Runner | Cyclist | Traveller | Mom to 3 | Happy wife | Wine drinker | Chocolate eater | Bread baker | Host of Kelownagurl's Adventures: Travel and Fitness into Retirement Blog and Podcast | We hiked the Camino in May 2016
We had two days off between housesits which we spent in the Cotswolds, and then we headed south for a 2 1/2 hour drive to the small village of Stour Row, near Shaftesbury, Dorset. Along the way, we made a stopover for lunch in the famous city of Bath, leaving the car in the Lansdown Park & Ride, and catching the bus that left every 15 minutes, and dropped us off right downtown (£5.50 return for the 2 of us). The city was quite beautiful but a bit too big, busy, touristy, and pricey for my liking, and the hour we spent there was plenty. I didn’t have any urge to spend £20-35 each to visit the famous geothermal pools, as we have plenty of hot springs at home in British Columbia. And so we were back on the road around 2:45, and arrived at our next house sit right on schedule at 4pm.
This time we were sitting for a young couple who were on their way to Chile to run the Patagonian International Marathon. Laura has set herself a challenge to run a marathon on all 7 continents in one calendar year. So far she’s run the London Marathon, the Everest Marathon, and the Banff Marathon. Apart from the physical challenge, she is running for charity and you can donate here if you are interested. Her husband, a well known mountaineer, was at one time the youngest person to climb the seven summits, reaching the top of Everest on his 20th birthday. Clearly, these two are an extraordinary young couple and we really enjoyed getting to know them.
We had two lovely mini pointer crosses to care for on this sit – a male who was very fun and rambunctious, and a female who was very shy and cautious. Both are rescue dogs from Cyprus and unfortunately, given her demeanour, there’s no doubt that the female has been terribly abused in the past. We had to take very special care with her and worked hard to gain her trust. Both dogs were very sweet and it was a joy to care for them for the week.
We had a really nice room with a super comfortable queen bed and a private ensuite and our bedroom window looked out onto a courtyard. The cottage was a converted stable and was nicely finished with a open plan for the kitchen, living, and dining room, two bedrooms and an office.
We were at the edge of a tiny village, and we could walk right out the door to the footpaths running through open fields and into the woods. There was an excellent farm shop about 2 km away in East Stour, and a larger Tesco and other stores in the town of Shaftesbury, only a 5km drive away.
When we arrived, the couple took us out for a walk in the fields to show us where to run the dogs, and then showed us around the house. Once again, we were left with detailed written and verbal instructions, and we connected on Whatsapp to stay in touch during the trip. They made us supper and we visited for the evening, getting to know each other. Their plan to was leave around 9am the next day, and so we were all off to bed by 10. The dogs are pretty funny and know their routine very well. At 10pm, they get up and walk to the bedroom and wait for their beds to be moved, then they curl up and go to sleep. Seriously, you could set your watch by them.
It took the little female pup several days to start to relax around us, and she spent a good part of her day snuggled in her doggy bed in the office where she felt safe and comfortable. However, she enjoyed her walks which were kept brief due to a sore paw, and we often went in to sit with her in the office for a visit and snuggles.
The boisterous male pup was hilarious and full of beans. We had to keep the bedroom doors closed because he loved to run off with socks and shoes if given the chance. He really enjoyed his longer walks in the fields and Erik would often take him in the afternoon while I stayed home with the little girl.
We didn’t head off anywhere exciting on this segment, being more than content to sit home, read, watch TV, knit, and go for walks. The weather was quite cool and showery much of the time but we were always able to get out for walks between the showers.
We made a trip to the grocery store every day, and a couple of times we walked around the town of Shaftesbury to see some of the sights, including “Gold Hill”, the famous steep cobbled street that was featured in a 1973 Hovis Bread commercial. It has been used as a film location several times now and in fact, one afternoon when we were walking around town, we saw some filming going on.
Near the end of our 9 days, Steve, our friend from Bournemouth, picked us up and we went into town for supper. We had a good catch up, not having seen him since our last visit to the UK in 2014.
On our last full day, we drove 20 minutes north to visit a National Trust site – Stourhead – a beautiful old Palladian mansion with gorgeous sprawling gardens. Luckily, the sun came out for a little while, so we enjoyed a long walk around the lake, where we took many photos of the park-like surroundings. Afterwards, we drove to the Compton Abbas Airfield with its grass runway, where we had a nice lunch and watched the small planes take off and land. It was a nice day trip, and the only day that we spent 4-5 hours away from home.
That evening, we tidied the house, swept and vacuumed, and generally made sure everything was in tip top shape. We picked up bread, milk, butter etc, and replaced anything we had eaten from the cupboards. Originally the couple had expected to be home very late the next day and we had intended to stay over that night before heading to Liverpool, but it turned out their flight landed at noon and so we were able to get away a day early. We booked a B&B in Cheltenham for the night, and headed to Liverpool early the next morning, giving us more time to visit the city, so it worked out well.
Our little female pup had gradually been venturing out into the living room during the day a few times which was a good sign, but quite amazingly, on the morning that her family was due home, she came into the living room, sat down, and didn’t want to go back into her safe space in the bedroom. I thought she might need to go out for a pee, so I took her out briefly, but when we got back, she went straight back to the carpet and sat there waiting. Eventually I brought her bed out into the living room (which had been unsuccessful on previously occasions), and she happily climbed in and curled up for a snooze. I really do think she knew somehow, that her “mom and dad” were on their way home that day.
I do love the excitement when the families come home at the end of a long trip. The dogs are always so excited and happy! It’s wonderful that they are able to stay in their own home when their people are travelling, and they do settle in and get to know the caretakers pretty quickly, but they are always happy when mom and dad are home again.
We chatted for 15-20 minutes to let them know how everything had gone (in addition to my daily updates on Whatsapp), and left them a card and a jar of chutney. They gave us a 4 pack of Chilean Beer which was fun to try, and we headed off for the 2 hours drive to Cheltenham, at about 2:30pm.
Overall, we were really happy with our second house sit. We loved the house and the dogs, and had fun being a “homebody” in the lovely countryside. And every time we hopped into the car for a drive, we marvelled at the beautiful green rolling hills. I do loved the pastoral views of rural England.
And so now we are off to Liverpool for a few days to see the sights and to visit some places where my ancestors lived over 150 years ago. Can’t wait!
Well it’s one down, two to go, and so far, we are giddy with excitement! Our first house sit was a dream house with a really sweet, calm, well-behaved black lab, and two cute bunnies who lived out back. As this was our first “job”, we really had no idea what to expect, or even what questions to ask, and although things went really well overall, we did learn a few things. In order to respect people’s privacy, I won’t be posting photos of people’s homes, giving names of family or pets, or provide any other identifying information, but I can certainly share about our experiences. I did ask for permission to share photos of their pets out on walks around the area.
When we arrived at our home for the week, the pup came running out to greet us and the couple brought us in, showed us around the house and yard, and tried to fill us in on all of the things we’d need to know. We swapped contact info, and as I had my iPhone with a UK SIM card, I was able to text or use WhatsApp to keep them updated. After a whirlwind tour of the house, we went out for supper to chat more casually and get to know one another.
Everyone went to bed early as the family had to be up at 2:30am for an early morning flight, and the dog came into our room and slept on the floor right away. I left the bedroom door open so that puppy could go out for a goodbye visit in the middle of the night if she wanted. When she came back into the bedroom at 3am, I knew the family was off.
When we got up in the morning, we got dressed and went straight out to take the dog for her morning walk. We knew roughly where to go – out the back gate, onto the lane, and then take one of the many footpaths that criss cross this country. The first field had about 20-30 calves which had recently been separated from their mothers and they were eager to come to visit us, looking for food. By the end of the week, they had figured out we weren’t the farmers and mostly ignored us, but it was really fun those first few days as they crowded around us a couple of times. I will post a cute video below.
As an aside, I absolutely LOVE England’s policy of public footpaths on all property. Every field has a gate of some sort – kissing gates, regular latched gates, steps up and over a rock wall, and more – and the public is expected to act responsibly when on private property. That means keeping pets away from livestock, picking up dog poop, staying on pathways so as not to trample crops, and not leaving trash. And as far as I can see, people seem to respect it and of all the footpaths I’ve been on in the UK, I haven’t seen any messes left by walkers or tourists.
Anyway, there we were, walking the footpaths with our lovely pup, in the early morning, while the grass was still wet with dew – heaven! Although she seemed very well behaved and the family told us she would be fine off-leash, we were hesitant to do so for the first 2-3 days, until we were certain she’d come when called. However, we soon realized how well she listened and eventually let her run when in the fields. We always carried treats with us and rewarded her each time she came when called, and we kept her on leash when on the roads or in fields with livestock.
When we got home from our walk, Erik fed the dog while I fed and watered the rabbits, and then finally, it was time for a cup of coffee! There was bread, milk, and eggs left for for us to use, and we were encouraged to use up any food that might spoil while they were away, as well as condiments/spices etc. We did use a few things, but most of the time, we bought and cooked our own food, or ate out at the pub. I would have used our own coffee, but they had a Nespresso machine and I couldn’t find anywhere that sold the capsules. I found out at our next sit, that you can buy them at Tesco… Ah well, live and learn.
The first day, we walked around the village to get our bearings, checked out the pub close by and bought a book about the history of the pub, and picked up some groceries at the village shop. It seems that a lot of these small villages will have a community shop, and unlike small groceries stores at home, the prices are very reasonable. I suspect this is because for the most part, the shops are manned by volunteers, with only a few paid staff who take care of the books and the ordering etc. I think it’s a great idea!
It was fun to be able walk around the village with the dog because lots of people would stop to chat – some knew our pup and so by proxy, knew who we were, and others just stopped to chat because we were strangers.
The Brits really love and care for their dogs. Everywhere you go, you see people with their pets and it’s a lovely sight. They really take responsibility for their animals and most pets seemed to be very well mannered. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why most pubs allow dogs inside. In fact, it’s almost surprising to walk into a pub and NOT see a dog sitting quietly under a table. It was a custom that Erik was anxious to try.
Bretforton was a gorgeous little village with the typical yellow Cotswold stone homes with either stone or thatched roofs, and a typical town square called the Cross. Our house was near the square, and very close walking distance to a 600 year old pub, called the Fleece Inn. Originally a small three room peasant farm house, succeeding generations of the same “Byrd” family added onto the home over time until it became the larger, rambling building it is now.
In 1848, Henry Byrd decided to open the house as a pub in order to make a living but he soon died and his widow, Ann Byrd, took over. The next three generations who ran the pub were all women – successive daughters and granddaughters of the Henry and Ann Byrd, ending with Lola Taplin who died in 1977. Local stories suggest she was quite a character, and although bit surly, was much respected. Some say she occasionally haunts the place by moving furniture around in the bar at night, and sometimes throwing food across the room (she never allowed food in the pub when she ran the place).
Having no heirs, Lola bequeathed the Inn to the National Trust who has hired managers to run it since then. The current and arguably most successful landlord, Nigel Smith, has done a great job managing and marketing the Inn, despite weathering a devastating chimney fire that destroyed the thatch roof in 2004. However, the community came out in droves to create a human chain and removed the many antiques, so all was not lost. Eighteen months of renovations eventually brought the Inn back to its former glory with three cosy rooms surrounding the small main bar, as well as a kitchen and other offices, two rental rooms upstairs, and a medieval barn next door. There is a full events calendar posted on the website, with many special events, weddings, and local musicians performing. Every time we went over, the Inn seemed to be a going concern, both inside, and out on the acre of parklike orchard. It was truly the quintessential old English Pub.
During our week in Bretforton, we took several short trips to the surrounding areas, visiting Chipping Campden, where we had started the Cotswold Way in 2014, and Broadway, a very pretty but touristy village, where we went for a full afternoon tea in the garden of Tisane’s Tea Room. We shared cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, turkey and cranberry sandwiches, scones with strawberry preserves and thick,clotted cream, and two kinds of cake – Lemon Drizzle and Victoria Sponge. I was so full that I didn’t need any supper that evening.
On another showery afternoon, we visited Snowshill Manor, a fascinating old house stuffed full of odd handicrafts and antiques collected by the eccentric Charles Wade over his lifetime. He himself lived in a tiny cottage next to the huge manor that he purchased solely to house his collections. Like so many others, he died without heirs and donated his home and collection to the National Trust.
Another afternoon, we drove a few kilometers down the road and walked a 4 km loop up and down Dover’s Hill. It was part of the Cotswold Way and we enjoyed revisiting some of the views we’d seen a few years earlier. The sun even came out for a little while that day!
During the week, I cooked a few meals and we ate at the pub a few times. We had Sunday Lunch (roast beef dinner) at the Fleece Inn on Sunday afternoon, take out Fish and Chips on Tuesday, and Pie and Pint night on Wednesday (that was a delicious hand made chicken and leek pie with a pint of beer). On Thursday night, we went to the pub after dinner to listen to Folk Music night. We had prime seats in the little Pewter Room which only held about 14 people normally, as the musicians began to file in around 9pm. There were about 10 musicians and about the same number of spectators, but Erik and I had so much fun that we stayed long after most people had left. A young man, Matthew, who played the button accordion sat at our table, and we had great fun chatting with him. One of the men sang the Springhill Mining Disaster song for us, and then later, Matthew invited us to come see the Morris Dancers practice in Stratford Upon Avon on Saturday.
Morris Dancing is a folk dance normally done only by the men (although there are now women’s “sides” as well). The men wear colourful costumes with bells on their knees, and usually include sticks and handkerchiefs, and sometimes even swords in their complex steps. Each town has a “Side” or group with their own costume and dances and they enjoy meeting with other Sides to learn new dances and then lift a pint or two.
Anyway, we had a super night and didn’t head home until 1:30am. Erik had asked me several times from midnight on if I was ready to go, but I wasn’t. LOL…
On Friday, we started to get our stuff collected and packed up, and did some housework – vacuuming, sweeping, dusting etc. The family wasn’t expected home until about 1:30 Saturday afternoon so we had time to clean bathrooms and do laundry after we got up on our last morning. I made a batch of ginger cookies to leave for the family and by the time they arrived home, we were all packed and ready to go, and puppy had had one last walk, bunnies were fed, and the house was clean and tidy. We had a brief visit to tell them how things went, and then said our goodbyes and were on our way to Blockley for a couple of days before heading south to our next house sit.
Overall, we really enjoyed our first house sit, and it actually exceeded our exceptions, if that’s possible. It was lovely to have a dog around again and I felt I really got to know her during our week visit. We enjoyed taking her out for walks out in the fields several times a day. The rabbits were easy to care for and fun to watch, and we never felt constricted in our activities because we had animals to care for – rather they enhanced our visit.
We had time to do 2-3 short trips to nearby towns and were never away for more than four hours by design rather than necessity. We find we are usually tired and want to be home by that time anyway. Most days, we just enjoyed hanging out at home – reading, walking, cooking, and watching TV a few evenings. Erik even had a guitar to play and I had a piano so I was able to practice my Claire de Lune every day.
I can’t say enough positive things about the house as well – it was a beautiful, old (as in 1600’s old), rambling, manor house with three storeys and many little cozy spots. They had added a new sunny conservatory, and as it was hot for our first 2-3 days there, we enjoyed the folding doors that opened up to the patio and the gorgeous yard. Our room was large and comfortable with a queen size bed, and we had two bathrooms to choose from on the same floor. I loved the crooked old wood floors that tipped and tilted and made you feel as though you’d had a few too many pints, and our corner room had windows looking out to the pub and the orchard park next door. What’s not to like?!
House sitting is definitely not for everyone though. You have to be content to be a home body for the time you are there, and you have to love animals and enjoy caring for them. It’s easy to love your own pets, but not always so with other people’s, so that part is important. And are you comfortable living in someone else’s home? If you’ve done lots of AirBnB, you might find this part no big deal, but some people might not enjoy that part. For us, it was great, and it was interesting to slip into other people’s lives for a short while.
It’s also important to choose your housesits carefully. Make sure you are in the kind of place you would enjoy spending time – do you prefer city life? Small town? Village? Or a rural spot? Do you loves dogs, or cats, or do you prefer the greater challenge of caring for farm animals? What house and yard work is expected? We watered the pots almost every day, and there must have been at least twenty of them around the the front and back patios, and we had specific times we needed to be home to walk and feed animals. We didn’t have to cut the grass or weed the garden at this home, but we were willing to, but I loved having little household chores to do as it kept me busy and made me feel at home.
My biggest learning curve was worrying about accidentally damaging something while we were there. Obviously, we were being extra careful when using other people’s possessions, but after the second day, when I inadvertently melted the handle of a pretty utensil, I fretted and worried for several days about what to do. (I had assumed the colourful handle was silicone and had left the spoon leaning inside a pot on the hot stove, only to find it softened, dented, scratched, and partially melted.) I googled the brand and found it was discontinued (due to that actual problem), but I was able to contact a local supplier and order a replacement online.
Once I had solved the problem, I messaged the homeowner and told them what had happened. Not surprisingly, she told me not to worry about it and that I hadn’t needed to replace the item, but I’m still really glad I did, because I think it’s the right thing to do. From that point on, every time I noticed a knick in a bowl or a scratch on a table, I worried that I might have done it. LOL, it was quite silly to fret, I know, but I couldn’t help it. I decided that on our next house sit, I will ask about any dishes or items that we should avoid because they have great value, either financially or sentimentally, and I will take a close look, and perhaps even take photos of scratches on tables and etc so I can tell if I’ve done anything.
After the house sit, I did google the situation on some housesitting blogs that mentioned that some housesitters often videotape parts of the house so they know how to put everything back exactly the way it was when the homeowners left. We didn’t have need to move anything around so that wasn’t necessary, but I did like the idea of taking pictures of pre-existing damage, like I do when I rent a car, only in this case, it’s strictly for my own information, and not to try to prove that something was already there.
And so now, we have two days off, to visit the town of Blockley (only 20 minutes away) and the surrounding area. We will stay at a lovely B&B built in an old mill, and check out where Father Brown was filmed, as well as take a walk around Upper and Lower Slaughter, and visit Chastletown House.
Next Up: Our Second Housesit in Stour Row, near Shaftesbury, in Dorset
The second segment of our visit to Cornwall includes stops along the way on our drive from Penzance to Port Isaac, a bit about Port Isaac itself, and the drive to our first housesitting adventure in Bretforton.
We left Penzance around 10am and decided on a fairly direct route to Port Isaac with a couple of stops planned along the way. Originally, we had wanted to go to St Ives, but we’d heard stories about more traffic gridlock caused by a man with a bunch of wives, sacks, cats, and kittens….. no seriously, it was just another touristy town with no place to park so we didn’t even try.
And so our first stop was at Holywell Bay with its pair of small rocky islands just off-shore, and where some of the Poldark beach scenes are filmed. As luck would have it, the NTS manages the property so we saved the £6 parking fee. As we walked down to the beach, there was a huge dune where kids were sliding down on boogie boards as if it were snow. They were having a blast!
The tide was out so we walked the width of the beach and back, and then found a shady spot to sit for awhile. There were lots of families there, and again, many of them had the windbreak tarps set up. Some sat near the dunes, some by the shore, and others by the stream that wound down to the sea. Happy kids were everywhere on this sunny day.
We stayed for about an hour and a half and then drove the last 90 minutes to Port Isaac. Again, we skipped a stop we’d considered earlier – the beautiful beaches of Padstow – but we knew it would be busy, and we really wanted to have enough time to spend in Port Isaac since it was just an overnight visit.
We arrived in Port Isaac around 1pm and found our B&B, which was about 1km out of town, and much more affordable than the in-town spots. We had a nice room with a lots of space, access to a fridge, washer and dryer, and pretty outdoor patio. Although we were an hour early, we saw our host, Roy, out working in the garden and we asked if we could leave the car as we were hungry and wanted to walk into the town to eat.
He let us check in right away, and then gave us a ride into town, dropping us off at the school where “Louisa” works, on the show “Doc Martin” – and yes, you aren’t imagining things, there does seem to be a theme to this trip – we are often visiting film locations for many of the British TV shows Erik and I enjoy watching all winter. First Poldark, now Doc Martin, and then later we will go to Blockley where Father Brown is filmed.
We went straight to the Chapel Cafe that we’d read about on Trip Advisor, and seconded by our hosts, and had a delicious lunch – I had fresh crab sandwich and Erik had the fish fingers sandwich. I highly recommend the restaurant which is housed in the same building as an art gallery/store.
After lunch, we wandered around the pretty village. We picked up a Doc Martin guidebook map and checked out the Doc’s house/surgery, Louisa’s house and workplace, Bert Large’s restaurant, and a few other spots. We climbed up the hill to get a wonderful view of the town and surrounding area and took lots of photos. It was so much fun!
Around 4pm, we walked uphill all the way back to the B&B – I think it was closer to a mile than a kilometre – and then sat out in the sunshine on our patio and read and chatted with our hosts – Roy and Christine. We were both full from our big lunch, and too lazy to walk all the way back into town for dinner, so we pulled out all the random leftover snack food that we had kicking around, and ate it out on the patio. Then Christine brought us our Cornish scones with strawberry preserves and clotted cream – yum! By the way, in Cornwall, you must put the preserves on first, and THEN the cream on top.
The next day, we had an excellent breakfast in the dining room of the main house that was filled with antique treasures, then we packed up, said our goodbyes, and headed out by 10am.
We had seven hours to do a four hour drive to our first house sit in the village of Bretforton in the Cotswolds, so we figured we’d make at least one stop along the way. We could have taken the A30 to Exeter and driven the big M5 freeway to save an hour of driving, but we decided to take the quieter A39 that hugged the coast and passed through Barnstaple before finally connecting to the M5.
When we saw the road got close to the sea, we turned off and spent an hour at Widemouth Bay. It was another pretty beach with the tide out and loads of families spending their last weekend at the seashore. Gradually the clouds crept in as we enjoyed our last walk along the beach for this trip to the UK and so it was time to get back on the road.
We continued our drive toward Barnstaple where we briefly stopped for gas and decided to have a sandwich and use the washrooms since we didn’t know what lay ahead. It turned out to be an excellent decision because an hour later we were stuck on the parking lot that they call the M5 on the Friday of the busiest bank holiday weekend of the year. We had expected to be in Bretforton about 4pm, which would have been an hour early, but the traffic was so bad, that we finally turned off the M5 and took smaller roads a few hours later in Cirencester. We eventually arrived at our housesit accommodation at 5:45pm. What a long day!
The family was all ready for their trip to Spain and eager to show us around their beautiful home. We were excited and trying to take in all of the information – how to use the stove, what to feed the dog and rabbits, where the vacuum was located, how to use the skeleton key locks, where to go for walks and groceries – the list was endless.
At 7, we went to the pub next door for supper and had an animated and enjoyable meal with the couple and their two daughters, who are aged 10 and 11. We got back to the house by 8:30, and the family went straight to bed as they had to get up at 2:30 am (!) in order to get to the airport for their 4:30am flight (gotta love Ryanair).
Erik and I brought in our luggage and got settled into our own room to read for a little while before sleep, and Pom, our lovely, gentle, female black lab, came right into our room with us and slept on the floor. It’s as if she already knew we’d be her caretakers for the week!
As we settled in for the night, we wondered what the next week was going to be like, but we both had a feeling it was going to great!
Our first night along the drive to Cornwall was in Plymouth, Devonshire. It was about halfway to our destination of Penzance, and seemed like a good place to spend the night and try to catch up on a few zzzz’s. We started off the day feeling pretty good, but once we were on the road for our final three hour drive after Bramshott, our energy began to wane. First we got caught in the traffic drama that bypasses Stone Henge and we saw the great stone circle from a distance. Unless I can get up close and walk among the stones without a thousand other tourists, I’ll be happy to skip the site. We may return for a proper visit when we are staying at our second housesit which is only 20 minutes away if it’s less busy in September. We’ll see.
We stopped for some lunch and then soldiered on to Plymouth. Since Erik was doing all the driving, it was my job to keep him awake – no napping for me. I only wished my tin whistle wasn’t so snugly packed in my suitcase or I would have regaled him with a few tunes.
Driving took longer than we expected and we didn’t arrive at the Cassandra Guest House, in downtown Plymouth, until 7pm. We checked in and then went for a walk about town before it got dark. I hadn’t realized that Plymouth is the point where the Mayflower set sail for North America in 1620! We took lots of photos along the promenade as the sun set, and saw the Plymouth Memorial Steps where all of the Mayflower passengers are listed. Two surnames – Priest and Fuller – interest me as I have Quaker ancestors of those names from Norfolk, UK. I wonder if there is some distance connection to these early pilgrims?
As it was a Saturday night, the bars along the Quay were busy and noisy. Groups of young people, adorned in various costumes, were carousing and milling about – the Brits do love their Stag and Hen parties, and we enjoyed the spectacle. We stopped at one street side pub to get a late supper, only to find that few places were still serving food. We stayed for a beer and then continued on our way, looking for a quick meal. Eventually we gave up, went back to our guest house, looked online, and found a late night pizza place nearby where we shared a pizza at 10pm. Finally to bed by 11 – we were exhausted!
The next day, after another big breakfast, we set off for Penzance, but chose to take the slower roads at least part of the way, in order to visit some of the little fishing villages along the coast. Our first stop was not far, at East Looe. We were lucky to find a parking spot, and then took our time wandering around the little town. It was fairly touristy, but the shops were quaint and we enjoyed looking at all of the places boasting the “Best Pasty in the World!”.
We also laughed at how many warning/information signs were posted in the village. Clearly, they are sick and tired of tourists doing stupid things – from “Do not feed the seagulls – they are vicious” to a sign with a tally of how many people have defied the “Do not jump off the pier” sign and had either been fined or died this year. Everywhere you looked, there was a “Do not…” sign. I wish I had taken more photos of them.
Back on the road, our next stop was Charlestown where parts of Poldark are filmed. Unfortunately, it was getting busy now and after 15 minutes of driving around looking for a parking spot, we gave up and left. This was just a harbinger of things to come as we had chosen to visit Cornwall on what turned out to be the busiest week of the summer – the last week of vacation.
We were getting hungry and tired so we got back on the faster A390 and headed for Truro. Our trusty iPad GPS directed us to a large car park, and we were soon parked and walking around the centre of town. It was quite an interesting city with lots of old buildings and cool shops. We went inside the beautiful cathedral and enjoyed the quiet for a few minutes. Back outside, it turned showery so we tucked into a pub and had some lunch where we chatted with a young local couple and visited with their dog who was sitting quietly at their feet. They gave us some advice about getting to Penzance, and soon we were back on the road. We arrived at our AirBnB studio suite about 4pm and checked in. It was on Chapel Street, one of the oldest streets in Penzance, just a few blocks from the promenade. A bonus for Erik were the two pubs within the same block. The area is dotted with pirate logos and it turns out that we will just be a day or two short of participating in the Guinness Book of World Records “Pirates on the Prom” as they vie to regain their title for the most pirates in one place (current record is over 14,000 so it may be just as well that we are gone by then.)
We dropped off our luggage and then parked a few blocks down the road. Our room was a former art studio, in a separate building in the back of a larger house, with vaulted ceilings, and a partial wall dividing the bedroom with the rest of the studio. Three skylights provided lots of natural light in the suite. There was a wood stove and a small but fully equipped kitchen, and it had a private garden patio, should the sun come out.
Chris and Liv, our hosts who live in the main house, were a retired couple just a little older than Erik. They were both really friendly and interesting and we had several long chats with them during our visit to Penzance. Among other things, we learned that Liv had dated Eric Clapton while they were in high school. We thought that was pretty cool! They had both worked in the film and TV industry, in set design I think, and Chris had a shop where he was building props for his pirate costume, including a pirate hat with a pirate galleon on top!
We spent four nights at the studio suite, eating home cooked food every night but one, and we really enjoyed the area in general. There was lots to see within walking distance, and we took several day trips to see some of the nearby sights. Here are a few places we visited.
St Michael’s Mount
Although only 5 km down the road from Penzance, and quite visible from the promenade near our B&B, this was another horrifically busy site. It only took 10 minutes to drive there, but at least 20-30 to find a parking spot. We eventually had to give up, loop around, and go back to a beach lot about 1km away. We paid for 2 hours parking (in retrospect we should have booked longer), and walked along the beach to the causeway. This interesting island is only accessible by foot during low tide and so the pathway is opened during 4-6 hours each day, with a schedule posted. The rest of the time, you can take a small boat over and back for £2 per person each way although I suspect the lineup might be quite long, given the crowds visiting.
Once we arrived at the island and showed our NTS “get in free” card, we learned that the “queue” for the castle was about 90 minutes long, and the gardens were closed that day. Ah well. We navigated the crowds, sat on the grass for awhile, took a few pictures and headed back to the car. This is another place we will have to visit some day when there aren’t 1000+ other tourists around. More info about St Michael’s Mount can be found here.
First of all, it’s it’s pronounced “Mowzle”, not “Mouse Hole”. This adorable little village is only a 10 minutes drive northwest from Penzance. As the streets are VERY narrow and there’s next to no parking, we parked about 1km outside of town and walked along the path to the quay. The village is tiny but it looks like it would be a really nice place to have a holiday “let”, especially if you have a kitchen (we didn’t see many restaurants). We took some photos of the quirky buildings and of the people sunbathing on the empty cove (as it was low tide and there was a string of boats resting in the mud) and then walked back the car to continue our journey. The weather was mild and sunny and I actually got a sunburn that day!
This was a non-starter. I really wanted to visit this beach where some of Poldark scenes were filmed. It was only a short drive from Penzance, but it was so busy that we could not find a parking spot and eventually had to give up and drive away. Pics of Porthcurno can be found here.
Lands End, near Sennen
Next we drove another 20 minutes to most south-westerly point of England – Land’s End. Similar to Sagres, in Portugal, which was visited in the Spring, this rocky outcrop of land provided spectacular views from the the cliffs high above the sea. There was plenty of parking (£6 for the day with re-entry privileges for 7 days), however, we had to walk through a horribly touristy section which boasted no fewer than four ‘attractions” including Shaun the Sheep Experience (?!), and a number of fast food joints where we made the mistake of having a quick lunch (I’m sure that hot dog was the cause of my tummy upset the next day). Once we passed through the commercial section, the walk along the coast was lovely and we took lots of pictures.
As a side note, I’ve heard that Lizard Point is an equally beautiful, and less touristy, spot to see but we didn’t have the time to visit – next time!
Levant Mine and Beam Engine
A little further up the coast, we stopped in at this National Trust site and were lucky to be able to join the last tour of the day. We learned about the history of Copper and Tin mining to the Cornwall coast, and we got to go underground a ways to see what it was like in the narrow passageways. When out of work, the skilled Cornish miners have travelled all over the world to find work and so wherever there are mines, you will find men of Cornish heritage. Levant mine was particularly interesting because it is one of the filming locations for one of my favourite shows “Poldark” about an 18th century mining family. If you haven’t seen it, check it out – the book series is good as well.
The traditional Cornish Pasty (pronounced past-y, not paste-y), is made with a tasty combination of beef, potato, turnip, and onions in a hearty pastry crust. Some believe that the crimped edge of the pasty enabled the miners to hold their meal in one hand, and then toss the edge of the crust where their arsenic-covered fingers had held it. Regardless, Cornish pasties can be found all over Cornwall and we enjoyed them several times while we were there. I suspect I’ll be trying my hand at making some when I get home this fall.
Penzance turned out to be the perfect spot to use a home base and the four days were definitely not enough time to see everything at a leisurely pace. Subsequently, we took our time and only chose a few places to visit. We’d go for a week if we were doing it again. We also found that the traffic and parking was terrible and it would have been better to have come after school starts in September. However, it’s always nice to know we have to go back again some day!
We had a great nine hour flight via Westjet, direct from Calgary, and were lucky to be able to book the bulkhead seats on this trip so Erik had plenty of leg room. The only downside to our flight was was arriving at 10am (body time 2am), but our hosts at the Gatwick House B&B in Horley, which is only a 5 minute bus ride from Gatwick, graciously allowed us a very early check in and we went straight to bed around noon, for a 3 hour nap. We dragged our butts out of bed, had an early dinner and forced ourselves to stay awake until 8pm. We had a fitful 11 hour sleep but awoke feeling fairly refreshed, albeit a bit buzzed. Ah jet lag, I do not love you.
And so, after a “Full English Breakfast” for Erik and yogurt and toast for me, our hosts drove us back to the airport where we picked up our rental car and hit the road. We had a 4 hour drive to Plymouth, on the outskirts of Cornwall, with one planned stop in Bramshott, Hampshire, along the way.
Bramshott is a small village about an hour’s drive southwest of London and was the site of two military camps in WW1 and WW2 – Bramshott Camp and Bordon Camp. It was here that many Canadian soldiers trained during the war before being sent to the front. I decided to visit the village because my Dad’s father, Robert Fleming Park, had been stationed here near the end of WW1 and I really wanted to see where he had lived for the 15 months he was in England. And when I looked at the map and saw that the village was practically along the route for our drive, I couldn’t resist.
As we first neared the village, we drove along the Canadian Memorial Drive which is lined with Maple trees. We stopped to see if we could find the memorial stone, but it didn’t seem to be evident, so we drove a little further on to the church. The sites of the camps themselves are nothing more than old roads and overgrown grass and bushes now, with all signs of buildings having been long removed. However, there is a memorial stone and quite a bit of info both inside St Mary’s church and outside in the cemetery.
The No 12 Canada General Hospital served the area, and 318 Canadian soldiers are buried in the St Mary churchyard. Some of them died from wounds received in battle, but most had survived the war, only to succumb to the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu pandemic that infected over 500 million people worldwide, killing 50-100 million people (3-5% of the world’s population). 187 Canadian soldiers were buried at St Mary’s in 1918 alone and most of those young men died of the flu.
As I looked through my Grandfather’s military records (available online at the Canadian Archives) , I could see a number of things had occurred that would enable my grandfather to return home to marry my grandmother, and ensure my father was born. If things had gone differently, I may never have been born!
The Canadian government brought in the Military Service Act in August of 1917, after much debate, which required that all able bodied men from 20-45 serve in the military if called. My grandfather, born in 1897, turned 20 that very month, and so I’m sure he expected to be called up soon. I only knew him as an older man, and he always seemed very quiet, peaceful, and devout, and I had a hard time imagining that he would have wanted to go to war. However, after he finished school, he served six months in the 6th Regiment D.C.O.R. (Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles) in Vancouver (January-June of 1917) while working as a telegrapher, followed by 5 months in the Railway Service Guard in Vancouver. On December of 1917, he had his military medical exam and was called up on January 3, 1918 to the 1st depot Battalion for training at the Drill Hall in Vancouver.
His personnel records are really interesting to read, as they include many details on his physical stature, weight, and medical and dental health. He was healthy and categorized as A2 “fit for despatching overseas”, although it was noted that he had enlarged tonsils, a fact which would come in play later.
In April he was transferred to the 68th Battery and in June 1918, he set sail on the troop ship, SS Waimana, for England. Luckily, this was only about four months before the end of the war, so he would never be sent to the front.
I’m not sure where the ship landed but Robert spent the next few months training as a gunner at Witley Camp, SE of London. After the war ended five months later on November 11, 1918, he was transferred to Camp Bordon and Camp Bramshott, where he work as a driver for the records office. During his short term in the military, I suspect he likely used his skills as a telegrapher.
It was during this time that so many young soldiers were becoming ill and dying of a virulent form of influenza that seemed to prefer healthy young people. The bug got into their lungs and most died of pneumonia within a few days.
Although the war was now officially over, there was still work to be done and my Grandfather wouldn’t be demobilized until the following year. However, in March of 1919, he was admitted to the Canada General Hospital in Bramshott with bronchitis and tonsillitis. His medical records indicate his fever was as high as 103* at time.
He remained in hospital for ten days before being transferred to a larger hospital in Orpington, southeast of London, where he had a tonsillectomy and spent another month recovering. He was finally discharged in June 1919 and sent back to Bramshott where he served out the rest of his tour. On August 9, 1919, he embarked on the SS Cassandra back to Canada (train to Vancouver), and he was discharged from the army on Aug 25, 1919.
And so now I found myself walking through St Mary’s church cemetery in Bramshott, looking at all of the young soldier’s gravestones, each marked with a Maple Leaf. The cemetery is kept pristine, with the grave markers lined up perfectly, and the lawn around them carefully mowed. I wondered how many of these men were friends or colleagues of my grandfather and what it must have been like to attend a burial almost every day.
As we walked through the cemetery, a woman approached us on her way through. We explained why we were there and she told us how important the Canadian soldiers were, and still are, to the people of the area. She explained how even now, on the Wednesday closest to Canada Day (July 1), the local school has each student adopt a soldier’s grave, tidy it, and place a Canadian flag on each grave. Then the community members have a ceremony and sing O Canada. It was really touching to hear the reverence in her voice as she talked and I’ll admit I was choked up, with tears in my eyes. And as I looked at the ages on the markers, so many just around 20, I tried to imagine having to send my now-19 year old son to war. I couldn’t fathom it.
The woman encouraged us to look at the memorial items inside the church as well, and we saw that many of the pew cushions were embroidered with Canadian flags and other symbols such as moose and beaver and provincial flowers. There were Canadian flags all over, and at least one stained glass window with pane for each province. It was incredibly moving to think of the importance the local people still place on our soldiers, even 100 years later.
Next summer, it will be 100 years since my Grandpa arrived for his short stay in the military camps in the area. I am so thankful that the war ended so soon after he arrived, and that he did not succumb to the Spanish Flu while he was ill. With only a few changes to his life’s plan, he may never have returned to Canada to marry my Grandmother 10 years later, and my father may never have been born.
And so we took one last look around at the churchyard, drove slowly past the now empty fields where the camps and hospital had been located, and set off for our next stop – Plymouth, England, where the Mayflower stopped before her voyage to the new world in 1620.
We’ve had a wonderful, albeit smoky, summer in Kelowna and had lots of time for R&R for the last two months. We spent time puttering in the garden, sipped our coffee on the deck every morning, ate dinner outdoors every night, read, hiked a lot up in Crawford, went to our meditative yoga class twice a week, cooked, worked on my genealogy, did a bit of belated spring cleaning, and of course, spent time with family and friends in Kelowna and Osoyoos. We also had fun taking care of three different cats – Big Kitsa, Little Kitsa, and Scout – and enjoyed visiting with one puppy, which was good practice for our pet-sitting plans this fall.
However, we also had to deal with smoky skies for at least half of the summer, and what turned out the be the longest drought in recent history (44 days with no precipitation as of today, Friday, Aug 11). In fact, Kelowna hasn’t had any appreciable rain since June 1 (the only other rain was less than 1mm on June 28). The fire season started early and there have been thousands of people evacuated for weeks in central BC, many homes and cabins burned, thousands of cattle lost, and heavily smoky skies since the mid-July. With temps in the mid 30’s for most of the summer, I was glad we have an air conditioned house and car, and I’ll admit I’m looking forward to cool, clean skies of the UK soon. I’m beginning to wonder if a smoke-filled sky is going to be the new normal for summer in the Okanagan #ClimateChange?
And so now, in less than a week, we will be on a plane to London for our Housesitting Adventure. First off, we will spend a week driving around Cornwall to check out some beautiful seaside villages, sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, and the gorgeous wild scenery that Erik and I have enjoyed so much when watching Poldark and Doc Martin. With any luck, we will be able to visit a few of the film locations along the way.
After we tour around Cornwall, we begin the first of three house/pet sits that will span about 6 weeks in total. The first sit is a week in the Cotswolds in a picture perfect village, next to a traditional pub, where we will have fun taking care of a black lab and two rabbits.
After the sit, we will stay in the Cotswolds for two more nights before our second housesit begins in North Dorset, about an hour north of Bournemouth. There, we will look after two rescue pointers for a week while their “parents” run a marathon in Patagonia, South America!
Again, we have two days off between house sits, and so after Dorset, we will drive up to Liverpool and visit some of the locations where my GG-Grandmother, Elizabeth Sinclair, lived before she left on a bride ship to Victoria BC in 1870.
Our last housesit is in a rural part of Lincolnshire, in east-central England. There, we will be staying in an old converted barn, and will have four dogs to care for – two Spring Spaniels and two English Setters – as well as 10 egg-laying chickens. That will be our longest house sit at about 16 days and should be an adventure unto itself!
Finally, we will take a couple of days to drive back to London and then fly to Greece where we will spend our last week at a resort on the lovely island of Crete. And so, if we end up with cool showery weather for 7 weeks in the UK, we might at least end with a little warmer beach weather at the end.
I had thought we’d be home in time for Thanksgiving, but unfortunately we don’t return until October 12, about 3 days late. I guess we will have to have a delayed Thanksgiving dinner with the family when we get home. Once again, my wonderful sister and her cat will be house sitting for us so we don’t have to worry about anything while we’re away.
I will definitely write a few posts about our house sitting adventures while we are away, but naturally I will have to be very vague about locations and personal details/photos of our accommodations, in order to respect the owners’ privacy. We are really excited about our trip and looking forward to “living like the locals” in England this fall. If this goes well, we hope to do a few more housesits next year – possibly in New Zealand in the spring when we go to visit Erik’s daughter and our grandsons, and then maybe France or Italy next fall.
Here are a few pictures from our summer in the Okanagan.
Although I always buy a SIM card when travelling so I have data while away from wifi, I have recently enjoyed using the googlemaps app offline when we are driving, and I have found it works really well. Why pay for a GPS in your rental vehicle when you have an iPad or iPhone and Googlemaps?! You simply download an area you plan to visit, and then use the GPS function on the app whenever you are driving (or walking). Here are the steps to show you how.
Just a warning – using your device as a GPS does use up your battery so be sure to take a cable to plug your device into the USB or cigarette lighter port of your rental vehicle so your device charges while you’re driving. I always take an extra cable to leave in the car for our entire trip.
(You can probably do this with an Android device as well but I don’t know how. You will have to go to youtube to find a how-to video.)
What you need:
An iPad or iPhone – the bigger the screen, the easier to use.
Enough memory space on your device to store downloaded maps.
A gmail account (easy and free to sign up if you don’t have one).
It’s best to do this before you leave, or someplace where you have and a fast and reliable wifi (or data) connection.
Open Googlemaps on your device.
Click on the top left-hand menu (three short horizontal lines indicate a menu).
Log into your gmail account (if not already logged in) within the app.
Type your destination in the search bar. It can be a city or a country.
Click the “DOWNLOAD” button under the blue bar with destination name.
Move map around so the area you want, fits inside the box. You can’t enlarge the download box so you may have to do more than one download to get entire area.
You will see how much space you have available on your device at the bottom.
Click DOWNLOAD in bottom right corner of your screen.
Wait patiently. It can take a long time to download, depending on the speed of your wifi. I often just walk away and come back later. You will see a percentage downloaded as it goes. It will continue to download in the background as long as you are connected to wifi or data, even if the screen goes to sleep, or the app seems to close and you will be notified once it has finished downloading.
If you are unable to fit the entire area you want in the download window, repeat the procedure above, moving the box to download a different map segment with just a little overlap from your first download. The overlap part won’t download again and mapping will be seamless when you are using it, despite having downloaded it in two parts.
Once you have all maps downloaded, you just use googlemaps gps as you normally do. Even when you are offline, if you type in a destination, the app will show you the map and give you directions as you drive. If you make a wrong turn, it will reroute your map or give you suggestions for making a u turn.
As with any GPS, you have to use common sense and understand that there can sometimes be errors. I find this is particularly true when using a GPS in small medieval villages in Europe, or areas where there is construction. Once in awhile, I tell Erik to ignore the GPS and go a different route. However, GPS directions are improving all the time.
Before we drive a particularly complex route, I sometimes look at sections of a map using Google Streetview so I can check what roadsigns to watch for, and try to figure out what lane we need to be in to get off the highway.
Below you will find a video of my iPad screen to show you how to download the maps. I won’t have arrows on the screen to point out buttons to click but I will try to describe them and you can always pause the video or go back to figure out what I clicked.
I hope you find this helpful!!
Part One – How to Download Map
Part Two – End of the download
Next up: Preparation for our house/pet sitting trip to the UK on August 17!
Galway was our final stop along the Wild Atlantic Way, which starts in Kinsale, and actually ends long past Galway, winding 2500km all along the western coast of Ireland up to Derry. We didn’t driven the whole thing of course – that would have required considerably more time than we had allowed, but we did manage to hit a number of segments, including the Ring of Beara and the Dingle Peninsula as well as plenty of straight highway road as well.
It was a 3 1/2 hour drive from Dingle to Galway, but we stopped just passed Limerick, for a visit to the famous Bunratty Castle. We had looked online and decided to blow €20 to visit the castle and folk museum since we had some time to spare. However, when we got there, we found out that you had to book online 24 hours in advance in order to get that price and we weren’t interested in spending €32 so instead, we walked around the town for awhile, ate a picnic lunch in the car, and then headed back to the highway to Galway.
We didn’t know what to expect of Galway but were pleasantly surprised. It is a pretty big city but we had a B&B which was just a block from the downtown medieval core of the city. We had a safe parking spot and we could easily walk into the core whenever we wanted, and so we spent our last two nights wandering the interesting old streets of Galway. The River Corrib runs through the city, and there are several canals with locks built in the mid 1800’s. Streams seem to rush into the canals and river all the way along so everywhere you look, there is a lovely “water feature”.
We found a nice restaurant – the Quay Street Kitchen – and had an early meal, listened to some live Irish music in two different pubs (Taaffes Bar and Tig Coili), and then spent the rest of the evening at our B&B. Once again, it was showery, windy, and cool.
The next morning, after a full Irish breakfast (eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, tomato, and toast for Erik, egg and toast for me), we walked around the old part of town, enjoying the 400+ year old buildings, and the talented buskers on every block. The weather changed every few minutes, but the wind was fairly constant. Whenever it started to rain, we ducked inside a shop to browse around, and in one sweater shop, I bought Erik a traditional Irish “grandfather” shirt. I loved all of the beautiful knit sweaters and would love to get the pattern for one of the ponchos (see my photos below) – a new knitting challenge perhaps?!
On our second night, we ended up back in the same restaurant for dinner where we shared three starters, and then we sat on the street and listened to a great 5 piece band for at least half an hour. There was a young woman doing Irish dancing, and a cute little 5 year old girl who was full of energy doing her own hilarious version of the dance. Eventually we made our way back to the B&B and started to get our bags ready for the long haul travel on Saturday.
On Friday we drove to Swords, a suburb of Dublin, near the airport and stopped at a mall where we had a late lunch and bought a few snack foods for dinner at our hotel. Then we checked into our hotel and Erik drove to the airport to drop off the rental car, and returned by shuttle. We needed to get to bed early because we had to be at the airport around 6:30 am for our 8:30am flight. We figured we’d be home about 23 hours from the time we leave the hotel. Gotta love those long flights home….
This was our first time flying Westjet for a transatlantic flight and we were pleasantly surprised. We were in row 4, and we seemed to have lots of room – much more leg room than some of the other airlines we’ve flown with. Our first leg to St John’s Newfoundland took just under 5 hours and we had to disembark, go through customs, drop off our bags again, and then get back onto the same plane. It was nice to have a 2 hour break. Our next flight took us to Toronto in about 3 1/2 hours and it was a bit of a bumpy ride at the end because of building thunderclouds. Since we had a 4 hour layover there, we decided to use up two of our four free Priority Passes that come with our MasterCard and so we have access to Premium Lounges at airports around the world. We were able to find two comfy armchairs next to the window, enjoy free food and liquor, and really relax for about 3 hours. While we waited, there was a massive thunderstorm with torrential rain and the airport was shut down for about an hour to wait out the tornado warning. Luckily for us, it all cleared before our 6pm flight and we had no delays in taking off for the final 4 1/2 hour leg of our trip.
By this time, we were getting pretty tired having been up for 18 hours already, and it was midnight to our bodies. We hit some turbulence several times while early on in the flight and I was feeling quite nauseous from motion sickness and extreme fatigue. While I was in the bathroom, we hit a big pocket of turbulence and I had to hang onto the bar along the wall to keep from getting thrown around. Then the mirrored cupboard door above the sink flew open and I couldn’t shut it, and the corner was right at my eye level. I really had trouble getting dressed again without getting hit in the face by the cupboard door. Trying to keep my head low, I practically crawled out of the bathroom, and hurried back to my seat (thank god it was only 4 rows) hanging on to the seats for dear life.
Once I was buckled back in my seat, I breathed a sigh of relief but the bouncing around, coupled with the fatigue, made me feel sicker and sicker. Eventually, once the turbulence was over, I rushed back to the bathroom and threw up everything I’d eaten in Toronto, and then I felt better and dozed off and on for the next two hours, just praying to be home soon. Unfortunately, I began to feel worse again for the last 30 minutes of the flight. The moment we landed, Erik asked the stewardess to allow me to get off first, and I made my way to the front pushing past all the “Plus” guests, leaving Erik to gather my belongings. Once out of the plane, I staggered into Kelowna airport, hoping I was going to right way since I didn’t have anyone to follow. I made it to the arrivals area, saw my sister and left her with the few things I was carrying, and said “Here, take this stuff – I’m gonna throw up” and then Iran off to the airport bathroom. Ugh, what a flight. I am getting too old to do 24 hour travel days. LOL…
Kathleen drove us home, and she had the bed all made up with clean sheets, food in the fridge, and the house spotless. We looked around the garden and then I took a Gravol and went straight to bed. I just needed 8 hours of sleep I think. I’m really glad our fall flights are going to be in two hops, and only 13 hours in total.
Unrelated to my motion sickness story above, I didn’t mention in my previous blog posts that throughout our trip, I had some stomach issues that I strongly suspect are gallbladder related and so we found that impacted our trip to a certain extent. I really couldn’t enjoy the food along the way, especially in Spain and Portugal, because I was always being careful about what I ate, trying to avoid heavy, spicy, or fatty foods, and I found I could not drink alcohol at all, so for most of the trip, I drank water – still or fizzy. I didn’t get medical treatment while I was away because I was managing the symptoms (although we were prepared to if anything got really bad), but I do have an appointment with my own doctor as soon as I get home so hopefully I can get this sorted out before we leave the country again in two months! It really does suck to have to deal with health stuff when you are travelling in a different country, especially when you change cities every 2-3 days.
Overall, this has been an amazing, relaxing, and interesting trip – we’ve seen so much of Portugal, Spain, Scotland, and Ireland, and as always, I have loved the varying landscapes, the history, the architecture, and the people. Despite my gut issues, I was able to really enjoy the food and drink a few times at least, and as always, I loved meeting so many interesting people along the way, in particular, my 2nd cousins in Scotland. However, as much as I love to travel, I love coming home just as much.
And so, we will now enjoy two months at home in the Okanagan. I am really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, eating my own food, working in my garden, sitting out on my deck, and seeing my friends and family! And then, on August 17, we are off to the UK for two months – first spending a week in Cornwall, and then we start our 5 weeks of house/pet sitting adventures before rounding out the trip with a week in an all-inclusive in Crete, then home again mid October. Life is always an adventure!
We were really looking forward to our three-night stay in this small town on the western coast of Ireland, known primarily for its multitude of pubs and live music. We stayed in an AirBnb, in the master bedroom with ensuite of a 4 bedroom house, just a few blocks from the action. We shared a kitchen with other guests and were able to make meals, in addition to the breakfast food provided.
Our drive from Kenmare went through more beautiful countryside, and we made several photo stops along the way, and then visited Muckross House, on the edge of Killarney National Park. We enjoyed a guided tour of the stately Victorian mansion, as well as the beautiful grounds (€9 for adult ticket), and bought a small Pocket History of Ireland and a couple of CDs at the gift shop. There was also a traditional 1930’s outdoor farm museum for an additional €9 (or €15 for the combined ticket) but we skipped it because we’d already done the Highland Folk Museum in Scotland.
We arrived in Dingle in the late afternoon and then had an early supper at The Anchor Down restaurant, a 1km walk from our accommodation. The next day, we drove part of the Ring of Dingle – via Slea Head Drive – which took us for a one hour drive (over four hours with all the stops we made), through Ventry, Slea Head, Dunquin, and north up to Brandon Creek. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the Irish countryside – suffice to say, we absolutely loved the drive.
We stopped at a little cafe that looked down on the gorgeous Coomenoole Beach, then stopped by the Blasket Ferry terminal at Dunquin Harbour with its unique steep winding walkway down to the dock. In the evening, we went to O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub to listen to live Irish music led by owner and musician, Tommy O’Sullivan.
On the second day, we did another loop on the peninsula, beginning with a drive over Conor Pass up in the misty clouds with a strong wind blowing us off our feet, and then down the other side to the wide empty beaches just west of Castelgregory, and then out to the farthest point at Ballycurrane, where we watched 10 horses wandering along the road and down onto the beach. This drive was much shorter than the previous day and we only spent about 2 hours in total, eventually heading back over the same road to return to Dingle. Again, we had dinner at home and then went to Foxy John’s for more live music. This cool pub is a hardware store during the day, and a pub at night. We had a great seat, right beside the slug bait, and a prime view of the three musicians who were playing that evening. Such fun!
We thoroughly enjoyed our three nights in Dingle, and could easily have stayed longer as there were many more live music venues and lovely drives to explore. Next time!
It was only a two hour drive from Kinsale to Kenmare, so we took our time and chose some of the quieter roads closer to the ocean. Our only stop was to use the bathrooms and buy a tin whistle at Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre, (which would be a fun place to spend more time), and for the rest of the trip, I regaled Erik with tunes on my tin whistle while he tried to drive. 🙂
Kenmare is a nice little town that is a great base for driving the Ring of Kerry or the Ring of Beara. It has a main street with a number of interesting looking shops, pubs, and restaurants and lots of guest houses and B&Bs. However, we chose to stay outside of town this time after we found a neat studio suite in an old building in the rural countryside, about 15 minutes from town.
Because there was no real address to the house, we had to put the GPS coordinates into Googlemaps on my iPad to find our way. And as a side note, I’m happy to say that you can now download sections of googlemaps to use offline. This meant I was able to use my iPad for mapping for the whole trip, and never needed a SIM card (in the iPad). This is particularly useful when you are in remote areas with no cell service.
Once we reached Kenmare, we drove a few kms up the Ring of Kerry road and then turned onto a narrow side road with the typical 6 foot hedge on each side, and wound through the country for about 6 km hoping we didn’t meet another car, until we reached “The Forge”. Our room was on one end of a long 200-year-old stone building that had once housed a forge. The owner met us and showed us around our room which had a small kitchenette, a wood stove, and windows on three sides of the building. It was dark and rustic and so cozy! We had picked up the fixings for a spaghetti supper in town, and it had begun to rain again, so we settled in for the night. After dinner, we made a fire and sat in the cozy armchairs by the fire, and even watched a little Netflix on the TV. I think that was one of the first times I’ve watched TV on this trip!
It was raining and windy all night long, but the skies began to clear in the morning and the day looked like it held promise. We had been planning to drive the Ring of Kerry, but after some discussion and a little research, we decided to drive back into Kenmare, and drive the Ring of Beara instead. It was purported to be “just as beautiful” as the Ring of Kerry (although about 50-75km shorter I think), but without the steady stream of tour busses and stops crowded with tourists. We were sold.
The initial drive was through the usual countryside – always green and gorgeous with patchwork fields dotted with sheep, and divided by old stone fences. Then we drove up into the hills, the trees disappeared, and the hills became rocky with short grass. The road narrowed and the views of the valleys and the sea were absolutely spectacular! We got to the top of one peak, and the wind was blowing so hard, we could hardly stand up. I took lots of pictures but they hardly do it justice. You just need to go there to see those views yourself.
We stopped at an empty little beach and ate sandwiches we had brought along and then finally made our way back to Kenmare where we picked up more groceries, and went home for another dinner by the fire. Although the weather has been fairly wet on this trip, and frequently windy, we seemed to have been lucky when we’ve really needed it to be dryer. My only wish is that I could get some better photos with blue skies so you could see the true colour of this amazing land.
We stayed at The Forge for two nights, and when we headed to Dingle the next morning, we were able to drive part of the Ring of Kerry to Killarney, and so we enjoyed some amazing views in Killarney National Park. What a gorgeous country this is. Sigh…