Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wittenham Clumps to Days lock, Oxfordshire

This is a lovely walk round the base of Wittenham Clumps where people don't often walk heading down towards Days Lock which is famous for Pooh Sticks and then back up to the top of the clumps.

Approx time: 1-2 hour
Paths:  grass and mud
Points of interest: wildlife, river
Amenities: car park at Wittenham Clumps
Grading: possible with all terrain buggy but hard work going up the hill
Weather: all seasons  (except after heavy rain)

map of the area, following the red line
Starting at the Wittenham Clumps car park take the small gate to the left before heading up the hill, currently its all very over grown looking.

the footpath from the car park
This footpath is quite flat and takes you around the base of the clumps, we spotted quite a lot of wildlife (or signs of) and also lots of blackberries ready to pick. After a short time the footpath will widen out.

clear open space
 You will eventually come to a gate and into a wooded area. This is where they hold the Earth Trust birthday parties so we came across a lot of dens almost the trees and we had a great time building some more dens and improving others.

checking out the dens
 At the end of the wood you will get to another gate and come out the other side of the hill. Turn left after the gate heading down the hill towards the church. At the Church turn right and you will cross a couple of bridges and days lock. This is where they play the famous game of pooh sticks every year, and we had a couple of goes ourselves.

days lock
When you are all pooh sticked out retrace your steps back to the base of the clumps, and if you are up for the walk head up the hill for wonderful views across Oxfordshire.

looking back towards Wittenham Clumps
 There is a bench right at the top to rest any weary legs.

view down towards days lock
 Circle round the top of the hill and then back down the other side to the car park.

Wittenham Clumps and Pooh Sticks at Days Lock both feature on the oxtrails app.
If you are ticking off your 50 things before 11 3/4 then den building, climbing a big hill, fly a kite, play pooh sicks, pick blackberries, eat an apple from a tree, make a trail with sticks, hunt for bugs, catch a falling leaf can all be done on this walk. I do not advise rolling down a big hill due to cows and sheep grazing!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Exploring the Canary Islands - Tenerife

We all loved our first family holiday abroad to Lanzarote last year, not too long a flight, good weather, contrasts of scenery and things for everyone to enjoy that we were almost tempted to book it again this year but instead decided to explore a different Canary Island and settled on Tenerife.
Whist in Lanzarote we had a day trip to Fuerteventura so this will make Tenerife our 3rd Canary Island.
view from our balcony
 The plane did a wonderful circle of the island before coming into land, going over the south of the island so we could look down on the beaches we would soon be sitting on with the volcanos in the background. And it really wasn't long before we were in our hotel room overlooking the beach. We were so close to the beach you could hear the waves breaking. We were staying in the Guayarmina Princess, Costa Adeje and it was a stunning looking hotel. Amazing entrance area, 2 pools on a sun terrace (and a toddler pool which was quite deep for toddlers) and a lift down to the beach. We picked this area of Tenerife as its outside of the popular Las Americas (think club 18-30's) but still had things to do and nice evening strolls along the promenade.

surfing and rock pooling
We had a couple of days of sitting by the pool, on the beach and taking a stroll to Las Americas, you can walk all the way to the small port of Los Cristianos but little legs in the heat wouldn't make it that far. It was a lovely walk though passing a couple of beaches, kids play areas, bars and shops and an area that was great for rock pooling. Can't say we found Las Americas appealing in any way but its fine during the day, bit different at night time I'm sure. We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, too hot for walking back.

Las Americas
Our first trip was to Masca, the hidden village. Its nestled right in a valley of steep mountains and a very popular spot for walking. I would love to go back and do the walk from there down to the coast in a few years time when Charlotte's little legs are bigger. It looked stunning and was so secluded.

Next up was Loro Parque, this was an hour on a coach to the other side of the island but was a fantastic day. The animal park has been running for 40 years and tries to create natural environments for the animals.

Gorilla at Loro Parque
On the most part I think this was achieved with a large rainforest environment for the gorillas and keeping the penguins in semi-darkness for part of the year. There are lots of animals to see with a big killer whale show on the scale of what you would see at Sea World, Florida.

Killer Whale at Loro Parque
 We sat right at the front and got soaking wet, having been to sea world myself I knew how wet we would get. @readitdaddy thought it great but Charlotte got a little upset and we had to move seats. The aquarium and dolphin shows were excellent, we only caught the end of the sea lion show and couldn't even get a seat at the parrot show it was so popular.

dolphin show at Loro Parque

 There is a treetop walk way to climb up and lots of other animals you would see at an animal park. We didn't think much of the eating places and were very pleased we opted for a pack lunch provided by our hotel.

Mt Teide
 I think our best trip of the holiday was a jeep trip into Mount Teide National Park. So much more exciting bumping along in the back of a land rover with the hood down taking in the amazing views of the volcano and rock formations. We only went "off road" once but the cars could take better routes than the coaches can and we could stop off at the quieter locations for photo opportunities. The tour guide was excellent getting all the kids involved as well as the adults and teaching them about the volcano's and lava.

looking down a lava tunnel
After the national park we had to get dressed up to go on a camel ride, not sure I've ever looked or felt quite so silly in my life, but everyone happily joined in. I am really not a fan of camel rides but Charlotte seemed to be loving it and happily sang song to our camel to make him happy.

camel ride
 Our last trip was a pirate boat trip to see dolphins and whales, and yes we really did see them. There are so many different boat trips to do in Tenerife, but I think with a child at 3 hours long this one seemed just right.

pirate boat trip
 There are a number of "fish farms" off the coats of Tenerife that the dolphins do obviously love, and yes we did see some dolphins there. But the boat did go further along the coast to see families that are to be regularly spotted in the waters. The boat was a 150 year old wooden sail boat, but now with a motor fitted. This made it a little choppy in the waters so not great if you get sea sick. After sailing around for 2 hours looking for the dolphins and whales they stop outside of the bay of Las Americas for lunch (provided) and a swim in the sea.

pirate boat trip
 Costa Adeje was a good pick of areas to stay, there were bars and restaurants and a lovely beach. It was very dark sand though but if you walked around the bay (away from Las Americas) you would get to a lovely cove and beyond that another beach which was a bit more golden sand. The whole area is very build up, once you are up into the mountains you find all the lovely Canarian houses but the scale and sprawl of the tourist areas was sad to see. Hotels built into the sides of volcano's to try and cram in a bit more space.

evening view from balcony
 The Guayarmina Princess Hotel was wonderful. We stayed half board and are also vegetarian and didn't struggle for food. Almost all food is labelled in English, Canarian potatoes are a must try. There were plenty of waiters to seat you and take your drinks order (you have to pay for drinks at dinner, we often skipped drink with dinner and brought it from the local shop to have on our balcony).

pool area
 We upgraded to a junior suite room with sea view. The room was excellent giving 2 double beds and a sofa/tv area, we don't often turn the tv on when on holiday but finding BBC, ITV & CH4 was a bonus. But sadly for a room sleeping 4 adults only 2 chairs on the balcony. There is evening music from the restaurants below but this stopped by 11pm.

hotel room
There was the usual reserving of sunbeds even though you are told not too but there were usually enough to go around. We aren't fan of sitting round the pool so would often go there about 5pm when it was quieter. The kids club we found understaffed, and not up to UK standards at all (its run by the hotel not the tour company). No signing in our out or even asking of names. The day we went along one lady took 10 kids off to the little pool and we went to find a spare sunbed (being 2pm there were very few). 15mins in I went to check Charlotte was doing ok, peeped over a balcony and she was fine. Another 15mins went by and just as I'm about to check her again I hear crying. She had been wondering around trying to find us. She said she didn't enjoy it so asked to leave, the lady said she could go. She said to the lady do you know where my mummy and daddy are. The response was no and she still let my daughter go. There are 3 swimming pools and a few hundred sun beds and my daughter was left to find us at the age of 5. We never sent her to the kids club again.

South Tenerife
That moment aside everything else about the holiday was lovely, but we did spend the whole week comparing it to Lanzarote and we felt that Lanzarote was the better of the islands. It seems to have a bit more culture and love the white wash buildings and less high rise buildings thanks to Cesar Manrique.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Healthy Back Bag

I was in serious need of a new bag for our holiday, I often use my cross body bag from M&S, but its that bit too small. Fine for essentials: purse, keys, phone, plasters, tissues, wipes, pen, paper. But for a day trip with camera, snacks, bottle of water I wanted something bigger that wasn't a rucksack but neither a handbag. Taking a look round Boswells, Oxford I spotted the healthy back bag. It looked really different to other bags, came in lots of different size and colour combinations. Every time I passed the shop for a few weeks I would go in and take a look, but the cost was really putting me off. In the end @readitdaddy got a bit fed up of my going on about it he made me buy it (he made me you see so I can blame him if I didn't like it!).

my chosen healthy back bag (taken from healthy back bag website)
 Here is a run down of what makes it that little bit different. Its a teardrop shape so it fits to your back, with a zip the full length of the inside making it quite secure. This was a big selling point to me as I hate putting phone and purse etc into a rucksack pocket and worrying that someone might be trying to get into my bag when in busy areas.
It will go across the body (left or right) or over one shoulder. So you have a handbag or rucksack in one. I love this and its quite good going on a longer walk I'll put it across the body,  when I need to be in and out the bag I put it on shoulder like a handbag.
The inside is silver... oh how I now wish all bags were like this. I can see what is in the bag and its great. No black umbrella/hairbrush/purse hidden at the bottom of a big dark bag.
It has lots of pockets, and I mean lots of. Love all the pockets. Its got 2 bottle/umbrella/sunglasses shaped pockets and on holiday we had water bottle for us adults in one pocket and a smaller bottle in the other pocket for Charlotte.

bag turned inside out (from healthy back bag website)
The bags are unisex and I brought a aqua blue so @readitdaddy doesn't look too embarrassed when I make him hold the bag for me!
We've proved that its splash proof. I've not used it in the rain but we sat at the front of the killer whale show at Loro Parque, Tenerife (think sea world show at Florida) we came off dripping wet but the contents of the bag were still dry.
It washes well, came home with some odd stains on the bag from being in boats, in various cars and coaches quick handwash, drip dry on the line and came up as good as new.
When the bag is on your back you can twist it round to the front and with a full length zip you can get to all the things you need without having to take if off your back.

bag worn on one shoulder
 I think the only minus to the bag is when across the body it will do the between the boob thing, which is what I was worried about... I keep moving it out the way but it slides back. But its not uncomfortable as its a wide strap so I don't mind too much. The cost as mentioned before is also a minus, I'm not a shoes and handbag girl so usually opt for the cheap options.

bag worn across the body
Its called a healthy back bag, I have no back problems so can't comment on this but with the bag fully laden down it would pull on the shoulder a bit. They do say to put in as little as possible, and it is more comfortable to wear with less in but at the start of a trip we had it quite full. You can get bigger (and smaller) bags, we brought the small and this seems just the right size for carrying everything we needed.

UPDATE 09/05/14: I have since reviewed the big bag healthy back bag