Walking in Madeira: Levada do Furado


The original plan for our last day before returning to Funchal was the mountain walk from Pico do Arieiro to the highest peak, Pico Ruivo (1862m). However, the weather was not looking good. It was decided not to make the final decision until we arrived at Pico Do Arieiro, where the cameras could be checked and locals consulted. En route we stopped off at the viewpoint at top of Europe’s highest cliff, Cabo Girao. It is 580m high (the highest cliff in the world is in Hawaii). Unfortunately we could see very little due to the cloud but in good weather, the glass skywalk would give fantastic views below.


After the drive up, past an old ice house, it was clear that the high winds, rain and minimal visibility meant that the mountain walk had to be cancelled. Instead we walked one of the oldest levadas which belongs to the state: the Levada do Furado. It was acquired through a contract signed in 1822 between the first Count of Carvalhal and the Board of the Royal Treasury, for irrigation of the farmlands of Porto da Cruz. Back in a well-preserved section of the island’s native forest, there were flowers like this violet:

and more waterfalls.

In places the path sneaks through narrow passages between the rocks.

However, we soon began to get views over the surrounding area.At Lamaceiros the Levada do Furado ends, near this building dated 1906

A forestry track took us down to the road in Portela.


There was a very conveniently situated bar which made a good resting place and a flower market taking place nearby.

Although we were disappointed not to be able to do the mountain walk we had a pleasant day at lower altitudes.

Walking in Madeira: Queimadas to Verdeda Ilha & drive to Porto Moniz


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.


Walking in Madeira: Ponta de São Lorenço Peninsula

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.

Early autumn by the Dordogne


The morning we left home was only the second misty dawn with rain drops hanging on spiders’ webs draped on the bushes we had had in September. The incoming ferry was late arriving and watching all the arriving vehicles drive off, we noticed that there must have been a classic car event somewhere as several old cars appeared, even three 1930’s Rolls Royces similar to the one my father used to have. After a night on the boat we disembarked to endure lengthy security checks just before the sun rose in Caen.

The rest of the journey was easy but we did see long queues of lorries heading north on the N10 south of Angoulême. Foreign HGV drivers have been blocking roads as a protest against the high tolls on the autoroute. Drivers do not pay road tax for their vehicles in France so the tolls are the way money is raised to maintain the network. We arrived in time for a walk by the river near the local château where some sunflowers were still in flower. Many more are drying before harvesting. Persimmons and kiwi fruits are harvested after the first frost.

The village our friends live in is on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one of the routes in France that converge at St Jean Pied de Port before the path continues on through Spain. There was a crucifix and a scallop shell (worn by pilgrims and a way marker for the trail) on one of the buildings.

Over the next few days we visited markets in Branne and Libourne where these lobsters awaited their fate in the fish market.

Libourne is attempting to control the urban pigeon population by building a dovecot on the riverside and when the pigeons nest there, the eggs are replaced with ceramic ones. The waterfront here is under renovation, due for completion in 2025. Inevitably visit to vineyards and wine buying took place at Château la Sablière and a local wine co-operative and an art and craft exhibition in St Émilion.

We visited Bordeaux in the evening for a dinner cruise along the Garonne. The meal was very enjoyable although it was the first time I have had avocado as a dessert.

Tomato plants were being grown in tubs along the waterfront and I assumed this was free food. A couple of days later while doing some shopping, these were being removed. Other walks were around Lac de la Cadie which is also used for watersports and fishing and around the 100 Years War battlefield and Talbot memorial in Castillon la Bataille. Summer re-enactments are held in July and August involving large numbers of people and horses.

The local grape harvest was underway. Much of it is mechanised but grapes for the better wines are still hand-picked. Château d’Yquem grapes are picked and examined six times before being declared suitable. All too soon it was time to leave on a wet, misty morning with the trees colouring for autumn. Again we were fortunately driving in the opposite direction to the heavy traffic and we did not have too many delays at the port before we were back on the ferry and on our way home. It was still misty when we got to Portsmouth but today we have some warm autumn sun at home to enjoy the colours and catch up on garden jobs.

Walking the Water of Leith

I have to confess, we have not walked the 24 miles of the Water of Leith from the source in the Pentland Hills, nor the 12 plus miles of the Water of Leith Walkway from Balerno to Leith. We did not have time to complete the full length of the Walkway so chose to walk to Leith from the point nearest to us.

As soon as we had returned from Ireland, friends were asking why I was not in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe. We did come up in the middle of the month as we had some work which needed to be carried out on the flat and had selected a few samples of comedy, music and photography from the Fringe to enjoy as well. Some sensible residents stay away completely as getting around is more difficult and takes longer if you have to pass through the main tourist areas; fending off the flyers constantly shoved in your face. After enjoying Dan Willis, a UK comedian living in Australia presenting a ‘Whinging Pom’s Guide’ to the country, Ed Byrne, the Edinburgh Photographic Society’s Annual Exhibition and a great night with Lorna Reid at the Jazz Club, we were ready for a change of scene. We have walked a few sections of the Walkway in the past but fancied a bigger chunk today. It is a two mile walk to our nearest section and includes a bit of the Union Canal.

The Visitors’ Centre is at Slateford just next to where the river flows under the aqueduct carrying the Union canal. We had a coffee before hitting the trail just under the aqueduct where a sign told us it was seven miles to Leith.

There are currently a few diversions due to path closures. There has been a landslip and one section has been closed for six months while this is investigated and decisions made about action. Other sections are closed due to works on the Flood Prevention Scheme. Back on the path we enjoyed the greenery including trees and wildflowers but also spotted large clusters of an introduced problem plant: Himalayan Balsam. It is an annual but produces 800 seeds per year which are propelled huge distances and can be carried by water. It out-competes native flora and is very difficult to eradicate.

Other places have street art.

We passed the Balgreen Community Garden with raised beds made from sleepers like my own and an invertebrate hotel.

There are numerous places along the way where you can join or leave the Walkway and it connects with some of the cycle routes. Occasionally the path leaves the riverside for a short stretch for example, in the Dean Village.

It passes St Bernard’s Well, built on the site of an spring and which is open on Sundays in August. Here is an interior shot I took a couple of years ago:

Before we reached Leith we came across a family of swans having a grooming session. The swan’s partner was watching nearby.

After a succession of signs all saying Leith was 1¾ miles, we eventually reached The Shore. There is a Turkish Cafe and a pub, Salvation ready to restore you and for fine dining, Restaurant Martin Wishart is a little further along. After some refreshments it was time to catch the bus home. With all the diversions we had in fact clocked up 12 miles.

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: Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

As today was dry and sunny we decided to devote the day to outdoor aspects of Dunedin. There are museums and many other things to occupy rainy days. Our motel was only a mile from the Botanic Garden and having missed the one in Christchurch, we decided to head there first. They have a large collection of camellias just inside the entrance which reminded me of deciding that I had wanted a white one for our garden. I had searched dozens of specialist camellia nurseries without success and then found one quite incidentally, for only £9.95 on a visit to B&Q for something else. Needless to say, those in the garden here are not in bloom at the moment. The winter garden in the glasshouse had numerous interesting flowers.
In addition to various collections of plants and trees, including native species, there are also aviaries containing birds from all over the world. One bird I did see in the garden is the New Zealand Pigeon which is also referred to as a Wood Pigeon.
We had a coffee in the cafe here where service was amazingly slow despite there being several staff on duty. It was getting busier as today was a public holiday for the Queen’s birthday, something we do not have in the UK so it was quite bizarre to find out that both Australia and New Zealand have one.

In the afternoon we drove along the northern edge of the Otago Peninsula past several bays and as far as you can go.
There is a Royal Albatross Colony here and you can visit the centre. A few flew overhead as we were on one of the cliff overlooks.
One of the main reasons for coming out here was to visit Penguin Place. This is a private conservation reserve for the endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguin. A farming family started it and all the ticket money raised from tourists who visit for a tour and viewing goes to support the reserve and the small penguin hospital where they are rehabilitated and released into the wild again. The reserve also tries to control introduced predators such as feral cats, stoats and weasels who are a threat to the penguins. Their numbers have also declined due to habitat loss and human interference. We saw penguins in the hospital – this one with a foot injury is being fed.
In winter, the only hope of seeing a wild penguin is when they return to land from feeding in the ocean. This usually happens close to sunset. We were bussed part way to the beach and then walked through tunnels designed to hide us from any penguins on land, and down to the hides. Eventually one penguin did appear and after waiting unsuccessfully for any of his friends, walked across the beach and up the track.
Afterwards, we drove back into the city and had our evening meal in an Irish pub just down the road called ‘The Bog’. Service here wasn’t very brisk either.