Hluhluwe–iMfolozi

 

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It is okay, I never knew how to pronounce this either until I visited South Africa.

This time we flew on Emirates, one of my favourite airlines and not just because of the great food, the large seats and many accessories. Neither is it because of the professional and attentive cabin crew, or the excellent lounges they have at many airports.

Although all that counts. Primarily, it is because I have had some amazing times flying with them, like being one of only six passengers on a 747, on another having bottles of complimentary champagne because… but that’s another story.

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We landed at King Shaka international airport, where we are met by our driver who whisked us away in air-cooled comfort to the ‘Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward’, a huge and unnecessarily overly long name. This hotel was The Edward and, when I first stayed, The Karis Edward, both names that are far easier to say.

The Edward is situated on North Beach, by the Indian Market. It is a traditional hotel, not a resort. If you are looking for tourist style amenities choose another Hotel. For instance, the small swimming pool is on the roof and is partly in shade most of the day, therefore often far too cold to be comfortable, except for the hardiest or most determine of swimmers.67075784_y@2x

This is NOT a place for children, which makes Hotel Edward even more appealing to me. Neither can this hotel boast of extensive gardens, but it does have a few palms near the front veranda.

 

It is a rare example of South African’s Art Deco and overlooks the Indian Ocean from its position right on Durban’s Golden Mile. In keeping with such tradition is the highest quality of service and attention to detail. The food is excellent whether you eat in the main restaurant or up on the seventh floor.

If you choose to stay here you can add your name to the long list of princes and presidents, millionaires, celebrities and me, who have stayed since the Hotel Edward, Durban opened its doors in 1911.

As nice as the Hotel Edward is and as wonderful as its location, I was not visiting Durban for either of those reasons. I was simply using it as a base to explore further inland, KwaZulu-Natal and Hluhluwe–iMfolozi park, the oldest established game reserve in South Africa.

This would be my first time in Hluhluwe and that was what was exciting me.

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When I was a teenager I read Wilbur Smiths tales of the Courtney and Ballantyne families. The books, When the Lion Feeds to The Triumph of the Sun and beyond, charts the lives of these two families and the history of Africa from around 1860 to the outbreak of WW1.

On the phone from his home in London (he lives between here and Cape Town), Smith told about his 33rd and latest novel an Indian Ocean pirate thriller, Those in Peril… but that is not for this blog.

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Wilbur Smith, Author

Yet it was these books which first fascinated me regarding this part of Africa. A part I was off to see in a couple of days… I’ll fast forward to then…

Okay… I have done so, it is now a couple of days since my landing in South Africa.

I was collected by Jurgen at the unearthly hour of 5:30am. swiftly we exited the city and dove a little too fast deeper into the real south Africa, stopping at a small café/shop just outside of Melmoth and, in the tourist’s handbook THE birthplace of Shaka (Chaka).

History records that Shaka was born somewhere near the town named Melmoth, (named after Sir Melmoth Osborn in 1887 after the annexation of Zululand by the United Kingdom.) But there is no official recognition of it being outside this shop, where rather dodgy and dirty souvenir sellers pray on unsuspecting tourists with a range of vaguely African looking statuettes and charms. (mostly made in Taiwan and China.)

Thankfully Jurgen can swear fluently in isiZulu, Afrikaans and Ruger Hawkeye .30-06. This kept the unwanted attentions of these hawkers to a distance where even their shouting was carried away on the breeze.

After a twenty minuet break we were off again, throwing up a huge cloud of dust in our wake.

Sometime later we entered the park, Jurgen chatting with the guards on the way in and assessing what animals had been seen and where. Then we were in.

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Now, being in an African game reserve is not like visiting a ‘Safari park’ in England or America. Oh no. While the Hluhluwe–iMfolozi park is nowhere near the largest reserve in Africa, it still covers a reasonable 96000 Hectares, plenty to keep me busy for a while.

The main ‘camp‘ is Hilltop. But there are several throughout the park. You stay in well appointed ’roundels’. Alternatively go for a walking safari, ranger accompanied of course and camp out in the bush… if you don’t mind sharing your bed with a lion or a snake, or three.

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Hilltop Camp, stay overnight or just lunch

If you have the slightest chance to go to Hluhluwe–iMfolozi in Zulu Natal, do. Just do.

Anyway, that’s enough about me. The reason one comes here is to see some animals, so I’ll finish the post with a few of those.

Oh, all images are copyright, please do not reproduce them without permission. Thank you.

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My first photo from the park. It is of a male Nyala. Often called the ‘McDonalds’ of the bush. Poor things!
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Not the best capture, but I still love the picture
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White (Veight) Rhino
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My home town, come and visit.

Generally, when one writes a travel blog they write about their travels. Which sounds like an obvious statement to make.

But one should consider, where you travel to is usually someone’s home. Likewise, your home town is a destination for other people.

With that in mind, I have been considering my own locality and have decided to write a little about the nearest town to my own home, an historic market town in the East Riding of Yorkshire, called Beverley.

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North Bar (within).

Beverley is situated about 9 miles North, (& slightly West), of the City of ‘Kingston-Upon-Hull’, commonly referred to simply as Hull. (The City of Culture 2017).

Beverley was voted as one of the best places in to live in the UK and I must agree. But living here I am bound to be biased.

This town inspired the naming of the cities of Beverly, Massachusetts and Beverly Hills in California.

So, what is special about Beverley?

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Beverley minster from the Beck

Let’s start with BEVERLEY MINSTER, is the parish Church of St. John and St. Martin, in the Church of England. It is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than one third of all English cathedrals and regarded as a gothic masterpiece by many.

 

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The Minster from Long Lane

The minster owes its origin and much of its subsequent importance to Saint John of Beverley, who founded a monastery locally around 700 AD John died in 721, his body was buried in a chapel of the Saxon church. He was canonised in 1037. The present minster is built around his tomb.

After a serious fire in 1188… King Henry III granted oaks from Sherwood in 1253, and the high altar was dedicated in 1261.

It took 200 years to complete building work but, despite the time scale involved, the whole building has coherent form and detail and is regarded by Thomas Rickman as one of the finest examples of Early English design. The twin towers of the west front are a superlative example of the Perpendicular style. These formed the inspiration for the present west towers of Westminster Abbey, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In the 18th century the present central tower replaced an original lantern tower that was in danger of collapse. This central tower now houses the largest surviving treadwheel crane in England, which used to be used when raising building materials to a workshop located in the roof. A distinctive feature of both the north and south transepts is the presence of wheel windows, with ten equal parts. Tours to the roof space to see the crane and rose windows are available to the general public, subject to other church commitments.

Today the church is still a place of pilgrimage for visitors. It also continues to be a place of prayer and worship at the heart of the community.

Walk along Beverley’s cobblestone paths and roads to the Georgian Quarter at the other end of town where you will find ST. MARY’S CHURCH, the 15th Century North Bar and a great number of listed buildings.

Lovely St Mary’s, unequalled in England and almost without rival on the continent of Europe” so said Sir Tatton Sykes, a 19th century East Riding landowner and restorer of churches, said, whilst contemplating the West front of the church.

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Inside St Mary’s Church

It may fairly be claimed that St Mary’s holds very high rank among the great Parish Churches of England. This was the opinion of both Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, and Sir John Betjeman.

The church owes its great architectural interest to having been developed through 400 years of almost continuous building from 1120 to 1530. Many of the Craft Guilds of the town adopted St Mary’s and, during the Middle-Ages, it was regarded as the Parish Church of the town.

Between 1844 and 1876, a complete restoration of the church was carried out under the successive supervision of Augustus Welby Pugin, his son E. Welby Pugin, and Sir Gilbert Scott.

The view of the exterior is especially fine from the South West, in which the pinnacles of the South Porch mingle with those of the battlements of the Nave, South Transept and Central Tower.

The West front is a fine example of late fourteenth century work and may well have influenced that of the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, which was built more than half a century later.

There is lots to look out for in the church from the ‘Lewis Carroll’ White Rabbit to the ceiling of Kings we do hope you find time to enjoy this fabulous building which is dedicated to the glory of God.

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BEVERLEY RACECOURSE, situated on the Westwood, has been part of the historic market town of Beverley for over 300 years. In 1752, the Jockey Club was founded and the first Grandstand was built in 1767. Between 1813 and 1833, Squire Watts owned no less than four St. Leger winners, including the famous horse, Altisidora. (There is a public house named after the horse in the small hamlet of Bishop Burton, on the outskirts of the Beverley town).

Currently two most prestigious races being the Hilary Needler Trophy for two-year-olds, in May and Beverley Bullet Sprint over 5 furlongs, in August for three-year-olds and up.

The racecourse is a right-handed flat course, just over 1 mile 3 furlongs. It is predominantly flat but with a stiff, uphill finish and tight turns. Beverley has the most pronounced “draw bias” on a UK racecourse on its 5-furlong course. The sharp right-hand bend and the fact the ground runs away to the left make a low draw (i.e. on the inside rail) much more advantageous than a high draw (i.e. on the wide outside and on ground sloping right to left).

Wednesday 15 August – is the 2018 date for the Flemingate Ladies’ Day at Beverley Racecourse, considered by some, to be second only to Ascot.

 

Beverley has four pastures, East and South East of the town, aligning the river Hull are the pastures of Figham and Swinemoor.

To the East and South East of the town are the Westwood and Hurn in the form of one large pasture, usually referred to solely as BEVERLEY WESTWOOD.

The wellbeing of the pastures is overseen by the Pasture Masters, a group of men (and recently women), elected from the Freemen of Beverley each March. Although the Pasture Act of 1836 clarified the right of the Pasture Masters to administer and enforce their bylaws, it did not state who ‘owned’ the land. In 1978 the courts decided the pastures were owned by the then Borough Council; it is now ‘owned’ by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

The pasture allows free grazing of cattle and is an open public space which contains Beverley Racecourse, Beverley Golf Club and the Gallops, along with the remains of the notorious Black Mill windmill.

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Cattle grazing on Westwood Pasture, showing Black Mill.

Chalk taken from the pasture was used for the foundation of Beverley’s streets and for making lime. The Corporation obtained a regular income from leasing out lime kilns on the Westwood until 1812. Clay was used for brick making by local brick makers, the North Bar in Beverley town is built with Beverley made bricks. The signs of this industry are still to be seen in the many hollows and pits that give the pasture its character.

Talking of Windmills, Skidby Mill, Yorkshire’s last working windmill is a four-sailed tower mill built in 1821 by Norman and Smithson of Hull is situated just outside of the town on the edge of Skidby village.

The adjacent warehouses form the Museum of East Riding Rural Life, with displays illustrating the agricultural and rural history of the area, including a range of simple child-friendly interactive exhibits.

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Skidby Mill

If you love live music, you may want to make a date with the Beverley Folk Festival or the Early Music Festival and catch some of Britain’s best live performers. These two festivals are the stand out events in the annual Beverley calendar and are not to be missed:

Beverley Folk Festival – For 30 years, the festival has helped to put Beverley on the music map. It’s 3 nights & 2 days of: Concerts, Dance, Comedy, Film, Literature, Poetry, Family & Youth Events, Workshops, Craft Fair, Food Outlets, Real Ale Bars, Camping and lots more.

Beverley Food Festival has become an award-winning event, winning the 2017 North of England ‘Rural Oscar for Tourism and commendation at national level, and ‘Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourism Award for Best Large Event’ in 2016.   This year approximately 140 stalls attended the event, alongside the well-loved Local Food Theatre Marquee.

Beverley has an extensive range of interests and activities to keep everybody entertained. Besides a plethora of cafes, restaurants, hotels and shops, you could visit The East Riding Treasure House, a heritage centre providing museum, library and archive facilities under one roof, plus access to the adjoining Edwardian exhibition spaces of the Beverley Art Gallery. The Treasure House tower provides splendid views over the rooftops of Beverley.

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Filming ‘Dads Army’ inside the ERT

An evening at the ERT (East Riding Theatre) located in a converted Baptist chapel was founded by actor and Beverley resident Vincent Regan and achieved through a huge community effort, the theatre opened its doors for the first time in December 2014. It has since delivered an eclectic programme of quality theatre, music and entertainment.

 

There are parklands, walks and trails in abundance and, of course, Beverley is a perfect place to use as a base to visit the rest of the East Ridings, or the whole of Yorkshire. You could take a peek at where you might venture be taking an air tour first?

In existence since 1930, the flying club has been based at Beverley (Linley) Airfield (Leven) since 1991. The Yorkshire Wolds and coast are easily visible once you are in the air, as are the River Humber, the wind farm and two reservoirs that help give visual guidance for pilots coming in to land. There is one single grass runway here and it’s nestled in amongst the patchwork of farming fields that surround this delightful spot, away from controlled airspace and restricted flight paths. Great fun.

I would say the latest claim to fame Beverley has is that much of the Town and its buildings were used as the location for the movie ‘Dad’s Army

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Outside Beverley Minster

I could go on shouting the delights of Beverley and, indeed, the whole of Yorkshire, which is known as God’s own County’. But the best way to find out more is to visit; honestly it is far nicer here than amongst the noise and grime of a big city like London.

You never know, we could even meet up and grab a coffee together, maybe?

Meeting Michelangelo

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© Paul White 2017

I only posted once in Wild Geese last month (September), which is remiss of me; although I do have my reasons (excuses).

One of which is, I was gearing up for the release of my latest book, ‘Jacks Dits – true tales from the mess deck’, another was arranging the final bits & bobs for my 2018 calendar, Boggle Eyes, a series of distorted, fun portraits, one for each month of the year (of course). Along with a few other things and life’s own demands, I did not find time to catch up with you all.

I have now enough time for this post, a little fun story about part of our trip to Scotland earlier this year and how we came across Michelangelo. (Who became our travelling partner.)

So, without further ado, I shall start on the evening we stopped at Esthwiate waters, in the Lake District. Yes, I know the Lake District is in England, but we were heading North toward Scotland.

We were staying in Hawkshead, (see the Wild Geese post ‘ Lakes, Starlings, High tea and William Wordsworth’) and decided to take late drive to have a picnic/camping meal somewhere scenic.

Hence stopping on the shores of Esthwiate waters, a small lake situated centrally between the better-known Coniston waters and Lake Windermere.

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Esthwiate waters © Paul White 2017

We found a small wooded area with parking that led right down to the water’s edge. There were two other vehicles, one belonging to an elderly couple out for an evening’s walk, another, a small camper van, in which the young folks were planning to sleep overnight.

My wife set about preparing food and I making tea on our small butane stove. No sooner had I placed the kettle on the flames than we were visited by an inquisitive pair of Mute Swans. I think they were curious about what food we may have, but had a strange way of enquiring, namely pecking my backside with snapping beaks.

I flapped my arms shouted, in an attempt to ‘shoo’ the Swans away. In return they started to hoot and hiss at me. My wife found it hilarious watching me scamper about trying to shield my nether regions from Swan molestations.

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One of the culprits. © Paul White 2017

Happily, once the Swans realised I would not be feeding them they wandered off along the shoreline, leaving me battered but whole.

While I waited for the kettle to a boil, I noticed a child’s toy, accidentally left or abandoned, standing upright on a tree stump. It was a slightly damaged, (part of his left arm is missing,) figure of a Ninja Turtle.

Neither my wife or I were certain which Ninja Mutant Hero Turtle this was, until after consulting the great google in the clouds, whose sage knowledge informed us it was Michelangelo, the only one we did not name during our attempt at childish recollection.

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Meeting Michelangelo © Paul White 2017

As I was taking a photo of said Michelangelo Turtle toy, (to keep as a record,) my wife suggested we take him with us on our trip.

 I agreed, considering another companion was welcome to join us.

 

 

The following are some photographs of Michelangelo enjoying his outing with us. As he is such good company, we intend to allow him to travel with us on our future trips too, so you may well see him popping up on future Wild Geese posts.

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Please forward any photographs of any such ‘travelling companions’ you and your family may have.

Enjoy life,

Paul.


 

Feel free to visit my website where you can see my books, find links to my other blogs and see what I have planned for the future. 

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Barbuda, Princess Diana and Hurricane Irma

Now seems like a perfect time to mention a fantastic day I spent on the island of Barbuda.

I say perfect time, because as soon as hurricane Irma has passed, the Island nation of Antigua & Barbuda will need tourism to return. The income from tourism will help in rebuilding the infrastructure, homes and lives of those affected by the storm.

Maybe, these few words on Wild Geese will encourage you to visit. (Actually, it is a long post, but I hope it is one which keeps you entertained and makes you want to trace my footsteps.)

I hope so.

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I spent just over two weeks in the island country known as Antigua & Barbuda.

The hotel of choice at that time was the ‘Grand Royal Antiguan beach resort‘ at Deep Bay beach. It is built between the sea and a lagoon. I am sorry to say, by all reports, the hotel has deteriorated since my stay and I believe it is undergoing some necessary renovations by its new owners.

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Grand Royal Antiguan

The official line is “We invite you to indulge in the luxury of our 40-acre, tropical garden estate-a secluded hideaway bordered by a protected cove and ½ mile of glistening beach. This Caribbean beach hotel sits on Antigua’s western coast, nestled into a hillside at breath-taking Deep Bay.”

Even though this hotel has a wonderful location and was considered one of the best places to stay at the time of my visit. I cannot suggest you take a chance of staying there now. Not until the renovations are complete at least.

The good thing is there are so many hotels, to suit all pockets and all tastes on the island, you will be spoilt for choice.

You should still visit Deep Bay though, because the far end of Deep Bay beach turns into the Five Islands peninsula, on which is Goat Hill, where Fort Barrington stands.

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Fort Barrington was one of the first lines of defence for St. John’s, reporting ship movements to nearby Rat Island, via flag and light signals. While Fort Barrington was officially only a look out post, it saw the most action of any fort on Antigua, being captured and liberated from the French, going back as far as 1652.

The Fort as it stands today was built in 1779 and is one of the best ruins to explore. Not only does its position atop Goat Hill provide a short but invigorating climb, there are also several rooms to explore, and the view from the top is unmatched for its sea view — blue sea stretches for miles.

BUT… (yep, a ‘but’. Those who read my blogs know all about my ‘buts’)

I’ll say again… BUT… I am not writing about Antigua today, I am writing about one of its sister islands, Barbuda where I decided to visit, after hearing a few things about the island, including it having one of the few pink beaches in the world.

Being this close to somewhere as special as a pink beach, we felt it would be stupid not to set eyes upon such a wonder. The ‘we’ in this instance was my mother & father in-law, my son, my wife and I.

A quick phone call from the hotels concierge booked us an early morning flight, the following day.

Morning came and we indulged in a lazy breakfast before setting off, in a taxi, for V. C. Bird International Airport. The Taxi, by the way, was a rather rickety, rattling mini-bus type vehicle, which had seen many better days. BUT… (another one), it was in far better condition than many others, including the one we took from the airport on arrival.

Remember, I travel independently and rarely use travel agents or tour companies. I feel one gets a lot closer to the real world exploring this way, in contrast to the cotton wool, candy-coated falseness of contrived agency tours. Which leave you with a distorted and falsified impression of the places you visit.

As we dawdled into the airport, one of two staff members, sitting behind a small table, temporarily halts her conversation, holds out her hand and says. “Passports.”

Glancing at each other and shrugging in unison, we all say, in perfect harmony “passports?”

The woman looks at the frowns on our faces, before her expression changes, as it dawns on her we are in the domestic area of the airport, not the international departure lounge.

I spoke up. “We are going to Barbuda.”

“Oh, yes” she says, looking at the bemused expression of her college. “Barbuda… same country… you do not need a passport.”

She raises a hand in embarrassment as her co-worker bursts out laughing.

“I am so sorry, off you go” she says ushering us into the airport, towards the departure area.

(Due to differing world circumstances, I think you now need to carry your passports when island hopping in the Caribbean… shame.)

Unbeknown to us, this was an indication of the way the day was to pan out.

We were only on a day trip, so carried very little with us. The girls had their larger sized handbags with the necessary hand wipes, sun protection lotions and whatnots women always lug around for no reason at all.

We men, travelling lighter, had our cargo shorts pockets loaded with as little as possible. I had a SLR camera, sunglasses. My father in law a small case holding a video camera. That was it. We could see no reason to cart anything more with us.

We found the departure gate from where our plane was to leave.

As we arrived, a uniformed member of the airport staff came to us and explained, as the plane which flew from V.C. Bird international airport, Antigua, the airport were at, to Codrington International airport, Barbuda, our destination, was only capable of seating eight passengers, the plane was full.

She pointed to the runway. Our plane, being full, was given authority to leave early and was racing down the runway. We watched as it took off and flew away.

“Not to worry” she said. Another plane was being readied and the pilot was on his way to the airport. As soon as they were organised, they would come and fetch us. She estimated about twenty more minutes from now. In the meantime, just relax, have a coffee, a beer, some rum. Or all three.

With that she happily skipped away, leaving us with a wide, bright smile.

I do not know how many airports or airlines have pulled a plane from a hanger and readied it for flight for you because the one you booked was full?

Maybe, it is something which happens regularly in your world, but for me, this was a first.

True to their word. In thirty minutes, we were sat in an airplane and beginning to taxi to the runway. There were nine passengers in total, on the eight-passenger seater plane, much to the delight of my young son, who was seated in the co-pilots seat so all the passengers could travel on one flight.

(Don’t read that bit if it is against aviation regulations.)

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Soon we were in the air and my attention was drawn to the plastic hoses dangling from the engines and held fast by cable grips. I did fleetingly wonder about the liquid dripping from the ends, before considering if we would make the entire twenty-minute flight.

Then again, as we seemed to be flying only a few feet above the sea, I guessed it would not be a problem landing on the calm blue waters if needed. These considerations were from the viewpoint of having a few hours of flying lessons under my belt. The main difference being, this plane was twice as long as anything I had piloted, plus it was laden with passengers, a pile of boxes and a few crates of live chickens, so it would weigh an awful lot more than the light aircraft I was learning in.

By the time I speculated about the possibilities of dying in an air disaster in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, or which fictional novel I could weave this journey into should I survive, we were descending to the grandly named Codrington International airport.

Codrington is a family name inexorably linked to Barbuda. The town of Codrington was founded by Christopher Codrington and his brother John in 1685. It is the only residential centre on the island and the site of Barbuda’s airport, hence the name.

I have been to some rather strange and some rather surprising airports around the globe. Not one of which prepared me for Codrington International.

The airport consists of one small brick built hut. There are two doorways. One facing the runway, the other, on the side of the building, is the exit.

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Codrington International Airport

At one end is a short Formica covered desk where a young lady stands to welcome you, or to say goodbye on departure.

In the centre, there are six plastic chairs. Three facing the exit door, the other three have their backs against the first three, facing in the opposite direction. Three are designated, in theory, as departure the other three as arrivals

That is it, in total.

The entire building is about the size of my lounge, at home.

As we were exiting the airport, the girl behind the desk, who was collecting her handbag ready to go home. She did not need to be here again, until we were leaving the island tonight. Said we should wait, because George was on his way.

“Who is George?” we enquired.

“George is George” she said, as if we should have known. “He is coming in the car.”

“What car?” I asked.

“The car… like a taxi. He takes all the visitors about. He will be here soon.” Pulling the airport door closed, but not locking it, she scuttled off, crossing the road and disappearing around a corner.

The five of us were left standing beside an empty road and an empty airport; with absolutely no idea of what to do, or where to go.

Where the other passengers, the pilot, or anybody else had disappeared to, was a mystery.

So, we waited for George.

George arrived in a large 4×4, Jeep/Land Rover type SUV vehicle. I did not take much notice of the model. But once inside the air conditioning was wonderfully chilling after standing on a dusty verge for ten minutes, in blazing sun with no shade. I think the temperature was hovering around 40 degrees.

We asked George to take us to the pink beach. After all, this is why we made the journey.

“Oh, no” said George. “I’ll take you there later, you do not want to spend all day on that beach.

My wife dug me in the ribs with her elbow, stimulating me to make a comment to the contrary. George was having nothing of it however.

The first thing we needed to do he said, before we contemplated any beach, was to take a boat trip and see the frigate birds.

We gave up trying to argue with George and decided we would enjoy the day by simply ‘going with the flow’.

I have never seen frigate birds in the wild before, the way the males puff out their chest pouches is amazing and seen from the water, in a small boat, allowed us to creep in close to the reed beds and mangroves, giving a clear view of their nesting sites and perches.

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On our return from bird watching, George was waiting and whisked us off again, this time to a beach, but not the pink one, which I was now considering could simply be a myth, a trap to capture the unwary traveller… but that was just my muse playing up.

Back in the Jeep we passed one of Tommy Hilfiger’s houses. He was not at home, or I might have popped in for a coffee and a pee. Oh well, next time.

We arrived at the longest and most deserted beach I have ever seen.

Some time ago, George and a few islanders, erected a small open building made from driftwood and fisherman’s netting, to provide a shaded area, so the beaches few visitors could shelter from the sun when they needed.

George deposited a cool box containing iced water and some fruits and mumbled a suggestion he would return after lunch… I think that is what he said anyway.

This is how I found myself on the 17 mile long Access beach, probably the most beautiful beach in the entire world.

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Just along from where we entered the shoreline is the K club, which was Princess Diana’s favourite ‘get-away’. A destination many of the rich and famous escaped too. Mostly for its isolation and relative inaccessibility. The 251 – acre, small luxury resort was opened by Mariuccia Mandelli, founder of Krizia fashion label in 1990.

At the time of writing this post the K club lies abandoned, it closed 16 years later. But Robert DeNiro and James Packer want to utilise the site for a new, high class project. Both men have aims to help re-build Barbuda after hurricane Irma, so there is hope yet.

Honestly, the journey to Barbuda is worth it just to be on this beach. Miles and miles of pristine soft silver sand. I walked forever, before turning back and re-joining my family. For the hours, we spent on Access beach we never saw another person, excluding George, when he came to collect us.

Next stop… the Pink Beach… so, it really does exist.

Now why, you may ask, have I been babbling on about this beach. Simply because it is such an exceptional and fascinating sight.

It is difficult to compare this beach with Access beach, because both are matchless for their beauty and these are only two of the 365 beaches on the island, that is one for each day of the year.

But I fell in love with this beach the moment I stepped onto its 8 miles of pink silky sands. That is eight miles of deserted oceanfront, which stretches from Spanish Point to Palmetto Point.

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The sand glows like rosé champagne, thanks to the crushed coral in the mix. We spent the entire afternoon swimming and strolling along this beach and never saw another soul. I used the powerful telephoto lens of my camera to scan both ways along the shoreline. There was not a single person as far as I could see in either direction.

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I hope to return to Barbuda in the future. Maybe stay here instead of on Antigua. We shall see.

Too soon it was time to leave. George returned us to the airport, the young girl wished us a pleasant flight. This time we had the entire plane to ourselves, for all the twenty minutes it took to return to Antigua.

As we wandered out of A. C. Bird airport and looked around for our driver, who was due to collect us and take us back to the hotel, my father-in -law felt a tap upon his shoulder.

It was the pilot of the plane. “You left this, John” he said, holding out the bag containing the video camera.

My father-in-law thanked him and thanked him again, for flying us safely back.

I could not help but believe this was something which could only happen here, in such a peaceful and laid-back community. I mean, how many times have you had the pilot of your airplane return your forgotten luggage to you, outside of an international airport?

I think, this trip and the string of experiences we encountered that day, (of which I have abridged in this post), is indicative of these amazing islands and the wonderful people of Antigua and Barbuda.

This is a place which should feature near the top of everybody’s bucket list. But I am glad it does not, because tourism in any great quantity would spoil the pristine nature of the islands. What is needed is a balanced quantity of visitors, visitors who acknowledge and respect the fine balance of natural beauty Barbuda offers.

I hope you will become a responsible tourist to Antigua and Barbuda, especially after the violence of hurricane Irma. Nature will recover, slowly at its own pace, but the inhabitants may need your support to do the same.

Thanks for reading Wild Geese.

Please follow and share at will.  😊


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Closer to Home

Because I live in England and generally travel abroad whenever I can, most of my travel writings are of places far from my home.

The places I consider close, such as Wales and Scotland, I rarely consider as a holiday or vacation, even though much of these countries are closer to my house than some parts of England.

This is not to say I do not ‘get out and about’ frequently. But what I have been remiss in doing is sharing some of the places I visit.

For me, many of these ‘near-places’ are simply a day out. But if you are visiting England, many would make wonderful destinations, so I shall include various locations in England which I would recommend on a personal level.

One last thing before I get under way…

Wild Geese is an independent blog for independent travellers. It is NOT associated with any travel, tour or holiday company. Nor are any of the posts sponsored or paid for. (Although I am happy to accept gratuities for any posts or mentions which have already been published… just saying!)

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The first ‘Local Post’ must be one of my favourites, a ‘Open-air, living museum’ called Beamish.

You may recognise some of it if you watched the TV series Downton Abbey

Beamish is not far from Washington. NO. Not that Washington, the original Washington in the county of Tyne & Wear, England.

The neighbouring county is County Durham and Beamish is there, situated just off the A693.

The easiest way to find it is to take the exit at Junction 63 on the A1(M) and head west along the A693, just past Pelton, Nr Chester le Street, you’ll find Beamish.

Getting there is easier than it sounds. It is quite well signposted too.

Just a note.

You will need at least a day, a whole day, especially if you want to see and sample everything. Also, if you do stop for refreshments and/or for lunch. I would, because Beamish is spread out over a large area. So, taking it easy and taking your time to admire it all, is by far the best way.

But don’t worry, because once you have your entrance ticket it is valid for a whole year, so returning the following day, to pick up where you left off, is no problem at all.

Beamish was the vision of Dr Frank Atkinson, the Museum’s founder and first director.

Frank had visited Scandinavian folk museums in the early 1950s and was inspired to create an open air museum for the North East. He realised the dramatically-changing region was losing its industrial heritage. Coal mining, ship building and iron and steel manufacturing were disappearing, along with the communities that served them.

Frank wanted the new museum to “illustrate vividly” the way of life of “ordinary people” and bring the region’s history alive.

Beamish remains true to his principles today and brings history to life for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Sadly, Frank passed away, aged 90, on 30th December 2014.

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His museum continues to grow, with ambitious plans and remains a true legacy of the values and vision of its extraordinary founder.

What’s to see & do?

Visit beautiful the 1820’s Pockerley Old Hall’s new and old houses and enjoy the magnificent gardens. Take a ride on Pockerley Waggonway and wander through the glorious Georgian landscape.

Nestling in the Georgian landscape is this beautiful medieval church, St Helen’s, from Eston, near Middlesbrough. The church was due to be demolished due to vandalism until it was saved and rebuilt at the Museum.

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Explore the 1900s Town and see how families lived and worked in the years leading up to the First World War.

See what’s cooking in the 1900’s pit cottages, practise your handwriting in the school and visit the chapel. Don’t forget to say hello to the pit ponies in their stables.

In Ravensworth Terrace you can see the solicitor’s office and see how a dentist used to practice.

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The towns shops.

The corner building in The Town is now home to an early 1900s photographers and chemist, with dispensary and aerated water sections.

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Visitors can have their pictures taken in Edwardian costume in the photography studio of JR & D Edis, while at W Smith’s Chemist they can try the traditionally flavoured aerated waters, help to prepare medicines, and discover miraculous “cure-alls”.

The businesses are named after chemist William Smith and photographers John Reed Edis and his daughter Daisy, who all worked in Durham City in the early 1900s.

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The Co-operative store. Browse the grocery, drapery and hardware departments of this store, which was moved from Annfield Plain, in County Durham. Can you remember your “divi” number?

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Printer, Stationer & Newspaper Branch Office. Downstairs you’ll find the Sunderland Daily Echo and Northern Daily Mail branch office, and a stationer’s shop, where you can pick up some souvenirs from your visit. Upstairs is the printer’s shop – look out for the press in action

 

Food & Drink

You may also like to pop into the Tea Rooms or the towns Public house ‘The Sun Inn’.

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Freshly baked cakes and biscuits can be purchased from Herron’s Bakery. While a mouth-watering range of traditional sweets are available from the Jubilee Sweet Shop. If you time it right you can watch the sweets being made in the old-fashioned way too.

Sinkers’ Bait Cabin, in the Pit Village serves pies and pastries along with light refreshments, as does the British Kitchen where you should try a ‘Black market bacon Hot Stotty’.

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One of the most popular is Davy’s Fried Fish Shop, where they serve traditional British ‘Fish & Chips’ cooked in beef dripping on coal-fired ranges. They really are ‘the best’ I have eaten in many a year and evoke all those wonderful memories of childhood.

Down the Pit.

No recreation of the history of North East England would be complete without a colliery and the people who worked and lived around it.

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Generations of families worked down the North East’s pits – it was the industry on which the region’s prosperity was built. In 1913, the year of peak production, 165,246 men and boys worked in Durham’s 304 mines.

 

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All aboard.

See this railway station as it looked in Edwardian times with its signal box, waiting rooms, goods yard and spot a variety of wagons on display.

The station was originally in Rowley, near Consett, County Durham, in 1867. It was reopened at Beamish in 1976 by poet Sir John Betjeman.

A wrought-iron footbridge from The Town crosses the railway line and leads towards the signal box, dating from 1896. Across the tracks in the Goods Yard is a Goods Shed, dating from 1850.

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The 1940’s Farm

Discover how life was on the Home Front during the Second World War. Look out for the Land Girls and the Home Guard.

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Pop into the cosy farmhouse, and find out about wartime family life. You may smell cooking on the Aga or range (using rations, of course), hear 1940s music and news broadcasts on the wireless, and see “make do and mend” in action.

Getting around Beamish.

Of course, you can walk. It is particularly pleasant to do so during a warm summers day.

But you may wish to ride an original Tram or trollybus?

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The operating fleet usually consists of between four and six trams, with others in store or undergoing heavy maintenance.

There are two Edwardian replica buses based on the London B type (in Newcastle Corporation livery) and a Northern General Daimler.

A 1932 Leyland Cub is presently being restored this will be followed by a further Leyland Cub in 2017.  At present, there is one working trolleybus, Newcastle 501, but this will be supplemented once the development of the trolleybus route begins from 2016.  An Armstrong Whitworth replica car is also available as a limousine, and a supporting fleet of cars and vans dating from the 1920s to early 1960s can also be seen at work around the Museum.

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What going on.

This is an important question because there is always something happening a Beamish. Be it re-enacting the ‘Children’s Strike’, Digging for Victory or a workhouse Wednesday, Falconry Friday or listening to tales on a Tuesday.

Fancy driving a tram or a steam-driven steamroller, trying your hand at blacksmithing or becoming a Georgian maid? It is all possible at Beamish.

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The future looks rosy too.

Beamish is celebrating a £10.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Remaking Beamish project.

The funding is a major milestone in Beamish’s history and it will help the museum create a range of new ways for people to experience the heritage of the North East. It is the largest single investment ever seen at Beamish.

The centrepiece will be a reconstructed 1950s Town – meaning that alongside existing attractions depicting life in the early 19th and 20th centuries, the museum will once again include a period within living memory. Visitors will also be able to stay overnight in a recreation of a Great North Road coaching inn.

The new town will include;

The former Grand Electric Cinema from Ryhope.

A replica of the Coundon and Leeholme Community Association centre at the Leeholme Welfare Hall will help to tell the story of community life in the 1950s.

The 1952-built semi-detached house of Esther Gibbon, daughter Linda Gilmore and their family.

Replica shops from Bow Street, Middlesbrough; Darras Drive, North Shields and Blackhall Rocks.

The interior of John’s Cafe, from Wingate, County Durham.

Billingham Bowling Club’s green and pavilion are set to be copied.

A fried fish shop from Middleton-St-George, near Darlington, will be replicated to serve up this popular 1950s food. We have a 1952 gas-powered range collected from Middleton-St-George.

Spain’s Field Farm, which has been donated by the Jopling family, will be rebuilt at Beamish stone by stone to tell the important story of upland farms and how rural life changed in the 1950s.

I could simply go on and on about this wonderful place, somewhere I shall be returning to soon, before this year’s entrance ticket expires and because I want some more ‘real’ Fish & Chips.

 


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Islamorada, the Purple Island (part 3)

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Sunrise off the Keys

 I shall make this my last post about the Florida Keys… at least for now. Not because there is nothing more to say, simply the fact I have many other places to tell you about.

We can come back to the keys another time…  I did.

(Read previous posts about Islamorada:  part1part 2)

So, on with the post…


We planned to go fishing, troll fishing. Which, for the uninitiated has nothing to do with the internet, your personal details or catching the bad guys.

Troll, in this instance, refers to a form of sea fishing where baited lines are dragged through the water, relatively slowly, behind the boat. Several lines are used, some on outriggers, so the set lines do not tangle.

We were on the hunt for Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Kingfish, Swordfish, in fact we were not fussy. If we caught something we would be happy.

To get a good days fishing means an early start, a bleary eyed, why the f.. flip am I doing this, why am I out of bed before sunrise, type of early start.

Hey, and guess who got to drive.

I am not too bad at getting myself organised in a morning. in fact, if I have prepared the night before, I can be up and out of the house in around fifteen minutes, including taking a shower and a grabbing a quick drink.

The problem is ‘the others‘.

Especially when two of those others are eleven and thirteen-year old, as was my son and nice at the time.

At the other end of the scale, was the over preparedness of my mother in law.

To take a simply day trip with her, was like organising a military field exercise. The number of bags, containing equipment and substances to cater for any and every possible occurrence, from a small scratch to surviving a Zombie apocalypse, had to be precisely packed, in a precise order, in colour coded bags.

By the time all were ready and seated in the ‘bus’ (see part one of Islamorada series), I was two large mugs of black coffee awake and raring to go.

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A short drive, to the right after exiting Cheeca Lodge, soon saw us at Whale Harbour Marina. This is a location many game fishing charters run from. Besides there was café which was open, even at this stupid o’clock time in the morning, so the kids could grab a drink, a light breakfast and the ‘others’ get their morning dosage of caffeine.

Eventually, as the sun began to wake from its own slumber, we were all in the ‘wide awake club’ and made our way towards the harbourside, where our boat and captain should be waiting for us.

They were.

Capt. Davey and his mate.

The Captain’s mate was a well suntanned girl, who I am certain worked out with weights, at least ten times a day and who I think was the Captain’s mate in more than just the boating sense.

We were helped aboard, the clean, smart looking purpose-built vessel. I have no idea what kind of boat it was, how long it was, or how many horses were stored away with all the knots and other sailory stuff. But it was white, had blue seating and plenty of places to for a dozen or so rods to be set at once.

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Whale Harbour Marina

Once we had stowed away the mother in laws ten weeks’ worth of supplies, we got under way and tootled out of the harbour.

We lazed about while the mate made her preparations. The women sat in the cabin, as the mornings sea breeze had a slight chill. It was still silly o’clock, about 6.am if I recall correctly.

I sat on the fishing deck staring out to sea. I liked the slight chill and the occasional spray from the sea. It is surprising how quickly the sun rises and how much more heat it radiates with every millimetre it rises above the horizon.

By the time we reached the first fishing spot, the sun was up and it was getting hot. Hot enough for the girls to venture out from the cabin.

If we wanted big fish, we needed to catch some smaller ones first. Small ones we could use as bait to lure the larger one to us.

Soon, we had a bucket full of assorted fish. Mostly mackerel or others of similar size. Now, I like Mackerel, grilled and served with a mild mustard sauce and any one of these ‘bait fish’ was large enough for a satisfying meal.

Soon we were off again, heading out towards deeper waters.

By now the sun was beaming down, the girls had already stripped off to swimsuits and bikinis. I was wearing my sports style sunglasses. At least we looked the business, even if we had no idea what the hell we were actually doing.

(I should have mentioned, this trip was taken when we were novices, before my wife and I became proficient at game fishing.)

Therefore, if you have never been deep sea troll fishing, please, please have a go, at least once. You may become hooked… excuse the pun… as we did.

Soon there were several lines out and Captain Dave was slowly driving the boat forward, trailing the lines behind and waiting for a bite.

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We did not wait long.

John, my father in law took the first rod and started, under the mate’s guidance, to reel in whatever was on the end. ‘Pull the rod, by lifting it and then wind the line in as fast as you can, while slowly lowering the rod until it is level with the horizon… repeat, soon you will have wound in your catch.’

That’s all a beginner really needs to know, at this stage.

After five minutes we had a sparkly, shiney Dolphin fish… NO, not a flipper type Dolphin, but a brightly coloured fish also known as a Mahi Mahi. We were told they are excellent to eat. It was put straight into the ice-cold refrigerator.

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Mahi Mahi

Then they began to bite, more Mahi Mahi, Skipjack and Black-fin Tuna, Kingfish and more.

 

I took the line, reeling in a biggy… yeah, that old fisherman’s tale. Only this one was going nowhere.

Captain Dave put the boat into reverse and the mate strapped the belt around me, so I could support the base of the rod against my body. I was in a fight with a sizeable beasty.

Twenty minutes later, I was going to ask someone else to take over, as my arms felt like my biceps were about to pop, the mate shouted and leapt forward with the grappling hook.

I was asked to walk backwards, towards the cabin, but keep the tension on the line. This I did.

I could see nothing as all the family, along with the mate, were at the stern and looking into the water. I was still hanging onto the rod for dear life.

There were some shouts, big smiles and clicks of the camera, then that was it. The mate had released my catch. It seems it counts as a catch when brought alongside with the bill hook. It does not have to be bought aboard.

I saw nothing. After thirty minutes of hard graft I saw nothing.

It turned out I landed me a shark. No wonder it fought so hard. It was a young feisty shark; a smallish one, which conservation dictates must be released again. To me that was fair enough. Sharks do not make good eating.

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Grilled Mahi Mahi

The chefs back at Cheeca Lodge were cooking our catch today, for dinner tonight. Shark was definitely NOT going to be on the menu.

Besides, right then all I wanted was a cold beer and a chicken sandwich from my mother in laws stock pile of food.

As for how big the shark actually was; I only have the photographs to show. But if anyone askes, you can say it made a Great White look like a tiddly little Stickleback.

 

I’ll end my Islamorada tales there, at least for now.

Next time, on Wild Geese, I’ll entertain you with a tale from another part of the world.


Oh, just one more thing before I go. Rupert gets taken away, locked in the back of a plane by his kidnappers… It all happens in my novel, ‘The Abduction of Rupert DeVille.’ 

Why not grab yourself a copy now, you will enjoy Rupert’s adventures.

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Islamorada, the Purple Island (part 2)

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Yep, you have guessed, this is the second part of my blogpost about a trip I took down the Florida Keys, to Islamorada, the Purple Island.

I was going to call this post, ‘Tarpon, Hogs and Sundowners’, but then you may not have connected it with the first part of the story, so I settled for simplicity over creativity… on this occasion.

Part 2 starts with a drive out, from Cheeca Lodge, the hotel where we are staying for the duration.


As I mentioned in my last post, when leaving the hotel, you are faced with two choices, turn right to head North, turn left to head South.

That’s it.

There is only one road which takes you anywhere. The others, the smaller side roads, are simply for access to the homes, stores and restaurants and such, on the various keys. They do not lead anywhere, except back to wherever you first joined them.

The Overseas Highway (US1), is the only road that really matters here. Oh, it’s called the Overseas Highway because that is where it takes you for much of the time, over the sea.

Large sections of this road is built on bridges, 42 of them are draw bridges, raised to let the boats pass to and fro.

Want more facts? Okay, here goes.

The US1 Highway runs from Fort Kent, Maine to Key West, Florida. That’s a total 2,369 miles.

The section known as the Overseas Highway, the part of US1 which runs from South Miami through Key Largo, down to Key West, is 113 miles long.

Okay, that’s enough of that.

We turned left out of Cheeca Lodge and drove, nonstop, the amazing distance of one whole mile.

Today, we were stopping at Robbie’s.

Why here? You may ask.

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Well, it is right here where you can hand feed the huge fish called Tarpons.

They even named their restaurant the Hungry Tarpon.

Why, well…

It all started about 18 years ago, when Robbie and his wife Mona saved the life of a single Tarpon they called Scarface. (See Robbie’s website for the full story). After recovery, Scarface continued to frequent Robbies dock, often accompanied by other Tarpons.

Soon more and more of the fish began to appear. These days large school of more than 100 tarpon come here every day and linger for hours. Now, it has become a tradition, with visitors from across the world, coming to marvel at the spectacle and hand feed these magnificent creatures.afinch4-full

 

Recently Robbie’s has become a fashionable place to be seen too, with ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’ and ‘Boston Proper’ both choosing this location for their catalogue fashion shoots.

Probable because they heard I have visited.

 

We could have eaten lunch at Robbie’s, They serve a mean gouper sandwich, but as it was so near out hotel, we decided we would return to eat there another day.

 

Instead we headed back the way we came, but drove on past Cheeca Lodge and kept going until we reached Windley Key.

On this key is a great fun place to eat, they call it Hog Heaven.

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By day, Hog Heaven masquerades as a relaxed Florida Keys sports bar with some of the freshest seafood and best house smoked bar-b-que in town.

BUT, Hog Heaven is also the hottest local sports bar and Islamorada oceanfront restaurant and late-night spot in the Upper Florida Keys. Once the sun goes down, Hog Heaven transforms into the wildest party destination in almost 100 miles. With a live DJ spinning every weekend and countless bands from across the globe.

Not in the mood for dancing, that’s fine too. You can enjoy a cocktail under the stars on Hog Heaven’s own private beach, or a late-night bite on the ocean front pier.

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Then it was a lazy afternoon by the pool, sleeping off the huge plateful of House-smoked Ribs served with all the trimmings and a cold sandbar Sunday, an American craft wheat ale… just one of these, as I was driving this lunchtime.

Sounds mean, but I would not be behind the wheel tonight, when we headed ‘Down South’ the Key West for Sundowners.

Turning left out of the hotel we joined ‘The’ road and headed South.

It was a case of wearing blinkers, because there is so much to see along the Keys, each one having offerings as unique as each individual Keys character.

One structure you cannot help but see is the Seven Mile Bridge, which forms part of US1 and therefore part of the route you must take when travelling further South than Marathon.

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The bridge runs from Marathon to the lower Keys. (In truth, the bridge runs from Knights Key to Little Duck Key and is only 6.79 miles long, but what’s a few feet between friends?)

Okay, so we arrive in Key West, with enough time to wander through the streets which are lined with colourful ‘gingerbread’ style houses, poke around a couple of art galleries, while dodging the odd chicken running between our feet.

Many folk head to Mallory Square for the sunset. While it is a great and popular spot it can get overcrowded and noisy.

Most places can and often do.

Yet I enjoy The Tower Bar at Turtle Kraals. I think this is more of an intimate spot to watch the sunset from and it has the advantage of being upstairs, overlooking Key West’s historic seaport, so you get the striking sunsets and a picturesque view of the harbour combined.

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As I was not driving I decided I would imbibe a beer or two…

That’s about all I remember about that. (Please, read that again, using a Forest Gump accent.)

Thanks for reading Wild Geese, in my next post I’ll tell you about our amazing day Troll fishing off Islamorada and what we ate in the Cheeca Lodge restaurant.


The Abduction of Rupert DeVille is an amazing novel which will make you laugh, cry and wonder.If you only read one book this year make certain it is this one. https://goo.gl/HqIIu9

Don’t forget, grab yourself a copy of my book to read when you’re on vacation.

I know you will love The Abduction of Rupert DeVille

 

Keep happy, Paul.

 

 

 

 

Islamorada, the Purple Island

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Sunset over Key West

This may be a name you have never heard spoken.

Even you guys who live in America.

You see, Islamorada is on the Florida Key’s.

It is, sort of, almost, the half-way point between Key Largo and Key West

Ahh, I hear you say. “The Florida Key’s; I’ve heard of that, Key Largo, Key West, Marathon, yes. I know of those.”

First, here a bit  of information (blurb)…

Islamorada, a “Village of Islands,” is an incorporated village in Monroe County, Florida, United States. It is located on the islands of Tea Table Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key and Plantation Key in the Florida Keys.

The name Islamorada (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈizla moˈɾaða]), “The Purple Isle,” came from early Spanish explorers in the area.

Okay, now we have that out of the way, I want to tell you a few things about a stay I had in Islamorada.

However, that would make an awfully long post, so I’ll break it up into two or three separate posts, starting with this one, the story of my arrival in the good ‘ole U.S. of A. and the journey down to Cheeca Lodge.

Virgin Atlantic's New Upper Class Cabin
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class cabin with the longest business class bed in the sky. Perfect for this long haul flight.

We flew from London to Miami International airport, courtesy of Mr Branson’s Virgin airline. (One of the ‘Wild Geese’ top five favourite airline operators by the way).

On this occasion, we were flying as a family, not just the usual my Wife and I scenario, so I had organised the rental of one of those big van things.

In this instance, it was a Chevy. I think the correct term is a ‘Day van’? But I will stand corrected if that is wrong. We came to simply call it ‘The Bus’.

Oh, just to clarify, the ‘we’ in total, comprised of my Mother and Father in law, my Son, my Niece and, of course, my Wife and I. Considering the amount of luggage between us, you can see why we needed a larger vehicle.

Anywayhow… I drove from Miami. Once out of the airport, a few jinks left and right got us onto the interstate highway, the US1, (or Interstate 1). South of the city, the road skirts the swampy green flats of the Everglades. It then becomes the ‘Ocean Highway’ as it leaves the mainland and crosses the bridge into Key Largo. Here I saw the first of the little oblong signs announcing the distance between here and Key West, which is the goal of many a trip to the Keys. ‘Mile 126’ it said, the numerals stacked on top of each other like hieroglyphs in an Egyptian cartouche.

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Florida Keys, Islamorada

From outside of Miami, it is a simple drive South.

Just South.

One road all the way.

In fact, if you keep going you will eventually get to Key West and the Southernmost point of the United States Mainland. (A place where Cuba is closer than Miami). I have done that journey, but it was not during this ride.

We stopped at Key Largo for coffee and to answer the call of nature.

Some may say this place was named after the film 1948 film ‘Key Largo’, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. But it was, by then, already known as Key Largo.

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This is fond urban myth. Otherwise known as ‘spin’ or poppycock. But it is good for tourism.

The area was first recorded as Rock Harbour and Tavernier. The first hint of a community of Key Largo, was an 1870 post office named Cayo Largo, situated at Rock Harbour…. The rest is history and speculation.

Back in the bus, to continue our journey South.

Part of the fun of driving through the Keys is clocking their names as you pass. Ragged Key, Knockemdown Key, Saddlebunch Key, Fat Deer Key, Tea Table Key, Indian Key, Sugarloaf Key and so on.

I did have to giggle at one road sign, which read: Crocodile crossing, next six miles’.

By the way, the word ‘key’ comes from the Spanish cayo, meaning ‘islet’ .The Interstate one highway strings them all together, like beads on a necklace. Many keys are connected to the next by bridges.

The highest, longest and altogether most spectacular crossing is the Seven Mile Bridge, linking Marathon with the Lower Keys. It is a thrill to drive across. You have magnificent views of the waters below and can see the remains of the old railroad bridge, that was built at the turn of the last century to link the Keys to the mainland. The railroad was destroyed in a the devistating hurricane of 1935.

Each key is a totaly different place; the look and feel changes woth each crossing, almost with every mile marker

I took it easy driving, because of the unfamiliar roads, the fact I was fairly bushed from the long flight, but most of all, because for some unfathomable reason everybody drives on the wrong side of the road in America and I was being cautious, as I got used to that stupidity.

Even so, the journey did not seem to take too long and soon we were pulling into Cheeca Lodge, the hotel which would be our home for the next few weeks.

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Cheeca Lodge

Now Cheeca Logde is a great place to stay and use as a base to explore the keys from. As I mentioned earlier, it is almost half-way down the chain. Turn right out of the entrance and you head north for Key Largo. Left will take you down South, to Key West.

Basically, that is all you need to know.

The main lodge (reception, bars, restaurants, etc.) of the hotel is beachside, the accommodation scattered around some wonderfully kept gardens, where many of the facilities, like the tennis courts and Jack Nicklaus designed Golf course are also hidden.

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Cheeca Lodge’s jetty

Self-proclaimed, but I think rightly so, Islamorada is said to be the fishing capitol of the world and is home to numerous fishing tournaments throughout the year.

One of the most prestigious is Cheeca Lodge’s own Presidential Sailfish Tournament held each January. Started by former president George H.W. Bush in 1990, this tournament has become an annual favourite of serious anglers worldwide and is a part of the Gold Cup Series of sailfish tournaments

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Great fun

I can personally vouch for the quality of troll fishing these waters and, believe me, I have fished many locations around the globe.

Okay, back to the story!

Rather than just grab the keys from reception and fuss about registering, we all took the chilled out option and crashed out in comfortable seating in the lounge of the main lodge. Coffee and coke were ordered, as was a large, icy cold beer.

I think I deserved one after the drive.

I chucked my father-in-law the bus keys so I could enjoy that frozen, back of the throat feeling, as I took a gulp of the first of two cold beers.

After which, we sent the kids to bed, before jumping under the covers ourselves.

It had been a long, eventful journey from London to Islamorada and I wanted to be up fairly early to enjoy the following day…

I shall, as promised, continue my Florida Keys story in the next post, which I shall probably title in some exciting or exotic manner, by calling it Islamorada, chapter two!

Stay tuned folks 🙂

Thanks for reading,

Paul.


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Jamaica

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Jamaica.

The very name of this island conjures up images of golden sandy beaches, palm trees, sapphire seas, sunshine and cocktails.

Jamaica is all that.

It really is an island paradise for those looking to relax and recharge their weary bones and tired minds.

We flew in from London, arriving around nine o’clock in the evening, local time. The ‘we’ in this case were my wife and I, along with half a dozen friends who were all sun worshipers, except for a chap named Neil. (I’ll get to him a little later).

‘We’ were staying at the Half Moon, which is, funny enough, situated at Half Moon bay, Montego.

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But I am getting ahead of myself, so I’ll start with exiting the plane at Sangster International Airport, also known as Montego Bay airport, as denoted by its three-letter code, MBJ. (that’s is the ‘International Air Transport Association (IATA) Location Identifier’, for those who don’t know.)

Anyway, as this is a Wild Geese post I try not to get all specific and technical, or too detailed. Life is far too short for all that nonsense.

The moment I stepped out of the planes air-conditioned fuselage and onto the top of the steps, Jamaica hit me.

I mean it smacked me right in the face.

BANG.

The heat, the humidity and the scent assaulted me all at once. My skin became coated with a fine mist of condensation, as the comforting tropical warmth wrapped itself around me and that smell, a heady mix of tropical fauna, coconut palm oil, Caribbean Sea salt, and a thousand and one other micro scents which make up Jamaica’s distinct aroma hit my senses.

One thought ran through my mind as I stepped off the plane, one which was meant to be a silent and personal observation, but which I uncontrollably vocalised.

“We’re hear” I said, pathetically stating the obvious.

A short ride later and we arrived at the Half Moon. A rather resplendent holstery, set in a good few acres of well-tended, manicured gardens, with its own private beach, the bay from which the hotel takes its name.

First stop, the portico reception for a cool me down cocktail and a can or three of Red Strip. Chilled, laying back on the sofa with a cold beer and looking up at the…stars. The stars…this place had no roof.

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Porters whisked our luggage away, other staff sorted out the paperwork and room keys, all done quickly, quietly and efficiently, while the welcome was as warm as the night air.

Soon, too soon, because I was so relaxed I could have stayed there all night, we made our way through the gardens towards our rooms, which were villas on the edge of the beach.

We were offered transport from reception, in the way of those humming golf buggy thingy’s almost all hotels seem to utilise nowadays. But as the night was a hot tropical one and we were ‘newbies‘, my wife and I elected to take a slow wander through the gardens.

Three minutes later, without warning, the heavens opened and the rain came down. We stood under a canopy and watched the huge raindrops as they hammered into the ground, many seemingly bouncing back, bouncing right up to waist height.

I have not seen such large raindrops before, or since.

The entire downpour only lasted five minutes from start to finish. My wife was concerned that it would rain again, which could spoil the holiday. The next day, on commenting, we were assured that would be the last of this season rains.

It was.

I think it was around two o’clock, maybe half-past two in the morning, when we eventually made it into bed.

At five thirty a.m. our companions were knocking on the door and calling us.

“Come on” they said, “the suns out, last ones down buy the drinks”. Their voices fading along with a chorus of giggles.

It took me about three seconds flat to jump out of bed, stagger into a pair of swim shorts and run out onto the beach. It was stupid o’clock in the morning but the sun was already up, shining brightly and throwing out more heat than we get during the height of a British summer.

A little later, my wife and I strolled along the beach, headed towards the Seagrape terrace for breakfast, when we passed a member of the hotel staff. Being the polite people we are, we said “good morning”.

In reply, the man said, “Manning Mon” and continued “it’s a bit chilli this manning”. He said this while blowing into his cupped hands and rubbing them together. The sort of thing I may do if the temperature was, say sub-zero.

But here, in the bright morning sunshine of the Caribbean, where the mercury was already pushing 28 degrees and visibly climbing, the man was dressed in a beany hat, at least two jumpers, a scarf wound around his neck and a thick pair of trousers tucked into wellington boots.

I was wearing a pair of swimming shorts and sunglasses, while my wife’s entire ensemble consisted of nothing more than a small triangular ‘eye-patch’ of white lace she had fastened over her most intimate nether region. Both of us feeling the ‘burn’ on our lily-white skin, even at this early hour.

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Breakfast on the Seagrape terrace is wonderful. Everything from iced water and the freshest of fruit juice, to fine Jamaican coffee (of course). Cereals abound, as do fruits, breads, cold meats, smoked marlin and more, all home cooked. The choice continues with sausages, bacon, eggs, johnnie cakes, ackee-ackee, mushrooms, beans and on and on… In a word, world-class. (yes, I cheated, I used a hyphen).

As wonderful as the Half Moon maybe, no one, at least no one in their right mind, would choose to stay within the hotels grounds for the whole time they are in Jamaica. There is far too much to do beyond the confines of even the finest and most luxurious establishment.

Here are a few of the things we did during our stay. These are apart from the usual beach and water sports, all the regular, almost expected activities like jet skis, scuba diving, paragliding, deep sea fishing and such.

As some of my travelling companions were fans of the James Bond movies it was ludicrous not to visit the Falmouth Swamp crocodile farm, the one which was used in the Bond Movie, Live and let Die, where it was portrayed as Kananga’s crocodile farm.

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On the way to see the crocodiles, we stopped and looked down into Oracabessa Bay, at a point known as Golden Head.  Located below is a white painted house, a small estate which some chap called Ian Fleming named Goldeneye.

This was Ian Fleming’s bungalow, the place where he wrote every one of his James Bond novels. It is as sort of very large one-story villa, he designed himself in the 1960’s.

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By the by, did you know Fleming took the name for his character from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies?

I thought not.

For those who do know little about Ian Fleming, you may wish to add to that knowledge by learning he was the author of the children’s book, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a non-fictional book called ‘Thrilling Cities’, based on his own impressions of a number of world cities. He also provided several ideas, including the names of characters ‘Napoleon Solo‘ and ‘April Dancer‘, for the television series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

It is possible to stay on the estate, even in the ‘Fleming Villa itself; which sleeps up to ten people. Previous guests have included Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Willie Nelson, Pierce Brosnan, Grace Jones, Harry Belafonte and the Clintons…yes ‘those’ Clintons.

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The estate has a little helpful advice too; “If you are flying private, Ian Fleming International airport, located, latitude: W76° 58′ 09″ Longitude: N18° 24′ 15″, less than a 10-minute drive from Fleming Villa, is your best travel choice. Of course, we are happy to arrange all the details surrounding your trip”.

This is why we stopped to look down upon Goldeneye from the roadside, rather than stay there. Although we all agreed it would be a wonderful experience to do so. Maybe, I shall get the opportunity in the future? Who knows?

While the crocodile farm is interesting, the heat of Jamaica lends itself to slightly more laid back and relaxing activities.

There are few of these which can be considered as relaxing as Rafting down the Martha Brae. All one has to do is sit back and relax, while a boatman gently punts you downstream.

That’s it… and it is absolutely fabulous.

Mountain-Valley-River-Rafting-on-the-Great-River-JamaicaFirst stroll through Martha’s herb garden, before sitting back on your bamboo raft floating on the jade-green waters of the Martha Brae River, located in the parish of Trelawny (birthplace of sprinter Usain Bolt).

Trail your hand in the shimmering waters, gaze into the trees filled with colourful birds and exotic flowers. Surrender to the romance of the moment as you float in the cool water glistening in the beautiful Caribbean sun. During the trip down-river, our boatman carved a ‘loving cup’, inscribed with our names, from the outer skin of a gourd. A wonderful extra touch.

If you want a slightly more active fun, try climbing up the Dunns River Falls.

Dunn’s River Falls has a fascinating history. It is the location of the legendary battle of “Las Chorreras”. This battle was fought in the year, 1657 between the English and the Spanish Expeditionary Force from Cuba. The battle was in fact for ownership of the island. The outcome of the battle was in favour of The English who won.

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The falls are about 600feet,(180 meters) in length during which they climb approximatley 180ft, (55meters). You do not have to climb this in one single go. There are a number of shallows and rock pools on the way up where you can rest and take pictures.

Your guides will carry any extra bags, phones, camaras you may have with you, they will also take the photos if you wish. (Tipping them for a good service is appriciated).

If you like good food Jamaica is a fantastic destination.

A favourite spot for me is sitting 500 feet above the city of Montego bay, on the Richmond Hill Inn’s famous ‘Terrace Restaurant’, looking at the lights of the city twinkling below, eating grilled lobster and fillet steak while sipping on a full bodied Châteauneuf de pap. Ahh, bliss.

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Much of our (my wife and I) visit to Jamaica involved doing many more ‘touristy’ things than we generally do while traveling. This is because we tend to travel alone, while this trip we were accompanied by three other couples. So, on occasion we would ‘slope-off’, leaving the others sunbathing and swimming, and take some time out.

This particular day we did just that. Our companions, besides Neil (I told you I would mention him again), were sunning themselves on the golden sands of the Half Moon bay, while Neil sat in the deepest shade dressed in shirt and trousers.

To give Neil his due, his shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and trousers rolled up, to just below his knees and he was bare footed. You may have guessed Neil was a sun-dodger, he did not care for the heat or the brightness. But coming from Hull in Yorkshire, I guess you can excuse him a little; but not for placing a knotted hankiechief over his balding head. (Yes, he did do that).

So, where was I?

Oh yes, taking a walk with my wife. We left the Half Moon hotel, walked passed the golf course and wandered up the hill. It was a very hot, even in Caribbean terms, day. But the road was lined with tall trees and grasses which provided patches of intermittent cooling shade. We sensibly carried water with us, a lesson learnt long ago, but decided we would find somewhere to sit and have a coffee or a cold beer. Where exactly we would find such a place along an empty rural road was not a question we considered.

Talking of roads… with the chance of making me sound a little ‘retentive’, we did notice, unlike many modern tarmac or ‘iron’ roads, the ones here used sea shells as the aggregate in there make up, rather than stone. I know that will be of little interest to many, but I found it quite fascinating at the time.

Shortly after noticing the above, the sounds of Tracy Chapman floated towards us on the slight breeze.

“Mmh, mmh, Mmh, mmh, all you folks think I got my price, at which I’ll sell all that is mine”

Looking up from the shells beneath our feet we saw a small ‘shanty’ shack across the road with a few people sitting outside drinking beer.

It looked perfect. So we went inside and were greeted by a huge smile from ‘George’ the barman. Looking about at the eclectic mix of people, Rasta (of course) and bald heads, some playing Ludo, backpackers and holidaymakers like ourselves, a lorry driver, two men in high vis vests and tatty denim shorts and one tall, elegant woman in a flowing evening gown.

“Mmh, mmh, Mmh, mmh, some say the devil be a mystical thing, I say the devil he a walking man”

How such a mix of so many folks found themselves brought together at this moment, in a remote(ish) shack, amidst the fauna of a tropical island astounds me. It is the basis for a story, a book I must write.

Several, or more, icy cold Red Stripe and some hilarious conversations later, my wife and I made our way back to the beach… just in time to watch the last rays of the sun dip below the horizon.

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Am I going back, yeah, sometime, maybe. You see I really do hear those Wild Geese calling, but they are always ‘somewhere else’, somewhere new, somewhere I have never been… yet.


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If you enjoy reading my travel posts, perhaps you would enjoy some of my stories. Take a peek on my WEBSITE, where you can see what books are available and what new works are under way.

Thank you, Paul.

 

 

 

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Lakes, Starlings, High tea and William Wordsworth

 

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As most of you will know by now, planning is nowhere near the top of my agenda when it comes to travel.

I prefer to simply take-off and see where the road leads me, altering and adjusting my direction as mood and circumstance dictate.

A few months ago, I did precisely that, I ‘took off’ on a (almost) whim, heading Nor-Nor-West towards the Islands & Highlands of Scotland. (I have written about some of that trip on Wild Geese already and shall be entertaining you with further tales, as soon as I get around to putting my pen to paper again).

I mentioned I am not great at planning; I find it too long winded, boringly tedious and, more often than not, incorrect once you physically arrive at a location, be that an airport, a remote woodland hideaway or a first-class hotel. Something you thought you had organised does not exist (any more), or there are alterations ‘beyond our control’ and a plethora of other excuses, including the ‘recent closure’ of whatever it may be.

Anywayhow… I am not here to bemoan about inconsistency and poor communication, but rather to share with you the connection I have with the famous poet, William Wordsworth, regarding my journey ‘up-north’.

The one bit of planning I did, or rather my wife did, for the trip was to book a stopover in the Lake district, a small ‘Bed & Breakfast’ guest house where we would spend the first night. As it happens, she selected one called School House Cottage.

Unbeknown to us at the time of booking, this small guest house holds a lot more than simply some bedrooms for tired travellers to sleep in.

It is a place with a significant history.

You see, this Bed & Breakfast holstery is in the cottage formerly known as Ann Tyson’s Cottage, it is now known simply as the School House Cottage, located, (strangely enough) in the grounds of the Grammar School in the small village of Hawkshead, Ambleside, Cumbria.

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Hawkshead was originally owned by the monks of Furness Abbey. Hawkshead grew to be an important wool market in medieval times and later, as a market town after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1532.

It was granted its first market charter by King James I in 1608. In 1585, Hawkshead Grammar School was established by Archbishop Edwin Sandys of York, after he successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for a charter to establish a governing body.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hawkshead became a village of important local stature. Poet William Wordsworth was educated at Hawkshead Grammar School, whilst Beatrix Potter lived nearby, marrying William Heelis, a local solicitor, in the early 20th century.

Hawkshead has a timeless atmosphere and consists of a characterful warren of alleys, overhanging gables and a series of mediaeval squares. It is eloquently described in William Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude.

So, with a little literary licence, I can say I have followed in the footsteps of a great poet, or at least slept in the cottage where the headmasters of the grammar school resided during their tenure.

The School House Cottage is now run by Stephen and his wife Sharon, or should that be Sharon and her husband Stephen? No matter, the pair of them do a grand job of providing excellent hospitality along with great accommodation and a hearty breakfast, fit for any hungry traveller.

Whether you plan to stay for just one night or a little longer, I suggest you book in advance of your journey, as this is a much sort after guest house.

Besides having rooms to let and serving an excellent breakfast, the School House Cottage offers wonderful afternoon tea in the well-manicured gardens. You can choose from a traditional English, treat yourself to an extravagant afternoon with champagne, or celebrate with friends. The choice is yours.

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To book rooms or organise tea in the gardens, contact Stephen and Sharon at the School House Cottage via their website,  http://www.schoolhousecottage.co.uk

The School House is ideally situated between Lake Windermere and Coniston Waters, both picturesque and worth visiting. Another lake not too far away and one where I brewed up a cuppa on the shore is Esthwaite Waters, a smaller lake just north of Hawkshead, between the two larger lakes.

By the way, you may just be lucky, as my wife and I were, to witness an evening murmuration of Starling from the Old School House gardens, which was a wonderful sight and capped the end of a perfect day.

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While you are here, feel free to browse my website, where you can see my books and other blogs and find out what I am working on just now. http://paulznewpostbox.wixsite.com/paul-white