746-751: Lewis, Harris and onto Brin

746 – Sunday 11th June 2017:  Dead ‘Ard in Uig 

Aird Uig campsite – managed by Finn – we conversed in a mixture of Gallic and Gaeilge ! We also talked about 1960s music – Bob Dylan et al – top man – he only charged us £10 per night instead of £15!!!  (K:  Being of a certain vintage and Irish has some benefits!)  Walked to Gallan Head – cafe unmanned – with honesty box… we are truly in God’s country…

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Over 200 service men stationed here during WWII.  The RAF left in the 1960’s and some of the buildings have now been bought and turned into small houses.  The Head was recently bought by the community who want to preserve it and make it more accessible.

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746 – Monday 12th June:  Valtos and Reef Beaches

Slightly later start to Monday – a good brisk walk to Valtos village and Reef Beach – showers in Jez and BBQ – a good life (again) ?

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Reef beach – the campsite is in the dunes just off to the right.  Completely made up of shells and Oscar and I collected some, including some unusual small bright pink ones.

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Valtos beach – all white sand here.

747 – Tuesday 13th June:  Back into Harris and Distillery

Why do ginstilleries draw us inexorably? Harris gin distillery visit in Tarbert – tours all booked up but a nice tasting and appropriate purchase, of course…. Seaweed is used as a botanical but K used a pink grapefruit instead.  Jez was pointed to a nice small overnight beach spot near the Sealam Museum Centre – another quiet evening…

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Our overnight at the edge of a slipway … busy with people collecting rope and wood, presumably to decorate their gardens.  K had a good chat with a local artist, wife and two small girls.  They try to grow their own food as much as possible but the winter winds kill their crops and they’re thinking about home ed. for the girls.  

748 – Wednesday 14th June:  Inclement in St Clemments

Sealam Centre – lots of information about families who emigrated to Canada, USA and Australia the – dreaded ‘clearances’. The town of Leverburgh brought rain and we considered a pub lunch but not at £15 per head, just for J’s scampi! It hd been recommended to us, but must have been an ‘ on-budget’ day!

Coming up to the east coast of Harris, called the Bays, the scenery changed to rocky and barren – not unlike Connemara – evidence of more ‘clearances’ people forced off their land to here to make way for landlords with large profitable sheep farms – fishing was an extra income option but it was barely subsistence living – and then the potato blight arrived to force more emigration – so Ireland wasn’t  the only country to suffer…  

Full wet weather gear on to give O a quick walk and visit St Clement’s Church in Rodel – 1520’s

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Stairs up so far in the tower, but the final level is only accused by a step ladder, which was missing.  Not that the views would’ve been much in the rain.

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Lots of tombs to the MacLeod clan.

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 St Clement’s church graveyard contained a headstone marking the last resting place of Mary MacLeod who asked to be buried face down – ’to stop her lying mouth’ – why?   And only aged 16!

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Unfertile rocky land where families tried to scratch a living.  This side of S Harris is now more notably home to artists and craftsmen.

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748 – Thursday 15th June:  Back to the Mainland

Back to Skye across the Kyle of Lochaish Bridge – CL on the west bank of Loch Ness – services complete before a Wildcamping meet near inverness. Excellent morning run to a waterfall…. 

 

749-751 – Friday 16th-Sunday 18th June:  Brin Motorhome Meet

Shopping in Inverness and then to Brin motorhome meet – lots of old friends including Shirley, Margaret, Poppy and Boo…. Escoffier evening – top food – campfire late into the evening/early morning – K managed to stay late-ish……

Weekend pilates for K and both Margarets – and running.  A group of us walked uphill (a lot) to meet our group from the other direction at the halfway point.  Evening saw food and music – harpist and Adrian from Holland playing Scottish bagpipes – and the combo of moi, Shirley and Margaret singing along to some old classics – my chords were OK after a 50 year absence form the guitar!  Another ‘late’ night…. (K:  Funnily enough, J seemed to slope off before me!)

Lunch at the Dore’s Inn – Scampi and chips for me and soup for K, followed by most excellent puds.  K and Shirley walked to Flichty House to check out brother Tim’s garden – impressive.  A lovely meet with some top people and over £800 raised for the Neil MacKenzie Trust.

As we faced a 4.5 hour drive tomorrow, west off at 5:00 pm to make most of the journey tonight – Lybster Harbour welcomed us for the night – peacefully, as always….. zzzzzs 

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Walk … clever mini bus manoevering … drop one lot of walkers at the start and the second lot at the end.  We weren’t sure if we’d been given all the uphill!

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Still going uphill as we passed the other party and remembered to hand over the mini bus keys.

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Great Views at the top and then it was finally downhill :).

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Celtic Harp came to entertain us.

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A Dutch Scottish bagpiper.

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And our very own James, Margaret and Shirley.

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Our overnight at Lybster Harbour.

 

 

752-756: Orkney Part 1

752 – Monday 19th June 2017:  Start of Orkney Meet

Our ferry from Scrabster was loaded with wild camping.co.uk motorhomes bound for our week long meet – 50% discount on fares for wildcampers 🙂 – we saved £117!  On site, we met people from the meet at Brin and new friends Jim & Pat and David & Sanchia + Ross, the family K9…  We’d hooked up through the forum to join the tour guide Jim and Pat had booked for two days.  As a get to know each other and see if the entire male dogs would get on van sharing for the tours we went for a walk and then drinks in our Jez.  Evening came and evening went, more gin and wine – cheese and biscuits for supper – a late evening – why not?  Dogs did not play nicely, just like children … you want them to get on and they don’t … Oscar was very grumbly.  

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So many ‘vans on this crossing they had to corral us on the quayside.  A sense of excitement … another adventure.

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Oscar ready to drive on board.  Little does he know, this is Northlink Ferries, not Calmac of the Outer Hebrides … he has to stay in the van for the crossing.

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Turn right, then left out of Stromness and straight onto the Ness Campsite, which has been taken over by the wildcamping happy campers.  Excellent facilities with a free washing machine (I was not the only one to make good use of it!) and good off lead dog walking.

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View from the campsite across to Stromness port.  You feel the ferry’s vibrations before you see it pass.  Lots of seals in the other direction.  

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The two day tour crew .. David, Pat, Jim and Sanchia.  We spent every evening, two full days and consumed a LOT of booze (fellow gin and whisky drinkers) with these guys and got on really well.

753 – Tuesday 20th June 2017:  Day One Tour

We are being “Neolithicised” big time and loving it!  Helen our tour guide is amazing and lives every story … she comes from Portsmouth, has an archaeology degree, is a Druid High Priestess, used to be a teacher and now a tour guide … with a difference.  She weaves landscape, fact and her own spiritual interpretation into what went on.  Did you know that hunter gathers used what nature provided and took only what they needed … they had lots of leisure time and created jewellery and art.  The farmers came along and invented a high workload and stress, and farming started here in Orkney … it was warmer and less windy then!

A full day and weary on our return.  Pat Dalton to the rescue … what can you do with corned beef?  Chilli of course – yummy.  K has bought a tin as a standby for us … so versatile.  

The Rolling Stones of Stennes carry no moss but beautifully crafted in 3000 bc.

 

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The Standing Stones of Stenness – 3000BC:  originally 12 monoliths surrounded by a ditch 2m deep.  This hearth like stone is in the centre and the two upright align with a mound … the green hump you can just make out.

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A view across to the mountains of Hoy … the landscape plays a large part in where these spiritual / religious sites are built.  The Hoy mountains look like a pregnant woman; as you move around the island she seems have given birth.  Valleys lead to this site too and it is very fertile.  There would have been 12 standing stones, but the local farmer was fed up with tourists disturbing his sheep, so he blasted a number of them – he was removed from the island!  Only 4 remain and one stone still has the plug where the dynamite was to go.

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Nearby is Barnhouse village:  15 houses with central hearths and beds.  Two larger structures may have been used for worship as at midsummer the setting sun shines directly down the entrance passage way.

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The Ring of Brodgar:  of 60 stones only 27 remain upright and is a perfect circle 103.7 diameter.  Again a large ditch surrounds it.  Work is being done to improve paths so there was some fencing up.

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The area is a also a RSPB nature reserve so a lot of ground nesting birds.  The bog cotton just glows.  The relationship with the landscape with water, land and sky is very strong.

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Skara Brae neolithic village, inhabited from 3100BC to 2600 BC:  this is a reconstruction showing the central hearth and stone wells that would have contained water for storing fish and keeping food cool.  Each house has a dresser or alter.  A small side room was probably used for storage. 

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Discovered in 1850 when a storm removed sand dunes.  Not sure how long nature will be kept at bay before the rest of the village is destroyed … the site is on UNESCO’s at risk list.  The houses are joined by a street. They had drains, stone dressers, beds, cupboards and water tanks.  Some cells with drains may have been toilets.  It is not known how the roofs were made, but conjectured that whale bones or wood supported straw and turf.  They found bones, tools, jewellry and grooved stone where … it could have been decorated with finger nail markings.

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These two houses were the original ones and a newer village was built on top, using the midden (compacted waste) as footings.

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There was a place for everything.

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The wind seems to always be strong here and this little fellow had moved in!

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So well preserved.

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I had a hat from Lewis, and J has one from Orkney.

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Yesnaby Castle and a rocky coastline walk.

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754 – Wednesday 21st June 2017:  Summer Solstice & Kirkwall

Abed at 1000 hrs – and alarm went off at 1:30 am!!!  We had never been to a summer Solstice Druid ceremony – and a wedding – at 3:00 am in a field! But what a field of magic and spells (Harry Potter, where are you?).  Helen and her husband Mark performed the ceremony and service – hand fastening and then ale and honey cakes for all – the moon and the sun made an appearance although the sun was a little late.  A great shame about people at the back who disrespectfully talked all through!  The spiritualism was all pervading regardless of one’s religion… 

5:00 a.m. nightcap in Jez – and zzzzzs… followed by a cooked brekkie for J.

Kirkwall in the p.m. – St Magnus’ cathedral – more soft sandstone a la Petra – lovely again – a glass of cider and meeting a lady from Washington DC and her partner from Orkney.  

Campsite bonfire and beef cooked by a wild camping.co.uk crew – K was a little late-ish to slumber….. (K:  I was chatting, not drinking though!)

The Highland Park Distillery provided the tour and tasting – with (you’ve guessed it) – whiskyurchases…. (PS – don’t tell Grahame Leslie…) 

A surprise visit by a piper band through the campsite – amazing music again…

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Mark, husband to our tour guide is a Druid Priest at the summer solstice … he blew a horn to call on the spirits, but this one contained beer which we shared, as well as honey cake.

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A lyre and drum: the ceremony is bardic.  I refrained from nudging J into reciting one of his poems.

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We did not see the sun come over the hills until we were back on the bus.

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Beware cooks with cleavers!  Kirkwall St Magnus Cathedral built from 3 stones including red sandstone which gives it such a warm glow.  Construction started over 875 years ago, by the nephew of Magnus Erlendson.  in 1103 Magnus and his cousin succeeded to the Earldom, but by 1117 they’d fallen out and they agreed to meet on an island with two ships each … the cousin pitched up with 8!  A no contest and the cook was ordered to kill Magnus with a meat cleaver … Magnus’ relicts were buried on Birsay and miracles were said to be taking place.  The church was paid for by local farmers under some duress and the architect came from Durham.  Magnus’ remain were eventually brought to the cathedral and a new pilgrimage walk, St. Magnus’ Way runs across the island; we’ve seen lots of the way markers.

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My 2nd cousin and godfather has been investigating the family name … I need to read through his notes and see if this Leslie is mentioned; we know they were in Scotland.

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Key dates at the Highland Park whisky distillery:  founded in 1798 and currently (about to be challenged) the most northerly Scottish distillery.  The original owner was a church officer and on hearing that the excise men were about to pounce, he put all his barrels into a coffin, called the locals to the funeral and muttered ‘smallpox’ to the customers men, who hot footed it away.

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Whilt 80% of the barley is imported from the mainland, 20% of actually still peat smoked here.  No longer turned by hand and shovel, a machine now does it.

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The kiln fires start with peat fires to imbibe the malted barley with the flavour and then with smokeless coal to dry it out.  We could smell the peat as we approached the distillery.

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The stills:  twice distilled.

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A lovely surprise – a local wildcamper had organised  the pipers whilst we ate a communal beef stew and apple pie.

755 – Thursday 22nd June 2017:  Day Two Tour

Helen guided us again – the intrepid 6 – to St Magnus’ pilgrimage path – forest and kissing gates – and the earthouse with short steep ladder down…

At Birsay, the sky opened up and was the most spectacular blue! 

Puffins, ice cream and the farm museum – then to “Twattsville”!  

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Binscarth Plantation.  Kissing gate … has to be done!

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Orkney is pretty treeless due to the wind, but the Laird had had a small wood planted.  This is also on the St Magnus Way.

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Communing with nature.

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Rennibster Earthhouse in the middle of a working farm … and yes we were climbing down there. Once down there was a small room, probably an iron age house’s subterranean cellular with a tunnel, but it could have been a spiritual room, devoid of outside noise and light.

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 Is Pat going to drop the lid on David?

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Tomb of the Dogs, so called as dog bones were found within.  Amazing – no entrance fee and a metal gate to pull open and then crawl inside.

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Beautifully evenly built.  There were chambers off and apparently the acoustics between them were superb. 

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Birsay a tidal island off the NW. 

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Pictish engravings.

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C12th Nordic Viking church. 

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The church is surrounded by figure of 8 Pictish houses.  There are drains and a bath house.

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We lifted a slab to see a perfectly formed round stone well. 

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Great rocky cliffs on the other side of the island and the sun had come out 🙂

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The reason for walking round the island … to see the Puffins … I had to lean over on my tummy (J’s vertigo kicked in, so he kept back with Oscar), but only had J’s wide angle lens :(, but you can make out one on the right stood on the rock and one under use bronze lichen rock.  Kerstin – this one’s for you … hope you saw them in Northumberland!

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Rock pools so clear.

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The Earl’s Palace late C16th.  Built by Earl Robert Stewart (half brother to Mary Queen of Scots) using local conscripted labour.  So sumptuous, it even had toilets.

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Orkney ice cream is pretty special.

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Kirbuster Farm Museum:  Two brothers worked here until 1960/70’s (we think) and it was another special moment being sat in the amazing Orkney chairs (driftwood and straw) talking about and touching the items. The central peat fireplace was offset from the roof chimney so the wind and rain did not put it out.  The brothers had put plasterboard over the alls and papered them.  

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A heather hearth or washing up brush.

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The date on the lintel is upside down to ward off evil spirits.

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Whale bone gate entrance.

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It had to be done … not a twatt in sight!

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Some of the skies have just been amazing.

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Broch of Gurness:  Iron Age to Pictish times.  The Broch is similar to the one we visited in Lewis, although less well preserved, BUT it has a small Pictish village around it AND defensive ditches.

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756 – Friday 23rd June 2017:  Maeshowe, Churchill Barriers, Italian Chapel & Tomb of the Eagles

Friday, is it, already?  Only 1 day left of our meet…  Maeshow House tomb – crawling on all 4s for 10 metres and Sarah our lovely guide who ‘sparked’ the story…

PM and the Tomb of the Eagles – eagle bones and human remains – most informative museum and talks…

The Italian Chapel built nearby by Italian POWs – their country transported to Orkney – hand painted stained glass windows – how to make a chapel from 2 Nissan huts.  En route, we crossed the Churchill barriers – made to join the small islands with the mainland – some WW2 wrecks to remind us of the courage of the soldiers and seamen form both sides – the futility of war…

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Maeshowe Tomb – no pics allowed inside.  Similar to other tombs, with side chambers, but with massive slabs of stone making the walls.  Some Viking engravings.

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Iron Age house at Tomb of the Eagles.

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Inside the Tomb of the Eagles.  The Museum was the star here, as there were talks in two of the rooms and handling experiences for some of the artefacts found.

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Amazing glow of buttercups everywhere, as well as so many species of wild flowers.

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Crossing one of Churchill’s Barriers and a sunken vessel.

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The St George and the Dragon was fashioned by an Italian prisoner out of barbed wire and covered with concrete; both materials had a plentiful supply – one to keep them in and the other to build Churchill’s barriers!

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The Italian prisoners had a theatre, built paths and planted flower beds, but lacked a church.  In late 1943 two Nissan huts were placed end to end; one to be a church and the other a school.  It was lined with plasterboard and coated in concrete.  

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The interior is painted to look like brick.  Restored in 1960 by the original artist Chiocchetti and later in 2015.  Another inmate created the wrought iron candelabra, rood screen and gates.

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Chiocchetti painted the Madonna and child from a card his mother had given him when he left for the war.

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I just found this concrete face of Jesus really soulful.

 

Oscar’s Diary:

Well now…  I’ve been corralled in Jez for museums, archyfax, toooombs and a wedding at sunrise…!  Who wants to be weddingfried in the middle of the night? Blinking Nora indeed. Beds to go to?  If Kensey and I get wed – we’ll do it in daylight and she can carry me across the chessboard and have her way with me – oops, too much detail? I could be knight to her queen…. then checkmate!

As Hagrid would say “there’s something very right here, Harry…..

Yakky-da for now (that’s Welsh you know…).  The GB Lions need Hagrid and Tom Jones in the scrum for the next test and Harry with his Quiddich broomstick, too…..

 

 

742-745: Isle of Lewis Body Parts … Butts and Fingers!

742 – 6th June 2017:  Finger Fun

We completed our services before we left the Laxendale campsite – unfortunately, I lifted the grey waste manhole cover a bit quick and dropped it on my finger – the one we caught in the hab door in France!  I think I said “goodness gracious” with a bit of “feck” thrown in…. this after K had sliced her finger nail into the white cabbage a few days ago. At work (what’s that?), we hade a spate of hand injuries and introduced compulsory safety gloves – should we?  My guitar playing is on hold for some days – but we applied the magic Arnica cream and the Mebo gel from Jordan.  

Stornoway Lewis Castle Museum was free – and hugely informative – again, amazing staff.   En route to the western side of Lewis, we continued listening to the audio version of Peter May’s book, “The Black House” – set in Lewis exactly where we are headed – a real local flavour…  the Ness Historical Centre was also a must. For the night’s ‘wilding’ we looked at Ness Port but it was far too windy – so back a short drive to Eoropaidh – secluded spot in front of a children’s play area – with mini golf – and a donation box. Perfect pitch but still windy – all portholes closed for the night…

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K’s – Never did find the missing bit of nail amongst the cabbage!

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The Eoropaidh Dunes Play Park, complete with a pirates ship and 3 hole mini golf course!  Respectfully asked to not use on a Sunday.  Also sign up to mind the uneven ground and the rabbit holes … the rabbits seem to be bigger here than on Harris.

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I walked Oscar up to the tiny chapel … shut, but I could see through … bare stone walls and ancient wooden pews.  A small stained glass window over the alter.

742 – 7th June:  The Butt Of Ness

Back to am running – why not in such awesome surroundings!  A good breezy walk also for 2 hours along the headland – to the most north westerly point in Europe!  Stevenson-built red brick lighthouse – needed no paint protection since 1885…  Visited the restored Black House – large and very roomy – heated by a 24 hour turf fire – black smoke everywhere – hence the name.  The replacement houses were called ‘white houses’.  Apparently the family of this black house moved back in, letting out their white house as it leaked, flooded and was draughty … progress!  Along the road is a Whalebone gated house entrance – immense

Lovely small campsite for the night – hardly any breeze – laundry, blogging – and chilling – La Dolce Vita – or what?

Oscar Here….

“I feel the need to make an interKection at this point – with my owners’ recent digitantix, I am keeping my paws neatly wrapped in gaffa tape!  Oh shit – how do I scratch my balls, now?  Bugger, how does one remove gaff tape?  I can’t even Koogle the answer – there’s no Kifi connection!  La Dolke Rita, indeed!!!!”

Yours in glue…..  

K:  Oscar if you use language like that, I’ll gaffa tape your shnout – that lingo is owt!!!

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The bus shelters protect from wind in any direction.  They need to as the wind, Margaret assured me, circles in Scotland … true you cannot get a leeward side.  The Peter May book said the locals call them Giants’ Picnic Tables.

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The start of our walk.

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A memorial to the 12 fishermen who lost their lives late C19, leaving 9 widows and 22 children with no means of support.  It was especially poignant as it happened in daylight with the villagers watching from shore.  They attempted to launch rescue boat but the undertow almost took that crew too.  One chap was seem to be hanging onto some wood for 2 hours, wiping the salt from his eyes and mouth, until he too, finally slipped away.

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Oscar inspects the Best Butt of Lewis!  He refused to do a moony!  I suggested we both do one and ask fellow walkers to take the pic … but strange, he wasn’t up for that either!

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Sniffing the peat turf … bringing back memories of turf cutting as a child in Ireland.

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The restored Black House.  

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Huge whale jaw bones.  Apparently the blacksmith was seriously injured removing the unexploded harpoon, which is now Damocles Sword like, above J’s head!

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An immaculate campsite with a pleasant view – the grass was artificial!  Full serviced pitches and washing load done!

743 – 8th June:  Ancient Settlements and Free Falconry

On our way to ancient settlements, we spied a man in a field with a bird of prey – stopped to have a look from Jez. To our amazement, he called us over – to have free personal interactive demo! K obliged and I took photos… One of those truly ’gemstone’ encounters – huge thanks to Ian. We met him again on the road after our village visit, hitching a lift, but we were turning off the road in 200 yds.  The mill/kiln, iron age fort and the blackhouse village visits were inspirational – bonus for Oscar – he was allowed to come along, too.   The Callanish Stones are really special – Stonehenge-esque but bigger over 3 sites – and completely free to enter. And no fences so we can get up close.  Indeed the cattle did to Callanish Stones III, churning up the soil by this ancient monument!  Again, spectacular sunsets – lots of folk capturing the images – up to 11:00 pm!  We overnighted right beside the Stones with a German van for company – try staying at Stonehenge overnight free in your motorhome!   

What a busy and amazing day!

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Norse Mill and Kiln: barley grain into meal powered by a diverted stream … a left over of the Scandinavian past of Lewis.

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We stopped off at the Blue Pig gallery as I’m always looking for gifts … I treated myself … again.  The knitter takes local pix and then chooses the colours and patterns to reflect the image.  Most were inspired by the coast and seaweed and “Easter Snow” inspired me into a purchase!

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OK, so how often do you see someone training a Harris Hawk in a field, pull over to watch and then then get asked “Who’s first?”  An absolutely phenomenal piece of luck … J not keen as worried about the bird on his injured finger, so I got all the goes!  Ian wants to set up Falconry experiences on the island.  Oscar was not amused! 

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village:  restored cottages – some are to rent.  There were informative films about Harris Tweed production and turf cutting.

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The black faced local sheep are no longer used to make the tweed as consumers want softer and lighter cloths, so Cheviot wool is brought onto the island but carded, dyed and woven here, to make it authentic Harris Tweed.

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There are remains of blackhouses all over the island.  

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Carolway Broch: An Iron Age fort.  The iron age lasted longer up here as the Romans did not make it this far.  Brochs are only found in Scotland and this is one of the best preserved.

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They are made from two concentric circles with stairs between the walls to what would have been three floors.

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Callanish Stones:  5,000 years old.  One of the most significant and important megalithic complexes in Europe and we had to stop Oscar from peeing on it!

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Two satellite sets of stones are walking distance from the main stones … Callanish II has good views up to Callanish I.

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We moved Jez to park up for the night right next to the stones … so close this view was taken out of the roof light!

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We were not the only evening visitors waiting for the sun to set, but at least we were in the warm until 10.38 … we could could’ve made a fortune selling hot toddies as the wind was bitter.

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744 – 9th June:  Beauty in Bosta, Great Bernera

Over a bridge to Eillean Bernera – the locals succeeded in getting the bridge built by threatening to blast rock for a causeway – innovative?  Our nights stop was at Bosta beach – how many times have we used the word ‘stunning’?  Lots and we expect to continue in the same vein.  Sun, sea, sand – lovely neighbours – sitting outside with wine – how much more can we ask for?  The photos speak (again) for themselves – the site is so popular that 9 vans were with us overnight… many small campers as there was a water tap and toilets.  Our walk to the next village was nicely up and down – we needed to guide Oscar past a serious ram with horns that would have made a giant corkscrew/wine bottle opener. 

We visited a Iron Age house which had been buried under tons of sand – hence well preserved – a guide who ‘lived’ the story and brought the detail to life. K wants to buy it for when Mr Trump uses the atom bomb to wipe out the planet – our personal air raid shelter!  Our van neighbours live on Hoy next to Orkney and they invited us to visit in the next couple of weeks – fantastic – thanks, Catherine and Michael!  The colours of the sunset were blue, gold and white with the dark dunes beneath…

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Another amazing view from Jez.

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In 1992 a storm removed a lot of sand from the beach revealing a stone wall … this led to the identification and excavation of some of the iron age houses that had remained hidden.  One was beneath a Viking house.  The houses were round and built underground, with only the roof showing.  All the walls were still intact and when they built the replica further up the beach they were able to work out many of the building techniques and how the buildings had been used. As usual, it is the staff that make the difference … a local lady opens up the house foe visitors only Monday – Friday 12.00-4.00 in the summer and was very informative and enthusiastic.  She pops down a couple of times in winter to light a big turf fire and air it.

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Not to be messed with … Oscar was promptly put on the lead.

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The beach has now totally covered over the iron age settlement … probably the best conservation for it.

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Views of our walk.

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Oscar was not amused when he fell into the muddy bog.

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Our cup floweth over again … sitting, for once, protected from the wind, in sunshine, with an amazing view and a glass of wine.  What more can one ask for?

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Our view of the setting sun.

745 – 10th June:  Uig

Another day – another part of Lewis – Uig – another adventure….  How could we be blasé about all this?  Some people ask (when they learn we are full-time) – are we not bored?  Our answer is always emphatic!  Bob Dylan – “The answer is blowing in the wind”. 

We are on our own overnight on a small pitch overlooking the sea, beach and the hills beyond.  Who sang “The hills are alive – with the sound of music”? Answers on a post card to – “Jez, Outer Hebrides, Heaven”!!!  

Oscar 

Me again, readers. Today, they made me swim! In the ocean!  It was 50 fathoms deep with whales and sharks (I’m sure I saw Jonah)!  When I dragged my near drowned body from the briny, I rightly shook myself over K and jumped up at her in relief.  What did she do in her gratitude?  Tell me off and said “you little fecker”.  I’m taking her to the Hebridean Court of K9 Bites!  I’ve appointed my lawyer – Mr Anguish McFarts – of McFarts, Bizzybizzy and McPoos, from – Kolihull, my home town.

Goodnight, boyos (that’s Welsh, you see).

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OK, so just a small river to wade across.  We removed socks and boots only for this.

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Our view from Jez … just as well we came back from our walk when we did … we’d have had to swimif we’d left it another 30 minutes.  As it was, the tide was coming in the small river and we had to remove trousers and wade across.  Much to the amusement of the two couples drinking wine on the deck of a holiday cottage … we again considered doing a moony!


737-741: An Inspired Perspiration!

737 – Thursday 1st June 2017:  Aye Aye Skye

Collecting the emergency laundry, we turned the van into a mobile dryer.  Farewell briefly to M&S as we shall see them in about 2 weeks at a motorhome meet in Brin, near Inverness. 

We headed for Mallaig to catch the ferry to Armadale in Skye.  We could’ve taken the free bridge but it would have been a 3 hour detour instead of a 15 minute jaunt down the road.  Fortunately someone on the site had warned me that they had been turned away from the ferry as fully booked for that day, so I’d pre-booked our crossings to Harris too.  We arrived too early, so parked up and wandered into the small supermarket and a second hand book shop … always a lure.

On the ferry, which was similar to those in Norway, where you can stay in your vehicle, I was able to catch up a little on some shut eye … having not fallen into a fitful sleep until 4.00 the night before.  Poor Oscar had been ill numerous times and kept prowling trying to get comfortable.  Lucky James slept through it all!

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Leaving Mallaig.

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I had visited Skye a hundred years ago with a boyfriend.  British Rail had a February offer – for £10 you could travel anywhere.  Mark and I thought of the furthest place we could get to for a long weekend and trained overnight to Fort William and onto Skye.  All I remember was that we saw people camping … in snow.  

We stopped at Talisker Whisky Distillery … a small site with small parking.  Jez straddled the pavement whilst J went in and purchased the last two tickets for today at 3.45.  Having recently been to Bushmills Distillery (and J to Jamesons) in Ireland, we pretty much knew the process, but it was very interesting to taste the effect of peat smoke drying the barley.  The Talisker had a definite peaty pong and taste.  Good though, that production still takes place here and at full capacity.

Still being shattered, we parked up in a lay-by with another 4 vans and James cooked, washed up and walked Oscar.  I was in bed by 8.30!

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738 – Friday 2nd June:  Hairy Harris 

Our ferry to Tarbert on Harris was not due till 2.00, so we stopped off at Portree, the main Skye Town.  It is given over to tourism with craft and gift shops, but we managed to buy what we wanted … meat for the freezer, a capo (thingumybob for the guitar) and some surgical spirit to harden up …. J’s fingers!  This ferry was more like a small English Channel ferry … you could not stay in your vehicle, BUT there are dog friendly zones inside and on deck.  So Oscar got to come too.

A fellow motorhomer gave us some great advice about Harris and Lewis and told us about a great beach with overnight parking not far from where we headed … so a slight detour and yes the beach at Luskentyre is truly magnificent.

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Leaving Uig on Skye.

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View down to the firth where we are headed …

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… and we’re not the only ones.

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Luskentyre Beach stretched for miles and changed colour in the estuary as the tide ebbed.

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739 – Saturday 3rd June:  A Planning Day

K ran on the firm sand of the beach whilst J preferred the hilly tarmac road.  A slow start on such a beautiful environment … eventually we headed into Tarbert – the only TIC on Harris.  A really helpful lady … she told me where all the Harris Trust free / wild overnight parkings are (you are requested to donate £5 to the Trust), where all the campsites are and which have chemical toilet facilities.  She advised me to book campsites for emptying our black and grey waste as they only provide these facilities for resident motorhomers and not all campsites have black waste services.  With all the lovely spots she recommended, we have again come to the woeful conclusion that we are NOT going to be able to take it too easy and we will not see everything.  So we headed not too far to Tarbert to a viewpoint she recommended with views over the island of Scalpay and the ferry into Tarbert.  Room for one large motorhome … US, picnic tables, views and a bin :).

So a planning afternoon ensued and campsites booked … mobile and phone signal here as we were close to a mast.  Supper was partly Margaret inspired and partly a fellow blogger inspired, as both had slow cooked beef.  I tend to avoid beef as I find it chewy, but slow cooked it is so tender, so I pressure cooked a cheap topside joint … beats roasting which turns it to shoe leather – scummy with enough to last 3-4 meals.  

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Our bench and table – perfect for views and an Oscar kiss.

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The other direction and you can just make the arrival of 4.00 Calmac Uig – Skye ferry.

740 – Sunday 4th June:  The Sabbath in Hushinish 

We had been warned that everything closes on the Sabbath.  You are even requested not to hand out washing and children’ playgrounds have signs requesting that they are not used.  I’m not religious, but I do like the marking of the end and start of a week, although here may be a tad too restrictive.

Knowing all the visitor attractions would be closed, we headed for Hushinish Beach, which a few people had recommended.  We had been told that although the road was only 14 miles, it would take 45 minutes … I didn’t fancy facing too much oncoming traffic, despite the numerous passing places, so we set off at 8.45.  it was a little hairy in places as it was literally van width with the ground sloping away from the tarmac.  As I drove, I had to be mindful of the long wheel base and where the rear wheels would follow!  Our new Bradt Outer Hebrides (liking the Bradt format and have just ordered some used ones from eBay for our Autumn Balkans trip :)) guide book states ‘the road twists and turns simultaneously’ and ‘this feels like the road to nowhere, the kind you might expect to encounter at the bottom of Patagonia’.  Quite!

Along the route, we missed the old Norwegian Whaling station … will look out for the tower on the return.  Lord Leverhulme, Unilever money, invested heavily in Lewis and Harris.  He bought the old whaling station with ‘the well intentioned plans to create employment.  Although machinery was overhauled in 1923 and three new vessels purchased to catch whales in the Atlantic, the scheme haemorrhaged money.  This was due to Lord Leverhulme’s unusual business plan: he intended to produce oil but, turning his eye to the traditional smokers of the islands, mused on whether smoked whale meat and whale sausages could be exported to the interior of Africa.’  Wonder why this business concept failed!

We also passed what is claimed to be the world’s most remote tennis court!  And Amhuinnsuidhe Castle.  Built by the Earl of Dunmore in 1868 after several people commented on his modest dwelling at Rodel.  I wonder how he reacted to his son’s finance who claimed his house was smaller than her father’s stables!  I am really liking this guide book for these little snippets.

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Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, with Jezn’belle, who travel with us.  The road crosses right in front of the castle, now a hotel  Apparently, no locks on each room on a point of principle, and dinner is a 3 course set meal with all the residents on one long table.

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Another ‘where we are headed’ shot.

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A traffic jam en route!

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You don’t mess with those horns, so I took it mega slowly.

Breakfast on arrival and then we set off on a walk to beach described as one of the most beautiful and remote (another theme here), but along with several other walking parties, missed a turn and found another stunning beach.  Ho hum, it was a fair old clamber and slither up and down, with some cliff edges, but we only got one drenching.  On the return J had his inspired perspiration … had we any cream on board?  An Irish Coffee?  Oh yes!

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The island in the background is Scarp and was inhabited until 1971.  Whilst the water width is only 400 metres, it can be very rough and the island can be cut off for days.  A story goes (this great guide book again) that in ‘late December 1934 .. a woman pregnant with twins went into extended labour.  An 85 year-old midwife delivered the first of the babies but insisted the mother be ferried across high seas to the mainland to deliver the second twin.  She was driven to Tarbert and onto Stornoway.  She finally gave birth to the second twin two days later, on a different island, and in a different year’.

Another snippet about the island … ‘Gerhardt Zucher, a German rocket scientist, had persuaded the British government to fund a research project to deliver mail … to the island.  The plan was to attach mail to a rocket and launch it across the waters … in July 1934, a rocket stuffed with thousands of letter marked ‘Western Isles Rocket Post’ spectacularly failed to deliver, exploding at the first attempt … The British Government then deported him to Germany, deeming him a ‘threat to the income of the Post Office and security of the country.’  

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Look, what a big one!

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Well, are you gonna throw it or what?

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741 – Monday 5th June: The Bridge to Nowhere

We left Hersinuih – one of the best ‘wildings’ – do we know any other kind? No. Back on the ‘hairy’ road which didn’t seem so scary the second time – still took 45 minutes for 14 miles, though… on to Tolsta and the “Bridge to Nowhere” – Lord Leverhhulme built a bridge too far. But stout reinforced concrete in 1925 – maybe BS 5400 wasn’t around then – oh dear, work sneaking in – “out damn spot, at once”!   The museum was shut, so on to the Laxendale campsite – for some unexpected ‘fingerprince’ – more of that anon…  

 

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Are overnight pitch 🙂

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The traffic jam on the way out … a whole family, who would not move.  J got out and braving risked a goring by waving his arms about … not budging!  Only the horn finally induced a sedentary bovine move.

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All that remains of the whaling station … we spotted it on the return.

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The Lewis Moors dropping into the sea … prone to wind!

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The Bridge to Nowhere.

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The view from the Bridge.




 

633-642: Porto with Roberto!

633-634 – Sunday 19th February 2017 & Monday 20th:  Chores and Catching Breath

Such a lot seems to have happened in the past week or so – these posts may be a little truncated…  In advance of our friend Robert (from Brizzle) arriving, we repaired to a campsite for 2 nights – jobs – laundry, cleaning Jez – and resting, our team..

 

635-636 – Tuesday 21st & Wednesday 22nd February:  Robert and Porto

Tuesday – ‘Robert’ day.  Always a bit worried about taking our van into an airport (we got really stuck in a narrow car park in Chardonnay at Bordeaux Airport) – it was a relief to find an adjacent parking with a wide access and loads of space.  Easyjet bang on time – and off we headed to Porto Centro-ish. Robert had come from cold and Drizzle Brizzle – to Porto in blazing sunshine and 19C!  Our identified free overnight parking was fairly central – just along the river Douro.  The last road down to it was narrow – and with 2-way traffic – nervy stuff – but safe. Truly excellent parking with about 10 vans. Lunch on board (KHCS) – ‘K Haute Cuisine Soup’ – and the perambulations began.  Only 3 km to the bridge.  

We passed a queue for a river cruise – instant decision to go – but dog friendly?  ‘Si’ – the owner had dogs and we assured him that the boys were placid – Robert, James and Oscar!    Stunning tour – Porto has 6 river bridges – different designs – one steel arch truss railway bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel’ colleague whilst working with Eiffel et Cie.  And the double decker iconic one, by the same architect, but by this time he had parted company from Eiffel.  We passed by all the Port establishments (didn’t sample) – wandered the streets – and took wine – Robert is a Bass beer man and sampled the local Brock Super lager.  He late developed quite a taste for white port.

Wednesday, our intrepid tour guide K had us booked on a 9:20 am (!) free walking tour – an hours walk from the van!  Brekkie was in the middle of the night, it seemed (our guest doesn’t normally rise early either).  The walk to the start included loads of steps – uphill…. We made it in time and drew breath….we were told the walk would be 3.5 hours long!  All told, this amounts to about 6 hours on foot…. we were now members of the Royal Porto Light Infantry (or RIPL – well, it scans better…).  Our guide was Eugenia and we had 2 other girls (German and French) for company.  Porto is quite something – Libraria Lello e Irmao (and worldwide famous bookshop) cathedral, buildings, squares – even the MacDonalds is a listed building with Art Deco and Art Nuveau interior.  I could see Hercule Poirot scoffing a MacPortoDeco sandwich!  

We rested for very welcome coffee and cake – which attached itself to my beard (as usual) – and visited a famous guitar maker – they explained about Porto and Coimbra Fado guitars. “Fado” is the folk music of Portugal – haunting, sad and very beautiful – Eugenia played us some of the music.  The old railways station has the most amazing tiled murals – all telling a separate story.

One of the bridges is 2 level – car traffic below – and Metro rail on top – with pedestrians wandering along the rail tracks!  Health and Safety?   

Lunch – Eugenia recommended a restaurant and the local ‘sandwich’ a “Francesina”.  It’s a cliche to call a meal ‘a heart attack waiting to happen’ – this so-called sandwich is enormous – with ham, sausage, cheese,bread and all ‘cooked’ in a homogenous cube with fried egg, sauce and chips!  Just look at Robert’s expression in the restaurant!  He ate it though – I managed half – and K sensibly had a small sausage.

On our way back to Jez, we couldn’t help but notice how stunning the river looks by night – with the reflections.  Doggydinner was late – whoops, sorry, Oscar…. we may have stopped for a small port on the way home!

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The Ponte de Dom Luis 1, completed in 1886.  A very clever design with an upper and lower deck.  The arches reach 172m hight, is 385m long and all that wrought iron weighs over 3000 tons.

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Hooray – Oscar looked calm and was allowed on board.

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The old Eiffel Maria Pia railway bridge 1876 with the new one behind.  Only closed in 1991.  I would not have fancied being in a train crossing in wind … it is very narrow with open sleepers.

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Ribeira: a warren of winding lanes with bars and restaurants.

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Some of the port lodge flags in Vila Nova de Gaia …. we recognised most of them!

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Outside the cathedral – a lovely Manueline Pillory, still with its hooks.

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Aah!  No wonder Porto keeps being voted best city destination and is getting very popular.

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Lello e Irmao bookshop 1906:  apparently it is so popular that there is now an EUR4 entry fee.  It is considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.  Our guide told us that there were lots of Porto links with JK Rowling, as she had been briefly married to a local chap here, until his physical abuse drove her back to the UK.  Porto claims that many of the design features for Hogwarts came from the bookshop.  Salazar Slitherin is named after the Dictator.

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Igreza dos Clerigos … we’d just climbed for an hour to get up here, no need to climb the tower too!

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To complete with Lisbon, Porto built the Avenida dos Aliados in early 1900’s.  It has a French Boulevard feeling with some super art deco and art nouveau buildings.

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The McDonalds complete with its art deco features … Robert really did not want to be photo’d in front of a McDs!  But he did not purchase, honest!

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Sao Bento railway station 1916 and a feast of tiles telling the story of transport and historic scenes.

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Transport above, history in blue.

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Fado guitars with 10-12 strings.  The Lisbon and Coimbra versions.

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Our walking tour took us onto the upper deck of the Ponte Dom Luis – we shared the space with the Metro!  Apparently if gets so crowded in summer that Porto is thinking they will have to encase the pedestrians for their own safety.

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View off the bridge looking down onto Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the port lodges are.

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Ribeira … looks like unsteady cardboard structures.

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Inside the old town wall.  Isn’t it lunchtime yet?

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The Francesina – wood oven baked.

 

637 -Thursday 23rd:  Barcelos Market

We went to Barcelos – for the market – well it’s the biggest in Portugal – everything – except meat and fish – which we wanted…  Lots of ‘headed’ chickens (as opposed to headless ones) – Oscar didn’t much fancy the crowds.  Directional signs – to everywhere – except the meat and fish – well, we could probably get meat and fish in London, Paris and Las Vegas – but it wasn’t really convenient, just then…

We has a nice run before market time along the riverside…..

Now, to Braga…and a nice secluded campsite for 2 nights.

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I’ll take two!  Could have picked up some pretty song birds too.

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Where next then?  Check out those matching stripes!

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Braga municipal campsite … EUR15 per night with 16 amp.  BBQ night.

 

638-639 – Friday 24th and Saturday 25th:  Braga & Bom Jesus

It’s Carnival time in Portugal these days – lots of children in lovely outfits on the streets. She wouldn’t sit still, but we spotted a toddler as a little chick, thankfully Not on the way to market.

Sharp-eyed Robert noticed a sign – for a – walking tour (after Porto, he might have learned better) – and we ‘coffee’d’ whilst awaiting the guide. But, the start was actually about 1km away, we observed late….  Olympic-style walk racing was now a priority – with K and O in the vanguard.  Just in time, we greeted Paolo -a young Masters graduate from the city.  A 2 hour tour was promised – and he introduced the history of Braga first – the mixture of Moors, Spanish, Gothic and Manuelian influences…

Saturday – Bom Jesus (“Good Jesus”) – the star attraction of the Braga area. The Stations of the Cross paved the way to a Cathedral on the top of – the most gigantic set of steps. – everything in reflective white.  Visually a huge impact with views of Braga and the surrounding countryside on all sides… 

Coffee and ice-cream before descending – to Jez again.

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We’d seen aisles of costumes in supermarkets … seriously ALL the children join in.

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The new gate with the coat of arms of the very powerful bishop … Braga is the Canterbury of Portugal …

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… with the oldest cathedral – design styles are Romanesque and Manueline, with a Gothic porch.

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You little devil!

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The grooves show where a revolving door used to be – for unwanted babies to be placed in the Monastery.

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Braga has lots of squares with fountains … can’t remember all the symbolism on this one….

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This one has a phoenix who has stabbed her heart with her beak to feed her children.

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A marmite building.  I loved the blue tiles and balconies … someone else who shall remain nameless … Robert, thought it was OTT.  The Palacia do Raio now houses the museum.

 

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At the bottom of the steps up to Bom Jesus – conceived in 1722 by the very small Bishop … we saw his minuscule shoes – 4’1” tall.

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About a third of the way up … there are three sections built at different times.  The lower has 14 chapels with the stations of the cross.  The middle the Five Senses and finally the Three Virtues.  And yes we did feel virtuous!  Especially me as this is my third visit … as a grumbling teen when I could not understand why my parents had not forked out for the funiculare.  And then, it slowly dawned on me that we all came again abut 5 years ago when we were in Portugal to celebrate the Aged P’s 50th wedding anniversary!

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That orange bowl goes everywhere … O needed a drink …

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… and so did we.

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Grotty!  Sorry, grotto!

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Saturday 25th cont…  Guimeraes

An initial free parking (possibly overnight – with a faint possibility of seeing 6-Nations rugby? The self-appointed parking attendant (Portuguese) greeted us in fluent Yorkshire dialect! He had lived in UK for some years in Yorkshire/Lincolnshire and talked about returning as an ‘illegal’ – what happened to ‘EU free movement of workers across the continent?  

The town search for a rugby bar was fruitless – but the wine was good in the square with lots of bars…..  Eventually, K took O back to the van and young Robert and I supped a bit more…

Our ‘Yorkshire’ friend had advised K to move car parks for the overnight – party night and ‘Carnaval’ – wisely, she piloted the van to higher ground and more space – just as R and I arrived back from non-rugby bar – I then followed the game (Ireland v France) by Internet text – a victory for the Irish keeps their Championship hopes alive. To keep the balance, England overcame a spirited Italian side on Sunday – it’s all boiling up nicely indeed…

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Guimaraes was the first Portuguese capital, when Alfonso Henrique proclaimed himself king in 1139.  It is beautifuly medieval with lots of overhanging buildings and squares.

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The cap in the doorway was singing along LOUDLY to his music.  A rather nice red … I managed two before ….

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… Oscar and I both felt cold so had to have a cuddle!

641-642 – Sunday 26th & Monday 27th:  Along the Duoro before it floods to the Atlantic

On being asked what he fancied seeing next, Robert responded with the Atlantic.  We plotted a route along the Duro to just S of Porto.  We’d planned to stop at a town for late morning coffee but ‘P’ Poor Planning and lack of obvious parking for our big beastie meant we just kept going to Campsite at Parque Seguiresos – plain site – price Eur 16 for 2 nights – 3 peeps and 1 doggo!!!  Plus 10 amp electric, which we managed to blow a couple of times!  OK – plain adequate facilities…. close to the beach for a couple of wet dog walks … K and R!  James, where were you?

Pouring rain, and more teeming rain, and more stair rods of rain for Monday.  Just as it started to abate, we headed off for a farewell good lunch.  Doggy bags of both some starters and mains and no room for pud!

The week with Robert has flown by – nights of Crib with K, all sorts of medium loud rock music from 60s to 80s – especially the Eagles – the last night doing Crosswords – R – you are so sharp especially at anagrams – what’s an anagram of anagram?  Grannymarg?  Mannymarg? Grabagranny?  Over to you, Robert.  And i know he’ll proof read this and find numerous spelling errors and unnecessary explanation marks!

 

 

625-627: Of Science and Religion

625 – Saturday 11th February 2017: Fatima and Rugby

Brought up as a staunch Catholic, I still hold lots of beliefs that are not easily explained logically or scientifically – a good friend (sadly deceased) strong Catholic became an agnostic because he (as a scientist) could not reconcile his science to religion.  We had been to Lisieux in France and were disappointed – the place is dirty and unkept – why – the shrine to St Therese?

Fatima is immaculate and huge – the square rivals St Peters in Rome – the white Basilica is sympathetic and dates from 1953.  The new church at the end of a wide colonnade seats 9,000 worshippers and was completed in 2007.  Watching the faithful light candles at the scene of one of the apparitions and the believers making their way on their knees hundreds of metres to the shrine – we couldn’t but be impressed – there are strong beliefs here…  People are obviously taken by the fact that 3 small children were at the heart of all this.  2 died at the ages of 9 and 10 and the third died age 97 in 2005.  Well worth the visit, whatever one’s creed.  

Well, it does me good to say that Ireland woke up at rugby today and scored 9 tries in Rome – I feel sorry for Conor O’Shea and Italy – but he has a longer term plan – oh dear, it had to come out “Rome wasn’t built in a day”…

(By the way, England won, also.)

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The Sanctuary with its 65m tower.

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And the esplanade twice the size of St Peter’s Square in Rome.  And we saw pictures of it packed, especially on 12 & 13th May and October when pilgrims arrive to commemorate the Shepherd children’s sightings of the Virgin and an angel.  We watched people slowly make their way down the marble path to the right of the pic on their knees.

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The windows tell the tale of the sightings.

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All three of the Shepherd Children are burried here, the two girls together.

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An inferno melting the several tons of candle offerings on the site of one of the sightings.

 

626 – Sunday 12th February:  Dinosaurs, Knights Templar and a Monastery 

To cut to the chase – we have seen Dinosaur footprints from – yes believe it – 175 million years ago – even before Bruce Forsythe was born!!!  The site proves that America was once joined to Europe.  The staff were amazing (as usual in Portugal) and so informative in perfect English. It rained – but we were prepared for that.  These beasties were up to 30 metres long and weighed in at 70 tonnes – 17 times the weight of Jez – even without our wine!  

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Monumental Natural das Pegadas dos Dinossaurios:  The site was a quarry and the excavations were deep … all those layers of subsequent rock.

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You can make out some of the tracks here – one was 175m There are several which proves that these sauropod herbivores travelled as a pack.  The enthusiastic attendant spoke really good English and explained that the site had very rare conditions:  it was a lagoon with no tidal water to erase the prints.  The muddy water contained calcium carbonate which created a crust over the prints and protected them.  They helped to prove tectonic plate theory, that Europe was once attached to America.  Interestingly this place gets only a few lines in one of the guide books … the attendant said that people from Fatima do not promote it as it science and contradicts religious belief.  Surely there is room for both.

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Up close you could make out the toes.

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For scale.

On to Tomar – free parking by the river for overnight, we walked up to the Castle and Convent – Oscar with us – we had left him in the van twice in the last couple of days. We took turns for the visit – huge and hugely impressive convent/monastery – Knights Templar originally – immense structures and the K photos tell a a lot. Back to our Jez and more of Tomar planned for tomorrow …

Oscar’s pre-next diary note: (We were not allowed to read this before publishing.)

“Look here – see – they left me twice in 2 days – now boyos (Welsh, you see) – I cannot admit to them that I’m getting used to it – that would be madness. But, I am developing my routines – I arrange things as I like them – ok pulling their coats off the hooks was a bit of a boo boo – they should buy proper gloo gloo – but it sniffed well – made me feel a high. The hooks can be reused…  I straighten the rugs (my way) and make nice imprints (I think) on the dashboard – art,it is…  When I saw them returning yesterday, I showed my usual extruderance and leaped up at the window (they like to know I missed them).  I saw a switch thing and put my paw on it – and ‘hocus pokeus’, it opened the blinking window!  They praised my K9 endeavours – so next time, I may try the cooker controls – not sure about the spark switch – I haven’t been trained in Fire Extinguisher usage – I suppose you pull the plug and point it somewhere?”

“I wasn’t going to mention but – K arose from her slumbers – at 10:00 am this morning – standards Katherine, you know…. slippage may not be toiletrated!”

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The Knight’s Templar on the pavements.

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No idea of the size of the complex from this angle. The C12 castle contains the Convento de Cristo – the headquarters of the Knights Templar.  The Knights were founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims visit ing the Holy Land.  They became a strictly organised and semi religious gang.  Members took a vow of poverty, but that did not stop them accepting land and riches in return for military victories.  In Portugal they played a key part in expelling the Moors.  By the C14 they had become so strong that the French and Portuguese Kings disbanded the order.  However, the Portuguese King reinstated them under a different name and his control.  They pretty much funded the Age of Discoveries started under Henry the Navigator.

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An exhibition about medicine and its development within monasteries.

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Sorry about the number of pix … I have got keen on the Manueline architecture … last years it was the Scilian Baroque!

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Just love all those curves.

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One of the main sights is the C12 Charola: based on the Rotonda of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, with a central octagon of alters.  It is said that the circular design enabled the Knights to attend mass on horseback.

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The longest dormitary, I’ve ever seen.  Doors off on either side for Friars’ cells.

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The Manueline window.

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From the roof of one of the cloisters … think I counted 5 cloisters.

627 – Monday 13th February:  Tomar-2-Not-2-Be and Batalha 

Hard and noisy rain overnight – not conducive to continuous sleeping… However, out to run early-ish. K and O ran 4km (and got wet) and I – a lot less (in the dry) – but, we are getting back into it. We had intended seeing more of Tomar, but a security guard at our (market) parking advised us that we needed to leave in a couple of hours – so up “we rose and twitched our mantle blew – to fresh pastures new” – Lycidas by John Milton – abridged. 

Batalha the destination – another monastery to view.  Sadly, we left our alarmed dog – Oscar. As we exited the van, we heard him mutter “What’s with these people and blankety monasteries, anyway? They’re all the same – towers, pinnacles, colonnades, promenades, rosy posy windows and gargoyles!  The face of a monkey spouting out rainy water over your head – exciting or what? I can spout water on them from my drinking bowl, if that’s what turns them on…”

It was very different, Oscar.  Manuelian, Gothic, unfinished chapel, tomb of the unknown soldiers and just hugely impressive.

In the afternoon, we rested and did some admin – and K planning for the next adventures – and no rain – sunshine, we hope!

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Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Vitoria, built to commemorate the 1385 battle Aljubarrota when 6,500 Portuguese defied the odds and repelled the 30,000 strong Spanish army.  Thus securing the Portuguese throne for the House of Avis, through Dom Joao, the illegitimate son of Fernando I.  It has an instant wow factor with its flying buttresses, pinnacles and ornate windows and doorways.  On the left is the Capelas Imperfeitas, the unfinished chapel, commissioned in 1437 – huge columns head skyward.  It was abandoned in favour of Jeronimos monastery in Belem.  Joao I and his wife Philippa of Lancaster are buried here, as are their 4 sons, including Henry the Navigator.

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The Unfinished Chapel – more Manueline Architecture.

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Much of the stained glass inside the Church was replaced after the 1755 earthquake, but the sun came out … finally.

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This glass is original and was developmental from mid C14.

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IMG 7586In the Chapter House lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers form the First World War.

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Limited off lead walking for O, but we did find the Ponte da Boutaca 1862 with its 4 empty towers.

622-624: Prisoners and Murdered Lovers

 622 – Wednesday 8th February 2017:  Penitents of Peniche

AM and K leaped into action – running shoes and kit on and Oscar at the ready – off they went for a 4km run – the furthest she has run for weeks/months?  I (excuse coming up, James?) rested my brawn, brain and back!  As the parking area was free – quite a few vans – we decided to stay 2 nights and enjoy the area.  We walked into town after breakfast – coffee and custard cake…  I had slept badly so I retired to have a sleep catch up – K and O has a marathon walk – about 11km in all.  Afternoon – I had revived myself and we perambulated to Dictator Salazar’s notorious prison for his political prisoners……  Oscar’s thoughts ringing in our ears “They’ve blankety blank left me again in the van – I’m no political poisoner – I vote Plaid Crumbly in Wales and the Deservative Party in England”!  We can see an Omail going to the Union, again…

A truly grim reminder of what happened only about 40-50 years ago – and not just in Portugal…

The town Lace Museum was a gem – including a very informative film with English sub titles.

Supper was sardines, we think, bought from the fisherman who knocked at the door last night.  He tried to sell us a massive bag for EUR10, but what would we do with that much fish?

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Peniche women supplemented the household income with bobbin lace making.
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The rocky cost had massive waves breaking with a periodic ‘boom’ as they hit the rock.

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Oscar and I had the odd shower from the spray.

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I was so close to the Lighthouse, I kept going …. it looked closer than it was and then there was the rest of the peninsula to walk … fine on a non-back-to-running-day.

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From the light house viewing platform, I could see the nature reserve islands of Berlenga.

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The approach to the Fortress – this was the sight Salazar’s political prisoners would have first seen of their new ‘home’’.  Originally a C16 castle, it has also seen service as a refuge for soldiers from the Boer War, a temporary home in 1970’s for refugees from newly independent African Portuguese colonies and now the town museum.  The council seized a vacant moment in the 1980’s to locate the town museum here.

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Visitors were ‘received’ by the prisoners here.

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Some of the prison cells overlooking the exercise yard.

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A number of inmates effected an escape in 1960, but we could find out very little as most of the info was only in Portuguese, except that Alvaro Cunhal went to Russia and was the Head of the Portuguese Communist Party.  He later served in the government.

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Drying fish in town.

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At the Lace museum there were some superb examples.  To keep the skills being handed down, there is a Lace Making School with classes for all ages.  I watched an older lady deftly spin and twist the bobbins.  Not for me … too complicated – I’m still regularly unpicking my jumper

623 – Thursday 9th February:  Touristy Obidos

Question for our reader(s?) – how many of you have stripped stark naked and showered in a supermarket car park?  That many?  Well, we did it (showered, that is!) in the Intermarche car park – do we need to say it was in the van?  Otherwise, we might have seen the inside of the Penichenciary…  K arranged more philaundering as we bathed….

All motorhome services at Intermarche as well – fully serviced and cleaned – we set the compass for Obidos.  Our overnight parking App showed a nice small aire with services right beside the town – and a ‘trace’ of UK vans – well, if 2 is a brace – why not 3 for a ‘trace’.  One motorhomer chap turned out to be a Chicago Cubs fellow-fan.

Oscar accompanied us to the town – simple and lovely (yes, Oscar – you are lovely) – lived in and lively. Lots of Ginga sellers but nowhere to sit outside for a nip. Nice walking around the perimetre and at last we saw some tables outside for a glass of vinho – just as we finished, the rains came down – hotfoot back to Jez.  It rained cats and dogs (where does that come from, Oscar?) during the night – prompted by my cooking? Maybe not. I produced (eventually) a Risotto for 2 very small people (Lilyputian portions) – not my finest culinary hours!  It will get better, James…

Sleep – and rain…

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Porta da Vila with C18 tiles and the initial evidence of ‘touristy’.

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All along the street the sour cherry liqueur Ginja was being sold.  There are 3 main producers locally, but none were offering tours – I had emailed two!

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Walking the walls was an option, but not one that J agreed to take!  Something to do with heights and lack of barrier.

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The Pousada occupied the castle at one end of the town … liked the look of the dining room window, but that was as close as we got, given a main dish was around EUR31!

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Is that my boy coming in for a cuddle?

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A number of book shops in the town; this one inside a church.

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The Pillory is docrorated with a fishing net, the emblem of Dona Leonor (wife of Joao II) to commemorate the fishermen who tried to save her drowning son.  The Santa Maria church is where the future Alfonso V was married to his cousin, Isabel in 1441.  Not remarkable in that, except that he was 10 and she only 8!

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Inside more beautiful blue tiles and the wooden celling was painted by Josefa de Obidos in 1661, unusually a female painter when the only ‘careers’ for women were wife, mother or nun!

 624 – Friday 10th February:   Alcobaca and Porto de Mos

Alcobaca has the largest church in Portugal – the nave is 60 metres long and 23 metres wide – really simple design – very effective.  The Cistercian monks developed into a more corpulent community a special door led to the refectory – if you didn’t fit through – you fasted!  K could fit – our slimmer of the year, Katherine.  The sheer scale is immense – royal lovers buried side by side – murder, intrigue, heart eating, decomposed hand kissing – just like the Conservative Party Annual Conference in Somethingbourne…

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Another impressive exterior.  Building started in 1178 and the monks were given a lot of land to farm.  40 years later the monastery estate had become one of the richest and most powerful.  At one point there were 999 monks, not sure of the significance of the 999, and a whole new cloister wing was built for novices.

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The church interior is refreshingly simple.

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Tomb of Dona Ines.  There is a matching one for Dom Pedro – a true Romeo and Juliet story.  Pedro fell in love with one of his wife’s ladies in waiting, but even after he was widowed, his father Dom Alfonso IV forbade the marriage, as Ines had Spanish connections. The King ordered her murder unaware that the two lovers had already secretly married.  Two years later when Pedro succeeded to the tHorne, he exacted his gruesome revenge … he ripped out the hearts of the murderers and …. ate them!  He exhumed Ines and crowned her body and then …. made the court pay homage to her by kissing her decomposing hand!

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Liking the Manueline style.

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Whilst the monks ate they were read biblical scripts from this pulpit.

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J won’t you come closer to the edge, dear?  No, don’t … you’re not insured!

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Squeeze in!  If the monks didn’t fit through the doorway, then were put on a starvation diet.  Having said that William Beckford (British artist and bon viveur, who owned Monsarrate in Sintra, which we visited) was shocked at the ‘perpetual gormandising … the fat wadling monks and sleek friars with wanton eyes …’.

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The massive kitchen chimney … Beckford wrote ‘the most distinguished temple of gluttony in all Europe”.  Under scaffolding there was a pool diverted from the Rio Alcoa, which provided not only water for cooking and washing, but fresh fish.

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The Cloister of Silence.  The lower part from 1300’s and the upper Manueline from 1500’s.

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Nightly bivouac in a free parking (alone) outside the Porto de Mos Bombeiros – fire service – will they test the sirens during the night?  K walked to the Castle while I cleaned a bit and deleted some photos – and guitar practice – fingers are getting the hard skin that I need – to play at the Old Oprey – not!

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The C13 castle – much restored so that it has a Disney-esque look.  The green roof tiles are echoed in houses’ doors and shutters.

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I followed the signs to the castle spring … sadly neglected and abused.

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Sao Antonio chapel – shut, but I peered through to glimpse the C17 tiles.