A snapshot of northern Crete – June 2019

In the words of Frank Sinatra “It’s nice to go trav’ling but its so much nicer, yes it’s so much nicer to come home”.

I was on a belated holiday in Crete with Titan, having had to cancel my planned journey to hopefully see the northern lights in February due to having to have what now appears to be an unnecessary operation.

I was looking forward to a rest after an exhausting six months or so. I knew it would be hot, but I was not expecting it to be so hot, or having to walk 1/4 mile to and from breakfast / reception several times a day and climb numerous steps. Yes, I know, I could have used the lifts, but you know me!  I was staying at the Royal Aldemar Mare at Hernosissos. It is a huge complex, with umpteen swimming pools, public and private; several restaurants where you can gorge yourself to death on the sumptuous foods. I particularly enjoyed the Greek salads, but there was a huge variety of hot and cold foods, some traditional Greek, others catering for a wide range of nationalities. The hotel is a marble palace and has a very attractive entrance. The bedrooms are ample, and we were greeted with a full welcoming basket of fruit, water and wine. So, all good.

The holiday was a mix of excursions and rest, and there was plenty of free time. Our guide, Maria, was a fount of information, and we learned a lot about the history and mythology of the region. We visited a nunnery on the way to the Dikti caves, Unfortunately, as with many of these tourist attractions, people are buzzing around everywhere and it is hard to get photos without tourists in them! The view from the nunnery was outstanding, although it was quite hazy the day we were there.

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Oldest part of the nunnery
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Nunnery Church
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Courtyard of Nunnery
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Nunnery museum
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View from nunnery

Just beyond the nunnery in the Lasithi plateau at Psychros is Zeus’s cave (Dikti) complete with numerous stalactites and stalagmites, and the mythological story of how Zeus ate his children to stop them overpowering his authority (the Greek equivalent of the Roman Saturn). This was quite a climb up a steady path in the soaring heat, which proved too much for many. This was followed by the descent into the cave below down and up 200 easy but occasionally slippery and wet steps, but in truth this was easier than the initial climb up to the entrance of the cave.

Heraklion, the capital of the island, is quite a nice place. The quaint and narrow streets are fun to walk around and there are a few interesting things to see. On my day off I walked the Venetian Walls of Heraklion, saw the Bello fountain, a 13th Century Byzantine church now converted to accommodation, the interesting St Matthew’s church and various statues; perhaps my favourite place there was the Venetian Fortress which has recently been renovated and now houses a fine museum, containing enormous  canons and canon balls amongst other things. I also visited the Natural History museum with the aim of finding out more about the geology of the island, only they were more interested in life size dinosaurs and earthquakes. There was a section of live animals, mostly snakes, lizards and frogs too.

The photos above show the city walls of Heraklion and the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, who was born in Heraklion in 1885. He wrote Zorba the Greek and more infamously also wrote the Last Temptation of Christ, which describes Jesus as having conflicts between his religious duties and desire for human life and love. This caused his downfall and excommunication and he was not able to be buried in a cemetery inside the city walls; instead his grave lies in the Tower of Martinengo on the walls themselves and bears a wooden cross. The inscription reads: I hope for nothing; I fear for nothing; I am free”.

In the photo top right, you can see that the walls have an inner sanctum. I don’t know the original purpose of these, but this one has been transformed into an outdoor theatre. Another photo appear to show spiky seed heads of a flower on a stalk. This is far from what it actually is, which is many white garden snails glued to the flower stem. I found these all over the vegetation on the top of the walls along with the ubiquitous painted lady butterflies.

One of the most interesting ancient monuments I have ever visited was the Minoan Palace of Knossos just outside Heraklion. This was far larger than I was expecting and has been extensively excavated and is very well maintained. Our tour guide was simply outstanding on this trip and her enthusiasm gripped us all. Being informed of the history really helped to bring this alive. The area was first occupied in 7000BC but the Minoans developed this site much later than this in the Bronze age around 2000BC before it was abandoned somewhere between 1300 and 1100 BC. It has been described as Europe’s oldest city.

One of the main archaeologists who uncovered most of the finds was Arthur Evans in the early 20th century. The photos above show the original courtyard; the round stone supported the tree trunks that formed the pillars of the Minoan palace – these of course, have decayed. There is a lot of rebuilding and renovation but it does not detract from its appeal. Some of the stone pots on display were massive, easily 5 ft tall. Imagine the skills needed to create these pots and the power required to move them. They have handles top and bottom through which rope was strung to enable them to be rolled, though I suspect they were placed on carts to get them to their original  and final destinations. The Palace was highly decorated with frescos; the original frescos are in the Archaelogical Museum in Herklion (well worth a visit). It is also the site for the tale of the labyrinth and Theseus of minotaur fame.

We also visited the very pretty Chania on the north western edge of Crete, but this was so so busy and hot I couldn’t bear it. We started walking through an indoor market – need I say more?

I walked around the Turkish section and the Venetian section but was not overly enamoured by this town, though on reflection I did see some nice sights. On balance I preferred Rethymnon about an hour away from Chania. This was quieter with less of an ego than Chania 🙂 Here they have upgraded the traditional donkey ride to horse and cart. We were lucky to be invited to see how filo pastry is made, apparently the best in Greece.

And finally, Spinalonga, a former leper colony now made famous by Victoria Hislops’ novel “The Island”. It does in fact have a longer history than this, due to its strategic location guarding the entrance to the bay of Elounda. I suspect most of us enjoyed this  because of the very refreshing boat ride on a small private boat, with the light wind gusting around us providing relief from the incessant heat 🙂 It was heaving with people and this tiny island could barely cope with the influx of visitors. The photo lower left shows the building where the lepers lived.

The images below are mostly of Agios Nikolaus. The two with mountains as their backdrop are Elounda. The lake is at Agios Nikolaus; it was previously separated from the sea, but it has now been made into a small marina mostly for the local fisherman to leave their boats in safety. This was a small and calm town closer to Heraklion than Elounda.  On the edge of the harbour and located within a huge car park (!) is the bronze sculpture of the bull with Europa on his back. The sculpture designed by Nikos Koundouros and created by Nikos and Pantelis Sotiriades, tells the story of how Zeus, in love with the princess he called Europa, changed into a white bull; she jumped onto his back playfully but he whisked her away to Crete despite her tears 😦 .  They are said to have landed at Matala on the southern coast (where there are sandstone caves, the entrances now lifted high by the rising earth), where the bull became human form, resulting in 3 children with Europa called Minos, Rhadamantus and Sarpida.

Elounda it is a very expensive area, not surprising given how beautiful the area is.

Back at the hotel, it has its own private beach, and it was wonderful to sit out there in the dying sun with the waves lapping against the sandy gravelly beach. There are sandy beaches further down, but it is not a wide expanse of beach,  but enough to dip your toes into if you want to, or swim if you like that sort of thing. I met some lovely people and the other guests at my hotel made me very welcome. Even so, I am glad to be back to the peacefulness and cool airs of the lovely Ellan Vannin, my home.

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Ballasalla to Crosby (almost): 9.3 miles, 597 ft ascent

What to do during TT (other than watch the racing)? Walk some of the Millenium Way of course.  At a risk of putting some of you off attempting it, the southern section is a mix of some lovely scenery, as in Silverdale Glen and some super views to the south, but a lot of road walking and, as it has been raining a lot in the last 10 days, muddy footpaths.

I met up with a friend who I had met when I hosted the Facebook U3A walking page for the Isle of Man, and we boarded the number 12a bus at Port Erin railway station which took us to Ballasalla for the start of our walk. From here, we walked down to the Ford, where a biker walked into the water, stood in the middle for a second or two, then retraced his steps to the other side! Strange…

DSC00574We followed the lovely Silverdale river past the Monk’s Bridge (above) up to the boating lake where we had a short break, then continued past the old waterworks – or more correctly, the now defunct spring water factory to the main Ballamodha Road.

This is the first stretch of road walking,  which in itself is not unattractive – it affords great views of South Barrule – but the road was relatively busy by Isle of Man standards.

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We were quite relieved when after a mile or so, we turned off the road onto the footpath, that would eventually take us to St. Marks. At one point, we went through a farm yard where a friendly dog kept yapping at us to the consternation of its owner. At the far end of the farm was a sign pinned to a barn, saying in no uncertain terms that persons should “shut and fasten the gate, or be liable to a fine of forty shillings”. We duly shut the gate, not having forty shillings on us, and continued on the path, which appeared to peter out shortly afterwards. We continued northwards across a field, before I thought this was wrong route and we retraced our steps to find a very clear sign pointing across a different field, which we had missed completely because of the angle of the sign on approaching it. Here started the mud, and many gates that were only fit for very skinny people and not people with rucksacks. The grass was long and wet which helpfully cleaned our boots intermittently. As we went over a shrubby stream, Ros saw a frog. At various points on our walk we saw a small copper butterfly, a female common blue butterfly and a number of dead birds! As we approached Crosby we did see a bird of prey but could not identify it.

On, over the grassy meadows and reedbeds, we finally reached St. Marks where we had lunch and visited the absolutely delightful church; simple and unassuming, warm and welcoming. You can even help yourself to tea and coffee, but as we had brought ample supplies for ourselves, we did not partake.

From here it was more road walking, but this time on quieter roads that barely see traffic, but do bring with them views to the north and the valley in between.  This walk makes one aware of what a watery place the Isle of Man is, with streams at the end of every few fields. There is no doubt that even walking along roads makes you aware of the local scenery in a way you wouldn’t otherwise see it.

 

DSC00611As we came closer to Crosby we could hear the buzz of the motor bikes and saw what we thought was a TV helicopter following the racing. On this stretch of road, Ros found an abandoned egg shell. It was almost the size of a hen’s egg, was buff coloured and very slightly speckled, as you can see in the photograph. If anyone can identify this, please add a comment to this blog.

Unfortunately, I have had a problem with my Achilles tendon for the last month – I know, nothing stops me walking until I am forced to face the problem – and as we reached Marown old church, where we were due to turn right to go to Glen Vine, I was forced to take a break. At the same time, who should come out of the church but a friend from choir who happens to live just down the road from me! What a happy coincidence. Ros and I had a half second discussion and decided we should ask if he was going back to Port Erin. And, of course, he was. My poor ankle was so very grateful. We had been intending to walk another 4-5 miles along the railway track back to Douglas, but my foot clearly thought otherwise. Someone up there was obviously watching over me today, as I can be my own worst enemy.

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This opportune event allowed said friend and I to catch up and Ros and I passed a very pleasant 20 minutes sitting comfortably in his car listening to stories and finding out what is happening elsewhere. He dropped us off at our respective houses and continued on his way to Shoprite. And I, for once, did as I was told and bathed by ankle in ice cold water. So, probably no more walks for a bit – sad face – and a holiday in Crete – happy face – but I do have a short but interesting walk to write up from walking around and inside the cliffs of Port Erin this last week, so another blog to follow shortly.

Nature Walk including Colby and Glen Chass – 5.65 miles, 432 ft of ascent

I make no apologies for describing today’s walk as a nature ramble. That was what I set out to do. I haven’t visited my haven so far this year and the orange tips won’t be around much longer. I always draw such warmth from my hidden nature reserve – hidden to all but locals walking their dogs, walkers and children escaping from their parents. It is not shown on a map and as far as I know, it doesn’t have a name – and long may it stay that way and let nature run wild.

I took the bus to Colby, then took the path beside the Colby river. There is so much to see in this first third of a mile. They were butterflies flitting, but above all numerous wild flowers abutting the water course, oblivious to the fact that there are houses on the other side of the river.

 

Above: The start of the walk from Colby.

Below: Nature in all its glory in the first mile of the walk

 

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Crossing the railway line, I interrupted the sheep’s pleasure and seemed to cause some dismay as a few of them started coughing violently. This is pasture land where sheep share the territory with birds rather than wild flowers. I soon cross back over the river and enter into my little paradise. It isn’t much to look at, but if you listen you can hear the birds chirping to each other trees, and if you stop and stare, you can watch the butterflies chattering with their companion as they move incessantly on the path. The plants in flower offer their shade and their nectar to the local inhabitants and everything is in harmony.

Passing out of the nature reserve I make my way along the road to the Shore Inn. I debated with myself whether to stop and have a cider but decided against it, and instead I sat on the beach, drank my water and ate an odd selection of banana, raw carrot, cucumber and a very small chocolate bar. The birds surrounding me were mainly herring gulls and blackbacked gulls, with a few oystercatchers at the sea edge and a solitary shag perched on a rock. The tide is way out, further than I have ever seen it. It is almost that time of year when the intrepid venture out into Douglas Bay and slip and slide their way to the Tower of Refuge.

I walked around the coast to Port St Mary, along the Underway and out towards the outer harbour before turning westwards towards Fistard. Here I had a choice of direction and not having walked along Glenn Chass stream since I moved here five years ago, I took this route uphill. It didn’t disappoint. The bluebells are still out and are vibrant dark blue. There are still smattering of wild garlic too. As that conjures smells, I am reminded that as I went round Gansey Point. the meadowsweet was in full bloom and the scent was quite overpowering.

Above: The meadowsweet at Gansey Point; the extended beach at Chapel Bay; different types of footprints;  stranded boats at Port St. Mary.

From Glen Chass I followed one of the higher paths across meadows back towards Port Erin. I am particularly pleased with the photograph I took of the Milner Tower on Bradda Head standing on top of a stile just before I descended down the Golden Road, which right now is blue from head to toe.

The final stretch: photos of the gorgeous Glenn Chass,

and home…. altogether, I saw at least 5 of our 19 species of butterfly: red admiral, wall brown, green-veined white, orange tip and speckled wood.

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A most enjoyable three hours. My next walk is planned for Sunday or Monday, when I hope to walk from Douglas to Castletown.

 

 

Catching Up – 15th May 2019

I may not have added to my blog lately, but I have been out walking. A couple of weeks ago I walked from Port Erin, along the coast to Fleshwick, up and over the Carnanes and then back via Sulby. It was a glorious walk but I have been struggling to upload my photos, and as any regular reader of my blogs will know my iphone consistently runs out of battery when I am out walking, so that walk is not recorded here. 😦

I have finally bought a camera, the Sony RX100 M3, and I have been out and about trying to figure out how to take photos with it. Initially, my photos were huge files but I think I have overcome that. Now, I am trying to work out how to get the exposure right and the colour of nearby objects.

On Saturday, I went along to Marine Drive in Douglas – these were the extra big files, but I have found a way to reduce them, thankfully, so I can include some here.

Yesterday, I pottered down to the bay, trying out the zoom lens and the amended file size. Perhaps a slight improvement. In the evening, I was lucky enough to spot a large white butterfly on my apple tree, which had presumably just emerged from its chrysalis as it stayed there for a good few hours sunning itself in the warm evening sun. Apparently, when they first emerge, butterflies are unable to fly as their bodies dry out to become strong enough to make their initial flight. It had gone by the time I got up this morning.

On my outing on Saturday I had met a traveller from England who was visiting the island for the first time and we arranged to meet up for a walk before he returned to England. So today, we walked from Derbyhaven, along the coast, contouring around the west side of the golf course up to Langness, passing by Dreswick Point and ‘Jeremy Clarkson’s lighthouse’, past the Herring Tower, veering round the eastern edge of the golf course to drop in for a cup of tea at No. 19. My guest very politely waited at various junctures on the route whilst I took more photographs. It was very pleasant showing the island to a stranger, who also turned out to be a very nice companion for afternoon.

The wild flowers were spectacular, as were the highland cattle. I was not quite so successful at capturing the birds. I did think the knots? looked rather good hustled together on the rock but my photo does not do them or the heron justice. I shall keep practising!

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Ps. The birds on the rocks may be sanderlings or plovers, but definitely not knots which have a red underside. Shame I couldn’t see them better.

Anyone for a swim? Tuesday 5th March 2019

It is rare the see old swimming pool at Port Erin brim full of sea water, and how much pleasanter it is when we can’t see all the debris and mess on the bottom. I was only out for a short walk today to post a parcel, but the weather was so lovely I could not resist a walk around the cliffs towards Bradda Head in my lunch break.

It was high tide and there was a stiff breeze blowing, which meant the white horses were skipping over the rocks, pushing them backwards and forwards and grinding them down. It was quite noisy down at the bay where I sat for some 20 mins just watching and listening. I adore high tide and often plans my walks around the tide table!

There is little to add verbally to this post. These walks are about views and not words, about experiences rather than in depth analysis. In many ways, the fewer words the better. So, I shall leave you to enjoy the views, while I get back to writing sample questions and answers for the new GCSE Psychology course.

Mad Dogs and English(wo)men – Saturday 2nd March 2019

… go out in the mid-day mist, wind and rain for fun. Apologies to Noel Coward for adulterating his song, not that he refers to the Manx in his ditty so perhaps he just assumed anyone living on this island is only very slightly barmy. Unsurprisingly, I saw no walkers on this 6 mile walk, not even the intrepid dog walkers who generally stop for nothing and no-one. I was initially protected from the south westerly gales that would eventually batter me as I skirted around Meayll Hill and Cregneash towards the Chasms by happening be on the lea side of the hill. Once I hit the tops, I knew about it. It was hard to stand up at all at times and the persistent winds seemed to be trying to push me back the way I had come.

But, not to be outdone, I carried on quite aware that other options seemed much more enticing, like catching the bus back to Port Erin, but that would signify failure and being boring, and where was the fun in that? Then the rains came. It was just possible to make out the Calf of Man and to see the white horses galloping over the waves at the foot of the cliffs.  It was pretty pointless really, but there is still joy to be had in these extremes of weather and some pleasure in being the only idiot anywhere to be seen.

I sat in the old ‘Cafe’ at the Chasms, ate my banana, and contemplated how well I am feeling. Quite remarkable only five days after an operation and having had next to no sleep last night, but I was very happy watching the driving rain from my temporary place of safety and wondering where to go next.

As I descended toward the Sugar Loaf, the rains subsided, so I followed the lower route to Port St Mary, passing by Glenn Chass before encountering the wrath of the winds again on the southern section of coastline going towards the harbour. Turning northwards through the village, everything became calm and dull. I walked along the main street in PSM, then followed the main roads back to Port Erin, with only one thing on my mind – a nice cup of coffee and home made egg custard tart at the Whistlestop, the cafe next to the railway station.

If you were to follow this route, starting at the railway station – follow the main road up to the Methodist church and then turn right into Drogadfayle Road. Follow this over the railway line and continue up the hill, round the dog leg bend and you will immediately see the footpath going up the hill (about 1/2 mile from the station). This footpath is colloquially known as the Golden Road. When you look at the photos you will see why.

The quality of the photos is somewhat lacking due to the weather and it being impossible to stand still most of the time, but this is what is was like – just wonderful 🙂

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2019-03-02 Circular route

Onwards and upwards – Friday 1st March 2019

It seems fitting that it is the first day of Spring, and that this is my first 10,000 steps for some time. Health issues, deaths and funerals have made their mark over the last five months, and quite frankly I am glad to see the back of them. Monday was D day when I had the left lobe of my thyroid and parathyroid glands removed, and that surgery was the easiest and almost the most pain-free day I have had for a long time as my leg pain was also blunted by the anaesthetic – and indeed, this remain the case several days after, bizarrely.  So, I am feeling most optimistic and looking forward to getting out treading the paths as I love to do, breathing the air and looking up towards the sky and out towards the horizon.

Today, my friend and I decided to visit Close Leece Farm Shop and Cafe, which has just opened between Patrick and St Johns. This cafe / farm only stocks local produce and we were keen to try out their menu. We had scrambled eggs with chives and creme fraiche, and I had smoked salmon with mine (sourced from Port St Mary). It was all delicious… but not cheap. Mine was £10.50 and the coffee is very expensive, £2.75 for a fairly small cup with no free refills. The location is very attractive, an old stone barn with a log burning fire. There is a shop stocking all the produce that they cook, and more. The cafe is at the back and there is room to sit outside. The atmosphere was slightly spoiled by canned music playing inside and out. We commented to the staff that it would more appropriate to play Manx music, and I wouldn’t want music playing outside at any time, especially in such lovely surroundings.

After this, Janet and I decided to stretch our legs and we had a wander around Peel, first of all going around the outside of the castle, along the prom and then into Peel itself. We tucked into a number of antique shops and browsed our way around the quaint streets before returning back to the car at Fenella beach.

This evening, I took myself down to the beach at Port Erin. I am not quite sure what they are doing with the sand. It was dark and raining as I walked towards the sea, and I kept tripping over ridges of sand made with what looked like caterpillar tracks. I shall have another look tomorrow to see what they are up to.

So, stitches come out on Monday and I get my histology report towards the end of the week with any luck, and hopefully then we can draw a line under that, and if not, we just carry on and deal with whatever life throws at me. I am getting used to it. Whatever, my plan is to get out walking between 5-10 miles at least twice a week now, so there should be more updates to this blog from now on, and more photos to inspire you to visit this wonderful island, or if you live here, to get out and enjoy it 🙂

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