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  • AngieC
  • August 19, 2017 09:32:43 AM

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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.

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    A Week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    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… The post A Week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife appeared first on Self Arranged...

    Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands

    View over the rooftops of Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, on a misty morning

    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.

    (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)

    Exploring the Teide National Park

    Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Typical landscape and vegetation in the Teide National Park

    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.

    Piedra de la Rosa, Tenerife

    Piedra de la Rosa basalt rosette

    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 volcano, Tenerife, Canary Islands

    Mount Teide seen from near El Portillo visitor centre

    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.

    El Portillo

    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.

    Retama plant in the botanical garden at El Portillo, Tenerife

    Retama plants (broom) in the botanical garden at El Portillo

    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.

    Canarian pine trees at El Portillo, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Rocky landscape and Canarian pine trees at El Portillo

    Roques de Garcia

    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).

    Roque Cinchado at Roques de Garcia, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Roque Cinchado at Roques de Garcia

    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.

    Path at Roques de Garcia, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Path through impressive rock formations at Roques de Garcia

    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.

    The Cathedral, Roques de Garcia, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    The Cathedral seen from above the with footpath visible to the right

     

    Sendero 30 (Los Valles)

    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.

    Rocky landscape on Sendero 30, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Deserted rocky landscape at the beginning of Sendero 30

    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.

    Sendero 30, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Easy trail through the valley

    View of Mount Teide from Sendero 30, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Beautiful view of Mount Teide from the trail

    Meeting point of trails in the Teide National Park, Tenerife

    End of the trail where it meets Sendero 4

    Sendero 6

    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.

    View of Mount Teide from Sendero 6, Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Sendero 6 with typical vegetation and another great view of Mount Teide

    Landscape in the Teide National Park, Tenerife

    Typical landscape

    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

    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.

    Narices del Teide, Tenerife

    View of the craters and lava at Narices del Teide on the slope of Pico Viejo

    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.

    Cable Car to Mount Teide

    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.

     

    Things to Do Around Puerto de la Cruz

    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!

    Waves crashing into rocks on the shore at Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    Atlantic waves crashing into rocks on the shore at Puerto de la Cruz

    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.

    View over the rocky shore to Lago Martianez, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    View over the rocky shore to Lago Martianez

    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!

    The Botanical Gardens

    Botanical Garden, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    Botanical Garden, Puerto de la Cruz

    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.

    Botanical Garden, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    Botanical Garden, Puerto de la Cruz

    The gardens are very historic, and contain a wonderful collection of tropical and subtropical plants. Some of the ancient trees are truly spectacular.

    Amazing banyan tree (Ficus macrophylla) with multiple buttress roots

    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!

    Pink powder puff flower, (Calliandra haematocephala)

    Loro Parque

    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.

    Emperor Penguins at Loro Parque, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    Some of the emperor penguins in the excellent penguin display

    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.

    Western Lowland gorilla at Loro Parque, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

    Male Western Lowland gorilla

    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!

    Cockatiel

    A friendly cockatiel

    Some Practicalities

    Accommodation

    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.

    Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, Canary Islands

    View from our balcony in the TRH Taoro Garden hotel (see above)

    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:

    • It is quite difficult to find. I used Google maps on my phone to guide us there which worked really well. You need to watch out for the maze of one-way streets in the area.
    • Although the hotel has some free parking, this is very limited, and getting a space is just a matter of luck. We usually parked in a free car park in the adjacent park, which seemed to be what many people were doing. A door behind the hotel’s pool allows quick access to the park.  (Your room key card allows access through the door back into the hotel’s grounds).
    • We walked down into Puerto de la Cruz for dinner most evenings through Taoro Park. This is really attractive, with lots of little fountains and waterfalls. But it is a LOT of steep steps, especially coming back up! The hotel run a free shuttle service several times a day, but this does not operate at night. If walking back up is too much, you can easily get a taxi!

    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.

    Flights to Tenerife

    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.


     

    Guide Book

    For a great guide book to walks, drives and picnic places in Tenerife, we recommend the Sunflower Walking and Touring Guide, which is based on Puerto de la Cruz.  You can buy it at Amazon.

    Car Hire

    To compare a large choice of car hire options, and get great prices, we always use Holiday Autos.



    If, like us, you love peace and solitude, do not be put off by the busyness of Tenerife.  You can easily escape the crowds and explore the wonderful volcanic landscapes that the island has to offer.

     

    Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

    The post A Week in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Travelling the Kjölur Highland Route F35 by Bus from Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland

    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.

    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.

    (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)

    Kjolur Highland Route F35, Iceland

    Rough road and stark scenery on the F35 Kjolur Highland Route

    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.

    First Stop – 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!

    Strokkur geyser, Iceland

    Strokkur geyser at the start of an eruption

    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.

    Geothermal area around Geysir, Iceland

    Geothermal landscape around Geysir

    Hot springs at Geysir, Iceland

    Make sure you stick to the paths!

    Leaving Geysir, the bus heads off to the next destination which is another classic tourist hotspot – Gullfoss.

    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 waterfall, Iceland

    One of the viewing areas at Gullfoss

    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.

    View over Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

    View over Gullfoss showing the access path to view 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.

    View of mountains seen from the carpark at Gullfoss, Iceland

    View from Gullfoss carpark

    Rough Roads – The F35 Route

    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.

    F35 Kjolur Highland Route, Iceland

    Rough road and stark scenery on the F35 Kjolur Highland Route

    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.

    Landscape on the F35 Highland Route, Iceland

    Stark beauty

    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.

    View from the F35 Highland Route, Iceland

    Bleak landscape seen on the route

    We passed this lovely waterfall, where the driver kindly stopped to let us take some photos.

    Waterfall on the F35 highland route, Iceland

    Waterfall passed on the route

    Kerlingarfjöll

    Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland

    Kerlingarfjoll

    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.

    Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland

    Dreary weather at Kerlingarfjoll

    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.

    Glacier view from Kerlingarfjoll on the F35 highland route, Iceland

    Beautiful view of the glaciers seen from the restaurant at Kerlingarfjoll

    Hveravellir Geothermal Area

    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.

    Hveravellir Geothermal Area, Iceland

    Constructed paths to observe the geothermal features at Hveravellir

    Here are a couple of short clips I shot showing an active steam vent and a bubbling hot spring.

     

    Active steam vent

    Bubbling fumarole

    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.

    Route to Akureyri

    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.

    Thoughts and Advice

    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.

    Bus Service Operating Season and Tickets

    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.

    Our bus

    It is expensive

    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.

    It is a long day

    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.

    Be prepared for bad weather

    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.

    Bring food and drinks

    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!

    Want more time to explore?

    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.

    Kerlingarfjoll, Iceland

    Kerlingarfjoll

    Despite unfortunate weather, and the road not being quite as rough and wild as we expected, we really enjoyed this journey across the F35 Kjölur Highland Route.  If you want a glimpse of Iceland’s remote interior, but don’t want to hike for days or hire an expensive 4×4 vehicle, this is a great alternative – don’t miss it!



    (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.


    Yorkshire Nature Reserves

    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 love spending a day in one of the excellent nature reserves around our Yorkshire home.  I can’t believe we have lived here for over 30 years, and explored so much, but only recently 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)

    Birch trees in the woods at Barlow Common nature reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Birch trees in the woods at Barlow Common

    This post includes the following reserves (with hopefully more to be added in the future)

    • Bempton Cliffs near Flamborough
    • Blacktoft Sands near Goole
    • Fairburn Ings near Leeds
    • St Aidan’s Nature Park near Leeds
    • Barlow Common near Selby
    • North Cave Wetlands near North Cave
    • Potteric Carr near Doncaster
    • Skipwith Common near Escrick
    • Spurn Point
    • Staveley Nature Reserve near Boroughbridge
    • Wheldrake Ings near Wheldrake

    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.

    Greylag geese in flight at Staveley Nature Reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Gregylag geese flying over Staveley Nature Reserve

    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!

    RSPB Reserves

    Bempton Cliffs

    Clifftop viewing platform at Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, England

    Clifftop viewing platform at Bempton Cliffs

    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.

    Gannets at Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, England

    Tiny part of the gannet colony at Bempton

    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.

    Seabirds nesting on the cliffs at Bempton, East Yorkshire, England

    Impossibly precarious nesting sites

    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.

    Gannets at Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, England

    Beautiful gannets

    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.

    View towards Flamborough from Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, England

    View south to the headland at Flamborough and its distant lighthouses

    View to Filey Brigg from Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire, England

    View north to Filey Brigg and beyond

    Facilities at Bempton Cliffs

    • Car park and visitor centre
    • Toilets including accessible toilets
    • Cafe, refreshments and picnic area
    • Some paths and observation platforms are wheelchair friendly
    • Binocular sales and hire
    • Gift shop
    • Guided walks and events
    Sea arch in the cliffs at Bempton, East Yorkshire, England

    Spectacular cliffs with a sea arch

    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 Coastal Path

    (Framed print available from my shop at Society6)

     

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    Blacktoft Sands

    Blacktoft Sands nature reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Tidal wetlands, reed beds and waterfowl at Blacktoft Sands

    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 nature reserve and a ship on the River Ouse, East Yorkshire, England

    Wetland habitat at Blacktoft Sands, and a ship passing on the higher River Ouse

    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.

    Reeds at Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Reeds at Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve in late afternoon sun

    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, a group of gorgeous spoonbills, and were able to watch this lovely snipe feeding right in front of one of the hides.

    Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) in grass at Blacktoft Sands, East Yorkshire, England

    Snipe feeding in the grass in front of one of the hides

    Reeds and wetlands and Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Beautiful reflection of the reeds at Blacktoft Sands. The bird is a marsh harrier.

    Facilities at Blacktoft Sands

    • Car park and small visitor centre
    • Toilets including accessible toilets
    • Good paths and excellent hides (some with wheelchair access)
    • Assistant dogs only

    For more information, and charges for non-RSPB members, see Blacktoft Sands.

    Konik ponies grazing at Blacktoft Sand nature reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Konik ponies – resident grazers at Blacktoft Sands

    Sunset at Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve, East Yorkshire, with a flock of fieldfares

    Sunset at Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve, with a flock of fieldfares in the sky


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    Fairburn Ings

    Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Lakes at Fairburn Ings with Fairburn village in the background

    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.

    Path through the woods at Fairburn Ings, Yorkshire, England

    Path through the woods

    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.

    River Aire seen from Fairburn Ings nature reserve, Yorkshire, England

    View of the River Aire from one of the paths on the reserve

    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!

    Birds on a lake at the RSPB Fairburn Ings reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Mute swans, coots and cormorants on one of the lakes

    Facilities at Fairburn Ings

    • Two car parks (one at the main entrance and one at the end of the reserve at Lin Dike).   There is a charge at the main entrance car park (free for RSPB members)
    • Visitor centre, shop and binocular hire
    • Refreshments with indoor seating and outdoor picnic areas
    • Toilets including accessible toilets, and many paths accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs
    • Several hides, screens and benches
    • Activities for children and special events
    • Dogs allowed

    For more information see Fairburn Ings.

    Fairburn Ings nature reserve, Yorkshire, England

    A colourful autumn day

    Bird hide in Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve, Yorkshire, England, surrounded by autumn foliage

    One of the hides at Fairburn Ings, nestled amongst splendid autumn colours

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    St Aidan’s Nature Park

    Reeds and wetlands at St Aidan's Nature Park, Yorkshire, England

    Reeds and wetlands at St Aidan’s Nature Park

    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.

    Mute swan and cygnets at St Aidan's Nature Park, Yorkshire, England

    Mute swan and cygnets

    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.

    Wetlands and reed beds at St Aidan's Nature Park, Yorkshire, England

    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 paths 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.

    Wetlands at St Aidan's Nature Park, Yorkshire, England

    Open views across the wetlands at St Aidan’s

    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.

    Greylag geese flying over St Aidan's Nature Park, Yorkshire, England

    Greylag geese flying over the reserve

    Facilities at St Aidan’s

    • Car park (charge, but free for RSPB members)
    • Small visitor centre
    • Light refreshments
    • Toilets
    • Excellent paths

    For more information see St Aidan’s Nature Park.

    Sunset at St Aidan's nature reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Sunset at St Aidan’s

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    Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Reserves

    Barlow Common

    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.

    Lake at Barlow Common, with the towers of Drax Power Station in the background, Yorkshire, England

    Lake at Barlow Common, with the towers of Drax Power Station in the background

    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.

    Autumn foliage at Barlow Common Nature Reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Beautiful autumn foliage

    Golden autumn foliage at Barlow Common, Yorkshire, England

    More fantastic autumn colours

    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.

    Lake at Barlow Common Nature Reserve, Yorkshire, England

    One of the lakes at Barlow Common

    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.

    Teasels in autumn

    Teasels

    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.

    Birch tree trunks at Barlow Common Nature Reserve, Yorkshire, England

    Birch trees in the woods

    Facilities at Barlow Common

    • Small visitor centre (closed when we visited)
    • Toilets
    • Picnic area and benches
    • Good paths with carved marker posts

    For more information see Barlow Common.

    Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

    Buzzard soaring overhead at Barlow Common

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    North Cave Wetlands

    North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire, England

    View over a lake to one of the hides at North Cave Wetlands

    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.

    Map of North Cave Wetlands reserve, showing planned future developments, East Yorkshire, England

    Map of the reserve, showing planned developments

    When we visited in late summer we saw lots of dragonflies and butterflies, as well as many birds on the lakes.

    Common darter dragonfly (Sympetrum striolatum)

    Common darter dragonfly

    Amongst the birds were many little egrets on the islands, as can be seen in the photo below.

    Little egrets at North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire, England

    Little egrets on one of the islands

    In autumn the reserve is particularly beautiful, with fantastic colours in early morning or afternoon light.

    Pathway between hedges at North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire, England

    Pathway in North Cave Wetlands reserve

    Autumn at North Cave Wetlands nature reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Colourful trees around the lake

    Facilities at North Cave Wetlands

    • Car park and mobile refreshments
    • Toilets
    • Information boards
    • Good paths
    • Excellent hides
    • Dogs not allowed on the reserve

    For more information see North Cave Wetlands.

    Lake at North Cave Wetlands, East Yorkshire, England

    Lake at North Cave Wetlands

    Bulrushes at North Cave Wetlands Nature Reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Bulrushes



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    Potteric Carr

    Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, South Yorkshire, England

    Potteric Carr Nature Reserve

    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.

    Bird hide at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, South Yorkshire, England

    One of the many excellent hides on the reserve

    The reserve is particularly known for its wetland birds, including bitterns, and it is a great place to get close views of marsh harriers.

    Reeds and wetlands at Potteric Carr, South Yorkshire, England

    Part of the extensive wetland habitat

    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 (a first for us at the time, and hugely exciting!)

    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 bitterns at Fairburn Ings and St. Aidan’s (see above), and also in Far Ings reserve in North Lincolnshire – what a wonderful sound!

    Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, South Yorkshire, England

    Reeds, wetlands and pylons

    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!

    Facilities at Potteric Carr

    • Car park
    • Toilets (including disabled)
    • Visitor centre with cafe and refreshments
    • Excellent paths – most wheelchair and pushchair friendly
    • Many excellent hides
    • Picnic area
    • Dogs not allowed

    For more information including directions, opening hours and admission charges for non-YWT members, see Potteric Carr.

    Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on a feeding table

    Canada goose enjoying a feeding table

    Framed Potteric Carr

    (Framed print available from my shop at Society6)

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    Spurn Point

    Approaching the lighthouse on Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, England

    Approaching the lighthouse on Spurn Point

    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.

    Dunes and shore at Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, England

    View from the dunes at low tide

    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.

    Offshore wind farm seen from Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, England

    Offshore wind farm seen from the path

    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.

    Convolvulus hawk moth caterpillar

    Convolvulus hawk moth caterpillar

    Facilities at Spurn Point

    • Pay and display car park (free for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Members)
    • Excellent visitor centre with educational displays
    • Regular organised activities including Spurn Safaris in an all terrain vehicle
    • Toilets, including accessible toilets
    • Good cafe
    • Mainly good paths, but there is soft sand to cross at the wash-over zone, and note information about ‘Do not cross’ times on the YWT website below.
    • Hides, nature trails and history trails
    • Dogs not allowed on the reserve

    For more information see Spurn Point.

    Sandy shore at Spurn Point nature reserve, East Yorkshire, England

    Sandy shore at Spurn Point

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    Staveley Nature Reserve

    Herons at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Herons at Staveley Nature Reserve

    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.

    Bird hide at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    One of the hides at Staveley Nature Reserve

    Reed beds at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Reeds beds at Staveley on a beautful winter morning

    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.

    Birds on a lake at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Birds enjoying one of the peaceful lakes

    Cormorants at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Cormorants on the lake in winter

    On recent visits we enjoyed great views of herons, and large flocks of lapwings catching the light as they flocked above the lakes.

    Lapwings at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Lapwings flocking above the lake

    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.

    Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    View over a lake with Staveley church in the background

    Mute swan (Cygnus olor) at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Mute swan surrounded by golden reeds

    Facilities at Staveley

    • Car park just outside Staveley village (see YWT website below)
    • Unfortunately no toilets
    • Extensive network of paths
    • Good hides
    • Dogs allowed on leads

    For more information see Staveley Nature Reserve

    Staveley Nature Reserve

    Staveley Nature Reserve

     

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    Wheldrake Ings

    Flooded meadows at Wheldrake Ings nature reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Flooded meadows at Wheldrake Ings in afternoon light

    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.

    Sheep grazing at Wheldrake Ings nature reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Sheep grazing in late autumn

    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.

    Seasonal flooding at Wheldrake Ings nature reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Start of the floods

    Flooded meadow and bird hide at Wheldrake Ings, North Yorkshire, England

    View over flood water with the new Swantail Hide in the background

    Bird hide in Wheldrake Ings Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    One of the excellent hides on the reserve

    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!

    Old wind pump at Wheldrake Ings Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Old wind pump

    Facilities at Wheldrake Ings

    • Small car park at the entrance to the reserve, and another at the adjacent Natural England Lower Derwent Valley site (linked by a waterside footpath)
    • Unfortunately no toilets
    • Raised path and duckboards (usually fine, but can get muddy after rain and be inaccessible in major floods)
    • Three very good hides
    • Dogs not permitted

    For more information see Wheldrake Ings.

    Mute swan cygnet (Cygnus olor

    Mute swan cygnet

    Framed Wheldrake

    Framed print available from my shop at Society6

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    Other Reserves

    Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve

    Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Skipwith Common at heather time

    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.

    Path through trees at Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Lovely shady path through the trees in summer

    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.

    Mushroom growing at Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire, England

    Impressive mushroom in late summer

    Golden bracken in autumn at Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire, England

    Golden bracken in the woods in autumn

    Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire, England

    Country lane at Skipwith Common in beautiful autumn light

    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.

    Exmoor ponies on Skipwith Common, North Yorkshire

    Resident Exmoor ponies sheltering from the sun

    Facilities at Skipwith Common

    • Two free car parks – one at either end of the reserve
    • Excellent paths and marked trails – some suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs
    • Benches, picnic tables and information boards
    • No toilet facilities
    • Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times (various livestock roam free)

    For more information, directions and walks to download see Friends of Skipwith Common.

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    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.

    To join the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust or the RSPB, follow the links.

    If you would like to stay in Yorkshire, you can search for accommodation using this link to booking.com.

    For more great places to visit in Yorkshire see Yorkshire Days Out.  We also recommend the Rough Guide to Yorkshire, which you can buy at Amazon.

    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.

    Golden reed seed heads at Staveley Nature Reserve, North Yorkshire, England

    Reeds in golden light at Staveley Nature Reserve

    The post Yorkshire Nature Reserves appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Peru – Practicalities and Resources

    Planning a Trip to Peru There are, of course, lots of travel companies that arrange great trips to Peru and South America. But for our recent trip I wanted to arrange everything myself. This seems a bit daunting, and of… The post Peru – Practicalities and Resources appeared first on Self Arranged...

    Planning a Trip to Peru

    Mountains at Machu Picchu

    View down to the valley from Machu Picchu, Peru

    There are, of course, lots of travel companies that arrange great trips to Peru and South America.




    But for our recent trip I wanted to arrange everything myself.

    This seems a bit daunting, and of course you worry about all the things that could go wrong.  But it is really just a case of doing lots of research online to discover where you want to visit, how to get there using public transport, and where to stay.

    This page contains links to many sites where you can research and book transport, accommodation, excursions and more, as well as general observations and advice.

    (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)

    For more detailed information and resources for the specific places we visited on our trip, see the posts on Sacred Valley, Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Maras, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Tipon, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and Lima.

    However you plan a trip it is important to include a bit of time at the final destination in case there are unexpected delays – you don’t want to miss your fight home.  (Or perhaps you do….)

    Flights to Peru

    We flew from our local airport (in the UK) to Amsterdam Schiphol, and then from Amsterdam to Lima with KLM.  There is a direct flight from Amsterdam to Lima daily.   This worked really well – there are lots of flights to Amsterdam, so it is easy to arrange a convenient connection.  The flight time (from Amsterdam) was approx. 12.5 hours, and the service and comfort during the flight were excellent.

    It is also possible to fly direct from Madrid, or there are various options involving one or more changes.

    Wherever you are coming from, if you are interested in flights to Lima you can try using Skyscanner to see what is available from an airport convenient for you.

    Travelling within Peru

    We prefer to use public transport wherever possible, and one look at the chaotic driving in Lima confirmed that this was the right choice.

    It is worth remembering that many hotels will arrange to pick you up from the local airport (or train station), sometimes free of charge.  Check with your hotel if this is possible, and if so how the cost will compare to other means of transport.

    Airport Bus from Lima Airport

    From Lima Airport to the Miraflores area of Lima (where most hotels are situated), there is an excellent regular bus service.  The Airport Express Lima website has details of the buses, timetables and advice on which stop you need for your hotel.  You can buy your tickets at a counter at the airport, on the bus (cash only), or even online and just show your ticket on your phone.

    Coach Travel in Peru

    Cruz del Sur offer scheduled routes between most of the important tourist centres in Peru.  They also run tours from the major centres.  They have very comfortable coaches, with facilities on board.  See their website for more details, and to check routes and timetables.

    To travel between Cusco and Puno (for Lake Titicaca) we highly recommend the Inka Express service.  This is more of an excursion than a regular bus journey.  It stops at five interesting places en route with an English speaking guide, and includes a buffet lunch at Sicuani.

    The Inka Express runs daily from Cusco and from Puno, leaving at 6.50 am from either location. See the website for full details, prices, and to check the latest times.  When we used the service we thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

    PeruHop offer an interesting way to travel around Peru.  You choose which places you want to visit, and how many days you want to spend touring.  You can then buy a pass which includes coach travel between the places you have selected with various overnight stops.  Your pass allows you to stay as long as you like at each stop (the pass is valid for a whole year!), and you can easily change your itinerary online at any time.

    You can start you tour at Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno, Copacabana or La Paz. For full details of how the service works see the PeruHop website.

    Coach on the road from Puno to Arequipa, Peru

    Coach on the road from Puno to Arequipa

    Train travel in Peru

    Trains run from Cusco and the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, and between Cusco and Puno (for Lake Titicaca).

    The train is the only way to reach Machu Picchu other than the Inca Trail.  You can start from Poroy station just outside Cusco, or from Urubamba or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.  The services do not run all year, so please check the PeruRail website for timetables, routes and bookings.

    Matt about to board the train to Machu Picchu

    The Cusco to Puno route takes approximately 10.5 hours through beautiful scenery.  The train has an open observation car, musical entertainment and two dining cars.

    There is also an Andean Explorer sleeper train which provides one or two night tours between Cusco, Puno and Arequipa.  Again check the PeruRail website for details of these services.

    Flights within Peru

    Of course the quickest way to travel within Peru is to fly.  Besides Lima there are airports at Cusco, Arequipa and Juliaca (for Puno), as well as many others.  You can check routes and timetables with Skyscanner.

    Guide Books

    We recommend the following guide books, all available from Amazon (just click on the images for prices and to purchase online).




    Tours and Excursions

    Viator are great for finding all sorts of local tours and excursions.



    Just key in the location where you will be based, and the dates you will be there.  You will then get a list of a huge variety of day trips, tours, experiences and excursions that are available.  You can easily book online,  and it’s a great way to plan a day out from a town or city.

    Open-top bus tour of Lima

    Entrance to Inca sites

    If you are staying in Cusco or the Sacred Valley and plan to visit several of the fantastic Inca sites in the area, your best option is to buy a full Cusco Tourist Ticket (the Boleto Turistico).   This is valid for 10 days, and covers entrance to all of the following sites:

    Saqsaywaman, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, Moray, Tipon, Pikillacta, Qenko, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay, Chinchero, Pachacutec Monument,  Cusco Cathedral, Church of San Blas, the Religious Art Museum and the Regional History Museum.

    You can also buy more limited tickets if you do not have much time in the area.  All tickets can be bought in Cusco, or at the entrance to any of the sites.

    If you are visiting Machu Picchu you will need to obtain an entrance ticket in Cusco or Aguas Calientes before getting the bus up to the site – you cannot buy tickets at the site entrance.

    Accommodation

    We really splashed out on this trip, with it being a joint celebration (see Peru – A Trip to Celebrate a Joint Milestone).  We stayed in some really excellent hotels, and everywhere we went the service was so friendly and efficient.  As usual I used booking.com for the hotel bookings.  I have listed the hotels we stayed in below, and for a vast range of other options see booking.com’s site.

    Casa Andina Valle Sagrado hotel

    Problems with the Altitude

    Matt and I have spent a lot of time in the Alps, often walking at altitudes over 3000 m. Therefore I didn’t expect the altitude to be a problem.  But I was wrong.  In the Pisac area in the Sacred Valley  (which is not particularly high) I had the worst headache I have ever experienced, accompanied by nausea and dizziness, and it took me quite a while to realise that this was due to the altitude.  It did get better after a couple of days, but was quite frightening at the time.

    We subsequently went much higher on the altiplano without any problems.

    The secret is, of course, to acclimatise gradually.  We flew from Lima to Cusco and then went into the Sacred Valley which is lower.  I thought this would be fine.  But on our first day in the Sacred Valley we visited Pisac and climbed quickly and steeply up to the explore the ruins.  I think I just did too much too soon, and should have taken it more slowly for the first couple of days.  I think I also got rather dehydrated, which made the problem worse.  Of course, Matt was fine…..

    Not the highest point on our trip

    General advice

    For travel advice from the UK Government see https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/peru.  Or check for official advice from you own country.

    Use official taxis, and check the price before you travel.  We were only ripped off once, in Cusco.  We travelled up to the ruins at Saqsaywaman in a taxi we found in the centre of Cusco.  It was so old we were worried that the door might drop off, and when we thought about the cost later we realised that we had paid at least three times as much as in other taxis we had used.

    Use bottled or boiled water – even for brushing your teeth.   Traveller’s diarrhoea and food poisoning are very common. And be careful with ice in drinks (which may not be made from clean water).

    Another common cause of food poisoning is salad or fruit which has been washed in unclean water.  Cooked food is safest.

    Always take note of local safety advice.  We found the people in Peru to be incredibly hard-working, friendly and helpful.  But we did hear reports of tourists being mugged and robbed, so of course it is always best to be cautious and use common sense.

    Two other things that are very important.

    Make sure you have adequate travel insurance in case anything does go wrong.

    And check well in advance (at least 6 weeks) what vaccinations you will need (particularly if you are visiting the Amazon).

    Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

    The post Peru – Practicalities and Resources appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Sao Jorge, The Azores – A Great Island for Walking

    If like us you enjoy walking in fascinating volcanic landscapes with fantastic ocean views, you will love Sao Jorge in The Azores.  The island is long and thin, with a 56 km mountain ridge along its spine.  The ridge is… The post Sao Jorge, The Azores – A Great Island for Walking appeared first on Self Arranged...


    Azores Getaways

    (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 like us you enjoy walking in fascinating volcanic landscapes with fantastic ocean views, you will love Sao Jorge in The Azores.  The island is long and thin, with a 56 km mountain ridge along its spine.  The ridge is dotted with craters and lakes, and the sides plunge down steeply to the sea.  Scattered around the coast are small villages situated on fajas, which are small coastal plains.

    Faja Santo Cristo, Sao Jorge island, The Azores

    Faja Santo Cristo, Sao Jorge

    From many places in Sao Jorge there are superb views of the perfectly shaped volcano on the neighbouring island Pico.

    Viewpoint on Sao Jorge island and distant Pico, The Azores

    View of Pico from a viewpoint on Sao Jorge

    Pico from Sao Jorge island, The Azores

    Pico with cloud collar

    Getting to Sao Jorge

    You can fly to Sao Jorge from other islands in the Azores with SATA, or use the ferry service from one of the neighbouring islands (see Aferry for routes and timetables). For more information on travel between the island see Azores Practicalities.

    Where to Stay in Sao Jorge

    The main town on Sao Jorge is Velas.  We stayed in the Hotel Sao Jorge Garden, which we really enjoyed.  The hotel is situated in a peaceful spot with great views over the ocean.  It does not have its own restaurant, but is situated just far enough from Velas to be a very pleasant stroll into town for dinner each evening.   We would definitely stay there again.

    Alternative suggestions are Hotels Soares Neto and Casa Do Antonio (all hotel links are through booking.com).

    Velas (photo obtained from Wikimedia Commons)

    There is a better choice of restaurants in Velas than on some of the other islands. Strolling back to the hotel after dusk, accompanied by the weird calls of Cory’s shearwaters which nest on the island, was a lovely experience.  (For more information on Cory’s shearwaters see the post on Flores.)

    Walking on Sao Jorge

    You could hire a car, but because many of the best walks on the island are linear, we found it was better to use taxis.  It is simple to arrange for a taxi driver to take you to the starting point of a walk, and arrange for the same driver to pick you up at the finishing point later on.  Show the driver your walking guide or map so they know exactly what you intend to do. Make sure you factor in enough time to enjoy the views and take photographs.  We just found taxi ranks in Velas and made the arrangements direct with the driver.  They did not charge us on the outward journey, but charged the total amount when they brought us back to Velas later.

    Information on walks is included in many guide books, and can be obtained from Tourist Information Centres or your accommodation.

    We particularly enjoyed a walk to Santo Cristo, and a walk starting at Parque Sete Fontes. Here are some pictures that show the stunning scenery that the island has to offer:

    Ponta de Rosais, Sao Jorge island, The Azores

    Ponta de Rosais

    Pico do Pedro, Sao Jorge, The Azores

    Pico do Pedro

    Santo Cristo, Sao Jorge, The Azores

    Santo Cristo

    Sao Jorge coastline, The Azores

    Coastline near Santo Cristo

    Valley, Sao Jorge, The Azores

    View down a valley

    Like many islands in The Azores, hydrangeas and ginger lilies grow wild on the hillsides. Tree heathers are also common.  Here are some fine examples:

    Tree heather, The Azores

    Tall tree heather

    Tree heather, Sao Jorge, The Azores

    Tree heather

    If you are planning a trip to the Azores you will not regret including Sao Jorge in your itinerary. You cannot fail to be captivated by its beauty.

     

    Pico from Sao Jorge, The Azores

    View towards Pico


    Azores Getaways

    Please be aware that this site is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

    The post Sao Jorge, The Azores – A Great Island for Walking appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


    Graciosa – Windmills, Lava Tunnels and a Subterranean Cavern

    (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 Graciosa – Windmills, Lava Tunnels and a Subterranean Cavern appeared first on Self Arranged...


    Azores Getaways

    (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)

    On Graciosa in The Azores we stayed in a windmill!  Luxury hotel it was not, but unique it certainly was.  And much bigger than I was expecting.

    Holiday accommodation with a difference

    Our windmill

    There was a great view from all those windows.  And a spiral staircase up into the cupola, where we could look out between the sails.  For more information see Boina de Vento, which is situated just outside the small town of Praia.

    View from the cupola between the sails

    If you would prefer a more conventional hotel, the modern Graciosa Hotel just outside Santa Cruz would be a good choice. Lunch in the restaurant was excellent – one of the best meals we had in the entire holiday.  The hotel looks straight out to sea and there is access to the beach.

    For more accommodation options see this page at booking.com.

    Graciosa Hotel near Santa Cruz, Graciosa, The Azores

    Graciosa Hotel near Santa Cruz

    Peaceful Graciosa is less visited than some of the other islands, but is quite idyllic.  It has lots of windmills, stone walls and gentle slopes.  For information about travelling to the Azores, and between the different islands, see our post Azores Practicalities.

    Praia is an attractive little town with well kept white houses along the shoreline.  There is a small choice of basic restaurants (to be honest you don’t really visit the Azores for the restaurants!) and it was very peaceful strolling into Praia in the evenings.

    Praia, Graciosa island, The Azores

    Praia, Graciosa island

    Sunrise here was spectacular.  It felt a world apart from the busy life we are so used to.

    Sunrise over Graciosa, The Azores

    Sunrise over Praia

    Furna do Enxofre

    Like the other islands, Graciosa has a caldera.  Unlike the other islands, Graciosa’s caldera has a huge hidden cave with a subterranean lake, known as Furna do Enxofre.  There are steps leading down to the cave, a visitor centre, and a small entry fee to go in.  Unfortunately the day we visited the cave was closed because of a build up of sulphurous gases, which sometimes happens in the summer.

    Even if you cannot enter the cave, the walk to it is still hugely interesting.  It passes through a really impressive lava tunnel and there are great views inside the crater.

    To do the walk you take the Luz bus from Santa Cruz (which stops in Praia) and get off at a stop named Canada Longa.  The return is by the bus from Luz.  Full details of this and many other walks in the Azores can by found in Tourist Information Centres.

    Peaceful Graciosa is definitely worth a visit for a night or two to experience its solitude and gentle charms.
    Praia, Graciosa, The Azores

    Outskirts of Praia

    Donkey, Graciosa, The Azores

    Resident donkey

    For more information and advice about travelling to and within The Azores see Azores Practicalities.


    Azores Getaways

    Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

    The post Graciosa – Windmills, Lava Tunnels and a Subterranean Cavern appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.


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