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.

King of the hill

It’s been four whole weeks since we came home from our Easter break in Cornwall – so it’s about time we wrote the last entry in the blog (just before we start our next mini-break blog).

Thursday 31 March was our last full day in Cornwall and after a week of quite showery weather we were finally blessed with full sunshine and no rain. We couldn’t pass up the chance for one final long walk and we had our sights set high. Mike and Zoly had climbed up and down Kit Hill on their long walk the previous day, but were keen on going back and showing Matthew around. Located between Callington and Tavistock, Kit Hill is a country park managed by the country council, but for most of the nineteenth century it was a home to a quarry (where the stone for the William Yard and most of London’s Thames bridges was cut) and a mine. These industries have now long gone and in their place paths and bridleways cross the hill.

Until the 1980s the Hill was the property of the Duchy of Cornwall (so basically our land robbed from us by the crown). To commemorate the birth of Prince William the hill was ‘gifted’ to the people of Cornwall (in other words, we were all given something that we already owned and since there was no more money to be made from it for Charlie Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, handing the hill to the council meant that we could all pay for the upkeep). Did I ever mention I’m a republican?!

Kit Hill is the highest point in this part of Cornwall and the summit it topped with a granite column. Unfortunately it’s been somewhat vandalised by the multiple mobile phone masts and communication dishes strapped all over it. The only good thing is that the view from the top was superb – so there was no need to look at the heritage phone mast.

With the clear sunny weather the views extended all the way to Plymouth and over the Tamar Valley to Dartmoor. We could just make out the Royal William Yard and the inlets that form the outline of Plymouth Harbour. It was the perfect place to eat out lunch and savour the view.
Our return trip was down the hill to Callington (not much to write about there) and a hop on the bus back to Calstock before walking back through the Cotehele estate to the cottage. The end of a holiday is always a little sad, but it’s nice to go home too – and anyway it was only going to be a four week gap before our next trip. More blog entries to follow. Hup, hup Holland (and Leicester)!

We conquered that there hill!

Happy valley

The mild climate and the damp valleys that are quite common in Cornwall are perfect for certain kinds of plants. Big and exotic looking ones! Majestic tree ferns, prickly giant gunnera and giant bamboos that tower above you like enormous trees. The valley garden at Cotehele is full of these kind of plants creating a wonderful jungle feel.

The entrance to the valley garden from the terraced garden is through a tunnel that runs under a path dividing the formal terrace garden and the valley. At the top of the valley a medieval stew pond is overlooked by a summerhouse with views down the valley. Alongside this, a fine stone dovecote with a beautiful domed roof. Both of these features would originally have provided sources of food during the winter months, thankfully the doves and fish are purely ornamental these days. 

A stream runs from the top of the valley flowing into a pool before cascading into another, then another before finally reaching the Tamar at the bottom. The constant water provides the perfect damp atmosphere for the plants to flourish, but also adds a wonderful soothing sound as you wander through the garden. Cotehele isn’t the biggest valley garden I’ve visited – but it’s intimacy is truly enchanting, well worth a visit.


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.


Spring-a-ding-ding, a blooming sensation 

After what has been one of the mildest winters ever recorded it is perhaps a little surprising that spring hasn’t been and gone already. Before Christmas the news was full of reports of daffodils in bloom in December – months early. Yet despite those early arrivals, in most places spring blooms seem to be going on and on, lasting longer than I can recall for quite some time.

Here in Cornwall it feels a bit like an outdoor version of the Chelsea Flower Show where you would see all the spring flowers, from the earliest snow drops through to the latest flowering daffodils all in bloom in the same marquee. For Chelsea this artificial mash up of the seasons is achieved through human intervention. Plants are kept from flowering by storing them in fridges or brought into flower early by putting them in heated greenhouses. But this spring here in Cornwall, nature has created its own all-in-one springtime display – all thanks to global warming most probably.

The gardens at Cotehele are absolutely bursting with early, mid- and later spring flowers everywhere you look. In the woods and natural embankments there are sparkling white woodland anenome and tiny snowdrops, bright waxy yellow petals of celandine stretch out to welcome the warmth of the spring sunshine and clusters of pale yellow primroses cling to steep banks and bring a smile to my face, they transport me back to our wedding day two years ago when the grounds of the wedding reception venue were filled with their blooms to celebrate our marriage. 
Among the acer glade in the garden, fritillaries bob their purple checkerboard bonnets amongst the plain white versions of the same flower. Just around the corner amongst the camellias and azaleas with their big bright pink and red flower heads are drifts of bluebells – neither plant seems to be the slightest bit bothered by their technicolor clash of hues.

 Surrounding the solid stone walls of the house the daffodils abound in every shade of yellow from the palest almost white to ones that are virtually neon. In a corner, almost tucked away behind a garden gate leading through to the upper garden is a drift of bright pink cyclamen. So slight and delegate and yet brighter than the pinkest of lipsticks that you could possibly imagine.

The highlight of this gardens spring sensation awaits in the old orchard. Among the gnarled branches of these aged apple trees (the branches so covered in moss and lichen that you wonder if they are still alive) is a living horticultural history book. Clusters of heritage daffodils flow amongst the fruit trees, their golden blooms almost like a thousand miniature suns lighting the orchard. Their names displayed in chalk on slates ‘Van Sion’, ‘Baths Flame’, ‘Sulphur Pheonix’ and my favourite ‘Butter and Eggs’ so rare, they could so easily have been lost if it weren’t for the sterling work of those preserving these flowers for us and future generations to enjoy.

 In a few weeks this will all be faded – for another year – but the memory will live on, and sure as day follows night, spring will come again next year.

Paws for thought

Today I reached that point in the holiday when I actually felt more tired than I did at the start of the week. This phenomenon can’t really be put down to over exertion as we’ve not really stretched ourselves, but rather sleep deprivation. 
It’s always a bit odd when you are not in your own bed, but to be fair the bed in the cottage is quite comfortable – for two. There lies the problem. As we travelled here by train we packed light, so no room for Zoly’s bed. We did bring his mat and blanket, but these are not up to his usual nocturnal standards and he’s made that very clear.
Despite the ‘no dogs on the furniture’ rule, Zoly has decided that he must sleep between the two of us. Given that the bed here is considerably smaller than our bed at home, for this arrangement to work well it requires a regimented alignment of sleeping partners and absolute stillness throughout the night. Zoly and Mike are not known for either of these.

  Two’s company, there’s a crowd

Last night we reached ‘peak duvet’ whereby the amount of duvet available to cover both Mike and I was seriously impeded by the large fury boy with long extended legs laying between us. Much tossing and turning ensued, with my peace and slumber finally being shattered at around 3am by my beloved husband exclaiming in a firm voice that Barbara Woodhouse would have been proud of ‘Zoly get your paw off my face’.
Needless to say I did not awaken this morning feeling fresh as a daisy, so after much discussion with Mike I decided to limit my excursion to the Cotehele gardens (as the sun was finally shining) whilst Mike and Zoly enjoyed a longer walk. This was most definitely the best decision as when I am sleep deprived I am not the best person to be around (unless you like grumpy middle aged men!).
A few hours pottering amongst plants and stopping to snooze in the warm spring sunshine (at last!) on the different garden benches has done the trick. My batteries feel recharged and I’m ready for a final burst of excursion on our last full day tomorrow.

The sun has got his mac on

The weather outside is frightful, but inside it’s quite delightful – well it is now that we’re curled up beside the log burner and more-or-less dried out from numerous soakings today. The weather forecast had promised some improvement – and to be fair it was lovely this morning. Unfortunately, we were in a particularly ‘go slow’ wedding-anniversary mode today, so we didn’t leave the house until gone 11:00. As we strode out across the fields towards Cotehele a hail storm of near biblical proportions engulfed us. Even Zoly – who had his coat on – was not impressed,  he virtually stopped moving. You could see on his face he was thinking ‘what’s this sh*t?’. Mike and I had to srand over him to shelter himuntil the worst of the hail passed.
The weather improved a bit after the hail (if you consider heavy rain showers an improvement) so we continued until we reached the house. Dogs are not allowed in the house and garden so we took turns to look inside. I went in first and Mike and Zoly went off for a walk. The house is an amazingly intact Tudor manor with most of the walls in most of the rooms hung with vast extraordinary 17th century Flemish tapestries (many very faded, but still wonderfully detailed and extravagant). Apparently the   Edgecombe family had a nicer pile down the road near Plymouth and so Cotehele was left without much modernisation – it still has no electricity.

The main hall had an stunning wooden ceiling with the most exquisite interlocking timbers, the walls were hung with armour and swords (I’m more into tapestries myself) and the hearth was lit with an open log fire. The smoke added to the atmosphere, and the little heat that the fire was giving off was definitely appreciated by the volunteers stewards. I’m sure that on a warm summers day the cool of Cotehele is a great place to be, but maybe not so good on a (very) damp day in March.

After the house I attempted to look around the terraced gardens, but unfortunately further heavy rain arrived soon after venturing out. I took shelter for a short while in a greenhouse and when it eased a little I managed a quick turn around the flower garden through the won fearful drifts of daffodils, bobbing fritillaries and prolific Camellias, but I had to abandon a visit to the valley garden as the heavens opened once more. I think a return visit to see the gardens on Thursday is in order, when the weather is apparently going to be sunny (I’ll believe it when I see it!).


After reuniting with Mike for the Zoly hand over, he went off to explore the house while we headed into the woods. At least in the woods we were a little protected from the showers. The lovely thing about Cotehele is that there are so many different footpaths to explore around the estate – including a lovely quayside and a water mill. Today we took a route around the top of the valley before dropping down to a stream that runs back towards the Tamar and Calstock. As we headed along the stream towards the river we had to pause as groundsmen were clearing some of the tree damage caused by the weekends storm. One large tree had been blown over, but had caught four others on its way down – making them unsafe. The chainsaws were out to fell these before they tumbled onto unsuspecting dog walkers below. We waited as the timber was felled before continuing back to the house to meet Mike.

When we arrived the heavens opened again (you can start to imagine what kind of day it was!) and no sign of Mike yet, so me and Zoly took shelter in a disabled loo (we would have course vacated it had there been a need). Unsurprisingly it wasn’t very busy today – either in the house or in the disabled loo. Speaking to the people on the entrance desk they said it had been a very quiet Easter for them, apart from Good Friday when the sun shone and the punters flooded in. When Mike cand out of the house he said that he’s not visited the gardens either because it was hammering down. So we decided to head to the cafe on the quayside where dogs are permitted and they serve nice tea and vegan flapjack (Mike had established this earlier when I went round the house as he and Zoly sheltered from the rain by going  round the tearoom!). Refreshments warmed us up ready for the walk back to the cottage and the start of the drying out process. Off to bed now, with the promise of a rain free day tomorrow – hooray!

Wet dogs and English men go out in the spring time rain

Mother Nature clearly has not referred to her calendar. A saying goes that March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb – well this lamb has a serious incontinence issue as today has definitely been big on the April showers. At least they were forecast, so we wrapped up and were prepared for when the heavens opened.

We planned to make the most of the drier forecast for the morning by walking to Calstock via Cotehele, then to catch the train to Devonport from where we’d walk to the King William Dockyard. The forecast tricked us a bit as we were caught in several heavy downpours on our way to the station. We were all a bit damp by the time the train arrived. It seemed as though most of Calstock had decided to catch the 11.56 train to Plymouth. The single coach rail-bus was quite full with plenty of excitable children, tired looking adults and four dogs (including a damp Zoly). I was quite relieved to get off in Devonport as Zoly in a confined space with lots of other dogs makes me nervous. He inevitably wants to play, not a good idea since 26kg of dog jumping and landing unexpectedly on you in a train carriage is never going to end well.

From the station we walked to the Dockyard via the lovely Devonport Park. This part of Plymouth is quite poor and has had lots of regeneration money spent on it. Devonport Park has benefited from this. Many of this Victorian park’s heritage features such as the bandstand, fountain, park benches and monuments have been restored. The ornamental bedding – a victim of budget cuts in so many areas, was still proudly on show in Devonport.


While we enjoyed the surroundings, Zoly also had fun bounding around and introducing himself to the four-legged locals. Like us, Zoly was dressed for the inclement weather with his finest red rain jacket on. I, too, was wearing a red jacket and what with my brown trousers and Zoly’s brown hair the similarities did not go unnoticed. As we walked along I heard two women behind us talking with broad Devonshire accents. One said to the other ‘look at him [referring to Zoly], don’t he look just like his dad’, the other adding ‘you can tell they’re together can’t you’. Mike, who does tend to see himself and Zoly as soulmates (separated at birth), took much offence at the notion that I and Zoly should be considered a natural coupling. Mike should pay more attention to his outfit coordination, I shall say no more!

It was about 20 minutes walk to the dockyard, through more heavy showers unfortunately, so we arrived damp and a bit chilly. We’d already checked up on dog-friendly Plymouth and we headed straight for the Seco Lounge. This cafe/bar is part of a chain that was founded in Bristol – the first ever Lounge was actually opened on North Street, just round the corner from our house. They’re always a safe bet for us as they have a vegan menu and are very dog-friendly. We ate, warmed up and dried off before heading of outside to look around the yard.

The Royal William Victualling Yard was the major victualling depot of the Royal Navy and an important part of Devonport Dockyard. In case you’re wondering what victualling is, it basically means they prepared all the food, drink and other provisions necessary for a naval voyage. It was built between 1826 and 1835, and occupies a site of approximately 16 acres (65,000 m2) but was closed in the early 1990s and eventually sold to private developers who have converted it into office space, luxury apartments (are there ever any other kind?), cafes and shops.


The buildings across the site are incredibly solid with fine Georgian architecture and chunky granite block construction. The yard occupies an impressive promontory overlooking Plymouth harbour. We walked Zoly around the perimeter and then up onto the Devil’s Point to take in the views over the harbour and Plymouth city. More rain showers beckoned so we took shelter in another food place, a trendy bakery where they served hot drinks too and made dogs very welcome (we like dog-friendly places).

Our return train journey was uneventful bar a terrier with a nervous disposition who went into fits of yapping every time the train doors opened. The dog’s American owner responded each time with repeated shouted “No” and instructions to the dog to “Stop”. Mike tried to inform her that the dog would probably be interpreting her shouting “No” and “Stop” as if she were joining in with the dog, so she was just reinforcing the behaviour that she was trying to stop and that she should not tell the dog off but rather try and distract the dog with treats (he’s read lots of books on the subject). She didn’t take too kindly to to the advice and simply assured him that the dog was ‘just excited as he’s nearing the end of his journey’. Thankfully Zoly wasn’t much bothered by the yapping and was happily snoozing stretched across our laps.

We walked back from Calstock via Cotehele, catching a couple of light showers but getting back to the cottage just before a horrendous downpour. Zoly had his dinner before we all headed off to the local Carpenter’s Arms for ours: a pre-anniversary pizza. Tomorrow is our second wedding anniversary. Traditionally this is marked by cotton gifts, but we’ll be celebrating it with a traditional supper of baked potatoes, beans and vegan sausage, if you can’t have a bit of sausage on your wedding anniversary, when can you?!