Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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While a great many multi-national corporations operate in Canada, on my trips to Vancouver to see my family, I’ve been noticing that a lot of fairly individual styles of shopfront and associated typography co-exist with the more modern global brands. It feels quite ‘small towny’, which makes it all the more charming, although I don’t imagine those I know over there will be delighted with me for saying so. No-one wants their lovely city described as that, but it is meant as a compliment.

I have a feeling that most of this atmosphere will be swept away by the rapid redevelopment that is taking place across the city. Sometimes, as in Yaletown, this has made huge modern residential areas out of what used to be mostly derelict land. Elsewhere, parts of the University of British Columbia campus are being developed for a mixture of student and other housing. Older single-storey shops are often dwarfed by the high-rise apartment buildings that grow up behind them. It feels like low-rise construction all over the city, from downtown to the residentials suburbs, will be gone in a few years to be replaced by something less individual. I hope this isn’t universal, as that would be a great loss to the city’s character, which is largely still one of small stores owned by individuals.

In one of the most down-at-heel areas of Vancouver – on the east side – there are still some really old and characterful signs advertising hotels that might be better described as ‘flop-houses’. Like most cities, Vancouver has its darker side and this is part of it. The streets are filled with down-and-outs, drug users and homeless people, and feels like it has been forgotten in a time-warp. A lot of lovely advertising signage from the 1950s remains here and some of it is really imaginative, even if rather dilapidated.

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Footnote: I called this post ‘Vancouver Old-Style’ because it’s the only city in Canada that I have visited a lot, so I don’t know whether the typographic phenomenon I’m observing is common to the whole country or just to British Columbia. I did once spend a month in both Montreal and Victoria on Vancouver Island, but it was a very long time ago before multinational companies, beyond maybe Kodak and Martini, were as ubiquitous as they are now.

 

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trellis seen through screen of flowers

bee feeding on flowers

wedding bouquet of peonies

wedding dress train

hand with engagement ring holding bouquet

Flower girl wearing garland at wedding

Vancouver west side street scene

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dilapidated building and lichen-covered tree

So we packed our bags, took Nora to her home boarding place in Sussex and headed off from Heathrow on a rainy and chilly Tuesday afternoon. Arriving in Vancouver for a family wedding (the third in two years), it was easy to relax in the warmth and sunshine. We were lucky with the weather all week, apart from one day. I’m writing this back in cool English temperatures and am about to change out of my sandals into some warmer shoes. Home sweet home.

Our time away was a mixture of emotion, enjoyment and exploration. We watched a young couple marry amid a throng of family and friends, bicycled along rivers and up and down hills, went in a motor boat on a fjord – yes, an actual fjord – learned to love Orange Is The New Black, explored the seamier – and typographically more interesting – side of the city (a neat line in 1950s lettering styles, some of which are still practised today, about which more in another post), went to hear some blues at a casino, walked a lot, and ate a lot – a lot – of delicious food.

And we went to yoga but still have cricks in our necks. Om.

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I followed the progress of recent tempests and deluges in the West Country from afar, always expecting there to be bad news when I returned. But it wasn’t the crumbly old front windows; on the list for replacement since June but not yet started by the joiner. It wasn’t the roof, although a bit of the garage roof did go flying. It wasn’t the already leaking woodshed which seems barely worse than usual.

offending porchNo, to ring the changes, it was our little porch, hopefully constructed by some bodger, that allowed the rain to be driven in. The mighty wooden lintel above the old front door is sodden, the walls in the vestibule are sodden, the big coir doormat acted like a sponge and is … sodden. And … rather unbearably after two very large chunks of expenditure … the fireplace is sodden. Again.

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But it’s still early in the year and, like this heron, I’m full of relaxed joy and a resolution not to sweat the small stuff. So instead of dwelling on what are fortunately only minor annoyances, here are some things that I saw on some of the many walks I went on in various places, including a snowy golf course where I got lost in the holes.

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But it wasn’t all hard walk. My cousin Sweet Tooth also needed his fixes so sometimes we just had to go inside.

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I’ve been meaning to go to Hestercombe Gardens – laid out by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens – for a long time but I hadn’t looked carefully enough at the website. It costs £9.70 to go into the gardens and I just wasn’t going to pay that much for a walk with a silly little dog, who’s only allowed 15-20 minutes exercise. Another time, maybe, when she’s bigger and can cope better with having to be on a short lead and we can stay longer; or when we have visitors who love such places or when the weather is better. But not today.

I was determined to make something of our visit though; there’s always something to see if you’re curious. And somehow, it makes it easier to be nosy when you’ve got a dog with you as you have the excuse of walking it for snooping into odd corners. I fully intend to make the most of this.

So we set off down the drive to see what we could see and were rewarded with a small herd of cows at the bottom of the deepest ha-ha I’ve ever seen, being led to a different pasture by three members of the farming family. I love ha-has; especially as in this case when you walk to the edge of one to be completely surprised by what you find.

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cows in mud

driving cows

old farmer

These would have been Nora’s first cows but for the fact that the field opposite the cottage has cows in it at the moment – something that happens about twice a year when Sue lets someone graze a small herd there. We stood by and watched from a distance, and Nora actually sat when I told her to, which has, so far, rarely happened outdoors. The strategic rustly packet of treats in my pocket might have had something to do with it, I suppose…

There were lot of different mushrooms everywhere and I took  lots of photos but, with her dragging me around after various delicious poo smells on the other end of the lead around my wrist, they all came out blurred. Anyway, you all know what mushrooms look like. And now you know what bits of Hestercombe looks like. My guess is that it’s a lot more attractive around the paying side.

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view from Hestercombe

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Clevedon pierNora and I got into trouble today on the M5 motorway, which was closed for six hours following an accident. So, desperate to give her something to eat and let her out for a wee, I took the exit for Clevedon, intending to find a different route through to the Quantocks.

Clevedon Marine Lake

Nora didn’t seem to mind having her lunch on the pavement and she enjoyed a short walk along the promenade overlooking Clevedon Marine Lake. It was very sedate and a little faded but sweet; full of pensioners having lunch in the windy sunshine and walking their dogs.

Clevedon Sea View
I’m rather pleased we stopped and, now that I have more time, we may do this more often rather than hurtle straight to our destination.

Clevedon old telescope

P.S. I should probably mention that Nora is a dog.

 

 

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I have no idea why I’m writing about my laundry practices but putting out the washing in the garden this morning, I was struck by how often I’ve photographed laundry that’s been hung out to dry. From the harbourside of a Scottish coastal village…

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To one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Venice.

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Here in Burano, one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon, the washing just seems to add to the local, well, colour.  There’s something about it which is both charming and revealing, hinting at the domestic life of the people behind the shutters and curtains. Which is, after all, something that most people are innately curious about.

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In some places, the hanging out of laundry is prohibited because it spoils the view. Perhaps it also reminds those who make such rules of the places from whence they came that they hoped they’d put behind them? I’m glad I don’t live in that kind of place, although of course I can see that there are instances where it might not be appropriate for washing to be festooned all over the street.

And since I’m on the subject perhaps I should clarify that chez Cottage, the underwear and socks, the ‘smalls’, stay modestly inside the house, whatever the weather.

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Bridgwater

River ParrettI’ve always thought of Bridgwater as rather a dump. Useful for shopping but still a dump. There are few nice places to eat and even fewer decent shops, unless you count superstores – there are plenty of them. Last Thursday I went there to meet the Girl who was arriving by coach. A very delayed coach because it was Eastertime and the roads were busy. So I parked the car at Asda next to the coach station and did some shopping and found a new smoke alarm without trying. And managed to buy yet another lightbulb that didn’t fit the lamp it was meant for. Excellent.

High StreetWhen she texted that they were going to be even more delayed, I went for a bit of a walk and found that there are some bits of Bridgwater, that when photographed – if you Photoshop out the plastic bags blowing in the wind and crop judiciously – can look quite appealing.

Georgian housesBut for the most part, I feel sorry for this erstwhile historic centre, market town and port, for having been cut up by roads that split its heart.

Public marketSo that now we drive around the centre from one ugly retail park to another and miss the only architecture worth looking at and the town centre that has so much history nearby, but is now neglected and showing signs of dereliction.

town centre I’m probably being unfair in many ways. I know Bridgwater has a vibrant annual carnival and has one of the south west’s best motorcycle dealerships. I’m sure there are people who love living here and many parts that I haven’t seen. So, if this offends, I’m sorry, but it’s what I see when I come here.

 

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It’s been a bit quiet on the blog of late because I’ve been busy doing this:

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Photo courtesy of Mabs

That’s me on the far left. A bit different to the kind of riding I’m used to.

Sinai desert

I travelled to Egypt with a group of people all loosely connected to the Girl’s old school. We flew in to Sharm el-Sheik on a Thomson’s plane full of package holidaymakers but were whisked away into the desert to camp out under the stars as soon as we arrived.

Make sure you can see your bag

Foreign Office advice is currently to avoid all but essential travel to the Sinai region. But the travel company that organised the trip and works closely with local people and the Bedouin, with whom we travelled in the desert, advised that there were no raised tensions despite news reports of kidnappings. Indeed, only today there was another report of a couple being kidnapped just up the Aqaba coast from where we spent our final night last week.

We were accompanied a British guide, as well as an Egyptian, who had worked together and travelled with the school group many times, so we benefited from both their great camaraderie and their experience. In this large group with a high degree of local Bedouin involvement, there was certainly never a moment when I didn’t feel entirely safe in their hands.

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We saw barely any other visitors and had Mount Sinai (the third peak from the right above) to ourselves for the arduous two-hour climb, which was amazing, as people are usually jostling for space at the summit.

Rest stop

It’s a pretty hard ascent on a warm day – about one and a half hours of steep walking and climbing stone stairs. Luckily there were some places open to stop at for refreshment and shade. But there were also several that were closed or temporarily abandoned.

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We had reached the holy mountain – a site revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, who all believe that this is where God gave Moses the ten commandments – after five days sleeping in the open desert, riding camels across rocky plateaux, running down sand dunes as high as mountains, and eating around camp fires by the light of candles and head torches.

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And, while this was all huge fun, the fact that our experience of the ‘wilderness’ ended in an overnight stay at St Katherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai put some major philosophical and religious traditions into context.

St Katherine's Monastery, Sinai

The trip was organised by Wind Sand and Stars, which based in Bath. They work closely with an Sinai-based travel company who, in turn, work with local Bedouin tribespeople to provide support, camels and catering (and a fair few souvenir trinkets made by their womenfolk along the way).

Bedouin caterers arriving

Apart from providing a great holiday, one of the main purposes of these treks is to bring some much needed funds to the Bedouin people – desert nomads who live extremely simply in a very harsh environment. Egypt has been hard hit by the drop in tourism since the Arab Spring, and the Sinai has been particularly badly affected as it geographically and culturally remote from the rest of the country. We were told that St Katherine’s Monastery used to have 3,000 visitors daily but is now down to around 300. A shopkeeper in Nuweiba, a rather forlorn beach resort where we spent our last night, begged me to tell my friends to come to his store, filled with goods coated in a thin layer of dust, because business – dependent entirely on tourism – was so bad.

palm trees at dusk

To get so far out of my comfort zone in many different ways was a wonderful and life affirming experience, and at the same time sobering and thought provoking. It made me feel lucky in so many ways. I hope to hang on to this feeling for as long as I can.

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Travel plans again

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I’m off for a few days away again soon. These are just some of the items that I’ve been instructed to bring. I’m travelling by air, so this will be interesting.

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morning light breaking over a canal

My impressions of a place that I’ve visited so much in the past but not for thirty years? Still amazing and beautiful, still slightly tawdry and timeless. Still exhaustingly winding and surprising. Subtly changed too, though. Chinese and Indian faces in restaurants and shops where once there were only Italian. Boatloads of Japanese tourists snapping shots on bridges so you can barely get past. Russians appearing at the airport and on vaporetti but invisible elsewhere. The waters of the lagoon lapping higher than they used to and duckboards stacked everywhere ready for the floods that rise not only over canalsides but also out of the storm drains beneath the streets.

Pigeons on a pediment

But Venice never was entirely Italy. It always sold tourist tat and expensive, slightly sub-standard, leather goods. So we also went to Padua for a day so that I could show the Girl the busy, lively pace of normal Italian life.

Votive candles in a church

Now I’m home in the snow, left with a headful of Italian words and phrases as I spontaneously remember and regurgitate the language dormant for so long. I’ve so much enjoyed speaking it again in the last few days. Family holidays, first kisses, old friends, student trips – all has come back and been joined by this sojourn with my own child. It is all about time.

bells on church tower

Postscript: There are a million photographs of Venice out there. We didn’t need any more, but who could resist adding to that number? Certainly not I, even when that meant buying a Panasonic DMC-FS45 point-and-shoot at the airport when I found I’d left my camera bag in the car. The assistant at Dixon’s had to double check that the £65 price that came up when she scanned the bar code at the till was correct – maybe there’s a newer model coming out – so it didn’t break the bank, particularly since I was already in ‘holiday mode’. Of course, it was a shame not to have my cameras, particularly because I had really wanted to play with my newish Lumix LX-5 compact and have my trusty DSLR to hand as it’s the only camera I can really use properly. But I loved the grainy quality of the pictures this tiny new zoom-lensed thing could take in very low light with its Leica-specified (but not made) lens. I hate using flash. It also takes icily sharp shots but I’ll leave that kind of thing to professionals to demonstrate.

This isn’t about the camera, this is about how I saw Venice.

looking up at the sky

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I said I’d do a separate post about the cafe we went to while we were in Oxford in my last post.

Grand Cafe, Oxford

Despite it’s traditional English exterior, the Grand Cafe struck me as fundamentally un-English, although it was serving creams teas and the like. There was something about the unhurried nature of the service (one poor waitress – they were terribly understaffed on the day we were there), the elegance of the surroundings, the lack of muzak and the hence conducive atmosphere, and the slightly dishevelled nature of it all, that called to mind Viennese cafes in which you can while away the afternoon, without being harried for your next order, or chased away by crowds of pushy shoppers with packaged sandwiches. From seven o’clock, they do inexpensive cocktails. Go there, if you can.

people sitting at tables

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tea things on a table

man's hat and coat on a stool

As an aside I have to say that while my new Panasonic LX-5 is slightly driving me mad with not having a viewfinder – I just can’t really adjust to having a slightly second-hand view of things, compared to a DSLR – I totally love its ability to take pictures in low light. I’m only pointing and shooting at the moment in order to get used to its capabilities. It also helps that I love grainy pictures, I suppose.

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On Sunday we went to Cheddar. I asked the GPS app on my phone for the quickest route, yet we wound our way there through unnecessarily circuitous lanes. Pretty though.

It probably wasn’t slower than taking the motorway but it certainly made my passengers, Nurse J and Mrs Honeytree, feel car sick. They argued about who should sit in the front seat: but unlike children, their arguments went: “No, no, I’m fine in the back, you stay there.” “No, I insist that we swap, you’ve been in the back long enough.” Until I finally stopped the car and said: “Swap.”

When we finally got there we sought out some lunch at a little cafe that was decorated in twee, vintage style with all manner of old bits and pieces, board games, kitchenalia and pictures. We sat under a shelf of royal memorabilia, presided over by a plate decorated with Charles and Diana’s engagement picture. Not a good omen.

We ordered: Nurse J, some fizzy mineral water; Mrs Honeytree, some vegetable soup; and I, a jacket potato with baked beans. The phone rang: a crisis with some offspring and Mrs H went outside to deal with it. The food arrived, and got cold. It wasn’t very nice. My beans were small and salty. Who would have thought you could get sub standard baked beans? But you can.

So far, so depressing. And on a gorgeous, sunny day as well. Then we went for a stroll around Cheddar, which was mostly road. OK. This is not the village’s fault, after all – it is in a gorge, so it can’t be spread out. But it seemed to be full of tawdry little shops selling souvenirs and even the ‘official’ Cheddar cheese shop was rather disappointing. All the cheese sealed in plastic like at a supermarket and the tasting of the many varieties carefully controlled by an officious little man, who would spear a tiny cube on request from a covered stainless steel bowl, so you couldn’t even see why you would want to try one type rather than another.

What we wanted was something more like the stuff on the left below. What we got was a whole shop full of the stuff on the right. And about seventy labels warning about ‘Health and Safety’ regulations. Lovely. And so they lost our custom.

I tried to stay positive. The complaints of the others were getting to me. I felt responsible for bringing them to this horrible place by way of a journey that had made them feel ill. No, I insisted, it was lovely, cheese was fine sold like this. As a penance, I started getting a sore throat.

We decided quickly to leave and drove up through the gorge, marvelling at the 1950s buildings constructed right into the foot of the cliffs at the bottom. Marvelling, that is, at the planning regulations that allowed such despoilment of a beautiful natural feature. Further up, the gorge got less built up and more beautiful. Climbers abseiled down into groups of admiring observers. Sunlight began to filter into the scenery and eventually we emerged at the top into a completely different landscape from the one we had left behind below.

As I was driving, I couldn’t take any pictures of Cheddar Gorge itself, which is pretty impressive. Next time, I will have to stop and do so. If there is a next time.

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Leaving the house at 5.10 in the morning, I forgot my big camera when I went up to Scotland for a few days last week. I was left struggling with my phone camera, which was very frustrating as there were just so many interesting things that I wanted to capture. But I managed.

There’s little in Edinburgh Castle that’s domestic, only the room in which Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James I of England.

The small royal apartments were my favourite but the castle also offers fabulous views of Edinburgh and masses of military history, if that takes your fancy.

Although I’d been to Edinburgh before, I didn’t remember very much about it, so it was interesting to go around and explore the winding, cobbled streets of the old town. I’d love to go back and ferret around more in the little alleys and courtyards that they call ‘closes’ up there and explore more of the city’s ancient architecture. One thing doesn’t surprise me: that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter here. There’s just so much inspiration in the very fabric of the place.

Edinburgh Castle’s tame gull.

From Edinburgh, we moved on to the Kingdom of Fife, only a short distance away across the Firth of Forth. I drove over the Forth Bridge and, although I’d heard on the radio that they had finished painting it, it certainly looked like they were still at work. Perhaps it’s the rail bridge they finished?

You still see many open doors as you walk the streets in St Andrews.

The university town of St Andrews was obviously very ancient with plenty of buildings dating back to the early seventeenth century but its present day incarnation is far too twee for me (and lacking an apostrophe, too upsetting for words…).

I wouldn’t want to study or work there but it takes all sorts, including royalty. I preferred Elie, on the coast to the south, which would be my seaside hideaway if I lived up there.

Elie at low tide

Anstruther was also a lovely find and we walked along the Fife Coastal Path from there to Crail – a real town with real people and a zero chintz factor.

Drying the washing on the harbourside in Anstruther.

Anstruther Harbour

The path from Anstruther to Crail runs alongside farmed land with everything from wheatfields, grazing sheep, cows and goats, to a free range pig farm.

For some reason these goats on the coastal path make me think of a nudist beach.

Crail seen from the Fife Coastal Path.

Lobster pots on the quayside in Crail.

With the exception of the lobster pots, the pictures on this page are all just as they came off my phone apart from some cropping because iPhone photos are too square for my liking. But I discovered by chance that if you edit images you’ve taken on the phone (this is an iPhone, I’m talking about) first – doing only minimal adjustment – and save them, then they are editable as Raw in Photoshop once they’re on your computer. Obviously, this can’t make them into better pictures, nothing can. But as the iPhone really isn’t very brilliant at subtlety, this at least it gives you a greater possibility of making improvements than the straight-up Photoshop options do, which is all you get if you do a straight upload from your phone. Next time, I really must remember to take the DSLR.

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I set out to avoid the Olympics in London, where I spend much of the week. All the edicts about what you could and couldn’t do, say or print had been annoying me so much in the run-up to the opening ceremony. A Swedish friend of mine suggested a house swap way back in February and I leapt at the idea. Ironically, I ended up watching loads of track and field events during the second week on TV in Sweden and grew quite addicted to keeping up with the ever-growing British medal tally. Now I’m looking forward to the Paralympics.

We swapped pets as well as houses and looked after the wonderful Doglas, a Bernese Sennenhund, a breed I’d never heard of. Related to St Bernards, he had been shorn of much of his thick coat for the summer so that he wasn’t too hot but, even so, he spent a fair amount of time lying in the bathroom, the coolest room in the house. He is the best dog, not retaliating when he’s barked at by yappy little terriers, or running off to herd up the cows we encountered on this walk, even though that’s what is in his genes. We quickly became bilingual in Swedish dogspeak, which is not difficult as it’s fot, pronounced ‘foot’ for ‘heel’ and sitta for ‘sit’ but barely needed to tell him to behave.

I’ve been to this part of Sweden many times before over the last 15 years or so and this was one of the first times the weather had been pretty poor throughout but we still enjoyed many long walks, good food and the quiet, gentility of a largish seaside village in the summertime.

We managed a couple of dips in the freezing sea (an early morning and evening tradition with locals, who wander or ride their bikes down to the beach in their bathrobes) – mine on a particularly seaweedy, squally day, quite unlike the sunnier day that dawned when I took the picture above.

This is Hovs Hallar, quite close to where we were staying. You can see the Danish coast across the Kattegat, depending on which way you look.

You make your way down to the beach through quiet, silvery woods and knee-high heather.When you arrive, the beach is pebbly and sown with random grasses and yet more heather.And the purity of the air is evident in the rich lichens growing on the stones along the shore.

We were even treated to a 4.4 magnitude earthquake on our second night, which is relatively unusual for the region, which has tremors roughly every decade or so. I woke up and thought it was thunder followed by the dog bumping into my bed.

It was also lovely to unexpectedly have the Boy with us before he heads off for a year in Australia. Of course we squabbled (this is real life, after all), the tension of a long separation that I’m none too keen on rubbing our emotions raw at times. But these are some of the impressions that will keep me going over the months of grey wet pavements ahead.

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At the weekend, I made a 40-minute trip up the coast and met up with Rachel and her lovely, bouncy dog Flossie at Blue Anchor.

We’ve been following each other’s blogs for a while and last summer Rachel moved from the north-east to Somerset, so we were able to meet up. I mean, she was moving anyway, she didn’t move here to meet me, obviously.

Someone had commented to me that they thought Blue Anchor rather a ‘hole’ but I wouldn’t describe it like that. It has acres of great beach punctuated by generations of piles from years of keeping the ocean at bay.

The bay has great alabaster cliffs at its eastern end and it’s from them that Blue Anchor takes its name. And at the other end, there’s the great outcrop of Minehead.

The beach has astonishing outcrops of rock that signify some ancient geological upheaval. Looking at them, you get a real sense of the prehistoric; as though you’d come across the spine of a dinosaur asleep.

If you time it well, you’ll be there when a West Somerset Railway train steams its way past. One of the things I love about this part of the county is that you often see puffs of smoke as the trains wend their way back and forth from Minehead to Bishop’s Lydeard, hooting joyfully. But it’s rare to get a good view of the whole train.

And this is where the River Pill flows into the sea, which must be quite a sight when water levels are higher than at the moment. It looked like rain all day but it didn’t quite make it.

True, there are rather a lot of static caravans but, as these things go, the ones here are somehow a bit classier than, say, at Brean. And somehow this kind of temporary seafront building satisfies something in me that says it shouldn’t just be the rich who should be able to have access to a great view.

Finally, there’s an excellent cafe serving good mugs of tea, huge slices of cake and really good fish and chips. They’re going to want that – these poor folk who got all carried away with the warm weather and thought they’d go camping.

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