There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Transit of Lamma: Part 2 of Hong Kong and Macau

This a new post though it describes the events of the 24th of November 2016.
It will be moved to the 'right place' in a few days' time.

In 2004, on the first full day of our very first visit to Hong Kong we took the Peak Tram to the top of the island and walked round Victoria Peak. We shall do it again this week. We had excellent views over Kowloon and the harbour and, as we moved round, of some of the ‘outer islands’, the huge bulk of Lantau – far bigger than Hong Kong Island – lurking in the misty distance. Further round,  little Chung Chau, may not have been visible, but we visited in 2005 and again in 2010 lured by the seafood restaurants lining the dock. Closer was Lamma Island, its flat northern end dominated by a huge coal-fired power station. ‘I don’t think we’ll bother going there,’ we said. We took no photograph, 2004 was our last year using film and we did not waste film on ugly things, but the map below gives an idea of how these places are arranged – and you can use your imagination for the rest.
Hong Kong
Thanks to my friends at TravelChinaGuide who so ably organised our 2005, 2010 and 2013 visits
Shortly after their marriage and long before we knew them, our friends Brian and Hilary took up teaching appointments in Hong Kong. They stayed for 20 years, returning to England with their two Hong Kong born children in the early 90s. For the next 15 years Brian and I taught mathematics in adjacent classrooms, shared an office and discovered we had interests in common: walking in the countryside (Brian features in most of the walking posts on this blog), good food, fine wine and malt whisky (always quality, never quantity, we are unfailingly abstemious) and travel.
Brian and Hilary did not return to Hong Kong for some years, but once they were retired and both their (now adult) children had returned there to live visits became regular.

We had long planned to meet up in Hong Kong and enjoy their insider’s view, and this year the plan finally came to fruition. The first trip came as a surprise. ‘Lamma Island,’ Brian emailed. ‘Meet you 11.30 at Yung Shue Wan.’ Yung Shue Wan is right beside the power station.

Lamma Island, Yung Shue Wan and the power station can be seen in the north east of the island
They would take a ferry from Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong Island (near Ap Lei Chau on the top map) while we would travel from the outer island ferry terminal at Central. Our quickest route was to hop on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) at nearby Jordan Station, hurtle under the harbour to Central Station and walk to the ferry terminal. But we had ample time, so why spend a pleasant morning grubbing about in the bowels of the earth?

Like yesterday evening we strolled down Nathan Road, this time turning right at the bottom past the Peninsula Hotel. The Peninsula has been offering ‘the best of Eastern and Western hospitality in an atmosphere of unmatched classical grandeur and timeless elegance’ (their web site claims) since the 1920s. Grandeur and elegance do not come cheap.

Peninsula Hotel, Kowloon

From the tip of the Kowloon peninsula we took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, at just over a kilometre one of the world’s greatest short journeys.
Star Ferry Dock, Kowloon
Hong Kong is an unsentimental city, anything no longer paying its way is ruthlessly discarded for something newer, bigger, shinier. But there are exceptions. With six tunnels, three road, three rail connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the Star Ferry, popular with tourists, but ignored by locals in a hurry is no longer necessary. And does it make money? With a regular fare of HK$2.20 (25p), I doubt it, but we did not pay the regular, or indeed any, fare.
On the Star Ferry, Hong Kong
Octopus cards, like London’s Oyster but with more legs, are the best way to pay for public transport. With an Elder Octopus card, available to over 65s, residents and tourists alike, bus, MTR and ferry fares are a flat HK$2, except the Star Ferry, which is free. Hilary deserves the credit for discovering this and we had taken her advice and acquired cards while passing through the airport yesterday.
Passing the ferry going the other way, Star Ferry, Hong Kong
The Star Ferry dock is adjacent to the Outer Islands Piers and after a short walk and a brief wait, we were on our way to Yung Shue Wan (lit: Banyan Bay).
Leaving the Outer Island ferry terminus
Modern catamarans lack the romance of the old-style ferries but are swift and efficient, our journey taking just 20 minutes.

With no cars and no buildings allowed above three storeys our first impression of Lamma was of a peacefulness entirely alien to Kowloon or Central.

The island is noted for having many artists and musicians among its 6,000+ residents and Yung Shue Wan, a pleasant little fishing town and by far the largest settlement, is also home to many middle-class commuters and European expatriates. We did not even notice the power station as we sat in a small park and waited for Brian and Hilary, who arrived a few minutes later on the Aberdeen ferry.

Lynne arrives at Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island
Despite Yung Shue Wan’s wealth of sea food restaurants we did not linger, but set off south...

Leaving Yung Shue Wan with Brian and Hilary
…walking a track which dipped to the coast where we paused for a roasted bean in a beach side cafĂ©. As we continued the path rose gently. The landscaping meant we had seen little of the power station, but we could not avoid it completely.

The power station, Lamma Island
The path rose to cross the spine of the island, traversing countryside that felt almost wild, a new Hong Kong experience for us.

Lynne and Hilary nearing the top of pass, Lamma Island

Once over the pass we could look across to the south side of Hong Kong Island…

Looking over to Hong Kong from Lamma
 …and, a little further on, down into Sok Kwu Wan and the largest fish farming site in Hong Kong.

Sok Kwu Wan and its Fish Farms

Descending to sea level we rounded the end of the bay and entered the town, which consists largely of seafood restaurants on platforms over the water. The 5km ‘transit of Lamma’, a very pleasant and easy walk at a gentle pace had taken a little over an hour and a half, including coffee stop. It was now past 2 o’clock and I was not alone in feeling ready for my lunch.
Sok Kwu Wan from the end of the bay
(the distant high rises are, I think, on Ap Lei Chau and island so close to Hong Kong you can walk over a bridge to it)

We selected a restaurant and ordered the seafood feast; scallops in their shells with glass noodles and breadcrumbs, prawns, clams in black bean sauce, fried cuttlefish rings, Chinese vegetables and fried rice were washed down with several bottles of beer. It was as fresh as it should be in such a location and all expertly cooked.
Feeling well fed and contented, we left the restaurant and walked past the fishing harbour to the ferry piers.
Fishing harbour, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island
We intended to take a ferry back to Aberdeen and then walk to Brian and Hilary’s daughter’s nearby apartment. Sok Kwu Wan ferry port was not as sophisticated or well signed as its Central equivalent and we found ourselves standing on one pier, watching the Aberdeen ferry depart from the next. Ferries are not frequent, so we took the next one to Central.
Back in Central there was no point in going all the way across the island just to come back, so we confirmed tomorrow’s meeting place for our two-day jaunt to Macau, said goodbye to Brian and Hilary and strolled back to the Star Ferry.
At this point I must apologise for my lack of diligence with the camera. Not only did I (untypically) fail to photograph the food, we also spent the day with old friends and the only pictures I have of them are of their backsides. So, a ‘sorry’ to Brian and Hilary and to prove they are fully rounded three dimensional individuals, here is a front elevation, taken in the less exotic, though still very pleasant, surroundings of the Lake District.
Brian and Hilaru (and Lynne) front elevation, somewhere near Elterwater, 2012
Later we went for a stroll to purchase some peanuts and to price a bottle of Famous Grouse I had spotted in a small shop in Woo Sung Street. They want just over HK£100 (£11) so I bought it.
Unsurprisingly we were not very hungry in the evening, but fancied something small. As all Chinese dishes are shared, we decided to share a single dish and returned (yet again) to Woo Sung Street and its Temporary Cooked Food Hawker Bazaar.
The endearingly scruffy Woo Sung Street food hawkers bazaar as it appears in daylight
Always game to try something new, we chose goose intestines (we try these things so you don't have to). The intestines themselves, like an overly al dente non-vegetarian spaghetti, were forgettable, their purpose presumably to add cheap protein to an otherwise vegetarian dish, but the sauce and vegetables made it all worthwhile.
Hong Kong and Macau

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Cannock Chase, Venturing Further East: The (N + 7)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

The Fish and Chip Walk came into being some 20ish years ago (nobody knows precisely when) so that a small group of teachers could get some fresh air and exercise between the end of term and the start of the Christmas excesses.

In December, with Francis and Alison in Australia, Mike and I did a rerun of the 2012 walk, though in snowy rather than rainy conditions, but the official Chip Walk was held over to now. There is a precedent, weather caused the 2013 walk to be postponed until January 2014.

Alison was still unavailable after her antipodean trip, Mike was in Mexico, Sue was playing hockey and Anne had a nasty bought of flu, so like 2012 there was only Francis, Lee and me.

Francis had promised a new route and a different pub, so we met at a new starting place, the Glacial Boulder Car Park. 
Glacial Boulder car park, Cannock Chase
Several Chip Walks have passed the boulder, but starting there was a new experience. The boulder was dragged from the Dumfries area 20,000 years ago by a glacier that didn’t take its rubbish home. It is not a huge boulder, indeed it is not much bigger than its plinth which is constructed from the river-rounded Bunter Sandstone cobbles that underlie most of the Chase (there is more in Chip Walk (N + 5), 2015).

The Glacial Boulder, Cannock Chase
Past the boulder we descended, as so often before, into the Sherbrook Valley. It is a pleasant, gentle descent through gorse covered heathland.

Down into the Sherbrook Valley
At the bottom we turned right to follow the brook. I can find no record of the Sher Brook being used to power mills, but there are odd pools which look mill-related to my amateur’s eye.

(Mill?) pool on the Sher Brook
A kilometre later we joined the Heart of England Way where it crosses the brook and followed it as it turned right towards Flints Corner and joined Marquis’s Drive.

Here Marquis’s Drive is a tarmac road. We paused for coffee on a roadside bench and watched a large group of walkers go by. The road later becomes a footpath and descends towards the railway and the A460 Hednesford Road. On the descent we re-passed the group; three people can sit on a bench, twenty must make do with the wet ground.

Marquis's Drive, Cannock Chase (with the large party on and round the bend)

I have occasionally wondered why Marquis’s Drive (usually referred to as Marquis Drive) is so called. I have a plausible (if unproven) answer.

Marquis's Drive ends (or starts) at Beaudesert Park. The Estate and House (now a ruin on the edge of the Chase) was granted to the 1st Baron Paget in 1546. The family collected titles and the 10th Baron, another Henry Paget (b 1768), was also Earl of Uxbridge and Baronet of Plas Newydd, Anglesey. He was Wellington's Second in Command at Waterloo where he famously mislaid his leg. As a reward he was created 1st Marquess of Anglesey because another title was just what he really needed.
The Marquesses of Anglesey lived at Beaudesert, with Plas Newydd (now owned by the National Trust) as a second house, for six generations. The 5th Marquess (1875-1905) was an interesting character whose extravagances led to bankruptcy. and his early death, after which the titles passed to his cousin, Charles. He tried to keep Beaudesert going but eventually bowed to the inevitable and sold the estate making a gift of 120 acres to Cannock Chase District in 1920 and a further (unspecified) gift 'to the people of Staffordshire' in 1938. Marquis’s Drive is presumably named after him. (Marquess is the preferred spelling, but Marquis is a common variant.)
Charles Paget, 6th Marquess of Anglesey (also 7th Earl of Uxbridge, 15th Baron Paget and 9th Baronet Plas Newydd)
(portrait by Rex Whistler, 1937)

At the bottom we crossed the railway. Last time I was there this involved opening a gate, looking both ways and scuttling across, now an elaborate footbridge has been constructed.

Footbridge over the railway, Marquis's Drive, Cannock Chase
We still had to cross the A460 on foot – which was always more dangerous than the railway.
The crossing used to be down there, by the white house
Marquis’s Drive continues up the other side. I have previously moaned about the long slog up Miflins Valley, which runs parallel a little to the north, but the climb up Marquis’s Drive seemed much pleasanter. Eventually the Miflins Valley path turns and runs into Marquis’s Drive. We made a navigation error at that point last year; this year there was no error and it was hard to see how we ever made one.
Nearing the top of Stile Cop and the end of Marquis's Drive
Somehow a much gentler and pleasanter ascent than Miflins Valley
Marquis’s Drive ends at the top of Stile Cop, more a ridge than a hill, despite its name. As usual Lee’s car had earlier been positioned in a Stile Cop Road car park, but instead of walking to it and driving to the Swan with Two Necks in Longdon we crossed the road and plunged down a muddy forestry trail towards the Horsepasture Pools, thus entering Beaudesert Old Park and venturing further east than any previous Chip Walk*.

After some slipping and sliding the path improved and I was strolling along, talking to Lee when we suddenly realised Francis was missing. Turning, we saw him striding down towards us. It is unlike Francis to lag at the back (that’s my job) and he watered a tree just before Stile Cop, so why was he behind? As he came closer we could see that his left arm and leg were covered in mud, closer still we observed that both knees had been torn out of his trousers. The slimy sludge had claimed a victim, his knees were red, his trousers ruined and he was caked in mud, but his dignity had suffered the most.
A mud-bespattered Francis catches up, Beaudesert Old Park
After a brief scrape down, we continued to the largest of the Horsepasture Pools.
The largest of the Horsepasture Pools, Beaudesert Old Park, Cannock Chase
The map showed a network of forestry roads, and to climb Hare Hill to Upper Longdon we should turn left, second right and then bear right. In fact, we followed the single path straight into the village. The mismatch between map and ground was a warning.
The Chetwynd Arms in Upper Longdon…
Approaching the Chetwynd Arms, Upper Longdon
…then became the third pub (and the second ‘Chetwynd Arms’) to host the walk’s traditional fish and chips. The ‘small’ portion lived up to its description, which made the afternoon walk easier. A couple of pints from the excellent Three Tuns brewery in Bishop’s Castle did not, perhaps, help that cause but were much enjoyed.
Fish and Chips at the Chetwynd Arms, Upper Longdon
It felt cold going out after lunch but it was only 5km back to Lee’s car on Stile Cop Road. We started by retracing our steps to the Horsepasture Pools.
Back down to the Horsepasture Pools, Beaudesert Old Park, Cannock Chase
The track that should have taken us from our earlier route up towards Startley Lane did not exist (we had been warned!) so we turned late, followed a barely discernible path in roughly the right direction and emerged on Startley Lane only a little to the east of our intended point.
We could then have walked down the road to a signed right-of-way, but Lee was scornful of that approach. He suggested that if we cut through the forest we would pick up the path in 150m or so. His argument won the day, but once you go off-piste you tend to stay off-piste.
Once you go off-piste you tend to stay that way, Beaudesert Old Park
We never did pick up the proper path, but we did find a muddy track which eventually became an unmarked farm road and deposited us on The Slade only 50m from the sign marking the intended path.
Lee hides in the rhododendrons to avoid the mud
Back on track we followed the road until a bridle way led us behind some farm building where we found a signed path, for once exactly where the map said it was, heading steeply up Stile Cop. I had an attack of cramp at the bottom – my penance for trying to keep up with two much fitter walkers - but after a brief pause for stretching I found the steep gradient aided recovery.
A steep climb at the base of Stile Cop
The path at the top was barely visible, so we followed our best guess....
At the top the path was barely visible, Stile Cop
...until reaching a crossing of trails where we should have gone straight over – through impenetrable gorse bushes. Being only 500m from the car we zigged and then zagged....
Is this a zig or a zag?
...following any passable track (and there were many on the ground, though none on the map) that seemed to lead in the right direction. This approach was surprisingly effective and we reached the car at 3 o’clock.
As if by magic the car park appears, Stile Cop
It had been a short walk, as these things go, but long enough for me and a good test for my plantar tendons, which have taken well over six months to recover but seem to have got there.
On the way home I stopped at a red light and a girl crossed the road wearing trousers ripped exactly liked a pair I had seen earlier. I emailed Francis to tell him he had inadvertently arrived at the cutting edge of fashion but he said had had already thrown the trousers away. Apparently, some people just do not want to be a fashion icon.
*Oh dear it seems we took a similar route in 2011, walking to Upper Longdon and driving to the Swan with Two Necks, so this is not entirely true.

The Annual Fish and Chip Walks

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Post

This blog has hitherto tended to ignore Christmas - but not this year.

Here, to mark the festivities, is Father Christmas/Santa Claus/St Nicholas

Icon of St Nicholas
Jvari Church, near Mtskheta, Georgia

The Church sits on a hill above Mtskheta, the 'Canterbury of Georgia'.

Just north of Tblisi, Mtskheta looks unpronounceable, but to my ear the locals seemed to say 'Sketa'.

A Happy Christmas to All

and a Happy and Prosperous New Year