Sunday, 27 February 2011

Spring Flowers Burst Through

At last some evidence that the long winter is almost over. On a visit this morning to Lee on the North Devon coast I witnessed many wild flowers in bloom. Lee has a micro-climate similar to the Isles of Scilly and is usually at least 2 weeks ahead of the rest of the UK.

Must be one of the most beautiful combes in England. Always a pleasure to wander through the village and onto the beach, a haven of rock pools and other delights. For a welcome pint and some excellent inn food, I recommend The Grampus.

PS All these images were taken today...

The Tapestry and Textures of Woodland

The way home....

A big depression came over us in the night emptying clouds of rain. The woodland appeared cleansed and fresh. The ferns had been flattened but the moss was richly textured, and after the cold days of winter the breeze was warm and welcoming, and the green shoots of spring were fighting to stand up through the detritus of autumnal leaves.

Here at Buckland Barton, like so many other woodlands in Britain, it is a pleasure to get out and walk amidst the trees and broken branches, to peer into the detail of the bark and moss, as all about one is evidence of another new year of growth and colour as we welcome Spring to the countryside.

For more information of woodland walks herewith a number of organisations that will further your interest: The Woodland Trust, The National Trust,TheLandmarkTrust, The Forestry Commission, and the Campaigns to Protect Rural England, Scotland and Wales

For those of you who admire the detailed images of the trees above may I recommend a dear friend in the adjacent valley, Mike Taffinder, who makes the most beautiful objects out of ancient wood.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Three Special Food Experiences with Bed

You have won the lottery, you have a very special occasion to celebrate and you deserve a special treat, or perhaps you want to blow your bonus..… and, Cornwall beckons…you wish for the simple things in life. To eat, drink, be merry… and to roll into a sumptuous bed.

Then these three are your Starter For 10.

You may have heard of Mr Stein of Padstow. He has as many bedrooms dotted about his village as he has food emporia. He hasn’t quite got the monopoly but it’s a close run thing. He’s got there through sheer hard work and professionalism, and Cornwall is spoilt for choice now that his many acolytes are running their own shows. You could start with the Seafood Restaurant, the original on the harbour front in Padstow.

You have Nathan Outlaw now at The Enodoc Hotel, Rock another seafood experience to tick off your list, or for stunning views and mouth-watering fare try the old coastguard Hotel, Mousehole set up in a perfect location overlooking my favourite Cornish harbour.

These three may well empty your wallet, but if you can still have many splendid “foodie” experiences without splashing out so much. Soon, I’ll bring you news of food and bed at a lower price, but as much fun, too, and also ideas about catching your own fish and cooking it on the beach. When all is said and done, my favourite meal is freshly baked bread and butter with marmite, and cold, cold water (or beer) …Bon Appetit!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Friday Favourites: Halzephron, The Lizard

The Cabin, Halzephron House
Kynance Cove
Its the weekend and you have a hankering for some romance and you want to blow the cobwebs, the February blues, out of your mind, out of sight! You have always had a hankering for Cornwall, and a soft spot for Poldark (or was it Robin Ellis...Angharad Rees) why not head south-west for some fun, great food and wine, comfy beds and a stunning stretch of the coastal footpath.....and you remember you are still owed 4 days holiday, and that runs out in April.

May I suggest you stop over at sexy Halzephron House and book in to their Cabin. Cosy and romantic, and overlooking a mind-blowing stretch of coastline. You can wake late, and head out of your backdoor along the path to Kynance Cove. A magical cove. And then, onto The Lizard for lunch, or better still, get the bus back for lunch at the Halzephron Inn, one of the best pubs in Cornwall. If you miss it go there later for supper.

Tomorrow, more foodie places for the hungry work out an appetite on the coastal path.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

West Country Cycling Trails

View of the Camel Estuary from the Camel Trail, PadstowView of the New Bridge, Barnstaple from the Tarka Trail

Now that the days are becoming warmer, and the evenings longer, there is nothing so rewarding as an easy ride on two wheels. Both these routes are anything but strenuous, and you will be amazed at the sensational views at the early light of day and at dusk, especially at mid to low tide when the sand banks come into view. It is possible to hire bikes but better, and more comfortable to bring your own.

The Camel Trail is the most cycled route in Britain. A mere 11-miles from Bodmin to Padstow with the extension to Poleys Bridge being recommended. The Trail is suitable and popular with joggers, walkers and cyclists. It is quite a sight watching elderly Gentleman and Ladies of Means attempting to mount a bicycle for (what appears the first time) many years with all the enthusiasm of their grandchildren. Seeing them wobbling off down the Trail with whoops of delight raises a smile, and a knowing nod. The sad thing is that very few actually go beyond this trail to explore the surrounding Cornish countryside. The cycle hire places do not encourage this

but are just happy to take your cash as if its a merry-go-round at the local fair. Is this experience to be "Something To Do" between the bars of Rock and Dinner at Steins, or will the pleasure lead to more.....?

If this rocks your boat, then try the Tarka Trail (more demanding), or the Granite Way, that runs along the northern borders of Dartmoor.

The Tarka Trail (cycling route section) is a dual-purpose walkway-cycleway allowing for relatively easy and safe cycling starting from Braunton (Tarka Cycle Hire). The route runs on tarmac beside the Taw Estuary to Barnstaple, and can be enjoyed depending on the wind direction. Just hope (to god) it follows you otherwise you may be in for a hard trawl. There is abundant wildlife to hold your interest. The route continuing from Barnstaple along the south side of the Taw Estuary is arguably the least interesting section. A bit of a slog. Luckily, the station cafe at Fremington (Cycle Hire) has just opened so be advised to break here for refreshments. On reaching Instow you must make a difficult choice, either to stop off at the Instow Arms for a coffee or pub lunch, or be dazzled by the delicacies and baguettes at John's Deli in Instow. Moving on. The route becomes more interesting as it enters the Torridge Valley to the Puffing Billy pub (Cycle Hire) below Great Torrington, to cross the river to Watergate Bridge, the trail joins a bridle path, and what follows, is in my opinion, the most interesting section. A few steep bits, sylvan woodland, sculptures and varying flowers and wildlife to hold your interest. It is cyclable on a hybrid, touring or folding bike all the way to Meeth. Look out for the excellent, little cafe at Yard, the Railway summit, where they serve hot soup, coffees and homemade cakes. Rest here awhile to read The Guardian and the arts notices. Or, book in to the bunkhouse and camping spot. Bliss. So, there you have 32 miles of traffic-free cycling suitable for all ages. Go for it! And, Oh yes...beautifully illustrated in Goldeneye's Cycling Country Lanes Map-Guides.

Cornwall Contemporary Art

Visitors flock to St Ives to visit the Tate overlooking Porthmeor Beach which is worth the visit just for the view from the café. If you have time, do go on to the Barbara Hepworth Museum, brilliant, and the Leach Pottery (where it all began, where what began you may ask - The Leach Dynasty of potters). All fine men and true. What is surprising is the lack of quality galleries in St Ives. One comes across amateur-looking studios and gift shops plying repro-prints and calling them Originals! The best, by far is The Millenium Gallery, opposite the Tourist Information Centre. For my money you must move on to Penzance and Newlyn if you need to cover wall space with pictures, alcoves with sculpture and ceramics, fingers and necks with jewellery. The most pro-active gallery or the one that is constantly in contact with me is Cornwall Contemporary run by the charming Ms Sara Brittain, and around the corner to complement her, you have the Stoneman Gallery. Newlyn has Badcocks, run by real enthusiasts, and over the bridge the Newlyn Art Gallery, a supporter of Installation Art, not my thing but if you like looking over rows of matchsticks (laboriously placed in patterns) or something similar, go for it.

There are other centres of Art, usually in locations out of the way, or where there is cheaper housing like St Just-in-Penwith and St Agnes. Unless you have made-it, you won’t find many artists living in the Lamorna Valley like the leading figures of the Newlyn School, Stanhope Forbes and Lamorna Birch.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Fruits of the Sea

One of the most enjoyable features of photography is its unpredictability, and the full range of humanity that falls within one's viewfinder (some are completely off the wall, while others are a complete joy) and the unusual situations, or strange predicaments that arise. You never, ever know what is around the corner....and, it is rarely the human experience that lets you down, more likely a technical hitch with one's equipment. The sea creatures below had put up a fight with an adversary before I came along....the Bass and Gurnard, I spied in the Newlyn Fish Market, whilst the Mackerel were being off-loaded onto the quay at St Ives, and I was given a mere 20 seconds to get the picture before being pushed aside by an impatient fisherman. The lobster, a glorious creature, a Lord of his environment, gave me a run for my money.
Never work with children or animals, is a common refrain for many professionals - not least cameramen. My proof-reader’s brother farmed lobsters at Curgurrel near Portscatho, and I took advantage of this to get up close, and personal, with my lobster. We chose the finest specimen from their fish tank, cut the restraining bands around its claws, and placed it in the light with the camera a few inches from the lobster…then, snap, snap… went the massive claws. The beautiful creature was not going to cooperate. Fortunately, quick thinking and nerves of steel, saved the day. Or should I say, a spray of cold water to calm the lobster, and a sturdy tripod, to calm the cameraman. At last, I had my lobster, in the can! Is he not magnificent?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Cornwall's Beaches and Gardens

Cornwall's beaches are beyond compare...unless, one includes the white sands of North West Scotland. Little wonder that for generations, families have made Cornwall the Number One destination for their annual family holiday. But, why wait for July and August? When you can surf throughout the year, and walk the coastal footpath all year, too. The pubs and restaurants stay open, so do most of the B&Bs and hotels.

In recent years Gardens have become quite an attraction, and the season starts in ernest in February with the snowdrops, crocuses, camellias etc.

I have illustrated a montage of gardens, and these are a taster. Later, in the year I'll provide more details of each one.

Monday, 21 February 2011

London Sights Galore

Can you believe it? A montage of London images, and no London Eye, or Houses of Parliament....? Well, they will appear eventually - when I have taken the shots to my satisfaction. And, I like to surprise you (my dear visitors) with something a little different. So, herewith, from the top: Battersea Power Station, Big Ben, National Westminster Tower, Tower Bridge, Chelsea Bridge and The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

I am off to Cornwall, to the beaches, gardens and the sweet Fruits of the Sea.

And, look Out For:

My "Country Diary" - From time to time, nature permitting, I'll be writing up observations from my Devon farm; the lanes carpeted with wild flowers, the buzzard that flies overhead all day and the badgers that brush my legs on my night sojourn to exercise the dog. Last night my six-year daughter spied a young barn owl sitting on a branch a mere 20 feet away revolving its head, many times. She could not believe it...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Visiting London

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and Horse Guards

For a bit of fun, I thought I would illustrate some of the cliched images of London that the hagged tourist may encounter. The Changing of the Guard and other iconic daily events. When I look back on my youth's ambitions it was never to be a train driver or astronaut but a Horse Guard. I loved the sparkling and shiny boots, and the plumed helemts. The ambition lasted until the day I was thrown off a pony and stamped on narrowly missing my testicles!

London will be an ambitious and on-going project to deliver on this Blog. I will illustrate the Villages of London; Chiswick, Hampstead, Kew, Wimbledon etc and value-for-money accommodation, as well as the quirkier sides of this great City. This is just a starter...

A few more images to appear tomorrow...and then I shall be concentrating on:

Cornwall. The Number One holiday destination in the UK. So expect: beaches, surfing, sunshine, Gardens, harbours, luxurious B&Bs, delicious food, the Fruits of the Sea...and so much more...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Cotswold Weekend Breaks

Take a look at the map of England and within the triangle created by Bath, Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon lies the Cotswold Hills. One of the great attractions of the Cotswolds are their accessibility. Two hours from London, Manchester and the South Coast, and a short distance from Birmingham, Bristol, Swindon, the Thames Valley corridor. Perfect for a day's visit, better for a short break, or long weekend. And, with half-term on the horizon there is an abundance of attractions on offer. Whether it be the Cotswold Farm Park, and their Spring Lambs, the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford, or the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. For those seeking an easy stroll followed by a cream tea, or a pint of ale, none better than to visit one or two scenic villages; starting with Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford and Chipping Campden. For the more energetic, a jaunt along the Cotswold Way. The choice is yours.

If it is architecture that takes your fancy, look to magnificent Gloucester Cathedral, or Tewkesbury Abbey. For the less ambitious, try one of the famous "Wool" churches; Burford, Chipping Campden, Cirencester, Fairford and Northleach.....the country houses of Blenheim, Chastleton and Stanway....

For food and fine ales, the choice is endless. Few regions of England have so many gastro-dining pubs. There appears to be one in every village. I suggest you seek them out with a little help from Goldeneye's The Cotswold Guidebook @ £12.99. Money never better spent.

For the shopaholics, or those in need of stimulation from fine design, and the bright lights, take a bearing and head for Bath or Cheltenham. Two Regency towns with a host of independent retailers and civilised places to window shop, eat and drink. So Bon Appetit!

All these images have been taken from Goldeneye's new book: The Cotswold Collection.

Arlington Row, Bibury

Fairford, Gloucestershire

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge

Stanway House & Gatehouse
The Circus, Bath

Thursday, 17 February 2011

National Cycle Network - Sustrans

On my morning jog I came across the extension of the NCN Route 27 being widened by the North Devon Council. Lots of squidgy mud and thick tyre tracks left by the dumper truck blurred by visions of happy, smiling families cycling through this sylvan wood. Just hope a burst of heavy rainfall won't wash away this path like it did to the adjacent route to Upcott? This cycle path runs from the edge of Buckland Barton to Knowle, running parallel with the former Braunton to Ilfracombe railway line. It joins the Tarka Trail at Braunton. The National Cycle Network is the organization behind the multitude of cycle paths that criss-cross our beautiful land. Many are traffic-free, but most of the routes run on quiet country lanes, old railway paths and bridle paths. The NCN was the brainchild of John Grimshaw and his merry band of friends....a group of enthusiasts who in my humble opinion have not received the honours they so richly deserve. My interest in all of this is a professional one because for the past 15 years I have been producing cycling maps, for the on, and off-road, fraternity.

My business, Goldeneye ( and Sustrans ( are having a special February promotion where we are offering a Buy One, Get One Free promotion. So, if you enjoy the freedom of two wheels, do have a look-see.

Two Wheels are the future.....who said that? Herewith, a collection of images from my cycling adventures. Enjoy!
My son Harry and "Fast" Al, my Routeman above Coniston, Cumbria

Two Mountain Bikers crossing Tarr Steps on Exmoor

Mountain Biker on Winsford Common, Exmoor

Al Churcher below Hound Tor, Dartmoor

A family cycling the Tarka Trail, Braunton, Devon

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

February Snowdrops

Snowdrops in Lee, North Devon

Its the time of year when coach loads of garden nuts go out in search of snowdrops, and there is no better place then the Rococo Gardens of Painswick House, managed by my old friend Tim. He has been nurturing with steadfast patience this old garden back to life. It has taken years. I have featured their snowdrops in my new book "The Cotswold Collection" but I have to admit that it was not an easy shot to do. Likewise, I also find a carpet of bluebells tricky to photograph. Far better to have a macro close-up with some misty moisture and rain drops.

Another house well endowed with snowdrops is the Elwes home in Colesbourne open for the odd weekend. The Churn Valley must be one of the most enchanting valleys in England that connects Cheltenham with Cirencester. A fast and dangerous road - I should know. I have had two accidents on it. So, please take care.

It is my intention, nature permitting, to feature a new plant in bloom every week. I have spied some crocuses that await my shutter and lens, and then the following week we should be well in to Daffodil time.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Welcome to "LoveUKtravel" my New Blog

"Don't You Just
Love UK Travel"

Saunton Sands at Daybreak

Only the best will do...

I will endeavour to illustrate and describe the finest, the most beautiful, the most enchanting, romantic, inspiring, stimulating (I am lost for adjectives)...and rewarding places to visit in the UK. I will feature beaches, B&Bs, cafes, gardens...the most quirky and wonderful places to see and encounter....strange "Happenings", colourful events....Art will feature strongly, and the landscape will be the dominant force.

But, to get this blog off with a beautiful bang. Herewith, some of my favourite North Devon images from my own backyard, my locale...

The New Bridge, Barnstaple

Wrecked Boat, Crow Point

Hartland Quay at Sunset

Rosemoor Gardens

Brayford on Exmoor

Buckland Barton

The Groynes, Crow Point

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