Sunday, 18 November 2007

Devon Snapshots 2

Otterton Round Walk
This is a round walk of about 6 miles, depending on what point you chose to leave the Coast Path. The walk begins in the village of Otterton, on the west side of the bridge, following the river and heading south. Cross the river at the road bridge near the river's mouth, where there are good views across to Budleigh Salterton. The path curves left and rises to the cliff tops and the panorama of Lyme Bay and the English Channel. It is worth walking as far as the beach at Ladram Bay, through the rather ugly caravan park, as there are striking sea stacks there. The route then turns inland via small roads and back to Otterton.
The Bridge at Otterton

The Mouth of the River Otter

The Coast Path

Ladram Beach

Friday, 16 November 2007

Devon Snapshots 1

Branscombe to Beer
This short walk is one of the most beautiful on the South East Devon coast path.
It can be done as a circular walk and is best done by walking the undercliff coming from the Branscombe direction. Take the overcliff section when coming from Beer as the ascent is more gentle. The path on the Branscombe side is a steep flight of steps.
If you are starting from Branscombe, park in the beach carpark (£1) and take the coastpath, on the left, to Beer (2 miles). After about 1/3 of a mile the path forks. Take the right hand fork which goes through a caravan park and leads to the undercliff. The path re-joins the overcliff path after about 1 mile and then continues on down to Beer.
The Undercliff

View towards Branscombe with the 'Napoli' in the bay on the left

View towards Beer

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Barcelona Snapshots 4

Montjuic and the Fundacion Joan Miro

We walk up the hill from the Port side of the city on a beautiful sunny morning. The land is a bit unkempt here and there are signs of people sleeping rough. In fact I almost fall over somebody. We have come up this side in order to walk through the Jardens de Mossen Costa I Llobera to look at a collection of cacti growing there. Unfortunately when we finally locate them they are closed, for no apparent reason, so we carry on up the hill to the Castell. This contains a military museum which we do not bother with, instead walking round the outside, where there is a collection of large guns and some great views of the port and the city.
We picnic in a shady spot, then walk down the other side of the hill in search of the Jardins de Mossen Jacint Verdaguer (another catchy name) and its collection of water plants. After some floundering around, (the amusement park, a major feature in our guide book, no longer exists) we find the entrance and the collection of water plants in a pattern of rectangular ponds cascading gently down the hillside. For some reason none of the lilies are in flower, nevertheless it’s a pleasant enough place to sit and relax for a while, soaking up the suns rays.
Leaving the garden we walk a short distance down the road to the Fundacion Joan Miro. We have visited before but are both Miro fans so it’s good to go again. This time Alexander Calder’s Mercury fountain is working. It is contained in a glass room, the rear wall of which is open to the gardens, so light floods in. The mercury is amazingly liquid, spurting up to hit a black metal paddle on the bottom end of a mobile.
Onwards and inwards to Miro’s work where a huge and vibrant tapestry, one of his later works confronts us. Then a roomful of his sculptures, the originals made from assembled found objects, which are then cast. This is a technique that his fellow artist Picasso also used with great delight.
So to his paintings, together with his collection of work by other artists. I stand and blow at an enormous Calder mobile but only succeed with a flutter of movement and a dizzy spell. The Miro paintings become progressively more abstract as his style evolves, though there are certain things that become standard symbols in his work. A curved banana shape with pointy ends is a bird for example. ‘J’ and I play a title guessing game with mixed results.
The photographs of Miro show a slightly pixie like face, I think, but he is always so conservatively dressed. I describe my feelings about his art to ‘J’ as whimsical. She thinks this word too lightweight but I am happy enough with it.
Out on the roof terrace is more, brightly coloured, cast sculpture. I take pics and we bask in the sunlight for a while before descending to the courtyard below for coffee and beer. Across from us is an aged and obese American woman with a very loud voice telling her friend her life story. We hear that Rudy, her husband left the world in the nineteen eighties. I suppress the thought that he might have been glad to go. An Englishwoman sitting at the table behind her lights a fag and suddenly all hell breaks loose.
“Oh no Ladies, I’m sorry Ladies, that’s smoke, I can’t take that, I’m sorry Ladies, I’ve gotta go.” And on and on she bellows in this vein. Unfortunately for us all she is so fat she is stuck in the chair and it is some time before she can extricate herself with the help of her long suffering friend, who is forced to abandon her coffee, as the affronted US citizen waddles off in a huff. Some national stereotypes just shouldn’t travel I muse as silence descends and I turn my gaze to a ‘well fit’ Japanese girl. Ah youth and beauty, sadly both well beyond me now. Still and all I’m a happily married man.We take our leave through a small outdoor sculpture park, down steep steps and into a Moorish garden, and so back to the city.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Barcelona Snapshots 3


Having sussed things out the day before, getting our combination train tickets at Plaza d’Espanya is no problem and our rapid progress leaves us on the platform half an hour ahead of train. The platform gradually fills up and there is a trainfull waiting when it eventually arrives. However we get seats and it pulls out on time. The transport system here is excellent and good value too. The first twenty minutes of the journey are underground and the rest through fairly unremarkable countryside until we reach the mountains at Monserrat.

We disembark at the first of the two stations as our ticket is for the cable car or Aeri as it is known. This turns out to be a mistake. The cable car consists of two yellow boxes, each big enough to take 35 people. As one goes up, the other comes down, suspended over the void with no supports between the station where we are and the monastery in the distance above. We are not quick enough off the mark to be the first batch into the car and find ourselves in a line in the waiting room. The minutes tick by as I read about the ride we are waiting to embark on. German engineers constructed it in 1935. Quite old then I think and in my experience the Spanish are not noted for scrupulous maintenance practises.
By now about twenty minutes has gone by and it becomes apparent that the cars have stuck. I take a look out of the window and see the descending tin box about a hundred feet above us, while the ascending one is a tiny yellow speck in the distance. As a sufferer from claustrophobia I am beginning to have serious doubts about this as a suitable method for getting up the mountain. (You can just see the speck of yellow that is the top cable car just below the building in the top right of the picture).
The minutes tick by and the next of the hourly trains from Barcelona is nearly due when the wheels whir into life and the cars finally dock. One man descends from the car at our end. There is a lot of discussion between him and the ticket office official and then the cars go back in motion, empty on a test run. We abandon the queue and take the train that arrives on to the next station where we transfer to the Cremolaria, a new, electric, rack railway train, spacious, comfortable, big windows and much more to my liking.
We arrive at the monastery station at one o’clock and race up the hill to the basilica just in time to catch the last five minutes of the choir, which sings for ten minutes every day at one o’clock. The place is packed and despite the no photography signs there is the constant flash of cameras waved in the air above the sea of heads,
After we wander back down to the main square and locate a path that we hope will lead us up the mountains. These are extraordinary, I had thought from the pictures that they are limestone pillars, but they are in fact conglomerate and look like they have been constructed from an enormous concrete mix with some very large stones in it. The path is almost a road really and winds up gently, contouring the hillside. After a couple of kilometres we finally come to a sign, which confirms that we are headed in the right direction. After an hour we reach the top end of the funicular railway, which brings people up to the hermitage of St. Joan. We have a choice of walks here. Ten minutes for the hermitage or an hour for St. Jeroni and the highest point of the mountain range. We choose the latter and set off. It’s a proper path now and very pleasant woodland walking. I assume we are making for a great bald lump of rock, on top of which I can just make out a rusting cross, but we contour round it and then, horror of horrors begin to descend. We traverse a ridge towards another collection of peaks. If it is an hour’s walk it’s a one-way time. At the other side of the ridge we pass a small path signed down to the monastery and then contour up and round the hillside eventually popping out at the small hermitage of St Jeroni. The path forks here and there are no signs. We try to the right and soon realise we are going the wrong way when, looking back we spot an observation platform high above us. Retracing our steps we climb a staircase that gets us to the top surprisingly quickly, nevertheless it has taken us about an hour and a quarter one way. There are a few people up there and a lovely young Canadian girl from Calgary joins us for the descent. This is a turn up for the books as I am a rather taciturn walker and ‘J’ likes a good natter. We take the small, signed path on the way down, which descends quite steeply down a gorge. Not a particularly nice way to go up because of that, but a good one to come down. We pop out in a building site at the back of the monastery about an hour after we left the top.
We go back to the basilica, which is virtually empty now, and taking a side door, visit the black Madonna. She is in a small room way above the high altar. The walls and ceiling are covered in gold mosaic and the Madonna herself is encased in a glass dome, apart from the orb she holds in her right hand. This pops through a hole in the glass so the pilgrims can rub it which we do.
After this we go down to the cafeteria before taking the Cremolaria back down the mountain. At the station the machine rejects our tickets, they are only good for the aeri. I can’t face that little tin box and buy fresh tickets for the rack railway down the hill.

Barcelona Snapshots 2


It’s Wednesday, there is the smell of bad drains and the screech of green parakeets in the air so it must be Barcelona. We stand in the square outside the great white building that is MACBA, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, watching skateboarders jump the black stone steps.

Yesterday we visited its sister museum, the Museu d’Art modern, which despite its name, has a collection of Catalan Art spanning the last thousand years. There is a collection of Romanesque Church Art from the 11th and 12th Centuries, including original murals, many from half domed ceilings. The technique for transferring them to display in the gallery is as remarkable as the images themselves. The paintings were removed by coating them with a soluble adhesive stronger than the grip of the paint to the wall. This was covered with a backing material so that the pictures could be peeled off and stuck to canvas specially prepared for them. The canvas had been cut, stitched and stretched over complex wooden frames so that the resulting shape exactly replicated the walls and ceilings the murals had been removed from. This is stunning and painstaking work that allows us to compare and understand the development of this branch of art in one space rather than travelling all over North East Spain.

Upstairs is a collection of paintings from the baroque to the twentieth century, including works by Picasso and Miro. There are also some applied arts, including reconstructions, using the original panelling and furniture, of Art Nouveau rooms. The piece that made the most profound impression on me, in a selection of very fine works, was a cubist sculpture called ‘Ballerina’ by the artist Pablo Gargallo. It’s a superb example of sheet metal sculpture, beautifully constructed and wonderfully three dimensional despite being constructed in flat planes.
Halfway through the rooms we come out in to a huge open space under the main dome of the roof. Scattered in this large area are groups of extremely comfortable armchairs on which people are dozing. There is plenty of room so we copy them. ‘J’ thinks it an idea that every gallery and museum should copy. It allows you to recharge your visual batteries so to speak.

Back in the here and now we are on the top floor of MACBA wandering through Be-Bomb, art from France and the US 1946 – 1956, Picasso the great innovator to Pollock the great dribbler. We watch film of the Bikini Island Atomic bomb. The fleet of boats anchored round it to test its destructive force look like toys floating in a very big bathtub. After the speed of the initial flash the rolling clouds seem to move in slow motion they are so vast. Beautiful and chilling.
On to the abstract expressionists. Much of this work leaves me cold, so many of the paintings look as though the artists played with their own poo when they were small and never really got beyond that experience. Nevertheless the exhibition is a fascinating journey through the art being made in the earliest years of my life.



Thursday, 25 October 2007

Barcelona snapshots 1

Sagrada Familia

We wander the streets past a couple of Gaudi buildings, weaving our way to the Sagrada Familia. Since we were last here about six years ago Gaudi seems to have got the top spot in the popularity stakes. There are queues outside the Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and when we visited Parc Guell a few days previously it had been bulging at the seams in the lower part by the main gate.
When we reach the temple it’s busy too, but I’m impressed by the changes since our last visit. A whole wing seems to have been added. There is new sculpture, glazing and stained glass. Work appears to have started on the roof and the only major outstanding external addition would seem to be the final and largest central spire.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Spanish Utopian

Thomas More’s Magician by Toby Green.

This strange book is a mixture of carefully researched biography and allegorical fiction. It tells the story of Vasco de Quiroga, a Spaniard sent to Mexico in 1532, eleven years after Cortez’s brutal conquest. He was a member of the second ‘Audencia’ who, as I understand it, were there in a Catholic, Judicial and Governmental role. Quiroga was appalled by the behaviour of his fellow Spaniards and the way they treated the indigenous people, the Indians, as virtual slaves, setting them to work on their estates or down mines in dreadful conditions. Heavily influenced by Thomas More’s recently published book on Utopia, Quiroga used all his money to set up Hospitals combined with farming communities where the Indians could come to find refuge and God. They were required to work either six hours a day or three days a week on the farms, or producing clothing, handicrafts, musical instruments and the like. In exchange for this they received food, clothing and shelter. The Indians adapted readily to this kind of life as it was not dissimilar to their past ways, only the god had changed. Needless to say Quiroga had to fight many battles with his fellow Spaniards who were extremely resentful at the loss of their slave labour to Vasco. A measure of his success, however is that the communities survived for another 300 years after his death.

Interspersed with this biography chapters cut to the here and now and a fantasy version of the authors struggles with the research, the need for a Utopian vision today and how and what that might be. Drawing on his experiences whilst travelling in Spain and the Mexico of today when researching the book and examining them from a green perspective he comes up with some rather sobering concepts. Two quotes from the book will suffice to give the flavour.
“Why must God be like a person, while the sacred essence of life is all encompassing? Sublimating humanity at the expense of its fellow species could cost us the Earth.” Quoted from the Purepecha Indians, the predominant peoples at Quiroga’s second and most successful community at Santa Fe de la Laguna.
“…..this attitude to the environment was that it was not an end in itself but a means to an end: Wealth. And in seeing the environment as entirely utilitarian rather than sacred, the Europeans were implementing categories of thought that were fundamentally incompatible with ecology.” The author Toby Green tracing a mindset towards the world, from its roots in Platonic thought to the problems of the present day.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Great Axarquian Walks 1

These pictures are from a beautiful and dramatic walk into the Almanchares valley on the flanks of Maroma. The walk starts just above Canillas de Aceituno. It is an easy round trip of less than 10 clicks and gets ten out of ten in my book for the dramatic mountain views, the great but safe exposure on some sections of the trail and the promise of a dip in the pools at the end of the path, if it's a hot day. As the path is following the course of an irrigation channel it is mostly pretty level walking and there is a good chance of spotting Ibex on the hillside.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Welsh Snapshots 2

Caswell Bay on the Gower

The Coast Path

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Welsh Snapshots 1

Pictures of the Welsh Coast in North Pembrokeshire near the start of the coastal path

Careg Yspar


A waterfall at Cenarth, just inland