Achiltibuie bound

In twenty minutes’ time (3am), Marion will awaken and our summer adventure will begin!

This morning we are setting off on a 739 mile drive north to Achiltibuie in Wester Ross.

We’ll be deviating from the usual route to visit Galloway Forest Park and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

We’ll be rendezvousing at the Burrell with my cousin Stephen Landon who has come over from New York to holiday with us. I’m really looking forward to showing him around Wester Ross and Sutherland – he’s not been north of Edinburgh before today.

During our week overlooking the Summer Isles we will visit Lochinver, Kylesku, Kinlochbervie, Durness, Ullapool, Gairloch and Applecross.

We’ll be popping in to see John & Caroline Wales at Tigh Ruaraidh. Stephen specifically wants to see it’s location.

At the moment the weather isn’t looking promising up there but we don’t mind much. Just one sunny day is not too much to ask though!

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Halo polishing

More grilling by the pool yesterday morning, and in the pool on a lilo.

I’ve gradually reduced my SPF from 30 to 8 over the week and I’m moderately pleased with the results. I’ll never been bronzed like the bathing beauties (both sexes) on the sands, because I’m too frightened of getting burnt like I did on the Great Barrier Reef in 1992 (I’ve never forgotten the blisters and pain of overdoing the grilling). But I think TSM will notice a difference when I get home on Friday.

The morning started, however, with a leisurely stroll along the shoreline, watching the sun climb in the sky. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the changing seasons and unpredictable weather that we have in the UK. It’s lovely being here and enjoying guaranteed sunshine, 30C temperatures and the cooling trade wind from the east that is a hallmark of Barbados.  Lovely for a week, but I think I would ache for some variance after a while. I have some ex-pat friends who currently live in California who don’t understand why I like the unpredictability of the British climate so much.  Ah well, each to their own I say.

So after the morning’s grilling Derek took Donroy and I off for a trip to St John’s on the east side of the island. We passed by Drax Hall en route, so it felt like familiar territory for much of the short journey.  Its a relatively small island as I intimated yesterday, but distances feel quite considerable, possibly due to the nature of the roads twisting and turning, rather rough surfaces in places. And all the while that cooling east wind. All the cars have airconditioning, but equally all the cars on the road drive around with all the windows down … its really rather lovely.

Philip was incapacitated yesterday with a bad back which he swears he’s picked up from me, though goodness only knows how. For myself I’ve had a liberating week, free from back discomfort and I’ve been able to do (and walk) so much more than I’ve previously managed. I truly feel like a new man.  Let’s just hope I can keep this up at home. Oh I’m not looking forward to returning to the UK just in time for February.  I hate February: gloomy, depressing, the depths of winter without a hint of spring to come.

Derek took me to the parish church of St John which is famous for its particularly spectacular location on the crest of a ridge overlooking the east coast. Consequently it gets that trademark cooling breeze to take the edge off the searing heat. Church services are conducted with the windows all open, with distant views of the Atlantic and all God’s creation spread out before one.

The church is classic Gothic and situated on a cliff overlooking the picturesque East Coast. This church was built in 1836, the fifth to be erected on the same site. It replaced a building which had been destroyed by a hurricane in 1831.

In the churchyard rests the remains of Ferdinando Paleologus, a descendent of Emperor Constantine the Great, whose family was driven from the throne of Constantinople by the Turks. Ferdinando died in Barbados in 1678, after being a resident here for over 20 years.

The churchyard also contains some pretty spectacular mausolea of plantation owners from centuries past. There’s not a lot of topsoil above the solid coral core of the island, particular above the principal arable growing areas, and so graves look a little different in Barbados. Very often they have to build up a gravespace because one can’t dig down below ground level for more than a foot or so. This means that little mausolea are a common feature of graveyards: they look rather like domed cardboard boxes which have been rendered and a memorial plaque added to the construction. There were graves like this dating back to the 1700s. No new burials are allowed in this particular churchyard (there is another graveyard about half a mile distant), except for burials in an existing family mausoleum (provided there is space inside), the last one being as recent as 2005.

It was lovely reading the memorial plaques in the church. Its one of my favourite pastimes back home to visit country churches and graveyards. I enjoy reading the memorials and learning about inhabitants from time immemorial. The ones I particularly enjoy are those that ‘big up’ the deceased individual as an exemplar of piety and good works.  I’m all for that kind of exhortation, but its an indication of how times have changed so much that the language used on such memorials is often strange to our eyes, words that we no longer use in daily speech yet brought to life in marble or stone.

From St John’s we made a short trip to Codrington College, an anglican theological educational establishment, found by one Christopher Codrington, who after his death in 1710 left portions of his ‘estates’ – two slave labour plantations on Barbados and areas of Barbuda – to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to establish a college in Barbados. Construction was started in 1714, and the College was eventually opened on September 9, 1745.

It initially provided a general education but began to teach advanced studies as early as 1748; this served as a preparatory education before the students – usually sons of the local gentry – went to an English university.

The plantation slaves were considered heathens and not suitable for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven and so they were totally ignored by the church until after emancipation in 1834 when a wholesale conversion effort started. Suddenly these heathen souls were lost souls and they needed to be saved. Oh how times change!

The college is now owned and run by the Church of England, which still owns two neighbouring sugar plantations and makes a healthy profit each year!  I understand there was a fuss a couple of years back because London wanted to ditch this college but there was an uproar in Barbados and they backed off.

Finally, for dinner last night we graced ‘Whispers by the Bay’ with our presence – P&D, myself and Donroy.  It was a fabulous outdoor setting right on the beach with the breakers crashing onto the shore just a few yards away.  The restaurant was sumptuously decorated and the service extremely attentive but I have to say the food was only average. We only discovered after booking that it was by no means cheap.  Overall, great location but I wouldn’t dine there again, certainly not value for money and it seems from Trip Advisor that I’m not alone in that opinion!

St Lucy and the fish pot

Yesterday dawned sunny and bright, just like every other day here in paradise.  But before dawn I found myself awake at 4.25am and decided to have a swim in the pool which, by now, I consider to be deliciously warm. A far cry from my first experience of it.

Of course, at that time of the morning you don’t have to worry about onlookers, so I threw caution (and my bathers) to the wind …

Then it was back to bed after a towel dry, and I slept for another couple of hours before getting up for some more pool dipping (appropriate attired now) on and off during the morning.

Swimming was interspersed with grilling on a sun lounger. I’ve dropped the high protection sun cream in favour of a medium one now as I’m managing not to burn.  Or is it because I’m being very careful not to grill for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time, and consequently I’m not grilling very much at all with all that slap on?

Throwing caution to the wind (a lovely, fairly constant, easterly breeze is a most welcome feature of Barbados) I took a walk down the street to explore the locality a little. This from someone who until recently was very wary of walking anywhere away from the sanctuary of home lest I hurt myself.  If nothing else this week in Barbados has been a truly liberating experience, I’ve come to realise that I can indeed do more than I thought I was physically capable of just now.

I wasn’t out long, maybe 20 minutes, and I certainly felt the heat, but I enjoyed the stroll (as much as you can stroll in flipflops that is), and then back home again for another dip in that by now familiar pool.

Around 1pm we set off on the day’s tour, this time heading for the parish of St Lucy in the far north of the island. I joked that St Lucy is the coldest part of the island because it is closest to the north pole, but really it wasn’t anything of the sort. Apparently St Lucy is renowned for its country bumpkins as there is much agriculture up there and I suppose yes I did see quite a bit of evidence to that claim, although Barbados is rather notable for the lack of mass agriculture apart from sugar cane for rum production.

We stopped for lunch at a delightful beachside restaurant called The Fish Pot at Little Good Harbour on the north of the west coast. The view was faultless (see picture). From our table we had, for entertainment, a couple of fitties who swam out to the sunbathing pontoon – oh how I envied them – and I captured the lovely photograph just as a brightly-coloured dinghy sailed past the pontoon.  I didn’t really notice her much, but I reckon I could pick him out in an identity parade in ten years time!

My camera, unfortunately, wouldn’t zoom quite well enough for me to share a close-up pic of the two fitties, so you’ll just have to use your imagination on this point. My camera is also playing up at the moment, I’m finding my pictures are often coming out blurry – much to my considerable annoyance.

The Fish Pot, as you may imagine, specialises in, er, fish! I’m not really a fish eater, indeed I’ve gone out of my way to avoid eating it for many years apart from the odd smoked salmon sandwich, etc.  But back home TSM has got me into enjoying poached salmon, and fish pie, and various other bits. The Blessed Craig last year introduced me to whitebait (that, I can tell you, was something of a revelation).

And so, progressively, my piscine education has been extended. “What did you have for lunch?” I hear you ask. Well I rolled the boat out big time yesterday – a case of when in Rome do as the Romans.  I went mad and ordered fresh lobster bisque (delicious beyond words) followed by grilled barracuda with a creole sauce and a side salad. The barracuda was very toothsome, I loved it!  Philip says that red snapper is tasty too, so maybe that’s what I’ll have to have at our next meal out!

From Little Good Harbour we continued northwards to the northernmost tip of the island at Retreat, where there is a magnificent cave that has been ‘blown’ out by the sea over hundreds if not thousands of years.

The geology of Barbados is fascinating in that it is entirely made of ancient coral caused by a tectonic shift millennia ago.  Unlike the other islands of the Caribbean which are volcanic in nature, Barbados does not have any dormant volcanoes, let an active one. Over the centuries the sea has gradually eroded much of the coral at the sea’s edge and in places one finds dramatic ‘tables’ of coral jutting out to see, or raggedy cliffs where the coral has been gouged away by the force of the seawater.

And in the case of the ‘Animal Flower Cave’ the sea has gradually washed out a magnificent subterranean cave which at low tide exposes some magnificent rock pools, some of which are deep enough to swim in. The cave’s name comes from the sea anemones found in the pools of the cave.

Apparently (I’m not sure how much I believe it) there was a huge storm around Christmas (so a month ago) and all the sea anemones got washed away, out to sea. So when I was there yesterday it was just a magnificent cave with some pools of water. I didn’t see anemones (or sea anemones for that matter)!

And then it was a leisurely meander back to Prospect for another evening by (and in) the hot tub. Dale the Bajan and Mark the Jamaican joined us for the evening again. It was pretty special watching the stars in the night sky whilst chatting with friends old and new. It was at this point I realised that on 24th January one is supposed to be cold, and I was anything but cold last night!

I retired early to bed last night, I’m not sleeping terribly well here. At first I thought it was the heat, but the aerial fan (topped up with aircon when heat is too oppressive) keeps me cool, or the bed which isn’t long enough for me, but last night I seemed to not notice the shortcomings of the bed at all. So who knows what the cause of the wakefulness is.

What’s on the agenda today? Well as already intimated in a comment I’ve left on yesterday’s posting, today I’m off out on my own (I feel brave enough now) to visit the Mount Gay Rum Distillery on the outskirts of Bridgetown. And then I’ll make my way back by public bus which, I am reliably informed, is quite an experience.  Quite what kind of experience I guess I’ll tell you about tomorrow morning!

I’m not sure whether a trip out is planned for later, but I hope so … there’s so much more to see and I can already see the end of my visit looming on Thursday.

Hebrides: Day 4

After a leisurely breakfast and departure from Sorrel on Day 4 (20 August) we paid a visit to the MacGillivray Centre at Northton in light drizzle, then took a short drive up the coast back to Horgabost and afterwards retraced our steps to ‘Seallam!‘ in Northton to be there when it opened at 10am.

We enjoyed the Hebridean exhibition and particularly the St Kilda special collection which had added poignancy for me because of my long-held desire to visit the archipelago, ideally this year (which did not happen), and of course because 29 August just a few days ahead of our visit would be the 79th anniversary of the evacuation.

We then headed back to Leverburgh to await the ferry to take us across to Berneray and North Uist. As we were in good time we popped into the ‘Butty Bus’ and said hello to Bob. He was delighted to see us and made us very welcome.

The weather cleared as we were waiting for the ferry, with patches of blue sky becoming ever more evident – almost sufficient to make a pair of knickers for the Queen (favourite saying of Craig’s mother, apparently). So eventual departure gave us a splendid backdrop of the south Harris hills around Leverburgh bathed in glorious sunshine and mixed cloud, and thus it was for the entire hour’s crossing to Berneray.

For those who aren’t familiar with this ferry crossing, the Sound of Harris is only a couple of miles across but its very shallow, especially at low tide. The CalMac ferry weaves a tortuous route through navigation channels avoiding reefs and rocks, islands and navigation markers. Goodness know what it must be like for the man at the tiller at nighttime, but in daytime the twists and turns make for a fascinating crossing with new vistas opening all the time.

After we arrived on Berneray we set off north to explore this small and delightful island with wonderful views across the sound back towards Harris, and then crossed over the ‘new’ causeway to North Uist. The weather was glorious, breezy but sunny blue skies and scudding high level cloud occasionally obliterating the sun for a few minutes.

Once we reached the circular island road, we set off in an anticlockwise direction, intent on visiting the Isle of Baleshare before we reached the Isle of Benbecula. Not far along the A865 the most amazing sandy vista opened up in front of us. A truly stunning bay of white sand of seemingly limitless size. We couldn’t see the sea (the tide was out!).

We reached a parking place at the shoreline by Grenitote where several cars were parked and got out for a leg stretch and a Kodak moment.

We immediately spotted a Land Rover whizzing across the bay, headed in our direction, and then it forged a tidal stream and several large puddles and eventually drew up alongside us. The driver’s window was wound down and he said to me “That was great fun!” and with a big smile, drove off.

I should say at this juncture that I’ve often thought my family motto should be “If it’s there, drive up it.” Marion would certainly agree, because that’s what I always seem to be doing when she’s with me…

I said to Craig, “Right, that’s us too then ….!” and off we set for a ‘desert safari’. We forged the river and set off across the beach which must have been about 1-2 miles across, and then on a track through sand dunes beyond which led to a second bay of similar dimension to the first. Oh what a fab time (including more than a few Kodak moments). See video clips here and here!

on the beach

We made it back to dry land without mishap, but wreathed in smiles … A quick stop for comestibles was made at Sollas Co-op and then we enjoyed a lovely alfresco lunch at Malaglate on the machair overlooking another delightful sandy bay to a distant isle with two large and ruined properties on it.

After lunch we made steady progress southwards via Balmartin, Baleshare and Balivanich (Isle of Benbecula) and onto our final island for the day, South Uist.

Getting rather tired by this time we decided to head straight for our hotel, the Borrodale at Daliburgh. It is one of three in the southern isles owned by the same company. I had stayed at the Dark Isles Hotel a few years ago on my first visit to South Uist, it was pretty average – a typical coach tour type hotel. This accommodation had been booked for us by VisitScotland and I rather hoped to find Borrodale an improvement on my memory of Dark Isles!

Well my review of the Borrodale on Trip Advisor will tell you what I thought of the hotel!

After a nap we were ready for something to eat and found a half-decent (not the best but no means the worst – that accolade belongs to Thurso) fish and chip shop nearby. It was remarkable for having a filling station attached to it (rather than the other way about, the pump controls were on the counter of the F&C shop). We drove onto the machair and enjoyed a fish supper looking north with the Atlantic ocean on our left.

Before retiring for the night we decided that we’d attempt a side trip the next day to visit Barra and Vatersay if we could get a ferry place. The weather forecast for the following day wasn’t particularly good, rising winds were predicted which didn’t augur well for a smooth crossing, and rain was anticipated also. But neither of us had been to Barra previously and so we decided we’d do it if we could.

to be continued/…

Breakfast with The Queen

FX helping TC take a picture of TSM taking a picture of them!

FX helping TC take a picture of TSM taking a picture of them!

After the Travelling Teacosy’s return last night from a weekend in sunny Dorset, it was allowed a jolly good rest overnight, and then awoken from its slumbers at the ungodly hour of 5am and drive two miles down the road to Calshot Spit.

Whereupon, right on cue at 6am, came Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 – home again from New York after a six day trans-Atlantic crossing.

I arranged the general ‘arrival’ shots, plus pictures of Chorlkie taking pictures of our valued guest meeting The Queen, so do pop over to Chorlkie’s blog to find see the close-up pictures of their historic encounter!

Just click each image to see a larger version.

And then it was back home at 6.15 for our own breakfast and a jolly good rest after our early morning exertions.

This afternoon I’ve two American cousins visiting us for the day, so we’ll take the opportunity to show them around the New Forest, and Teacosy will be coming along for the ride.

We hope they’ll enter into the spirit of the occasion and partake in the general silliness (but who knows)!

Teacosy gets Boldre

The sun broke out again this morning and so ere long, we broke out from a stupour of mild inaction to head for Beaulieu where summer bedding plants (red geraniums, dark blue lobelia and white alyssum) where purchased for the potager garden back home.  

Thence to Lymington and, more specifically,our target destination Waitrose, followed by a meander back through the forest for TC’s delectation and delight..

After spending far too much money, purchases included a tray of sushi for lunch, at which Marion initially turned her nose up but I insisted she put presumption (not prejudice) against the contents aside, to just wait and see – plus a couple of delicious butterscotch yum yums from the patisserie.

On the way back we diverted via Sway in the hope of calling upon a couple of friends of mine who live on the edge of the forest, but they weren’t in, thus thwarting our second attempt to ‘pop’ since I arrived down here at the end of March. Maybe third time lucky (that is, the next time we hit Waitrose)!

And then it was TC’s time. Ah, perhaps not quite yet. Lunch beckoned from the carrier bag. And out came the sushi tray.

Out also came the presumptions, that it was all raw fish and yuck. One tentative bite from my companion was followed by a distinct ‘Mmmmm!’, and thereafter I had to wrestle to get anything from the selection tray myself.  “Houston, we have a sushi convert…”

From Sway we meandered over to the delightful village of Boldre. I’d said that the first pony we saw we’d have to stop and introduce TC, or in Marion’s words: “The first pony gets it [an introduction]!”. In the village centre we saw not New Forest ponies but donkeys, including a very young one that Marion said is known as a Jenny (not sure why).

Then headed for home through the forest snapping location pics as spotted ideal ‘Kodak moments’ to share with TC’s fanbase:

I got some very puzzled looks (and smiles) from folk driving or walking past as I composed a brightly-coloured teacosy into position for my various photographs. Needless to say it was a drive home full of mirth and much giggling. Marion even admitted that it wouldn’t have occurred to her to do anything nearly so silly, but she hadn’t had as much fun in a long time!

TC’s off to Dorset tomorrow morning to spend the weekend at Kingcombe with Marion. It’ll get a walk through the stunning wildflower meadows where early spotted and southern marsh orchids, yellow rattle and ragged robin will all be easy to spot and provide yet more photo opportunities.

So pop over to http://chorlkie.wordpress.com for an update (hopefully she’ll find time to post some pics over the weekend but knowing her she might wait until she’s home on Sunday afternoon).

And then I believe our visitor will sadly be leaving us, heading northward to Glasgow to stay with Auchenshugglegranny. I understand Granny is already planning an ambitious itinerary for what is now a very well travelled teacosy.

I hope someone is tallying up the miles for the Guinness Book of Records because after Glasgow, Saint-Chaptes, 1160 miles south in France, is its next destination!

Maybe TC should have its own traveller’s blog?

TSM, the radio star

Hello, this is BBC Radio Solent. We’d like to do a feature about Kingcombe’s Wednesday Walks programme on our afternoon show in around an hour’s time? Are you available to do a live interview?

So went the telephone call TSM received at 2.30pm.  

The next hour was a mad rush to ‘get it right’. When opportunity strikes for a slot on the radio the last thing you need is to be ill prepared.

We quickly updated the Kingcombe website so that people listening to the radio programme and looking for further information about the guided walk would be able to find it easily.  

solentThe next walk (27 May) is a family walk through the wildflower meadows, not an arduous hike but a gentle meander, offering the opportunity to spot stunning flowers, meadow landscapes and the odd badger if you’re lucky.  Click the Kingcombe link above, then ‘Guided walks’ if you’d like to find out more.

Next interview prep. A radio interviewer will usually ask questions he/she thinks the public will want to know. These are likely to be based upon the ‘four Ws’ – what, when, where, why, and then the all important ‘how’:

  1. What is it about?
  2. When will it happen?
  3. Where will it happen?
  4. Why is it happening?
  5. How will it take place?

So TSM set to and wrote a couple of paragraphs of what the walk was about, and reasons to travel to Toller Porcorum for it. As it’s half term week next week she focused on children and ‘something to do’ issues in a natural environment. With the wildflower meadows just coming to their stunning best at the end of May, we decided that would be the angle should go with.

Next she devised a list of bullet points based on the general description she’d written.

In any media broadcast you need to aim to get your message across in clear points, and must prioritise the information to be passed on (what do the public need to be told, should be told, could be told).  Having more bullet points available, just in case you’re given more time, is always a good idea.  I said that after the general description it was essential to say the website address carefully.

And come 3.30pm, just as we’d finished fixing the website and the prep, the phone rang and off she went.

I was listening online in another room. She wasn’t on air more than three minutes as anticipated, and her preparation shone through. Her voice was calm, she was relaxed in tone, and knew exactly what to say.

Marion got her bullet points across, and charmed the presenter Charlie Crocker – so much so that at the conclusion Ms Crocker finished the interview by saying it sounded just like her kind of place.

TSM, you’re a radio star!