Letchworth | Cambridge | Fosse Way | Weston-Super-Mare | Cornwall | Glastonbury | Lacock

Letchworth / Hitchin / Stevenage

By Steve Benney

A short business trip took me to the delightful garden City of Letchworth. There is ample parking at the main supermarket near to the central gardens. The Broadway Gardens and central walkway provide a pleasant open expanse in the centre of town with trees, flower beds, and a magnificent fountain at one end - an ideal spot for a lunchtime picnic.

Letchworth Gardens

The gardens have recently been renovated with funding from the National Heritage Lottery and are bordered by council and amenity buildings. After lunch I visited the small local history museum and art gallery, situated at the north east corner of the gardens, next to the old Broadway Cinema. The cinema, which first opened in the 1930s, has been thoughtfully restored and updated, retaining its original exterior and outlandish art-deco interior features. Other places I found of interest were the Grade II listed 'Arts and Craft' style railway station and the Mrs Howard Memorial Hall. I completed my tour with a visit to the 'First Garden City Heritage Museum', on Norton's way, which explains the origins of Letchworth as the world's first Garden City. A fascinating insight into open plan urban design concepts, which formed the basis for several other garden cities in Britain.

Just 10 minutes west along the A505 is the old market town of Hitchin, my next stop for the afternoon. I last visited the town when I was a child and only have a few distant memories of it. The town square (old market place) and its side streets are full of attractive old buildings and timber-framed inns. The steps at the front of the medieval cobbled stone St Mary's Church is a pleasant place to sit and watch the trade at the nearby market. Another ideal place to view the town is from the top of Windmill Hill, where you can look down across the rooftops to the old church and beyond to Oughtonhead Common. At the end the afternoon I paid a visit to the British Schools Museum, on Queen Street. The buildings represent a fine example of brick built Edwardian and Victorian architecture of the time.

On my return journey to Cambridge I crossed over the A1 to Stevenage, for a brief visit to the splendid Town Gardens and Stevenage Museum. The museum is curiously located in the crypt of the modern Church building of St George and St Andrew. The bell tower of the church is a fascinating concrete structure with an internal open spiral staircase leading to the top. The museum was small but crammed full of information about the history of Stevenage, tracing back to the Stone Age. The most interesting exhibits were two period rooms of a 1960s kitchen and Georgian parlour, plus many old photographs of the town. The main shopping centre in Stevenage is a rather overbearing concrete jungle and not noted for its cultural appeal but according to the district council plans are underway for its rejuvenation over the next decade. A more interesting side of Stevenage can be found in the Old Town area, around the High Street. An area that I stumbled across on my way into town when looking for parking.

Cambridge Botanical Gardens

By Steve & Susanne

Although we love Cambridge, and live just a 30 minute drive from the City Centre, we rarely visit as it's usually quite busy with students, tourists and shoppers. Parking can often be a problem at weekends so we normally use one of the many park-and-ride facilities. However, due to an accident on the M11, we were diverted into the city and parked in the multi-story above the Grafton Centre. The town has two large shopping centres, offering a wide choice of big department stores and brand-name retail outlets. Although we normally prefer to shop around the Market Hill area, where there is an excellent market and plenty of smaller independent stores, plus a good choice of cafés and places to eat.

Cambridge Mechanical Bridge

However, the purpose of this visit was not the usual retail therapy but to explore the beautiful Botanical Gardens, located on the south side of the city, an area of Cambridge we had not visited before. To get there we took a short walk along East Street to Parker's Piece, a large green famed for its historical links with the origins of football (soccer). Although no one was playing football on the green at this time, some of the students were enjoying a friendly game of cricket, near the Park Terrace end. Just to the west of Parker's Piece we came across the Scott Polar Research Institute, on Lensfield road, a small free museum dedicated to research into the polar regions. The museum contains an extensive collection of journals, paintings, photographs, maps and other artifacts related to polar exploration. The museum is worth visiting just for its collection of dramatic arctic scenes alone.

From the end of Lensfield Road, it is just a five minute walk along Trumpington Road to the Botanical Gardens (Brookside Gate entrance). We were both surprised and delighted by the size and layout of the gardens (in comparison with the smaller gardens at Oxford). There was so much to see that we wished we had arrived a little earlier in the day. The Brookside Gate entrance brings you through into a peaceful woodland garden, which has a pleasant stream running down into a bog garden, surrounded by a small lake; adjacent to an extensive well planted rockery. Both these areas were so tranquil and picturesque that we took advantage of some well placed benches to sit and enjoy the view for a while. The Main Walk, which runs from the lake to a multi-tiered fountain, is bordered by a diverse range of large and impressive mature trees. Crossing the main lawn, near the fountain, we visited the glasshouses, containing a unique collection of tropical and succulent plants. The rest of the gardens were equally impressive. Although it was now a little late in the gardening season, the borders still contained plenty of interest, with many species still in flower, especially around the Systematic Beds area. All-in-all we found the gardens to be a real gem. A restfully oasis away from the busy city, and an ideal place to visit for anyone staying Cambridge on a long break.

Fosse Way

By Susanne Benney

Travelling down to Cornwall

On our annual trip down to Cornwall, to visit Steve's parents, we decided to take the scenic route down the Fosse Way (an old Roman Road from Lincoln to Exeter), as a change from our normal motorway drive. Our first stop was going to be Rugby, to look around the Public School and Rugby museum. Unfortunately, due to road works, we could not find our way around the detours and so carried on to our next stop the Windmill at Chesterton. Steve did visit Rugby, however, on a later trip to the Midlands.

Chesterton Windmill

One of England's oldest surviving stone built windmills, which stands in a commanding position overlooking the Fosse and surrounding countryside. The site is located in the centre of a field on a small hill top, just off the Fosse Way, and near to the little village of Chesterton Green. You will need to look for the white Leisure Drive signs on the left, just before the Fosse crosses the M40 (travelling south). There is a convenient lay-by near the entrance for parking, and from there it is just a short walk up a gentle incline to take in the view. An ideal spot for a picnic - but you will need to take your own pack-up (food) as the site is in the middle of nowhere and a long away from any facilities.

Morton in the Marsh

We just loved the old world charm of this place as we drove though it; an almost obligatory stop off point for a cuppa. The centre of Morton is full of charming old buildings and quaint little stores. No problem parking there either, as there are spaces all along the High Street. Once parked, I took a leisurely stroll around the market place, while Steve went off to take some photographs. There were so many teas shops I was almost spoilt for choice but eventually found a lovely little one serving homemade cakes, right next door to a great little boutique. By the time my husband had returned from taking pictures of the town stocks and old Guildhall I had finished my tea and cake, so I had to order another :) Morton in the Marsh is a lovely place for pleasant afternoon visit or to enjoy the bustling market on Tuesdays. For the more active explorers, there is a bike hire outlet in the town centre, near the Toy Shop.

Stow on the Wold

A picturesque little stone built market town, situated around a church, in the main square. The best place to park is near the super-market just before you enter the Town Centre, however, we were lucky and got the last parking spot just in front of the YHA, otherwise we would have had to drive round the square and go back they way we came in. I was surprised to see an YHA in the centre of town, a lovely old stone building. Going inside to enquire about prices, I was informed that they now do twin rooms and family en-suite, a big change from the days when I used to go youth hostelling with the School. Whilst walking around the town we found some very interesting art shops and a lovely tapestry shop, an outlet that I have never come across before. It's a shame that none of the beautiful reproductions where made in this country. Most appeared to be imported from Holland and Belgium. This is really a lost art-form in this country and we should try and re-instate it here. Prices started from £100.00 upwards, depending on whether they are cotton, wool or silk.

Burton on the Water

An absolutely delightful place with a quaint stream running through the centre of the village, with little Venice style foot bridges all along it. Some great little shops, with none of your usual tourist tack! I found some real quality buys at very good prices. As my husband found out, once he came back looking for me after taking pictures of the local sights. Not a good idea to leave your wife for too long when there are so many lovely shops to look around :) It was so nice there that I wish we had booked a guest house to stay in the village, but as we had already booked a place near Cirencester we had to move on. We will definitely stop here again if we take this route again in future.

Cirencester

Steve wanted to visit Cirencester because of its extensive Roman History and unusual abbey church. Many of the buildings in the centre of town have kept their original character, which makes for a very pleasant place to walk around. I found the outskirts of the town a little over developed and not what I was expecting for such an important historical place but that's modern progress for you. To complete our tour we visited the famous Roman Amphitheatre. Steve said it would only be a short walk from the abbey, but had I known it was so far I would have caught the bus, especially as we got lost several times on the way there. The site is free to access and very impressive in size. Although today it is just a grass covered earthworks, in its heyday it would have looked quite different, with seating and a palisade. The site provides great views across to the abbey church and town.

Luckily we had booked accommodation on the edge of town so it was really easy to find. We often use Travelodge as they have good locations just off motorways and trunk roads. This was one of the best I have stayed in. The room was very quiet for a Travelodge and they offered me a ground floor room as I had done my back-in. The Little Chef next door was a revelation, as we found the service was first class and food excellent, much better than we have experienced from Little Chef's in the past. The building was also nicely in keeping with the historic area. We found the out-of-town location was ideal the next morning, as we were able to slip off early to miss the peak traffic on the M5.

Weston-Super-Mare

By Susanne Benney

We arrived very early so traffic was virtually none existent - not like the busy times my husband has experienced on previous visits. Finding parking was a problem as all the seafront car parks are closed because of roadworks. Easier parking was found near the shopping centre, rather than the sea front which we tried to find and had to go back the way we came, which was several miles around the outskirts of Town. Next time we will ignore the beach parking signs and head straight into the Shopping area, which is only a short walk away from the beach.

We were please to find the sea front was undergoing an extensive rejuvenation project, along with the re-building of the pier that recently burnt down. When the work is finished the whole area around the promenade should look great, just in time for the next season. The promenade is a lovely place to walk along, they also have their own version of the London eye, which most tourist places seem to have these day. I felt the promenade could do with a few more up-market tea and coffee places along the seat front. We found it difficult to find anything open before 9am. So not much for the early riser who likes a nice brisk walk or run in the morning before breakfast. Maybe they open earlier in season as this was September.

The town area behind the sea front has some excellent shopping facilities. The whole place had a lovely relaxed feel about it. After all a very nice surprise as did not expect to like it here but I will definitely come again and stay. If only some of the older hotels could get there act together and smarten themselves up then Weston could end up being the up and coming place to be.

Cornwall Tour

By Susanne Benney

Helston

We had booked ourselves into a holiday park just outside Helston, as we where trying to do a budget holiday, in order to judge if it is possible to have a pleasant and interesting holiday without having to spend a lot, especial in today�s credit crunch climate. Well that's what my husband said, although I really think he just doesn't like spending his money :) Caravans are not my usual choice of accommodation, and now I remember why, as there is not a lot of privacy from your neighbours, although its great for kids to make friends quickly. Opposite the park we found Mullion cove, a small quaint little cove, with a small quay and a few fishing boats. A area of Cornwall that has not yet been over commercialised, so it's an ideal place for a bit of peace and quite or to just soak up the atmosphere. Just what we needed after all our travelling around.

The next afternoon we enjoyed a visit to the nearby town of Helston. Although its a fairly large town, it is a place that is still full of character. There is an interesting heritage trail that you can follow, taking you around some of the famous buildings, a map of which is posted on the side of the Town Hall. Behind the Town Hall we found a small museum that has some very interesting exhibits and old photographs that provide an insight into the town's long history.

Falmouth

The next day we visited Falmouth, a place that we know really well as we have family that live close by. It is always busy on a Saturday - a really bustling place even out of season, which is nice. It is usually easy to find places to park if you know where to look. There is plenty of parking near the marina, museum, train station and the old quarry. They even have a Park and Float in the peak season.

After a bracing walk around the old pier and harbour we followed the coast road to Swanpool. This part of Falmouth has lovely sandy beach and has easy parking again. Even better, your parking ticket gets you a free cup of tea at the beach front café! After our constitutional cuppa we took a walk pass the beach huts and along the cliff top walk, which is just a gentle climb but well worth it for the great views. There are plenty of benches along the coastal walk to take the weight off you feet. As it was a pleasant day and the sun was shining, we both read our books in sheltered spot overlooking the sea. Of course on the way back down we stopped of for another cuppa and slice of cake at the beach café whilst watching the young people being coached at sailing, surfing and canoeing on the beach front.

St Ives

We always enjoy St Ives. It is a fashionable and vibrant little seaside town, a lovely place to visit at any time of year. The roads near the quay are winding and narrow, which all adds to the general ambience but not much good for driving through. So its not a good idea to park near the seafront, as we tried to and failed. It's best to follow signs up to the hill top car park, where you can enjoy the view better as you walk down into the town. St Ives gets very busy during peak season and if you want to eat in any of the seafront cafés its best to get there early or book a table (if you can). This section of coastline is famed for its dramatic sunsets, and true to form, it provided us with a lovely breathtaking red skyline as we enjoyed a peaceful walk around the headland. The harbour area is also very picturesque at night, with lights from the quay side houses and boats, trailing ribbons of multi-coloured reflections across the bay. St Ives has some great sandy beaches, quaint old cottages and lovely climate that gives an exotic Mediterranean feel about the place. We are certain to visit there again next year.

Glastonbury

By Susanne Benney

We visited Glastonbury for the first time on the way back from our Cornwall trip. Parking near the Abbey ruins (in the centre of town), we discovered a nice little tea room opposite, which made an ideal start to the visit. Once refreshed, we began our tour with a visit to the old Tribunal building in the High Street. The ground floor contains a Tourist Information Centre and the rest of the building holds a museum (Glastonbury Lake Village Museum) run by English Heritage. From the Tribunal we walked up the High Street to make the customary pilgrimage to the famous Glastonbury Tor, on the east side of the town. Browsing in some of new age shops along the way, selling scented candles and hippy style tie-die clothes. The steep walk up the hill to the Tor was well worth it, as the view at the top hill is amazing, across the whole town and surrounding plain. On the way down could not resist ringing the prayer bells outside the holistic centre. There are plenty of other interesting sights to see in the town, such as the George Hotel and Pilgrims' Inn, and the Parish Church of St John's, which has an unusual penitence labyrinth in the church yard. But by far the best place to visit is the magnificent abbey ruins, set in 36 acres of secluded grounds in the centre of the town. A very tranquil setting where you can drift through the ruins or relax on one of the many benches under the trees and forget about the busy world around you. Glastonbury has many other historical sights, although we were unable to see all it had to offer in such a short visit.

Swindon

By Susanne Benney

After visiting Glastonbury we stayed with family in Swindon. The following day we took a trip to Swindon's new shopping centre, located in the old Brunel train workshops. These old warehouses have been cleverly transformed into a modern retail outlet, still incorporating relics of some of the old factory machinery, which kept my husband's interest as we girls hit the shops. There is an excellent range of shops and I came away with some great clothes and a new handbag. At the end of the day we found a Steam Train Museum tucked away a the back of the centre, much to Steve's annoyance as it was just closing, so we will have to visit there next time we come as I was just about ready to drop - time for some much needed food and rest.

Lacock

By Susanne Benney

After a very late night and a slap-up breakfast we were taken on a visit to nearby Lacock, a small country village that entirely consists of old timber-framed and stone buildings. It has been used as a set for several films and TV series, such as Cranford. Walking into the village is like stepping back in time hundreds of years. I instantly lost sight of Steve, as he went off taking pictures of all the quaint old buildings. After an interesting walk around the more sane of us went to the hotel for a coffee. The girl behind the bar had created some fabulous homemade chocolates that were provided free with our coffee, the best chocolate I have ever tasted. So good in fact we just had to go back for a second round. Next to the village is a small abbey owned by the National Trust, set in a lovely woodland garden. There is also a museum dedicated to William Henry Fox Talbot, which includes a collection of his photogenic drawings and photographs.

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