Walking the Augustine Camino (part 1): Aylesford Priory and Aylesford Village

St Thérèse of Lisieux statue in the gardens of Aylesford Priory

Desperate to explore more at the end of winter, I'd been searching for Kentish walking tours and was delighted when an advert popped up on my feed for the Heart of Kent walking festival which takes place in and around Maidstone every March. I chose the Introduction to Pilgrimage walk from Aylesford Priory to Thurnham along the Augustine Camino which promised the most instagrammable view in Kent and met my requirements of moderate difficulty and a medium distance of 7 miles. If you know anything about the concept of 'country miles', you won't be surprised that our walk landed up being closer to 9 miles!

Signposts at Aylesford Priory with the Shrine Altar in the background

Our guide was Andrew Kelly, Route Director for the Augustine Camino. Andrew is a lover of long-distance walks and wanted to emulate the medieval pilgrims by creating a week-long walking pilgrimage route from Rochester Cathedral to the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate, that crucially stops in the most important churches along the way. Our walking group was a nice mix of people both young and old, ranging from very religious to not religious at all. It made for great conversation.

The Reception House at Aylesford Priory, a stone and brick building

Aylesford Priory, also known as The Friars, was founded in 1242 by members of the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites are a Catholic mendicant order, and Aylesford is one of the oldest Carmelite communities in the world. In 1247 Saint Simon Stock is said to have received the Brown Scapular from the Virgin Mary. This event has made Aylesford a pilgrimage site for centuries.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Aylesford Priory
The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the priory passed through various hands and underwent numerous transformations. It wasn't until 1949 that the Carmelites were able to purchase the property and return to Aylesford. Since then, it has been extensively restored and developed into a vibrant center of spiritual retreat and pilgrimage.

A ceramic work by Adam Kossowski at Aylesford Priory depicting the sixth station of the cross of Veronica wiping Jesus face

The priory features a mix of ancient and modern religious art and architecture. Visitors can find medieval buildings alongside modern sculptures and artworks, including pieces by the renowned artist Adam Kossowski.

The seal of the Carmelites, Aylesford Priory
The Seal of the Carmelites

Examples of Kossowski's ceramic works can be seen in the photos above and many were created in the pottery studio established in the 1950s.

The Cloisters of Aylesford Priory

Aylesford Priory contains several chapels located around an outdoor piazza which is popular in the summer.

A Magnolia tree in Aylesford Priory

There is a rosary way featuring statuettes representing the mysteries of the rosary but interestingly enough, the doors to the statuettes were closed for Lent. The first photo features a statue of St Thérèse of Lisieux which is also located in the gardens of the rosary way.

Peace garden at Aylesford Priory

Our final stop at the priory was to the beautiful peace garden. There were flagstones at our feet with the word 'peace' written in scores of languages around the world. I was delighted to be able to read the word in Greek as I've been learning the language for a year.

The rooftops of Aylesford, Kent

Following our time at the priory, we walked down to the village of Aylesbury. It was my first time visiting this quaint village but I hope it won't be my last.

Aylesford is notable for its ancient history, with evidence of human habitation dating back to Neolithic times. There is a chamber tomb located nearby, Kit's Coty House, estimated to have been built around 4000BCE. One of the most significant archaeological finds in the area is the Aylesford Bucket, a well-preserved Iron Age wooden vessel dating back to around 75-25 BCE. This artifact is considered one of the finest examples of prehistoric woodwork in Europe and is on display at the British Museum.

The View of The Chequers Pub from the River Medway

We finally arrived at the spot that Andrew had described as the most Instagrammable spot in Kent - the view of the Chequers pub from the River Medway. It was indeed very pretty but we would also see some incredible scenery over the next five hours. I'll post all about the second half of the walk in two weeks time.

Visiting Bryggen, Bergen's iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site

The colourful facade of the Radisson Blu Hotel and Bryggen Nightclub, Bryggen | Bergen, Norway

With its rich history and distinctive appearance, Bryggen is one of Bergen's most iconic landmarks. Like much of Bergen, Bryggen was quiet three days before Christmas but it is usually a bustling area filled with visitors.

Looking down the narrow passages of Bryggen | Bergen, Norway

Bryggen has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. This recognition was granted due to its historical significance and its importance to the Hanseatic League's trading empire during the 14th to the mid-16th century. The Hanseatic League was a powerful economic and defensive alliance that dominated maritime trade in northern Europe for centuries.

Bergen trolls in Bryggen | Bergen, Norway

We were bitterly disappointed not to run into Bergen trolls in Bergen. These life-sized trolls hide in the mountains of Bergen but we saw neither trolls nor mountain goats of Fløyen. I didn't buy any trolls but I did buy a Bryggen magnet for our collection and a Christmas Gonk.

Ceramic buildings of Bryggen buildings in a shop window | Bergen, Norway

Bryggen has been ravaged by several fires throughout its history, the most devastating of which occurred in 1702. This fire led to the complete rebuilding of the area, which explains the uniform architectural style seen today. Despite these challenges, Bryggen has been continually rebuilt according to traditional methods and styles, preserving its historical essence.

A side view of the colourful facades of Bryggen with a Christmas tree on the left| Bergen, Norway

The buildings at Bryggen housed offices and living quarters for merchants and workers involved in trade, particularly in dried cod from Northern Norway in exchange for grains from mainland Europe.

The colourful buildings of Bryggen in rust, mustard, maroon and white | Bergen, Norway

The buildings in Bryggen are notable for their distinctive wooden architecture, with their gabled facades facing the harbor. This construction style is characteristic of medieval Hanseatic trading centers.

A narrow walkway between the wooden buildings of Bryggen | Bergen, Norway

Today, Bryggen is not only a historical site but also a vibrant cultural hub. It houses several museums, including the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene, which offer insights into the life and operations of the Hanseatic merchants. In addition to its museums, Bryggen features art studios, craft shops, restaurants and cafes.

This is sadly my final post about our magical winter break to Bergen. I fell in love with Norway and will definitely return to the region for more Nordic adventures in future.

A Moment in Kentish Town

Welcome to Kentish Town mural on side of building

I found myself in Kentish Town this week with a moment to spare. The journey from Dartford had somehow worked out to be half an hour shorter than expected and my friends' taxi was going to arrive half an hour later than anticipated.

I decided to potter about, take some photos and just think for a minute. It was a bitterly cold afternoon and I was pleased I'd brought along my winter parka (known fondly as the 'walking duvet cover').

I thought to myself how much I love the word 'Kentish'. My aunt lived in Kentish Town in the late-80s to late-00s and I spent my gap year here helping out as au pair for my cousins.

Colourful houses in Kentish Town

Our reason for meeting in Kentish Town on this cold March day was to see Kaizers Orchestra, the band we'd travelled to Norway in December to see. They were so good! We had a delicious meal at Bonga Korean Restaurant before the concert.

The art deco facade of Kentish Town Forum

I've been wondering if there is something in the stars causing travel disruptions this year. Our trip to Italy in April was cancelled because the airline cancelled our flights, and our road trip from Milan to Annecy to Geneva in September was also cancelled because my friend can no longer make it over from South Africa. I'm in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Slovenia instead in September. Please drop a link below if you've blogged about Slovenia!

The good news is that cancelled trips mean I'll finally be able to tell you about all the things I meant to blog about last year when a special project at work stole five months of my life. I hope. As Allen Saunders said (and John Lennon made famous) "life is what happens to us while we are making other plans".

This is certainly true of the past month. Work commitments and an old whiplash injury have left me slightly out of sorts. I asked in my last post how often I should post here and realised the answer is "when life allows it". I'll aim for 2-3 times a month, which seemed to work with most people - thank you for your feedback!

A February Visit to Bodiam Castle

A View Over the Water | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

We decided to visit Bodiam Castle on a bright February morning. I had incorrectly thought the castle is in Kent and could not figure out why it took us so long to drive there. Turns out Bodiam is in East Sussex and closer to Hastings than Dartford, so that explains it. I love castles, so much so that I have a dedicated label on this blog especially for all my castle-hopping adventures. I prefer ruined castles slightly over intact castles and Bodiam is a very fine example of a moated-castle ruin.

Bodiam Keep and Castle Wall | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Bodiam Castle was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge. England was in the midst of the 100 Year War and Sir Edward built the castle (with the permission of Richard II) with the aim of protecting the area of East Sussex from a possible French invasion.

The bailey at Bodiam Castle | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Unlike many castles in Britain, Bodiam was both completed and inhabited. It is reported that the Dalyngrigge lived in the castle for several generations before the male heir line died out and the castle passed by marriage to the Lewknor family.

Looking down at the pool at the base of the keep | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

By 1483, almost a century after the castle was built, Richard III of the House of York became king. Sir Thomas Lewknor had supported the House of Lancaster in the War of the Roses and so a force was sent to Bodiam and the castle surrendered. The castle was confiscated and only returned to the Lewknors when Henry VII of the House of Lancaster became king in 1485.

Bodiam Castle in the Sunshine | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

The Lewknor family owned the castle until the 16th century and by the start of the English Civil War, was in possession of Lord Thanet, a descendant of the Lewknors. Lord Thanet was a keen Royalist and he was forced to sell the castle to pay for fines brought against him following the Parliamentarian victory.

Looking up at the keep | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Bodiam Castle was purchased but dismantled and left to fall into ruin. It is only through the work of John Fuller (who bought the castle in 1829), George Cubitt and Lord Curzon that vital restoration work was carried out on the castle to deliver the ruin we know today. Lord Curzon left Bodiam Castle to The National Trust on his death in 1925 and the ruin has been open to the public since.

Looking over the Bailey to the Barbican | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Bodiam Castle is unusual in that there was no keep built in the castle. Instead the castle was built in a simple quadrangle with chambers situated along the outer defensive walls and inner courts. A circular drum tower is located at each of the four corners of the castle and square central towers are located in the middle of three of four sides.

Looking up at Bodiam Castle Walls to the Sky | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

All of the towers are topped by defensive crenellations which highlight the castle’s defensive intent.

Looking through an arrow loop at Bodiam Castle | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

There are arrow loops in the walls and towers of the castle and impressive views of the surrounding countryside. The well in the castle has been preserved and possibly provided water for the castle inhabitants. They certainly weren’t using the moat as a water source for it is believed that is where waste water from the castle was diverted!

Sculpture of a king | Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

We were very lucky because the dark clouds that covered the sky for much of our visit did not break. It was also slightly warm in the sunshine but colder in the shade. By the time we exited to the castle to admire the sculptures, the sky was blue and the promise of spring was near!

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam, near Robertsbridge
East Sussex
TN32 5UA

Prices vary from £10 per adult and £5 per child off-peak. Click the link above for details.

I was chatting with my Mum the other day and she complained that I don't post often enough here. I've always been a bit shy of posting too often. What do you think? Should I post more often here?

A Journey on Bergen's Fløibanen Funicular

Entrance to Floibanen Bergen Funicular

I know you shouldn't pick favourites, but if I had to choose my favourite day in Bergen, it would be the second day when we journeyed to the top of mount Fløyen on the Fløibanen funicular.

I'm sure many of you know, but a funicular is a railway that usually travels up (and down) a mountain and which historically travels along a rope. The word funicular derives from the Latin word for rope or cord, being funis.

Panoramic view of Port of Bergen from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

In many funiculars, the ascending and descending cars were counterbalanced but this is not necessarily a defining feature of funiculars.

It was a cold and snowy day on our visit to Mount Fløyen and it snowed while we were up there too.

View of Port of Bergen from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

I'm not quite as fearful of heights as I used to be since I confronted my fear of heights in 2014 but I have to admit that I was very careful up at the summit. The views were absolutely dizzying and I held on very tight to the railings, while Stephen watched from a very safe distance.

Panoramic view of City and Port of Bergen from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

I've taken funiculars in Folkestone, Prague, Hastings and Bergen. Bergen and Prague tie for their breathtaking qualities.

Signposts at the Summit of Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

I would love to visit again one day, especially in summer. There is a trail you can walk down from the mountains to the town. Given that it was snowing quite steadily while we were up there and the snow plough was in action, we decided against the walk on this occasion.

View of Port of Bergen from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

But there are also mountain goats and trolls that you can meet on Fløyen, both of which seem more visible in summer.

The City of Bergen Viewed from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

Still, our time on Fløyen was quite magical and has made me ever more determined to ride every funicular that I can. They are a lot of fun.

The City of Bergen Viewed from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

The City of Bergen Viewed from Mount Fløyen | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

A Woman Walks Down a Path Holding a Red Umbrella | Floibanen Bergen Funicular


Free High Five Graffiti | Floibanen Bergen Funicular

It was soon time to partake in our favourite Bergen pastime, namely getting a hot drink and watching the world pass us by. After that, it was on to our next adventure.

@mandyist Travel on Bergen's Fløibanen and experience the best views a funicular can offer Love @Visit Bergen #funicular #bergen #norway #travel #winterwonderland #scandinavia #traveltiktok #traveltok #norwaytiktok #norwaytravel #norway🇳🇴 #norwaytiktok🇳🇴 ♬ golden hour - piano version - main character melodies

Dazzled by the Canary Wharf Winter Lights

Looking inside a light installation | Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

We went up to Canary Wharf last Saturday night to see the famous Winter Lights Festival. It was such a fun night and we got to see most of the lights before the cold and sore legs sent us packing for the train home. We enjoyed a superb meal at the Ivy beforehand. They have an unbeatable deal at the moment offering two courses for £19.17.

In-Between by Daniel Popescu (Romania), Crossrail Place Roof Garden, West End

A blue cube of light at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Crossrail Place

Trees lit up at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Biophilia by Frankie Boyle (UK), Crossrail Place Roof Garden

Spirals of neon light at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Vessels by Limbic Cinema (UK), Crossrail Place Roof Garden, East End

Triangles of light at Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

The Peace Poem by Emergency Exit Arts and Robert Montgomery (UK), Adams Plaza

The Peace Poem by Emergency Exit Arts and Robert Montgomery at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Marbles by Gertjan Adema (Netherlands), Wren Landing

Marbles by Gertjan Adema at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Cabot Square

A child dances in front of a cylindrical light at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

On the Wave of Light by Those Guys Lighting (Latvia), Riverside

On the Wave of Light by Those Guys Lighting at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Neuron by Juan Fuentes (Spain), Riverside

Neuron by Juan Fuentes at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

A View of the City from Canary Wharf

A View of the City from Canary Wharf at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

Newfoundland Tower, Canary Wharf

Newfoundland Tower, Canary Wharf at Night

Sign by Vendel & De Wolf (Netherlands), Westferry Circus

Sign by Vendel & De Wolf at the Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2024

West India Avenue Leading Up to Westferry Circus

West India Avenue Leading Up to Westferry Circus