Sunday, 5 December 2010

Penmon Priory and Black Point, Anglesey

I was in Wales again last week so I took the opportunoty to go to Anglesey, specifically to Penmon and Black Point, on the eastern tip of the island. Puffin Island sits just off the coast at Black Point and is now a protected bird colony. There appears to be a walkway to the lighthouse just off the coast at Black Point but the tide was largely in when we were there.

There is a cafe at Black Point but given we were there at the end of November, it was closed for the season.

There is a bit of a drive to get to Black Point but you have to go past Penmon Priory and it's worth stopping off there for a visit (it's free to get in).

A monastery was founded here in the 6th century by St Seiriol. The later Augustinian Priory was dissolved in 1538 and the site passed to the Bulkeley family who built the dovecote.

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 33

Above and below, Penmon Priory

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 27

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 23

Above and below, the Penmon dovecote

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 15

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 8

Above - Penmon Lighthouse, just off Black Point

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 2
Above - Puffin Island

Penmon, Anglesey Nov 10 3
Above - Puffin Island and Penmon Lighthouse

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Palace Spice

If you are in the "Triangle" in Upper Norwood, South East London, try the Palace Spice. This Indian restaurant can be found at 16 Westow Hill. I have eaten there a number of times but my last visit was last week.

Good food, modestly prices. Go for the house wine. It was reasonable quality for something selling at under £10.

Watch out however for overly large portions, especially on starters. I think it was a mistake to go for a starter and we more than struggled to finish the main course (in fact we were beaten by it). One of us had a tandoori trout. It was quite a size. We went away absolutely stuffed.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bill Quay Community Farm

Bill Quay Community Farm occupies a narrow pice of green land between Gateshead and South Tyneside. It overlooks industrial Tyneside. There's no charge to visit the farm. Plenty of pigs, goats, sheep and bee hives. There is also a visitor centre/cafe.

I visited the farm in August 2010 when I shot this video.

Bill Quay Farm
Hainingwood Terrace
Bill Quay
NE10 0UE

Tel: 0191 433 5780

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A short tour of Chester

This is the video I shot on my recent visit to Chester. A former Roman garrison town, then medieval town, now modern city centre. Great if you are into retail therapy. If you have better things to do with your time than wander around shops, have a look at the cathedral, the medieval city walls, the Roman Ampitheatre (the biggest in Britain) and the Roman Gardens, all of which are featured in this video.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Grosvenor Museum, Chester

This museum is at 27 Grosvenor Street, Chester. I was pleased I visited it when I was in Chester last week. A modest size museum and free to enter, it has a thorough history of Roman Chester. There is also a room dedicated to the Viking period. Look out as well for the recreation of a town house covering domestic life from the 17th to early twentieth centuries.

We spent an hour and a half in the museum. I loved the place though, admittedly, I am an historian. I was accompanied by a non-historian - and he liked the place as well.

Chester City Walls

Chester is one of the few cities in Britain where the old medieval walls still survive largely intact (though I recommend Conwy in North Wales as another town where they still stand and arguably are more spectacular). Anyway, I was in Chester last week and got the chance to walk along a part of the wall, from Newgate (see picture below) to the River Dee. I shot this video at the same time.

Access to the wall is free.

A few photos to illustrate the stretch I was on:

Chester city walls Oct 10 7

Chester city walls Oct 10 6

Chester city walls Oct 10 3

Roman Chester

Chester was one of the main towns of Roman Britain and medieval England. For the Romans it was also a garrison town. Some of the Roman remains are clearly visible though there is still plenty under the streets waiting to be excavated.

I visited Chester last weekend. The first video below is of Chester's Roman ampitheatre. I understand it was the biggest ampitheatre in Britain. It's free to get into and can also be viewed from the medieval wall.

There is some talk of the ampitheatre being the inspiration for the Round Table of the mythical King Arthur.

The second video is of Roman Gardens, a park next to the ampitheatre and medieval wall. The entrance is next to the Newgate on the wall (the gate overlooks the ampitheatre as well).

The park is quite recent, opened in 2000, according to the bit of background research I did on it. It was previosuly the site of an 18th century clay pipe factory.

The park is used to exhibit various pieces of Roman stonework and contains a reconstructed hypocaust.

Back to the ampitheatre - a couple of photos:

Chester Ampitheatre Oct 10 3

Chester Ampitheatre Oct 10 4

This 2nd photo was taken from the top of Northgate. Note how only half the ampitheatre has been excavated.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tan Dinas walk in Betws-y-Coed - the photos

In my previous post, I included the video I shot of the Tan Dinas walk near Betws-y-Coed in North Wales, made last week. Well, here are some of the photos I took on the walk as well. The walk itself is not long and is designed for people of all walking abilities.

Betws y Coed Oct 10 18

Running water and waterfalls are regular sights on the Tan Dinas walk.

Betws y Coed Oct 10 21

Betws y Coed Oct 10 19

Betws y Coed Oct 10 7

The walk takes you through pine woodland.

Betws y Coed Oct 10 4

The walk includes a bridge over a stream which is more like a staircase. Nevertheless, it is easy going for people with walking difficulties.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Tan Dinas walk in Betws-y-Coed

I was in North Wales last week, one of my regular haunts. We took a trip down to Betws-y-Coed to wlak along the Tan Dinas path. This is promoted as an all-ability walk. It is reasonably short and if you like waterfalls and pine forests, you will like Tan Dinas.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Old Station Hotel, Llandudno Junction

This was another place I visited on Monday 25th October. The Old Station Hotel is opposite Llandudno Junction Station in North Wales. Nicknamed the "Killer" as it was used to kill time whilst waiting for the train to turn up, we went there for a meal rather than a drink.

If you are after something cheap and cheerful, this is the place for you. We went there as, in our group, there was a family with two young lads so family budgets were important. To get an idea of the costs, think about the fact that our meal of scampi, chips and mushy peas cost £7 for two of us.

Whilst the staff were really pleasant and chatted to us, the drawback was that we waited quite a while for our meal to arrive (over half an hour). And the dinner plates were left on the table when the others had their dessert.

But remember, this is a cheap and cheerful establishment so if you're travelling on a budget in North Wales and you are in Llandudno Junction, it's worth a visit.

Jamming at the Mountain View

I have just got back from another visit to North Wales so expect a few more updates on places to visit and things to do.

On Monday 25th October I paid the second of two visits on this trip to the Mountain View in Penmaenmawr. It is a pub in the heart of the village. It was visited by us on Monday because they have "jamming". Local musicians turn up to play guitars. You can bring your own or use one provided by the pub. Generally, they sit together as a group and play whatever takes their fancy. Alas, I'm no musician so I was there to listen.

It was a pity that there were so few people there. It was quite a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Cutty Sark pub, Greenwich

Cutty Sark pub Aug 10

I visited the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich last week. It's on the Thames waterfront in full view of the O2 arena. It's a few minutes walk from the centre of Greenwich along the Thames Walk, or for cyclists the Thames Route. Most people were enjoying their drinks on the pavement at the front of the building overlooking the Thames. Inside there are plenty of period pieces such as the fireplace. There has been significant modernisation including an internal wooden staircase but generally it is a pleasant pub. Useful to visit if you are out for a riverside walk. We got the train from London Bridge to Greenwich. It takes only a few minutes.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Things to do in the North East no 2 - The Gateshead Summer Flower Show

The Gateshead Summer Flower Show is held at the Central Nursery on Whickham Highway in Gateshead every year on the weekend at the end of July/start of August. It is a craft show as well as flower and vegetables show. Plenty of trade exhibits as well. I visited this year (as I do every year). The above video was actually shot 2 years ago but the photos below are from this year.

This is a good event to pencil into your diary well in advance.
Gateshead summer flower show Aug 10 6
(Crafts exhibition)

Gateshead summer flower show Aug 10 4
(Taking a leak)

Gateshead summer flower show Aug 10 2
(Say it with flowers)

Gateshead summer flower show Aug 10 1
(Eye wateringly large onions in the vegetable show)

Friday, 9 July 2010

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

My home town of Gateshead has been growing as a tourist destination because of new facilities such as the Sage music hall as well as older attractions such as the historic Gibside estate. One newish site to see is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. It spans the Tyne and is known as the blinking eye because of its shape and the way it opens like an eyelid. Throughout the summer, it is opened at midday each day.

The following shot was taken from the river boat called the Fortuna on 7th July 2010. I was in the right spot at the right time, almost in the centre of the Tyne with the bridge fully open.

Gateshead Millennium Bridge open Jul 10 2

Millennium Bridge
This shot was taken over two years ago from the top of the "Get Carter" Gateshead multi-storey car park. This view will not exist for much longer. The car park is being demolished.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

On the road to Damascus

Not quite on the road, more like on the plane to Damascus, or at least I will be later this year. I have now booked a trip to Syria and Lebanon with Voyages Jules Verne. We have travelled with them before and have been quite satisfied with their service.

A link to details about the holiday is:

JVJ call it Restoration Story. We had a shortlist of two for our December travels. The other was Nepal and India. We eventually opted for Syria and Lebanon. It will be my 5th trip to the Middle East. I did Egypt in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and Jordan in 2008. As you will expect, I'm rather looking forward to this trip.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


I was in London last week on business and went to a new Italian restaurant near my flat in Crystal Palace. Fresco on Westow Hill Road, in the Upper Norwood "Triangle", opened less than a month ago. There's nothing massiely different about the menu but watch out for the size of the starters. They were on the large size, approaching that of a main course. That in itself was an indication of value for money. Generally, service was good, food was good. We opted not to have a dessert. We were too full by then.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Tynemouth Book Fair

Tynemouth Book Fair Jun 10 2

Tynemouth Station hosts a number of different fairs, such as farmers' markets. Once every two months it has a book fair on a Sunday which is worth a visit, especially if you are into local history. It is an Aladdin's cave of books written about the North East, though there are plenty of other types of books as well. I was there on Sunday just gone.

The video above was shot in 2006 - which goes to show how long I have been frequenting the book fair. The station is a grand Victorian suburban commuter station which has seen better days. It's worth a visit in its won right. Some restoration work has been carried out, some still needs to be done.

Il Forno Restaurant, Tynemouth

Il Forno restaurant Jun 10 2

One of my favourite restaurants in the North East is Il Forno in Tynemouth. It is based in the old waiting room of the Victorian Tynemouth Station so not only is the food good, but the location has some historical interest as well. That suits me fine as I am an historian and I meet up regularly with a group of historians to have lunch in Il Forno.

Il Forno restaurant Jun 10 1

The menu is competitively priced, indeed, I would go as far as saying that given the quality of the food, they are undercharging. You can get a good quality 2 course meal for under £10. The wine obviously comes as extra.

Il Forno restaurant Jun 10 3

If you are on Tyneside, pay this restaurant a visit. It is remarkably easy to get to it as Tynemouth Station is on the Metro system.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Roman City of Jerash

I visited the Roman City of Jerash in Jordan in June 2008. Once one of the great cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, much work has now been done to restore it after centuries of earthquake damage. The hippodrome has been partly restored and for our benefit (and the benefit of all the other tourists) a display of chariot racing and gladiatorial fighting was laid on.

We were staying next to the Dead Sea and it was quite a drive for us to get there, though we had hired our tour guide for the day and he drove us there from the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort.

Take a hat and water. You will need them.

Jerash June 08 no 1
The Arch of Hadrian

Jerash June 08 no 19

Above and below - the Oval Forum

Jerash June 08 no 71

Jerash June 08 no 83
Chariot racing

Jerash June 08 no 108
Meet the locals

Jerash June 08 no 110
I'm the one with the sun glasses!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Inside a former secret, Soviet, submarine base

One of the more unusual places to visit is a former Soviet submarine base but in October 2006 I got the chance to do that whilst doing a cruise around the Black Sea. The base was in Balaklava, better known as the supply base for the British effort during the Crimean War (there are plenty of war memorials around but more about them on another day) and for having the famous headgear named after it. Balaklava is on the south of the Crimean peninsula which is part of the Ukraine. I also did a tour of the Crimea in October 2005 but at that time the submarine base had not opened for visitors. On my return visit the following year, I was in for more luck.

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 4
(The personnel entrance)

The base is unlikely to be like anything you have ever seen before. It was built to be safe against a direct nuclear hit. The only visible parts are the nuclear proof doors at the bottom of the cliffs in the bay. The base is inside the cliff. If you like James Bond and Indiana Jones film sets, you will love this place.

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 130
(The submarine entrace from the Bay of Balaklava)

The following has been taken from my diary written on my second visit to the Crimea:

Thursday 26th October 2006

I always knew this was going to be one of the highlights of the whole holiday - a visit to the former secret Soviet submarine base in the cliffs overlooking Balaklava. I visited the town last year [ie 2005] but the base was not then open to visitors though it has not been in military service since the 1990s. There was, however, no way I was going to miss the opportunity to see it this time!
The entrance to the base is on the opposite side of the bay to the town and from there all that can be seen is the gateway in the face of the cliff through which the subs sailed plus a personnel entrance. Each has nuclear bomb proof doors.

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 58
(The access tunnel into the base - note the curving corridor)

The base itself was dug out of the hillside in the late fifties and early sixties to house the subs of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. The base itself is under 125 metres of solid marble. To get into it we had to enter via the personnel entrance which took us along a long, curving tunnel (curving to help deflect the blast of a nuclear explosion should the Americans have decided to nuke the place). This was like entering a Hollywood world of Indiana Jones and James Bond combined.

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 47
(Weapons of mass destruction)

We followed railway tracks to the nuclear bomb assembly area deep inside the base, and then followed more tunnels to the actual submarine bays, huge caverns with the waters of the Black Sea flowing through them, bringing no more submarines now, but only the local jellyfish that seem to exist in vast numbers. All we were missing were 007 fighting the baddies and stopping them from taking over the world! If you get the chance to visit this area (which was closed to the western world and even most Soviet citizens until 1995) this submarine base is a must see.

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 10
(One of the internal nuclear blast doors)

Balaklava nuclear submarine base Oct 06 no 99
(one of the submarine pens)

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Photos from the tropical island of Mayotte

In December 2007, I visited the island of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar. The island is a dependency of France. Ours was a fleeting visit, just one day on a cruise between Zanzibar and Madagascar. These are some of the photos I took.

Mayotte baobab tree Dec 07 no 6

The biggest baobab tree in Mayotte and it was huge! David demonstrates the size of it. We were told it was about 700 years old.

Mayotte baobab tree Dec 07 no 4


Mayotte saltmaking Dec 07 no 2

Salt was made by collecting the top soil in the lagoon pictured below which is flooded at high tide. The soil is mixed with water and then filtered through sand. The water is then boiled off to leave the salt.

Mayotte Dec 07 no 1

Mayotte saltmaking Dec 07 no 4

Mayotte saltmaking Dec 07 no 5

Snorkelling at the turtle reserve

Definitely a highlight of the visit. The turtles are huge, aver a metre in length, and they feed on the sea vegetation at the shallow sea bed next to this beach which is also a turtle reserve. It is possible to go snorkelling in this area but you are not allowed to swim down and touch the turtles. To prevent this, we were all given life jackets to wear whilst snorkelling. That kept us on the surface!

Mayotte beach Dec 07 no 1
The turtle reserve beach

Mayotte snorkling Dec 07 no 2
Me with my life jacket and snorkelling gear. One thing to watch out for when snorkelling with a life jacket on as I was: your back and neck spend quite a bit of time in the direct sun. You will feel it later in the day.

Mayotte snorkling Dec 07 no 1
The slightly more stripped down version of me!

Mayotte Lemurs Dec 07 no 5
Brown lemurs live wild on the island but some are quite tame and wait at the edge of the beach for food from passing visitors.

Mayotte musicians Dec 07 no 2
Lunch was on another beach and we have music provided by a local group. Face painting like this is common with women on the island.