. This thrilled me no end and Roy helped me photograph the Mars fragment using my smartphone and a microscope!

IMG_7355.JPGThe conclusion of our visit was an introduction to the centerpiece of the Observatory – the impressive Telescope, which can be set up for multiple visitors to use at the same time. Unfortunately, the rain meant the roof could not be opened so we were unable to take a look into the late afternoon sky.

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On asking Roy what he liked to observe the most, he replied The Moon without hesitation. He loves the way the sun, at various times of the day, casts shadows over the mood highlighting the landscape to great effect. I can honestly say I could have sat there for hours listening to his pearls of astronomical wisdom and myself and Ron would love to return.

The whole set up at Battlesteads lends itself to delivering a fantastic experience for both residents and non-residents alike. I cannot comment on the rooms and food, however the hotel is renowned for both and holds a Trip Advisor certificate of Excellence. Although we did not stay overnight, I can imagine it would be extra special.  We were so impressed that we’d love to return to stay in the Hotel to enjoy a real twist on Sleeping Under The Stars!

Plus, as Roy says, how many observatories can boast their own bar? who could resist?

 

Our tour was now at an end and we returned to Newcastle having had a fantastic day, learning new facts about the regions history along with forming new friendships. I feel that there’s so much of this area just waiting to be discovered an on writing this myself and Ron have already paid a return visit..

If you’d like to plan a visit there’s lots of on information on the user friendly NNP website including information on their Events.

Hope you enjoyed reading about NNP and if you have any favourite places in the park I’d love to hear about them.

Bye for now, June x

*Our tour of the NNP was organized by Kate, who leads our group of travel enthusiasts Travel Massive Newcastle, in conjunction with NNP Authority and Round Table Solutions. **Group photo courtesy of Kate.

 

 

 

Holiday ‘Night To Day’ Wear

Yes, you did hear right!

Now, I like to get the most out of my wardrobe on holiday for two main reasons: to minimise how much I pack (pesky weight restrictions) and how much I have to wash on my return and with that in mind I’m an big fan of Night to Day wear…yes that’s the right way around for me…it’s one of my travel saviours.

I’ve yet to master the effortless day to night trick that I read about in the glossies. I’d be more likely to be sporting the flat haired, sandy toed look! However I’m quite good at the reverse trick as I mainly wear things on a night which (unless I’ve boogied hard and got them all sweaty!) I can wear another day when out and about. Some of you may already apply this method, but for those who don’t its very practical.

That doesn’t mean to say you’ll find me on the beach in a ball gown following a cruise formal night!

Here’s some examples:

I’m a big fan of the shift dress as the shape is flattering and I find they are less likely to cling in the daytime heat. Also choose fabrics which are less likely to crease and you’re good to go. Opt for dresses which will work equally well with luxe accessories for the evening and more casual options for daytime. Of course this applies to all clothes.

Shown here, I had travelled in the red trousers which were perfectly clean and ideal for the following days sightseeing.

My husband takes the same approach as you can see.

What about sunscreen I here you say. I’ve personally had no problems with sunscreen on my daytime clothes (I don’t use any tan enhancing types) however, it does pay to be aware that all sunscreens are different. If you have a particular favourite or expensive item of clothing and you’re worried about wearing it with sunscreen, then you’d have to perhaps exercise caution depending on your chosen sunscreen.

So, the overall benefit is that when you inevitably have go come home, you won’t have as many clothes to wash and because you’ve packed lighter in the first place, there’s more room for your holiday souvenirs!

Now, what if you could reduce your washing even further? and give yourself more time to catch up with family and friends/relax before returning to work.

Many of the Cruise Lines offer a fixed price deal for a laundry bag full of clothes (prices vary but are normally quite reasonable). It’s not as usual to find hotels offering this type of deal although many will offer laundry services for a cost.

Now this is actually quite a fun challenge and has seen us roll T-shirts to the size of cigars!! its amazing how much you can fit in a bag when you get creative. Our laundry bags usually resemble a ‘punch bag’ when we’re finished, but hey, if its in then they’ll wash it (ironing is not always included). This is great if you are leaving the cruise for a ‘Stay’ afterwards or just to bring clean clothes home and save on your washing.

I hope you’ve found this post useful. If you have a favourite Night to Day outfit, I’d love to hear about it.

Oh! and if you ever see a woman in her ballgown on the beach…it could be me and means I ran out of clean clothes!

Thanks for reading. Bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

R & R at Wynyard Hall (Roses and Relaxation to be exact)

I’ll be perfectly honest with you. Wynyard Hall is not a hotel that I’d been itching to try out. We’d visited about five years ago to attend the Living North Christmas Fayre and I just didn’t really take to it. It just felt a bit gloomy and there didn’t seem much to it apart from the lounge area and restaurant with small bar. But I had heard and read good things about the hotel and have been keen to visit the newly redeveloped Rose Garden, so we decided to give it a go after spotting a fantastic deal for an overnight stay with breakfast, 3 course dinner plus chilled bottle of Prosecco and chocolate dipped strawberries in your room on arrival. What’s not to love about that, so the deal was purchased and the room was booked (from www.itison.com) .

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We decided to treat this as a late Valentines break so opted to upgrade to a Lake View room – The Hambletonian – for a little extra. We felt it was definitely worth it when we walked into the room. The room was roomy, light and welcoming with extremely high ceilings and traditional furnishings topped off with a beautiful, but not overly ornate, chandelier.

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There was a lovely view from the tall window over the lake and surrounding countryside. The bed and bedding were extremely comfortable although the mattress was a bit ‘bouncy’ as I found out when I went to bed (If I rolled toward the edge I felt I’d spring out onto the floor!) The bathroom was a more modern affair with a rainfall shower over the bath, large mirror and divine toiletries from Temple Spa which, got a big thumbs up from Ron too. http://www.templespa.com/about-us

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As is usual with me and Ron, once we checked out the room we headed off to explore and it was a this point I realised that one of my suspicions five years ago was correct, there isn’t really much else to the main building of this hotel apart from the restaurant, bar and lounge as the spa, event marquee and ornamental gardens are all short distance from the main building. However, this time we noticed the beauty of the hotel interior in a way we couldn’t on our previous visit. I suspect this was due to no events being hosted and we’d arrived when Afternoon Tea was over. You can see and sense the history in the building and yes, it is still quite dark but that is in keeping with the original purpose of the hall and the interior design and furnishings are enhanced with subtle lighting, candles and stunning floral arrangements. Most notable is the sheer amount of decorative marble and stained glass throughout (one of which looked strangely like a Jukebox).

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In 1987 the estate was bought by Sir John Hall, a property developer and former owner of Newcastle United FC who embarked on a multimillion pound renovation programme to restore the hall and estate. A further investment saw his daughter Allison turn the hall into the county house hotel it is now. To read more about the history of Wynyard Hall here:

http://www.wynyardhall.co.uk/about-us/from-the-beginning/

A stroll around the grounds led us on to the terrace which would be a lovely place to sit and while away time with a drink in better weather. The hotel has its own chapel and the function room is right next to this, a peep inside the windows showed a room partially decorated in an elaborate style ahead of some celebration. It certainly is a gorgeous setting for any event.

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The peace and quiet of the hotel and our room made for a relaxing afternoon enjoying our chilled Prosecco and chocolate dipped strawberries along with a few of our own drinkies and choccie treats in the form of Vodka and coke, lager shandies, Payne’s chocolate brazils and Cadburys giant chocolate buttons…what? These classics beat the so called ‘luxury’ brand chocolate hands down for us!

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We were so relaxed in fact that we could have easily forgone the meal and stayed in the room in the cocoon of our fluffy robes, however, that would have been the lazy option, so at 7.30 we took our table in the Wellington restaurant. This grand room features marble and imposing paintings hinting at the decadence of earlier life in the hall. The room was lit beautifully, striking the right balance between intimate and practical i.e. enabling you to read the menu without resorting to using the table candle or torch on your smartphone (my usual method). Most of the tables were occupied which provided a pleasant atmosphere without being noisy.

The service was extremely friendly and attentive without being overbearing (you know, like when you reach to refill your wine glass and POW! someone appears out of nowhere snatching the bottle from your grasp to do it for you…personally that’s not my thing). We were offered the A la Carte and Brasserie menus to peruse and on enquiring which we could choose from with our deal, the header waiter advised he was happy for us to choose from either menu, which was a nice touch as some dinner inclusive deals usually have restrictions.

The meal itself was absolutely delicious and akin to Nouvelle Cuisine in presentation and portion size, which is just as well when you got a stash of chocolate lying in wait to whisper to you, like a siren…I’m over here, I’m delectable, eat me…eat me!! The experience was only let down slightly by the overall time spent in the restaurant – 2 hours 15 minutes – now I don’t like to be rushed between courses however, the timings here were too long.

The peace and quiet of the location is evident as you lie in the sumptuous cloud of the comfortable bedding and pillows and notice the silence. This meant we drifted off in no time and woke to that lovely feeling of having no rush to go anywhere and just prop up on the marshmallow cushions to read the paper or one of the many magazines supplied in the room.

Breakfast again was quite a slow affair compared to most hotels I’ve stayed in so it could be that they were understaffed on this occasion however, that didn’t detract from a lovely breakfast with enough hot and cold options to satisfy. On a warmer day it would be lovely to sit out on the lake facing terrace with a cuppa reading the papers.

On check out we decided to visit the recently opened Rose Garden followed by a walk as suggested by the concierge, who also advised that entry to the garden was free at the moment as the roses are not yet blooming. The Rose Garden, the realisation of a boyhood dream for Sir John Hall, was designed by award-winning landscape architect Alistair Baldwin and currently contains over 3000 roses of differing varieties.

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It is beautifully designed and exceeded our expectations even though the roses are not yet blooming and immediately we knew we’d like to return to see the roses in all their colourful, scented glory. The garden is set out in a series of terraced areas of contrasting design with waterfalls and fountains which mix traditional and modern features to great effect.

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There’s also a farm shop and café stocking a fantastic selection of products ranging from foodie items to gifts and decorative interior buys and the staff I chatted to were very friendly and polite.

 

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The café looks fantastic both inside and out with lovely views over the gardens and I’m sure it will prove to be a popular spot on a day out. Now, I would have loved to have tried something from the café but bearing in mind I‘d just had breakfast and it’s not long until my next holiday, I reluctantly abstained.

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There is also a Marquee which is accessed through the gardens via a pergola walkway which will make for a grand entrance to any event.

Find out more about the garden and the Sir John Halls boyhood dream here:http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/pictures-wynyard-hall-rose-garden-9717287

Our stay was rounded off with a shorter walk along one of the paths that skirt the river passing through woodland, which wasn’t too exciting but helped to blow away the cobwebs and stretch our legs for a while. We spotted a few rabbits and had been told you can occasionally spot other wildlife including some of the deer on the estate. There are longer walks available taking you more off the beaten track. As is the case with a one night break, we headed of home wondering where the time had gone. All in all we had the relaxing retreat we’d wanted and I can’t wait to come back to see and smell the roses.

Bye for now. June xx

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