Day Trip: Camden Market

Camden Market

London is chock full of great markets including Covent Garden, Portobello Road and Spitafields, with many specializing in particular goods or services. Camden Market is one of the biggest in Europe, with hundreds of stalls and small shops selling clothing, art, food and random (and I mean random) stuff.

Camden Market is a good stop if you:

  • Are into goth/punk/vintage clothing
  • Enjoy people watching
  • Are hungry. Portions from food vendors are generous!

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While the market is close to several Tube stations, we opted instead for a waterbus trek from Little Venice (a short walk – or slight jog, in our case, from Paddington Station) to Camden. Cruising along Regent’s Canal, checking out enormous houses and the leafy trees in Regent’s Park, it was a peaceful way to start our visit to a place that’s anything but quaint. Once we arrived at the market, we wandered food stalls to  start thinking about lunch (maybe just me who did this), poked around stalls (there’s a cute little pop-up shop right by the food that’s worth a visit) and eventually settled by the canal to watch boats navigate through the locks.

And eat. The food was so good!

We capped off the day with a steep walk up Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park and rolled ourselves back down the hill onto a sunny patio for a Pimm’s.

As a head’s up, the market is pretty crowded. We went on a Friday, but Sunday is the busiest day – Camden Town Tube station shuts for the afternoon from 1 p.m. onwards to manage the crowds. A less busy option is Chalk Farm, a short walk or bus ride away up the Northern line.

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The Uber-Impressive Minack Theatre

Minack Theatre

At first glance, the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno looks as though it was built by some ancient empire. Nestled into granite cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the venue hosts an array of drama, musical and opera performances throughout the summer months. We popped in for a visit on a non-show day, and my socks were blown off (it is a tad windy) by not only the venue, but the tenacity of its creator.

The Minack Theatre was planned, built and financed by one very plucky Cornish woman, Rowena Cade. A fan of the stage in her youth, she moved to Cornwall following the First World War and settled in a house overlooking the sea near Porthcurno. Due to its remote location, entertainment options were scarce, so Cade became involved with a local theatre group in 1929. Sensing the need for a more dramatic stage for the group’s next production of The Tempest, Cade initially offered her garden before adopting a “go big or go home mentality” and instead opting to build a stage into the cliff beneath her house.

Minack TheatreDespite having no previous manual labour experience, she learned the skills needed from her gardeners and they built a theatre. Into a cliff. So determined was she to bring this project to life, Cade and her gardeners even rebuilt the theatre following its destruction in World War II. Every winter until she was in her eighties she worked away, developing her own techniques for working with cement so that it would mimic the appearance of granite, and lugging sand and reclaimed materials from the beach below (including 15ft beams! This woman was a machine). It truly is remarkable to see the theatre as it stands now and realize that it was built not by a team of labourers or fancy equipment but by sheer determination and grit.

From the start of April to the end of September, the theatre is open to day visitors from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., except during certain ticketed and children’s performances. There’s a small exhibit honouring the life of Rowena Cade – a worthwhile stop to gain an even greater appreciation of this beautiful space.

Also a worthwhile stop – Porthcurno Beach. Just don’t blow over the side of the cliff on the path down.

Porthcurno Beach

The Donkey Sanctuary

Courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary
Courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary

The less SEO-friendly title of this post should have been “How I found myself in the English countryside wearing a donkey on my head”, but that’s not really very searchable.  In reality, it was actually the opposite – the donkey was using my head as a comfortable chin rest. But it took several hours of persistence on my part to get that stage, starting with a chance meeting in a barnyard.

As a slight fan of donkeys (in actuality – a big fan), I’d been eager to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon for some time. After stellar recommendations by family and friends, it became my only must-visit during the trek to the UK earlier this summer and lived up my expectations – rolling hills, fresh air, lots of good walks and a boatload of friendly donkeys.

The world’s largest donkey and mule charity organization, The Donkey Sanctuary aims to protect and promote the welfare of these animals worldwide, and is open 365 days a year. Since it began, the organization has provided 14,500 donkeys and mules with a sanctuary for life and consists of eight farms in total. Only one is open to the public – Slade House Farm – which is where we found ourselves on a warm May afternoon.

We began our day with stop in the main yard, where donkeys wander freely and meet and greet guests. There were lots of people fussing over the animals, but my eyes wandered to a shy donkey leaning into a corner on the other side of the yard. “This one,” I thought to myself, “needs a hug.”

Teddy

As it turned out, Teddy the donkey initially thought otherwise. He seemed pretty content with standing by himself, away from the crowds. I gave him a little scratch and then left him alone, appreciating that as an introvert he clearly needed some quiet time.

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We wandered the fields, visiting the various donkeys on-site including the delightfully shaggy Poitous. It was a beautifully clear day and you could see and smell the ocean from parts of the trails. As we wandered past fences donkeys would mosey on over, happy to greet us and linger for a hug and some attention (and photos – what photogenic animals! They clearly practice their posing). But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about Teddy and was determined to give him a proper hug.

IMG_2824Back in the yard,  I made a beeline for that donkey.  He was tucked away in a barn, but ventured over to see me and was more receptive this time around. He leaned his head in and I gave him a small hug, scratching his ears gently. My Mum, sensing a good photo opportunity, grabbed my camera and I knelt down to ensure that I wasn’t blocking Teddy’s face. As she set the camera up, I suddenly became aware of a large amount of sniffing going on around my head and then suddenly a very warm sensation – and realized that my blonde locks were dangerously close to becoming an afternoon snack for Teddy. Thankfully, he instead chose to plop his chin down and pose for the photo, and that’s how I found myself with a donkey using me as a resting space.

Following our visit, I contacted The Donkey Sanctuary for more information about Teddy the charmer. Public Relations Manager Suzi Cretney shared that he came from a farm with his mum, Clara. His old owner used to take him to Palm Sunday services at their local church and was, said Cretney, “always very well behaved”. When Clara passed away, he was paired with a popular donkey named Nelly but since her passing he’d taken to the single life.

“When his legs are being brushed, he loves nothing more than resting his head on the grooms back – making it difficult for them to stand up!” said Cretney. Which, in retrospect, explained Teddy’s cheeky enjoyment of my head.

Want to bring a little something for the donkeys but aren’t sure what they’d like? Cretney advises guests to bring carrots or ginger biscuits, which you can drop off in a collection bucket at the Visitors’ Centre. If you were as surprised as I was about the biscuits, it’s because they’re helpful for the vets when dishing out some of the “less palatable” medications (they also find them quite tasty!). As tempting as it might be to feed the donkeys your treats, it’s easy to mistake your fingers for snacks – and it also ensures that all the animals get a fair share of the goodies.

Check out their website for more details and to help plan your visit. Special thanks to The Sanctuary for providing the additional information and lovely photograph!

Day Tripping – Marazion

Have you heard of Marazion?

If you live in the UK (or even closer, Cornwall), likely yes. If you live outside of it, like me, probably not. Which is a damn shame, because it’s a really lovely place.

Upon maneuvering ourselves out of town (you can read about that adventure here or visualize what it felt like here) we headed to Marazion for lunch and a wander. Here’s three things you can do in this wee gem of a town:

IMG_26901. Get Your Stroll On
Marazion is small and perfect for a wander. Along the winding main street you’ll find a few little shops and galleries, some of which cater more to tourists but are still worth a look. There’s also a nice path along the waterfront where you can gaze at St. Michael’s Mount or better yet, go across to it. When the tide is out you can follow a causeway across to it; the tide was unfortunately very much in when I was there, and we opted not to take a boat across and just look at it from afar.

2. Eat
I guarantee you the best lunch you will have in Cornwall at  Delicious: Marazion, a great little deli just on the far side of town. Get it? Deli? Delicious? I was sold by the fact that they were punny, and also had bunting. They could have sold nothing but ham and I probably still would have gone in. Parked in a window seat (good for spotting drivers trying to navigate around double decker buses on the small roads – seriously, what is with these roads?!) my Dad and I tucked into cheese and chutney sandwiches that were the biggest sandwiches I have ever seen, let alone consumed. Freshly grated Cornish cheddar with a mean bite, sweet and tangy chutney, fresh bread and coleslaw on the side. I opted for a gluten-free bun which was a wise decision as it helped to contain the downpour of cheese making a hasty escape – I wasn’t going to let any of that deliciousness go to waste! People often scoff at the idea that British food can be good, but everything is fresh, simple and reallyfreakingdelicious.

As an aside, I would be very interested to know where my cholesterol levels stood at the end of this trip, but that’s neither here nor there.

Following our sandwiches, we grabbed lattes and seriously the best hot chocolate of my life to go, and I was sad to leave. I dreamt of cheese that night…

IMG_27013. Beach Yourself
Maybe it was from the half-pound of cheese. Maybe it was the fact that the sun had finally come out and everything was warm and smelled like sea salt. Maybe we were tired from the stress of getting the car out of Mousehole that morning. Whatever the reason, we parked ourselves on the beach to look at St. Michael’s Mount and take in the views of the sea and promptly fell asleep. Families around us poked around in the sand and played, we snoozed through the whole thing. Choose your own adventure on that beach, it’s nice and peaceful.

The Charm (and Hell) of English Roads

Roads in Cornwall (like much/most of England) are very small. You bump along with hedges poking in both sides of the car and suddenly have to slam on the brakes as a truck peels around the corner in front of you. Then, in a well-organized series of maneuvers, someone always pulls aside just enough for each person to pass and you continue to barrel along until this happens once more.

Again and again and again.

I don’t quite understand why all roads have the hedges-as-fences approach – in addition to creating the feeling that you’re trapped in a maze since you can’t see over it to place where you are, it also makes tucking over quite difficult. Is this just a more eco-friendly way of keeping sheep and other animals penned in? Or does it just allow the English to turn a blind eye to the constant near-misses that are happening?

MouseholeAt any rate, if you think that you’ll be fine once you arrive in a town or village think again. We stayed in an adorable fishing village called Mousehole with what must have been the narrowest streets of all time. It didn’t help that the only car we could rent was a Land Rover – perfect for plowing across streams (which we did actually do at one point) and down motorways, not so perfect for village streets that a Fiat would have trouble winding around. And so there we were one morning trying to get out of town when we came face to face with a giant delivery truck approaching, a dead-end road behind us, a line of cars to our left and the realization that a real-life game of Tetris was about to begin.

My dear Dad, bless him, did the best that he could. But the delivery truck wouldn’t budge, and a long cue of cars began to line up behind it. So I did the only thing I could think of – I jumped out and pleaded for help from the first car to our left.

“I’m very sorry, but there’s a giant truck coming and we don’t know what to do because we’re not from here!” I cried to the driver. He smiled in response and said “Oh, not from here? American, are you?” “No!” I replied, “Canadian”. “Even worse!” he said jokingly before hopping out of his car to see what the situation was.

Thanks to the kindness of that man, he helped direct my Dad into a corner so that the truck could pass, commenting that it was far too big to be in the town in the first place and reassuring us that the resulting traffic jam had not been our fault. And then he asked where we were trying to get to and guided us out of town.

So, kind sir, thanks for the helping hand, and reinforcing the notion that it’s always a good idea to ask for help when travelling!

Visiting The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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I went to a botanical garden and liked it.

To be fair, I always enjoy photographing flowers and leaves. I’m never overly fussed about the gardens themselves – they smell lovely, but after awhile my brain gets bored and starts humming to itself or occupying me with thoughts about lunch and then I realize I’ve been awkwardly staring at tulips for who knows how long.

I visited Cornwall at the end of May with my parents who are big garden fans, and in the spirit of being a good travel companion I agreed to check out the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey. The weather was unseasonably cold and grey and many of the flowers not yet in bloom, but it was still quite the beautiful place.

IMG_2628The gardens were created by the Tremayne family over a period of time spanning from the mid-18th century up to the beginning of the 20th century, but were neglected after the First World War. Uber-neglected. Restoration only began in the 1990s (you can find several great TV shows and books on the subject) – a pretty phenomenal feat when you see how much work they’ve done in a relatively short timeframe.

The contents vary depending on the area that you’re wandering – from fruit and veg gardens (including Europe’s only remaining pineapple pit), to a sub-tropical “jungle”, to massive rhododendrons.

Highlights for me, however, were the rock and plant figures designed by a local artist and her brother – the Mud Maid and Giant’s Head.

And the hard-working pigs.

I can only imagine how beautiful Heligan must be when all the flowers are in bloom (and it’s warm enough for you to thaw out your fingers) – check it out when in Cornwall. Pack good walking shoes for the trip – many of the paths are quite steep!

Jubbbbileeeee!

A warm hello to the almost 100 UK readers that visited my site today! (I’m chuffed!) I hope you have a lovely, celebratory Jubilee Weekend. I’m raising a glass or two to the Queen as we speak. I wish I had bunting.

Photo courtesy of BBC

I’d say here’s to 60 more years, but fear the wrath of Charles.

How are you planning on celebrating?