Saturday, 12 October 2013

Yarn, hills and lakes

First of all, to set the scene. For those of you who don't know, the Lake District is an area in the north west of England, just below Scotland. Now that we all know where this little story is set, we can begin.

A long, long time ago, this part of the world was cold, frigid in fact. Covered in ice, glaciers flowing to the seas. Grinding away at the earth beneath with their massive weight, creating long narrow valleys which have filled with water once these cold slinky monsters melted. These are now the lakes and tarns of this area. Here endeth the lesson.

So, some vacation was due and as there was a yarn show in the area, SWIMBO decided (with a little input from me) that we should visit the Lake District. OK, so that's not the entire truth of how we decided to go there, but it works for me. 

We drove up on a Friday morning, up the highways and had the usual nightmarish experiences going past Birmingham and Manchester, but eventually arrived at the self-catering cottage just outside of Kendal. It was a building with walls about 3 or 4 feet thick, converted from old farm outbuildings into a pair of cottages.  A pleasant night's sleep found us back on the road, heading back Southwards to Skipton where the Yarndale show was being held. There was quite a traffic jam getting into the show, which ought to have warned us as to what we should have expected. A quick cup of coffee and a sandwich and then we entered the show, which was held in the Skipton Agricultural auction market. The entrance was a riot of colour, with all the bunting having been crocheted.

The colours inside the show just continued to be quite amazing too.

There were a few of the providers of the raw materials on show too. This was one of several in a pen, just quietly chewing the cud.

As always with these shows there were plenty of stuff on show/for sale and some of them were a little more photogenic than others. I liked the "booties in a box".

The show was pretty good, as these things go, but incredibly crowded and very soon we began to feel like this: 

The following day we headed off west into the Yorkshire Dales to the Masham show. Here they had an Aussie doing travelling sheep shearing exhibition.  How unusual! It was entertaining.

In the streets we were regaled by what turned out to be a blend of belly dancing and Morris dancing, among others.  

We felt we needed to get to see the area around where we were staying and found some delightful scenes. I even got this one, with an interested local.

Then we began our real Lake District experience, by driving through the valleys and around lakes. What a setting this is to live in!

We almost accidentally found this dam, actually Blea Tarn, to walk around. Great big hills all around, trees lower down and a nice civilised path to walk along. This helps when one is having troubles with hips etc. It allows you to get out and enjoy it all, without the hassle of trying to negotiate more difficult up and down terrain, so was very appealing.

The path (visible to the right, below) took us around the tarn and as we went through a gate in a fence we heard the distinctive twang of Seffrican accents. We had a little chat to fellow travellers, then having done the civilised path trick quite succesfully, decided we could clamber up to the top of the hill above. This is the view back to the tarn.

The rocks were all covered with different lichens and mosses. This one has barely any rock face on show, but is covered with different coloured lichens.

From the top of the hill, the view to the other side was amazing. A long valley (Lang Dale) stretched to the right and on the left was hemmed in by some enormous hills before curling off to the side. 

This is another shot, closer in, looking down into Lang Dale from the hill above.

To someone who enjoys wood craft, there are some lovely little touches on display. This is the side panel of a bench that has been carved to indicate that the wildlife depend on plants, butterflies, fungi and the roots below to obtain water and nourishment.

In Wensleydale (famous for it's cheeses), flows the river Ure. 

This river takes a number of plunges in a series of 3 falls in a one-mile stretch. Known as Aysgarth Falls (as they are at the village of that name) they are quite beautiful. This is the Middle Falls.

We drove some spectacular roads in the Lake District. Lots of single track, twisty-turny-windy roads on some rather steep inclines at time. This is near the top of the Wrynose Pass, looking down the Duddon river valley. 

England's highest point, Scafell Pike, can be seen in the distance. In the foreground is one of those strange beasts, a budding photographer, in it's blue phase.

From the village of Ambleside (which boasts the best sticky toffee apple cake ever), a short walk takes you out to yet another gully and river. Exceedingly pretty and a lovely walk.

With delightful little pools along the way.

Leading up to Stock Ghyll waterfalls. It was a delightful and very pleasant walk, with a wonderful reward at the end. 

Again we found ourselves at the top of a pass. This is Kirkstone Pass. As you look, the valley disappears into a series of twists and turns with the hills along the sides all the way. Superb!

Coniston Water, as with a lot of the lakes, has a number of little islands (isles?) and this one took my fancy. 

We ate lunch in Coniston, then walked along the edge of the lake, at times in amongst the trees - pine, beech, oak.

There are steamboats still powering up and down as ferries or pleasure boats.

I have come across a number of photographs taken of jetties in Coniston Water, so when I found one that I had access to, I could not resist and tried my hand at it too.  

A wonderful break, a delightful introduction to the delights offered by the Lake District and we will most certainly be heading back there at some point. There are more passes to drive, more hills to climb.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A little stroll from Osmington Mills

We had a choice of where to walk. One was inland, near Cerne Abbas, including the Cerne Giant in all his magnificence, or along the South West Coast path, with sea views, dramatic cliffs and hills.   We chose the latter, being creatures who enjoy the sea. So we headed off to Osmington Mills, supposedly the haunt of smugglers in day gone by (isn't every slightly out-of-the-way place on the coast?). From there we strode bravely in an easterly direction through the Smugglers Inn pub grounds and out onto the Coast Path to be met by something described in the little book we had used to decide upon which walk to do, as a gentle hill, but actually looked like a monster of a hill! A good way to start a walk, with a gentle hill to get the pulse going. Once at the top the going was easy, rolling along towards Ringstead Bay.  The walk was done on the UK holiday named so poetically as Summer Bank Holiday. Those with an inquisitive streak can look here to see why public holidays in the UK are called Bank Holidays. The swallows are obviously beginning to prepare themselves for their long migration down to Southern Africa and are resting up.

From Ringstead Bay we continued East, up a rather bigger and steeper hill than before, for which my aerobic system will forever be grateful! I have to admit I took a few long breathes at the top while wondering why I was doing this. However the views back towards where we had started and beyond to Weymouth were stunning, to say the least.

There were any number of people out on the water, enjoying themselves, while we slogged away at the top of the hill. A good few kayakers were out and about too. It certainly looked like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon to me.

This hilltop remained quite flat for a mile or so, until it began to form itself into a series of up and down bumps along the coast, creating a dramatic vista. Just peeking out of the top of the chalk cliff in the top of the photo below is Durdle Door, a very picturesque and scenic place along this coast.

It was about here that we turned around, as we needed to get back before the light went. Whatever happened to my scouting "always be prepared" tricks? Out in the late afternoon without a torch? Tut tut! 

Back at Ringstead bay, the sun was getting very low and looking back where we had come from, the chalk cliffs were now glowing orange in the light. There is an old 2nd Word War lookout point on the top of the hill, barely visible towards the end of the flat bit. There are a number of these scattered all along the coast, to prevent those pesky Huns from sneaking in without being seen!

We may not get quite the dramatic sunsets that I have experienced in the African evenings, but the ones we do get are not half bad, either! All afternoon there had been a cloud depositing a little rain over towards Weymouth, but it provided us with some glorious views on our way back. 

As it sunk below the clouds, we had one more opportunity to stop and take in the beauty laid out before us. We spent some time here, taking pictures until a battery died....

Just had to throw this one in too. To me it looked like there was a great big fire in the cloud. I suppose, give or take 93 million miles or so, I was right!

Well that was it. 4 hours or so of sheer delight. I am already planning to go back and do some more walking there. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

An Andalucian Adventure

Let's set the scene right in the beginning, shall we? A very poor example of a summer in the UK in 2012, followed by a cold, dark, damp winter and my thoughts began to turn to being warm (hot, perhaps) and in a sunny climate for a while. Elseline found a tour of some of the main cities in Andalucia -  Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, Ronda and Granada - and this met all the criteria we had set, so it was booked and before we knew it, we were embarking on the plane from Bournemouth to Malaga. Just so you get the picture I have thoughtfully provided a map to enable you to see the area. The area marked with the "A" is the town of Mollina (Mo-yee-na), where we stayed at a B&B villa.
The Andalucian Area of Spain

The first day we had was a free day, so we went to Mijas (almost on the coast in the centre of the map).

This is a town 7 miles from the Med, halfway up the mountains. It has a bullring, which is not that unusual for Spanish towns. It is also an example of what is known as a "pueblo blanco" or white village, as all the buildings are blindingly white. Seems quite reasonable in the heat of summer.

Owing to the heat, there are lots of under cover patios where it is a lot cooler and they are a delight to see. After our hill climb, we ate at one, on the roof, under a grape vine.

All the little streets are decorated with pots of flowers on the walls and it makes a pretty sight.

 Most of the flowers are red or pink, but I particularly enjoyed this white one.

After our obligatory cup of coffee, we left the little town and walked up the hill, as this seemed like a much better thing than shopping for tourist tat in all the shops that abound in all of the towns we visited.   There is a pathway to follow that leads up and up and up, past a shrine and on the the peak far above. Eventually we only got about 7/8 of the way up, but what a lovely climb!

Here we are, only a little way up and still very keen and almost cool!

The slope was unending, but occassionally there would be a copse of pine trees to provide a bit of shade. Not that it was really required as the day was not very hot.

A little bit of local fauna......

And some of the pretty wildflowers.....

It seems as if  the theories about the origins of the Easter Island statues might be inaccurate! I found this stone on the hillside.

A girl, very pleased with her ability to scramble over the hills, pointing off towards the west and perhaps trying to say that is where I should go!

All around the town itself, there are little gorges and in some of them, rock climbers were practising their art.

Our first day, off to Mijas, was a free day for us. The rest of the tour group arrived during that day. The tour began with a trip to Seville, also known as the furnace of Andalucia. We started off with seeing the  magnificent Plaza De Espana, built spcifically for the 1929 Exhibition, but was unfortunately a bit of a white elephant due to the stock market bust that happened at the same time.

And so we were off to the Old Town. I have a thing for doors and this one caught my eye, not surprisingly, as it is magnificently carved!

We stopped for lunch in the Jewish Quarter and one of the little bodega-cum-restaurants had a good display of the typical spanish hams hanging. Apparently the person who carves these has to have done a lengthy course on it!

Being the furnace of Andalucia, it made sense to build the old buildings really close together, so as to expose as little open ground to the blast of the midday heat (in the mid to upper 40's C) as possible. Clever people.....

 The exterior of the buildings are drab and plain, but once you get a peek through a door, you see a whole new world. I really like the idea of an interior courtyard, around which the house is built.

And finally, we came to the Real Alcazar. This is a building that has influences from the Arabic period (8th century), right the way through to the 19th century. That which is most striking is from the Arabic period, the detail and intricacy of which is astounding and has to be seen to be appreciated.

I have a fondness for a bougainvillea hedge and this was a rather good one!

Peter The Cruel (whose palace the Real Alcazar was) had a mistress who apparently used to bath in the cool waters of the underground water tanks and they have now taken her name, the Baths of Lady Maria de Padilla.

Another look at the incredible attention to detail that was applied to these buildings. The craftmanship is simply awesome.

The Hall of Ambassadors has a domed roof the likes of which I have never seen. I assume it was no accident that this breathtaking scene was where the throne was and where  official receptions took place. It must have been rather daunting and mind-blowing to see what magnificence had been created. If I seem a little effusive, it's only because it is entirely beyond words and I have been attempting to describe the indescribable.

Elsewhere int the palace there were a number of rather large tapestries which have sadly faded a little over time, but would have been magnificent in their own right. This one below is of part of the known world (at the time).

Horseshoe arches seemed to be all the rage, as they abounded throughout the palace. Lots of things in sets of three, but I dont know the significance of that.

Cordoba was next on the list.... There is an annual competition for the best patio flower display. This is one of the entries.

It also had a yellow rose - Mom, this is just for you!

Oh dear, I found another door.....

We were led to one of only 3 surviving medieval synagogues, this one was built in 1315 and was used after the Jews were expelled in 1492 by the guild of shoemakers. It was a hospital and a nursery school at some time too.

After yet another delicious Spanish lunch, we headed off to the Mezquita. One of the first things you see upon entering is this wooden window.

Some closeup detail of the window...

And so on to the Mezquita..... The red bricks in the arches below are actually jasper, all of them! And there are 856 columns made of jasper, onyx, marble and granite.

Originally there was a (tiny) cathedral built around the year 600. When the Arabs invaded, they bought half of the cathedral & for about 200 years they worshipped side-by-side. Eventually the Christians moved off and by the year 987 the Mezquita had reached the size it is today. Strangely there is a big cathedral in the centre still, with some AWESOME woodcarvings, as you can see in the pictures below.

There is an Islamic prayer niche, which used to contain a golden decorated Koran. The worshippers would circle the niche seven times on their knees and this has worn a path in the marble floor

Now - is that not a beauty? But really, what a door! What you see is only the bottom half of it and there are 2 of them to close the entrance.

The next day dawned with us anticipating 20-odd degrees in Malaga, so I donned shorts for the occassion. Unfortunately, the day began with a trip to the mountains where it was a mere 3C!!! I must admit to shivering a little. The trip to El Torcal allowed us to have a little walk around the rocks and crevices of this magnificent karst landscape. The low clouds with fleeting breaks of sunshine made it look really dramatic.

During this walk, there was a moment when a fox walked right past us, not 5 feet away from us - quite unconcerned about our presence. We also came across this lovely wild peony.

From El Torcal, we headed off to the coast at Malaga where we had lunch at the beach at a restaurant which is frequented by the locals and not the hordes of tourists. This was born out by the lack of languages spoken, other than English (our tour) and Spanish (all the rest). The prices seemed to reflect this too. Most of the group ate the freshly caught and cooked sardine, but I cannot bring myself to eat fish that hasn't been scaled or cleaned, so I went for the calamari.

Back into town after lunch and we visited the Alcazaba (the palace) which was a rather impressive edifice that must have been quite impregnable in it's day.

From the walls of the Alcazaba we could see the bullring in the town and the Med beyond.

A scale model of the Alcazaba does not include the fortress (the Gibralfaro) that sits above it at the top of the hill. 

As ever, there is a fountain and water flowing to a pool in the courtyard in the palace.

And a drinking fountain, although the water is not for human consumption these days. Perhaps they had stronger constitutions back then? 

Ronda is a lovely town, split by a gorge and joined by a few bridges. This is the view from where we ate lunch, looking upstream.

And from below the new bridge (built in the mid-18th century). It has some dark historical moments, as both sides in the Spanish civil war threw opponents off it.

Use is made of the river, the gorge and the waterfall. While we were eating lunch we saw a bunch of youngsters heading upstream, going canyoning. When we took a walk (clamber?) down to the base of the bridge and beyond, we saw some abseilers going down the waterfall.

It seems as if there were lots of happy people, to be able to wade, abseil or climb steep slopes!

There are a number of properties right on the edge overlooking the view which is described only as breath-taking.

After climbing back up the slope we found a quiet and peaceful cafe to have a refreshing cup of coffee.

As with all of these old towns, there are remains of the walls and gates.

This was the only bridge, built bt the Arabs and with the remains of arabic baths just beyond them.

The final city on the tour was Granada. We were told not to eat much for breakfast as we would be eating churros first thing.  A great thing, a fine churreria!

As we had some time to spare before going up to the Alhambra, we went shopping. For us it was a herb and spice shop and one particular blend of tea had been sold out, much to my chagrin!

We also found an icecream shop that had some watermelon carvings in it. This is a wonderful art!

 And so on to the Alhambra, which boasts some lovely gardens that include well tended hedges.

Oh, and the ubiquitous water feature.  This one was particularly splendid.

The Alhambra contains several palaces. After a few hours of wondering through the various gardens, fortified castles and other buildings, we queued up to get into the Nasrid Palace. Rather bored by the whole thing we entered the building, not expecting too much, but were soon flabbergasted, gobsmacked and simply blown away by the splendour inside. So much so, in fact that I forgot to take any decent photographs and am left with just these three that are worthwhile sharing. The rest are all skew, blurred or otherwise just not acceptable.

This little panel shows the sheer attention to detail that the craftspeople paid when making the palace.

The roof of one of the rooms is just as detailed.

So, folks, that was our tour which we booked through Tour Andalucia, who I am very happy to endorse.