Lamai Beach

I am writing this from home, having discovered that the last two posts I wrote about Lamai (our last stop) have disappeared. This means that several paragraphs of me complaining about Justin Bieber on high (and I mean HIGH) rotation in every hotel, restaurant and bar in Thailand will just have to be done without – sad, I know. It honestly seemed as though some governing body in Thailand had issued the same 10 track CD to every likely establishment in the country and by the end of our three weeks I thought seriously about sticking a fork in my ears.

Lamai Beach

Audio-torture aside, we had a nice time during our last week. Lamai is a beach just south of the more famous Chaweng Beach, which runs down the eastern side of Koh Samui. This was our third trip to the island and we had decided to try Lamai as it seemed a bit quieter – the parade of hawkers, spherical and sunburned eurotrash, and whizzing jet skis of course has it’s charms (in terms of cautionary tales, perhaps) but we’d heard good things about Lamai.

Lovely lunch tropical gardens in our resort.

We definitely experienced quiet. In the evenings the beach was almost deserted as it was the low season and some of the bars and restaurants were completely closed. Despite this, our resort (The Pavilion) was at least half full and there were families and groups out on the beach throughout the day. Only one jet ski at a time seemed to be in operation too, so that was also something.

Lamai main street.

A big sign on the beach warned that it was jellyfish season so I did get in the sea a couple of times but tried to keep Luke between myself and the open water.

On our second last night I made the mistake of looking up the kinds of jellyfish and related incidents to be found locally and scared myself out of going back in. Fortunately the hotel pool was perfectly fine – although Luke wasn’t happy that it had not been heated to bath temperatures.

We ate out every night and enjoyed a great number of 70-140 baht cocktails. If you’re heading to the area we highly recommend Pik’s Bar. They have a list or 140 cocktails and they’re all the equivalent of $3 AUD each.

Pik’s Bar

Lea decided Pina Coladas were the best thing since sliced bread and after her first we barely saw her without one in her hand, even at breakfast! Just kidding, of course. We didn’t usually start drinking until we’d spent at least 8 hours reading our respective books in sun loungers.

Our only activity, apart from eating, swimming, reading, and drinking, was watching the local gang of dogs wrestle each other up and down the beach. A form of entertainment familiar to everyone who has ever been to the coast of Thailand.

We became quite familiar with the pack and one morning I found one of them (who looked a bit like our old dog Penny) asleep on the walkway right outside our room. After that I bought a little packet of dog treats from the 7-11 and handed them out whenever they came near.

We did find a few really lovely places to eat in Lamai, one of which wasn’t Thai (all the Thai places are excellent, mind you) called Emporio Caffè.

The proprietor and chef was an Italian fellow from Rome who made the pasta by hand and shared some of his grappa and limoncello with us. The pasta was outstanding and so of course we went back two nights later. Although it was a very simple cafe it had the typical frescos. If you find yourself in Lamai be sure to go!

Luke and I left Samui on a very early flight and spent a night at the Novotel in Bangkok before a daytime flight back to Melbourne. I ended up with a headache from watching three movies and the entire available catalogue of Big Bang Theory (it’s the show I watch when there’s nothing better to watch) and disembarked at about 8:30pm to find Melbourne airport the busiest we’d ever seen it.

The lady managing the extensive Sky Bus queue told the people in line that the trouble was that the Cox Plate (a prestigious horse race), Pax (a games convention) and a Taylor Swift concert were all happening on the same weekend.

Once we got into the city we discovered that in fact the Taylor Swift concert had just emptied out from the stadium beside the station and there were crowds five deep to get onto the trains. We ended up standing up for the 50 minutes it took to get home and then walked the last kilometre. The guy at the local kebab stand spied us walking past (this was at almost midnight) and asked Luke if we were going hiking.

Arriving home was a bit weird. Last time we’d come back we’d had a house full of people and Penny to greet us. This time it was more like letting ourselves into another Airbnb. Luke had paid for professional cleaners to go through the house before we returned and they’d cleaned some things well – and some things not so well. A lot of our belongings were in boxes as friends had lived in the house while we’d been gone.

We lay down on a mattress in the spare room, turned out the light, and agreed solemnly that really, there’s no place like home.

Pik’s Bar

The Peak District and Makeney Hall

Apologies to the handful of people who check the blog with any regularity, I’ve really fallen off the regular-posting bandwagon these last few weeks. Partially because we’ve been lazy and haven’t done a lot of noteworthy things and partly because when there’s other people around I try to be more social. Hopefully I’ll catch up before we get home in a week and a half.

We start at the end of the last post – catching the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool.

After a 4:30am breakfast, the ferry from Dublin to Liverpool disgorges it’s passengers at the cruel hour of 5:30am, which meant we had a long day to fill before booking into our accommodation for that night.

Jess and Luke loved the croissants onboard and we could see why all the truck drivers were virtually spherical. Excellent food and service on the overnight P&O ferry!

We filled our day by first taking a drive to Edale, a little village in the Peak District and well known to me as the start/end of the Pennine Way, England’s most well known long distance trail. Possibly also it’s most grueling too. Not that I’ve done it, but it was nice to take a drive through the gorgeous hills and then stop for a cup of tea at the campsite cafe, once it opened. We were seriously early.

A classic British pub. Hopefully we’ll be back one day during opening hours.

Next we drove to Chatsworth farm house and cafe for a slice of cake and more tea. The range of stuff on sale was very tempting (and pricey) and I bought a few things for Andrew and some tasty treats for us too, including a ginger brack (a type of cake that keeps well) to put in my package of stuff to send home.

Fancy farm shop pies.

After the cafe we took a quick drive through the actual Chatsworth estate but we were all a bit too knackered to be bothered with the entry price and doing much walking around. The weather was glorious though and the building looked magnificent.

Last stop before our hotel was a leisurely walk around Bakewell, a very pretty, touristy and well-kept northern town. We looked through a few shops then made our way to Makeney Hall. As I’d thought the Lake District was too far to drive and our preferred hotel there wasn’t available anyhow and we thought it would be nice to spend one night in a relatively fancy country house/hotel and Makeney Hall looked nice and was in about the right location.

The hotel ended up looking quite nice on the outside but having a somewhat run-down feeling in the interior. Tatty carpet, dirty windows in the restaurant, and the bedrooms were pretty ordinary.

We had booked an afternoon tea and we were the only people in the spacious dining room. The food was nice and the ambience improved once we disconnected the country/pop music playlist on the staff iPad and connected my phone with more suitable classical music. Luckily the staff weren’t fussed.

All in all, not a hotel I’d recommend but we enjoyed taking a walk in the evening and watching the rabbits and squirrels in the garden.

The next day we drove to Cambridge for two nights then spent our last week in London, where we saw a number of plays and had high tea on a bus! More about the next post.

Luke and I Hike Up Skiddaw, Cumbria

Two days before we left Keswick I had an attack of the sads and felt like I hadn’t done enough while I’d been there. I know Luke isn’t obsessed with walking like I am and while he was with me I didn’t want to torture him with huge days of walking. I ended up feeling a bit resentful, which was obviously unfair but I knew I wouldn’t be back for years and there was so much left to do! It probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d bought a Wainwright map and realised I’d only bagged seven peaks.

Not that it’s all about ticking things off, but the days I had climbed high I’d been rewarded with amazing views and feelings of accomplishment and I was jonesing for more.

Luke very kindly and generously agreed that our last day, if the weather was decent, would be spent attacking Skiddaw, the fourth highest peak in Cumbria and the closest major mountain to Keswick.

I was both pleased and daunted so I planned a route that was longer but not so steep, as I’d tried to attempt the climb on my last visit but was scared off by the loose gravel.

We took a taxi to the Latrigg car park then headed around between Lonscale Fell and Blencathra and walked along the valley to Skiddaw House YHA.

This way is mostly flat and mostly dry until the walk up behind Skiddaw House which then is a fairly steady, grassy gradient to the saddle between Skiddaw Little Man and Skiddaw.

As we climbed higher it seemed that the whole of the northern fells were visible and I think I could see as far as Scotland!

We reached the saddle and at this point the wind, which had been picking up gradually, became a freezing arctic gale. We each put on a jumper and what few layers we had, astonished at the ferocity of it. Still, the view was excellent. It felt almost like we were standing over Keswick. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

We walked up to the cairns, quickly admired the view and then decided to head down via the steep path to Latrigg car park. We both felt very accomplished for making it to the top, even though it had been a pretty easy walk. Little did we realise that the worst was to come!

We started down and at first the track was a wide bridleway but it narrowed and became steep loose gravel. I genuinely cannot comprehend how people run this track, even though I saw people doing it. I don’t understand how people can manage it either going up or down.

We crept down the path at at snail’s pace and it took us almost as long to travel the one kilometre down as it took us to travel the five or so kilometres up. We had to stop to rest several times because of pain in our knees – and I never get pain in my knees. I was very, very glad I’d bought replacement hiking poles and that Luke had one as well.

The soles of my feet stung from sliding in my shoes and at one point we found a grassy stretch and attempted to slide down it using my plastic-coated map as a toboggan but it didn’t really work. We did have a laugh though!

The attempted toboggan slope.

Luke says ‘why not?’

Despite the pain it was certainly an achievement. As Luke said afterwards: I’ve done something I thought I couldn’t do so now I can be more confident with other things. He was right!

My weeks of walking in the Lakes have shown me that I have no problems with camping alone in the wild (if you can consider anywhere in England ‘wild’), that I can walk a fair way carrying all my gear, that I actually enjoy scrambling over rock faces (as long as they’re not too steep) and that I enjoy my own company for days on end. These are all good things of know!

When I get home I will start planning some Tasmanian walks and finally do the Great Ocean Walk in Victoria. Maybe one day I could even aim for something really huge!

Have you ever conquered a physical challenge? Have you done something you thought was not possible? I’d love to hear about other’s achievements!

High Rigg and Buttermere – Two Walks Near Keswick.

We arrived in Keswick pretty late in the day after a taxi, two trains and a bus from Cheltenham.

We stopped in at our BnB (The Cartwheel in Blencathra Street) to unload and briefly relax before heading out on a very short walk to Castle Hill.

Despite the fact that it was only about a kilometre away I missed the right lane but we made it eventually to the little dark forest that crowned a small rise near Derwentwater.

As I expected, my lack of long walks or serious hills showed and I was a bit puffed by the time we made it to the top. The nice thing about this time of year is that the school holidays are over so we saw only a few people on the way up and had the top to ourselves.

We took a few photos but it was getting dark so we took a walk down through town to the camping and caravan club where I camped in May and June. I pointed out all the significant spots and hills I’d climbed while Luke humoured me by making noises to indicate he was listening.

When we got to the lake it was getting quite dark and it looked quite moody and gloomy – very different to earlier balmy days. Also the black and white makes it look even more eerie ;-).

We stopped at The Bank Tavern for a drink and shared a chicken kiev. While we haven’t been sharing dinner as often as we should we’re trying to remember to do it now.

We then went to The Dog And Gun, which was packed with dogs – five just in the alcove we were sitting in. We had a piece of apple pie drowning in custard, which made Luke happy, then walked back to the Cartwheel for an early night.

While on the bus that day I’d wrenched my neck and lying in a soft bed seemed to make it worse – by morning I was struggling to move it at all or sit comfortably. I took some nurofen with breakfast, which seems to help but I’m hoping it comes better soon.

The following day I decided that I wanted to walk High Rigg, a hill near Castlerigg Stone Circle and very close to the walk Pete and Deb and I did in June.

We caught the bus as close as we could then walked up the hill and along the ridge. Luke did not enjoy the walk up, but it was pretty! And reasonably dry, too.

As I’d read, there were excellent panoramic views from the top and we followed the ridge for about a kilometre then down the southern end. There was no path marked on my OS map but it was pretty clear where to go.

We only saw one other couple along the way and it was marvellously quiet. The rain that had happened through the night had cleared and only the top of Skiddaw and Blencathra were covered in cloud. We even got a bit of sun on our way down.

The path ended right at a 555 bus stop, which was super handy, so we caught the bus back to Keswick then the 77A to Buttermere to eat our lunch then go for a wander along the lake. While it was perhaps not quite as fine a day as last time I was here, the lack of crowds made up for it.

We found a lovely patch of fly agaric too!

At the southern end we spent a few minutes watching a dog try to pick up a rock out of a stream – the rock was bigger than its head and we watched in amazement as it finally managed to pick the rock up and get it up to the bank.

We caught the bus back to Keswick by 5 and headed straight to the Wainwright pub where we shared a steak and ale pie, Luke agreed it was the best he’d had yet. After we’d finished eating another couple asked if they could share the table and we ended up talking to them for ages. Janice and Steve were from Newcastle and on their yearly holiday to the lakes. They had their immaculately white west highland terrier with them and we talked dogs and walks and travel for a while before Luke and I decided it was getting late and headed back to the Cartwheel.

A lovely day out!

A Day In The Cotswolds

Luke signed us up for a ‘Secret Cottage’ tour of the Cotswolds and so we arrived at Oxford station ready to catch a train to meet our group, only to find that, for the second time in a week, someone had been hit by a train and thrown the network into disarray. After hanging about for a bit a delayed train was rerouted and we jumped on and actually got to the meeting point a bit early.

We were met by two black vans and two drivers – ours was a local man named Jeremy who turned out to be an almost inexhaustible font of knowledge with a perfect BBC accent. He was the first (and probably the last) person I will ever hear using ‘one’ as an entirely unselfconscious personal pronoun.

Along with two girls from California who had arrived by the same train, we jumped in and were driven to a tiny village called Chastleton. There we admired a Jacobean manor which, up until quite recently, housed a lady who own 21 cats. Apparently the smell was quite something.

We also had a look in the church next door before heading around the corner to the ‘secret cottage’. The family who organise the tours live in the cottage and provide morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea throughout the day. Before eating we had a tour of the cottage.

Those mushroom shaped objects are ‘straddle stones’ used to elevate storage sheds so mice and rats couldn’t climb up.

It was originally three living spaces with families of up to 15 in each two room space. One room downstairs and one upstairs, reachable by a ladder. In winter the family pig and chickens would live inside too. These days it’s much nicer, with just four people living in the cottage rather than 45!

Morning tea was a delicious selection of biscuits and cakes.

On each excursion out we visited different villages in the Cotswolds and admired many thatched cottages and learned a great deal from Jeremy about the area’s history, geography, language, animals and social goings-on. For example, did you know that Patrick Stewart lives in the Cotswolds and writes many peeved letters to his local council about the shooting range near his property?

We visited Upper and Lower Slaughter – two gorgeous villages with rather dramatic names. However ‘slaugh’ meant ‘marsh’ in an old language, which makes it all less sinister. One of the villages is one of Britain’s ‘doubly thankful’ villages. This means that not one person was killed in either world war. Jeremy explained that the wars had quite devastating effects on some villages as all the young men would want to join the same regiment and so, if that regiment was in serious action, they could lose a generation in one blow.

We learned that while thatched roofs may be beautiful, they are also expensive. They cost about forty thousand pounds to restore (for a medium sized cottage) and a thatch last about 50 years. Some thatchers make signature animals along the roof line – often birds but sometimes cats, dogs and foxes.

Lunch!

The name ‘Cotswolds’ come from ‘cot’ meaning a fenced or enclosed space (from all the sheep pens) and ‘wold’ meaning ‘hills’.

A newly thatched cottage.

We saw a village named Great Tew that had been abandoned last century then revitalised when an heir to the estate had been found. It was a beautiful village filled with gorgeous buildings.

And a very cute pub!

Jeremy had worked as a geologist and as we walked through the village he found a brachiopod fossil!

It doesn’t look like much here but I could tell it was a shell, I promise!

He also had a little wallet of things he’d found while walking around the area, including a Roman coin. It’s the tiny blackened one.

Afternoon tea!

It was a lovely day. Not cheap, at £95, but it didn’t feel at all rushed and we had a very nice group of people to chat to, in fact four others from our group caught the same train back towards Oxford so we chatted the whole way. Lovely!

Two Days On The Essex Way

As Luke’s aunt and uncle live in Dedham we decided to incorporate a visit with a leg of the Essex Way, a long distance walking trail that stretches from the English Channel to the eastern edge of London.

Dedham sits close to the middle of the Way. We decided to walk from Great Horkesley to Dedham on the first day, stay the night then walk from Dedham to Manningtree the next as it would be easy to catch the train back to Cambridge. Also the part around Dedham is considered one of the prettiest on the Way as it’s an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

We left Cambridge mid morning and caught the bus from Bar Hill into town then a train from Cambridge to Ipswich then another train from Ipswich to Colchester. The train to Colchester was supposed to go on to London but due to a fatality on the track it was delayed in Colchester indefinitely.

From Colchester we caught a bus to Great Horkesley where we shared a steak and ale pie at the amusingly-named Half Butt Inn.

I had about a quarter and Luke had the rest, primarily because I’d weighed myself at Andrew’s and been mightily displeased with the results.

Anyhow, a little bit of pie was just as delicious as a lot and it’s good not to set out with a bursting stomach.

We set off up the road looking for the Way markers and were soon on the right track.

The Essex Way turned out to be much, much better marked than the Cumbria Way. Almost every time there was a turn it was clearly signposted. We only missed one marker and took two wrong turns, each of which only cost us a few extra minutes. I wouldn’t recommend doing it without a map but we coped quite well with a combination of a printout from from the website and google maps. On the Cumbria Way I would recommend the full OS maps but they weren’t necessary here.

A lot of the Essex Way seemed to be through fields.

A lot of them weren’t particularly scenic.

Maybe it wasn’t the best time of year to do it? We saw a lot of onions and beets, anyhow.

Essex is also very, very flat. We only walked up and down perhaps three small slopes in the two days of walking. This would make it an excellent walk for people with little experience doing long walks, plus you’re always within sight or sound of a road so it would feel a lot less daunting than being out on the moors or up a mountain. The trade off, off course, is that it’s nowhere near as beautiful. If the Lake District was a ten then most of what we saw on this trail (which admittedly wasn’t much) rates about a two. There are some pretty vistas across gently undulating fields with church spires in the distance but half the trail is between hedges and you can’t actually see anything.

Also not great if you’re a bit nervous of cars. Good for snacking on blackberries though, of which there was an abundance!

The little villages are very picturesque and if you like that he’s cottages you’ll be in heaven.

I particularly like all the churches and their fancy lych gates. Lych gates originated in the medieval period as a place for mourners to bring the corpse (litch) to be accepted by the priest. The lych gate was a covered place for them to wait.

This part of England is known for horse breeding and racing so we saw a few horses along the way too.

As we neared Dedham our feet were aching so we stopped for a drink at Milsom’s, the fancy restaurant that we’d visited on our previous visit to Mark and Sue. They didn’t bat an eyelid at our sweaty clothes and red faces, which was awfully good of them.

After a half pint and a rest we felt slightly refreshed and didn’t find the last kilometre too taxing. We walked nearly 19 kilometres on our first day, a good effort after a number of weeks of slacking off. We also managed to get in just before the clouds opened. Lucky!

The following day we had a delicious cafe breakfast that was as good as anything you’d get in Melbourne and had another look at the renovations of Mark and Sue’s place. It’s really come along since we were last there! It’s all going to look amazing when it’s done and there’s lots of neat little aspects, like windows that close automatically when it starts raining.

I took a few photos of Luke with his cousins Alice and Isabel. Luke is the oldest of his generation of cousins as his mother is the eldest of nine Dempsey children. Luke’s uncle Mark is the youngest of the nine (and only four years older than me!) so his children are the youngest of that generation of cousins. Does that make sense?

It was lovely to see them all again!

Our second day of walking was from Dedham to Manningtree. It wasn’t anywhere near as far as the first day but that was probably just as well as we were a bit stiff. The views on day two were a bit better and we only went off track once right at the end. It did mean climbing a fence and crouching through some trees but we emerged on the footpath only a couple of hundred metres from Manningtree station.

We stopped off at the surprisingly nice Station Hotel in Ipswich for lunch (surprising because hotels that are next to train stations are often rubbish) and then continued on the Cambridge.

All in all, a good walk for our level of fitness and experience but not terribly scenic. Perhaps it would be better in Spring? It did seem like a walk that wouldn’t get too muddy (unlike the CW) and is much more accessible. That being said we only saw one other walker in the whole two days and he was also doing the Essex Way. We stopped for a moment to chat and he expressed surprise as well that we were the first people he’d seen and he’d been walking all day. I’m glad we saw at least one other walker so Luke could have a small taste of what I’d experience on an hourly basis in Cumbria. Often chatting to other walkers took up several hours of my day! How strange that, this close to London, we only saw one person.

A few more photos to finish with – and could someone tell me what plant this is?

Crabapples?

Cycling around Colmar

Our main goal during our time in Colmar was to do some cycling through some scenic villages and Alsace vineyards as we’d not done any cycling on our previous travels. We also hoped we’d find a few nice restaurants and sample some local produce – wine being top of the list!

We hired two electric bikes from Lulu Cycles in Colmar. We’d originally planned to get normal bikes but a mother and her two daughters were returning some electric bikes when we went in and they strongly recommended them so we decided to give them a go.

Our first day of cycling followed a route that went through the villages of Turckheim, Katzenthal and Ammerschweir and ended up being a loop that was about 20kms.

I had problems on the first day with my bike as the pedals would lock if I tried to use the electric assistance going up hills – which is obviously when I most wanted it. Never having used an electric bike before and with neither of us being mechanically-minded we had no idea what was wrong and how we could fix it. I ended up having to push the bike up hills. Fortunately none of the hills were very big or very steep but it was quite annoying. It turned out, when we took it back, that I had the bike in the wrong gear, so on our second day I knew what to do and it was all fine.

Luke expresses his disapproval for my bike with a dirty look.

The villages around Colmar are all very picturesque. Some more so than others, of course. Each of the ones we visited on the first day was nice and we noticed that every church we came to had a shallow but large metal basket on the roof and in most of them were nesting storks. Andrew tells me that this solves the problem of storks nesting on chimneys and creating fire hazards!

We arrived in Kazenthal in time for lunch and the first restaurant we happened upon had a Michelin plate on the outside – a good sign!

A l’Agneau (don’t ask me to pronounce it) was delightful. They didn’t raise an eyebrow at our sweaty faces or rumpled cycling clothes, despite the fat that everyone else there looked like they had a special occasion happening. We choose a €28 three course lunch that also included an amuse bouche and petit fours. All the food was deliciously fresh and perfectly cooked with lovely presentation. The manner of the staff was also excellent – despite a low level of English they asked where we from and recommended other things to see in the area as well as recommending wines to match each course.

I don’t think I could pick my favourite course, every element was superb. After drinking and eating so much we both had a cappuccino before getting on the bikes to continue our ride. I rarely drink coffee but I have come to understand its value after a heavy meal!

Thankfully most of the remaining ride was downhill and fairly straightforward. One of the downsides of this sort of sight-seeing is having to stop frequently to check the map as we didn’t know the area. It would’ve been good to have some way of attaching my phone to the handlebars to use as a satnav. I also wouldn’t have minded a rear view mirror when we were on the roads so I could see cars and how far Luke was behind me.

Our second day of riding was even more successful. This time I had the gears+electrics worked out and after a brief attempt to use my headphones with google navigation so we wouldn’t have to stop so often, we were on our way, hurtling through corn fields and feeling the wind in our hair. Well.. except when google maps took us into muddy fields and knee-high grass.

Our second day took us through the villages of Herrlisheim-près-Colmar, Eguisheim, Wettolsheim and Wintzenheim. If you’re planning on visiting any villages around Colmar I strongly urge you to leave Eguisheim until last because anywhere you go after that looks a trifle dull.

Eguisheim is even prettier than Colmar and is made up of roads that are concentric circles.

It makes it a very pleasant place to wander around, even if it’s hard to know when to stop. It’s full of places to do wine tastings – we wished we had booked a night there so we could have taken advantage of it all.

We ended up eating at Au Vieux Porche, another Michelin-listed restaurant and almost, almost, as good as A l’Agneux. If anything was missing it was possibly the attentiveness of the service. There was no effort to engage us in any conversation and when we were ready to pay it took twenty minutes for the maitre d to come to our table. Otherwise the food was excellent and it was about the same price – nearly €90 for the two of us to have three courses each, wine pairings and coffee. My first ever espresso – predictably dreadful but with the desired effect of allowing me to continue riding without falling asleep on the bike.

Unfortunately the lighting was quite dim so my photos are a bit rubbish but believe me, it was all delicious! Well, except the coffee and that wasn’t their fault.

Although we hired the bikes for four days we only used them on two due to rain and hot weather and being lazy. We really enjoyed both days despite the few issues and it is definitely a lovely and accessible part of the world for riding if you’re not super experienced.

Here’s a few more photos from Eguisheim to finish off!