Courting Corte, the old capital of Corsica

An evening out in Bastia gives a real flavour of what is to come on Corsica. The island is a fusion of Italian roots, French history, a hard mountainous spine and the coastal romance of the sea. Music, menus, culture, sport, place names reflect both Italy and France.

The town’s petanque competition brings locals out in their droves. Held over several days on the wide open square by the modern port, all ages and genders, from 7 to 70 perform in their teams and leagues to win the top prizes.

From Bastia it is a long drive through forested peaks across the spine of the island to the south west. From the 11th to 13th centuries Corsica was ruled by the Italian city-state of Pisa, superseded in 1284 by Genoa. To prevent seaborne raids, mainly from North Africa, a massive defence system was constructed that included citadels, coastal watchtowers and inland forts.

An hour out is the old capital of Corsica – Corte. In 1755, after 25 years of sporadic warfare against the Genoese, Corsicans declared their independence, led by Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807), under whose rule they established a National Assembly and adopted the most democratic constitution in Europe. They made the inland mountain town of Corte their capital, outlawed blood vendettas, founded schools and established a university. But the island’s independence was short-lived. In 1768 the Genoese ceded Corsica to the French king Louis XV, whose troops crushed Paoli’s army in 1769 and the island has since been part of France except for a period (1794–96) when it was under English domination, and during the German and Italian occupation of 1940–4.

The steep, narrow, frequently cobbled streets and tight squares still remember those days of local patriots and pride in Corsican values.The many statues of Paoli always points the way for each following generation.

Where next – of course it’s Corsica

Hi everyone. Well, you may have wondered where I’ve been. Since last blogging to you I have been on a trip to Barcelona. It was a real adventure. I joined Chloe, Alexa & Toby on the first leg of their railway adventures around Spain. On the first evening I had a run-in with a bag-snatcher. He was not content to simply pick my pocket. No, I stupidly placed temptation right in front of him, or her, and he/she swiped the whole bag, camera and all, from the back of my chair in a restaurant and no-one saw a thing. Hence no photos and no blog.

Three weeks further on I have replaced my kit and I am back on my adventures. You find me in Corsica, that small island off the coast of France which was the birthplace of Napoleon. We fly into Bastia, in the north of the island, and the next day is spent exploring this historic port, through which most of Corsica’s trade and goods arrive on and leave the island. Established by the Genoese in 1487 the narrow, dusty streets ooze history.

There are three main areas to this historic town. The old town around the cathedral & square of St Jean-Baptiste.

The old port.

The citadel.

 

Anglesey come rain or shine

I crossed over to the island of Anglesey on the Menai Bridge, built to take stagecoaches in 1826 by Telford. Not much has changed, only the vehicles using it.

I decide to go anticlockwise around the coast of the island.The island is a poor neighbour compared with the grandeur of neighbouring Snowdonia but it can piggy back on the peaks in the distance which overlook the Straits, so narrow in parts and include them as part of their own. The landscape is more mellow but striking has a unique feel with low rolling fields and open land playing host to grazing animals.

The weather is breaking. I am aware that rain is forecast later in the day. You’ll see from the images where I have to play hide and seek with the drizzly showers. But not in Beaumaris, my first stop. In the fading sun the magnificence of the scene is amplified. It boasts a pier. However this structure would not push anywhere in the UK Pier of the Year competition. It may be the best, well only, pier in Anglesey. However it could be top in the Best Spot for a Pier league. Look around and see what you think.

Red Dwarf Bay is such a cool name for a settlement. And the Ship Inn makes the most of its position on the edge of the bay.

Moetfre is absolutely charming.

In the past the area around Amlwich was the largest copper mine in the world. Cooper was used to line ship’s bottoms and to mint coins of the realm. The port was a bustling centre where copper was sent off around the world. It still has a certain atmosphere with an outer harbour used by modern fishing vessels and an inner harbour with evidence of its historic past.

Cemaes has a lovely little harbour.

I cross to Holy Island. Holyhead is the largest town on the island and the departure point for ferries to Ireland. It seems like a town that the world has forgotten. Everyone seems to pass through it and be on the way somewhere else. Its streets are full of tired buildings and shops I have never heard of advertising cheap goods from faded window displays. Locals are hanging around nursing cups of tea in cafes with 1950’s decor. I found the harbour as the drizzle hardened. It seemed appropriate somehow.

Here are the last few coastal settlements on the western side of Holy Island and across to Anglesey.


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Rhosneigr

Aberffraw is on an estuary but such a lovely spot that I’ve included it…and you can see the dunes that line this part of the beach.

So I have completed my two island tour and arrive at Brittania Bridge, built by Robert Stevenson to carry rail traffic direct from London to Holyhead. In 1972 a fire destroyed much of the structure. On the original piers a new bridge was built with two levels – the railway crosses on the bottom and a new road bridge was built on top.

I have now completed the whole Welsh leg of my project, visiting every sizable settlement with a beach of one kind or other. I’ll see you on the next leg.

The rough and the smooth of the North Wales coast

I have to share these two images from Criccieth. They both capture a moment on the jetty. Last night the local girls & boys came out to play. This morning a lone angler was trying his luck in the dawn peace.

Today was a day with a lot of smooth and a bit of rough thrown in towards the end. I popped into Caernarfon on my way along the north coast of the mainland – well worth a return visit. An historic walled town on the Menai Straits, it overlooks the coast of the island of Anglesey a few hundred metres away. Its narrow streets and many arched gates match the huge defensive tower that faces out to sea.

Now I have a problem. I thought when I discovered Bangor pier that I had found my new, favourite pier. It is really hard to find. Any signs for the pier abandon you in the middle of town with no direction to go in. Sleuthing my way through the towns streets I eventually find the pier at the end of a series of residential streets. Coming around a corner it takes your breathe away with its elegant turrets and weathered boardwalk. It is 1/3 mile long, almost touching Anglesey. At low tide the whole Strait is dry with only a narrow channel of water at the far end to allow sea—going vessels through.

‘So what’s the problem?’ you ask. Well Llandudno is the problem. What a gem of a place this is and what a magnificently glorious pier struts its stuff out into the line between the blues of sea and sky.

Both are magnificent. I thought that when I found Colwyn Bay Pier that there would be a third competing for the accolade of THE pier of North Wales. Well no. I drove along and around the promenade at least three times until I spotted something:

I stopped and asked two local guys who confirmed that I had guessed right. This was all that remains of the famous pier. Last year, 2018, it collapsed after years of neglect and the council had to remove all the wreckage except for this monument to past glories.

I stopped at other places on my way around the coast – Deganwy, Rhos-on-Sea where the clouds gathered to keep me on my toes

Rhyl had some photo opportunities. It is amazing how a low tide transforms all these places. A high tide and you think ‘oh, there’s a few nice buildings’. A low tide adds colour and atmosphere and scale and turns it into a completely different place. Look at these two images. The boys, especially, are so absorbed in messing around in the sand & water.

Prestatyn

So now to the bit of rough. It’s not rough if you like static caravans. Towyn is my idea of caravan hell. I’m going to design a computer game entitled ‘Escape To wyn’ (clever title, eh?). I have to explain that along here the coast is hogged by the inhabitants of Towyn. Towyn consists of acre upon acre upon acre of blocks of static caravans. A maze of grid-ironed routes tangle themselves around these between high pre-cast concrete walls only disrupted by the occasional entrance to a ‘park’ or a ‘camp’ or by an arcade of arcades or a speakered line of ‘factory shops’.

I eventually emerge unscathed and risk a cuppa tea at the bijou seafront refreshment stall on the edge of this nightmare.

The day ends on a high though. The last place on this part of the coast before you each England, is called Talacre. It doesn’t look much on the map – a load of camping and caravanning symbols and, yes, you have to go through both. Make the effort. Take the walk from the pub, through the car park, across the rough ground and through the gap in the dunes. There is hardly anyone there but these images show why this is one of my favourite beaches.

Awe and Wonder on the Snowdonia coast

Although this project is about coastal settlements, the great thing is that I have to drive through some wonderful country to reach each one. And today was the best. Further up the coast from Aberyswyth is Barmouth. I head there through the wonders of Snowdonia National Park. Roof down, sun up high, music on…..hair flowing (maybe not!). Forests, woods, farmland, streams, rivers, bridges, moor, marshland, lakes, hills, distant mountains. Then to arrive at wonderful beaches backed by dunes. What else can this man ask for?

Barmouth sounds quite ordinary. I think it mostly is. The west coast main line crosses the river on a wonderful Victorian gantry of a bridge.

Here I came across the harbour in the early morning. Not a lot is going on. There is no evidence of the passenger ferry over the estuary to Fairbourne – surely we are in high season. It is July. The main beach of soft sand and low dunes and the car park and small fun fair is on the other side of town.

Along the coast there a numerous small settlements, identified from a distance by a church tower/spire, usually surrounded by bungalows and static caravans. Spaced out between them are clusters upon clusters of holiday caravan parks. Were do all these holidaymakers come from? And where do they spend their time?

The next large settlement is Harlech with its huge castle ruins looking out over the coast, keeping am English eye over its Welsh inhabitants. Funny how they both play cricket in the same test team now. This was going to be my favourite beach, long, soft-sanded dunes, almost empty; but I doubt on to see so many similar ones that it is impossible to pick one above another.

Porthmadoc is a terminus for the Ffestiniog (don’t know the spelling) Railway and the station/bridge acts as a barrier to the sea. Grim one side you can see sea in the far distance. From the other you can look up the valley and get a view to die for. People would travel 1000s of miles to get a view like that.

I’m going around the peninsula now. I will show you each largish village in turn, not, I hasten to add, the campsites or static caravan parks. First Criccieth

Pwllhewi

Llanbedrog

Abersoch, which I quite liked – a bustling, popular holiday village with bars & a bit of shopping

Aberdaron


And the best – Morfa Nefyn

Aberystwyth and beyond

This first day of the next leg of my coastal journey is full of sunshine and reaffirms for me that the UK is full of wonderful, magnificent, beautiful places. Today was full of them. I am in mid, moving into north, Wales. How about this for my first glimpse of these powerful headlands and those gloriously soft, sandy beaches, at least when the tide is out, in crescent shaped bays.

First stop Aberystwyth. Like many of these resort towns it mixes Victorian charm with some history, in this case castle ruins, and adds Kiss Me Quick hats & buckets & spades and loads of fish & chips. The pier is rather good; not long but nicely regal even if it is full of slot machines. In the background you might spy the vertical line of the track of the cliff railway. There are two beaches, separated by a headland where the castle ruins anchor the short pier to the land.

The evening light of dusk and the incoming tide give the same view a completely different feel. I prefer it.

Borth Sands stretches out in a wonderful coastal crescent. The low tide exposes the soft sand as the village hides behind the sea defences, spewing out beach-happy families to spend the day in the sun, layered in lotion, I hope.

From the desert dunes at the far end of the peninsula, across the slow-moving river, the village of Aberdyfi can be seen glistening in the sun.

It lives up to its potential when one takes the drive up one side of the estuary and down the other to explore Aberdyfi in more depth.

All in all, a great day and not a single disappointment. Good place for a holiday around here – family, beach, soft sand, hikers, hills, even a mountain close-by!

The Sunny Side of Oxford – the Cowley Road Carnival

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I rarely write about my home town but I thought that should end, especially when I have the wondrous Cowley Road Carnival on my doorstep. It seems this is the second largest street carnival after Notting Hill in the UK. So let’s take the day as it unfolds.

The street is shut to traffic first thing in the morning and local and visiting organisations set up their stalls and start to assemble. The Cowley Road area is home to a diverse, eclectic mix of families from all over the world. A harmonious community most of the time, families live and work and play alongside each other in schools, restaurants and places of worship. The Carnival happens every year in July and is a celebration of diversity and culture.

Local restaurants and visiting vendors set up their stalls, selling street food to the 30,000 who will join us for the day. Places in the parade are proudly taken by community and cultural groups and from mid morning they begin to assemble at their allocated postion. As well as folk in traditional costumes with a host of unfamiliar instruments, generations of family members lean against walls to give their support to their musicians and dancers. The Nepalese community are no exception.

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The grills get hot and start to sizzle their barbed aromas across the road. Food from everywhere you can imagine.IMG_2058a

The beat increases with huge sound systems winding up their sounds outside bars, pubs and restaurants. The atmosphere is good-natured. Crowds start to gather on each side of the road and local bands and groups as well as excited visitees start to limber up and tune in their drums and tambors and trumpets, waiting to move off.

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And then the parade begins its tortuous, tip toe shuffle up the road in a clangour and a clammer of bangs and clashes and sambas and salsas. Schools follow community groups who follow samba bands from home and abroad who follow street bands and local artists and businesses. Smiles on everyone’s faces.

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The end is reached 500 metres or so further on – St Mary & St John’s Churchyard. Here the participants collapse in the shade. Frequently groups join together in a jam sessions that brings together a new fusion of culture and sound.

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Back on the street food is consumed and crowds wander. Folk find places to chill – on a wall, in front of a stage and absorb the practised performances of dance and music or appreciate the impromptu expression of feeling and creativity.

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Most things come to a halt at 6.00pm. People accept it, however reluctantly. The street cleaning vehicles start their work very punctually, sweeping through the still packed streets. Everyone knows that if there’s no fuss it will be the same next year.