When I was a child museums were gloomy, musty places and National Trust properties were for adults only. But days out in Swanage and Corfe Castle Village alerted me to the fact the approach to tourism and historical attractions in the United Kingdom has changed dramatically. Encouraged by these experiences the next step was a staycation in my own country. I chose two completely different experiences, a quaint hotel in Ramsgate and a luxury lodge in Sherwood Forest.
A Staycation in Ramsgate, Thanet, United Kingdom
Ramsgate in Thanet, Kent was my first destination. I stayed at a very unusual hotel, Royal Harbour Hotel. This hotel is very unusual as it occupies three Grade 2 listed buildings, beautiful Georgian houses. It has been furnished from collections belonging to the owner James Thomas. I loved the nooks crannies of this special place and the cosy sitting rooms. My room overlooked the Royal Harbour, an added bonus.
I dined in the hotel’s Empire Room Restaurant on the lower floor of the hotel. Craig Mather a local chef, uses fresh, local produce to create his dishes. The restaurant has a very varied menu featuring snack meals and formal dinners. I started my three course dinner (set menu) with an exciting combination of crispy local asparagus, soft boiled egg, prosciutto and parsley yoghurt. My main course featured grilled skate that melted in my mouth and I finished with a combination of banana cake, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Elegant and hugely satisfying cuisine.
The sun was glinting on the sea that lapped the boats in the harbour lured me outside very early the next morning. I started by doing a circuit of the Royal Harbour which I reached by walking down Jacobs Ladder. These stone steps, built by John Shaw in 1826 and replaced the original wooden staircase. At the far end of the harbour is the Clock House. It now houses the Maritime Museum but the building itself has a very interesting history. I was fortunate to have a guided tour of the museum with its curator Michael Houckham. The clock in the tower was the last clock sailors would see as they left the harbour and it had its own Mean Time. Ramsgate Mean Time is 5 minutes and 41 seconds ahead of Greenwich Mean Time which became the official mean time. Michael is a great raconteur and he brought the exhibits to life. I was fascinated by the items collected from a ship that sank on the Goodwin Sands during the Great Storm of 1703.
Michael is also very involved in the renovation www.cervia-volunteer-crew.com of Cervia a magnificent old steam tug moored outside the museum. Michael was also able to give me a very special tour of Cervia as he was a member of the crew when it served as a tug on the Thames Estuary.
After a coffee break in Corby’s Tea Rooms a delightfully old-fashioned café I made my way to the Micro Museum. This private museum is owned by Mike and Carol Deer. It traces the history of calculators, computers and computer games. It brought back a few memories from not too long ago and emphasises the rapid developments in technology over a relatively short space of time. Another highlight of my visit was a tour of the Ramsgate Tunnels a genuine piece of Ramsgate history. The tunnels were hewn out of the chalk cliffs of Ramsgate to shelter people from air raids during the Second World War. After being sealed off for many years they have now been re-opened and embellished with exhibits that reflect the hardships endured by the residents of a town on the front line. But they served their purpose and saved thousands of lives.
Two days were not enough to fully appreciate the exciting revival that is going on in Ramsgate. A revival fuelled by the infectious enthusiasm and knowledge of the volunteers involved. Alongside these attractions the re-generation of run-down areas such as the Arches around the harbour and the Royal Victoria Pavilion on the sea front have resulted in a very attractive holiday destination – at home.
A Staycation in Sherwood Forest at Sherwood Hideaway
Ready to explore a completely different type of staycation I set off for the Sherwood Hideaway in Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottinghamshire. I was delighted with my luxury lodge. The spacious rooms are attractively furnished and spacious. I was soon unpacked and lounging in the hot tub on my private patio. A real treat.
I was awake very early the next morning and set off to explore. I followed the Woodland Walk which criss-crosses Thoresby Park. This park formed the extensive grounds of Thoresby Hall (now a hotel) and it is still in private ownership but guests at the hideaway have access to the woodland. Walking along the deserted paths I spotted foxgloves growing in the leafy glades. I saw a fox slip silently across the track in front of me and watched a grey squirrel scampering up a tree. A lovely way to start the day. On returning to my lodge I had a late breakfast – it was a joy not to be confined by meal times.
Later that morning I took part in a Photography Masterclass organised by Sherwood Hideaway. The class featured birds of prey provided by Simon from Go-Active Falconry. Before we set off to walk through the woods Simon introduced us to the sport of falconry. This ancient sport has recently seen a revival through falconry shows and falcon racing. The latter is a very popular activity in the United Arab Emirates. Breeding the birds to race is a profitable business in the United Kingdom. One of the birds Simon used for our class was Willow, a beautiful Gyr Saker hybrid falcon. She is a hybrid of the largest falcon in the world, the gyr falcon, and the fastest, the saker falcon. Willow was used to breed falcons for eleven years before Simon acquired her. He had to teach her to fly again but this is not her favourite activity as we found out later when she resisted all his efforts to get her airborne. Learning about the different breeds and personality of each bird was fascinating.
Heather Burns, a renowned wildlife photographer. Before we set off Heather gave us some advice about the best way to take photographs of birds in flight. Throughout the class she was available to answer questions and give instruction. It was very informal and informative. There were eight people in the group so it was easy to get her attention. It was not so easy to get a good shot of the birds in flight as they were so quick. When I finally achieved a good shot I could not stop grinning.
The birds also posed for us in the trees so we could take portrait shots from different angles. Matilda the eagle owl hissed at me when I got too close. These birds are not known for their good humour and she was subsequently replaced by Bobby a more amenable barn owl. When Bobby got fed-up (a phrase that originates from falconry meaning their gullets are full of food) he was replaced by Squeak, a long-eared owl. The afternoon went very quickly and when the class finished we had the opportunity to hold one of the birds. I chose Matilda and this time she behaved perfectly. It had been a memorable day and such an honour to get so close to some magnificent birds of prey. I would certainly consider doing another event of this nature and the Hideaway organises hawk walks for its guests and there are some more Photography Masterclasses coming up later this year.
I spent my last day exploring the locality. Sherwood Forest is home to the Dukeries, four neighbouring stately homes that were established there three centuries ago. Two of them are close to Sherwood Hideaway and an early morning walk took me to the closest, Thoresby Hall, once home of the Pierrepont family. The original stables, Thoresby Courtyard, are open to visitors and feature boutiques, a café and the Queen’s Royal Lancers and Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum.
Later that day I drove the short distance to another Dukery, Clumber Park. The hall was demolished in 1938 and the park is now owned by the National Trust. It was a long drive from the entrance to the visitor centre and other historical attractions including the Gothic Chapel and the Walled Kitchen Gardens but on each side of the road I could see families picnicking and playing on the grass. In the kitchen gardens I came across the very unusual National Collection of Rhubarb which features over one hundred and thirty different varieties of rhubarb. They all looked the same to me but I am no expert. On my way out I stopped for a short walk to admire the Clumber or Carburton Bridge from all angles.
I thoroughly enjoyed both my breaks in England and felt the same exhilaration I do after travelling abroad.