Skomar Island (England)
Skomar Island Last year my husband and I went up to Northumberland and wanted to go and see the puffins on the Farne Islands but it was the wrong season. We put it aside and thought we try again this year. It was them my husband remembered that there were puffins found on Skomar so we changed our destination to South Wales and ... created a new itinerary for this trip.
Now it is possible to take boat tips that take you around the Island and don't land but we wanted to actually go onto Skomar and there is only one comany that do sailings that allow you to land and stay on the island. Interestingly we saw a news item about two weeks before we went on our trip saying that this boat had sunk on one crossing but there was no loss of life so it didn't make big headlines!
This company sails from "Martin's Haven daily at 10am, 11am and 12 noon (29th March 31st October) No Landings on Monday (except Bank Holidays) Island is Closed 14th, 15th & 16thth May 2013 Extra Round Island Cruises will be available on these days from 10.00am.
During peak periods additional crossings may be scheduled.
Adults £11.00 - Under 16's £7.00 (no Advanced booking)
Landing fee of £10 for Adults, £9 for senior citizens & £5 for students"
That information is taken directly from their website
We had virtually decided not to bother going to Martin's Haven as the weather was very rainy and windy and they don't sail if the weather is bad. We tried one of the other companies to see if they were sailing and some were so we took a punt and drove all the way to Martin's Haven. This was a long way along narrow single lane traffic lanes. Heaven only knows what this is like in the peak season as you might spend you time reversing long distances.
You can't book this crossing prior to the day. So you can turn up at 8am and book for a sailing later in the day and sometimes at 8 am you are booking for the midday sailing as it is first come first served. You are then left with a dilemma - what do you do in those few hours as it is about an hour to get anywhere from Martin's Haven. Fortunately this didn't happen to us as there were twenty places on the next sailing which was five minutes away from when we arrived!
I think the company should have an office somewhere before the single lane roads and take the bookings there. That way only people booked on the small ferry will be driving down there rather than lots of frustrated, disappointed people who have failed to get onto any sailing.
THE BOAT AND SAILING
Once you have bought your ticket and been checked in you make your way to the small jetty, via the toilets as there are none on the boat and the only ones on the island are a mile inland.
The tiny little boat arrives and you board. To me this looked like a small fishing boat. It is licensed to carry fifty plus passengers and on the way over we had about twenty on board and thought it was full. There was a wooden bench round the back of the boat to sit on. In the centre of this small area was a couple of sealed boxes and inside these were the life jackets and the life raft .
Once we set sail one of the crew gave a very casual demonstration of the lifejackets.I thought of how careful they had been in the relatively calm and warm water around the Galapagos islands EVERY time we went on the zodiacs we had lifejackets on and kept them on until we got off the zodiacs. Here on a very choppy crossing on a pretty small boat we would have to wait for the crew to find the life jackets in these boxes before being thrown into a very cold sea. I did n't like our chances to be honest.
On the way back it was first come first on for the return sailing as so we got ther half an hour early and already there was a queue. They packed on the full load going back and people were everywhere packed and seated on these boxes holding the rafts and jackets. If the crew had had to get at them the people had no where to go. I really am amazed that they are licensed to carry that many as it seemed quite unsafe to me.
The crossing was quite pleasant on the way over and took about fifteen minutes. We saw sea birds of various types and one gull flew alongside the boat until the captain threw him a bit of something. He caught us on the return trip too. The return journey was less pleasant as the sea was choppier, the boat was packed and to top it off the rain was coming down hard and cold and there was no cover to the boat.
When you arrive the first thing you are greeted with are lots of steps upwards. Once you reach the top you are greeted by one of the volunteer naturalists and given a bit of a quick guide to the island. Although it is not that large it takes some time to actually walk around the entire island. We had just under three hours and in our view we were there to see the puffins so that was first on our agenda.
You could walk around the coast via trails or make your way across the centre to the old farm with its overnight accommodation, picnic area and the toilets and head on from there. We realised there was no way we were going to make it all around the island in the time we had as we wanted to spend time with the puffins and take photos etc. We decided to head towards where the puffins were nesting which was sort of slightly cutting off the corner then heading for the coast.
We were so lucky with the time we visited Skomar as the red campions and blue bells were in full flower and looked like carpets of pink and blue on the hills. That was a bonus for us as we had no idea that there were beautiful wild flowers in such abundance.
It took us about forty five minutes walking pretty fast to reach the coast although we did stop for photos of the flowers at various points. We also stopped once we reached the coast to watch the other sea birds and a few little puffins.
We wandered on and I am so glad we did as we came to the real puffin nesting area. There was another volunteer naturalist there ensuring that no one did anything they should not to the little puffins. You had to be very careful as they were small and quite happy to walk around your feet, they hid in the undergrowth and you might find yourself walking on one accidentally if you left the path.
It was like being back on the Galapagos islands as these cute little birds were quite unconcerned by all the people around them. They looked at us, crossed over the path in front and behind us and came right up to us. You obviously had to respect their distances yourself but they could come to you. You were not allowed to touch them but I think they would have moved off if you tried anyway.
We spent about half an hour here watching these gorgeous little creatures cleaning themselves, building nests, cleaning nests, flirting with each other, making their way to the edge of the cliff and flying off and even swimming in the sea a long way below us.
We realised we were running a bit short on time and needed to use the toilet and have our snack that we had brought with us. It was about another forty minutes across to the farm and we walked quite fast but again did stop for photos a few times.
The farm was exactly that an old farm which had fallen into disrepair. The barns have been converted into basic self catering accommodation for visitors and the volunteers stay here for a couple of weeks at a time. There is no shop, no food and no drinking water on the island so everything you need has to be brought with you and the volunteers get their provisions brought over by the little boats as it makes its way back and forth with visitors.
The pinic room was one of the farmhouse rooms with a new glass roof covering it. There were a couple of covered areas with tables and benches. In these rooms there were information notices for you to learn about the farm in its prime and the island generally as well as the animals found there.
The toilets were long drop toilets and the antibacterial gel was there for hand washing as there was no water. I am not sure I would fancy a night there and I salute the volunteers for their dedication staying there for that long. I bet it gets really cold in winter too. There is some basic cooking facility but it is basic in the extreme.
Having had our snack and used the long drop we then decided, as we wanted to be on the 3 o'clock boat to make our way back to the landing jetty. It was about twenty minutes walk from the farm to the jetty.
We were a bit early but we were not the first there. We amused ourselves by chatting to other visitors and watching the seabirds swimming and flying around. Other more expert visitors were able to name the various birds so I learned quite a lot while we were there waiting.
It just started to rain as we were queuing. I was not really very appropriately dressed as my husband and I had a slight misunderstanding re my thicker coat. I thought he had put it in the car and I added my leather coat as I thought an extra coat. It turned out to be my only coat so I was a little chilly at times despite layering up under it. I did have good walking shoes and they are certainly needed as some of the places are quite rocky and uneven. The steps onto and out of the boat can also be steep and quite slippery when wet so you do have to be quite sure footed getting on and off the little boat especially if the sea is choppy.
If you think you might like to see these lovely little puffins then check the times as I believe late May and June and the best times and they were a bit late this year. This seems to be the best time to go as you also get the bluebells and red campions in flower. The boats don't sail in winter nor if the weather in inclement so you have to check on the day which is annoying.
I absolutely loved the few hours we spent on the island and if the weather had been nicer I would have been happy to spend longer. In the rain it is less pleasant as there is virtually no shelter. You also have to take any drinks and food you might need so if you are a family you might need to carry quite a bit The only toilets are at the farm and while children might be okay squatting in the grass I think few adults would be ahappy so bear that in mind before you set off on your walk.
The first ferry over to the island is at 10am and the first back is 3pm so you need to think about how long you want to be there. Three hours went very quickly for us but children may get fed up walking and find three hours a long time. If you are a bit late in the queue for the first boat you may have another hour to wait fro the next and that time could be hard to fill
If you like seeing animals in the wild then this is a perfect place to see these lovely little birds. It isn't cheap as you have to pay for the crossing and for the landing fee which has to be paid on the boat in cash which seemed a bit odd to us as we paid for the boat ticket before getting on so the crew man collected our ticket and the landing fee. You had to keep the return ticket for the return journey though how else you might have got onto the island is a mystery to me!
Apart from the questionable safety of the boat, the weird booking system and the very limited and restricted crossing times the island is worth a visit for the puffins especially and the other birds as well and of course the wild flowers too.
I could go on for ages but I think you get the idea - a lovely little island but you do take your life in a boat to get there and back. The island gets five stars but the boat trip takes one off.
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Kingston Lacy (Dorset)
Kingston Lacy. Kingston Lacy can be found in Wimborne Minster in the lovely county of Dorset on the South Coast of England. It was the private home of the Bankes family who previously were occupants of Corfe castle prior to it being destroyed by parliamentarians. Once the castle had been destroyed they set about looking for ... somewhere to build a new house. They chose this place to build the house which was on the Lacy estate. The house was designed by Sir Roger Pratt and building commenced in 1663. It was finally finished two years later in 1665. Inigo Jones designed the interior of the house which was seen to completion by his assistant John Webb. It had been thought that the house had totally been designed by Jones but after finding all the plans from Webb it was realised that he only played a part in the interior design.
The house was updated in the 1700's and many things added to the house from around Europe. One of the Bankes spent a long time travelling around Europe doing the grand tour as it was then known, buying up art works and shipping them back to Kingston Lacy where they can be found furnishing the rooms. William Bankes actually fled England after facing charges of Homosexuality and sodomy after being caught exposing himself in Green Park. In those days had he been convicted he could have received the death penalty. He was advised to flee the country but had he done so the treasury could have taken over all his properties so in order to prevent this happening he signed over Kingston Lacy to his brothers and fled to Italy. It was from here over a period of 14 years that he obtained many objects d'art and shipped them back to Kingston Lacy. Around the house there are beautiful paintings by Van dyke, Rubens and Titian collected during the grand tour of Europe.
The house is quite a large detached country house fashioned supposedly on an Italian Palace. It looks quite beautiful from any side as you approach it from the front at the main entrance, to the sides out towards the parterre or at the rear over the beautiful lawns and park. Standing in front of the house on the lawns looking directly towards the right are the stables which are now part of the toilet facilities and cafeteria. To the left of the house are the formal parterre and gardens.
Entering the house.
The main entrance of the house is a covered porch where the visitor could arrive in a carriage and alight without getting wet. You then mount a couple of steps into a grand hall. Around the room are some antique furniture and hunting memorabilia. It looks quite impressive but also homely. Off to the right the first room is a smallish living room which looks really nice and cosy with a large fire and hearth, comfortable sofas and chairs an old wireless and very old television. This room was used by the last member of the Bankes family as his sitting room up to before he died.
After this room you mount a flight of stairs. There is a small landing with three marble statues two either side of the stair way and one Large statue of Charles I Overlooking the parterre and lawns. Turning the corner you mount brilliant marble flight of stairs taking you up to the middle floors. There are very large paintings on either side of the stair case.
The library is quite a big room and contains many historical volumes of books. On a display frame on the walls are the massive keys to Corfe Castle given to Mary Bankes following the great siege at Corfe Castle which she was forced to leave. There are large portrait paintings on the top half of the room. The library looks quite cosy although there are many pieces of furniture here in front of a large marble fire place. There is a writing desk and armchairs and a couple of globes on the far side of the room. In the centre of the ceiling there is a mural painting and to either side two panels with a light blue colour which gives the impression of it being the sky.
The pink drawing room.
The room is crammed packed with lovely furniture and looks really quite homely too. The walls are covered in Pink damask paper and are adorned with many paintings all with gilt frames. The grand Piano has pictures of Edward the VII and Queen Alexandra who visited and stayed at the house. There are tasty little ornaments dotted around the room which makes it feel homely. In a small case there is the written receipt from King Charles II acknowledging the Bankes family for a loan of £500 in order for the king to buy horses. This was a substantial amount of money in those days which nearly saw the family bankrupt.
The dining room.
In the centre of the dining room there is a round dining table all set up ready for dinner. It looks really pretty with several glasses for wine, four sets of cutlery for different courses and flowers adorning the set table. At one end of the room there is an ingrained set of words stating that the great Duke of Ormond died on this spot in his death bed. Nice dinner conversation piece! The room is surrounded with wood panelling a long with tapestries. Over the white marble fireplace there is a large octagonal painting of people on their death beds. There is also a large pipe organ on one side of the room. There are side boards which held the silver plate and from where they would be served their food from. It is a nice formal but cosy dining room.
The yellow drawing room.
This room is quite pretty in that it has a lemon theme to it including a painted ceiling. The furniture is covered in lemon coverings and the curtains are crimson. There are many pieces of art on the walls most are portraits. There are some nice pieces of furniture including smaller tables sitting on a green coloured carpet. In the centre of the room there is a massive chandelier. It may have been here where people retired after dinner for card and board games.
The grand salon.
This room is absolutely magnificent. The walls are covered with leather measuring about 3 foot by 2 foot each piece. All around the room are gilt framed paintings again most of them are portrait pictures. The ceiling is also covered in paintings that are inlaid in the guilt ceiling works. There is so much going on in this room and you will spend quite a while in here admiring the beautiful art work and paintings. . In a small case there is the written receipt from King Charles II acknowledging the Bankes family for a loan of £500 in order for the king to buy horses. This was a substantial amount of money in those days which nearly saw the family bankrupt.
The masters bedroom.
In the Masters bedroom which is fairly small compared to the other rooms sits a massive carved wooden canopied bed it looks quite comfortable and quite alluring to have popped onto for half an hours snooze. To the side is the dressing room and bathroom. It is quite a manly room with dark paintings on the wall.
We then mounted more stairs to the other bedrooms these were quite beautiful and were for the ladies of the household. The prettiest bedroom was the wife's bedroom which was kitted out it white and very pale creams with green flower stems patterned on some of the materials. It was a nice comfortable bedroom with a sofa at the foot of the bed and dressing tables and sets of drawers. There was a nice cabinet which looked as if it had been covered in finely carved ivory.
The top floor contained three bedrooms for the children. They were decorated in such a way that the wall coverings were actually cloth that draped down from the ceiling giving the room the appearance that it was a big top at the circus. It looked really nice and a great place for a child to have as his bedroom. There was also one room which was packed up for the winter months. Every piece of furniture was covered and wrapped so much so that the whole room was white. It was quite fascinating to see. The most important part of the house was the lookout at the top of the house that looked similar to a light house. This let in tons of natural light on the top floor. The only problem was that it also let tons of heat in as the sun was high above.
AS we came down the stairs we made our way to the basement floor which has been turned into a mini museum with artefacts gathered from Egypt including items from some of the tombs of the Pharaohs. He sent back little oil lamps and other such ornaments and figurines of the great Egyptians like Rameses etc. In the grounds there is a pink obelisk from 150BC weighing a couple of tons which William Bankes had shipped back to England in 1815. It took seven years to transport it back to Kingston Lacy. While being moved near the river Nile it fell into the great river whilst being transferred onto the boat. ON the sides of the obelisk there is a mixture of Greek and hieroglyphics and part of this was used in deciphering the ancient language. He was able to make out the names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra.
Most recently the last person who lived in the house was Ralph Bankes who lived as a recluse in the house. He could not really afford to maintain it in its present form and it became a bit run down. He lived the last days of his life quite frugally and left the property to the National trust when he died in 1981 along with thousands of acres of land including farms and farm houses and Corfe Castle and the grounds there. It was one of the biggest bequest ever received by the National trust.
I thought the house was beautiful. From the outside it looks massive and while some of the drawing rooms were very large it was also very homely. It did not feel too big inside so that you felt los although apparently there are 29 bedrooms there. I thought it a lovely home, grand and ostentatious but small enough to feel homely.
Leaving the house you come to the stables and laundry area which is to the right of the house. Here you will find the small cafeteria selling snacks and light meals, tea, coffee cakes etc. The queue was quite ridiculous at the far end of the hall there was the freezer containing the ice-creams but the queue was so long by time you got to the till it would have completely melted. Then the cold drink cabinets and sandwiches in the fridge style stand. There was also the possibility of having hot food although I never actually saw anyone buying hot food. Much of the food is grown in the kitchen garden and the beef sold in the restaurant is from the estate. I wish they would have separate queues, one just for drinks and one for food it would make it so much faster to be served. I should imagine in the winter the food would be cold by time you sat down to eat it.
Seating is available inside and outside. It was quite quaint in the stables as each horse stable pen had been turned into a kiosk so you could sit in them to eat your meal. It was nice and cool in there and many people were taking respite from the heat. There were no tables free inside or outside. The priced of the drinks was quite reasonable and not overly expensive compared to other places.
The gardens and Parkland.
At the rear of the house there are some beautiful gardens stretching as far as the eye can see. There are some beautiful mature trees including oaks, cedars, maples and many other varieties. The parterre to the left side of the house is quite pretty all planted up with annuals. The lawns are quite extensive. There are several park walks you can take the walk we took was through the straight at the back of the house which passed the formal lawns which were well kept, past the Obelisk and down to the Japanese gardens which were really quite pretty. We continued to walk quite some distance until we came to the kitchen gardens which are quite extensive, growing all kinds of soft fruits, salad stuff, vegetables and lots of different types of flowers. Much of the produce is used in the estate restaurant. There is a small shop here where you can buy fruit and vegetables and also a second hand book shop.
It is quite a trek back to the house which was on a gradual incline. It was on one of the hottest days and even the wind blowing in your face was hot. We did find some respite under a great big cedar tree and had something to drink. It was so hot that we were on the verge of dropping off to sleep as there was a nice coolish breeze in the shade under the tree. The grounds are really quite spectacular and really well cared for. Part of the immediate estate is grazing land and we saw sheep and cattle so remember to lock gates and not to leave any rubbish lying around.
Admission and times of opening.
The house is closed on Mondays and Tuesday's and opening times vary from 10:30 to 18:00 weekends or 11:00 to 17:00 Wednesday to Friday.
Adults £ 11.70
Family ticket £29.25.
Members of the national trust are admitted free.
Free car park.
There is a very small shop at the entrance to the grounds and house.
Is it worth a visit?
Yes I think it is a really nice little place to visit which is set in beautifully kept grounds. The inside of the house has been nicely restored by the National trust but there are still areas I noticed where there were examples of paint peeling off the walls. The house contains some really interesting curios and some very historical items. I would definitely recommend a visit both to the house and to the grounds. In each of the rooms there is a small stand with A4 Laminated sheets pointing out the different things in the rooms. The guides on duty in each room were really friendly and full of useful information and added to the experience. They were very knowledgeable and knew lots of little bits and pieces not included on the sheets. I actually thought the guides here were some of the best and most helpful I have met in some of the NT properties.
It is about 8 or 9 miles from Poole just off the B3062.
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Bodnant Gardens (Nr Colwyn Bay, Wales)
If you follow the signposts on the A55 to junction 19 a few miles south of Colwyn Bay, then you will discover one of the best gardens the British Isles has to offer. Snuggled amongst the slopes of the beautiful north Wales countryside is Bodnant Gardens. It is one of my favourite places and I usually visit several times a ... year.
The gardens are owned by the National Trust and are open to the public for most of the year except Christmas and Boxing Day. Certain areas of the garden are closed in late autumn and winter. Whenever you choose to go, however, there is always something of interest at Bodnant - whether you are a seasoned gardener who wants to browse the botanical collections or someone who just wants to admire the breath-taking beauty of the gardens and their landscape setting. There are eighty acres of fantastic trees and fabulous fauna; long winding walks and plenty of benches to stop and rest upon whilst admiring the views across the Conwy valley.
There is something to appeal to all tastes at Bodnant. In the formal Italianate style garden there is a large lily pond and a selection of roses which are lovely to walk through when in full bloom and their heady scent envelops you. In summer the trellises are covered in climbing plants and the borders are filled with lilies.
The National Trust website helpfully gives you an update on what flowers and shrubs are blooming in Bodnant so you know what to look out for. It's certainly somewhere you can take some really excellent camera shots.
Much of the garden is informal in nature. There are lots of trees and shrubs under-planted with spring flowering bulbs. These areas are also spectacular to visit in autumn as the leaves on the trees become a riot of colour. I have spent hours wandering beneath these leafy canopy's over the years and since the gardens are on the side of a valley - it makes for a good stretch of the legs in places.
The 'Dell' is my favourite part of the gardens. A river runs along the valley floor and there is a lovely waterfall by the bridge. Everything seems lush and green down there. It feels hidden away from the rest of the world. I have been there in spring, summer and autumn and always have an enjoyable walk. It feels sheltered and cool by the river with a multitude of trees rising up above you from the sides of the valley. There is a huge Sequoia tree which gives you a crick in the neck staring up into its branches.
As Bodnant is a National Trust property there are lots of events throughout the year you can attend. I like the fact that they have lots of things going on for children. This summer they are running a '50 things to do' promotion with something new to do and explore each day throughout the summer. These days with so many children so focused on technology and gaming it's good to see them getting interested in nature and roaming around outdoors. Adults can also attend special events such as a 'walk and wine evening.' It must be noted that some of these events must be booked ahead of time and there is often a small extra fee. Even dogs are allowed around Bodnant on selected dates. Check the website for details at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden.
The tearooms offer hot lunches and rolls, homemade cakes and puddings. There are also picnic benches around Bodnant's large car park which is set amongst woodland. There is a gift shop and plants for sale. The loos - as at most National Trust properties - are cleaned and maintained to a very high standard.
There is plenty to see in Bodnant to make a day of it - but should you want to move on there's plenty to do and see in the immediate area. You are a short drive away from the seaside towns of Llandudno and Colwyn Bay, The Great Orme Copper Mines at Great Orme, Llandudno; the Conwy Suspension Bridge; Penrhyn Castle in Bangor; Bodelwyddan Castle in Rhyl, Denbighshire is less than 20 miles away.
If you are not a National Trust member the standard prices are: Summer (1 March to 27 October)
Group adult: £7.35
Winter (28 October to 31 December)
Group adult: £3.95
Tal-y-Cafn, Colwyn Bay, LL28 5RE
Telephone: 01492 650460
Bodnant is a really special place to visit. I love it. Would recommend.
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Sauchen, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, AB51 7LD. Tel. Sauchen (01330) 833463. ADMISSION PRICES: castle, garden and grounds, adult £6, concession £4.50, adult group £4.80, child / Sightseeing National /school group £1, family £16.50. Garden and grounds only, adult £2, concession £1.3
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