The MV Oldenburg

The sea was “moderate,” which, on a ship like the Oldenburg, is another way of saying that people puked. There was sick everywhere but not, happily, spewing forth from the mouths of a party of school kids whose teachers had the good sense to sit them out in the fresh, de-nauseating wind. Ilfracombe to Lundy doesn’t look far on a map, but it takes longer than sailing to France. We arrived to rain and wind, so there wasn’t much to do other than sit in our quarters in Castle Keep North and, in dad’s case, listen to short-wave radio (there was no TV).

Listening to the radio in Castle Keep North

The weather was brilliant the next day and so dad and I set about exploring the southern end of the island. On Lundy, one walks.

I had vaguely heard of the “Lundy Letterboxes” before we arrived, which are a series of physical caches containing a logbook and a stamp. It’s somewhat akin to geocaching except you follow clues, not coordinates. After finding the first one outside of the Castle, I was hooked. Over the two days we were on the island, we found 14 out of the 27. All the more reason to return!



Walking around Lundy is a delight. The seascape is beautiful and there are loads of interesting things to see, from the lighthouses, church, and battery, to animals such as goats and sika deer (as well as birds, birds, birds).

Old Light
Down to the Battery
Landing beach, flag . . . and a goat!
Capra aegagrus hircus

Lundy is owned by the National Trust and is managed by the Landmark Trust who rent out the very comfortable properties on the island. Lundy is a wild place but one can quite easily drop back into civilisation. Dad and I stayed in the Castle Keep and ate in the Marisco Tavern (winner of Best Lundy Pub every year since 1925!). The one property truly away from it all is Tibbetts. Next time?

Castle Keep
Castle lawn
Marisco Tavern
Next stay: Tibbets?

I had been promising dad a trip to Lundy for years, so I’m glad we finally did it. If you like the idea of a break where bimbling around with binoculars by day and reading by night sounds like heaven, then Lundy is the place. I’m not sure the trip over would be to everyone’s taste (in the winter months, you can take the helicopter instead), but I suppose it’s Lundy’s price of admission and helps keep the place remote.






Tresco 2016

My parents have been visiting the Isles of Scilly for over a decade. Over half term we finally got to see what the fuss is about, spending a week with them on Tresco. The tl;dr is easy: Tresco is amazing. Even if you have seen pictures of the azure waters of the Scilly archipelago, the 28 mile flight on the Skybus from Land’s End still offers a great reveal. It may have been October but it was mild and often sunny; one can only imagine what it is like here in warmer weather.

St Martin’s

From the main island of St. Mary’s, a boat took us to Tresco, a private holiday island managed by the Dorrien-Smith family as a timeshare business. Our week was spent in the Sea Garden Complex in Old Grimsby.

Sea Garden
Sea Garden

I was entranced all week by the view to the east to the islets of Northwethel and Teän and other evocatively named rocks. The archipelago may have been formed as little as 1500 years ago due to post-glacial rebound in the north of Britain which would have pushed Scilly down (which was once known by the Tolkienesque name of Ennor). I also discovered that I am a pharologist — a fan of lighthouses — and gazed over at Round Island lighthouse as often as I could (as well as the remarkable Bishop Rock far in the distance).

Looking east
Looking east
Round Island lighthouse

Tresco island is divided into three: a wild north coast, all heather and wind; a woodland interior, home to the sub-tropical botanical marvel of Abbey Garden; and glorious white beaches on three of the four sides.

The King(s) in the North!
The King(s) in the North!
Pentle Bay

I travel quite a bit and see some wonderful things but was really taken by Scilly (and Tresco in particular). Next time I shall aim for warmer seas so I can get out in a kayak.

M leaves her mark

(Sound track to Scilly.)

Cotswold break

“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.

Hunters ftw

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


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.


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.

Faro beach