Hamar’s Glass Cathedral

Day two in Norway and the clouds cleared and gave way to blue sky and sunshine.  We headed north on the E18, catching glimpses of Oslo-fjord as our hire car picked up its heels, making the most of the 110km/hr speed limit that this stretch of road allowed.  We soon reached Oslo and we plunged underground as we navigated the tunnels beneath the city.   Emerging, dazzled, on the other side, the E6 took us further north still until we were driving alongside the Mjøsa lake at a steady 80km/hr – a speed we would become very familiar with on our trip!

We had stopped briefly for lunch at a picturesque roadside picnic area, overlooking a sheltered inlet that harboured dozens of tiny day boats, and eventually pulled off the road at Hamar, at the Glass Cathedral.


Having only read a brief paragraph in our Lonely Planet guide on the glass cathedral we weren’t quite sure what to expect, and stood in surprise staring at this giant greenhouse-like structure.  The ‘greenhouse’ was built over the ruins of Hamar Cathedral, the construction of which was started by the first Bishop of Hamar, and completed between 1232-52.  The cathedral fell in to disrepair during the Reformation in Norway and in 1567 the Swedish Army attempted to demolish it.    The arches remain inside the glass cover, and today it appears to be a popular place to get married!


Set on the side of a beautiful lake, we saw at least three couples in the cathedral and grounds.


The cathedral sits on a small peninsular into the lake, alongside a collection of historic Norwegian houses.


A large, traditional wooden house sat proudly on the edge of the lake, watching teenagers play in the water and boats sail past.


The turf roofed cottages, with their heavy log walls and wild hair-dos were both quaint and amusing.  The jaunty angle of this one gives it so much character!


Even on a sunny day, the park was quiet as we strolled around in the sunshine and had an icecream from the gift shop.


A wonderful place, combining the old of the traditional farm buildings, and the sleek, ultra-modern design of the glass cathedral.  A place where lots comes together but oh, so peaceful.




Our first 24 hours in Norway, it rained (our first three days in Norway it rained).  A constant drizzle with intermittent torrential downpours that ensured that shoes were soaked through and hands became clammy and cold.


We had arrived at Oslo Torp and made our way to Tønsberg, the oldest town in Norway, were we spent a day exploring in the rain and visited the tower on a hill in the middle of the town.  For the most part the camera stayed firmly in its bag, tucked up behind the waterproof cover.

We wandered down to the riverside which appeared to be where the most was going on, and stumbled across a viking shipyard.  The boats were under the cover of large canvas tents constructed with a simple timber frame, and the air smelled of wood and tar.


Unusually (is there a usual way to build a viking ship?), this boat appeared to be being constructed by a pirate.

Tønsberg boasts 1200 years of maritime history, and at the quay is a replica exact replica of the Oseberg viking ship, and several smaller vessels are under construction.


The Oseberg ship was built around 800AD and was excavated in 1904-5 from a burial mound along with the skeletons of two important female figures, and plenty of treasure in the form of ornately carved carts, sleighs, and ornaments.


Maybe all that treasure is why the pirate is hanging around…?



The Bow Valley Parkway

After a couple of nights in Calgary to get over the jetlag, we hired a car and headed west towards the Rocky Mountains.  The view once we left Calgary was spectacular – Calgary faded away behind us, but in front the mountains rose out of the prairies, cloud bubbling over them like rapids over rocks.

Once we got into the Rockies we took a slight diversion off Highway 1 – the TransCanada Highway – onto Highway 1A, also known as the Bow Valley Parkway.  The Bow Valley Parkway runs from just after Banff, alongside the Trans Canada as far as Lake Louise, taking a more scenic route with a higher chance of seeing wildlife than on the main highway.  There are also several places to stop along the route.


A wildlife bridge on Highway 1

The first place we stopped at was Johnston Canyon.  There is a resort with cabins at the bottom of the canyon, and a restaurant, as well as a car park for visitors who are hiking the canyon.  The car park was full and so we did what many, many other people were doing and parked alongside the highway, and then walked back to the entrance.


In Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon was formed by Johnston Creek, and within the canyon are lower and upper falls, with the upper falls being 1.7 miles away, and taking about 45 minutes to walk to.  From there you can continue almost 1.9 miles (3km) to the Inkpots – seven coldwater springs which rise beside a meadow.  We didn’t make it this far as we wanted to stop at other places on the way so we only went as far as the Upper Falls, however having seen a picture of the Inkpots when I got back to England I wish we had carried on!

The walk through the canyon is an easy one, along wide paths and metal catwalks.  There were a lot of people when we visited – it’s certainly a popular spot so aim for low season or either ends of the day.


A catwalk in Johnston Canyon

In terms of wildlife, the most exciting thing we saw was a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, although there were signs warning of wolves in the area which had become bold around humans and were stealing from picnics!


A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

We ate at the restaurant at the bottom of the canyon before we left, which was very pleasant and surprisingly quiet given the popularity of the trail.  It was perhaps slightly expensive, but that was to be expected given its location and the lack of other eateries in the area.

Carrying on up the Bow Valley Parkway we stopped at Emerald Lake in the Yoho National Park.  When we arrived the weather had deteriorated somewhat and we looked around and took some photos in the mizzley rain.  We decided to hire a canoe anyway, and luckily the rain stopped and we even had a bit of sunshine!  We paddled to the other end of the lake, where it was very peaceful with a shallow creek running across a beach into the lake.

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Emerald Lake – the sky was a little murky but it was beautiful nonetheless! 

We left Highway 1A at Castle Junction and continued on the main Highway 1 to Canyon Hot Springs where we swam in the hot springs and stayed in a cabin overnight.  From there we went to Sicamous where we hired a houseboat and spent four days on the Shuswap Lake, which I will write about in my next blog.

Highway 1A was beautiful, but naturally much slower than the main highway.  To drive on Highway 1A, or to stop anywhere in the National Parks, you need to buy a parks pass from Parks Canada.  There is a kiosk for these at the entrance to Banff NP, or they are sold in lots of places within the parks.  At the entrance to the Bow Valley Parkway, Parks Canada were stopping every car to check for a pass.

The Land of Mountains and Lakes

As England awoke on 1 July, we boarded a plane destined for Calgary to begin two amazing weeks of adventures in Alberta and British Columbia. I flew out with my boyfriend (Stephen), parents and sister (Holly), and our first stop was to visit my aunt, uncle and two cousins who live in Calgary.


We spent a couple of days in Calgary before all heading west, with a stop-over en-route, to Sicamous where we picked up a houseboat and spent four days relaxing on Shuswap Lake.  From there, Stephen and I split off from the rest of the group to explore the Rockies.  Our accommodation ranged from camping to hotels, and we even spent a night in a wilderness hostel which was a fantastic experience.


The trip took us white water rafting on the Kicking Horse River, walking on the Athabasca Glacier, canoeing on Emerald Lake, Western riding around Lake Louise and swinging from the trees at SkyTrek near Revelstoke, before finally returning to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede, a night of two-stepping and line dancing in Ranchman’s and learning Canada’s history at Heritage Park.


We saw some amazing wildlife – a black bear hanging out along the Icefields Parkway, bald eagles at Shuswap lake and tens of the most adorable squirrels that love to pose for the camera.

Of course, this is far too much for one blog.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing blogs about some of the best bits of the trip, and of course I took hundreds of photographs of this beautiful country and what it has to offer. So stay tuned and hit the ‘follow’ button to find out more about what we’ve been up to!


A trip to the beach

The weather, having been rainy and windy for so long, finally broke.  And so we went to the beach.


If there are two places I’m drawn to, it’s hills and beaches.  Today was no different and so we set off to Hoylake.  It’s not a beach I’ve visited before, but it is vast.


Of course you can’t go for a walk on the beach without taking a dog, right?  Fudge had never been to a beach before and really didn’t know what to make of it.


Lots of jumping around in excitement.


Lots of wimpering and clingyness – the big wimp!  Maybe she’s agoraphobic?!


Fudge had also never played fetch before! She looked at us like complete idiots to start with, but once she got the idea she thought this was the best game ever invented!

The sand buggies were out and it looked like they were having an absolute ball.  This is definitely something I want to have a go at at some point!


The recent storms don’t seem to have been kind to the life at the bottom – the beach was scattered with star fish that must have been washed up from the depths of the sea.

DSC_0087DSC_0089 ‘Look! Are those penguins over there?!’ Ironically, you an find this ship wreck by walking out in a straight line from the life boat station.

We had a really fantastic afternoon, and had the beach pretty much to ourselves.  Who said beaches are just for the summer?

Los Gigantes

At the start of February we decided we needed to escape the endless cycle of rain, sleet and snow and head to sunnier climes.  We wanted to visit the Canary Islands, having never been and hearing good things about the winter weather, and finally decided on a trip through Thomson to Tenerife.  The chance to go to the top of a volcano, Mt Teide, was also a pretty strong influencing factor for me!

The view from our room Luabay Costa Los Gigantes

We stayed in Playa de la Arena, about an hours transfer from Tenerife South Airport and just along the coast from Los Gigantes.  Our hotel was absolutely enormous, in many small blocks and several pools, bars, restaurants, entertainment halls, mini golf, high ropes… the list goes on.  One thing I hadn’t really anticipated was just quite how touristy the area was going to be.  I purposefully chose a hotel away from the tourist central to the South, but even so nearly every building was a hotel.  But Playa de la Arena was a nice little town with lots of shops and beach with the natural black volcanic sand (some beaches have white sand imported, which I think is a shame really).


Playa de la Arena


The Thomson rep at the hotel was great and we quickly booked onto several excursions.  One was to the neighbouring island of La Gomera which is what I imagine Tenerife was like before it got too touristy.  We could see La Gomera from our hotel so it was great to go over there.  Being mainly agriculture and forests which survive because the top of the island is always covered in mist, La Gomera is a lot greener than it’s neighbour.

La Gomera at sunset We visited several villages and learned a lot about the local culture.  We also visited a fantastic restaurant where the local whistling language was demonstrated.  In a similar way to yodeling this ancient method of communication was used to pass messages across the mountains on the island.  Agriculture consisted of mainly bananas, potatoes and tomatoes, and a few goats.  There are around six cattle on the island.


Potato Fields


Another great trip was Flipper Uno – dolphin watching from a pirate ship under the huge cliffs of Los Gigantes.  We were told that these cliffs are the second biggest in the world, after only the Grand Canyon, while we ate paella, drank wine, admired the scenery and watched dolphins swim around the boat.

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On our last full day on the island we booked a trip up Mt Teide.  We had managed to catch a glimpse of the 3,718m high summit from the aeroplane as we flew in, but for the rest of the week it had hidden behind the clouds.  The National Park was like another world, and definitely worth a visit.  Unfortunately there had been snow overnight and the top was very icy, so the cable cars to the top weren’t running.  This was a shame as I’d been looking forward to going to the top of the volcano for months, so I would definitely be making the trip again if I go back!



We did so much in our week long visit, I’ve hardly mentioned half of it here and there are so many things on the island that didn’t get a look in, so in my opinion Tenerife is really worth a visit.  The only thing I would change? More sunshine!

There’s a tent in my shower

It was in dying light and deteriorating weather conditions that we arrived in Waunfawr at the edge of Snowdon. Although we’d got stuck in almost standstill traffic on the A55 on the way over, it had been a pleasant drive along the north Wales coast and into the mountains. We pitched the tent and headed into the house to warm up and get out of the rain, and most importantly – to eat curry!

The reason Hollie and I were in Wales was because there was a Harper Outdoor Pursuits Society (HOPS) trip to Snowdon. There was a group of around 15 of us who went for the weekend, staying in a field at the house of one of the society execs.

On Saturday we set off to Snowdon, driving to Llanberis and then getting the bus Pen -y – pas and walking from there. The weather was looking variable as we set off but we were soon stripping layers off as the sun came out and we gained height. We turned a corner through a pass in the mountain and everyone stopped and went ‘wow’ as the view was breathtaking. The mountain dropped away before us down to the lakes and Snowdon rose behind them, a mass of rock and ice.


We proceeded around the edge of Crib Goch with the mountain rising steeply on our right hand side and falling just as steeply to the left; it’s definitely not a path for the faint hearted! Some sections of the path mean scrambling up and almost shear rock face so we were lucky that it was dry underfoot and not slippery.

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The higher we got the colder it got, and soon we were in the snow line. Here the going became more treacherous with the combination of steep rocky pathways and snow underfoot, but in the end, finally, we made it to the ridge.

It wasn’t much further and we were at the top! And wow were the views amazing… for the few minutes that we could see before a freezing cloud rolled in and turned everything white. Although it was freezing, that was an experience in itself because you literally couldn’t see off the side of the mountain. The cloud stayed with us then as we descended the mountain, until we got to around the snow line. We took a different path back down, to Llanberis, where we had cream tea then drove back to the tents.

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We then drove to Newborough beach on Anglesey with the view to having a BBQ, but having forgotten half the food and equipment we just went for a walk along the beach instead. The rest of the group carried on to the headland but Hollie and I stayed on a grassy hillock and sat in the sun for a while.

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Last night was FREEZING! I had many tops and two hoodies on inside my sleeping bag and under a blanket and I was still cold. We left this morning to get back to Harper as I still had a couple of assignments to tweak to be handed in tomorrow, but everyone else went kayaking this morning and judging by their pictures they had a good time!

So there’s a little taster of what we get up to at Harper!

Maddi x