The 'Sun-shine' Isle....apparently!
4 night stay at Shanklin, Isle of Wight

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Shanklin Bay & Fisherman's Cottage
The Isle of Wight is one of the places in Britain I've wanted to visit for a very long time.
Over the years I've been told countless times how its one of the sunniest places in England & how the island is literally bursting with thatched cottages.
As such to celebrate my 40th birthday, my daughter & I booked our annual 'girlie' holiday at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. We booked with National Holidays, £179 for 4 nights dinner, bed & breakfast in the Shanklin Beach Hotel (if it was any closer to the beach it'd be in the sea, said one review), sounded like a great value deal....
Our journey to the ferry port at Southampton was very pleasant. The sun was shinning, the roads were clear & the bus driver was jolly, there was the odd annoying passenger, but isn't there always!
I've never never been to Southampton before (hmmm possibly I got the ferry to Cherbourg from here back in 83') but from the limited view I had, it seemed a pleasant enough place. Then without much of a to-do we were on the Red Funnel ferry and crossing  over the Solent to East Cowes. On board the ferry I sipped a bottle of 'Ale of Wight' real-ale like a true tourist and  marveled at Henry the 8th sea defenses against the French which is quirky Calshot Castle,  while the Evil Genius sat in a state of heightened panic at the slightest movement of the boat... But soon East Cowes came into sight, looking lovely in the sunshine there was even a tall ship moored there!
We drove through green countryside and passed the odd thatched cottage (a sign of more to come I thought) before arriving at our final destination. Shanklin seafront looked gorgeous, with its palm trees and sandy beach and the sea glistening in the sunshine....and then we saw the hotel... oh dear...
I don't write negative reviews in my blogs so if you'd like to know my thoughts on the hotel click here for my Tripadvisor report... after our nightmare dining experience, which was the only time we ate at our hotel during this holiday we were a little down-heartened so we sauntered along to Shanklin Chine. Now this wasn't quite what I expected either! Its a strange little park that leads from the Old Village down to the sea and Fisherman's Cottage Inn.
There's a beck flowing through it with a small waterfall & a few cages with birds in. There was a little exhibition about P.L.U.T.O (pipe line under the ocean) and an old Victorian brine bath. The Chine was pretty at night and this is definitely the best time to visit. It's randomly lit with different coloured spotlights so my advice is wait until it's starting to turn dark before you pay to go in.
The rain started to fall so as we headed back to our hotel we popped into The Steamer Inn for a drink & as we sat listening to live music we decided to have our evening meals here each night as the place was fantastic, all decked out with ship themed decorations, right up my street. In fact we had 2 very enjoyable meals here during our holiday.

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Lions and Tigers and lemurs...oh my!
The next day the rain was pouring, in fact the rain poured for the rest of our holiday.
So we headed of to Sandown to the Isle of Wight Zoo. This is a very good zoo indeed! The zoo entrance ticket lets you return anytime within a week for just £1, good value I felt. They have lemurs, lions & tigers, everything we love the most! The animal keeper was a friendly lady and she spent time talking to the Evil Genius who is passionate about lemurs herself! The zoo is also home to rescued big cats & rare breeds such as the white lion, I'd never seen one before. All the animals seemed very happy & despite the torrential rain we saw everything ,bar the foxes, and encountered the worlds bravest duck swimming in the pond in the tiger enclosure!  We had an enormous meal in the zoo cafe at a very reasonable price too and returned later in the day for some yummy cake!  I've never been caught in rain like the rain we experienced that day. It was beyond awful. We were literally soaked to the skin and that's not pleasant.  While waiting for the bus ,that was 10 minutes late, there was a moment I really thought I was going to die of hypothermia right there in that bus stop in Sandown...'twas that grim!
We used public transport to get around the island during our holiday. A 24hour ticket for a Southern Vectis bus was £10 and the bus takes you everywhere! We found it very easy getting around & the drivers were very friendly & helpful and gave us a shout out when we arrived at our destinations.

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Osborne House
On day two we ventured to wonderful Osborne House. Surely no trip to the Isle of Wight would be complete without a visit to Queen Victoria's most favourite home. It's a massive site, with walled gardens, fabulous statues & the fascinating Swiss Cottage. Personally I felt the house was more impressive from the outside actually. Queen Victoria apparently wanted the children to have a 'normal' life and as such the rooms are quite plain in comparison to other stately homes I've visited. The Queen obviously adored her children and they seemingly lacked nothing and Swiss Cottage is basically their 'play house'. This has its own small house which is a museum of things the children collected over the years. There's also a miniature 'fort' complete with cannons! Osborne is a wonderful place and even in the torrential rain it was very charming. My top tip would be to eat in the cafe at the main entrance as the other is very very expensive!
During our travels on the buses we managed to see quite a bit of the island. But... Now I don't know if it was just the rain making the place seem dreary but my overall impression wasn't particularly favorable and by the end of the third day I felt the whole place was slightly run down. We passed many a deserted building and abandoned hotel and there was no where near the amount of thatched cottages as I'd been expecting. I was a tad disappointed.

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the Needles & lighthouse
On our final day we set off into the rainy fog to see 'The Needles' at Alum Bay, one of the main things I'd wanted to see on this holiday. Again we took the 'easy-to-use' service bus and
we passed some very pretty and interesting looking places en-route. I have to say I much preferred this side of the island, not least because we actually saw lots of thatched cottages! Once again the whole 'Needles' experience wasn't as expected. There was some kind of funfair at the top of a steep cliff & then we had to take quite a scarey chairlift ride to apparent certain death down to the shingle bay below...eek!  However we did survive the ride & The Evil Genius has a medal to prove it, and the views were amazing!  Alum Bay has 21 different coloured sands, apparently, although I didn't stop to count them all.  But I can say that the cliffs did look very colourful from the boat I took out to sea so I could see the rock formations & lighthouse at close quaters. The actual 'Needles' weren't as tall or 'needle-ish' as I expected, however I did enjoy the reasonably priced boat ride out there & would recommend the trip. After a spot of lunch & some gift shopping we decided to double back to Freshwater Bay & visit a very pretty thatched church we passed earlier. By chance we ended up on a circular route tour bus complete with commentary! St Agnes church was as pretty inside as out. Its not particularly old, built in 1908 apparently commissioned by Alfred Tennysons son. We didn't stay in Freshwater Bay too long, we were soon back on the bus heading to Yarmouth with the intention of eventually going to Godshill to see the thatched cottages there. Yarmouth seemed nice enough. I was quite taken with the Gribble seat...apparently Gribbles ate Yarmouth pier! Sounds like a headline from the Sunday Sport! By the time we reached Newport the respite from the rain had come to an end and it was once again absolutely pouring down so we decided not to bother going to Godshill & instead we'd visit the thatched cottages in Shanklin. I'm very glad we did!

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Shanklin Old Village
By the time we arrived in Shanklin the rain had totally disappeared, the sun was fiercely shining and the sky was blue! I was very impressed by Shanklin Old Village, it was basically what I'd envisioned the whole Island would look like. Picture perfect indeed. We even had our evening meal in a thatched pub, The Crab Inn. So as our holiday drew to an end we were left with mixed feelings and as we enjoyed the late evening sunshine we reflected on the fact that we'd enjoyed everything that we'd done and we would try the Isle of Wight again, maybe in August, we might actually get some sunshine then, and we would stay in a self catering cottage as oppose to a horrid hotel!


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Lincolnshire - Not just winding roads & windmills...
4 night caravan break at Golden Sands, Mablethorpe

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Humber Bridge
Cast your mind back to last Easter. It was a gloriously sunny weekend & we had planned to stay at Primrose Valley but it was a very loose arrangement & it all fell through at the last minute and never happened. This year I took no chances & booked direct with Haven, taking advantage of the 40% off sale & booked a family break in Lincolnshire, somewhere I've not been to since I was a child.
It was a grey & rainy day as we set off on the long journey to Lincolnshire. Not quite the glorious weather I'd hoped for this Easter but hey-ho this is England, we expect rain, sunshine is just a bonus prize!
I've never been over the Humber Bridge, in fact I find big bridges a tad on the scary side, so it was quite nerve-racking crossing from Yorkshire to Lincolnshire, but the view was amazing & we crossed over quicker than I expected. It was certainly an experience!

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Mablethorpe, twinned with the Island of Sodor?
After a long rainy journey, down winding roads and  through alien unfamiliar landscape we finally arrived at Golden Sands Resort and I confess to being less than delighted. Checking in was a 'cattle market' of an ordeal with everybody ushered into the main bar waiting to collect keys. On the bright-side our caravan was really nice, very clean, however I wasn't too keen on the site in general and I felt the caravans were very close together, so much so there was no space to park my car next to our caravan. Taking advantage of a break in the rain we dashed outside in search of the beach, which turned out to be just over the road. It was a huge sweeping expanse of razor-shell & starfish littered golden sands leading on for miles and would certainly be ideal for lazing on & building sandcastles in the summer sunshine months.
The next day was very sunny & suddenly everything seemed so much better! We set off into Mablethorpe and have to say I really liked it! I get the impression that Mablethorpe was very popular in the 1950s and possibly didn't feel the need to change anything since then! This isn't a bad thing, just my personal observation. There's the most amazing little steam train in the pretty park and with the funky beach huts & blue sky above the place looks straight from the pages of a childrens story! The park also has a large boating lake complete with swan boats and the path from there leads up to the beach huts and onto the promenade. Theres a few quirky modern art installations along the prom which are used in something called 'Bathing Beauties Beach Hut festival' which takes place in September & looks like something I might enjoy. The funfair was sadly closed on our visit however we did take a trip on the fantastic 'Sand Train'! It was such fun! It actually went into the sea!!! In reality it runs a really useful service connecting all the caravan sites along the beach to Mablethorpe resort and has been running since 1952. I saw no less than 2 pirate themed crazy golfs, *faints*, my favourite and a fantastic 1950s American style diner which was sadly closed on the morning we actually wanted to go in for breakfast, not to worry we had a lovely coffee in Gerardos instead...

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Sunny Cleethorpes
Next destination of the day was Cleethorpes & I was immediately impressed with size of the place! Its a very long and spread out resort with caravan sites at one side, Pleasure Island funfair in the middle & stretches right along the Humber Estuary to the pier at the other end. We didn't spend enough time here, on purpose really, because I really liked Cleethorpes & I would like to holiday here soon. We did see Spurn Lighthouse in the distance & the Humber Forts and Mr Plough explained to me how they were built in the war to protect the area from German invasion. We took the land train down to the pier and we enjoyed some fish & chips from Brenda’s Chippy. The sandy beach looked lovely & there were plenty of families building sandcastles & enjoying donkey rides although there are parts of Cleethorpes that are mud flats rather than sand. Once upon a time there was a charge to walk along the promenade, pier and gardens nowadays its free for everybody to enjoy the sculpture trail & the folly of Ross Castle. I'd definitely recommend a visit to Cleethorpes and I'm looking forward to a return visit with much more to report!

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Alford Windmill
Lincolnshire is a very flat county. I come from rural County Durham. Its all green hills & valleys & livestock here so the contrast was instantly noticeable to me. What Lincolnshire lacks in hills it makes up for in bends! Why are the roads so winding?!!  It seems so unnecessary! However the more time we spent on the road the more I came to enjoy the scenery & the quirky dykes. I adored the unique signposts a lot of the villages had, I've seen similar in Norfolk (we don't have them at home) and I kept stopping the car & leaping out to take photos of them. And how many windmills!!! How fantastic! It was lovely to see all the mill conversions but I was really excited to climb to the top of a proper working windmill.
Alford Windmill was built in 1837. It's over 30metres tall, has 5 sails, 6 floors and is a fully functioning flour mill ( I bought a bag to bake some special cupcakes! ).
We climbed up wooden 'ladders' right to the top of the windmill, each room smaller than the last, so it may not be suitable for the feint of heart! On your visit do have a delicious cake from the tearoom and on a sunny day its nice to sit out in the garden & enjoy your coffee while the windmill creaks & turns in front of you...aaahhh lovely! Its an absolutely beautiful windmill and I'd like to thank the man who let us go into the mill on a day I've since discovered it wasn't suppose to be open to the public. Thank you kind sir, very much appreciated!

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Tattershall Castle
National Trust owned Tattershall castle was next on our  holiday 'must see' list.
The imposing moated tower of Tattershall castle is a beautiful sight indeed.
Originally built in 13th century, it became home to Ralph Cromwell in the 15th century & was greatly altered. Cromwell’s symbol of a bulging coin purse can be seen on some of the fireplaces inside, apparently his motto was 'Have I not the right!'. Draw you're own conclusions about that one! 
Inside the castle there are 6 floors to explore, starting in the cellar and ending on the roof. The rooms are mainly empty however there are some wonderfully ornate fireplaces in each room & a display of relevant artifacts. There's amazing views to be had from the roof, in fact you can see as far as Lincoln Cathedral, which impressed me! However it's a little bit noisy as an RAF base & the Battle of Britain visitor centre are near by and there's lots of aeroplane activity! Its amazing to think that the castle stood as a ruin for about 400years and was only rescued & restored relativity recently in the 20th Century. There is graffiti around the building, we saw some dating back to 17something-or-other, however this no problem and only adds the general appeal of this charming castle. There's also a pretty church on the site and a lovely old building they use as the gift shop.
Nearby are the ruined remains of  13th century Bolingbroke Castle, birth place of Henry IV. The castle has been a ruin for over 350years, it was totally destroyed during the Civil War in the 1640s, however you can still see that it was an impressive hexagonal shape and was surrounded by a moat. It's a very peaceful place, nice for a picnic & definitely worth a visit if you're already in the area.

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Beautiful Butterfly
One of the main reasons of our holiday choice was to visit Skegness, a childhood favourite resort for Mr Plough, while my only childhood memory is of the 'naughty' goat' & seals at Natureland! Skegness seemed a very nice place. Again its risky visiting new places out of summer season, you don't see them at their best. Also the weather was rather mixed on our visit, sunny one moment then an incredibly huge black cloud descended and afterwards it was sunny again but rather windy. There was a lovely beach, which we managed to sit on for a while. Although I wasn't too sure about the 'large tap' apparently pouring gallons of water into the sea just off the end of the stumpy pier. I told Little Madam that it was 'filling up the sea' however I did wonder if it was spewing out sewerage? Please enlighten me if you do know its real purpose. Little Madam did have fun in a huge 'hamster style' plastic ball on water...she loved it so £3 well spent!
We looked all over for the outdoor paddling pool that both myself & Mr Plough remember & think we may have met in once in the 70s, however we came to the conclusion that Jolly Fisherman statue may have replaced it. We did enjoy our visit to Natureland although I kept a wide berth from the 'naughty' goats this time! The seals were cute & adorable and the sanctuary does great work looking after injured & abandoned baby seals. You can help them via their website by donation or becoming a friend. There's also details of admission charge special offers on there and you can find coupons on some of the advertising leaflets too. There’s also many other animals to see here,  including a brilliant reptile house complete with crocodiles (my faves) however it took a lot to convince Little Madam they were actually real as they stand so still! The best thing about Natureland for me was the Butterfly house, it was lovely walking among the butterflies, which is strange for a woman who is terrified of moths!. I think a return trip to Skegness will be definitely be on the agenda as we didn't have time to see the whole place.

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one of the pretty Village Signposts
A return trip to Lincolnshire is currently in the planning stages, with Cleethorpes, Skegness & Lincoln city on the list of destinations.
As a tourist I found it very difficult to get information on where to visit & what there actually was to see and do in the area I was staying in before I actually arrived. That’s definitely something that could be improved on. As a motorist I found it unnerving driving on the 'Red Route'. While I understand the importance of making motorists aware of the dangerous roads, we found it made no difference to the idiots who overtook us on bends and we did consider having t-shirts printed with 'I survived the Red Route' emblazoned on them! And finally as a regular static caravan holidaymaker I found it slightly bizarre that we were told it wasn't Havens company policy to provide a toaster in our caravan..hmmm strange, I've had one in every other Haven caravan I've ever stayed in...clearly these people have never made full English with toast for 4 people on a morning!

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Tha'ars trouble at t'mill....
overnight stay at Borrowby Mill, North Yorkshire

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coffee in the guest lounge
Actually there was absolutely no trouble at all at Borrowby Mill B&B. In fact during our stay everything was perfect. The owners were lovely people who couldn't of been more friendly or helpful. The room was fantastic, from the beamed ceiling to the brass bed, even the quirky mirror on the wall & the cute little original window, everything was absolutely lovely.
Such a welcome and needed night of total relaxation & spoiling was exactly what we needed after what seemed like an endless week of one bit of bad news after another. Both Mr Plough & myself were totally stressed & down spirited so I searched high & low on the internet for a 'cheap little night' in a B&B and ended with a choice between a night in a windmill or a night in an old flour mill both sounded lovely but on closer inspection the windmill room was half a mile away from the actual windmill so the flour mill was the clear winner!
So after a late finish from work, off we set to the little rural village of Borrowby, near Thirsk, to check into our B&B. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the place. An impressive 16th Century mill conversion. 5 star accommodation?! But I'd only paid £39 for the two of us for the night! Eeek that can't be right!
As we looked around the mill at the gorgeous dinning room, stunning guest lounge & amazing bedroom I just assumed there'd been some error on my part & obviously the price I would pay would be at least double what I thought it was going to be, but I'd worry about that tomorrow & for now we'll just relax & enjoy our complimentary coffee & cakes and marvel at the remnants of the old mill workings in the sumptuous guest lounge.

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inside the Dog & Gun, Knayton
Our landlady kindly recommended The Dog & Gun at Knayton as a nice little pub to enjoy a bite to eat & a pint of real ale. We weren't disappointed. Although most of the tables appeared to be reserved (I would recommend you book for a meal) we managed to get a seat as it was just past 6pm & quite early in the evening really. The food was simple fayre but scrumptious & indeed Mr Ploughs burger/stacker meal came on a plate the size of a hand basin! It was huge! We enjoyed a lovely pint of Black Sheep with our meal and the bill came to the grand sum of £22 so fantastic value. The Dog & Gun is a lovely rustic country pub and to be honest I could of stayed there all night however we had arrived in the car & by now I was starting to melt as we were sitting next to an enormous radiator & opposite the fire so we decided to take the car back to the mill and walk into the village of Borrowby & try the local pub.
The Wheatsheaf Inn to me was a traditional village pub with the main customers being local people. Its clearly a family run business & the lady behind the bar was very friendly, as were the people around and we enjoyed a nice pint of Daleside Ale.
Now a funny thing happened at the pub, I desperately needed the loo after such a long walk through the village so I spotted a dubious looking door with a toilet sign on it, you know those white doors & when you open them its like the black hole of doom in there & everybody's peed on the floor & there’s loo roll all over, well I envisaged I would find this when I opened this particular door. Instead what happened was I opened the door just as the radio behind the bar sprung into life & blasted David Bowies 'Life on Mars' at full volume & scared the bejeebuz out of me and behind the door was actually outside & an old fashioned alleyway that looked like time had stood still for a 100 years! For a moment I did think the loud music was some kind of burglar alarm or some 'in joke' known only to locals but no it was just a coincidence. Incidentally the loos were quite pleasant too so no worries after all!
Sadly I had a really bad chest infection and unfortunately the smell from the dogs in the bar was making me cough uncontrollably so we just had the one pint & headed back to the Mill for a bottle of wine with us dressed in our matching his'n'hers complimentary robes instead!


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Borrowby village old market cross
A brief encounter with an uninvited bee in our room was the only (slight) problem we had during our stay at the mill. Breakfast was full English & delicious. After which we headed out into the tranquil garden to enjoy the birdsong & watch the rabbits frolicking amongst the ladybird covered daffodils as we gently swung on the garden swing-bench in the glorious morning sunshine. The price was indeed as stated on the internet, an absolute bargain thanks to booking.com, the usual price for our room is £65, still a bargain in my opinion.
We checked out with a promise to return soon and headed off into Borrowby village.
Its a pretty village, much bigger than I expected, although it seemed to be mainly houses & a strange amount of cross roads! With the daffodils in full bloom near the old market cross the village was very pretty indeed.

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Thirsk 'castle'
We headed off into the market town of Thirsk. I'd never been before and I found it to be a very pretty town, with its market clock tower & picturesque church & intriguing 'castle' site. Unfortunately it was early on a Sunday morning in out of season March and mainly everywhere was closed. The town appeared to have 2 museums the Herriot museum & the Thirsk museum which is housed in the birthplace of Thomas Lord (of Lords Cricket ground fame) and the most quirky cinema I've seen in a long while! I liked the towns blue plaque trail & the church was very pretty too so I think a return journey in the summer months is most likely!
We managed to have the worst cup of coffee I've ever tasted, in a café in town after which we headed off to Northallerton. I'd never been here before either, unfortunately I don't think I'll rush to return. Good for shopping and probably a popular drinking destination too I would imagine but not my cup of tea really. We did go into 'Lewis & Coopers' (its the Harrods of the north you know!)where we bought 2  of their own bottles of real ale. After which we bought some bits for a picnic lunch and headed to Ripon to spend the rest of the afternoon at lovely Fountains Abbey. I love Fountains Abbey (as you know dear reader) so wandering through the site in the beautiful spring sunshine was a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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Robin Hood Country
Overnight stay in Travelodge, Nottingham, 26th August 2010

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Old Market Square, Nottingham
I have previously been to Nottingham, long ago in the dim distant past and I'd always thought I would return one day purely to visit the castle.So a trip to Nottingham was one of the first trips we took together, back in 2010, as a recently formed '21st century' family.
We booked a room in the Travelodge, which is very near to the castle and in an excellent city location, just off the Old Market Square, for the great price of £27. The room was big enough for all 4 of us, although the girls did have to sleep on a strange sofa bed arrangement with Little Madam being relegated to a 'floor level mattress on wheels'....something she still moans on about to this day! There was no car park on site but there was a safe multi-storey just over the road, so all in all it was excellent value for our stay.

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the impressive 'castle' gateway
After travelling all the way from County Durham purely to visit the castle I confess to being more than a little disappointed to find out that there actually is no castle in Nottingham at all. Infact there hasn't been a castle here for hundreds of years! Indeed the castle was totaly destroyed in a civil war in the sixteen hundreds!!! The impressive gateway is sadly all that remains of the castle. In the late 17th century a mansion was built on this site, today it is home to an art gallery & displays of global artifacts.However there were parts of the 'castle' that I did like.The victorian style gardens were very pretty, there was a really good exibiton of some props & costumes from the recent Robin Hood film (starring Russell Crowe) that we all enjoyed and infact inside the 'castle' there was a display with the question 'What am I? Why am I this shape?' that made us laugh so much that my daughter  & I still  frequently say it to each other!
The admission charge to the castle was 'a bit steep' but it did give you free entry to the Museum of Nottingham Life which is actually brilliant!
The museum includes some room reconstructions (always a favourite with us!) and shop front mock-ups, but I think the highlight for us was the Air Raid shelter in the Cave system. The caves (and infact the museum) are under the castle & carved into the rock by hand, not naturally made at all, they're fascinating and have been used for all sorts of things including houses, shops & an air raid shelter during the wars. If you're visiting Nottingham you must visit here!

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'The Trip', atmospheric, unique & quirky
There are a lot of lovely old inns in Nottingham and there is an official 'Real-Ale trail'. Mr Plough & I snook out for an hour or so and left the girls shooting each other with bow & arrows. We managed to visit Ye Olde Salutation, The Castle, The Bluebell Inn & my personal favourite Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. 'The Trip' is also carved into caves underneath the castle and claims to be the oldest inn in England. Apparently the name derives from knights stopping off here on their way to the crusades.  I can honestly say I've never been anywhere else quite like it in my life! Its a quirky place with a great atmosphere & has a good choice of ales.
Nottingham city itself was a bit of a mixed bag to me.I did like the old buildings, the Robin Hood statues, the fountains in the market place & there's just something about trams that I really like (maybe as we don't have them in our area!) however it's the only city I've visited where I've felt as though I may be mugged at any moment & indeed I was witness to a robbery, in Greggs of all places! A man shoved me out of his way, picked up a bag of crisps, popped the bag open & walked back out of the shop with out paying or anything!!! The very fact that not a single person in the queue behind me so much as batted an eyelid makes me think this is possibly common place around these parts. Not exactly a great impression for tourists such as myself. Thats quite enough of Nottingham now onwards to Sherwood forest!!!

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Rufford Abbey Country Park, Sculpture trail
En-route to see 'The Major Oak' we intended to call into Rufford Abbey Country Park at Ollerton however we ended up staying there for most of the day! The place was huge! 150 acres of parkland with a brilliant sculpture trail, ruins of an atmospheric monastery & beautiful old hall, an enclosed orangery,  an interesting camera obscura, childrens play park, lots of woodland walks & a collection of craft shops & a cafe, certainly enough to keep us entertained for the day. A great budget day out too with free admission, you only pay a £3 carparking charge. We also called in at Rufford Mill, I think it was all joined but we drove down, however it was mainly a large shop & lakeside confrence centre, clearly a popular wedding venue as indeed there was a wedding going on!

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the Major Oak
Finally we arrived at the Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre at Edwinstowe, home of 'The Major Oak'. Apparently the oak tree is about 800 years old and was home to the legendary Robin Hood. Weather you're a believer of the legend or not, sherwood forest is a beautiful ancient woodland and the major oak is truely an impressive sight, although the wooden scaffolding is a bit of an eyesore, I suppose it's there for protection. There are many other large trees in the woodland & its a very lovely walk from the carpark down to the main tree.
There's also a visitor centre with an impressive Robin Hood display and a handy shop selling all your bow & arrow needs! Again entry into the visitor centre & down to the major oak was free & just a parking charge to pay (however Mr Plough used his Yorkshire charm & the lovely lassie let us off with the charge!)
I do feel that the whole Robin Hood thing is slightly over used as a tourist lure but over all we really enjoyed our trip to Nottinghamshire. Sherwood Forest was fantastic and there were lots of other parks, historic venues & museums in the area that are waiting to be explored.

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Coach Trip
An all inclusive one night stay at the Grand Hotel, Scarborough,8th January 2012
also One night Dinner, Bed & Breakfast staying at Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Bingley, 26th February 2011via National Holidays

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Scarborough bay with the imposing Grand Hotel
_As a nice little treat for Mr Ploughs birthday we decided on an all inclusive trip to Scarborough with National Holidays.
A Sunday night stay in a standard room with evening meal, breakfast & 3 hours of free bar was an absolute bargain at only £39 per person. We've been with National Holidays previously on a 'mystery' break & found it to be excellent value. I'd definitely use the company again & if you sign up to the mailing list they send you a special offer email too.
The Grand Hotel is a beautiful & imposing Victorian building, in a fantastic position overlooking  Scarboroughs entire South bay and in short walking distance from town. As you know by now, I adore old buildings & the victorians knew how to build in an opulent & magnificently ornate style such as this hotel and glad to say there are still many original features left inside the hotel too. Sadly time has took its toll on the hotel but to be fair it must cost a kings ransom to upkeep such a massive hotel. I'm not going to go into all the ins & outs of what I felt was wrong or could of been improved upon within the hotel you can read my tripadvisor report here if you like, instead this blog is about what a good value-for-money trips with National Holidays we've had.
We were picked up from Darlington early that Sunday morning & we wondered if there would be a 'stop off' somewhere en-route but no! We arrived at the hotel two and a half hours before we could check in, no problem though, we left our bag at the hotel & set off into town to look for a nice pub for a lunch & a pint of real ale.
I'll tell you a story now:- I've been to Scarborough rather a lot over the years and I've noticed an old fashioned painted wooden sign at the end of a narrow passage way for  pub called 'The Three Mariners Inn'. I've always thought it would be lovely to go in here and sample a pint or two in some nice historic surroundings. Indeed the sign boasts its 'the famous haunt of smugglers with its secret hiding places' sounds right up my street...so off we set, with much discussion from Mr Plough who was adamant there was no pub at all down this far end of the seafront, but no I knew there was, after all I've been seeing this sign for quite some years now...skipping excitedly down the narrow alleyway I was a bit perplexed as to why the door was closed....then my heart sank, on closer inspection I was horrified to discover that The Three Mariners Inn is not a pub and doesn't look like it has been a pub for maybe a hundred years or so!!! It has been a museum more recently but now it's neither, its just a house!...I can't convey to you my disappointment at this discovery, I wanted to drink in here for so many years! I was absolutely gutted..who would do such a thing as to advertise a fake pub?!!! Its just cruel! haha...hey-ho!
On returning to the hotel we were delighted to find our room had a jacuzzi bath, which I tried out while Mr Plough ventured out of the window to 'admire the sea-view'.... Evening meal was a self service three course affair, prawn cocktail, roast pork & gateau, a menu designed with the mainly elderly clientele in mind. The 'free bar' started rather early at 6pm and at one point poor Mr Plough stood in the huge queue for the bar for nearly 30minutes! By the end of the free bar we had managed to have three free drinks each which was perfectly acceptable. The hotel boasted a 'comedy weekend' so we hung around to see the comedian, who was no Michael McIntyre, 'Umpa-lumpa' he bellowed to the audience, 'stick it up your jumper' replied the enthusiastic geriatric crowd, 'charcoal charcoal' offered the comedian, 'stick it up your arsehole!' came the audiences retort..clearly side-splittingly funny stuff to the over 70's, not my 'thing' so we called it a night & headed off to the room with an over priced bottle of warm wine...
Breakfast was again a self serve arrangement but sadly not even the magnificent view of Scarborough bay could distract from how awful the food was so we headed off into Scarborough instead and enjoyed a lovely morning beach walk before finding a nice coffee shop overlooking the harbour for a spot of brunch then back to the hotel at 130 for our return journey home.
All in all we had a great time and felt the trip was good value for money.



Picture
Bankfield, our 'Mystery' Hotel
_The first trip we took with National Holidays was in 2011 when we opted for a 'Mystery Weekend'....
We were very excited when we booked it & named a list as long as your arm of all the places we hoped we might go to & probably the same again of where we hoped we wouldn't go!
We boarded our coach early on the Saturday morning & excitedly took our seats wondering what scenery we would pass through on our mysterious journey, sorry to say we weren't in suspense for too long for as soon as the last passenger boarded with us the driver promptly told us exactly where we were off too!
Skipton never made it on to either of our lists, infact I'd never been to Skipton before so that was a bonus.
We drove through some dramatic scenery (& weather) and arrived at our days destination just before lunch.
Skipton is a beautiful historic market town, complete with canal, that boasts a castle too ..(that we couldn't find! I think we had castle blindness or something because on our next visit to Skipton it was obviously right in front of us the whole time!)... We enjoyed a lovely canal boat ride, taking in the sights of Skipton. Then as the rain started to fall we headed into the Narrowboat pub and  I introduced Mr Plough to the delights of 'real ale'. Several Ilkley Mary Jane's later we set off in high spirits to embark on an impromptu pub tour! We ventured into many quaint inns around the town none of which I remember the names of now, I even lost my hair treasured accessory & I apologize unreservedly to anybody we may have bothered as we were more than slightly drunk when we reboarded the coach & headed through more beautiful scenery (that I do remember) to our hotel for the night at Bingley.
The hotel was an absolutely gorgeous gothic mansion, not what I expected at all, very pooosh!
Bankfield, at the time we stayed it was Ramada Jarvis owned now I believe Mercure own it.
Our room was very nice & we had a view of the very pretty garden. Our evening meal was lovely if not a little rushed, but the only downside of the stay was there was a wedding reception taking place in the hotel & the guests had spilled out into the bar & taken all the seats...of course with hind sight I think it probably wasn't ideal for the bride&groom to have a coach load of unknown people at your wedding reception...
Our coach set off early the next morning so breakfast was a tad rushed. However we set off for a day at Bowness in Windermere which is one of my favorite places to visit. I love the lake district & Windermere is beautiful.
We took a fantastic hour long boat ride out onto the lake, looked round the independent shops & had an amazing fish 'n' chip lunch in Vinegar Jones... the weather stayed fine, sunny but cold, to be expected in February and a great day was had by all....
We paid £39 each for this trip & had dinner, bed & breakfast at a very fancy hotel, and excursions to Skipton & Bowness on Windermere an absolute bargain!
I would definitely book another holiday with them again.

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I heart London
A 3 night stay in Huttons Hotel, Victoria, London
Date of stay: 12-15th July 2011
I am quite lucky that my birthday is in July so I usually use it as an excuse for a trip away. This year was a special 'last trip before university' treat for my daughter & me so we decided on a girlie holiday to London.
I cant afford fancy West End Boutique hotels but after much internet research I found Huttons Hotel in the Westminster area to be an affordable 3 star hotel in a very good area of London, just near Victoria Station. I would definately stay here again & would recomend it to anybody! (Read my tripadvisor report here.)
This blog is pretty much the diary I kept while we were there, sorry if it waffles on a bit!......
Day One
The train journey from Darlington to Kings Cross London was rather unremarkable. Bland farmland with a scattering of pretty churches here & there. The journey took less than three hours but it was probably two hours too long to be stuck on a strangely freezing cold train!
We got off the train at Kings Cross and went straight to buy our travel cards (as everybody had insisted we should) then took the underground train to Victoria. The Underground itself wasn't nearly as scary as presumed and was pretty similar to the Paris Metro.
First view on leaving Victoria Underground station was the 'Apollo Victoria' theatre advertising 'Wicked'.
A huge and colourful sight making me excitedly realise I was really in London!!
After being adamant that we wouldn't get off the tube & 'look lost'... it was infact exactly what we did do!
Much conferring & consultation of several maps we set off in a general direction, which happened to be correct hurrah!
Our hotel was in a lovely Georgian faced, quite part of Westminster. Absolutely gorgeous and everything I'd hoped for! The room was small but clean & certainly big enough for us two. The bathroom was a literal cupboard but there was a loo & shower in there! Best of all there was a wonderful balcony overlooking the street below, brilliant!!
Our first stop of the day was Westminster. Straight off the tube to find ourselves standing directly under Big Ben!
WOW!!!
The clock face was so ornate with all the patterns & gold inlays and we were lucky enough to hear it chime 4oclock. Brilliant!
The Westminster area is beautiful all the buildings are intricately carved stone affairs. The houses of parliament seemed to stretch on for miles! I got excited to see where the reporters stand to give live News reports & see all the
gazeboes with film crews set up.
I was shocked to see all the tents of the protestors. Protesting about all kinds of things too...I never knew this was
here.
We had a brief visit to Victoria Gardens to admire the Thames & views of the London Eye. Then a quick look at Westminster Abbey before setting off up Whitehall to Downing Street. The gated entrance to Downing Street is guarded by machine gun toting police! Eeek!!!
There were a lot of statues commemorating this&that, mainly wars... On to Horse Guards Parade when we
ogled smartly dressed soldiers & I fell in love with a gorgeous dragon!!!
Then onto Trafalgar Square for a spot of people watching. Loved the 'ship in a bottle', interested by the Olympic 2012 countdown clock & rather enjoyed the artwork made from live plants next to the National Gallery. Tittered at some 'headless' street entertainers & marvelled at the guy playing the 'Flumpet' (flaming trumpet to you).
Back onto the tube to Piccadilly Circus, this is as busy as the saying goes...and also turns out to be Theatre-land! 
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Day Two
A bowl of muesli & a cheese sandwich for breakfast (???! hmmmm) A quick game of 'guess the nationality of the guest' then off to the V&A museum our first port of call for the day.
Inside the museum, I liked the wooden shop front from a 15th century London shop & the spiral staircase from France. I lovedall the dragons and the metalwork section and some of the Asian exhibits were fascinating.
We went on to The Natural History Museum next but were disappointed to find the dinosaur section was closed :(
Never mind we did see a few dino-skeletons & the extinct 'Giant Sloth' was interestingly bizarre!
I really enjoyed the Tokyo Supermarket earthquake experience too!Next stop (and several tube rides later) was Tower Bridge. We arrived just in time to see the bridge rise for a ship to pass through it! We saw the Tower of London just near it on the other side of the river from our vantage point.
We walked right along to London Bridge (it wasn't falling down!) & had a bite to eat before heading to The Globe theatre. We passed 'The Golden Hinde', Sir Francis Drake's sailing ship. How lovely to see such a beautiful
sailing vessel in a city! Sadly it was closed as a school party was on boardnever the less it was a beautiful find! We also saw HMS Belfast...wow how big!?! HUGE!!!
Finally the globe theatre came into view & I have to say, it wasn't really as I expected. It was much bigger & not the shape I'd thought it would be& there was a wall all around it, but hey it’s a great piece of history& I'm glad we saw it.
The Millennium Bridge was just a little bit scary! I walked across it nervous in the fact that the side rails were quite low
and I could easily trip & tall over the edge or a mad man could come along and push me over!! (Much to the ridicule of my daughter!) I bought some warm honey roasted nuts from a vendor on the bridge to help take my mind off the
ordeal!
St. Paul’s cathedral was enormous. The huge white building with its domed roof, instantly recognizable from TV, however from the side & back managed to look totally different!
Back on the epic tube journey to the hotel to rest our weary legs & aching feet before heading out to the pretty pub at
the bottom of 'our' street. St Georges Tavern was a lovely pub. I had an absolutely gorgeous Halloumi salad& vanilla baked cheesecake...yummy!
Another lovely day in London, I just wish the weather was warmer!
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Day Three
 First on the agenda today was a trip to Buckingham Palace. It was much bigger than expected with huge golden gates. The place was a hive of activity, lots of different types of soldiers all in different uniforms with or without horses! It was a lovely sunny day so we got settled on the fountain opposite so we could watch the changing of the guards.
It was quite a long & slow arrangement with lots of trumpet fanfares & even a rendition of 'Pirates of the Caribbean' theme tune! Lots of comings& goings, horses, strange hats (some of which were on the horses!) and bad tempered police women...two hours later it was all over & we headed into St James Park for a picnic lunch. The park was very pretty so we set off along the lakeside & came upon a sign saying not to feed the pelicans... pelicans??!! Sure enough further along we saw two pelicans in the bird feed enclosure!
We wandered along to New Scotland Yard for a quick photo & then over to Westminster Abbey where we sat in the pleasant garden enjoying the sunshine& watching 2 boys practice tight-rope walking.
From here we crossed the Thames & bought our tickets for a 'flight' on the London Eye.
The queue was huge & we had to wait for nearly an hour to get on...But finally we're on & what a view!!! We were so high!! A fantastic view of London :)
Afterwards we ambled along South Bank enjoying the exhibits of the festival we'd wandered into. We saw the E4 purple cow comedy stage, the colorful Beach Huts & enjoyed the displays, each different inside each hut... We came
to a 'little beach' so pulled up a yellow bucket for a well earned rest...more mooching past some modern art installations, brought us to an elaborate roof garden, complete with vegetable patch & scarecrow.
Another great day of London sight-seeing :)                                         
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And Finally
This was our last morning in our country’s capital city & we spent the time doing as all London tourists do eventually, gift shopping! I bought Mr Plough a 'my girlfriend went to London and all she bought me was this lousy T-shirt' shirt and I got myself an 'I heart London' t-shirt, because I really did heart London! I was totally surprised by how much I'd enjoyed this trip away. I'm a country girl at heart & I normally favour the countryside to big cities but London had surprised me in every way.
I had pre-formed ideas of it being a dirty, unfriendly, over crowed monstrosity of skyscraping, modern, bland buildings with muggers&rapists waiting to pounce on every corner, it was nothing like that thank goodness! I found the people we spoke to very friendly, the tube staff were brilliant & patiently showed us how to read the tube maps, there were so many old historic buildingsI didn’t know where to look first & we never got mugged or worse & as two females alone in the big city we felt safe everywhere we went, even at night.
We were taking the coach home just after 12 so had a few hours to fill with gift buying & last minute sightseeing. We left our luggage safely at the coach station & ended up having our final hour in a pretty garden/park on Buckingham Palace Road wondering what on earth the two shell covered 'grotto' type buildings were about...
It was an incredibly LONG bus ride home...we were sat in front of the two most obnoxiously unfunny stand-up
'comedians' I'd ever had the misfortune to meet (well maybe there's been one other far worse but that’s another story)
we got stuck in not one but two traffic jams & ended up being nearly an hour late home.. hey-ho we had a fantastic time in London & I cannot wait to go back again one day soon!
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London on a Budget
A great time can be had in London even if you're on a budget. We mainly spent our time sight-seeing.
The Victoria & Albert museum & The Natural History museum were free entry as are many other museums in London.
It's worth doing a bit of research before you go to find out who charges for what or what link save entry fees there are.
A lot of attractions give discounts for entry of multiple places.
Buy a travel card (as everybody told us!) you'll use the tube more than you think!
And just take the time to actually stop & look at places, take a photo, chill out in one of the many parks & enjoy your visit to this amazing city!

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On Tour...Just like Jessie J
1 Night stay at Spa Apartments, Bridlington
Date of stay: 26th October 2011
I have quite a varied taste in music but it was always going to be a risk when we booked tickets to see Jessie J but the fact that she would be playing in a venue like Bridlington Spa intrigued me & after I saw the Pigeon Detectives there back in 2008 I always intended to go back to see someone else play there. For mainly this reason we booked to go. I wasn't sure where to stay or even if to bother staying overnight at all. We were already booked up to see The Feeling earlier that month so I ended up leaving it until quite late to book so choices of accommodation were quite limited for the discerning 'budget traveler' however at £40 for the night The Spa Apartments met our needs.
It was a grey & threatening afternoon when we arrived in Bridlington. We got marginally lost looking for the apartment but that's all part of the fun! We found it eventually just a street behind the evenings venue. There was nowhere to park the car so we ended up parked outside the Spa & noticed the start of the evenings queue already forming...erm its only 3.30!!! (Apparently the first girl had arrived from York at 7am that morning..or so I was reliably informed by the cafe opposite owner.)
The apartment was slightly old fashioned but certainly had lots of character & we quite liked its quirky layout. It had a kitchen/eating/living area with flatscreen TV, separate bedroom with the worlds shortest bed & lumpiest pillows and huge bathroom with both a bath&shower. Overall it was ideal for us, in a great location, clean & I would stay there again for a overnight or weekend break.
We dumped the bags & headed into Brid for a pint or two & something to eat and where else would anybody want to go when in Bridlington other than the legendary Jeromes! I love Jeromes, I've been going there for about a million years! Its right on the seafront, they sell the most delicious pizzas & the beer's a good price. Its family friendly & there's often a singer on in the evenings. Through the day you can have a coffee or a cream tea, they have an nice outdoor seating area & even sell gorgeous icecreams & doughnuts!.... Having said all this, on today's visit they were in the middle of some major renovation works & we sat in amongst paintpots & ladders & then briefly in the dark until a man with a tupperware dish full of lightbulbs came to our rescue! Haha! After beers&pizza we headed back to the apartment, past the most ridiculously long queue I've ever seen in my life, and I've been to Disneyland so I know what a huge queue looks like, but looking at this queue I couldn't understand how all these people were going to fit inside the venue?....
The simple answer was they weren't. Well I suppose they did but not in a way that everybody would be able to see the stage.
And so began the most badly organized concert I've ever had the misfortune to pay £25 a ticket for. I felt more sorry for the row of little girls sat along the back wall looking depressed, they didn't stand a cat in hells chance of seeing Jessie J perform.
We walked up & down the length of the upper balcony, dodging a glimpse of the action between peoples heads. From the bits we did manage to catch we weren't impressed with Ms J's performance, between waffling on about her parents' love of Luther Vandross & wailing like a banshee or indeed in my opinion singing along to a backing track we gave it up as a bad job & headed to the bar instead.
Hey-ho you live and learn, I'd never go see her again also I'll never go to that venue again. Ever.
The next morning we checked out of our quirky apartment & headed off into Bridlington for breakfast & sightseeing. I'd recommend the Marina cafe for a full English, the owners were witty & friendly, just remember to shut the door!
There's a lovely harbour to walk in  & in summer season I can recommend a trip on the pirate boat or if you're feeling brave have a blast on the speed boat!
There's a very small museum that's worth a look into, its only about 20p admission or something!
There's a large funfair on the promenade, as a child, my daughter use to love the Drop-zone freefaller & it's got a great view if nothing else! The Jungle River is great fun too & don't forget a go on the dodgems!
Enough of Bridlington & now on to Filey!
Filey is the grandmother of this part of the Yorkshire coast.
I love Filey for its peaceful gardens, beautiful Georgian buildings, magnificent views of the bay and I've spent many an hour digging sandcastles on the lovely clean beach. The ornamental gardens complete with waterlilly filled fish ponds, stretch nearly the full length of Filey. From here is a 'new' sculpture trail that starts at the wishing well & ends in the valley park, its a pleasant walk that passes half an hour if nothing else and I did get to ride on a plesiosaurus!
People rave on about the 'cobble landing' at Filey... personally I don't see the fascination, I'm from Durham, we have cobbles, I'm unimpressed! ...Hey-ho on to Scarborough!
I have fond memories of Scarborough from my childhood in the 70's. It was the place to go for your summer jollies. We use to stay in a Guest House bed, breakfast & evening meal & they banged a gong when it was time to eat & the soup always smelled lovely...they were endless summer days of donkey rides, sandcastles & icecreams...minature train rides & kite flying....at one time there was a marine park complete with real live dolphins &  model dinosaurs....we went to the illuminated 'Tree Walk' in Peasholme Park on an evening & saw the Naval Battle there on an afternoon...we always went to the cinema, it was either James Bond or Star Wars and the 2 main highlights for me were the Pirate Boat Hispaniola & the evenings spent at 'Its a Knockout' at the open air theatre & the after show fireworks display shouting 'we want a banger!!'...happy days..
So it saddens me to see Scarborough in such a sorry & neglected state as it's been in lately. However on this trip I was delighted to see the start of some improvements to the North Bay area. The addition of colourful beach huts dramatically livens up the bay area & there's no denying the newly built holiday apartments have regenerated the Corner Cafe area. I just hope the planned Haven caravan park on the old site of 'Marvels' happens. They've revamped the park area & now Kinderlands water chute is suddenly the 'historic waterchute' & over a hundred years old (??!) & my beloved open air theatre has had a total makeover & promises live concerts in summer months...Even the miniature train station has be modernised & now boasts a cafe & there's a strange little complex of 'wooden shed' type things that claim they'll be shops in the future... things are on the up for Scarborough & I'd love to think one day it will be as popular as it was when I was a little girl.

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Light Up, Light Up.....All a glow in York....
An overnight stay in Blossom Street Premier Inn, York
Date of stay : Friday 28th October 2011

L
ast year we visited the 'Illuminating York' event and really enjoyed it, but it was a long day & meant travelling back home in the dark afterward and we missed one or two things as the kids were tired from walking round all day. 
So this year we decided to stay overnight & not have to rush about & worry about getting home in the dark.
The 'Little Dude' is heavily into trains, so the obvious choice was travel by train & finally have an opportunity to use my 'Friends&Family Railcard'. (If you have at least 1 child between 5-16 this railcard saves you a third off all fares, quite a saving by anybodys standards.)
So off we set to York. 'Little Dude' loved the train ride & the hotel was easy to find and literally just a 3minute walk from the station. In a nice position near to Micklegate.
Its very expensive to stay in York but we got a great deal with Premier Inn, £39 for the Friday night at their Blossom Street Hotel and only £7.99 for an all-you-can-eat breakfast (complete with a special offer of buy one get one free PLUS kids get free breakfasts!!!). Bargain!  The room was very nice. The kids had 'proper' beds (important to 'Little Madam' as she wasnt keen on the ' floor level matress on wheels' she'd slept on in Nottinghams Travelodge).
Premier Inn rooms are usually of a high standard & this one was no exception however it was a strange layout with all the rooms in seperate blocks & the breakfast room was actually 2 doors down the street as we discovered the next day to our amusement! If only I'd known I was gonna face the public so early in the morning I would have put my face on, I'm just glad I din't set off in my jim-jams!
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as we headed off into York via Micklegate Bar & across the city wall which is very pretty & gives a great veiw of the Minster. It was an easier route into town & saves standing forever, waiting to cross the road.  After a few hours of sight-seeing & window shopping we were all a bit peckish so stopped off for a spot of tea before the Illuminations started at 6.30pm. Another great 'family-on-a-budget-tip' is Pizzahut... they have lots of special offers. You can register online & download various vouchers, also instore if you ask about the offers they have on, they actually tell you!! £6 happy hour was great for us & we were all stuffed when we headed back to the hotel to 'Glo-stick' up for the nights events.....
Illuminating York happens all across the city in a variety of large and small ways. This year there was no projection onto the Minster (it was under restoration/scaffolding so that was maybe why), the main focus this year was down at the Castle Museum. We stopped off at Deans Park but were not impressed by the strangely 'non-illuminating' event being held there. It consisted of everybody standing in a circle while strange languages & lots of smoke were pumped at us...errrmmm ok..??... so we headed off to Treasurers House for their Spooky Candlelight evening event...
From stepping into the gardens the whole place was bathed in colourful lights giving such an unusual & magical atmosphere. Inside there was a 'find the ghosts&bats trail' to keep the kids occupied while us grown-ups took in the individual ambiance of each room.
The national trust had done a fantastic job bringing the story each room to life with mood lighting, signs & sound effects. I especially liked the sounds of the 'galleon' & 'swordfighting' at the bottom of the staircase & 'Little Dude' was much impressed with the 'glow-in-the dark 3 armed juggler' (who only had 2 arms really!)  The lollipop reward for completing the 'find the object trail' was enough to impress 'Little Madam'....
We headed off through the Shambles, stopping to admire an imaginitive pumpkin display, past the Glass Cat maker (who was holding  a special evening glass making demonstration) & breifly resting under the
 sparkling 'firework tree' en-route to the main event at the Castle Museum....
'Envisions' was absolutely fantastic & definatly worth the visit to York. A mix of funky techno music & colourful  spooky 3D images, allegedly depicting the museums former use as a womens prison, impressed us all, even the children! We managed to get a brilliant veiw from a space right at the font of the crowd too. A great night was had by all.
 The next day we took the 'Little Dude' to the train museum, which he loved of course! They've had a change around since the last time I was there & the shop layout has changed (I didnt find it as good actually) there's now a charge for the trainride outside in the goods yard & they've jiggled the trains around too.... After a few hours of admiring trains, browsing the model railway exibitions & chatting to the 'Evil Genius' (who popped down from university to spend the day with us) we headed off into York for a visit to Cliffords Tower and finally a picturesque walk by the river completed our trip to York...

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I've got 'The Feeling' I'm in Leeds!
An overnight stay in The Jury's Inn, Leeds
Date of stay: Saturday 8th October 2011


The Feeling are quite possibly my all time favourite 'live' band, they really do put on a fantastic show & I'd already seen them live 3 times before I found out they were playing again in Leeds. Of course we could of booked for Newcastle which was easier for us, but since my daughter 'The Evil Genius' has started university down in Hull it seemed like a good excuse to see her, the band and have a lovely weekend away.
And there was the start to what was probably the most stressful weekend away arrangements I've ever encountered! The first problem being now The Evil Genius is 'over 18' she's an adult & lots of hotels don't cater for 3 adults sharing the same room! I don't think they can quite grasp the idea that people still have 'children' that are of adult age, I want to see my daughter, I don't want to put her in a single room down the hallway! Anyway finally after about 3 weeks of trawling the internet looking for a room that would accommodate 3 people and not cost an absurd amount of money I settled on The Jury's Inn on Brewery Wharf. Booking the room was even problematic. I don't have a credit card & I couldn't use a debit card to book via the internet so I had to ring up and speak to an actual person! Shock horror! However I spoke to a lovely lady who was very helpful & not at all scary! And so on to the next problem of how are we travelling to Leeds. I would normally go by car but since I'm having some 'engine warning light' issues I prefer not to go too far if it can be avoided so we would book a train. I know to book early & get a good deal, so I did that.... or so I thought... EEEK!!! Three days before we were due to arrive in Leeds I realised I'd made a sickening error with the train tickets! After much self-loathing & 3 frantic phone calls to EastCoast I eventually forked out for new tickets & sent the other ones back in the hope I may qualify for a small refund...fingers crossed on that score...
And so on a rainy Saturday two excited people boarded the train from Darlington to Leeds for a weekend of musical entertainment! On board the train I got the phone call I'd been waiting for from the estate agents saying I would be moving house soon! Hurrah! Brilliant news, an excellent start to the weekend!  We arrived in Leeds met up with my daughter who was sporting a very fetching
 Hull University hoodie (so she could be picked out from the crowd, just incase I'd forgotten what she looked like!) & headed off to the hotel....
The Jury's Inn looks like a lovely hotel. A very swanky lobby & bar/restaurant area.... but...
now bearing in mind it was 'rather rainy' outside & we didnt have an umbrella between us,
 I suppose we may have looked a bit bedraggled, even so I thought the guy behind reception was more than slightly stuck up & snooty. I booked on a room only basis however I fully intended to add breakfasts when we got there but he didnt even offer us the option. I was stood there with £65 in my hand & he asked me how I would like to pay & I resisted the urge to say
 'green-shield stamps ok for you?!'
The room was nice but totally unremarkable. I've stayed at 'lots' of hotels this year & to be quite honest it could of been any of them! It was no better than any other budget hotel really & the view was pants-a-rama & there's never enough towels or enough of those mini milks for your coffees....
So off into Leeds we went on the hunt to find a nice pub for some food before the concert started...and there was our next problem... I stumbled across a good 'Real Ale pub-chain' on my holiday to London earlier this year & I had intended on going to 'The Scarborough Hotel' for our meal but forgot about the fact it was a Saturday night & of course the place was jam packed when we arrived there & it was standing room only! Shame indeed...no warm halloumi salad for me tonight then, hey-ho another time.. after about half an hour trudging along in the rain increasingly loosing the will to live, we stumbled into
The Horse&Trumpet (which was Mr Ploughs' local as a youngster, as he indeed hails from Leeds) We had some satisfying pub grub in there & a couple of pints of lovely real ale 'Doom Bar'  & headed off to the O2 academy to see The Feeling....
Support bands can be very hit&miss and the first offering was definitely a miss. The Evil Genius remarked they were missing from somebodys garage...they were that good or bad I suppose! However the second support act was a definite hit!! Mads Langer was brilliant and I even bought his CD, which he kindly signed for me too. Such a good voice, he had the crowd eating from the palm of his hand! I predict he will be a big name one day in the not too distant future & good luck to him!
The Feeling were awesome, as ever, absolutely fantastic. I unashamedly love them so much. They give such a great show, this is the fourth time I've seen them & I  honestly can't wait to see them again! They sang all my old favourites, the best bits from the new album & a brilliant rendition of Paul Simons 'You can call me Al', which I found very amusing! I was very impressed with the evenings performance & still adore Dan Gillespie! The O2 academy was a very nice venue too, smaller than the one at Newcastle but I would definitely go there again.
After a comfortable nights sleep & a rare lay in, (I suppose the bonus to not having breakfast in the hotel is you dont have to get up early to go down to breakfast!) we checked out of the hotel in a similar manner to our arrival & headed out for a visit to The Royal Armouries.
The Armouries is a brilliant place to visit & I can't recommend it enough. Its a must see for any visit to Leeds & infact I would say its worth taking a day trip to Leeds purely to visit the armouries.
Its massive, its fun & its free! ( although you can pay for 'extra' bits & jousting shows but only if you want to see those!) This was my second visit here & I still found the oriental section the most interesting, don't miss the elephant armour, amazing. We watched a samurai display which was fascinating & Mr Ploughs 'family jewels' were threatened ha-ha! We had a very nice meal in the cafe too, Steak&Mushroom pie which was actually home made with melt in the mouth steak & whole mushrooms truly yummy & a bargain at only £6.95.
Finally it was time to put The Evil Genius onto the train bound for Hull. Bittersweet. It was lovely to see her, I miss her so much, but I'm so proud she's making something of her life by going to university. I'll see her soon when we go on our next concert/overnight stay to Bridlington in a few weeks time.
With an hour to kill before our train was due, we headed off into the city centre, although my heart wasn't in it really & I didn't fancy going round the many interesting looking shops so we opted to sit on a bench & do some people watching which Mr Plough narrated in his usual hilarious style! We watched a bit of F1 on the giant TV in Millennium Square (it appears to be on 24/7, I suppose its entertainment for the hobos on an evening) & then it was time for our train home which turned out to be yet another stress-fest! Even though we had seats booked from Leeds to Darlington, Transpennine thought that when we got to York it would be fun to condense an already over crowded train into just 3 carriages, which resulted in us being stood squashed into the corner of 'first class' carriage with a load of other disgruntled passengers & a strange letchy man who used the ordeal as a way to grope all the ladies boobs&bottoms! I did wonder at why people bothered to say 'excused me' & then just literally crawl over the top of you 'coz quite clearly there was nowhere to excuse yourself too! Nightmare!
Leeds is a great city & a great place to visit. Its vibrant and full of life & theres lots to see & do.
We had a 'kid free' stay here in August 2010 too. On this occasion we stayed at the Vicar Lane Travelodge & we only paid £20 for the night. I found it to be a very pleasant hotel. We had a large double room with a good view over the city. Its in the china town area & it was very interesting to see the authentic oriental shops nearby. On this stay we visited the armouries for the first time & enjoyed it so much to have a return visit this time around. We also went into the Leeds City Museum (free entry) which was a gem & definately worth a visit. Leeds is a city full of sculptures which is a thing I enjoy seeing. There's loads of them, all over the city making the place a giant art gallery for the public to enjoy. Theres a nice walk by the canal too & the large amount of canal boats makes it very pretty.
I would definatley stay in Leeds again and theres still lots of things left unexplored there.

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Cardiff, the Capital City of Wales
2 Nights in The Big Sleep Hotel, 28-30 August 2011

Picture
Cardiff Castle
We chose Cardiff for a 'family' short break as this would complete our mission to
visit every capital city of every country on our island. We got a great deal on
coach travel at only £18 return per person (I think it would of cost more in
petrol for my car to drive there myself) and a great rate at 'The Big Sleep
Hotel' although we needed 2 rooms (a separate room for the girls) at£40 per room
per night including a delicious continental breakfast it was a snip!

First leg of the coach journey Darlington to Birmingham was a breeze, however
Birmingham to Cardiff was a horrifying ordeal travelling through ever increasingly depressing landscape behind the ginger haired twin spawn of Satan!
We were greeted on arrival in Cardiff by a torrential downpour of rain, the aforementioned spawn of Satan trampling all over my travel bag & some random mad woman somehow 'judo flipping' herself over my back to land on my head while ripping my handbag off my arm!  What the hell!!!?
First impressions of the hotel were equally as depressing. After 10 minutes of being 'lost' in town we arrived to find reception full of 'eager travelers’as the computer had crashed & no one could check into their rooms! The rooms seemed slightly grim but on closer inspection they were very clean & spacious and the beds were comfortable but the place was in need of painting & the windows were in desperate need of cleaning.

Picture
Cardiff, Capital City of Wales
The sun eventually got out, so we followed it into the city centre. I have to say I
really didn’t care for the place at all. I found it very tired looking& the concrete based shopping centre reminded me of Middlesborough. It was nothing like I expected.
I thought it would be a bit like Edinburgh or a smaller version of London, but if I hadn't learned at school it was the capital city of Wales, you would never know just by visiting. It was August Bank holiday weekend & the only people around appeared to be drunks stood outside of uninviting pubs or hobos drinking from cans staring menacingly at you & I did wonder where all the 'normal people' were....

The castle was spectacular, an absolute gem. Magnificent elaborately decorated staterooms, majestic birds of prey, atmospheric air raid shelter& loads of other 'castley' type features including a 'cattlepoo' (or catapult to you!)
I left wishing I'd paid the extra for a 'premium ticket' & experienced the 50minute tour of the restricted access rooms. I'd recommend the castle to anybody visiting Cardiff. 
A walk by 'the animal wall' leads down to the pretty Bute Park with the unremarkable River Taff flowing through it.
There’s an impressive ‘rear’ view of the castle complete with ‘drawbridge’& moat.

I would also recommend the Welsh National Museum. 'Little Madam' enjoyed the dinosaur exhibits and there's another 3 floors that we didn’t have time to explore. With free admission it’s definitely worth a visit.

Picture
Cardiff Bay
I found the best part of Cardiff to be 'Cardiff Bay', although for future
reference I would advise you to take the bus, train or even pay £6 for a taxidown to the 'Bay' rather than walk 20/25minutes through a dubious neighborhood.
The Cardiff Bay Festival was on during our visit so we sampled some 'fruit beer', marveled at the 'Breitling wing walker girls', tittered at the sideshows, shook an angry fist at the organizers for covering up 'Torchwood Fountain' & breathed a huge sigh of relief for finally being in amongst the 'normal people ' Phew! Here they all are!
The marina area was pretty, as was the Norwegian Church. The 'Scott' exhibition was informative & we enjoyed the long walk down to the 'barrage'. Don't miss the 'lightship' or the rather quirky 'Torchwood Memorial Wall' dedicated to
fictional Ianto Jones. We had a lovely ice cream in 'world famous' Cadwaladers & fish'n'chips from Harry Ramsdens & enjoyed the spectacle of the millennium centre at night.

Leaving Cardiff was equally stressful as arriving. It would seem you need a 'yellow boarding pass' to get onto the coach and then I had to pay an extra £4 because I wasn’t guaranteed we'd get a seat on the coach (even though I'd paid for my tickets weeks in advance) but with a connecting coach to catch I couldn’t take the risk so just paid it. Disgraceful.
All in all I can't see that I would ever return to Cardiff again.
If I really really had to (i.e. if my children’s lives depended on my going to Cardiff) I would only stay in Cardiff Bay.
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