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The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

The Cotswolds – Broadway, The Cotswolds Way and Chipping Campden – Chapter 3

Saturday August 26…Our first full day in the Cotswolds… and the weather here continues beautifully sunny, in a word, perfect! Once we got ourselves out of our respective beds at Old Orchard, and puttered around the house and the grounds (finding out that the toilet in the potting shed was Royal Doulton – talk about keeping up appearances!), we walked into Broadway.

The road from Old Orchard to Broadway was fairly narrow, often with little space to leap out of the way of cars whose drivers apparently thought they were auditioning for the Grand Prix…but we were none the worse for wear despite a few nettles getting in our way. And just looking at the old houses lining the road, or over hedgerows to fields that ranged far and wide was such pleasure, it was worth a little scramble or two.

We went for a lazy ramble along Broadway’s high street, stopping in the Swan for half a pint of the local IPA, called Ubu (don’t ask me why the name, but it was absolutely delicious) and some lunch (yummy as well).

I love the Swan…it is English to the core, and having a drink there is very enjoyable, as is people watching! One of the great things I noted in all these small Cotswolds towns – and other parts of England as well – is how welcome – and how well behaved – dogs are, in restaurants and pubs.  Dishes of water were set outside shops – no dog ever goes thirsty!

Broadway is a delightful English village, with a wide green, and not overrun, on this day, with tourists (such as ourselves!)

The flowers were in full bloom, and were brilliant – as that part of the street lined with pots of the most vivid red geraniums attested. We were fascinated by the architecture, which used mostly Cotswolds stone that gives off that buttery glow even when the sun isn’t shining. I don’t care if it is “tourist-y” – I love it!

Later in the afternoon we stopped for a cream tea at the Broadway inn and pub. David was not taken with the clotted cream, but we both loved the scones and jam…then it was back to the grocery for more Tin Loaf, and return to Old Orchard.

Time for evening cocktails! So we sat on the terrace in the rear of the house, looking out over the beautiful grounds with the running brook at the bottom of the garden, beyond to still green fields dotted with the white grazing sheep, and back still further into the setting sun. Well, I thought I’d died and gone to English heaven.

Sunday August 27… Today we decided to find the trailhead for the Cotswolds Way, on the other side of Broadway.

The Cotswolds Way is one of the oldest footpaths in England.

It was another gorgeously sunny day, and this part of the footpath was unshaded by trees along the actual trail, so by the time we managed close to a mile, we were rather warm.

We had packed a picnic lunch (hardboiled eggs and watercress sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, crisps, apples from the orchard)

so we found shade beneath some (I think) beech trees, and unpacked the feast. We sat on the grass, looking down into the green valley where Broadway lay, and all the fields and rolling hills around and beyond us. You felt you could just dance over the low-lying hills and fields like a dandelion head blown in the wind.

(Obviously not dancing here!) I pulled myself together, and walked over the crest of the hill behind us to see how far it was to the Broadway Tower. It was at least another mile away, and as I was unsure as to David’s desire to walk any further, we packed up and trotted back down to Broadway.

The Horse & Hounds pub came into view, and a half pint sounded perfect, so of course we stopped in to check out their local IPA, then found Lloyd’s Bank for some money, and after that, moved on to the Lygon Arms for the second half pint! After which, we walked to the end of the high street for dinner at a local Indian restaurant…the food was fabulous, but I was absolutely stuffed (no surprise there) and we brought half the meal back to Old Orchard with us.

Monday August 28…Today we spent a beautifully sunny (warm!) day in Chipping Campden.

Steve was busy with a tour, so he sent Roz to drive us there, she was really delightful. She dropped us off at our checkpoint (the willow tree in the town’s center), and told us she’d meet us there at 4PM.

We spent time in the beautiful, historic Church of St James, with its old, old carvings, stained glass and memorials, and wandered outside to take a walk amongst the ancient tombstones.

We had tea and scones in a hotel pub which we found down a narrow alleyway;

walked up Sheep Street to one of the loveliest thatched roofed cottages I’ve ever seen…

and, further down the road, noted a girl with purple hair; chatted with Peter, an American from Seattle; and had a Ploughman’s Lunch in a teashop.

People are so kind here. As we were wandering around the town square, a gentleman came up to us to tell us about a lovely little gallery exhibiting photographs and beautifully framed miniature paintings of Chipping Campden in all seasons. We had ten minutes to spare, so dashed inside, where I bought a framed print of a snowy winter’s day in the surrounding fields , which I loved.  Then we found a grocery store that was open (it was Bank Holiday) as we were in dire need of cheese and ale, and met Roz back at the willow tree. Chipping Campden is absolutely delightful…now I wonder if I can afford to live there?!

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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.

I love England, but there is something about Cornwall that is magical to me..walking on the pebbled narrow streets of Polperro, Truro, St. Ives, Looe…the houses, some hundreds of years old, built into, or from, the bedrock of the cliffs…its 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, sometimes too high to see down to the sea below…I adore it. Loving Cornwall goes back to my mother who was born in Mousehole, as were my grandparents and their parents…it’s in my blood.

England is magic everywhere you turn, but Cornwall has its own special brand of magic: mysterious, especially under lowering gray skies, the winds from the sea, the timelessness of path, water, air and the call of the seagulls.

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 English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

The English Cotswolds – From Cornwall to Jane Austen Country and Old Orchard, Chapter 2

Friday, August 25…

Taking our train from Sandplace Station to Moreton-in-Marsh involved a few of those train changes that, with a heavy piece of luggage, demanded diplomatic negotiation in order not to break people’s toes, both embarking and getting off! The two stations where we were to change were Liskeard and Reading.

The transfer at Liskeard was hilarious as, once off the train, we dragged our bags up a ramp, and over a bridge to one side of the station, only to be flagged down from the opposite side by a woman who apparently could tell we were on the wrong side of the tracks for Reading. So it was back up the ramp and over the bridge, and we got on the train just before it rolled out of the station.

Once at Reading, it was back off the train, and a search for the nearest bathroom ensued – the trek seemed to take us halfway back to Liskeard (just kidding!) but it certainly was not around the nearest corner. I left David with the bags and galloped off. Then it was his turn, galloping down the platform somewhat like the Ride of the Valkyries… When all that was taken care of, we stopped at a bakery for a sausage roll and a spinach and feta pie – some of the best pastries we’d tasted!

Up came the train for Moreton-in-Marsh, and we had reserved seats…hurray! So we enjoyed a pleasant trip through the most beautiful sunny countryside, the fields laid out on either side like a rich green quilt.

At the end of it all, Steve, our driver, was waiting patiently…and even more patiently when I had to unzip my luggage on the platform and dive beneath everything to find the folder with all the passcode information for getting into Old Orchard! (This is Steve, later in the trip, sharing a drink…)

And we were there, and we didn’t have to move again for ten whole days. I had been looking forward to seeing Old Orchard, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be…and more!

Steve drove us first to Budgen’s, a small completely stocked grocery in Broadway, where we bought provisions for the next few days, not knowing what there was at the house. Then he drove us home.

From the moment we opened the wooden double gates to the sweeping gravel drive,

our first view of The Old Orchard country house took us into Jane Austen territory.

A small wrought iron gate led into a flagstoned enclosure, filled with giant pots of hydrangeas, to the back door. David, as Keeper of the Keys, opened the door, and we walked into the kitchen, which then led to the living room and staircase, and beyond that, the library, which looked out through square-paned windows to the back garden; and then to neighboring meadows where sheep were grazing.

The sunlight was golden, the air warm and buttery. A stream wandered along the edge of the grounds.

To one side of the house was the orchard and vegetable garden

…apples, plums, pears and a grape arbor, with the veggie garden offering green runner beans which were wonderful.

I vowed then and there to eat an apple a day…they were sweet and crisp, with a white flesh faintly veined with green.

The three upstairs bedrooms (and two bathrooms) all looked out to the Cotswolds countryside. Mine happened to be papered with roses, and had two casement windows, one with pink and gold climbing roses framing far green fields; the other looking down over the sweep of the gravelled drive and broad expanse of lawn dotted with trees.

Sofas and chairs throughout the house, covered with a pale heavy material lightly figured with blue or pink scattered flowers, were downfilled and comfortable. The kitchen held every conceivable appliance, including a hot water tap that gave us steaming hot water for tea and coffee…immediate satisfaction!

This was our first evening at Old Orchard. Even our tour guide, Steve, was stunned by its beauty, both of the grounds and the house.

Our mornings mostly followed the same easygoing pattern, since we didn’t want to be constantly meeting some deadline or other. We woke to pale sunny skies, cool and clear.

Once I woke early to sunrise over the fields filled with sheep; so beautiful to see the colors of grass and trees deepen and glow.

One very interesting sidebar here in the Cotswolds: when I turn out the light to sleep, I never draw the curtains…and it is dark as a cave. I literally cannot see my hand in front of my face, because there are no street lights, no car headlights. No city lights…and the silence is profound. Just the occasional baa-ing of a lonely sheep. I haven’t experienced this since I was a child…pretty wonderful!

I always opened the windows to check the views, watching as the roses, one by one, died away and were replaced by others equally beautiful. Padded downstairs to the kitchen, where David was usually already up and having his breakfast. Made tea from PG Tips.

Then I would walk out to the orchard, and pick apples from a tree by the garden wall in the far corner, well-laden with the reddening fruit.

Sometimes we picked plums. That was usually my breakfast, but once in a while, we had soft boiled eggs with the wonderful fresh bread from Budgen’s – called, for some unknown reason, Tin Loaf. Or David had muesli. And we had this wonderful watercress, tiny leaved and peppery….now why can’t I get this in Houston!!

Then, after cleaning up and making my bed, checking my emails and texts, I roamed the grounds taking photographs.

I didn’t “feed the ducks, reprove my wife, play Handel’s Largo on the fife…” as one poet would have it…yet the feeling of being out of time persisted…it was Jane Austen territory, and we were lucky – so lucky – to be there.

___________________________

David was named Keeper of the Keys

Rosemary was named Keeper of the Fob – which opened and closed the front gates

________________________________

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

England: Hiking through England’s Green and Pleasant Land

CORNWALL & THE COTSWOLDS

A Cornish house

On the way to Cornwall, the road over the moors

We arrived around 10AM at Gatwick and in a very short time, we’re on our way to Cornwall. The day was overcast and cloudy…cool but not cold. We drive the M3 until we get off on one of the “A” roads, taking us through Salisbury Plains, where we see Stonehenge in the distance, but don’t stop.

We stopped for a break at this lonely pub

A detour through Dartmoor allows us to see the green-spreading rolling moors and the sheep and wild ponies. We stop at the top of Dartmoor, in the middle of nowhere, at a little pub … if you’ve ever seen “An American Werewolf in London,” this is that kind of pub, without the creepy inhabitants. There is something absolutely fascinating about this kind of place…

A view over the moors

We made it to Polraen House (B&B) without incident. At some point, I discovered – after calling him “Gil” for about a day and a half – that our host’s name was actually Martin – and “Gill” – with whom I’ve been e-mailing – was actually his wife, pronounced Jill but spelled Gill. Ah well…

Polraen House where we stayed in Looe, Cornwall

We arrived just before 8PM…a long day on the road, and we were tired out. Leslie drove to the moors, I took over the drive from there…a bit tense getting used to the left hand side of the road all over again.

Anyway, once at Polraen, we were able to settle in! Polraen House is just outside Looe, on a hill, rather isolated, in beautiful country. The house is old – half was built in the 1750s/half in the 1850s. Unusual for a B&B, it has a comfy little pub and a pretty dining room. Martin is a hoot – so funny, and very welcoming – he met us at the front door on our arrival.

The façade of the house is Cornish stone; flower baskets hang on the grey stone walls. It’s totally Cornwall, and utterly charming. We tidied up and immediately went downstairs for one of the yummiest dinners ever – Martin is an amazing chef. Leslie and I had spinach frittatas, Elisa had a salmon “starter” and an absolutely incredible little steak. For dessert, I had fruit and clotted cream and Elisa and Leslie, apple crumble with cream – Yum-o. And the bread – and the Cornish butter – a deep, rich yellow with flavor unlike anything over here in the States (at least anything I’ve eaten). Doesn’t come any better than this. (Before dinner, we had a drink in the pub – so by the time the day was over, we were out like lights.

The coast hike to Polperro

Got up for a wonderful English breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fried tomato, fried bread, basket of these terrific baguettes, Cornish butter (may as well just apply it to my hips) – then Martin drove us to Looe to start our walk. The Coast Road out of Looe onto cliffs overlooked a silver sea. It was a beautiful day – intermittently cloudy and sunny, perfect for walking the six miles to Polperro. We reached Talland Bay (halfway to Polperro) and stopped for a break, then I ran up the hill to see if Allhays <an old B&B manor house that was my favorite of all time> was still there. It was – just as pretty as ever, and still called Allhays, but now a private home. I snapped a few photographs, then it was back down the hill to catch up with Elisa and Leslie on the coastal footpath to Polperro. The views from this path are breathtaking: long green cliffs soaring to a crystal blue sky, and water the color of pearls.

The coast hike to Polperro

I have done this walk so often, and I still love it – and Polperro is still as delightful as ever. By this time, the sun was out in full. We kept running into the same nice couple on the road, and they took our “group” photo.

Noughts & Crosses Inn in Polperro

We had a little lunch at the Noughts and Crosses Inn – finally, a Cornish pasty – accompanied with shandy and Guinness. We rambled around Polperro, looking in shops and the post office (which offers far more than just postage stamps), and finally climbed up the hill to the bus stop at Crumplehorn.

The cliffs on the coast road to Polperro

After a half an hour wait, the bus arrived –off we went, clattering and banging in the narrow narrow hedge-rowed lanes – at a knee-shattering speed – across the bridge and river that splits Looe into East and West; it finally dropped us at our front door at Polraen. Very nice! Great not having to drive for a day.

Dinnertime: Martin had prepared scallop salad for Leslie and me, and prawns in garlic for Elisa. Again, the wonderful baguettes and rich yellow Cornish butter. Then we shared Grand Marnier bread pudding.

And so to bed!

Fowey (pronounced Foy)

Breakfast: Greek yoghurt with Alpen – yum-o. It was absolutely incredible yoghurt! Elisa and Leslie had a full English breakfast – these certainly keep you going all day.

We decided to go to Fowey to hike around town. We drove to Polruan, parked the car, and walked the 1.5 miles to the foot ferry, which took us to Fowey. The day is on/off sunny and cloudy; we lose our way almost immediately, but end up walking around Fowey on roads rather than footpaths. The roads are pretty and lined with lovely old houses, fun to look at, and the flowers and greenery are lush, lush, lush.

Finally, back at the town center, we have a latte at a small pub called Safe Harbor. Very comfortable and relaxing. Not a real hike, but good for the legs and rear!

We caught the ferry back to Polruan, and Leslie and I walked to the car park – another 1.5 miles uphill – to pick up the car and pick up Elisa.

Polraen House’s back garden

And it’s back to Polraen House for a drink in the back garden…it’s turned into a lovely day, and Polraen’s garden backs onto a green green hill with horses grazing across it…so beautiful. The sun was out, and everything was peaceful and quiet. Then another gorgeous meal: Leslie and I have a veggie meal – veggie soup puree (pea-based) and for the main course, new potatoes in butter, beans and carrots. Absolutely the best – and the baguettes and Cornish butter – well, words are beginning to fail me, although apparently not my appetite.

Martin is one of the best chefs – I’ve never had such wonderful food.

And so again to bed.

Sunshine!

Up around 7:30, today we plan to go and see the Lost Gardens of Heligan, St. Mawes and Truro (for its cathedral – but we never make it to Truro). The day is cool and cloudy.

By the time we reach the Gardens, the sun has come out and the sky is absolutely vividly blue. The Gardens’ 200 acres are beautiful, sectioned off into specific type gardens, such as the Jungle Garden, Italian Garden, Asian Garden, etc. They also encompass fields and river walks, which gave us a wonderful walk over fields and along the river…The sun was shining, and the air smelled of flowers. We ate lunch at the Garden Centre – Cornish pasties again…nice!

The Lost Gardens

Then on to St. Mawes, which is one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall. Unfortunately, we arrived rather late, so we saw very little of the village…just toured the little Tudor castle on the hill, and then walked to the sea front, where we stopped for a latte. Martin and Gillian were taking the night off, so we picked up some cheese and rolls and raspberries for an evening snack.

There was a slight drizzle of rain by this time, so we turned for our B&B (the only bit of rain during the entire trip). Tomorrow we leave for the Cotswolds!

From Looe to Snowshill – one of the prettiest of the Cotswolds villages

Up around 9:30for the usual yummy breakfast, ready for the road to the Cotswolds.

As we our paying our bill, one of the other guests come by to say “someone has a flat…” It’s us, unfortunately. A lot of driving over “kerbs” has finally ended with the expected tire problem. Martin and the guest (fromLuxembourg) labored mightily to change the rather recalcitrant tire. It took an hour – with Martin asking, rather testily at one point as he was bending over the car, if his “bum looked big in checks <his pants>!!” …but everything was finally fixed, and then we were off!

We drove from Looe to Snowshill without further incident, and were able to make excellent time – 4.5 hours – as the weather was clear and sunny.

We drove through or around Bristol and Evesham and Broadway, landing at Sheepscombe House around 3:30-ish. Jacki (one of the proprietors) met us and showed us to our rooms. Elisa and Leslie shared a twin bed room in the main house. Mine was up an outside stair – rather a suite, very very pretty. No tub!

The road through the village of Snowshill to our B&B

We unpack, ramble around Snowshill – which is one of England’s most picturesque villages, and the setting for “Bridget Jones” movies – then we go to the village pub (Snowshill Arms) for dinner. Pretty much typical pub food, but good. The table by the window looks over the old churchyard and graveyard where “Bridget” sees her parents re-marry. If you want the countryside of England…there is nothing better than right here.

Then back to Sheepscombe House. My god – it’s bloody cold at night! And the sky is dark dark dark – the tiny country villages of course do not have street lamps…but the sky was clear as a bell, and the stars were out in force…walking beneath the overhanging trees up the lane to Sheepscombe was a bit challenging and fun…we actually had to take flashlights with us, because when it gets dark…it gets dark!

The Snowshill Arms on the village green

Touring the Cotswolds villages – stepping back in time

Up at 7:30…another yummy breakfast, this time with rhubarb yoghurt…organic, natural – absolutely fab! (I wish I could get these yoghurts in Houston.)

We joined Tim (our host) for a full day’s tour of the Cotswolds, including Stanton, Naunton, the Slaughters, Chipping Camden, Bourton on the Water, etc.

A funny moment occurred as Tim was asking Elisa about Bonnie, her dog. “Do you spend much time together?” he asked at one point.

She was silent for a moment, then murmured, “Well, yes, as much as I can…and she sleeps with me.”

It took a moment for us to realize he was actually asking about the three of us!

Again, the weather was incredible…blue sky, clear as a bell, 70 degrees – the sun felt absolutely lovely.

A manor house on our tour

Tim took us at one point to an organic shopping centre. I have never seen so many beautiful things – from foodstuffs to an elegant dress shop with the most beautiful organic clothes, cashmere, fine wool and cotton – expensive as all get out – the clothes were all white or earthtone grey but beautifully tailored, I just craved something from this shop, but it was out of my reach! – one sweater, the sheerest softest white cashmere, ran about 450 pounds ($1000)…white cashmere blankets…A coat I would have died for was 1300 pounds ($2750) – grey/white tweed…and gorgeous furniture in another shop, more white white white (my favorite color). O to be rich!

A garden view

Our tour took us all over the Cotswolds, the small towns were heaven. We also were able to walk through gorgeous manor gardens, and finally got home about 6:30 (85 pounds each of us to Tim). That evening, we ate dinner at The Swan in Broadway – so English, and just a perfect end to the day.

Broadway, quintessentially Cotswold

Up around7AM– wash hair, finally! Great hairdryer! After breakfast, we hotfoot it to the garage to see about the tire. It’s a goner – 200 pounds ($400+) for a new one – so we drop the tire off, Mike (the garage owner) says to drop back around 4PM…

A tea room in Broadway

Off we went to look around Broadway, a historic old town that is the starting point for touring many other small villages in the Cotswolds. I bought a few small gifts, then we had lattes (again), and drove off to Snowshill Manor, a mausoleum of a mansion filled with an eccentric’s collection of things from all over the world – one room was dedicated to bicycles, and included a penny-farthing. I remember my grandfather had one of those…

I found out the meaning of the old phrase, “Good night. Sleep tight.” In the old days, mattresses were run through with rope, from one side of the bed; the rope was twined through the other side of the bed, and pulled tight, to keep the mattress firm. Thus “Sleep tight.”

A view of the gardens at Snowshill Manor

The gardens at Snowshill Manor were absolutely incredible – orchards with pears and apples in abundance – beautiful stonework and finials – roses, pansies, sweet peas, climbing vines, green lawns – all in abundance. The scent of the roses was intense. Lunch is at a tiny restaurant on the grounds…

Doorway to the secret garden!

From Snowshill Manor, we drove to Snowshill Lavendar – unfortunately, closed until May. The lavender fields were totally shorn. So we left for theBroadwayTower– which, when you climb 250 feet – has a 360 view of the Cotswolds countryside. Below, we saw about 20 deer gathered under the trees…

Back then to the garage – tire has not even been delivered yet, so we go back to Sheepscombe House, where E&L take naps.

A view on my walk

I however left for a couple of hours’ walk through and over fields, meeting a nice man (Bill) and his dog (Gus) – we walked and talked back to his car, and I met and chatted with Daphne, his wife. Lovely couple …then I continued my walk.

The weather is incredible here in the Cotswolds – cloudy one minute – brilliant sunshine the next.

The clouds drifted away and the sun came out in full, the sky once again clean clear blue. This is the best time of day in the Cotswolds…between 4-6PM…everything is golden in the soft sunlight…the fields the greenest, the Cotswolds stone the most golden…the little village of Snowhill lies like a basket of white eggs in a green bowl…incredibly beautiful, surrounded by hill, woods and fields…I could have walked on forever.

I meet E&L for dinner at the Snowhill Arms at 7PM– finally, steak and kidney pie. Yum-o again! After dinner, a couple next to us passes over a half bottle of red wine they couldn’t finish – she is from Thailand, he from Virginia. We had a lovely long talk with them…then we are back on the pitch dark Cotswold path to Sheepscombe. Luckily, Jacki has given us the heavy big flashlights to carry and light us home through the narrow high hedgerows!

Spending a day hiking around Snowshill and Stanway

Up around7AM– a cup of tea and a read before breakfast. I see on the news that Pavarotti has died. Another giant gone.

Joanna <a friend from Austin visiting relatives in Cirencester> gets here around10AM to meet me for a hike, and we set off for one “round robin” walk around Stanton, Stanway and Snowshill. We start at Snowhill instead of Stanton– and of course, somehow end up doing a complete circle of Snowshill!

Driving on to Stanton, we stop in the village pub atop a hill (lovely!) for lunch. Stanton is a beautiful town – all houses are the old Cotswolds stone – flowers are blooming everywhere. The sun’s out intermittently. In the distance, rolling hills and vales…

Hiking around Stanton

After lunch, we set off for Stanway, walking “The Cotswolds Way”, an historic 100+ mile long footpath, which runs through the heart of the Cotswolds. We reach Stanway – another historic and charming small village, without incident.

However, once we climb a (majorly) steep hill to where we are supposed to turn towards Snowshill – we wind up getting completely and utterly lost. After wittering around, climbing up and down for an hour, we finally find a promising path which actually leads us back to Stanton!

We’ve hiked through fields, orchards, deep hedgerowed lanes, roads, and through woods – just a lovely 9+-mile ramble, which I desperately needed! I loved it…

Back in the car for Broadway, finishing at the Horse and Hounds for shandies before saying goodbye.

Morton on Marsh and Bourton Manor

Awoke rather early for me –6:45 AM. I love the cup of tea and the moment of quiet in my room in the early morning. The sun was pouring in through my windows – a gorgeous day – again – awaited us.

The weather changes here almost hourly – one minute it can be glorious sun – then clouds appear – blow away – then come back – the sky darkens – then again, the sun is out full blast.

The most beautiful time of day here has been between 4-6PM. The air is soft, the sun shines but not as intensely, and the sky completely clears. All is bathed in the soft golden sunlight, and Jane Austen’s ghost hovers nearby.

The Manor House – absolutely beautiful

Today we drove to Morton on the Marsh after breakfast and – quite by accident – parked across from a stunning house called Bourton Manor. The gardens were open to the public – the prettiest I have seen yet – manicured lawns, massed flower borders, topiaries, mazes, finials, stonework, espaliers with various beautiful climbing vines and flowers – roses abounded, highly scented – there is a “white garden” with stocks, roses, daisies – I loved this garden, and the house is an architectural gem.

and gardens

From there,  on to the Falconry down the road to watch a peregrine falcon display, and then on to the nearby Arboretum. After this, we drove to Burford, a pretty (and not so small) market town, with lovely shops along a winding hilly main street.

Snowshill – could anything be prettier?

When we arrived back at Sheepscombe House, it was 5PM– I went for an hour’s walk again up around fields and hills, discovering that exquisite view of Snowshill…I think one of the most beautiful in England.

Another lovely day. Tomorrow, we leave for London!

Blenheim Palace

Up for breakfast – and on the road to Blenheim Palace, which we tour and hear all about the Marlborough family…and not enough about Churchill! But what history! The gardens were also incredible…but the air had actually turned chilly, so we didn’t linger. We got back in the car and determined to find Windsor…suffice it to say, we did not! So we stopped closer to Gatwick for a lunch/dinner…then found The Little Foxes (the less said about that, the better), went for a quick drink, and so to bed…

Blenheim Palace

And thus ended the latest English sabbatical…I couldn’t have asked for better weather, better countryside, better food…just more hikes! But it was great. Now I know why I keep going back…and back…and….

Beautiful

Hiking in Spain: Autumn in Andalusia

  

Granada

Who knew I’d get stood up in Spain? One thing to be stood up at the movies – but Spain?

I’d planned to meet a friend in Madrid, then we’d fly to Granada to meet our hiking group. There were clues that this might not come to pass – oh, for example, when she said: Now if I’m not in Madrid when you land, don’t wait for me – catch your plane to Granada. But of course, who thinks this means: Guess what, I’m not coming!

That being said, I arrived in Madrid about 9AM – no-one seemed to speak English, even a flight captain. I was at a total loss as to my connecting Iberian flight to Granada, but eventually found out they don’t announce a gate until an hour prior. Better be sure you’re within running distance.

Still no sign of Diane, so I boarded Iberian. The sun was shining brilliantly – and I arrived at the (tiny) Granada airport and stood outside waiting – waiting – waiting for a taxi. Finally! I arrived at Guadalupe Hotel in the Alhambra (which, I found out is a medina, or city, not just a palace, as I had thought…always learning). Diane never showed up. Around 5PM Granada time…after hours of calls and worry…. I decided to change my tickets home, moving them up two days so I’d arrive home early Sunday rather than late Tuesday. Incredible hassle. I spent about $200 on long distance calls to airlines and to the office…let alone the cost of re-purchasing the Iberian A/L ticket and changing Continental!

Finally late that evening I found out from Wilderness Travel: Diane was not coming! I took a sleeping tablet, and slept until noon Saturday, and awoke feeling much better!

Saturday, Sept 30

Never hear from Diane.

The view from my room at the Guadalupe Hotel

My room, (on the 3rd floor) was charming although spartan…but what views! The busloads of tourists had come and gone, and peace reigned. I decided to wash my hair and get an early night. Reminder for next trip: Be sure to check the hotel hairdryer before you plan to use it!  First try: I blew the electricity.  Then I popped the breaker, and plugged the dryer back in…electricity came on. But every time I tried to use it, it blew.  I called the concierge, who flipped  breakers high upon the wall across the room several times – same problem. “Too bad,” she said. The only thing I could do was dry one strand of hair before blowing the fuse, cross from the bathroom, climb on a chair, flip the breakers, dry another strand, and so on and so forth. Fun!

The Guadalupe Hotel at the Alhambra

Next, I tried Room Service. When I couldn’t get anyone on the line, I called the front desk. They suggested I come down to the bar, which is also the Room Service. So down I went. One lonely girl was behind the counter…only two customers. I asked her “is this Room Service?” She: “Do I LOOK like Room Service?” Hmm…inauspicious beginning. I asked if she could fix me a sandwich. She looked at me as if I were requesting a 6-course meal, but we finally had a meeting of the minds, and when I offered her a big tip, she decided she could, of course, bring the tray to my room. Yay!

Meeting the group 

I met the group and off we go to the Alhambra. The palace was beautiful with incredible lacy walls with the coats of arms etc. of bygone times. I loved the gardens…oh, they were heavenly… architecturally designed…flowers brilliant…cedars and boxwood – all wildly scented.

We left the Alhambra and walked to charming restaurant up, up, up a narrow street. It was delightful sitting outside under a canopy eating a wonderful lunch. Weather, by the way, was hot – hot – hotter, not the usual October weather for Andalusia.

After lunch, we all piled in a van to Bubion, a tiny village atop what seemed to me an incredibly high mountain.  I turned green as round and round we went on the narrow road – each lap around the mountain more terrifying than the previous. The drop was precipitous. Thank god Didier was an excellent driver. I was so nauseated by the movement of the van, I really thought I’d lose it. Sweat broke out all over my face and neck, and I could barely climb from the van after an hour and a half drive up the mountain. (But this was the only time I experienced this.)

All the little towns have these wonderful narrow streets

Three hours later, after washing my hair again (glutton for punishment), I was able to go to dinner, always late at night. It was fabulous, but almost too much for me to finish (I valiantly manage). Spanish meals seem to be HUGE. But oh, we were relaxed, sitting outside in the courtyard looking over the mountains at the sunset, and then at a glorious full moon, having drinks, then going inside the tiny restaurant for dinner. Wine flowed, good conversation reigned. What a wonderful night!

We meet in hotel lobby at 9:30 after quick breakfast. First hike – and it was a doozy. The first couple of hours we hiked down – which was great. The trail was rocky and pebbly, so needed to watch feet. No-one else in the group likes downhill.

It is very dry here, and unseasonably hot. The ground is parched, but vistas across valleys are stunning, the mountains incredible, and you see clusters of whitewashed towns scattered at intervals across the great divides. Not a lot of water.

We are accompanied on this trip by Antonio and two mules. Bea asked me several times if I wanted to just ride one of the mules, when I thought I’d pass out from heat – but add to the weight already on the backs of the animals I would not … although they were well fed and cared for – Antonio rode one of them almost all the way back up the mountain.

Two mules for…

Now imagine, if you will, hiking in 87o F weather – with humidity – most times with no shade – sun fierce – not a cloud in the sky – followed by Antonio on a mule yakking away on his cell phone!

After about three hours, we come to our lunch spot, with a fabulous view across cliffs and valleys. In the distance, our town of Bubion, where we would begin heading after lunch. We picnic on tomatoes from Bea’s garden, homemade olive oil, two kinds of Spanish cheeses, cured ham, long loaves of crusty bread, Spanish olives…all absolutely delish (also wine, orange and peach juices).

Up again, on hike back to Bubion – this was so steep I had to keep stopping in the (very few) shady spots…the climb was intense. Bea kept me going – it was easier with the stops, but woof: talk about hard (my hardest hike…the rest got easier by the day.) Finally got to Bubion and she and I stopped in a small taverna for a drink. It was such fun to just not be “in train” and I loved Bea for doing it. She is a remarkable person – so Spanish, absolutely tiniest person I’ve every met. She used to be a dancer, until, as she says, her boobs got too big! She is funny and encouraging and has been such a friend on this hike.

On the road

A note on Granada, Bubion and Andalusia in general: I feel in many ways I have come to the back of beyond. It’s not that restaurants and inns lack amenities but the landscape does not allow for a Milan or New York frame of mind. People do things here they have done – in the same way – for hundreds of years. Bea herself lives in a tiny village up a hill from Bubion – she is restoring her house – it takes an immense amount of time – you cannot drive to her village, the roads are too narrow and inaccessible. She has to park her car elsewhere and walk uphill to her home. As she pointed out, in the winter, they may lose the electricity, but they have the fireplace, good wine and friends to sit and talk with (sounds great to me).

We meet a man on the hike who lived in a hut with dogs and a cat and probably other animals – no electricity, running water etc. – 84 years old, wizened – and happy. Time definitely stands still in Andalusia – except, except, except.

You cannot escape the cell phone. For example, Antonio, sitting astride one of his mules, climbing up the mountain, talking away a mile a minute on his cell phone to his girlfriend. Technology – even in the back of beyond.

The charm of Andalusia is everywhere

But perhaps back of beyond doesn’t really describe Andalusia – it is just timeless. Its villages are whitewashed, streets are rocky and cobbled and narrow, pots of flowers in all colors abound, dogs run free and doorways are open. All towns seem to be on mountains – all streets are steep – and life is very laid back.

I keep forgetting to mention the tapas. Every time you stop at a taverna for a drink, you are always given a grand array of sliced ham and/or cheese, maybe, but always olives and bread. And the size of the platter is dependent on the number of people.  On the climb to Bubion, we all stopped for a “clara” or “shandy” or Alhambra beer and were served the platters of the above as well as potatoes with scrambled eggs. Yum. Of course, who wants to hike after beer and potatoes!

And another thing: There is no mustard in Spain, or if there is, it must really be searched for! Jaro spent two hours looking for mustard when he went to Malaga…he wanted a ham sandwich with MUSTARD, but all they kept giving him was mayo or butter. Oh the challenges of this dreamy spot!

I am back at the inn, sitting on my little back patio underneath a chestnut tree writing in my journal. The sun is still high in the sky – but it’s cool in this shady enclosed grassy space, rimmed by scented boxwood. I am drinking an Alhambra beer and thinking: how lucky am I.

Off to wash my hair.

The incredible Ronda Gorge 

Up early this morning – suitcases must be in van by 8:45. Suck down some cereal and yoghurt and on the road again from Bubion on the way to Ronda.

Our hike is not as strenuous today – mostly down, with a few uphills just to keep us on our toes. Views are incredible, as usual. We stop for lunch at 1PM. Didier says this is the most primitive part of Andalusia, and from all points of view he is right. We are at a small taverna where the construction workers come to eat lunch – the food is delish, and there’s lots of it – egg pies, crusty bread, salad, and lemon souffle for dessert. I am gaining weight as I write this down.

Then it’s into the van for the 3.5 hour drive to Ronda. Uneventful trip – no nausea this time.

We arrive in Ronda. Our hotel is in the “parador” or palace, which fronts right onto the gorge. My room has a balcony overlooking dales and gorge and mountains. Fabulous.

In the rush to leave, I left behind my hairbrush, and my earrings. Really ticked at myself, but Didier finally finds a shop selling hairbrushes (big relief – obviously I am ecstatic over small things in life.)

Dinner in the lovely dining room. And so to bed…hiking the gorge tomorrow.

Woke up early, I thought. Next time I look it was 9:30 and that was “leave time”. O God! Never moved so damned fast in my life – surprised that Bea was not banging on the door! Glomp on sunblock, brush teeth, drag brush thru hair, clothes, boots – downstairs!

Only to find out it’s only 8:30. I must have forwarded the time when I was clicking on the alarm clock. Am now exhausted, and haven’t left the parador!

Breakfast. Then out the door to walk around the gorge and check the Roman/Moorish/Muslim baths within the battlements, circa 1250.

Then it’s across the bridge, down and through fields and around a trail for about five hours…then back up-up-up the gorge for lunch at a taverna, sitting outside overlooking the gorge, fields and faraway hills. I love it…it’s wonderful to be so far away from my “everyday” life in a completely – and I mean completely – foreign part of the world.

Incredible views. Our hotel is right on the Ronda gorge itself, and is truly magnificent. Inside are marble floors, stately columns, wonderful architecture. My room has a fantastic view over the fields below to the mountains beyond….never has the phrase “over the hills and far away” been so appropriate.

Lunch as usual was fun – but having a beer knocks me out. I’m going to sleep like a log tonight, but first we’re going to the bullring (but not to see a bullfight, which I would NOT) – then dinner at 8:30. After quick trip to a ceramic shop for a Ronda keepsake, it’s back to the parador to sleep for a couple of hours, then meet the group, after which, back again to parador and drinks with Bea, Didier and Jaro. And after a 2.5 hour-long meal, back to bed!

Ro, Didier and Bea after hiking Ronda’s beautiful plain

We’re on the way to our next hike. We pack and leave Ronda at 9:30AM…the hike is through some beautiful country, more green than before. Trails very very VERY narrow. We hiked for four hours to a quaint and lonely taverna…a converted “train barn” beside a railroad track. It is one room, very large, high ceilinged…painted terra cotta-ish within, marvelous architectural details.

Lunch was incredible – and huge! We start as usual with olives, then crusty bread and a salad…then we have soup…then grilled seabreem. Each of us has an entire fish, head, tails and all – we debone it at table, and squeeze lime on its white interior – it is delicious. We each have different desserts. I have chocolate mousse cake…talk about decadent. Wine is always served, but I decided to just wait until dinner, otherwise I’d be under the table.

A little rest after a fabulous meal

After this gorgeous lunch – we all have an hour to siesta or read. As I sit on the patio looking at mountains in the distance, the sky is completely clear and deeply blue, the sun is warm on my face. As I sit with my feet up on a couple of chairs. I think again: “how lucky am I?”

Then the blissful moment is over. It’s back in the van – driving through the incredible mountain scenery to climb and clamber up and over rocks and boulders to a huge and deep cave filled with stalagmites, stalagtites, paleolithic paintings, and “lakes”. We enter about 500 KMs into the cave…which is – they say – about 20,000 years old. (Have panic attack here, but it passes. Bea holds my hand through the whole thing, and I hope I didn’t break her fingers!)

Then back in van, driving through horse country…lovely rolling hills and fields – cork trees abound here, throughout our trip, we’ve seen chestnuts (with the nuts falling from the tree), almond trees, olives, oak, aspen – chestnut trees are used in much of the new construction. Not many flowers.

We left Bubion (we found out) just before a mini-hurricane struck, causing much destruction in that area (so far we’ve had nothing the most gorgeous weather…)

Grazemala – my favorite small town

About 6:30 we come to Grazemala, the town where we’ll spend the night. Of all the tiny charming towns, it is absolutely the most charming: hilly cobbled streets, a tiny town square overlooked by the Catholic Church, many small boutique shops with high end goods, (which are extremely reasonable and beautiful). I love it, and wish I could have stayed longer than two nights. Oh, and gorgeous bougainvillea.

Beautiful magical Grazemala

We dine at 9 (I can’t get used to all this food – and eating so late  – I must have gained a ton – but oddly enough, LOST inches, as I found when I returned home.) We have: wine, salad, crusty bread (a given), a huge bowl of gazpacho, fabulous paella (which the maitre’d brings out on a huge pan – it looks like a flower, all gorgeous rice and seafood and veggies), and then flan. Yum-o!!!

Up at 8AM and out the door of this delightful hotel by 9:30, in hiking boots, ready for another “harder” hike. This one lasts about 6-1/2 hours. The trail at first is fairly placid, earthen and downhill (my kind of trail). Then we come to the boulders. The trail becomes rocky here, and the climb is up – up – boulders all shapes and sizes cover the mountain. It is so important to watch where you put your feet. This area is extremely dry, and the sun is fierce, with very little shade.

We are in the open for much of the hike. Then we come to a grassy area atop a mountain after about three hours, and stop beneath a shady oak (the only one) and Bea lays out a wonderful picnic lunch: the usual crusty bread, tomatoes in olive oil with olives, peppers in olive oil, incredible thinly sliced ham, and goat cheese and cheddar (the cheddar is the best I’ve ever had, and there have been some marvelous cheeses on this trip.) Dessert (if you wanted it) was orange-chocolate cookies. No wine this time, only peach juice. Delish!

Ann on the trail

After wrapping up my blisters (yet again) it was back on the (ever-rockier) trail. We had seen wild ponies and mountain goats. Now we come to a fenced area (huge) which encloses massive wild black pigs – the noise they made would have wakened the dead – there were about 100 of them, and I’m glad they stayed on their side of the fence. Bea told us that during an earlier hike she’d been on, they were loose – and they completely obliterated the food brought for a picnic.

The rocky plain

We continue clambering down over boulders and the rocky trail and finally at about 3:30 came to our little taverna, where we sat in the shade drinking cokes and yakking up a storm. Back in the van for a drive back to our hotel through incredible mountain scenery.

As I sit here writing this, the church bell is tolling the hour, and it is incredibly quiet afterwards. Siesta until 5PM.

Back to the hike for a moment: at one point, Bea and I were hiking alone and we stopped to look at the beautiful valley spread before us. The silence was intense – we were literally in the middle of nowhere, and not a sound to be heard – not a bird, not a stream, no wild animals, no wind. Magic…I believe, despite Diane’s not showing up, that this is one of the loveliest trips I’ve ever made.

The quest for mustard – and a newspaper

Halfway through this trip, Jaro decides to go alone to Malaga on the coast, instead of hiking Ronda. He gets on a bus that should’ve gotten him there in an hour, but which took almost three. Then he spent hours looking for an English-language newspaper – had lunch, during which he looked unsuccessfully for mustard – took a walk around town – then caught the bus back to Ronda. He says that bus ride was a real trip – all women except him, all chattering wildly back and forth. The only words he got were “Mi madre!” and the girl pronouncing them did not say them in a happy tone of voice. But the bus ride was wonderful – so full of life. Jaro is really a fascinating individual – a real gentleman, great conversationalist. So now, I go to wash my hair and tidy up (I’m going to have to rethink this hairwashing business). Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla at 8:30AM, I’m cleaning out my suitcase for the trip home…

The ubiquitous cell phone

Bea and I went for a quick drink after a trip to the ATM (there’s that technology again) – then we all met for drinks in the hotel lobby – then walked the cobbled streets of Grazemala for a last meal together. It was one of those lovely evenings where everything went well: conversation, food, laughter. A really magical night. We walked back to the hotel under a clear midnight blue sky and the moon was full, a silver orb in that incredible sky.

Must get up at 7AM. And so to bed.

As scheduled, we leave the Hotel de la Villa at 8:30, and are on the 2-1/2 hour drive to Sevilla – first part through very mountainous and beautiful terrain, to a flatter but still rolling landscape into town. (Note: we have come to Sevilla from our highest elevation – 4500 feet.)

We find our hotel: Didier takes off to try to find a parking place for the van – 2-1/2 hours later, still no sign of Didier! Luckily, the luggage was dropped at the hotel.

Sevilla

The group takes off with Angela, guide to Santa Maria Cathedral (3rd largest in Europe) and the Royal Palace. Cathedral is astonishing – the nave is 500 km and completely gold leafed over cedar carvings of the birth of Christ up to his crucifixion. The inlays, the statuary, paintings, frescoes – gorgeous. Christopher Columbus’ bones are buried here – interred in coffin supported by four  magnificent carved figures, twice life size – incredible.

The gardens of the royal residence

The Royal Residence is beautiful: layers upon layers of Moorish/Christian architecture – inlays, everything restored or as it used to be. The rooms are far richer than the Alhambra – and the gardens are Persian/French/Italian/English – gorgeous trees and plants – all scented – just beautiful.

The palace, Seville

And then back to the hotel – quick goodbyes – went to my room for wash and a sandwich – get suitcase zipped – taxi due shortly to take me to airport, and then to Madrid where I’ll spend the night. And so I bid Andalusia, Bea and all farewell – the culmination of another little dream of travel.

Note to self: NEVER fly through Madrid if you can help it – airport is a nightmare – lines so long, it’s a wonder you don’t miss the flight (not that it seemed to matter on this trip), and once you get past customs into the waiting area – you cannot get out to find the bathroom, unless you want to go back through the humongous custom lines again!)

Further notes: I have to say a couple – or more – words about this hotel I’m at, in Madrid – it is gorgeous! Decor is a kind of Zen/Japanese/modern – gray grasscloth walls, black leather chair and tuffet, shoji screened closets, big square bed – white linens, tons of white pillows, hardwood floors, high-tech phones – and the bathroom! Fabulous molded-glass sink, frosted glass doors and shower and bath, gray tiles…it’s really really elegant. So comfy and so calming after the stress of the plane (little do I know about stress until I try to get home on Continental, but I won’t go into that here) and then trying to get a taxi to the hotel in Madrid. The first taxi driver threw me out of the cab because he didn’t have a clue where the hotel was (even with the address), he didn’t speak any English, and we were both yelling. I thought I’d be stuck on that curb for life!

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!