Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

It was a lovely autumn day, the family were at a loose end and we were keen to get some fresh air. What better than a walk round a castle and a sit on the beach? We therefore planned a double hit of Bodiam Castle and nearby Hastings as our destinations.

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle

After slipping through the pretty village of Bodiam, we arrived at the entrance to the Castle grounds and were charged £2 just to park the car….in a field. This gives you access to the grounds of the castle which, in fairness, are pretty stunning. The castle is entirely surrounded by a moat and for a time you wonder how you will get in. On the far side is the ticket office and causeway to gain entry. We paid our £5.80 each and went in.

The interior of Bodiam Castle
The interior of Bodiam Castle

Considering that the outside looks so complete it’s almost a bit of a shock to find the inside such a ruin. Apparently it was ‘slighted’ by Parliamentary troops during the Civil war. There was a Halloween treasure hunt for children while we were there which looked fun and I was a bit disappointed that my daughter wasn’t quite old enough to have a go.

Graffitti on the walls
Graffiti on the walls

You can go up several of the towers and along a small patch of wall which give you some super views of the Sussex countryside. Check out some the ancient and not so ancient graffiti on the walls. There is also a 15 minute video to watch about the history of the castle. As ever with National Trust properties, I find them pretty interesting but I do slightly question the value for money.

Overall, a cool place and worth a look. I’d only bother going inside if your especially keen though.

A tower of Bodiam Castle
A tower of Bodiam Castle

Expedition: Cadair Idris

The legend says that if you spend a night on Cadair Idris you come down either a poet or mad. Well that just sounded like a challenge!

I’ve long been attracted by the idea of wild camping and also that of sleeping on the hills so this seemed like a great opportunity to do both. I took inspiration from the route taken by V-G Backpacking in britain website. They also have some excellent advice on wild camping.

The ascent of Cadair Idris
The ascent of Cadair Idris

No cooker
One of the experiments we thought we would have a go at this time was not to use a cooker, the idea being to save weight and the faff of cooking. We would either eat things cold or use some chemical heating blocks to warm up the dinner. For breakfast we made up some muesli with powdered milk that just needed some water. For lunch we pre-made some sandwiches and for dinner we had some foil packed meals that just needed warming up.

Day 1
For those not familiar with the mountain Cadair Idris is more or less one long ridge with at least three distinct summits – Gau Graig, Mynydd Moel and Penygadair (the highest). Most people go up the most direct route up the Pony path to Penygadair and down again but why do the simple route?

The fence line disappearing into the mist
The fence line disappearing into the mist

We started from a campsite in the town of Dolgellau and then up a small lane leading to the mountain. This lane was really steep and no picnic! It was also a little daunting that the cloud cover was quite low and so we didn’t even have any real idea how high we had to go.

The road ended and a path leading onto the open mountain started. At first it was well waymarked but at some point signs and then any discernible path just ended. It was then just a matter of using a compass bearing and climbing up into the mist. The climb was really tough, particularly as we had full packs and slightly daunting as it got very craggy and I wasn’t entirely sure I was going the right way.

After a lot of huffing and puffing and quite a bit of sweat we made the ridge and shortly after the peak of Gau Graig. We didn’t get any views however just mist. That was the main ascent of the day over with at least. We then walked off into the mist (which tantalisingly broke for a few seconds every now and again) towards the next summit of Mynnyd Moel which we made by lunchtime. So far we’d not seen another soul on the mountain.

Penygadair
The final climb of the day brought us to the amazingly crowded summit of Cadair Idris, known as Penygadair. There was a school party and lots of other walkers, all of whom had come up the pony path. We spotted the famous bothy and thought we should check it out for its sleeping potential. Ducking our head into the slighty dank interior we found it crowded with walkers sheltering from the wind. It is a fairly good shelter and pretty clean by bothy standards but I have to say that I wasn’t that keen to sleep here.

The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris
The bothy at the summit of Cadir Idris

Basecamp
As it was so windy and miserable at the summit we decided to go with our original plan of finding somewhere to sleep on the lower slopes. We therefore made our way down the pony path and then branched off when we got to the saddle between Penygadair and Tyrrau Mawr and found a flat grassy area to set up the tent. We were not strictly on Cadair Idris here (which is why i’ve kept both my sanity and failed to become a poet) but we were still some 550m up and it was fairly bleak.

The pony path down from Cadair Idris
The pony path down from Cadair Idris

Day 2
The night was windy and rainy but not actually very cold and we were fairly snug in our little tent. With morning though and with the promise of continuing driving rain it was quite a wrench to leave and go walking again. Without any cooker we at least could eat breakfast in the tent. Eventually our bladders settled the argument and up we got.

The mist was even thicker than the day before but with added driving rain so the walk down to the valley was wet and viewless. I had intended to do a moderate walk looping round and back to Dolgellau which from the map looked quite pleasant but with the weather the way it was we decided to just walk down the road into town and get ourselves a nice warming coffee and a bun.

Barmouth and Scenic drive
After a welcome and fortifying hot drink we called it a day and settled on lunch at the lovely sea-side town of Barmouth before a scenic drive up to Betsy coed and then home to London. The drive turned out to be even better than we hoped as the sat-nav took us down several tiny roads (some with sheer drops) with very picturesque views. Annoyingly the skies had cleared by 1500 and there was a gorgeous sunset. Oh well.

The Cadair Idris project
See the 6 min video of the trip.

No cooking – the results
After testing the no-cooking idea in some rough, although not cold, weather I feel that it kind of worked. I always used to be quite annoyed at sitting or kneeling on damp ground round a cooker that seemed to take a lifetime to boil a bit of water. The no-cooking therefore certainly took a lot of the ‘faff’ out of eating. Another bonus was being able to eat safely in the tent whilst it rained heavily outside.

My jury is still a out on the chemical heaters as they only warmed any food they were in contact with rather than making anything piping hot. If it had been colder I may have appreciated the warmth a bit more perhaps?

The big downside on having no cooker was not having any tea or coffee which is something I really missed. I need to find a solution for this if I go no-cooker again.

Summary
Despite the bad weather I had a pretty excellent time and it’s great fun wild camping. I wouldn’t mind coming back another day and seeing the views though!

See all the pictures from the trip.

Lanzarote for the non sun-seeker – Part 3

The third and final installment of the non sun-seekers guide to Lanzarote. If you haven’t already done so read Part 1 and Part 2.

A few days into the trip I think I finally got used to using a geared car with the gear stick on the wrong side. I was also really getting used to the distinct Lanzarote landscape of desert/scrub, volcano cones and white walled villages.

La Santa and Caleta de Famara
If you are an elite athlete then you may already know or have heard of La Santa as there is the famous training camp ‘Club La Santa’ here. If not then you can just enjoy the drive, which is easy on the eye, look at all the cyclists as they climb the hill and maybe enjoy a nice lunch or a coffee in town.

Caleta de Famara
Caleta de Famara

Caleta de Famara seems to be the cool, hip part of Lanzarote, probably because of all the surfers, wind surfers and other sporty types who inhabit the town. It has a nice beach with the amazing view of the ‘Famara’ a 17km long cliff that is quite stunning to see. Apparently there is a path cut into the cliff that can be walked on but is probably not for those with vertigo or no head for heights. I really liked this town and would happily have stayed here.

Northern Drive: Haria, Mirador del Rio, Orzola and Punta Mujeres
We’d done a picturesque drive around the south of the island and now it was the turn of the north. One road on the island, from Teguise to Haria and then on to Mirador del Rio attracts a plethora of ‘panaramic view’ icons on maps so it seemed an obvious choice for a day out.

We started fairly early in the morning and enjoyed amazing light as we drove north through some hills and occasionally up and down some small twisty roads. We stopped at a few of the viewing spots and drunk in the vistas. Wonderful.

Mirador del Rio
Mirador del Rio

Haria was very pretty and full of palm trees but despite driving in vain around town for a coffee shop we continued north. We arrived at the Mirador del Rio just before 10am and found that it was not yet open. This turned out to save us the 4 euro each that it would have cost to get to the viewing platform. We just walked down the road a little only to find what I imagine was the same views out to sea and of the island of La Graciosa. Satisfied with the view we left to have a look at Orzola.

Orzola was a sleepy fishing village and port where we had a coffee and then a short walk out across the lava, which my daughter liked climbing over. It’s a shame it was still early as it might have been a nice place for lunch.

We eventually had a lovely lunch in Punta Mujeres (in the only place open) but really liked the series of sea pools that have been constructed along the shore. We even saw quite a few of what I assume were locals having a dip.

Remote beaches
If you are slighty tired of the crowds on the resort beaches there are several isolated little patches of golden sand just off the road between Orzola and Punta Mujeres. There are parking spots to leave the car in and the only other people we saw were a few fisherman and they prefer standing on the rocky bits. We had a lovely morning here.

Chillaxing
For the rest of our holiday, after the car was sent back, we just tried to relax, swim in the sea or pool, walk along the coast and just generally chill. At least we relaxed as much as anyone can with a child under two!

Playa del Jabillo, Costa Teguise
Playa del Jabillo, Costa Teguise

Summary
Lanzarote was a very pleasant surprise to me. It does have the tourist resorts with the beaches, swimming pools and sun-burnt people. But it also offers some stunning scenery, some interesting culture, some wonderful activities and a potentially great time, even for those not wanting a tan.

You can see most of the areas of interest in a week and get to know them really well in 10 days. I highly recommend it.

See all the pictures from the trip.

Lanzarote for the non sun-seeker – Part 2

The continued adventures of a non sun-seeker family in Lanzarote. If you haven’t already done so read Part 1.

Teguise Sunday Market
Teguise (not to be confused with ‘Costa Teguise’) is a picturesque white walled town and former capital in the centre of the island. It has a pretty church and a series of small plazas and is worth a visit on any day. It’s apparent real draw, however, is the Sunday market. We were drawn here as my wife was keen to try some local fruit and vegetables but it turns out this is not the sort of market it is. It sells tat or if you like ‘tourist goods’ and is more of a craft fair if you were feeling generous. I’m not massively into homemade jewellery, clothes and carvings much anyway but the fact that most of the goods on display were clearly from other places I thought was at least a bit odd. I couldn’t really identify anything from the island or even the canaries. It was Camden market really.

Teguise
Teguise

Castillo de Santa Barbara
Overlooking Teguise is the castle of Santa Barbara situated on the rim of a small extinct volcano. As well as being a well preserved late medieval castle that protected the locals from pirates it also has wonderful views over the island. Well worth going up even if you don’t go in the castle itself (3 euros). As a sort of bonus is a museum of Emigration (to the Americas) which I thought was a little dis-jointed.

Castillo de Santa Barbara
Castillo de Santa Barbara

Playa Blanca from Fermes
Playa Blanca from Fermes

Road trip: Yaiza, Playa Blanca and Fermes
With a one year old with us on the holiday we were a little limited on the walking we could do. A scenic drive, however, was a good compromise. Our guidebook recommended a circular drive around the southern towns of Yaiza, Playa Blanca and Fermes and the views at least did not disappoint. We even stopped at Playa Blanca for a quick play on the beach and coffee. We thought Yaiza seemed the most promising place for a nice Canarian lunch but most of the restaurants looked quite pricey and designed for coach parties which was a shame as it is such a pretty town. This trip is a pleasant half a day.

Walk: Montana Cuervo
The one striking feature on the island is the abundance of volcanoes. You see at least one from almost any point but probably the best place to see them is in the Nacional de Timanfaya (north of Yaiza and west of Tiagua). Here are huge ‘lava seas’ with waves of jagged black rock and the cones of numerous volcanoes.

One of the more popular experiences is the Islote de Hilario which costs 8 euro to get into and seems to be a theme park of volcanic activity plus a visitor centre and cafe (called el diablo!). We avoided this as I couldn’t face the idea of coach parties and we could see plenty of volcanoes on our own. I didn’t much fancy a camel ride either.

The Camel Park
The Camel Park

What we did do was a lovely 4km walk around a smallish, those very cool looking volcano called Montana Cuervo. There are a few parking spaces on the LZ56 (a few hundred metres off the L30) and from there it’s a kilometre on a level path to the volcano and a couple of km round and inside the cone. None of it too exerting. We got there fairly early when the temperature was cool and the light was wonderful. The view around of other volcanoes and the lava sea were pretty good too. A nice walk if your not keen on anything too strenuous but want to stretch your legs for a bit. For more walks in Lanzarote I recommend Walk! Lanzarote which also gives tips on buses and where to eat en route.

Cuervo Montana
Cuervo Montana

See all the pictures from the trip.

For more of our trip see Part 3.

Lanzarote for the non sun-seeker – Part 1

We are a family that normally spurns sitting in the sun and yet here we were in the sun drenched island of Lanzarote and staying at one of the tourist resorts. What fun could we have? Quite a lot as it turned out.

Playa Bastian apartments
Playa Bastian apartments

We were based in a lovely apartment in the resort of Costa Teguise and were lucky enough to have a pool, be near the sea and have quiet neighbours. The key to enjoying the island as a non sun-seeker however is a car. Nowhere on the island is more than a 30-40 minute drive from Arricife and the roads were well maintained and for the most part well sign-posted. For those interested in a bit of culture and some stunning natural scenery there is at least a weeks worth of things to see and do.

We were here in late September, early October which is the off-season for Lanzarote. It meant that things were generally fairly quiet but also it was quite warm (late 20’s) and a fair few places were closed or had limited opening.

Castillo de San Jose and the Museum of Art
On the outskirts of Arricife and overlooking the town and port is the small but well preserved 18th century fort of San Jose. It’s nice views and interesting architecture make this interesting enough but it also houses a contemporary art collection. The restaurant here is amazing both for views and interior decoration. The wooden bar is particularly cool.

Castillo de San Jose
Castillo de San Jose

Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden)
The most influential person on the island, visually at least, is the artist César Manrique. Apart from his many art works his style and influence over the island is still far reaching. One of his last projects was the Cactus Garden, built out of a disused quarry and using over 10,000 different cactus plants it is quite a wonderful place. I’m not a person normally that fussed over gardens but this really intrigued me and I liked it a lot.

Jardin de Cactus
Jardin de Cactus

Cueva de los Verdes (The Green Caves)
In the middle of a lava sea in the north of the island lie the Green caves (named after a nearby family, not the colour of the caves). They are formed out of an old volcanic tube, where a lava river has crusted over and created a tunnel. In total there is something like 7km of tunnel to be explored.

You can only explore as part of a group and ours was huge (at least 30-40) with a guide speaking spanish and then an English translation. I never timed it, but the spanish bit always seemed to take a lot longer. Hmmm.

The caves themselves were fairly interesting but slightly tricky to get through with a couple of smallish passages and low ceiling sections. The whole thing was made more difficult by me having my 16 month old daughter in a baby carrier on my back. She, however, loved it. The coolest bit was an underground pool that perfectly reflected the ceiling like mirror. Good but i’m not sure it was great value for eight euros although I may have felt better if the translation from the guide had been longer and the group size smaller.

Cueva de los Verdes
Mirror pool at Cueva de los Verdes

See all the pictures from the trip.

For the continued adventures, go to part 2.