Two days in London – Saturday


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Kew Gardens. This time Mary and I went together to Kew Gardens, known more formally as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  We arrived fairly early, after an obligatory coffee near the station, and decided to make straight for the Temperate House, recently reopened after refurbishment, before the crowds arrived.  P1330244001


En route, a sideways look at the Pagoda. How parched the grass is.

It happened to be the first day of Gnomus’s residence there. He is ‘a font of knowledge, and caretaker of the earth’, hanging around the Temperate House to share with children special stories about the plants there, until the end of the summer holidays. P1330248001


As Mary pointed out, the poor chap at the back is having difficulty making the movements of Gnomus’s feet look realistic!


One corner inside. P1330261001Views from the balcony.




and inwards

From the balcony I also admired elements of the ironwork.

And ornamentation outside.

And I focussed on plants from above.

The story behind the leucospermum conocarpodendon below is interesting. In 2005, a Dutch researcher found 40 small packets of seeds in a leather notebook in the National Archives.  The notebook belonged to a Dutch merchant whose ship was captured by the British navy in 1803.  Kew’s Millenium Seedbank propagated this plant from one of those seeds. P1330281001 We moved on to the Great Pagoda, also recently refurbished.  When it was built in 1762, it had dragons on every corner of its roof, but they only lasted until 1784.  Thanks to donors, the original designs have been used to recreate the dragons, the lower ones carved from wood, the higher ones digitally printed. P1330287001P1330288001While Mary stayed down and worked on a crossword, I climbed to the top, 253 quite shallow steps. Access was by a broad central spiral staircase. I counted the steps between each floor, 33 to begin with, reducing to 21, so I suppose this was to give the impression, with perspective, that the tower is higher than it really is.  Around the outside of the staircase is a broad landing in every floor, with considerate benches (that is a figure of speech!) on every second landing.  At the top, the windows are glazed, and you cannot get out on to the balconies.


Richmond Lawn Tennis Club from the second floor. They’re only playing on the hard courts.


The Japanese Garden from the top



Central London skyline


There was a small exhibition on the ground floor. This automaton represents a royal visit to the Pagoda during construction

On our way to lunch:


The central section of The Temperate House gleamed in the sun


A different chap at the back has worked out what the handles on Gnomus’s calves are for.


The Palm House, now by comparison revealed to be in need of a clean-up

After lunch we wandered down the Broad Walk.  P1330329001P1330332001P1330333001P1330335001P1330336001Then around a parkland area.


I loved the bark on this deep-cleft Pyrenean Pine

We sat for a while, both working further on the crossword (my part really just marvelling at the solutions Mary found).


Like my small pond at home, the lake has far too much duckweed etc on it. A result of the extreme heat we have been having?


Aeroplane after aeroplane…


Close to a bench


Daddy swan seems much more concerned by the Egyptian goose than by us.

P1330369001A speedy passage through the sweltering Palm House, P1330388001P1330391001and out the other side, P1330394001back to the café to pick up something to drink. This we consumed sitting on a bench nearby, reflecting on the day, and counting the intervals between the planes which were going over our heads to land at Heathrow Airport (every 60 to 70 seconds, poor residents).  User commentsA lovely day, during which sunshine and cloud had appeared at totally convenient intervals for our comfort. We parted at Kew Gardens station, I for my Underground (which was largely over ground) for Paddington Station and the West Country, and Mary on her Overground (which was partly under ground) for North London.

Two days in London – Friday


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I spent two days in London last week, and, quite apart from social time with my friend, Mary, I had three very different experiences.  The timing of my trip was determined by the fact that the ‘Monet and Architecture’ exhibition at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, was very soon coming to an end. Moreover, I was very glad that I had pre-booked my ticket as there would have been no chance of a walk-in ticket.


Pavement entertainment outside the Gallery

P1330088001 The ‘fourth plinth‘ in Trafalgar Square is currently occupied by ‘The Invisible Enemy should not Exist’.   It is built entirely of the packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs (some sources say date syrup cans) and Arabic newspapers, and is a commemoration of the artefacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad, in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. It represents a determination to recover the more than 7000 objects still missing.


The Sainsbury Wing, temporarily showing the 77 Monet paintings


Looking back from the entrance

No photography inside the Monet exhibition itself was allowed, but I did manage to get these pictures at its entry and exit.  I thought a better title would have been ‘Monet and Landscape’. But perhaps they’ve done that already.P1330092001P1330095001My other visit that day was to the Postal Museum, including a short trip on its Mail Rail, the underground post transport system, which opened in 1927 and closed in 2003.  As there was no really convenient public transport between the two places, I decided to walk, and the 35 minutes estimated by online research turned out to be very accurate. I walked fast but made stops for a few photos and to check that I was on the right route.


More pavement entertainment in Trafalgar Square


I had a crush on Tommy Steele back in the   … ties, but I’m a little young to remember Glenn Miller.


Paris? No, London.

It was a noisy walk with much traffic and many people, but once I turned off Grays Inn Road into Mount Pleasant (the road), it was totally quiet.  P1330103001P1330104001I have tried to find out more about the Panther Building, and it seems that it is currently workshops and studios.  Planning permission exists for the redevelopment of part of it.

Two big surprises awaited me just before I got to the Postal Museum in Phoenix Place:  the beauty of the 1929 Mount Pleasant building, and that, while much shrunken, there is still considerable Post Office activity on the site – a great deal of redevelopment is going on there also.  P1330105001I had a bite of lunch in the café at the Museum, P1330108001then crossed back over the road to Mail Rail, where likewise I had a timed ticket. This rather blurry picture shows the size of the ‘wagons’, ideal for postal parcels, packets and letters, but only just large enough for tourists to sit in! P1330112001


There were four stops on the 15 minute ride, at which there were projections on to the walls about Mail Rail’s history.  P1330125001


It very much resembles the London (passenger) Underground of course – but it’s on a much smaller scale.

P1330139001After the ride, the exit was through a small further exhibition about it.  P1330143001P1330148001


‘Ulysses’ banned – by mail as well!


‘…ever needed again…’

And at the end I watched a short film which I had not had time to see beforehand, from which the above is a still.

I then crossed back over the road to the award-winning Postal Museum, which opened in 2017.  It was very well presented, with plenty to keep both adults and children interested. Here are just a few of the dozens of photos I took there.  Firstly, why do we call it ‘the post’? P1330167001P1330169001

P1330173001 copie

“It is not the cause of faction, or of party, or of an individual, but the common interest of every man in Britain.” Yes, well. (Junius was not, by the way, a Roman philosopher, but the nom de plume of an 18th century writer.)


Rowland Hill introduced the penny black, the very first postage stamp in the world. This exhibit was not lit, perhaps for fear of fading, so a decent photo was difficult to take.  I shudder to think how many millions of pounds this exhibit is worth, though apparently it’s a plate proof so doesn’t count as real stamps.

Post boxes have not always been red.  They started – in the Channel Islands in 1852 – painted green, but people in the countryside thought that dreary, so from 1874 they were painted red. P1330188001P1330216.1P1330235001I think that splendid mail coach was the best, but here are some other forms of postal transport.P1330194001P1330202001P1330216.2P1330234001I rather fancied this tunic, but my attempt to try it on reflectively was foiled by the height of its plinth. P1330201001Is nostalgia the same as feeling old? I felt both as I recognised the famous ‘Press button B’ telephone booth.P1330203001Near the end there was the chance to sit and watch an hour’s-worth of short PR  films made by the Post Office’s Film Unit (founded 1933). The most famous of them all, ‘Night Train’ was just about to start as I passed, so I sat and watched it.

On leaving the Museum, I took a backward look to the splendid Mount Pleasant building. P1330238001Then I wandered through quiet back streets to the bustle of King’s Cross, and took a bus back to Mary’s place.  We had a very nice meal at a French restaurant in Camden Town, though I could have wished that the moules marinières I ordered for my starter had arrived instead of the spicy moules provençales!

12th time lucky!


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12th time lucky! Two years ago, Barbara was given a voucher for a balloon flight for her birthday. She suggested that her daughter, that is my cousin Teresa, and I join her, and as I had been longing to go up in a balloon all my adult life, I was thrilled to agree, as was Teresa. So for two years we have been making reservations on flights, and 11 times these flights have been cancelled, either for bad weather conditions, or, once, because they had not enough passengers booked for the flight.

This morning, at last, it happened!  It was perfect weather.  Arriving at 5.30 at a field belonging to the Berkshire College of Agriculture, in Burchetts Green, the sun was rising over the horizon, and there was a little mist around which burnt off over the next couple of hours.  After a short briefing with us all actually in the balloon basket, we all clambered out and watched the balloon being inflated. This didn’t take long and we all climbed in again.  P1320903001P1320905001P1320906001P1320908001P1320909001P1320913001P1320916001


To begin with, just hot (I presume) air is blown into the balloon. (Later edit: I now understand that the balloon is filled with cold air to begin with.)


Then the burner comes into action

P1320921001P1320923001Take-off was imperceptible and we were up and away before we knew it.


“It’s actually happening!”


Before long we were at our maximum height of 900 feet plus.  It didn’t feel like it – though how would I know?

We saw animals. P1320957001


Mostly I didn’t use zoom on my camera, to retain the impression of height, but this is an exception. I loved the early morning shadows of both animals and trees.


P1320965001P1320966001P1330012001P1330021001At last some wild animals – running deer, tiny specks here.

We saw expensive properties (this was the Henley area).


I really was not leaning out of the basket to take this.



Presumably a dressage arena




P1320997001P1320998001We saw fields with patterns.



We three were facing the sun.  I think we got the best of the deal.






Why was this field so exquisitely green, when all around had been affected so badly by the lengthy drought?


Perhaps this aircraft is the clue.



A golf course


The greenkeeper?

And of course we saw views.  P1320946001P1320949001P1320961001P1320963001P1320978001



The Thames with Henley in the distance



P1320986001P1320991001P1330006001P1330011001P1330012001P1330013001P1330015001P1330019001After some 50 minutes it was time to start descending. P1330023001P1330024001P1330026001


I didn’t turn round to look at the views behind me much, for obvious reasons.






We have landed, in a field at Sonning Common.


The ‘plughole’ at the top is opened to let out some air

P1330048001Once the balloon had deflated sufficiently we were allowed to get out.


83-year-old yoga-loving Barbara didn’t really need help,


but she seemed delighted to accept it.


Teresa and I used the same method as each other.

P1330057001P1330058001We were invited/encouraged/cajoled to help push all the remaining air out of the balloon, then to roll it up and put it back in the basket.  P1330060001P1330062001


Barbara helped squeeze the air out…


… by rolling in the hay with her young man.


The balloon was tied into sections


All helped lift it towards and then into the basket

P1330083001It was some time before a minibus arrived to pick us up. The interval was very pleasantly spent sipping champagne and chatting with fellow passengers. P1330084001P1330085001P1330086001It had been worth the two-year wait!  Thanks Geoff for kicking off the whole adventure!  And Adventure Balloons, we’re sorry for all the evil things we said about you every time you cancelled – we really do understand that you couldn’t take the risk.  And you served up perfect weather today.


Madeira Revisited 7


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Madeira Revisited 7. Last full day. By the way, my memory was playing me up.  It wasn’t on Day 5 but today that we went to Cabo Girâo, at 580metres/1900 feet the highest cliff in ‘Europe’. Here’s the view eastwards, towards Funchal, from the glass platform.  P1320637001From there, we continued along the coast to the west, and then turned inland to another upland, very different from what we had seen, a plateau heathland, once more above the clouds.  P1320881001They were building a huge reservoir where we made a brief stop (in the middle of the left-hand brown area on the map), but we were there to see more of this magnificent native plant, called Pride of Madeira, echium candicansP1320659001P1320661001I’d liked it so much the first time I saw it, on the first day, that I’d bought a t-shirt.  The flowerheads really are this big. 20180627_094406[1]The label says it was made in Madeira.

Next we descended in our minibuses to a place called Rabaçal, (on the left-hand edge of the brown bit on the map), within the clouds. Indeed it was difficult to tell whether we were in mist or whether it was actually raining.  Fortunately, the longest part of our subsequent walk was downwards on a long, quite narrow, very quiet, wind-y road, and out of the clouds.


Good to see this natural stream, after all those levadas



We were all spread out, and, uncertain as to whether we should continue on the road or take this steep path, Christine, Richard, David and I stood here for a long while nattering. It turned out we could have taken either.

When the tarmac came to an end, we continued on a further steep path downwards, but this fortunately became a flat levada walk shortly afterwards.


Madeiran chaffinches were everywhere, and very friendly. I have resisted posting photos of them every day.  This one, like many, had a deformity on its feet.

P1320693001P1320694001At the end – a place called Risco – there was a long, but narrow, waterfall, to which I found it difficult to do justice in photos.  P1320702001





The walk was a there and back one again.



There was no doubt a fantastic view behind the cloud…

It was with great pleasure that most of us, when we got back to the tarmac road, took a little bus provided by the local authority (at 3 euros each) to get back to our own minibuses.  All this took much longer than anticipated, and it was rather late when we had our lunch in what was no doubt a beautiful spot on the heath, picnic tables and all, but sadly we were once more in the chill and damp of cloudland.


Our final stop of the day was in what was formally designated ‘cloud forest’ (warmer here because more sheltered), where we were able to see how plants just absorbed water from the atmosphere, and indeed were growing on each other.  P1320717001P1320723001P1320725001Back at the hotel, it was time to pack, then go down one last time to a restaurant near the seafront, and climb back again.

The following morning, it was time to say good bye to the hotel (the Residencial Pina) and its friendly staff.


My room right in the middle, over the breakfast room. That’s a dragon tree.


That had come into harbour overnight


We gather at the main building/bar awaiting our lifts to the airport

When I visited Madeira in November 2016 on a regular tourist holiday, which I did much enjoy, I had sensed that there must be wilder areas, where it was possible to look around without the view being interrupted by rooves and cables.  This holiday proved to me that this was true, and showed me just how beautiful deeper Madeira is.  There are still some things I would like to explore there…


Madeira Revisited 6


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Madeira Revisited 6.  Free day. I definitely wanted to go up to Monte on the cable car, and I definitely wanted to go out on a cetacean watching boat trip, as I had enjoyed both so much in November 2016.  Naturetrek, the wildlife travel company I was with, had reserved a place for me on a boat trip they recommended, in a fast RIB (rigid inflatable boat), and that sounded fun.  (I had been on a catamaran on my previous visit.)

When I got down to a later breakfast than usual, everyone had been and gone, bar our leader and his assistant. Most were planning to visit the Monte Palace tropical gardens which I had so enjoyed before, and then go on to the Botanical Gardens afterwards, and one had even a further garden in mind for after that. I was planning to take things more leisurely.

In due course I walked down to the seafront,


Just a little reminder of how steep it was.


The Bonita da Madeira again

and made my way gently to the cable car base.  At the bottom was a small exhibition showing how the local embroidery was made.  I was pleased because I knew that one of my companions, who had been disappointed that the embroidery factory was to be shut on this (Sun)day, would have seen it on her own way up to Monte.

I was not disappointed in the cable car ride.  P1320404001P1320406001P1320408001


It was pleasing to see the regrowth after the disastrous arson that had taken place two years previously.  P1320413001Four people had died, and last time I was there a young man was awaiting trial.  I learnt this time that he is now serving ten years’ imprisonment.

Once up at Monte, I wandered around and had a look at the church, P1320417_modifié-1001and examined this statue in its forecourt of Charles/Karl/Carlo Hapsburg, the last reigning (until 1918) Austro-Hungarian Emperor, nephew of the assassinated Franz Ferdinand of Austria. He died in Madeira in 1922. P1320416001And I noticed that the toboggans weren’t running.  (One ride on them in a lifetime is enough.)P1320419001I then went to the café hoping to have a pastel de nata (custard tart), but had to settle for a large portion of just the custard itself.  It was good!  At the same time I watched the cable cars, and tried to see the mechanism by which the pods switched to another speed.  P1320423001Even once back in the cable car I failed miserably to do so, though I could feel the change of gear.  P1320425001The ride down was just as enjoyable, and there were no blue shirt reflections to mess up my pictures this time.  The ride is so quiet you can hear birds!P1320432001


I walked along the sea front towards the boat companies’ outlets.


Sea defences…


…hopefully more effective than this, facing out to sea.

I had 90 minutes to spare before my boat was due to leave, but something told me to go to check in and pay well in advance.  I’m glad I did. They had been wanting to reach me to tell me that they had had to cancel, because they had had a big party cancellation themselves.  They suggested an RIB with another company, but said that even that was not certain to happen, so when they than suggested the catamaran trip I had done 18 months previously, I seized upon it.  More hanging around, but I spun my lunch out, saw and greeted four of my companions returning from a different boat trip, and in due course it was my turn.  P1320445001


Yet again the Bonita da Madeira

After a while we headed for where a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins was said to be hanging out, and for 15 minutes we were entertained by at least 20 of these small cetaceans, surrounding the boat near and far, some of them bow-riding. P1320480001P1320536001P1320502001P1320559001


My favourite photo of course


Showing why these are called Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Later on, we made for where a (Bryde’s) whale was thought to be (there is communication between the boats throughout these trips) but despite our hanging around beyond the time needed to return to the harbour on time, it did not surface.  But I much enjoyed watching the sea birds, and I was told  that these were mainly Cory’s shearwater. P1320585001



As we made out way past Cabo Girâo, where we had been the previous day, we saw  another kind of bird up in the sky, taking advantage of the thermals. P1320613001Some of them accompanied us, or we them, back along the coast, P1320618001and two landed on a beach.  P1320620001This final picture is of the celebrated Reid’s Hotel in Funchal. Four of our number had splashed 155 euros a head on dinner there one night!P1320626001As I would have been late meeting up with people I had arranged to eat with, I spent 7 euros on a taxi back up to the hotel, feeling guilty as I did so, but made up for a it later after a delicious meal, when once more, I trekked back up on foot with my friends.

Madeira Revisited 5


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Madeira Revisited 5. I don’t know what the weather was like on the southern coast of the island on the Saturday, but for some of our varied experiences elsewhere on the Saturday it was cold and/or damp, though things did get better from time to time. There were several elements to this long day.  We were first taken to Cabo Girâo, the highest sea cliff in ‘Europe’. (Being Portuguese, Madeira counts as Europe, though geologically it is part of the African plate.) I had been here before, and ‘thrilled’ once more to standing on a glass platform with nothing below that.


Photo taken on previous visit

Then we moved on to Encumeada in the middle of the island (1007 metres/3303 feet), where the chill was really felt, especially as some of us had decided that we did not need to carry or wear as much weather protection as previously.  We had been warned, so had only ourselves to blame!  Anyway, we had a mile-long walk along a levada, the borders of which were not entirely by natural vegetation but included some attractive planting.  P1320149001P1320157001P1320164001P1320167001P1320168001P1320170001At the end of our walk was a tunnel, through which the levada continued, and along which we had been intended to walk, but I was glad that that thought had been abandoned – it would have meant uncomfortable bending over for 800 metres.  P1320171001I did venture a very little way into it, and if this photo is viewed on a big enough screen, the light at the end of the tunnel can just be seen.


(Photo artificially over-exposed. It was really much darker than this.)



For some reason this cockerel was hanging around.

Back the mile to our minibuses, and we moved on to Sâo Vicente on the north coast.  P1320178001My memory of this place in November 2016 was of a meal taken in a revolving restaurant.  This time our stop was for coffee, and then for a very short exploration of the local geology.  I nipped off at one point to buy some cherries from a stall, and when I rejoined the group they were all staring at the beach.  I could see a tern or to. P1320192001P1320201001And I liked these contrasting grey textures. P1320206001 Only on looking more closely did I see that some of the stones were in fact terns, roseate terns I was informed. P1320208001From here we were taken just a very short distance westwards, and deposited to walk along the old coastal road (closed to traffic) for about a mile.


I really would not have cared to have driven along that old road!

I really enjoyed this walk.  It was easy walking (as had the levada been), the sun was now out, and the plants growing on the vertical cliff wall were spectacular.  P1320215001P1320218001P1320220001P1320221001P1320222001P1320231001P1320235001P1320236001P1320241001P1320242001Two of us were ahead of the others, so we were the first to venture in to this tunnel, which we could see was dripping wet for the first and last several metres.  P1320243001P1320244001It was fun, once emerged from it, to see the others noticing the ‘hazard’ and then venturing in.  P1320252001P1320263001


Indian/Macaronesian Red Admiral


Speckled wood

P1320280001P1320281001From here we were taken via Seixal to Châo da Ribeira, where there were picnic benches. The sun had gone in again, and it was again a little chilly.  We were joined by 5 feral cats and a kitten, all very wary, but won over by gifts of ham and cheese.   P1320287001P1320296001From here we went for a short walk in the laurisilva, laurel forest, of which Madeira has the one of the few surviving remnants in ‘Europe’.  It once flourished around the Mediterranean, but the Ice Ages did for it nearly everywhere there. Our botanist leader was very excited at being in this rich and rare spot.  P1320317001Lunch had been late, and we were running later.  We made just one more stop on the way back to the hotel, to see the rare Madeiran saxifrage.  Here it is: P1320324001and here are some of us looking at it.  P1320331001Another lovely dinner in a Funchal restaurant, another fitness session back up to the hotel. Then watching a fireworks display taking place back down in the harbour, an event which the town of Funchal lays on every Saturday evening in June.P1320366001P1320355001P1320382001P1320356001P1320361001


Madeira Revisited 4


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Madeira Revisited 4. A very different landscape on Friday. We were at the far eastern tail of the island, on the Sâo Lourenço peninsula, dry and arid and very windy. P1320881001The usual pattern: a there and back walk, botanists behind, better walkers in front, me taking pictures of flowers and views, and many walkers of many nationalities. Lots of up and down, but not as much as the day before.P1320061001


Looking south. The smudges in the sea are a fish farm.



More layers of volcanic ejecta



The sea to the north

P1320082001Unfortunately I was beaten after an hour or so. By the wind.  Not having had full sensation in my feet for a couple of years now, passing over a high and very exposed spot, unbalanced by camera and binoculars round my neck, and wearing a wide brimmed sunhat, I was actually terrified that I would be blown over by a gusts of the (pleasantly warm) wind onto the hard stony ground.  Very reluctantly I had to turn back and reach a more sheltered spot, where I sat for a while.  P1320093001


Maximum zoom on the fish farm and a small boat tending it

P1320098001P1320100001After a bit, I moved further towards the car park, and found an almost suitable boulder on which to sit. For a long while.  I confess that I did get a little bored, but amused myself taking more photos.P1320103001P1320111001P1320113001 And a video.


I was on a mini peninsula at the side of a bay, the Baia d’Abra.  The other side of the bay was a long way off, and it was impossible to make individual people out.  But I suspected that some people sitting down way across above the multi-coloured cliff were a few of my companions, so I took a photo on maximum zoom, and enlarged it as much as I could in my camera. (I really was quite bored by now! There was nowhere to lie down and have a snooze, nor was it warm enough.)P1320110001 I could indeed identify people from our party.  I assumed they were sitting to have their lunch (which I took to as a cue to have my own) but I learned later they had been birdwatching and had seen, among other things, canary and rock sparrow. Oh well, I had watched grasshoppers … P1320104001and a rather elegant wooden tourist boat, the Bonita da Madeira, following the coastline of the bay. P1320116001Together once more, we went back along the south coast towards Funchal, and stopped at Ponta da Garajau, P1320146001for liquid refreshment and what was intended to be a further walk down a cliff path to find a particular plant. P1320118001P1320122001P1320124001P1320126001P1320128001P1320130001P1320140001However, the authorities had roped it off as too dangerous.  This did not stop our leader venturing just a few metres into it to collect this insect from a cactus. P1320142001He then passed it to  a volunteer who agreed to crush it in her palm. P1320143001This was the cochineal insect, much prized as a very expensive trading item centuries ago, and which set me off singing to myself an extract from a madrigal by Thomas Weelkes (1575-1623), Thule, the period of cosmography. This includes the line, ‘The Andalusian merchant, that returns laden with cochineal and China dishes,…’.

Another delicious meal in a downtown Funchal restaurant, and the obligatory exercise afterwards (taxis were available for those who wished) ended the day.

Madeira Revisited 3


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Madeira Revisited 3.  We were above the clouds again on the Thursday, quite near to where we had been the previous day, but after a much longer drive because of a road closure.  We were driven to a pretty high spot, and thereafter would walk, theoretically to the top of Pico Ruivo (1862 metres/1608 feet) which was not much higher, except that there was a great deal of up and down, (a very great deal of up and down), on the way. I left the keen botanists behind, and better walkers than I went ahead of me.  I just took my time, and, as the previous day, amused myself taking photos of plants and views.


Near the beginning of the walk, looking south


Looking north-west


Looking north, over to the radar station on Pico d’Arieiro where we had been the previous day. So near yet so far. It was walkable along a rather hazardous footpath, and we saw people on it.



Looking back after a short while to the car park


The weather was ideal for walking, not too hot, with a little breeze. Much, but not all, of the path was paved, like this.



Could a path be more inviting…?


lined with buttercuppy plants,


… and dandeliony plants?

P1310982001We had been told that the last part, to the top of the Pico, was just 400 steps. The white splodge at the upper right of this picture is a refuge at the bottom of those last 400 steps. P1310986001After quite a lot of walking I had admitted to myself that there was no way I was going to inflict that last stage on myself, and indeed that I would probably turn round well before it.  In fact I did make it to the refuge, but once there was not in the least enticed by the thought of being able to see a very rare plant (viola paradoxa, a yellow violet, an oxymoron to me!) at the top, or by the encouragement of my companions to attempt it.  P1310992001P1310999001


A guide at the refuge to some of the plants in the area. I can’t see my buttercuppy or dandeliony plants there – probably too common – but the viola paradoxa is there).


On the way back

P1320012001P1320014001P1320018001P1320023001I ate my lunch at this halt, P1320021001pleased to find that it was not totally occupied by others already. Given that doing the walk were many people of many nationalities – German, then French, then Portuguese in my estimation far outnumbering British people – I was pleased to have a bench to myself.


The cloud cleared to the north of the island …


but not to the north, which is not how it’s meant to be!

We moved on in the early afternoon to Porto da Cruz, on the north coast, where I had been on my previous visit to Madeira, so I didn’t take many photos.  While there we were able to visit a sugar cane processing factory, new to me,P1320038001to have a wander around the coastline, P1320049001P1320050001and to admire the geology.  P1320051001I hadn’t really twigged before that volcanic rock could be sedimentary, but of course these lines are formed by layer upon layer of volcanic ash and other spewings.

A cool drink (I took the drink based on local sugar cane rum, poncha,) in the shade at a local café made a nice end to our outing, and another good evening meal at a Funchal restaurant, followed by a vertical hike back to our hotel, rounded off the day nicely.

Madeira Revisited 2


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Madeira Revisited 2.  Wednesday 6th June. On my previous visit we had covered a lot of ground, and it was inevitable that this time I would repeat some places.  But this was no problem, as the nature and extent of the visits were very different. On this and four of the following five days (the fifth was free) our focus was nature, and since there seemed sadly not to be many butterflies or a great variety of birds, it was plants and their flowers which were the main interest, so it was a good thing that our principal guide, Martin, was a superb botanist. That said, I had not a hope of retaining the English names – where there were such – let alone the Latin ones which  tripped off his tongue, so I just enjoyed myself taking hundreds – literally – of photos, from which to choose a few for here, of the plants and the views. (Many of the species had ‘maderensis’, Madeiran, in their names.)P1320881001Each morning the minibuses picked us up at 9 a.m. for the day’s touring. I had indeed been to our first stop, the Pico do Arieiro, pretty well due north of Funchal, halfway between north and south coasts. As it is 1818 metres, nearly 6000 feet, high, the third highest peak on the island, I was pleased the buses took us all the way there, and also that, as before, while we had driven through cloud, we were well above it by now, and indeed this time it cleared while we were there. Previously, we had hung around the top by the radar station and the café/shop centre, admiring the wonderful views.  This time we walked among them along a ridge for an hour or so, learning about the plants. P1310745001P1310747001P1310748001


Echium candicans, ‘Pride of Madeira’.



All the rock is of volcanic origin of course

Our next stop, nearby, was also familiar, Ribeiro Frio, but this time, whereas it had been cold and misty before, the sun was out for most of the time, but not too hot, ideal for walking.


This fungus, Martin explained, is pretty rare because it will only grow on this particular tree, which is endemic to Madeira.

P1310814001P1310821001Indeed, on the previous occasion I had noticed that there were ‘levada’ walks from that place, known for its trout farms, and I was pleased to have the opportunity this time to follow them up. We did two, one before our picnic lunch and one after. The first P1310832001P1310833001P1310845001P1310855001P1310858001P1310863001took us to a viewpoint at Balcóes.  I took all these following photos within ten minutes of each other and from the same spot!


Looking down


Looking across


Looking back


Looking up


Looking down and leaning sideways

After lunch, a little way from Balcóes,P1310893001I struck out on my own, as did most people, leaving the very keen botanists with Martin, along a broad levada walk, again from Ribeiro Frio.  Levadas are watercourses built from the 15th to the 20th centuries to transfer water from the much wetter north of the island to the dry south. They now also provide walking paths, some narrow, crumbling and dangerous, some very broad, with only imperceptible inclines. P1310896001P1310902001P1310903001P1310905001P1310906001P1310907001P1310914001


Marsh orchid

A soft drink at the end at a café back in Ribeiro Frio was well-deserved, and provided us with entertainment from Madeiran chaffinches like this one (which has ‘maderensis’ in its Latin name). P1310942001After a rest at out hotel, we walked down to town for a meal in one of the dozens of restaurants in the Rua de Santa Maria, where you take your liberty in your hands if you haven’t already a booking (we had) or at least a target firmly in mind!P1310943001


Madeira Revisited 1


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Madeira Revisited 1. When I went for the first time to the island of Madeira in November 2016 (posts Madeira 1 to Madeira 8), although I had been a little disappointed in certain respects, or perhaps because of that, I really wanted to return to see the wilder parts of the island. So I booked three back-to-back trips, each with a different focus, with Naturetrek for this month.  The middle one did not attract sufficient numbers, so was cancelled, so I decided only to do the first and longest one, called ‘The Floating Garden’.

Madeira is a small island, about the size of the Isle of Wight, but it has a number of different ecologies, all based on the volcanic geology that made the island a very recent 7 million years ago.

We were 15 with two leaders, and travelled around – when not on foot within the capital, Funchal, in two minibuses. But this first day, once we had settled in to our very nice hotel, the Residencial Pina,  – noting that it was going to be a steep hike up from the waterfront – and had a bite of lunch, we set off for an exploration of the centre of the town.


We reckoned that this was probably an abandoned school building


The clothing is misleading. The weather was quite mild. The steepness of the road is not misleading!


Our botanist guide was giving us the names of all the trees and plants we saw. My brain couldn’t cope!


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The trees are called ‘Pride of Bolivia’, Tipuana tipu

Once at the municipal gardens I decided to peel off and do my own thing.  P1310709001


The 1982 statue celebrates the octocentenary of St Francis of Assisi’s birth in 1182 – three centuries before the island had been (re)discovered by the Portuguese. Brugmansia flowers.



The tree was in the street, not the gardens. The black and white building materials are typical.


Detail of tree

It was nice to be back in roads I recognised, though I didn’t stay very long, and made my way back up to the hotel.


I learned in due course that the hotel was about 70 metres from sea level.


The view from my balcony

We walked down again in the evening, after a briefing on our next day’s activities, and ate at the very good (all the restaurants we ate at were very good, though some were not as good as this one at handling our need for separate bills) Restaurante dos Combatantes, right by the municipal gardens. Some returned by taxi, and some of us walked back up.  I could see I was going to be much fitter by the end of the seven days!