Portugal – Setúbal and Seafood Dining

The nearest beach was about three miles away to the west so we laced up our shoes, packed our bags and set off.

First stop was the city market, said to be the largest covered market in all of Portugal, which was a wonderful experience, so much better than next door Pingo Doce supermarket, especially the fish section at the back with slabs and slabs of fresh fish and more varieties than I could ever have guessed at.  And it was selling fast as local shoppers gathered around squabbling over choices and prices.  It was like a rugby scrum.  So we thought that it might be a good idea to come back later and make our own selection for our evening meal.

Next, a second market down on the sea-front, this one exclusively fish and also enjoying brisk trade and then past a harbour of fishing boats where rugged men with weather beaten faces and  hands with broken knuckles were cleaning down and mending nets in preparation for going out to sea again later.

Unsurprisingly this was an area full of fish restaurants and some interesting street art including a boulevard decorated with leaping dolphins and we examined the menus in anticipation of lunch later on. 

We were heading for the Praia Portinho da Arrabida and I was fairly confident that I could plot a course along the sea front to get there but sadly I was badly mistaken and a couple of dead ends required retracing our steps turning the three mile walk into a five mile walk and all the time Kim’s patience slowly draining away and then after only a short while quickly draining away.

We came across some beaches but there was no one on them and there were warning signs saying not to swim there.  They didn’t explain why but the skull and crossbones persuaded us to carry on to our intended destination.

A seafront statue/tribute to the fishermen of Setúbal …

So eventually we arrived at the beach, a rather sad and deserted beach as it turned out and although we rather liked the idea of a swim the previous warning signs had put us off, that and the fact that no one else at all was in the water.  So we went to a beach bar instead, Kim had a coffee and I had a beer.  I refuse to buy tea or coffee because I consider it to be extortionately overpriced.  Why buy a coffee when it costs more than a beer?  It doesn’t make any sense.

 Another Portuguese navigator/explorer – Jose João Besugo

With the beach plan in tatters we had to rethink our day now and as we sat and chatted we went through the menu and we wondered why something called Choco Frito was doing there; we had assumed that it was something like a deep fried mars bar but Google came to our rescue and explained that it was a cuttlefish dish which turns out to be a local speciality.  We agreed that on the way back it was only polite to try some.

No chance.  This being Sunday everyone in  Setúbal was out eating and every café/ bar/restaurant had a line of people waiting for a table.  I thought there was a global cost of living crisis but obviously not in Setúbal. We had spotted a place we liked the look of earlier down a grubby back street close to the fish market.  Not a hope in hell, the place was overflowing, the queue was a mile long and selections were being regularly wiped off the chalk- board menu.  So we moved on.

Back to the city market which was now closing up for the day and most of the fish had gone.  I know that they eat a lot of fish in Portugal but this was quite something and slabs that had been overloaded this morning were now quite empty.  Another plan that now required a rethink.

On Setúbal seafront boulevard we continued to search. At one we were lucky, there were a lot of people in groups of four or more but a waiter called us through for a table of two.  What good fortune.

I don’t as a rule take pictures of food but in this case I made an exception…

We ordered the cuttlefish of course, everyone else was, we declined the optional starters which was a good decision because the main event was huge, a big helping of Choco Frito, a really large portion of fries and a massive plate of salad.  I have to tell you that it was delicious, I like squid and octopus so it was inevitable that I would also like the cuttlefish.

The size of the mid afternoon portion ruled out any thoughts of evening meal so we finished off the chicken from the previous evening with a simple salad.

Later we walked to the sea front again and watched the twinkling ferries making their way back and forth across the waters of the estuary and agreed that tomorrow we would make the crossing in search of a proper beach.

Later, I walked to the supermarket for essential alcohol supplies and by chance passed by a McDonald’s.  I am always interested in what McDonald’s have on their alternative menus across the World and wasn’t so surprised that in  Setúbal I came across fish fingers…

A regional variation in France. is served on a baguette..

And in Spain inevitably there is patatas bravas…

In Greece the burger is served in a pitta bread which looks rather tempting..

but Poutine in Canada looks like slop and needs a leak-proof box…

What is your favourite McDonald’s meal? And I don’t believe anyone who tells me that they have never been there and tried one!

 

 

Portugal – Trouble at Supermarket Checkouts

In my previous post I dealt with the frustration associated with buying a train ticket in Portugal at a self service ticket machine.  Today I move on to the mystery of supermarket checkouts in Portugal.

In the country there were familiar supermarkets for us from the UK, ALDI and LIDL and then a couple  that were  not – Pingo Doce and Continente.  Continente is the largest supermarket chain in Portugal and Pingo Doce is the third. In Setubal we came across a convenient Pingo Doce located close by to the apartment so we went there to shop for our evening meal.

I liked all of these supermarkets in Portugal, they all had a much wider product range than in the UK, more bread, more fruit, more vegetables but especially more fish and whilst Kim shopped for essentials I browsed for fantasy.  The shopping experience is mostly similar to being in the UK and providing you remain focused you can have filled a basket, sidestepped the tempting but unwanted special offers, have negotiated all of the aisles  and be finished in just a few minutes. 

But then you get to the check-outs.

Chaos. Absolute chaos. In the UK you can expect to be through the checkout in under five minutes even if the two people in front both have a full trolley load to clear. Checkout staff in the UK are the fastest on the planet, no mercy if you don’t keep up.   If it was an Olympic event they would win gold, silver and bronze.  Not so in Portugal.  They would come last. Fifteen minutes in the store – thirty minutes (on a good day) waiting to pay.

And it was the same everywhere that we stayed and shopped in Portugal, Obidos, Cascais, Ericeira, Lisbon and now Setúbal.

A main reason for this is that most customers want to pay in cash but the cashiers have no coins in the tills so when someone offers a note they ask if they might possibly have the right change which involves fumbling in pockets and purses looking for loose, long forgotten coins.  “Oh, here is an Escudo, do you still take Escudo?”  Worst of all some customers just throw their coins down and let the cashier do the sorting and when it is all done take an age to put it away again.

This slows the whole process down to somewhere significantly below glacial speed and several conga lines of frustrated customers begin to form and begin to block up the aisles.  Although several frustrated people take the risk there is no point whatsoever  changing lanes because they are all the same.  They are all advancing at the pace of a silted up river bed.  This is life in the sloth lane.

Quite by chance there was some welcome entertainment as a group of university students entertained with music and singing which made the process a bit more tolerable but only just.

I have an important travel tip here…

DO NOT under any circumstances let the cashier see that you have a purse full of coins because they will beg to relieve you of it.  I swear that they are on a shift  bonus to get hold of coins.  I like to carry a little pouch with loose change, say about twenty euro or so but have learnt from experience never to show it.  One of my travel objectives is always to come home with my pouch full of coins ready for next time.

Behaviour at supermarket checkouts is something that intrigues me.  I wrote about it once in a post a long time ago (2010) and I do understand that it might be considered a bit sexist now but here it is now (with apologies where considered necessary)…

Read the full story Here…

So, we negotiated the checkout queue, went home with our purchases and had a simple meal of cooked piri-piri chicken, new potatoes and fresh salad and after as the sun began to slide into the River Sado took a walk to the shoreline and just sat and watched. 

Tomorrow we thought that we might try and find a beach.  We considered taking the apple green ferry to the Troia peninsular but decided instead to go for a hike.

 

Portugal – Lisbon to Setúbal

 

So after four days and nights we prepared to leave our city centre apartment in Lisbon and move on to our final stay south of the River Tagus in Setúbal .  This should have been straight-forward but obviously wasn’t.  I could have predicted that.

The cobbled streets are not good for drag bags and Kim lost a wheel after only a few yards so we had to find the missing parts amongst the stones and then put together some sort or temporary repair and cross fingers and hope that it would hold out.  We made the train station and then a two stop ride to the transfer station to Setúbal. 

Now, buying a train ticket in Portugal is not easy but when using the national rail operator the automated ticket machines all have an option to use the process in English.  Not so the service from Lisbon to Setúbal which is run by the only privately operated train service in Portugal and which obviously doesn’t consider the translation service to be essential.  That is the private sector for you of course, private profit rather than public service.

So, after a wait of glacial proportions I made the front of the line but was quite unable to interpret the instructions so with a queue forming behind me and beginning to feel slightly awkward I had no alternative but to  abandon the quest and stand back and observe.  I watched a few  local people to get some tips. 

The first man was far too quick for me  and he galloped through the process but the second and third were thankfully  a bit slower as I tried hard  to remember the sequence.  Eventually I felt mentally prepared and optimistically rejoined the queue.

After twenty minutes I was back at the machine and I sailed through it  this time like a local expert who had been doing it all of their life.  Insert cash now it said and I offered a twenty euro note that was immediately rejected so I tried again and was instantly rejected once more.  I tried a different note and was instantly rejected.  A line was beginning to form behind me again and then someone tapped me on the shoulder and helpfully informed me that the machines only take a maximum 0f  a ten euro note.

Now I needed change so I went to a cafe bar who said that they were unable to help but then discovered that they could help if I was to purchase something.  So I bought a small bottle of beer, drank it quickly and returned to the ticket machine line.  Twenty minutes later I had the tickets to Setúbal  but by this time we had of course missed the train so with fifty minutes to spare we went back to the cafe bar for another beer and spent the change that they had just given me.

After that it was all plain sailing.  The train crossed the 25 de Abril Bridge, the forty-seventh longest suspension bridge in the World (a long way behind the Humber Bridge near where I live at twelfth) and then carried on towards our destination.  I was looking forward to crossing the bridge but it was an inevitable disappointment because from on board the train there is nothing to see.  It is much better to view the bridge from a good viewing point with a train crossing over it than to be on the train crossing over it with nothing to see but flashing girders.  Anyway, I have done it and I was glad of the experience.

This is the Ribblesdale Viaduct in Yorkshire, much better to see a train crossing it than to be on the train crossing it.

On the positive side rail travel in Portugal is very reasonable, no, it is better than reasonable it is cheap, and the benefit of being over sixty-five, the fares are half price.

After the rail delays we arrived in Setúbal  around mid afternoon, stopped immediately for a pavement glass of wine and then proceeded to our city centre apartment which turned out to be quite excellent. 

I think I mentioned before that on this trip we had chosen apartments instead of hotels and we were so glad that we did, so much better value for money and so much space.  I generally wake first in the morning and in a hotel room this means lying still and not being able to make a cup of tea.  In an apartment I can get up, close the bedroom door and enjoy a brew in the kitchen.  We will be doing it this way again.

The facilities were so good that we thought we might stay in tonight and cook for ourselves so we took the short walk to the nearby Pingo Doce supermarket and thereby hangs another tale which I will tell you about next time…

 

Portugal – Lisbon, Castles and Churches

Our excellent apartment was in the Bairro Alto region of the city, an elevated district high above the River Tagus and the commercial centre of Baixa, an area that required a lot of hill climbing, strong knees, deep lungs and steep steps to negotiate.

Today we were planning to explore more of the city and our first stop was the Castelo de São Jorge

The Patron Saint of Portugal is Saint Anthony of Padua (I have come across him before) and the Patron Saint of Lisbon is Saint Vincent and Saint George is somewhere down the Catholic Church pecking order as the  Guardian Angel of Portugal.

The castle is in Alfama district and this is separated from Baixa district by a sort of deep and rather inconvenient gorge which requires going down a lot of steps on one side to get to the bottom and then going up a lot of steps on the other side to get to the top.  We could have used the funicular tram but at €3.20 I considered this unnecessary expenditure  for a five hundred yard journey so instead of whirring and wizzing to the top we walked and wheezed instead.

Amalfa is the historic heart of Lisbon, occupied by the Moors during the occupation of Iberia and once they had gone subsequently chosen by the Christians as the site for their defensive medieval castle to stop them coming back.  The district was badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake and sadly no original buildings survived but it has retained its compact and rather  quirky original  layout with tightly packed streets and alleyways and hidden secret corners to explore.

It has to be said that the area is rather run down with several dilapidated houses screaming out for  attention and a bit of love and affection, abandoned cars and graffiti scarred walls  but this only adds to the charm of this part of Lisbon. Here are cobbled streets minus a few cobbles, decorated with terracotta plant pots and effusive flowers, gaily coloured doors and shutters and flapping washing lines stretching out and dripping indiscriminately upon rich and poor across the lanes below.

Eventually we reached the castle entrance and immediately ran into a line of people queuing to pay.  This time we decided to risk it and to our surprise the line moved quickly and we were soon inside.  It isn’t a very authentic castle, it was destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake and restored in the 1930s under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.  Often described as a benevolent dictator he was responsible for a lot of historical restorations and there is nothing wrong with that in my book.

In 2006 in a  public opinion television show Salazar was judged the “Greatest Portuguese Ever” with 41% of the vote.  I find that interesting, he was sort of a right wing fascist but not quite and in similar votes in Spain and Germany viewers were forbidden for voting for Franco and Hitler.

I don’t know much about Salazar except to his credit he denounced Hitler and the Nazis and kept Portugal in the Western European Time Zone but the fact that a nation would vote a dictator who suppressed the democratic process for over forty years perhaps explains human nature and maybe why people in the UK keep voting for a succession of despicable Tory governments.

Maybe people  just like the feel of a jack boot on the back of their neck.

There were some excellent views over the city from the castle walls and we stayed for an hour or so before leaving, stopping for an excellent lunch in an authentic restaurant (on a table next to some especially noisy and boisterous Germans) and then made our way back down to the Tagus.

I spotted this man on the way down. Working from home perhaps?

I don’t remember very much about the Cathedral, it isn’t a very impressive building from the outside and these days I am moving closer to Kim’s views on Cathedrals that pretty much they are all the same on the inside.  I took some photographs as I always do and wondered why because I am certain never to look at them or use them for anything.

I preferred the Igreja de São Domingos, a National Monument in the centre of the city and maybe the unluckiest church ever.  Damaged by an earthquake in 1531 and completely destroyed by the big one in 1755, it was rebuilt and completed in 1807 but destroyed again by a terrible fire in 1959.

Instead of the altar I took a picture of this fire damaged corner…

The church was restored and reopened in 1994 but the restoration didn’t attempt to repair the internal fire damage and that, in my opinion, left it in an authentic state.  I liked it and we spent half an hour so examining the interior.

When we emerged from the gloomy interior something quite odd had happened to the weather, the sky was suddenly grey and it was pouring with rain, we purchased an umbrella from an enterprising street seller who had seized the opportunity, found a bar in which to shelter and after the storm made our way back to the apartment.

Later that evening we dined in our favourite restaurant (so good it was fourth night in a row) and then prepared to move on the following day to the coastal city of Setúbal.

Portugal – The Streets of Lisbon

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Portugal – Belém and the Age of Discovery

I like Lisbon, everything about it.  Really, there is nothing not to like about Lisbon.  Even the graffiti.  Even the graffiti.  It is a little understated and has no pretensions like other European capitals. This was my second visit and I would happily go back for a third.

I am always interested in place names and how they travel. There are sixteen place in the USA called Lisbon over fourteen States (Maine and Wisconsin have two each)  most are in the east and the most westerly is in Utah.  Portuguese ethnicity in the USA is thirtieth in a long list but the Portuguese language is thirteenth most spoken.

What I find even more interesting is that there are no places in Brazil called Lisbon or in a lot of other ex-Portuguese colonies.  There are however  four in Columbia and one each in Peru, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique.

The Portuguese Empire…

I immediately liked Belém, it was a little more relaxed than Lisbon city.  Our plan was to visit the centre and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jerónimos Monastery and the tomb of Vasco da Gama but the queue was huge and I am not good with queues and Kim is not good with UNESCO World Heritage sites so we abandoned the plan.

The  Jerónimos Monastery is a World Heritage site that I have seen from the outside but not the inside.

I didn’t get to see the tomb but there is a large statue of him in the adjacent gardens.  One of the early explorers European Vasco da Gama discovered the route to India via the South Atlantic around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope and he opened up the trade route in spices from the east which made Portugal temporarily fabulously rich.

From the centre we made our way to the River Tagus and the UNESCO listed Belém Tower, a fortification built on an island in the river to provide protection for the city and a launch site for the explorers in the Age of Discovery.  I had to queue for tickets  of course but it didn’t look too busy so I didn’t mind waiting.

But then it began to get difficult.

The Belém Tower was built five hundred years ago and was designed as a fortress without any allowance made for accommodating thousands of tourists hundreds of years later. 

The rooms and stairways are small and tight and can only accommodate a few people at a time so there was a lot of waiting about as the flow of visitors was managed by a team of patient staff.  This made the whole process rather tedious and what was even more frustrating was that there was nothing to see in any of the rooms where we were continually kept standing and waiting for the one way system to flow.

The Belém Tower is definitely a World Heritage Site better seen from the outside rather than the inside.

Close to the Tower is the modern  Monument to the Discoveries.  Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre high slab of concrete, was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five hundredth  anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The monument is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of  Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another famous voyage of discovery.

Portugal and Spain once ruled much of the World but their Empire building was in a different style, Portugal had Henry the Navigator, a methodical explorer seeking out new trade routes with maps and charts and Spain had Conquistadors like Francisco Pizzaro swashbuckling their way through the New World with swords and gunpowder in search of gold and conquest.

Lisbon was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbour  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of squabbling  a Treaty was signed which divided the World in two along an arbitrary line of latitude roughly half-way between Cape Verde Islands (Portuguese) and Hispaniola (Spanish) effectively giving Spain the whole of the New World and Portugal with bits and pieces in Africa and the Far East.

The treaty was signed at the castle of Tordisillas in Castilla y Leon which is somewhere that I visited several years ago in 2010…

For Spain this might have seemed like a very  good deal at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as they failed to take into consideration the South America eastern bulge which gifted Brazil to Portugal and it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia. 

Some historians suggest that the canny Portuguese already knew about this when quill was put to parchment.

This Treaty was an example of extreme European arrogance of course.  Spain and Portugal conveniently ignored the fact that there were already people living there with a completely legitimate claim to the land.  Later as Spain and Portugal went into decline other countries like France and Britain simply ignored the Treaty (endorsed by the Pope no less) and went on a colonisation spree around the World.

Portuguese expansion continued and by the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago. 

Thanks to Empire,  Portuguese, by the way, is the eighth  most common language in the World. 

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa…

Portugal – Lisbon Trams

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

Portugal – Lisbon, Heatwave Sightseeing

We arrived in Lisbon early afternoon, it was hot, very hot indeed, everyone kept telling us that Portugal was in the grip of a heat wave and that it was too hot, but we didn’t mind, we were on holiday.  We settled into our excellent studio apartment, cranked up the air-conditioning and then left and made for the nearby centre of Baixa.

By now it was late afternoon and the heat was beginning to drain away into the deep shadows cast by the tall buildings and the sun was melting into the deep pools of shade of doorways and courtyards so we enjoyed a walk to a shady park where we stopped for a beer and then took a stroll through the elegantly tiled but grotesquely graffiti scarred streets of the city.  I was shocked by the urban scrawl which some call art but I call vandalism.  I didn’t like it.

In contrast I liked the views from the top of the city.  From a high vantage point we looked across to the castle and the cathedral and down to the river and the commercial centre.  We continued to walk down and down, I had no idea that Lisbon was going to be so steep and hilly and it was beginning to make Rome or Valletta seem like Florida in the USA or Lincolnshire in the UK.

Eventually we reached the ruins of a cathedral but it was getting late so we didn’t pay to go inside.  Ruined because it was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake which was one of the World’s major catastrophic seismological events – ever!

It occurred before the introduction of the Richter Scale of course (1935) but today it is estimated that the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude in the range 9.0  to 9.5 which, on a scale of 1 to 10,  is just about as big as it is possible to get and makes the event possibly the biggest ever in the history of the World.  The resulting Tsunami reached the Caribbean in the west and as far as Greenland to the North.  This was one hell of a bang let me tell you.

We were struggling to get our bearings but managed to grope our way back to the apartment passing on the way a restaurant that caught our eye for evening meal.  I found a shop for beer and wine and next day breakfast essentials and then we sat and relaxed, changed and wandered back to the restaurant.  It was full, really full and no slots left all evening so we booked for the following night and set off to find an alternative.

After a long walk I liked where we found but Kim was still sulking so we didn’t linger long after dining and returned and spent our first night in Portugal in our apartment.

The next morning the sky was blue, the sun was rapidly rising in the sky and by the time we had prepared and eaten breakfast, tidied up and left the apartment the mercury was already rising rapidly.

The plan was to make our way down to the River Tagus and then take in some of the sights along the way.  Some way along the planned route we took an unnecessary detour and we managed to get sucked into the labyrinth of back streets and got quite lost.  I confess that this was entirely my mistake but happily Kim didn’t seem to spot this, or, if she did, she generously chose to overlook it and not mention it.  I kept quiet about it.

We eventually emerged from the streets down to the river and some way away we could see the famous 25 de Abril (previously António Salazar) Bridge and we started to walk towards it.  It turned out to be further than we estimated and the view wasn’t that special anyway so eventually we abandoned the walk and made our way back up another steep hill to the city centre.

At the top of the hill we visited the Basilica but I have to agree with Kim on this point, it wasn’t memorable and it looked like any similar church or cathedral in Catholic Europe and as we walked out of the door I immediately forgot all about it.

Back at the river we stopped for a drink and an hour in the sunshine and then we tackled the walk back to the apartment. We passed through the Commercial Centre with its magnificent buildings where it was possible with a bit of imagination to conjure up a vision of a major naval and commercial centre with ships and dockyards where now there are tourist river cruises and ice cream parlours.

Eventually we found our way back to the apartment where we sat and enjoyed the local environment before making our way to the chosen restaurant which turned out to be absolutely excellent.

 

A to Z of Postcards – S is for Sorrento in Italy

Sant’ Agnello itself is a completely separate municipal commune from what is strictly speaking the town of Sorrento and walking the other way was another separate municipality of Piano di Sorrento, which was a working fishing village without the trappings of modern tourism.

The famous Victorian poet Robert Browning, who, it is said, adored Italy lived in this area and mentioned the countryside of Piano and other localities of the Sorrentine peninsula in his poem ‘The Englishman in Italy.

Read the full story Here…

Forest of Dean – Birthday Celebrations

 

We are all getting older.  This year my sister turned sixty-five and my younger brother hit the big sixty.  We all agreed to get together for a weekend at my sister’s place in Gloucestershire.  I had nothing to celebrate, I am sixty-eight so nothing special about that.

Lindsay lives in Lydbrook, close to one of my favourite towns in England, Ross-on-Wye, and has a lovely house and garden which stretches into the boundary of the forest,

.

I tend to think that she lives a long way from me but to put things into some kind of  perspective, four hundred miles is not so far if you live in Australia, just short of driving from Melbourne to Adelaide or in the USA, Phoenix in Arizona to Los Angeles in California.  I live in the UK and like most other people that live here I just think that four hundred miles is a long way!

Lydbrook is in the Forest of Dean.  The UK is the second-least wooded country in Europe and only Ireland has less trees. There are not any forests where we live in Lincolnshire, it is the most treeless county in England where the land is mostly given over to arable farming which produces almost all of the vegetables for the entire country.  According to a recent survey Surrey is surprisingly the most wooded County in England.  The nearest to us, I guess, is Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire but there really isn’t much of that left either, Robin Hood wouldn’t be able to hide in it for long these days that’s for sure!

The forest is an area of about forty-five square miles of mixed woodland, one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in England. A large area that was once reserved for royal hunting after 1066 and until quite recently remained the second largest crown forest in England.

Forest Law finally came to an end during the second half of the seventeenth century but by then newly secured enclosures had taken a large bite out of the forests which were also sources of fuel for a rapidly growing population.

The forest was used exclusively as a royal hunting ground by the Tudor kings and subsequently a source of food for the royal court. Later its rich deposits of ore led to its becoming a major source of iron. Forest of Dean timber was particularly fine and was regarded as the best source for building ships.

The navy had, for many years, depended on English forests for their ships. According to legend, the Spanish asked one of their ambassadors during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to sneak up and set fire to the Forest of Dean, hoping it would give their Armada an advantage.

As England’s navy grew larger and Brittania ruled the waves the need for timber began to seriously pick away at the woodland and from an estimated land coverage of 15% in 1086 as recorded in the Doomsday Book, England’s forests and woods had reduced to just 5% by 1905.

Where did all of these trees go? Well, for example It is estimated it took six thousand trees to build Nelson’s battleship HMS Victory, five thousand of which were oak. There were twenty-seven ships of the line at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 so that was an astounding one hundred and sixty thousand trees.  The French and Spanish fleet had thirty-three ships and they were generally bigger than those in the English fleet.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Forest was a complex industrial region with deep coal mines, iron mines, iron and tinplate works, foundries, quarries and stone-dressing works, wood distillation works producing chemicals and with a sinuous network of railways but these are all gone now.

The Forest of Dean is not a big forest, the three largest in England are Kielder in Northumberland, The New Forest in Hampshire and Thetford Forest in Norfolk.  Kielder and Thetford are both recent forests both planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation following the First-World-War but the Forest of Dean like the New Forest and Sherwood is an ancient forest of medieval England.

We managed a couple of rural walks in the Autumn sunshine,  I liked it, a place of retreat and gentle reflection amongst statuesque trees, leaves falling like confetti, pregnant leaf buds and gently shifting branches with brief glimpses of the clear blue sky above, a place deliciously cool and damp with the diffused sun casting mysterious shadows over tiny clearings.

Living in Lincolnshire I don’t get to stroll through forests very often, I mostly walk through wide open fields.  Quite a contrast.

We also got to go on a train ride.  It was supposed to be a steam train ride but the engine broke down just the day before so we got a diesel train instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil looking for something beneath and around the base of the larger trees were deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.