Announcement!

I am Moving! South West Wonderer has moved from WordPress to Blogger. I have a new look, and a new domain. www.southwestwonderer.co.uk Isn’t it fancy! Now that I have finally finished my assignments for university I can focus more on my blog. The long overdue part 2 to Torquay will be posted today on my new blog so keep and eye out for that one. I also have a Twitter especially for the blog, @SW_Wonderer to find me on there.

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Sun, Sea and Super Shirts in Torquay (Part 1)

Groupon is a wonderful tool and bagging a discount fills me with joy, I can’t help myself. I am a fan of The English Riviera and have been several times, but never had the pleasure of staying the night. This post will be split over two parts and today’s post is based around my day and night in Torquay. My travelling companion Lauren, who accompanied me on the last treasure trail in Plymouth and myself left Plymouth at half past nine, and boarded the train heading to Newton Abbot, which contrary to my post about trains was relatively pleasant. We both looked like school kids with their backpacks on ready with our packed lunches ready. We arrived nice and early in Torquay at 11am where we started our trek down towards the town. We were on holiday and we were proud, the weather was surprisingly glorious, and we were significantly overdressed.

 

You might remember when I put on my ‘metaphoric tourist hat’ but I can now reveal that I have changed this to an actual straw hat, which, along with the rest of my ensemble…  Well I will let you decide what you think of that one.

 

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The first section of our day was purely a shopping trip, and if you were wondering that shirt is £9.99 in H&M. After quite a heavy shopping session we were starting to get a bit peckish, and settled on a Cornish bakery for lunch. A cheese and bacon croissant was my choice and the mixture of sweet and savoury was surprisingly pleasant.

 

At this time, it was about 1 in the afternoon and the sun was out shining, so after we finished with our shopping we decided we would be the best tourists we could be, so we went on the Ferris Wheel, despite with steep fares. The views out to sea were phenomenal and you could see down the coast line to Paignton too and it is a view you can’t get elsewhere so it was a lovely experience. Once we disembarked we started out walk to the Hotel Cimon to check in. We arrived a bit early but the Manager, Jade was very lovely and welcoming.

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“Welcome, come on in.” She Chimed as we arrived at the Hotel. “How are you two today? Good Journey?” Jade Asked

 

“Fantastic thanks, weather is beautiful today” I Replied

 

“Wonderful, follow we and I will give you a tour and grab you your keys” She invited us in and we followed her down the stairs to the conservatory and breakfast area.

 

“This is where you will have your breakfast” as she went on to explain the details she handed us our keys and showed us to our rooms.

 

“Your Prosecco is in the fridge chilled, you guys enjoy. Just come and give me a shout if you two need anything.” She left us then to our own devices.

 

Her service was top notch and we fell very welcomed here. The room was newly decorated, bright and very clean and the bed was unbelievably comfortable! That’s my hotel review done, and I do certainly recommend this hotel.

 

We left the hotel after freshening up and changing, and most importantly polishing off the prosecco to head and complete Torquay’s version of the treasure trail. After three hours of trotting up and down hills we finished up at Corbyn Head, and we were now very hungry, but also a bit chilly now the sun had set. We ran back to the hotel to change into something more appropriated and walked down to Rock Garden in town.

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We were rocking our matching shirts!

Rock Garden had such a chilled atmosphere, good food, and lovely pitchers of cocktails. Oh, and don’t forget the live music, although the country music did feel slightly out of place here. We shared a plate of pulled pork nachos for started and we both had a pizza burger for main. This place has literally merged two of my favourite foods together. They made a burger, then wrapped it in pizza bread and topped with tomato sauce and cheese. Literally a burger inside a pizza, heaven. We were so stuffed we could not fit in a desert at all. We could however fit more drinks in at spoons down the road because we all know drinks go into a different stomach.

 

We finished our night there because after today’s excessive walking we were well and truly drained. The walk back was all uphill so that alone was enough to make me moan, but I can’t blame Torquay’s geology for that.

 

Next post will be the walk from Torquay to Paignton and what we got up to over there.

 

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Pirate’s Life for Me!

Today’s post is going to follow a very specific trail following a ‘Treasure Trails’ treasure hunt. The aim: to follow the directions, solve all the clues and figure out the mystery, in this case, to find out where the drunken captain had hidden his stash of gin… If only the treasure was real gin at the end. I can dream…

 

My trusty treasure tracker Lauren and I started the treasure hunt outside Plymouth Pavilions. Now I won’t be giving any answers just in case anybody would do this trail for themselves so I won’t give you any spoilers. So here we are, standing in the freezing cold of Plymouth Pavilions car park where we begin. The first direction steered us towards Salumi Bar and Restaurant. The first clue given to us was supposed to be ‘an easy one to start us off’. The fact we were stood in the same spot for longer than I’d like to admit completely dumbfounded did not fill us with confidence for the rest of the day. Once we figured out where the cross-section of a lighthouse lay, we had our first clue. However, it very quickly became apparent that we didn’t actually have a pen to write down the answers with. This lead me to quickly run to the Duke of Cornwall Hotel opposite.

 

“Excuse me, random question but I’m currently doing this treasure trail but we’ve forgotten a pen, would you happen to have a spare one I could possibly use please?” I asked the receptionist at the hotel.

 

“yeah, sure, of Course you can” the receptionist replied enthusiastically.

 

“Oh my goodness. Thank you so much, you’re a lifesaver!” I smiled.

 

As I left the hotel to continue the trail she shouted, “Good Luck with the treasure hunt”.

 

We would need all the luck we could get and now we could properly begin.  We lasted approximately 10 minutes before a passer-by asked if we were lost. As we walk down towards the waterfront we slowly begin to gain momentum solving clues faster than Holmes and Watson, perhaps we missed our true calling. I certainly knew watching all those Criminal Minds and CSI would pay off.

 

We were well and truly into the swing of our treasure hunt and as we turned off Grande Parade to follow the SW Coast Path we found a lovely stretch with modal Navy boats on the wall, the idyllic sea and the sun beginning to set could mean only one thing… Impromptu photoshoot!

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Despite the temperatures dropping and daylight slowly fading away in front of us, the trail did take us all the way along Plymouth Waterfront. We stopped for a break near Tinside Lido for our second coffee of the day (First was before we even started) for a little bit of warmth and to bring some feeling to our icicles we called fingers, which was certainly needed at this point. We had made it roughly halfway along the trail and now things were getting tough. Was it the bitter cold making everything numb including our brains or was this getting difficult? I think it’s clear when the clue you’re trying to find is an oversized and completely innocuous (blatantly obvious) heart fixed to the wall, directly in front of us. Now Lauren and I seem to be channelling Shaggy and Scooby Doo, but this does nothing to our enthusiasm as we make our way towards Plymouth Barbican, crossing off our clues one by one.

 

The thing about doing these treasure trails is that feeling you get when you finally solve a clue or working out the riddle. There is a really satisfying feeling of accomplishment in there and it is certainly rewarding, even if there is no actual treasure.

 

We solve our last handful of clues down by Mayflower Steps (after about half an hour of walking around in circles which we shall just gloss over) and we did it. We finished the treasure trail. And after checking the answer online we did it correctly. Every single answer was correct, even Shaggy and Scooby solve the mystery in the end. It is supposed to take approximately 1.5 hours and we did it in a little over 3, and is 1.5 miles in length and we walked a lot longer than that in the end when counting all the times we walked in circles!  In the last post that took me to the Barbican I visited Cap’n Jaspers, but tonight we decided fish and chips were calling our name and it would be rude not to respond. We went to the award-winning Harbourside for celebratory chips and that was a very well-earned prize for finishing the trail.

 

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Look out for the next post which will take us through the English Riviera town on Paignton. As always comments are appreciated and help with future posts. Pop in your email to be notified when I post next.

I NEVER WANT TO RIDE ANOTHER TRAIN… EVER

So, today’s somewhat delayed post will be a nice little rant about the joys or rather the pains of trains around Christmas. I thought I had it all planned out. I bought my train tickets nice and early at a decent price, it was a straight through journey from Plymouth to Tamworth, roughly 4 hours long and I had my own reserved seat, ideal, or so I thought. I had an email come through about a week before my journey was due to take place which stated:

 

Unfortunately, the RMT union has called potential strike days for Saturday 23 December, Sunday 24 December, Wednesday 27 December and Sunday 31 December that will significantly affect CrossCountry train services. We plan to operate a reduced service, but using longer trains where possible”

 

Now, this is definitely not what I wanted to hear, both of my journeys fell on strike days, and I will admit now that obscenities were spoken. Using the new timetables, I then established that NO CrossCountry trains would be running to and from Plymouth but instead Exeter. After a long session analysing options, I found the best train to be the 05:25 GWR train to Taunton, Change at Taunton to Bristol and then do the remainder of the outbound journey on CrossCountry to Tamworth. All was fine and dandy up until Bristol and I am being deadly serious, there were hundreds of people on the Platform waiting for my train. Oh dear (Not exactly what I mumbled). What usually happens on the platform is everyone congregates in the middle where the train would pull up, so I had the wonderful idea to walk down the platform towards where the rear of the train would stop, and less people waited. That made perfect sense to me. That was until about 2 minutes before the train arrived…

 

“This is a platform alteration. The 08.30 Train will now depart from Platform 4”

 

Because I had the genius idea of walking to the end of the platform this now meant that I was at the very back of the stampede of people all fighting to get to Platform 4. I was really in a grump by now. After a bit of pushing and shoving, I managed to somehow squeeze into the train and it was like this all the way to Tamworth, packed in like sardines, ‘Cattle Class’ as its referred to according to some people up in Birmingham.

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Coming back down to Plymouth was equally disturbing. All but three trains for the day were cancelled going down south. The first was 11:20 and on any day the first train going from Tamworth to Birmingham is annoyingly busy. This was no exception. This was then followed by the train being 1 hour delayed before I even got on. It was not pleasant waiting in the freezing cold on the platform. Once the train pulled in it was obvious to everyone that we were all not getting on, so following my theory from earlier I walked down the platform and tried to get on. I pressed the little button and when the door opened I was greeted with about a dozen people glaring at me.

 

“Anyone getting off?” I asked.

 

“No… There’s no space here either!” someone in the group shouted out to me.

 

“OH, I BET THERE IS!” I grunted as me and my suitcase invaded the vestibule.

 

It was unbearable for about 15 mins until we got into Birmingham, where, while everyone was shuffling around letting people off, I slid through the crowd and nabbed one of the very few seats made newly available. I got lots of disapproving looks but it’s a cut throat game this one. This is where I remained all the way to Exeter where I changed and joined an equally busy GWR service to finish the remainder of my journey.

 

I finally dragged myself and my case to my flat where I collapsed in bed and ordered what I believe to be a VERY well-deserved pizza.

 

Please don’t make me face the trains again… Thanks.

 

Little note from me: I have purposely decided to take a negative tone in this post, please let me know if you like bad things happening in my posts or whether it should be more positive. It would greatly help my research on the topic analysing whether bad things happening are more interesting than pleasant things.

Photo Credits: ABC Railway Guide, Birmingham Mail

 

Plymouth at Christmas

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’, sings Andy Williams on every Christmas playlist played anywhere. But is it really? Does Christmas still have the same magic? Now I’m not Scrooge at all, December is my favourite month of them all. I’m in my element in December but walking through Plymouth City Centre can be a real rollercoaster of emotions. During the day, it has the same generic atmosphere any town centre has, but after the sun sets, something happens. The lights come on, and a true Christmas vibe develops. The Plymouth Christmas Market is a beautiful arrangement in the piazza of stalls selling gifts, ornaments and food. It’s the only time of year I’d happily browse through wooden gnomes while slowly sipping mulled wine and scoffing a hot pizza cone.

Side Note: I was very underwhelmed by the Yorkshire Pudding Wrap, despite its hype.

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The Christmas lights twinkling overhead, the laughter of kids on the rides and the music in the background provide a lovely atmosphere when walking through the city centre, and it’s something that happens year in year out. Christmas just brings out a joy in people which is evident when you see families out having fun and laughing. It could be sub-zero temperatures (or what feels like) outside but around Christmas, we just wrap up ‘as snug as a bug in a rug’ and get on with it and enjoy ourselves. Any other time of the year and us Brits would moan!

 

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Believe it or not, I was just running to the shop. 

 

Back on point, I do have very mixed emotions over the Christmas market though. The actual market itself cannot really be faulted. If you’re in the area it’s well worth a look around, but it would be better to go when it’s quieter or the experience will be dampened by the sheer number of people.

As delightful it is to look around the stalls, it becomes less enjoyable when surrounded by hundreds of people who all seem to have lost every ounce of common sense and any manners. With that said, this time of year is the most stressful time for shopping so I will let them off. There was one thing in particular which put a dampener on my mood this holiday season, and that was the disaster that was my train journey to Tamworth (and back again) for Christmas and I will talk in detail about this ‘adventure’ in my next post.

Hidden Gardens of Plymouth Part 2

It’s about time I break my peace and get up from the bench and venture up this staircase. What will I find? How big are the gardens? Is it going to be as good as what I’ve already seen? These are some of the questions going through my head as I walk. At the top, there is large tree central to the cube in which I am standing, to my right an enclosed seating area and to the left a staircase down leading to the remainder of the garden. This large tree brings life and colour to the area with the floor covered with a gentle layer of yellow leaves, giving a calming autumnal feel (See photo in first Hidden Gardens post). Down the second stairs, I find the source of the running water, I previously heard. It was delightful to find a small fountain sprinkling water into a shallow pool.

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As I was exploring I met the first person in about half an hour sitting on a bench near the fountain, for the purpose of anonymity we shall call her Claire. Claire was on her lunch break from work and we sat and talked for the remainder of her break. It’s surprising the number of topics two strangers can cover in ten minutes (in my experience Janners (plymouthians) can be very talkative). We were talking about pets, professions and even the paranormal! However, the topic, as always, turned to food (naturally) and the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms, the one with the nice breakfast (see the first post), where Claire asked, “What do you normally have?”

“The big breakfast of course” I replied.

“Ayyy can’t go wrong with a big breakfast, where do you stand on the whole black pudding debate?”

Now I do have to make a confession, I am firmly against black pudding, sorry.

“Ooh sausage dog!” exclaimed Claire excitedly.

The arrival of a miniature dachshund (eventually followed by his owner) brought us both back to the reality and that Claire has to go back to work so we both set off together leaving this idyllic hidden gem behind, without a shadow of a doubt I would be returning again soon.

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Walking down New Street I headed down to see the notorious Mayflower Steps where the Pilgrim Fathers left Plymouth in 1620 for North America. What you see here is the remains of the steps called a portico (porch/entranceway) made with columns of Portland stone and a small platform overlooking the water. Now, the other places on the Barbican Heritage Trail were inaccessible at the time due to the walkway being out of action and I didn’t have time to walk the long way around.

I decided to end my trail at the world famous Cap’n Jaspers. This is the lunch I have been looking forward to all afternoon. I settled on the ‘Jasperizer’ which I completely and utterly underestimated. Three buns, two burgers, bacon, cheese and a generous helping of onions. I could already feel my arteries clogging. But for £4.95, I certainly got my money’s worth. It was a delicious lunch, now sat here I don’t want to move. I have been defeated and now must take a gentle walk home, stuffed by that monster of a burger.

I will finish this post with a picture of my lunch, let the jealousy commence.

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Hidden Gardens of Plymouth Barbican

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So, today (Tuesday 10th October) I put on my little tourist hat and had a walk down towards Plymouth Barbican, where I was going to follow the Barbican Heritage Trail (albeit not in any order). I guess you could say I was just sightseeing. I started the walk all the way back in Armada Way, in the hustle and bustle of city life where everyone has a place to be, even the fruit stand seemed in a rush to close up as the owner shouted, “Pound to clear the fruit!”, I nearly ended up with a punnet of strawberries without even starting the walk. But I resisted, having a feeling I knew what was for lunch today.

The route I was following today would start on Southside Street, where sat my first stop, Plymouth Gin Distillery. Now, this is not because of my love of Gin (which I can neither confirm nor deny) but it was simply the first one on my list. Now to prevent this being a long history essay, I will put in little ‘Fun Facts’ about each place on the walk.

Fun Fact: Plymouth Gin Distillery is the oldest working distillery of its kind in England and has been in operation since 1793, working to the same recipe all this time too.

Due to being short on time, I was only able to have a look in their gin shop, which, in my opinion, was delightful, but let’s move on. (Tours cost £7 and last nearly an hour)

Carrying on down this small street, flowered with small independent shops and art galleries, it almost feels like it isn’t a part of Plymouth at all, this small area east of Plymouth Hoe has been forgotten in time and left with its cobbled streets and low doorways. It’s refreshing and interesting to see this little street, bursting with life and still have all these unique yet thriving shops. To which the fudge shop was particularly appealing! Once again, I had to resist the temptation (which this time was ten times harder to achieve) and walked on.

I turned right onto White Lane which left me on New Street, and considerably out of breath after climbing a huge (really not that huge) hill. I was familiar with this part because I had eaten many times at the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms who made a fantastic breakfast and lovely cup of coffee, but I digress. To the right of the tea rooms lay the Elizabethan Gardens, the highlight of the trail today. The ten-foot corridor into the gardens was a tunnel through time. I felt as though I was an explorer travelling to an untouched part of Plymouth, much left behind, but no less cared for. It was beautiful. As I entered the garden this was the perfect opportunity to gather my thoughts about the first half of the day, so I sat on a small concrete bench and started to write. This has to be the most peaceful, calming area of Plymouth I had ever seen. There was no noise of the outside world, just the tweeting of the birds and the trickling of water, which I presume is past the staircase I am yet to climb.

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This garden is so peaceful and all I can think to say about it is that it provides absolute tranquillity, perfect for writers or artists seeking a quiet place to sit. I will end this post with another fun fact.

Fun Fact: The Elizabethan Gardens of New Street were first mentioned in 1584, where well-off merchants would have their houses on this street and maintained well-kept gardens.

The next post will see what is atop these stairs and who I could meet on the rest of the Barbican Heritage Trail.