From tulips to Amsterdam

Today was an odd day. We split it between Lisse and Amsterdam. We’d never been to Amsterdam together and since the first monument to the gay victims of the Holocaust is in Amsterdam – near to Ann Franks’ house – it felt like a good reason to go and see it. We could also take the train from Amsterdam straight back to Shiedam, where we can change for Hoek van Holland and on to the overnight ferry. We weren’t sure whether it would be possible to exercise Zoly very much in Amsterdam so Matthew suggested visiting the botanical gardens in Lisse.

The fire alarm went off at the hotel at about 6:00am (a false alarm, but everyone was out in the street in their nightwear), so we were up and about quite early. We wandered around Lisse and it took a while to find the gardens – it seemed to be hidden out beyond the suburbs and when we eventually found them on the outskirts of town, they were closed! Still, we did happen upon a rather nice thatched windmill.

As we weren’t in a hurry we had plenty of time for one last circuit of Keukenhof forest before getting the bus the Haarlem (a beautiful city – we must go back to explore) and then the short train ride to Amsterdam.

Walking through the narrow streets near Amsterdam station was a bit nerve-wracking and a a little unpleasant with Zoly because the streets were so crowded and also because so many people were smoking (and not all of them tobacco, this being Amsterdam). It’s curious how quickly we’ve become used to smoke-free public spaces in the UK.

On our way to the homomonument my sister Lisa called – she’d finished the Milton Keynes marathon – only her second – in a London marathon good for age qualifying time of 3:48:33. This despite the fact that she lost a few minutes after tripping over a tree root and falling at about 14 miles in. I’m so proud of her – and hopefully this means that both she and me will be running in London next year. Can’t wait!

The monument was good to visit – I worried a bit that people were sitting on it and picnicking, perhaps without realising what it was or its significance. It’s a pink granite triangle that steps down and juts out into the canal. But maybe it’s fitting that it’s enjoyed as well as being serious.

The Olympic stadium was lovely, but also closed! We did a quick circuit and then there was time to visit Vondelpark – built in 1865 and named after a 17th-century playwright and poet. The park is fantastic – long and narrow, with hundreds of runners and cyclists. It was lovely to walk through with Zoly off his lead after the streets of Amsterdam. There were lots of other dogs to meet and greet, lakes and fountains, an outdoor gym, open air theatre and lovely little cafés all over. Zoly had been so good today that we treated him to an ice cream while we had a picnic and wrote postcards.

We’d done quite a bit of walking around today by now, so we took a tram back to Centraal Station for the train back to Hoek van Holland. Zoly and Matthew were both very tired.

Keukenhof 2016

We travelled overseas with Zoly for the very first time. He has had a Pet Passport issued especially. The original plan was to cycle with Zoly in a Dutch Doggyride trailer – but he really doesn’t like being in his trailer unfortunately , so we think we’ll need to be very patient and give him more time and training to get him used to travelling in it. Luckily, Zoly likes trains and buses – so that’s how we’ll travel + the overnight ferry crossing of course. We’re not sure how Zoly will deal with being on a ferry in a cage in a kennel – he’s not been on his own overnight since he was a small puppy – all the more reason to keep the joys of travelling in a dog trailer for another time.

Mike and Zoly larking about

Matthew was in a very grumpy mood this morning. None of us had slept particularly well and he’d decided that it was Zoly being restless in the night, but I suspected that it was more than that – we’ve had noisy overnight storms all week so combined with Zoly’s nocturnal antics plus the fact that Matthew just never stops meant that he was suffering a bit. And when Matthew is suffering from tiredness, everyone else better watch out! Discretion being the better part of valour and all that, I decided that I should make myself and Zoly scarce and take off on a day-long hike. I like to ‘join things up’ and since we’d walked from our cottage in Metherell to Cothele and then followed the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail along the River Tamar as far as Calstock, I wanted to do the next few ‘sections’ of the Trail – heading north through Gunnislake, then west via Bitthams, Chilsworthy, Latchley, Greenscombe Wood, Luckett as far as Old Mill, where we could turn south and over Kit Hill and back through Harrowbarrow to Metherell.

The weather today  promised to be fine (at last) and Matthew hadn’t really been able to spend very much time in the gardens at Cothele so he walked with us until we arrived there.

It was nice not having to be wrapped up against the rain and on the walk through Cothele Quay into Calstock everything looked so much brighter.       





 We’d been as far as Calstock church on a previous walk – it’s sited high above and quite a walk away from the town. We’d wondered why it was so far away from where everyone lived until we discovered that in 2007 a team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter had uncovered the remains of a Roman fort surrounding the church – it would have been big enough for 500 soldiers and is the furthest south west that Roman remains have been found. I figured that the church was probably where it was because it was built from stones that had been nicked from the Roman fort!  

Once we passed through Gunnislake the valley sides became steeper and narrowed as we headed further upstream – after all the rain the river was incredibly high, very fast flowing, foaming and churning  – I was concerned to keep Zoly away from the edge. 

 The Tamar valley is so beautiful around here though – cliffs and forests, weird and rocky islands everywhere and the whole area is characterised by ruined Cornish mine workings being reclaimed by nature  – tall engine sheds built from stone with high round chimneys, abandoned workshops and crushing sheds, piles of spoil and fenced off shafts. Most of the mines were for tin, copper, arsenic and silver.  

 We came across a couple of really nice-looking little holiday lets above the River in Chilsworthy, they had amusing names!

Also, a rather inviting place to stay in Latchley – we just need to check out their dog-friendly credentials before we make a booking (although just about everyone seems to have a dog around here, plus vegans are always animal-friendly, so this place is probably a safe bet). A man pushing a wheelbarrow in the village said: “That’s a fine-looking hound”as we passed.

 The walk up to Kit Hill was challenging as it was very steep and near the end of our walk. But it was worth it for the amazing views. All the way to Plymouth looking south and over to Devon in the east.


There was a quarry high on the hill a stones used in the Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse in Scilly as well as six London bridges over the Thames (Lambeth, Putney, London, Chelsea, Blackfriars and Waterloo). 
 A stone monument at the summit of Kit Hill can be seen for miles, from a distance the mess that’s been made of it through having various bits of communications equipment strapped to it isn’t clear. I think it’s a shame the work couldn’t have been done more sympathetically.

We came off the hill for the short walk back to Metherell – we called in to the farm shop in Harrowbarrow for some well-earned ‘premium’ cooked Cornish ham for Zoly, we arrived two minutes before closing time – phew! Lucky boy.


Summary day 7 – heading home

We had a wonderful (late) honeymoon in Northumberland – and like on our wedding day, the weather has been kind to us. While there were stories from the rest of the country of storms and torrential rain – we mostly had sunshine and blue skies. It only rained on one day, so we were very fortunate. It was our first longer trip away with Zoly – and he seemed to have a lovely time; lots of walks, new experiences, time off lead, things to smell and potential friends to meet and play with. He was really good – coped with the long walks well and slept between us most nights.

On our last morning we thought that Zoly should have a good walk and be emptied out before the long train journey back to Bristol, so Mike took him down to Alnmouth beach for one last time while Matthew finished packing the bags and updated the visitor’s book. The tide was the furthest out that I’d seen it and the sand was very soft underfoot. There were some other dogs for Zoly to play with and he ran into the river a few times. It was a shame to have to turn back for the house.

When we returned to the cottage a small dove was wandering about outside the door – Zoly was fascinated (and salivating)!

Our train from Alnmouth was at 11 and we saw Jill the house-owner as we were leaving. There was an interesting information board, especially about the history of Alnmouth station. The routes we’d taken on some of our walks to Alnwick was along the proposed new heritage steam train route.

We changed trains at Durham and then Birmingham – Zoly was an angel on the train – and as usual had lots of pats and strokes compliments and admiring looks. Everything went smoothly, even though the trains were very full. We arrived back in Bristol at 4:00 and Mike walked Zoly home via Victoria Park to give him a bit of additional exercise before diner and Matthew took all our bags home in a taxi.

We expected to him some trouble persuading Zoly to sleep back in his own bed – but he wasn’t too bad – only two attempts to get on our bed, but each time we took him back to his bed and the second time he stayed there ’til morning. He’s a fast learner that dog!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about trip and seeing some of our pictures. Hopefully we’ll be traveling by bicycle next time with a dog trailer for Zoly.

Summary day 6 – what to do?!

Today we planned to go up to Holy Island – it’s Good Friday and it would be a nice place to be today. However, the rain was tipping down, it’s a bank holiday so the already meagre bus services are significantly reduced and there’s also lots of engineering works on the railway! The more we considered various travel options the more unlikely it seemed that we’d get to Holy Island in time to cross the causeway and back at low tide and be able to return to Alnmouth in a day! We needed to make alternative plans. Zoly doesn’t like going out in the rain, which is odd because he’ll jump into the bath, the shower, ponds, water troughs – you name it! Apart of pubs, many dog-friendly indoor venues were not likley to be open today so we thought that we’d struggle.

By 1:00 the rain had eased to a fine drizzle (mizzle?!), so we thought we’d risk a local walk. We set off to Alnmouth – the river and the beach. The tide was coming in and we saw some beautiful big herons in the estuary.

The beach had a couple of other dog walkers although their dogs didn’t seem that interested in playing with Zoly. There were some children trying to skim stones and Zoly thought that this was a fantastic game – he went charging into the water after the stones and seemed to be quite disappointed when he couldn’t retrieve them from under the water. Unfortunately, he was wearing his coat – so that was absolutely soaked and covered in sand in no time. Once he was wet through we decided to let him play and run about – he adores the beach – digs in the sand, runs in wide circles, picks up pieces of seaweed or driftwood and rushes about and tosses them into the air then tries to catch them again. If there are other dogs about on the beach then he loves chasing games. He’s had a fantastic holiday and it’s sad that it’s coming to an end. We wondered if we’d have trouble persuading him to sleep back in his own bed when we get back to Bristol!

It was still raining and feeling cold, so we went into Alnmouth village to see if somewhere might be open and get some tea. There was a nice-looking café open next to the golf links by the beach – called Dandelion I went in to ask if they would let dogs in and they said no – even though their promotional material reads: “We chose Dandelion as the name for our new café bars to reflect the warmth of the welcome and the informal environment.” Well we weren’t going to leave Zoly outside, so we continued on and saw that the Red Lion Inn did welcome dogs, so we settled in there and had peppermint tea and chips! Zoly was well-behaved and was universally admired – they don’t know what they’re missing in Dandelion!

By about three in the afternoon the rain had stopped, although it was still grey, so we decided to continue our walk and head into the next village, Lesbury and walk up the Aln to the Lesbury railway viaduct that we can see from our cottage and cross the river by some stepping stones over towards Alnwick then complete the loop back to the house.

Lesbury is pretty – lots of honey-coloured stone cottages, a small church and even the new development looked attractive. The railway viaduct is about half a mile out of the village but it’s really spectacular with 18 arches – the viaduct carries the main east coast railway line from London to Edinburgh across the river valley, it was built in 1849 to a design by Robert Stephenson. The footpath by the river passes right under the viaduct although with all the rain the ground was very boggy.

We crossed the river further upstream by Bilton Mill using the stepping stones. We encouraged Zoly to get into the water there to get rid of some of the sand and mud on him before heading home.

Summary day 5 – Durham, Blanchland and Castleside

We took the train from Alnmouth to Durham this morning.

We’d arranged to visit cousin Catherine, uncle Malcolm and aunt Sheila this afternoon  and we were meeting Malcolm outside Durham cathedral at 12:30. There was a 9:00 train arriving in Durham at 9:45 so we could spend the morning strolling along the banks of the Weir – the weather was glorious – a lovely warm and bright spring day. We had a lovely walk along the river bank path with its famous view of the cathedral and castle, the bridges, the rowers and a lovely little Greek-style folly – called CountJ c folly.Joseph Boruwlaski was a dwarf in the eighteenth century who retired to Durham. Having somewhere so close to the city centre where a dog can be off-lead and having fun in safety is wonderful.

Malcolm had been at a special service for bishops, priests and deacons from the Durham Diocese and when we met him he offered to walk Zoly so we could go in and check out the Lego Durham Cathedral! Aunt Janet had also suggested that Matthew search out the Bishop of Jarrow who used to work with her in Coventry and introduce ourselves to him!

Janet had given us a good description of Bishop Mark of Jarrow – so it didn’t take long to find hime and Matthew had a quick chat about Janet’s work with the elderly in Coventry.

Then on to the Lego Durham Cathedral, which is brilliant and epic! When it’s complete it will be 3.84m wide, 1.53m wide and 1.7m high – it’s scaled from Lego figures – so that they look more-or-less the right size in the model. There will be around 350,000 bricks in the model and anyone can add a piece for £1. We bough 5 pieces and fitted them to the top of the north tower. There were lots of people making their contributions – so it shouldn’t take long to finish.

After the Lego Durham Cathedral we met up with Malcolm and Zoly in th ecoolege grounds behind  the cathedral – I wonder if there’s something about vicars and dogs and keeping off he grass signs!

Malcolm took us on a lovely drive up to the fells around the Durham/Northumberland border, we passed  the Derwent Reservoir and stopped for a short walk along he river in the small village of Blanchland. I remember going to Blanchland when I was young – probably with Malcolm – to visit Leonard Paulin, who had been the vicar at St Alban’s church in Earsdon and who probably conducted the marriage of Mum and Dad and christened me. He was a lovely, cultivated and gentle man and his last parish was here. Blanchland was built with stones from the remains of the twelfth century Blanchland Abbey and has a lovely uniform character as a result of the building stone used and the lovely scale of the buildings.

I think Malcom expected Zoly to have a play in the river – cousin Philipa’s dogs had, apparently – but the water was flowing quite quickly and deep in some places, so Zoly wasn’t going in! We didn’t stay long because I was a bit concerned about Malcom overdoing it, plus we were hungry, so we headed over to Malcolm and Sheila’s house in Castleside.

Lunch was delicious and there was lots to eat – very good for two greedy blokes! Carrot and coriander soup followed by vegetable curry, then fresh fruit salad. Heaven! They’d made sure that Zoly was well catered for too – four bags of treats! The lucky boy! We had a lovely time and it was so nice to spend time with them. We talked about Catherine’s wedding next January, teaching work, Richard’s amazing reviews of the his singing and a bit too much about incontinence for Matthew’s liking! Poor Catherine had a bit of a cold – so I kept my distance as I’m running the London marathon in a couple of weeks.

After a long time at the table Zoly had his dinner, we had a tour of the house then Malcolm drove us back to Durham for the train back to Alnmouth. Matthew wanted to watch the TV election ‘debate’, but I didn’t – he has more resilience than me on these sorts of things I think.

Summary day 4 – Cragside

Yesterday’s planned trip to Cragside, William Armstrong’s country house near Rothbury was postponed to today since the weather looked better. It’s only 15 miles from Alnmouth to Cragside, but getting there by public transport wasn’t particularly straightforward. There was a direct bus that left Alnmouth station (which is just around the corner from where we’re staying) at 08:40 – arriving at Cragsie at 09:15, but Cragside didn’t open until 11:00 – so there’d have been some waiting about! There were no more buses from Alnmouth until 18:10, by which time Cragside was closed! The next bus to Cragside that would arrive in good time left from Alnwick at 10:10 arriving at Cragside at 10:40. The only problem with this one was that we’d have to walk the 3 miles to Alnwick in order to catch it! It’s a lovely walk though, along quiet narrow lanes, by the river Aln and across fields – so that’s what we did.

As we crossed some fields two hares came racing towards us – they were incredibly fast. At first I though that they must be a couple of dogs because they were so big! It was an amazing sight. Thankfully, Zoly didn’t notice them before they saw us and turned tail. We were still tramping across the fields when I phone rang – it was my aunt Sheila who we’d messaged about making a visit. She and Uncle Malcolm were trying to FaceTime me – it was a bit halting without a Wi-Fi and slightly surreal to be doing a video call in the middle of a field, but we arranged to meet them tomorrow – we’ll go to Durham in the morning (exciting – I can see the part-constructed, then meet up with Malcolm, Sheila and lovely cousin Catherine in the afternoon.

There was only one other passenger on the bus to Cragside – so it’s not surprising that they’re so infrequent. The provider seems to be under threat, too – lots of SOS (support our Spirit) signs pointing out that they have no funding or subsidy and inviting passengers to donate to ensure the services continue. Apart from the infrequency, there seems to be lots to like about Spirit buses – they welcome dogs and even bicycles on board and the buses can be hailed as they approach – not just at designated bus stops. Once on the bus to Cragside we had  wonderful views into the Northumberland National Park and across to the Cheviot Hills – it made me think that we should come back here some more.

We arrived at Cragside and the parking attendant greeted us with the words: “That’s a Hungarian vizsla!” I was a pleased that she recognised Zoly – we’re often asked what sort of dog he is by admirers (of Zoly, not us). She told that she used to have a vizsla called Zeus and was delighted when I introduced her to Zoly. I don’t know whether it was seeing Zoly or our being brazen and walking in to Cragside a bit early or if it’s normal practice to allow people who’ve arrived by bus in for free – but whatever the reason, we weren’t asked for our £10.70 each admission and as we left our National Trust membership cards behind in Bristol, we were fully expecting to have to pay. So that was a good start to our visit!

On our way in we also saw some splendid carved owls. Our friend Ella back in Newcastle had told us that owls were her favourite animal – Ella showed me her owl rucksack and her owl keyring – so here’s a couple of pictures of the carved owls for Ella. There’s an extraordinary owl bedroom in the house – so that must have been the inspiration for these carvings.

Cragside was the country house of Lord Armstrong – a nineteenth century crane, bridge and later armaments manufacturer. Armstrong’s enormous munitions factories and warship construction yards hugged the banks of the Tyne in Elswick from Scotswood Bridge for almost a mile towards Newcastle. I remember as a child being thrilled at the sight of tanks on low loaders. The company was taken over by BAE and the factories were gradually run down then closed in 2013.

Armstrong became less involved in the day-to-day running of his company and in 1863 when he was in his fifties he bought some land in a steep-sided, narrow valley near Rothbury, had it cleared and supervised the building of a country house perched high on a ledge of rock overlooking a stream. He had a massive rock garden installed around the house, seven million trees planted and five artificial lakes were constructed, which were used to generate hydro-electricity. There are over 30 miles (50 km) of pathways to explore now zig-zagging up and down the steep valley sides, down on the valley floor and up on the flatter high moorland.

We had both been to Cragside as children – but we hardly remembered it and a lot had changed. The most startling new addition was the Archimedes screw, which from July 2014 has powered the lights in the house – effectively restoring hydroelectricity to the first house in the world ever to use it. It’s a massive device and carefully designed to allow fish to pass through unharmed. About 10% of the electricity that the estate needs comes from this one Archimedes screw – enough for all the lights and there are plans by the National Trust to use more renewable sources of energy.

We walked through the valley and up to the formal gardens with their beautiful glasshouses, rockeries and splendid views to Rothbury and the hills beyond.

We paused for lunch and a walk up to two of the high lakes and a detour to take in the recently restored flume, that fed water into the lakes. We wandered around the outside of the house and had our picnic lunch in the old stables’ courtyard.

We returned back to Alnwick – and yet again there was only one other person on the bus (a different person this time!) From Alnwick a pleasant walk back to the cottage in Alnmouth, dinner and another early night – we’re certainly sleeping long and well here in Northumberland.

Summary day 3 – Warkworth and Alnwick (again)

The forecast for today was for very high winds for most of the day along with a fine-ish morning then a blustery and showery afternoon. We decided to postpone our original plans to go to Rothbury to visit the gardens at Cragside House and instead take a shorter morning walk south to Warkworth then head over to Alnwick and back to Alnmouth.

Zoly was really tired last night and we figured that he’d appreciate a less arduous day. We set out for Warkworth at about 10. The sun was shining but the winds were already really strong. The path from Alnmouth to Warkworth has been made into part of the National Cycle Network, so it was really well-surfaced and sheltered from the adjacent road by a hedge. At the start of the path there were some lovely views back over the River Aln to Alnmouth. Not far along the path we we came across a lovely bench – carved and painted with a plaque in memory of Michelle Turnbull who died in 2009. ‘Find me here, I am not gone’ – a beautiful memorial.

The main railway line to Edinburgh was over to our right and just south of Alnmouth we could see a level crossing with a house next to it. Mum had told me that my grandparents had lived in a house near Alnmouth by the level-crossing. This had to be it – there’s no other level crossing in the vicinity as far as we can tell. As we were looking, sirens began to sound and red lights started flashing; the gates came down and an express train went through heading north. While all this was going on my phone rang – it was my sister! All coming together this felt strangely satisfying – but I wouldn’t be surprised if Mam told me that it wasn’t this house!

From here it wasn’t far to Warkworth, but on the edge of the village the cycle path veered off to the left and towards Warkworth Bay. Going straight in into the village there wasn’t any pavement, so we were forced to walk on a very busy road. A Welcome to Warkworth sign asked: Please Drive Carefully, but this was entirely in vain – Matthew and Zoly were almost hit by someone in a car who started to drive towards them!. I’m always a bit baffled about why carful driving requires a polite request. In this case it was a completely ignored anyway – cars and lorries and buses were thundering past at top speed on a narrow winding road. This bit of our walk was not pleasant. Thankfully we arrived in Warkworth intact (physically if not mentally), and were greeted with a much nicer sign: ‘Welcome Cyclists’ in a hotel window. Also a funny notice screwed to a house wall: ‘Friends always welcome – family by appointment’.

We made our way up to the castle – on our way we passed a young woman with very bright red dyed hair, I assumed that she must be another local estate agent. Once at he castle we were delighted that we could go in – and for free – with our English Heritage membership cards and that Zoly could accompany us. The women staffing the shop made a big fuss of Zoly – one of them even went off to find some dog biscuits to feed him – we won’t have any trouble taking him back there!

The castle was just as I remembered it – small, but high and lots still intact. My uncle Eric and aunt Sheila live in a house that looks on to Warkworth Castle and when I was a boy I used to visit them and their two boys: Stuart and Neville. We would play in the shadow of the castle and I remember thinking that they lived in an impossibly romantic spot. I thought about calling on my aunt and uncle today – they were delightful, warm, friendly and kind to me when I was small. But they are quite elderly and both rather frail now – I was worried that dropping by unannounced with a husband and dog in tow would be too disconcerting, (I also had that ‘family by appointment’ notice in my mind!). I decided to stay away.

After the castle we had a look in the church – a nice Norman building with a leaning tower. The interior was not so attractive – full of clutter and a CD player playing Gregorian chant, which was rather off-putting too!

There were some spots of rain and the wind was cold by now. Given that our walk in to Warkworth on the road had not been pleasant, we decided to take the bus to Alnwick, pick up some groceries, have a look in the tourist information office, which had been unaccountably closed on Sunday and have some lunch in Barter Books. We also called in at a wonderful pet shop in Market Street and bought Zoly a new harness – he had lots of fun trying on different ones. He had lots of fuss in there, too! On our way to the bookshop, we passed the Conservative and Unionist Office, I was looking at some posters of their candidate in the window when a young man came out of the building, “She’ll be our next MP”, he said when he saw me. “I rather hope not”, I replied – but I fear that he’s right – the Lib Dem has a small majority over the Tories and is retiring at this election, so they’re bound to lose.

We had had a pleasant walk home though – the promised rain never really materialised, so we could have gone to Cragside today. Still, back early meant we could get on with some laundry, write some postcards and Matthew wants us to download and watch Paddington!