Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Three Hats in a Basket Shop

Basket Cases. All of them.

Today we took 15 minutes in a taxi - €22 again, but at least this driver didn't accuse us of being 'The Lazy English' on account of our inability to speak Portuguese - to reach yesterday's end of walk point....

....The basket shop at Camacha. We left the 'purchasing' to coach loads of cruise liner escapees, but we did enjoy a coffee before setting off on foot back to our hotel. Gayle, a WiFi junkie, was allowed to download news from an assortment of bloggers. That gave us all a laugh.

So, we got a taxi for 15 minutes, then spent the next six hours walking 21km back to the hotel. Yes, that's what some of us do on our holidays. Crazy!? But almost true. The other three obviously thought it was crazy as they gave up after 18km and succumbed to the allure of another taxi - on the pretence that one of their number needed to be back in time for some completely unnecessary beauty treatment.*

The route was actually excellent - Levada da Serra to Choupana, then down to the Levada dos Tournos. Along that towards Monte until the vertiginous section (we went too far and hit that section - there were nearly tears) before which a steep downhill path eventually reaches the excellent Levada Bom Sucesso; beyond that steep steps lead to the centre of Funchal.

We are now enjoying sunset over Funchal from the roof of our hotel, celebrating 'beer o'clock'. Must go. Have a lovely evening.

*"So that'd be Mick" whirred the worn out cogs of President Sloman's brain.

Late News: M+G won the quiz again, by five clear points. Geniuses! So that's why they were so anxious to get back...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Levada Lunches

Pictured above are three survivors from the Levada Lunch of 18 November.

Perhaps it was not so wise to follow the euphoria experienced in the magnificent surroundings of Monte Palace Tropical Gardens with a tramp along a footpath 18 inches wide with a vertical drop of hundreds of feet on one side. Especially as the tickets for the gardens had fortuitously included 'free wine'. That had come in quite handy for our celebrations, but it wasn't so sensible when it came to the vertiginous tramp that followed.

I cheated by crawling. I got muddy knees. Gayle cried. Sue said we shouldn't have had that last bottle of wine. I emphasised, in deference to Alan Sloman (see his recent posting), the importance of at least one lunchtime bottle of wine for all Foreign Office staff as being a pre-requisite for their ability to spend the afternoon puzzling over the strange nature of the world's time zones.

Vultures circled above us, expecting a free lunch to be offered at any moment on the blood splattered rocks far below us.*

By some dint of fortune, with no thanks to a German fraulein who marched through us shouting "Achtung", we managed to survive, and miraculously we made it all the way along the Levada dos Tournos to Camacha. By then, Mick had been given a bravery award for negotiating a 500 metre tunnel (aka 'Barry's Splash Zone') without falling into the canal, despite the fact that he had locked his head torch in the safe of his hotel room. "My Anti Panic glasses saved me" he asserted.

"You look as blind as a bat" observed the man with a blue Berghaus Freeflow rucksack, "have you seen my missing colleague?" We directed him, probably completely the wrong way, towards a non-existent garden. He's probably still out there somewhere.

The 15km walk had taken almost five hours. We had passed at least eight drowned rats in the levada, had gorged on trackside bananas and passion fruit, and had failed to convince with our Guiding Service. Then a passing taxi hijacked us from a busy bus stop and returned us to FO HQ in about 20 minutes. Gayle immediately ordered more wine, asserting "I'll fall over without it."

Afterwards we all agreed that it had been a routine, if scary, day out and that whilst being envious of the team's close-knit cameraderie, President Sloman would on the whole be pleased with the ability of his hand chosen team to survive in the field of duty.

* I later discovered these were buzzards, and that the redness in the rocks below us was caused by iron, not blood.

We're In!

Skipping along in the Tropical Gardens at Monte, we discovered from a number of sources that we are ALL 'in' next year's TGO Challenge, as well as various other 'likely suspects'.

Thanks everyone for keeping us informed, and Alan R for your erudite comment. You'll be pleased to know that our dining table at the hotel is of course...

...Number 42...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Paradise

Today was spent 'swanning' around Funchal, with visits to the cathedral, the market, an assortment of churches, the ochre Fort de São Tiago*, and the President's Garden.

The 'bird of paradise' is Madeira's national flower. We saw lot of them today, but only one swan, hanging from a noose in the art gallery. The blue and gold Macaws in the President's Garden (isn't he kind to allow visitors to rampage amongst his shrubs?) were much more lively - boisterously enjoying life in their huge cage.

We were back at our luxury pad just in time to win the afternoon quiz. Thanks mainly to Gayle's planetarium sized brain.

Curiously, we appear to have walked at least 11km on this 'rest day in town'.

* The fort was built in 1614 to defend the city from pirates. Later, during the Napoleonic wars it became an extremely cramped billet for 3500 British troops who wanted to ensure the French didn't take the island. In 1803 it was used to house thousands of local people made homeless by devastating floods. Now it houses, inter alia, a strangled denim swan.

More snippets of historical and other interest will in due course accompany a slideshow of this trip to Paradise.

Are We In?

This was the burning question at this morning's hastily convened TGO Challengers emergency coffee break held in Funchal's main 'Mercado'.

A question mark still hovers threateningly over the three aspirants who turned up late for today's meeting.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Just One Step Back, Please

Only Mick stepped back. Sue and Gayle grabbed in vain at his slippery clothing. Luckily the long loose lace of his left plimsoll caught the wire as he fell through it, the friction grip providing an anchor for him to extricate his dangling body from the angry void.

Or should that be 'angry body from the dangling void'? I'll never make it as a writer of fiction...

It was a rainy morning in Funchal, so we decided to head for the short walk along the São Lourenço peninsula, as that may provide the best weather on the island. A taxi driver wanted €80 for the privilege of acting as chauffeur for the day. We offered €40. We bargained him down to €75. Not good enough. A short walk to Mr Hertz's Car Emporium bought us a Micrascopic motor for the day for €55 including fuel.

By the time we reached the peninsula it was still raining. But after less than a minute from departure waterproofs were removed and we enjoyed a fine if blustery 8km ramble over the lizard strewn volcanic debris that makes up this part of the island. Fine seascape views dominated, whilst low cloud engulfed the mountainous core of the island. We even continued to a fine (unnamed) summit viewpoint beyond the only house on the peninsula - Casa do Sardinha, outside which we later enjoyed lunch in a gale.

An interesting drive over a steep hill (I missed the turn for a tunnel) took us to the small town of Santana, where steep-roofed thatched houses trap tourists before they adjourn for snacks at a café that was twice the price of yesterday's snack bar on the outskirts of Funchal. M+G left their macs in the car and got soaked when, on leaving the café, Madeira's weather gods tried to inflict as many of the island's 52 known microclimates on us as it could, simultaneously.

We spent the evening gaining wide-eyed responses of incredulity as a result of interrogating hapless guests:
"Are you Bob Andrews' walking buddies?"

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

'Mine's a Coffee, Obrigado'

Despite the allure of a taxi for the day for €60 between the four of us, we chose a more traditional start to our week.

The 'town lavada' - Levada dos Piornais, has been bringing water to Funchal for 400 years. It runs about 100 metres above our hotel, so provides an interesting first day without the hassle of having to organise any transport.

Thus we spent most of the day on the increasingly narrow walkways that run beside and on top of the Piornais levada and the Levada Nova do Curral, both of which run deep into the Socorridos valley, high above its industrial floor.

I've never made it to the end of the Piornais path, and today was no exception. I baled out near a vertiginous bridge. Gayle got a bit further, and Mick and Sue made it a further 1km to a gate, beyond which the path is officially 'dangerous'.

The Curral levada narrows in a similar way, on the same hillside about 100 metres above Piornais. I bottled out on the Vereda de Santa Quiteria, but the others continued. Mick and Gayle, dressed in plimsolls, took to walking along the channel of the levada rather than risk falling off the edge.

They all turned back after a boulder detached itself from the rock face above, narrowly missing them and a German who had attached himself to the confident trio. Meanwhile, I lazed in the comfort of a wide section of path under vine trellises.

The rest of the walk passed relatively uneventfully, and with the assistance of Gayle's GPS we arrived back in daylight after a very satisfying 21km in 7 hours.

Alan, we may not make it up to Pico Ruivo as it's usually engulfed in cloud at this time of year - I did get up it on 11/11/07, if that's of any interest - the report will be one of my early postings.

Louise, time will be tight this week, and I've previously blogged about most of the places we'll visit, so please don't expect too much!

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Thorn Between Two Roses

Yes, Mick and Gayle have deserted Colin in favour of tea outside the Savoy Gardens.

Well, the tea is ours actually, imported by Sue to sustain us during the long wait for M + G to arrive. That was a mistake. Somehow their bus left the airport long after ours but still managed to overtake us. So they were here all the time - drinking beer and demolishing the chef's good work, whilst we were cooking under a hot sun on the patio.

The plan was to escape from the UK's cold November weather for a week, and it is appreciably warmer here in Funchal, despite the unseasonable warmth left behind in Timperley.

Pass the beer, Gayle!

Thursday 10 November 2011 – An Evening Stroll from The Vine

The Bridgewater Canal near Lymm

Andrew joined Sue and me at the Vine in Dunham Woodhouses for a cheap beer, before strolling down the Trans Pennine Trail and back to the Vine along the canal towpath.  We were joined in the Vine by four rather battered cyclists.  It seemed they had been involved in a multiple pile-up.  We took it that some wild driver had seen them off the road, but eventually they admitted that their leader had lost control and the others had piled into him.  It all sounded rather farcically slapstick, but they were leaking genuine red fluid and sporting considerable grazes etc.  We left them tucking into their second beers.

It was a delightfully calm, warm, November evening.  We’d have paused for an extra beer at the fine hostelry pictured above across the glassy canal, but the ferry wasn’t working, so after 9km and two hours we enjoyed the old-fashioned ambience of the Vine, again. 

The cyclists had left.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wednesday 9 November 2011 – The Lancashire Trail (Part 2) – Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor

Plodders: Martin, Reg, John, Jim, Norman, Bernard, Don and Allan

I’m afraid that time pressures call for a very short entry.  Reg has managed a more considered record of events – on this web page.

Eight stalwart Plodders assembled at Abbey Lakes for this little stroll.  It was very short for R Norman (58) on account of his having recently lost some tubes from his legs.  (Very careless!)  He deserted us in favour of an ice cream van.

A liberal dosage of mud was involved, on this fine but gloomy day.

We passed three pubs and a restaurant during our headlong rush to Coppull Moor, but thankfully Reg (our leader) relented at the end and allowed us to succumb to the pleasures of drink.

Route adjustments were needed.  Bizarrely, I was able to assist with some of these, thanks to my first edition guide book, although I’d never before walked the route, which R Norman thought he knew like the back of his hand.

Some impressive vegetables, an Armada Beacon, at which brownies were consumed, and a dessicated windmill all featured on the route, from which North Wales and the Isle of Man would have been clearly visible in finer weather.

Not that it was raining!

Here’s our route – 21km, 350 metres ascent, in a leisurely 5.5 hours.

Our route - 21km, 350 metres ascent, 5.5 hours

A hastily annotated (please excuse the poetic license) slideshow of this fun day out is here.

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