Flying from Minneapolis to Newfoundland

 After a bit more than two weeks of great family time at our son’s new home in Minneapolis, the wanderlust called.  We travelled in two stages from Minneapolis St Paul’s (MSP) Airport to St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador.  It was to be a long day, leaving the house at 6.45am and not arriving at our destination until after 10pm.  At least that was the plan but, as with many plans, things can go awry all too often on long journeys.

I’d read about horrendous queues at airport security in the US and MSP got regular mentions as one of the worst.  Oliver had warned that on his frequent business flights there had been many occasions where passing through security could take an hour or more.  So we were prepared for long queues and boredom.

Once in the terminal we went to the Delta Airlines check-in desk.  We were actually flying with the
Canadian airline WestJet but our flight to Toronto was a codeshare on a Delta Airlines aircraft.
  Check-in is mostly a self-service activity these days and so it proved to be with Delta.  It was all quite simple until we came to a bit where the system asked when we were leaving the country.  That seemed a strange question given we were preparing to board a flight that morning and leaving the US for Canada.  Fortunately help was at hand.  It turned out that the question was “when will you be leaving Canada?”.  Problem solved.  The check-in terminal then produced two boarding passes and the guy who had helped a few moments ago, appeared with two luggage tags, attached the to the bags and the process was over.  Total time from entering the terminal was ten minutes, maximum.  Pretty good.

Next, was the dreaded security fpr which we had allowed plenty of time.  Our boarding passes showed that we had been awarded “TSA Pre-Check” which means that we only need low-level scanning.  No idea why we were given this status but it was very welcome.  There were about six people ahead of us in the Pre-Check line and everything moved very quickly.  We weren’t required to remove liquids from our carry-on bags nor did we have to separate out our laptops and Kindles.  It was easy.  So, as with check-in, in a maximum of ten minutes we were airside and ready to go with oodles of time in hand.

A quick check on the departure screens showed that our flight was scheduled to depart on time, two hours away.  Plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast.  I recognised the name of one eating place, “Rock Bottom”.  They are a brewery chain that install micro-breweries in every outlet.  They’re a Milwaukee based business but we first came across them in Chicago and knew that they served good quality pub food.  Alcohol was not on our agenda so early in the day. 

Breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and fried potatoes was served in giant portions.  Why is it
that everything has to be so big in America?
  So we struggled on washing the food down with orange juice and coffee.  A very satisfying breakfast and something that would definitely keep us going through the journey to Toronto.

Before heading to the gate, a quick check of the screens showed that our gate had changed and was now a long way from the main hall of the terminal where we were.  The shuttle train that normally services the distant gates was out of order so we walked travellator after travellator then miles of corridor until we reached the gate area.  Up to this point we didn’t have seats assigned but on asking the gate agent she said, if we wanted them, we could have emergency exit seats which come with much more legroom and at no extra cost.  A definite yes was said to that idea.

A short while later the flight was called and we boarded the narrow bodied commuter jet.  Once we were all in our seats one of the two flight attendants – stewardesses – came down the aisle and addressed the eight of us who were in the emergency exit seats.  “Do you understand the emergency procedures? I need a verbal from everyone individually.”  Then she pointed at each of us in turn and waited for us to say “Yes”.  Ordeal over and the plane could be pushed back from the air-bridge.

I had a window seat – Margaret prefers the aisle – and had a good view over the North American landscape.  The route took us over Wisconsin State, then Lake Michigan, Michigan State, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and the Canadian State of Ontario.  On a bit of a whim, I wondered if the satellite-based mapping system  in my phone worked while in the plane and with airplane mode switched on.  It did, perfectly.  So for the rest of the journey I was able to identify towns and rivers as we flew over them.

The plane landed twenty minutes early at Toronto Pearson International airport.  Normally that would sound great but for us it meant that our timetabled four-hour layover would now be extended.  On disembarking we had to go through Canadian immigration which was very straightforward.  Then it was baggage collection followed by customs and then rechecking our bags for the onward flight.  That used up the twenty minutes so we still had four hours to kill.

In an unfamiliar airport it is always a good idea to have some idea of where the departure gate is located and whether there are enough facilities there to meet your needs.  So off we set and what a good job we did.  After about two miles on travellators, we found ourselves at the top of one of the longest escalators in the world.  Then it was another set of travellators before coming to another escalator going upwards to the sky.  This deposited us in what must have been a satellite terminal.  Fortunately, it was well serviced with cafes, bars and restaurants.  We decided to stay there and got a table in a restaurant.

Nearing time for the flight, we wandered along to the gate only to discover that the flight was going to be delayed.  Although the aircraft was at the stand, we were told that the pilot was en route from Ottawa and his plane had been diverted to another airport.  Every fifteen minutes or so the gate agent announced the progress of our captain.  His plane was on the ground at Hamilton, Ontario.  His plane was last in a queue of seven for take-off.  His plane was in the air.  His plane was landing at Toronto.  He had disembarked and was being transported to the plane.  He was on the plane and doing his pre-flight checks.  The plane was ready for boarding.  Top marks for information, it made the delay less frustrating.

The flight took off one and a half hours late. We’d been on the ground for hours and hours.  Still we were now on the way to St John’s and Newfoundland.  WestJet have great cabin crew and they managed to make a routine airline food and drink service feel personal. I had a window seat again and was able to watch the ground passing below us.  The initial sight was Lake Ontario which we followed to the end of the water.  Then it was the St Lawrence River.  Unfortunately, the plane was passing through increasing cloud and night was beginning to fall.  When you are travelling eastwards, the day turns to night very quickly.

And then, just as it was getting a little boring, the plane started the descent to St John’s.  Adjusting our watches, etc, was a unique experience for us.  Newfoundland is three and a half hours behind GMT so our watches had to be advanced by one and a half hours. (Hope that makes sense!) The plane touched down about ninety minutes behind schedule.  It could have been worse.  However, it was now 11pm and once we’d got off the plane, picked up our bags and found the rental car it was going to be nearly midnight.  It was a good job that the Elizabeth Manor guesthouse we were booked in to, had a keypad entry system so we could get in at any time of the day or night.  It had been a very long day.  A bit of shuteye would be very, very welcome.

 

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Highway 61 Visited

Before the days of Interstates (motorways), the USA was criss-crossed by a series of long, long roads with their lengths measured in hundreds and even thousands of miles.  Probably the most famous is US 66 or Route 66 running from Chicago, Illinois to St Monica, California, a distance of nearly 2,500 miles.  US 61, more often called Highway 61, ran from New Orleans to the Canadian border, more or less due south – north and following the course of the Mississippi.  It was over 1,500 miles long when built but nowadays the route really only exists in relatively short, disconnected stretches.  It is suggested that the original route provided some inspiration for the great singer songwriter Bob Dylan.  It was the route that connected his homelands in the extreme north (Duluth, Minnesota) to the home of the Blues in the deep south. 

Being a lifelong Dylan fan and having been born in the same year as himself and being in Minnesota, a trip to Duluth was a must.  The chance to see the place where he came from and how it may have influenced his music was not to be missed.  So a two day, one night, trip was planned and on Thursday morning Margaret, myself and our son Oliver, set out northbound from Minneapolis on the interstate I35 interstate, which in these parts replaces the old Highway  61.

Our first stop was at Tobies Bakery in Hinckley at about the mid point of the journey.  It is, I have read, a required stop for anyone driving between the Twin Cities of St Pauls – Minneapolis and Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior.  I have never seen so much sugar disguised as pastries in my life.  My choice was a caramel roll with pecans.  This was made from a flattened sheet of soggy dough, covered in caramel syrup then rolled into a pastry about 6 or 7 inches across and 4 or 5 inches high.  Pecan nuts were then stuck all over the surface and icing applied over the top.  The whole thing weighed about 10 lbs, or so it seemed.  As for calories, there were at least enough for a whole months bodily requirement.  And all for about $2.50, approx. £2.  Try as we might, none of the three of us could finish our pastries in one go.  We drove in comparative silence for the next hour to Duluth.

Duluth is at the extreme western end of Lake Superior and is a major port.  At the other end is the Canadian town of Sault St Marie where gigantic locks enable passage of ships, some over 1000 ft long, onwards into Lake Huron and eventually to Montreal and the Gulf of St Lawrence.  That is particularly relevant for us as in two weeks time we will be in Newfoundland, smack bang in the middle of that Gulf.

On entering Duluth, we followed signs to the harbour which took us to the oldest part of the city.  The old warehouses and offices have been converted into bars, restaurants and tourist shops.  The dominant feature is the giant metal lift bridge known as the Aerial Lift Bridge.  The bridge is over the entrance from the lake into the harbour.  To let ships through, the roadway is lifted vertically between the two metal structures on either side of the water.  It’s a fine sight watching a whole roadway, about 400 feet long, being bodily raised nearly 150 feet.

We crossed the bridge and drove along a straight road running between two rows of houses that stand on a long sand barrier that separates the lake from the harbour.  The houses ended in some grassy parkland.  We stopped and climbed over a tree covered sand dune to reach the shore of the mighty Lake Superior.  Although it is called a lake, Superior, which signifies it is the “superior” or most northerly of the Great Lakes, has all the feel of a sea.  It is over 350 miles from where we were standing to the other end and about 160 miles wide.  The waves crashing on the shore, on this a relatively calm day, were not quite ocean waves but not far short. There were signs that some swimming took place here, but with an average temperature in the lake of 40F (4C), it was not tempting.

By now the effects of the sugar shots of mid-morning were beginning to wear off.  So we retreated to the restaurant area back over the Arial Lift Bridge.  Our chosen eatery was the Northern Waters Smokehaus, which had rave reviews.  They were not wrong.  It was rather modestly sited on one side of a converted old office block.  There was an option to order for takeaway or to sit on a few high stools beside the window.  We chose the latter.  NWS smoke a wide range of produce and many were displayed in the chill cabinets.  There was smoked hams, smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked salami, indeed almost smoked anything.  Talk about spoilt for choice.  I had to have smoked trout and delicious it was served in a big slab in a  large ciabatta with fresh salad.  The Smokehaus was the kind of place where you wanted to come back again and again and try out all their products.

While eating our lunch, I noticed a poster advertising  a train excursion along the North Shore.  Being a train fanatic this was very tempting.  To my delight the others agreed.  It was now well after 2pm and the next and last train of the day was scheduled to leave at 3.  A quick car journey and we were at the Duluth Depot, home to the North Shore Scenic Railroad.  Tickets were bought and we walked down to the track.

The train consisted of a series of old railcars, all beautifully restored. The car we entered was a Chicago suburban double decker coach.  We selected upper deck seats so that we could get the best panoramas.

The train had to back out of the station for about ¼ mile to reach the through line.  This first part of the journey took us past dozens of coaches and locomotives waiting for restoration.  Once on the mainline, the train set off through the city and  onto the northern shoreline of the lake.  It bumbled along at no more than 15mph through swanky lakeside suburban housing.  A commentary gave interesting information about the history of the line and landmarks that we passed along the way.  The line is now little used but in the past it had been primarily for goods trains. Today most of the trains are like ours, for tourists.

The journey was not very long, no more than six or seven miles.  The train stopped on the bridge over the Lester River close to the point where it flows into the lake.  It then reversed for about ¼ mile to a point where there was a short stretch of double track.  By chance, we were exploring the train at this time and were in the carriage that was about to be come the lead carriage.  There we got talking to the train conductor who was supervising the coupling of the locomotive.

Jack Kemp turned out to be a retired protestant church minister and messing about with trains was now his absorbing hobby.  When we told him about our Scottish roots, he told us that had met Bob Maclennan, the Scottish Liberal Democrat former MP and now member of the House of Lords.  They were both young men and were travelling in Turkey, a country that we know well.  They got on well and travelled together back to Scotland staying at the Maclennan family seat in Sutherland.  An interesting story.

In the evening, as we were setting out for dinner, our route took us along the side of the harbour.  The Aerial Lift Bridge was open and looming out of the evening gloom there was a 1000 foot plus bulk carrier, the Paul R. Tregurtha.  As I learned later, it is the largest ship operating on the Great Lakes and was carrying coal for a power station in Detroit.  It was a fine sight watching it slip through the gap under the bridge and fade out into the waters of Lake Superior on its five day sail to Lake Huron and along the St Clair River to Motown.

In search of a decent breakfast, Fitgers Brewery seemed to have all that was required.  The brewery is a large brick building of about five storeys overlooking the lake.  Today the brewery part is limited to a craft brewery on the first floor.  The rest of the building is an hotel and gift shops.  We got a seat in the window of the restaurant with a panoramic view over the lake.

And it was here that we came across the first reference to Duluth’s native son, Bob Dylan.  I had been slightly amazed at the lack of references around the city to the great man.  At the end of a rather dark hallway there was a display case advertising the Bob Dylan Way.  This turns out to be a walking trail through the central area of the city establish in 2006 on the occasion of Dylan’s 65th birthday.  Although established with City money, the on going maintenance, signage, etc, is being funded by a few enthusiasts.  All rather low key.

Heading along the North Shore on the original Highway 61, now designated a scenic route, took us to the port town of Two Harbors.  This has the main loading dock for iron ore.  There are two high gantries of around 2300 feet each in length and 80 feet high.  Along the top are four railway tracks that carry the trucks laden with taconite (a form of iron ore) and dumps it into pockets or hoppers suspended inside the gantry structure.  When a boat arrives for a load it simply ties up to the gantry and the pockets are emptied into the holds of the ship.  It’s a very efficient operation as the ore can arrive at any time and so can the boats.

Lake Superior North Shore is a great area for outdoor pursuits.  There are plenty of campsites and log cabins.  Every few miles there are rivers tumbling down from the Iron Range Mountains to the north.  The most dramatic that we saw was the Gooseberry River Falls.  For the last mile, the river descends over a series of waterfalls and rapids.  There are excellent paths that get you to great views on both sides of the river.  Also the underlying basalt rock provides relatively safe climbing for budding mountaineers.

For our last stop we travelled a few miles further along the lakeside to Split Rock Lighthouse.  This lighthouse is a little over 100 years old and was in use from 1910 to 1969.  It stands 168 feet above the lake and the beacon has a range of 22 miles.   The lighthouse was commissioned after a disastrous storm in 1905 which sank or damaged 29 ships in the vicinity.  The anchor of one of those ships, the Madeira, is on display.  The position of the wreck is marked by two white buoys close to a cliff some ½ mile northeast along the coast.

And so we started the journey back to Minneapolis but not before a brief stop at the Castle Danger Brewery to pick up a few samples of their beers.  We bought a couple of Growlers (4 pint glass flagons) and a few other bottles, glasses and memento.  It really was now time to hit the trail.  This time we took the new US 61, a fast road a little inland of the original.

On the drive back there was time to reflect on Bob Dylan or, more precisely, the lack of Bob Dylan.  Apart from the worthy but less than impressive Bob Dylan Way, there was nothing.  When he was quite young his family moved north to the township of Hibbing in the Iron Range Mountains.  The house he lived in there is identified but not open to visitors although the street is now called Bob Dylan Ave.

One of his songs, “Something there is about you” on the album Planet Waves, talks about “the Great Lakes” and “Walking the hills of old Duluth”.  That is the only reference that comes to mind from anywhere in his vast catalogue that talks about his homeland. My guess is that, apart from normal influences of family things, little of his home life influenced his career in music.  But one event that happened in Duluth did change his life. 

On the 30th January 1959 at the age of 17, he went to a concert in The Duluth National Armory.  The star of the show was Buddy Holly.  Also on stage were The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.  It was two days before the event that has become known as “The day the music died”.  Bob Dylan was mesmerised.  There is a photograph showing him right at the front, clinging on to the edge of the stage with Buddy Holly looking down at him.  He has acknowledged that this was a life changing moment for him.

Later that year he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a year later he dropped out and moved to New York.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve since learned that the Duluth National Armory has been undergoing major renovations.  Next week it will re-open as a music resource centre.  A fine tribute to Bob in his 75th year.    

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More Wandering along the Wandle

A while ago I wrote a post in this blog entitled “A Dawdle by the Wandle”.  It described a walk from the head of the Wandle River in South London to Morden Hall.  And a fascinating walk it was with some surprisingly beautiful urban countryside, stately homes and water mills.  For the most part the surrounding city did not intrude onto the tranquillity of the river banks.

On that day we walked about half of the length of the river leaving the second half down to The Thames at Wandsworth for another day in the then near future.  How time flies.  Yesterday, three years, one month and one day later I set out by myself to complete the walk.

I travelled by train to Wimbledon then caught a “tram” to Morden.  I say “tram” because it’s much more like a light railway system.  Indeed, most of the route is along old railway tracks.  Nothing like the real trams that I grew up with in Glasgow in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, running down the middle of the city streets.

The tram stop is called Morden Road and is about ½ mile from Morden Hall my intended starting point.  So the first bit of walking was along a very busy road. None of the rural idyll of the previous Dawdle.  Relief was at hand when I came to a gate into Morden Hall Park.  The contrast between the road and the park was amazing.  This part of the park is mostly kept as natural parkland with trees and meadows of long grasses and colourful wild flowers.

The Wandle Trail is well signposted.  At this point, and as it turned out for most of the walk, the path is a combined cycle and walking trail.  This brings the benefit of an all-weather surface but the downside of bikes passing in close proximity.  Why don’t they ring their bells??  Fortunately, I was walking on a weekday so the cycle traffic was fairly light.  Also, for the most part, there were very few walkers.

What there were plenty of for the first mile or so, were small family groups with plastic buckets gleaning brambles from the bushes beside the trail.  There was an abundance of ripe, black, juicy berries.

The first building of industrial history interest, was Merton Abbey Mills.  And I must make a confession.  The decision to do the walk was made on the spur of the moment as I found myself with a free day.  As a result, I had not done any of the usual research that always pays dividends when travelling in new places.  The buildings were on the other side of the river mostly screened from view by trees and scrub on both banks.  What could be seen appeared to be over commercialised shops and eating places.  I decided to walk by.

As I passed, a large, mostly wooden waterwheel came into site.  Although it was not turning, it looked as though it had been restored to working order.  It was of the undershot type where the wheel is suspended over a mill race.

I later read on the Merton Abbey Mills website (www.mertonabbeymills.org.uk) that I was passing some real industrial history.  The current mill was built in 1885 although there have been mills on the site since the 1600’s.  The last industrial user of the site was Liberty’s who were producing their world famous prints here until as recently as 1970.

Another famous name, William Morris the artist, textile designer, poet & writer, philosopher and social activist, moved his textile design and printing works to the site in 1881.  At the Merton Abbey works he paid his workers higher than average wages, supplied a library for their education, a dormitory for the apprentice boys and provided work in clean, healthy and pleasant surroundings.

So, I had, through unpreparedness, missed what is probably the most interesting historical site on the lower half of the Wandle River.

Shortly after this calamity, the trail comes to Colliers Wood, a busy place with loads of traffic and pedestrians.  Also, as happened at a number of similar points along the trail, the signposting was less than useful.  In this case it was further compounded by a closure of the official path whilst an area of formal park was being redesigned.  There were no diversion signs.  A bit of trial and error, including sneaking through a pub carpark, eventually got me into Wandle Park.  There was something disappointing about this park.  It seemed to be suffering from neglect or, possibly, just lack of investment.  And the signing for the trail had either never been there or had been vandalised, or a combination of both.  Whichever it was, the route through the park was not obvious.

Once outside the park and onto urban streets, the route was well marked as the whole trail is part of Route 20 of the National Cycle Network.  A short walk led me to the start of the Wandle Meadow Nature Park.  This is a strip of woodland and scrub on both sides of the river.  During the latter part of the 19th century and until 1970, there was a sewage plant here.  When it closed there were a number of attempts to redevelop the site and then, in 1989, Merton Council designated the area as a nature reserve.

There was a distinct lack of information boards.  These would have helped to indicate what birds, insects and plants to look out for.  Instead, the most obvious “plants” were of the industrial variety lining both sides of this narrow strip of nature.  At one point a metal walkway veered off to the left in the direction of the river.  It led to a viewing platform extending over an open reach of the river.  The only birds around today were a few Mallard ducks but it was easy to imagine that on other days there might be the odd heron or family of swans.

About half way through the nature reserve, the trail had to cross a busy road.  There was a Pelican traffic-light controlled crossing to get walkers safely across.  Unfortunately, the crossing was closed and no alternative pedestrian walkway was marked.  Only when a wide load came along that temporarily stopped the traffic, could I dodge across.

At the end of the park the trail diverted away from the river.  The obstacle was the mainline railway running from Waterloo to Surrey, Hampshire and the South Coast cities of Portsmouth and Southampton amongst others.  The route went along a few streets of housing until it emerged on the very busy Garrett Lane near Earlsfield Station.  Having walked through the road tunnel under the railway, I followed the trail as it continued on urban streets and crossed over the Wandle at a point where the river was harnessed between concrete and brick walls with a concrete barrier running down the middle.  After about half a mile the trail entered King George’s Park.

This is a very extensive area made up of a number of distinct sections with many different sports facilities.  The first big open area, today being used for dog walking, had been a coal depot for the Army during World War II.  Now it is a flat area of grass.  After walking gently downhill across a series of flat grass areas and passing a leisure centre, it was a bit of a surprise to find the last part of the park laid out in a more traditional style.  There were tennis courts, a bowling green, ornamental ponds and plenty of places to sit.  By now the trail had taken me right into the centre of Wandsworth town.

Before leaving home I had printed a short guide to the trail produced by Merton Council.  Unfortunately, the pdf version on the web had been designed to be printed on a single sheet of A4.  That may sound handy, but the print was some small that reading it was a real trial.  The notes for the centre of Wandsworth said “Looking downstream, you can see Youngs brewery on the right. This is the oldest site in Britain upon which there has been continuous brewing.” Sadly, Youngs moved out a few years ago and the site is now a building development.  It looked as though some of the original buildings have been retained but today it’s just a building site.

After negotiating my way across the two 4-lane roads that form part of the South Circular London Inner Orbital road, the trail entered its final journey to the Thames.  The Wandle is divided into two branches here and runs between concrete walls.  Not the most scenic of places.  And to make matters worse, the east bank of the river is home to Wandsworth Council’s massive rubbish collection point.  Incidentally, the rubbish gathered here is loaded onto barges and towed down to a waste incinerator site on the Thames in the London Borough of Bexley to generate electricity.  Good for the environment if not for the enjoyment of the mouth of the Wandle.

And so the walk came to an end with me looking from a bridge over the river towards the mighty Thames about 100 yards away.  I’m glad I did it but it’s not a walk I’m likely to do again.  But, a return visit to Merton Abbey Mills is definitely on the cards, although the rest of the trail from there to the Thames was mostly disappointing.  Having said that, the upper half of the trail, mostly covered in the earlier post, was very rewarding.  So my recommendation is to take a bus or tube to Colliers Wood, then a short walk to the mill where you can join the trail and head south to the source.  That would be a great walk.

 

Posted in London, United Kingdom, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What did we do before GPS and SatNav?

Note : This post was first published in 2013. It has been updated.

If you think back just a few years, before the advent of cheap GPS and SatNav devices, we used to find our way about the country using maps.  Remember them,  large sheets of folded paper accurately showing where everywhere was and enabling you to measure the distance from one place to another and work out routes to get from A to B.  What follows is a story of a remarkable man and the origin of modern-day maps in the Great Britain.

A couple of months ago I read a snippet in our local paper about Major-General William Roy who came from Carluke in Lanarkshire and his connection with Hampton, just a few miles from our home in Richmond.  For anyone with an interest in old maps of Scotland, Roy is a major figure.  As a young man, in the middle of the 18th century, he was employed by the British Army to help with military planning and to produce maps of the road system of Scotland immediately after the Bonnie Prince Charlie led 1745 Jacobite rebellion.   It was to start a lifelong career in cartography that would lead to the foundation of the Ordnance Survey and the accurate mapping of the whole of the Great Britain.

In 1780, the exact distance between the observatories at Greenwich and in Paris was unknown.  This led to difficulties in correlating some of the astronomical data gathered by these two great institutions.  In those days the only accurate way of measuring distances was to painstakingly lie rods of known length end to end between point A and point B.  This had been done over some very large distances on land but the English Channel threw up a serious and seemingly insurmountable challenge.

The art of triangulation was understood but not well-developed in England.  Triangulation requires the setting up of a baseline whose length can be very accurately measured then from each end measuring the angle to a distant point.  Simple trigonometry then allows the calculation of the distance from each end of the baseline to the chosen distant point.  It’s a slow, laborious task but, over time, the relative distances between all points can be calculated and maps drawn.  And, of course, this technique can be used across water as well as land providing there is a line of sight from one side to the other.  For the process to work it is crucial that the baseline is a few miles long and is over level ground so that its length can be accurately measured.

William Roy was the obvious candidate for the job and his first crucial task was to identify the best place for the baseline.  To the west of London there was a vast area of heathland, Hounslow Heath, that was virtually flat from one side to the other.    Roy decided he wanted a baseline of about 5 miles in length and he set about selecting the line across the heath, marking the ends and painstakingly measuring its exact length initially with wooden rods.  These rods proved to have too many inaccuracies due to the effects of water and temperature.  They were replaced with glass rods and accuracy improved dramatically.  His measurements proved so accurate that, many years later, when more sophisticated measuring was possible, he was found to be about two inches out.  Not bad.  Even with modern day GPS his measurements have been shown to be accurate to within less than thirty feet. Quite an achievement.

Being the devout cartophile that I am, it was essential to go and look at Roy’s baseline and soak up the atmosphere.  A little research soon identified the exact location of the end points.  A look at the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map of London South – most appropriate given the nature of the expedition ahead – highlighted the fact that the north western section of the base line goes right across modern-day Heathrow Airport and other parts have been built over with housing, warehouses and factories.  It clearly wasn’t practical to “walk the line” as Johnnie Cash memorably sang.  However, the modern passion for establishing footpaths with a recreational purpose, led me to look at a section of the London Loop that passed near both ends of the baseline.  This could provide a good walking route albeit a slightly circuitous one adding a couple of miles to the length of the baseline.

So on a cloudy, warm and humid Thursday afternoon with rain threatening, I set off on an R70 bus from Richmond Bus Station to the appropriately named Roy Grove, the site of the south west end of the baseline.  The bus was brand new and on its first day in service but the driver of the bus had to apologise for the faulty heating system that was blasting out hot air.  It was a relief to arrive in Hampton and alight at the corner of Roy Grove.  The street is a quiet cul-de-sac of neat, post-war council houses with the tell-tale individual front doors of houses that were sold off during the Thatcher era.

The exact end-point was easy to find.  Two cannons from Greenwich, were dug into the ground to mark the end points with the barrels pointing vertically and with about three feet above the ground.  In 1926, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Roy, a plaque was erected on the site.  And the Twickenham Council at the time that the houses were built in 1947, had respected the historical value of the baseline and had left a good plot of grass around the cannon.

The view along the baseline illustrates Roy’s choice of terrain precisely.  It is completely flat as far as the eye can see.  Although much of Hounslow Heath is now built upon so you can’t see from one end of the line to the other, the lack of any raised ground is pretty apparent.

One of the suggested routes between the two endpoints was to take the 285 bus which has a stop two minutes away from Roy Grove and another stop even closer to the other endpoint on the Northern Perimeter of Heathrow.  It follows a route almost parallel to the baseline – apart from a diversion to avoid crossing both the northern and southern Heathrow runways.   As mentioned earlier my sights were set on walking between the two endpoints so I set off up the Uxbridge Road to join the London Loop about 3/4 mile to the north.

At this point The Loop leaves the road behind and traverses the edge of the Twickenham Golf Course, through a housing estate, across the Great Chertsey Road to the banks of the River Crane.  Technically The Loop follows the east bank of the river but I have walked and cycled that path on numerous occasions so today, in the spirit of adventure and using my OS map courtesy of Roy’s pioneering work, I joined the path on the west bank.  The path is well made with excellent drainage and about 8 feet wide, in sharp contrast to the eastern path which changes surface every few yards and has muddy sections even on the driest of days.

The path had a few picturesque sections alongside the river but it didn’t pass the one major industrial artifact that is on the other bank.  This structure is an old gunpowder mill and, thanks to some recent restoration, is well worth a visit.  But not today.  The river then disappears under the Hanworth Road and here the paths stop.  The next stretch is built up with houses, factories and warehouses and, if you tried to work a way through them, you would come to the impenetrable barrier formed by the Hounslow branch of the Waterloo to Staines railway line.  So The London Loop follows the road towards Hounslow and then, having crossed the railway by a road bridge, takes a left turn that leads via a small housing scheme onto Hounslow Heath.

I’ve never been on the Heath and wasn’t at all sure what to expect.  The first reaction was how remote it soon started to feel.  An occasional person, usually a dog walker or a bramble picker, came into view but as quickly disappeared again.  Hounslow Heath in Roy’s days had a reputation as the home of highwaymen.  Although the Heath is only a fraction of the size it was in the 18th century you could still imagine the modern-day equivalent, muggers, could flourish in this urban wilderness.  And my unease was not helped when I came across a rope hanging from a tree – was rough justice still practiced here???

Soon after the rope, civilisation intruded in the form of Hounslow Heath Golf Course.  The path crossed a fairway near to the 7th tee but there was no sign of golfers today.  Up to this point the route had mostly been across open land with scrub and small copses of trees.  Now it came back to my old friend the River Crane, entered woodland and followed the river for the next 3/4 mile till it emerged suddenly in a BP petrol station forecourt beside a busy arterial road.  What a contrast, from rural idyll to urban nightmare in ten paces.

I’d noticed a number of small weirs in the river, the tell-tale signs of old mills. An information board indicated that this bit of woodland was called Brazil Mill Wood after the biggest mill on the Crane near this point.  The name comes from the Brazil nuts that it ground to make dyes for the paper and calico industries that also flourished on the Crane in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Another major product of the mills in the area was, as mentioned earlier, gunpowder, which utilised the local willows and alders to make the essential ingredient of charcoal.  Clearly this had been a thriving community back in the days of the Industrial Revolution.

When you are walking in woodland the view of the sky is basically restricted to what is immediately overhead.  On entering the petrol station forecourt it became apparent that some very black clouds had been building up to the west and rain was but minutes away.  Discretion being the better part of valour and a 285 bus stop being less than 1/2 mile away, it was time to abandon The London Loop and make a dash for shelter.  I didn’t feel too bad about this change of plan.  As mentioned earlier the 285 route follows the Roy’s baseline as closely as is possible.

The heavens opened as I reached the bus stop so I joined a small group of people huddled in the bus shelter.  The bus arrived within a few minutes.  Heathrow was now within sight and the route passed by many of the warehouses and offices of the businesses that service the airport.  And then, with a link back to the past of Hounslow Heath, we passed Dick Turpin Way.  History records  that Turpin probably only carried out one highway robbery on Hounslow Heath preferring to ply his trade in East and North London. In fact, contrary to popular folklore, Turpin was no gentleman thief, he was a really seedy villain and murderer.  He only took up highway robbery in the latter years of his short life.  I wonder if the Council was in full possession of the facts when naming this short road after him.

Back to the expedition.  After Hatton Cross, the bus and tube hub serving the south side of the airport, the bus route takes the inevitable diversion from Roy’s baseline to avoid crossing the two main runways and driving through the gigantic aircraft hangers.  It finishes by going along the Bath Road on the north side of the airport.  It was time to get off, just before the bus headed through the tunnel to the central area of the airport.  And it was at this point that I realised that I had forgotten to print out some vital instructions; the directions to the end of the baseline.  Calamity.  All I remembered was that it was in the Business Parking area on the North side of the airport above the entrance to the tunnel that takes traffic to Terminals 1, 2 and 3.

Undaunted, I started to walk round the parking lots trying to avoid being picked up as a car thief or even as a trespasser!  At one point a courtesy bus stopped and the driver asked if I was going to Terminal 1.  No, I said, I’m looking for a cannon.  He looked a bit confused to say the least and suggested I try calling the authorities on the help telephones that were scattered about.  I’d visions of blue flashing lights and a lot more explaining to do so took the cowards way out and walked smartly to the nearest exit.  So near and yet so far.

And then luck kicked back in.  On the way in I’d passed, without noticing, a concrete tablet beside a roundabout at the top of the tunnel slip road.  On the way back it caught my eye and help was at hand.  The tablet bore an inscription as follows :-

“109 yards to the south of this tablet is THE NORTH WEST TERMINAL OF THE FIRST BASELINE OF THE TRIANGULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN.  The base was measured in 1784 by MAJOR-GENERAL WILLIAM ROY FRS the Father of the Ordnance Survey”

Directions at last.  And right enough, after dodging traffic using the roundabout and the slip road – there’s no provision for pedestrians here – at the junction of Nene Road with the Northern Perimeter Road and nestling in a corner of the Business Parking fence, was the elusive cannon barrel pointing skywards exactly as in Hampton.  I’d made it.

The cannon is actually outside of the car parks but only just.  The security fence makes a neat diversion leaving the marker visible and accessible to all.  Having said that, how many of the tens of thousands of people every day who pass within feet realise that they are passing a monument to a major event in the development of the mapping of the Great Britain.

It may sound a bit nerdy to talk in these terms but just think where we would be now if no one had worked out how to measure distances accurately and to produce the world class maps of the Ordnance Survey.  So next time you set your SatNav, remember Major-General  William Roy FRS, the pioneer of mapping in the UK.

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To Bargain or Not

Unusually for me this a very short but on a subject dear to my heart.

Today I needed to buy a simple piece of headwear for a Midsummer party.  I knew roughly what was needed and decide that the local Thursday market would be a good place to buy.

As I walked along the near empty Kalkan Thursday market, it took a while to find a purveyor of hats.  The stall I eventually found had plenty of choice.  The proprietor was not immediately obvious.  Finding the item I wanted was relatively simple until the stall holder appeared.

His first angle was to find out where I came from.  On the mention of Scotland he immediately started to imitate, badly, various Scottish accents.  He was not winning me over to a purchase.

I asked him for a price for the hat and he stated 35tl.  That’s approximately £8.30 in UK pounds.  Back in the UK I would not expect to pay in a regular store more than £7, about 30 tl.  And here was I haggling in a Turkish market.

After a bit of to and fro, the price was reduced in stages through 30tl to 25tl to 20tl. I said at each point I was only willing to pay 15tl.

At this point I decided that if he was able to reduce his starting price by not far short of 50% then his starting point had been a complete fraud.  As I walked away he shouted that he would accept 15tl but by this time my desire to negotiate had long since deserted me.

It then only took a short walk in to town to find a regular shop selling hats.  With a little discussion about style it was a straightforward decision to choose a hat that met my requirements.  The price quoted was exactly 15tl.  There was no haggling just an agreement that the shopkeeper’s price met my expectation.  A sale was agreed.

Now it could be that I could have argued the shopkeeper down a little but there was no need.  He had met my price expectation exactly.  The market trader had got it all completely wrong.  He didn’t read me and thought I was someone who could be ripped off.

I guess that neither of these traders will read this post but, if they do, I hope that will remember that all customers have a breaking point and it would pay you to find our what that is very early in the negotiation.

 

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It’s Boiling Down Here – Let’s Head for the Hills

It’s only June but the temperatures on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast have crossed the 40C line for each of the last three days. Even our pool, which last week sent a shiver through the body when you jumped in, is now like swimming in a bowl of soup. And I don’t mean cool, refreshing Spanish Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup) rather I’m talking about body warming Turkish Mercimek (spicy lentil soup). So we grasped at an offer of a friend to join a party heading up into the hills for a day.

In our part of Turkey, as I never tire of mentioning, the Taurus Mountains come right down to the sea. And these are no ordinary hills. As I write I’m looking at 1000 metre peaks directly above the town and in the nearby hinterland there is the highest peak of the western range, Akdağ, which rises to over 3000 metres. So it’s only a short drive to gain height and, crucially, to lose temperature.

One of the popular local restaurants is run by two men from the mountain country, Erol and Kadir. They run regular trips to Erol’s family home less than one hour’s drive inland and at about 1000 metres up the slopes of Akdağ. The house is well off the beaten track in a small community of similar dwellings. Today’s trip started from the Kaya restaurant at the civilised hour of 10am. There were about twenty five fellow heat refugees so it needed two minibuses. Already the temperature at town/sea level was in the high 30’s. It would only get worse. The sooner we were transported to the mountains the better.

After 20 minutes or so constantly climbing, we descended a short distance into the Bezirgan valley. This is a large flat area – I’m guessing about 4km by 1km – that was left behind after the ice age. It had been a lake but in Roman times a short and narrow tunnel was bored through the ridge at the seaward end and the lake was effectively drained. The resulting land proved to be very fertile and is an important farming area to this day.

The buses stopped at a large collection of A-shaped wooden huts. Kadir, in his inimitable fashion, proceeded to give us a potted history of the huts and a story about his own connection with these Government protected agricultural artefacts. The huts were, and are still to this day, used by the farmers of the valley to store their crops of wheat. In part the wheat was stored for local use but they were kept as goods to trade. As a young boy, Kadir was commandeered by his father to help carry barrels of honey from their own farm in another community to Bezirgan. The honey was heavy and had to be carried on horseback. It would take half a day, mostly uphill, to get to the storage huts. Once there the honey was traded for wheat which they had to carry back to their own home. An arduous job for a young boy. Kadir could clearly still feel the strains – or maybe he is just a very good actor.

Back in the buses, the journey re-joined the main road and started to climb further up into the hills till we reached the head of a valley and crossed over a ridge. Before us was the magnificent sight of Akdağ. The top section of the mountain is so white with natural rock that it looks as though it is covered in snow. In winter that would indeed be the case but today it was an optical illusion – I think. At this point we were still on the main road from the coast to the important inland city of Elmalı. Soon it was time to take a left turn and head into the forest. First we had to cross a dried up river bed. You could see how ferocious the waters would be by the amount of rock debris scattered across the valley floor. The bridge over the waterless river was a new concrete construction replacing a much older bridge that was swept away maybe three years ago.

As we were driving through the forest on ever narrowing roads the bus suddenly came to a halt. Ian, the indefatigable organiser of today’s trip, opened the front door and went round to the front of the bus. At first we couldn’t see what he was doing until he stood up holding a magnificent tortoise. Although common in the region it is always a delight to see these unique land animals in their wild habitat. The tortoise was gently placed in the nearby scrub then the bus continued. There has been a lot of logging going on in the area so some parts looked a bit barren but they will soon be replanted and will quickly become new forests. Also, as I learned later, some of the ground is being cleared to create a much needed water reservoir

After another short while our minibus turned off on to a stony track and pulled up at an old farm cottage, and there was Erol waiting to greet us at his family home. The ground floor of the cottage which was probably originally used to shelter animals, has now been converted into storage for food and drinks and a bar. Up a flight of outside stairs was the home of Erol’s parents. In the yard there was an imposing oven and open grill. And already working on food preparation was the professional chef from Kaya.

Next to the cottage was a large roofed area rather like an open-sided barn. It had lots of seating. There were a few metal chairs but, in the main, the seats were crude wooden constructions very in keeping with the place. And there was a traditional kösk, a raised platform with cushions where you could lounge on the floor. All very inviting and definitely time for a drink from the bar before deciding where to relax.

Erol announced that a meze table was being prepared and would be ready for us to help ourselves soon. So as we supped our refreshments we could see the chef efficiently putting the final touches to dishes and arranging them on a large circular table. In case we were bored, Kadir decided to entertain us with a few stories about the restorative qualities of the local herbs and most especially about the pain relieving and skin refreshing qualities of oil and soap made from juniper. For those of us with arthritic pains it sounded like the panacea we had been looking for. Rather naively I said, you should have brought some of the products for us to sample. Kadir virtually ignored my request. It became apparent why later in the day.

When we were told the meze was ready, we got our first proper look at the table and couldn’t believe the amount of food that had been produced. Enough to feed an army. There was every kind of salad you could imagine. Diced tomatoes, cucumber and onion; whole spring onions and halved tomatoes; creamed dished including beetroot, carrot, celeriac, onions, etc, etc; freshly made mücver (diced and battered courgette), cheeses borek (filo pastry rolled around crumbly white cheese) and vegetable samosa (small pastry triangles filled with finely diced vegetables). I’m sure I’ve missed out some of the dishes but sufficient to say they were all delicious.

That was a great lunch we all thought after being encouraged to help ourselves to refills. Oh no, Erol announced that there would now be a small intermission whilst the main dishes were prepared. Where were we going to put it all? The answer, at least for some of us, was to be found through the far end of the barn. Here was a large swimming pool with a net across the middle. Soon we were changed into swimmers and an impromptu game of volleyball got underway. The rule was that as you got into the water you went to the end with the fewer players. That way the sides were roughly evenly matched. I say “roughly” because there was another factor, the depth of the pool. Most of the players could stand on the bottom, at least on tiptoes. But for those of us who are, as they say, vertically challenged, most of our time in the pool was spent keeping the mouth above water with occasional reaches for the ball.

Most of us then indulged in a little sunbathing. Although the sun was just as bright as it had been down at the coast, it was nothing like as burning. You could lie back and relax with little fear of excessive sunburn. Then it was time for the main course.

This was served pre-plated. Apart from two long chicken kebab skewers, there were köfte, chicken wings, grilled liver and I’m sure other things I’ve forgotten. And just to add extra flavour there were grilled onions and chilli peppers. Sad to say more of us than not, could not finish our plates. We were stuffed. On a side note, at one point I went to the bar to refill our glasses and met Erol. His face was all puffed up and he was saying nothing other than a few groans. It soon became clear that he was suffering from chewing an excessively hot chilli. He continued to pull faces and grimace for what seemed like ages.

As we finished, or at least stopped eating, Kadir started another of his little entertainments. This time he was to tell us some jokes. He has an amazing grasp of English and was able to tell quite subtle jokes with plenty of double entendres. I won’t repeat any here as it would be like telling the secrets of a magician’s tricks. By the way Kadir is an accomplished magician and entertains the guests at Kaya every night. He is so good that he has been invited to attend magicians’ conventions around the world including many visits to Blackpool, England.

Whilst this was going on more was happening in the courtyard area. A table was being laid out with handicraft products made by the family and, you may have guessed it by now, another table was laden with little bottles of juniper oil and cakes of juniper soap. The latter were bought like hot cakes and soon oil was being massaged into aching joints. The affects were as miraculous as claimed as far as some of were concerned.

Also in the courtyard, on another table, were laid two guns. Not being an expert I assumed they were hunting rifles and wondered what we were going to be shooting – or missing – on a sunny afternoon. It turned out that they were air-rifles and the target for today was rows of plastic and glass bottles arranged on the ground across the public road. Whatever has happened to Health & Safety in this neck of the woods? Most of us had a go with varying degrees of success, but the prizes must go to Ian’s grandson and his girlfriend who were real sharp shooters.

It was now approaching 5pm and time to head back to the furnace. The drivers had been cooling down the minibuses so getting in was not too difficult. After all the food we had had the main sound during the journey back down from the hills was gentle snoring. Coming to as we approached Kalkan the first thing to hit you was the heat. What a contrast to the cool climes of the high countryside.

This had been a truly great day. Our superb hosts, Erol and Kadir with the help of the chef and members of Erol’s family, had done everything possible to gives us all a good time. From the food to the volleyball to rifle shooting, all was exceptional. And to get the regular doses of Kadir’s special brand of humour, made the day. Though, for me, the sight of Erol’s face suffused with chilli heat took some beating. Thanks Kaya for a day to remember.

 

 

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Spring Walking in South Western Turkey

South Western Turkey is a magnificent place for walking.  There are kilometre after kilometre of coastal walking, low hills, valleys, woodland and not far inland from us mountains in the Taurus that exceed 3,000 metres.  Just take your pick.  And the paths vary from tractor tracks and forest roads to well-marked long and short distance trails and to rocky goat tracks.  Most of the walks involve a mixture of terrains and tracks.

We have been visiting Turkey since the early 1990’s with at least two trips a year.  In the early days our walking was limited to the coastal paths and country roads.  We spent a lot of time travelling around on dolmuş (minibus), bus and coach to places near and far.  All journeys involved visits to archaeological sites of which Turkey, the former Asia Minor, has countless numbers.  Our walking involved short treks to the sites followed by exploration around the ruins.  At some, such as Aphrodisias, you can easily spend a whole day walking the site is so extensive. This was walking with a purpose and very enjoyable.

In the mid-2000’s we bought a villa in the Mediterranean coastal town of Kalkan, a place that we had made our base since our very first visit.  Retirement was in the air and the plan was to extend our time in Turkey to at least half of the year.  And it was around this time that, through friends, we were introduced to a group of walkers who organised weekly walks in autumn, winter and spring, generally within a 50km radius of Kalkan.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven.

These walks varied in length and terrain but were mostly around 15km and often based on the long-distance Lycian Way trail.  It loosely follows the coast from near Fethiye 80km to our west, to Antalya 200km to the east.  Frequently it diverts inland.  Every Sunday a party of around twenty-five keen walkers would meet in the centre of Kalkan and travel by private bus to the start point of that day’s chosen walk.  The walks were normally linear in nature and the bus would be waiting for us at the end.  Generally, the day ended with a visit to a local bar back in Kalkan.  All very, very enjoyable.

Over the years, the pattern of walking has changed.  Probably half of the regular group of around fifty people, moved from being in their fifties and sixties to their sixties and seventies. The seventies, as I can vouch, is when tempus begins to fugit and aching joints become the norm.  And so the ability to walk for 15km over varied ground becomes a little problematical.  So groups formed who would meet during the week and do shorter and less testing walks.  These were generally in the 7 to 10km range and were designed to start and finish at the same point.

This was an excellent compromise but it had one drawback.  Amazingly quickly, word spread about these less testing ventures and more and more people asked to be included on the mailing lists.  We were using cars to get to the start of our walks which meant, in theory, that there was no limit to the number of people who could come along.  We’d been used to groups of twenty or twenty-five but now there could be forty people on any one walk.  Such numbers demanded greater organisation.  Although some of us knew the walks very well, others were new to the area or new to walking in Turkey.  So there needed to be someone in the lead who knew the route and someone at the rear to ensure everyone was accounted for.  This didn’t always work as planned although no one was ever lost, thank goodness.

So this year the group has broken up into a number of different but overlapping groups.  One group, quite small in numbers, operates by invitation only and tends to go for longer and harder walks.  They also do exploration days seeking more routes to add to the catalogue.  A second group focus more on the less testing walks and, whilst not limited to specific numbers on any walk, is selective about the people who are invited.  All communication is via private Facebook group (Kalkan Walking Group) and membership of that group is by an application and acceptance process.

So on to Spring 2016.

This has been an amazing spring.  Normally in March the days are warm – in the low 20C’s – whilst the nights are cool – about 10C cooler.  This year has seen the temperatures a good ten degrees higher, positively hot, and very little rain.  With such perfect conditions, a pattern of two walks a week has been established.  Some walks have been as short as 5km whilst others have stretched to nearly 15km, a good mix.  And just to prove how soft we are becoming, in some people’s eyes, the procedure has been to meet at 10am rather than an hour earlier as had become the norm.  However, if it gets any hotter, the meeting time will have to be brought forward to reduce time spent walking in the heat of the midday sun.

The routes have varied from the familiar to the new-to-most category.

A good example of the familiar is the walk round the Saribelen valley.  Saribelen is a village in the hills behind Kalkan that benefits from excellent agricultural land, plenty of water and, because of its increased elevation, lower temperatures.  The walk starts about 1km from the head of the valley beside a cemetery.  Looking along the valley you can see the typical “U” shape left behind when the ice-age glaciers made their slow but steady progress from the mountains towards the sea.  The river through the valley is often underground but it provides a great supply of water for the fields of crops and for cattle grazing.  The steep sides of the valley are almost completely forested.

The route starts along a level tarmac road that passes fields being prepared, at this time of year, for crops.  There are lots of farmers around and plenty of greetings and waving.  We’ve been doing this walk for a long time and we seem to have moved from being “those weird yabanҫi (foreigners)” to “they’re ok people really”.  As well as the crops of wheat, barley and sesame, an increasing number of the fields have sprouted poly-tunnels where they can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, chillies, courgettes, etc, etc.  The road slowly changes, first to a dirt road and then to a tractor track until it reaches a mosque.

This mosque used to be a little bit run down but is now a very spruce affair.  There is a modern minaret with very stylish coloured glass panes at the top.  Some days we are lucky to arrive just as the sun passes directly behind the minaret and the sun shines through the glass showing it to very best effect.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case on this recent visit.  The main structure of the mosque has been extensively overhauled and the grounds laid with fine tiles.  To top it all off, the toilets have been rebuilt.  Although very crude by western standards they’re perfectly usable.  Also some seating has been provided in the courtyard.  All in all, an excellent place for our first breather.

The next section of the walk joins a road passing a few small houses that have clearly had some money spent on them.  There is real prosperity here.  Then the walk joins the main road that runs down the valley until it comes to an “official” resting place.  This takes the form of a raised platform nearly 10 metres square with benches round the sides and a few tables.  The whole structure is built round a tree that grows through the middle and provides excellent shade.  Time for a banana break.

Whilst here, a man appears riding an ancient Romanian built motorcycle.  It’s at least forty years old and we’re told was passed to the rider by his father.  He joins us on the platform and, after a bit of a preamble about his goat herding skills and the long distances he walks the goats every day, proceeds to invite us to his cottage where we can enjoy ҫay.  We know this will be very time-consuming so decline his offer with a mixture of sorrow and politeness.

From here the walk turns up the valley side through a small community based around a cattle farm.  The farmer and his wife are seated in a field guarding a couple of large Friesian cows and a handful of goats.  As we exchanged a few words with the farmer, one of the cows saw an opportunity for escape and made a dash for it behind the farmers back.  As soon as the farmer saw what was happening he picked up any missiles he could find and raced after the cow bombarding it with sticks and stones.  The cow was suitably chastened and was soon back grazing in the unfenced field.

After about half a kilometre, the route turns off the road and onto a forestry track that will lead us back up the valley towards our starting point.  It’s an easy walk if a little undulating.  Each farm we pass has one or two guard dogs who make threatening noises but fortunately are either tied up or in fenced off areas.  At a number of points, the track is partially washed away by earlier torrents that come down through the trees when there is rain.  Today the water channels were looking innocently dry but we’ve seen them in full flood and they are a sight to behold and avoid.

The last stopping point is in a small wooded glade that provides shelter from the midday sun.  It’s a place, affectionately known as the Paul & Fiona picnic area after two walking regulars who have now returned permanently to the UK.  Here, we traditionally eat our sandwiches.  Continuing, the walk soon turns slowly downhill towards the main mosque of the valley and we can see our cars parked on the other side of the valley at the end of a side road that crosses some fields.

So that was an old favourite.

At the other extreme are the walks that have elements that are new to all.  This Spring, the one that fits best into this category was a walk to “The Flagpole”.  From Kalkan, looking up to the mountains, the eye is drawn to a prominent peak about 1,000 metres high with a Turkish flag fluttering on the top.  It looks as though a steep but relatively straightforward slog would conquer it.  This would be a wrong conclusion.  All too many walking friends can attest to the difficulties and hazards of this route.  We knew that there was a decent track on the other side of the mountain that would take us within striking distance of the summit.  That would be our way up.

So we set out by cars from Kalkan to the village of Bezirgan and to the quaint wooden storage huts where farmers keep grain and farm implements.  Here we parked the cars and took to the Lycian Way route heading back over a ridge to Kalkan.  This took us, after a short uphill walk and an encounter with a herd of sheep being shepherded down the mountain, to a track heading north westwards in the general direction of the flag.

The track took us in three stages uphill and onto flat meadows each one a little higher up than the last.  The meadows were partly used for growing crops and for grazing sheep and goats.  When we reached the third and final meadow we encountered a shepherd who was happy to chat with those of our party who spoke a little more than tourist Turkish.  We knew that we must by now be close to the flagpole but it wasn’t at all obvious how to reach it.

The shepherd pointed us to a path, no more than a narrow goat track, that we assumed would lead to the flag.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  It did however lead to a most magnificent view over Kalkan.  We were so high above the town that the houses looked more like models than real villas and apartments.  The sea was a perfect turquoise colour.  And the whole view was enhanced by billowing clouds that were blowing in from the sea and rising on thermals up the hillside towards us.  Stunning.

However, we hadn’t reached the goal of the day.  So back we trekked using markers that we had left on the way up as our guides.  The shepherd was still in the meadow so we asked him specifically for a route to the flag.  He offered to lead us there.  Excellent.

And so, after a bit of wide track followed by narrow goat track, the flag came into view.  The outcrop where the flagpole was planted was lower than we were and looked a short walk away.  This turned out to be deceptive.  A few of us decided that were happy to see the flag from this vantage point and had no need to actually touch it.  Others decided that the goal had to be reached.  We said we would wait for them to return.  They set off down the path and disappeared out of sight into the scrub.  About ten minutes later we saw them reappearing up the hill towards us.  They definitely hadn’t had time to get to the flag and, of course, we hadn’t seen them on the summit.  It turned out that the route was more daunting than assumed and discretion became the better part of valour.  They beat a retreat.

Everyone was happy to head back but not before a small collection was made for the shepherd.  He received it gratefully.  It was a sign of our appreciation for his help with route finding.

On the way down, we looked around at the nearby hills and speculated as to which of the many paths and tracks would lead us to their summits.  Indeed, there were possibilities that we could link up with another of our favourite walks, the so called “Bezirgan Heights” or get an easy route into the Islamlar valley.  Opportunities for exploration on another day.

And so, for us, the Spring Walking Season is over.  I’m writing this on the flight back to Gatwick.  We have been so lucky with the weather.  In the seven weeks of our break, no walks were rained off.  The main issue was making sure to be well protected from the persistent sun.  We’ll be back in June but walking then will probably be restricted to the higher, inland mountain areas where it may be a little cooler.  Can’t wait.

 

  

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