Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Coastal Walk in Guernsey

One dark and stormy Friday night a couple of weeks ago, I dashed across London to make my way to Gatwick Airport and on to the Channel island of Guernsey. I was very lucky indeed that my plane took off that evening for I later discovered that mine was the last flight permitted to depart before flights were suspended for severe weather conditions.

The weather was slightly calmer on landing in Guernsey although still decidedly damp. My lovely friends Jen, Melissa and Lindsay picked me up and we drove through the darkness to Jen’s house. After chatting late into the night and early morning, I collapsed into bed and fell asleep immediately. It had been a very long day indeed.

I woke up to this.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (2)

I had a fair idea of why Jen moved to Guernsey. She enjoys coastal runs, foraging and a life away from the chaos of the inner city. Now I understood why she loves it so much; can you imagine waking up to these views everyday?

A coastal walk in Guernsey (3)

These photos were taking from the back yard of Jen’s adopted home. She has views to the sea and the rolling hills of the nearby seaside farms. My heart soared as my lungs filled with crisp, fresh air. I wanted to stay there forever.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (4)

After the rain and storms of the previous evening, we could scarcely believe our luck at how beautiful the weather had turned out. We decided to take a walk down to the cliffs and follow the coastal path.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (5)

We walked along a narrow country road, ducking every now and then to the side as cars came trundling along. The doorway above belongs to the property that was once home to Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. He came to live in Guernsey after he was exiled from France and Jersey.  The remains of his house – his summer home – were destroyed by the Nazis in the Second World War. (Thank you very much to Jen and Lindsay for telling me this story – I have to admit I wasn’t immediately familiar with who Hugo was. I resolve to immediately watch Les Miserables to make up for my crime against literature!)

A coastal walk in Guernsey (6)

I couldn’t help but snap a photo of this lamp post. Guernsey is just magical and every so often I’d get the feeling that I was actually walking through the pages of a children’s fantasy novel.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (7)

This is one of my favourite photos. I love the barbed wire in the foreground and the sloping grass down to the bright blue sea. The sea was really that colour!

A coastal walk in Guernsey (8)

I really like the reflection in the photo above and I love the idea of living in a house on a cliff, looking straight onto the sea. Those views must be pretty special.

Shortly after we passed this house, the girls decided that I should close my eyes for the next part. Believe me when I tell you that there is no greater display of trust than letting your friends guide you along the edge of sea cliffs while your eyes are closed.

It was absolutely worth it though for when I opened my eyes, I saw this.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (10)

I had to agree that the view was pretty spectacular. I even let out a bit of a gasp when I opened my eyes which really scared the man standing beside us who thought someone had fallen down the cliffs.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (13)

I looked to my right and saw a path leading up an incline, beckoning me to scamper up it like a billy goat. I know, I sound like an excited child but Guernsey inspired in me a desire to be free and explore.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (11)

I wasn’t going to argue in any event and I ran up the incline to see the undulating hills and countryside beyond.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (9)

I was touched by the dedication on this bench, “In loving memory of Annette Mason who loved these cliffs so much”. I could relate to that and imagined that one day Stephen and I might move to a place like this and be so happy that one of us would eave a dedication like this for the other. Of course, we’re very happy now but our dedication would read more like, “was a patient and loving parent to the most demanding cats on earth”. 

A coastal walk in Guernsey (12)

The view into the water from this point was quite dizzying. The sea gets its distinctive colour from the limestone in the cliffs but Jen tells me that it is completely transparent when you’re standing in it.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (14)

I quite liked this place marker, reminding us of Guernsey’s French heritage. At this point we’d returned from the direction the marker is pointing in and began to walk in the opposite direction.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (15)

The views here were equally impressive and I believe I took over 15 photos of this cove and more on my iPhone.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (16)

As we walked along the coastal path, we walked alongside properties which bordered the path. Can you imagine opening your back gate and seeing the views above? I can see my neighbour’s back yard.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (17)

It really was a really beautiful, warm day and hard to believe that it was the middle of October. We felt very fortunate indeed.

A coastal walk in Guernsey (18)

I was glad to get a reasonable photo of this gate. It had caught my eye on the way down but I’d worked hard to capture its charm in my previous photos.

A coastal walk in Guernsey

With one final look past Hugo’s old door, we soon came to the end of our lovely walk.

That evening about 15 women gathered to celebrate Canadian thanksgiving at Jen’s house. We had an incredible time and were only too happy to lounge around in our socks and pyjamas the next day when the weather took a dramatic and soggy turn.

Have you ever been to Guernsey? Which if the other nearby isles have you visited?

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Friday, 17 October 2014

Island Hopping: 6 Islands Within an Hour of London

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Last weekend I spent the weekend in Guernsey and I had a fantastic short break. I flew out straight after work on Friday and returned on Monday morning which meant I got to spend the weekend on an island without wasting any annual leave. I'll definitely return to Guernsey and am already planning our next trip but the success of our short mini-break has got me thinking about where else I can visit for just a weekend. Read on to discover six islands that you can visit that are located within an hour from the UK mainland.

Jersey

Located off the coast of Normandy, Jersey is an intriguing fusion of British and French culture. It’s the biggest of the Channel Islands set and boasts a stunning 47 mile coastline. Whether you’re into sandy beaches or rugged cliffs, Jersey has it all! There’s plenty of hotels to choose from and an abundance of charming cafes and restaurants to whittle away the days. If you want to getaway to Jersey for a relaxing break, budget airlines such as Flybe schedule flights departing from all the UK’s major cities from Exeter to Edinburgh.

Skye

For breathtakingly rugged scenery, Scotland’s Isle of Skye is a winning destination. Catch the ferry for a novel experience or simply drive over the Skye Bridge in a matter of minutes. Whichever route you choose to take, it’s well worth the effort. For whiskey lovers, a tour of the famous Talisker distillery is a must. Those wanting to work up a sweat can hike some of Skye’s spectacular mountain paths.

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Isle of Man

Nestled in between Ireland and England, the Isle of Man offers visitors quintessential old world charm. The island is peppered with castles, churches and abbeys which will please even the most well-read of history buffs. For those with a taste for adventure, the isle’s undulating interior offers great scenic hikes while coastal trails lead to magnificent viewpoints. For cheap transport to the Isle of Man, tourists need no longer rely on the ferry, British Airways flies direct from London City Airport.

Anglesey

Despite being just a short trip on the A5 off Wales, Anglesey feels worlds away from mainland Britain. Visitors can explore ancient castles, enjoy beautiful nature walks and even engage in some summertime water sports that give Spain a run for its money!

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Tresco

Off the coast of Cornwall lies a picturesque archipelago which flaunts a wonderful Mediterranean vibe. Tresco is by far the most popular island and boasts a fascinating history dating back to the Bronze Age. Whether you frolic in the crystal clear waters or explore the ancient Tresco Abbey Gardens, Tresco and the Isles of Scilly is just a short plane or ferry ride away!

Isle of Sark

It may be the smallest of the major British Channel Islands but the Isle of Sark is definitely worthy of a mention. The short-haul flight company Aurigny can get you there fast by air. The island has a no cars policy which keeps the air incredibly clean – perfect for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Instead, visitors cycle, walk or take a horse drawn cart around the island’s 40 mile circumference. Thanks to the lack of infrastructure, the Isle of Sark is a great place to spot wildlife and indulge in a little star gazing.

With fantastic islands such as these, why bother travelling further afield to get your dose of fresh sea air?

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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Hidden Mews of Knightsbridge and Belgravia

Macarons in Mayfair (3)

And now for something completely different. A short while ago, we discovered that the expat curse was to strike again. For those that are not familiar with this term, I coined it some years ago to describe the fact that most expats ultimately return home and leave other, heartbroken expats in their wake. When Yannick and I learned that the lovely Kat would soon be departing for home, we began to conspire to treat Kat to a very special farewell walk.

Now if you know anything about Yannick’s walks, you’ll know that they are exceptionally well conceived and researched and we were very privileged indeed to join him on his inaugural Macarons and Mews walk.

I’m not going to give away any of the fascinating stories that Yannick regaled us with nor am I going to divulge where we sourced the mouth-watering, delicious macarons that we tasted on the walk. I will tell you that we explored the hidden mews and secret passageways of Knightsbridge and Belgravia and that if you love history, macarons and exploring hidden places then this is the walk for you.

I’ll let my photos tell you the story of our afternoon’s adventures. Enjoy!

Hidden mews in Mayfair (1)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (2)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (3)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (4)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (5)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (6)

Hidden mews in Mayfair (7)

Macarons in Mayfair (2)

Macarons in Mayfair (1)

Harrods

Secret mews in Mayfair (5)

Secret mews in Mayfair (1)

Bianka, Yannick and Mandy

Secret mews in Mayfair (2)

Secret mews in Mayfair (3)

Secret mews in Mayfair (4)

I have to admit that I’d never seen anything like any of these places before. The areas we explored were so quiet but there were definite signs of life!

If you’d like to visit Yannick on his delicious and fascinating Macarons and Mews walk, his Art Deco in Bloomsbury walk or his renowned Holland Park walk, you can book at his Eventbrite page.

Have you ever explored the hidden mews and secret passageways of Belgravia and Knightsbridge? Which secret part of London should I explore next?

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Discovering the Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey - Please keep off the abbey walls

There are times when I have to admit that despite my determination to be an eternal tourist, to celebrate all that my hometown has to offer before I explore the rest of the world, I’m still kind of rubbish at it. Why else would I live within 10 to 20 minutes of this absolutely gem for over seven years

Ruined walls of Lesnes Abbey

This is the ruined Lesnes Abbey which sits on the edge of the Abbey Wood in the London Borough of Bexley. The Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr was founded in Lesnes in 1178 and became known locally as Lesnes Abbey.

Window in ruined Lesnes Abbey

It is speculated that the abbey was founded by Richard de Luci as penance for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Whatever truth lies in that story, de Luci spent the last three months of his life in retirement at the abbey and was buried in the Chapter House.

The fate of the abbey was not a happy one. In 1524, Lesnes Abbey became one of the first monasteries to be suppressed in King Henry VIII’s notorious Dissolution of the Monasteries. Like many other monasteries of the time, all of the abbey buildings except for the Abbot’s lodging were destroyed and it is said that stones from the abbey were used in the construction of nearby Hall Place.

Tower blocks in the distance - Lesnes Abbey

Today the ruins lie on the edge of the Abbey Wood, overlooking the council estates in Thamesmead and Abbey Wood. It is an interesting juxtaposition between medieval and modern Britain.

Floorplan of the dissolved Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey experienced financial problems throughout much of its existence and many of the buildings fell into neglect in the fourteenth century.  What strikes me then is how well the ruins have withstood the years. It seems that the stones lie exactly as they fell 490 years ago and you can still see a very clear footprint of the original buildings. When I was researching our visit to the abbey, I looked the site up on Google Maps and that footprint is especially striking in satellite view.  

Toppled pillars at Lesnes Abbey

Would neglect and mounting debt have eventually gotten the better of our abbey? We’ll never know. The more I learn about Henry’s megalomaniacal campaign of religious and cultural destruction, the sadder I become. I think he took a lot from the British people that countries across Europe were able to maintain (unless they were later lost in war).

All that remains of the pillars at Lesnes Abbey

I was extremely impressed with the condition of the grounds at Lesnes Abbey. The grass lawns were perfectly manicured and there were well-tended flower beds around the ruins. Entrance to the site is free of charge and there are several benches and spaces for visitors to sit and picnic.

Peeking through a ruined wall at Lesnes Abbey

The site is well sign-posted and children will be able to see a plan of the site and identify the various rooms and areas.

Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

I think I might just have found my new favourite outdoor space in the whole of London.

A lost passageway at Lesnes Abbey

The chapel at Lesnes Abbey

Burial place of Roesia of Dover

Once you’ve finished exploring the ruins, do take the time to walk through the beautiful Abbey Woods and see the bluebells. There are a choice of well sign-posted walks ranging in difficulty and you can also link up with the Green Chain. 

Lesnes Abbey

The Ruins of Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey is open to the public in daylight hours and is within walking distance of Abbey Wood rail station. 

Lesnes Abbey
Abbey Road, Belvedere
Nearest postcode: DA17 5DY
Email: visitlesnes@bexley.gov.uk
Telephone: 0208 303 7777

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