Gazing upwards at Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, UK

The problem with visiting Anglican cathedrals is that you spend a lot of time bending awkwardly backwards so you can stare at the ceiling. Ely Cathedral is no exception to this, although there is plenty to see at less crippling angles.

Ely Cathdral Roof

Notably the stained glass windows.

Ely Cathedral Stained Glass

In fact, to celebrate this, Ely Cathedral has a stained glass museum. Which we didn’t go to (it cost extra).

The other thing we didn’t do were the Tower Tours (it cost extra. Plus there were steps). This may have been a mistake as it is how you gain access to the upper walkways, bringing you nose to colourful window, and giving you the chance to see the fabulous space that is the cathedral from another angle.

Actually, perhaps with two under tens in tow that’s not such a good idea. You wouldn’t want centuries of craftsmanship to be destroyed by one enthusiastic bounce. The kids might suffer a bit from taking a header through the glass too.

Luckily, Ely Cathedral has other dedicated activities for its younger visitors. Mama tried to interest in us in the quiz, which encouraged us to contemplate key architectural details and their historical significance, but we quickly abandoned this for the sticker scavenger hunt. There is a map. There are locations marked on the map. There are locations marked on the map, which if you can find them, have stickers for you to collect and add to your compendium of interesting things to note about Ely Cathedral. We had a high old time galloping about what is quite an expansive site, and Mama got to take many many photographs in peace while we did so.

Flowers Ely Cathedral

The only downside was that when we arrived at the relevant spot the stickers were not actually there. Mama was not entirely sure this was a down side though as it meant that we got twice as much exercise and some useful practice in polite interaction in English, as each time we failed to find our reward we trotted back to the helpdesk to collect it there. Although after this happened for the 200th time, the very obliging staff did just hand us over the whole set. After which we lost a bit of interest. It’s the hunt that’s the thing, you see. But they did then go round to top up the displays ready for the next underage visitor. You are very welcome.

Mama is welcome too. She lost her purse while in Ely Cathedral. It’s one of those things which marks you out is a tourist is losing key belongings while on a trip out. That and getting pickpocketed. Mama was quite shocked at the thought she might have been pickpocketed inside a religious institution in the UK, but almost as the thought crossed her mind she realised that she had probably just dropped it.

And thankfully for the reputation of respectable cathedral-going visitors in Britain, this was exactly the case and somebody had handed it in, so she got her purse back (if not her dignity) entirely intact.

After which we got back to admiring the building. One of the great attractions of Ely Cathedral, apart from the ceilings, the windows and the stickers, are plaques to the great and the good of Ely and the surrounding area stating their main purpose in life. Apart from dying, which seems a popular achievement to mention, there appear to have been a lot of Cambridge University professors in the area.

Plaques Ely Cathedral

Occasionally, you get statues of people sleeping. Why sleeping, I do wonder. Is being good at snoring particularly impressive? Or something that the UK is particularly known for? I think we’d better book my Babushka a place right now because her penetrating buzz-saw whiffling is surely outstanding in its class.

On the other hand, I have no idea what talent this guy thinks he is showing off.

Reclining Victorian bishop Ely Cathedral

What Mama particularly liked about Ely Cathedral, however, was that it is clearly not just a carefully preserved monument to days gone by, but a working space.

Anglican vicar at work Ely Cathedral

Mama, in fact, spent a happy twenty minutes dragging my Long-suffering Big Brother, who has a much higher tolerance for being lectured at than I do, about the cathedral demonstrating the changing nature of Christian worship in the UK over the last five centuries or so.

Admire the craftsmanship and sheer effort of erecting this huge, gorgeous building in the middle of nowhere at a time when humanity was still constructing everything by hand.

Ely Cathedral

Nothing was more important than God!

Ely Cathedral Architectural Details

See the painstakingly ornate carvings, the colourful windows, the walls which would once have been covered in paint! And contemplate the impact that having a nice place to hang out in once a week and the prospect of a brighter future might have had on the Medieval mind.

Chapel Entrance Ely Cathedral

Thrill as you recognise the moment when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in the decision to preserve the figures in the Lady Chapel with their faces smashed off.

Note how the rood screen, with its symbolic and actual separation of the congregation from the place where the most important God veneration used to take place, is now ignored in favour of a nice plain altar on the side where the great unwashed sit.

high altar Ely Cathedral

Modern Altar Ely Cathedral

Talking to God was a specialist job at one time. And people were assumed to need a bit of visual help in interpreting the stories. But now one is supposed to take a bit more responsibility for one’s own post-death safety. And be able to read.

Yet observe the moment that history comes full circle as the modern church decides that contemporary society demands that they try to convey the concept of the divine through the medium of interpretive art.

Ely Cathedral Modern artworks

And of course, there is also the serious business of the flower arranging rota to enjoy. Mama says you couldn’t get any more Anglican unless there was quiche, stewed tea in a tea urn, a jumble sale and people bickering over who gets to babysit the vicar’s son.

Flowers Ely Cathedral

And in fact there probably was quiche in the cafe near the entrance, although we opted for the generously sized portions of cake instead. No tea urn though, but then Mama does prefer coffee.

Basically, we enjoyed our trip round Ely Cathedral, which we completed on the same day as we visited Oliver Cromwell’s House Museum. Given that the two buildings are practically next door and all. Definitely a must see for anyone visiting Ely. It’s big, it’s relatively empty, it’s full of welcoming well-meaning people, it’s got lots of interesting things to look at and there are refreshments. What’s not to like?

More information

Ely Cathedral’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about stained glass windows.

Address: Ely Cathedral, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 4DL

Opening: 7am – 6.30 pm, although the best time to visit  is 9am – 5pm Monday to Saturday. Bear in mind that if there is a service going on then access will be restricted. There’s a page on the website where you can check potential closures out.

Admission: 8 GBP for adults with 6 GBP concessions. Kids under 16 are free. It’s 15 (or 13) GBP to add the Tower Tour, and 12 (9) GBP to visit the Stained Glass Museum and the cathedral together. To do it all and get a free cup of tea is 18 (15.50) GBP. People who live in or go to church in the area can get a free pass.

Getting there: Ely is a bit farther north of Cambridge up the A10 or the A14. There’s no dedicated parking for the cathedral, but there are a number of free car parks in Ely and the one we were in was just a few minutes’ walk away.

Ely also has rail connections to Stanstead Airport, Kings Cross London, Birmingham, Norwich and Peterborough. The station is 10 minutes away from the cathedral.

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Ely Cathedral is historically interesting, visually stunning and welcoming to visitors

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All dem dinosaur bones at the Orlov Paleontology Museum, Moscow

Mama has this vague idea in her head that fossil collecting is a very British and specifically Victorian thing to do, reinforced by her visits to the Natural History Museum in London. Its feverishly over-imagined Gothic vibe is, she says, about as Victorian as it is possible to get without actually getting unnecessarily worked up when somebody shows a bit of ankle.

So the Orlov Paleontology Museum in Moscow came as a bit of a shock. It’s very big. It’s full of bones. Could it be that Russia has, perhaps, MORE dinosaur bits than Mama’s motherland?

Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

Revolutionary thought.

UPDATE: We revisited this museum recently after our first visit in 2015 and, shockingly, there are STILL an unreasonably large number of dinosaur skeletons there! Couple of new pictures for you though and a surprise revelation at the end.

Of course, Russia is relatively large areawise.  Mama’s personal moment of horrified realisation of that, since we are sharing this sort of embarrassing revelation already, came when she was watching the weather forecast one day.

Did you know it takes three maps to sketch out the vaguest overview of this sprawling landmass, with each point identified representing distances which would take you from at least London to Edinburgh in a properly  proportioned country? Mama had to lie down in a dark room for some considerable time after cogitating too carefully on that. Russia is the sort of size that triggers Mama’s latent agoraphobia.

It’s probably best not to tell her about the nine time zones and how long it takes to chug along over to Lake Baikal on the Trans Siberian Express (six days. SIX DAYS! And that’s not even end to end of the country by any means.

Oh dear. Mama is off having another little lie down).

Anyway. Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that Russia, a country which we can probably agree, withoutgoingintotoomuchdetail, is big, has managed to scavenge quite a few bits and pieces of fossilised ancient lizard and prehistoric mammal. But quite clearly it did. To Mama.

Mammoth Skull and Tusks Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

Not an unpleasant surprise, of course! Who doesn’t like wandering around looking at giant sloth skeletons, giant tapir skeletons, a giant diplodocus skeleton, small but vicious-looking velociraptors, a huge mammoth, a small mammoth, many mammoth trophy heads on the wall and a few more tusks scattered artfully around, big birds, no bigger than that, and various squat shapes which all looked as though they were getting ready to charge at us through the glass. Also in skeleton form.

Dinosaurs ready to pounce Paleontology Museum Moscow

Now Mama would not be prepared to swear that absolutely every single one of those bones is original. Much reconstruction with plastercasts has almost certainly happened, but it has happened well and is most impressive all the same to small people who can spend hours leafing through the monster books and spew long strings of what Mama thinks are unpronounceable syllables in two languages in delighted recognition.

Triceratops skull paleontology Museum Moscow

Which may be why the Paleontology Museum in Moscow leans towards the old skool when it comes to interactive features. In that there aren’t any. Mama thinks this is a bit of a shame and that the Paleontology Museum should go and look at the Darwin Museum to see just how much more fabulousness is waiting to be unlocked without needing a radical upgrade. More stuff to touch and move around and something that fills the air with roars is my recommendation.

Bird Skull Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

That way you won’t have the unfortunate incident that we nearly had when we came across the many thousand year old rock covered with cave paintings. While Mama was transfixed by the UTTER COOLNESS of the exhibit, I was attracted by the shiny smoothness and reached out a hand and…

Prehistoric painting Paleontology Museum Moscow

Let’s hope that one is one of the reproductions, eh? The Paleontology Museum is quite clearly a firm favourite with the children of Moscow and their parents and I can’t imagine I am the only small person who has had their tactile limits tested by the time they get to this, one of the last items on display.

Pterodactyl skull Paleontology Museum Msocow

That said, if you are Mama’s advanced age and bored by bones, the Paleontology Museum in Moscow is still worth a visit for the art. Every room has enhancements in the form of monstrous mosaics, murals, enamelled installations and suchlike.

Artwork Orlov Paleontology Museum Moscow

With the tone being set by the terribly lizardy wrought iron gates at the entrance.

Dinosaur gates Paleontology Museum Moscow

Look out also for the pterodactyl shaped doorhandles and the similarly Jurassic window coverings!

Pterodactyl door Paleontology Museum Moscow

But our favourite was the courtyard overlooked by many of the rooms of the museum. Giant dinosaur sculptures and similar! I’ll just say that again. Giant! Dinosaur! Sculptures! And Similar! Looking a bit the worse for wear, admittedly, but if the people out there with the tape measures and enthusiastically waved hands are anything to go by, they may well be in tip top condition and ready for lounging amongst when we go in the summer. UPDATE: Nope. Still just a courtyard full of giant dinosaur sculptures and similar. I say just…

Courtyard Paelonsoloty Museum Moscow

Preferably with coffee. Says Mama. I’d go for ice cream myself. Unfortunately, the Paleontology Museum does not provide such things on its territory, or at least it didn’t when we went in the autumn. This is a bit of a shame as it’s quite a slog down a multi lane highway from the Metro, where all the food options are – at least TEN MINUTES brisk march. And that’s if you aren’t burdened by a small complaining bundle, which Mama was on the way back as I was coming down with something and had only been sustained round Moscow’s Paleontology Museum by my feverish interest in all things large and scaly, and barely that by the end of the five hundredth room.

There is a toy kisok though. In fact there are TWO, and this is, of course, far FAR more important than mere bodily refreshment. The entrance price is extremely reasonable, and thus Mama was inclined to reward the Paleontology Museum by spending money in its shops. UPDATE: Scored two make your own dinosaur kits this time round. The kiosks are still there, and still fabulous, the cafe is still non-existent.

Yes, it’s that good. Go. Bring your own snacks, a sense of wonderment and either a smartphone someone to translate the Russian explanatory placards if awed gawping alone isn’t good enough for you. Because UPDATE Mama discovered on a recent visit that you can download a free app and listen for either an audio tour or read about the Orlov Paleontology Museum’s collections IN ENGLISH! Not that she got a chance to do stand around idly listening to people talk in her ear with us there. But nice to know the option exists.

More Information

The Orlov Paleontology Museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Mary Anning and the fossils of Lyme Regis.

Address: 117647, Moscow, Ulitsa Profsoyoznaya 123.

Opening: Wednesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Admission: Adults: 300 roubles (£3). Over 7s: 150 roubles (£1.50). No need to buy a photography ticket here – that’s included.

By Metro: You can either get off at Tyopliy Stan or Konkovo on the orange line. The website has a particularly helpful pictorial guide of how to get to the Paleontology Museum from both stations, but basically it’s a trek along the multi lane highway that is Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa and there you are you are.

By other means: Don’t know, don’t care.

MummyTravels
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There are a LOT of dinosaur bones an other prehistoric animal remains at the Orlov Paleontology Museum in Moscow

Day tripping to Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland from Scotland

Hello, R here again, Herself’s small Scottish correspondent. Mummy and daddy took us to the zoo to see All The Animals, and I am here to tell you all about it in a guest post.

It was a day trip. Ah! I see you thinking. Scottish. I see you thinking. Zoo. I see you thinking. Off you popped to Edinburgh then! But there you would be wrong.

In fact, we went across to Ireland to Belfast Zoo on Stenaline ferries. Because Stenaline have a summertime offer which includes ferry tickets, zoo tickets, and a bus transfer between the two, which still works out cheaper than trying to see captive animals in Scotland’s capital.

And because the drive down to catch the ferry is somewhat more pleasant than dragging along the motorway and crawling through bits of two cities.

Plus, we got to go to Gran and Grandpa’s house because it’s on the way to Cairnryan! That’s where we catch the boat. Convenient, huh?

Everybody was very busy making lots of sandwiches and other yummy things to eat on the journey when we arrived. Preparations!

“moar biskits”

You remember my little brother L right? He approves of preparations too.

Although they do take a while. After waiting aaaaageeees (maybe even as much as a whole night) for everyone to get everything ready, we got in the car again. We drove and drove, then had to find the car somewhere to sleep. And then we had to wait for everyone else to come in the other car. Again with the waiting!

At least we got to have some snacks.

“my teddy bea crimps”

Yes L, we had crisps. The preparations were worth it!

Of course, after that we still had to walk a reeaaalllly looong way to get on the ferry (five minutes). Which is a really really big boat and cars and trucks can go on too. From my point of view, this is less interesting, though, than the fact that there’s a cinema and soft play, and there are also restaurants and even a spa (whatever that is) on board. The walk was worth it too!

Mummy said we were on the boat for over two hours.

But that’s not really very long as by the time we had had lunch and played in the little soft play area and explored the boat and run about for a bit more it was almost time to get back off again, and we hardly noticed this bit!

Then we had to go across aaanooootheeer big long bridge to get to the bus (ten minutes)!

I liked the bus though; it took us to Belfast Zoo!

When we got to the zoo we looked at lots and lots and lots of animals. There’s everything there! I really liked the big giraffes, and there were some baby giraffes too!

Baby Giraffe Belfast Zoo

And big elephants!

Elephant Belfast Zoo

“I seed a goats, dey was hungy”

Goats Belfast Zoo

Yep, there were goats and pigs and donkeys, rabbits and guinea pigs at the farm area, there were also LOTS of different kinds of monkeys. From huge big gorillas to capuchins and a wild variety of other things like lemurs and tamarind too.

And! There were brown bears, otters, sea lions, oh, and penguins!

Seals Belfast Zoo

We couldn’t see the tigers (they were doing very good hiding) but we did see a mummy lion!

And we also saw meerkats, prairie dogs, and flamingos too!

Belfast Zoo has all the animals, in fact, you could possibly ask for. I bet even Herself and Herself’s animal obsessed big brother would be impressed!

Of course, we had to do more walking to see all the animals. And the zoo is on a big hill so we didn’t quite get round all the animals in the three hours we had before we had to get back on the bus. It was still huge fun though. And we got to play on the ferry again on the way back, we even had dinner in the restaurant!

That’s what I call a day out!

It was so good that when Mummy and Daddy got us back in the car, L was already asleep, and I fell asleep on the way back to Gran and Grandpa’s house.

So if you live close enough to Cairnryan to take advantage, Stenaline ferries have day out offers to convenient bits of Ireland throughout the year, although this specific one to Belfast Zoo has already finished. Still, I imagine there are people actually living or staying close enough to Belfast who might be interested in a zoo experience too, so my advice is go!

More Information

The zoo’s website.

The ferry’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the motorway network of Northern Ireland.

Address: Belfast Zoo, Antrim Rd, Belfast BT36 7PN

Opening: Winter opening: 10am to 4pm daily Summer opening is longer.

Admission: Families – 33.50GBP, adults – 17GBP, kids over four – 6.50GBP, kids under four – free! Plus, the aforementioned deal with Stenaline ferries, which

Getting there: Obviously we recommend being in Scotland and going across to Ireland via Cainryan with Stenaline. If this is not convenient for some reason, you can get to Belfast Zoo via the M1 or M2 motorways depending on which direction you are approaching Belfast from. There is, the zoo’s website assures me, plenty of free parking. The nearest train station (Whiteabbey) is three miles away. There are numerous buses from Belfast city centre.

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Day tripping from Scotland to Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland with Stenaline ferries

Hever Castle and Gardens: knights, jousting, action

You may remember that when we lived in the UK Mama was a big fan of the National Trust. But the fact of the matter is that while we had membership Mama was very reluctant to go to any heritage sites which were not Trust properties on the grounds that this would involve shelling out extra money. And then for what reason had we got the multi pass, hmmmmm?

This was very frustrating for her because, of course, no sooner did she articulate this rule to herself than all sorts of interesting properties popped on to her radar which she realised she would NEVER BE ABLE TO VISIT. Nothing like banning something to make it more attractive.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent is one such property. So Mama was quietly quite chuffed when a visiting American Friend suggested it as an alternative to more sightseeing in London during our annual stay in the UK this year. Of course, Mama could quite happily have spent time pretty much anywhere with the increasingly innacurately named Internet Weirdo Friend Posse, but doing that in interesting surroundings can only be a bonus.

Plus, Other Friend’s Child Who Is Clearly Also Used To Being Dragged Round Cultural Attractions And Making The Best Of It had brought a football. We were impressed.

Hever Castle is a wonderfully liveable-in castle whose major claim to fame is that it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, she who married King Henry VIII, gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I, and eventually got her head cut off in a martial dispute over whether or not Henry should get to be a complete and utter total arsehole (Mama says he won). Princessing is looking less attractive every day (except for the housing. I could totes go for the housing).

Hever Castle Gatehouse Kent

The gatehouse is part of the original fortification from the 13th Century, and it leads to a Tudor manor house you can look round and even stay the night in.

Hever Castle Tudor Manor Kent

Inside, you can see the room where Anne Boleyn (probably) slept and where she strolled up and down the inevitable picture gallery. There are recreated scenes from her courtship by Henry VIII told through the medium of interpretive waxworks! With, when we were there, someone playing Greensleeves on a lute. Live!

But the house and gardens were also extensively remodelled and added to by William Waldorf Astor, (rich, American), who bought Hever Castle at the beginning of the 20th Century. So many of the rooms are much more modern in style and decoration.

Hever Castle Interior Kent

Definitely worth having a gander at in fact, not least because as well as a room full of medieval torture implements (thank you Henry Tudor) it has a scavenger trail for kids that pays more than just lip service to trying to keep us entertained. We had to actually look quite hard at things, people! And hunt! And eliminate items from our search!

Of course, it helps that there was the added competitive element of having a child who was not a blood relation to race against. The great thing about this, from Mama’s point of view, was not the keeness with which we sprang into action, but that when we lost, when any of us children lost, rudimentary politeness towards a new acquaintance meant that we did not indulge in the usual bickering that happens if we just have each other to fight with. How the Mamas managed not to exchange smug glances all the way round I have no idea.

That said, it’s probably the grounds that are the main attraction at Hever Castle.

Hever Castle Gardens Kent

At first, our visit ran much as they always do when we go to a stately home. The adults were pleased with the gardens, which at Hever Castle in July are particularly fabulously in bloom, and we children were pleased with the naked statues (bottoms!) and grape vines.

Hever Castle Gardens Flowers Kent

We ate a grape, despite warnings that they would be sour and nasty (because of warnings that they would be sour and nasty), and the grape was sour and nasty.

Hever Castle Grapes Kent

But then we rounded the corner and began to get an inkling of exactly why we had just paid almost half the price of an annual National Trust membership to get in.

Young men whacking at each other with swords. Now that’s what I call a summer job, huh?

But this was nothing to my Monomaniac Big Brother’s delight when they brought out the falconers. He refused food in favour of standing enthralled next to the enclosure!

Mama and London Friend seemed to think the baby owl being put through its cutely inept paces was the last word in totally fabulous. We preferred the swoopy bird or prey, particularly after I narrowly missed being carried off by it as it made a pass straight over our heads. Very cool, and there is a tent next door where the birds hang out when not doing their flying thing, and you can go and chat to the people in charge about your love of all things animal. Or sulk because they prefer your Monomanic Big Brother’s suggestion for the baby owl’s name to yours.

And then sulk a bit more because Mama refuses to buy overpriced Tudor tat from the shopping marquee next door.

Round the corner were some re-enactors demonstrating aspects of life from the late medieval period. There were some people cooking, a man shaping red-hot iron with a hammer and a woman weaving.

Hever Castle Weaving Kent

There was also a maze, which we had a lot of fun dashing around and getting thoroughly lost in. Apparently we missed the one by the giant lake (no, we are NOT going boating, said both the Mamas. Repeatedly) which squirts water at you as you try to make it to the centre without getting wet. I cannot imagine how that happened.

However! All of this was a mere side attraction to the main event, and the reason for our being at Hever Castle in the first place, the jousting.

Hever Castle Jousting Knights Kent

Mama will admit that when American Friend brought the jousting to her attention that she was expecting to be at the back of a large crowd, failing miserably to see very much of two horses galloping carefully towards each other a few times and missing making any kind of connection whatsoever for health and safety reasons. She will freely admit now that she was entirely wrong about practically every aspect of this prediction.

Of course, it helps to be adults trailing helplessly behind children who have no regard for the concept of queuing and just want to get to the front of any given show. Oh deary me, can’t let them watch something like that unsupervised, excuse me, was that your picnic blanket, ooops, coming through, watch fingers! Room for twenty-two more? Yes? Excellent.

But in fact I don’t know if it was because it was the very beginning of the school holidays (for people in the UK. We have been off since the beginning of June) and parents were less desperate to find something to occupy their little darlings in the loooooooooong summer break (Ha! Three months! We get three months!) or perhaps it was the promise of rain, but there was ample space for everyone watching to spread out around the jousting field, sit down, and get a good view.

And what a very very good view it was. As well as some displays of consummate horsemanship involving the knights whirling sharp implements around their heads, tilting at dummies, collecting rings on a lance, picking up severed heads on a spike, waving both hands in the air in triumph and, yes, charging helter skelter at each other with long sticks of wood, which shattered dramatically on impact to order, there was also a proper show. Goodies, baddies, audience participation, Henry VIII as a compere, knights brawling with swords and knights having a strop with a basket on their heads.

Hever Castle Knight Jousting Kent

Basically I, my Monomanic Big Brother, our New Friend and all the adults were, I am quite confident in saying, enthralled, right from the moment we kids got to march round the jousting field waving large edged weapons to open the tournament.

Mind you, I reckon American Friend was keen because KING HENRY VIII KISSED HER HAND!!!!! Although I’d watch it if I were her. We all know where that leads with Henry.

We didn’t even mind when it started to rain, although it was lucky it didn’t develop into much given that Mama had forgotten to bring a coat AGAIN. You’d think she’d have learnt after the previous day’s downpour.

Still, our top favourite thing about Hever Castle? More exciting than the jousting, the maze, the excellent company, the musicians, the delightfully bijou castlette and outbuildings, the beautiful interiors, the birding, the sour grapes and the flowers?

The large goldfish in the ponds and the moat. We could have stared at them for hours. Every time we got taken away to do something else, we pestered the adults about when we could go back to the fish. You can feed them too if you buy some fishfood from one of the plentiful drinks and snacks stalls. Outstanding! We were the last people out of Hever Castle that day partly because of Mama wanting to put an entire roll of duct tape on the car (don’t ask) and partly because we wouldn’t be moved from the goldfish.

Goldfish. Says Mama.

Only slightly bigger than the ones we mostly ignored in the corner of the room for two years. Says Mama.

Goldfish. Says Mama.

Mama may despair but as King Henry might have said, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Hever Castle Rose Gardens Kent

All in all, Hever Castle is a really good day out for all the family and it really works hard to make sure that you are going to get a lot more for your entrance fee than just a look round a mouldering old house and a nice scone in the tea shop. Recommended even if you do have heritage membership with another organisation. Go on, splash out! You’ll thank me. There are goldfish!

More information

The castle’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about five ladies (including Anne Boleyn) and the Tower of London.

Address: Hever Castle, Hever Rd, Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG, UK

Opening: In summer (April to November) Hever Castle and Gardens are open daily from 10.30am (the gardens) and 12 noon (the castle). It closes at 6pm. It is a bit more complicated the rest of the year – check the website out for opening times in the colder months. Be warned – it is closed completely in January.

Admission: Adults 16.90 GBP and kids 9.50 GBP. A family ticket is 44.50 GBP. It’s cheaper if you just want to hang out in the gardens and watch the jousting and whatnot (which is included in the ticket price). It’s also cheaper if you book online in advance.

Getting there: There is a free car park and the castle is well signposted from junction 5 and 6 of the M25. You can also reach it from junction 10 of the M23. By rail from London Victoria or London Bridge you can come into Edenbridge Town Station and get a taxi three miles to Hever or get off at Hever Station and walk for one mile. There is a map of the route on the website.

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Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent UK is an excellent family friendly day out. With jousting!

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Scotland: more than just chickens and pigs.

Today we are hosting my small Scottish correspondent again, and this time his post comes all the way from the West coast of Scotland, just down from Glasgow, in Ayrshire.

Seeing as we had our caravan holiday was right next door to the Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Mummy and Daddy said we could go after we had given the caravan keys back at the end of our stay.

So of course, we got there too early and the man said we had to wait a little while. Not a problem – we had snacks!

“Biskits!”

Oh, that’s my younger brother L. He is just a little boy. I’m a big boy –  I’m 4! Herself is looking at me witheringly. It’s nice not to be the youngest, I tell her!

Eventually we got tickets, and some animal food

“May have some?” Well done L. It’s important to remind parents that just because we have eaten our own body weight in apples, it doesn’t mean we don’t have room for more. Unless, of course it is something the parents want us to eat

But no, L, the yummy looking edibles are strictly for the animals – they’re yukky.

Next we discovered that there is a play area right inside the Heads of Ayr Farm Park gates! But spoil sport that she is, Mummy said we should go see the animals first.

Luckily we were easily distracted as there’re birds next to the playpark, and just a little further up the hill are meerkats.

“Tha’s not a tat!” There’s no sneaking anything past my little brother!

Then we found some animals we could feed – little horses, (ahem, miniature ponies says Mummy). They were a bit licky! Watch out!

Right next to the ponies were slides, but Mummy and Daddy, who had a good idea of how much there was still to cover, only let us have one shot.

“Like big slide ‘swell” L does not share their anti equipment stance.

Daddy found some little goats, (which I am surprised Mummy is not calling miniature ruminant animals) so we fed them too. Not as licky as the horsies, I am pleased to report!

The goats were next to the inside animals, so we went to see who was being so loud! It was a white birdie with funny hair (a cockatoo, coughs Mummy). There were also rabbits, and mouses, baby chickens, guinea pigs, a tortoise, rats and even more birdies (Mummy has given up). For the connoisseurs of the more exotic, we also found some snakes too – a little orange one and a big big big yellow one (Mummy has got nothing).

Heads of Ayr Farm Park lemur
Heads of Ayr Farm Park lemur

“There’s lizzy’d ‘swell”  And a lizard, yes, thank you little bro! And, apparently, lemurs.

We washed our hands and had some lunch at the picnic benches. There were lots of picnic benches! But if you haven’t brought sandwiches there are also places to buy food on site.

Then we found bouncy pillows, a bit like a bouncy castle!  

heads of ayr farm park pillows

“I no like bounce.” Sometimes small children are a bit of a bind.

At this point, Mummy looked at the map and found MORE animals, so we went off and admired more goats, a VERY fluffy sheep and… seagulls? They’re not ‘pposed to be there!

Then we saw alpacas and llamas and really big camels (I am looking at Mummy, but apparently she agrees on the terminology)! These enclosures had a tube to roll food down instead of giving them food in your hands. Wheeee!

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Camel

“We play park now?” Persistence is everything in little brothering.

And rewarded. There’re lots of places to play at the Heads of Ayr Farm Park. Trampolines, slides, castles and even pirate ships and diggers. Lots of sand play areas too with buckets and spades provided! (There were also indoor play areas but it was a very sunny day so we didn’t go in).

Heads of Ayr Farm Park Pirate ship

“That a big mouse!?” No, L, it’s a wallaby! You can walk through the wallabies field for a final encore. Now that is a way to finish a day!

All in all, I can heartily approve my Mummy and Daddy’s choice of holiday campsite. Location location location is everything, and being next to the Heads of Ayr Farm Park is definitely worth the repetition. 

The images in this post were kindly supplied by the Heads of Ayr Farm Park as we had so much fun we forgot to take ones suitable for the blog! Our visit was totally independent of the attraction, however, as are our views.

More information

The farm park’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the rise of the urban seagull.

Address: Heads of Ayr Farm Park, Dunure Road, Alloway by Ayr, KA7 4LD

Opening: 7 days a week 10am to 5pm, from March to the end of October. Some indoor attractions are also open in winter.

Admission: Adults: £11, Kids £9.50, Family £30 – £45 (depending on how many people you are bringing).

Getting there: From the A77 you can either exit just after Ayr at the Alloway turn off (there are signs for Heads of Ayr) if coming from Glasgow. Drive through Alloway and onto the A719. The farm park is 2 miles further on. Or you can leave onto the A719 at Turnbury if coming from the South. The Heads of Ayr Farm park is five miles on the left.

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Heads of Ayr Farm Park in Ayrshire Scotland is an excellent family friendly day out with a range of animal and play attractions

Lavender’s blue at Hitchin Lavender Farm, Hertfordshire

Outdoor activities are hard to predict in any country. In Russia, you may think you are going to get a guaranteed couple of months of minus 15 and tons of snow, and then find that it’s March and you still haven’t had suitable climatic conditions for a proper go at outdoor skating. Or that it’s barely mid November and the snow drifts are up to your hips before the leaves have finished turning yellow, scuppering the last opportunity for walks in the countryside to inhale the delightfully dank smell of rotting leaves and hunt the wily mushroom entirely.

In the UK, of course, the problem is usually rain. Certainly was this last year gone, wasn’t it? Says Mama who abandoned the (typical) heat of a Moscow summer to spend July in a jumper in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Although she’ll admit it picked up a bit there at the end. Briefly.

So we were lucky that the day we went to Hitchin Lavender Farm was actually very pleasant. I believe we may have made do with a light cardigan or something.

Lavender at Hitchin Lavender Farm

Now, I’ll be honest, I was expecting the fields of lavender to be a tad more extensive than one admittedly quite large one round the back of the outbuildings, which just goes to show that you can take the girl out of Russia…

But this almost certainly means that it is a more suitable small person rambling space that the average country walk Mama takes us on if she has half a chance. Especially as instead of expecting me, the city girl, to glory in the variety of trees, grass, the occasional bird sighting and fifteen different varieties of nettle, at Hitchin Lavender Farm you get to wield scissors in earnest in order to cut enough of the smelly blue sticks to fill a few bags to take home with you.

Lavender rows at Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

Although I found that a bit difficult, unfortunately. My fingers as yet are insufficiently muscly. As a result Mama and the Grandparents’ determination to stop every few paces and gather more, just a bit more, and yes, a bit more sweetie pie, got a bit old rather quickly. You’ve sniffed one lavender bush, you’ve sniffed them all in my opinion.

Except that this is not true, says an excited Mama, for whom finding out anything new is always a pleasure. Must be her age, because I, personally, was much more jaded about the realisaiton that while the lavender on this side was pretty, the lavender on that side was much more fragrant. You can also imagine her delight in the discovery that photographed from this angle, the boring but stinky flowers looked a rather dull grey, but from the other side of the field the purple highlights showed up much better. It’s lovely to see Mama’s little face light up. Big up to one of Hitchin Lavender Farm’s workers for pointing that out to us.

The smelly lavender Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

There is white lavender too!!! Exclamation marks definitely Mama’s.

The adults also enjoyed looking at the view from the top of the field, and admiring the red poppies mixed in with the blue.

Lavender and Poppies at Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

I really think they need to get out more.

But Mama brought out the sandwiches at this point so the day improved significantly for me, and Grandad revealed he had coffee, so Mama was also thrilled. Again.

My Twitchy Big Brother liked chasing the swifts (or possibly swallows) who swooped obliging round the giant tent at the bottom of the hill.

Tent Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

And, grudgingly, I am prepared to admit that the fact that Hitchin Lavender Farm has HORSES is also pretty cool, especially as they were very happy to let me stroke their noses!

Horses Hitchin Lavender Farm Hertfordshire

And yet more small girl pleasing experiences were to come in the shape of the play area next to the cafe, which didn’t just have climbing equipment outside, but also model farm buildings, animals and toy transport items to buzz around under cover. There was lavender flavoured shortbread too. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Says everyone.

All in all, Hitchin Lavender Farm is not a day out, more of an afternoon. And it’s only open in the summer months, and the lavender doesn’t come into full flower until mid June. Which means you should make haste to visit when it is open! Because if you fancy a lunching spot with a difference near Stevenage in July, this will definitely do it for you, even if you are dodging rain showers.

More information

The farm’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about ideas for a small herb garden.

Address: Cadwell Farm, Ickleford, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, SG5 3UA

Opening: Hitchin Lavender Farm is closed from the beginning of September until the beginning of June. Opening hours are 10am to 5pm. The flowering season begins in mid June.

Admission: Adult 5GBP, Kids 1GBP, under 5s free. Picking rights included in the price.

Getting there: You’ll need a car for this one. It’s not far off the A1M. Detailed instructions on the website.

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A family day out at the Hitchin Lavender Farm in Hertfordshire is fragrant, colourful and has lavender flavoured shortbread.

Plutonium Sox

Don’t forget your camera when you visit Kolomenskoye Park in Moscow

One of the main attractions of Kolomenskoye Park in the South of Moscow is that while it has more manicured sections, there’s a fair amount of wilderness you can wander around in too.

We went in late May last year, which is just when the greenery has finally recovered from winter and before it all gets shrivelled by the hot summer sun, and you can spend many happy hours strolling through sunlit glades along largely unfrequented paths if you pick your weather right.

Plus, bits of it overlook the Moscow River, and so you can sit, eat your sandwiches and hunt for ants with a pretty good view.

Wilderness in Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

The hilliness you might be able to detect is also a plus. We might have been able to go for a really excellent scramble up and down some epically steep paths if Mama hadn’t been wearing the wrong shoes. She declined to try attempt it without really grippy trainers and someone else there to help catch us when we took a header off the slope.

Apparently it’s even got a rift in the time and space continuum down there too, the Golosov Ravine, which might explain why they’ve tried to make it so hard to get to. Legend has it that people go into the gully and then don’t come out for years and years. Coooooooool. And one way to survive the immediate future with sanity relatively intact perhaps.

At either end of the park there is more organised fun. If you arrive at the Kolomenskoye metro station end, you will soon come across a particularly unique bit of ecclesiastical architecture, even more venerable than places like St Basil’s on Red Square.

Church of the Ascension White Column Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

The Church of the Ascension, otherwise known as the White Column possibly because it is constructed in such a way that it doesn’t need any supporting pillars to supplement its toweryness, was built in 1532 and commemorates the birth of Ivan the Eventually Terrible. Yes, I know there aren’t any onion domes or gaudy external painting. Orthodox Christianity does the history of church decoration backwards from a Protestant outlook, and this one is supposedly based on more traditional wooden structures, as well as having an Italian influence.

In fact, dotted around the territory are a whole bunch of other old buildings, because for many years now Kolomenskoye park has been a refuge for distressed, mainly wooden constructions, from all over Russia.

Wooden building Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

It is also a former royal estate, so some of the stone gateways and suchlike are survivors from their era.

Tulips and stone gateway Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

But there are also the remnants of a traditional Russian village, which existed for real until quite recently in the 1980s, allegedly populated by descendants of the peasants who were attached to the Tsars’ estates. Live action bee keeping still takes place there!

Most impressive is the recreation of a magnificent royal palace erected by Alexei Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great, which represents the pinnacle of what you could do with wooden architectural design in the 17th Century. You can go inside and examine the fully worked up interiors too, which Mama definitely intends to do sometime in the not too distant future. It’s right next to the metro station at the other end of the park from the great white Church of the Ascension, Kashirskaya. Convenient!

Alexei Mikhailovich Palace Kolomenskoye Moscow

And Kolomenskoye Park frequently holds some of the more interesting outdoor events in Moscow. Mama has her eye on the historical re-enactment festival Time and Epochs, which is scheduled for June. Admittedly this year, they are branching out all over the capital, but their biggest event will still be held in this park.

Horse and carriage ride Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

But when we visited on this particular occasion, what we mostly did is wander around the extensively replanted royal orchard area…

Apple Orchard Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

…and look at people photographing the apple blossoms.

Photographing Apple Blossoms Kolemskoye Park Moscow in Spring

Maybe there was some kind of event going on. But since Mama couldn’t find any information about it at the time, she prefers the theory that everybody with a camera just looked out of their window, saw the glorious sunshine, remembered that there hadn’t been any wind lately, and decided to make the most of it.

A number of people bought props and costumes. There were swings trailing white gauze dangling from the trees, people!

Photoshoot Kolomenskoye Park Moscow in Spring

We made do with our beautiful selves, as Mama was inspired and got quite enthusiastic about us posing with dreamy expressions while sniffing the dandelions. Hours of fun.

So Kolomenskoye Park is a perfect location for a day in the outdoors in Moscow. If the weather is good, grab a picnic and head out. And don’t forget your camera.

More information

The park’s website (in English).

The Time and Epochs webesite (in English).

More about the Golosov Ravine.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the mystery of the Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage.

Address: 39 Andropova Avenue,Moscow

Getting there: The green metro line has two stops you can use for either end of Kolomenskoye Park, Kolomonskoye and Kashirskaya.

Find our why Muscovites are sure to take their cameras when they visit Kolomenskoye Park Moscow

Travel Loving Family
Wander Mum

Museum of Illusions, Moscow

My Enthusiastic Big Brother has recently discovered the word ‘selfie’.

What it’s for, apparently, is shouting out while grabbing your friends and relations in a headlock, making triumphant horn shapes with your fingers and mugging madly in the direction of… what?

No, I don’t know either.

Mama says he might be missing a vital element to the concept there, but is oddly reluctant to tell us what it is.

She does hint though. One of her clues is that this is relevant because the Museum of Illusions in Moscow’s VDNH complex offers you the opportunity to have your picture taken in a variety of unlikely poses.

Now, Mama wouldn’t say that the Museum of Illusions, which houses a number of different attractions under this umbrella name, really warrants the title ‘museum’. Because it has no educational value whatsoever. Says Mama. Because it is designed to be fun! Say us kids. And so we immediately chose as our first stopping off point, the Butterfly Garden.

Butterfly Moscow Museum of Illusions

Well, small room, actually, with a number of rather battered looking butterflies determinedly clinging to the walls. But also, tiny song birds flitting about, tarantulas and other creepy crawlies to shiver over, a somewhat angry cockatoo and giant lizards you could hold.

Tarantula Moscow Museum of Illusions

Mama thought we were well in at this point, as one of my favourite things in the whole world in the UK was going to the pet shops to stare at the bearded dragons, but because it was a Thursday, the sky was blue, Mama was wearing jeans and I’d had pancakes for breakfast (or something – I forget), I took right agin’ the whole Butterfly Garden experience. Thus I followed Mama and my Enthusiastic Big Brother about loudly complaining as he proudly displayed his new reptilian accessories and gave impromptu animal fact lectures to any visitor who stood still long enough.

Which they were quite obliging about, because mostly what they were doing was staring smolderingly into a camera lens while trying not to get their ear bitten off by the cockatoo on their shoulder.

Cockatoo Moscow Museum of Illusions

Eventually, my persistence won out and we decided to go and see what the Museum of Illusions section was all about.

More photography, apparently. Not an explanatory placard in sight. See? Mama told you.

Basically, there are a lot of out of shape pictures painted at odd angles on the walls. You are supposed to go and stand in front of them while somebody takes your picture.

It was weird and, frankly, VERY BORING.

I mean, I like having my picture taken as much as the next five year old, but there is a limit, when almost none of the scenarios feature horses, princesses, or pink and there isn’t any dressing up involved.

Particularly as most of the illusions weren’t, Mama discovered quickly, designed with people my or even my Increasingly Less Enthusiastic Big Brother’s size in mind. So instead of sitting on the dragon, we’d be perched in the middle of her tummy. Or snatching wildly at the wand hovering a foot above our heads.

Harry Potter Moscow Museum of Illusions

Or failing miserably to be nearly crushed by the advancing robots. Or make it onto the giant’s dinnerplate entirely.

Mind you, this briefly cheered up my By Now A Bit Less Enthusiastic Big Brother as he got to wield the expensive camera while Mama cavorted about happily. But none of that helps you, dear reader, when she isn’t going to put any of them on the Internet.

And then we tried the town which had been stood on its head. Now Mama would have said that we felt much the same way about this area as we did about the Museum of Illusions section. This is because there were a lot of posing opportunities for tall people which were probably hysterical when they downloaded their memory stick, but not much to actually do if you are my height aside from look at things inexplicably stuck to the ceiling.

Moscow Museum of Illusions

Except the open bank vault. Lots of little bits of green paper there to throw about. Unfortunately, given the existence of a number of other families intent on getting their quota of happy snaps in, Mama let us spend less time there that we would have liked.

However, the reason this review is getting written some considerable time after I wandered around the whole entertainment complex whining about how much I wanted to leave and go and do something more interesting, is that only the other day I reminded Mama how funny that Upside Down Town was, and begged her to take us back.

Why this caused her to become speechless and stare at me like a constipated fish I do not know. If you can’t be capricious when you are five, when can you be?

Possibly what we had needed was a snack break. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cafe on site. But since this is VDNH there will at least be retro ice cream, boiled sweetcorn and soft drink carts within ten metres of the entrance.

As it was, Mama headed for the exit immediately after enduring my apparently fake display of crossness around this exhibit. She didn’t even attempt the plate smashing area, the maze of mirrors, the exploration of the human body or the house of horror. She did keep the tickets though, so clearly it is time to dig them out again. Because you can pay for each of the areas separately, or you can buy an inclusive ticket for a reasonable discount which allows you to pick five of the twelve available. You will want to do this. Some of the experiences are more substantial than others, but most of them are not going to occupy you for all that long. If you do find yourself sucked into an extended photography session, then you can bring your ticket back any time to knock off the other areas.

Basically if you are in the mood, and if you are of a sensible height, and if you feel your Instagram feed has gotten a little dull lately, the Museum of Illusions is for you. And in case you should find yourself well away from the fabulousness of VDNH and closer to the centre, there’s a whole set of similar experiences there! And in Ekaterinaburg! And St Petersburg! And Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Chelyabinsk and Barcelona!

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Go upside down and take ALL the photos at the Museum of Illusions in Moscow

 

More Informaiton

The ‘museum’ website (in English).

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the ‘trombone’ shot in filmmaking.

Address: VDNH, Prospekt Mira 119, Pavilion No. 55.

Opening: 10am to 7pm weekdays and 10am to 8pm weekends and holidays.

Admission: 350 roubles (less than you think, more than before Brexit) for one attraction, 1000 roubles (very reasonable indeed, but a shame about that dropping pound, eh?) for five. No limit on when you can come back and use your tickets, so no need to rush round.

By public transport:  Get off at VDNH (orange line) and then walk the length of the ex-Soviet exhibition space to the giant space rocket towards the back. The Museum is next to the all new History Museum and opposite the Polytechnic Museum and round the corner from Moskvarium.

By car: I don’t care.

MummyTravels

Tram Parade, Moscow 2016

What is it about the universe that it no sooner hears you want to go to an outdoor street party involving a tram parade than it abandons the delightfully mild spring weather it had been experimenting with previously and starts sleeting?

Vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

Our trip around the vintage autotechnics was, then, decidedly damp and chilly but the upside, from Mama’s point of view was that she was not forced to watch as we smeared paint all over our freshly washed ready to put away winter coats, because you can’t paint cardboard trams when the cardboard is too soggy to stand up.

Back of a vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

The upside from our point of view was puddles. We got to splosh about in them and almost totally ignore the trams. Hours of fun. Fabulous.

However, aside from the terrible weather, the tram parade was very similar to the trolleybus parade we attended earlier in the year (and, Mama is beginning to think, the bus parade we will surely be attending in, apparently, August).

Tram parade at Chistiy Prudiy, Moscow

A central street in Moscow was shut down for the occasion. There was a stage pumping out music which Mama is still not convinced had anything to do with trams. Crafting opportunities for children should have existed. Many many balloons emblazoned with trams were blown up and handed out to kids who promptly let go of the strings and cried as their new-found pride and joy sailed off into the nearest tree. People dressed up in clothes from different eras of the trams’ existence wandered around and had their photos taken with the general public. You could climb on and off the old trams, the thematically painted trams and marvel at the fixtures and fittings.

Space tram at the tram parade, Moscow

The main differences were that as well as trams there were some old cars.

Vintage police car at the tram parade, Moscow

And as well as passenger trams there were street cleaning trams, breakdown rescue trams and similar.

Vintage street cleaning tram at the tram parade, Moscow

Breakdown rescue tram at the tram parade, Moscow

But best of all, because trams are a much older form of transport than trolleybuses, there was also a, wait for the caps lock, HORSE-DRAWN TRAM!

Horse-drawn tram at the tram parade, Moscow

My Slightly Wet Big Brother and I actually took an interest in that one. Although it was then a massive let down that we did not get to ride away on it when the cavalcade eventually glided off home.

Green vintage tram at the tram parade, Moscow

For verily, never let it be said that Mama is not capable of learning from her previous experiences and this time we hung around for the actual end of the show tram parade itself!

Maybe next time we will get stationing ourselves to see the HORSES leave right, or even turn up in time to see the trams arrive. Who knows?

Celebration of Moscow trams

And who also knows, but maybe next time the weather will be better on the date itself, rather than reserving the blue skies and glorious sunshine for the following day.

More information

The website of transport for Moscow, with a lot more photos of the tram parade!

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Gerald the pornographic elephant and his groupies.

Address: Right next to Chistye Prudy metro station.

Admission: Free!

Opening: 12 noon when the trams arrived until around 4pm when they left.

By public transport: Chistye Prudy metro station (red line, orange line – where it is called Turgenevskaya – and light green line – where it is called Sretensky Bulvar. Yes, this sort of naming convention is confusing. Nevertheless, it is all one station really). Funnily enough, the usual trams weren’t running up this far on the day…

By car: Pfft.

Travel Monkey
MummyTravels

Inchcolm Island and the Forth Bridge by boat

Nobody is ever going to go to Scotland for the glorious sunshine, although we have experienced at least two whole days of lovely blue skies in our total of two visits to nearish Edinburgh so far.

Forth Bridge and Forth Road Bridge

Sadly, the high summer’s day we decided to take a boat trip up and down the Firth of Forth to admire Inchcolm Island and the Forth Bridge was not one of those days.

Forth Bridge in the Rain

But despite the brisk winds, the flurries of rain and the fact that we were having to wear both a thick jumper and our winter coats, this remains one of Mama’s favourite bits about our trips to one of the Venices of the North. Which is why she is writing about it almost three years after it actually happened.

It may be that she is more nostalgic for the summer holidays of her youth spent mainly in full body waterproofs in the Lake District than you might expect.

Especially because those holidays also involved messing about in boats. And as everybody knows, boats are much more interesting when there are a few waves and a whole lot of spray, which is what we got on this occasion in Scotland.

Boat Trip to Inchcolm Island

Papa huddled inside the undercover cabin. Mama stood out back with her face in the wind. And the rain. Did I mention the rain? Of course, she had me strapped to her chest as a makeshift bodywarmer. Sometimes Mama finds having children comes in handy.

The Firth of Forth is quite something from a boat, or indeed from any prospective at all. It’s really an enormous estuary with Edinburgh at its mouth and it is easily able to accommodate multiple ocean-going oil tankers passing each other at a distance. By which I mean, it’s big.

And this is why the Forth Bridge, the railway bridge first crossed in 1890 connecting the north side of the Forth to the capital of Scotland is such an engineering marvel. It is still the second longest cantilever bridge in the world, and was the first of its kind when built, says Mama nodding sagely as though either she or I have the faintest idea who cantilever is or why we should eat it.

But I do know it is so fabulous it is has just been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, along with the Kremlin and Red Square, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and, apparently, the whole city of Liverpool. Cool, huh?

It’s also responsible for Papa realising he’d been in the UK too long. Making small talk, someone referred to their job as being in its futility much like painting the Forth Bridge, and Papa found himself nodding sympathetically, fully understanding the obscure reference to the fact that as soon as you finish painting one end, you have to start again at the beginning again.

Which is a myth, apparently. They use specially formulated paint to protect the cutting edge but fatally rust prone mild steel, and as a result it doesn’t wear off that quickly. Still, that didn’t stop Papa feeling traumatized. In fact, the Forth Bridge may be responsible for our move back to Moscow!

Of course, there is no chance that my Brilliant Big Brother will take and interest in all this because of his obsession with the natural world.

Luckily, the Firth of Forth boat trip held plenty of interest for him too, mostly in the form of numerous sightings of grey seals basking on rocks, buoys and Inchcolm Island itself.

Seals around Inchcolm Island

Although we also saw a puffin flitting around the boat thanks to his animal obsessed eyes too.

The boats set off from South Queensferry, which is either a short train ride away from Edinburgh proper, or reachable by a dedicated coach journey laid on the by river trip organisers. South Queensferry itself is a very pleasant sort of town for someone who wants to get away from big cities for a while. If you are early you can wander around the High Street. There’s a fish and chippie that sells deep-fried Mars bars and everything, as well as more rustically attractive shopping experiences.

Or, if that doesn’t appeal, maybe pottering about on the rocky seaweed-infested shoreline will. We could certainly spend hours down there. Just make sure you wash your children’s hands thoroughly afterwards, says Mama darkly, who once had to weather tag team explosive vomiting after she didn’t. The Firth of Forth is pretty but it’s not that clean.

Anyway. Once you have admired the elegant red struts of the Forth Bridge and the wildlife and the choppy ride, you will be deposited on Inchcolm Island and marooned there.

There is something quite thrilling about this to Mama, who along with all Brits of a certain age, was forced to read the trapped-on-a-small-island-with-your-school-chums survival manual Lord of the Flies in school. Did we go feral and start beating each other around the head with conch shells? The anticipation would be rampant except that… how exactly is that different from a normal day out with kids? Everybody else can probably just get excited about the prospect of eating all sorts of unlikely live insects courtesy of Get me Out of Here…

Luckily, before it came to that, Mama broke out the sandwiches, which we ate inside the ruined monastery. It’s very scramble-able and picturesque and a whole bunch of fun to look round. Because of course, what else do you do with an island in the middle of an estuary but build a monastery?

Inchcolm Abbey from the water

Well, build military fortifications, that’s what. Bunkers and whatnot. Gotta protect the Forth Bridge from invaders.

We missed out on that because as well as poking around on Inchcolm Island’s sandy beach (WASH YOUR HANDS. Luckily there are fully plumbed toilets by the landing stage), we also discovered the path round the back of the monastery which leads you to the rockier, less built up island area and the end of the island, where the seals lurk.

Unfortunately we did not get to see the seals from land. Papa, who was the first to find the footpath, came back after a few minutes looking shaken and warning us to stay away. So obviously Mama had to take us to have a look.

No sooner had she stepped onto the broad green inviting walkway than she understood his fear. It was nesting season for seagulls, who turned out to be extremely unimpressed by anyone coming within any kind of distance of their young and totally unafraid to dive bomb en mass those that do so.

Seagulls on Inchcolm Island

Being attacked by waves and waves and waves of large raucously shrieking birds who have no fear of humans after years of nicking their packed lunches is quite an experience. Mama made it to the top of the incline on the off-chance it would be a momentary inconvenience, realised the whole area was covered with the angry sea birds and beat a hasty retreat.

Seagulls and the abbey on Inchcolm Island

Never let it be said that our family is not occasionally sensitive to conservation issues and leaving our animal brothers and sisters in peace.

Anyway, after that it was time to get back on the boat again. More waves, more seals, no more puffins, another look at the Forth Bridge, the chance to compare it to the prosaically modern road bridge, and if you are lucky and get there quick before it is finished, the privilege of watching the ALL NEW, almost ethereal, road bridge go up. We may be a hundred and twenty five years on, but it is still damn difficult to get it right. Perhaps you will be there when they discover they are two millimeters off in being able to assemble there flat packed 21st century bridge kit, and everything!

All in all, a highly recommended day trip if you are ever in Edinburgh. QE2 smooeetoo is what Mama says. If you want boats, you want this one.

More Information

Forth Boat Tours.

Maid of the Forth boat trips.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the Forth Bridge.

Address for the launching area: Hawes Pier, South Queensferry, Edinburgh, EH30 9TB

Trip times: The boats run between from February to the end of October.  There are between one and three sailings a day, depending on the time of year and whether or not it is a weekend.

You can also do a boat trip without getting off on the island (but that would be a mistake).

Prices: Child over 5 £9.30 – £10.30, adult £18.50 -19.50, family ticket from £49.60. Concessions for Historic Scotland members.

By car: There is a large free car park next to the pier.

By train: Edinburgh Waverley to Dalmeny Station (South Queensferry). Then you walk down the path from the station to the Hawes Pier going under the Forth Bridge. You could even have a go at going over the bridge on the train to North Queensferry and coming back again to Dalmeny if you wanted to really get your Forth Bridge fill.

By bus: Stagecoach 40/40A from Edinburgh Princes Street. Get off the bus at the Police Station (bottom of the hill) and it is a 10 mins walk along the High Street of South Queensferry to the pier.

The first tour operator also does a coach tour of Edinburgh followed by the river cruise.