At the end of October my partner and I took an unexpected trip to The Scottish Highlands. We rented a camper van and traversed the coast line on a route commonly known as The North Coast 500. These images are an overview of our adventure with more to follow soon.
The picturesque little town of Lewes is just a 15 minute drive away from where my parents live in Brighton but I haven't been there in years, and after a blissful Sunday afternoon there last weekend I cannot for the life of me work out why I left it so long!
Lewes is set just back from the south coast, 10 miles north west of Brighton, and is steeped in history–its castle was built in 1069 and still stands proudly at the top of the high street.
(The castle is also open to visitors find out more here: Lewes Castle)
With its unique collection of independent shops and cafes and its high antique store to shopper ratio it's too easy to wile away the day here never mind making it out for a walk along the River Ouse.
The antiques stores in Lewes are some of the biggest I've ever set foot in. The Lewes Antiques Centre in particular is spread out over 5 floors. 5 Floors! That's a lot of antiques and it means there's plenty of space to roam around at your own pace and find those hidden gems you'll cherish forever.
The high street is lovely don't get me wrong, and it is where the majority of the shops are, but if you're looking for a quiet restaurant, an outstanding coffee shop or just a peaceful stroll away from the crowds then turn down one of the many adjoining roads and you'll find something very special. Some of these little side roads are not even big enough to fit a car down which means no worrying about being run over when you can't stop taking pictures of beautiful flint cottages and there are good old English pubs tucked away amongst the houses, coffee shops in the sun and of course an antique shop or two. Just remember if you choose to walk South of the high street you will have to climb back up again!
The shops in Lewes are worthy of admiration whether you need to buy anything or not–everything looks and feels like a historic film set. One of my favourites is Flint. There's something dream like about their aesthetic and they really know how to style an interior. Be warned though they are not open on a Sunday but if you like unique and interesting finds, calming colour combinations and a hint of 'rusticness' then you're in for a treat.
Lewes is also known for its markets. If you're planning a trip make sure you check out when they're on. I am yet to make it to one but I have heard great things.
Now, no town visit is complete without testing the local cuisine is it?
For me the highlight of our trip this weekend was stumbling across a little restaurant called Limetree Kitchen. We had wandered down a side road (taking my own advice) and were on the look out for a pub garden, preferably in the sun but more importantly somewhere peaceful with good food. We don't ask for much. After eyeing up a couple of menus we very nearly walked straight past the unassuming entrance to Limetree Kitchen when something about it caught my eye. I honestly could not tell you what made me stop but something did and it would appear my sixth sense was on form that day.
This is not a restaurant review so I will not ramble on about the experience but what I will say is GO THERE. The front of house manager and the chef were both extremely friendly–we felt like we'd just walked into someone's home. We found a sheltered, sun drenched spot in the secluded little garden at the back of the restaurant and I really could have sat there all day. The food comes as sharing plates, a style I am a huge fan of as I can never decide on just one dish, and is all locally sourced, ethically produced and perfectly prepared.
The perfect little coffee stop
Ground Coffee House "friendly people sharing a passion for speciality coffee, home cooked food and craft beers" I mean what more could you ask for?
Lewes feels like it was built for Sundays and the slow paced lifestyle makes it the perfect place to escape from London when city life is feeling a little overwhelming.
Over the past week and a half we had been steadily traversing the US on ‘The Mother Road’ (better known now as Route 66)–starting in Chicago and driving into the sunset towards Santa Monica. But before we reached the west coast Dad wanted to take us to Death Valley. He had been before over 30 years ago and nowhere else had left such a long-lasting impression.
A slight detour from America’s famous Route 66 led us across the Californian border into a place so far removed from the California The Beach Boys sing about that it was hard to believe we were in the same state. It’s easy to forget that California is mostly desert. Those surf towns we hear so much about make up a tiny percentage of this well-known state. Miles of seemingly never-ending road stretched out in front of us, hazy in the midday sun and unnervingly empty–the silence was impossible to ignore.
We slowly climbed just over 7000ft before descending into the infamous dust bowl disconcertingly known as Death Valley. The heat rose steadily showing no signs of stopping until our temperature gauge read 118°F (48°C) as we reached our destination–Furnace Creek. It is said that the highest atmospheric temperature ever recorded on earth was recorded in Furnace Creek, which is 190ft below sea level, on 10th July 1913 and hit a terrifying 134°F (56.7°C). Dad mentioned that the last time he was here he had slept in the car. That must have been similar to settling down for the night in an oven!
To me this is an environment that deserves our utmost respect. Like the sea it is impossible to control and it would be disrespectful for us to even try. Danger lurks only a broken-down engine or misread weather report away in this unforgiving landscape and we witnessed just how quickly things can go wrong shortly after we arrived.
We had only one night in Death Valley and spent our first afternoon exploring as much as the smothering heat would allow. Our first stop was at the entrance to a place called Golden Canyon where a short walk winds along the dried up riverbed and comes out at the famous Zabriskie Point. We decided just to see the beginning of the trail before heading back to the car–it wasn’t the right time of day for a hike. On our way back we came across a couple attempting the same walk with little water and with clearly too much time spent in the sun already that day. The girl had collapsed and her partner was hopelessly trying to get her to stand up and get back to the road. They had only come 200ft, if that, but were ill prepared. They had a lucky escape. We helped carry the girl back to their car where they had water and were able to cool down. Thankfully the valley did not live up to its name on this occasion but it just goes to show how a lack of respect for this merciless place could be fatal.
After an unexpectedly dramatic start to the afternoon we made our way down to Badwater Basin via The Artist’s Palette. A narrow, one-way road winds itself amongst the aptly-named landscape following deep channels cut out by floodwater. Taking photos was a challenge as each time we slowed down too much the car immediately began to overheat.
Badwater Basin sits at 282ft below sea level making it the lowest point of Death Valley and North Amercia. Fish still live in the saltwater pools at Badwater but the species differ from pool to pool due to variations in their evolution. I couldn’t quite believe it was possible for anything to live in these extreme conditions.
It must be the photographer in me but I couldn’t help but think it would be a crime to miss the sunrise when you are somewhere like Death Valley so we rose before dawn and drove to Zabriskie Point. The glow in that half an hour window between very first light and sunrise outdoes, in my opinion, any sunset. Zabriskie Point looks out over Golden Canyon and the peaks and troughs draw the eye towards the rocks on the other side of the valley. The viewpoint actually faces away from where the sun rises which was a little confusing to begin with but all became clear as the landscape before us transformed into a work of art. Dusty blues developed into glowing pinks demanding our attention–it was impossible to look away.
Death Valley from the outside appears an arid void incapable of supporting life but from an insider’s perspective tells a story of unique survival in what are, for most, unfathomable conditions. As we left an unexpected wave of disappointment engulfed my thoughts. I had not expected to fall quite so hard for somewhere I had not dreamed of visiting but Death Valley will forever hold a place in my heart.