16
Feb 18

Joshua Tree – Death Valley

204 miles (total: 450 miles) 3°C 7am

Iestyn jumped out of bed at 6am because he was too cold, and gave me no choice than to follow suit, even though I was nice and snug in mine. It was super cold but nice sunrise and there were rabbits hopping around the campsite. In no time we were cruising away from Joshua Tree. This was not very smart though because Iestyn wanted to find a place for breakfast somewhere on the way despite the fact that the best place would have been Joshua Tree village itself (I even had a place circled for that purpose in my guide).

Roads for days!

Mojave National Preserve

Scenery was amazing though, even before entering Mojave National Preserve. Short stop in Amboy ghost town on Route 66, with famous(-ish) Roy’s motel. In Mojave we stopped over at the Kelso dunes, and at Kelso proper.

Kelso Dunes

Kelso Dunes

Had lunch at a Greek place in Baker, and then continued our scenic drive up towards Death Valley with a short break for gas and terrible coffee at Shoshone village. We arrived at Furnace Creek in late afternoon – too late for one of the nice camps given that it is three-day weekend and prime season on the Valley. Had to settle for the Sunset camp among RVs but was not actually so terrible. Air was balmy, sun was setting, and we just about managed to make the Artist scenic drive at the best light of the day. Dinner at a local joint in Furnace Creek, not much choice of places, the saloon we were going for does not exist any more.


15
Feb 18

Palm Springs – Joshua Tree National Park

141 miles (total: 246 miles) 11°C 7am

The advantage of a westward jetlag is that you wake up real early to make the most of the day, and so I did. Proper Americana breakfast in our hotel (thick and sweet waffles) and then to Ralph’s supermarket to stock up on supplies for our trip. Fresh and super sunny, it’s only 7:45 and we’re already on our way out of town.

Nice desert views already along the way. Listening to the American roadtrip playlist Iest picked, was not perfect but had some classics. Missed the Joshua Tree National Park visitor centre, and arrived to the entrance unprepared but managed to wing it. First point of interest – Keys view (1581m) with breathtaking panorama over the Coachella valley. In addition, our first encounters with wildlife – antelope ground squirrels, and tiny zebratail lizard.  

Entering Joshua Tree

Cochella Valley

Antelope Ground Squirrel

Afterwards, still pretty much early morning, we went for a nice loop hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail. Real desert & Joshua tree experience with added thrill of an authentic Old West silver and gold mine remains (operational until 1931). Spent some nice three hours on the trail, and got some spectacular views towards the other side of the valley too. Next stop, Cholla Cactus garden. It must be said that this, while very pretty, is a bit of a misnomer – it is not really so much fo a cactus garden as it is a cactus field, given that there is only one kind of cactus growing there but there is a lot of it. We enjoyed the walk though, it is a pretty place.

Gina at the Lost Horse trailhead

On the Trail!

Spectacular views!

Gina at the Cactus garden

By now I was a bit sleepy, but valiantly made it to see another nice spot – the Barker Dam (real bit of water, with actual ducks and a few other birds, originally built for cattle and mining use), and the Wonderland of rocks (nice rock formations, but really they are all over the park).  Afterwards it really was time to find our campsite at Black Rock, which turned out to be nice with some amazing views. It was getting proper cold in the evening, so we pitched the tent and drove to the village to get something to eat. Eventually we even managed to start the fire and got to admire all the stars in the clear sky.

Phainopepla at Barker Damn

A Black Phoebe at the damn

Camping under the stars


14
Feb 18

London – L.A. – Palm Springs

14 February 123 miles (total: 123 miles)

Early morning travel from LB to Gatwick with too much spare time, but one cannot rely on the trains in this country to run on time (or at all); missing Lily intensely. Flight was long but ok actually, sat by the window, watched stuff on tv, read a bit, and there we were, descending over a massive urban sprawl of sunny LA. Flew through the customs no probs, and Iestyn was already waiting for me at arrivals. LA was all fresh and sunny but we had no intentions to see more of it (well, Iest already did in the previous days, and I did years before), so just took the rental car (with some disorganisation hiccups eating into our time) and were on our way out. Nice car though, KIA Sportage, Iestyn’s first automatic, learned to love it pretty fast.
Drove through some unsavoury LA hoods to 60 East to Palm Springs. I was holding up pretty well, considering the long flight and 8hrs time difference but towards the end of the drive I was already dozing off.
Palm Springs was off season, so was very quiet (more like Calm Springs, amirite?) even on Valentine’s night. The evening was balmy, we checked into our nice hotel and went out for a mexican dinner with live music (not mexican). Fast asleep before Family Guy’s Valentine’s day episode was over (well, before the first scene was over, really).


13
Feb 18

California Trip!

Stafford, Steve, Iest & Andrew

Iestyn was nominated for a VES award for his great work on an animation of a dog-slash-killing machine kind of robot, which was great, and so he was going to L.A. for the ceremony. I thought it might be a good opportunity to have a little break from the dreary London winter, and it would be a nice time to go see the California deserts before they get too hot, and also maybe the elephant seals breeding on the coast. So without much planning i booked my tickets and off I went.


05
Nov 17

Ightham Mote

After a delicious breakfast of hearty pancakes & coffee we looked out the window and noticed how delightfully sunny it was outside! It looked like a fresh, autumn/verge of winter kind of morning – and so we decided it would be lovely to head out for a Sunday morning drive to one of the very few South Eastern National Trust sites we’ve not visited yet – Ightham Mote!

We jumped into Terell, and cruised on down to the notorious Sevenoaks, Kent – here’s what Wiki has to say about it:

Ightham Mote (pronounced “item moat”), is a medieval moated manor house. The architectural writer John Newman describes it as “the most complete small medieval manor house in the county.” The house is a Grade I listed building, and parts of it are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote – Classic View

The manor house is really pretty, and has a great moat around it – we got there just in time, as the free introduction talk was just about to begin – here we learned a but about the history of the house, and all about the many paintings John Singer Sargent did of the manor, and how currently on exhibition is a 100 year old portrait of the “Young Lady in White” which was also painted in the manor. Great!

We then cruised around the front garden for a bit – admiring the lovely small garden at the front, and the other surrounding buildings, before heading inside.

Gina & the Front Garden

Note Gina’s beautiful scarf

Christmas time is coming up, so the rooms (which were open) were decorated for Christmas – which included several Christmas trees, and a small train set on the main dining table. We headed upstairs to see the exhibition on the “Young Lady in White” which was quite impressive. From there we continued through the hallways, and down into the library downstairs, and out into the court yard, where they had a 3-storey high bird house, and a dog kennel that could fit up to 10 Ginas.

Christmas at the Great Hall

Gina chillin’ at the Courtyard

From there, we continued around the moat, where we were treated a lovely view of the manor, and a few benches, where Gina posed nicely with her brand new, freshly finished scarf.

Ightham Mote

A nice spot to chill

We did a small walk around the grounds, before heading on back to London (via Ikea) – for a 6pm Deliveroo. Great Sunday!


18
Apr 17

Wales Easter

As per usual, we went to Wales for Easter, looking forward to some hiking, sun, NT places and loads of ôen bachs. The weather was not great but not too terrible either, so we managed to do a few cool things:

Penrhyn Castle

Originally a medieval fortified manor house, founded by Ednyfed Fychan. In 1438, Ioan ap Gruffudd was granted a licence to crenellate and he founded the stone castle and added a tower house. Samuel Wyatt reconstructed the property in the 1780s.

Penrhyn Castle

We checked out all the fancy rooms and staircases, plus the Victorian kitchen in which they were baking nice Easter cookies.

Victorian kitchen

Truth!

Glyder Fawr
On Saturday the weather was ok, so we decided to go up our fave Glyder, which we guessed would not be too overcrowded on the heavy-traffic Easter weekend. We even managed to find parking (just about), but the Snowdon path from Pen-y-Pas was a tourist highway for sure, like if all the people on it would just reach out they could hold hands in a full chain from the road all the way to the top. Blergh.
Glyder, on the other hand, was only reasonably populated, had great views over to Tryfan, and my fave bleak rocky outcrops on the top. Success.

Bleak

Burial sites
Two of them. Not sure their names or history, Iest will fill this in.

Iest: Here I am, filling this in. I’m currently reading a very interesting book called ‘The story of Wales’ by Jon Gower, and although I’ve only just started it, I’ve found out that there were two very fascinating places just a stones throw away from where I grew up. The first is Bachwen, a burial chamber that’s located over in Clynnog Fawr – dating back to the Neolithic / Stone Age era. Beautifully located just by the sea, and with Yr Eifl just behind it.

The second, was just over on Anglesey – Bryn Celli Ddu, another Neolithic site but this time, a stone chambered tombs buried under a mound, which made for a rather impressive site! So great to learn about these two places, and I’m looking forward to what else I can learn from the book!

Bachwen

Bryn Celli Ddu

Llandwyn
My fave beach is awesome even in heavy clouds. Tho this time it was also a bit like a crab carnage site, with so many dead crabs everywhere. Probably a crab flu season or something.

Llandwyn

Tre’r Ceiri

A hillfort dating back to the Iron Age. The settlement is located 450 metres (1,480 ft) above sea level on the slopes of Yr Eifl, a mountain on the north coast of the Llŷn peninsula. Evidence suggests the settlement was first built around 200 BC, though most of the archaeological finds date from AD 150–400, showing the site continued as a settlement during the Roman occupation. Tre’r Ceiri is one of the most spectacular ancient monuments in Wales. The settlement is surrounded by stone walls that are largely intact, and which reach up to 4 metres in some places. Within the walls are ruins of about 150 stone houses, it may have housed up to 400 people.

Tre’r Ceiri

Tre’r Ceiri summit

Chirk castle
Finally, on our way home we managed to stop by at Wrexham’s finest, Chirk castle.

The castle was built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer de Chirk, uncle of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March as part of King Edward I’s chain of fortresses across the north of Wales. It guards the entrance to the Ceiriog Valley. The castle was bought by Sir Thomas Myddelton in 1593 for £5,000. Following the Restoration, his son became Sir Thomas Myddelton, 1st Baronet of Chirke. During the 1930s the Castle was home to Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden, a prominent patron of the arts and champion of Welsh culture. The Myddelton family resided at Chirk Castle until 2004.

Chirk Castle

Entrance Hall

The State Dining Room

Main living room

Banquet hall


09
Apr 17

Knole

Sunny Sunday, so we decided to make it another NT day, this time the Knole house. Supes crowded but pretty.

Knole house a remarkably preserved and complete early Jacobean remodelling of a medieval archiepiscopal palace. From an even older manor house, it was built and extended by the Archbishops of Canterbury after 1456. It then became a royal possession during the Tudor dynasty when Henry VIII hunted here and Elizabeth I visited. From 1603, Thomas Sackville made it the aristocratic treasure house for the Sackville family, who were prominent and influential in court circles.

Knole’s main entrance

Inner lawn yard

Iest at Knole

Cool gatehouse tower, containing the private rooms of last inhabitant Edward Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville. Known to his friends as Eddy, he was a novelist and music critic who lived in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole between 1926 and 1940. Eddy was passionate about art, music and literature and was regularly visited by artists and literary figures of the Bloomsbury Group, including novelist Virginia Woolf and the painter Duncan Grant, as well as his famous cousin Vita Sackville-West, the gardener and poet.

And also, Eddy was my kind of man:

Eddy’s style

We also headed out for the ‘Seven oaks walk’ around Knole park in the blazing sun – a 5km woodland walk, we got to see all of the Knole land, together with deer and all!

Deers on the grounds

Gina getting some sun


26
Mar 17

Amsterdam

Thursday 23 March
I got a trip to Amsterdam for my b’day, which was cool, and finally the day came for us to get up at an ungodly hour and haul our bags to the airport. Based on previous experience, we did not rely on the trains as they are pretty much more on strike than working, and took Terrell up there with us, which was probably the less stressful choice.

The flight was very short, but we did manage to strike a conversation with an Amsterdam local, and a world-class barista at that, so we had a list of hipster coffee houses to visit while we’re there.

Amsterdam was super sunny when we arrived, and was to stay that way for the four days of our trip. I think last time I saw four days of sun in a row it was in Cambodia. We took the train to town and the tram to our awesome B&B and it all took almost not time at all. Our place was a great studio flat on the top floor of the De Pijp swanky district and we were very happy with it. It also had a cat-view (to the balcony across the street). We could not admire it for too long, as we had timed tickets to the Anne Frank’s house, so we had to run. We really enjoyed the exhibition, as much as one can ‘enjoy’ it, and we learned a lot.

Amsterdam

After Anne Frank’s house we had shockingly good lunch in Singel 404, and went on for the truly unmissable Amst stuff – museum of all cat art. They had live cats living in as well. The house was beautiful on its own and all the cat paintings, sketches, sculptures, photos, posters and kitsch made it all the better.

Iest shocked at Singel

Cat Cabinet

Afterwards, due to a haircutting accident of the day before (in London), I had to find a hairdresser’s to make me feel human again, and Iest went to one of the coffee places on his list. After successful missions on both sides we spent the rest of the evening having a nice dusky stroll along the canals.

Evening Amst

Friday 24 March
We had to get up reasonably early as our tickets to Van Gogh museum were also timed, and we chose an early-ish time to avoid the most of the crowds. We didn’t mind too much as it was sunny and all nice and fresh. For breakfast, we ticked off another coffee place, Coffee & Coconuts, a bit too hipstery and pretentious for me (but at this point I did not know yet what was coming the next day, compared to which C&C was your old run-of the-mill, casual, shabby, a bit mundane, and slightly boring greasy spoon).

Van Gogh museum was great and we learned a lot again, even about the unfortunate ear incident. We really liked the exhibitions.

We thought we could go to the Rijks museum right after as they are conveniently located next to each other, but by this time it was really full of school classes and tourists, and we decided to rather go tomorrow early in the morning again, and instead went to the foodhall for some nice lunch.

Gina at the Van Gough atrium

Pretty Begijnhof

We then went back to the city centre as we wanted to visit the Royal Palace but that was closed for some fancy royal visit, so we went a class down and headed to the redlight district. That was pretty disheartening overall, and we headed out again as soon as we could. We found some solace in the Begijnhof, which was like the opposite in spirit – quiet, transcendent, and pure. Topped it up with a tea and cake, some more canals (starting to look all the same to me tbh), and had a nice dinner at the Thai place on our street.

Saturday 25 March
Woken up to an escaped parrot on the tree in front of our window, which was kind of cool but i hope he found a way home.
Rijks museum in the morning. All the Rembrandt Night Watch, and all the other highlights we had a handy list of, plus the great library.

Rijks library

Gina & Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’

Afterwards we went to Back to Black, another coffee place on Iest’s list, I liked this one too, as they were selling canvas shopping bags with a nice ‘Only cats can judge me’ design, which i got as a b-day present from Amst.

Back to Black

Then we thought it was a great time to take a nice boat ride through the canals and hear a bit of the history and all, and in principle it was a great idea. In practice, the boat was nice and comfy and gently rocking and the narration in the headphones so soothing, so I slept through most of it. I think Iest had a good time tho.

Iest having a good time

On the river

In the evening, after a quick nap an a re-charge, we headed back out to the centre to see the streets at night, and for a bite to eat. After much debating, we settled for a fantastic cheese board, with some bread!

Wine and cheese board

Sunday 26 March
For b-fast we went to the Scandinavian Embassy and words fail me in trying to convey how pretentious this place was. Iest loved it of course, he even got another cup of the sour brew to go. Whatevs, we try to cater the trip to all cognitive abilities. We then dedicated the morning to a nice stroll in the Vondel park, observing loads of birds and trying to find Picasso’s fish-bird which we probably in the end did or maybe it was some kind of rubbish heap.

Heron ?

Birdfish

We also went to an unfashionable part of the town to take a pic of a windmill/brewery, just so that we can tick all the boxes, and that was about it, we started to wrap our trip up.

Altogether we had a great time in Amsterdam, and really enjoyed our little break; should do this more often!


26
Feb 17

Scotney Castle

In the week, Gina found a rather picturesque looking castle on National Trust’s ‘gram account. We found out that the castle wasn’t too far from us here in London – a mere hour and a half drive to the South East. Perfect! A road trip for Sunday was set in place.

We arrived at Scotney Castle just before 11am – the weather wasn’t too great; grey and damp – so the first thing we did was get an inside tour of the ‘new’ Scotney castle. It was quite fascinating, the owner had been living in the house until 2006 – so there was a mish-mash of possessions in the house. It was agreed with the owners that the castle, house and grounds would all go over to the NT upon the death of the last resident, so I guess she didn’t want to upgrade the house too much, as it contained relics of the past, some very old furniture and antiques [Gina: yeah, i’m sure that’s the reason why she didn’t ‘upgrade’ her antiques; like if NT was not waiting for it, it would have been all hygge by now, candles and yoghurt and moose rugs in front of the fireplaces] . She was living among these objects, with just, from what I could see, a TV and radio from the latter half of the 20th century as the newest objects in the house. It was really interesting. [Yeah but the TV did have netflix on it, so there’s that. Plus, she was not living among ‘objects’, she had like ten cats.]

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle

The grounds and garden of the house were amazing. Just down from the ‘new’ castle was a quarry – which was closed (due to frost), which had been turned to a garden, with loads of snowdrops inside it, and just further down was the old original castle that dates back to around the 1500’s – surrounded by a moat. We had a good look around, and walked around the moat before heading back to the NT’s reception area.

Gina at the moat

Then we decided it would be great time to head out see what we could be get for food, we had pub-lunch on our minds, and thanks to some Trip Advising on the matter, we ended up at The Chequers pub, down in Lamberhurst – which supplied us with some awesome Sunday roast, and veg lasagne for Gins.

Afterwards, as the day was grey ‘n wet, we decided it would be best to head on back home to chill – so we did just that.


07
Feb 17

Norfolk

Grey and cold February, with nothing to look forward to until like the Easter (oên bachs!). We decided to pass some of that greyness in Norfolk, see if we can still find the seals on the beaches, and see some National Trust places as well. Our expectations were not high for anything, as February is after the seal pupping season, and NT estates are actually closed Jan+Feb, so you can only really see the gardens.

Sunday 5.2.
Started off reasonably early from our place, weather not too shabby even if bitingly cold.
Our first stop was at the Anglesey Abbey, where the spectacular gardens were busy with the snowdrop season. The Abbey is a Jacobean-style house with gardens and a working watermill – Lord Fairhaven, wanting to inspire and surprise visitors, created a spectacular garden with planting for all seasons and a cosy house in which to entertain. Insides of the house were closed for visitors, but we did have fun in the gardens and the Lode Mill.

Snowdrops

Lode Mill

Anglesey Abbey

Anglesey Abbey

Pretty place, but we have a busy programme for the day, so off we head towards Oxburgh Hall. Zooming along on the A10, we saw a spectacular cathedral on the horizon, and decided to make an impromptu stopover – in Ely. On our clever devices we learned that the Ely cathedral is an Anglican cathedral with origins in AD 672 when St Etheldreda built an abbey church. The present building dates back to 1083, and cathedral status was granted it in 1109. Architecturally it is outstanding both for its scale and stylistic details. Having been built in a monumental Romanesque style, the galilee porch, lady chapel and choir were rebuilt in an exuberant Decorated Gothic. Its most famous feature however is the central octagonal tower. That was all very interesting, but we still didn’t know how to pronounce Ely – my guess was that it’s pronounced like Eli [Cash] from the Royal Tennenbaums, but we had to know for sure! No better person to ask than the visitor info guy in the cathedral itself, so Iest went for it and asked him how to pronounce the name of the village. The poor guy’s eyebrows were raised so high they almost fell off his face and in a stiff yet high-pitched voice he repeated ‘Village?!’ – so, for next times we know that once you get yourself a cathedral, that apparently makes you a city, no matter how small. But, we also learned they pronounce it [ee-ly], as in the fish, eel, which they used to have plenty of or something. We quickly checked out Oliver Cromwell’s house too, and went back on track with our plan for Oxburgh Hall.

Canon Gins!

Ely Cathedral

Oxburgh Hall is a 15th-century moated manor house Built in 1482 by the Catholic Bedingfeld family. The interiors were also still closed for the winter, but we enjoyed the moat with its swans, and the surrounding gardens. I got a small pot with a chopped off chunk of one of the plants, so if it survives, we’ll have a nice Oxburgh plant on the balcony to remember. By now we were really hungry and so we walked over to the nearby pub for a proper Sunday roast.

Oxburgh Hall, moat and swans!

Oxburgh Hall

Monday 6.2.

Our nice hotel

It was the hunt for the seals mostly (ultimately unsuccessful tho), exploring the coast and beaches, and a couple of NT estates.
First, we made it to the Titchwell RSPB reserve, which was awesome. Full of knowledge on the winter migratory birds to see from last night’s Country File programme we watched, we went straight in the marshes. The reserve has both freshwater marshes and sea beaches, and birds really abound. The weather was sunny and we had a blast.

Water Rail

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown

Redshank

Then we swung by the Brancaster beach, endless golden beach, and also an NT place.

Brancaster beach

Gina on the beach

We had high hopes for the Blakeney nature reserve with respect to the seals, but we were not lucky. The local seals were gone and the boat trip to see them off the coast was already gone for the day. We tried an adjacent beach at Cley by the Sea, but to no avail. There was really not much else to do, so we had lunch at the Dunn Cow, and pressed onto another closed NT estate at Felbrigg, one of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, and also Blickling estate.

Felbrigg

Blickling Estate

Afterwards we were quite tired for the day, so we found a great little place for tea & cakes, and then headed to our hotel. We decided to live a little, so we went to the hotel bar in the evening, which had a nice fire going, and only two other people in it, so we had a nice cup of tea there as well.

Tuesday 7.2.
The day for exploring Norwich on our way home. It was cold and drizzly, but the building still looked quite spectacular. The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters in England, only outsized by Salisbury Cathedral (where we were in January anyway). The cathedral spire, measuring 96m, is the second tallest (yeah, also Salisbury takes the cake).

Inside Norwich cathedral

Norwich cathedral

We were not really so keen on visiting the Norwich castle, which is a bit boxy, even though It was founded in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of England when William the Conqueror (1066–1087) ordered its construction because he wished to have a fortified place in the important city of Norwich.

Norwich castle

Instead, we decided to drive up to Horsey beach to see if we could still be lucky with the seals. And lucky we were! In a rainy weather and rough sea, we found a whole nice colony of seals, casually chillin on the beach. We were super excited, and spent a lot of time with them, and got really close too. It was the perfect cherry on top of our Norfolk trip, and we were ready to go home. (A couple days later it was reported that £50 million worth of cocaine was found washed up on a beach in Norfolk, so I guess we could have been even luckier, but still, the seals were cute!)

Gina and the seals

Iest & seals

A happy, chilled seal

A dramatic seal