Monday, 31 August 2009

The Most Southerly Town In Europe

More from Sunday 23 August 2009. Having left the Minoans wondering where their roofs and most of the walls of their houses had gone, we carried on south to Ierapetra

This is the most southerly town in Europe. I looked in vain for a sign at the sea edge that said "Welcome to Europe" though figured it would have needed a large sign for all the bureaucracy and subtitles like "Europe welcomes careful drivers, whether in motors or on camels" and "Europe is proud to have more overpaid bureacrats thinking up absurd rules to make life hell than any other federation"

The town was at its most powerful during the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. The Romans conquered it, knocked it down and rebuilt it in AD66 along classic Roman lines. The Saracens came along and destroyed it again in the 800s but then rebuilt it again and it came to be used as a centre for piracy.

There's a more peaceful air about the place these days. No one called us "scurvy dogs" or did anything more threatening than sell us a bottle of water when we asked politely. Well, to be honest she did look a bit bemused when I asked, but was happy enough when I just opened the fridge and took out a bottle. Luckily it turned out we were in a shop...

We walked around the old town, passing a gorgeous little Byzantine church - note the two domes. This is the Lord Christ Church. Napoleon Bonaparte anchored off here on his way to Egypt and stayed in a house that remembers him still (he nicked an ashtray...)

Along the seafront - known as the Mole for some reason. The beach was a grey beach of pebbles and pretty much deserted.

We passed a series of bars, mostly empty but for a few local men swapping yarns. After we passed one I heard some shouts but couldn't understand the language so didn't think they were directed at me, but later I found my filter must have dropped off the camera and they were probably trying to tell me as I ignored them... duh...

This is the Kales, an ancient fort attributed to a Genoese pirate called Pescatore and built in 1212. It was free to enter and even housed a toilet block in one room.

We walked up the precarious and well worn steps to the left and back down the slope from the battlements in the middle of the photo. The slope actually felt safer... There was a commanding view over both the sea and the land and you can see from the above photo that the fighting platform ran around both sides of the fort so that cannon could be situated to fire inland as well as towards enemy ships.

A couple of doors had rusted but interesting ironwork door furniture.

Looking back at The Mole from the fort ramparts.

Looking on the opposite direction, it's time for us to think about making our way back towards the pick-up point for the coach.

Our path takes us along the edge of the small harbour.

Our hour was up. A last look at the sea off Ierapetra. By the time it hits land again the breakers will be lapping against the coast of Africa.

Pearls of The Aegean Cruise Index

Garstang Arts & Music Festival Part 2

Another day another gig!

We were back in Garstang today for our second spot at the festival. It was a busier day than Saturday and lots of people stayed for the entire afternoon. A few friends came to see us too. Old friends and brand new friends - it was nice to see John and Sue who we met on the cruise last week!

A few friends from Garstang Musical Productions (they used to be GLOG - Garstang Light Opera Group) came and Shelagh and Janet joined us for a couple of numbers. Apparently a Google search for GLOG finds my pages more than it did the light opera group - so now I've laid claim to the new name as well! Heh heh!

It was a great afternoon of music and some gentle comedy as David and I ribbed each other or told a few jokes.

The Mayor and Mayoress came for a word and a listen and the weather stayed just about fine until it was so close to our scheduled finish time that it made next to no difference. A couple of hours later though, the sky dropped so much water I think someone had scooped the sea up and thrown it! An excellent weekend in Garstang and great to see young folk dancing away to some of the 60s music!

In Search of Minoans

Saturday 22 August 2009 was a day at sea, exploring the Thomson Celebration and lazing around by the pool dodging scores of orange dragonflies that for some reason were out in the middle of the sea, miles from land...

That evening was the Captain's formal reception and dinner.

We had a go at scrubbing up and this was a ship's photograph taken in front of a backdrop of the Titanic's staircase. Quite why all cruise ships seem to carry this canvas painted backdrop is a mystery to me as surely it's a reminder that even cruise liners sink... However, each one of the 4 cruise liners we've been on have carried it along so whoever came up with the idea has obviously made an ice packet...

The following day we woke up in Crete, in the port of Aghios Nikolaos. The h in Aghios seems to be undecided as to whether it's needed but the Greeks seem to use it and they should know best I suppose...

We'll see more of the port later on as, after we had had breakfast, we were out of the ship and onto an excursion coach that took us on a tour called Panoramic Crete. This would visit an ancient Minoan settlement, the most southerly town in Europe, a typical rural Cretan village and a mountain viewpoint from where you could see both the Aegean and Mediterranean seas - the panoramic bit then!

Our guide for the day looked quite a bit like a Greek version of actress Ingrid Pitt except that Ingrid still has her own hair and this guide looked like she might have borrowed hers... Anyway she was not too boring as guides go but they do seem to like their dates these people don't they? They should remember that even Indiana Jones had to be warned off the dates...

So after a little while we came to Gournia, the long-since abandoned Minoan settlement on a hillside.

It was possible to make out streets and the bases of houses and other buildings.

The town was built around a hill at the foot of the larger hillside, so we are only seeing half of it here. We didn't actually get any closer than this so I've no idea what is on the other side, but I presume it's somewhat similar. Apparently at the top of the town was the administrative council buildings and courtyard, the cop shop and social services office and then the bits we can actually see would be the housing and McDonalds franchises: "No honestly, we'll make a mint... the tourists will definitely come - I'm just not sure when exactly..."

Ah, we're being called back to the bus - next stop Ierapetra, the most southerly town in Europe.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Aaaaaghhhhhh!

Now my regular viewers will know that I seldom moan about my lot in life and try to see the funny side even when strangers throw food all over me on aircraft (last year, see here) but I have to say in all modesty and humility...

This bloody hurts!!!

And how long is it going to be before it grows out?!? No chance of not tearing it off duh... If anyone meets me and I have what appears to be a clown's shoe on my left foot it will be because that's the only thing that will fit because of all the cotton wool I might have to wrap round my toe to avoid more agony! Not looking forward to shoes and socks... But will have to knuckle down to it... toe the line... (Feeling a bit squeamish about saying hit the nail on the head...)

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Garstang Arts & Music Festival 2009

Our flight back from Corfu landed more or less on time last night at around 11:35pm. We were just a little thankful not to have been faced with several hours delay because we were due to be in Garstang with the band this afternoon! As it was our body clocks were two hours out of kilter and - blooming heck - isn't it cold!!!

The festival is a regular one for us but this year has been extended into the Bank Holiday. So rather than play on the Thursday as usual we have played today and will be back in our usual spot by the car park entrance on Monday afternoon around 12:30pm through until 4:00pm.

And it feels very nice to be described in The Garstang Courier as a "highlight" of the festival this year! Thanks for that and thanks to all those who came today to see us, to those who heard us from their car and recognised our sound from a gig on Cleveleys Promenade a few years ago, postponing a walk along the river to come and listen and make themselves known!

So we are back on Monday afternoon folks! Come and say hello, don't be shy, we're very approachable as long as you don't expect us to engage in conversation halfway through a song! (Strangely, some people do seem to expect that!!!)

Fingers crossed for the weather on Monday, today it just about held off for us and now we are back at home, shivering and yawning! It's c-o-l-d!!!

Pearls of the Aegean

I'm cold. Tired. Absolutely shattered in fact. But mostly cold.

And I'm putting that down to the fact that we've just got back from a week's cruise on Thomson's Celebration cruise ship.

We did the Pearls of the Aegean cruise from Corfu around the Greek islands and Turkey.

The ship was excellent and we were reluctant to leave her yesterday! We joined and left her in exactly the same spot that our cruise on the Ocean Village II had berthed at when we sailed into Corfu.

But we'll look at the ports of call in the days or weeks to come, so for now, what did we think of the ship? It was smaller than OVII and probably our smallest since the tiny Carousel that we sailed round the Canaries with in 2004 and 2005.

It had ten decks - with the tenth being a tiny space where topless sunbathing was allowed. I didn't do any topless so we didn't go higher than deck nine...

Deck six, pictured, was the Promenade Deck where you could walk all the way round the ship - five times around was one mile. We did it several times over the course of the week. One times round on the Saturday, 3 on the Sunday, two on the Monday, 3 on the Tuesday and two each on Wednesday and Thursday...

It was an excellent spot to admire the sunsets of the Aegean!

The food was plentiful and wonderful, though we found ourselves forsaking our usual testing of all the different eateries on board for the self-service Lido Restaurant. The staff were great and after just a couple of visits knew our names and tastes and we almost had our own table in the corner by the window!

Our favourite bar was the stunning Horizon bar which had the same view as the bridge, which was on the deck below. This was the first ship I've been on that had this view from a bar. You could sit up there and have exactly the same view as the Captain as we sailed into or out of a port. The bar staff, the lovely Karen and Raquel were brilliant and we discovered a non-alcoholic cocktail called a Virgin Emotion (a sort of cross between anticipation and nerves) that we made a regular thirst quencher.

The entertainment on board was... well... well it wasn't this chap anyway! The nightly shows were superb and one afternoon the show team put on a farce - a short production of The Amorous Prawn which was excellent. There was a 3-piece band playing Shadows hits and similar treatments of more modern songs and they were very good.

So where did we go? What can you expect to see over the next few days? The sites of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in modern Turkey and the temple that housed the statue of Zeus at Olympia. We also had a day in Crete, saw a steam engine museum in Turkey, climbed to the Parthenon at Athens, had an unscheduled stop on Samos and got extermely hot in Corfu! More later...!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Old Photos Jumble

Here's a bit of a mixture for you! Over the past few days there's loads of old photos gone through the scanner and many of them were one-offs or have specially interesting stories to them.

The first one was taken in 1986 I think. Blackpool Zoo orang utan Azimat had a baby daughter called Victoria. Vicky is now the grand old mother of the orang utans at Blackpool and has a glorious smile for visitors - she was trained to show her teeth as she had dental problems when young!

From the same year, here is the old Manxman. As the name suggests she was the ferry to the Isle of Man and as such was featured in one of George Formby's most famous films. It was No Limit made in 1933 and featuring the Isle of Man TT races. George played George Shuttleworth who crashed his bike but was given the chance to ride for a team and won not only the race but the girl - Florence Desmond who apparently couldn't stand him... or perhaps the way his missus stood by with a look of wrath and a tape measure every time they had to film a screen kiss!

The Manxman is shown in Preston Docks where for several years she served time as a nightclub. Wonder whether the ghost of George used to sing "Riding In The TT Races" in the main bar...?

I could almost have left this one uncaptioned and asked you to tell me what it was!

It is in fact the view down the toilet of Skipton Castle. As you can see, they preferred a long drop! The bar across guards against anyone trying to climb up the toilet to break into the castle during a seige. Not a nice job, but the tactic worked well and was a tried and tested way of sneaking into castles! Phew... what's that smell?!?

And lastly, this is Axbridge near Cheddar in Somerset. A few of us had gone down to Blagdon for a computer system course and we stayed at one of two pub/hotels in the village.

The date was 4 July 1990. Ring any bells? We sat in the bar watching England being knocked out of the FIFA World Cup in the semi final. Gazza cried and my mate Pete and I took our pints and sat in a deserted but very warm square until I decided to get the camera and take some photos.

Talking of ringing bells, our hotel was right next door to the church and the clock tower kept striking every quarter hour until two o'clock in the morning then started again at six!!!

Veteran Vintage Car Run to Blackpool 1985

Came across these on my way to the scanner today! The photos date from Summer 1985 and show the Veteran and Vintage Car Run from Manchester (I think!) to Blackpool.

The cars used to drive down Middle Walk on the North Promenade. In later years they parked at the Norbreck Hydro and the Promenade road was the best place to photograph them going by.

This particular year we saw comedian Les Dawson in the passenger seat of one of the cars, looking like he was enjoying himself, as well he might in this old Rolls Royce!

Photos as usual at Flickr.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Brough Castle Viewpoint

A while ago (two years ago!) I posted an entry about Brough Castle and mentioned that I had once climbed to the top of the castle keep.

The climb was somewhat hairy to say the least. Part of it was up a spiral staircase and part of it along parapets that had once been passages but one wall had collapsed. It wasn't much of a surprise that the next time I visited the access to the stairs had been blocked and it hasn't been possible to climb the tower for years now.

Well the other day I came across the photos I took on the day I did climb to the top, ending up at on that little bit with the railings, perched on the edge of oblivion.

A great view - but I wasn't sure whether to be sorry or relieved when I found I couldn't repeat the climb!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Blackpool Steam and Transport Day 1991

In October 1991 Blackpool put on a steam and transport rally and rounded off the experience with an old-fashioned fairground, with the rides being powered by steam showmen's engines.

Blackpool Airport was the venue. It hosted a number of this type of events during the 1980s and very early nineties - though I think this may have been the penultimate one with 1992 being the last one before the airport started to expand its operations.

I'm just old enough to remember steam rollers being used to compact and smooth tarmac on the roads. Real tar too - on hot days you would find the road melting and sticky lumps of tar stuck to the bottom of your shoes. On such days you had to take your shoes off at the back door when you came in the house or risk your mother's wrath as you ruined the carpet! Small boys of course couldn't resist it... We used to poke at tar by the kerbside with a pencil until we could work a lump free and then it went - along with bits of string, a penknife and perhaps a white mouse - in the pocket!

Penknives, I hasten to add, were used for sharpening pencils in the innocent days of my boyhood. Using a knife you could sharpen a pencil lead into either a point or a squared-off oblong. Lost skills...

A Foden steam lorry. These were often dangerously quiet. Once the lorry had accelerated and the steam was shut off, the only sound they gave was the occasional clanking of the chain drive.

A final look at the fairground. In the background to the right is an old-fashioned "haunted swing" sideshow where people sit on a "swing" which is fixed and then the "room" about them rotates throught 360 degrees to make you feel as though you are tipping out of the seat. The room in this case was rotated by hand, the chap who took the money, once he had enough customers, shut the door, went to the back of the set and heaved to turn the wooden room.

There were a number of cars on display too and the British Leyland-built Pope-Mobile that had been built for the Pope's visit in 1982.

Larger photos in a set at Flickr

Monday, 10 August 2009

Cornish Mysteries

Back again to 9 August 1989. In the last entry we had been to Zennor and met up with the mermaid, but this was to be a day filled with mysterious things.

I drove further along towards Lands End until I reached Morvah and then turned inland - as far as you can drive inland from this point. By now I was at the narrowest part of the Cornish peninsula, between Morvah and Penzance.

I stopped at a lay-by for an artist's studio and started to walk north east along a dirt path. I walked for about a quarter of an hour, passing an old stone stile and starting to wonder a few times whether I was heading the right way!

But I was! Men-an-Tol is what I had come to see. A holed stone centred between two standing stones. The associated legend says that children with diseases such as rickets were passed through the hole in the hope of a cure.

Whilst this sounds like so much superstition; the base granite of Cornwall emits a high background level of radiation. Geiger counters have proved that there is a hot spot in the centre of the hole and so passing through it would give the equivalent of a mild radiotherapy. Those Bronze Age folks knew a thing or two! Apparently there is a local legend that says that if a woman passes through the holed stone seven times backwards at full moon, she will soon become pregnant. Of course this is more likely if she backs through naked and a naked man is standing behind her as she comes through the hole...

Having waited for a while to see if any naked women would turn up, I gave up and walked back to the car, my next destination being no more than 5 minutes away down the same road.

This is Lanyon Quoit, once the chamber of a tomb but denuded of its earth mound. It collapsed in a storm in 1826, one of the supporting stones being shattered. Consequently the capstone is now much lower than it was. Originally a man on horseback could pass under it.

I had lunch in the King William IV inn at Madron. An ancient inn, this was an excellent choice, the one or two locals wanted to know what I was doing so far away from the tourist spots and I really felt welcomed.

From there I reached the south coast and turned west to find my next mysterious place of the day.

Near to Lamorna is the Merry Maidens stone circle. No huge chunks of stone here, the stones of the Merry Maidens are small affairs indeed when compared to Stonehenge or Avebury. But the place is well worth a visit and this day perhaps more than usually.

I met up with father and daughter Eddie and Esther. Eddie was an academic who had worked on the Dragon Project, mapping ley lines and so on during the 1970s. He was talking to visitors and showing them how dowsing rods worked. They worked really well for me and using them I was able to tell where ley lines entered and left the stone circle and could find the seven circles of Power from the circle of stones to the centre of the circle. Ok... easy to be sceptical of this and I did find that small movements of the hands would make the rods swivel - but I even tried, without success, to make them swivel the wrong way on crossing a line. So I'm convinced but you make your own mind up.

Fairly close by to the circle are two standing stones called The Pipers who were supposed to be playing for the ring of dancing girls who were turned to stone for dancing on a Sabbath. They would have had to be playing bloody loud to be heard from where they are...

Eddie had given me a rough-drawn map of the area showing the circle, the standing stones, a tumulus and this ancient cross which I found roughly halfway from the circle to the standing stones, at the edge of a field against the hedgerow. It's name is Nûn Carey.

All the photos of this holiday are available as a set at Flickr.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Blackpool Air Display 2009

Today there was an air show over the sea between the South and Central piers. I went down there with my trusty camera - eventually after thinking it would as usual be between the Central and North piers...

Topping the bill as usual were the Red Arrows, the RAF display team. First however there were a lot more things to do and see.

Several thousand people for one thing. A Promenade still cordoned off for building work for another. I did stand on the North Pier for a bit but it soon became obvious I wasn't going to see much from there so I set off walking down towards the Central Pier. Which meant walking on the tram tracks really.

Whilst I was still walking, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight gave their display. This was one of the main attractions for me and my view was somewhat limited by railings and fencing, trams going past and people's heads - duh, if 5 foot four inches is good enough for me, it should be good enough for everyone...

Anyway I managed to get one or two shots but the aircraft, flying out over the sea seemed a long way away.

Also the sun sets in the west and at Blackpool the sea is to the west, so having an air display late afternoon over the sea means squinting against the sun and hence a few photos are a bit like silhouettes I'm afraid. They should have it in the morning!

By the time I got down onto the beach just south of the Central Pier there was a wing walking display going on. There wasn't a lot of walking going on actually as she looked to be fairly well fastened to one spot. But she did wave cheerfully and managed to hide the sick bag until the plane had gone past and she had her back to us. Rather her than me. I mean... wouldn't do a thing for my hair!

And then... oh, fabulous! A Vulcan bomber did just two fly-past runs. Those things must suck in fuel at a rate my car can only aspire to, so whilst brief, the Vulcan display might well have been amongst the more costly of the displays of the afternoon. But what a magnificent sight.

I used to have a mate who, during the Cold War, had to sleep under one of these in readiness for being woken up to go and drop atom bombs on Russia. And you think you are stressed at work?

Then a four-aircraft aerobatic display, The Blades. Apparently they are all ex-Red Arrow pilots and they did give a superb display.

But now it was time for the real thing.

The past few times I've seen the Red Arrows there has been low cloud and they had to do a low-level display to avoid being invisible to the audience for much of the time. No such problems this afternoon and we had a superb display, well worth the long walk from the car park.

It took me an hour to walk back afterwards with an incredible amount of people all wanting to either get back home or head back to a hotel for their evening meal. A bit like Blackpool of old! I came over all proud!

All the photos are in a set at my Flickr account.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Mysteries of Zennor

9 August 1989. Zennor is a small village down towards the southern tip of Cornwall and it was my starting place on this particular day during which I meant to search out some of Cornwall's more legendary and mysterious places.

The water wheel, standing incongruously on its own by the side of the road is the first thing you notice in Zennor.

It has water pumped up to the feed trough so it can pour over the wheel from above and turn the wheel by the weight of the water. For centuries mills ground flour by this method. Where there was no handy stream or river mills were powered by wind.

During the Industrial Revolution this method provided the power for the huge factories - and so they became known as "mills".

The wheel stands outside the Wayside Museum.

By the side of the road is a slab of stone with a hole or depression in its centre. It was the village plague stone. During times of outbreak, any money coming into or out of the village was dipped in vinegar in the hole to discinfect coins to try to stop the spread of the disease.

We're not just talking about the Black Death and bubonic plagues of the distant past - the sign tells of cholera outbreaks in 1832 and 1849.

The church is lovely. It is dedicated to St Senara, a rather mysterious character who was supposed to have been a mermaid before her conversion to Christianity, North Sea Gas and legs...

There is a well known legend here of a chorister called Matthew Trewella, 600 years ago, whose voice was so pure that he sang the closing hymn to services as a solo. A mermaid heard his singing and came to the church (presumably somewhat in the manner of a sea lion but without the ball balanced on her nose) to entice him back into the sea as her husband.

"Crikey! You'll do for me!" he said with relish, looking at her vital statistics of 36, 24, 50p per pound... He vanished with her beneath the waves and it is said that on a still night after seventeen pints you can hear him singing from beneath the waves. Not bad for a chap over 600 years old!

The mermaid is remembered in this bench end carving from 600 years ago. She holds a mirror and comb in her hands but her features have been lost, it is said, to the hammers of the Puritans.

A good start to the day! More to come...

Photos from this holiday are available as a set at my Flickr account.
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