Jersey cows and a rather unusual heritage

The Channel Island of Jersey is just 14 miles from France. The vast majority of the street names are French. Until the middle of last century, many of the islanders spoke a largely incomprehensible (to outsiders) version of Norman French known as Jerriais or Jersey French.


Jersey and the rest of the channel islands are entirely British. They are, however, not part of the United Kingdom.

And their loyalty to the British Crown comes from William the Conqueror!

Yes, it’s complicated and the best way to make some sense of the history and heritage of Jersey is to spend your first day, or a good proportion of it, at Elizabeth Castle close by the main town of St. Helier.

Make sure you arrive before midday and you will spend an informative and amusing few hours being introduced to the characters and events that have formed the modern island. Along the way, you can witness drill manoeuvres, watch and even assist in the live firing of a cannon and make sure that you cover your ears for the live musket firing demonstration.

When the tide is in, you can get to and from the castle on an amphibious truck. When the tide is out it is possible to walk both ways along a concrete causeway. However when you get to the castle, they may claim not to be able to understand French – a ‘ruse de guerre’ employed by a Captain Mulcaster which allowed precious time for reinforcements to arrive during the Battle of Jersey in 1781.

Hotels in Jersey

Elizabeth Castle
Elizabeth Castle from the pier by the Freedom Tree


Mull in December

It was probably fairly optimistic of us to head off to the West Coast of Scotland in December and not expect any adverse weather events.

As it turned out we were very lucky. All the ferries were cancelled the day before we left and it snowed with a vengeance the day after.

The Highlands of Scotland are beautiful at any time of year and the Isle of Mull is no exception.

Up in the Western Isles, the tourist season lasts from Easter until the beginning of November. Outside of this period, the days are shorter and the weather less clement. And lots of things are closed for the winter.

Despite missing many of the tourist attractions, Mull still has much to enjoy in the off season. A lack of other tourists was one of the benefits of our late arrival.

The majority of the island roads are single track with passing places. Residents are very good at reversing, tourists, apparently, not so much. When asked, one resident explained how easy it was to travel on the island roads in summer when following a convoy of rented camper vans.

And the attractions that were open were less than crowded. We seemed to have the island to ourselves and did in fact have the distillery tour in Tobermory completely to ourselves.

We came upon Mull almost by accident. We recommend a more deliberate approach.

Things to do on the Isle of Mull

The very best afternoon tea in London

We have just been to afternoon tea at Claridges. And we are, apparently, never going to have afternoon tea again.

That’s not because it was an awful experience. In fact precisely the opposite. It was excellent.

Just because I checked out the various purveyors of tea and sandwiches before we went. And chose the best one. My other half has decided that it would now be a let down to settle for anything less than the best. So what I really meant to say was; we are never going anywhere ELSE for afternoon tea.

If you do decide to choose Claridges, there are a couple of things we would have liked to have known before we went.

How long does it last?

A leisurely afternoon tea at Claridges normally lasts about two hours. But you can stay as long as you like. The service was attentive but not intrusive without even the slightest hint that the table was needed for other guests.

Indeed we were told a story about two little old ladies who arrived for the first sitting of afternoon tea at 2:30 pm. They were eventually waved off on their way home at 1:30 am the next morning by the night staff. They had, apparently, spent the whole time chatting. Which is precisely what afternoon tea is all about.

What if I don’t like what is on offer?

The whole ethos of the Claridges afternoon tea is that you should be able to eat and drink the things you like.

Substitutions are not a problem. If you enjoy a particular type of sandwich, it’s perfectly OK to order a whole plate. If you have a dietary preference, the chefs will ensure that you leave happy and satisfied.

The ‘standard’ selection was excellent, although the substitution for my egg sandwich was even better.

Can you do an Oliver Twist and ask for more?

Of course you can. But please be careful. Don’t overindulge on the sandwiches. It is definitely a good idea to leave room for the scones and pastries.

The light and freshly baked scones are particularly worth saving space for!

What if I don’t like tea?

The short answer is that there are other drinks you can order, notably a specially blended Claridges coffee.

The slightly longer answer is that you may well find a tea or infusion to your taste from the large variety on offer. Claridges have a selection of 23 different teas and infusions. These range from light, white teas to heavier, black teas, green teas and a range of herbal infusions.

Fortunately the waiters are very knowledgeable and will help you pick an appropriate selection.

And if you don’t like a particular tea, you can always try another.


Low cost, long haul flights

I really don’t mind Easyjet

Or Ryanair, or German Wings or any of a host of other no frills airlines. With the one very important caveat that the journey lasts no more than, at most, 2 hours. And a one and a half hour limit would be even better.

The flight, in all these short haul situations, is simply a commodity. You literally pay your money and you take your chance. As long as you are careful when you book and when you show up for the flight, you won’t fall foul of any of the small print.

I’m not so sure about the budget long haul carriers. I’m writing this piece on a WOW Air flight from Reykjavik to New York. The same caveats apply to long haul no frills carriers as short haul. WOW Air have a veritable string of extras from cabin bags to water but as long as you know what you are getting into, there will be no problems.

Take cabin bags for instance. WOW let’s you bring one personal item on board included in the price. I won’t use the word free in this context, as we all know that what you get is included in the price you pay. It’s that pesky free lunch again.

The bag must be no bigger, in inches, than 17 x 13 x 10. That’s the size of a fairly big backpack. We brought two. One is in the overhead bin and one under the seat in front. However the cabin crew police the under the seat in front rule quite severely. Luckily my bag looks quite big and hefty. Well, small enough to get past the carry on rules but big enough to look like it should stay in the overhead bin.

All the other, usual suspects, the coats, the shopping bags, smaller backpacks and other such flotsam and jetsam have been given back to their owners for under seat stowage.

None of which should be a problem as the rules are quite clear if you bother to read them. Something the upstanding citizen in the seat across the aisle clearly couldn’t be bothered with as he puts his back up as soon as the crew members are looking the other way.

The biggest problem with this flight is that I am bored. It wouldn’t be so bad if I was able to sleep but I’m a tall guy and the seats are just not made in my size.

But what a pathetic excuse. Am I really saying that I would have been happier paying more for an airline that lulled me to sleep with movies and punctuated my misery with food? Because, let’s be fair here, that’s about the only difference.

And the flight crew seem just as bored as I am. With very few takers for the food and drink, they don’t have much to do.

There’s not really much to choose between carriers in terms of space when we are talking coach. Maybe next time I’ll book further ahead and add on some legroom.

Maybe next time I’ll plan a bit better and choose a book that makes me want to keep reading. Or download some entertainment for my tablet because the row of seats I am sitting in has a very generous four USB power ports between the three of us. It’s those six Ps. Proper preparation prevents…


Since writing this piece, we have had the pleasure of travelling with another of the ‘low cost’ long haul carriers. We managed to pick up a flight back from New York to London with Norwegian. It was booked relatively last minute, but still came out at a bargain price with just two weeks to go.

Please note, however, that the word ‘pleasure’ in the last paragraph was not meant sarcastically. The flight was a real pleasure. Checkin was civilised. The plane was new, the seats were comfortable and the seat back entertainment system was enormous. We will be back.

The most scenic rail journey in Europe

If you ever need to travel between Frankfurt and Cologne, try your best to let the train take the strain. And make sure you take the slow train.

The express manages the journey in just over 80 minutes. The slow train takes an hour longer but includes an extensive and scenic trip up the Rhine river valley.

If you sit on the right hand side of the train from Frankfurt or the left from Cologne, you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the many picturesque towns on this winding stretch of the Rhine.

Every few kilometres, ruined castles and churches perch strategically above the river while thick city walls, watchtowers and the odd midstream fort stand guard down in the valley.

This has to be one of the most scenic rail routes in Europe.

Climbing to the top of Cologne cathedral

The final viewing platform in the tower of Cologne cathedral is one hundred metres above street level. To get there you have to climb exactly 533 steps.

On the way, unless you choose a nice cold winter day, be prepared to get hot and sweaty. The spiral staircase is fairly narrow with just about enough space to pass but best to leave your wheely suitcase in the hotel. Especially since you’re not even supposed to be taking a backpack, although they turned a blind eye when I went up.

A couple of roomy rest stops, both near the top are a welcome and interesting break. The bell chamber contains what you might expect, while a huge vaulted ceiling at the next stop cannot fail to impress.

At the very top, the best view is North along the Rhine or out over the cathedral rooftops towards the Hohenzollern Bridge and the other excellent viewing platform in the city. That’s the one with a lift by the way. And at the time of writing it was even a euro cheaper.

Cologne cathedral always makes me look up. I don’t think you can help it. Interesting then that there are intricate carvings facing in towards the building that are only really visible to the modern day tourist climbing the tower. I find it amazing that so much effort was put in to make the towers perfectly symmetrical even when nobody was expected to see a good proportion of the sculptures.

It was also interesting to note where the building was missing substantial lumps of masonry.

As a final comfort, although on this occasion I did not need it, there is a defibrillator at the top.

Getting to Prague Castle

Prague Castle, like most defensive works, is on a hill. If you have the stamina, you can just head across the Charles Bridge and walk up through the small alleyways to gain access to the castle and St Vitus Cathedral. There is, an easier, alternative.

Tram number 22 climbs the hill to the right hand side of the castle. There is even a stop dedicated to visiting the castle – Prazsky Hrad. You will find a large number of people leaving the tram at this stop.

However, if you prefer a more scenic, downhill stroll past such delights as the Junior Firefighter training camp, approaching the castle from above, take the tram two more stops to Pohorelec. From the tram stop, cross the road, turn left and head downhill, keeping left towards the castle.

The centre of the world?

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich started life in 1675 as a scientific research institute dedicated to solving the problem of the measurement of longitude.

Britain was a seafaring nation and it was vitally important that ships navigating the ocean were able to calculate their position at sea. Accurate star charts and later, very accurate clocks that could stand up to the rigours of ship board life were a major part of the research carried out at the observatory.

Longitude is a measure of how far around the globe a place is located. In 1884, an international conference agreed to measure longitude from a fixed point, termed the Prime Meridian, located at Greenwich. This meridian is marked at Greenwich with a stainless steel strip.

Due to modern, scientific mapping techniques, there are a number of prime meridians in the area which differ from the original meridian by up to a few metres.

Longitude can be measured by taking the angle of the sun whilst knowing the time of day. Hence Greenwich was and still is the home of global timekeeping.

The observatory is located at the top of a hill in Greenwich Park above the National Maritime Museum. It offers stunning views down to the museum and across the river to Canary Wharf and Docklands.

The image above shows a laser beam marking the zero longitude or Prime Meridian.

Details: Visit Greenwich Observatory

The gold rush ghost town

Bodie, California lies at the end of a three mile dirt track. The first time we tried to visit, Bodie was cut off by wildfires, so we headed off to Yosemite instead. Persevering, we came back a couple of days later on a beautiful, sunny August day with one of those expansive skies you seem to get all too easily in this part of the US.

The town began as a mining camp during the 1850s gold rush. By 1880 it was a booming wild west gold mining town with over sixty saloons along its mile long main street. Over the years the town had a hydroelectric power plant and a railway.

After the frenetic years of the gold rush, the town gradually declined with the last locally produced newspaper being printed in 1912 and the last gold mine closing in 1942.

The area has now been designated a National Historic Landmark becoming Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. Over a hundred buildings are still left standing. Although this is only a small percentage of the town at its height, the park is a fascinating trip back in time with several ancient automobiles and houses and businesses with interiors stocked with goods and furniture just as they were left.

Details: Bodie Ghost Town

An unknown soldier…

The Arc de Triomphe is a triumphal arch inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus but at 50 metres high is considerably larger. It stands at the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle and is a key focus for national events.

Originally conceived by Napoleon to honour the dead of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the arch, designed in 1806, was not completed until 1836.

The four main sculptural groups depict events between 1792 and 1815. Inscriptions on the arch list major French victories in the French Revolution and Napoleonic War. The arch also lists the names of 660 people, most of them generals, who fought in these campaigns. The underlining of some names signifies the death of that person in battle.

After the end of the First World War, the arch was chosen to be the symbolic resting place of the Unknown Soldier, a representative of all those soldiers who had died during the conflict but whose final resting place could not be identified.

A constantly burning, eternal flame burns at the base of the arch.

The Bastille Day parades on July 14th every year involve a military parade along the Champs Elysee past the Arc de Triomphe, aircraft flying above and wreaths laid at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the arch. Originally, victory processions would have passed through the arch, but, since the interment of the Unknown Soldier underneath the arch, parades have been rerouted around the arch.

A viewing platform at the top of the arch provides splendid views over Paris, particularly along the Axe Historique.

Details: Arc de Triomphe