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By a sort of happy accident several years ago, I ended up in the Falkland Islands.

I’ve recently been revisiting the place in my mind, because it features in a book I’m writing, and although I unfortunately don’t have all the photos I took back then, I do still have a few and I thought I’d stick them on here in a post.

The Jhelum at Stanley

The wreck of the Jhelum in Stanley Harbour, the Falkland Islands, with geese in the foreground

In 2006 I was feeling a bit bored and needing some excitement, so I left my job, gave up my flat in Edinburgh and popped off to South America with the vague intention of learning Spanish.

En route, due to missing a connection in New York, I was put up in a New Jersey hotel for the night. This was the view from my bedroom window:

Hotel room view

The next day (or possibly the day after, it was a long journey and I got very confused about time zones) I landed at my destination: Buenos Aires in Argentina.

This next picture is a bit out of focus and not representative of the city as a whole, but it was the view from my hotel window and its depressing appearance pretty much summed up my mood at the time (I should say that the hotel itself was quite nice, but looking out at this didn’t exactly inspire me). It was quite a contrast from New Jersey:

Buenos Aires hotel room view

What with one thing and another (not just the view), I was rather miserable in Buenos Aires and didn’t seem to be able to shake it off. I got so down in the dumps that after a few days I walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to the Falkland Islands.

Due to the political shenanigans between Argentina and the Falklands, you can’t travel directly from one to the other. Although the Falklands are just off the Argentinian coast, I had to hop across the border into Chile and get to the Falklands from there instead.

I flew first to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and then on to Punta Arenas in the south, from where I could catch a flight to the Falklands. I enjoyed flying over the Andes:

Flying over the Andes Mountains

My mum is always saying I land on my feet, but what she doesn’t add is that I get there by way of inelegantly slithering over icy patches and slipping on endless banana skins.

I like to think of myself as quite well organised, but the truth is that I am never as well organised as I should be. On this occasion I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

I arrived in Punta Arenas in the dark, early evening I think it was, and only then discovered that there was no airport hotel. My flight to the Falklands was not until the following morning, and Punta Arenas airport was being locked up for the night. The small adventure I had as a result of that has provided me with a bit of the story I’m now writing.

I was also unprepared for my arrival in the Falklands. I had mistakenly assumed that since it was a British protectorate I could just turn up, waltz in and be welcomed with open arms.

Thanks purely to some kind Falkland Islanders who were on their way home after a holiday and took pity on me, I was smuggled into the country and deposited at a Bed & Breakfast in Stanley. (This is what my mum means by me landing on my feet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve lost a couple of years off my life as a result of the stress at the time.)

The B&B was run by a kindly lady who wasn’t expecting winter visitors, and certainly not those who turned up unannounced (you’re supposed to have proof of accommodation booked in advance before you can even be let into the islands). She looked after me wonderfully well and gave me a lovely big room in her house. My windows were at the top left, looking out in both directions:

Stanley B&B

Once I had settled in and got over the strain of the journey, being in Stanley was balm to the soul.

The weather was wintery, with bitingly cold winds and occasional snow flurries, but the sun shone and I had a jolly time ambling along Stanley’s quiet streets:

Windswept street in Stanley

One of Stanley’s long windswept streets sloping down to the sea

The landscape outside the town reminded me very much of Scotland’s western isles, low-lying moorland with occasional houses dotted about. It made me feel at home.

Falklands moorland

Despite being located off the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands felt very British. There were Union flags all over the place in Stanley, and traditional English pubs (sadly, without real ale on tap).

Like many people the world over, Falkland Islanders take a pride in their gardens, but I think Stanley is the only place where I’ve seen penguins standing like sentries round a well-clipped plant (up near the back of this garden):

Stanley garden

It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen Falkland steamer ducks, which is not too surprising since I believe the Falklands is the only place you find them. Like the other steamer ducks found in South America, these chaps can’t fly.

Falkland steamer ducks

The birds I encountered around Stanley all seemed quite tame, including these beautiful Dolphin Gulls and the many geese that were in attendance.

Dolphin Gulls in Stanley

The Falkland Islands are famed for their penguin colonies, but unfortunately I didn’t see any of these delightful inhabitants. I did, however, see the world’s most southerly cathedral with its whalebone arch nextdoor:

Stanley Cathedral and whalebone arch

I only spent a week in Stanley, and I had a bad cold for much of my visit, but those 7 days stick in my mind as a vivid and exceptionally positive experience.

On my way out of the Falklands I used the facilities in the airport and was amused by this wartime poster next to the sink. Wartime is within living memory of most Falkland Islanders, after the invasion of Argentinian forces in 1982.

 Wartime poster in Stanley airport

After leaving the Falklands, I made my way back to Santiago in Chile, where the smog was sitting heavily over the city, as I believe is quite common in the winter:

Santiago in the smog

I lodged in a hostel for a while, walking around Santiago during the day and trying to work up enthusaism for settling down and immersing myself into Chilean life, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did like Santiago though, and it would be nice to see it in the summer time.

I was a little sorry to leave after a short stay, but I had blown most of my funds on the Falklands trip and work was hard to come by with my poor Spanish, particularly in the winter time.

On my way home, the misty mountains around Santiago looked enchanting from the air:

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In the story I’m writing, my main character visits the Falkland Islands in winter too, but unlike me she makes her return journey to the UK by sea, during the course of which she has some adventures.

If I were to go to the Falklands again, I would like to jump aboard a cargo ship to get there, and I would especially like to go on one like this (below). It’s a new Japanese design using giant sails to harness wind power when the conditions allow:

cargo-ship-with-sails

image courtesy of the University of Tokyo

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If you live in the northern hemisphere, as I do, you might be longing for a bit of summer sunshine round about now.

The UK has been exceptionally wet in recent days, with numerous flood warnings and TV pictures of dramatic rescues by the Fire Brigade of people in cars stranded in deep water. It’s also been very dark, with constant heavy cloud, and all of this has made my thoughts wander back to happy summer days of sunshine and warmth.

Scotland is prone to a lot of cloud, but that doesn’t always mean it’s wet and cold to boot. One particular day in early August was quite cloudy, but it was one of those still, jacket-free days where the sun, when it does break through the cloud, feels gloriously warm on the skin.

My dear mama had told me about a tearoom in the little town of Thornhill, in Dumfries and Galloway, in which she and the pater had taken a very pleasant luncheon while on holiday in those parts.

Thornhill is a fair distance from where I live, and a bit further than I would normally venture on a day out, but since the weather was fine and we got an early start, I whisked the small assistant (said maternal parent) off south-westwards towards the Dumfriesshire hills.

This picture was taken on a different occasion, but as it happens to be en route to Thornhill, I’m bunging it in to give an idea of some of the scenery we passed through:

The Borders hills

We arrived there around lunchtime, but since we’d stopped for a snack on the way we took a stroll around the town to work up our appetites. I don’t appear to have taken any photographs of the main street in Thornhill and so I’ve borrowed this one from the excellent website, Undiscovered Scotland:

The main street, Thornhill

We ambled along the backstreets, which were quiet and had lovely views of distant hills, as well as some strange-looking trees:

Thornhill

Along one little street I was surprised to see a fairly impressive memorial, remembering one Joseph Thomson (Explorer):

Joseph Thomson, Explorer, Memorial

According to Wikipedia, this Thomson  (1858-1895) was “a Scottish geologist and explorer”, who not only has an African beast named after him (Thomson’s Gazelle) but avoided confrontations among his porters or with indigenous peoples, neither killing any native nor losing any of his men to violence.”

The same article claims that he is the originator of this apparently oft-quoted motto: “He who goes gently, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.”

I can’t say I’m familiar with the quote, but at least now if I ever come across it I’ll know who said it.

Thomson was born in the village of Penpont, a couple of miles from Thornhill, and some time I would like to have a mosey round there to see if there are any references to him. I seem to remember that Penpont, despite its small size, also hosts an interesting looking tearoom, which gives me an added reason to investigate it.

The memorial has rather a nice bas-relief (if that’s the term I want) on one side, showing a lady holding an unfurled scroll displaying a map of Africa:

Bas-relief on Joseph Thomson memorial

Just beyond this memorial a sign caught our attention:

Coo Lane sign

The lane in question enticed us to walk down it:

DSCN0817

I’m assuming that the lane was named after the Scottish word for ‘cow’ because at the end of this lane there was a field, and perhaps in days gone by this was a busy highway for travelling cattle. There were no coos there when we visited, but there were some sheep, many of which were flopped out on the grass soaking up the rays:

Relaxing sheep

The delightful assistant and I were both very warm by this time, after plodding all over the place in the unusually balmy weather, and luncheon was calling.

The tearoom we were bound for was called “Thomas Tosh”, which I think has a splendid ring to it. I particularly like the idea of using the shortened version of Thomas and ending up with the name “Thos Tosh”. Unfortunately, I don’t know who Mr Tosh is, or was, but he’s given his name to rather a nice eatery.

DSCN0820

The building housed not only a tearoom, but an art gallery and a shop selling gifts, crafts and food.  I believe it used to be some sort of church hall:

Thos Tosh indoors

Each table had a little stack of blue serviettes packed into a rack made from two sets of crossed teaspooons. From a distance they looked quite like the Scottish flag. You can see them at the nearest table in the picture above, and close-up below:

Teaspoon racks

We both chose to have salads, which were large and packed with interesting ingredients. The delightful assistant had a chicken salad:

Chicken salad at Thos ToshAnd I had a tuna salad:

Tuna salad at Thos Tosh

We were so full after our salads that we didn’t have room for pudding (a tragedy, since there were delicious looking cakes and hot puddings on offer), and so we tootled off back to the car and headed north for home.

About half an hour after leaving Thornhill we felt the need of a cup of tea, and ventured into Starbucks, which is handily just off the road in a service station at Abington. I don’t often admit to going to places like Starbucks, but I must say they do a very lovely chai tea.

Not being a very frequent visitor to Starbucks, I forget each time that I need to lie to the baristas. When I ask for a chai tea, they ask if I take milk. Being a reasonably honest sort of cove, I say ‘yes’, which results in them giving me what I consider to be a measly half cup. The problem with this is that a) I love their chai tea enough to drink a large quantity of it, and b) I only take a dash of milk.

My delightful assistant prefers the chai tea latte, which comes sweetened and puffed up with hot fluffy milk and the cup filled, as a good beverage should be, absolutely to the brim.

Here, for comparison is the difference between our two drinks, my black chai tea with a dash of milk on the right, and her chai tea latte on the left. I hadn’t drunk any of mine when this was taken:

DSCN0841

I’m hoping that by reminding myself of this recurring misdemeanour, I will have imprinted the nightmare of it on my brain, so that the next time I visit Starbucks I go in fully prepared for their misleading and devious questions.

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The small Perthshire town of Blairgowrie sits among rolling hills and farmland in the Vale of Strathmore.

The streets of the town slope upwards towards the north-west, and if you continue walking in this direction beyond the limit of houses, you soon reach the top of a small grassy hill called The Knockie.

The Knockie, being only a few minutes’ trot from where I live, provides an easily accesible bit of fresh air and exercise for someone who spends far too much time sitting at a desk. I try to get out for a little walk most days of the week and yesterday, thinking it was too long since I last did it, I felt inspired to go and look at the views from The Knockie.

The track up the hill is often very muddy, but is apparently being upgraded and will soon be covered in stones. I think it has a nicely old-fashioned look, bounded by lovely dry stone walls covered in moss:

When you reach the top of the hill, you can read a ghost story on a board:

The story concerns a Lady Jean Drummond, who lived at nearby Newton Castle around the 13th century. She fell in love with a chap from a neighbouring castle, but the two families were at war with one another over land rights, and any sort of romance was out of the question. Heartbroken, Lady Jean is said to have wandered out into the marshes, never to return. Her ghost, dressed in green silk, currently divides her time betwen the two castles, ever pining for her lost love.

A wooden seat has been thoughtfully provided so that you can sit and contemplate this tragic tale:

Yesterday was not the brightest of days, but on the other side of the hill from Blairgowrie there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and the distant Grampian mountains:

The track on the other side of the hill has a much better surface, being covered in tarmac for some of the way, and there are more mossy walls:

We’ve had a fair bit of stormy weather here lately, and I passed some trees that had not only been uprooted, but had taken the ground with them. I thought it looked as if a giant had come along and lifted up the carpet:

As I rounded The Knockie, the setting sun broke through the clouds casting a warm glow on the hillside to the east:

Over towards the west, the sky seemed to be on fire:

The atmosphere was hazy, but the lighting created this silhouette of a horse on the horizon:

By the time I got home, I felt I’d earned a small snackerel:

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Tearoom of the Week this week comes to you from a small village in the fairly remote north-west of Perthshire, near one of the long narrow lochs typical of the Scottish highlands.

The nearest town is about 40 minutes’ drive away along twisting humpity roads. If you’re looking for a bit of wild scenery and some very fresh air, this might just be the place for you.

The tearoom is in the main street.

The interior is immediately welcoming and, I think, surprisingly modern for somewhere so rural.

In addition to dining chairs (nicely provided with comfy cushions on the seats) there are four very attractively striped easy chairs, which I have tried out in the past and found most comfortable.

On this occasion, I was with four other members of my family, celebrating my sister’s birthday.

The tearoom is divided into two rooms, with a large window or two in each, allowing lots of natural daylight in. We sat next to this window, looking out into the main street and the hills around the lochside. There’s a picnic table outside, which I imagine would be lovely to sit at on a sunny summer’s day. Although the tearoom is on the main street, it’s a quiet little place.

I was torn between one of their soups of the day and one of their seeded rolls with truckle cheese and their own beetroot chutney. I’ve had the latter before and it was extremely good, but remembering that last time I’d found it very filling, I went for the soup. It wasn’t exactly the small option, served in a substantial bowl with a large chunk of crusty wholemeal bread on the side. The bread was amazingly good, warm and crisp on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside. Excellent. My brother and I had the pea and asparagus soup and my dad had cream of mushroom:


My sister had a cheese and ham panini which came with a lovely looking side salad, and a specially requested portion of the tearoom’s chutney on the side because she likes it so much:

My mum had a seeded roll with Rannoch smoked chicken and chilli jam:

I must admit, I was pretty full after my soup, and had struggled to finish such a large bowlful (they’re not mean on portion sizes, that’s for sure!) but I was also very keen to have a cake and so I found a little room for a coconut slice – mostly coconut sponge, then a little jam underneath and a thin sliver of pastry on the bottom. Jolly nice it was too:

The birthday girl had one of her favourite chocolate brownies:

My brother had cranachan cake (cranachan being a Scottish dessert containing oatmeal, cream and raspberries):

My mum had a piece of tiffiin but the photo I took was very fuzzy so I’ll gloss over that and move swiftly on to my dad’s choice of a quite splendidly chocolatey chocolate cake:

I borrowed a forkful of this cake in order to take a photo of it up close, but mysteriously it just sort of vanished and at the same time I was aware of a supremely chocolatey taste in my mouth.

Hot beverages accompanied these cakes for most of us, and I chose Rooibos tea. The black tea my mum ordered came made up in a teapot but the Rooibos came with a teapot of hot water and the teabag on the side. Apparently this is how they serve herbal teas, and my sister prefers it like this for peppermint tea, which she often chooses. However, next time I’ll ask them to put the teabag into the teapot and make it up for me, because Rooibos is like black tea in that it needs boiling water on it to infuse properly. Nonetheless, the small teapot filled a generous big mug, and looked intriguingly black and unidentifiable due to the colour of the mug. I felt mesmerised gazing into the dark watery depths:

Like many other tearooms, this one has a gift shop selling a variety of items including candles, pictures, cards and crockery:

There are some framed photographs and paintings by local artists and I particularly liked this red squirrel stretching it’s little jaws with a big nut:

After lunch we took a stroll along the beautiful lochside, where the clouds were starting to look very menacing. I’m glad to say we got back to shelter for birthday cake just as it was starting to rain.

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