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January 26, 2015
FROM BLENHEIM TO BLADON
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill, the statesman and politician who's perhaps best known for his boiler-suit clad leadership of Britain during the Second World War. It is an event that will definitely not go unnoticed. Churchill's life is set to be marked with a packed calendar of special events, from exhibitions and visitor trails, to talks and tours.
If you fancy undertaking your own pilgrimage to find out more about the great man's life, there is surely no better place to start than Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the place where he was born. Visitors to Blenheim will soon be able to enjoy a stroll along a specially created memorial trail. The trail includes a tour of the palace's formal gardens where, by all accounts, the young Winston used to ride his pony, paint pictures and woo his wife-to-be Clementine Hozier.
Other Churchillian highlights include Harrow School, where he spent his formative years, and the Churchill War Rooms in London, where he's said to have worked through the night during the darkest years of the war. No tour should miss out on Chartwell in Kent, Churchill's family home, with the hillside gardens and lakes he's said to have loved so much. He lived here from the mid-1920s to his final days.
Finally, to complete the tour, visitors can head back to Oxfordshire to visit Churchill's final resting place. Churchill famously spurned the idea of being buried amidst the splendour of London's Westminster Abbey, preferring instead an unassuming graveyard in the village of Bladon, just a short distance from Blenheim itself.
Posted by Sue at 8:39:38 on 26/1/2015
January 16, 2015
I'm a great fan of the humble day trip. Typically, it involves a short drive to the beach or to a nearby beauty spot. The Dorset coast is a firm favourite. So too are Cheddar Gorge and the New Forest. A stop for a picnic lunch or pub lunch is usually the order of the day, followed by a spell on the beach or a countryside walk. Come what may, we're always back home in time for tea. It is a tried-and-tested formula and, if pulled off correctly, leaves me with the feeling that I've had a real holiday, not just a day out. Well, almost.
Day trips have plenty of advantages. They're cheaper than taking a short break, unless, that is, you plan on eating in every pub and cafe en route. They're also ideal for time-pressed travellers, who can only spare a day here and there. And they don't involve anywhere near the same amount of planning that is tied up in organising your average holiday. A bit of spontaneity can go a long way.
That said, a certain amount of planning doesn't go amiss either. It is best to know a little bit about where you are going, so you are not clueless about what to do on arrival. And it pays to set out at a time that allows you to enjoy your destination to the full. On several occasions, we've ended up setting off way too late and arriving at the beach just as the sun goes down. Great timing for admiring the sunset; not so great when the kids are badgering you to construct a sandcastle in the semi-darkness with the tide coming in.
The journey is part of the fun, of course, but spending too much time on the road can leave everyone feeling frazzled. Two hours maximum seems to be a good rule of thumb. That rules out whistle-stop tours of more exotic locations - including one day trip launched by a tour operator a couple of years ago, which takes travellers from the UK to the Arctic. Sometimes, it pays to keep things local.
Posted by Sue at 10:30:46 on 16/1/2015
January 12, 2015
A formIDABLE LUNGE AT LYME
Each New Year's Day, we pay a visit to the seaside. There is something about travelling to the very edge of this island-nation to help you recover from the Christmas festivities and fill your heart with fresh optimism for the days ahead. Usually, we pluck a destination at random from the map book. This year, my son was angling for a spot of fossil hunting, so we chose to go to Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast.
We've been to Lyme several times before. It is a small town, with a lovely harbour, shops stuffed with quirky gifts, fossils and brightly coloured gem stones, and a good range of places to eat when the wind and the rain (yes, it usually rains) get too much.
We suspected this might be no normal visit when, on arrival after a sedate drive south, we found the car parks were all full. Our suspicions were confirmed by the sight of a couple of hundred people ambling through town, dripping wet and dressed in costumes that ranged from Santa to Superman. We had just missed the Lyme Lunge, a charity mass participation swim in the chilly waters off Sandy Beach.
This year's Lunge was held in commemoration of an event that took place on New Year's Day exactly a hundred years ago when a German U Boat torpedoed and sank the British destroyer HMS Formidable in Lyme Bay. Over 500 people died that day. To mark the occasion, Help the Heroes was elected to benefit from any sponsorship raised by the hardy swimmers.
Once the crowds had subsided, we stood on the sea-sprayed Cobb and stared out to sea, where the waves rose to an impressive height. A brisk wind tugged at our hats, eventually driving us indoors to a steamy windowed cafe just behind Lyme's Marine Theatre. The Aroma Cafe turned out to be quite a find. The board outside read 'Gluten Free and Dairy Free Heaven) and they weren't far wrong. We emerged an hour later, full of toasted sandwiches and cake and pots of tea.
Heading back to the car in the wintry gloom of late afternoon, we contemplated returning to Lyme Regis in the not-too-distant future to sample more of Aroma's delights and perhaps enjoy some more fossil hunting. Thankfully, no one suggested a swim or, for that matter, donning fancy dress.
Posted by Sue at 12:55:45 on 12/1/2015
January 2, 2015
TO SNOW OR NOT TO SNOW
Ideally, I'd like it to snow this winter. I'm not talking blizzards; a quick flurry will do quite nicely. My ski-mad friends, however, are a lot more demanding. According to them, what we need is a really good covering of snow - preferably in the Alps - and soon. Until this week, that was looking decidedly unlikely, with many ski resorts reporting snow depths that were either too thin, or were simply non-existent.
With the winter sports season about to kick off in Europe, it is not all doom and gloom, though. Whilst it is true that winter has been slow to arrive in the Alps, causing problems at lower altitudes, high altitude resorts like Tignes, Val d'Isère, Les Deux Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and Zermatt don't seem to have suffered unduly. The Pyrenees in France and Spain have also received a more generous helping of snow, as have resorts in Scandinavia, where snowfall is looking particularly good this year.
Thankfully, the latest weather reports are laced with a spot of optimism. Over the past few days, fresh snow has fallen over the most popular ski resorts in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. So, whilst here in England we might not get to enjoy a white Christmas, it looks like my friends can at least pack their skis with a little more certainty of getting out on the slopes.
Posted by Sue at 11:29:47 on 2/1/2015