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Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1

Cornwall – Magical rambles on the coast – Chapter 1 of our English holiday

Thursday August 18….these are fraught days, trying to pull everything together for our 2+ week sabbatical in England (Cornwall and the Cotswolds). I have never been so tired getting ready for a trip! Just the technology alone is enough to make you shudder. New tablet, new keyboard, pass codes, TravelPass, WiFi apps and passwords, converters…may the stress all fade away the moment I board that plane!

Monday August 21…on way to airport at 11…I am SO ready. Our flight on British Airways is smooth and uneventful (no sleep though).

Tuesday August 22…I glided through Customs, and picked up my luggage, waiting a short time for David to make it through. It all took a little longer than we’d thought. We missed our first train at Paddington for Looe, so decided breakfast was a good idea (it was a full English breakfast, and it was goo-ood!) Then onward to catch 12 o’clock. On the train, we had a high adrenalin surge when a man boarded and began to rant at the top of his lungs, I forget about what. A passenger finally calmed him down. David and I both went into “blank stare” mode, as did the rest of the passengers. Nothing further happened, and the man disembarked at the next stop. Whooo!

On the train from Paddington to Looe, we also experienced – quite by accident – our first “quiet car”. It was MARVELOUS. Very few people were in this car, but once we were seated, an older woman embarked, looking for her reserved seat and carrying on a conversation with herself– quite loudly.  Once she found her seat, she proceeded to take out her cell phone and start another conversation at the top of her lungs. At which point, the conductor came down the aisle and quietly (!) asked her to move to another car if she wished to use her cell, as this one was a QUIET car.  Which she did.  As she moved away, we could still hear her voice drifting back through the corridor… It was all very low key and courteous. I do love quiet cars!!

The ensuing silence, the sound of the wheels on the rail, and the foggy day lulled me into a short nap.

But I woke up as the sun burned the fog away as the day wore on – beautiful views of the sea on one side, and green fields and trees on the other. We kept telling one another not to forget to ask the conductor to drop us off at Sandplace (part of the Looe Valley Line).

How to start a fairytale?

Take a tiny train to a charmingly small station (Sandplace) the size of a postage stamp, where you have to ask the conductor to stop the train and let you disembark!

Gill, who with Martin, owns Polraen Country House, was waiting for us beyond the gate, and drove us the tenth of a mile home! Since it was a beautiful day, we had tea in the garden, and I took a deep breath. Here we are…finally, in Cornwall.

After a quick wash up, Gill drove us into Looe for dinner – to a charming restaurant called The Old Sail Loft. I opted for fish and chips – and when the order came, the fish, which was haddock and wonderful, was as big as the side of a barn – it looked like the sail on a boat. If only I could’ve finished it! It was light and crisp and totally delish – as were the chips, all soused with vinegar. This came with mushy peas with mint, a dish I have recreated since returning home…still yummy!

Wednesday, August 23 …I awoke around 9:30 (after 35+ hours no sleep), and went: OMG breakfast is over by 10…so I dragged on some clothes and whooshed downstairs by ten to 10. David and I both ordered the full English breakfast, prepared by Martin – scrambled eggs, bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and butter, hot fresh coffee, strawberries… was that ever good! (Many good memories are food-related!)

We then walked around Polraen’s garden, so intensely green it almost glowed…the day was overcast, cool and fresh with a few spits of rain, certainly not enough to prohibit our day in Polperro. I cleaned myself up, we called a taxi and we were off. Crystal Cars took us halfway down the hill into the village, and let us out close to a small stall selling whelks, cockles, prawns, and other seafood…we promised ourselves to come back for the cockles, but we never found the stall again!

We wandered around all the narrow winding streets, taking in the tiny houses interspersed with shops, restaurants, pubs and galleries.

Everywhere you looked was a picture. Houses were built into or hacked out of bedrock, stacked up on the cliffsides, looking out over steel gray seas – or the resultant mud/sand flats should the sea have receded.

As the day wore on, the cloud cover burned away, the sun came out, and everything was bathed in the soft golden sunlight.

We found the entrance to the cliff walk to Talland Bay, and I was off, leaving David peacefully ensconced on a bench looking over low hedges of flowers to the sea and headland.

It was a wonderful walk…through high hedgerows, green and vivid or else splashed with flowers from freesia to foxglove and others I don’t have a clue about.

Gardens were hidden behind rock walls or old wooden gates covered in ivy and ferns, often with winding steps up to houses glimpsed between the trunks of trees.

I was so happy. A gentle breeze ruffled the greenery, and it was about 70 degrees.

I finally had to turn around as it was getting late, met David and we wandered into the Noughts and Crosses pub for a half pint of the local Dartmoor IPA – perfect.

And so home to Polraen Country House, where Martin made us crab and salmon sandwiches, which we ate out on the terrace in the cool air of the evening. A perfect day, in every way.

Thursday August 24…We decided to take the train to Truro and St Ives. The weather this day was absolutely beautiful from the get-go– sunny, warm with breezes. We flagged down the Sandplace train (one of my favorite things to do), and embarked for Liskeard, where we disembarked for the train to Truro via St Erth.

Only to find, after disembarking, we had about 20 minutes before we had to catch the train to St Erth, so had a coffee and then galloped uphill back to the station…

Poor David’s ankles were giving him some grief, but we made the train, changed at St Erth and got to St Ives around 4:15, only to find out we had to take the last train back at 5:30!!

Somewhere in all this, we met a genuine eccentric named Susan who, I thought, was homeless. It turned out she was married, and “lived on the line,” by which she meant she rode the trains every day, all day long. Well known to all who lived around Looe, she was a fixture in the station and I was glad to have met her.

We managed to get to St. Ives without further incident.

The sea and sky were crystal clear, the shore just beautiful, the weather incredible.

Lots of people were holidaying…the car park by the station was packed.

But time was running by us, and after a quick coffee, we were back on the train, and got to Sandplace at 8:40… then we had dinner at The Plough. Lovely…but I was almost too tired to eat!

Friday August 25… We awoke to a cool cool morning…so fresh and clean, sunny and bright, but what a wrench to leave!!

I had my usual satisfying Polraen English breakfast…scrambled eggs, English bacon, grilled tomatoes, toast…yum-o! We’d packed the night before, but when it came time to leave, it was so hard to say goodbye to Gill and Martin and Cornwall.

England is magic everywhere you turn, but Cornwall has its own special brand of timeless magic. The pebbled narrow streets of Polperro, Truro, St. Ives, Looe, Land’s End…the ancient  houses, built into, or from, the bedrock of the cliffs, flowers cascading from old stone walls. Cornwall’s history, of pirates and smugglers, Cornish pasties,  hidden caves, the sea constantly slashing the rocks at the cliffs’ base, the narrow footpaths framed with hedgerows as old as England with steps leading to some mysterious dwelling, or down to the silver seas below.

Mysterious and enchanting, under lowering gray skies and the timelessness of path, water, air and the call of the seagulls…this is magical Cornwall.

Martin drove us to Sandplace Station,

and then we changed at Liskeard (but didn’t see Susan) for a three hour ride to Reading, changed again for final trek to Moreton-in-Marsh, where Steve our taxi driver picked us up.

And then on to Broadway…and a gentler, more pastoral sort of magic.

The Blue Ridge Mountains, NC – To Hike or Not to Hike

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I was really looking forward to hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains – and also whitewater rafting, zip lining (a first) and a bit of rapelling. I arrived in Asheville the evening before joining the group, got a good night’s sleep at the hotel, and met Deb, one of my hiking friends, the next day for lunch. Then we were on our merry way to the William Black Lodge at Montreat, North Carolina.

Immediately on arrival, we booted up and made our way up the Lookout Trail and Mountain, which was a lot more challenging than originally thought…As the rest of the group galloped ahead, I made it slowly to the top without any seeming problem.

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It was on the way down that I really got into trouble. My new boots, despite the use of well padded hiking socks and liners, suddenly became way too big as with every step down, my feet began slipping, banging against the toe of the boots.  By the time I was halfway down the mountain, I could barely walk…the pain was intense. I managed to make it to the van, and have never been so glad to get hiking boots – normally the most comfortable of shoes – off my feet!! Tender is not the word…I spent the rest of the evening barefoot, hoping this was simply a bruise that would wear off.

The next day I spent at the lodge, resting up – while my hiking sisters took the next great hike.

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Then it was time for the big adventure. The following morning, I was able to put on my tennies, and hobble to the van, where we drove to our meeting point for whitewater rafting. What a joy! Having done this once before, I was looking forward to the challenge. We read all the documents on the pros and cons of the rafting; elected to sign off despite the dangers of death or worse; and then clustered around the rafts as our guides told us what to expect.

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The day was absolutely beautiful – as was the weather on the entire trip, despite the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew along the coast. We separated into two rafts, and our guide explained that because the water was low, we’d probably be bouncing off more boulders than usual, as well as negotiating pathways through them. All of which was true.The river was placid when we embarked, and our guides shouted orders as we moved out into midstream. What a rush when we encountered our first whitewater, zipping easily around boulders embedded in the sandy floor.

2a

At one point, where the river was a little rougher than usual, we bounced off a boulder – and Deb bounced right out of the raft! Having been indoctrinated as to what to expect should that happen, after the first shock, she floated easily on her back until Ruthven grabbed her by both straps and hauled her back into the boat. Scary – but definitely something to write home about!

2b

Halfway through our little odyssey, we pulled our rafts onto the riverbank and stopped for lunch – which consisted of some of the best burgers known to man…yum-o! Then it was back into the rafts, and another hour of pure bliss down the stream….about a couple of hours all told. Such a rush!!

2c

Our next foray (the same day) was zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were vanned to our starting point, went through the usual machinations of the danger, the signing and so forth. Then we wriggled into our safety harnesses, helmets and gloves, as well as donning the leather glove used to slow the flight down should our stop arrive too quickly….

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Zip lining in the Blue Ridge Mountains

And there we were, high on a three-sided platform above the forest, the fourth side open for the zip line. One by one, we were hooked to the cable, sat back and swung out onto the line – the highest rate of speed between platforms was about 30mph. The leather glove worked beautifully, slowing us as we reached the next stop. Half the time we didn’t quite make it to the platform. I usually ended up with a foot or two between me and the platform; at which point, you swivel around on the line and basically crawl backwards, hand over hand, to the waiting guide who pulls you to safety.7

We ran ten of these zip lines.  We traversed a very wobbly suspension bridge to one of our platforms…that was more nerve-wracking than the zip lining!

At two stops, after first being hooked to the cable…we planted our feet on either side of the platform, and swung into the void, then rapelled our way down ropes hand over fist,…another first, another rush! Loved every minute!!

Both the whitewater rafting and the zip lining were courtesy of the French Broad Rafting & Zip Lining company – http://www.frenchbroadrafting.com/ – absolutely terrific in every way.

Then it was off to dinner, and a celebratory drink to finish off the day’s adventure.

Our next foray, the following day, was a visit to the Biltmore Estate, 8,000 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and over 178,000 square feet of floor space in the mansion. Amazing!

blue-ridge-on-cell-059

We took a guided tour of the house, had a picnic in the picnic area, and then stopped inside the wine room for a pleasant hour of wine tasting.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

Then Karen (one of the trip participants and a lovely person) and I wandered the grounds, where the flowers, shrubs, trees and pathways were a delight.

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Unfortunately by this time, my toes were beginning to make themselves known, as the drubbing they’d received on the first day’s hike had not gone quietly away and I could see I was going to have a problem.

blue-ridge-on-cell-046

By the time we made it back to the lodge, it was obvious I could not continue to hike, so I cut my visit short, left for Asheville early the following morning, and so made it back home before my feet fell off. Just kidding!! But it certainly makes me realize the importance of ensuring a well-fitting hiking boot before embarking on challenging trails.

That being said – I wouldn’t have missed the whitewater rafting, rapelling and zip lining for anything. I thought I’d be extremely afraid, looking down down down and knowing I’d be out there, swinging my way across and through the trees like Tarzan. I thought I’d be frozen with fear…but I never felt fear for one moment. That was the greatest thing this trip gave me…who knew!

 

Scotland Aye – hiking the Highlands and Islands

I arrived at Gatwick, and remembering my earlier vow to never drive in London again, caught a taxi to The Green Park Hotel in Mayfair, arriving about 7:30 AM. No room was available, so my taxi driver took me on a quick tour of London. We drove ’round St. John’s Wood (disappointing), Notting Hill (adorable), Buckingham Palace, Regent’s Park (glorious), Hyde Park, and various other points of interest…many of which I have seen before, but loved seeing again.

I dressed in woolly tights and sweater, with a cashmere pullover tied around my waist…and I was melting. It was 80 degrees outside – soon to become even warmer! (Why didn’t I check the weather here before I left!) Everyone was in shorts and sleeveless dresses – except for me. No matter: the sun shone -it was glorious weather! London was in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave.

Around 10AM, it’s back to the appealing small hotel located on Half Moon Street (love that name) in Mayfair. The room was still not ready. I entered their (again charming) sitting room and read and waited, read and waited til I thought my eyes would fall out – or in. Finally, I staggered to the front desk. “Is there a room – any room – available YET?!” A card key is handed over: “Room 224.” (A note on card keys: why do I have so much trouble with these things? And what is wrong with a key?! But I’ve gotten over that!)

London townhouses

Calling Judy to let her know I’d finally arrived, I crashed for five-six hours – the minute my head hit the pillow, I was out like the proverbial light, waking up only when I heard the door opening and her “my god…she’s still asleep!”

Out for a quick walk around the little streets, so evocative of London. One small street dead-ended into a couple of pubs or restaurants, and everywhere crowds of young professionals were drinking and enjoying the night air. This heat wave is unprecedented.

Returning to the hotel, we ate dinner, talked a mile a minute, then fell asleep. Initially out like a light again, I woke in the wee hours to the sound of trucks – large and small – zooming down the lane ALL NIGHT- and the crash and tinkle of breaking glass as the recyclers picked up the recycle bins (reminded me of New York). Not a peaceful night.

Invernesse

Up at 9AM, Judy and I called Room Service, ate a quick breakfast and took a cab to her son’s townhouse – four stories of delightful house in a mews around the corner from Buckingham Palace. It was light and airy (the townhouse, not Buckingham Palace) and from the top floor could be seen endless views of the chimney pots of London. The kitchen/dining room looked out onto a small walled ivy-covered terrace, and from there across the road to the park – I believe we landed in a chapter of Mary Poppins!

Everyone was delightful and delighted to see us – but we only had time to stay a brief while, pick up a couple of things at the shops, then take a taxi to Gatwick airport -at a cost of one hundred pounds, no kidding! So far, I have spent 200 pounds of the 500 I brought and 160 pounds of it have been taxi fares!

The River Ness in Invernesse

Onward to Invernesse. From brilliant sunshine and weather so balmy we might well be in the Bahamas – to Invernesse: cold, drizzling and misty – very Scottish indeed. We walked along the River Ness (not too far away from the Loch – which, when we asked – yet another – taxi driver if anyone still sees the Loch Ness Monster, he replied: ‘I don’t think it’s a monster, but I think there’s SOMETHING there.’ Eerie!)

A street in Invernesse alongside the River Ness

Finally, slightly chilled and pretty damp, we ended up in our hotel’s pub, quaffing ale and Scotch, and having a nice chat with a couple at the bar who happen to be from Pennsylvania, are photographers, and had just spent two weeks on a very wet and windy Isle of Skye!

Dinner – repacking – and so to bed.

Loch Broom and Ullapool

No sleep, as usual, but I’m sure it’s all related to stress and jet lag. Breakfast of muesli and coffee, and packing in time to meet our group at 10AM. Outside – it was glorious weather! Verrry nice, after the drizzle and drear of Saturday afternoon and night. White clouds scudded across a blue, blue sky.

We met Tom, Bob, Jennifer, Kent and Gail, Roger, Lew and Susan here, and we all climbed into the van and drove through beautiful countryside – up hilly, twisted roads – making me a trifle seasick! Bob – one of our guides – pulled over to the side of the road at a “wishing well” where all sorts of pieces of filthy and ragged cloth were tied to trees and stumps. It is traditional to tie or drop a personal item here (I offered a mint) and make a wish. I wished for continuing great weather!

The Ceilidh Inn in Ullapool

We arrived at the Ceilidh Inn in Ullapool, dropped off our luggage, and hiked to Loch Broom, entrancing and smelling heavenly. Our hike took us down to a pebbled rock beach across gorse and heather, through tussocky boggy grass, and finally to the top of a small tor overlooking the loch.

Hiking around Loch Broom

The sun was shining and all was merry and bright. On returning, Roger and I promptly went for a walk up a meandering footpath bordered by blackberry bushes (unripe), fern, celandines, daisies and other small shrubs of varying descriptions…very English (although I wouldn’t say this to a Scot.)

Our first hike in Ullapool countryside

After this short excursion, we wandered back to the hotel, in time to prepare for cocktails, and then dinner. Dinner was: cauliflower soup, lentils with mushrooms, and fruit salad – so healthy!

Afterward, Brian gave a brief talk on what to expect on our hikes, and Tom spoke of the early history of the Highlands. Bob, our third guide, had lulled himself to sleep, and was snoring gently in a corner, so we missed his part of the program.

After all this activity, I was so ready for bed – but it certainly wasn’t ready for me. What on earth was wrong!? Sleep I could not – possibly because I am cold and overtired. Naturally I drifted off a short while before I was due to get up.

The Bone Caves and the Highlands

By 7:30 AM, we had breakfast, and were off to the Museum to view a brief film on Scotland. Then it was on to the hike. The day was not quite as crystal clear – rain was forecast -but the sun was shining so we didn’t worry about it. We picked up our picnic sandwiches at the front desk, and were now ready for a full day out in the Highlands of Scotland…

Our group at the Bone Caves

The first stretch took us up a steep and winding hill to the Bone Caves, where we sheltered from the wind and had some refreshment (water). We were told that the oldest inhabitants of Scotland come from here, (at least, their bones were found here.) I think we were in an area called Inchnadampf. After this, most of the group opted to ramble back down the hill at this point, and eat lunch on their way back to the van.

Some of the best, freshest and chilliest water in the world

Five of us – all women – chose the “long walk,” challenging and quite grueling. We began by hiking up an 1100 foot hill – not too high, but since there was no trail, we climbed over rabbit holes, heather, tussocky bundles of grass and boggy ground – straight up – all designed to turn our ankles at the drop of a stick. (This is where really good hiking boots, covering the ankle, are a must, she said knowingly.) We were all breathing quite heavily by the time we reached the top – but more to come!

The top of this mountain led to yet another mountain, and up and up we went. Finally, atop a crest surrounded by the spectacular views of mountains and gorges – we sat for lunch.

We were hot to begin with, but the wind was blowing and the sun began sailing in and out of clouds; and pretty soon it was really cold. Quickly finishing our lunch and taking a private moment, we were soon back on our merry way over the mountains.

One of many streams throughout the Highlands

The trail-less ground became more and more treacherous – as well as boggier and boggier. Streams crossed our path, across which we leapt from stone to stone, or boulder to boulder, or we inched across tiny wooden bridges – all slippery and wobbly. All in all, challenging! (Note here: there are no trees in the Highlands…at least, not anywhere we were….but lots of ferns and scrub.) By the time we found the downward trail, we had been hiking for about 6-1/2 hours – approximately 10 miles.

The sun comes and goes – at one point, it begins raining – hot – took off jacket – wet – put on raincoat – rain stopped – hot – took off raincoat – rain pelted down – rammed on raincoat!

An enchanting castle ruin at the end of the day’s hike

We reached the van and piled in. Tom, our guide, drove us to a beautiful little ruin of a castle on the way back to Ullapool, where we disembarked to take photographs.

The castle ruin – an enchanted spot

Susan, Jennifer, Tom and I rambled over to the castle -again, hopscotching across two streams to get to the island on which it sat. The grass surrounding it had been cropped over time by sheep, and wass like green velvet – the sky began clearing to a deep cerulean blue, and all was quiet and peaceful. Beautiful. One of many perfect moments.

Rambling around this beautiful tiny castle ruin

Then back in the van, and back to the Inn – dinner- hot water bottle – and bed!

Loch Torridon

Loch Torridon Country House Hotel

On the go at 9AM – another beautiful day began as we piled into our respective vans for the hour or so trip to Loch Torridon Country House Hotel – an enchanting hunting lodge-turned-hotel. It was like something from a Sir Walter Scott novel. I instantly fell in love (that happens a lot!).

Today we had the option of a short or a long walk, so several of us opted for the long. It started gently enough as we began our climb over endless hills and dales – although I did manage to fall in the first major stream I came to, slipping on one of those dratted boulders!

The bothy

After a couple of hours or so, we arrived at a “bothy” – a small empty hut in the middle of the hills where we unloaded our gear and had lunch. It was charming. The sun was shining – and though it was cool, the air was so clear and fresh, and we had plenty of time for pictures.

Rosemary, Judy, Gail and Kent in front of the bothy

After the “bothy,” we must decide whether to continue or turn back. Several of us decided to continue. What a hike: we seem to be taking part in a marathon! After hiking miles across mountains, we circled back. Here Tom said: The track from here is straightforward, so meander all you want…

Ha! I was the only one who “meandered” – and found myself suddenly surrounded by panoramic hills with no-one in sight and several tracks to choose from! I had a moment of extreme panic, until, finally, the top of Tom’s head emerges like the sun over the horizon, and I jog-trotted thankfully towards him to catch up.

From here it was downhill. We hit the trail, which was totally rocky and stony – galloping at a pace that seemed destined to turn one’s ankle – were we trying to catch a train?! No time for scenic views – all we could do is watch our feet. I was exhausted when we rolled in around 5 o’clock.

A shower, a moment’s rest, and then we were in to dinner.

This is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful hotel! I shared a room with Judy, and it was large and well-appointed, comfortable and elegant. The bathroom was huge and we could look from its windows out onto immaculate green lawns edged with colorful flowers, on into the paddock where the cows were grazing.

Loch Torridon cattle graze in the hotel’s paddock

Outdoors was even more spectacular. Besides the sculptured grounds, all was green…green, green grass, surrounded by woods, mountains, and the silvery-gray, entrancing loch. Loch Torridon was – and no doubt still is – a beautiful, enchanting place – my favorite of the trip.

Loch Torridon and a Gentle Walk

The “back yard” – Loch Torridon Hotel

Wake up, got outta bed, dragged a comb across my head…zooming around as usual, in to breakfast – I loved my breakfast! Mueslix, scrambled eggs and bacon – the usual stuff but tasted great and needed for energy.

Again, we had the option: long or short walk. This time, I opted for the short. What the heck…do I think I’m Tenzing Norgay here?

On our short walk

Hoisting up our backpacks, we picked up our picnic lunch, and were off. Susan and Jennifer took the long walk with Brian and Bob. The rest of us went for the lower ground.

The sky was blue, the air was crisp. Our walk began up a winding footpath through glorious woods, to open stretches of boggy fields in which sheep and cows grazed or placidly slept. Pheasants ran through the underbrush – it was absolutely idyllic, one of our most beautiful and peaceful days.

A brief break on the short walk

After stopping for a drink and snack, several of us walked on for a mile or so, coming to an old stone bridge crossing a gurgling stream, where we ate our picnic lunch in the shade of the willow trees (and it was really nice to see trees). The sky was the bluest it had been since arriving in Scotland. Not a sound broke the stillness, except for the song of the brook. Heaven.

Lunch break

This was one of the amazing things in this land: The absolute silence of the Highlands, but for the water. It’s completely satisfying. No birds sang – there seemed to be few or no birds (they must be somewhere around!). But the sound of rushing water was everywhere… wherever you turned were waterfalls, lochs and streams or seas – gushing, gurgling, roaring, rushing, babbling or splashing – a country seemingly circumscribed by water.

Here a cow, there a cow…

We walked back over gently rolling paths, through green woods scented with pine to our hotel (approximately seven miles round trip.)

The grounds of Loch Torridon Hotel – I never wanted to leave

Susan, Jennifer, Brian and Bob, who’d taken the optional heavy duty hike, finally made it back around six that evening. Their walk sounded intense – 15 miles up and around a mountain, often plunging into boggy swamp to their knees, descending down sheer granite on the other side, according to Susan. The winds were so tempestuous, they needed to grip the cliff face to avoid being blown off the ledge. Part of the trip down was spent on all fours! They found it all exhilarating! I would’ve liked to say I did it, but I didn’t – and the “short walk” was so lovely, I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

The Isle of Skye and the Lighthouse

We are up and packed by 9AM, had a quick breakfast and were into the van heading for the storied Isle of Skye. The drive was so quiet and peaceful… gloriously beautiful … I love the Highlands.

Two hours later, we piled out of the vans in Kyle of Lockalsh for our only real shopping opportunity, which was great fun…then we drove over the bridge to Skye, paying an enormous toll to do so. I asked about but could not get “speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing…”

Our inn on the Isle of Skye

Our small, charming Inn on Skye was delightful (what else is new?!) Our tiny room had Laura Ashley pink and green chintz hangings, and a big burl wardrobe held our clothes. All the tea things were here.

Beginning our first hike on Skye

Dropping off our luggage, we were driven to the base of the cliff to begin our hike. The weather had changed drastically – it was grey and raining steadily. Raingear was hurriedly pulled from backpacks, and we hiked through the driving rain to the sea. Here’s how it went.

Hiking on the Isle of Skye

First, up a very stony and rocky trail, up and up…then down a steep, steep bank through bogs and over slippery lichened rock, then down the hillside where we slithered and slipped over rocks and heather. We made our way through many streams to boulders and small cliffs down which we clambered to the waiting shore.

Swimming with the seals

It was still raining steadily, and it was cold. Nonetheless, Jennifer, Brian, Tom and Bob donned bathing suits and plunged into the grey sea for a swim! Jennifer wanted to “swim with the seals,” which were cavorting and diving a safe distance from these crazy people who kept trying to take their picture.

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

Then again comes the option: Continue to the lighthouse or turn back. The sane amongst us chose to turn back. I was one of the few who opted to go on! By this time, I – and everyone else – was soaked to the skin. We clambered over some of the most treacherous countryside imaginable – down slippery rain-soaked rocks, slimy with lichen – plunging into boggy grass – going down, ever down – and finally coming to a green grassy sward and promontory – at the end of which was – the lighthouse! Hello, Virginia Woolfe! What an adventure. Challenging, but exhilarating at the same time!

The lighthouse overlooked a grey and stormy sea … we were at the end of the world. The sky was grey, the grass green, the lighthouse, white. The seagulls (finally, birds!) were an eerie note, rimming the lighthouse and the rocks below and cawing non-stop. Photographs were taken through soft  mist.

Are we happy yet? Yes!

After which, it started raining steadily and strongly. We took a different route back to the van, scrambling up through rocky watercourses, again plunging into mud and mire, slipping down and up rain-slick rocks and boulders…unbelievable.

Three hours later we arrived at the van. I was completely drenched. My boots had sunk ankle deep into the mud; my backpack – and all in it, including my money and passport – ditto. My pants were hanging from my body like clown pants; my hair was in rattails. The joy of the hike!

Back at the hotel, Judy corroborated this statement, also mentioning a drowned rat. She made me a cup of hot tea, and drew a hot bath – bliss!!

Then I dried off, had dinner, and got back fairly early to bed. Really tired tonight – no problem sleeping at all.

One tiny little glitch in this lovely place: hot water was NOT in abundance. Apparently, in getting a deep, hot bath, and washing my hair…I used up almost all the hot water on our side of the Inn! Bad girl!! I never told anyone, but one of the other hikers mentioned having to bathe in icy water…couldn’t understand why there was no hot! I kept mum on the subject.

The isle of Skye and the Back of Beyond

This was our last full day on the Isle of Skye. We arose as usual at 7AM, ate a good breakfast and piled in the vans for an hour’s ride to the boat we were to take to an uninhabited part of Skye.

On the road to the ferry, Isle of Skye

Susan, Linda, Jennifer and I shared the van with Brian and Tom – lots of room, and it was nice to be able to stretch out. About halfway to the boat – down narrow roads and high lanes banded by greenery starred with flowers – we were halted by a road paving crew blocking the path (a not infrequent occurrence). We took the opportunity to get out and hike to the boat, about half an hour’s walk. The weather by this time had turned crisp and sunny again, and the walk and the views were wonderful.

A windy, blustery day, as we walk to the ferry

Eventually our guides were able to drive the vans through the roadblock and catch up with us. We all piled onto the ferry, where we immediately donned our raingear as it had become chilly and damp over the grey, icy water. The ferry was large and carried a full load of people; it tool quite a while to reach the other side as we were taken to look at the seals resting on the rocky outcrops in the water. It is fascinating to see them – they respond with what seems to be equal fascination (although I doubt that).

The start of the hike

On arrival, we hiked up the mountainside. The weather had grown even chillier and more overcast – and the wind was whistling and howling around our ears. We ended up on a flat granite rock atop a hillside -our hoods up, raingear tied up to the chin. Here we picnicked, on what felt like the edge of the world. Although cold, misty, windy and wild – you can’t help but be exhilarated…

A quick break for lunch on the final Skye hike

Everyone was taking photographs, but despite the back-of-beyond feeling, we did not linger long. Another long or short walk was offered on the way back to the ferry. A couple of us actually thought it over, but in the end, common sense prevailed and we all opted to return to the boat, in the hopes of maybe getting in a little shopping – sounding more appealing by the minute!

Susan points the way – unfortunately the wrong way!

The ferry docked about 3:30PM, but again we are stymied by the same road-paving-crew when we attempted to drive back. After a 45 minute wait, during which we tried to complete a crossword in a Scottish newspaper (we were unable to understand a single clue – the puzzle was totally cryptic) we were finally on the move.

By the time we got to the first tiny town with a few shops, it was closing time. However, Susan managed to purchase a handknit sweater which is so thick, it could stand alone. It was very pleasant to ramble around for a bit, just looking and shopping and taking in the sights and talking to people who lived and worked here.

Scottish Bob, one of our terrific guides

By the end of this day, we were all pretty worn out. After dinner, all gathered in the chintz-splashed parlor in front of a roaring fire, to listen to Annie, a local Gaelic singer. The plaintive and poignant melodies and words of the folk songs underscored the melancholy beauty of  the place.

The romantic, legendary Isle of Skye had always been a dream journey. Bonnie Prince Charlie, sailing over the sea to Skye, is an old folk song that was sung by my mother when I was very young. I’ve never forgotten it.

Skye fulfilled all expectations. It was so very, very green and unspoiled, and relatively uninhabited. Tiny white houses dotted the landscape. Sheep were everywhere, rambling across hills and roads, unfenced and free. Our small inn was right on the water, and was so charming, with vines and roses clambering across walls and doors. We were surrounded by the loch on one side, mountains and hills and quiet land on other sides. It was isolated and remote – and mystical.

The Highlands were the same. They were green (or black, depending on which mountains you’re looking at), desolate, forbidding, ancient and timeless. No-one seems to live in the Highlands. The only sound you heard is that of water – waterfalls, streams, rills and lochs are everywhere – the rush and gurgle and song of water never stops. And all that you saw were the endless peaks and valleys with hardly a tree in sight. In the Highlands on a beautiful day, you were totally at one with nature; it was a spiritual experience to be alone here.

Hiking the Highlands

If the weather turned bad, however, the desolation and isolation become omnipresent. It often seemed you were either born in the Highlands and they were in your blood; or you cannot live there for long and survive. And if you’re of the city, then eventually the silence and isolation can become overwhelming. Those were my thoughts, anyway!

Eileen Donnan

Susan and I had planned the night before to get up at the crack of dawn and go for an hour’s walk before we are due to leave Skye. At 6:30 AM I crawled out of bed (well, okay, that’s the crack of dawn to me!), got dressed and met her outside my cottage. It was a lovely morning – hard to believe, as the worst gale to hit Scotland in 30 years was forecast! We walked down the quiet country lanes, enjoying the peace and circling the Inn- an altogether enjoyable ramble, getting back in time for a quick breakfast and then it was into the vans.

A short detour to a castle ruin high on a hill, and we were scrambling over tussocky grass and pebbly streams and up a short rise to a very, very narrow ledge – where we each clung to the stones and edged slowly across – or fell to boulders below! Once atop this hill, Brian read us some tales of Scotland, and had us act them out. For some reason, we also lined up in a row, each of us sitting on the knees of the person behind us, pretending to be rowing a Viking ship – don’t ask me why!

Then we inched back across the ledge – and drove to the most famous castle in Scotland for a brief tour – the Eileen Donnan. Its walls are 14 feet thick, and it was first built in the twelfth or thirteenth century, but burned in the 1700s. It was fully restored between 1912­-1932. It is history.

And then it was on to Invernesse, then London and back to reality. The Highlands of Scotland –a little uncanny, magical, poignant – but not for the faint of heart. But oh, what a wonderful hike!

In the magical Blue Ridge Mountains above Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Yonahlossee Overlook, driving up Grandfather Mountain

“Sometimes very strange things happen in the mountains…nothing above but sky…and God.” The Razor’s Edge, Somerset Maugham

This is a beautiful quote from Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge… and there’s especially something about being deep in the mountains in springtime –the hush of the forests blanketing the slopes, the myriad shades of rustling green, the birds singing so happily now that winter is over, and the air chilly and sweet.

Lesley and friend deep in the mountains

A short trip to reconnect with Lesley, a friend I’d known since I was a child – whom I hadn’t seen for over 50 years – was four days of being embedded in the great beauty of  the great and glorious Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

Wednesday

Lesley lives atop one of the mountains – in a home with 360 degree views that take in the surrounding ridges and deep, pine-strewn valleys.

It is so quiet, all you hear are the music of the birds and the wind soughing through the trees. Charlie, Lesley’s cat asleep below, agrees!

At the base of a twisty, gravelly trail is the small (three blocks) mountain town of Blowing Rock,

I love this Harley Davidson sign in the magical little town of Blowing Rock!

where we went for dinner at the Storie Street Grille that first night … a small, delightful restaurant (aren’t they all?) at which we had – a first for me – fried asparagus. Yum-o! Followed by a perfectly prepared filet with polenta that was absolutely delicious.

After dinner, we ambled around the town, looking at the small shops and cobblestone paths, churches, vine covered houses, restaurants and pubs in the still sunlight deep in the mountains. Just crazy about small towns!

Thursday

I woke up around 10AM after a great night’s sleep, which I’d needed after a busy work week back home.

The weather continued glorious – 70 degrees. Sitting on the deck in the mornings, inhaling the view with my coffee, starts the day off perfectly.

We drove to Boone for breakfast at a farm-to-table restaurant, where we sat on the café’s deck and kicked back. Allie, Lesley’s beautiful Golden Doodle, joined us, good as – well – gold.

Boone, named for Daniel Boone, is a college town, home to Appalachian State University, and the main street was awash with students everywhere. The old stonework, for me, is especially appealing, and a part of so many houses and buildings here…

It was time for some much-needed walking on the trails so we wended our way to Cone Memorial Park, a Blue Ridge National Heritage area that is truly exquisite and beautifully maintained. Lots of trails. Canadian geese on the lakes.

Our hike took us around Trout Lake

Trout Lake

and up through woods into the mountains, passing an old apple barn (above) and a sign by the side of the road that said “Due to past pesticide use in apple orchards, some soils on the Cone Estate will contain high levels of arsenic and or lead. Do not dig or allow children to dig in soils…” Really brings you up short with an appalling reminder of the harm done in the past to these wonderful orchards.

Beautiful dry stone walls…always a favorite…

The trails were dotted with dry stone walls and old buildings, and everything was green green green. There are about 25 miles of trails – we rambled along five of them…

Friday

Sunrise high in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Woke around 9 in the morning…I’d actually waked at sunrise, which was so beautiful from the bedroom window, I had to jump from the bed to take a photograph. Morning has indeed broken…

Our first stop of the day was an English café called Eat Crow – we had English pasties, and I bought a bumbleberry pie for that night’s dessert. I had never tasted one before. It was delish!! From there, we took a circuitous route up Grandfather Mountain, stopping at various outlooks on the way to the summit. Glorious!!!

Driving to the summit of Grandfather Mountain

Once we summited and parked, the next big challenge was opening the car door! The wind factor was “only” 18 mph” but it felt like 100… Lesley had to hang onto the door handle while I exited.

Woof! Some wind!

Allie held me down so I didn’t blow away…isn’t she gorgeous?!

But the views! Unbelievable, and so elemental….I just loved it…I think it was my favorite adventure around the Blue Ridge Mountains – but it is hard to choose.

Once we got back home, we drove into Blowing Rock for a concert at the Inn at Ragged Gardens (don’t you love the names)…which Les attended,

and I, needing a bit of a rest, found the SixPence Pub where I had a quiet corner to put my feet up and drink my Boddington’s. Loved it! Wrote my journal and just enjoyed the surroundings.

Saturday

As we drove down and up the mountain from the house to various ports of call, I’m noticing the houses, barns and farms that hang precariously from the mountainside or plunge into the valley. Here is one beautiful image.

A home with a view

On this day, we drove back to the Cone Memorial Park, and wandered around Mildred the Bear’s Environmental Habitat, found secret side paths and dry stone walls, and stopped at overlooks to take in more unparalleled views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Secret pathways…

Blowing Rock was just two miles away, so we ambled in that direction and ate lunch at the tiny Blowing Rock Grilled Cheese Café.

We both had the French Grille. It encompassed Brie and Gruyere cheeses with pear and fig dressing on a grilled sourdough pannini! Heaven on a plate!

The town was awash with flowers…which always makes me happy!

Buttercups!

This was my last day, the end of a very special trip: reconnecting with my long-time family friend in the beauty of the mountains…many thanks to Lesley for a splendid respite. Doesn’t seem to get any better than this…the timeless peace, clean fresh air, mountain magic. Time just seems to go so quickly when you are visiting these wonderful places… All my visits to the mountains – the Smokies, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Shenandoah – are a marvelous build up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is just something about the Blue Ridge…but then, I seem to say that about them all!

Martha’s Vineyard – My perfect island

Martha’s Vineyard and The Charlotte Inn

I’ve always wanted to travel to Martha’s Vineyard. To date, I’ve been there twice in my life, and both times were each wonderful. But the first time – as is so often the case – was the best, having the advantage of the new and fresh…it lived up to every expectation and more. This is a journal of of my first trip, with photographs from both.

Arriving in Boston after an easy flight from Houston, I met Lene, and together we boarded the tiny Cape Air plane for Martha’s Vineyard, the start of a long-awaited little adventure.

In front of the Charlotte Inn

In front of the Charlotte Inn

We arrived quite rapidly at the island’s tiny airport. The weather at Martha’s Vineyard was glorious: blue skies, brisk breeze, and a slight chill in the air. The taxi took us to the Charlotte Inn, everything it’s been cracked up to be and more (and one of my favorite places to stay in the entire world). Waterford crystal decanters filled with Bristol Cream Sherry are in every room, so we toasted to the next three days. The tiny hall downstairs led to a tiny front desk; the Inn was full of fresh flowers – in our room, which we reached up a winding staircase; in the tiny hallway upstairs and down; in each sitting room. Our room was delightful, papered in dark red stripes with a tiny green pattern. Two twin beds with big thick mattresses, clothed in white covers and duvets. Dark green and mulberry striped draperies hemmed at the ceiling with padded pelmets. Two deep green club chairs in the corners. Two latticed windows opened onto a little side street, the third onto a grass lawn, flowers and fountain. The bathroom was huge, and snowy white. The Inn is surrounded by black iron railings or white picket fences. It was absolutely enchanting.

The back garden of the Charlotte Inn

We dropped our suitcases then walked around the town and down the road to The Square Rigger, a tiny restaurant splot in the middle of the road fork. Menu: broiled lobster and salad and a (small) piece of pecan pie. After dinner, it was back to the Charlotte Inn under a clear dark sky dotted with stars, in the very fresh air, with a brisk breeze following our footsteps. Lene and I talked non-stop, until we both passed out from exhaustion!

Edgartown and Chappaquiddick

A good night’s sleep, and we’re up. Breakfast in L’etoile, the inn’s beautiful little restaurant; the menu: spinach, feta and tomato omelet, fresh orange juice and coffee. I like remembering what I eat on trips, obviously!

Edgartown, a view to the water

After breakfast, we rambled down to Edgartown. How beautiful – and how clean – it all was, like something from a wonderful picture book. The houses were pristine, painted white-white or Nantucket gray, and flowers bloomed everywhere we turned. The biggest rhododendrons in scarlets, pinks and white. Lilies of the valley, hedging a white picket fence. Hawthorn, lilacs and wisteria blooming madly. Gigantic tulips, daisies, buttercups and forsythia everywhere, with geraniums splashing in pinks and vibrant reds.

Tulips in Edgartown

When we’d drunk our fill of the beauty, we wandered down to the beach along the deserted sand, until the sea surrounded us. Then it was back to town to check out the ferry for Chappaquiddick, and lunch! The balcony of The Sand Bar overlooked the main street. The menu: clam chowder, fresh shrimp, bloody marys. The air was bell-clear, and the sky a brilliant blue, with a fresh breeze blowing through the town.

After this slightly decadent lunch, we rented bikes at an adorable little bike shop. We were told to lock our bikes to the railing and drop the key in the mailbox slot on our return (I’d like to try this in Houston.) We were given a map of Chappaquiddick with “The Bridge” circled, where it was and how to get to it. Not a word was spoken of Teddy Kennedy or Mary Jo Kopeckne.

The On Time ferry to Chappaquiddick was $3 (round trip) and took all of two seconds to get there. On arrival, we set off down a paved road, and then the island quickly became wild and lonely. It took us about an hour to get to The Bridge. Along the way, we passed small woods with two-story clapboard houses, grey-cedar shingled, dotted here and there.

On Chappy

So here we were at The Bridge. As I was leaning the bike against the heavy, heavy wood railings and saying (sotto voce) to the wind: “I can’t see how the car went through these things,” a man bicycling by said, as he sailed past: “They weren’t there then.” Eerie.

The Bridge

The water on either side of The Bridge was very shallow: you could see the stones glimmering below. The only spot deep enough to drown in is where the car went down.

On Chappy

On Chappy

Few people were on the island today. We bicycled over two or three roads leading to more sandy roads, which in turn led to sea or woods. Once in a while, we passed a house. I liked this island! It was so quiet, all we heard was wind over water.

A view of the Japanese Garden on Chappaquiddick

On our way back to the ferry, we bicycled past a Japanese garden, about three acres deep. It was the most colorful thing on the island, filled with an immense variety of flowering trees and shrubs: blue, white and pink hydrangeas, rhododendrons, tulips, daffodils, spirea, and so many flowers I don’t know the names of. Small streams crossed the paths, tiny bridges forded the streams, statues dotted the landscape, and all was quiet and peaceful. Just enchanting. We rode our bikes all over Chappaquiddick. After about three hours, we were very glad to see the ferry! As Lene noted, “It was uphill on the way in, why isn’t it downhill on the way back?!”

Once again on Martha’s Vineyard, we dropped off our bicycles and keys, and stopped for beer and nachos at a little restaurant hovering over the water. The sky was dark, and it began to rain. We ambled back to the Inn, looking forward to bubblebaths and rest. Fires burned in the fireplaces in the inn’s sitting rooms, which were filled with flowers and beautiful artwork. I heard the church clock down the road chiming the hour; the church bells chimed in unison. A magical world.

Katama, Tisbury, and Vineyard Haven

View across the street from our room at the Charlotte Inn

Up around 9AM, we breakfasted downstairs in the little restaurant, with Lenox china and Waterford glasses beautifully displayed on the white linen tablecloths. Our menu: fresh orange juice, hot coffee, bagels and spinach, feta and tomato omelets. A long stemmed fresh red rose was on every table.

After we eat, we discussed going to Nantucket with the lady at the front desk. As the ferry was not available until June, we were put on standby with the airlines for a Saturday jaunt.
Edgartown lighthouse

Edgartown lighthouse

On a beautifully clear day, time for (we think) a fairly brisk walk before taking a taxi to Vineyard Haven. We set off at a fairly rapid trot up flower-straddled lanes to the main road of Katama. Very soon, we were out of Edgartown, walking and talking on an empty road leading up-island. The beautiful homes we saw were soon further and further apart. Runners and bicyclists became fewer and fewer. After a couple of hours, we wondered where the heck we were! But we kept on because our thinking was: sooner or later we’ll come to a town, and then we can take a taxi back to the inn. Wrong! We were heading for who knows where, even after a couple of people tried to give us directions – I mean, this is a small island!! Where is everyone?? Anyway, we decided to turn back to Edgartown – not soon enough for an iced cappuccino and a banana, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry smoothie! Our short brisk trot up Katama turned out to be on eight mile trek. I, of course, could get lost in a parking lot (as I have).

The wharf at Vineyard Haven

After the break, we took a taxi tour of the island on our way to Vineyard Haven for lunch. After comforting ourselves with cappuccinos, our first stop was Midnight Farm, Carly Simon’s shop.

It was adorable…and expensive. I bought a white wooden picture frame, the book “Midnight Farm“, and some powder and lavendar spray, but the shop had some marvelous overstuffed furniture which caught my eye. Lene’s attention was caught by the pillows, so we left with bags stuffed with lots of goodies. The weekend had begun, and the town was filled with tourists. The narrow Main Street was crowded with shoppers and stalls, and these had some wonderful things.

Discovering the ability to request shipping, I immediately sent a package of orange, banana and rum cakes, baked in glass jars, to my mother and aunt, and a little carved mirror to myself! Shipping is a wonderful invention. Completely forgetting about Nantucket, our return to the Inn is punctuated by a note pinned to our door which reminded us that we have round trip tickets for Saturday. On this high note, we changed clothes and checked on dinner ideas with the front desk. Before we blink an eye, Paula calls Cresca’s on South Water Street to reserve a table. Cresca’s menu has many delightful entrees, and we ended up with feta cheese salads, shrimp and crabcakes. Then came dessert. The piece de resistance was a sampler with a little of everything from the dessert menu. We ordered it, and it was delicious: tiramisu, English custard with fresh raspberries, ginger pound cake, brownie fudge with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries, and a vanilla ice cream “snowball” – all in miniature. We ate every bite, after which, we waddled home, checking out the shops on the way. Some yo-yos in a window caught our eye, and we bought one…trying it out once we got back to our room. Although it was almost midnight, the streets were still alive with people. The air was chilly, clear and beautiful, and the sound of laughter floated over the water…

Nantucket and Up-Island
Today was our jaunt to Nantucket! It was another glorious day outside: the sunshine was brilliant. The church clock chimed the hour of nine. Outside our bedroom window, the scene below reflected maids in black and white carrying armloads of white towels as they scurried over the brick walks from building to building. John was cleaning the black iron railings. The air was incredibly fresh, and the green seemed more intense as time went by. The fragrance of freshly mown grass filled the air.

Edgartown is one of the prettiest towns I have ever seen; it is so pristine, it looks as if it were painted white every day. Many of the houses were white clapboard with black shutters. We heard the lawnmowers and hedge clippers, and smelled cut grass and lilac everywhere. It was all so beautifully landscaped, edged and manicured, and the flowers are blooming madly. I think I am in love with Martha’s Vineyard. No, I know it.

Lilacs … so beautiful

U.S. Air dropped us off in Nantucket. We picked quite a time to come here: it was Memorial Day Weekend, and also the weekend of the Figawi Regatta – the place was jammed with wall-to-wall college kids, all tanned, slender and having a raucous time. Nantucket’s cobbled and brick-laid streets and gray clapboard houses were impeccable and delightful.

In Nantucket

A whaling town, one of the island’s must-see sights is the Whaling Museum. It houses multitudes of artifacts and information about Nantucket’s whaling history, from the first African-American whaler, to punishments for mutiny (pretty grim.) One room held the full skeleton of a small, 43-foot whale. The museum was dim, fascinating, and not a little uncanny. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering Nantucket’s streets and shops, which have beautiful and expensive things to sell, all very enticing.

The sea is such an integral part of everything, we couldn’t walk more than two minutes without standing on a waterfront or beach. It was very soothing. Our plane took off at 3PM, and soon we were back at Martha’s Vineyard’s adorable tiny airport, where we hired a taxi for a tour up-island <see “Up Island“, by Anne Rivers Siddons>. Martha’s Vineyard holds a real fascination for me: it is so full of beauty and old-world charm, like a piece of the past come to life. Today, the sky was brilliantly blue and massed with clouds, and the sea breeze was constant and crisp.

Our taxi driver and former Head of Edgartown’s Town Council, Steve, took us up-island by way of Middle Road, through West Tisbury, Menemsha, Chilmark, and West Chop (I love that name) to Gay Head, now known as Aquinnah. Middle Road, as the name implies, cuts through the center of the island. It was lined with high, high hedgerows and dry stone walls, very English. Sheep grazed placidly in the green fields hemmed in by locust wood posts and cedar rails.

The Sculpture Garden on Martha's Vineyard

The Sculpture Garden on Martha’s Vineyard

We passed the Sculpture Garden, which is often mentioned when writing about Martha’s Vineyard, with abstract figures sculpted in white dotting a wide green lawn. Interesting! Always, seas, ponds and lakes abound. Over rolling countryside, Steve drove us to a beautiful bluff called Overlook Point. This looked down to a crystal clear blue lake with white-sailed boats skimming the surface.

Next came Chilmark and Menemsha, two tiny fishing villages, with small gray clapboard houses. “Jaws” was filmed at Menemsha, and just across the inlet, the remains of the “Orca” could be seen on the tiny beach. From here, it was a winding road to Gay Head/Aquinnah, and the Cliffs which look out forever over a silvery-gray Atlantic. The day was still brilliantly sunny, but the wind was immensely strong, bracing and fabulous.

The South Road led us back to Edgartown.

We arrived at our beautiful little Charlotte Inn, walked to The Black Dog to buy t-shirts, then back to the inn to drink Bristol Cream sherry and plan for our last dinner at L’etoile. Our dinner menu: duck fois gras, lobster etouvee, rack of lamb and fresh berries. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Leaving Martha’s Vineyard

A view from our room at the Charlotte Inn

We woke to another Chelsea morning: brilliant sunshine, clean, clear skies and a slight breeze. Poking my head from the window, I saw the maid scurrying along the brick pathway with an armload of fresh white towels. If we’d ordered the weather, we wouldn’t have made a single change. Martha’s Vineyard is everything we thought it would be – a little white-painted jewel set amongst many-colored flowers and underscored by the music of the sea. And the flowers! White spirea, double headed orange poppies, daisies, tulips, daffodils, narcissus, peonies, wisteria, roses, and everywhere…the lilac trees! The scent of lilac is in the wind. Everywhere we looked were green, green lawns, white houses trimmed with black shutters, all backed by vivid blue skies.

Leaving beautiful Martha’s Vineyard

This is one of my favorite places on the face of the earth…I love it. Goodbye, dear Martha’s Vineyard!

Hiking the Utah canyons

The hoodoos of Bryce

Sometimes it’s just great to get away to a part of the country you’ve never spent time in, yet is not so far away it takes more than two or three hours to reach. Such was the Utah trip for me, and the state is so spectacularly beautiful, it was one of my most satisfying hikes. Country Walkers offered this relatively short hike (5 days) and a friend of mine, who lives elsewhere, sent me the information. I was hooked, and hooked up. I think Utah is one of the most beautiful states in a country of so many beautiful states…there is, however, something spiritual about the landscape there. Needless to say, it was an experience I’ll never forget.

 Las Vegas

I arrive in Las Vegas after what seems an interminable flight, but is in reality only three hours. After finding Lee, we take the hotel limo to AmeriSuites. It is super-hot here, and noisy, jumping with people – mostly young people – but at least our room is quiet. Once settled in, we walk across the street to one of the many casinos, eat a late dinner in the Montero dining room, and then get some sleep. (Lee loses $1 on the slot machine.)

The next morning we take an hour’s stroll down to the Strip. The first hotel we come to is the Sahara -once inside, it is pretty unbelievable – miles of aisles, shops of all description, and gambling slots everywhere. It’s not even 8:30AM, and people are playing the slots. Not my life, but perhaps the idea of hiking in the wilds of the canyons isn’t their idea of fun either!

The Canyons of Zion

The start of a beautiful friendship

Promptly at 10AM, our group picks us up. We have a three-hour ride to Zion National Park, eat a picnic lunch and then drive to the Lodge, which is set in very beautiful parkland. Surrounded by the walls of the canyon, the Lodge sprawls across the green grass, lit to neon green by the afternoon sun.

Bonnie views the awe-inspiring scenery

We put up our bags and take the first hike of the trip: Riverside Trail, up into the canyon. The cliff walls are ever-changing colors, depending on sun or shadow. We pass cascades of water, mountain greenery, rock formations, often looking over sheer drops. We are not gone long, returning to the Lodge about 5:30, to change for supper in the main dining room.

This place is really magical. After eating a delicious meal, we walk back through the gloaming to our room…the canyon walls surround us, and in the park fronting the Lodge are about 20 mule deer, lifting their big elf-like ears as we pass by. The deer make little or no sound, except for a low “crunch” as they crop the grass.

In the shadowy twilight, the canyon walls keep in the growing darkness, and only the rustle of wind in the trees is heard. The temperature – in the 80s when we arrived – has cooled to about 55 degrees. We are sleeping with open windows tonight.

Our small group  – we split into two groups – this was mine

Our group is comprised of seventeen people, coming together from one end of the country to the other. From Williamsburg, Virginia to the California coast and in between, it’s a particularly enjoyable group. Bob and Bonnie from Williamsburg are a wonderful retired couple who enjoy travelling. Cara and Cheryl are the first women guides I’ve experienced on these hikes. They are extremely knowledgeable about the area, very pleasant, as well as caring and fully invested in the wildlife and the environment.

The peace here is unbelievable.

Refrigerator Canyon, Walter’s Wiggles and Weeping Rock

Here we are – our second day in the canyons of Zion. This is a terrifically picturesque area – the grandeur of the canyons is almost too much to take in. We join each other at 8:30 in the morning after a splendid breakfast at the Lodge, and then split into two groups of nine and eight, making it easier to hike and to take in everything without a large group slowing things up.

Cara, our guide, and me at the start of a hike in Zion

Our group begins hiking immediately (the other group is bussed to an alternate location). We begin at Scout’s Outlook, a four-mile up-canyon hike that begins with a climb to Refrigerator Canyon, always 20 degrees colder than everywhere else.

Walter’s Wiggles

Next come the “switchbacks”, so-called because the trail zips back and forth constantly, ending with “Walter’s Wiggles” – an even more extreme switchback. Atop the thousand-foot high Scout’s Outlook, we hang over the edge looking straight down into beautiful green valleys and canyon walls. The views are astounding. Then we turn and hike back down…

The grandeur and majesty of the canyon are impossible to describe – the walls are so sheer, so solid, so many different colors, and so immense we are surrounded and encompassed by these wonderful cliffs.

The beauty of the landscape is timeless

After Scout’s Landing, we hike the Riversidewalk, ending by paddling our tootsies in a river whose name I don’t recall. Cold, by God!

Bonnie, Cara and I then hike uphill to Weeping Rock, an overhang in the canyon wall. Standing beneath it, we look out at spectacular views through a curtain of water – the fall is neither heavy, nor does it obscure the view – like clear beads on many threads -crystal raindrops falling endlessly, lit by the sun. It’s a very spiritual experience, being in these canyons.

After which, we return to the Lodge, clean up, and wend our way to the IMAX Theater, where we see the history of the canyons – breathtaking – and then on to dinner – and to bed.

The Virgin River and Dual Arches Alcove

After a hearty breakfast, we jump in the van: Bonnie, Bob, the six California girls, Cara, our guide, and me. A 45-minute drive takes us to the Virgin River, where we begin a five-mile round trip hike. It is safe to say that was the longest five-mile hike I have taken!

We start on a sandy trail through pine and oak woods, alongside the Virgin River bed. We actually walk the riverbed most of the way, as it has dried up in the summer heat – it’s basically a very thin stream at this point. Cara’s quick to point out that care should be taken nonetheless, as the weather can change in an instant, and gullywashers can sluice through the canyons and riverbeds, with an outcome I don’t like to dwell on…but good to know! Surrounding us are spectacular views of canyon walls in their living colors of red streaked with black, white and grey where water has scored the cliffs.

Standing inside the deep pink Dual Arches – incredible!

At first the sand is golden. But as we near Dual Arches Alcove, it turns the most glorious shade of pink – absolutely unbelievable. Stones in the sand which are a vivid turquoise blue turn grey when picked up – a trick of the sun and the sand. The weather which had begun cool, turns very hot halfway to Dual Arches, but when the canyon walls narrow and we come to the great Dual Arches Alcove, it becomes almost chilly.

Dual Arches Alcove – spectacular and awe-inspiring – reaches to the sky in two great arches. The lower one will one day begin to disintegrate and then fall; its hold is precarious on the rock face. The arches are all colors – exquisitely beautiful. We eat our lunch in their shadow, drinking gallons of water to ward off dehydration. Then we hike for approximately half an hour over deep pink rocks and boulders to a waterfall in the cliff face. The canyons narrow our path til we can squeeze no further. The rocks and boulders – making for a tricky hike – are a bright reddish pink – all fallen from the canyon walls and swept into a rocky riverbed by gullywashers.

Ro and Bonnie – ahead of the pack!

Bob, Bonnie and I are a little ahead of the pack on our way back. We mostly stay with the riverbed, which meanders this way and that. In full sun, it is hot, hot, hot. In the shade, the scent is intensely green. Our entire hike takes six hours with a brief time out for lunch.

Then it’s back into the van, and a drive into town for an iced cappuccino – absolutely the best tasting thing in the world! Then back to the Lodge for dinner. When we leave the restaurant, twilight has fallen on the canyon walls which surround us on all sides. Again, the deer wander onto the Lodge’s grassy front lawn, showing no fear as we pass them by, shadows in the enchanted Zion twilight.

Observation Point, Panguitch, Bryce Canyon and The Hoodoos

Up at 6:30 to eat breakfast and get in the van by 8AM. We ride to Observation Point, a 45-minute drive, in the Zion National Park, then hike up some of the most spectacular trails, which drop into nothingness on one side, cliff wall on the other.

Lonely trees dot the landscape

The scenery is spectacular wherever we look. And the trail varies from flat rock to narrow ledges to a bridge over nothing! Finally, we arrive at Observation Point. It seems to hover at the very tip of the canyons, and the view is incredible – it looks out over canyons and gorges in all directions. I climb to the very highest point, a drop-off into thin air, for a quick photo op. Then back down the trail to the van. Another brief ride, and then hike to see pictographs carved long ago on the canyon walls by the Anasazi Indians. I love Utah!

I felt as if I were in a movie

Back in the van for a 90-minute ride to the little town of Panguitch (meaning “water” – with population 2000) and Bob’s Cowboy Diner, where we are serenaded through lunch by two cowboys singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Call the Wind Mariah,” “Cool Water,” and “Ghostriders in the Sky.” Fantastic! I feel as if I’ve wandered way back in time into the Old West – and I don’t want to return to the present…

But our next destination is Bryce Canyon National Park, and on arrival, we immediately begin our hike. I can’t begin to describe this place. It is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere.

From the canyon rim to the canyon floor, we hike downwards through the trail called Wall Street through walls of blood red sandstone, ever and ever down. Our trail takes us over the canyon floor, then curls around back to the top. The number of people on the trail is overwhelming at times, especially on Wall Street  – large groups of people from Japan and Germany seem to be the most ubiquitous.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

We are all in awe of these terra-cotta colored hoodoos of Bryce which stretch for miles and miles and miles. Absolutely unbelievably wonderful.Cara is our guide throughout it all. A terrific guide, unbelievably talented, she and her husband are mountain and cliff-climbers, rapelling the canyon walls in Zion and in Yosemite in their spare time. On their honeymoon, they spent three days and nights on the canyon wall in Yosemite National Park, sleeping in hammocks on the cliff face. They are also in the process of building a home made from bales of hay, reinforced with rebar and steel, and covered in stucco. And they are building it with their own two hands. Remarkable people.

Beautiful Bryce

After our hike, Lee and I have dinner with Bonnie and Bob – I am so full of food, I can hardly stand it. And very tired. To sleep!

Bryce Canyon Redux

We are off at 8:30AM to hike down the canyon in the opposite direction to our hike of yesterday. Slight contretemps at the vans: usually when a group splits in two, the guides switch sides halfway through the trip. But all our group want to stay with Cara! So we do.

Reaching for the stars

We begin the hike immediately – the other group is bussed to the opposite side of the canyon. The hike is long and glorious – about seven or so hours altogether. Bonnie, Bob and I reach the top of the canyon, then take off for an additional three-mile hike – woof! All uphill! By the time we make it back to the bus stop, we are really physically exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time.

A perfectly happy human being

Today I forgot my sunscreen – my legs and arms are tiger-striped, and when my legs finally stop stinging, they go sort of Kentucky Fried crispy. But somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. Who cares! This wonderful trip is worth it!

Bryce Canyon Lodge and Dixie National Park

Up before dawn to walk and hike around the canyon rim watching the sun come up…another awe-inspiring experience.

Then back for breakfast, packing and so back to the real world. We drive through Dixie National Park, endless mountains and forests of breathtaking beauty – stretches of quaking aspens in full golden splendor, mountains stained with the color of the sun, stretches of pines and firs. I had no idea Utah was such a beautiful – and green – state – why did I always think of it as desert? I was very wrong.

We stop in Cedar City for lunch at Betty’s Restaurant – a small butter yellow house, filled with pictures and flowers – for an elegant little lunch, where we celebrate Roni’s birthday (one of the California Six), and have a teary-eyed farewell.

This incredibly satisfying trip solidifies my desire to experience more and more of the western states. Utah is an enchanting experience … full of mystery and freedom and awe-inspiring beauty.

Utah – awe inspiring, mystical, magic

Hiking the Spectacular Spokane Countryside

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

 

June afforded a nice break in the year for a short visit to a long-time good friend, Lee. Our plan was to hike as much as possible in the beautiful country surrounding Spokane, and it was a joy from beginning to end.

Dishman Hills

Dishman Hills

As usual, the weather was perfect: lows in the 50s at night, and the high 70s during the day. Upon arriving, and after we had a quick nosh at the house, Lee and I took off for a short hour’s walk in the Dishman Hills, a green and scented trail that cleared the mind and really got us prepped for some a little more challenging as the week progressed. Between the fresh air and good conversation, it was a nice way to begin our journeyings.

Bead Lake - so beautiful

Bead Lake – so beautiful

Wednesday morning, up with the larks (are there larks in Washington?) we had a quick breakfast, checked what was happening with the Brexit vote, then got in the car headed to Bead Lake, about a 60-minute drive all told. The weather was perfect. Once we arrived, we ran into a slight problem: We couldn’t find the trail marker to start our hike. Our map stated “Forest Road” but we drove and drove, and no Forest Road appeared anywhere.

Lee on the trail

Lee on the trail

We decided to drive up an unmarked trail uphill which, as it went on and on, became narrower and narrower and higher and higher, with a particularly steep drop on the passenger side of the car – my side! And still we couldn’t find a trail marker, and had to turn around – no easy feat, considering the width of the trail by that time was about an inch (just kidding, but it was narrow.)

Bead Lake

Bead Lake

So our next stop was at the boat launch…where we met a delightful 77-year old man (he gave us his age) and his dog, Gordo. Don’t ask me why I didn’t ask his name…but anyway, he and his dog lived in a caravan at the lake’s edge, and apparently he walked three different trails every day. Was he ever in good shape – as was Gordo!

Boat launch - Bead lake

Boat launch – Bead Lake

So we finally found the beginning of the lake trail, and had a great hike for approximately three hours. It couldn’t have been more picturesque…the trees, flowers and the brilliant green-blue of the glacier-like water…it was like a painting, and the air was so crystal clear, inhaling was just a pleasure. We could not have had a better time…

Glacier-blue-green waters

Glacier-blue-green waters

After this, we came home hungry, and drove downtown to a terrific African-themed restaurant, the Safari Room in the Davenport Tower. The grilled salmon was delish, and the Ginger Dragon – a potent drink composed of vodka, ginger liqueur and some other liquids – was fabulous. And so to bed!

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

Thursday was a completely different experience – Palouse Falls, a throwback to the Ice Age, whose spectacular terrain had been repeatedly scored and eroded by floods thousands of years ago. The crevices, canyons, waterfalls and rocky outcrops and trails were a fascinating sight…standing atop the cliffs, you could see for miles around you.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

 

This was our most challenging hike, for more reasons than terrain.

Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls

An hour into the hike, I heard a “flap, flap” as I walked and thinking it was something stuck to the sole of my boot, paid no attention at first.

My hiking boots halfway through Palouse Falls' hike

My hiking boots halfway through Palouse Falls’ hike

As it turned out, something was stuck to the sole – a fragment of the boot! And a little later, there went the other sole – so I sat down a la Cheryl Strayed, and peeled off both soles. Luckily, there was still a liner in each boot, so I was able to continue to hike with no real problem.

The trail down to the bottom of the cliffs

Rocky roads: the trail down to the bottom of the cliffs

Halfway around the trail, after this little contretemps, we came upon a rattlesnake…rattling away, enjoying a little sun in the middle of the road. Coming to a screeching halt, we waited extremely quietly; eventually the rattler slithered off into a crack in the rocks.

IMG_0307

Our next challenge was getting down from the cliffs to the ground below…the trail was covered in scree and rocks – one slip and you could easily turn an ankle. Thank god Lee provided me with two hiking poles, which were an immense help in navigating some of the more difficult areas. We got to a flat boulder bed by the river, and sat for lunch.

Lunch time

Lunch time

It was at this point I discovered that my cell phone – thoughtfully stowed in the pocket of my jacket – had smashed against one of the boulders. Thankfully, it had a protective cover, so although it looked bad – actually it looked like a splash of guano – it still worked, and the camera wasn’t damaged. Ergo…it continued to take great photographs.

IMG_0301

All around us were spectacular waterfalls, boulders and cliffs…it was here we lunched, with a weather eye out for snakes, and then got on with our hike. Spectacular is the only word for it.

IMG_0294.jpg PALOUSE WATERFALL CROPPED VERTICAL

 

And then it was on our way back to the house – a drive of about two hours through farmland full of beautiful green fields, yellow wheat fields, rapeseed and countryside. What a great day!

Green, green fields on the way back to Spokane from Palouse Falls

Green, green fields on the way back to Spokane from Palouse Falls

We ended it by stopping to pick up a marvelous crispy crust Meditteranean pizza filled with spinach, chicken, cheese and garlic sauce –why does food taste so much better on trips?

In Couer d'Alene, Idaho

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Our next little adventure, on Friday, was into Idaho – Coeur d’Alene – which has always sort of fascinated me (the name)….the only day it rained. Since it rained and kept on raining – in Houston, you’d barely call it rain, but it did pretty much soak the area – we didn’t have a chance to hike. So we stopped in at a beautiful hotel, the Dockside Resort,  and had a yummy lunch: salmon, Golden Four-Cheese Dip, and quesadillas! Guess you could say eating and hiking our way through this trip – totally worth it! The restaurant overlooked the water and one of the world’s largest floating boardwalks. A lovely afternoon was had by all!

The water treatment plant walk

At the Cheney Water Treatment Center

Two short hikes and a quick walk through one of Spokane’s beautiful parks was on the agenda for Saturday. The Cheney Water Treatment Center may not sound like much of a walk, but we were surrounded by such beauty…ponds and small lakes, reeds, trees, flowering plants and wildlife aplenty.

WATER TREATMENT 2

After an hour wandering around the center, we drove to Hog Lake – not a particularly appealing name, but actually a very pleasant walk on trails through leafy green country.

Start of Hog Lake hike

Start of Hog Lake hike

On the way back to the house, we noticed a small grass-green park that looked as if it had a lot of promise. Fronted by a wide grassy stretch of lawn, the trails led through tree-shaded paths, up inclines bordered by huge boulders, and through flower-filled glades. Just beautiful…a fitting end to the day. After which, we drove to a small neighborhood restaurant for dinner, and an early night back home.

 

Fronting the park

Fronting the park

Saturday in the Park with Ro and Lee

Saturday in the Park with Ro and Lee

 

Sunday it was back to reality…an early plane ride, and a full day’s travel through Chicago until my toes touched the Houston earth. From the cool green of Spokane to the heat of Houston’s summer. Thank god for air conditioning!!

IMG_0312

Hiking the AT in Shenandoah’s National Park

Hiking on the AT

Hiking on the AT

After returning from our long-awaited hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Shenandoah National Park, I picked up “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, for another viewpoint on hiking the AT. It was pretty wonderful to come across sections in the book that I too had hiked, and with a viewpoint amazingly similar to Bryson’s. There were times on this hike when I did wonder about the appeal of leaning forward and putting one foot in front of another while staring at the ground to be sure you didn’t trip – for miles. And often sitting down for a break felt incredibly good….until you got back up to start all over again. However, that being said, it was really a kick to know you’d hiked sections of the Trail in Tennessee (Smokies), New Hampshire (all that granite!), and Virginia….around 100 miles total. No big deal, but I like it! (Can I now be called a Section Hiker?)

So onward…up up and away!

The woods are lovely

The woods are lovely

Sunday
Arrived on time @ Dulles A/P in DC, and met those of the group not driving to the Lodge. We piled in the van and drove to Luray to the Lodge, where I reconnected with Cindy and Deb, friends from past AT hikes. We got settled, went out to eat (then back to Lodge, by which time it was around 7PM.)

Altogether, there were 14 in the group, including our two guides. We sat outside our rooms in the “back 40” as it got steadily darker and colder while Jan told us all about the hike and what it entailed for two hours. It was pretty icy by the time we finished and were able to go to bed. I was so cold, I wore long johns and hiking socks for pajamas to try to warm up.

Incredibly rocky, breathtaking views

Incredibly rocky, breathtaking views

Monday
Up at 6AM – picked up lunch items from our guides Jan and Kim’s room/packed the luggage and ourselves into the van, after which we drove to Walmart for wine and Gatorade!

Getting started

Getting started

Onward to the start of our Appalachian Trail hike, at the South River Falls Picnic area. All told, we hiked for a total of about five hours – all was extremely green, and extremely damp. Houston has nothing on this humidity/mugginess. It makes the foliage go neon bright.

At first, the trees were seen through a gentle white mist, until after noon, when the sun came out, helping dry out the air a bit. Flowers were blooming like crazy – pink and white trilliums, yellow mustard flower, the lovely little wood violets starring the grasses and undergrowth everywhere, pale pink wild azaleas. Logs and boulders scattered everywhere were covered with that particularly appealing velvet-like moss.

A fern forest

A fern forest

We hiked for a couple of hours and then ate our lunch, then another three hours of hiking, and then we piled back into the van and so on to the next Lodge. (About 5.5 miles)

Cindy and Deb strolling

Cindy and Deb strolling the Trail

No air conditioning in any of the Lodges, but it was so cold at night, we didn’t need it. Shared my room with a number of flying insects – a few of which I managed to capture and evict, but I finally gave up on the rest. I figured they were there first anyway.

The day and evening were hot hot hot, but after twilight set in – it became really cold again. We ate a pizza supper outside around the fire pit, and I finalized the evening by washing my hair and clambering into bed where I was out like a light.

Tuesday
Up at 6AM – ready to leave at 7. Having eaten breakfast, and made lunch, we began the trek directly from the Lodge, leaving the luggage behind in the vans.

The retiring wood violet

The retiring wood violet

After an hour’s hike, up up and up again, through greenery, flowering trees such as the service berry (what a name – it should be called White Lace, the trees were so beautifully bridally white), flowering apple and what looked like miniature wisteria. Flowers such as jack in the pulpit, wood violets, all color trilliums, phlox, geranium…nature is so bountiful, I’m sometimes overcome by the fact that these woods, these mountains and trails are still here, and relatively undisturbed by civilization.

Ro atop the Scramble

Ro atop the Scramble

Then we came to the Bearfence Scramble. This was a real challenge – and oddly enough, my favorite part of the trip. The rocks and boulders led us straight up to the top of the mountain. Boulders were all sizes – many narrowly cut, so it was extremely difficult to determine a foot rest.

We couldn’t use the hiking poles, just our hands and knees to pull us straight up (we jammed our poles in our backpacks.) Some boulders were a little slippery…  At one point, we were flattened against and clinging to the granite slab as we made our way across and down a narrow ledge – peering straight down into the valley many miles below. One step at a time…

Looking down into the valley from the Scramble

Looking down into the valley from the Scramble

Once we reached the top of the Scramble, the views down into the valley were incredible. Anyone who has seen and loved the movie “Last of the Mohicans” will relate to the awe-inspiring grandeur of these views. The trees were spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains, clouds leaving dark green shadows across the lighter green of the firs lit by the sun…

And by 11AM, the sun was out full force – talk about hot. Sun block’s a necessity (always).

Hiking through the green

Hiking through the green

We stayed atop the Scramble for half an hour, then clambered back down to the Appalachian Trail where we were once again able to use our poles. After another’s hour’s hike (up) we stopped for lunch. Through hikers (hiking the entire Trail) and day hikers passed us by, all friendly, all smelly!

Masters of the Universe

Masters of the Universe

After lunch, we hiked to our van; some went another three miles, some decided to quit at this point (me included). Afterwards, we vanned back to our previous Lodge to pick up our luggage, then drove to Big Meadows Lodge, where we had the next night’s lodging. Rooms were very nice, and a lovely veranda too – just about perfect.

Martha and Lo stop for lunch

Martha and Lo booked this log for lunch

Cindy, Deb and I were able to have a really nice little hour’s respite together and a beer before dinner at the Lodge’s restaurant. The views here are glorious, they really are. This was my favorite day. But after dinner, too tired to do anything further, we all walked back to our cabins, where we packed again for leaving early the next day. And so to bed. (Weather was gorgeous all day long – but damp! My god, my hair has NEVER looked so bad. Rode hard and put up wet, is the kindest way to say it….and I have never been so stiff, although that wore off. Managed to get huge blister on big toe, and little toe hurt like the dickens.)

Wednesday
Up at 6 as usual – pick up lunch at 7, breakfast at 8 – off to Visitors’ Center where I bought a sweatshirt, as I stupidly did not pack my down jacket and the nights were really frigid.

Beauty is all around

Beauty is all around

This morning was warm but comfy under the canopy of trees; we walked to the trail directly across the road in front of the Lodge. Today, the hike was over 6 miles, up ever up up up – hot by the afternoon, but cooling when we experienced brief drizzles.

A carpet of boulders

A carpet of boulders

We crossed boulders and rocks in huge rocky carpets…just when you thought that stretch was done, lo and behold, just round the bend, another carpet! We made it to the van around 3PM, and waited for the rest of the group who’d gone over the mountain on a different hike. Jolly good for them!

Another incredible view

Where’s Daniel Day-Lewis when you need him?

After a good day’s hike, we made it back to Skyland Lodge by 4PM, where Cindy, Deb, Lo and I convened in the bar for drinks and a good talk. I learned here about Blue Moon beer from Cindy – loved that orange under-taste, and the slice of orange that comes with the beer.

Then back to rooms, (which kept getting better and better) and each of which had a gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley below. I cannot go on enough about these spectacular views. Cleaned up and convened at the dining room at 7PM, and waited – waited – waited to be able to get a table, by which time I was practically under it.

A dramatically intense thunderstorm blew through about this time. The restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling picture windows magnified and movie-ized the lightning and rain as it passed over the valley. The crack of the thunder, the orange of the sun breaking through a black cloud, and the lightning storm were definitely like something from movie FX. Glorious to watch, glad you were inside!

Then a cold front blew in – and it was freezing. We waited for the rain to stop, then tracked back to our cabins about half a mile down a very steep tarmacked slope, no lights except tiny key lights to light our way…. Never so glad I had both my sweatshirt on, and was able to get back to my room in one piece!

The wild azalea

The wild azalea

NOTE: Everyone agreed how great to get away from cell phones, computers et al – but they were either on their cells or trying to get reception everywhere – all the time – breakfast, lunch, dinner, on the trail – just unbelievable, but that’s our world today. (I, however, am a Luddite and I admit it freely!)

Thursday
The final “hike day” was a long day – getting up around 6AM for breakfast, packing the lunch and luggage, etc. (somehow even though this was the long day, the other days seemed equally long!) We hiked to Stony Man Mountain with beautiful views along the way (surprise!), and then to the Pinnacles Picnic area for lunch. We hiked over 10 miles and it was hard – beautiful, but tough.

Somewhere...a rattlesnake waits

Somewhere…a rattlesnake waits

Mid-hike, we were informed by a through-hiker that a rattlesnake had been spotted in the grass beside the trail ahead. After determining that it was just off the trail, and we had the werewithal to go up the bank and around the snake, we each tiptoed by in various states of nerves. No-one made a sound, no one took a photograph. The snake made enough noise for a hive of bees…the buzzing of its tail was definitely disconcerting, and angry to boot.

Lo and Ro take a breather

Ro and Lo take a breather

After this short adventure, we had the option of two different hikes, each to end at Mary’s Rock. Four of us as well as Jan, our guide, opted for the more difficult uphill hike, which was shorter by a mile. Everyone else hiked around the mountain which was about three miles in length. I was either so used to the uphill treks by now that it didn’t bother me much, or it wasn’t that difficult. We made it to Mary’s Rock, and waited for the rest of the gang to turn up – which after an hour, seemed to be a long shot. So, picking up Lo on the way, we hiked on back down the trail to the van and waited for the rest of the group to show.

Atop Mary's Rock

Atop Mary’s Rock

Being on the tired side, Lo and I started complaining about our feet, among other things… So we thought we might develop a website, SmallandPetty.com/and I don’t care…and complain to our hearts’ content!

One of my favorite views

One of my favorite views

By this time it was after 7PM, and we were whupped…we had come full circle back to Luray, so a quick stop at the Lodge, and then we went on to dinner, where we all came up with our trail names. Suffice it to say, some were great, mine, not so great. I’ll have to give it another think. It was another night of rain…we were very blessed to have dry days for hiking, with the heavens waiting to open up once we were safely indoors.

On the trail we’d met two great kids, whose trail names were Cisco and Bozie – they were about 19 or 20, young men going to college in Utah…whether it was because they were so young, or because they actually were – they seemed very sweet and innocent, hiking the trail with nothing but a couple of tree branches and holey boots. They had the room next to mine, and came out just as I was walking to the door…both apparently having the time of their lives.

So … dinner, and to bed.

Yes, Virginia, there really are park rangers

Yes, Virginia, there really are park rangers

Friday
Managed to yank myself out of bed by 6:30 the next morning, ran to pick up some yogurt in Jan’s room, washed hair, and then we all piled in vans and cars and drove to the Luray Caves, a fascinating underground maze of stalagmites and stalagtites, which could almost have been the Dwarves’ Caves in Lord of the Rings. Just an amazing place. No pictures – but here’s a link:
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Luray+Caverns&qpvt=Luray+Caverns&FORM=IGRE

Then Jan drove us to the airport, and I sat and read for four hours waiting for the plane back to Houston. The guy at airport security asked me where I’d been, and for the life of me, I couldn’t think! Brain dead!

The green of the Trail

The green of the Trail

Stiff joints, blistered toes, fuzzy hair and all – challenging, intense, dangerous and beautiful…. it was definitely an AT hike to remember!

Hiking in Ireland: From the dear old Temple Bar to the Cliffs of Moher

Glendalough

Hiking in Glendalough

On this particular hike, I didn’t join a hiking group…Diane and I had decided to work out this hike ourselves, and it really did turn out incredibly well. We saw areas of Ireland I doubt we’d have experienced with a group (not that I don’t love travelling with groups – they really are a great option when you don’t speak the language!)

We flew into Dublin on Tuesday and stayed overnight in a charming Georgian boutique hotel called No. 31. Breakfast at No. 31 was delicious and extensive…almost anything you wanted to eat, we could have…and we almost did!

A street in Dublin

A street in Dublin

After a few hours catch-up snooze, we wandered across St. Stephen’s Green and down Grafton Street, tried to get into Trinity to see the Book of Kells, but it was closed. We stopped for a late lunch/dinner at a restaurant called the Elephant and Castle…again, the food was delicious! Fabulous bruschetta…both Diane and I devoured it. And the weather was splendid…brilliant sunshine. I also had a Guinness in the Temple Bar…what a treat! You feel as if you might come across Edna O’Brien or James Joyce somewhere around a corner…

The dear old Temple Bar, Dublin

COUNTY WICKLOW, GLENDALOUGH, EAST COAST

The next morning, in bright sunlight, we picked up our rent car and drove to County Wicklow. We stayed in a B&B called Barraderry House, which was built in the 1700s. Beautiful stone, set in a gorgeous garden, and way off the beaten path. We ate dinner that night in a delightful dark, beam-hung pub, and had an hour’s conversation with a quintessential Irishman named John, who told us he’d given up “the drink” 20 years ago at the behest of his children. We heard his life story, and told him some of ours…a thoroughly enjoyable chat with someone who looked exactly like Michilin in “The Quiet Man!”

The road to Glendalough

By the way, no smoking is allowed in Irish pubs any more…not that I care, but there was something about those smoky old pubs…

Olive and John were our hosts here at Barraderry…they were just delightful, and John was another epitome of a little Irishman…charming as all get out; we talked for about 20 minutes about Ireland, politics and the like, and then he gave me and Diane a great big kiss on our cheeks.

The next day (Thursday), we packed our bags, and then took off for a four hour hike around Glendalough…two lakes, surrounded by mountains…wild, isolated and incredibly beautiful.

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A lake in Glendalough

I was a little tired by the time we were through…lots of climbing! But really a good hike. That night we had dinner at a quiet restaurant, and afterwards, climbed into our little beds ready for sleep.

Hiking in Glendalough

THE WEST COAST

DOOLIN

Friday morning, we took off across Ireland for the West Coast, and a little town called Doolin. On the way we had a flat tire. It was hilarious although worrying as Diane ran down the road trying to find someone – anyone – who could help us. We were in the middle of nowhere, and nothing was in sight for miles…we were definitely beginning to wonder if an unplanned hike was in the offing. Then, in the distance…finally! a car with two couples stopped to help us…wonderful people, two of whom were visiting from the Netherlands. The two men fixed the tire, and after a proliferation of thanks, we were on our way again in 20 minutes, breathing a sigh of relief.

We got into the very tiny town of Doolin…rain pouring down by this time. Bought a new tire, and then parked our bags at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse just outside Doolin. That night we ate at an enchanting new restaurant, and had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was cod, but done so delicately with such a great glaze, it could have floated right off the plate…and potatoes to die for…fabulous Irish brown bread. Yum!!

Our host at St. Catherine’s Farmhouse, Maria, was very very special. She gave us big hugs, and wanted to know what our plans were …helpful, and kind, in every way. Just a dear, wonderful woman.

The Cliffs of Moher

The next morning (Saturday) was sunny, so we drove 10 minutes to the Cliffs of Moher. We hiked along these fabled cliffs for five miles, by which time the fog rolled in. The cliffs are beautiful, but erosion makes walking the path along the edge very dicey in places. I stumbled by mistake off the path onto a downward trail – yikes! Managed to stop myself before more than two steps were taken…but it is so easy to do! While walking, we remembered “Ryan’s Daughter” some of which was filmed on these very cliffs…lovely to be here.

After that little trek, we arrived back at our car, found somewhere to eat, and then drove into the Burren…which is a wild and lonely place. It meanders on for miles and miles…green marshes and mountains with huge boulders all over. I liked it! Our goal was the Burren Perfumery which is in the middle of nowhere; it wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be – no miles of flower and herb gardens, just a tiny shop and tearoom, but charming nonetheless. We bought some pretty soap at the shop, and had scones in the tea room. Diane had a scone, and I had a scone with clotted cream and jam!

The Burren

The Burren

It was raining by this time, so we needed to get back on the road!

That evening, we decided to go back to our enchanting restaurant from the night before, but unfortunately, it was completely booked. We tried four more restaurants – all booked…it seemed no restaurant (in such a small town!) had a table. In desperation, we got in the car and drove out of town onto the darkest, loneliest of roads on the way to Lisdoonvarna (aren’t the names of Irish towns poetic?) – by this time, the rain was pouring down, you couldn’t see a star and it was completely EMPTY of habitation! Miles of low-lying brush and one lonely road. Nonetheless, we beavered on…and just up ahead, saw a tiny spark in the darkness.

“Pull over” cried Diane, and we got out of the car and walked into the most Irish, and charming, of small taverns, in the middle of blackness, in the middle of nowhere. A tiny dim oak-beamed bar with about four tables, a huge fireplace all alight, and the friendliest waitress…who happened to be from Boston and had moved here 20 years ago. No-one else but us. By this time we were starving … we dined on a marvelous puree of thick vegetable soup, the wonderful Irish brown soda bread, and a fabulous salad…the taste – incredible. Such an adventure…!! all in the middle of empty moors and hills, in the night’s darkness.

GALWAY, FERMOYLE LODGE

Sunday morning we took off for Galway County and Fermoyle Lodge. This was a long, long drive. Remember we drive on the left hand side over in Ireland? That was quite an adventure in itself. Anyway, Fermoyle Lodge was located in the middle of NOWHERE (as are most of our stops)…but was an extremely charming manor house surrounded by hydrangeas, rhododendrons and flowers of all kinds, and the manor itself was set in a grove of trees.

Fermoyle Lodge lost in the heart of Ireland

The Lodge is enormously welcoming…beautiful stuffed furniture and antiques…big log fires in the fireplaces…wonderful hosts (Nicola and Jean-Pierre)…oh what a fabulous place. The house is stone, two story, and very old. Our room overlooked the lake. We met two delightful couples. Marsha and Jerry were from North Carolina in the U.S.and Gabrielle and Alex from England and Scotland, respectively. I fell in love with Alex, and will always remember him. He was gorgeous, quiet spoken, intelligent, well-traveled … and extremely good looking! Lucky Gabrielle!

The wild countryside outside Fermoyle Lodge

We went for a quick walk up a mountain with Marsha and Jerry, and then once again, had to drive an hour and a half to find an inn for our supper. We also stopped into a tiny grocery store again for supplies…I love those little grocery shops, small and intimate…and I love the Irish newspapers! So much fun to read that side of the world’s take on things back home in the good old U.S.

Back we walked to beautiful Fermoyle. Now, the only thing about Fermoyle is the water: PEAT BROWN…our baths looked like flat brown beer, and when I added shampoo to see if that would help, it just looked like FOAMY brown beer!

Also the shower: to say it had a life of its own is a misnomer. The first time I used the handheld grip, it took off and SOAKED the entire bathroom …carpet, antiques, towels, everything. Nicola and Jean-Pierre were NOT amused, as they spent all morning trying to dry it out.

The following day (Monday) we actually found a hike that went on for some miles. We drove to the start of it, about two hours from Fermoyle Lodge. Then we walked through green, dense woods, over streams, to an enchanting castle which had been turned into a hotel; we had lunch in its pub. So special and lovely.

A small island on a river in Ireland

Unfortunately, the rest of the trail was “spiked”, as loggers had felled many trees, and blocked the trail. We turned back the way we came, and found our car…this hike took about four hours all told. Although still not long enough, we both enjoyed it immensely. We spent that night at Fermoyle Lodge, and also dined there that evening. Jean-Pierre is a French chef, and was a little disappointed when Diane just wanted a salad (with very special directions on how to make it)… I had a salad too, but gave in and had dessert as well. Another yummy meal…talk about eating one’s way through Ireland!

CONG, “THE QUIET MAN”, AND ASHFORD CASTLE

Ashford Castle

Tuesday, we again set off: this time to a tiny historic town called Cong in (I think) County Mayo. The film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan was filmed here…and every pub and restaurant and hotel is named after one of the characters in the movie, and every window is filled with photographs from the movie. Just outside the town is Ashford Castle, where we stayed for two nights…what an experience. The castle is a huge “pile” …our room was beautiful (albeit warm) and just down the hall from the boutique. One corner of the floor is given over to photographs of “important folk” who have stayed there…Brad Pitt, President Reagan, Keanu Reeves, Barbra Streisand…and the list goes on and on.

We got to Ashford Castle, found our room, put down our bags, then booked two hours of falconry.

At the Falconry at Ashford Castle with Oliver Owl

To have those beautiful hawks perch on your wrist…fly away and back…take food from your fist…glide through the trees…magical and storybook. Absolutely nothing like it. To actually interact with a wild thing, have it trust you so completely it eats from your fist, looks into your eyes…incredible (of course, they may have been thinking – oooh, delicious eyes – but I prefer to think otherwise). We also got to hold Oliver Owl, the castle’s mascot, on our wrists…a beautiful bird, magnificently feathered.

That night we ate in the village of Cong: Again, fish & chips…Nothing like ’em (good, I mean!)

Wednesday we spent all day wandering around the castle grounds…. Lakes, woods, the Guinness Tower lost in the middle of the woods (which we climbed to the top…circular stone staircase, so narrow you almost had to pry yourself up) and on the top…just trees as far as the eye could see. We had lunch at the tiny golf club in the middle of the grounds…then walked some more.

On the way to our room, we met a painter (whose first name is Rick, but I forget his last). His paintings lined the walls of the castle’s hallway. We had a lengthy chat with him, and apparently he is very well known. Queen Elizabeth has 8 of his paintings and sculptures, as do celebrities from all over. Very interesting to talk with him.

That night we ate at the Castle…all dressed up (as much as we could from what we’d ‘brung’). Then we went down to the Dungeon Bar, where a singer sang old Irish songs. I was called to the stage to sing “Galway Bay.” I’d had a glass of sherry, but even so I could hardly sing above a whisper…I had terrible stage fright!

COUNTY MAYO,WESTPORT

Thursday morning, back in the car. Did I mention all week long the weather had been FABULOUS. Around 75 degrees, sunny and NOT A CLOUD IN THE SKY!

We drove up to Westport in County Mayo, and tried to find lodging. NOTHING to be found. Finally, we took a twin bedroom at a tiny B&B with a bathroom the size of a pea. We walked around Westport, shopped a bit, had dinner at a lovely restaurant, and so to bed.

Far from the madding crowd

The next morning – dank and drear – we suited up to climb Croagh Patrick. This is a 4200′ elevation mountain which pilgrims – even today – climb barefoot. We were told NOT to climb it if the weather was bad. Since it wasn’t raining, we thought…we’ll give it a shot.

We got to the foot of the mountain, got our rain jackets and hoods on just in case, buckled up our backpacks, took about 100 steps…and it started to rain. Two fellows just then came down from the mountain. “Are you girls going up,” they asked. We told them we thought probably not, since the sign said: DO NOT CLIMB MOUNTAIN IN RAIN OR MIST. And we thought, well, maybe it had a point!

“Yeah,” said one of the men (both of whom were actually from Seattle). “The wind gusts at the top of the ridge are around 50 mph, and it’s starting to pour down. You’d be wise not to attempt it.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, BACK EAST TO DUBLIN

That put the crimp in the climb. So back into the car. We decided at that point, it was back to Dublin for us. We booked in at Number 31 a day early, I drove back cross country to Dublin, we got lost in Dublin itself, but finally found Hertz, turned in our rent car, and took a taxi to Number 31.

Number 31

Then (again) it was out to find food…we ate once more at the Elephant and Castle. Wonderful! After which we took a little walk along the Liffey..

The next morning we decided to heck with it, we were just going to shop. So shop we did…I do love to shop, and we dined at lunch at a beautiful in-store restaurant which had scrumptious salads…yummy, delish.  After which, stopped at the Bobbie Brown counter to buy eyeliner, blush and lipstick to the tune of 70 euros. And I don’t like the eyeliner! (but I love the rest!)

After a day of shopping, I finally bought my tweed jacket. I love it (but when I tried it on back home, I realized I’d lost weight and it is rather big. Must find a tailor!) Anyway, we made it back to Number 31, I packed my bags for the next morning, and we crashed.

Up at 6AM, got dressed, hugged Diane goodbye, got in the taxi, and then it was back to Houston. What a long flight that seemed to be. I was never so glad to see Houston’s flat terra firma – but only because I’m not crazy about long plane flights.

But Ireland…if you are looking for mystical magic on a hike…Ireland will suit in every way. Mysterious and brooding, green and beautiful…a land never to be forgotten.

Hiking in England: From the deep country to St. Michael’s Mount and The Sign of the Angel

A field outside Lacock

Heading for the Cotswolds

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” 

I’ve wanted to hike over England’s cliffs and fields for years – full days of hiking (but ending up in a bed with a bathroom – no camping for me!) in some of the most beautiful countryside on the face of the earth. I was lucky to find a friend who also wanted to spend time hiking the back roads and cliffs of Cornwall (which I had visited before) as well as revisit the Cotswolds. I had never been to the Cotswolds and Diane knew it well. So off we set….

I arrived at Gatwick right on time, and Diane waved madly across the baggage. Our first stop was the Cotswolds. We picked up the rental car, and we were on our merry way to Broadway, a beautiful small town full of atmosphere and charm. On the other side of Broadway in Wilversey, we found Lowerfield Farm, surrounded by quiet fields and country roads. It was a pretty, yellow-painted, two story stone farmhouse, with an appealing landscaped garden. Diane and I were so tired and cold when we arrived, we asked our hostess if we could get some heat turned on – but we forgot we were in England….she looked rather taken aback, saying “We don’t turn on the heat until late September!”

The bathroom had a marvelous deep tub – great for warming up. After a good soak, I climbed into bed and fell fast asleep. At 4PM, awake and ready to eat, we drove into Broadway. The overcast skies had cleared, and the sun appeared. We rambled down the street, peering into every shop window – all of which could have been lifted en toto from Dickens – all the golden Cotswolds stone – all hung with ivy and other vines, and surrounded by blooming flowers, from lavendar to double headed pink and purple petunias to bright red geraniums. Broadway is a charming town, full of atmosphere. The people are delightful- and it was not busy (at that time of year, anyway.)

A view from a bridge

A tiny pub and restaurant called The Horse & Hounds looked inviting, and a young Polish waiter with a long brown ponytail waited on us; he was very sweet. Diane and I shared a bruschetta dish (yummy), then it was on to pasta primavera, finishing off with strawberries and cream (me) and strawberries and custard (Diane)- absolutely wonderfully delicious. Unfortunately, we forgot to tip our delightful waiter…

Back at Lowerfield Farm, we found our hosts had turned on the central heat – just for us (primarily me, being a cold-blooded type). Diane planned out our Cotswold Walks – and we were once again in our beds, all warm and cosy for the night with the green fields of the Cotswolds and a profound country silence surrounding us. Note: We had an explosive toilet….

Lowerfield Farm, a view from the window the morning of the hunt

We view the hunt 

Up at 7:30, we prepared for breakfast at 8:30: Muesli, cream, coffee, pears from the garden, yoghurt and hot chocolate! Thank the lord we were hiking! As we were in the middle of breakfast, a hunt came through: we saw the masters of the hunt in their brilliant red coats, and the rest dressed in hunting green, with about 20 hounds sprawling across the front lawn. The horses were beautiful! Our next-table neighbors were three delightful ladies, who bussed in from another Cotswolds town for a few days’ vacation. They told us they spent the night baking in their rooms – someone had turned on the heat! We kept silent.

 Bibury, the Swan Hotel, Burford and the Windrush 

In Bibury

After breakfast we drove to Bibury to begin our first hike – Bibury is a beautiful little Cotswolds village with a river running through it. I was so nervous about driving on the left hand side, not to mention fielding the roundabouts. But we made it to the parking lot, and began our 6 mile walk through completely entrancing countryside – small woods, rolling hills, tiny streams. The weather was  incredible: blue skies, sunshine, warm – we started off in jackets, ended up in t-shirts. This walk took about 2-l/2 hours.

Another Bibury view

It took us back into Bibury by a different footpath, where we had lunch at The Swan Hotel, an historic old ivy-covered hotel overlooking the river. Diane had carrot soup, I had chicken tikka and chips! After this repaste, we drove to Burford to begin our second hike, which took about three hours. All told, we hiked about twelve miles today – nice!

Walking through fields of golden wheat

This particular hike was through fields of wheat cut for the winter – the imagery was gorgeous…then it’s back roads, and copses, til we reached a narrow river called the Windrush, where we saw enchanting white swans.

A swan on the Windrush

We walked through companies of cows, sheaves of sheep, and pheasants galore! Then it’s on to Stowe-on-the Wolde, where we had a light dinner (salads with feta cheese and lots of ciabatta bread…)

The Swan Hotel in Bibury

It was dark by this time, so back to Lowerfield Farm. The Cotswolds are beautiful, beautiful. I love Broadway and Bibury – small and lovely iconic English villages. But I felt really tired  — stress and jet lag catching up with me!

Stanton, Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland and Laverton

Hiking to Stanton

We were up at 7:30 as usual, and had a big breakfast: Muesli, egg and bacon, coffee. Then it’s on the road for a short drive to Stanton, which is (yet another) charming little village. First a word about the weather: it continued to astonish us how incredibly gorgeous it was. The skies had drifts of a few white clouds but the sun was shining madly, and it was 80 degrees. Everyone we met was delighted with the continuous sunshine. It was so refreshing; keeping it “hikeable” was a lovely crisp breeze. At night, the sky was clear as a bell, and the moon a harvest moon, immense and golden in the black Cotswolds sky.

An old English church graveyard

Anyway: we drove to Stanton and parked the car, preparatory for our hike from Stanton to Stanway, Snowshill, Buckland, inadvertently through Laverton and then back to Stanton. I thought Broadway delightful, but for me, these towns are the real thing! What a lovely, lovely hike. We started before 10AM, and finished around 4PM.

Laverton

Stanton is a completely charming town, and Laverton is absolutely gorgeous: Cotswolds cottages built of the sunny Cotswold stone, beautiful gardens, surrounded by the rolling hills and farmlands of the country.

On the first leg of our hike, we met a group of about twenty men and women, approximately our ages, led by a local guide. She said the men loved to talk to us “young sprigs” and we appreciated the sentiment! This is the leg of the hike that led up the steepest hill for about 30 minutes, and left me breathing hard (it wasn’t that high – I’m such a wuss). When we arrived at the top, the whole of the Cotswolds lay before us. Pictures I have seen cannot begin to describe the beauty.

Somewhere in the Cotswolds

We then hiked along a part of the Cotswolds Way, through fields, woods, over many stiles and through many gates. We walked through the enchanting village of Snowshill (in which I will actually stay a few years later) -a Cotswolds gem of a village, tiny and seemingly untouched by tourism: lovely architecture, picturesque homes dripping with flowers and beautifully and personally landscaped. Our companions left us in Snowshill, where they stopped to picnic in the old church graveyard, while Diane and I had a pub lunch – ploughman’s (cheese, bread, pickles). The sun continued to shine as we continued over hill and dale.

On a downward trek, we met a delightful woman named Maury who was in training for a hike for a cancer group, along the Great Wall of China. We had a fun conversation for half an hour, then she wound her way to somewhere else, and we continued through the fields to Stanton. We hoped. We weren’t sure where we were parked, so we walked the town and finally asked a friendly old man sitting on a bench beneath a tree: “Where are we?”

It turns out we were actually in Laverton — NOT Stanton — and were given straightforward directions to a stile around a corner down a street, then turning back into the fields at a tree. Hmm. (Laverton is another village that is a step back in time —  totally free of tourists — except us — no crowds, etc.)

We came to Stanton’s church spire, wound back through a farm, and found our car parked at the Cricket Club, where a match was taking place. Fun to watch, incomprehensible to figure out! But so nice to see those cricket whites once again.

From the top of the Broadway Folly you can get 360 degree view of the Cotswolds

Back in the car, Diane drove to the Broadway Folly, situated atop a hill, from which we got an astounding view 360 degrees of the Cotswolds. Fabulous!

Then it was back to our B&B, where we freshened up and drove to Chipping Camden for dinner and a quick walk down the main street. Great conversation at dinner, despite the fact that Diane is a Republican and I a Democrat! Then it was back to Lowerfield Farm, and so to bed. We were definitely hoping for more of this supremely gorgeous weather tomorrow, as this would be our longest hike.

Lower Slaughter, Naunton, Bourton-on-the-Water

7:30 and we’re down to breakfast (the usual fabulous feast) and by 9-ish, we were on the road for Bourton-on-the-Water, where we began our hike (about ten miles round trip, longer with side trips). We hiked through prosperous-looking farms, over farmland, through woods, besides rivers and streams – through Lower Slaughter.

On the way to Bourton-on-the-Water

A picnic lunch of crusty rolls, cheese and tomatoes in a field far from anywhere was a nice break. Then it was on to Upper Slaughter where we stopped in a pub for a drink – fabulous, incredible 80 degree weather.

Sky clear as glass. Then on to Naunton, across grassy ridges, through more woods and fields and eventually back to Bourton-on-the-Water.

Bourton-on-the-Water

The day was supremely beautiful. Why I even bothered carrying a rain jacket in my backpack I don’t know. I was actually tanning! My arms were brown as a berry. Not that many people are out and about, surprisingly. We saw a few – a very few – on the trail, and they were all very pleasant.

The mists of time

Back at Lowerfield Farm. Richard, our host, was a delightful man. We only saw him in an apron serving us breakfast, but he was invariably chipper and friendly. His wife, Jane, on the other hand, was  very distant. Richard was all jolly hockey sticks, cheery and pip-pip. I liked that. What a really lovely four days. Beautiful weather, fascinating hikes where we saw the “real” Cotswolds – real back-in-time tiny hamlets that are truly “old England.”

Dartmoor and the Warren Hill Inn

A view of Dartmoor across from the Inn

We left Lowerfield Farm (sob) and drove to the M-5, all the way to Liskeard (I was driving.) We stopped off in Chudleigh for lunch, where Diane took over. From there, it was on to Dartmoor National Park. I loved it!! So wild and desolate and full of sheep and wild ponies. Beautiful. You could imagine Heathcliff and Cathy running across the heather.

Wild ponies on Dartmoor’s heath

The sun shone all day long.

At the top of the world in the middle of nowhere on a road through Dartmoor stands the Warren Hill Inn. Here we stopped for a drink. It was a little cool out on the moors, so a wood fire was burning in the fireplace, and it was a true old-timey pub atmosphere, deep and dark. We chatted for a while with a man from Bath (incredibly crusty accent) who was looking at properties to buy for leasing to visitors. He was extremely friendly – took our pictures without a murmur.

Diane and I in front of The Warren Hill Inn in the middle of Dartmoor

 Talland Bay – and Allhays

From Warren Hill, we drove down narrow, then narrower, then even narrower lanes with high hedgerows. Through tiny villages and hamlets we drove and through some of the loveliest countryside (Dorset) which is every bit as delightful as the Cotswolds. We drove all the way to Looe, and then found Allhays on Talland Bay.

Beautiful Allhays B&B in Talland Bay

Allhays was a very lovely B&B off the beaten path <and I am very sorry to say it has since closed>. Situated on Talland Bay, between Looe and Polperro, its cream-colored stone glowed in the late afternoon light, and its bushes were heavy with hydrangeas surrounding it. The interior living room (for guests) had two lovely cream colored, soft chenille sofas, and the whole house had the French touch, with patterned draperies, beautiful pictures, and the woodwork painted in heavy high gloss cream. The carpet was cream bordering on ecru up the stairs. Annie, (one of our hosts, and French), had placed a fresh yellow rose in our lovely bedroom on the second story. The bedroom overlooked the lawn in back which led to the view of the cliffs and then the sparkling sea.

Our bathroom was the size of a pea.

When we were ready for dinner, Diane could not find the car keys. After frantically checking the car and the trail back to our room, and looking under the bed, in her backpack and various pockets, they  turned up in her purse. And so it goes….

Onward to dinner in Polperro. Yum-o. (The loo had toilet seats of fish embedded in plastic.) Back in the car on the way back to Allhays, we missed the turn in the very dark road, drove all the way to Looe and back before we finally found Allhays. Talk about two tired girls…

A tiny Polperro lane

 Polperro – a real step back in time

We were up around 7:30 and had a traditional, and delicious, English breakfast in Allhays’ sunlit breakfast room. The room was nothing but windows which looked out onto the back “garden” and all the way over the cliffs to the sea. Incredible views. Breakfast included muesli, yoghurt, homemade bread and jams, etc. Mowgli joined us for breakfast. He wanted to join us in the bedroom last night, but as Diane said “it’s the cat or me!” I had to opt for sharing the room with her! Mowgli was a beautifully marked sealpoint Siamese, sleek as a whistle, and very loving. I didn’t want to put her out (especially as I love her name), but she seemed to settle down on the landing.

On the way to Polperro

This morning we set off on our hike to Polperro (two miles coastal). A fabulous walk – all downhill – along coastal beauty that is almost ethereal. We reached Polperro, and stocked up for lunch. Me: Cornish pasty, crusty roll (still uneaten), and a tomato.

Hiking the cliffs to Polperro

I had a banana in my backpack. Diane had grapes and a raisin scone. We wandered around Polperro, and I found the Noughts and Crosses Inn – still there after all these years! Jean and Toni (good friends of mine in Houston) honeymooned at this inn 60 years ago. We rambled around and window shopped, taking pictures of the harbor, the sun shining brightly on this attractive little fishing village.

The harbor at Polperro

Then we were off on our challenging cliff walk from Polperro, round the point, then up and over the fields. The sun was intense, and the sky was clear and deep blue, while the water seen down below was silver blue. Fairy tale.

Crumbling ruin in the middle of a field on the cliffs

We walked and walked and WALKED – mostly uphill – stairs and more stairs – up and up and UP! And then across fields, again uphill, past a deserted barn into a narrow lane, and then on the downhill road to Polperro. We had been walking since 10AM, and it was now 3 o’clock. I LOVED it.

I will never tire of hiking these marvelous cliffs

Back in Polperro, we stopped for a lemonade (why does the lemonade taste so much better here than at home?) and still had two miles left to go back to Allhays – all uphill and over the cliffs. The coast road back to Allhays is often a narrow lane banked by hedges of brambles, blackberries and ferns. All along the coast these hedges were alive with butterflies, fluttering everywhere, and the hum of the bees. We finally reached Allhays in time for a shower and then it was out to dinner. Our dinner lasted three hours – we talked non-stop. Then it was back to Allhays down the dark high hedge-lined lanes. We figure we’ve clocked in about 45-50 miles to date.

The back of Allhays seen from the breakfast nook

 Over the hills and far away: Fowey, Bodinnick, Polruan, Mevagissey

Woke up at 7:30 to another glorious day. The view from our bedroom window was stunning. Off we go after our muesli, yoghurt, granary bread (home baked), and Scotch pancakes, to drive to Fowey/Bodinnick, drop off the car and begin a hike around the coast (which is projected to take about three hours.) The cliff walk was not as challenging as yesterday’s, but it was just as beautiful, and a little cooler, although the sun continued to shine shine shine.

Fowey’s harbour

We walked narrow cliff paths rimmed with blackberry bushes, ferns and brambles; deep lanes lined high with hedgerows; past ancient churches; over fields and streams – the silver sea looked like a mirage –incredibly clear, incredibly beautiful under the sun, and stretching to the far blue horizon.

Over the hills…

We had eaten a good breakfast, and weren’t hungry, until we came back around through Polruan, where we stopped for a quick bite. It was very interesting and odd that we met yet again – for the third time – a man we had first met yesterday leaving Polperro for the long hike. We met him again on the way back to Polperro, and now again in Fowey…small world!

And far away…

Fowey (pronounced Foy) is a pretty town. Lots of people were out and about, as they were in Polperro, which is the quintessential fishermen’s village: houses hang from the cliffs, steep, steep lanes and roads everywhere, flower boxes on every possible wall, door, corner, eave, restaurant front – the ever-present sea breeze cooling us off – and the seagulls squawking. We were not supposed to feed the seagulls. They’re “dirty” and “dangerous” birds, according to one old-timer. One bird even had a “Wanted” poster – full face, left and right profile…

An incredible view of the bay

The Fowey/Polruan hike was wonderful – weather, sunshine, paths, views, length of hike and nice people everywhere. “Where are you from?” is the ubiquitous question. So many people had been to Florida or Texas. One man sitting on the bench atop the cliffwalk asked “What do the American people now think of Bush?”, and we ask about Blair (“Some question his honesty!”)

Fields like this are part of Cornwall’s charm

We caught the ferry back from Polruan to Fowey, and then another from Fowey to Bodinnick. Our car park was up an extremely steep road – took about half an hour to reach it. We then decided to take the ferry across to the road to Mevagissey, a supposedly beautiful Daphne Du Maurier haunt. I think she was born around there; there were certainly enough bookstores prominently displaying her books, her photographs and other memorabilia – but Mevagissey was such a letdown. It was tourism taken to the extreme, full of tacky shops and non-descript architecture, not in the least bit picturesque or attractive. And yet some literature noted it as “One of the prettiest villages in England!” Not!!

Even the architecture – houses and shops – was totally undistinguished. We walked around for half an hour, then got our car and drive back – in rush hour traffic – to the ferry, then we stopped to pick up some picnic items for dinner, and so back to our beautiful Allhays to pack.

Marazion and St. Michael’s Mount 

Up and away from Allhays by 9:30 (sob) after our usual yummy breakfast, which this time included stewed plums. The day was overcast – our first overcast day since arriving. We drove from Polperro to Penzance, another tourist mecca, down narrow high hedge-rowed lanes, trees arching overhead, ferns sprouting from the hedgerows. Once in Penzance, we found Tourist Information, and they found us a B&B overlooking Mount St. Michael. Not the best B&B, but two beds (very comfy) and a shower en-suite (important!)

The toilet in our bathroom was a cracker: you flushed, and it sounded much like a steam engine coming to boil … then it was a bang and a BANG BANG BANG CLATTER CLATTERCLATTERCLATTER!! Incredible. The noise seemed to go on for ages. And the tap over the sink also startled you out of your wits when you turned it on, causing another major BANG from the toilet.

From the sublime to the ridiculous! Actually, it was funny as hell. We couldn’t help laughing because it was so uniquely LOUD.

The ferry from Marazion to St Michael’s Mount

Anyway, we left the luggage and drove into Marazion, parked and took the ferry to St. Michael’s Mount. Filled with history, beautiful and eerie. We walked uphill to the top of the mount, and toured the castle and the grounds. The “docents” in the castle (for want of a better word) were charming and knowledgeable. One old gentleman, in talking about Lord and Lady Leven, impressed on us how delightful Lady Leven was (she had died unexpectedly at age 69). “Yes, madam always said ‘good morning’ and ‘isn’t it a lovely morning?’ when she came across us.”  In re-reading this, I think: How very Downton Abbey!

The road up to the castle

After exploring, we walked back down the (very very steep) hill to the causeway. By now, the tide was out and we were able to actually walk back to the mainland (Diane loved this! and so did I!)

The tide is out, enabling us to walk the causeway back to the mainland

Then it’s back to our odd little B&B. After some discussion, we decided to drive to Land’s End (at 5PM) for a quick 1-2 hour hike across the cliffs there.

First and last refreshment house in England - Land's End

First and last refreshment house in England – Land’s End

On reaching Land’s End, we quickly parked and walked through the tourist excrescence fronting the cliffs. There were one or two couples around, and it was very quiet and dim, heavy clouds scudding across the sky.

Dusk at Land’s End

We ambled across the slowly eroding cliffs for about 1-1/2 hours as the twilight deepened, and the wind blew, making it all very mysterious and atmospheric.

Hiking at Land’s End

We then drove back 12 miles to Marazion, leaving our car at the B&B, and walked to the King’s Arms for dinner (the dinner took 2 hours arriving!). Then back to our B&B and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, Lacock and Castle Combe!

Lacock’s main street

Lacock – at the Sign of the Angel – and Castle Combe 

We were up and out of the B&B in Marazion by 9, after a hearty breakfast (surprisingly good.) Then it was driving, driving and more driving. We drove through Glastonbury, but did not stop. This was not an attractive town! And this is twice I have visited areas fabled as the birthplace/resting place of King Arthur, and twice have been disappointed! The first was Tintagel, now it was Glastonbury…maybe it’s me. Nonetheless, we have driven through beautiful country, and we were now in Wiltshire, just coming into Lacock, around 5PM. This is where “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed (is there any other Mr. Darcy than Colin Firth? I think not.)

The Sign of the Angel in Lacock

What an exquisite little town! It’s fifteenth century, and owned by the National Trust. We were lucky enough to get two rooms in The Sign of the Angel, where we ducked down through the doors, and where the floors all sloped. The rooms were enchanting, and as no twin bedded-room was available we opted to each have our own room. Both were en-suite, with big bathtubs to wallow in, which we did! My room was painted deep pink, with burgundy carpet, white iron queen sized bed, feather pillows and bolsters, old antique furniture – and somewhere, there was a resident ghost! It said so on the little marquee in the old hallway.

The George pub and inn in Lacock

This afternoon, the sun was back out and after wandering around the town (which takes about 5 minutes), Diane and I bought English newspapers and took them to the adorable little pub, The George. The door was open wide and inside it was everything a pub should be – and more. I ordered a cuppa, and Diane an apple cider, and we sat in a corner and I read the Guardian – so very civilized and literary as we were. I loved this place.

The small restaurant at Sign of the Angel

Next was dinner. Downstairs was the Angel’s unbelievably charming dining room – the food is fabulous – salads, baked goat cheese on toasted olive bread, wonderful veggies, crusty rolls and deep yellow butter. (I have eaten far more on this trip than I would ever eat at home – I hope! But then – we are hiking. Excuses, excuses…)

After dinner, Diane and I walked down the tiny lamplit streets under a clear black velvet night sky full of stars (I am sure she wishes Robert were there instead of just me…)

Lacock’s charming houses

The windows in several houses were uncurtained and we were able to look into the glowing small yellow-lit living rooms and dining rooms of these ancient homes built in the time of Shakespeare.

Then we packed for the drive back to Gatwick tomorrow, (after we see Castle Combe) and I’m sitting up against my feather bolsters finishing my journal (more or less.) I have seen and done much – Diane has really pushed me to do more than I even conceived of– and I am so grateful. It has been really wonderful, and I’ve learned so much about England. It is good to know there are still the ancient towns, the footpaths (all 1,500 of them) and back roads, the hedgerows, stiles and kissing gates on this jolly old island.

Castle Combe

Up early to breakfast downstairs… We had porridge with brown sugar and cream! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven (there’s the sign, you see.) We were also offered fresh raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and a hot breakfast.

It was a misty morning as we left Lacock for Castle Combe. We took a wrong turn somewhere, but managed to eventually find the road, passing through towns called Tiddleywinks and Shepton Mallet, to yet another entrancing small village. We parked in the car park, and walked down a steep hill right into Jane Austen country.

An early morning walk in Castle Combe

Beautiful (for want of a better word) tiny stone and brick homes and shops framed in ivy, or flowering or berried vines. We wandered about the town in a happy daze, then began our hike through the surrounding countryside. The morning mist slowly began to burn away with the sun eventually breaking through, and the day clears as we walked in quiet woods where beech leaves dropped to the ground, sounding like the patter of tiny feet following us.

A walk around Castle Combe

Across fields and climbing over stiles and gates and crossing streams, we managed to again get lost! We finally found the main road behind a farm, and wound up at Castle Combe, where we stopped at a most adorable little pub for a quick drink. Then we rambled around a delightful tiny shop that has the most perfect things: pictures, objets, pottery, photography — all so beautiful, you wanted to buy out the shop. I didn’t (surprise!) but Diane made some inroads…

Lunch at the Castle Inn Hotel – more cheese

Then it was back to our lovely elegant pub for a quick lunch. We sat outside in the sunshine, watching as about 30 Japanese wandered into town. Moments later, about 15 bikers zoomed in and parked in the square. Even here, time doesn’t stand still….

And as it moves on,  we had to begin thinking of getting on our way. We walked back up the hill to the car park, the sun by now shining so brilliantly, it was intensely hot. And then it was on the road to our hotel at Gatwick, a quick bath and dinner, and so to bed. We had to be ready at 7AM to catch the hotel bus to the airport by 9AM. We have seen so many beautiful, traditional, wonderful sights on this trip — been transported back to a quieter, cozier and less frenetic time…

People tell me old England, the backroads and coastal towns, are disappearing or changing beyond recognition. Maybe so…but not for me. On this hike, England was everything – and more – that I hoped it would be. I love England…I always will.

Hiking New Hampshire, and the beauty of the White Mountains

This was a brief few days of hiking in July…it was challenging and satisfying. Our group consisted of 8 women and two guides; some of the women had not been on a group hike before, some were looking for people to travel with, and some, like me, just wanted to hike! Our little group consisted of our guides Jan and Ruthie; Anni, Australian from Brisbane; Rebecca from Canada; Ann, Cindy (whose room I stole), Deb, Susan, Debbie and me.

Sunday

Deb drove Susan (who’d never been on a group hike) and me to the starting point, which we needed to reach by noon. We got to the White Mountains Visitor Center in Lincoln, NH off the Kancamagus Highway (try saying that very quickly) where we had a quick picnic lunch.

The Zealand Falls, Susan in background

After picking up the condo keys from Loon Reservations (love that name), we all drive to drop off various and sundry cars at the condos/lodges – then beaver on to the first hike of the trip – to Upper Greely Pond, where we experience the variability of the trail… rocky granite paths and leaf-lined walks…of the mountains.

The weather is glorious…warm, dry, cool breeze, vivid blue skies…perfect for hiking (around 3.5 miles round trip). We hiked over rocks, streams, tree roots, marshy ground – seeing all kinds of flora and fauna. The trail was beautiful: between the trees are moss-covered boulders that make me think of Wales, where I lived when I was a child (at the base of a mountain).  Ferns lined the trail, and lichen covered trees and rocks. The air smelled of pine as we climbed upward to Greely’s Pond, where Susan was the only one to take a dip in the chilly waters.

Our merry band!

Our merry band!

The sun was intense and very soporific. After Susan’s swim and various snacks all round, we hiked back down the trail…I have to say my feet were feeling it by the time we got to the car and back to the condos. The condos are set back in the woods…pretty (although they don’t match up to the lodge we stayed at in the Smokies last year.) But Jan is great…it’s super having her as our guide again. She and Ruthie prepared a wonderful meal in the condo, and after a long discussion about upcoming hikes, I was pooped – and so to bed to be ready to get on the trail by 9AM tomorrow.

Monday: Leave no footprint

On the AT

On the AT

A really long day – up at 7 – breakfast at 8 – leave at 9. We all drive to the beginning of the hike 45 minutes away – only to find we’ve left Cindy behind at the condos!! Once it’s decided that she is NOT in the bathroom, or hiking on her own, Ruthie pops back in the van to go get her, and we all commence on our hike on the Zealand Falls trail. A glorious hike through forests and past marshes, alongside the Zealand River.  We see beaver dams, waterfalls, beautiful ponds, serene woods, blue sky, fluffy white clouds…manna for the soul.

Everywhere you look...great beauty

Everywhere you look…great beauty

During this hike, we actually get onto the Appalachian Trail, and are hiking to one of the AMC huts which has an amazing view from the rocky crags surrounding the waterfall. The vistas all around us are breathtaking…so much green and blue, you want to kiss the ground for the pleasure of knowing these places still exist in the world.

The last stretch of this hike is boulders, boulders, boulders…huge and challenging. Here we take a break for lunch, scattering ourselves over the boulders and enjoying the breeze.

A trail of boulders

A trail of boulders

At this point, Cindy and Ruthie arrive…Cindy barely has time to sit down before it’s time to leave, back down from whence we came. The overall round trip hike came to about 6 miles (although going uphill, a mile seems like much more than…a mile!)

After this hike, we piled in the vans and drove to the beautiful and historic Mount Washington Lodge – historic because in 1944 it hosted 44 nations at the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference, where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were established, with the US dollar designated the basis of international exchange.

Walking up to Mt Washington Lodge for lemonade

Walking up to Mt Washington Lodge for lemonade

This lodge is absolutely gorgeous…the hotel, the grounds and the views…perfection. We sat on the veranda or in Adirondack chairs on the lawn overlooking the mountains beyond, drank our lemonade and thought ourselves some of the luckiest people on earth.

View from back of Mt Washington Lodge

View from back of Mt Washington Lodge

Then it was back to our condos for a home-cooked dinner (barbecued pork chops, salad, chocolate)…and I had my usual one beer. Tomorrow we leave earlier than usual…and so , to bed.

Tuesday: Make sure to have super-high spf sunblock

On the Saco River

On the Saco River

Good breakfast at 7:30 and we are out the door by 8:30, on the way to the Saco River for a day of canoe-ing and kayaking.  Four canoes are booked, two kayaks. Deb and I hope to partner in one of the canoes – NOT the greatest idea in the world, as we keep driving the canoe into sandbanks. So Deb and Jan exchange places, and we’re finally on our merry way.

Just before I got overturned!

Just before I got overturned!

We paddled down the peaceful river for about an hour…all was quiet except for birdsong and the trees as the breeze rustled through.  The river is clear as a bell…the bottom lined with boulders and flat rocks…just purely beautiful. We come to a sandy shore for snacks, and for some, swimming. I’m very covered up as the sun is really intense, although not unpleasantly so…I’m slathered with 50 spf suncream, and it seems to work well. (I remember in Utah not being so smart, and as I was wearing shorts, my lower legs burned to a crisp.)

A peaceful moment on the Saco

Time to return to the canoes – Jan and I crawl in, and then, somehow, we locked our canoe with another – and the next thing, we’re both in the water…soaked. My camera was encased in a waterproof pack – the only thing not soaked through.

Onward we paddled for another hour…another break…then we arrived at the dock, at 3:15. Unloaded everything, and then we all piled on the bus, back to town, where we stopped at an ice cream shop for a cone and a rest. The ice cream was yum-o (me? I had traditional chocolate chip…) Then it was back to the condos, quick clean up, nice meal cooked by Jan and Ruthie…and so to bed. Heavy duty hike tomorrow!

Wednesday: Duct tape and poles

This was the most difficult hike of all for me. We left the condos around 9AM – usual hearty breakfast, pack our lunches…and drive an hour to the start of the Welch-Dickey hike in the Waterville Valley (Welch and Dickey are actually two mountains), where we will achieve two summits. Jan wrapped my and Ann’s toes in duct tape – worked super-well to prevent blistering or cutting. I came without poles – will never do that again on a hike of this nature!

The start of the Welch-Dickey hike

The start of the Welch-Dickey hike

The hike was uphill all the way to Welch’s peak (no little flat places to take a breather) – not high, but strenuous…with much of it “scrambling” or climbing over humongous granite boulders to the very top. Who knew I could do this!

Movin' on up

Movin’ on up

I take it easy up this trail so as not to wear myself out (recommendation from Jan – sounded good to me), but Jan and Rebecca hang in with me, which I much appreciated. At the summit, I gracefully tripped on a tree root, went down on my knees on soft trail with a splat. But nothing to really write home about (although I hate falling).

Scrambling!

Scrambling!

The trail from base to peak was a mixture, actually, beginning with fir-lined paths with a few rocks and boulders…then climbing steadily upward to the huge monoliths halfway up Welch. We took a few breaks for lunch, snacks, water and photography.

I was sweating hard by the time I reached the peak…but the views, absolutely incredible!

O happy day calloo callay she chortled in her joy

Looking down from our viewpoint atop granite, across the valleys filled with firs, maples, birches and other trees, to mountains ranged along our field of vision…and the vast sky overhead…all is so still and peaceful. Of course, if you happened to fall off the granite, it was a loooong way down. Must try not to do that!Looking across the mountains and valley

Looking across the valley to Welch Mountain from Dickey

After stopping a few minutes on Welch, we headed down and onward to Dickey’s summit, about 1800 feet, all in all.

The White Mountains

The White Mountains

Then it was back onto the trail, heading downwards…lovely, even with gigantic boulders, I loved it, partly because I enjoy hiking down which is definitely easier for me to negotiate, and it’s also very pleasant for my toes. It must have been in the mid-80s today, and the weather all week long has been so perfect, you couldn’t order anything better. In the 50s/60s at night, and high 70s/low 80s during the day…ruffly white clouds, deep blue sky…

Heading homeward

Heading homeward

Our hike round trip: around 4 miles. We made it in just about 6 hours. (As I think Bill Bryson said, and I concur: A mile in the mountains is not just a mile!)

Now we’re back in the condos, and most of the group has gone to the Bathtub for a quick swim. Then it’s on to the Gypsy Café for our farewell dinner…the food there is fabulous!

Thursday

Peace and love...courtesy of Ringo Starr

Peace and love…courtesy of Ringo Starr

Up and out of the condos, packed and ready to go by 9. One more short hike, at the Flume Gorge, about 800 feet long from the base of Mount Liberty. The granite walls rise to 70/90 feet and are studded with ferns and tiny vines and flowers, while the water drips everywhere…we take a 2-mile walk over boardwalks and gravel. Lots of people visiting, whereas on previous trails, very few.

Cindy kissing a moose goodbye

Cindy kissing a moose goodbye

A quick lunch, and it’s time to say goodbye. After great conversations, good food and drink, the incredible beauty of the wilderness…I am ready to go home and mull over all the experiences. Back to civilization, back to real life.

Just want to add a couple of books that I highly recommend: Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” – so funny and a terrific source of information about the AT. And “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed – I loved this book about her hiking the PCT, the reasons why she did it, and what she found out about herself at the end of it all. Couldn’t put it down.

Hiking in Crete to the song of the goatbells

 

Ro on the steps in Prevali

Note: This adventure took place in May 2001 – a few months before 9/11, and many years before Greece’s financial meltdown. The times, they are a-changing.

When I was much younger, I read a series of Mary Stewart books…”Bull from the Sea”, “The King Must Die,” but the one that really fired my imagination was “My Brother Michael,” set in the 1950s. The descriptions of Greece… the sound of goatbells in the air, the whitewashed houses, blue Aegean Sea, and sunswept mountains and gorges…all made me long to travel there. The time had come. Meeting a girlfriend, I was on my way to Crete by way of Athens by way of Paris.

Traveling to Chania

We landed in Athens, and a slight Marx Bros. comedy ensued, wherein we found our seats from Athens to Chania to be arbitrarily cancelled. Lucky enough to rebook immediately, we decided we’d better confirm our flight back to Athens at the end of the trip, and were told to go to Olympic Air Sales. Unfortunately, Olympic Air Sales didn’t want to confirm our return….the man behind the desk kept telling us “too soon, too soon” before we were able to make him understand that we just wanted to ensure our names were in the computer.

With these slight problems, we thought it might be well to reconfirm our return flight to Houston. Finding the Information counter, we were told that the counter was NOT Information (despite the sign). Could anyone behind the counter help us? No…because there was no-one working there – three people to the contrary. We found another Information counter, but no Continental or Air France counters were apparently anywhere in the airport. While all the above was going on, people kept jumping in line, butting in ahead of us to the irritation of one traveller – much loud shouting ensued!

A street in Chania

Finally, Chania! At the airport, we met up with Joanne and Eileen, fellow travelers in our small band. We piled into taxis to Hotel Dorma – a charming four story hotel in downtown Chania (pronounced Hania, as if clearing one’s throat) on the coast of the Sea of Crete in the Aegean. Our room overlooked the sea, and was clean and light-filled. Two twin beds, a chair, bedside tables with lamps, and a rush-seated stool and optional similar chair. Hardwood floors. The bathroom had a shower, no bath. Note: we are the only ones with a shower curtain (not that it matters, as we soaked the room every time we turned on the shower.)

After a short rest, four of us from the group, Joanne, Eileen, Elisa and I, walked in the moonlight down a tiny, dark, deserted street to a restaurant on the beach. Passing an office on the road “below-ground”, we looked into the lighted room where two men were sitting discussing business into the wee hours. Like something from a stage setting – this golden block of light set against the darkness of the night.

Our restaurant was built on a slight promontory overlooking crystal clear water. Tables dotted about the sand. The moon was a great silver-gold globe in the sky, and boulders in the water were reflected white against the inky blue. Platters of food were carried to us from the kitchen. The moonshine was brilliant, the water lapped the rocks jutting from the bay, and then there were…the cats. Many cats. I put most of my food down for them. As we left around 11 PM, however, Eileen pointed out that the restaurant had put a bowl of fish parts and a big bowl of water down for the cats and possibly a stray dog I noticed on the way in. Relief.

While we were finishing our dinner, more and more people arrived, as 11 PM is dinnertime for most people on Crete…

Chania

Awoke around 8:30. Elisa wore a night mask – knew nothing! Once we both come to, we walked to the third floor of our hotel for breakfast – wonderful! Brown fresh crusty bread, butter and soft cheese, heavy marmalade, cornflakes and yoghurt, wonderful coffee with hot milk, and and fresh orange juice – sweeter and more taste-intensive than any other I’ve tasted. Omigosh – I’m hungry just reading this!

An exquisite pastiche

Elisa and I strolled for half an hour along Chania’s sea front. What wonderful views from the charming outdoor cafes dotting the water’s edge. You could sit and watch the sea all day and all night. The water was crystal, clear as a bell…beauty everywhere we looked.

Back to the Dorma just before noon. We met Yannis, our guide who lives on Crete (also known as Kriti to the islanders) and who was a dentist in “real life.” Off we went with Eileen, Joanne and Yannis back along the front. As we wandered all over town (never far from the water), we viewed Venetian walls and castles, an abandoned Muslim mosque now a museum, the Chania lighthouse, Turkish castles…finally stopping for lunch in a small outdoor cafe, where we ate Greek salads, and more of that wonderful brown bread. For the first time I had frappe meh gala (iced coffee fluffed with milk…manna!)

Bougainvillea blossoms Chania

After the break, we started off again – checking out old ruins, wandering down tiny alleyways filled with flowers – the bougainvillea is incredible – walls dripped with blossoms of crimson and mauve. Red and lilac geraniums, red and yellow poppies, masses of white daisies – all were out in abundance, planted in terra cotta pots, old tin cans, or just scattered in the grass or over walls.

Before we shopped, we stopped for a drink at a rooftop cafe. Along with the drinks, I ordered baklava which was wonderful – huge! We sat and talked for an hour or two – never hassled by waiters. From our vantage point on the rooftop, we looked over the waterfront to the sea -the sun was shining and it felt like very heaven. Finally, reluctantly, we flagged down our waitress (very laissez faire about getting us the check) – then walked to the shops in Old Town.

Chania’s Old Town is charming and quaint. Narrow cobbled streets were filled with tiny shops holding all sorts of wonderful pottery, jewelry and the ubiquitous postcards. I bought some marvelous Greek calendars – pictures so vivid they jumped off the page. I also bought a beautifully-shaped vase in the wonderful blue that is Greece. Elisa and Joanne bought worry beads (no need for those here).

Atter which, we wandered back along the waterfront to the hotel, arriving around 6:30. Dinner was at 8, early for Yannis, and anyone else who lives on Kriti. A more perfect day couldn’t be imagined.

Dinner in Chania

Downstairs in the sitting room are two more of our hiking group, Gina and Theresa. Together in the gathering dusk, we walk the mile and a half along the coast – the sky turns a particularly vivid and inky shade of blue; stars are reflected in the Sea of Crete. Back through Old Town, past the Venetian and Byzantine ruins – we walk to one of the most original and beautiful restaurants I’ve ever seen in my life.

Up stone steps, through a Venetian archway, to a table under a wide canopy of vivid deep pink bougainvillea.

The restaurant’s walls are stone, its ceiling – sky and flowers. The walls end in jagged ruin, and vines twine over them. Through the canopy of bougainvillea, in the deep inky blue of the sky, a brilliant full moon is shining – it looks like hammered silver. We are early; very few people are here. The atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. Greek music plays in the background. Yannis is joined by two of his friends, and we spend a little time getting to know one another.

The chef greets us at table, and Yannis orders our meal: dolmades, tzatziki, cheese pies, grilled mushrooms, baked potato with soft cheese – these are just a few of the hors d’ouvres. Everyone drinks wine, except for me – I order Mythos, the Greek beer.

Then comes the main course – a special dish the chef had copied from an old Minoan recipe seen in a museum: pork loin flavored with spices and herbs baked for eight hours in a clay dish molded to the pork. The clay is broken to serve the meat, and it tastes like heaven on a plate.

After dinner, we are brought raki {not only an after dinner drink, but also apparently a chest rub), and two plates of fruits such as sliced bananas, figs and strawberries, with grated nuts atop and drizzled with honey mixed with yoghurt. Unbelievable!

As we sit eating our dessert and drinking raki, a wind from the sea begins to blow: as it strengthens, it loosens bougainvillea petals from the vines, scattering them across the floor and tablecloths. Through it all, we eat, drink and talk, until Joanne reminds us we have breakfast at 7:30AM! That brings us to our feet, although Yannis and his two friends remain at the table; the night has only just begun for them.

This is one of the most memorable and magical meals I have ever eaten in my life – I have a hard time believing how incredible this all is! The night air, the color of the sky, the waterfront, the brilliant moon and stars, the scent of flowers – and the wonderful food and company…sensory overload!

As we walk back, Crete embraces you: the seemingly endless waterfront is filled with wall-to-wall outdoor cafes – peopled with young and old, drinking, eating, laughing – full-blooded life! What a night!

Polyrinnia Gorge and Polymeria

This is our first “real” hike day. After another splendid breakfast of brown bread, plum and marmalade jams, hot milky coffee, fresh orange juice and that marvelous yoghurt, we board the bus, (including Yannis’s two friends), to make the hour’s ride to the top of Polyrinnia Gorge.

We drive through achingly beautiful country – mountainous, deserted, and windy. Some hillsides are terraced, olive trees are everywhere.

We reach the top of the gorge – the plan being to hike down and through it. As we stride along, we gaze through mountain passes, and ramble by bright yellow bushes of gorse, banks of daisies – what seem like fields of daisies! – red poppies, heads bending in the wind, yellow celandine, purple thistle, orange trees with fruit ripening on their branches, plane trees, and of course, the olive, often in flower.

Could I be any happier?

At first we stop often as Yannis explains some herb or plant, such as the yellow sage and poison onion.

Then the rhythm of the hike takes hold. Vangelis and I disappear ahead for a while; it is wonderful to hike swiftly over these trails, rocky in some parts, grassy or sandy in others. It is, however, a little disconcerting when Vangelis sends up a few yodels to the vultures flying high above – when I ask him if there is a meaning to this call, he replies basically he is just telling them “we’re not dead yet!”

At the hike’s end, we pile into a green flatbed truck and truck to the base of the “Acropolis”, a small mountain we hike in half an hour. The mountain is covered with wildflowers, and the mountain trail is bordered by showers of small, golden but many-branched blossoms. When we reach the peak, in what we would call “gale-type” winds in Houston, with the sun intermittently shining, we can see 360° around the isle of Crete. Seas, mountains, valleys and the rich colors of the flowers and trees are everywhere we look – very, very beautiful.

Atop a boulder in Kriti’s highlands

We pass a small Greek Orthodox church placed at seeming random on the side of the mountain – snowy white without, immaculately clean within. Standing inside, the spirituality of Crete takes you out of yourself and to another plane.Then it’s back out into sunshine and down to the little taverna where we eat another wonderful meal: rice in butter, grilled chicken, Greek fried potatoes, Greek salad – and soft cheese pies soaked in honey. Yikes! And then of course, the raki! (Darned good thing we’re hiking!)

After lunch, we head to the tiny town of Polymeria, with its whitewashed houses banded with blue shutters and doors, stair-stepping down the hillside. Literally covered with double-headed geraniums, one small house is a color-soaked painting against the Greek blue sky. An unbelievable adventure.

Then, back to the bus and back to Chania to get – hopefully – a hot shower. This morning’s shower was pretty chilly- Elisa almost shrieked when she turned it on! A note about these showers: all are hand-held, and it’s an adventure in itself to:

  • Turn on the shower,
  • Hold the handle between your knees,
  • Soap up,
  • And soak the bathroom floor and walls as you try to get a grip with soapy hands to rinse yourself off!

The White Mountains Museum and The Mirovolos

While we are all tired from the fresh air and hike, around 8 o’clock we return to the waterfront in the dusk to walk to the White Mountains Museum with its display of Greek artifacts and photographs and icons of events and happenings in World War II and other times.

After which, we walk further still until – off a side street we come to a Greek taverna, The Mirovolos, in Old Town. Music spills into the night air, two men play guitar and bouzouki, singing romantic Greek songs. Yannis sings along. The high point occurs when a young girl joins the two performers. She has the most wonderful voice – evocative and poignant – the atmosphere becomes drenched in deep beautiful folk music. Her voice is magic.

Another table full of wonderful food, which I think now I could go on eating forever (as long as I hike 20 miles a day.) Tzatziki, Greek salad, some wonderful crispy vegetable chips deep fried in olive oil, the fabulous crusty Greek bread, and so forth…finished off with (as usual) raki.

We all walk our usual brisk walk back to the hotel. Now it is 1 AM, and we arise at 7. And so to bed.

Myloi Gorge, Ksiro Horio and Rethymno

Although the vote is tied this morning as to where and how long we shall hike, Yannis breaks the tie and opts for a shorter ramble through the Myloi Gorge to a tiny town called Ksiro Horio (Dry Town) and then to Rethymno for lunch.

Before leaving Chania, we stop at the Covered Market to look around. Elisa, Joanne and I need the bathroom, as usual. Pointed by Yannis to what we think is the WC, we all barrel down a flight of stairs directly into the wide open spaces of the men’s room – with a row of urinals and one lonely man unzipping! Our turn in unison is worthy of Esther Williams and her water ballet choreography.

We drive on to the gorge, arriving around 10, and hike until 2PM. The gorge is beautiful: perhaps one of the greenest parts of Crete. Down a trail sometimes banded with ivy, we hike over rocks and pebbles, crossing many crystal clear streams in the heart of the gorge. Mid-hike, we come to an abandoned village, houses with walls two feet thick, crumbling and vine-covered…a leap back into the past, although we note some reconstruction work going on.

Reconstructing an old village deep in green countryside

It is so very green here, with splashes of ochre red at intervals on the face of the gorge. Flowers sprout from rocks; birds are singing. The sun is shining, filtering green light through the vines. Plane trees, olive, cedar, fir and oak trees are everywhere, as are the trailing vines. We are in a lost kingdom of some leafy green people. Flowers star the pathways, as we go down, and down, and down.

On the road to "dry town"

On the road to “Dry Town”

After rambling for about three or so hours, we come to the tiny village known as “Dry Town.” The village is very lovely: whitewashed walls and red tile roofs glow in the sunlight. Bright pink and red bougainvillea drips from every overhang; patios are covered with grapevine, and the orange blossoms of the flowering pomegranate blaze. Other flowers we see: wild pink oleander, white daisies galore, orange nasturtiums, blue speedwell, blue cornflowers, white roses, and wildflowers whose names no-one knows. Magic kingdom!

We leave this small enchanted town, and drive to Rethymno. As we approach the coast, the beach, seen from the distance, is all yellow sand, and the sky a brilliant blue. Sunbathers dot the sand. The air is balmy – and the sea! Deep, deep blue creaming with little whitecaps, a movie set couldn’t be more perfect. The beach, sea and sky are absolutely soaked with color- yellow, blue and white, colors of Greece, colors of Crete.

We reach Rethymno and visit the Museum Shop, where I buy a beautiful little bust of Aphrodite, and Eileen buys the fresco she has been looking for. And so to lunch…

We are all seated at a corner table in the shade. Taking what I think is a brief break in the bathroom, when I come out: no-one is to be seen! I mean no-one and nothing – not even a plate! I must look completely dumbfounded and dopey until shouts from Yannis make me realize the entire table has moved to the opposite side into the sun.

After lunch, we wander at will around town, Iooking at everything and nothing. Then on to dinner, which is held tonight at the Hotel Dorma…it is heaven to look from the third floor window of the hotel’s restaurant, across the road to the “wine-dark” sea of Crete. How I love it here.

A slight problem has arisen: we are to walk the Samarian Gorge on Tuesday, but high winds and a stationary ferry make it seem that we will have to hike to Loutro, with nothing but our backpacks…waiting for calmer seas to bring us the rest of our luggage. I look forward to this with great expectations.

Agia Aikaterini and Loutro

On the hike to Loutro – incredible!

As Yannis had thought, no ferry to Loutro today, so the plan is to hike over the mountains to Loutro, (which can only be accessed by hiking or by ferry.)

The hike is exhilarating: over increasingly higher mountains up to a tiny whitewashed chapel, Agia Aikaterini, which rests atop the highest hillside. The church blazes white against the blue blue sky. Flowers are everywhere – unusual ones such as the dragon flower (which eats insects its purple throat), and the wild mountain thyme, which drenches you with scent from its sun-soaked blossoms. The sun shines, the air is clear, and the wind, fresh.

Aigia Aikaterini – a beautiful small white church

The trails are steep, but the view is worth it: the overlying colors are vivid greens and blues. Everywhere is the mountain thyme – tiny purple flowers covering low-lying prickly bushes. I pick some leaves and run them over my hands. The scent is so strong, at times it comes over the air in waves. Whenever I smell this in the future, I shall always think of Crete.

We walk the last remaining mile to the ruins of an old Turkish castle, which for some unknown reason, has a few primitive weights inside its (roofless) walls.

Hiking through castle ruins

Hiking through castle ruins

The sun is brilliant, the grass green and sweet and all is quiet, except for the distant far away plink of the goat bells. We leave this gentle haven to walk into Loutro.

Loutro – heaven on earth

Loutro – seen from the mountains above

Our first glimpse of Loutro is of a heavenly small port on the Libyan sea coast, its buildings whitewashed and edged with the vivid blue shutters of Greece – all facing the water. Our hotel, the Sitis, is at the far edge of the tiny waterfront.

It is hard to describe my feelings on first seeing Loutro: it is all I had hoped Greece and Crete would be.

Flowers climb the walls, in colors so brilliant your heart aches with the desire to paint them. The warmth of the sun brings the scents to you vividly. Against all the blue and white of the houses and small hotels are splashed brilliant red geraniums, bright blue convulvus, pots of white and yellow daisies, bougainvillea and oleander in purple-pink, dripping flowers into the sun. Here is a never-land. You understand now why no-one wants to leave once they arrive. All this glamor is set against the crystal blue of the Libyan Sea. Two small white boats float on the waters off the small pebble beach.

Fishing boat in Loutro

We are led to our rooms up an outside stair into marble-floored halls. I walk out onto our whitewashed balcony, looking over the hotel’s tiny outdoor café on the waterfront, to the sea and the mountains beyond. Below in the courtyard of the hotel, spits are turning, roasting chicken and a kebab of pork and vegetables.

Another world, timeless, far from all we have ever known or seen before.

A doorway in Loutro

Luckily, too, there is hot water! After washing up, I take a brief journey up the road behind the hotels, up through a whitewashed narrow path lined with houses, hotels and small markets. Fascinating!

Dinner is served in the outdoor cafe, close to the water’s edge. We drink Greek wine and Mythos beer, and watch the sky turn inky blue as a full moon rises over the white unresisting ferry.

Yannis, our guide, is delightful: good to talk to, attractive, very sweet – somewhat chauvinistic and very Greek. Great smile. Good sense of humor.

This is the perfect day.

A little back alley in Loutro – quintessentially Greece to me

The Samarian Gorge

We are to walk the Samarian Gorge today – the lazy hike, says Yannis (I wonder what he thinks is a tough hike.)

Early morning walk to the mountains above Loutro

Before we leave for Samaria, Eileen, Joanne and I take an early walk past the ferry and up the coast to castle ruins on a small hill. An idyllic spot, with the blue, blue Libyan Sea down below. Wild thyme covers the ground … the scent lingers in the air. The sun is shining brilliantly, even though it is fairly early – and it is warm, which intensifies the scent of the thyme. I am surrounded by the drone and the hum and the buzz of the bees in the thyme.

I hear the sound of the goatbells

Goats run across rocky outcrops, their goatbells tinkling as they crop the grass. This is the song of Crete…and the wild mountain thyme is its scent.

Dotting the landscape are the remains of Turkish and Venetian castles, and a small whitewashed chapel. The vivid green of the grass is starred with small white daisies, and even smaller “yellow flowers,” as Yannis calls them. The spirit of this enchanted spot will live in my heart forever.

The ferry takes us across to Samaria, where we begin our hike into the longest gorge in Europe. It’s tough. But the sun shines all day – not a cloud in the sky. We tramp over rocky paths that slide beneath our feet – over sand – across funny little wooden bridges -across rocks fording the stream/river bed – through wonderful green areas where trees reach up the canyon walls- past boulders piled almost building-high.

Waiting to begin our hike through the Samarian Gorge

Many, many people are hiking today…making the trail more treacherous and challenging than it might have otherwise been. But it is a very challenging hike to me because of the rocks and boulders, (round trip 10 miles) and I finally trip and fall to my knees. Very attractive! And my feet definitely feel the last mile.

The start of the walk through the Samarian Gorge

Once we pass the various hikers and ramblers, silence descends … uncannily quiet, other than the sound of the occasional bird, and trickle of water drifting over stones and rocks. We pause somewhere in the heart of the gorge to rest a moment, each finding his or her own special spot to absorb the magic of this place. We then turn slowly back to the ferry, early enough so we can sit on the waterfront at a small café. Another beautiful day.

Hiking in the Samarian Gorge

I must admit that I am very tired tonight. Our luggage has now arrived, so we are able to “clean up good” for a fabulous meal of grilled swordfish and what must be the best fried potatoes in the world in the hotel’s edgewater café. In the dusk, the sky is inky blue, the sea is deep and inviting, and the moon is a hanging silver ball. But try as I might, I can hardly keep my eyes open, so goodnight, and to bed!

The Imbros Gorge

Today we leave Loutro.

Above Loutro – a morning walk

Again, I take a short walk to the castle ruins on the hill before returning for breakfast on the waterfront. We have fresh orange juice – an unbelievable tang – toasted thick Greek bread, feta cheese, fried eggs, yoghurt with honey, olives, and the wonderful coffee. Pack up and onto the ferry, on our way to our next hike and our next town.

Our goodbye to Loutro breakfast on the hotel’s waterfront

I feel emotionally drained as the ferry pulls away from Loutro. Seeing it recede across the bay brings tears to my eyes…I don’t know if I’ve ever been so drawn to a place before. It is very odd and strange.

We are to hike today in the Imbros Gorge, approximately three and a half hours, as it is one of the shorter gorges. The trail through the gorge is stony, rocky, pebbly, bouldery -­beautiful. Endless cliffs to the sky. At one point, wild goats can be seen cropping greenery atop a canyon ledge; you wonder idly how they got there.

The entrance to Imbros Gorge

The entrance to Imbros Gorge

Halfway through the hike, we stop at a small clearing and sit talking to…well, frankly, I don’t know who! Here we eat sweet sesame bread and soft white cheese. Various strangers come and go. Two dogs lie in the sunshine. We are stamped on the arm by our “host.” Then Joanne and I attempt to find the WC behind the hut.

What an experience: balancing in the little cubicle over the ceramic “hole in the ground” in a hut about the size of a breadbin (with a pail of water to rinse off)…well, words fail me! However, Joanne is now hot to write a book on “WCs I have known,” possibly rating them 1-5 on the toilet-paper rating scale. Or she might do a PBS tv show, “WC of the Week!” Loads of opportunities for varying entrepreneurships seem to be available on this subject, and I must say on this trip we have seen a wide variety! (I prefer a bush.)

You can’t meander on this type of hike – you must move rapidly, partly because the stones beneath your feet are apt to turn if you linger…it’s easy to lose your balance on the rocks if you move more slowly. I like hopping from stone to stone as quickly as possible!

The sun streams down in golden sheets, and the floor of the gorge is covered with pebbles and rocks of all sizes and shapes. Birds, flowers, plants, lichen, plane trees …these are everywhere, as is the red poppy- another symbol of Crete and Greece – so fragile, so beautiful. As the trail ends, we see nasturtiums dripping down the walls and glowing orange, as well as blue convulvus and a gorgeous anenome-like flower in vivid magenta with petals of neon-green.

Yannis and I are the first to arrive at the end of the trail. I force him to listen to my rendition of “I love to go a-wandering…” otherwise known as “Valderi, valdera” –  Dear Yannis: very patient!

Once we’re all together, we walk up a hill to a restaurant situated high above the sea, where we eat grilled goat, Greek sausages, Greek salad, Greek fried potatoes – and I have what is now my favorite beer, Mythos, and then frappe meh gala (it’s embarrassing to even write this down.)

We pile onto the bus: next destination, Plakia. When we arrive, I beg off dinner, for a night alone to write and to sleep. A wonderful day…but then, just another day in paradise.

Preveli Monastery and the Libyan Sea

I’m already homesick for Crete, and I haven’t left yet.

Around 9AM, we pile onto the bus on the road to the Preveli Monastery of St. John the Theologian. Up – up – up we ride – seemingly up to the end of the world. On arriving at the monastery, the sun breaks through overhanging clouds and it is brilliant for the remains of the day.

The Preveli Monastery

The monastery is very beautiful: exquisitely clean, austere, spiritually comforting. Colors fill the eye. Creamy walls. Flowers in all their glory – magnificent red geraniums, huge clumps of white lilies. The monks in black from head to toe stand out in high relief. Down below, the crystal blue of the beckoning sea.

Down below, the blue of the beckoning sea

The church has wonderfully ornate silver, gold and brass chandeliers, and its cross has a long and intricate history. People are praying within the chapel, and the hush —peaceful, calm – underscores the appeal of the spiritual life.

We leave the monastery for another brief ride (George, our driver, is adorable!) to the top of  “Lake Palm Tree” where we will walk down steps carved in rock to a freshwater river and lagoon, and then to the Libyan Sea below. From this great height, far away islands in the sea appear, cloaked in a lingering mist.

Walking down to Preveli beach on the Libyan Sea

However, at the clifftop, the sun is out in full force, as we go down – down – down. It is beautiful here. The sea is that Greek blue that must be the most vivid and vital in the world. Set against it is a small yellow sand beach with thatched umbrellas dotting the shore. From above, we see a grove of palms, deep green, which grew when pirates dropped the pits of dates into the sand. Around this oasis, all is green – brilliantly green. Through the wealth of jungle we walk, taking off our boots and replacing them with water shoes to help us over the rocks in the river. The water is cold.

Once we reach “dry land” boots are again in place, and we hike over rocks and massive boulders alongside the river. Higher and higher we climb, until we reach our destination on a rocky outcrop; we can go no further. Here we rest, snack and talk. This is a particularly enchanting place, windy and wild, and the sun is on our faces. No sounds but the lonely birds, and the gurgle and rush of the river passing by.

After an hour’s sojourn, back we amble to the seashore.

It is warm, sunny and so soporific. Eileen and Joanne go for a quick swim in the Meditteranean, but the water is too chilly to dawdle.

Yannis, Theresa, Elisa and I sit beneath the thatched overhang and sip frappe meh galas and desultorily talk…while Joanne and Eileen perch on a rock a short distance away. It is a special moment, one of many, in time here….I am happy and sad at once. I feel emotionally touched by Crete, and feel constantly on the verge of tears. Why?

We leave our little oasis and climb two million stairs to the top of the cliff, where the faithful (and handsome) George is waiting patiently to drive us back to Plakia.

Heraklion and Goodbye to Crete

This morning we take brief trip through the Museum in Heraklion … then a tour of the Minoan Palace of Knossos…a wonderful way to end this adventure of all adventures.

Otherwise

I’m writing down a few Greek words and phrases, as I don’t want to forget: Kalimera -good morning; Kalispera – good evening. Adio – goodbye. Sagapo – I love you. Agape mou – my love.

Wales and England: Hiking hidden footpaths

The cliffs at Land's End

The cliffs at Land’s End

Hiking hidden footpaths in England and Wales

It’s been about 19 years since I went on my first walking tour of England and Wales…it was 1996, to be exact. The month was September, and the weather could not have been more perfect, the countryside more beautiful. If anything motivated me to begin hiking, it was this trip. Of course, not every hike is perfect…weather, nervousness about driving on the left hand side of the road (and the roundabouts!), finding a good place to stay. Nonetheless, the two weeks spent here were an eye-opener. Who knew these out of the way places existed? Some of the towns and countryside looked as if they had never moved into the 20th century…still retaining the innocence of an earlier time.  So…on to London.

London

London

London

Arriving at Gatwick I found a porter who whisked me onto the Airport Express train to Victoria Station – somehow missing the customs melee. “There’s no-one there – no problem!” (You could tell this was pre-9/11.) On the train into London, I spied a fox slinking into the underbrush, its bushy red tail waving in the breeze.

Once in London, I grabbed a taxi to the Covent Garden Hotel. I was meeting Lee here later – and the suite wasn’t going to be ready for hours – so I settled in the library sitting room to read and drink a cup of tea with real cream (three pounds!) The hotel is a former French hospital which had become a delightful four-story retreat, small and intimate, and splashed with chintz. The library offered deep sofas and chairs, The London Times and Observer, and London Vogue.

Lee arrived at 10AM, and off we went to see London. We sat atop a sightseeing bus in the open air – bloody cold! Disembarking constantly, we rambled around Sloane Square and down St. James Street, around Leicester Square and Covent Garden, where we looked for -and found – 84 Charing Cross Road and the site of that lovely old bookstore. If you haven’t read the book by Helene Hanff, do so…it is terrific (and the follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, while you’re at it.)

Back at the hotel, our suite was ready. Padded yellow rose chintz coats the windows, bed and loveseat. Beautiful more-than-full-size feather beds sat high, high up, with immense feather pillows. An equally immense bathroom held a deep soaking tub with a separate shower.

That night, we moseyed once again around Covent Garden and Leicester Square, where the crowds were really overpowering –  there was hardly room to move. After a light dinner, it was back to the hotel to prepare to take off early in the morning.

The weather this first day was just great – although cold, the sun was shining and the sky blue. A great omen.

Broad Chalke, Wiltshire

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Chalk figures carved into Wiltshire hillsides

Surprise: we overslept! We had barely enough time for breakfast before our car was delivered. At 9:45 AM, a sharp-looking little red Rover rolled up to the front door. As designated driver, I immediately smashed the left hand rearview mirror while trying to negotiate the narrow one-way streets of London.

We managed to get out of London – but it was an absolutely wild trip, as I had never driven a “left-handed car” and kept driving into the curb. And the roundabouts! It took me days to get used to them. Finally, we got out of London, stopping in the tiny town of Weybridge for coffee and a look through a bookshop; then on to our first bed and breakfast – Stoke Farm in Broad Chalke.

The roads leading to Broad Chalke are through Wiltshire. The deeper in-country we drove, the more ye olde England it became. The deep hedgerows, the farmlands, the woods –the England of legend. The sun shone intermittently; parts of the day were overcast – but by afternoon, it was hot.

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

On the road to Cornwall down a country lane

Keeping a very sharp eye out, we were lucky to spot a miniature sign saying “Stoke Farm” hidden in a hedge. It was 6PM, still daylight. Jan, the proprietor, was a charming woman who was so busy she hadn’t much time to do anything but show us the bedroom and bathroom, and ask us to write down our breakfast requests.

Our first view of the farmhouse looked like something from a Jane Austen novel. Converted to a bed and breakfast, it is built of old and beautiful stone, nestling in the Wiltshire countryside. It lies at the bottom of a hill (which we climbed that night after dinner.) Baskets of flowers hung from every window, and the front lawn was surrounded by evergreens and flowering plants. Cows and horses lingered in the surrounding fields. Two dogs ran around the yard.

The entryway held a big Welsh dresser, with blue and white platters and china covering the shelves. The cozy dining room was papered with brown patterned wallpaper, and had a big fireplace, and an old dining table and sideboard.

The only other guests were a very attractive Belgian couple, who nodded and smiled and basically said not a word to us as they only spoke Belgian…conversation was limited to good mornings.

Our bedroom was, of course, charming – all chintz and prints – as was our bathroom across the hall. I leaned from my bedroom window to look across hills and dales and farmland, as far as the eye could see.

Just down the road was Broad Chalke itself – a few cottages, a couple of manor houses, and an old pub at the crossroads, where we had dinner. The dessert of apple pie crumble with real cream was heavenly – makes me hungry just to think about it!

We loved Stoke Farm. It was so peaceful and quiet, quiet, quiet. Walking up the low-lying hill that night, the silence was like balm to the soul. The sky was clear as a bell, and the stars, magnificent, blanketing the sky.

Wiltshire – Broad Chalke, Fovant, Stonehenge and Old Sarum

Again, we overslept: breakfast is between eight and nine, and we woke at ten to nine. Breakfast: haddock in scrambled eggs, toast and broiled tomatoes. The hot tea hit the spot. Once all that was under our belts, we planned our itinerary: to Stonehenge, and then to Old Sarum. On the way, fascinating chalk figures carved into a hill just outside the town of Fovant caught our attention. Quickly parking the car, we climbed to more closely view these figures carved by airmen in World War I.

 

From Fovant, we wended our way to Stonehenge – mysterious and fascinating. The sky was overcast, the day gray and windy- what better for Stonehenge? The monoliths were visible from a great distance, and seas of grass stretched for miles around…all was emptiness, except for a few tourists and the monolithic stones.

Stonehenge - mysterious and wonderful

Stonehenge – mysterious and wonderful

Old Sarum was our next stop, another strange and wonderful place. We climbed the hill to the castle remains, crossing a drawbridge across a great dry moat. The crumbling, immensely thick stone walls of the castle and the remains of “old” Salisbury Cathedral stood out against the greenest of green grass and fields. Wandering these ruins was a truly mystical experience.

Old Sarum

The walls of Old Sarum

On the drive back to Stoke Farm, we stopped for dinner at a quaint old inn down a twisty, winding, hilly and hidden country lane. Navigating these lanes by car, so narrow with the highest of hedgerows, was an adventure by day; a real challenge by night. The lanes turn and twist, with often only room for one (very small) car to navigate through. So far, we’ve been lucky – only one or two minor scrapes (the side of our little car looked as though it had been in the wars.)

Dinner tonight started with pate with hot toast, and finished with apple pie and cream (munching our way through England – thank goodness for all that walking.)

On the road to Lyme Regis

From the heart of England, we drove to Lyme Regis, through rolling English countryside – going like a bat out of hell. English drivers are truly another breed: if you aren’t driving quickly enough, the kinder, gentler blokes behind the wheel blink their lights, the aggressive honk madly until you move over!

We stopped for a little “smack of something” on our way down the I-30. The tea shop had great coffee. As a matter of fact, the coffee was usually excellent; of course, the tea was terrific, piping hot.

Back on the road, we pulled over halfway to Lyme Regis for a long walk down a country lane, over neon-green fields. In a sheltered corner, we stopped to eat our lunch, bought at the tea shop. In my pack is “homemade bread pudding” with raisins – half of which is eaten by Lee, who had formerly announced she does not like raisins.

Onward to Lyme Regis through the little town of Uplyme – very pretty with pastel-painted houses. Lyme Regis lay just beyond, and at first glance seemed very touristy, not at all what we had in mind. But after finding a small white hotel with two small rooms – about 20 pounds apiece – we headed  for the beach, walking through the center of town to reach the boardwalk. We clambered over concrete “sand dividers” to reach a deserted stretch of sand that was both pebbly and seaweedy and rather forbidding.

Uplyme

Uplyme

The cliffs of solid sand are high and dangerous, with climbing forbidden because of the constant erosion. The beach suddenly opened up and stretched literally for miles, and the late afternoon sunlight played on the cliff face. For the first time, I felt “I’m here!” It was so beautiful and lonely and we could have walked for miles, but the tide came in rapidly, so we had to turn back sooner than we wished.

Next on the agenda was food! We ate in the courtyard of a rather charming small hotel – fish and chips for me, fisherman’s platter for Lee, and it was quite a picture: two major fish complete with heads, tails and eyes. While we were eating, what seemed to be the largest seagull in the world perched on a ridgepole, cawing and squawking plaintively. I threw chips in the air for him – seemed to be the right thing to do, and he caught them as if he hadn’t eaten for days.

CORNWALL

Viewing St Michael's Mount

Viewing St Michael’s Mount from Marazion

We were in the parking lot at Lyme Regis, trying to find our way out. After several turns around the maze-like lot, we finally gave it up as a bad job, and asked the parking attendant to direct us to the gate – which happened to be straight ahead. The look on his face was indescribable.

Now we were on the road to Cornwall. Driving at 80 mph, and cars passing me by, I whizzed by a sign which said “Pork and Rice,” realizing shortly afterwards that it really said “Park and Ride” but who the heck could figure it out since we were going at the speed of light! Traffic signs were everywhere bearing such legends as “Traffic calming ahead.”

Marazion

Halfway to our destination, we pulled off the road to take a brief hike over a ferny footpath, then back in the car to head for Ednovean House, our B&B in Perranuthnoe. By the end of the day, we were extremely punchy, having driven 180 miles. But for the life of us we couldn’t find Perranuthnoe.

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Impromptu walks through fields and woodlands is a wonderful way to see England

Disconcertingly, several people stared blankly at us when we asked directions, but even though some gave directions such as “you can’t miss it, only two miles down the road”, or “plenty of signs to it, dear, just keep going straight” we seemed to travel in circles. Only when we were told “turn right at Bertie Wooster’s Restaurant” did we finally reach our destination.

And then we were at Ednovean House – except for the fact we arrived a day early! Apparently really screwed up, having booked our room for Friday and Saturday nights; no rooms were available tonight! Once again, we were back in the car, on the road for Marazion, a small town two miles away (and the gateway to St. Michael’s Mount).

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Fields surrounding Perranuthnoe

Just about to drop from exhaustion, we found a small hotel in Marazion with two single rooms. We dumped our luggage and walked downhill to a tiny, adorable restaurant for a delicious dinner of crevettes in sauce, mushrooms in garlic, and delicious chewy bread. Dessert was English sherry trifle!

Perranuthnoe, the cliff walks

The food at our hotel in Marazion was terrific. Breakfast included poached eggs on toast – the yolks bright yellow – English bacon, sausages and fried tomatoes. A note: these tomatoes were the best I’ve tasted anywhere…still are.

After a short walk along the beach, we discovered that this is where we were to walk the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount…

Back to Perranuthnoe, leaving our car in a park by the sea. We immediately began a wonderful hike over the cliffs. This was the best and most fabulous walk so far, and was my favorite of the entire trip. Up, up a winding footpath through lanes lined with tiny pastel-colored houses; up, and up through farmyards and into lanes with high, high hedgerows. Over stiles, into far-ranging fields of grass and new-mown hay. Crossing fields full of cows.

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The Cornish coast is heavenly

The sea was visible at a distance, and then: bang! We were on the cliffs of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – looking down, down – waves crashing on the rocks, the sea crystal-blue-green, like glass. We clambered over the cliffs, across rocks and boulders, finding winding footpaths down, through blackberry brambles full of ripening berries, through fern and nettle.

The wind gusted across the cliffs, the sun was brilliant, the day warm and glorious. We rested on the rocks below, taking in the fabulous beauty before returning to the cliff top – and feeling fabulously alive. This was an incredibly magnificent site…we were both in awe of the beauty surrounding us.

At the end of the day, we finally ensconced ourselves in Ednovean House. The view from our window was amazing: across emerald green fields, you see the sea, a clear, deep blue, mirroring the sky above. Set against this glamour were the storied island and castle of St. Michael’s Mount, which floats in the bay like some fabled “casement in faery lands forlorn.” Backed by the gold of the setting sun, it could be the Isle of Avalon come to life. The air was crystal clear and the view was/is  perfection.

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

An early morning walk behind our B&B in Perranuthnoe

We had cocktails on the lawn in the late day sunshine; St. Michael’s Mount was our backdrop. A magic moment. Lee and I both lifted a glass to this wonderful memory-in-the­-making.

Val and Arthur, the proprietors, served a yummy dinner: steak and kidney pudding with the crust made from scratch, fresh crisp green beans, carrots, and zucchini, and zesty crispy potatoes. Dessert is brandy pudding with clotted cream. Too good to pass up, but I was glad, glad, glad we were walking and hiking as much as we were!

St. Michael’s Mount, Mousehole and Land’s End

Up at 6:30AM, we returned to Marazion to begin our adventure, and fulfill one of my childhood dreams: to walk the pebble causeway to St. Michael’s Mount. Only twice a day (early morning and midnight) is the causeway accessible, the tide being at the full at all other times.

Except for one solitary man, we were the only people on the causeway. The tide was out, and had left fishing boats beached in the sandy cove. Unfortunately, we were unable to actually enter the castle, as it was too early in the morning, but we walked the outside grounds.

St Michael's Mount - sunset

St Michael’s Mount – a view from our B&B at sunset

Yet although St. Michael’s Mount’s a tiny island, small houses are built around the castle’s outer walls. All were gray stone…castle, houses, walkway, a perfect backdrop for the flowers, which were a painter’s dream of color: one wall dripped with immense hydrangeas in all colors. Another wall was muralled with a history of St. Michael’s, painted in delicate detail. The morning was clear and the sky took on the colors of the sea…a perfect, peaceful place.

On St. Michael's Mount

On St. Michael’s Mount

The tide turned, and the causeway was awash, so back to Ednovean House in time for breakfast…then we were off to Mousehole, a tiny fishing village that was home to my grandmother and grandfather many years past. Mousehole is built on a hill, its tiny grassy paths leading to backs of houses, and uphill to glorious views of the bay. Its tiny harbor was filled with fishing boats, and many, many people wandered its winding cobbled streets.

A street in Mousehole

A street in Mousehole

The sun shone brilliantly, and the day was balmy. September is a holiday month, and with this glorious weather, every last person was out enjoying it.

After a brief halt for tea, we were again back in the car, driving up the winding lanes to the cliffs of Land’s End. At first glance, Land’s End was not appealing, as it was fronted by a huge whitewashed “castle” backed by booths, rides and whatnot. We ignored all this, and walked to the headland, covered in purple heather and yellow gorse.

The cliffs of Land's End

The cliffs of Land’s End

The view was spectacular. A narrow footpath took us to the cliff’s edge, and in some places, the drop was sheer. We walked about four miles along the cliffs, which look far, far out to sea. The sea was tipped with silver in the sunlight, and crashed in mighty waves over the rocks below. Incredibly beautiful.

Back to Perranuthnoe, for dinner at Victoria Inn in the village. Perranuthnoe is a village forgotten by time: small and enchanting, it houses several bed and breakfasts, old stone houses covered in ivy, and the church. It is banked by the sea, and absolutely massed with flowers all in bloom. The colors! The flowers! Nasturtiums, sunflowers, daisies, hydrangeas, huge pots of massed orange and red geraniums. All houses were decorated with flowers…pots and hanging baskets were everywhere we looked. The hedges along the roadsides were starred with all manner of tiny wildflowers. It was a delightful spot.

Perranuthnoe

Perranuthnoe

St. Kew and Crackington Haven

Up at eight, we had breakfast of coffee, juice, muesli and tomatoes on toast with toast. Hmm! Now packing up ready to leave for Crackington Haven and Tintagel.

On the road, manicured, pristine farm country surrounded us. About ten miles from our destination, we pulled onto a tiny side lane, parked and set off walking in the direction of St. Kew. A green field uninhabited by cows called to us, so we picnicked in the sunshine, with sandwiches, chips, blackberries from the bush, and a half-melted Aero bar. Never tasted anything so good….

St Kew Inn

St Kew Inn

Afterwards, we rambled awhile in the general direction of St. Kew. It is tremendously exhilarating to just be able to walk without being bothered by people, cars or signs saying “no trespassing”. The narrow road led through the high green hedgerows and tiny villages, past old stone houses with slate or thatched roofs which were hung with baskets filled with nasturtiums and daisies; past manor houses set back in green fields, surrounded by immense bushes of blue and multicolored hydrangeas.

We came to St. Kew, a tiny village with a wonderful old church and ancient graveyard, with gravestones so old we were unable to read them. We stopped at an inn for coffee, then turned back to the car. Up the lane, we noticed a manor house for sale, set back from the road with a long drive bound by rhododendrons. I pretended I lived there just for a moment…can’t imagine how magical that would be.

It was so quiet. Tiny birds were singing, but no other sound was heard. We were really in deep country. Although hard to believe, it does still exist, unspoilt, fresh, and utterly satisfying. The air is clean; we’re still having beautiful weather, and the breeze was brisk and evergreen-scented.

We drove on to Crackington Haven…not far, actually. The road to Crackington Haven, which is situated high atop a hill overlooking the sea, winds up, up and up. We turned on the short grassy lane to Manor Farm, which, we were told, was listed in the Domesday Book. It was very, very old, and very, very beautiful, and very la-di-dah.

The garden at Crackington Haven

The garden at our B&B in Crackington Haven

The grounds, looking as if they were clipped daily with nail scissors, were splashed with hydrangea bushes at every possible turn, all blooming in glorious colors.

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

Walking woods on the road to Crackington Haven

The house itself had stone flagged floors. Our bedroom had twin beds covered with rose flowered chintz covers and frilled pillowcases. The room – as are all the rooms -was whitewashed, with dark oak Tudor beams, and a very low ceiling. The bathroom also had oak beams, on which I had already knocked my head, and a step-down, which had sent Lee crashing into the tub. (Crackington Haven – well named!) The room had two low, low, low diamond-paned dormer windows with inset window seats. Another smaller window faced the beds.

Muriel, the proprietor, took us through the sitting room with large windows looking onto green lawns, and on into the dining room where a highly polished table was set for six, with place cards. Uh-oh. Our trip had been very casual, as far as clothes are concerned. We had come up against it here; when we asked Muriel if we dressed for dinner, she answered “Ectually….yes!” in no uncertain terms.

I had to wear what I brought, the best of it being a cashmere sweater and khakis. Lee had on jeans and black socks: “Black socks make any outfit, my dear!”

We were told to be back from our walk by 5:30 to do the wash; drinks in the bar were at 6:30 sharp; dinner was at 7; and breakfast at 8:30AM. This was about all the regimentation I could take. We were glad that we planned to be out all day Monday, and must find our own dinner Monday night!

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

Hiking the cliffs at Crackington Haven

After an hour-long walk, we returned to take our dirty clothes to be washed at the requested 5:30 PM. Cleaned up, we ran back downstairs for cocktails at 6:30. (Our clothes are given the once-over, then ignored.) Dinner, where we met two young couples staying at the Manor, was turkey steaks with mustard sauce, fig pie with raspberry sauce and clotted cream, cheese and biscuits, and wine. Coffee was served afterwards in the drawing room.

We log in another five miles today!

Crackington Haven, Bude, Tintagel, and Boscastle

Out on the road for a quick walk at 7AM, we zoomed back for breakfast at 8:30 sharp. Muriel, a former schoolteacher, rings a little bell to remind us that breakfast was served. Crikey!

Beginning one of our walks at Crackington Haven

Lee at the beginning of one of our walks at Crackington Haven

We had a full breakfast of orange juice, sausage, bacon, eggs, fried bread, tomato, toast and coffee. And are requested not to leave anything on the plate, or not to order anything that we won’t eat. Gee, where’s the joy in that?!

Then we took off to explore. First on our list was Bude and a walk over the cliffs. Bude (on that particular day) was not a pretty place. The sand on the beach was churned up in giant mud flats, and the day was overcast and dreary. We decided to move on to Tintagel. And what a disappointment it was (to me, anyway)! The town was very gimmicky and full of tourists, and the headland itself was blocked by King Arthur’s Castle Hotel, a ghastly lump of red brick with absolutely no redeeming architectural value. We were shocked, and needless to say, did not stop. In retrospect, that was a mistake, as there’s always something hidden behind the touristy buildings that make a visit worthwhile. Nonetheless, we plowed on to Boscastle.

Views around Boscastle

Views around Boscastle

It’s not far to Boscastle, a harbor town built down the side of a mountain. Steep, steep little roads led to a walled village over which the mountain cast its immense shadow. We met a bus head-on, and the roads were so narrow, our lives flashed before our eyes! The houses and buildings here are very old, with gray slate roofs, and the ever-present pots of bright flowers hanging from walls and dotting the small gardens. The trees lining the road were strung with ivy; dry stone walls supported the soaring mountain forest at every turn; lichen and moss covered every possible rock, crack and crevice, and a wide variety of delicate flowers poked their heads from the hedgerows. Mystical and mysterious…

Boscastle

Boscastle

After a fish and chip lunch, we returned to Crackington Haven, to hike over the cliffs. Our path gave us spectacular views of the great Atlantic Ocean, the waves tipped with silver and pearl. We were so high up, we felt as if we were walking on the roof of the world. As we looked back to the footpaths we’d climbed, it’s hard to believe we actually climbed them!

Carpeted in purple heather and yellow gorse, the cliffs stretched as far as the eye could see. By this time, the sun had begun to emerge, which gave the entire day a different perspective (it was certainly cooler here than in Perranuthnoe, which, we found out, is part of what is known as the English Riviera.)

We hiked past The Strangles, that silver, wild, wind-whipped part of the ocean below. Looking for seals among the waves, we missed the return footpath across the fields. Many a cow-laden field was crossed, and we eventually found a path leading through a wooded ravine. After crossing small bridges across limpid, pebble-lined streams, we were finally back at Crackington Haven Cove at the base of the cliff, where a hot cup of tea at a small tea shop revived us. That, plus sitting in the sun, and afterward, walking across the pebbled beach to the receding tide. We heard the sound of the pebbles being sucked back into the sea…”that melancholy, long-withdrawing roar.”

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The Strangles, Crackington Haven

The undertow was terrifically strong. Earlier, under a gray sky we had seen bathers in the water, which to our touch was icy. Yikes!

We logged in ten miles or so from our hike, and as dinner was not being served at the manor that night, decided to go out for a picnic dinner. Flinging a long scarf around my neck, dressed in khaki green jacket and boots and looking like a WWI pilot according to Lee, we sneaked into the bar to pick up some lager. This, together with tomatoes, pasties, apples and cheese, was our dinner. We set out for a small field around the corner to eat and relax. There was something so out of time about this: sitting in an English field far, far from all we have known, in the late twilight, surrounded by deep English country…an indescribable experience, albeit somewhat damp.

INTO WALES

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Wye Valley, Tintern Abbey, Swansea and Mumbles

Early this morning we hiked for twenty minutes, making sure we were back in time for the breakfast bell. Two new couples joined us at the breakfast table, one from Chepstow in the Wye Valley, and one from New Jersey. Another hearty breakfast wass consumed (both of us too nervous about Muriel to leave anything on our plates), and then we were out the door and off.

The couple from Chepstow spoke so glowingly of the Wye Valley, we turned onto the road to Tintern Abbey. The Abbey is a beautiful ruin, the gray stone as fragile as lace, set on a green grassy sward, at the base of a towering mountain.

A quick lunch, and we’re back on the road to Wales, and Mumbles, Swansea.

What a drive: we logged 240 miles, I wondered if we’d ever arrive. When we did, belching fumes and smoke from various pipestacks met our eyes – this is not the Swansea I remember from childhood, but I guess all things must pass.

We finally reached Mumbles, where I spent much of my childhood. It had become a tourist mecca, and is thronged with people. Every road and pathway was built up. I wondered if Thistleboone Gardens was still there….not only was it still there, it looked just the same as it did when I was a child. But… we were no longer able to walk from the Gardens over the cliffs; built over with subdivisions, the land has become too valuable to stay wild.

The Mumbles cliff walk

The Mumbles, Wales cliff walk

As we hadn’t booked into a B&B or hotel, we had a difficult time finding somewhere to stay. Finally we found a rather primitive B&B – only one toilet, and NO soap! Our proprietors, however, were delightful (and the food was good, always a plus.) We toted our luggage upstairs, then left for a walk along the front to the old pier. The castle still brooded on the hilltop. The boardwalk was filled with tiny booths and video games. The population was out in full force, as the weather was  balmy. But it is true: you can’t go home again. It was difficult to see this place of my childhood so clogged with shops, houses, cars, and people. In retrospect, I realize that perhaps I set my sights too high. The years had made a difference.

A quick dinner of fish and chips (excellent!), and then back up the hill to our B&B. We are so exhausted, we crawled into our beds and were out like lights. (Just as well, as there was only one lonely lightbulb, hanging from a string in the middle of the room!)

Langland and Bracelet Bays, The Brecon Beacons and the Great Malverns

After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast, we packed and locked the car, then left for a couple of hours of walking across the cliffs to Langland and Bracelet Bays. What a glorious, glorious walk. The weather continued to be fabulous. The sun broke through the mist, and it was a beautiful day, and very warm.

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Beginning of the Mumbles cliff walk

Langland itself is now a retirement community. A few people from the settlement were walking on the footpath over the cliffs, taking in the clean morning air. The cliff walk was exactly as I remembered it, right up to and including the 1930’s style bathing huts lining the cliff top.

Past Langland to Bracelet, and I clambered down the cliffs to the sand – a little nervewracking, as the drop is steeper than it seemed when I began! Bracelet Bay was also exactly as I remembered it when I was a child…a wide curve of smooth yellow untrammeled sand, surrounded by cliffs covered in yellow gorse and purple heather. Blackberry bushes abound, berries ripening in the sun…. The flowers were rioting color – orange nasturtiums, yellow gorse, purple heather, hot pink petunias, white daisies, orange-red geraniums, purple-white freesias, white and purple lilac, smelling like heaven. The grass was green, green, green. We passed a red currant bush full of currants, shining like jewels on the branches. Talk about yummy!

The sands at The Mumbles

The sands at The Mumbles

After a two-hour walk, onwards to Mumbles to pick up some supplies and cash checks (these were the days before ATMs – medieval times). I walked across the boardwalk to the sea, which had receded to leave fishing boats beached like whitefish across the exposed reaches of sand. Some things hadn’t changed one iota.

Eventually we left Mumbles to drive through the Brecon Beacons, to Herefordshire and the Great Malverns. The route was tortuous, as we got lost trying to find our way out of Swansea (we’re a bit pitiful with directions), but finally, we were on the open road again.

BACK INTO ENGLAND

The Great Malverns and Herefordshire

The Brecon Beacons took us through wild, empty country showcasing secluded dales and valleys. What views! Sheep roamed freely across mountain tops and stony outcrops. Some rambled across the roads, some rested or grazed. For endless miles, the land stretched out isolated and lonely except for the sheep. It is a fascinating, desolate, eerie place, so different from all we have seen so far.

Driving on, we passed the town of Haye-on-Wye, otherwise known as “Full of Books.” The roadsides were dotted with bookshelves filled with various tomes…I loved it! We arrived at the town of Brecon, and turned toward Herefordshire, stopping for a picnic in a green field off a little stony lane. Sausage rolls, a tuna sandwich, apples, most of a black currant tart topped with whipped cream, a scone filled with clotted cream and jam, and custard pie: we now thought of this as a light lunch. Talk about eating our way through England! We have come far since first beginning this journey…

Cowleigh Park Farm is situated in Malvern, Worcestershire (right on the Herefordshire border). We arrived in late afternoon, and were immediately impressed: what a beautiful place! An old half-timbered manor house, it was originally built in 1200 in a deer park about 100 yards away from where it presently stands. The house fell into disrepair, and in the 1600s was dismantled, and rebuilt in its new location. It was enveloped by farms, hills and orchards. Everywhere, immense clumps of fragrant lavendar met the eye and filled the nose with fragrance.

Chris, the proprietor and owner, ran the B&B with his wife Sue. He handled all maintenance and also ran a renovation business on the side, while remaining active in the Royal Marine Reserves (he served during the Falklands War.) He was a busy, and – in his words – happy, man.

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

At our wonderful B&B in the Malverns

He booked us into the Red Lion pub for dinner, where we had chicken filets in lime and brandy with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, new potatoes, and fresh rolls. Lager accompanied this repast. For dessert, we had rhubarb crumble with whipped cream and coffee. I am still trying to figure out why I didn’t end up looking like Shamu the Whale at the end of the trip: we never seem to stop eating!

After the first night, we moved – to a room across the hall. Our new room had board and latch doors, with a bathroom containing an immense bath, deep, new and dark blue, and built very high up. When I stood up in the bath, my head almost touched the low-hung ceiling. Blue and white tiles surrounded the tub. The tiny-paned window was hung with print curtains. The sink was set into a wall-to-wall vanity, which held blue and white bowls and pitchers. The room was whitewashed, with natural oak beams.

In the bedroom were wonderfully comfortable beds which faced a window opening onto the garden. The green wall-to-wall carpet, the pink-striped bedspreads and green velvet wing chair by a potted plant and huge wardrobe all made the room comfortable and inviting. A corner table housed a coffee maker and teakettle.

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

Our B&B in the Great Malverns

I loved this house…indeed it was one of the most splendid B&Bs we stayed in. We met more of the family: Sue, Chris’s wife, brown-haired, petite, pretty; and Lucky, her three-legged cat, who slept in a black puddle of fur at the top of the stairs.

This morning, after a hearty breakfast (is there any other?) we set off for the Great Malverns. We walked to the top of the highest hill – not so very high at 1300 feet but with a fantastic all-round view. The springiness of the turf was like walking on green velvet. We looked down into the beautiful valleys surrounding us, dotted with tiny villages and isolated cottages, set in the greenest of green fields, or amid trees on gentle hilly slopes. The sun was drawing moisture up into the clouds, and the sky was silver.

The weather continued warm and clear, and the winds, fresh. Although some mornings had been overcast, we never seemed to get a single drop of rain.

The walk to the highest Malvern peak and back down again took us approximately two and a half hours. These hills were thick with flowers: yellow gorse and tall purple loosestrife, cowslips, buttercups, celandines, dandelions … Blackberries, thick on bramble bushes, were in every lane. Stinging nettles were also everywhere; Lee, thinking these were mint, rubbed some casually between her fingers, a big mistake! (Dock leaves take out the sting…)

On the Cotswolds Way

On the Cotswolds Way

Sheep ran freely over the hills. Every once in a while, one became separated from its mates, and the plaintive baaaa-ing was constant. Back in town, we strolled to the pub for lunch and ginger beer, which Lee swore tasted  like mouthwash. Then a ramble around the village, which had some of the prettiest gardens ever. The most beautiful deep blue hydrangea bush hung over a garden wall. Another small garden was filled with huge yellow sunflowers. Dry stone walls everywhere. The scent of lilac was unbelievably fragrant.

We left this idyll to drive into town for some shopping and a newspaper, then back to Cowleigh Park for another long walk up the Worcestershire Way. The Worcestershire Way winds through farmlands over untamed fields high with unmown waving grass; through fields of mown hay and bright yellow rapeseed; past a small signpost with the legend “Badger’s Wood”; through a huge apple orchard, the trees bent to the ground and loaded with apples. It continued through fields filled with cows -and one black bull seemingly somewhat annoyed with our presence. As he jogged towards us, we nimbly leapt into a small fenced pen, obviously there for just this reason. Across more fields, down wooded lanes past geese and sheep, we rambled: the sun is out, and the warmth of it is full on our faces.

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

Walking the Worcestershire Way in the Malverns

After an hour or two, we turned back to Cowleigh Park, a brief rest, then back to the Red Lion for dinner.

From Cowleigh Park Farm back to London

Time to go home (sob). After breakfast, up and away on the M-40, on the road back to London. A quick lunch at a service center halfway to London took us from the sublime to the ridiculous. We ate quickly, and were glad to be back in the car.

Back in London…