Travel blog aimed at mature, independent travellers who like to plan their own holidays. The blog is based on our own travels and walking holidays in beautiful places such as Iceland, The Azores and Peru, and contains accounts of our experiences, advice, links to resources and lots of photography.
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information… The post A Week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife appeared first on Self Arranged...
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information see Disclosure)
Anyone following this blog will know that Matt and I like travelling to quiet places. So arriving in Tenerife for the first time was a real shock. It is SO busy.
We had arranged to stay for a week in Puerto de la Cruz in the north of the island, expecting that this would be a world apart from the busier sun-lovers’ resorts in the south. We naively thought that once we drove our hire car away from the airport, the roads would be quiet and peaceful. Not so. The entire route was fast, busy, and around the capital Santa Cruz, completely chaotic. If you are visiting for the first time, like us, be prepared!
Despite the initial shock of the crowds, and the less than attractive drive around the main route, we did find some wonderful places to visit. Here are our suggestions if, like us, you don’t want to spend your holiday by the pool.
One of the main reasons we chose to stay in Puerto de la Cruz was its proximity to the Teide National Park. Though it is still a bit of a drive to get to the entrance to the park, taking around an hour.
Once you escape the traffic, you drive through attractive forest. There is often a lot of cloud here, but we found that we usually drove through the cloud to clear blue skies higher up. Several trails head into the forest, though we didn’t try any of these – the terrain looks steep and difficult.
There are various stopping places at points of interest on the drive up. One is the Mirador Piedra de la Rosa with the impressive rock formation below, which is definitely worth checking out. It is a rare example of a basalt rosette, formed when basalt columns have folded.
Eventually you emerge into a stark volcanic landscape, with great views of Mount Teide itself. The mountain is actually the highest in all of Spain, and it is hugely impressive, wherever it is viewed from.
Mount Teide is classed among the most dangerous volcanoes in the world! Although it has been dormant since its last eruption in 1909, the volcano could certainly erupt again. The whole structure is highly unstable, causing concerns about massive landslides. Of course it is very closely monitored, and changes below the surface should be picked up before any future volcanic activity occurs. In theory…….
There are many great walks to explore this fascinating landscape – here are our recommendations if you like relatively gentle walks away from the crowds.
The visitor centre at El Portillo, situated near the entrance to the Teide National Park (if you are coming from Puerto de la Cruz) is a great place to start. It has good parking and toilet facilities. You can pick up a free map of marked trails in the park, and there are more detailed maps available to purchase.
The visitor centre has information about the landscapes of the park, its fauna and flora, and its geological history. It also has a fantastic free botanical garden, dedicated to the flora in the national park. The garden is spread over a large area with made up paths and information boards.
You can easily spend a pleasant hour or two here strolling around the paths, learning about the local plant life and enjoying wonderful views of the surrounding landscapes. We visited twice, and were surprised how quiet and enjoyable it was.
The rock formations at Roques de Garcia are hugely impressive. Unfortunately this means that they are also hugely popular, with lots of tour groups. Parking is difficult, but usually possible at the adjacent Parador de Las Canadas del Teide hotel (which would make a great base – see booking.com).
Despite the crowds the Roques de Garcia are definitely worth a visit. There is a gentle path through some impressive formations, including Roque Cinchado in the photo above.
There is also a longer circular route to see more of the area, including the huge formation known as The Cathedral. Although the route is only around 4 km, it does include a descent down to a plain, and then a fairly steep ascent up to the starting point at the end of the circuit. It is fascinating all the way, and definitely worth doing.
A walk that we particularly enjoyed was Sendero 30. To find the start of this walk just park in either of two large laybys located at the Minas de San José Viewpoint (Km 37.5 of the road TF-21). It is easy to find the start of the clearly marked trail from there, and as soon as you leave the parking area it is beautifully quiet. We only saw a couple of other walkers on the entire walk.
The route takes you through a stark landscape with interesting rock formations and vegetation. You descend gently to walk through a valley, before eventually meeting Sendero 4 after around 5 km. We turned round at this point, and returned by the same route. Of course you can just walk as far as you wish before returning to the starting point. The trail is really easy to follow, the gradients are not too steep, and there are some fantastic views – we really enjoyed the walk.
Another beautifully laid out trail is Sendero 6, which you can start at El Portillo Visitor Centre (see above). This trail goes through the botanical garden and then proceeds, rising continually, to Montana Blanca. It then gets steeper and continues to Montana de los Tomillos. We didn’t do the entire route (which is around 6 km each way), but the section we did do was very easy to follow with beautiful views and plenty of interesting plants and rock formations.
Sendero 1 also begins at El Portillo. This is a gentle linear route of just over 5 km, and again looked very well signed and easy to follow. El Portillo makes a great starting point with its easy parking and toilet facilities.
Narices del Teide (Teide’s Nostrils) is the site of a large volcanic eruption in 1798. From a parking area at the Mirador de las Narices del Teide on road TF-38 you can clearly see the site of the eruption and the resulting lava flow.
There are a number of trails starting here that lead to the Narices, and beyond to the summit of Pico Viejo. But even if, like us, you don’t have time to hike, it is definitely worth stopping here to appreciate the impressive view of the eruption site.
Taking the cable car almost to the summit of Mount Teide was one of the main things we wanted to do on our trip. But – we didn’t do it.
Despite the lovely blue skies in our photos, it is very exposed to winds at this height. And if it is windy the cable car does not run (for obvious safety reasons). Three of the days when we drove up to the park, we found the cable car not running due to windy conditions. (We visited in November – it may be less windy earlier in the year). It is definitely worth bearing this in mind before you buy tickets in advance.
One day we drove up and the cable car was running. But the totally chaotic parking on every available space (including some that looked decidedly unsafe), and the obvious long queues convinced us to go for a quiet stroll instead. No doubt the trip to the top and the views up there are totally spectacular, but we weren’t too disappointed at missing the trip – it just looked far too busy.
If you do wish to take the trip, remember that the cable car does not go to the actual summit. If you want to do this you must obtain a free permit in advance , and it is still a steep walk up from the top cable car station. We could definitely feel the affect of the altitude on our walks, and this will be more noticeable at the top. Apparently the smell of sulphur is also strong (this is, after all, a volcano!) If you don’t have a ticket to go to the summit, there are two other marked routes to viewpoints from the top station which are gentler. For more information see Mount Teide Cable Car.
Puerto de la Cruz itself is larger and busier than we expected. Streets are narrow, steep and winding, and parking is an absolute nightmare. But it is an attractive place, especially down at the seafront where large waves crash onto volcanic rocks on the shore – an exhilerating sight and sound!
There is a large complex of pools known as Lago Martianez, created by the brilliant architect Cesar Manrique (see our post on Lanzarote to read about more of his projects). So if you like to spend some time on a sun lounger beside a pool you will be fine here.
The resort has the usual collection of shops, hotels and places to eat. There are some great restaurants in the Old Fishermen’s area (in various streets around Calle San Felipe). And more casual dining situated along the main seafront with fantastic views out to sea. We particularly liked Restaurante Rustico on Calle de San Telmo. The food was perhaps not the best, but the terrace with its view over the sea and the sound of the waves crashing beneath you was fantastic!
Puerto de la Cruz has a very beautiful botanical garden, which is definitely worth a visit. It looks small from the outside, but the network of paths crisscrossing the garden means that it takes longer to explore than you might expect.
The gardens are very historic, and contain a wonderful collection of tropical and subtropical plants. Some of the ancient trees are truly spectacular.
There is a water garden with dragonflies, lots of fruit trees, and beautiful flowers everywhere. Anyone interested in plants can easily spend a few hours marvelling at the unusual specimens. Don’t miss it!
I know many people feel strongly against zoos, but Matt and I love them. They carry out a massive amount of research, help to preserve species on the verge of extinction, and do a huge amount to raise public awareness about endangered species.
Zoo standards have come such a long way. The animals living in them generally have a much better and longer life than their wild counterparts. (Life in the wild is anything but idyllic as many people seem to think, but a constant battle just to survive).
Whenever we visit a city with a zoo, it is always on the top of our list of places to visit. Not only can you see animals that you could never see in the wild, but they often have lovely grounds and historic buildings. And no matter how many zoos we have visited, we always manage to see something different.
Loro Parque, situated just outside Puerto de la Cruz, is a fantastic zoo (but be warned – it is very busy with tour groups).
Particularly impressive to us was the penguin display, complete with several species of penguin, artificial icebergs and a fantastic revolving platform which takes you slowly round the display so everyone gets a good view.
Another lovely display was the Western Lowland gorillas. Loro Parque has a large group of male gorillas, and is contributing to the conservation of this highly endangered species. The gorillas were in beautiful condition, and seemed as interested in us as we were in them.
Among the many other highlights were the extensive collection of parrots, the treetop display, the hippos, and many more. Surprisingly, one of our favourite displays was a room full of tanks containing jellyfish. Beautiful lighting made the jellyfish mesmerising to watch.
We had mixed feelings about the controversial dolphin and orca shows. Some of the animals had been rescued after being injured, and would not have survived if left in the wild. The shows are undoubtedly incredibly impressive, but we would perhaps have preferred a regular display with information about the individual animals rather than the performances.
If you do go to see one of the shows, be aware the the ‘Splash Zones’ are more like ‘Completely Soaked Zones’, so don’t sit there unless you really don’t mind getting drenched!
The grounds of Loro Parque are also very beautiful with lots of exotic plants and lovely trees. There are numerous eateries scattered around the grounds, and places to sit if you prefer to take your own picnic. All in all, it’s a great day out – just be prepared for the crowds!
We stayed in the TRH Taoro Garden hotel (link via booking.com) in Puerto de la Cruz. We really liked the hotel, which had lovely gardens and a decent pool. Our room was comfortable and spacious, and we had a balcony with a view over rooftops to the sea.
Breakfast was good with plenty of choices. There is a small bistro which opens two evenings a week with a five course tasting menu. And the main restaurant serves a buffet meal each evening. Many people stay half or full board, which is good value. But, for us, trying different restaurants in the places we visit is one of the most enjoyable aspects of our holidays. We did try the hotel buffet one evening, and would say it was OK. But personally I wouldn’t want to eat there every evening.
There are a couple of points to bear in mind about staying in the TRH Taoro Garden:
To search for other accommodation options in Puerto de la Cruz, see this page at booking.com.
To search for accommodation throughout Tenerife see this page at booking.com.
Tenerife North airport is closest to Puerto de la Cruz, but there is a bigger choice of flights to Tenerife South. Whichever airport you arrive at, you can easily get to Puerto de la Cruz by public bus or a hire car. Just be prepared for the busy roads!
To check for the best flight options from your local airport, try Skyscanner.
To compare a large choice of car hire options, and get great prices, we always use Holiday Autos.
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
Read about taking the bus across the Kjolur Highland Route F35 from Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland The post Travelling the Kjölur Highland Route F35 by Bus from Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information please see Disclosure)
If you want to travel from Reykjavik to Akureyri using public transport you have three options. You can fly. You can take the bus around the ring road. Or you can be more adventurous and take the bus across the Kjölur Highland Route F35.
The Kjölur F35 route, like all Iceland’s F routes, is rough, unpaved and only accessible to suitable vehicles during the summer months. The bus service, operated by SBA-Norðurleid, runs several time a week from mid-June to early September. Follow the link to see current dates and timetables (see the Scheduled Bus Service tab).
I have wanted to take the F35 Highland route since I first read about it, and finally got round to doing it recently. It is more of an excursion than just a bus route. The journey takes a total of 10.5 hours, and there are various interesting stops en route for photography, refreshments and toilet facilities.
The journey can be done in either direction. Either way it begins at 8.00 am at the appropriate bus station. We started at Reykjavik, so I will describe the journey from there.
We boarded our minibus at the BSI Bus Terminal, and were surprised to find we were the only passengers, though a few hikers and cyclists did join and leave at various points along the journey. The route initially follows the attractive ring road southeast through Hveragerdi. It then turns northward to the first stop of the day – Geysir.
Here the bus stops for about 30 minutes, which should be long enough to see the regular Strokkur geyser erupt, probably several times. If you haven’t seen a geyser erupting before, this is a very special experience and definitely a fantastic bonus of taking this trip. And if you have seen the geyser before, as we had, it is still a very worthwhile stop. Watching geysers is endlessly fascinating!
In addition to seeing the geyser, there is a large gift shop, excellent restaurant and toilets here.
There are also a couple of good hotels and holiday cottages (available through booking.com). On our first trip to Iceland (see A Magical Journey Around the Ring Road), we spent a night in one of the hotels here, and would highly recommend it. You can easily arrange to pick up the bus here the next day to continue your journey to Akureyri.
By staying here, you get to watch the geyser when the day-trippers have gone, and also explore more of this fascinating area.
Leaving Geysir, the bus heads off to the next destination which is another classic tourist hotspot – Gullfoss.
Again the bus waits here for around 30 minutes. This is long enough to check out several of the viewpoints for the hugely impressive waterfall. Which is definitely worthwhile, whether you have seen Gullfoss before or not.
Gullfoss is famed for the rainbows which form in the copious amounts of spay. Unfortunately, though, it was a dull and gloomy day when we in did this trip, so there were no rainbows to be seen. But just being close to such a huge volume of cascading water is exhilarating. You can feel, as well as hear, the force of the falls.
There are all the usual tourist facilities here, including a gift shop, restaurant and toilets – see Gullfoss. There are also lovely mountain views from the carpark.
Shortly after leaving Gullfoss, the bus leaves the surfaced road and, perhaps thankfully, mass tourism behind. The road becomes the F35 route, which is a rough gravel track, and the landscapes become harsher.
The road was actually nowhere near as rough as I was expecting. We have enjoyed bus trips to Laki and Thorsmork in the past, and this road is nothing like as rough as those were. There were no river crossings, and the track was relatively well maintained, though of course this may depend very much on the weather conditions. We did the trip at the very start of the summer season, and it is possible that the road deteriorates as more traffic uses the F35 route throughout the summer.
Driving the F35 route with a four wheel drive hire car should be no problem at all unless the weather is particularly bad. (Don’t attempt it in an ordinary two wheel drive car because your insurance won’t cover F routes).
Of course the route is rough in places, and you get a bit jarred and shaken around. I have seen reviews where people have complained that the journey was very uncomfortable and bumpy. Don’t these people do any research at all? Surely the whole reason for choosing to take this route is to get a glimpse of Iceland’s remote interior. If there was a smooth paved road all the way it wouldn’t be wild and remote, and there would be far more traffic using it.
If you really don’t like travelling on rougher roads, you should stick to Route 1. I have intermittent back trouble, but I didn’t find the F35 route to be a problem at all, and any discomfort was more than worth it to see this fascinating part of Iceland.
The scenery is not exactly pretty: not much grows out here. The landscapes are stark and bleak. The emptiness is striking, but, depending on the light, hauntingly beautiful in places.
We passed this lovely waterfall, where the driver kindly stopped to let us take some photos.
The next stop on the route is at Kerlingarfjöll, where there is mountain accommodation, camping facilities and a simple restaurant. Unfortunately when we arrived here the weather turned to gale-force winds and sleety snow (in late July!), so we were just pleased to get a very welcome hot coffee in the restaurant.
Even in these weather conditions, we could see that this is a spectacular location. There are hiking trails through colourful rhyolite mountains, hot springs and geysers, and beautiful glacier views. This would be a great place to spend a couple of nights if you want to hike in these beautiful and remote mountains. For more information see kerlingarfjoll.is.
The next major stop is at the Hveravellir Geothermal Area. Here there are fascinating fumaroles, steam vents and bubbling hot springs. A well laid out trail with information boards makes it easy to walk around the main site. Unfortunately it was still raining heavily when we visited, but we still thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the site.
Here are a couple of short clips I shot showing an active steam vent and a bubbling hot spring.
Active steam vent
The bus stops here for around an hour, which is long enough to explore the immediate site, and bathe in the hot springs if you wish. There is also a good restaurant and toilet facilities.
For more information, including accommodation and hiking trails, see Hveravellir.com.
After leaving Hveravellir, the journey descends passing scenic reservoirs and the Blönduvirkjun Power Plant, before the F35 Highland route finally ends and rejoins Route 1. Even from here, it is still a long (but very scenic) drive to Akureyri.
Our driver made one more stop at a convenient services where we could buy provisions and have a coffee, before arriving in Akureyri at around 6.30 pm. Because we were the only passengers at this time he happily dropped us off close to our accommodation, which we very much appreciated.
I am so pleased we finally got round to doing this trip. Here are a few thoughts about the journey, and advice if you are thinking of doing the trip yourself.
The bus service operates from mid-June to early September only. See SBA-Norðurleid (Scheduled Bus Service tab) for timetables and bookings.
We were the only pre-booked passengers joining the bus at Reykjavik the day we did the tour. Several passengers (with and without tickets) did join the tour at various sites, including cyclists with their bikes. This was no problem because the bus was almost empty.
But it is only a small bus, and I certainly wouldn’t want to just assume that a place would be available, especially if you are sticking to a planned itinerary. It is much safer to buy your tickets online in advance and know you have a place. You can just download your ticket to your phone and show it to the driver when you join.
Like most things in Iceland, the trip is expensive. We paid well over 100 GBP each for the trip (in June 2019). Taking the bus around the ring road would have been cheaper (around 50 GBP each), but we wouldn’t have had the the wonderful stops and the experience of crossing the interior.
Our driver was extremely friendly and helpful, and told us lots about the places we passed on the route.
To us the extra cost was definitely worth it – many excursions cost more that this.
The total journey time is about 10.5 hours, but there are plenty of stops en route. For comparison, the ring road bus takes about 6.5 hours.
Remember that a significant part of the 10.5 hours is spent at Geysir, Gullfoss, Kerlingarfjöll and Hveravellir. Unless you are in a hurry, or not good at travelling on buses, consider the trip a fantastic excursion rather than just a means of getting from A to B.
The interior of Iceland is pretty bleak, and the weather can change quickly. We were a bit unlucky and had very strong winds, heavy rain and even some sleety snow. And this was towards the end of June!
Make sure you have something warm to wear, and a windproof and waterproof jacket handy.
Although ample refreshments are available at all of the stops, it is a shame not to use the time to explore. You only have 30 minutes and Geysir and Gullfoss, so you don’t want to spend your time queuing for coffee and a cake!
There are lots of organised tours that include Geysir and Gullfoss (see this page at Viator for ideas). These may give you more time at these fantastic sites, though you are likely to be with a much larger group. Of course with your own vehicle you can stay as long as you like! (See Holiday Autos for a great choice in car hire).
There are a couple of hotels and holiday cottages very close to Geysir (see this page at booking.com which also includes accommodation close to Gullfoss). We highly recommend an overnight stay if you want to enjoy the geyser when the tour groups have gone.
If you wish to stay longer in the interior, perhaps to explore some of the hiking trails, there is accommodation at both Kerlingarfjoll and Hveravellir. You can easily arrange to get the bus to one of these sites, stay a night or longer, and then continue by bus to Akureyri.
(Please remember that this post is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer)
The post Travelling the Kjölur Highland Route F35 by Bus from Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
A review of some excellent nature reserves to visit in Yorkshire The post Yorkshire Nature Reserves appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
(Updated September 2019)
Matt and I have recently been exploring nature reserves in the region around our Yorkshire home. I can’t believe we have lived here for over 30 years, and explored so much, but never realised how many excellent reserves there are within easy reach of York.
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information please see Disclosure)
This post includes the following reserves (with hopefully more to be added in the future)
My skills as a wildlife photographer are limited, but I hope the photos will give you an idea of how excellent these reserves are. All are definitely worth a visit, whether you are a keen birdwatcher, a plant lover, or just enjoy a good walk surrounded by wonderful nature. Now we have discovered them, we will be returning again and again.
If you are interested in membership of the RSPB or the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, just follow the links. Hopefully I will add more reserves to this page in the near future, so do keep checking back. And if you know of others worthy of inclusion, please do let us know!
Nothing beats the spectacle of a large breeding seabird colony, and in Yorkshire we are very lucky to have Bempton Cliffs. Huge numbers of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and gannets come here to breed each spring, as well as puffins, shags and fulmars.
Walking from the visitor centre to the cliff edge during the breeding season is very special. All is quiet until you reach a gap in the cliffs, and then suddenly, wham, the sound of the birds hits you. And then you stand on the first viewing platform, and realise just how many birds there are.
The air between the cliff face and the sea is absolutely teeming with soaring gannets, flapping auks and noisy kittiwakes. And every possible tiny ledge on the cliffside (and many that seem impossible) is occupied by nesting birds. It’s magical.
You can walk along the clifftop in both directions, and there are a number of viewing platforms, information boards and benches. From the viewing platforms you can take your time spotting the different species and watching the birds. Gannets can often be seen gathering clumps of grass to line their nests, and squabbles between the guillemots and kittiwakes are common when somebody invades somebody else’s space.
The puffins are a bit harder to spot because they spend time in their burrows, but can often be picked out on the cliffside or flying to and from the nesting area. Information boards help if you are not sure about identifying the different species, and RSPB staff and volunteers are usually around to help.
Most of the birds start to arrive in March each year, and stay until late summer. This is of course the best time to visit, especially when the chicks begin to hatch.
But even if you are in the area at a different time of year, Bempton Cliffs are still well worth a visit. The cliffs themselves are hugely impressive. And the views are fantastic – to Filey and Filey Brigg to the north and Flamborough Head with its lighthouses to the south. There are wild flowers on the cliff tops, songbirds in the hedgerows, and short-eared owls regularly hunt in the reserve. If you get a chance to visit, don’t miss it.
Bempton Cliffs is situated on the coast between Bridlington and Scarborough. Entrance is free for RSPB members, but there is a charge for non-members. For more information including directions, visitor centre opening hours, charges for non-members and special events, see RSPB Bempton Cliffs.
(Framed print available from my shop at Society6)
Blacktoft Sands is just within the Yorkshire county boundary. It is situated on the south bank of the River Ouse, just before the Ouse joins the Humber, close to Goole and Scunthorpe.
Blacktoft Sands is one of the largest tidal reed beds in the UK, and is a fantastic reserve. There are six excellent hides, with great views over the tidal pools and reeds. Good paths link the hides, and the distances between them are quite small.
The bird life varies with the tides and seasons, but there is always something to see here. And you get great close up views from the hides.
On a recent visit we saw numerous black-tailed godwits, redshanks, wigeon, teal, herons, lapwings and many more. There is a resident population of tree sparrows, which is easy to observe at a well-placed feeder. We also got a great view of a marsh harrier, and were able to watch this lovely snipe feeding right in front of one of the hides.
For more information, and charges for non-RSPB members, see Blacktoft Sands.
Fairburn Ings is one of our favourite reserves. The reserve contains a number of lakes and ponds on different levels, in what used to be a coal face. The lakes are connected by good paths through beautiful woodland. From higher ground there are great views over the reserve and the surrounding countryside.
The paths are suitable for all seasons and abilities. There are several hides and screens to watch the wildlife, and plenty of benches when you want a picnic. The reserve is large enough to walk for several miles if you wish.
There is always wildlife to be seen here, particularly wildfowl and waders at the lakes. On recent visits we saw great white egret, little egret, grey heron, curlew, wigeon, teal, shoveler, great crested grebe, little grebe, merganser, marsh harrier, buzzard, kestrel, and many others. We also saw dragonflies, butterflies, and on one of our visits impressive numbers of ladybirds!
Other species regularly recorded on the reserve include kingfishers, bitterns, sparrow hawks, red kites and otters – we will definitely keep returning!
For more information see Fairburn Ings.
St Aidan’s Nature Park, like nearby Fairburn Ings, occupies a disused coal mining site close to the River Aire near Leeds. As at Fairburn, there are numerous lakes and ponds connected by an extensive network of good paths.
However, despite the proximity to Fairburn, the two reserves are very different in character. St Aidan’s is much more open and exposed, with big wide views over the wetlands and reed beds.
The wetlands are a hive of activity with various water birds, and there is always something to see. You can walk for several miles here using the paths on the reserve and also the adjacent path beside the River Aire.
We absolutely love this place. On a recent visit on a lovely spring day there was sun shining, flowers flowering, warblers warbling and several bitterns booming – wonderful.
However be aware that there are no hides or shelters on the reserve, so it is very exposed. If you plan to visit on a wet or windy day, go prepared! The reserve is quite new, and hides are being planned for the future.
There are several benches around the site that are suitable for picnic stops.
For more information see St Aidan’s Nature Park.
Barlow Common nature reserve is situated just south of Selby, off the A1041. It is literally in the shadow of Drax Power Station, but it is a haven of peace and tranquility.
The reserve is glorious in autumn, as you can see from the photos. On a recent visit we were treated to stunning colours, and a great display by an obliging buzzard.
The reserve consists of lakes, meadows and beautiful mature woodland. It has good paths to enable an easy circular walk with plenty of benches and a picnic area.
There are teasels everywhere. We will definitely visit again in the spring and summer – this must be a fantastic place for bees and butterflies as well as birds.
It is also a fantastic place to see fungi. There are lots of tree branches and trunks which have been left to decay, and as well as being perfect for insects to breed these are covered in an impressive array of lichens and fungi. If you visit, be sure to look out for them as you walk around the reserve.
If you visit, be sure not to miss a second circular route through oak and birch woodland. It is a short and very easy circuit through beautiful trees, and definitely worthwhile – see the map in the reserve to find the entrance.
For more information see Barlow Common.
North Cave Wetlands is a fantastic reserve, which will become even better in the near future. The reserve has been created from a former quarry. A further 100 hectares, which is currently still in use as a quarry, is going to be added to the reserve within the next few years. It will then be a huge area of deep and shallow lakes, meadow and paths.
When we visited in late summer we saw lots of dragonflies and butterflies, as well as many birds on the lakes.
Amongst the birds were many little egrets on the islands, as can be seen in the photo below.
In autumn the reserve is particularly beautiful, with fantastic colours in early morning or afternoon light.
For more information see North Cave Wetlands.
Potteric Carr is a large reserve just south of Doncaster consisting of extensive wetlands and reed beds connected by a network of paths. It has a large number of excellent hides, and you can easily spend an entire day here going from hide to hide. There is a visitor centre and cafe, and regular events and activities for families.
The reserve is particularly known for its wetland birds, including bitterns, and it is a great place to get close views of marsh harriers.
Matt and I recently had a short break near Doncaster specifically to visit Potteric Carr and some other local reserves. Coming from the quieter north part of Yorkshire, we were surprised by the fact that the reserve is surrounded by constantly busy main roads, and is criss crossed by major railway lines. Therefore you can constantly see and hear the traffic – something we like to escape from when we visit nature reserves!
But then it was encouraging to see just how much wildlife is thriving here. The lakes were constantly busy with wildfowl, and the hedgerows were alive with birdsong. And we not only got a quick glimpse of two bitterns, but also clearly heard booming for the first time.
This is something I had wanted to hear for many years, as bitterns had become so rare in the UK. Now populations are increasing and we are lucky enough to have breeding pairs in several Yorkshire reserves. We have since heard booming at Fairburn Ings and St. Aidan’s (see above), and also in Far Ings in Lincolnshire – what a wonderful sound!
Potteric Carr and several other nearby reserves prove that wildlife can thrive even near our busy roads and overcrowded cities, as long as suitable habitat is available. Providing spaces like these, and corridors between them, is so important. I think the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB are doing a great job!
For more information including directions, opening hours and admission charges for non-YWT members, see Potteric Carr.
(Framed print available from my shop at Society6)
Spurn Point is a unique reserve, consisting of a vulnerable spit of land jutting out from the Holderness coast to the mouth of the Humber Estuary. There used to be a road to the end of the point, but part of this was washed away in a tidal surge in December 2013. Access is now on foot or cycle, and is not safe during very high tides, when part of the route may become inundated.
It is a bit of a trek to get there, so if you plan to visit make sure you check the ‘Do not cross’ times on the Spurn Point website before you set off.
From the car park you can walk as far as you wish along the point, and there are various side trails to explore. It is around 4 miles to the lighthouse (which you can visit at certain times), and a little further to the tip of the point. No matter how far you walk, it is always exhilerating being here, with wide open views on both sides.
There are good chances of seeing wildlife on the shore and in the dunes. Spurn is well known for its migrating birds, and is also a great place to see various insects and mammals. On a recent visit we saw a roe deer in the dunes, a seal just offshore, and this interesting convolvulus hawk moth caterpillar which was crossing the main path.
For more information see Spurn Point.
Staveley, situated close to Boroughbridge, is another lovely reserve to visit. It is quite a large site, with wetlands, grassland and good paths and hides.
Otters, barn owls and red kites are often seen here. There are several orchid species flowering in summer, and lots of butterflies and dragonflies. Even if you are not lucky enough to see the star species, there is always something to see on the various ponds and lakes.
On recent visits we enjoyed great views of herons, and large flocks of lapwings catching the light as they flocked above the lakes.
We also got fantastic views (but not photos!) of a beautiful barn owl, and have had several sightings of a marsh harrier. It is definitely one of our favourite reserves, and we will continue to visit regularly.
For more information see Staveley Nature Reserve
Wheldrake Ings is located just outside Wheldrake village close to the A19 between York and Selby. This wonderful reserve changes throughout the year. In spring and summer there are vast meadows full of wild flowers which attract insects and birds. In late summer the meadows are cut for hay and then grazed.
But the real change occurs in late autumn when the meadows begin to flood from the nearby River Derwent. The reserve is part of the Lower Derwent Valley, and in winter the whole area is used by literally thousands of ducks, geese and waders. These in turn attract predators like peregrines and marsh harriers.
A raised path through the reserve and good hides make it possible to view the birds, though be aware that the path can sometimes get muddy in wet weather. In times of very high flooding the path will be inaccessible.
Wheldrake Ings also has one of the highest densities of barn owls in Europe. It is a great place to visit at dusk when the chances of spotting one are high. We have also heard tawny owls calling here – a wonderful sound to hear just after dark!
Another rather eerie sound on the reserve (especially if it is dark) is the creaking of an old wind pump. We got a bit of shock one visit when a breeze caused it to suddenly start turning – fortunately we soon realised where the sound was coming from!
For more information see Wheldrake Ings.
Framed print available from my shop at Society6
Skipwith Common, mananged by English Nature, is situated close to the A19 near Escrick, just outside Skipwith village. It is a great place for a lengthy stroll, with excellent marked trails through beautiful trees and lowland heath with a few ponds.
There is interest throughout the year. Late summer is particularly colourful when the heather is flowering and there are lots of wild flowers and butterflies. We have seen lizards here, basking in the sun. In the autumn the bracken turns a beautiful golden colour, and there are some impressive fungi.
There is also livestock on the common, including longhorn cattle, Hebridean sheep and Exmoor ponies. For this reason it is very important to keep your dogs on a leash.
Facilities at Skipwith Common
For more information, directions and walks to download see Friends of Skipwith Common.
I will be adding more reserves to this list in the future, so please do keep checking back!
For reserves and country parks on both sides of the Humber Bridge, please see our post Humber Bridge.
If you would like to stay in Yorkshire, you can search for accommodation using this link to booking.com.
And just a quick final request – we are always saddened at how much litter we see, even on nature reserves. PLEASE, PLEASE – take your litter home!
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
Ideas and tips for some great things to do for free in Reykjavik, Iceland The post Some Great Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information please see Disclosure)
If you are visiting Iceland, chances are that you will spend a day or two in Reykjavik.
Iceland is notoriously expensive, so here are a few things to do that are completely free.
The new Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is a photographer’s dream. And you don’t have to be attending a concert – anyone can go in to have a look around.
There are various shops, displays and restaurants within the hall, but the main interest is the structure itself. The huge windows and ceiling are composed of glass geometric shapes, and the reflections change with every step.
It is hugely impressive, incredibly photogenic, has great views, and is definitely worth a look.
For more information see Harpa.is.
The Old Harbour is being transformed into a trendy area for tourists and locals alike. There is lots going on here. New hotels are being built close to the Harpa Concert Hall, and old warehouses are being transformed into a whole host of shops, bars and restaurants.
There are numerous specialist museums and art galleries in this area. The diverse range of museums includes photography, maritime history, Icelandic sagas, volcanoes, whales and more. You can see film shows of erupting volcanoes and northern lights. And whale watching trips depart from here.
Of course, these activities are not free. But it is a great place just to wander around for a couple of hours, taking in the atmosphere. And for the price of a cup of coffee you can sit on the balcony of one of the bars and watch boats coming and going.
There is also a series of information boards telling the history of the harbour and fishing in Reykjavik which is both interesting and informative.
On a nice day a very pleasant walk is to Grotta Lighthouse, situated at the end of a peninsula to the north west of Reykjavik.
To find the route, walk past the old harbour region and then just keep following the road west along the coast. As you get further from the city the route gets more interesting.
You pass a small beach, and then the shore gets rockier with more wildlife. We saw lots of eider ducks with ducklings as well as gulls, terns, oystercatchers and plovers.
The lighthouse soon comes into view. The area immediately around the lighthouse is closed in summer months to protect breeding birds, but just past the lighthouse is a nice beach area and also a small lake.
There are various benches where you can enjoy a picnic, or you can find rocks to sit on on the beach . If you are lucky with the weather as we were you will have lovely yiews of the sea, the lighthouse and surrounding hills, including the ice capped volcano on Snaefellsnes. We were also lucky enough to see a seal basking on a nearby rock.
We decided to return by the same route to enjoy the same coastal path, but you can also return on the other side of the peninsula to make a circular route. And if you have had enough of walking there are bus stops along the way.
Reykjavik has a very pleasant Botanic Garden situated in a park, which is free to visit.
The garden is well laid out, and contains around 3000 different plant species and varieties, arranged into various collections. There are lovely paths through the garden, benches, and a couple of ponds with ducks and geese.
The attractive Flora Cafe and Bistro is also situated within the garden. We only had time for a quick walk through, but would have loved to spend longer – next time!
In summer the garden is open from 10.00 am to 10.00 pm. For more information about the location, collections, guided tours and events see Grasagardur.is.
This iconic sculpture is situated on the coast just to the east of the Harpa Concert Hall.
It is a really atmospheric site, and just has to be photographed by anyone visiting Reykjavik.
It is free to go inside the famous church, which is visible throughout the city and beyond. It is, in fact, one of the tallest buildings in Iceland, and is hugely impressive. The elegant design is based on basalt columns, produced by volcanic eruptions, which are found in many places in Iceland.
There is a fee to go up the tower, but it is worth it for the view over the city.
Höfði House is where the historic meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan took place in 1986. The meeting had huge significance and is considered to be the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
You can’t go inside the house, but you can explore the outside and there are information boards about its history. And it is in a beautiful setting by the waterfront.
Look out for booklets of discount vouchers. These are usually available in hotel lobbies, tourist information offices and anywhere where there are tourist leaflets. They contain vouchers for discounts on many attractions, shops and restaurants.
Examples are 2for1 offers on entrance fees and 20% or more off restaurant bills – mostly in Reykjavik but also throughout Iceland. They are definitely worthwhile – we paid full price for entrance to the excellent Whales of Iceland museum on our first day, and then realised there was a 2for1 voucher in the booklet which would have saved us almost 3000 ISK.
We stayed in the Center Hotel Plaza (booking.com) which was efficient, comfortable, and conveniently located for the main shopping streets and the Old Harbour. It was in a busy area, but was well soundproofed. The hotel does not have a restaurant, but there are lots of places to eat nearby. And you can get a 10% discount if you eat in the restaurant of any other Center Hotel in town. Read traveller reviews and compare prices at TripAdvisor.
To research many more accommodation options in Reykjavik, follow this link to TripAdvisor.
For a whole range of tours you can take within and from Reykjavik try Viator.
The post Some Great Free Things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
A two week itinerary to visit Akureyri and then tour the Westfjords of Iceland The post Two Weeks in Iceland – An Overdue Return appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
One of the first posts I wrote for Self Arranged Journeys was about a wonderful long trip around Iceland (see A Magical Journey Around the Ring Road). It really was a magical journey – so unlike anywhere we had visited before. Every day there were new amazing experiences, and I still vividly remember the excitement and wonder of that holiday.
That trip was over ten years ago, and when we took it I had no idea that I would later start this website. I only had a very basic camera at the time (and little knowledge of how to use it), and the post now looks very dated. But the places we visited have changed little, and the information and enthusiasm it contains are still useful and valid.
(The biggest change is that many more roads are now fully paved, making travelling easier, quicker – but perhaps less exciting! And prices are even higher……)
After that wonderful trip we promised ourselves we would return to Iceland, and this year we finally got round to it. Despite being older (and stiffer) than on our previous trip, we wanted to visit some of the more off the beaten track places this time. Here is our itinerary (do feel free to copy it- it worked really well!):
Our previous trip was focused on exploring the amazing volcanic and geological features that make Iceland so unique. This time we concentrated on the sheer beauty of the landscapes, particularly of the remote Westfjords, and the abundant wildlife.
Many people rightly visit the Westfjords to hike and camp and get close to nature. But if camping is not for you (and it isn’t for us), don’t be put off visiting the Westfjords. You won’t find luxury hotels, but there are comfortable simple hotels and guesthouses which make ideal bases. And while some of the roads are unpaved and a little challenging, we had no trouble coping with a small ordinary two-wheel-drive car (though we were lucky with the weather!)
I am now busy writing about many of the places we visited on our latest trip, so please keep a lookout for new posts coming very soon.
(By then we really might be too old and stiff…….!)
If you are looking for accommodation in the Westfjords, try searching this page at booking.com.
To find the best car hire deal, we used Holiday Autos. They have a great choice of vehicles and the best prices we could find. Dropping the car off at a different location to the pickup point was no problem, though of course there is an extra charge to do this.
Easy islands to visit in the beautiful and relaxed Stockholm Archipelago The post The Stockholm Archipelago – Easy Islands to Visit appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
(This post contains some affiliate links, which simply means that if you make a booking or purchase after clicking on one of these links we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you – for more information please see Disclosure).
Stockholm is a great city to visit. But sometimes it is nice to get out of a busy city for a few hours and experience some peace, quiet and beautiful scenery. And this is so easy to do in Stockholm, because just offshore is a magical archipelago of literally thousands of islands.
The islands vary enormously. Some have well developed resorts, some have just a few summer cabins, and some are no more than isolated lumps of rock covered in pine trees. You could spend months exploring, but most tourists only have a few days available at most.
Two islands that are very close to Stockholm, and particularly easy to reach, are Fjäderholmarna and Vaxholm (see more about these later). But if you have a few hours or more to spare, we suggest visiting islands further out. This way you get to see not only the island you are visiting, but also the multitude of other islands, islets and rocks you will pass on the way.
Add to this the lovely properties on the islands, boats from tiny craft to huge ferries, and the numerous swans and cormorants that live amongst the islands, and the journey could well be the best part of your trip. It allows you to appreciate the full scale and beauty of the Archipelago.
On a recent short stay we visited two very different islands, both of which we highly recommend for a visit. We also saw hundreds more on boat trips and ferry journeys through the Archipelago (see Exploring the Baltic Sea by Ferry). Here are our observations and suggestions based on the islands we visited and saw on our journeys.
We absolutely loved Grinda. This quiet little island is a world apart from busy Stockholm, and a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours in beautiful countryside.
The boat drops you off at a tiny landing stage, and when the boat departs you feel as though you have been abandoned in the middle of nowhere. There is an information board about the island, which is a nature reserve, and a single track leading inland.
There is no need to worry, though. You soon come to the excellent hotel Grinda Wärdshus, which has a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a very good lunch. The view from the terrace over the guest harbour to the Baltic is beautiful.
There is another restaurant at the pier, as well as a shop and cafe.
There are easy trails through lovely woodland and meadows to enjoy, with information about the fauna and flora on the island. There is also a farm with various animals, and the rocky coast has secluded bays and places to bathe.
If you fancy staying a night or two, and enjoying even more solitude when the day-trippers have left, Grinda Wärdhuss has simple double and twin rooms as well as great food – see this page at booking.com.
There are regular daily trips to Grinda in the summer. Our boat departed from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details). The journey time was 1 hour and 50 minutes, and we had over three hours on the island.
Sandhamn is actually the name of the attractive small town on Sandon Island. About 90 people live here permanently, and the island is a popular sailing centre. It therefore has a choice of restaurants and shops, making it an ideal destination for a day trip (or perhaps longer).
As well as exploring the town and having a relaxing lunch, you can stroll along the rocky coastline. There are lovely views over the Baltic Sea to neighbouring islands.
Behind the town there is some attractive woodland with scattered cabins and gardens, where we had a pleasant walk.
The highly scenic boat trip to Sandhamn takes around 2.25 hours. There are daily trips in the summer from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details). Our trip allowed us over 3 hours on the island, so there was plenty of time for lunch and a bit of exploring.
Vaxholm is only 50 minutes from Stockholm, and is easily be reached by boat or bus (it is linked by bridges). We didn’t actually visit Vaxholm, but sailed past it several times during our stay.
The proximity and ease of access mean that it is less secluded than Grinda and Sandhamn, and has less of an ‘island’ feel. But the harbour and waterside properties look very attractive.
We think it would be great to stay a few nights in the Waxholms Hotell shown in the photo above, and use this as a base to visit other islands. You could then enjoy Vaxholm in the evenings when the crowds have left.
Vaxholm also has a fortress on a separate little island, visited by a tiny ferry.
Fjäderholmarna is a true island that is very close to Stockholm. It is often considered the first island of the Archipelago, and the boat trip takes about 30 minutes. Because of its proximity to the city it tends to get busy, and of course you don’t get to see much more of the Archipelago on your journey. But if time is limited the island has a lovely coastline, good restaurants, and would be well worth a visit.
There are regular boats run by Stromma.com – just follow this link to see the timetable.
Other islands that can easily be visited on day trips include Finnhamn, Möja, Svartsö and Gällnö, as well as many more. Follow this link to Stromma.com to see timetables for independent trips and also their range of organised excursions.
Waxholmsbolaget run many ferry services to and within the Archipelago – follow the link to see their timetables, which can be downloaded as PDFs.
For many more organised tours in and from Stockholm (including some in the Archipelago) try Viator. With Viator you can choose from a wide variety of tours and excursions and book online in advance. If you change your plans most excursions can be cancelled with a full refund up to 24 hours before the start of the tour.
For a wide choice of accommodation in Stockholm, and options in the Archipelago, see this page at booking.com.
Not all ferries and excursions run all year (the Archipelago may freeze in winter). Check carefully with the companies who run the services before making any firm plans.
Study the timetables carefully – they can be a little confusing (some journeys involve links with bus services and more than one boat).
Some islands that have regular boat services cannot really be visited in a day trip – the journey takes so long that you would have to return immediately (if it is even possible to return the same day). Of course you can always arrange to stay a night or two….
The boats we went on were very comfortable with indoor and outdoor seating areas. Refreshments and toilets were available. Again check with the companies running the trips to see exactly what is included.
Make sure you take a camera and, if possible, binoculars. There is a lot to see!
A great way to explore Stockholm city is with a hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing Bus Tour – follow the link for more details, timetables and online tickets.
(Please remember that this site is based purely on our own holiday experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.)
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