Countryside of Contrasts

First there is Hadrian; milecastles, hill forts and temples and bucket loads of history from its turbulent English – Scottish conflicts. Where man and beast walk on the wall.Hadrian's Wall

sheep on wall

Then there are the green fells and bubbling rivers stained tea brown from all the tannin, and the heather-clad Pennine landscape where sheep abound and rare alpine plants can be found.

Cottage Mile after mile of roller coaster roads with their blind summits and hidden dips, twisting hairpin bends and narrow single lane bridges arching over wee burns. And long forgotten viaducts striding over a river many vertiginous feet below.

lambley viaduct (2) Invigorating walks lead past houses built in a golden stone with pots full of bright red geraniums and purple petunias cascade and where inviting tea-rooms with a friendly welcome are set amidst old rail tracks. Stop at a traditional pub, some dating back to the 12th century, others used as a meeting place in the Jacobite Rebellion, where smiling bar-staff greet you with their warm northern accent and make you reluctant to leave.

The Garden Station Explore villages and small towns where houses are crammed together supporting one another, wander down hidden snickets and narrow cobbled lanes with secret gardens. Where churches with ancient churchyards are open at all times welcoming strangers to view their beautiful stained glass windows, bell towers, carved pulpits and unusual altars or simply to admire the craftsmanship of the home-made pew cushions, lovingly stitched by the congregation.

Alnmouth Finally there’s the coast and the castles. Wide, sandy beaches, river mouths and harbours and huge dunes with wild flowers. Tide timetables to consult, micro breweries and Craster kippers to taste, seals and summer sea-bird colonies to see and a walk to a castle last occupied during the Wars of the Roses. A church cut off from its village by the river changing its course in a violent storm over two centuries ago. History is around every corner.

lindisfarne 257

Derwent reservoir
Derwent reservoir

Herons and cormorants and twenty-five white swans on the River Coquet at Warkworth, swifts and finches flying in and out of the barns, stopping to briefly rest on the top of a stone wall beside you, but not long enough for a photo. The call of an owl, the sighting of a hawk. Dozens of rabbits scurrying around a churchyard at dusk. Grouse strutting nonchalantly along the lanes as if they know it’s not the shooting season.

sheep And the sky – the big open sky – cumulus clouds, a rainbow over the fells, the zillion stars and the Milky Way. You want to gaze at it all the time. Your eyes are drawn upwards.  And driving home in the dusk after a very long day you round a final bend and slam on the brakes as a young deer glides across the road in front of you. It stops, hesitates, eyes shining in the headlights before turning around to disappear back into the gloom of the woodland from whence it has come. Serendipity.

Rocks, Rock Art and Rock Music: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: back into the wilderness as we said a sad goodbye to our luxury inn and set off for Hwange, famous for large herds of elephants and over 400 species of bird. We took a game drive with Moses, a black Zimbabwean guide, who was extremely knowledgeable. This park is bursting with elephants, zebra, wildebeest, springbok, kudu and giraffe; towards the end, as dusk was falling, we held our collective breath as a white rhino and an elephant came face to face – they both stopped dead in their tracks, eyed one another up and then the elephant turned around and disappeared back into the bush. Game over. A spring hare and a duiker were the last animals we saw before darkness fell. Continue reading Rocks, Rock Art and Rock Music: Snippets from an African Diary

Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: drove east through Etosha to the other camp at Namutoni, a German fort, spotting another male honey-coloured lion and its kill (a zebra), a two-toned herd of zebra with their stiff upright brush-like manes trotting together shoulder to shoulder (we have now seen so many zebra  we are very nonchalant, barely glancing at them as though they were herds of cows), wildebeest, springbok sheltering from the heat beneath the spreading trees, a falcon, flocks of Egyptian geese, a couple of giraffe heads down and legs splayed around a water-hole and two spotted hyena – it’s like writing a shopping list – but still no elephant! Continue reading Springboks and Fuzzy Ducks: Snippets from an African Diary

Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary

Friday: a very long and dusty day mostly on dirt roads as we drove into the Namib Desert to a private campsite. Strange trees along the way called quiver trees (kokerboom), which are really aloes, and large communal nests made by sociable weaver birds. Getting a little sick of Crowded House ‘Take the Weather with you.’ Stopped briefly at Seeheim Hotel to stock up on drinks and got licked to death by a mad bull-mastiff puppy. We continued to Bethanien, where Michael and I hunted down ice cream and anchovy paste, and then we stopped to eat lunch by the side of the road under the shade of the one tree in the area, only to be eaten alive by big biting ants. Taking a shovel with me to go to the loo is a new experience. Continue reading Aardwolves to Zebras: Snippets from an African Diary

Oranges in the Fish/Fish in the Orange: Snippets from an African Diary

December 2000. As far as I was concerned this was the time to celebrate the millennium. When 2000 rolls over into 2001. Last Christmas and New Year I was unable to take any leave because I worked in IT and because the whole world was obsessed with the effect Y2K would have on all our computers. Working practically around the clock to ensure nothing disastrous would happen to the 1000 plus machines the department I worked in was responsible for was manic and being ‘on call’ for the 1st Jan was annoying in the least. I had dreamed of visiting my son in Sydney to see the 20th century disappear over the Harbour Bridge watching the firework display that the Aussies are famous for. It wasn’t to be.

So now, at the beginning of December, a 26 day camping journey around South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe awaited me as I stepped off the plane at the politically neutral named Cape Town International Airport. I couldn’t wait. After living in South Africa for 12 years in the ‘70s and ‘80s I was more than ready to explore the dramatic landscapes surrounding my beloved country.

Continue reading Oranges in the Fish/Fish in the Orange: Snippets from an African Diary