Chasing Waves

How can you turn away from this?

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.

Spectacular Trebarwith
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

What's the hurry?

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…

Standing in a painting
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

Countless counts

…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.

BranCrown
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…

Speechless
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

 

A Postcard From Portugal

Not much of a sunset but you get the idea

How can it have taken me until 2015 to visit to mainland Portugal? And how can it have taken me 3 months to review the photos I took while there? Well I have now and here are some impressions from the Algarve…

Despite this being my first visit I experience a sense of loss – things have clearly changed under the onslaught of tourism and often for the worse. As is so often the case the indigenous attractions that first drew in the tourists have eventually been eroded or eradicated by that same rise in popularity.

Simple does it
Simple does it

The parade of fisherman’s restaurants that I’m told used to line the beach front at Albufeira have gone, replaced by hotel development. That fresh regional cooking for which the region is famed has lost ground to full English breakfasts, chips, nasty pasta or “tourist friendly” versions of specialities. You can still get your hands on an authentic Cataplana – it’s just harder.

In need of some love
In need of some love

Yet there remain some echoes of a less exploited time. Ornate period buildings with their balconies, terracotta roofs and gothic ironwork crumble and rust but may yet be rescued. Old people who have lived through it all walk from the market miles along upgraded roads lugging their shopping through the heat of the sun.

Traffic delay due to sheep
Traffic delay due to sheep

A farmer herds his sheep past our holiday apartment each morning into an arid field now surrounded by holiday rentals. I’m doing that thing again – mourning the loss of something I never knew.

Half of Cliff’s Mistletoe & Wine empire
Half of Cliff’s Mistletoe & Wine empire

There’s an undeniable British stamp upon these lands. First we came for your weather then we came for your golf. Now, the ultimate insult, we have left Cliff Richard in your custodianship. His face appears everywhere due to his association with wine. You can even book to go on a coach trip to see Cliff’s vineyard although the chances are that he’s in Barbados for tax purposes. What must people think…


Contrary to expectations it’s the journey inland that captures my imagination. A road trip takes me through villages and a landscape that time has been kinder to. The small town of Loules has a lot going for it. Pretty streets lined with cafes and shops with not a chain or national brand in sight. The covered market provides a great place to people-watch.

The latest gossip
The latest gossip

How long has the man been repairing shoes and umbrellas? From his corner pitch he sees all and probability knows all. These are valuable people in any community.

Mr Fixit
Mr Fixit

Stall holders are predominantly staffed by tactile mum-types who want to have a chat and possibly sell something if they get around to it. We buy some unripe Olives for preserving and the sweet elderly stall holders are alarmed in case we intended to eat them now. So follows a 5 minute exchange of advice culminating in the sharing of a family recipe.

Chat first, business later
Chat first, business later

Time has a different meaning here. Every turn represents a chance to bump into a neighbour and talk at length about something. If that conversation happens to be outside then there’s every chance smoking will be involved. Everybody seems to smoke. They must teach it in schools.

A little piece of heaven
A little piece of heaven

Onto the attractive town of Silves, bordered by a river and dominated by its castle. This would make a great place in which to stay longer and explore. Cobbled streets wind their way to the summit, the cool shade sporadically broken where the sun finds a way to dazzle off the whitewashed walls. A blackbird sings sweetly from a postage stamp rooftop terrace garden somewhere above me. I don’t want to burst this bubble.

Sancho 1st: Thou shalt not pass! Unless thou payest 7.50e for a ticket
Sancho 1st: Thou shalt not pass! Unless thou payest 7.50e for a ticket

The towering figure of Sancho 1st is itself dwarfed by the imposing bulk of Moorish fortifications at the summit of the citadel. Given more time I would like to explore further and delve the complicated history of the castle and its surrounds.

Cork tree post-harvest
Cork tree post-harvest

The N266 road north from Silves winds and ascends through dense forest dotted with the occasional settlement. This is cork country and partially denuded trunks by the side of the road are a symptom of a carefully managed industry that represents half of the worlds annual production. I learn that cork can only be harvested from a tree after 25 years and then at 10 year intervals if the tree is to continue to thrive, so sensitive custodianship is intrinsic to the survival of this industry.

Enough cork to bottle a vineyard
Enough cork to bottle a vineyard

After a brief visit to the altitudinous Monchique (900m above sea level) my route heads west through a more arable landscape. I see people working patches of land I am curious to know what they are growing in this climate. Whatever it is must be for personal consumption as there are no large agricultural plots within sight.

Ancient graffiti
Ancient graffiti

Next stop Aljezur – another castle topped settlement, smaller than Silves but similarly occupied by Romans, Moors, Berbers and more. Today’s occupiers are likely to be upmarket holiday makers visiting nearby beaches, riding horses, walking or attending the cookery school.
(thinks: hmmm, this area would be good for walking…)

View from the castle
View from the castle

Views from the castle are tremendous and the strategic military significance of this site is obvious. Once again on my travels I’m left with the bittersweet impression that historical treasures are being somewhat under-sold. The downside is the lack of information to inform and inspire the visitor, while the upside tends to be quieter and less disturbed remains.

It feels like the end of the world
It feels like the end of the world

And so to the End Of The World. In former times Cape St Vincent was considered such as the engorged sun set into a sea beyond which there was no more land. People still visit for the spectacular sunsets, including me. As with any show there are the hotdog stalls and tacky souvenir outlets…

One last flower, rocks, a lighthouse, sea - then what?
One last flower, rocks, a lighthouse, sea – then what?

…but that shouldn’t take away from the raw beauty of this place. A moonscape of jagged rock ends abruptly with 70m cliffs, before … nothing.

…or is there more?
…or is there more?

Sorry, that was perhaps needlessly dramatic. There is the vastness of an ocean that still today leaves me wondering if there is anything beyond.

Not much of a sunset but you get the idea
Not much of a sunset but you get the idea

I watch waves batter the cliffs as the sun recedes. Seagulls somehow casually ride the fierce gusts of wind that catch me off guard. The savage beauty of this barren outpost has been well worth the visit despite a cloud obscured sunset.


In the spirit of the most memorable travels it is the unexpected that has been most rewarding. I wouldn’t return for the beaches or go-to resorts but I have seen enough of the hinterland to wonder what else might be discovered…

Shrovetide Football

Mick with this year's custom built balll

Shrovetide football has been played in Ashbourne in one form or another for at least 350 years. Late to the party as usual this is my first visit. In case you aren’t familiar with the fineries of this longstanding tradition here’s a flying overview:

  • Up’ards and Down’ards compete to goal a ball 1.5 miles from the start at Shaw Croft in Ashbourne
  • Anyone born north of the river Henmore is a Down’ard, south and you are an Up’ard
  • The game starts when a “turner upper” throws the ball into the air from Shaw Croft Plinth
  • The game is played over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

Think of it as a mass participation game of rugby fuelled by beer that lasts for 2 days. If you want to know more I can recommend the internet

Eerily quiet
Eerily quiet

As I enter the town this mid-morning the empty bunting-lined streets allude to a genteel affair, if indeed I have got the right day.

Trouble brewing
Trouble brewing

The mood changes as I begin to notice all of the woodwork being applied to shop-fronts.

Getting out of town
Getting out of town

Most businesses warn that they will be closed in the afternoon. In my experience this behaviour is the prelude to a tornado or the visit of Clint Eastwood on horseback.

We don't want no trouble
We don’t want no trouble round here

I wander over to the epicentre of forthcoming action at Shaw Cross in the Waitrose car park. Shoppers are shopping and only a line of sand bags beneath the raised plinth suggest anything out of the ordinary.

Calm before the storm
Calm before the storm at Shaw Croft Plinth

Due to my lack of research I’m not sure what to do for the next 3 hours until the ball is turned up so I decide to follow other people and see where they are going. To the leisure centre it turns out for the traditional pre-game lunch and speech. All comers are welcomed by Mick Pepper who is this year’s esteemed “turner upper” – ie: the one to start the game by throwing it into the crowd.

Meeting and greeting
Mick (right) meeting and greeting

Many people arrive and they all seem to know Mick and he seems to know them all. There is no sense of competitive rivalry as Up’ards and Down’ards mingle without differentiation.

I gather that an external caterer will be feeding 500 here this lunchtime. Since I’m not one of them I do my own thing until they re-emerge fired up and ready for action some 2 hours later.

Some of the many volunteers
Some of the many volunteers

A contingent of fluorescent Shrovetide Marshals lead a procession of VIPs through the streets amidst a small crowd of competitors and photographers, me included.

Mick with this year's custom built balll
Mick with this year’s custom built balll

The crowds are waiting at the Bridge on Dig Street where, in accordance with tradition, Mick is picked up and carried through to the plinth at Shaw Croft.

For he's a jolly good fellow!
For he’s a jolly good fellow!

Gone are the shoppers and cars of this morning. In their place await thousands of people all jostling for a view of proceedings.

SO many people
SO many people

Any elevated position is a viewing point. This years event almost didn’t go ahead due to difficulties in obtaining insurance. I’m starting to see why.

They never read Humpty
Don’t they know what happened to Humpty?

Few folks have the luxury of a window view.

Watching in comfort
Watching in comfort

Shrovetide football in Ashbourne has received international attention for several years, attracting film makers and foreign tourists. The BBC are here amongst others but they face the same struggle to find a good viewing position.

Destined for the screen
Destined for the screen

There’s a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and then God Save The Queen plus a speech I can’t hear. Then Mick follows in the footsteps of Brian Clough (1975) and Prince Charles (2003) by launching the ball into the throng.

On your marks, get set...
On your marks, get set…

Despite appearances as a free-for-all there are rules. Most notably murder and manslaughter are forbidden. The ball disappears into the scrum and barely surfaces for 10 minutes.

GO!
GO!

It is around this time that many onlookers decide they have ticked the Shrovetide football box and head off to wholeheartedly commit themselves to ticking the Shrovetide drinking box.

The other competition
The other competition

There must be 10 pubs in the this little town and people are spilling out of each of them this sunny afternoon. It’s sorely tempting to join them except I feel that the game itself deserves a little more attention.

Fuel for footballers
Fuel for footballers

I return to the fringes of the action and decide to set up my tripod on the banks of the river in case the action returns towards town. A gentleman named George tells me that he comes every year on behalf of his truck company to network with clients. Apparently this event is a significant draw for corporate types and the friendly informal nature of Shrovetide is ideal for developing relations. The minimal cost of attendance is shadowed by the potential profit in selling a lorry.

Wait and they will come. (They didn't)
Wait and they will come. (They didn’t)

Runners for each side loiter strategically on the periphery of the scrum ready to receive the ball should it break free and sprint off with it. Unlike other variants of football played around the world Shrovetide football recognises the position of “in the river” as that’s where the ball will inevitably spend some time.

One of the subs
One of the subs

Progress, if that’s the word, is slow with the crowd lumbering slowly around the park. There’s an impasse in the children’s playground which at least makes for some interesting spectator viewing opportunities.

The Up'Ards getting on top
The Up’ards getting on top

Then like the slipping of some tectonic plate the pack darts south back down the slope again and through Henmore Brook. The surrounding crowd rushes out of the way to avoid being trampled and there are shrieks from youngsters as they play their part in this rite of passage.

Who can say what's going on in there
Who can say what’s going on in there

It’s clear that this is going to carry on for a long time yet. The Up’ards are vaguely on top but there’s another mile to cover if they are going to goal at Sturston Mill.

Time to leave them at it
Time to leave them at it

As the seething mass inches eastward people gradually peel off the core and traipse back towards town to replenish empty plastic pint glasses. With the shadows lengthening and the cold drawing in I make my own escape.

I’m sat at home by the time Vincent Brayne adds his name to the 124 year old Roll Of Honour with a goal for the Up’ards at 7:53pm. Can the Down’ards respond? It all kicks off again tomorrow.

Walking in the new year

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

What do you do with January? The Christmas and New Year hubbub has receded, people are back to work and the weather reminds you why other species migrate or hibernate. Fortunately I’ve no pressing work to distract me and there’s a chink in the Peak District weather to exploit.


My circular walk starts in Baslow, often driven through but never explored. The river Derwent to the west of this seemingly large village flows south to Derby and beyond. There is a church, a few tasteful craft and interior shops plus a school that is producing a riot of noise this playtime.

Long shadows
Long shadows

Setting off south and keeping to the east of the river a footpath opens up into the ample grounds of the Chatsworth estate although the fierce low winter sun prevents me from seeing much of it. A smattering of ramblers aside it is quiet as expected on this weekday morning.

Winter stops play
Winter stops play

Beside the path a blue plaque commemorates the significant contribution of Capability Brown to landscaping the estate in the eighteen hundreds. The undeniable natural beauty of Chatsworth is far from natural. Beyond a thicket of trees I come across a thatch roofed cricket pavilion which transports me back to a balmy summers day a couple of years ago when I dropped by here to watch my cricketing buddies in action, only to turn up precisely as they filed into the pavilion for lunch. It will be four months and hopefully 15 degrees celsius until the new cricket season begins.

The constant gardener
The constant gardener

The pitch looks immaculate as does the rest of the estate. Groundsmen down by the river are dredging up tree branches from the water. It must take a small army of staff to maintain the 30,000 acres of Chatsworth.

Stately pile
Stately pile

As one of the country’s premier outdoor tourist attractions the crowded weekends here can be off-putting but on a cold Wednesday in January the uninterrupted views are delightful. I wonder how many big budget period dramas will be recorded here this year.

Red deer. Or maybe fallow.
Red deer. Or maybe fallow.

No visit to Chatsworth is complete without a glimpse of roaming deer. Their population includes red and fallow deer. I think these are the red ones…

Not the least intimidated
Not the least intimidated

The sheep are less timid. They are everywhere and quite oblivious to any notion of danger.

Sheep - oblivious to road safety
Sheep – lacking in road sense

Car horns make little impression upon sheep in the road. Eventually, when they are ready, they sidle over to the verge and the traffic can pass. I suspect they are licking the gritting salt off the tarmac.

Out of sight
Edensor – out of sight

The village of Edensor (pronounced Enzer) was relocated here around 1840 as it was “spoiling” the view of the Duke Of Devonshire as he gazed out of his stately Chatsworth House windows. He was a fool – it’s very pretty. It is also a tourist draw in itself and I myself am powerless to resist tea and cake in the quaint tea room opposite St Peters Church, resting place for many of the Devonshire clan not to mention JFK’s sister.

Edensor cottage
An Edensor cottage

This 6 mile walk is part of my physical rehabilitation. Six weeks ago I returned from my curtailed Norfolk coastal path walk with 2 injured knees. Since then my only exercise has been the 5 mile annual Christmas day ramble which they survived but complained about. You can imagine what a paucity of exercise during the eating season means to one’s wellbeing. The good news is that both knees are fine – so far.

The hills are alive with the sound of bleating
The hills are alive with the sound of bleating

The climb out of Edensor unfolds into a picture postcard panorama. Even this marginal increase in altitude has preserved the morning’s frosting of snow on the hillside. Quite breathtaking!

Lightly frosted
Lightly frosted

The highest section of the walk tops out at a modest 250 feet above sea level. Here above Pilsley the demarcation of snow and thaw is clear. Beyond Pilsley and perhaps 70 feet lower there is little trace of snow or frost.

In need of roofing
In need of roofing

Land here has been farmed for many generations. I see several mostly disused outbuildings is a generally poor state of repair.

In need of rebuilding
In need of rebuilding

Once again this region is serving up a great variety of scenery over just a short walk.

Baslow in the distance
Baslow in the distance

The final agricultural third of the route becomes increasingly muddy as the afternoon sun melts the icy fields into soggy ones. Boots I so meticulously cleaned are back to their soiled norm.

Stick in ground 1 - Anquet 0
Stick in ground 1 – Anquet 0

I have been using the Anquet mapping application on my phone to sense-check the route. The 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map data is first-rate but the phone app stinks. Fortunately the original signpost firmware en-route has proven to be more user-friendly.

The swollen Derwent thunders beneath a robust old stone bridge that returns me to Baslow. Church bells chime for 2pm on my second encounter with the school, where the children continue to kick up a racket. Surely they have been indoors since I set off this morning…


Rain is on the way. The high winds that uprooted 4 of my fence panels earlier this week are due to return. I have been lucky to enjoy clear skies and a low sun on this peaceful weekday. And my knees feel OK! 2015 I declare you officially open.

Tourist Attraction

Given the weighty number of famous attractions in London and the sheer volume of information telling us where to go and what to see you might be forgiven for thinking no major spectacle could fly under the collective what’s-on radar of the city. Not so.

There’s a constantly evolving show to be witnessed 52 weeks a year all over the city. I am of course referring to the 18+ million tourists who flock in from around the globe and bring the place alive.


As my 6 months working in London comes to an end I have given the tourist question some thought. Why do they come? What do they enjoy? Why aren’t Londoners having this much fun? Duh, forget that last question…

Different point of view
Different point of view

There is no better place to start off than Westminster where a seething mass of people swarm around the landmarks like MPs around an expense claim form. It’s so busy that I’m immediately suspicious of a solitary photographer – what has he seen that nobody else has?

When will I be famous?
When will I be famous?

Standing with my back turned on Westminster Abbey to face a wall of snappers I wonder if this is what it feels like to be famous. Perhaps I will be soon as holidaymakers share their vacation pictures and wonder why I had to intrude on their field of view. They may even mistake me for somebody famous – Martin Freeman, Hugh Laurie, Beaker off the muppets…

 

Needless to say almost everybody is carrying at least one camera whether it’s a DSLR, bridge camera, compact, phone or tablet and it is their set pieces that unfailingly amuse me…

Mandela - a giant of a man
Mandela – a giant of a man

A statue of Mandela is one of several notable historic figures lining Parliament Square. Nelson stands hands out embracing peace, or perhaps he’s just trying to strangle Big Ben. It’s only natural that a group line up below to do the same.

It's the law
It’s the law

I love witnessing scenes that, despite their clichéd predictability, are genuine and heart warming for those concerned.

Phone Box - looks better than it smells...
Phone Box – looks better than it smells…

To counter the predictable there is always something unexpected to see. A swanky photo shoot looks destined to make the pages of some Japanese wedding magazine. Will a Tokyo bride set her heart on a London ceremony?

Guessing he's a Pole
Guessing he’s a Pole

No sooner have they moved on then a selfie opportunity arises for somebody else. A camera pole makes perfect sense for the solo traveller. We don’t always realise how strong the UK brand is and few icons set the visiting heart aflutter more than a good old red phone box. Alternatively it’s not hard to spot people pretending to post a letter or board a double decker bus as a friend or relative lines them up in the viewfinder.

Stay calm and don't buy anything
Stay calm and don’t buy anything

Needless to say this is fertile ground for merchants of tourist tat. Who seriously buys the “I [heart] London” T-shirts for themselves? Who actually wears the plastic bobby’s helmets? Mind you at £2 I’m tempted myself.

Pizza delivery for number 10
Pizza delivery for number 10

It appears that the tourists are having too much fun elsewhere to get sucked into buying novelty nonsense. Downing Street is portrayed in a sober light on the TV news but right now it’s all smiles as PCs take it in turns to pose for photos.

Dad gets to play horse
Dad gets to play horse

Smiles are strictly forbidden at Horse Guard’s a short stroll further along Whitehall but that doesn’t stop families queuing up to take photos alongside an impassive cavalryman. I have always felt a pang of sympathy for the young men who have to stand for hours in full regalia in all weather while they are photographed. Are they laughing inside at some of the antics or are they a pin drop away from creating a diplomatic incident with their bayonet…

The Griswold family vacation
The Griswold family vacation

Trafalgar Square is a tourist mecca so if you are into street photography this is a turkey shoot. An American family takes a break. The boys are hyper, mom has stopped to take bearings (again) and dad has this resigned look that says “I’m keeping out of this”.

School's out
School’s out

You see lots of groups here. What memories will members of this school party take home with them? Whether it is the treasures of the National Gallery (as envisioned by parents and teachers) or an induction to the “unique” fish and chips experience I like to think their adventure will live long in the mind.

Don't make it angry
Don’t make it angry

With so much of the world now on the tourist map I suspect that Britain still offers something a little different to the seasoned traveller. Where else can you queue up to clamber onto a national monument without even a sideways look from the authorities?

Silver Ghost
Silver Ghost

Let’s not kid ourselves you could witness some of the street performances in any continent but it feels like there’s less wariness here. People seem uninhibited and are eager to be drawn into the action.

Much ado about bathing
Much ado about bathing

Leicester Square plants the biggest smile on my face. As I bask in the strong afternoon sun a South American couple settle on the adjacent bench and their young children go to play in the fountain that encircles William Shakespeare. The little girl is having the time of her life playing in the water, mum is laughing along and dad is capturing it all on camera for future enjoyment.

Copping an ice cream
Copping an ice cream

A street party on Regent Street means that it is closed for traffic on this hot summers day. I grasp the sense of adventure visitors must feel as they walk across what amounts to a virtual monopoly board. So many familiar names and places and now the real thing.

Keeping them in suspense
Keeping them in suspense

Covent Garden seems to be crammed full of visitors at any time of day. They are lapping up the entertainment and who can blame them? This wasn’t in the tourist guide.

Serenaded to the collection hat
Serenaded to the collection hat

Downstairs tourists are serenaded by an ensemble of professional musicians who perform with infectious spirit. An enthusiastic applause echoes around the chamber and it’s clear that people want to be involved with what they are seeing. It also appears that Americans are the best tippers.

Painted lady
Painted lady

Outside it goes on and on. The day is starting to catch up with me but there’s an endless wave of energy bouncing off people having a great time. Do they ever tire? Well I do and it’s time to catch the 87 bus and take in many of today’s sights from the top deck on my way home.

Gawd bless you!
No caption required

Of course, it’s never over. I have loved the melting pot of nationalities, languages and cultures on my walk – a cosmopolitan sea of humanity. I have loved watching people take such joy from performances, places and objects that would fail to stir a glance from so many residents. And I have loved individuals like this gentleman for providing me with such visual entertainment. Gawd bless you guvnor!

Does anybody have more fun in London than the tourists?