Tag Archives: Boat Trips

The Wester Ross Coast Road and Great Wilderness

Gruinard

The Wester Ross Coast Road and Great Wilderness

This coast road is part of the Wester Ross section of the North Coast 500 (NC500) route.

For those unfamiliar with the NC500 it was a concept dreamt up by the tourism marketing people to provide some joined-up thinking to promote all areas of the North Highlands and was launched in 2015.

It was an immediate success and featured as one of the Top 5 Coastal Routes in the World by Now Travel Magazine.

Having covered the full 516 miles in stages over a period of time (most of it before the NC500 was conceived) I would have to say that some parts of the route deserve more time to cover than others, and Wester Ross warrants more time than the area around John O’ Groats for example.

The full route starts out from Inverness, crosses over to the West Coast, and then follows the road north, across the top, and back down the east coast.

The Wester Ross section includes Applecross, Torridon and Loch Maree, and the coast road to Ullapool, and here I’m covering the section between Gairloch and Loch Broom, so pack a picnic, put some Celtic music on, and join me for a leisurely drive around some fabulous coastal and mountain scenery.

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The Isle of May

Pilgrim's Haven

The Isle of May

Located in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, about 5 miles and a 45-minute boat ride from Anstruther, is the uninhabited Isle of May. I say uninhabited, but that’s not strictly true because it’s home to a fantastic collection of seabirds.

If you think that this is yet another lovely peaceful Scottish island, you’d be wrong because the first thing that will hit you when you arrive on this 1½ mile long island is the deafening noise made by around 200,000 birds.

Admittedly, it was breeding season when we came, and apart from bringing some ear plugs, I would also recommend wearing a hat, preferably a white one.

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North Berwick

North Berwick

A half-hour train journey from Waverley along the East Lothian coast will bring you to the smashing little seaside town of North Berwick.

The first time I came here I immediately fell in love with it. Little did I know at the time that it was one of the most expensive seaside towns to live in Scotland.

It doesn’t have an outward appearance of wealth or anything like that, in fact it’s quite an unassuming sort of place in many ways.

It doesn’t have much in the way of seaside attractions in the conventional sense, but more in the way of natural attractions. A conical volcanic hill known as North Berwick Law overlooks the town, its beaches and small harbour, but its location overlooking a handful of small islands in the Firth of Forth is what makes it a bit special.

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The Forth Bridge and the Firth of Forth

The Forth Bridge and the Firth of Forth

The Forth Bridge has to be one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks, and is only around 10 miles from Edinburgh city centre.

Some people refer to it as the Forth Rail Bridge in order to distinguish it from the much later Forth Road Bridge, but it was never officially called that.

Both bridges, along with the new Queensferry Crossing, span the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry in West Lothian and North Queensferry in Fife, and just in case you’re wondering, the name Queensferry originates from the ferry that was established by Queen Margaret in the 11th century, and which continued operating right up until 1964.

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From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Cardiff was less than 2,000, but the lush green valleys to the north were about to change – and so was this small town at the mouth of the River Severn.

The reason for this dramatic change was all down to the increase in demand for coal which was needed to power the Industrial Revolution – and which the valleys of South Wales had plenty of.

The Glamorgan Canal, and then the Taff Valley Railway, enabled the Black Diamonds to be transported down the valleys to the coast where places like Newport, Barry, Penarth and Cardiff all vied for the lucrative export trade.

While everyone else was working down the coal mines, there was one man that was sitting on a gold mine, – namely the 2nd Marquis of Bute. He realised early on that there was going to be money made in the iron and coal industries of South Wales, and in 1839 he built the first of Cardiff’s docks at West Bute to handle the trade.

As the docks expanded, so did the appeal to come and work here: Butetown, as the area became known, attracted immigrant workers and seafarers from all corners of the globe, and it wasn’t long before the area became known for all the wrong reasons. Although several theories have been bandied about, it’s not really known for sure why the docks and Butetown became known as Tiger Bay – but the name stuck, and just like its feline counterpart, began to earn itself a fearsome reputation. If you wanted somewhere to go and get drunk, have a fight, or meet a prostitute – or all three – Tiger Bay was the place to come.

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The Fabulous Farnes

The Fabulous Farnes

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I absolutely adore islands. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t necessarily have to include coconut palms swaying in a warm tropical breeze over a white sandy beach – which is probably just as well really because the Farne Islands are nothing like that.

There are no palm trees here; in fact, there aren’t any trees at all, and if it weren’t for the wardens who monitor the islands, there would be no humans either.

The only bodies you’ll find lying around in the sun (if it’s out) are Atlantic Seals, who are joined by thousands of sea birds who also call these islands home.

Lying just two miles off the Northumberland coast at its nearest point, the Farnes consist of fifteen islands when the tide’s in, and 28 when it’s not. Separated by the mile-wide Staple Sound, the small archipelago consists of two main groups – the Inner Farnes, and the Outer Farnes, with Crumstone lying east of the main group, and Megstone to the west.

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Boat Trip from Westminster to Greenwich

Tower Bridge

Boat Trip from Westminster to Greenwich

 

Whether it’s because I love going on boat trips or not I don’t know, but I always urge people not to leave London without seeing the city from the river.

Plenty of boats from different companies run regular trips down to Greenwich, which is not only a fantastic trip, but also a great destination. The journey down takes just over an hour, but I recommend that you allow a full day if you can – preferably a sunny one.

Your boat will start from Westminster Pier underneath Westminster Bridge and travel down past the Victoria Embankment on your port (left) side and the South Bank on the starboard (right) side. Now, before you think I’m being clever (which I’m definitely not) coming out with all theses nautical phrases I’m just trying to get you in the mood for Greenwich because this is where the National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College is located.

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The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

I can still remember seeing the joy on Ken Livingstone’s face when London won the selection to host the 2012 Olympic Games, so why wasn’t I jumping up and down for joy with him?

Call me an old cynic if you like, but the legacy of the 2004 Athens Games is a stark reminder of how emotions can change from joy to despair in such a relatively short space of time. The debt that Greece accrued for putting on the world’s greatest sports event was a heavy enough price to pay without the knowledge that the sporting venues quickly fell into disrepair as well.

I’m pretty sure that Ken wasn’t thinking about the sporting side of things when, as Mayor of London at the time, he put the bid in: in fact, I don’t think he even expected to win it. The reason behind his thinking was that the event would focus minds on giving a much-needed boost to rejuvenating a part of East London that was in desperate need of some extra cash, so I think his wide smile was for a different reason to those involved in sport.

I’m also pretty sure that the powers that be were only too aware of what happened in Athens and would have been determined that London’s legacy would be different.

With all this in mind a 500-acre site at Stratford was given the go-ahead as the home of the Olympic Park, the main venue for both the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics.

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A Hospital Fit For Heroes

A Hospital Fit For Heroes

Taking a Boat trip down to Greenwich has to be one of the best days out in London, but unless you know exactly what you want to do when you get there, it’s worth dropping into the excellent Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre first before dashing off like a headless chicken.

If you’re anything like me, a day in Greenwich will be nowhere near enough, but for the purposes of expediency, I’m going to start my virtual tour of the town at the Old Royal Naval College, which the visitor centre is part of.

Greenwich has an exceptional maritime history, and next to the visitor centre is the Old Brewery, which used to supply sailors of the Royal Hospital for Seamen with their daily allowance of 4 pints of beer, but which now serves people like you and me, and although I suggested coming to the visitor centre first, I’m also suggesting that you leave the Old Brewery bar to last – otherwise you might not end up going anywhere.

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Camden Market

Camden Market

Camden Market is the collective name given to several markets that operate in Camden Town, and is reported to be the fourth most popular attraction in London with around 250,000 visitors each week.

There are supposed to be six markets here altogether: The first one started out around 1900 in Inverness Street selling fruit and veg but by 2013 all the original stalls had vanished thanks to the influx of supermarkets. There are still some stalls here selling a few bits and pieces, but from my experience you shouldn’t feel cheated if you managed to miss it.

If you’ve arrived by tube at Camden Town Station Inverness St is over on the left-hand side of the street, but if you stay on the right-hand side you’ll see an emporium, for want of a better word, that advertises itself as Camden Market. My advice is don’t fall for it because a) it’s not the Camden Market people come here to see, and b) the merchandise is of dubious quality. The official name of this outlet is Buck Street Market.

Between the tube station and Buck St Market is the Electric Ballroom which has been a nightclub since the 1950’s but is open during the day on weekends as an extension to Buck St Market.

If you head up Camden High Street you’ll come to the Regents Canal and Camden Lock, but before we walk across the road to Camden Lock Market it’s worth mentioning that the modern development taking place down by the canalside used to be the former Canal Market which burned down in 2008. It re-opened in 2009 as Camden Lock Village but is now being developed as Hawley Wharf.

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Camden Town

Camden High Street

Camden Town

Not to be confused with the Borough of Camden, Camden Town is known for its markets, music venues and alternative cultures, it’s a place that attracts younger people with a zest for a more unorthodox style of living. If you’re into Punk, Goth. or Emo, then you’ve come to the right place.

Camden is named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden who took his title from Camden Place, his estate near Chislehurst in Kent (now part of the outer London Borough of Bromley).

Originally a part of the manor of Kentish Town, the Earl acquired the manor through marriage, and in 1791 started to change its appearance from a quiet, rural village on the road north out of London towards Hampstead, by granting leases for houses to be built.

Chalk Farm Road and Camden High Street are the main roads through Camden Town which still form part of that very same route, and at the Camden Town Tube Station junction is a pub called the World’s End, which was a rural hostelry as far back as 1690, but these days is an ideal place to go if you you’re looking to get a headache.

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The Southbank

The Queen's Walk near the National Theatre

The Southbank

The Southbank is not a defined area, but for this review it refers to the riverside area south of the river between Westminster Bridge and Lambeth’s border with Southwark at Bankside.

It may be difficult to imagine now, but this area known as Lambeth Marsh, was virtually undeveloped before the 19th century. The wet terrain was hardly a prime location for the type of development that had taken place across the other side of the river, but during the Victorian era, the shallow bank and mudflats became an asset for industries such as printing works, coal wharves, dye works and breweries, to name just a few.

The first half of the 20th century wasn’t kind to Lambeth with factories either in decline or being destroyed by WWII bombs, and so when it was suggested that a Festival of Britain would have its centrepiece here, things started to take a different direction.

The festival was supposed to be a national exhibition celebrating British achievements, but it was to become more than that. The ravages of WWII had left the country in need of a lift from austerity, and so entertainment and culture were deemed just as important as science and technology, and so various forms of entertainment were included when the festival opened on 4th May 1951.

The Southbank site was only ever going to be temporary and most of it was demolished after the festival was over five months later, but the Royal Festival Hall remained.

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Paddington Basin and Little Venice

The Horse Bridge at Little Venice

Paddington Basin and Little Venice

Paddington is well-known for its railway station, but perhaps not so well known for its canal, but things are changing.

The easiest access to the canal basin is from the far end of the station next to the Hammersmith & City (H&C) underground, but until the Waterside Regeneration project got under way there would have been no access here at all.

It was different back in the19thc though when the area would have been a hive of activity, a time when goods were transported around the country through a large network of canals. Paddington provided an ideal location for a canal terminus for several reasons, but principally because the area was flat and had easy road connections into central London.

Paddington Basin was opened in 1801 at the end of the ‘Paddington Arm’ of the Grand Union Canal, whose main line still runs for 138 miles between Birmingham and London (Brentford). There are several arms that lead off from the main line including this one which stretches for 13½ miles between Bulls Bridge at Hayes and Paddington Basin.

The coming of the railways also eventually meant the decline of the canals. Goods could be transported more cheaply by rail than by barge, but what happened to the canal system also happened to the rail network when it became cheaper to transport goods by road rather than rail, and by the 1980s Paddington was left with a desolate wasteland of a redundant canal and an obsolete goods yard.

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The Floating Harbour

The Waterfront from Narrow Quay

The Floating Harbour

Bristol’s Floating Harbour doesn’t float, so why is it called that? It takes a bit of explaining, but to understand what the Floating Harbour is will help to explain why Bristol’s maritime history was so important to the city for so long.

The port developed approximately 8 miles from the mouth of the River Avon during the 11th century, which at the time would have had the distinct advantage of being in a very sheltered location. Not only that, the River Severn has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, which meant that the fast-flowing tide could bring ships swiftly up the Severn and the Avon to the protection of Bristol’s inland harbour.

For centuries it worked well, but as the ships got bigger things became a bit more complicated. Anyone who has witnessed the ebb and flow of these rivers will know only too well how quickly the tide can go out as well as come in, and the bigger the ships became, the more often they got stuck in the mud – and there’s plenty of that here.

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Picturesque Polperro

Picturesque Polperro

If someone unfamiliar with Cornwall were to ask me to take them to a picturesque Cornish fishing village, I would have to take them to Polperro. It has everything you would expect – from a lovely harbour, narrow streets with quaint cottages, coastal walks and some great pubs to finish off with; what more could you ask for?

The only problem is that I’m not the only one who thinks it has everything, and so if you choose to come at the same time as everyone else then Polperro might not live up to expectations. I know this applies to any popular destination, but if you can come on a pleasant day out of season (preferably with an overnight stop) then you will be rewarded with a much better experience.

You can reach Polperro from Looe by a bus service that suits the company more than it does the passengers (remember everything down here operates on Cornish Mean Time), but if you have your own transport you will have to park at the top of the village near the Crumplehorn Inn where the local highwayman used to masquerade as the car park attendant. These days he’s been replaced by his metal mickey equivalent whose advanced technology doesn’t seem to stretch as far as being able to dish out any change.

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Looe Island

Looe Island from Hannafore Point

Looe island

Looe Island is just a mile offshore, but the short boat journey from the quayside at East Looe will transport you into what seems like a totally different time and place.

The island is owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and access is usually only permitted by using the authorised boat that runs from Buller’s Quay. The boat runs from Easter to September, two to three hours either side of high tide, and of course, weather conditions permitting.

The boat trip costs £7 return per adult and there’s also a landing fee of £4 per adult (July 2018).

 

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Wandering Around East Looe

The Beach at East Looe

Wandering Around East Looe

East Looe is somewhere that needs to be explored, and as such this stroll around town isn’t meant to be a definitive trail, but a guide as to what can be seen when wandering around.

With this in mind, the bridge that connects East and West Looe is still a good place to start, as it’s probably the first thing that visitors will see when entering the town for the first time, as well as being one of its most important historical features.

The first bridge to be built across the river was a wooden affair in 1411, but by 1436 a sturdier stone bridge was erected to join the two towns.

In a wall on the West Looe side of the bridge there’s a stone reminder of this bridge showing that it was repaired by the county in 1689. It sounds as though this medieval bridge was quite impressive, but of course time took its toll and the one we see today replaced it in 1853.

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Old Paignton

Kirkham House

Old Paignton

Paignton may have only really come to life when the railway arrived in 1859, but it’s actually much older than people think. There was a settlement here during Anglo-Saxon times and was even referred to as Peintone in the Domesday Book.

In those days, the area just inland from the beach was backed by sand dunes and marshland, which meant that the settlement grew up on dry land at the foot of the hills behind, but also with a separate fishing harbour under the protection of Roundham Head.

The origins of Old Paignton village are located around Palace Avenue, Church St, and Winner St, the names of which give a clue as to what was here.

Around 1050, Peintona became an episcopal manor under Bishop Leofric of Exeter, but back then it would have taken the best part of a day to get here from Exeter, and so when Bishop Osbern succeeded Leofric, he decided to build a palace to help him administer this large manor.

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The Harbour and Princess Gardens

The Inner Harbour

The Harbour and Princess Gardens

Unsurprisingly, the harbour area is the main attraction in Torquay, and comprises of an Inner and Outer Harbour.

The Inner Harbour is the main focal point and is surrounded on three sides by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality. Thanks to the pedestrian Millennium Footbridge that connects the South Pier with the Old Fish Quay, it’s possible to complete a circuit without re-tracing your steps, and underneath the bridge is a cill which allows water to remain inside the harbour regardless of the state of the tide.

During the day, seagulls permitting, wandering around the harbour makes for a pleasant pastime, and there is also the opportunity to catch the ferry over to Brixham if you fancy a different harbour to wander around.

If you’ve brought Aunt Maud with you, it’s probably best to pack her off back to the hotel before the clubbing crowd turn up, especially on weekend nights during the summer. It doesn’t seem that long ago when I would be joining them, but these days, like Aunt Maud, I find myself going home around the same time as I used to be going out.

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Topsham

Monmouth Hill

Topsham

Topsham is a village/small town on the eastern bank of the River Exe just 4 miles or so from Exeter’s city centre.

Since 1966 it has officially been part of Exeter, but its distinctive character makes it feel very different from its larger neighbour.

It started out as a Roman settlement and developed as a port which grew in importance following the construction of the weir at Countess Wear. Even with the arrival of the canal in 1566 it still prospered as trade boomed with the Dutch who came for Devon wool.

The Dutch influence can be seen all over Topsham with gable-fronted houses, some of which were built with the bricks that were used as ballast for their ships.

The port is no longer vital to Topsham’s prosperity as it has now become a desirable place to live for people who like to live near the city but not in it.

The River Exe and the surrounding marshes have an abundance of birdlife, and places like Bowling Green Marsh are protected habitats for the large flocks of waders, geese and migratory birds that also make Topsham their home.

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