Tag Archives: Lisbon

East Anglia, Southwold and the English Pier

Southwold Suffolk

On our first day at Kessingland caravan park we squandered the time away at the swimming pool, the beach and took a short walk into the village.  By day two we were ready to explore and so we set off for nearby Southwold.

Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Beach Huts 1

We parked the car and walked along the short seafront, a pebbled beach that is difficult to walk upon, a promenade and a row of gaily painted beach huts.  Next we came to the pier.  The pleasure pier is characteristically English, a genuine icon and one that I have never really understood.

No one in England lives more than seventy miles* or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline.  If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.

It is a very nice pier with shops and amusements all the way down to the end.  In 2002 it was voted ‘Pier of the Year’ by the UK National Piers Society, it is quite short at only just over two hundred yards, when it was built in 1900 it was seventy yards longer but it has suffered various damage over the years.

Southwold Pier

English piers you see are rather fragile structures and over the years have had an alarming tendency to catch fire – Weston-Super-Mare, Brighton, Blackpool, Eastbourne, and Great Yarmouth have all suffered this fate but Southend-on-Sea is probably the most unfortunate of all because it has burned down four times which seems rather careless.

The problem with a pier of course is that they are generally constructed of wood and are highly combustible and a quarter of a mile or so out to sea they are also rather inaccessible to the fire service so once they go up in flames little can be done but to watch the blazing inferno from the safety of the promenade until the fire goes out by itself and all that is left is a tangle of twisted metal girders and beams.

Fire isn’t the only danger of course because the coast can be a rough old place to be in bad weather and severe storms and gales have accounted over the years for Aberystwyth, Cromer, Saltburn and Brighton.  Reaching far out to sea also makes them rather vulnerable to passing ships and the aforementioned unfortunate Southend-on-Sea was sliced in half in 1986 by a tanker that had lost its navigational bearings.  One unfortunate man was in the pier toilets at the time and apparently only just made it out in time before they tipped over the edge!

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one especially interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.

There is no visitor centre and no souvenir shop, just a windswept carpark and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, “No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to the seafront car park and enjoyed an especially good meal of fish and chips.

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles** on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

The day ended with an especially fine sunset…

Kessingland Seagulls and Sunset

* Based on a direct line drawn on an Ordnance Survey map from location to the first coast with tidal water.  The village that is further from the sea than any other human settlement in the UK is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at exactly seventy miles in all directions…

Coton-in-the-Arms Derbyshire

** The British Isles are an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean that consists of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and over six thousand smaller isles.  The term ‘British Isles’ is controversial in Ireland where there are nationalist objections to its usage and the Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term and discourages its use.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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Portugal, The End of the Journey

Portugal 2017

So our travels were over.  We had not had a train journey holiday since 2013 in Puglia in the south of Italy so it was good to get back on the tracks!

We flew into Lisbon and spent four days in the capital city, it was oppressively hot but we enjoyed it all the same.

If I was to do anything different I would have visited Belém rather than Sintra.  Sintra is just too commercial and touristy.

After Lisbon we headed north out of the city to our next stop at the city of Tomar. Here is a top tip, buy train tickets in advance because at peak times it is a nightmare using the automated machines and you have to allow at least thirty minutes to shuffle tediously along the line.

Apart from the ticketing system the trains in Portugal are punctual and efficient and our planned itinerary was a complete success.

If you are planning travels through Portugal be sure not to miss out Tomar and maybe find some time for the nearby pilgrimage site of Fatima but that is a bit difficult without a car.

After Tomar the train took us to Coimbra, maybe the third largest city in Portugal or maybe not (Braga also makes this claim). A good place to visit, two or three days is just about right.

And then to the city of Ovar and the nearby seaside resort of Furadouro. Ovar is not really on the main tourist trail but it certainly gets my recommendation for a visit especially if you are lucky enough to bag a place on the Ceramic Trail Tour.

Kim in Portugal

Next to Portugal’s second city Porto which is a must visit city on a holiday such as this except that we had been there twice before so it felt as though we were just going over old ground. We wished instead that we had stayed in Aveiro as an alternative stopover.

If you are tempted to do this journey then be sure to do them both!

Leaving Porto we took the train to our final destination at Vila do Conde from where we hired a car and visited the cities of Guimarães and Braga, two more must visit places.

We had a wonderful time in Portugal and would certainly do it again.  Not my first visit and almost certainly not my last.  I went to the Algarve in 1986, 1987 and 1994 which is a long time ago so I really need to go back.  In 2009 I visited Northern Portugal and fell in love with the people, the towns, the beaches and the food.  If there is anything like a certainty in life then I will return to Portugal.

On the final morning we woke early and prepared to leave Vila do Conde.  We risked indigestion and snatched a hasty  breakfast and then made our way to the metro station for the final time and took the tram to the Airport.  Francisco de Sá Carneiro Airport is just outside of the city.  Interestingly, Francisco de Sá Carneiro was for a short time the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1980 and some people have questioned the appropriateness of naming an airport after someone who died in a plane crash!

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with that, just wasted away the waiting time and reflected fondly on our very successful 2017 visit to Portugal.

Algarve

My next few posts will be a return to the island of Malta…

Portugal, Postcards

Portugal Tiles PostcardVila do Conde PostcardPORTUGAL lisbon 2014-04-30 001Coimbra PostcardFatima Portugal

If you like postcards of Portugal here are some more from the Algarve

Portugal, Rustic Doors

Coimbra Door 1Coimbra Door 2

Portugal, Doors

Portugal Doors 3Portugal Doors 2Portugal Doors 1

If you like the doors then you may be interested in some more from a post in July 2014…

Doors of Portugal

Portugal, A Walking Tour of Ovar

Ovar Portugal Azulejo

The plan for our three days at the seaside in Furadouro was to take a break from travelling and the trains, the drag-bags and the packing and unpacking and to spend some time relaxing on the beach.

Unfortunately our plan was scuppered by the weather because when we woke the next day there was a thick sea mist which would have challenged anything that the North Sea can throw at us back home.

Trying as best we could to be optimistic about the situation we hoped that it would be blown away by the time we had finished breakfast but it was still there like a damp shroud when we left the hotel and ventured onto the streets.  By mid morning it was getting even worse and our clothes were getting damp so we finally admitted defeat, took our swimming costumes and towels back to the hotel and tried to think of some alternative entertainment for the day.

Then I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles.  This didn’t seem too exciting to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing.  It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and there were so we signed up.

We considered ourselves fortunate about that because there is only one official tour like this every month and this was the last of the season.

Portugal Tiles Postcard

Now we had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.

To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.

This seemed to take a long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of beer and wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.

Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.

Azulejo Ovar

Azulejos first came to Portugal in the fifteenth century, when parts of the Iberian Peninsula remained under Moorish rule.  Although many assume the word is a derivation of azul (Portuguese for blue) the word is Arabic in origin and comes from az-zulayj, which roughly translates as ‘polished stone’.

Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.

It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo.  The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.

I liked Ovar and I hope it succeeds.

Ovar Portugal Tile Painting

Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile.  We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day.  It was all rather like being back at school.

Now there was a bus trip to the nearby village of Válega and the church there which is a true masterpiece of tile painting art and surely one of the remarkable churches in all of Portugal.  A golden temple that sparkles with amazing tiles of many colours especially now that the sky had cleared and the sun was illuminating the towering facade.

Actually I found it to be overly showy and gaudy in its appearance but the tour guides seemed to like it and we spent a few minutes inside and out.

Válega Church Ovar Portugal

We were beginning to wonder what was happening next on the itinerary when we were driven to an artisan workshop and museum and I began to sense the commercial part of the tour was fast approaching. I was wrong to be sceptical however because this was where the €2 was going and some enthusiastic ladies in traditional costume baked for us and then served up the local specialty of orange loaf bread which was quite nice but to be honest I found a bit stodgy, a touch under baked and rather too much of it.

This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.

Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them.  We use them at home now as oversized coasters.

Ovar Portugal Orange Bread

Portugal, Balconies

Furadouro BalconyBalcony PoemPorto Balcony 2Porto Balcony 1