Blog Archives: Travel by Rail

Wandering around the Wirral with a camera

We have just returned from a lovely three day train trip to and around the Wirral, a place previously unknown to us. Despite the often wet weather (this is a far cry from semi-arid Essex!), we had a wonderful time, especially our night at The Ship, Parkgate…


Nestled on the shores of the Dee Estuary, overlooking extensive salt marshes to the distant Welsh hills and the wind farms of Liverpool Bay, The Ship proved an ideal location, with good food and drink, and an excellent sun-deck for those few precious moments when the sun emerged!

The black-and-white colour theme of the village in places contrasted beautifully with the native red sandstone walls:

Although the tide remained stubbornly distant, there were flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks, together with a few Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers, and a couple of Spoonbills, all to the rattling and reeling of singing Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers.

Wirral Country Park

Just north of Parkgate we explored part of the linear Wirral Country Park, a former railway line, which produced a number of botanical and entomological treasures.

Ness Botanic Gardens

Sadly, our afternoon at Ness was pretty much wall-to-wall drizzle (or heavier), and therefore the experience can best be described as ‘atmospheric’!

Of course the plants were interesting…

… together with a range of insects, including the Alder Leaf Beetle, a new colonist of the country after its 20th century extinction.

New Brighton

An evening stroll along New Brighton promenade was a complete seaside experience…

… complete with views to the windfarms. across to the iconic Liverpool waterfront, and deep in the heat haze to the north, Antony Gormley’s humanoid beach sculptures ‘Another Place‘ at Crosby.

Port Sunlight

And finally to the main reason for our visit to the area, the delights of Port Sunlight. Blue-skies and sun, culture, architecture and art…

… and of course in the copious green spaces and gardens, wildlife …

— including a surprising record (for us) of the Tulip-tree Aphid, seemingly another very recent colonist of our shores, being devoured by  Harlequin Ladybirds. Always something exciting to find!

#WildEssexWalks – Wrabness and Stour Wood

A pleasant afternoon in July saw a group from WildEssex enjoy a round walk for a couple of hours, from and back to Wrabness railway station.  En route we took in that most whacky of buildings, Grayson Perry’s ‘A House For Essex’, East Grove Wood with its unrivalled position on the banks of the River Stour, arable fields with impressive wildflower margins, and Stour Wood reserve itself, an ancient woodland planted predominately with Sweet Chestnut trees, which were in full flower and filling the air with their mushroomy fragrance.

There was plenty of insect life to be spotted – a stunning Yellow-and-Black Beetle stole the show, together with Hogweed Bonking Beetles, and everyone’s favourite, the Cinnabar caterpillar (also in that pleasing colourway yellow-and-black).

We were delighted to see how many butterflies there were (after a very slow start to the season): Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers galore, together with Ringlets, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Whites and a couple of Holly Blues, and not forgetting a 6-spot Burnet moth. In the woodland itself a few Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals soared overhead, but none stayed for a photo opportunity.

The very familiar 7-spot Ladybirds were putting on a very good show – both decorative and aphid-munchers par excellence – what’s not to like??

For the botanists amongst us, there were also lots of plants to note – my favourite White Bryony along hedgerows, Enchanter’s Nightshade in deep shade, Rosebay Willowherb, Wood Sage and Honeysuckle in the coppice clearings, and Bugloss around the sandy field edges.

And of course there was the interface between botany and other disciplines, in the form of galls and mildews…all of nature is fascinating!

As always we would like to extend our thanks to our group of nature-lovers for sharing these experiences with us 😊. And we look forward to our next meeting.

Over the sea to … Landguard Point!

By way of an exploration for a possible #WildEssex trip next summer, we headed over the mouth of Harwich Harbour on the regular foot-ferry to Felixstowe.

Arriving near Landguard Fort, it was a short walk out onto the Point and Common, the southernmost section of the Suffolk shingle coastline, on the receiving end of gravel eroded from cliffs and offshore Ice Age deposits right up into north-east Norfolk.

While, after a month-long  period without rain, much of the Common was brown and droughted, grazed right down by Rabbits, the true shingle flora like Sea Kale and Yellow Horned-poppy so well adapted to the environmental stresses of drought, sun, wind and ground instability, remains green and is coming into flower.

As always, different plants in different places: where the shingle is more sandy, this is picked out by Marram and Sea Spurge being the dominant species.

Moving landwards, the vegetation diversifies, with annuals such as Scarlet Pimpernel, Slender Thistle and Common Stork’s-bill (both pink and white forms) …

… and grassland perennials such Rest-harrow, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Wild Clary and White Stonecrop – while none of these is obligately coastal, the whole community is indicative of proximity to the sea.

And then there are the plants that are more familiar to us perhaps as being characteristic of sandy agricultural field margins: Bugloss, Viper’s-bugloss and Weld.

In a few patches scrub has grown up, mainly of Wild Privet, Elder and Tamarisk, festooned in White Bryony (both male and female), which provides shelter for breeding Linnets and the few invertebrates we saw on our breezy day, including Endothenia gentianeana.

So close to the docks, there are many opportunities for interesting plants not native in Britain to arrive and get a foothold. The  Rough Dog’s-tail grass is one obvious example, a plant I have seen in this country only a handful of times, mostly down by the Thames Estuary.

The port also of course provides ample opportunities to watch the world come and go. The infrastructure is impressive in its own right, even given the fact that much of that which is imported is unnecessary plastic tat from the Far East. A cathedral to commerce, as impressive in its way as a religious cathedral can be to a non-believer…

Crossing the harbour on the ferry simply adds to the opportunity, to watch the ever-changing seascapes, shipping and wildlife (here a Harbour Seal), and to see familiar landmarks from a different perspective.

And both starting and finishing from Harwich Rail Station, time to explore the historic architecture, the gardens exploding with Giant Viper’s-bugloss and the railway sidings ablaze with Red Valerian and Oxeye Daisy.

A good day out (with an all-day breakfast in the View Point Cafe and  fine pint in The Alma) – we are very likely to be back!



Bavaria by train: the way home – Frankfurt & Brussels

There are a few calling points on the ICE trains between Regensburg and Brussels, but we thought for our first trip of this type we would stop over in the largest city, Frankfurt, for a couple of nights. Having travelled down the Rhine then up the Main on the way out, we had already had a snapshot of the riverine views, and once there, the pleasant river walks between lines of hydra-like Plane pollards and cotton-drifting Black Poplars casting some welcome shade gave good views of the economic powerhouse that is the city…

… an urban jungle with canyons of glass and steel which harboured (as expected) Peregrines, along with city-centre-dwelling Buzzards, and surprising densities of House Sparrows, along with hordes of screaming Swifts.

An evening in the ‘old’ city was eye-opening for the attention to detail that has evidently been given to its restoration after the area was flattened during WW2.

And even the cathedral, the red stone and its crisp edges and straight lines the product of its 1950s reconstruction.  Almost a pastiche we thought at first, until we realised this in fact the third church on the site during its venerable 1500 year-old history: nothing stands still, not even buildings.

Then there is the organ, an object of pure architectural beauty, which one imagines will produce sounds to match…

Our day to the north of the city centre in and around the Palmengarten was a hot one! So much so that we were rather pleased one of our intended destinations, the Botanic Garden, was closed (another time maybe…).

Not dissimilar to Kew Gardens, this has  extensive greenhouses coving a whole range of biomes, and a tropical butterfly house.

The outdoor gardens are many and varied, and full of interest to the botanist, even though the labelling  is rather patchy and, sadly, all too often wrong.

One pleasing feature though is the extensive area of long grass, well signposted as being for wildlife (butterflies especially) alongside showier, less naturalistic, but still valuable prairie-style swards.

Around the lakes there were Terrapins, both the native European Pond and North American Red-eared species, while the smaller ornamental pools were full of Edible Frogs, their loud quacking choruses audible from a long range.

What seemed to be lacking, sadly, was insects  not (presumably) as a result of pesticide use, more the weather. But as it warmed up, next door in the Gruneburg Park we found plenty.

Of particular interest were a ladybird Oenopia conglobata , which we have never seen before but is considered as a possible future colonist of the UK, and families of Fieldfares hopping around, something we see only in winter…

… and as seemingly everywhere in both Belgium and Germany, large tracts of recreational grass turned over to nature. What’s more, signposted accordingly!

And so it was back into Brussels, with a clear hour to get in a last Belgian beer in our favourite bar before the Eurostar home!

Bavaria by train: Regensburg and area

The filling in our sandwich holiday was spent in and around Regensburg, a small city we have always loved, sitting at the northernmost reach of the Danube, here some 100m wide, its reinforced banks covered in Rue-leaved Saxifrage.

A World Heritage Site by virtue of its historic buildings, not reconstructed as it was little-bombed during the war, the architecture is very attractive: wherever you are, there are the distinctive open-lattice twin steeples of the cathedral.

Regensburg is also home to one of the very best botanic gardens I have ever seen. In its 4.5 hectares it has taxonomic beds, habitat beds, geographic beds, themed beds and greenhouses, so many interesting plants that it draws me back time and again. It is also impeccably labelled – nowhere else have I failed to find an error!

… and, as Spring turns into Summer, it is a super place to see a range of insects and other invertebrates, apart from butterflies, in common with the UK thus far this year.


Two particular insects stood out for us: first, the chafer Valgus hemipterus, which is a southern European species, but one which seems to be on the brink of colonising London, and second, the New Forest Shield-bug, a rarity in the UK restricted to that area and the Isle of Wight. Perhaps it is no coincidence that near to the latter we also found a basking Sand Lizard, a species whose UK heartland is also the New Forest and surrounding heaths.

Away from the historic centre of the city, new developments seem to have been well provided with, or integrated into, nature, with hedges of Fly Honeysuckle and hay meadows with Greater Yellow-rattle, among many other interesting species.

‘No Mow May’, as in Belgium, seems to be taking off as an idea (whether for the ecology or for saving money really isn’t important) but in the small village in which we stayed, there seems to be a clear majority in favour of ‘(over)tidy’. Fortunately my sister is not one of those, and her garden was simply teeming with wildlife.

The Drumming Spider (trying hard to beat a rhythm on a chair) and Rose Chafers were two of the highlights, photos of the latter being a near-casualty when it plunged into the pond, until rescued by Jude. They show two poses, and how the colour can change markedly with the angle of the light.

The pond is an absolute centrepiece to this garden, with all manner of life living in, on and around it, including both Smooth and Alpine Newts which didn’t want to be photographed.

Walking around the village was a sheer delight, especially when the weather eventually warmed up …

… while the surrounding Beech woods were home to Black Woodpeckers, Bird’s-nest Orchids and Hepatica…

… with clearings home to Burning Bush, Bastard Balm and Columbine,  plus Orange Tips and a whole load of other insects.

The whole region has limestone underfoot, and even in the village bounds there are fragments of species-rich limestone grassland, with a huge diversity of plants and invertebrates alike:

But away from the settlements the limestone grassland is even more extensive, and richer, with Swallowtails and Common Blues, Yellowhammers and Skylarks, Burnt and Green-winged Orchids, Spring Gentians and Pasqueflowers, Juniper scrub,  many other plants and insects ….

… and the undoubted natural highlight of our entire trip, a male Ladybird Spider, an almost-heart stopping sighting, in what is one of very few few localities in the whole of the country. Indeed, just as in Britain, this is a Red Data species in Germany, and although we didn’t know it at the time, we stumbled upon it in its main remaining locality. And on our wedding anniversary too!



Bavaria by train: the way there – Brussels & Cologne

Just before the pandemic, we had our first long-distance overseas train holiday of more than a couple of days, to Switzerland. The success of that, together with the delight of clear blue, unsullied skies during Covid, made us resolve to continue with the 6% club as our preferred mode of travel, and so for our return to Europe, we spent 10 days visiting family in Bavaria travelling by train.

The great thing about train travel, apart for the lower emissions, is that you can see the landscape slipping by and change as you get further from home, and that you can extend your holiday by exploring intermediate destinations. For us, heading out, that involved Brussels. Just a couple of hours out of St Pancras we were living the life, eating moules frites and drinking Belgian beers under blue skies (which sadly largely disappeared for the next few days behind the grey cloud we have become used to at home this Spring).

Over the next couple of days we got to know the city well: the architecture, from the extravagances of the Baroque to the naturalistic curves of Art Nouveau to the edges and reflections of modern times…

… the monumental art …

…. to the street art, of all kinds.

And of course, even on the mean street of Brussels there was wildlife, from the mini-forests of moss sporophytes atop the walls, to the Black Redstarts in crackling song from many a rooftop, and the (unsprayed!) planting pockets for boulevard trees extensively colonised by Little Robin (rare in the UK) and other delightful pavement plants.

There was also more formal greenspace and there the noisy battalions of Monk Parakeets, seemingly more keen on feeding on the ground than the Rose-ringed Parakeets we are more familiar with in London and elsewhere, together with (wherever there were Lime trees) the ubiquitous Firebugs.

Next day we explored further, taking the Metro out to the Atomium, the wonderful Modernist structure built as the centrepiece of the 1958 Expo (and actually designed to be standing for only six months!). It still feels futuristic now, so its impact 65 years ago is unimaginable… Wherever you have a view of the skyline, throughout the city, the Atomium is there.

It is sited on the edge of a vast royal park, much of which has open access, around the lakes, grasslands and through the extensive Beech woods, where the flowers were pretty much as in British equivalents, with the addition of Yellow Strawberry.

Statues, monuments and a magnificent avenue of Copper Beeches that casted an almost autumnal light were all indiciations of past and present human use, but the pair of Goshawks displaying high overhead clearly don’t mind!

As with the flowers, invertebrates were mainly those we might expect to see in a London park (including a range of ladybirds and Beech Woolly Aphid), with the exception of the huge Roman Snail.

An excellent couple of days, in a city we would like to see more of, in a country we would love to eat more of the food of and drink more of the beer of! From a nature perspective, it was good to see the apparent steps towards sustainability, from the spray-free street tree planting pockets, to the swathes of longer grass in the greenspaces with wildlife-friendly native and non-native plants allowed to flower, and the mini-wildlife sites in the heart of the city proudly labelled as parts of the Nature Network. On top of that, while we were there it was Eurovision, and in a commercial break on Belgian TV, a prime-time ad for their equivalent of No Mow May!


And so, after a fun-filled couple of days, and with rain in the forecast and the cold north-easterlies re-establishing, it was back on the train and heading to Bavaria, with just a couple of hours in Cologne to stretch the legs and have breakfast, and wonder anew (see here for our last trip there) at the vast, scary monster, the apogee of gothickry, that is Cologne Cathedral…

East Grove, Wrabness – small but perfectly formed!

Essex as a county abounds in ancient woods, more by area than in the whole of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire put together. I have known East Grove on the southern bank of the Stour Estuary for forty years, and always felt that it is one of the very best, despite its small size.

Squeezed into its couple of hectares is an active Sweet Chestnut coppice, with Oak and Field Maple trees, and THE most diverse ground flora for its size I have seen. Bluebells of course abound, but after their first flush, the monochrome blue vista is punctured with white Greater Stitchwort and Wood Anemone. And this weekend, Red Campion has burst, alongside the Yellow of Archangel and acid-green Wood Spurge, all to complete the colour-wheel.

The delightfully named, but actually rather scrappy Goldilocks Buttercup, its flowers usually missing one or more petals and those that it has being pretty manky…

And to cap it all, Ramsons is now blooming, scenting the air with its wonderful garlic fragrance: there are few places locally where this can be found in abundance.

To walk in this wood is an assault on the senses – a complete colour palette, the scent of the garlic, the prickling of Butchers’-broom and especially in mid-May at high tide, the gentle burbling of Brents on the water. Gentle, but occasionally rising to a crescendo as they take flight – this estuary is a renowned staging post before they head off to northern Siberia, in the hope that winter has relinquished its grip. This wood is almost unique in Essex in having a tidal, estuarine frontage.

On the first really warm, humid afternoon of our year, the insects and other invertebrates were out. A good selection is shown below…

… as Swallows sang from the wires, probably four pairs in the neighbouring  stables. and a magnificent Dryad’s Saddle exploded from an old tree stool …

… but pride of place must go to the Greater Thorn-tipped Longhorn-beetle Jude spotted. A lovely beast, and not at all common. The National Biodiversity Network map shows only half a dozen previous Essex localities, including one from Stour Wood, the RSPB/Woodland Trust just 500m downstream. All in the course of a Sunday afternoon stroll!

The Wild Side of West London

Inspired in part by reading a new book we were sent for review (see here BOOK REVIEW: West London Wildlife | Chris Gibson Wildlife), we decided to spend a couple of days based in Chiswick to get to know some of the delights of that part of the city, both natural and otherwise. A great birthday present, as it turned out, in no small part to our break coinciding with the first truly warm Spring weather.

First it was to Gunnersbury Triangle, an iconic pocket park of a nature reserve, one we have been to several times before (see here and here for previous blogs). It was as expected delightful, with Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing, Sallow trees in bloom …

… and in sheltered spots, invertebrate life making most of the sunlight, including our first Dark-edged Bee-flies, Hairy-footed Flower-bees and Green Tortoise-beetles of the year…

… along with much, much more …

But special mention must be made of two very unexpected bugs, ones that tend to be found in rich sandy habitats and ancient woodland clearings respectively, Rhombic Leather-bug and the spurge-bug Dicranocephalus medius.

The surrounding area of Acton Green is not without interest either, from the Art Deco-style Chiswick Park tube station to the rather more recent Mosaic House, and everywhere splashes of natural colour revelling in the light:

Moving on to Chiswick proper, we went from the High Street and its profusely flowering Hop-hornbeams to the somewhat less attractive flyover…

…and the rather improbable survival of Hogarth’s House amid the roads and offices, with its garden, again an oasis of green, shot through with vivid spring colours.

Chiswick House & Gardens is of course an altogether larger green lung, with calling Nuthatches and singing Blackbirds. and as in all such places resounding to the incessant chatter of Rose-ringed Parakeets.

Coots were sitting tight on their monumental nests in the lake …

… and Stinking Hellebore was coming to the end of its flower season, while we have never seen Butcher’s-broom flowering so profusely, and as ever harbouring ladybirds, including this Cream-spot Ladybird.

Continuing up-river, Strawberry Hill House was full of the ‘eccentricities’ of the 18th century elite…

… and the garden had its own such oddities, with a lovely display of Hoop-petticoat Daffodils and a Grey Heron which has adopted the table-begging habits of the city pigeons.

Back to the river, our walk took us towards Teddington (sadly not along the bank itself, as the riparian frontage, which should be an asset for all, has been purloined by the select few) …

… across the bridge at Teddington Lock, with weed-waving Great Crested Grebes in full display …

… to Ham Lands nature reserve, where spring was once again asserting itself, with bursting buds of Wild Cherry, Norway Maple and Ash, buzzing Bee-flies, and and Brimstone butterflies everywhere!

A delightful end to our time in the Wild West of London, all rounded off with a welcome pint in The Anglers and a magnificent meal at The Wharf!


#WildEssex – a walk along Mistley Walls

A sunny day sandwiched between rain, rain and more rain –  we were so lucky that our Mistley bird walk turned out to be then!  So lovely to be out in the sunshine, though we were all glad of our gloves and hats as the wind was keen (as Jude’s Mum would have said!).

We kicked off with lunch in The Crown pub which coped with our various dietary requirements admirably  – this place seems to be going up in the world with some refurbishments inside and out. It really is the perfect spot to eat and enjoy views of the estuary, right over to Brantham and Holbrook. Restaurant | The Crown Manningtree | Manningtree

Our walk followed the banks of the Stour from Manningtree to Mistley, looking at the bird life being pushed up to us on the rising tide. The numbers of birds were perhaps not as many as we had hoped for – why was this?  Well, possibly we were slightly late in the season, the cold weather definitely a factor, and worryingly perhaps bird flu has taken a toll. We sadly saw a dead gull on the shore. ‘Social distancing’ isn’t something birds would know about, and Mistley can be a ‘’go to’ gathering place for our feathered friends.

We saw the usual waders, all uniquely equipped with different bill- and leg-lengths enabling them to forage for different goodies in the mud: Black-tailed Godwits (many starting to moult into russet summer plumage), Redshanks, Turnstones, Dunlins and Avocets, with a lone Oystercatcher pecking about in the confines of the old outdoor swimming pool.

Various kinds of duck floated by, including Teals, Shelducks and Mallards, and a couple of Great Crested Grebes with their weird and wonderful head adornments dived for lunch in the deeper waters of the Port as we looked on. Our local celebrity species, Dark-bellied Brent Geese were visible both out on the water in number and nearer the shore in small groups. Each estuary of the Essex coast is internationally important for these charming little geese, together supporting a fifth of the entire world population, breeding in high Arctic Siberia.

Gulls provided entertainment with their squawks and antics. Lesser Black-backed Gulls (particularly handsome birds in our opinion) were demonstrating courtship behaviour; Black-headed Gulls acquiring their ‘black’ heads (actually brown) to make themselves look even more beautiful; Herring Gulls with their customary cries and scuffles for food.

In the Mistley Towers grounds Blackbirds were seen and Robins heard. A Chiffchaff sang its onomatopoeic song, reminding us that Spring really is here (despite the chill wind, and forecast overnight frost!). But as our regulars know, birds are only a small part of what we are about – and other aspects of nature were noticed and enjoyed: Holm Oak leaf-miners patterning the leaves; lichens in many different forms on tree trunks and on the ancient wall of Hopping Bridge; the corky bark growth of Elm; and a smattering of plants including Sweet Violet, Red Dead-nettle and White Comfrey being particularly interesting. Few actual insects were seen apart from a 7-spot Ladybird, though of course the leaf mines were showing evidence of mass insect activity, the adult moths to come later in the summer.



The whole area of the Mistley Walls is historic and interesting – well worth a visit.  The Towers, designed by Robert Adam, proudly demonstrate the wealth that was Mistley. The church constructed between the towers is now long dismantled, but the structures themselves were retained as seamarkers for vessels approaching the port. Nowadays the quay area is rather sad, all fenced off (despite ‘Free the Quay’ campaigning for many years), but the local logistics company is clearly busy judging from the number of large lorries in and out. These vehicles no doubt contribute to the rather overwhelming volume of traffic along the Walls, bringing noise and pollution; although these factors were disturbing to we human beings, the resident (and many) local swans and geese seemed totally oblivious.

Ironically, it is these human intrusions that help to habituate the birds meaning the Walls are the best place to watch these normally shy creatures well anywhere on the Essex coast.

As always we were delighted that such a wonderful group of nature enthusiasts could join us and we look forward to the next WildEssex adventure…




Halifax: four seasons in three days….

Second in our series (after Coventry) of seemingly unlikely holiday destinations, Halifax has been on our radar for several years. Long before Happy Valley-mania, a friend told us of the renovation and reopening of the Piece Hall, and with our love of Industrial Architecture, our interest was piqued. After several false starts (yes, Covid!) we finally got to spend a couple of days there last week…

The Piece Hall, an 18th-century textile market (albeit masquerading as a Venetian piazza) is regarded as the most important secular building in Yorkshire, and it is really a cathedral to commerce, the commerce that shaped West Yorkshire. All was quiet on the days we visited, just right to appreciate the scale and design, and the disappearing vistas down the colonnades.

The Piece Hall alone justified our visit, but there was so much more in the town, from the 19th-cntury Town Hall, designed by Charles Barry (he of the Palace of Westminster fame), to the numerous mills all in various stages of being upcycled into use once again.

And all buildings looking better than in the not-too-distant past, the honey-coloured stone (especially beautiful in sunlight) having been released from the smoky black legacy of the Industrial Revolution. All except for the oldest building, the Minster (dating back to around 1450) which was presumably too fragile and precious to withstand sandblasting: it still shows the soot of ages.

Pleasantly rustic inside, with some lovely, almost-clear windows showing their leaded tracery to advantage, this church was remodelled by yet another eminent Victorian architect, George Gilbert Scott.

As is our wont, we did of course seek out the green. A walk alongside the River Hebble provided just that, with mosses and ferns clothing stone walls, and last-year’s Self-heal bringing a touch of botanical art.

And it was art (and architecture), intentional and otherwise, that sent us through Leeds on the way to Halifax as we changed trains.

The beautiful blue skies of our arrival, however, didn’t last, and as the third day dawned, Storm Larisa was making her presence felt. Just time for a quick jaunt to see a friend in Sowerby Bridge, then make tracks homewards before the return of winter left us stranded…

Coventry: city of hope and reconciliation, architecture and art – and wildlife

Why Coventry? The question we were often asked when we said we were going away for a couple of days there. Pretty much the same as most people’s view of our home, Essex. But always with an open mind and a sense of urban adventure, we went…and loved it! Helped by two days of glorious winter sunshine and cloudless cobalt skies, good food and drink, welcoming locals and a tangible Christmas spirit as the first hard frosts of winter were unleashed.

Of course the two cathedrals were always going to be a centrepiece, the old, bombed one embracing the modern in a much-needed gesture of reconciliation. Particularly beautiful and poignant in the sunlight were the remnant fragments of stained glass in the mediaeval window tracery…

… but the ruins exuded a tranquility that transcends its troubled past, a great place to contemplate the sculptures and watch the Peregrines on the still-standing steeple.

The new cathedral was no less stunning, with a warm welcome and the ever-changing play of light, shadow and colour from the amazing stained glass and internal architecture:

Elsewhere in the city, an array of unexpected treasures, buildings old and new, the Art Deco interior of our Premier Inn, and even guerrilla shadow-art…

As so often in urban areas, it was the waterways that provided the green arteries of life. The Canal Basin we sought out would probably have merited more time (and a few extra degrees Centigrade!)…

… while the River Sherbourne we stumbled upon by accident, apparently a project area for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and partners to bring nature into the lives of the city residents. How thankful we should be for such initiatives, giving us the chance to see the surprising (to us) sight of a Little Egret flying out of the shallows into a riverside tree. All very unexpected so close to the city centre, and rendered even more magical with its early morning tracery of frost.