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How to Spend a Week in the Australian Outback

 

The Australian Outback is totally unique, and unlike anywhere else on this planet. I spent some time exploring this incredible part of Oz during my recent six week adventure and have never had a travel experience quite like my week in the Outback; I would go as far as to say it was a totally life-changing seven days for me. I swapped my bed for a swag, make up for a bare face and wifi for human interaction, all of which were welcome changes to my temporary Australian Outback life. I found that the phrase ‘sleeping under the stars’ quite literally meant sleeping in the open with nothing over me or around me whatsoever, and my fly net became my new best friend. Despite having never camped in my ENTIRE LIFE, I had an absolute ball and would do it all again in a heartbeat. Want to know how I did it? You’ve come to the right place! I booked my adventure with Intrepid Travel on their Adelaide – Alice Springs Overland tour; here’s my day by day itinerary, and how you can do travel the Australian Outback too…

 

Day 1: Adelaide – Flinders Ranges

 

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Every once in a while do something that scares you πŸ’« I've never been camping in my ENTIRE LIFE and for the past two nights I've been sleeping under the stars in the Australian friggin outback!! 😩 On night 1 I was terrified and slept in my hoody, pjs, fly net and sleeping bag with the zips done all the way up to to the top! I got woken up by kangaroos bouncing around my head but apart from that I actually slept pretty well πŸ˜‚ By the second night I'd got the hang of it and literally just wore tiny pjs and slept with my legs out the sleeping bag as it was sooo hot! Kept flinching cos thought I had bugs on me when in reality it was just my hair πŸ˜… Tonight we are sleeping in an underground bunkhouse 😳 (I hope there are no spiders πŸ•·) What an amazing adventure I'm having – experiencing the nature of the outback, not wearing a scrap of make up or having any wifi, pushing myself out my comfort zone and embracing every second. ✨ The stars here are so incredible, I've been gazing up at them every night before falling asleep realising just how lucky I am to be on a journey like this one 🌟 #JessDoesAustralia #Days8-9

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Starting in Adelaide, I joined my 16 pax group and got acquainted with my tour leader (Kieran) and fellow tour-mates, where we got brief intro’s and awkward hello’s out of the way; little did I know that these people would become dear friends to me by the end of the week, and that I’d still talk to some of them every single day. Once on the road, on our comfortable coach with plenty of room for suitcases on the trailer which lagged behind us, we headed straight for Flinders Ranges, where we would be spending our first night on tour. We passed by Wilpena Pound (an incredible rocky landscape which was an epic backdrop for those all important Insta pics) and stopped for lunch before ending up in Flinders after around 5 hours of driving, where our camp was waiting for us. We went on an afternoon hike around the national park before heading back to camp for a tasty BBQ and then setting up our swags for the night. Let me just be clear with what I mean by the word ‘swag’ as you’ll hear it a lot throughout this post. A swag is another word for an Australian bedroll, which is basically a sleeping bag with a small foam mattress so you are sleeping slightly raised off the floor, but there is no tent/cover around or on top of you. I was terrified about sleeping on one of these, but honestly they were sooo comfy and I had an amazing night’s sleep with no interruptions from any bugs/spiders crawling over me (thank GOD), although there was a kangaroo or two hopping around at 4am πŸ˜‰

 

Day 2: Flinders Ranges – William Creek (via Oodnadatta Track)

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So my Adelaide to Alice Springs tour has come to an end and I am soooooo sad 😭 This adventure has been one of the best weeks of my entire life and I've enjoyed every single second of it! πŸ’– We've done everything from sleeping under the stars and hiking national parks to watching countless sunrises and even doing skydives πŸ™ˆ I've pushed myself out my comfort zone every single day, forcing myself to embrace sleeping outside when I'm terrified of spiders/bugs, throwing myself off a plane when I have a fear of heights and making sure I continue to hike even when I feel exhausted and am suffering from the heat 😩 I've surprised myself by embracing everything and just living in the moment, but the best thing to come from this trip is the people I've met. Seven days ago these 18 people were just a bunch of strangers from different ages, countries and backgrounds, now we are a family who have enjoyed the trip of a lifetime together and I will never forget any of them ❀️ I love travelling on my own, but I do it to meet people like these 🌟 #JessDoesAustralia #Days8-15

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Day 2 saw us leave Flinders Ranges behind at around 7am (we soon learnt this would be classed as a lay in!) as we headed north towards William Creek, the smallest ‘town’ I have ever visited with a population of approx 10 people! We made stops at Lyndhurst, an outdoor sculpture park, and Parachilna, home to some of the world’s oldest fossils, before driving for around 5 hours, following the old Ghan railway & overland telegraph line where we stopped for lunch at the town of Marree, right next to the Ghan station. Once we’d hit the famous Oodnadatta track we stopped at Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake, and tasted some of the well known salt water itself – be warned, it tastes every bit as salty as it sounds! Dinner was cooked and eaten round the campfire that evening, and the stars that shone above us as we settled into another night in our swags truly took my breath away. I got to really know my fellow campers a bit more that night as we played card games, exchanged travel stories and just generally embraced Australian Outback life.

 

Day 3: William Creek – Coober Pedy

 

 

After leaving teeny tiny William Creek behind we headed towards Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. Before arriving there though we admired the incredible desert landscapes as we drove straight through the iconic Red Centre and then passed by Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station on the planet. After a long 6.5 hours of driving we finally arrived at Coober Pedy where we had a quick bus tour of the town and familiarised ourselves with our new home for the night. As Coober Pedy is incredibly hot, with temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees in the summer months, most of the houses and shops here are actually built underground as it is much cooler for people to live there. We went on a fascinating tour of the Coober Pedy mine and even tried our hand at ‘noodling’, or searching for opals in the sand. Afterwards we went to a local art gallery called Josephine’s which stocked Aboriginal paintings and doubled up as a kangaroo orphanage for rescued joey’s which were the cutest things I’ve ever seen! This evening we headed out for pizza (the only time on the tour we didn’t cook/wash up, hooray!) before making our way to the accommodation for the night, an underground bunkhouse with ACTUAL bunk-beds which felt like heaven after 2 nights of sleeping on the floor!

 

Day4: Coober Pedy – Yulara

 

As we were on our way out of Coober Pedy we made a quick stop at The Breakaways, one of the best natural landscapes I have EVER seen! This place was seriously stunning and reminded me so much of Arizona and Nevada in America, where you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stepped into the Grand Canyon or Mojave Desert and would expect to see a Western film being shot at any moment! After taking literally HUNDREDS of photos, with me and some of the girls having a full on photo shoot, we reluctantly made our way back to the coach for our longest day of driving yet (a solid 9 hours). Our journey took us across the Moon Plains and past the Dingo Fence, which is the largest fence in the world, and we stopped off for a selfie at the Northern Territory border, officially marking my third Australian state during my trip so far. Upon arrival at our camp in Yulara we made headed to Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock as it’s more commonly known, where we eagerly awaited a special sunset and had drinks and nibbles to pass the time. Unfortunately there was no sunset at all as it was super cloudy and started to get dark very quickly, so us and the hundreds of other people who were also there were somewhat let down! To pick us back up again though we headed back to camp where a wonderful BBQ dinner was prepared and we enjoyed a great night’s sleep in our permanent tented camps.

 

Day 5: Yulara – Uluru

 

This was without doubt one of my FAVOURITE days on tour and when you look at that impressive red rock, it’s not hard to see why. We started our morning with a sunrise hike around the base of Uluru; our 4:30am start was tough but the hike was incredible and we were rewarded with the most amazing sunrise at the end of it. We then headed to the cultural centre/museum to learn more about the Aboriginal history of Uluru and why it is one of the most sacred sites in Australia. We also attended a talk from an Aboriginal woman, with the help of a translator, who told us some interesting stories about Aboriginal life and its connections with Uluru. After lunch we had a free afternoon at camp to do whatever we fancied. Some of the group used the on-site pool to cool down from the mid-day sun whilst others went for a small walk around the area. I did something a little different to that… I just happened to jump out of a plane and do A FRIGGING SKY DIVE over Uluru!!! Seriously, what is wrong with me?! It was a total last minute decision which I made on a bit of a whim but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life and a real highlight of my entire Aussie trip. I didn’t tell anyone back home about it either, I just face-timed my parents once I’d done it and their faces were an absolute PICTURE! I don’t think I’ll ever do a skydive again, but it was something I wanted to tick off my bucket list and what better place to do it than in the Australian Outback?!

 

Day 6: Uluru/Kata Tjuta – Kings Canyon

 

I was still on a high from my skydive on the previous day so barely slept at all and went straight to sleep after dinner, but this campsite had purpose built huts with proper mattress style beds so I actually felt I could relax a little and it made a welcome change from sleeping on the floor! Our 6th day gave us yet another 4:30am start as we took on another sunrise hike, this time over at Kata Tjuta, or The Olga’s as it’s also known, one of the most popular national parks alongside Uluru. I think I actually enjoyed this one more than Uluru, because it wasn’t as crowded and we had a bit more time to stop and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The afternoon saw us spend a lot of time driving (around six hours) but we had a few lunch/gas station/toilet stops along the way to break up the journey. Upon arrival at our campsite for the evening, Watarrka National Park, also known as Kings Canyon, we made dinner and played games around the campfire before getting an early night ahead of another early start the next morning.

 

Day 7:Β  Kings Canyon – Alice Springs

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((Link in bio)) After weeks of writing and editing, it's finally here, my ultimate guide on How to Spend a Week in the Australian Outback πŸ”₯ This blog post is very special to me, which is why it has taken me so long to write since I got back from Oz in April! I would go as far as to say that this trip was probably the most life changing trip I've ever taken. Travelling from #Adelaide to #AliceSprings I crossed the borders from #SouthAustralia to the #NorthernTerritory and ticked off everything in between 🌎 From sleeping under the stars at Flinders Ranges to admiring views over the plains of #CooberPedy, hiking Kings Canyon & #KataTjuta and skydiving over #Uluru, I sure covered some serious ground during my week long Outback trip πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί But it wasn't the memories of the landscapes or the places we visited that'll stay with me most, it's how much I learnt about myself whilst I was there. I learnt that it's quite fun to sleep outside on the floor, I learnt that it's extremely liberating to go make up free, and I also learnt that it's bloody marvellous to have no internet for a week! πŸ™Œ I bonded with 17 camp mates from all corners of the world, with ages ranging from 20 to 70, and every day we sang songs around the campfire, took turns to cook dinner and pitched in with the washing up. On day 1 we were strangers, but by day 7 we were a family ❀️ Reconnecting with nature and embracing change is what travel is all about, and if my week in the Australian Outback taught me anything, it's that you've got to stop and look at what's around you, take it all in, and learn from everything that this world gives to us ✨ #JessDoesAustralia

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Our last day of the tour had rolled around and everyone was so sad that it was coming to an end, but we had one last day together and wanted to make the most of every second. We had our final 4:30am start (that’s the only bit I was glad to be ending) and headed straight to Kings Canyon, another of the incredible national parks that can be found in the Australian Outback. This was without doubt the hardest hike of the trip, starting with a taxing walk up the aptly named Heart Attack Hill, yep you heard me right, before making our way round the entire rim of the canyon (6km). It was an incredible walk though and we all stuck together taking it at a slow pace so that everyone in the group could enjoy it, no matter what their age or fitness level. We finished around 11:30am (just before they closed the park because the temperatures were reaching 40 degrees) and then headed for lunch back at our campsite. I was so sad at our final lunch as it really felt like the adventure was coming to an end, but I was looking forward to spending some time with my new friends in Alice Springs, once the tour was over, as I knew most of the group would be staying on in Alice for a few extra days. This evening our meal wasn’t included but we all went for one last group dinner together at a local restaurant in Alice and bid a fond farewell to our tour leader Kieran who was absolutely incredible throughout the entire week.

 

Can you tell that I had the most amazing week of my life travelling the Australian Outback?! I still can’t believe I conquered my fears and did some of those things; I never thought I’d be able to even camp in the wild let alone chuck myself off a bloody PLANE! Although it totally amazing, it was also incredibly tough at times, with 40 degree temperatures and gruelling hikes every day which I did struggle with, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world as it taught me so much about myself, and how strong I am as a person. It also taught me to just live in the moment, appreciate every single second of life and go back to basics sometimes when things are getting a bit overwhelming. I chose the perfect tour, met new people who are now friends for life and made memories that I will never forget. Travelling the Australian Outback is something that should be on everyone’s bucket lists, and I encourage you to do it if you get the chance one day, before it’s too late!

 

 

Like my Great Ocean Road tour, this one too was a very β€˜hands on’ experience, and we all pitched in with cooking, washing up, tidying away etc so that our tour leader Kieran wasn’t left to do all the work. All our meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were made and served by us all, taking it in turns to do different jobs. As with most camping trips, this tour is pretty basic as you’re either sleeping in swags or huts, and there are only communal showers and toilets with no option to upgrade to anything, so please bear in mind that it may not suit every style of traveller. It is suitable for all ages though, from 8-99, and we had people of all ages and backgrounds in our group, from Brits in their 20s to Americans in their 30s and Europeans in their 60s and 70s. On this tour all your food is included, your campsites & swags are all there for you and your expert tour guides have knowledge which is second to none. For me, this really was the most authentic Australian Outback experience I could ever wish for and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

Just FYI, here are the inclusions that were covered in this trip:

  • 6 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 6 dinners
  • 2 nights swag camping, 3 nights in permanent tented camps, 1 night in an underground bunkhouse (all with shared bathroom facilities)
  • All transport
  • Entrance to numerous national parks, plus many more activities (pls refer to webpage)

 

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So I have something to tell you all and I haven't told a single person (not even my parents or sisters so they're gonna get a shock when they read thisπŸ™ˆ) TODAY I DID A SKY DIVE OVER AYRES ROCK!!!! 😱😱😱 Ohmygodddddd best day ever, first ever sky dive, best thing I've ever done in my whole life in the best location with the most amazing atmosphere and I am soooo proud of myself!! Absolutely terrified of heights and thought I was gonna wet myself when I was sat on the edge of the plane at 12000 feet πŸ˜­πŸ˜‚ What an amazing experience and something I will never ever forget!! My bucket list is almost complete at the age of 26 and I've never been happier than I have been today! 🌟 You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough πŸ’« #JessDoesAustralia #Day10 #IAmInsane

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Glamping in the Cotswolds: Croft Farm Waterpark

 

 

Last week I was invited to go glamping in the Cotswolds at Croft Farm Waterpark, a resort in Gloucestershire that boasts a variety of lakeside accommodation and a whole host of water based activities for all the family to enjoy. Located in the small village of Bredons Hardwick, just 5 miles from the pretty town of Tewkesbury, Croft Farm Waterpark is perfectly positioned to explore the surrounding Cotswolds countryside. Here’s what I got up to during my stay, and why I absolutely LOVED my first ever glamping experience…

 

The Accommodation

 

Lakeside glamping pod

lakeside pods at Croft Farm Waterpark

Croft Farm Waterpark is home to a variety of accommodation types to suit every guest. You’ll find pitches for caravans and tents, good sized cabins, chalets and lodges with hot-tubs as well as two bespoke lakeside pods which are used for the glamping experience. My friend and I stayed in a lakeside pod during our visit and we were so impressed with it! I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I have never been glamping before, but our pod was the perfect size for us and was actually pretty spacious with plenty of room for your luggage and clothes etc, a dressing table with a seat and a mirror, a kettle, mini fridge and numerous plug sockets.

 

Interior of lakeside pod with bed, sofa bed and dressing table

 

view from the lakeside glamping pod

The pod had space for a good sized double bed with bed-side tables as well as a sofa that doubled up as another single bed, although I think three people in one pod may be a little cramped! There were two chairs on the outdoor decking enabling you to sit and enjoy the fresh air and lakeside views right outside your pod, and there was room for 1-2 cars either behind or right beside the pod. Obviously the toilets/showers are communal, but this didn’t bother us at all and is to be expected when you’re staying on a camp site! We had a great night’s sleep and loved waking up to the pretty lakeside views the next morning.

 

The Facilities

Onsite gym

Kayaks and watersports equipment on the lake

 

Boasting an onsite gym, beauty salon, clubhouse, lake with water-sports and a spacious function room for events, Croft Farm Waterpark has plenty to offer to guests who are wanting to go glamping in the Cotswolds . The gym, aptly named Gym & Tonic, costs Β£5 to use and is equipped with treadmills, bikes, cross trainers, weights and more. In the same building as the gym you’ll find Beauty Tonic, a popular salon offering numerous treatments including massages, spray tans, manicures and pedicures. Unfortunately the clubhouse was closed during our stay (it’s closed Mon-Thurs except from school holidays throughout July & August) but when it’s open guests will be able to buy breakfasts, lunches and dinners at great prices and enjoy live music during weekends.Β 

 

Sun shining on the lake at Croft Farm Waterpark
green grass in front of the lake at croft farm waterpark

 

I think the real stand out feature of Croft Farm though has to be the fantastic lake which is the focal point of the entire site. The lake is large enough to comfortably accommodate plenty of people, but not too large so that it feels overwhelming. There were lots of school groups taking part in activities during our stay, but we got up early one morning and to hire a pedalo and enjoyed the entire lake to ourselves for half an hour at 9:30, before the kids started their sessions. Activities on offer included stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing and power boating. There are so many things to do on the lake and it’s certainly got the wow factor; I can see why glamping in the Cotswolds at Croft Farm is such a hit with families, and when the sun is shining the lake looks truly mesmerising!

 

The Location

Welcome sign for Croft Farm Waterpark
Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire

 

Situated in Bredons Hardwick, Croft Farm is sign-posted just off the B4080 and is super easy to find, making it a great place to goΒ  glamping in the Cotswolds. The closest big town is Tewkesbury, where you’ll find plenty of high street stores, independent shops, cafe’s, pubs and restaurants as well as Tewkesbury Abbey which is absolutely stunning and well worth a visit! Others areas of interest nearby are the Malvern Hills, listed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a 30 minute drive away, as well as the thriving town of Cheltenham Spa (20 min drive) which boasts great nightlife, a fantastic high street and of course the famous racecourse. Ellenborough Park, a 16th century manor house offering fine dining and spa retreats on the outskirts of Cheltenham, is well worth a visit too. There’s a local pub just opposite the entrance to Croft Farm, which is perfect for walking to and enjoying a drink or a bite to eat, or you can head to the clubhouse for a meal if it’s open. We actually went in to Tewkesbury for the evening and found a great spot for dinner, but you could also order takeaways to the campsite too, and there’s information on local takeaways in reception.

 

The Staff

croft farm welcome sign
a swan on the lake at croft farm waterpark

Perhaps the most important part of any campsite is the people who run it and who are onsite 24/7 to ensure that everything runs smoothly with their guests. The owners of Croft Farm, Alex and Martin, are the absolute life and soul of the campsite and couldn’t have done enough for us during our stay. I had contacted them a few times prior to our arrival with a few questions regarding onsite activities and bed linen etc for the pod, and Alex was super helpful with her responses, ensuring I fully understood what to expect upon arrival. Alex and Martin also helped with access to the onsite gym as well as recommending what we should do for dinner as the club house was sadly closed during out stay. We hired a pedalo on the lake during our stay and another staff member, Jake, was on hand to ensure we were well looked after whilst we were on the water. The staff at Croft Farm are an absolute credit to the site and go above and beyond to ensure all their guests have the most fantastic time during their stay!

As you can see, I had a wonderful stay at Croft Farm Waterpark, especially as the sun was shining and we had glorious weather that was perfect for doing outdoorsy activities. The lake was so well equipped for water-sports with something to suit all ages and abilities, and the surrounding countryside made the resort such a relaxing place to stay. I would highly recommend Croft Farm Waterpark to couples, groups of friends or families looking to go glamping in the Cotswolds for a fantastic getaway in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside and would like to say THANKYOU to the team for a wonderful stay!

NB. I was hosted by Croft Farm Waterpark in exchange for an honest review on my blog, but all thoughts and words are of course my own. Thank you also to Campsites.co.uk for helping to arrange the visit!

 

jess on the lake

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Seven Picture Perfect Places to Visit in The Lake District

 

Wandering around Derwentwater Lake in the Lake District. The Marco Polo guidebook in front of the lake.

Ah the lovely Lakes, one of my favourite parts of England, and one of the most beautiful parts too. I started visiting The Lake District when I was a little girl, probably aged 6, when my parents would take me and my sisters away on our first family holidays. I didn’t go abroad until I was 8 years old, so spent a large chunk of my childhood exploring all over the UK, but The Lakes were always very special to me. From Keswick and Kendal to Grasmere and Glenridding, there’s something for everyone and plenty of things to see and do in The Lake District for families, couples and groups alike. My most recent visit was just a few weeks ago, where I spent some time exploring Cumbria with my fantastic Marco Polo guidebook, which was an absolute god send, with pull out maps, hotel and restaurant recommendations as well as plenty of suggested road trip itineraries and suggested walking routes. To help you plan your visit, I’ve put together a list of some of the most picture perfect places to visit in The Lake District…

 

Ullswater

 

 

Listed as England’s second largest lake, Ullswater is one of the most visited parts of The Lake District. Set amongst some of the finest fells, trees and hills in Cumbria, Ullswater is also the setting for one of William Wordsworth’s most famous poems, ‘Daffodils’. You’ll find plenty of things to do on the lake, from sailing and kayaking to swimming and fishing, and you can even hop on board one of the well known Ullswater Steamers, where a one hour boat ride will take you to all corners of the 8 mile lake. If hiking is your thing you’ll be spoilt for choice with tonnes of popular walking routes nearby, or why not climb Helvellyn mountain for something a little more challenging?

 

Coniston

 

 

Turn to page 50 in your Marco Polo Lake District guidebook to discover everything there is to see and do in pretty Coniston. The village is located in between Coniston Water and Coniston Old Man (a mountain), in the Southern part of the Lakes, and is popular with tourists at any time of year. The Ruskin Museum is a well-known attraction, where you can explore the life of local writer John Ruskin who was born in the Lakes.Β  If you’re visiting during summer, why not board one of the Steam Yacht gondola’s to enjoy a smooth ride across the water? The 19th century Furness Railway originally launched the route as an addition to their railway line, allowing passengers to travel by boat instead of train to experience all that Coniston Water had to offer.

 

Keswick

 

 

Without doubt Keswick is one of the Lake District’s most visited towns, attracting coach loads of tourists from all over the world desperate to explore one of England’s prettiest areas. The summer months are notoriously busy, so it’s probably best to avoid visiting at this time of year if you can, but as the resort is so popular you’ll find it’s got plenty of things going on throughout spring, autumn and winter too. It’s a haven for shoppers, with high street stores and independent little boutiques selling everything you can think of, and there are tonnes of eateries to choose from, with cafΓ©’s, pubs and restaurants all waiting to welcome you into their doors. Keswick is a great place to base yourself for your Lake District adventure as you can explore many of the other surrounding towns and villages from here too. For an idyllic walking route, turn to page 97 of your Marco Polo guidebook and read itinerary number 4, ‘A Walk Through Keswick & Surrounding Area’. This 1.5hr walking route will take you on a round trip of the town, passing Derwentwater, Friars Crag and Castle Head along the way, giving you the perfect start to your time in Keswick.

 

Grasmere

 

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Lush green mountains, sunny blue skies and glorious countryside views, this is what I love most about the beautiful #LakeDistrict β›° I didn't go abroad until I was 8 years old and spent many half term holidays up here with my sisters, so Lakeland is a huge part of my childhood and I have fond memories running up and down hills, chasing sheep in fields and having fun with my family ❀️ One year we even ended up getting lost on a mountain when my mum thought we were following yellow arrows on stones and sticking to a proper pathway but it turned out to just be yellow MOSS that she was following and we had been going round in circles for 8 hours!! πŸ˜‚ A phone call to Mountain Rescue got 3 kids, 2 adults and 1 dog back on the straight and narrow but it took us forever to get off that bloody mountain and I never wanted to see another one for weeks after that πŸ™ˆ Luckily I started to love them again as I got older, and now they hold a special place in my heart and help me to appreciate all the natural beauty we have right here in England πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ Do you have a silly travel story? I'd love to hear them on this chilled Sunday evening! ✨

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I’ve been to Grasmere many times and really enjoyed it, but my most recent visit made me fall in love with this tiny village even more. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel called The Lancrigg, which was secluded enough to feel like you’re staying in a remote hideaway, but also just a short walk into the village with all its amenities, including restaurants, shops and cafe’s. Grasmere boasts many walking routes, with a mixture of smaller fell walks, winding hills and impressive mountains to climb, most notably Helm Crag being the one which attracts keen hikers. The famous poet William Wordsworth spent his entire life in the Lake District, and you can visit his grave right here in Grasmere, where he is buried alongside his sister, wife and children in the graveyard of St Oswald’s Church. Did you know Grasmere is also famous for its gingerbread? Me neither, until I read about it in my Marco Polo guidebook! Check out the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop located just next to the St Oswald’s Church, and take some of this delicious cake home with you.

 

Wastwater

 

 

At a depth of almost 260ft, Wastwater is the deepest lake in England, and it sure is proud of its best known asset. Tourists and locals alike spend many a summers day walking around the lake and enjoying the spectacular scenery, with only its resident sheep for company.Β  Flanked by the mountains of Yewbarrow, Lingmell and Great Gable, Wastwater has an epic backdrop and commands stunning views from every angle. The tiny village of Wasdale, with it’s well known pub The Wasdale Head, makes the perfect base for those keen to explore the local area. Mountain enthusiasts, or those taking part in the popular Three Peaks Challenge, will want to tick off Scafell Pike whilst they’re in the area. At over 3200ft tall, climbing England’s highest mountain is not for the faint hearted, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic mountain views once you reach the top and it’ll certainly be a day to remember.

 

 

Lake Windermere

 

 

Although Wastwater is classed as the deepest lake in England, beautiful Windermere is holds the record for the largest lake in England, making it one of the most popular parts of Lakeland. This place is absolutely perfect for families as there are plenty of child-friendly activities and attractions for all ages. I’ve spent so many summer holidays taking a boat across the lake, checking out the fantastic aquarium and visiting the World of Beatrix Potter, a fantastic museum located in nearby Bowness dedicated to the woman who created Peter Rabbit, with scenes and figurines from the iconic children’s books. If you’re looking for something more physical, Lake Windermere itself is a haven for water sports, with a whole host of activities on offer and the opportunity to hire rowing or electric boats, yachts and even go sailing. Summer is super busy on Windermere, and accommodation gets booked up fast, so I’d recommend visiting outside of peak season to get the most out of your visit, and to avoid the crowds!

 

Derwentwater

 

 

I actually stayed in Derwentwater on my most recent visit to the Lakes, just a few weeks ago, so I’d recommend staying at The Derwentwater Hotel in Portinscale and basing yourself there for a couple of nights whilst exploring everything the area has to offer. The hotel is set in sprawling 18 acre grounds with fabulous views over to the hills and the famous Derwentwater Lake in the background. We only spent 1 night in Derwentwater but that was definitely enough time to check out the local area. We took a walk around the lake, stopped off for brunch at one of the cute nearby cafe’s and wandered down to the pretty Derwentwater Marina where you could rent boats, kayaks and even stand up paddle boards! If you have more time to spare and fancy venturing a little further afield, why not visit Keswick? It’s 2 miles away and would probably only take 25 mins to walk there, or you could hop on one of the local buses to get you there in a flash!

 

There are so many other towns and lakes that I could have included in this list, but these are some of my favourite, and are well worth seeing during your visit to The Lake District. Using your Marco Polo guidebook you can easily plan a week-long road trip, or pack lots in to a weekend break, ensuring you see as much as you can during your time in Cumbria. If you’ve got a trip lined up soon let me know where you’re planning to visit and I can give you some top tips! But for now I’m off to reminisce about my recent trip and plan my next visit to the lovely Lake District too…

 

Wandering around Derwentwater Lake in the Lake District. Jess holding the Marco Polo guidebook in front of the lake.

 

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One Week in California: The Ultimate Multi-Centre Holiday

 

We all know that the USA is mind-blowingly huge, with plenty of incredible states, cities and towns just waiting to be discovered. It’s impossible to see it all in one go, but it is possible to choose one state and focus your time on that by booking a multi-centre holiday instead. Without doubt, one of the most popular US states to visit is California; with it’s glorious beaches, vibrant cities and bucket-list tourist attractions. Whether you’re looking to tick off the original Disneyland, make your way to Hollywood or take a ride over to Alcatraz, California offers something for everyone. With this in mind, I’ve joined forces with the wonderful team over at TravelPlanners to show how multi-centre holidays are a great way to travel, and I’ve included three of my dream destinations. Here’s how you can create your own itinerary and have the trip of a lifetime over in sunny California too…

 

San Diego – 2 nights

 

Fly to San Diego airport, hire a car and let your Californian road trip begin. In this super cool city, that’s thriving with nightlife and an abundance of things to see and do, there are attractions which will appeal to all ages. San Diego is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and boasts numerous beaches as well as its famous natural deep-water harbour. For those looking for an active start to their multi-centre holiday, why not check out one of the many green parks that are dotted across the city? The Sunset Cliffs nature reserve is worth a visit, with glorious walks, stunning coastal views and fantastic beaches to enjoy, but Balboa Park is arguably the most popular, with beautiful buildings, neatly manicured lawns and spectacular fountains. Spend your first night in San Diego checking out the bars and restaurants in the Downtown or Pacific Beach areas as you immerse yourself in ‘Navy Town USA’.

 

 

 

 

If you’re into your history, a trip to the USS Midway Museum on day 2 is an absolute must see. Enabling visitors to follow in the footsteps of former soldiers, this interactive museum offers an eye-opening insight into what life was like on board 20th century America’s longest serving US Navy carrier. Spend the afternoon chilling out at La Jolla, meaning ‘The Jewel’ in Spanish, and discover why this place is such a gem. Perched on rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean, La Jolla is the perfect place to swim, surf and kayak in the sea or just relax on the golden sandy beach. Other attractions include San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Legoland California and Coronado Island, a small peninsula between San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean that boasts its own beach, hotel and a funky Downtown district.

 

Los Angeles – 2 nights

 

Check out of your hotel and get straight on the road, heading 120 miles north towards the city of stars, Los Angeles. Most people choose to do this three hour drive all in one go, or with a couple of comfort stops, but if you do want to break it up and see some more of California, I’d recommend stopping at Anaheim for 4 or 5 hours. Home to the original Disneyland, this magical theme park should be on everyone’s bucket lists, especially because no visit to the States is complete without a trip to Disney, right?! Depending on how early/late you get to LA, spend your first afternoon/evening doing the famous Hollywood sign and visiting the iconic Walk of Fame, looking out for the stars of your fave A-listers along the way. Afterwards, why not wander down Rodeo Drive for the ultimate shopping experience, or spot Beverly Hills from afar? You’ll feel just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

 

 

LA is incredibly busy, and with so much going on at all times of day, it can be a little overwhelming. If you’re looking to recharge your batteries after a busy day of sightseeing, why not head to one of the city’s many beaches? Santa Monica pier is packed with carnival rides, food stalls and has glorious mountain views. Continuing on from Santa Monica Beach, Venice Beach is fast becoming the hottest place in LA, with insta-models working out at Muscle Beach, volleyball or basketball nets up for activity lovers, and a fantastic boardwalk that enables you to walk the entire stretch of sand whilst soaking up the Californian vibes. If you’re a foodie, Downtown LA is a great place to go for an evening meal; there’s plenty of restaurants offering all types of cuisines, with Chinatown and Little Tokyo particularly popular with locals and tourists alike.

 

San Francisco – 3 nights

 

After a busy few days, and a huge 420 mile drive, you’ve certainly saved the best til last with super cool San Fran! Before you get there it’s definitely worth breaking up the journey with stops at the likes of Malibu, Santa Barbara and Big Sur (maybe a few hours in each/an overnight stop to do them all!) Once you’ve arrived in SF, three nights here is a good amount of time to see pretty much everything on offer, but you could easily spend longer exploring California’s 4th largest city. On your first day you’ll want to see some of the sights, so head over to the Golden Gate Bridge to take in one of the most photographed landmarks in the entire world. Next up is Fisheman’s Wharf, with Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square to the East and West of the Wharf respectively. Both areas boast trendy shopping and eating areas, as well as rides, aquariums and San Fran’s iconic sea lions. Head to the Richmond neighbourhood or the Marina for the best restaurants/bars to soak up the lively nightlife that this city has to offer.

 

 

Spend your second day hopping on a ferry over to one of America’s most notorious islands; Alcatraz. A former federal prison, Alcatraz is located on a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, and is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Self-guided or audio tours are essential to getting the most out of your visit, and don’t miss the hospital area too for an insight into the medical care during the prison’s working days. On your third and final day why not head to Union Square to shop and people watch, and if you’re there during the Christmas holidays you can go ice-skating too! For something different, I’d recommend catching a ferry from Pier 41 and heading to Angel Island, famed for its history as a civil war fort and, more recently, its Immigration Station Museum. For a once in a lifetime experience you’ll want to go hiking right to the top of Angel Island, where breath-taking views over San Francisco Bay below will be waiting for you with open arms.

 

As you can see, I’ve based this itinerary on a one week road trip, but you could adapt this to 10 days or 2 weeks to spend more time in each destination, and to include more cities along the way too! Despite starting my own American adventure in Los Angeles three years ago, I never got to explore the area or see anything of California at all, so these three cities are at the top of my US bucket list and California is certainly a state I want to explore properly one day! Have you considered taking multi-centre holidays before? I think they are a fantastic way of seeing so many cities in such a short time and I’d recommend this style of travel to anyone looking to make the most of their epic US road trip!

NB.Β  This post was brought to you in collaboration with TravelPlanners but, as always, all words are of course my own.

 

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Hotel Review: Mollie’s Motel & Diner, Oxfordshire

 

Last week I had the pleasure of staying at Mollie’s Motel, a brand new motel and diner complex in Buckland, Oxfordshire. Located just off the a420, with direct links to nearby Oxford and Swindon, Mollie’s Motel is perfectly positioned to enjoy a short stopover in pretty Oxfordshire. I was invited, along with my friend Steph who came as my plus one, to stay over at the motel and check out the diner last Thursday. Steph and I had a great time during our visit and loved everything about it. Here’s my full review on Mollie’s, and why I think you’ll love it too!

 

The Motel Rooms

 

 

Created by the brand behind Soho Farmhouse, Mollie’s Motel has an exclusive, luxury feel to it but without the expensive price tag. The motel boasts 79 cosy, comfortable rooms varying in size and space and you can choose from double, accessible, bunk or interconnecting rooms. With an enormous double bed, ample storage space, a rainforest shower and Cowshed toiletry products, our room had everything we would need and more for our short stay.

 

 

The TV doubled up as a room service style menu from which we could easily see what items were stocked in the general store/reception and there was info about the room as well as the rest of the motel and the diner too. Our room was located on the second floor overlooking the neon Mollie’s Motel sign below and we could see the courtyard garden slightly to the left. We got a great nights sleep and had the most amazing shower the next morning! With rooms starting from as little as Β£50 per night, a stay at Mollie’s is an absolute steal!

 

The Diner

 

 

With its retro decor, neon lights and classic menu, the diner is a flashback to 1950s America and will instantly transport you back to that era. There’s music playing in the background, the smell of burgers and fries in the air, and enormous milkshakes brought right to your table. Mollie’s diner is the real star of the show, and the main reason this place is so popular. Guests aren’t able to book so mealtimes get extremely busy with queues for walk ins, but there’s also a drive-thru service for those who don’t have time to queue for table service. For dinner I opted for the buttermilk chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries whilst Steph chose the dirty double bacon burger with sweet potato fries too.

 

 

If you choose the Dirty Deals package you get fries and a drink added to selected dishes at a small extra charge, and a selection of soft drinks are refillable which makes it great value for money. The next morning for breakfast I chose the veggie breakfast, swapping the avocado for an extra hash brown just because I fancied it, whilst Steph went for the maple syrup and bacon waffles which looked AMAZING!


The Location

 

 

As I’ve mentioned, Mollie’s is situated just off the a420, the road that links Swindon to Oxford and plenty of other towns and villages in between. There’s a BP petrol station just next to the car park and the motel and diner are right opposite each other, with plenty of free parking. If you want to explore nearby Oxford you can reach the city in just over half an hour by car, or the pretty Cotswolds towns of Bampton, Witney and Faringdon are around a 10-15 minute drive away. The staff on reception at the general store will be more than happy to help with any sightseeing recommendations, and it’s a great place to relax if you prefer not to be holed up in your room, with lounge areas, charging stations, free wifi and complimentary tea and coffee too!


The Staff

 

Photo courtesy of Mollie’s Instagram Page

 

 

I always say that the staff are such an important part of a hotel or restaurant and for Mollie’s this couldn’t be more true. Natalie on reception checked us in and was on hand to answer any queries that we had. She recommended a fab cocktail for us to try on the bar menu and was so lovely and friendly, just the kind of person you would want to see at check in! Brandon & Dave both worked in the diner and looked after us so well during dinner. Nothing was too much trouble, even when we asked for a couple of cocktails that weren’t even on the menu! They recommended food and drinks to us and seemed to know the menu inside out. At breakfast the next morning we were looked after by Dave again and a couple of different waitresses who were absolutely lovely and couldn’t have done more for us. The staff at Mollie’s really went above and beyond to make our stay that extra bit special and they were absolutely brilliant – I couldn’t fault their service one bit!

 

The App

 

 

Despite its 1950s theme and old fashioned retro touches, Mollie’s is right on trend with their brand new app which is available on both Apple and Android. Guests are encouraged to download and book rooms through the app in order to make check in as smooth as possible. Upon arrival, guests who have booked through the app will automatically be connected to the wifi which then tells them which room number they’re in and enables their phones to be used as their room key. The keyless system brings a futuristic feel and I think it’s a real standout feature of Mollie’s, but with the general store/reception being manned 24/7, there’s always a friendly face to speak to as well should you have any problems with the app, or if you just want to speak to an actual human upon check in!

As you can see, my plus one and I had SUCH a lovely time visiting Mollie’s last week! I can see why Mollie’s has been so successful since its launch, with its modern motel rooms and its great value diner food, there’s something to appeal to all ages. I’m a local girl who lives just a 20 minute drive away, so it’s very close to home for me and I know I’ll definitely be back at Mollie’s with some of my friends again soon!

NB. I was a guest of Mollie’s for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts and words are of course my own.