Sunday 5 December 2010

Nice evening ring at Church Lench

Some days nothing seems to go right . . . luckily this is to some extent balanced out by days when things go swimmingly! Last Saturday was one of those good days when I had a really enjoyable and successful evening ringing with the Four Shires Guild at the Church of All Saints, Church Lench. The weather was bad with freezing fog which may explain why only 9 ringers turned out. I rang pretty much my entire repertoire of methods including touches of  Plain Bob Doubles and Plain Bob Minor but also managed a touch of Stedman Doubles and rang the treble for Cambridge. The only method missing from my limited repertoire was Grandsire. I then ventured into new territory ringing the treble for Original Minor and the Tenor for All Saints (rung in recognition that the church is All Saints).

I have rung here a couple of times before but this occasion was certainly my most enjoyable one. The bells are not the easiest ones that I have rung and there is quite a few odd noises from up above when ringing several of the bells.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Barcelona - what makes a difference

I have just returned from a long weekend in Barcelona. Both my wife and I have been before but not together and it seemed like a nice destination for an bit of Autumn sunshine. The trouble is I'm not a fan of crowds and the main tourist areas of Barcelona are heaving!

Las Ramblas is a popular part of the City but in the main streets and squares you can hardly move. There are some quieter squares where you could manage to swing a small cat and some obscure alleys that have some small and reasonably priced cafè and bars. The city beaches were very good though I imagine that they too would be busy in the summer months.

photo of Sagrada Família On my previous visit to Barcelona I only saw Sagrada Família from the outside and was not impressed. I was prevailed upon to visit again and we had to queue for ages to gain entrance. Ok, I have to admit that the queueing was worth it, the inside is spectacular! The inside was very busy getting ready for a consecration service to be performed by Pope Benedict XVI on 7th November. photo of Transverse Nave
It is hard to believe that the outside and inside of Sagrada Família were designed by the same person, i.e. Antoni Gaudí. While the outside looks like it has been fashioned by toddlers playing with mud, the inside is a beautiful forest of supporting columns that branch like trees supporting the roof, elegant spiral staircases and stained glass.

Since I am averse to crowds, particularly crowds of tourists, we stayed at NH Cóndor on Via Augusta, just a couple of km walk, or a short bus ride, from Plaza Catalunya. There were several small establishments nearby for variety at breakfast or an evening meal and all but one were good. One of the rudest waiters it has ever been my misfortune to encounter worked at Tris Tras on the corner of Plaça Molina. However, to balance the scales, we had superb service a little farther along Via Augusta at Bar Maria Castaña.

We ventured a bit father inland and visited Monestir de Pedralbes which was founded by Queen Elisenda de Montcada in 1327 and occupied by Poor Clare Sisters. It is set in the hills overlooking Barcelona and the sea and since 1983 it has been a museum open to the public. It is a nice peaceful place but not as big as I had anticipated, it mostly consists of the three storied cloisters surrounding the garden, part of which is given over to medicinal plants. The Church of Pedralbes adjoins the Monastery but a service was in progress when we arrived and it was closed when we left so no idea what it is like inside.

We had left a trip to the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres until Monday in the event of inclement weather, unfortunately it is closed on Mondays, fortunately we learned this before taking the two hour trip.

entrance to  Casa Museu Gaudí So for our final point of call we visited Park Güell, another Gaudí related place in the hills of the Gràcia district above Barcelona. The park entrance is flanked by two Disneyesque buildings which opens on to the Monumental Core, an ornate structure that was crowded with people. I have come to the conclusion that I do not like most of Gaudi's work!
We enjoyed exploring the more peaceful wooded hills that form the bulk of Park Güell. In the hills we visited the Casa Museu Gaudí, which was the home of Antoni Gaudí, it is not very big and not a terribly good museum.

I know that when it comes to some aspects of culture I am a bit of a Philistine but I still enjoyed my trip to Barcelona and the inside of the Sagrada Família left me with the view that Antoni Gaudí isn't a complete waste of time.

photos . . .

Saturday 8 May 2010

Last days in Ecuador

We leave the rainforest and head West back over the Andes to our last stop in Ecuador at the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca. We stay at La Posada del Angel, a really nice colonial house in the the historic center of the city which is itself a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Cuenca is a large city but the historical centre where we spent our time is very pleasant. The local food was good, as was the beer. We visited one of the establishments that make and sell Panama hats. The process is interesting as is the huge variety of styles. I didn't feel any urge to buy one but the girls amongst us couldn't resist and bought quite different but equally attractive hats.

From Cuenca we head for Huaquillas where we are to cross the border into Peru. The scenery changes constantly as we work our way down towards the lowlands. Everywhere there are bananas, in the mountains there a lots of unusual varieties grown by subsistence farmers but the lowlands seem to be covered with banana plantations, mostly operated by familiar global brands such as Del Monte. The stalk which forms the fruit is covered in a plastic bag to protect the developing bananas from predators, which looks odd from a distance until you realise what it is.

Getting through the border is a simple enough process and we are done in under an hour.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Amazon rainforest - II

After a couple of days we leave Shangrila and head back up into the mountains for a short 4 hour drive to Pequeño Paraíso where we will be camping for a couple of nights. They do not call this a rainforest for no reason, it rains a lot. We arrived in a downpour and put our tents up under a cover!

Pequeño Paraíso
camping under cover!
The first evening that we were there our host cooked a great BBQ which we shared with another group who were also staying there and now that everyone was recovered it was time for more drinking games. Some of the other group joined us and new games were undertaken. A really good night's fun!

When we had arrived we'd spent some time signing liability disclaimers for the various activities we planed to undertake as well as to cover the fact that we were close to Tungurahua Volcano which is active and the FCO advise against travel to the surrounding areas of the Tungurahua volcano.

As it turned out most of the disclaimers were not required since on the first morning almost everyone was ill with Diarrohea the effects of which were compounded by a hangover. Only 3 of us were well and that was not enough for the canyoning we had planned on.
Pailon del Diablo
El Pailon del Diablo

Dave and I decide to walk to Rio Verde and take a look at El Pailon del Diablo waterfall. We got soaked and our canyoning experience prepared us for the crawl through a low passage that was necessary to get to the top. In the afternoon Brendon and Rebecca were up to a bus trip into Baños where we lazed around in the sun at a restaurant drinking beer. The bus trip back was very crowded and the bus driver was a complete lunatic, i.e. like pretty much all the local bus drivers, I do not think that Brendon will ever travel on a bus again!

In the evening traveled back to Baños to visit the hot spring that is the reason for the town's eponymous name. There were two hot baths and not knowing the system I made the mistake of entering the hottest one first, the first was very hot! The shower to cool off came straight off the mountain and was very cold!

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Amazon rainforest - I

Cabañas Shangrila
After 7 hours of driving, most of that time in rain, we climbed the Andes to an altitude of 4100m before descending on the east side to a mere 550m above sea level and arrived at our lodge, Shangrila, overlooking the Amazon rainforest and 100m above the Rio Anzu, a tributary of the River Napo that is itself a tributary of the River Amazon.

On our first evening a local guides takes us on a walk into the rainforest to learn a little about it at first hand. We didn't see much in the way of fauna but lots of interesting examples of flora. As it was getting dark we arrived at the canyon that we were to spend the next hour climbing. The only canyoning I had come across before was going down, this time we were to climb up. About half of us had head torches, a couple had hand torches and a couple no torch of any description. In practice there were only a couple of tricky places but that is a statement in hindsight. We all got very wet and very dirty as we squeezed, and in place it really was a squeeze, our way upwards. It was quite an introduction to the rainforest!

There were several activities that could be undertaken in our days at Shangrila including more canyoning, floating down the river and a visit down the River Napo to the amaZOOnico animal sanctuary. The sanctuary took in native birds and animals that were either injured or had been pets. A quarter of the animals die, a quarter are returned to the wild and the remaining half live out their lives in large cages in the rainforest. A german student volunteer was our guide but we were also accompanied by a bird that thought it was a human.

Some group bonding took place back at the lodge over dinner which was followed by some drinking games. I've no particular desire to be drunk ever again so stuck to drinking beer but the consumption of rum and some unidentified drinks found on the truck left some folks feeling a little the worse for wear. On the plus side we did get to know more about each other :-)

Wednesday 28 April 2010


balanced egg
I'm still a little sore as we leave Quito but I am glad to be out of the city. We are headed North towards Otavalo but stop for a while at the Mitad del Mundo and get to hear about the peculiarities associated with being on the equator, we also have a go at balancing an egg on a nail.

I feel that is the real start to our trip, nine of us will be travelling together for three weeks until we get to Lima, Peru. We have two nights at the small Hostal Rincon Del Viajero in Otavalo which is a couple of hours drive North of Quito. This is our first view of the scenery in Ecuador and the drive up takes us through some great sights. Otavalo's claim to fame appears to be it's market, especially for the textiles.

We have one full day in Otavalo and during the first night it rains heavily though this doesn't directly affect us. Immediately after breakfast we get picked up and taken to see some of the local sights. We start off with a waterfall which benefitted from the overnight rain and we climb to the top for a good view of Cascadas de Peguche.

Our next stop is to visit a music maker, a lady who makes and plays various traditional instruments. She shows us how to make some pan pipes and plays several of the instruments she has. From here we move on to look at a magic tree before visiting the nearby Parque Condor that looks after injured birds and those that were once pets.

We get back to Otavalo around midday but rain interrupts our exploration of the market and prompts an early and extended lunch. The market is good but we are only just starting our trip and no one feels inclined to buy much.

From Otavalo we head towards the Amazon rainforest.

Monday 26 April 2010


After all the uncertainty about whether my flight would actually depart due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland I left Heathrow Airport with only a short delay on the first full day after flights from UK were restarted. On the first leg to Madrid I sat in my favourite window seat on the starboard side of the plane and was treated to probably the best sunset I have ever seen from a plane. As we headed southwest across the Channel towards Brittany the entire horizon was red and the sun itself looked a lot like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, presumably this spectacular display was as result of the volcanic ash still present in the atmosphere.

I make my connection in Madrid and have a pleasant overnight flight on Lan and arrive at the Alston Inn Hotel in Quito at 08:00. Although it is early, ny room is ready and the hotel let me check in early. So far all has gone well.

Quito old town
I cannot say that Quito does much for me as a destination, the Old Town is quite interesting but nothing outstanding apart from the setting in which the whole city is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. The new town where I stayed is a tourist ghetto with little to recommend it.

My view of Quito may be coloured by the fact that I got mugged by three men little more than 100m from my hotel. I found out the day after that both our driver and leader had also been mugged in the same area a few days earlier. My visit to the local police station to report the attack provided me with an interesting view of local life. I was a little sore and stiff for a few days but no real damage.

Monday 19 April 2010

Wychavon Way

It is spring which means time to start walking again. The weather over the Easter break has been ideal for walking and we managed to get in a nice one day walk in beautiful weather around the Daffodil Way starting the circular walk at Dymock in Gloucestershire. map pointer

Our main objective for the holiday was to walk the Wychavon Way which passes through neighbouring villages with the halfway point near home. We decided 4 days would allow for an unhurried walk of the ~42miles track.

As we were planning the walk a new route had just been agreed but it was not yet marked and no maps were available so we opted to follow the old route created to commemorate the Silver Jubilee in 1977. This route connects Holt Fleet to Winchcombe and we walked in this roughly Southeastern direction. map pointer

Day 1 took us to a point East of Droitwich just past the M5. I now understand one of reasons to reroute the walk, the section around Droitwich was not at all interesting and involved walking through an industrial estate and quite a distance along roads. The marking of the route was very poor, perhaps it has not been maintained because it will not be part of the new route. The second leg was more interesting with walking along streams, through woodland and with just a few lanes to cross before breaking again at Rous Lench just a couple of miles from home. The rest of the route was very scenic and included several hills that provided lovely panoramic views over the Vale of Evesham.

We left the Lenches and from Cracombe Hill we could see across the River Avon to our next high point - Bredon Hill. From here on the general route proved easy enough since it takes in all the high points, after Bredon Hill we head for Alderton Hill followed by Stanley Mount before descending into Winchcombe.

Last spring we walked the Worcestershire Way which is also maintained by Worcestershire County Council. It is quite clear that the Wychavon Way needs work, the new route looks like it should be a big improvement since it starts at Droitwich and misses the new industrial estates but I think this is not enough. The marking of the route is appalling in places and much of it is along bridleways which were very cut up by horses. The change of end point to Broadway makes some sense since it is within Wychavon District which is not the case for Winchcombe.

Sunday 21 February 2010

A ringing milestone

Over the last year I have achieved a number of milestones in my bell ringing pastime. This weekend I was home alone so joined the Four Shires Guild for their weekly practice which was held at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Chipping Norton.

The weather was cold and threatened more snow which may explain why there were only 12 people there, then again closing the road at Moreton in Marsh may have deterred some ringers travelling from the Northwest, I almost turned back myself.

During 2010 I would like to develop enough skill to be able to ring at least one method on 8 bells so the Church of St Mary the Virgin with a nice, easy to ring, peal of 8 bells provided an opportunity to practice. While I rang cover for a number of methods I also got to ring inside and practice. The initial goal I set myself for 2010 was to ring Grandsire Triples and I managed a touch without any mistakes. Striking may have been a bit flaky but I made it through. This was encouraging but not a great milestone as I've been gradually been improving my competence at Grandsire Triples for a couple of months. However, I took the opportunity to try a plain course of Stedman Triples and was rather pleased with myself that I made it through two plain courses on the treble on what was my first ever attempt -- Milestone 1!

I was pretty content with the evening but when the final ring was going to be Plain Bob Major I figured I would give it a go. I can ring Plain Bob Minor and know, in theory, how it extends to Plain Bob Major but as I have already learnt moving from 6 to 8 bells is much harder than might be expected. I made it through a plain course on bell #3, my first ever attempt, again -- Milestone 2! I must admit that I am aware that I did make a mistake but recovered to reach the end.

A really enjoyable evenings ringing and my thanks to those who I rang with for their patience and support.