Where time stood still!

In what is rapidly becoming a depressing era in which to live, how refreshing it was to visit Havana. This escape from my real world was so magical that I wish I’d stayed longer. There was history at every corner. I was able to enjoy the city’s famous rum and cigars, and its music and dance entertainment.

Havana stole my heart!

Of course I had images of what to expect, but I hope never to have these again on all future trips as they often leave you disappointed. Havana itself didn’t disappoint; it blew my mind and it is without doubt the best city I have visited so far on my travels. It had always been a dream of mine to get there; I had heard so much about it that I was intrigued to go to experience it and prove that dreams can come true.

After visiting this capital, it is my opinion that everyone should visit Havana at least once in their lifetime, and visit it as soon as possible. I’m torn as the place needs some TLC (probably more now after the recent hurricanes that affected the area), but a huge part of me hopes that modernisation doesn’t destroy the unique beauty of this place. Time has almost stopped on this city and as the rest of the world develops and loses it soul and identity, Havana has retained its own. The spirit of the city lives on. Unlike the rest of the world nothing is fake. It is real; it lives and breathes as you admire and experience this iconic city. Havana is Havana; it doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to be something it is not and if there are other cities around the world like this then I want to see them.

As I continue to blog, you will learn that I like to walk. I experience everything that a place has to offer by foot. I reckon that I see so much more than one does on the open top bus tours. I get to experience the real city; I get lost; I stumble upon those unexpected views, unearth those gems, discover those fascinating people, plus the health and environmental benefits are incredible. The everyday hustle and bustle isn’t there, you can relax and enjoy yourself, the sound of music galvanises and entertains. The non-existence of iconic designer shops, coffee and food outlets that have proliferated so many cities around the world adds to Havana’s unique charm. Walking the streets of this famous city, I’m not having to fight with people for my piece of pavement; it is so refreshing to be ​​able to enjoy the city by foot, to look at people and see the twinkle in their eyes, the smiles on their faces as they enjoy life, everyone is polite and friendly, smiles greet you wherever you look, nobody is distracted, people mingle and enjoy each other’s company, there are no tears or sadness around.

One cannot ignore Cuba’s history or present situation, I did try to understand its fascinating history, but I feel I just scratched the surface. There is much to learn of its relationship with America and Western Europe, its revolution, the Castro family etc. The former presidential palace is now a museum (Museo de la Revolucion) and displays some evidence of Cuba’s intriguing past. It is constantly guarded by the nation’s soldiers and is worth the entrance fee. I cannot forget to mention its relationship with America – the rest of the world can’t seem to live without America – Cuba seems to have managed without one!! When I arrived the the Americans had just got their embassy, situated on the famous Malecon. I have never seen a building so well fortified, so much so that I felt a little scared as I wandered by.

The Malecon, the 8km road that stretches around the north of the city, is probably one of those ‘famous drives’. By day nothing is going on apart from some locals fishing off the sea wall’s edge as it is battered by the Atlantic. Stare out towards the sea and see nothing but ocean. The lack of boats and freight ships creates a unique sense of calm. Only one big ship making a delivery was seen in 3 days and a harbour doesn’t really exist apart from 1 or 2 boats moored in an inlet. The Malecon by night is the hub of activity as people flock to meet likeminded people in search of love and romance. What a contrast to the digital dating that now has changed our world. Sit here and enjoy some local rum and lookout almost into a black abyss.

Leave here and head towards some of its squares, each one a complete contrast to the other. Plaza de Armas, peaceful and quiet, is dominated by a local market or book sale. Plaza de la Catedral is dominated by the Catedral de San Cristobal, and the others, Plaza de San Francisco and Plaza Veija, are lively being filled with bars and restaurants. Everyone flocks to these places and enjoys companionship. One cannot ignore the Revolutionary square either though it is more than a little walk away. It is worth the visit – walk through Vedado district to get there. It is home to the Cuban government, and has various monuments to key revolutionaries with their images wired on the tall buildings almost signalling their importance to its history. I was hoping to be able to get to the top of Memorial Jose Marti but I was sadly rebuffed by soldiers.

My time here was all too brief. It should have been a longer visit, and hopefully I will return one day, or find another city that offers an escape from this so called digital world. For now, I will live in this farcical digital era, with accusations and confessions and wonder what on earth will happen next.

Havana, La Habana, Cuba

Awesome Autumn!


We have been so blessed this autumn with glorious weather. Those that haven’t been out to appreciate the display that nature affords have missed a trick. The colours of this season make it my favourite of the four seasons and when the sun makes an appearance in autumn one is compelled to grab the opportunity to get out and explore.

With this in mind I took myself out to Forde Abbey. The abbey and gardens are stunningly beautiful at this time of year and so much more impressive than the display at Stourhead, a near neighbour. I had been to both sites before but the contrast between them is marked. The crowds flock to Stourhead with its reputation of beauty, its use as a film location and it being part of a National Trust (NT) property. These benefits make it a busy, popular and well-known choice of destination especially for those with annual NT membership. Many, including myself, enter Stourhead at the presentation of their annual pass but here an opening of the wallet is required. Forde Abbey is unknown to many, privately owned, off the beaten track, in an area of the country not known for its beauty (though this should be robustly disputed) but proved to display autumn in all its glory.

After eventually navigating my way to the abbey (it had been a few years since I had been there), the approach brings the visitor in along its main drive. Either side tower trees that shield from the sun and create a natural green and orange tunnel. After parking up and buying my ticket, I wander through the kitchen gardens. It is clearly evident that it is the end of the season; there are deserted flowerbeds being prepped for the winter but there still remains an abundance of flowers and colour that makes me stop and take it in.  Even more noticeable are the unexpected bees and butterflies enjoying the delights that these flowers still have to offer and the late sun burst.

Leaving the kitchen garden, I make my way through the shaded and cold courtyard, and round to the front lawn. There is no immediate wow factor at first sight of the south face, but as you walk around and get a full view from differing angles it is truly beautiful. The dew is evident and a clear sign that autumn is truly upon us. Entering at 11am the ground was still dew sodden and the effects of the burning sun were yet to take effect. The rest of my day was spent with soaking wet trainers (need to invest in some waterproof shoes).

The gardens have been designed superbly and are in close proximity to show off the house. There are ponds and their locations provide photographers’ dreams. The reflections they create are breath taking. It is as if the house basks in the autumn sunshine. These reflections are interrupted every now and again, firstly, as the house takes a little respite as a few clouds drift in front of the sun and, secondly, from the gimmick water show in the mermaid pond. This powerful eruption of water only happens 3 times a day and lasts for 15 minutes on each occasion. This disturbs the pristine, mirrored pond and draws a small audience to watch. The ‘crowd’ disperses and allows a little opportunity to get that perfect shot.

Drag one’s self away from the main focus and walk to the upper pond (the great pond) to see there autumn in all its glorious beauty. On the way catch sight of a lonely tree, almost like a bonfire with its leaves radiant red and with the blue sky behind it only enhancing its fantastic colour. Moving on from this mesmerising tree one encounters and is bowled over by the upper pond. The setting is picture perfect from whatever angle it is viewed. The winds die, and the sense of calmness is only disturbed by the odd sound from an excited child. Reflections are a thing of beauty here, and everywhere one looks autumn is still alive for a few days yet until it dies for another year. Even the wildlife can’t disturb this calm and peaceful haven.

Finishing the walk around the grounds, one is always drawn back to that pond and its reflections. The same is true for the adjacent long pond. Captured once already you feel that it needs to be photographed again and again to get that ‘money shot’. It doesn’t look real, surreal even. No angle, no skill with the camera can do it justice. Whoever designed that house and garden should have been given enormous praise. Even now, 500 years on, it still delivers; a truly remarkable achievement.


I finally tear myself away and return to normal life, still captivated by the beauty of this fantastic garden. At £10 for entrance to the garden (entry inside the house requires another £3) first impressions are that it’s a little over-priced, but for the hours spent there and that ever-lasting image one leaves with the feeling that this was the cheapest day ever.

Chard TA20 4LU, UK

Continue reading “Awesome Autumn!”

Beautiful Bath

I don’t quite know how to go about my second blog but I decided to write about a place that seems to be capturing more of my heart every time I visit. To my way of thinking I haven’t been to a more charming, peaceful or romantic place in all of England or the world. Perhaps I ought to get out more.

I had been to Bath as a youngster but just cannot remember anything about family visits. My memory of my first visit as an adult is of being distinctly underwhelmed by any beauty that the place possessed, but, slowly, mostly as a result of time spent with those who have graced me with their company when visiting, or even when exploring on my own, I have been captivated by its (unique?) charm.

The town’s small and compact footprint is appreciated best of all by standing on one of the surrounding hills which provide a stunning backdrop to this delightful town. Alternatively, a climb to the top of the abbey gives the view from the other direction. It is, without doubt, best explored by foot, allowing one to feel the energy that flows through its streets, its wonderful squares creating a sense of calm amid the excitement popping up elsewhere, usually associated with street performers of various energies and abilities. Every square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants which are normally full, have outside seating for one to feel the buzz in a detached and inactive way. Sit back, and soak up the atmosphere as the world passes by, those pockets of excitement coming from some street entertainment, more often than not a musical player or singer.

My favourite of the many is the main square though finding a suitable place to sit is often a challenge as these popular hotspots can’t cope with the demand. Seating is provided outside, but taking a place means to rely heavily on the British weather which, as Britons often remark, is unpredictable. When the sun is shining, though, it’s great to sit back and appreciate the view of the Abbey and the atmosphere it creates. This results in it becoming the main hub of activity as people flock to admire this fantastic building and the Roman Baths which are located on the edges of this square. I sit, admire the architectural lines and wonder how these buildings were ever created; how much time went into building them; the levels of dedication and devotion required; how they have managed to stand the test of time, etc. By this I mean that some people must have spent their whole lives just building them. As we all marvel at the architecture around us we are joined by street artists and buskers, trying to earn their living from the obliging tourists. They add something very special to this electric atmosphere as these musicians are generally more talented than the wannabees you see on TV. Then there is the bird man; he captures the rats in the sky; and manages to coax them down, his targets being those people so determined to have the perfect Instagram photo.

Drag yourself away from the square and wander towards the river. It is here that the only part of Bath that disappointments – I refer to the iniquity that one is forced to pay to enter Parade Gardens – a travesty. I can’t understand the need to pay to enter, so as a matter of principle I’m left to enjoy the view from the walkway above. After appreciating the gardens on a five minute elevated walk, one follows the path around to get a first view of the famous Pulteney bridge. This iconic bridge, unique and famous just adds to the romance of the town or is it a city? When one walks across it one is blissfully unaware that there is water 15m or so below such is the abundance of shops and cafes to distract. Armed with a camera means that a different view is recorded by shifting a few metres each time and then clicking. Try to freeze the water in the photo as it cascades down the semi-circular weir or, conversely, try to capture moving water by an adjustment to the settings – what joy loaded with a single regret in that a tripod has been left at home. The bridge connects the main town to the Great Pulteney Road, a superb street packed with Georgian buildings, in a straight formation leading to the Holburn museum. The beauty of this house parade is, sadly, spoiled by the large number of cars parked on either side of the street – surely there is another way? Cars are such an important part of modern life but ruin the appearance of this historic and wonderful street.

As mentioned the Holburn Museum sits at the end of the street. Free entry is claimed by the literature although, understandably, a small donation is requested and best to pay as the frowns are palpable. Paying up front was a mistake as, sadly the museum, was wasted on me. I don’t understand art! The museum is situated in Sydney gardens, a small park with not much going for it. On walking through the park, I’m not drawn to anything else other than the fact there is a closed down and abandoned bowls club, a painful reminder of the current issues facing grass roots sport. If this country has more and more elderly people living in it and is struggling to run a bowls club, how are other sports going to survive? We have more and more older people – they can’t all be sitting at home playing computer games.

Upon leaving the park and crossing the railway line, I pick up part of the canal path – well worth the walk -giving spectacular views across the town dominated by the Abbey. Again, only as a result of visiting with someone, was I introduced to this pathway; it weaves its way around the edge of the town and furnishes brilliant views. There are many locks on this canal as it climbs out of the town through the surrounding hills, further evidence of this being a relatively modern town. I leave the path and follow the signs for Prior Park. I had high expectations for Prior Park gardens (National Trust), all the pictures I had seen had portrayed a mirror lake, rare bridge and gardens. Maybe it’s the long and steep climb to get there or the dingy lake (were those pictures photoshopped?) but I was not impressed and the walk did not seem worth it (800 metres at 1 in 10). I appreciate the work that goes in to preserve these places for us to enjoy but it appeared that green algae had troubled the efforts this year.

After completing this part, I return to the Abbey and main square. It’s here that I plan my next route which is to head towards Victoria Park via the circus. As one leaves the square and wander along the high street, I’m drawn to the alarming number of ‘to let’ signs in abandoned stores. Is it a sign of the ever-changing society in which we live? Are commercial juggernauts and the internet taking over and killing this country? How many pubs and shops cannot survive anymore due to a lack of business? One only has to walk along the high street and everyone is glued to a phone, blissfully ignorant of all the beauty around them, whether it be people, shops, pubs, etc. The ability to only communicate through a phone deprives many of the beauty of both people and places that surround us as we live in a cyber world.

The high street is short enough that I don’t have to worry about it for too long before arriving at ‘the Circus’. Not formed in a square, this circular masterpiece is a gem. Houses surround a circular middle green all looking at each other like numbers on a clock face. Cars are the only caveat. Removing myself away from this circular wonder and making the final walk to Royal Victoria

Park, I am fascinated by the view of the ‘most majestic street in the UK’, the Royal Crescent. It is hard not to argue with this statement. This is the masterpiece of the younger of the John Wood architects that had such a influence on this town’s design. Sit on the green and marvel at the view in front of you and let your mind wander through yesteryear (ignore the cars).

In my opinion no visit to Bath is complete without some time spent in Alexander park, a free beauty spot which is known to the locals but not to many outsiders. It provides exquisite views of the town. I would recommend driving up to it, but walking up would be worth the not inconsiderable effort.

Perhaps its location has meant that no one has wanted to fight over it and why it has become a place for relaxation and pleasure seeking. All that is needed is for folks to wrench themselves from their phones to lift eyes, move their legs and see what is around them.


The Unexpected Bodmin Moor

This had never crossed my mind, but someone suggested that I blog about my travels / adventures. I’m little scared of this as my writing may not be of the greatest standard but I’ve decided to take the plunge.

With that in mind I was invited on holiday this past week down to beautiful East Cornwall. When I was told where I would be staying, this didn’t make my heart purr with enthusiasm. It gave me an opportunity to explore a part of my country that in my memory I had never visited. I do have memories of parts of Cornwall most recently when cycling across it as part of my Lands’ End to John O’Groats tour. I cycled across Bodmin moor on the A30. After driving this road, my heart skips a beat at how mad a thing that was. It also highlighted to me that, although I cycled through the heart of the moor, I hadn’t explored it.

On my first proper day there, I ventured nowhere near it, but took a local train down to the coast to enjoy the rare and record breaking bank holiday sunshine. My destination was Looe, a beautiful fishing town on the Cornish coast, could be described as being a typical Cornwall destination. As beautiful as this town was, bathed in sunshine and with crowds flocking to it, it had sadly lost its charm. Standing on the edge of the harbour looking back up into the town you had the beauty on one side, picturesque houses overlooking the town and down to the sea and river, but the other side of the river a commercial hub of activity that wasn’t appealing. Tourist shops overflow onto the pavements as visitors cram to get their essentials for a day at the beach, blissfully unaware of the beauty that is around them. Coming away from the Hustle and Bustle there were some beautiful narrow, winding streets, where it was lovely to walk through as you were it was great to escape knowing that you walk without getting mowed down by a car and avoid the crowds. I may have a different opinion of this town on a cooler day but, sadly, on a hot bank holiday Monday with a very hot and bothered dog I was glad to leave.

The next few days were by far my favourite; these were spent exploring Bodmin Moor. This isn’t a national Park and didn’t raise any alarm bells as a place that I must visit, but after closer inspection was stunning and that at moments took my breath away. Maybe a challenge for next year is to read an OS map so that I can plan a few more walks. Sadly, and it pains me to say it, I was left in the hands of google search and the results it delivered which were spectacular. I had a day dodging the intermittent

showers to walk the dog up Stowe’s Hill. The views from the top of this hill showed an unspoilt wilderness, stones and rocks almost camouflaged by an abundance of heather and accompanied by a lonely tree every now and again. The backdrop to this wild haven was the noticeable bits of its history dotted around.  You could actually see the history before your eyes, from the beginning of time and the ancient stones circles, to the ruins of mills used during past industrial years, but the evidence of modern industry with quarries (some of them disused) and local farm life. At the summit of the hill is “Cheesewring”, a towering formation of large rocks balanced on top of each other to provide the perfect view point. Not great with heights and with the wind blowing forcibly I managed to climb these rocks to truly appreciate the view. On returning down the hill, it was a fitting reward to indulge in a Cornish cream tea in the small village of Minions. Well deserved, and thoroughly enjoyed-did have to check with the waiter what was the correct way to eat the cream tea. He ensured us that the Cornwall way, was to spread the jam on the scone and cover this with an unhealthy helping of clotted cream.

The next day I was greeted by unexpected sunshine, going against what the weatherman had forecasted. I was not going to waste the opportunity and navigated my way to Golitha Falls. It was a pleasant surprise and great pleasure that all this was free. This put an extra spring in the step as I set off with the dog. He was in Heaven, spending a day jumping in and out of water and as for me it was likewise though I wasn’t swimming in the waterfall. As we set out the path started off naturally following the river bed, but as we got deeper into the falls it became apparent that this wasn’t going to last and that we had to make our own path. This just built up a truly wonderful experience, climbing rocks, trees, doing my best not to slip or fall over in pursuit of those perfect pictures of flowing water. It was amazing to get close and personal with this natural flow of water. Sadly, with so many waterfalls that I have visited in this country, health and safety has got involved or the opportunity to make money from it deters you from experiencing the true emotion.

The next day was an unpredictable English summer’s day which they promised to be dry in the north of the county and wet everywhere else. The best part of the day was first thing, so got the dog out and headed back to Minions to try and get a better shot of the stone circles and to allow Rolo to run around for as long as possible in the dry. For the rest of the day, I drove through the moors in search of some other ‘dry’ activities to occupy us. This lead me to find the Trevethy Quoit, Dozmary Pool, the village of St Neot, Jamaica Inn and we ended up in Bodmin. One felt the need to visit Bodmin after enjoying the beauty of Bodmin moor.

On arriving in Bodmin and being deterred by roadworks, the signs all pointed to the steam railway line. Another part of this country’s past has become a real attraction to these lands as old lines and engines are restored to give you a feel of what transport used to be like. I planned to enjoy an open-air theatre showing of Macbeth in the evening and relive some of my youth. Sadly, I never made it due to persistent rainfall.

My final day of this week, was blessed with wonderful sunshine which was surprising as we were now in the first day of autumn. I took the car, dog, camera and picnic and went off on an exploratory drive along the coast. We followed the railway line used on Monday from Liskeard down to Looe, crossed the river and climbed out of there towards Talland Bay. This was a wonderful discovery because I had followed the signs for an abbey, which on the outside proved to be disappointing. Spent an hour walking up the cliffs out of Talland bay to get a stunning view of the Cornish coastline. The picture here doesn’t do the view justice; turquoise waters; almost felt like you were in a foreign country and not England. Left here and headed towards a ferry route that was going to take me to Fowey. This was a stunning find. Immediately after the river crossing and disembarking the ferry I found a car park. Paid up, Rolo on a lead and camera in the other hand I explored, the narrow winding streets of Fowey. This was a beautiful Cornish town located on the river. I would compare it to Dartmouth in Devon, just lacking the steam train coming past every now and again. After a whistle stop tour, back to the car, and onwards towards Charlestown. On the way stopped at the top a hill to get fantastic views of the St Austell Bay and beaches whilst hoovering up a well-earned picnic. My final stop took me to Charlestown, a historic Georgian port. Beautifully maintained, although a sense of commercialism appears to be taking over. Moored in the harbour were a couple of tall ships, maybe recognisable from some TV shows. The dog didn’t appreciate the harbour as much as I did, so off we went in pursuit of some dog friendly water for him to enjoy. This gave me the fantastic view of the harbour looking down from the hill we climbed.

Any place on earth is worth exploring. This beauty, although not on my door step, was an unexpected pleasure. Cornwall is always a fantastic place if the English weather is kind to you. I managed to make the most of what weather was dealt to me. It was with a little sadness that I left to return to the daily grind. What it has done is made me appreciate more the country in which I live, and how much of it there is to explore. As someone very wisely said to me, you could spend a year’s travelling in this country and not see it all. The challenge is to ensure that I don’t leave it another year before exploring part of my country again.

Bodmin PL30 4HN, UK