Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Wednesday 5 December 2007 - The Ship Inn and The Hanging Stone

A break in the weather gave me the chance to nip out to The Ship Inn at Danebridge for a little circuit to clarify this coming Sunday’s route. There was one short impassable section encountered on our 10 October recce, and I just needed to check the way around this.
So I parked outside The Ship and strolled across the bridge over the River Dane and on up to The Hanging Stone, a prominent landmark in these parts, and a splendid viewpoint to boot.
A crossing of the River Dane at Danebridge was first recorded in 1190, where it was known as Scliderford, meaning a slippery ford. In 1357, Sliderford Bridge was constructed, but was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, using stone. Unfortunately, this was washed away by floods in 1631 and replaced a year later by another, more sturdy, bridge. The present bridge dates from around 1869, and was funded by the two Counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire, with each paying £1,000 for its upkeep; materials being supplied by the Brocklehurst family, of Swythamley Hall, who were major landowners during the eighteenth century.
The Hanging Stone perches on the hillside like a giant fist, a sentinel overlooking Swythamley, on the Staffordshire side of the River Dane. Swythamley Hall stands in a fine park and was originally a mediaeval hunting lodge belonging to the Abbey of Dieulacres near Leek. The hall was granted to the Traffords by Henry VIII in 1540 and became their home and that of their successors, the Brocklehursts. Unfortunately the original house burned down in 1813, so the modern building is a rebuild dating from then. The Brocklehursts had an adventurous history. One of them accompanied Shackleton to the Antarctic. The Hanging Stone bears a plaque to Colonel Brocklehurst, who was killed in Burma in 1942. A game warden in the Sudan, he started a private zoo at Swythamley when he returned to Britain, and during the Second World War the animals were released into the countryside because there was no food for them. The wallabies from the zoo survived and bred around the Roaches until the late 1990s. Sightings of them have surprised many walkers and climbers over the years. The plaque reads:
“Lt. Col. Henry Courtney Brocklehurst. 10th Royal Hussars and Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, 1916 - 1918. Game Warden of the Sudan. Born at Swythamley, May 27th, 1888. Killed Whilst On Active Service, in Burma, on Commando. June 1942.
Horses he loved and laughter, the sun. Wide spaces and the open air.
The trust of all dumb living things he won, and never knew the luck too good to share.
His were the simple heart and open hand, and honest faults he never strove to hide.
Problems of life he could not understand, but as a man would wish to die he died.
Now, though he will not ride with us again, his merry spirit seems our comrade yet.
Freed from the power of loneliness and pain, forbidding us to mourn or to forget.
Erected by his devoted brother – 1949”

There’s a second, earlier stone plaque at the foot of the stone:
“Beneath This Rock
August 1, 1874 was buried
BURKE
A Noble Mastiff
Black and Tan
Faithful as Woman
Braver than Man
A Gun and a Ramble
His Heart’s Desire
With the Friend of his Life
The Swythamley Squire”

Swythamley has been convincingly identified as the castle of the Green Knight of the classic mediaeval poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and nearby Lud's Church as the knight's 'Green Chapel'. This probably means that the unknown author was connected with Dieulacres in some way.

I continued on past Back Forest to Roach End, then through modern day ‘access land’ to gain the Roaches ridge. Dropping past the rocks I stopped by the BMC’s Don Whillans Memorial Hut for a flask of tea. There were numerous parties of schoolkids, climbing or lunching in a brisk shower of rain; there were no less than 7 school minibuses in the lay-by.
My route then took me easily past Pheasant’s Clough to Green Lane to complete my recce by finding an easy way around the impassable path.
Continuing by a boggy route past Turner’s Pool, I watched a fisherman land a 9 pounder and then return it to the pond. A short stretch of tarmac past a converted chapel brought me back to The Ship Inn, which is believed to date from the sixteenth century.

There are numerous stories associated with the pub, mainly concerning the name. It is presumed that a relative of Sir John Brocklehurst, who owned nearby Swythamley Hall, Sir Philip Brocklehurst, sailed with the explorer Shackleton on one of his many expeditions to the Antarctic, as an Assistant Geologist, although history states that he may well have been a paying guest. It was often thought that the sign on the Ship Inn related to the famous Endeavour, a 1914 expedition, but it depicts the Nimrod in Antarctic Ice. Others say that the Ship is named after another vessel, known as the Swythamley, which was owned by a close friend of the Squire, and that the pub was named in his honour. These days it is renowned for the fine real ales on sale, and a popular restaurant. I enjoyed a glass of Golden Jackal to conclude this pleasant stroll.

Tuesday 4 December 2007 - A New Camera

At last. Sue has chosen her long-awaited birthday present. Here it is, and it looks fantastic. But the images will be huge, so careful editing will be needed (or another external hard drive!).
Good news as well for a local business, Equipment Express in Altrincham. This small retail business, established in 1989, now competes with internet prices (and achieves most of its sales over the internet), and given the ‘extras’ and a three year warranty I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere.
The free case appears to be the weak link, it’s awkward to use; but luckily we have a spare, if rather aged, Camera Care Systems case that should provide all the protection that is needed.

Monday 3 December 2007 - Highlights of the Year – Part 2 – The Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM) – Saturday 10 February 2007

This, my fourth CSM, was a great day.
We were up at 6 am in our hotel in Montebello. After breakfast in the room shared by 5 of us we got the bus to the start and the four of us in the ‘Scrabbled Skiers’ team set off at around 8 am together with 100's of others in good weather with occasional snow flurries. The skiing was fairly easy. Michael shot off ahead, Helen dropped back, and Sue crashed. Ken, as a ‘Coureur des Bois’ had an earlier start.
Due to poor snow conditions in the east, this year’s route had been changed. It now comprised 4 sections each day, Sunday’s route being a straightforward reversal of Saturday’s. It was just 70 km each day instead of the usual 80 km.
I had never even dreamt of completing all the sections in a day, due to early cut off times and my inability to ski at any speed. But Sue and I stayed together and whilst she had quite a few falls over the two days, including one incident with a bush from which it took ages to untangle her, I discreetly removed my skies to deal with the trickier icy sections. (This is Not Cheating!) Towards the end of the third section I was baulked by a number of folk spreadeagled down a steep hill. Sue had dodged them but I’d stopped to allow them to tidy themselves away before flying down this exciting hill in what I thought would be my last action of the day.
But at the checkpoint Sue was shouting ‘they haven’t closed it’, so without a second thought I went straight through, being the last person before the 2.30 ‘cut-off’. Whilst Sue ended her day with refreshments at the checkpoint, I was now ‘last man’ having missed the refreshments, at the start of the 17 km section.
Time for some adrenaline to kick in!
I soon started to pass groups who had started between one and two hours earlier than us and had clearly rushed through the checkpoint before taking a break, so I was encouraged by all the overtaking. And then I spotted Linda, usually one of our team but this year attempting the whole course as a ‘Coureur des Bois’. I knew that she was taking the event very seriously and that her training had been completed before ours had even started. She wasn’t at all impressed to hear my cheery ‘hello’ – I was not someone she had expected to see at this point! Anyway, with the aid of a couple of drinks stations and a few chocolate covered raisins, I managed to maintain a good speed to the finish, in the tracks of Ken and Michael, who had been much quicker over the 70 km course that had taken me about 8½ hours.
The hot bath followed by a delicious a la carte meal at La Lanterne Restaurant concluded a brilliant day.
The following day Sue and I enjoyed a leisurely 56 km, knowing that we couldn’t possibly ski fast enough to manage the 2.30 pm cut off due to the configuration of the course and today’s short final section.
Even speedy Michael failed to make the cut today, but Ken, with his early C de B start, did succeed in completing the whole course and got the medal he’s been trying for over the past few years. His moment of fame came later at The Banquet, when he went ‘on stage’ together with all the others who had succeeded in this not inconsiderable Challenge.
[For those who do the TGOC, the CSM Banquet is a Canadian version of the Thursday night dinner, buffet style, but otherwise the same trusty format, with a French Canadian clone of Uncle Roger.]
Later we discovered that Linda was sufficiently traumatised to have stayed in bed on Sunday, having retired from this event ‘for ever’.

But Sue and I had got Silver and Gold individual awards, and our Scrabbled Skiers team actually received the Bronze Medal in the mixed touring team category. Wow!

Sue and I are sorry not to be able to take part in 2008; this event has produced some memorable days, not least my first attempt in 2004, recorded in all its gory detail here.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Sunday 2 December 2007 - Il-Quccija - A Maltese Celebration

The Quccija celebrates a baby’s 1st birthday. At the Quccija guests consisting of relations and close friends are invited by the parents to their home. When the guests are assembled the child is brought in and if it is a boy he is traditionally presented with a tray containing corn, sweet meat, coins, an inkstand, a candle, a rosary, a book, a sword and other toys. If the child is a girl, needles, silk ribbons and an egg take the place of the sword and the inkstand. Nowadays other items are included on the tray such as a stethoscope, a computer, a calculator and such like.
The choice the baby makes on this occasion is believed, according to Maltese tradition, to give an idea of his future disposition and the profession which the child will follow. For example, if the child chooses corn it is a sign of a liberal character. If the inkstand is picked out it points towards an inclination for trade or the bar. If the choice falls on coins, commerce or industry is indicated. The choice of an egg means that the girl will have a house full of furniture and children.
It was a pleasure to see Will and Caroline, and their 1 year old, Drew, who we had not met before. They have moved into the Surrey countryside so it was our first visit to their new home in Hindhead, where they have taken on the derelict ground floor of a substantial old property and have spent the last year making it habitable. After having no garden in London they now have extensive grounds, and though today’s weather wasn’t conducive to exploration, Sue and I did spy a grassy tennis court that will entice us back to this lovely spot.
The afternoon’s ‘formal business’ found Drew, encouraged by his elder brother and sister, choosing most of the toys on the tray – the modern boy must keep his options open, perchance – but he did keep returning to the coins, for what it’s worth.

Saturday 1 December 2007 - Center Parcs

The Dishy Pharmacist and I headed across the Peak District to Sherwood Forest on a beautiful morning, the sun doing its best to burn its image onto our retinas as we sped eastwards.
On arrival we dashed off to villa 713 after our usual wrestling match with the giant, but full, car park. Then our feet hardly touched the ground on the way to the squash court, followed by archery, flexiball, badminton, and short tennis, before most of us adjourned to the swimming pool for a break before dinner. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Peg served a sumptuous lunch back at the villa.
We left Stuart to find a stranger to partner him in the Badminton Tournament; he did well, returning later with a winner’s certificate. We heard a lot about this unexpected triumph.
The lamb was delicious, and the bread and butter pudding was obviously appreciated as it vanished in a trice.
The traditional slide show followed, though this year it was in digital form, with pictures from the Dolomites and the Vanoise to entice the others into visiting those fabulous locations. Here’s the Dolomites vista that has graced the foot of this blog during November (prize for spotting the exact location still awaits a home!).

Just waiting for the bill now, Robert!

Friday 30 November 2007 - Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Tomorrow is our annual pilgrimage to Center Parcs at Sherwood Forest, where our group of nine will do sporty things all day and then enjoy a meal and a slide show in the chalet. This is one event we don’t get involved in organising – it’s all down to Rob and Lyn – well done and long may your travails continue, R&L!
They even organise the food, and I have volunteered a dessert to follow lamb and apricot hotpot, so I spent an hour this morning preparing this pudding, which needs no further attention until the oven tomorrow night. It’s easy and delicious. Here’s how, for 9 people, but it can just as easily be made for any number of folk. (Excellent for two, actually.)

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Ingredients
14 slices of 5mm thick good quality white bread, one day old, from a large loaf
225 gm dark chocolate with 75% cocoa solids, chopped
600 ml whipping cream
6 tablespoons dark rum
165 gm caster sugar
120 gm butter
¼ tsp cinnamon
5 small eggs

To Serve
Well chilled double cream

Equipment
Ovenproof dish, lightly buttered, approx 15x30 cm base x 5 cm deep (smaller for reduced quantities)

Method
Remove the crusts (whizz them into breadcrumbs for future use) to give roughly 10 cm squares. Cut each one into 4 triangles.
Place the chocolate, whipping cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water (or allow granny to suck the eggs)! Wait for all the ingredients to melt and for the sugar to dissolve. Then remove the bowl from the heat and give it a good stir to amalgamate the ingredients.
In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour the chocolate mixture over them and whisk again very thoroughly.
Spoon a 1 cm layer of the mixture into the base of the dish and arrange half the bread triangles over the chocolate in overlapping rows. Then pour half the remaining mixture over the bread as evenly as possible and arrange the rest of the triangles over that, finishing off with the rest of the chocolate. Press the bread down gently so that it gets covered evenly with the liquid.
(At this stage it looks like the above picture.)
Cover with clingfilm and allow to stand at room temperature for two hours. Transfer to refrigerator for a minimum of 24 (but preferably 48) hours before cooking.
Preheat oven to 180C. Remove the clingfilm and bake on a high shelf for 30-35 minutes. The top will be crunchy and the inside soft and squidgy. Leave to stand for 10 min before serving with chilled double cream.
Delicious.
[Adapted from the recipe in Delia Smith’s Winter Collection]

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Thurday 29 November 2007 - Blogging Spam

After nearly two months of blogging, I had my first incidence of spam on the blog overnight. Someone called Crescenet from Brazil. Now I don’t speak or read Brazilian, so I can’t be sure, but money seemed to be mentioned – perhaps they are selling drugs. Anyway, it ended with a polite request in very good English to add them to my ‘blogroll’. Ha!
The shame is, I may have to employ the moderator facility, so comments (few though they are) won’t appear immediately.
Today’s picture is the genuine article – a ‘postcard’ from Timperley Bridge, taken on my way to work.

Wednesday 28 November 2007 - Highlights of the Year – Part 1 – The Rum Cuillin Ridge

As today is a bit grey, and my bowels are still recovering from Jordan, it’s a day indoors, and I’m short of inspiration.
But Jon Metcalf has emailed me with a request for photos for this weekend’s XXL Club Annual Dinner at the Fife Arms in Braemar. Sadly I can’t make the dinner, but I can recall with clarity a highlight of the year, on 5 May – Jon’s 1000th Marilyn – Ainshval on the Isle of Rum. This was a baggerfest. Even Alan Dawson, author of The Relative Hills of Britain – a book you will pick up again and again - was there. Jon took a low level route whilst 6 of us fumbled our way along the misty ridge and steep ground of the Rum Cuillin. This was not ‘a walk in the park’, but between us we had enough experience of Scottish weather and navigation to see us through to our rendezvous with Jon at 2.45. He was a bit cool, as we were 45 minutes late due to the necessary care that the conditions had required. Here he is, enjoying the moment with a couple of mates (he’s holding them) - and very relieved to see us too. The summit is just up to the right.

Our haste to descend from the final summit left some of the party floundering in the mist, so it was by three different routes that we converged on Dibidil Bothy, where several young ladies were relieved to learn that we weren’t planning to stay. Most of us got back to Kinloch Castle at 7.45, after an 11 hour day. Jon walks more slowly, so we had to delay dinner until his arrival, at 9.15, after an adventure with a river (it was raining hard). A very long day for him, but I think he did get one of the better rooms in the ‘bunkhouse’, like this one I shared with the Dishy Pharmacist for just £14 pppn!

Tuesday 27 November 2007 - Innov8 Roclites in Sand

As reported last week, our desert walk on 19 November was in ‘boots’. Having served me so well in Madeira, I had taken the now broken in Roclites. That was a mistake. The mesh on the Roclites looks solid enough, doesn’t it? I knew it wasn’t at all water resistant. I soon discovered it is not at all sand resistant, either. So the shoes quickly filled with sand and the tight spot on the right heel was immediately a problem. A precautionary plaster following the previous night’s short walk didn’t really help, and I finished up losing about 1 sq inch of skin from the heel.
I’m actually happy with the shoes and can use Sealskinz socks to keep the water out, but they are definitely not suitable for walking in the desert. I used trekking sandals for the rest of the trip, with no problem at all, despite the guide’s scepticism.

15 March 2011 - Postscript:
My initial optimism about these shoes was finally dashed when during 2008 the linings inside the heel split, leaving me with blisters every time I used them.  They had done less than 300 km, mostly in Madeira and New Zealand, before they were abandoned in a far corner of our kitchen.  Very disappointing, really, especially after all the effort taken to ensure that they were the right shoes for me.  They weren't.  Should anyone wish to take them on, I'll be happy to donate them - they are in reasonable condition apart from the heels - UK size 8½.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Jordan Slideshow - 'Happy Holidays'

I have uploaded about 120 snaps to a Photobox album, with invitations to those on the Jordan trip, insofar as I have their details, and a handful of others who I know may be interested. If you have not received an invitation, and you would like to view these photos, please let me know and I'll add you to the list.
....Happy Holidays
Martin

Monday 26 November 2007 - A Surprise from San Jose

One of the items of mail discovered on our return from Jordan was a package from one Thomas Rivell, of San Hose. Enclosed was the Sierra Club’s 2008 Engagement Calendar, with weekly photographs of the highest quality of flora and fauna and fabulous North American landscapes. It is in a similar format to the John Muir Trust Calendar edited by John Cleare that we usually pick up at the Kendal Mountain Festival. But having missed the KMF this year, the Sierra Club calendar is a fine alternative and a lovely present. Thank you, Thomas, who very appropriately wishes us ‘Happy Holidays’. And may you also enjoy many more Happy Holidays, Thomas.
I’ll write about my ‘Travails with Thomas’ on another occasion.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Sunday 25 November 2007 - Orion Marches

The trip to Jordan has inspired me to get hold of TE Lawrence’s ‘Pillars of Wisdom’. Spending time in this part of the world that has been so troubled by wars and unrest (sadly not unlike many parts of the world I suppose) reminded me of another book in my possession, ‘Orion Marches’ a collection of poems by Michael Roberts. Many of the poems, published in 1939, have deeply emotive wartime themes, such as ‘Victory’ and ‘Defeat’. Roberts was a highly skilled wordsmith, his essay ‘The Poetry and Humour of Mountaineering’ being a supremely rich piece of writing. He was clearly an Alpine enthusiast and a skilled climber as well as a deep thinker. Many of his poems have a mountaineering theme. I can’t say I’m a fan of Alpine starts, but this poem is so evocative that the Dishy Pharmacist and I chose an extract from it for the Reading at our wedding. Picture yourself at a mountain hut high in the Alps on a summer’s day:

The Green Lake

Eloquent are the hills: their power speaks
In ice, rock and falling stone;
The voices of croziered fern, wood-sorrel, gentian, edelweiss,
Lead upward to the summit or the high col.

The mountain lake mirrors the hills, and the white clouds
Move in a blue depth, the hut stands empty:
No one appears all day, nothing disturbs
The symphony of ice and yellow rock and the blue shadow.

And at dusk the familiar sequence: the light
Lingering on the peak; and near the horizon
Apricot-coloured skies, then purple; and the first stars;
An hour of bustle in the hut, and then silence.

Only at two in the morning men stir in the bunks,
Look out of the windows, put on their boots,
Exchange a word with the guardian, curse the cold,
And move with a force beyond their own to the high peaks.

Be still for once. Do not sing,
Let the blood beat its symphony unanswered;
Remain here by the lake for a whole day
With the sky clear and the rocks asking to be climbed.

There is music in movement, in the song, the dance,
The swing of the accordion in the crowded hut,
The swing of the axe in the icefall; but be still.
Listen. There is another voice that speaks.

Footnote: The battered state of this book, when I acquired it, bore evidence of its 60 year vintage. However, until then it had never been read! A sharp kitchen knife was required to separate the pages and render them readable. I hope others will appreciate them in the future…

Saturday 24 November 2007 - Run From The Sun

We said goodbye to Julie, who flies back to Canada tomorrow, before embarking on an uneventful journey to Heathrow on Royal Jordanian Airways’ newly refurbished Airbus A321. More goodbyes, a long wait in the cold for a bus to return six of us to Purple Parking, then an easy drive home.
And now to write up the trip. Perhaps a bit more quickly than usual due to the discipline required to keep the blog up to date, but I still expect to take a couple of weeks to catch up. So this is the last Postcard from Jordan, taken near Petra, courtesy of Sue and Phil, featuring L to R: Vicky, Sue, Phil, Martin, Sue (front), Julia and Martin.

For anyone interested, the cost of this trip for the two of us was:
£
Explore fees 1,780
Local Payment 125
Parking 52
Fuel from Manchester 40
Camel Ride 40
Turkish Bath 28
Meals and Drinks 80
Tips 55
Sundries and presents 40
TOTAL £2,240

This compares with £400 for my recent week in Madeira.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Friday 23 November 2007 - A Roman Outpost, and a Floating Experience

For a change, I didn’t sleep well, perhaps due to the noise outside and the scratchy sheets, and some stomach pain that a Cipro tablet sorted out.
We were up at 7 am for the hotel breakfast – not much for me. Sue is a bit chirpier today, so that’s good.
Mahmoud had us setting off as usual at 8 am, in a different ‘Rum Tourism’ bus today with a friendly driver (not to say that the one who went to sleep wasn’t friendly!). A 1½ hour drive from Madaba saw us at Jerash (or is it Jarash?), a few miles north of Amman. This is apparently the largest Roman site outside Italy. The brochure advertises ‘Take a Walk Through History’, and what a walk that was. Entering through the massive arch built for Hadrian to commemorate his visit to this edge of his Empire in 129 AD, we strolled past the Hippodrome. Men dressed as Romans were readying themselves for a chariot racing re-enactment around this 245 x 52 metre arena that could seat some 15,000 spectators. Only after this are the City Walls reached at the South Gate. Soon a 90 x 80 metre oval plaza leads to the colonnaded street (shown above) that runs NNE for some 800 metres. This was the main shopping street, with broad pavements, shops, and an underground sewage system.
Half way along this street on the left are stairs leading up to a Byzantine church, now known as the Cathedral, above which lies the Church of Saint Theodore, built around 496 AD. Here there are huge pillars that rock when pushed! We tried it – scary! Higher up are the remains of more churches, and another once magnificent mosaic floor comprising seasonal images and flora and fauna.
A path took us above the site, with good views over modern Jerash, to the South Theatre.
The 3000 seat auditorium has been soundly reconstructed and is still in use. The remarkable acoustics allow a speaker at the centre of the orchestra floor to be heard by the whole auditorium without raising his voice. We enjoyed magnificent views over the whole site from the top row of seats, whilst being deafened by the incongruous sound of some badly tuned local bagpipes attempting ‘Scotland the Brave’ and other tourist favourites.
We could have lingered here all day (once the bagpipes stopped), but “Yallah” – ‘Come on’ urged Mahmoud, coaxing us back into the bus. Not even Phil and Sue’s bid for freedom lasted long, as they were finally tracked down and brought to heel (those who know Phil will realise how difficult that can be, especially when distracted by the large lizards that were sunbathing nearby!).
Then we went to the Dead Sea for a swim (no photos I’m afraid – the camera was left in the bus). It was a tad salty. 30% salt actually. Normal seawater is about 4% salt. Trying to swim breaststroke was a little awkward as your legs wouldn’t stay in the water. I got salt in my eyes trying this – not very pleasant. Much to the amusement of those on the shore, Sue organised some synchronised swimming which ended with both arms and both legs raised high in the air – a position that was not really very stable! You could relax here with a newspaper, as if sitting in a salty liquid deckchair.
The sea was quite warm, though Sue W didn’t find it so; she stood forlornly half in-half out until finally giving up.
On returning to the shower room it was difficult to remove all the salt – some of our eyes and other bits will be stinging for days! We adjourned ‘poolside’, where loud disco music and gyrating locals rather spoilt the ambience for everyone else. We had to move away just to be able to speak with each other. It is about 400 metres below normal ‘sea level’ here, probably the lowest that most of us have ever been. The city of Jericho can be seen not far away.
The holiday was now drawing to its conclusion, and we finally got the ‘shopping experience’ some may have been yearning for. And so, on the way back to Amman, we pulled up alongside many more tourist coaches to an emporium of mainly tacky goods. (Perhaps I’m biased; I’m just not interested in combining shopping with travelling.) The bath salts from the Dead Sea did attract custom from some – on the grounds they would be ‘original’ presents, but on return home Sue noticed that these were cheaper in Boots!
After taking advantage of the full-size bath sported by our room in the Toledo Hotel, we assembled for anaesthetic in the hotel bar in an effort to dull our senses in anticipation of the white-knuckle taxi ride across Amman to the Windmill Restaurant (actually Tawaheen Al-Hawa Restaurant – but it had a windmill outside). More beer? Wine? No chance, this was Mahmoud’s choice of restaurant, another fixed price (D15 this time) meal that actually makes sorting out the bill much easier. There were some locals as well as quite a number of tourist groups at this place, and I have to say, the food was excellent. Numerous salads to start, and some kebab style bits of meat, including delicious small sausages. Then a mixed grill comprising various different meats, all washed down with a delicious minted lemon drink.
A collection had been made and Phil presented Mahmoud with his guide’s tip, as is traditional on this sort of tour – around £150 – not bad for his week’s efforts. We had already provided $450 between us for the other helpers’ tips, so I think we put an acceptable sum into the Jordanian economy in tips alone.
Soon we were heading back across Amman in another fleet of the battered yellow white-knuckle death traps known locally as taxis, flying past millionaires’ houses with ostentatious gold door furniture, towards the Toledo, pausing only to ask the way before further flaying of the suspension on the ubiquitous and very necessary speed bumps.
The antidote…more beer, whilst we said final goodbyes to Mahmoud, who is heading back to Petra either tonight or on a very early bus tomorrow.

Thursday 22 November 2007 - Castles and Mosaics

On Tuesday we met Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealander of Dutch parentage, who married a Bedouin following an unlikely holiday romance in 1978. She brought up her children in the family cave in Petra. Only a handful of people still live in the caves, and Marguerite has recently written about her experiences. Now widowed, she has moved with the times, and even has her own web site! Her book promises to be a good read.
It was another cool morning, but everyone must have had more than enough sleep as we were up from this last night’s camping before 7 am. Luckily for Sue, it was to be a sightseeing day, with loos never far away. A bus picked us up from camp for the 3 hour journey along the ‘beautifully scenic’ King’s Highway to Karak. Unfortunately low cloud obscured the views, so we resorted to the faster ‘Desert Highway’. On the way the driver of the old Toyota bus fell asleep. Luckily he was ‘under observation’, and a yell went up from a number of people who had been watching his sagging eyelids through the rear view mirror. And so we made it to Karak, where a Crusader castle built in the C12th, as its Wikipedia entry explains…”extends over the southern part of the plateau. It is a notable example of Crusader architecture, a mixture of European, Byzantine, and Arab designs. Its walls are strengthened with rectangular projecting towers, long stone vaulted galleries are lighted only by narrow slits, and it contains a deep moat from the west which completely isolates the site.”
The castle is famous for withstanding sieges, but was finally captured by Saladin in 1189. Its fortifications were largely destroyed much later, around 1840, but recently there has been much restoration work, and a new museum opened in 2004.
Mahmoud, the archaeologist, guided us around the castle in cool, wet weather. It was an excellent structure, with 3 storeys and wide tunnels; a shame that we didn’t have time for a full exploration.


After adjourning to the pleasantly heated museum, it was soon time to re-board the bus and fight our way around the narrow, double parked, hilly streets of Karak. This is a fertile area, with lots of grocery shops, and, as can be seen from the coach window, a selection of goats – still with heads and long ears, with their organs hanging next to them!


It was about two hours to Madaba, on the way to which we crossed Wadi Jubim, a 600 metre deep valley with a new reservoir at the bottom. We stopped at a viewpoint where the usual 1 Dinar stalls were abundant, this time selling bits of local rock, and it was strange to see a river (to the left of this picture) in the arid landscape. [The sellers of baubles were never obtrusive and were easy to deter – reluctantly, as these people were so friendly.]

Madaba is famous for its mosaics, and we headed straight for the mosaic map found in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George, built in 1884 over the remains of a Byzantine Church. The map focuses on Jerusalem with its colonnaded main street, and has 157 captions written in Greek. It dates to around 560 AD and originally measured some 16 x 6 metres and comprised over 2 million bits of rock. The Dead Sea is shown, as well as fish escaping its salty waters by swimming up the river Jordan. We strolled back to the bus down damp streets, occasionally pausing for those enticed by shops, which this trip has (thankfully) rarely encountered.
Next, a short drive to Mount Nebo, where Moses reputedly died. There is a memorial church housing more exceptional mosaics, and the view past the Brazen Serpent monument over the Rift Valley to Jerusalem and Jericho, with the River Jordan and the Dead Sea, was lovely in the sunset light. Mahmoud admitted he had never seen it so clear – the rain had literally washed away the haze.
Our final stop of the day was at a mosaic workshop, where we were shown how the pieces of rock are glued face down onto pieces of cloth on which patterns have been drawn. The borders are created first, then the inside of the figures and finally the ‘filling’ and edges. Then the fabric is turned upside down and set in a bed of grout, after which the fabric is removed and the glue washed off to reveal the pristine shiny rock surfaces below.
The workshop visit was designed to lure us into the adjoining shop, and whilst some of the garden furniture with mosaic tables was very nice, it was extremely expensive (up to £6,000), so nobody committed themselves.
We then adjourned to the Mariam Hotel, where the bath was pleasant but very short, and the D7 set meal brought a few complaints from those who wanted to go a la carte. It was Mahmoud’s first night with us for a while, as he had spent the last two nights with his family in Petra, and he didn’t show any interest in Sandra, Sally and Katie’s requests. In the end Sally got her pasta and chips! And Sally and Katie prevailed upon some Aussies to order them burgers. Nothing was particularly appetising, and the veg was cold. Sue (fasting) didn’t miss much.