Friday 31 March 2017

A Wet Day at Muncaster Castle

With only one spare day at the the Lake District, it was quite hard to choose which of the areas wonderful day-out offerings to go for. I'd picked up a bunch of leaflets at the hotel and there's a lot I'd have liked to have seen, but the promise of owls had me driving to Muncaster Castle.

When I set off, it wasn't raining. This changed by the time I left the car park, and I spent the hour drive from Barrow-in-Furness telling myself 'I'm sure it'll stop in a minute'. 

It didn't.

In fact, despite being a seemingly popular destination on a spring Saturday, the nice lady at the ticket office told me I was the first person to visit that day. By the time I left in the afternoon, a few more folk had arrived, but it certainly never got busy! 

Of course, that might have been something to do more with the fact that people knew that the actual castle wasn't open. Oops. Apparently I missed it by a week, but I was still able to walk around the gardens. 

I'd been given a map at reception along with some guidance with some nice routed to take. I headed first to the terrace walk, as it looked (to the naked eye) a but less muddy and treacherous that some of the other places to explore.

One of the terraces best features is the view it offers of Scafell Pike and the western Lakeland fells... even on the day of my visit, when my view was 60% fog and 20% rain, it was still pretty special - I can only imagine what a great lookout this is on a clear day! 

I'd gone out for the day in my most sensible boots, but I don't think I was quite prepared for the obstacle course that was walking though the woodland in that mud! The uphills were squelchy but doable, but by downhill descents mainly consisted of undignified skidding.... but I still managed to stay more on less on my feet throughout which was more impressive than it sounds! 

This woodland 'path' led back to the castle for a closer view of the grand building, and out the cannon bank - home to the herons! I missed the heron feed they do here in the afternoon sadly as I had to make my way back, but it was lovely see to see them! 

Of course, my favourite feature of any day out is the obligatory tea-and-cake time, and after all my soggy wandering around I really appreciated a sit down with a hot drink in the cosy tea room! They had a tasty looking if not particularly extensive cake selection - the coffee and walnut cake was delicious but deceptively big! 

Then it was time to meet the birds! The gardens were lovely but this is what I'd come for really - I love owls and birds of prey, and was looking forward to meeting the feathery chaps at the Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre.

The birds are there for visiting all day of course, but they have a flying display in the afternoon where you get to see a few of them in action. 

Despite not being the prettiest bird at Muncaster, I quickly developed a soft spot for the African Hooded Vulture, Moriarty. I was very sad to hear that these birds are now on the 'Critically Endangered' list. One awful contributing reason for this is that the vultures in Africa are frequent victims of poisoning.. poachers will lace the carcasses of animals they have killed with poison in order to get rid of the vultures they fear with give their position away. It's layer upon layer of tragedy, totally heartbreaking.

(Sorry to be a downer! Here's Cavalli, the pretty Verreauxs Eagle Owl to lift the mood!) 

The Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre is run in association with the Hawk Conservancy Trust, who's mission is to conserve birds or prey.

Just before leaving we got to meet the newest bird at the the centre, week old Phoenix as brought into the cafe for a quick visit. Baby owls are so ugly-cute, all angles covered in skin and fluff.... but ever so sweet.

I had a lovely if wet day at Muncaster Castle, and I think it's be a great place to revisit with the family when the weather is better and the house is open... but if there's one thing that will guarantee I'll return soon it's that I want to see how little baby Phoenix is growing! 

Thursday 23 March 2017

Furness Abbey

At the weekend we took a little trip to organise one of KCs Christmas presents. While he was off being a zookeeper for the day, I had a nice quiet day to myself to potter round a couple of local sites. I spotted the brown tourist signs for Furness Abbey and I always relish the opportunity to make the most of my English Heritage membership so off I headed.

(And I made it all the way there following the signs instead of the satnav, which I think is the first time ever, so brownie points for me!)

Unfortunately we picked a pretty terrible weekend for adventuring in the great outdoors as it more or less threw it down for the duration of our trip, but such are the perils of holidaying in the North of England!

In addition to having the weather to contend with, I turned up to the Abbey pretty late into the day. The last admission is 30 minutes before the site closes and I made it by three minutes, so I didn't have a whole lot of time to look around! 

So unfortunately time constraints meant I didn't get chance to look round the on-site museum in the visitors centre, but there's a permanent exhibition of effigies and stone carvings as well as other items found around the Abbey, which I imagine would be well worth a peek if you have time.

Though, the best thing to so do at sites like this (if time and the weather aren't against you) is to settle down with a well-packed picnic, and enjoy the scenery and the peace and quiet! 

Furness Abbey dates back to 1123, and was once one of the most powerful Cistercian Abbeys in the country, second only to North Yorkshire's Fountains Abbey. I have a real soft spot for Fountains Abbey, as I did a GCSE project on it many a year ago and we had an awesome school trip out there. 

It's hard to compare the two as places to visit - not only was one a long day out with friends in the sun and the other was me running round in the rain by myself for twenty minutes, but one of them was not far off 20 years ago! 

One thing that definitely differentiates the two is the striking red colour of Furness Abbey. I asked the nice English Heritage lady about it on the way out and she explained that the it was built out of local red sandstone, which can be found in a number of similar sites along the Cumbrian coast. I'd not really seen anything quite like it before and it's really quite spectacular!

Though this was a flying visit, I'm glad I managed to fit Furness Abbey into my schedule. It's a really pretty little spot, and definitely think it'd make a great visit in good weather! 

I'm definitely hoping to get back up in the area when it warms up a little (our Travelodge was a whopping £26, so if I can get that sort of price again there's really no reason not to!) and I'm looking forward to seeing how that red stone brightens up when the sun is on it! 

Do please let me know if you have any other recommendations for places to visit! 

Sunday 12 March 2017

York's Chocolate Story - Adventures in Afternoon Tea

I think I've complained about work once or twice on here recently. I do generally really like my work, it's just a bit of a busy and stressy time that will hopefully resolve itself before too long, but in the meantime I'm hoping to balance it out as much as possible by really enjoying my weekends and treating myself whenever possible. I managed to do both this weekend, where we headed for a day out in York, and I treated myself to this massive pile of chocolatey goodies from the cafe at York's Chocolate Story.

York's Chocolate Story is a really fun attraction covering the delicious history of chocolate in York, including lots of tasters and the chance to make your own chocolatey treats. We've been a couple of times and the kids love it, but on this occasion we decided to forgo the tour and just visit the cafe for hot chocolate.

On sitting down I 'suddenly remembered' that the cafe did a chocolate themed Afternoon Tea for Two. Since the afternoon tea comes with two hot drinks I did some 'sensible maths' to work out that since we were getting the drinks anyway, it 'just made sense' to order the full lot. You understand. We topped it up with a couple of kid's hot chocolates for the young 'uns and we were soon merrily munching our way into tooth decay.

As part of the deal, we got to choose four chocolates from their extensive and attractive selection. There were some very 'interesting' options but we settled on a fairly straightforward caramel heart and strawberry cream for the adults, and the kids were a little more adventurous with their choices of Hot Cross Bun and Peanut Butter and Jelly respectively. 

Below the chocolate tier we found four little pots of goodness - healthy portions of jam and clotted cream for the scones, mini-marshmallows for extra hot chocolate topping, or just eating, and a pot of the most scrumptiously indulgent melted chocolate for dipping the rest of the goodies into. 

As well as the aforementioned scones, the bottom tier of the cake stand came with a pair each of brownies and caramel shortbread, four delightful little macarons and a pot of juicy sweet strawberries, that were incredible when dipped in the gooey chocolate above. 

Though I was initially excited about the prospect of an afternoon tea without all that boring savoury stuff you have to get through first, it didn't take too long before we were all overloaded on sugar and didn't manage to make it through to the end! (I think it was trying to make sure we finished off the melted chocolate that did it!) Thankfully we'd already been told we could pack up and take home anything we didn't get finished, which took the pressure off a little bit...! 

(As well as giving us an extra day of treats - I'm munching macarons as I type and as no one else in the house likes them, they're all for me!)

I might have been able to get through more that was offered if I'd opted for a nice cup of tea to accompany the food, and much as I'd usually request tea over anything else - this is a place for hot chocolate! At York's Chocolate Story you can chose between white, milk or dark hot chocolate in a variety of flavours. The milk chocolate with chilli is my favourite and the one I ordered on this occasion - wonderful, but a little much when added all together with the rest of the afternoon tea! 

I don't regret my choice at all though! This was a lovely way to sit and recharge in a great place with my favourite people. If I was to offer any advise to anyone considering the afternoon tea, it's to make sure you go with someone who you know can handle their chocolate - this is not one for the savoury-minded! 

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