TRISH TAKES FIVE: By award-winning blogger Trish Burgess
One of the best presents I received last Christmas was a page-a-day calendar of extraordinary destinations and bizarre phenomena. Based on the bestselling book, Atlas Obscura, the calendar details 365 fascinating nuggets of information.
During January I tried not to look ahead, so I wouldn’t spoil the daily surprise. But at the end of the month I whooped as Monday 29 featured somewhere I had actually visited: Northumberlandia. The Lady of the North is a reclining female figure constructed by Charles Jencks from the clay and soil from nearby Shotton Surface Mine.
Naturally, I could no longer just wait for each day to change. I had to scroll through the whole calendar to find out how many other wacky places I’d already seen.
I found another northern treat in March; the Poison Garden in Alnwick. The grounds here are glorious, with fantastic waterfall features. The poison garden, however, can only be seen with a guide, who unlocks the iron gates to let small groups enter. Everyone is instructed not to touch or smell the plants as they can cause illness, intoxication or death.
Three more unusual locations are in Iceland, a country we drove around in 2007. First up, the Blue Lagoon, bubbling hot springs, rich in minerals, created by geothermally-heated seawater. The power plant is next door, which adds a rather surreal touch to the whole experience. My tip is to keep your head above the water as the white gunk creates havoc with your hair. I looked like Wurzel Gummidge for days afterwards.
Next we have the Kerid crater lake. This caldera is formed inside a volcano, leading to a beautiful blue pool surrounded by red volcanic rocks. Now, I have a confession to make. The Kerid lake is one many people visit on the traditional Golden Circle Tour. We observed the Viti crater lake, in the north of Iceland. There are fewer tourists but it’s generally considered to be superior. So I still ticked this one off, despite the technicality.
One of our favourite waterfalls in Iceland was Svartifoss. It was a bit of a walk to reach it, but worth every step. A modest waterfall in size, it spills over black, hexagonal basalt columns. I can still remember how incredible this place was and we had it all to ourselves.
I spotted a familiar Austrian attraction as I flipped through the calendar to May. The ‘beinhaus’ in Hallstatt is a tiny ossuary filled with over 1,000 skulls. In the 1700s, as burial space was becoming limited, the church began to dig up corpses to make way for the newly deceased.
Families painted the skulls with decorations and dates of birth and death, so each skull is remembered, despite not having a grave. I’m tempted to now play a new game. Pick a date and make a promise to visit at some point in the future. Tuesday, August 21: the permafrost research tunnel in Alaska. I think I’ll pick again.
• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk