Tag Archives: walking

Jersey reflections

I’ve only been to Jersey once before. That was more than 50 years ago, when Dad was close to accepting a job  on this charming Channel Island. Our lives could all have been so different….

This was definitely Gill’s first visit to Jersey, so close to Gatwick airport that we had barely buckled up our seat belts before we were on our way down again.

We were here for a 4-night Secret Escapes break, at a bargain price but packed full with luxury. Here are just a few reflections of a fun and interesting few days.

Coastlines:

Wide sandy beaches seem to encircle the island, with the exception of the more rugged north coast. A nice contrast, although one of the greatest tidal ranges in the world can catch you out, wherever you are on the island. We’re talking close to 40 feet….be warned!

Food:

This turned out to be a real foodie trip. We were staying at Longueville Manor, Jersey’s premier hotel and also top-rated restaurant, thanks largely to long-serving and renowned chef Andrew Baird.

The Secret Escapes deal included two dinners at the hotel, one table d’hôte, the other à la carte. Both were outstanding, as were the gargantuan but well-balanced breakfasts on all four mornings. Stand-out dishes? Gill’s seafood platter, fresh seafood swimming off the vast plate into her lap. And a beef dish I had, the meat meltingly soft and served with an unctuous sauce that should probably be illegal.

We never made it as far as the cheese course, served on a trolley designed by master carpenter Remi Couriard from 180 year-old French oak, and groaning with dozens of pungent cheeses in various stages of evolution.

Walks:

There’s no better way to explore this compact island than on foot.

On our first full day, we set off from the hotel on a bright November morning, heading south towards the beach of St Clement, just east of St Helier. The extreme tide had well and truly ebbed, peeling back an interesting beachscape of hard-ridged sand, lunar-looking rocks and brightly coloured buoys, fastened by rusting metal rings and waiting patiently for the water to return.

10 miles and several hours later, we had explored the south-east corner of the island, past Le Hocq to Grouville, before heading north to the sheltered harbour of Gorey, watched over by historic and protective Mont Orgueil Castle.

The following day we enjoyed a shorter, and very different, walk. The central north coast is more rugged and quieter than the south, and the coastal path zig-zags high above the sea. We followed it as far as Devil’s Hole – a blow-hole eroded into the rocks and steeped in island myth after the shipwreck of a French boat in 1851 – before heading inland, through quiet villages and farmland, home of Jersey cows and Royal spuds.

Jersey Zoo:

We were reluctant to visit Jersey Zoo, despite encouragement from friends and positive reviews from everyone online. Wild animals aren’t meant to be caged, are they?

But we’re very glad we went, because this is much more a conservation project than a traditional zoo, inspired by the legendary Gerald Durrell more than 50 years ago.

It focuses on endangered species from around the world – go to the Education Centre to enjoy some excellent films about certain species and projects, understand the challenges involved and then see some of these well-fed and much-loved animals in environments that are as natural as possible in the circumstances.

Overall impressions:

  • the island has a gentle – and genteel – feel about it, with an overall sense of affluence and insulation. It exudes an aura of peace, and relative lack of stress
  • someone told us the population of Jersey has increased by 50% – from 70,000 to 105,000 – in the last 20 years or so. Away from St Helier and the more developed south, the island still seemed quiet and empty to us, but hopefully that rate of population growth doesn’t damage Jersey’s intrinsic charm and equilibrium
  • we couldn’t fail to notice the significant proportion of foreign voices in and around St Helier, with a strong presence of Portuguese and Poles working in the hospitality industry. Where does that leave young Jersey natives, when agriculture is under pressure and if they’re not excited by financial services, I wonder….

Thanks, Secret Escapes and Longueville Manor for a very enjoyable – and great value – trip to Jersey. I have a feeling we’ll be back before another 50 years have passed….

El Camino de Santiago

Have you ever seen The Way? It’s a small movie, but with a large heart, telling the fictional story of a father who unexpectedly walks the renowned Camino de Santiago – The Way of Saint James – to honour his dead son.

Image result for the way movie

And I’ve also just watched the fascinating Walking the CaminoSix Ways to Santiago, a more recent documentary film focusing on 6 very different people and their own motivation for walking the Camino.

Image result for walking the camino six ways to santiago

From the film’s website:

Officially, the Camino is any route that starts in Europe and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the cathedral city of Galicia in north-western Spain. It is named after Santo Iago – Saint James – one of the 12 apostles. According to legend, his body was found in a boat that washed up on the northern coast of Spain thousands of years ago.

His remains were transported inland and buried under what is now the cathedral in Santiago. His bones were rediscovered in the 9th century, when a hermit saw a field of stars that led him to the ancient, forgotten tomb.

Image result for saint james tomb santiago

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino every year, most as a personal pilgrimage. The classic route is 500 miles/800 km from St. Jean Pied de Port in southern France, across the Pyrenees into Navarra, through La Rioja and then heading west across the flatlands of Castilla y Leon before the final approach through verdant, gently undulating Galicia.

Both films and reality tell of the personal journeys each pilgrim makes, and the people you meet along the way. It is said to be a life-changing experience. You stay in albergues, special pilgrim hostels run by volunteers – hospitaleros – pilgrim themselves, whose love for the Camino has inspired them to come back and help others along the way.

At recent travel shows in London I chatted to the lovely people promoting Camino Ways, a commercial business promoting the many different ways to experience the Camino now.

I have been drawn to attempt it myself since seeing The Way. But I have shied away from the classic route…..too far, too hard and too many people! But there are some appealing alternatives, all ending in Santiago, that might be a good way to share some of the Camino emotions, if not the full self-examining 500 mile route.

Perhaps this is the year to walk the Caminho da Costa, the Portuguese Coastal Way. Starting in Porto, you cover 265 km of northern Portugal before crossing by ferry to A Guarda, in Galicia, and leaving the coast at Vigo to head towards Santiago.

I wonder how pale this imitation might be, or whether it will still be powerful enough to stir the soul. I am not religious, but perhaps it will nevertheless be a small spiritual awakening, as well as a physically demanding and fulfilling walk.

And who knows what else it might inspire me to do after arriving at the cathedral square, with all those other pilgrims……

Image result for santiago de compostela cathedral

Mind The Gap

Genius idea:

Alternative Walking Steps Tube map download

A new Walking Steps Tube map has been launched by Transport for London showing the number of steps between stations.

Transport for London’s (TfL) new version of the iconic Tube map has been created, ironically, to try and get more Londoners off the Underground and out walking in the capital.

Many central London stations are less than 1,000 steps apart and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking a part of their everyday lives.  

The estimated direct cost to the NHS of treating obesity, and related morbidity, was £6.3 billion in 2015. Indirect costs are projected to be as high as £27 billion.

Never mind suggesting, how about physically throwing every Londoner off the tube and forcing them to walk a stop or two of their usual commute to work.

Just imagine how competitive people could become, and the conversations by the water cooler….

I bagged 3,000 steps this morning. 2 stops on the Circle & District Line. South Ken to Victoria. Boom. 

Not bad. But I’m gonna walk from Bank to Waterloo on my way home tonight, instead of jumping on the Waterloo & City Line. 3,300 steps. 1 stop. Job done.

Use technology. Lose weight. Get fit. Save the NHS billions.  Result.

Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, stroke and depression. Just a 20 minute walk every day can provide noticeable health benefits.  I hope the new steps map inspires Londoners to travel and experience more of the city on foot. We’ll be rewarded with improvements to our health, economy and the environment around us.

Image result for walking in london

Paris – a city in mourning, but not in fear

Below is an article I have just had published on Paris for Silver Travel Advisor, a travel website for people of a certain age…..

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We have just got back from a weekend in Paris.

We arrived 2 weeks after 130 people were killed in a series of devastating, barbarous attacks by Islamic State murder squads, and the day after President Hollande led the country in a moving tribute on a day of national remembrance for the victims.

Outside the Bataclan club, a moving message from a victim's parent

The security in Paris was heightened on my last visit there in March, just 2 months after the Charlie Hebdo murders. That was clearly targeted at the satirical magazine that had so overtly lampooned the Muslim religion. The recent 13th November attacks assaulted global sensibilities, however, as the victims were intentionally innocent people in a liberal western democracy enjoying a sporting, musical and culinary Friday night out in one of the world’s most vibrant, multicultural and liberated cities.

Our trip was booked a few weeks ago, to benefit from a free Eurostar ticket (thanks to a 5 hour wait at St Pancras after a “jumper” at Ashford on a previous trip). And also to enjoy a free night at the wonderful Great Northern Hotel, smack bang next to St Pancras & Kings Cross stations, after Gill experienced her own Poseidon Adventure in the shower, en route to Marseille in June (it’s a long story…….).

We could easily have cancelled this trip. Belgium remains in lock down, and France is still hunting those connected to the recent murderous attacks, who didn’t die for their violent cause or who weren’t subsequently captured.

But we still wanted to go, for all those reasons that appear trite on the page: to show support for our French neighbours; to uphold the principles of freedom v the bullet; to carry on normal life in the face of terrorist atrocities.

Paris seemed quiet on Saturday. The Eurostar train was only half full and it’s rumoured hotel bookings are down on usual levels by as much as 40%.

But we enjoyed an entertaining and insightful guided walk around Montmartre, with Pierre from the excellent Culturefish Tours, and a cosmopolitan group comprising Swedes, other Brits, Americans and a young Chinese girl living and working in San Francisco.

We learned that the hilltop community was outside the city until 1860, populated at that time largely by winemakers and by miners, excavating gypsum from deep mines under the “butte”. This output was used to make plaster for the city walls….et voila, plaster of Paris!

We strolled in the footsteps of Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso and Renoir, some of the many artists who populated bohemian Montmartre during the “belle epoque” period – from the late 19th century to the early 20th – after it was embraced as another city arondissement.

We heard the bewitching story of The Man Who Walked Through Walls, now trapped in a moving sculpture.

Statue of The Man Who Walked Through Walls

And we saw where Dalida – the exotic singer and dancer of Egyptian and Italian – lived, and whose many lovers all seemed to commit suicide, just as she eventually did. And on a lighter note, we saw the cafe and greengrocer’s shop made famous by Audrey Tautou in the joyously Parisian movie “Amelie”.

Amélie (2001) Poster

We enjoyed dinner at a typically French bistro, Le Louis on rue Coquilliere in the 2nd arrondissement. We luxuriated in a cheese-based Sunday brunch at l’Affineur Affine, tucked away on a quiet neighbourhood street in the 9th, and we gorged on cheap Thai street food at Monthai in the 3rd.

We walked miles, as you always must in Paris. We felt safe.

But on Sunday night and throughout Monday, we saw lengthy convoys of armed police, and heard sirens wailing, and helicopter rotors droning in the Parisian skies. The world’s leaders had arrived for the climate conference, and the city felt under siege again.

We struggled to keep our emotions in check as we read the hundreds of tributes draped around the statue in the Place de la Republique, and then saw those in front of the Bataclan night club, scene of the most murderous attack.

We returned on Eurostar, humbled but glad that we had spent the weekend in Paris, a city in mourning but not in fear.

Tearful tricolour graphic