A homage to Lynmouth

I forget how divine this length of coast is. I spent the night at Minehead and drive to Porlock Weir, a delight in its own right.

I then drove up the hill out of the village and out onto the wide open spaces of Exmoor – a real ‘awe & wonder’ moment, a cry out loud celebration of all that is good about this world and about life – the sea on one side with lines of white horses snuffling the bays and headlands , the stretching moorland cut by deep valleys on the other. Free air above in a cloudless sky and the open road ahead with the roof down. If only I had hair to blow free in the breeze. I stop to overlook Lynmouth before driving down into the village.

1952. The year the rains came, the East and West Lyn rivers roared off the moors bringing boulders & earth & trees and taking cars & vans & sheds on a dreadful journey of devastation through the village. 34 people died in the resulting chaos.

I forget how charming the village now is, both up the two rivers to the moors and downstream to the sea. It’s Victorian splendour has been recaptured from its wrought iron balconies to the Rhenish Tower.

The waterpowered Cliff Railway toils up & down, filling its top water tanks after each journey linking Lynmouth with its high neighbour on the cliffs

I have to leave you with two bathing places on the Kennet & Avon Canal which I included on my way home. The first is on the River Avon, not the canal itself, at Bathampton, by the tall bridge.

The other is at Clavendon Pumping Station. To get to it you have to walk down a narrow track, over the canal bridge, over the pedestrian gate across the main line to Bath and into the meadows where the Avon smoothes over a weir. Both places are glorious in weather like this, even if the locals have claimed them already. There is space for all.

From Watchet to Porlock Weir

Two days of hot, sunny weather is forecasted so the routine goes out the window and out comes the camera. I have two legs I want to complete – past of the coast in Somerset/Devon and a small section of the Kennet & Avon Canal. They are in the same direction so I decide to do the former first and complete most of it today leaving the other for the way home.

So I head for Steart on a peninsula, west of Barnstable, sticking out into the Bristol Channel. There’s not a lot here.

It’s not called Steart Marshes for nothing even if some small settlements hug any firm land they can find. Sheep and cattle graze the lush grasses, rushes line the vast expanse of clinging mud and large pebbles form an impossibly hard beach to manoeuvre. Hartland Point Power Station is the main, man-made feature on this part of the coast.

The first real settlement is Watchet. A delightful harbour town which is also on the West Somerset Railway line. You can almost feel the history ooze its way out of the Flag stones around the harbour.


Blue Anchor is a long, wide strip of pebbles backed by a road, backed by a line of static caravans. Each end is stapled to the ground by a group of more permanent detached houses.

Dunster Beach is the coast side of Dunster Castle and of Dunster medieval village. There is a refreshment van and then a wide strip of parked cars and vans with their owners sitting out on camping chairs devouring the Sun or the Mail. The other end consists of a never-ending crescent of large, almost bungalow-sized beach huts which line the heart of the bay.

Minehead had its glory days in Victorian times when it’s rather remote location only allowed the wealthy to make the journey to its glam hotels and bathing huts. When the railway arrived the hoy poloy were able to holiday here. This was exaggerated further when Butlins established a holiday camp here in the 50s, which now has an almost permanent presence in the town, swamping any history the harbour might try to show off.

Porlock Weir is delightful. A fishing and trading centre for the Porlock Estate, the harbour still provides shelter for private boats while the bars and hotels refresh the crews and the more up-market souvenir shops like Exeter Glass satisfy the shopping visitors.

3 days and 3 nights in Chicago

You’ve not heard from me for a while. In fact I’m back. I simply had no time to write my blog while in Chicago. I was so busy exploring a whole new side to this city. So, I’ll put a jumble of images together for you to try to encapsulate what a fantastic place this is – in terms of music, food, experiences & history:

An evening at the home of Blues – Kingston Mines. Every night, 365 days of the year, two bands alternate on two stages, each for three sets of 40 minutes.

A visit to Garfield Conservatory. It’s free.

I’m told the weather gets warm/hot. Go to the beach. Lifeguards are included if you fancy a dip.

Exploring, on foot, Downtown and images around the famous elevated ‘L’ (elevated!!) Loop.

Exploring the local neighbourhood at night after a wonderful meal in Chicago’s own Beatnick Restaurant

How about these two? The second one is a diner.

If you do come to Chicago you must do the Segway Tour. Not only do you visit tourist hotspots like Soldier Field Football Stadium, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, but you duo it on a Segway which is so much fun. I have to say taking a photograph on the phone with one hand, whilst balancing the machine at their same time,is a real feat.


Another high spot, in two meanings of the word, is brunch on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower. Not only a fantastic meal but a fantastic view up the lake.

And that’s not to mention the Supermarket Wine & Food Tasting, the Puerto Rican meal, the numerous bars, the creamed corn to go with the pork ribs, the Blind Barber in the old Meatpackers’ District (you walk through an actual barber shop, through a narrow door and into a bar, a very trendy bar at the back; you can get an actual hair cut too!!) and the subterranean lands under the river bridges.

Navy Pier in the fog

Chicago really does live up to its name of the Windy City. The weather is so changeable. It can be a warm 26°C (although the Americans use Fahrenheit just to confuse us Europeans even more) one minute and a chilly 7°C the next. The branches of the trees are a good indicator. When they sway, more than likely the wind will be coming from the north, from over the lake, bringing the weather in with it, dropping the temperature and snuggling in fog, cloud, rain and worse. Quite literally it is possible to have all four seasons in one day, even in one hour, at this time of year.

For once the weather behaved itself today although Windy still managed to dominate proceedings. We headed for Navy Pier. Despite a sunny, warm morning at home, as we approached lakeside the fog descended, hugging us down with a white-grey blanket of cold air. Only the bottom 3/4 floors of the surrounding buildings could be seen.

The Navy Pier was built before the Great War to handle cattle shipments and the flow of immigrants that came to the Promised Land. Now it is a playground for tourists. Sightseeing cruises leave from here. There are bars and cafes and a theatre and a fairground. Not to be outdone by Monsieur Eiffel in Paris, a Mr Ferris built the first ever Ferris Wheel close by for Chicago’s 1893 World Fair.

When we arrived the fog hid the other side of the harbour. We were there for an hour long Architectural Tour of the lake side on the Windy, a traditionally-rigged, sailing tall ship. We walked down the line of vessels – brash but rather sorry-looking cruise ships with 3/4 decks, water taxis, fluorescent Seadog 50-seater speed boats….and there’s our elegant, classy, sophisticated three masted schooner. We are assured that we’ll sail so we retire for a coffee and watch the fog rise to release us from its clutches, warming up the day as it does so.

As we cast off the whole of Navy Pier is revealed although tongues of fog still lick across the bottom floors of the high-risers.

We gently move out into the harbour on the engine. The boat comes to a gentle station in the middle of the harbour. The crew, dressed as pirates of the day which slightly brings down the tone of the voyage, then proceeded to instruct us in the raising of the sails, which, I have to say was very hard work….and a bit futile….there was no wind, none, not even a huff. So from our silent, peaceful spot we watched the fog rise and fall creating some wonderful images of the shoreline.

From out here the lighthouse guarding the entry to the harbour can be clearly seen with the marker on the other side. With the lights now being automatic, the building lies empty, no longer the home of the Guardian of the Light.

Out in the distance lies the entry to the water supply for the whole of the city.

After a while sitting out here in the gently lapping peace, a return to the quayside is ordered by our captain. By this time the sun has almost fully burned off the remaining fog and the full shoreline and the fairground can be clearly seen as we head for home.

The afternoon is spent sitting in the sun, watching the vessels mess about with each other, cross-crossing the harbour.

The Chicago Fire Department Fire Boat was the highlight as it showed of its full array of powerful water cannon….effective in putting out fires or dealing with rioters and lesser vessels. Big show off.




So much to do, so much to see in Chicago

Sunday is spent back at the Taste of Randolph Music Festival – more beer, more bands, more Country, more burgers.

Two stages & a Dance set up.

At least 10 bands on each stage with five on Friday. Not bad – 30 bands for $10.

Monday is spent visiting & revisiting new and old hot spots. Firstly, a walk around the Bean in Millenium Park.

Watch the crowds around Crown Fountain.

A Chicago Dog for lunch and a game of table shuffle-board in the Athletics Club

before visiting the Japan Festival in the Cultural Centre.

Pop into Macey’s to see the Tiffany ceiling.

In the underpass on the walk along the river to the lake, study the tiled mosaics that tell the story of Chicago. The two panels below describe how the city decided, in 1848 to turn the flow of the river away from the lake to create the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal. Previously, the river had been used to clean out the cattle yards where hundreds of thousands of cattle were housed and then slaughtered.  The city’s human waste and sewage also emptied into it and so flowed into the lake from which the inhabitants drew their drinking water, becoming rather ill in the process. By taking advantage of the lake being at a higher level than the river, a wider canal was dug to a lower level which created an increased flow thus changing its direction.

Take a water taxi through the centre of town up the Chicago River to China Town.

Then head out to a local bar for eats and beers to end the day, a very busy day.

Neighbourhood festivals of live music

There is so much live music in this city and music of every genre to meet everyone’s taste. We take full advantage of it. Last night was an evening in Ravinia Park to hear the legendary Buddy Guy, the King of the Blues. His voice and the handling of that guitar is still out of this world. Thousands eat their fancy picnics and then sit around and listen out on the grass, even in the pouring rain as the main man does his stuff under cover in the open-sided auditorium.

In the morning a coffees is required. In the US there are two types of coffee. There is the refill mug -you purchase the mug and a bottomless pot of filter coffee keeps coming around. The other is the craft coffee based on Italian shots and this takes place in some very trendy buildings like this converted factory at the edge of the meat packing district. Craft coffee is so trendy that it takes 10 minutes or so to prepare a simple latte.

Over the summer months there are 100 plus neighbourhood concerts. Each weekend in a different district a road is closed. Stages are set up, stalls erected and music, beer and street food tents established. The music plays from Friday until Sunday Night. This weekend we have a choice of two – Randolph Avenue is a short walk and gets the vote over Ribfest which is a lot further out.

Randolph Avenue is usually a busy dual carriageway full of traffic entering & leaving the city. Initially the empty road echoes the sounds of the first bands playing to a handful of festival goers.

The first bands on the West & East Stages start to warm the place up.

As the day progresses, the crowds increase and the bands perform their sets, each one appealing to their own band of loyal followers.

Sangria & beer flow. Burgers & kebabs & corn & tortillas sizzle and steam. Posters & T shirts are studied and purchased.

The world loves a good festival especially as the sky darkens and the base pounds out.

Me, I think of my warm bed and snuggling under the duvet.

Back in a new neighbourhood of Chicago

Well here we are in the Windy City again. Chicago – Frank Sinatra sang about it, the weather gave it its reputation and the Irish, cattle-men and the mob gave it its history. I love the place. Its iron bridges & overhead metro are a constant reminder of industry and power, pounding and clacking out the mantras of past & present moguls, opportunists, industrialists & businessmen. Urban Blues was born here, celebrated every year at the annual Blues Festival.

This is an oportunity to catch up with my daughter. She has moved to a new neighbourhood – West Town.

This morning, jet lag put on the back burner, is spent exploring these streets around Chicago Avenue. Yes please, we go out for breakfast and choose American Breakfast II, which includes the crispy bacon, from Breakfast Club.

Then a wander along Chicago Avenue. Here’s a selection of images from this cosmopolitan, diverse neighbourhood. It feels very similar to East Oxford.

We head for Alcala’s Western Wear. A store with everything a cowboy or a cowgirl needs from lassoes to chaps to hats to buckles to jeans to shirts. Madame from Mexico serves everyone with a huge smile.

It’s Fathers’ Day tomorrow. Amazing how many women were buying a shiny buckle for their man or a mooing hobby-cow for their sons (or daughters).

A leisurely stroll been on the other side of the street takes us home with a new view on to the buildings lining our route.