Places to visit

The magic of bluebells: exploring Arlington Bluebell Walk

It's become an annual tradition to visit the Arlington Bluebell Walk in East Sussex in late April / early May - springtime would not be the same without it. Luckily for me, it's only a short drive away - but I think it's well worth a longer trek. It has the most beautiful and concentrated display of bluebells I've ever seen, and most of them can be viewed from wide accessible paths. There is a small entrance fee (£6 in 2017) which goes to a group of local charities - and it's worth every penny! 

There are 7 different walks you can take through beautiful woodland and farmland with lots of different vistas. My favourite is the short loop through Beatons Wood where most of the bluebells can be found (this is accessible to wheelchair users). There are some ponds (great for reflections) and lots of tree stumps and of course endless trees to provide interesting focal points for your photographs. Plus there are lots of seats scattered throughout the woodland for when your feet get too weary. The birdsong is so beautiful!

As you would expect, the bluebell walk gets very popular and busy at peak season with families and photographers alike. You can track the progress of the bluebells on the Arlington Bluebell Walk website, which is so helpful for planning your visit. The white wood anenomes appear first, followed by the bluebells - I love to try and capture a mix of both. It's definitely worth getting there as early as you can to beat the crowds, although there is so much space, it's very easy to wander away and find some peace and quiet.

The bluebell woods make the perfect backdrop for some portrait photography. We had some fun trying to get our little dog Misty to pose for the camera. With the help of some treats, we sort of managed it!

I've experimented with lots of different lenses over the years, but have settled on my 85mm f1.8 prime lens as my favourite lens to capture the magic of bluebells (paired with a full frame DSLR, the Canon 6D). I'm not one for wide angle shots, with lots of detail and everything in focus. Instead, I prefer to blur out the foreground and part of the background to try and capture the great swathes of purple and provide a dreamy, gentle feeling. It's not the best lens - and tends to be very soft when you are shooting with it wide open (a small number aperture), so most of these shots were taken somewhere around the f2.2 mark. They're not as sharp as I would like, so I will continue experimenting....

To get the blurry soft foreground, I crouched down low so that I had several rows of bluebells in front of me, and then focussed on a point roughly in the middle of the scene, using an aperture around f1.8-2.2 to create a shallow depth of field. This meant that the bluebells directly in front of me would be out of focus, as would the trees in the very far background, but the section in the middle that I focussed on, would be nice and sharp, drawing the eye there.

If you'd like to understand more about aperture and shallow depth of field, you might want to look at my post on How to get background blur in your photographs

If you'd like to see more photos, I've collected my images from the last 3 years into an album on Flickr: Arlington Bluebell Walk - or you can click through the embedded slideshow below.

Arlington Bluebell Walk, East Sussex

I hope you enjoyed a wander through the Arlington Bluebell Walk. Do let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.


5 beautiful places to visit from Gwithian Sands in Cornwall

We had a super lovely break away to Cornwall in April for my husband's 40th birthday, staying in a beautiful self-catering chalet nestled in the dunes at Gwithian Sands. We explored some new (to us) parts of Cornwall, so I thought it would be good to share some of our favourites. It was also our first time travelling with Misty, our small dog, so this changed quite a few things!

1. Gwithian Sands / Hayle

2. Porth Kidney Sands & the cliff path walk to St. Ives from Lelant Saltings

3. St. Ives

4. Porthcurno

5. Sennen Cove

// Where we stayed

// A few more ideas for places to visit....

Keep reading for more info and lots of photos to whet your appetite!


1. Gwithian sands / Hayle

I can't believe that we had never visited this beautiful area before. There are miles of soft sand, stretching from Godrevy lighthouse to the Hayle estuary (strictly speaking there are 4 beaches - Godrevy, Gwithian Towans, Mexico Towans, Hayle Towans - but they all join up at low tide).  There are views of the iconic Godrevy lighthouse in one direction, and St. Ives in the other, as well as large areas of sand dunes and lots of rock pools. Pretty much heaven as far as I am concerned!

And, fortunately for us, the seasonal dog ban runs from 1 May to 30 September, so Misty was allowed on the beach at all times. If you are travelling with a dog, definitely worth checking up on this in advance - you can find the list of beaches with restrictions on the Cornwall government website.

I adored all the S P A C E, and the soft sand was such a treat (all the beaches are shingle in East Sussex). Misty loved it too and enjoyed burying her head in it and then rolling around and around in it! We were super lucky with the weather, which really made the trip - beautiful blue skies most days, although it was rather chilly. But give me blue skies and cold any day over grey....

I know this beach gets busy in the summer, but there's so much space, there's room for everyone. It was so lovely to watch these horse riders galloping along...

We started each day with a walk on the beach (what a treat!) as our chalet was only a few minutes walk away. And quite possibly my favourite day of the holiday was spent walking the length of the beach, splashing in the waves and exploring the rock pools and the dunes. I was in photographic heaven and it was so lovely to see Misty tearing around off the lead.

We got really lucky with the tide times as well (another thing worth checking!). At high tide, the beach is completely covered. We returned "home" to the view below one rather windy day and it was so beautiful. Even though I was really tired, I had to capture it on camera. We both stood and stared until our legs gave way. It really was a gift.

Gwithian is also a popular beach for surfing, and the Gwithian Academy of Surfing offers lessons if you fancy learning. 

I have lots more photos on Flickr in my Gwithian & Godrevy album if you haven't seen enough - or click through the embedded album below.

Gwithian & Godrevy, Cornwall

2. Porth Kidney Sands & cliff path walk to St. Ives

We visited Porth Kidney Sands on the day we did our cliff path walk to St. Ives. We parked at Lelant Saltings and walked through some quiet lanes to reach the South West Coast Path, which leads to Porth Kidney Sands (and onwards to St. Ives). It's a beautiful route, with stunning views the whole way, and you can take the train back if you don't fancy walking (it's the most scenic train ride I've ever been on!).

Porth Kidney Sands is another lovely large stretch of sandy beach, the other side of the Hayle estuary. It's just 2 miles away from St. Ives and at low tide, you can walk round to Carbis Bay. You have the same views across to Godrevy lighthouse in one direction and St. Ives in the other, as from Gwithian.

It's dog friendly year round and hence quite popular with dog walkers. It was pretty much deserted when we were there, so we enjoyed complete peace and quiet. There were beautiful patterns in the sand and the most picturesque sand dunes. Most definitely worth a stop off!

The views from the coast path were breathtaking too - I think my camera stayed out the whole time! Part of the walk borders the West Cornwall golf course, and in the other direction you have beach and sand dunes. 

The coast path eventually descends into Carbis Bay. You need to walk through the spa hotel grounds to pick it up again and reach Porthminster beach in St. Ives. Unfortunately, no dogs were allowed on Carbis Bay beach when we were there, so we found a bench with a view and enjoyed our sandwiches overlooking the beautiful white sands before moving on.

You can view more photos in my Porth Kidney Sands album on Flickr,  or click through the embedded album below.

Porth Kidney Sands, Cornwall

3. St. Ives

St. Ives really needs no introduction, but I couldn't not mention it. I love to explore the sandy beaches and the windy back streets, hunting out pretty houses and art galleries. But this time, with Misty in tow, we couldn't venture onto any of the beaches, or visit the Tate or Barabara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Gallery. But never mind, there was still plenty to explore, and there is definitely something very special about the light in St. Ives, even when it's stormy and overcast.

We stopped for coffee a couple of times at the Porthgwidden beach cafe, enjoying the beautiful views - it was unusually quiet!

I can recommend a wander round the coast path on "the island" if you want to get away from the crowds - the views are lovely and there are some well located benches if you just want to sit and take it all in. The path winds round to Porthmeor beach (below right), by the Tate - another favourite (and another good place for coffee).

I think my favourite beach has to be Porthminster (below), with it's beautiful views across to Godrevy lighthouse (it seemed to follow us, wherever we went!). I had to satisfy myself with a quick snap and views from afar this time though, as Misty wasn't allowed here.

We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around lots of art galleries (and the vast majority welcomed well behaved dogs). I think my favourite would have to be the Porthminster Gallery which had some really beautiful pieces and an interest free payment scheme to make it easier to buy original art. We were very tempted!

On the eating front, our usual haunts didn't allow dogs, so we ended up at Pedn Olva and enjoyed some lovely fish and chips (gluten free for me) with beautiful views of the harbour. They welcomed dogs and bought Misty a bowl of water and a biscuit. We'd happily return.

You can see more photos, including some from previous visits, in my St. Ives album on Flickr, or you can click through the embedded album below.

St. Ives

4. Porthcurno

Porthcurno is the most amazing beach with turquoise water and soft white sand. It's hard to believe you're in the UK! The day we visited it was incredibly cold, but it looked tropical. Well worth the slightly hairy drive down some small windy lanes to get there. Food for the soul indeed. It's also the location for the amazing Minack Theatre - we didn't visit this time, but caught a performance some years back which I will never forget (at least I won't forget the beautiful sunset and scenery :).

There are also some beautiful cliff path walks around Porthcurno, where you can see more jewel-like hidden coves. The paths were lined with bluebells and gorse and lots of other wildflowers - there was so much colour everywhere. 

As always, there are more photos to peruse in my Porthcurno album on Flickr, or you can click through the embedded album below.

Porthcurno, Cornwall

5. Sennen Cove

We visited Sennen Cove the same day as Porthcurno, as they aren't far from each other. Sennen is another beautiful sandy beach with soft white sand, beautiful turquoise water and sand dunes (recognising the pattern here?!). It was soooo cold though - I eventually had to admit defeat when my fingers were so numb I could no longer press my shutter! It's another popular spot with surfers, although it was pretty empty when we visited (but that might have something to do with the temperature!).

If by some miracle you haven't seen enough photos yet, head over to my Sennen Cove album on Flickr, or click through the embedded album below.

Sennen Cove, Cornwall

// Where we stayed

As this was my husband's 40th birthday, we pushed the boat out a bit (for us!) and booked a week at Sauveterre Anglais, a self catering 2 bedroom beach house right by the beach at Gwithian Sands with Forever Cornwall (they have a lovely selection of properties in Cornwall). It was amazing! White wooden floors throughout, tasteful decor, modern kitchen, and the most wonderful conservatory and decking with views across the sea to St. Ives. It was the most welcome sight after our ridiculous 10 hour drive to get there (so much so that I even managed to take a few photos before we dumped our bags everywhere)! It's clear from the guest book that people come back time and time again, which speaks volumes. It's the most perfect location, full of light, comfortable, and has the most beautiful views which really expand your space. We'd so love to go back again.


// A few more ideas for places to visit

I'll keep this brief as this has turned into a monster post! Other lovely places you could visit nearby (although quite frankly spending every day on Gwithian beach would be super lovely) are:

I hope that was helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any other ideas for lovely places to visit in the area :)


Hunting for autumn colour in Sussex and Surrey

Since we moved to East Sussex from Oxford two years ago, I have been on the look out for the best places to find autumn colour, and more specifically, Acers. Acer leaves are my favourite thing to photograph in the autumn - there's something so pleasing and special about their shape and the huge range of colours they display as the season moves on. The best collection of Acers I have ever found is at Westonbirt Arboretum. However, this is now quite a trek for us and most certainly not a day trip anymore. So I've been on the lookout for the best Acer collections closer to home....

Winkworth Arboretum

This year, we visited Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey (The National Trust's only arboretum) for the first time and I wasn't disappointed, even though we were probably a couple of weeks away from the peak colour. It was blissfully quiet as we visited on a week day and I'm sure this considerably added to my enjoyment!

Winkworth is a large place, so be prepared for lots of walking, some of it steep. The visitors map suggests three different routes - we opted for the "Challenging walk" with steep steps of approx. 3.6km that took in most of the arboretum. We soon strayed off track, though, as I got distracted by the leaves, so I'm not sure how much of this we completed. There's also an accessible 1km route with no steps, and a shorter "taste of" walk that is 1.6km.

For us, it was definitely a whole day trip (but bear in mind there are frequent stops for photography - I can spend a LONG time with my head and camera stuck in a single beautiful tree!) and I'm very glad we took a packed lunch with us. There is a small cafe, but the lunch options are limited and it's located at the entrance, so it's quite a trek to get back there.

Since adopting our rescue dog, Misty, one of our additional requirements this year was to find places that allowed dogs to visit. Quite a challenge, it seems! A big tick in the box for Winkworth, though, even if the "short lead" rule seemed a little unnecessary.

I think Misty enjoyed the trip, but got rather impatient with our frequent photography stops! With such a beautiful backdrop, I just had to attempt some portraits. I had grand visions of some beautiful shallow depth of field shots of Misty, with leaves gently falling around her. Reality, however, didn't quite match-up.... Photographing pets is clearly an art form and I have a lot to learn. We had fun, though!

I also got a little obsessed with photographing the seed pods. I love the bright pop of red that really catches the light. Such a brilliant distribution system!

All in all, a thoroughly lovely visit - I look forward to returning next year!

Sheffield Park and Garden

I think the best place for autumn colour and Acers close to home, has to be the National Trust's Sheffield Park and Garden in East Sussex. It really comes alive in the autumn. But with it, of course, come large visitor numbers. If you can, I would try and get there for opening time on a week day. Unfortunately we were restricted to visiting after 1.30pm as this is the only time you are allowed to take dogs in the garden. We visited a couple of times this year, once on a Friday (busy, but still pleasant) and once on a Sunday (jam-packed, noisy and very hard to get much photography in without other people in your shot!).  Still worth it, though, as it's a stunning place with a beautiful Acer collection and one I will most definitely return to next year.

My lens of choice for autumn photography is my 100mm macro lens as it allows me to get nice and close with a decent background blur (and also a good way of avoiding other people in your shots!). All the photos in this post were taken on my macro lens.  One thing I love to do is to try and line up a contrasting colour as the background for my leaf shots - for me, the background is what makes or breaks the shot.

If you'd like to read more about autumn photography you might like my Photo tips: capturing autumn/fall colour post.

One of the great things about Sheffield Park is that there is a lot of concentrated autumn colour in a relatively small space, so you don't have to walk far to take in a lot of beauty. But I guess that's the reason it's so popular and busy....


Other places to visit

Do you have any suggestions for other places to visit for autumn colour not far from East Sussex? I'd love to hear them. Other places I've visited include:

  • Nymans - a beautiful place, but best in the spring and summer I think - there was a little autumn colour, but nothing substantial. Plus, no dogs allowed in the garden.
  • Standen House and Garden - I was very disappointed when I visited here last autumn - hardly anything to see - so I haven't returned since.
  • Wakehurst Place - I love it here and there are quite a few Acers as I recall, but sadly no dogs are allowed, so we haven't visited recently.

Beach huts and sand dunes at Littlehampton, West Sussex

We had a wonderful staycation back in September, exploring a bit more of our local area in East and West Sussex. Since moving to Seaford two years ago, there's definitely been less need to go away on long trips as there is so much loveliness a short drive away (coast and country). In fact, this was one of the main reasons we decided to move.

Sandy beaches are a rarity in these parts, however, so when I found out there was a sandy beach and some sand dunes at Littlehampton, I had to visit, especially as I remembered there being rather a lovely lot of beach huts nearby too....

Littlehampton has two beaches, either side of the River Arun, East Beach and West Beach.

West Beach, Littlehampton

West Beach is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with a local nature reserve, sand dunes and a sandy beach (with a fair amount of shingle too). We had a lovely time there, splashing in the sea and relaxing on the beach, followed by a wander through the sand dunes. Our little dog Misty absolutely LOVED the chance to roll around in the soft sand!

NB. there aren't many facilities here as you might expect from an SSSI - but there is a small cafe and some toilets (there are lots more across the other side of the river at East Beach).

We were lucky to have some lovely weather, so just enjoyed pottering along slowly soaking up the sunshine and blue skies and eating our picnic on the beach. And did I mention paddling in the sea? Such a treat for us to have some soft sand to walk on, as all our local beaches are shingle.

East Beach, Littlehampton

East Beach is the busier one, with lots of things to do. There is a very nice Cafe right on the beach (it's shingle here, rather than sand), plenty of parking, a family amusement park, kitesurfing.....and lots of beach huts.

The beach huts are managed by the local Council and are colour-coded in uniform rows of green, yellow and blue. I love to wander down the beach away from the crowds to find the older huts, which are much more characterful, with peeling paint. I was particularly lucky to have the most perfect blue skies with little fluffy clouds whilst I was there, so I got a little trigger happy - I hope you'll forgive me....

I think the sky blue ones might just be my favourites :)

Rustington

And on the off-chance that you haven't seen enough beach huts, if you wander eastwards along the beach until you reach Rustington, you will be rewarded with some very lovely numbers. In fact, I think these might be my favourites (apart from West Wittering, of course). But be warned, parking by the beach is pretty much non-existent here, so you are probably best to park in Littlehampton and walk.

The huts here are full of variety, but I do think their owners must collaborate as there are lovely rows of pastel ones and colourful ones, and then the blue ones...

Despite the strong light and harsh shadows, they made such a lovely backdrop, so we had to get some portraits with little Misty.

It was very hard to drag me and my camera away...

So there you have it, a little wander around the sandy beaches and beach huts of Littlehampton and Rustington - they make a lovely day trip. And if you're in the area, West Wittering, a little further west, is a beautiful sandy beach well worth a visit (and also full of pretty beach huts!). And then there's the historic town of Arundel with it's beautiful castle and gardens, Chichester, and one of my favourites, West Dean Gardens. I'm looking forward to some return visits already!

Now just in case you're a fellow beach-hut lover, I must mention my 2017 Beach Huts Printable Calendar, which features some of these beauties from West Sussex :) You can find it in my Etsy Shop.

Oh and you might like to follow along with my new Pinterest board, Beach Hut love. I shall be filling it with as many pastel and colourful pretty beach huts as I can find.

West Dean Gardens revisited

I was very fortunate to visit the beautiful West Dean Gardens near Chichester, West Sussex, for the second time last month (you can read about my first visit in West Dean Gardens through my macro lens). They are an independent charity (NOT National Trust) and the site is also home to West Dean College, which offers courses in creative arts and conservation, including lots of interesting gardening ones.

Dogs on short leads are welcome, which is fantastic, as it meant our recently adopted dog, Misty, could come with us. There is a lovely cafe/restaurant and some very picturesque seating areas if you want to bring your own picnic. We spent the whole day here and still didn't manage to see everything!

The gardens are huge - there are 100 acres of garden and parkland in total, including a 50 acre arboretum. My absolute favourite part is the walled cutting garden and the 13 Victorian glasshouses. I visited with my family and am very lucky that we are all (mostly) keen photographers, so stopping every minute or so to marvel and snap away was no problem. I even got to do one circuit with my macro lens, and then a second with my 50mm f1.4 lens and my sister :)

So let's start with the cutting garden shall we? An absolute riot of colour and full of bees and butterflies. Hard to pick favourites, but I fell in love with cold frame (above) full of succulents and a marvellous Geranium collection outside. And the Larkspur and Cosmos and Cornflowers and Nigella and Dahlias and.....

Beautiful isn't it? Shall we move on to the glasshouses now.... First up, is one entirely devoted to Geraniums and Fuchsias in every shade of pink and red you can imagine. Just divine!

And just next door is the potting shed, full of old tools and books and the prettiest cut flowers from the garden.

And next up another huge favourite of mine - the fern glasshouse. An absolute dream! I would have loved to have spent some time in here with my sketchbook. The details on the leaves are just incredible...

There are several tropical collections as well. I think this guy was from one of those...

The fruit and veg glasshouses are inspirational too. And now on my wish list ;) There were an abundance of chillies in every colour, size and shape imaginable as we visited shortly before the chilli fiesta started.

I hope you're not bored yet? Apologies for the picture heavy post, but there's so much to see!

I also loved the kitchen gardens, right next to the cutting garden and bursting full of healthy, colourful looking veggies and, of course, lots of flowers. The Californian Poppies are just so cheerful.

And I must just mention the incredible pergola, designed by Harold Peto in 1911 and restored after the 1987 storm. It's 300 foot long and wrapped in the most beautiful climbing plants. The Roses and Clematis were blooming when we visited and provided a lovely pop of colour. I can't imagine how much work must have gone into this and all the careful training and pruning. I'm in awe!

So that's it for now - well done if you made it to the end! I really hope I get to return soon - there's still so much we haven't seen.

For more information or to plan your visit, see the West Dean Gardens website.

If you'd like to see more photos, head over to my West Dean Gardens Flickr Album - or you can click through the embedded album below.

West Dean Gardens, Chichester

10 beautiful places to visit from Watergate Bay in Cornwall

I've been a regular visitor to Watergate Bay for the last 6 years. There's a a very good reason for this - it's a stunning place with accommodation right on the beach and it's perfectly located for visiting lots of other lovely places in Cornwall. This post has been a long time coming, as I keep getting asked for recommendations for places to go, but it's taken me a while to sort through the 1,000 or so photos I took on our last trip in April.... 

It's a long one, so why not make a cup of tea and get comfy first?

  1. Watergate Bay itself
  2. Cliff path walk to Mawgan Porth and Bedruthan Steps
  3. Holywell Beach
  4. St. Ives
  5. Godrevy & Gwithian Sands
  6. Sandymouth Beach, near Bude
  7. Chapel Porth & the tin mines near St. Agnes
  8. Cliff path walk to Newquay
  9. Fistral beach in Newquay
  10. Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan

Read on for lots more information and lots of beautiful photos....


1. Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay is a beautiful sandy beach not far from Newquay, popular with surfers and dog owners (dogs are welcome year round). I love to amble along, paddling in the waves, taking in the sights and sounds around me. Nothing quite like the sun on your face with a vast blue sky and glistening waves to lift the spirits. I think my favourite things have to be watching the surfers as the sun goes down (preferably with camera in hand!) and watching happy dogs running around after balls and frisbees. Although we have visited many, many times, I never tire of the beautiful view and love how different it looks depending on the tide and weather and time of day... And I'm really looking forward to heading back there with our very own (recently adopted) dog, Misty :)

If you fancy having a go at surfing yourself, the Extreme Academy offer lessons and hire out surfboards and wetsuits. Or if lounging and pampering is more your thing, the Watergate Bay Hotel offers spa days which includes use of their heated pool overlooking the beach. And there is of course the famous Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant right on the beach if you enjoy fine dining.

We usually stay in Watergate Bay in self-catering accommodation with Beach Retreats (see their Blog for lots of useful info and ideas for things to do). It's a brilliantly central place to base yourself for visiting lots of other lovely places (see the rest of this post!) and I think there is nothing lovelier than actually staying right by a beach so you can pop down whenever you want - especially good when the weather is really changeable. We'll often go back to our apartment to crash out for a while then grab our cameras and leg it down to the beach when the sun comes out. The Waves apartments are very reasonably priced - we stayed for a week in April for less than £400 (although we always stay out of season to keep costs down), but there are lots of other options too. There are also lots of eating options if you don't want to cook or drive anywhere. My favourite is the Beach Hut, with views right over the beach. But there is also the Living Space at the Hotel and the Phoenix pub

The photo below shows the Fifteen restaurant with the Beach Hut underneath it (foreground) with the Hotel behind and the eco village behind that. To the right is the Waves apartment block.

By the way, this is not a sponsored post - I'm just sharing the things I love and have found useful.

I have so many photos of Watergate Bay (this is a tiny sample!), so if you'd like to see more, head over to my Watergate Bay Album on Flickr - or click through the embedded album below.

Watergate Bay

2. Cliff path walk to Mawgan Porth and Bedruthan Steps

Apart from running down to the beach as soon as we arrive, the first thing on the list to do is always a cliff path walk. I just love getting away from it all. The cliff paths are always so peaceful and the views are amazing. And there's something so lovely about leaving the car behind and exploring on foot.

The walk to Mawgan Porth (and onwards to the Bedruthan Steps if you have the energy) is my very favourite. One time, we walked all the way from Mawgan Porth to Harlyn which was amazing and took in so many beautiful places, but it was absolutely knackering! I still remember taking off my walking boots and dipping my walk weary feet in the sea at the end, to this day :)

I think it's worth choosing a sunny day for this walk as it just transforms the landscape into a technicolour dream. You'll pass green rolling hills and fields full of sheep as well as hidden coves with sheer cliffs and nesting birds, inaccessible by foot.

The view of Mawgan Porth from the cliff path is something very special indeed. You'll find toilet facilities as well as several eating places there (the local shop has a really nice deli and good coffee). But our favourite thing to do is picnic on the beach. You could easily spend a day here. If you fancy staying, there are a couple of hotels: The Scarlet Hotel and The Bedruthan Hotel and Spa - both also have restaurants.

If you want to carry on, cross the beach to join the cliff path heading towards the Bedruthan Steps, a stunning piece of coastline in the care of the National Trust, with huge rock stacks. There is also a National Trust Cafe here if you fancy some tea and cake. 

The cliff path walk is very straightforward, but if you'd like to read/see more, take a look at the South West Coast Path website:


3. Holywell Beach

Holywell beach, near Newquay, is a new discovery for us this year and an absolute hidden gem. We'd tried to visit on numerous occasions in the past, but for some reason it was always pouring with rain when we arrived, so we never got further than the local pub. But I'm so glad we persevered! 

Holywell is a stunning, vast beach, with huge sand dunes (one of my all time favourite things). There is also a shipwreck and caves housing a natural holy well (hence the name). It is under the care of the National Trust and you can pick up a brilliant booklet from their hut in the car park with some lovely walks. 

We had the best morning pottering along the beach and dunes in the sunshine with our cameras, marvelling at the huge amounts of pretty shells. The tide was low, so we got to see the holy well and the caves. And we met lots of friendly dog walkers who shared some tips with us. We followed the cliff path over to Porth Joke (above), which looked stunning. I'd have loved to have gone further, but our tummies were rumbling as we hadn't bought any lunch with us. Never mind, this is top of the hit list for a day long visit on our next trip! Hopefully we'll also make it over to nearby Crantock beach - there's never enough time for it all, is there?!

Below you will find some shell art I created with some of my beach "treasures". A lovely reminder of a super lovely day.

You can find more photos in my Holywell Beach Album on Flickr or by clicking through the embedded album below.

Holywell beach, Cornwall

4. St. Ives

Everyone knows about St. Ives, but I just had to include it here as it's such a special place. And very accessible from Watergate Bay - about an hour's drive. So well worth a day trip - but definitely best to visit out of season if you can as it gets VERY busy. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny (but quite cold!) day - anyone would think we were in the mediterranean from the photos. It's very easy to see why it's such a draw for artists. Some of my favourite things to do are:

  1. Potter round the beaches, ideally stopping to sit in the sunshine and have a paddle. My favourites are Porthminster beach and Porthmeor beach.
  2. Wander round the tiny streets, marvelling at the pretty houses and popping in and out of art galleries and independent shops (and then losing your way and ending up at yet another beach ;).
  3. Sitting in one of the many cafes, watching the world go by. I love Porthmeor cafe right on the beach (of course!).
  4. Eating! So many wonderful restaurants here. Favourites include Porthminster Beach Cafe (amazing views over the pristine beach), the Seafood Cafe for fish and chips on the main street, and Blas burgerworks if you fancy something other than seafood.
  5. Visit the Tate (currently closed until spring 2017) and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Gallery.
  6. Walk to Carbis Bay (and onwards to Porth Kidney Sands if you have time). You can always catch the train back - it's a really scenic route. See the South West Coast Path website for more walk ideas, including this one from Carbis Bay train station to Porth Kidney Sands, returning via train from Lelant.

For more photos, have a browse through my St. Ives Album on Flickr or click through the embedded album below.

St. Ives

5. Godrevy and GWITHIAN Sands

Godrevy is the iconic lighthouse made famous by Virginia Woolf in her novel To The Lighthouse. There are great views of it from Porthminster Beach in St. Ives. There is a lovely beach at Godrevy with some beautiful sand dunes (Gwithian Sands) above it. The land is in the care of the National Trust and there are some beautiful coastal walks here and plenty of wildlife to see. When we visited in April, we were lucky enough to see seals. I can also highly recommend the Godrevy Beach Cafe for coffee, cake, cream teas and lunch.


6. Sandymouth beach, near Bude

Sandymouth beach is at the Northern edge of Cornwall, close to the Devon border. It's about a 1 hour 15 minute drive from Watergate Bay, but I really think it's worth the trek. It's a huge sandy beach, with the most amazing pebbles (I have a bit of a thing for smooth round pebbles!), fascinating rocks, cliffs and caves. It's popular with surfers (there is seasonal lifeguard cover) and dog walkers (you can walk dogs year round). You have to clamber over lots of rather large pebbles to reach the sandy beach, so this is only one for the sure of foot. It's also really worth checking the tide times, as the tides vary enormously here and at high tide there is no beach to walk on.

I love to simply walk along the beach, enjoying the space. It often feels like one giant mirror, with a small film of water on the sand reflecting the sky, making it feel even bigger. And of course, there must be time to sit on the sand and play with the pebbles :)

There are some beautiful cliff path walks too. We really enjoyed the very scenic route to Northcott Mouth.

There is a National Trust cafe, toilets and car park near the beach, but otherwise no facilities. And pretty much no phone signal - so make your arrangements in advance if you're meeting people!


7. Chapel Porth Beach and the Tin Mines (Wheal Coates) near St. Agnes

Chapel Porth is another beautiful sandy beach, in the care of the National Trust (who also run the car park and small cafe here). The tides are rather extreme here too, so definitely check tide times before you visit. We timed it badly for several years, always arriving at high tide, and never got to see the huge sandy beach. It's another beach popular with dog walkers (although dogs are banned from Easter day until the end of September) and surfers.

One of my favourite things to do here is to head up on to the cliff path and walk to the tin mines (wheal coates) - the views are incredible. See the South West Coast Path website for information about walks in the area.


8. Cliff path walk From WATERGATE Bay to Newquay

The stretch of coastline between Watergate Bay and Newquay is very picturesque and the cliff path walk passes through lots of beautiful beaches, including Whipsiddery, Porth and Lusty Glaze (which now hosts events and weddings and has a restaurant). It's another get away from it all day, even more so if you take a packed lunch and don't venture into Newquay itself, which is very busy.

The walk is about 3.5 miles one way and you can return on the bus if you don't feel like walking back. For route details and more information, see iwalkcornwall.co.uk.


9. Fistral Beach, Newquay

Fistral is my favourite of all the Newquay beaches and is renowned as being one of the best surfing beaches in the UK. You'll find a surf school and equipment hire, as well as lots of restaurants and shops. It hosts events and competitions and is pretty much always busy.


10. Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan

The Japanese Garden is really near Watergate Bay and well worth a visit. It's always quiet and peaceful and a lovely place to come and reflect. You'll find lots of Acers and water features and serenity. It is also a bonsai nursery, with a great selection of bonsais and succulents for sale, with very knowledgeable staff who can advise you about how to care for them.  

For more photos, take a look at my Japanese Garden Album on Flickr, or click through the embedded album below.

Japanese Garden in St. Mawgan, Cornwall

And a few other ideas.....

...because 10 places is never enough!

  • If you have a wet weather day, head to Hawksfield off the A39 (a 20 min drive north). There's a fabulous Cafe there (I can vouch for the breakfasts!), plus some lovely interior shops and a deli. You could then move on to Padstow.
  • Padstow for foodie heaven and a spot of shopping - about a 25 min drive north.
  • Perranporth for a long sandy beach and more sand dunes (in case you haven't seen enough!); also dog friendly year round - about a 25 min drive south.
  • Marazion for the iconic St. Michael's Mount - about a 1 hour drive south (also worth a visit to Prussia Cove and Praa Sands whilst you're there)
  • Porthcurno beach and the Minack Theatre - this is a 1 hour 20 min drive south down some very hairy, narrow, windy lanes - but it's the most stunning beach with white sand and turquoise water. And watching the sun go down whilst watching a performance at the Minack Theatre is an experience you will never forget! But perhaps best visited if you are staying further South near Penzance.
  • The Eden Project (about a 40 min drive) and The Lost Gardens of Heligan (also about a 40 min drive). They are very close to each other, so you could combine both into a day trip.
Perranporth viewed from the cliff path

Perranporth viewed from the cliff path

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael's Mount

Prussia Cove

Prussia Cove

Praa Sands

Praa Sands

Porthcurno

Porthcurno

Well, I hope that's been helpful. I'd love to know what your favourite places to visit in Cornwall are, especially any hidden gems - do let me know in the comments below :)

Monk's House: the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Monk's House, the home (and garden) of Virginia and Leonard Woolf is located in the small and very picturesque village of Rodmell in East Sussex. I feel extremely fortunate to have this gem of a place not far from where I live - and I have no idea why it took me so long to visit. Virginia Woolf was the subject of my final year dissertation at University (a couple of decades ago!) so it felt extremely special and slightly unreal to be able to literally tread in her footsteps and imagine her living there.

I was equally enchanted by the garden as well as the 17th century cottage. It was clear that this was a very important space for the Woolfs and a source of inspiration for Virginia's writing. We visited at the beginning of May and I plan to return many times to see it bloom throughout the seasons.

I loved the colour scheme running through the garden - the pinks, purples and whites of the elegant tulips worked so beautifully with the Magnolia, which we were lucky to catch in bloom.

It was fascinating to visit the writing lodge in the garden and look out over the views of the South Downs that Virginia would have stared at, whilst she wrote. The garden is such a tranquil space in a perfect location - very easy to see why the Woolfs fell so much in love with it. It was grey and wet when we visited, but still so very beautiful.

The house is full of books and artwork and many other collections owned by the Woolfs. It has a very relaxed and lived in feel. It was a pleasure to chat to the very knowledgeable staff, who had many interesting tales to tell. You are also allowed to take photographs, which was very welcome indeed. I'll only share a few snippets, as I don't want to spoil it all for you.

I loved seeing vases full of fresh flowers from the garden all around the house.

I really enjoyed tiptoeing around Virginia's bedroom, the lightest room of the house, with the most amazing views of the garden.

Talking of the garden, let's return for a little more spring colour - very welcome on this grey summer's day in the UK!

And just to prove it wasn't all about the pinks, purples and whites, here is a little more vibrant colour. I just adore the shape of these tulips - so elegant. I used a combination of my 100mm f2.8 macro lens and my 50mm f1.4 lens to capture these photos.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit when in Sussex, I highly recommend it. It's just a short drive from Lewes, another wonderful place to explore. There are lots of events at Monk's House too, including some photography workshops - I hope I get the chance to attend some of these.

I'll leave you with a few shots from the pretty village of Rodmell - so many beautiful cottages - well worth a wander whilst you are there.

Pashley Manor Gardens Tulip Festival

I know summer is blooming all around us, but I would love to take you back to springtime for just a little while.... If you're a fan of tulips, then you would love the Tulip Festival at Pashley Manor Gardens - imagine 30,000 tulips (with over 100 different varieties) set in a beautiful garden on the border of East Sussex and Kent.

The festival ran from 22 April - 07 May this year (2016) and cost £10.50. This time I visited on a weekend and it was very busy, which made photography a little more challenging, as it was almost impossible to get a shot without someone in it! If you can, I would strongly recommend visiting on a week day - we visited the day before it opened last year as part of a staycation, and it was much more relaxed. But still 100% worth a visit, busyness and all.

The tulips are planted/arranged by colour and the complementary planting was just as beautiful. I'm a big fan of pink (no surprises there!), so let's start with those.

The tulips are all really clearly labelled, which is brilliant if you are looking for some inspiration for which tulips to plant in your garden - just remember to bring a notebook - or photograph the labels, as there are far too many to remember. You can even order the bulbs at the festival, whilst admiring a beautiful cut flower display (wish I'd left enough time to photograph this!).

If I had to pick a favourite, I think it would have to be Tulipa Angelique, which reminded me of peonies, but the tall slender West Point tulips (further below, in yellow) came a very close second.

Whilst the tulips were mostly planted in colour blocks, I loved the subtle combinations and two tone varieties, especially these ones.

I had the pleasure of visiting with my sister this year, another avid photographer, so we happily pottered around at snail's pace. We managed at least two circuits of most of the garden - one with my 100mm macro lens (my floral photography lens of choice) and the other with my 50mm f1.4 lens, to capture a few wider shots. Happily there are plenty of places to sit and rest your weary legs along the way - all very pretty too, so the perfect place for a few portraits. And I must just mention the cake! Food and drink are served on the verandah by the manor house and I was very impressed to see a selection of gluten free cakes.

Another beautiful place to sit is by the pool. You could be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in the mediterranean (except perhaps for the temperatures!). Throughout the garden you will find lots of perfectly placed sculptures, all leading the eye to lovely viewpoints or planting. I think my favourites were the ones by the pool.

I loved this sculpture too - looking out to a beautiful Magnolia on one side, with the most amazing Wisteria behind it. I would love to have returned a bit later to see it in bloom - it looked like it had been trained in beautiful loops all up the wall of the house.

Although we were there to see the tulips, one of my favourite places was the glass house (of my dreams!). I'm currently rather obsessed with Geraniums and succulents, so this was heaven for me :)

And finally, we should return to the tulips! Let's finish with a little more colour for good measure.

A familiar sight, amongst the tulips - you'll spend much of your time avoiding all the other photographers and visitors, so using a shallow depth of field can be very helpful to blur out distractions. This is my sister, though, so this one was intentional (and I'll forgive her for getting in the way!).

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would love to return next year. There are also several other events throughout the summer - the special rose week is on this week - so hopefully I'll manage to return. You can read about my visit last year or see more photos on Flickr below if you fancy.

Pashley Manor Gardens

Do you have a favourite spot to visit for tulips or spring flowers? I'd love to hear - I'm always on the look out for lovely new places to visit.

Arlington Bluebell Walk

Well, hello there folks. My apologies for a rather unplanned blogging break - the result of lots of DIY and garden projects whilst trying to balance things with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I'm learning to be kinder to myself and to go gently when I need to, and to ask less of myself when things are challenging - so I hope you understand. I've got lots of photos and places to share with you, so hopefully I'll be back in my stride (in a gentle way) soon.

First up, is the very beautiful Arlington Bluebell Walk. If you live anywhere near East Sussex, I highly recommend a visit during late April/early May. They have a website www.bluebellwalk.co.uk with helpful updates on the current state of the bluebells, so you can plan your visit when they are at their peak. There is an entrance charge (£5 in 2016) which is donated to several charities each year. I was a little sceptical at first about paying to see a bluebell wood, when there are many places you can visit for free, but this place is very special indeed and well worth every penny - I have never seen a carpet of bluebells quite like it. Magical is the only word for it.

It's a huge site, with wide paths accessible to wheelchairs around the parts where the bluebell planting is at its densest. There are lots of other walks on narrower tracks around the surrounding farmland as well, if you fancy going further afield. You will also find refreshments, toilet facilities and some farm animals to meet before you enter the woods.

There are lots of places to sit and admire the views and listen to the beautiful birdsong as you wander along. But if you're anything like me, you might get a bit twitchy with a camera in your hand and so many beautiful photographs waiting to be taken. Literally every few steps is a new picture and a new delight.

This year was my second visit and I enjoyed pottering around with my 85mm f1.8 lens on my camera. I love to shoot wide open for maximum background blur to try and capture a little something of that bluebell magic. Bluebells can be a really tough subject to photograph as it can be tricky to get the colour balance right, and if you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day, you will find the conditions very contrasty. My style is light and bright so many of my shots are intentionally overexposed and shadows brightened just enough to try and represent that magical light and experience.

Before the bluebells emerge, the woodlands are carpeted in white wood anemones - a beautiful sight in their own right - but the combination is really delightful.

The woodlands are full of interesting tree stumps, piles of logs and bendy branches to add interest and focal points for your photos - and they can provide a perfect setting for some portraiture photos.

One of my favourite things to do is to try and capture the sweeps of light through the trees, creating beautiful sparkling highlights and interesting shadows. I was lucky enough to visit on a gorgeous sunny day, so there was plenty of magical light.

Have you visited before? What are your favourite bluebell haunts? I'd love to hear.

More photos can be found on Flickr below, if you'd like to see more :)

Bluebell magic

10 Beautiful places to visit in East Sussex

We moved down to East Sussex over a year ago now and have been busy exploring our new part of the world. I absolutely adore it here. There's still so much to discover, but I wanted to share the current favourites, as I get asked quite often about the best places to visit. You will notice a strong bias towards the coast  - it has been our dream for many, many years to live by the sea….

  1. Cuckmere Haven
  2. Seaford Head
  3. Birling Gap
  4. Seaford Beach
  5. Camber Sands
  6. Alfriston (and the walk to it from High & Over)
  7. Bexhill
  8. Lewes
  9. Eastbourne seafront
  10. Merriments Garden

You will notice that Brighton's not on the list. I love Brighton, but I figured everyone knows about it already and there are tons of guides already written, so I thought I'd focus on some of the other places.....


1. Cuckmere Haven

This just had to be no.1 - it was the place that sealed the deal for us moving out here - we fell head over heels the first time we visited.

Cuckmere Haven is an area of flood plains where the river Cuckmere meets the English Channel. It has a lovely shingle beach with magnificent views of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. The beach is split in two where the river meets the sea and you can access it from either side. The most popular way is to follow the path alongside the river from the Seven Sisters Country Park - it is very accessible and very popular with tourists. My favourite side is the other side - smaller and quieter. You can drive and park at South Hill Barn on the outskirts of Seaford and walk 10 minutes or so down to the beach. The 360 degree views along the way are so beautiful.

On the left you have the lush green South Downs, with the river Cuckmere snaking its way down to the sea, and on the right you have sheer cliffs and the sea. It feels wild and peaceful. If you are feeling energetic, you could walk from Seaford along the cliff path and enjoy beautiful views all the way. In fact, if you have a lot of energy you can walk from Seaford all the way to Eastbourne.


2. Seaford Head

The cliff path that leads to Cuckmere Haven starts at Seaford, at the eastern end of the beach. In just a few minutes you can climb high up on the cliffs to wonderful views of the Seven Sisters. I love coming out here to get away from it all. It’s the perfect place to come and clear your head. It’s also a nature reserve - I’ve seen lots of butterflies here in the summer and it's popular with bird watchers.  It's also a beautiful area to kayak around (especially when the sea's all sparkly) - the perfect way to access hidden coves.


3. Birling Gap

The Birling Gap is a stunning shingle beach in the middle of the Seven Sisters, in the care of the National Trust. It is accessed via a metal viewing platform and steps. It’s the kind of place to make you feel humble and in awe at the power of nature and the sea. Coastal erosion is a big issue here - as much as 0.7 metres are eroded every year with frequent cliff falls. The NT visitor centre shows photos of the area in years past, and you can see the row of cottages perched on the edge of the cliff diminishing in number.

There is so much to look at and enjoy here - when the tide is low, vast swathes of white chalk rock are exposed. As well as walking on the beach, dodging the waves and marvelling at the tall cliffs above, I love to walk on the cliff paths.

In one direction you can walk to Cuckmere Haven, and in the other, to Beachy Head and on to Eastbourne. The walking is pretty strenuous, though, with massive undulations as you climb and descend the brows of the Seven Sisters. For more information on walking in this area have a look at the Walking Club website and the Beachy Head website.

It makes a lovely spot for a picnic and there is also a National Trust cafe here which serves food.

If you do come out here to visit, may I plead with you to stay away from the edge of the cliffs - the drops are sheer and the cliffs are very crumbly….I see so many visitors posing for photos perilously close to the edge - it just isn’t worth it.


4. Seaford Beach

Well, I just had to mention Seaford beach! This is my local and I love it here. At the eastern end are a cluster of pretty pastel beach huts - if you follow me on Instagram I’m pretty sure you will have seen lots of photos of them! The area is wonderfully undeveloped (just a couple of coffee places) and parking is free - a rarity in today’s age. There is a concrete path that runs the entire length of the beach all the way to Tide Mills, the New Haven end of the beach and another nature reserve. It’s always popular with dog walkers and usually a few fishermen and sometimes kayakers and paddle boarders. It gets very busy in the summer at the weekends, but I guess that’s true of every beach! Nevertheless, we enjoyed some deckchair lazing at the height of summer :)


5. Camber Sands

Camber Sands is a vast sandy beach at the easternmost end of East Sussex, near Rye (another lovely place on our "to visit" list) and is the only sand dune system in the county. So it’s the place to come if you need a sandy beach fix and a change from all the shingle (another lovely alternative sandy beach is West Wittering in West Sussex - a firm favourite of ours). It’s a huge open space and reminds me of Saunton Sands beach in Devon.


6. Alfriston

Alfriston is a lovely, small historical village in the middle of the South Downs. It’s a popular stop off for walkers and cyclists and is full of tea shops. It has a beautiful bookshop called Much Ado (closed until 4th Feb) with a lovingly curated selection of books, including lots of crafty numbers. It also stocks Flow Magazine, a personal favourite of mine. There is a beautiful walk you can do from High and Over (a viewpoint looking over the Cuckmere Valley, with a car park) via Litlington, and along the river, which is just lovely.


7. Bexhill

Bexhill is a seaside town in-between Eastbourne and Hastings. It has some beautiful art deco architecture and is home to the De La Warr Pavillion, an art gallery with a theatre and a cafe. It’s a nice place to come for a stroll along the seafront, a leisurely coffee and cake overlooking the sea, and a wander around the exhibitions.


8. Lewes

Lewes is a wonderful town to visit, with a good range of independent shops and lots of antique shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s also lovely to wander around the steep cobbled lanes (the Twittens) off the High Street and peer at all the interesting houses. There is a castle if that is your thing and there are also the lovely public (free) Southover Grange Gardens, a little off the beaten track.

A few favourite shops include: Closet & Botts, Popsicle  (located in the Needlemakers), Wickle, Flint and the Flint Owl Bakery - but there are lots more!


9. Eastbourne seafront

Eastbourne’s seafront is a lovely place to stroll along with its famous victorian pier. I’m particularly fond of the Holywell end, which is much quieter and usually very popular with dog walkers. You can also pick up the cliff path at Eastbourne and walk towards Beachy Head and onwards to the Birling Gap. For more info on walks have a look at the National Trails website, the Beachy Head website, or the Walking Club website for the entire route.


10. Merriments Garden

I had to squeeze one garden into the list! Merriments is located near Hawkhurst, not far from the Kent border. It’s a lovely garden, packed full of flowers with lots of curves and different viewpoints. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting it throughout the seasons. The cherry blossom near the Monet bridge was rather spectacular in spring, shedding clouds of white petals into the Tulips beneath.


If you'd like to see more photos, you might like to have a browse of my East Sussex albums on Flickr:

Or you might like to follow along with my East Sussex board on Pinterest:


So that’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll be back with more recommendations once we’ve done some more exploring (including some for nearby West Sussex and Kent). I’d love to hear what your favourite places to visit in East Sussex are….