Radnor Forest

Walkers in the Radnor Forest will no doubt head to the highest point — the Great Rhos — although to be honest there are better hills here (e.g. Whimble). Still, it’s a historic county top, which means it needed to be bagged (15/63 now complete).

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We parked near Water-break-its-neck waterfall near Old Radnor, a place right out of the enchanted forest in Princess Mononoke.The path went through Warren Plantation — we missed the main path, though, which led to the usual heather-and-bog bashing that my kids think always characterises dad’s walks.

To the east of the Great Rhos is an army artillery range at Harley Dingle. The valley looks gorgeous so it’s a shame it’s out of bounds. A red warning flag suggested firing was in progress but I highly doubt it. No squaddie is going to walk up and down from here just to manage the flag.

The summit is a flat plateau with trig point.

To the south-west is the amazing Mithil Brook. I have been here before and count it as one of my “secret places.” Total Middle Earth.

Bald head sunburn factor: 6/10. A bit chilly out of the sun but still lovely.

Cotswold break

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“Headlife” album cover

This was my fortieth birthday week and as usual — because I am a lucky git, I suppose — my birthday fell during half term. And so it was off to the Cotswolds for a few days to stay at Lower Mill Estate, part of the Cotswold Water Park mega-complex.

Our first outing was the National Trust property at Chedworth which has the remains of a pretty large Roman villa complete with some lovely mosaics.

We had two other outings: one to Cirencester where the cold rain dampened our spirits and to Malmesbury where the warm sunshine took the edge off our annoyance at finding the Abbey — where we had hoped to visit King Aethelstan — full of skateboarders. To the Church of England: no-one goes to church on a Sunday because they were allowed to skateboard in the nave during the week.

I have reviewed our holiday property on Trip Advisor (short version: unimpressive). On the up side, the house let us relax as a family by a lake and enjoy the spa, the best part of which was the outdoor eco pool that allowed a freezing post-sauna plunge.

Only a few metres from the house was the entrance to a nature reserve that connected with the Thames Path and the lagoons and fens which make up the Cotswold Water Park. The recent heavy rains and floods made a full circuit impossible unless you had tall wellies and did not mind breaking ice. That would be me.

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Hunters ftw

The reward was a view of Somerford Lagoon and a very young Thames.

 

Ragged Stone Hill

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We call it “Billy Two Peaks,” although we’re not entirely sure why. It’s really called Raggedstone Hill and features in a wonderful local legend: if the shadow of the twin-peaked Raggedstone falls on you, you are doomed. The curse dates back to a monk from Little Malvern who, after an illicit dalliance with a local girl, was forced to climb the Raggedstone every day on hands and knees. He eventually cursed the hill and the legend was born (told in Charles Grindrod’s novel, The Shadow of the Raggedstone).

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Dad walking through the ash woods on the eastern flanks

The summit of Raggedstone is marked both with Red Earl’s Dyke and the prehistoric works that are common on the southern hills.

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On the eastern peak looking west

The hill features in a song by Britpoppers Dodgy and in a poem by Wilfrid Gibson.

As I was walking with my dear, my dear come back at last,
The shadow of the Ragged Stone fell on us as we passe

And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone
I’ll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone.

And we’re to wed come Michaelmas, my lovely dear and I,
And we’re to have a little house, and do not want to die.

But all the folk are fighting in the lands across the sea,
Because the King and counsellors went mad in Germany.

Because the King and counsellors went mad, my love and I
May never have a little house before we come to die.

And if the tale be true they tell about the Ragged Stone
I’ll not be walking with my dear next year, nor yet alone.

Portugal 2015

About equidistant between Becky and my 40th birthdays lay the allure of some summer sun away from December’s wet gloom. Our budget stretched as far as Portugal, which turned out to be a great choice.

I had been to the Algarve before but remember little beyond the golden cliffs and a language that sounds like Spanish spoken by Russians. We chose a hotel that seemed to maximise its location, especially in the off season when many places shut down. The Rocamar in Albufeira was a delight — modern, clean, kid-free, and both right on the beach and next to the old town. This picture says it all, really:

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Albufeira from the Rocamar hotel

To the west of the beach was a little headland where we enjoyed our picnics of bread and cheese bought from the little convenience shop down from the hotel.

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Lunch spot in Albufeira

Albufeira isn’t the most broadsheet of resorts but the cobbled old town has plenty of atmosphere, good restaurants, and a great little museum of sacred art in which I found this great bust of S. Francis:

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S. Francis

One of the other religious sights in Albufeira is the statue of S. Vincente, whose missionary efforts in Japan saw him burned to death in 1632.

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The Algarve (from the Arabic al-gharb, “the west”) was once Moorish territory and a short drive away from the coast brought us to the spectacular Moorish castle at Silves. Mental note: revisit in the spring when the cafe culture and almond trees are in full bloom.

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Silves castle

Back at the coast we found the weird and intimidating rock formations at the remarkable Algar Seco. I have seen pictures of people snorkelling here in the tranquil summer seas; when we went, the sea was menacing and seemed likely to pull down the cliffs at any moment.

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Algar Seco

Four relaxing days went by far too fast but left us wanting to return. Unhurried trips are always the best and so I would simply offer this tip: When you fly to Faro, don’t be in a rush to zoom off to wherever you are going. Just out of the airport follow the sign to Praia de Faro. It’s about 5 minutes away and the chill pills are plentiful.

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Faro beach