Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Grasmere : An Autumnal and Eternal Slice of Real England

I think I was around 10 years old when my aunt and uncle moved to the Lake District.  Until then my experiences had been lovely Sunday excursions of the sort we used to make in the 1950s, the family all piling into a chunky car (wow, but cars were SO different back in those days!), eating ice cream, feeding ducks on lakes and going across Lake Winderemere on the ferry if I was really lucky!

When Uncle Jim and Auntie Dot moved to Bowness-on-Winderemere my vacations and experiences took on a whole, new meaning, especially when I was old enough not to be accompanied by my grandmother, and we had freedom to explore the countryside in a very “Swallows and Amazons” sort of way.  Back in the 1950s it was safe for kids to roam a bit, and let our imaginations have full rein…..but that’s the subject of a whole other post one day.

I have the most vivid memory of the first time I saw the village of Grasmere.  We’d walked en famille from Rydal Water, through knee-high bracken and over hills, my stoic grandmother, handbag on the crook of her arm, as was the habit then, more like a Sunday stroll than a hike, but I knew that it was my first real hike, even then. Grasmere gave me a little thrill when we arrived.  It was so like the villages I imagined from books, quaint, pretty, with a neat church alongside a brook, and a few scattered houses. In essence, despite the increase in traffic and the hoards of tourists who now come from every corner of the world,  it hasn’t changed. Off  the top of my head, I can think of nowhere else I know which has retained its atmosphere in the face of the modern world in the way which Grasmere has.

When I came to study Wordsworth in high school it added interest that I’d seen his grave and the village he loved.  I like to think I wouldn’t have needed the extra encouragement. Wordsworth remains one of my favorite poets. He has always filled my soul with his words, produced an almost physical response in me. Later in my high school life there would be visits to Dove Cottage, his home for 8 or 9 years, and then and still a museum.

Grasmere has drawn me back so many times over the years that I couldn’t possible even attempt a guess at how often I’ve visited – there have been family afternoon teas in the cafe beside the river on whose other bank lies the churchyard, both with my  parents and later with my own children; it has been the starting point and the finishing point for hikes around the area; and in the last few years somewhere for a gentle amble and a re-living of memories with my father.

That was what October of this year was. A stroll along the main street, these days much, much busier than it was in the 1950s of course, although in October not too bad, and tea and scones in one of the excellent cafés; a turn around the churchyard ……..and a visit to the Gingerbread shop.

Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread is world-famous to those in the know, and the story of how it came to be is both heartbreaking and inspiring, take a minute to read it in the words on their website, which are far more eloquent than mine would be.  As you approach the tiny shop your nose begins to twitch, and when you enter, the warm and comforting smell of ginger fills the air. It’s very addictive! Moreover, the taste totally lives up to the anticipation the aroma produces! The gingerbread is hard and crunchy, but then disintegrates in the mouth in a burst of flavor, leaving the sugary, gingery crumbs to be licked off the lips. Oh, yes, it’s addictive!

The only problem I have with it is that it’s also dense and heavy, meaning I can’t bring too much back with me in these days of low-cost travel consequences, but perhaps that’s just as well!


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Autumn in London’s Kew Gardens: An Unexpected Treat

I was five years old the first time I went to London. Needless to say, I was terribly excited. In my befuddled, five-year-old head I thought it was some kind of rite of passage – visiting the capital of one’s country.  After the visit I would be much more clever and sophisticated…….I didn’t think in those words, of course – I didn’t know those words then – but that’s the emotion I remember.What I remember about the vacation itself are the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and being forced to eat my chips in Lyons Corner House (it was only 6 years after the end of WW2 and seeing food wasted was still hard for my parents to accept.)

The next time I went I was in my teens…….and London was Swinging (capital S intended). It was THE place on the planet to be. It was colorful and vibrant, and intimidating to a provincial lass chasing coolness and sophistication (oh, there’s that word again, but I understood it by then).  There were several visits in those years, I remember riverside pubs, Swedish saunas, seeing imposing signs like “Scotland Yard” or “BBC” – this was real life.  There were also the Tower of London, Portobello Road Market, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused), St Paul’s, the Changing of the Guard – the usual tourist stuff in other words.

In my 20s and early 30s going to London was about posh weekends;  theater, shopping in Harrods, the latest movies, foreign foods you couldn’t get at home, dressing up, the 007 Bar in the Hilton Hotel (my idea of sophistication then – Ouch!)

Having transplanted my kids to a foreign land at tender ages, there came the point where a visit to London was a “must-do” on a lot of levels. By this time there were, to my horror, queues to get into the main attractions.  Still living in a sort of hicksville, I hadn’t realized just how big tourism had become back home.  So there was quite a bit we missed – it wasn’t really queuing weather.  It was a chill late October. We lapped up  movies in English (there were none available here then), we saw a couple of shows, and I discovered that museums were now entire entertainment centers, not just showcases of old stuff. I think we went twice to the Imperial War Museum (still a favorite of mine), and, of course, the Natural History Museum.  The thing which really sticks in my memory, though, is the parks, which were  breathtaking panoramas of golds, ambers and reds. It was crisp and dry, and the leaves were piled up in colorful clumps, just the way I remembered them from my childhood, and we  kicked them about, we scooped up armfuls and threw them into the air,   we fell dramatically into the heaps and we jumped on them, listening to the crackling sounds. It was one of those things you do as a child which you want to do with your own kids, a postcard from childhood.

In more recent years London has been about the London Eye, Camden Market, the London Marathon, Springtime in the parks, and it’s still about foreign foods (only the last time it was Cinnabon – well, it is foreign!) I can’t get at home and the latest movies. My Autumn trip this year, however, held a new experience, and one I can’t believe I’ve never had before. I went to Kew Gardens.

Guy took me as a surprise, so I didn’t know anything about it except that it is home to the largest collection of plants in the world, and some very attractive greenhouses, which I’d glimpsed from the air a couple of times, when my flight had been stacked, waiting to land at a London airport. I knew that it was an authority to be reckoned with – one absorbs a certain amount of information during one’s life without knowing it! It turns out that it’s a World Heritage Site, and covers over 300 acres, and it a world leader in scientific research into plant life, its consequences, history and future.  They have a pretty impressive mission statement.

Knowing very little of this, I enjoyed the outing simply as a beautiful, mellow, autumnal day.  We marveled at the beauty of orchids and waterlilies; we laughed about how plants in the Palm House, termed exotic, were perfectly normal roadside plants to us; we kicked up a few leaves too, but honestly this park is so neat and tidy there weren’t that many, although, as you can see the trees were quite spectacularly showing off their seasonal glory. We defended our picnic lunch from the very persistent Canada Geese, and we I kept a sensible distance from carnivorous flora!

I’m a sucker for history, so afterwards I read up about Kew, about how evidence from pre-history shows that there was almost certainly a settlement there, on the rich, alluvial soil by the banks of the River Thames; about how the first records of the area show it to be a huge field, which was then, over time broken down into smaller units; about how one owner, Sir Henry Capel was a fanatical gardener and began the transformations which have resulted in what we see today; and about how much of what we now see is owed to Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales in the 18th century. That was a century which brought much exotic, new flora and fauna to Europe’s shores, as explorers and conquistadors spread out over the globe in search of society’s next talking point. In fact, the idea of botanical gardens was born then.  The Botanical Gardens here in the Canary Islands, in Puerto de la Cruz, were established as a kind of stopping off point, so that plants could be studied and acclimatized before being taken to the mainland.

There are so many sides to Kew that it must surely take more than one day to see it all, and our day was a short one – October, remember.  What struck me was how good a thing it is that folk want to spend a day looking at, essentially, beauty, in this often drab and chaotic world.  I suppose only a fraction of the people there that day were interested in the history, or in the science of what they saw, and it isn’t necessary. Just seeing, experiencing nature is enough, words aren’t always needed.

Oh, and they have a great sense of humor there too!

I can’t finish without mentioning that there was there a photographic exhibition entitled “Hard Rain” which is quite extraordinary and very moving. It’s all the more moving for being outdoors, surrounded by trees.  Hard Rain began as a project to set images to Bob Dylan’s iconic song. No doubt even Dylan didn’t realize the full impact of his words. What we were doing to each other and the environment back then seems little compared with the problems we now know we face, and the lack of concern. Because I have the book I didn’t take pictures of the exhibit, which was a bit silly, but there is a picture on the website.

One thing I know. Kew Gardens is high on my list of places to revisit the next time I go to London.  I will go armed with information about the aspects I want to see, and I have penciled it in for springtime too – it must look astounding in the spring!


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The Tenerife of Mountains, Mists and Magical Forests

This time yesterday I was on the brink of a new island experience.  Despite the length of time I’ve lived here now, there was one part of the island which was a mystery for me – The Mountains of Anaga.

I’d been there, but only by car, and only to the outskirts of the area.  I knew it is considered to be the most beautiful part of the island.  It was almost as if I was saving it up for a time when I needed the effect I thought it might have on me, and part of me is slightly disgusted that I’ve spent so long here and not walked these velvet hillsides. Maybe it was that, as long as I hadn’t been there, I still had something new to discover.  Will I now think I’ve seen it all?  Will the urge to move on snowball now, I wonder?

I’d actually set off to walk there a couple of weeks ago, but was defeated by the weather, and ended up walking somewhere so utterly different that I still can’t take in that these totally contrasting landscapes are contained within the same 786 sq miles of island.

That day had dawned balmy and brilliant in El Médano, and it wasn’t until La Laguna that it was obvious that the weather was going to make a walk unpleasant.  There had been one of those steady drizzles which, over a time, saturate through your clothes to your skin.  Yesterday dawned equally pleasantly in El Médano, but the local tv station carried reports of a village in the mountains which had been cut off my heavy rains, which had blocked the road into the village with debris, including rocks and trees, so I was hoping that Austin had Plan B again, in case it turned out to be the same.  I arrived in La Laguna to find it bathed in the same sunshine I’d left in the south, and Austin explained that the village was on an exceptionally difficult part of road, which is often cut off, so we set off with great hopes.

I want to say that my soul soared with each kilometre we covered, but it sounds a bit over-poetic….heck, I’ll say it anyway – because that’s just how I felt, as we left behind the charismatic little city of La Laguna and familiar places like Las Mercedes and Tegueste and meandered upwards. We stopped briefly to drink in the beauty and the stretch of the valleys spread out before us – emerald-green agricultural terraces, country houses and bucolic peace. I was so captivated by this new vista that I entirely forgot to whip out my camera.  I simply drank it all in.

Once you leave behind that rich, rustic landscape it’s a typical, mountain road.  It weaves along the hillsides.  It’s narrow, with passing places and sensational views, until you get into the forest, where the views are only to be glimpsed, between the trees, and the mists drift across the road, like emaciated phantoms.

Eventually, we parked in a layby, where a couple of other cars were also parked, so reminiscent of days hiking in the English Lake District. We checked our packs, it verged on chilly and was obviously going to be damp.  Although it wasn’t raining we could see the brume hovering amongst the green.  Here cold Atlantic breezes collide with the high mountains at the tip of the island, and turn to vapour, which drifts constantly amongst the foliage providing an endless source of moisture.  The forests are lush and lichen coats the timber like green frost, hanging in picturesque clumps. Unlike the pine forests of other parts of the island, underfoot is damp and not tinder-dry.

Our path was narrow.  We walked in single file for most of it. Fallen trunks blocked our way, some had to be climbed over, and others we ducked under.  Brambles snatched at our arms and hair.  When we stopped, there was almost complete silence. You could hear a leaf fall or the drip of moisture from the waxy leaves onto the ground.  There was (for me) a surprising lack of birdsong.  It’s the biggest difference I can name between this type of countryside and similar ones in my own country, where in summer the air vibrates with the musical calling of countless winged species.

In parts, where we climbed quite steeply, steps have been cut into the pathway to make it easier, but otherwise it was easy to pretend that no-one had passed this way perhaps even forever. This is one of the oldest parts of the island, which rose gradually from the ocean.  Millions of years ago it wasn’t one island, but three, what are now Anaga, Teno and Adeje, which is why the age of the island is sometimes disputed – over the centuries other eruptions formed the island we now know.  In other parts of our path we were up to the tops of our shoes in rich, gooey mud, and I relished the squelchy sounds of childhood …….no-one to tell me “nay”!

It was fairly dark under the canopy of which is, essentially, rainforest and the camera, which, as you might guess, I was using frequently, needed to be adjusted for almost every shot. Suddenly, from out of the overhang and without warning, an enormous pinnacle rose, a solid tower of rock, soaring to the heavens.

This was Roque Anambro.  At the time of the Spanish Conquest Tenerife was divided into kingdoms or Menceys.  Legend has it that Guanche ruler of this area of Anaga,  Beneharo, escaped to this high point after the conquistadores had finally triumphed and taken the island for Spain.  There he pondered whether to surrender or die.  He decided to die as a free man, and leapt to his death from its peak. True or not, there was without doubt a palpable atmosphere of sehnsucht, that longing for…..something which cannot be.

Austin shuffled on his climbing shoes to explore it a bit, and see if he can get a view from higher up, and I shuffled around it carefully, snapping him and the views which tantalizingly peeped from the fog from time to time. Austin decided his climb would take too long.

We didn’t linger, the weather was kind but unpredictable, and every now and then a strong gust rattled the branches around, making the older ones creak like sound effects from some horror movie. After a short time we emerged at the Mirador Cabezo de Tejo, which is constructed on a natural platform overlooking the north-east coastline. There, the ocean broke against the jagged shoreline and flirted with rocks offshore which mark the tips of underwater mountains.  We were almost as far as one can go on the narrow tip of the island. Forests and mountain peaks lay before us, the mountain sides bare in parts where timber was culled following the Spanish invasion, in the case of this part of the island for construction of the money-spinning sugar plantations, which are now a part of history.  Soil erosion followed, just as it did on the hillsides of the south-east where the pines were burned for their resin.

We didn’t have it entirely to ourselves, but the family already there were quiet and moved off soon after.  We had passed one couple on the way, and on the return would pass two more families.  This is not a tourist hotbed. It’s hypnotic and peaceful, and we were reluctant to move on.  We lingered for a while.

Arriving, we had taken the route less travelled, but returning we took the wider pathway, the one which the forest agencies and environmental department use……which explains how the mirador was created and is maintained. These routes once connected outlying villages and hamlets.  It must have taken hours and hours just to travel to buy supplies or sell produce.   It’s vehicle-worthy now if you have a 4 x 4 or something rugged, so we walked side-by-side and chatted for most of it.

There, where the rock face lines the road, it is covered by moss so bright and intensely green that it looks unreal. In places shelters have been carved out of the rock face, like these, two caves, or this seat.  Apparently, all over Anaga refuges like these have been created where travellers can duck away from the changeable elements.

Giant bracken line the route.  Not for the first time living here I thought of Alice’s “Drink me,” bottle.  These huge plants must be related to their smaller relatives in European forests and gardens, and made me feel as if I’d shrunk. In places the path looked like an Autumn painting, where fallen leaves lay in gold and red patches.

We were lucky with the weather.  It was perfect for walking, neither hot nor cold, and for me a very welcome respite from the dust and winds I’d experienced in the south of late.  We emerged onto a road and then dove back into the forest to climb more steps, eroded by water, slippery with wet leaves and mud, and pretty soon (too soon for me, except that hunger was setting in) we were back at the beginning.

I’m happy to say “too soon” because it means I want to go back, I need to go back to what is like a magic forest from a children’s story, a whole other reality. Austin had warned me that it was one of the most beautiful walks he’d ever done, and he has walked in places I’m still dreaming about, like the Blue Mountains in Australia, the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean.  It was every bit as much of a journey to the new and unknown as if I’d stepped onto a plane and taken off for new shores.  My experience with Tenerife is far from over.  I know now it may never be.

The photos of the coastline weren’t, of course, too good, hampered by the mist. However, there will be more photos on my Flickr page as soon as I get a moment to sort them out. If anyone wants to see more of this relatively unknown side of Tenerife.


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In Which I Become Captivated by the Mountains at Dusk

I don’t know how obvious it was, a few posts back, that I was totally thrilled by the visit Maria and I made to the mountains to check out the sunset the other week.  It was, without the slightest doubt, the most stunning and breathtaking sunset I’ve ever seen, and we knew, as we set out to repeat the experience last night that it was unlikely to be exactly as awesome, if only because we might have that “seen it all before” feeling.

We spent part of the afternoon studying and talking about night photography so I guess you could say we were quite psyched up as we set off around 8pm again, taking the same route as the last time.  As we approached the first vantage point we’d used last time we could see that a sunset was brewing that would have taken away our breath had we not seen the one two weeks ago.  The horizon was a shifting haze of pastels, pinks and lavendars.  We’ve had calima for a few days, and it was obvious that it would affect the scene.  We carried on to the spot we’d found the last time, and found ourselves, just as before witnessing a change from pastels to jewel brights, but weighed down by what we assume was the cap of dust hovering over the island, the “polvo en suspensión” carried by the winds from Africa.  It made the sunset a different experience from last time. The scene was like the one you have from an airplane window, the colors leaking around the horizon instead of painting the sky. It changed the light and the colors, and whilst the photos are less spectacular too, it was a really interesting experience and a learning curve.  I realize that I need to understand more about climate and weather, and I also realized for certain that I need to really learn this art.  Honestly, I’ve seen photography up to now as a way to illustrate the things I see and experience, to share them and explain them, and if I got a few good ones I was most happy.  Words will always be my first love, but I am feeling the pull of photography absolutely now.  I am hungry to learn!

I’m more than aware that a lot of these fall into the “could have done better if she knew what she was doing” category, but it’s the beginning, and it still gives you of what my other love, Tenerife, is like.

And this time I remembered my tripod – but, guess what it was broken!!!!  I can’t tell you how fed up I was!  I did, however, have my remote, so by putting the camera on top of the car again, using my binolculars to angle it and using the remote I got a couple of worthwhile shots…..more learning!


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The Prettiest Village in South Tenerife

My dad has been staying with me since Christmas Eve.  He’s 87 and extremely spry and together for his age, but he can’t get around as he used to. When we first emigrated, and he came to visit, he would happily roam all around the southern coast when I was busy, but these days a half hour’s walk is the most he can manage.  Last year I hadn’t quite latched on to that, he’s always been so sprightly, but this year I realized that I had to think of places to go where a short walk, a coffee and maybe another short walk would make a decent “outing”.

I drove through Santiago del Teide on my way to Icod just before Christmas, and I was struck, as always,  by how picturesque and elegant it looks, nestled amongst craggy hills and surrounded by what must be the greenest part of the south, and I added it to my list of places to visit with my dad.  Pretty and small enough that a short stroll would be enjoyable, but also interesting for me too.

That I chose yesterday, which was an achingly crystal clear day, as you can see from the blue skies in the pictures, was sheer luck.  When I drove through on the return from Icod the town had been shrouded in thick mist of the best Hound of the Baskervilles variety.  The way places are named here, Santiago del Teide is the name of the municipality which covers an area of just over 52 sq kilometres, ranging from 1015 meters above sea level, right down to the stunning cliffs of Los Gigantes on the coast, but when you say the name most folk think of the village at the heart of the municipality, which lies at a mere 936 m above the ocean,  and that was our destination.

My car is of the old and faithful variety, so I was quite happy to be stuck behind hire cars and tour buses for almost the entire time after we left the main highway, the TF1.  That makes it sound like a busy route, and it wasn’t at all.  I speak of one hire car and one bus, actually.  The traffic was light, which is the way I’ve always found it once through the bustling, little village of Guia de Isora. It’s a route which quietly unravels and gets greener and greener as you travel.  Let’s be honest, the south and south-east coasts have a lot going for them in many ways, but pretty isn’t a word which springs to mind.  Leave them behind and it’s a whole, new world, and I was delighted to be able to take my time and glance around me now and then at the clusters of cacti, the breathtaking view down to the ocean, or the almond trees which are just coming into blossom.

If you look closely you can see the first, fragile flowers

The sad thing was that the aforesaid bus was heading right for the same place we were, even down to where I’d planned to park, so I decided on sustenance first and exercise afterwards.  We parked close to the charming, 17th century church, and crossed the road to the recreation area, where we could sit and enjoy a coffee under the shade of eucalyptus trees, and wait for the “hoards” to leave.  This area is one of the ones I wrote about last year.  It lies alongside the main road, but truly the road isn’t so busy that it would spoil an afternoon there.  I’ve only done it once, but it was delightful, and a nice wee stoll along a dry stream bed for the dogs made it even nicer.  At the entrance there is a small bar, which I now kick myself for not snapping, because it isn’t often you see somewhere constructed to allow for the surrounding trees, which seem to emerge from its roof.  Maria who runs it cooks a mean hamburger too, as I remembered once we sat down and the aroma drifted out.  I was hooked, I had to have one,  and I actually almost managed to finish it.

By that time the bus had moved on, leaving the village peaceful in the balmy, afternoon sun, so we trotted over to the church.  I’d noted that the bus party had visited the church, but was surprised to find the doors still wide open.  It just doesn’t happen that much anymore, sadly.  It used to be that you could always pop into a church, but I digress.  It was open, and we stepped inside, to be almost overwhelmed by the color and the quantity of statues, icons and pictures which filled the walls.

It’s a small church, but every nook and cranny was filled.  It was more crowded than usual because the whole area around the altar was occupied by the belén (nativity scene), which included a couple of real, live ducks – in a tiny cage, suspended from the ceiling, poor things!   Given that twelth night was 48 hours passed you might have thought they would have had their freedom back!  Clearly things had been moved around to make room for the Christmas display.

Being with my dad meant I couldn’t have the good old nosey around I would normally have had. Walking he can handle, but stopping to admire or investigate is bad for his back, so it was a quick look around and onwards.  I’m not religious in the conventional sense, and if was I’m sure I would lean these days to a simpler style of worship and belief, in other words, I often find the ostentation of church displays uncomfortable, but walking into this little church was something like walking into a rainbow, and I couldn’t help but like it.

After leaving, we wandered the streets close to the church for a little while, where modern houses blended tastefully with the older, well-kept buildings, cocks crowed from what looked like overgrown lots, and bees buzzed lazily in the Spring sunshine.  A couple of old ladies, sitting on benches by the kiddies’ playground seemed to eye us with suspicion, but  responded with smiles to my “Buenos tardes.”  It’s almost always that way here.  The playground was empty, but as you can see, even this was cheerful and colorfully decorated, guaranteed to stimulate young imaginations, don’t you think?

By the time we reached the end of the playground my dad knew he’d had enough, so we turned back, me with mental notes of things I wanted to know (the Tourist Information Office was closed by the time I tried the handle around 3 o’clock…….and I wasn’t the only one, but somehow I didn’t mind there.  It was siesta time.  Middle of Santa Cruz is another story.  It’s a busy, little, capital city, and if it wants the cruise ships it will have to accommodate tourists on their timeframe.), and things I wanted to see in a different light, at a different time of day.  I did a little sortie down a side road, but it was clear that my dad was tuckered out, so I left it all for another day.

I didn’t even investigate the new rural hotel, where I’d had a coffee last year, and about which I’ve heard great reports, just read this one from local journalist Andy Montgomery, but I love to leave something for another time, wherever I go, unless I hate a place it’s great to have a reason to go back, and I really can’t think of another village in the south which is as simply pretty as Santiago del Teide.


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How Do You Spend a Half Day in London?

Being in London, with all it has to offer, and having only a few hours to spare, remembering that luggage has to be collected before journeying on, how was I going to spend those few hours?

Eventually, I narrowed it down to either the National Gallery, or a picnic in St James’s Park, and in the end I decided that if I got carried away in the National Gallery I might miss the train, and as it was quite warm and sunny St James’s Park seemed like a fine idea.

It was. The trees were resplendent, the day was calm and bright, and, considering it was half term, the park was lively but not crowded. It certainly was much quieter than the last time I saw it in April, when the London Marathon was taking place all around it. Back then it was all pinks and yellows and bridal whites, last week it was all golds and reds and every shade of green. If there was a contest between Autumn and Spring it would have to be a tie. They both dress the park magnificently.


Late April and the last daffodils grace the lakeside (above), but six months on the colors are all changed, and Autumn hues are reflected on the waters (below).

Strolling around the park, it was hard to imagine that this was all once marshy wasteland, hard to imagine any sort of countryside here in the heart of London, which, along with Paris, seems to me to have always been citified, however pretty parts of it may be.  It wasn’t until 1536 that Henry the Vlll decided to create a deer park on land that had, up until then, housed a leper hospital.  Not that it was for public use, it was fenced off for the pleasure of the king’s hunting, and the hunting lodge which was built is now St James’s Palace, so I suppose things have improved a bit since then!

“Our Scottish cousin”  (James l of England, 6th of Scotland for you furriners) who came to the throne in 1603 was, apparently not so much of a hunting man, and he had the parkland landscaped, and had what amounted to a private zoo, which was home to crocodiles, camels, an elephant and a collection of exotic birds in aviaries along one side – which is, as you’ve already guessed, now Birdcage Walk.

Fast forward through a Civil War and a depressing Puritan dictatorship and we find Charles l on the throne.  He’s been almost ten years living in elegant France, and has become a fan of the formal gardens there, so he commissions a redesign, probably by a French architect, but that seems uncertain.  The main feature is not the pretty lake which is there now, but a long, straight canal.

Charles being dedicated to pleasure (Nell Gwyn, nudge, nudge, wink, wink), it seems he was also more in touch with his subjects (or better at marketing the monarchy, my but he must be turning in his grave these days!) because he opened the park to the public.  He  introduced a game called pelle melle, which he had also picked up in France, which, it appears was akin to croquet, and a court was constructed in the park, and thus the name of the other main road, flanking the park took shape – Pall Mall, The Mall.

The park began to take its present form in the early 19th century, when the canal was done away with and the lake created.  The designer was famous architect John Nash, and since then there have been few major changes.  Buckingham Palace, which sits at the opposite end of the park from Horseguards’ Parade was enlarged and became the official, royal residence, and Marble Arch, which used to be sited outside the palace was moved to its present position, at the end of Oxford street.  Now the palace looks out at the Victoria Memorial, and thence to St James’s Park, which still has the title “royal park,”  and that’s my potted history of the same.

Certainly on this mid-Autumn day it was giving a lot of pleasure to the masses.  There were lots of people taking in the last of the sunshine on deck chairs or just lolling on the grass.  They won’t be able to hire those chairs again now until the Spring, October is the end of the “season”.  I found a sunny bench, and happily opened my paper bag containing lunch I’d picked up at the Camden Food Co, a succulent and healthy sandwich and a luscious fruit juice.  Honestly, it was so nice to be able to enjoy something healthy, and to be able to pick it up so easily.  Fast food in the UK all looked delicious.  It seemed like the days of curled up, corned beef sarnies have gone forever, even on the smallest station caff, but they have been replaced with way too much temptation.  American muffins, caramel slices, cookies, carrot cake and brownies all pleaded with me, and sandwiches bulged with chicken tikka, salmon with caramelized onions, falafel, humous and goats cheese, all wonderful, imaginative fillings, at least they appeared so to this backwater dweller.

I thought I might read for a while, but it was far more fun people watching.  I was sitting just behind where you can see that group of people in the photo above.  They are all gathered there because, unlike me, they saved some of their lunches to feed the numerous varieties of birds which make their homes in the park.  Countless numbers, I imagine, are totally “uninvited”, but the Royal ornithological Society presented the first “official” birds to the park in 1837, so I guess there are some with historic lineage too :=)   It was then that the pretty Birdkeeper’s cottage (below) was built.  It is an absolute gem, like something out of a children’s story book.    The garden is so typically English country style that you wonder if the plants are real.  There is even a vegetable patch.  The post of Birdkeeper still exists, but I’m not clear on whether the cottage is still his home.

It’s odd how I felt, strolling around.  It’s many years since I lived in England, and I never lived in the South, but there was a certain sense of comfort about being there.  I’ve always said Fall is my favorite month, and I don’t budge on that!

Maybe it’s because I grew up just about in the countryside, on the very edge of town, where the houses petered out and gave way to fields, and the seasons were important.  The first time I saw the movies “You Got Mail” (and there have been many, I blush to add) I totally identified with this quote:

Joe (Tom Hanks): “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address………….”

Maybe it’s because the school year began in September, but I can’t get the idea out of my head that Fall rather than Spring is a sense of renewal.  Does anyone else remember the exciting smell of newly-varnished desks, and the pleasure of seeing friends we’d missed all Summer?

So, I strolled, and remembered, and imagined, and, all of a sudden, I realized that the shadows were growing longer, despite it not being 4 o’clock yet, but it was time to pick up the luggage and take the train North.  Maybe next year I should try the park in Summer and Winter for an old-round impression of it.


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Autumn Colors in the English Lake District

Truth is that my stay in the Lake District was molded by how much my father could get around, which, at 87, is getting to be less, of course. The other thing is that – he won’t admit it. This meant that when I said I was going to, say, Grasmere, to take some snaps, he wanted to tag along, and since I knew that he wouldn’t be able to walk as far as I wanted, nor would it be good for him to stand around waiting for me to set up pictures, I had to cave and agree to going somewhere not so far, and with plenty of places to stop and rest. That said, I think I probably had missed the best of the foliage by maybe a week or so in any event. The trees there had lost a lot more of the leaves than they had down south, but here are a few pictures, just to give you an idea of how pretty it is there, and hopefully for my next visit I can work around this somehow!

Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness has been a village on the lake for centuries, whereas, it’s close neighbour Windermere (village, not lake) was a Victorian invention.  That was where the railway station could be built that ferried the masses for their annual holidays.  I suppose this was the beginning of package holidays even, and, indeed, why should travel have been the right only of the hoi polloi?  Which also means that the currently fashionable debates about travel vs tourism, or sustainable tourism actually go way back.  Apparently even William Wordsworth lamented the opening up of the area by the railway…..mugwump that I am half of me totally agrees with him, and the other half thinks “snob”.  The village church, of St Martin dates back to at least 1483, and apparently there is debate about it dating back even further, though the nice lady in the  local tourist information office couldn’t office more advice than to try the library in Kendal (which I will do one day!)

 

That’s Belle Isle in the center of Lake Winderemere, where, as you can see, the colors still lingered.  Maybe I’m just getting older, but I can remember, literally, my breath being taken away by this view when I was younger.  I still find it awesome.

Boats are moored up for the winter. Summertime sees more boats on the lake than probably is good for it, but rarely in Winter.

Glorious, glorious colors!  Now this is what I came for.  Sitting majestically right on the main road through the village.

Depsite the mild weather, the bird population of the lake still was crowding the shore, waiting for scraps.  Authorities now have given up on asking people not to feed them, and merely ask that they not be fed too close to the road – because they don’t have any road sense!  There seem to be lots more swans than I remember here.

Lancaster

Strictly speaking, Lancaster isn’t a part of the Lake District, being the original county town of Lancashire. It is, however, sometimes refered to as the “gateway” to the Lake District.   It does have lots of history, and it’s a fascinating place for me, but this day I had to content myself with a tour around the lovely market in the center of town, where local produce was offered alongside second-hand books, homemade candy and chocolate, local cheeses, water colors by homegrown artists, and, of course, because it was a a few days before Halloween, pumpkins.

The goods on this homemade candy stall were mouth-watering.  The lady told me that everything was personally made by her friends.  I was SO restrained, and limited myself to a couple of items for gifts!

I even resisted these croissants, and the rest of my haul included one second-hand book, and two cheeses, also for gifts.

Kendal

True to form (it is, I think, the wettest town in England) it rained for most of my time in Kendal, so there are only a couple of pictures, and not too brilliant ones at that.  Were my father not there, I would find Kendal utterly resistible, I think.  It seems drab compared to other Lake District towns, and the people more like harrassed townsfolk than laid back country folk.  That said – who can blame them, given the weather??

The potentially bright spot was that there was a food fair the day after I arrived, but it was a very bedraggled sight – people and animals (yes I really do want to look at the cows and sheep which I am going to eat tomorrow……..and yeah, I know, I shouldn’t eat them if I’m not willing to do the killing, but truth is I hardly ever do) sheltering under tarpaulins, with the people on the  produce stalls looking more ready for home than for selling.  I did buy some scones from a nice man who I kind of took pity on because he’d come from a village where I used to live, quite a long way away, to stand in the downpour, and promote his goods, but it was all a bit kind of weird in the rain for me.  I suppose I am spoiled by the food fairs here, which have sunny days or balmy nights on which to push their wares.  Still, it might have been just that I was in a grumpy mood again, my camera battery was almost dead, the rain was running off my brolly and down my neck, and I was worried about my dad getting wet, since he seemed to carry his umbrella but not use it.  I did wonder what possessed them to hold this fair in the Autumn and not in Summer, but I also had to marvel at the resilience of the stall holders, chatting away as if the sun was shining.  Made me think how nesh we all get, living on a sub-tropical island.


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Autumn’s In the Air

I have a kind of quiet confidence in my luck with weather.  One year I came to England for 8 months.  I arrived in late Summer, which rapidly melded into an Autumn worthy of a poet, or a movie.  Leaves turned from green to gold and yellow and red in a fashion so perfect it was breathtaking.  As I drove, early morning,  through country lanes, mists rose as if on cue, and and reflected the pale sunlight as they swirled and melted in the waxing day.  I don’t remember much rain, just crispness and sunshine.

Such a day it was here, in England,  both yesterday and Sunday.  Apparently, I slept soundly through a loud and nasty overnight storm (well, after an 8 hour flight delay one would!) , but Sunday dawned a stunningly, perfect, crunchy day worthy of the season …….my luck holds!  Fall is the only time I am “homesick”.  I’m not sure this qualifies as “homesick” because this doesn’t really feel like home, but I am enjoying the atmosphere, the colors, the food (surprisingly!).  Even the fact that it feels like the day is waning by 3 pm hasn’t really fazed me – though I’m sure it would if I lived here!

This is perfect weather for walking, even just strolling, admiring the landscape and snapping away.  It isn’t yet so cold that being outdoors becomes something of a trial.  I have hopes for some great photos for once!  More later!!

It does look, though, as if Autumn came suddenly and too soon for this poor bee, who, it seems, met his fate whilst still working at his pollen collection.


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Barbeque in the Great Outdoors! – Ten Things To Do in Tenerife, which won’t cost a fortune – No 3

I wonder where else in the world you could spend a New Year’s Day in a bikini top and shorts, lying on a blanket, after stuffing yourself with barbeque, and the next year spend the same day in a parka, wrapping your fingers around a hot chocolate to keep warm, after having a snowball fight with the kids a bit higher up the mountain? Welcome to, as I keep saying, the diversity that is Tenerife.

The specific place in question was a barbeque area called Las Lajas, which is a click above Vilaflor. Now, when I tell you that Vilaflor is the highest village in Spain it might clarify things. Were we further North, then Vilaflor would spend the Winter under snow, but in the subtropics, well, let’s just say, it can vary, but, of course it doesn’t have to be Winter! In fact, people don’t tend to go there in winter. Last time I was there was mid-March, and there were only a couple of groups barbequing. It was a pleasant day, it had been warm on the coast, but when we arrived at Las Lajas we’d donned sweaters or light jackets, nothing heavy. During the time we were there mist rolled in from time to time, hiding the surrounding hills from view, and playing amongst the trees.

Las Lajas is set on the edge of the forest, just as the trees begin to thin out, and the road climbs up to the stark landscape of the caldera. The most frequent similarity I’ve heard when taking visiting friends up there is that it’s like Canada. That’s a comparison I have yet to draw – Canada being high on my list of places still to visit, well, other than a day spent at Niagra Falls! The forests on this side of the island are dominated by the Canarian pine (Pinus canariensis), but in the North, where it is more humid, you will find eucalyptus and laurel. To be honest, given the reason you’re going this day, i.e. to barbeque, you’re not likely to see an awful lot in the way of exotic fauna, but if it is quiet enough, and if you listen and keep your eyes open, then probably you’ll spot some woodpeckers flitting about the trees.

Smoke from the barbeques filters up through the branches, as the sunlight filters downwards

This particular area, and 18 others, were created by the Environmental Ministry of the Canarian Government. You will find a map, showing where they are all sited here:

http://www.gobiernodecanarias.org/cmayot/medioambiente/medionatural/equipamientosusopublico/guia_equipamientos_naturaleza/guiaequip.jsp?id_isla=40&id_tipo=2

I still haven’t visited them all, even after all these years. For residents of, or visitors to, the South of the island, Las Lajas or Chio are the nearest. Everyone I’ve visited has running water, barbeques, and natural, wooden tables and benches. After that, facilities vary. In Las Lajas in high season, for instance, there is a bar/café. It used to open in Winter too, serving delicious lumumbas on a chilly day.  Lumumbas are a marvellous concoction of hot chocolate liberally laced with rum, so not to be indulged in if you are designated driver, I’m afraid! You can click on the map in the link to find out if you want to know more about the sites and the facilities at each one.

Las Lajas

The barbeques are attractive, built from volcanic stone, they blend into the landscape perfectly,  and are large, so if you are a big group, no worries, you’ll all be able to sit down together to share the feast. In Las Lajas they are dotted around the area, back-to-back, so that when you are cooking, you’re facing the “chef” of another group opposite to you. In this one, below,  in the Mercedes Mountains they are sited in a long line.

The terrain is different here, less flat space to dot them around. Whichever setup you find, there is no doubt that you will be exchanging cooking tips and a beer with your neighbor.

In Summer, to be sure of securing the table and the space you need for your group, get there by midday at the latest and stake your claim, by mid-afternoon people will be queuing for the barbeques, but always with good humor, when someone sees that yours is free, they will ask if they can use it now, and if they don’t have a table, they will picnic close by. Select your table with care, remember the position of the sun will change, and whilst you don’t want to be eating with the sun baking the back of your neck, neither do you want to be in too much shade, where it can get surprisingly chilly, even on a sunny day, except in high summer.

Get as big a group together as you can, and if there are any musicians amongst your friends, and they play a portable instrument, persuade them to take it. One guitarist can set the scene for everyone. People take radios and stereos, and no-one seems to object to the noise. Leisure and social activities in the Canary Islands generally are noisy affairs, whatever you’re doing or wherever you are. The only time tranquillity descends is during the hours of siesta. It goes without saying, too – take the dog. It will love the food and the freedom to root about the forest, if you are on vacation, borrow one, so you won’t feel so much like a tourist!

In Summer the fire risk is high, and in an especially dry one, the areas will be closed and barbeques banned for the duration. To prevent willy nilly, and illegal, cutting and pruning of trees the forestry service cuts and stacks logs ready for you to use. Not a bad idea to take an axe, though, as sometimes the logs can be a bit unwieldy. For kindling you have tons of pine needles in the woods around you. Smoking is not recommended, by the way, because of the fire risk (not to mention the health risk, but that’s another story, eh?). If you must, please, please, please make sure you put them out properly or throw them onto the fire.

Things you need to remember: cooking utensils – the barbeques are large and wide, so a big pair of tongs/other utensils to reach across; if you don’t smoke don’t forget the matches or lighter to get it going; crockery and cutlery – you don’t have to be environmentally unfriendly or go to the expense of  buying plastic versions, check that the place you choose has running water, most, if not all, do, so you can rinse off your plates and dishes before packing them up to take home; sun cream – the air is crystal clear and the sun can be fierce, just because you aren’t going specifically to sunbathe doesn’t mean you can’t burn; and our running joke for years used to be “who remembered the toothpicks?”

Other than that, the ideas are yours, anything that can be cooked on a barbeque at home, and more, can be cooked here. I’ve seen paellas, soups and stews bubbling away, as well as Western barbeque dishes, and your near neighbors will most certainly offer you a taste of whatever they are cooking, whether it’s spicy, local sausages or lomo, fish or sweet black puddings, so make sure you have enough to return the favour. For fun we used to take something English too, so that we could have our very own inter- cultural exchange. Cumberland sausages always go down a treat, and an Egyptian friend used to make kofta kebabs on the spot, mixing in all the spices at the table, and arousing much curiosity. It goes without saying that anything cooked and eaten outdoors tastes SO much better than stuck under the grill at home!

After eating what to do next is a hard decision (note the smile). You can simply spread out a blanket under a tree and read or snooze, or you can spread it in the sun, at the right time of year, and snooze and toast. If you have small children, choose a site which has a playground, with slides and swings made from natural wood. If the kids are a bit older then there are pitches on some sites, where you can organize a game of football, cricket, baseball, or whatever….you can challenge another group, or take enough people to make up a game! There are walks through the surrounding woodland on all the sites I think, so that’s always a pleasant alternative, especially if you’ve taken the dog and/or the camera.

Climbing the hill at the side of the football pitch at Las Lajas will reward you with this gorgeous view of the island of La Gomera on a clear day.

Mental snapshots from the years include a huge family group, carrying a frail granny, or probably great-granny, to sit under the shade of a tree, where she smilingly watched the family cooking, playing and interacting, and each of them taking time to spend with her; groups of old timers playing cards and other games, as they swig local wine from flasks; some best memories of my kids’ childhoods, exciting games of “A Team”, hiding behind trees and hillocks and lobbing “grenades” (pine cones) at the approaching enemy; and one of the best school sports’ days ever, when the boys were little, was held at Las Lajas. I think I have somewhere a picture of me wobbling to first base in a game of rounders…happily before digital days, so you won’t be seeing it here!

End of the day, the rule is leave behind only footprints and take with you only memories, although I’m reasonably sure it’s ok to take a few pine cones to use as weather indicators or to jazz up for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table centrepiece. For sure everyone does it. There are ample rubbish bins, so there is no excuse for leaving behind trash, and it is amazing how people do respect that. I’ve often been amongst the last to leave a place, and no garbage in sight at all. Whilst I’ve seen recycling bins in the National Park in places, so far I haven’t spotted any in these recreation areas, but how difficult is it to bag it and pop it in the bins when you get back?

Don’t drink and drive, of course, the road down is winding, it might be misty (I’ve driven on these roads when you couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead, and the mist can close in in the time it takes to snap your fingers), and if you have a carful you have precious cargo. Wait for the well-earned sundowner when you get back to the coast.

As well as these wonderfully organized places run by the Environmental Agency many local municipalities have their own versions, which are in regular use year round, and often the scene of children’s birthday parties. Off the top of my head, within a bit over a half hour at most from where I sit in El Médano, I could find one in San Miguel de Abona, in Granadilla, in La Camella, in Santiago del Teide, and I am sure there are more.

Where you won’t find them is in tourist resorts, and you will rarely hear anything other than Spanish spoken when you do venture up to one. Thankfully, so far, they remain a very local experience, which makes it all the nicer – so please be careful with whom you share this information ;=)

This post was part of a series, here are the others:

Be a beach bum!

Take a drive through the Teide National Park

Barbeque in the “Great Outdoors”

Mooch the Markets

Party like a local!

Follow local sports

Free Summer concerts

Try Shanks’s Pony!

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