Saturday, 9 November 2013

Eigg bound

A request from my husband to visit Scotland, some enthusiastic researching from my part, and weeks of anticipation as we awaited our trip to Eigg. Finally the day arrived, and our adventure began, with a train journey from Glasgow to Fort William, which didn't disappoint. At every turn, another stunning landscape to take your breath away, and more than once many stags on the hills seemed positioned there just for our delight. We were almost sorry to arrive. In Fort William we stayed in a nice hotel with a swimming pool, and after a swim we ate a really good pub dinner in their lounge, and chilled out with baths and TV. The next morning we rose bright and early, ready to embrace the next part of our journey - the fabled train ride to Mallaig, hailed by many as the most beautiful stretch of train travel in the world! More of the same awaited us, with hills, lochs and moorland as far as the eye could see, and many stops, at many remote Highland towns. Eventually we arrived in Mallaig, just in time to catch the ferry to Eigg. We spent the whole journey outside in the freezing wind, as we'd heard stories of whales, dolphins and seals here, but all we saw were lots of birds. The ferry docked and we'd made it! We walked along the only road in Eigg, leading us to the heart of the island, and here we found our yurt. The next few days were spent in a blur of rain, shoes drying by the woodburner, home-made desserts being delivered to our door, long long walks, boggy ground, and snuggling under four duvets. It was the kind of remote, wet holiday that makes you feel like you're doing something worthy, and a bit difficult. Halfway through our stay, whilst walking on an empty beach with plastic bags on our feet, we came across two Frenchmen with a message. The last ferry for the week would be leaving the island in one hour, as a poor weather forecast meant it would not sail on the Friday when we'd planned to leave. This presented a fun challenge for us, as we were an hour's walk from the yurt. The decision was promptly made to turn around, head back as fast as possible, pack at lightning speed and request a lift to the ferryport. I knew I couldn't travel on my little legs as fast as Matt could on his long ones, so I urged him to go on without me. I don't think I'll ever forget the image of him running up the hill as the hailstones set in! I trudged on, battling the elements all the way, and arrived at the yurt like a drowned rat, to find everything packed, car waiting. At the ferry port we watched, sodden, as the ferry battled the wind for two hours, trying to reach the shore. As soon as it did we hopped on. I peeled off my layers of waterproofs, shoes, plastic bags and wet socks, and sent Matt to buy tea and chips. No hanging about outside this time! In the meantime the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun shone on Eigg as we left it behind. Back in Mallaig we found the most spotless backpackers I've ever seen and gloried in the luxuries of central heating and TV. We discovered that with plenty of local walks, we'd have more than enough to do here, and stayed two nights. The next day was spent walking in the rain again, taking in the Singing Sands at Morar and a local Loch. On Friday we treated ourselves to a swim instead of walking, and whiled away some time in a cosy cafe, reading. Then it was back on the trains to Glasgow, where we spent the final night of our Highland adventure. What fun we had, how wet our feet, how wholesome and fulfilling... and what a lovely photo album we have filled!


The last week of the Summer holidays was spent in Brittany, with all of my husband's family. I had visited this region as a small child, but couldn't remember it well. However, now a francophile and French teacher, I'm sure that this is where my love of all things France began. The funny thing is, having since spent a lot of time in the south of France, Brittany no longer seems quite so French to me. Perhaps this was because I spent my time with 11 other English people, in a huge house in a remote town, where we did not have much need to interact with the locals. Or perhaps it is due, as the name of the region suggests, to its striking resemblance to Cornwall. Feeling not far from home (despite our 14 hour drive from the ferry port to the house), had no negative effect on my enjoyment of the holiday however. I loved the lengthy sea swims each day, the quiet beaches and rugged coastline. And of course, no matter how much or how little you engage with the experience, there is always something wholesome and right about being in France.

The Minack Theatre

This Summer I was lucky enough to visit my home, Cornwall, while the sun shone. When the sun is shining, there is no better place to be, and after a swim in the turquoise waters of Porthcurno Beach, my mum and I decided to see if we could get tickets for a show at the Minack, a theatre perched upon the cliffs above the beach. We were in luck, and a day or two later, in the scorching Summer sunshine, we found ourselves at the open air theatre, watching a musical. The entertainment was all very good, but the real attraction is the setting. When training to be a teacher I had to prepare a speech about something of interest to me. Mine was on the Minack, and here is more or less what I said: 'In between two little coves at the south westerly tip of Cornwall, Porthcurno and Porthchapel, is a place of stunning natural beauty. It is called the Minack Theatre, and to me it is a magical place. From 1931 until she died in 1983 the Minack Theatre was planned, built and financed by one determined woman - Rowena Cade. Rowena discovered the Minack headland and bought it for £100. There she built a house for herself and her mother. Then she had the idea of building a theatre, because there was no suitable stage for the local production of 'The Tempest'. It took six months for Rowena and two Cornish men to build a simple stage and some rough seating. The first performance of 'The Tempest' was in the summer of 1932. But Rowena kept building throughout her life to make the Minack into what it is today. There is now a lot of seating, changing rooms, a box office, museum, car park, shop and lighting box, all thanks to Rowena. Over the years she dragged driftwood up the cliffs with her bare hands, and as she could not afford the cost of granite, she developed her own technique for working with cement. Using the tip of an old screwdriver she decorated the surfaces with lettering and intricate Celtic designs before they hardened. She fetched sand from Porthcurno beach in bags on her back until she finally got a car. She worked throughout every winter, (and they can be quite savage in Cornwall) so that the Theatre could be open every summer, until she was in her mid-eighties. When she died, just before her ninetieth birthday, she left elaborate sketches suggesting how the Theatre could continue to evolve to provide a unique performing space for Cornwall. And it is. Watching a performance in the open air with only the Isles of Scilly to come between you and America is a unique experience. You might see the Scillonian pass, or some fishermen in the distance, backlit by moonlight. You will certainly hear the seagulls. If you're lucky you might be visited by the dolphins, puffins and basking sharks which frequent the haunting waters. But the best bit is that you are encouraged to bring food, blankets, champagne, and people come early to appreciate the view, and share wonderful picnics. "Minack" in Cornish means a rocky place. To me it means a lot more, and no visit to Cornwall is complete without a trip to Rowena Cade's Minack Theatre.'

8 months in glorious Gloucestershire

We've been living in glorious Gloucestershire for 8 months now, and I had no idea when we arrived what a treat lay in store for me. I agreed to (or perhaps, suggested) a move out of the city, as I thought it would be a nice change, save on commuting, and be the right sort of place to buy a house. Before we started looking for a house, however, I don't think I'd ever actually been to Nailsworth. And then we bought the first house we saw. And here I am. I didn't know that Woodchester National Trust Park was a stone's throw from our house. I've spent many a Sunday since moving here wandering along by the lakes and through the woods, sometimes stopping for a cup of tea in the unfinished mansion. I didn't know about Ruskin Mill, a college where the practical skills learning takes place mostly outside, and meandering through the grounds is a pleasure. We've spotted kingfishers, herons, deer, hares and many other woodland friends on our many visits. I didn't know about Minchinhampton Common and the free range cows that make it their home all Summer. I didn't know about all the other commons surrounding Stroud either - Selsley, Rodborough... meaning that we are never short of places to walk. I now know that I can holiday 2 miles from my house, in the gorgeous Thistledown Farm campsite at Nympsfield. I did this with some friends in September, and was met for breakfast by Matt, who had cycled up the hill from ours. The views are stunning there, the air clear, and the surroundings green green green. I've now been to countless country pubs serving great food at London prices, spent entire days in the Summer swimming in Stroud's wonderful Lido, and seen a little of charming Cirencester. At every turn there is another village, woodland or walk to discover, and I love it. I love being able to walk out of the house and be in the countryside already. I love being far from traffic noise easily. I love Glooucestershire, and I had no idea I would.