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London to Istanbul by Train – Best Interrailing Routes

Do you enjoy a train trip? How about a month’s travel across Europe and beyond? Last summer we travelled from London to Istanbul by train and  back on an Interrail pass. An exhilarating, action packed adventure with our children across a dozen countries. If you have always yearned for the leisurely romance of  the Grand Tour or the luxury of the Orient Express, you won’t find it in this post. If your dream is a crazy, adrenaline fuelled dash across Europe on the other hand, read on. In this Interrail sponsored post, here’s our itinerary for the best of Interrail routes, and a taste of what we go up to in our European exploration…..

Our Interrail  route across Europe.

A whirlwind of Interrail routes

London to Istanbul by train. Even the words conjure up excitement and romance. At 18 I dreamed of Interrailing Europe, but the opportunity and budget never presented itself. Until, coincidentally, the year my eldest reached 18 and we took off as a family. An Interrail EU trip is easier for young adults today as children turning 18 this year once more get the opportunity to travel free. And as young environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg vows to cut her carbon footprint and travel by train on holiday, they might want to follow her example.

Our European Interrail journey was a whirlwind of tickets, timetables, and carriages. It was also a kaleidoscope of iconic cities, which we explored with the help of five folding bikes. And an Interrail Pass.

If you book everything up front, you can relax on the interrailing Europe routes. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A journey from home via London to Istabul by train

Logistics were complicated and schedules were tight, And standing on the platform at Arnside in the dark in the rain on the first morning, we wondered if we’d get to London or Brussels let alone Istanbul. The idea of 22 days of travel on 25 trains, 2 buses and 3 ferries, through 12 countries was daunting as an adult, so I can’t imagine how the kids were feeling. But it turned out to be an incredible experience and something of an education not just in folding bike, multi-modal tourism but in the geography and diversity of Europe, its people and its rail network.

This post is long and involved, but we hope it will provide some inspiration if you are planning your own cross European exploration. We hope it will be particularly useful to anyone planning to Interrail with children. Let’s start with Hannah giving you a quick outline of our interrail route..

Interrail Adventures - Across Europe from UK to Istanbul & Athens and back - YouTube

London to Brussels

We’ve been up since 5 a.m. We made it to London and have let more than an hour to check in for the 12.58 to Brussels but we haven’t envisaged how difficult it will be to haul five folding bikes up and down long dog legs of queue to present our interrail tickets to the desk. The security team then insist our bikes must be scanned. But the bikes are slightly too big for the grey plastic trays we must put all our belongings into.

“Excuse me these bikes don’t fit,” I say.

“Standing up please,” says a scanner assistant called Joy who does not look like working at the Eurostar terminal fills her with much of it.

“They will fall over.”

“Please stand them up.”

We have named our bikes so we can spot them as they all look the same. It takes two of us to haul ‘Beyonce’ into the grey tray. There’s no way she’s going through the scanner without a fight. Her bag covered backside and wheels are not even touching the tray.

“The bikes are too big for your machine.”

“Please put them in.”

“But they will fall over.”

“I will hold them up in the machine,” Joy insists. We are doubtful she will enter the machine or hold them up but we must do as she asks or quit the queue. And we have a train to catch.

Would you put this lot through your scanner? Image by The Family Adventure Project

Chaos at check in

The bikes fall over. In the scanner. The scanner stops. Joy disappears. Matthew tries to climb into the scanner to retrieve Beyonce. Bazile is pushing up behind her on the travelator. A bike bag has become trapped in the rails and is now threatening to rip, leaving Beyonce’s bottom exposed. Behind Matthew, Bazile is threatening to topple onto Barbara. Bertie and Blaze haven’t made it to a tray yet.

Missing this train presents us with problems. At Brussels we need to catch an overnight train to Cologne. We still have to clear passport control and we slide the bikes along more dog-legs holding our documents between our teeth.  We hear the last call for the 12.58 to Brussels. Anyone with a ticket is told to jump the queue. But we are not allowed to go under the elastic cords. We must jump the queue by following the dog-legs, carrying our folding bikes, with our passports in our teeth.

“Excuse me. We need to catch the 12.58. Can I get past please? I’m really sorry.” I hate it and would rather eat my passport, but I am already doing that. So we push past. Ahead is the concourse. Behind us is Hannah, standing hopelessly, with her bike plonked in front of her.  Stuart scoops up her bike and we run.

“Can we get on here?” we ask the train crew.

Apparently not. We are in car 1. The furthest end of the train. We can see the empty racks of luggage space inside the car 7, right in front of us.But we can’t get to them. So we run down half a train, half the length of an international platform. At coach 1 we haul the luggage on board. The doors close. The train pulls away. The luggage racks are all full. The guard arrives.

“You cannot leave these here.” There’s space in coach 7, surprise, surprise. . Now all we have to do is carry the bikes back through the full train. But in a few hours time we’ll be boarding another train and the freedom of the railways will be ours.

Brussels here we come!

Family Interrailing can be very relaxing..once you are all on board! Image by the Family Adventure Project

Brussels to Vienna

A busker trumpets Havana-na-na-na as the travelator crawls five bikes, two adults and three teens to platform 4 for the next stage of the holiday of all Interrail holidays. We pass through humid Brussels with just a quick coffee stop. The train to Cologne comes 15 minutes early, creating a tiny panic. We balance the folded machines in the corner of the train like circus unicycles. Leather seats lead into wide aisles and German cities unfold through the window in the amber sunlight.

“Quick quick,” rumbles the train on the track, hungry to reach its destination, while a hot air balloon on the pale horizon whispers “slow down.”

Cool as ICE. That’s the train, not us. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Coffee at the Dom

At Cologne, disembarkation from ICE19 is a cool 2 minutes, our best time yet. We’re a team that’s found its stride. We blend in on the platform among lots of other cyclists travelling by train with folders, tourers, mountain bikes, kiddy chariots and way more baggage than us. And then we ride out of the station straight into a picture postcard featuring Cologne’s Cathedral, the Dom, glowing in the sunset. We even have time to sip iced lattes at a Starbucks in its shadow. Folding bike interrailing just got civilised.

Next stop Vienna as we do London to Istanbul on one of the best Interrailing routes. Image by the Family Adventure Project

Cologne to Vienna

The Austrian OBB NightJet sounds an exciting proposition; the romance of departing Cologne at dusk, being rocked to sleep in cozy bunks then waking as you roll into Vienna. NJ421 is a little late arriving. We have five bunks booked in a couchette for six. Top tip; if you don’t want a stranger in your room then you need to reserve the whole carriage. We idle the twenty five minutes wondering who our sixth bunk buddy will be, and whether they’ll be able to fit in once we’ve got all our baggage aboard.

In our experience of Interrailing trips, night trains are always the most exciting. Image by The Family Adventure Project

The game begins again

How do you fit five bikes, five rack packs, five rucksacks, five people and a special guest into a tiny 2.5m by 2.5m cell with six bunks and an extra random human? It takes us thirty minutes to solve the 3D puzzle, loading two bikes overhead into storage space above the top bunks, bungeeing 2 rack packs onto a small metal parcel shelf, stuffing three more under the bottom bunk, securing a tower of three stacked bikes behind the ladder used to reach the top bunks, then using rucksacks as pillows. Luckily our bunk buddy isn’t getting on until Frankfurt. Loading is interrupted by the sleeping car attendant asking what we would like for breakfast? We are caught off guard. I imagine a rerun of the morning’s London to Lancaster route- breakfast on Virgin Trains – bacon, black pudding, grilled tomato, sausage. But the choice is more simple.

“Coffee or hot chocolate?”

The talk of breakfast makes us hungry. We notice a little arrow with a knife and fork pointing down the corridor. A restaurant car? We troop single file down the corridor. Everyone else appears to be confined to quarters. We pass a little office where the sleeping car attendant is processing breakfast orders.

“Where’s the restaurant car?”

“I am the restaurant car.” he says. I’m tempted to ask for a table for five.

Back in the bunk room we climb the ladders, squeeze into our allocated bunks and break open the picnic. With the safety net up passing the crisps becomes challenging. As we leave Cologne and day one of this adventure behind we sit on our bunks, eat sandwiches and wonder what we should do with the baguette crumbs as Vienna beckons.

The story so far….


Our Viennese whirl leaves us giddy; a 15km ride around the city by bike. We eat gelato, meet a friend for coffee and conduct a virtual Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of the Radetzsky March at the Haus Der Musik. The bikes are a real bonus, giving us the freedom to explore, to leave the station without having to navigate the metro, figure out which bus to catch or worry whether we can afford the taxi fare. We stumble across the sights; the State Opera House, the nail tree, the Museum Quarter, the river, the palaces, We ride with the white horses and carriages, with the pedicabs, and with the locals.

By mid afternoon it’s a relief to get out of the heat of Vienna, to board the RailJet service to Budapest. The air conditioned coach is quiet, perfect for a snooze. Soon we will be in Hungary; in time for a shower, a bowl of goulash soup and a proper bed.

Off to bed in Budapest on our Interrail Europe adventure

Budapest to Bucharest

Budapest envelopes us in park and spa experiences. Then as the overnight train pushes in to Keleti station, we fold up our trusted bikes again and climb aboard. Budapest Keleti Station is a stand-out East European station, a trainspotter’s dream with a main façade that features statues of two great British father’s of the railways – James Watt and George Stephenson. Inside it’s a bit more ordinary with a dozen platforms serving up international trains to Eastern Hungary and the Balkans. So in theory it shouldn’t be hard to find the Ister, the overnight train service to Bucharest.

Hurray, we made it to Budapest’s Heroes’ Square on our train tour Europe. Image by the Family Adventure Project

Techniques for packing and loading

After three days and six trains we feel we’ve learnt a thing or two about folding bike interrailing. Simple but important lessons. Like getting to the station at least an hour in advance. And techniques for packing 5 bikes, bags and rucksacks into small sleeping compartments. As we stand awaiting confirmation we’re about to board the right train we notice a young man making up his bed in one of the sleeping cars. Long haired, wearing a string vest and shorts, he’s struggling to shake a starchy white cover onto a yellowing duvet. Beside each carriage door stands a straight faced official. Behind them it’s four large steps up onto the carriage. Somewhere between Cologne and Budapest trains either got taller or they forgot to build platforms high enough?

The officials don’t seem to like the look of our baggage but somehow we pass their ticket test, haul our oversize load aboard and start to lug it down the narrow corridor to find our bunks.

Such a mix of styles of train when you Interrail Europe. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Squeezing in to the carriage

Stuart introduces himself to the man in the vest, now resting on his freshly made bed.

“Hello I think we’re sharing with you. I’m sorry but we need to fit five bikes in here too.”

“But you already have a lot of luggage in here.” He”s right. I can tell Stuart doesn’t know what to say.

“Don’t worry, we’ve done this before.” he offers.

“It is my first time on a night train,” our fellowbunk buddy replies.

I feel sorry for him. “Oh don’t worry, all this chaos is normal.”

It takes 15 minutes to squeeze everything in. There’s actually more space in the Romanian sleeper than the Austrian one so we get three bikes up overhead leaving only two slightly interfering with our new friend’s sleeping space. Once everything’s in place we retreat to the bistro car to give him a break.

Another day another station. At Budapest Keleti. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Chill out zone

The bistro car is an unexpected air conditioned pleasure palace. A selection of purple velour seats and stools laid out along the length of a carriage and a tiny bar with two catering staff who seem very busy with a stock take and lots of paperwork. The decor is retro, like we’ve stepped into the 1970’s. In the ceiling diamond shaped wooden panels style the fluorescent lighting. On the walls are frosted glass inlays conceal mood lights. On each table sit two glasses each with a paper napkin decoration, one cyan and one orange. Ordering is easy. If you’re patient. Paperwork comes first. Then customers. Customers create more paperwork so are best discouraged. Still we manage to get a round of drinks. Soon our friend appears with his suitcase. He sits near and we try to make conversation, finding out his name is Tos. We ask if we can buy him a beer.

“I don’t drink beer, but maybe a tea?”

The bar only does iced tea.

“I only drink leaf tea.” Tos is not easy to please. The fact he’s a night train virgin soon becomes apparent to the catering team too. He opens his suitcase to reveal a small larder.

“Do you think they will give me a plate and cutlery to make my dinner?”

Tos is soon heading back to the cabin with his larder but without a plate or cutlery.

Night night, see you in…oh hang on, where’s next? Image by The Family Adventure Project

The rhythm of the night train to Bucharest

There’s a different rhythm to this train. The Ister rattles across Eastern Hungary to the Romanian border at two speeds – slow and stop, with the air conditioning following suit. It’s not a problem with the power car, it’s just that the air-con only comes from the windows. Tos is not near a window and while he looks a bit like Jesus, he smells more like the devil. Tos deals with the problem by removing his shirt. It doesn’t help.

Passport checks start as the heat builds. It’s as authentic as travel can be and how travelling around Europe used to be before Schengen. It’s both good to know travel like this still exists and hard to understand why anyone would want to go back to it. As we head across Romania the landscape and soundscape changes. Trains klaxon, station announcements imitate old ice cream vans, the hum of high speed electric is mixed with the growl of diesel. We wake to sunshine over the Carpathian Mountains. At village stops in the Transylvanian Forest no one seems to want to get on or off apart from villagers wanting to sell fresh fruits of the forest. The buffet car fills up with kids eating berries, men drinking beer, mother’s chasing toddlers and a snoozing guard.

We decide to treat ourselves at the buffet. Luckily the attendant is at the bar waiting to serve, although it takes a whole minute for him to acknowledge I am there too.

“Yes?” he finally says.

“Two coffees please.”

It”s another five minutes until papers are complete and coffee is served. It is strong, bitter and needs a second milk.

“Could I have another milk please?”


Welcome to Romania.

Sleeping guard. At least he’s not the driver. Image by The Family Adventure Project


You might expect the heaviest administration building in the world to be made of gold bars. Instead it’s a solid, blocky building with a burst of sun on..

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Charleston Houses and Gardens Tour – a Festival of Quirkiness

A house and gardens tour of Charleston is more than the sum of its parts. The city is famous for its charming buildings and elegant mix of architecture, all built at low level. You can take a variety of tours around many historic Charleston houses at any time of the year. But if you come in spring the annual Charleston Festival of Houses and Gardens, run by the Historic Charleston Foundation, opens up over 100 properties to the public. (115 at last count) These Charleston house tours take in everything from the famous singles to heritage properties to multi million pound inheritances.  And as a tourist it’s a rare chance to have a poke around the home of a local, discover what makes them tick, and sometimes even meet them…

House on Rainbow Row, Charleston, catches the morning sun. Image by The Family Adventure Project

The trials of a Brit abroad

Wherever we go as a Brit, I feel slightly ashamed of my nationality and often try and hide it like a dirty secret.

I find it uncomfortable travelling in Europe since Brexit. “I voted to stay!” I want to shout into the face of a train guard as he rips my ticket in half; a metaphor for life from now. In the past we’ve been growled at in Chile for our treatment of Pinochet and studiously ignored at a remote Argentinian border crossing because of the historic Falklands clash, where our fellow Swiss travellers sailed straight through without any Maggie baggage. Once when visiting family in Vancouver Island they gave us all T shirts emblazoned with a maple leaf. I realised when I crossed into America and fraudulently lapped up the love for the Canadian citizen that my mother should have hopped on the emigration train with her dear great aunts.

So it’s something of a surprise to be so warmly welcomed in Charleston, South Carolina. In fact I’d go further than that. In the house of John Kuhn, the English are more or less adored.

Pretending to be Canadian in Vancouver Island T shirts in Times Square.

Quintessential English Regency in a Charleston House Tour

“This is English Regency. This is English Regency. Quintessential!” says John, moving quickly around the living room pointing at stuff. I want to warn him not to do that. The furniture and knick-knacks all look eye wateringly expensive and much of it is breakable.

“Of course we have British labs.” he announces at one point. For a moment I wonder if the house has science laboratories, conducting experiments on how to be more team GB. But turns out our host doesn’t mean laboratories, rather he has dogs in shades of chocolate. Probably Fortnum & Mason chocolate. Great British brands are highly esteemed in this home.

Homes on East Bay St. You will need a mortgage to buy one of these. Trust me.

A grand tour in East Bay

We are in Nathaniel Ingram House, on Water Street at the historic Battery, where some of the most expensive properties in Charleston are located. They haven’t always been here; the whole of Charleston was moved in 1680, from its initial spot on the west bank of the Ashley River. Charleston has hundreds of historic buildings and is famous for its architecture, you can find many different styles including Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Classic Revival, Gothic, Italianate, Art Deco and Victorian.

Many well heeled Charleston families have relaxed in its drawing room over the years while looking out to Fort Sumpter and the Charleston Harbour. We don’t relax so much as hover in the hall; we are on a guided tour as part of The Charleston Festival of Houses and Gardens which has been going since 1947. It’s a major fundraiser for Historic Charleston Foundation, the society that organises the event. Each year up to fifteen hundred people visit the houses taking part. This is our second house on a typical tour of eight spread across the course of a day.

John Kuhn is an attorney. He bought Nathaniel Ingram House with his wife two years ago. It is quite grand, without being really, really grand, or indeed huge. And it is very tidy.

The house was built in 1810. “We really decided to make it go back to 1810 and English Regency,” he tells us. “This house was just going to be filled with English Regency. It’s one reason I wanted to stay here and tell you all. Just keep looking for English Regency. This here, 1810, English Regency.  Quintessential! The fireplace mantel is original to the room and to the  house, and you can see it’s Federalist, Regency, the whole nine yards!” John beams,”

“Have we only got 20 minutes?” he asks our heritage guide who nods. We all know she will struggle to get us to the next house in under an hour. John’s enthusiasm is rubbing off, and we’re all getting into the flow of his house tour. “The other thing we tried to do, since this is a colony, we tried to do what the English would do and have things from a Grand Tour. We got these at Christies in London, literally miniature paintings of four points on the Grand Tour of Europe.” I wonder if I should tell him we did our own grand tour of Europe by train a few months ago. But he’s off into the hall. pointing out more features.

Give us a go of your swing? Everyone wants to stay and relax  at John’s house. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Fake doors and first editions

We enter a room lined with books and he grabs one off the shelf. “Marlborough. Signed by Churchill.” he sighs. He passes it around for us all to inspect the autograph.

“Each book you see here is handmade in Surrey. They’re not cheap.” I look around his gorgeous library and wonder how many miles there might be between his ‘not cheap’ and mine. Notice I said miles and not European kilometres. I am starting to believe English is best.

“Merrill said ‘What about fake doors?’ Fake doors! “ John opens a bookshelf and there’s something else behind. But I don’t know what as John has moved on. “A lantern from Paris.” Look at the hand painted smoke detector,” he says. That is Merrill’s genius too. And of course he got it in England. We pay homage at every turn to the ‘super cleverness of  Merrill.’

“Is Merrill your wife?” I ask. Clearly not.

“Your interior designer?” I hazard another guess.

“My decorator, Merrill Benfield.” he says with a reverence that’s normally reserved for celebrity. Perhaps he is a celebrity decorator. All I know is that he chooses great wallpaper. John has moved on again, pointing out a wooden piece of furniture in the corner. “Whatever you used it for I don’t know. Your man in England made it.” I’m not sure his man in England is my man in England because my man is mostly Swedish and offers cut price meatballs with every visit.

You see some great wallpaper on a Charleston Houses and Gardens Tour – this is Scalamandre

The Book of Avon

“This is right out of your home town!” John says to no one in particular, pouncing on an enormous book  “Shakespeare, King Henry IV, second folio, first edition.” Wow. I suspect his book could go some way to buying my non-Stratford non-Regency town house filled with non-English furniture and the smell of meatballs. I try to come up with Stratford-upon-Avon anecdotes to be worthy of a glance at its over sized pages. The only thing I have is the time I got drunk in the Drunken Duck on a school trip to the RSC. But then everyone did that, right?

John showing off his Shakespeare book on a Festival of Houses and Gardens Tour. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A mother’s love

I ask why he is so keen on everything English. Does he have rellies our way? “Truly the enthusiasm comes from my mother,” he replies. I would love to meet his mother if she is anything near as engaging and effervescent as her son. We take a quick look at the garden complete with pool, talking about the garden festival, and festivals in general. “Truly the British know how to put on a parade and a show.” I think he might be talking about the Queen, but there’s not time to ask him whether he is for or against monarchy. I can probably guess.

As we are herded onto the bus, I tell him I live in the English Lake District. Has he been?

He says he is going soon and I half wonder about inviting him around for a proper northern tea. I am glad that I don’t when he adds a second later that he flies into London to buy his tea from Fortnum and Mason. Although I can’t imagine a man who would take more pleasure in a Lady Betty Afternoon Tea in Harrogate.

Afternoon Tea at Bettys of Harrogate – John would love this!

Hidden wells and horse drawn walls
At the William C. Gatewood House the owner Ozey Horton is more reserved. But he also has hidden treasures to show us in his Greek Revival ‘sideyard’ house, built in 1842 for a wealthy Virginian. He explains the typical ‘hyphen’ where the kitchen is linked to the house, “And out here are the dependency  buildings.” I imagine the staff running round this airy, elegant home in the past. And descending down the secret staircase in the kitchen.
“You see that wall curves? That’s because the carriages were coming through. It made it convenient for them to take the turn.” says Ozey as we wander the house that’s been tastefully restored to its original 1840’s design. He points to a glass covered well they discovered  and had excavated, “We keep looking for the Confederate gold,” he chuckles.
We are now running very late. “Come back when you have the time?” he charmingly asks, while waving us through his magnificent porch and out through past the plunge pool. Underneath, near the stables is a horse drawn carriage. Another man who loves a parade?

What’s not to love about a Charleston historic houses? Image by The Family Adventure Project

Swords and magnolias

Our next stop is a house currently on the market. A Charleston horse and carriage tour is parked up outside. People are peering in as we pull up at its impressive gates and I walk in slightly taller in case they want to assume I am the  owner. We are met in the leafy passage leading up to Sword Gate House by estate agent Debbie. “The street was named for the person who owned the property,” she explains, leading me to think this is not going to be a two up, two down. I am proved correct; the house is 200 years old and stretches to 1700 square feet. I am told I can buy it complete for a cool fifteen million dollars. “With the current exchange rate it is sadly out of my league.” I tell her.

Flags frame the stable blocks and adjoining buildings – all part of the price

Fully furnished opulence

On the upside, the house comes completely furnished so buyers won’t need to get a loan for the cooker. Debbie announces it is show furniture; as if she can tell I’m calculating the worth of the sideboard. She explains the owners have died and their grown up children have moved on. We move around a living room packed with books and the ‘show’ Steinway piano? A dining room has a mural inspired by Charleston Harbour. ‘Merrill needs to see this,’ I find myself thinking.

Mural in Sword Gate House. Image by The Family Adventue Project

The casual side
Debbie pours me a glass of ice cold lemonade from a show glass that possibly competes with my dinner party crystal. “The house is shaped like a horseshoe,” she says, which explains why I get lost looking for the toilet. There are two different staircases and the loo is hidden in a wall. Apparently they love hiding things in Charleston.
“This is the casual side,” she says as we look out onto a beautiful deck and sculpted garden. “All the windows are triple hung and open out to the garden.” I think of my Grade 2 listed Georgian rotting windows and our casual neglect of them and realise I can’t invite Real Estate Debbie home for tea either. The amount of Charleston guests I will be receiving this summer will not be a parade.

She guides me into the garden. “Look out for on the magnolia tree. It’s 190 years old.”

The porch. Mine is full of shoes and coats! Image by The Family Adventure Project

Water garden

You couldn’t miss the magnolia tree if you tried. It’s an absolute beauty, with its branches winding around itself like a maypole at a school fete. And there’s a circular fountain spilling water in layers that looks like a cover from the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.’ Sharon Odom from Historic Charleston explains Charleston was built on water and many houses nod to that. “Water Street is called this for a reason; there was a creek running here.” She tells me the area from Charleston to Savannah was called Lowcountry as technically it is below sea level.” It did originally start out as an English walled city.” I think how much John would love an English walled city.

The magic of home on Charleston House Tours – Image by The Family Adventure Project

The one with the stairs

And then it’s on once again, to Nathaniel Russell House historic monument on Meeting Street. The 1808 former shipping merchant’s house has a breathtaking cantilever staircase. We discuss the Federal style architecture of the townhouse, look at the delicate moldings of the early classical period and discover why the climate helped invent the southern porch. But I’m mentally back at Nathaniel Ingram House wondering what ingenious gadget or decor my homeland might come up with next for the owner, the decorator, his wife and his mother.

At the end of the tour I walk away feeling that glow of southern hospitality everyone talks about here. I also I feel a quite a lot better about my Anglo spangled roots.

Gardener at work st Nathaniel Russell House during the festival in Charleston. Image by The Family Adventure Project

More reading:

Interested in a quirkier side to America? Check out our post on 10 unusual things to do in Orlando.

Disclosure note: 

My trip was hosted by the city of Charleston as part of a British Guild of Travel Writers visit. All house envy, as well as words and images is my own.

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Whistlestop Tour de Yorkshire by Motorhome

There’s nothing like a motorhome trip to get the kids excited. What family can resist the lure of the open road, a stable table for Scrabble and a seaside destination? In an Olympic style dash of three locations in one weekend, we toured a trio of the best touring caravan and motorhome sites in the Yorkshire coastal towns of Scarborough and Bridlington. And in this advertising feature for the Caravan and Motorhome Club, we pass on the benefits of joining one of the UK’s leading members touring clubs…. 

The Great British coast is glorious when you are touring caravan and motorhome sites, Yorkshire.

Why do a tour in Yorkshire by motorhome?

Nature is an early riser on the north Yorkshire coast. The sky is blushing like the shy sun has paid it the ultimate compliment, the birds are singing a rowdy tune and dog walkers are returning to cozy camper vans for the first coffee of the day after their dewy stroll. I weave around the vehicles with their space age window screen protectors and space enhancing awnings as I tour our base for the day.

I follow a nature trail of thistles, moss covered branches and springy wood chip, past birdhouse and log pile to a village church where weak sunlight churns up angel dust. There’s a fully fenced nature and dog walk taking in a complete circuit of Cayton Village Club Site for a quarter of a mile.

Cayton Village Club Site at sunrise

Shall we bike to the beach?

Right at this moment a tour of motorhome sites in Yorkshire seems the easiest and most pleasurable thing to do on a spring weekend. We are responding to a challenge set by the Caravan and Motorhome Club to blast around three sites on the Yorkshire coast. The sites are less than an hours drive from each other. They are all near beautiful beaches. The van is as new and shiny as the day ahead and the kids are tucked up in little beds that delight them. Stuart breaks into my thoughts with a phone call.

“Want to bike to the beach?”

You’re never far from a seaside

The wardens agree we should head directly for the nearest beach at Cayton Bay. “The beach is one of the main reasons people come here. It’s dog friendly all year round and it’s a good surf beach.” They wave us off on our four bikes with a map and a smile and we leave our borrowed motorhome in their care.

Prefer the campervan to this shelter Dad!

It’s not just for dogs

Cayton Bay is more than just dog friendly. Lucy’s Beach Shack provides a welcome party for both humans and canines, taking the edge off the wind and offering a bench with a view. The early-birds here have already come and gone. It’s a hive of industry now, with a surf class in full swing, stand up paddle boarder floating by and loads of families with prams and tricycles out for a stroll or playing with buckets and spades. We jump the waves and hang out at the beach bar. We’d love to stay, but have a more serious bike ride in mind. We plan to take Hannah and her friend on the Cinder Track, a 21.5 mile, well sign posted route,  following the former rail trail from Scarborough to Whitby.

Biking the Cinder Track, in North Yorkshire. Lots of bridges for bird’s eye shots.

Scarborough is eye catching

Scarborough disrupts our plans. We want to push on but it sits glistening in the mid afternoon light, calling us down to the sea front with a band on the march and seagulls caw-cawing for food. We freewheel half way down the hill and leave our bikes chained up outside the Central Tramway, the oldest surviving tramway company in the UK. Established in 1881, it is beautifully refurbished in smart burgundy and cream and a bargain at just £1 a person. In seconds it transports us down to the bay. Scarborough has a busy, impressive beach with an equally an impressive 11th century castle watching over it.

“Anne Bronte is buried in the church up there,” says a local who spots me staring up at the promontory. But much as I love a good book, the largest resort on the Yorkshire coast has an abundance of fish and chip shops and right now I’m more interested in that variety of paper. We eat our chippie lunch with mushy peas in the sunshine on the beach, eyed hungrily by the gulls. Then we stroll along the harbour packed with fishing boats, boat trip signs and nets, before enjoying how far a pound can travel in the penny arcades.

Scarborough Harbour

Refurbishment is a priority

Time falls away as quickly as our two pence pieces cascade into the arcade waterfall. Before we know it we are back at Cayton preparing to move on. The long established Cayton Village Caravan Park was taken over in February 2018 by the Caravan and Motorhome Club and is one of the newest sites in the club’s portfolio. It will undergo refurbishment in due course says Warden Janet Scott, who predicts much interest in the site this year. “As it’s new to the club a lot will come to see what it’s like now, and then they will come back again when its refurbished to see how it’s been improved.” Improvements are likely to include new roads and infrastructure, bigger pitches and modern shower blocks.

Many things will get bigger and better round here soon. Except the bird house.

Express transport to the theatre

We have a date back in Scarborough to see a play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the round, famous for producing the work of playwright Alan Ayckbourn who is a native of the town. But our weekend olympiad of three sites means we need to move the van first. We discover the great thing about a motorhome is you don’t have to pack up. Your bed travels with you.

Hurrah we don’t have to make the beds again! Image by The Family Adventure Project

Nature is king…although sometimes it’s also a lady

Scarborough West Ayton Club Site is located just over five miles south west of the town, and so it’s perfect for a theatre visit. In the gap before arrival and departure the kids decamp for the playground, before discovering there’s much more for them to do including games room and boules pitch. Meanwhile I search out a little hut filled with leaflets. Nature is one of the big activities here. ‘Rabbits at work – watch out for holes’ is one of the more charming signs on the caravan site, which was a quarry just three decades ago. I discover that depending on the time of year it’s possible to spot a collection of kookily named plants including Autumn Lady’s Tresses, Devil’s Bit Scabious and Lady’s Bedstraw.

Scarborough West Ayton Club Site, a highlight of caravan holidays Yorkshire and great for slow travellers.

Watch out for flamingos and log flumes

“Scarborough’s got the beach. Castle Howard’s an absolute must. There’s Flamingo Land in Pickering, the Sea Life Centre and there’s the new big pool in Scarborough.” says Jeanette Davis without hesitation when I ask her for recommendations. Jeanette has spent 11 seasons working for the members’ club along with her husband Geoff. “We went to the castle recently. It’s owned by English Heritage. Well worth a visit.”

For those who don’t want to drive a huge motorhome into town, they tell me there’s plenty to do locally.”The Forge in the village is a superb little pub to have on the doorstep and does a fabulous Sunday roast carvery. They’ve just put a new pizza oven in. It’s really taken off.” Geoff and Jeanette list attractions so quickly I find it hard to keep up. “You’ve run out of paper,” says Geoff. I get the sense if you run out of anything here, this pair will find it for you.

The Yorkshire coast has a lot going for it. Image by The Family Adventure Project

An experience worth waiting for

But some of these suggestions will have to wait for another weekend of motorhome touring in Yorkshire. We still have the Scarborough Cinder Track to conquer. In the morning we decide to do a chunk from Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay and have sausage butties in the sunny Ravenscar Tea Rooms to fuel up. The owner explains that the trail follows the disused railway line in operation from 1885 to 1965 and is mostly downhill to the coast. Bridges and viewpoints add interest to a pretty but bumpy road lined with gorse bushes she tells us.

Once on our way we make quick progress. Our wheels hum as we buzz  along. Only the ducks are slowing down today.

Slow for ducks but not for us. Image by The Family Adventure Project.

Tea and the tide

Robin Hood’s Bay rushes down to meet the sea where other resorts might trickle. We can’t resist meeting the tide ourselves, despite the steepness of the climb back up. Scones and jam help as Stuart and Hannah reminisce about their cycle tour of the Yorkshire Dales.

Impossible to ride this one unless you are actually Robin Hood? Climbing the hill from Robin Hood’s Bay.

Return to the town that never was

From Robin Hood’s Bay we return on a gentle incline back to the Ravenscar Visitor Centre where we are greeted by Bill Blake, a Ranger for National Trust Yorkshire Coast. He tells a tall tale about businessmen coming to Ravenscar in the 1900’s and deciding they wanted to build a town on the cliffs and moorland here to rival Scarborough and Whitby. They built infrastructure, roads, pavements, drains, and auctioned plots of land, he explains. “It became known as the Town that Never Was,” says Bill and I realise he’s not joking when interpretation panels at the centre back up his tale.

Scones help fuel the return journey. The jam and cream helps too!

Surveying his kingdom

Bill is a huge advocate for nature and runs courses about man’s impact on the land, as well as small mammal surveys. “Part of my job in catching small animals, surveying them, and releasing them. I’ve opened it up into an event,” he tells me as I grab a coffee on the terrace. “We put down Longworth traps with bedding and food. First thing in the morning I go with public and do proper survey. The main characters are the pygmy shew, common shrew, bank and field vole, and the wood mouse. We do it on any land that we own that hasn’t had a survey. If it’s a herb rich meadow we are more likely to find field voles. In the woodlands it’s shrews and wood mice. People have never seen anything like these little tiny things. You may have heard them though, they make a tiny squeal as you go past.” I try to remember if anything squealed at me and can only think of gulls.

Highland Cattle eye us up on the the Cinder Track disused rail trail but where are the voles? Image by The Family Adventure Project

A heap of industrial intrigue

Bill explains the ‘Industrial Intrigue’ tours he also runs. “We take the old Cinder Track to the brick works and talk about how it used to look. Then we visit the alum works. I give them some history; we talk about anything and everything to do with Ravenscar.”

If you don’t fancy that kind of intrigue the centre runs occasional workshops on birdsong for beginners. You can also grab a net and do a bugs and beetles hunt when the meadows are coming up into full bloom. Before we return to our motorhome Bill has one last thing to show us. A recently shed adder skin. It is not slimy as you might expect but paper thin and dry. “I’ve just done an adder survey. We’ve got four males and a female. The reason I’m surveying them is they may be under threat. Next year I’m going to radio tag and track them,” he says, gently taking back the skin, looking like he fears we might want to smuggle it into the van.

Start of the Cinder trail and just about the only part that’s flat. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Puffins and poppadoms

We climb back into our motorhome and press onto Bridlington Club Site in Sewerby, where husband and wife team Chris and Bob Lane are just beginning the season as Assistant Support. They are full of suggestions for our final hours including a walk to see the puffins at the RSPB site at Bempton Cliffs, situated three and a half miles from the site. This award winning nature reserve hosts a quarter of a million sea birds including puffins from mid April to mid July and 25,000 gannets. Access to the sanctuary is free if you are a Caravan and Motorhome Club member and can show your card they tell me. Alternatively Flamborough Head is 3 miles east of the Bridlington site if you love a lighthouse or two.

“There a bus stop at end of road with buses ever hour except Sunday.” says Chris tells me many members leave the van on the site and use public transport during their stay. “You have to be choosy about what site you visit,” she advises, “You want to be somewhere where everything is accessible. Especially if you haven’t got bicycles with you. People always ask us when booking how close are we to a bus stop.”

“The bus stop is 650 yards here – literally just down the road. You can access Scarborough, Whitby, Pickering and Helmsley from here.” says Bob.

Which way for Bridlington sights?

Accessible travel

They also recommend using your two feet. “It’s about an hours walk on the clifftop to Bridlington,” says Chris. “You can also walk to Danes Dyke and South Landing, all the way to the lighthouse and then on to North Landing.”

“It’s a bit steep to the beach but there’s a beautiful little bay. They still fish off there and take fishing trip and pleasure trips. Sewerby Hall is nice to visit too.” says Geoff.

I leave the double act still discussing my dream personal itinerary.

Doing our own Tour de Yorkshire. Cycling the North Yorkshire Coast near Cayton Bay

Good night Bridlington

As it’s late in the day and darkness is descending we settle on a quick beach visit, then a walk around Bridlington Priory, where evensong is just finishing. We follow this with a curry in local Indian restaurant Saffron; we feel we’ve earned the calories on the rail trail. And then it’s back for a few hours sleep before the birds awake us again with their enthusiasm to get on with the day ahead. If only I had Bill with me to identify what they are. Sadly just about the only little bird I recognise is the one that comes with 280 characters.

Welcome to Caravan and Motorhome Club Site Bridlington

Life on the road is sweet

At the end of three days we drive away..

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Best Time for Visiting The Acropolis – Sunset

Visiting Athens? Want to see arguably the best monument in Greece in the best light possible? We have done the famous citadel at different times of day over the last few years.  In our opinion the best time to visit the Acropolis is in the late afternoon. As close to closing hours as possible. Not only will you see it when it is quieter and the heat of the day is gone, but visiting the Acropolis at sunset means you get to play a neat game of cat and mouse with the staff….   

Athens at sunset- when the crowds and heat have mostly gone

The Acropolis at dusk

It’s a game of Athenian cat and mouse. We are the mice. They are the cats. They are practiced. They do this every night. We are determined. We only have one night. 24 hours in Athens does not give you time to do much. Especially at crowded ancient monuments. The acropolis is closing and we want to make the most of it. There’s only one thing for it; to stretch our time, dodge the staff and be the last ones to leave the building.

Last one out gets to see The Acropolis like this- could it be you?

The Acropolis at dawn

I have visited the Acropolis at three different times of day; morning noon and night. The first time Stuart and I were students, broke and determined to save money on a hotel. We landed at midnight, slept in the airport and then biked off in the early hours to the famous Greek monument. Only the road sweepers kept us company as we navigated empty roads. We thought we might get it to ourselves. But at the last moment the coach tours arrived. We pushed our way up the hill accompanied by dozens of tourists. And then the early morning cool gave way to intense heat.

Heading up the hill to the Parthenon late afternoon

The Acropolis at midday

The second time I visited The Acropolis for a travel bloggers’ conference. I chased a shaft of light in the cloud above the stone column artistry, felt the spirit of Athena on the wind, and absorbed the helter skelter view of a whitewashed city at midday. Actually that’s a lie. I sweated my way up the slopes in the heat of the sun, tried to get a decent glimpse of the Parthenon, and then retired to a cafe where the lovely Stavros and his family plied me with white wine and Greek salad. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the cool, statue studded New Acropolis Museum. You can read about Stavros and the New Acropolis Museum in Gretta Schifano”s post on family Athens here.

Night view of Athens’ most famous citadel

Trying to avoid the world and his wife

This year we decide to go an hour or so before the citadel closes. To catch the sunset. Apparently queues are shorter. Crowds are lighter. But as expected, even in the cool of the back end of the day, the world and his wife are here.

“This is used as a classical concert hall. Normally it is Carreras and Domingo that play here.” says the world and his wife’s guide as we pause at an amphitheatre half way up the slopes. “But last year we had the Foo Fighters” she adds with a flourish.”

“Shaggy?” asks a backpacker.

“I’m sorry?”

“I think Shaggy played here.”

She looks like she’s making a mental note to check; maybe he has got the Acropolis confused with the Seven Jokers on Syntagma.

Did Shaggy play at this amphitheatre?

Finding the perfect spot

This time, with three teens in tow, it’s all about the selfie. Me at the Parthenon. Who wouldn’t want that? Even Zeus would be tempted. Do Gods take selfies?

We need to find a spot where there aren’t any cranes or scaffolding. We need to find a place where a teen isn’t holding The Acropolis in their palm like Lego bricks while their mother immortalizes it for all time, or until the likes run out. We need to find a space without a beautiful face posing, or a mini-me pouting. We need to find a slot where someone is not illegally touching the marble or leaning against the highly polished stone. And there isn’t much time as the army is marching in to take down the flag at sunset, a sign the site is soon closing for the night.

Minutes later and a man is blowing a whistle. And crowds are streaming towards us.

“The Acropolis is closed. “

Army at The Acropolis in Athens

Going against the flow

The army march on and upwards while everyone else is marched down, hurried along by a handful of guides. I try to go against the flow but the guides are fast. Hopping up steps and over rocks they are lithe as the shepherds and dogs in the high fells back home.

View from The Acropolis- we vacate to this rock

I become a mountain goat

I hop back up the steps but my family has been swept away. The Parthenon is clear of people. Surely its the best selfie ever? The crowds stream down below me. I am last. I hold out my phone, and aim to click the shutter but see only me and the torso of a man in a blue T shirt. He is blocking my shot.

“The Acropolis is closed.”

I grin, and loiter. They are used to this. They move down the hill in a pincer movement. Two of them chase some tourists who have tried to escape by creeping onto another path.

I walk with a guide. “I expect this happens every night, this game of cat and mouse?”

I don’t expect her to answer but she grins. “It’s difficult. We have to get in the way.”

And then I turn. And there it is..one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. And it’s all mine. I don’t take a photo. I just look. Absorb. Notice the light, hear the birdsong and feel the centuries past.

It doesn’t last long But it is enough to have made it worthwhile. The guide pushes me out and her colleague shuts the gate.

Gates close at The Acropolis

The Acropolis at night

The crowds vanish. We wait to see what happens next, enjoying the uninterrupted view and the sun draining out of the sky as we sit on a wonky hill with the whole of Athens behind us. Someone plays s drum. The army comes down and drives away. We are gifted the Acropolis at sunset and as day turns to night the lights come on, as if for us. It sparks up slowly, as though someone is going around turning each bulb on. It changes colour. The sun disappears. The drum stops. We scramble about on the rocks and finally get our selfies.

Goodnight Athens -Image by The Family Adventure Project

Practical information
Acropolis opening hours
You can enter the Acropolis from 8am-7pm in summer (after 1st April) and from 8am-5pm in winter (after 1st November.)
Queues can stretch for up to two hours in busy times during summer, so don’t leave buying tickets till the last few hours of the day, especially if you have only 24 or 48 hours in Athens and cannot return at a later date. Get there earlier in the afternoon and assess the situation; there’s lots of food and coffee stops to hang out in if it all goes quicker than you expected.
You can avoid the Acropolis ticket queues by buying a multi site ticket. Simply purchase it from one of the other sites on the list. You have five consecutive days to use it.

Putting the building to bed in time for the Acropolis sunset

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10 Animal Experiences and Wildlife Days

Meeting the local wildlife on holiday is a great way of engaging with nature, educating the kids in conservation and having fun in the outdoors together. You might also provide vital funds for conservation projects. This list of top 10 animal experiences and wildlife days are all family adventures we have had with our children at different ages in various locations around the world. The post is part of our ultimate guide to family adventure ; 100 Things to do Before your Kids Grow Up. In the first post in the series we featured 10 family water sports activities, while our second looked at winter sports for kids. Read on for our third post filled with family friendly animal encounters… 

I stepped in the jaws of a gator and survived. Could you?

Ready for Animal Experiences, Wildlife days and Wild Encounters?

Steel yourself for creepy crawly, animal friendly, wild, free and potentially hazardous encounters with the natural world in this post of our top 10 animal encounters. Although sometimes, admittedly it might only be a little nibble. Ill leave you to decide how hungry you want them to be…

1 Get snorkelling and feed fish out of your hands

Ok, let’s face it. Snorkeling and deep sea diving are more fun in some places than others. We gained our PADI certificates in the shallow waters of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand and looked for Nemo with the kids in the deep waters surrounding Cebu in The Philippines. In both cases it was a tropical wonderland. Snorkeling in The Philippines was like floating in shafts of sunlight; the water was clear and that shade of aqua blue you imagine only exists in films. We booked a day’s snorkelling with Islands Banca Cruises. Paragliders drifted overhead as we sailed off on a traditional Filipino outrigger. We hand fed several different species of fish on the marine reserves of Nalasuan and Gilutungan and amidst the coral and the rainbow swirl we found Nemo.

If you fancy bathing in Filipino waters but want to step it up a little adrenaline wise, you can chase dolphins at dawn just off Pamilacan Island from boats that whale fishermen once hunted with. Or you can swim with whale sharks; the most popular tourist hub is Oslob on Cebu. The whale sharks roam free and are human friendly, but if you prefer the thrill of Jaws then maybe you could go for a caged experience in South Africa instead. (You are caged not the sharks!) Check out travel photographer Gary Arndt’s exciting experience of diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa’s Shark Alley.

Hopping on bancas off Mactan Island, Cebu before a snorkelling experience

Read more:

Fun family things to do in the Philippines

Our wild swimming tips for beginners

2 Go horse trekking

Any post on animal experiences and wildlife days for families has to involve trekking. Because kids and horses go together. They will have no problem finding their rhythm; it’ll more likely be you making yourself and the horses nervous. But then, if you find the right provider, you’ll settle in to it really quickly too. Sometimes this can come by accident. On our honeymoon cycling adventure when we needed to get across the Andes quickly, we put an advert out on a local radio station and a man came forward with a set of horses. Both man and horses were endlessly patient with our lack of skills and our bicycles digging into their backs.

On another horse encounter in Iceland, the staff and animals at Laxnes Farm got the kids mounted straight away and that was the last I saw of them until Hannah trotted home last a couple of hours later.

If you are in the mountains in winter you should also try ski joering. In this case you don’t mount the horse but are towed around after it on the snow. It’s tricky to master but a peaceful and pleasurable experience.

Riding with the kids at Laxnes, Iceland

Read more:

Icelandic horse trekking at Laxnes

How to have a horseback riding adventure

Ski joering in Meribel

3 Go slow with donkeys

Taking it down a notch, it’s impossible not to fall in love with donkeys isn’t it? Visiting Rucs Del Corredor Donkey Sanctuary was one of the most relaxing days of our travels in Costa Barcelona. The experience was all about gentle petting, learning about the locals and slow travel -a trek takes ages and no one so much as breaks into a trot. By the end of a morning here you’ll feel like you’ve just read three books on mindfulness.

Meet the Donkey at Rucs del Corredor donkey sanctuary in Costa Barcelona

Read more:

Nature activities at Costa Barcelona

4 Pet kitty at a cat cafe

I hesitated before adding this to the list. Personally I hated my cat cafe experience. But if you have children who are pet starved, mad on Hello Kitty or just like cute furry things then you might have a better time. We stumbled across our cat cafe in Azumino City near Tokyo on a visit to Japan. We were given two menus- one food and one animal related followed by an hour of petting and playing. It was late in the afternoon which might explain the grumpy mood of the cats. Quite frankly they did not want to be there and kept trying to escape into the back room. There wasn’t much in the way of atmosphere either; we drank coffee out of polystyrene cups with straws and were herded in and out on the dot of our allotted hour. I will leave you to make up your own mind abut them if you choose to visit – there are lots worldwide, including European cities like London.

Cat lounging n the Cat Cafe

Read more:

A week of Japanese adventures

5 Have a woodland ambush

This one is only stressful to humans! It appears boys take catapults very seriously and I was in the firing line. On our woodland ambush adventure we split up and hid in the woods and tried to outdo each other. You can go the whole hog and get the costumes and bug hunt kits or you can just improvise. Bring binoculars – we were on the lookout for grey squirrels and took a book to identify birds. But mostly we just fired catapults.

Read more:

Woodland ambush adventure

Catapult ambush in the woods

6 Stay at a nature resort

“This is your first time in The Philippines.” said one hotel receptionist in the first few seconds of meeting us on our tour of two Philippines islands. When I asked her how she knew she pointed out we were all wearing boots. The rest of the country wears flip flops. At Loboc River on Bohol we spent an evening in bare feet, drifting along, watching nature on a boat heading to a waterfall. When we arrived a community choir were waiting on a floating platform to sing and dance for our pleasure. Later on we took canoes out and watched fireflies dance. But the best part of staying at the resort was watching the six resident Macaus being fed on their own island. We observed them from the opposite bank as they came swinging through the trees, lifting bananas and throwing playful punches. In this simple but charming riverside resort we also had the option of riding a carabao water buffalo. Not often you get to do that?

Off for the macau feeding at Loboc River Resort

Read more:

Loboc River relaxation and wildlife adventures 

8  Seek out shy tree dwellers

Staying with primates in The Philippines, one of the most special experiences of our trip was an encounter with tarsiers. Tarsiers are one of the world’s oldest primates and can be found in four parts of the country. Their eyes are like frisbees and are apparently bigger than their brains, while their heads can revolve almost 360 degrees. They are dozy and shy. And they reminded me of Dobbie. Once hunted for use as domestic pets, they are now a protected species; thanks partly to our guide Carlito Pizarras, who begged his hunter father to halt the trade when he was a boy. We peered into the trees to try and find them with our guide stopping to listen and sniff as we made our way around the enclosure.

If you like spotting things in trees then butterfly sanctuaries are also worth a look. We visited Jumalon on Cebu and Habitat on Bohol where guides educated us on their life cycle and the variety of species. Hannah found herself wearing a butterfly in her hair. At Bohol’s eco tourism attraction, the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) we met forest animals native to The Philippines. We were offered the chance to hold a python We declined.

Looking for Tarsiers in the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary, Bohol with Carlitos Pizarras

9  Take an eco tour

If you have a decent budget and a thirst for seeing wildlife where it belongs and learning about conservation, you could look at booking an eco tour for your family. We did a week with Green Turtle Tours on the pacific island of Western Samoa. It was a crazy adventure meeting rescue turtles, eating food straight from the ground, sleeping in fales in small villages and hanging out with wildlife Expert Steve. On our first morning he managed to pack in sea kayaking and a visit to a mangrove swamp with two toddlers, where we went looking for presents left by Santa on the trees.

Feeding turtles in Samoa

10 Fly past gators

Florida is the place to see alligators. They hang out in parks and golf courses, live in wildlife theme parks and float around freshwater lakes. The Everglades are the best place to start. This World Heritage Site is the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA and you can often spy reptiles from the walking trails. You can also take an air boat ride or paddle a kayak on the Tamiami Trail. The best time to see them is apparently evening in winter. According to Visit Florida there are 1.3 million all over the state so it shouldn’t be difficult to spot one. Gators were once almost extinct until conservationists turned that around and gave their story a happy ending. Read Visit Florida’s post about where you can see alligators in Florida here.

If you don’t mind visiting animals in captivity (these days I wouldn’t do it myself) you’ll probably like Gatorland near Orlando. You can zip wire over a selection of lakes writhing with alligators. If the sign below doesn’t put you off!

Gatorland Orlando Florida

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Windermere Jetty- Lake District Hub of Boats, Steam & Stories

Lake District Activities for families just got even better. If you plan to visit Cumbria this spring and summer, you’ll want to make the new and interactive Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories part of your Lake District break itinerary. This £20 million Lake District tourist attraction, located on the lake shore at Bowness-on-Windermere, offers trips on some of the UK’s oldest and best heritage vessels, and the chance to view master craftsmen at work. You can also catch a rainbow in your teacup on a café terrace with arguably the best view in England. Here’s my review of this Lakeland maritime museum..

Windermere Jetty Museum Gallery. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A reinvention of Lake District Activities for families

The rain beats down, as only Lake District rain can. And as always, it suits this brooding stretch of water. In fact today Windermere could beat London Fashion Week for shades of metallic shimmer. The trees seem to hang above the surface like cotton wool balls dipped in dusk and a threadbare island hovers in the distance, as though it can’t decide whether to stick around for the sun to shine or drift away in the grey. But as people make their way along Rayrigg Road by foot, car and bus, for once they are not looking at the water; all eyes are drawn to seven new buildings that demand attention. The new Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories has launched with a splash in the Central Lakes.

Windermere Jetty Museum jetties. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A modern link to an industrial past

It’s one of the first contemporary buildings to be constructed on the lake front in 50 years. And while the constituent parts may look like they have just landed from Scandinavia, this maritime hub has been designed with location firmly in mind. Rain pours off huge overhangs, giving shelter from the weather if you step outside, The materials used are sympathetic to the environment; the copper roofing will oxidize and mottle green in time, blending in with the surroundings. “The style of roofing is true to other houses and villas in the Lake District going back to Victorian and Edwardian times,” explains Liz Moss, Chief Operating Officer for Lakeland Arts, who own the museum. “Although it’s a large form building it doesn’t look like it. It really blends in, and meets the dark days of the lake and the water in front of it.” She emphasizes the industrial past of the site, and its purpose of storing boats, “The overhangs are not dissimilar to other boathouses. If you were to go to a canal side wharf, you would see these giant overhangs where goods would have been lifted up and down. And you are constantly connected from the land to the water.”

The overhangs bring the outside inside,and the inside outside. Image by the Family Adventure Project

A connection with nature

Connection with the lake is an important design feature; leading architects Carmody Groarke have enabled the visitor to see water from every building. This is most apparent when you enter reception and see the huge boathouse through the glass, with a clutch of shiny exhibits bobbing about, content in their natural environment.

The outside has been brought inside and you feel both the vision and the chill.

Windermere Jetty Museum – one o the best Lake District activities Image by The Family Adventure Project

A family maritime story

I sit on a bench looking into the wet dock with Diana Matthews whose family began  transporting materials around the lake by boat in the 1850’s and were instrumental in saving the boats that line the walls and ceilings today.

“My Grandfather was the first one to salvage Esperance from the bed of the lake in the last century and my father George Pattinson saved a lot of them. We acquired boats and raised money for acquiring boats that were of great importance to the history of maritime heritage on Windermere.” George Pattinson founded the Windermere Steamboat Museum in 1977 and naturally wanted to involve his family, says Diana. “My poor father had three daughters. One of us had to do the honour to drive a steamboat and that was me. When I was  14 I took friends out in a pressure vessel on the lake with no lifejackets,” she laughs at the memory. “I’ve been brought up with this, our school holidays were spent polishing brass and boating on the lake.“

A childhood messing about with boats. Image by The Family Adventure Project

An adopted family

The new museum is on the site of the old Steamboat Museum and Diana thinks of the exhibits as her adopted children, “I loved steaming Dolly. She was so special. And Branksome was like steaming a Grade One listed building in boat terms. It’s wonderful that all the boats are being looked after here and they can all be together on Windermere. They all have an association with Windermere in some form or other and that’s so unique. We’ve got the first of all sorts of different boats here whether it’s the oldest mechanically powered boat in the world, the oldest yacht, the oldest motorboat, the oldest steam screw yacht in the county and then all sorts of funny little bits like Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat.”

All sorts of boats at Windermere Jetty Museum. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A part of Lakeland Arts

The current collection of 40 vessels was acquired by Lakeland Arts who run Abbot Hall and Blackwell; two very traditional Lakeland buildings. “This museum is a very different proposition with its concrete floors and panel windows,” says Helen Watson, Director of Programming, “But it brings together all the strengths of Lakeland Arts; quality, culture, and craftsmanship, with views and materials guided by the lake, the landscape and the mountains.” It was important to get it right, not only is the Jetty Museum on the waterfront in a National Park, it suddenly became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site as construction neared its end.

On board Osprey. Windermere Jetty Museum. Image by The Family Adventure Project

An individual plan for the boats

Stephen Beresford, the museum’s Senior Conservation Boat Builder ha felt the weight of expectations more than most as he has been in charge of getting the heritage boats ready for the launch. “It is a responsibility – a two edge sword,” he admits. “A lot of these boats are on the national historic ships register and there’s an accountability that goes with that. You can’t muck it up. Before we strike a blow there will be a really considered view about how we approach each job.” This involves an individual conservation plan for each boat:  “Sometimes we want to retain as much original material as possible, and not put them back on the water because we’d lose so much of the original. We treat it in a way that means it’s going to be there for our grand-kids and our grand-kids’ kids and not just be consumed for the next decade or two.”

Boats and planes at Windermere Jetty Museum. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A chance to chat with the experts

An open access conservation workshop aims to inspire people coming to the Lake District with kids to explore STEM subjects together. Visitors can chat with the boat builders as they restore future exhibits and there are plans to offer apprenticeships to local school leavers in the future. The ticket price for heritage boat rides on Osprey and other boats will enable the museum to restore more crafts to add to the fleet and offer more opportunities. I pop outside to meet the crew of Osprey as they shine up an already spotless white and gold funnel. They are excited about their role in taking 12 people at a time off round the lake for an hour to Bowness and round the back of Belle Isle. MV Jane, an American motor boat built in 1937, will offer more exclusive trips for two for those with a bigger budget or romantic disposition.

Osprey Crew polish a spotless boat at Windermere Jetty Museum. Image by The Family Adventure Project

An education in physics

Not all the boats will be restored to pristine condition. Outside the workshop Mary Anne, one of the oldest surviving pre-steam ferries used on Windermere, (built in 1870) is barely holding herself together.

“Just one good sneeze…” jokes Education Officer Natasha Scullion pointing towards the cradle she lies in. “This will help keep her supported when we look at boat shapes with school groups and talk about the different hull and shape.” she explains. “This is a load bearing boat; we will use her to explore the Archimedes Principle, displacement theory and how with a greater surface area you have more of a balance between gravity and up-thrust. Basically why do boats float? It’s my role to make it all accessible.”

Mary Anne – an old fashioned contrast to the modern construction process – Image by The Family Adventure Project

A historical anchor

The team have over three thousand small objects at hand to help inspire schoolchildren, families and enthusiasts. These objects will be rotated in the temporary exhibition spaces (around 500-1000 at a time,) to tell different stories and act as an anchor-point to stop stories getting lost, says the museum’s Heritage Curator Rachel Roberts. “History is not one thing. It’s millions of stories that people can relate to. Everyone makes their own interpretations. You start with a collection of objects but have to put them all together to see what the big stories are, and what they are telling us about the history of the area, or boat building or humans. The objects work as an anchor-point to remember and capture and preserve the story and history.”

Rachel shows me some of her own favourites, like the delicate char pots that Victorians bought as souvenirs from their Lake Windermere activities, and the original sketches of Swallows and Amazons that people can flick through on an interactive screen. She says that while the boats show Windermere’s industrial history, the smaller exhibits make the museum more understandable on a human, domestic scale. “You can imagine the person that owned them. The steamboats were equipped with cushions and curtains and kettles; they were floating houses, really relateable. I can imagine sitting there having tea.”

Unlike Stephen in the workshop, Rachel isn’t interested in the noise of the engine revving to life, but a quieter sound of people reacting to exhibits. “The noise we want to hear is ‘huh!’ It tells us somebody has made a connection. I want to see people dragging their friends across the museum to show them something they’ve connected with.”

Early Swallows and Amazons sketches – Image by The Family Adventure Project

A story of triumph and tragedy

Five themed museum displays tell the stories of people whose lives are linked to the collection and their Lake District activities.Some stories are more dramatic than others. I‘m drawn to the tale of Henry Seagrave and his speed record attempt that ended in disaster. His original seat looks about as sturdy as my laundry basket and made out of similar materials. I read on the interpretation signs that he ordered life jackets with steel strips for his record attempt but when only one arrived the three men wore jackets padded with reindeer hair.

The next boat queues up for her conservation work. Image by The Family Adventure Project

A place for sharing our own stories

In the cafe I share a table with a local who introduces himself as Dr Gartside from further up the lake. He relates his own pastimes sailing char boats on Windermere and tells me one of his vessels is on display in the museum. “I didn’t intend to come in today; I only popped out for a paper.” he laughs.

This museum is like that. As conservationist Stephen Beresford says, we are all drawn to boats:

“There’s a romance isn’t there? There’s something about boats and journeying and travelling, the exhilaration of a race or going from here to there. There’s something about the aesthetic. A boat is a thing of beauty. Boats that have endured have done so because people loved them. Everyone sits in front of a computer tippy tappying, and it’s hard to feel the reality of something. And you go on one of these boats on a day like today and it’s freezing and it’s very sensory.”

As Osprey toots out excitable coils of steam, and receptionists work with a rowing boat hanging over their heads with the oars extended and ready to go, you get the sense everyone involved in this project has already been on an extraordinary journey. And that they cannot wait to take you on one too.

A cafe with this view incites everyone to share stories. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Practical Information Getting there:

The Lake District for families just got even better as you can make a day of the whole thing and arrive at the museum by boat. From April, The Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories is working with Windermere Lake Cruises to bring people in from Bowness and Ambleside via their standard Red Line Cruises; check the summer timetable for details. For more information on the cruises check out our review of a day out on Windermere Cruises Yellow Cruise Line.

You can also arrive at the Bowness museum, two miles from Windermere, by bus, car, bike or on foot, mixing and matching your plans for other Lake District tourist attractions with a visit to the steam trains at Lakeside, the Motor Museum or the nearby Beatrix Potter attraction – one of the most established Lake District kids’ activities.

Opening hours:

March to October: Museum 10.00am-5pm. Café 10.00am-5pm

November to February: Museum 10:30am-4pm. Café 10:00am-4pm


Admission tickets cost £9 for adults, £7 for children. Under 4’s are free. A Family ticket for 2 adults and up to 3 children costs £27. A Family ticket for 1 adult and up to 3 children costs £18. Entrance to Windermere Jetty café and shop is free. There is an additional £4 parking charge for museum visitors.

Windermere Jetty Museum Exterior. Image by the Family Adventure Project


I was engaged as a poet to help launch the Windermere Jetty Museum. I was not commissioned or reimbursed to write this article. As ever, all images,words and maritime musings are all my own.

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Visit Naples, But Don’t Let it Marry Your Daughter

Oh Naples. I wanted to love you. I wanted my daughter to love you. I thought you would have a similar attraction for me as your siblings Venice and Rome, yet I knew you wouldn’t be puffed up with their pomp or riddled with their cliches. I expected you to be real. I expected you to be unpredictable. Like your fellow foodie Emilia Romagna, I expected you to blow me away with your cooking. You invented wood fired pizza or goodness sake! What mother wouldn’t want her daughter to eat the best pizza in the world?  But I regret you are not husband material. We met for 48 hours and I found you edgy, like a teen rebellion or a riot about to happen. I’m happy to visit, Naples, Italy, but I don’t want you marrying my daughter. Here’s why…

Is it enough to love the pizza in Naples,Italy. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Naples, Italy; a Great Cook but not Marriage Material Naples – you have too many tattoos

I get it Naples, I do. Body art. It’s cool. But you’ve gone too far. There isn’t an inch of you that hasn’t been inscribed by Staf and Vrin and Slav and Pab. They’re not even good at art. Your skin is scarred by their careless scrawl. Even your private and sensitive places are ruined by too much ink. We are all aware Antonio was ‘ere. It is not necessary to scream it from every part of your body.

Naples graffiti -ok this one is witty but most aren’t! Image by The Family Adventure Project

Naples – you smell terrible

You need a bath. You smell of rubbish and dogs and your passages whiff like toilets. I know you try. Every morning vans and sweepers and gently sighing street cleaners attempt to make you tidy. Even the pigeons try to clean you up, pecking at the cigarette butts and leftover bread jammed into your pocked skin. But your filth is ingrained and habitual. It is not your fault. You were a neglected child. Your parents have not been good guardians or set an example. Or maybe it was the influence of your Godfather. You need quit the partying and get in the shower.

Looking for the heart of Naples. Image by The Family Adventure Project.

Naples – you are corrupt

We are in a constant state of alert around you and I know you would sell the family silver if I left you alone with it for a moment. Even the nun in the street clutches her Virgin Mary statue as if it could be stolen and the Jehovah’s witnesses are out counting their leaflets every morning. Every time we get close to you, you try to rip us off. 80 euros to store our bikes?? Your insistence on the 15 euro mozzarella when all we want is a 2 euro bruschetta? Your trainers and belt are fake. And no thanks, I wouldn’t like to buy a Galenciaga handbag.

Naples, even your playful side is a bit weird. Image by The Family Adventure Project

Naples – you have a darkness at your heart

You are tall and edgy. Even the sun cannot penetrate but waits restlessly at your extremities. You are set in the bay of Naples in Southern Italy but it fails to splash you with colour. I know there is light and goodness in you. I see fragile frescoes behind those huge, bolted gates. I hang out in the pristine coffee shops with the proud owners singing to themselves as they line up baby blue Bialettis and puffed croissants. I see the street you have dedicated to Christmas all year round. But you pull the shutters down. You lead me into your dark centre. You try to take me underground into your network of catacombs and tunnels. You do not want me to see your soft side.

Shiny coffee shops in Naples disguise a darker heart – image by The Family Adventure Project

Naples – people want to escape from you

On the surface you are the dream date. You are literally a national treasure; packed with frescoes, sculptures and mosaics saved from Pompeii. You are cultured, with a passion for classical art. You have hidden depths with your catacombs and aqueducts. You really come alive at night, where it’s like being on a rollercoaster journey through the dark. So why do a lot of people take one look at you and want to go somewhere else? Even the octopus makes a run from the shallow barrel in the fish market as the seller reaches for a handful of fleshy prawns. I watch as people rush from their graffiti strewn B & B’s early morning and head for the station or the port. Many only tolerate you because you are close to your cousin Pompeii. (Frankly I met him and he’s dead inside.) You are probably more interesting than your perfect relatives Rome and Florence. You know who you are and do not try to fit in to what people would like you to be. But still, I wouldn’t go out alone in the dark with you. Police cars and army vehicles wait nervously on standby for you to finish your night time activities. You are not a Ferrari or Pagani kind of personality; your careless addiction to scooters will undoubtedly end in tears.

Naples street – rough and ready for the night’s activities

But Naples – your pizza and pasta really are very good..

But on the plus side you really do make a fantastic pizza. Oh the flavours! And that delicate yet weighty base. And your tomatoes are as sweet as an Italian summer.

I don’t want my daughter to marry you but you do know how to treat her right when it comes to mealtimes. Maybe you’d just like to invite us round for dinner? It wouldn’t harm to check you out again would it?

Pasta from Naples – Image by The Family Adventure Project

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Landmarks of Iceland Road Trip

It’s not hard to get away from it all in Iceland. It’s a big island with a relatively small population and most of them living in or near Reykjavik. Yet despite the aching emptiness there are some things about Iceland you just can’t get away from. Not that you’d want to. The natural and man made landmarks of Iceland are the things that give the country its colour, its atmosphere, and of course, its tourists. You can do a road trip of Iceland in anything from a week to a couple of months. We took a six week road trip with our bikes and car and tent in summer, but we also went for a week in Spring to cover a festival and managed to pack in The Blue Lagoon, a Golden Circle tour and more. You can see many of the landmarks of Iceland in a 7 day ring tour, opt for 14 days in Iceland Itinerary or go the whole hog like we did and stay for most of the summer. Here are our top tips of sites you should pick and mix from on your Iceland Road trip…

The bluest iceberg studded landmark in the world?

Iceland Road Trip Landmarks

Driving is undoubtedly the best way to see Iceland unless you fancy cycling it. But Iceland’s maps are deceptive. Things that look close might not be. (A problem that becomes more acute on a bike.) We quickly realise once we get on the road that there can be ten fingers of winding fjord between us and lunch. Or multiple single track bridges that take time to negotiate. Or impromptu weather changes. (One thing you can be sure of in Iceland is that the weather will change.) And then there’s the surprises. There’s a new delight around every corner and you find yourself stopping more than you meant to to take a picture or just look in awe at the landscape.

Herðubreið Reserve Iceland – you have to negotiate a few Icelandic corners to get to this hidden landmark

7 Day Iceland Ring Tour

Iceland is pretty empty. Hardly anyone lives in the interior, which you can only reach during summer and only with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Most of the inhabited parts of Iceland are along the coast and the ring road is a handy connector for any trips in Iceland. It runs to 1,332 km (828 miles) and is paved throughout. You can do it in a 7 day Iceland itinerary, but expect to drive at least 200 kms a day if you do. This will be a basic bomb around, without much time to digest what you’ve seen or spend time lingering in a museum. But conveniently some of the main sites are right next to the road. I imagine many people have almost crashed the car when passing the icebergs in the south.

Road to Landmannalaugar Iceland – a self drive trip is the best way to do Iceland

14 Day Iceland Tour

And Iceland 1 week itinerary will give you a basic idea of the place but two weeks in Iceland gives you a little more leeway to stop and see things and explore a little. It will also give you at least a day or two in the capital Reykjavik. It’s also worth booking a couple of guided trips to see things that other tourists might not on your Iceland driving holiday. While you can do the Golden Circle on your own in the car, you’ll need a company to help you go whale watching, glacier hiking, horse riding or  river rafting.

On your two week Iceland itinerary you could fit in rafting on the Vestari-Jökulsá, North Iceland

21 Days in Iceland and More

Now you’ll really have time to explore. And if it’s summer, take a little self guided drive of Iceland’s interior. (You can hire a 4×4 if your car isn’t up to it. But do book ahead as in the summer months they sell out.) The landmarks come thick and fast on any ring road tour, from high towers to volcanic towers from geysirs to waterfalls. But if you have three weeks or more you can see smaller quirkier things. Sea Monster Museum anyone? Bjork’s home town? Game of Thrones locations?

You could bring one of these, but many people just hire a car when they are self driving Iceland

Pick and Mix from these Iceland itinerary ideas

I’ve picked out a few of the landmarks I feel you wouldn’t want to miss on a Ring Road tour of Iceland, starting in the south, where most people head first, especially if they only have a short time in the country. Don’t be tempted to stick to the well trodden Golden Circle tour and Blue Lagoon attractions. There’s so much more on offer, whatever the length of your stay.

Off you go on your incredible road trip tour taking in the many and varied landmarks of Iceland

South Coast
1 Hallgrimskirkja Church

If you have an active imagination and its one of those days where the light is flat, you can almost believe the white Lutherian Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik is one of the peaks that surround the capital. The church is like an optical illusion; wherever you are in the city you can see it. And it looks really different depending on the time of day you visit. The church is free to enter and for a small fee you can take a lift up to the top of the church to view the bay unencumbered by buildings.At nearly 75 metres high it is the tallest church in Iceland. There’s also a very impressive pipe organ on site. While you are in town, Perlan is another landmark monument worth checking out. It looks like a squat spaceship compared to the church’s needle spire and is good for families with exhibition space, a planetarium and observation deck.

Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland

2 Faxa Bay

If you visit spend any time in Reykjavik on your Iceland Ring Road itinerary, you’ll be drawn to this vast expanse of water. In fact every time you walk don a street it seems to be at the bottom of it. We enjoyed walking the bay in summer, but on our February visit it as really magical, as the wind blew through our veins and the snow on the peaks shimmered in the bright sky. Faxa Bay, or Faxaflói as its known as locally is an inlet of the North Atlantic Ocean hugging the south west coast. Its the largest bay in Iceland, and unsurprisingly it offers great fishing opportunities and lots of seafood restaurants. Our top Iceland restaurant tip is the posh fish and chip shop near the whale watching entrance. Like any Reykjavik restaurant Icelandic Fish and Chips isn’t cheap for families on a budget but the kids will love it and I found it worth pushing the boat out for (excuse the pun!)

Best things to do in Iceland in February? Look out towards wilds of Iceland from Reykjavik bay

3 Harpa Cultural and Conference Centre

Ok it’s not the Sydney Opera House but it’s still pretty impressive. Harpa Cultural Centre stands on the waterfront in Reykjavik. It’s vast coloured glass exterior was inspired by the landscape. You can go in and wander around or book tickets for a concert. There’s a fun one man family show that has been running for seven years. In “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes” Bjarni Haukur Thorsson teaches you everything you need to know about blending in. Not really, but you’ll have a laugh!

Harpa lights

4 Geysir and Strokur

It’s a bit of a cliche I know, but you have to see these guys. Head to Haukadalur Valley to the geysir that lent its name to the phenomenon. Geysir itself has in recent years stopped erupting but Strokkur stepped into the limelight and puts on a reliable show every five or ten minutes. We played a fun family game counting down and predicting when it would blow.

Have fun with the geysirs in Iceland

5 Eyjafjallajökull

A decade ago the world got very familiar with the name, if not the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull, as it held up the world’s air traffic control systems and caused worldwide travel chaos. You are never far from volcanic rock, even in the city; look across to the city centre from Perlan and all you will see is great chunks of geology. But at Eyjafjallajökull, in Hvolsvollur you can look in awe at the volcano and then watch the movie in the Eyjafjallajökull Visitor Centre about the eruption. We spent a happy hour there, hoping there was no sequel on its way.

Eyafjallajokull Visitor Centre- one disaster movie is enough

6 Jökulsárlón and its Icebergs

Jökulsárlón glacial lake in the south eat of the island is famous for the colour of its icebergs. Their luminous blue light makes the place look utterly spooky. It’s noisy too, as they crash and move and form and reform. You can see this deep glacial lake from Route 1 between Höfn and Skaftafell. If you want to get up closer you can go out on a boat trip. We were just content to wander and marvel. Leave at least an hour for this if you are interested in nature or ice formations. Be careful where you sit though; a woman tried to take a selfie sitting in an iceberg that looked like a throne recently and found herself quickly floating away.

Icebergs in the sea at Jokulsarlon. Don’t sit on any thrones now!

7 Gullfoss and the Waterfalls

Gullfoss is best known for being on the Golden Circle Tour; a must on any road trip around Iceland. It is pretty magnificent and not to be missed. But there are many other waterfalls in the south that we fell in love with just as much. Seljalandsfoss is the one you can walk behind; it has a drop of over 60 metres and a neat cave to shelter in to see the water blast down, We got quite wet so do bring a raincoat if the wind is strong. Skógafoss is worth a visit too; especially if you ave fans of Marvel; it was apparently a location in Thor: The Dark World.

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland- you won’t get that kind of rush in many places

8 Hellisheidarvirkjun (or Hellisheidi) Power Plant

This is one for your 21 day Iceland round trip as it’s not one of the conventional landmarks but is a good education in what makes Iceland hot. Hot water and steam from the ground have encouraged Iceland to build turbines and produce electricity which is 100% renewable. (It’s a revelation to check into a basic campsite and find free washing machines and heated toilets.) You can see how Iceland has really harnessed it at Hellisheiði geothermal plant, llocated on Hengill volcano. There’s an interesting exhibition talking you through the process of making power.

Iceland has worked hard at harnessing this kind of magic

9 Vestmannaeyjar

Another Iceland itinerary idea for a longer tour, the Vestmannaeyjar or The Westman Islands lie just 10 miles off Iceland’s South Coast. They are home to one of the world’s largest Atlantic puffin colonies. Read our post on puffin hunting with the kids in the Westman islands.

Sunset over Westman Islands, Iceland

West Iceland 10 West Fjords

Look at the western glacial fjords on a map and you will see they look like the fingers on a hand as they weave in and out of the bay. In real life they look like the fingers of a big hoary giant and its hard to shake the feeling that something is watching you. You can see them below in this picture taken when we were cycling Iceland’s Dream Road.  Escape from the coach parties on the south coast to take in their beauty. There are some pretty little villages on route.

11 Dynjandi Waterfall
Dynjandi is a series of waterfalls in the West fjords, Iceland. They stack up neatly to resemble a birthday cake from afar. The Dunjandi waterfalls have a total height of 100 metres, and you can camp at the foot of them although the sound of rushing water all night makes it hard to sleep. I think I got about 2 hours and dreamed I was sitting a bath with the tap running.

Dynjandi Waterfall – wedding or birthday cake?

12 Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft

Hólmavík is a small fishing village snuggled into the twisting coastline of peninsulas in the Western Fjords. You might wind up there by accident after visiting Akureyri – Iceland’s second city. Or perhaps it’s not accidental. Maybe we are all drawn there! Hólmavík’s big claim to fame is magic, you see. At first sight there’s nothing very magical about this village; all we really notice is the N1 garage. But around 20 witches were burned at the stake in the Western Fjords and this village commemorates them with stories and strange exhibits at the quirky Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft. We admittedly arrived in the village at dusk but it does have an eerie feeling; can you see a witches hat outline in the local church? Take a look at our post about our unsettling 24 hours in Holmavik.

Church at Holmavik

13 Sudureyri Fishing Village and Project

Suðureyri is a small Icelandic village perched on the tip of the 13 km-long Súgandafjörður. It claims to be Iceland’s most sustainable fishing village; fish are caught using traditional methods like long lining, and pride is taken in using almost every part of the fish. Sudureyri is about as far away from Reykjavik as you can get in the Western Fjords, even with the quite scary 5km tunnel built to improve access so it’s a bit of a hike. But if you have a few weeks for your road trip, you might want to include it in your Iceland travel plan as its an atmospheric little place. Sadly there aren’t any tours of the fish head factory, (yes that is a thing) but you can visit the Íslandssaga fish processing plant. A sunny morning finds following our guide Oddny, the Quality Control Manager, through a machine room and then along the cutting line watching the fish being processed. You can also catch your dinner on a sea angling trip, and cook it with the help of a local family, go out with a working fishing boat or simply buy a bag of fish and go feed the cod in the lagoon. There’s no shortage of fish round here! North Coast. Read about our visit to the Íslandssaga fish processing plant here.

It’s all about the fish at Sudureyri

14 Sea Monster Museum

There are few that can argue a sea monster would be a notable landmark, and while I can’t swear Iceland has one, it definitely has a building to mark the belief that they exist. You can find The Sea Monster Museum in Bildudalar where  monsters seduce, legends spook, memorabilia seems to flash in the muted daylight and timbers most definitely creek. Check out our post on our sea monster visit.

North Iceland 15 Husavik and the Whale Stations

Husavik is the landmark town for whale watching and pretty much everything here has a logo with a tail on it. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding a boat trip although it may be busy in high season. Check out our post on whale watching in Husavik. And our..

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10 Winter Sports for Kids and Families

At the beginning of the year we kicked off our ultimate list of 100 outdoor activities for families. Our first post in the series was 10 family water sports activities including canoeing, sailing and rafting. In this second part we  wrap up well and prepare to slide, ride and glide through the coldest season of the year. Our list of winter sports for kids and families features ten activities we have tried and loved with our own kids at various ages. You don’t necessarily need skills; sometimes a sense of adventure is enough to get a flavour of these outdoor and indoor winter sports experiences and games. And sometimes giving it a go is more important than staying on your feet. Read on to unlock the action…   

We’ve got the skates but what do we do with the sticks?

What to do with kids in winter? 1 Have a go at Ski biking

The first sport in our list of ten winter sports to try is ski biking. It sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Biking in the snow. And I will admit it’s a little hard to get your head around at first. But once you have mastered it, it feels as natural as strapping on skis, but without the hassle and discomfort of snow boots. The first time we ride on the white stuff is in the resort of Chinaillonin the French Alps, where ESF ski biking instructor Jean-François Exertier lines us all up to show us the ropes of velo-ski. If you study the picture below you’ll see it’s like a cross between skiing and cycling, without a wheel to be seen.

Family ski biking in the French Alps -one of our 10 winter sports for kids and families

This sport is a one of the best winter season activities if you have family members who haven’t yet learned to ski, or aren’t able to do high impact sports. You can take the ski-bikes on the lifts in the resorts to save tired legs. Jean-François became an ambassador for the activity when his neighbours started to manufacture the machines in their local iron workshop. He is still currently the only instructor who offers tuition in the five interconnected resorts around La Clusaz. Watch our video to see how we got on..

Ski Biking or Velo Ski in Le Grand Bornand - Is this the easiest gliding sport? - YouTube

How to hire a ski bike

Contact the tourist information in the resorts around La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand to hire a velo ski and book some tuition. While this is quite unique to the area, you can hire bikes made for snow in many resorts across Europe. We also hired a mix of Fat Tyre bikes and electric mountain bikes and took to the forested areas near the slopes of Valmorel on a day out. Check out the video we made and see which kind of bike you fancy for your own snowy adventure.

I want to ride YOUR bicycle: Electric Mountain Biking at Doucy, Valmorel - YouTube

Read more: 

A taster of velo biking in the French Alps

Fat tyre and mountain biking on snow in Valmorel

2 Have a shot at winter biathlon

Biathlon combines two sports, Nordic skiing and shooting. It’s energetic and competitive so our kids love it. We have an introductory session while skiing late in the season in Le Grand Bornand. The children delight in watching each other falling over (there is also a faair bit of pushing as they race each other on cross country skis.) They enjoy being trusted to handle the air rifles and being able to compete with each other without parents telling them off for it. Le Grand-Bornand is famous for this winter sport; in 2013 it hosted the French Cross Country Skiing Championships and in 2017 it hosted the Biathlon World Cup.

Statue at the Stade International de Biathlon Sylvie Becaert in Le Grand Bornand

We are taught biathlon by Alexis Bailly  who trains us a special area on a flat valley floor in the Vallée du Bouchet where 58 kms of cross country slope wind through nearby fields and forests. When we finally feel we know what we are doing with the air rifles, we practice Nordic ski techniques and then get racing. Who wins? We all claim we do. But the proof lies in the targets.

The tension mounts as Cameron takes aim at a 10m target on our biathlon taster session at Le Grand Bornand

How to do biathlon

You’ll need help to have a go at biathlon. There are many companies in the French Alps that can rent you the equipment, guide and track for a couple of hours. Ask at the tourist information in your resort. As well as the traditional biathlon you can do a laser version that particularly good for kids that might not have the dexterity to handle a rifle. It’s great for Star Wars fans too obviously. Although you definitely won’t look like Luke Skywalker as you awkwardly shuffle around the cones.

Read more: 

Shooting and skiing – a grand biathlon double

3 Jam yourself into a Snow tube

You don’t need any skills for this sport; even a toddler can do it. But equally you might need to leave your pride at home; you won’t look your best self when your backside is jammed into an over-inflated tyre and you are squealing “wheeeeeeeeee!” as you hurtle down a smallish slope. For stuff to do in the winter months goes, ski tubing is up there with snow balling. Huge fun for all the family; we did ours at our local ski slop the Chill Factore in Manchester.

Who’s for a snow tube at Manchester’s Chill Factore?

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Does my bum look big in this snow tube? 

4 Ride into the night on a Piste Basher

Riding a snow plough is one of the loveliest and loneliest winter activities I have ever done. There’s nothing like taking to the high slopes after all the skiers have gone home and the sun is going down. If you are lucky the sun will go down for you in a spectacular fashion, like it did for us. You can book the experience in many tourist resorts. We did it in La Molina in the Spanish Pyrenees. The driver picked us up from the bottom of the slopes, gave us ten minutes to wander around at the top and took us back down again a couple of hours later when it was dark. I wonder what he thinks about every night as he ploughs that solitary track, making the runs smooth for early morning skiers.

Perfect Date with a Piste Basher: Excursiones con máquinas pisa nieves La Molina #InPyrenees - YouTube

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Hitch a ride on a piste basher for a lovely, lonely experience

5 Enjoy the atmosphere of night skiing

Night skiing is available at many ski resorts and it is worth paying the extra fee to give it a try. Why? The slopes feel very different in the muted light and if you can shake off the rest of your party and other skiers, it feels more edgy and adventurous. And then there’s the party at the bottom; many slopes have music, lights, and cocktails to accompany the action. Look out for ski jumping on inflatable pillows to see the sunset from the air. I filmed one of my runs down at the Spanish resort of La Masella. Check it out.

Night Skiing at La Masella #InPyrenees. Filmed using Panasonic HX-A100 Wearable Camera - YouTube

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Blast into the dusk with family night skiing

6 Slide into ice skating

Teeny tots glide and twirl in leotards and tiny skirts. I shuffle in an oversize jacket and shoes that won’t do what I tell them to. But my coach Mandy Worth says I’m doing ok, so I cling onto that. That’s when I’m not clinging onto the side. The kids of course are fine.

Learning to Skate at National Ice Centre Nottingham

Mandy’s job at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre is to train young skaters to be part of team GB. Mandy has been a short track speed skating teacher for 30 years and competed in the 1980 Olympics. Her eldest son is also a national coach. Her daughter in law was a competitive figure skater. “That’s one over achieving family” I’m thinking as I keep awkwardly shuffling. Nottingham ice rink is home for the GB short track speed skating team and more famously where Torville and Dean began. The only sign of them today is their costumes, draped on cardboard cut outs. I am wondering if I can get a cardboard cut out of myself so I can nip off for a coffee and leave the others to glide.

Go ice skating and you might meet a famous skater or someone like me pretending to be a cardboard cut out

If ice dancing is more your thing, but you aren’t the professional yet, find an ice disco at your local ski resort when on a ski trip, Here’s how we got on in La Clusaz:

Ice Skating Disco at the Patinoire La Clusaz - YouTube

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Beginner’s ice skating lesson at the National Ice centre 

Ice dancing and other spring treats at La Clusaz in the French Alps

7 Treat the family to a toboggan run

Cold weather sports don’t come more exciting than this. And many ski resorts offer tobogganning all year round so you can get your fix on a summer Alpine holiday as well. The Glacier 3000 Alpine Coaster in Switzerland is the highest toboggan run on rails in Europe. We blast down in the individual bob sled carts, each choosing our own speed. Have a look at the video and see if you fancy it.

Europe's Highest Alpine Coaster Toboggan at Glacier 3000 Les Diablerets - YouTube

How to go tobogganing

We have been tobogganing all over the world. It’s usually cheaper than lift passes for skiing but the cost can mount up as a family. In a couple of resorts we split a book of tickets between us and had two goes each. Or to do it really cheaply, find a bivvie bag and some snow for a DIY adventure as we did in the UK’s Lake District.

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Glacier 3000 toboggan run

Lake District bivvie bag DIY tobogganing

8 Clash sticks at family ice hockey

Ice hockey is fun to watch and even more fun to play. And it doesn’t matter about the weather is it’s in classic indoor winter sports territory. But it is a brutal affair and not for the faint hearted. We join in a group training session at La Rosiere in the French Alps. Most of the other people are French. And most have done it before. The brief training is a bewildering mix of drills and the subsequent games are carnage; with everyone crashing into each other and the sides. Someone puts the kids and Stuart into a family team. They are hopeless. And then suddenly Matthew is doing ok in goal. They are still utterly rubbish, but at least they are upright. They declare it one off their favourite winter sports games until they discover they have lost. Take a look at the video to see how they got on..

Learn Ice Hockey Skills: Have a Go at Ice Hockey Session at Patinoire de La Rosiere - YouTube

How to have a go at ice hockey

Check with your local ice rink to see if they offer lessons. Or ask at tourist information on your ski holiday about winter sports games and activities. It beats staying in and overeating fondue surely?

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Learning ice hockey as a family

9 Ice axes ready for glacier hiking

We first try glacier walking when the kids are tweens. In the southern reaches of Iceland, on the Oaefajokull tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier, the teeth of their crampons crunch lightly on the thin layer of ice. For obvious reasons people like us aren’t encouraged to go randomly walking on glaciers in the Vatnajökulspjodgardur National Park but there are plenty of companies that can take us up there and show us around. You can ride a skiddoo, climb vertical walls or just head out for a hike. You may have to cope with the idea of your kids having ice axes though. Every time we pause to learn about the glacier, the boys hack away at the ice. There’s an even more exciting experience to follow though: our guide Jón Heider Rúnarson holds them by the waist as they peer down into a hole that stretches down further than we can see.

Boys, glaciers and ice axes

How to walk on a glacier

Seek out a company that can offer you a guided walk. Or find a mountain that offers public glacier walking as an attraction; like the glacier hiking we did at Les Diablerets in Switzerland. There were even people running past us in a mountain race.

Bit nippy around here? That’s the thing about winter adventure activities, they are always bloomin’ glacial

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Glacier hiking on Skaftafell

An independent walk on Glacier 300o in Switzerland

Skywalk on Dachstein Glacier in Austria

10 Laugh a lot at cross country skiing

The basics of cross country skiing are really easy to learn. It’s once you get out there and start trying to snow plough in fixed grooves that you start falling over. By mid afternoon it is clear to us that mastering the sport might take longer than a day. But we are having so much fun sliding through the woods and falling over that we don’t care. Cross country or Nordic skiing is cheaper than downhill and a qualitatively different experience, more like hiking on skis. Out of all the cold weather sports it’s one of the most peaceful, and a great back to nature experience, as long as you can laugh quietly.If you don’t fancy any ski action then try strapping some snow shoes to your feet and going for a walk through the forested areas.

Family Nordic Skiiing Fun at Guils Fontanera in Catalonian Pyrenees - YouTube

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Falling Over Fun: Nordic Skiing at Guils Fontanera

We’d have included snowmobiling in our winter sports list f anyone had let us have the keys

Further reading:

Got an appetite for further adventure? Check out our top 10 water activities list which kicks off our mega list of ‘100 things to do before your kids leave home.’  More articles on family adventure sports will follow soon so keep an eye out!

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15 Things to Do in Appleby

The Lake District is far more than the sum of its honeypot towns. There are some overlooked towns and villages that punch way above their weight. One of these is the Cumbrian town of Appleby-in-Westmorland. This former county town, fourteen miles from Penrith, is a great landing point for outdoor adventures. And it still retains much of its original character. In fact, when you are wandering by the River Eden, or visiting the church, you feel not much has changed at all in a century. Oh, and unusually for a Lakeland town, you can park for free in the centre. Here are my top 15 things to do in Appleby…

St Lawrence Church – one of our top 15 things to do in Appleby

1 Appleby Castle

Appleby Castle has one of the few preserved Norman Keeps in the UK. It was held by various Kings in its time and it’s most famous resident was Lady Anne Clifford, known as the Lady of Letters. In the summer the castle hosts events including re-enactments and gives daily history tours. You can stay there too; it’s conversion into a hotel and holiday cottages offers four poster beds and use of the Great Hall and grounds. In winter access to the castle is more limited but check out the website for  afternoon tea on a Sunday or dinner in the evenings in the C15th dining room. Hotel staff can organise shooting parties and fishing for guests.

You can walk in the grounds of Appleby Castle in the summer on a guided tour

2 Appleby Horse Fair

It’s edgy. My Mum didn’t like it. My baby son slept through it. But this ‘annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland’ is one of the most unique things to do in the Lake District. Stories differ as to when the fair began, some say it goes back to the 1600’s while others cite the 1770’s, but it was definitely popular throughout the 1900’s. One of the curious things about the fair that’s thought to be the biggest in Europe is that no one officially owns or organizes it. The majority of the action at Appleby Horse Fair happens outside of the town near the spookily named Gallows Hill, but you can catch the owners washing their horses at ‘the Sands’, beside the River Eden in the town. This year’s fair starts June 6th but all the action for spectators happens at the weekend, when main roads are closed so the travellers can properly showcase their wares. If you are brave, another place to spectate is flashing lane where the horses and carriages flash past. It’s a bit hairy due to how fast the horses are travelling but there are barriers and I recommend you stand behind them.

3 The Appleby Hub

The Appleby Hub is the funkiest converted church in town. It was renovated after the floods in December 2015, and launched as a community project in 2016 by the Oaklea trust. It’s used by a variety of community groups and classes; we travel up the M6 to dance classes there regularly. There’s a climbing wall on the inside of the building with twice monthly open climbing sessions every other Saturday from 10-12. And on the last Saturday of every month you can visit the Hubcraft craft fair, with free entry. But the best thing is the community café, a busy little place with a great wholefood menu. There’s also a rotary second hand bookshop in the café.

Climbing wall at The Appleby Hub

4 Appleby Remote Cinema

Part of Eden Art’s rural touring cinema scheme and run by volunteers, Appleby Remote Cinema aims to show at least six films a year. Check their Twitter or Facebook page for the next showing or collect your tickets from the tourist info or Courtyard Gallery.

5 Courtyard Gallery

Appleby clearly has a talent for turning old into gold. Housed in a C17th granary, the Courtyard Gallery is a shopping experience and coffee shop rolled into one. If you stop off for coffee and cake, I recommend the tiffin but the mocha cake looks great too. It’s the kind of place where people strike up a conversation and conversations I have with the next door table range from the state of the economy to things to do in Yorkshire. When you are full of cake and chat, you can browse the work of around 40 artists. Co-owner Rosie Bellwood is an artist herself and can talk you through the provenance of the gifts and art on display.

Courtyard gallery and coffee shop

6 Town Walk

There’s loads of walking in the area. The Tourist information at Moot Hall is stocked with leaflets and maps and the people who run it are happy to make suggestions for your level of fitness. They give me a map and directions for four short walks starting at Boroughgate, recommending I take walk four, a short, easy stroll that takes me up, round the castle walls, past the manor hotel and the field where the Horse Fair is sited in the summer. I am later told if I’d hung a right at the bridge after the leisure centre, it would have led to a woodland walk teeming with red deer. Route one is suitable for wheelchairs and scooters which you can hire from the town’s Health Centre.

It’s worth a visit to some of the independent shops on your return through the town. Appleby has managed to avoid almost all chain stores and there is a heated conversation in one of the cafes while I am there about a certain prolific coffee chain trying to muscle in. The farmers market is apparently always busy on a Saturday with people coming in from surrounding villages. In Sugar and Spice sweet shop I buy a pound’s worth of bonbon’s as a little girl tells owner Charlie it’s her dream to work in a sweet shop. “Owning a shop was my dream too!” she replies, rattling lemon sweets into the tray. If you are after souvenirs, check out the artisan shop just outside the church.

Appleby sweet shop

7 Settle-Carlisle Railway

Described as one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world, the Settle to Carlisle Railway is a treat for all the family and one of the best things to do near Appleby. Running through the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian Fells, the Settle to Carlisle railway is known for its Victorian architecture, gob smacking stone viaducts, huge tunnels and very Instagramable station buildings and huts. Best of all it is part of the UK rail network so the regular trains can bring you into Appleby or take you off on a day trip. Look out for the special steam train excursions that occasionally ply the route.

Watching the sunset at Dent Head Viaduct- a staple of the Settle-Carlisle Railway

8 Biking

For avid bikers there’s a wide range of loops around Appleby. The Pennine Cycleway and National 7 routes pass through the town, and the C2C comes fairly close -at Penrith and Kirkby Stephen. The Exploring Eden leaflet has five circular ‘do in a day’ routes from the town and the TIC has a Cycling from Appleby and Kirkby Stephen leaflet. Check out Eden Valley CTC for opportunities to join road and MTB rides. “Some routes can be quite hilly (and difficult!)” Mo from The Barn at Well Green at Great Asby explains to me in a Tweet. “But also there are some good flat expanses up on Great Asby car and Orton Scar. Best of all there’s very little car traffic! We have maps and can plot routes if you have a Garmin.” Their b and b offers cheap bunkhouse accommodation to cyclists In Great Asby, 11 minutes drive or half an hour’s cycle from Appleby. There’s secure cycle storage along with a bike workshop and tools.

Our biking picnic stop in the Eden Valley

9 Lowther Castle

Spring is a great time to visit Lowther Castle when you can do a garden tour of the daffodils with Martin Ogle, the head gardener. Entrance fee includes entry, the tour, the exhibition and coffee and tray bake in the café. Through history the gardens were famous across the north, but the castle itself has always been a draw; at one time boasting a room for every day of the year. These days you’ll find some impressive ruins, gardens you can get lost in, and a huge adventure playground. You can hire bikes and cycle round the wider park and hear tales from the past in the exhibition The Story of Lowther.

If you’re a fan of royal history Appleby is worth a stay

10 Acorn Bank

Acorn Bank is a National Trust house and gardens just north of Temple Sowerby, situated seven miles from Appleby. You can tour the woodlands, view the house and visit the old corn mill. In spring the snowdrops are glorious. The reward for all that woodland walking is the cafe. The scones come highly recommended and there’s a lovely courtyard to sit in.

Appleby offers easy walking around its attractions as well as free parking with a disc you can obtain from local shops

11 High Cup Nick Hill Walk

This testing 11 mile hill walk begins at Dufton, about three miles from Appleby-in-Westmorland. High Cup Nick can take a fit person six hours or more and you’ll gain 350 metres. But the views of this glacial valley in the North Pennines area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are worth the occasional scrambling and howling wind. After you’ve descended, the Stag Inn in Dufton is a good place to recoup your energy.

12 Appleby Manor Garden and Spa Hotel

Appleby Manor Country House Hotel is offers four star spa luxury. You can find deals on short breaks, either via voucher sites or on the hotel’s website. As an example you can do a Girls Time Spa Day with  treatment, champagne and strawberries and private hot tub. If  you have less time you can rock up for a champagne afternoon tea or a simple cream tea with home made scones.

13 Apple Day

It’s hardly surprising that a town with the name of Appleby has an apple day really is it? You can help celebrate with the ‘Apples in Appleby Apple Day’ in October. Bring your apples to put through the presses and take home juice. Experts stay on hand to give advice on orchards and apple growing in Cumbria. There’s a cider fest and apple pie judging. Basically if it looks or tastes like an apple it’ll be there.

Get appled up on Apple Day in Appleby

14 Orton chocolate factory

Not enough sugar consumption? The village of Orton lies just under ten miles from Appleby and there one main reason to visit; Kennedy’s Fine Chocolates, a chocolate factory and tea room that’s been making luxury Belgian style chocolates for 28 years. Order a coffee and then pick your own chocolates to go with it. I did!

15 St Lawrence’s Church

For some peace and quiet, St Lawrence’s Church is worth a short stop. Go late on in the day as the sun gets low to see it in the prettiest light. But the main draw, for musician and historians, at least is the oldest working English organ in existence. It’s thought the oldest parts of it date back to 1542. The church also contains the coffin of Lady Anne Clifford.

St Lawrence Church -check out the oldest working organ in England

More Cumbrian Adventures

Hope you enjoyed my brief guide to Appleby. If you are in the Lake District for a few days, you might also like to have a Cumbrian microadventure, take a scenic drive of the West Coast or bike in a heart shape. If you have ideas for more things to do in Appleby that I’ve overlooked, do let me know in the comments.

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