A Postcard from the Vatican

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During the summer of 2017 we did a bit of travelling as a family and at long last I have got round to writing some blog posts about it and downloading a few of the many photos on my camera. Last week I published my Postcard from Rome, today here’s my Postcard from the Vatican.

Before setting off on our holiday to Rome last summer, Mr Postcard rather sensibly booked a couple of guided tours, one was to the Vatican City. Included in the price was entry to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica as well as the tour. We met our guide, Maria, on the steps outside the museum where we were fast-tracked through the crowds.

First stop after the ticket hall was a lovely viewing area which gave us a great position to look out across the Vatican gardens to the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. It was here that our lovely guide took us through many of the things which we were about to see and experience. Our tour was specifically tailored towards a family with young children and Maria showed photographs of various art works and sights we were soon to encounter.

It was here that the first stand out moment of the day happened…. one of the Little Postcards amazed us with his knowledge of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. It turned out that he’d done work on it a couple of years before in school and he’d remembered it. Well I never.

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After passing through the first part of the Vatican Museum, past ancient Egyption relics and other items from the ancient world, we found ourselves out in a large courtyard garden. The centre of it was dominated by this sculpture. The Sphere within a Sphere was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro and is one of several similar orbs dotted around the world. This one is exactly the same size as the one on the very top of St Peter’s Basilica (see photo above) so it really puts into perspective the scale of the church.

One of the benefits of being on the tour meant that Maria was able to invite the Little Postcards across the chain which roped off the sculpture and got them to help her push the sculpture round so that we could get a 360 degree view of it without moving ourselves. It was fun for the children to get ‘hands-on’ with this piece of art.

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At this stage I must point out that I am not attempting to write a guide book about the Vatican – that would be impossible in a blog post plus I’m sure that many people far more qualified that I am, have already done just that. I just wanted to share a flavour of some of the things we enjoyed on our trip.

In the following photo you can see, not only the sphere at the top St Peter’s Basilica again (top right), but also evidence of the extensive restoration work which was being carried out on the historic buildings.

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Some sections had already been cleaned up, while other parts were still in progress.

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The most impressive aspect of the Vatican City was the beautiful art work which was everywhere. Every wall, every ceiling was covered in the most exquisite work.

And the colours of the paints used are stunning considering the ages of some of these pieces of work.

Now that is what I call a ceiling!

Along the walls of this amazing corridor (the likes of which I have never seen before in my life) was a series of maps. The unusual thing about these maps is that many of them were drawn upside down so that they were from the perspective of the Pope in Rome looking down towards the south. They were also created in the days long, long before satellite images so they were guestimated. Our guide, Maria told us that amazingly in many cases they are pretty accurate despite the lack of geographical knowledge of the time.

Of course, no old map is complete without a sea monster.

As a born and bred Mancunian, I have an affinity for bees (they were used in the coat of arms of the city to signify the industriousness of the workers during the Industrial Revolution and came to prominence again last year as a sign of solidarity following the terrorist attack in Manchester). As I walked along this elaborately decorated corridor, I found myself spotting more and more bees on all of these maps, both in the maps and on the ‘frames’.

I have done a bit of research (by no means comprehensive)  and it turns out that Pope Urban VIII came from the Barberini family and their coat of arms featured three bees, you can read about it here. You can also find other explanations for the existence of so many bees in the Vatican here. When you look at the maps on the walls of this corridor there seems to be a significance to the bees and where they are placed as if they are marking out churches or cathedrals.

If you can shed any light onto why there are so many bees buzzing about the Vatican, I’d love to hear from you! (I wish I’d asked more questions at the time!)

After this beautiful bee-filled corridor, lay the Sistine Chapel. Photographs are not allowed to be taken in there (although many people did) nor are you allowed to speak in there (although many people did). Therefore I have nothing to show you from in there. All I can say is that it was beautiful, indescribably detailed and mind boggling at how Michelangelo could have completed such an amazing peace of work. (You can see it for yourself on the Vatican website). It was also easy to see that on occasions when it is quiet and calm, that it could be an incredibly spiritual place. Sadly for us, it was more like a cattle market, I was shocked at so many peoples’ lack of respect for such an important religious site (despite the best efforts of the Vatican staff). What a shame.

Next up was the final part of our tour.  At this point, our tour guide left us briefly and came back bearing gifts for our boys. Rather aptly it was a postcard for each of them to remind them of their time a the Vatican. We thought it was a lovely gesture. Thank you Maria, if you see this!

The final stop was St Peter’s Basilica itself. How’s this for an impressive porch?

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What a place…

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The Basilica was just mind blowing in it’s grandeur. Every surface was decorated.

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The secret as to why these works of art have stood the test of time is that unlike in the Sistene Chapel, they aren’t paintings. They are made up of millions of tiny mosaic tiles. You may be able to make the tiles out in the photo below:

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Everything here was on such a grand scale, the like of which I have never seen before. It was a beautiful building, if rather busy.

It was on the steps outside the Basilica that we said our goodbyes to our guide for the morning. Enlisting the help of a guide was a price definitely worth paying, especially with young children. They have a relatively short attention span (as do I to be fair) and were able to ask Maria questions that we wouldn’t have been able to answer. It also gave us the chance to learn so much more about our surroundings as, with the best will in the world, you cannot stand and read signs and notices next to exhibits when you are being pulled off in all directions to look at something else by smaller people. I would highly recommend the use of a guide if you are planning a visit yourself.

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From the front steps of the Basilica, we were able to gaze up to the Pope’s balcony. I’m not a Catholic, but it was quite surreal to find myself in a place which is so well known around the world. There was a definite sense of reverence and peace in spite of the hoards of tourists.

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It was upon leaving St Peter’s Basilica that we got our first full glimpse of the famous Swiss Guards. We did spy them at a distance while we were inside the complex but this time we got to see them in all their multicoloured glory.

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At the end of our visit it seemed only right that we should visit the Post Office of the smallest nation in the world and send a postcard home…

I was blown away with the beauty of the Vatican City. I didn’t really know what to expect, of course I had seen bits on telly and in books but to actually experience it for real was another thing altogether. One thing’s for sure, I will never forget the day we went to look around the Vatican.

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A Postcard from Rome

Last summer, we were lucky enough to do a bit of traveling. It was one of my New Years resolutions to finally get round to doing something with a few of the hundreds of photographs I took, so here goes… One of our destinations was Rome and are some of the highlights…

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Until this summer, I had never been to Italy before. I have wanted to visit for so long, but the opportunity didn’t arise until last year. As there was a direct flight from Malaga to Rome we decided to bite the bullet and do a city break with three kids in tow. Before setting off we had the feeling it might be better in hindsight and I think perhaps we were right. It was mid summer, it was very hot, we did loads and loads of walking but we saw lots of the city and it was definitely worth it.

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It is a truly beautiful city. Walking the streets of Rome felt like being on a film set. From grand palazos to higgledy piggledy alleyways, no two streets are the same.

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It was very expensive though. We had been warned before our trip that everything would cost a lot more than we are used to. Breakfast on our first morning, which was nothing more than croissants, coffee and juice for a family of five came to more than €100.

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Whatever corner you walked around there was something to catch your eye.

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I did a double take as we walked down one street and all of a sudden I found myself in front of the Trevi Fountain. We weren’t alone though….. several hundred other folk had turned up too!

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We rented a lovely apartment close to the Spanish Steps. It was amazing to be able to walk out of the front door and within 5 to 10 minutes be at such a famous landmark.

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The view from the top was great, if incredibly over populated!

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In order to escape the crowds in town we took a walk away from the city at the top of the Spanish Steps and soon found ourselves a much quieter vantage point.

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The road we had taken led us to one of Rome’s parks, the beautifully cool and shady Villa Borghese park.

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It was the perfect place to take stock, sit on a bench and rest our weary feet for a little while.

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The Romans certainly know how to do a park on a grand scale!

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We meandered through the park and found ourselves back amongst the throngs so thought we’d give the Rome Metro a whirl.

Naturally, being in Rome, it had to be decorated with mosaics…

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It’s not just the people who are stylish in Rome, their homes are elegant too. As is often the case in Gibraltar, people feel the need to cultivate some greenery in whatever small outdoor space they have. I spotted quite a few balcony gardens.

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Next to the Roman Forum there were lots of green balconies….

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One of the new things I learned about Rome on our visit was that it has a castle…

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Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum from the Roman Emperor Hadrian but later was converted into a papal fortress as it’s located a short distance from the Vatican. Nowadays it is the site of a museum.

On one of our long circuitous walks we found ourselves outside Quirinal Palace,  the Italian President’s residence. It was only when we spotted the rather grand garden in the distance and the guard of honour that we realised we were somewhere important.

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One thing you cannot escape in Rome is the profusion of fountains, both large like the Trevi fountain and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in Piazza Navona (below)….

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…to the smaller drinking fountains dotted around the city providing fresh, clean drinking water for anyone who should need it. The water gets into the centre of the city thanks to a network of underground aqueducts built by the ancient Romans.

At this point I must address the elephant in the room. You may be aware that there are a lot of marble statues in Rome, a good proportion of them had their marble nether regions on display. Travelling with young ones, meant that these were frequently pointed out and giggled about…

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Roman food was a great hit with the whole family. Pizza and pasta rate highly in the favourite foods list for all three Little Postcards, as does ice cream, or should I say gelato?

We managed to visit one gelateria which boasted 150 different flavours…. what a dilemma. (I opted for cappuccino in the end in case you were wondering).

You can’t visit Rome without seeing some of the magnificent ancient Roman architecture which has stood the test of time. The Pantheon was utterly mind blowing. I will share more pictures of this in a couple of weeks when I focus on the ancient side of Rome.

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We also enjoyed a fabulous tour of Vatican City. I will share a Postcard from there next week.

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I hope you have enjoyed this little snippet of our lovely few days spent in Rome. Thanks for reading 🙂

A Postcard from Wigan

Last week, we found ourselves in Wigan for a very special family wedding. We had a lovely time and made some very happy memories. We spent the night of the wedding in a hotel in Standish, near Wigan and awoke to enjoy a gloriously sunny morning ahead of our flight back home to Gibraltar. The hotel was set in beautiful landscaped grounds so we headed out for a wander after breakfast.

Regular readers to this blog will know I have a bit of a thing for trees, especially the mature deciduous varieties and there were plenty for me to enjoy (and a rather fetching evergreen too).

At the very edge of the grounds was a footpath leading to Worthington Lakes, a series of lakes maintained by North West Water. Do you fancy joining us for a walk by the water?

How luscious and green… Those moss covered rocks are so inviting to touch, just like green velvet.

At the end of the path, we caught our first glimpse of the water through the trees.

The rhododendrons were looking stunning in the late spring sunshine.

I’m not a huge fan of rhododendrons to be honest, but their blooms were very pretty in the dappled morning sunlight.

The woodland path lead us along the edge of the lake. I think the Little Postcards enjoyed it as much as I did, going on a woodland adventure – it’s not something we get to do unless we are over visiting family in England. We really should seek out some woodland and countryside near to us in Spain.

The path brought us to a raised bank which divided the body of water into two. To the right there were yellow iris growing in the marshy banks.

To the left, there were fishermen enjoying the peace and quiet.

Oh, and there were some ducks too…

Across the grassy divide and we were back in amongst the trees again.


Did I mention, that I like trees? 😉

These hawthorn blossoms are a lovely shade of coral pink aren’t they?

The lake we were walking around appeared to be the central one of three. We could hear a waterfall not too far away through the trees, but we didn’t want to venture too far off the beaten track though as we had a plane to catch and I didn’t want to be having to change muddy clothes at the last minute!

The lake at the other end was completely different and had a bountiful show of water lily pads. You may just be able to make out the yellow buds of the lily flowers almost ready to burst open. I bet this will look glorious in a week or two.

There was much excitement when a heron was spotted sitting in a tree surveying the water.

We passed this water course with little brick bridges over it – do you know what they’re for? I have no idea.

We were then back on the bank of the central lake which would bring us back to the hotel.

We spotted a few trees with horseshoes nailed to them – perhaps this is a bridle path…

A highlight for my little botanist was the sighting of this grey squirrel in the branches overhead.

This rather fat fish was basking in the sunny shallows at the opposite side of the lake from the fishermen!

Just look at that blue sky!

And we were back at our hotel and it was time to head off to the airport… Goodbye Wigan, and thank you – it’s been lovely! 

A Postcard from springtime Suffolk

Two weeks ago, we all hopped on a plane, said goodbye to Gibraltar and headed off to England for a few days.

Our destination…. Suffolk. Southwold to be precise, but also Beccles too for the special day that was to be a Postcard family wedding. More on that later…

It’s eight months since we were last in Southwold. It’s a special place for us which we have visited many times over the years. Regular visitors to this blog may remember my posts from here last summer… A postcard from Southwold & A postcard from Southwold Pier

It was so nice to be back on the pier admiring the view into town and towards the beautifully painted beach huts.

There weren’t as many visitors in town as we’d experienced last August, but there were still some folk around doing the touristy things. Oh, and maybe eating a portion or two of fish & chips…

Southwold is such a pretty place.

There are cute little cottages around every corner.

Oh, and did I mention I have a thing about beach huts?! 

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

We went crazy and had a go at the two pence penny pushers in the pier amusement arcade.

We swerved the Punch & Judy show, although it did have a decent audience who persisted through the show while being blown by strong sea winds.

It may have been a bit grey at times, but that didn’t spoil our fun.

The roadside verges and people’s gardens were bursting forth with the most beautiful spring displays. Excuse me this indulgence please, I miss seeing spring flowers like this!

Oh the blossom!

And just look at this quaint architect’s office, complete with coordinating car!

I do like a colourfully painted front door…

One evening we set off across the fields behind the town and leaving the grand Victorian homes behind us, headed into the fenland towards the harbour.

Within a short walk we were by the river and tucking into a delicious pub meal. The gorse flowers glowed in the setting sunshine.


So, the reason for this jaunt to England during school termtime? We had a wedding to attend. 

Tucked away in the lush green countryside near Beccles is White Dove Barns. Surrounded by fields of crops and cattle and looking glorious was the venue for the nuptials.

The converted farm buildings were just so English and so, so picturesque.

As the registrar got everything ready for the ceremony I sneaked in to take a peak before the guests arrived.

And after the ceremony, this is the room where the reception took place.

The renovated old barn was so pretty, and the table settings, just gorgeous.

The beautiful flowers on the top table were stunning and so springlike. 

Even the wedding cake was covered in flowers. 

It was a really beautiful venue and the perfect backdrop for a very happy day.

With the happy couple successfully hitched, we had time for one more delicious breakfast at the Adnam’s brewery and another wander around Southwold before heading home.

There she is, our Rock. Thank you, Suffolk, it was lovely to see you again! Until next time…

A postcard from Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail

Until recently, I knew very little about Rendlesham Forest and the UFO sightings which occurred there in 1980. This summer though, on our holiday to Suffolk, we were able to visit Rendlesham Forest for the first time. It gave us the chance to have a great family day out, and find out a little bit more about the funny goings on in the woods…

Nowadays Rendlesham Forest comes under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission. On arrival, there were a couple of wardens on hand to point us in the right direction to the facilities and we were able to pick up a leaflet detailing the UFO walk. There’s a camp site at the forest and many walking and cycling trails through the trees. On a dry, sunny August day, there were plenty of people about keen to enjoy the delights the forest had to offer.

For the Postcard family, it was the UFO trail which held the most appeal…

The wide path beckoned us through the trees with three young UFO hunters eager to solve the mystery of whether aliens did indeed visit this part of Suffolk in the long and distant past (well before they were born…)

Rendlesham Forest is a really beautiful spot, the trees are farmed and the whole area is really well maintained. There is also a good mix of trees to be enjoyed,  different sections of the woodland are dedicated to different trees; pine, silver birch and other deciduous varieties.

As the trail wound deeper into the forest, a loud droning noise seemed to be echoing off the trunks of the trees around us. We just couldn’t figure out what was making the racket until we spotted glimpses of the nearby air base through the trees in the distance. A very large plane was obviously was manoeuvring in preparation for take-off.

We were soon greeted by a sign explaining the significance of the air base in the UFO sighting story.

We were at the East Gate, where the first lights were spotted in the sky on that December night back in 1980, and where the whole Rendlesham UFO story began.

The trail led us along the now disused road which follows the perimeter of the air base and on through the trees towards our next destination. In the meantime, the loud plane noises had ceased as it had taken off and all that could be heard was the wind blowing through the branches of the pine trees.

As we reached a cross roads, we were taken by surprise as the plane had circled and came back in to land. A crowd of passers-by had gathered to see what was going on. A local resident commented that it was the first time in months that he had seen any air traffic at the base and was pleased to see the RAF back in residence.

We crossed the road and continued the trail deeper into the forest. A small group of airmen had followed the lights into the forest thinking that an aircraft had crashed. We were following in their footsteps.

All along the route, the path is clearly marked with signs pointing you in the right direction. On the rear of these posts is a secret code specially put there for children. At the Forestry Commission office in the carpark at the start of the trail, special UFO kits are available to buy (for about £1.50 I think) which helped to keep the younger members of the party engaged on the walk.

The kits contain a code cracker and on completion of the walk, you can decipher a special message (left by aliens) using the translation table.

It was a great idea and really helped us divert attention from the tired little legs which had had enough part of the way around the walk! The boys really enjoyed seeking out the next secret symbol and we were able to crack the code once we’d got home. I cannot tell you what the answer is though, it’s classified as top secret 😉

As we wandered through the trees, seeing more signs and following the timeline of events which happened back in 1980 (from the leaflet) we could hear the plane circling overhead again. It took off and landed several times while we were walking through the forest, I have to admit that the droning of the engine did add to the spooky atmosphere in some parts of the forest.

It really is a stunningly beautiful place.

After a while we were directed to a clearing in the forest which was home to this:

It is a 3D representation of what one of the US Airforce man drew after his experience in the forest. The UFO is believed to have landed near this spot and looked like this model. 

We were at the mid-point of the trail, our next stop was at the edge of the forest near some farmland where the mysterious lights were spotted.

The last ‘site’ we visited is where a UFO was reported to have landed. In the intervening 36 years the area has been replanted with trees several times but they all failed to thrive and now it is left as a clearing.

Once our UFO trail was complete, the ‘Out of this World’ play area was beckoning. It was a fab place for little people to run wild. With lots of branches left lying around, previous visitors had used the timber to create great dens.

There was also a great adventure play area too. Believe it or not, it was crowded with families – it took quite a while to get this photo without any children in it! I think they were all off balancing on a timber assault course at this moment!

Our trip to Rendlesham Forest was such a hit, we went back again for a second visit. The second time we took reinforcements – we brought Grandparents, an Aunt and an Uncle too. I’m pretty sure that they enjoyed it as much as we did. 

If you should find yourself in this part of Suffolk, I would really recommend a visit. There is a small charge for parking and the leaflets detailing the walk were free. There’s a very large picnic area and space to barbecue. Plus, you’ll be able to say you completed the Rendlesham UFO Trail!

For more information on the Rendlesham UFO Trail, check out the  Forestry Commission website.

A postcard from Formby Point

Back in August, when we were in the north of England visiting my family, we took a day trip to the Lancashire coast and visited Formby Point National Trust site. It’s a place I’d visited many years ago as a child, but couldn’t remember very much about. It is also home to on of Middle Postcard’s favourite animals – squirrels!!

Formby Point is a really interesting site. It’s right on the coast and includes beautiful dunes and a long stretch of beach but also encompasses a large pine forest which has winding paths through it and plenty of spots for a quiet picnic and adventures for little people. It’s home to a colony of red squirrels and if you are very lucky, you may be able to see one or two bouncing about on the branches overhead.


Our trip began with a rendezvous with my brother and ‘Funcle’ to the Little Postcards. He lives not too far away in Lancashire and was keen to join us on our squirrel hunt. He’s a very keen and talented photographer so relished the opportunity to take some snaps while we were on our walk. We met up with him the carpark just behind the dunes and climbed over them to see the beach.


As we reached the summit, the wind hit us. It was so gusty, you could feel the sand stinging the back of your legs through your trousers!!! We took a quick look along the beach but I was so scared of getting the flying sand into my camera that I just took a couple of quick snaps on my phone before heading to the shelter of the pine forest.

 

There were a few brave souls out on the beach, some even in short sleeves and shorts (we all had our hoods up and were zipped right up as far as it would go to reduce the pain of the stinging sand!!! We hung about long enough to be able to just make out The BIG One and Blackpool Tower in the distance before running for cover.

It’s hard to believe that these photos were taken on the same day – just moments apart. Once under the cover of the trees, the sun broke through the clouds above and we walked along the bouncy pine needle strewn path through gentle dappled shade. It’s such a tranquil place, the only sound being the wind blowing through the branches above and the dulcet sounds of Little Postcards bickering in the background. 😉

Being a National Trust venue, there were plenty of volunteer guides on site to help with any questions and dish out maps of the area. With just one aim in mind for the day (apart from having fun and enjoying a picnic lunch) we set off on our quest to find some red squirrels – it can’t be that hard can it?

Formby isn’t just famous for it’s red furry residents, it is also home to the local delicacy of Formby Asparagus. It can be enjoyed during a very short season from early May until the 21st June – sadly we had missed it. For generations, local farmers levelled the local dunes to create perfect growing conditions for the crop. In it’s heyday more 200 acres were cultivated but these days just 10 acres of Formby Asparagus are grown here. This stunning tree carving was created to celebrate the local speciality.

After much wandering through the beautiful pine forest and green fields, our search for red squirels was proving fruitless. Little Postcards and the grown ups were becoming hungry and a picnic spot needed to be found.

At the entrance to a large grassy area – perfect for a picnic, we found this lovely sculpture carved from a tree trunk.


After the sandwiches had been scoffed and the flask of coffee drunk, the grown ups settled down for a doze in the sunshine while the Little Postcards wandered into the woods close by. It was so nice for them to have a bit of freedom to wander knowing that they couldn’t go far. We could hear them – but couldn’t see them. They enjoyed the independence that gave them and for Littlest, it was a great adventure to climb trees and have a woodland adventure with his big brothers.
While on their adventure, they were constantly on the look out for the squirrels – although the noise they were making as they wandered the meandering woodland paths probably sent the squirrels scarpering! A few very jazzy striped caterpillars were satisfactory discoveries though.


After an hour or so at our lovely picnic spot, we decided to head back to the cars so that we could get back home without hitting the rush hour traffic on the motorways back to Manchester. Our walk back through the pine forest was bound to yield a squirrel sighting wasn’t it?

As we got deeper into the forest, we spied a group of people eagerly pointing up into the tree canopy and craning to see movement with their binoculars. Squirrels were in the area! Well they were until just before we arrived. An elderly couple had been sitting on a bench patiently waiting to see some squirrels for quite some time.

Just as a couple of the illusive residents had put in an appearance, a family with young children had come along at just the right moment to see them too. All this had happened just seconds before we arrived, but sadly by then, Squirrel Nutkin and his mate were nowhere to be seen!

So did we achieve success in our quest to see some of the famous Formby Point red squirrels? We only saw this one…

…..he came home with us.

 

…..Oh and there was this one too on the side of an ice cream van!

Never mind – there’s always next time!

 

For more information about Formby Point, have a look at the National Trust Formby website.

 

A Postcard from the Norfolk Broads

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost a month since the end of our summer holiday in England. We packed a lot into our time there both up in the North West and in East Anglia. On our final week, we hired a day boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads, I took quite a few photos, so thought I’d share our day’s cruise with you.

Our first port of call that morning was Potter Heigham, where we collected the keys to our boat and our life jackets and had a quick driving lesson before negotiating our way out of the ‘parking space’ and out onto the water.

Within a few minutes, we were soon on our way and the dark clouds over head began to  get a lot lighter… things were looking good.

Chugging along on the water gives you such a different perspective to things. First of all, you can’t do anything quickly. Even steering the boat takes an inordinately long time – or so it seems when you have a sailing boat bearing down on you at a fair lick.

You also get to see so many diffent things which you miss as you drive around the Broads by car. There were so many lovely houses backing onto the water.

They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and colours. Some were homes and others holiday rentals.

Of course, this being Norfolk, there were a fair few wind pumps on our route too.

We headed west from Potter Heigham on the River Bure towards Thurne, and then to St Benet’s Abbey.

Most of the other boats on the water were day hires like ours and holiday cruisers but there were some really beautiful wooden sailing boats too. Of course, these didn’t use their engines, just the wind to power them along. This meant that we had to give way to them, which wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, when your boat doesn’t want to slow down, go faster or turn exactly the way you want it to! We had one or two hairy moments trying to avoid collisions!

The wildlife we saw on our trip was varied. The Little Postcards had a list which they made of all the creatures we encountered along the way. This was our first heron.

After rather a lot of maneouvering about, we managed to dock at St Benet’s Abbey – a place I knew absolutely nothing about.

This family of swans soon cottoned onto the fact that we had a picnic lunch and came along to see what we had to spare!

After our refreshments, we followed the sign-posted path towards the ruins of St Benet’s Abbey.

All that really remains of the original Abbey is the gate house, with the addition of a Georgian mill.

The monastery (or what’s left of it) has been a venue of Christian worship for over 1,000 years. It’s thought it was settled by a small group of religious hermits as early as the 9th Century but that the Benedictine Abbey was established in the 1020s. It became a pivotal player in the development of the Broads and became a large land owner.

St Benet’s Abbey is unique in that it was the only one not to be closed by King Henry VIII, when he shut down the rest of the English Monastery’s in the 1530s. Instead, the Abbot at the time, Abbot Rugge, was made Bishop of Norwich and remained Abbot of St Benet’s in exchange for properties given to the Crown.

The Bishop of Norwich still conducts an annual service here on the first Sunday of August.

We were greeted by a very impressive dragon on our arrival at the Abbey. Made by local artists and children out of locally grown willow, yarn, ribbon and cloth, it was created to depict the legend of the Ludham Dragon, or the Ludham Wyrm.

A series of children’s paintings nearby told the story of the dragon, which used to live in tunnels under the church and occasionally came up from below to eat local farm animals and scare the villagers. One day when the dragon was out on the marshes, a local blacksmith blocked the entrance to the tunnel with a large stone. When it returned, it was furious and flew across the marshes to St Benet’s Abbey where it knocked down the walls in it’s fury and then went down into the tunnels beneath the Abbey, legend has it that it still sleeps there to this day.

The dragon project was produced by the Barrington Farm artists and Withy Arts with funding from the National Lottery. If you click on this link you can read all about how the Ludham Dragon was created on the Withy Arts blog, also how the Bishop of Norwich blessed the project on his annual visit to conduct the service at St Benet’s Abbey.

 

On the ‘inside’ of the Abbey walls, you can clearly see what used to be very grand architecture, which has somehow been commandeered into a mill!

It’s a very interesting building none-the-less with what look like bricked up windows up the internal walls.

On the internal side of the archway, some of the original carvings have only just survived the test of time.

There’s also a fair amount of carving of a less ‘professional’ yet no less interesting sort!

The soft stone was covered with ancient and modern graffiti.

It’s hard to imagine what the Abbey must have been like in it’s hey day, huge and dominating the surrounding countryside.

Beyond the gatehouse lay a field with a cross a the end. The cross marks the spot where the original altar would have stood and this is where the annual service takes place at the start of August.

It is a very tranquil place and so atmospheric. Made even more so by the sounds of choral music which can be heard emanating from a ‘talking’ bench nearby.

The Abbey stands in a very prominent position by the river side.

Our wander around the ruinous Abbey came to an end and we headed back to the quayside to pick up our boat again.

After lunch and a nice walk, a spot of crochet was in order as we cast off on our way…

I had no idea that there was a paddle steamer operating on the Broads…

We continued on our journey westward towards Ranworth Broad.

Cormorants were added to the Little Postcards’ list of wildlife which had been spotted.

Ranworth Broad was so pretty with so many beautiful homes backing onto the water.

Never before had I seen an ice-cream boat! It even played the tune to ‘Messing about on the River’ in the usual tinny ice cream van way! The two ladies on it were very jolly and gave us a wave on the way past. I’m not entirely sure how you negotiate buying your strawberry split or 99 flake boat-to-boat, so we decided to give it a miss!

As we only had the boat for the day, the time had come to turn around and retrace our cruise back to our starting point. By now, the clouds which had earlier threatened rain were all gone and we had beautiful blue skies and wispy clouds overhead.

We chugged back past St Benet’s Abbey, seeing it to advantage from the water.


As we approached Potter Heigham again, the traffic on the river got busier.

We got another opportunity to ogle at the many beautiful river front homes…

…small ones and beautiful thatched ones…

…and very grand ones with their own private watery drives near Ludham.

How’s that for an impressive collection of hydrangeas?

Before we knew it, we were approaching our destination.

There were lots of other people at Potter Heigham handing back their boats or mooring up for the night. The swans clearly were in the know it was a great spot to get a snack!

And there we were, back where we had started. Such a lovely day travelling around a little part of the Norfolk Broads. It was a chance for us all to experience a very beautiful part of England up close and it certainly won’t be the last time we do it.

And as for the wildlife spotted by the Little Postcards on our voyage? Here goes: Several dogs, many ducks, multiple swans, half a dozen great crested grebes, a couple of cranes, cormorants, Egyptian geese, hundreds of seagulls, three herons and a wasp. Not bad for a few hours spotting – just as well the Little Postcards had a nature loving Uncle on board to help with identification!

I hope you have enjoyed this Postcard from the Norfolk Broads, thank you for stopping by.