End Of The Tour

I could have ended in London, where we stayed with my mum for a couple of nights and met up with our eldest son who helped to set up the Deptford Cinema, a community project which featured that night on BBC local news in one of those coincidences of timing.

Next day we left for Bradford, where I wrote the first part of this blogpost. The journey was about as mundane as it can be on a succession of identical motorways. Bradford is a lovely and much underrated city. It has a cultural mix of industrial heritage from the mills an influx of new ideas from Asian culture and its expansion of tourism to include film, arts and food.

Last night we ate at a British-Asian fusion restaurant where the food was so enticing, we ordered too much and took the remainder back to our hotel for breakfast. We searched for some of those seriously sugary and brightly coloured Indian sweets in a shopping mall. If you wanted a riposte to those who think that Brexit is going to turn back the clock, then the sight of this multicultural and energised city centre will do it. You only have to witness this place to see how narrow and misguided that view of Britain is.

It's a world away from 1976 and all the better for it. That was just after the referendum to stay in the Common Market, which I couldn't vote in because I was living in France. I hope that if we make it to our sixtieth wedding anniversary, our children don't have reason to regret the fact that we are no longer part of the EU. And I wonder at the fact we made it to forty years together.

Though we knew how to get home from Bradford we let Google maps get us out of the city and forgot to turn it off. It then gave us an alternative route home from the A1 at Scotch Corner. It was a completely bonkers way to go, but the most wonderful and inspiring route into the Allen Valley that we could have imagined. Along the A66 and up into Teesdale via Barnard Castle, Middleton-In-Teesdale, past Bowlees and High Force waterfalls, up the North Pennines AONB.

It took us through St Johns Chapel, Ireshopeburn, and near the point where the Tyne, Wear and Tees rivers begin their separate journeys to the sea. Then along the East Allen Valley from its own source and down into Allendale. On a late summers evening it was magnificent and as picturesque as anything we had seen. At one point it did look like we would end up on a dirt track, but it's name, Stoney Lane, turned out to be unnecessarily pessimistic and we were soon back on a two lane blacktop.

 

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Another Anniversary

My views on Margate have had mixed reactions. There are some who think it a wonderful place and are optimistic about its future. Others see it as a rundown hangover from a past that is irrelevant today. Some see it as a chance for those who cannot afford to live in London or Brighton, but who want to stay close to home and not move to Manchester or Birminhgham. Me, I'm just keeping my head down.

We like anywhere that has a bit of local culture as well as being outward looking. The most successful places in Europe are those that have reinvented themselves as post-industrial like Barcelona or Glasgow. They haven't forgotten their history, just added more layers to what they do. British seaside towns could do this too. The Turner Contemporary in Margate is good, but it needs more besides it to create a proper buzz and there are signs this is happening.

It is another thing waking up in a hotel in the middle of a giant retail arena. Nobody seems to have considered that the landscape design is more akin to a nightmare, where you can see what you want, but can't get to it. They call it a retail park, but it is an asphalt desert. When was full, with ranks of cars stretching away to distant buildings, it reminded me of the sci-fi movie Metropolis with the armies of automata waiting to start work.

This morning it was empty, with not a soul visible and only a handful of cars. I had to find a shop with milk and juice for our breakfast. Instead of being able to walk along a street with shops on either side, you stand with every building equally a hundred or so metres away and with no idea how to get there. I kept having to cross parking bays and 'roads' and having to walk either across bits of scrubland, or go out of my way to find a path heading approximately in my chosen direction. I came to a Sainsbury 'superstore' which, surrounded by acres of car parking bays, is built on concrete stilts to accommodate a car park underneath. Did they not realise where they were putting this? What did the builders think when they arrived to start work? I can imagine them asking. “Ere gov. Are you sure these ain't the plans for the bosses mansion in Surrey”? So, to get into the shop, you have to go up in a lift or escalator. And most of their customers park outside in the open.

All those years ago, in North Wales, some people might have taken it for a sign of things to come that we started our life together in such a mess. If Christina ever had reason to worry for her future, this was surely the moment more than any other. What I hope we can say is that it couldn't get worse. Well okay, immediately after, when we got to Betws-y-Coed and found the Rhaeadr Ewynnol or Swallow waterfalls had dried up completely, the campsite ground was too hard to drive tent pegs into (way too hard for people without a bed to sleep comfortably on) and the male toilet block was a slime coated cesspit so we both had to shower in the women's toilet block, wasn't something to write a eulogy over. But, I can honestly say that the remainder of our honeymoon was either so uneventful or terrible that I have completely forgotten what happened. Or blanked from memory. The good thing is that you can never tell.

Today was the Sixtieth wedding anniversary of my aunt and uncle and a lovely occasion as it turned out. They had chosen a local pub, with a large car park and function room to fit all the family members who were expected. And they all came from far and near to help celebrate. I did wonder why we were not in the same place where we had a party for Phil's eightieth birthday. I asked, but people were reluctant to tell me. I'm not saying it might have gotten a bit rowdy, because we had to leave early that day. I'm just asking the question. Anyway, so far as we could tell, there's no good reason we can't go back there for Polly's birthday next year.

I love these events, for the chance to see the reactions from people seeing relatives who have grown four feet and a family, occasionally a beard, in the time since last they met. It's fun trying to guess how many 'times removed', second or third cousin, great or grand parent or child relations are in the room. Nothing beats a gaggle of people trying to work out 'who that woman is' that they've been introduced to several times, but have no idea about. When they do find out, they are relieved that they haven't spent half an hour swapping intimate family stories with a member of the catering staff.

We drove to Broad Oak along the slowest road we could find but still the traffic here compared to Northumberland feels fairly heavy at any time of day. The fact that the buses don't run between even some of the large towns doesn't help. If you can relax enough to look around, this is a very attractive and verdant part of the country. No wonder people from the East End of London would come out here every summer to pick hops with the whole family.

At the pub, we met my mum and her sister Cheryl who came by train and voluntarily agreed to be our hostages for the trip back to London. With only a few roundabouts circled multiple times, we made it back around London and into it again from the other side, without serious mishap. At last we unloaded the boot full of Beano and Dandy annuals onto someone else. This whole trip would be worthwhile for that alone. Now my mum has to persuade our youngest to collect them before her floor collapses with the weight.

 

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Down To The Waters

Waking up in Travelodge we decided to get up and out before breakfast to head for Dungeness. It meant a drive down through Kent and we wanted to travel so we could enjoy the countryside. The weather was supposed to deteriorate over the course of the day, so an early start was advisable. Google offered us a couple of quicker alternative routes, but we gracefully rejected them and set off on a winding route, through a string of red brick villages. Google was not willing to accept our decision and kept telling us to get back on message with the quickness thing. Time and time again we were forced to restate our preference and each time it said forcefully, we are redirecting you back onto the M20.

An early mist looked like burning off and maybe producing enough sunshine for us to get down to Dungeness before the rain. Eventually Google admitted defeat against our determined resistance and let us travel along hedge lined roads, past inverted funnel roofed oast houses and fields of sun worshipping solar panels.

An hour later and the landscape had not only become flatter, but began to look like it was once part of the sea, which is somewhere just out of sight at this point. It reminded me strongly of the Solway coast in Cumbria, where the sea and land fight a constant battle for ownership of territory. Romney is long associated with the marshes, but the Dungeness part of the coastline, is where the sea has pushed millions of tons of small rocks out of its way as it moves up and down the English Channel.

We came to see the garden created by Derek Jarman on the shingle beach, almost within the long shadow of the nuclear power station. We have been looking at photos of the garden for years and are aware that it is not like other gardens in that it is both not open to the public and also in full public view. To see it, you just drive along the coast road with the shingle, or small stones spread out on both sides.

Crossing the single track railway, the feeling that this is the edge of the world was heightened by the decidedly transient feel to the wooden beach hut homes, dotted almost randomly alongside the narrow road. On one side the shingle rises slowly to the horizon, before sloping down towards the invisible sea. Only the beached boats and nets gives its proximity away.

Prospect Cottage is not open to the public because it is the home of Derek Jarman's partner. It can be easily recognised by the liberal use of bright yellow, contrasting with the traditional black painted walls and roof. Peer closely and you can see the words of John Donne's 'The Sun Rising' picked out in carved letters attached to one side of the single storey building.

Trying to explore the garden without appearing to be a stalker, is a tricky balancing act to perform, but I think we did it. At that time of day we were not really going to disturb anyone, but we did our best not to be intrusive and made sure we did not encroach on the unfenced garden itself. From the road you can see most of it, although approaching it from the side, it is difficult to see the overall structure, especially as the planting seems very much like the natural flora of the roadside verges, the sea kale and grasses that hug the salt and wind whipped landscape all around.

Many people have remarked upon the wildness of the garden and its lack of formal structure, but when you look carefully, all the elements of a traditional garden are there. There is a mix of hard and soft landscaping, distinct beds and even a semblance of individual 'rooms'. There is a distinct route through it and a mixture of heights to add interest and perspective. It most effectively borrows from the landscape around it as all the best gardens do. The choice of plants is probably even more linked to the environment than many other gardens, but even then, Derek Jarman was well known for bringing back plants from other places and adding them to the local flora. The pieces of wood and other flotsam and jetsam, carefully placed, serve the same purpose as any statuary might in any other context. Plus there is a lot of humour, something missing from the National Trust idea of an English garden, but very much a link to Geoff Hamilton's views of what is acceptable. Here there are things like the piece of timber punctured with small holes, through which you can see parts of the garden, that seems to have an eyeball jammed in one of these looking back at you. There are island beds of pointed rocks, the like of which we later that day saw in a contemporary art gallery. There is the poem, in black on black, chiding the sun for having the temerity to poke itself through windows to wake the lovers inside.

Yes it was inspiring and because we also felt like intruders, we slipped away, hoping to have left less of an impression on sleepy Dungeness than that 'busy old fool'.

It was time for breakfast and having found out from the man at the nearby fish emporium, that the nearest pint of milk was two miles away, we retraced our path back to the main road along the coast towards Folkestone and our destination, Margate.

Most of the larger houses are arranged in a line facing the sea, although as you move towards Dymchurch there are more settlements with roads off the main drag. The further we got along the coast, the more substantial the sea defences became, until it was impossible to ignore the threat that people here have lived with for centuries and which caused such destruction and death here some sixty odd years ago, when a combination of high tides, low pressure and high winds brought the sea inland at many points along the eastern coast, at the narrow point of the North Sea where it is squeezed into the English Channel.

We were guided around most of the coastal towns and cut across the Isle of Thanet to Ramsgate and Margate. Google once again interfered with our plans. Despite putting in the correct postcode for our Travelodge, our guide took us nearer to Ramsgate than we intended and then left us at the top of a backstreet in an alley without any explanation. I assumed an error on my part and re-keyed the postcode, but it pointed to the same spot. When I re calibrated, using the full postal address and our current position, it found the correct destination. At which point Christina noted that her mother had once lived very close by in Ramsgate and the address we were at was eerily familiar.

Margate is one of those towns perennially regrouping around a different concept of what it wants to be, compared to what it once was. Hence there is always a little bit of the old, a bit of new and a lot of empty in between parts. The Turner Contemporary is a healthy addition to the town, more invigorating to the soul than the marquees on the beach imploring people to get fit and active, with their equipment for windsurfing and sports development teams. There were few people here at the peak of the summer holiday in the amusement arcades and none in the tidal pool down on the beach. The beach itself is lovely and still the best reason to come here, but the sight of 'Dreamland' with its scaffolding and air of yesterday's solution to what the seaside town should be, made for a poor contrast.

 
 

There are pockets of promising developments here, including the 'just down from London' feel of the small art galleries and retro, upcycled and quirky, fashion and home decoration shops down some of the narrow lanes. There aren't enough of these to join up as a community and a few too many empty places in between to make it a 'quarter' yet, but it is a start.

Otherwise, the fact that, when asked where to buy a pint of milk or a warm top to cover up against an onshore wind, locals directed us up to the massive out of town shopping centre, straddling a lot of the land between Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs, says a lot about the problems the old town centres have in attracting spending sufficient to encourage investment there. And that's where our hotel was.

Waking up in a tent, back in 1976, we found that sitting up, or even the slightest movement brought a sprinkling of water down on us from the single, orange nylon roof. Trying to get out of the tent without touching the condensation was impossible. Once we had unzipped the tent flap, we were both relieved to discover no Boy Scouts either in their tent or around the camp.

We needed drinks, food and a wash after our experiences of the day before. The first two not being available, we decided to go native and waded into the river beside the campsite. We were not intending to strip off anywhere we might be seen by our neighbours, so rolling up trouser leg I waded out. Christina hitched up her nightie and followed. There was quite a lot of squelchy mud wherever we trod and the water did not look deep enough to wash in. We intended to go far enough to be able to at least wash ourselves of the dust and whatever from yesterday. After a while, Christina turned to me and said, pointing at the water around her knees, “look fish”. There were indeed bubbles rising through the water, but on closer inspection and looking around at what was actually floating on the surface, I suddenly realised what we were facing. “That's not fish”, I said. “That's sewage”. It was indeed methane or something like it we were disturbing on the river bed. It was also then we saw the end of what appeared to be a sewage outflow pipe.

We turned to rush back to shore. At that very moment a train rolled past on the track we had walked down to get there. All of the passengers on our side of the train were treated to the spectacle of a half naked man and a woman with a white Laura Ashley nightdress, trudging through raw sewage.

Back to camp and opening our tent, we were faced with hundreds of flies that were buzzing around inside, turning the near see through roof black with sheer numbers. We needed to get changed, but were absolutely filthy, stinking and wet. There was only one thing for it and we did not hesitate a second, before grabbing the large container of drinking water belonging to our absent neighbours and hosed ourselves down with it.

We dressed, packed our bags, dismantled the tent and tore back down the rail track to the safety of the road in a few minutes. We stopped crying at some point, but it nearly brings tears to the eyes reliving it to this day.

 

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Leaving It To Chance

Driving means you have less time to look around and definitely reduces your appreciation of the world about you. All I could see on the journey south from Market Harborough to Maidstone was the tailgate of trucks on the A14, M11, M25, M2, etc. What was visible of the countryside was that great monoculture of the cereal growing mega-farms. Some people call this a prairie, but that seems a little bit romantic for me. Whatever wildlife exists in these parts, must have to struggle for shelter, for food and contact with its own species to reproduce successfully. It suits a motorway backdrop, but it contributes to the monotony that they must have in mind when they warn that 'Tiredness Kills, Take A Break'. I wished there was a rest from the desert of modern agribusiness.

Today was not supposed to be as long a journey as the first day. I divided up the trip to make it easier and less of an ordeal, but there were so many points where we slowed to 50mph that after an hour and a half we were still way off reaching the M25 around London. We stopped at a services where there is a drive through Starbucks. Now, I'm all for multi-tasking, but the idea of juggling driving and scaldingly hot coffee while struggling with your small change on a motorway slip road is something you'd think those health and safety types might have put before the worlds biggest coffee sellers and tax avoiders.

We have taken to mixing our coffee drinking with the crossword and Sudoku. That's about as exciting as we want it to be. And it means you can avoid the contemplation of your surroundings, these great aircraft hangers, where you are encouraged to top up on your shopping addiction.

In 1976 we never made it to the Lakes. Coming out of our Manchester hotel and standing beside the road, we had no luck thumbing a lift. We walked a little way to a roundabout. There, after a long stretch of wasted travelling time, we flagged down a truck, only to be told that it was not going north, but west. I cannot remember if we hesitated or not, but it was surely only a few seconds later that the driver's companion was taking us around the back, to clamber up inside. There, as they closed the door behind, with warnings to hold on tight, we could see that we were in the back of an animal transporter. A recently used one at that.

At the first roundabout we were flung first to one side, then the other. As the truck began to gather speed, the wind coming through the slatted sides started a whirlwind of straw and animal dung, flying up to cover us. When it became clear that the driver and his wife in the sealed cab could not hear our calls for them to slow down, we attempted to get away from the storm by pushing and pulling each other up onto a ledge where equipment was stored.

It was much safer and healthier for us up there and we survived the rest of the journey by holding onto the walls and ourselves, at every bend.

Today, the only mess flying around inside our car was the stuff we left in it since setting off. We make it a point to have the car serviced before a long trip. That way you at least start with a valetted interior. It is incredible how much mess two people can create in one day of driving.

We left the service station after the usual search for the exit, where the circuit around the car park seems to yield very few clues, but lots of chances to be crushed under a truck that is randomly crossing the unmarked lanes. By the time you get out onto the road, the benefits of a stopover have been ruined by the stresses of finding the way out of there. It was on the acceleration lane that I discovered how low our fuel gauge had fallen. Either fuel evaporates in hot car parks, or slow driving is not as fuel efficient as VW claims for this car. It must be the former, because they can thoroughly verify the the fuel consumption of their cars, can they not?

Anyhow, this did not worry us unduly, as there must be lots of service stations around the M11, M25. Not as many as you'd think, it turned out. As the needle dipped well into the red, the tension in the car headed into its own danger zone. It was not helped by the impression that the last few litres in the tank are used up exponentially. We had no need of warning lights and displays to tell us how close we were to a breakdown in the middle of roadworks. It is these same roadworks that were partially to blame for us not getting off at the next services. We failed to appreciate that the lane going off between lines of cones, is for both the road junction and the fuel stop. You keep telling yourself that 'empty' doesn't mean empty, that manufacturers always put in a tiny space at the bottom of the tank. It's probably called the idiot reserve, or moron pot, something with a technical term like that.

Of course we eventually made the turn off to find a petrol station and I immediately felt the worry had been entirely overdone. “We were never really going to run out of petrol” I told Christina. She didn't answer, but her look managed to convey “Yeah, right”, without the need for actual words. Perhaps it is the release of tension, but all around the world looked different. No longer a uniform pattern of massive fields stretching away to the horizon, there are actual tree covered hills in this part of Kent and small green fields behind rich hedges. Even the air feels easier to breathe.

We had hoped to make it to Maidstone early enough to go on and explore a part of the world we have neither of us, visited for years. But once we poured ourselves into the hotel room and shut the door, we were not going to get out and face the traffic on the one-way system. So leaving Christina in the room overlooking the Medway river, I went out for a walk around town.

On our honeymoon, we had no idea where we were when the truck carrying us finally stopped and the doors at the rear opened. It was like being released from a kidnapping. We stumbled out into the daylight of North Wales. Only much later did we learn this was near Conwy, with family and possible refuge only a few miles away.

Our lack of planning showed up here in full. We had very little money to spend on ourselves. All we had was left over from a summer spent working in Cornwall. I had proposed to Christina in a shed we were living in and the day after we walked out of our jobs in a cafe on the beach. Two weeks later, we were married and standing beside a road, picking straw and animal dung out of our hair and clothing. We had, as I said, no idea where we were, and only a two person nylon tent and a single camping stove for accommodation and survival. Standing beside a road, deserted in both directions. Still, it was sunny, in the longest drought in living memory.

We chose the direction at random and began to walk, hopefully in the direction of a village or campsite even. A long while later, with nothing vaguely promising in sight, we came upon a group of lads. We immediately took them as saviours, for on questioning, they turned out to be Boy Scouts. What's more they were camping nearby and offered to lead us to the place. Gladly did we follow them.

They turned off the road, down a track, until we came to a railway line. Instead of crossing, they began to walk along it. We followed, reassured by their apparent local knowledge of train times. It is not easy walking on railway sleepers and ballast and it seemed like a long trek to this campsite. When we turned off the track and arrived at a clearing beside the river, we were so relieved at being out of any danger, that it was a few seconds before we began to appreciate the situation.

In 'Swallows and Amazons' it is fine to set up a camp on an island. In real life, there are questions like, what to do about water, how to make a toilet, what are we going to eat and what on earth were we thinking of pitching our tent two metres away from a bunch of adolescent boys for the night? There were no satisfactory answers to any of those questions, so we ate our last snacks from the day before outside the tent that was not big enough to sit upright inside. All other questions were resolved by our reluctance to risk the walk back along the railway track and the falling light. We had no choice but to crawl inside our tent and try and get some sleep. Amazingly, we did almost immediately.

The river outside Travelodge was a bit canalised, but climbing up onto one of the bridges, I saw what looked like old buildings and something green and park like in the distance. Soon, I was on the riverside walk and the old buildings turned out to be the old church and college, large parts of which are fourteenth century in origin. It was very good to see not only the riverside, but the presence of people making use of the shade to escape the sunshine. There is an amphitheatre and a large rose garden beside the path and I began to settle in for a fair walk in attractive surroundings.

This turned out to be a delusion, as almost immediately I came across a fence erected across the path, marking the boundary of a row of houses along the river. The path here turned abruptly uphill and I followed it, hoping that this was a minor obstacle that could be circumvented. However, at the top I came to College Avenue, which advertised itself as a private road, not open to, nor welcoming of vehicles and pedestrians. Reluctantly, I turned away and back along a road towards the town centre and the river.

Returning to a modern footbridge I'd passed earlier, this time I crossed over. There I found the leisure centre and the Medway Footpath. Casually strolling along with other locals, I found myself being saddened and then angry at the appropriation of the riverside by the large houses on the opposite bank. It wasn't just the size and grandeur of them, but the way in which many had constructed walls and fences between them and the very thing their privilege gave them access to. Or maybe the walls were there to prevent anyone using the river from mooring at the foot of their property. The satisfaction and enjoyment of the walk along this side of the river was never going to let this feeling spoil my walk and I soon found myself smiling at families strolling along with small children in tow and the sight of rows of fishermen hopefully casting into the sparkling waters beside us.

 

Following an excursion across the railway and through an estate of terraced houses, trying to find an alternative route back into town, I retraced my steps along the river, eating wild blackberries and listening to a pair of fishermen talking about the joys of gambling as I passed.

I didn't see more of the town beyond a few shops where I went to buy food for an evening meal, but it looked like it had more to offer a visitor and is not just a commuter town just off the route to Dover.

 

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It was Forty Years Ago Today…

Market Harborough is a pleasant enough town. It could do with a little attention being paid to the river that runs through it, unless a series of stagnant pools instead of a flowing stream is what they planned to have beside the car park. There's no easy access to the mowed strip of grass that runs alongside it between Waitrose and Sainsbury, but we spotted a couple of homeless people under a bridge enjoying a bit of rare sunshine. They, like us, probably stumbled down the steep slope to the river where meadowsweet, knapweed, ragwort and fireweed disguise the banks, so hidden to the unwary.

Forty years ago, Christina and I travelled by train to Manchester to begin married life. We hadn't wanted to go there. Our real destination was the Lake District. But what with the tension of appearing in public to make vows to each other, posing for soft-focus photos of us in cheesecloth and ruched cotton (my shirt, her dress), making the journey to the reception at Christina's mums maisonette, squashed in the back of a red and ribbon festooned mini, holding onto the side window that rolled down on its own if given half a chance, we had very little time left at the end of the day to start hitchhiking north out of London. At the wedding breakfast, we stood around in almost embarrassed silence, having finished with the speeches as quickly as was polite to do so. Our departure was delayed by the discovery that Christina had fallen asleep with excitement and a half glass of German white wine. My brother offered to drive us to Euston station to get a train as far north as our meagre savings would allow. It was a relief to accept his offer, if only because we dreaded the thought of having to wave at well-wishers from the bridal car as it bowled along the Marylebone Road blowing our hair into each other's faces through the open window.

Even in August, it was dark in Manchester by the time our train arrived. We chose to spend another large chunk of our hard earned in the hotel opposite the station. Much of what I remember of that first night is of a surely ridiculous feeling that everyone we met could tell that we were newlyweds. A feeling not countered by the fact that we gave our birth names to reception on our way in, something that in 1976 would have been far more awkward. Then, not sharing a surname could get you thrown out of some establishments. Good thing we were still wearing the corroding rings.

Nowadays in Travelodge, they wouldn't raise an eyebrow, so there's not even any point in pretending to be singles booking in together. Though there was a time, somewhere between these two states when you could get a thrill staring down a concierge, who cleared his throat pointedly, as he spotted the Mr and Mrs Smith alias you signed the register with. Okay it's not a pleasure our children and grandchildren will regret not having.

If we were tired this afternoon it was not through stress, but the result of having driven over to Barnsdale Garden, in Rutland. Barnsdale is where the late Geoff Hamilton created a series of separate themed gardens for a BBC gardening programme and left unfinished by his early death. The style of ecological and thrifty gardening, often using recycled materials and with an eye on the conservation of natural resources put him ahead of many others. It makes his legacy even more appropriate and appealing to those living with climate change. When we decided to come this way, we hadn't appreciated that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of his death, or that it would mean a larger crowd than on previous visits. It was lovely to see and hopefully will help those that now manage the garden to pay for its upkeep.

I always think that a garden that doesn't look weary in August is a thing to be admired. If anything the gardens at Barnsdale were bursting with colour, full of flowers, wildlife, bees, birds and butterflies and of course characterised by Geoff's style of mixing ornamental vegetables and flowers in a number of ways that combine the aesthetic and the practical without sacrificing either. We had only come to see a handful of the thirty-eight gardens. We came looking for inspiration for our next home and expected to find it here.

If this had been 1976, I wonder if anything much could have survived that long drought without becoming desiccated and brown. As it is, the time lapse since our last visit is exemplified by how much some features such as the yew hedges have grown and how difficult it has been this largely wet summer, to keep vegetation from bursting the boundaries of the gardens and rampaging through the borders.

One of the joys of being in a crowded place is being able to overhear conversations and reactions to things. In one garden a woman shouted, ” This garden would kill me”. Adding, “with this much work to do, I'd never get anything done”. This despite the fact that all of the Barnsdale TV gardens were created around the kind of plot an average suburban garden, or new build house would have.

The sight of a greenhouse with purple aubergines, tomatoes and chilli peppers sent some people into raptures. Others regarded it with some concern even disbelief. A couple emerged from the greenhouse having had some kind of disagreement, leading her to declare to the world around them, “but I have grown aubergines myself you know”.

Studying behaviour at the garden's cafe served up hints to the neuroses of the British middle classes. The extra crowds forced the staff to work very hard and as delays built up, they and the customers found it all too much. People waited patiently in the dappled sunlit garden, but they took careful note of their position in the order of meals being served. Every now and then a waitress emerged attempting to read out the name from a hastily and possibly illegible slip of paper with the order on it. People were firstly, confused by the misreading of their name, then when it had been mangled several times more, into something close enough to recognise, they were indignant and felt they had to engage with the waitress until she understood and could repeat it back to them verbatim. Only then did they feel they could properly accept the food and drink. Sometimes the waitresses retreated to the kitchen to check again on the pronunciation of the meal owners name, emerging once more to try a different rendering.

We sat at a table in the shade, but the sun moved around to expose us, so we moved tables. When our order arrived, heralded by a few extra syllables to our name, we were almost set upon by those who felt we had been given preferential treatment on arrival. Our neighbours admitted to being jealous, even when we had given an explanation. Others, not quite able to accuse the waitress of an injustice done to them, merely asked, in apologetic tones, if their order had perhaps in some way, as these things happen, got mislaid in the hubbub and would she mind ever so much, just checking for them. And to make sure there were no chance of a mistake, they repeated their name. Not that she would have been able to read it from the scrawled note in her hand.

The countryside around here is dotted with villages that look like sets for a period film. You half expect to see Miss Marple wander out of a cottage, or come across a posse of bonnets being worn to a country wedding. I'm sure the local tourism board has it labelled as 'George Elliot Country' or something. Rutland Water looks very attractive in this weather, with its water reflecting the blue skies we have missed a lot this summer. Still, I don't understand why Rutland as a county exists, except for a nostalgia for the world conjured up in ribbons and stays.

 

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It was Forty Years Ago Today…

Market Harborough is a pleasant enough town. It could do with a little attention being paid to the river that runs through it, unless a series of stagnant pools instead of a flowing stream is what they planned to have beside the car park. There's no easy access to the mowed strip of grass that runs alongside it between Waitrose and Sainsbury, but we spotted a couple of homeless people under a bridge enjoying a bit of rare sunshine. They, like us, probably stumbled down the steep slope to the river where meadowsweet, knapweed, ragwort and fireweed disguise the banks, so hidden to the unwary.

Forty years ago, Christina and I travelled by train to Manchester to begin married life. We hadn't wanted to go there. Our real destination was the Lake District. But what with the tension of appearing in public to make vows to each other, posing for soft-focus photos of us in cheesecloth and ruched cotton (my shirt, her dress), making the journey to the reception at Christina's mums maisonette, squashed in the back of a red and ribbon festooned mini, holding onto the side window that rolled down on its own if given half a chance, we had very little time left at the end of the day to start hitchhiking north out of London. At the wedding breakfast, we stood around in almost embarrassed silence, having finished with the speeches as quickly as was polite to do so. Our departure was delayed by the discovery that Christina had fallen asleep with excitement and a half glass of German white wine. My brother offered to drive us to Euston station to get a train as far north as our meagre savings would allow. It was a relief to accept his offer, if only because we dreaded the thought of having to wave at well-wishers from the bridal car as it bowled along the Marylebone Road blowing our hair into each other's faces through the open window.

Even in August, it was dark in Manchester by the time our train arrived. We chose to spend another large chunk of our hard earned in the hotel opposite the station. Much of what I remember of that first night is of a surely ridiculous feeling that everyone we met could tell that we were newlyweds. A feeling not countered by the fact that we gave our birth names to reception on our way in, something that in 1976 would have been far more awkward. Then, not sharing a surname could get you thrown out of some establishments. Good thing we were still wearing the corroding rings.

Nowadays in Travelodge, they wouldn't raise an eyebrow, so there's not even any point in pretending to be singles booking in together. Though there was a time, somewhere between these two states when you could get a thrill staring down a concierge, who cleared his throat pointedly, as he spotted the Mr and Mrs Smith alias you signed the register with. Okay it's not a pleasure our children and grandchildren will regret not having.

If we were tired this afternoon it was not through stress, but the result of having driven over to Barnsdale Garden, in Rutland. Barnsdale is where the late Geoff Hamilton created a series of separate themed gardens for a BBC gardening programme and left unfinished by his early death. The style of ecological and thrifty gardening, often using recycled materials and with an eye on the conservation of natural resources put him ahead of many others. It makes his legacy even more appropriate and appealing to those living with climate change. When we decided to come this way, we hadn't appreciated that this year marks the twentieth anniversary of his death, or that it would mean a larger crowd than on previous visits. It was lovely to see and hopefully will help those that now manage the garden to pay for its upkeep.

I always think that a garden that doesn't look weary in August is a thing to be admired. If anything the gardens at Barnsdale were bursting with colour, full of flowers, wildlife, bees, birds and butterflies and of course characterised by Geoff's style of mixing ornamental vegetables and flowers in a number of ways that combine the aesthetic and the practical without sacrificing either. We had only come to see a handful of the thirty-eight gardens. We came looking for inspiration for our next home and expected to find it here.

If this had been 1976, I wonder if anything much could have survived that long drought without becoming desiccated and brown. As it is, the time lapse since our last visit is exemplified by how much some features such as the yew hedges have grown and how difficult it has been this largely wet summer, to keep vegetation from bursting the boundaries of the gardens and rampaging through the borders.

One of the joys of being in a crowded place is being able to overhear conversations and reactions to things. In one garden a woman shouted, ” This garden would kill me”. Adding, “with this much work to do, I'd never get anything done”. This despite the fact that all of the Barnsdale TV gardens were created around the kind of plot an average suburban garden, or new build house would have.

The sight of a greenhouse with purple aubergines, tomatoes and chilli peppers sent some people into raptures. Others regarded it with some concern even disbelief. A couple emerged from the greenhouse having had some kind of disagreement, leading her to declare to the world around them, “but I have grown aubergines myself you know”.

Studying behaviour at the garden's cafe served up hints to the neuroses of the British middle classes. The extra crowds forced the staff to work very hard and as delays built up, they and the customers found it all too much. People waited patiently in the dappled sunlit garden, but they took careful note of their position in the order of meals being served. Every now and then a waitress emerged attempting to read out the name from a hastily and possibly illegible slip of paper with the order on it. People were firstly, confused by the misreading of their name, then when it had been mangled several times more, into something close enough to recognise, they were indignant and felt they had to engage with the waitress until she understood and could repeat it back to them verbatim. Only then did they feel they could properly accept the food and drink. Sometimes the waitresses retreated to the kitchen to check again on the pronunciation of the meal owners name, emerging once more to try a different rendering.

We sat at a table in the shade, but the sun moved around to expose us, so we moved tables. When our order arrived, heralded by a few extra syllables to our name, we were almost set upon by those who felt we had been given preferential treatment on arrival. Our neighbours admitted to being jealous, even when we had given an explanation. Others, not quite able to accuse the waitress of an injustice done to them, merely asked, in apologetic tones, if their order had perhaps in some way, as these things happen, got mislaid in the hubbub and would she mind ever so much, just checking for them. And to make sure there were no chance of a mistake, they repeated their name. Not that she would have been able to read it from the scrawled note in her hand.

The countryside around here is dotted with villages that look like sets for a period film. You half expect to see Miss Marple wander out of a cottage, or come across a posse of bonnets being worn to a country wedding. I'm sure the local tourism board has it labelled as 'George Elliot Country' or something. Rutland Water looks very attractive in this weather, with its water reflecting the blue skies we have missed a lot this summer. Still, I don't understand why Rutland as a county exists, except for a nostalgia for the world conjured up in ribbons and stays.

 

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Anniversary Tour

Forty years ago, I was carrying out the traditional 'decorate your mother in law's house' ritual, on the day before my wedding. Only later did I discover that there is an alternative tradition of a stag night. But to be honest, I would have been too tired after nailing down stair carpet before getting the last bus back to my parents.

Not that we had a lot of preparation for our wedding day. In fact we had a race on to get married before others managed to get things planned for us, like a photographer or a reception. In the end we had both of those and our families even got an invite to the occasion. We would have done it with a couple of witnesses dragged off the street, but succumbed to pressure, that we now realise was for our benefit as much as for others. I even wore a shirt with my clean, new jeans. Christina surpassed this with a Laura Ashley white dress; paid for by her mum although it would be worn only once.

Our other concessions to tradition included buying wedding rings. These we got cheaply and second hand. Later both had to be removed before the green stain they deposited on our fingers led to permanent damage. Maybe that was too cheap, but we never intended to wear them anyway.

So this is by way of explanation for why we are, four decades on, travelling down the country visiting gardens and trying to create an alternative celebration of that event and the 'honeymoon' that followed. More importantly, we are en route to the diamond wedding anniversary of my aunt and uncle, Pola and Phil. They will achieve this remarkable feat in a few days time and we want to be there to help them cross the line together. Well, you can't leave these things to chance and six hundred miles round trip for a party isn't too much to ask. At least they have forgiven us for not asking them to our wedding.

We should have celebrated my mum and dad's sixtieth already, but dad died far too early, even though they were a shoo-in to have got this far. So this is for them too.

Strictly speaking today is not our 'second stag/hen night' because we didn't have a first and because we haven't invited others to come with us. But let's face it, people must be tired of being dragged off to the other side of the world to get drunk and spend the night in a foreign jail, or be thrown off an Easijet flight, spending a fortune and racking up thousands of air-miles to mark some rite of passage. Anyway, we are the best people we know to go on an outing with.

Perhaps we can use this to offset our own carbon emissions on this trip, as we are for once travelling by car and not train. The main reason is the inaccessibility of some of our destinations by train alone, but also, because of the enormous cost of using the UK railways for long journeys. Only this week, inflationary fare increases for commuters were forced on people who have little choice in how they get to work on our privatised rail network. Some users argue that these government created monopolies are run for profit to the detriment and not the service of their passengers. Whatever, we have driven to Market Harborough in our Up! and a boot full of Beano and Dandy Annuals that have yet to find a home ten years after their owner left to go to University. Some of them have been loaded into a truck containing our possessions five times or more and we are keen that they don't make another as we move house again in the near future.

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Are We There Yet?

The journey home. It has been possible to ignore the approaching end of the trip until Barcelona, but this next three train rides are an extended full stop to our adventure. The TGV takes six hours from warm spring sunshine to deep winter chill, with some snow thrown in on the way. By the time we made Nimes, people were walking down the platforms pulling their coats closed around them against an unkind wind.

At Paris we're buffeted by another storm, of people on the Metro getting across the city. A very kind person, who confesses to not being a Parisian, helped us find the gate to the Metro Ligne between Gare Lyon and Paris Nord. Our luck holds all the way. In fact weirdly, I didn't have to put my metro ticket in the barriers on getting in or out of the system. The gates opened as I approached. I'll take that thank you. And neither of us got stranded wrong side of a barrier. As we waited for the Metro, a local woman took it upon herself to advise us on which train to wait for and then stayed on the platform to make sure we got on OK.

Paris Nord still does not look, on the inside, like an international station, not even one where the pride of SNCF, the TGVs, line up. They have started to work on the interior and the clacking, cascading, destination board that once dominated the concourse has gone. When you come up from the modern, clean and impressive Metro interchange the contrast is remarkable. Eurostar travellers are dumped in a couple of soulless, waiting areas. The use of the term lounge is stretching it beyond ironic. There is not enough room on the long benches for everyone and nearly half the passengers, on a quiet evening departure are standing with their bags around them. What the French think of their side of the deal, when they have experienced Gare du Nord and St Pancras on their return trip, I can only imagine. And they have to endure that really annoying three note sound they play before each station announcement. It is a change to be able to say something positive about the modern British contribution to rail travel, but it's almost as if the French would like to pretend that the rail link through the La Manche tunnel did not exist.

After sitting for hours on a moving train, it is so much harder to sit waiting for the next one, but we have no choice at Paris Nord for the Eurostar. When we finally get underway, it is made even sweeter by the change in tone of the announcements by the train crew, telling us to put any suitcases “smaller than a semi-detached bungalow”, on the overhead racks. Or “For those too important or too cool to read the safety cards, in an emergency just do whatever the train crew tell you and nobody will get hurt”. At Ashford International, the incongruity involved in putting those two words together in the same sentence, is heightened by the announcement that “Ashford is mostly famous as the home of the Batchelor Cup-A-Soup”. Which merely serves to highlight the absurdity of the only high speed train set we have involvement with, stopping in the middle of the Kent countryside. Marginally less surprising is that a whole lot of people can't wait to get off here. They can't all be French travellers trying to avoid being made to look at St Pancras and being told, “This is what an international railway hub should look like. Not a miserable social security official's waiting room in a Franz Kafka novel, like Paris Nord”.

It's not just St. Pancras International that the sensitive French traveller should close their eyes to, but Kings Cross, with all that light interior and the square outside. The views back across the way to Gilbert Scott's fine red station facade, revealed by the removal of all the clutter that used to obscure both stations, is a reminder of the glories of the past as well as the promise of the future that exists behind it. For this reason I won't put a picture here of the London termini to help with the comparison.

Throughout our journey, at almost every station we passed through and the ferry to Morocco, we had to endure security checks, baggage machines and the presence of policemen, sometimes on board. We noticed the absence of this at Kings Cross, where the only safety announcement was a warning not to rollerblade or skateboard through the station.

All fine so far. There has to be a but and it is that even after twenty years of privatisation of the rail network, we are still suffering continual weekend disruption on intercity routes, that saw us diverted through the fenlands, because of 'planned maintenance' on the East Coast line to Edinburgh. It took over four hours to get from London to Newcastle, via Cambridge, although we didn't stop, but shuffled through like a local commuter train. On a tv in a Moroccan hotel we saw the celebrations to mark the restoration of the 'Flying Scotsman' a steam train that covered this route in the 1950s at a faster speed than today's journey.

At Newcastle we were met by our son Arthur. We could have taken a train to Hexham and on by bus to Allendale to close the circle, but the ticketting website wanted to add £40 onto the cost of the train from London-Newcastle, something we could get cheaper on the day, if we bought return tickets for two on the train. And there is no bus service to connect with our schedule.

Home to a cold spring day and to reflect on the trip. We loved it, but if we planned it again today, we would both have added a couple of extra days to the journey out and back. We'd have liked to have seen more of Madrid, Barcelona and Córdoba. And even if we were indifferent to the charms of those cities, what, we asked ourselves is the use of staying in wonderful hotels, if you use the bed for one night and never even get beyond the track from station to front desk to your room and back?

 

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Córdoba to Barcelona Sants

I already want to return to Córdoba after this too brief visit. Christina has been here to learn Spanish as a teenager and I cannot understand why it has taken us so long to get here. She says we've never had the chance to, but I'm wondering. I mean, it's 21 degrees C and she's wearing a coat. I suggested she take it off, or at least put the hood down, but she pleads a cold and headache. Does that explain why she lay down in the back of the taxi? Whatever the reason, there must be a statute of limitations on everything and we will revisit soon

The hotel we are in is fascinating and it is one of the best equipped of all those we've stayed at. We can only apologise to them for the bubbles in the jacuzzi. Who knew one small bottle of gel could produce that much.

Las Casas de la Juderia, or Casa de Juifs, or Casa-Palacio de las Pavas to quote the hotel name plate, the pictures on the wall inside and the history guide respectively, has parts dating back to Roman times, but is mostly, above ground, Renaissance laid onto earlier Spanish-Islamic forms. The hotel has been sensitively modernised and restored, but not obsessively so.

Recalling our trouble of the evening before in trying to get out of the hotel via some of the many courtyards and gardens there are, we opted to go to reception and ask for directions from there. They not only told us, but came part of the way to make sure we arrived safely. We still got lost, but not for as long as it might have been had we not returned to base camp to start from there. On the plus side, we got to see more courtyard and bits of archeology that we hadn't noticed before. I asked at reception about a guide to the hotel and one of the receptionists conceded that she had got lost a lot when she started work there. I know painted lines on the floor like in hospitals wouldn't be a good look, but some kind of gps locational settings might just get you around quicker. Or perhaps, exploring such an interesting and historic building is more fun if you don't know where the next set of stairs or garden will take you.

When we arrived at the breakfast salon downstairs, it was to be confronted by a large piece of roman masonry, a metre thick. A statement wall in any room.

If taxis in Córdoba were any cleaner or newer, you'd have to suspect they make them around the corner and ship them in fresh every morning. I liked the taxis of Morocco which looked like they'd had a life and got up late in the day after a good night out. These white saloons make you careful not to damage the paintwork with your bag as you hoy it into the trunk. Mind, a week in Marrakech and the Córdoban taxis would bear a few scars of their own. People in Córdoba drive with due care and attention to the rules. Our journey to the station was without incident, except for the pedestrians who threw themselves towards our cab as if trying to test the driver's reflexes. The cab driver was refreshingly surly. Perhaps for him, like many Córdobans, the day didn't really start this early. Some shops were still closed at 9.45 when we left the city.

On the train journey at first north and then east, we were alarmed by the sight of snow on the trackside and hills around Madrid. The temperature at midday was around 14degrees C, so it must have been quite substantial snowfall to remain in full sunlight for so long in the day.

At Barcelona Sants all we knew was that our hotel was of the same name and to be found above the station itself. It should therefore be easy to get to. What we encountered was a lot of very nice and expensive shops and a lot of people who cannot tell you which way to go to get there. The directions from one person led to the toilets, a perfectly natural mistake to make. I've been in some pretty rough station hotels in my time and these toilets were more than equal to any comparison.

It would be a mistake to take the address of the hotel as an indication of which exit to make as the Placa de Catalunya is on the exact opposite side to the one you need. By all means look for the tourism advice desk. It its there and they were helpful, but most of the (i) for information signs related to train tickets and not exits from the station.

When you do get outside, be careful which entrance ramp you take as you could easily find yourself outside again, only this time on the roof and unless you know you parked a car up there, you are likely to find yourself in the Eurocar office asking for directions. Not that we did, but I spotted the danger signals in time and anyway we have history at Barcelona Sants and Eurocar.

If, like me, you are hesitant at booking a station hotel room, be not afraid, for Barcelona Sants hotel has been completely refurbished in 2013 and anyway this is Barcelona, It has to be cool and sophisticated. Actually, it is themed after a spacestation or a mission to another planet. Which I hope does not put you off. For the touch is light and without me telling you, you might easily come and go with barely a sense that some earthly marketing person dreamed it up for a, no doubt unastronomical, fee.

You might just consider the corridor lighting, subdued and the labelling of areas such as ground control for the front desk to be slightly eccentric, but once in your room with the views of downtown Barcelona and the Sagrada Familia in the distance, or out over the water park beside the station and the hills of the Castell de Montjuic in the background, you'll forget all that.

Unless of course, you love space travel and then you'll be delighted by the space pod nature of the shower and toilet, the bubbles on the walls that give you details of the climate outside your crew quarters. You can stand for ages, I've no idea how long, that's for you to decide, staring at the huge screen showing someone floating around in what is possibly the real spacestation in orbit around the earth. Else, you might examine the astronaut costume in the lobby, sorry at mission control, that might be from an actual space flight. There's more besides, but for me time was too short and I wanted to go and get some food and a haircut. Otherwise I'd have been perfectly happy to stand and soak up the view from the fifth floor as the sun went down.

A lot of stations are based in seedy or rundown parts of the city, but Barcelona Sants is in a wide open area. There were no signs to essential services such as a pint of milk, or a haircut. We approached a woman crossing a pavement for some directions. She blanked us completely, not even turning slightly to acknowledge our presence, or her need to rush away for a train. Then, we realised we were positioned in front of a phalanx of evangelical Christians who probably stand there regularly to catch the eye and ear of commuters. She took us for a member of this group and ignored our entreaties completely. The Christians realised our situation although perhaps not aware of their own part in it and began to ask what it was we sought.

Normally we might have ignored them and done the same thing as the woman had to us. However, we were feeling more generous, due to our treatment a moment earlier. They not only understood our request for a hairdresser but had opinions on which establishment to visit. We set off down a very windswept avenue, passing other hairdressers in our quest to honour their suggestion.

Having a haircut does a lot to improve your self regard. Having a facial and back massage at the same time is something way above this in terms of wellbeing. Several times during the course of the pampering at the hands of this artist, I could easily have fallen asleep. That I didn't was only because I kept getting moved from chair to chair for the various stages of the operation. Finally the result was unveiled just before the associated cost. I suppose it's not surprising they do it in that order, for otherwise the shock of the one would overshadow the other. Certainly, the cost was greater than I'd ever had to pay before, but and here's the thing, I still think it worth it a day later.

 

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One Night in Old Córdoba

The ferry from Tangier to Tarifa was supposed to leave at ten o'clock. We were not looking to have the mad dash we had last time, so packed our bags the night before and had breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened. We had the room and all the staff to ourselves. Aside from having three room keys that refused to allow reentry to our room, (though we revisited the front desk to get them all rebooted) we had no cause to worry. The taxi took us down through the market, under the walls of the Medina, a last look at Old Tangier and dropped us at the sea front.

The meeters and greeters at the ferry terminal did their best, but there is very little to offer the traveller with small cases on wheels. We could not complain, could we, when the ferry left half an hour late, but realise that it is probably an everyday event. The ferry staff must have anticipated a rough crossing, as they strolled through the seats insisting that we all take the bright blue plastic bags offered us. In the end the swell was only moderate and it was a surprise to discover people in the toilets suffering from acute seasickness. It reminded me of some pieces of artwork in Tangier we had appreciated, the pictures of refugees in flimsy boats painted on recycled paper and lolly-ice sticks. Just thinking about the people themselves in the darkness, exposed to the risks at sea with a war at their backs and who knows what ahead. How can we begrudge them even temporary respite?

At Tarifa we made the bus to Algeciras. It made a pleasant change from hurtling around the cliff tops at high speed. We enjoyed the views of Gibraltar a hop, skip and a jump away from the costa del sol. It's not the only outpost of Britain here. The expats and the remains of empire. Some of the rows of red brick terraces with chimneys look more like Salford than Algeciras.

It is only four hours by train to Córdoba but the contrast with Morocco is acute. The memories are heightened by seeing white storks, lots of them, on the ground and roosting in the pylons beside the railway. Their nests are like Russian fur hats placed on top. The countryside is verdant and the soil a rich dark brown. The fields are empty and the valleys are clad in green. In the hills, huge forests cover the slopes, or lower down terraces of olives and vineyards do the same.

Our arrival in Córdoba coincides with the early evening, where the sun turns the light yellow stone of the old Jewish quarter a gorgeous shade of cream then orange. Our hotel, Las Casa de la Juderia is a maze of courtyards and balconies. Having dropped off our bags we got lost finding our way out, found some Roman remains, a series of gardens with chairs and pools and eventually discovered the exit only by asking a member of staff. Several minutes walk had led us back to within a few metres from the point we had started. If only we had taken the lift on our floor.

Following directions from the hotel staff proved more accurate than our guesses and we made it all the way down to the river and along to the Roman bridge. As it was time for all good Córdobans to get out and walk around in the last of the sunlight, the bridge was positively heaving. All the more so since a flamenco guitarist had set himself up in the middle. We walked across, then decided we'd rather be in the old town so crossed back and spent the next couple of hours wandering streets, enjoying the traditional styles of architecture, the rows of terracotta pots, hanging from the walls and balconies, bursting with plants already beginning to flower.

Christina had stayed for some time in Córdoba many years before. The city centre looks like it has been rebuilt in that time, but the old Jewish quarter is pretty much as it was then. The main difference being the extent to which it is now a tourism destination. In the darkness , with shops still open and cafes and bars filling up, we wandered up side alleys, watching the nighttime economy come to life, yet we could still see parents and grandparents accompanied by small children and babies in prams. How lovely it must be to live such an outdoor life.

We visited a grocery shop in the streets around a large church, bought food there and then found a wholefood shop, where the owner was smoking himself to an early grave and tainting the food to boot. For a bit more exercise, since we had been sitting down all day, I left my camera lens on a pillar beside the river, where I had been doing slow shutter release pictures of the cafes in the dark. This enabled me to run a quarter of a mile back from where I had got to, to retrieve it.

Despite taking many turns and choosing some directions to walk at random, we found it hard to get lost. Downhill was always going to be towards the river and once you know this you cannot convince yourself otherwise. We forced ourselves to go back to the hotel and eat our food. Time was getting on and we have an early start tomorrow. Yes, foolishly I had only allowed us an overnight stop in Córdoba. How stupid is that.

 

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