Category Archives: Beaches

Yorkshire – Seaside, Countryside and a Train Journey

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We started the second day in Yorkshire by returning briefly to the town of Whitby which at mid-morning was beginning to stir briskly into English seaside action.  Day trip busses growled into the car parks, breakfast cafés were doing energetic business and noisy amusement arcades were clattering with early coin action and temporary lost fortunes.

I like Whitby, personally I think it is the best of the Yorkshire East coast seaside towns, just edging out Filey and Hornsea but better by a mile than scruffy Scarborough and the really dreadful Bridlington.

Whitby is a fishing town and the harbour was busy this morning as tired working boats came and then rested went and sorted the catch at the quayside before the men on board went about their maintenance duties under the watchful eye of the visitors who wandered without purpose along the quay as they waited for the dozen or so fish and chip shops in the town centre to open at lunchtime.

I would happily have stayed longer at Whitby but we had a very full day ahead of us so we left the town and made our way to nearby Robin Hoods Bay, a charming place which was once a busy fishing village but is now a thriving tourist magnet with narrow picturesque streets, quaint houses, seaside souvenir shops and a wide sandy beach liberally punctuated with rock pools.  The sort of place that I remember from family holidays when I was a boy and where I wished I still had myI-Spy at the Seaside’ book.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

The origin of the name is uncertain, and unless he was on holiday it is highly doubtful if the famous outlaw Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity because it would be a long walk from Sherwood Forest. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin taking on French pirates who came to pillage the fishermen’s boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the plundered loot to the poor people in the village in his most famous way.

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We walked down the steep hill to the sea, stayed a while and then walked back through green fields and a herd of inquisitive cows because our plan now was to take a steam train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The train runs from Whitby to Pickering but car parking is difficult and expensive in Whitby so we started instead at the next station along the line at the village of Grosmont from a railway station that has been restored faithfully in the style of 1950s British Rail.  I am always amazed at what lengths people will go to in England to recreate the past.  We certainly love our history.

The eighteen mile North Yorkshire Moors Railway carries more people than any other heritage railway in the United Kingdom and even claims to be the busiest steam heritage line in the World, annually carrying more than three hundred and fifty thousand passengers.

We purchased our (expensive) return tickets and waited for the steam engine to tediously make its approach to the station, hissing, spitting, burning and growling like an angry beast. I like steam trains and like a lot of people lament their passing (I am of course old enough to remember steam engines running regular services) but it is easy to see why there is no place for these dirty, temperamental monsters in modern Britain.

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The train advanced ponderously and took an hour or so to cover the short fifteen mile journey so it was looking to break any speed records but it was a pleasant journey through the countryside and through a succession of attractive villages along the way before finally arriving in the market town of Pickering.

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Pickering is a gentle sort of place, I doubt that anything especially exciting ever happens there but I found it pleasant enough and we climbed the hill in the High Street, found a place for afternoon tea and a cream scone.  Having recently been to Cornwall I enquired that is a Yorkshire cream scone eaten in the Cornish (cream on last) or the Devon (cream on first) way and was emphatically told cream on last which I was also politely informed was more correctly known as the Yorkshire way.  Cornwall? Where’s Cornwall?

The train journey back to Grosmont was just as painfully slow and several of our party fell asleep but at £25 return fare I was determined to stay awake. Later we dined at the pub restaurant where we were staying, I was presented with a surprise sixty-fifth birthday cake and a celebration balloon and we all declared the few days in Yorkshire a great success.

Yorkshir Railway

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Travels in Spain, Valencia to Alicante

I have taken this drive before but here are some new pictures…

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Travels in Spain, The Historical Centre of Valencia

Valencia Town Hall

Regardless of the size of any Spanish city the historical centre is generally small and easily managed on foot and Valencia is no exception confined as it is within a circle that was once the old medieval city walls.

Our excellent accommodation was close to the central squares adjacent to the Cathedral and to the central market which was one of my favourite places.  Every morning I volunteered for breakfast shopping duties and made an early morning visit joining lines of Valencians going about their daily business, some vigorous, some dawdling, some urgent and energetic some reluctant and lethargic.

On the very edge of the centre is another market, a very fine building with a colourful Gaudi-inspired façade which is an example of Modernista Valencian Art Nouveau architecture of the time and has since been declared a national monument.

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It was once a real market but these days it has been gentrified and gone up-market and instead of stalls of fish and vegetables it is home to expensive cafés, restaurants and shops, the smell of the sea and the soil has been replaced by barista and croissant but it is a good place to visit all the same.

Not a great deal of the original city walls remain in place, just a pile of gnarled stone here and there but there are two restored gate houses that El Cid would surely have recognised even today and I chose one of them to pay the very reasonable admission fee of €1and climbed to the top where there were good views over the whole of the city.

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One of the things that I especially liked about Valencia was the general level of cleanliness with tidy streets and a thankful lack of graffiti, I know some people consider it to be a form of expressionism but in my opinion it is almost always a punishable crime.  I do however like good urban art and on almost every street corner there was something worthwhile to see, always well done and tasteful.  (The three worst places that I have been for graffiti by the way are Bologna, Lisbon and Ljubljana).

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Finally we visited the Bull Ring which I know a lot of people won’t agree with as being something worthwhile.  I used to think that I would like to see a Bullfight but not anymore.  Not because I disagree with it in principle but simply because as a spectacle it wouldn’t appeal to me.  That is because I am not Spanish and it is not part of my culture and tradition.

“Nothing expresses the masculine quality of this country better than the bull-fight, that lurid and often tawdry gladiatorial ritual, which generally repels the northerner in the theory, but often makes his blood race in the act.”  – Jan Morris. ‘Spain’

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There are many calls from outside Spain (and within as well) to ban the sport but that would be doing away with a pagan tradition that stretches back to the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans and once it has gone that link will disappear forever.

“I do not consider bullfighting a sport, it is an art, a science, a ritual more spiritual than physical”   Patricia McCormick – America’s first professional female bullfighter

The informative little museum explained that in a bullfight six bulls are killed in an event and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes.  If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the president of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.  Personally I would rather have a bottle of champagne or a cheque!

Every year, approximately two hundred and fifty thousand bulls are killed in bullfights. Opponents condemn it as a cruel blood sport, supporters defend it as a cultural event and point out that animal cruelty exists elsewhere in horse racing, rodeos or any form of hunting with guns which are all forms of sport that are stoically defended by those who take part.

Personally I would include the cruel and pointless sport of fishing in that list because to my way of thinking there is nothing more barbaric than catching a poor creature just going peacefully about its daily business with a hook and line and dragging it from its environment in a most stressful way and watch it lying there on the bank of a river gasping for breath.

All in all, I remain firmly on the fence in the matter of Bullfighting. I think we should first address the issue of man’s inhumanity to man.

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Travels in Spain, Valencia and The City of Arts and Sciences

On the second day of our visit to Valencia we did the same as the second day on the previous occasion that we visited – walked to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and then to the beach.

It was more or less the same sort of day and you can read about it here.

Here are some new pictures – click on an image to view the Gallery..

The next time I visit Valencia I am going to go inside the exhibition halls, but today the weather was just too good to be indoors.

Cornwall, Padstow, Tintagel and Boscastle

padstow-harbour

It really doesn’t pay to go back and look again at the things that once delighted you, because it’s unlikely they will delight you now.” – Bill Bryson,

Sally and the grandchildren were returning home today, a day earlier than Kim and I so with a two hundred mile journey to consider we decided to make some visits to places along the first part of their route.

We started with Padstow, a popular fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall.  We could have chosen any one of a number of similar villages but we chose Padstow because we wanted fish and chips from Rick Stein’s chippy.

Rick Stein is a famous English celebrity chef who lives in Padstow and specialises in fish dishes.  He has been so successful that he now owns several restaurants and food shops in the town and the locals now refer to the place as Padstein.

Rick Stein - Spain

As we got close it became obvious that a lot of other people wanted Rick Stein’s fish and chips today because on a gloriously sunny day the car parks were full and the charming little harbour was overrun with tourists and day-trippers.

The queue at the fish and chip shop close to the harbour was too long and too slow for my impatient grandchildren so went elsewhere and bought them from an alternative restaurant and I am certain that they tasted just as good.

We spent a couple of hours in Padstow around the boats and the seaside shops and looked across the Camel Estuary to the up-market seaside village of Rock where I holidayed with my parents around about 1965.

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After Padstow  I was keen to visit Tintagel because I had happy memories of it from 1965.  Tintagel Castle is associated with the stories of brave King Arthur, mysterious Merlin, The bold Knights of the Round Table and beautiful Queen Guinevere and this was when I still believed the stories of the Arthurian legend.

Although it is almost certain that King Arthur (if indeed there ever was a King Arthur) never stepped foot at all in Tintagel or its castle (mostly on account of the fact that it wasn’t built until several years after his possible existence) the village and English Heritage (who own the castle) have made a very good job of convincing everyone that he did and have successfully turned it into one of the most visited places in England.

This is a picture of my grandparents visiting the castle in 1960…

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… in 1960 they always seemed old to me but they were only in their mid-50s and now that I am sixty-five I see them in a different way.

I can’t be sure why I remembered Tintagel as somewhere interesting and worth a return because it turned out to be spectacularly unmemorable. We parked the car in the visitor centre which without explanation was closed and walked towards the castle along a long linear street lined with shops and cafés which all had a predictable Arthurian theme and held no interest for us.

After a steep descent to the coast we came upon the castle which was also closed whilst a new footbridge is being constructed across from the mainland to the rocky promontory that is the castle.  I say castle but all there is to justify this description are a few scrappy bits of ruined walls and not much else so I wasn’t too upset that it was closed and at least we saved on the admission fee.

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Tintagel goes onto my list of disappointing places alongside Jamaica Inn.  I had no plans to visit Jamaica Inn today because even as a ten year old I can remember being greatly underwhelmed by the visit there over fifty years ago.

So we went to Boscastle where I remembered the Witches Museum which also turned out to be a place that I didn’t really need to go back to.  I offered my grandchildren money not to go in but they insisted and their assessment was one of disappointment and regret that they hadn’t taken the cash offer.  Boscastle has more charm than Tintagel I have to confess but after a walk alongside the long sinuous harbour and a visit to the National Trust shop there isn’t really a great deal more to see.

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But the real purpose of our visit was to complete the week with a Cornish cream tea so we identified a suitable place where the grandchildren could terrorise the staff and spoil the afternoon for any other visitors and sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a plate of homemade scones, some plain, some with currants and remembered that in Cornwall it is jam first and cream on top unlike in Devon where they reverse the procedure.

After tea we said goodbye to Sally and the children, they headed east towards the Midlands and we returned to Mevagissy and the cottage which now seemed curiously deserted and quiet.  I always get an empty feeling when the children go home.

The following day we enjoyed a long walk along the coastal path in the unexpected sunshine and a week that began requiring raincoats, scarves and gloves ended in shirt-sleeves, shorts and sun-cream.  What a genuinely fascinating and eclectic place England is with its interesting diverse weather conditions that always manage to delight and surprise.

The next day we vacated the lovely Tranquility Cottage and made the long drive home to the East Coast.

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Cornwall, Around Mevagissey Harbour Part 2

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After leaving St Michael’s Mount we had another frustrating drive back to Mevagissey and arrived in the late afternoon.  The sun was shining so I went straight to the harbour with my camera and became fascinated by the boats and the reflections…

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Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount

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“In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.” – Wikipedia

Everyone knows that driving in Cornwall can be a tedious and frustrating affair.  I knew it but didn’t expect it so early in the year as the month of April (even though it was school Easter holiday week).

Today we were driving thirty miles west to the village of Marazion and St. Michaels Mount.  A simple enough matter anyone might think.  Entrance to the castle is restricted by the tide because visitors have to walk across a causeway that becomes submerged twice a day so timing is somewhat critical.  I studied the tide tables and set a departure time which would give us plenty of time to get there for the opening of the causeway and a couple of hours wandering about at the site.

First of all we drove to the town of St Austell which is not a very appealing place I have to say.  It was once the centre of the entire World china clay production and most people will have an item of porcelain in their homes which came from this area but the quarries are all closed down now.  It is estimated that there are fifty years of clay reserves left in the ground but the owners find it more economical to concentrate on operations in Brazil.

Away from the dramatic coast line Cornwall is not an attractive place.  Pause for sharp intake of breath from readers.  Concrete not stone, render not brick.  The rural landscape is rather dull and the towns are depressing, grey and ugly.  Places look better in the sunshine of course but in Cornwall the sun has to try a lot harder than some other places.  I am reminded of the joke, “There was an earthquake in Cornwall last night, it did a million pounds worth of improvements to Cambourne”.  St Austell is surrounded by white peaks of spoil from the quarries but even the optimistic description of the Cornish Alps cannot really hope to make them any more appealing.

Cornish Alps St Austell

North of St Austell we finally reached the A30 and I foolishly looked forward to straight forward effortless motoring for the final twenty miles.  How wrong I was.  The A30 must be one of the worst roads in England.  You cruise along nicely for a couple of miles on a dual carriageway and then every five miles or so the traffic grinds to a standstill at a roundabout and then everyone creeps forwards at increments of about two feet every ten minutes.

The traffic was frequently at a standstill and according to my calculations the tide was coming in at St Michaels Mount and I could feel my normal calm demeanour rapidly evaporating.  I cursed myself for not allowing more time for the journey.

We finally arrived at Marazion and being late for the tide and the foot crossing it was so busy that we had to use an overflow car park which involved an additional fifteen minute hike to the causeway and then inevitably everyone wanted to go to the toilets which added another ten minutes or so and my frustration entered the red zone as I could see our tidal window of opportunity quickly ebbing away.

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Eventually we made the windswept crossing to the castle but we only had a couple of hours now before we would have to return or be cut off by the tide and have to stay there for eight hours or so.

I was keen to see St Michael’s Mount because a couple of years ago I had visited its counterpart in France.  Mont St Michel is a lot bigger and although a magnificent spectacle is disappointingly commercialised so I didn’t know quite what to expect.  It turned out to be quite different without the tacky tourist shops and cheap food outlets which have spoilt the French island castle but really I wouldn’t expect that sort of thing from the National Trust.

Interestingly, despite the tat Mont St Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but St Michael’s Mount is not.  How unfair.

It is one of the iconic landmarks of Cornwall and today it was rather too busy for my liking with thousands of people swarming across the causeway and then making their way to the very top of the rock and visiting the interior.  Inside was hot and cramped so we turned back after the first room and skipped the visit preferring instead to sit outside on the rocks and wait while the family completed the tortuous route through the castle.

From the top we could see the tide beginning to advance so it was time to make our way down and cross back to the mainland before the causeway would be completely submerged.

Despite the crowds this is a place well worth a visit and I enjoyed our short time on the rock with its attractive harbour, medieval cobbles and stone built houses where real people still live.  As it happened there was no real need to rush off because there was a ferry boat service that would have taken us back for only a small charge.

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Just by way of comparison this is Mont St Michel in Brittany in France…

Mont St Michel France