U.K.

The Ultimate Scottish Road Trip

With the help of a Lonely Planet Guide, my friend Alex and I planned the Ultimate Scottish road trip over an amazing coffee at my favourite cafe one afternoon in Cambridge.

I was already going to be in Edinburgh for work. So our trip began from the Scottish capital, and this is the route we took:

Edinburgh -> St Andrews -> Perth -> Glencoe -> Fort William (Ben Nevis) -> Oban -> Isle of Barra -> Eriskay -> South Uist -> Isle Benbecula -> North Uist -> Isle of Berneray -> Isle of Harris -> Isle of Skye -> Glenfinnan Viaduct -> England (around Penrith) -> Cambridge

Click here to see the route on a map.

We wanted to make the most of Scotland’s “wild camping”, so we pitched our tent whilst on the Outer Hebrides. We stayed on a campsite whenever we were on mainland Scotland. The network coverage is close to non-existent on the Outer Hebrides, so be prepared and don’t rely on Google Maps on your smart phone. Luckily, my friend Alex decided to go “old school” and brought an actual detailed map of Scotland which also had campsites labelled (just in case we couldn’t find anywhere “wild”).

My favourite place that we pitched up was on the Isle of Berneray which over looked a beautiful beach with white sand and turquoise water. We had an amazing sunset and sunrise here also – the epitome of wild camping in Scotland.

In terms of logistics: we bought all our ferry tickets on the day. However, in preparation we had taken notes of the times of the ferry departures, but thought we should just go with the flow and see how we felt like on the day. If we were in a spectacular place, we didn’t want to leave in a hurry. Buying ferry tickets on the day didn’t change the price and for us it worked out well. We managed to get on all the ferries that we wanted to, although the ferry from the Isle of Harris to the Isle of Skye was a close call, we almost didn’t get on because nearly all the spots were all pre-sold. But luckily we had gotten to the port early enough where they allowed a few spontaneous cars on…

If you love seals: make sure you go to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. For only a fiver, you get to go out on a small boat and see the seals – there were so many of them! I’m a little in love with these creatures as you can tell from the number of shots I took…

Climbing Ben Nevis was an absolute delight. For those of you who aren’t from the UK, it Scotland’s highest mountain standing at 1344m. It was a relatively easy climb, but be sure to bring walking poles for the way down (your knees will thank you!). It took us about 3.5hrs to go up and only 2hrs or so to come down. We hiked at a very leisurely pace, where we stopped quite often for photo opportunities.

All I can say is that I definitely recommend road tripping through Scotland. I’ll leave you to decide while you browse through some of the shots I captured while on this epic experience. Ultimate road trips are “ultimate” because of the amazing things you get to see and experience as well as the person/people you get to do this with – so make sure your buddy is as awesome as mine (Alex my friend, you are AWESOME!!)

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Enchanting Edinburgh

My visit to Edinburgh was in early September 2015 and I was lucky enough to stay with a friend in Portobello (thanks Sonya!). It was around the time when the Fringe Festival was on, so accommodation was either hard to get or you ended up paying extortionate amounts of money. I enjoyed walking along the Royal Mile and seeing the Old Town. Given that the weather was fantastical (!!!), I also hiked up to Arthur’s seat where the views of Edinburgh were spectacular. I caught the sunset at Calton Hill, which was simply breathtaking. A trip to Edinburgh wouldn’t be complete without going on a Harry Potter walking tour (definitely recommend this!!). Our guide was a young undergraduate university student who was dressed in a gown and had a wand in his hand. We were shown where JK Rowling took some of her inspirations for her novels from – for a true fan this was simply awesome. A walk down Portobello “beach” was also very nice – look out for the coffee truck, the locals are extremely friendly while waiting in line. The Mosque Kitchen was my “go to” for really good food which also happened to be cheap. You’ll actually see loads of restaurants called “The Original Mosque Kitchen” but make sure you go to the one that is in the courtyard of the actual mosque – it’s open to all, in fact alot of local businessman go there for lunch.

I would definitely recommend visiting Edinburgh – there is loads to do in this magical enchanting city….

 

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Cambridge vs Oxford Boat Race

A few weeks ago, on a bright sunny day in April, I went into London for the big boat race: Cambridge vs Oxford. It was such a great day out on Thames – ofcourse minus the fact that Cambridge didn’t win ANYTHING…!!! Nevertheless, it was great seeing the University spirit and more so, seeing the women’s side being able to compete for the first time ever on the same day as the men. You see previously the women’s race would take place in Henley and there wasn’t as much “hype” as there was for the men’s race. It was really nice to see this (girl power…!!)

 

 

Seaside escape to Brighton

DISCLAIMER: I am lagging in posting my blogs – so bare with me (am currently in Germany – too much travel!!)

Recently, my friend Amelie who was visiting from Munich Germany and I decided to go on a day trip from Cambridge to Brighton. All in all the journey only took about 2hrs – but as we were profusely catching up, the time just went by….

The seaside was only a short walk from the station – roughly about 10mins. When we arrived at the seaside, I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed. You see, I was expecting a nice sandy beach where we could bask in the sun for a few hours, chilling. Instead, the entire beach was ROCKY – not even pebbles, they were rocks! And it actually semi-hurt the bottom my foot (I was wearing thin soled shoes – Toms, but still…). After my initial disappointment, I appreciated the fact that the sun was out, blue skies and I was at the sea! We walked along the shore, occasionally stopping to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived at Brighton Pier – which is basically like a fair/carnival just built on a pier – weird if you ask me… but we still explored the pier, I also thought I’d make use of the workers here and asked them about the “Brighton Beach Huts” – total fail! Whomever I asked had no clue what I was talking about (I’m sure they certainly exist!!)

By this stage we were hungry and decided to go for fish and chips – but we couldn’t find anything close by. We ended up going to a little cafe in the vicinity of the Pavilion. Lunch was followed by exploring the grounds of the Pavilion – such a lovely area with nice gardens.

We decided to also go inside and explore this amazing structure – the exterior had a South Asian design, yet the moment you step into the building it was all Chinese – peculiar but grand! We weren’t allowed to take photos inside – but oh how I wish we were allowed. The interior was designed so spectacularly – every inch totally exaggerated, much to King George’s liking ofcourse… The kitchen was HUGE – what I liked about this kitchen compared to other royal displays was the fact that they had on display ALL the copper pots and pans – the things that were actually used for cooking – as opposed to tea cups and saucers…. We spent about an hour in here – the audio guide was brilliant, although some points could have been alot shorter but its easier to skip…

We then decided to go back to the seaside and go on the Volk’s Electric Train – apparently its the oldest running electric train in the world. So we bought our tickets to the “marina” (mind you we had no idea where this was…) and hopped on the train! The train basically took us to the end of the line, to the “marina” where there were fisherman. Nothing too spectacular to see here – unless you wanted to be at the seaside without all the hundreds of people. We then caught the next train back to the pier.

We each bought gelato and sat on the rocks and enjoyed the moment. We were truly impressed by the amazing weather!

What I found strange is that there was alot of development on the actual seaside itself – lots of shops, kiosks hiring out beach chairs, fish and chips stalls – only to name a few. Back home in Australia, thankfully we don’t have any – well at least none on the south coast. I think the beach and the seaside shouldn’t have development and remain original/natural. We humans tend to spoil wherever we go – tis a sad fact…

I would definitely recommend checking Brighton out – a day trip is surely enough. A must is the Pavilion, it was SPECTACULAR! I would have enjoyed the electric train ride if I were 5 – so you can give that a miss…

 

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Quaint Ely

Over the Easter long weekend, my friend Amelie came to visit me from Germany. She is completely obsessed with English afternoon tea, so I thought I’d take her to my recent discovery of Peacock’s Tearoom in Ely.

Ely is a 15min train ride from Cambridge – having said that, I’ve only been there once before and that was only 2wks prior to this visit (I’m actually embarrassed to admit this….).

We made our way to Peacock’s which was only a 10min walk from the train station. The walk is actually quite nice, as it is along the river…

After waiting in line on Easter Sunday (clearly popular) for about 15mins, we were seated in one of the 3 rooms. The decor is unique but tasteful and very Britishly cute with pretty little tea cups hanging on the walls. The menu cover is actually quite amusing – I would definitely read this as it’s a good laugh! Our tea arrived in a cute flowered tea pot, and shortly after our scones also arrived together with Cornish clotted cream and raspberry jam. YUM – it was truly amazing!

After an amazing afternoon tea (Amelie thankfully also agreed that it was AMAZING!), we walked over to Ely Cathedral and boy is it a mammoth of a building – it’s truly spectacular! What intrigued me most were these round large iron structures which were heaters! I’d never seen heaters in a cathedral before, I thought they were brilliant!

We then walked over to Oliver Cromwell’s house which had been turned into a museum. However, we had missed out on the last admission so we couldn’t explore his house.

Ely is a quaint little town which is worth a visit if you are in Cambridge for a while. Regardless, it’s definitely worth a visit even if it’s just for the scones at Peacock’s…

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Stonehenge: Simply Surreal

Stonehenge – I couldn’t believe that I was actually at Stonehenge! It was a surreal moment for me as I first lay my eyes upon the mysterious stones…

You see, I remember helping my brother who was in primary school with an assignment about Stonehenge. Ever since then, I had always wanted to see it, and now that I was standing before Stonehenge – I simply couldn’t believe it!

As I was on a tour of Stonehenge (see Bath post for tour details), our guide Matt had organised our tickets and audio guides. We got on a bus from the Visitor centre which took us to the Stonehenge site which was located about 2kms away. When we got off, Matt explained the significance of Stonehenge and the recent developments of the theories surrounding the existence of the structure. Interestingly, the BBC recently showed that due to advancing technology, now researchers from the UK together with Austria have been mapping  the entire area via a 3D laser scanner. This has enabled researchers to see through the ground and explore what civilisation looked like thousands of years ago!

Listening to Matt saved me from having to listen to the hour long audio guide – so not a fan!

At our own pace, we then circled Stonehenge. NOTE: you don’t actually get to go right up to it, you’re about 5m away from the structure. BUT if you visit during the Summer or Winter Solstice you are infact allowed to go right into Stonehenge (together with the thousands of people who also visit that day!).

As I walked around Stonehenge, I had a magical feeling – although I can’t quite describe how I felt, it was a unique atmosphere. I took my time circling the structure and enjoyed the moment… As I reached full circle, the wind picked up and I hurried back to the bus which took me back to the Visitor centre.

There was also an exhibition about the civilisation that once lived there – on display were bones, tools, trinkets from years ago. The exhibition is small, so you only need about 10mins or so…

Overall, I really enjoyed Stonehenge and I definitely recommend a visit!

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Beautiful Bath

Over the Easter long weekend, I decided to book a day trip tour with Roots Travel to Bath & Stonehenge.  I’m not a tour kind of person, but it was convenient as it departed from Cambridge (and kind of a last minute decision…). Given that Bath was about a 2.5hr drive from Cambridge, I thought LETS DO IT and booked online.

Matt was our guide and we were a group of about 12. We arrived about midday and set off on a mini city walking tour. Matt took us to The Royal Crescent and explained the history behind this amazing piece of architecture. It was a prime example of Georgian architecture – and the sheer size of the building was truly amazing! We were told that there were strict rules as to what owners could do to their houses because it was a category 1 heritage building (basically you cannot do ANYTHING to the building despite owning it and paying ALOT of money for it).

We then made our way over to The Circus which was built by the son of the architect who had built the Crescent. I simply couldn’t capture The Circus because it was basically 3 HUGE buildings forming a “roundabout”. I managed to capture one of the three…

As we kept on walking, Matt pointed out Charles Dickens’ house – which had a plaque stating that it indeed was Dickens’ house. We walked past another famous authour’s house – Jane Austen, who apparently disliked the people in Bath at the time as they were the “rich” from the Industrial Revolution and were simply a different kind of rich (Note: If you’ve read Northanger Abbey you will understand). There is also an actual Jane Austen Centre which is a museum and with tea rooms on the upper levels. I didn’t go in as I didn’t have much time (hence why I don’t like going on tours…)

En route to the centre of town we came to a stop infront of an Italian restaurant. Matt explained that this was Beau Nash’s house – who was basically a matchmaker and a witty man. In those days people paid taxes according to the number of windows in their houses, with 6 windows being free of tax. So witty as Nash was, he sealed up 2 windows in order to avoid paying his taxes!!

We continued along to the centre of town and Matt explained the history behind the Roman Baths. Apparently it’s the only Roman bath that is still in operation in the whole world! Standing there, I noticed a really long queue for the recently opened thermal spa right beside it – clearly this was VERY popular….

We were given some free time (about 2.5hrs) which was seriously no where near enough time to explore Bath properly… I had read online that Bath Buns were a must and that Sally Lunn’s was the place to try them. However, 20 other people also had this idea – hence the long queue, so I had to give that a miss….

I went over to the Roman Baths, but the queue was also long here, so I didn’t go in here either. Instead, I went into Bath Abbey (free entrance) – which had amazing somewhat gothic architecture. I also walked along the river and walked across the Pulteney Bridge – it’s similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence where when you walk across it and you don’t even realise that you are on a bridge, it’s lined with shops and cafes on either side. After reaching the other side, I walked along the river and admired the bridge and this aspect of Bath…

I randomly walked past a cafe that sold Bath Bun’s, and to be honest, they aren’t anything special – they were nice but I was so glad that I didn’t wait in line at Sally Lunn’s….

My experience of Bath was primarily wandering around the town and taking in the amazing architecture. Matt was a great guide and I’d definitely recommend going on one of his tours. Bath really is a beautiful town and I hope to go back and spend an entire weekend to have the full experience…

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: An English Wedding in Devon

Day 1 Friday 8th August 2014: Road trip from Cambridge to Kingsbridge, Devon-England

Shaz and I gave our little speed demon a quick check: fuelled up, oil and water were ok, but the tyres needed some pressure. After getting grease all over our hands, the tyres had air in them and we were off! As we began our road trip to southern England, the roads were uncongested and we thought YAAY perhaps it will be smooth sailing all the way down south. However, about 2 hours into our journey, the traffic became gridlocked and was horrendous! So basically, because of the many traffic jams we got caught in, it took us a VERY long time to get to Devon. As it was now dark, we were driving very slowly through the towns as the roads were extremely narrow and to top it off they had HUGE hedges on either side. This made it slightly dangerous, as these so called roads weren’t even lit! Anyway, we found our bed and breakfast without getting lost and we both hit the sack immediately after our long, tiring journey…

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Day 2 Saturday 9th August 2014: The Summersthwaite Wedding, Thurlestone, Devon-England

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We then made our way to the reception, which was held at Vickie’s parents house located on a property close by. Drinks and canapés were served in the garden as everyone chatted away.

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We all then made our way to the marque and found our seats. The interior of the marque was splendid – subtlety drawing on Vickie’s Mauritian heritage. Each person had their name on a tag that was wrapped around their serviette with a nice wooden fan on top.My favourite was the bunting – a simple yet so effective decorative piece! On the tables they also had a booklet, which had the names of all the guests and a few sentences about them – which I thought was such a nice personal touch. I especially liked what Vickie wrote about me: Ayse was one of the first Australians Vickie had met, and has taught her about all sorts of “far out” vegies including “pet-it-poys” and “mangie toots”. I mean seriously which Aussie knows how to correctly pronounce petit pois and mangetout – nevertheless it was HILARIOUS!!!

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We had a splendid dinner, which was then followed by the speeches. I was informed that traditionally the father of the bride gives a speech embarrassing the bride; followed by the groom’s speech thanking everyone; concluded by a dirty/filthy speech by the best man. The first two were as expected, however, in my opinion the best man did not throw dirt on the groom at all! His speech was actually quite civil – funny of course but no secrets were revealed (slightly disappointed…). In any case, all the speeches were both humorous and emotional at times – simply brilliant! The dancing commenced soon after and there was a band for the “ceilidh” (pronounced Kaylee for all you non-UK folk). All the Brits around educated me – the ceilidh is traditional Celtic dancing where the MC calls out the dance moves and everyone follows. I had a go – it was actually quite a lot of fun! It was great to see the oldies having a go… the night continued on with more and more dancing… all in all, it was a brilliant and enjoyable wedding =)

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Day 3 Sunday 10th August 2014: The journey back to Cambridge

Both Shaz and I thought we should head to the beach after breakfast – we owed it to ourselves after enduring such a long journey down south! So, we headed down to Thurlestone beach, winding our way through the narrowest hedged roads. As we both got out of the car, we were nearly blown away by the gale forced winds! There was actually a weather warning the entire weekend ie Hurricane Bertha… we managed to stay on the beach for a few minutes, snapped a few shots of the actual Thurle Stone and we made our way back home. We had a smooth journey back, with close to no traffic jams, ending our trip on a fantastic note…

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The Authentic Northern Ireland Experience

Day 1 (Friday): I arrived at my friend – Lucy’s house in the evening, which was located on a farm in County Londonderry. On my way to the farm, I noticed that on either side of the road, there were cattle farms – full of sheep and cows. I didn’t realise that Northern Ireland had such a huge cattle economy. I met her mum and dad – who were both such lovely people. Initially I was having trouble understanding her dad, as he had a thicker accent than the rest. But as the conversation went on, I began to understand his pronunciation – o aye!

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Day 2 (Saturday): The following morning, after we had soda bread for breakfast (a Northern Irish treat), Lucy and I set off to the north coast. The sun was out, which made my whole experience in this country all the more enjoyable. As we were driving along, we went past a sign that said “Castle Rock”. As a huge Game of Thrones fan, at first I read the sign as “Casterly Rock”!! We pulled in to discover an amazing beach – and I mean an actual beach! There were lifesavers and all! To top it off, it reminded me of the beaches that I grew up on located on the South Coast of Sydney, Australia. I took my shoes off and went for a walk down the beach, loving the feeling of the sand between my toes.

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IMG_6277watermarkedAs we continued along the coast, my belly started to rumble. We decided it’d be nice to have a spot of lunch at the coastal town of Port Stewart. This was a very nice place – somewhere that you’d come to for brunch on Sunday. We went for a pleasant stroll along the promenade, where there were lots of families with their children and old folks just chillin’ on the park benches – nice vibes in Port Stewart.

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We finally arrived at our main destination – The Giant’s Causeway – one of the wonders of the UK and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A wonder it was indeed! Just a tip – if you are planning on seeing a lot of the UK, I would advise you to become a member of the National Trust. You will gain free entrance into A LOT of places – so it’s definitely worth it! Also make sure you wear sensible footwear here i.e. closed shoes NOT flip-flops, unlike my friend Lucy – she actually got interviewed about her choice of footwear by one of the staff members and even got photos taken of her feet!!!

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The Giant’s Causeway was absolutely breath taking! Interlocking hexagonally shaped basalt pillars lined the cliffs of this beautiful stretch of coastline – the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, with a backdrop of green mountains. It almost felt like I was on the set of Lord of the Rings – the landscape was spectacular! We walked around to the various parts of the Causeway – which slowly was beginning to be overcrowded by Japanese and American tourists. At one point we sat down and chilled for a few minutes – just to take in the natural beauty that was surrounding us.

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Next stop on the coastline tour was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. NOTE: National Trust members have free access. As we made our way down to the bridge, we saw people walking back – they look tired, which made me dread the journey back… We arrived at the rope bridge – which was only about 20m long and 30m above the rocks below. In any case – my inner child came out as I subtlety rocked the bridge as I made my way across…. We then made our way back to the farm for a good nights rest – after all this sight seeing we were knackered.

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Day 3 (Sunday): The next day we drove to Belfast. As a citizen of Northern Ireland, Lucy suggested that we should go on a “hop on hop off” bus tour of the city, as it would be much safer seeing as though we also wanted to see some historic rough neighbourhoods…. You see, it was coming up to Marching Season – this is when the Battle of the Boyne is commemorated and everyone wears orange, as it was “King Billy’s” colour. It is also a time when there is conflict between the Protestants and Catholics. The bus took us to the Shankill and the Fall, which is a renown rough neighbourhood. We also went past the Peace Wall. The neighbourhood did not look particularly safe – so I was glad we were on a tourist bus! We saw the many murals depicting the Hand of Ulster, Ulster Freedom Fighters holding guns and wearing balaclavas, King William and Bobbie Sands. As a street art lover, this is what I really wanted to see. After seeing all of this, its as though I could feel the bitterness in this city… To be quite honest, I didn’t particularly like Belfast as a city – I didn’t feel safe or any charm of the city….

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As the Titanic was built in Belfast, there was a museum, which had an amazing architectural design. The weather was becoming grey, so we made our way to Stormont. We managed to get a car park right out the front – yaaay! We walked through the gates, and as I gazed off to the distance, there was a huge white neo-classical building with columns. Leading up to the Parliamentary building was a maroon road, which has very large trees lining either side of it – simply stunning!

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I really enjoyed my trip to Northern Ireland, and I recommend that you definitely go and explore this beautiful country! I would highly recommend renting a car if you would like to see the north coast – it’s the best way to see it really… And make sure you go beyond Belfast – as I reflect on my trip now, I am so grateful to Lucy for taking me around the north coast – otherwise if I had gone on my own, I would have only seen Belfast. This definitely would have left an unpleasant impression of Northern Ireland… Luckily for me this wasn’t the case! Huge shout out to my friend Lucy and her folks for their warm hospitality – such great people!