Tuesday, 14 February 2017

WARRENPOINT



The Northern Irish town of Warrenpoint faces the Republic of Ireland across the waters of Carlingford Lough.  The town sits at the mouth of the Newry Canal where it empties out into the Lough, and it is also near the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne.  There are lovely views from the seafront of the mountains meeting the sea.  The town was planned and built on a grid system at the beginning of the 19th century, and by the mid 1800s its timber trade with North America and Canada had turned it into a prominent port.  It was also an important centre for markets and fairs. 

Nowadays the town is a popular seaside venue, with a range of restaurants and watering holes plus an amusement park in the summer.  Above the town is a track called the Bridal Loanen, and at the entrance to this is the Coronation Stone of the Clan Magennis, once one of the most powerful families in Ulster.  This was where the chieftain of the Clan was inaugurated, surrounded by all those who owed him allegiance.  Just outside the town, beyond the WarrenpointGolf Club, is Narrow Water Castle, a 16th century tower house which, as its name suggests, occupies a riverside site on the Clanrye River a mile from where it enters the Lough.  The site was originally fortified in 1212 by Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster, in a bid to protect nearby Newry from river attacks, but the original castle was destroyed during the 1641 rebellion.  The castle was the scene of a tragic event during "the Troubles", when 18 British soldiers were killed in an ambush by the Provisional IRA.  Nowadays it is the scene of happier events, as it is a popular wedding venue.

Map of the area.

File:Warrenpoint, July 2010 (02).JPG
Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

ST MARTIN'S, ST AGNES AND BRYHER, ISLES OF SCILLY



St Martin’s is the third largest inhabited island on the Isles of Scilly, and its three settlements are imaginatively named Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town.  The island houses the Scillies’ only Ordnance Survey triangulation station, and nearby is a striking red and white striped tower with a conical top known as the Daymark which, though erected in a relatively recent 1683, is a Scheduled Ancient Moument.  Being the most northerly island in the archipelago, the Daymark is the first thing passengers crossing from the mainland catch sight of when approaching the Scillies.  In spite of its diminutive size, St Martin’s manages to find room for a vineyard, the most south-westerly in England.  There are tours available in the summer months.  Another popular activity on the island is the seal snorkelling for those who want to get up close to these lovable creatures.  Other than that, there is a pub, a fish and chip restaurant and a scattering of accommodation options, but the main attraction here is the natural beauty and the wonderful views.

St Agnes includes the southernmost settlement in England, at Troy Town Farm.  A sandbar connects the island to another island called Gugh, so that at low tide they become one island, though the sandbar disappears at high tide, cutting off Gugh’s three residents.  St Agnes is the island to head for if you are a birdwatcher, with over one-third of its area designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  September and October are the busiest birdwatching months, jokingly referred to as the “Scilly Season”.  Many “firsts” have been spotted, including a number of ‘vagrant’ birds.  As for flora, Wingletang Down is the only place in Britain where the fern type ‘least adder’s-tongue’ can be found.  The area is also notable for its ancient sites: over forty Bronze Age cairns have been found there.  For overnighters, there are a small number of bed and breakfasts, and refreshments available from several outlets including the island’s only pub.

Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Scillies archipelago, but in spite of its size there is a marked contrast between the wave-battered west coast and the tranquillity of the sheltered side facing Tresco and of Rushy Bay in the south.  The island is also big enough for a hill, Samson Hill, with its Bronze Age cairns.  Added to which it boasts a bar hailed as one of Britain’s best boozers by Jamie Oliver, and an award-winning hotel with the misleading name Hell Bay, which belies the luxurious offerings therein.  The name comes from the adjacent stretch of coastline which has received a battering over the years by waves crashing in from the Atlantic.  Bryher has even done a turn on the big screen, being the backdrop for the film Why The Whales Came, based on a book by regular visitor Michael Morpurgo.   

Map of the area. 

File:Hell Bay, Bryher - geograph.org.uk - 401278.jpg
Hell Bay, Bryher. Photo by Ian Davison, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 9 January 2017

TRESCO, ISLES OF SCILLY



In an archipelago known for its subtropical climate, Tresco is the most subtropical island of them all, largely courtesy of the TrescoAbbey Garden, a riot of palms and other exotica set alongside a ruined 12th century priory, and including a collection of ship figureheads in the Valhalla Museum.  The gardens were started by a Hertfordshire squire called Augustus Smith who leased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834, and who built Tresco Abbey as his home beside the existing ruins. 

Tresco is  just two and a half miles long and a mile wide at its widest point and is one of just five inhabited islands out of the 200-odd islands which make up the archipelago. For such a small piece of land Tresco has seen a surprising amount of action in the past, with three English Heritage properties acting as reminders of the island’s history.   The Old Blockhouse, also known as Dover Fort, was built in the mid-16th century by the government of Edward VI as protection against attack by the French.  The fort was occupied by the Royalists following the English Civil War and was attacked by Parliamentary forces in 1651.  King Charles’s Castle was another initiative of Edward VI,  and was garrisoned by Royalists during the Civil War.  Following the attack in 1651 a third fort was built called Cromwell’s Castle.  This round tower overlooking the stretch of water between Tresco and Bryher is one of Britain’s few surviving Cromwellian fortifications.

Meanwhile, for nature lovers there are two fresh water pools near the Abbey Garden with several hides for watching birds such as dunlins and plovers.  The pools are visited by migratory birds during spring and autumn.  For those who can’t bear to leave this balmy paradise, there is accommodation on the island as well as a number of refreshment options.  Tresco can be reached via a short boat crossing from the main island in the archipelago, St Mary’s.

Map of the area. 

File:The Abbey Garden, Tresco - geograph.org.uk - 15825.jpg
Photo by Darren Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 31 December 2016

ST MARY'S, ISLES OF SCILLY



When I was growing up in Penzance in the 1960s during Harold Wilson’s time as Prime Minister you could guarantee that every summer, regular as clockwork, the local news would feature the arrival of the PM at Penzance station en route to his holiday retreat on the island of St Mary’s.  On arriving at the station he would transfer to the Scillonian for the choppy crossing to the Scillies, then he and his wife Mary and their two sons would set up in their three-bedroom bungalow, Lowenva, a Cornish word meaning “house of happiness”.  Wilson’s idyllic time on the island nearly came to a dramatic end in 1973, when he got into difficulties trying to get into a rubber dinghy.  His submersion in the cold water brought him close to death, but luckily a passing family from Rugby were able to fetch a boat to rescue him with.

The sea crossing, now on the Scillonian III, is still going, but the helicopter service that once supplemented it ended in 2012, prompting fears among the Scillonians that economic decline would ensue.  However, earlier this year it was reported that a multi-million pound investment was being unveiled for a resumption of the helicopter crossing.  An alternative air crossing is available from Land’s End Airport.  St Mary’s is the largest island in the Scillies, and the main town is Hugh Town, which occupies a narrow neck of land to the south-west of the island, between Porthcressa Beach and Town Bay.  This is where the Scillonian anchors, and  inter-island boat trips set off from here.  There are also round island coach tours available from Hugh Town which are geared up for day trippers off the Scillonian. The busiest time of the year is during May Day bank holiday weekend, when the World Pilot Gig Championships are held. For a list of events on the islands, follow this link.



File:Hugh Town - geograph.org.uk - 473796.jpg
Hugh Town. Photo by Chris Downer, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 17 December 2016

SENNEN



When I was growing up in Cornwall Sennen was one of my favourite places to go to the beach, with the long sweeping sands of Whitesands Beach backed by sheltered dunes.  Sennen is one of Cornwall’s most popular surfing spots, and not wanting to miss out on the action, I acquired a polystyrene child’s surfboard which was meant to be used lying down.  However one day, in a fit of surfing dude envy, I decided I was going to stand on it and it promptly broke, and that, sadly, was the end of my surfing ambitions.

The village itself is small, with a pub and a small collection of cafes and shops, and a gallery which occupies a building known as the Roundhouse, a distinctive round building which was erected in 1876 to house a large capstan wheel which was previously open to the elements.  And the elements here can be dramatic, given Sennen’s exposed location at the end of the country.  In February 2014 the village was battered by a monster storm during which massive waves up to 200 feet crashed over the shore.  Follow this link for footage of the action.  Up the hill from the village is another pub called the First And Last Inn which is famous for being haunted by a landlady from the 1800s called Annie George.  She was left to drown on the beach after giving evidence of the actions of a notorious local smuggler.  She has been seen roaming the corridors and in her old bedroom, and other manifestations include glasses moving of their own accord.  Sennen was a hive of smuggling activity at that time, when ‘wreckers’ would lure ships to the rocks, kill the crew and loot the cargo.  Tunnels at the pub were used to conceal the contraband.

From Sennen, the South West Coast Path heads past the MayonOld Coastguard Lookout, and barely a mile further on we come to Land’s End, which is where I started this blog in January 2011!  But don’t go away, because there’s still the Scillies and the coast of Northern Ireland to come. 

File:Whitesand Bay from Mayon Cliff (7090).jpg
Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons