such an apt song for now , forever autumn justin hayward; autumn is one of my favourite times of the year – its the gentle closing to summer and the breaking in of dark winter nights. some may say its a bad time as it ends the long balmy nights, but i quite like wrapping up warm on an evening, curling up on the sofa – too lazy to venture out in the dark……
I love going to suffolk out of season – still the warmth of the sun, the breeze of the wind and the to and fro -ing of the sea; lots of lovely villages, but one of my favourites is Dunwich – a small sleepy village famous for its birdwatching. its hard to believe that it was once the unofficial capital of east anglia and the main port for trading of wool timber and fish. there is apparently a 3 mile coastal walk to walberswick which is worth doing. the ship at dunwich looks like a popular place to have sunday lunch, but you must reserve. there is also the lovely cafe by the beach car park, reminiscent of an old scouts hut, serving old fashioned knickerbocker glories plus great fish and chips. stop off at dunwich forest and take a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty. on the top of the cliff top visit the National trust cafe, surrounded by fields of heather – it really is quite magical with all the changing colours.
we usually end up at Homebase in Lowestoft – so its a good excuse to pop to Kessingland beach for walk to take in the fresh sea air. it always reminds me of Dungeness with its pebble beach, wild flora and incredible light. this is not a tourist beach, always quiet even in the height of summer.
Walberswick is easily accessible from Southwold, park at the water tower and make your way to the harbour, cross the pedestrian bridge at the end furthest from the sea and then walk down to Walberswick beach; then loop back to the harbour edge and take the short ferry ride back over to Southwold fish harbour and enjoy some fresh caught fish a Sole Bay fish and chips.
we have had the cottage 6 years now, but we have explored the coastline on each of our short visits, and each time we are pleasantly surprised at how naturally beautiful it is.
an equinox is the moment in which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun’s disk which occurs twice each year. today the equinox is due around 8pm – its the official end to summer and the start of autumn. lots of cultures celebrate the equinox, including the mexicans for whom it is a big time of year. i feel so sad for all these hurricanes and earthquakes that have affected parts of the world – we may complain about the rain and the grey days, but at least we are relatively free of these intense forces of nature.
on an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. they are not exactly equal, however, due to the angular size of the sun and atmospheric refraction. the word is derived from the Latin aequinoctium, aequus (equal) and nox (genitive noctis) (night).
we are on our annual family holiday in Vejer and September is a perfect temperature…. we have had the house 22 years now, watching our little one grow from one to 23 years old and still loving the area and especially the beaches.
one of my favourite beaches in andalucia is El Palmar – popular for surfing in the winter and the local beach to our village of Vejer de la Fronterra; its quite a long beach and the waves can be strong, but the sea is fresh and exhilarating. we tend to go to the far left of the beach which is a little bit quieter, but if you go towards Conil, there is a much more younger audience and lots of surfing and cafe and bars to choose from.
Zahora, hidden away, this natural beach is within a bay, so a bit more sheltered than the wider open beaches and is perfect for children; however, when the tide goes out, its very shallow with lots of rocks, and a long way to walk out to swim. friends have noted that its like a Caribbean beach; if you walk up towards the lighthouse from Zahora, you will reach Manguete beach – a beautiful wild beach with nothing built on it – access by this road is more difficult as its an unmade dirt road, but well worth the journey. In the summer months, there are lovely Chiringuitos, pop up beach restaurants, but they tend to only be there from mid June to mid September.
Cabo de Trafalgar, is the famous beach from the battle of Trafalgar, totally unspoilt with nothing built on it – lots of kite surfers frequent this beach when the conditions are right for surfing – a finer sand its completely unspoilt and during the summer can have fewer waves for swimming as it is in a cove like position; the next beach along is Canos de la Meca a smaller hippy beach, again a bit sheltered, but very busy in the summer – only worth going to out of the busy August period; the sea can be less wavy as there is a ridge in the sea that breaks the waves – the far end is rugged with cliff tops but also attracts nudists, again wilder with no buildings built on it.
Zahara de los Atunes is a fishing village by the sea with a long windswept rugged beach, popular in the summer with tourists – there is a lovely bit by the old town and a long stretch further down towards the newer apartments; we like to eat in the hotel Don Antonio and then sit on that part of the beach after and watch the sun go down, but if you stay in the old town, our other favourite restaurant la Taberna de la Campero.
Yerbabuena beach, just at the start of Barbate and next to the pine forest is a beautiful setting, especially at this time of year. There are a couple of chiringuitos there in the summer.
Conil is more built up than the other beaches, but has a fantastic long wide beach and the sea is perfect for wave jumping – again, the end nearest Vejer has a bridge that takes you to a wilder non built up part, but the other end has 2 fantastic eating places right onto the beach, La Fontanilla.
Bolonia is a great beach with the added attraction of some Roman ruins, dunes and the odd cow or horse stepping out on the seafront; – if you go left its quieter with cafes on the cliff top, right are the ruins. Tarifa is hip, young and a magnet for windsurfing and kite surfers, but also has the wonderful dunes nearby; between Tarifa and the dunes is the beach Valdequeros, which has a fun beach bar.
Calas de Roche are a series of coves, seven in total, accessible only by walking from the road 10 mins, and down steep steps, but they are really beautiful and wild beaches, surrounded by fossilised rocks. the waves are quite strong, but if you paddle around the rocks there are lots of pools to step into. there are no facilities for food, but in the nearby marina there are a couple of spanish style restaurants, El Pastor and El Nautico de Conil
La Barossa has more hotels around, more built up, but again a fabulous long beach; San Lucar de la Barrameda is an old fishing village by the sea, famed for its seafood – its one of our favourite towns in spain – not at all trendy, just full of locals from jerez and seville searching for the famous prawns. Seek Bajo de Guia and eat at casa Bigote – classic traditional food that is always of a high quality.
i cant resist a haberdashery shop, so visiting some of Cadiz’s shops is like entering an aladdins cave of ribbons, bindings, threads and trimmings – it is also a great opportunity to buy yet another beautiful set of ribbons to add to my collection- the collection that is designated for when i have time to sew myself a beautiful dress, or make that quilt of vintage and found fabrics! I also use ribbons to reinforce tears in dresses – they work well as they are not only pretty, but have bound edges – use the sashiko stitch to patch the tears.
if you have never been to cadiz, then you must – its a charming old city, especially around the fruit and fish market, which now re-opens in the evening ; to get the full experience you should come in the morning for the produce, and then stroll the edge of the market where there are lots of food and tapas stalls that sell snacks – we decided on amazing freshly squeezed fruit juices and tortilla for lunch.
Cadiz is one of the least well known of the spanish cities -built on the Atlantic coast, its crumbling buildings are reminiscent of Havana. fishermen line the coastal walls to catch their daily fish ; wander through the many stalls of the fish market and see the locals selling their freshly picked home grown herbs and veg – anything from camomile flowers, chestnuts, sage flowers to wild asparagus. its great to see that market life is still in abundance, when in many cities, the growth of the supermarkets has killed local trading. i love the fact that spain still has shops that solely sell one thing – scissors and knives, tobacco and cigarettes, ribbons and trimmings. its also a great place to buy the typical flat soled espadrilles – nowadays everyone seems to make them with high wedges. our favourite restaurant is el faro – faded old school tradition and a bit more sophisticated, its your chance to dress up and leave behind the flip flops. on your way out of cadiz, stop at their sister branch, el chato but purely to take a late afternoon swim. another interesting restaurant is el Balandro.
wander around ‘El Callejon del Duende’, the streets dedicated to flamenco singers past and present; bars that look interesting are Circo Duende and Cafe Teatro.
we recently discovered the beautiful botanical gardens, Park Genoves just near to the city beach area – and next to the Alameda walkways and old trees, its a peaceful haven in what is a busy port city.
there is also the site of the old amphitheatre, which has been recently restored to visit too, so lots of interesting things to see.
in london, i love to browse in V W Rouleaux – you can choose beautiful ribbons, trimmings and lots of other interesting flowers and tassels – everything and anything to make your hat or costume pretty, or just to simply find the essential tie backs for your curtains.
I read this absolutely lovely piece by James Stuart, owner of the wonderful Califa Hotel in our town in Andalucia – he is embarking on a swim to Africa from Tarifa and he writes some beautiful stories about the coastline and his adventures. To continue reading the whole short story, go to my Guest Writers page, where I add little vignettes of life through words from several writers.
My original title for this site was ‘The loneliness of the long distance swimmer’, stolen of course from Alan Sillitoe’s famous story about a young lad whose prowess at running takes him on a mental escape from the reality of the institution he lives in. Loneliness in the water is an irrevocable part of swimming great distances where the activity becomes an entirely solitary pursuit, even when accompanied by others in the water. Head down, arms churning, the roll of hips, the turn of the head, the deep suck of breath, the slow exhalation under water and only very brief glimpses of sky relieve the monotony and loneliness of the challenge. Talk is impossible, contact pointless.
Yesterday I took my swimming adventures to a whole new level with a 10,5km. solo swim from Atlanterra to Barbate. It’s an almost arrow straight stretch of beach running south east to north west from the edge of the cork oak studded Sierra de la Plata, past the village of Zahara de los Atunes and then along an almost endless empty stretch of coast lined with golden sand and scrubby palmito bushes. I took a companion of course, just to have a conversation with. I find this is the easiest way to break up the heady wet loneliness. In the past I’ve swum with Ernest Hemingway (“this is man’s stuff, you’re not made for defeat, you can do it”), Winston Churchill (“If only I could keep my cigar alight I might become a tad proficient at this game”), Charlie Chaplin (who swam with great proficiency and inevitably we ended up talking about women and sex), Enid Blyton (I switched her off before she became too polemic – she started asking if we might meet gypsies on the beach in Barbate), Sean Connery (James? Look here young man, we can talk about anything but just not about you know who) and even on one memorable occasion a teacher from school whose name I couldn’t remember – I spent an hour trying to get an answer from him as to why he always wore a sharp ironed crease in his jeans.
The Queen was very much in my mind as I slipped in to the morning stillness of the grey green water. She’d died the previous day, news about her was everywhere, I’d even been asked by a local newspaper wanting the reaction of the British community in the province to her death. What could I say that hadn’t been said by tens of thousands before me? Somewhat irreverently I said that I preferred licking stamps with the Queen on them than licking stamps with King Charles on them. Probably won’t be published.
to read the rest of this story, go to the Guest Writers Page.
photo courtesy of James Stuart.
From Chichin Itza, we took a taxi to Cancun airport to pick up our daughter Maude who was in Mexico City – you could hire a car, but we felt it was easier to take a driver. remember that distances are quite big, but the fares are at least half the price it would be in the UK, and in some cases a third of the price. It’s another 2 and half hours from Cancun to Holbox ferry, which I guess is why it is not yet innundated with tourists; from the ferry you pick up a public ferry or a private taxi boat, which costs about £12 more. The boat journey takes about 20- 25 mins and then you hop onto a buggie taxi to your hotel. The island is not too big, but it still took about 20 mins to walk from the town centre to the part of the beach we were staying at, which was at the furthest end – much quieter, less built up and fewer hotels and bars. I would definitely recommend that end – it was the end away from Punta Mosquito. The crystal clear waters are just so warm and make the journey worth it. We usually go to the less touristy west coast, Costa Carayes, but the sea is the Pacific and much wavier and not so clear and calm, but nonetheless beautiful.
A lot of the places that you stay offer bikes to get around, but its actually lovely to walk into town once the sun is going down, along the beach to the town. We stayed in 2 places, Ensuenos Beach Club and Puerta Azul – the first is more family orientated and the second is adults only. Both are very close to the sea, the 2nd being right on the beach and both not overly expensive. The first place offered a nicer communal area, pool and rooftop terrace, but the rooms can be dark.
There are lots of local places to eat along the beach front, but definitely more choices in town. We loved the food at Luuma – Mexican/Oriental fusion but very tasty. There was also a very good wood burning pizza close to our hotel, otherwise the food is the typical Mexican tacos etc… unfortunately as we were at the least tourist and more beautiful part of the island we did have no electricity at times and no running water in the bathrooms – especially at Luuma, where they had to use the pool water to feed the toilets – this happens when there have been big storms, which had just happened the day we had arrived. Apparently water is pumped from the mainland, but some hotels do seem to have their own back up. Remember that this is a Robinson Crusoe type island – and fortunately the sea is crystal clear so bathing in the sea became a several day habit.
We left Holbox for Cancun airport to return to Mexico City for the night; in hindsight we should have just flown directly back from Cancun to London, but we had already rebooked our tickets before planning our trip, but in fact it was nice to get back to the city, see some more sights and unlike our last time, not have to deal with the stress of missing a connecting flight. we stayed at Downtown Hotel, which is so central to the main square, its a perfect place to stay for one night. Caracol de Mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood, but beautifully presented; it is set in a courtyard of a historical building and is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the good food. in contrast, the Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. From the 1930’s, its where the locals queue for their cinnamon churros – long tubes of sugared donuts dipped in chocolate – even vegan for Maude…… it’s very difficult to not resist those sweet local treats.
All in all the trip was a great adventure – fast moving – and ideally it would have been great to have stayed an extra night in each place, but if you want a taste of Mexico with its culture and beautiful seas, then I would highly recommend this journey we took.
going back to my post about churches – its so lovely that these grand places of worship that were once the centre of people’s lives in days gone by, have now become more modern and creative with their usage and unite the community again. we have listened to Gregory Porter singing the beautiful lyrical songs of Nat King Cole with an orchestra in St Lukes Church in Clerkenwell, as well as been introduced to new jazz by up and coming new artists. apparently the roof was missing for years, until the london symphony orchestra decided to use it as a rehearsal space and hence its now intact again. some may criticise the point of religions and blame the divide in countries and the onset of war, but we wouldn’t have these wonderful buildings without religion.
i love the songs of nat king cole – so romantic – they take you away from the stark realities of real life. my favourite being unforgettable
we have seen numerous artists at the union chapel – what an amazing venue! churches now have to be very flexible with their uses – with high maintenance costs, they are all opening their doors to help pay the bills. the actors church, st paul’s church, in covent garden has its own theatre company, so look out for future productions. the garden is haven in the midst of the bustle of the market .
its lovely to walk around smithfields on a sunday when its quiet and explore – its strange how tranquil parts of london become on a weekend; but if you are there in the week, its good to visit st bartholomew the great – its a beautiful old church originating from the 12C – the cafe is open for breakfast and some evenings its open for cocktails – its very atmospheric! i saw a spectacular theatre performance there, so keep an eye out for events that go on there.
st pancras old church, which has been a place of worship since the 4th century, is another atmospheric church that holds concerts.
i first saw st barnabas church in soho recently and was taken back by this gem of a church right in the busy centre; its attached to a member’s club now, but non profit making aiding homeless people into work; there is also the added benefit of a beautiful garden.
and here are the details of the beautiful church of Blythburgh in suffolk, with its carved wooden angels, its simplicity really makes it one of my favourite interiors.
Unforgettable, that’s what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too
Getting around Mexico is pretty easy – we thought about hiring a car, but in the end we decided it was not much more expensive booking a driver or taxi to take you around. Its just over one and half hours from Merida to Chichen Itza – one of the main Mayan sites that you must visit, especially if you are in the area of Merida. we booked the Hacienda Chichen – a lovely peaceful hotel only 10 mins drive from the ruins – set in beautiful tropical gardens within the jungle area. It’s an old style colonial building with little houses dotted around the grounds, with swimming pool and areas to walk around. The trees are some of the most incredible that I have ever seen. Food at the hotel is perfect – light Mexican food and apparently all the vegetables are grown on site – we actually saw the mangoes, papayas, almonds growing o the trees in their vegetable garden plus all the lovely chickens – now I know why there are a lot of chicken dishes on the menu!
One of the reasons we stayed there was to get up early and be the first at the archaeological site when it opened at 9am – but even though we got there for 9am, there was already a queue and you could see the coach trips starting to come in. Luckily its such a big area, you can find peaceful quiet spots to sit, contemplate and be in awe of what had been achieved over a 1000 years ago. I don’t know much about the Mayan culture, but it’s fascinating learning about another culture. Be warned, its very hot and although there are shady parts, the main pyramid is quite open, so take a hat or like me a parasol. I bought a white umbrella to shield from the direct sunlight – it’s a nuisance to carry, but if you get a folding one, it really does help protect from the 35 degrees heat.
There are 2 sections of the site – the older Mayan part with the main pyramid and the later Mayan buildings, which had much more variety of buildings – actually my favourite part as a lot of it is still surrounded by its original jungle of trees and plants, so felt more in situ. You must also see the 2 cenotes – water caverns that the Mayans worshipped for water and is one of the reasons they set up towns around this source. I would say 2 – 3 hours is enough time to stay, especially if you are in this 35 degrees heat. July/August is actually rainy season in Mexico, but generally it rains quite hard for 1 – 2 hours, then clears up. Occasionally there is a storm with thunder, lightening and more persistent rain lasting longer – it actually cools the air making it more bearable, but watch out for the mosquitoes.
Merida is an hour and half flight from Mexico City – its a colonial town in the centre of the Yucatan province – also one of the hottest spots of Mexico as its central. we stayed in a boutique hotel, housed in an historic building just steps away from Palacio Canton, Yucatan’s anthropology museum. it was hacienda style with a lap pool in the centre of the garden, and although it did breakfast, it didn’t have a restaurant. It took us a while to warm to Merida, it’s not as obviously pretty as San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca – a blend of provincial and cosmopolitan, heritage and modern, its charm reveals itself with its peoples who are full of warmth and happiness, enjoying the cities squares and many events that the town puts on for the locals – dancing, music – at first you see a mix of colonial buildings, 1950’s interspersed with tumble down unused buildings…. parts of which remind me of Havana. the streets are named by numbers and are in a grid . The Main Street being Calle 60, with numerous boutiques, restaurants and a lot of squares radiating from the street. walk down to the Cathedral in Plaza de Independecia and there always seems to be some entertainment going on in the square. strangely its the least touristy of the squares, the others filled with restaurants and bars and locals selling hammocks and embroidered tops. there are a lot of shops selling guayaba shirts, the traditional shirts for men with embroidery ; you need to check that they are not cheap copies, but there are a few good co operative shops around and a few artisan selling more finer handiwork. my favourite was Kukul Boutique, which was a bit more pricey than the usual stuff, but very lovely individual pieces, especially the cute children’s embroidered clothes. I always buy myself a handicraft item to remind me of the places.
Avenue de Montejo is a long wide Main Street, sometimes known as the Champs Elysees de Mexico. its lined with restaurants and shops and lots of live performing musicians, street buskers and artisan sellers; at first I thought it felt like LA, but in fact it was visited by lots of locals and Mexican tourists too. As its hot by the day, average 35C, its much more comfortable to walk around as the sun is going down. Plaza Montejo is where they set up a stage and host traditional folklore dance and music and singing – its where the locals all congregate and is really fun to see. it was actually very nice to be amongst all the locals enjoying these outdoor events once the heat of the day has gone by. Apparently every Thursday in Plaza Santa Lucia, there is singing, which has been an tradition for more than 50 years – la serenata. On a sunday morning the long Avenue de Montejo is closed for cars and locals cycle up and down with their kids enjoying a car free zone
there are a lot of restaurants to choose from, but we ate lunch at Chaya Maya, which is alongside the Parque Santa Lucia, housed in a pink building, there is a lovely central courtyard full of tropical plants, a collonade filled with tables – a lofty colonial style, which is very atmospheric – you can watch the ladies making the lovely tortillas as you come into the restaurant. Food is typically Mexican traditional. Note that breakfast is as big a meal as lunch, but we mostly ate a big lunch followed by a lighter meal of tacos, panuchas, Salbutes which are lightly fried tortillas . These are simply filled with chicken or beef, spinach, onions, so are both nutritious and tasty and light. There are also lots of choices for vegetarians and vegans. Tamales are soft corn tortillas wrapped up. another good place for lunch or dinner is Hacienda Teya – more modern in style, but very clean and tasty food. There are a lot of modern designed restaurants in Mexico, so you can do a mix of traditional or contemporary.
There are also many hidden inner courtyards which are little markets – some selling art, some just food and drink – this whole concept of food stalls all in one place where you choose what you fancy and then sit down seems to be a worldwide thing now.
Another interesting shop is Ensemble Artisan – a collaboration of design and crafts, supporting local artisan and making sure that they are paid fairly. There were so many beautiful items from wooden stools, woven textiles, stone bowls and embroidered cushions, and it ensures that the craftsperson is being paid fairly.
Walk down calle 47 – a street full of trendy bars and restaurants – apparently they are trying to revive this street, and so you will see beautiful restored Casas with courtyards laid out for dinner alongside derelict properties. we ate in Mikaela’s, a modern Mexican restaurant, which would not look out of place in London or Barcelona. Lunch at Oliva – an Italian is very good Italian food if you would like a change from Mexican. Monday did seem a day when a lot of the restaurants are closed. The food was pretty good and the prices cheaper than London, though higher than when I was there previously a few years ago. Covid seems to have really hiked up hotel and restaurants prices throughout the world. we strolled back via Ave Montejo and had a drink in Bar Impala – a 1950’s style diner that plays a lot of Elvis. A lot of Mexico seems to have had a boom in the 50’s and hence there are a lot of these buildings alongside the colonial style. Merida is definitely a mish mash of architecture, waning towards Havana derelict but there is definitely a charm to the city; the locals have a quiet melancholy about them and everywhere they serve you with respect and kindness and warmth.
take a walk down to the market – Lucas de Galvert, just a few blocks from the main square. it was just what we expected, bustling, full of locals, selling everything from fish, fruit, baskets, hammocks. we wondered where the locals bought their fresh food, as there are very few supermarkets.
one of the main reasons Merida is popular is because its relatively close to much of the Mayan ruins, the coastline with its fishing villages, and the Cenotes, natural phenomena pools of water. we decided to do one trip out from Merida, to the Cenotes, of which there are many to go to in the surrounding area. These natural pools of water, some hidden underground in caves are a big attraction, but the water to swim in is so amazing. we went to Santa Barbara, which was about a 45 minute drive away as there are 3 together that you can visit. one you have to climb through a hole in the rock and then they have built wooden steps down, but it really is worth the visit. Swimming in the open air ones are so magical – they are basically sink holes, which in Mayan days were seen as very spiritual places, and also a big water source, which is why many of the Mayan ruins are around the Cenotes. we actually booked a private taxi who took us there, but then on the way back we stopped in the local towns.
we absolutely fell in love with Homun, which was just holding their annual fiesta. There was a makeshift bullring with metal structure faced with hay to create the walls – access was by steep ladders on the outside. Apparently there were rodeo shows and bulls, with their horns sawed off, which we saw being delivered in a truck. it was such a colourful event, watching the young boys in their rodeo outfits, the religious processions, and the locals dressing up for their celebrations.
I found driving through those villages with their many pastel painted houses, their interesting colourful churches as pleasurable as the big tourists sights.