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A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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

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. 

A Walk Around Alderney

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
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Now
Before she goes to bed.”

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told
The Alderney:
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”
The Alderney
Said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade
Instead…”

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

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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!)

A Walk Around Alderney

Arch is also sandy but has a steep incline. It affords a good view of the lighthouse and Odeon.

A Walk Around Alderney

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.

Saye Bay

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.

A Walk Around Alderney

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Spirit of the Sea – A Visit to Fisher’s Gin Distillery at Aldeburgh

Suffolk, in East Anglia, located on the east coast of England, is a beautiful rural county and a fine place for foodies to visit.  It’s famous for its pig farming and high quality pork as well as the seafood bounty from its 50 mile coastline. Adnam’s brewery is also based in Suffolk and most pubs in the area seem to be associated with them. Suffolk can also boast the closest gin distillery to the sea.

Fishers Gin is located in the coastal town of Aldeburgh and the team aim to capture the flavours of the area in their gin using locally foraged botanicals such as samphire and sea purslane. The distillery is located right by the seashore – literally a stone’s throw from the beach. They offer tours of the distillery – an afternoon tour and, later, a sundowner, which has all the elements of the earlier tour but you also get to taste some local food and go home with a Fishers tote bag and a gin mug. We opted for the sundowner.

On arrival we were greeted with a warm, “Hello, would you like a G&T?” which is one of the best possible welcomes. The G&T (a double, of course) comprised Fishers original gin accompanied by a can of Double Dutch tonic water which contains less quinine than traditional tonic waters and hence is less bitter. The G&T was served in a rather splendid tin cup, a nice change from those enormous balloon glasses full of ice that seem to be so trendy these days. Ice and a slice were mandatory of course, but the ice cube was very large, so it kept the G&T cold and did not to dilute the gin. (Note to self: make very large ice cubes in future.) The garnish was a slice of dried orange and a sea purslane leaf. The gin itself is a London Dry Gin but is unusual because many of the botanicals are particularly savoury and have a salty edge to them. Samphire (rock and marsh samphire are both used in this gin) and sea purslane are key ingredients, foraged locally, and both have a flavour which subtly recalls the taste of the sea.

After watching an audio visual display about the local area and botanicals we met the still, which is named Watson after the owner’s dog. The gin making process was explained to us: The botanicals infuse in the base spirit for 16 hours before distillation. There are three outputs from the still: the head (the first few litres of liquid that emerge from the condenser), the heart and the tail (the last few litres). Like whisky, the head and tail are discarded.

As part of the tour we learned about the history of gin – that it originated in the Netherlands – and also about the different botanicals used in the gin-making process by making a botanical tea. We were provided with the botanicals and an empty teabag (as well as another G&T to help the process) and tasted a variety of flavours.  

Juniper is the flavour that defines gin as gin, so that was an essential. Then we experimented with various quantities of the botanicals used in Fishers gin to create a unique tea. Each ingredient was crushed using a dinky pestle and mortar to extract the oils and hence maximise the flavours.

The teabags were then infused in a cup of boiled water and we could taste how our particular combination of botanicals worked together.

After making the tea we were invited to a tasting. There were three gins on offer: Fishers original, Fishers Fifty (which is stronger, having an ABV of 50%) and Fishers Smoked.

The smoked gin used botanicals that had been smoked at Orford smoke house, just down the road from Aldeburgh, for six days. Curiously, you can almost smell smoked fish on the nose but the finished gin is smooth on the palette, loses any fishiness but retains a gorgeously subtle smoky flavour. What is particularly interesting about this gin is the way that Fishers use savoury flavouring in their gins. Salt won’t get through the distillation process but the oils from the botanicals allow some subtly salty flavours to come through. Fishers also have a small still to experiment with flavours when developing a new gin. 

And finally, we were offered a platter of local specialities: smoked mackerel pate from Orford, sesame hummus, sourdough and smoked salmon from l’Escargot deli, smoked cheddar and Stilton style cheeses from Orford.

And the evening was rounded off with a couple of cocktails. A Negroni which comprised of Fishers Gold, Campari and sweet vermouth in equal measure and a Mule which contained Fishers Smoked, ginger ale and lime. Both were delicious.

The Fishers team were very friendly, the tour was informative and the tastings hugely enjoyable (hic!). We ended up chatting with our hosts for much longer than the planned tour time as they were so welcoming and accommodating. The experience is highly recommended.

We attended this experience using our own resources.

The Isle of Skye – The Skye’s The Limit

The Isle of Skye is a popular destination in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It’s the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, located around 200 miles from Glasgow and it takes around 5-6 hours to drive there. There are some fantastic places to stop off along the way, though, either to stay for a night or two, or just to break up the drive for an hour or so.

If you are travelling from the mainland you can take a ferry ‘over the sea’ to Skye from Maillaig or drive to the Kyle of Lochalsh and cross the beautiful bridge.

Just before arriving at the Kyle of Lochalsh you can visit the 13th Century Eilean Donan castle located on a small islet just off the coast and accessible via a bridge.

The Isle of Skye is much, much larger than you think it is. You really need a car to be able to explore it. The scenery is spectacular so take it slowly and enjoy a leisurely drive.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the villages marked on the map are very tiny, usually comprising just a few houses. Portree is the largest town on the island and would be a good central location to stay for a few days especially if you are exploring the northern attractions.

We stayed in Broadford which had some nice hotels and restaurants and was closer to the Skye bridge but further from some of the attractions. It meant quite a lot of driving each day, especially as roads on Skye can be slow. But then if the view from your bed looks like this, you really can’t complain.

The Isle of Skye

Oh yes, our hotel had a Cornetto hotline – free ice-cream on demand – which is a policy that should be implemented in hotels across the world.

The Northern Part of the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye has some fantastic scenery although it can get crowded as it is a popular destination. A lot of the roads near the main geographical attractions are single track and it’s worth knowing the convention for driving on these sort of roads: Single Track road advice – Skye Guides  Look ahead to see traffic that may be approaching and locate the next passing place. Only use the passing place to the left. If there is one on the right, wait on the correct side of the road and let the approaching car use the passing place.

If you have just passed a passing place but you can see that it would be difficult for oncoming traffic to have to reverse their car in order to allow you to pass (for example, if they have to reverse up a hill or around a corner) do the decent thing and reverse up. Also, if you are driving more slowly than other traffic, it’s polite to move into a passing place and stop briefly so that other drivers can overtake you. Take your time. The scenery around you is guaranteed to be gorgeous so relax and enjoy the drive.

There are also loads of walking opportunities across the whole island. The car park for the Old Man of Storr was absolutely chocka so we skipped that.

The Isle of Skye

There are car parks scattered along the road for much of the northern part of the island and they are mostly free but you have to pay to park at some of the more popular attractions. They are usually not very far from a fantastic view.

The Isle of Skye

The Quiraing offers an amazing walk. Located right at the north of the island via a single track road the car park is located at the top of the hill. You can do a circular walk or just trek along the path and back. It’s absolutely manageable for the average walker but there are some sections where you may need to scramble. And the views are splendid.

Carrying on over the top of the hill from the Quairang takes you to Uig, which has a pleasant harbour and also the Skye Brewery which makes cracking beers. The beers on offer are broad in range but because it was a cold and windy day we opted for two of their darker varieties. (Which, of course, we imbibed later that evening as it was a long-ish drive back to the hotel.)

Skye Tarasgeir beer has a wonderfully complex flavour and you can really taste the peat on the malts. It’s light on the palate initially but the flavour develops and lingers on the finish. A fine quaffable beer.

As expected, Skye Black is a very dark. On first taste it feels like a porter. Roasted malts give bitterness but this is tempered by the addition of local heather honey which comes through subtly. It also has rolled oats and hops which add to the flavour to the beer. 

Close to Uig is the Fairy Glen, a delightful landscape.

The Isle of Skye Fairy Glen

Neist Point is a remote lighthouse located on a peninsular and again offers spectacular and dramatic views. It is possible to walk to the lighthouse (just park with all the other cars along the roadside).

Further south on the western coast, the Talisker Distillery offers tours but can get very busy. It’s the oldest and probably the best known whisky distillery on the island. It’s well worth booking a tour in advance if you’d like to visit. Even the shop had a half hour queue when we turned up.

Leaving the Isle of Skye

On leaving the Isle of Skye and heading back into the Scottish mainland there are some other interesting stop-off points.

We were generally blessed with uncharacteristically good weather for much of our trip to Scotland. Unfortunately on our way back from Skye the rain swept in and, while we went to the Five Sisters of Kintail viewpoint, reputed to be one of the finest views in Scotland, we didn’t experience it at its finest.

The Glenelg Brochs, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan, are amazing dry stone constructions over 10m tall with a concentric design that provides an outer and an inner wall. They date back to the late Iron Age and are around 2000 years old.

They are something of a cross between and fort and a mightily impressive house. You are free to wander around them.

Incidentally, the little village of Glenelg has probably the coolest twinning on the planet.

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Three is a Magic Number – The Very Best Views in Japan

Of the many, many beautiful places to visit in Japan, there are, in fact, three that have been officially designated to be the most celebrated.

View Number One: The Itsukushima Shrine

The Itsukushima Shrine is probably the best known of these views. Japanese tourist literature and guides often show a picture of the iconic red torii ‘floating’ in the Seto inland sea and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is located on the island of Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima.

It is a beautiful sight, especially when the sunlight catches the sparkling sea.

It’s less beautiful when the tide is out so it’s worth planning a visit for when the tide is in if you want to take that perfect Instagram snap.

The torii, in common with Shinto temples, is actually the gateway to the shrine and it is also possible to visit the shrine itself. There are a number of temples and corridors to visit. It even has a noh stage – for traditional Japanese theatre.

The island is really easy to reach from Hiroshima. You can catch a train and then a ferry to the island on a journey that takes about an hour.

Miyajima is a lovely island, perfect to walk around, especially if you’ve arrived at low tide and need to wait in order to capture that perfect shot of the torii. There are forested walkways to explore and it’s possible to climb up to the island’s highest peak, Mount Misen. If you’re feeling less energetic, there’s a ropeway to take you up to the top.

There are also some friendly-ish deer which aren’t as bold as the ones at Nara.

View Number Two: Matsushima

The next view is that of Matsushima on Japan’s north east coast, which is a short rail journey from the northern city of Sendai, easily accessible from Tokyo via the shinkansen (bullet train). Matsushima comprises a series of hundreds of forested islands dotted through a bay. It was lucky not to have been too badly impacted by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the geography of the bay protecting the islands.

It is possible to visit some of the islands nearest to the mainland by crossing traditional vermillion bridges from the shore.

But taking a boat trip across the bay is highly recommended as you will get to get close to some of the more remote islands. Beware, though, bird food is available to buy prior to boarding the ship and the seagulls very much knew this, so we were followed by flocks of gulls eager to feast upon a tasty snack.

It is reputed that Japan’s most famous poet, Basho, best known in western countries for his haiku, was reportedly so struck by the awesome beauty of Matsushima, that he was lost for words and could only utter, ‘Matsushima, Ah Matsushima, Matsushima,’ to describe his feelings about viewing the area. The story is likely to be apocryphal but the sentiments are appropriate.

The viewing point isn’t near the beach, it’s a walk across the railway tracks and up a hill to a park. The weather wasn’t really on our side but we had come all this way to see one of Japan’s greatest views, so a rainy trudge wasn’t going to stop us. In fact, a very kind lady was driving past in her car and stopped to offer us a lift, which we were happy to accept. She knew exactly where we were heading and we exchanged pleasantries about the weather – ‘O-ame,’ (big rain) we declared. She agreed. After she’d dropped us off in the car park we thanked her profusely and wandered through the park to look at the view. This probably isn’t the same view that Basho enjoyed but it was wonderful nevertheless, despite the rain.

The town is lovely to wander around and there are also some interesting temples to visit.

The local foodie specialty is gyu tan – beef tongue. It might not sound very appealing but in fact it’s delicious – it has a very soft texture and is packed full of beef flavour. It’s in the top right of the picture below which shows a set meal that also offered some sushi, miso soup and pickles.

View Number Three: Amanohashidate

The third view of Japan is a little trickier to reach but it is definitely worth making the journey. You can reach Amanohashidate via a direct train from Kyoto but the journey may be a bit complicated – our train was scheduled to split at a station part way through the journey – fortunately we learned about this prior to the carriages parting and found our way to the right section of the train. The excellent and indispensable hyperdia site will help with journey planning.

Amanohashidate is a sand spit that spans the mouth of the delightful Miyazu bay. The name is a bit of a tongue twister but it translates to something akin to ‘bridge over heaven.’ It is a very pleasant walk across the spit, about three and a half kilometres, which is covered with pine trees that provide shade in the heat of the sun.

Then you can then wander through the small town of Miyazu to catch a cable car to the viewing point. (This photo shows the downhill run, which obviously has a better view.)

The scenery is wonderful, especially if you are lucky enough to see it on a sunny day.

But it’s very important to know that there is a specific technique to maximise your viewing experience. You should bend over and look at the sand spit through your legs – there are special observation points to allow you to do this. The reason for this amusing way of viewing is that an upside-down perspective gives the impression of the bridge floating to heaven.

Actually it looks like this.

It’s great fun to watch other visitors enjoying themselves – everyone has a good laugh as they bend over to view.

There is a restaurant at the top of the viewing point. As with all restaurants in Japan, the food is tasty and wholesome. We had chirashi sushi (a rice bowl with prawn, squid, salmon roe and shredded omelette) and udon noodles, accompanied with tempura and washed down with a nice cold beer. All enjoyed with the most delightful backdrop.

Three amazing places, three spectacular views. But, of course, these are the daytime views. Japan also has three night-time views. Actually, there are top three gardens, castles, mountains, sacred sites, hot springs, festivals and many, many more.

But that’s for another time.