Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


The One Where I Get a Bit Nostalgic

When I decided to expand the theme of this blog (coming soon! keep on reading, folks!) I wondered about fitting  in ramblings about the country of my birth, England, but, of course it’s a part of  Great Britain or…..the British Isles – voilá it fits….happily since my trip to UK this time took in some old haunts en route to WTM.

It had been some years since I’d visited my home town, and this was pretty much a flying visit, with plans constantly being forced to change. After sitting for two hours on the sultry tarmac at South Tenerife airport due to non-functioning air conditioing,  I, actually, didn’t think I could ever feel cold again! Not so!

I left a wave of heat which hadn’t eased up much since it began in late Spring, and I woke my first morning in my friend Maggie’s house to a crisp morning of crystal-clear sky and a light frost on the lawn. I pulled on clothes and grabbed the camera. Maggie and Mike live in the swathe of flat, green countryside between Blackpool and Preston, and I could see  a hazy sun emerging across the fields. Mike came out to see what I was doing, bemused, I think, by my attempts to photograph the slight frosting on the grass – a sight uncommon to me, but not to him!

Suddenly, he pointed upwards and  I heard a mournful cacophony which used to be very familiar. Following his pointing finger I saw the skein of geese in that unmistakable,  shifting V-shape as it strung out across the blue. Years ago I’d lived in an area like this, and the excited gabbling of  migrating geese was something which confirmed the onset of the “dark side” – those winter months I’d rather not remember!

It was from the geese I learned the word sehnsucht – their cries echoed that yearning inside of me to be in warmer, far-flung places as winter engulfed northern England.

A couple of days later and back on GMT, my cold fingers fumbled to capture an Irish Sea sunset from the beach at Cleveleys, north of Blackpool at what seemed a ridiculously early hour. The Promenade here has been remodeled since I was there, years ago, and its stark but graceful lines and colors now reflect those of the coastline. It was a little chill, but utterly in keeping with the place. The tide here goes out so far that you can’t even see the sea, as a small child I used to think that it disappeared over the edge of the world.

Moody skies over the Lake District hills from Cleveleys Promenade

Here there was that slightly desolate feeling I used to get at this time of year. The bleak sea breeze permeated my inadequate clothing (I long ago used up all my cold-weather clothing!), and whilst I admit to pangs of nostalgia, the short walk was enough to confirm my decision to have emigrated…….it would cost me far too much in clothing to live here now, but do you see all those dots on the pictures? They are all folk out taking a bracing stroll – hardy, these Northerners!

What made me more nostalgic was a visit earlier in the day, with my friend, Pat, to Stanley Park in Blackpool, a place I’d been taken to as a child and in turn took my own kids. It was also close to my senior school and the place we would sneak out to on occasion to read on the grassy knolls around the lake. Here I found the Autumn I always seek at this time of year.

The golden leaves, the sunlight through the trees and all that jazz. And, speaking of jazz, we had a very nice lunch in the café by the Rose Garden, which is, apparently, seared on my memory, because I remembered it quite clearly, the Art Deco-ish decor which must have been very popular in the Blackpool of my childhood I think. Even the brass boxes on the loo doors remained, although these days you don’t have to pay – tell me how could I get nostalgic about a box on a toilet door?…..jazz because on weekends they have jazz there, which I have marked down to go see on my next summer visit! Lovely venue right by the rose garden.

Stanley Park Rose Garden, Blackpool with the café to the left.

My few, short days on the Fylde Coast were warmed by wonderful friendships which have weathered the years and all life’s changes; by scrumptious full-on breakfasts and home-cooked dinners; by babies – my goddaughter’s, the next generation, and by happy memories, but much as I am glad to have grown up there (I think it made me tougher, physically and perhaps mentally) I’m more than happy to return to the sunshine and the sub-tropics!



Finding Autumn at last on Tenerife!

Okay – I can hear you saying, “If she misses Fall so much why doesn’t she just move?” – so this will be the last time I mention it for this year, and anyhow I can now tell you that I know just where to go to get my Autumnal fix next year.

Some days here, October through May, dawn is so incandescently clear it simply makes me want to cry.  The heat haze of summer gone for a few months, no Sahara dust hovering in the air, and early enough so that the clouds which encircle the mountains later in the day are still abed. Yesterday was one of those days.

Cristina and I, for different reasons,  had missed hiking on Sunday with  friends, and since it was her day off yesterday, and I badly needed some fresh air, my sinuses filled with dust from all the pre-removal packing, we decided to head up to Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor (roughly 4,590 ft above sea level), for some fresh, mountain air. We left the south coast as the sun’s rays began to warm the skin, passed through Vilaflor and left the car by the roadside a little higher, at the beginning of the entry road to the Madre de Agua recreational area.

Just stepping out of the car the atmosphere felt different  – sights, sounds and the feel of cool air on the face are all a world away from the beaches. Though on the first steps of the walk we could see a landscape still in need of rain, it was nowhere near as parched as the coast. Vilaflor is an agricultural area, and soon we were looking down onto cultivated terraces, and over the tops of pines and hillsides to the ocean.  Montaña Roja, which I always think of as marking my home, was clearly visible, and though the countryside was dappled with shadows from passing clouds, the ocean still sparkled way below.

This route would take us through the municipalities of both Granadilla de Abona and Vilaflor, land which is the source of the bottled waters of Tenerife. Right now dried-up streams and water courses mark the route.  When the rains come, any time now, they will be in full flow again, and the detritus of summer will be washed away.

What I hadn’t expected was to turn a corner and see Fall colors, yellows and golds clinging to the black skeletons of chestnut trees.  I really hadn’t realized that they grew over this side of the mountains.  We noted that they aren’t the tall, leafy trees of the northern slopes, but seem stunted, as if deprived of some ingredient to make them grow.  Nevertheless, broken shells of chestnuts littered the ground along with the fallen leaves.  Clearly there had been fruit, and folk had been here to collect the bounty.




We walked for a couple of tranquil hours, occasionally greeting other walkers, returning or overtaking us.  It was good to see that people now realize just how rich this island is in walking routes as well as beaches. We breathed that fresh, energizing scent of pine trees.  We stopped and perched in a wee, stone circle to lunch, the sort of place I would have thought of as a fairy meeting place when I was little. I’d made sandwiches of  turkey mortadella – well, it was Thanksgiving!

When turning to return, we met the mists which we’d seen drifting through the tall pines, vistas which had been clear were now hazy, and the graceful needles of the Canary pines were strung with droplets of brume, and looked like delicate Christmas decorations.  The air now was perfumed with the smell of wild fennel, which reminded me of summer. It must have been aroused by the damp.


The colors of the  bare rock faces, which had appeared dry, now glowed, their reds and ochres enriched by the moisture, and I found the last flower in this autumnal scene amongst the dead leaves and grasses.

Now I know where to come when my homesickness for Autumn kicks in.


A Forgotten Post and a Forgotten Lifestyle

Travel is partly about contrasts, even when it’s to places you know fairly well. The contrast jerks you out of the rut which is inevitable if you stay anywhere for any length of time, and makes you look at things in a different way.  I scribbled most of this when I was flying back from England last month, but with thoughts of marathons, American football and pretty Welsh villages crowding my mind, I must have forgotten about it, and it only turned up yesterday as I was sorting through some papers.

I journeyed from a familiar place to a familiar country, albeit an unfamiliar part of it. This was my second visit to Guildford, the first was only in April. A true northerner, outside of London, I don’t know the south of the country of my birth at all. I had forays to Torquay, Dover, Bournemouth, Plymouth and places en route, but I never spent any significant time south of Birmingham, let alone of Watford.

Discovering Guildford last spring was a delight. The blossom, the willows bending over the river Wey, the neatness and the well-preserved state of the old buildings was balm to eyes accustomed to a desert landscape. Even in October, with leaves red and gold amongst the green, and some trees already bare, there was richness to the scenery. There is a long history there, although its beginnings are uncertain. It seems as if the area wasn’t of any interest to the Romans, but soon after they gave up on Britain, a Saxon settlement was established, and it’s been a thriving community ever since.

The origin of the name is uncertain, but there are two, main theories. It seems to come from the word “gold”, and refer to either golden sand on the river bank, or golden-colored flowers which grew there.

Modern Guildford is most definitely thriving. On the weekend I visited, the High Street thronged with shoppers, and the volume and quality of goods in the shops were quite breathtaking, really hard to believe that there’s a recession there. A disadvantage of living on an island is simply that there are some things which will never be imported. The market will always be insufficient for some traders. Hence my nose pressed up against shop windows in Guildford! A recent visit to the Meridiano shopping mall in Santa Cruz had been disappointing, every shop seemed to stock the same things, but in Guildford there were clothes of every type and hue and size, all the latest books, and, well, I have to admit to sheer confusion when I went to Boots to buy shampoo (pause for melodramatic sigh) there was just too much choice for me!

Wandering the main streets, evidence of Guildford’s history was all around. The guildhall dates back to 1300, although it’s been extended and altered over the centuries in between, and by contrast the town is now quite famous as home to well-known video games designers, producing world-famous products. This apparently follows a pattern in the area’s development. From a Saxon village of 700 souls to a population of almost 67,000 today, there has been a steady blossoming. On my first visit, last April, it crossed my mind that possibly it’s the kind of place which foreigners think of as “typically English”……a quaint, cobbled town centre, beautiful walks along a picturesque river and canals, rolling, green fields beyond and expensive houses to be glimpsed amongst the surrounding trees. It’s affluent and pleasant, most of the people we met whilst walking had smiles, including a lovely lady walking her Jack Russell, who spent a good while chatting with us. In addition, it’s only 35 minutes by train to London for theater, art galleries and history, and great sporting events.

There has to be a snag, right? English people will already have guess what it is ….. the cost of living in Guildford is said to be the highest outside of London. Still, it was a good visit. The high street is lined with great shopping, but also with excellent restaurants, most of them totally booked up on Saturday night, another sign that the recession is maybe be biting less there than elsewhere?

I considered it our luck, though, that we found a table in the delightful “Coal” bistro (so good I excuse them the glaring mistake of grammar on this page, one which always makes me cringe!) which I would recommend without hesitation. It’s a chain, but not a huge, impersonal one. Not only was the food delicious but the service was outstanding, and the atmosphere relaxed and mellow. The next night we tried Wagamama, which is a dining experience I’d been looking forward to since I first read about it. One of a chain again,  friendly but basic (as advertised), and the food was perfect. It really was Asian food with a new twist, which is what they say, and the touch of offering free green tea went down well with me, since I was on a health kick!

My favorite is Giraffe though. Guy took me for breakfast there in April, and going back was high on my to-do list for my October trip. No wonder it’s so busy, but we snuck in just before the Sunday brunch crowds, happily. Smoothies and Eggs Benedict (as good as I Hop’s), in fact, eggs just about any way you’d like them, plus other breakfast/brunch goodies. No wonder that I needed a brisk walk by the river to walk it all off! I didn’t even look at the evening menu – well you have to leave something for next time’s adventure.  I’ve made a note that they have a restaurant at Manchester Airport now, so I’ll remember that when I’m trip planning my next visit “home”.

The thing which strikes me now about all three of these places is that they are all chains.  When I left the UK 23 years ago, dining in a chain restaurant almost always meant lower quality, but all of these had that feeling of a privately-run business, pride in service and product, and a cosy kind of feel.  It brought home to me again that I’ve really become quite out of touch with everyday life in the UK.


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.