Is it still a holiday when you never seem to stop travelling, you can't quite figure out what day it is, you're not really sure where you are, and you can't remember where you are supposed to be tomorrow? It sounds a bit like a mystery tour, which is somewhat worrying as I was actually doing the driving. And doing the planning (or, to be more accurate, the lack of planning). Still, we had a great time. And, yes, I just sneaked a few days away from my daily documentation duties to grab a brief respite from all things Windows Phone-oriented.
As we are due to fly off to Cyprus for a wedding (not ours) in a few weeks time, we decided to skip the airport hell and, instead, see some of the sights in our own country. OK, so we did kind of have a kind of plan, which included starting at the Eden Project in Cornwall and working our way home via a disparate selection of tourist-oriented delights and wonders. So I'd already booked one night in a hotel in St. Austell and bought tickets for the Eden Project online before we departed. And starting bright and not very early on Monday, we set off on the long and arduous 300 mile drive to Cornwall.
Except it wasn't either long or arduous. Even though we'd planned it for after the kids went back to school, I was amazed to find the roads nearly empty; so that, within a couple of hours, we were closing in on Gloucester on the M5 and decided to pull in at a service area for a coffee and a bun. So how come the place was packed so full we couldn't find a parking space? Where did everyone come from, and why were they here? Maybe that's why the roads were so quiet - everyone stopped at this particular service area and liked it so much they decided to stay for the week.
So, as we weren't due in Cornwall until late that evening, we detoured instead to visit a couple of my old haunts from when I lived in Gloucester a great many years ago. Cheddar Gorge (amazing), Wookey Hole (even more amazing), and Wells Cathedral (incredible). All well worth a visit, And, wow, three touristy things done and still a week left. Maybe we can go in for some kind of a record.
Next day, the Eden Project. Yes I'm a gardener, but only in the sense that someone who can boil an egg is a chef. But everyone says it is worth a visit, and they aren't wrong. It's also great exercise because they built it at the bottom of a very large hole, so you get a lot of practice at walking up and down hills. And while the open-air gardens are very nice, the real attractions are the bio-domes; of which the tropical rainforest one is fabulous. As well as sweating like a pig and getting bitten by ants, you really get the feeling you are in somewhere like the Amazon - except for the little signs on the trees that tell you what they are (I haven't been to the Amazon, but I assume their trees aren't labeled).
The next day we started the journey home via the remaining tourist attractions we'd planned to see. Except that my wife found the Tamar Otter Sanctuary in Launceston on the sat-nav so we only got thirty miles the first day. She loves otters, and there is the bonus of seeing deer, ducks, Scottish wild cat (there was only one), owls, and wallabies. The last of these was somewhat of a surprise - it seems an unusual mixture when it comes to selecting an animal theme, and I'm sure wallabies aren't native to Cornwall so they didn't just wander in by accident. But it's certainly a very nice laid-back and wonderfully relaxing place to visit.
My vague journey semi-plan indicated that the next stop was Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust, but somehow my wife persuaded me that we should drop in at Dawlish Warren on the way past - it was only a fifty mile detour. It seems that her friend's Mother goes there for a fortnight every year, so it had to be worth a visit. Hmmm, I guess if you enjoy a large field, small beach, and very limited facilities including a funfair and one shop it's great. Though I have to admit that it actually is a very quaint and attractive area. And there was even a railway there, so at least I was able to do a bit of train-spotting. And it would have been even better if any trains had actually decided to come through during our brief visit.
At last we got to the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust. I really enjoyed this place, though I've probably now seen enough ducks and geese to keep me happy for a couple of years. And the way they follow you around is rather eerie. Every time you turn round, there's two following you and they won't go away until you take a photo of them. Two Nenes (Hawaiian Geese) followed us all day, despite me taking their photo several times. The reception desk people also give you a book with pictures of over a hundred ducks and geese so you can identify them. Shame then that the one duck that came and sat on our table while we were breaking for coffee wasn't in the book. Though it does say in the small print that it only shows the males in their summer plumage, so maybe this was a female or - as it was cold and raining - it'd already donned its winter attire.
After Slimbridge, the next day was Ironbridge Gorge Museum near Telford in Shropshire. Or, to be strictly accurate, ten museums. And all on the same single entrance and car park ticket. OK, so we wearied after about six and didn't do them all, though the tickets are valid for a year so no doubt we'll be back there again. But the ones we did visit are superb, especially the Blists Hill Victorian Town. A really amazing place, especially if you have an interest (as I do) in feats of Victorian engineering. There's canals, an inclined plane boat lift, iron casting, brick and tile making, Victorian shops and businesses, and more. I even consulted a Victorian doctor in his themed surgery about the pains in my weary legs from all that walking, but all he did was moan about the youth of today (circa 1890) and then charged me sixpence.
Ironbridge also offers you a chance to walk along a tunnel where bitumen drips from the walls (and you get to bang your head a great deal), see people making Coalport pottery, learn about the archaeology and history of the gorge, and - of course - see the actual iron bridge (the first of its kind, erected in 1779). Plan to be there for two days if you want to see it all.
Finally, my own choice, the Severn Valley Railway. It's nearly 25 years since I last went there, and it's changed quite a bit since. There's an extra few miles of track, a brand new (but built to an original old design using old materials) station, a new engine house museum, and loads more rolling stock and locomotives. Unfortunately, there's also more new restrictions on where you can go. Though I guess the active loco sheds and works are a little too dangerous in today's Elf and Safety society to be open outside of planned tours. But, if you have even the slightest passion for railways, you just have to pay a visit. It's by far the best of the many preserved railways in this country.
So that's it. Best part of a week travelling, sight-seeing, reminiscing, and walking up and down hills. But what a great way to get away from it all...