Ups and Downs

 Walking the northern part of the Cotswold Way.

Pam and Martyn; Tony and Linda.

June 2017.

 

We thought it would be relatively easy after the Coast-to-Coast walk. Around fifty miles on five days, no day longer than twelve or thirteen miles. Easy to be seduced by numbers.

None of the hills is as high as in the Lake District; there is no rocky clambering. But we went up and down a lot. All four of us noticed that.

We decided to travel to and from the walk by train and bus – it solved the parking problem – and ate a picnic lunch on the way there. Tony managed to lose a crown while munching. Not totally lose it – we wrapped it in cling film only slightly smeared with mayonnaise from the sandwiches to keep it safe. There must be a dentist somewhere along the Cotswold Way who could glue it back in.

While enjoying the fruits (or rather the cakes) of a coffee shop in Chipping Camden, we investigated dentists. After some googling, Tony booked an appointment in Winchcombe for two days hence.

While sorting out our rucksacks ready for the start of the walk, we had a major triumph. Our spare car keys, missing since April, turned up in a deep, zipped pocket. As they would have cost around £400 to replace, I announced at dinner we were now £400 better off! We didn’t, however, buy a bottle of best Bordeaux.

The start of the walk in Chipping Camden
The start of the walk in Chipping Camden

The pattern of the days established itself. Was there anywhere we could stop for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea? Pam was on the case and found us somewhere every day.  The walk started on June 8th – the election – and we saw folks going to the polls. The result gave us plenty to talk about the following day. When we had enough breath, that is. Martyn had been complaining about his balls. The balls of his feet, I should add. Changing to a different pair of boots did the trick and he was fine.

It was a shorter day and we felt good.  Luckily we got to the B & B in Winchcombe just before the torrential rain arrived. Our son, Tim, who lives near, picked us up and we had a lovely evening and dinner with him and Jessi. Idris, their one-year-old, had been sick that day but we said we’d risk it.

We were now a further £90 better off. The dentist’s receptionist had phoned to say the cost of replacing the crown would be £90. Tony was not in pain so he cancelled. His own dentist, who fixed the crown in the first place, would do the job for nothing. The money was mounting up!

We needed to order the following morning’s breakfast. I asked for a bacon sandwich.

‘What’s that?’ The landlady replied. ‘I’ve never made one.’

Not sure if this makes her posh or deprived. She made an attempt for me but I suggest she doesn’t try again.

The view from Cleeve Hill

It was Cleeve Hill the next day. Windy but what views over Cheltenham! There was a double marathon coming towards us – some runners doing it in one day, some in two. Had a coffee and chips at the Cleeve Hill Golf Club – very naughty! Felt we shouldn’t complain about tiredness after seeing marathon runners. Puts distances into perspective. Lovely stop overnight at Detmore House in Charlton Kings. It wins our award for the best B & B of the walk.

Encouragement – for the marathon runners!

Day four and a lot of ups and downs. A group of Charity walkers came towards us, totally shattered, having started at midnight and still with miles to go. Such admiration! The final climb up to Birdlip seemed to go on forever and I wasn’t feeling great. No details, but Idris’s bug got me. However, missing a meal always has its positive side if I lose a pound or two.

Final walking day – and I felt well enough to do it. It was the day of the mud. Rain, which we’d mostly missed, and the pounding of marathon runners’ feet had churned up the path making it hard going. We plodded on, the end in sight. We passed both the bottom and the top of Cooper’s Hill where the famous cheese rolling takes place. It’s steep!

mde
Cooper’s Hill Notice

Finally, pretty Painswick with its churchyard with ninety-nine yew trees. Legend says the hundredth will never grow.

Yew trees in Painswick churchyard

We thanked Martyn for carrying the unused trowel the whole way (if you’re caught short, you have to bury it…) Celebrated our achievement with a bottle of bubbles – only Prosecco, in spite of the financial gains of the last few days!

A super walk – now planning the southern part …

 

 

The Challenges of Iceland

‘Is this the bus to Hotel T10?’

‘No. This bus goes to Hafnafjörður Hotel. Get on it.’

‘So this is the right bus for Hotel T10?’

‘If I take your luggage and tell you to get on the bus, you get on the bus.’

This was our somewhat curt introduction to Rekjavik, Iceland. We rode to the unpronounceable hotel. No-one seemed to know where our bland-sounding hotel was. Turned out you could see it if you looked the right way.

It was a block. T10 was written in huge letters on its side. Fortunately, it was more attractive inside. It would do for the three days we had in the country. We wandered out to find somewhere to eat. There was little choice. We were in the suburbs, a bleak, flat area with no trees and no style. A Taco-style bar fed our needs.

Back in the hotel, we abandoned the television as it had three channels only, one in Icelandic, one in German and a cartoon channel. Perhaps we were in a black spot for reception.

Our plans for an early trip into Reykjavik the following day were hampered by it being Sunday. The first bus wasn’t until nearly 10am so we wandered around in the cold by the bus-stop. It would have been useful to have a bus timetable provided, to know in advance no change is given on buses and that there was a 50% reduction for seniors. A kindly American staying at our hotel paid for us and we reimbursed him later. An expensive ride otherwise.

Rekjavik was another, better world. A mixture of old and new buildings, trees, green areas and a decidedly more pleasant environment. We loved it. The modern, plain cathedral was beautiful and the Concert Hall a joy. Our guide, an opera singer, sang us an old Icelandic song in one of the corners just to show how good the acoustics were.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral
The magnificent Concert Hall
The magnificent Concert Hall

We had lunch in an excellent local restaurant called ‘Fish’. No prizes for guessing what we ate.

'Fish' restaurant

In the evening, we went on a Northern Lights Mystery Tour. The mystery was whether or not we’d see the Northern Lights. We set off in the rain with little hope. But we saw them – at around 1am. However, numerous people set up tripods and eagerly photographed moving clouds before the real thing appeared. (We were a bit smug as we’d seen the Lights before, in northern Norway!) It was a good display, worthy of the whoops of joy it generated and the extremely late night.

The following day, it really was Iceland. There was no snow in the hotel area but there was sheet ice. Crampons would have been useful to walk the short distance to the bus. I had visions of discovering how good A & E was in the local hospital. We were heading for a round trip to see some of the sights.

First we went to Pingvellir where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating at the Continental Divide. Serious geology! It’s also where the Declaration of Independence from Denmark was signed in 1944, an important place for the Icelandic. On to the waterfall, Gullfoss, where there was snow, ice and extreme wind. Staying upright was a challenge. Oh, for the crampons!

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

And then to the Geysir area. Steam was rising from the ground all around us. The original Geysir was not erupting but Strokkur spouts around every eight minutes, a cascade of warm water and small stones.  Impressive.

Strokkur erupting
Strokkur erupting

Luckily everyone speaks English. Icelandic is an odd Nordic language. It’s complicated and has its own rules, pronunciation, grammar – and a few additional letters. I hoped to understand a little as I speak Norwegian (badly), but apart from a few words I was lost.

It was a short, enjoyable Travel Zoo trip. Just a taster. A good way to get a feel for the country, an expensive place with friendly people (in spite of our initial impression!) I’d love to see more.

Lost in Padua

Getting lost is one of my skills. I’ve been practising it again.

We decided to go to Verona, Padua and Mantua, spending a few days in each, a break from a long period skiing in the French Alps. A couple of days before leaving, we discovered our Satnav doesn’t cover Italy. We also realised we’d left our map of Italy back in England. Never mind, Tony had printed off a mountain of instructions.

Verona, first on our trip, was okay. Well, it was more than okay, it was wonderful but from the navigation side of things, it was fine. We stayed in a central B & B and all we needed was a town plan which was easy to buy. A proper map of Italy appeared to be something no-one stocked.  So we decided we’d manage with common sense and Google maps. A mistake.

Three days later we set off to Padua. We were staying in the Euganean hills, at a vineyard called le Volpi (the Foxes). It looked idyllic and promised wine tastings. They were not expecting us until around five o’clock so we decided to have a look around the town centre. At this point we didn’t have a town plan and after several circuits of progressively narrower roads and two traffic violations (going the wrong way down a one-way street and then driving in a bus and taxi lane, neither a good idea), we headed back out of town. We found a car park, too far away to be of any use, and stopped to think.

An elderly gentleman was walking by and Tony asked him about parking. He spoke no English but we got the message across. After much arm waving and instructions to go left and then right and then straight on and then left, it became clear this wasn’t working.  The old man’s face brightened. He said he would come with us (my rusty Italian was good enough to understand that) and eagerly got into the front seat of the car. He took us with no problem to a convenient multi-storey carpark, shook our hands, wished us a good holiday and trotted off. I have no idea if he needed to be in the middle of Padua or not. The kindness of strangers!

Busy, beautiful Padua
Busy, beautiful Padua

At around half past four, we set off for the hills.

‘You’re navigating,’ Tony said. Words that fill me with terror.

It was going well until we reached the limit of our town plan. All I had then were Tony’s printed instructions which worked until we missed a turning. We knew we’d gone wrong but thought Google maps would help. They usually do but I think there was an element of operator error. (I was the operator.) A passing lady tried to help and we called in at a garage for advice. Neither got us on the right road. We phoned le Volpi and said we’d be late.  Five phone calls later, many verbal instructions and a degree of shame at how far we’d strayed from the right route, we arrived. The roads were winding and narrow. It was close to seven o’clock and dark. But our host was most welcoming and said it didn’t matter if we arrived late at the restaurant they’d booked for us. It was down narrower and even more winding roads. They were precise in the instructions they gave us to get there.

 

DSC00939
Le Volpi vineyard

The following day we discovered the correct, far quicker route. When we moved on to Mantua, the navigation was again easy as we stayed in the centre of town.

Tony is looking into an updated Satnav.

 

A Right Knees-Up

Eight.

That’s the number of knee injuries I’ve had while skiing. You might say my knees are my Achilles’ heel.

It started back in the eighties in Norway, where we lived and learned to ski. I managed to remain injury-free in our first ski season in spite of various mishaps, such as falling off a drag lift and getting stranded on a closed black slope. I was less lucky in the second winter. I fell and twisted my knee. Nothing dramatic and, with difficulty, I skied down to the bottom of the slope. By the time we’d driven the four hours home, I couldn’t walk. A visit to the Medical Centre resulted in large amounts of fluid being drained from my balloon-like joint. When I asked what I’d done, I was told, ‘You fell and twisted your knee.’ Not much info there, then.

Later that season, we went to Voss on the west coast of Norway. My knee had recovered by this time and so had my confidence. We were racing down a series of rollers on a lovely piste, going straight from higher and higher up, no turning, taking off as we sailed over the bumps. Braver and braver; more and more foolhardy. I crashed. Both skis came off so I avoided any more twists but I landed on a knee.

‘Mummy, your face is bleeding!’

‘It’s my knee.’

‘But your face is bleeding!

Three anxious children stood around me. Sod my face, I thought, knowing something more serious had happened. The blood wagon arrived and ferried me down the mountain. It’s not a pleasant experience. Apart from the snow that’s thrown at you and the feeling you’ll fall out at every bend, people peer in to see if you’re still breathing.

I ended up spending two nights in hospital with a broken tibia. Voss is in the area where they speak ‘Ny norsk’ – ‘New Norwegian’. It’s different from the standard Norwegian I’d learned. But I struggled through – and even learned the word for a bedpan!

We returned to Oslo. Our house was up a steep winding path, a challenge on crutches in the snow. I remember hiding in the house, crying from sheer frustration, to be found by our youngest, Tim, aged seven. He was distraught; Mummies don’t cry.

Later on, I had a series of mishaps on ski slopes in France. As ‘camp-followers’ when Tim was ski racing, we skied in many resorts. There was the time one of the racers needed his rucksack at the start of the race and had left it behind. I offered to get it. Rushing along the narrow path to the start gate, I skied over the edge. As I fell and banged my knee, I remember shouting to my rescuer, ‘Get this rucksack to the start straight away!’

Then there was the time we attempted a steep, unprepared slope because the snow looked so good. I’ve never learned to ski powder properly and I certainly made a mess of this attempt. A twisting fall at slow speed, the worst sort; another ligament injury. And I know there was another twisted knee around the same time which kept me from the slopes, but my mind has blocked out the details!

I had a few undamaged years when my knees behaved themselves. But they are out to get me whenever they can. I was skiing alongside the piste in Couchevel, having yet another attempt at powder when I fell. Unharmed, I tried to pull my buried ski out of the snow. Click! I felt and heard my knee go. Another blood wagon ride, no more pleasant than the first time. More crutches. Ruptured ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). At least this time I found out what I’d done. I recovered quickly and skied again the same season.

I knew by now I had dodgy knees. If, in the course of normal activity, I twisted the right one, something moved in it and I had to click it back into place. Painful for me and anyone watching. And it could happen at any time. Then it happened while skiing. I didn’t even fall. My knee would not click back. Here we go again. Another blood wagon ride. This time a broken cartilage which required an operation to remove it. I asked the surgeon if I’d ski again.

‘You’ll ski again if you want to,’ he said.

Of course I did. The operated knee was great, the stronger of the two.

I’m writing this with an ice-pack on my other knee. A stupid fall getting off a chair lift where I lost all grip. Maybe I skied over someone’s ski tails, who knows. Anyway, that put paid to my other ACL. I can still ski using a knee brace.

I’ve got fairly empty knees now. Four injuries per knee. It’s amazing what you can manage without. But it has taught me a little caution as there must be a limit!

Changing Sri Lanka

We visited Sri Lanka recently –  an interesting, friendly place of impossibly long names, vast Buddhist temples, Hindu shrines, Mosques, Christian Churches and religious tolerance. Education and health care are free as the country embraces the modern world. Tradition does still exist and some places are little changed from British colonial times.

dsc00108
A magnificent Stupa

Future visitors may see a different country, however. Tea picking, largely done by women, is being rejected by the internet generation and soon rubber and spices will be the major exports, both requiring less labour than tea, with tourism ever more important.

We saw ‘toddy tappers’, agile men who scale coconut palms and walk on ropes between them to gather the nectar from flowers. This is used to make Arrack, a local spirit. But the skill is dying.

The production of handmade lace, intricate and delicate, raises little interest in the young. We bought small items and were glad the craft is supported by the Travel Foundation.

We heard about the iconic stilt fisherman of the south coast. Sadly, this means of catching fish, balanced on a pole with a fishing rod, has already disappeared. What you see today is a sham for the tourists, agents on the beaches charging for photos of men on poles fixed to the rocks where there are no fish.

But some changes are for the better. No longer can you ride on an elephant. These magnificent beasts are less commercialised than in the past. We took a trip in a jeep in Kadaula National Park and were able to approach wild elephant families. But there was no touching.

dsc00267

There are two elephant orphanages and our guide took us to one. These institutions have had a bad press, again because of ill-treatment and exploitation of the animals. We were satisfied that the only viewing each day, thirty minutes at feeding time, did not bother the elephants and the money we paid went towards their expensive special milk. When old enough, the animals are returned to the wild. Less than ten percent of male elephants have tusks in Sri Lanka. We were unable to discover why but it has served to protect them. Fewer tusks – fewer ivory hunters.

The local people made us welcome. They were happy to have help in hauling in their fishing nets and enthusiastic to support us up slippery steps or down uneven roads. Even though I didn’t want assistance, I found myself propelled down a sloping street with a lady on each elbow. (I think my hair attracted attention; Sri Lankans who have white hair are extremely old!) Yes, there were a few beggars, but also people who wanted to talk to us because we were speaking English. They proudly told us of relatives in Guildford and memories of when the Queen visited in 1954.

No-one minded if we visited their most sacred places as long as we respected their rules such as the removal of footwear and hats.

dsc00208
Cave paintings at Dambulla

Some of the temples cover large areas with mounds and rocky heights within the religious area. I have never before climbed so much in bare feet! It gave us a good appetite and we loved the food. Rice and curry (always with rice listed first as the most important part of the meal) was a feast of many dishes including dhal, fish or chicken, chutneys and sambals. It was full of flavour and never too hot, one of the highlights of the holiday.

dsc00167
Mihintale temple complex – barefoot climing!

There is an old-fashioned modesty to behaviour in Sri Lanka. In the Botanical Gardens in Kandy, our guide introduced the official with the ‘hanky-panky’ whistle. He blows it if he sees any inappropriate behaviour and the offending couple are removed. We tried to find out exactly what constituted ‘hanky-panky’ but our guide (an educated, modern man who has lived in England and Sweden) was too embarrassed to give any details. Sex education is on the school curriculum but is apparently ignored by most teachers. Maybe that’s a change waiting to happen.

dsc00420

Sri Lanka is worth visiting – go soon!

B is for Bragging

Six of us, travellers in France, thrown together at a guesthouse. It turned out Alice and Alec lived ten miles from Brenda and Bob. The ‘A’ and the ‘B’ team; we two were alphabetical and geographical misfits.

‘My God! We’re practically neighbours! You don’t sail, do you?’ Alex bellowed.

‘Actually, yes. Have a 38 footer.’

‘Mmm, our boat is smaller. But we do have a second one, a clinker-built job.’

Bob changed tack. ‘Damned good food at the boathouse.’

‘We prefer our local gastro-pub. The one with a Michelin star.’

Brenda jumped in. ‘I dislike sailing. I renovate our lovely old house with its half-acre of land.’

‘Land? Into gardening?’ Alice’s eyes sparkled. ‘I grow all our veg now I’ve retired from Harley Street. Must use our acre.’

The ‘B’ team preferred to buy local organic produce.

Touché.

‘We’re joining our son in Provence.’ Brenda continued. ‘He needs a break – such a stressful job. He’s a partner in a large law firm.’

‘Really?’ Alice grew two inches. ‘Our son is a hedge fund manager in the City. Earns millions – but I shouldn’t mention that!’

‘Being a Harley Street doctor entitles you to boast.’

Alice had a fit of coughing. Her husband explained she had been secretary to a consultant oncologist.

In the fidgeting break in conversation, I mentioned our next stop was the ancestral home of Josephine de Beauharnais.

‘Before she married Napoleon.’ Nobody seemed interested. ‘So it’s an early night. Maybe we’ll bump into each other again.’

‘Who knows? Perhaps at that Beauharnais place, eh?’ Loud, dismissive guffaws.

‘Well, it’s possible. The place is for sale and we’re putting in a bid.’

Four pairs of eyes fixed on me; smiles vanished.

We left the room and waited. Silence. Then four clamouring voices.

Sometimes you have to lie.

Honfleur – end of the Grand Tour

We ran from Monet to Baudelaire. Then on to a French king, a scientist, a novelist. Rain pelted us with giant spots as the squall passed through the Parc des Personalités. Puffs of grey and white cloud, blown up from nowhere, blocked the sunshine. It had been a bright day but now we were seeking shelter. Then minutes later, the sun was out again.

This was Honfleur. Artists used to come here for the inspiration it gave them and the particular light found in this port on the north coast of France where the Seine meets the sea. We came to see the steep, cobbled streets and the squashed, crooked houses along the quayside, sometimes eight times as high as they are wide. The Quartier St Leonard was previously the artists’ area and is still full of ateliers and shops selling paintings and sculptures. There is a school of Graphic Art. It is also the place to stay and our ‘Chambre d’Hôte’ was an eclectic place full of the quirky and unusual, a metal dragonfly on our wall, embroidered lace slips on our pillows. Plus a delicious breakfast.

img_4176
Houses along the Seine at Honfleur

Food was a theme and we were spoiled by the variety of seafood. Unfortunately, my husband won’t eat creatures that live in shells so the magnificent platters were banned in favour of fresh fish. We ate at the delightfully named ‘Absynthe’, perhaps a reflection of the drinking habits of the bohemians who visited Honfleur in the past. I didn’t spot the spirit on the drinks list!

Drink is important with both Calvados and Normandy cider on sale everywhere. We learned that an eight year old Calvados is still ‘young’ – rough fire-water to burn the throat. If you can afford to buy a twenty-five year old bottle, that’s a taste worth savouring. We also learned something about cider, that ‘sec’ is drier than ‘brut’ and that it will keep about a year (although possibly not in our hands).

Near the elegant Hôtel de Ville was a permanently sited carousel. I usually dislike these tacky entertainments but this one from 1900 was two-tiered and immaculate. There was a constant stream of riders keen to mount the horses rising and falling to appropriately muted fairground music. This was typical of Honfleur. It seems to have avoided the ‘tat’ that seaside towns everywhere adore. Even the second-hand market on Sunday morning had a classy air about it. Sure there are tourists and the English make up many but it is also a resort for the French. It is a comfortable place where huge pleasure comes from sitting in a street café, drinking coffee or something stronger and watching the activities of passers-by.

dav
Interesting street art

We were drawn to the Musée Eugène Boudin to see the impressionist paintings. It wasn’t just good weather that had attracted artists to Honfleur. It was captured in all its moods and colours. Brilliant sunshine to grey, stormy skies – much as we had seen and enjoyed it. We understood the inspiration.