Category Archives: Natural Environment

People Pictures – Cottage Industry

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken in the Spanish village of Carmona in Cantabria…

Carmona is a delightfully quaint village with tiny cobbled streets with wild flower verges and where sunlight spilled into the dark corners of the workshops where traditional wood carvers were busy making customary products of cattle yokes, sandals, clogs, canes, and cutlery which, I am told, are distinctive to rural Cantabria.

I say that in a slightly cynical way because I got the impression that there isn’t really a great deal of tradition here and that whilst a man was busy whittling wood in an open barn for the benefit of the tourists there was probably a factory somewhere full of modern drills and lathes where the products for sale were being produced for sale to the coach loads of visitors who visit daily.

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A to Z of Balconies – The Greek Island of Symi

The approach to the harbour town was probably the most spectacular of all the islands that we have visited flanked on both sides by colourful neoclassical houses in a riot of complimentary pastel shades, contrasting wooden shutters, decorative iron balconies and red tiled roofs.

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People Pictures – Stubborn Occupation

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken in the resort town of Paphos in Cyprus…

From our hotel a lot of the two mile walk into Paphos was completely dull and uninteresting, a strip of charmless grey car hire offices, car parks, travel companies, estate agents, every so often an Irish Pub and a modern but unfortunate McDonald’s restaurant. There is always a McDonald’s restaurant.

I thought that you might need some McDonalds facts here. There are eighteen McDonalds in Cyprus and that is about one per 47,000 population, roughly the same as the UK. For comparison USA and Australia have a restaurant for about every 25,000 and the highest in Europe is Andorra with one for every 15,000. Iraq has only one restaurant for its population of forty million, I don’t know whether to sympathise with them or congratulate them.

Closer to the harbour and the older sections of the town there was a more interesting mix of history and styles.

As we walked we strayed away from the main streets into backstreet areas where some people hang to the past like stubborn barnacles clinging to a rock. Houses from the past which take up space that modern developers would love to get their hands on but people will obviously not give them up easily. Mostly old people of course and I imagine that once they have gone their families will happily sell up and cash in.

This elderly couple were managing what I would describe as an urban smallholding.

One Word Challenge – Point

This week I have decided to join in with Debbie Smyth’s One Word Sunday challenge

Skelligs View Car Park, Kerry…

It has to be said that this was a really odd place. It seems that wherever coaches stop in Ireland an unusual ensemble of strange people and entertainers beam down from out of space and put out a collection tin.

In this windy remote place the oddest of all was a sort of farmer chap who looked as though he hadn’t washed his hands or combed his hair for several years who sat on two battered sofa cushions and invited people to have their photograph taken with a litter of kittens barely old enough to be away from their mother and then some lambs who looked to me to be highly sedated. I think the chap was highly sedated as well, probably on Guinness!

But he actually seemed positively normal next to the man a badly out of tune accordion and kicking a piece of metal plate in some sort of unholy row that I can only imagine was designed to scare witches away.

Walking back to the car in a state of dazed amusement I decided to take his picture but he saw me raise the camera and he was not very happy about it. Perhaps he thought the camera would steal his soul but on reflection I think it was because I hadn’t put any money in the tin. “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me” he yelled, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”. I took the picture and gave a jolly wave but he wasn’t going to be that easily placated, “Don’t point that feckin’ thing at me”, “I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”.

Now I suffer from a real fear of dogs and a paranoia of being mauled to a canine death and normally a threat like that would turn by backbone to jelly. The British Geological Survey Team in Edinburgh measures earthquake activity in the UK and has been known to sometimes get confused by the seismic activity created by my violent shaking when faced by a dog and has even issued a false earthquake event alert.

On this occasion however I didn’t think I had a lot to fear from an obviously shagged out old collie that was wearing a flat cap tied to its head and whose best people attacking days were a long way behind it. The poor thing could hardly stand up let alone chase anyone that it was set upon so I gave another cheery wave and dawdled defiantly back to the car. I was supremely confident that I could make the five metres to the door faster than it could cover the fifty metres or so to get to me.

Back in the car I suddenly worried that this might be the time that the engine would blow up and I might be in a spot of bother after all but thankfully it fired into life and I deliberately drove slowly past him and gave him a another cheeky wave as he continued to make his pointless threat – “I’ll set the dog on yer, I’ll set the dog on yer”. What was it going to do – bite the tyres?

Anyway, there was no warning light on the dashboard about geriatric dog attacks so we just laughed and carried on to the exit.

A to Z of Statues – C is for Tommy Cooper

When I was at Cardiff University in 1972 to 1975 I used to regularly take the train on the Welsh valley line to nearby Caerphilly. I used to like Caerphilly, especially the castle.

I didn’t know then that it was the birthplace of the comedian magician Tommy Cooper who was born there in 1921.

Hands up if you knew Tommy Cooper was born in Wales.  Overseas readers are excused the exercise.

After leaving University I didn’t return to Caerphilly until I visited the town with my travelling pal Dai Woosnam in 2016, We weren’t looking for Tommy Cooper especially but came across his statue. Actually we were looking for a landmark commemorating another famous Welshman with an association with the town – Guto Nyth Brân.

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A to Z of Balconies – Quarteira in Portugal.

In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man called Gordon Pitcher who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets.

The property was in what was then a rather remote location called Quarteira, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about.  Quarteira is now an adjacent resort to busy Vilamoura.  I visited Vilamoura again in 2019 but I didn’t like it. The official guide boasts that “Vilamoura is unlike any other Portuguese town, gone is the dilapidated charm, replaced with striking perfection, which is simply expected by the super-rich who frequent the marina.”

It is a modern purpose built tourist resort completely lacking in any sort of character.  We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror.  I should have carried out better research.

Anyway, back to the story of the balcony, Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.

Late in 1986 he asked Richard if he would do the job for him in return for a few days rent free holiday at the villa and Richard agreed so long as he could take his pals along to help with the long drive back.

This was Villa Estrella and its balcony.

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A to Z of Balconies – Pedro Bernardo in Spain

Pedro Bernardo is a village located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León high in the Sierra de Gredos.

The origins of Pedro Bernardo are not clear; the original name of the village was Navalasolana and there is a popular local legend that talks about the leaders of two groups of shepherds, Pedro Fernández and Bernardo Manso. They started to fight and struggled to get the control of the village and finally the feudal lord of the council tired of it all came up with a solution and decided to change the name of Navalasolana to Pedro and Bernardo to achieve peace and stop the struggles between the two squabbling bands.

In the early evening we walked into Pedro Bernardo, passing first through the Plaza de Torres and then the Plaza Mayor where groups of mainly old men were sitting in small groups and discussing the big important issues of the day.

Through the twisting narrow streets flanked by crumbling buildings with rotting timber and decaying plaster walls, Precarious wooden balconies and barely inhabitable houses we wandered aimlessly through the streets until we arrived at the church somewhere near the top of the village. It was nothing special and really hardly worth the walk at all so we made our way back down and stayed for a while in the main square and had a drink at a bar where there was reluctance to serve us at an outside table on account of the fact that the owner and bar staff were watching a bull fight from Seville on the television in the bar which demanded all of their attention.

I formed the impression that Pedro Bernardo was a town on the precipice, about to tip over in an avalanche of change that will achieve an instant transformation and erase a hundred years or so of history in the blink of an eye. It is rather like one of those penny drop machines in a games arcade, one shove and it will all tip over. One day it will all be gone. It is a shame but it will be ultimately it will be impossible to cling on to the crumbling rotting wreckage of an old town like this and everyone despite their objections will eventually be obliged to move to the nearby featureless modern new town instead.

Old people will weep, young folk will smile. Old people will lament, young folk will rejoice. Property developers will move in behind them and there will soon be a new old town of modern swanky apartments and boutique hotels.

I am so glad that I saw Pedro Bernardo as it once was.

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Memory Post – Danger, Railways and Canals

In my occasional series of memory posts I link to my second (now discontinued) blog “Age of Innocence” .  In this two part post I look at growing up and playing dangerously…

Play places didn’t get more dangerous than the London to Birmingham railway line  It was relatively easy to get up on the tracks and put half pennies on the line for the trains to squash and expand to the size of a penny in the optimistic hope that this would double the value of the coin and shopkeepers wouldn’t notice.  (This never worked by the way).

This was rather like in 1969 trying to tile the edges off of a half crown coin to double its value to make one of the new 50 pence pieces.  (This didn’t work either).

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Entrance Tickets – The Village of Peretellada in Catalonia

We were heading for the village of Peratallada which it turned out is a heavily visited tourist bus destination for holidaymakers having an afternoon away from the beaches but it was quiet this afternoon as we pulled into the car park and grudgingly paid the entrance fee before walking into the village.

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On This Day – Guadix in Spain

In the previous post I told you that I visited Granada but stayed outside of the city in the village of Romilla. We regretted that so two years later returned and stayed in an apartment in the City centre.

After three days in Granada we left the city on 25th April 2018 and drove to the town of Guadix…

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about. We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life. I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim… “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.”

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about €1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal. Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

This is the main reason for visiting Guadix. It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones. People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside. Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked us in to his cave home and invited us to look around. People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build. Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.