Category Archives: Europe

Nottingham, England – Impressions

Part of the England’s East Midlands, Nottingham is just over 200km north of London. It’s steeped in the legend of Robin Hood and is surrounded by Sherwood Forest to the north. The city gets its name from an Anglo-Saxon chieftain named Snot, who ruled the area of Snotingham, meaning the homestead of the people of Snot.

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A week ago, I was in Norwich for a couple of days, and after a short week at work, I headed north to do the same in Nottingham.

Robin Hood Statue
It’s impossible to think of Nottingham without at some point thinking of Robin Hood. While there’s no actual proof he was a real person, it’s believed the name was a local reference to bandits in general. A legend grew around the character, spawning books and movies and growing a host of folklore about his Merry Men, his lover and nemesis, the Sheriff. The statue is in place outside Nottingham Castle.

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Sky Mirror
Situated outside the Playhouse in Wellington Circus on the Northside, the 6-metre diameter circular stainless steel mirror weighs nearly 10 tons. Its surface is said to reflect the ever-changing environment. A similar but somewhat larger 11-metre mirror was installed at the Rockefeller Centre in New York. With others in Monaco, Saint Petersburg and Tilburg, the Netherlands.

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Arboretum
Arboretum was the first designated public park in the city, opening in 1845. As the town grew around it, the neighbourhood took on its name. Past the lake and carpet bed, along the path with the Aviary to the left and Victorian flower garden to the right, the Arboretum opens into a pleasant grassy park lined with trees. Other features on the Arboretum include a formal garden, a Chinese bell tower, and a Bandstand. However, the latter was cordoned off for special events. A pleasant stroll on a cloudy afternoon.

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Theatre Royal Nottingham
The grand theatre in the heart of Nottingham is connected to the Royal Concert Hall. Like its namesake in London, it regularly attracts major touring dramas, opera, ballet, West End musicals and even an annual pantomime. It can seat 1186 people over four floors.

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Nottingham University
While not as sprawling as the universities of Oxford or Canterbury, Nottingham’s University takes up a fair chunk of the north side of the city.

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Old Market Square
At the base of the steps leading up to the city council chambers is one of the largest paved pedestrian squares in the UK. It was originally the centre point between the Norman town of Nottingham and an old Anglo-Saxon town called Snothryngham (the original spelling), where a market square was formed. It was also the site of the Nottingham Goose Fair between the 12th century and 1928, when it was moved due to space limitations. The fair has gathered in October every year for most of those 700 years, although it was cancelled in 1646 due to the Great Plague and during both world wars. It was also cancelled last year for the COVID pandemic. In 1764 it was notable for the cheese riot that occurred due to the significant increase in cheese prices from the previous year.

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Motorpoint Arena and National Ice Centre
The Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham is the sister Arena to the one in Cardiff I visited 18 months ago, before the world got strange. It is also used as a concert venue, although I didn’t go inside this one. Connected to it is the National Ice Centre, UK’s first twin Olympic-sized rink, and where Nottingham-born Olympic champions Torvill and Dean first developed their love for skating.

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Nottingham Castle
Built-in 1068 by Willian the Conqueror and originally a wooden structure, it was replaced by the more defensible stone castle. Then by 1651, it was largely demolished except for its walls and gates.

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20 years later, a ducal palace was built on the site, only to be burned down by rioters. It was then rebuilt and became the art gallery that stands there now. During my visit, it held a display on three of Nottingham’s most rebellious and bloody episodes, a creative gallery and the museum of the Mercian Regiment.

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The castle, ducal palace, and the art gallery were all perched atop a bluff of Triassic sandstone riddled with caves and underground passageways. It was through some of these tunnels that various acts of violence were brought against the castle and palace. During my visit, I went down into some of the caves and tunnels beneath the gallery on a cave tour.

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Nestled at the base of the Castle walls, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be the oldest inn in England dating from 1189AD, the year Richard the Lionheart became king. However, there is no documentation to verify this date. Several other inns across the country claim the same honour, including several in Nottingham. But, after I visited the castle, I had to pop in for lunch, because maybe it is the oldest, perhaps it’s not, but the Fish and Chips were good.

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Nottingham Contemporary
Near the National Ice Centre is a contemporary art space with large sprawling rooms, sparsely decorated with art. This one is from a Brazilian artist and contains several large pieces, along with many wall hangings. It was only a quick visit as there was honestly not a lot to see.

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National Justice Museum
The museum is housed in a former Victorian courtroom, prison, and police station, and details the historical process where people could be arrested, tried, sentenced and executed. A visit to the museum often starts with a court trial with several audience members playing roles. This little role play is designed to show how cutthroat the system could be.

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Beneath the courtroom, are several floors of cells, which get steadily worse the lower you go until at the bottom they are little more than dark, dank caves where prisoners were held. The prisons were separated into men’s and women’s gaols, with the men doing more hard labour, while the women did more menial labour.

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The back courtyard has a set of gallows where a mock hanging takes place, although the ‘prisoner’ (a member of the audience) gets saved by a writ from the king. The back courtyard only held a small number of hangings at the time as most were held on the front steps, so locals could watch.

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Impressions
Nottingham is smaller than many of the other cities I’ve explored and has perhaps more of a common township feel than a magical place where legends were born. Yet, I still enjoyed exploring another of England’s historical locations.

Until next time,
The World Wanderer

Norwich, England – Impressions

About a hundred miles to the North East of London is Norwich, which until the 18th century was the second-largest city in England. The town was founded in about the 6th century as Northwic (North Farm) and over time has become Norwich, with a silent ‘w’.

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In its early years, Norwich was a bustling trade centre even while being raided and burnt in 1004 by the Viking king of Denmark. Wool was Norwich’s primary trade good, which was said to have made England rich and funded many churches in the region. Norwich has more medieval churches than any other city in Western Europe north of the Alps.

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So, taking a couple of days off, I caught the train out of London and, after dropping my bag at my hotel, set about exploring the city.

Cow Tower

Skirting north along the River Wensum, I discovered the Cow Tower nestled on one of its bends. The late 12th-century artillery tower was built to defend the northeastern approach to the city from the local English rebels and the French. The weapons of choice on the defensive building were hand cannons and bombards.

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City Walls – Barre Gate and Magdelen Gates

Continuing along the river, I found two different sections of the seven-metre wall that once surrounded the city. Norwich had twelve such fortified gates and boasted the longest system of urban defences in Britain. I did find other scattered bits throughout the city. An artist’s impression can be found here.

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Dinosaur Art Trail

As I walked towards the centre of the city, I discovered a two-metre tall, brightly painted T. rex on the side of the road. Littered throughout the city are 21 of these sculptures, of which I may have found about 10. They are part of the GoGo Art Trail in Norwich, which has included hares and dragons in previous years, with woolly mammoths next year.

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Elm Hill

Just north of the city centre is a historical cobbled lane that dates back to the Tudor period between 1485 and 1603. The lane’s name is from several Elm trees that once grew in the square at the top of the road. Due to Dutch Elm Disease, the tree in Elm Hill is no longer an Elm tree.

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Tombland

At the bottom of Elm Hill lane is Tombland, the location of an ancient Anglo-Saxon marketplace. While today it is a popular restaurant area, it also houses a pair of old gates into the courtyard of the Norwich Cathedral.

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Norwich Cathedral

The cathedral is one of the most complete Norman Cathedrals in England. Some parts were sectioned off for an exhibition called Dippy on tour, the cast bones of a Diplodocus dinosaur. The display had closed by the time I popped by, but a choir was practising at the other end. While we couldn’t take photos of the choir, the cathedral’s acoustics gave their voices an awe-inspiring sound.

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Norwich Castle

The castle at the centre of Norwich is perhaps the most untypical looking castle I’ve seen in my travels with its distinct cubic shape. (Although during my trip to Nottingham the next week, I found another just like it). Its construction was ordered by William the Conquerer late in the tenth century. The castle was used as a prison from 1220 to 1887 before being converted to a Museum. Unfortunately, during my visit to the city, the castle had some of the original medieval floors and rooms being reconstructed, and I couldn’t visit the site.

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Plantation Garden

Also known as the Secret Garden, the Plantation Garden was established more than a hundred years ago in an abandoned chalk quarry beside the Roman Catholic Cathedral. The garden is a spot of serenity in the city includes a huge gothic fountain, a 10-metre long Victorian-style greenhouse and a medieval terrace wall.

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The South Asia Collection – Old Skating Rink Gallery

Not far from the centre of the city is a large restored Victorian roller skating rink with a dramatic arched wooden roof. It originally opened in 1876 but barely lasted a year. Over the years, it has been a Vaudeville Theatre, an American tinned meat sales building, a Salvation Army citadel and a builder’s merchant. In 1993 it was bought for the South Asia Collection and converted to an art gallery and shop. Unsurprisingly, it now holds an extensive collection of art from Southern Asia.

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The Museum of Norwich at Bridewell

Hidden away in a small building near the central city, the museum tells the story of Norwich’s industries and the people who lived and worked there. The period stretches from medieval to modern and shows how the city adapted to changing fortunes through the textile trade, shoes, chocolate, and mustard production.

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Impressions

I was surprised to find a city of art, numerous gaming stores and many many churches, along with quaint old Victorian lanes and plentiful history. It was a nice place to explore for a couple of days.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Liverpool, England – Impressions

Two hours by train north of London, Liverpool is known for its culture, primarily its musicians have produced more no. 1 singles than any other city in the world. And, of course, it’s the home of The Beatles.

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Liverpool is the fourth largest city in the UK by population, and after London, it has the second-highest number of Art Galleries. It’s also an important port similar to Bristol to the south and was heavily bombed during WWII.

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After arriving in the early afternoon, I dropped off my bag at my room and set out to explore in the 32-degree heat. I quickly located the Walker Art Gallery and headed inside in the hope of finding some cooling. It was cooler but not as air-conditioned as I’d hoped.

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While not huge, the gallery still had plentiful exhibits, from the room full of ancient Roman statues and imprints to collections of ceramics, and of course, paintings from many different styles, old and modern.

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After my wander around the gallery, I began exploring the city, including the County Sessions House. The Victorian era building was originally the city courthouse, then the Merseyside Museum of Labour History, and now the staff offices for the Walker Art Gallery.

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Along from the Walker Art Gallery is the World Museum, which opened in 1853 and became one of the great British museums. It suffered extensive damage during World War 2, burning down after a bomb landed on the library next door. After I visited the art gallery, I decided to explore the city more before coming back to look through the exhibits but never made it. Headlining while I was in town was an Exhibition on AI.

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Wandering down towards the docks, I discovered the Royal Liver Building with its two spires, one at each end of the building; this end is facing the river. At the top of the spires are Liver Birds, mythical creatures that watch over the city. It is said that if they were to fly away, Liverpool would cease to exist, so the birds are chained to their perches just in case.

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Near the Royal Liver Building is the Titanic Memorial, a granite monument commemorating the 244 engineers who lost their lives in the Titanic disaster in 1912.

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Heading along the docks, I took a walk around the Royal Albert Dock and found the Jellybean mosaic of The Beatles I’d seen in my first brief visit to Liverpool several years ago. I then crossed back into the main commercial area, where I stopped in the heat for a sly cider or two to help cool down. After finding something to eat, I decided to change my accommodation and settled into my new, cooler and quieter place for the night.

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The next day, after finding a local place for a Full English Breakfast, I headed for my booking at The Beatles Story. I spent the next 90 minutes listening to the Beatles’ story from beginning to end on the provided audio device while walking through rooms dedicated to parts of the story. For the story, they recreated the Cavern Club, where the band began, along with their first recording studio.

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While The Beatles were from my mother’s era, I still knew a fair bit about them, and this tour just filled in a lot of gaps. Afterwards, I enjoyed a coffee and scone in the cafeteria before heading on for my day. I headed into the main commercial area for lunch before exploring the city some more.

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On the East side of the central city, in an area known as Ropewalks, I found St. Lukes Bombed Out Church which, on May 6 1941, was struck by an incendiary device. The ensuing fire lasted several days before it left only a stonework shell of the building. It is now a memorial to those who lost their lives in WWII.

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A block along from St. Luke’s Bombed Out Church is Liverpool’s Chinatown, the first established Chinatown in Europe. I have to admit, other than the rather grand gateway, the area is a little underwhelming. Perhaps it was just timing, as none of the restaurants were open Friday afternoon.

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I then worked my way back to Matthew Street, home of the infamous Cavern Club, before finding a perch and a cold cider.

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Then it was back to the docks to the Museum of Liverpool, where I spent the next hour strolling around exhibitions relating to the Blitz of Liverpool, the history of the region from Ice Age to present, the overhead railway that once ran the length of the docks, and a gallery on the city soldiers.

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Back in the heat, I attempted to get to the Liverpool Cathedral, its tower visible from across the city but ended up in the Cains Brewery Village and Baltic Market area instead. It’s a large area of bars and food outlets, including several box parks. After a quick look around, I continued on.

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On finally reaching the Liverpool Cathedral, I felt a little humbled by its size. For a start, its design is a more modern red brick instead of the gothic styles of other cathedrals I’ve seen. It was huge. This side height is 36 metres, while the central tower beyond is just over 100 metres. It is the longest cathedral in the world at 189m.

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Final Impressions

Liverpool was a fun couple of days away from London in a city with many sides. There are so many things to do, hidden museums and galleries and, of course, Beatles sites everywhere. It’s definitely worth the visit.

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Until next time,
The World Wanderer

Oxford, England – Impressions

If you were to draw a triangle with points on Bristol, Birmingham and London, somewhere near the middle would be Oxford. At 90km west of London, Oxford is best known for its university, the oldest in the English-speaking world. The town and university are so similar to Cambridge that the pair often group under the name Oxbridge.

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Oxford was first settled around 900AD at a ford in the river, which the Saxons used to cross oxen. Like Cambridge, the city is very much a student city, with college buildings dominating the landscape. Oxford has a reputation as a party town, and soon after my arrival midday on Saturday, I noted many girls in their 20s were all dressed up to party. All afternoon, in various parts of the central city, I noticed more of them in different stages of drunkenness, but not so many guys.

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My first stop in the city was the Oxford Castle and Prison, which I’d booked ahead to ensure a spot. Unlike other castles in the UK, Oxford Castle has very much been integrated into the surrounding buildings and is not as grand as others I’ve visited.

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The hour-long tour took us to the top of the remaining watchtower, giving expansive views across the city and surrounding landscape.

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As the tour dove next into the lower chambers, I learned that the military value of the castle waned during the 12th and 13th centuries, after which it became more of a prison. And while digging the prison, they discovered an old chapel crypt thought to be from the original structure.

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During the Victorian era, authorities discovered that the prisoners were better fed and sheltered than many in the city, so they introduced a series of hardships. There were tales of up to sixty prisoners jammed into a single room and forced to sleep standing in ankle-deep human waste. Others were forced to turn great wheels that pushed water up to the top of the tower, only to trickle back down again. However, for those who could afford it, exclusive rooms were available with great fineries and clothing to help them enjoy their stays.

There are plenty of architecturally impressive buildings throughout central Oxford, but in my mind, not as many as Cambridge. Indeed, the central city felt less majestic than that other city, Cambridge. There are still some fine pieces, such as the Tom Tower – a bell tower that stands above the main entrance to the Christ Church,

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Or the Town Hall, which is currently closed to the public.

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Then there is the Carfax Tower, the only remaining part of St. Martin’s church, demolished in 1896 due to increasing traffic problems in the city.

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It is the tallest building in the centre and an excellent place to get a bird’s eye view of the city, which, of course, I did.

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Past the University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the Radcliffe Camera, perhaps the most distinctive building in Oxford with its round shape. The word ‘camera’ in Latin means room or space; the Radcliffe room is a part of the Bodleian library and houses the Radcliffe Science Library.

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The Bodleian Library is the second largest library in the UK, holding 11 million volumes on 190km of shelving, with 5km more being added each year. It’s a legal deposit library and can request a free copy of every book published in the UK.

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On Sunday, I had pre-booked a couple of museums after missing out in Cambridge. After scouring the city for a full English breakfast, I headed to the Ashmolean Museum.

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The Ashmolean is a classic art and archaeology museum with many exhibits and tens of thousands of items on show over several floors. From ancient Egypt, Persia, to the Roman Empire, from mummies to silver platters, to exquisitely carved blocks of marble. I wiled away 90 minutes skimming many items, and I still didn’t see everything.

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Then after a quick lunch, I headed to the Museum of Science History. Compared to the vast space of the Ashmolean, the MSH is but three medium-sized rooms, with various exhibits such as a collection of Islamic astrolabes, a collection of watches that tell stories, and the history of typhoid, to name a few.

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Once done, I headed to a pub for a cider and to wait for my train back to London.

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Overall Impressions,
After visiting Cambridge first, I expected to see more similarities between the two cities. Yes, there are colleges in both, grand architecture, and plenty of students. But Oxford reminded me more of York than Cambridge, more of a party town than a Mecca of education, even though it’s that too. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time in Oxford. I was more prepared and got to see more that it had to offer. Well worth the visit.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Cambridge, England – Impressions

Less than 100km north of London in Cambridgeshire is the small city of Cambridge well known for its prestigious university. With the UK summer packing up after only 3 weeks of sunshine, I headed out of London for the weekend to explore this piece of England’s history.

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Cambridge is very much a student city with 20% of its population attending one of the two collegiate universities in the city. Young people swarm like well educated flies all over the city, whether playing sport in the myriad of parks, flying past on scooters or bikes, hanging in groups around the central city, or later in the evening, in lines trying to get into bars.

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One of the first thing you notice about the city is the architecture, but it’s not just the grand gothic style of King’s college or the myriad of churches around the city. Cambridge has a modern style mixed in with the more classic ones.

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As my visit was only for the weekend, I spent much of Saturday exploring the various locations of the city with the intention of taking in some of the museums prior to my Sunday return train.

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The collegiate University of Cambridge, founded in 1209, consists of 31 separate colleges. It’s the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, with Oxford University the oldest. Each of the colleges have multiple grand buildings spread through the central city. The building above is the King’s College Chapel.

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Across from the college is Great St Mary’s, a small 15th-century church with a climbable tower and a viewing platform offering panoramas of the city, including this view down onto Cambridge Market Square. The market had many different food stalls, most with lines of eager people waiting to sample their delights.

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North of Great Saint Mary’s is Trinity Street, running alongside Trinity college, an architecturally pleasing span of road leading to the north of the central city, and St John’s college.

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The street ends at the Round Church, a landmark church built in 1130 and only one of four remaining medieval round churches still operating in England.

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Not far from the Round Church is the River Cam, a place popular for punting tours. A punt is a flat bottom boat pushed through shallow slow moving rivers with a punt pole. The River Cam cuts its way along the west and north sides of the central city, most of it used for punting.

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A walk along the river led to one of the many parks littering Cambridge central city, some with interesting names. This one is Parker’s Piece, while others are called Christ’s Pieces, Midsummer Green and Jesus Green.

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The river leads past various bridges, many unique in their build, such as this one, called the Mathematical Bridge. Its a footbridge crossing into Trinity College, built from straight beams in a mathematical precise shape.

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On my wanders through the city I discovered an odd clock in the wall near King’s College. It’s called the Corpus Clock and is also known as the Grasshopper Clock due to the mechanical grasshopper that walks along the top, ‘eating time’. The clock’s time is only correct every 5 minutes and is supposed to reflect life’s irregularity.

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On the second day of my stay in Cambridge, the rain was supposed to come, so I intended to take in some of the free museums around the city, such as the Fitzwilliam Museum above. Unfortunately, due to COVID, to maintain social distancing there is limited space in each, and pre-booking is required. Unfortunately, they were all booked out, so after a relaxing morning, I found my way to a cafe serving a full English breakfast, before heading back to London.

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Overall Impressions
Cambridge is a wondrous city to wander around with eye catching architecture at every turn. It felt small wandering around the central city, but with plenty to see. It’s a shame many indoor attractions were booked out, but it will inspire me to book ahead on my next trip, to Oxford in a couple of weeks.

The World Wanderer.

Isle of Wight, England – Impressions

After lockdown eased and on the first British long weekend, I couldn’t help getting out of London. I’d put this trip off after booking it a year ago, and I’m now looking forward to exploring the island a little.

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The Isle of Wight is in the English Channel off England’s south coast, near Portsmouth, Southhampton and Bournemouth. The island is known for being Queen Victoria’s favourite summer holiday location and a hotbed of dinosaur fossils and a pivotal defence for the region against the Spanish Armada and in the Battle of Britain.

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My trip to the island was long, with an hour-long train ride across London, a 2-hour train to Portsmouth and a 25-minute catamaran ferry crossing to the township of Ryde.

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If I’d done a little more research, I’d have noted one of the world’s last commercial hovercraft services still operates from Portsmouth to Ryde and would have booked that instead of the ferry.

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With several hours to kill before my accommodation opened in Shanklin, on the south side of the island, I hung out in Ryde for lunch and had a wander around. After many weeks of rain in the UK, the sun decided to make up for it all in one go, marking the arrival of summer. I ordered takeaway fish and chips and sat in a small park overlooking the channel while I ate. Of course, fish and chips are a staple in London, but fresh cooked on the seaside is just better.

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Due to track upgrades, the cross-island train was closed, so after lunch and a climb through Ryde’s commercial streets, I made my way to the bus station for the trip to Shanklin. I arrived almost an hour later, but still too early for my accommodation. I stopped off at the local information centre/cafe, grabbed a map and a cider, then I began looking at things to do for the weekend. After checking into my accommodation, I explored the township, finding a path down to the beachfront.

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While Ryde is a typical British seaside township, Shanklin is a typical beachside township with many hotels and restaurants on the shoreline. The Pirate Cove and Jurassic Bay Adventure Park spanned several blocks, with plentiful ice cream stalls dotted about. At the end of the bay is the Shanklin Chine, a small tourist gorge with woodland paths leading up the cliff to come out near my accommodation.

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The Chine is nicely set up with well-manicured paths, a waterfall and a heritage centre with historical displays. Later that evening, coloured lights came on in the gorge, giving it an almost magical feel that photos don’t quite do justice. Then, after a beachfront dinner, I headed back to my accommodation.

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The following morning over my Full English Breakfast, I had to decide what to do for the day. While one of the main attractions on the island is The Needles, a series of chalk stacks in the bay, they’re 2 hours away by bus on the far end of the island. So, I decided on the less travel option, to the township of New Port near the island’s centre, to check out Carisbrook Castle, the Newport Minister, a museum of island history and a Roman villa.

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Newport is an hour by bus, and the castle on the hill outside of town, a further 20-minute walk. When I arrived, I discovered they weren’t accepting walk-in visitors, so I booked a ticket online. With 90 minutes until I was allowed in, I walked to a local supermarket to get some lunch, then back up the hill to wait for my entrance time.

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Carisbrook Castle was built in the 12th century atop a hillside where several roman forts had once stood. It is most notable for being the prison of King Charles I before his execution for treason and then 250 years later, the home of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s daughter.

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On a more personal note, the major sporting venue in Dunedin, New Zealand, was named after this very castle. The castle was in better repair than many I’d seen in the UK over the past few years. After I toured the castle and the high keep on the hill above it, I made my way back into town.

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I contemplated taking the bus to the Needles, but it drove by before I could get to the bus stop, so decision made, I headed back into Newport. When I got to the Minister, I found it was closed, at 2 in the afternoon on the Sunday of a long weekend. Disappointing.

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I headed to the Roman Villa and found that closed too, and was equally bemused to see the museum also closed. I’m not sure if this was due to the COVID lockdown or if the smaller town didn’t merit having these items open on a long weekend? So, I caught the bus back to the beach. But instead of stopping at Shanklin, I continued on to Sandown at the other end of the bay. With tourists enjoying the sun and beach, I walked around towards the white cliffs.

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When the path ran out, I walked back towards Shanklin, past the Sandown pier. The beachfront goes all the way to Shanklin, so I decided to walk the 3 miles back. A peaceful and enjoyable walk. In Shanklin, I stopped for dinner and a couple of ciders before heading back to my accommodation for the night.

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The next morning after breakfast, I caught the bus back to Ryde with the intention of walk to a nearby winery. But during the bus ride, I discovered the short tour I wanted to take was also on hold due to COVID. So, with nothing else to do, I went to the waterfront for lunch and awaited my ferry back to the mainland. Thankfully, I was able to take an earlier crossing to Portsmouth and its Emirates Spinnaker tower before my 2 and a half hour train ride home.

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Overall Impressions
The Isle of Wight was a lovely weekend away from London, but many things were closed due to the timing. This made travel times on the island long and meant I couldn’t see everything I’d have liked to. Disappointing, but perhaps I’ll return again in the future with a vehicle to make getting around a little easier.

The World Wanderer

Edinburgh, Scotland – Impressions

In the past 2 months, I’ve spent time in 6 different European countries, enjoying their cultures and hiking. But like the midges of Scotland, the more you scratch, the more the travel bug itches. So, under the again rising heel of COVID, I flew to Edinburgh for a long weekend to explore Scotland’s capital.

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While it rained for most my first day in the city, I still made the most of seeing what I could, starting with a most glorious Full Scottish Breakfast, including haggis. Then I was off to explore the rainswept streets looking for indoor activities.

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Architecture
Compared to many other cities in the UK, Edinburgh is perhaps the most majestic, with grand architecture across much of the city, and classic stone buildings which turn black in the rain.

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Scott Monument
At the edge of the New Town, a gothic spire pokes up into the grey sky dedicated to the writer Sir Walter Scott. In the early 19th century, he wrote the famous poem The Lady of the Lake, along with the novels Waverley, Rob Roy, and Ivanhoe. He now sits beneath the spire in polished marble contemplating the rain.

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Carlton Hill
On the eastern end of the New City, the craggy, grass-covered Calton Hill protrudes from the cityscape. I climbed it on the rainy first day of my visit, but not all of the views were muted. The Dugald Stewart monument, dedicated to a Scottish philosopher, was built in 1831 and modelled after the Tower of the Winds in Athens. In the background is the Old Town with the gloomy Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

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I climbed it again on my second day, with the sun out, for better views across the city to the Firth of Forth.

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There are several monuments on the hill, including The National Monument of Scotland, left unfinished in 1829, a memorial to soldiers and sailors who perished in the Napoleonic Wars.

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Nelson’s Tower monument, to commemorate Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.

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At the top of the hill is an observatory. I investigated the domed building to discover a philosophical experiment where, over time, they are collecting 3D renditions of people to populate a new world. I came for the views and ended up getting digitised to live among thousands of other digital souls in the exhibit.

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Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions
On the Royal mile near the Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is the oldest purpose-built attraction in Edinburgh. Over five floors, plus the roof, there are more than 100 interactive illusion based exhibits, although the Camera Obscura is closed due to COVID.

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But, the rooftop still gives one of the better views of Edinburgh, even across the wet city.

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The kinds of things you see in the World of Illusions are quite varied, with mirrors featuring in many ways, in 3D representations and other twisted mirror illusions. Other tricks include a collection of multi-view pictures like the one below, shadow photographic stunts, on the fly software morphing, and various electrical tricks. While it is popular with kids, it’s also fun for adults on a rainy day.

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The Scotch Whiskey Experience
After visiting the Guinness brewery in Dublin, I couldn’t not do the Scotch Whiskey Experience while in Edinburgh. The tour begins in a moving barrel gliding through the process of making Scotch Whiskey. It then teaches us about the five different regions of Scotch distillation and each of their characteristics.

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We were then walked through a room with a collection of 3000 unopened bottles, no two the same, one bottle having been bought for US$3000 in the 1970s.

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The final part of the experience is, of course, the tasting. The standard silver tour comes with a single tasting, but the gold, which I bought, includes five so I could try all of the different regional Scotches.

Edinburgh Castle
With the sun coming out on my second day in Edinburgh, I explored the grand castle on the hill.

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Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Scotland and one of the most attacked places in the world. In its 1100-year history, it’s been under siege some 26 times.

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But, after the Lang Siege in the 16th century, it had to be rebuilt as it had been largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. There’s a vast amount of history in the walls, with several small museums, and, of course, great views in all directions.

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Leith and the Firth of Forth
With the sun continuing to hold on the 2nd day of my visit, I took a thirty-minute walk along a street lined with polished stone building out to the port district of Leith beside the Firth of Forth.

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Leith has a definite British suburban feel, similar to where I live in Wembley, but once on the waterfront, it steps it up a notch, with expensive-looking high-rises and hotels. I walked along the coast a little way to Newhaven, before cutting back into central Edinburgh. All up about a 6-mile walk, well needed after the big breakfasts and all the Scotch.

The Edinburgh Dungeon
The dungeon is one of several underground ‘shows’ designed to showcase some of Edinburgh’s history but includes visitor interactions, 4D style effects, frights and laughs.

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Visitors head down through small underground corridors in dim light to several well set up small rooms. We witnessed a witch trial, some haunted rooms where we learned of some gruesome deaths, witnessed ghosts looking for vengeance and hung out in the sewer sanctuary of cannibals. The acting and storytelling were excellent, although the COVID masks did impede speech for some of the quieter speakers.

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Overall Impressions
Edinburgh is a beautiful city architecturally with plenty to do inside during the rain, typical for Scotland, but also many outdoor activities for those lucky enough to see the sun.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer.

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 3, 4 & 5

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Day 6 – Villadesuso to Baiona – Spain – 14.6km

I left the Albergue looking for coffee and breakfast as I walked through the Villadesuso with nice views of the coast. I then ran into a Portuguese couple I’ve seen for the past two days and walked with them to Mougás, 2km away, where I found a cafe. After eating, I continued on along the side of the road, occasionally dipping down to the seaside before climbing back again. I met a carver outside his shop who was very friendly and offered me a stamp for my credential. We chatted for a bit, and I bought a Camino shell from him for my pack.

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I continued along the coast, and when I reached the village of As Mariñas, with its small lighthouse, the trail climbed a hill. It was again nice to climb something, but it wasn’t difficult.

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On the other side, the trail led down into the edge of a built-up area with views out onto the bay.

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Further along and found the Portuguese couple at a pilgrim rest area. We walked on together for 3km before arriving into Baiona, a large tourist town on the beach. They continued on while I located my Albergue and showered before heading into town for lunch and a beer.

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Afterward, I explored the tight streets, investigated the front of the castle on the peninsula, including the beaches on each side. I then went for a walk to the end of the bay, where I climbed a hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary – Virgen de la Roca.

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The height also gave me great views across the bay.

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Day 7 – Baiona to Vigo – Spain – 30km

As much of today will be a slow process of walking into increasingly built-up urban sprawl, I was prepared for a boring day. I walked out of my hostel, and along the road to a local cafe for coffee, before finding a panaderia for some fresh baked goods. I then walked down the coastline road to the end of the shops before following it inland and up the hill towards A Ramallosa. After several kilometres through back streets, I came to Nigrán and, on the far side of a roundabout, found the statue of a pilgrim.

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After Nigrán, the path began to climb but remained in the sprawl. As before, the height offered some views, this time across the bay of Ría de Vigo to two large islands, Illa de San Martiño and Illa de Monteagudo.

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The path continued along, giving more views of the islands, but grew more steadily built up. I rounded the edge of the bay and entered the main built-up areas after Coruxo and began to see tall buildings in the distance. For much of the rest of the day, I walked through busy central city streets and roads. There is a fair amount to explore in Vigo, but it was hot, and I was footsore from all the pavement, so didn’t hang around. I then discovered my hostel was in the old town, a fair way away from the trail, so put my head down and marched on. I eventually arrived to find my hostel in what appeared to be a run-down area with plenty of graffiti and empty buildings. But after checking into the hostel and showering, I went for a wander. I turned a corner and came out on an open area filled with cafes, and on the far side, it opened into a large commercial area.

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I hung around the area, chilling out at a restaurant, enjoying people watching and seeing the culture of the area as I drank beer. When darkness fell, other bars and restaurants opened, including a pizza place. I have enjoyed local food but had a hankering I just had to sate.

Day 8 – Vigo to Redondela – Spain – 17.5km

After breakfast in a local cafe, I headed a couple of kilometres up the hill back to the main path and continued on. The heat started early today, but it’s only a short day, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Over the next couple of kilometres, the path climbed up to about 150m and stayed there for much of the rest of the day, allowing me to enjoy the views along the way.

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The trail and the views continued as I walked through the higher urban areas.

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The pavement joined Senda de Agua – water track – a dirt path through the forest, past a small waterfall, and this painted rock.

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After several hundred meters, the track came out into the suburbs again, giving a view of Ponte de Rande before disappearing back into the forest.

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I began descending and emerged at another urban area near a church – the Igrexa parroquial de Santo André de Cedeira – with another view across the harbour.

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From there, it was all downhill into Redondela, which is the official end to the Portuguese Coastal Camino. But this isn’t the end of my walk, the Central Route from Porto also stops here, and this is the trail I’ll follow the rest of the way to Santiago. The heat is apparent, and so is the fact the two trails have connected, as there are many more pilgrims on the streets and in cafes.

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After finding my Albergue, I showered and headed back into town, where I found the Celtic Lead Irish Bar and enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers. I then met up with a Portuguese couple I’d crossed paths with since Esposende, and we wandered the hot streets before finding our way back to the Celtic Luad for more beer.

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Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra – Spain – 19.7km

As I prepared for today’s walk, I watched several groups of pilgrims go past in the dark outside the hostel. I’m up early today as it’s going to be another hot one. And now I’m on the Central Route, the number of pilgrims has noticeably increased. I head out and follow the cobbled town roads on my way out of town. After passing several peregrinos, I stopped on the main road for breakfast and a coffee. I then raced on along the road for a short time before coming to a street vendor selling fruit and drinks, but more importantly, offering stamps. I stopped for another coffee before heading off again, passing a group of five Spanish girls on the side of a busy highway. The path then led through a small village with a pair of Albergues and yet more pilgrims. The hard road turned to a dirt road surrounded by trees and began climbing slowly as it made its way around the end of the Ria de Vigo bay.

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The trail headed back into a built-up area before heading down a steep downhill to the main road. At the end of the bay, I came into the village of Arcade and crossed the river that fed into the bay.

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On the bridge, I ran into the Portuguese couple. I walked with them for the rest of the day following the road through several villages as we made our way to Pontevedra, the capital city of Galicia. We stayed in the same Albergue and after showering we walked around the city to see its sights, two grand churches…

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…a bridge, a convent, and the ruins of an ancient church.

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Next, Days 10, 11 & 12, where I finish my pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain – Days 10, 11 & 12

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

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Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas De Reis – Spain – 21.3km
Today the trail was quite straightforward following the road out of Pontevedra. As usual, I was on the lookout for breakfast and found a cafe popular with peregrinos. But there I ran into a dutch lady I’d met in the Porto Albergue the night before I’d begun my Camino. It was refreshing to hear English being spoken fluently again and not the occasional forced second or third language.

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While the Camino Portugués has some views, much of the experience is cultural or spiritual, and it’s known for the camaraderie between pilgrims. However, due to COVID, few English speakers were tempted to this side of Europe. This and Americans not already resident in the EU weren’t allowed at all. This has led my Camino to be a contemplative and somewhat solitary experience.

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Once out of Pontevedra it was a quick march through country roads before several kilometres of slow climbing on a dirt path before heading back into villages. The trail led me past fields of grapevines, and even taking me under some.

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There were few views today on the way to Caldas de Reis, and tonight I have a room to myself in a hostel. Caldas de Reis is a town known for its hot springs. In many places along the trail, there are washing pools with running water for pilgrims to clean their clothes or rest weary feet in the cool water. In Caldas de Reis, however, I found a pool filled from a hot spring. It was heaven and great for the leg muscles. I saw others using it too, some stripping down to their underwear and getting right in.

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Day 11 – Caldas De Reis to Padrón – Spain – 18.9km

After eating the breakfast left for me by my hosts, I headed out across Caldas del Reis on quiet streets as it’s Domingo – Sunday.

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I found a coffee and took it with me as I headed out of town, tossing the cup in the last bin I saw. For the next few kilometres, the path climbed 150m, although it wasn’t intense, and in the cool wind, the climbing kept me warm. Today, the first part of the trail is mainly dirt and runs through forest, so not a lot to see.

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I passed a rest stop hankering for a coffee, but it was so full of waiting pilgrims I decided to push on. The path weaved across a highway before running beside a motorway until Valga where it began to descend through villages with fields of grapevines, corn and other crops.

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Still hankering for a coffee, I stopped at a cafe in San Miguel de Valga. While I was there, a Dutch guy arrived, and we got talking. After having an early lunch, we left the cafe and chatted for the last few kilometres before arriving in the outskirts of Padrón, barely remembering the walk. There was a large Sunday market going on in town and masses of people everywhere. With the current COVID threat in Spain, this made me nervous, so and I suggested we take a less direct route through town. At the end of the market areas, we went out separate ways, and I located my hostel before heading out to explore.

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Padrón is a classic little town with a central old town like many places across Europe. In my exploration, I ran into the Dutch guy once more, and we sat for a beer and some food before he headed off to his hostel outside of town.

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Day 12 – Padrón to Santiago de Compostela – Spain – 25.6km

On the final day on this latest adventure, I headed out from the hostel and along the dark streets of Padrón. Today, I’d read, would be one of the less interesting days, as the trail begins the slow climb into Santiago de Compostela and right from the beginning the urban sprawl began. After five kilometres, I arrived at A Escravitude, where I found this Igrexa.

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For the next 15 or so kilometres, I walked through leafy suburbs on thin roads making my way uphill towards the centre of the city.

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From here there are few views, and those are mainly of low hills and tree-covered suburbs.

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When I entered the main built-up area of the city, the path led me along the main drag. With more stone buildings around, the heat rose, and I found a vending station to buy a drink. The road then led me up to the Central Park, which in turn led me into Cidade Vella – Old Town in Galician. Cidade Vella in Santiago is rather large and is a spiderweb of walkways with many shops, restaurants and cafes. I found my way to the official ending point of the walk and emerged in the grand square to perhaps 20 groups of pilgrims spread out in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.

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I found a shady spot at the back of the square and sat down for a rest, watching pilgrims in the square languish about taking photos as more groups arrived. After my break, I located the pilgrim office, filled out the relevant online form and collected my official certificates of completion. I then located my hostel and checked in before returning to find lunch. Later, I got a late afternoon photo of the cathedral.

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I then ran into a Spanish girl who I’d seen walking and discovered she spoke English. I sat down for some beers with her and another Spanish guy. Later that evening, we gathered a group of Spanish people, some who could speak English, and went for dinner and more beers. Much fun was had.

I spent the next day wandering around the old town of Santiago and eating local food. While it’s served many places, I located a suitable place to try to Pulpo – Octopus – which I rather enjoyed.

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Final Impressions of Camino Portugués de Costa

I have completed two hikes this year, and this would have been my first had COVID not caused it be moved after the Tour du Mont Blanc. This was a long-distance, low altitude, cultural experience with some views, while the TMB was a challenging, high peak climbing, massive mountain hike with amazing views. While I very much enjoyed the cultural experience of the Camino, it would have been better to do it first as the TMB took away some of its grandeur. That and with many English speakers avoiding the region meant fewer friendships were made and more of a lonely experience.

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But, in the spirit of the Camino, it was still an enjoyable cultural experience. It opened my eyes to the beauty of northern Portugal, and allowed me to experience Spain. The food in both countries was amazing and the people friendly and understanding of my low level of Spanish. I have studied the language to a beginner level and it was enough to survive, but it has pushed me to reach the next level before I head to Spain for my next Camino, the Camino Frances in a year.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal & Spain – Days 3, 4 & 5

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 0, 1 & 2

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Day 3 – Esposende to Viana Do Castelo – Portugal – 28.5km

With yet another hot day coming, I headed out from the hostel and quickly found a coffee and breakfast. I then headed to the beach and followed the wooden boardwalk along the seaside. It was just early enough for holidaymakers to begin making their way down to the beach. But, it would also be the last beach I’d see for the rest of the day as the path cut inland through suburban roads to the town of Marinhas.

I then followed backroads through several villages, with only the occasional view of the ocean. I came through the township of Belinho and crossed the main road, heading between two buildings with interesting stonework. The houses here are all very different, many are covered in patterned tiles or stonework. I’m told the tiling is very common in Northern Portugal.

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I continued on for another couple of kilometres making my way to the Rio Neiva after which there is a stiff climb, the first on this hike. However, a recent flood had wiped out the bridge, so a detour took me well down towards the coast to another one. On the other side, the path led me back up the hill where I passed the Italian walkers I’d met the day before. I then climbed a hill near Castelo do Neiva, a church with a fair view along the coast and ocean.

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The trail then led me up over a small peak – 155m – then through a eucalyptus forest where a sign pointed me to a house and a stamp. On the other side of the hill, I came to a large old monastery, Mosterio de São Romão de Neiva, where I stopped at a pilgrim’s stop for some water. There are many Pilgrim stops along the trail, with stone seats, water fonts, and sometimes pools to wash clothes or dip hot feet into.

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Then, after the township of Chafé, I climbed a steep set of roads and came down with a view of Viana do Castelo across the Rio Lima, including the church on the hill, Santuário de Santá Luzia.

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And a closer look…

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I crossed Ponte Eiffel, a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel, I’m sure I don’t need to mention any of his other projects. The bridge is near a kilometre long with a thin walkway on either side. My accommodation was right on the other side, so I got a good shot of it from the other side, including the bay.

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At the hostel, I had originally booked a bed in a 20-bed room, but due to COVID, they had closed it, upgrading me for free to a room with four beds, which I had all to myself.

Day 4 – Viana Do Castelo to Caminha – Portugal – 28.4km

After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out through town following the high route, which passed below the Santuário. After a couple of kilometres on the same kind of road with only the occasional view, I decided to detour down to the beachfront, where I passed the remnants of several windmills. With the wind off the ocean, it was cooler than on the higher path.

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Then after an hour, I climbed the hill at Carreço back to the higher road for another impending climb. As the Camino has few ascents, I treasured any climbs as they usually come with views.

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On the other side of the hill, I walked into the town of Âncora and then to the beach – Praia de Âncora. With the heat continuing to rise, I again enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

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I followed the trail along the beach for a couple of kilometres into Moledo where I had my first sight of Spain and Monte de Santa Tregá.

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I followed the road around and into town where I spied the word “stamp” in yellow on the ground along with an arrow pointing to a balcony. On it, a strange man was smiling at me and offered me a stamp which he assured me was free. We chatted for a bit before I again headed on. The remaining 5km into Caminha was a flat and straight road. That evening I ate a cheese and sausage platter for dinner – why not – before going for some beers with an Italian guy I’d run into a couple of times. But, like many others I’d met in Portugal, he wasn’t crossing into Spain due to the much higher COVID rate.

Day 5 – Caminha to Villadesuso – Spain – 20.2km

As it’s Monday, the ferry to Spain doesn’t run, but the guy at the Albergue told me I could catch a water taxi from 8 AM. I went down to the harbour at 9 AM, but no-one was there.

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I went for a coffee, and when I came back, other pilgrims were also waiting – two Spanish guys and a Swiss girl. Eventually, the four of us were able to catch a water taxi across the harbour.

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We arrived in the sleepy town of Camposancos, where the path took us up the hill. It didn’t climb too far before heading us down again to A Guarda, a seaside town with plenty of charm. Now I’m in Spain, the clocks have gone forward an hour, and it’s already lunchtime. But by the time I got to the end of the town, I’d neglected to get anything so decided to get something at the next village. I left A Guarda passing a beach with some topless ladies, something I discovered is common in Spain.

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There is no longer wooden boardwalks, the trail is now along a rocky path. Also, Spain has a more strict mask-wearing policy, so I have to be more vigilant. The trail led me along beside the sea for sometime before climbing up to the road, then a couple of kilometres further on returned me back to the beach.

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After 6km I came to Portecelo, but there were no shops in the village, so I kept walking. After another 6km I arrived in Oia where there were 2 restaurants, but as it was only mid-afternoon, I grabbed a bag of potato chips and a coke. 4km further on was my stop for the night, Villadesuso and I got settled into the Albergue.

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Compared to Portugal, the Spanish speak less English, so it was time to put my Spanish lessons to the test. I found a restaurant in a hotel with special peregrinos rates: €15 for 4 courses, including a drink. However, the waitress spoke no English, but I managed to get by with my limited vocabulary and even managed a short conversation. Then it was back to the hostel and bed.

Next, Days 6, 7, 8 & 9, where I drink at an Irish bar Spanish style and reach the capital of Galicia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer