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Alderney is the third largest, or indeed, third smallest of the populated Channel Islands, an archipelago in the English Channel, which are closer to the coast of France than to England and a crown dependency of the UK. Alderney is a small island, around 8 square km, and has a population of just 2000 people. It is also very beautiful. One of the loveliest things you can do when visiting Alderney is to walk all the way around it. There are plenty of good footpaths and, although it can be a bit hilly in places, it’s an easy walk that affords the most splendid views all the way around.
Braye is the obvious place to start a walk around the island. If staying in the pretty town of St Anne, let gravity guide you to the beach along the main road, passing the railway station. Braye Bay is the largest bay on the island and is characterised by its breakwater, a construction that stretches about 1400m into the sea, shielding the harbour and beach from the treacherous currents of the Swinge tidal race. It’s a beach with a broad sandy area on the western shore and rockpools to explore at the eastern end. It’s possible to walk the length of the breakwater but make sure the weather is fine – it is dangerous to do so on a windy day as waves do crash over it. It can be spectacular during a storm.
On an anti-clockwise tour, walking west, past the inner harbour and electricity generator station, lies the tiny rocky inlet Crabby Bay before the coastline stretches to the sand flats of Platte Saline. Despite its inviting appearance, the tidal currents are swift and it is not safe to bathe on this beach.
Heading towards Fort Tourgis, one of the many Victorian fortifications on the island, the coastline becomes rockier. Clonque (pronounced ‘clonk’) is a wonderful beach for walking and exploring. The bay overlooks the tiny uninhabited island of Burhou, a puffin colony, which is a protected site, and, further out to sea, the big oval rock Ortac, and Les Casquets with its automated lighthouse.
About two thirds of the way along the beach is a chair-like rock, known as the Monk’s Chair. Legend has it that a monk fought the devil there and, having vanquished his opponent, the monk sank onto the rock, whereupon it transformed into a chair to provide some comfort.
At the far end of the bay is Fort Clonque, another Victorian fort located on an island and accessed via a causeway, which is cut off from the main island at high tide. The property is owned by the Landmark Trust and it is possible to stay there. If you are travelling with a large group (it can sleep up to 13 people) it represents really good value and is a tremendous place to stay.
A WALK AROUND ALDERNEY – ALONG THE CLIFFS
Continuing the walk around Alderney The terrain climbs rapidly and it is not possible to continue along the shoreline, so following a zig-zag up to the south-west end of the island it is possible to walk along the top of the windswept cliffs. Along the Giffoine you can look out to the Garden Rocks where a noisy gannet colony has made its home.
In this area there are several German fortifications from World War 2 when the island was occupied during the war and the local people evacuated. (The larger islands Jersey and Guernsey were also occupied and the residents remained under Nazi rule for five years.)
A walk along the undulating paths of the south coast is always a delight especially in spring and summer when the flowers are in bloom and the area is scented with the coconut smell of gorse.
It used to be possible to climb down steps cut into the cliff to reach the charming Telegraph Bay but the beach is now only accessible from the sea. The walk is adjacent to farmland so it is likely that you encounter some beauties such as these.
They are not Alderney cows, even though the breed is quite famous, having appeared a number of times in literature, from Jane Austen’s Emma to AA Milne’s poem, The King’s Breakfast:
The King’s Breakfast
The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed.”
And went and told
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”
“You’d better tell
That many people nowadays
Sadly the breed was lost during World War 2 when the animals on Alderney were sent to Guernsey to help the islanders stave off starvation. But while the cows that graze on the lush grass may not be Alderneys, they do produce the most amazing dairy products. Alderney has its own dairy and produces a variety of delicious products including the creamiest milk and butter so yellow it rivals the colour of buttercups. It is absolutely delicious and a real treat to eat. Forget the marmalade, it’s best on bread, spread so thickly that you can see your teeth marks when you bite into a slice.
The journey continues past the airport along the cliffs to Essex Hill.
A WALK AROUND ALDERNEY – DESCENT TO THE BEACHES
The Hanging Rock (far right of the picture) overlooks The Race, another treacherous tidal stream across a reef of sharp rocks and the cause of many a shipwreck over the centuries. There is a legend that the people of Guernsey tried to pull Alderney to across the sea by throwing a rope over the rock and having a really good tug… to no avail, of course.
Then the cliffs fall away and you can stroll downwards to Longis Bay, Alderney’s original harbour. It’s a popular bay for bathing, the sandy beach shielded from the inevitable Alderney breeze by a concrete wall that spans the length of the bay, again built during the occupation.
Raz Island, with another fort at the end of the causeway marks the limit of the bay. There used to be some tourist attractions at the fort but it’s no longer possible to visit Raz, although some work is currently being undertaken to open it up again. A gentle stroll along the coast brings you to Houmet Herbe, a ruined fort again constructed on an island and only accessible at low tide.
Remnants of a basic causeway remain and, if you’re willing to scramble over the rocks, it’s possible to explore the fort. On a clear day you will get a fantastic view of the French coastline and Cherbourg, around 11km across the sea. Keep an eye on the tide, though, you will get cut off and have to wait a few hours for the tide to turn again.
A WALK AROUND ALDERNEY – FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE BACK TO THE BEACH
Continuing along the coastal path you will arrive at the island’s lighthouse. It’s fully automated these days.
Opposite the lighthouse is Fort Les Hommoux Florains, which has largely been destroyed – each year battered by relentless winter storms. It is possible to get out there to view but you may need to swim across a small channel if the tide isn’t especially low, which probably isn’t worth the effort.
Close to the lighthouse, and overlooking Mannez quarry is a German fortification known locally as The Odeon. It is one of the most distinctive buildings on the island; an enormous concrete tower that was built by forced labourers 1943. It was planned to be used as a range-finding location to observe enemy ships. It was derelict for many decades but it is now possible to visit The Odeon.
Also at Mannez Quarry is the end of the line for the Alderney railway. Yes, those are London Underground carriages! The railway was originally constructed to bring stone from Mannez to the harbour for construction of the breakwater. It is now open as a tourist attraction for passengers to enjoy a delightfully scenic journey to the quarry from Braye station.
Further on (and don’t tell anyone) are the very best beaches for bathing: Corblets, Arch and Saye (pronounced ‘soy’). Overlooked by private residence Fort Corblets, the eponymous bay has a broad sandy beach and is popular for an energetic and invigorating swim. It’s worth bearing in mind that the sea temperature can be pretty cold, even in summer, but the water is crystal clear and it’s an absolute delight to swim there. (You do warm up!)
Arch is also sandy but has a steep incline. It affords a good view of the lighthouse and Odeon.
Saye can be found by walking underneath Arch Bay’s arch, past Château à L’Etoc (another privately owned fort) and beyond the dunes beside the island’s campsite – again it’s sandy but the enclosed geography of the bay ensures that the sea is much calmer than on Corblets.
To complete the walk around Alderney it’s simply a walk around the grassy headland upon the top of which Alderney’s largest Victorian fort is located, Albert, originally designed to protect the harbour, and the familiar view of Braye, the harbour and the breakwater come into view. Burhou, Ortac and Les Casquets can also be seen in the background.
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Ethiopia is a country we had long wanted to visit. When we visited Armenia in the late 1990s a number of people we met were travelling there because they seemed – to us youngsters – to have visited everywhere else. On a trip to the beautiful Armenian rock-hewn Geghard Monastery a couple told us about the underground churches of Lalibela and in that moment Ethiopia was added to the To-Visit list. We made the journey a few years ago, travelling with a local company. The country had so much more to offer than its star attraction. And of course we wanted to taste the local food: Ethiopian traditional bread, injera.
Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile where you can see a variety of wildlife and, of course, the amazing Blue Nile waterfall.
In the Simien mountains you can walk among wild gelada monkeys in fields scented of wild thyme, a magical experience.
Gondar has Fasilides castle, home of Ethiopian emperors from centuries past.
Axum, where towering stelae (1700 year old obelisks) can be seen.
And, of course, Lalibela, where the rock churches are as spectacular as we were promised many years before.
Ethiopian Traditional Bread Injera
Something that intrigued us before we arrived was Ethiopian food: we had absolutely no idea about what to expect. A quick internet search revealed ‘injera’: Ethiopian Traditional Bread. We still had no idea what to expect. Injera is a flatbread that looks like a cross between a dirty dishcloth and a sponge.
It really doesn’t look enticing at all. This was about as attractive as it got.
Actually, it tastes really good. It has soft texture and a slightly sour flavour. Injera is made from teff, apparently the world’s latest superfood – a grain that is highly nutritious. Injera is made using a fermenting process rather like sourdough or dosas. A combination of teff flour and water are combined to make a batter which takes a few days to ferment. When the mixture is bubbly and smells sour it is ready. It can be fried on a skillet (on one side only) until the characteristic bubbles appear in the surface.
It is often served laid out flat with stew (wat) or with meat and vegetables placed on top – you can pull off chunks of the injera to scoop up the stew. So it serves as plate, cutlery and delicious food. The local people we met were quite surprised that we were willing to eat injera and liked spicy food.
In the UK the county of Yorkshire is renowned for providing large portions of food. Ethiopian portions are so enormous that we quickly discovered that one meal between the two of us was more than enough to fill us up. We generally only needed to eat brekkie, then we shared all other meals.
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Transylvania in Romania is a fantastic area to visit. Set amidst the Carpathian mountains with beautiful scenery it is often associated with vampires thanks to Bram Stoker setting the start of his novel Dracula there. Stoker never visited Transylvania. But it is still possible to tour ‘Dracula’s’ castle in Transylvania.
Just south of the city of Brasov is the town of Bran. You can tell when you are approaching the area – billboards advertising all sorts of Dracula/vampire experiences line the roads as you draw closer to the town itself. Bran is famous for being the location of ‘Dracula’s Castle’.
The Dracula link is completely tenuous – the castle was originally a fortress built in the 13th Century by the Teutonic Knights. In 1377 the Hungarian King of the time granted the people of Brasov the right to build a castle. It was completed around eleven years later. The castle’s connection to Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III Dracula), who ruled Wallachia from 1448 to 1476 (on and off), provides the vampire link. Vlad was renowned for his brutality, and spent much of his reign defending his lands from both Ottoman and Hungarian armies. It is thought that he passed through Bran in 1459 and it has been postulated that he may have stayed there but most historians agree that he probably didn’t.
It is possible undertake a Dracula castle tour. We visited during the middle of winter on a relatively quiet day. There are a myriad of Dracula/vampire souvenirs stands outside before you enter the castle itself. You can imagine it getting very busy and pretty crowded at the height of the tourist season.
Bran Castle is undeniably dramatic from the outside. It’s set atop a crag spanning a mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia and is clearly a strategic location.
Inside it is less exciting but interesting nevertheless. It largely comprises exhibitions and museum artefacts that belonged to Queen Marie, the popular last queen of Romania, who spent much of her time there in the later years of her life. The castle was given to her by the citizens of Brasov in 1920. You can wander around the castle on your own or take a guided tour. Alongside the exhibition spaces there are lots of staircases and nooks and crannies to explore.
A Dracula Castle tour in Transylvania is a great place to visit as an excursion. As this is a blog for travelling and foodies, what is worth noting is that, while there is no real evidence of any connection to Bram Stoker or Dracula, the castle doesn’t seem to have a kitchen…