Ski Glenshee – A Weekend Adventure

I know I said in my last post about a ski trip that I was dubious about writing about skiing but thought I’d share some thoughts about the weekend OMB and I spent skiing at Glenshee in the Cairngorms in Scotland anyway! I’d never seriously considered skiing in Scotland after looking at flying up and working out that the cost and travel time transferring from Aberdeen would end up with there being no advantage over going to the Alps. Also, unlike the Alps, the conditions in Scotland seemed to be too unpredictable to allow it to be anything other than a fairly spur of the moment ski destination.

However, while at Les Deux Alpes at half term, I saw a Facebook update from an old schoolfriend saying how good the snow was and how much variety there was. Listening to radio 4 when I got home, there was a report saying that Scotland was having its best ski season for years with enough snow to make skiing into May a possibility. Mrs B was going off to Morzine with friends for a long weekend so I wondered whether it might be an interesting experiment for me and the boy to try Glenshee.

So, after school on Friday we got in the car and went. Was six hours of driving from Leeds a realistic estimate from the satnav? Would that long in the car cripple me? Happily the answers to those questions were yes and no respectively!

By 10pm OMB and I were at the Moorfield House Hotel in Braemar where I had a nightcap in the bar in front of a log fire before we turned in to get a good night’s sleep. Our twin ensuite room was very nice and warm and a bargain at £72 a night including a very tasty cooked breakfast. It is right next to the stadium where the Highland Games are held so it would be a good place to visit in the summer too. The family running it were very friendly and helpful. We also ate dinner there on Saturday night and somehow they managed to serve the notoriously picky eating OMB a meal he loved (“this is the best roast chicken I’ve ever had”) without resorting to frozen nuggets and chips.

Fortified with our cooked breakfasts we got back in the car at 9 on Saturday morning to drive the 10 miles to Glenshee Ski Centre. I had booked ski hire before travelling although they seemed to have no record of it and it didnt make any difference to the speed of service. Unfortunately, the process of picking skis and boots up was not as smooth as we’ve grown accustomed to in alpine resorts. The kit itself was also approximately 15 years older than what you would get in most French resorts. No electronic lift passes here, no instead we got sticky labels to put onto wire hangers to thread onto our coat zips. However,at £140 for a couple days of hire and passes for the two of us it was a comparable price to spending the same time at the indoor slopes at Xscape which you can just point your skis down and do without any turns and which nobody could spend a weekend at unless an absolute beginner.

Anyway, after trudging back to the car to put our shoes away, we finally got onto our first lift by 10. After getting off the little chair lift, another shock. A T-Bar! I’ve skied for 12 years and never been on one. Unsurprisingly OMB fell off on our first go and we had an uncomfortably unbalanced ride up the mountain when he remounted. Then we reached the top to be hit by astonishingly icy strong winds while trying to negotiate the flat “Bunny Run” green piste. To get out of the wind and to go downhill we cut the corner of the piste, then realised we had no idea where to rejoin the piste. This pattern repeated on the next piste we attempted and OMB was ready to call it a day before lunch. Not a great start!

After a rest we regrouped and after a few zooms down the easy slope by the Claybokie drag lift sheltered from the wind were ready for lunch and a move over the other side of the A93 to the more promisingly named Sunnyside. Something approaching sunshine broke out in the afternoon and we had a great couple of hours. We decided when we came back for the morning on Sunday to stay over on that side and skied over most of the pistes. There was a good variety on this side, from gentle green runs to more challenging reds and a wide sheltered bowl. That said, OMB’s assessment was that the reds would have been blues in France but they probably just wanted to say they had some. The most challenging runs were closed (and I wouldn’t have been negligent enough a dad to have stuck him on a solo chair lift to get to the two black/red areas) so maybe there is a bit more for the daredevil which we didn’t see. The relative ease and short length of runs (the longest run, closed while were there is only 2km, most are nearer 500m) meant that the limited piste marking wasn’t often an issue but again took a bit of getting used to, as did the too frequent flat/uphill sections between lifts up the mountain. Particularly when the wind was strong enough to need a pole assisted start down one of the red runs!

Was it as good as the Alps? Frankly, no. But, there was plenty of skiing for an intermediate level skier for a weekend. And, at about £400 for a weekend for two (including the tank of diesel which the 660 miles of driving took) it is decent value. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the snow reports for the area next season if we have a free weekend.

20140320-195531.jpg

– The Glenshee Ski Centre

20140320-195617.jpg

– “Come ON Daddy!”

20140320-195659.jpg

20140320-195734.jpg

20140320-195809.jpg

– the river at Braemar

20140320-195837.jpg

– ready for a roof down blast back down the A93 to Perth and beyond!

Advertisements

Palma de Mallorca

Brrr, chilly isn’t it? Especially if, like me you’ve just come back from four days in Mallorca! Mrs B, OMB and I flew to Palma from Leeds Bradford on Jet2 for a little bit of sun and a city break during half term. Apart from missing our puppy, we had a great time. The journey both ways was very smooth and easy, much less hassle than going from Manchester or one of the London airports and Jet2 is probably the most civilised of the budget airlines to fly on. Although the seats were a bit hard, there was a lot more legroom than you often get. A handy tip is if you are staying in the city itself, take the number 1 bus from the airport, only €3 and it runs every fifteen minutes.

We stayed in the centre of Palma at the Palma Suites hotel. This was very comfortable and we had a separate bedroom as well as a kitchen/diner/lounge with a sofa bed for OMB and balconies to both rooms. The hotel also had probably the smallest swimming pool in the world on the roof!

20131104-142913.jpg

The hotel was very well located for the shops and restaurants as well as being a fifteen minute walk to the beach and the cathedral. It was also quite reasonably priced. However, although we liked it a lot and it was very smart, I’d recommend taking the tripadvisor reviews with a pinch of salt- the hotel had a sign in the bar saying that guests could get a free drink if they posted a review on there! Certainly there seems to be no point in paying the €15 per person extra for breakfast when you have a full kitchen and shops nearby to stock up on breakfast essentials.

Although Palma is being billed as something of a mini-Barcelona I think it would probably disappoint if that is what you are looking for. The cathedral, while impressive, is not quite La sagrada familia. If you want Barcelona, go to Barcelona .

20131104-144026.jpg

Eating Out

We ate out each evening. Twice we went to the Animabeach bar at the near end of the city beach. This had a great view, friendly atmosphere, relaxing music and nice food. We preferred it to the Malibu Beach cafe at the other end of the beach which was a bit too upmarket to be comfortable even if the cocktails were nice.

20131104-144925.jpg

We didn’t have time to try out the numerous cafés further along the coast at Portixol but they looked good and it would be a nice area to stay if you were most interested in staying by the sea. In the centre of Palma we also had a good meal at Cafe Mari-Lina which had a nice bar across the way which was very kid friendly as well as a Churros shop next door for dessert.

20131105-140243.jpg

The bar, called Antiguades, showed a real difference between Spanish and British attitudes. It managed to be friendly for families while being casually sophisticated- a million miles away from a Wacky Warehouse tacked onto a lager and deep fat fryer place. The first time we visited with a couple of friends and their primary school age children they had a guitarist playing in the downstairs bar. He was unusual in that he was accompanying his acoustic guitar by playing an electric bass with his feet. I took the children round to the glass door so they could see it because they didn’t believe anyone could play guitar with their feet. Back home that’s as close as they’d have got. Instead, we were beckoned in and people spontaneously moved so the kids could sit on stools by the stage.

20131105-141331.jpg

Near our hotel there were a number of authentic bars where you could get a pinxto and a drink for €2. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try them out because they didn’t come alive until past even OMB’s holiday bedtimes. In a sign of the times there was also a soup kitchen and food bank on the square in front of the hotel.

When we visited Barcelona we held back from eating in the restaurants on Placa Mayor expecting them to be bad tourist traps when in fact they turned out to be pretty good. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Café Paris in Palma, which was bad.

20131105-142220.jpg

Soller

The one day trip out of the city we did was the one recommended by everyone we knew who’d visited Palma. That was to take the vintage wooden narrow gauge train through the mountains to Soller. This was great fun and Soller itself cute. Better still was the nearby Port De Soller accessed by an even quainter wooden tram. Given that it was November we were particularly blessed with a hot sunny day but it really was a gem.

20131105-172110.jpg

20131105-172202.jpg

20131105-180134.jpg

20131105-180322.jpg

20131105-180628.jpg

All told I can strongly recommend Palma as a destination for a short break. As the northern nights are drawing in I think we made the right choice over our other idea of a trip to Belfast…

Westward Ho!

It felt slightly strange going on holiday a week after starting work again after three months of what my zero hours contract employment euphemistically describes as being on the beach. However that doesn’t mean that our week in North Devon at Westward Ho! (the only English place to have an exclamation mark in its name) wasn’t a welcome and relaxing break.

We decided on staying in the UK for our summer holiday this year because it meant that we wouldn’t have to leave our new puppy in kennels. The wonderfully warm weather earlier in the summer was also encouraging. Although this did, predictably enough, break just before we went so that our second day saw nearly three inches of rain, the rest of the week was largely pleasantly sunny. One of the advantages of home holidays is that you go without expecting unbroken hot sunshine. Apart from the typically down at heel pleasures of the traditional seaside arcades with their 2p amusements, wet weather also makes crabbing and rock pooling appealing as they don’t compete with fighting over the sun loungers.

20130813-141912.jpg

20130813-142004.jpg

We stayed in a very comfortable apartment along with a couple of friends who spent part of the week down from Bristol. The large balcony overlooking the sea meant that when the weather was less pleasant or the tide was in we could enjoy the view. Having a nicer kitchen than at home was also a plus point! Nassau Court is very well designed and spacious and I’d recommend it for anyone planning a visit to the area.

20130813-142751.jpg

20130813-142850.jpg

20130813-142924.jpg

20130813-143103.jpg

The village itself is fairly nondescript and slightly shabby in parts although there are signs of new development to smarten it up. But for us part of the charm was that it wasn’t gentrified in the way that much of Cornwall is and so eating out was more relaxing and reasonably priced. We had a few meals at The Pier House which were of good quality and in pleasant surroundings. The raised decks looking out over the seas were particularly nice and would have fitted in nicely alongside Cafe del Mar in Ibiza.

20130813-143550.jpg

There are plenty of places to visit nearby but we restricted ourselves to a day out in Appledore, a couple of miles away, where they were having their summer festival. That was on the day of the heaviest rain so it was perhaps fortunate that the procession was not a long one! The last time we came to Appledore, a few years ago while staying in Bideford, the rain meant that we sat in our car in the car park while OMB slept (we discovered later that one of the other couples staying with us were similarly sat in their car in the same car park that afternoon!). This time we braved the elements and OMB was excited about his haul of 17 crabs. Fluffy, the puppy, was rather less pleased by getting drenched. The highlight of the visit was the unexpected gem of a local pub we were directed to by a passerby when we couldn’t find a table inside a waterfront cafe for lunch. Although it doesn’t look like much and is hidden down a side street, I recommend a visit to The Coach and Horses.

20130813-144441.jpg

The food and welcome were great, even though initially I had the sensation of entering the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London. I couldn’t resist the temptingly named Cardiac Arrest burger which was worthy of Man vs Food.

20130813-144659.jpg
While waiting to eat, one of the regulars told us that on Sundays the pub had live music as locals came along and took turns to play. If you like folky music played unselfconsciously for the sheer joy of it, it is well worth making a trip for. Thankfully for all they couldn’t persuade any of us to do a turn but unfortunately Mrs B has spent the last week and a half singing the Cornish sea shanties she heard there.

20130813-145153.jpg

The other trip out we did was to Broomhill Sculpture Gardens . I’ll write about that separately but it is a must see if you like modern sculpture. Not quite Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but a nice place to spend a couple of hours and the food in the attached hotel is also good.

But, in the end, you go to the seaside to enjoy the sea so if you visit Westward Ho! you don’t have to do anything else to have a great time.

20130813-145737.jpg

20130813-145804.jpg

20130813-145845.jpg

20130813-150003.jpg