And then it was Friday!

Another week has flown by! I can’t believe it’s Friday already! So much has happened in just a few days!

Technically for us it was only a 4 day week as we took Monday off. If you read my previous blog you will know we spent the weekend in Gloucester. As we hadn’t had a break for 6 months, I really needed to charge my batteries!

So on Monday, we decided to extend our weekend and head to Stonehenge for the day!

I can’t believe I’ve never been before. It’s only a couple of hours drive away. It’s also free if you belong to English Heritage, which we do, so there has really been no excuse.

The weather was on our side! It was a beautiful spring day. Don’t get me wrong, it was blooming cold and windy, but the sun was out.

When you drive to Stonehenge you may be surprised to see it from the road. Well I was! It was just like the first time I saw the pyramids in Cairo.

I had visions of them being in a remote area. Next to a busy road was not what I expected!

Although it is free to enter for us, you still have to book a slot. This is such a good idea as it limits the crowds.

Once you collect your tickets, you can go into their visitor centre which tells you all about the history of Stonehenge. English Heritage are really good at giving you information in the form of audio equipment. Sadly, in the excitement we forgot to get ours! It didn’t matter though, there was still a lot of information about.

Next you get to walk around a replica village. I was a bit disappointed here as only one little house was open for you to view! This meant everyone was focused on the one building rather than spreading it around.

Next you board a shuttle bus that takes you to the stones. They run every few minutes, so it’s all relaxed! You can walk it if you like, but as I said, it was a tad chilly!

Nowadays you can’t get very close to the stones. I can’t believe people used to try and damage them!

There is a good footpath around so you get a great 360 degree view of the stones. With the sun out and perfect blue skies, our cameras were busy!

If you go, look out for what is left of the old road next to the stones! Being so close, I can see why they moved it!

Here is an account of our day.

It was such a lovely day we decided to call into Bourton-on-the-Water for a very late lunch.

One of the benefits of going to tourist places this time of the year is that you miss the crowds.

We only had 1 extra day off, but I felt like I’d really had a good relaxing break!

Tuesday was back to work. Boo hoo! We live in hope to one day win the lottery so we can both travel more! It probably won’t happen, but you have to have a dream!

Have a great weekend!

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When you see your name in print!

Oh wow, how excited was I on 21st August , when I opened my emails?  There, in black and white, was an email from Countryfile Magazine, telling me a photo I had sent in of one of my dogs,  was selected as the winning entry, for the September edition of their magazine.  The competition was being sponsored by Halti, so I was also to receive a selection of their products!

I have been a fan of Countryfile ever since it started! Thankfully, my husband really enjoyed it too.  It has become a religion in our house now.  Every Sunday evening, we would have a roast dinner, then curl up on the sofa, to watch that weeks episode.

One day, I was sitting in a waiting room waiting for my medical.  On the table was a Countryfile magazine.  I had never seen it before, but was so absorbed in it, I was gutted when I had to go in for my appointment.

I immediately went out and subscribed to the magazine.  That was June 2012. And I’m still subscribing to it!

Every month, I have read the articles, looked at the walks and the competitions.  I have mentioned to my hubby many times that he should enter the competitions.  Both hubby and I love photography.  I have seen his photos, and I firmly believe he has some award winning pictures of his own.

I have never really thought any of mine would be good enough.  Then in July, after a trip to Isle of Skye, I saw the competition regarding pets on holiday.

I love taking photos of Fido and Lola, and had been pleased with how they had come out.  My hubby actually was the one who thought I should enter one of them into the competition.

I thought – why not!  What have I got to lose?  So on 16th July, I send off my photo.

When I received the email telling me I had won, I was absolutely shocked.  I didn’t care about the prize!  It was the fact that someone had thought my photo was good!  I couldn’t stop smiling.  Immediately, I started spreading the news!  I was now an award winning photographer!  Ok, it isn’t like I’m on TV or anything, but I was having my photo published in September’s edition of Countryfile Magazine.  I mean, Countryfile!

I have been waiting in excitement to see it in print.

Last night a friend received her copy of the magazine.  Mine hadn’t arrived, but she sent me a photo.  I was again in ‘smile’ mode!  She promised to bring me the magazine into work the next day.

When I saw it in print, it was like I had won the lottery!  Ok, most people won’t know me, but everyone who buys the magazine, will see the picture I took of Fido!

I was always into photography and competitions, just not both together!  This has given me a new motivation, to get out there and take more photos.  Learn more about my camera and  explore the countryside.

Sometimes, you just have to have confidence in your own ability.  If I hadn’t won, I wouldn’t have been disappointed, however now I have, I feel 10 feet tall.  I am very proud of myself, but more importantly, I am proud of my husbands word.  I know he takes some amazing photos too.  I will be pushing him more to get his work out there now!

Don’t ever doubt yourself.  Push yourself out there!  Sometimes, it turns into nothing, but other times, it fulfills your dreams and more!  I certainly will be doing more photographic competitions.  You never know, once day it may even get me on the TV with my photo in the Countryfile calendar!

You have to have a dream and ambition!

I have now started uploading some of my photos to YouTube.  If you are interested, subscribe to my channel.

Date Weekend – Day 2

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So I can officially call it a ‘date weekend’ as hubby’s birthday is now officially over!

It was due to be raining this morning, but I am pleased to say that even at 7 am the sun was out.  Yesterday we ran out of time to visit Hardwick Hall, which wasn’t a bad thing as it also started raining around that time. The plan today was to do a 10 km walk however we decided to put this off to a time when we had the dogs with us.  Instead, we will get up, have breakfast and head off to Hardwick Hall.  If we have time later and the weather holds,  we will go for a walk.

Breakfast at the hotel is buffet style.  I always say you can tell the quality of the hotel by the breakfast especially the fruit salad.  If it’s tinned its lower quality, up to all fresh – top of the class!  Today its a bit of both which is about right for this hotel.  The hot buffet is full of variety including the usual suspects of bacon, sausages, beans and fried eggs, along with black pudding, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and hash browns.  Great for my hubby but not for me though.  I was impressed to see gluten free bread.  This is not always readily available for anyone who needs this.  There is also a good mix of cereals with full fat and semi skimmed milk and even soya milk.  My friend Heather would be very happy with this breakfast selection.

I opt for the healthiest option of the fresh fruit salad with weetabix and semi skimmed milk, followed by baked beans, the better of the fried eggs, grilled tomatoes and a few mushrooms.  I don’t have any toast or bread as I had already had my HEB for a my weetabix.

We check out and head to Hardwick Hall.

Before I tell you about our day, let me give you my thoughts about the hotel.

Eastwood Hall Hotel

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The above is the photo you see on all the brochures.  It looks absolutely lovely doesn’t it, however this isn’t the part of the hotel you see!  The smaller building next to it is some ambulance depot or something, then you come to the main reception building.

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The hotel is very large with 150 bedrooms and 36 meeting rooms that can cater for anything from conferences to weddings.  Being a Saturday, there was a wedding on so the hotel and carpark was quite full.  There also seemed to be some rugby tournament for young boys on as there were hundreds of lads running around in their team rugby kits.  Because we had passed this ambulance buildings when we parked around the back of the hotel, my husband thought it looked like the back of a hospital so we were a little confused!

We checked in at reception and the staff were lovely and friendly.  Due to the shape of the building it was a long walk to our room.  This actually turned out to be a blessing as the room was very quiet.  It was clean and tidy and not a bad size. The only negative was the bathroom.  I always request a bath when we stay in a hotel and yes we did get one.  The only problem was you had to be about 4 foot tall to actually be able to relax in it.  The shower though was wonderful.  Very powerful.

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The hotel itself is set in beautiful grounds and if the weather had been better we might have seen more of them.

The restaurant was good with a good selection of food.  The service was excellent.

So how would I rate it?  Well lets break it down and score it out of 10!

Customer Service – 10

Cleanliness – 10

Bedroom – 8 – the bath let it down!

Restaurant – 9 – Fishcakes a bit dry!

Location – 9 – only 1.5 hours from home, good grounds

Value for money – 10 – I paid £110 for Dinner, bed and breakfast and a free bottle of wine with Great Little Break.

Overall – 9.3

So not a bad score.  Would we stay again – probably yes, especially if I can get the same deal again.

Hardwick Hall’s

This is 2 houses in 1 visit.  The first house is derelict and owned by English Heritage, while the other one just a few yards away is fully furnished and owned by the National Trust.  Both having amazing histories.  The sun is currently out so a fabulous day to start exploring the derelict one first!

Hardwick Old Hall

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This sadly is now a ruin but was originally the birth place of an Elizabethan lady called Bess of Hardwick.  One of the things I love about English Heritage sites is that you can choose to do a guided tour or an audio tour.  We always go for the latter as it allows us to wander at our own pace and take lots of photos.

Even though this home is now a ruin, you can still some of its original features.  As you listen to the history on the house and of Bess, you really start to feel like you know her.  By all accounts she really was a formidable women!  She had been married 4 times.  Her first husband died when she was only 16.   Her other marriages meant that she rose to the highest levels of English nobility and became extremely wealthy.  She was a shrewd business women with assets such as mines and glass making factories. In fact she was the richest women in England after Queen Elizabeth I!

Her fourth husband George Talbot really didn’t seem to like his wife very much and actually thought prison would have been a better sentence than being married to her!

It would seem that for Bess, showing off her wealth to everyone was important and that shows in both the halls.

Both homes have amazing views over the Derbyshire countyside.  It is strange then to wonder why Bess built the new Hardwick Hall a stones throw from her birth place.  I mean it wasn’t exactly small!  It was all about wealth I believe.  She didn’t abandon the old house when the new one was built as you would expect, she continued to live in both.  Unfortunately she didn’t continue to keep the old hall in good repair so it eventually became inhabitable and in the 18th century was opened to the pubic to visit it.  You can see though from the photos below what a stunning place it must have been in its time.

New Hardwick Hall

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Bess started building her new home in 1590 and moved in in 1957.    It remained in her family until the mid twentieth century.  The house was designed for her by Robert Smythson.  To show off her wealth, she filled it with the most beautiful of tapestries.  Many of which are still on show today.

The house apparently has more glass than walls!  It was the first English house to have the great hall built on an axis through the centre of the house rather than at a right angle to the entrance.

The gardens too are stunning.  They are filled with herbaceous borders, vegetable and herb gardens and an orchard.  We were there in spring so most plants were not out but the daffodils and tulips were beautiful.  I also had a little friend visit me in the garden, who brushed past my knees when I was bending down to take a picture.  He stopped for a while to make sure he got into the shot too!

If you want a day out I would certainly recommend both of these houses.  Each has its own character and charm.   The audio tour of the old house gives you a real insight into who Bess was.  I could talk more about her but then it would lose the surprise when you go and visit the house yourself.

After touring the gardens and houses, the plan was to take a walk around the extensive grounds.  Unfortunately just as we headed off the heavens opened, so we had to abandon that idea and headed home.

As we were driving out of the estate we noticed a carpark which had amazing views back across the houses.  The rain had eased off so we parked up to take some more photos.  We were down by the estate lakes so decided to have a quick walk around them before continuing home.  We are so glad we did as it gave us even more understanding of the vast land that Bess had owned in her day.

Getting out and exploring places like this is a wonderful way to get some exercise as well as to see some stunning landscapes and historical buildings.

We are members of both National Trust and English Heritage.  They cost around £80 each a year for a family ticket, however they are well worth it.  If you have children especially it is a great way to entertain them in the school holidays, teach them some history and also get a bit of exercise. In the last 2 days we have done over 35,000 steps which isn’t half bad!

To see more photos of our walk go to my YouTube channel https://youtu.be/JFgJ74hwPwg