Staycations are here to stay! As, with the vast majority of UK holidaymakers this last summer, we opted to stay closer to home and embarked on a Scottish staycation. This year we prepped early, not wanting to fall into the trap of waiting, only to find that everywhere was booked solid. So, armed with the idea of touring the West Coast of Scotland by train (thanks for the inspiration, Great British Railway Journey’s) I set about planning some ideas for a week-long adventure…more to come on the full itinerary!
As our trip started and finished in Glasgow, we opted for the 5* Hotel Du Vin in Glasgow’s West End as a base for our final few days in bonnie Scotland.
Getting to Hotel Du Vin
Hotel Du Vin is situated in Glasgow’s fashionable West End. It’s not far from the Botanical Gardens, Kelvin Grove Park and Kelvin Grove Art Gallery and Museum. Hotel Du Vin is also situated only 30 minutes from Loch Lomond.
If you are arriving by train at Glasgow Central Station, there is a plentiful supply of taxis from the station. The ride is approximately 10 minutes and should cost around £10. If you arrive at Glasgow Queen Street train station the journey is about 10-15 minutes and should cost between £12-£15. Taxis are an easy option particularly if you have luggage.
If you’re not weighed down with baggage, the walk from either main train station is just under an hour. Or you can jump on the number 15 bus from West Nile Street only a 4-minute walk from Glasgow Queen Street Station. The bus route will take you about 22 minutes to Glasgow Nuffield Hospital which is a 1-minute walk to Hotel Du Vin.
Finally, if you are flying into Glasgow Airport your easiest option is a taxi from the airport. The journey should take around 15 minutes and cost in the region of £20-£25.
As Scotland was still a few weeks behind England, in its relaxing of COVID restrictions it was the familiar routine of, hand sanitiser on entry, masks and a 1 person check-in. However, once the COVID formalities were taken care of, Hotel Du Vin makes quite the first impression. Stretching five Victorian townhouses the hotel certainly delivers classical grandeur with a modern interior twist.
Original Victorian tiles still welcome you on entry. Original doors, staircases, stained glass windows cornicing and ceiling roses made a striking impression as we found our way through the stately labyrinth to our room.
Spanning five Victorian townhouses Glasgow’s Hotel Du Vin has forty-nine rooms and suites to all suit a range of budgets. The rooms all boast Egyptian Cotton linen, sumptuous deep baths, hand sprung mattresses, a Nespresso machine complete with pods, L’Occitane toiletries and a plasma TV. Each room is furnished and decorated in the signature Hotel Du Vin style. Stylish contemporary furniture, a beautiful fusion of Scandi/Art Deco, colourful accents, quirky art and wallpaper.
Based on these credentials it’s not possible to make a poor room choice here.
We were travelling with my parents, who happen to have a membership with Hotel Du Vin. Cue an unexpected room upgrade for one of the rooms on our arrival. My husband and I took the Classic Room, and my parents had a Junior Suite.
The Classic Room treated us to a king-sized bed, free-standing bath and excellent shower. Our room was situated at the very top of house 5. As we were right at the top of house 5 our room didn’t have the most interesting of outlooks, simply a view over the back courtyards of the surrounding properties. However, as the hotel was merely a kicking off point, we weren’t too fussed about the outlook.
The Junior Suite was located in house 3. The room boasted a super king–sized bed, bath with a monsoon shower over the bath. Separate showers are available in some of the Junior Suites. If this is your preference then it would be worth checking when you book. The Junior Suite also had a lounge area with a lovely view out over the front of the hotel.
Food & Drink
Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t allow for much dining in the hotel as I opted instead to book and explore some of Glasgow’s other fine restaurants. However, we did secure a table for lunch on arrival and spent some time in the bar before we headed out for an evening. Our booking also included breakfast.
Breakfast: The range of breakfast options was excellent. Cooked breakfast, toast, cereal, croissants, eggs, porridge. You name it the kitchen was happy to oblige. I can thoroughly recommend the porridge with red berry compote, the perfect start to a long day exploring.
Lunch/Dinner: Lunch options were many and various. Soups, sandwiches, scones, light bites or a full Sunday roast. The dinner menus are carefully crafted by Head, Chef Gary Townsend. The dishes are a classic mix of seasonal ingredients and local produce. There was something to suit all tastes, levels of hunger and dietary requirements.
Drinks: Hotel Du Vin offers a wide range of beverage choices. There is an extensive cocktail and wine list with enough choice to warrant more than 1 pre-dinner drink! I can thoroughly recommend the Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin Goblet…delicious! So much more than a standard G ‘n’ T.
COVID 19 Response
As with all travel in the current climate, it is important to outline what the hotel has put in place to ensure the safety and comfort of its guests. It is important to note the wearing of face coverings in Scotland is currently necessary unless you have a medical exemption. As such, face coverings were required in all communal parts of the hotel. Once you were sat down with drinks or food of course these could be removed.
Sanitising & Social Distancing:Throughout the hotel, there were sanitising stations and signage encouraging you to use them and reminding guests of the importance of maintaining social distancing. After the checking in the staff talked us through the one-way system in operation throughout the communal areas of the hotel. As a Grade Two listed series of Victorian terraces, the hotel had plenty of space to achieve social distancing. Despite the hotel being fairly full, it was comforting to find everyone was respectful and mindful of each other.
Your room: Aside from no turndown service there wasn’t any great change to how your room was cared for or your use of it. In the room, there was a comprehensive two-sided document outlining everything the hotel is doing to ensure the safety of the guests. The main thing you needed to do as a guest was to ensure you hung the green service sign on your door each morning. Without the sign, the cleaning staff would not enter your room. Again, this measure ensures a minimal number of people accessing your room, thus reducing risk.
As a base for city exploration and kicking off point for easy access to the West Coast, Glasgow’s Hotel Du Vin was a brilliant option. We thoroughly enjoyed the luxurious comfort it offered at the end of a long day of exploring. I can safely say that if I find myself north of the border in the future, I will certainly consider Hotel Du Vin as an option.
Travel within the UK and supporting our hospitality sector continues to be incredibly important. With the Omicron variant rampaging across the country, we must strive to do all we can within the restrictions to support our local travel agents, business, hotels, guesthouses and b n b’s. It is only with our trust and investment that the hospitality and travel sector can emerge from under the COVID cloud and look to a brighter future.
At the moment I feel as though I am channeling my inner Bilbo Baggins. This long-term literary hero of mine springs to mind when I consider our current emergence from lockdown. I find myself stuck in a perpetual cycle of longing for travel and adventure. I know freedom is waiting just outside my front gate, particularly with Boris’ road map out of lockdown tantalisingly close to full fruition, bring on the 17th of May; but I am simultaneously desperate for a semi-permanent state of Hobbit approved hibernation. So, in the spirit of looking forward to travelling freedom here are fifteen must-visit UK destinations for your summer staycation.
The Scottish Munros are a list of mountains named after Sir Hugh T Munro who set about cataloguing them in the late 1800s. The mountains were classified as Munros if they were over 3000 feet high. Munro bagging is the challenge to climb as many of the peaks as possible. The Munros are scattered across Scotland and are a great way for you to see Scotland’s fabulous scenery or for the more spirited adventurer, Munro bagging will push you to explore some of the more far-flung reaches of the Scottish mainland and Islands. So why not plan a Scottish walking break and bag some of these majestic peaks. If you’re up for a challenge why not snag all 282 in 39 days 9 hours and 6 minutes, the current record – can you beat it?
In my opinion, few English cities can compete with the splendid tapestry of history and literary genius that is Oxford. Some of my favourite stories, worlds and characters have been crafted from this magnificent city. Why not explore the city on foot with a literary walking tour, tours run by Oxford Walking Tours depart 6 days a week from Carfax Tower. Booking is needed. Therefore, whether you want to dive into Chaucer, Tolkien or even the mystical world of the All Souls trilogy; I would get your spot secured for an afternoon of fictional wonder.
A walking tour is the start of the bookish delights on offer in Oxford. If your schedule allows I would recommend a tour of the Bodleian Libraries. For a £12 fee, you can secure a private 60-minute tour of the Divinity School (location used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone & The Goblet of Fire), Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s Library.
After all of that walking, why not drop into Blackwell’s Book shop on Broad Street. The smell and calm of a bookshop are a feeling like nothing else. Take a stroll into the Norrington Room, Europe’s largest room devoted to selling books… Not a bad claim to fame!
Finally, top off your day in Oxford with a cold beverage at the Eagle and Child on St Giles Street. This infamous watering hole was home to the Inklings Literary Group who met here from 1933 to the 1960s. Amongst their many esteemed members were Tolkien & C.S Lewis. So, grab a pint and your pen and let this inspirational city work its magic.
Yorkshire 3 peaks
Most walking enthusiasts will have heard of the Three Peaks challenge but like most things Yorkshire has its version and any Northerner will probably inform you it’s a far more superior challenge. The Yorkshire three peaks comprise of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside & Ingleborough. The challenge is to navigate and summit all three peaks in under 12 hours. A gruelling task and not one for the complete novice walker, that being said it is a significant physical and mental test and an excellent warm-up for the main Three Peaks Challenge. The entire route is 24 miles and walkers typically start with Pen-y-Ghent before tackling Whernside and finishing with Ingleborough.
Even if the 12-hour marker isn’t on your bucket list tackling these three peaks is well worth it, as individually they are accessible for all regardless of hiking experience. From the cavernous depths of the Hunt and Hull pots on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent to the highest point in Yorkshire on the Whernside summit and the gorgeous limestone scenery and caves of Ingleborough the Yorkshire three peaks are spectacular, however, you choose to conquer them.
West coast of Ireland road trip
Having family from the west coast of Ireland and seeing snippets of the Wild Atlantic Way on the TV recently I have a burgeoning desire to jump in the car and discover Ireland’s infamous west coast for myself.
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches from County Donegal in the North through to County Cork in the South. The vast 2,600km route encapsulates rugged peninsulas, gently rolling countryside and wind-battered cliffs. With the untameable Atlantic and spectacular views in all directions, it’s not hard to see why this stretch of the Irish coast is getting a lot of attention.
It’s worth considering when to visit as the Irish weather can be unpredictable. Any time between June and September, even early October should give you the optimal chance of experiencing this coastline at its best.
Although Ireland is a small island, it’s worth taking your time on this epic road trip to get the full experience. However, if time is limited then check out these fifteen discovery points for the abbreviated highlights of the journey.
Created in a time of myth and legend by the giant Finn McCool, who tore the Antrim coast to bits to create a path to Scotland to deal with the pesky Scottish giant Benadonner; the Giants causeway is a breath-taking natural basalt rock formation. Over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns litter the coastal path, piercing the foamy sea.
The Giants Causeway visitor experience is run by the National Trust. There are three trails that you can take, each providing a different perspective of the causeway. In addition to the famous pavement, there are some other key sights to take in on your visit. Be sure to check out the Giants Boot, the Wishing Chair, the Camel, Clifftop trails and the visitor centre.
When this fabulous landmark re-opens to the public booking will be essential. Adult tickets are £13, children £6.50 and a family ticket £32.
Full information regarding opening, booking and tickets can be found by following the link below.
If you like your day trips historically bloodthirsty with a side of tea and cake then the city of York does both of these things splendidly. Following a long period of Roman occupation York became Jorvik. York was the capital of Viking territory, and the city truly is a window to the past. I would recommend a trip to the Jorvik centre which provides an unprecedented look at the Viking society which thrived in the city from 866AD.
York is a city firmly rooted in its history, after sampling the Viking delights I would recommend a walk down the shambles and around the castle to soak up the city’s medieval and Roman offerings. After all that history, I would say it’s time to experience the Yorkshire institution that is Bettys tea room.
Located on St Helens Square the York Bettys has been dazzling the patrons with superior hot beverages and delectable patisserie since 1936. However, Betty’s is no secret and there is often a queue for the unprepared visitor. If like me a brew and cake is the highlight of your day trip I would make a reservation. Alternatively, you can check out the smaller Bettys tea room around the corner at 46 Stonegate.
Like many Harry Potter enthusiasts, I go a little bit doe-eyed at the infamous sight of the Glen Finnian viaduct. This stunning stretch of the railway is part of the West Highland Line, Glasgow to Mallaig. The line also runs from Glasgow to Oban or Glasgow to Fort William.
Considered by many to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world a trip down these tracks is assuredly a UK bucket list must. As the trains depart Glasgow you are whisked away from the city and carried north along the coast. On your journey, you’ll take in deep loch’s, heather strewn moorland, mountains and the expansive wilderness of the highlands.
To experience this remarkable train journey to its full I would be tempted to initially take the line to Oban, spend a few days exploring the islands of Mull and Iona before heading back to Glasgow to take on the remote and wild route to Mallaig.
This is something I’m so keen to try, despite all my feelings about being immersed in cold water, I’m very much of the opinion that ‘it’s alright once you’re in.’ Across the UK there are some fabulous secluded wild swimming spots from the lake district to Wales and Cornwall.
If wild swimming is going to make an appearance on your summer staycation to-do list then make sure to check the current, depth, temperature and always swim with a companion, just in case of trouble.
Burgh Island, where all your murder mystery, art deco dreams come true. Burgh Island not only hosts a beacon of Art deco design with its hotel but it was the inspirational location of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ & ‘Evil Under the Sun.’ If you fancy a weekend that casts you back to the gloriously glamorous 1930s then Burgh Island is a must.
Situated on a tidal island and accessed by sea tractor Burgh Island Hotel hosts a myriad of chilled weekend activities. From a dip in the Mermaid pool to tennis and paddle boarding, there are even fishing experiences to be had at this truly one-off hotel. Whatever takes your fancy during the day, your evening should start with donning your black tie and tassels and sipping cocktails at the Palm Court before tucking into some exquisite fine dining in the ballroom.
Britain’s favourite walk: Helvellyn
Like many people during lockdown, my weekend mornings have been accompanied by Julia Bradbury and her wonderful walking programmes. Whilst I was cooped up at home Julia has been filling my head with possibilities and a taste for the great outdoors. Walking has never been so popular! As a permitted activity for exercise, many of us have taken to our local footpaths to explore our surroundings in a new way. So, what better way to develop a newfound love of walking than with Britain’s favourite walk as voted for by the Great British Public.
Helvellyn in Cumbria is the Lake District’s third-highest peak. There are various routes to conquer the summit including the infamous Striding Edge, involving a narrow ridge scramble to the top. Other slightly less daring routes to the summit are available too with the easiest route beginning from Thirlmere. The average hike up Helvellyn should take around three hours for someone with a good level of fitness.
As with any hike make sure you are prepared; check the weather forecast and pack water, snacks, map, compass and appropriate footwear. The scree in some parts of the route will require a sufficient amount of grip!
Beneath the well-trodden pavements of London lies an entire network of subterranean gems. The available history beneath the capital’s streets is staggering. From the well-known Churchill War Rooms to the slightly more well-guarded secrets of the Vaults Waterloo or the Chancery Lane silver vaults.
I would set aside a whole weekend to explore subterranean London. I’d kick off proceedings with a few G n’ Ts at the Viaduct Tavern, Holborn. Lurking in the Gin Palace cellars are the former cells of Newgate Prison. If it’s a quiet evening staff are happy to give you a sneak peek. https://www.viaducttavern.co.uk/
Saturday morning, I would head to the Churchill War Rooms. Located near St James’ Park and Westminster tube station the war rooms remained a London secret until the 1980s. Now a glorious step back in time to wartime London you can see the Cabinet War Rooms: Map Room, Churchill’s bedroom & Cabinet Room, Churchill’s Bunker and the Churchill Museum. Upon reopening in May 2021, booking will be essential.
After a morning steeped in wartime history, I would slow things down and take a step back, back to Roman Britain. Nestled deep in the ground beneath the Bloomberg building is the Roman temple of Mithras. The temple and artefacts date back to an intriguing and mystical Roman cult from AD 240. https://www.londonmithraeum.com/temple-of-mithras/
Finally, I would top off your foray into subterranean London with a trip down the Mail Rail. The Mail Rail takes you back beneath London’s streets through the original platforms and stations revealing the unseen 100-year-old story of our post.
St Michaels Mount
Emerging from the sea, this tidal island on the Cornish coast sits proudly as a beacon for adventure. St Michaels Mount is steeped in myth and legend, from Cormoran the giant to the irresistible lure of mermaids. From an ancient monastery to a battle-torn castle there is something to interest all enquiring minds. Now in the custody of the National Trust, the island day trips to the island are easily planned.
If you time your trip with the tide, it is possible to walk across the causeway from the mainland. If you don’t fancy the walk, you can always travel by amphibious vehicle…which I imagine is as fun to travel by as the word is to say.
Fish & Chips with Dracula
The Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby has always been hauntingly beautiful. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea is the infamous Whitby Abbey. The gothic abbey, the inspiration for Bram Stokers Dracula. Nowadays the Abby ruins, cobbled coastal streets and quirky shops are a lure for lovers of the gothic culture. This is particularly celebrated at the Whitby Goth Weekend, hosted annually at the end of October.
Fear not, if the gothic subculture isn’t your cup of tea then Whitby has a lot more to offer. Whitby has been a fresh fish hot spot for decades so if freshly caught cod and chips with mushy peas sounds like more you’re thing then Whitby’s’ got you covered. Grab a Yorkshire meal deal (Cod, chips, one side and a drink) for £7.75 from Hadley’s on Bridge street find a bench with gorgeous sea views and tuck in.
This one is not for the faint-hearted! Deep in the depths of the abandoned Llechwedd Slate Caverns lurks an enormous subterranean neon playground. Bounce Below consists of over 10,000 square feet of nets with three ginormous trampolines suspended on three different levels. The trampolines are connected by suspended walkways, tunnels and slides. If that’s not enough to fill your adrenaline junkie bucket list then the only way down is on the old mine train culminating a 60 -foot slide straight onto the first trampoline. I can’t wait to check this place out… I might need to summon up my brave first!
The pandemic has inspired many a new activity from baking to home workouts, but it’s stargazing that’s captured my imagination. Across the UK there are dark sky discovery sites where you can drink in the glittering canvas of the night sky minus the light pollution. On a clear night our UK skies offer up over a thousand stars, it’s even possible to marvel at our galaxy, the Milky Way. So, take a walk, pack a picnic dinner and your comfiest rug and lie back for a truly extraordinary show.
Whatever the next few months have in store, let’s keep positive, keep following the rules and get planning some fabulous adventures in and around the UK. As always, I’d love to hear from you about your top UK destinations and day trips.
It’s pretty clear that we’ve moved into a new phase of bizarre normality. We have found ourselves once again in a national lock down. With the rule of 6, hands, face, space dominating the news a few weeks ago and a tiered system set to continue dividing our communities after the 2nd of December; it’s hard to fast forward to a time when things will be ‘normal’ again. But, we have to hold on to hope that these restrictions to our lives, no matter how difficult, will at some point fade away. Until that time, we must support our communities, small businesses and the hospitality sector where we can particularly in this run up to Christmas.
For the first time I have teamed up with guest writers, Kate Boddy from Hydracreative and Harriet Dolphin from the Psalter Hotel, Sheffield. They have written a brilliant guest post on vising the Northern city of Sheffield, focusing on getting around this Northern powerhouse and a stay at the gorgeously boutique hotel, the Psalter.
Sheffield City Centre re-opened its streets and shops in June following the national lockdown, and since then the city has been working hard to make sure it is COVID-19 safe. The city is set to do the same again come the end of lockdown two. With new signage, socially distanced shop queues and pedestrian systems, and new hand sanitiser stations installed in places with high footfall, Sheffield is ensuring it remains a safe city for both its residents and visitors.
Sheffield has many great places to stay: here we’ll look at how hotels are handling the ongoing changes, and what they are doing to remain welcoming and above all, safe, places to stay.
With so many great sights to see when visiting Sheffield and the surrounding areas, it’s useful to be aware of the best ways to get around. Here are some of our top tips on how best to get around in Sheffield to make sure you get the most out of your trip.
Government guidelines on COVID-19 have required hotels to adhere to certain precautions to make sure they are keeping their guests and staff safe during the pandemic. Over the past few months, many of Sheffield’s hotels have reopened their doors and have followed guidelines set by AA’s COVID Confident and Visit Britain’s Good To Go standards and have gained accreditation.
The Psalter is a boutique hotel tucked away in Nether Edge, a well-connected area of Sheffield. They have re-opened their doors in adherence to the strict government guidelines. The hotel offers its visitors contemporary, luxury accommodation which is in no way compromised by the restrictions in place. Offering en-suite shower rooms and a café bursting with local produce, as well as a modern bar offering cocktails, wines and beers, it is a home away from home for anyone wishing for a relaxing stay.
Here in more detail, are a few ways in which the Psalter and Sheffield hotels are staying COVID-19 safe.
Social distancing measures have been put in place to help reduce the amount of contact between staff and guests. Reception desks have transparent screens to separate staff and guests, with guests now required by law to wear a face mask in public areas. Check-in and check-out processes have been made as contactless as possible, with some hotels asking guests to prepay. Keep an eye out for signage informing you of social distancing, as some hotels may have a one-way system or queue points for you to follow.
Hotels are employing further cleaning measures to ensure all areas of the hotel are sanitised to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Deep cleaning now involves using a high-grade disinfectant at more regular intervals. This includes rooms, public areas, door handles and communal bathrooms. Many hotels will have hand sanitising stations located at various points, and staff in public areas will be wearing some form of PPE, whether this be gloves, a mask or a visor. Some items that you would usually find in a hotel room might have been removed, such as pens and pads, as these are viewed as non-essential. Measures have also been put in place for any external deliveries to ensure they are handled safely and in accordance with the safety guidelines.
Guests with COVID-19 symptoms
Hotels have identified procedures for guests that have symptoms of COVID-19. Many of these include the guests self-isolating, and staff will assist them to the best of their ability, providing them with food and drink, fresh linen and any other items they may need. However, these will be left outside their door, and when guests retrieve these, they are asked to wear a face covering.
Flexible Cancellation Policies
Many hotels have introduced a flexible cancellation policy so that if you can’t make your visit, you can cancel at shorter notice. The time period will vary from hotel to hotel, so make sure to check before booking.
Other changes to look out for
Depending on the hotel, there may be some other changes to look out for and check before booking. Some of the food and beverage options will have changed as buffets are no longer permitted, and table service is required by law. Other measures to look out for relate to gyms, pools or spas. Some hotels have kept these facilities closed, but others have re-opened them but with some limitations.
Travelling around Sheffield
With Sheffield being a green city, it benefits from excellent public transport routes. Before travelling, plan your journey to make sure your trip runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Visit Travel South Yorkshire to see which mode of public transport will work best for your trip, plan your journey, and find out about ticket pricing. If using public transport, remember to take a mask with you as this is required by law.
Sheffield benefits from a variety of bus services, getting people around the city and surrounding areas. With the main bus station right by the train station and lots of stops situated around and about, it is an easy option to get you from A to B. Fancy a trip to the Peak District? No problem; Sheffield has plenty of buses that can take you there, whether you’re looking for a scenic walk or to explore one of the local villages, such as Bakewell, where the Bakewell Tart was invented!
Sheffield’s tram system extends all over the city and surrounding areas, linking to some key attractions. Connected by the yellow route tram are Sheffield Arena and Centertainment, which has a cinema, bowling alley and children’s soft play, as well as an abundance of restaurants. It is within walking distance (or short tram ride) of Meadowhall, a shopping centre with around 290 stores and a vast food hall – a must-visit for anyone who loves to shop. To check out which tram lines get you where, visit StageCoach Supertram.
Sheffield is on many direct train lines and the train station is located right in the city centre. As a major city, Sheffield has many links to nearby towns and cities, including Rotherham, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Wakefield and York. So, if you fancy a day trip to a surrounding town or city, the train links make it an easy, direct journey.
Other ways to get around Sheffield
Although the public transport links in and around Sheffield are excellent, there are other ways for you to get around with ease. These include:
Sheffield is a beautiful, green city with many attractions within walking distance from the city centre. Whether you want to do a spot of shopping or enjoy one of the many parks, everything is within a doable walking distance. In high footfall areas, such as The Moor or West Street, it is recommended to wear a mask as social distancing is harder to keep in place.
The Botanical Gardens is a stunning collection of gardens situated near Ecclesall road. It’s easy to get to on foot from the city centre and if you’d rather just walk around the gardens it is well connected to by bus. The glass pavilions are currently closed due to restrictions but are just as impressive from the outside. There is no parking at the gardens which is why walking or public transport is advisable – if driving it is best to park on the surrounding roads, but be aware they may be busy. Disabled parking spaces are available at the top of the drive of the Thompson Road entrance.
Many of Sheffield’s main roads have cycle lanes so it feels a safe way to get around. Cycling is a great way to see the sights around the city and helps beat the traffic in rush hour, though just to make you aware – Sheffield has a lot of hills!
Need to get somewhere quickly? Although not the cheapest option, there are a lot of taxi services around Sheffield, such as City Taxis or Uber. If you do choose to get around in a taxi or Uber, remember to take your mask with you, otherwise, you might be refused service.
It is recommended to check visiting times and transport times before setting off to avoid any delays in your day.
I spoke to Doug McIntyre about his adventurous travels through mountain ranges, down rivers and everything in between. He is a true inspiration for the wild at heart and those seeking a more authentic adventurous travel experience.
What’s the day job?
At heart, I’m a lawyer. I work at Canada’s National Nuclear Laboratory; in charge of Legal, Insurance and a bunch of other things that nobody else wants to do.
What’s always in your suitcase?
Well, I guess that would include a headlamp, a spoon, just in case you run across something to eat and an eye mask so that you’re able to sleep anywhere you might need.
Necessary travel extravagance?
I would say that would be a silk sheet. I often camp out when I travel so a silk sheet just gives you just that little bit of extra extravagance.
Favourite city break?
Well, that’s hard to say – it would be anywhere that there’s good ice-cream. Of the big cities in the world, I’ve really enjoyed Sydney and I’d like to get back there. London as well, I’ve only been to London sort of four or five times and I have a twisted impression of it because every time I’ve been the weather’s always been great!
Mountains or Beach?
I would have to say mountains. If I had a choice between mountains or rivers it would be a bit more difficult but often you get rivers in mountains.
Probably a solo canoe trip down the Moise River, which is in eastern Quebec. It was a 400km white water canoe trip and there was nobody else around for hundreds of kilometres. I had planned to do the trip in about eighteen days and packed all the food, gear, etc. for that time but I ended up doing it in six! I had nobody else around, so I just kept moving all day; it’s much more efficient but, not as much fun to travel on your own.
What destination tops your bucket list?
The big trip that I’m looking at is a bikepacking trip in Kyrgyzstan.
Where does your love for adventure and extreme challenge come from?
It probably started in high school. We had an outers club, and did things like hiking and white-water canoeing. When I was about sixteen the club took a trip to Alaska and the Yukon. We went to Skagway, Alaska, then hiked over the Chilkoot pass which is a famous pass from the gold rush of the late 1800s. We entered British Columbia and got into canoes and we paddled for another three weeks down to Dawson City in the Yukon.
That’s big a big trip for just sixteen!
Yeah, it was a real…it was a wonderful trip and I think that’s where it hooked me.
Is that type of thing a standard as part of the Canadian school system, are these types of club par for the course?
It was something specific to our high school. They are getting less common now as people like me as lawyers get involved. There have been some trips where people have been hurt so school boards have shut down the clubs.
What is your most memorable travel experience or adventure and why?
My best value vacation ever was a loop that we did in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. We drove to the top of the Taseko River which is on the east side of the Coast Mountains then we kayaked down the Taseko, the Chilko, the Chilkoten and the Fraser rivers covering about 400k over four days; the water was really moving! There were two of us kayaking, and we met another friend at the end of the river and we drove about 100km with bicycles and then we biked back over the Coast Mountains back to our car. This was many years ago before bikepacking was a bigger thing than it is now and the information we had from the trip was from a coffee table book, ‘The Best Mountain Biking Trips in the World”. When we got on the trail, we realised that most people did it the other way. We couldn’t actually bike up much of what I guess most other people would have biked down! So that was the first challenge. We were also travelling very light so one of the first nights that we camped at about 8-10 thousand feet we forgot it’s a lot colder at that level! We were able to get to sleep, but I woke up at about 3 am and had to make a great big fire just to keep us warm. Then on the final day, as we were coming down the other side, the biking was actually quite fast as we were on an old fire road. A Jack Pine tree was sticking out into the trail, and it punctured my left arm at the elbow and when I regained consciousness, we realised I would need stitches. I had to bike the last 35 km out to the car with just one arm. It took about twelve or thirteen hours between my puncture and getting to a hospital. When I finally got to the hospital the emergency room doctor said “that’s better than a knife fight in Williams Lake on a Saturday night”
You have huge amounts of experience with these epically long trips with multiple parts, can you talk us through the process of planning an adventure?
There are a couple of us at the core, although three or four of us often travel together. We identify a good place to go and then, especially now, we scour Google Maps. It’s amazing, with the maps in Google Earth, you’re able to look at what sort of terrain you’re going to go on. You then map it out day by day as to how far you think you can go, where you might be able to camp. Then you have to figure out…. one of the big things is food on these sorts of trips. You don’t want to carry more than you have to, but you want to carry enough. You spend a lot of time just making sure that you’ve got everything you need, but not more. Especially so on bikepacking trips more than say wilderness canoe trips. On bike trips you find out where all the small restaurants are so you can feed yourself. Food is a big focus of these trips.
You must burn through so many calories with the physical nature of these trips how do you make sure that you fuel yourself well enough to meet the demands of the trip?
Planning, and you bring lots of things that aren’t necessarily good for you. But I guess it doesn’t matter when you are burning through them.
So, being out in the Canadian wilderness, you’re likely to come into contact with some wildlife. Are there any specific planning or preparations you take to deal with any wildlife encounters?
You always stay away from your food at night. If possible, you put your food into something and hang it in a tree, over a branch. This makes sure the animals can’t get at it. It has to be far enough away from the trunk of the tree, so it hangs out. If you are canoeing, you can float your canoe out into the water with your food aboard so the animals are less likely to get at it. If all else fails you put it under your canoe on the beach and put your pots on top so at least you can hear when animals are getting at it!
Have you travelled somewhere which turned out to be a completely different experience from the one you were expecting?
I don’t know that it was completely different, one trip that we did was the Tour De Mont Blanc, it was a walking tour around Mont Blanc in France. The tour goes through Switzerland, France and Italy and back into France. It’s typically done as a walking tour but we did it on mountain bikes and we learned why people tend to walk it, rather than do it on bikes! It was still lots of fun but certainly some of the parts were better suited for walking than mountain biking.
Have you got any travel/adventure horror stories?
I realise I am being very food-obsessed, in February we did a trip to Argentina and Chile. We flew into Chile and biked over the Andes into Argentina and then biked back again. Chile is a big agricultural producer and they have very strict quarantine requirements, particularly with what kind of food you can bring in. We knew that to be the case but when we came in originally, they weren’t terribly strict so we got a bit lackadaisical. When we were coming back in the second time, we had to have some food so we thought we’d just bring some dried fruit, some nuts and some dried meats. We got to the border post, which was actually about 30km from the actual border so there’s not a lot of people there. We were already well inside Chile before we got to the border post. We were asked about food and not wanting to spend time in a Chilean jail we said ok, this is what we’ve got! What we thought was they’d look at it and either say ‘ok it’s fine, there’s no risk’ or they’d say ‘you have to throw it out.’ What they actually said was…. ‘You have to eat it’. They said ‘you have to go and sit other there and eat all your food’ and we had a fair few calories! We had to sit there for about an hour finishing all this food, it was a bit of a challenge. That was a real surprise; we never anticipated we would have to gorge ourselves to get into a country.
What is your best comedy moment whilst travelling?
We did a bikepacking trip in Mongolia. We identified a route through the mountains, and we plotted our route and realised that we needed some local help. We were able to find the perfect help; it was a combination of bike rental place and bakery right at the start. We biked through the steppes of Mongolia. It wasn’t remote by Mongolian standards because you’re biking through areas where the Mongolian nomads live. We went by yurts and all sorts of animals. We came out of the mountains and were going into a small town on our sixth day. There was one stretch of pavement the whole 1500km. As we came out of the mountains, we saw there was a huge storm coming behind us. We wanted to bike into this town as quickly as we could and luckily the wind was behind us.. We were doing almost 50km/hr on flat ground, on fully loaded bikes, which is really something! Just as we hit a small aggregation of buildings outside the town, it started to rain and hail. We stopped our bikes and found a building that didn’t seem like anyone was there. We hopped over a fence and put our tarps around us and huddled in, thinking we were going to get really wet. Suddenly, a Mongolian woman came up to us and stuck her head over the fence, beckoning us over. She brought us to the house next door, we went in and it was nice and warm and got dried off. As quickly as she’d appeared, she got in her car and drove away. It wasn’t actually her house that she’d let us into. There was a family in the room next door who were wondering what are these people doing here? But they didn’t kick us out, and we stayed for another half hour till the storm passed.
How did you narrow down on Mongolia, of all the remote places to go, what drew you there?
It was reading articles on places where you can do bikepacking. My friend David read an article that seemed very positive about a section of what we did. We started to do more research, and expanded it beyond what we had read about.
What’s next post COVID?
The plan had actually been to go and do a trip to Switzerland. There are a number of bikepacking trips there, it’s an ideal place for bikepacking on the very civilized end of the range. There are places to stay, places to camp and there are bakeries everywhere. So, that’s a possibility. The other possibility if we can’t travel, probably a bikepacking trip in British Columbia.
I guess living in Canada you’ve got access to lots of different things, you’re not too limited with your choices.
We’re extremely lucky where we live. I live on the edge of nowhere, so I can go out on a day trip on my bike and can easily socially distance from other people by about 10km.
What are your top three tips for adventure travellers and thrill-seekers?
To borrow from Crowded House, always take the weather. You never know what it’s going to be like, actually like. You just need to take the right attitude and be happy with whatever nature deals you.
I find that’s it’s best to go with people who don’t know the meaning of the word whine. And that’s the W-H-I-N-E version.
To take as little as you can to the extent that it overlaps with everything that you need.
I hope you’ve found just as much inspiration as I have from my conversation with Doug. Whilst I might not be tackling a four day white water canoe trip I’ve certainly got some grand plans post COVID!
After five months of lock-down and having to put our more adventurous travel plans on hold, we decided a change of scenery was needed. Both my husband and I have been lucky enough to continue working throughout the pandemic. Whilst we have loved having the time together and the time to be at home, it’s been exhausting and work has been intense. When there is no defining boundary between work and home, we fell into the trap of working 24/7. So, like many people this summer we set about a booking a UK staycation.
We formed a bubble with my parents at the end of July and began looking for a break close to their home in North Yorkshire. Cue, a furiously busy morning with my mum calling hotels across the north and finally finding the gem that is Storrs Hall in the Lake District. Luckily, they had two rooms available for the dates we were after. Booking confirmed we were all systems go.
Getting to Storrs Hall
We travelled over to the Lake District from Harrogate, North Yorkshire by car. We set off on Friday morning, and the journey took around two hours. The journey by road is relatively simple although there were very limited places to stop. I would suggest stocking up your car snacks and having a wee before you go. I noticed a number of the petrol stations had closed their toilet facilities due to the pandemic, this is something to bear in mind as you move away from the main roads and larger rest stops.
If you plan to travel by train, the nearest station is Windermere which is five miles from the hotel. There are direct trains to Windermere from Manchester Piccadilly, Preston and Kendal. Windermere can also be easily reached with one to two changes from Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street, Leeds, Newcastle and London Euston.
It’s been a long time since I’ve visited the Lakes and do know it is a hugely popular UK destination. But I have to say my levels of anxiety skyrocketed as we drove into Windermere. It was heaving. There were people everywhere and social distancing and the wearing of face coverings didn’t seem to have quite permeated the psyche of these British holidaymakers. However, as we drove out of Windermere towards the hotel, we were wrapped up with country and lakeside views. Not a tourist in sight.
Storrs Hall occupies a lakeside spot about ten minutes outside of Windermere. Close enough if you want to venture in, but far enough away to offer you some space and quiet. The Grade two listed family-owned Georgian manor house crept into view as we swept round the long-curved drive. Nestled in seventeen acres and wrapped on two sides by Lake Windermere, Storrs Hall certainly packs a punch on the first view. With the sun shining and lake glistening we were keen to get checked in and settle down for lunch with a view.
For a relatively small hotel, Storrs Hall has an impressive range of room options. In the main part of the manor, you have the choice of a Classic room, Classic with a lake view, Superior, Superior with a lake view, Feature lake view, Deluxe, Deluxe with a lake view and a Master lake view bedroom. These thirty rooms have recently been refurbished and had a modern contemporary feel whilst remaining sympathetic to the grandeur and history of the building. The original architecture has been carefully preserved, so each room has a unique character and feel. This helps make your stay a truly exclusive experience for you.
In addition to the rooms in the main manor, Storrs Hall offers six lakeside suites and a boathouse. The lakeside suites are set in woodland just metres from the main building and are incredibly luxurious. With lounge space, hot tubs and sophisticated sumptuous design, these lakeside suites are the perfect hideaway.
Finally, at the pinnacle of luxury is the boathouse. Set over two floors, the boathouse is an exclusive retreat with a hot tub, fire pit, steam room and lounge.
For our stay, we were able to secure a Classic Lake View, which my husband and I stayed in and a Deluxe room which my parents stayed in.
Classic Lake View (Room 35): What a view! South facing towards the lake and the fells was utter perfection. Even better, our bath was plinth mounted allowing some significant post-hike marinating taking it all in. Our luxurious bathroom was also furnished with a large rainfall shower. Finally, on the topic of luxurious bathrooms, Storrs Hall generously provides a gorgeous range of toiletries courtesy of Molten Brown.
Our room was well appointed with a comfortable king-size bed, tv, wifi, desk and tea and coffee facilities, robes and slippers.
Deluxe (Room 8 & 9): In the deluxe room you sacrifice the lakeside view for a separate sitting room. The sofa in the sitting room can also be used as a sofa-bed to accommodate small children if you are travelling as a family. The room was stylishly decorated and had all the amenities of the classic lake view. The only drawback of room 8/9 was the lack of a bath. This room, however, is the only Deluxe room without a bath so it might be something worth checking when you make your booking.
Food & Drink
Our stay at Storrs Hall was a bed and breakfast deal but we opted to eat at the hotel for two of our four nights. Lunches and afternoon tea also made an appearance in our schedule. The food was incredible. Locally sourced ingredients, seasonal produce and exquisite presentation made for some sensational meals.
Due to the pandemic, the hotel is offering a reduced menu. However, there is still plenty of choices, and the carefully selected menu should provide something for all tastes and dietary requirements.
Breakfast: The range of breakfast options on offer was brilliant. Cooked breakfast, toast, cereal, croissants, eggs, whatever your preference nothing was too much trouble. I can thoroughly recommend the vegetarian breakfast; it was the perfect set up for a day hiking through the fells.
Lunch/ Light Bites: Despite a reduced menu due to the pandemic there was plenty on offer for lunch. Sandwiches, salmon plate, burger or just a bowl of chips. Nothing was too much trouble and the service was fabulous.
Dinner: Every dish looked spectacular but my recommendation goes to the Heritage Beetroot starter (There’s a gooey ball of fried goats’ cheese…job done) The pan-fried sea bass and the chocolate slice with sticky honeycomb and cherry sorbet. Whilst the menu is subject to seasonal and producer change it is clear that the quality of kitchen staff will remain. The food was flawlessly prepared and beautifully presented. Dinner at Storrs Hall was perfection.
Afternoon tea: What’s not to love about a hot beverage and cake? The only way to make that combo better is to add finger sandwiches and warm fluffy scones. Coupled with a magnificent view and you’re on to a belter of an afternoon. The Storrs Hall afternoon tea is a must if you are visiting, just make sure you book in advance.
COVID 19 Response
It stands to reason that in the current climate I should outline everything the hotel has put in place to ensure that safety and comfort of the guests. From the moment of my booking, the staff were in contact every couple of days with updates following the latest advice. The main essential of further information was the requirement for face coverings in all communal parts of the hotel. Once you were sat down with drinks or food of course these could be removed. This open communication from the outset put my mind at ease before we even checked in.
Check-in & check-out: The hotel requested that only one person from the group check-in for each room. This minimised the number of guests in the reception area at any one time. Before check-out, I was emailed a copy of my invoice for checking. Again, this reduced the need to spend additional time in the reception area. In terms of your luggage, the reception staff are happy to help you to your room. However, they will leave the luggage at the door to minimise the number of people coming into contact with the freshly cleaned room.
Sanitising & Social Distancing: Throughout the hotel, there were sanitising stations and signage encouraging you to use them and reminding guests of the two-metre distance requirement. After the checking in the staff talked us through the one-way system in operation throughout the communal areas of the hotel. As a Grade Two listed Georgian manor house, the hotel has space in abundance and social distancing was easily accomplished with the support and planning of the staff. Although the hotel was at maximum occupancy when we checked out, we never felt anxious about running into other guests. Even in corridors and on the stairs, guests and staff were conscious of each other and always moved aside or waited until you had moved on.
Dining: Like many places, the hotel was enforcing a prior booking policy concerning mealtimes. It was no great hardship to pre-book dinner and breakfast. The hotel has a brilliant service system in place. Having reduced the number of tables in the dining room each table was equipped with a ‘service’ table. The restaurant staff would serve the dishes and drinks to the service table and you help yourself from the service table. Once you were finished, you returned your dishes to the service table from which they were collected. This system ensured the staff could stick to the two-metre social distancing guidelines. This new system of dining genuinely didn’t detract from the experience or the high level of service.
Your room: Aside from no turn-down service there wasn’t any great change to how your room was looked after or your use of it. In the room, there was a comprehensive two-sided document outlining everything the hotel is doing to ensure the safety of the guests. The main thing you needed to do as a guest was to ensure you hung the green service sign on your door each morning. Without the sign, the cleaning staff would not enter your room. Again, this measure ensures a minimal number of people accessing your room, thus reducing risk.
Our stay at Storrs Hall felt like a little slice of luxury and calm in what has been a very turbulent time. We felt safe throughout our stay, and the service was impeccable. We really couldn’t have asked for more. If you are considering getting away in the next couple of months, I can’t extol the virtues of Storrs Hall enough. Our short trip has left me planning a return, and I’m looking forward to a more walking focused trip to the Lakes in the future.
Travelling at home and putting money back into our economy has never been more important. So, let’s support local business, private hotels, guesthouses and b n b’s. Everyone is doing all they can to comply with government guidelines to keep us safe. If we want our hospitality and tourism sector to recover then we must invest in it’s future now.
Without a doubt, travel has shaped who I am as a person and given me so many hugely treasured experiences. I am completely intoxicated by the whole process of travel. From planning to those first giddy moments of arrival in a new place. I love it. As a teacher by trade, I take such joy from immersing myself in a new culture or the history of a place, but I strongly believe that my travel experiences go deeper than my appreciation of a new place. The independent journeys and opportunities I sought out, particularly in my early twenties have truly formed the adult I am now. So, here are some of the most important life lessons travel has taught me.
1. Budgeting & the value of money
As a young adult or university student, you don’t tend to have huge reserves of disposable cash. Therefore, if you want to travel you’ll need to budget and work for it. I remember taking bar jobs in university and working as a nanny and nursery assistant to earn some extra cash to fund my trips.
Travel is brilliant for helping you to budget. If you’re travelling for four weeks, you’ll need money set aside for food, transport, excursions, tips, accommodation and always, always, always keep some cash for emergencies.
Remote travel is equally perfect for encouraging you to stick to your budget. If you know there will be no access to a cash point or bank then you’ll have to carefully consider spending limits each day.
Travel, in addition, gives you an unprecedented understanding of the value of money. Think how far your money goes in places like Thailand compared to Iceland. The cost of living varies hugely across the world. So, when you are haggling with a street seller over two hundred rupees think to yourself how much that is in UK Sterling. Is it worth haggling over £1? Particularly if that money would make a big difference for that individual.
Travel and money can also come with a few nasty surprises, which most young travelers will only fall foul of once. Bank charges for using your UK bank card, astronomical mobile-phone bills, medical charges if you’ve not bothered with insurance can all be a financial wake-up call. Make sure you do your research and speak to your bank before you travel if you have any concerns.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Travel will undoubtedly put you in situations you never thought you’d find yourself in. Whether that is standing atop a cliff, digging deep for the courage to jump into frigid waters or desperately holding it together whilst rescuing a seven-year-old from notoriously big kayak spiders, seriously they are huge. Or a personal favourite closing your eyes and hoping nothing bites you as you try to pee in a hole in the ground in Kenya.
There will always be something new or unknown when you’re travelling. The best thing you can do is embrace it. When you approach a situation with an open mind and a positive attitude there will always be something encouraging to take from the experience.
Travel is about broadening your experiences. How can you say you don’t like a thing if you’ve never tried it? How can you say its not your type of thing if you haven’t given it a go? My husband’s response to white water rafting is the perfect example. He was sceptical, a little moany and very much like this is not my thing. I will not enjoy it. Cue fifteen minutes into paddling; he’s right at the font, bossing every rapid and living his best life.
What have you got to lose?
3. Working & interacting with new people
You can’t avoid it, whether you’re a people person or not you will spend your whole life working with and having to interact with people. Travel is one of those things that makes you strike up a conversation. Group travel particularly is brilliant. The one thing you all have in common is your choice to travel; that’s a pretty good starting point.
Travel also gives you the ideal opportunity to test out your language skills. I am always ashamed by my poor linguistical skills. So many people across the globe possess a phenomenal grasp of English and I can just about muster ‘hello’ and mime my way through ordering a meal. But these interactions are priceless.
One of the steepest learning curves I found was work in a different country. Nothing prepares you better for the working world than throwing yourself into a job in another country. I landed in Canada five days before I was due to start work at a summer camp teaching outdoor sport. Three of my five days were taken up with a first aid course to gain the appropriately recognised qualification, and two days were devoted to travelling. Suddenly I was working with a team of strangers, welcoming children from the age of seven to sixteen and taking full responsibility for my group 24/7. In those situations, you bond quickly, forge strong relationships and you get your head down and do the job in front of you.
As a teacher, one of my biggest niggles is that students give up so easily and seem to lack a deeper layer of resilience. Don’t give up. Whatever you are doing see it through to the end. The sense of accomplishment you feel at the end will completely outweigh any negative sections of the journey. The parts of our journey we find the hardest are often the parts we look back on most fondly. Language will be a barrier, you will have setbacks and plans will get changed, but stick with it.
I remember taking a group of eleven-year-olds on a kayak trip in Canada. As one of two adults in charge, I felt such a weight of responsibility for the children’s safety and well-being. So, despite the choppy water and toeing one of the less confident paddlers, I pushed through. The combination of responsibility and the physical challenge was a real test of my perseverance.
Challenge yourself, set ambitious goals and reflect on your success. You might surprise yourself with grit you didn’t even know you had.
5. Confidence & self-belief
Travel presents you with so many opportunities to learn and grow. Only when you stop can, you reflect on all the things you got right, or how you were able to learn from a particular situation. Making your flights, planning excursions, ordering in a different language, sharing your shower with local reptiles or even your Imodium lasting you an eight-hour bus ride across Rajasthan. Take confidence from the small wins. Whether it was your careful planning or your mental attitude, you did those things. You made them happen and came out on top.
6. Organisational skills
I remember sitting on my bedroom floor in 2008 and again in 2009 carefully laying out every item I would need for four weeks in India and seven weeks working in Canada. I wrote lists, researched and added more things to my list. My trip to India was my first big independent adventure without my parents, so I wanted to prove that I could do it. I wanted to get it right. Being gifted the opportunity to go and explore this fabulous country with my best friend was incredible. As newly turned twenty-year-olds we were so naïve but with naivety comes enthusiasm, we certainly weren’t short of that. Throughout the planning process, packing and even when we were away, the organisation played such a key part to the success of our trip. Clothing, money, visa’s, transport and connections from our group tour to the second part of the trip all had to be carefully thought about.
Without the opportunity to take responsibility I would never have unearthed my love for a planning spreadsheet or colour coded budgeting.
7. Adapt. Change. Go with the flow
Change is inevitable and perfectly laid plans are great. But travel doesn’t always fit into your carefully crafted schedule or itinerary. Flights get cancelled, transport is delayed, miserable weather scuppers your outdoor adventures or the world goes into lockdown forcing you to move your adventures closer to home or indulge your wanderlust via Instagram.
I can honestly say, I struggle with big changes but I love spontaneity when I travel. An odd mix, I know. However, when I do make plans, I like sticking to them. But for every situation that hasn’t gone as I’d hoped, I’ve learnt, grown and ultimately, it’s all turned out ok, if not better.
The ability to adapt and change your plans at a moments notice is a crucial life lesson. Being flexible will not only improve your travel experiences, but it’s vital in the wider world. Embracing the unknown when travelling truly is part of the whole experience, so don’t sweat the small stuff, think on your feet and roll with it.
Travel will leave you with a newfound appreciation of different cultures, cuisine and the natural environment. Standing at the bottom of Victoria falls in Zambia listening to the water pound the rocks or sitting in the sunshine on the shores of Lake Windermere listening to nothing but bird song it’s hard not to be in awe of mother nature.
During my time in India, we stayed with a local family in Bellary. The family were so welcoming and generous with the little they had. Despite three generations living in the house, we were offered a whole room and use of the bathroom to ourselves. Everything in that family was shared but they were the most joyful people who appreciated everything. I left their home after two weeks feeling humble and buoyantly thankful for their kindness.
9. Experiences out-weigh possessions
What is more valuable? Is the photograph taken straight after your first exhilarating cliff dive? Or a small tourist souvenir that will be destined for a cupboard before making its way to the charity shop? Travel has taught me that experiences outweigh stuff, every time. Experiences and memories will stay with you so much longer than a tourist souvenir bought for the sake of it.
Meaningful experiences help you get under the skin of a place and its culture. I remember visiting a wood carving workshop in rural Bali. Whilst my parents bought the most fabulous carved elephant from the roots of a mahogany tree. I remember wandering around the back. Air thick with smoke. Men and women hunched on bamboo mats completely engrossed in their work. I was transfixed on their dexterous and skillful working of the wood. Animals, Gods and Goddesses materialised before my eyes. So, although the elephant is a gorgeous and beguiling thing, it is the memory of the place and the people that have stayed with me.
10. Unforgettable experiences and interactions
My travels have taken me to some incredible places, and I hold those experiences close. Travel is inspirational, the more you do the more you yearn for more.
Some of the best experiences are those which cannot be repeated or recreated. The magic of adventure is in the culmination of circumstances. Combine sheer exhaustion with sitting on the banks of the Zambezi watching elephants drink from the other side and a moderately strong mojito and you’ve got a perfect moment.
Transient relationships and interactions with people from all walks of life are special nuggets that enrich your journeys. I remember taking a local train India with my ginger best friend. With gorgeous Scottish milky skin and fiery red hair, she was an absolute novelty and the brilliant catalyst for conversation.
I would love to know your travel stories and how travel has impacted you.
It can be really tough to stay active during your holidays. The urge to fly and flop for two weeks can be pretty strong as we so often just need the rest. However, keeping active and making healthy choices can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of your break. Here are eleven top tips for helping you create and sustain those healthy habits whilst travelling.
1. Walk – Walk everywhere
Ever drive past a tiny alleyway or interesting looking building on your travels but you can’t check it out as you’ve already driven past? Problem solved, skip the taxi, bus or car and travel by foot. You will discover so much more about a place on foot. You can indulge your curiosity at every corner. Some of the best travel finds, be it food, local crafts or fabulous people are often found off the main thoroughfare.
Walking around your destination will not only give you a great sense of the place but will help you hit that all-important 10,000 step target. I love my Fitbit activity tracker and am always interested to see how many steps I’ve achieved at the end of a day wandering around a new city. On just one day in Dubrovnik, I managed to clock up 20, 682 steps. I would recommend a fitness tracker to anyone looking to keep tabs on their activity levels.
2. Take the stairs
Climbing flights of stairs can be a great way to get your heart rate up. So, if your room is located on the 9th floor of your hotel hit those stairs. You can always get yourself out of bed early and make a workout out of your hotel’s stairs. Try sprinting up and walking back down for recovery and repeat. This will send your heart rate shooting up and earn you your breakfast.
3. Don’t drink your calories
Need a drink? Grab some water. Fizzy drinks, fruit juice, speciality coffee and energy drinks are packed full of unnecessary sugar. All that excess sugar has to go somewhere. If your body can’t store it as glycogen it is quickly converted to fat for longer-term storage. If you feel thirsty it’s water your body is crying out for.
Holidays can absolutely be a time to chill out and enjoy yourself, however, give a thought to the calories you drink through alcohol consumption. According to the NHS, one pint of 5% beer is 239 calories or one mars bar. Would you really sit and eat five mars bars back to back? A standard glass of wine is about 133 calories or three Jaffa cake biscuits. Yes, I have eaten a whole packet of Jaffa cakes in one sitting, but I definitely didn’t feel good about it afterwards!
I am a big fan of everything in moderation. So, if you can fancy a few drinks in the evening why not increase your activity during the day to help offset any additional intake?
4. Take some simple fitness equipment
Skipping ropes, resistance bands and gliding discs are lightweight and easy to throw in your hand luggage as they don’t take up much space. This means you can get a workout in from the comfort of your hotel room. I would recommend the Pro Box wire speed rope, light durable and super grippy for clammy hands. https://www.pro-box.co.uk/wire-speed-rope-p-781.html.
5. Hotel room HIIT
I think we have all found a new love for online workouts during the pandemic. I have always been a fan of Joe Wicks’ recipe books but now I love starting my day with a quick twenty-minute HIIT. Everyone has twenty minutes, and you don’t need equipment or huge amounts of space. If you don’t believe me, check out The Body Coach 7 days of sweat 2019…7 days of workouts in small hotel rooms.
HIIT workouts are perfect if your hotel doesn’t have a gym or you are on a tight schedule. Twenty minutes of high-intensity interval training will leave you sweaty, out of breath and set up for your day. Give your all for short bursts of activity then catch your breath and go again. This type of training helps sustain an elevated heart rate and is a time-efficient way to burn calories.
For free HIIT workouts check out The Body Coach, Kayla Itsines, Pamela Reif or Chloe Ting on YouTube. All provide lots of free content and give you plenty of choices. If you haven’t got internet access have a go at these three twenty-minute hotel room HIIT’s.
You can download an interval timer from the app store, there are lots of brilliant free options.
HIIT 1. (Work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds) LEGS, BUMS & TUMS
Single leg bicycle crunches
Side plank (15 seconds on each side)
Slow mountain climbers
HIIT 2. (Work for 35 seconds, rest for 25 seconds) CARDIO & ABS
Running on the spot
Crunches knees raised to 90 degrees
Climb the rope
Imaginary jump rope
HIIT 3. (Work for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds) WHOLE BODY WORKOUT
Running on the spot
Shoulder taps from a high plank position
Alternating single leg crunches
Chest to floor burpees
6. Take a walking tour
Without a doubt, this is one of the best ways to familiarise yourself with a new city. Very often you can find a free walking tour or book onto a tour during your stay. This is a fab way to get in the steps without even thinking.
You can always combine a walking tour with a food tour…just in case you need some additional motivation. I would recommend any of the eating Europe food tours. We took the tour through Prague and it was a gorgeous day of walking and eating. We certainly earned our treats that day. https://www.eatingeurope.com/
7. Get active with the locals
Some of the best travel experiences can come from immersing yourself in the local culture. If you’re in South Asia, why not try getting involved with some yoga, take a Flamenco class in Spain or join with some local cricket in India. Between white water rafting in Canada, kayaking on the Rideau Canal, cave swimming on the Croatian coast and learning Bharatnatyam dance in India, I have never regretted getting stuck into activities with local people.
Active experiences can really help you connect with a culture and will enrich your travels as well as burning a few extra calories.
8. Have a good breakfast
This sounds simple but eat a good breakfast. I know the breakfast buffet can be all kinds of tempting with waffles, pancakes and pastries. But, a high protein breakfast will set you up for the day and keep those mid-morning hunger pangs at bay. I would always opt for an omelette, yoghurt and fruit or even egg and beans on toast. Choose something which will keep you tied over until lunch and not leave you flagging at eleven AM. Lots of hotel deals come with breakfast included, make sure you take full advantage.
9. Stay hydrated
Keeping your hydration levels topped up is key. Good hydrations helps your body regulate temperature, aiding digestion, removing waste from the body and can help curb unnecessary snacking throughout the day.
Hydration is hugely important if you are travelling in hot countries and are particularly active during the day. Physical activity and a warm environment can cause dehydration so make sure you’ve got a reusable bottle handy and fill up at any available opportunity.
10. Plan your snacks
The breakfast buffet can be a brilliant time to stock up on some snacks for the day. Very often you’ll be able to snag a couple of pieces of fruit to keep you going. I would recommend packing some trail mix or nuts. These are excellent sources of energy and will keep you feeling full much longer than a quick fix sugar hit.
11. Hit the water
Getting onto the water can bring a whole new perspective to your travels. Whether you swim, kayak, canoe or paddleboard, getting active in the water is a great way to build in physical activity and make some fabulous travel memories.
I would love to know any top tips you have for staying active whilst travelling.
Thanks to Coronavirus many of us are setting aside plans of a trip abroad this year and choosing to explore our own fair country. With campsites, air b n b’s and hotels seeing a boost in bookings here are nine top tips for getting our packing just right.
Choose the right luggage
Soft sides holdalls are the way forward. Easier to pack, easier to manoeuvre in the car, better hand luggage, what’s not to love. You can always squeeze a little more in around the edges. You can wear your trainers or walking boots for the journey to save on shoe space. I love a bright holdall, and my North Face bag has never failed me.
British weather is unpredictable. Biblical downpours followed by blistering sunshine, who knows what you’re going to get. Cotton layers and wicking fabrics are brilliant if you are walking or hiking. I would also recommend a pack a mac. Small, lightweight and easily fits in your backpack. It is the perfect solution for those sudden downpours.
Whether you are hitting up the coast, lakes or opting for a UK city break; you’ll want to get your footwear right. 48 hours pounding the pavement, fell climbing or beach walking in uncomfortable or inappropriate shoes is going to taint your otherwise lovely break. We’ve all felt the constant nag of a burgeoning blister with the dread that you’re still an hour walk from home. Nothing says I’ve had a lovely holiday than the blister limp and ten days of flipflop wearing. So, get your footwear right.
Ditch the heavy toiletries
Leave the big bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser at home. You don’t need the extra weight, and you can save on space. Dispense your products into smaller bottles before your trip. They will easily fit in your luggage and if they are under 100ml you can easily check them through airport security in your hand luggage. For an eco-friendly option check out these gorgeous travel bottles.
To minimise the amount of clothing needed for your trip try to pick a couple of key items which can be dressed up or down with just a few key accessories. I would always go for neutrals, black jeans or navy chinos can be great for daytime wandering or evening drinks. If you are heading off for four to five days, I recommend the 54321 method. Five sets of socks/ underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one interchangeable accessory.
Reusable water bottle
Whether you are planning an epic hike or just a stroll around the town I would always take a water bottle. Not only will you save on an unnecessary trip into a shop, but it’s a small step towards doing your bit to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. I adore my Chilly’s bottle, and they have so many quirky patterns and colours you’ll be sure to find something you’re proud to take out and about.
This was one of the greatest purchases I have ever made. A microfibre towel is perfect for throwing in your backpack. It’s quick-drying, and sand resistant, after a quick shake and rub down you’re good to head off home. Just ten minutes hung up or laid out in the sun to dry and this handy travel staple is ready to go again.
Even if you’ve booked into a luxury hotel, it is still a good idea to ditch the multiple plugs. Instead, I would opt for one plug with USB outlets. This will allow you to charge at least 2 devices at once. Just make sure you pack the right cables.
An OS Map
If your staycation plan involves exploring the local area or countryside, I would make sure you’ve got a copy of an OS map. Whilst maps on your phone are fine there is no guarantee you’ll have signal in remote places and online maps tend to sap your battery. With depleted battery life, you’ll find yourself in a tricky situation if you do need to call for help. Having an accurate map will help you plan out your routes. It is also invaluable if you find you’ve lost the trail or can’t see the footpath signs. There has been a huge rise in calls to emergency rescue services in many of the UK’s national parks and countryside areas recently. Make sure you are well prepared if you are keen to explore and make sure you hike within your capabilities and comfort zone.
When my husband finally popped the question in 2015, we got down to planning the wedding pretty quickly. After 7 years together I had already got some fairly clear ideas about the wedding…that ‘one day’ Pinterest board had been getting some serious attention from about three years in. But, whilst I knew the guest list, dress designer, style of cake and theme the venue proved much trickier to pin down. Like many other brides, I was stuck with the little sister conundrum. My older sister had a beautiful wedding at the best hotel in our home town. Despite her flawless wedding, I knew I wanted mine to be different. It wasn’t until my husband and I starting seriously thinking about our plans that the idea of tying the knot abroad started to take hold. It was, without doubt, the best decision we made. So, if you are planning your dream wedding abroad, I hope these top tips will help with some of those all-important decisions.
Is it legal?
Naturally, we assume that when we get married it’s legal, right? Wrong! You should ensure that your marriage in one country will be legally recognised in your country of residence. Every country will have different rules, and it might be difficult to have a legally binding ceremony if you are not living in that country. There are, sadly still some countries who do not permit same-sex marriage.
We opted for the island of Tenerife for our big day, but we had to complete a legal ceremony here in the UK first. We decided to make a thing of our legal ceremony, and it proved to be a lovely opportunity to share with our close family. The ceremony was no longer than 40 minutes and was held at the registry office of my home town. Our parents, siblings and family who could not attend the main event in Tenerife were present.
Having completed our legal marriage in the UK we were free to have a civil ceremony in Tenerife. Make sure you check the local laws in your chosen destination; you don’t want to be caught out!
2. Choose the right time of the year
Many couples tend to plan their big day to coincide with warm sunny days. But just because July and August tend to be some of the finest months weather-wise here in the UK, that may not be in the case in your chosen destination. If you’ve got your heart set on a Caribbean wedding you might want to skip July and August as that’s hurricane season or New Zealand where our British summer is their winter.
I would also consider checking out the top temperatures of your chosen destination. Whilst a tropical downpour or frigid temperatures may put a dampener on your big day, swelteringly heat may be just as much of an issue, particularly if you are inviting older guests.
Whilst you can never predict the weather, it is always best to be prepared. Despite choosing the island of Tenerife in October, where the average temperature is comfortably in the mid-20s degrees and they only see a maximum of 2 days rain during the month…of course, it rained on my wedding day! But a few showers and some excellent work by the wedding team meant that our day was still absolutely perfect.
3. Choose the right destination for you
It sounds obvious, but it’s important to pick the right destination for both you and your fiancé. If you hate sand but think the pictures of your beach wedding will be magnificent, don’t do it. Whilst the pictures may be beautiful, do you want to spend the day being uncomfortable with sand in places that only a good shower can sort out? If you have, a gorgeous English rose complexion, is the Middle East in July a good idea? As hard as it is, try not to get caught up in beautiful pictures of other people’s weddings. Yes, they are good for inspiration, but your day has to be personal and right for you.
4. Visit your venue
As soon as our mind turned to a wedding abroad there was only one contender for our big day. The Abama hotel on the island of Tenerife. This hotel has been a family stable for many years. It was where my husband and I had our first holiday together and it is somewhere we both feel so relaxed. Despite having stayed at the Abama more than seven times in as many years I had never stayed intending to scope it out as a wedding venue. So, nine months before the wedding my mum and I booked a week at the venue. The trip aimed to finalise some decisions, meet face to face with the wedding planner and her team and to sample some of the dishes we had decided on. This trip was enormously important to clarify some of the questions I had. Although I had eaten in the restaurant and admired the view from the terrace, I still needed a walk through with the wedding planner to visualise what it would be like on the day.
If you have selected a location but not a venue then a recce trip is essential. With the help of your wedding planner, you should have a shortlist of possible venues which will need a personal visit. Only by standing in the place and visualising your plans can you truly get a feel for a place to see if this is right for you.
5. Check your flight times and book a transfer
Make sure you consider when you want to arrive at your destination and when your guests will be arriving. If you are jetting off across the world, you’ll want to make sure that you and your guests aren’t struggling with jet lag. I would recommend arriving a few days before the wedding. This will give you and your fiancé time to meet with the wedding planner and go over any last-minute details. Arriving in advance will also allow you some much-needed downtime before the big day.
It is also worth considering the transfer times from the airport to your venue. I would make sure you have a transfer booked from the airport. You’re going to have some significant luggage and items to be handled with care. A properly organised transfer will not only give you peace of mind but also help set the tone for your wedding stay.
6. Think about your luggage
Normally when booking a flight, you automatically have one 23kg bag allocated to you. You’ll need to book another bag if not two. Be prepared to pay for these extra bags as it can come as a nasty hidden cost, but making sure everything gets to the venue safely is worth it.
In the month leading up to the wedding, I hadn’t quite appreciated how much extra stuff we were planning on taking with us. As more and more parcels starting arriving at my house it was clear a third checked bag was needed. We decided to take out our place settings, table plan, confetti, orders of ceremony and lots of other decorations. We were keen for everything to have a very personal touch, but we did need a clear plan on getting everything transported. We opted for carefully packing a heavy-duty plastic box and checking that into the hold, it worked perfectly and all of our hand-crafted efforts survived the journey.
Finally, my fiancé and groomsmen had the brilliant idea to play golf on the morning of the wedding. The hotel had a championship course, so it would have been rude not to. If you are planning on travelling with golf clubs, don’t forget these will also need booking onto the flight and will come at an additional cost.
7. Think carefully about your dress
For any bride, your dress is a big deal. If you’ve had your heart set on that big poufy princess ballgown with the sweetheart neckline since you were seven, you might want to give thought to how practical a dress of that size and weight will be to transport. A call to your airline will help you make the right choice for transportation. The last thing you want is a bag of crumpled dress with no hope of steaming it out before the wedding.
You should also consider if your dress will suit the climate of the country you are jetting off to. If you know the temperature is going to be thirty degrees plus do you really want to be wrapped up in a heavy tulle ballgown?
You might also want to think about where your ceremony is going to take place. If you’re tying the knot on the beach, make sure your dress choice is practical for being on the sand.
8. Consider accommodation options for you and your guests
Many venues will provide you with a room rate deal for your guests. They will likely ask upfront about how many rooms you want to reserve for your guest. At this point, it is worth having an idea about who will be staying at your venue and who will be staying elsewhere. You might even want guests to give you an indication of this on their RSVP.
One thing to consider is the cost of your venue compared to other local accommodation. If guests have paid for their flights it might be, they are looking to save on the accommodation so the venue may not always be their first choice. Make sure you provide guests with other reputable options near your venue.
Finally, you and your fiancé will want to decide if you want to stay at your venue or jet off into the night to a more intimate location. We opted to stay at our venue. Not only was our suite stunning, but there was something extremely special about being able to have breakfast and socialise with our family and friends who had stayed on after the wedding.
9. Use a wedding planner
The experience, local knowledge and not to mention the language of a wedding planner is invaluable. A good wedding planner will have contacts with local suppliers and in all the relevant trades needed for your wedding. It is also likely using a wedding planner might enable you to access discounts and deals which you might be unable to secure on your own
Many hotels will have a dedicated wedding planner if weddings are a big part of the hotels business. Make sure you can easily communicate with each other and that you are happy before forging ahead with the relationship.
10. Be adaptable
Yes, it’s hard when you have the perfect vision of your perfect day however for you to enjoy the process you will need to be adaptable. Booking a wedding abroad can throw up lots of different challenges which you might not consider, like the types of flowers or food available or the beach being closed due to strong winds or high tides. You can’t control everything. If you have an experienced wedding planner then let them take some of the slack, let other people help you and guide you to the best outcomes for your day. I had never envisaged rain or strong winds on my wedding day but rain it did right up until the time of the ceremony. With the ground wet and strong wind still in play, our wedding planner decided to move our wedding breakfast indoors. Best decision ever and I didn’t even make it. Whatever happens on your day go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff.
11. Book early & send save the date cards
If you want friends and family to be a part of your wedding then plan and book early. Guaranteeing your guest list can be a little trickier when marrying abroad. You are not only asking your guests to take several days off work but accommodation and travel expenses will be considerably more expensive than if you were celebrating in your home town. The more notice you can give your guests the better.
I would recommend having your save the date cards made/picked out or ready to go as soon as you confirm your venue. We booked our venue in October 2015 for an October 2016 wedding and had save the date cards sent to our guests by November 2015. Giving our guests a year to save and book proved helpful when finalising numbers.
As soon as you can, send your guests as much information as possible about the venue, location and what I expect from being part of your wedding party. I was not particularly tech-savvy in 2015 so we went for a good old-fashioned guest brochure of information. If I were planning my wedding now, I would set up a wedding website where my guests could easily access everything they need. You want to make the whole process as easy for your guests as possible. If everything they need is in one place you will spend a lot less time fielding individual questions about the same issues; leaving you free to focus on the big stuff.
12. Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest
As I have previously mentioned I was a wedding Pinterest fiend even before getting engaged. However, my late-night swooning over naked cakes adorned by fresh flowers and the perfect table settings came in really handy when communicating with our wedding planner. Although our wedding planner had fantastic English, many of her suppliers had no English at all. Pictures are a brilliant way of showing exactly what you are looking for.
Your carefully crafted Pinterest mood boards will help the wedding planner and suppliers gauge your tastes and vision for the wedding. My flower board came into its own when I was told that due to the season in Tenerife and the types of flowers grown in that climate, I would need to reconsider my blousy peonies and tea roses. As heartbroken as I was the florist whipped some beautiful bouquets and buttonholes with local flowers based on the ideas from my Pinterest board. Never regret those late-night pins.
13. Carefully consider your guest list
Immediate family are likely to make the trip for your wedding however will work colleagues who you’ve only known for nine months do the same? An invitation to a wedding abroad can be a big ask financially and time-wise for many. You’ll want to streamline your list as much as possible before you send out your invitations. Never invite guests assuming they will say no anyway, you may be surprised who suddenly messages to say they have booked their flights.
14. Wedding insurance
Worldwide pandemics, volcanic ash clouds, wildfires…if we learn nothing else from 2020, we should expect the unexpected. Whilst the unpredictable can be stressful, taking out wedding insurance should help to alleviate some of the stresses around of the things which are totally out of your control. There are lots of insurers who offer wedding insurance, make sure you compare what each is offering to make sure it best suits your needs. We opted for John Lewis Wedding Insurance as it was the best deal at the time. For more detailed information on wedding insurance check out the link below https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/insurance/wedding-insurance/
15. Set aside some extra cash for additional costs and fees
In addition to shipping and luggage costs, you will also be paying deposits to the venue and potentially external suppliers. This means there will be bank transfer fees and exchange rates to contend with. To avoid any hidden charges, make sure you educate yourself on the exchange rate between your currency and that of your destination. It is also worth finding out from your bank what their fees with international transfers are. For more information on sending money abroad check out the link below.
Finally, weddings can be a bit of a bottomless pit when it comes to money. There will always be something you have forgotten or a small detail which needs correcting. Having a fund for these last-minute costs can be helpful and can ease your financial stress about the process.
16. Think about your honeymoon
So, you’ve chosen to get married abroad, but what about your honeymoon? Lots of couples will want to stay on at their venue or think about exploring more of the country you have chosen. This will not only save you money but will extend this precious time.
It might also be worth thinking about other countries you can easily access from your destination. With shorter flight times than you would get from the UK, it might be a good time to explore somewhere a little further afield.
Alternatively, you can drag that wedding vibe out for as long as you like. We decided to take ten days including the wedding in Tenerife but then chose to focus on travel for the first year of our marriage. Every month for one year we sought to jet off for a city break. These short frequent trips combined with an anniversary return to the Abama was perfect.
17. Think about planning time with your guests before and after the wedding
One of the best decisions we made was to stay on at the venue with our closest family after the wedding. This precious time was so chilled and a lovely way to come down from the big day. In truth, it felt like the whole ten days was our wedding. I can remember saying that I totally understood why brides got upset the moment the wedding was over. So, if you can stay on and drag it out I absolutely would.
Getting the chance to talk to everyone at the wedding can be a challenge on the day when you are being called for photos or dragged away for a myriad of other reasons. Two days after the wedding we were lucky, several family members and friends had stayed on at the hotel, so we decided to host a drinks party in our suite. It gave us another opportunity to properly speak with everyone for longer than a few minutes and was the perfect send-off for some of our guests.
18. Relax & enjoy your day
Without a doubt planning your wedding can be a stressful time, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Planning your time of celebration with your fiancée and family can be so rewarding so make sure you take step back and keep the process as fun as possible.
I would love to hear your destination wedding stories, so happy planning and good luck for your big day.
I vividly remember a warm June Saturday morning in 2015, desperately trying to finish my masters’ dissertation when my parents dropped the news that they were moving to Ottawa, the Canadian capital for a year. After the initial surprise sunk in and after a few tears about being so far away from my mum, I put my planning hat on and got stuck into organising some holidays.
Ottawa is located in southern Ontario, a short drive from the city of Montreal and the US Border. Ottawa’s unique position means that it is one of the coldest cities in the world with average temperatures in January sitting around -10 degree however summer temperatures can hit 25-30 degrees centigrade. With such a vast range in climate, Ottawa has something fabulous to offer in every season.
Here are thirteen reasons why Ottawa should be on your Canadian bucket list.
Get active on the Rideau Canal
Originally built for military purposes to provide a safe supply route in the event of war with the USA, the canal has been a focal point of life for the people of Ottawa and the millions of tourists who visit each year.
Stretching for two hundred and two kilometres, the canal passes through wildlife reserves, conservation areas and the city itself. With such a wide variety of landscapes to enjoy the Rideau canal offers something for every season.
During those bitter winter months, the Rideau Canal transforms itself into the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink. Many local’s countdown the autumn days until the canal freezes over and they can get their skates on. The skate way becomes a bustling highway for commuters into the city and families are out in force enjoying the canal.
In summer the canal becomes a hot spot for picnics, walks, biking and paddling. It is without a doubt the lifeblood of the city and one of the best things to explore during your time in the city.
2. Hike in Gatineau Park
If you need some green space and time out from the big city then head to Gatineau Park. In just fifteen minutes from downtown Ottawa, you can bask the glory of this 90,000-acre parkland. Gatineau Park is home to hundreds of hiking trails, swimming spots, snowshoeing trails and cross-country skiing routes. Gatineau Park is the ultimate outdoor playground.
These beautiful hills provide the perfect vantage point in the summer months for panoramic views, secluded coves and old ruins. The wide variety of hiking trails provides something for every level of experience and skill. If you are looking for a leisurely Sunday morning stroll then I can recommend the Pink Lake circuit. This 2.3km hike is super chilled and has some spectacular scenery and wildlife. This is a great trail for families although there are several sets of steps, something to bear in mind if you have a pushchair.
Here are a couple of things to note to help you plan your trip to Gatineau Park:
Parking: Car parks are available for nearly all of the hiking trails but there is a fee when parking between June and September at the beaches. If you know you’ll be spending a decent chunk of time in the park then I would recommend looking at a parking pass https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/parking-passes#entry:261:url
Emergencies: If you find yourself needing some assistance then you can call the 24-hour emergency line on 613-239-5353 alternatively if you need some help although it’s not an emergency you can call the visitor centre on 819-827-2020 or 1-866-456-3016 (toll-free). The visitor centre is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
Sunday Bikedays: If you are planning your trip during the summer months, take note that every Sunday morning nearly all of the parkways are closed to cars. This allows cyclists, inline skaters, runner and hikers free run of the trails. For more information and to check your route use the bikeways information page https://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places/sunday-bikedays.
Toilets: This can be an important one if you’re not a fan of a wild wee. At the start of your chosen trail, there should be a facility you can use. There are also public toilets at all of the beaches.
Dog Free Trails: Before setting out with your four-legged friend it’s best to check that the trail is dog friendly. Some of the hiking trails do not permit dogs, this is to protect and preserve the delicate ecosystems and natural flora and fauna of the area. Please respect these trails and double-check before letting your pooch off the lead.
3. Visit the Glebe
The Glebe neighbourhood is located south of downtown and is bordered by the Rideau Canal on the south and east sides. The Glebe plays host to Lansdowne Park and TD Place Stadium, home of the Ottawa Red Blacks football team (that’s American Football…not British Soccer). The whole stadium area was regenerated in 2012 and is now the vibrant hub of the Glebe neighbourhood. Shops, bars, restaurants, skate park, open green space, playgrounds and even a bustling farmers market; the Glebe is the perfect place to take a stroll, grab lunch and spend an afternoon chilling with a coffee in the park.
If you’re feeling a little more energetic you can hire kayaks from Dows Lake Pavilion. The pavilion is just a short walk through the Glebe. A kayak is a great way to spend some time exploring the Rideau canal from the water. For me, this was one of the best afternoon’s we spend in the Glebe, although I have to say I am a pretty poor paddle partner as I am far too easily distracted by the scenery. If you’re anything like me, make sure you give your buddy a heads up they will be doing most of the work or you can always opt for single kayaks.
This was the neighborhood where my parents set up home. It’s got a real community vibe and coupled with welcoming locals it should be on your Ottawa bucket list.
4. Visit parliament hill
Sitting atop parliament hill is the imposing gothic structure of the parliament building, with similarities to the UK parliament and the parliament building of Budapest the Ottawa parliament buildings have been the seat of government since 1866.
During the summer months, there is even a changing of the guard ceremony which is well worth a watch. The parliament also offers free daily guided tours. Tours last from 40 minutes to an hour depending on which part of the government buildings you want to explore. Tickets for tours can be booked ahead of time https://lop.parl.ca/sites/Visit/default/en_CA/#include_html
If history and politics aren’t your things then parliament hill still has something to offer. In the winter months, the whole building becomes a giant canvas for a light and sound show, it really is quite mesmerising. Alternatively, if you’re visiting in summer and fancy reconnecting with your body and the great outdoors, then yoga on the hill is for you. Every summer Parliament Hill welcomes seasoned yogis and novices alike to participate in uplifting midweek yoga throughout May, June, July and August. Don’t forget to pack your yoga mat!
5. White water rafting
This has to be one of my all-time favourite adventure activities I’ve ever done. If you like that slightly nauseating but intoxicating feeling of starring potential death or physical injury in the face then white-water rafting should be on your list. It’s an adrenaline rush like no other. We booked up a day adventure rafting with Owl Rafting. This family-run business is located right on the Ottawa river to the west if the city, an hour drive from downtown.
The adventure rafting package was medium intensity meaning that despite our incredibly skilful guide doing the steering we were in charge of paddling the raft. Our trip lasted eight hours and included a BBQ supper which was just the ticket after a day on the river.
The Ottawa river is widely considered to have some of the best white-water rafting in the world. Professional rafters and kayakers flock to the river to challenge themselves on its class five rapids.
To make the most of your rafting experience you absolutely need water shoes (no flipflops…if you end up in the water, you’ll be hard-pressed to find them!), swimsuit, a dry change of clothes, sun cream and a towel. It’s also worth considering your swimming capability; although you are wearing a life jacket and are surrounded by trained guides you really should be comfortable being in the water…the possibility of falling out is real.
6. Visit the Fairmont Chateau Laurier
This imposing fairy tale castle sitting on the banks of the Rideau Canal has played host to royalty, world leaders and countless celebrities. Built in 1912 the hotel has some of the best views of the city and is one of Canada’s most iconic landmarks.
The restaurant, Wilfred’s is widely known as one of the finest culinary experiences in Ottawa but the gastronomic glory isn’t limited to the main restaurant. The recently renovated Zoe’s and La Terrace also offer first-class food and service in a slightly more relaxed environment. But if you haven’t got a spare night for dinner then you should definitely reserve an afternoon slot for afternoon tea. Exquisitely presented cake, sandwiches and steaming hot tea, the Chateau Laurier gives you everything you could wish for in a proper afternoon tea.
Dining aside the hotel presents a historic display, located on the main floor. The display is free to view and documents the history of the chateau and the city.
7. Cruise the canal
Taking a cruise from Chateau Laurier to Dows Lake is a great way to learn about the history of the city and the canal. The cruise takes you past some of the cities best landmarks including City Hall, Lansdowne Park and the National Arts Centre.
Located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, the ByWard Market is one of Canadas largest oldest markets. In addition to the fabulous range of indoor stalls, you’ll find the outdoor vendors selling their wares in blistering sunshine and sub-zero temperatures 363 days a year.
If you need of a lunchtime snack or just fancy a wander through the stalls the ByWard Market is sure to inspire your taste buds and curiosity. If you’re visiting during the months, I would suggest finding a stall serving beaver tails…fried doughy goodness covered in your choice of sweet or savoury topping. Nutella covered sugary dough is the perfect pairing for a chilly afternoon stroll through the city.
9. Dow’s Lake
Dow’s Lake is a small man-made lake surrounded by Commissioners Park. Every year the park sees the ground explode with colour in the celebration of the Canadian Tulip Festival. Over 300,000 tulips bloom along the lakeside in May making this one of the most beautiful times to visit Ottawa.
There is also a large pavilion at Dow’s Lake where you can hire kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats. There is also a changing facility for skating in the winter.
You don’t have to be activity keeno to enjoy Dow’s Lake, you can simply enjoy the lakeside views from any one of the three restaurants.
10. A pint at the Chelsea Pub
Few things are better than finishing a long trail hike and finally sitting down with a cold beer, salty chips and a heart attack inducing cheeseburger. If you’re salivating at the thought then the Chelsea pub should be right at the top of your post-hike list.
This family-friendly pub offers gastro style food, cocktails, beers and all the usual soft drinks. The pub has been a pivotal part of Chelsea village life since 1875. This place is anything but a secret, in the summer months, you can find the wide terrace, enclosed beer garden and indoor space packed with guests. So, if you need an après hike pick me up it’s worth calling ahead to secure a table.
11. Check out the museums and galleries
As the Canadian capital, Ottawa is awash with world-class museums and galleries that rival the likes of Paris or London. There are no fewer than seven national museums, you are sure to find something to capture your imagination and a place to while away an afternoon. Take your pick from social and military history, world-class artwork, technological and natural wonders and aircraft collections, the choice is yours.
My top pick for culture vulturing in Ottawa has to be the National Gallery. Welcomed by the giant arachnid Maman the gallery has an extensive collection of Canadian art and photography as well as European works from ranging from artists such as Picasso to Hockney. The National Gallery also holds a large collection of First Nation artwork.
If art isn’t your bag then the Ottawa is home to the Canadian Museum of History, the Aviation and Space Museum or the Canadian Science and Technology Museum all make for a brilliant day out with the family. If you want to sample multiple museums during your stay in the capital, I recommend a museum passport. The museum passport will help save you money during your trip as for $35 you can gain access to any three of the seven national museums. http://museumspassport.ca/
12. Visit the Nordic Spa
Tucked away near the village of Chelsea is North America’s largest spa. With ten baths, nine saunas, one infinity pool, one saltwater pool, restaurants, treatment rooms and lounges it is easy to spend a whole weekend having some ‘me time’ at this nature enveloped retreat. Located only twenty minutes outside of Ottawa it is easily accessible and definitely worth a visit.
The Nordic Spa experience is all about improving your wellbeing and promoting relaxation. For me, the last few months of lockdown have taught me that I can afford to slow down and prioritise myself. Self-care is not about being selfish. So, if you have the time during your trip then take some time out and focus on you.
13. Catch a show at the Ottawa Little Theatre
The Ottawa Little Theatre is Canada’s oldest community theatre. With performances throughout the year from September to July, there is something for all audiences. Drama, comedy, farce, mystery and family adventure are all on show at the Ottawa Little Theatre. A visit to this charming theatre is well worth an evening during your trip to the Canadian capital.
I hope that you have found some inspiration here for your trip to Ottawa. I am always on the lookout for new experiences, so please let me know if I’ve missed something brilliant off the list. I am in no doubt that Ottawa now has a firm place in my family and we will be visiting again soon.