Three Welsh beaches through the rain clouds

What a difference a day makes. The Mumbles looked glorious under blue skies. The journey to Pembrokeshire, via Rhossili, was carried out under grey, crying clouds. At least the rain stopped at Rhossili leaving a level of low mist to cover the peaks around arguably the best beach in Wales, if you have the legs to get down to it with or without your surf board. It was eerie and ghostly with swirling wisps of cloud revealing secrets to the remarkably high number of visitors, considering the weather.

The rain and drizzle continued through to Pembrokeshire. That righteous part of my clean living did me proud again with the skies clearing on arrival to to the prettiest converted barn imaginable overlooking Dinas Head and the village of Newport.

Having provided a glimpse of what’s on offer, the clouds drew in overnight. Wet weather could be heard on the skylights. In the morning, during a respite in the cloud-dumping sessions, I opened the back door. The glory of the silence that squashed against me was overwhelming, only disturbed by the bleeding of the occasional sheep in the neighbouring field.

The rain was not going to cease completely today and so it was out and at ’em, what ever the sky threw down. Newport is a lovely village with picturesque cottages, pubs, restaurants and unique, independant craft & tourist shops. Parrog beach runs along the side of the mouth of the River Nyfer. With the tide out it is like a wet snake, slithering through the muddy, sandy squelch of the estuary.

Crossing the river to the north, the road rises around to the golf club and down to the town beach on the opposite side.

Greys of clouds darken in the distance and approach relentlessly, waiting to dump their loads on the sands. Human activity continues unabated, providing endless entertainment for an appreciative audience – those attempting to remain upright on their new paddle boards, dog owners loosing control over their excited, pedigree, designer-dogs despite calls, whistles, treats and leads. Have a look at these atmospheric images:

I couldn’t resist this one. This little girl is anxiously waiting for her granddad who has been down to the sea with a bucket and spade in which to collect water especially for her and their sand castle-building efforts.

Mumbling on about The Mumbles on race day

So what does a day out in The Mumbles look like. It can be very energetic for some. For me it contains s lot of slow strolling from bench to bench along the front which are at least 10 metres apart, from the centre of town to the pier, a distance of 800 metres or so. During this time a lot of observation takes place, admiring the activity of others.

One is immediately hit by the rate of different activities along the promenade which stretches all the way from Swansea around to The Mumbles, all of 5 miles or so. It is divided into two lanes. One is depicted by two people holding hands – for lovers or more generally, pedestrians with the occasional panting jogger. The other sign has the symbol of a cyclist. Now, this term can vary between the hire-bikes ridden gently by those unused to demanding activities and those cycling sleek road bikes at ferocious speeds who are totally unable to stop if a two-legged user strays into the two-wheeled lane. Somehow, there are no collisions.

First things first – the first coffee of the day is always the best. In amongst the parked boats, most of which are tatty, dirty, scruffy and look like they would sink if they even got close to water, are several coffee shacks/vehicles. That took sun a good hour sitting and chatting to Joy, a senior local who sang the praises of her home town.

The next stop at the launching ramp, which passes for the town harbour, was for a similar period of time, watching the boats unloaded from trailers, getting rigged and setting off across the bay to the starting line up for a days racing. Sadly the wind was only whispering so it took a while to get over there.

Now these guys were really important and ready to spring into action. They were the Race Support Team. If a boat got into difficulty miles away on the other side of the bay, they would have to get straight back, with no wind to speak of, and the team would jump into action and sort out any problems. What a responsibility!

A lot of time was spent watching others engaged in busy activities. Fishing was the most energetic, as was watching the fishermen.

There was a lot of ice cream consumption taking place by people of all ages.

Gentle activities include family swimming, leisurely paddle-boarding, launchng private boats & dingies.

Up at the pier tea is of course essential.

But I am looking for a place to have a little dose. I have my eye on the benches at the end of the pier. The Mumbles has four RNLI lifeboat stations. Originally the local lifeboat was stored under the cliff but a proper building was built in 1866 around a ramp a few years after.

Two more stations and ramps were built at the end of the pier – the one on the left, now a host to a breeding colony of very noisy gulls, in 1922 and the other on the right in 2014.

I found a nice comfy bench and settled down for a nap. I was reassured that my security was taken care of by two new friends. I don’t know what my female pal was peeping at below.

Mumbling about in South Wales

The title of the blog and the first image might give you a clue about this road trip.

A large concrete block, with consonant-heavy words, short chomped hill-grass and a couple of rather manky mountain sheep with tattered fleeces give it away. I am on my way over to the west coast of Wales and breaking the journey for a day in The Mumbles.

Once across the southern-most bridge over the Severn and past Cardiff, it is a right turn up into the hills and valleys of the Rhondda and Wales’ industrial past.Along the top of the valleys the road passes through countless mining communities with relics of their industrial past, tall chimneys, lift machinery, foundry buildings, standing empty, usually dilapidated, but still proud above the strings of workers’ terraces that line the road and lasso up and down the hillsides. Even this aquaduct shouts out its heritage, built in 1827 to carry water to an iron works three miles away.

Above the mining villages the road rises to the Brecon Beacons with parades of wind farms behind, their upper rotations hidden by haze and whispers of cloud. On the edge of a ‘long and winding road’, overlooking the valley communities, stands a rather sad, lonely single ice cream van selling coffee, icecream and home-made Welsh cakes (well we are in Wales!). It still gets customers – some more interested in the surrounding grass than the ice cream.

Following the head of the valleys eventually brings us down to Swansea and, by folowing the coastline, to The Mumbles, the guardian of the wonderful Gower coastline. Down to the Bay, looking left and right, respectivrly, along to Swansea and to the two RNLI lifeboat stations at the end of the pier.

Here’s a close up, with the lighthouse behind on the headland.

More about The Mumbles, tomorrow.

The two Cowes

There is still enough righteousness in my tank for the sun to blaze one last day as I complete my circular tour around the coast of the Isle of Wight. The beach up to Cowes hinges at Gurnard. This small village has a line of tall, rather grand beach huts set along the esplanade. There are few people about even though the weather is ideal for time on the beach. Maybe this is due to the fact that the tide is coming in below the promenade, leaving a reducing amount of sand & pebbles to set the beach furniture on; will its a bit coarse to edit on. Only when school ends do the youngsters come down to mess about on surf boards and inflatables.

The pebbly beach, full of creams & tans & lattes like a caramel cream, chocolate chip ice cream, runs up to Cowes with the wide promenade keeping it company all the way. You know you’re in the town when you are welcomed by the Yacht Club with its crescent of small canon that signal the start of races.

Next to the club a crescent provides parking for cars and a dropping off point for coaches, overlooked by some classy houses and hotels.

As the coaches spill their loads onto the pavements, fragile lines of slow-moving visitors move off into the narrow passages of the old town, all pedestrianised to facilitate the payment of dosh in the many cafes and tat shops.

Around the edge of the old centre, lining the waters edge, are numerous boat yards hosting stands of pretty impressive luxury boats and racing yachts – Cowes’ main preoccupation & industry. Chandlers and boat suppliers display traditional goods and services amongst the tourist glitz.

The chain ferry links the affluence of Cowes with the industry of its poorer brother, East Cowes, on the other side of the estuary. Smaller and less glamourous than big brother, East Cowes has been a centre for industry and ship building for centuries. In 1696 Nye’s Yard built a 32-gun battleship. During WWI 33 destroyers and at least 2 submarines were built in the town’s yards. The coastline here is way less impressive & glitzy than over the water. The open area behind the high tide beach is for family fun and recreation. Maybe this working town has done its bit in building up an industrial past. The propeller of HMS Cavalier stands close to the site of the Rope Works, in front of old workers’ houses..

Thank you sun and thanks to IoW. Has been a great few days.

Does the sun shine on the righteous or is it just when on the Isle of Wight?

Well, I must have done something right sometime in the past cause the sun shone and shone and shone today. And when the sun shines every image looks amazing although I have to say that I visited some pretty attractive places and beaches.

I started at Ventnor. I’d forgotten what a nice place Ventnor is, especially in that early morning light. I used to bring parties of children here in my early days as a teacher. The pier was still there then, before it was demolished in the 1990s following a fire. The site is still marked. But it is a lovely, calm resort with an air of respectability and prosperity.

I then drove through the Overcliff. This stretches all the way along the coast. For a while it is wooded on its upper slopes sprinkling shadow and shade below. The lower road is closed due to cliff slip, the process of land slumping down into the sea forming clumps of rocks in front of a receding coast line.

Emerging from the shade of the woods the road runs parallel to the coast with open country and farmland on both sides. Cow parsley conducts the swaying fields of young barley and wheat. Marked footpaths set off to the cliffs and chines, steep gullies, cut down to the rough beaches. Brook Cline is one such.

Freshwater is a quiet resort where the road and coastal path sink down to the sea and then rise up again. It must have been popular with the Victorians judging from the age of the housing.

Alum Bay provides the most spectacular view of the beach and the Needles Lighthouse. Of course I went down in the chair lift, and up!

Totland and Colway are very similar, clutched on the coast in a narrow stretch of land, especially at high tide but connected by a sleepy, wild esplanade.

My favourite place of the day was Victoria Fort at Norton. Away from the visitors it is an old deserted battery that was originally built in the time of Henry VII, facing Hurst Castle on the opposite side of the Solent, to protect us from the French. It was further developed at the start of the Napoleonic Wars for the same purpose. It’s even got a slowly disintegrating military pier. It is a peaceful place, calm and settled with a little cafe providing snacks & drinks from one of the battery houses.

I’ll leave you with some images of the charming port of Yarmouth, the site of another of Henry VII’s forts facing out to sea. It has a pleasure pier for unloading visitors from the mainland and next door a terminal for their vehicles as well.

A clockwise trip around the Isle of Wight – Fishbourne to Sandown

The sun is due to shine floor a few days, so to celebrate I’m going to foreign climes to add the Isle of Wight to my coastal adventures. Still its goodbye to Portsmouth and a photogenic passage down The Solent.

And it’s hi to Fishbourne, looking a bit llike a Constable painting.

Ryde is just along the coast. Like so many British seaside towns it basks in a former glory. The pier welcomed holiday-makers from the mainland and transferred them to the flesh pots of the town (or the lobster & crab pots). Rusting rails and tracks must have carried several trains at the same time. Today it acts as a terminal for the passenger ferry from the mainland and the end of the pier acts as a car park. It is a novel feeling to drive along the wooden planks to the tatty space at the end.

I rather lliked Seaview. A quaint Edwardian resort town facing over the Solent. It has a calm atmosphere set off by a front with well maintained houses and bars around the Yacht Club. With the tide in, the rocks are prominent providing coral-like sculptures before the smoother saves are exposed with the receding water.

St Helen’s is in a prime location at the end of a popular beach for water sports.

Then we are into the Blackpools of the south coast. First is Sandown.

Then there is Shanklin, with Sandown’s pier in the background, a bit like an older, bigger brother looking over it.

A day of metal work in the north west

Well, if Morecombe and Blackpool were the cheese yesterday, then I saw three lots of chalk to balance them out and they all centered around constructions of metal. The first on my journey down to Liverpool was at Saint Anne’s on the Sea, namely St Annes Pier built in Victorian times. I haven’t worked these tides out. Based on past experience I thought the tide would be in during the morning. Well, as you can see when I arrived at nine or so it was well and truly out. The pier is looking a bit worse for wear and it is reassuring with the presence of a couple of vans and a couple of guys and the sound of Maxwell with his hammer coming from inside means it is getting some TLC and will be returned to its former glory. Even in this dilapidated state it has a certain charm.

A guy on a tractor was giving the beach an early morning sweep. The impression that he was preparing the dressage course was further enhanced by the rider in the distance down by the shore.

Further down the coast is Southport. This has real character as an old, Victorian resort. What used to be the seaside promenade, complete with ornate teraces, glass-covered frontages and wide, leafy boulevard-style streets is now several hundred metres from the sea, positioned above reclaimed land covered in superstores and fast food restaurants.

The Victorian pier links the two. It starts up by the old promenade and emerges onto the beach between the multiplex & 10 pin bowling alley on one side and McDonalds & Pizza Express on the other. Pedestrians can climb up wide steps onto the pier here. Once there, you realise that this is the half-way point. Although there are rails set into the wooden planks, the two little trains that chug up and down run on wheels. Shame. The tides confuse me again – high tide right up to the sea wall!

Corby is another journey down the coast. On Corby beach is the piece de reresistance (French spelling not good) – an Antony Gormley installation entitled Another Place. 100 life-sized sculpures are placed on the beach, facing out to sea. There seem to be three lines over several kilometres. As the tide moves in and out so figures are covered and exposed. From a distance it is hard to tell which is human and which is metal. The ones here are all metal. Confusing tides again, though as I expected – going out.

Chalk or cheese in the north west

The day started in Grange-over-Sands, a picturesque place on one side of the estuary of the River Kent. The railway runs along the coast and through the town. I drove to the opposite bank to Arnside, another pretty place where the railway crosses the muddy expanse of the river. A pier was built here to allow boats to unload their cargoes as their progress upstream was then blocked. The scenery remained outstanding even if the weather proved disappointing.

I’ve not a lot to say about Morecombe other than the tide was in. The most prominent feature of the town is the exceptionally sturdy sea wall that doubles as a wide promenade. I don’t know if this is the chalk or the cheese but it’s certainly different. The statue of Eric Morecambe was the best thing.

Further down the coast I came across the marvelously named Knott End on Sea on the north side of another estuary, that of the River Wyre. A pretty ordinary place, the one one thing it has going for it is the ferry that links it with Fleetwood, that from a distance seems to have historic landmarks in the form of docks, barracks and a lighthouse.

When I arrived the tide was in, licking right up to the shoreline. An hour later the sea had disappeared into the far distance leaving stodgy, sticky mounds of muddy, silty sands with winding channels and standing pools. This a characteristic of this coastline. It is very shallow out to sea so when the tide goes out it vanishes very fast and when it turns it comes in equally swifty. This can prove extremely hazardous for anyone venturing out onto the sands/mud.

And then there’s Blackpool. The capital of England’s Pierland – after all its got three.

Many see Blackpool as THE place for a seaside holiday. A holiday heaven. I’m not going to express an opinion. I’m going to leave you with images of the resort from Cleveleys in the north down to the Pleasure Beach to the south and let you make your mind up. The coastline is pretty uniform this whole distance – vast sea defences extend the whole way, acting as a promenade and a cycle way, a tram line runs parrallel to this with a the coast road beside it. Then the resort proper starts, fronted by hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, bars, restaurants (every 4th one seems to be a fish & chip shop), arcades, casinos.

So is it Blackpool that is the chalk or the cheese? It’s all very different.

Moody pics between Whitehaven and St Cuthbert’s Church, Aldingham

A sandwich of two grey, cold parts with a filling of warmer, clear blue skies in the middle helped to make moody & atmospheric images, whatever the subject matter. I spent the day driving down the Cubrian coast nibbling the edge of the Lake District – always there, always gloomy, always menacing and threatening to hide my scenes in a multi-greyed blanket; yet always there to awe & wonder at its beauty of shape and colour and texture and feel. Kept me company all day.

First stop Whitehaven, although it was more Grey/Blackhaven. The inner harbour houses the marina with sea defences that look sturdy enough. Around the edges a wide, stoned, quay fronts converted merchants houses, warehouses and terraces of workers’ cottages, many with painted windows and doors to add to their grandisement.

The outter harbour protects the inner harbour and provides all the technology like markers and lights.

Over the railway and along the beach at Nethertown, I discovered not a town but a wonderful beach community of shacks and sheds, all inhabited.

Sellafield Power Station appears from the gloom, dripping menace along the coast.

The sun begins to break through in Seascale.

The beach at Haverigg is best seen in this light with soft-sanded dunes anchored in tall grasses which hide the village.

Roa Island is reached by a causeway. By now the tide is almost out and the huge expanse of soft, treacherous sand is fully exposed. Markers indicate where spits and banks are a danger. Ruins of Piel Castle are marooned off shore with no way of reaching them except by a local ferry in summer season.

The surprise of Barrow-on-Furness is that once through the industry, the ship building sheds and the grids of workers’ housing there is a long, stony beach for family enjoyment, lined by a wide grassy space and a short backdrop of ordinary housing.

St Cuthbert’s Church at Aldingham finishes the day well as grey clouds start to move in again.

On the road again!! Starting at the top of the north west coast of England

Yayyyy. On the road again. My first road trip for nearly two years. My coastal project was getting rather lost so what better way to celebrate the easing of restrictions than to get in the car and head north. I decided to drive straight to the top and then pootle down the coast dropping into every coastal settlement on the way. North of Wigan I started to get that hit of adrenaline. Lancaster came and went ad the Lakes started to form on my right. A heavy, damp sky squahed down on the rising moors, hiding their high lines and promise. But then, as I leave the motorway, patches of blue appear. Yes, real sailor’s trousers. The ruler-straight road runs across open countryside with frolicking lambs, lazy cows and untidy, working farms.

First stop is Skinburness, on the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. I approach the village from inland. Then flip out over to appreciate its sturdy sea wall.

It merges seamlessly into Silloth, a few miles down the coast. It feels like something out of the past with freshly painted frescos on tall, rendered buildings advertising hotels and coffee lounges and pubs. Sounds grand but feels old. That impression is enhanced by the fact that the bumps and dips of the main streets are cobbled. Still it has a charm.

Allonby is a cluster of pale, sea-worn terraces. Low sand dunes, anchored by grasses, divide the beach region from the humans.

The town of Maryport is an ordinary, working fishing port. Some new development has taken place around the harbour itself which has a special character of its own. New apartments rub shoulders with operating fishing boats and the fish merchants and there is evidence of past industrial activity in the form of sheds and machinery.

The largest town up here is Workington. The River Derwent meets the Irish Sea here. There are beaches but none you can really get to. The view to the Lakes is awesome.

The final stop for the day is Harrington. Another normal place with evidence of past glories in the remains of sea-weathered timbers and rusting hooks and brackets on the old pier that defends the village from the sea and overlooks the bays and headlands that spread up and down the coast.

Tewkesbury in between the showers

Cutting between the terraces of Tewkesbury’s medieval and Georgian buildings, dark alleys (30 or so remain from the original 90) lead down to the river banks of the Severn and the Avon. It was here, at the confluence of the two, that Tewesbury Abbey was consecrated in 1171. It flourished, dominating the town’s skyline, until The Reformation when King Henry VIII sold it to the town for £453.

The alleys cut down from the main street and the numerous churches. Small, medieval & Tudor cottages would have housed boatmen and their families whilst the merchants and traders inhabited the grander properties away from the rivers. Large mills had been situated on the banks over centuries, both for ease of bringing in raw materials and sending out finished products and, of course, using its flow as a source of power. Few are still in operation and while some remain unused and in a delapidated state, others have been converted into residential accommodation and apartments.

Ludlow – ‘Probably the loveliest town in England’

Ludlow needs a page all on its own. The moment one crosses the old town bridge over the Wye, you are travelling back in history. This is the capital of BluePlaqueLand. Every other house seems to display such a plaque, with information about local and national characters, families and events dating back over 500 years: this building burnt down and was rebuilt in the Civil War; this is the town house of Charles Wesley’s wife’s family whom he married in 1749; this dates back to the 13th century and was used as the town prison, the hospital….. and on it goes. John Bentamin describes it as ‘ probably the loveliest town in England’. I cannot disagree.

Ludlow Bridge was built over the River Teme in the 15th century. It required some modifications in the 18th centuries. The Domesday Book records a mill here and over the centuries numerous weirs have between constructed to power cloth and corn mills. After 1600 these are converted into manufacturing paper, lace, leather and brass. After 1850 the mills gradually ceased production and have been converted into residential properties.

Once over the bridge, the full magnificence of this medieval town can be seen. The south gate is straight ahead.

The Buttercross stands at the top of the hill overlooking the elegance of the streets before it. Built in 1746 it was originally a, yes, butter market. Between it and the castle is the open market place, lined with wonderfully presented Georgian proprties.

In a prime, defensive position above the river, Ludlow Castle was built in Norman times to hold back the Welsh. It was extended and became Crown property in 1461 and remained such for 350 years. It was abandoned in 1689 and quickly fell into ruin. Since 1811 the castle has been owned by the Earls of Powys who halted the decay and opened the castle to the public.

The glory of Ludlow is the lanes and streets of Georgian buildings, with a few medieval and some Tudor-style half-timbered properties mixed in (over 500 are listed), that spread down the hill from the security of the castle, the trading of the market square down to the industry of the river. Owned by prosperous wool and cloth merchants and traders, these terraces are grand and elegant, and beautifully maintained. And it’s not just one street. Every street leaving down the hill in a grid pattern is lined with attractive, gob-smacking quality.

If you have not yet sampled the delights of Ludlow, you must put it onto your ‘must visit’ list. Not only is there this amazing collection of historic buildings and architecture (we tried, but we could not find a single duff building in the whole place), there is also a market every day of the week, numerous festivals throughout the year and it has a reputation for good food and fine dining. Even the van in the square did excellent bacon and Cheddar rolls for £2.50 – what is not too like?

Hereford in the rain

Hmmmm. Grey, water-sodden skies never show off a place in the best of lights and the city of Hereford on a wet, dull Saturday afternoon is no exception. So I’ll try to share its good side despite what the weather threw at it.

The cathedral hosts the old part of town, down to the old Wye bridge at the bottom of, yes, Bridge Street. Theres’s enough around here to spark the dampest interest. And it’s dry inside!

Maybe a blue sky would create a better impression!! The images would at least bring more cheer!

I went to Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye markets and I bought……

The Welsh Marches refers to these counties of England that border Wales, in particular Herefordshire and Shropshire. This is not to say that armies marched to fight over the border. In this context ‘marches’ means the line or edge of a border. At times the River Wye itself marks the change between the two countries although the landscape varies very little. A patchwork of fields folds over rolling hills to the uplands in the far distance. Bright yellow rape chequer-board it with recently seeded chocolate earth, scruffy fields of winter wheat which have just started to poke nervous crops up into the chilling weather and cropped, velvet-green, hedge lined acres of fluffy-white sheep families

Ross-on-Wye prospered in late Tudor times when it became a trading centre for cloth merchants and sheep farmers. The present Market House was built between 1650/54 and replaced the original trading hall built in the 12th century when King Stephen granted the town permission to hold a weekly market.

Arranged around the market at the top of the hill the church and Prospect Gardens overlook, the prosperous properties around the open churchyard, the old walls and the town spreading down the hill to the river.

The ribbons of more modern, 20th century shop fronts do a good job of hiding some of the elegant facades that exist on some of the Goergian buildings. Street level frontages give a totally different impression to that of the upper stories.

Ledbury’s past prosperity is reflected in the buildings that line either side of the wide, main street. Again the town’s wealth originates in the wool trade initially and then expanded with the arrival of aristocratic landowners. The Market House was built for the trading of cloth and wool in 1617.

Overlooked by the needle-sharp steeple of the imposing town church, which has an unusual feature in that the spire stands unattached to its main body, Ledbury’s many black & white, timber-framed buildings encourage the visitor to explore the lanes and alleys hidden behind.

In the backstreet alleys will be found old weavers’ cottages, larger proprties for merchants and local pubs & shops. Small independents pull in the visitor with bright window displays of goods and artefacts. Pubs, hotels and cafes and restaurants provide a range of refreshments in normal times. Ledbury is a great place for a stop off.

Mr Foster went to Gloucester…and so did I

Dr Foster went to Gloucester in 1844. At least that is when the nursery rhyme was written. Today’s day started with a long, downpour of freezing rain. By the time we dropped in on Gloucester, on our way to the Welsh Borders, our first proper stay-away for over a year, the clouds had parted to create enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers. True to the saying, they pulled in their shadows, bubbled into cotton wool pillows and released the sun, drying up any lingering puddles that we might fall into.

Gloucester Cathedral, opened in 1089, is part of a medieval core, surrounded by narrow lanes and walkways.

Generations of Dr Foster’s family could have walked these streets if they had returned at any point in the previous five centuries. Many were linked to posts held in the cathedral – the Bishop’s house with the wisteria over the wrought iron gate.

The approaches to the cathedral widen out into more traditional shopping streets with street-level shops hiding beneath tall, 19th century facades. Scaffolding is attached to many of these premises which lead to the city centre and the major shopping precincts.

Gloucester Quays is a vibrant, redeveloped dockland area full of history with shops, bars & restaurants that pull locals and visitors alike. Warehouses have been converted into apartments and cranes and historic vessels litter the wharves and quayside.

A traditional ‘boat builder and rigger’ still operates along the Main Channel. One of two dry docks has ‘Gladys’, a traditional bulk carrier, rising from blocks arranged on the dusty floor with fresh paint and varnish to impress onlookers.

Peering at Piers

It is like the world is opening again. I went out on the road again – two road trips in as many days. The sun shone form a blue sky, the trees were starting to shimmer with a vague outline of verdant green. Chilly but invigorating, as urban and winter grey give way to blue horizons of seaside sands. With lockdowns and travel bans inhibiting, nay, squashing, any wanderlust for so long, it is such a relief to release myself into this world again. And so many places to visit and people to meet and projects to complete. Get on young man! Get on!!

These two trips were all about my existing project and the next project when it is complete. I have two sections of my Coastal Trip to complete – Cornwall (in September) and West Coast of England (in May/June, I hope). There are a few places that I have visited which I don’t feel I’ve done justice. I have combined these with my next project on seaside piers where I missed them altogether because they were around a corner or off the beaten day-tripper track.

So on the first trip to the west I combined Clevedon with Weston-Super-Mare. How had I missed the Victorian wonder in the former and the glorious ruin in the latter?

Clevedon Pier is anchored to a rock on the seafront. Built in 1869 it was an embarkation point for paddle steamers bringing day trippers from South Wales. It was described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the most beautiful pier in England’. Certainly it has a certain elegance to it. Impressive as the pier was, it was nothing compared with the dozen or so sea swimmers launching themselves into the surf from the rocks and, I emphasise, not in wetsuits. I felt cold just watching them, especially as most were wearing gloves in the water.

I know how I missed Birnbeck Pier in Weston-Super-Mare. From the main drag through this resort town there is no indication that there is anything except local housing beyond the headland. However, walking around the cliff this rusting, almost Dickensian relic stretches out from Anchor Head to a small rocky island where the remains of a RNLI station seems to be the only recognisable building standing amongst dusty ruins. The pier opened in 1867 as a boarding point for paddle steamers operating in the Bristol Channel. It was closed to the public in 1994 and now stands derelict, slowly rusting away into the sea with only ghosts to walk its tangled walkways, its rubbled streets and stare out of its gaping windows and empty doorways.

Weymouth Pier Bandstand can easily be lost along the wide front of this resort. Built in1938/9 it was designed with the bandstand itself extending out to sea from a two-storey building on shore. It seated 2,400 people but only a quarter of the audience were under shelter as the centre of the bandstand was open to the elements. It hosted dances, concerts, wrestling, roller skating and the Miss Weymouth Bathing Beauty Contests. The shore building was redesigned in the 1960s. By the 1980s the seaward end required major repair which proved to be too expensive and so it was demolished in 1986 leaving the ‘limpet’ end as a restaurant, an amusement arcade and a gift shop on the ground floor.

Weymouth Stone Pier is tucked around the corner on the south side of the old harbour, in itself a reminder of the importance played by this port. Merchants’ houses, old chandlers’ buildings, warehouses line the quayside on both sides, linked by the technology of the lifting bascule bridge and the historic Row Boat Ferry, operating since the 16th century and manned by a charming, weather-beaten boatman who is happy to pass the time of day with anyone passing. The Pier was constructed at the entrance to the harbour in the 18th century. It was originally a simple breakwater of loose boulders which was then extended. A buoy marked the the seaward end. Following storm damage it was rebuilt in 1824, then extended in 1876 and again in the 1910s, the latter with a tower at the end to accommodate a navigational light.

I’m also on Instagram

As I’m not getting out and about so much at the moment, those if you with an instagram account might like to follow me there, if you so wish. My account name on instagram is, surprisingly, – markchesterton.

Every few days I plan to put up a selection of my favourite images taken on my travels around the world and the UK over the years. I hope to see you there. Here are a few to start with.

Dusk in Jaxi in southern China
Unloading melons in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Robin Hood Bay on the North Yorkshire coast, UK
Ankle Bones at the annual Nadaam Festival in Mongolia, added to ‘the three games of men’ in 1998.

A UK Coastal Trip – Mevagissey

Read and look with caution. This is a virtual section of our coastal trip, with images and blurb taken from Tourist Board and town websites.

Porthpean cornwalls.co.uk

Just two miles from St Austell, Porthpean Beach is safe and sandy, ideal for families and popular with windsurfers, swimmers and sailors. The parish church is dedicated to St Levan and was built by the Sawle family as part of the Penrice Estate. It was given to the parish on the death of Mrs Cobbold Sawle in 1981.

Pentewan visitcornwall.co.uk

Over half a mile of east-facing sandy beach, mostly in front of Pentewan Sands Holiday Park, suitable for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, sea canoeing and with a slipway for sailing (canoes and dinghies available for hire). Free car parking, cafes and toilets are provided in Pentewan village 500 metres from the beach along the old harbour lane with disability access.

Mevagissey visitcornwall.co.uk

Narrow streets and steep valley sides lead down to the centre of the old Mevagissey where the distinctive twin harbour provides a safe haven for the many fishing boats that land their daily catch of skate, lobster, plaice and sole. In typical picture postcard style, pubs, cafes, galleries and shops cluster around the harbour walls and line the pretty streets. Named after two Irish saints, St Meva and St Issey, the village dates back to at least 1313 and during the 1800s, Mevagissey prospered on the back of the abundant source of pilchards out to sea. Around the maze of streets, you’ll find plenty of seafood restaurants that the village is renowned for and there is nothing more sublimely Cornish than tucking into some local scallops and mackerel and ending the evening with a walk along the harbour wall with lights of the village twinkling on the water.

Portwellen cornwall-beaches.co.uk

In a valley, just over the hill from Mevagissey, is the little village of Portmellon. The beach here is flanked by rocks to either side but is itself sandy. At low tide there is a good expanse of flat sand, however, this all but disappears as the tide comes in. It does seem there is always a good covering of seaweed which detracts from the overall appeal of the beach. The east facing cove is quite sheltered and when the tide is in is considered fairly safe to swim in, although with no lifeguard service, care should be taken. The beach runs right up to road. At high tide the water laps only a few feet away from the passing cars. A quick glance at the wooden shutters on the houses that line the seafront across the road are testament to the occasional storm that sends waves washing across the road here.

Gorran Haven visitcornwall.co.uk

This is an east-facing sandy beach, popular with families for swimming and surfing. There is a beach shop, pub, car parking for 500 vehicles and toilets. Kayaking is very popular at this sheltered bay with reasonable hire rates. At the heart of the village is a cluster of fishermen’s cottages which remain much the same as in years gone by.

Portholland visitcornwall.co.uk

Two small, secluded beaches of grey stones and rocky outcrops backed by a granite sea wall serve the tiny hamlets of East and West Portholland inhabited by just forty local residents. Clinging to the coves in which they are situated, they bask in glorious sunshine during Spring through until Autumn. Look out for the locals offering tea and cakes from the house.

Portloe cornwalls.co.uk

Portloe is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of the Roseland peninsula and one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. Its steep sided valleys have meant that it has managed to escape development over the years and many buildings differ little from when they were built. Sir John Betjamin said of Portloe “One of the least spoiled and most impressive of Cornish fishing villages“.

Its name develops from the Cornish Porth Logh meaning “cove pool”. The naturally sheltered position meant that the village grew in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as a busy pilchard fishing port. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were more than fifty boats fishing here – now only three boats work from the cove mainly for crab and lobster. Smuggling, as elsewhere in Cornwall, has played a part in Portloe’s history, with many a documented tale of cat and mouse games between locals and the excisemen! French brandy was the main contraband, brought ashore by fishermen and hidden in cellars and local farms. In fact, in 1824 the problem was thought so bad that the Customs ordered the erection of a watch, boathouse and slip in a vain attempt to deter the illicit trade.

Portscatho visitcornwall.co.uk

This scenic village beach facing east on the beautiful Roseland peninsula overlooking Gerrans Bay is mainly rocky, with sandy patches. Beyond the village the beach stretches all the way up the bay at low tide. There are lovely walks around the small village harbour and along the South West Coast Path.

A UK Coastal Trip – Brighton

From Newhaven the coast road trims the clifftop villages of Peacehaven and Saltdean. There is no access down to the beach along here, only a wonderful panorama of the coastline as its curves and slopes stretch into the distance.

Brighton

Some consider Brighton to be the queen of British seaside resorts. Its centre piece is the Royal Pavilion, created in the early 19th century by the Prince Regent, later George IV. Fashionable society followed and the town expanded, its elegant terraces and squares surrounding the old fishing village of Brighthelmstone. The narrow streets of the old village are pedestrianised and known as The Lanes, their many antique, clothes and jewellery shops popular amongst visitors & townsfolk alike.

The beach of smooth pebbles is lined with bars, cafes & restaurants, seaside paraphernalia, crafts, rides and spaces for basketball, beach volleyball and other sports activities. The British Airways i360 a 162-metre observation tower is a new addition, opened in 2016.  A wide path weaves its way around, linking them all up together. A series of steps lead up from here to a wide esplanade and a cycle path and crossings over the road into town.

Brighton has two piers. The Palace Pier, with its arcades and funfair at the far end, keeps company the skeleton of its poor relation. The old West Pier remains a wreck after it was destroyed by fire in 2003.

Volk’s Electric Railway, the first such railway in the UK, opened in 1883 and still rattles along the sea front.

Hove

Hove merges seamlessly into Western Lawns and Portslade-by-Sea. Brighton’s sister resort along the beach is more sedate with many elegant crescents and terraces.

Southwick

The road then moves away from the beach along a small inlet, the commercial part of Portslade with warehouses and timber yards, until it reaches Southwick. On the landward side residential homes keep an eye on the comings and goings on the water.

The River Adur flows downstream through the busy port and village of Shoreham. In the summer, a ferry takes passengers across the  estuary to reach the beach which has been built on a shingle bank between the river and the sea. The Adur enters the sea at Southwick and the modern lifeboat station.

 

A UK Coastal Trip – Eastbourne

Eastbourne

The golden domes of Eastbourne Pier glisten in the full glare of the sun. The pier stands tall and elegant out from the three miles of an attractive seafront of grand Victorian buildings. The palm-lined promenade and the colourful public gardens add a further dimension to this great seaside experience. The pier puffs out its chest to complement the seemingly freshly-sprayed pastel whitewash of its terraced neighbours and the subtle hues of pebbles and groynes that stretch along the beach in both directions.

Four small hamlets existed here before 1849 when the railway arrived. It grew as a fashionable resort largely thanks to prominent landowner, William Cavendish. In 1859, an entire new town was laid out – a resort built “for gentlemen by gentlemen”. And so a period of growth and development began. The centre of the town lies a short distance from the front. Museums are housed in a former Martello tower, a former Napoleonic fortress and a former lifeboat station.

 Beachy Head

Out of Eastbourne, the massive chalk headland of Beachy Head interrupts the progression of seaside towns and villages. From the edge of Eastbourne rises to 162 metres above the beach. Beachy Head Lighthouse, on a spur of rocks below, was built in 1902. After the Seven Sisters, a series of bright-white chalk cliffs that face out to sea, the road, and the paths on the South Downs, drop to sea level.

Seaford

The shingle beach bordering this quiet, mainly residential seaside town shelves steeply and at high tide swimmers should beware. It has a peaceful air with a terrace of well-maintained beach huts to give colour and refinement. A Martello tower still guards the town against foreign invaders, now a museum of local history.

Newhaven

This working port town has a charming side if you look for it. The Dunkirk to Dieppe channel ferry plies back and forth from the harbour on the eastern bank of the estuary of the River Ouse, with two sailings a day. The redeveloped West Quay is home to the fishing fleet that still unloads its daily catch here, with the subsequent presence of seafood eateries and stalls. There is a marina for yachts and pleasure craft and a shingle beach to the east of East Pier. West Beach, though, is privately owned. Due to safety concerns about the crumbling sea-defences and the harbour steps, a fence prevents access to the beach, the breakwater and the lighthouse.

A UK Coastal Trip – Folkestone

Dover

Dover has always been hugely significant as a naval town. The Romans made it the headquarters of their northern fleet. In medieval times it was one of the Cinque Ports. It was shelled and bombed from over the channel during both World Wars. The huge Dover Castle, first started in the 1180s, stands guard over the town.

Today, cross-Channel ferries, liners and cargo ships come and go relentlessly from its giant harbour. The old Cruise Terminal, an enclosed walkway used for boarding and disembarking cruise ships provides excellent views of all the activities of the harbour and access to the pier itself. The famous white cliffs can be seen in the distance in both  directions. On the quays of the Outer Harbour huge ferries wait, with mouths gaping wide, to swallow their cargoes of cars and lorries, ready to regurgitate them on the other side. The south side is more small scale with a line of ramshackle huts standing haphazardly at the top of the pebbly beach. There is little activity. A few individuals work on small craft.

The main human activity is on the pier itself. Two small doors at each end of the walkway give access and out in the full glare of the sun, up to 100 men, drivers(?) are busy fishing & chatting & snoozing.

Folkestone

The Leas, a superb clifftop promenade with wide lawns and colourful flowerbeds stretch for a mile or so. On the landward side are tall stucco Victorian houses and large hotels. On the seaward side steep cliffs overlook the Old High Street which slopes down to the harbour where small boats bob about in the water at high tide and languish in the mud when it is out. The arched viaduct over the  harbour provides memories of yesteryear when trains used to arrive from London for the boat-train. The carriages were loaded onto ferries for the journey across to France. This service stopped in 1980.

Sandgate

Old fishermen’s cottages and one of Henry VIII’s castles share the sea front of this charming village. Amongst the smart houses, cafes, pubs & small shops edge up wooded slopes.

Seabrook

Seabrook is a small village separated from the shingle beach by a raised embankment and the coast road. Modern apartment blocks & Victorian houses line the village streets.

Hythe

In medieval times Hythe was right on the coast. Today the centre of the old town is half a mile inland, separated from the Victorian resort area by the Royal Military Canal.

That’s a Martello Tower in the background, a series of defensive forts built across the UK from the time of the French Revolutionary Wars of the 19th century. They stand up to 12 m high with two floors and typically had a garrison of one officer and 15–25 men. Their round structure and thick walls of solid masonry made them resistant to cannon fire, while their height made them an ideal platform for a single heavy artillery piece, mounted on the flat roof and able to traverse, and hence fire, over a complete 360° circle.

Dymchurch

Dymchurch crouches behind a massive embankment, several metres below sea level. It is now full of amusement arcades and funfairs. For centuries the Romney Marsh drainage system was run from the Court Room in New Hall.

Unlocking the mosaics of Ravenna

All memories of yesterday’s storm are forgotten when drawn curtains reveal solid blue sky. Today Ravenna’s secrets are to be unlocked. This is why I love Italy. To walk around narrow streets and piazzas, shaded by ancient buildings and chapels and churches and statues on pillars and surrounded by history and culture and food and coffee. Cafes with tables line the cobbled streets with men drinking their espresso behind their spread newspapers as I seek that restaurant for dinner where the locals will be eating. A gentle trickle of folk pass – mamas with shopping bags half full, classy ladies struggling to keep up with their scuttling dachshunds, tattooed youth on their way somewhere or other. In these car-free streets a constant stream of cyclists gently avoid the pedestrians with a tinkle of a bell – sexy girls with long tanned legs in short shorts, elegant moustached gentlemen and the whole gambit of Italian society on their way to work, to shop, to play.


Nothing out of the ordinary you might think. It sounds like a typical Italian town. But Ravenna is like a geologist’s display cabinet. It has been the capital city of three different civilisations in its time and so is quite an important place. From 400 AD the early Christians have impacted on its society and its buildings. Religious buildings cover the old centre, mostly red-bricked. Crack their dull, dusty shell open and be aghast. As each reveals their glistening, sparkling, crystalled inside,yourr breath will be dragged from your body in awe. Mosaics have used as an art form for centuries to decorate and commemorate the inside of churches and mausoleums. Here are a few.

I am going to start with the old library which is upstairs in the new library. Whilst not a mosaic in sight it feels to me like the Bodleian in Oxford and I wanted to share.


The crypt of the church of San Francesco its mosaics underwater. You may be able to spot the carp.


The Mausoleum di Galla Placidia, an important lady of the 13th century, is small and intimate and glorious. Mosaics, remember. Little bits of tile.

Basilico di San Vitale has these positioning around its dome but the whole alter is surrounded by a gargantuan spread of mosaic saints.


Battistero degli Ariani, Basilica di Apollinare Nuono and the Neonian Baptistry are three more temples to the mosaic.

 

South to Fishguard: guarding fish?

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South of Llangrannog lie several settlements. First is the small village of Tresaith. Just a few houses huddle around a steep descent to the beach. One tea room serves the few families who are exploring the sands. The ubiquitous mobile homes gaze down from the surrounding cliffs.

Next, just before the estuary town of Cardigan (Aberteifi), comes Aberforth.

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After the glorious view of the two beaches from the cliffs on the approach to the town, my lasting impression of Aberporth is the smell of old oil that oozes into the atmosphere from the chippy and rests in nostrils, hair and clothes. Shame really as the beach is great.

Gwbert lies on the headland overlooking Poppit Sands on the estuary of the River Teifi. Yep, a good location for a holiday home park.

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Newport (Pems) is a lovely small village with tea rooms, quaint nik-nakky shops and a classy oasis for visitors and locals alike. Down through its heart one comes out over Parrog and its beach and harbour. From its flat, muddy banks can be seen the silt of Newport Beach in one direction and the casual meanders to the Irish Sea in the other.

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Finally Fishguard plonks itself on the coast.

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The small old harbour is lovely, lined by brightly coloured homes and a wonderful Victorian factory of some kind. It is overlooked by the fort with its cannon peeking over the battlements, keeping an eye on the far quays & sea defences where the huge Stena Line ferry waits for its cargo of cars and lorries to cross to Ireland. The road climbs up and over the headland and there is the town , the working, seaside port spread below, helping to provide income and jobs to the area.

I’ll let you know when I go back to complete more of the coastal settlements of the UK.

 

 

Across to the high life & markets of Kowloon

With an early start I get the tram to Central & walk down to pier 7.

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Once across the water I head up Canton Road where the rich & famous, well, not famous to me, are seen to do their labelled shopping. It seems bankers & property owners are particularly keen. All the big names are there & provide a wonderful backdrop for some interesting images. Can you guess these –

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Up past the glitter & the golden reflections real Kowloon emerges with ordinary people living & working ordinary lives.

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More to follow as I go deeper into the delights of busy Kowloon.

 

 

Drive along the banks of the Neretva River to Mostar in Herzegovina

The river splits the city of Mostar with Croats on one side and Muslims on the other. The city saw intense fighting during the civil war & still carries the scars with bombed buildings, shell holes & bullet marks throughout. The bridges were bombed and destroyed and were only rebuilt in their original style in 2004.

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The local boys show off to tourists by diving from the centre some 20 metres from the 13° water below. These guys seem to just hang about – doubt if they done much diving recently.

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Some locals like a more chilled Sunday.

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More my cup of tea ( rather coffee). Around the bridge cobbled streets pack in bars & restaurants & tat shops.

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Then on the Muslim side we find the shade & solitude of a traditional Ottoman house.

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