Having spent the day in and roughly north of Victoria, it was now time to head eastwards. The wind was still blowing so we took a bus to Qala from where we wandered hither and thither, admiring the views.
We did see some wildlife, a few birds, the odd butterfly, but most excitingly, snails.
Many of the restaurants advertise ‘locally produced lamb’, ‘locally produced goat’ and ‘locally produced rabbit’. Along with ‘Argentinian beef’. But on all our walks, we never once saw a sheep, goat or rabbit out in the wild, not even any signs of their presence. We ate our lunch in a place recommended by our b&b host, Xerri il Bukkett. Entertainment was provided by some loud American ladies one of whom clearly knew more about breeding and raising rabbits, for food, not pets, than the local Gozitan population.
Speaking of birds which we were a minute ago, what a surprise to see these chaps out by the road.
We walked and took a bus to the Ġgantija Temples, still looking out for sheep and goats. ‘Ġgantija’ because they were built by a race of giants, according to local legend.
After about 5,500 years, the temples, older than the pyramids in Egypt, aren’t in the best of repair, and some of the stones are missing, having been acquired for re-use in new buildings. This has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, but that’s no excuse not to have a coffee shop at the end of the tour, along with the gift shop!
‘The typical habitat on the Ġgantija plateau is the garrigue, a seemingly arid and treeless environment. In reality, this is one of the richest habitats on the Maltese islands with hundreds of flowering plants, including the Giant Fennel, the Wild Thyme, the Mediterranean Heather, the Maltese Spurge and many others.’ I don’t think I’d seen the word ‘garrigue’ before.
The graffiti goes back hundreds of years but we’re now discouraged from such vandalism.
A couple of the walls have been secured by scaffolding until the local experts work out the best way to preserve the temples in the longer term.
The temples need another visit one day, but we were conscious of having to catch a bus. While waiting at the bus stop, we had another wildlife encounter. A cat made friends with us.
The weather hadn’t been as bad as forecast and the following day was even better. So we headed south on this occasion, to Xlendi. The walk, nay, hike, along the coastal path was more challenging than the average stroll around Northenden, that’s for sure, and in a couple of places, we lost the path. Still, no sheep nor goats to worry about.
The cliffs looked challenging to say the least, so I was glad that our hike took us in the opposite direction, along the il-Maxar – ix-Xlendi Heritage Trail. Still hilly and rocky but not vertical.
I saw the Usain Bolt of the lizard world dart across the path in front of us. Then Liesel saw one too, after which we saw a few, lone lizards, taking in the Sun on the rocks. Beautiful green lizards.
One thing we weren’t expecting to see was this little bridge. There’s no river, it just meant we didn’t have to climb all the way down the ravine and back up. I imagine this was constructed by the Romans. Or maybe the Brits.
Our destination was Sanap Cliffs, and we just enjoyed the walk in the sunshine, even as we were concerned that we might be off course, having lost the path, and might be tramping across someone’s crops. Still no sign of a goat or sheep.
‘This area, that forms the south-western part of the village of Munxar, is characterised by the high cliffs known as Sanap Cliffs. Sanap, from Maltese senapa, is the mustard plant that was possibly cultivated in the area. This place lies between Tal-Bardan, on the left, and Ras il-Bajjada in Xlendi, to the right. The surrounding fields are a grazing site for sheep and goats.
Sanap Cliffs offer an unparalleled view of the south coast of the island of Gozo. The highest point in the area is specifically known il-Pinnur, literally as the weathercock. This point is perched to the winds just as a weathercock. The island of Comino is to the left, and the north coast of Malta in front.’
So, sheep and goats do graze in the area, maybe they’re inside during the cold(er) Winter months.
As we approached Sanap Caves, our rocky, stoney, muddy path morphed into a paved walkway, very civilised. We even saw other people, but we didn’t join them at the cliff’s edge. Instead, we completed the loop, and walked back to Xlendi, following the road this time.
From a distance, neither of us could discern whether these crops were potatoes or cannabis, or maybe something else, more exotic.
Obviously, it was much faster walking along the road and we soon found ourselves by the waterside in Xlendi. We found Moby Dick Restaurant, enjoyed lunch, and coffee, and watched the Sun going down over the sea. Again, I took far too many photos of the setting Sun, with and without clouds, trying to capture the waves as they broke just behind the wall protecting Moby Dick and the other shorefront premises from the Mediterranean.
Another slog, well, a two-minute walk to the bus stop, where again we were serenaded by the susurration from a million small birds in the trees.
I think it’s fair to say that we enjoyed our few days on Gozo and that, having seen the weather forecast back home, we didn’t really want to go back. But we did, getting up early to catch a bus back to Mġarr for the ferry back to Malta. Having not seen a lot of wildlife (we can’t really count snails, lizards, cats and millions of small birds), you can only imagine the delight when we came across this old thing in the ferry terminal.
I know, I know, it looks like a donkey to us too, but the model really is titled Four Beautiful Women.
Waiting for the ferry to arrive gave plenty of opportunity to get some steps in by wandering around, of course. The boat trip itself was uneventful, as was the bus that took us across Malta, from Cirkewwa Ferry Terminal to the airport.
Malta International Airport. We checked in very quickly. A dozen or so desks, all staffed, which meant there wasn’t a ridiculously long queue. We got through security very quickly too. Lots of time to spare before our flight, so all we could do really was wander around, or sit in the Hard Rock Café for some lunch.
It was quite poignant sitting by Jeff Beck’s shirt, as he only passed away a few days earlier.
The flight was uneventful and finally, we dropped through several thousand feet of clouds to see the lights of Manchester.
Manchester Airport and yes, we were soon brought back to grinding reality. After a 3½-hour flight, it really shouldn’t take 1½ hours to get through immigration. Why was there such a delay? Because, again, only half the passport reading machines were plugged in and working. Mine wasn’t the only head shaking in disbelief.
And then we were driven home by the grumpiest taxi driver in the country. He took the longest possible route home and made a big deal out of finding his card reader because, of course, we didn’t have any British money on us. Welcome home, Mick and Liesel!
As well as being extremely narrow, some of the streets in Victoria, Gozo are incredibly steep.
Nevertheless we persisted, we walked all the way up to The Citadel from where we could look down on quite a lot of the island.
There are signs of activity on the hillock dating back to 2,500 BC, the start of the Bronze Age. There are marble artefacts from the Roman era too, so a lot of history here.
I’ll let the local experts tell us more:
The Cittadella, also known as the Castello, is the main historic fortress of Gozo, built at a strategic vantage point just in the centre of the island.
Archaeological evidence shows that the site has possibly been inhabited since Late Neolithic times and certainly fortified during the Bronze Age Period. In Roman times, Gozo was elevated to a privileged municipality, and the fortified city was transformed into a complex acropolis serving as the centre of both the administrative and military activity as well as the religious life of the inhabitants of Gaulos.
During the Middle Ages, the acropolis was converted into a fortified castle which served as a refuge for the inhabitants during corsairs’ attacks. By the 16th Century, most of the castle’s defensive walls became obsolete, and a major reconstruction of the southern side was undertaken between 1599 and 1622. The delineation of the northern medieval walls was largely retained and integrated into the revamped military architecture, transforming the old modest Castello into an imposing gunpowder fortress.
Today the Cittadella houses various notable buildings and historic places, including the Cathedral of the Assumption, which was built between 1697 and 1711 on the site of the former medieval church.
There were a few other visitors but a lot of the people we saw arriving by foot or by car were lawyers attending the court. We thought about watching whatever trial was taking place, but in the end, staying outside in the sunshine seemed a higher priority. Although the wind was still quite strong, and cold in places.
One thing we noticed was how much greener Gozo is than Malta. It might dry out in the extreme heat of Summer of course, but right now, we can see the benefits of the limited Winter precipitation.
It was interesting to see a really skilled artist at work. Emmanuel’s paintings have an almost photographic quality to them, and he was working from a photo on his phone here. How lucky to be here on the one day of his free exhibition.
From a distance, I thought this was an electric car being charged. A bit anti-social having the charging cable across the narrow pavement, definitely a trip hazard. But no. It’s a petrol pump, installed outside somebody’s house.
We wandered around fairly aimlessly for a while, but then Liesel remembered the remains of some aqueducts, so we walked along the road in that direction. Old Roman aqueducts, I gussed. Nope: built by the Brits in the early 19th century.
The supply of water in Malta is of course limited. According to one of our hosts:
Malta only receives around 550 mm of rainfall a year, the greater part of which falls over a period of a few months from October to February, with the rest of the year being dry to very dry.
Malta has no rivers or lakes; 68% of Malta’s water comes from groundwater which is being exploited at a rate of almost 50% over and above sustainable extraction levels. The balance comes from seawater desalination, which consumes 7% of all the electricity used in the country, all of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels in power stations.
One thing we both noticed is there are very few solar panels here. I’m sure there will be more solar energy in the future, but for now, it seems to be a missed opportunity. Similarly, we’ve seen no wind turbines and no evidence of off-shore energy production using tides or waves.
We walked in the general direction of Wied il-Għasri, commenting on the cactuses growing everywhere, remarking on how hilly the place is, and what a shame there’s not a decent pavement on most of the roads. We turned round and saw the Citadel. Is that the same Citadel, I asked Liesel?
The walls are all dry stone, not a drop of cement. But very strong although not necessarily strong enough to withstand impact from a badly driven vehicle.
As we walked on by, I pointed out that we had now been to Infinity… and beyond.
As we walked on by, I reminded Liesel that we had been to Infinity, and beyond.
The names of houses are varied. Half of them are English, half Maltese and half Latin. But there was one that we were amused to see:
As we walked on by, I remarked that we’d been to Infinity… and beyond.
We saw a sign advertising Gozo lizards for sale. Knock on the door or call this number. Well, I would have thought these dry-stone walls would have plenty of lizards living in the nooks and crannies, especially on the sunny side. Liesel on the other hand thought they were just rocks with lizards painted on them. It’s still a mystery.
Late in the afternoon, hundreds of birds chirp and chirrup in cacophonous unison, flitting about from branch to branch in the trees. We thought they looked like house sparrows, but I don’t know if they make that kind of racket. On the other hand, having seen pictures of Sardinian warblers, we now think they’re responsible for the noise pollution.
This is the oldest Basilica on Gozo but there was no opportunity to look around inside.
Gozo is quite hilly, I may have mentioned that. So it was interesting to see that some of the crops are grown on terraces. I thought that was just an Asian method of farming.
In the distance we spotted a lighthouse, but we felt it was too far to walk to on this occasion. We were conscious of the Sun setting at about 5 o’clock so it was with some relief that, at last, we reached the Gorge at Wied il-Għasri. People do go swimming here, but not today, as far as we could see.
We decided not to walk all the way down quite a steep path to the water’s edge. Just as well, because the trek to the nearest bus stop took us up the longest, steepest road in the whole world. Or so it seemed to these old legs. In fact, it was so long and steep, we saw the Sun set several times. It would disappear, we’d walk up the hill and watch it sink below the horizon again. And again.
Up and up we climbed, and when we reached the bus stop, we hugged it. The bus service on Malta is terrific but sometimes, you’re unlucky with the timing and have to wait for quite a while, in the cold, strong wind. But this did give me an opportunity to wander off a couple of times, and I did witness one more colourful sunset.
After nearly an hour, the bus arrived and we hugged the driver. It was a quick ride back to Victoria and a quick walk back to our b&b where we slowly thawed out and, after the longest walk of our entire trip, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
This really is the height of luxury. Nothing to do but walk around in the sunshine. We meandered along the promenade in the opposite direction today, away from Valetta, heading towards St Julian’s, which is where we stayed the last time we visited Malta. There was a noticeable difference in temperature between walking in the Sun and being in the shade. But it was glorious, so much more pleasant than the rain in Manchester, for which we see there’s now a yellow warning.
We’d both decided not to being swimwear with us on this occasion, but that may have been a mistake. When I saw this guy playing with his water jet-powered rocket booster system in the harbour, I thought, I’d like to have a go at that. Liesel wasn’t so keen, though.
We noticed a few shoals of fish in the water too, it was that clear, contrary to our expectations. And when we found the local Marina regulations, we could see why. I suspect most if not all local sailors follow the rules. I don’t have a boat, so I didn’t really have to commit the rules to memory, but there you go.
Under MARPOL legislation, it is illegal to discharge oily residues into the sea. All automatic bilge pumps must be switched off unless the engine (s) is equipped with a separate oil tray. A bilge water pump-out facility is available at this marina. Violators are subject to sanctions.
Enzyme-based products must be used to clean bilges, not detergents. Oil absorbent pads should be kept onboard for emergencies.
Marina regulations prohibit the discharge of sewage or grey water (effluent from shower, laundry and wash basins) into the basin. Full shore facilities (toilet/shower units, marine pump-outs and live-abourd pump-outs) are available at this marina. Violators are subject to sanctions.
It is strictly prohibited to dump any solid wastes into the marina (Food waste, paper, rags, glass, crockery, metal, ropes, packing material and any plastic articles). Violators are subject to sanctions.
The maximum speed inside the marina of any marine craft is limited to 3 Knots. Violators are subject to sanctions.
Apart from mooring lines and service cables, it is prohibited to leave or store items on the marina quay. All such items will be removed at the owner’s expense
After reaching St Julian’s, we deviated from the promenade, and found ourselves not so much walking as scrambling or scrabbling along the lunar landscape of the beach. Plenty of trip hazards for my two left feet, but I survived without mishap.
We found civilisation again close to The Westin Hotel Dragonara. I’m sure it’s a fantastic, comfortable place to stay, but we’re very happy in our little b&b.
We sat by a proper, sandy beach for a while, watching the people, me with a coffee and Liesel with an ice cream. That guy’s brave, we thought, not just for swimming in the sea, but for leaving his bag unattended, having just been flashing his mobile phone.
The sand at St George’s Bay is quite coarse, but still easier to walk on than the rocks earlier. I saw one jellyfish in the water.
As we walked back through the town, past a shopping arcade, I remarked that we’d been here before. Nope. I was by myself last time, Liesel was having a rest, a long, luxurious bubble bath or something.
The building site was a bit ugly. Aren’t they all? But this one is A new destination to elevate Malta’s urban landscape. Cutting edge entertainment for all. A carefully created shopping experience for everyone. A heightened culinary affair. Well I for one can’t wait to see what’s so different about all these new shops and restaurants. All brand new and shiny. How ironic then that, as we walked around the corner, we noticed a really, really old bus.
Always try and remember to look up.
One thing we’ve noticed all over the place is the proliferation of hire scooters. Most users are on the pavements, moving at a reasonable speed amongst us pedestrians. But some braver souls are on the roads travelling at over 20mph, easily keeping up with the general traffic flow. I thought about trying one out, but, well, it’s the thought that counts.
Of course, if this were Manchester, these scooters would all be in the water by now.
The recycling bins are pretty nifty too. We saw one guy with huge bin-bags full of cans and plastic bottles. We wondered why he didn’t just leave those bags by the recycling bins. But then we realised, those bins actually pay you for the recycled items.
It’s always good to try and work out what an item of scuplture represents, especially when the adjoining plaque only has a description in a different language, in this case, Maltese.
I think it was first made in 1986 and subsequently repaired in 2017 then located in front of Ċensu Apap’s house in Sliema. The Ministry of Transport had something to do with it. My Maltese is very limited, even with Google Translate looking over my shoulder.
On our previous visit to Malta, we visited a coffee shop at Tigné Point a couple of times. So we had to make the pilgrimage there again this time. Iced coffee and hot coffee were enjoyed, not to mention a second breakfast.
We soaked up as much Sun as we could while walking around the tip of the peninsula. One thing we didn’t anticipate seeing was a man taking his cat for a walk. Well, taking his cat out for some fresh air, at least.
I made the mistake of buying another coffee as we got close to home. Mistake? Yes. Because when we got to Lidl, the assistant wouldn’t let me take it in, which meant that Liesel had to get the shopping alone. I hung around outside, enjoying my coffee and the sound of the bells of the Parish Church of Stella Maris, just around the corner. A crowd of people were gathered outside, but I couldn’t see whether it was a wedding or some other celebration.
We’re now used to being disappointed by the weather at home when we lift the blinds each morning. And that feeling of, well, ‘dread’ is probably too strong a word, but that feeling is still there, even after being here in the Mediterranean for a few days. But so far here, we’ve never been greeted by anything other than dazzling blue skies and signs of bright sunshine. So it was no hardship to leave our house and walk to the bus stop.
I’m just glad we weren’t standing by the bus stop over the road when that balcony came a-tumbling down.
Since Covid, Manchester buses have had the windows fixed so they can’t be closed. Not that that stops people from closing them. The idea is that fresh air will reduce the spread of Covid. Here in Malta, the bus company has done the opposite. ‘Keep Windows Closed. This bus is equipped with Bioactive AC filters for improved air filtration. Please keep windows closed for maximum efficiency.’ Yes, of course some of the windows had been forced open. The first bus we caught today had a temperature of 28°. The second, a baltic 22°, brrr!
We were entertained by the American couple behind, about the same age as us, learning to use public transport, probably for the first time in their lives.
Him: Did you press Stop, dear? Her: Yes, I have ascertained how to stop the bus by pressing the button. Is there anything else you’d like me to do?
It was just a pity they hadn’t ascertained how to board the bus, through the correct door, not through the exit to avoid paying the fare.
We disembarked at Sanglea, and couldn’t help but notice this example of extreme yarn-bombing.
That was a labour of love, I wonder how long it took? Just along the road as we made our way to the tip of the peninsula, Liesel posed for a photo, sporting her exclusive shopping bag. I think that’s St Philip’s Church at the top of the road.
This is obviously an old part of Malta, one of the houses had the date 1702 inscribed.
Walls have ears. That’s the saying, and this watch tower really does have ears. And eyes.
Looking over the water towards Fort St Angelo, it would be easy to deduce that the whole island is really just one big fortress. The entrance to the Grand Harbour is fortified too.
We hadn’t really agreed a plan, but found ourselves walking around the bay, past the American University of Malta, around to visit the Fort itself. A relatively cold wind blew for a few minutes but it didn’t last long, and once we were in the sunshine again, we soon warmed up.
Quite a few of these little boats were in the water, or up on the quayside, but we didn’t go for a ride in one. They’re very colourful though. Luzzu? Ferrila? Where’s my Maltese correspondent when I need him?
On another occasion, we’ll visit the War and the Maritime Museums, but today, we were just soaking up the Sun. Outside the Maritime Museum is the first steam engine to arrive on Malta.
We’re not totally averse to visiting places and we spent a very pleasant hour or so at Fort St Angelo, although we could have spent much longer there. Most of our visit was still outdoors, up and down many steps and slopes. Which led us to wonder whether my Dad had been to Malta during the second world war when he was in the Royal Navy? We know he was in the Mediterranean, possibly in Crete… but that’s it, that’s all we know.
There is a lot of history at this fort, going back to before the original fort was built in medieval times. It was, of course, damaged during the war.
As well as being used for defensive purposes, it has been used as a prison, a Royal Naval hospital and as a court over the years. Not to mention the chapel and, now, for us visitors, it provides a great view of the harbour.
There is a café, but after all the effort of climbing stairs to find it, it was found to be closed. Nightmare.
Liesel and I decided not to climb the mast on this occasion. ‘Reaching 80 feet in height, this wooden ship-mast was installed around 1910. The Royal Naval White Ensign and the flag of the chief naval afficer responsable for Fort St Angelo, normally Flag Officer Malta, were flown daily following the Fort’s transformation into a Royal Naval shore establishment in 1906, Special signs were hoisted for the manoeuvering of naval ships in harbour and weather forecasting. Another naval ship-mast was located across the Grand Harbour on Lascaris Bastion in Valletta but was removed in the 1970s.’
We left just before closing time and carried on walking along the bay. We stopped for a beverage, both choosing a delightful, thick, tasty, hot chocolate on this occasion.
I’d like to say I hired a one-man octocopter so that I could take a picture of the fort from above, but, here’s a secret: it’s just a photo of a photo.
We walked up a hill to the bus stop and returned to Sliema. Around the corner from our b&b, we came across these stars. My guess is that they were to mark David Bowie’s birthday.
He is the original Starman after all. And who can forget his appearance at the Malta International Song Festival in July 1969 when, amongst other songs, he performed When I live my Dream, probably his best love song, with an orchestral backing? In the festival, he came second to a Spanish singer called Cristina: I wonder what happened to her?!
Later on, we dined at the top Maltese restaurant Wagamama where we were entertained by Lady Gaga. Wagagaga.
It’s hard work being on holiday so we took a day off. Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic were the order of the day for me, although Liesel did do some actual work on her laptop. We also packed to prepare for our departure.
On our previous visit to Malta, we’d missed out Gozo so we decided we’d pay a visit this time. The plan was to catch the fast ferry from Valletta. However, our plans were scuttled. Unlike the ferry, thank goodness.
Schedule Update: 10th January 2023 & 11th January 2023
Kindly be advised that due to the inclement weather conditions the Gozo Fast Ferry trips will be suspended for today Tuesday 10th January & tomorrow Wednesday 11th January.
Keep a look out on our socials or website for the latest updates.
Our plan B was to take a bus to Ċirkewwa and catch the normal, slow ferry. We could understand why the fast ferry service had been cancelled, the wind was really strong, the sea was being whipped up, such a contrast to the calm seas we’ve enjoyed for the last few days.
Here is the rough sea as seen through the dirty, rain-besplattered window of a moving bus. We waited for about half an hour at the ferry terminal where I paced up and down and round and round. There are signs everywhere telling us to wear masks, but nobody bothered. There’s even a vending machine selling them.
The voyage lasted about 25 minutes and the passage was indeed windy and rough. A couple of passengers turned a bit green but I think most of us felt ok. I went out on deck for a short while and the best thing is, my hat didn’t blow off.
Our b&b on Gozo is a bus ride away, in Victoria, below the famous citadel which we’ll explore another day. Claude met us, showed us around, and suggested some good places to walk on the island. He confirmed the public transport service is good, you can get pretty much anywhere in about 20 minutes by bus.
We went for a short walk to the town square where we had a late lunch. Or early dinner, if you prefer. And we got some shopping.
There’s space on this façade for two clocks, but rather than a sundial and a conventional clock, there is Alpha and Omega, for Jesus Christ, the beginning and end of our lives. The right hand clock gives a rough idea of the time of day, if you have no other means of telling the time.
Back at the b&b, we relaxed and considered thinking about planning what we might do and where we might go during the next few days, taking into account the conflicting weather forecasts.
Setting up the new printer was fairly straighforward. Apart from when the message appeared: We’re sorry, something went wrong. Nothing had gone wrong, the printer works perfectly. Liesel and I can now print directly from our laptops and phones. And that concludes this week’s tech news.
We didn’t stay up to watch the New Year’s fireworks from London, but we did enjoy some very loud bangs from the local displays in Northenden. Not so loud that they drowned out the noise of torrential rain battering the windows. Yes, we were quite glad we hadn’t made the effort to go out somewhere to watch a display.
I think it rained continuously for over 48 hours in the end, during which time, sadly, we took very limited exercise. One day, I took some rubbish out and checked for mail. But not to worry, we were soon off to sunnier climes where we hoped to walk for miles and miles.
Getting up at 3.30am is a rare occurrence for us, but it happens sometimes. The taxi took us to the airport, we checked in, we breezed through security having bribed them a fiver to fast-track. It would have been faster if my trays hadn’t been pulled aside. Not because there was anything suspicious, but because their machines hadn’t scanned properly.
The flight was uneventful, apart from some minor turbulence as we flew over the Alps.
I read my book, I did some puzzles and I even forked out for a cup of coffee. Liesel read for a while and also did some crocheting. When we landed, it was cloudy but warm. And as we descended the stairs from the Boeing 737-800, the Sun came out and said, welcome to Malta, Mick and Liesel.
We were in Malta three years ago, returning to the UK just in time for the first Covid lockdown. Masks seem to be optional now, although we kept ours on all the way from Manchester Airport to getting off the bus just round the corner from our b&b in Sliema.
We knew the public transport system here was good, so we bought our bus tickets at the airport. The first bus took us into Floriana, the little independent town just outside Valletta. We ignored the Christmas market stalls as we walked towards the bus stop for a second bus. Except for the stall selling pastizzi. We yielded to temptation. Liesel chose the cheese filling while I opted for the peas. Delicious. But suddenly, 20,000 volts went through one of my teeth. I had tooth-ache for the rest of the day. I’m still not sure if the puff pastry was to blame, or I just bit down in an unorthodox manner, but boy was I miserable after this. I don’t want to have to see a dentist in a foreign country. I took painkillers and tried to play down the discomfort, but I’m sure Liesel will tell a different story. Ouch.
Our host met us at the b&b, showed us around and made us welcome. It’s a nice apartment, and we only have to climb 26 stairs to get there, not as many as in Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago.
In fact, the whole neighbourhood is picturesque, and so far at least, not a lot of noise. We made ourselves comfortable before embarking on the first of many long walks.
The streets are quite narrow so we were walking in the shade whichever side we chose to walk on. I told Liesel that as soon as we reached a sunny stretch, I would hold my arms out like a demented cormorant. It felt so good.
It’s only a 5 minute stroll to the sea and we walked along the promenade, breathing the sea air in deeply.
I was quite moved to see this memorial plaque, particularly as I had recently listened to a podcast serial, Who Killed Daphne? There’s some horrible corruption in Malta amongst the natural, and man-made, beauty.
On our first full day here, we walked to Valletta. It was warm and yet many people were still dressed in their thick Winter coats. As if they look at the calendar rather than the thermometer before deciding what to wear.
My God, it’s full of books. That’s what David Bowman would have said if he were looking into this old telephone box rather than a massive monolith orbiting Jupiter.
Some of the graffiti is quite profound. This caught my eye because it might, in some way, be related to my radio show next week. You’ll just have to tune in and see.
Look how blue the sky, how calm the water, and what a beautiful ship. There were hundreds of boats, of all sizes in the harbour, and in all states of repair.
We followed the path along the waterside, and eventually we saw Valletta way over there. That was our target for the day. And see that gap, I asked Liesel? Yes? That’s the Caribbean, I said. Don’t be so silly, she replied. And, as luck would have it, a hundred yards further on, we saw this vessel:
The Black Pearl, straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. This might not be Captain Jack Sparrow’s actual ship, I wouldn’t want to mislead you.
Yes, it’s very sad to see that capital punishment still exists in Malta. If you’re convicted of a nautical crime, they still make you take a long walk off a short plank.
This Catholic church isn’t really leaning over, that’s just side effect of a panoramic picture taken in haste on a busy road. It was almost glowing in the sunshine. Various church bells were ringing as we made our way to the Maltese capital, and we realised they were probably to mark the funeral of Pope Benedict taking place over the water in The Vatican.
Liesel sprayed her initials on this rubbish bin and couldn’t walk away fast enough. On the other hand, a bit later on, as we were walking across an area of grassland, a man in front kept turning around and looking at us. So we slowed down. And we stopped to ‘admire the view’. I think he’s got the hots for you, Liesel, I suggested. Make sure your phone’s not on display, said Liesel. We managed to lose him, or maybe he lost interest in us, and we found ourselves back in the Floriana Christmas market. No pastizzi today, thank you very much, and, since you ask, my teeth felt much better today. No painkillers required.
We entered Valletta and found somewhere decent, Kantina, to have a very welcome, late lunch. Welcome because we were hungry but also, it was nice to sit down for a while.
This train came along the road as we dined, but we were quite happy to stay put, with a coffee before continuing our perambulation.
Liesel went into a shop and while I loiterd outside, I found this celebration of Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Malta in 1990. It seems he was especially fond of Maltese people, right up until his death.
I’d forgotten that Valletta is quite hilly. So as we walked up and down, eventually heading back to the bus station, you can imagine how seeing this took ones breath away:
We didn’t walk up this street, but one parallel to it, closer to the sea. The Sun was low in the sky, and Fort Ricasoli was really looking for attention over there.
In a couple of places, we could see where the Sun would set, so we tried to get to a good vantage point. So did very many other people and try as we might, it was very hard not to ruin other people’s photo opps. But our patience paid off, and I think this is a pretty cool picture.
We wandered down to the bus stop and of course we missed a bus by 10 seconds. Back at the b&b, we ate and turned on the TV, something we rarely do when away from home, and watched a jolly good escapist movie, Glass Onion.
Unfortunately, I think we consumed too much caffeine so sleep was quite elusive. So much so, I managed to finish my first book of the year, in the middle of the night.
Also, my dreams that night, when I did eventually fall asleep, were ridiculous. For instance, if in real life, I’d asked my Mum to check that I’d left my mobile phone at home, she wouldn’t have a clue. And if I’d said I needed it to book an Uber, well. It was a different world thirty years ago.
Before we left home, I pre-recorded two radio shows, the first of which is now available. It’s on the subject of Weights and Measures. First on Wythenshawe Radio and now, here on Mixcloud.
As hinted at earlier, next week’s show is in the can and might have something to do with Laughter Therapy. Wythenshawe Radio, Friday 2pm, 97.2 FM, online, TuneIn app, smart speaker.
We stayed at Fountains Abbey for a week altogether and for some of that time, we had the whole place, the whole estate, to ourselves. To the point that when, on Boxing Day, we encountered millions upon millions of other visitors, we felt our land was being invaded. Such an outrage.
Fountains Abbey is bigger than I’d anticipted. Other than the roof being missing, it’s been well looked after.
And here we are, equally well preserved, in front of the abbey. We spent a lot of time walking up and down its corridors and aisles. It was very special not seeing other people, just pigeons, crows and pheasants.
We have no idea where the building materials came from, but the different colour sandstones look much more vivid in real life than in this picture.
It was quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the birds. And quite atmospheric too with the medieval mist rising from the grass.
We walked along the path by the River Skell enjoying the peace and tranquility. Pheasants were everywhere, many more males than females for some reason. We even saw bits of pheasant here and there, presumably the body parts that the sparrow hawks couldn’t digest. We saw a couple of red kites showing off their soaring and gliding skills in the sunshine.
Odd buildings attracted our attention as we walked to the gate leading to the main car park. We didn’t go through because it wasn’t obvious how to get back. Plus, there were ordinary people on the other side, and we didn’t need to mix with them.
The Serpentine Tunnel was dark and damp and, as the name suggests, sinuous, so you never knew how much further there was to walk. The view from higher up was well worth the effort of the climb. Even if I was a bit puffed out.
Back at Fountains Hall, there’s a very moving war memorial
It’s probably the wrong time of year to see bees, but we found a home for them.
Joe Cornish has been taking photographs of the Abbey and the grounds for a few years now, since before the pandemic, and there was a display of his work inside the Mill. Apart from anything else, this was a reminder that I really should break out my real camera again rather than relying on the faithful phone for all my photographic needs.
We never came across the tree with this gnarly old man striding in its roots. But I’m sure we’ll be back one day, there are several more acres in the grounds to explore.
The bad news is, Liesel wouldn’t let me scratch my name next to this 200-year old graffiti.
Oh no, more bad news. Inside the Hall, we found this Christmas tree with lots of presents underneath, but Liesel wouldn’t let me open any of them.
Christmas day was unusual. We spent the day snacking on crackers, cheese, chocolate, cheese and crackers, fruit, bread, crisps, snacks, so that when it was time for the more conventional, official Christmas meal, we both felt full and well, we couldn’t be bothered. So we had our nut loaf and all the trimmings the following day: maybe we’ve started a new tradition. But really, those snacks just shouldn’t be so tasty, filling and more-ish.
Having spent a week on our own, just the two of us, Darby and Joan, it was nice to venture out and meet people. Not just any old people, but an old school-friend. And not even a school-friend of mine. Yvonne was my sister, Pauline’s buddy from school, all those decades ago. Yvonne and Ian met us in Sawley, for a pub lunch. It was nice to catch up, even though we’d only met in August, with Pauline and Andrew.
Our week in Yorkshire came to an end and we had to check out really early. On the way home, we diverted to Mother Shipton’s Cave but as always, we’d planned well: it was closed. But we did catch a glimpse of Knaresborough Viaduct, even if we didn’t take time to explore. We’ll be back, I’m sure.
It’s always an anti-climax of course going home after a short break. Nothing much to report here. Oh, except my old PC has decided to no longer cooperate. It won’t turn on. Yes, it was plugged in. I even changed the fuse in the plug. I hoovered up 3 cwt of dust from inside the case, wondering if maybe the thing wouldn’t turn on because the fans were stuck. No. I suspect it needs a new power supply unit. Which is annoying, because there are only a few things I need to transfer to my (now not so) new laptop. But the main thing I use the old PC for is to print. We have a very old printer that is not compatible with Windows 11. I spent far too long trying to find a way to get my laptop to connect with the old printer. In the end, I ordered a new printer.
I enjoyed watching the New Year’s fireworks from Sydney, a display probably visible from space.
Of course, we weren’t there in person on this occasion and I couldn’t see Helen and Jenny in the crowd. Mind you, I only have a small TV screen, it was dark there and as it turns out, they were round at a friend’s place anyway.
The radio show this week was entitled Happy New Year! I prepared it before we went away, that was a hectic couple of days! You can catch the show here. If I were to say that my Christmas show was repeated on Wythenshawe Radio WFM 97.2 not once, not twice but four times in the end, is that a humble-brag? Should I take that as a vote of confidence?
I didn’t realise that the link to the radio show doesn’t always appear in the emails alerting you to another exciting episode of these Antics, so apologies for that. And a jolly Happy New Year to you.
Our walk to Didsbury was uneventful, Unless you count the ducks shouting at us from the river.
I don’t think they wanted us to walk over the bridge for some reason. Maybe they just wanted some privacy, thinking Spring was on its way. After all, it was 21 degrees warmer today than it was on the coldest day last week: 14° versus -7°.
After walking back to Northenden, Liesel went straight home while I continued along the river. I had two plans in mind. First, a hot chocolate at Quirky Misfits, which was very nice.
And second, a visit to the barber. Yes, my barnet was bit untidy and needed sorting out. It does look better, I admit, but boy, does my neck feel cold now! Still, Liesel approved and that’s all that matters really: she has to look at it, I don’t.
Our regular Wednesday walk was uneventful unless you count having to sit outside Boxx2Boxx with our coffees afterwards. As always before going away for a few days, there were 101 things to do at home at the last minute.
But I didn’t start packing until a couple of hours before we left home. Liesel drove us to Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, where we’d rented a cottage for a week.
The drive was OK, it rained a bit and we didn’t need to worry about glare from the Sun. Our only stop was in Colne, for coffee, and to pass some time as we couldn’t check in until 4pm.
It’s a hilly place, is Colne, we could have had a good workout here. We drove past a tree that was still laden with apples. Very bright apples, I thought they were Christmas baubles at first. In one field, a big sheep and a small pony seemed to be great buddies. And they were about the same size.
We saw many pheasants along the way. They’re not the brightest of birds are they? Standing in the middle of the road playing chicken. At least the crows noshing on a squished bunny have the sense to get out of the way when a car approaches.
We got the keys from the lockbox, parked up, and made several journeys between the car and our accommodation. Time for some stats. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but we’re on the second floor, which means climbing 40 stairs, 40!, compared with only 32 at home. Plus, we brought 16, yes, 16!, bags of stuff with us. No, we’re not staying for six months, just a week. Most of it’s food that we won’t be taking back. I brought my laptop too, and that’s a first. I can do all my usual laptoppy things. Liesel brought her laptop too, so she can do some work. I think my laptoppy things might be more fun.
It was nice to be settled and I made some coffee. Instant, of course. A few minutes later, I took a swig and it tasted… different. Have you adulterated my coffee, I asked Liesel? A grin spread across her face like milk expands when spilt on the kitchen floor. She confessed to adding Baileys to my coffee. No, I didn’t complain.
There seems to be an unwritten competition between us to finish reading The Ink Black Heart. The only reason for our haste is that the book will be deleted from our Kindles in less than two weeks time. Why an electronic copy of a book has to be removed at all is a mystery. Surely the library can ‘lend’ out a hundred copies if it wants?
Bread, cheese, crisps and chutney was our Christmas eve eve eve supper of choice. Highly recommended.
It’s a great cottage, nice and warm, but the trek from my side of the bed to the lavatory is quite long. I should take my pedometer with me, it too needs a good work-out. Needless to say, I had to pay many visits overnight. You’ll probably be blaming the Baileys.
We’re actually staying in what you might call the North Wing of Fountains Hall. It’s creaky to say the least, but it’s very comfortable inside. Most of the electrics are modern, but there is at least one power point remaining from the 1920s, the plug has round pins.
On Friday, much of the estate is closed to the public because that’s when the locals are allowed to go shooting, in an agreement between the former landowners and the National Trust. I was torn between watching the shooters and maybe having a go, and staying well away from them and not being shot. We played safe, and drove over to Brimham Rocks for a quick walk. Last time we were there was in Summer, with the children. Not so warm today, and it started to drizzle too. Or mizzle as I believe the locals call it, something between mist and drizzle.
We climbed to the top of the hill, where there’s a trig point. I was tempted to ask Liesel to sit on it for a photo, but I think I know how terse the response would have been.
As the guide said in the video we watched (really just an excuse to get inside, out of the wet for a few minutes), the folks who built the very first visitors’ centre knew exactly what visitors to the countryside want: a view, a loo and a brew.
Back home, we read, drank coffee (plus Baileys), snacked, listened to the radio and relaxed. We have a nice view from our second floor pad, but a bit of sunshine would be nice. Like what they have down under. Yes, Jenny, Liam, Martha and William have arrived in Australia and will be spending Christmas with Helen. In Summer. No, not at all envious!
For the second of my two Christmas radio shows on Wythenshawe Radio this year, I ‘shuffled’ the Christmas tunes on my PC. I cheated a bit, of course, to avoid duplicates and there were a couple of songs I wanted to play, regardless. Plus, the usual, regular features: a David Bowie song and something from my Mum and Dad’s record collection.
Thank you for following our antics in 2022. Let us wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad, God Jul, Mele Kalikimaka, Joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Meri Kirimihete and a Blithe Yule, whoever and wherever you are 🎄🎅🏽🎁
I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.
Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.
Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.
The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.
We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.
This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.
The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.
There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.
It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.
Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.
We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.
Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.
The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.
I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:
Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.
While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.
Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.
Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.
We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.
Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.
No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.
We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.
This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.
Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.
Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.
By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.
We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.
Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.
The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.
We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.
I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.
On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.
There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.
I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!
On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.
I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.
We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.
Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.
This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.
Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.
Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.
We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.
This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.
Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.
I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.
It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.
We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.
We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.
Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?
Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.
On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.
At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.
The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here:
16th century beer was often strengthened by mixing it with lant (stale urine). So says a wall in one of the lavatories at Little Moreton Hall. Liesel and I took Leslie for a short walk here, and a small wander around the small house. I’d forgotten just how wonky the building is, with sloping floors and crooked windows. The National Trust check it every so often and they think it’s safe, it’s not going to topple over any time soon.
In the courtyard, one of the guides gave a brief history of the place. He was dressed for the part and he noticed that we, and many others, had gathered in the small area illuminated by the Sun.
We sat in Mrs Dale’s tea room for a cuppa before setting off for home. Briefly, we thought we were in France: we passed by a field full of sunflowers reaching for the sky.
I’ve mentioned Slitherlink a few times and this weekend, for the first time, I succeeded in completing one of the hard, huge, square Slitherlink puzzles in less time than the ‘median’ time they claim it takes. I shall add that to my list of personal achievements for 2022.
A couple of days later found us escaping coverage of the Queen’s funeral on TV. After ten days of mourning, the UK was in danger of returning to some degree of normality.
We drove to Alderley Edge having arranged to meet up up with Jenny and the family. Yes, Martha and William had the day off school. We thought we’d have the place to ourselves. Huh. Everybody else thought the same.
I tested myself by walking ahead and down a long. long hill, knowing I’d have to walk back up. I managed ok, thanks, no shortness of breath on this occasion. Martha and William showed me their new trick: jumping over a rift in the rocks.
As requested, I took a careful look at this veteran tree and I memorised the text on a nearby sign.
A veteran tree has the same characteristics as an ancient tree, but these are caused by natural damage or by the tree’s environment, rather than its age.
The characteristics are:
► A low, wide and squat shape because the crown has reduced ► A broader trunk than those of the same species at the same age ► Evidence of decay, such as a hollow trunk, the presence of fungi known to cause wood decay, or rot holes where limbs have fallen off or the bark is damaged
Why are veteran trees important?
Veteran trees are habitats for many rare and specialised species of wildlife and fungi. Looking after these trees is a vital part of our conservation work. Tree branches and limbs which have dropped to the ground are kept, as they help protect the roots of the tree. Veteran trees that have fallen over are generally not removed, as they are still habitats and may even continue to grow, making them ‘phoenix’ trees.
I don’t recall what species of tree this is, though.
It was a beautifully clear day, but I was still surprised when I saw Manchester way over there in the distance.
William probably walked twice as many steps as the rest of us. Well, ran, mostly. It was quite hard to find him a couple of times.
Liam filmed Martha as she walked carefully along a fallen tree.
I thought about suggesting she perform a forward roll on the log, like she does at gym, but I kept quiet: she probably would have taken up the challenge.
Liesel, Leslie and I joined the Wednesday well-being walk in Northenden. On this occasion, they went through the woods again, while I joined the group that walked a little further afield, along the river towards Didsbury and back. We spotted the heron, not in his usual place on the weir, which was unusually dry, but hiding under the bank. He was very still, just like the cardboard one that Liesel and I saw near Hampton Court that time, many years ago!
Later that day, Liesel and I collected Martha and William from school again and took them home to play. William wanted to join in with the craftwork, but he didn’t really move beyond cutting up pieces of paper with the many different pairs of scissors we have at our disposal. Pizza for supper with home made salad: it all went down very well. And it was then time for Martha and William to say their farewells to Great Oma, who would soon be flying home to Anchorage. I’m really glad they’ve met at last but I can’t help feeling sad that Klaus never spent time with our grandgchildren.
We haven’t been into Stockport for a long time, so I’m tempted to give you twenty questions in which to work out why we visited on this occasion. But that won’t work, because I don’t know when you’ll be reading this, and I certainly can’t think how to reply to your twenty questions in a timely manner. So I’ll just tell you: Leslie wanted to buy some locally distilled gin to take home for Aaron and Jodi, so we drove over to Stockport Gin. Leslie bought a bottle and some small bottles for Liesel and me.
Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and found the David Bowie t-shirt. So my theory is still looking good: Every still existing record shop has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.
On Friday, Liesel and I were a little late for the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but we soon caught up with the group. We tried hard to persuade, cajole, convince Leslie to join us, but she put her foot down and declined the invitation.
And then, in a fit of madness, after we’d had coffee, Liesel and I joined the gym. I know, I know, I said ‘never again’ after the last time. But we feel we should make more of a concerted effort to build up strength, stamina, and all that malarkey. We’ll see how it works out over the next few weeks and months.
Leslie packed a huuuge case, which weighed in at 23 kg, so heavy, it nearly fell through the floor. Liesel and I packed our bags, 7 kg each.
In the evening we drove over to Castleton for a concert. I’d booked tickets for Eddi Reader a long, long time ago and I was able to purchase a third ticket for Leslie too. The car park at Peak Cavern was incredibly full. I was hoping we’d be amongst the earliest arrivals so we’d have a choice of seats.
Peak Cavern is also known as Devil’s Arse! and whoever came up with the idea of holding concerts here needs to be congratulated.
It was quite a walk from the car park to the cave itself, but it sort of made up for the fact that we’d not paid a visit a few weeks ago when we’d been staying in Castleton. I don’t know what the capacity is, but we ended up sitting in what would have been row AZ if they’d been labelled. The benches weren’t very comfortable to be honest, I’m sure my fidgetting annoyed the people behind. Much like the big head of the tallest man in the world annoyed me when he sat down right in front of me.
Bats flew around while the support act, Jill Jackson told stories and sang some lovely songs. My old ears plus cavernous acoustics meant that I couldn’t really hear everything she was saying. Did I buy her CDs? Don’t tell Liesel, but yes, of course. Did I invite her onto my radio show? No, I was too intimidated by the long queue of people who also wanted a quick chat.
Eddi Reader was as gloriously entertaining as she always is. This show originally was meant to be part of her 40th anniversary of performing, but Covid ruined a lot of plans.
She sang a nice mix of songs we know and some that we’re not so familiar with. Did I buy any CDs of hers? Well, no, because we already have them, all the ones up for sale, anyway. She was joined on stage by Boo Hewerdine and her husband plus a couple of others whose names I missed. By the time Eddi appeared on stage, the bats had disappeared.
I went for a wander to try and get better photos, but actually it was much more enjoyable to just sit there, even on a hard bench, with my eyes closed and let her voice permeate my whole being. I was nudged a couple of times, allegedly for singing along too loudly. I suspect my drone has suitably enhanced the videos made by fellow audience members.
What a great way to end Leslie’s six short weeks here with us in the UK. Well, apart from having to now walk back to the car park, along a slippery path, in the dark!
Oh, and apart from getting to bed at about 11pm and having to get up again soon after 2am. But that’s another story…
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Nice and dark because we were well away from major sources of light pollution. And it was stormy. It rained. It was still raining when we got up early for breakfast. Nevertheless, we were determined to have a nice day out.
We drove north to St Bees. The rain stopped, hooray. It started again, oh no. We parked by the beach and had a short walk along the beach to clear the air. We had had coffee in the seafront café, along with a scone, and that was very pleasant. But in the toilet, I was horrified, shocked and almost gagged at the sight of something I’d not seen for decades. A flystrip. A sticky strip of paper along with several corpses of long-dead flies. Such a contrast with the stark beauty of the beach.
St Bees is the start (or the end, depending which way you go) of the Coast to Coast walk, something that has been on our bucket lists for a long, long time.
We did witness one young man set off on his bike, and (I’m guessing) his Dad with the support vehicle. Today wasn’t perhaps the best day to set off. There’s a a lot of water in them there clouds.
But the main reason we came to St Bees was to visit the very old priory, now the parish church of St Bees.
Once we parked in the correct place (that’s another story) we easily found the elaborate front door.
As we explored the building, the organist kept us entertained. There’s a lot of history here. We stood at the site of the South Chancel that was the focus of an archaeology excavation in 1981.
Although the Monastic burials were expected, the discovery at a 14th century vault containing two bodies was not. One female skeleton lay beside the nearly perfectly preserved body of a man wrapped in a lead coffin.
Some of the gravestones in the cemetery had lost their battle with the elements. Even some Victorian epitaphs were very hard to decipher.
The sundial in the graveyard was a grave disappointment. No gnomon, no good, but there was no Sun anyway, so no problem.
The walk to the RSPB site on the coast was exciting. The local farmer had erected a sign saying ‘Authorised vehicles only’. So we had to park on his land and pay for the privilege. Don’t mind paying, but not so keen on the underhand way he goes about it. Then when we’d parked up, a woman came running out and told us to rotate the car 90° to make room for more vehicles. Ooh, sorry, we all missed the sign that wasn’t there…
The road was passable except for one huge puddle which we negotiated by utilising a well placed gate.
After passing by the lighthouse, we eventually came to the cliffs. Fortunately, there was a display depicting all the birds that we wouldn’t see on this occasion: fulmar, kittiwake, peregrine falcon, razorbill. We did see herring gulls, a cormorant and ravens. Sadly, puffins weren’t even mentioned!
On to Ravenglass for a ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway train.
Our compartment was at the back of the miniature train. We passed through some pretty countryside, and I wondered how the train kept upright on a mere 15-inch gauge railway track.
Yes, of course we waved at passengers on the train passing by in the opposite direction. And at people on bridges and in the fields.
I’m sorry I missed seeing the steam engine on the turntable at Eskdale as it turned round to take us back to Ravenglass. I always wanted a turntable when I had train sets but that boat sailed a long time ago.
Back in Ravenglass we went for a walk to the site of the old Roman Bath. Yes, I was surprised too. Who knew the Romans were in this part of the world?
We met a lady who used to live in the area and she was really enthusiastic about it. She told us tales of playing here as a child.
The tide was safely out (we hoped) so we walked back to town along the beach. The sea was remarkably calm, but that didn’t help me achieve any stone skimming PBs.
Pauline thought a gull was in distress when it kept jumping out of the water and being dragged back. But as we got closer, we realised it was just messing about, practising its take off and landing and its diving skills. Very entertaining and I’m so glad I didn’t have to hold Pauline’s coat if she’d been required dive in and rescue to poor old bird.
A hearty supper was taken at a local pub before we set off for Nether Wasdale for our final night away from home. It’s always an anti-climax when you’ve been away for a while, had a good time and you have to go back home, back to normal.
Another early breakfast was taken and by the time we left, we anticipated arriving home by about 12.30. Plenty of time to get ready for our 4 o’clock date. Rarely have we been more wrong. We thought this would be as bad as it gets:
Cows walking, running and stumbling across the road held us up for a couple of minutes. Never mind, we’ll soon be on the motorway.
It took over six hours to get home. There’d been an accident on the M6. Liesel, Leslie and I were on the M6. I sent a message to Pauline and Andrew who were behind us, saying it might be best to come off the M6 while they had the chance. Their diversion was slow as well. They took even longer to get home. In a first for me, I leapt out of the car while it was stationary on the motorway, ran up the embankment, climbed over a fence, missed jumping into the world’s largest cowpat by about three inches, relieved myself, jumped back over the fence and ran several hundred yards along the motorway to catch up because, of course, the traffic was now moving, at least for a while.
In Ambleside, I’d bought myself a new shirt, a very rare occurrence. I was glad to have time to change into this shirt for our family gathering at Gusto in Cheadle Hulme. When Pauline and Andrew arrived, there were ten of us altogether and we had a very nice, civilised meal, thank you very much.
At this point, you’re expecting to see photos of the ten of us, in various groups and subgroups. Other than some blurry photos of me with Helen, and Martha with Helen, I have none. We’ll just have to gather together on another occasion.
And so our mini post wedding weekend travels come to an end. A splendid time was had by all. Thanks to Liesel and Leslie; Pauline, Andrew and Rob; Helen; Martha and William; and Jenny and Liam, the new Mr and Mrs W, for a brilliant time. And thanks for the opportunity to present a controversial Oxford comma plus did you notice the controversial use of semi-colons where commas ought to be?
Back in Northenden and all is well with the world.
Another big breakfast gave us the energy we needed for a relatively lazy day. Apart from anything else, it felt only fair to give Andrew a day off from driving.
Our first bus was an open-top and the commentary was supplied by Count Arthur Strong, either that or CAS has a vocal doppelganger.
We spent some time in Grasmere, the village, having driven by Grasmere, the lake. I’m not saying Grasmere doesn’t welcome visitors, but I think the sign could be a little bit more prominent, maybe with a larger typeface than this embarrassment:
Grasmere Parish Church is dedicated to Oswald of Northumbria, king and champion of Christianity, who is believed to have preached on this site sometime before 642AD when he died in battle.
It is a Grade One Listed building of national historic interest. The oldest parts date from around 1300AD, but it is probably the third church to have stood on this ancient site by the side of the River Rothay.
It’s not really keeling over, but you knew that, didn’t you? Almost in the shadow ow the church is the so-called Grasmere Gingerbread® Shop. It’s a very small shop, so Pauline went in on her own to buy some gingerbread®. We have Sarah Nelson to thank for creating this cross between a biscuit and a cake and I wonder what the secret ingredients are?
We visited William Wordsworth’s grave as did some of his descendents, or so they claimed. I took a photo for them but didn’t think to take a picture of them with my own phone.
(I recently played Taylor Swift’s song The Lakes on my radio show, which includes a nod to Wordsworth. See what you’ve been missing?) The Daffodil Garden is full of daffodils, but not at this time of year. It was interesting to walk along the path that acknowledges the hundreds of people who contributed to the garden.
After a pleasant wander, we took the bus back to Ambleside. You can’t help but admire the lady who put this display together in the bookshop window.
A third bus took us to Coniston. The driver was very patient on the narrow roads, and very skilful. I think we were all glad to let someone else do the driving for us. Some of the car drivers going in the opposite direction looked terrified, I suspect a couple of steering wheels will have been crushed, they were being gripped so tightly.
As Pauline pointed out, here’s something you don’t see very often these days:
I trust they’ve been failing to sell for a number of decades because we just don’t want to be catching butterflies any more.
Coniston Water is famous for two things. It’s where Donald Campbell died in 1967 during his attempt to break the water speed record in his boat Blue Bird. And one of its islands was the inspiration for Swallows and Amazons, the first in a delightful series of books by Arthur Ransome that I enjoyed over fifty years ago. Time for a re-read?
Andrew, Pauline and I took advantage of our perfect timing and climbed aboard for a guided boat tour of the lake. The commentary wasn’t provided by Count Arthur Strong on this occasion. In fact, she didn’t even look like him.
After a quick cup of coffee, we walked back to town, consuming blackberries on the way, and took the bus back to Ambleside. As Crowded House might sing: Four buses in one day. We greeted a few locals, although some were a bit wary of strangers.
The return bus ride was less exciting, in the sense that there was far less traffic fighting the bus for space.
Our evening meal was taken sitting inside a tuk tuk in a Thai restaurant. The waiter was very apologetic about this being the only table available, but we didn’t mind at all, even if the whole edifice moved every time one of us did.
Andrew returned to driving duties and took us to the other side of the Lake District to what was our final b&b. To quell any doubts you may have, we went in the rental car, not in the tuk tuk.
Buttermere is a good place for a walk. It’s a small lake, but we didn’t walk all the way around. We did climb the hill, though Pauline and Andrew went a bit further than I did.
It was fascinating to see water flowing out of the lake into a stream. We know it happens, but we’re more used to seeing streams flow into the main body of water.
Just as we thought we were making good progress, the road was blocked.
We weren’t held up for long, the sheepdogs were doing a great job of controlling and herding their charges.
The hotel in Nether Wasdale was very easy to find, after a long and beautiful drive through the mountains. I realised that after all the time spent in Ambleside, we never did get to stop at Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived for a while with his sister Dorothy. But as with all tourist attractions, it’ll still be there next time.
The three of us went for a short walk in the direction of Wastwater and returned for a drink. St Michael and All Saints is a very small church, very quick and easy to explore.
Pauline stayed in the area over fifty years ago, so our mission was (partly) to track down the cottage in which she stayed. Our drive towards Wasdale Head was curtailed because there was too much traffic coming towards us and there was nowhere to park.
We ate a late lunch (picnic food again) and quaffed our drinks on a bench over the road from the hotel, enjoyed the sunshine and the quiet. Car headlights flashed us, announcing the arrival of Liesel and Leslie. Liesel had successfully completed a couple of work projects at home. On the way to Nether Wasdale today, they’d stopped at a Bobbin Mill for a break. And it was more interesting, I think, than they’d anticipated.
The big evening meal was closely followed by a big breakfast in the morning. We were well stocked up with energy for a long hike, even if we had a lot of extra weight to lug around. On this occasion, Liesel drove us to Wasdale Head, and it was a much more pleasant ride than yesterday, much less traffic.
It was hilly, gorgeous view of the mountains and, occasionally, the lake. Becks, streams, waterfalls and sheep all competed for our attention.
In fact, at one waterfall, we met a couple who were enjoying the outdoor shower, emerging as if in an old advert for shampoo. That’s what they do. The previous day, they’d showered under four waterfalls.
The blackberries were bountiful. Some were bitter, sour, most were ok but some, on the sunny side of the bush, were sweet and juicy, the taste of childhood Autumns.
The going was tough in places, but we all kept going, with encouragement from the others. We were greeted by sheep now and then. They drew our attention to the dry stone walls which are different in style to those in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
We tried not to worry the sheep, at least we didn’t have a dog with us. But when I mentioned in passing to one ram that Liz Truss might become our new prime minister, he looked horrified.
St Olaf’s, Wasdale Head, is England’s smallest parish church.
This one was built in about 1550 but there has been a church on the site for about 950 years. There was no need for a guided tour on this occasion.
On the way back to Nether Wasdale, we stopped on a beach by Wastwater for our lunch. We sat on rocks for a bit, but my sister and her partner went over to sit on the grass. Again, we consumed a few handfuls of blackberries. What a wonderful lifestyle. Perfect temperature, gorgeous scenery, no deadlines to meet, no work to complete.
The postprandial perambulation up the hill proved too much for me and Leslie so we waited while the others conquered the mountain. Or so they claimed…
We fell asleep to the sound of people enjoying themselves over the road, as they celebrated Holly’s Dad’s 70th birthday. Did we gatecrash? No: far too knackered! Besides, we don’t know Holly nor her Dad.