Tag: The Great Outdoors

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

National Park Service Free Admission Days for 2017

US National Parks Free Admission Days 2017

Every year, there are specific days designated for national parks free admission. (However, it is worth noting that the admission charges are not exorbitant to begin with. Typically, national park admission runs $25-ish per car at most, and it’s good for seven days.) So, if you’re traveling near a national park in 2017, these are the days you can visit them for free:

  • January 16th: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 20th: Presidents’ Day
  • April 15th-16th & April 22nd-23rd: National Park Week weekends
  • August 25th: National Park Service birthday
  • September 30th: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11th-12th: Veterans Day weekend

Also, other properties in the National Park system observe the free admission days, including my personal favorite, Assateague Island National Seashore.  The National Park system totals 417 properties, at least one in every state and territory.

Because most of these days fall on a Monday or Friday, it’s the perfect opportunity for an extended weekend trip.  So what are you waiting for?  Be sure to check out a national park this year!

 

 

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Janes Island State Park – Crisfield MD

Trying to find some great Maryland getaways?

I’ve lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore most of my life, and until last week, I had never been to Janes Island State Park in Crisfield. I was pleasantly surprised by what this park had to offer.

We went there with the plan to canoe out to the beach. Thankfully, it was an unseasonably warm day for mid-November. It turned out to be a great afternoon, so I thought I would share the top five things that impressed me most about the park.

1. The waterway.

It’s called Daugherty Creek, but it looks more like a river. It’s quite wide; certainly much bigger than I expected for a creek. The water is calm and smooth, as you can see below. As we were about to leave and head home, the sun was setting. I snapped this picture to show the beautiful colors of the sky and the calmness of the water. There is NO filter on this picture – just nature at its loveliest!

maryland getaways janes island crisfield sunset.jpg

2. The marsh.

On either side of the creek, and around the beach, you will see wispy tall grasses that mark the marsh lands. Sometimes there were so many “layers” it seemed to go on forever: water, marsh, water, marsh, water, marsh.

maryland getaways janes-island-marsh crisfield

It was in one of these marshy areas that my daughter noticed the presence of a Great Blue Heron just ten feet away from us. I quickly fumbled for my phone to take a picture and just managed to catch him as he took off in flight. That was a very cool moment.

janes island great blue heron maryland getaways crisfield

3. The facilities.

We didn’t take advantage of them that day, but I noticed that there were some nice facilities there at Janes Island. The park includes a conference center, full service cabins, campsites specifically designated for youth groups, boat ramp, water trails, and more. The cabins and conference center will be renovated in 2017, so that may limit their ability.

4. The beach/the island.

Janes Island is about one mile from the park’s boat ramp. We canoed straight there (see the dark blue line on the map below).

janes-island-map maryland getaways crisfield

Now granted, it was November, but we had the beach all to ourselves and it seemed to go on for miles!  The only sign that anyone had been there before us were these footprints in the sand:

janes-island-md-bird-tracks maryland getaways crisfield

We had our dog, Kingston, with us, so I took off his leash and let him run around like a maniac. (And he absolutely loved it!) We spent some time walking on the beach, soaking up the sunshine, and looking for interesting shells/driftwood.

janes-island-md-sunny-beach maryland getaways crisfield

Even on this side of the land, the water (Tangier Sound) was relatively calm.

5. The boating opportunities.

Canoe, kayak, or powerboat… all can enjoy the water at Janes Island and everything that it offers. From exploring 30 miles of water trails to fishing to bird watching – all are easily enjoyed from this state park with its waterfront location.

Kingston says you should definitely check it out!

janes island md maryland getaways crisfield

Janes Island State Park is located at 26280 Alfred Lawson Drive in Crisfield, MD 21817. Telephone 410-968-1565. Opening hours vary by season; park closes at sunset daily.

Hunting for Sea Glass in the UK

Hunting for Sea Glass in the UK

When I wrote a post about the Best Sea Glass Beaches in the United States, it got me thinking about my upcoming trip to the UK. We were staying in two coastal towns (South Shields and Staithes). Perhaps there would be some sea glass hunting opportunities for us while we were there.

I started plugging inquiries into Google, which led me to the site of Australian jewelry designer, Kriket Broadhurst. She had lived in the UK for a time and had found the best sea glass beach at Seaham in County Durham.  She even called it the “holy grail of sea glass beaches.” Needless to say, I was intrigued!  So, I looked up Seaham and was thrilled to discover that it was only 1/2 hour away from South Shields.

I emailed Kriket for more info, and she was kind enough to send me a guide for collecting sea glass there. It was very thorough, including where to park, the best times to go, and even which direction to start looking after descending the long staircase to the beach. Thank you, Kriket!

The beach itself has some great views out to sea. If you look far off to the right, you can spot a lighthouse (unfortunately, it’s not in this picture, though). The water, of course, is just beautiful. And we were lucky enough to be there in the hours preceding sunset, when the sky was starting to get a little pink.

Seaham harbor beach best sea glass uk

The beach itself is littered with stones – not very practical for walking barefoot.

stones on seaham harbor beach best sea glass in uk

The stones were gorgeous in their own right, just as smooth and rounded as the bits of glass we found.  Some had stripes, some speckles. I believe others were not rock, but rather bits of pottery or porcelain that were broken and tossed by the waves. The white piece that’s third from the bottom on the right side, for instance, almost certainly looks like a piece of a bowl or other dish. The red and white one above it and to the left is, I think, terra cotta. And I’m fairly certain that rocks don’t come in mint green or pale blue like the ones in the center.

stones found on seaham harbor beach best sea glass in uk

There are also quite a few caves beneath the cliff on Seaham Beach. Here’s a picture of my daughter in front of one of them.

seaham harbor beach caves best sea glass in uk

There are a couple of reasons why people looking for sea glass might consider Seaham the holy grail. First of all, there is a lot of sea glass there. I wasn’t able to go in the morning like Kriket recommended, but rather ended up there late in the day. Nearly everyone on the beach was also walking along, head down, looking for treasures. I thought I would be too late to find any, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Due to the abundance of sea glass there, we ended up collecting about 100 pieces in 60-90 minutes.

best sea glass found at seaham harbor beach county durham

But even more exciting than the abundance of sea glass was the possibility of finding a piece that had more than one color. As I understand it, there was a glass factory in the area about 100 years ago. At the end of the day they would throw their leftover bits over the cliff into the North Sea. As a result, some of the leftovers fused together and formed these unusual eyes.  We were lucky enough to find four small ones.

multicolored best sea glass seaham harbor beach uk county durham

Looking back on our vacation, this was one of my favorite parts. Not sightseeing, not picture-taking, just enjoying the scenery and searching for small treasures along the beach with my family. It taught me a valuable lesson about how the best memories aren’t always the ones you engineer through a lot of planning. Sometimes they are the ones that you just allow to happen on their own.

Seaham is in County Durham, UK, near Sunderland. It’s definitely worth the trip if you’re looking for the best sea glass beach!

best sea glass beach in the uk

For help in planning your sea glass scavenger hunt, I recommend:

Alnwick Garden, Northumberland

Alnwick Garden, Northumberland

I almost didn’t buy the combo ticket that would allow us to tour Alnwick Garden along with Alnwick Castle.  I thought that the castle would be more than enough to see, and reasoned that we have plenty of fancy gardens to see on this side of the Atlantic.  In fact, it was only an accident that I ordered the combination tickets when I made my online purchase.

However, that being said, it was a happy accident.  The Alnwick Garden was quite enchanting, and it ended up being one of my daughter’s favorite things we did on our trip.

The first thing you see when you enter through the main entrance is the aptly named The Grand Cascade.  It is big, it is loud, and it dominates the garden.

alnwick garden grand cascade fountain northumberland

Surrounding the Cascade fountain are tunnels of greenery which lead up to the top of the fountain.

Alnwick Garden tunnel northumberland

But the most famous feature at The Alnwick Garden is not the enormous cascade fountain, but its Poison Garden.  This garden can only be seen by guided tour, and is kept behind a set of locked gates.

Alnwick poison garden northumberland

Each of the nearly 100 plants behind these gates is poisonous in some form or another. The Duchess of Northumberland created the garden, in part, to educate the public about the dangers of illicit drugs.

The garden includes cannabis as well as other lesser known plants used to produce a high. One such plant is Angel’s Trumpet (brugmansia), which is stunning to look at but deadly to ingest.

Alnwick garden poison Angels Trumpet northumberland

Our guide told us of some unfortunate soul who drank a cup of Angel’s Trumpet tea and ended up cutting off his tongue and his penis.  Yikes.

Just as lovely, but also deadly, is the autumn crocus (colchicum autumnale).

Alnwick garden poison autumn crocus northumberland

Oddly enough, my favorite plant in the Poison Garden was the deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna).  I could certainly see how someone could be attracted to its shiny round black berries.

alnwick garden poison-deadly-nightshade northumberland

The rest of Alnwick Garden was just as entertaining as the Poison Garden.  We traveled through a bamboo labyrinth and stopped to smell the roses.

alnwick garden english-rose northumberland

When we visited, it was autumn and there weren’t as many flowers in bloom.  I can only imagine what a stunning place it must be in spring & summer!

Our last stop was the Serpent Garden, which consisted of many different water features. In some, the water slowly trickled.  In others, it shot straight up into the air.  But in all of them, it was absolutely mesmerizing.

alnwick garden serpent northumberland

Alnwick Garden offers something for nearly every age range to enjoy.  While adults stand and marvel at the Grand Cascade, for example, preschoolers can hop on a toy John Deere tractor and scoot around the graveled walkway. Overlooking a small pond, there is a cherry orchard full of wooden swings on which to rest – an ideal spot for young and old alike who may need a break from walking.  The Poison Garden will be of interest to even the most jaded teenager, and the Fairy Tale Adventure is sure to intrigue elementary aged children.

The Alnwick Garden is on Denwick Lane, Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 1YU.  Telephone +44 (0)1665 511350. The Garden opens daily at 10:00 am.  Closing times vary by season, so call or check the web site when planning your visit.

2017: The Year to See Canada

2017: The Year to See Canada

What a Deal!

Hard to believe, but our friends to the north have announced that admission to all of their national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas will be free for the entire year in 2017.  It’s part of a celebration because of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.

Here are just a few of the places it will be free to visit, culled from my Bucket List for Canada:

First, the Grotto at Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario:

bruce_peninsula_national_parks_canada grotto ontario

Or how about checking out the turquoise waters of Lake Morraine in Banff National Park, Alberta:

banff-lake-morraine national parks canada alberta

Established in 1885, Banff National Park was the very first national park in Canada.

Another park offering wonderful views of the water is Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia:

Cape Breton Highlands National parks canada nova scotia

Forillon National Park was established in 1970 and it was the first national park in the province of Quebec. It also offers great views of the water.

forillon_national_parks_canada quebec

On the west coast, there is Kootenay National Park, in British Columbia.

kootenay_national_parks canada british columbia

If you dare to venture way up north to Nunavut, you can visit the Ukkusiksalik National Park, which is rather unique. Most noteworthy are a reversing waterfall and 500 archaeological sites.  It is also home to such species as polar bears, grizzly bears, Arctic wolf, caribou, seals and peregrine falcons.

ukkusiksalik_national_parks_canada nunavut

If you’re interested in seeing the polar bears at Churchill, Manitoba, you can drive just a little ways south and visit Wapusk National Park.  Cape Churchill, widely regarded as the best location for viewing and photographing polar bears, is in the park.  Alternatively, perhaps you’ll see an arctic fox.

wapusk-national-parks canada manitoba

While you’re checking out these amazing parks, be sure to look for the red chairs.  Parks Canada strategically placed pairs of red Adirondack chairs throughout Canada’s beautiful parks, highlighting some of the most stunning views in the country.

So what are you waiting for?  Start planning your Canadian adventure today!  (I know I am!)  You can get more information and apply for your free pass here.

And to help you plan for your trip, check out these guides:

The White Horses of Britain

The White Horses of Britain

There are nearly 60 carvings of giant horses, men and other animals in the British landscape. These figures are typically made in chalk and limestone areas.  The figures therefore appear white, which contrasts with the darker surrounding soil or grass.

The most famous of these horses is the Uffington White Horse, which is both the oldest and the largest. It has graced that hillside in Oxfordshire for at least 2000 years, perhaps as many as 3000 years, and it is a whopping 360 feet long.

uffington-white-horse

Another white horse in Osmington measures 323 feet and includes a figure riding it. The rider is probably King George III, who was the reigning monarch at the time of its creation in 1808 and measures. Osmington is near the southern coast of England, in Dorset.

osmington-white-horse

The Kilburn White Horse is in the North York Moors National Park in Yorkshire. Created in 1857, it is 318 feet long and covers more than an acre and a half of land.

kilburn-white-horse

In Southeast England there is the Folkestone White Horse, overlooking the English end of the Channel Tunnel (or “Chunnel”) in Kent. It is the newest addition in the White Horse family, and as such, the most controversial. Environmental groups opposed the project, which first sough approval in 1998 but did not receive it until 2002. The Folkestone White Horse is 267 feet long.

folkestone-white-horse

Another hill figure known as the Cherhill White Horse, located in Wiltshire, dates from the late 18th century. It measures 220 feet.

cherhill-white-horse

Also in Wiltshire is the Westbury, or Bratton Downs, White Horse. First cut in the mid-1700s, it is the oldest white horse in Wiltshire. People as far away as 16 miles in every direction are able to see the 180 foot figure.

Westbury white horse.jpg

These are just a few of the hill figures in Britain. In addition to horses, hill figures include swans, rabbits, men (including one that’s semi-pornographic in Dorset), and a donkey. They each have their own history and story, so they’re worth checking out if you’re near one.

Finally, if you would like to learn more about the hill figures of Britain, check out these great books:

Sea Glass Scavenging in the US

Sea Glass Scavenging in the US

From May through September, tourists crowd the mid-Atlantic beaches near my home. As a result, looking for sea glass is generally not a fruitful endeavor. In fact, I have only found one piece in 15 years at my local beach.

However, when I went to Port Isaac, Cornwall, I happened to glance down and notice a piece of sea glass when walking through the harbor at low tide. Then another. And another. Within a half an hour, I had two pockets full of sea glass – not to mention a new obsession, fueled by Pinterest. Since I’m not likely to return to Port Isaac any time soon (alas!), I started looking for sea glass destinations on this side of the Atlantic. And I’m happy to report that scavengers can find sea glass in abundance at many locations in the US. Here are what I consider to be the top five.

Eastport Maine

The deepest port on the East Coast, Eastport is located between Cobscook Bay and Passamaquoddy Bay.  The area is notorious for its ripping tides and powerful currents. Plus, if you find you need a change of scenery on your quest, there are two other great sea glass beaches are nearby – Cobscook bay (about 30 minutes drive) and Lubec (about 60 minutes drive).

Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, California

This cove – a former dump site – is completely covered in sea glass, but you must not remove any glass from the northern section of the beach, as it is state park land. However, if you head south at the edge of the bluff, you’ll find a path that leads to another unprotected beach where you may take glass; it’s not as plentiful as on Glass Beach, but it’s legal. When you’re done beach combing, you can visit the International Sea Glass Museum, which is nearby.

looking for sea glass fort bragg california glass beach

Glass Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai

This glass beach is where you’ll find millions of smooth glass pebbles in blue, aqua, brown, green and occasionally a rare red. It is located near Poipu on Kauai’s southern end, and not the easiest to get to, but for avid collectors, it’s worth the effort.

Spectacle Island, Massachusetts

Spectacle Island is just a ferry ride away from Boston. One of the island’s beaches is loaded with sea glass and pottery from up to 100 years ago. The island’s sea glass may not be as smooth as shards found on an ocean coastline since the currents and surf within Boston Harbor are not as active. The upside is that many pieces of glass, while having smooth edges, will have a lot of their original shape and surface texture. This ini turn leads to easier identification of the sea glass’ origins. It is not uncommon to find decorative, depression-era sea glass here. Unfortunately, removing any of the glass or pottery from this beach is illegal.

Homer, Alaska

Homer is a popular site with sea glass hunters. Be sure to look among the rocks for the sea glass, however, as most people find them there rather than on/in the sand. There are tales of people finding glass floats from Japanese fishing boats on Homer beaches. The floats are absolutely stunning.

looking for sea glass floats alaska beaches

Do you know of any good beaches for finding sea glass not listed here? Comment below and share your discovery!

Bucket List: Canary Islands

Bucket List: Canary Islands

Imagine a place with an average temperature of about 72 degrees, with no extreme cold or heat.  Nearly every day there is sunny – 27 days each month of nothing but sunshine!  The terrain is so varied that it includes volcanoes, ancient forests, dramatic cliffs, and waterfalls. The skies are so brightly lit with stars that they are considered the clearest and brightest in Europe.

Do you want to go yet?  I know I do.  The place described above is the Canary Islands, and I am ready to go!  This archipelago of islands is an autonomous community of Spain. Even though I will refer to it as being Spanish, you should be aware that it is actually located off the western coast of Africa.

canary islands.png

The islands are:

El Hierro

The westernmost island and also the smallest. It is about 104 square miles and has only 10, 000 inhabitants.  It is a marine reserve with 46 dive sites, so if SCUBA is your thing, this is the place to be.

El Hierro Diving.jpg

Fuerteventura

This is the island for beach lovers.  White sand, turquoise waters, and (of course) plenty of sunshine make this the island to be on for swimmers, surfers, and sun-bathers.

Fuerteventura Beaches.jpg

Corralejo is one of the most stunning of the beaches on the island, and also one of the most touristy.  A more secluded beach experience will be found on the sand of Cofete.  Gentle waves are the norm on Playa Esmeralda. La Escalera beach, formally called  El Aljibe de la Cueva, is a hidden beach just south of El Cotillo, a fishing village that has become more resort-heavy over time.

Gran Canaria

This large island has a population of close to 850,000 inhabitants. One of the most unique places on this island is the Maspalomas Dunes (which would look like the Sahara Desert if it weren’t for the water in the distance).

Canary Islands Maspalomas Dunes.jpg

Pico de las Nieves (the highest peak on the island), and if you make the trek to the top, you will be rewarded with some stunning views:

Pico de las Nieves.jpg

Pico de las Nieves means ‘peak of the snows’ in Spanish.  Several covered pits for holding snow were built directly into the mountainsides here. The first of the pits was constructed in 1694 by order of the Church. Laborers collected snow and placed it into the pits, packed in rectangular boxes of wood or cork separated by layers of straw. The snow was used for alleviating disease, to lower the temperature in the epidemics of yellow fever and cholera, as well as anti-inflammatory and analgesic. It was also used to cool water or other beverages that were offered to the authorities or upper class individuals.

La Gomera

This island is home to 22,000 people and also Garajonay National Park, a lush, subtropical forest. This is a place where the clouds hang low over the ground, providing an atmosphere of constant humidity, which encourages growth of this lush and leafy forest.

La Gomera - Garajonay

Lanzarote

This is the easternmost island in the archipelago. One of the main attractions on this island is Mirador del Rio, which is a scenic overlook which allows visitors to gaze out upon the turquoise waters and other islands in the distance.

Canary Islands Mirador del Rio Lanzarote

Also on this island is the Timanfaya National Park, where the main attraction is the volcano. The surface temperature in the core ranges from 100 to 600 °C at the depth of 43 feet.  Park employees impress tourists by pouring water into the ground, resulting in a near-immediate geyser of steam.  LagOmar, a museum/bar/restaurant described as New Mexico-meets-Morocco is another popular attraction on Lanzarote.  Great fun for art and architecture enthusiasts.

Canary Islands LagoMar.jpg

La Palma

The island of La Palma is a fantastic place for star gazing and astronomy.  The clear and protected night skies of La Palma are among the world’s best for looking at the stars. Take advantage with a guided night tour or a star gazing session at a viewpoint. To get as close as you can to the cosmos, head to the Roque de los Muchachos observatories at nearly 8000 feet above sea level.

La Palma Stargazing

Tenerife

This island has an area of 785 square miles and a population of over 900,000.  On this island is the Teide volcano, which at nearly 12,200 feet is the highest mountain, not just in the Canary Islands, but in all of Spain. The volcano and its surroundings make up Teide National Park, which is the most visited national park in Europe.

The park is home to 14 species of plants found nowhere else, including this striking plant:

tenerife summit rose bush

Geologically, it is also pretty unique.  Visitors can see eighty percent of the different types of volcanic formations here.  (My favorite is the pahoehoe, which looks like it’s still molten and flowing even when it isn’t.)

Tenerife Pahoehoe

And while on Tenerife, be sure to visit the amazing Auditorio, which I think is every bit as stunning as the Sydney Opera House, inside and out.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Iles Canaries, Espagne

Tenerife Auditorio Interior

Think mummies are just Egyptian?  Think again.  At the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (which translated means Museum of Nature and Man), you will see mummies and so much more.  This museum will give you a great picture of what the islands were like before Spanish colonization took place.  Another museum, Casa de los Balcones (House of the Balconies), will give you some insight into the local craftsmanship in embroidery.

Tenerife is probably more well known as a destination than some of the other islands.  As a result, it is also more built up with tourist hotels and restaurants.  If you’re looking for more of a wine & dine, nightlife kind of getaway, this would be the place to stay.

The next time you’re planning a dream vacation, why not consider the Canary Islands as your destination.  With such a variety of things to see and do, and near-perfect weather, it’s an ideal location!

 

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Top Ten Places to See in Wales

Why Wales?

I have wanted to go to Wales ever since I saw Hugh Grant’s movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain. In fact, the trip that I’ll be taking next month originally started out as an England & Wales combined trip. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented us from doing both, and Hubs was pretty adamant that he wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall.  So Wales is pretty high on the list of future vacations.

I did a lot of research about Wales back when I thought we would be able to do both. Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to see when I go to Wales.

1. Hay-on-Wye.  This tiny village (population 1600) is known as a book town. In fact, it’s the world’s largest second hand & antiquarian book center. You’ll find book stores on every corner and you’ll even see unmanned shelves of books with an honor system for customers. The largest of the “honesty shops” is a row of shelves lining the castle wall.  Castle + books = I could spend days there!

wales top ten hay on why castle bookshop

2. The Straining Tower at Lake Vyrnwy.  It looks much more romantic than it actually is. Its purpose is to filter or strain out material in the water with a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The tower rises 104 feet above water, and is topped with a pointed copper-clad roof with a light green patina.

wales top ten straining tower lake vyrnwy

3.  Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch.  The town with the longest name in Britain – 58 letters!  (Oddly enough, it is not the longest name in the world.  That honor belongs to a place in New Zealand.) The name, translated from Welsh, means “Saint Mary’s Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave.”  I just want to go get our picture taken under the name sign and buy a souvenir tee shirt.

wales top ten longest town name

4. Castell Coch.  This Gothic Revival Castle was built in the late 19th century as a country residence.  It is often referred to as a fairy tale castle because of its round towers.  And while the exterior of the castle appears medieval, the interior is high Victorian.

wales top ten castell coch

5. The Doctor Who Experience.  You get to see what it’s like to be inside the TARDIS, for goodness’ sake.  What else could you want?

wales top ten Doctor Who Experience

6. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You can ride a boat or walk across the aqueduct, which is the highest and longest in Great Britain.  It is 126 feet high and 336 yards long.  From what I’ve read, the views from there are outstanding.

wales top ten Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

7.  Tintern Abbey.  Abbey ruins are all over the British Isles thanks to Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.  I’ve seen in photos of many different abbey ruins, and I think Tintern has one of the loveliest sites.

wales top ten Tintern Abbey

8. Pembrokeshire.  This area of Wales reminds me so much of Cornwall (my happy place). There are many beautiful beaches and small harbor towns.

wales top ten Pembrokeshire

9. Skomer Island.  It is the world’s largest puffin colony.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there are also stone circles and the remains of prehistoric houses.

wales top ten skomer puffin

10. Gladstone’s Library.  It’s a residential library, possibly the only one in the world. Bibliophiles like me can look at books all day, go to sleep when we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, then wake up and look at books again.  Yay!  As an added plus, the room rates are some of the cheapest I’ve seen in the UK.

wales top ten Gladstone's Libary

So, there you have it: my next European adventure, already planned.  I can’t wait to see these Wales top ten places in person!

 

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent, England

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent, England

Home of the Boleyns

My very favorite time and place in the entirety of world history is Tudor England. And my favorite people from that time period are King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Even though I have been to England three times (almost four), I have never visited Hever Castle and Gardens – Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. Shocking, I know.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent - Ancestral Home of the Boleyn Family

Anne called Hever Castle home when she caught the eye of the king. King Henry VIII, still married at the time, would stay at the nearby Bolebroke Castle while courting young Anne and pursuing his favorite pastime of hunting.

Anne did not spend much of her pre-Henry VIII life at Hever Castle, however, which is why it’s referred to as her childhood home.  She was at the French royal court from approximately age 13 to age 20.  Upon returning to the English court, she became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon.  Her striking looks and polished manners drew the attraction of not just the King, but also many male courtiers.

Inside the Castle

Today, Hever Castle gives us a glimpse of Tudor life, although many additions have been made over the years.  Here are a few of the rooms I look forward to seeing in person some day.

First, the Dining Room.  In the fifteenth century this room was the Great Hall and was originally open to the roof rafters. English sculptor William Silver Frith designed the linenfold paneling, the ceiling and the fireplace with the Boleyn coat of arms.

Hever Castle and Gardens in Kent - the Dining Room
Dining Room

The Inner Hall was the Great Kitchen in the Tudor period. William Silver Frith designed the Italian walnut paneling and columns as part of the 1905 restoration of Hever Castle. The rood screen at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, served as the inspiration for the gallery above the hall. by The Elizabethan ceiling incorporates the Tudor rose emblem.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Inner Hall
Inner Hall

The Morning Room was a private retiring room in the Tudor period. The paneling and fireplace date to the seventeenth century. The elaborate stone fireplace surround includes the initials H.W. representing Henry Waldegrave.  It was Waldgrave’s family that owned Hever Castle after the Boleyns’ fall from grace, between 1557 and 1715.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Morning Room
Morning Room

And finally, the 16th century Long Gallery extends across the entire width of the Castle. The room had many uses, including entertaining guests, taking exercise, and displaying art collections. The paneling dates from the sixteenth century. The ceiling is an early twentieth-century reconstruction in the Tudor style.

Hever Castle and Gardens - the Long Gallery
Long Gallery

Visiting Hever Castle and Gardens

The castle offers tourists a look at three floors containing antique furniture, Anne Boleyn’s prayer books, instruments of torture, and a large collection of Tudor paintings. The site also contains a museum of the Kent Yeomanry, an artillery regiment formed after World War I. The gatehouse is the only original part of the castle, and it has the oldest working original portcullis in all of England.

In addition to those historic attractions, Hever Castle has an annual events program that includes jousting tournaments and archery displays in the summer months and an annual patchwork and quilting exhibition in September.

The grounds of the castle include a yew maze, planted in 1904. In 1999, Hever Castle and Gardens added a water maze – visitors must try to reach the folly at the center without getting wet. A special children’s adventure playground also has a tower maze.

Hever Castle is located at Hever Rd, Hever, Edenbridge TN8 7NG.  Telephone +44 1732 865224.  Hours vary by season; check the website or call when planning your visit.