Walking in Madeira: Prazeres and Calheta Levada


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.

A wet weekend in Brighton


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.

Ireland: County Kerry

This mornings journey took us out of Cork, past Macroom and over the Derrynasaggart Mountains where Ireland’s highest pub the ‘Top of Coom’ is situated. It is situated just over the border between Counties Cork and Kerry. The scenery around us reminded us very much of Scotland, especially the hills where I grew up.


The road descends through Glen Fesk and on into Killarney which boasts Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub. We had a coffee and a brief wander around town before taking the turning for the Ring of Kerry. We only had a few hours to drive the road and there are many routes over the mountains and interesting ancient sites around which will have to be explored in a more leisurely fashion on another trip. Our first stop was at the point at Rossbeigh where the tide was just about to start to recede on the rocky shore. A couple of people were trying somewhat unsuccessfully to surf.

There are sand dunes and a beach on the other side of the point and it is possible to explore it on horseback if you wish. We could see the Slieve Mountains across the water. The next stop for a walk was Inny Strand on Ballinskellig Bay just before Waterville. This was a little busier with some people swimming. The water would not be warm enough to tempt me in.

Parking here is limited but we managed to find a space and walked on the beach.

The tide had retreated more since we left our last walk and numerous jellyfish were stranded on the beach.

On the edge of the bay was a derelict concrete building. After wondering what it was, we discovered that it had once been a hotel. We could not help thinking that if someone could invest in it, it could be resurrected in such a beautiful spot. Back on the road we kept stopping at various points to admire the view.

Near Castle Cove, the mist descended and began to hide the islands offshore.

We had a brief spell of rain and passed several signs to standing stones (some people even seemed to have them in their garden) to explore in the future. Eventually we reached Kenmare, a small town filled with places to stay, eat and drink in addition to local services. Its name means ‘head of the sea’ and it sits at the end of a bay. It is a good base for exploring the local area. After settling into our hotel we walked the short distance into town and after eating, found some traditional music in a local pub to finish off the night.

Ireland: Waterford to Cork

I experienced a first this morning in our Waterford Hotel: whisky on my porridge. There were other offerings including a whisky liqueur but I stuck to a small dash of the local hootch. Before leaving Waterford we visited Waterford Crystal to buy a gift and then wandered along the waterfront. This artwork was produced during one of the annual arts festivals and represents positive mental health. One of the hotel staff told us that the artist had started to paint, it had begun to rain but he continued, much to the amazement of everyone.

Back on the road we passed Dungarvan and then diverted via R674 to Helvick Head (Ceann Heilbhic in Irish). Irish Gaelic is still spoken in the community around here. Just before the end of the headland there is an old building which used to house some Turkish Baths. The nearby cafe now offers spa facilities. There is a short path which leads down to a small pebble beach where some families were enjoying the sun. There are also views over Dungarvan Bay.

There is a small harbour where one guy was fishing from the wall.

Just as we were about to leave, a fishing boat returned and was offering his scraps to the gulls who crowded around his boat. There were drifts of wildflowers and some crocosmia that had escaped from someone’s garden and was flourishing. Pollinators were feeding and I spotted this Painted Lady butterfly which is declining in number.

We sat outside the cafe enjoying our drinks while this Pied Wagtail hung around hoping for some crumbs.

All too soon it was time to return to the main road and continue towards Cork. I made a note that south of Youghal there is a large sandy beach and a bird reserve to visit on another occasion. Before we got to Middleton there was a long delay due to road works and then the satnav tried to send us down a pedestrian passageway in the middle to Cork when we were trying to find our hotel. We got there eventually and settled in to plan our exploration the following day.

Ireland: driving to Waterford


We had a leisurely start to the day as we left Dublin by the coast road. It passes through Dalkey and Killiney (I once stayed in the Castle Hotel here for a research project meeting) and to our first port of call: breakfast at Shankill Street Food Outlet. There is an Oscar Wilde quote on the wall in the toilet here and a map of a 47km walk which crosses over to Tallaght.

We then drove through Greystone which was voted the most liveable place in the world in 2008. It was not immediately obvious driving through why this might be as it did not seem all that very different from other places we could think of. I am sure there must be more under the surface, not visible to the passing traveller. After passing through Wicklow, driving and food meant that when we reached Brittas Bay, a beach walk was essential. I noticed a couple of nearby campsites which took tourers and made a note to return when we have our campervan. The beach was quiet but had lifeguards and a few families enjoying the sun. I found some sea glass and our friends picked up some shells.

We made a significant contribution to our daily 10,000 steps.
Beyond Arklow the road leaves the coast and diverts inland to Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross before reaching Waterford. We made use of the last sunshine exploring Ireland’s oldest town, founded by Vikings in 914 AD.

The tower near the end of the esplanade dates from 1003.

There are old fortifications, the oldest Catholic Church in Ireland and many other buildings of various ages and architectural style to look at.


There is also a fair amount of street art. One of the hotel staff said that every year, various artists arrive in the town to add more during the annual Spraoi Street Art Festival. In 2017 this takes place on August 4-6th. I spotted some art down an alley:


You can visit the Tower, the museum, Bishops Palace and other sights but it began to rain so we escaped to the comfort of our hotel which is in an old building.

New Zealand: Auckland in midwinter


While the northern hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice by touching Stonehenge and other rituals, the 21st of June is the midwinter solstice down here in the southern hemisphere. We drove from Hamilton to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. The sunsets just after 5pm behind the city so we walked down to the harbour to enjoy the evening light.

Someone I was at school with has been living in Auckland for many years and had invited us over to their house in Devonport for an evening meal. We took the 10 minute ferry with all the commuters returning home in the dark and had a very enjoyable evening. The following morning the forecast rain had arrived so we decided to visit the museum which sits in Auckland Domain and had a very wet walk there. The neoclassical building was constructed in 1929 and is Auckland War Memorial Museum. Most of the top floor is devoted to the war memorial collection. However, it contains many other gems. On the ground floor Maori and Pacific Islander artefacts are on display.

In the ancestral meeting house (remove your shoes to enter) a restoration project was underway.

Although New Zealand had its own potteries from the late 19th century, we found a link with home as Royal Doulton and a tile manufacturer in Hanley produced china and tiles with Maori decoration in the early 20th century. There were also silver teaspoons from Birmingham. Other exhibits were Wild Child: childhood in New Zealand, sections on volcanoes, natural history, 20th century Japanese ceramics and a very powerful photographic exhibition entitled Being Chinese in Aotearoa chronicling the experiences of Chinese people in New Zealand in over 90 photographs from the first settler in 1842 to the present day. Unfortunately, we will not be here to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which starts on 7 July 2017. It was raining less on the return journey but the sky remained overcast and the Sky Tower was in the mist so not an evening to go up for the view.

On Friday morning, we were back on the Devonport ferry for a wander around the town. Close to the ferry terminal is Windsor Reserve with a very large tree that has numerous aerial roots. The New Zealand Tree Register identifies it as a Moreton Bay Fig, also known as an Australian Banyan.

Devonport has two bookshops, both on Victoria Road. Bookmark has secondhand books including a large section on military history in addition to all the usual sections. The shop on the other side of the street sells new books. On Queen’s Parade, we found a gallery selling antique maps and prints, Japanese woodblock prints and other modern prints and a few paintings but nothing to add to our collection. On a clear day, it would have been worth walking up Mount Victoria for the view but as the mist had descended, we confined ourselves to walking on the beach where I found some sea glass and had some conversations with the dog walkers, one of whom was originally from Northern Ireland.

As the city was shrouded in mist this was also not a day for the Skytower.

At the ferry terminal, I picked up a free copy of Paperboy, a free magazine published every Thursday and is a great guide to what’s on around the city. I spotted a photographic exhibition at the Trish Clark Gallery and would have loved to see it but the gallery opened so late that we could not manage it before a late lunch and the walk to Eden Park. We had a great lunch in the Indian restaurant opposite our hotel. A Fan Trail had been marked out for us to walk to the venue and entertainment was laid on along the route. These ladies were dancing to Amy Winehouse:

There were people dancing with fire, various bands (one of whom were doing a not very good rendition of UB40’s Red, Red Wine and people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. It took one and a half hours to get there and find our seat. Unfortunately the British and Irish Lions lost the match with the All Blacks so we slipped out early and caught the first train back to the city centre. Tomorrow we leave Auckland to start the long journey home.

New Zealand: Wellington to Lake Taupo

We spent most of the morning on Highway 1 dodging heavy showers and getting used to the new rental car. The road runs by the coast for the first few miles before continuing inland. We had a brief stop on the windblown beach at Pukera Bay with Kapiti Island in the distance.

Foxton was our coffee stop and as this area is not very densely populated, reminded us of many places on the South Island. We were the only customers in the cafe at the time. Foxton was a New Zealand flax-stripping centre, has a Dutch windmill in the town centre and a beach. As we drove on, listening to music on the iPod, The Stranglers’ ‘Something better change’ came on and seemed very apposite given the political situation back home in the UK.

Sanson sits at a road junction and that is all it seems on the map, so finding The Ministry of Books was serendipitous. This very large shop is well-organised, has a huge selection on all aspects of New Zealand and many other subjects as well as some antiquarian volumes.

By the time we emerged with a couple of purchases it was raining very heavily. The next big road junction was at a town called Bulls. In addition to a large black bull sculpture, a notice welcomed visitors saying it is ‘a town like no udder’. The next town on our route was Waioru which described itself as an ‘oasis in the Rangipo Desert’ at 792m altitude. It is a garrison town and entry to much of the countryside on the road through the desert is restricted as it is an army training ground. We had our lunch at the rain-soaked summit which is at 1074m and noticed several military police vehicles, a fire engine and ambulance passing us on the road, red lights flashing. A rainbow appeared in the sky

but the torrential rain continued and only a mile or so down the road we had to sit and wait for more than an hour until the accident was cleared. We then descended down to the lake and alongside it into Taupo and our hotel but all we could see was the rain.