We left our hotel shortly after the sun rose behind the cliffs. Sunrise is considerably later this far south than it is in the UK.
We were driven to Faja da Ovelha where we walked among the gardens and past fields of flowers, fruit trees, vegetables and herbs to Prazeres, a natural terrace where there is a tea house. It sells jam, honey, liqueurs, dried herbs and teas. There was even a cat to welcome us. The project is devoted to improving the community and sustainability of a rural society. They buy raw materials from elderly farmers which improves the local economy and is fair trade. There is an art gallery (closed when we visited unfortunately) and a number of animals and birds to see.
All around the local area there are figures which look a little like scarecrows, constructed during a project by local school children. There is one in the garden here.
We then began our walk on the new Calheta Levada which winds around the hillside through the community. Growers are allowed to open it to water their land for one hour in the morning in rotation. Before local government took over the management of the levada use, there were frequent fights and disputes about who was using more than others. We passed the church and an old press which had previously been used to make the local white wine.
Back among laurel trees and farmland, the Levada was flanked by plants used to make tea and herbs, some of which had medicinal uses. We had elevenses at a café where the local dogs appeared to see if they could scrounge anything.
Afterwards we entered more open farming country and spotted a long-toed pigeon. Lunch was eaten sitting on the concrete banks.
We came to the second oldest church in Madeira, built in 1648 but which was unfortunately not open. The oldest was on the site of the current cathedral in Funchal. The former community wash house was still there and also holes in the rock which had been used in the past as water reservoirs.
After a beer at a bar overlooking the coast, we made the remainder of our descent down a cobbled path which was constructed by the villagers so that farmers and fishermen had access to the coast. It zig-zags down to the coast and our hotel. Madeira had no roads until the 20th century and these cobbled paths were the means of walking or of a bullock cart dragging a load around the island. Many new roads, bridges and tunnels have been and are still being constructed which have aided communication and transport. We passed one large construction site building a bridge and hoped that all the topsoil removed would be distributed to where it is need on such a rocky island. Eventually we completed our 500m descent and arrived back at the hotel. A brief wander on the beach which is mostly pebbles with a little black sand, yielded only a tiny piece of sea glass and the remains of Portuguese Man of War Jellyfish.
Our evening meal was at a waterside restaurant. I had hoped to get some sunset photographs, but the cloud and rain moved in and put paid to that idea. We walked back listening to the calls of the shearwaters who nest in the cliffs above the town and descend to the ocean at night to feed.
On our third morning we left Porto Moniz, stopping at a view point to look over the town from above. There was a shrine at the view point.
Our walk began at Ribiera da Cruz with a steep trek up to the waterfall Madre dos Levadas.
Our guide does some geocache hunting and found one near the foot of the fall. We passed through woods with bracken and gorse which made us feel we were in the UK. However, there were also many eucalyptus trees introduced from Australia. The Levada do Moinho was built to serve several water mills which are now ruined. After a traverse and descent alongside it, we arrived at Santo do Porto. Lunch was at picnic tables next to the cattle market. There was a tree which had grown around a still functioning water tap.
We then continued descending for another 45 minutes in farmland, passing a cow resting in the sun.
A diversion was necessary to avoid the part of the path which had now become a river due to the recent rains but we were almost back in the edge of Porto Moniz.
There are many empty and derelict homes, depopulation and an ageing propulation being a problem for parts of Madeira whose total population is only 250,000. There were many imported plants such as Strelitzia from South Africa and the Ginger Lily (Hedychium gardenerianum) which hails from the Western Himalaya and has become something of a pest.
We sampled the local Poncha in a bar. It is made from aguardente de cana (sugarcane alcohol), sugar honey and lemon. Here it is, being prepared prepared for us and the final product.
We left early for the short drive to Queimadas where the Levada do Caldierão Verde which runs for 6km through a UNESCO protected laurel forest: the Laurisilva. This is one of the few remnants of native forest and is made up of the laurel, or bay tree (Laurus novocanariensis), the lily-of-the-valley tree (Clethra arborea), the Madeira laurel (Ocotea foetens), Madeira mahogany (Persea indica) and a number of flowers. There are also some non-natives and this one has been named the candelabra tree.
Levadas are channels built by hand to carry water from the north of the island to the drier south. Slaves from Africa and La Gomera in the Canaries were used as labourers in the early days. Building the levadas continued until the 1940s.
The one we followed runs to the the highest waterfall in Madeira which falls 100m at around 900m altitude. It rained, although we had dry skies for lunch at the foot of the fall.
The trail passes through three tunnels, some of which have low ceilings and torches are required As we emerged from one, a pregnant cat was there to welcome us. Our guide told us that sometimes the locals would go away on holiday and just leave their cats to roam on the mountainside.
This walk only involved around 100m of ascent and then a slippery descent to Verdeda da Ilha. The path (mostly steps) was built alongside streams which were used to send felled timber down to the village. The vegatation included gorse, sweet chestnut trees, eucalyptus and mimosa. We had very brief glimpses of a fire crest and a Madeiran chaffinch and also heard a blackbird.
After tea and cake at a local cafe, we were driven along the north coast to Porto Moniz, stopping at a viewpoint at Beira da Quinta along the way.
It took 16 years to build the new road and it gives views of the old, winding north coast road. Porto Moniz has natural lagoons for swimming in but this was not possible on our visit given the high winds and waves.
The rock in harbour is Ilhéu Mole. All along the promenade waves were crashing on the rocks. In places there was some yellow/orange foam suggestive of pollution.
As we landed at Funchal, one of the flight attendants said that it was the first time she had been on a plane that had landed on its first attempt. We had had a 100mph tail wind so had arrived 25 minutes early but did not experience any of the gusts of wind that Madeira’s airport is renowned for. These often lead to landings having to be aborted and re-attempted. Apparently after the third failed attempt the plane has to divert to Lisbon. The runway has been extended and now projects over the sea supported by concrete columns. Funchal is named after ‘funcho’, the Portuguese word for fennel which it is said, was abundant when Zarco landed here in 1419. Madeira means ‘wood’ which is somewhat ironic as the first settlers began burning and ultimately completely destroying the primeval forest and indigenous flora and fauna. Much of the current flora has been introduced from all corners of the earth.
We had dinner that evening in a restaurant specialising in local food. Dessert was strawberries from the restaurateur’s farm. On our way out, we noticed that the local cats and dogs were gathering, ready to eat the scraps they are given. Walking along a cobbled street back to the hotel, we passed lots of street art including these examples on a derelict building.
The following morning after passing through Machico, (the first place Portuguese explorers landed in 1419) we stopped at a viewpoint on the coast.
Feral cats were hanging around hoping for food. Just before we left, a local woman drove up and began to feed them.
Our first walk was an 8km circuit involving climbing the equivalent of 119 flights of stairs on the Ponta de São Lorenço National Park peninsula. By the national park centre, we spotted several canaries but none of them stayed still long enough for a photograph. The volcanic geology gives rise to many scenic views although it was very windy. It was busy, but it was a Sunday and in the Easter holiday season.
Afterwards we drove inland west to Porto da Cruz which is the first eastern town on the north coast. We had a tasting session of a local fish like tuna (Gaiado Seco) which is salted and dried in sand. It was served with olive oil, tomatoes and onions with bread. The sugar cane mill, ’Engenhos do Norte operates between March to May. In the 15th and 16th centuries Madeira was a major producer of sugar which was known as ‘white gold’. The current distillery makes rum. They have a machine used to pump fresh sugarcane juice up to the fermentation tanks which was manufactured by Jones Burton & Co of Liverpool. Another piece of machinery was made in Oakland, California.
Further on, Faial has a hill 598m high called ‘Eagle Rock’ where ospreys nest.
Nearby we had a madeira wine tasting session in a cellar, sampling 12 year old and 19 year old samples. Returning to the road we passed several people (some in national costume) returning to the church following the blessing of a house which often takes place after Easter.
The new road passes through the longest tunnel in Europe which is over 3km long. New road construction and tunnel building has expanded in Madeira in the last few years and has improved communications and transport. However, there is a feeling amongst some, that it is going too far. Our destination was Santana, our base for the night. It is renowned for the traditional thatched A frame houses in the area.
The weather was now deteriorating. The jet stream has diverted further south this year leaving northern Europe with a much colder spring but wetter weather occurring further south, including Madeira.
The ‘Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma made us wonder whether we would get away at all but by our departure day the snow had melted at home and local transport was getting back to normal, so our journey to London was uneventful. Much of the rest of the country was still suffering from the effects of which had battered the UK and other parts of Europe in the preceding few days. From our hotel near London City Airport we could see planes landing and were reassured that we would be on our way the following day. On arrival in Florence we treated to an upgrade by the hotel and settled in. It was situated a little out of the old city centre which turned out to be a blessing as even out of season, the old city is very busy. A 10-minute bus ride got us to the Duomo and cost less than it would in Edinburgh.
On our first morning we left the queues outside the Duomo and headed for the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. Florence is littered with museums and the very keen can opt for the 72 in 72 hours prepaid card, but it is probably better to be selective if you only have a few days. I find I can only process one gallery per day. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum has models of his many inventions and also covers his exploration of human anatomy. Most of his drawings are held elsewhere in the world, some at Windsor Castle. The museum has interactive sections where children can build models. Afterwards, fortified with coffee, we wandered down towards the river where the Ponte Vecchio was very crowded.
The craze for putting padlocks on bridges has reached Florence.
Walking around the city we encountered a chocolate market. Florence is well-supplied with bookshops, both new and secondhand and a lovely shop selling hand-printed paper where I bought some gifts. Navigating around some parts were made tricky due to the tram system work and extensions.
On our second day we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia getting soaked en route by a heavy thunderstorm and hail.
The gallery is housed in rooms dating from the 14th century and which used to be part of the hospital of San Mateo and a monastery. It is famous for Michelangelo’s David
but also houses the four statues of the Slaves commissioned by pope Julius II as a decoration of his grave which are known as “The Prisoners” and other works. There are rooms full of medieval and later paintings by Florentine artists, rooms devoted to plaster models for sculpture, fabrics and a museum of musical instruments.
It was certainly worth getting there early as when we left in the late morning, it was getting fairly busy. The sun had emerged, so we had our lunch on a bench in a piazza with pigeons and house sparrows watching in case we dropped a crumb.
Our second day coincided with International Women’s Day. The Uffizi Gallery had an exhibition devoted to the work of Elisabetta Sirani, an Italian Baroque painter from Bologna. I was not familiar with her work. She died unexpectedly at 27 but in her short life produced 200 paintings, 15 etchings, and hundreds of drawings. The most frequently depicted woman in the Uffizi is of course the Virgin Mary but I also spotted this series of paintings, some by Botticelli, each woman representing a virtue;
I enjoyed seeing works I have known from History of Art classes at school and even the ceilings are magnifcent.
The funeral of the Italian footballer who died last week was being held in Florence at the Basilica de Santa Croce on Thursday and we saw people walking home afterwards. There were also demonstrations following the murder of a Senegalese man at his market stall on Monday.
The sun had come out and before we returned to our hotel, we enjoyed a gelato. Growing up in Scotland, many towns had an Italian gelateria selling a product far superior to the Walls and Lyons Maid sold in regular shops. Some Scots-Italians’ ancestors arrived in Scotland in the late 19th century having escaped famine and poverty in their homeland. Today, many remain in the catering industry.
Kelpies were mythical water horses which could transform into humans. However, artist Andy Scott also based his work on the heavy horses which supplied the industry of the area including drawing the barges on the adjacent Forth & Clyde canal. Duke, the downward-looking Kelpie is 26.5m high and Baron, the upward-looking one is 30m high.
I remember heavy horses still being used by a brewery in Stirling in the 1970s. We lived in Falkirk for a year in the 1960s and I have not really been back since. The Kelpies were completed in 2013 and I have driven past them on the M9 but this was the first time we paused to walk around them. On a cold winter morning with the snow-covered Ochil Hills in the background, they were not busy at all.
We had spent the previous largely grey and wet day driving to Perthshire with only a few breaks in the weather. At Tebay, the ducks, resplendent in their breeding plumage, looked as if they were walking on water as just below the surface it was still frozen. On the north slopes of Shap the sun appeared briefly, and a rainbow stretched over the motorway. For once we were passing our usual turn-offs to Edinburgh and continuing north into Perthshire where I grew up. Just before Doune we stopped off at Deanston Distillery for the obligatory photograph and sampling. My clarinet teacher was from Doune. I played in the county wind band and in the early 1970s, some of us played at the wedding of Lord Doune’s daughter which took place in the medieval castle. It has since become more well-known as it has been used in some films including Monty Python’s and Game of Thrones.
We drove back towards Dunblane on the road my school bus used to take. One of the farms we passed has now become a red kite viewing centre which will be worth a visit at some point. We were heading to Dunblane to spend a night in Cromlix House just north of the town. The name Cromlix has existed in various forms since the 15th century although there is evidence of human settlement on the site before this. The Chisholms, several of whom were bishops of Dunblane before the reformation had a castle on the site as late as 1723. A marriage in the 16th century introduced the Drummond name which became Drummond Hay in 1739. A later marriage brought the estate into the Eden family who still own much of it, a reminder that only 500 people own most of the land in Scotland. The hotel is in what was initially built as ‘Cromlix Cottage’ in 1874. It was destroyed by fire and in 1880 was rebuilt. There is no sweeping staircase in keeping with the ‘cottage’ theme. The house was enlarged between 1880 and 1903. It was converted into a hotel in 1981 and we spent the first night of our honeymoon there in May 1987. It closed in 2012 but in the following year was purchased by Andy Murray and it opened again as five-star hotel in 2015. It has a Chez Roux restaurant and is situated in the hamlet of Kinbuck amongst the hills and woods that I love. Unfortunately the weather did not allow any wandering around them. It remained cold with snow and sleet showers during the rest of our weekend.
I had first visited Brighton a couple of years ago for work and James joined me for a day or so after the conference. We had both felt it warranted a second visit and booked this trip last autumn. It turned out to be a good time to be heading south rather than to Scotland with wintry weather blocking roads up there. On the day we arrived the University of Sussex were holding a graduation ceremony in the theatre near our hotel. There were many Chinese families taking photographs along the sea front. We did get a couple of breaks in the rain for a bracing walk on the mainly pebble beach in the late afternoon where the supports and the remains of the old West Pier are.
We spent some time wandering around the lanes where there are some chain stores but also many independent shops including some very quirky ones. One thing I did notice was that people we encountered in the hotel, cafes and shops were very friendly, unlike some other southern cities I have visited. Several years ago I stayed with a friend in Southampton in December and while she was at the university, I went into town to do some Christmas shopping. The only person who said anything more to me than the bare minimum to carry out the transaction was the Big Issue seller who was from Manchester.
Having visited the pavilion on our last trip, this time we explored the Museum and Art Gallery. It has a number of permanent galleries including one on 20th century furniture and art.
I was particularly struck by this lift compartment installed in Selfridges on Oxford Street, London in 1929. Designed by a French artist, Edgar Brandt and entitled ‘Les Cignones (storks) d’Alsace’ they remained in place until 1971 when they were removed because of new fire regulations.
There was a gallery devoted to Brighton in the 20th century with displays of mods and rockers who clashed on the seafront in 1964.
Other galleries contained their pottery, china and fine art collections, John Pipers aquatints of Brighton, performance and toys, youth projects in Brighton with youngsters from different countries exploring their culture and traditional costume including New Ireland, Myanmar, Peru, Canada and Alaska and Mali. There is also a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and the Museum of Transology.
All too soon it was time to head for home. Had it been drier I would have liked to walk the Undercliff Path which heads east for 3km and also to explore the huge amount of street art in the city including a Banksy.