Roaming the streets and canals of Delft

Delft is a glorious place to stroll around. Almost every street reveals yet more wonderful architecture, another small canal with quaint bridges or a site of historical significance. Quite often you get all three at the same time, and I have to admit to finding myself slightly beguiled by its wonderful and tranquil atmosphere. I imagine that my impression would have been different if it had been summer and the height of the tourist season. It is a small and compact city where the two or three tour groups I saw were very conspicuous.

Canal and church in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal and church in old Delft, Netherlands

Giant light, Delft, Netherlands

Giant light, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

It is pretty easy to lose your way amongst the narrow streets and canals of the historic centre; luckily there are a couple of giant landmarks which serve to orient you when you catch sight of them. The truly enormous spire of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) can probably be seen from space – in fact, at 108.75 m (356.79 ft) high, surprisingly it is only the second tallest church in the Netherlands. Nieuwe Kerk dates from the 14th Century, proving that ‘new’ is relative in a city as old as Delft. It is also the burial place for generations of the Dutch monarchy.

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Nieuwe Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

By comparison, at 75 metres in height the Oude Kerk (Old Church) can’t compete on size, but as the current building dates from the 13th Century and stands on the site of even earlier churches, it wins hands down on age. How much longer Oude Kerk, or Oude Jan (Old John) as it is affectionately known, stands is a matter of debate. It’s hulking tower leans at an angle which should give homeowners living across the road sleepless nights. It isn’t quite the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it tilts at a very alarming angle away from the rest of the church.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and building, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and building, Delft, Netherlands

Delft has several important historical connections beyond Dutch Master, Johannes Vermeer, and Delft Pottery. This is a Royal city, home to the House of Orange. William of Orange, or William the Silent as he became known to posterity, took up residence in Delft in the 1570s. As one of the main leaders of Dutch resistance against Spanish control of the Netherlands, the large and solid city walls of Delft made it a good choice as a base.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

It was in Delft that Dutch leaders met to declare their rejection of Spanish control and sought foreign assistance against the Spanish armies roaming the country. The Eighty Years’ War against Spain, which would determine the future course of Dutch history, started in 1568, only ending in 1648. Which must have been a relief to everyone concerned. Dutch independence is bound up with the Protestant Reformation and a rejection, not just of Spanish control, but of Catholic Spain.

Extra Blond, Delft, Netherlands

Extra Blond, Delft, Netherlands

The fate of once proud bicycle, Delft, Netherlands

The fate of a once proud bicycle, Delft, Netherlands

In this the Dutch were allied to newly Protestant England. After initial successes against the Spanish, by the 1580s Spain was reasserting control over the Netherlands. The assassination of William of Orange in 1584 was a major blow to Dutch aspirations and led to one of the more extraordinary acts during this period: the Dutch offered sovereignty over the country to Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth refused, instead sending a poorly equipped, and even more poorly led (by her favourite Robert Dudley), army to support the Dutch.

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Canal and Oude Kerk, Delft, Netherlands

Historic Delft, Netherlands

Historic Delft, Netherlands

Despite this bungling, England probably did assist Dutch independence when, in 1588, the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada. This defeat was a real setback to Spanish power in Northern Europe, although the Dutch still had to contend with a large Spanish army which was marauding around modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands.

There were still 60 years of fighting left before the Dutch finally defeated the Spanish and, once and for all, banished tapas from their borders in favour of raw herring and bitterballen. A fact some modern residents of the Netherlands daily regret.

‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ overload, a trip to Delft

To call Johannes Vermeer’s birthplace a living museum is a little unfair. Delft has more life than most museums, and the buzz of activity late on a Sunday morning as people start populating the open air cafes, gives the town a well loved, lived-in feel. That doesn’t stop it being as picture postcard perfect as any town I think I’ve ever seen. Despite the trappings of 21st Century life, the town is so well preserved it really is possible to imagine what it might have been like when the 17th Century Dutch Master lived and worked here.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

The old city centre is bursting at the seams with beautiful historic buildings, including the amazing looking City Hall which stands on the opposite side of Markt, the large central square, from the towering steeple of Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). The whole vast space of Markt is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and tourism-themed shops, but it is the size of the square, coupled with the grandeur of the buildings that you’ll take away from wandering through it.

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Delft City Hall, Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft, Netherlands

Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), Delft, Netherlands

Delft has a long and glorious history, something the modern tourism industry rarely loses an opportunity to remind you of as you stroll around. Images of Vermeer’s most famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, can be spotted almost everywhere, including when you arrive at the train and tram station. Some seem to be attempting to replicate the original, while others are clearly trying for a more Scarlett Johansson-style visage – not always with results that would please her agent.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Delft, Netherlands

All this ‘Pearl Earring’ thing wouldn’t be quite so irritating if the actual painting was in Delft. Its not, its in The Hague, where you never see any giant paintings on the side of buildings or Delftware encrusted artworks on walls.

A town that attracts a large number of tourists, it isn’t surprising that the good townsfolk of Delft have pulled out all the stops and left few clichè unturned. There is at least one giant wooden clog, a shop selling an enormous number giant cheese rounds, and then there is Delftware. The town is equally famous for its pottery industry, the famous blue and white Delftware, with perhaps it’s most iconic symbol – two traditionally attired children kissing.

Giant clog, Delft, Netherlands

Giant clog, Delft, Netherlands

Another tourist photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Another tourist photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

A giant cheese photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

A giant cheese photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Delftware photo opportunity, Delft, Netherlands

Tourism everywhere trades on clichè, but I think Europe is particularly guilty of pushing the boundaries. I actually saw several people walking the streets with one of those giant cheeses in their possession – something they’d presumably regret when they came to pack their suitcase only to realise Ryanair were going to rip them off for €50 to check it into the hold.

The town received city status in 1246, but it had been founded on the banks of a newly dug canal much earlier. Fittingly for a city which grew up around a canal, the historic centre of Delft is criss-crossed with canals, which themselves are criss-crossed with innumerable bridges. Strolling down the canal banks and exploring some of the small and intimate side streets is a real joy. Most of the city centre is traffic free but, in keeping with my experience in The Hague, there is very little traffic on most of the streets.

Street sign for 'Oude Delft', Delft, Netherlands

Street sign for ‘Oude Delft’, Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

It is also remarkably easy to reach Delft from The Hague. There is a tram that goes from city centre to city centre, it takes about 30 minutes and it costs about €2. A bargain by any standard. I didn’t have a huge amount of time to wander and wonder, although I did stay longer than intended; I was having a quick look around while on my way to a giant Ikea store. Despite needing a bed for my new apartment this was, it turned out, an extremely foolish thing to do on a Sunday.

Oude Kerk (Old Church), Delft, Netherlands

Oude Kerk (Old Church), Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

Canal in old Delft, Netherlands

I’d conservatively estimate that half the population of the Netherlands, possibly more, were inside the store. Presumably the other half had visited in the morning before I got there. It made for an unpleasant experience which was made all the more stark by the contrast between lovely Delft old town and a low cost Swedish furniture store. I’ll definitely be back to Delft to explore some more and to visit some of the (I’m told) excellent museums and galleries.

Exploring the streets of The Hague (Part II)

The Hague has been experiencing a mini-heatwave, and most of this part of Europe has been unseasonably hot over the last week or so. I’m sure the weather will have a sting in the tail, but for the time being it has been perfect for doing some additional exploration of my new home. The Hague is a very walkable city. Smallish and compact, a leisurely stroll allows you to absorb the sights and sounds – even if cycling is by far the preferred form of transportation.

People outside a cafe, The Hague, Netherlands

People outside a cafe, The Hague, Netherlands

Grote Markt, The Hague, Netherlands

Grote Markt, The Hague, Netherlands

Facade of a building in The Hague, Netherlands

Facade of a building in The Hague, Netherlands

The city seems to have sprung into life with the good weather. People have been packing the street-side bars and restaurants, and the two old squares in the city centre, Plein and Grote Markt, have been full of people taking advantage of the sunny weather. All this human activity has been matched by nature; flowers are coming out in glorious colours, trees are sprouting bright green leaves. There has also been a notable surge in the number of tourist groups roaming around in packs. Spring is definitely here and summer on the way.

Small bar in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

Small bar in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

Flowers in bloom, The Hague, Netherlands

Flowers in bloom, The Hague, Netherlands

People outside a cafe, The Hague, Netherlands

People outside a cafe, The Hague, Netherlands

My walk took me through the winding streets and small squares in the historic old town, passing the Noordeinde Palace of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, where people stop and pose for photos in front of the gates. The monarchy are surprisingly popular in the Netherlands; with an approval rating of around 85%, it seems unlikely that regicide will be on the cards any time soon. This is despite some fairly public gaffs from the reigning monarch, and the fact that the queen is the daughter of Jorge Zorreguieta.

Noordeinde Palace, The Hague, Netherlands

Noordeinde Palace, The Hague, Netherlands

Portraits of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, The Hague, Netherlands

Portraits of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, The Hague, Netherlands

Zorreguieta is a former minister in the government of notorious Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla. Under Videla’s regime, the Dirty War released a wave of terror across Argentina and saw thousands of people ‘disappeared’ and murdered. Videla himself was found responsible for the systematic kidnap of babies and children and sentenced to fifty years in prison. Throughout this period widespread human rights violations and multiple crimes against humanity were perpetuated by the Argentine government.

Zorreguieta stepped down from his government post the year before the fall of Videla’s government. Although he has never been prosecuted, it is hard to imagine that Zorreguieta was unaware of the atrocities that his government were inflicting on the Argentinian population; in fact a Dutch Parliamentary inquiry stated as much.

Facade of a building in The Hague, Netherlands

Facade of a building in The Hague, Netherlands

Consequently he wasn’t allowed to attend the wedding of his daughter, which I doubt was much consolation to the families of those murdered during his time in office. The wedding was allowed to happen because the Dutch Parliament decided that Queen Máxima couldn’t be held responsible for her father’s actions. Something else unlikely to console those whose family members were kidnapped, tortured and murdered.

Opposite the royal palace stands a rather grand statue of William the Silent (1533-1584), Prince of Orange. William was the main leader fighting for Dutch independence from the Spanish and was largely responsible for starting the Eighty Years’ War. Eighty years might seem like a long time, but Europe didn’t do war by halves in the 16th Century; this is, after all, the continent which invented the Hundred Years’ War.

Statue of William the Silent, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue of William the Silent, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue of Queen Wilhelmina, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue of Queen Wilhelmina, The Hague, Netherlands

William the Silent’s statue stands in stark contrast to a statue across the small square. When I first saw this I assumed it was commemorating the role of peasant women in national life (possibly national life from a few centuries ago). It is actually a statue of Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962), who is remembered fondly as the Queen who ‘led’ the nation during German occupation in World War II. Obviously, she did this from London where she was reasonably safe from Nazi reprisals. Still, that seems a pretty poor reason to make her look like she’s wearing a potato sack.

Typical street, The Hague, Netherlands

Typical street, The Hague, Netherlands

Dutch flag outside a shop, The Hague, Netherlands

Dutch flag outside a shop, The Hague, Netherlands

The North Sea coast, ghosts from World War II

One of the joys of living in The Hague is its proximity to the sea. The beach in the suburb of Scheveningen is both a popular place to live – lots of people have told me I should move there – and somewhere that sees several million visitors during the warm summer months, when desperate Northern Europeans absorb some Vitamin D. A crowded beach is something that fills me with dread, luckily at this time of year the North Sea coast of the Netherlands is still the preserve of hardy dog walkers and inquisitive foreigners.

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

According to some, it was the Dutch who gave the North Sea its name – Noordzee – and this small bit of water is not to be underestimated. These aren’t beaches lapped by exquisitely warm turquoise waters; these are beaches washed by the icy cold and frequently turbulent waves of the North Sea. When the wind and rain whip across the water the gunmetal grey sky melts into the murky grey-brown of the water, and a walk on the beach can become an endurance test. For all that, this is a sea with character.

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

I hadn’t realised before I reached the ocean, but this stretch of coast was part of Germany’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ sea defences during World War II. Although the defences were begun in 1942, it was only in 1944, under threat of Allied invasion and the direction of General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, that they were expanded massively. German coastal defences stretched from the French border with Spain to the tip of Denmark, and along the Norwegian coast.

It was a massive undertaking, and huge amounts of steel and concrete were used. Although many of the bunkers and gun emplacements have been destroyed or washed away by the ocean, some of these terrible and evocative reminders of Europe’s violent history remain. It was a peculiar feeling to stand beneath the hulking remains of several gun emplacements built into the sand dunes behind the beach. I found myself thinking of the film The Longest Day, when the Allied invasion fleet appears out of the murky North Sea to start bombarding the Atlantic Wall.

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

There is something very somber about these monuments to a period of collective destruction. I couldn’t help but explore them, and to look out from the top of the bunkers. The panoramic views over a grey ocean and the isolated position must have made this a bleak posting for any soldier – especially in winter. Waiting for the onslaught of an invasion fleet the likes of which the world hadn’t seen before, or since, must have been terrifying.

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

North Sea beach, The Hague, Netherlands

Passing beyond the remains of the Atlantic Wall, the beach leaves the gaudy delights of Scheveningen behind, and stretches for miles into the distance. I walked for an hour or so with the wind at my back before turning for home. It was a day for pondering the past and looking toward the future; ironically, also a day when military ships could be seen patrolling the waters off the shore. Several dozen Heads of State, including US President Obama, were in town for the Nuclear Safety Summit. Security was tight.

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

Remains of the Atlantic Wall, North Sea, The Hague, Netherlands

In fact, just up the beach, anti-aricraft missiles had been deployed to prevent airborne threats to world leaders. A modern-day Atlantic Wall, and evidence that the ghosts of World War II have yet to abandon their posts on Europe’s coast.

Exploring the streets of The Hague

Moving to new city is always filled with excitement and a degree of trepidation. The adventure of discovery as you explore new streets, try new food and meet new people is thrilling. It is the very essence of travel. I’ve been in The Hague for ten days and, although there has been limited time to venture too far off my route from home to office and back again, I’ve had the opportunity to explore some of the historic and picturesque streets in the centre of the town, and to wander a little off the beaten track.

Church in the Binnenhof (government buildings), The Hague, Netherlands

Church in the Binnenhof (government buildings), The Hague, Netherlands

Shop in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

Shop in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

Shop sign in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

Shop sign in Zeehelden Kwartier, The Hague, Netherlands

First impressions are frequently lasting, and my impression of The Hague is of a town at ease with itself, low key and comfortable in its own skin. As if to prove a point, three days after I arrived there were local elections across the Netherlands. They passed without incident, and if it wasn’t for large posters in windows I might not even have noticed. Settling in has been fairly straight forward, greatly assisted by the fact that most Dutch people speak near-fluent English and The Hague being an international city.

Flowers, The Hague, Netherlands

Flowers, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue and people in the Plein, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue and people in the Plein, The Hague, Netherlands

Cupcakes, for that natural sugar high, The Hague, Netherlands

Cupcakes, for that natural sugar high, The Hague, Netherlands

The contrast in the pace of life with London couldn’t be greater. There aren’t many cars on the roads, or many people on the streets, but the number of cyclists is off the scale – one clichè that holds true. For the uninitiated and unwary (of which I’m both), cyclists are problematic in their own right. They have priority over cars, and regularly career around without much care for their own or other people’s safety. They certainly give pedestrians short-shrift.

Statue of death, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue of death, The Hague, Netherlands

Bike with flowers, The Hague, Netherlands

Bike with flowers, The Hague, Netherlands

Wall of a house, The Hague, Netherlands

Wall of a house, The Hague, Netherlands

Under Dutch law any accident involving a car and cyclist is the fault of the car. I’ve already heard tales of accidents caused by cyclists where blame is placed on the car driver. Bizarrely, bike fashion is definitely retro – the antique-style favoured by many people make it feel a bit like being in the 1930s. Almost unbelievably for someone from London, many people don’t bother to lock their bikes. I once left my bike chained to something solid in London, only to discover the seat had been stolen in the three minutes I was away.

Bike and canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Bike and canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Horse statue, The Hague, Netherlands

Horse statue, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue in a square, The Hague, Netherlands

Statue in a square, The Hague, Netherlands

Despite the occasional close call, my wanderings around the city have been hugely rewarding. It is an attractive city, a royal city, full of wonderful architecture, quirky shops and restaurants, and lots of public spaces, including many parks. Although the centre is very walkable, if you don’t have a bike the trams which crisscross the city are excellent. Since we don’t have many trams in the UK, I still get a child-like thrill travelling on them. I’m sure it will wear off, eventually.

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

Canal, The Hague, Netherlands

The weather is unpredictable, frequently cold, wet and windy. Luckily there have been a few sunny days when I’ve been able to explore at leisure, taking a few photos en route. There will be more exploring to come and, as we’re moving into Spring, the tulip fields should start to bloom soon. The colourful flowers spreading for miles is something I can’t wait to see…in the meantime, I hope this selection of pictures will whet the appetite.

People walk through trees, The Hague, Netherlands

People walk through trees, The Hague, Netherlands

Going Dutch, the Camel in clogs*

So the travel blog that began life in Bolivia – and which is named in celebration of the three types of camelids (Alpaca, Llama and Vicuña) which live on the Bolivian altiplano – is heading for a new home…in The Netherlands. That’s correct, from one of the highest countries in the world to one which is frequently below sea level.

After travelling from Bolivia to Nicaragua (and back again), a few months squatting back in London, with the occasional trip down memory lane, the time has come to move on again…

Leafy square, The Hague, The Netherlands

Leafy square, The Hague, The Netherlands

Clock outside Central Station, The Hague, The Netherlands

Clock outside Central Station, The Hague, The Netherlands

Bikes as far as the eye can see, The Hague, The Netherlands

Bikes as far as the eye can see, The Hague, The Netherlands

I’ll be living and working in the beautiful city of Den Haag – The Hague as its known internationally – home to the Dutch Government and Royal Family, as well as the UN’s International Court of Justice. It’s also the head office of the International Water Association, a global network of dedicated water and sanitation professionals delivering innovative solutions to the world’s water and waste problems…where I’ll be working.

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

Hat sculpture, The Hague, The Netherlands

Hat sculpture, The Hague, The Netherlands

Grote Kerk, The Hague, The Netherlands

Grote Kerk, The Hague, The Netherlands

After a few hectic weeks packing our lives into boxes, saying goodbye (again) to family and friends, sorting our flat in London and tying up loose ends, I’ve been in The Hague for a couple of days. First impressions have been positive. The sun has been shining and the warm Spring weather has seen outdoor cafes filled with Northern Europeans desperate to soak up some vitamin D. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to looking the ‘wrong’ way for traffic every time I cross the road…or at least that I’ll live long enough to do so.

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

The Hague, The Netherlands

The Hague, The Netherlands

The little boy who put his finger in the dyke? The Hague, The Netherlands

The little boy who put his finger in the dyke? The Hague, The Netherlands

Tram, The Hague, The Netherlands

Tram, The Hague, The Netherlands

So, as I explore my new home, no cliché will be left unturned. Expect thorough investigations of the art of flying a windmill; the meaning of the painted wooden clog, and exactly what the mouse on the stair was doing wearing them; not to mention exploring endless fields of tulips. There may also be the occasional polemic about why water equity is at the heart of sustainable development.

Parliamentary buildings, The Hague, The Netherlands

Parliamentary buildings, The Hague, The Netherlands

Statue, The Hague, The Netherlands

Statue, The Hague, The Netherlands

Cycling should be a lot more pleasant, not to mention safer, than on London’s crowded streets. Plus, I will be able to legitimately support a national football team that actually knows how to play football…bring on the totaalvoetbal!

I hope these photos give a flavour of The Hague…all the signs are that it should be a interesting place to live.

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

Road sign, The Hague, The Netherlands

* the phrase ‘camel in clogs’ is the intellectual property of Ms. A. Pollard, a wordsmith of rare ability.

A walk to wintery Helvellyn

Spring may have finally sprung in the UK, but no one has told England’s third highest mountain that winter is over. As this was likely to be my last time in the area for a while, the free day I had in the Lake District National Park was reserved for hill walking, and Helvellyn was my destination. Unfortunately, I hadn’t factored in there still being a considerable amount of snow and ice on top of the hill. I should have been better prepared, I’ve encountered snow on the summit of Helvellyn in May.

Helvellyn and Red Tarn, Lake District, England

Helvellyn and Red Tarn, Lake District, England

Helvellyn is a mountain I’ve climbed too many times to recall, but I never tire of clambering over the classic horseshoe trail: up Striding Edge, over the crown of the hill and back down Swirral Edge – familiar names on this legendary mountain. Situated in the heart of the English Lake District, Helvellyn is a popular hill amongst Lake District enthusiasts, so-much-so that there is a website dedicated to promoting the mountain’s glories. Even to me that seems a step too far.

Heading towards Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Heading towards Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Heading towards Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Heading towards Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Greenside Mine, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Although I clambered to within 20 or 30 metres of the top, the last section of Swirral Edge was too icy to risk without crampons or an ice axe. A slip either way would result in a fall of several hundred feet. I was lucky that a person coming down had a spare ice axe, which he was generous enough to offer to me to help with the descent. It was disappointing to get so close and not reach the summit but the rest of my walk was wonderful.

View back down the valley, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

View back down the valley, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

View of Raise and Glenridding Common, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

View of Raise and Glenridding Common, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Snow melt, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Snow melt, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Starting out from the village of Glenridding – which sits on picturesque Ullswater, the inspiration for Wordsworth’s Daffodils poem - I chose to avoid the steeper, faster route up Little Cove towards Hole in the Wall. Heading instead towards Red Tarn by skirting around the base of Birkhouse Moor, en route passing one of the Lake District’s many disused mines. The Greenside Mine was the largest lead mine in the Lake District and was mined from the 1690s until the 1960s. There are still some mine buildings, and the scar of the mine works is carved into the hillside.

Helvellyn with Striding Edge (L) and Swirral Edge (R), Lake District, England

Helvellyn with Striding Edge (L) and Swirral Edge (R), Lake District, England

Helvellyn and Red Tarn, Lake District, England

Helvellyn and Red Tarn, Lake District, England

Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Helvellyn, Lake District, England

In an area notorious for bad weather, there was barely a breath of wind as I started the long ascent to Red Tarn. Under a warm Spring sun, I suddenly found myself wearing several layers of unnecessary clothing and was glad when I finally reached the tarn and the glorious view of snow-capped Helvellyn. Although it was mid-week, there were plenty of people taking the opportunity to do the walk; I could see small shapes dotted along Striding Edge and on the summit.

Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

The snow line, Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

The snow line, Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

The snow line, Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

The snow line, Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

View of Red Tarn from Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

View of Red Tarn from Swirral Edge, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

I decided Striding Edge might be icy and opted to go up Swirral Edge, which afforded tremendous views over Red Tarn and back down the fells. After falling short of the top I headed to Hole in the Wall and descended into the beautiful parallel valley of Grisedale, finally reaching Patterdale and the road back to Glenridding.

Hole in the Wall, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Hole in the Wall, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Hole in the Wall, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Hole in the Wall, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Descending into Grisedale, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Descending into Grisedale, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Descending into Grisedale, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

Descending into Grisedale, Helvellyn, Lake District, England

After the horrendous weather when I was in the area in December I wasn’t expecting great things. This time though, thankfully, the weather chose to be hospitable. It made for one of those days which make the Lake District so special.

Bilene, southern Mozambique’s wondrous beaches

To say Mozambique is blessed with spectacular beaches, is to state the obvious and to be guilty of understatement at the same time. Mozambique is the home of the spectacular beach. Leaving the peace and tranquility of northern Mozambique behind, we headed south to attend the wedding of two friends at the beachside town of Bilene. This tiny town seemed pretty cosmopolitan after a couple of weeks spent on Ibo Island and in Pemba. There was a strong mobile phone signal and even internet access – although Mozambique isn’t blessed with spectacular internet speeds.

Bilene is only a few hours from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and in a low key way is geared towards tourism, including many people from South African. Situated around a calm and warm lagoon, there are numerous accommodation options and a pleasant lagoon beach. However, it is the roaring waves, sand dunes and endless golden beach of the Indian Ocean that make Bilene special.

View over the lagoon, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

View over the lagoon, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The dunes before the storm, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The dunes before the storm, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The dunes before the storm, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The dunes before the storm, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

We took a boat across the lagoon and, as we walked through rolling sand dunes, we could hear the waves crashing into the beach ahead of us. Our first sight of the turquoise water was magnificent, and the beach really does stretch endlessly and emptily into the distance. For all it’s beauty, the ocean here has to be respected. The waves are fierce, and a powerful rip tide and undercurrent that could very easily drag an unsuspecting swimmer under the waves.

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, AfricaThe beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

The beach at Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

After a day of lounging on the beach we headed back to the lagoon to inspect the sunset…pretty impressive as well.

Sunset over the lagoon, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

Sunset over the lagoon, Bilene, Mozambique, Africa

There’s more than one way to leave Ibo

During centuries of European global exploration, the ‘Tropics’ were synonymous with disease and death. The Caribbean’s Mosquito Coast got its name for a reason. West Africa was notoriously dangerous; European ships seeking to buy slaves along the coast came to expect a high mortality rate amongst their crews. The riches Europe sought from Africa, the Americas and the Far East were deadly in more ways than one. A visit to any country where Europeans established trading posts, and later colonies, inevitably leads a modern-day tourist to the cemetery.

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Life was fragile for men, women and children who found themselves transported from the temperate climes of Europe to the Tropics. Pondering the fates of people who came half way around the globe, only to die in some remote outpost long forgotten by history, has become something of a pastime over the years. In India and Sri Lanka I visited dozens of old British cemeteries, marvelling at the final resting places, and causes of death, of people who came from my own country. On Ibo the cemetery is a dusty, decaying symbol of the fate of Portuguese colonialism.

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Old Portuguese cemetery on Ibo Island, Mozambique, Africa

Walking away from town down a dirt road, I found myself alone at the small but atmospheric cemetery. Many of the graves date back several hundred years, and interestingly there are French, Chinese and Arabic inscriptions on the graves in addition to Portuguese. Sadly, the cemetery is in a spiral of decay from which it is unlikely to recover – not dissimilar to its inhabitants.

While many would-be rulers of Ibo only left the island for the long, cold sleep of the grave, today there are easier ways to leave the island’s charms behind. Walk another kilometre beyond the cemetery and you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a long narrow clearing. Several footpaths are worn into the grass, and the occasional goat makes an appearance, but there is no mistaking that this is Ibo’s airport. Since we arrived by boat, we decided to leave by air.

Road to Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Road to Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

The short, stimulating flight in a tiny four seater plane, starts at the ‘terminal’, complete with ironic graffiti. You can hear the plane long before you see it, and when it does come into view it looks ridiculously small. There is little need for airport security on Ibo, so we threw our bags on board and fastened our belts for take off. The pilot swung his plane around to give us a spectacular view of Ibo and Quirimba Islands, before heading for the mainland. It was a wonderful experience, although landing at Pemba’s airport in a tiny plane was vaguely ridiculous.

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island airport, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island from the air, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island from the air, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island from the air, Mozambique, Africa

Ibo Island from the air, Mozambique, Africa

Quirimba Island, scenes from an Indian Ocean paradise

The Quirimbas Archipelago is an incredible place to spend time. As on Ibo, life on Quirimba Island seems to go on much as it has for centuries, moving to a rhythm and at a pace all of it’s own making. Luckily, getting in step with the pace of life is simple…after all, there’s no internet, no mobile phone signal and no electricity other than that provided by a generator for a couple of hours each day.

It really is a place to turn your back on modern-day distractions and switch off. If the prospect of a WiFi free world fills you with dread, the Quirimbas Archipelago is going to be a bit of a challenge. If, on the other hand, disconnecting from the world sounds like an ideal way to pass a few days, here are some additional reasons for visiting…

Sailing boat, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Sailing boat, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

People, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

People, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Boats, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Village, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Village, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Village, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Village, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Portuguese colonial church, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Portuguese colonial church, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Mending nets, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Mending nets, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Young woman, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Young woman, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Ocean, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Ocean, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Beach, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Beach, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Beach, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Beach, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Mangrove and boat, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa

Mangrove and boat, Quirimba Island, Quirimbas Archipelago, Mozambique, Africa