About Jonny Scott Blair

Jonny Scott Blair

Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. His website Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.


Latest Posts by Jonny Scott Blair

Paddy Campbell’s Wet House at London’s Soho Theatre

November 23, 2014 by  

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I heard word that Paddy Campbell’s award winning play “The Wet House” was on in Soho Theatre, London while I happened to be passing through so I got a few tickets and off we went.

paddy campbell play

It was a busy week for me in London and Windsor. I toured Windsor Castle and took in a lot of pubs. I had a Guinness and a Shamrock Pie. I felt that seeing a play by a guy named Paddy, anything with an Irish connection would be a good mood sitter. Friends, Sandra and Neil, joined me after a mad dash from work for the play.

Wet House is a drama based on real life experiences of staying and working in a hostel for recovering alcoholics, drug attics [sic], single mothers, sex offenders and anyone who needs some rehab or a home to try and help cope with problems they have in life. Hostels like this really exist, and alcohol is permitted inside, hence the title Wet House. Paddy Campbell the writer has based the play on real life experiences and you can tell this in an instant. A raw, real life of a hostel in north east England becomes apparent from the play’s opening scene and here’s an overview of my night out there watching it without giving too much away as I encourage you all to get out there and see Wet House when it’s next on at a theatre near you.

Wet House advert, Soho Theatre.

The entire play is based in the actual hostel itself, changing from room to room and with a few scenes reliant on the in house CCTV from the hostel’s reception.

We meet Mike and Helen first of all. Both are workers in the hostel. It’s as if their lives have become evolved around looking after these maniacs that reside in the Wet House. Mike is the hard lad, the man who always wants to be the tough man. He talks of life in the army, holding guns in Northern Ireland etc. (by the way, I enjoyed this Northern Irish reference, if indeed it does serve as a reminder of the way things where when I grew up there in the 1980s). I’ve worked with people like Mike myself in my life and I can connect to the type of character portrayed here.

Helen is the hard working, feisty lady who cares more for the hostel residents than Mike. In fact, all Mike does is moan about his job and the residents, yet he oddly seems to enjoy this, but talks down to the hostel residents throughout. We learn that an ex worker at the hostel, Jim, has “rung in sick” and has now left. So they will be joined by a new, young, enthusiastic worker. The sad truth is that this young lad is coming into a job he has no idea how crazy things can get. 

So the new lad saunters in, he’s cycled here and gets the piss ripped out of him from the start by hard lad Mike. The new worker is Andy. Andy appears nervous, shy and timid at the start. He seems like a genuine hard working lad. As soon as I saw him I wondered if indeed this character was based on the author of the play himself. I’d hazard a guess that I’m spot on. Andy gets straight into the swing of things – learning the rules, cleaning the floor, chatting to the “patients”. We meet three of the patients during the play, others are only spoken of. Here’s an overview of the hat trick that we meet:

1. Dinger. Dinger looks a lot older than he is. He’s forgotten about his family, he has no job, he rarely washes and he’s a self confessed alcoholic. His charater would remind you of a Father Jack type from Father Ted. Except Dinger is more talkative, more raw, moves off his chair and is a full on alco. Again, we’ve met people like Dinger in our lives, in most cases out on the street clutching a bottle of cider, in some cases the rich ones turn up in bars drinking too much and annoying the other customers. You always sense Dinger has a heart but with his constant shakes and need to drink as much as he can, he’s a sorry figure with a serious problem.

2. Spencer. Spencer is a sex offender. At one point, Mike uses the word “kiddy fiddler” which suggests he may have had a thing for young boys or girls. Again a sad character but we can’t have too much sympathy for people like Spencer in real life either. Yet, he’s a quiet lad at heart who probably wants to be an innocent man. But he isn’t. He may have served time for it and now he drinks away his worries. Andy sticks up for Spencer as does Helen at times throughout the play, but Mike is having none of it. Mike is almost an old school homophobe. The type that wouldn’t be receptive to gays and ladyboys. There’s one crazy incident in the play involving Mike and Spencer but I’ll leave that to you to watch when you go.

3. Kerry. Kerry is a typical English teenager. She got into boys, booze and drugs before she would ever have considered education or a career. She’s “up the duff” from the start, something which Andy notices and remarks on, only for Kerry to lie to him saying he’s a cheeky bastard for making such a suggestion. She comes onto Andy at one point. Somehow, a young lad with an education like Andys (he’s got a degree in Art History) wouldn’t be wanting to be anywhere near the likes of Kerry. Again, typifies some of the girls I personally met when I lived in England. Some might call her a slag, a chav, a steek etc. The baby’s due as the play begins.

The play lasts just under 3 hours, including a 20 minute interval (where ironically Neil, Sandra and I headed straight to the bar for a Wet House half time drink – we were able to take them back in with us). Scenes change all the time during the play and excellently chosen music chimes in between scenes adding to the sense of sadness, brutality and reality that is evident throughout. The scene includes violence and swearing – it wouldn’t be the same otherwise. After the show I hung out in the bar and got to meet the cast.

wet house cast

Off stage, everyone seemed really down to earth and I loved that. Top cast – I was particluarly impressed by Joe (who played Dinger) and Eva (who played Kerry) – Joe had stopped shaking and was having a pint and Eva was glammed up looking gorgeous – a far cry from her character, Kerry.

I loved Wet House and can’t wait to see if the playright Paddy Campbell releases any more plays, as I’ll be straight up to get tickets when it happens. A ticket for the Wet House cost £20 and I bought a book copy of the play too for £4, with intervals drinks at £4. Typical London prices really and very much worth it for the night out. I rarely go to plays but when I do I love them and I really hope you can all get to see Wet House sometime! It started off as a play in Newcastle’s Live Theatre back in September 2013 and has won three awards.

wet house paddy campbell

Wet House by Paddy Campbell
Live House in association with Soho Theatre
Cast (in order of appearance):
Helen – Jackie Lye
Mike – Chris Connel
Andy – Riley Jones
Dinger – Joe Caffrey
Kerry – Eva Quinn
Spencer – Simon Roberts
(All the actors and actresses have a really successful acting CV including appearing on shows like Byker Grove, Casualty, Jonathan Creek, Doctors, The Bill and Poirot.)

Now a bit about the play’s author, Northern Irishman Paddy Campbell. Apologies if I shed a tear or two.

I loved the play and was completely inspired by it, in fact I was in tears towards the end and looked to the London sky afterwards as if to thank God that Paddy Campbell was a success. You see, I know Paddy Campbell. In fact he was my best friend for a while when I was 13 – 14.

With names like Blair and Campbell, we’d be sitting beside each other in classes a lot – something to do with alphabetical order in the over bearing, wannabe conservative shit hole of a grammar school Paddy and I both attended. Bangor Grammar School. I’m immensely proud of my Primary School, Kilmaine and even went back for a reunion this year, but Bangor Grammar means nothing to me. Reading Keith Gillespie’s book recently made me realise that I wasn’t alone.

Paddy Campbell didn’t like the school and nor did I. An event that happened in May 1994 (the 16th to be exact – that date forever inscribed into my brain as “Paddy Campbell Day”) changed the course of Paddy Campbell and Jonny Blair’s lives forever. We had big plans to hang out together that summer, have a few sneaky teenage cans of beer down the beach and get some girls. That was the dream. Between us, Paddy and I lifted ourselves higher than your average student. We stole an exam paper.

The third form history exam – I found it and Paddy nicked it. We copied it, sold it and used it to get better results. Aged just 14 back in a ceasefire stricken Northern Irish 1994, we thought we were kings of the world at the time. We sang along to D:Ream’s hit “Things can only get better” back then (a vivid memory of mine) and everytime I have heard that song since I think of Paddy and always pull out this line and dedicate it to our friendship, what it was back then and what it should forever be:

“I, I sometimes lose myself in me, I lose track of time and I can’t see the woods for the trees. You [Paddy] set them alight. Burn the bridges as you’ve gone. I’m too weak to fight you. I’ve got my personal hell to deal with.”

I wrote about the exam paper incident with fondness on its 20th anniversary in 2014 before thinking of Paddy for a few hours as I sipped on a few cans of Guinness in Hong Kong. It was a really emotional few hours. I just thought, what if I could meet Paddy again. My best mate when I was 14. What is he doing now? Then I remembered – we have Google, we have Twitter and we have Facebook. I can probably find Paddy Campbell and get in touch after all these years. It was worth a try. The worst he could do was ignore me. But then I knew Paddy.

Why would he ignore me? In fact, my school buddy Scott Callen murmured what turned out to be spot on judgement on a Facebook comment, “Och Paddy will be fine with you – people don’t change that much.”I’d spent a lot of time acting the lig and messing around at school with Paddy. Lunches together, football at break time, ridiculous games in school lessons, Saturday detentions for no reason, making the world’s first Fantasy Football League in a plastic bag (I kid you not). Paddy and I went back a long way.

So I found a tweet about a “Paddy Campbell” on Twitter, retweeted it and then got a reply on Twitter from a Zoe Dawes. Itself felt odd, as I had worked in radio with a Zoe Dawes in Bournemouth as a student about 10 years ago. But this was Paddy Campbell’s girlfriend and a different Zoe Dawes. Twenty years on. A shiver down my spine when I knew I was close to being back in touch with Paddy. Would he add me if I friend requested him on Facebook when I realised which profile was his? I messaged him with the story I’d written on the 20th anniversary, Paddy added me and replied. Same old Paddy Campbell. The genius that he always was. I cried.

Paddy Campbell, now a playright.

Now, we were now 20 years older. We’d drifted apart but were back in touch. Paddy and I always had a passion for English and writing though. It’s true. I used to write football reports, Paddy would write mock plays during English lessons. He was always a genius. The teachers never saw it. They didn’t want to see it. Paddy Campbell was a wild card. He was popular at school, because he was out there. There were no limits to Paddy’s humour or capabilities. He was destined to be something more than what the school thought. And so, after getting back in touch with Paddy, I found out that he is an award winning playright.

And me, his best buddy from 1994, I was now a travel writer and backpacking businessman, making my own way around the world working, again all off my own back and no thanks to the idiotic teachers at Bangor Grammar School. We’ve both done well.

I cried a bit that night when I realized that Paddy and I had taken similar paths in life after the exam paper episode (which meant we only saw each other once in the last 20 years, and that was a fast meeting at a bus stop). I hadn’t been permanently haunted by the exam paper episode but it always lingered in my mind. When I attended a Saturday detention in June 1994, forcing me to miss a World Cup football match on the TV as a result, I knew I was going to be a lonely teenager without Paddy around. I didn’t pursue, I got on with things, got my GCSEs and got the fuck out of Bangor Grammar when the bell rang. Now the missing piece of the jigsaw as Paddy and I were back in touch.

A quick Google search also reveals that award winning Northern Irish playright Paddy Campbell also featured on the BBC website, the exact same week that a certain Jonny Blair did, having taken my Northern Ireland flag to 70 countries. A coincidence waiting to happen? I’d say so. I also thought of the other crazy coincidences. Paddy had lived in England for a long time, as did I. Paddy worked in a hostel. I stayed in a lot of hostels. Paddy works at theatres. I spent almost 2 years working in a theatre (remember my post on working at Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre?). And we were just two wee lads from Bangor in Northern Ireland wanting to enjoy life and have a laugh. We certainly had a laugh at school.

The teachers didn’t respect Paddy Campbell or I. How wrong they were. He’s a successful playright. I’m a successful travel writer. What a Bummer, eh? Are you reading Miles Christy or Robert Stephenson?

So as I walked out of Soho Theatre that night, I raised a smile to myself again. A kick ass 1994 Paddy Campbell smile. Paddy wasn’t there of course, he’s as busy a man to catch as me. And readers of Don’t Stop Living, do you want to hear the news? There will be a 20 year reunion of Paddy Campbell and Jonny Blair to follow soon. I can’t wait. I’ll probably cry my eyes out and there will be a video of Paddy and I together I hope.

Good times Paddy, f##king good times mates ;-)

 

Beyond Windsor Castle & Eton in England’s Berkshire

November 22, 2014 by  

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My recent travels in England took me to the town of Windsor (& Eton) in Berkshire for what I thought was the first time.

I soon realized that back in 2000 I had actually visited the Legoland nearby, so this on my return to the town of Windsor on another journey, was a chance to chill out in the comfort of the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa – the town of Windsor is gorgeous.

berkshire backpacking

After touring the Tower of London and Poppies Display, staying in the Mad Hatter, I hopped on a direct train from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside. Trains are frequent and cosy, A return price varies but mine cost just over £20 and the journey takes around 50 minutes. Here are some of the sights to take in while in Windsor, though there is easily enough here to occupy you for a couple of days – Legoland on its own can be a day trip.

Windsor Castle - this is the number one sight — remember the Queen lives here! Tourists from all over the world come here to see this glorious English building.

Windsor Castle, Berkshire, England.

The rule is that if the Union Flag (Union Jack) is raised, then the Queen’s at home and it was when I was there. So for one night I was sharing a town with Queen Elizabeth the Second! Admission to the Castle is free to residents of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead with an Advantage Card.

The Thames — the Thames is at its most tranquil and idyllic here. Away from the bustling smoky fumes of crowded London, take some time to relax by the Thames here in Windsor. The Sit Christopher Wren Hotel has a fantastic Thames side restaurant and you can walk at leisure along the river feeding the swans and ducks.

Swans by the Thames in Windsor, Berkshire.

The Crooked House - this house is one of the most peculiar and famous pubs in all of England — a house that is tilted on its side. Pop in for a pint or a cup of tea. In fact, Windsor is an awesome town for a pub crawl.

The Crooked House Pub in Windsor, Berkshire, England.

The Crooked House Pub in Windsor, Berkshire, England.

Legoland Windsor – it’s famous and definitely worth a stop if you have kids in tow.

Legoland, Windsor.

Eton College – most people know the town as Windsor, but it’s actually two towns joined together by a bridge across the Thames. Walk across it and you get to the town of Eton, which of course houses the world famous Eton College, a mere 5 minute walk from the bridge. Tours of Eton College can be organized from £7.50. Famous people like Prince William, Antarctic Explorer Lawrence Oates, Adventurer Bear Grylls and authors George Orwell and Ian Fleming went to school here.

Halls of residence at Eton College.

Halls of residence at Eton College.

Eton has also produced a whopping nineteen British Prime Ministers, including Sir Robert Walpole, William Pitt the Elder, the first Duke of Wellington, William Ewart Gladstone, the fifth Lord Rosebery, Arthur James Balfour, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home, and the current Prime Minister, David Cameron.

I recommend staying at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa:

Sir Christopher Wren
Hotel and Spa
Thames Street
Windsor
Berkshire SL4 1PX

t: +44 1753 442400
f: +44 1753 442490
e: wrens@sarova.com

Photo credits: Top photo from uclu.org, all others from Jonny Blair.

 

Romania Train Travel: From Bucharest to Campulung Moldovenesc

November 21, 2014 by  

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Since I hate mundane, repetitive routines when I travel, I found myself in Romania recently. I flew into the capital city of Bucharest, based myself in the heart of the Old Town and planned my next few weeks of travel from there. It was a spontaneous decision and I ended up on a rather bumpy, busy ride.  

I loved looking at maps as a kid and one of the first things I checked out when I arrived in Romania, was where I was, where I could get to next and the approximate routes I would take. Romania’s location became instantly nostalgic. I glanced over at the Hungarian city of Debrecen, which is close to the Romanian border, the one I had visited back in 2009 when in love with local dancer Noemi Linzenbold.

I thought of the day we saw the road sign for Romania. I had been close to Romania one day, but now here I was. A part of me couldn’t help think of her and that day. But I placed the thought at the back of my mind and at the same time decided I wouldn’t visit the west part of Romania at all. Tinged by the memory, it couldn’t have been a good idea at all. Every time I’d see a road sign for Debrecen, something would strike in my brain again and I didn’t want that.

The Nagytemplom in Debrecen Hungary

Debrecen, Hungary – the Nagytemplom.

I first looked far north, and the area known as Bucovina, which is north east and the largest cities are Suceava and Iasi. Having read about the tremendous UNESCO World Heritage Site Monasteries, I decided to head there. It was a double train ride from Bucharest with a choice of day or night trains. This time I opted for day trains, so that when I got there, I could sleep straight away and get up early the next day ready for the touring.

Dor de Bucovina Hostel in Campulung Moldovenesc, Romania.

Dor de Bucovina Hostel in Campulung Moldovenesc, Romania.

I found out about the Dor de Bucovina hostel which is run by the Pura Vida Romania Hostels group – the best hostels group in Romania. The Dor de Bucovina is based in the town of Campulung Moldovenesc, which handily enough has a train station.

Train station in Campulung Moldovenesc.

Train station in Campulung Moldovenesc.

So I headed from the Little Bucharest hostel in the Old Town, on the metro at Piata Unirii in Bucharest to Gara de Nord. On arrival at Gara de Nord, I headed to the ticket office, which is on the corridor on the right before you get to the McDonalds on the corner. I needed a double ticket. The first would be the 11 am train from Bucharest to the city of Suceava and then transfer for a train to Campulung Moldovenesc to Campulung Moldovenesc.

I boarded the train on carriage 1 and went to seat 62. I remembered how much I love train journeys – the memories of that train to Baku, the overnight Mashhad train, the long train journeys through China down the years and the Western Wilderness Railway which I wrote about 10 articles on.

My train seat at the start of the journey.

Soon, Bucharest was a distant memory. I made a note of some of the stops and times along the way, but not all of them. After leaving Bucharest, one of the guys came and gave me a free local newspaper.  

Newspaper with Romania v. Northern Ireland match preview.

I met a group of ladies who were interested in chatting immediately. It is not often they see foreigners in their lives and 2 of them spoke a bit of English. French and Spanish worked too and we intertwined the languages until we understood each other. The ladies were Anika, Jetta, Maria and Andrea. All Romanian and all had boarded in Bucharest, heading to Suceava. None would be connecting with me all the way to Campulung Moldovensec, which I assumed would be a remote town and a lonely journey – yes it was.

Another stop on the journey.

Another stop on the journey at Ramnicu Sarat.

Darkness fell on northern Romania by the time we passed through Pascani and it was here that I said farewell to Jetta and Maria – you just know those travel moments are over. We enjoyed our chats on the train, Jetta also kindly gave me some tissues on the trip (I was blowing my nose a bit) and we said our goodbyes. By the time we arrived in Suceava, a typical Eastern European darkness was in evidence. You know the type – no lights on at stations. Everything dark and grey. Barking dogs. Not many places open. Barely a street light. Local people know their way in the dark. Station workers and porters shine their torches everywhere. I said goodbye to Anika and Andrea at the station and saw a shop and a cafe so I popped in.

Darkness on arrival in Suceava.

Darkness on arrival in Suceava.

At the start I was the only customer, and I ordered a Timisoreana Beer in a bottle – it was only 3.5 Lei (about 70pence). Cold and fresh and as I sipped it the place got busier. Romanian bars are smoky and I don’t smoke. I don’t enjoying smoking or the smell it brings. But alas it was warmer inside so I stuck it out.

I found a compartment with a local girl in it so I sat down and asked her just confirming I was on the right train (I always confirm just to be sure). It was lucky I asked her as this was the wrong train!! The journey up to the mountains took around 2 hours and it was dark and stale when I arrived (with at least 2 other passengers – both locals) in the town of Campulung Moldovenesc.

Eerily quiet, dark and deserted as I arrive in the town of Campulung Moldovenesc.

There were dogs on the station approach and derelict dogs seem to be a theme in Romania. However there were nowhere near as many as I was warned about in advance. I had taken a photo of the map from Google Maps on how to get to the hotel and for once, it was easy as I assumed. I headed onto the main street in Campulung Moldovenesc and walked all along it out of town to the college, after which I took a right down the lane by the river to 8 Simion Florea Marian Street.

Walking all alone in the darkness of Campulung Moldovenesc.

Walking all alone in the darkness of Campulung Moldovenesc.

And the long day was over – door to door it had been over 12 hours.

sucevita monastery romania

 

The Charming Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa in Windsor

November 19, 2014 by  

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It was another inspiring journey as I left behind the lights of crowded London for a night of relaxation and luxury by the River Thames in the town of Windsor in Berkshire, England. While I took in the sites of Berkshire, I stayed in the exquisite and elegant Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa.

The Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa is a luxurious 4 star hotel on the River Thames and its benefits range from a great central location to design, history and architecture to food, events, romantic getaways and weddings. The hotel is situated overlooking the River Thames, which makes for excellent views, quiet strolls and a decent place to watch sunrise or sunset.

Sunset at the River Thames by the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa.

From the outside:

The Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa in Windsor, Berkshire.

A standard room…

My room.

My bathroom.

amazing hotel windsor

From the moment I stepped in the door, Natasha at reception and the managers and waiters always greeted me warmly. Managers Jutta and Jill have been working in the hospitality trade for years and “get” customer service.

sir christopher wren hotel

Wren’s Club Spa: it was Friday afternoon so what a better time to truly relax and ease my battered travel muscles by enjoying the outdoor saunas and Jacuzzi  of the Spa! Pure travel bliss. There’s also a huge gym and massages are available.

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For the avid worker on the move, the Sir Christopher Wren also has a business centre and upon check into my room, I received a welcome plate of fruit. The healthy option! Nice touch all around!

A welcome plate of fruit.

In the main restaurant, there’s a massive buffet breakfast with a broad selection. This is a great place to try a traditional English breakfast – they even had black pudding (dried pork slices) which is one of my personal favourites. I washed it down with a juice (they offered strawberry, pear, apple and orange) and a pot of English tea.

P1160104P1160103

The architecture — both inside and out — of the hotel can best be describe as “old school English.” The interior decor is elegant throughout and you can relax in one of the lounges. One, has a fireplace which would be a top spot on a cold winter night and of course, there is also a classic traditional bar.

One of the relaxing lounges.

One of the relaxing lounges.

Another of the relaxing lounges.

Another lounge.

Lounge and bar

Fast, Reliable Wi-Fi – while it should be automatic in all hotels, we all know that sadly it isn’t always reliable. They delivered.

Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa also offers all types of functions, private rooms and parties and host a lot of weddings. During summer months with the Thames just out the window and a massive beer garden, it’s a perfect place for your party. Celebs are also known to stay here from time to time, a nice factoid for those who love to people (or celeb) watch!

There’s a lovely area outside to sit and relax at night as well with nice side views of the bridge and other old historical architecture nearby.

I recommend staying at the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa if you’re heading to Windsor or are in London and would like to try something a little bit out of town and Windsor Castle and nearby attractions are on your list. I also had a tasty dinner in the hotel which I will feature in my Friday’s Featured Food series at some point.

Details:

Sir Christopher Wren Hotel and Spa

Thames Street, Windsor

Berkshire SL4 1PX ENGLAND

t: +44 1753 442400
f: +44 1753 442490
e: wrens@sarova.com

 

Photo credits: Fist shot from World Spa Resorts and last photo (small shot at night) from Guides for Brides (guidesforbrides.co.uk). I took all the other shots.

Inside and Out of England’s Magestic Tower of London

November 17, 2014 by  

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It might seem strange that a guy from Northern Ireland would wait until his mid-thirties before touring the Tower of London in England. In fact, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have walked past the beast and always thought “someday I should go there”.

Crown Jewels.

I ended up taking a tour of the Tower of London on my most recent trip.

 

Touring the Tower of London, England.

Ticket office for the Tower of London.

The Tower of London can be reached through the Tower Hill station on the London Underground or on the DLR Tower Gateway.  Alternatively if you fancy a walk, it’s a short walk from Monument, Bank or Liverpool Street.

With your ticket you get given a map and a brochure which has a quick map and guide to the key sights of the tour. I made my way round the sights myself and have highlighted my top picks below.

The Crown Jewels (first photo above). World famous, sparkling and extravagant.

The Line of Kings — inside the White Tower the lasting impression I had was the “Line of Kings” where several former kings of England have their own glass boxes with their armoured suits in them. Horses, weaponry and information accompany the display and photography is allowed.

The Line of Kings

The Line of Kings

The Royal Mint exhibition gives an insight into the coinage history of England and the UK. You can see how the coins are made and the progression of British coinage over the years.

Coin Exhibition

Coin Exhibition

A raven at the Tower of London.

A raven at the Tower of London. Massive black ravens reside at the Tower of London and you can get up close to photograph them.

The Royal Beasts display is great as it gives a thorough history of the animals that were brought to England from abroad – elephants, snakes and even kangaroos were all once here!

The central White Tower is a must on your visit – it’s the largest display and museum part and takes a good hour to see it all.

The White Tower inside.

The White Tower inside.

This tower is famous for the wrong reasons, as the title suggests. Horrifically , the sons of King Edward IV were murdered here.

The Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower

The Lower Wakefield Tower was used to torture those guilty of offences not deemed bad enough for death but for torture sessions. You can see the deadly mechanisms used to torture people back in the day.

The torture tower

The torture tower

The torture tower

The torture tower

If you’re lucky you might get to see a Royal – it’s all about the right place and the right time.

Yeoman Warder presentation to the Queen - photo copyright Tower of London.

Yeoman Warder presentation to the Queen – photo copyright and credit from Tower of London.

Tower Gardens

Tower Gardens

 

The Charming Town of Christchurch in Dorset England

November 12, 2014 by  

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Every person and their dog has been to Stonehenge, Trafy’s Q, Old Trafford and Buckingham Palace etcetera and we know a lot about them. There’s beauty in pretty England in the least likely places.

Backpacking in England: Exploring Charming Christchurch in Dorset

Unmoved by the fact that New Zealand copyist Christchurch takes the headlines and houses more people, the sun shines on the charming English town of the same name. This is the original spot which thankfully holds equal charm as it did 1,000 years ago.

By train, National Rail and government British Rail services passed England by during the years that Maggie Thatcher ruled this land. No harm done and you can jump on a South Western Train direct to Christchurch train station. Once you’re here you can walk your way around the main sights with ease and relaxation and these are the main things to check out when you’re in town.Christchurch Priory — the prominent and lasting image of Christchurch’s skyline tends to be this church – Christchurch Priory. With a graveyard dating back centuries, a church so big it should be a Cathedral and pretty gardens all around, this is a top spot to get your fix of English religion. You are welcome to go inside during services. Be discreet if you’re taking photos and if you want, stop by in the cosy tea shop. Contributions are welcome – the church is well maintained.

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Priory

Christchurch Town Quay — during the summer months, the town quay and harbour front is a swarm of activity. When the crowds slow down, the leisurely pace of the harbour front attracts students, dog walkers and keen boatsmen. Activities on offer include boat trips on the river, fishing and kayaking.

Christchurch Town Quay

Christchurch Town Quay — swans and ducks swim in the waters and kids love it.

Swans by the water in Christchurch.

Swans by the water in Christchurch.

Christchurch Place Mill — it’s a tradition in English towns with rivers for there to be an old mill. Christchurch Place Mill down by the harbour was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, as being the property of the canons of the Holy Trinity Church. The Mill has medieval stonework as well as Tudor and 18th century brickwork and was using for corn grinding and cleaning/thickening cloth right up until 1908.

Christchurch Place Mill

Christchurch Place Mill

Christchurch Place Mill

Christchurch Place Mill

As a bonus there was a spontaneous art gallery inside the Mill during my visit.

Art Gallery in the Mill, Christchurch.

Art Gallery in the Mill, Christchurch.

The Great Tower — Christchurch boasts a medieval history and the evidence is clear to see. The Great Tower ruins are still here. They sit on top of a hill and are part of a large Norman Castle which once dominated this town.

The Great Tower, Christchurch, Dorset, England.

The Great Tower, Christchurch, Dorset, England.

The Great Tower, Christchurch, Dorset, England.

The Great Tower, Christchurch, Dorset, England — the first castle dates back to 1107, incredible. The Great Tower has been attacked and parts of it destroyed over the years, but generally it looks great and also serves as a vantage point over the town.

View from the Great Tower.

View from the Great Tower.

Christchurch Castle and Norman House – as well as the Great Tower, you should check out the Castle and overall complex. In fact, on a personal level these ruins are the highlight of the visit. The local council know it too and they good care of the ruins, information boards also fill you in on the history of the place. You’ll find out that the settlement was really called Twynham.

The Castle Ruins

The Castle Ruins

The Castle Ruins

The Castle Ruins

Information on Christchurch Twynham

Christchurch Crazy Golf England — we all know the Northern Irish are great at golf these days (Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke) and I sunk my putts to perfection to beat Austin. The mini golf is down by the Quay.

mini golf christchurch

The Railway Tavern — there are a few pubs in Christchurch though nothing on its Dorset neighbours Poole and Bournemouth. The Railway Tavern makes a decent stop for a beer as it’s next to the train station and also has a bus stop outside it.

Railway Tavern in Christchurch

Railway Tavern in Christchurch

Christchurch Town Hall — all English towns have a town hall and Christchurch has one on the main street. While not as prominent as it could be, it does have a small and pretty square there too. Typical local shops and cafes give this town a less commercial feel than nearby Bournemouth.

Christchurch Town Hall.

Christchurch Town Hall

New Zealand Gardens — on the edge of the town centre, there is proof that they recognise their twin town, Christchurch in New Zealand. In fact, the New Zealand one is a city not a town. There is a nice garden area to walk around and the sign of the town’s entrance also includes Christchurch on it.

New Zealand Gardens

New Zealand Gardens

New Zealand Gardens

New Zealand Gardens

 

 

 

 

In Remembrance: The Poppies Display at the Tower of London

November 10, 2014 by  

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We will remember them: Crowds at the poppies display in London, England.

We will remember them: Crowds at the poppies display in London, England.

Following on from my sentimental and reality check articles on here such as my tribute to Jordan Kennedy and the 15 Things I Want to Achieve This Year, I landed back in England, bought myself a poppy and decided to spend a bit more time in England than usual on this adventure. It’s 100 years since the Great War. A sad fact but a good time to reflect on it, commemorate those who fought and died in the First World War and remember them. We will remember them.

Poppies at the Tower of London, England.

Poppies at the Tower of London, England. We don’t always pay our respects to the heroes of yesteryear, caught up in our own busy lifestyle. The UK is a proud place for commemoration though, and when Remembrance Day (11/11) comes round, it’s a time to reflect and remember the war heroes.

The poppies display is well sign posted.

The poppies display is well sign posted.

David Cameron steps in to try and extend the Poppies Display a bit longer.

David Cameron steps in to try and extend the Poppies Display a bit longer.

Some Facts About the Poppy Display
Here are some facts about the Poppy Display at the Tower of London, England

– There are 888,246 poppies in the display (one for every Commonwealth life claimed during the First World War)
– The first poppy was planted on 17th July (100 Year Anniversary of WWI)
– The last poppy will be planted on 11th November (Armistice Day)

The queues at the Tower of London near the Poppy display.

The queues at the Tower of London near the Poppy display.  The iconic ceramic poppies are now sold out – but you can still be in with a chance to own one of these pieces of history. Just fill in your details in the Rafflecopter widget on Facebook before midnight on November 23rd 2014 (open to UK residents only).

You can also show your support for the “Tower of London Remembers” campaign by making a dedication at their website, or texting TOLR99 plus the amount you wish to donate to 70070 (for example: TOLR9910 to donate £10).

Tower of London and the Union Flag of the UK.

Tower of London and the Union Flag of the UK.

I’ll be writing about the Tower of London itself (as I toured it for the first time) in a separate more detailed post but for now, while the display is on, please head down and pay your respects and don’t forget to donate some cash and buy a poppy. Wear your poppy with pride.

Panorama view of the Poppies display.

Panorama view of the Poppies display.

Big crowds at the Poppies Display.

Big crowds at the Poppies Display.

 

 

 

Ireland’s Smallest Church in the Charming Village of Portbraddon in Northern Ireland

November 6, 2014 by  

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Alas, the beauty of Northern Ireland continues. My recent adventures here have surprised and inspired me more than I ever could have imagined. While overlooking Whitepark Beach, which is just a few miles from the village of Ballintoy, I took the walk west from the beach, working my way over the sand and rocks to uncover yet another gem: the hamlet of Portbraddon.

Portbraddon, Northern Ireland.

Portbraddon, Northern Ireland.

This small settlement is as uncommercial as they come. Make no mistake about it – Northern Ireland’s North Antrim Coast is one of the most beautiful spots I’ve been to and Portbraddon does a great job of exuding the best of the hidden beauty here.

Arrival in Portbraddon is tranquil, exposed and delightful. There is a road down to get there but only with your own car as they don’t provide any public transport.

The road into Portbraddon.

There are less than 10 houses here and a population of less than 20, which will rise slightly in summer months, as some people have “second houses” for summer holidays only.

portbraddon northern ireland

Downtown Portbraddon, Northern Ireland. Walking along the beach and rocks to discover Portbraddon is nothing short of paradise.

Portbraddon harbour.

There’s no school. There’s no local shop. But there is one absolute must see here. On the main seafront street, up a shy driveway sits a remarkable church: St. Gobban’s Church, which is Ireland’s smallest operational church.

The church in Portbraddon.

While it is the smallest operational church in Ireland, it wasn’t originally built as a church.

P1140329 P1140330 P1140331 P1140332 The Braddon - perhaps a restaurant or pub of the past, or that opens in summer only.

There’s a bell, a cross, a name plaque saying it’s a church and inside bibles and hymn books and an altar, but this was not originally a church. A local myth states that Portbraddon contains the smallest church in Ireland, but St. Gobban’s “Church” was actually built in the 1950s as a small cow shed. The government listed it (which means it can’t be touched/knocked down) assuming this was Ireland’s oldest church.

Once in Portbraddon, be sure to check out the pier, a yacht club, great views over the Atlantic Coast and a small “local pub” called the Braddon which opens during summer months.

The local pub - the Braddon.

Get onto the Ulster Way, and walk round the coast to discover Portbraddon Cave as well. It is an absolutely wonderful experience to visit such a remote settlement here on Northern Ireland’s North Coast.

backpacking northern ireland

 

 

 

 

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