I recommend a visit. . . don’t wear heels


I was supposed to be in Jersey, exploring the island while Husband worked. But Kia had her emergency operation, and Coronavirus seemed to be rampaging, so we cancelled. Shame—I have never been to Jersey. Maybe later in the year.

Instead, we went to Rye. Probably not quite as exciting, but it’s one of those places I pass every time I go to Camber Sands, and yet I have never explored the ancient winding streets, or peered through the leaded-light windows of the sweetshop, and the day was sunny, so off we set.

As you enter Rye from the north, there are car parks, right on the edge of town. Leave your car there, otherwise you will have to navigate narrow streets and steep hills, bumping over cobbles, and very few streets are wide enough to park on any way. If they are full, there’s more parking near the train station. Really, you have to explore Rye on foot.

Rye is built on a rock, a huge lump of sandstone that rises up from otherwise completely flat land. In Medieval times, it was almost completely surrounded by sea, but now is two miles from the coast. It has a river, with a lock, at the bottom of the rock and some terraced cottages elbowing for room next to a road that is too fast and busy, especially in the summer. We found a bench next to the river (and a dead rat, actually, but we’ll skip over that detail) and ate our sandwiches listening to seagulls and staring at the narrow river flowing through thick banks of mud. When the tide is in, the river swells, and big boats use it to reach the sea; they were all stranded on the mud when we were there.

You leave the river, and walk up roads named things like Mermaid Street, pebbled cobblestones underfoot, ancient houses on either side. The houses have wonderful names too, like The House With Two Doors (a house, with two front doors, right next to each other) and The House With The Seat (you can guess that one). Some have plaques with the date. Although some of the cellars date as far back as 1156, the houses all seem to have been rebuilt in 1421. I am guessing this is due to the French, who burned the town to the ground on June 22nd, 1377. (We should probably have forgiven them by now, but I’m not so sure myself.)

In the 1700s, Rye was a thriving port, and the infamous Hawkhurst Gang ran a smuggling ring, using the cellars of local houses and pubs to escape the authorities. We drove through Hawkhurst on the way to Rye, and it’s now a pretty village of middle-class cottages, so maybe the smugglers all moved away or were hanged. If you visit the Mermaid Inn in Rye, you can walk the dark corridors, under the heavy beams, and imagine that they are still there, discussing evil deeds next to the fireplace.

Not everyone in Rye was bad, and there are two churches, right next to each other (which feels somewhat confrontational). The older, Anglican Church, is worth a peek inside. Hanging from the ceiling is a huge pendulum, ticking backwards and forwards. You can climb the clock tower to see the view, but I managed to avoid that. There was piped choir music, which created a nice atmosphere. The church is old, but with signs of modern activity: a collection for a food bank, and a prayer board for Zimbabwe, and a library of second-hand books. I expect it’s a nice church to belong to.

Outside is the old vicarage, and a memorial to the last town crier (though you can almost see him walking though the streets). There is also the curved brick wall of a water tower, with pump attached, for the townsfolk to collect water.

We popped to the Ypres Tower (where there’s a museum, but it’s shut until April). The tower was part of the Cinque Ports—Edward the Confessor built five ports and two forts. There are more benches at the tower, and it would probably be a better spot for a picnic than our dead-rat bench, as there are lovely views.

When you pass Rye (as we have many times) you notice the old stone gate, built in 1329 and home to many pigeons and doves—though I’m assuming that wasn’t the original purpose.

We spent a happy two hours wandering round, then returned to the car and drove home. We could have spent longer there, especially in the summer when more would be open, or after the Coronavirus scare when we may have felt more inclined to eat in a cafe. I recommend a visit, don’t wear heels.

Thank you for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

PS. Thank you everyone for your kind wishes, Kia continues to improve and is regaining her bounce.

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Lazy Days on the Isle of Man


Wednesday was gloomy, a thin veil of rain spoiling the view, so we decided to go for a drive. We drove to the little village of Strang, then headed north on the B22. The road (excellent, because all roads on the Isle of Man are excellent) took us along the top of a mountain, looking down into steep valleys. There were lots of random sheep, patches of snow, plantations of pine trees. We passed reservoirs, crossed cattle grids and narrow stone bridges. Tried to find an ancient stone cairn, but failed.

Drove to the Motor Museum in Jurby. It is shut on Wednesdays.

We then had to decide: pop to look at a nearby prison, or drive to a car park near the sea at Sartfield. We chose the car park near the coast (at least, Husband did, which is the same as us both deciding. I voted for the prison.) Turns out that Sartfield is where the septic tank lorries empty the poop into vats, and a long pipe carries it the length of the footpath, to the sea. I have visited better smelling beaches. Wasn’t tempted to swim.

Drove along the A10, through the northern edge of the island. It was very flat, with fields of cattle and trees twisted by the cold north wind. It has echoes of Dungeness, where weird houses face the the elements in the shadow of a power station.

Drove to the village of Bride, passed an open tea-room and as it was 2.30 and we hadn’t eaten lunch, we stopped. It was perfect. I had red wine and goulash, and Husband had a cup of tea and a burger. People at other tables seemed to be ordering food that wasn’t on the menu (I definitely saw a lasagna!) but I was happy with my choice.

The guide book said there was a Celtic cross in the Parish church, so we went to look. We wandered among the graves, but no Celtic cross. I decided to look inside the church, and there it was! The black stone, engraved in the year 900 was still ornate, though it exuded old age, somehow the black stone managed to look ancient. The son who created it over the grave of his mother would never have guessed that we, in our modern clothes, with cars and houses, would one day trace the markings with our finger, and think about those long-ago people.

We drove home via Ramsey, simply so that Husband could drive the A18, which is the TT course across Snaefell. I am so glad we didn’t hire anything faster than a Corsa!

On Thursday, we went to Castletown. In the town square is the ‘Candlestick’ which is the plynth intended to hold the statue of Governor Cornelius Smelt (1805-1832). But the town people refused—and still refuse—to pay for the actual statue, so the column stands there, empty, looking like a giant candlestick!

I had read that Castletown had the plug to an old volcano, and I was interested to see it (to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what a ‘plug’ was, but I like volcanoes). We set off for the visitor centre. It was shut (everything is shut in March) but there was a helpful sign on the wall, which explained the geology of the beach. Now, I do not usually have any interest in geology, but this was rather amazing. There were slabs of limestone, which had been mined, and the remains of the lime kilns. Right next to the lime was a ‘storm beach’—fat pebbles washed up during a storm; and behind it all was the volcano plug, which was a hill of rocky volcanic larva from about a million years ago. It was, surprisingly, very interesting.

We finished our trip to Castletown with tea and cake. There is of course, a castle in the town, but I felt the teashop would be more fun.

I hope you make some good choices today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

The Cafe at the Sound


Our guidebook was, to be honest, pretty useless. It told us things like “There is a Celtic cross at Bride, which is very interesting.” Not a huge amount of information or background in that statement. However, some of the places it mentioned (whilst giving absolutely no information about) were rather splendid. The Cafe at the Sound was one of these.

We drove across the island, me giving directions, Husband ignoring them and pretending he was a racing driver. I was in an excellent mood, having enjoyed another breakfast at our favourite cafe: The Tea Junction. Every morning I had porridge, sprinkled with slices of banana and cinnamon, with local honey in a tiny pot at the side. Perfect.

However, the cafe we were heading for was not recommended for its food, but for the view. And oh my word, what a view! Perched on the side of the cliff, overlooking waves that crash over rocks, and sea that races between the Isle of Man and the tiny island of the Calf of Man. The weather was wild, which is absolutely the best time to visit, and we walked up to the cafe and sat at one of the tables next to the curved window, watching the sea and the weather and the wonderful strength of it all.

We ate sandwiches, which were very nice (though nothing could compare with the view) and I lingered over some rather tasty-looking cakes sitting under their glass domes in a tempting manner. Husband reminded me about my cholesterol levels (sometimes I hate him) and we left and went for a walk.

There were paths below the level of the cliff, and we dropped down out of the wind, and everything felt calm and peaceful (apart from the sea, which was still whooshing through the gap between the islands). I thought I could hear a hoarse bark, over the sound of the wind, and peered across to the Calf of Man. It was slightly too far away to be in focus, but I could make out rocks in the little cove. Then one of the rocks lifted its head, and I realised they were seals. We weren’t near enough to see them properly, but every time one of them moved, or a new arrival humped its body out of the waves, we could discern they were seals. It was terribly wonderful. We sat for a while, watching them flop their bodies across the beach, then we drove back across the island.

We passed a big church, with an area lined with flag poles, and a tiered hill like a green wedding cake. We stopped. This was Tynwald, the parliament hill I told you about in an earlier post. We walked around for a bit, trying to imagine how it would have been 1,000 years ago when it was established.

We drove home via Peel (home to those kipper-burgers from yesterday, which I can still taste by the way!) Peel is beautiful, with a quay full of fishing boats, and a castle from a storybook. The castle was possibly Avalon, from the King Arthur legends, and it used to be on an island but now it’s attached to the town by a little road. It was closed (everything was closed the first week of March) but there was a hill opposite, so we sat at the top in the sunshine, staring at the castle and thinking of stories (well, I was. Husband was probably thinking about the cost of renovating it) while the wind pushed against our backs and froze our bones.

Then we left, driving back (racing-driver style) to Douglas, where our Airbnb is. Another nice day on the island.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a nice day too.
Take care.
Love, Anne xx

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The Island with the Best Roads in the World


The back view is definitely the best! Front view has steamed-up glasses and a very red face.

I am sure you will have guessed by now which island we visited, but here are some more clues:
Each morning, we ran along the quay. I use the term ‘run’ lightly, but it was a lovely way to exercise, watching the ferry appear over the horizon, listening to the seagulls, watching the waves heave seaweed onto the beach. Just beyond the harbour is a tiny island with a tower on it. At night, it lights up with different coloured spotlights, and looks magical.

I went to one of the many shops selling ‘tourist trash’ and spent a happy time looking at fridge magnets and sticks of square rock (because that’s a thing here) and T-shirts with TT Racing emblazoned on the front (because that’s a BIG thing here). I bought a T-shirt. (TT actually stands for Tourist Trophy.)

The TT race is massive here. The island has a tiny population of about 80,000 and about 50,000 people arrive for the race. The race course is on the actual roads that cross the mountains, with start and finish in the towns. Which means that if the roads have even the smallest pothole, they dig up the whole section and resurface it properly, making all the roads fabulous for driving on. This island possibly has the best roads in the whole world.

While I was buying my T-shirt, the person in the shop told me a little about how crowded the island becomes during race season. Most residents have a room they can rent out, and farmers use fields as campsites, and all the restaurants are completely full. The week before the race, the road across the mountain is made one-way, and people with expensive cars come to zoom along the road. Of course, it is still open to normal traffic, and if Mr. Ferrari happens to get stuck behind Granny Slow-Boots, then there is a ginormous traffic jam. Possibly, I was told, the most expensive traffic jam in the world as it is full of the very best, fastest cars.

We were not on the island for racing season, but Husband still enjoyed the roads, and I was glad of seat-belts. As we drove through the mountains, we saw patches of snow and beautiful views and we frequently stopped to enjoy where we were. It was always freezing!

We drove up to Laxey, which is an old mining town. There is an huge waterwheel, made into a monument to the miners. My recommendation would be to visit this out of season, otherwise you might be forced to walk up some very scary steps, right to the top. Or to be asked to “Take a photo when I’m up there,” which will involve a long cold wait at the bottom. Much better to visit in March, when everything is closed and you can simply peer through the gates!

On the side of the Laxey Wheel is the triskelion. This is the emblem that is on the flag, and on practically everything else on the island (even hanging from street lights). I could not, to be honest, quite get my head around it. No one seems to really know where it comes from. It’s a three-legged swastika (nothing to do with Nazis) and I found it uncomfortable to look at. Each leg is dressed in armour, and it’s associated with the motto: Quocunque Jeceris Stabit (‘Wherever you throw it, it will stand’). The museum has several ideas about where it originated from, but no one is quite sure.

The island is also famous for a breed of cat. The Manx Cat has no tail, and the back legs are apparently slightly longer than in other breeds. I say “apparently” because we never saw one. I dragged Husband along residential streets, peering over garden walls and into bushes, but we didn’t see a single one. Personally, I think they do not exist (unlike the fairies, of which we saw many potential candidates).

Our first evening on the island, I ate Queenies—the Queen scallops that are a local delicacy.

We also ate some Manx kipper-burgers. These are smoked kippers, served in a bap, and the best place (according to the locals) is a small kiosk next to the castle in Peel. We drove there, dodged the extensive roadworks, and ordered our kipper burgers from the harassed-looking woman behind the counter. Then we climbed some steps, to an eating area above the kiosk and sat on a wooden bench, looking out to sea. The kippers were freshly cooked, the juices dripping from them when we took a bite, the bread fresh and soft. We ate them watching seals in the sea—or rather, with seals in the sea bobbing up to watch us! Kipper burgers are a sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Glad I did it, never need to do it again. It was a hard-to-forget experience, as the taste lingered long, long after the last bite was swallowed. . .

I am sure by now you know that we were on the Isle of Man. I will tell you more tomorrow. Thanks for reading. Eat something tasty today.
Love, Anne x

The Island Continued


The Island Continued
Have you managed to guess the name of the island we visited? Here are some more clues.

I was interested by the history of the island, knowing that it has a mixture of Celtic and Viking heritage, and is currently protected by the UK, but is not part of it (and has never been part of the EU). The island is owned by the Crown, and has its own Parliament.

I followed signs from the main shopping street to the museum. The sign implied (not sure how, but it did) that the museum was tucked just behind the shops. This was not true. I followed a long succession of signs, up a hill, to an entrance with some steps which looked exactly like the pedestrian entrance to a car park (though they smelt better). A sign told me the museum could be found at level 9. Unexpected. I began to climb.

I walked up the car-park-like steps until I emerged (at level 8, as level 9 did not exist) in. . . a car park! I almost gave up, but another sign directed me through the cars, over a narrow footbridge until I reached a red brick museum. I was greeted at the door by a friendly man, who had a big smile and the curliest hair I have ever seen, sort of piled onto the top of his head like one of those artificial-looking wigs that clowns wear. I was glad Husband was safely at work, because I just knew he would comment. The museum was free, and I was given a map, and directed through the first doorway.

The museum started badly (other than the storybook man at the door) with displays of art. The next room had glass cases of coins, and other old stuff, followed by long explanations about the geology of the island. I remembered that I don’t like museums, and wondered how I could sneak past the friendly man without being noticed. Sat on a leather seat and pondered problem, decided that there was no way I was brave enough to leave after 3 minutes, and continued into the heart of the museum. Here I was greeted by Vikings, but even these managed to look bland.

Now, I’m not a fan of museums—too much reading of boards to learn facts I am not interested in—but most museums today manage to mix some story in with their facts, and I was pleased to discover that this was no exception. I rounded a corner, and was directed up the gangplank of an ancient ferry from Liverpool, past portholes showing glimpses of a former life, trunks and suitcases piled high, a man’s voice announcing the imminent departure of the boat; then down the other side onto a beach from yesteryear. There was a horse-pulled tram, and bathing huts that could be wheeled onto the beach. I left via huge displays showing adverts for ice-creams and drinks, which were shocking when viewed with modern eyes.

 I also enjoyed the displays about the war, with a walk-through trench. Photos and displays showed how the island was used to house prisoners of war. There was no purpose-built prison, and initially the prisoners were housed in the properties that lined the beach, with barbed wire to stop them leaving. Later, they were moved to a ‘camp’ with tents, and these were replaced with sheds when the weather turned too cold. Above the displays was a huge mine, menacing in both its size and position.

Another part of the island’s history can be found at St. John’s. Here there is a tiered grassy mound, and a flag-lined area leading to the church. A standing stone explains that this is ‘Tynwald Hill’ and is Viking in origin, the Norse: Thing vollr meaning ‘Parliament Hill’. Each year on old Midsummer Day, the island’s parliament meets and all new laws are proclaimed.

There is also a Parliament building, where they meet during the rest of the year. But it doesn’t look at all interesting, so we will leave it at St. John’s.

I’m sure you will know the name of the island now—if not, read my next post.
I hope you have an interesting day. Thank you for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

The Island


We went to an island that had the hills and valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, with the dramatic coast of Cornwall, and the slightly ugly but real houses of Wales. It was perfect, and very unspoilt, so to be honest I don’t want to tell you where we were. But that feels a little mean, so I will tell you the name in a later blog—unless you can guess already? I will give you some clues.

We left home last Monday, to catch a flight from Gatwick. I worried about Coronavirus, and wrapped my scarf around my head and face, so I resembled a sort of paisley Egyptian mummy. It was very hot! We jostled shoulders with hundreds of people, and I wondered if hand sanitiser—which kills bacteria—was any protection at all against a virus.
We flew to the island, and most other people hadn’t checked in any luggage, so collecting our bags was super-fast. The airport was tiny, and we went straight to the Avis desk, where a friendly lady gave us the keys to our car and told us not to put in too much petrol because the island was too small to need much. She had a sort of Liverpudlian accent, which took me straight back to being 17, and visiting my sister when she studied at Liverpool Uni.

We drove to the Airbnb, which was right opposite the beach, then walked to the town. The main street had all the big-name shops: M&S, Topshop, Next, Clarks; surprisingly it also had customers, and it reminded me of twenty years ago, when High Streets weren’t full of boarded up windows and Poundland. I realised that probably the hassle of internet shopping/delivery when you live on an island, means that real shops, with real products, are how most people shop. It was rather nice.
We drove around the hills behind the main town. The roads were brilliant, and Husband enjoyed the drive and went slightly faster than I hoped. (A big clue here!) The island has no national speed limit, so although there are restrictions in the towns, an ‘end of speed limit’ sign means just that: there is no speed limit. We drove up a mountain, with ragged-looking sheep and patches of white snow gleaming, and views across the sea to the mainland. It was beautiful and wild and absolutely freezing cold.

The island has fairies (this was in the guide book, so it must be true). They are not the tiny flighty girl-fairies of picture books, with their long hair and floaty dresses and shiny wings. No, these fairies are about 4ft tall, with pointy hats, and they cause no end of trouble, especially if you don’t show them respect. They are referred to as ‘Themselves’ and have been known to steal babies and bring bad luck and all sorts of other mischief. I made a huge mistake in reading this section of the guide book to Husband, who then spent the next few days pointing out every person who could, possibly, be a fairy. To be honest, there are an unexpected high number of very short people on the island, most wearing bobble-hats, some sporting long beards (mainly the men). It made me giggle, which was very bad as it encouraged him.
Can you guess where we were? I will give you some more clues in my next post.
I hope you have a fun day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Train to Jūrmala, Latvia


Train to Jūrmala

Last week, we were in Riga, Latvia.


I had read that Jūrmala was a good place to visit from Riga, and we had a day when Husband wasn’t working, so I persuaded him that he would like to go. We walked to the station, which is on the edge of the Old Town, near the zeppelin hangers that house the central market. The weather was dry but cold.

At the station we found a ticket booth where the woman spoke a little English, and we managed to mime that we wanted return tickets to Majori. Jūrmala is the Latvian for ‘seaside‘ and there are several stations along the coast, with Majori being in the middle. I used my phone to photograph the timetable (because I have seen my children do this sort of thing). Finding the correct platform was more complicated, but we found a timetable that showed platforms, and then followed signposts to platform 3. If they had announced a change of platform over the tannoy, we’d have been stumped, and possibly ended up in Russia. But the sign on the platform showed we were at least travelling in the right direction, so we climbed the steep narrow steps up into the carriage, and sat down. A doorbell sound announced the doors were shutting, and we eased away from the station.

I like catching trains in foreign countries, watching the changing scenes through the window. I used my photographed timetable to check the stations we passed through, so we would know when to get off. As we left Riga, we saw many apartment blocks, small industries, red-brick factories. The houses varied, some must once have been grand, with towers and pillars, but all were faded now, the painted plaster cracked, weeds filling the dried gardens. Every wall we passed was decorated with graffiti, none of it clever. Tall brick chimneys piercing the blue sky and modern warehouses swept past the window.

Then we plunged into woods of pine trees, and out the other side. The land was flat, not a hill in sight. As we drew near to Majori there were more forests, and large houses nestled amongst the pine trees.

Majori station is next to a flooded river. One side of the platform is a road, the other is the river. You could see the railway as it curved away from the town, past the tall bulrushes and the fishermen. We left the station, and walked into town.

The town has echoes of the Jersey shore in the US, with painted houses and little shops, and a sandy beach with a long boardwalk. We had a quick lunch in a cafe (De Gusto—a pretty little cafe with nice pastries and good coffee). The walk to the beach was signed, and we set off along the boardwalk.

The beach was sandy, the sea calm, the wind cold. To our left were houses, right up to the weeds that lined the beach. They were large, ugly 1950’s constructions, and mostly deserted, with peeling plaster and boarded windows and brambles growing up to the doorstep. I decided they were Russian-owned holiday homes, abandoned in 1991 when the Latvians defended their land against invasion, the Russians refusing to sell them in the belief that one day they would return. Husband informed me they were more likely owned by a developer, who was waiting for them to become completely derelict so that renovation was impossible and he would get planning permission to demolish them and build modern holiday homes and hotels. I prefer my version.

Among the ugly buildings was an ugly look-out tower with radio masts and a high window and speakers for broadcasting instructions. This was the police station, and a man in the window was guarding the safety of everyone on the beach. There was also a cubed building, right on the sand, with a large picture window facing the sea. It was a cafe, large extractor fans whooshing the smell of fried potatoes onto the beach, the steamy windows showing hazy images of tourists huddled inside with mugs of coffee. But the best part was the position, which was below the tide mark, so at high tide, the people inside would be trapped, and they would have to sit there, watching in horror as the sea swept up the beach, past the door, trapping them inside for a couple of hours until the tide went out again. It would, I felt, be great fun to come back at high tide, and watch them as they gradually realised their mistake—but perhaps that’s a little mean of me.

We went back to the main street and walked along it, peering into gift shops and cafes and windows displaying knitted goods and thick coats. At the end of the street was an ornate church, gleaming in the sunshine and looking for all the world as if it had been flown there from Disney Land. We walked back to the same cafe we had lunched in, as they had the freshest cakes. We had tea, and I chose a rather too sickly white chocolate eclair, and Husband chose a completely delicious apple cinnamon tart (why does he always choose better food than me?) Then we walked back to the little station, and watched the train as it wound its way back along the curve of the river, until it reached Majori, and we clambered aboard, ready to return to Riga.

I hope you go somewhere nice this week too. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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