Saturday, 1 August 2015

Stonehenge; yes or no?

As we drove along the A303 to the London a couple of weekends ago, we pointed Stonehenge out to DC. We've driven past plenty of times, but on this occasion something must have made his brain cells touch together and he actually took an interest and asked whether we could visit. Well, it's the summer holidays and we're always looking for things to keep the dear child occupied, so what better than to go somewhere he actually wants to go. And so I give you


Since hubby and I last visited (2012), a road has been blocked off, a swanky new visitor centre (of which I completely forgot to take any photos) has been constructed, and buses now take you to the stone circle. DC was pleased to be there, although slightly disappointed to find that you can't get up close and personal to the stones.
DC with Granny and George Bear

We were lucky enough to visit on a dry day (there have been few enough of those so far this 'summer'), but it was still a bit chilly and fairly blustery. It's quite an exposed spot in the middle of the plain, and the sky and clouds seemed mighty big.

 DC asked if he could take some photos with my phone and I think it's fair to say he did a good job (much better than my mum who managed to chop our heads off and not get any of Stonehenge in the background, so I deleted her efforts...)

There's a glimpse of the visitor centre in the background of this shot. DC is testing his strength trying to move a sarcen stone. There's also a small group of reconstructed houses from the time that Stonehenge was built, each containing a few items such as pots, skins, tools, etc, but with absolutely no information on what anything was, who might have lived in the houses, how the space would have been used, etc. The visitor centre contains an exhibition space with a display of items found at Stonehenge - bones, pots, weapons - plus information on how the stone circle was built, how it was used, etc, a very nice cafe and a large shop. We probably spent more time in there than up at the stones, but then we are rather partial to a nice cafe.

Luckily we are National Trust members which means we can visit for free. English Heritage members get the same privileges; the stones are managed by EH while the NT manages the surrounding land. Otherwise it costs £15.50 for an adult and £9.30 for a child, which strikes me as being quite pricey. On top of that there's an extra charge of £2 for an audio tour and more again for a guide book. I'm pretty sure the audio tour used to be included in the ticket price. You can, however, download the audio tour for free via an app onto your mobile photo (although it's quite awkward to use if you also want to take photos with your phone as you have to keep coming out of the app and then going back into it - I gave up listening to it quite quickly because of this.) I'm glad we didn't have to pay the entrance fee as I do feel it is quite high, especially when you consider that really all you're looking at is a bunch of old stones (call me a heathen); comparing the entrance fee to say, Hampton Court where for £16.50 (£8.25 child) you get to see the palace, maze and gardens plus the audio guide is included, there are costumed historical re-enactments, children's activities and more. Stonehenge could do with offering more interactive 'stuff', alongside the sarcen stone and the reconstructed houses and perhaps a few members of staff around and about who could answer questions or demonstrate things. And the other thing to consider is the timing of your visit; in the summer Stonehenge is open from 9am til 8pm (last entry is at 6pm) and you have to book tickets in advance for a timed slot, although some walk-up tickets are also available. We got there just after 10am and there were no queues AT ALL (our timed tickets were actually for 10.30am but we were allowed through early with no issues). When we got back to the visitor centre at about 11.30am after visiting the stones, the queues were VERY LONG - I would estimate at least 100 people/groups in each queue, and they stayed that way right up until we left at 2pm.

Don't let me put you off visiting Stonehenge as it probably is one of those 'Bucket List' kind of places, but it's definitely worth considering the cost, the timing of your visit, and also the weather!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

2015: Books So Far (Warning - They're Mostly Cozy!)

Here we are more than half way through the year and I'm somewhat behind on my reading target for 2015. I put it down to the hours, and hours, and hours, that I spent completing a cross-stitch to enter into the Village Show which took place a couple of weekends ago. All those valuable hours that would have been given over to reading were spent going cross-eyed over the cross-stitch.

Still, looking on the bright side, at least I've read 11 books so far and have made a start on no.12. If I can get back in to the reading groove and make the most of our upcoming holiday, perhaps I can get back on track. I read 24 books in 2014 and I'd love to beat that figure for 2015, but that does mean really getting a reading wiggle on for the remainder of the year. In 2013 I read 27 books, could I possibly beat that total? Last year's numbers were down because of my eye operation which rendered me incapable of seeing the (quite large) TV let alone focusing on teeny tiny print in a book. And this year's numbers are down because of the cross-stitch; however, now that I'm no longer running the tea room (more on that another time), I do have a lot more time to myself so perhaps I can get back on it.

So, these are the books I've read so far, along with a VERY brief review for each one.

1) Styx and Stones - Carola Dunn. British cozy series featuring Daisy Dalrymple and set in the 1920s; I really enjoyed this, the seventh in the series, it was quite possibly my favourite so far, involving poison pen letters and a gruesome death by falling statue in graveyard scenario.

2) The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber. The first in a series about a yarn shop and the women who own and frequent it. Very light, fairly predictable, but sometimes you just need a bit of fluff to read.

3) Rattle His Bones - Carola Dunn. Nearly went back-to-back on the Daisy Dalrymple series after enjoying Styx and Stones so much. This one was very enjoyable too, although more an 8/10 than a 9/10. I'd definitely recommend this series if you're looking for a UK-based, historical cozy series.

4) Agath Raisin: Something Borrowed, Someone Dead - MC Beaton. It's like a terrible addiction - you know it's bad for you, but you keep doing it. That's how I feel about the Agatha Raisin books; I loved them so much in the beginning, but now they're just awful and yet I still keep reading them. Go figure.

5) The Christie Curse - Victoria Abbott. First in a series about a lady who tracks down tomes for an avid book collector. I can barely remember anything about the story, which isn't exactly a glowing recommendation. I didn't dislike the book, but I probably won't rush out and get the next in the series.

6) The Shooting in the Shop - Simon Brett. Number 11 in the Fethering series. I love this series; a slightly darker modern-day English cozy. Actually, probably edging more towards murder mystery than cozy, but definitely on the light side. Perfect for an easy read.

7) A Killer Plot - Ellery Adams. First in the Books by the Bay series. Not sure I liked the main character very much, but I will give the next book a try because I already own it...

8) Murder on the Half Shelf - Lorna Barrett. Booktown Mystery number 6. Yet another series that I really enjoy; it seems I'm quite easy to please when it comes to cozy crime books. I'd recommend this series if you are a cozy fan and you haven't yet given it a try.

9) The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters. Third in the Amelia Peabody series. This series, set in the 1920s and 30s, follows the archaeological adventures and mishaps of Amelia Peabody, her husband and son, mostly in Egypt. I remember very much enjoying the first book in this series and then being rather disappointed by the second. This third book also finds me in the disappointed camp; the story was confusing and I'm not sure there was a plot. Will I bother with the fourth? Probably since lots of people do rave about this series so perhaps it will get better again.

10) Espresso Shot - Cleo Coyle. Coffeehouse Mystery number 7. Possibly my favourite cozy series: set in New York and based around a coffee shop - what's not to love? Another good read.

11) The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons. Moving away from the cozy crime and on to my 'non-cozy unread' bookcase, I decided to give this one a try. It's about a Jewish woman whose husband leaves her and her life thereafter as she becomes a successful art gallery owner. I didn't love it, it took quite a while to get through - like swimming through treacle - but at the same time I didn't dislike it, it was just *shrugs shoulders*, if you know what I mean.

 So, there we have it, my books so far for 2015. Very heavy on the cozy, but that's what I enjoy and what's the point of reading books you don't enjoy? Especially when you've got as many unread books to get through as I have!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Sunny Spain, May/June 2015

Changes have been afoot around these parts, changes in a good way though which hopefully mean I will now have lots more time to get back into the blogging swing of things. Although it is now the school holidays so time may not be on my side quite so much until September. Still, while the small boy watches TV (bad mother...), I can get a little back-blogging done.

During the Spring half term holiday we made our usual excursion to Spain - San Feliu de Guixols on the Costa Brava, to be precise. We are very fortunate that hubby's parents own an apartment there, so it's an easy and relatively cost-effective break. And we can fly from Bristol airport which is only an hour away, which is a definite bonus.

Happy to be heading to the sun!
We headed to the nearby beach at San Pol on our first full day; the sea is such a glorious colour along this coast.

And every evening we would head in to the town of San Feliu for an ice lolly.

 We made our annual trip to Girona. Such a beautiful old town to explore, especially walking along the old ramparts.

 For the last four years hubby and DS have stood on the same spot during this same week to have their photo taken. It's a great way to see how much DS has grown.

This is our favourite spot along the coast - the picturesque town of Calella de Palafrugell; glorious coastal views, a sweet little beach and a wonderful restaurant. We can easily while away several hours at a time here.

my coffee companion while the boys had a swim

We enjoyed it so much that we decided to come back the next day; this time I took my cross-stitch...

 All too soon it was time to head home; but we'll be back again next year!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Easter Holidays in Cornwall: beware there are lots of photos!

For the second week of the Easter break we rented a 'cabin' type affair near Bodmin in Cornwall. What a glorious week we had, the sun shone and we were blessed with blue skies and beautifully warm days all bar the Friday, which was our last day anyway so we couldn't complain. We had decided that we would make the most of our National Trust membership on this holiday and made a good start with a visit to Castle Drogo on the journey from Somerset, through Devon and on into Cornwall (sorry, no photos.)

The next day (Easter Sunday) we headed for Lanhydrock, which was just about 3 miles from where we were staying so we got there just as it was opening up. There was an Easter Egg hunt (again, as we'd also done one at Castle Drogo) which kept DC occupied while hubby, Granny and I were able to enjoy the house and gardens. 

How's about this contraption for cooking the roast chicken?
There were about ten rooms dedicated to all sorts of different food prep, alongside the main kitchen; there was a dairy room (below), a meat room, a fish room to name but a few.
I've told hubby that I really want to move to a Victorian (or Edwardian) house again, so we can have rooms just like this:
And perhaps a corridor like this.
Unfortunately after this my battery ran out so that was the end of the photos, but believe me when I say it is a stunning house, chock-full of interesting historical artefacts, books, furniture, decor, and surrounded by a wonderful garden. I think Lanhydrock is at the top of the list for favourite NT places visited and I would absolutely encourage everyone to go there; I really hope hubby and I can make a return visit sometime soon. 

Day three and we ventured to Fowey so that DC could partake of his favourite holiday past-time - crabbing. Here he is with his brand new bucket, ready and raring to go.
We found the pontoon was the best place for crabbing and also for enjoying the view.
That's Polruan, on the opposite side of the estuary

As well as crabs, we were amazed to catch a starfish!
And some of us spent time catching the rays.

In the afternoon we took the ferry over to Polruan for a little wander round, although we weren't as taken with it as Fowey so we didn't stay all that long. I would heartily recommend a visit to Fowey if you are after a little town with fabulous views, a small selection of interesting shops to look round and some very nice places to eat.

Day Four and it was time to use that NT card once again with a trip to St Michael's Mount.
Our timing meant that we were able to get the boat over to the island and then walk back along the causeway after our visit

This is the Giant's Heart; it's hidden among the cobbles in the path that leads up to the castle

 Master of all he surveys

 Here's the causeway that you could see partially submerged a few photos back
 After St Michael's Mount, we headed a little further along the coast to the sweet little village of Mousehole (pronounced Mau-zel in case you were wondering!) The tide was well and truly out when we first arrived.
 I managed to take a photo of DC looking about 12 years old. Old before his time, poor chap.
 Hubby and I had a competition to see who could take the best 'photo that could be turned in to a jigsaw'; this was my entry. If it weren't for the shadow, bottom left, I think it could be a contender.

 We stayed so long that the tide came back in; the weather was absolutely glorious and we ended up having fish and chips for tea on the edge of the harbour, basking in the sunshine at 6pm - quite a rarity for April in England!

The next day it was back to Fowey for more crabbing!

 Not exactly a hardship though, with views like these.

 Thursday we decided to take a trip to St Ives, a place that has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Unfortunately I was rather disappointed. I know lots of people who absolutely rave about this town, but I just couldn't warm to it; perhaps my expectations were too high? It was very, very busy and crowded which put me off straightaway, there were touts along the main sea front road trying to persuade people to go on boat trips which I thought was rather tacky, and really there was just too much going on for my liking. Perhaps a visit out of season is called for so I can appreciate the place a bit more; I could see that the beaches were lovely, but we're not really a beach family so it was a bit lost on us. Plus poor old DC couldn't find a great spot for crabbing.

 On the way back from St Ives we called in at yet another NT property - Trerice. A very pretty Elizabethan manor house which was very pleasant to wander around, and is really quite compact so very easy to do if you only have a little time to spare. I think we'd have been disappointed if we'd made a special trip, but as we were 'just passing' it was a perfect stopping-off point.
 And the opportunity to buy and wear armour couldn't be passed up.
 And then it was Friday, the final full day of our holiday. And guess where we went?
 This little chap was absolutely in his element here - packed lunch, sword, bucket of crabs, he couldn't have been happier!

 And a dinner of jacket potato with cheese and beans certainly put even more of a smile on his face!
 And that was it for our trip to Cornwall. On the journey home we stopped at yet another NT property - Killerton in Devon

 We had such a lovely break, the weather was wonderful and it was so nice to spend time together relaxing and having fun. Here's to the next trip away in just a few short weeks!