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Reap What You Sow

When we took on the allotment we decided we were in it for the long haul. Over several seasons we have worked truly countless hours to mould the land to our will, at least if you squint your eyes. At times it has felt like a leap of faith during fallow periods in which there has been nothing to show for the effort. You become so accustomed to hard slog for future benefit that when the future arrives it’s an almost unexpected joy. Harvest time is the season of repayment.

In our first year the sensation of shovelling through the soil for potatoes was akin to panning for gold. Each spud was an exciting find tempered only by the realisation that burrowing insects and disease had damaged some of the crop.

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Where there’s muck there’s spuds

The sensation of anticipation is still there in year 3 but there is also the realisation that the spuds have to be lifted dried and stored. This is a messy ritual that takes the dining table out of action for a few weeks, but we know what to expect now. A move to disease resistant varieties has increased the yield but extended the dining room moratorium.

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An unbalanced diet

The real “growth area” on our plot is the deluge of soft fruit that arrives starting in early summer. This shouldn’t be a surprise – we did plant it after all – but when it is thriving like this you have to keep right on top of things in order to preserve the produce and encourage future growth.

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Another fruitful day

I have found that blackberries and raspberries need to be picked at least every 2 days during peak season or the fruit goes too soft. Then it’s not just the over-ripened fruit you are losing out on – the next round of fruit takes a hit as growing power is diverted from them. There can be no greater pleasure than picking the ripest fruit on a balmy evening after a day in the office.

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Wash, dry, freeze, repeat

The thing is – there’s a lot to do when you get home with your kilos of soft fruit. Of course you consume what you need but blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and redcurrants all need to be washed, dried, frozen on a tray and then transferred to a freezer bag. When you preserving a kilo of fruit like this every 2 days it feels like the kitchen is home to a production line.

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Maybe you can have too much of a good thing

Redcurrants can be picked much less regularly but when you do harvest the volumes are incredible. I extracted over 10kg of fruit in three pickings and each time it took over a week to wash, dry, freeze and bag. Gluts of produce are a way of life for allotment holders. The art of custodianship is, wherever possible, to plant for successive cropping and to have an inkling of what you will do with the produce when it arrives.

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Don’t freeze, just eat

Some produce can’t easily be preserved. You can make jam out of strawberries but unless you have a large volume in one go it’s less hassle to simply enjoy them fresh. Cavalo Nero, the in-vogue king of kale needs to be consumed fresh before it gets tough or succumbs to minute white insects. One can only devour so much kale, without strange things happening, I would imagine.

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So many peppers from one plant

Every year some crops struggle while others go mad. This year the peas have remained pretty dormant but the peppers can’t stop producing. We have meaty varieties that put mass produced varieties to shame. What doesn’t get used in salads can be pickled. Respective gluts of cucumbers (tasty and wholesome next to their bland, watery supermarket cousins) and jalapenos are great candidates for pickling, although that also takes some time.

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Chillies – great for preserving

Also this year the French beans and runner beans have been prolific, as they often are. I can wash, trim, blanch and freeze these in my sleep now, which is useful because that’s the only free time I have during this period.

As we have developed the plot and built on our experiences our main focus has moved away from simply trying to grow things. Now we aim to control what arrives when. A polytunnel opens up great possibilities here by extending the growing season. As I write this in later October a few strawberries are still coming through in this protected environment!

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Strawberries before ripening in the polytunnel

Also, with main crops established, thoughts turn to widening our repertoire. Edible nasturtiums make an attractive salad garnish and spread like weeds across the plot.

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That classic combination of Nasturtiams and Beetroot

Harvest time isn’t all about gluts of produce. These globe artichokes and rhubarb sticks are rarer treats that must be enjoyed in moderation. Globes in particular take up too much space to grow in volume.

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Barbs and chokes

Crops like these take back seat during the busy harvest period and if you aren’t careful they are past their best before you remember they are there.

Summer has passed now and the light evenings spent filling a wicker basket to the brim with goodies is over for another year. There is still plenty going on but things are less frenetic now. Our first foray into carrots has gone well and we are crossing our fingers for the sweetcorn which is almost but not quite ready to harvest. The darker months will be good for brassicas and whatever we can persuade to grow in the polytunnel.

With the onset of autumn I miss those light evenings spent picking, if not the work that follows, but there will be no regrets. Especially in darkest February when there are frozen fruits, vegetables pickles to enjoy. There are times when all of this makes sense.

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The Sudden View

What makes for travel adventure in this day and age? I reflect upon this over my holiday reading: “The Sudden View” – a literary classic written by Sybille Bedford in 1953. This account of an extended visit to Mexico relates the tale of 2 women travelling by steam train through the southern US states, across the border to a land they know only through reputation and tenuous recommendation. It’s a journey not just into the unknown but into a bygone age of travel.

The Sudden View

The Sudden View

Today’s world feels distinctly smaller. Travel has become more of a commodity and destinations a marketed product. At least that’s how it feels sometimes, but the truth is that a sense of adventure always comes down to personal experience. There may be few untrod paths these days but there are many untrod by us individually.

Imbued by the spirit of discovery I set out on a circular coastal walk from my quaint holiday cottage in Fowey. The sun is out and my weary knees are not complaining for a change, or maybe I’m just not listening as I head out through the fields of corn.

Correctly spaced

Correctly spaced

Having recently planted sweetcorn in our allotment I’m very pleased to observe a 40cm gap between rows as this is pretty much how I set out my own planting, albeit on a rather more modest scale

There’s a very rural feel to this walk so far. With no sea view yet I could be in Shropshire but for the faintest taste of salt in the air. Gradually there are more clues. The path gradually descends and a lone seagull hovers briefly before gliding back over the tall hedgerow. Am I imaging it or are herring bone walls a coastal thing?

Herring bone wall

Herring bone wall

It occurs to me how relaxed I have become. Walking is brilliant for emptying your head of all that everyday nonsense you carry around unwittingly. I’m in the moment and ever so slightly blissful.

In the moment

In the moment

My first human encounter givs cause for concern. A jogger running toward me stops to ask me which direction the sea is in. I had rather hoped it was in the direction she had come from…

Fifteen minutes later the verdant passage takes a sharp left and drops reassuringly towards an imagined coast. And there – out of nowhere – is a sudden view.

My sudden view

My sudden view

I can see a grand country cottage set in immaculate grounds across a placid lake. A duck paddles into view. I hadn’t expected this. When the path reaches the shoreline things begin to make more sense. The small lake sits behind the arc of Polridmouth Cove.

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

This scene is enchanting. The southwest coast path intersects a manicured postcard cottage view to the right and the rugged Cornish bay to the left. The effect is quite intruiging. There’s not another soul to be seen and I spend a couple of minutes absorbing the view in a world of my own.

Tranquility

Tranquility

Unlike the relentless crashing waves of the north Cornish coastline this southern sea is flat and inviting. There are countless flat stones and I feel compelled to skim some. I skim some. The beach is mine alone. I long to be a resident of the adjacent cottage, just a stone skim behind me. This is a bubble I wish to remain in.

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

The bubble bursts. Three scallywag friends race across the sands, their excitement palpable! A lady, their owner, hoves into view with a look of mild exasperation. One of her hounds is joyfully playing with a ball that belongs to a dog in the adjoining cove and now she will have to take it all the way back and apologise to the owner. Such a British scene.

Onward and upward

Onward and upward

It’s time for me to move on. Gribben Head beckons. The path heads up onto the cliff over a lush carpet of grass that appears to have been meticulously mowed. I’m reminded of a similarly idyllic climb some 15 years ago upon suspiciously perfect spongy lush grass atop the commanding chalk cliffs on the Isle Of Wight towards The Needles. That was a hot summer dream of a walk, capped off by the king of cream teas at a remote farm cottage. That cream tea…

Do look back

Do look back

Over my shoulder the coastline unfolds past Polridmouth Cove to the Fowey Estuary and the hilltop extent of Polruan, then beyond. The land of smugglers. The land of Poldark, if you are a BBC marketing executive or an employee of the Cornish tourist board.

Not a lighthouse

Not a lighthouse

The monolithic Gribben Tower has been on my radar since the descent into the cove, but only now do I realise it isn’t a lighthouse. In fact it’s an 84ft tall “daymark” intended to help sailors pinpoint Fowey harbour. An information board tells me I have visited at the wrong time of month to go up the tower. It also claims that regional author Daphne du Maurier framed many of her novels around this headland, with Rebecca specifically set at Polridmouth – a mere stroll from her latter years dwelling in Menabilly.

No seals today

No seals today

As the path continues due north it flattens up and offers clear vision over the wide bay to Charlestown – if only I could recognise it. I hope to spot a seal basking on the rocks below but today they must be out fishing. The walking is easy and broken only by the passing of a comically endless train of ramblers. I start of with Hello, and transition through Guten Tag to Grüß Gott as I realise this is a German, no – Bavarian walking party. I have encountered a lot of Germans enjoying this part of Cornwall. They get it.

Polkerris Bay

Polkerris Bay

The miniscule harbour at Polkerris Bay provides a peaceful sanctuary for the few who are visiting today. Limited access and parking mean that the beach can never become too crowded, while a pub and hip beach café mean visitors are well catered for. There’s time to pause for a coffee whose mediocrity is forgiven by the friendliness of its serving.

My route breaks from the coast at this point to return inland across farming country. A mercifully brief steep climb leads to a farmyard with outbuildings that I want to nose into but there are workers about so I pause only to admire the tractor.

The mighty Ford 3000

The mighty Ford 3000

Tractor enthusiasts (they do exist) would share my appreciation for the beauty of this beast. As a child I had a die-cast model just like this. This is either a modern clone or really just that old, though it looks in good nick. The surrounding fields hum with activity as machinery works the land. My path is cordoned off for a detour around a field of crops being harvested today, before crossing the Saints Way – a 27 mile walking route from Fowey on the south coast to Padstow on the North.

The divine path

The divine path

This strikes me as a fun 2 day trek for some future visit, to be topped off with fish and chips plus a pint of Doom Bar overlooking Padstow harbour.

Every inch of land on the path back to Fowey appears to be cultivated. Where is the fallow field? After half a mile two cottages flank my way and outside one stands a trestle table bearing surplus produce beneath a hand written sign that says Help Yourself. I liberate an oversized cucumber with lunch in mind. But the walk isn’t quite over yet and there’s time for one final sudden view.

Happy as pigs in mud

Happy as pigs in mud

I love pigs. Any creature that is happy dozing in a puddle of mud has my admiration. This small holding is home to a couple of sows and a litter of not-so-thin piglets. One of the mums sniffs her way over to see me. What can I give her? I have nothing … oh, the cucumber.

Feeding time

Feeding time

Poor mum. One of the piglets is pestering her for milk and she doesn’t seem in the mood. Eventually she gives in and is besieged by little snouts all wanting a feed. So much for the easy life.

Ten minutes later I’m sitting in my cottage garden with a cool drink. The GPS tracker records the route at around 6 miles over a leisurely 3 hour period. I pick up my book to find Sybille is getting to grips with Mexico City but all I can think about are the images and sensations of this morning’s mini-adventure. Reading can wait for a dull day at home. There are more untrod paths to discover here – starting with one that leads to lunch…

Île Maurice

You have to travel a long way from the UK for guaranteed sunshine in February. Long haul for the sake of the weather doesn’t really sit well with me but it’s surprising how easily long months of winter gloom can change ones mind.

Imagine flying a seemingly endless distance to the coast of Mozambique in south east Africa. Then continue for another 1000 miles out to sea with only the land mass of Madagascar briefly interrupting your view before touching down on the island of Mauritius.

You might expect such a remote destination to be short on narrative yet Mauritius has plenty of character and much to call its own.

Back of beyond

Back of beyond

The Dutch were the first to set up base on the desolate island in the 17th century, treating it as a military outpost and naming it after their nobility. After they abandoned the island the French grabbed it for their own before the British came along and took Mauritius by force. Throw in the slaves shipped in from Africa and the Indian immigrants who came to work following the abolition of slavery in 1835 and you have a lot of human diversity on an island that was uninhabited only 200 years earlier.

Roll on 2017. Here is what I experienced during my stay…

Agriculture

Sugarcane being crushed for its nectar

Sugarcane being crushed for its nectar

Today you can (and should) visit a Rum distillery. Sugarcane is not native to the islands but was brought in by the colonisers in order to produce Rum which was a principle factor in keeping sailors happy and navies running. Now sugarcane seems to grow on every exposed patch of land.

Rum distillery

Rum distillery

For a long time the distilleries were producing low grade Rum for naval distribution alone but now (some) Mauritian Rum is held in high esteem.

Not just for the sailors

Not just for the sailors

Needless to say I tried every single variety on my factory visit in order to honour this important industry.

Another agricultural mainstay, tea, thrives in the southern region with its stable growing conditions. The British were predictably in charge at this point.

Tea leaves. Lots of them

Tea leaves. Lots of them

A trip to the Bois Cheri tea factory is well worth it. Even before I arrived the sight of hunched labourers hand-picking leaves in the plantations was quite an eye opener. This must be such a physically demanding job.

The factory tour, following production from leaf to sealed box, provides an assault to the senses. You have the sea of green leaves as they are hauled around the building.

Yes, this woman really is is sweeping loose leaves from the floor and returning them to the conveyor…

Yes, this woman really is is sweeping loose leaves from the floor and returning them to the conveyor…

There’s the not unpleasant smell of unprocessed tea leaves which no doubt loses it’s appeal after a few work shifts. You have the heat of the ovens used for – I’m not sure what, because the sheer racket of the manufacturing machinery drowned out the voice of the tour guide.

The machine that puts the stringed labels onto the tea bags

The machine that puts the stringed labels onto the tea bags

You couldn’t describe the facilities here as state of the art. Much of machinery appeared to date from the 50’s and there is still a high reliance on manual labour.

Down at the plantation

Down at the plantation

The tour ends at a café balcony where you can try a dozen varieties of tea while admiring grand lakeside views of the plantation.

Tourism

When you consider the physical barriers to visiting Mauritius and the fact that island does very well out of agriculture and services it’s no surprise that the booming tourism industry is selectively geared toward those seeking a high end luxury experience.

Room with a view

Room with a view

If you want go somewhere tropical for relaxation Mauritius provides a fine choice of destinations and hotels. Aside from the climate which seems to ticks along at around 30 degrees all year long (watch out for the odd cyclone) the beaches are fabulous, and as for the sea…

Swimming with the fishes

Swimming with the fishes

The snorkelling might not rival that of the “neighbouring” Maldives but a coral reef that encircles the island creates a 300m apron of warm shallow water – perfect for watersports. I safely enjoyed snorkelling and kayaking, with the only danger coming at the hands of a pedalo that would only turn right. A GPS trace of my route would have looked like a drunk bumble bee.

Traditional Mauritian Cornish ice cream van

Traditional Mauritian Cornish ice cream van

That said you wouldn’t want to try and swim across the reef. The rest of your life would look something like: Get sliced to pieces on coral; Be mauled to death by sharks; Sink to the bottom of a very deep sea trench.

This looks like a lot of fun!

This looks like a lot of fun!

Fortunately there are Catamarans and sea planes for those wanting to venture further from shore.

Of course tourism these days isn’t just about sitting on a beach. People visit for a variety of reasons and nature tourism is a growth area.

You only have to look out at the palm fronds to catch the wildlife bug. I fell in love with the vivid red Madagascan Fody – as charismatic as they were colourful.

Feisty fellow

Feisty fellow

This chap followed a set routine of flight each day between three trees, proudly protecting his territory from any unwanted visitors. The Robin of the island.

Another favourite was the Red Whiskered Bulbul with its punky head feathers and tuneful call. Less often seen but commonly heard was the Common Myna – famed for its mimicry.

The most famous bird of Mauritius, indeed the most ubiquitous icon of Mauritius is omnipresent, despite the fact that it became extinct 350 years ago.

What we think the Dodo looked like…

What we think the Dodo looked like…

Everybody knows the legend of the Dodo, the flightless bird that was driven to extinction by its first and last predator – man. It’s everywhere. On book covers, T-shirts, postcards and even on bank notes.

Dodo – gone but not forgotten

Dodo – gone but not forgotten

Another species hunted to the verge of extinction has made a notable and welcome return to these shores. The giant turtle may once have appealed to the hungry settler but now they are drawing in the tourists. Meeting these remarkable creatures was unquestionably the highlight of my time in Mauritius.

Even older than me

Even older than me

I was even able to feed them during my trip to the Crocodile park – a curious zoo/eatery where one can view the crocodiles and then eat them at the restaurant. I’m pleased to say giant turtle is no longer on the menu.

As a footnote I was interested to learn that Charles Darwin spent 10 days in Mauritius as he developed his theories of evolution. Such a remote island would surely have provided valuable insights into his studies. When I realised that one of the hotel staff was called Darwin I asked if he was named after Charles Darwin. He said he wasn’t sure – his grandmother had chosen the name. I think we can be sure…

Life

Ten days on a remote island as a tourist probably doesn’t provide the soundest base for understanding a nation but as ever I just try to interpret what I see and hear.

Mauritius has been deemed to be the richest country in Africa. Since I didn’t see any extreme trappings of wealth on my travels around the island I think it’s safe to say that the money is not distributed evenly. All the same I didn’t witness homelessness, begging or overt poverty, which you increasingly observe in Britain.

The Mauritians I talked to were hard working and in many cases held down more than one job depending on the season.

After school games – Mauritians are obsessed by English football

After school games – Mauritians are obsessed by English football

Schooling is free here and literacy rates have increased above 90%. Children learn English and French (the official languages) while many also speak Creole – a variation of French originally spoken by African slaves brought over to the islands by colonists.

There is a University on the island, while some rich families send pay for their children to attend University in Europe. It’s little surprise that most young adults speak at least one more language than me!

Make do and mend – no need to replace these bus seat covers yet

Make do and mend – no need to replace these bus seat covers yet

A bus trip to the nearby town of Goodlands was educational. The buses may be ancient but they provide value and entertainment. Every passenger seems to know every other passenger with boarders patting the shoulders of seated friends as they walk the aisle. Smartly dressed ladies converge to share the latest news. All smiles!

Mauritians take pride in their properties. Even the most humble homes I saw had colourful and well maintained gardens.

Dholl Puri – a national speciality

Dholl Puri – a national speciality

The market I visited was a considerably hotter version of markets everywhere, with fabric stalls, fast food and fresh fruit. There seemed to be a slower pace here with no pressure to get things done quickly (the heat?) and as an outsider it was an unpressured and friendly experience.

On another sweltering day the bus was taking an eternity to arrive so we got a ride in a “share taxi”.

Sharing a ride

Sharing a ride

These popular taxis will take multiple occupants to the same destination for a fixed fee so you end up paying a low amount with whoever else jumps into the cab. I loved the social aspect of ride sharing and it was heartening to see the devotion this driver had for his clapped out vehicle – his means of income.

Interior trim lovingly repaired!

Interior trim lovingly repaired!

Unusually for me I haven’t droned on about food yet. Tropical fruit is part of the Mauritian diet. Pineapples and coconuts were in plentiful supply but we missed out on apricots and avocados – it wasn’t the season. Fish is another obvious staple.

Underneath the Banyan tree

Underneath the Banyan tree

I read that at many coastal villages there is a man who meets fisherman as they return to shore and negotiates a price for the catch, which is then sold on to the public and restaurateurs. This man is known as a Banyan because he waits under a banyan tree for shade!

A good catch

A good catch

It’s not clear how much of this is anecdotal but I did witness a fisherman selling a sizeable marlin onto a man, who I nosily followed to a car park where the haul was put on ice ready for a delivery.

The scales may be electric and the Banyan man waits in the shade of a bar rather than a tree but the tradition seems to live on.

Identity

You could look at the history of Mauritius and conclude that this was a nation of division. Successive colonisers have plundered the islands resources, subjugated Africans as slaves and made fortunes off the backs of low paid immigrants. Even today you can question the financial equality of islanders, the richest of whom may call Mauritius home purely for tax reasons.

The Mauritius I witnessed felt like a much more inclusive nation, confident in its values and looking to the future. People work hard but they are supported by the state and by their communities. There is education and opportunity for young people.

Les Quatre Bands

Independence Day

The last day of my visit happened to be the 49th Independence Day of Mauritius. I was taken with how this day was being embraced by islanders who wanted to celebrate their nation.

Les Quatre Bands

Les Quatre Bands

At a flag raising ceremony at my hotel the staff sang the national anthem and guests were told how the national flag colours represented the struggle for freedom (Red), the Indian Ocean (blue), the light of independence (Yellow) and the agriculture of Mauritius (Green).

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

The descendents of today’s inhabitants came from Africa, India and Europe to live on this remote African outcrop in the Indian ocean. Islanders know their history and acknowledge a tangled and tumultuous past but unite behind a new shared identity of Mauritius. I’m lucky to have witnessed the birthday of a nation. And to have eaten a slice of its cake.

Too much information? The good news is that if you want to come just to sit on the beach drinking cocktails it’s great for that too.

As an occasional day walker my trips into the Peak District don’t tend to extend beyond Bakewell due to constraints of time. While there are countless wonderful day walks to be had in the White Peak I have recently been pining for the striking landscapes of the Dark Peak further north where the edges become rougher and everything is turned up a notch.

My original plan was to start from Eyam, traverse Froggatt Edge, pass by the Chatsworth estate down to Bakewell before heading down the dales of Lathkill, Wolfcote and Dove, ending at Ilam on the third day. A lack of accommodation in Bakewell (of all places) put paid to that idea. Another plan involved the rugged delights of Snake Pass and Ladybower but the options for stopping over were even worse.

Decisions decisions...

Decisions decisions…

Eventually I threw away the notion of a linear walk and booked YHA accommodation in Castleton and Edale from where circular day walks could give the fix I was after. Now why was that so hard?

Youth Hostels have changed. Gone are the days where you have to contribute to communal cooking and washing up. The facilities have improved and there is a wider appeal, which is a good or bad thing depending on your outlook.

Lord of the manor

Lord of the manor

Castleton YHA has a baronial feel about it. With the first chills of winter on the way I’m grateful for the open fires that dot grand stone fire places of this old country manor. I’m less grateful for the screaming groups of school kids who are running amok in what must feel like a scaled down version of Hogwarts.

No sign of Harry Potter

No sign of Harry Potter

If I was them I would be just as excited.

Saturday morning is purpose made for walking. Breakfast is coffee and a bite on the green watching folk come and go beneath the Celtic cross, before frittering half an hour chatting with the encyclopaedic proprietor of an outdoor shop on the subject of boot makers of the Dolomites.

This is too relaxing

This is too relaxing

Finally I drag myself out of the shadow of Peverel Castle up a village road which almost immediately hints at the scenery that will define this walk. Rustic cottages frame the sort of scene you might expect to find to in the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District

Peak views

Peak views

The topography of today’s route is guaranteed to provide some dramatic sights – weather permitting. Before long the tarmac runs out and those views begin to reveal themselves.

Looking good!

Looking good!

If half of the visitors to Castleton are here to walk, cycle or hang glide then the other half have come to see the caves the town is famous for. I pass Peak Cavern and then Speedwell Cavern at the head of Winnats Pass.

I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine

I was prepared for every climatic condition except sunshine

The path ascends steeply to Treak Cliff Cavern where new seams of Blue John have recently been uncovered decades after the last major find. The landscape is really starting to open up and the sun finally makes an appearance as I ascend to the mouth of Blue John Cavern, which seems to be attracting cave enthusiasts by the bus load.

Looking down at Barber Booth

Looking down at Barber Booth

The foot of Mam Tor provides richly rewarding views north over the valley to Barber Booth. I wait awhile to absorb the rather unexpected scale and colour of this scene, plus the unexpected warmth of the winter sun. Then it’s a long gradual climb uphill for myself and the 100 other day walkers.

One of several trig points in the area

One of several trig points in the area

This section of path is attractively paved. It is hard to imagine the effort required to build and maintain a path like this, let alone one at a higher altitude beyond the range of any vehicle.

I'm guessing its this way…

I’m guessing its this way…

…which is probably why the paved path doesn’t last for long…

Easy walking, paved or unpaved

Easy walking, paved or unpaved

The ridge path towards Hollins Cross is a dream to walk, serving up outstanding views for minimal effort. The cross in question was removed a little over a hundred years ago and apparently, in even earlier times, the route was used to transport coffins from Edale over to Hope.

I overhear a group making call to the emergency services about an injured party member. Various parties are engaged with Duke of Edinburgh awards activities so perhaps this is an exercise? Fifteen minutes later the thumping rotors of an air ambulance suggest otherwise.

Back Tor

Back Tor

If I had ever followed up on my passing interest in Geology I might be able to explain the forces of nature that formed Back Tor. It certainly provides a great photo opportunity and a Japanese group are taking full advantage. Castleton has an international appeal I hadn’t expected with Americans, Russians and Italians amongst the other groups up here today.

Taking it all in

Taking it all in

I have really enjoyed this walk. This straightforward Peak District route has served a up rich variety of sights and points of interest. It has also been great to see such a diverse spectrum of people out on the hills.

Navigation has been a no-brainer and the weather has been kind. My march back down into Castleton is well timed as a heavy dark cloud threatens to put a dampener on things.

Making mud pies

Making mud pies

Not that weather is going to stop many people from getting out and enjoying themselves. After all, if you are going to make the effort of visiting the Dark Peak you aren’t going to be put off by the elements.

Tonight I’m going to enjoy the hostelries of Castleton. Tomorrow I’m going to take in the altogether more rugged landscape of Kinder. And the weather rarely does any favours there…

Chasing Waves

Cornwall and Surfing. I’ve never thought of one without the other.

My earliest associations go back to family holiday visits to the rocky inlet at Trebarwith Strand where each year I would look on as wetsuit clad figures would crash into the water for better or worse.

Nothing epitomises this life aquatic more than the three young Trebarwithian brothers, bronze skinned and blond curly haired, who would play out each carefree summer in red neoprene between rock and sea. I wonder where they are now.

Trebarwith spectacle

Spectacular Trebarwith

It remains a mystery as to why I never made it onto a surf board myself. Frisbee and frenetic games of badminton on the golden sands were my distraction at low tide and once the beach was reclaimed by the sea we would scramble high up onto the rocks to watch the waves smash in below in the hope that some thrill seeker would get a soaking on the edges. And then to the long departed and sorely missed House On The Strand for cake and familial ribbing. At least we still have that.

Roll on innumerable years. St Ives lies south of my teenage memories. This picture postcard harbour town is best known for its artisan credentials as underpinned by the prestigious Tate Gallery. The westerly beach at Porthmeor may only provide a subplot to the town’s story but it attracts a small but dedicated chapter of surfers who plough the waves from dawn to dusk.

Early sun over Porthmeor

Early sun over Porthmeor

A daily vigil from the expansive ocean facing window of my hilltop holiday loft apartment is educational. With binoculars on full magnification I am able to sit in on a beginners surf school at the sheltered far end of the beach. An instructor demonstrates the transition from prone through to standing in a single fluid movement, now a well rehearsed reflex. He is almost encircled by a crab-shell arrangement of students who lay restlessly on their land-stricken boards with half an impatient eye on the rolling froth that begs their entry.

First surfers of the day

First surfers of the day

This afternoon I don sandals and make a steep descent to the beach with some camera gear. There are perhaps 20 independent thrill seekers in the water at the closest extent of the cove. To my untrained eye the conditions look a little hairy.

Hanging on

Hanging on

More experienced surfers bide their time. If a wave is too premature they ride over it. Too fully formed and they dive under it. There seems to be a lot of discussion between groups friends. Some barely attempt to ride any waves – their immersion in the rolling brine of Porthmeor purely social.

Doing it right

Doing it right

On this October weekday I have to wonder how surfing fits into people’s personal schedules – work, study or family. I guess if you really want to do something you find a way.

Making it look easy

Making it look easy

For every sculpted ride there are several wipe-outs, some spectacular! I’m traversing the beach with a temperamental zoom lens and the closer I get to the action the more I can smell the adrenaline. There’s a palpable sense of energy in the waves and I completely identify with the urge to connect with it.

It’s not easy!

It’s not easy!

Drawn further towards the breaking surf on a rising tide it’s not long before my sandals become soaked. At least now I can stop trying to dodge the water, but it is colder than I realised. The autumnal sun is frizzling away and my body temperature has plummeted but I still can’t drag myself from this scene. I’m forever holding out for one last action shot.

How can you turn away from this?

How can you turn away from this?

The waters are almost empty now and I catch a few words with one of the departees as he drags his board up the beach. Despite suffering with a cold has he been unable to resist the lure of the surf. With a broad smile he tells me that conditions today are brutal. Those entering the water have done so in spite and not because of conditions. “It’s all good!”.

Until tomorrow...

Until tomorrow…

I’m told to keep an eye on one young guy who is “the one to watch”. He’s confident for sure – out some distance beyond the rest. I reposition myself behind a rock out of a gusty wind that is throwing up white caps of foam in the bay, and zoom in on the maestro at work. Twenty minutes later it is becoming decidedly dark and I am chilled to the bone yet star child has done nothing but tread water.

Lassie go home

Lassie go home

The final stragglers are packing it in for the day and I follow suit, retreating through the gloom towards the faint warming glow of the Porthmeor beach café lights. A waft of stale frying oil floats my way and I’m not holding out much hope for a high quality cappuccino. Warm and wind-free will suffice.

Inside my lack of expectation is met. It’s quiet here now, just a lonesome well-wrapped holiday-maker sipping a hot chocolate and a couple of sandy surfers, their mandatory long hair wet and tangled from the day’s encounters.

Just one more wave...

Just one more wave…

From my window I watch the hillside lights of Porthmeor dot on one by one. The seaward view has assumed a bluish hue of monochrome, broken by the distant lamps of small fishing vessels and crabbers.

One human spec bobs on the surface 40 yards from shore. He’s still out there! Waiting for that perfect wave. The dream that won’t die.

Purple Reign

The fight back has begun. The allotment doesn’t own all my time. It starts this weekend with my first (!) proper walk of the fast receding summer. But this will be more than a walk – I need to right a wrong…

My encounter with the Cleveland Way national trail three years ago was specifically timed to coincide with the flowering of the heather that dominates the North York Moors. Inspired by the accounts of other walkers I visited in September when the hills were supposed to be awash with colour only to find that I had missed the party by a week or two. Today’s route crosses Stanton Moor where, rumour has it, the heather is in bloom.

I'm doing gardening wrong

I’m doing gardening wrong

The sun is ablaze as I set off from Rowsley at an improbably early time. There’s nobody to been seen and I’m feeling smug, even though the folk of Stanton Woodhouse Farm are probably on their second breakfast by now.

What's the hurry?

What’s the hurry?

Twenty minutes sat on a log admiring the view over the Derwent valley is time well spent. Especially since a dirty black cloud decides to latch onto me for much of the rest of the day. Fortunately the trail heads off into woodland where the rain is heard more than it is absorbed.

Woodland retreat

Woodland retreat

A tree-engulfed ruin has an industrial feel to it but what can it be? This is a former quarrying area but without signage its former life is left to the imagination.

Going nowhere

Going nowhere

Further down the track I come across an old quarry face. Four millstones, so emblematic of the Peak District, lie abandoned nearby. I imagine they were destined to grind flour before the business closed. Or were they employed to grind sandstone hewn from the rock face? Today they seem as immovable and permanent a part of the landscape as the ground on which they sit.

Not lost for once

Not lost for once

The rain eases off obligingly as I leave the cover of the undergrowth for Stanton Moor. When I planned this route the map contours suggested panoramic views from the edge over to Darley Dale but the dense foliage has left me with just brief glimpses. Now if only I could climb to the top of this tower…

Closed today

Closed today

The Reform Tower was erected by local benefactor William Pole Thornhill to commemorate the 1832 reform act which set out to democratise electoral representation and do away with the so-called rotten boroughs. We are long overdue another such revolution…

Encouraging...

Encouraging…

The sun greets my first sight of the moor and the signs are good. There’s heather and it’s purple!

...very encouraging...

…very encouraging…

Soon it gets better and the path is lined by flowering heather. Numerous bees hover and perch around the plants as they industriously strive to produce heather infused honey that may end up on toast for some lucky soul.

Purple reign!

Purple reign!

As Stanton Moor opens up into a treeless plateau I finally get to experience the carpet of colour I missed out on in North Yorkshire. The vivid heather is everywhere! I was pleased when I managed to barely keep 4 tiny heather plants alive in my front garden for a couple of seasons but mother nature does this sort of thing so much better. Although mother nature doesn’t have to contend with my dad coming around to mow not only the lawn but 4 abused plants I had fought to nurture while working away in London…

Natures work

Natures work

It’s not just the colour but also the contrast with the verdant carpet of fern and moss speckled outcrops of rock that create such a dramatic effect, not to mention a sweet smell of heather that lingers in the light moist breeze.

My trip has been well worth it and I’m not yet at the half way stage. The ascent down into Birchover leads through a very well-kept campsite that I stayed at many years ago with friends. I seem to recall visiting during the village fete at which we won a tin of spam.

Curious creatures

Curious creatures

I don’t recognise much now and certainly not the Llamas that adapt so well to the English landscape. These are curious, charming creatures with no apparent fear of humans. They share a slightly startled look that I can only interpret as confusion. “How did we end up here?”

Tempting

Tempting

The Druid Inn alludes to a local folklore that I will expand upon when I return to Stanton Moor after lunch, if you can call a slice of cake on a bench lunch. The drizzle intensifies and I watch from beneath a tree as a growing trickle of people head into the Red Lion for proper Sunday lunch.

No entry

No entry

Why do walks always resume up hill after lunch? A steep climb out of Birchover rejoins the main road and takes me past Birchover Quarry which continues the long-standing local tradition. They know how to keep vehicles out of the site – this car sized rock must weigh 20 tonnes.

Just imagine the size of the bottle...

Just imagine the size of the bottle…

Returning to Stanton Moor the surreal Cork Stone looks as if somebody has carved it and deposited it here. In fact it is one of many weathered sandstone oddities to be found in and around the moor although not all of them have had iron climbing handles hammered into them in the 19th century. Last time I was here I climbed to the top (ahem) so there’s no need to do it again.

4,000 years of ritual

4,000 years of ritual

A short walk through light woodland leads to an opening where … things get spiritual. The Nine Ladies stone circle dates back 4000 years to the bronze age where it was believed to be the centre of rituals and ceremonies for people who lived and farmed in the area. The Druid Inn in Birchover alludes to the mystical draw of this place which still attracts druids and pagans on the solstice.

Ancient monuments like these will always capture our imagination – perhaps even inspire song. (You know you have to click this link)

When can I move in

When can I move in

A short walk north brings me to the attractive village of Stanton In The Peak. Presumably “In The Peak” was a suffix added to boost tourism at some point but it is well worth a visit regardless. A minor stately home here is off-limits and I wonder if the high walled garden promises more than would be delivered if I had a ladder to find out.

Stanton In The Peak

Stanton In The Peak

The church is very attractive and appears to be well maintained. There are some beautiful gardens, thriving allotments and a field of hens roaming at their leisure in return for free range eggs. Not to mention a pub that I can’t believe I didn’t know about.

Real ale in the peak

Real ale in the peak

The Flying Childers is that scarce and precious entity – an historic village pub serving real ale in a country village that hasn’t been converted into housing. A pint is so so tempting but on this occasion I settle for a glimpse inside, and it’s everything I was expecting.

Sunday dominoes

Sunday dominoes

My return to Rowsley has a different feel to it, crossing farmland and passing herds of sheep and cows. There are calves and I’m always a little wary passing through fields in case I’m seen as a threat. Fortunately they don’t seem to be aware of my visits to the farm shop.

Back at my car the drizzle instantly dissipates and out comes the sun. Typical, yes, but I really don’t care because I have closure on my heather disappointment of three years ago. Yet there have been so many highlights in this leisurely 8 mile walk – panoramic views, dramatic rock formations, abandoned ruins, ancient and not so ancient monuments and pretty country villages.

You can’t beat the Peak District for variety and drama. From here I could walk 50 yards to the water powered Cauldwells Mill where they still grind flour, or I could drive 10 minutes to the magnificent Chatsworth estate but instead I find myself raiding the M&S food hall in Matlock for a meal whose timing defies categorisation. Besides, the allotment needs me…

Transylvania

– I know what you are thinking.

The best board game ever!

The best board game ever!

My visit to this notorious region of Romania has nothing to do with the works of Bram Stoker. His novel has spawned a micro-industry whose popularity in these parts extends no further than a smattering of tourist tat vendors. Indeed Bran Castle – the impressive “home” to count Dracula – begrudges one solitary room to the story.

Dracula's courtyard

Dracula’s courtyard

When 800 years of power have been wielded by monarchs and rulers from within these walls you don’t need to resort to fiction to tell a great story. Today the castle is a popular but worthy visitor attraction despite, not because of its literary affiliations.

Traditional Bran Castle headwear

Traditional Bran Castle headwear

Bran is one of many castles that lend a fairytale quality to the region. Bordered by the Carpathians and swathed in forest you really feel like you are travelling through some vast film set. Which would explain why Transylvania is a popular set location for film directors.

More palace than castle

More palace than castle

The royal palace of Peles near Sinaia might just have been penned by Walt Disney. I have been fortunate to visit the bonkers castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria and Peles left me with that same feeling of wonderment.

Astonishing detail and craftsmanship in every room

Astonishing detail and craftsmanship in every room

Despite any number of remarkable old buildings Transylvania’s greatest assets are natural. We don’t have anything as mountainous in the UK as the Bucegi range. One bright but breezy day we commissioned a 4WD tour to summit the Caraiman peak (the cable car was closed due to the winds).

Postcard scenery above Bucegi

Postcard scenery above Bucegi

Our hairpin ascent finally broke through the tree line to leave us in snow near the 7800 feet summit – almost double the altitude of Ben Nevis. In the winter months much of this area is transformed into ski resorts and I’m tempted to return and experience that elemental rawness, followed by the fireside hospitality of some welcoming lodge.

I forgot the flag again

I forgot the flag again

The valleys and foothills are every bit as dramatic and for the most part unspoilt. Perhaps the pot-hole strewn track into the Piatra Crailui national park has been instrumental in warding off developer attention. Our hire car is a suitably rugged 4WD Toyota Hilux (named “the beast”) which seems the minimum requirement for this route, until I see a Daewoo Matiz romping along the track, in a cloud of dust and detached body parts.

The Beast

The Beast

With a mere scattering of farming settlements and lodges the park offers peace and tranquillity. And this view…

<img src="https://whitemore.files.wordpress.com/2016/05/thisview.jpg?w=500&quot; alt="” width=”500″ height=”281″ class=”size-large wp-image-5863″> *Speechless*

A 6 mile walk through the valley unfolds a dream-like panorama. The snow capped mountain ridge dominates a dense forest that gives way beneath the foothills to a lush green valley and glacial melt-water river.

It’s hard not to be on the constant lookout for movement in the trees. Are we being watched? Brown bears live in this area leaving me torn between the desire to see one and the desire for it not to see me. Needless to say I witness no sign of bears or of the resident lynx, wolves or adders.

Born to be wild

Born to be wild

The marvellous Libearty Bear Sanctuary nearby in Zarnesti hosts 85 of these beautiful creatures, often rescued from incarceration . Romania has a bad track record on animal welfare. Many of the rescued bears spent their former lives chained up or caged outside mountain lodges in this region so it’s good to see a change in public attitude.

Stork - between delivering babies

Stork – between delivering babies

Today’s walk is not without its natural encounters. Disturbed turf where wild boar have been rooting for food. Beautiful horses roaming with a sense of freedom. Buzzards circling overhead and ungainly storks perching on one leg. Why do they do that?

Free to roam

Free to roam

Time outdoors here is restorative. The aches and pains of modern life evaporate and the week’s dietary excesses (see my previous blog on Romanian food) are forgotten, if not forgiven. My family are not so forgiving when the route I have led them on expects us to ford a fast flowing river. Like I’ve been here before…

Fording the river would have been more fun

Fording the river would have been more fun

A weathered shepherd materialises from the landscape to guide us across a concealed log bridge. Life must be very tough in the cold months when isolated communities like this are cut off in the snow. There is little in the way of automation for the many Transylvanians who spend their lives tending herds or growing crops. People here are tough – they just get on with it.

Sheep herding. Like the Peak District with bears

Sheep herding. Like the Peak District with bears

This landscape must be full of stories. People have witnessed a lot of change – the fall of communism, induction into the EU and creeping globalisation – but some things haven’t moved on. It’s common to see people working the land with a scythe. Horse drawn carts remain in widespread use, whether as an aide to farming or family transport.

A 1HP vehicle

A 1HP vehicle

Nowadays the shepherds are invariably fiddling with mobile phones and even the cart drivers are glued to Angry Birds, but Transylvania, like the Caraiman peak, rises dismissively above the diversions of modern life.

Countless counts

Countless counts

Even Dracula…