Old school fun fairs and ancient trees. Life in e17

Sunday 11 June 2017 – London.

Summer is coming along nicely now, we have had a bit of rain but that was during the week, and who cares what the weather is like during the week? I don’t, at least while I am working in Hammersmith which is too far to ride to from home. Maybe when (if?) I start this new job which is a lot closer to home I will start riding to work again.

It has been an interesting weekend, quite busy, yet there seemed to be plenty of time to get a few chores done as well. The e17 art trail is on at the moment, it is a two yearly art happening in Walthamstow, which has grown significantly over the past couple of events and now features dozens of exhibitions in local homes and public spaces. El and I decided to take in one of the furthest away exhibitions and do a supermarket shop on the way back. It was nice day for a walk.

We passed Walthamstow Cemetery on the way, I have driven past it a couple of times, but have never been in, as we were on foot it seemed like the right time. It is pretty interesting, unlike the graveyard at our local church which is grassed; and very overgrown at the moment, Walthamstow cemetery is almost grass free. There has been some weird subsidence and earth movement here and a lot of the graves are now rough and tumbled, it was quite an interesting place, though the light was really harsh and I only had my cellphone. I will come back one day soon when the light is better, bring the camera and have a really good look around.

It turned out that the art exhibition had finished the weekend before, but the walk was still worth if for the cemetery visit alone.

A couple of weeks ago it was London Tree Week, something I was not ready for. I did see a couple of photos of what is supposed to be one of, if not, the oldest tree in Epping Forest, along with a rough idea of its location.It was such a nice morning so perfect for jumping on the mountain bike and going on a tree hunting mission. Trying to find a tree in a forest. It could be interesting!

With no real idea of the location of the tree I skipped all the fun bits in the small interlocked sections of forest and park that connect home to Epping Forest proper. I was not planning on stopping until I reached The Lost Pond, where the tree I am looking for is be located. However, there are longhorn cattle in the forest at the moment, and as I had to stop and open a gate it would have been rude to not take a photo when this cow came over to check me out.

My next stop was Loughton Camp, pretty much the furthest North I have been in this block of the forest, Loughton Camp is the site of an Iron Age fortified village from approximately 500 years BC. Obviously there is not a lot to see, but the banks, ditches and ramparts that were formed are still there. I think it is quite cool – a 2500 year old piece of history made of earth half hidden in an old forest.

I also found this very pretty old tree, a back up in case I do not find the one I am looking for! It too is a copparded beech. A copparded tree has been coppiced (pruned very close to the ground) and then pollarded (pruning of the top branches to promote growth) at various times over the decades and centuries.

North and west of Loughton Camp lies The Lost Pond, I have never ventured to this part of the forest before, so as well as the adventure of looking for an old tree I also had the added adventure of riding into an area I haven’t been to. I often end up on trails and in bits of forest I haven’t been in, but that has always been by mistake and in areas I generally sort of know. 

From an adventure perspective it was all rather boring, I rode up the wide walking track for a little bit and then ducked off into the trees on a bit of single track. Two minutes later I found Lost Pond. It was not particularly lost, and I did not feel lost either. I stopped to take a photo of the pond, and two elderly couples wandered out of the forest to look at the pond as well. This made me feel even less adventurous. This section of the forest is particularly beautiful, though I think that every were I go.

Getting back on my bike I started to look for the ‘tree’, I knew what I was looking for, but trying to find a tree in a forest is like not seeing the wood for the trees. There are a lot of really nice beech trees in this section of the forest, which was a very good sign seeing as I was looking for a beech. I was quite surprised but I found the tree almost immediately, admittedly it did not require a huge amount of effort. It was disappointingly easy to find…

However finding it was not disappointing at all, it is a lovely tree. Possibly the oldest in the forest, and possibly over 1000 years old. It is a magnificent and regal specimen. It is a copparded beech tree. , as far back as Saxon times. It has been cut many times, pruned for firewood, fence and house building; who knows what for, but over centuries bits have been lopped off, but always leaving enough for it to continue to grow. Providing a source of wood for future generations.

I will come back to Lost Pond and this lovely ancient tree.

As is tradition on any ride, no matter where I am in the forest I always head to the tea hut at High Beech for a cup of instant coffee and piece of bread pudding; energy to ride back home. High Beech is usually the furthest part of the forest from home that I ride to. There is, of course, plenty more forest on from High Beech; and one day I will explore more of it.

The added bonus after eating the bread pudding is that from this ‘high’ point in the forest there are some really nice down hill tracks towards home, with so many choices and so many criss-cross tracks I inevitably end up somewhere new. This time I found myself in a wonderful little glade, with a couple of great, tall and straight trees. I must take my tree book up next time. One of the joys of randomly riding around the forest is coming across these sunny little spots, with possibility of never finding them again.

It was very peaceful, I could hear birds and the wind ruffling the trees and nothing else, and just as I was taking a photo of some lovely fungus a group of rattling chatting mountain bikers passed on through. Moment of reverie over. It was time to ride on home.

I was pretty knackered when I got home, I had been out for over three hours, which was quite a long time by my current standards and level of fitness. Every ride gets easier though!

After lunch and a wee lie down El and I walked round the corner to Lloyd Park which was hosting ‘Carters Steam-powered Funfair’ over the weekend. It was fabulous. Beautifully restored fairground rides, loads of families and kids. All the fun of the fair as they say. I only had my phone with me, but took a few photos anyway. I love seeing this sort of thing, things from my youth, looked after and being enjoyed by today’s young. Who cannot get joy from old school dodgems. So much better than Playstation.

And to finish, here is a photo of some wild flowers that have been planted in the street behind ours. We pass here every morning on the way to work. Lovely.

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Central London, a walking tour

Sunday 04 June 2017 – London.

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from Martha, a very old friend in NZ letting me know she was coming over to London for a conference for a few days and would I be free to do a catch up and a walk around some of the highlights of central London. Of course!

Yesterday, was perhaps not the best day to arrive in London, last night there was a terror incident in London Bridge which resulted in the deaths of 8 poor souls just going about enjoying themselves. London Bridge was on my planned walking route, but I was more concerned that Martha may not want to walk randomly about London, or that London may not be itself wonderful self after such an awful event, fortunately no.

I met Martha at Holborn station at 10:00 with a loose plan in mind to see as many of the key spots as was possible on foot in the next three hours.

Our first stop was Covent Garden Market, I used to work very close to here, so am familiar with the location. I only ever came here at lunch time or after work so was not used to seeing it so quiet, it had nothing to do with the incident last night, none of the shops were open so it was too early for tourists.

I haven’t played tourist for ages, so it was very enjoyable to walk around the city, taking a few photos as I went. We did walk down through Covent Garden and the back of Soho to Trafalgar Square, where I completely forgot to take any photos of either the National Gallery or Nelson’s column. There were quite a few tourists here, clambering over the lions and taking selfies, so me being me I got the hump with them getting in my photo and didn’t take one.

We passed New Zealand House on Haymarket, once voted the west end of London’s ugliest building – a very fair call in my mind!

Walking up to Piccaddilly Circus and it’s famous Eros statue, we were reminded by the banners that nothing shuts London down (contrary to then nutjob ‘alt-right’ press in America ) and that London is a welcoming and open city.

I subtly steered Martha along Piccadilly to Green Park station. I will hopefully start a new job in July and Green Park is the nearest station on the Victoria Line to where my new office will be, and I wanted to get a rough idea how long the walk would be. More on the new job once it is finalised, though I am quite excited about it!

I do not go to this side of London very often, so rarely walk through the royal parks any more, a situation I aim to remedy come July, they are such a lovely part of London. When I stayed in Shepherds Bush for 3 months at the end of 2012 I used to walk through Kensington Gardens, Hyde, Green and St James Park quite regularly. The empty deck chairs laid out in Green Park waiting to be rented remind me of grave stones.

Though good fortune rather than good planning we arrived at Buckingham Palace just as the changing of the guard was on, the Mall was closed so we had to wait for a few minutes to cross over in to St James Park. The area around Buck Palace was very crowded, which was good to see. There were a few police around, mainly controlling pedestrian traffic. I was surprised that there were not more, and I only saw one armed policeman during the entire walk, so pleasing to see.

St James Park is my favourite of the royal parks, it is small and the lake is great, and it has a pretty good cafe as well, always a bonus when out walking. There are great views, back towards Buckingham Palace,

and forward to Whitehall, where we will next walk; and close to where I hope to be working in July.

We had to stop for some obligatory photos of Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. Taken at a slightly weird angle 🙂

Crossing over Westminster Bridge to the South Bank, where the crowds of tourists seem to be pretty normal, frustratingly normal when you are trying to pass through them. Good to see London standing up as normal, calm, considerate and a bit too crowded. I am a big fan of French street artist Invader and have not seen this little space invader near Blackfriars Bridge, nice!

Next stop was for one of my favourite London views; St Pauls from the outside of Tate Modern, with added bonus of bubbles from one of the many buskers.

Crossing over the Millennium Bridge we passed the cathedral before heading up Fleet St back towards where we started, we took a detour down one of the side streets and into the Temple area. I love this bit of London, especially on a Sunday, when it is almost deserted. I have never seen Temple Church before, stunning. One of the things I enjoy about the Temple is that it is a bit of a warren, I have been here a few times, yet I have never found this bit; and it is hardly a small bit !

Queen Victoria outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Our final stop was at Somerset House, where we met El for lunch and a glass of rose. We love Somerset House in summer, a glass of wine in a beautiful courtyard just off of the mad busy Strand, wonderful.

That was the end of my brief walking tour of London for Martha. Three hours of walking and chatting and catching up on life back in New Zealand. A great day out, and a reminder that I do love this city!

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Chasing the Dragon

Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 May 2017 – Anglesey, Wales.

Way back in June 2012, I finished my travels in SE Asia and arrived in the UK to support my Kiwi friend Malcolm Law as he, along with Englishman, Tom, set a record time in completing the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. I wrote a bit about it here.

Since 2012 Malcolm has also completed an epic run in New Zealand, and is now on a third massive adventure. “Chasing the Dragon”, running the 1400 km Wales Coast Path AND the 285 km Offas Dyke Walkway back to back; almost circumnavigating Wales. Mal is doing this epic feat with Welsh Kiwi, James. They aim to complete this madness in 26 days’, knocking 13 days off the fastest known time; raising funds and awareness for the MIND charity in the UK and the Mental Health Foundation in NZ. The guys started when I was in Spain and this was the first weekend I had free since we got back. Naturally they were about as far from London as it was possible to be and still be in Wales. Right up in Anglesey in the north west. I was looking forward to the drive.

I left when I woke up, I have been really tired the past couple of weeks and wanted to wake naturally rather than setting an alarm for silly o’clock. It is a long drive; and it took a long time, six and half hours to Menai Bridge. I had arranged to contact the team when I arrived in Anglesey, but couldn’t get hold of anyone. I carried on driving around the coast to see if I could spot them anywhere and could not find runners, nor get hold of anyone on the phone. I eventually found a car park where I  had mobile reception and data and finally got some clues as to where they were, but more importantly where they would definitely be at 7:30 PM, in a couple of hours time.

On Wednesday when I decided to do this trip I checked for accommodation around Menai Bridge and seeing as there was so many rooms going free I did not bother to book anything, thinking I would sort out when I arrived. A bit of mistake…. When I looked on the internet in the car park, there appeared to be none left, anywhere in northern Wales apparently. I had a rather miserable phone conversation with El, thinking I was going to be driving back to London tonight, but gem that she is; she found me a room in a pub in Menai Bridge. A bedroom in a hotel above, not a room in the pub. Whew.

With my evening secured I headed off to LLanddona Beach to await Mal and James. I got there pretty early, so took a stroll up the very deserted and very wind blown beach. I liked it. Sand under the feet, the smell of the sea and the bloody cold wind.

Mal’s wife Sally, arrived at the carpark around 7:30; it was great to catch up with some news on the run so far and about friends at home. I popped back down to the beach just before Mal and James arrived and it was great to see Mal looking strong and well.

Mal and James had been running / walking for over 12 hours, so it was a quick catch up before they were whipped off by Sal to their accommodation in Bangor and I was off to my pub room in Menai Bridge.

I was staying in the Bulkeley Arms, a popular pub – seemingly with rugby players. I dumped my bag into my very small room and headed out for some food. The Bulkeley does not do food on a Saturday night so I found another pub that did, cannot remember it’s name, but I can say the food was really good and I liked the vibe as well, I stayed for a couple of pints. It seemed rude not too. Heading back to my room, I found that it is directly above the PA in the bar below and I reckon the music was louder up here than it was down there. To their credit they did say the music would be off at 12:00 and by 12:05 it was dead quiet. I still had a lousy sleep…

I was up early, breakfast was not being served until 9:30, way too late for me, I was out by 7:00. First stop was a quick photo of the hotel, even though i had a lousy sleep I quite liked the Bulkeley and I quite liked Menai Bridge, and I hadn’t even been for a walk around yet.

Next stop was a quick photo of the Auckland Arms, just because. Auckland. My home town.

When I drove down into the town of Menai Bridge yesterday afternoon I was stunned by the view, the grade 1 listed bridge finished in 1826 is a beautiful thing. I didn’t think I had the time yesterday to stop and take photos so I was quite keen for a drive / walk around this morning.

It is a lovely bridge!

I did not find anywhere open early for breakfast so I headed out of Menai Bridge along the lovely coast road to the next town Beaumaris. I stopped for a bottle of water and to fill the car at a gas station and was told about a diner in town that would be open for breakfast. It wasn’t, but the convenience store next door was; and they sold coffee and bacon rolls. Perfecto!

I took a walk around Beaumaris and liked it even more than Menai Bridge, a very attractive, (read tourist filled) town, with stunning views over mainland north Wales and the foothills of Snowdonia National Park.

Beaumaris also had a castle. I think I could move here ! I didn’t have time to explore it, plus nothing is open at 8:30 on a Sunday, but Anglesey and north Wales is somewhere I am definitely coming back to.

I took a punt on where I would find Mal and James at around 9:00 am, and headed further along the coast to Penmon.

I drove up to the ancient abbey and was just starting to have a look around when they popped out from the far side of the abbey.

I drove back down to Penmon Beach, quickly put my running shoes on, and soon enough they appeared around another bend in the road.

There was a very strong head wind along this stretch and it was not exactly warm either, but I had a very enjoyable 45 minute walk/slow jog with Mal and James, it was good to catch up and show a little bit of support for their amazing efforts. If had more time, I would have really enjoyed spending a few days with them on this journey, in this beautiful part of Britain.

However I had to drive back to London, it was a friend’s birthday this afternoon and I had 5 to 6 hours drive ahead of me. I left the boys to run into the distance and walked back to the car.

I caught up with them briefly again as they entered Menai Bridge and had a quick refuel stop, and then it was back to London for me.

I chose to drive home the slower route via the A5 and through Snowdonia, the traffic was frustrating at times, but it is a beautiful drive, though I only stopped once to take this photo. I will be back here too! Wow!

Soon enough I was back in England (I know, taking photos while driving is bad), and eventually back on dual carriage ways and manage to make some good time back home.

I loved north Wales, I will be back up there too. Beautiful part of the country and a really friendly vibe too.

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Exploring the ruins of Lliria and Xelardo

Monday 01 and Tuesday 02 May 2017 – Lliria, Spain.

We arrived back in Lliria around mid-day and were met at the station by Paula and Paul. We decided to do a walking tour of the centre of Lliria as El and I had not seen much of the town in daylight. We have visited various cafes and restaurants in the evenings, but have not seen the old town in daylight. I was pleasantly surprised!

I have always like Spanish domestic architecture, the plastered and painted homes, and the colour contrasts between neighbours and sky. No long rows of red brick terraces here.

I was surprised to find that Lliria is an ancient town, the old centre on the hill in middle of town was first occupied by the Iberians and was sacked by the Romans in 76BC. There is a small historical trail and a modern museum with artefacts from the Roman period. As it was a public holiday, and a Monday, most of it was closed.

The 17th century Church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion was our first stop, the doors were open so went inside for a look around, only to discover that it was actually closed and the workmen were just moving things outside. We were gently shoo-ed out, but I did get a photo. It would be worth going back for a better look another time.

At the top of the hill was the museum, which we discovered was closed when we got there, it is a short, though nice walk through what I think is a typical hillside Spanish streetscape of narrow lanes and predominantly white houses. There are a few signs of Roman occupation outside the museum.

Just down from the museum is the Church of the Blood, the first Christian church to be built in Lliria in 1238. Like a lot of other churches in this and the southern region of Spain it was built on the site of a Moorish Mosque. There is not a lot to be read about the Moorish occupation of the region, something I am going to have do some research on before I return.

This building is from the 15th century and was an old furnace, it is part of the old walls of the town. I do love it when an ancient home is still being used, buildings that are older than the European occupation of New Zealand.

Walking back down to the station we passed the old station, and interestingly a sign on the old station house with the name of Liria – with only one l. When and why did it change?

After a bit of a rest back at the house in Xelardo I decided to go for a walk into the nearby orange groves. Paula and Paul’s house is the last house before some orange and olive orchards, though there is some scrubland next door. Even though it was still quite sunny, and only very early in the evening I took my camera and went for a stroll. I wanted some harsh light, cactus has to be photographed with a blue sky and bright sun.

The area of scrubland was a lot bigger than I expected, I was not sure if it was private or not, so I took a tentative walk up a dirt path into it. I found out late that the area is open land and everyone walks through. Next time I will not be so circumspect. I walked up the path as far as these old stuck open gates, they led into the neighbouring orange grove, but I suspect no one has been through them for a while.

Returning back to the road I strolled along until the road ran out at what appeared to be the entrance to someone’s house, so I turned round and walked back the way I came. Stopping to take a photo of the weeds growing up the side of an old shed.

I spotted what appeared to be an abandoned house between the scrubland and the orange trees, I could not see anyone around, so took a slow and innocent looking walk up the old track to the house. Ready to run if I heard a dog, or shrug my shoulders and explain that I did not speak Spanish if someone stopped me. I didn’t see anyone on the approach.

I had a good look around, and inside the building. There was this fabulous old stuffed chair in there, I wish I had the big camera and my tripod. Next time. (Next time seems to be quite a regular refrain in my blog posts these days, hopefully there will be some next times).

When I was approaching the house I had seen the roof of what appeared to be more dereliction beyond. I was going to sneak over there next, but heard voices and then could some kids there. This was obviously private land, so I snuck back to the road and walked on home to find El and Paula sitting by the pool enjoying the last of the sun. It was far too cold to go swimming!

I told Paula and Paul about my walk and the abandoned building I had seen, they told that it was a derelict campsite that had closed a few years ago. This really piqued my interest and I was quite keen to go out and find it. Paul offered to come with me and show me the way. I cannot find out anything on the campsite or why it is closed, I am guessing due to financial reasons, as it is a massive site, and miles from anywhere.

I was expecting a campground for tents, but there were loads of chalets, caravans and other buildings. It is all fenced off, and with Paul reluctant to go in I held off, quickly sneaking in to take a couple of photos via a hole in the fence. It must have closed very suddenly as there were so many personal effects lying around. There has been some damage, but not as much as I would have expected. Next time……

Nearby there is a completely bonkers house, the Mansion San Jorge, it too looks deserted. I think it was built as a guest house or small hotel, but it is totally mad. I loved it. All these Gaudi-an towers, and the mouldy paint just added to its madness. Wonderful.

Back at the house it was time to pack up ready to leave tomorrow morning, then dinner, followed by the final episode of series two of ‘Fear the walking dead’ which we have been watching each evening. I took one last photo, and the first colourful sunset we have had, over the hills of the Sierra Calderonas, where we walked on Friday.

We did not have a madly early start on Tuesday, but the alarm was set for 7:00 so we could get to the airport in time. I loved how Ryan Air gets the passengers all excited by starting the boarding process, only to have everyone queue outside.

We left it so we were almost the last people to board so we didn’t have to stand in the sun for too long. This turned out to be quite fortunate as there was a technical issue and the flight was delayed. After some indecision we were eventually all trooped back into the departure lounge.We were delayed by an hour and a half, so our plan to be home by mid-afternoon was completely thwarted and we arrived back in London for rush hour : )

It was a brilliant trip again. I really do like hanging out in Spain!

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A night in Valencia

Sunday 30 April and Monday 1 May 2017 – Valencia, Spain.

Today is NLD day. For those not in the know, this is the North London Derby; a football match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur that occurs twice each season and a rivalry that has been going since 1913 when The Arsenal moved from south London to the north. No forgiveness given by the Spurs fans. 

El is a long term and ’passionate’ Spurs fan and I have supported The Arsenal since I was a nipper. We watch a lot of football in our house, but the NLD is not a game we watch together.

Before leaving London we had booked a room in the Excelsior Hotel in Valencia for tonight, the plan was to find a pub in town, break house rules and watch the game together then enjoy an evening in this lovely city. This morning we decided it was best to stick with house rules and not watch the game. Just in case. It was a stunner of a day, so no point in ruining it with sporting results!

We caught the Metro from Lliria into Valencia, I have done this journey a couple of times and am familiar with getting from the train into the centre of the old town where the hotel was located. One of the main streets near the hotel was closed to traffic when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. I was not sure why, it is the May Day holiday on Monday, and I thought there must be something happening then, but the road was open again on Monday morning. We did find a small parade late in the afternoon, though I am not convinced it was for that. The more roads closed the better in my book!

It was a glorious day today, so we dumped our bag in the hotel room and headed straight out for a walk.

We decided to walk to the Science and Arts Centre; though we had visited last February, it is a lovely stroll down an old river bed; with a pond below one of the ancient entry points in to the city.

I really like this walk, it is shaded and cool, and today the light was playing in the wind blown trees, there were loads of people, but it a big wide area and it was never too crowded, just nicely busy.

The ultra modern sci-fi buildings that make up the Science and Arts Centre are just stunning. Last week’s episode of Dr Who was filmed here. I am going to come back here on my own one evening and spend some time taking photos. I could wander all day, though it was very warm and bright.

We arrived back in the centre of town just as the NLD finished, we had managed to avoid the game and checking progress on our phones. Sadly Arsenal lost, a result I was expecting. At least one of us was happy! It was time to find a bar for a celebratory/commiseratory glass of wine.

On the road up from our hotel we came across this parade forming outside the church of Saint Martin. There were a lot of kids and adults dressed in traditional clothing. Though I am still not sure what the parade was about.

We found an open air bar in the Place de Lope de Vega and decided to sit and relax for a while over a glass of Rose. We were not sitting long when the parade came through the square, we had front row seats!

As the parade passed, unseen by us, one of the paraders set off a of string of very loud fire crackers on the far side of the small square, at the back of Santa Catalina church. It gave us (and most other people) one hell of a fright! I went to investigate afterwards and saw this little sculpture embedded in the stone work on the church. Very cool.

Finishing our glasses we set off again, this time to find somewhere to eat. Lunch, at the science museum had been a disappointment, we had had such good food in LLiria so we didn’t want touristy downtown Valencia to let us down. It was much busier out than I thought it would be; it was still quite early by Spanish standards, but it was a nice evening to stroll and we were not in any rush and we did find a place and did really enjoy the food.

I love the small winding alleys and streets in this section of Valencia, and that it is all a little dishevelled. I could easily live in this town. If I spoke Spanish or the Valencian variation. Bodega de la Sarieta was a nice spot to people watch and the food was great.

With very full bellies; the food was too good :), we sauntered around the cathedral area for a short while before waddling back to the hotel for the night.

There was even a little bit of street art to keep my urban soul happy.

I didn’t have a brilliant sleep, the very small room was either too warm with the air con off, or too noisy with the air con on, I suspect the full belly didn’t help much either… We were in no particular rush on Monday morning, we did have a room with a balcony, though there was no great view or anything; it was still nice to be outside relative peace in the city.

I loved the stairwell in our hotel!

After a late breakfast we were back on the train to Lliria. The mission to watch the NLD in a bar, a complete, yet welcome failure.

I really like the centre of Valencia, it is small, very touristy, very friendly, attractive and fun. One of my favourite cities.

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Walks and wine in Spain.

Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 April 2017 – Lliria, Valencia, Spain.

Two days after getting back from our trip to Cornwall we were off to Spain for a few days with friend Paul and Paula. We have stayed with Paul and Paula at their holiday house in Xelardo, which is an ‘urbanisation’ on the outskirts of Lliria, itself on the outskirts of Valencia. We were really looking forward to the trip, though not to the getting up at 4:00am to go to Stansted Airport bit. Some sacrifices had to be made!

We arrived late morning, and were greeted by a gentle shower of rain. The forecast for the next couple of days is not brilliant, but it does get better over time and is really good on Tuesday – the day we leave. The shower did not last long and was clear by the time we left the super market with a very full trolley and arrived at Casa la Adams.

We had no real plans for the time away, except El and I had booked a room on Sunday in a central Valencia hotel, so after unpacking and eating lunch we decided to take a late afternoon walk through the orange groves to the nearby village of Marines. I took a few photos, but don’t seem to have any of the orange groves. I have a lot of derelict buildings under moody cloudy skies….

And one not so derelict building, where I enjoyed the contrasts of colours and lines.

I really enjoyed the walk, it was down a very rough dirt road, we were passed by a couple of cars, but it was mainly quiet apart from the barking of very aggressive dogs, fortunately from behind high fences and gates. We stopped for a drink in a small cafe/bar in Marines, before having a brief look around the square.

One of the things I like about this part of Spain is that the flora is a mix of things we see in the UK, like daisies, lavender, gorse and thistle and things you expect to see in the desert like cacti.

Friday was another quiet day, I cannot remember what we did in the morning, but in the afternoon we drove to another small and nearby village; Olocau, where we took a walk up to Puntal dels Llops, or Wolf Point. A small hill on the edge of the Sierra Calderonas. On the top of the hill lie the ruins of an Iberian fort which was built in the 4th century BC and destroyed during the Second Punic Wars of the 2nd century BC. A walk up a hill, in the country, to visit an ancient ruin. There is not much that makes me happier. I was not let down!

It was a great short walk, like yesterday the fauna was quite interesting, totally different to the UK, very Spartan, and I really liked the contrast between the red soil and varieties of greens and yellows in the trees and shrubs.

I have also never seen this in a fur before, this was quite a common site on the walk, though this was the largest bushy outgrowth I saw, quite remarkable.

The walk to the top took about 40 minutes, and was well worth it, the ruins are quite cool and there is plenty of signage around the place, with a mix of Spanish and English writing. 

The fort was a place of refuge from invaders or troublemakers passing through the nearby villages, and was not a major permanent settlement.

I got a bit sidetracked on the walk back down, I had sort of planned in my head when we went away that I would not spend lots of time faffing with photos, I would take a couple here and there and not hold people up, but I did get a bit a carried away here. Visually it is a stunning location, with plenty of colour and interesting lines and layers.

Being spring the broom was in full and glorious flower and I just loved that yellow, and took rather too many photos of it and its contrasting neighbours.

Paul had booked us into a wine tasting late on Saturday morning at the Vera De Estanas winery about an hour away by car near Utiel. I enjoyed the drive in the country, though did have a brief moment of car sickness after spending time gawping at the news on my phone. Lesson learnt.

I am sure the tour was really interesting, sadly it was all in Spanish and I have none at all. It was also a bit wet outside so I was glad I had my coat..

Here are some barrels that contained wine,

some dusty wine bottles, that contained wine,

and some people that also now contain wine. Though not a lot as Paula was driving.

I really liked the building and the grounds, and I am sure I would have enjoyed the tour more if I could have understood any of it. The tile floor was lovely!

Actually the wine was pretty good too, especially their premium red at a whole 10pounds a bottle…

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On the good ship Bessie Ellen.

Monday 24 April 2017 – Cornwall.

John, a good friend of ours, had his 60th birthday at the end of last year, with winter not being the best time of year to have a nautical party, the celebration was not held until this weekend. John and his wife Deborah organised, and paid for a group of us to go to Fowey in Cornwall and then spend two nights on board the gaff rigged ketch, the Bessie Ellen. Wow !

We left London early on Friday morning, 13 of us in a rented van. Over the past month we have all been watching the weather forecast and it had been looking decidedly average for most of the month, taking a turn for the better the week before we left. It was going to be cold, but not wet. Our first stop was a Little Chef, I have always wanted to stop at one of the (in)famous road side cafes but have never been brave enough. This one on the A303 is a Little Chef with a difference, it featured in a 2008 TV series when celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal revamped the menu and the decor. Though Little Chef have dropped his menu now. The food was fine, the coffee was a bit meh though.

We arrived in Fowey mid-afternoon and were soon heading out on the charming water taxi (“DON’T STAND ON THE SEATS” !!!!) to our home for the next two nights, The Bessie Ellen. We were welcomed on board by owner and skipper Nicki and her small crew.

The majority of us were sleeping in the main cabin, which had 12 small bunks along the sides, they were quite snug. I was very glad I had remembered to bring ear-plugs with me, 12 people in their fifties were likely to form an informal middle of the night snoring chorus.

Once we had dumped our gear below decks and had a welcome cup of coffee and some cake we were split into three groups and, in my group’s case, literally shown the ropes. My group were shown how to raise the mizzen sail – the sail at the back of the boat. There are no fancy rope pullers here, only human power. The Bessie Ellen was built in 1904 to ferry clay over to Holland, and other freight around coastal UK and Europe. Originally she was not built for comfort, and there have only been a small amount of luxury added since! One of the other groups were taught about map reading and navigation, and El’s group were shown how to raise, and lower, the foresail and the three jibs, the small sails the front.

Once the sails we were up, we were on our way out of Fowey and into the channel. Magic !

There was not a lot of wind, enough to get a little bit of wind in the sails, but we were also using the motor to keep forward momentum. The group who were taught about navigation before we left were given the task to sail us to our first destination.

As we approached Charlestown, our destination for the night, it was all hands to the decks to drop and tie up the sails.

We were offered the opportunity to go ashore for an hour or so, and all took the chance to go for a short walk, and to sit in the sun and sup on a couple of pints in one of the many bars in this small village with its gorgeous tiny walled harbour.

Dinner was prepared for us by Pete the Chef. We guests were involved in working the ship, but the kitchen and cleanup duties were all cared for by the crew. We got to drink wine and beer and chat about the day while the work was all being done in the tiny kitchen. It was a really nice meal as was the evening drinks and chat!

After a ‘varied’ night’s sleep El and were up on deck reasonably early to watch a very nice but not spectacular sunrise, though there were some great clouds for me to photograph.

After breakfast it was all hands on deck with mops and swabs to clean the decks, sadly I arrived to late and missed out on this chore.

Very soon it was back to the sails again, and we were off for another sail/motor along the Cornish coast towards the west.

It was a gentle trip, the sea was dead flat calm so there was a lot of chat and a lot of gazing towards the land.

We stopped off the coast at Portscatho; where we all disembarked for a long afternoon walk over to St Mawes, where we will be picked up again for some afternoon sailing – hopefully with more wind. 

It was a really nice walk, back on my beloved South West Coast Path to Towan Beach, where there was a small discussion at a signpost, before we headed inland and off the path.

We found a lovely little tea truck on the way, which we pretty much took over.

We walked inland to the estuary, though a lovely forested section of track toward St Anthony, where we caught a very expensive small ferry over to St Mawes. There just happened to be a very nice pub here, so it would have been rude to not stop for a drink.

Soon enough we were back on the boat, and with a decent breeze we were sail up and for the first time on the journey the motor was off and we moving fully under sail. It was lovely. Almost peaceful; just the creak of rope, or rope on wood, the sails crackling in the wind and the rush of the sea on the hull. There is not much like it!

Soon enough we in the Helford River, our home for the night. Lobster was served on the deck as a pre-dinner snack, and with a glass of bubbly at hand and good friends it was perfect.

The sunset was pretty decent as well !

Sunday morning was glorious, very very sunny, with a lovely crisp blue sky, it was also quite cold! After breakfast we were sail up again and off out of the Helford River, sadly to sail back to Fowey. Once out of the river I was given charge of the tiller, we were under sail , but the wind was really not doing us any favours so we were back on the motor as well. I quite enjoyed myself though !

There was quite a swell on the sea and some of the crew were feeling it a bit. Nicki, our skipper decided to give us a short break in the lovely hamlet of Polkerris. unsurprisingly there was a pub there as well, so yeah it would have been rude not to.

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A pint of lager in the sun, in a pub almost on the beach. Nothing wrong with that at all. There was nothing wrong with lunch back on the boat either!

Another hour of motoring against the wind saw us back in Fowey late in the afternoon, our sailing trip was sadly over. We had a great time on the boat, memories I will cherish, I love this bit of England and seeing it from the sea for the first time just added to the magic.

We had dinner in Fowey, and a fairly early night. I think we were all pretty tired from sleeping in a single room on the boat. Having our own rooms in a hotel, and the chance for a hot shower (there was one of the boat!) meant some very solid sleep. After breakfast on Monday we had an hour to look around Fowey before we had to jump back into the van for the drive back to London. I really liked the bits of Fowey I saw. There is a castle, which we discovered was private (boo) and some nice old fishing cottages. The village felt good, and having nice weather certainly helped…

Far too soon we were all piling into the van for the six or so hour drive back home, I had a stint of driving for a couple of hours, mainly on the motorway. The van is easy to drive, it doesn’t feel that big, and it handled well. The only issue was it was restricted to 62 MPH, which is kind weird when you are accelerating and then all of a sudden you are not accelerating any more, and over taking was a slow process!

I had some really good news about a couple of jobs I had applied for while I was away, one of which I was really excited about it. More news on that another day…

It was an amazing weekend away, and I feel lucky to be welcomed into such a great group of people.

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The bluebells of Danbury

Sunday 16 April 2017 – Danbury, Essex.

It has been a while since I last posted, as usual it is because I haven’t really done much of interest. Though there are a few activities coming up that I know I will be taking a camera along to, so expect more posts soon. I really do not want to let this blog languish if I can avoid it.

It is coming up to bluebell season in the UK, the best time is usually the end of April / beginning of May, but I am away for the weekends around that time. With winter being pretty dry and warm I was hoping for some early blooms and took a drive out in to rural Essex to have a look see.

A FaceBook associate had posted some photos of bluebells near Danbury so rather than visit the usual spot in Wanstead Park I took a chance and took the 30 minute drive. Plus it was good to get the car out of the city for a while.

The drive out was pretty good; once I got out of the city and in to some country roads it was window down and music up. I love English country lanes. I was looking for the forest I had been told about when I came across a small strip of trees between the road and a golf course that had a nice display of bluebells. I pulled the car over and jumped the barbed wire fence for a quick look. It was worth it.

I love the little skull, I am guessing it is from a young fox.

When I arrived at the forest I was told about I met a couple of people walking dogs, asking them about the bluebells I learnt about Blakes Wood, a ten minute drive away and supposedly spectacular. I took a walk around this small forest and found another nice little field of bluebells under the trees.

One of my aims for this trip was to try and take some pictures that were different to the usual broad sweep of the bluebell field that I have done in the past, I was going to try some close ups and some good old fashioned panned blurry shots.

The forest was edged on one side by a rape field, it is such a wonderfully colourful time of year in Britain, I was hoping to find some bluebells rubbing up against the rape, but that was not to be. No clash of colours this time round.

I found Blakes Wood pretty easily, I was told it would be really busy and they were right, the small car park was full and there were cars up and down the narrow road. I squeezed my car into a small spot and headed off for an explore.

It is quite a big site, a number of people had maps, but I had none and was a bit blind. I wandered off down a path that looked likely, but in the end it wasn’t. At the end I looped back up a different path that was sort of heading back to where I started and soon came across a field of devastation. All the trees had been cut down and dropped on to a field of bluebells, truck tyres had dug them or quashed them flat. I was pretty gutted, thinking this was it. What looked to have been a large section of bluebells flatted by foresters. There were not many left standing.

I took another path back in what I hoped was the direction of the car park and came across a sort of Essexian bluebell nirvana. I took a lot of pictures, including some wavy blurry shots, ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) as it is now called. It was called impressionist photography when I was last doing 8 or 9 years ago. I am trying to let loose the inner Monet here.

The same field with the camera on a tripod!

The area is quite large, so there are quite a few angles and views to make images from. Given the number of people in the forest this area was very empty and I only saw one other photographer while I was there. Must be too late in the day for the real pros 🙂

I really enjoyed Blakes Wood, and will definitely go back there next year for bluebell season, now I know it is there I will aim to get up for dawn and get some better light, and if possible some magical glowing mist as well. Clichéd I know. I guess I could always make my mist with a bit of vertical panning.

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Birmingham.

Saturday 18 March 2017 – Birmingham.

I have had a nasty head cold/virus thing for the past three or four weeks. It has not been bad enough to really lay me out, but it has been bad enough that over that period I had to take a couple of days off work. As a contractor on a day rate with no sick leave, that means no pay; so it was a pretty bad cold. It has also meant that El and I have not done a heck of a lot since the start of the year. It being winter hibernation time has not helped either.

The UK’s biggest photography show is at the NEC in Birmingham this weekend. As El had plans for both Friday night and Saturday morning that did not include me I decided I would go to Birmingham to have a look. I am trying to work out what to do with my photography at the moment, I know I want to do more of it; I am just not sure what that more is. Much as I would love to get a new camera, I wasn’t going to look at equipment, I was going with the hope of finding new inspiration.

I worked from home Friday morning and had booked a seat on the 14:13 train from Euston. It was a pretty good journey and I arrived in Birmingham late in the afternoon, just as the drizzle started! I had booked a hotel that was close to the station and headed straight there; after checking the direction on the map on my phone.

I crossed through Holloway Circus and stopped to take a photo of the Asian influenced statue in the middle, with two lovely English tower blocks in the background. My hotel was just on the other side of the circus. So far I was not overly impressed with Birmingham central, though it was living up to my expectations. The station was very modern, and there was a fairly new mall opposite it, but the walk to my hotel was a little ‘gritty’. Perhaps late afternoon on a rainy St Patrick’s Day is not the best time to visit an urban centre for the first time? The sky seemed to reflect the colour of the buildings below it.

When I got to the check-in desk at the hotel I discovered that at some point between checking the map on my phone and arriving I had lost my glasses. Naturally this was one trip away from home when I had not bought a spare. Sh*t! I checked in and headed back the way I came, but as expected, I found nothing. I bought a ‘cheap’ pair from Boots – I need to be able to read things or I will go bonkers. I have never lost a pair of glasses before, and it was a slightly disconcerting feeling. I can see to get around well enough, but I cannot read a thing without them.

It was still drizzling when I left Boots, so I went back to the hotel, and did not leave again until the morning when I left for a walk before heading out to the NEC centre for the opening of the Photography Show at 11:00. I didn’t really have a plan for walking around, though I wanted to see the building at the back of the shopping centre, ‘The Bullring’ building. A new and very futuristic looking construction.  

It is a stunning piece of modern architecture and being right next to the church Saint Martin in the Bullring, it makes for a great old and new contrast.

I knew there must be some street art in the city, I had vague recollections of hearing some paint jams here, so was pleasantly surprised to walk past a Dan Kitchener hoarding nearby.

I had been walking toward what looked like some interesting old/derelict buildings and accidentally stumbled upon a major street art area.

Every street I walked down had art or graff on walls. Big pieces, some by artists I was very familiar with and some not so much, there was like a trail of art of leading me towards something, though I had no idea what. The chimney on this building was what originally led me here, there was a great view back up the street to The Bullring as well.

I was quite intrigued by this building as well, it turned out to be part of a college, in this section of the city there are not many tall buildings, so this one really stood out, I loved the water? tower. I am also a sucker for red brick and government issue green paint.

Following the trail onwards, I passed an Amara,

And something I liked by an unknown artist,

I crossed over a small canal, reminiscent of the canal we saw in York, tightly canyon-ed by the buildings on either side, and much narrower than the canal system in North London.

All of a sudden I found the pot of gold at the end of the street art trail, a couple of big car parks with walls covered in art works.

I recognised a Louis Masai, but not much else. There were a lot of other pieces around.

I think I stumbled into Birmingham’s answer to London’s Shoreditch. It is an area in need of gentle gentrification, more of a tidy than a complete make-over. There are a lot of neglected small factory, warehouse and office buildings, spaces that would make for great studio and gallery places. Though we know what happens when gentrification comes along, and it is not all good news. This little square had been gentrified and was very cool, and if I had seen it yesterday I would have been tempted to come down here last night for a meal and a drink.

I walked past a record fair. I was very very tempted to go in….  I also like the idea that a city is a work of art, and I think this area of the city has achieved that to a degree.

However, I was on a mission to go the Photography Show, so I left the street art and record fair behind and headed to the station to take the train from central Birmingham to the NEC centre, about 10 miles away. My feelings about Birmingham have been turned around and I really enjoyed my walk.

The train was absolutely rammed, with lots of (mostly) young people in costume. Arriving at the NEC I discovered that Comic Con was being held there as well as the Photography Show; and a couple of smaller expos as well. The place is huge. As was the photo expo, much bigger than I expected.

I really enjoyed the expo. I will definitely go back next year, but will plan to go with someone else, preferably someone interested in photography! Though I was not planning on spending time looking at the gear  I would liked to have looked at the cameras and the other technology, discussing pros and cons of the different systems and innovations. It was interesting to look around anyway, plus I wanted to avoid the temptation of holding a Canon 5d Mk4 in my hands!

I wasn’t there for the tech though, I wanted to check out some of the talks. As I said at the start I need some inspiration, I am stuck in a bit of a photographic rut at the moment, hence the lack of blogs and photography. I have some ideas, but need a bit of a kick in the butt to get going.

I attended a talk in the Canon tent by the photographer Jeff Ascough, about how he developed his style and it was really informative and very helpful. I left with good ideas, some thoughts on direction, and a validation of some of my thinking.

I left soon after the talk and headed back to home. I felt good about the trip.

All the photos were taken on my phone, I did take the G16, but did not use it in the end. I am really impressed with the IQ of the Samsung S7.

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Back on the bike !

Sunday 22 January 2017 – London.

A rather belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and welcome to my first post of 2017.

It has been a very long time since I have been on my mountain bike, November 2015 was the last time I rode in the UK. I had a quick and awful pedal on my last trip to New Zealand and have only ridden the commuter bike once or twice since 2015. I have been meaning to get out more, honest.

I am going to stick to my usual excuse, no point in making up another one now. I have been really busy since I returned from my trip. I was unexpectedly straight back in to work and have been working ever since. As my contract finished before I left for India I was not expecting to be working so soon on my return, but I have been back at the same place on a sort of week-by-week basis.

I have also started to look for a full time permanent job, back to working five days a week. It is time to replenish a much hammered savings account. Much as I have loved working four day weeks, I have not saved any penny in over a year and have churned through the money I saved when I was working a full five days. I have been taking job applications semi-seriously this time, I have fired off quick responses to a couple of agencies but most applications have taken considerable time to complete. Fingers crossed one of those applications will prove that all the work has been worth it.

The other reason I have not ridden is I have been lazy, very lazy…

Last weekend as I was walking home from the laundrette I saw a mud covered mountain biker waiting at the lights near the end of my street. He looked like he had had a lot fun and I was quite jealous. I decided that I would do something about it. Mid-week and out of the blue I had a message from someone I have ridden with before asking me if I wanted to take a slow pedal around the forest. Perfect timing!

Fortunately all my bike needed was some air in the tires and a bit of chain lube, a quick spin around the block yesterday morning to make it all worked and I was ready to ride.

What I wasn’t really ready for was riding in -1 degrees. It was cold when I got outside! It was however a glorious sunny day, there was no wind and once we got going I sort of warmed up a bit.

There was a lot of frost on the ground and on the roofs of the parked cars as I pedalled up to the meeting point on Beacontree Ave. I was first to arrive and with a couple of minutes to wait took the first photo of the day. Frosty grasses in a road side tub.

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With little exercise in the last 12 months I knew it was going to be a slow and hard ride, I was lucky that my riding buddy today, Tom, was not in for a fast ride either. I told him that I would be wanting to take some photos on the way. This was not just an excuse for multiple breaks. It was stunning out there this morning! Our first stop was only a few minutes in, this could be a long ride.

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The ground was incredibly hard, I have never ridden on frozen mud before, mud that crunches under tyres or does not yield when ridden on, the puddles were mostly iced over and very few were broken under our wheels. Our next stop was at Highams Park Lake, which appeared to be completely frozen. I know shooting into the sun is a photography no-no, but meh, I have been breaking photography rules for years. Flareage!

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I loved these leaves trapped under the thin ice on the lake.

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It was a bit of a slog up Pole Hill, my legs were starting to feel it and we had only been going for 30 or 40 minutes. While we rested I went for a quick explore, looking for some frost laden leaves.

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There is a great view over towards the Shard and down to Canary Wharf on a fine day, but there was a little mist around so we just had to make do with the view down over Chingford.

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The ride down Pole Hill through the trees next to the golf course is one of a very small number of tracks that actually go down hill in the forest. So naturally it is one of my favourite trails in the park. There is also a great piece of single track on the other side of the road, with solid ground under-wheel, rather than the usual mud it was even better than usual. Though we did come across a really nice fern grove. So I had to stop…

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I loved the way the frost made the surface of the leaves so white and fragile.

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I didn’t take any more photos. Too tired and I needed to concentrate on the riding. We rode up to the tea hut at High Beach, which is a regular stopping point for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. 2 pounds 10 for both. Wonderful, no wonder it is so popular with riders and walkers.

The ride back towards home starts off well with some really nice and mostly downhill single track, but as we leave the forest proper and meander through some smaller, but still forested parks it turns into a bit of a slog. At least today it was not muddy!

All up we were out for about three hours. It was damn good to be out and about on the bike again!

One week later. I went for another ride again today. There was no ice, but lots of mud and it was so much harder.

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