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Strange Dichotomy

Travel and home: two concepts that are very different but both extremely appealing.

PortOct01Travel means freedom. It’s also lack of routine and unpredictability, plus chances to discover something new – whether that’s a place, a building, a person or something never tasted before.

PortOct02I’ve just come back from two weeks in Portugal, a country I love. The places Carolyn and I went weren’t completely new but it was still an adventure. One highlight was staying in a small village called Monsaraz. It’s an idyllic spot – not much more than a castle, church and three streets of whitewashed houses on a hill overlooking the rolling Alentejo landscape.

PortOct04We also discovered some gorgeous new beaches on the coast and revisited a couple of old haunts. Plentiful sunshine, blue skies, cheap wine, excellent cakes and the charming Portuguese themselves helped make it a wonderful holiday.

(I did take a laptop and got some writing work done so it wasn’t all play.)

PortOct03Funny thing is, though, I’m glad to be back. I didn’t miss anything in particular but there’s definite comfort in the familiarity of home.

Maybe it’s partly because we only moved into our new place at the end of August – and I’ve got lots of work to do on the house. I’ve also got a stack of writing projects ahead – edits, rewrites and new projects. And I can always start planning the next trip away…

Cobbled Together

Sometimes a collection of individual parts can create a remarkable new whole:

cobbler1cobbler2I came across this statue – about 20ft high – on a roundabout in the small town of Almodovar in Portugal’s Alentejo region. The town used to be know as ‘cobbler land’ because of the high number of shoemakers.

The statue is made of all kinds of miscellaneous metal items. The straps of the cobbler’s apron are made from the chains off some type of tracked vehicle (I think!) and the top of the apron is formed from two old sewing machines and the rest out of circular saw blades.

One of the many things I love about Portugal is the amount – and variety – of public art on roundabouts.

New Shores & Busy Skies

Hello again. I’m back online after moving house 10 days ago¬† – which meant no internet connection for a while.

The Friday before last, Carolyn and I finally got the keys to our new house. We haven’t moved that far – only about 15 miles west along the coast to Southbourne in Bournemouth.

Southbourne Beach - early morning.

Looking across Poole Bay, early morning.

But it’s our house! For the first time in nearly six years, we’re living in our own place – and all our possessions are here with us rather than being in various locations around the country.

Fitting everything in is proving a bit of a challenge. Our new house is only two bedrooms (the old one was three) and none of the rooms are that big. (The size issue began to sink in when we realised our bed wouldn’t fit up the stairs. Still not sure where the second tandem bike is going either.)

Still, being forced to downsize and declutter is proving quite therapeutic. So much stuff seems precious until you get rid of it – then you give a sigh of relief and realise you don’t actually miss it at all.

We’re still getting to know our new stamping ground but have enjoyed a few early morning dips at our local beach and checked out our nearest Indian restaurant.

Looking east to Hengistbury Head

Looking east to Hengistbury Head

It hasn’t all been peace and tranquility though – it was Bournemouth Air Festival over the past four days and we’ve had everything from fighter jets to old biplanes buzzing overhead, looping the loop and performing all kinds of rolls and other aerobatics.

At least it’s not boring here!

A Red Arrow coming up the street!

A Red Arrow coming up the street!

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Which way’s up?

The beach (and bay) looking a bit more crowded.

The beach (and bay) looking a bit more crowded.

Ancient Giants

The name of England’s New Forest is a bit of a misnomer. It dates back to 1079, when William the Conqueror decided to turn it into a Royal preserve so he and his mates would have a private corner of the country where they could go hunting deer.

I guess that’s one advantage of being a conqueror – you can make up your own rules and decide which bits of the new territory to keep for yourself.

trees03It wasn’t an entirely successful move for the Conqueror’s dynasty though. Just 21 years later, the second Norman king – William Rufus – died in the New Forest after a fellow ‘nobleman’ shot him with an arrow rather than a deer.

It doesn’t sound like William II was that popular. His hunting companions apparently left his body where it fell and his death was described by some church chroniclers as an ‘act of God’ and an appropriate end for a wicked king.trees01Whether he was assassinated or killed by accident is uncertain, although there were many conspiracy theories (nothing wrong with them – fuel for many books).

However, one of the other members of the hunting party was William’s younger brother Henry. Things didn’t go so badly for him. He had himself crowned king a few days later and managed 35 years on the throne.trees02Whatever the truth of how and why William Rufus was killed, the decision to make the New Forest into an exclusive hunting ground has left its mark on this part of the world.

The forest remains as a patchwork of heathland, bogs and woodland. It’s not exactly wild – it’s been managed for centuries – but its depths contain some of the biggest and oldest trees in England. You could almost imagine Robin Hood appearing out of the greenwood… but sadly that’s a different forest in another part of the country.

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Life Is Amazing

We’ve come away for the weekend to see my sister’s new puppy… sorry, I should say to visit my sister, her husband and the new puppy!

pup0Mali is about as cute as an eight-week-old border collie pup can be. A bundle of fur with a fat belly, innocent eyes… and sharp little teeth.

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Carolyn and Mali get to know each other.

One of the best things about a young puppy, though, is just watching it. Everything is new. The whole world is there to be licked, chewed, sniffed, pounced on, wrestled with and explored.

pup6Somethings, like garden hoses, are definitely dangerous and need to be subdued:

pup3pup4pup7Other new experiences – like her first bath – are a bit more traumatic!

pup5pup9But at this age, bad things are quickly forgotten. A moving leaf, a wriggling toe… or catching a glimpse of her own tail are enough to make her forget the nasty bath.

And when all the excitement gets too much, it’s time to crash!

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It’s a wonderful life when everything is new. It’s a shame that as we humans get older we often forget how amazing the world is. Maybe we all need to discover our inner puppy (or kitten – if you really must) and get out there to explore the world anew with unjaded eyes.

Is This Summer?

We’ve had so many wash-outs in this country recently that expectations are pretty low when it comes to British summers.

But we’ve woken yet again to blue skies, flowers out everywhere, birds tweeting happily… and Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final this afternoon!

Morning view of The Needles.

Morning view of The Needles.

Hurst Spit stretching off into the morning sun.

Hurst Spit stretching off into the morning sun.

Sea poppies.

Sea poppies.

Trouble is, when the sun’s shining from 5am to 9.20pm, it can be hard to make myself pull the curtains and shut myself away with my laptop to work on the final chapter of my new book!

Mountains, Rivers, Forests & Marauding Ducks

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Home again. Twelve nights in Slovenia seemed to go way too fast. Good holiday though and would really recommend Slovenia as a place to visit.

The country’s small enough to drive across in a day (on the motorway, not the back roads) and only has a population of about 2 million so there’s oodles of space.

slov02

If you love the outdoors it’s definitely a place to go – snow-capped mountains, wild forests, gushing Alpine streams etc. Also lots of thermal pools and water parks to play in.

Lake Bled (above) is the spot most tourists head for and the fairytale setting is special. But there are plenty of other beautiful places.

slov06slov03slov04

Apart from all the outdoor stuff, other good things about Slovenia include friendly people, some excellent beer and the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

Bad things are the incomprehensible language – my favourite town out of the ones we visited was called Ptuj. (Sadly we didn’t make it to the village of Fuckovci.)

And then there were the marauding ducks that tried to invade our camp site. Not sure if they were after our dinner or the wine.slov05

Sombre Skies

We got home this afternoon after a five-hour journey back from Cornwall, down in the far south west of England.

We used to live in Cornwall and although good to catch up with some old friends it was otherwise a very sombre experience. An old colleague of Carolyn’s was having a retirement party – aged 57 – having been told about a month ago that he’s got terminal cancer and can only expect to live another few months.

It was a strange experience going to what was – in reality – a funeral wake in advance. Knowing what to say under the circumstances was hard, particularly as the person concerned is such a lovely, good-natured guy who will be sorely missed.

So, it was a bitter-sweet time back in Cornwall and – as you can see from the pictures – the weather was in suitably sombre mood.

Cornwall 01Cornwall 02Cornwall 03Cornwall 05Cornwall 04

Alentejo Dreams

It’s grey, cold and damp here – so I’ve been torturing myself by looking back at pictures from the Alentejo, one of my favourite parts of Portugal.

Elvas - old hilltop city and castle on the frontier with Spain.

Elvas – old hilltop city and castle on the frontier with Spain.

The Alentejo is one of the largest regions of Portugal – straddling the southern part of the country from the Atlantic coast to the border with Spain. It’s known for its rolling agricultural landscape, cork forests and whitewashed towns.

One of the other things I remember from the Alentejo is the beautiful blue skies, sadly lacking in England at this time of year.

Fountain in the centre of the World Heritage city of Evora.

Fountain in the centre of the World Heritage city of Evora.

Doorway in the old town of Castelo de Vide.

Doorway in the old town of Castelo de Vide.

I miss Portugal. For the time being though I’ll have to make do with pictures and memories. For more photos see this page.

Snowhobbits

This has nothing to do with my books and it isn’t even my picture but I couldn’t resist posting it anyway:

Snowhobbit. (C) Amelia Owens.

Snowhobbit. (C) Amelia Owens.

My 16-year-old niece Amelia is a Tolkien fiend and also has a definite artistic streak. Glad to see she didn’t get bored when her school was closed for a couple of days due to snow!