Tag Archives: travel

Back to Africa: falling in love with Ethiopia

A cold, refreshing beer
© Carole Scott 2015

The Amber beer was cold and refreshing; our host’s smile warm and welcoming. Twelve hours into our two-week trip to Ethiopia and I was already feeling embraced by its people. From the minute we stepped off the ‘plane to be directed by a smiling airport official, I had a good feeling about Ethiopia; a feeling that told me this trip wouldn’t just be about the wildlife, landscapes and history.

With every beautiful smile and twinkly-eyed laugh, I fell a little more in love with Ethiopia.

By the time we reached Gonder and Mayleko Lodge, we were ready for that beer. While the domestic terminal of Bole Airport in Addis Adaba had proven surprisingly comfortable, thanks to its body-curve recliners that allowed us to snooze, 24 hours of travelling were taking their toll. A spacious cabin with big beds was just what we needed as we adjusted from British winter to African summer. A beautifully quiet place, 16km outside Gonder itself, Mayleko Lodge is a complex of about ten cabins, each with its own terrace – the perfect place to drink the owner’s favourite beer, Amber. A few minutes later, she sent over a plate of home made fries as an evening appetiser. Nice touch!

As the sun softened and the beer softened us, my friend Kate and I contemplated our trip with huge grins. The flights had been booked back in December, and nearly three months in which to plan and anticipate had added to the excitement of setting off on our first big trip together. Finally, we were here, in the cradle of civilisation and coffee.

With one day to see Gonder, we were keen to get going the next day, thinking it would be a rush to fit everything in. Not so. It’s a lovely place, full of 17th Century palaces, but most of them are grouped together in one site, making it neat and easy to see everything. The complete lack of hassle immediately marked Ethiopia out as different from many other African countries we’ve been to. I’m not really one for a guided tour, although I’ve been on many of them. I don’t absorb historical facts well, so for me, the enjoyment of a place is much more aesthetic than factual. We entered by the ticket office, expecting to be followed round by guides touting for business. But after a polite enquiry and an equally polite refusal from us, that was it. No-one pursued us and no-one looked at all put out that we weren’t hiring a guide.

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It was a gorgeous complex of palaces to meander round, mostly crumbling. It was wonderful to imagine the grand court of Emperor Fasiladas meeting, greeting, scheming and partying. While we focused on photos of the ruins, Ethiopian tourists posed for photos. And while they were immaculately dressed, we were in traveller’s gear of baggy t-shirts and deeply unpretty walking trousers; not ideal when they asked us to pose for photos with them! There’s nothing like a stunningly beautiful Ethiopian woman to make you feel frumpy and dishevelled. It wasn’t the first time that I wished that I’d packed some make up and I came to regret deeply the absence of hair conditioner in my wash bag.

Quitting the palace complex we hailed our first tuk-tuk. There’s something about a tuk-tuk ride that makes me feel ‘yes, I’m away’. The noise, the dust, the drivers (and in some countries the crazy traffic) signal ‘other world’ in one gloriously loud and frantic snapshot.

The tuk-tuk driver wound up a short hill to Debre Berhan Selassie Church, one of the area’s most richly decorated. Every square centimetre of the walls and ceiling inside are covered in religious murals – wide-eyed cherubs above and bible scenes on the walls. It was fascinating.

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But this was my favourite photo from the site.


All this history made us hungry for shade. And lunch. The tuk-tuk trundled uphill, struggling and bumping, to The Goha Hotel. It was recommended because of the view; perched on the edge of town, it’s truly panoramic. It was full of tourist groups and was deeply disappointing because of this. I think it was just too European for us on our first day of sightseeing. The view, though, was superb.

Suitably rested, we realised our beginners’ mistake; don’t let your tuk-tuk go when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Negotiate a price for the day instead. Still, the long hot walk back into town meant that we chatted on the way to a few people and had lots of nods and smiles.

Thirsty for our first real Ethiopian coffee, we eventually found a tuk-tuk and asked for the EEPCo Coffee House (praised in the guide book as the one with the best coffee in town). Much to our amusement (and that of our tuk-tuk driver) they had no coffee. So we went round the corner to Habesha Coffee Shop. I loved the fact that although we were the only women there, no-one gave us a second glance. I’ve been in plenty of African and Middle Eastern countries where we would have been objects of intense interest. Ethiopia was wonderfully refreshing in this respect.

The coffee was stunning – as strong as an espresso but beautifully rounded and deep without a hint of bitterness. And no grounds, unlike Turkish coffee. Ethiopian coffee made the traditional way is the best coffee I’ve ever drunk and probably ever will.

Next stop was the ceremonial baths, which in Fasiladas’ time was a summer house and party central. These days, it is the focus for Timkat (Epiphany, on 6 January), when hundreds of people are ‘re-baptised’ in a raucous, joyful celebration. In the quiet season, the pool is empty and a gentle wind breezes around the walled enclosure, leaves fluttering to the floor. It was a serene, lovely place.

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The highlight of the day wasn’t the sight-seeing, although everything we saw was superb. The highlight was getting on a little minibus, crammed in with local shoppers and workers. We couldn’t chat, as we had no Amharic, but there were many smiles and nods and laughter. I think my bleached, cropped hair was a good source of entertainment but mostly I think it was just that tourists tend not to hop on the bus.

It was a pretty fine start to the holiday but the best was yet to come. The Simien Mountains beckoned…

Kent, June 2014, Day 3: Sissinghurst

Of all the English Gardens in the National Trust’s portfolio, surely Sissinghurst is the best? Delicate, intricate and thoughtful, it’s a delight from start to finish.

The day I went, it was raining and I thought I was going to be out of luck but 20 minutes patience was rewarded with flowers showered with droplets of rain – perfect for up close photos.

When you go (as go you surely will at some point), I recommend starting with the vegetable garden. It’s great to see a traditional veg patch like this.

The local ice cream was superb too!

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By Carole Scott

Sydney or ‘take it to the bridge’ – a photo gallery

Finally, I’ve had a chance to edit some Sydney photos. I realise that out of the many I took, only a few merited editing. It’s one of those cities where the finger is on the shutter almost constantly when the bridge or Opera House are in view. Whittling down the many to the elected few is a tough task.

So here they are – my Sydney Selection 2014.

Must start with a pano of the view from The Macleay, proving my point (from the previous post) that paying a wee bit extra for a view is very much worth it.

© Carole Scott 2014
© Carole Scott 2014



























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By Carole Scott

Return to Sydney

© Carole Scott 2014
© Carole Scott 2014

[warning: this post is tip-heavy – I apologise to anyone not planning to go to Sydney any time soon. Photo gallery will follow once I’m done editing!]

After a wonderful trip to Australia in 2011, I wasn’t sure when or if I would get back there, so it was a great bonus to go for work the other week. Flight paid for, I was able to tag on some annual leave so that I could catch up with dear friends.

It was a nail-biting, sweat-inducing couple of weeks leading up to the trip. I fell foul of the great Passport Office scandal and got my passport 24 hours before flying. So I packed in a hurry and scuttled off with great relief. [Quick LHR T4 tip:  if you’re looking for breakfast, don’t settle for the nearest café (something straight out of tourist central). Instead, walk right down to Gates 11-17 and you’ll find Comptoir Libanais – great food, wonderful services, and quiet.]

Onto Sydney….the great thing about returning to a city is that you’ve usually done the headline tourist tick offs, so your second visit can be about getting under the skin of the place, exploring neighbourhoods you didn’t have time for before.  I think the best city trips are the ones where you get to wander at leisure, soaking up the culture and atmosphere that is unique to that particular metropolis. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a pavement cafe in so-called ‘Winter’ (20°C, blue sky with fluffy white Simpsons clouds, which is a summer’s day to Britfolks) watching the locals comes and go.

My first time round recommendations are:

  • Unless you are truly phobic about heights, do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It’s absolutely brilliant – knowledgeable and interesting guides and a cracking view. Money well spent and pictures in my head that I will treasure forever.
  • Depending on the time of year, walk the Sculpture by the Sea trail, from Bondi to Bronte. Stunning.
  • Sure, do Bondi but my fave beaches are Balmoral, Nielsen’s Park and Watson’s Bay.
  • Early evening (or anytime!) drink at The Opera Bar – perfect views of the bridge and the Opera House while you slurp wine. Tip: order your wine inside, where’s there’s a better selection, rather than from the outside bar.
  • Botanic Gardens – the gardens are utterly gorgeous and added bonus comes from watching the super fit suckers do lunchtime boot camps.
  • Sydney Fish Market – photographers’ paradise.

Here are my second time around recommendations:

I was staying in Darling Harbour (avoid on your trip unless you are a sucker for cheesy tourist activities like Madame Tussauds) for the business bit of my trip and had an evening alone. I don’t like the big, noisy tourist traps of Darling Harbour, so turned to Concrete Playground to find a bar that was more ‘me’.  I found The Small Bar – does what it says on the tin, folks. It’s small. It’s a bar. It was fantastic – great wine and simple but decent nosh. Note to whoever run Concrete Playground: sort your search function out – the map is amazing but sometimes you want to get straight to your bar of choice, not a geo location!

If you’re beyond backpackers but before big budgets, I have the ideal place to stay. The Macleay in Potts Point (28 Macleay Street) has proven perfect two times running. If you’re willing to pay $20ish extra a night, you can snag an Opera House and Bridge view. It’s well worth it, as waking up and going to sleep with two icons is a magical reminder of where you are. The hotel staff are really friendly (from coffee recommendations to a cheery ‘hello’ when you come and go), it’s spick and span clean and the rooms have mini kitchens in case you do get to the stage where you simply can’t afford to eat out. There’s a Woolworths opposite too. For any Brit who hasn’t been to Oz, Woolworths is a supermarket, not the failed ‘sells a bit of everything cheap store’ we knew and loved. My only quibble would be that Wi-Fi isn’t free. Is this the same in UK hotels? I think it’s time people sorted that out – it should be part of the price not an optional extra.

Speaking of Woolworths, you can buy your travel card there, so that you’re sorted from the first hour of arrival. Daily cards are $22, so if you’re in town for more than three days, buy a weekly card at $63, which covers all ferries, buses and trains, including journeys like the Manly Ferry ($14.80).

Potts Point is a great place to stay. It’s well connected by the 311 bus to Circular Quay, Surry Hills and a five minute stroll up to Kings Cross connects you to buses for Watson’s Bay, Bondi and of course the metro. It’s the posh elder sister of Kings Cross, filled with art deco buildings, cutesy coffee shops and beautifully groomed gay guys with sweet dogs. And there’s a great walk down McElhone Stairs, to Woolloomaloo Bay, up through the Bot Gardens and onto the Opera House, which I recommend as the ideal first day orientation.

[note on the 311 – at Circular Quay there is conflicting and confusing  info about where to catch the bus back to Potts Point. Ignore the info booth guy, who doesn’t have a  clue and head for the corner of Pitt St and Spring St – that’s where it starts!]

For anyone who has heard tell of Kings Cross being a really dodgy, scary place, it’s not. Well, I guess if you’ve never stepped out of your tiny hamlet in rural Britain to head for London, it might be… but to most of us Brits, it’s Soho-lite but tiny and without the theatres. Nowt to fear – just a bit scuzzy.

While we’re in Kings Cross/Potts Point, there’s a great little side street filled with cafes and eateries, Lankelly Place. Friends who live round the corner took us to a friendly little Japanese sake bar.  Try the grilled miso eggplant – gorgeous!

Potts Point has no end of great breakfasts on offer and having tried a lot of them, I’d say the best is easily La Buvette. Full of locals – always a good sign – and a fab range of breakfasts. It’s billed here on Facebook as veggie but I’m sure I saw meat options on the brekkie menu. Everyone says Fratelli Fresh is the best but the menu at La Buvette had more choice and was definitely livelier with locals on a Sunday morning.

Top tip for coffee drinkers who take it black: Sydney has possibly the strongest coffee in the world. It’s great quality but sometimes the strength can wallop you. I took to asking for a one shot long black and it was perfect. [Thanks, Bree, for that tip – why didn’t I think of it before!!!]

My first day off I took the ferry to Manly. Pretty much any ferry leaving from Circular Quay will give you fantastic views of the bridge and Opera House, so make sure you sit outside at the back rather than the front – tourists tend to pile on at the front, as that’s where the view is when you’re sitting in dock but of course the minute you leave, you lose the view!

I was in a jet-lag haze when I went to Manly, so I can’t really tell you much about it. It’s a lovely long beach so I meandered along thinking that surfing looked like a lot of effort for very short rides. I’ll leave it to someone else to stick some recommendations in the comments!

That evening I met with an ex-colleague. How we laughed when we remembered her anxiety that taking a break might harm her career. Within days of being in Australia, she had multiple job interviews and is now working for a super hot PR agency. We went to The Winery in Surry Hills. Absolutely lovely place, full of fairy lights and a wine list to die for. Gorgeous. I think the food options are a bit limited, so the next time I was in Crown Street for a night out, the Japanese restaurant, Zushi, next door proved a much better option. Amazing food and very reasonable (this matters when you’re a Brit who is shocked by Aussie prices! Sorry Bree!).

The next day my dear friend Bree arrived from Brisbane and we bimbled around and caught up on 18 months’ worth of life – Surry Hills and Paddington were the destinations de jour. This included essential shopping at Dinosaur Designs, purveyors of simply delicious resin jewellery and objects. That evening, we trooped off to  The Opera Bar for a drink and then headed over to the new bit of the MCA for another. Great views from both!

Bree took me to two superb art galleries on Friday. Carriageworks in Redfern is a disused rail carriage workshop and is an absolutely gorgeous space. I would love to see a dance performance here.

The White Rabbit Gallery was a recommendation from our friends in  Kings Cross. A collection of contemporary Chinese art, curated into three different shows per year. I’ll be honest – even better than the art was the Chinese tea room on the ground floor. A bewildering and utterly fantastic array of tea, stunningly good dumplings and friendly staff. I highly recommend a visit.

Something I can’t recommend as it was an exclusive… my lovely friend Bernadette had organised a charity auction for the Aboriginal Literacy Foundation last year and friends of hers had won ‘dessert by Annabel Crabb’. For non-Aussies, Annabel is a political columnist and has a highly successful TV show called Kitchen Cabinet, where she has lunch with a politician and brings dessert. The date fixed for the prize was the Friday we were in town and the only time we could see Bernadette and Peter John, so we were invited along. A fantastic evening. Annabel was charming, funny and entertaining and I for one will be reading her forthcoming book, The Wife Drought. And here’s the dessert she brought to dinner….health warning, cut very slim slices, as this contains 750g cream cheese and 250g mascarpone!

Finally, a name check for my friend Peter John’s incredible book, which won an award when we were with him on the Friday evening. Public Sydney: drawing the city is ideal if you want a gift for someone who loves architecture and loves Sydney. Ten years in the researching and five years in the making, it ‘sets a new benchmark for navigating the historic layers of Sydney’s original CBD‘.

I loved my return to Sydney. If anyone needs a kick-ass communications strategist for a year, I’d definitely be up for a sabbatical in your glorious city!

By Carole Scott

Blue Mountain Magic

I had a great billy work bonus the other week – I was invited out to take part in a communications workshop by a sister organisation in Sydney.

It was a fun and interesting trip and I’ll post with all my top tips and experiences in Sydney itself but first, my day trip to the Blue Mountains.

Our host from The George Institute, Rich, organised a day trip out to the Blue Mountains and I was thrilled, as I didn’t get there on my last trip.

It was winter, so the sun wasn’t consistent and it did get perishing cold at times but it was stunning. We went to Scenic World – a great way to get a slice of the area in one day and I never say no to a cable car ride or two! If you click on the first photo, you’ll get a full screen gallery.

By Carole Scott

And breathe…. Italy and yoga are a marriage made in heaven

I had never been on a yoga break before. I was a bit nervous, feeling that my ‘off and on’ approach to yoga would mean that I would struggle to do 1.5 hours each morning for three days. How wrong I was! It was just perfect.

Last year a good friend and I started an annual tradition – a Spring break. Her children are now old enough for her to feel okay about leaving for a weekend, so we went to Marrakech (you can read all about it in earlier posts!). This year we were planning a cheap break (Icelolly.com is fantastic for city breaks) and hit upon Rome. After an evening of scouring the potential hotels, Liz went home and all of a sudden I had an email in my inbox saying ‘forget cheap break, let’s do yoga!’

So off we went to Casperia, a tiny medieval village set upon a hill an hour and a half’s train ride North of Rome. It was idyllic. I village with cobbled paths and no traffic; a house with a sun terrace overlooking an endless rolling patchwork of green; yoga each morning and then long, lazy days in the sun afterwards. Yum!

I am converted. I’m hoping to go to Laos at Christmas and the first thing I did when I got home was to research yoga breaks there to break up the sight-seeing!

The holiday was with Sunflower Retreats. It was great, if a little expensive (a bit more yoga could have been included in the price – something we all agreed on). I do recommend it, although I think I’ll be looking at bookyogaretreats.com for future adventures in bendyness, as they list every conceivable break you could ever wish to find!

Here are the snaps.

The endless panorama from our sun terrace
The endless panorama from our sun terrace

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By Carole Scott

Best photos of 2013: Skeleton

How often do you look back over the photos you’ve taken in a year? Do you look at them more because they’re on your computer than you would if you only had print outs? Does anyone out there find that creating photo books makes you look at your pictures in a different way?

There are five weeks (and two days) until the end of the year, so I’ve decided to review my pictures from the year because I was lucky enough to go on three trips abroad – Marrakech, San Francisco and Tuscany. And in between I’ve taken odds and sods here and there. So for the next five weeks I’ll be posting two or three times a week with what I think are the best of this year’s crop.

Ghost © Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013

I went on a walking weekend to the Isle of Wight in January. By the Sunday I was a bit ‘grouped out’ and rather than joining the hike, I decided to hang back and enjoy the garden of the beautiful place we were staying in. The weather was glorious that morning: clear and crisp. My eye caught the delicate skeleton of these plants and I spent ages trying to the ‘just right’ shot. I really like the result.

There was work in photoshop – I blurred out the background so that the delicate tracery of veins could be more visible. I played with black and white/sepia but in the end a reduced hue and a darkened background as well as the blurring really worked.

By Carole Scott

Garfagnana: my final hike

It has been lovely to relive the summer days high in the mountains of Northern Tuscany. Our final hike was to the summit of Monte Prado, the highest of the peaks in the Tuscan part of the Apennines.


It was a stunning day – just a few puffy clouds in a perfect blue sky. Once we had climbed out of the village and ascended, most of the walk was along ridges, with staggering views in every direction. I loved it. For some reason, though, I have very few photos from the day. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because my battery ran out – maybe I was just concentrating on the walking with legs aching from so many steep climbs in the week!

So here are my last few photos from my wonderful Tuscan week.

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By Carole Scott


Garfagnana: more walks and views


My first post about Garfagnana took in three glorious walks and plenty of sumptuous pictures of the gorgeous place I stayed. With two more walks to write about, I feel nostalgic for those hikes and the stunning scenery they took me through. My last trip to Italy had been back in 1989; after my week in July, I’m determined not to leave it so long again. When we have the whole world to explore, it’s sometimes easy to forget the riches right on our own doorstep.

Our fourth walk was another circuit; not as high as other days, as the weather forecast wasn’t so good.


The weather was glorious as we set off and climbed higher, passing through a small village where most of us stopped to splash ourselves with cool, crisp, clean water from the village tap. I love the fact that in this part of Italy, the water is so good that you can quite safely drink from the communal tap.

We had superb views of the local church as we climbed out of the village
We had superb views of the local church as we climbed out of the village

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In the village
In the village
Looking up to where we would be going.
Looking up to where we would be going.

As we left the village, we entered woodland for about 40 minutes. The flowers were gorgeous and pausing to take photos gave me a great excuse to rest in between steep upward trekking!

We emerged from the woods onto a plateau with a vast escarpment above. There’s some kind of technical term for the glacial bowl that formed the plateau but I’ll be buggered if I can remember what that is! Anyhow, it was incredibly pretty, with little stone huts and at the far end a steep-roofed church that fitted perfectly with the trees and rocks behind.

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Onward! And into more woodland. The skies darkened and a storm was threatening. Our leader, Liz, reckoned we had just enough time to walk out onto the lookout point before the storm rolled in, so those of us brave enough to go, did. The dogs weren’t happy about it though!

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Fortunately Liz had planned her walk well; the promontory that formed the lookout was steps away from a refuge. We started out on the ‘back porch’ but looking at the speed of the incoming storm, we quickly retreated inside. At first we couldn’t see a thing but eventually the eyes adjusted. It was a lovely little place and eating lunch on the pews of this little chapel was great.

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There’s nothing quite like the freshness of mountain air straight after rain. Somehow the colours seemed sharper too. As we descended, I was stopping every few seconds to capture the delicate, glorious flowers and baccipretti.

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Join me again (tomorrow I hope!) for my final walk in Tuscany.

By Carole Scott

Garfagnana: a glorious corner of Tuscany


I started a new job in August. Blogging, creative writing and photography have all taken a backseat while I have been settling in at the Oxford Martin School, part of the University of Oxford. It’s a great job and my first big project was to launch a report called ‘Now for the Long Term’, which makes recommendations to switch political and business focus from short term pressures to long term needs. It has been an exciting time and I’ve met fascinating people, from Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, to Al Gore, former US vice-president.

But now it’s time to make time for my personal passions. Before I started the job, I booked myself onto a wonderful week-long walking holiday in Tuscany. A small group travelled to an area in the north of the well-known region, which is a far cry from the busy, bustling tourist Tuscany that is flooded with us Brits each year.

Garfagnana is tucked away in the north of Tuscany
Garfagnana is tucked away in the north of Tuscany

Our wonderful tour leader, Liz, met us at the airport and made a quick nip into the centre of Pisa, so those of us who had never been could take in the leaning tower. I just couldn’t resist the very cheesy photo…

I just couldn't resist the tacky tourist pic!
I just couldn’t resist the tacky tourist pic!

This was a week of pretty strenuous walks; we walked steeply up into the mountains most days, seeing very few people as we wended our way up to staggeringly gorgeous views. What really made the trip was having a picture perfect base to wake up in and return to each day. Braccicorti is an agritourismo – an agricultural location that welcomes guests into the farmhouse. Braccicorti is a stunner; it is run by a welcoming, friendly family who make glorious food from mainly homegrown ingredients (or local where it’s not produced on their land). And the setting couldn’t be better. I had a room with a view and there was a fabulous swimming pool for that essential post-hike swim. Here’s a selection of pics to give you a feel for just what an idyllic place it was.

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The walks themselves were no less stunning. Here’s a selection of pictures from day one, which took us pretty high up.

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Day two saw us climb higher – to 1,754 metres to the summit of Mount Sumbra. Another stunning hike.

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Day three was a hot one but I didn’t mind at all, as we took a circular walk in the valley – no uphill climbing means I can cope with any amount of heat! Revisiting these photos in depths of late, chilly & dark, autumn is a joy. I am transported right back into the fields, villages and heat of those July days.

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After three days’ walking, we were due for a break. I had been to Lucca in the past, so I decided to stay local and go to the local town – Castelnuovo. The rest of the group did too; I think everyone was too knackered to get up for an early train! It’s a sweet town but I failed to take a single decent photo apart from our gorgeous lunch – a deli just outside the town walls put together a great plate of cheeses and nibbles for us.


Two more days’ walking to come but I’ll leave that for another day!

By Carole Scott