One of the reasons I love my annual trip to Edinburgh so much is that once you’re done with wandering the New and Old Town streets (although I’m not sure you can ever be ‘done’ with that!), it’s a brilliant base should you want to venture slightly further afield and sample the Scottish seaside. On previous holidays I’ve taken day trips to Burntisland (which includes a train journey across the iconic Forth Bridge), South Queensferry (a pretty little town located almost underneath the bridge and location of The Hawes Inn for fans of Stevenson’s Kidnapped), Cramond and Portobello (for amazing chips and ice cream). This year, I decided to visit North Berwick, a seaside town 40 minutes north-east of Edinburgh.
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I’m a bit of a bookworm with a particular love of Scottish literature so whilst a day trip to North Berwick is worth it simply for its prettiness alone (and the Italian ice cream from Gelateria Alandas on Quality Street), for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson, it’s also the place where he spent his childhood holidays and provided inspiration for Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Catriona (for those with sea legs there are even daily boat trips out to the Bass Rock where the hero of the novel is imprisoned).
For those after a retail fix the main street of the town is packed with charity shops, independent retailers and quirky boutiques and plenty of tea shops to provide refreshment. The town is also home to the Scottish Seabird Centre which has a cafe giving fantastic views across to the Bass Rock (and is somewhere lovely and warm to thaw out should the weather for your trip combine glorious sunshine with the coldest, windiest wind imaginable as mine did!).
A few weeks ago I headed down to Cambridge for a long weekend of enjoying the sunshine and pretending I’m in Harry Potter (yes, I’m well aware that they filmed at Oxford but shh! Plus in order to get to Cambridge I had to go via Kings Cross, passing Platform 9 3/4 in the process!). Since the majority of my holiday budget for this year is going on a trip to New York in October for a friend’s wedding, the remainder of my holiday choices for this year needed to be on the cheap side and, despite its grand nature, Cambridge turned out to be a surprisingly budget friendly option. One advantage of visiting university cities out of term time is that it gives you the chance to stay in halls of residence which if you’re visiting somewhere like Cambridge or Oxford (where I’ve previously had a long weekend staying in halls) usually means staying somewhere pretty posh looking! I booked a double en-suite room at Downing College via University Rooms (which I’d previously used to booked my Oxford accommodation) which worked out at only £5 more expensive a night than a Travelodge AND included breakfast as well as being set in 20 acres of beautiful grounds (you know you’re in Cambridge when you have to walk past a production of Shakespeare to get to your room!).
With so many beautiful buildings and colleges to explore, the majority of my first full day was spent just wandering around the city, taking in the sites and getting my bearings (as well as trying to avoid the masses and masses of tour groups!). With so much to take in and so many little streets to explore, deciding what to do first can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully Cambridge has a plethora of excellent pubs to offer decision making refreshment including The Eagle (where the discovery of DNA was announced) and The Mill which not only offers a great view of the punting on the river but also fantastic food.
On the second day I decided to explore some of the colleges in more detail and made an early start in order to avoid the queues and mass of people at the iconic King’s College. Founded in 1441 by Henry VI, the college and its Chapel are emblematic of Cambridge and although the entry fee might be somewhat steep compared to the other colleges, the access to the iconic chapel and beautiful grounds that it gives you are well worth the money. After King’s, I then stumbled across Clare College which has the most beautiful gardens backing onto the river Cam and is where I spent several hours enjoying the sunshine and watching people punt along the river.
Aside from the colleges, Cambridge has a plethora of museums to visit (including the impressive Fitzwilliam Museum) as well as a great selection of high street shops, quirky boutiques and, every blogger’s mecca, The Cambridge Satchel Company shop! If all the college wandering, museum visiting and retail therapy leaves you feeling wiped out, you can always recover with a relaxing punt tour along the river followed by lunch and people watching at The Cambridge Chop House.
I found Cambridge to be the perfect place for a long, sunny, summer weekend and whilst I’m not sure I would ever have had the mentality to hack student life there (although I can completely understand why some who study there end up with a certain sense of entitlement), I’m more than happy to wander through the perfectly manicured college grounds dreaming of Hogwarts…
Taking full advantage of the brief spell of sunshine we had recently (my legs are still very confused by my lack of tights), me and my sister hopped on a train to spend the afternoon in one of my favourite cities to wander around, York! Growing up in Sheffield, day trips to York were always a staple of summer holidays as the mix of tourist attractions, impressive buildings and outdoor spaces to picnic/ run about pretending you’re a Viking in meant that it had enough to keep even those on the tightest budget amused. Day trips now that our school days are quite a bit behind us still seem to follow a familiar pattern of museum visiting, debating if we’re *really* too old to visit Jorvik and sneaky visits to Maccy D’s but now have the added element of shopping thrown into the mix as the city has a great selection of high street, high end (hello Mulberry discount shop!) and quirky boutiques.
York Minster is a breathtakingly beautiful building that towers over the rest of the city. Its newly refurbished Undercroft charts the history of the city and its inhabitants and for those with a head for heights, I’d also recommend climbing the Minster’s Central Tower to take in the spectacular views.
York has an abundance of tea rooms (aside from the famous Bettys) and on our latest visit we stumbled across Crumbs Cupcakery which is just round the corner from the Minster on College Street (an area which you might recognise from its numerous appearance on TV and film). It not only has fantastic cakes and refreshments but also great windows and outside space for people watching!
One of my favourite things to do in York if the weather’s good is to walk the City Walls which, if walked completely, give a great overview of the city as well as the chance to nosey in on some spectacular gardens and houses. Two of the walls’ four ‘Bars’ which acted as gateways into the city also house museums dedicated to Richard III and Henry VII should your history quota need upping even more.
Aside from the previously mentioned abundance of tea rooms, York also has some great places to eat and one of our recent discoveries is ‘Mr Chippy’ which does amazing fish and chips. With a takeaway branch on Church Street as well as a sit in restaurant round the corner on Swinegate, our York trips now feel incomplete if we don’t end up gorging on salt and vinegary fried goodness!
Hopefully now that we’re in June, summer is just around the corner to give us even more opportunities for trips to this spectacular city. Who knows, maybe next time we will brave Jorvik…