Asia, Sri Lanka

Nuwara Eilya: They don’t call it ‘Little England’ for nothing

5th November 2017

Sri Lanka’s famous train ride runs between Ella and Kandy, (or Kandy and Ella – depending on your route). It can take a LONG time, around 8 hours! So luckily Little England, or Nuwara Eliya just happens to be around about the middle of the two. Breaks up the journey nicely, but you might wonder what there is to do there?

Rainy Train Views

Well the first thing to know is important, the clue is in the nickname. Take your bloody rain coat! It doesn’t take long to see where the Little England comparison comes from. It’s very green which is pretty, I’ll give it that, but I left England for a few reasons and rain was certainly up there on the list! Nuwara Eliya is getting on for around 2000m above sea level so it’s reasonable to expect the bad weather at that altitude. With tea being Sri Lanka’s biggest export this are the perfect conditions for growing it, good news for the economy.

Now, don’t get me wrong there is plenty to do. However, most involve being outside. Unfortunatley  the few days I was there the rain just didn’t stop, which makes you far less inclined to get out and explore.

Welcome to Little England:

I was with my two Dutch friends Lois and Paula. I had met them down in Mirissa and as the train pulled in we immediately got out our hoodies and layered on the warmer clothes. We found a tuk tuk and gave him the hostel address and off we went. All I can say is thank god I had them with me!

As we were driving up the hill to the hostel the weather was getting worse and worse, it was freezing cold and absolutely pouring with rain. Our driver, Dinesh, was trying to point things out that we were passing but it was a lost cause. You couldn’t see a thing, including the road ahead which was worrying. We arrived at the hostel and all died a little inside. Our room was in a basement and it was even colder than outside. The hostel owner though was lovely and I guess in different weather it would have been a much better first impression.

So far Nuwara Eliya wasn’t rocking my world.

According to the Guide Book:

Everything you read will tell you the same must see attractions in Nuwara Eliya, the main ones are listed below.

The best things to do are to visit the Horton Plains, basically a huge national park which are like the Lake District but not so nice. It was also mega expensive to get there, then you have your entry ticket. I decided against it. I am on a budget and in those weather conditions it wasn’t going to make for a jolly day out.

There are the biggest tea factories in the country up there, so you can take a guided tour, see how all the machinery works and then walk around the plantations. To be fair I have friends who have been in good weather and they have some epic photographs! Lois, Paula and I decided to take a tour to one that afternoon, and it was kind of interesting but we were told it would take an hour and we were in and out in around 15 minutes. The rest of the tour is walking through the fields but the weather wasn’t having any of it. When you finish you get the opportunity to buy some fancy tea from the gift shop. Be warned, they must times the real price by about 400% – save your money and buy it local to where you’re staying.

In better weather this would be a beautiful place to have a cup of tea

Lake Gregory, built by the British when they were ruling the roost! It’s another Lake District vibe, they built it so people had somewhere to relax and have picnics.

Bale Bazaar / Winter Market. Self explanatory I reckon this one. I was wearing every long sleeved / long legged item of clothing I had and was still cold, but my backpack is still bursting at the seams so while I could have done with an extra winter coat and some more layers, markets and shopping are something I am actively avoiding!

Hiking – loads of bloody hiking but again, I’m not one for hiking in the rain, I used to begrudge walking my dogs in the rain and I loved them more than life itself.

Plan B:

My friends decided to pack up the next day and move on to the next town. I was determined not to let the weather win and find something nice to do anyway. I hate to leave a place without finding something good about it!

I checked out of the hostel and moved into a BnB closer to the action. (When I say action I am massively exaggerating … I just mean close to the ‘centre’).

The night before we had gone for food at The Grand Indian, which was lovely, cheap, and way posher than we were dressed for. This seemed to be the only restaurant that anyone could recommend to us. I spent most of the morning in my new hotel googling places to eat but couldn’t really find anything of any interest.

Sadly, after walking around the town I still didn’t find anything much to report back on. I took myself for lunch in a little local looking place and had some stir fried vegetables and got back on my phone to find something to do.

Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel popped into a few searches. They don’t accept bookings, it starts at 3:30pm and lasts until 6pm, but it is first come first served and the best seats are at the front as they over look the beautiful grounds. So if you decide to go, try and be there for 3:30pm sharp!

I planned to head back to my hotel with enough time to shower, put on some make up and wear something slightly smarter than the leggings, hoodie and trainers I was currently in. Can’t be off to afternoon tea dressed like riff raff!

I still had a few hours to kill so I went in search of the racecourse. Horse racing was actually banned in Sri Lanka in 1956, but for some reason was allowed again in 1981. The track in Nuwara Eliya is the only surviving course in the country. I got there and nothing was really happening, a couple of horses were knocking about but nothing to write home about. Never mind.

Victoria Park:

I was wandering back to my hotel when I spotted some really, really pretty manicured gardens! Named after Queen Victoria (Little England proving it’s British ties once again) it is apparently famous for bird watching. I say apparently because I didn’t see any.

Entrance fee was 300 rupees for tourists, compared with 40 rupees for locals. *eye roll* Now that’s only £1.50 in GBP, but still … big old difference!

I spent a little while wandering around and it was beautiful, you can tell a lot of time and effort was spent making it look so nice, and I quickly didn’t begrudge the price. There were some local families sat having picnics and other tourists like me snapping away. But then it started raining. Obviously.

I sheltered under a tree for a while but then gave up and went back to my hotel to get ready for afternoon tea.

The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya:

As my tuk tuk pulled up outside the hotel it really was impressive. As always in Little England there were perfectly manicured gardens and colourful flowers all leading up to it. A smartly dressed doorman was waiting ready to greet you on arrival. I felt like I had gone back in time. It was torrential downpour at this point so I didn’t stop for outside photographs sadly.

Afternoon tea was served in a really nice little room to the left of the main entrance, overlooking the driveway to the front door of the hotel and the gardens. The big bay windows were open despite the rain and there were heaters on inside.

I was seated near the back because I wasn’t an early bird as planned. When I had gone on the wifi at the hotel I actually had some bad news from home but decided to go ahead with my plans once I pulled myself together. Life is short and opportunities aren’t to be wasted.

First up my tea was delivered, my pet hate when having tea is too much milk. I like my tea to be browner than my fake tan and too much milk grosses me out. The super attentive waiters pour the milk for you and he got a bit carried away for the next 5 seconds after I said ‘Stop, stop, stop, STOP!’ but never mind, I’m not a big tea fan as it is so it wouldn’t hurt to have one wishy washy cup.

I ordered my vegetarian afternoon tea and it arrived seconds later. There was a lot of salmon paste involved so those bits got left. I unfortunately didn’t have much of an appetite so I picked at a few things and then sat people watching. There was a good mixture of people in there, travelling couples, older couples dressed very smartly who I would guess were hotel residents, young families, solo travellers like me. It catered for everyone so despite it being quite posh it wasn’t somewhere you should feel uncomfortable, I could have rocked up in my hoodie and trainers!

Looks like a cup of pure milk to me

Second tea and I asked to do the milk myself!

I went for a little wander around the hotel which was made up with gift shops, jewellery shops, bars, endless lounge areas! It was a maze! I went back to the dining room and got the bill. I realised I hadn’t even checked the price, I was so surprised when I paid and realised it had cost me the grand total of £6.20! Glad it hadn’t been too swanky price wise considering I had barely eaten it.

I went back to the hotel and decided to call it a night, Nuwara Eliya was certainly a beautiful place but it also struggled to offer any indoor activities. So if you don’t mind hiking in the rain, you’ll get on just fine! But personally, I prefer my holidays to come without the flu. I left real England for a few reasons, and Little England’s rain was just a reminder of one of the major ones!

I packed up that night ready for an early train the next day to Kandy, crossing fingers and toes for some better weather when I got there!

Has anyone ever managed to see Nuwara Eliya without the rain causing chaos?? Comment below and let me know how it was in good weather!

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka you may also find these posts useful:

GETTING AROUND A BIT: TRANSPORT IN SRI LANKA

WHAT TO DO IN ELLA, SRI LANKA

FINDING TURTLES IN SOUTHERN SRI LANKA

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