Searching for Obelisk

Sunday 30 July 2017 – Epping Forest.

The day after we returned from our south coast road trip I visited an exhibition at the wonderful Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge on the edge of Epping Forest. The exhibition was a collection of photographs taken by Marion Sidebottom, who is the current artist in residence at the forest. The focus of the work was the ancient trees in the forest, a subject I to am interested in. There were some lovely photos and I enjoyed a brief chat with Marion as well.

The exhibition did inspire me to get out and take some more photos in the forest, and maybe, just get lost wandering around for a while. My mission for this walk was to find a tree that was named in Marion’s exhibition as Obelisk. Two beech trees that appear to be wedded together. Helpfully Marion identified the location for the tree, so it was off to Loughton Camp I went.

Parking in the car park on Epping New Road, I headed off into the trees with the 5d on my back and the tripod under my arm. I was fully prepare for a photography session.

I know this section of the forest pretty well, so I was off the path and into the trees as soon as I left the car. The first scene I stopped at was one I had seen when I was last here on my bike. I am not particularly happy with this shot, though I am also not unhappy with it. This pretty much sums up all the photos I took today.

On the other side of the path I spent a bit of time trying to get a shot of the green moss popping out of the brown and yellow leaf covered soil. There was a lot of fast moving cloud about so it was quite tricky trying to get the light right. In the end I elected for a shady look.

Walking on I soon arrived in a clearing close to Strawberry Pond.

The sun was a lot brighter which made photography a more complex, there was also a strong and gusty breeze blowing, moving all the foliage around. I spent a bit of time trying to get a close up of the bright green ferns against the heather.

I very much like a strong contrast and am constantly on the look out for a bright white tree trunk against a lush dark green background. I like the concept of this photo, but it still not quite right, another one of those, not too bad but not great shots that were the mark of the day.

Crossing over Earls Path I slogged my way up the hill towards Loughton Camp, stopping on the way to photograph the trunks of this beech. I particularly liked the contrasting moss and the way it slowly moving up the trunk.

Arriving at Loughton Camp I was annoyed to find a small group of youf riding mountain bikes over the mounds. As a mountain biker I don’t blame them, they look like they would be a lot of fun, but this is an ancient site and should be preserved so it is still there in another 2500 years. There are a couple of signs saying no bikes, but not enough of them and they are not very clear. I didn’t want to point my camera at them in case they thought I was going to tell on them. I do think it restricted my taking photos though. So here is some of Loughton Camp, facing away from the boys on their bikes. You can see there is a well warn path through here.

With the boys riding around the north end of the camp I decided to explore the south and west, looking for the ‘Obelisk’ trees. The area is huge, and there are a lot of beech here. Apparently 60% of England’s ancient beech trees are in Epping Forest. I did not find Obelisk, but I did find this outline of New Zealand in the thin scraggly grass between the trees.

I spent a bit of time on the flat area looking for Obelisk and for anything else worth photographing, I took a few other images, but nothing I was overly happy with. Mildly frustrated I decided to head back towards the car, though walking down through the trees rather than the main path.

I spent a bit of time at this small grove of silver birch that were backed by some nice dark holly. It was fairly dim now, and I was shooting at quite a slow shutter speed to get a bit of depth. With the breeze and the incline I was not able to get a perfectly still shot. I made a note of the location and will come back here as autumn comes and the leaves start to turn.

The forest was quite dense, surprisingly so. I am used to quite open sections that can be ridden through. I ended doing more of a bush bash than I expected, finally working my way back to the path, Long trousers next time, will save losing skin on my legs.

Once back across Earls Path I took another side trip into the trees in the general direction of the car. I hit another gnarly dense section of forest, mainly holly bushes, which are never fun to push through. Bizarrely I came across a chair in the middle of the trees, there was nothing around to show that it had been the old camp site of a forest dweller or dwellers. Just a chair. Alone. I took a few photos of it. I love the forest!

It was a semi-good afternoon out. I wasn’t overly happy with my pictures, and I was disappointed I did not find the tree. I have two trees to find near Loughton Camp. The ‘skull tree’, from Will Ahshon’s book, and now Marion’s Obelisk.

More reasons to go back , though I do not need a reason to go back other than it is a magnificent section of a lovely forest.

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South Coast Road Trip-Part 3

Friday 14 – Saturday 15 July 2017 – East Sussex, Kent and back to London, England

It was another light breakfast this morning, for today we are feasting. Well, maybe not feasting exactly, but we did have lunch booked at the highly regarded Fish Cafe in Rye so it was important to save space.

To maximise the pending dining experience we are going to take in some sea air and enjoy the delights of two of Kent’s finest but totally different beaches. First on the list is Camber Sands, renowned for its Pontins Holiday Camp and long sandy beaches. With a bit of sun out it did not disappoint, though I could never come here for a holiday. Not with a Pontins nearby. I am also sure if a beach with a German sausage hut on it is really for me either.

Nor a terrace.

But the beach is big, and the sea is miles away. It is a big beach, with a pretty tame sea, especially by the standards of Auckland’s Piha. But tragedy is never far away from water and five young men died here last summer when they were trapped and stuck on a sandbank and were caught by the incoming tide. A terrible tragedy. Never underestimate the sea.

We took a brief walk before driving further up the coast to the surreal, desolate and totally ‘me’ beach at Dungeness. Like Camber Sands and its German sausage hut, I am not sure if I can really do a beach with a nuclear power station on it.

Though you do not come here for the beach, it is all pebbles, but it is a beautiful place and I have vowed to come back and spend some proper photography time here, preferably in a big storm! We stopped for another bad coffee, though the least bad of all the bad coffees we have had so far, so things were getting better. Must be the influence of London. Dungeness is going upmarket.

One of the reasons this is a magnet for photographers is the old fishers’ cottages, I am still using the mobile phone camera so none of these are brilliant, though I am pretty pleased with most of the photos I took. We were lucky that a few dark clouds managed to stray across as we were there.

With lunch not that far away we drove on up the coast to Lydd. I spotted this wrecked boat as we drove past and just had to stop for a few photos. The Jeniray, and her younger sibling Carole Ann. I could have spent a bit of time here, but we didn’t have much left, so it was a few quick snaps of the boats and those magnificent clouds before we were back in the car again.

I liked Lydd!

Completing the loop past Lydd and on to Romney, before heading back to Rye. Though I had to stop for one last photo of those clouds settling down on top of the windmills.

Parking up in Rye we had a few minutes for a stroll before our reservation at the Fish Cafe. We had walked most of the way there before I realised I had not ‘paid and displayed’ in the carpark, so I had a mad dash back to resolve it before I ended up with some monster parking fine. I was lucky…

Lunch, as we expected, was very nice. As was pud, the two (small) glasses of wine, though the coffee was a let down… a recurring nightmare for me. We had an afternoon to kill so took a longer, slower walk around Rye. We loved it when we stayed here in October 2014, though we were not so enamoured with the town this time, maybe it was just busier, and it has gotten a lot or expensive in the past three years. I still like it, just less. There are loads more posts of Rye in the posts from Oct 2014.

On the way back to the B & B we picked up a couple of snacky things to nibble on as we didn’t fancy another meal come dinner time . There was a big breakfast waiting if we wanted it in the morning. We finally spent a few hours doing nothing, reading and having a holiday rest. I did try out the big, deep and wonderful bath in the room as well. Bliss!

The next morning it was holiday all over 😦 After breakfast we were back in the car and taking a slow journey homewards, mainly due to me not really knowing which way to go. Funnily enough we did manage to find Chapel Down vineyard quite easily. It was 10:30am, I was driving, so it was only a very small tasting. We have had, and enjoyed, a few of their wines in the past, so it was quite simple for them to lure is into buying some product. No complaints mind. The English pinot noir was really nice. Who would have thought!

I will say, that finally, after almost a week, I managed to get a good flat white in the cafe at Chapel Down. We must be getting close to civilisation again.

I was not looking forward to London, and yeah, this was why. A very long and slow journey through the Blackwall Tunnel.

It was a great week away, we stayed in some interesting places, found a couple of towns that we want to return to and stay a few more nights in. Maybe one of them will finally turn into our place by the sea!  We shall see.

I love being on holiday, but equally I love coming home after one as well. The return from this one was slightly less enjoyable as we have the decorators in from Monday doing some insurance work after a minor subsidence issue. We have to shift all the furniture out of the front room, not a lot of fun, hopefully it will only last a couple of weeks, but who knows…..

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South Coast Road Trip-Part 2

Wednesday 12 – Thursday 13 July 2017 – Hampshire and East Sussex, England.

We asked for a slightly later breakfast this morning, we had a much shorter day of driving than on day one.  The better news was the weather was much improved on yesterday.

I wanted to show Eleanor one of my favourite parts of the south coast, a place I was surprised she had never been to before. Durdle Dor. I even like the driving around here, some nice villages and lovely countryside; even if a large part of southern Dorset is a series of large army bases.

We were shocked (sadly, not really) at the price of the car park at Durdle Dor, but it is such a lovely place, that it is was worth the cost. I will come back here for sunrise again one day.

Almost, but not quite as nice is Man O’ War Bay, the beach next to Durdle Dor.

For me however, the main event is that wonderful arch of Durdle Dor, just lovely. The steps down to the beach were gone last times I was there, washed away in a storm. It looks like at least one other set of steps had been partly washed away since as well, though there are more there now. I walked down to take a couple of photos, though El stayed at the half way  point as it was very muddy and wet,  and very slippery after the heavy rain yesterday.

Walking back up to the car park whetted our appetite so we stopped in nearby Swanage for a Dorset cream tea. With coffee, in my case. I sort of like Swanage, it was really busy today, which was a good sign, but with no rail connection it would never be on our list of places to buy.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur, we crossed Poole Harbour on the small ferry, from very very expensive Studlands to very very expensive Sandbanks, and then took a slow crawl through Bournemouth.

We stopped for a leg stretch and a walk at Mudeford, 

Before driving the last few miles to Milford-on-Sea where we had a room in a B & B booked for the night.

We arrived quite early so stopped for a drink in a very modern wine bar, before taking the two minutes to enjoy the sights of the town. It is not big, but it is quite nice.

After checking in and taking a wee rest we walked down to the cliff tops, with their amazing views up the Dorset coast and over to the Isle of Wight. Though I have no photo of the island.

The sea front was quite extensively damaged last winter and had recently been rebuilt and reopened. We later understood, not that this was not entirely popular with all. Even though the beach is pebble I still quite like it.

Our B & B hosts had forgotten we were coming and had bought tickets to see Coldplay in London. Coldplay of all people. Luckily they had remembered at the last minute and had arranged for a nearby friend to look after us, whew! We really liked Milford-on-Sea, and our ‘host’ advised us of a few places to try for an evening meal. In the end we went back to ‘The Cave’, where we had our afternoon glass of wine. They serve tapas in the evening, which suited us just fine. They were very nice too, though London prices. It was a good evening though.

Thursday was another big driving day, but we did take a lie in before eating a slightly smaller than normal B & B breakfast. We were offered the full works, but a whole week of full English breakfasts would be too much! On the way we stopped in nearby Lymington for a look around, it is three miles from Milford-on-Sea and has a mainline station to London, it is not a bad looking town, lots of shops, and a very nice looking deli, that served what was possibly the worst coffee of the trip. This was my third bad coffee since leaving London. Maybe it is time to review the leaving London plan! It was so bad I threw it away.

We spent the next three or so hours in the car, bypassing Southampton and Portsmouth. I wanted to stop at Bognor Regis, just because of the name, I am sure I went there as a child, something I will check with mum when she is here. We didn’t stop, nor did we stop in Worthing, Brighton or Hove. We drove past them all. We planned to stop in Eastbourne, as we have heard it is quite nice, however the traffic was bad and I could not find anywhere to park and, well I was getting sick of driving.

We did stop in Bexhill for a leg stretch, I wanted to see the famous De La Warr Pavilion, which was totally underwhelming from the road, so we drove on past. The pavilion was built in 1935 and is considered Britain’s first modernist building. I know it from the first book in the late Spike Milligan’s war memoirs – ‘Adolf Hitler, my part in is downfall’, one of the funniest books I have ever read.

We carried on up the coast to Hastings. The coastal area from Bexhill up, is slowly being renovated, tidied up and gentrified. I like it, it is a nice bit of coast. Though with slow train routes in to London, and a still slightly ‘chavy’ reputation, it is not quite us, yet. We stopped in Hastings for a walk, primarily as I found somewhere to park with very little faffing and stress. The area around the old town is quite nice, we particularly liked the old fishing net stores on the seafront. A place to come back to.

Our final stop for the day was the B & B, on the edge of another no shop village, Fairlight, a few miles north of Hastings. Another lovely old building, the most expensive room of the trip, and by far the best. A magnificent shower and a big old claw foot bath. 

There was nowhere in walking distance for dinner so we drove to one of the local and recommended pubs for some food.  We took a detour on the way to buy some wine from the closest shop in Winchelsea-on-Sea. Our first choice pub, over the road from the shop was not serving food so we turned to choice too in nearby Pett.  We did on the massive sea walls near Winchelsea, for a view out over the sea.

After dinner we retired back to the room, had a glass of wine and went to bed early, and knackered.

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South Coast Road Trip–Part 1

Monday 10 July – Tuesday 11 July 2017 – Devon and Dorset, England.

I am writing this after July turned into August and the big news is that I have finally started my new job; the job I applied for in January. I am now a civil servant, at least for the next two years, working in an IT role with the Cabinet Office in London.

Four weeks ago, back in blog time, my daughter arrived from her extended stay in India and Nepal. I haven’t seen much of her in the past 18 months; she was in a different part of India when I visited there and New Zealand last November and we all know what happened on my India trip. So I did not get to see here then. It was with much excitement that I headed out to Heathrow Airport to meet her and bring her back to our place in Walthamstow.

It was kind of bad timing as El and I had a holiday booked for the following week, however Meliesha and I got to hang out for a few days before we went away, including a walk in my favourite forest.

Meliesha had been living in Bristol when I arrived in the UK five years ago and she still has numerous friends there. Bristol is sort of on the way to Exmouth so we dropped Meliesha there on the way, and I suspect now she is with her crew I won’t see much of her again for a while!

Our plan for this week-long break was to drive along the south coast of the UK from Exeter in Devon to Rye in East Sussex. We are scoping possible locations to buy a property, and escape some or all of the time from London. The idea is to find a few potential places and then go back and spend a few more nights and see how it ‘feels’ over a longer period. While the overall distances are not vast, there will be a bit of driving each day, but it’s a good excuse to go and hang out in a variety of places on the coast. I love this part of the UK.

I thought we left home at a reasonable enough hour to miss the worst of the M25, but I got that call badly wrong. It was a really slow drive to Bristol, taking close to 4 ½ hours. This set the whole journey back and we did not arrive on the coast at Exmouth until almost 2:00. Lunch time. We stopped for a pub lunch by the quite nice beach – lime and soda for me. Even though I am in my mid-fifties I still find it weird/uncomfortable ordering a non-alcoholic drink in a pub.

Lunch was very average, setting an unfortunate precedent for the rest of the week. It was here that I discovered I had failed to pack a camera! I had originally planned on bringing the big Canon DSLR, and then rejected it in favour of bringing the small G16. This was a holiday and not a photography trip. I just failed to pack the G16, though I did have the charger, a spare battery and the tripod… So all photos were taken on my Samsung S7 phone.

Our next stop, and the first on our new list of places to return to, was Budleigh Salterton, just along the coast from Exmouth, but with a totally different feel, and a totally different beach. Budleigh Salterton was also where I started my 50th birthday 50 or so km run. A place that has ‘good’ memories for me.

We also liked Sidmouth, and will return there as well, though it was a drive-by liking, as we could not find anywhere to park and I was getting tired and we still had a way to go. We did stop in Beer, for an ice-cream. I like Beer, and beer, though it is a little too remote for us to consider buying somewhere here, plus it is a bit pricey.

Plan A, before we left home, was to lunch in Lyme Regis, but that was blown right out of the water by the traffic leaving London. We have both been to Lyme in the past, so decided to skip it today. It is a lovely town, too expensive for us, and there are so many other places to explore. I was tired, and getting over the whole driving thing, so we carried on through Bridport, where El’s sister once lived, and then down to West Bay. I finished my birthday run in West Bay so while my memories of Budleigh Salterton are good, my memories of West Bay are clouded in pain and tiredness. Not really, I was very happy to finish my run, and my memory of West Bay was filled with the joy of completing something pretty amazing. Shame it did not live up to that memory. We didn’t stop.

We didn’t stop again until we found our B & B for the next two nights in Piddlehinton, Dorset, so small it could hardly be described as a village. It had a pub, but nothing else. Naturally we went to the pub for dinner. It was a lovely building, had some pretty good beer, though the food was disappointing. It had been a long day, 10 hours in the car.

We are staying in a 16th century house that is now a B & B. As we had such a long day we called it a night pretty early, and it was great to just be able to blob out on the bed and watch TV for a while.

We had breakfast booked for 8:30 on Tuesday morning, we are on holiday so no rush. Today’s weather forecast was not looking too good, and after 10 hours of driving yesterday I had no real desire to spend a lot of the day in the car.

Our first stop was the village of Cerne Abbas, to pay our respects to the Cerne Giant. We arrived in Cerne Abbas about 9:30, and it was very quiet, a beautiful old English village, we both immediately fell in love with it. So we parked up and went for a short walk,

Past the old church and its lovely little garden,

Through the grounds of the old abbey,

And into a field of wheat, so far un-trampled by our illustrious leader!

The Cerne Giant was just above the field, though the view was not very good, so we walked back to the car and drove round to the viewing area. The Cerne Giant is a 180 feet tall human figure carved into the chalk hillside. It is the largest hill figure in the UK. There is much uncertainty over the origins of the giant, it could be pre-Roman or it could be from the English Civil War and a mockery of Oliver Cromwell, a mystery yet to be solved. The figure was quite unclear and my cell phone hardly did it in any justice either.

Our next stop was Abbotsbury Swannery. I wanted to visit here last time I was in the area, but did not get the chance. As we arrived it started to drizzle so we stopped in the cafe for was the first in a seemingly never ending run of awful cups of coffee. When the rain stopped we walked around the swannery, it was not overly exciting, lots of swans! It started to rain more heavily as we left, and that was pretty much the end of the nice weather for the rest of the day.

The swannery is the only place in the world where you can visit an active swan nesting sight. It was established by Benedictine monks in the mid 11th century as a source of food for the many banqueting halls in the area. The monastery was destroyed during the dissolution in 1539, but the management of the swannery continued.

It was raining quite heavily when we left. We did not stop at the ruins of the abbey as I had intended, and decided to go on to Weymouth for lunch. It was tiring driving in the rain on these narrow and quiet roads, but I don’t mind too much, there are so many little stone villages, like Fleet.

I love driving like this, so much nicer than the busy roads of London. We arrived in the outskirts of Weymouth and it was madly busy. It was raining heavily so we decided to turn around and go somewhere else for lunch. The thought of parking and walking miles in the rain did not appeal. I did stop, nip out of the car and take a photo up Chesil Beach, an area I wanted to explore more. Another day.

We decided to go to Sherborne, inland and north of where we are staying, it was another nice drive through the lovely Dorset countryside, even though it was constantly raining. El has been to Sherborne before, with an old friend living here, though we did not make contact this time. We parked the car (so many bloody parking metres – is there no free parking left in the UK ?) and had lunch and a quick walk around. Sherborne looks really nice, though with only one hour of parking we did not stay in town long. Shame.

We did stay local and went to visit the ruins of 12th century Sherborne old Castle. There is a newer privately owned ‘castle’, but the old one is the one that interested me. Though it was pouring with rain we still chose to visit. I somehow managed to set my phone into some weird setting that made the photos look like they were taken on some old Holga type camera. I am not sure if I like these or not, but I could not edit them back to ‘normal’. We will be back to Sherborne, and I will come back to the castle as well.

It was getting late in the day so we went back to the B & B for a rest before heading into nearby Dorchester for dinner. We wanted to explore the town a bit, but it was absolutely tipping down by then so we found a big car park near a mall and had dinner in Carluccio’s. It was better than the pub the night before. I will leave it at that.

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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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