Monday, 24 August 2015

O'er hill and down dale

Saturday started out with breakfast at the hostel, a full hot English breakfast, to which I did not do due justice. When I had finished my pitiful efforts with the pot of yogurt, I packed my hoodie into my rucksack and headed down into Hartington Village.

With the Hall’s WiFi supposedly on the fritz, I settled down in the Beresford Tea Rooms to use theirs while I devoured a jam-and-cream scone and a cup of tea. When I was done, I ducked over to the general store for some basic provisions and set off on the ‘Pilsbury walk’, a 6-mile round trip from the Hall through the hamlet of Pilsbury.

Though both Hartington and Pilsbury are in dales, the trail between the two went right up on the ridges, so as I headed along the road out of town I kept my eyes on the hills. Past a farm gate the trail turned sharply up the hill, and then my introduction to hiking in the Derbyshire dales began. Between there and Pilsbury the trail ran along the public footpath – that is to say, a thin grass track across farmer’s (often occupied) fields, sometimes marked only by the tread of passing feet, and you just had to pray they’d been human ones.

Then, to pass between all these fields you were invading, were the stiles – made of stone or wood; sometimes a slim opening alongside a farm gate for you to slip through, other times a series of steps jutting out over a wall and down the other side; and frequently coupled with a gate, making an obstacle course as you swung over the too-slim stile, kicked the gate out, then landed on the ground and dodged sideways before the gate hit you on the way back.

It was quite an adventure, and the views were the crowning jewel. Everywhere were green grassy fields, separated by the dark line of drystone walls. It was such a different scene to the countryside I'm used to, and it was beautiful. I was almost back to Hartington when the dark clouds overhead rumbled ominously and little raindrops started hitting the top of my head. I had just decided to leave my tree-shelter and make a run for it when the heavens opened and I got drenched! I got a lot of chuckles as I walked through the village square and stopped into the supermarket to buy dinner before heading back to the hostel to dry off.

Sunday was a bit of a different day. Having discovered the previous day that I couldn't withdraw cash in Hartington,  I caught the first bus of the day into Buxton and found the first ATM I could to replenish my supply of pounds sterling. With an hour to the next bus, I found a supermarket for some quick shopping and some other errands before grabbing some lunch and wandering uphill towards the next bus stop. As I had a little explore, naturally I found a bookshop, and walked out with a couple of secondhand James Herriotts!

When I returned to Hartington the sky was threatening more ominous weather, and I was quite content to hole up in the library (yes, this hostel has a quiet room/library as well as the communal lounge, kids' room and Internet room) with some chocolate and my new books for a few hours. Having been sufficiently lazy for the day, after a soup dinner in the communal kitchen I grabbed a map for a short, easy dales walk from reception and set off about 8 o'clock for an evening stroll. You can guess where this is going - nightfall was much closer than I expected and I found myself at the bottom of Biggin Dale in the dark, with no torch, little food and water and nothing warmer than a light cardigan. So I backtracked, took the second shortcut homewards to avoid the muddy return route in the dark, spooking the whole way, and followed the main tracks back to the hostel, where my hour walk in the twilight was revealed to have been far from it!

Monday I had another big walk planned - the Three Dales Walk, from Hartington through Biggin Dale to Wolvercote Dale and thence to Beresford Dale (and looping around to Hartington). The route went around some of the paths I'd followed the previous night (and some I should have followed, had I not been out so late!), down into the dales and then along the river Dove, where I spotted 11 ducks, one dipper, one unidentified bird and one very fat, happy trout. It was a very nice, green walk, quite different to the walk over the hills two days earlier, and I took my time over it.

Arriving back in Hartington, I settled down at the tea rooms, dying for a scone and a cup of Earl Grey, and after a hour I retired for a nap back in my room. I decided to have dinner at the hostel (they have good food!) and spent my evening, as usual, curled up reading in the library (or sitting at the other end of the hall browsing the wifi, which was not so broken as reported...!)

Hartington church

Looking out over Hartington

Looking down into the dale


Crossed the ploughed field without falling in!

Heading out of Pilsbury


The Derbyshire dales

Drystone wall!


Hills and dales around Hartingon

Hartington from the other side

Over the hills towards Biggin Dale

Biggin Dale

The Dove River

Wolvercote Dale

Somewhere around Beresford

Friday, 21 August 2015


Thursday was an interesting day. After having extended my stay by a day the night before and spent the morning in research, I left the hostel at noon on Thursday with a bold and perhaps overambitious plan – hire a car at Heathrow Airport, drive to Bristol to find a WWI soldier’s grave, and drive back in time to see another West End show.

First off, show tickets. The Underground to Leicester Square seemed to take too long as I dashed out of the station, made the snap decision to buy slightly more expensive tickets to my favourite Phantom of the Opera, and then back on the same train in the opposite direction towards Heathrow Airport.

Once there, I stumbled around until I found the shuttle bus to the Europcar depot, the only company I could find that didn’t have a minimum age of 23 to hire cars. That’s not to say it was an easy process. Having first caused a sensation by asking to hire a car without a prior reservation, I then sent the staff into a tizzy by producing a licence that they’d never seen before. On the cusp of being denied a hire because their Big Book of International Licences had no record of my Victorian probationary licence and couldn’t vouch for its validity, I produced my International Driving Permit containing enough rules and restrictions to allay their fears.

Thus it was that around 3 o’clock I pulled out of the Europcar depot and promptly got lost in the rabbit warren around Heathrow Airport. Some astute sign-reading soon put me right and got me onto the M4 without too much difficulty, and then I was on my way to Bristol. Once the initial terror wore off, it was actually kind of fun. Thankfully the English drive on the left, like us, but I turned on the windscreen wipers more than once when I tried to change lanes!

It pretty soon became clear that it was a race against the clock, though. Heathrow is almost an hour from the city by the Underground, and with Phantom starting at 7.30 I needed to get back to Heathrow by 6 if I was to make it. With Bristol only an hour away it seemed like I had time up my sleeve, but with the clock dimishing noticeably and the distance not so much, I was definitely cutting it fine. A quick stop of about five minutes to grab some food and I continued hell-for-leather towards Bristol.

I made the turnoffs in all the right places and found myself, shortly past the impropitious hour of five o'clock, in the tiny hamlet of Leighterton. Almost on the other side of the village, I found the cemetery, where are buried a handful of WWI soldiers from the Australian flying squadrons stationed in Leighterton who never saw a battle are buried. One of them is called William Parkes, and he enlisted in Creswick, Australia.

After 20 minutes or so in the cemetery, during which time all hope of making it back to London at a reasonable hour went out the window, I jumped back in the car for the return trip to London. This time I got all the turnoffs right around Heathrow, managed to get out of penalties for not refuelling the rental car, and didn't even blow a gasket at the London Underground for taking so long to get me back to the city.

I bolted down Haymarket and made it to Her Majesty's Theatre just before the intermission in Phantom. The music, as always, was just wonderful, and one of the ushers has been inspired to study the story further after a soliloquy on why the actor playing Christine missed the crucial moment that defines the tragic love of the story - aka I went full Phantom nerd on someone and they thought it was so beautiful they want to know more.

Today was much less exciting - at noon I left the hostel bound for London Euston station, from whence I took a train north towards Manchester, changing at Stockport for Buxton, where I waited for the next bus that took me along a scenic 45-minute route to Hartington Hall, Jacobean manor and stunning youth hostel in the village of Hartington in the Derbyshire Peak district. After dinner I went for a walk through the town. It's all so classically English - all the stereotypes of stone buildings, multi-coloured flower gardens and pubs named after long-forgotten famous figures take life in this little dales town. It's James Herriott and Pride & Prejudice country, and it's gorgeous.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Go West (End)!

Tuesday I was up early with a plan. I took the usual bus towards the city, got off at Bermondsey Underground and took a train to Canary Wharf, from where I took the Dockland Light Rail to Greenwich - home to the Cutty Sark, the world’s fastest clipper!

The Cutty Sark worked for around 50 years in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and since the 1960s it’s been in dry dock, with a supporting structure around it to take the weight of the ship. I quickly made my way up through the lower holds to the main deck, where I sought out the ‘Ben’ that I’d been advised could answer all my questions. He did, and we proceeded to shoot the breeze for maybe an hour or two about everything nautical. After he headed off for his lunch break, I watched the professional riggers at work on the main deck and inspected the superstructure underneath, before dashing home to change clothes.

On Sunday, I had discovered the discount theatre box office at Leicester Square, and promptly decided to spoil myself with tickets to a West End show. I was so delighted with the concept that on Monday I decided to extend my stay in London by a night and buy tickets to a second show. Tuesday night was Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games at the Dominion Theatre. I popped out of the Underground at Tottenham Court Road all dressed up and excited. The show was good, though not what I was expecting – instead of simply being a showcase of Irish dancing, they tried to incorporate a storyline as well as singing and other musical elements – but when the chorus got up to dance, my goodness, did they dance!

Today was a quiet day – despite making sure I was out of bed at a reasonable hour, eating breakfast, packing my bags and being downstairs before checkout time, I didn’t leave the hostel for a couple of hours, sitting online trying to plan my adventures. Eventually I heaved my pack on my back and relocated to the hostel where I’d spent my first night in London, which was closer to the West End than my second hostel, which was booked out by this point anyway.

By the time I made it to the hostel it was only half an hour to check-in, so in the end I hung around, got settled in and did some more trip research. At 4.30 I headed out for a rendezvous – my good friend Robin from Enterprize has just moved to London for work, and we’d arranged to meet outside his new workplace on the Strand at 5 o’clock. We wandered up to a traditional English pub in Covent Garden, where we had dinner and a couple of drinks, before making our way to Victoria Underground station, from where Robin headed home and I headed up to the Apollo Victoria Theatre for musical no. 2 – Wicked!

The show was spectacular – the storyline itself is wonderful, but the actors really brought out the comedic element that was written into it and their voices truly made the songs take flight. A good theatre performance is uplifting and inspiring, and this one was. I collapsed into bed a happy girl tonight!

Monday, 17 August 2015

What a girl wants

Being Sunday, yesterday I decided to do one of my ‘London recommendeds’ from locals I’ve met in my travels and visit Camden Town, the canal and market. My goodness, was it crowded! Tourists simply everywhere - and probably some locals in there too, if you could find them! Camden Market itself was actually quite small, nothing on Queen Vic Market in Melbourne or Paddy’s Market in Sydney, so after a quick browse I simply wandered up the street to see what was there – and that is how I came upon Camden Lock. To be truthful it was the Hampstead Road Lock on the Camden Canal, but I had no idea that London even had a canal. I watched for maybe half an hour as three boats came downstream and two went upstream in a little hand-operated lock that looked too old to still be working, and the boats themselves were fascinating too – no more than 1.5 metres wide, up to about 10 metres long, and by the looks of several of them, houseboats!

After a street lunch, once I tired of walking around in amongst the crowds and shopping for the perfect rucksack  (which I finally found, after two weeks of searching), I hopped on a bus back to central London and pretty quickly fell asleep on the upper floor! Someone woke me when we reached Trafalgar Square, and after looking around for a little bit I settled down at a cafe for a high tea – scones, jam, cream, cakes and a pot of Earl Grey.

Later, replete, I was hoping to catch a route 15 bus towards Westminster, as they still use some of the old-style buses on that route, but the vintage buses didn’t seem forthcoming, so I took the Underground instead to Westminster station and from there I walked to the London Eye. Since I had pre-purchased my ticket, I only had to redeem it for a pass and walk through into the 4D promo movie before queuing up for the Eye. It wasn’t that much later that I stepped into a pod with a dozen or so strangers for the journey up above London.

I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t see Tower Bridge, and I had to fight my way through a wall of unmoving people to get a view from the good side of the pod, but it was still fun being so high above London and seeing some of the places that I’ve been over the past few days.

Today I slept in quite late – quite late – so once I was finally up and dressed I took the  bus into the city and began my day at Leicester Square. From there I endeavoured to walk to Piccadilly Circus, getting quite turned around at the start, but eventually finding my way up Haymarket and thence to the Circus. It was there that I realised something more – since the Underground station was called Piccadilly Circus, I hadn’t clicked that it was named for its cross street, Piccadilly. So I began to stroll down Piccadilly, and when I saw a Fortum & Mason I ducked in and bought a white lily, and then I walked down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in my mediaeval hand (it’s a nerdy obscure Gilbert & Sullivan reference, and I was chuffed with myself for making it happen).

From there I took the tube to St Pancras Kings Cross Station to go in search of Platform 9¾...well, I found it, but there was a long queue to get a professional photo taken. No thanks! Instead I wandered into the Harry Potter shop at Platform 9¾ and had a look around. Nerd paradise – and me with full luggage and little spare cash! From there I headed home and had a night in – though that’s not to say an early night!