Travel is starting to open up, but I’m reluctant to start booking many trips, as things are still so uncertain, and with 4/5 trips cancelled last year, I am hesistant to spend any more time emailing and spending hours on the phone trying to reschedule tours and claiming back refunds.
So, Peru that was scheduled for Sept 2020, its on hold till 2022, but im hoping to extend it to a longer trip to South America, covering a few countries. It will be my first visit to that continent, so with almost 2 years of no travel, I plan to take full advantage and spend longer over there that I had initially planned, fingers crossed.
Until then, I hope to visit Portugal with my mother in October for a city break, and this summer will be full of walks, and trips within the UK, to catch up with all my friends I have missed this past year. . . .
The tallest mountain in Wales, and only second to Ben Nevis in being the highest summit in the whole of the UK. Its only a 2 hour drive from where I live in the North West, and its somewhere I’ve fancied doing for many years. Not because I’ve been a hiker or mountain explorer for years, but so many people I know have already hiked it and by people who I considered no fitter than myself, so I always had it on my bucket list to do.
Many times I’ve had offers or plans to hike it, but they always fell through, plus being an inexperienced hiker, I didnt want to do it solo or with someone even less experienced than me, so I always relied on someone else to organise it and so it never actually got organised.
Until 2020 happened, and a combination of all my foreign trips being cancelled, most things I could do socially had to be outside, (so hiking was No1 on my list) and the first hike I did with Bee Sober Manchester mentioned that Snowdon was planned for mid September. I quickly cleared my calender, booked a single, contact-free hotel room in Llanberis, the town inside the national park and got in training!
We decided we would start early on the Saturday morning, as all of us had arrived the night before, so it wasnt too painful to get up and get to the Pen y Pass carpark around 5.30AM so we could grab one of the limited car parking spaces (otherwise, you’re best to use the park and ride). The majority of the different paths all start from this carpark, so for £10 all day, its well worth it. Plus, there is wifi, handy if you’re co-ordinating a meet up with others, as phone service is sketchy and there’s toilets too.
We set off early to avoid the crowds, which have swamped to Snowdonia since lockdown, as well as to witness the sunrise on our way up, and boy was it worth it.
There are a number of different routes up to the summit and even a train, which I think you have to pre-book, but it wasn’t fully in service due to Covid. We hiked up the Pyg track, then came down on the Miners track, and its a route I would advise any first timers to do. It was completely managable for someone who hasnt done a whole lot of hiking in the last few years and the ascent only involved a bit of a scramble, with a lovely flat path down below on our way back. There’s lots of places to stop, (have a sneaky wee) rest, eat and take in those amazing views, absolutely worth the early start and we were back down by 12 and we looked back on the growing crowds with relief that we had avoided them with our early start. Also, by staying close by in Llaberris, I was having a hot shower and rest by 12.30.
Back to the UK for my next post, and the 3rd county I have visited ‘consciously’. It was too obvious to visit Manchester for my Greater Manchester trip, so I chose its neighbour Salford, a place where I went to university and also a place where I have lived twice, so I was looking forward to returning. Like a lot of people, I never really paid much attention to the history and culture right on my doorstep, usually choosing to look further afield, but its hard to ignore just how much Salford has grown and changed since my university days 18 years ago.
Of course Salford historically was part of the county of Lancashire, but then joined with Manchester, Bolton, Bury and others in the area to form Great Manchester in 1974 and in doing so, became one of the largest metropolitan areas in the UK. Salford itself encompasses quite a large area and includes some small towns such as Eccles and Swinton, but for my trip, I concentrated around the Salford Quays area.
Getting to Salford is pretty simple, but check football fixtures for both City and United before you visit, or else you will more than likely get stuck in heavy football traffic and that is never fun. Located just over 30 miles from Liverpool if you travel in from the Western end of the M62 and its about 50 miles from Leeds if you are coming from the Eastern end of the M62. National Express buses have a Salford Quays drop off on its way into Manchester but from there it is about a 30 minute walk to the centre of the Quays, from Liverpool the bus journey takes 55 mins and from Leeds the bus takes 90 mins. If you drive in, there are a number of car parks to choose, if you park at the Lowry Outlet car park, you can get 4 hours free if you visit the onsite cinema, and there is also a discount for those visiting the theatre at the Lowry Centre opposite.
There is no specific train station around Salford Quays, the closest ones being Manchester United Football Ground, Eccles or Salford Central, but most people will probably be best getting a train into Manchester City Centre and then jump onto the ever expanding Metrolink. You can pick up a Metrolink tram close to all the main stations in Manchester, there is a stop at Piccadilly, one at Deansgate, one at Victoria and if you arrive via Oxford Road station, its a short walk to St Peters Square. Wherever you catch the tram, just make sure its one labelled either MediaCity or Eccles, and then you can get off right in the heart of Salford Quays.
Salford Quays became one of the first UK urban regeneration projects back in the 80’s, but it was the development of MediaCity UK back in 2007 when the area really took off and became next level. The BBC first moved in, then ITV Granada followed, the University of Salford now have its media department based here as well as other smaller film and tv companies. This means over the past 10 years, shops, bars, restaurants, seasonal events and other attractions have sprung up, and you can easily spend a day or weekend here being thoroughly entertained.
It made sense to start my visit at the Lowry a spectacular waterside building housing theatres, galleries, a restaurant, cafe bar, gift shop and tourist information centre. I have been here many times to watch shows, but this time I spent about an hour exploring the art galleries and in particular the permanent LS Lowry exhibit, as not surprisingly, the Lowry houses the worlds largest public collection of paintings and drawings by my favourite Lancashire artist.
If you fancy some shopping, a meal or the cinema, then opposite the Theatre is the Lowry Outlet Mall. There are tonnes of discount shops here, including Clarks, Gap, Yankee Candle, Next and Cadburys, and its saved my bacon a few times in the past when I’ve needed a birthday or Christmas present at short notice! The North West based Makers Market also sets up stall on the last weekend of the month here too, which is worth a visit in itself.
For anyone brought up on British children’s TV, its a short walk over to MediaCity and right by the tram stop is the legendary Blue Peter Garden, when the BBC moved up north to its new location, the garden, pond, sculptures all came along too. It’s only small, but its free and its a popular photo spot.
Stick around and explore MediaCity too, the BBC records BBC Sports, Breakfast, Radio 5Live and 6 Music here, and Granada record Jeremy Kyle, so you may see the odd presenter or band popping out for lunch (I swear I saw Gary Lineker once!). It also means there are sometimes free show tickets as audience members are needed to participate in live recordings, as a result I have sat in on a couple, always good fun! Click This Link for up to date information about what shows and guided tours are available. If you visit during a big sporting event, its more than likely they will be showing it on the big screens outside the TV studios too, I’ve spent many an evening relaxing in a deckchair, with a drink from a pop up bar watching the Olympics and Wimbledon.
To meet the demand of the new residents and the influx of media, more and more restaurants and bars have sprung up too, as well as the reasonable choice over at the Lowry Outlet Mall. There are some delicious new places for food and drink, Marco Pierre has opened a restaurant here since my last visit, but I have enjoyed a beer and burger at the Dockyard and Lime Bar is always fun with a great music and inexpensive cocktails, and there are the usual chain coffee shops as well as some independents too if you just need warming up.
It’s no more than a 10 minute walk, over one of the waterfront bridges from MediaCity to the Imperial War Museum. The tall hard to miss aluminium building is built on a bomb site resulting from a German raid in the 1940’s and represents a shattered globe. The architecture both inside and out was specifically designed to be a little disorientating and unsettling to the visitor, to illustrate the perilous nature of war. There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions on display and a really interesting gift shop selling items inspired by wartime rationing.
You will probably be able to see the top of Manchester United Stadium from most places around the quays, its bright red sign atop of the stadium shining out, and its only a further 15 min walk from the museum. I’ve been to football matches here (charity and during the Olympics) but its always good for a wander (avoiding match days obviously). There is a massive merch store, museum, a cafe open 7 days a week, the statue of the ‘United Trinity’ and take a minute to pause at the Old Trafford Clock, which is permanently stopped at 3.04pm in rememberance of the Munich air crash. Like most big football stadiums you can also take a tour, All details here
When my dad became ill with early onset dementia and it became clear he wouldn’t be returning home, that he would be spending his remaining time in the care of a nursing home, it was understandably upsetting and stressful. But travelling is my big love, I love nothing more than packing a small bag and stepping onto a plane or train for the unknown, ready to experience whatever new sights, smells, tastes are thrown at me and emerge myself in a new way of life for few days or weeks, or as in my big trip in 2006, a few months.
With the instability of dads illness, it became apparent very quickly that my priority needed to be close to home, or at least I needed to be able to get home quickly if there were any problems. I am an only child you see, so there is just me and mum, and as is the nature of dementia, dad can no longer make decisions about his care and needs 24hr nursing support. So my dreams of visiting some of the more far flung places had to be put on hold. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable with the idea of travelling across Russia or exploring India by train, knowing that things were so unpredictable at home, and I wouldn’t be able to get back quickly if a crisis came up. But I still had a burning wanderlust and travelling is my passion, so I needed to find a way to replicate that, but also be able to get home quickly if needed.
That is when I decided that I would visit every county in the UK. I have visited many in the past, explored some extensively, or passed through others on the way to somewhere else. Once I had made the decision, my friend Weene (she will probably come up quite a lot in this blog, as she is involved in many of my adventures especially here at home) renamed my project ‘Emma Consciously Explores the Counties’. This was because Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had just announced they were ‘consciously uncoupling’ so it was all over the media, and I wanted to make a point of consciously exploring each UK county individually. To educate myself about the history of each region, try some of the local food and visit some of the tourist spots, basically set about each county as if I was in Europe on a city break.
So I did . . . and I still am doing, so I will document my progress here and its why my own country will have a big section devoted entirely to itself. I used to be snobby about holidaying locally, I was all about the far off locations and the new passport stamps and visa’s, but things change, life changes, and sometimes in ways you don’t want it too, so you can struggle and resist, or go with it and adapt, so after a bit of a struggle, I adapted, and it turns out I quite like the UK after all.