Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 2

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here
 
The Brits are a nation of passionate ramblers and the Ross on Wye area is full of walks - long and short. You
Boat Inn cider stop
could do the Offa's Dyke National Trail which is 177 miles. It meanders between the Welsh/English border. Or you could try one of myriad much shorter walks. We did the Puddingstone and Pubs Walk on our first day which is a 3 mile circular hike. The guide brochure suggests you allocate 3 hours to complete
Prisk Wood on Puddingstone walk
it. It's an unbelievably beautiful route. Puddingstone is a particular granite that is gritty and hard wearing. It was made into millstones and used to mill amongst other things - apples to a pulp. The area is well known for it's ciders and there are two pubs on the walk where you can sample local ciders. I had a Black Dragon and my other half had a Hazy Daze. I also ate my body weight in blackberries which grow wild on the walk. A person can see why the Welsh have dragons and faeries in their folklore. The countryside lends itself to fantasy.

The following day we decided to explore towns in the area. We also needed to catch up on comms so found a cafe with wifi. There's not a lot for vegans or vegetarians listed on happycow.net (vegan website) so we decided to self cater from the second night on. Just because we have a limited diet does not mean there isn't good food for other people. There is a food
Angidy walk
route you can take which has artisan bakers, craft beers and ciders and organic cheeses. After lunch we set off to Symonds Yat (East) to take in views. Symonds Yat trail is only 1.4 miles which is just as well as we started late in the day. No idea what a yat is but at Symonds Yat Rock you can apparently see 7 counties! I can't say I spotted the counties but it is a wide view.

The GPS went berserk en route to the yat and took us down a steep and narrow road. So narrow we had
Tintern Abbey
to pull in BOTH side mirrors and ended up driving into someones property! They have road signs telling you to ignore GPS signals. Pity we only took notice of the signs AFTER our experience.

On our third day in the area, we checked out of hostel and set off to do Angidy River Walk and see Tintern Abbey. I don't know why I expected to see an Abbey. I guess because it wasn't described as a ruin. Which it is. Tintern is an ex abbey. Apparently King Henry VIII dissolved abbeys, priories and  monasteries between 1536 to 1541. He removed roofs, helped himself to valuables and destroyed beautiful and historical buildings. Not very nice of him if you ask me. No different from some current despots.

Angidy Trail takes in an old wire factory and meaders
Wire smelting on Angidy walk
along the River Wye. You can download walks in the area free from www.monmouthshire.gov.uk. After our walk we drove to Lea and checked into Lea House B & B. The owner was on holiday but a neighbour let us in. Not a lot to do in Lea and we didn't feel like trying to find a place to eat so we munched on snacks in room and watched telly. The owner arrived late and was stressed about lengthy delays to her flights. Unfortunately her cat had been run over and expired. She wasn't happy.

Move on to the rest of this post by clicking - here.
And read about other places we have visited by clicking on the My Holidays and Trips page.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 1

YHA Welsh Bicknor
The background to our fortnight in Gloucester was that we were booked to do a raw food (which is a NOT cooking) course there. My husband had seen Deborah Durrant at the 2013 London Vegfest and signed us up to do her hands-on Feast program. The course is expensive for South Africans. The current exchange rate is grossly unfavourable for us to say the least! But we're both passionate about wholesome food. And if it helped us in our forays into raw food, then it would be well worth it. More on the course later.
River Wye

We arrived in London and spent a few days with my husband's aunt as per usual. She's 90 and has a love/hate feeling about us coming over. She lives alone in a large 4 bed roomed house in North London. It's getting harder and harder for her. My husband has the awful job of trying to get her to accept care. His aunt loves when we're around to help with things she can no longer do. She also feels safer when we're in the house and likes that we clean and prepare food for her. Or take her out to the local pub for a meal. But she struggles to remember when we're coming and going. It startles her when we walk in the house. So we keep our stays short. The raw food course ran from Monday to Friday so we added the weekends on either side to our time in Gloucester.
Typical steep narrow road

My husband hired a car from Enterprise Car Hire. We always use them as they're the cheapest if you figure how to get the best price. (We don't get paid to say that) We usually take the smallest or second smallest car. For the fortnight it cost £360. (Excludes fuel but includes £10 per day insurance) I booked 3 nights at a YHA youth hostel in Welsh Bicknor which cost £15 per person. Includes bed linen, but not towels. You can hire towels for £2. All food is extra but at those prices it's to be expected. Supper was
Symonds Yat West
£7.50 for a main course, £3.50 for a local craft beer and £8.95 for a bottle of French wine. The food, beer and wine were all good. My husband had a Vegetable Thai Red Curry and I had a Veg Balti.

The YHA hostel in Welsh Bicknor is set in a gorgeous location amongst historical buildings right next the River Wye. It's at the bottom of a narrow steep lane that does not accommodate two-way traffic. A bit of a problem if you encounter a car as you may have to reverse backward up a narrow steep hill.
Symonds Yat Trail
That's how it is and no-one makes a fuss. We saw deer, wild birds, squirrels and rabbits - every time we went out.

I used youth hostels exclusively when I traveled Scotland with friends a few years back. Despite the name Youth Hostels, they are not exclusively for youngsters. I had only positive experiences. However we stayed at one in Brighton together earlier in the year. The first time my husband has ever stayed in a hostel. We were disappointed. (Read about that in My Holidays and Trips at the top of the page)

I gave the hostel in Brighton a bad rap and I wish I hadn't. Maybe I needed to know more about how hostels work. Not sure if it was a YHA hostel. Basically YHA are a charity. They strive to provide accommodation at rock bottom prices. Obviously funds are limited so if you want designer decor, luxe linen and gourmet food - well then give them a miss. But if you just want a place to sleep that provides the basics then youth hostels deliver.

Here's what you get -

  • friendly and helpful staff
  • bunk beds with clean linen - you pay extra for a towel
  • shared amenities - showers with hot water
  • you can self-cater or have low cost meals - I consider myself a fussy eater but I was happy
  • heating
  • local tourist information and brochures
  • some places have TV and wi-fi - some do not
  • basic furnishings - furniture and carpets can be a bit tired
  • decor is not a priority
  • some things are due for repairs like leaking taps or a lick of paint
  • affordable accommodation in key locations i.e. near to scenic walks or in cities
    Ross on Wye


Find Part 2 - on this link.

On the - My Holidays and Trips - page you can read more about other destinations we have visited.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 3

This article starts - on this link.

I said at the beginning of this feature that I had NO idea how much SANParks is investing back into
A must-do is this lady's talk about the tip of Africa
South Africa and its people. It's not only what they do but also the associations they form within areas to preserve environments and create opportunities.

The next part of our day was spent visiting Nuwejaars Wetland SMA, which is a Special Management Area. SANParks are engaging with 25 local farmers who own 45 600 ha of
Lunch at the Black Oyster catcher restaurant
land near Agulhas. The goal is to manage the environment with a social and sustainable approach to ensure the land is cared for. They help fund alien vegetation removal and reintroduce indigenous plants. Alien vegetation is a huge threat to local fynbos and unless tackled will wipe out plants that only exist in this region.

There is also a program whereby farmers allocate land to breed the almost extinct
Black Oyster Catcher wine
kwagga as well as buffalo and hippo. Read more about this initiative on the website - www.nuwejaars.com.



Lunch was hosted at the Black Oyster Catcher restaurant. We were treated to a sumptuous lunch with bottles of Black Oyster Catcher wines which are produced from locally grown grapes in Elim. Read more about them on their
SAN Parks Junior Rangers arrive on a bus
website - www.blackoystercatcher.co.za. Our lunch was a leisurely affair and we took a rain-check on a planned boat trip to Struis Baai (Ostrich Bay). The weather also conspired against us as it had been blustery since the morning. We all took advantage of the gap in the programeand once back at Agulhas National Park either went for a walk or had a rest.

Other activities to consider in the area are: -

  • hiking
  • whale watching
  • birdwatching
  • wine tasting
  • museums - Shipwreck Museum in Bredasdorp,Heritage Centre in Elim and Lighthouse Museum in L'Agulhas

By supper time we had eaten plenty good food during the day. Most of us had smaller portions. We ended up talking
Buffalo breeding initiative
about our country and it's history. Yet more interesting conversation and an early night.

Our last morning we were collected by our trusty bus driver and taken to the very tip of Africa. We all took snaps of ourselves at the actual spot which marks the tip, and then made
Southern-most tip of Africa
our way to a restaurant in Agulhas where we had a full breakfast. Bellies full and much wiser we made our way back home.

My husband and I travel a fair amount in Europe but we are always bragging about our beautiful home country. I could never refuse an opportunity to enjoy our local spaces, particularly the chance to spend time in a wild natural environment. This weekend made a big impression on me.

Apart from being able to enjoy an area of such beauty, I left feeling inspired by the genuine desire of the people at SANParks to make a
Greenie and husband at the land mark spot
difference. And the love of fellow travelers and journos for South Africa. We shared special places to visit and travel ideas and tips.

To read about other places we have visited, open the Holidays and Trips gallery at the top of this page.

More travel stories soon,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 2

Go back to the start of this blog - on this link.

Sunset from Lagoon House
We had a light lunch after the opening ceremony, then headed back to our chalets for some down-time. My husband and I were allocated a single chalet which was brand spanking new. I had to give the soap dispenser a good few pumps to get it going. The ethos of sustainability is again reflected in the chalets. They are beautifully decorated in natural materials and neutral colours. I absolutely love
Lagoon House
the smell of a thatch roof and wooden decking. Our bed was enormous with  pristine white linen. The chalets are self-catering which is particularly great for us as we are aspirant vegans. However, SANParks provided all our meals for this weekend.

SANParks charge a room rate which is typically around R900 to R1000 for two people sharing. The rates vary depending on which park you are staying. They charge a nominal rate for extra people or children. If you work out the cost per head, it's affordable. Google -
Inside Lagoon House
www.sanparks.org - and browse their site to see all the parks, check tariffs and availability. You might want to consider a Wild Card, which allows unlimited access to over 80 parks around South Africa, special offers and discounts as well as their newspaper and on-line newsletters.

You might also want to consider subscribing to the SANParks Times,
Jean Daneel WinesParks 
 a newspaper packed full of beautiful photos and news relating to conservation and  environmental issues. Contact -SANParkstimes@RNAD.co.za for more info.

Around early evening we walked to the
Jean Daneel Wine
Lagoon House for a wine tasting. Lagoon House is a historical Cape Dutch farm house that has been kept intact but refurbished. It's now an 8 sleeper unit a stone's throw from the sea. Because these chalets are in a national park you're not surrounded by concrete and noise. You have nothing more than yourself, plus a few fellow visitors, and the environment as God intended. Peace. Bliss.

A vintner from nearby Napier was given an opportunity to present his wines with cheese and biscuits. We were able to ask questions and sample 5 wines including a 5-star
Turquoise lagoon
wooded Chenin Blanc. Apparently it takes around 1kg grapes for him to make a 750ml bottle of wine. Grapes vary in size, wine grapes are usually smaller than eating grapes. The alcohol content of a wine is largely affected by the region it grows - hotter weather increases the alcohol percentage. Find his wines at www.jdwines.co.za.

Breakfast fruit pancakes
I was impressed that SANParks are forging relationships with locals. Not only was the vintner given a chance to showcase his handiwork, but another local lady made our meals for the weekend. We ate well. Very well. After a lovely supper and chatting to other media folk and SANParks staff, my other half and I left to walk along a white gravel road - under a full moon - back to our chalet. With no development for miles around the Agulhas National Park, the moon was brighter than I have ever seen her before. We slept like babies in the big bed with the sound of the waves rolling softly in the background.

The following morning we walked back to
Fruit piled onto home made pancakes
Lagoon House for breakfast taking in a few snaps of the turquoise blue lagoon en-route. Brekka was another sumptuous affair. Fruit  piled high on delicious pancakes. My husband and I got a special veggie breakfast with yummy mushrooms. I'm not sure if it was the common interests of the group or if we just had a great group of people. The conversation was always interesting and everyone had something to say - that was worth hearing.

After breakfast we all piled into the bus and drove to the landmark L'Agulhas lighthouse. I regret to say I didn't climb the 71 steps to the
L'Agulhas lighthouse
top and gaze out at the dividing line - 20'E meridian -  where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. I'm scared of heights but my husband ventured up. A delightful local lady gave a talk on when the lighthouse was completed - 1848 - and more about shipwrecks, past occupants, and to quote our lady guide when she ran out of words - blah, blah, blah. I loved how she captured the gist of L'Agulhas as the very tip of Africa. Behind is the rest of Africa, ahead is Antarctica.

We saw a bus which had brought Junior Rangers to the area. This is yet another SAN Parks initiative whereby teenagers visit various national parks. They are taught about local flora and fauna as well orienteering skills. A bit like girl guides or boy scouts. They have regular meetings and graduation programmes.

Part 3 - is on this link.

More on other travels on - Holidays and Trips - which you find at the top of this page.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Agulhas National Park - South Africa - Part 1

My decision to start a travel blog in 2010 has landed us a few perks. The most recent, was an invite
Our bus
by SANParks to stay at the brand new chalets at Agulhas National Park which is the southern-most tip of Africa. The meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.

I am unashamedly boastful of our beautiful country and have stayed in various Parks Board accommodations going back to my childhood. South Africa has such diverse countryside. Kwa-Zulu Natal has lush tropical terrain, the Karoo is beautifully bleak and
New chalets Agulhas National Park
silent, the Cape has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and white soft sandy beaches and The Drakensberg (Dragons Mountains) has snow-capped mountain peaks. SANParks have affordable places to stay all over South Africa. I could go on and on but this post is about our weekend break at Agulhas.

My laptop accompanies us whenever we travel and I try to write as quickly as possible at the end of a day so I can capture pertinent aspects of a place and key things like prices or distances while they are still fresh in my mind. I'm used to writing about a place as a visitor. This trip was very different as not only was I
Agulhas now has 51 eco chalets
privy to background info but I also got to meet an incredible group of people who work hard to create an awareness of what SANParks are trying to achieve. I was more than impressed.

Although I was given an itinerary, I still wasn't entirely sure what to expect. We were offered a lift to the park - about 2.5 hours from Cape Town which we happily accepted. My other half and I took the MyCiti bus from our home in Green Point to the Kloof Nek bus stop
Mayor, park manager and SAN Parks GM cutting the ribbon
near Table Mountain and walked a short distance to the SANParks Visitor Centre. We joined SANParks staff as well as other media folk and traveled to the Agulhas National Park.

Our group arrived for the launch of the new chalets. We listened to speeches from Reynold Thakhuli the SANParks Media, Events and Stakeholders Relations person, Bulelwa Msengi the park manager as well as the local mayor and Antoinette Van Wyk the GM of Infrastructure and Special Projects. After the talks we watched the mayor and park manager perform a ribbon cutting ceremony. It was interesting to learn that the park has grown from a meagre 4 ha to over 20 000 ha of now
Bathroom
unspoilt land. The project to develop this area is ongoing and SANParks have their own projects as well as co-operative ones such as the Flower Valley Conservation Trust.

Agulhas National Park is home to around 2000 plant species as well as now recovering Southern Right Whales, rare birds such as the Black Oyster Catcher, insects and a rich variety of indigenous marine and terrestrial life. SAN Parks focus is to improve tourism, create job opportunities and ensure there are protected areas of natural beauty for indigenous plants and wildlife. They buy land, return it to its
Bedroom
natural state and reintroduce local plants and wildlife. They skill up local residents when building camp sites and create long term employment via tourism. Agulhas received an allocation of R90 million of which they have already spent R45 million. It's wonderful to hear of a government department that works well in South Africa.

And the good news continued. We heard of plans to create more accommodation in the perpetually full Kruger National Park. A person has to book way in advance to get in - but it's worth the wait. Kruger is a magnificent place. I was able to chat about how they are tackling the rhino poaching problem. We only ever hear the huge numbers of rhino that have
Living area
been lost and the situation feels hopeless. But the war is on and SANParks are committed to getting on top of the the poaching no matter what it takes. SANParks now have recently trained sniffer dogs to accompany soldiers who spend up to 3 days at a time staking out the bush.

Read part 2 - by clicking here.

Read about our travels in various parts of the world by scrolling to the top of this page and finding - Holidays and Trips.