A sunny, warm and brilliant Sydney day provided the backdrop for our departure on this much planned and anticipated journey. From Sydney to Southampton, six weeks on a cruise ship called Aurora, with so many exciting ports of call. Once we arrive in Southhampton we will then have another ten weeks of wandering around England and taking in all that we choose while catching up with friends and family. A truly exceptional time and privilege, and we are very excited.
From shore to ship. Having said many a goodbye we boarded the ship without crowds or complications. Many travellers have been on this ship from Southhampton and will do the 'whole loop', some have joined along the way but about 400 of us have become part of the traveling crowd at Sydney. For the last two days the ship has been in Sydney and it will leave this evening at 6ish.
Just perfect - moving in was easy as......
A toast to the shimmering harbour and those iconic landmarks. So many new experiences to look forward to while still savouring the much loved.
Gloriously windy as the ship points towards the heads. Au reviour seems appropriate for now. I hope that you enjoy the journey with me ... 'What Tracy Did' has just begun.
Three days at sea
Having left the land behind we head out across The Ditch (AKA Tasman Sea) and we look forward to three days of shipboard action with a call into Milford Sound before heading to the first port of call at Dunedin. The question asked by some before we left was 'what do you do with all that time?' So here I go with an attempt to describe our days and evenings. Each day there is an abundance of action offered through the shipboard newsletter - Horizon - suffice to say that so far I have managed to attend none of the activities - I did plan to attend the 2pm 'Adult Whist Drive' on one occasion but having circumnavigated the ship many times I still find that I'm not quite in the place I might want to be, I was told by a very officious coordinator that 'you're not playing' as I arrived a moment too late - Ian had in fact arrived in time and was well ensconced - his further adventures with this group proved most entertaining - checkout his blog for funny tales. So back to filling time.... there is plenty of reading time, I have read one book so far, there is plenty of listening time, catching up on podcasts and audio books there are plenty of people to chat to there are movies to watch - two so far. There is always the delights of selecting what deliciousness will be consumed, so far I've had Duck, Partridge, Steak and Kidney Pie and lots more great food. We have attended the captain's welcome aboard party, formal black tie occasion, where Ian advised the captain to 'keep up the good work'. We have been entertained by a talented New Zealand tenor singing a range of tunes, had two exceptionally talented young women play a mix of music on piano and clarinet, Rhapsody in Blue was a highlight but then there were two Schubert piano pieces that were great as well.
Milford Sound Finally today we cruised into Milford Sound - a very spectacular meander into what, in so many ways seems a prohibitive location but is in fact a busy fishing, tourist, scientific research centre with flights in and out, helicopters overhead, ferry size cruise boats and kayaks and all of this activity is looked upon by the glacial carved mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, seals, and sea birds with indifference - always presenting itself in its stunning beauty. So now I am sitting looking out of the window, it is a little wet and cool outside, watching the coastline of NewZealand's south island appear and disappear in the cloudy mists. Just wonderful.
Dunedin (Celtic for Edinburgh)
Our feet back on terra firma for a moment in Dunedin. This very Scottish influenced city honours the poet Robert Burns at the centre of the city's octagon. We have a day to explore the city and what stories it might reveal to us. Having clearly stated that it has it's roots are in Scottish settlement it is worth noting that the Maori settled in the area some four hundred years prior to the Scots coming in 1848 and called the area Otepoti.
There are a number of well kept, solid and some may say beautiful, although I think impressive rather that beautiful, buildings. This one is the railway station built in the early 1900s in Flemish Renaissance-style architecture.
Inside the station are mosaics and royal dalton tiles used in great number, all created to reflect the purpose of the building. it is very much a working station.
A walk along the main street, heading towards the Botanic Garden, proved that this city also has a mix of looks. I love the blue cow.
Our walk from the city brought us to the Botanic gardens, situated very much like Wollongong, on the edge of the university. We followed a path along the water way, were greeted by a gathering of ducks and listened to many a birdsong.
Back to the octagon we go, a welcome glass of Monteith's cider, yes it is Tasmanian and then back to the Port - yes we did arrive in Port Chalmers which is a 20 minute bus run into Dunedin and Port Chalmers, although a small town has its fair share of large and imposing churches.
Not at all sure what is temporary for the locals but for now it would be me and the large ship in the background.
On the recommendation of a local we walked up, yes I did say up the hill towards an imposing church and potentially to a memorial of Scott of the Antarctic - I got over the idea of Scott's memorial as I climbed this hill and took a picture looking back over the harbour before returning to the ship and putting my feet UP. Akaroa - Maori for long harbour, but also a little French
Sunrise over Akaora. A calm, chilly morning and a short tender ride will deliver us to the township. Prior to the earthquake in Christchurch cruise ships would call in there and offer a shore tour to Akaroa. These days Akaroa greets the cruise ships and trips to Christchurch can be taken but this little gem of a town with a population of five to six hundred is so hospitable it is well worth staying for the visit.
Today there were two cruise ships in the harbour with an estimated 4000 visitors. It was definitely the infestation of the tourist! Still it was a delightful day with a few unexpected pleasures.
The opening into the harbour and looking back on the two large floating cities in port for the day.
My first treat was this little memento. Having not committed to climbing up the hill to the Scott of the Antarctic memorial in Port Chalmers yesterday here I find a local lad who was part of Shackleton's Antarctic venture and he was waiting for me on the foreshore!!
This town was to be a very French settlement, and in 1840 a group of French colonists did take up residence but it seem the British raised the Union Jack and claimed the area as English. The French were not to be put off and to this day the town has a significant French flavour and culture.
Having remembered our binoculars we discovered many a wonderful bird, most of which were impossible to take a picture of but these few images indicate that we did in fact find some. The one below is a local NZ Pigeon (about the size of a small chicken). One of our wandering spots brought us to this children's playground - the 'toy' horse is so solid it doesn't move and it certainly looks more like an instrument of torture that something to play on!!
The last lovely place we saw today was the refurbished lighthouse, no longer on the headland but lovingly restored on the high point in town. I even managed to climb out on to the upper verandah - another top day!
Wellington - a suitable capital
Our last New Zealand port of call and another great day. The cable car to the top of the hill was a busy place today so having had the luxury of a cable car trip on a previous occasion we decided that a walk around the harbour and to visit the museum.
Jump in, the water is fine... I'm guessing on a warm summer's day that that invitation might be a little more inviting. The only advise on the sign was no belly flopping!!!
The museum was a busy place, lots of visitors and not just school groups, maybe the cricket world cup has brought many a visitor here too. There is an outdoor environment display where we saw more Tūī, such tuneful birds - with two voice boxes, and many a busy spider building its web.
Shrink wrapped buildings - reminds me of Christo wrapping up Little Bay all those years ago.
Wellington has many lovely buildings - I like this Art Deco looking facade of the old hotel / backpackers and the station has some pretty fancy brick work. Pago Pago - a busy little port
Arrival in the early morning - surrounded by mountains covered in green and deep blue waters this is beautiful but very humid - even in the early morning.
Prior to arriving here we had to take a detour around Cyclone Pam -- the attached image shows the pathway of the ship (it's the tiny red ship shape in each frame as it sort of circled the cyclone - wild grey seas were crossed - quite spectacular indeed.
Into the town we head, melting along the way, such humidity - the air felt drinkable!! Still there were lots of good spots to stop and check out - A tree carving and, straight from my childhood memory a red hibiscus hedge, I think we had one around our house in Madang many years ago.
A swim was called for although the water was very warm - it was cooler to get wet and stand in the breeze really. Wise advice about getting to higher ground but I suspect my climbing skills are almost beyond getting up some of these local hills.
So in spite of having a very melting day it was fun and the people of the city were friendly, cheery and helpful. The common means of transport is on bus like vehicles that I suspect are really transformers - the bus in this picture has the front of what appears to be a medium size Datsun car bolted to it - but there is lots of happy music playing to keep you going or at least entertained. A busy port but there is always room for more markets - tucked behind the building under the stripped tents.
After five sea days we arrive at Honolulu - Aloha
Five days of checking out the blue waters - i love it! It is possible to walk the deck of the ship and while walking this circuit I get to watch the water around us go through so many hues of blue, green and grey - I particularly love this colour.
On one of the days at sea we crossed the equator, only a little bump according to the captain, and it was also very near the equinox - so what else would one do but capture the moment closest to that time, an educated guess, but take a photo of an almost non existent shadow........
Arrival in Honolulu. The rising sun on the Aloha clock, and the clock time is correct!!
The waters around the harbour are clear and full of life.
The day had an element of 'the seat of your pants' organisation, although Ian told me later that he had already checked the shuttle bus options into town and had a pretty good idea of how it would work - and there was me thinking it just turned out really well!!
We found a free shuttle bus, well sort of, this bus service was complementary from a business that farmed various corals and pearls so although it cost nothing we did have a 'tour' of the jewellery business and then had to option to purchase some very classy but expensive jewellery - nothing purchased but we did then go, on the complementary bus, to Waikiki Beach.
Here Duke stands tall and proud amongst a very busy beach with Banyan trees along the edge . Somewhat Gold Coast like still very pretty but a little chaotic too. There seemed to be no arrangements for separate spaces for swimmers, surfers or even catamarans sailing through.
The water was cool and clear. The Banyan tree was planted in the early 1900s - it is quite grand - and offers shade for many, including the local police.
Lunch was called for and having had some advice from friends prior to coming here, that usually one serve of anything is more that adequate for two, we went with that advice and enjoyed this feast for one for two.
We spent the afternoon wandering the downtown area checking the view from the top of the Aloha Tower and locating wifi at McDonalds.
View of Waikiki Beach between two sky scrapers. Like many cities this one has its fair share of new, old, lost and broken buildings and people. As tourism is the major source of income there is a lot of building happening, holiday accommodation and shopping seems to dominate.
Looking towards the mountainous centre of this volcanic island and some of the older buildings of the city.
Of the many tours on offer today a fair number of passengers opted for a visit to Pearl Harbour. Had there been enough time I may have gone in that direction as well but with limited time this did not come to pass but from the top of the Aloha Tower Pearl Harbour can be seen in the distance.
Hilo - on Big Island
Arrival in Hilo - the ship negotiated a narrow way into the harbour which has the breakwater wall you can see in this image. It was constructed in an effort to reduce the power of any Tsunami wave that heads towards Hilo and having been knocked with such waves in the 1946 and 1960 it seems like a good idea!
To begin the day we decided to join the yellow wrist pack - a great decision as it turns out. It is in fact the Hoppa on and Hoppa off bus and we did exactly that many times and had a great day. First Hoppa off is at Rainbow falls, close to town and very pretty, yes I know that's Ian but I'm talking about the falls in the picture below.
Looking downstream from the waterfall (with yellow wrist band) and becoming one with a Banyan tree, I do love these trees they have so many tangents, trailing roots really but I love a tangent. From here we hoppa on and head towards the main street.
This place has a very 'island' feel. It is relaxed and chilled with happy coloured shops and other interesting buildings. There is a local food and trinket market at the end of the street. The photos show a mix of the buildings from Art Deco to a grand Federal Building, Post Office included. I guess there has been many a rebuild / refit after the Tsunamis because all of the town area is in the 'Tsunami Zone.'
Hoppa on then took us to the Japanese Gardens, by way of the King Kamehameha statue. He was the one who by 1810 had transformed all the islands into a single nation. Ian is just chillin' with the man.
I think I should mention here that this is the island where Captain Cook was killed in February 1779. It seems, according to the locals we asked, that the state flag has retained the Union Jack in its top left hand corner because of the connection with Cook. As the memorial is on the West of the Island and Hoppa was on the East we didn't see the memorial but what we did see and experience we appreciated.
Having a moment on the gardens with a Banyan tree and some birds.
By now the day was well hot and it was time to go to the beach and get wet. The black sand beaches are popular swimming spots for all types. Green turtles included.
We had just enough time to have one more Hoppa on before we Hoppaed off at the pier and we spent the last of the day in town savouring the local food and drink as well as appreciating the flora of the street.
To end such a great day, while we were on deck, Hilo had one more surprise on offer. As the ship worked its way from its berth and around that Tsunami wall I mentioned earlier there were a group of Humpback whales, yes I still can't believe it, and armed (or eyed up) with binoculars we watched the spouting water, the waving flippers and playfulness of these wonderful creatures who then 'waved a tail in the air' as we moved further away from Hilo.
It's dark but I think we are in San Francisco
Coming into San Francisco means coming in under 'that bridge' so even though it's predawn we ventured forth to the upper deck to ensure it really happened.
In this light the bridge appears to be gold but really it is very red. We passed the shrouded darkness of Alcatraz and headed towards the port as the sun started to rise.
An early arrival means that we watch this place begin its day. Pier 39 is quiet unlike it will be in the next few hours and the first business to open greeted us with this large bear carved from a large piece of wood - we survived the bear and just to reassure ourselves that this was the US I had Ian stand with a baseball bat and ball on his head. At the end of the Pier there is a colony of Sea Lions who moved in after the 1989 quake and decided to stay, maybe they know a good thing and there is a less likely chance of another quake in this location but they are entertaining, smelly and very popular with the tourists.
From the wharf Alcatraz is very visible and uninviting, a message of our punitive side. Prisoners were seen as so bad that they were kept off the land of San Francisco even when they were transported here.
Availing ourselves of the services of a Hop On Hop Off bus we saw lots of the city buildings, many used in films such as Ghost Busters and Towering Inferno..., some famous for the authors and poets as well as the film stars who lived here and some are just quirky buildings. The green building is actually tarnished copper.
Back at the Pier the carousel was doing the rounds with many holiday makers. It is Spring break for many school children and this place draws local and international travellers.
To finish a great day we meet up with some relatives of friends, never seen them before nor they us, but we found each other and had a brilliant evening of Margaritas, Italian food, local beer and tops company - thank you!
Breakfast, buses, beaches and more.
Today brings more sun and as we walked towards Pier 39 for our Mexican breakfast, wifi included, we passed this piece of art which is one of countless pieces in and around this city which sees public space as a place for as much art as possible.
Breakfast was a feast - Huevos Rancheros! From here we found our first bus trip for the day. Across the Golden Gate Bridge and onto Sausalito with a couple of stops along the way.
Ready, get set, get ready - happy us on the open bus about to head out towards the bridge. As yet it is not too windy but there is plenty of wind to come.
One of the stops was at the Palace of Fine Arts, very grand and again reflective of the artistic culture of this city.
Crossing the bridge, bad pictures but at least I really was there having a hoot of a time. The bridge, so the story goes, had a golden rivet ceremoniously inserted as the last one when the bridge was completed but the name is all about the bay. Apparently the initial name of the area, which was Spanish, name meant golden.
Our second adventure for today was to get on top of a two story open bus and head out for the parks and beach area and to get there meant passing through an some of the older neighbourhoods, often with Victorian houses, now under protection laws, that had survived earlier earthquakes, fires and the demolition of many houses with TNT to create a fire break in 1906 because they had no water access to stop the fires!
Neither of these pictures does justice to the wind that was blowing across the beach and trying to lift everything off our faces. I battened down in the wind jacket amongst much laughter, Ian was brave enough to pull out the camera and take this picture - so I had to include it after he risked so much to take it.
When we returned to Union Square and retreated from the wind we had a brief wander through Macy's and came across this artistic display.
A cable car ride is tourist must. The locals don't tend to use these as the rides are more expensive than the trolley buses but today I'm a tourist and we hopped on the Cable Car back to Fishermans Wharf, with lots of other tourists. We opted for an inside seat given the exposure we had already undergone. Such fun was had as up and down we went and the children just added to the joy of the ride.
Back at the wharf and our final walk along the pier to the ship to leave having had a most excellent two day visit. I have included a picture of a trolley bus even though we just couldn't fit a ride in and then there is me next to the stall where we bought that most delicious crab chowder in the sourdough roll, and then outside the restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal with new friends.
Hola - Cabo San Lucas.....
Arriving on Good Friday at this Mexican port town I am confounded by its natural beauty and the crowded cacophony of tourists, holiday makers, locals, hotels, glitzy shopping malls, markets, a marina and construction, construction, construction. It seems it is only the construction work that is not happening today, I guess in deference to the easter holiday, but everything else is in go mode!
To get to the action we first need to get the Tender to shore, which we do as early as possible because it is hot and only going to get hotter. On the way to the Tender wharf there are playful seals enjoying the clear waters of the bay.
At the Marina wharf there are boats everywhere, some with their own gift wrapped helicopter. We decide to walk the length of the foreshore known as Marina Boardwalk, newly paved and construction still happening as we went around, towards the beach. Our most often spoken greeting was 'No Thank you' as we were offered trips, cigars, toys, silver jewellery, clothing, hats and much more.
Backpack ready as we head off along the foreshore.
Some of the 'decorations' outside one of the foreshore shops.
Outside a very new, partly finished, shiny shopping Mall
We made it to the beach and tested the water - very refreshing. This is a very long beach with plenty of resorts facing directly on to the sand and the most densely populated part of the beach was in front of a large resort - we avoided that space - but you can still see the roped lanes from sand edge into the water where I guess you could do some laps?
In the background there were some people on 'flyboards'. Basically you stand on a board and the water jets push you up into the air on the board and you stay up, while being pulled long, certainly looked like fun and providing the place with a sense of being a playground and did I mention construction..
These three pictures show the surrounding hillside of the area, lots of rocks and very arid country. Then we have the Marina with shiny boats and regular dingies with an abundance of pelicans, sea gulls and other sea birds as well as new public buildings such as this quirky shaped cultural centre.
Then finally as we go back on board having had an interesting and enjoyable day we cruised pass these rocks which seem to be the marketing image of the town. Here you can swim amongst the coral and see beautiful fish or look through a glass bottom boat or just sail around the wonderful natural formation as the birds and fish do their thing.
To add to the joy of the day as we left some whales were playing, lots of water spouts, some tail splashing and the occasional breaching leaving me feeling very privileged and hopeful that this place will somehow keep its natural beauty and not get to 'over constructed'.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica - what we did and didn't see
Puntarenas, which means Sandy Point, is true to its name. A long black sandy stretch where this huge ship can dock at a wharf in waters deep enough to be this close to the town. There is a little information I am aware of about this place, it has no army, it grows coffee, it has interesting wildlife and it is hot.
Our hope today is to find some wildlife and we chatted to some local operators (of sorts) on the dock and decided to use a taxi, with air conditioning (thankfully). Ian is standing next to the big red taxi as we stopped at the bridge.
Bridge as mentioned looking towards the birds on the sand but unable to identify or see much of them.
Looking directly below the bridge these prehistoric creatures were enjoying the sun and the loitering vultures were hoping for a feed. There are about 33 crocodiles per kilometre and they are protected.
From crocodiles to heading up the mountain into the national park - great view back towards Puntarenas with grass fires included. This is a place of contrasts there is rainforest and hot dry plains often reminding me of home. We didn't find any of the wild life but hopefully it's there and doing OK. I believe that there is a strong conservationist principle being pushed in Costa Rica.
This is a close as I came to the wonderful birds of Costa Rica. An upmarket tourist centre on the way out of town - it had the best wifi we have come across - go figure.
Back into the main centre of town. The first picture is some of the buildings in the street, the second is the supermarket - effectively fenced but then just about every dwelling is fenced like this - most homes and a majority of other buildings look like compounds because of the security fencing. The last picture is the pub / cafe opposite the wharf where we did consume some local beer and it is the odd building because it isn't fenced. Having said this the people were friendly, helpful and pretty chilled really.
A great day ashore in a town of friendly, interesting people, hidden wildlife, whacky buildings behind fences and heat.
Brown Boobies and Orange Faces
Our sea days offer lots of time for looking for creatures from the deep but today we spent the day, yes the whole day, watching birds. These birds, pretty sure they are Brown Boobies, kept pace with the ship throughout the day as they flew, glided, dived and fished until sunset when they then tried to settle on the front mast of the ship - very funny to watch. What I didn't realise was that in spite of being in shade I turned a lovely orange with white eyes - care of having my glasses on - with sun reflection off the ocean - oops! So much fun had in one day by birds and me alike..
Canals across Panama
Today is a day of watching a very large ship squeeze into six narrow canals, and I'm informed that the ship will fit because it is within the Panamax measure - built to the maximum size that can go through the canals. In my naivety I had thought of the Panama Canal as just that, canals, where as in fact it is very, very big. It took from about 7.45am when we entered the first lock until 4.30pm to exit the last lock.
This familiar shape marks the beginning or end of the Panama Canal on the Pacific side and the bridge is known as The Bridge of the Americas. The canal system had been attempted by the French, who eventually sold it to the Americans to complete. It opened in 1914.
Did I mention squeezing into these canals??
Some of the vast area we cruised through between locks. Plenty of Central American vegetation growing and bird songs to be heard too.
There are even more bridges along the way, as well as lots of other ships - to say it is a busy waterway is an understatement.
Many, many photos were taken by us today but I think these have scratched the surface of an amazing day and as we watched the canal continued to be under construction. Wider canals are coming so that Panamax I mentioned is about to expand!
These ladies are representative of the story and history of Curaçuo - although the Dutch have largely been the dominant occupiers it was in essence set up as a base for the slave trade. These days the relics of this history such as the fortified walls and caverns along the water front are busy, colourful places full of tourist, and locals.
Peeking through one of the fort walls that surround the port. The main building stone is coral.
A floating bridge, and a ferry connect the two busy sides of the city. The bridge was moved at least twice while we were watching for ships to dock further up the waterway. The colours of the buildings are very picturesque. It seems that one of the early governors ensured that all the buildings were painted in different colours - he owned the paint factory and probably made a tidy profit!
This delightful character (next to me) is a Chichi - it is a nickname for a special woman - - 'The happy, go lucky, curvy, older sister' I felt an affinity with Chichi.
There is much to enjoy in this place. The Dutch influence has meant that there are many cheese shops and colourful cows as well!
Good Morning Antigua
A bright, sparkling morning in Antigua. Word is that England are playing the West Indies today here in Antigua. Cricket is big here, and I soon experience the excitement of the locals who will close their business at lunch time in order to allow all to go and watch the game.
As we stepped onto the wharf a steel band was playing, people were filling the streets, cars were shuffling their way through narrow streets while the drivers, passengers and pedestrians often called out to friends and had loud conversations across the street or from corner to corner. This place radiated fun, colour and happy noise and I felt very lucky to be here.
I was keen to try a get a history of the place if possible and Museum of Antigua and Barbuda housed in the old British Colonial Courthouse was just the place to seek out the stories.
I had thought I might try a make a note of some of the significant parts of the history but this list largely captures it. I must admit, not being a big flag waver, that the the flag certainly seems to capture much of what I sensed in such a brief visit.
With so many people excited about the cricket it was impossible, for me anyway, to ignore the chance, it won't come again, to go with the local idea and if they close businesses to have a chance to watch their team play then I figure it would be rude not to enjoy the day with them! So we lined up and purchased out tickets!
Proof that I really did go to the cricket. The two batsmen are from the English team with the West indian team in the background about to had for the field. During the lunch break the 'Kiddies Cricket' teams came on and showed off their skills.
Our trip to and from the Sir Viv Richards Cricket Stadium meant that we saw more of the buildings, dwellings and landscape. My impression is that although there is a worn and sometimes shabby look to much of the area it doesn't feel unloved or a place of which the people are suitably proud of.
One of the old buildings on the pier, now converted to restaurants, shops and businesses.
As we left St John's Harbour the pelicans did a great diving and fishing show - you can just see one as it splashes into the water. A really tops day - at an amazing and fun place. I also wanted to say that the women here are quite something - they are sassy, curvy, noisy, busy (mostly the women seemed to be the ones working) and happy.
Ponta Delgada - penultimate port
Cobblestone roads, old Portuguese buildings, church bells and a mild sunny day all come together to make our brief stop in Ponta Delgada on the island of Sāo Miguel in The Azores, a very memorable one.
A mix of the old and the new. The new wharf overlooks the old,15th century Portuguese buildings and churches, and the new highrise. The clouds departed and the day was clear and mild.
One of the many churches of the town. It is Sunday and church bells rung throughout the day.
With the gates of the town in the background a group gathers for what appears to be a family fun run. Although many of the businesses are closed for Sunday there is still lots of life happening here. Some of the cafes and tourist shops will be open but as it is still before 10am a large part of the population are probably attending church.
Delightful buildings adorn the streets, here we had great coffee, used the wifi and didn't see another ship's passenger.
Around a corner and there is a garden, grevilleas included, surrounded by more of the delightful buildings.
Walking brought us to lots of fun places. There is an abundance of religious bling available from nearly all the shops, Ian standing in an arch (he loves an arch) and I'm trying to reach the door (I love a grand door).
Before leaving I had a Portuguese tart, a must on an Island with such a Portuguese history - and I was not disappointed!
So Adeus (goodbye) Ponta Delgada it has been a wonderful day.
It's spring in England
The colour has sprung and we dived into checking out the local colour of Somerset. We are staying here for the next three weeks so we thought we should begin by having a look around the market towns, villages, hamlets, gardens and historic houses within close range.
Having departed from our shipboard life, which was a somewhat chaotic morning as there were three cruise ships disembarking and 'reloading' for more cruising, we took charge of a car and did some shopping before we headed towards our little corner of Somerton in Somerset.
Plenty of sunshine, birds singing and sheep bleating - we happily settled into our place and in the evening light we walked to the local pub, sampled the cider (yum!), purchased some local cheddar cheese from the tiny shop and returned to consume the cheese and cook our own meal - the first in six weeks - not meal, we had lots of them but cooking all by ourself.
Having managed an evening meal by ourselves we also managed breakfast by ourselves and got ourselves geared up for a day out - I have the map, a hat, a jumper, a coat and a snappy car so I'm ready for anything.
In Shepton Mallet, a fresh food market was in full swing in the centre, with this old stone building dominating the proceedings.
Those spring colours kept popping up in lots of spots, the main street of the village had lots of pots full of blooming tulips.
With our National Trust membership we plan to see lots of places of interest to us and Lyte's Cary Manor was our first. A manor house built in the 13th Century and owned by the Lyte family from then until the 18th Century. It became almost derelict between then and 1907 but was carefully brought back to life by Sir Walter Jenner and eventually bequeathed to the National Trust.
In a sitting room in the manor there are two leather women statues, it seems that if there are only 13 at dinner then one of the 'ladies' may well have been placed at the table! More tulips were out and the croquet lawn - very Alice. Ivybridge and Plymouth
Today we are meeting up with Kelly and Don to have lunch at a River Cottage Canteen in Plymouth. On the way to Plymouth we called in at Ivybridge - 'Gateway to the Moors'. To get into the town of Ivybridge we had to cross the river Erme.
So across the river I went on one of the many bridges.
From Ivybridge we head to Plymouth. We had made plans with Kelly and Don to meet up, just serendipitous timing, and have lunch at one of the River Cottage Canteen and Deli centres. A very happy gathering with lots of hugs and stories to share.
And a feast of fabulous food!
The Canteen is incorporated into the Brew House of the Royal William Yard, a very large collection of naval buildings - these are former Royal Naval victualling buildings - meaning that they provided the stores for the ships from here.
A delightful visit to Bickleigh
After many miles of driving through single lane hedgerows, and hoping that I would not came across nothing coming the other way because the only option is is reverse, this sight popped into view giving me a surprise and the giggles of relief - I had made it to the village we were heading for and I hadn't met anyone coming the other way!
This is the home of friends with whom we are to enjoy lunch and a time of catching up. A perfectly delightful cottage, snug and warm and very welcoming dear people.
After lunch we had a walk around the village, here is the green, planted with apples which get picked by people of the village and made into cider.
In the church much history lies, or reclines.
Worthy causes indeed.
As we left the village we passed by Bickleigh Castle and with more road information we managed not to retrace our journey through quite so narrow hedgerows.
A fossil or two - Lyme Regis
As we headed towards the Jurassic Coast and the town of Lyme Regis we drove through so much of this verdant countryside. I had read a book by Tracy Chevalier called 'Remarkable Creatures' a while back and had wanted to visit Lyme Regis every since. The story is based on a young girl, Mary Anning, who between her and her father and brother find fossils embedded in the limestone coast including a complete skeleton of an Ichthyosaur.
Looking across to the world heritage listed coast and behind me is the Golden Cap Reserve.
Looking down to the 'beach' from one of the 'wide' streets of the town.
View from the Cobb, a sea wall to protect the harbour, (an early marina maybe) originally built in the 1300s. Note the cloud buildup - we went from bright blue to cloudy and temperature drop fairly quickly.
This building is the museum of Lyme Regis, it tells many stories, including Mary Anning's and it is on the site of her home. This town also holds a place in literature, Jane Austin visited here and in her last novel 'Persuasion' she included the town in her story. As well as Jane others such as Henry Handel Richardson and GK Chesterton frequented the town.
A 190 000 000 old ammonite fossil. You can decide which one.
Standing on the end of the Cobb - part of The French Lieutenant's Woman was filmed here..
Behind me is 'The Golden Cap' - the highest point on the southern coastland. The Golden Cap reserve is in the care of the National Trust and there is much rambling that can be done.
Cheddar - as in cheese - and Wells - as in enormous cathedral
To get into many of the villages it is common to cross a water way, makes sense really villages being near a water source, and Cheddar had these wonderful ducks foraging in the clear waters as we walked across the bridge into the village at the edge of the gorge.
First stop is for cream tea, and what a cream tea! Strawberries and cream included with scones, cakes and tea. The bay window of the tea room decorated as any good tea room should be.
The day is feeling more and more Alice like as I progress. The clock in the tea room worked backwards but it still told the right time.
Having had our tea we went off to the only Cheddar cheese factory left in Cheddar. I love cheese making and this place has been making cheese since the time of Henry II.
Much of the cheese is matured in temperature controlled rooms in the factory but there is some that is matured in the caves of the gorge. You can just see a small opening in the rocks in this picture - no cheese there but we did check it out.
When I mentioned enormous cathedrals in the title this is what I meant and this is only part of the infrastructure! Pipsqueak people begin to give a sense of the size of Wells Cathedral - and Wells is known as a city - the smallest city in England with a population of about 12000 - because it has a cathedral it is a city as with any place that has a cathedral apparently.
More of this ever expanding cathedral - a medieval clock and the row of dwellings known as Vicars' Close. As the sign indicates the oldest consistently residential inhabited street in Europe. As we walked the length of the street the sounds of much music practice wafted through the air.
You know that Alice day I hinted at - croquet on the lawn at the Bishop's Palace just added to the storybook feeling.
To complete the day a glass of cider at The Crown At Wells was called for. For those who watch the films of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost this is the place where one of their films was made, 'Hot Fuzz'.
Wandering Somerset and Taunton
Another day of exploring the local villages - I'm standing in Somerton's market cross - the building is part of the story that means that the village was decreed a market town and therefore trade could go on in the market place - I'll be back here on Saturday to see what is on offer.
Somerton also has, as most villages do, an old church - this one is a 13th century one - now belonging to the Church of England.
We also went into Traunton - a bigger centre for the area and this hotel covered in Wisteria had a heady aroma - I drank it in.
Hello 'my lovely' - Cornwall
Today we set off to find Agatha Christie's holiday home - Greenway. The house is on the River Dart with the spring flowers blooming I'm really standing there! There are many reasons I hoped to have the chance to visit here but mostly because Agatha wrote fondly of the houses she had owned and this one is now a National Trust Property. The gardens are beginning to sprout their colour, the house felt very 'lived in' and the day was sunny and all was on show - we were even greeted by a little pair of robin red breasts.
It is difficult to represent the house and its collections - she came from a long line of collectors, the house is full of both her mother's and grandmother's collections of furniture and household treasures as well as her own collections - some may call it hoarding but with a home this size it can be very forgiving and then the likes of me can enjoy wandering through - the picture here is just one end of the dining room.
This was a chair of choice for Agatha. Made of iron it is so very comfortable, with cushion, and it came from her home where she grew up in Torquay. Today it is in the boat house which is a 20 minute walk down to the water - but the little room certainly offered an escape to peace and quiet. The room sat on top of a bathing, plunge pool that was initially built in the 17th Century.
This is the underneath of the boatshed. Inside is the plunge pool, a little the worse for wear, and even in Agatha's time she said it was not for her as she preferred the outdoors when she bathed - sensible woman.
Just some of the colours in the garden!
I started with the title hello “My Lovely" because while in Cornwall today I have been greeted with this friendly statement by locals and with that light rolling lilt in their voice - I really am here!
From Greenway we made our way across the Dartmoor National Park an on into Cornwall. Lots of animals roam the moor - and as it is spring there are very cute little lambs!
Quite an expanse. In the distance I think the circular stone outline is indicative of a bronze age wall village.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan were a wonderful surprise - following a visit by Kelly and Don and their enjoyment of these gardens we decided to make the trip - so pleased we did. I was reminded of the story of The Secret Garden because the story of these gardens is that between 1770 and 1914, four generations of people created a thriving, self-sufficient community, after which little is known but the gardens were 'lost' and neglected. In 1990 two men approached a far corner of a small walled garden, consumed by undergrowth. They found a tiny cubical and written upon the flaking lime-plaster wall was a list of pencil signatures, evoking past working lives. The restoration of Heligan was undertaken in their names.
So many paths to explore, so many gardens, orchards, sculptures, mystical corners and even emus! I loved the gnarled tree, the giant rhubarb, the water way with bird watching hut in place and putting old boots to good use.
From gardens to beaches - next we had a brief stop at Newquay. This is the coast where the surf action happens - not today - no surf and very cold!
Much about this place seems to be in contrast - the surf /the cold, the old buildings / relatively new surf shops and other holiday type place. There are young and old who look like committed surfers as well as locals - much the same as many coastal areas of home but somehow it is a challenge to imagine a hot summer day on a day such as this.
Onwards we head along the Atlantic coast of Cornwall to Tintagel. Here the story of the Arthur seems to have taken hold - this can be attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote 'The History of the Kings of Britain' - all fabricated - but hey you can't keep a good story down. Before I get any further into that story we called into this great place, in Tintagel. Called the 'Old Post Office' it was first put up between 1350 and 1400. Although it has been through many changes, it did start as a thatched roof building and it has been added too over the years it is still standing - even looking good!
The 'nail' in the timber holding the roof up is timber as well - and the picture isn't crooked I just took the picture at that angle show the join. Check the stone work on the wall of the outside 'shed' and there is a well-used fire place with specialist bread oven in situ.
Back to the Arthur story. I'm standing on the opposite piece of headland but to give you an idea of the one I'm standing on this seemed like a good perspective except that the one I'm standing on had a thriving castle and village life and a slightly less solid connection to the mainland. To be fair I have added lots of pictures and these only begin to give an idea of this stunning, unbelievable, against the odds place.
So there were a number of steps, some steep paths and at the top of that a castle ruin and evidence of many other dwellings. EEEK - it was steep!!! I am standing above what has become known as Merlin's cave.
Ian standing (maybe having something to say) overlooking the Atlantic - I didn't go quite so close to the edge.You can see the corners of some buildings in the second shot and those steps!
Life for these baby goats and their mother is possibly much the same as when this place was first built - perspective is everything.
Walking the footpaths of Lydford
It's bank holiday weekend and we decided to walk some of the public footpaths that criss-cross so much of this land. The path today is from East Lydford, where we are staying to West Lydford. Both mentioned in the Doomsday book and both with significantly large churches - these days the East Lydford one is in disrepair, you can just see the steeple in the distance, but West Lydford is a going concern. The village takes it's name from two Saxon words, Lyd torrent or noisy stream and Ford, a passage crossing the river which was established in 1050 AD. The villages of East and West are where the Roman Fosse Way crossed the River Brue.
Standing on the banks of the River Brue. It is warmish and dry so we continue on our walk.
Over stiles we head on...
along the lush grassy pathways along the banks - It felt like Ratty and Moley could pop out and say hello at any moment.
Through the bursting flowers of spring
and listening to the rush of water over the weir...
heading for the bridge...
to finding the church in West Lydford, complete with blossoms.
Finally nearing home and feeling a little bit wet and drippy. A truly delightful afternoon walk.
A little taste of Wales - Cymru to the locals
Into the south of Wales we go. The first place we visited was a Roman ruin in a place called Caerleon - By AD90 the town had grown large enough to support the ultimate Roman entertainment, the gladiatorial games and this amphitheatre.
I'm standing at the ceremonial entrance - Porta Pompa - to the amphitheatre where it would have been the final steps for many gladiators who were about to enter the arena.
Centre stage and all is green and peaceful today.
The events that once filled the amphitheatre.....
From Roman days to more modern times - sort of! This medieval fortress was built mostly between 1268 and 1271 by Gilbert 'The Red' de Clare to prevent fellow contemporary Llewellyn ap Gruffudd from achieving his southward ambitions. This is the view we had while having coffee - hard to ignore something this size this is - Caerphilly Castle .
Here I stand on what was once the draw bridge and the main entrance to the castle - but this is a castle within a castle because in the other picture I'm standing at the foot of the second wall after entering the first wall and yes I did walk to the top of the tower on very a skinny spiral staircase.
While walking the staircase rooms open up and this banquet hall with enormous fireplace was just one of them.
Caerphilly Castle is a serious fortress. Even Oliver Cromwell's roundheads failed to break the castle's boundaries, although they did leave their mark - the leaning tower - just behind me - has leaned 3m out of the perpendicular since 1648.
It is a castle of staggering proportions, there was a huge grain store, a mill with water wheel (people had to be fed), rooms large and small, a massive moat and weapons a plenty. Each aspect of the building was defendable with views across the lands!!
Bath, Bristol and Montacute House
We begin these few days with a visit to Bath. A very different town with the wide streets and the curved buildings. Rebuilt during the Regency period the town is full of surprises - including this bridge with shops along it.
Some of those wonderful curved buildings.
While in the town we took time to visit the Jane Austin Centre. A delightful step back into the stories of another time.
Bath really does have Baths - and they are Roman.
To Bristol we go. We had arranged tickets to the theatre before leaving home and the Bristol Old Vic theatre had a production of Birdsong. A powerful piece focused on WWI.
Montacute House, an Elizabethan house and gardens just down the road from where we are staying. It has recently been a location for the shooting of the BBC production of Wolf Hall.
As a representation of an Elizabethan grand building the house is pretty much as it was when it was built. Most of the glass in the windows is original and although there was a small addition of an extra entrance hall/corridor at the back of the building it has not really been altered otherwise.
Walking through the rooms and along the long corridor which is the entire length of the building on the third floor and purpose built for walking, games and general entertainment certainly gave me an entertaining day. Last days in Somerset
Spring is definitely working its magic. We have been here for the last three weeks and the colours of spring are budding.
We had the delight of being entertained and looked after by very dear friends over the weekend and while with them we we went to Salisbury Cathedral. Here one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta is on display and I was informed the spire of the cathedral is the tallest in England - and there are plenty of tall spires in this country to compete with.
The sun was shining and it was a chance to explore the viaduct. The access to the viaduct was through the local fishing club and although we were allowed to walk the paths it was important to make sure we didn't disturb the fisher folk or even the fish!
We found the viaduct and I think we managed to leave the fisher people in peace.
During the afternoon we went walking in the woods, Swell Woods which is a Royal Society for of Protection Birds reserve. In the middle picture there really is a heron's nest and we watched the young ones being fed!
For our last day here we went to Sherborne Castle - that's the castle on the other side of the lake which is in the gardens of the castle. Built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and since 1617 it has been the home of the Digby family.
I'm sitting the chair known as Raleigh Seat. It was positioned so that he could enjoy the view over his gardens and observe the traffic on the old road to Dorchester. The lake was a later development, about 1776, when the Digby family had Capability Brown design the gardens.
When Raleigh first had the castle it was the one behind the wall now in ruins - it was destroyed in the civil war. Raleigh had built the newer lodge, as it was called, after trying to modernise the old castle. There is a story of an imminent attack during the civil war, by the roundheads, and the women and children in the Sherborne Lodge/Castle were unable to defend themselves. Luckily the head of the household was the sister of the leader of the Roundhead officer and she sent a letter to him saying that if they destroyed the castle then her bones would be amongst the rubble. Her life and the lives of those within the castle was spared as was the castle.
A perfect day of spring colour, sunshine and a surprising house and garden.
Going to London to see......
Leaving Somerset behind we drove to London on a very wet day, and found our new place for the next two weeks. The view from our little studio apartment is very green with plenty of birds and grey squirrels to watch.
As we planned to spend the weekend with friends we decided to include a visit to Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire because it is located not too far from them. This is the house where, after her father died and the women were left with few resources, Jane's brother who had been adopted by a wealthy relation when he was a child, provided this house for Jane, her sister and mother to live in. The house is full of reminders of their life in this picturesque village. It was while she lived here that Jane revised her manuscripts and had her books published.
There is a suggestion that the desk I am next to was in fact the writing desk used by Jane herself - but if it isn't, what the heck, at least it was like this one.
Further up the road was the Chawton House that belonged to Edward Austen Knight. Now a Centre for Study for Early English Women's Writing 1600 - 1830.
Over the weekend we spent a sunny day in Kew Gardens with our friends. There is lots to enjoy and there is colour in abundance.
There are a variety of Glasshouses and conservatories, some with orchids and others with giant leafed plants that I fit under!
Also within the gardens are galleries and this one we are in front of is full of art works from around the world all done by an adventurous Victorian woman by the the name of Marianne North. She seems to have been self taught and had a fascination with botany - hence she painted plants and sometimes included the animals also.
Kew Palace was a childhood home of George III and it became his 'retreat' when he suffered his periods of madness. When he retreated to Kew his family came with him, his wife Charlotte bore 15 children 13 of whom survived. Their eldest son was known as the Prince Regent, because he was fulfilling the role his father was not able to while he was 'unwell'.
One of the refurbished rooms of the house.
One of the gardens in the grounds of Kew Palace.
Theatres, gardens and a battleground
Still having so much fun and the colour keeps coming. Since my last post we have managed to be entertained by an orchestra in Covent Garden Opera House, checked out backstage, stood in front of Turner, Monet, Gainsborough paintings, seen the longest running play The Mousetrap, stepped back in time in the gardens of Sissinghurst and walked the battle ground of 1066 in Hastings.
In the Paul Hamlyn Hall, behind the glass front of Covent Garden Opera House, an orchestra of young professionals played Beethoven and we managed to score tickets to this a free lunchtime concert - I was transported - it was magic.
Not the best picture but having visited the National Gallery and stood with Queen Charlotte whose home in Kew Gardens we have recently visited I wanted to include her.
We also had a backstage tour of the Opera House. All the upper building behind me is where we saw lots of activity. There was the main auditorium, the ballet dancers doing their warm up, the costume department, the complex stage moving and a full rehearsal of the opera La Boheme with orchestra going on in the background.
We purchased tickets from the well known TKTS in Leister Square for the ever so long running Agatha Christie's "The Mouse Trap". Sitting in the Upper Circle was like sitting with the gods but surprisingly we were still close to the stage. Very entertaining and what happened in the theatre stays in the theatre.
A visit to London which includes a performance at the Globe is like the shape of the theatre, full circle - it completes the fun and this particular evening's performance is As You Like It.
Today is a visit to my favourite garden - Sissinghurst. The sun is up, the sky is blue and it is beautiful. To be back in this garden in Spring is such a treat, a little busier than our last visit but the garden accommodates us all very comfortably.
The meadows are being left to a more natural state which will provide more environments for the animal and birdlife. The white garden is being restored to its original state - after more research.
As it was not too far away we decided to include a visit to the site of the Battle of Hastings. So this image, green and peaceful, does not really tell the bloody story that impacted the course of English history. The view up the hill where an abbey stands, built by William the Conquerer to commemorate the event, is where the English forces of King Harold stood to face the invading Norman army.
Before heading back to Crystal Palace a cup of tea was called for. Just across the road from the Abbey is this lovely place, probably built around the 1400s. The Abbey was built in about 1070 and called Battle Abbey - it still has the site of King Harold's death marked and hence the village is called Battle.
Walking Crystal Palace
It's another Bank Holiday weekend - that's Public holiday in Australia speak. It's Sunday and it's warm and sunny and we head for Crystal Palace Park because there are surprises aplenty awaiting visitors.
In amongst the greenery there is a hint...
Ahh yes Dinosaurs aplenty - created in 1850 for the public to be amazed and to learn about. Called Darwin's Dinosaur Trail it was imagined on a grand scale it is still grand - and fun.
After the Dinosaur excitement a quiet walk through another park/wood just around the corner. Here people find short cuts around the town but more importantly this green corridor provides places for the animals and birdlife to hide. I saw two foxes, some grey squirrels and heard lots of birds calling.
The Crystal Palace Railway station stands tall and puts me in mind of a likely setting for a steam punk story!
What better way to enjoy London that to tiptoe through the fountain in Granary Square, King's Cross. It is 'half term' and London is bursting busy - lots of fun. Our day is shared with a dear friend Darley - both she and Ian declined the opportunity to tiptoe through the fountain.
While we were here we had coffee and some lunch before heading to the house of George Frideric Handel. He lived here from 1723 until his death in 1759 and in this house he wrote most of his music, had rehearsals and recitals where his friends came to listen to and discuss the music. His front room was a box office and the house was awash with music. Today the house was covered in scaffold while being repaired but inside the house there were musicians practising on the harpsichord, violin and viola da gamba, just perfect.
Lunch and Rum Punch at Dub Jam. A taste of the Caribbean in Convent Garden care of Darley's son-in-law who has set up various bars and now has a this place with very delicious food too.
To finish our day we walked to The Blackfriar pub and look who I found along the way - she pops up in so many places.
So it's pudding and coffee time at The Blackfriar pub - there is even a friar looking over my shoulder Mmmmmm???
Finding Mary and Mary
This little green churchyard of Old St Pancras holds a few surprises. I have come looking for the grave of Mary Wollstonecraft and find some other stories. Much of the church land was taken for the railway lines and yards. Thomas Hardy even worked as an overseer while some of the graves were moved. Mary's gravestone still stands.
From Mary's place we walk towards the British Museum and on the way we pass St Pancras Hotel - a beautiful Victorian building.
At the British Museum there were two pieces of work on display I had hoped would be there. I am standing between the detailed work of one, Mary Delaney, she was one of the friends that used to call in at Handel's house and listen to the rehearsals of his performances but at age 70 she took up making the paper cutting or decoupage of plants with botanical accuracy. We were even allowed to look at a whole box of her work in one of the back rooms on Level 4 - white gloves included. I had lots to smile about.
We left the 'lights' of London and to Tring we go although when we think we're going to a place it's always interesting to discover that in fact the place we are staying is only almost Tring but is in fact Aldbury. But above is one many, many items in the Tring Natural History Museum which has the largest collection of Victorian stuffed animals - a brief visit was had but we shall return - it is a must.
Is that bear smiling? It seems that the taxidermists often had never seen the creatures alive and were left to 'create' their looks.
On our first evening we have tickets to see The Merchant of Venice at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. By the time we come out of the theatre at 10pm the night is still yet to fall and the twilight is bright.
Finding Aldbury, Tring and Ashridge Estate
A cup of tea in our little garden is much enjoyed after walking some public paths. Having worked out that Tring is one local village, Aldbury is smaller but this is where we are staying and then there is Ashridge Estate where we went walking but all of this is quite close - nooks and crannies everywhere have their own names here.
Further across the fence from where I'm sitting having a cup of tea the deer are quietly enjoying the sunshine.
Yes I trekked across the barley field and then into the woods and up the hill to the Bridgewater monument.
Ian climbed the 172 steps to the top of this memorial to the man who pioneered the 19th century canal building.
I keep loving the colours of spring so my last picture for now is just another sight that delighted me today.
Canals and Codebreakers
Having stood by the monument to the 'Father of Inland Navigation' yesterday it was only fitting to seek out some of the local canals.
There is an very still Heron just under the bridge waiting for the next catch.
A visit to Bletchley Park. This place was a big secret during the war and it was here that many clever people put their skills to breaking the coded messages being sent during the war. It was here that Alan Turing, later known as the father of modern computer science, worked in Hut 8 cracking the enigma code.
Alan Turing in slate.
One of the rooms in Hut 8.
The film The Imitation Game was, in part, filmed at Bletchley Park, I'm standing in the library one of the rooms used for filming.
Hatfield House Stories
First there was the Royal Palace of Hatfield which was the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth I, then when James I succeeded Elizabeth he gave he house to Elizabeth's chief minister (and his), Robert Cecil - in exchange for the Cecil's family home. So Robert decided to build the house behind me and he had the original Old Palace pulled down, leaving just a small section of the Old Palace which still stands, and used the bricks from that to build the new Hatfield House and it is still in the hands of the Cecil family today.
This is what still stands of Old Palace. Still in use today - I guess they built to last in the 1400s.
So the new Hatfield House is rather grand and has some significant works of art hanging - I stand next to a famous Rainbow portrait of Elizabeth I. Unfortunately as there was a private function in The Old Palace we couldn't walk through.
The library has a large collection of antique books. The Marble room has the a very large banquet table made from a single piece of timber - seriously sturdy.
The rooms are full of intricately carved timber. Queen Victoria once held a ball in the hall above. The stained glass in the chapel is from the original house built in 1611.
The gardens of this place are enormous. I'm sitting in the small garden between The Old Palace and Hatfield House.
A day of damselflies, water birds and bird hides. As we walk into the College Lake Wildlife Centre we are surrounded by these beautiful creatures.
We had called into this place a few days ago when it was raining but today the sky is blue and we set off on our walk around the perimeter.
Below me is one of the many bird hides from which we watched the likes of Canadian Geese, Ducks, Oyster catchers, and many more and lots of their fluffy chicks.
Just popping into the hide.... and Ian is standing in a field of common poppies while I recline on the stone with Bill Oddie's name acknowledging the completion of the transformation of this park from chalk pit to wildlife centre.
Some Sunny Days well savoured
The last few days have been action aplenty. Our second visit to Stratford-upon Avon gave us some time to look around the town. A busy retail centre it be. In amongst all of this there are spots where the story of Shakespeare fits.
First stop I am in front of the house believed to be the house of the birth of Shakespeare. Second stop a short river trip up the river Avon and third point, the church where the remains of Shakespeare lay - well - eventually all of them the skull did go missing for a while. Our final stop for today was to watch the RSC performance of Othello.
We had an early start to visit Oxford the next morning, meeting up with Darley and Phil for whom Oxford is very much part of their story. Today the place was packed with tourists (that would be us), graduating students and locals (but maybe not so many of them). There is and has been a history of town v gown and how this has played out over the years suggests that to date there are very separate entities holding sway in Oxford.
There are a multitude of of grand buildings.
Grand walkways included - two grand ladies in one of the college courtyards and to finish the day, yes that is me, a visit to the local Cumnor Cricket Club. All very Oxford and very enjoyable.
Sunday is a bright and cheerful day. The outlook from our little place in Aldbury is definitely worth staying around for.
Even the deer like being around.
We did venture out to visit a local and very old windmill. Not working these days but has definitely turned the grind stone for many a bushel of grain over the centuries.
Walking through a village, beside canal and through an ostentatious house.
The village of Aldbury is looking quintessentially English. As the village is close to Pinewood studios it has been used for the occasional location shoot but mostly it is just a lovely place to drop by and have a a refreshing Ale, a Badger Ale in fact. Had the ale got the better of me there is always the old stocks outside to detain one.
Having visited the wild and whacky Tring Natural History Museum previously today we attempted to walk through Tring Park. I say attempted because the wind and rain did defeat us but before it did we managed to find a pathway in, across a motorway on an overhead foot bridge and then enter the park which was at that time being enjoyed by some local cows. I think some of this space was where Lionel Walter Rothschild kept some of his extensive collection of animals.
The canals around here abound and a morning walk along the old pathways trodden by the working animals who historically pulled the longboats was picturesque and fun.
Now on to the ostentatious part. The building in the picture is Waddesdon. Built by Baron Ferdinand De Rothschild between 1874 -1989 to house his collection of stuff - expensive stuff but lots of stuff - collecting seems to have been a family 'thing'. I guess with money you can do whatever you want and this certainly is whatever the Rothchilds wanted.
There appears to be endless amount of stuff, these are mere trinkets of the many but everything has been created, painted, stitched by those with talent. The red lounge room is in the Bachelors' Wing, yes that's where all the young single men would stay when they came to play or hunt. This was a weekend house much as the chateaus of the Loire valley - as Rothschild planned.
The garden is extensive but this part took our fancy - a grand and entertaining visit.
Let's go North
The town of Settle in North Yorkshire. I took this from a hill above where we are staying. Before we get too far into this though we had a trip off the slip road and into Mayfield to visit Phil and Darley and have an adventure or two with them.
A very suitable and warm welcome awaited us.
We joined in the petalling activity - decorating the wells with the colours of spring with the petals of flowers and fixed into the clay. An old practice it seems - the story suggests that it may have started in Derbyshire in 1349 to celebrate the fresh water coming from the wells.
Lunch was a fun and particular surprise. Owing to Ian's pointing out of a certain not straight fireplace, that would be Phil and Darley's, some years ago we were taken, eyes closed to this pub. With a lean of 1.2m it seems that all the best places are in fact fashionably crooked!
So now we come to Settle and the picturesque hills of Yorkshire with those stone walls.
We will travel on this '72 miles of scenic splendour' on Monday. The old water tower, which is at the entrance to the station, and featured on Restoration Man, is looking very classy as somebody's home. So many buildings in this country have been rebuilt, restored, reimagined meaning that so much gets reused!
Just along the road from Settle are the remains of a very industrial kiln where Limestone was burnt to bits, or powder really, for farm soil, bricks and maybe even for limelight. The first picture is the quarry pit with just the top of the kiln showing, the second is just one of the many access arches where the limestone was put into the tunnel before the heat treatment and the third is me climbing up the side wall of the kiln - go me! A waterfall with a musical connection
I know we are in Settle but the town of Giggleswick and Settle are so close and the name Giggleswick makes me smile every time. Did you know that wick spelt in Old English as wic means 'dwelling place' probably based on a latin word. So much to remember.
Walking the public footpaths on the Yorkshire Dales includes lots of dry stone walls, often obscuring the views, I can't see over them and today I even blend in with them. We climbed a steep pathway to find the waterfall that is hidden in secluded copse and a favourite place for Edward Elgar. Apparently he spent a lot of time in Yorkshire as his friend lived in Giggleswick!
A train trip
As we arrived on the platform of Settle railway station I noticed that this seat was proudly placed with its White Rose for the House of York. So often I am reminded of the number of stories that layer the places we visit. Today is all about the journey across the Yorkshire Dales to Carlisle.
I hadn't noticed just how well I blended in with the deco, one day it's a dry stone wall and the next a railway station! Oh well - all aboard the 11.46 for Carlisle. Below are just some of the '72 miles of scenic splendour' and if you look really closely at the second picture there is a viaduct in the corner which we cross, one of seventeen on this journey.
Carlisle station is somewhat larger and busier than Settle. The town, at least the places around the station where we had time to walk, was a mix of all sorts of people and buildings. Its early history was as a Roman settlement established to serve the forts of Hadrian's Wall and it still has a border town feel. We found a cafe for coffee with quirky decor, i don't think I blended in so much here.
We found a cafe for coffee with quirky decor, I don't think I blended in so much here.
Rabbits, poets and meres
I'm standing outside the house, called Hill Top, where Beatrix Potter did a lot of her writing. The house holds many treasures and although she didn't live in this house once she was married it was really her 'corner' of the world. I guess it was her study. She spent her days here writing while her husband was at work and they had their family home elsewhere in the village. The girl had style and money.
To get to the side of Windermere where Hill Top was we caught the car ferry across the lake and drove along some very narrow roads to find it.
Not only was the Lake District known for Beatrix Potter but it was also the haunt of Wordsworth family. The Wordsworth family home is in Cockermouth, (such descriptive names). William was born and went to school in the area. Later he, his sister Dorothy and Coleridge returned to live in the area where the beauty of the natural surroundings influenced their creativity greatly. The famous "I wandered lonely as a cloud......When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils Beside a lake" fits the surrounds very well.
Our drive home included finding some of the viaducts we had crossed on that train journey. As navigator Ian successfully directed my path - even across the beck! Viaducts, Cheese and an Artist
Chasing Viaducts with Ian has been a hoot! Of the seventeen we crossed when we took the Settle to Carlisle trip we managed to find, at ground level, seven. All of them awesome but so variable and I am standing under one of the twenty-four arches at Ribblehead, the longest of all the viaducts.
At the risk of being very boring I've added only three images of these magnificent constructions, I took heaps! In the first image, Ribblehead again, I am holding up the structure and looking much more in perspective. The other two are at the same viaduct, at Dent, it is the tallest one of the seventeen. I love the little bridge over the creek under the viaduct. The railway line, viaducts and all, was largely built by 'Navvies'. The term navvies came from navigators which was a nick name given to the labourers who had built the canals.
When too much cheese is definitely not enough. Here is the small but delicious booty we managed to come away with from the Wensleydale Creamery after lots of tastings and checking out the cheese museum.
Yep that's the place where very delicious cheese is made. Wallace and Gromet know about it and it has been made in this area since 1150. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries the monks, who had made the cheese initially, gave the recipe to the local women on the farms and so the creation of delicious cheese in Wensleydale continued.
I am inspired. Maybe I won't be able to make Wensleydale from the Dales and I don't have a farm house kitchen but maybe I can make some cheese.
It's two goons in Manchester. One goon caught the other goon to go and visit the Lowry Centre.
I'm standing next to a photo of L.S Lowry which is part of the story of his life and art. There was lots of his art to be savoured and there were many children there doing drawings and learning about this complex man and his art. The images of the industrial districts of North West England with the 'matchstick men' as well as some portraiture and his later landscapes and seascapes were all interesting.
Our visit to Manchester was really all about seeing the exhibition but along the way we were able to enjoy some sights and sounds of a another large city. Behind me is The Lowry, a centre for art in all it's forms. The legacy of the man and his art is much respected in his home town.
Midsummer in Yorkshire
The days get longer and Midsummer approaches. Those days are not always sunny but the Dales look good all the time, canals and viaducts included.
This picture has so many waterways and we managed to have a half hour trip on a teeny, tiny part of the Leeds to Liverpool section.
From the water we could see Skipton Castle. It was the last Lancastrian Castle, the King's last stronghold in the North. During the civil war the soldiers held the castle for three years.
Stone walls and houses are everywhere here and even the half eaten ones have a mystery about them.
As it is Midsummer eve it seemed the right evening to go a-wandering with so much light on offer. One story goes that if a night is spent, on 'Midsummer eve, at a sacred site you would gain the powers of the bard, on the down side you could also end up utterly mad, dead, or be spirited away by the fairies.' We best ensure that we return before the night is over!
By the time we took these it was 10.00 pm and a sliver of the moon was showing while the lingering light continued to illuminate Blea Moor Common.
Peregrines, Bands and a Tarn
The kind of sign that you want to read and it was all true. A family of wonderful birds with three juveniles. Before getting to this point we had walked along the footpath alongside a babbling beck towards a limestone cove, which is the birds chosen nesting site. In a past life a large waterfall flowed over the cove as the glacier melted but a more recent famous claim is that part of one of the Harry Potter Movies was filmed here.
They are very tiny but two juvenile Peregrines are perched in the middle of the of the wider opening in the rock. Believe me they are there and looking very grand.
Malham Cove in all its glory.
The Peregrines were not the only birds hanging about. There were green woodpeckers, goldfinches, house martins, wagtails and more, some of which could be seen, others being more elusive or just too fast for me.
Another sign that you want to see, especially when you have just finished such a walk.
Our afternoon entertainment happened serendipitously and it was a load of fun. Our landlord mentioned a Brass Band competition, an event that some of the family were to participate in. The whole experience had a hint of the 'Brassed Off' feel. The music was great, the characters all played their part and one of the seven bands won a trophy.
This morning we are seeking Malham Tarn. The Tarn holds the remnant of the a stream which once fell over the cliff, Malham Cove. As we walk the path it never ceases to surprise me that just when it seems a little isolated something reminds me that nowhere here is really too out of the way - and this time a post box.
There is a bird hide along the way from which we watch some of the ducks and geese. Overlooking the Tarn is Tarn House which is now used a Field Studies Centre and during the refurbishment cave spiders were moved and a reminder has been left on the building.
Before leaving North Yorkshire.......
Have I mentioned that the Yorkshire Dales are great. Each day provides a new place to explore and as the sun is beaming we are off to find Scaleber Foss. We have driven past this at least twice and were not convinced that we even had the right place but a friendly local assured us that you park just near the bridge and there is a walkway into the falls. So here goes Ian in style and over the stile.
The surprise foss. Very lovely and apparently, the story goes, the salmon work their way up the stream and waterfall to a breeding ground.
Making the most of the beaming sun. Sitting on our patio with coffee enjoying the heat of the summer sun!
Coffee enjoyed we are now seeking a bridge we saw in a painting in the local museum. It is part of an old pathway and the packhorse bridge was built in the 17th century. Following the stone wall on the left of the picture and down the hill will get us to Thorn's Gill bridge, although a few of the shabby chic sheep keep us company along the way.
A very picturesque bridge. The arch with those single packed stones is impressive and it is still solid as!
With all the limestone and water the bridge is leaking lime and forming its own Stalactites.
Looking back towards Thorn's Gill as it babbles along its winding path. In the distance are two of the Three Peaks. There is many a challenge involving these peaks, including cycling or running, but for us just looking at them is a pleasure.
The last hurrah
Looking through one of six arches of the Settle viaduct as we enter town. This has been one of the many delightful outlooks I have loved each time we came and went on our daily fun.
On one of our outings we visited the Stott Park Bobbin Mill. Probably the only one left and still in working order, this place produced millions of wooden bobbins used in the Lancashire spinning and weaving industries. I'm standing outside some of the remaining buildings. In many ways the green, peaceful surrounds can be beguiling, this was an intense industrial place with boilers, machinery and lots of people working long hours six days a week.
The process for making the bobbins was much more sophisticated than I imagined. This is a small part of the machinery, still working, that was used. Apparently the shavings were left to stack up because standing in them helped to keep the workers warm.
Just a sample of some of the bobbins.
As we drove back along the lanes we were looking for one of the viaducts that had eluded us but we also crossed a number of little bridges. While driving it sometimes feels like we almost squeeze through - good to see from the outside that there is lots of room!!
Here be the viaduct that had eluded us. I know you might think it looks the same as others but it's not. They have an individuality in each setting and are grand.
On a quest for a pizza meal we decided to eat out at this very quirky restaurant tucked away downstairs in the Shambles in Settle. I now realise that shambles is an old word for a butchers' slaughterhouse and sitting under the low arched stone ceiling it was not too difficult to see the history of the building in spite or maybe because of this the the pizza was tops!
It came to pass that we had to leave the fair Dales and move north. Our destination for the final week on this part of our island adventure is to Berwick-upon-Tweed, but more about that later for now I am standing on Hadrian's Wall. Built by the men of the Second, Sixth and Twentieth Legions on the orders of the Roman Emperor Haidian. After seven years most of the 124 kms / 77 miles was complete. It was as wide as you can see in the picture, the stone on the outer edge of each side of the wall has been worked while the stones filling the space between are not and it stood 5 to 6 metres high.
The wall represented the frontier of the empire while also controlling movement of people. As time passed life grew around the milecastles, which were part of the wall at every Roman mile (1.48 kms) and trade and some industries developed. This life went on for about 300 years before the decline of the empire. The buildings remained and were used for other life with much of the cut stones being removed by subsequent kings, lords, rulers and churches for their own buildings.
A visit to Edinburgh
Take time to look at this picture, remind you of anything? Mac users may not recognise it, but it really is the view from both of the windows of the cottage we are in.
Today we plan to visit Edinburgh. This will mean crossing from England into Scotland. We did this a couple of times yesterday while getting here but today I can straddle across both places. I also took a picture of Ian, oops he is falling off the edge into the North Sea.
Once I retrieved Ian from the North Sea we made our way to a Park and Ride to get into the centre of the Edinburgh. The city was chock-a-block with tourists, us included and I think everyone was checking out Edinburgh Castle. I can only imagine what it is like during the Tattoo or Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Someone local had turned up for their wedding pics, you can see the car to the right of the picture.
I'm standing at the entrance way of this old castle whose history stretches back to the 12th century. Apparently the performances of the Tattoo happen in front of the castle so I believe the bands and performers enter from this gate.
A walk through the national gallery was a treat.
Overlooking the city as we walked up from the national gallery towards the castle.
Just a few of the tourists coming and going along the Royal Mile which leads up to, or away from the castle.
Bridges, a Beach and Bamburgh Castle
Another excellent viaduct. The Royal Border Bridge built around 1850 and it has 28 arches. As you can see I an a happy Viaduct adventurer.
Berwick-upon-Tweed has much to celebrate this year. In 1115 the first official document referring to Berwick is in a charter given to the local monks this means that this year the town is celebrating Berwick 900. This bridge behind me was built in 1611 but other bridges had preceded this one between 1199 to 1611. One of the stories is that at the base of the bridge there are sheep fleeces which were used to pack the footings - it seems sturdy enough......
I'm standing on the wall of the city. Built to keep those marauding Scots out during the reign of Elizabeth I. It cost a fortune but as it still stands today, somewhat greener and you can walk around it, it has stood the test of time - and I guess that as it has remained English, it was worth it.
The afternoon walk took us to the end of the Pier where this lighthouse stands. It was also practise time for the local sea rescue teams with the helicopter overhead. I'm standing at the lighthouse next to a sign about L S Lowry, we visited his gallery in Manchester. He spent his summer holidays in Berwick and there are a number of paintings of the area.
With so much evening light we added a drive to Lindisfarne / Holy Island. We will visit again but for now we crossed the causeway at the low tide, which you can see in the picture, to get a look at this the significant centre of Celtic Christianity.
A new morning dawns and it is time to dip our toes into the North Sea. The longer I stood in the ankle deep waves the colder my feet felt - not an occasion for me to say, 'cold at first but beautiful once you get used to it.'
On Spittal Beach, with wet toes we walked the beach, good fun. By the time we got back the cafe beckoned - coffee.
To finish the day we visited Bamburgh Castle. An imposing building punching out of the coastal stone. This is an old castle. There are apparently written records of the existence of a fort here used by the Britons around 420 to 547.
A trip to Newcastle
The tiny dot at the foot of The Angle of the North is me. This spectacular sculpture has been part of the Newcastle landscape since 1997 and the locals have taken the angel to heart.
The day is a hot one and the ubiquitous ice cream van is close by and it called for a 99!
Looking down one of the streets in Newcastle with just the tip of the arch bridge crossing the Tyne - a Sydney Harbour Bridge sibling, built in 1928.
Earlier in the day we visited Bede's World. Bede was an English monk and scholar here at the site that was called Monkwearmouth. Bede had an eye for recording and translating and wrote much which has lasted through the centuries. His works were more accessible for the Anglo Saxons and contributed to the growth of English christianity. Today there is a small reconstruction of an Anglo Saxon village.
Inside the central building of the village where meetings and gatherings took place. The Grubenhaus, the one with the pitched roof, had a sunken floor and was used mostly for storage and then there is the Monk's cell where tools would have been made and occasionally it may have been necessary to shoot an arrow or two!
Puffins and friends
This is a view of Seahouses village. The morning is warm and still and we are about to head off on a small boat to the Farne Islands, known for their birdlife, lighthouses and, historically, their shipwrecks. Today we can add garden chairs all in a row, hold that thought and there will be further developments when we return.
There are some islands in the distance and there we shall find colonies of breeding birds, mostly of the Auk variety which includes Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins. Add to that mix a variety of seagulls and you have a quite a large bird sanctuary. Our tour is for three hours, Gilligan is not on this one, and we will check out a few islands. We will also have an hour on Staple Island to see the nesting birds.
On the way to and from the islands we are greeted by some local seals.
Of all the birds on the island the Puffin has cute and clever and klutsy in spades. Cute, well just look at that face and when they fly their little wings work very fast. Clever, they dig their nests into the soft ground, use them each breeding season, have a separate toilet room and can catch sand eels very efficiently. Klutsy, not really but they have a waddle like walk which makes them look wobbly.
Here you can see just how hard they work their wings, how they wobble and have sand eels in their beaks.
So many birds, lots of aromas and noise. I forgot to mention another thing that makes for cuteness in puffins, they are relatively quiet. All around there is much squarking but the Puffins are quiet, they barely make a sound.
On our return to Seahouses as the boat comes into the harbour I noticed that those garden seats are all full. I did say hold that thought...... Last days in the North and then time to head home
This pub in Berwick provided us with a very satisfactory meal for our final evening in the North. There are many interesting buildings in town but this entrance window is a winner in my book.
Before eating at the pub we had spent the day at Lindisfarne. Starting early worked in our favour, the island certainly draws a crowd. The history is long here, known also as Holy Island, it has a recorded history dating back to the 6th century and it was a significant centre for Celtic Christianity. The door with the great outlook takes us into what we thought was something to do with the religious history of the island, but no, it is an Elizabethan castle built from the stones of the old abbey and it was lived in until the 1968, so it has some comforts.
Inside the castle the kitchen has been made very snug, there is a phonograph for entertainment and you can walk to the beach with your deck chairs, it's just down the hill....
As I said it is just down the hill... This is the view from the castle looking down onto the village and the old abbey. The island is cut off from the mainland by the tide twice a day, all this adds to the long and and mystical stories that surround the island.
Back on the low ground and the original abbey site. The castle is in the distance.
So those were the days of the north. Our journey towards home will take us to Heathrow and onto Kuala Lumpur and home. For today we called into York and again the skies were blue! We also wanted to call in here and spend some time at The Viking Centre, Jorvik. A fascinating place with viking village, of sorts, built on the site of the archeological dig which has revealed extraordinary number of artefacts, many of which is on display.
Journey home via Kuala Lumpur
My introduction to Kuala Lumpur. The streets are almost organised just keep an eye out for the motor scooters, motorbikes, cars, buses and anything on wheels, the small wheeled ones even use the footpaths regularly. Yes it is hot and humid but there is lots to take in and enjoy.
There are many markets. The Central Market has an art deco look. Across the road is the Petaling Street, remember our previous petaling experience - well it's nothing like that. These markets are quiet now but come the night it is all stations go with lots of street food and bling.
After a morning in the heat and catching buses that 'made their own arrangements' regarding bus stops and timing I needed to rest up. Once rested we ventured out into the evening which I think was slightly cooler. The monorail was cool as we went to check a bling part of the city with Petronas Towers and other shiny buildings. A fountain in front of the buildings had more appeal but the towers were impressive and we did find a busy food hall in there where we enjoyed a meal with a very eclectic crowd.
Of all the retail options available in this city, and there are many, I had read about this one that has six floors of IT lifestyle. Not my usual haunt but I figured it may have something of interest. Sadly it was all glitz and no glory. Still it was fun monorail ride.
Images of the city from the zippy monorail run. Again I needed to rest up after my IT excitement but once revived it was time to catch a train.
By now I think we have tried all the public transport options and apart from the crazy buses the others have been fine and all air conditioned, which helps greatly. Our destination is the Batu Caves, a Hindu Shrine with a series of caves and temples in Limestone hills just north of Kuala Lumpur.
There are monkeys loitering and looking very much at home around the temple. In the third picture if you look hard there is one mid jump blended in with the rock.The birds in the middle picture add to the colour of the place. I did stand with the golden shrine, Murugan, but I didn't climb the 200+ steps into the caves.