Sandwiched between Loch Torridon and Loch Maree is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Scotland.
The Torridon Hills may not make it onto the list of the world’s highest mountains, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they rise up virtually from sea level to over 3,000ft, and as far as I’m concerned that makes them mountains rather than hills.
Overlooking the tiny village of Torridon are three mountains that form the bulk of the high landscape – Beinn Alligin (3,230ft), Liathach (3,456ft), and Beinn Eighe (3,310ft), all of which are a magnet for climbers. Not being a climber myself, I can only imagine what the views must be like for those that are.
Just as it’s impossible to see the whole of Kew Gardens in one visit, the same thing applies to writing about it, and so I’ve decided to begin with an overview of how the gardens evolved and the main areas of interest.
To give you an indication of the magnitude of the place, it boasts that it has the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological (fungi) collections in the world” with more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, an Herbarium with over 7 million specimens, a library with 750,000 books, and more than 175,000 prints and drawings. To that you can add five Grade I listed buildings, and (including its sister botanical garden at Wakehurst in West Sussex) currently employs around 800 staff. It even has its own police force. No wonder it’s on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Salisbury lies in the valley of the Hampshire Avon, and this chalk river, along with its tributaries – The Nadder, Ebble, Wylye, and Bourne – is what helps to give this ‘City in the Countryside’ its character.
A walk through Queen Elizabeth Gardens and along the Town Path down through the Water Meadows to Harnham is a must if you want to get an even better overall feel for this beguiling city.
This is another short, comfortable walk and suitable for anyone and everyone including families with pushchairs – just watch out for cyclists along the Town Path though.
Start your walk at Crane Bridge in Crane St and walk alongside the river down to where the Avon and Nadder meet. Then follow the Nadder around through the park until you come to a footbridge. Walk over the bridge and keep left until you come to the start of the Town Path. Continue reading →
We’re now at that time of year when everyone, it seems, is travelling around – everyone, that is, except me.
I’m not a great one for heading off into the summer traffic, but for anyone who has little choice, and prefers somewhere peaceful, perhaps St. Nectan’s Glen may just be the place for you.
Many people travel down to Cornwall for a summer break, and quite a few beat a path to Tintagel. It’s easy to see why; it has a magnificent coastline and a castle that lures people who have a fascination for King Arthur.
The town is a bit too touristy for my liking, but just a 5 minute drive out of town along the road to Boscastle is a car park where you can leave the car behind, and head up through St. Nectan’s Glen to somewhere that is so magical that it could easily be home to Merlin himself.
From Newquay Harbour the town has spread inland and along the coastline northwards, but the River Gannel has at least contained the expansion southwards.
On the opposite side of the river is the small and attractive village of Crantock, which because of its access to the nearby beach can become busy at peak times, but the good news for people who enjoy a more natural environment is that the National Trust (NT) has been able to purchase significant parts of the estuary and southern coastline, including the headland at West Pentire.
Whilst many are drawn to the beach at Crantock, some venture a bit further along the minor road to West Pentire where the Bowgie Inn offers some exceptional views from its pub garden and access to an easy wander around the peninsula.
The views take in the Gannel and the headland of Pentire Point East opposite, and it might not come as any great surprise to learn that the mouth of the estuary has another headland on the West Pentire side called Pentire Point West.
In 1929 some amateur Porthcurno drama enthusiasts put on a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a local field. It turned out to be a great success and a couple of years later they wanted to try again with The Tempest.
Obviously, a field wasn’t the best venue for a drama company to perform, but one of the production team was a lady called Rowena Cade who lived in Minack House at Minack Point.
Minack is Cornish for ‘Rocky Place’, and this indomitable lady, along with her gardener Billy Rawlings, set about transforming the rocks below her garden into an open-air amphitheatre right on the edge of the cliffs.
During the winter of 1931/32 they moved granite boulders and earth to create a stage and terraces. What’s even more remarkable is that the steps, walkways, seats and pillars were all made out of concrete made with sand from the beach below. Why I say ‘remarkable’ is because anybody who has ever walked up or down the cliff from Minack to the beach will know how steep a climb it is – and yet this lady did this day in and day out carrying buckets of sand to create this quite unbelievable place – and in August 1932 The Tempest was performed at the Minack.
The Outdoor Biome has everything from plants that make beer, dyes, medicines, food and fuel, to sculptures and things to amuse the kids. Covering over 20 acres, it’s not about what there is to see, but more about what you’re going to have to leave out.
As with the other two biomes, the outdoor gardens are not about how pretty they can look, but more about how plants are used to create things and make our world the place it is.
Consequently, the time you spend here will depend on how interested you are in all the different ways plants are used. As a guideline, Eden suggests that you’ll probably need a couple of hours here, but it’s probably likely that it’ll depend more on your own personal timetable and what interests you the most.
It’s pointless trying to explain everything that the Outdoor Biome covers because there is so much. It’s one of those places that the more you look, the more you see. I’ve been here several times and at different times of the year and I still find it difficult to take everything in. It might not appear like that at first glance, but believe me, there’s been a lot of thought that’s gone into this place – and it’s ongoing – funds permitting.
The good thing about the Mediterranean Biome is that it’s nowhere near as humid as the Rainforest Biome and much more comfortable to wander around. It’s not as big either and you won’t need any longer than about an hour in here.
Although it’s called the Mediterranean Biome there’s also a couple of areas representing South Africa and California, but it’s the Mediterranean feel that prevails. Olive trees, citrus fruits and vines are the order of the day as well as more colourful plants associated with a warm temperate climate.
Whereas the Rainforest was a challenge, this is a delight, and you almost feel as though you’re on holiday in Spain or Greece.
When you’ve taken in all the sights and smells why not stop for lunch at the Med Terrace Restaurant. I reckon you’d be hard pushed to resist the paella cooking away and it’s a great place to take a break. The food’s lovely and all based on Mediterranean ingredients, although whether you can call pizzas a part of a Mediterranean Diet, I’m not sure.
When you go into the Rainforest Biome there’s one thing you need to take with you – a drink – and one thing that you don’t – your coat.
There’s a place you can hang your coat nearby (but not bags) and there are several places you can get a drink. Whether you take my advice or not you’ll probably still come back out feeling as though you’ve just been in a sauna, so it’s no co-incidence that there’s an ice-cream parlour near the exit. The good people at Eden maybe ethical – but they’re not stupid either.
It’s a simple question with a not so simple answer, so the best thing to do is quote the official guidebook. It describes itself as “An educational charity that creates gardens, exhibitions, art, events, experiences and projects that explore how people can work together and with nature to change things for the better”.
To put it even more simply the concept is about trying to educate people to use our planet in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way – so how did this project materialise?
The answer to this question is somewhat easier. Although other people were involved, the whole idea was the vision of one man – Tim Smit, or Sir Tim Smit, as he is now officially known. This remarkable man gained notoriety after helping to bring the nearby ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ back to life in the 1990s.
At Eden his idea was for a millennium project to turn a disused former clay pit at Bodelva into something that nobody had ever seen before. This 60m deep sided clay pit with no soil and 15 m below the water table was to be transformed into life by creating giant conservatories, or biomes as they are now called, full of exotic plants planted in 83,000 tons of soil made from re-cycled waste and watered by natural rainfall.
The tradition of making a garland for the Tudor Hall at Cotehele House only started in the 1950s, but has since become a firm annual favourite at Christmastime.
People come from miles around to see this 18 metre (60 foot) long decoration that starts its life in the Cut Flower Garden at Cotehele. The seeds are sown in February, the flowers cut in the summer, and then hung in the potting shed to dry until the Autumn.
The aim is to get around 30,000 stems, but it will depend on the conditions which can vary from year to year.
In early November a 12mm diameter rope is laid out on the floor where bunches of evergreen pittosporum are attached and then hoisted up to the ceiling where it is hung in swags.
The flowers are then cut, sorted, and placed individually amongst the evergreen.
Apparently, the process from planting the seeds to the last flower being attached involves staff and volunteers working an equivalent number of hours to one full time employee a year.
The garland is usually on display from around the middle of November until the 12th night (Jan 6th), except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
If the house is worth taking a look at, then the gardens of Coleton Fishacre are even more so. These gardens are my favourite in this part of the world, not only because they’re appealing and well designed, but their proximity to the sea makes them even more enchanting.
You would need a good couple of hours to do these gardens justice, and even then you wouldn’t see everything, so I’m going to highlight the things you shouldn’t miss.
There are a few routes that can be taken but I’m going to suggest taking the most obvious one that follows the stream down through the valley to the cliffs above Pudcombe Cove.
There is a wheelchair/pushchair friendly path that follows the stream downhill, but remember that going down also means that you have to come back up, and if mobility is a problem then it’s probably best to return the same way, as the other alternative routes aren’t quite so easy to negotiate.
The main path starts from outside the house but don’t miss the Seemly Terrace and Rill Garden. If you follow this route it joins up with the main path anyway a bit further on. Humidity is high in this 30 acre garden which is ideal for moisture loving plants, and as you continue down through the valley luxurious ferns and Gunnera soon come into view.
At the bottom of the valley there is a gate which leads out onto the coast path above Pudcombe Cove which is as far as the gardens go.
It’s possible to walk the whole of this route, but it’s not a circular trail and includes a certain amount of road walking, so driving to each point of interest is an option definitely worth considering.
Between Meadfoot Beach and Babbacombe is one of Torquay’s most exclusive areas. Centred on Thatcher Avenue, the area is known locally as Millionaire’s Row, but you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy what is arguably the most interesting part of the Torquay coastline.
This area of Torbay is as good as anywhere to understand why the English Riviera was given status as a UNESCO Global Geopark, one of only seven locations in the UK.
The best place to begin discovering what all this means is Kent’s Cavern, but as I’ll be writing a separate post about it, I’ll just give a brief explanation as to why the area was deemed important enough to be added to the list.
Anyone who read my post Golden Cap and Fossil Hunting at Charmouth will be well aware that the Jurassic Coast is a great place to study geology and early life on earth, but the rocks around Torbay are much older.
The Jurassic Coast covers rocks formed over a period from 65 to 250 million years ago, but the geology around Torbay covers a period from 360 to 419 million years ago – give or take a few million years.
This different time period was discovered by geologists Adam Sedgwick and Roderick Murchison and endorsed by William Lonsdale, another geologist, who recognised that coral fossils found along the Torquay coastline were from the same era.
Although there was a lot of debate at the time, by 1840 it was generally agreed that there was indeed a new geological era between the already recognised Carboniferous and Silurian periods. Due to the studies made here this new era became known as the Devonian Period.
Visitors to Torquay have probably come to enjoy the sea air as much as anything, and a short walk from Torre Abbey through Abbey Park will bring you to the seafront and Torre Abbey Sands.
Abbey Park lies in front of the Riviera Centre and has some low-key sporting facilities such as tennis and crazy golf if you like that sort of thing, but the gardens, with their sub-tropical plants and water features are what I like, and in particular, the Italian Garden which is a riot of colour during the summer.
If you’re not in any rush to get the sand between your toes, you might also want to check out the One World Café and Bistro which is the ideal place for doing absolutely nothing for an hour or so.