Over the last few years I’ve been enjoying day trips out of London more and more. After getting my city fix Monday to Friday for almost 7 years now, hopping on a short train somewhere adds a breath of fresh air to the weekend and forces me to take a slower steps and unwind. I’ve had Cambridge on my list for years, it’s only an hour away from London by train so I can’t believe it took until my 31st birthday to get it in the diary. Let’s just say life and other destinations got in my way.

The plans were simple; coffee to fuel the day’s activities, views to snap to my heart’s content, punting for fun and plenty of instagram-worthy scenes to share. We set off at a leisurely pace, eating breakfast at home and hopping on a train from Liverpool Street at about 11am (we were actually meant to go to Kings Cross for the express train but I somehow got the stations mixed up, oops!). We pulled into Cambridge station an hour or so later, ready to explore.

As a coffee lover, I’d done my research on where to head first. I love finding great independent cafes in other cities and when I know there’s somewhere good to go I just can’t settle for convenient chains. I chose Espresso Library out of a small selection of cafes, partly because it was just outside the town centre so more likely to be quiet, mainly because I liked the bright light that streamed in through the floor to ceiling windows I’d seen on pictures I managed to find online.

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(I’ve just noticed those tiny chandelier-style light bulbs ^^ So cool.)

As you probably know cycling in Cambridge is huge so the bicycle theme was a pretty apt one to follow through to its interior design.
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It welcomes a mix of enthusiastic cyclists, locals and the city’s student population (some 24,000 or so!). It was pretty busy for a Saturday afternoon, a happy reminder that London isn’t the only place in the country where people enjoy speciality coffee and that the trend continues to grow beyond the capital bubble.

The coffees were ordered and leisurely enjoyed.

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But once both cups were drained, I was itching to get outside again and reach the heart of the city. I love exploring overseas cities to experience new cultures, but there’s something that’s both exciting and satistfying about visiting a great place in your home country.

I had two things on my must do list, see the view from Great St Mary’s Church and enjoy a spot of punting. The rest we could discover by chance.

Of course I was distracted by the infamous colleges as soon as I passed them.

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We didn’t pay to explore but the price is quite reasonable if you fancied it and had the time. I just hovered at the gate with my camera. I was keen to get to Great St Mary’s Church after seeing Jessi’s pictures and before the threatening rain rumbled through, so we attempted to weave our way around the small streets until we were perched up high in the church tower. Jessi was right, it’s a great place to see the city.

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From the market.

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Right round to Cambridge’s biggest tourist attraction. Did you know that King’s College was founded by Henry VI in 1441? I just love the grandeur and intricate detail that you only seem to get from eras gone by, but I can’t help but be reminded of Hogwarts!

Once we were back on the ground, I quickly started to understand how big cycling is there. There are countless racks of wheels all over the city.

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As a university town on flat land with narrow busy streets, most residents choose a bike over a car. So much so that the Department for Transport chose Cambridge as a Cycling Town in 2008, which means it receives funds from the government for additional facilities. It definitely adds a little quaintness to every corner. Don’t you think?

We carried on exploring narrow streets, hunting out college courtyards to peer in to.

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Before eventually committing to an attempt at punting.

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We hired a lady punt from Cambridge Chauffeur Punts. It looked simple enough but out on a busy river and battling winds, we struggled. After it started to rain, we had to give in and return the boat in favour of a chauffeured tour.

It was possibly the best decision we made all day as by the time we were out on the water again the sun was shining and it was much more relaxing letting someone else do the hard work.

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It also meant we had more time to absorb the ‘Backs’, where the colleges back on to the river, and take in some of the history from our guide.

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One Bridge of Sighs ticked of the list, I just need to get to Venice now!

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Punting dates back to Edwardian times and has always been seen as a pleasurable activity rather than a sport. The boats are flat and made for shallow rivers, they sail along by the punter pushing against the river bed with a pole.

After leaving the river, we had just an hour left of our day trip so we did a whistlestop tour of some more of Cambridge’s famous sandy-stoned streets.

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Fitzbillies is famed for its sticky cinnamon buns but it does a good coffee too.

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One more bicycle snap.

 

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And just one more college.

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I couldn’t resist racing over the closest bridge to get another shot of the punts in action.

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OK, maybe a few more bicycle snaps were needed before we hopped on the train back to London.

Such a lovely relaxing day trip. We didn’t manage to do everything or visit the places I’d been recommended on Twitter (lots of them were closed for a summer holiday 🙁 ). But we were at least left with a few good excuses to go back again. I was convinced by my final photo that it would be perfect in autumn.

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Have you been to Cambridge? Are there any other day trips I should try?

There’s nothing quite like a British seaside town. The sound of the arcade machines ringing, the sea breeze ruffling through my hair, the promise of ice cream and salty fish and chips by the sea for lunch or dinner. It still creates the same sense of excitement in my thirties as it did in my childhood. But instead of burning off my excitement running back and forth to the sea and making sandcastles, afternoons are spent stretching legs along the shoreline.

A few weeks ago, before I went to Costa Rica, I was feeling particularly desperate for the endless sight of the ocean and the refreshing sea breeze so I persuaded my sister to take me to Broadstairs on the Kent Coast. It’s about an hour and a half by car from Crayford, where my sister currently lives, and just a little bit longer by train from Central London.

We’d both had a leisurely lie in so we departed late morning and arrived just in time for lunch. Isn’t the first sight of the sea front from the car one of the best feelings? I was sitting straight up as if I could get a better view as soon as it caught my eye. I was surprised at how quickly we found a great car park that had a clean toilet and a path straight down to the coast.

As soon as we got to the seafront it felt like we’d gone back in time to so many different eras. One minute I could picture the town in Charles Dickens’ time, with its old fashioned gas lamps and simple yellow and blue beach huts.

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Another minute and I was back in the 90s and the days of my childhood as we walked past arcades rattling with pennies and shops selling all sort of beach ‘neccessities’.

Then I was picturing how many beach huts it would be acceptable to Instagram in one day.

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It was a little cloudy to begin with so we went in search of some fish and chips to enjoy on a bench with a sea view. It didn’t take long before we were hot-footing it from the chip shop to a bench, eager to satisfy our starvation hunger.

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It was such a nice change of pace after a busy week at work and we sat for a while enjoying the view before eventually deciding we should go for a wander. There didn’t seem to be a lot to see in town, so we returned to the entrance of Viking Bay and carried on going, leaving the sounds of a British seaside town behind for the simple echo of crashing waves.

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The only other visitors being a small crowd scavenging for lunch.

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Or the odd group quietly enjoying the views.

Whilst the British seaside doesn’t always offer the most tropical sandy views, it does have its very own charm.

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Its beach huts are also like no other.

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I could have made our walk a much lengthier one if I’d have photographed all of my favourites, instead I just stuck to the ones I really liked.

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As the beach huts came to end the cliff top climbed higher into quite a spectacular sight.

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Another one of those moments where human life seems so small in the face of nature.

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With hardly anyone else around we reverted to childhood sibling silliness, using Boomerang to support our silly mood.

As we arrived later in the afternoon we decided not to walk too far and after a few star jumps and cartwheels we made our way back to town for ice cream.

Of course I was repeatedly distracted by pretty streets and corners of loveliness.

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I’d read in the car on the way down that Morelli’s Gelato was the best ice cream in town and even if it was the other side of the bay, there was no chance I was missing out.

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I love the story behind this family run business, starting out selling ice cream from a bicycle in 1902, to opening its first parlour in Broadstairs in 1932, and now running ice cream parlours around the world.

I also love how the original parlour has managed to keep its Art Deco look over the years, transporting me back to yet another era.

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There were some delicious flavours on offer. I eventually chose a scoop of white chocolate and millionaire shortbread.

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Both flavours were delicious but I particularly loved the huge chunks of millionaire shortbread in sweet vanilla ice cream. I’ll definitely be checking out the London branch in Harrod’s sometime.

We agreed that we still hadn’t filled our lungs with enough sea air so with sticky fingers (funny how that is still inevitable as an adult!) we went for a little wander along the promenade.

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Settling on a bench for a while until it was about time we made our way back to the city.

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A beautiful breezy, easy afternoon by the sea. I’m definitely keen to return to Broadstairs one day and go for a much longer walk by the sea.

For now, a trip to Brighton this weekend will be giving me my next seaside fix!

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Have you visited Broadstairs? Do you have a favourite British seaside town?

As I squeezed myself onto a crammed Northern Line this morning our Spring trip to Sark felt like it could have been part of my imagination. A fictional place from a book I’d been reading even. It’s hard to believe amidst the rush of city life, where personal space comes at a premium, that there’s somewhere in the world where there are no cars, few people and the only sounds you’ll hear are birds chirruping overhead, the busy hum of tractors in the field or waves crashing on the shore. But if you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ll know Sark isn’t something out of a novel.

The main reason for our latest trip (my 4th visit to Guernsey & 3rd to Sark!) was to celebrate James’ Grandma’s 90th birthday. One of those grand ages which I can’t quite imagine experiencing – my current lifetime times two for me to get to the same age! After finding out that James’ great Grandmother lived to 93 and passed away 30 or so years ago I quickly realised that life on one of the Channel Islands is pretty good for your health. Once you’ve spent a bit of time there it’s easy to see why.

The luxury of a long bank holiday weekend meant that amongst cake baking and celebrating we found time for a few hours of exploring and I managed to pull James away from the comfort of his family home to take me somewhere I hadn’t seen. You can get a peek of my only summer trip here and our recent Christmas trip here.  I thought I’d take you along on my springtime tour to give you more views of the island and reasons to visit.

The only way to get around the island is by walking or cycling, or by driving a tractor (if you have a local business or you’re the doctor). Its small population means it’s heavenly peaceful most of the year round.

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In spring, there are daffodil lined lanes all to yourself.

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I usually have a pretty good sense of direction but I got lost wandering alongside fields of gentle animals.

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The sight of happy bouncy lambs made me so so happy.

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Every now and then we came across a cottage or cluster of small shops and cafes.

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We took a turn down a narrow path and stepped into the woods.

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Sunlight streaming up through the leaves.

Birds chirruping overhead and streams rippling underfoot.

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We hadn’t seen another soul for at least half an hour, you’d expect that might feel a bit strange or eery but it was pretty blissful to me. A paradise for the imagination and I could definitely see how exciting James’ childhood must have been, spending summers in the great outdoors.

Eventually the branches thinned out to reveal Dixcart Bay.

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A pretty spectacular sight and sound.

In the middle of summer I would have been tempted to run right into those tempting turquoise waters.

I filled my lungs with enough vitamin sea, soaked up those views for as long as the brisk wind allowed and hopped across the rocks on the way back up.

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A few people have asked me if I could ever live in Sark and I think about it every time I visit. I could definitely spend the fair weather months there and I could picture myself tucked away in an office perched on a clifftop. I’d enjoy the fresh produce, being involved in a caring community and evening barbecues on the beach. But being born and raised in the city, I know I’d eventually struggle with how remote it could feel, especially during the long dark days of winter. So for now, I’ll settle for my regular city escapes.

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If you’re looking to get away from it all and spend a few peaceful days going for long walks, exploring each and every bay and beach and soaking up the sun and those sea views, you should definitely add Sark to the visit list.
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What do you think? Could you live on a small island in the English Channel?

Last weekend James and I went to Rye and I can’t tell you how much more rested I’ve felt this week. I’d like to congratulate 2015 me for booking a UK break on whim and managing to keep it a surprise from James for 4 months!

You see January was hectic. I was working for longer and later than usual and every weekend featured a trip or a celebration. Work aside, all good fun was had but I was struggling to relax at the weekend and by the end of January it felt non-stop. It always feels cliché to say it, but when the trip to Rye was on the horizon I couldn’t wait to get away from it all.

At the time of booking (back in September 2015!), I just wanted a UK break within a reasonable distance of London. I’d read so much about how lovely Rye was on other blogs that I didn’t really spend much time searching on Mr & Mrs Smith before booking The George in Rye. More recent research told me that it was a peaceful place with little to do and I couldn’t have been happier.

So on Saturday morning we packed an overnight bag and set off for East Sussex.

The first thing we did when we arrived? Sank into soft pillows and down duvet in our cute hotel room.

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The George in Rye is a boutique hotel set within a building that dates back to 1575. It’s full of wooden beams, neutral colours, and bright modern fabrics.

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I could have easily had an afternoon nap but hunger won the battle and we went out for lunch at Edith’s House.

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(Thanks Emma for the recommendation!)

It’s a small cafe that serves Climpson & Sons coffee, cake and a light lunch menu.

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I love soup for lunch right now and it was the perfect central heating for a wander around the historic town.

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A few hundred years ago Rye was surrounded by the sea (it’s now a few miles away) and this lent it it’s maritime history, for which the town is well known. You could even find smugglers in the pub back in the day.

It’s been through the wars over the years and played a key part in the country’s defence.

These days it it’s known for its cobbled streets and picturesque medieval houses which have stood the test of time.

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I’d read that you could take in a view of the city from the top of St Mary’s Church Tower. Of course being a fan of any type of view of the horizon on offer, we were climbing up there within the hour.

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It was worth the slightly terrifying high winds to see this view. It could only get better on a beautiful clear day.

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It costs £3.50 to climb up and that money goes towards the upkeep of the Church.

All that climbing meant we were ready for cream tea so we tracked down The Cobbles Tea Room (which didn’t take long!)

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YUM.

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YUM.

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YUM.

James and I agreed it was definitely a high point of the weekend.

We meandered back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I was keen to have a simple pub dinner that night and although I was tempted by The Ship Inn and The Globe Inn Marsh, we went as far as the hotel’s restaurant for steak and sundaes.

I didn’t get any great photos so you’ll just have to trust me that they were both pretty delicious.

We clambered back up stairs, full, relaxed and a little bit tipsy. As soon as my head hit the pillow I was out like a light.

The next day we’d planned to go to the coast to fill our lungs with salty air. But first since the sunshine had paid a little visit, I had to have a little photo walk with my new camera.

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It was blissfully empty and I got completely carried away taking in the sights (for a second time!).

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The famous Mermaid Street.

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You’ll find little snippets of British humour all over the town.

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Isn’t it all pretty lovely?

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Once I was sure I’d seen everything there was to see and photograph, we checked out and drove 10 minutes down the road to Camber Sands.

The wind turbines and the sand dunes should have been the signal to expect a bit of a sand storm. It only hit home when there was suddenly sand EVERYWHERE.

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But it was manageable and it was just so lovely to stroll arm in arm down the beach alongside happy children and ecstatic dogs.

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We climbed up the sand dunes.

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I had to resist the desire to run down them, knowing full well that if I did I was likely to fall flat on my face.

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I got a little childish by the coast instead.

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Chasing the waves without drenching my feet.

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We ended the day with fish and chips and I resisted those evil Sunday blues for a few more hours.

It’s funny how much you notice the pace of London life when you leave the city and get the chance to slow down a little.

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If you struggle to sit still like me but you’re in need of a rest, in my opinion Rye offers the perfect balance.

We booked a queen room at the George in Rye, hired a car from Enterprise (£45 + £36 damage waiver for two days,) petrol from Colliers Wood in a diesel car was only £15. It took us about 2 hours to get there.

You can travel by train from London and the cost of a return would be between £28 and £40 pp.

Have you been to Rye? Are there any places near London you’ve escaped to?

P.s. If you want to see it in summer, see Jacintha’s beautiful post here.

 

It was the night before Christmas Eve Eve and we arrived on a dark, blustery and wet Guernsey. James and I agreed last year that because our families are so far apart we’d alternate our trips between the two each year. This year was my first Christmas in Sark with James’ family, my first Christmas in 30 years without my own family and my first Christmas not spent in either London or Birmingham! So when we landed I was feeling a mixture of tiredness, excitement and anticipation.

I knew it would be a different kind of Christmas, taking on new traditions and enjoying being in a quiet place by the coast. Of course I’d let myself daydream of a crisp winter break by the sea, blue skies and plenty of time outdoors. But the four-hour delay getting to Guernsey due to fog issues and a doubtful boat to Sark introduced me to the realities of island life!

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I was so happy when we woke up the next day and welcomed by clear skies. Our boat to Sark was due to depart at 15.15 so we had the morning to wander around Guernsey and I was going to make the most of it.

The first thing I wanted to do was get to the coast and catch a sight of the sea. After what felt like a never-ending year at work and plenty of parties, the rush of a cold, salty breeze felt amazing.

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I spotted a lighthouse near Castle Cornet that I hadn’t noticed on previous trips and I had to go and see what the view was like from there.

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Isn’t the sound of crashing waves blissful? Easily one of the best sounds on earth (sorry if I’ve said this about 100 times!).

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It’s a bit of a strange feeling being in a place that is new and exciting to me, but familiar and homely for James. I try my best to hold in the desire to want to see everything and obviously photograph like an overly enthusiastic tourist, but sometimes I just can’t and will often embarrass myself in the company of others who find it all pretty normal (you’ll find some more examples of this later).

After a late-ish lunch we found out the boat had got the all-clear for our trip to Sark and off we sailed.

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We arrived just as the sun was setting and it was such a lovely welcome. Our bags were loaded onto the tractor, which would drop our bags off at the doorstep later on, and we chugged up the hill on the tractor bus. We walked to James’ family house and breathed a sigh of relief. WE’D ARRIVED.

If you’re wondering where on earth I’m talking about, Sark is a little island off the coast of Guernsey with a population of about 600 (according to Wikipedia). I think it‘s most well-known for being one of the few places in the world where there are no cars. But being only 2.10 square miles, you only really need a bicycle and some sturdy shoes.

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The next day everyone woke feeling excited. Everything we needed for Christmas was in place, and we generally spent most of the day relaxing, reading books and watching TV.

As I’d hoped, we decided to go for a walk. We passed horses and ponies calmly wandering around local fields, and then I spotted COWS.

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When you’ve spent a number of weeks in the city, barely seeing a patch of green land bigger than the local park, there’s something hilarious and uplifting about the sight of a cow. It’s a sign that you’re properly in the outdoors and away from corporate life. (Embarrassing example no 1 – of course I wanted a picture, I was surprised I’d managed not to get over-excited about the ponies in the first place.)

After a very short walk we were wandering along the cliff tops.  I couldn’t have felt more at ease. All we could hear was each other’s voices, the sound of the wind and crashing waves, and of course the odd dog bark.

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I could have possibly spent hours sat on this bench contemplating the crazy world we live in.

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But Christmas Eve called. There was a Church Christmas service to attend, dinner to be had, games to be played, TV to be watched and chocolate to be eaten.

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We woke up early and enjoyed the excitement of James’ youngest brother opening up his presents from Santa. We ate breakfast and then played Pie Face. We went for a brief walk to the coast. James cooked an excellent Christmas dinner. We all opened our presents. We played more games. It was a lovely relaxing day.

B O X I N G  D A Y

Traditionally spent sale shopping online, watching boxing day movies and eating more chocolate, the explorer in me wanted to get out and about.

So I went ahead of James to his Grandma’s house where I planned to find plenty of embarrassing childhood photos.

The last time I was in Sark was at the peak of summer. We passed holiday makers on their bicycles and locals going about their day-to-day life. In the midst of winter and the day after Christmas, it was pretty deserted.

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I loved it. The whole time I was in Sark I could feel my mind slowly unwinding and this quiet walk was just the perfect tonic to add to that.

James caught up whilst I was eating his Grandma’s biscuits and rummaging through her photo albums (at her encouragement!). Amongst all of James’ family occasions I found a photo from 1933! I love getting personal glimpses from a time long ago.

Once I’d had enough of giggling at James’ bowl cuts, we set off to the sea and into the woods.

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James took me to a few parts of the coast with the best views. It was fun to see James’ house is perched on the cliff edge.

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But the Window on the Rock was beautiful.

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Such a stunning view and we had it all to ourselves.

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(I had the strangest dream that night about getting too close to the edge! It’s not for anyone  with a fear of heights!)

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The wind whips around the shore sure enough here!

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And I made the most of that feeling.

We made it back just as the sun was setting, poured a cup of tea to warm up and settled down for the evening.

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When I played my best monopoly game yet!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed being transported across the Channel Islands. After almost a week in the office Christmas is certainly starting to seem like a distant memory!

Have you had a Christmas in a completely different place? Out in the depths of the countryside or in another country?

As the last trees of soft pink blossom bloom and wedding season gets underway, it feels like romance is truly in air. With three weddings next month I’m embracing the season, so let me take you back in time to an era when the rich built castles with quaint turrets that overlooked the countryside, and a moat surrounded its border. It sounds like something from a fairy tale but you can experience the beauty of a by-gone era just outside London in the countryside that surrounds Tunbridge Wells. Introducing the romantic Scotney Castle.

Scotney Castle is one of the National Trust’s historic gems and I stumbled across it when I spotted this snap on Instagram. I’m ashamed to say that the National Trust has never really been on my radar as way of finding new places to explore, possibly because I associated as something I’d join when I’m older but probably because many of their grand estates are outside London.

Are you a National Trust fan or a recent convert like me? Either way Scotney Castle is a must-see as you’ll find not only one castle but two, both surrounded by beautiful gardens and open to the countryside. You can explore the estate and enjoy a long walk in the great outdoors or, like my sister and I, have a nose around the castles.

You’ll find the entrance to the castles through the National Trust shop where they’ll kindly ask you to part with £15 to get inside.

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I was most excited about the old castle it was the feature of the picture that caught my attention. So as the first castle we approached was the ‘new’ Scotney Castle I found myself eager to quickly make my way around the ‘new’ and search out the old. Little did I know that I’d find a mini museum inside.

The new castle dates back to 1778 when Edward Hussey bought the estate. It remained in the family until the death of Christopher Hussey in 1970, when the estate was left to the National Trust. It was only quite recently that the most of the house was opened to the public and the history of the house and its former tenants ready to explore. You can imagine then that I was side-tracked for a good while. I mean, how beautiful is this 1920s dress?

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The National Trust have taken great care in maintaining its decor and features.

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And you can read a lot about the role Arthur Hussey and Scotney Castle played during the First World War through the current exhibition on display.

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But in my opinion, the best views really are outside.

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The new castle was built using sandstone from the quarry below and perches carefully above the old castle so that it can be viewed from above. It was said that the old castle was left so that it could be enjoyed as part of the castle’s surrounding gardens. A rather grand water feature you could say!

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The view from up above gave me just enough to almost make me want to run down the steps to the bottom. But I made myself enjoy the garden features on the way down.

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Our visit was during the end of winter so I was hunting out those classic red berries. I imagine at this time of year I’d be after spring blossoms and in the summer any bright blooming flowers.

The steps down are cleverly shaded by greenery.

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So that you don’t get a true view of the castle until you’re right up in front of it.

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Doesn’t it look like something out of a fairly tale?!

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It is believed that the old castle was built around 1378 and 1380 and I just loved getting up close to all of those medieval features.

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Whilst I was a sad to see it look so derelict and I pictured  how amazing it would have been to see the house as a whole, there was something about it that made me enjoy it just as it was.

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Perhaps because it leaves you to enjoy the castle using your own imagination.

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I could totally see myself peering out across the moat on a grey day.

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Or happily exploring the garden in the sunshine.

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And then sit on this bench with a good book, watching the sunlight drop into twilight hours.

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There’s just something lovely and romantic about Scotney Castle that I urge you to go and visit it to see it for yourself. It’s open seven days a week, usually between 10am and 5pm. You’ll find it here. There’s more information about what’s on at Scotney Castle on the National Trust website.

Unfortunately, I can’t see a way you can get to it easily by any other transport than a car. But there’s always the option to rent a car and I’ll be sharing some tips from my experience soon!

Have you discovered any lovely National Trust places I should visit?