A day visiting Salford Quays with a local

I have lived a hop and a skip away from Salford Quays for over ten years now and still visiting the Quays is a favourite thing to do.  Salford Quays is my local walk, it is our first choice for drinks and a restaurant and it is where we always take our visitors.  It is a fantastic place to live near, always changing and interesting.  When I have been chained to the laptop for a morning, a stroll around the Quays brings me back to life as there is always something new to see.  As well as being a great place to live near Salford Quays is also a wonderful place to visit for a day or two.  Here’s a local’s guide to what to see and do.

Getting here

If you are coming from Manchester city centre then the Metrolink tram is the way to travel.  The trams run every few minutes from Piccadilly Station to Eccles and Media City.  After the Pomona stop make sure you look over the Manchester Ship Canal at the view back to Manchester.  I would get off at the Salford Quays stop and walk along Ontario Basin to the Lowry.

If you drive, there is a multi-storey car park for the Lowry Outlet Mall and if, like me, you own a high top campervan that won’t fit in a multi-storey car park, use the parking outside Booths, just off Broadway.

Morning coffee

You have plenty of choices for your morning coffee but I would start by sitting in the cafe in The Lowry Theatre [opens at 10.00] while you get your bearings.  This is a chance to look around the airy and modern theatre building too.  The Lowry has an excellent gift shop that sells Salford and LS Lowry related items and much more.

Lowry, a Salford painter

After coffee, head upstairs to the gallery [open from 11.00 Sunday to Friday and 10.00 on Saturday] to see some of Salford’s collection of paintings by LS Lowry.  You will see that Lowry painted more than the matchstick people and mills he is known for, although these are fascinating.  As well as the Lowry’s on permanent display the gallery has temporary exhibitions and there is always something worth seeing.

Imperial War Museum North

Cross the Manchester Ship Canal by the Millennium Footbridge, a lifting bridge of white tubular steel with changing LED lighting at night to the Imperial War Museum North.  This purpose built museum [open 10.00 – 17.00] is free to visit, although donations are welcome.  A mixture of permanent and temporary exhibitions about conflict and its effects, a visit here is always moving and informative.

Time for lunch

Walking by the ITV studios, where the new Coronation Street set is now housed, [tours are available at weekends] cross the curved Media City Bridge into the heart of Media City, where many BBC TV and radio programmes are recorded every day.  In the lively plaza look out for stars [we have eaten in the same restaurant as Glenda Jackson and you might see a Coronation Street actor or a favourite DJ] and head for Catena, an independent deli-cafe with a relaxed rustic feel and a great menu.  At the very least everyone around you will be wearing a BBC lanyard!  If you have the appetite, Catena’s pistachio and lemon cake is scrumptious.

Behind the scenes at the BBC

If you have booked, you can get behind the scenes at the BBC on a Media City tour.  The tours vary, depending on what is being filmed or recorded at the time, but this is a marvellous opportunity to get a feel for how the BBC produce their quality programmes, from Blue Peter to the BBC Philharmonic, Woman’s Hour to Five Live Sport.  There are also special CBBC tours for children.  The tours are lots of fun and everyone enjoys being in the interactive studio where you get to try your hand at being a weather presenter and reading the news.

While you are in Media City take a few minutes to walk the Blue Peter Gold Badge Walk, a path honouring some of the well-known names who have received a Blue Peter Gold Badge.  This ends near the actual Blue Peter Garden which is tiny but always makes me smile.

Shopping or history or football

If you are as frugal as I am you might like the bargains in the Lowry Outlet Mall … but you might also hate the idea of shopping.  If that’s the case, walk along Ontario Basin, by the Helly Hensen Watersports Centre [and maybe stopping for a beer and watching some water sports at the pub next door].  Cross Trafford Road to Ordsall Park [looking left to see the stripped-classical 1920s Dock Office], skirting around the park to reach Ordsall Hall.  This charming building is over 800 years old and has a great hall with a definite wow factor.  Only open until 16.00 and closed on Fridays and Saturdays, you might have to rush to fit this stunning building in [or come for the weekend instead of a day!]  If it is closed you can still enjoy the attractive timber-framed building from the outside, admire the gardens and appreciate the contrast with the surrounding modern buildings.

If neither of these are your cup of tea, then walk back across the Millennium Bridge, over Wharf Road and up the hill to Manchester United Football Club’s Old Trafford ground.  You can visit the shop for the latest strip or book on a Museum and Stadium Tour in the Theatre of Dreams.

Cocktails

The early evening is cocktail hour at Salford Quays.  You might be tempted by the remarkable golden Alchemist building that overlooks the Manchester Ship Canal and this certainly has the best view in the house from its terrace.  Of course, this terrace is also the retreat of smokers and so isn’t always as pleasant as it could be.  Instead I prefer to visit The Lime Bar, a stylish long-standing Salford Quays restaurant-bar that has a classical cocktails list, friendly staff and a vibrant vibe.  Stay long enough and you might decide to eat here too and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sunset

If you are lucky you will get the chance to see a Salford sunset.  Standing on the Media City Bridge and watching the sun go down over the Ship Canal is a big hit at the end of a packed day of sightseeing.

13 ferries in 2 months: What did our campervan trip to Scotland cost & how does it compare with mainland Europe?

From April to June we were touring around Scotland, from Loch Lomond to Shetland, we spent two months pottering around this beautiful country.  In previous years we have visited mainland Europe in the spring … it was orcas that drew me to Shetland.  I thought it would be interesting to compare what it cost on our campervan trip in Scotland with our previous holidays around mainland Europe.  Of course, every trip is different but I’ve had a go at looking at the costs across different spending lines, comparing it with our trip to Croatia, Italy and France for the same length of time last spring and a slightly shorter trip to Spain last autumn.  How did Scotland stack up?

Diesel – UK higher

We travelled 2,520 miles and spent £460.   [Diesel is cheaper in Europe so although our Scottish mileage is similar to our mileage in Spain last year that trip cost £389 for diesel.  If we take the Blue Bus to the southern areas of Europe the mileage is higher and the cost more].

Food for two hungry vegetarians – UK lower

In Scotland we spent £719.15 in supermarkets.  [In Croatia, Italy and France last spring we spent £958 in supermarkets, despite the wine being cheaper!]

Cafes and restaurants – UK higher

It is hard to compare like-for-like for this spending.  Sometimes in Scotland there is no tea shop for miles and when you are out walking for the day on a mountain there is no chance for a coffee, whereas in Spain and Italy we would often stop for coffee as it is good and cheap.  In Scotland we spent £527.56 during the trip.  [Eating out is often cheaper in Europe.  In Croatia, Italy and France last spring we spent £467 in cafes and restaurants]

Campsites – UK lower

We stayed on campsites for 47 of the 67 nights of our Scotland trip, the cost per night ranged from £5 to £28 – we spent £778.40 .  On Shetland we didn’t wild camp as much as we expected because a) it was cold and we wanted EHU for the heating as there is no LPG available on the island b) we like to support the community and all but one campsite we used was community run and reasonably priced, it would have been rude not to stay on these sites.  [We tend to think UK campsites are expensive but we spent £983 on campsites for the same number of nights away last year, staying mostly in Croatia, Italy and France and using our ACSI card.  Camping in Spain and Portugal is much cheaper.]

Ferries and parking – UK lower

We spent a total of £644.13 on ferries and parking – £525 of this is the return ferry to Shetland, most of the rest is Shetland inter-island ferries and ferries to Bute and Kintyre.  [The Hull to Zeebrugge ferry was £489 last year plus we spent £218 on tolls and parking]

Entrance charges and attractions – UK somewhat lower

In Scotland we spent £234.50, this included two boat trips on Shetland and a pine marten watching trip.  [Last spring we spent £279 on the same budget line]

Other spending £173.57 [includes £25 for a deep tissue massage after Ben Nevis, washing machines, maps, gifts for friends and a pair of warm trousers].

The bottom line – £3,012.10 spent in Scotland [We spent the equivalent of £4,240 [£1,228 more!] on a holiday of the same length last spring that took us to Croatia, Italy and France with a higher mileage and consequently £610 spent on diesel]

For 67 days away our average spending was £44.96 a day in Scotland.

This total isn’t much more than our average in Spain last year of £42.93 / day and the ferry to Shetland was much cheaper than Portsmouth to Bilbao.  Of course, the weather is warmer in Spain!

Our trip to Croatia, Italy and France last spring was considerably more expensive and averaged £61/day due to the longer distances, high prices of Italian campsites and supermarket shopping costing more.

If we hadn’t taken the ferry to Shetland [and missed all the wonderful sights in these photographs – I don’t think so] we would have been quids in … but Shetland’s wonderful campsites were certainly the cheapest.

 

Top tips for a campervan trip to Kintyre, Scotland

Kintyre
The causeway to Davaar Island

The long finger of the Kintyre Peninsula, on the west coast of Scotland feels almost like an island as the sea is never far away and when you arrive you feel truly off the beaten track.  This scenic and historic area is well worth exploring for a few days.  With quiet roads and different views around every corner it is perfect for a campervan trip.

We took the ferry to Tarbert and arriving by boat in this pretty port felt like the best way to start our tour.  We explored the town that has a pleasant buoyant atmosphere, climbing up to the castle and visited the Loch Fyne Gallery overlooking the quay.  Here among the quirky and beautiful items I found perfect gifts for friends.

Not far from Tarbert, walk through the ornate gateway to find the impressive ruins of Skipness Castle.  Built in the 13th century you can still climb a staircase for the view out to sea and to the tiny chapel at Skipness Point.

Not to missed is Big Jessie’s Tearoom.  Park up and enjoy a friendly welcome and homemade cake or lunch or breakfast with a good cup of tea and a sea view.  Campervans and motorhomes are welcome to stay overnight in the field next to the ferry car park.  You can use the ferry car park too but this can get busy.

Gigha, a community-owned island off the coast of Kintyre, is the perfect size for cycling, being around 10 km long and also happens to be a stunning and friendly place to visit.  We took our bikes on the ferry and cycled the one road from top to bottom.  The spring colour of rhododendrons and camellias and the woodland and walled garden at Achamore Gardens are dazzling.  Like us, you will probably have the bays on the northern tip of Gigha to yourself and enjoy good food, coffee and cakes along with a view at The Boathouse.

After exploring Campbeltown, check the tide times and walk out to the tidal Davaar Island.  It is safe to walk along the causeway three hours either side of low tide and you will have so much fun you need to give yourself plenty of time to get back.  The walk across the stony causeway with the sea on either side has a marvellous airy feel with fantastic views.  On the island scramble around the cliffs on the south side to find the hidden cave painting of the Crucifixion.  This was painted in 1887 by a local artist, Archibald MacKinnon.

On the fresh Atlantic coast of Kintyre is Machrihanish Bay, a beautiful sweep of sand that is three miles long.  The sky is big here and watching the sun set into the sea here is a real treat.  Find a comfy rock to sit on and take in the views of the Paps of Jura and Islay on the horizon and you will hopefully spot seals and maybe an otter.

Follow the narrow and winding road on the east coast and you come to the tiny hamlet of Saddell.  Here you can stroll around the atmospheric Saddell Bay with Saddell Castle, a 16th century tower house that is available to rent through the Landmark Trust.  Inland we found the remains of the Abbey and remarkable medieval grave slabs with effigies of the people buried there.

The Kintyre Way weaves for 161 km around this wonderful and varied peninsular.  We walked a short and easy to follow section of this trail from Carradale to Cnoc nan Gabhar for wide views over Carradale Bay and beyond to Arran.

Overnights

Big Jessie’s Tea Room, Gigha Ferry Terminal – free overnight if you don’t count the homemade cake

Machrihanish Holiday Park a great value campsite that feels spacious and has wide open views and great separate bathrooms, near to a village with a pub.

Carradale Bay Caravan Site –  a popular site on a lovely bay.

 

 

 

Is hitch hiking dead?

A glorious day in Glencoe

When did you last see a hitch hiker?  And if you do see one do you stop and give them a lift?  We recently tried our hand at hitch hiking for the first time for many years.  We had perfect weather while we were in Glencoe, sunny with pretty much wall-to-wall blue skies. We were camping at The Glencoe Mountain Resort and I was keen to walk the section of the West Highland Way from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven that goes over the dramatically named Devil’s Staircase.  This is a steep section of one of General Wade’s military roads and it was the soldiers who built it who gave the path this dark name. This was continued by the workers from Blackwater Dam who used it to reach the hotel at Kingshouse for a pay-day drink and unfortunately some of them never made it back.

We planned a linear walk, starting from our campsite, we suffered no mishaps and enjoyed a fantastic 16 km walk up Devil’s Staircase and along the high path that rewards walkers with tremendous mountain views. We could see Ben Nevis in the distance and looked down on the expanse of Blackwater Reservoir, built for Kinlochleven’s aluminium smelter.

In Kinlochleven we had time for drinks in the climbing centre before catching the bus to Glencoe. We then had a four hour wait for a bus to take us back the 20 km to our campervan. Unbelievably there is no regular bus service through Glencoe, one of Scotland’s most popular walking areas.  Linear walkers just have to wait for one of the infrequent buses linking Skye and Fort William with Glasgow.

We considered sitting the wait out in The Glencoe Inn (not a dreadful way to spend a few hours) or ringing for a taxi but decided to firstly try the frugal option and stuck out our thumbs without much hope of success. ‘No one hitch hikes these days and anyway who would pick up two folk loaded up with rucksacks and walking poles,’ I said as another car sped by.  Then, a miracle happened, after just 15 minutes of hitching a car slowed down and pulled in.

As every hitch hiker knows chatting to people on the road is a big part of the enjoyment of hitch hiking. Our knight in shining armour was on a solo road trip and welcomed some company.  He not only took us right up to our van, he also told us all about his plans to plant thousands of trees on the farm land that had belonged to his parents, shared his thoughts on the short comings of tourism services in Scotland (Glencoe’s lack of bus service giving us a good starting point for that topic) and told us about the ailing aunt in the south he was on his way to visit.

Of course, there were two of us and we felt safe. As a teenager with little money I did hitch hike alone and without a thought.  These days although the risk is low I would think carefully before hitching on my own. We do pick up hitch hikers when we can, although only having one travel seat in our campervan limits us.  Every time we have picked up a hitch hiker we have met interesting people with a story to share.

I’m pleased to report that hitch hiking isn’t quite dead in the UK, although since our own experience in Glencoe we’ve not seen another hitch hiker to have the chance to help keep frugal travelling alive.

A week of stunning hill walking around Arrochar & Loch Lomond in Scotland

The Cobbler

A week of good weather in Scotland in April was such a gift. One that gave us plenty of opportunity for some great hill walking around the Loch Lomond and Arrochar areas just north of Glasgow.

We started off with a mountain that was once a Munro (A Scottish mountain that is over 3,000 foot / 917 m) but it was demoted when more accurate surveys found it to be just short of the magic number. That doesn’t mean Beinn an Lochain is an easy walk and for our first day out on the hills it felt like tough going. The accent is steep and relentless with sections more of a scramble than a walk but the reward is great views. We set off and returned to the lay-by after the Rest and be Thankful summit on the A83. The path fades away in places and there are false summits to dent the motivation of tired walkers like me but it was a great start to the week.

A couple of days later we set off up The Cobbler or Ben Arthur. At only 884 m high this doesn’t make it to Munro status either but you start walking at sea level so gain more height than you do for many a Munro. The Cobbler is a distinctive hill that is full of character and justifiably popular. It was busy on the sunny day we walked up it but we didn’t see anyone climb the final pinnacle to the true summit. Instead we watched plenty of people having fun clambering through the gap in the rock to pose for a dramatic photograph. After scrambling up the front we descended around the back to the path that goes to Beinn Ime meeting a young woman heading for Beinn Ime. She was concerned about her mum who was somewhere behind and planned to descend alone. Her mum passed us as we stopped for a rest later and smiled when we revealed how her daughter had shared her concern with strangers.

Ben Vorlich above Loch Lomond was our final mountain of the week. For some reason this 943 m peak isn’t a popular hill and we had it to ourselves. It is another steep ascent and despite it being a fine day the summit caught the wind and we huddled below the ridge wrapped in all our layers to eat our picnic lunch. That said the views over Loch Lomond and Loch Sloy were worth the slog up. We went up and down Ben Vorlich from Ardlui on the banks of Loch Lomond.

In between the hills we enjoyed ‘rest days’ with some peaceful walking in and around Glen Fruin, a lovely glen above Helensburgh. There are military buildings here, some dating back to World War Two and a memorial to the 17 th century Battle of Glen Fruin. We walked some of the Three Lochs Way along the ‘Yankee Road’ built by Americans and another legacy of the Second World War. The views to Gare Loch far below and the Faslane Naval Base from this high road are stunning.

A Communal Hiking Lost & Found Box

‘I think winter wear is communal. You get some gloves and a scarf from a lost-and-found box, wash them, wear them for a while until you lose them. Then somebody else does the same thing.’ Adrian Grenier, actor

I share Adrian Grenier’s ideas about winter wear and I am pretty much working towards never buying hats, gloves or scarves again.  Certainly a frugal win!  It seems you can’t walk far in the British countryside these days before you find a piece of walking gear that someone has dropped and lost.  We found we were picking up so many pieces of gear that we started to wonder if it would be possible to kit yourself out entirely from found items, particularly if you didn’t mind wearing un-matched gloves.

On a recent trip to the Lake District we returned home with the following list of found items.  A micro-towel, one hardly used dhb cycling glove, one Sealskinz padded glove and a Montane beanie, at least £50 worth of gear!  I was already wearing a hat and a fleecy scarf that were both finds from different days out walking over the years.  At home we have a collection of hats and scarves we have picked up.  We had tended to throw odd gloves away but these have now been added to the lost and found box until they can be matched with another one of a similar style.  This collection doesn’t really fit in with my de-cluttering aim but I do hate to waste good quality gear.

Please understand that we don’t pick up items of clothing if we think they have been dropped that day and the owner might return in the opposite direction and be reunited with his or her lost piece of clothing later.  But if something has clearly been there for more than a day then it is really just litter and we always pick up litter!  The wellingtons in the photograph above were one of the few things I dithered over.  They were my size but we left them where we found them as we were sure someone would return to collect a pair of wellingtons.  Yet we were back in the same car park a few days later and the wellingtons still stood in the same place, waiting to be claimed.

I am not fussy about what I wear, but there are some things we find that neither of us is willing to add to our wardrobe.  We give these items to a charity shop or to our local homeless shelter.  In winter homeless shelters are often looking for warm clothing.

When we find something new I think about things that we have lost.  I like to think that items of clothing we have mislaid have been picked up by someone else and they are out there somewhere enjoying wearing them.  On a memorable day out walking to celebrate my partner’s 50th birthday, it was such a windy day we lost firstly a hat that blew off Mr BOTRA’s head on the summit of Pike of Blisco [more alarmingly taking one of his hearing aids with it].  Later while struggling to put my waterproof overtrousers on the wind smartly whipped them away and they disappeared down the steep hillside.  We gave chase but the wind was so strong they were quickly gone.  This was a hugely expensive day on the hills for us but I like to think that someone thought it was their lucky day finding a pair of Karrimor waterproof trousers!

 

A Nostril of Sunshine in the Lake District

P1160437
On Nanny Lane

‘Did I see a nostril of sunshine out there?’ the shop assistant asked as he deftly wrapped three packs of Grasmere Gingerbread up for me.  This was our second visit to this tiny and charming shop alongside Grasmere church is just a few days.  A cross between a biscuit and a cake, Grasmere Gingerbread is one of the best things produced in the UK but it does taste better fresh and is only available from Grasmere [or by mail order] hence the multiple visits.  I had never come across the expression ‘a nostril of sunshine’ before and smiled at the use of it.  Imaging it meant a gap in the clouds I nodded and agreed that yes there was a bit of blue sky out there just at the moment.  Perhaps this is a local saying, although when I tried searching for it on the internet I was only offered information about blocked noses!

The heavenly nose had been clear and wide open for us during our week in the Lake District.  We had enjoyed fine days that were just perfect for walking.  After the family outing from Haweswater we took the youngsters up to Orton Scar for a breezy walk among the limestone pavement and to see the view from the Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument.  We had lunch at Kennedy’s in Orton looking through the windows into their chocolate factory then waved as the son and daughter-in-law returned home.

On our first visit to Grasmere we walked up the steep grassy slopes of Heron Pike from Greenhead Gill, returning by the pretty Alcock Tarn, Grasmere lying below us.  Our final visit to Grasmere was on foot from Ambleside, always a favourite walk that takes you around Loughrigg and Rydal Water and back along the old coffin route.

In between these Grasmere visits we hiked up Wansfell Pike from Troutbeck and followed the undulating walled ridge to Baystones.  We chose the route up Nanny Lane, an old track that I thought was a more enjoyable and interesting ascent than from Ambleside.  Nanny Lane is well maintained and we put a small donation into the honesty tin at the gate in Troutbeck for its upkeep; heavy rain can do severe damage to these steep hill tracks and I like to see this lovely lane cared for.  The views from Wansfell Pike and Baystones are hard to beat.  We could make out the remote Kirkstone Pass Inn tucked in between the mountains, the blue length of Windermere shimmered in the sunshine and bustling Ambleside lay in the green valley below.  I can’t help but love the Lake District!