Wednesday, 12 July 2017

CAPITAL RING with Nigel, Andrew,Laurie and myself on Tuesday 27th April 2017

Laurie, Andrew, Nigel and myself. We start.(Ignore The Danger of Death sign)
Homo Sapiens emerged from Africa, so the most recent theories speculate, about 200, 000 years ago. They were a group that took over from and replaced other hominids such as the Neanderthals. There they were and here we are, Nigel, Andrew, Laurie and myself, large brained, standing erect on two feet, arms, hands, ears and eyes, four prime examples of Homo Sapiens that set out on a walk the other day from Crystal Palace train station and headed by foot across south London to Wandsworth. We and our bodies were doing what all hominids should do and that is move ourselves.

Laurie trying to remember how to walk. Practicing on Crystal Palace Station platform.

The four of us were walking section four, of The Capital Ring Walk, Crystal Palace to Streatham Common, about 4 miles and also continuing by walking section five, Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park, about five miles. I know all these places. I’ve driven through them and past them and taken the train through their various train stations up to Waterloo and out to south London destinations. Walking through them, at a pace not much more than two or three miles an hour, is a different experience altogether. The Capital Ring Walk is one of a series of seven different walks you can find described on the Transport for London website. Each walk comes with maps and descriptions of sites encountered and the historical background of various places along the way. The purpose written on the Transport for London Website describes the walk.
The Capital Ring Walk offers you the chance to see some of London's finest scenery. Divided into 15, easy-to-walk sections, it covers 78 miles (126KM) of open space, nature reserves, Sites of Specific Scientific Interest and more.”
It also suggests it is a healthy thing to do, a way to get fit in an enjoyable way. I would rather get fit in this way, getting out and experiencing the world rather than be numbingly bored on the fitness machines in an enclosed gym.

Crystal Palace Station. Echos of the the great Crystal Palace itself which was located in the park nearby.

Andrew lives in North London, Nigel lives in Greenwich and Laurie and I live close to each other in Motspur Park, SW20. We decided on a time, 10am, to meet at the café in Crystal Palace train station foyer. The café at Crystal Palace station is small. The station and railway is run by Southern Rail but a group of young enthusiastic ladies appear to be making a vibrant going concern of the cafe. Home made cakes, freshly made sandwiches and a good selection of coffees and teas are sold. The tables and chairs are crammed into the small homely café. Mirrors and a nice selection of prints are on the wall. We were lucky to get a table to sit at. Andrew had arrived first and grabbed a table and four chairs to himself fighting off all comers until myself and Laurie arrived and finally Nigel. The only drawback was wanting to use the loo. The café did not have a toilet. They had an arrangement with Southern Rail though. A bright young lady behind the counter gave me a pass card to get through the electronic barriers onto the train platform to use the Southern Rail toilet facilities. This meant negotiating not only the ticket barrier  but also a steep flight of steps onto the platform. But nothing is perfect.

The cafe at Crystal Palace Station, our meeting place.

We set off from the station, after taking a group selfie making us look like four manic teenagers rather than the four aging hippies we actually are. We set off westwards along Station Road and then turned into Anerley Hill Road  and continued along Belvedere Road. Many of the houses are substantial in size,Victorian and Edwardian villas. We passed number number 22 Beleveder Road with a blue plaque positioned on its front. This plaque commemorated Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (1807-1889) who designed and had made the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park nearby. They have been a delight to children and adults for generations. Andrew made the point that they are not anatomically correct. This is an issue for paleontologists over the centuries. What does a dinosaur look like just from a few fossilized bones? We are much better at interpreting dinosaurs nowadays with sophisticated technology and analytical devises but what Dinosaurs were really like is something scientists will always explore. Andrew is one among many to speculate.

This is the house where Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1889) lived, designer of concrete dinosaurs. They can be found in Crystal Palace Park.

We arrived at Norwood Grove, a pleasant park land set around a hill with a large white Victorian mansion surmounting the central hill with extensive views over South London and Surrey. 

Norwood Grove House.

The house and park have a rich history, including being the site of a hunting lodge used by Charles II and from the 1840s, the time from which the present house dates, being owned by Arthur Anderson the founder of the P&O, the Pacific and Orient shipping company. Of course it also has a mention in the Domesday Book. The Normans were nothing if not thorough. We stopped and sat on a park bench for a while next to the house taking in the views and discussing the varied planting of shrubs and trees in the park. It’s amazing the knowledge you acquire by the age of your early 60s.

Phil and Rosa's bench.

 The park and the house are now owned by Croydon Council. It is used as an education facility. While we were there a toddlers play scheme was underway with tots on the verge of falling over and rolling down the hill at any moment to get lost in the shrubbery borders. The playschool assistants appeared vigilant. The bench we sat on commemorated “Phil and Rosa,” who had enjoyed a friendship and many happy hours together, presumably on this spot. I wonder if there will be a park bench commemorating us four one day?

Caged!! The entrance to Norwood Grove. 

One particular place we walked through bordered by Biggin Hill Road and Gibson Way was Biggin Wood. It is only a small wood hidden behind 1930s housing. It has a plaque displayed providing information about the flaura and fauna. It appears to be used by local schools for nature study. What fascinated me about this small wood though was that it is a tiny remnant of the Great North Wood from which Norwood, gets its name. The earliest records of the woods go back to 1272. It originally covered about three and half square kilometres and reached Lambeth, Southwark, Croydon and Bromley. Many oak trees were taken from the forest for ship building at Deptford and also charcoal burning was carried out in the forest. By this time, and it might be something to do with the allure of trees, Andrew, Nigel, Laurie and myself were having bladder problems. We were getting, “desperate,” not to put a fine point on it.  We each found our own personal tree and disappeared behind it. Bladders are a bugger at our age. When we all emerged, which seemed simultaneously, we looked at each other and broke out laughing.

Biggin Wood, a small remaining part of the ancient North Wood.

We walked on to The Rookery Gardens. Nigel told me how he had brought his children here when they were young, to play. It is situated on a hill with wide views and has well laid out shrubs and bushes creating a beautiful garden. It is on the site of Streatham Spa. Queen Victoria visited Streatham Spa for the waters and stayed in a house on the site of The Rookery Gardens. There were three springs discovered at Streatham Spa in 1659. Walking on we passed the flamboyantly styled Streatham Common Pumping Station in Conyers Road. It was built in 1888 to a Moorish design. Laurie and I stopped to look at this building. We couldn’t decide what it was at first. We thought it was a Mosque.

Streatham Common Pumping Station.

 It was good to be able to have time to talk to Nigel. I have not been able to see much of him in recent years. He now lives in Greenwich but he used to be a neighbour of mine in Motspur Park.  We talked about education. He is a Professor of Law and I am retired junior school teacher. We had a  discussion about creating practical learning experiences. Nigel told me how he had developed a course using practical situations as a learning experience.  It was good to catch up on each other’s lives and  our respective families.

I first got to know Andrew, many years ago, when the two us, in company with Laurie, took a fishing  trip out of St Malo harbour in Brittany. The sea was a little choppy that day and I proceeded to be violently seasick for the whole time out there. We were out there for hours.  Andrew and I, as we walked along had a discussion about a TV programme that he had seen recently about a group of retirees who took on the challenge of working on a Tuscany vineyard with the prospect of buying it and running it as a going concern. I thought it was too much hard work and an overly steep learning curve. Andrew was  much more positive than me about it. He obviously is more adventurous than I am and prepared to take a chance on that sort of thing. Am I too cautious?

As we passed Streatham Common we noticed that a fun fair was being set up. Funfairs are great experiences. I love them. However, I can’t go on the rides these days and candy floss makes me sick. I’m no good at hoopla and I don’t really want to win a giant cuddly toy. The Ghost train is a clanking booing bore. My distance sight is a little blurry and doesn’t allow me to shoot straight on the shooting gallery. It must be the allure of garish colours, shrieks of laughter and the sour smell of fried onions that attracts me. Maybe this walk was revealing something to me about myself? 

There is a very moving war memorial at the junction of Streatham Common North and Streatham High Road. It is set back amongst copper beaches and horse chestnuts on a piece of grassed land separate from the main part of the common called Streatham Memorial Garden. A bronze statue of a young soldier of the first world war is standing, head bowed ,holding his reversed rifle like a supporting crutch in front of himself. The attitude and pose is contemplative, prayerful and quite moving. I took a picture of Nigel standing in front of the memorial.

Nigel beside the war memorial at Streatham Common Memorial Garden.

Tooting Common was next. Tooting Common has a couple of associations. A good friend, Gabriel Mesh and his lovely daughter, Ellen, organize and run the Tooting Blues and Folk Festival on Tooting Common every summer at the beginning of August. The site of the festival , a short walk from Tooting Bec underground station is located near Dr Johnson Road. And here is the second association. In the 18th century Mr and Mrs Thrale owned Streatham House. The site was just off Tooting Bec Road and there is a road called Thrale Road in the vicinity. Mr Thrale made his money in the brewing industry. The famous Dr Johnson , creator of the first English Dictionary, got to know and befriended Mr Thrale. Dr Johnson visited the Thrales in Tooting and became much enamoured of Mrs Thrale. They had a platonic relationship by all accounts.  Dr Johnson moved in with the Thrales and lived with them. He attracted other writers, artists and musicians to come to Tooting such as Fanny Burney and her composer father, Charles Burney, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke and David Garrick. Hester Thrale became an important hostess, promoting the arts. Her painting can be found in the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square. Dr Johnson had a word for our endeavours of course; 

"  Ambulation.n.s. [ambulatio, Lat.] The act of walking.
From the occult and invisible motion of the muscles in station, proceed more offensive lassitudes, than from ambulation. Brown's Vulgar Errours, b. iii. c. 1." (The 1777 edition)

                                                                   Tooting Bec Lido. 

 Laurie had been given orders by Pat, to visit Tooting Bec Lido. Pat was brought up in Tooting and often spent her Summer holidays at the Lido. However, we were getting tired and the day had been long so Laurie felt he had done his duty with a few posed photographs next to the Tooting Bec Lido sign. Tooting Bec Lido is one of Britain's oldest open air pools — it opened to the public on Saturday 28 July 1906 as the Tooting Bathing-Lake. Digging the lake had been proposed by the Reverend John Henry Anderson, Rector of Tooting,  as a project to provide work for unemployed local men. It holds one million gallons (4,500 m3) of water.  It is the largest swimming pool by surface area in the United Kingdom being 100 yards (91.44 m) long and 33 yards (30.18 m) wide.

The scene of vigorous press ups was happening just in front of us. Did we care?

We walked on to Wandsworth Common and found a park bench to eat our packed lunches. We sat on a bench in a shaded green area surrounded by trees and lovely Victorian houses. Wandsworth Railway station was to our left. As we sat quietly munching away on our sandwiches and contemplating life ,as you do, a young couple with a dog appeared on the opposite side of this piece of greensward. The young lady sat down on a bench with the dog tethered to a long lead. The young man proceeded to do energetic press ups on the ground in front of his admiring lady. We felt exhausted just watching him and, if I am truthful, a little bemused. What was THAT all about?

Wandsworth Common took us past the playing fields of Emmanuel School. At a distance we could see some of the boys playing a cricket match. The main line to Waterloo from the south goes past Wandsworth Common and Emmanuel School. On the morning of the 12th December 1988, on the line just outside of Clapham Junction station and located at the bottom of the railway embankment  below Emmanuel School a crowded passenger train crashed into the back of another train that had stopped at a red light. Thirty-five people were killed and over four hundred people were injured. Sixth form boys from Emmanuel School scrambled down the embankment to help carry stretchers and help injured people on the train. As you travel on the train up to Waterloo, if you look up on the embankment as you approach Calpham Junction, there is a small memorial garden with a stone monument placed near the top of the embankment commemorating this terrible disaster. I remember it vividly because Marilyn taught in Lambeth at that time and took the train on this line. She didn’t get home until midnight on that day. All transport systems were stopped. I couldn’t get hold of her either so I was worried that she was safe. In fact she had got on the train that left just before the crash.
From Wandsworth Common we walked towards the prison.

A terraced cottage in Alma Terrace leading up to Wandsworth Prison.

 The road leading to the prison has some lovely Victorian terraced workmen’s cottages fronted by well-kept gardens with tended rose bushes, hydrangeas and other hardy shrubs. When you get to the end of this road it is quite a shock to be confronted by the high prison walls and austere, foreboding entrance of Wandsworth Prison. Andrew and myself searched the sky to see if we could see any drones. It has become general knowledge that criminal gangs have been getting drugs and other illegal items into prisons by way of remote controlled drones, but of course we saw none. In 1965 Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train robber escaped from Wandsworth and travelled to Brazil. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned here briefly before he was sent to Reading Gaol where he wrote the famous Ballad of Reading Gaol. Rather sadly, in 1953, Derek Bentley was executed here. His crime occurred when he was escaping from a robbery over some factory roofs in Croydon. A policeman appeared. Bentley was reported to have shouted to his accomplice, “Let him have it!” His accomplice, who was a minor at the time, shot the policeman dead. Bentley was accused of his murder and so executed. But the evidence was hearsay and Bentley had quite severe learning difficulties.

The entrance to Wandsworth Prison.

Andrew, Laurie, Nigel and myself walked on. We decided to stop at the Halfway House pub next to Earlsfield Station in Garret Lane. It was my idea. Laurie told me off and has reminded me of my misdemeanor ever since.

Keen to have a beer.

 Nigel, Andrew and Lauire had walked some of the Capital Ring Walk already, before I interloped on this day. They had made a policy of not going into pubs and drinking. It was my influence that made them buy pints and sit down, in a very convivial atmosphere, to have a drink or two. Well, I don’t think it took much persuading but there you are. And so we ended our walk. We will continue with some more of the Capital Ring sections another time I am sure.
As you can probably tell, it is good to walk. Very good.


Friday, 7 July 2017


St Martins in the Fields.

St Martins in the Fields ( it was once!!) , that beautiful example of religious architecture in Trafalgar Square, provides free music recitals at lunchtime every Friday. I have , on occasion , got the train up to Waterloo from Motspur Park and attended some of these concerts. They are amazing and inspiring. I always come away with a feeling of elation and wonder.Today, Marilyn was teaching, the weather was warm and I had nothing else to do so I got on the train up to Waterloo.

I have a new camera. A present to myself reaching 65. I thought I would put it through its paces on my way to St Martins in The Fields. Here are some pictures of London taken today.
"London, fresh out of the oven."

And , once more, back at Waterloo for my train to south London.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

LONDON TO TORREVIEJA AND BACK ( a driving adventure)

On Tuesday 23rd May, at three o’clock, on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport, Tony and myself were standing in the reception area of, Budget and Avis, hire cars. The young gentleman representing Budget Hire Cars was filling in the rental forms for a Fiat Ducato 2.3 multijet 150 break horse power van with 13 cubic meters of storage inside. Tony was hiring the van and I was included on the forms as a second driver. The personable young man checked our driving licenses. We both signed the forms and everything was set. However, Tony inquired about adjusting the headlights on the van to be used in France and Spain. They were not adjustable. Tony asked about the EU requirements that every vehicle should carry a high visibility jacket, a spare set of headlight bulbs and have two luminous red warning triangles to be placed in front of and behind the van in the event of a breakdown. None of this was included in the itinerary of the van and the young man was totally unaware of these regulations. Budget and Avis are a reputable car hire company that have years of experience and are meant to be professional. Some muttering from Tony, and a good dose of incredulity from me accompanied our exit from the premises. Tony didn’t push the argument any further. He had all the necessary items in his own car back at home which we transferred to the van before we began our adventure.

AN art installation beside the road in France.

A few weeks ago, Tony Brown, John Lodge, Ivitt Dickinson, Jim Howley and myself met at The White Horse in Dorking for a drink and a lunchtime meal. Tony talked about selling his house in Spain. He wanted to bring back some items of furniture which have been passed down in his family. They are precious family heirlooms. I said that if he needed any help I would give him a hand. Tony gave me a look, paused and said,” if you mean it, yes, come along.” I thought he would need somebody to help lift and carry the items. The deal was set.
We set off for Bognor Regis first. Tony has a caravan at Willows Caravan Park just outside of the village of Westergate, about four and half miles north of Bognor Regis. Tony’s youngest sister Marie and her brother in-law were there to meet us. We loaded some furniture from the caravan on to our van to swap with the furniture Tony wanted to bring back from Spain. We bought some deliciously hot and crisp fish and chips from a local chippie. The fish and chips were devoured and a cup of tea imbibed and we were ready to set off for Newhaven. Our Ferry sailed at 11pm. Once on board we found some couchettes to settle down for the night. They were indescribably uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep. Tony had a doze. I might have dropped off for a few minutes but to put it bluntly the night was bloody torture. Two extremely tired people began the first day’s drive at 4.30am in the morning from Dieppe. We had landed in Dieppe but I didn’t see it. It was dark when we disembarked and the road from the ferry leading to, “Toute Directions,” curved up onto the chalk cliffs and bypassed Dieppe itself. We set forth on our trip through France and Spain intending to swap driving duties every two hours to give each other a rest.

Tony and myself, stopping at Auchan La Couronne for a break.

Driving was a comfortable experience. The van was easy to drive and all the controls were smooth and light to the touch. It was easy to forget the size of the vehicle we were driving. There was very little traffic on the roads and we sped along. By about 9.30am cafes and motorway conveniences were opening so we decided to stop for breakfast. Coffee and croissants, lovely.  I was feeling reasonably fresh by this time. As we alternated our driving we could take the opportunity to nap when we were not driving.
The kilometers sped by, Rouen, Evreux, Dreux, Chartres, Poitiers. We did not stop. We drove on. I had made a few notes about some of the more famous places that we passed, to be aware of their history. Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and it was where William of Normandy ruled before he conquered England in 1066. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen during the Hundred Years War. In 732 AD there was a battle against the Muslim invaders at Chartres. The spires of Chartres cathedral pierced the sky over the ancient and modern city and could be seen from miles away as we drove on, inexorably. Poitiers is famous of course for the battle between the French and English during the hundred years’ war. In 1356, Edward The Black Prince defeated King John II of France. It was the second of the great English victories against the French during the Hundred Years’ War. The other two were Crecy and Agincourt. The main feature of these battles and the reason the English were able to defeat the French decisively, was the use of the English longbow. Poitier, also had been, in its ancient past, both a Celtic and a Roman center. There is a Roman amphitheater in Poitiers.

We stopped for lunch at Angouleme, in the south western area of France, in the province of Aquitaine. A name also with English resonances. The countryside was flat and extended in smooth undulating expanses towards the horizon, only broken by clusters of woods interspersed across the landscape. We saw small turreted chateaux along the way often surrounded by sheltering trees to protect and shield them from the prevailing winds.
We drove through Bordeaux. Vineyards stretched far across the landscape to our left and right. The vines were set out as neatly as ribbed corduroy.  Sauvignon, Merlot, Verdot, Malbec appeared on large signs here and there. These are the names of types of grape producing wines often with the same names. We drove on, crossing bridges spanning the great rivers, The Loire, Niotase, Canal de Pomere  the Dordogne and the Garonne. After driving all day and covering more than 600 miles we reached  the foot of the Pyrenees. In the distance we could see the Pyrenees mountain range and we caught glimpses of snow high up on the tallest peaks.

The foothills of The Pyrenees in the distance.

So, what did Tony and I talk about? Everything, as you would expect. Religion, politics, family, thoughts and opinions about this and that. We saw the weather forecast on televisions displayed at various stops along the way and saw Macron meeting Putin and Trump , acting very out of place, at the G7 and we talked about that. We talked about and commented on what we saw along the way, places, scenery, other drivers and how bad they were. A learner driver cut straight across the front of our van on that first day  while Tony was driving. I gasped and muttered something unrepeatable and Tony hissed, something unrepeatable. The two of us were together for seven days, in each other’s company all that time. I think we became unselfconscious. I know I can speak impulsively. I remember talking about teaching in junior schools and  rambling on about every detail and consideration needed for taking a class on a residential trip.  It just poured out. Maybe if Tony reads this he might smile and mutter,” Oh goodness, did he go on and on.” Tony gave me the low down on life in Spain and so on we went, doing a lot of talking.
Pau, at the base of the Pyrenees was a welcome break. Before we reached the town I was becoming very tired. I wasn’t sleepy but my whole body felt exhausted.I said to Tony , “can you take over driving, I have had enough. “I didn’t realise how close we were to the hotel. As we didn’t come across anywhere to stop and change over, I continued until we pulled into the car park. We stayed in a small motel on the outskirts of Pau. I was able to have a hot shower. When we were both refreshed we met together and walked over to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant served basic dishes, baked fish, chicken goulettes, a ratatouille, a range of cheeses, sour dough bread, water , a choice of wines and French and Belgium beers and good coffee. Well of course French food is never basic.   The French are unable to create a substandard meal. It’s in their DNA to cook well, combining herbs and sauces even for the cheapest of cheapest meals. We ate a delicious repast. Before retiring we went for a walk around the vicinity of the motel and came across some sports fields nearby covered in vans and caravans. People seemed to have gathered for a festival of some sort. My room was clean, the bed was comfortable and I went to sleep almost the moment I touched my head on the pillow and slept deeply and soundly all night.

Driving through France.

I woke in the morning refreshed. Tony and I met for breakfast, a hot cup of coffee, some cereal and a croissant and we were on our way. The Pyrenees loomed ahead. Once out of the town of Pau by way of innumerable roundabouts we headed towards the foothills of the Pyrenees. French roundabouts always seem to have a sharp turn right off them. It’s as though they try to slow your progress before you are able to accelerate. We had both got used to driving the Fiat van by now. It had a long wheelbase and taking these angled turns off the numerous roundabouts we encountered had to be done carefully.
The roads in France but especially in Spain are smooth and well surfaced and in many cases new. There is also, apart from around towns and cities, very little traffic. The Fiat van being easy to drive the roads were generally a pleasure to drive along. The one thing we had to be careful about were the speed limits. Tony had installed his SATNAV in the cab of the van. The SATNAV kept us informed about our speed and the limit we should keep to. There are cameras everywhere and the French and Spanish are very strict about keeping to limits. The only drawback about this is that sometimes the speed limits changed drastically. Approaching towns it sometimes showed 50kmph but out on the main motorways it showed 90kmph or 110kmph then in places it went up to 120kmph but suddenly it would drop quickly to 100 or even 50. Approaching one town in France I remember the speed being 110kmph then dropping quickly to 50kmph and within meters shooting up to 100kmph. There seemed no logic to it. But, we had to be careful. We didn’t want a speeding ticket.  “Elizabeth,” helped us. Elizabeth being the name we gave to the assuring voice of the SATNAV. “Elizabeth,” was great. A wonderful companion. She kept us informed of temperature, speed, petrol consumption and km to go, to our next scheduled stop. During the whole journey we kept  to our driving schedule of driving in two hour intervals. We changed over at suitable stopping points where we could get a coffee and go to the gents.

Driving through the Pyrenees.

 There are 129 peeks in the Pyrenees that are over 3000 meters. Signs showed us that sometimes we were climbing to 2000 meters or more. The Pyrenees reminded me, with their steep slopes and racing mountain streams and lakes of the Lake District. It had a feel of The Cumbrian Lakes but on a much larger scale. We saw boulders loosened from the mountain tops resting on valley sides or near streams bigger than houses. They were very impressive in size and scale. Buzzards circled overhead at times. We passed through tunnels cut through mountainsides and drove through villages constructed from the local stone. One particular rugged stone built tower, Tony informed me, was called, The Riflemen’s Tower. Indeed, the holes through which rifles could be fired were visible as we drove past it high on the rocks above. It was obviously a strategic military position defending the valley. As we passed into Spain some blue uniformed police officers stopped us and asked us what our business was. They were courteous and didn’t detain us long. I wondered if, since the random ISIS attacks in Britain and Europe, the boarders would be difficult to cross. I got the feeling these police were being careful but not in a too obstructive manner.

The road onwards.

Geologically, the Pyrenees must be a geologists’ paradise. Every type of rock, formation and process can be found in the Pyrenees. The range is 430 kilometers long. It divides Spain, France and Andora. Its width, north to south varies from 65 kilometers to 150 kilometers. It began to be formed in the Precambrian period from the early formation of the Earth 4.6 billion years ago to 590 million years ago when fossils began to appear. Every type of rock can be found in the Pyrenees, conglomerates which are gravels and sandstones, breccia a form of cemented gravels, sandstones, shales, siltstones, keuper deposits, limestones, schists, marls, greywackes, salts and red deposits which are sandstones that contain iron oxides. One particular road cutting we drove through, high up in the mountains, showed sides that were a deep red colour. 

Sandstone cliffs.

We came across sandstone cliffs that changed colour, like a rainbow across its surface and reminded me of the sandstone cliffs at Alum Bay on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. The Alum Bay sands are made from quartz, feldspar and mica and the colours are created by other minerals seeping into and staining the layers. Something similar must have happened to the sandstones in the Pyrenees. It also suggests that these Pyrenean sandstones were formed under the sea at one time.  The mountain folds were caused as the Iberian Peninsula plate collided with the European plate. There are examples of volcanic activity. There are metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks. This rich and varied geology creates the most dramatic and beautiful landscape.

Emerging from the Somport Tunnel.

We drove through the Somport Pass and  the relatively new Somport Tunnel , a long modern well-lit sweeping insertion through part of the mountains. Once through the Pyrenees we drove on and into Spain. The landscape seemed flat and barren, sun scorched, although Tony assured me that Spain was looking greener than he expected for this time of the year. Yes, I could see the greenery but it was pretty thinly spread and the yellow and orange and red ochre earth beneath showed through. As we neared towns and villages sometimes castles were situated on high rock outcrops commanding views over the surrounding terrain. We drove on. The signs for  Jaca and  Huesca passed us by. Huesca is one of the many towns that originate from Roman times and is the capital of the Province of Huesca in the area called Aragon. Thoughts of Tudor English history came to mind. English history doesn’t just have its reach throughout France but through Spain too. Zaragoza came up next. I was interested to learn that the name, Zaragoza, is a bastardisation of the name ,”Caesar Augustus.” It is obvious therefore the origins of Zaragoza. It is the capital of the province of Zaragoza but also the capital of the wider area of Aragon. Zaragoza has a multi domed cathedral, the Nuestra Senora del Pilar basilica. It is shrine to the Virgin Mary. It combines baroque and Islamic styles in its construction, standing out from its surrounding buildings. It is a center for pilgrimage. And on we drove in this increasingly arid landscape, Teruel, Sagunto. Font de la Figuera, Elche and eventually our destination, Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca. Some smaller mountain ranges reach the sea just here and although not high, because they stick out of the flat, surrounding landscape  sharp edged and rugged they are a dramatic sight.

Tony cleaning dead insects off the windscreen at one coffee break in Spain.

Torrevieja is a seaside resort with many new buildings and narrow streets huddled up against a busy harbour crammed with sailing yachts and launches. Salt lagoons, Las Salinas, are on the edge of the city. Salt production is its main industry apart from tourism and the presence of a large British and foreign  ex pat community. Some old buildings remain such as Iglesia Arciprestal de la Inmaculado Concepcion which was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1844. I walked into this church just after people emerged after hearing mass. It was dimly lit with candles. I walked past some of the small chapels inset along each side. Spanish churches and cathedrals create biblical and religious scenes with life size and lifelike statues in poses of veneration, adoration or suffering. Combined with the candle lit atmosphere these scenes become almost alive and can be very moving and affecting.

The statues were almost lifelike in the candlelit interior.

I walked around Torrevieja while Tony had a meeting with his solicitor about arranging the transfer of the ownership of his house to his friend. There is a pier which leads from the harbour and stretches for one kilometer, parallel with the coastline. I walked along this to the end. Many people were jogging and walking along it for the fresh sea breeze. I was able to look back and get a broad view of the city, the harbour and ships transporting salt from the conical mounds of salt positioned along the industrial wharves.

Ships loading salt in Torrevieja.

While we were in Torrevieja I met some of Tony’s friends and we went out for a meal with one couple and visited another couple in their home. The expat lifestyle is comfortable. Houses and the cost of living is cheaper than in Britain. Tony’s friends I met lived in beautiful villas with Spanish style roofs, doors and windows and the interiors were just as classically designed. They told me that they love living in Spain not only because of the cost of living but because of the climate. Even in the winter months the climate of Torrevieja does not go below 17 degrees celcius and can reach 20 degrees in the winter.The English who live in Spain are a gregarious lot. They support each other and form clubs. Tony told me how he and Mumtaz had started a caravan club and organized tours to various parts of Spain. Tony had also lead a walking group which went for walks together in the hills and mountains around Torrevieja.  It is common throughout Spain that communities help organize the development of the areas they live in. If a communal swimming pool is required for the area, or the employment of a road sweeper and gardener for the roadside verges is needed, the local people have a committee which oversees these developments. People pay fees to their central committee each year to help finance these ventures.Tony, and some of his friends I met, are leaders in their own community.

The harbour in Torrevieja.

Torrevieja is south of Alicante in the Provence of Valencia. Valencia has some rugged mountain ranges, the ancient Iberian range extending from the north west to the south east, and the younger Betica formation from the south to Cap de la Nao. This young limestone has given rise to high rocks like the Penon de Ifach crag. Where these mountain ranges reach the sea they give rise to dramatic cliffs. As we drove towards Torrevieja, on our downwrads journey, we could see these mountain formations all around us. It is easy to see the attraction for hill and mountain walking in Spain. The scenery looked spectacular.

Mick, a retired Irish policeman friend of Tony’s, who lived nearby Tony in Torrevieja, helped us load the back of the van with Tony’s furniture, the items  he wanted to bring back to England. An ornate bed head, sofas, washing machine, various family heirlooms, including a, “bog oak,” cupboard and a grandfather clock case, and some bedside cupboards, were all hoisted onboard with ample heaving, huffing and puffing. “This way!” “That way!” “Up a bit, no, lower, lower,” and so forth. After some maneuvering we got it all loaded and tied and strapped down.

Tony's old back yard with a barbecue.

The journey back through Spain took us past Sax and Villena, both with impressive castles standing out in the landscape. We drove on past Calamocha, Muel, Nueno and Anguis, the Pyrenees looming up once more in the distance. We drove into Zaragoza because I took the wrong branch on the A23 but it proved quiet on a Sunday and the roads were virtually empty. It was interesting to see all the modern factories and high rise estates on the outskirts of Zaragoza and we were soon back on the E07 which again joined up with the A23 taking us north. Zaragoza, has a famous history. Apart from its Roman origins it was besieged during the Napoleonic Wars. This trip, if it did nothing else, gave me a whole list of places, that we merely drove past and through this time but which one day I want to go back and visit properly.

Castles in Spain.

 “Elizabeth,”was becoming a problem on the way back. She was forever trying to get us to take turnings, drive in directions and along routes we didn’t want to drive. Nearing the Pyrenees once again we eventually gave into her. We thought. “Lets see where she takes us.” In many ways it was the right thing to do. Instead of taking us the main route through the Pyrenees which we had followed on the way south, the N134 via Urdos and Bource, we took “Elizabeth’s,” route the D934, which at times we discovered, became a narrow country road. The D934 took us past, dams, waterfalls, hydroelectric plants and under overhanging rocks. At one stage while driving, the rocky cliff on my right overhung the road but Tony assured me we had at least a meter clearance. He was right because we got past without any scrapes. My hardest bit of driving was coming down steep mountain roads that,” hair pinned,” continuously for kilometers. The drop to one side was always precipitous. Fast moving mountain streams raced beneath us. There were many more boulders strewn about than we had encountered on the way south. Many were so big, one landing on us would have crushed us flat in an instant. The scenery was breathtaking. It was amazing to see the snow high up on the mountains around us. Our route took us once again, between 2000 and 3000 feet but the temperature didn’t drop below 20 degrees. We passed ski lifts and ski lodges this time which we had not encountered before. The ski slopes were devoid of snow at this time of the year.

Boulders loosened from the mountain higher up, bigger than houses.

We eventually reached Pau again and stayed the night in the same motel we had stayed in on our way south to Spain. The receptionist and our waitress for the evening spoke to us in French and Tony used his language skills with expertise and panache.  As we sat eating our evening meal, the French elections were on the television. Macron had won and although Marine le Pen had lost the presidential election she had got close. She demonstrated strongly the rise of nationalism and the hard right that is resurgent in Europe at the moment. We watched the weather forecast for France, thirty degrees or more all along the route north we were to take. As we left the restaurant for our rooms I spoke to the receptionist and was surprised to find her answering me in perfect English, with an English accent. I was taken aback. She was English. I asked her how long she had lived in Pau. She replied for at least twelve years. She was young. She must have lived there since she was a child. I didn’t pursue our conversation any further and just smiled and said goodnight. We made sure we had plenty of water before setting off in the morning.

Driving back through France.

We drove back up through France, crossing the great rivers once again, The Garonne, The Dordogne, The Charente, The Loire , The Seine and The Somme, back towards Dieppe. Just south of Chartres at Barjouville, we stopped at a new,” Leclerk ,”supermarket complex and had lunch.

Tony and I messing about with mirrors in the Leclerk supermarket south of Chartres.

 From here we drove on across the flat countryside reaching to the horizon and saw once again, but from the south this time, the great slender spires of  Notre Dame de Chartres, built between 1194 and 1220, pointing to the clear blue sky above it. It looked magnificent in the distance as it got steadily closer. I can imagine all those  generations of workers in the fields, the farmers, their wives and their children from the 13th century onwards looking up from their work and seeing this gothic magnificence in the distance and they would have regarded it with awe and reverence and wonder. We had time, this time, to drive into Chartres. We didn’t stop but drove around the old town with its quaint buildings, avenues of trees and small parks. We drove close to the cathedral to get a passing look and then we were out of the city and on our way to Dieppe.

Dieppe in the evening for a beer in a bar.

We arrived in Dieppe early so we drove down the steep hill into the town and had a drink in a bar overlooking the harbour full of yachts and fishing boats. We recalled the Dieppe Raid of August 1940 which was a disaster for the allies. The lessons from Dieppe were applied to the  D Day landings in June 1944.The ferry crossing back to England was better than the crossing over. We both managed to get a little sleep this time using the couchettes. In the morning we drove back to Willows Caravan Park and with some scheming, heaving and adjusting we got the furniture from the van into the caravan. Later we drove back to the AVIS car hire company at Heathrow and Tony signed what he needed to sign and handed over the keys. Tony drove me home to West Barnes Lane and our adventure was over.