Cortona

I have wanted to visit Cortona for as long as I can remember, even before “Under the Tuscan Sun” made it popular. An ancient Etruscan city, dating back to 600BC it was every bit as magical as I expected. Only a 10 minute drive from Il Castagno, we parked outside the city walls and strolled through the beautiful narrow streets

1-cortona

lined with every shop imaginable.

Michael even bought a pair of shoes!

12-shoe-shop

Somewhere along the way, we caught a glimpse of the cloister of Santo Agostino convent.

13-cloister-of-santo-agostino-convent

Our wandering led to Piazza Garibaldi with an obelisk dedicated to Guiseppe Garibaldi and a commemorative monument to Leonardo di Vinci.

We were lured to lunch at Ristorante Tonino by the breathtaking view.

16-val-di-chiana

Unfortunately, the menu catered for tourists rather than those wishing to experience a traditional Tuscan meal.

After lunch, we walked through the Parterre Gardens, past the Monument to the Dead of World War I,

19-monument-to-the-dead-of-world-war-i

a beautiful fountain,

and what appeared to be an amphitheatre.

22-amphitheatre-parterre-gardens

There is a marble sculpture, the Dove of Peace, by John D Kehoe who, in 1970, founded an international art study program in Cortona.

23-dove-of-peace

Just past the magnificent San Domenico Campanile

we found ourselves on a tranquil tree-lined path.

26-parterre-gardens

We attempted to find Bramasole, the villa renovated by Frances Mayes in “Under the Tuscan Sun”. We either didn’t walk far enough or we took the wrong turn, sadly, we never found it. Instead, we headed for the highest point in Cortona.

27-cortona

It was a very hot spring day and after a heavy lunch and a vino or two, it was a bit of a challenge.

Stopping to catch our breath now and then, the sights were rewarding.

The further we got, the more determined we were to make it

and finally, we reached Fortezza di Girifalco.

37-fortezza-del-girifalco

We took our time exploring the well preserved ruins of the 16th century fortress.

The panorama over the rooftop of the 14th century Convent of Santa Margherita

49-santuario-di-santa-margherita

across the Val di Chiana and Lake Trasimeno was spectacular.

50-val-di-chiana51-lake-trasimeno

There would be some fascinating stories in the old walled cemetery.

52-cimitero-della-misericordia

The Basilica Santa Margherita was built following the death of the patron saint of Cortona in 1297.

53-basilica-di-santa-margherita

The return walk to town was an easy stroll, I couldn’t resist the intriguing doorways once again.

After a short visit to the Chiesa di San Francesco, built in 1245,

61-chiesa-di-san-franceso

we enjoyed well earned gelati before returning to our gorgeous villa to sit with a vino and reflect on our wonderful day.

67-cortona

Hadrian’s Wall

Leaving the beauty of Wales behind, we drove through the Lake District, stopping at Windermere to buy supplies.

1-windermere

The weather was not conducive to sightseeing

2-windermere

so we were soon on our way to Carlisle for a two night stay at New Pallyards Farm. The next day, we set off to discover Hadrian’s Wall. Built from 122AD, it was the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire until early in the 5th century. There were many forts along the 80 miles between the Irish Sea and North Sea

3-hadrians-lookout

and the lookout at Greenhead rewarded with spectacular views across the countryside.

The section of wall at Walltown Crags was impressive

6-hadrians-wallwalltown-crags

as it snaked its way along Whin Sill

7-hadrians-wall-walltown-crags

a spectacular rock formation formed millions of years ago.

8-hadrians-wall-walltown-crags

The view down to the car park and the landscape beyond was stunning.

9-hadrians-wall-walltown-crags

We drove on to Housesteads Fort and climbed the hill

10-housesteads-fort

to the Visitor’s Centre.

11-visitor-centre-housesteads-fort

Originally named Vercovicium, meaning ‘the place of the effective fighters’, Housesteads is the most complete Roman fort in Britain.

12-housesteads-fort

The foundations include a hospital, barracks, granaries

and even flushable toilets.

20-latrines-housesteads-fort

From the ridge, the most preserved part of the wall disappears into the distance

21-hadrians-wall

and the remains of a gate can be seen.

22-hadrians-wall

The panorama across Northumberland National Park was magnificent

23-northumberland-national-park

and the locals seemed very contented.

24-local-inhabitant

We continued our drive to Newcastle,

25-newcastle

eager for a drop of the namesake brown ale. We were so disappointed to learn they don’t serve Newcastle Brown Ale on tap in Newcastle! We chose another brew and enjoyed a delicious lunch overlooking Tynemouth Bay

26-tynemouth-castle-priory

and the majestic 13th century Castle & Priory.

27-tynemouth-castle-priory

Unfortunately, the ruins were closed to visitors for the season so we returned to our cottage in Carlisle for another cosy night.

Conwy

One of the most memorable B&Bs on our travels in Britain was Whinward House in Conwy, on the north coast of Wales. The 1890s Coaching Inn had been renovated beautifully and hosts, Chris & Janis made us very welcome. After a good night sleep

1-whinward-house

and a hearty home cooked breakfast,

2-whinward-house

we strolled along the river walk

3-conwy4-conwy5-conwy6-conwy7-conwy

to the walled market town of Conwy.

8-conwy

The smallest house in Great Britain, 3.05m x 1.8m, was occupied from the 16th century to 1900. The last tenant was a 6’3” fisherman and he was eventually forced to move out when the council declared the house unfit for human habitation.

9-smallest-house

The living area on the ground floor had room for coal and an open fire

10-smallest-house

while the cosy bedroom was upstairs.

11-smallest-house

We explored Aberconwy House, a 14th century merchant’s house and the oldest recorded dwelling in Wales.

12-aberconwy-house

No visit to Conwy would be complete without experiencing the castle.

The castle and town walls were built between 1283 and 1289.

15-conwy-castle

Glimpses of the River Conwy could be seen through the windows

and the interior of the castle has been remarkably preserved.

18-conwy-castle

Someone had a very comfortable home.

21-pigeon

The perspective of the castle changed as we climbed higher

and the views of the river and countryside were beautiful.

25-conwy-castle26-view

The suspension bridge was completed in 1826 to replace the ferry across the River Conwy and is now only open to pedestrians.

27-suspension-bridge

We bade farewell to Conwy Castle

28-conwy-castle

and returned along the river walk. The tide had risen, the name of this boat seemed very appropriate.

29-conwy

We wandered to the marina

30-conwy

and enjoyed a wonderful meal at The Mulberry

31-the-mulberry

before another comfortable night at Whinward House.

Caernarfon Castle

Continuing northward through Wales, we stopped to admire the majesty of Caernarfon Castle. The original Norman castle on this site was replaced in 1283 when King Edward I began building his stone structure.

1-looking-to-upper-ward-chamberlain-tower-right

The walls were built to suit the lie of the land which resulted in the internal grounds being shaped like a figure eight. The towers within the walls were not the usual round ones of other Edwardian castles but polygonal, each with a different number of sides.

2-tower

All were accommodation towers, the grandest being the ten-sided Eagle Tower. It has three turrets which were once decorated with stone eagles that have since weathered away.

3-eagle-tower

Walkways within the castle allowed for a closer look at the workmanship.

4-tower-interior

From above we gained a different perspective of the towers

7-queens-tower-eagle-tower8-tower

and could really appreciate the expanse of the castle.

9-caernarfon-castle

The views of the River Seiont

10-river-seiont

and harbour were captivating.

11-river-seiont12-caernarfon-harbour

I would love this pair of cannons for our driveway entrance.

13-cannons

Long before there was a castle, the Romans built a fort nearby to defend the north Wales coast. Established around 78AD, Segontium held about a thousand soldiers.

14-segontium

The fort was abandoned in the 4th century and there is not much left to see of the ruins.

15-segontium

The stone was plundered and used to build King Edward’s Caernarfon Castle.

Talley Abbey

As we continued our exploration of Wales, we travelled through the stunning countryside

1-brecon-beacons

of the Brecon Beacons.

3-brecon-beacons2-brecon-beacons

The view from this bridge in the morning light was gorgeous.

4-brecon-beacons5-brecon-beacons6-brecon-beacons7-brecon-beacons

We even found our dream renovation project.

8-brecon-beacons

Llwyn-On reservoir is the largest of the three reservoirs in the Taf Farw Valley. Completed in 1926, the 150 acre reservoir is a popular fishing spot.

9-llwyn-0n-reservoir

Our route took us past Talley Abbey, a ruined former monastery in the village of Talley.

10-talley-abbey11-talley-abbey

Founded in 1184 by Lord Rhys for the monks of the Premonstratensian order (White Canons), the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII.

12-talley-abbey13-talley-abbey14-talley-abbey

The villagers used the stone to build the present village and the Parish church of St. Michael, next door to the ruins.

15-talley-parish-church

The surrounding countryside was beautiful.

16-talley-abbey17-talley-abbey

The nearby lakes were used for fish farming to support the monks.

18-talley-abbey19-talley-abbey

There was such an air of tranquility, I wouldn’t mind living in Talley.