Category Archives: travel

Visiting Scotland – What we saw in the Scottish Highlands

So, this is the – very long – post that will entice you to the Scottish Highlands
– which as you saw last week, just became my default favourite place!

Visiting Scotland – What we saw in the Scottish Highlands - The Last Krystallos

We split the twelve hour journey of just over 600 miles over two days, staying in Moffat, just over the border, at a lovely B&B before traveling up to the north coast. Sat Nav on our upgraded hired Toyota Land Cruiser decided she wanted to take the long way round on the second day – had enough of corporate driving and she wanted to see the north country as much as we did! So instead of driving up through Stirling, we found ourselves circumnavigating Glasgow and heading up to Loch Lomond, and why not? The loch is huge and it’s where we began really noticing the mountains…

Beinn Dorain - The Last Krystallos

Beinn Dorain – © Lisa Shambrook

We rounded a bend on the road leading towards the Bridge of Orchy and had to stop to take in Beinn Dorain as cloud topped it like an unseasonal snow cap! Then the mountains at the western end of the Grampians just kept coming and we kept stopping to take photos – always remember to add time to your expected arrival due to stopping for photos – because you will… Then Buachaille Etive Mor towered above us like a craggy volcano and it kept on through Glencoe and Ben Nevis.

Ben Loyal - Buachaille Etive Mor - Beinn Dorain - Ben Nevis - Ridge in Skye - The Last Krystallos

Ben Loyal – Buachaille Etive Mor – Beinn Dorain – Ben Nevis – Ridge in Skye – © Lisa Shambrook

We’d planned to stop for lunch at Castle Urquhart by Loch Ness, but instead we had lunch at Fort William, and by the time we reached the castle it was overcrowded to the point of us only needing a quick photo op in the car park before moving on.

Ben Nevis - A9 - Road to Tongue - The Last Krystallos

Ben Nevis – A9 – Road to Tongue – The Last Krystallos – © Lisa Shambrook

We crossed the bridge at Inverness and moved up into the Highlands. Lochs glistened, swathes of purple heather covered the hillsides, the sun disappeared behind clouds and the mountains hid, then they towered again as the mist evaporated. Glens and forests carpeted with the most luscious green had rivers and waterfalls, and finally as we drove up the single track road for an hour to Coldbackie, the sun began to set behind the rugged mountains of the Sutherland range, with Ben Loyal on the horizon and lochs of gold glowing in the sun’s last fiery rays beside us. It was enchanting.

We woke up the next morning with a view to die for…

Coldbackie Morning View - The Last Krystallos

Coldbackie – © Lisa Shambrook

We took the Pentland Ferry on a wildlife cruise at John O’Groats, hoping to see seals, puffins and other advertised wildlife, we saw seagulls, lots of gulls, and scarfies, and even a stray jellyfish, but not much else. The ferry did take us around Duncansby Head and the stacks and red sandstone cliffs are stunning. And we got that obligatory photo of the family standing beneath the signpost at John O’Groats just like we did at Land’s End seventeen years ago!

Duncansby Stacks - John O'Groats - The Last Krystallos

Duncansby Stacks – John O’Groats – © Lisa Shambrook

Eilean Donan Castle has all the beauty and excitement of a fairy-tale as you approach and by all means go and take photos of the glorious building on the edge of the loch at Dornie, but we felt cheated by the tourist trap the castle has become. There are no photos of the interior of Eilean Donan, because the current owners don’t allow it, and you are herded in like cattle, as the castle attempts to make as much cash as it can. Don’t get me wrong, the castle and interior is beautiful, but you are only allowed to see the displayed rooms, so many are shut off, as are the buildings surrounding the main hall and castle. I was hoping for Viking and Medieval history, but only got the last century, and the current owner’s family pictures are, strangely, dotted all through the nineteenth and twentieth century rooms, moving you awkwardly out of the period they’re exhibiting. Go and take photos, but save your money and find another castle to go inside!

Eilean Donan Castle - The Last Krystallos

Eilean Donan Castle – © Lisa Shambrook

Then we ventured on to the Isle of Skye. The Fairy Pools have been on my bucket list for years – but I was so disappointed to find that due to the intense rain that night, the river you have to cross to get to the Fairy Pools was overflowing, and without proper waterproofs we’d have had soaked feet/shoes all day, and possibly all holiday. Many, many visitors that day traipsed down to the river and had to turn around unable to cross it, though it couldn’t have been more than five feet across. There was a lot of disappointment in the air, and it wouldn’t have cost much to make the stepping stones bigger, or put in a small wooden bridge to allow access. The Fairy Pools are still on my bucket list and I’ll make it another year.

Skye Ridge - Fairy Pools - Eilean Donan - Heather - Fairy Pools - Kilt Rock Waterfall - The Last Krystallos

Skye Ridge – Fairy Pools – Eilean Donan – Heather – Fairy Pools – Kilt Rock Waterfall -© Lisa Shambrook

We did see the Old Man of Storr, jutting out rock formations, and then Mealt Waterfall with Kilt Rock in the background, and the waterfall made my day!

When we finally wandered down to Coldbackie beach, more of a climb actually, we were met with the most gorgeous little bay. White sand ran from the dunes to the sparkling water, and what water! It merged from every green to every blue you could imagine…from crystal white Quartz froth, to pale Amazonite, and Adventurine, then to Turquoise, and rich Apatite blue, before darkening to the tone of Sodalite. An ocean of jewels!
Quartzite and Pyrite glittered in the rocks and I quickly became a beachcomber!

Coldbackie - The Last Krystallos

Coldbackie – © Lisa Shambrook

We headed west to Durness and visited Balnakeil Craft Village, then walked down to Smoo Cave. In Smoo Cave you can pop in and see a waterfall for free, or wait for a short tour from local geologists and diggers. Write your name on the board and then they’ll help you board a small dinghy and move you across the pool inside the cave to see the waterfall close up. Then you get a short tour of the caves and a keen geologist will tell you all about the area and the current dig! It was up close and personal and well worth a fiver each for something very different.

Smoo Cave Waterfall - The Last Krystallos

Smoo Cave Waterfall – © Lisa Shambrook

Achmelvich beach was recommended to us, Evan – this one was for you – and it didn’t disappoint. Like Coldbackie, white sand spread at your feet and clear blue/green water lapped at the shore. We sat up on the rocks and ate chips while basking in the sunshine.

Achmelvich - The Last Krystallos

Achmelvich – © Lisa Shambrook

We’d had a Whale Watching Boat Trip cancelled earlier in the week due to high winds and rain, and refunded we spent the money in Wick on a tour in a rib boat instead. Caithness Seacoast was great! We dressed in waterproofs and braved a grey day out on the sea. The East coast cliffs were gorgeous, and the local guide very informative. We learned about Viking history, right up to the present day, and it was fascinating. He hoped we’d see more wildlife, but he pointed out that this late in the season (last week in August) most of the young had left, so puffins had flown two weeks prior and many of the seals had moved too. Again we saw Scarfies and Fulmars, and of course many gulls, and eventually we did see a seal! We sped about the sea, beneath arches, around stacks, and in caves, and stopped in several coves. We learned the fishing history, and saw Whaligoe Steps, an inlet which became a harbour in the eighteenth century, and crews of women would gut the fish in the harbour then walk up and down the 330 or 363 (locals dispute the official 330) steps, 250 feet, with full baskets before taking the fish to Wick market.

Caithness Seacoast Wick Coast - Fulmars and Scarfies and Seal - The Last Krystallos

Caithness Seacoast Wick Coast – Fulmars and Scarfies and Seal – © Lisa Shambrook

After the boat trip and lunch we visited Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, free, and atop a gorgeous cliff, then we saw the Trinkie a tidal swimming pool, rather abandoned at present, and then we looked at Whaligoe Steps from the top!

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe Wick - Eilean Donan nr Skye - Urquart Castle Loch Ness - The Last Krystallos

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe Wick – Eilean Donan nr Skye – Urquart Castle Loch Ness – © Lisa Shambrook

On our last day we stayed local, hiked up to Varrich Tower (though it says it’s a castle), had lunch near Loch Eriboll, I was enamoured by the little headland in the loch – rather desiring to live there – but it’s gated so you can’t go down. We took a back road to Ben Hope and took photos at an old roundhouse before wandering into the forest near Altnaharra. The forest was everything a woodland girl would love, heather, moss, Scots Pines, toadstools, and a loch hidden away inside.

Forest nr Altnaharra - The Last Krystallos

Forest nr Altnaharra – © Lisa Shambrook

Our last surprise was realising how close we were to the Kelpies, named after the mythical water horses said to be in Scottish lochs and rivers, at The Helix as we drove through Falkirk and we doubled back to see them. Thirty metre tall horses, Glaswegian Andy Scott’s amazing sculptures of steel will literally steal your heart.

Kelpies at Falkirk - Roundhouse Ben Hope - Grey Mares Tail Waterfall Moffat - The Last Krystallos

Kelpies at Falkirk – Roundhouse Ben Hope – Grey Mares Tail Waterfall Moffat – © Lisa Shambrook

We saw deer, and an otter, and sheep guarded the roads! We had rainbows almost every day, sunrises, sunsets, mountain ranges like towering wise old wizards, fairy glens, sparkling lochs, cascading waterfalls (we saw Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall in Moffat on the way home), and the jewelled ocean…

Deer - Thistle - Loch Eriboll - Heather - Sheep - The Last Krystallos

Deer – Thistle – Loch Eriboll – Heather – Sheep – © Lisa Shambrook

And thus ended our tour of Scotlandbut have no fear,
we will be back, and maybe one day, we’ll be able to stay.

Have you visited Scotland? If so what did you love most?

Coldbackie Beach Panorama - The Last Krystallos

Coldbackie Beach – © Lisa Shambrook

Roundhouse Ben Hope - The Last Krystallos

Roundhouse Ben Hope – © Lisa Shambrook

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Where In The World Would You Live? The Scottish Highlands

If you could live anywhere in the world –
with money no object – where would you live?

Since I was young, my answer was always Canada, but that just changed! We spent a week in the Scottish Highlands, and for the first time on holiday we didn’t want to come home. I grew up in Sussex, with the rolling Downs behind us and the seaside in front, and it was beautiful. Then we moved to West Wales and I fell in love with the ocean, woodlands, and craggy hills and mountains, and it’s gorgeous. But Scotland with its lochs and mountains is just another world altogether.

It took less than a week to become irrevocably captivated and enchanted by this mysterious land. Scotland, and its Highlands, is a place where the world stops, where you can be enveloped in nature, swathed by mist and then glorious sunshine, where green is the most verdant you’ve ever seen, and mountains rise from purple heather laden fells. A place where the ocean dances in the jewel tones of amazonite, adventurine, turquoise, apatite, and then sodalite. A place where magic reigns.

Grey Mares Tail Waterfall - Ocean Cave near Wick - Wick Ocean - Loch and Forest near Altnaharra © Lisa Shambrook

Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall – Ocean Cave near Wick – Wick Ocean – Loch and Forest near Altnaharra © Lisa Shambrook

If you could live anywhere at all – where would it be and why?

Next week, I’ll treat you to the sights we saw in the beautiful Scottish Highlands…

Where does the Beach take you?

It’s turning into beach weather here in the UK…
though, in my opinion, all year is beach weather for me.
I love wandering a lonely, cold, winter beach as much as
paddling through the surf on a warm, summer evening.
But what entices you to the ocean, what floats your boat?

Where does the Beach take you... - The Last Krystallos

Is it the heat, the sun, and the chance to sunbathe, or family time and BBQs, building sandcastles, and jumping waves, or do you prefer to explore, climb rocks, and appreciate the beauty?

Do you enjoy the sounds of the ocean rolling across pebble beaches? I grew up in Brighton, and the sound of the sea turning pebbles brings back all kinds of memories.
I adore walking barefoot over sand, and letting the surf lap across my feet, so the gorgeous West Wales beaches, where I live now, fit me perfectly…

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© Lisa Shambrook

Do you like the flora that thrives in the salty air, and the seaweed decorating the beaches? I have a weird penchant for wearing seaweed hairpieces…

Flora-and-Seaweed-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Do you collect shells, do you search out conch, mussels, and pretty shells, and do you put them to your ear to hear the sea? Do you listen to the shrieking gulls with pleasure or irritation?

Wildlife-and-Shells-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

And speaking of irritation, do you feel compelled to share your chips with the local birds? Fish n’ chips on the beach can’t be beaten! Do you sit on the beach with can of coke and newspaper wrapped chips and watch the sunset? Do you embrace your loved one as the sun disappears below the horizon in a fiery ball and the stars begin to sparkle?

Sunsets-and-Food-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Do you love your feet in the ocean, do you paddle or dive right in? On the hottest days, dunking beneath the waves can be refreshing and invigorating.
Or do you prefer to sunbathe, lying on the beach worshipping the sun, or do you take a book and lose yourself in stories?

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© Lisa Shambrook

Are you one of the lucky ones who can surf the waves – either on a board, or in a boat? Can you relax on board and let the ocean rise and fall beneath you?

Boats-and-Ocean-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Do you love to explore, to climb the rocks, dive from cliffs, build dens, and get creative? Do you take photoshoots of mermaids, dystopia, and conquer pirates?

Explore-and-Dystopia-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Are sandcastles your thing? Are you an architect of the golden grains? Do you build turrets, and moats, and make lolly stick flag poles? Do you sculpt the sand to your every whim, designing and creating with imagination and the salty breeze? Can you build towers of pebbles, balancing in an ever more intricate game of Jenga?

Fun-and-Craft-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

The Palace Pier, now the Brighton Pier – though I can’t ever call it that – was a haunt for my childhood self, walking along the wooden timbers watching the green sea swell beneath me, feeling the ocean in my hair.
Do you search for lonely bays, lost coves, quiet havens, and romantic harbours? Do you walk from one end of the beach to the other, kicking through the rippling waves?

Bays-and-Piers-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

Or are you like me, as long as my feet are in the water, I let the siren call of the ocean beguile me, and I lose myself in the beauty of the sea?

Beauty-and-Waves-The-Last-Krystallos

© Lisa Shambrook

What is it for you? What draws you to the beach, to the salty sea?

What entices you to the ocean?

Bucket Lists and Dreams – Just Do It

Just recently I looked back at the things I’ve been doing for fun,
and it made me search out the Bucket List I made a few years ago!
What have I done since writing it?

Bucket Lists and Dreams - Just Do It - The Last Krystallos

Eleven years ago, back in 2005, I wrote a list. I realised as I came out of a long period of depression that I just wasn’t happy, we weren’t having fun – and I wanted that to change! The list included some easy, simple ideas, and some bigger, more out of reach dreams. Some of the simple things: meal out with the family, go swimming, paddle along the shore, swim in the sea, kick autumn leaves, play football on the beach, build a sandcastle, have a barbeque, write a poem, build a snowman, do a big jigsaw and more… The bigger things included: fly in a helicopter, romantic evening with Vince, night away with Vince, learn Welsh, paint a dragon, take a family holiday, outline a new story, take a maths GCSE, fly in an aeroplane, do Vertigo, buy a Suburu with rally decals…

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Family Portraits © Lisa Shambrook

We did some – as you, and your family, get older there is often a little more money available and we managed a surprise trip to Edinburgh on an aeroplane. We bundled the children into the car at 4am and took them on a mystery tour ending up at Cardiff airport and spending the day in Scotland! We went up in a helicopter for Bekah’s 16th birthday as Vince had a client who flew a helicopter and he was paid in kind with a ride up in the sky! Beaches were easy and we had barbeques, including getting pushed off the beach by the rising tide and finishing the barbeque at home in the back yard, in the rain! I swam in the Blue Lagoon at Aberieddy, a 90’ deep lagoon, loved it! Vince and I have had some nights away. Ice skating on the Isle of Wight, bought a real Christmas tree, family holidays to Butlins, got a dog, I passed my motorbike test, decorated some amazing cakes, took some awesome family portraits. I began a whole new career as an author and published three books. Vince flew a plane, and I got air sick.

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Helicopter, motorbike, planes, Blue Lagoon and Vertigo © Lisa Shambrook

I even did some things not on the list: I started a business – Amaranth Alchemy. I got my first high heels, got my first Dr Martens too. I didn’t paint, but I did create art and many stories.  I went to the ballet and saw Giselle. We went to Harry Potter Studios, saw Les Miserables in the West End, wrote a book in 30 days doing NaNoWriMo – twice, and I’ve dived from a 10ft diving board and lots more!

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Bucket List and Boots © Lisa Shambrook

Some things will be crossed off the list because they are no longer important to me: I have lost the desire to skydive but my daughter did a couple of weeks ago – and it wasn’t as big a thrill as she’d hoped! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford piano lessons or a piano, I don’t want a rally car anymore, and I don’t feel the need to complete a maths GCSE, I’m at peace with my F grade!

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Theatre, Bekah’s Skydive, wild camping, London © Lisa Shambrook

So what is there now? I’ve flown in that helicopter, I’ve done Vertigo at Oakwood Park, I passed my bike test, and taken the kids on a surprise holiday, and we even slept out in the wild in a tent on Dartmoor when we went wild camping, and began a pottery class.

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Cosplay © Lisa Shambrook

There’s a lot more to come!

My new/current Bucket List contains more dreams
and some I haven’t ticked off my last list.

Build a big, old fashioned sandcastle on the beach.
Go to a Spa.
Visit the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.
Ride a gondola in Venice.
Climb the Eiffel Tower.
Go up in a hot air balloon.
Climb mount Snowdon.
Ride a long zip wire.
Rewrite my dragon books and publish.
Paint a dragon!
Stand out in heavy rain and get soaked.
Swim in a tidal swimming pool.
Learn sign language – I did once, but have forgotten it.
Travel with Vince on our motorbikes.
Get a professional massage.
Go on a Norwegian Fjord Cruise.
Drive a rally car – but not own one!
Do NaNoWriMo again.
Have a gardener fix my wild garden so I can redesign it.
Achieve consistent book sales.
Write a best seller.
Visit Canada.
Visit Iceland.
Bathe in hot springs in Iceland.
Walk on a glacier.

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Decorating Cakes © Lisa Shambrook

In my debut novel Beneath the Rainbow, Freya leaves a list behind and her family vow to do the things she’d wanted to do… One of her dreams is one I share – to build a big sandcastle, on the beach complete with turrets and a moat! 

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Author, art and Amaranth Alchemy © Lisa Shambrook

What about you, what’s at the top of your Bucket List?

What have you already ticked off your list?

Get out there and have fun!

A Visit to the Tate Modern Art Gallery

What constitutes art for you?
Do you prefer the Old Masters or the New Pretenders?

A Visit to the Tate Modern Art Gallery - The Last Krystallos - What is Art to you...

Just last week we visited the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London. I’d very much have liked to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum too, but time was a factor, and when we found ourselves on the South Bank the Tate was right there. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, though hubby didn’t make it past the first floor of exhibits. He disappeared outside to enjoy the sunshine and the Thames instead, leaving my daughters and me to peruse the gallery.

Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena Abakanowicz. I loved the organic nature of this exhibit. Sacks and material sewn into pebbles. It took up a huge room and I wanted to walk in amid them, be part of them, like walking on a beach…

Now, art is subjective, that’s for sure. I lean toward the classics from Michelangelo and Da Vinci, to the Italian Renaissance and the Impressionists. I very much revel in Degas, Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt, Waterhouse (one of my most favourite artists, I adore Ophelia), Monet, Renoir, Turner, Van Gogh (I love his night sky!)and many more, but as we move to Picasso, and the modernists, though I loved his blue period and early work, his Cubism starts to lose me. Mondrian and similar artists don’t do much for me, but I do appreciate their value as art and to the eternally progressing world of art. On another note, though, Salvador Dali is a wonder, and his paintings are totally me!

Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter. A group of paintings, each over six feet across. I loved the colours and ambience of water in my mind.

What do you call art?

A fascinating question. My art teacher at school was obsessed by Henry Moore’s sculptures and being a classicist myself I lost interest as she constantly bombarded us with Moore, as an adult I’ve grown into his work, but as a teen he didn’t interest me.

Al Weiei

Al Weiei. The first exhibit in the centre of the entrance level. A tree made up of many trees, bolted together. Organic yet industrial…

So, in London we wandered the Tate, and Caitlin and I shared much conversation. Cait’s about to start her art A-levels and the gallery offered a great look at what constituted modern art. 

Edward Ruscha - Music from the Balconies

Edward Ruscha – Music from the Balconies. Another inspiring piece in the Tate.

How is a huge, yellow, scalene triangle hung on the wall a piece of art? It doesn’t appear to take a lot of talent or even time to create a large piece in yellow. Vince and Cait asked how it was art. It wasn’t something that appealed to me, not my thing at all, but it is art. I didn’t take a picture of it and I can’t find a link, but you can imagine it. And, there it is – imagination – that’s the answer. Vince stared at it, and that was when he pretty much gave up and went outside to enjoy the sun instead, and I caught the irony. I said it was about imagination, about how the piece made you feel, and what you saw. There was no explanation for this piece. But to me it was sunshine, or lemons – I could taste lemons just looking at the colour, or happiness, or a sail of a yacht – or whatever you saw or felt. 

Behold - Sheela Gowda

Sheela Gowda – Behold. Weirdly fascinating and labout intensive.

There were pieces that didn’t get me, though I appreciated the work that went into them. One room was full of what looked like wool, set up across the ceiling and room like huge spider webs, but it was in actual fact, black human hair, donated by local Indian Temples, and woven together, and if you looked closely you could see the plaits and weaves that artist had spent hundreds of hours on, incredibly labour intensive. Sheela Gowda‘s piece showed vulnerability and control but it was weirdly wonderfully odd!

Some modern art, I’ll never understand. Some of it just exists to poke fun at or rebel against classical art, or against politics, or ethics etc, but some is really beautiful despite having a very different form to classical art. I like to analyse, and if the artist can show me what they were thinking when they made it, then I’ll welcome it as art. The exhibits that frustrated me most were those where the artists said there was no thought process, no meaning, then I struggle to see it as art. Art needs meaning to be art to me!

Another exhibit, I didn’t photograph was African and looked politically charged, but the artist had no explanation or reason behind it, and that’s when you lose me. I like things to have meaning.

David Alfaro Siquerios - Cosmos and Disaster

David Alfaro Siquerios – Cosmos and Disaster. I loved this piece and could have gazed at its despair and pain for a long time.

I totally loved David Alfaro Siquerios – Cosmos and Disaster. It was about the Spanish Civil War, but spoke about the sadness and futility of war, any war, to me. I loved the raw quality and the depiction of barbed wire across the paint. It spoke of desolation.

Hamed Abdalla - Defeat

Hamed Abdalla – Defeat. Fascinating in its mixed media and silver aluminium and burnt tar.

I also loved Hamed Abdalla – Defeat. The mixed media, and the subject pulled me in. silver leaf aluminium and burning with a blow torch, the photo doesn’t do it justice, but it truly made me feel defeat, loss and abandonment.

Matta - Black Virtue Triptych

Matta – Black Virtue Triptych. I only photographed the central canvas of the triptych as it was the one that spoke to me. Read what you want into that!

I tend to go for the dark side in art, and that also showed in the art that fascinated me, they were the pieces that made me stop and consider.

Tsuyashi Maekawa - Two Junctions

Tsuyashi Maekawa – Two Junctions. Another fascinating mixed media piece that kept my attention.

The Tate, however, offered some art that I did not understand, did not like, or just wasn’t my thing, but it also offered a lot of works that inspired me, thrilled me and fascinated me. Some I loved and some I slipped right into. I’ve peppered my favourites amongst this post.

Art is anything to me that is expression, emotion, surreal, classic, beautiful, strange – anything that is emotive or expressive…

What do you think? What constitutes art to you?

And which do you prefer, classic or modern,
or do you love to appreciate all art?

From Two Extremes – Wild Camping to City Break

Wild Camping on Dartmoor and a Weekend in London
– you couldn’t find two more extreme activities
and we did both in one week!

From Two Extremes - Wild Camping to City Break - The Last Krystallos

Firstly, let’s explain the term wild camping: in the UK you are only legally allowed to camp out and pitch a tent on a camp site, unless you have permission from the land owner first. However, there are exceptions. Scotland, for the most part, allows wild camping (except in one or two regions) and Dartmoor. Do your research before you decide where to go. Dartmoor has a great website and forums are excellent for advice and help. Wild camping allows you to pitch your tent (only small tents) wherever you wish and as long as you abide the laws of the countryside and you only stay up to two nights you’re good.
Also on Dartmoor be sure to check out the Military Firing Range times…you don’t want to get caught in the middle of an exercise!

So, we took two 2man tents and (far too much) gear in rucksacks and off we went.

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Dartmoor tors, Dartmoor pony, sheep © Lisa Shambrook

We parked in a free car park in Belstone, just to the north of Dartmoor, and hiked up onto the tors. Now, we were beginners. I don’t even like camping! I abhor organised camps and dislike being tied to one place, or to other people…so this was an experiment. We thought of reaching Yes Tor, but we quickly realised we were carrying too much and weren’t as fit as we could be! Instead of miles of hiking we ended up at either Winter Tor or Irishman’s Wall. Being beginners we had no OS map, just a print out from the web…

Still, it was stunningly beautiful and we were off the beaten track and out in the wild!

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Pitching and taking down tents © Lisa Shambrook

We pitched and explored and set up a small camp. We had lots of fun, played games, talked a lot, learned more about each other, and had food.

So, a couple of things: We took a disposable BBQ – don’t bother. Wind, did no one mention the wind! We ended up using a gas camp stove instead for the most part, and find something as lightweight as you can! Think of food that either doesn’t need cooking, or is easy, soups etc and keep it simple. Baked beans in the morning, at dawn, on a camping stove was lovely! (And remember everything you take up there has to be brought back down – take all your rubbish home again) We carried a 4 litre bottle of water, just in case – we didn’t need it and it was extra unnecessary weight.

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View from tent, sunrise, family selfie, Dartmoor pony © Lisa Shambrook

There’s not a lot of privacy so choose your site well, you’ll need rocks or bushes to do your business behind. (And take a trowel if you need to) It really is back to basics! Don’t be shy…though the sheep up there are!

Sleeping. We took self-inflating mats to place our sleeping bags on, and for me that worked. I was worried my back wouldn’t hold out, but I took preventative pills and was careful. And I would just use a hoody or jacket for a pillow. Remember to take warm clothes, socks in particular! Even in a sleeping bag you can get cold.

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Vince and Lisa © Lisa Shambrook

Hubby didn’t sleep. Hubby has decided he’s never camping again! But he did take a look at the stars and stared in wonder at the clarity and beauty up there in the night sky!

I didn’t sleep much myself, half hour stops and starts, but that may have been due to hubby’s discomfort. Anyway, at 5am we called it quits and got up to see in the dawn. We’d watched the sunset the night before and now as the clock moved to 6am the new sun peeped over the misty horizon and graced us with its presence. It was mighty cold up there, sitting on the rocks wrapped in sleeping bags, watching the sunrise, but spectacular, and a sight not to be missed.

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Main: Sunrise on Dartmoor, moors, and bottom left: sunset, bottom right: sunrise © Lisa Shambrook

After breakfast we packed up and trekked back a much easier way. We were greeted in Belstone village by a herd of gorgeous Dartmoor ponies, and tired but happy, we made it to the car and I drove home, letting hubby catch up on sleep!

Two days later and we were catching the 2am coach to London…to experience the other end of the spectrum!

We stayed in Travelodge in Covent Garden, which was very good in comparison to some Travelodge’s we’ve been to. We slept well, on lovely beds, hubby mentioned the comfort more than once…

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Street Art, Captain Jack Sparrow, bubbles, living statue, Covent Garden © Lisa Shambrook

We ate out at Zizzi in Covent Garden too, absolutely gorgeous Italian fare, pizza and carbonara, and desserts to die for.

We’d spent our first day at the Science Museum, and had our first experience of IMAXWow! The Red Arrows simulator was cool, the others not quite as much, but we had fun.

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Les Miserables Queens Theatre © Lisa Shambrook

We saw our very first West End show, drinking in every moment of Les Miserables at Queens Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. It was amazing and we’d happily watch it all over again! We know the show well, from the film, the DVD’s of anniversary shows, the soundtrack – everything. I had the original soundtrack when I was a teen and had always longed to go and see it live, and now I have! I can’t praise it enough.

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Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, The London Dungeons, Lion Brewery Lambeth Lion on Westminster Bridge, Tube © Lisa Shambrook

The next day took us to Westminster and all the touristy stuff. The obligatory Big Ben and Houses of Parliament pictures, and then The London Dungeons. I hadn’t expected much from the dungeons, most attractions these days are over-priced and we hadn’t been able to use our Tesco vouchers to pay for entry – plan ahead – The Dungeons can be covered with Tesco vouchers but they need to post your tickets to you. The Dungeons blew us away with a great show and fun history – think Horrible Histories and you’re right there. Another attraction we highly recommend!

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The Tate Modern Art © Lisa Shambrook

We wandered the Southbank, and ended up at the Tate Modern, which I’d always wanted to visit too. Now, I have a lovely husband – he’s not interested in modern art at all – but he patiently walked round the gallery, then waited out on the Thames in the sun, while we finished. That’s love.

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The London Underground and maps © Lisa Shambrook

London is busy. The tube is busy, the buses are busy, the pavements and parks are busy. There are people everywhere. I’m not a people person. But I did love the atmosphere, the street artists, the energy, the excitement, and my daughters drank it all in!

I might also have had a slightly obsessive interest in walking down streets found on the Monopoly board… We ate in Bow street, and we went to Leicester Square…

So, thus, we experienced both extremes in a matter of days…

My conclusion, if I pitch the stark, lonely, beauty of Dartmoor against the busy, social, bright lights of London, the countryside wins for me. I’m always going to be a country-girl, despite having been born and raised in vibrant Brighton! However, I’ve now spent more of my life in the country than the city and it suits me.  

So, what about you?

Are you a lover of the natural countryside or
do you adore the city and its bright lights?

Trentham Gardens – Beauty and Creativity: Nature unbound…

I seek out both beauty and nature, and it soothes my soul
when I discover a place where they exist hand-in-hand –
Trentham Gardens is such a place.

trentham gardens farie sculptures, robin wight, amy wight, dandelions,Just a couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend, Julia, shared a photograph of Dandelion sculptures and when it came up on my newsfeed they made me draw my breath. I had no idea where they were, but I searched for Trentham Gardens and discovered that they were close to Stoke…and I was heading up to Preston soon. I knew I wanted to see these installations first hand and nothing was going to stop me seeking out the beauty and creativity of these lovely gardens.

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Trentham Gardens © Lisa Shambrook

My husband and I braved the motorways, which seemed to be nonstop jams, and spent a revitalising afternoon at the Trentham Estate.

Trentham has a recorded history from 1086, receiving a mention in the Domesday book through to current times with a fascinating history, and the gardens feature greatly, including landscape design from the famous Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. This place is indeed a site of nature unbound and nature contained…my favourite being the unbound kind of nature!

You can shop and eat in the shopping village with free parking, and the garden’s entry price is found here. Once inside the magnificent landscape, with children’s play area, formal and informal gardens, the lake and woodland walks, intense beauty is right at your fingertips.

…and…there are fairies at Trentham…

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

Many fairies, fourteen, I think, live within Trentham’s bounds…and your aim is to find each of them. They were created from galvanised and stainless steel wire by sculptor Robin Wight (Facebook Page), and his daughter Amy Wight recently created the huge dandelions in the wildflower meadow.

Fairies at Trentham Gardens by Robin Wight © Lisa Shambrook

Fairies at Trentham Gardens by Robin Wight © Lisa Shambrook

These dandelions stand fifteen feet tall and make you feel like a fairy yourself as you stand at their feet and gaze up at the wishes blowing out across the blue sky…

Make your own wish, and see if the fairies help them come true!

dandelions at Trentham Gardens by Amy Wight,

Dandelions at Trentham Gardens by Amy Wight © Lisa Shambrook

I was amazed at the sheer beauty and craftsmanship. The dandelions stretch high and shimmer as the sun dances upon them and Trentham loves you to share your photos #TrenthamGardens on Twitter and Instagram…

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Sculptures at Trentham Gardens © Lisa Shambrook

Each fairy, an exquisite piece of art, invites you to believe in fairytales and dreams and you’ll be searching high and low to find them. Fairies aren’t the only art installations either; search for the otters, stag beetles, deer and birds among other sculpted creatures and delights.

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Trentham Gardens in Autumn…note the dandelions in the centre of the photo… © Lisa Shambrook

I adored Trentham, especially in autumn, there’s no comparison for me. Autumn brings gold, russet and red tones, and a carpet of leaves to crunch and rustle through. The woodland walk and lake is magical; you’ll see herons and swans, and hear the birds twittering above you. The old mansion is a romantic ruin, but you’ll imagine courting couples wandering through the historical gardens, and maybe lovers catching a kiss beneath the arches and trees…

Discover the fairies at Trentham © Lisa Shambrook

Discover the fairies at Trentham and check out the size comparison! © Lisa Shambrook

Take a walk yourself and bathe yourself in history and beauty…
and nature unbound…and let the fairies guide you!

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Spring Fairy at Trentham Dandelions © Lisa Shambrook

Wishes do come true…

Nature Unbound © Lisa Shambrook, trentham gardens,

Nature Unbound © Lisa Shambrook

Harry Potter Studio Tour – Entering a World of Magic

When you enter a world of Magic – you become part of it!

harry-potter-studio-tour-july-2015-titleThat’s what happened when we visited the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour London. We discovered a place of wonder and became part of a legend…and fervently wished we’d enrolled at Hogwarts

Dumbledore's Study, Chess piece, Aragog  Chamber of Secrets,Creature books, Knight Bus, Ministry of Magic and Potions Room © Lisa Shambrook

Dumbledore’s Study, Chess piece, Aragog, Chamber of Secrets, Creature books, Knight Bus, Ministry of Magic and Potions Room © Lisa Shambrook

Potions Room © Lisa Shambrook

Potions Room © Lisa Shambrook

Day trips these days are expensive, anything from dungeons, to theme parks, to zoos etc, they cost a small fortune and if I’m paying over £100 I want value for money. The Studio Tour is not cheap, I balked when I first saw how much it would cost, but as we’re all such huge Harry Potter fans, I relented.

I’m glad I did. I, and my family, came away feeling uplifted, fascinated, full of wonder and truly happy having experienced the sets and stories that filled the day.

Dumbledore's Study and Hogwarts Display © Lisa Shambrook

Dumbledore’s Study and Hogwarts Display © Lisa Shambrook

Under the stairs... © Lisa Shambrook

Under the stairs… © Lisa Shambrook

The excitement starts as soon as you walk inside, the cast members pictures grace the walls and the car from The Chamber of Secrets hangs in the entrance…you’re there! You queue and pass Harry’s room beneath the stairs, and then the experience begins…

© Lisa Shambrook

© Lisa Shambrook

I’m not going to tell you what happens next, you need to go and see for yourself, but enjoy the pictures and know that it’s all ten times better in the flesh!

Last bit of advice: book early, choose a time that suits and take your time as you wander. Make sure you have time to see everything and watch the information clips that accompany most sets. (We booked late and got a 5.30pm tour, we weren’t rushed, but we could have spent much longer there!)

Discover the magic that is Harry Potter!

Potions Room and Ollivanders in Diagon Alley © Lisa Shambrook

Potions Room and Ollivanders in Diagon Alley © Lisa Shambrook

Lisa and Bekah and wands (Fleur Delacour's and Hermione Granger's) © Lisa Shambrook

Lisa and Bekah and wands (Fleur Delacour’s and Hermione Granger’s) © Lisa Shambrook

Excited with House Ties: Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. On the Hogwarts Express and afterwards at the exit, happy! © Lisa Shambrook

Excited with House Ties: Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. On the Hogwarts Express and afterwards at the exit, happy! © Lisa Shambrook

And I can’t leave you without a hint of what you see in the final room…photographs cannot do it justice…

Hogwarts © Lisa Shambrook

Hogwarts © Lisa Shambrook

Lastly, we watched all of the movies, all eight of them (because re-reading the books would’ve taken a little longer) before we went…and, to be honest, when we got home, we wanted to watch them all over again!

What would you have wanted to see most from the Harry Potter world of magic?

Road Trip through the raw beauty of Wales

Harry Potter, lily ponds, castles, beaches, mountains –
Preseli, Berwyn, Black, Cambrian and Snowdonia, lakes and reservoirs, and waterfalls…
Our holiday road trip was packed full with literature, raw beauty, water and history…

Road trip through the raw beauty of WalesSo join me on a photographic journey across England and Wales…

We watched all the Harry Potter movies, pretty much back-to-back (because rereading the books would have taken a teeny bit longer!) before we arrived at Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. I’ll do a separate post on this tour at some point, because it deserves it, but suffice to say it was awesome – and left us with a desire to rewatch all the movies back-to-back again! All days out (theme oriented) are expensive these days, but for the price and feel-good factor, this was worth it.

Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London © Lisa Shambrook

We spent two thirds of the HP entry price the next day at Howletts zoo, but in the heat it appeared that most of their animals were asleep. We only saw a handful: a lioness, lots of elephants, hogs, several monkeys, two gorillas and…um, nope, that’s it. The keeper at the Lemur walk-through was actually showing people photos of the lemurs on his iPhone to prove they were actually there! We saw a bunny rabbit… It must have been a bad day. We went when the children were small eight years ago and it was great, not so much this time…

Howletts Zoo and Margate seafront © Lisa Shambrook

Howletts Zoo and Margate seafront © Lisa Shambrook

Margate has a lovely beach and we enjoyed an evening there, on the eastern side of England.

Raglan Castle and the drive to Wales © Lisa Shambrook

Raglan Castle and the drive to Wales © Lisa Shambrook

On our return to Wales we stopped at Raglan Castle – beautiful. We had gorgeous weather and cute moorhen ducklings in the moat. In case you wondered some of the BBC’s Merlin was also filmed there.

Bosherston lily ponds were enchanting, a twenty minute walk along the ponds took us to the beach, and despite a sudden rainfall we loved paddling in the sea! I’m always happy with my feet in the ocean…

Bosherston lily ponds, beach and Tenby seagulls © Lisa Shambrook

Bosherston lily ponds, beach and Tenby seagulls © Lisa Shambrook

We ate chips on Tenby beach accosted by gangs of seagulls…

LLansteffan Castle © Lisa Shambrook

LLansteffan Castle © Lisa Shambrook

Our next castle was Llansteffan, on our doorstep, and a regular walk with Roxy our German Shepherd.

Manorbier Castle and Pembrokeshire Falconry © Lisa Shambrook

Manorbier Castle and Pembrokeshire Falconry © Lisa Shambrook

The following day our road trip resumed with a falconry display at Manorbier Castle by Pembrokeshire Falconry. The birds were stunning and made the day. I’d expected the castle to be larger, but it was pretty. It was a quick walk to the beach for a picnic.

Aberieddy Blue Lagoon, Trefin and Aberywstyth © Lisa Shambrook

Aberieddy Blue Lagoon, Trefin and Aberywstyth © Lisa Shambrook

Lisa seaweed hair - © Bekah Shambrook

© Bekah Shambrook

We then travelled across Pembrokeshire to the famous Blue Lagoon to watch intrepid adventurers jump off the old slate quarry into the almost 100 foot deep lagoon. I was mistaken when I told someone it was 300 foot…oops. We drove through the Preseli Mountains up to Aberystwyth stopping off at hidden beaches – Trefin and Abercastle – on the way, where I tried on a wig of seaweed, very fetching!

Elan Valley Reservoirs, Penbont Bridge, Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir, Snowdonia, Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall © Lisa Shambrook

Elan Valley Reservoirs, Penbont Bridge, Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir, Snowdonia, Pistyll Rhaeadr © Lisa Shambrook

The next day saw us at the Elan Valley Reservoirs. I’m researching Wales for my next books and found some fantastic locations which are now stored in my head as my books await a rewrite! The brainstorming in the car was fabulous and inspiring…and there will be dragons! Then up to Lake Vyrnwy, which was disappointingly grey in the rain and obscured for the most part by trees. I’d seen a Pinterest pic of the lake’s straining tower, but no chance of recreating that pic without a telephoto lens! Up to Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wales’s tallest waterfall at 240 foot, and it is stunning! Though, don’t park for £3 at the farmhouse, park on the road further down for free and take a five minute walk to it.

Sgwd-y-Eira, The Black Mountain and ponies © Lisa Shambrook

Sgwd-y-Eira, The Black Mountain and ponies © Lisa Shambrook

We discovered Sgwd yr Eira and three other waterfalls in Merthyr on the Brecon Beacons. A two hour fast-pace walk, and lots of steps, but a curtain of rushing water and you could stand behind it (like neighbouring Henryd Falls) which is wonderful on a hot day as the water shimmers across you!

We enjoyed the ponies up on The Black Mountain, and marvelled at the sheer raw beauty of the limestone mountain.

Beth Gelert W R Spencer - Beddgelert © Lisa Shambrook

Beth Gelert W R Spencer – Beddgelert © Lisa Shambrook

Then on our last day, straight up the west coast to Cader Idris, a mystical sight veiled in low cloud and mist, and to the decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station. We stopped at Beddgelert, the scene of ‘Beth Gelert’ my favourite tear-jerker poem by William Robert Spencer, then a quick look at hiker-smothered Mount Snowdon and down through the gorgeous gorge of Llanberis Pass.

Cader Idris, Snowdonia, Conwy Castle, Swallow Falls, Blaenau Ffestiniog © Lisa Shambrook

Cader Idris, Snowdonia, Conwy Castle, Swallow Falls, Blaenau Ffestiniog © Lisa Shambrook

We followed to Caernarfon and a drive-by of the castle where Prince Charles’s investiture took place, then we drove up the coast and took a wrong turn and literally stumbled upon Conwy Castle. We stopped and explored. It’s stunning. The town is surrounded by the castle walls and was built eight hundred years ago at the cost of £15,000 which would £45 million today. It was our favourite castle of the four we visited, and highly recommended as you can walk the castle walls, climb up the towers and explore for a good couple of hours, the rain didn’t hamper our visit.

We came back via Swallow Falls at Betws-y-Coed, entry through a turnstile at £1.50 (see how many you can fit in a turnstile – Shhh, I didn’t say that…) Very pretty. Whilst in North Wales I was also searching for a hairpin road up a mountain that I’d seen as a kid, but only when we turned off at Blaenau Ffestiniog’s Hydro Electric Power Station did I find it. Sadly, the road up the mountain is now closed off, but we had a lovely walk up through the clouds on a path of slate and waterfalls.

Blaenau Ffestiniog Hydro Electric Power Station Waterfalls and Slate © Lisa Shambrook

Blaenau Ffestiniog Hydro Electric Power Station Waterfalls and Slate © Lisa Shambrook

From there it was the long drive home, back through the stunning countryside of Wales. We’d covered 1,300 miles, across England from Margate in Eastern Kent to Pembrokeshire, West Wales, and up through Mid and North Wales and back. We had huge fun, and the car exhaust was fine until seven miles from home, when it fell off…but we were rescued and got home safe and sound!

Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia © Lisa Shambrook

Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia © Lisa Shambrook

We are incredibly blessed to live in such a glorious, beautiful country and our road trip made us appreciate our surroundings all the more!

Shambrook Family Selfie (sans Dan who's in Canada!) © Bekah Shambrook

Aberystwyth – Shambrook Family Selfie (sans Dan who’s in Canada!) © Bekah Shambrook