Reflections and images from my travels

Botswana! I do love this African country. Politically stable, safe with wonderful people and awe-inspiring animals. What more could you ask for? The fact it has probably the best guide in Africa, in my opinion, seals the deal! Brian Gibson is simply amazing. He thinks we come back for the photographic safari, but, it’s him that we actually come back for.

After an amazing flight over the Botswana savanna in the Cessna, for which Scotty gave a salute, we approached the dirt airstrip and could see Brian waiting for us in the Toyota Land Cruiser- the limousine of the African Safari! As mentioned previously, Teresa had decided [with our grateful acceptance] that the theme of this safari would be “In search of the leopard” and insisted we all wore T-shirts stating that fact when we met up with Brian. This was a bit of a running joke from our previous safaris. Brian prides himself on ensuring that guests have the best experience and leave with photographs of all the major animals they wish to. This was certainly accomplished on previous safaris, however, we never had luck with photographing leopards. We were close on several previous occasions. We often joked about this and jibed him, jokingly, with comments about this deficiency. He certainly had a good laugh when he saw the T-shirts. All joking aside, I really didn’t care if we photographed a leopard or not as long as Brian was along for the attempt.

Scotty in Cessna ready to safari- flying to Savuti, Botswana

Scotty in Cessna ready to safari- flying to Savuti, Botswana

Brian Gibson greeting us as we land- dirt strip Savuti, Botswana

Brian Gibson greeting us as we land- dirt strip Savuti, Botswana

The plan for this safari with Brian was to spend equal amounts of time in Savuti, Khwai and then Moremi. As before, we would be in luxury safari camps which I prefer over safari lodges. There is just something about camping in remote locations and Brian does it the best. He is very experienced and has absolutely committed and wonderful staff who really take care of you. The accommodation is extremely comfortable and the food is top-notch. Because Brian is so experienced, you really learn a lot about the animals, the geography as well as the flora and fauna of this amazing country. He is also able to deliver on photographic opportunities with this extensive knowledge. He is extremely engaging and entertaining and a complete professional through and through. Most guides could learn from him.

Our initial days were spent in Savuti. The Savuti Marsh area, 10,878 km² large, constitutes the western stretch of Chobe National park (50 km north of Mababe Gate). The Savuti Marsh is the relic of a large inland lake whose water supply was cut a long time ago by tectonic movements. Nowadays the marsh is fed by the erratic Savuti Channel, which dries up for long periods then curiously flows again, a consequence of tectonic activity in the area. It is currently flowing again and in January 2010 reached Savuti Marsh for the first time since 1982. As a result of this variable flow, there are hundred of dead trees along the channel’s bank. The region is also covered with extensive savannahs and rolling grasslands, which makes wildlife particularly dynamic in this section of the park. This region is indeed reputed for its annual migration of zebras and predators. Previous visits had been very fruitful in terms of photographing wildlife. I can certainly say that this time was no exception. I can also state that the curse of not seeing leopards was indeed broken. Not just broken, but, smashed! we were rewarded with the most amazing leopard experiences we could have hoped for. They are very secretive animals and difficult to view. We were lucky enough on several occasions to see actual leopard cubs, large Toms and protective and loving mothers. We also witnessed a leopard cub suckling from his mother in the open during daylight hours. What a privilege to observe and photograph. This occurred on the latter days of our time in Savuti. On the first day we were blessed with sightings of the African Wild Dogs. An amazing animal, but, often misunderstood and hunted by locals and endangered. We were able to add to our photographic collection of these magnificent beasts. For the first time we were also privileged to see a mass migration of water buffalo. The herd must have numbered over 1000. They created a dust cloud as they moved that eerily encompassed them leading to ghostly images gratefully captured. Where game goes predators follow. That first day we also came upon an elephant enjoying a mud bath, which we had not witnessed previously, as well as beautiful and stately Water Bucks. We were also rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the African savanna that first evening. Exceptional, Savuti was living up to expectations. This was going to be good!

Wild Dog- Savuti, Botswana

Wild Dog- Savuti, Botswana

Wild Dogs resting- Savuti, Botswana

Wild Dogs resting- Savuti, Botswana

Wild Dogs resting- Savuti, Botswana

Wild Dogs resting- Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffaloes in the Dust! Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffaloes in the Dust! Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffaloes in the Dust! Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffaloes in the Dust! Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffalo and brave bird- Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffalo and brave bird- Savuti, Botswana

 

Water Buffalo and bird- Savuti, Botswana

Water Buffalo and bird- Savuti, Botswana

Wildebeest grazing- Savuti, Botswana

Wildebeest grazing- Savuti, Botswana

Fish Eagle- Savuti, Botswana

Fish Eagle- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Elephant mud bath spa- Savuti, Botswana

Beautiful Water Buck by watering hole- Savuti, Botswana

Beautiful Water Buck by watering hole- Savuti, Botswana

Water Bucks by watering hole- Savuti, Botswana

Water Bucks by watering hole- Savuti, Botswana

Water Bucks- Savuti, Botswana

Water Bucks- Savuti, Botswana

Beautiful Africa Sunset, Savuti Botswana

Beautiful Africa Sunset, Savuti Botswana

Victoria Falls, Africa

Ahhh….to be back in Africa. I do have a special affinity for this beautiful, but challenged, continent. So rich in resources, beautiful landscapes, awe-inspiring animals and amazing people often compromised by corrupt leaders and governments.

The plan was to initially visit Victoria Falls for several days before proceeding with our safari plans in Botswana and Namibia. The group consisted of myself, Anna, Teresa, Lorraine and Scotty. After yet another overnight flight, we landed in Johannesburg. We were only staying there briefly before we connected to a flight which would take us to Victoria Falls. I am not the biggest fan of Johannesburg international Airport. The facility itself is modern and certainly matches the standards of other airports around the world. It does not, however, match other airports in terms of customer service. It is a huge airport and they seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for you to determine where you need to go for your connecting flight. I suspect this is done to support the local airport economy of unsolicited “porters” who wish to take you to the appropriate booking area for your connecting flight. As soon as you exit the baggage claim area you are often assailed by numerous “porters”, who can be quite aggressive and do expect payment even though you tell them up front that they will receive none. The other problem is the unhelpful “customer service agents” who show little enthusiasm for their jobs. We were aware of these challenges from previous visits. However, this time, we were not quite prepared for the experience we had!

Firstly, Lorraine could not get a straight answer as to whether her checked bags would be checked all the way through to our final destination of Victoria Falls. What she was told when we departed in Heathrow did not seem to match what the baggage customer service representative told her in Johannesburg. The bags were actually checked through, but, in Johannesburg we were told they were not so we wasted a good 30 or 40 minutes waiting for her bags to arrive at the carousel needlessly. Because we arrived so early in Johannesburg, Teresa had booked a day room for just a morning so that we could get some rest and a shower before we boarded our plane to Victoria Falls. Because of the aforementioned delays, we decided that there was no reason to use the day room so Teresa went ahead and tried to see if she could get some reimbursement with the late cancellation. Despite her best efforts, she could not. Ouch! We took a bit of a financial hit on that one!

Lorraine, Anna and I then tried to find out where the check-in desk would be for our next connecting flight to Victoria Falls. Scotty was not present as he was arriving on a later flight. When we got to the check-in desk for our next flight we were told with absolute confidence by the ticket agent that we would be boarding our next flight at gate A00. It sounded strange, but, we believed what we were told. Because we had some time, we found gate A0 and assumed this was the correct gate to board our next flight. Even when we talked to the customer service agent at that gate she told us it was the correct gate but we could not check in at that time but would have to come back 45 minutes prior to departure to check-in. Interestingly, when we were there we noticed several other travellers running like their life depended on it to get to that gate. The gate was just closing for a flight. One gentleman stated angrily “someone gave me the wrong information and that’s why I’m late, you had better let me onto this flight or there is going to be trouble”. There were arrival and departure boards at this end of the airport but none of them listed our flight or gate number!  We decided to go for breakfast at a restaurant which was located close to this supposed departure gate. As we were walking back we again noticed several travellers running! This seemed to be the norm at this airport and at that time we even had a chuckle about their predicament. Little did we realize! We tried to contact Teresa by cell phone to find out where she was so that we could meet for breakfast and also go to the appropriate gate together. We had no luck. After breakfast and as our departure time was rapidly approaching, we proceeded back to gate A0. To our shock the gate and surrounding area was completely deserted and in fact the hallway just after the gate closed. Yikes! We realized there was a big problem. We compared our tickets-they all had the same flight number and gate number (cryptic gate A00) but the boarding times were different. This clearly was an incorrect gate. Guess what? Like many other travellers we had seen, we were now running feverishly like our lives depended on it! I was really concerned that we were going to miss our flight so I ran ahead as Lorraine and Anna followed. As we proceeded out of this end of the airport we were able to find a flight to Victoria Falls at Gate A24 which was boarding. Even with running it took about 20 minutes to get there. I ran up to the agent and explained the situation as Anna and Lorraine had not arrived. The gate was closing. She looked at my ticket and said “this is not your flight you have to go back to Gate A0”. I could not believe it! I told her that this could not be the case. It is true that the flight number for the departing Victoria Falls flight was not completely the same as the flight number on my ticket. She was adamant. I dejectedly started to go back to tell Anna and Lorraine who had not arrived. Thankfully, at that point I ran into Teresa and Scotty who were very relieved to see me. They stated “where have you been our flight is boarding shortly”. I told them our sad tale. It turns out our correct departing gate was A19 which happened to be almost immediately adjacent to the gate I had just tried to board. I could not believe the last customer service agent did not know this. Anna and Lorraine finally arrived and we were all able to finally get on our flight.  In the end we determined that gate A00 does not exist. It simply is something they put on the ticket when there is not an assigned gate. You think they would’ve told us this! In the future, if at all possible, if I can avoid connections through Johannesburg I will try. I love traveling and the wonderful places I get to see, but, these sort of experiences really detract from it all.

We eventually arrived in Victoria Falls without further incident. It was good to be back. I had been there once previously. While I loved Zimbabwe the previous time, the presence of so many Army officials with guns and checkpoints really coloured my view. It seemed to be different this time. I did not see as many armed Army personnel and the people were much more engaging than my previous experience. We were delivered to our hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which was absolutely beautiful. It also had a very good restaurant and excellent service. We had wonderful views over the surrounding savanna as well as a pool [which we were happy to use that evening] and most importantly, poolside service for gin and tonics! It was a great place to relax and that evening we had a wonderful dinner there. It had a nice patio off the bar area where we could view and photograph the beautiful sunsets. Perfect! Teresa had her own room, Anna and Lorraine were sharing a room as well as Scotty and I. When I was unpacking my bags I noticed that I could not find my shaver. On a previous trip with my friend Richard, we had the experience of his video camera being stolen. I was sure that the baggage staff at the Johannesburg airport had stolen my shaver. The cost of the stolen shaver did not really bother me. It was the ides of stealing that did. I mentioned the stolen shaver several times during my trip and did make some disparaging comments about the airport workers. It just seemed to add to my negative opinion of Johannesburg.

Beautiful sunset from Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe Africa

Beautiful sunset from Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, Zimbabwe Africa

Beauty even in a dying banana tree leaf- Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Beauty even in a dying banana tree leaf- Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Over the next several days we enjoyed all Victoria Falls had to offer. Of course, the highlight was Victoria Falls itself. We had a wonderful morning visit with a good opportunity to take many photographs. There was a wonderful walkway with numerous vista points looking over the falls. Most enjoyable. Later in our Victoria Falls trip, Teresa and I also took a helicopter ride over the falls which provided a completely different perspective. Our cameras certainly got a good workout. Of course, there was also the opportunity to do some shopping. Victoria Falls is very touristy but does have some nice shops. We initially tried to shop at some of the shops run by local townspeople. There was a huge selection and great prices that you could bargain on, however, Lorraine, Anna and I simply could not deal with the aggressive selling tactics of the proprietors. We left in search of quieter, and more expensive, shops. We determined it was a fair price to pay to shop and relaxation. Teresa and Scotty were much more resilient and were able to survive shopping in that environment and got some great gifts at much better prices. Anna, Lorraine and I found some great products at a particularly good shop and also did some damage to our pocketbooks! I even had an orange [a colour I seem to have a strange affinity for] crocodile bracelet custom-made that day as they did not have my size in the shop. The sales agent even took me to the shop where they made the products and introduced me to the individual who would be making the bracelet. We made arrangements for it to be delivered to my hotel later that day. A quick funny story. Later that day when we arrived back at the hotel, we received a phone call in our room, which Scotty took, stating that the bracelet had arrived and could be picked up. I went to the front reception and they looked at me blankly as I told them I had just received a phone call to pick up this product that I had purchased in town. They had heard nothing of it. I must admit I was a little miffed. After the experience we had in the Johannesburg airport I really started to wonder about Africa. Could they not get anything right? I told them in no uncertain terms they have to figure it out and then get back to me when they found the product. I went back to the hotel room and talked to Scotty who was quite clear that he was told the product was ready for pickup but also stated he was not really informed where we could pick it up. We had just assumed it would be at reception. I found the receipt with the contact information of the shop I had purchased the bracelet from. I brought it back to them so that they could contact the shop directly and find out who they gave it to. The receptionist looked at where I had purchased it from and said “wait a minute”. She walked over to their own little gift shop and talked to the fellow who was there and asked him about receiving any deliveries from the shop. Of course, he had the bracelet. I am glad it all worked out but he should have let us know where it could be picked up when he contacted us by phone.

Victoria Falls mist, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls mist, Zimbabwe Africa

Livingstone (statue).....I presume! Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Livingstone (statue)…..I presume! Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls mist, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls mist, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Wet stone and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Wet stone and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Stone and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Stone and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Soft Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Soft Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Three lovely ladies (Teresa, Lorraine and Anna left to right)- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Three lovely ladies (Teresa, Lorraine and Anna left to right)- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Egret at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Egret at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Man in the mist- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Man in the mist- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Misty view Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Misty view Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Steve posing- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Steve posing- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Anna cruising for photographs. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Anna cruising for photographs. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Flower macro photograph- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Flower macro photograph- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Crocodile- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Crocodile- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view with rainbow- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view with rainbow- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view with rainbow- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

Aerial view with rainbow- Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Africa

After shopping, we had a fantastic lunch at a very nice courtyard restaurant surrounded by beautiful flowers that we just had to take photographs of. There were also some crocodiles in a nearby pool- another photographic opportunity. We walked around Victoria Falls for awhile and then took the bus back to our hotel. Teresa caused some excitement at the hotel that afternoon. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, Teresa had a favourite blue top that had gotten somewhat wrinkled. She determined the best way to deal with the situation was to steam out the wrinkles by turning her shower to hot and closing the bathroom door to build up the steam. This worked very effectively. Unfortunately, when she opened the bathroom door to retrieve the unwrinkled top all of the steam came rushing out and set off the fire alarm in her room. Scotty and I were not aware of this as we were down by the pool. Lorraine and Anna were in their room relaxing when they heard the alarm and the commotion. They came out of their room as several of the hotel’s male employees were rushing by. Lorraine and Anna asked them “what’s going on?”. They stated they had a fire alarm from room 10. Room 10!!! That was Teresa’s room! Everyone rushed over to her room and were relieved that there was actually no fire. We did not let her live this down. The top did look good…..especially unwrinkled!

The night before departing for Botswana we had a most fabulous dinner experience at the Boma-Place of Eating [that means restaurant]. This restaurant is located on the same grounds as the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. It is a short walk over. We had previously booked reservations which are required at this restaurant. We did not know what to expect all we knew was this was the restaurant that we had committed ourselves to eating worms in! The Boma Restaurant specializes in a superb selection of traditional Zimbabwean dishes and is renowned for its warthog fillet. It serves a traditional four course meal with starters from the kitchen, soup from the campfire, substantial barbecue buffet served on cast-iron plates with a wide selection of salads followed by a choice of delicious desserts. The adventurous are enticed with local delicacies such as Mopami worms and game stews. After dinner, there is traditional drumming and dancing entertainment. The food was superb. We agreed the warthog off the grille was a definite highlight. Yes Anna, Lorraine, Scotty and I participated in eating the Mopami worms [it did not taste like chicken….Anna said it tasted like dirt!] and have the certificates to prove it. We had so much fun with the drumming [there is something primal about drumming] and even more so with the dancing. I have a propensity to develop a very loose pelvis when I am dancing. I had ample opportunity to display this with Teresa as we started the dancing festivities and were encircled by the other guests. A great time was had by all. What a wonderful way to end our Victoria Falls experience!

The next morning we were driven by transport van to the Kasane Airport in Botswana [after crossing the border which was much simpler compared to the last time I was here] to board a small plane and fly to our pickup point with Brian Gibson, the best guide in Africa, which was a dirt airstrip in the wilds of Savuti. We did run into one glitch. On smaller planes weight is everything. We had all brought a lot of gear and unfortunately the pilot stated we could not take it all in one trip due to weight constraints. All of us had to take gear out of our bags and place it into two additional duffel bags that were provided by the airline which would then be delivered the next day to us. In terms of safety, this was completely acceptable. However, the situation did produce some negativity in our group which I sensed. There was some question about whether we were appropriately informed of the weight restrictions. It’s funny how things work. As I was taking things out of my bag to place into the additional duffel I found my shaver tucked into my hiking boot where I had safely placed it! I held it up in victory which produced a lot of laughter in my travel mates [after my numerous disparaging comments about Johannesburg and the airport workers] and rapidly dissipated any negativity we felt at that time. We boarded the small Cessna airplane in good humour and had a wonderful flight over the Botswana savanna. There is a completely different experience in flying a small plane compared to the large jets we usually fly. Would Botswana live up to the high standards we had previously experienced? Teresa had named our tour this year “In search of the Leopard” because of our failed attempts to photograph a leopard on our previous trips. She had even made up T-shirts, which we were all wearing that morning, to poke a little fun at our guide Brian, who was intent on making sure that we got to photograph leopards this time. Would it happen?

 

 

Devon and Cornwall

Most of our Africa group was now gathered and we were on our way to spend some time in Devon and Cornwall. It was Friday, August 7, 2015. It was nice to meet up with Teresa, Andy, Lorraine and Anna again. Andy had graciously driven all the way from Devon to pick us up from Heathrow. We had previously offered to take the train but Andy was having none of it. He certainly is a glutton for punishment. Driving on England’s highways is not what I would call relaxing with all of the traffic and he had to put up with us for hours of driving back! I was quite the chatterbox and think I kept everyone entertained with stories of our previous adventures as well as my most recent travels for the drive back.

The plan for the weekend was to spend time with Scotty, Andy, the other Lorraine [Scotty’s significant other] as well as Nick. This was Scotty’s and Andy’s neck of the woods and we were happy to explore it with them. They had arranged several social gatherings and adventures for us for the time that we were there. Bless them! I had never previously traveled to this part of England and was looking forward to it.

Andy dropped us off at our accommodation which was a lovely refurbished old farmhouse [the Plantation House Hotel, Ivy Bridge] that was now a high-end restaurant and beautiful hotel. It was also located very close to Nick’s estate. It was a lovely hotel located on verdant, pastoral farmlands. We immediately felt at home. We settled ourselves and then got ready for a home cooked meal that was going to be prepared by the other Lorraine at Nick’s estate. Lorraine loved to cook and had a special affinity for Thai cuisine. Nick’s estate was expansive and was still being farmed with contracted farmers. Nick was still involved with puttering around the estate, pursuing retirement activities such as hunting, shooting, lamping [look it up] and wood work. He also had a beautiful boat [a very fast and sleek rib] which he loved to take guests out on. Lucky for us! His estate was located close to the Plymouth harbour.

Engaging conversation followed in the great room of the beautiful main farmhouse. Lorraine was the perfect hostess and offered us our choice of drinks to help lubricate the conversation. I have never enjoyed gin, however, when in England one must do what the Brits do so I graciously accepted a gin and tonic prepared by Lorraine using the local Plymouth gin as the rest of my travel mates did. Wow! That was the most amazing gin concoction I have ever had. Needless to say we were all hooked and this became the drink of choice for the remainder of our England visit as well as our subsequent African adventure. The meal that Lorraine prepared was fantastic. What an introduction to this part of England! I must say it was one of the best meals that I ever had. There is nothing like a home-cooked meal prepared by a cook with capability who really wishes to share her talents with eager dinner mates. It was a fantastic evening filled with laughter and the perfect tonic to the always challenging travel day. We returned relatively late to our hotel and fell into well deserved sleep.

We were up relatively early the next morning to enjoy a beautiful breakfast prepared at the hotel. As mentioned previously, this hotel had a superb restaurant and certainly they lived up to their reputation in terms of the quality of the food. Andy picked us up after breakfast and then we went to Nick’s estate and then proceeded with his boat to the Plymouth harbour for our tour up the coastline. Teresa had been on Nick’s boat the previous year and had certainly regaled us with stories of how much fun it was. We were excited. His boat is extremely powerful and fast and we were all hoping for calm seas so that we could really experience how fast it could go. We were rewarded with excellent weather and very little wind and even Teresa was allowed to drive the boat under Nick’s tutelage. That boat was fast! We had great fun touring the refurbished Plymouth harbour as well as zooming up the coast and stopping for a fantastic pub lunch and walking tour of Fowey. What a quaint seaside village! We visited a photographic gallery of a friend of Scotty’s inspiring us as photographers. He had some wonderful wildlife photographs that we would have been privileged to have captured. On the way back to Plymouth we visited the Eddystone lighthouse. This lighthouse is located on the dangerous Eddystone Rocks. The current structure is the fourth to be built on the site.

Nick's beautiful estate farmhouse, Devon England

Nick’s beautiful estate farmhouse, Devon England

Nick's beautiful estate farmhouse with rib, Devon England

Nick’s beautiful estate farmhouse with rib, Devon England

Nick... oh Captain my Captain on his rib, Plymouth Harbour England

Nick… oh Captain my Captain on his rib, Plymouth Harbour England

View of the Royal Citadel on Plymouth Hoe from the Plymouth harbour

View of the Royal Citadel on Plymouth Hoe from the Plymouth harbour

Teresa, newly appointed captain, looking radiant on Nick's rib

Teresa, newly appointed captain, looking radiant on Nick’s rib

View from the rib Fowey harbour

View from the rib Fowey harbour

A private joke- one of Scotty's photographer friend's photographs from his gallery in Fowey in case we did not get a leopard shot in Africa

A private joke- one of Scotty’s photographer friend’s photographs from his gallery in Fowey in case we did not get a leopard shot in Africa

Eddystone Lighthouse, Plymouth harbour

Eddystone Lighthouse, Plymouth harbour

Soon we were back at the Plymouth harbour and then back at Nick’s estate. It had been a wonderful day and Nick had been so gracious to offer us the use of his boat. We were dropped off back at the hotel to relax for the remainder of the afternoon and prepare for that evening’s birthday celebration for Scotty which would be celebrated at the excellent restaurant at our hotel. We all got dressed up and enjoyed some gin and tonics at the hotel [we tried several variations and decided that either Blue Sapphire or Tanqueray gin with lemon and not cucumber was the best] before the arrival of the other guests. We had a wonderful birthday celebration and heartily toasted Scotty. Sleep came easily that night.

Scotty's birthday party- Plantation House Hotel, Ivy Bridge Devon

Scotty’s birthday party- Plantation House Hotel, Ivy Bridge Devon

The next morning, after another stellar breakfast, involved a driving tour with Andy and Scotty of Dartmoor. Dartmoor is an area of moorland in South Devon, England. Protected by National Park status as Dartmoor National Park, it covers 954 km². The moorland is capped with many exposed granite hilltops known as tors, providing habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The highest point is High Willhays, 621 m above sea level. The entire area is rich in antiquities and archaeology. It was very dark and grey and somewhat gloomy which provided the perfect mood for the moors tour. I simply cannot imagine the moors being bright and sunny. We had the opportunity to take some photographs. Scotty also related some of his early experiences to us spent on the moors. As I recall, it did involve the consumption of expanding fungi! We then drove off to Cornwall to an adventure centre in order to go down a zip line. Anna and I were paired up as well as Teresa and Andy. Lorraine and Scotty had no interest in zip lining. We all had a blast even though Anna completely smoked me in terms of speed on the zip line.

Artistic, backlit photograph- Devon, England

Artistic, backlit photograph- Devon, England

Birding with Scotty, Nick's estate- Devon England

Birding with Scotty, Nick’s estate- Devon England

Artistic black-and-white photograph- tour of Devon and Cornwall

Artistic black-and-white photograph- tour of Devon and Cornwall

Anna and Steve prepare to zip line, Cornwall England

Anna and Steve prepare to zip line, Cornwall England

Lovely creek-tour of Devon and Cornwall

Lovely creek-tour of Devon and Cornwall

That afternoon we went back to Nick’s estate for a huge barbecue with roast boar prepared in a homemade spit [yum… crackling I can hear my coronary arteries saying], excellent conversation with invited guests as well as skeet shooting. These are certainly things we do not do very often at home in Calgary. Here, however, it is a common occurrence and builds strong social ties amongst the surrounding estate owners and friends. There is such a wonderful culture of community and generosity here. Little did we know that we Canadians where the guests of honour and everyone wanted to speak to us! We also met a physician- Dr. David- who had brought along his Merlin and was happy to explain the ins and outs of falconry and his particular bird to us. Teresa was smitten with this bird and even got to hold it. Scotty and Andy both owned birds and had been involved involved with falconry for many years. I have never been a fan of guns, but, I must admit I really enjoyed the opportunity to participate in skeet shooting even though my skills left something to be desired. Everyone was very supportive and we found out that our Lorraine had superior gun shooting skills. I think it even came as a surprise to her! There was also a home-made device for target shooting that involved a metal “boar” running back and forth down a rail track. I rapidly determined that if I was responsible for providing the boar for a future barbecue that everyone would go hungry. It was all great fun and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Nick is such an engaging, gracious and generous man. He welcomed us openly, despite his wry comments made with a smile, and really insured that we enjoyed our time in this beautiful part of England. New friendships were forged. We returned back to the hotel with a wonderful memories and full bellies relatively early as we had to leave early the next morning to drive back to Heathrow to hop on a plane and fly down to Africa. Andy would not be joining us but Scotty would be.

Steve skeet shooting… somewhat poorly, as Nick's grandson looks on- Nick's estate Devon

Steve skeet shooting… somewhat poorly, as Nick’s grandson looks on- Nick’s estate Devon

Lorraine happy with her skeet shooting performance- Nick's estate, Devon

Lorraine happy with her skeet shooting performance- Nick’s estate, Devon

Anna skeet shooting- Nick's estate, Devon

Anna skeet shooting- Nick’s estate, Devon

Lorraine skeet shooting- Nick's estate, Devon

Lorraine skeet shooting- Nick’s estate, Devon

Scotty and Nick's grandson carving barbecued wild boar- Nick's estate, Devon

Scotty and Nick’s grandson carving barbecued wild boar- Nick’s estate, Devon

Physician guest's falcon- Nick's estate, Devon

Physician guest’s falcon- Nick’s estate, Devon

Physician guest's falcon posing- Nick's estate, Devon

Physician guest’s falcon posing- Nick’s estate, Devon

Teresa is in love, Physician guest's falcon- Nick's estate, Devon

Teresa is in love, Physician guest’s falcon- Nick’s estate, Devon

As Homer would say hmmmmmmm...........roast, suckling pig- Nick's estate, Devon England

As Homer would say hmmmmmmm………..roast, suckling pig- Nick’s estate, Devon England

The next morning came much too early as we all packed into Andy’s truck with all of our gear. It was so full that unfortunately Scotty had to ride in the back with all of our gear which didn’t appear to be that comfortable. We said our heartfelt goodbyes to the other Lorraine and drove off to Heathrow. There we extended further goodbyes and thanks to Andy who had also contributed greatly to our time spent in Devon and Cornwall. It was time to get on with the next phase of our adventures….. Africa! We boarded the plane with high expectations. Would they be realized?

I was happy to be dropped off in Chorley instead of taking the train from Manchester Piccadilly. I was picked up by Richard’s father Jeff, and, he was right on time. I liked the door to door service. We arrived at his home, just outside Preston where we would be staying, and Richard and Dave were just coming back from their climb that day in Staffordshire. What great timing! We greeted each other warmly and went in to get settled, eat dinner (Jeff was our official cook for dinners) and to plan our activities for the next few days.

It’s funny how things work! When I planned the sabbatical I was left with a few days in England and was wondering what to do during them. Contacting Mike and Karen in order to visit Wales just happened to work out. What a fantastic way to spend some of these open days! It just so happened the remaining days fit in perfectly with Richard’s and Dave’s climbing schedule. I would have the benefit of their companionship and further opportunity to rock climb, and, we all had to be back on the same day at Heathrow Airport. They were at the end of their two-week climbing holiday and I would soon be joining other friends to visit Devon and Cornwall before departing to Africa. Perfect!

As I mentioned previously, I am just learning the basics of rock climbing and I am not the most confident climber. In order to rectify this, I took a three-day climbing course with a mountain guide Mark Klassen in June 2015. He definitely help me and I was better able to understand some of the principles involved. Hopefully, this would translate into a better performance than I had previously exhibited.

Richard and Dave were most understanding and chose some perfect routes that were within my capabilities but also would push me a little bit. They had been climbing over the previous two weeks in different parts of England and Scotland. Preston and Chorley also happen to be where Richard grew up which afforded the opportunity to meet some of his schoolmates as well as his parents. It was nice to see where he spent his formative years. Of course, there were also some great pubs to visit!

We drove to Staffordshire for our initial climbs. We would be spending time in a location known as The Roaches. The Roaches (from the French les roches – the rocks) is the name given to a prominent rocky ridge situated above Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir in the Peak District of England. The ridge with its spectacular rock formations rises steeply to 505 m (1,657 ft).

Along with Ramshaw Rocks and Hen Cloud they form a gritstone escarpment, which is very popular with hikers, rock climbers and freerunners. It is often very busy especially at weekends. The local mountain rescue team is a regular attendee to this popular crag.

The Roaches Estate which includes Hen Cloud was purchased by the Peak District National Park Authority in the 1980s to safeguard the area from adverse development. From May 2013 Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will take on the management of the iconic Roaches Estate. The British Mountaineering Council maintain a mountain hut named in memory of Don Whillans in the area.

We were able to complete at least three pitches and I was amazed how much more confident I felt in my climbing. Thank you Mark Klassen! The weather was perfect. I very much enjoyed myself instead of being petrified as I was on my previous climbing attempts. I also felt better because I was not compromising Richard’s and Dave’s climbing experience as they were on holidays as well. What great climbing partners!

Dave looking majestic- The Roaches England

Dave looking majestic- The Roaches England

Richard climbing, The Roaches England

Richard climbing, The Roaches England

Richard climbing, The Roaches England

Richard climbing, The Roaches England

Richard at the top, The Roaches England

Richard at the top, The Roaches England

Richard and Dave preparing to climb, The Roaches England

Richard and Dave preparing to climb, The Roaches England

Richard climbing with Dave looking on, The Roaches England

Richard climbing with Dave looking on, The Roaches England

Richard climbing, the Roaches England

Richard climbing, the Roaches England

A fancy move, The Roaches England

A fancy move, The Roaches England

Steve doing the downward dog on rock, The Roaches England

Steve doing the downward dog on rock, The Roaches England

Steve climbing, The Roaches England

Steve climbing, The Roaches England

 Which way now? The Roaches England

Which way now? The Roaches England

Beautiful views over England, The Roaches

Beautiful views over England, The Roaches

Looking up one of our climbing pitches just to give perspective, The Roaches England

Looking up one of our climbing pitches just to give perspective, The Roaches England

The Roaches, view from below, England

The Roaches, view from below, England

The entrance to the Roaches, England

The entrance to the Roaches, England

Our trusty vehicle, an old Nissan Micra (Richard's mother's car)- The Roaches, England

Our trusty vehicle, an old Nissan Micra (Richard’s mother’s car)- The Roaches, England

Panorama, looking out from the trailhead of the The Roaches, England

Panorama, looking out from the trailhead of the The Roaches, England

With the success of The Roaches, we decided to tour the Lake District. The Lake District, also known as The Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells) and its associations with the early 19th century writings of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets.

Historically split between Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, the Lake District is now entirely in Cumbria. All the land in England higher than three thousand feet (914.4 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest lakes in England, Wastwater and Windermere. Unfortunately, as we drove towards the District it was raining. This could impact our ability to climb as wet rock is not the easiest or safest to climb. We decided to tour through some of the beautiful resort towns and villages and do a little shopping. What a beautiful area! Certainly, this is a location to come back to in order to do a proper walking holiday. It is extremely scenic and has a lot of services and accommodation.

Thankfully, the weather started to clear and we decided to proceed to Little Chamonix our climb for the day. This is one of the most scenic and doable climbs in the Lake District. Richard had done this climb before so would not be joining us but encouraged Dave to lead the climb. Dave, had climbed in his younger years but had more recently taken it up again and had also just started leading climbs in the last year. This would be a great experience for him as well as me. This climb would just be on the limit of my capabilities so it was a good test for me as well. Dave did a great job of leading the climb. He instilled a sense of confidence in me. In fact, When I reached the top I was somewhat surprised because I thought the climb was still going to be several pitches. I felt fantastic! The views from the top of the climb were superb. This further encouraged me to keep climbing in the future realizing that I am capable in my middle years the pick up new skills and to continue to push myself. Feeling uncomfortable and having trepidations is not a bad thing.

Beautiful scene, The Lake District England

Beautiful scene, The Lake District England

Beautiful old church, The Lake District England

Beautiful old church, The Lake District England

Yes, a gingerbread shop! The Lake District England

Yes, a gingerbread shop! The Lake District England

Richard and Dave taking a stroll, The Lake District England

Richard and Dave taking a stroll, The Lake District England

Beautiful foliage, The Lake District England

Beautiful foliage, The Lake District England

Old stone bridge, The Lake District England

Old stone bridge, The Lake District England

Black and white photo old stone bridge, The Lake District England

Black and white photo old stone bridge, The Lake District England

Hikers leaving on a walk over old stone bridge black and white photo, The Lake District England

Hikers leaving on a walk over old stone bridge black and white photo, The Lake District England

Old stone hut, The Lake District England

Old stone hut, The Lake District England

Small cafe at the base of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

Small cafe at the base of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

 

Steve climbing Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

Steve climbing Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

View from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

View from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

View from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

View from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

Steve climbing Little Chamonix, almost at the top- The Lake District, England

Steve climbing Little Chamonix, almost at the top- The Lake District, England

Panorama, view from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

Panorama, view from the top of Little Chamonix, The Lake District England

I cannot believe how quickly our time together went. Of course, this is always a sign of having a good time. I very much appreciated meeting Richard’s parents [who are both lovely]. They were very gracious. Thanks Jeff for the accommodation and dinners. We also had a lot of fun in the evening watching recorded PVR of a TV series of bad drivers from Russia recorded on dash mounted WebCams. This produced a lot of belly laughs! We also had an evening out with some of Richard’s schoolmates at an amazing pub originally constructed in the 1600s. It was great to meet them as I am sure it was for Richard to see them after almost 30 years.

We had an early start on the day of our departure from Preston as Richard and Dave had an early flight to catch from London Heathrow back to Calgary that morning. Richard arranged for us to travel first class on a train from Chorley to just outside London. We would then catch a cab from this train station to Heathrow. I really enjoyed traveling by train. It was a most relaxing experience and the food they served for breakfast was excellent. Of course, the company of my two buddies added to the experience. Richard also had a fun card game which we played on the way down which also resulted in numerous belly laughs.

Richard had arranged for a cab to pick us up as we arrived just outside London but we had a little trouble finding the pickup point. It all worked out as the cab dropped Richard and Dave off at Terminal 2.  I would proceed on to Terminal 5 to await the arrival of most of my travel mates for my upcoming Africa adventure. I said goodbye to Richard and Dave. They are great friends. I always enjoy our shared adventures. I would be seeing them again for a photography and backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierra’s end September 2015. I try not to miss any opportunities to share adventures with them.

I had some time in Terminal 5 to catch up on emails, process some pictures and also update the blog. The time just flew by. I proceeded to the arrivals area in the early afternoon where I initially met up with Lorraine [she had arrived earlier at Terminal 2 and was picked up by Andy] and Andy and then Teresa and Anna. Mary Ann [our other Africa travel mate] would not be joining us for this portion of the England visit or Botswana. We were going to meet up with her in Namibia.

We had several days to spend with Scotty, Andy and Nick. Scotty and Andy were British friends we had met previously. We originally met Scotty as the photographer on a previous Africa adventure and met Andy one year ago on our Scotland trip. Teresa had previously met Nick but the rest of us had not. He was retired and owned a country estate which we would be visiting. Scotty also lived in a property on the estate. We were looking forward to a brief but fun visit with our English friends. This was going to be fun!

I slept well, that first night, back in Manchester, England. I knew the frustration of leaving France contributed, but, I had turned the page and was looking forward to my time with Mike and Karen.

Because of the delay in getting my checked luggage returned, we decided just to stay and enjoy the day in Manchester. The weather was much cooler and rainy but I loved it having just had so much heat and sun in France. I don’t think Mike and Karen believed me, but, it was true.

Manchester has gone through a revitalization over the last several years after a terrible IRA bombing in 1996. The 1996 Manchester bombing was an attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Saturday 15 June 1996 in Manchester, England. The 3,300-pound (1,500 kg) bomb, placed in a van on Corporation Street in Manchester city centre, targeted the city’s infrastructure and economy and caused widespread damage, estimated by insurers at £700 million (£1.2 billion as of 2015). The IRA had sent telephoned warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb detonated. The area was evacuated, but the bomb squad were unable to defuse the bomb in time. Two hundred and twelve people were injured, but there were no fatalities.

Several buildings near the explosion were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished, while many more were closed for months for structural repairs. Most of the rebuilding work was completed by the end of 1999, at a cost of £1.2 billion, although redevelopment continued until 2005.

My, how Manchester has recovered! What a great city with beautiful old buildings, fantastic canals (Google canal boat tours…it’s a thing!), museums, libraries, great pubs and restaurants. The downtown felt alive. We had a great visit. When we returned, I confirmed through the courier tracking system that my yellow spectrum sport bag was now in their system and would arrive at an ETA of 10 PM that evening. We did not want to miss the delivery as someone had to be present to accept the bag so we had a great home cooked meal prepared by my hosts with plenty of good conversation and wine. We were thrilled when the wayward bag arrived at 8 PM. We greeted it like an old friend but, alas, it was too late to drive out to Wales that evening. We decided to leave early the next morning for our journey. I emailed my other friends, who I would visit immediately afterwards, to tell them about our delay of one day. It all worked out as Mike and Karen had booked off work until Wednesday and my other friends were happy to have me arrive later Tuesday instead of early Tuesday as we had planned originally. My travel karma had returned!

The next morning arrived and we were off to North Wales. My host’s cottage was in Harlech which was about a two and a half hour drive from Manchester. We planned to do a long walk that day in the mountains close to Harlech so it would be a long day but we were all full of enthusiasm. The drive was very relaxing and I didn’t even realize when we had crossed into this country I had always wanted to visit. The only hints were the bilingual road/place signs, progressively narrower roads and the multitude of sheep!

Harlech is a town and seaside resort in Gwynedd, within the historical boundaries of Meirionnydd in northwest Wales. Lying on Tremadog Bay and within the Snowdonia National Park, it has a population of 1,447, of whom 51% speak Welsh. The town is located in the unitary authority of Gwynedd which was formed in 1996, from 1974 to 1996 it was in the Meirionydd District of the 1974 County of Gwynedd, and before 1974 it was in the historic county of Merionethshire.
The town is best known for the landmark Harlech Castle, begun in 1283 by Edward I of England, captured by Owain Glyndŵr, and later the stronghold of Henry Tudor. The castle was originally built next to the sea, but geological processes have changed the shape of the coastline, and the castle now lies on a cliff face, about half a mile (800 m) inland. The town has since developed with housing estates on the flat low town area and hillside properties in the high town around the shopping street, church, and castle. The two areas are linked by a steep and winding road called “Twtil”.

We arrived at my host’s aptly named “Castle View” cottage (very quaint and my idea of perfection for a holiday home) and we quickly prepared for our long walk.

Y Llethr & Diffwys from Dyffryn Ardudwy was the walk that Mike and Karen had chosen. Trailhead was about 15 minutes, by car, from the cottage. It was 18.7 km in length with an ascent of 932 meters with a moderate to hard grade. Y Llethr and Diffwys (the two highest points) were the highlights of this Snowdonia walk. Starting from Dyffryn Ardudwy, this ridge walk connects some of the summits in the southern part of the Rhinog mountains, which are known for their greener and less rugged character when compared with the rugged northern Rhinogs. There were so many stone walls and even an old “London Road” that we passed. There were quite a few fellow hikers and even dirt bikers (it was a long weekend after all!) we passed along the way. I had chosen to wear my trainers because I felt hiking boots were not required. That was a mistake! It rains a lot here and the “spongy underfoot”, as it is described in the guide books we brought along, can really be translated to very wet bog. The views were great and, most importantly, we did not get rained on as it had been threatening when we started the hike. The sun actually came out for most of the hike and we could see the nearby mountains of Snowdonia and we even saw Snowdon. I actually got a little sunburn on the top of my head (I know, shocking with my full head of hair!) because I was not expecting sun here. I joked to my hosts that I was going to email my French hosts afterwards to tell them I had deepened my French tan whilst in Wales!

Stone wall, Wales

Stone wall, Wales

 Rocky stone path, hike Wales

Rocky stone path, hike Wales

 Mike and Karen on the trail, Wales

Mike and Karen on the trail, Wales

 Stone wall that seems to go on forever, Wales

Stone wall that seems to go on forever, Wales

Beautiful, verdant green pastures, Wales

Beautiful, verdant green pastures, Wales

Mike and Karen pondering our next move, Wales

Mike and Karen pondering our next move, Wales

Stiles- how you get over stone walls, Wales

Stiles- how you get over stone walls, Wales

We had a great pub meal, after a clean up back at the cottage, in Barmouth. A great pub and I did get my requisite fish and chips meal. We returned back to the cottage for a tea and a well deserved sleep.

The plan the next day was to hike in Snowdonia. Mike and Karen had chosen Cnicht (“Knight” in Welsh) which took us on some very narrow and windy roads that thankfully were not heavily traveled to reach trailhead. The hike was about 11-12 km long and you got up to a height of 689 m. It was much more similar to the hikes I do in Canada and I loved it; except for the end. Once we had completed the high peak, Mike and Karen told me they had done this hike several times before but always had trouble with the end of it (they actually told me this before the hike but I thought nothing of it). Once, they had found themselves on the top of a very steep cliff looking down on the path they should have been on and the other times they ended up on very indistinct paths with trouble getting back to the lane which was the exit point. They wanted to get the exit “right” this time. We thought we had done very well when we found the correct path around the cliffs and the side descent slope and could see our objective. The problem is no real “path” exists despite Karen having a GPS showing a distinct OS path. The way down was full of deep boggy, wet ground (I was thrilled I brought my waterproof boots this time) and even though the GPS showed us on the path at times we kept going off of it and ending up in rather dodgy areas. Close to the exit you get into farmland with many stone walls that could box you in as well as true private land even though there is right of access you must not abuse this. At the very end we were so frustrated we just walked out on the farmer’s road track even though this would be considered trespassing. We got back to the lane and had to walk a half mile back to our car. Despite the ending, it was a great hike but by the time we exited we were 2 hours behind schedule and had to truncate our plans to visit Croesor. We tried to get into a nice restaurant in Borth-Y-Gest but we were out of luck- all booked. We planned to go back to the cottage and make dinner, but, when we arrived there Karen said “let’s just go out for dinner in Harlech”.  There was no opposition. We had a great dinner but the server warned us of strong winds and rain the following day. We returned to the cottage afterwards to try and look at the guide maps to see how we could have exited better from Cnicht, but, decided this was not possible and this approach would not be attempted again. There was another approach from Croeser to the top and this would be the preferred approach in the future.

Cnicht trail sign, Snowdonia Wales

Cnicht trail sign, Snowdonia Wales

Steve approaching the summit of Cnicht, Wales

Steve approaching the summit of Cnicht, Wales

A lovely photo of Mike and Karen as we approach the summit of Cnicht, Wales

A lovely photo of Mike and Karen as we approach the summit of Cnicht, Wales

A view off the summit of Cnicht, Wales

A view off the summit of Cnicht, Wales

Steve on the summit of Cnicht, Wales

Steve on the summit of Cnicht, Wales

The beautiful descent off of Cnicht, Wales

The beautiful descent off of Cnicht, Wales

The next morning, as predicted by the waitress, was gray and very windy with rain. It was definitely stormy. We walked down to the beach as waves crashed in. It was very dramatic! Our original plan was to walk along the beach, then, proceed up the walkway which would connect to a trail which would take us above town and then back to the cottage. This was not meant to be! When we got to the end of the beach the waves were crashing so violently we could have been swept away trying to reach the small stairway up to the path. Instead, we decided to walk back along the beach towards Harlech Castle. Mike and Karen went back to the cottage in order to prepare for our departure and I went into the Castle for a tour. Fascinating! That history that occurred in this very Castle. I was able to grab a few pictures despite the inclement weather and then went back to the cottage. We departed and had a very relaxing drive back to England. Mike offered to drop me off at train station in Chorley, which was my pick up point for the next stage of my adventure, Instead of driving back to Manchester and taking the train to Chorley. So thoughtful!

The stormy beach, Harlech Wales

The stormy beach, Harlech Wales

Others walking the beach, Harlech Wales

Others walking the beach, Harlech Wales

Rocky beach, Harlech Wales

Rocky beach, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle entrance, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle entrance, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Harlech Castle exterior, Harlech Wales

Family enjoying together time- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech Wales

Family enjoying together time- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech Wales

Mossy rock and stone- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech Wales

Mossy rock and stone- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech Wales

Mossy rock and stone- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech Wales

Mossy rock and stone- Harlech Castle interior, Harlech WalesWill wi

Even though the trip was relatively short, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Mike and Karen and northern Wales. It was all I hoped it would be. I am also very thankful I met Mike and Karen previously in Peru. This is certainly one of the blessings awarded to you when you travel. You meet the most amazing people who often share similar views and interests. Certainly, Mike and Karen are perfect examples of this. I again thank them for their companionship and hospitality. I hope they will be able to travel to Calgary to visit so I can return the favour in the future.

My next adventure involved rock climbing with Richard and Dave, my friends from Canmore. Over the last 2 to 3 years I have been encouraged by them to take up rock climbing so I can join them on some of their adventures. I must admit I have had some trepidations about this. Rock climbing has never been my thing. So much so that I took a climbing course this year so that I would be better prepared! Did it help? Read on!

It was all going so well! I was on my way to Wales from Toulon, France. I had to connect through Paris Orly through to London City airport.

The ethers that be must have thought “right, quite enough of this trouble free travel for you”. I had one hour to connect flights in Paris, Orly and thought; of course, that is enough time. In fact, the airline also thought this was because that was how the flight was set up by them. Usually, when you connect flights you go through a separate stream to your connecting fight gate. With this flight you had to exit through baggage in the Arrivals area and were dumped in the mayhem of the airport with no direction. It didn’t help that our flight was 20 minutes late coming in to Paris. I thought I had made an error after looking for the flight connections sign in vain for 10 minutes. The clock was ticking. I snuck my way back into the baggage area (so much for security) and in fact did see that you had to exit! I quickly went back out and went to find a departures board. None were easily available on this level. I ran upstairs. Time was ticking away! I finally found a board and went to my smart phone to confirm the flight number and of course my smart phone was completely frozen (perhaps a new feature with the latest OS update). It took 5-7 minutes to reboot and start up. I could feel my chances of connecting quickly fading away. I finally found the area for the connection and it was the furthest from where I was located (of course) so I quickly ran through the airport and got to the area and quickly spoke to an attendant about where I was supposed to connect. She told me it was the correct area but that I had to wait in a long line to go through a security officer and then security again (why you have to do this with internal flight and already having gone through security is beyond me). I went to the line and pleaded with the attendant there showing her my boarding pass. She was wonderful and took me through the preferred line (no one was waiting in that line) right to the security officer and literally pushed aside a passenger was was coming forward from the long line up (sorry, chap royalty coming through). The security officer was a bit taken back thinking I must be someone important (I did say royalty didn’t I?) and quickly waived me through. Great! I went to the second security area and really did remove anything that was metal but left my trainers on (I usually remove my shoes but I was rushed and had gone through security up to that point as I was with no issues). I went through and of course the machine beeps. I had to take off my shoes, get into the scanner and got a pat down all using up time. I ran to the boarding gate just as passengers were boarding. Yes, I did it! I was happy to leave Paris.

Trouble over…….right? Nope! I arrived at London City Airport thinking now I can relax. I had a three hour wait until my private hire saloon car (I have to go back to speaking British English don’t I?) would come at 3 PM to deliver me to Heathrow so I could get another flight to Manchester. Security at this airport was great. A happy lot with a great sense of humour. She asked me the standard questions including what I did for a living. Upon hearing I was a physician, she said “oh you lot should be OK to let into the country, you never get into trouble do you? However, when you do go bad you are very bad, aren’t you?” Ha! With a mischievous grin she let me through. It was nice to be back in jolly old England. Fully relaxed now, I went to the luggage carousel. I waited, and waited and waited. Oh no, this cannot be happening. I proceeded to the baggage agent and inquired about my missing luggage. She confirmed that yes my bag was still in France and would arrive later that day on another flight. Of course, this would be after I had to leave London City Airport with my private hire. Great! She also said “you are not the only one this has happened to on this particular flight”. What did France have against me? In 30 years of travel I have never had this happen to me although I do recognize it does happen. I asked if the luggage could be delivered to Heathrow as I had a 5 hour wait there for my Manchester flight and she said no. It had to be a physical address. I only had the Wales address with me but quickly emailed my friend Mike to try and get his Manchester address to give them. We were scheduled to leave to Wales the next morning. The agent promised the bag would arrive to a Manchester address layer that evening. I felt further distressed when she asked me to describe the bag so it could correctly be given to the courier company delivering it. “A large, orange 100 litre soft sided sport bag (duffel is not understood here) with Patagonia written on it”, I said. She was busy typing away when she said “sorry, we don’t have the colour orange in our system but I can put yellow spectrum in”. This was not going to end well, but, I held my temper and said “fine yellow spectrum, how can that be mistaken for anything but orange”. She uncomfortably laughed sensing my frustration. I was given many phone numbers for the airline and the courier company handing the delivery and went out to get a coffee and food (a stiff dram of scotch would have been my preferred prescription!). What should have been a restful time waiting for my private hire was filled with emails to my friends about the delay and getting their Manchester address (which I did get) as well as checking the status of my luggage recovery through the airline and courier website online tracking system. My private hire came at the appointed time (they are all wonderful) and listened to my tale of woe sympathetically like a priest and said “I guarantee your bag will not come until tomorrow no matter what they tell you”. Pessimist, I thought. I was just happy I was not departing to Africa within the next 24 hours and had booked a nice stretch of 10 days in England.

More time was spent at Heathrow trying to find out the status of my luggage recovery but I kept getting “we do not have your bag in our system” through the courier online tacking website so I called them. You had to wait at least 10 minutes before you got a live agent. The agent was excellent but I really felt for her. She must get so many irate travellers letting loose on her. In fact, the courier has nothing to do with the airlines who lose track of the luggage and are just contracted to do the deliveries once they receive the found luggage. The latter part of that last sentence is the key. I just had to be patient. As my Manchester flight boarding time drew near, I came to realize that my private hire driver spoke from experience and, indeed, was not a pessimist.

I landed in Manchester and was greeted by my friends Mike and Karen. Smiles and hugs ensued and I immediately felt better despite the challenges of the day. I had met them previously when Anna and I hiked in Peru in 2014. We really connected with them and at that time they had spoken of a cottage they loved and owned in Wales. I had warned them that when I came back to England I would come to pay them a visit and would really like to travel there with them to stay at this cottage. They accepted my proposal to do just that earlier that year when I emailed them (thank you..thank you). Wales, like Scotland, was a country that I have always wanted to visit and now I would have the chance. As we drove back to their lovely home in Sale the question was…..would my checked luggage join us?

Farewell to France……

I am back! I know it has been about 2 weeks since I last posted. What can I say? I continue to have fun.

Last time I blogged, I was in Florac and had to make my way home to Bormes. It was going to be by bus and train. Just before I got on the bus in Florac I snapped a picture of the mountain above the town. A fond memory after my wonderful trek.

Mountain coming out of the mist, Florac

Mountain coming out of the mist, Florac

I returned to Bormes without incident but did witness a very drunk woman on the train from Marseille to Toulon. Despite what we think of the normalization and appropriate use of alcohol in France, alcoholism is a problem.

I was picked up at the train station in Toulon by Glenn and Maysan (after an interlude where we sat across the street from each other for 1 hour!). At that time they informed me that their son would be playing a soccer tournament in Sweden and they were going to attend. They would leave that Saturday July 25th and would return on July 30th with their son Iskander. I would drive to Nice early on the 25th to drop off Glenn and Maysan and I would spend a half day there to tour and then I would have their car (yes!) and the run of the villa. The next morning the 22-year-old son of an acquaintance of theirs, Jeremy, would arrive to spend some time after touring Europe. Also, another friend of Glenn’s, Nic, would be arriving from Calgary on July 27th AND their daughter Yasmeen and her first cousin Nigel were arriving from Calgary and Vancouver respectively on July 28th. I did wonder if they really were going to Sweden for a factitious tournament (just kidding).

I was a little tired and beat up after the trek, so, it was going to be a relaxing week. On July 23rd I blogged and blogged to catch up as the internet at the villa is “temperamental” and I seemed to have it’s attention and I was able to finish the blog about Corsica and the trek (you are welcome). I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and now I could just……relax!

Relax I did! I had plenty of pool time and we attended a nice birthday party for a friend of Glenn’s and Maysan’s at a lovely beach side restaurant and enjoyed a huge plate of lobster and spaghetti. Yum! It was quite a late evening and their was a little too much wine.

The next morning came too early. I drove Maysan and Glenn to the airport in Nice and had a nice tour through old town and up to the panoramic overlook for a picture of the very long beach and promenade.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

I drove back to Bormes and Jeremy and I went to a kickboxing championship in Le Lavandou. We did have a glitch. It was advertised to be on the main beach but when we arrived there was no one there! I went to a local retailer trying to find out where it was being held and after a rather comical demonstration by me of kickboxing he was able to tell us the location. We arrived a little late but were surprised by the flock of Ferrari’s just outside the venue. It was an “interesting” evening. I am not a fan of men beating each other senseless. However, it was entertaining and I was impressed by how the referees controlled the match and stepped in to stop a couple of them because of injury, and in the case of the headline match, because one opponent was getting pummelled.

All went well with the pick ups early the following week. The subsequent days involved getting up early to do a bike ride before it got too hot, hikes to Notre Dame de Constance and lying around the pool and reading as well as stretching on a pad in the back garden in the afternoon. Now this is a life I could get used to! It was a pleasure having all of the company around and especially the younger guests. Nic and I were like parents cooking dinners and arranging the days for all. I just wish we had better luck finding and buying take away roast chicken for dinner (private joke)!

 

 

Glenn, Maysan and Iskander returned mid-afternoon on July 30th. We were one big happy family and had a great dinner that night on the patio with take away roast chicken (YES, it is possible). It was nearly a full moon and the sunset was beautiful that night. What a great way to end my time in France.

Almost a full moon (97.2%) on my last night in France

Almost a full moon (97.2%) on my last night in France

The next morning Glenn and Maysan drove me to the airport in Hyeres and I was off to the United Kingdom. They were such great hosts and did so much arranging and driving ensuring that my time in France would be memorable. It certainly was!  I am forever grateful. Thank you so much.

I wondered if Wales could live up to the high standard set by France! Read on to find out.

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