In April and May we went from one end of the country to the other, with glorious weather on both occasions.
Eastbourne and the Bluebell Railway.
We were based at the Best Western York House Hotel on the seafront at Eastbourne, where we had chosen to pay that little bit extra and have all sea view rooms (except for those requiring single rooms). It proved to be a good base for our excursions.
Regular readers will maybe remember that in January 2017, Ken and I went to the Excursions Show at Alexandra Palace. Having already contracted the hotel through Norman Allen Group Travel and decided on a visit to the Bluebell Railway and nearby Sheffield Park, we then went round the trade stands to decide where else to visit.
Painshill Park, where we stopped en-route for lunch on the way to Eastbourne, was a bit of a challenge for several of my group as it is a longer walk than was expected from the coach park to the visitor centre. However, within minutes of the staff being informed of this, out came a golf buggy to collect them and an arrangement was made to pick them up again when we were ready to leave. Problem solved.
Sheffield Park was another place that could have been difficult for those with less mobility but they have double-seated mobility scooters that you can hire for the price of a raffle ticket. They prefer you to just have it for an hour to give other visitors a chance to use them but it made all the difference in the world to two of my group. When we were there, the gardeners were planting over 600 water lilies into one of the lakes ready for the Water Lily Festival in July. During the afternoon we took a round trip on the Bluebell Railway and it lived up to its name, with the railway banks covered in bluebells and yellow primroses.
A change of scene the next day when we had a self-guided tour of The Royal Pavilion at Brighton followed by a stop on the way back to Eastbourne at Birling Gap, near Beachy Head.
Bluebells were again the focal point on our final day of the tour when we visited Hole Park. We were greeted by the owner, Edward Barham, and his dog, who jumped on board the coach, tail wagging. Coffee and homemade cakes, baked by Mrs Barham, had been ordered for our arrival, which was before the general public were admitted so we were able to have a short talk on the history of the family and creation of the garden. Having wandered around the main garden we all made our way into the Bluebell Wood. Oceans of blue under the trees, where in some places, swathes of white wild garlic seemed to go on forever. With several benches along the route to sit and contemplate, the experience was deemed the highlight of the five day tour. We had intended to go straight back to Eastbourne for the afternoon and some free time, but nearby Tenterden was too much of a draw, so we decided to stop there for lunch. We did manage some free time in Eastbourne, itself, but although the sun was shining it was a bit breezy walking along the sea front at times.
A Taste of Scotland.
This was our first tour booked through Harry Shaw Group Travel. Ian Pearson, the Groups Manager had taken us to visit the New Lanarkshire Heritage Centre in January 2017 and I decided that the on-site hotel, which is in a converted mill, was an ideal base for the tour. The visitor centre is in another mill with a working loom that once spun cotton. It now produces wool, which is sold as knitting wool and also made up into blankets and handbag decoration etc. also for sale in the Mill shop.
We were able to arrive at the hotel mid- afternoon, giving everyone nearly two hours to visit some of the heritage buildings on site or take a walk along the banks of the River Clyde into the Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve. Even when the general public were in between 10am and 5pm, the place never seemed crowded and always there was the relaxing sound of the Clyde tumbling over the rocks. At night, that sound lulled us to sleep.
Ian had originally booked a guided walk of the site but as some of my group were less mobile than others, I asked instead for a talk in the Riverside room at the visitor centre on the history of the Mill, which was very well received.
We visited four attractions during our five day stay, with the first being The Kelpies at Helix Park near Falkirk. If you go with your group book a tour, as it's only 30 minutes long and you go inside a Kelpie, which we all considered well worth the money. We then went up on the Falkirk Wheel for a ride along the canal. The following day was to Edinburgh for a tour of The Royal Yacht Britannia. We allowed just over three hours for the tour, giving time for a coffee and cake or lunch in the Royal Deck Tea Room and of course the obligatory gift from the shop, or in my case, some fudge, which was made on board the yacht.
Our final excursion was to Abbotsford, the former home of Sir Walter Scott, where we had two excellent guides. We all knew Scott was a poet and writer but there was so much more to the man and the visit was a source of much conversation at dinner that night. The guides recommended we go into the walled garden as the tulips were still out and the air was scented with their perfume.
Although we had allowed a whole morning on the second day to visit the Heritage Site, the group wanted more, so we left Abbotsford earlier than we might have done to give them another afternoon. You do have to allow enough time to get to venues as even the 'A' roads are like country lanes, but the scenery is wonderful and we have all fallen in love with the Scottish Border district. We were also impressed with the first class service we received from Ian and his team throughout.
What both these tours did highlight was how a lack of mobility needn’t be a reason not to visit parks and gardens. Many places have pre-bookable golf buggy tours of their grounds, wheelchairs/mobility scooters to hire, or provide a shuttle service from the coach park to the visitor centre. You must, however, not leave it to chance but ring and discuss your groups’ possible needs with the venue or the tour operator. In a tour I have just packaged, which includes a visit to Kew Gardens, I have included tickets for the Kew Explorer hop-on hop-off land train and it has proved a very popular decision.
Switzerland is our next destination with two back to back tours but more of that in the next issue.