Running, tail walking …. and twitching our way from Southport to Hesketh Bank

Friday 3rd February 2023

A day off coastal walking … instead we met up with a local running group – Red Rose Runners – for their 10.00am club run. I’d only gone along to have a solo poodle round while Steve joined them but they were very persuasive in encouraging me to join in. And they couldn’t have been nicer – every one of them. We ran over 5 miles and they were so inclusive – I was never made to feel a burden as they looped back and stopped for breaks and so genuinely welcomed both of us to their group. And the most amazing thing … the two run leads – Pete and Marian O’Grady – were, and in fact still are, Redway Runners. They moved up from Milton Keynes to Preston 10 years ago but Pete was one of the early members of RR and still maintains membership. We discussed many of our mutual RR friends (including Martin and Karen Lawrence, Michelle and Lee George-Barnes, Adam Sharman, Tina McGreal, Katie and James Down + others) and exchanged stories. We’re so grateful to them and hope to join in some other runs with them before we leave the area.

After-run coffee and biscuits with the Red Rose running club

Pete O’Grady doing the selfie and Marian O’Grady with the other red bobble hat

Saturday 4th February 2023

Another day off coastal walking but being a Saturday of course meant parkrun at 9.00am. And this week it was Preston parkrun and we had volunteered to Tail Walk (such a relief when we found it had the most horrendous hill and it was a three lap course)!! Still a beautiful course and an extremely friendly bunch of volunteers and runners. We had also volunteered as photographer and report writer, so busy, busy, busy! So many people chatted to us and were genuinely interested in our coastal walking and house-sitting adventures. Another tourist parkrun ticked off … and I can recommend – if you like hills that is!!!

And, before moving onto Sunday’s walk, I want to include two major milestones that happened this weekend.

On the eve of his 30th Birthday, whilst celebrating in Edinburgh, Tom proposed to Jess … and she said it was the easiest ‘Yes’ ever! We are bursting with happiness for them both and can’t wait to be back with them to celebrate. Are Engagement parties still a thing!?

Happy Engagement Tom and Jess xx

And today – 5/2/2023 – our beautiful boy turned 30. He’s an absolute legend, loved by all who know him … and it appears that he’s now ready to settle down!!

Happy 30th Birthday Tom xx

On a more sombre note, I also want to mention that Tom, since a child of 10, has always shared his birthday with such a sadness in our family – my beautiful niece Marsha was so tragically taken from us on this date. But we remember her today with so much love. It’s 20 years since you had to leave us Marshie but never a day goes by when you’re not in our hearts and thoughts. RIP sweet girl.

R.I.P sweet Marsha xx

Sunday 5th February 2023

Woke up to a covering of frost but the forecast was for higher temperatures and no rain. So, after walking the dogs we drove to Hesketh Bank where Steve had meticulously planned a place to leave the car, to catch a bus to Southport … and where the coastal path ended back in that area after our walk. The logistical planning of this whole project is a minefield!!

Easy bus journey into Southport and seeing different parts of the town today, we realised that it is possibly one of the smarter seaside resorts we’ve passed through. Spectacular hotels and department stores, trendy bars and cafes, tasteful amusement areas and an attractive marine lake. Sadly the only thing that lets it down is the beach – so not a resort to come to if you have a love of sandcastles and swimming. Still scenic but rather than sand, it is predominately covered in mud flats – so you’d get a bit messy making your way down to the sea and there’s certainly no convenient place to lay out your beach towel.

Glorious Southport

Red Rum is an icon in the town due to his success at the Grand National in nearby Aintree

Southport Pier

Southport Marine Lake

…. but this is the beach, not so glamorous!

Nesting on Southport Beach

Blackpool Tower and the ‘Big One’ ride in the distance
At the start of our walk – Southport Pier

We started our walk along the promenade but, as there was such heavy traffic, we opted for a path at the foot of the beach wall – obviously avoiding the mud. After Thursday’s shenanigans we weren’t going to risk that again. As we neared the RSPB Marine Nature Reserve, the path underfoot started to get softer so we made our way back up onto the safe promenade, which seemed to stretch ahead for miles. There was a large gathering of twitchers at the Ribble Estuary with their oversized zoom lenses, tripods and binoculars – all the gear! Their guide was ‘guiding’ them to something flying near Blackpool Tower – the magnification on their equipment must have been phenomenal. They were a very friendly bunch and seemed animated in their activities.

A ‘gaggle’ of twitchers.

And we came upon keen birdwatchers over the whole of today’s walk – it was obviously an important area for ornithologists. Steve tried to capture some of this in his fabulous photos.

Finally the coastal path veered off the promenade and onto a section of sea defence wall … an extremely long section – it stretched for miles, never-ending. But beautiful surroundings on what was a stunning day – farmland on one side, mud flats on the other, visions of Lytham St. Anne’s to the left and the spectacular Lake District mountains in the distance. After an hour or so of walking this stretch, we could see the turn off point ahead …. but it was like someone kept moving it – it took forever!

A bird hide … with a glimpse of the Lake District mountains in the distance

Never-ending sea defence wall

Brussel Sprouts in soggy mud

Some healthy looking cabbages

Nearing the end of the sea defence wall walking, reaching Hesketh Bank

Now, when we parked the car in the village of Hesketh Bank village, we imagined that it was just a small place … the thought process was that we would reach the end of the coastal path and there the car would be. Imagine our surprise then when we realised that we still had a couple of miles to walk to get back to our vehicle and take the weight of our legs! So that brought today’s walk up to 10 and a half miles – those final miles seemed to be the hardest for some reason.

Lots of farms along the route and we saw signs of early Spring – a flock of lambs (already), daffodils about to pop and snowdrops in full bloom.

But most importantly, Steve was overjoyed to soak up the smell of cut grass – we passed several newly mown lawns … now Steve is twitching to get back to mow stripes into his beloved lawn – any offers!!?

A muddy end to the day ….

Thursday 2nd February 2023

Formby – Southport

An early wake-up and breakfast, walking the dogs, half hour drive to Southport, followed by a train ride to Formby – today’s starting point. By this time we were more than ready for a coffee so were relieved to find a cafe as we walked to find the coastal path. As we walked in we got a few looks – was it the walking gear or the spectacle of Steve in shorts!? No, it was because we had entered the world of pottery painting (with drinks as a sideline) … they maybe thought that a couple of old bids were coming into paint a garden gnome!! Luckily they were happy for us to purchase beverages without getting arty … and super delicious cappuccinos they were.

Following the guidelines, we find ourselves walking along ‘Freshfield Road,’ which had some of the most magnificent houses I’ve ever seen – all individual, large and beautifully kept … my house envy scale was overflowing. Shortly after reaching Freshfield we found ourselves crossing the railway line – always a childish excitement!!

From here we entered woodland for a couple of miles – it turned out to be an area known as Ainsdale Sand Dunes – a national nature reserve, home to some of Britain’s rarest plants and animals. It was a beautiful place to walk and provided some ups and downs in contrast to yesterday’s flat paths. It was also a popular cycle path and we had a precarious moment when an over ambitious cyclist overtook another rider in her group …. and almost took Steve out in the process.

After we left the nature reserve we seem to run out of Coastal Path signs but we picked up signs for the Trans Pennine Trail and our Ordnance Survey app indicated that we were going in the right direction. Unfortunately it was taking us along a really busy road – not so conducive to leisurely walking. After a mile and a bit we came to a roundabout that had signs to Ainsdale Beach – we thought we ‘d venture down for a look, if only to find a sheltered spot to have some picnic lunch. There was a Pontins Holiday Camp on the corner – not looking too glamorous. Recent news (and ignorant graffiti) seems to suggest that it is due to be used to accommodate illegal immigrants.

Walking down the road we spotted the Coastal Paths signs – goodness knows how they suddenly appeared. The path was to lead us through sand dunes – not always a great exercise! While enjoying our pate and tomato sandwiches, we got chatting to a chap who assured us that we could walk along the beach all the way to our destination – Southport Pier. So, decision made, a lovely firm sand and shoreline 4 miles it was to be, rather than the risk of soft sand in the dunes. I guess we’re not very good at doing what we’re told!!

The expanse of this wide beach was quite formidable and the tide was well and truly out. Whenever we get to a stretch like this, I can’t help but remember Alice saying when we first started walking the path, all those years ago, that she imagined we’d be walking along beaches all day, every day of the route – how wonderful that would be.

The sand was nice and firm underfoot though, albeit ridgy in places … we moved nearer the shoreline at times to avoid more uncomfortable walking. There was a selection of beautiful shells, including razor clams … my favourite for crunching (better than popping bubble wrap)! All going well.

Ridgy sand!!

A mile or two along we started to find some inlets of water – but with some jumping and wading we managed to splash our way through. Southport Pier still seemed so far in the distance and it was hard to see if there was going to be an easy way through. We opted to move away from the shoreline but it got wetter and wetter … then the slippery mud kicked in and we found ourselves skidding all over the place. After several skids, Steve finally toppled.

But things got even worse and there was no going back!! We found ourselves on a stretch of beach that can only be described as bog land – wet, muddy, clay, with high grass … no clear paths but we could see steps in the distance that would bring us back onto the promenade. It seems that not doing as we’re told has consequences … and boy did we discover that today. I’ve always said that I want to end my days by the seaside … but I didn’t mean being consumed into sinking sand on Southport Beach … and at times that felt quite likely. A lot of prayers were being said!!

But we did survive to tell the tale (and write the blog). After almost 9 miles of walking we rewarded ourselves and celebrated our survival with a luxury hot chocolate at McDonalds.

And we learnt our lesson – STICK TO THE PATH!!

Lancashire Coastline here we come ….

So we’re back for some more Coastline explorations. We’re doing a three week house-sit in Walton-Le-Dale, near Preston and hoping to walk a good chunk of the Lancashire coastal path while we’re here.

Today’s walk involved a drive and park up in Formby (free parking at the Train Station), then a short train ride to Seaforth (luckily no strikes today)!!… where we set off from the ‘Port of Liverpool.’ Not such a glamorous start with the heavily equipped docks and some main road walking, plus it was grey, windy and wet. Put it this way, it could only get better!

And before very long it did …. we were signposted to Crosby Beach and promenade – fabulous expanse of sand, easy walking promenade and best of all, the Anthony Gormley sculpture installation named ‘Another Place.’ I have wanted to visit this for years so very pleased that this featured in today’s walk.

Another Place consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures spread out along three kilometres of the foreshore, stretching almost one kilometre out to sea. It is such a spectacular sight.

The Another Place figures – each one weighing 650 kilos – are made from casts of the artist’s own body standing on the beach, all of them looking out to sea, staring at the horizon in silent expectation.

There is absolutely no doubt that these 100 figures are of the male variety – the artist leaves nothing to the imagination!!

According to Antony Gormley, Another Place harnesses the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature. He explains: The seaside is a good place to do this. Here time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body. It is no hero, no ideal, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.

Whatever the reasons behind this piece of work, it is magnificent … and I highly recommend a visit.

Sometimes the ‘men’ are dressed up by visitors

Miles of golden sand

And some stunning beachside properties

As well as enjoying this beautiful stretch of beach and cultural interest, the sun came out to play too … albeit with a chilly wind.

After leaving the flat sands, the coastal path took us into some undulating sand dunes … not too bad though … pretty firm underfoot and pretty mild on the ascent/descent front – bliss in comparison to some horrific sand dunes we’ve encountered over the years.

The last stretch was a very long straight flat path, running between a military camp/firing range and the railway line. Occasional trains whizzing by and some loud activity from the firing range. We were certainly left in no doubt about the dangers … signs all along the path read “Do not touch any Military Debris. It may explode and kill you.” Message received loud and clear.

After 8 miles of walking we reached our destination in Formby. We hadn’t seen one cafe on the whole stretch so were parched and hungry. We’d only encountered one toilet block too and at 40p a pee (Steve edit ha ha!) we managed a little grumble!! So it was off to find a bite to eat.

So an easy first day. We’re here for 21 days but only intending to walk about 10 of those days. We had hoped to do Morecambe Bay but unfortunately it’s not accessible at this time of the year. We’ll be spending some days running, relaxing, National Trust visits … and there’s plenty of dog walking to do. We’re looking after two little dogs who are full of fun and character – Charlie and Billy – I have fallen madly in love with them. We have a cat called Ella to look after too but she is so low maintenance in comparison – she doesn’t get a look in with the lively boys!

Billy the whizz

Charlie

Ella

Happy Tuesday evening everyone – so happy to be back out on that path!

The Purbeck Breezer

We’re heading down to Weymouth for a huge family get together at the weekend – so decided to have a couple of nights in Poole, en route, in order to fit in a day’s coastal walking .. and a ‘U’ for the parkrun alphabet!

Our original plan was to walk 14 miles today but at the last moment we replanned this to an 8 mile walk. To be honest, I am still feeling the after affects of the covid I had 4 weeks ago – can’t believe how long the general lack of energy lingers. This turned out to be a fabulous decision as we both said this had been one of our favourite walks to date. It had everything – hills, woodlands, cliffs, sun, sea and sand, blue skies, pleasant walking conditions, a gentle breeze … and a lovely boat to round it all off.

We left our airbnb at a reasonable time, rather than the crack of dawn, and caught the ‘Purbeck Breeze’ bus to Swanage. We sat upstairs to admire the amazing Dorset countryside views (there’s nothing like it) and we travelled through beautiful places like Wareham (my place of birth), Corfe Castle and Langton Matravers, finally reaching the beautiful seaside town of Swanage.

As we walked along the Swanage promenade we could see a vision of steepness ahead – oh goody! When we reached it there was an initial climbing of steps but after each phase of ascent there was an equal distance of flat. Turned out it was as the guide had suggested – ‘undulating’ … I love that word, I get great satisfaction out of saying it!! Having said that, the final uphill bit was a trifle gruelling but definitely mustn’t grumble as the rest of the day’s walk was a total breeze.

We followed the Purbeck Way along to the stunning spectacle of Old Harry Rocks – quite a crowd today, half-term walkers. One legend said that the devil (Old Harry) slept on these rocks! A bit dodgy getting near to the edge but we were oh so brave.

After a spot of picnic lunch we hit the Studland Woodland path which led us to the fabulous Studland Beach – a sheltered bay with golden sand and beach huts. We couldn’t believe it was the end of October – it could have been a summer’s day. Warm and sunny, so many children playing in the sand, plenty of swimmers – just generally busy. So wished I could have stopped for a swim.

On the way to the beach we had passed “The Pig at Studland” restaurant with rooms – looked fascinating. Would definitely like to try it out one day.

It was a long trek along Studland Beach, passing the notice which informed us of the Nudist section. Being a bit chilly it wasn’t heavily populated – but we did see amongst the sand dunes one chap in a cap, but nothing else, braving the elements.

And so we made it to South Haven Point where we caught the ferry over to Sandbanks which was, as usual, basking in its microclimate sunniness.

From there we hopped onto a ‘Purbeck Breezer’ back into the town of Poole, enjoying the luxury views of Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs on the way. Back to our humble Airbnb which has disco lighting, no heating and a list of rules as long as your arm!

We’ll be up early in the morning to tackle the Upton House parkrun – a ‘U’ for the collection – hopefully it’ll be a breeze.

Time flies … it’s time to fly home ✈️

Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th October 2022

Our final swim at the Butterfly Beach hotel

We woke up on our last full day to find torrential rain and the loudest thunderstorm you’ve ever heard. Any thoughts of a boat trip today went out the window – the sea was unbelievably choppy. We met a hotel guest returning from a fishing trip – soaked to the skin – he didn’t recommend it. By late morning the rain still hadn’t cleared so we were delighted when Mark and Karen messaged to say that they had hired a car – did we want to have a drive around the island with them? Yes please was the answer – beats mooching round a hotel room.

The hire car didn’t have a GPS so we did the best we could with the old fashioned method of ‘map.’ We thought we were heading to Bottom Bay on the East Coast but somehow found ourselves going round in circles inland. Great to see some local Bajun life – plenty of rum bars but not a coffee or snack bar in sight. Finally came across a Chefette and so settled for chicken roti and chicken wings. And then we found a route up to a place called Bathsheba, on the Atlantic coast. The weather was still wild but the views were stunning. We enjoyed watching the young surfers in the huge waves and also a pair of pelicans. (On a recent tour in Bridgetown, we were told that there were no more pelicans in Barbados, even though it’s their National Bird … happy to say we found some)!

The elusive pelicans

Drove on up to a local bar with fabulous views over Bathsheba – would be a perfect spot for a holiday home.

The hours drifted by and so we found we just about had enough time to get back to the SOCO hotel as Ben Waters was going to play at 5.30pm. I had my last night outfit ironed and ready but ended up going straight there in my walking clothes! When we arrived the guys were on the beach watching the baby turtles making their way to the sea. A conservationist lady rescued some to take to the turtle sanctuary as there is such a low rate of survival.

Ben did a fabulous set followed by Mike D’Abo – there was lots of dancing, cocktails, beer and chats with the lovely Rock and Roll crowd. Then it was time for goodbyes (again) and Steve and I caught a ‘packed to the rafters’ reggae bus back to our hotel.

Ben Waters playing at the SOCO Hotel

Barbara and John getting a jive on!

Mark having a boogie!!

And before we knew it, after two months of being away it was time to fly home. So bye-bye beach, bye-bye Barbados, bye-bye Caribbean – we’ve had the most magical time. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be back.

Our last glimpse of the Caribbean Sea – you’ve been a dream

Rock and Roll in Barbados …

Thursday 6th – Monday 10th October 2022

We spent the first few days in Barbados exploring our local area of Oistins Bay. The climate here is much more manageable for walking … and there’s the bonus of pavements. Having a kitchenette in our hotel room has meant that we can continue to self-cater for breakfast and lunch – so a trip to the local Massey Store was one of the first things on our agenda … this brought back wonderful memories of our supermarket shopping days in Choiseul, Saint Lucia (prices unfortunately still crazily high). Apparently Massey is a Trinidadian chain.

We’re only a short walk away from Oistins Bay Fish market with all the wonderful fish cafes and so many pretty beach areas to enjoy too – quite spoilt for choice.

The fish market was closing up … but thought this sign was great!

Anyone want to make an offer or it’s going on ebay!?

The size of the avocados is quite incredible … and SO tasty

The houses are so pretty

Steve took this photo while out running at warm o’clock!

The rocks are alive with these little chaps

A fellow walker found this in the shallows – we presumed it was a Flying Fish as seen on all the local menus

On Thursday we got to meet up with our lovely friends Mark and Karen. Steve has known Mark for over 30 years, through business and they live not far from us in Turweston. We don’t get to meet up often as they run a hugely successful outside catering business and are the hardest workers we know. So it’s a brilliant coincidence that we’re getting to spend some time together in Barbados and hopefully they’ll be able to switch off and relax.

We met up in Bridgetown where we’d booked up to go on a walking tour with Kirsten. So after big hugs and ‘hellos’ (not Kirsten) we were taken on an extremely interesting and informative tour of the old city. We learnt so much about its history, about colonisation, plantations and slavery, various invasions, the Jewish settlers introducing the sugar plantations, British rule, their modern politics and new Republic status and right up to the fact that they have their first female Prime Minister, plus their first President is female too. Yes, come on ladies!! Would thoroughly recommend the tour and our guide, a young history and politics student, was a pure delight. We loved it despite the fact that there were frequent downpours of rain. Mark even had to nip into a shop to buy a dry T-shirt.

Independence Square, Bridgetown. Their independence means so much to them.

The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow. The first Prime Minister of Barbados and known as the “Father of Independence”

Heading out on our Bridgetown walking tour … with Kirsten and our lovely pals Mark and Karen

Bridgetown harbour

Government buildings (disguised as a church)!

This area is soon to be condemned in order to build new hotels, even though they already know that there are hundreds of bodies buried underneath the ground here, the bodies of the slaves that didn’t survive the journey from Africa.

This was the first Rum bar in Barbados – the country where Rum was invented.

Bridgetown Synagogue

We got asked to do a video review of the tour … as the rest of us shied away you can guess who stepped up to the mark – Steve in full speech mode!

And then we tackled the bus station to get a bus back to our hotels. Took a fair bit of working out and waiting – but lots of chatting and banter with the local people helps. Have since got the hang of the transit van buses (or reggae buses) – amazing value, even though a little overcrowded and noisy at times)!!!!

Bridgetown bus station

Waiting patiently at the bus station … at this point anyway!

Friday night in these parts means only one thing – the Oistins Bay Garden Fish Fry. Tourists and locals alike gather to feast on amazing fish dishes, listen to music and dance. Mark and Karen joined us as we mixed into the chaotic atmosphere, finally picking a place to eat (so much choice) and enjoying the food, atmosphere and plenty of beer. I had the marlin which was absolutely mouth watering, Steve and Mark had shrimps and Karen enjoyed a fabulous dish of lobster. There were some dance performances on the main stage and we sort of shuffled and swayed at the side .. but I still didn’t get to have a full on boogie (I’d put my sports bra on and everything, thinking I’d be jumping up and down)! I guess being oldies and leaving at 10.00pm it was probably just hotting up!

Arriving at Oistins Friday night Fish Fry

Lots of lobster on offer

My Marlin, macaroni and coleslaw

Anyone for a fillet of Dolphin!!!!?

Dance performers – outstanding

On Saturday we got to meet up with Ben Waters and his entourage. Ben is a friend from back home, Dorset born and bred – I met him through my brother Phil … and Steve and I are big fans of his music – he played at Steve’s 60th Birthday Party. Ben is one of Europe’s top Rock and Roll pianists and has worked with the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Rod Steward and Jeff Beck. He is also a top bloke and the best of company. As well as performing Ben runs https://www.rocknrollholidays.com/ where he organises amazing holidays at home and abroad – his followers get to spend time with each other, and him, and he performs gigs with other musicians throughout the time they’re away. So we have been lucky enough to meet up with the gang over the last couple of days and listen to some fabulous performances from Jack Daniels and Micky Biggs and we’ve had the best of times in their beautiful hotel setting. We’ve also met Ben’s lovely wife Ruth for the first time. Mark and Karen are part of this group too – it is so funny that we both know Ben from different paths.

Ben and Ruth, with me and Karen in the background

Jack Daniels

But a true highlight was listening to a session by Mike D’Abo who is out here with Ben. Mike was the lead singer for Manfred Mann in its latter format. He had a number one with Bob Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn.’ He also wrote ‘Build me up Buttercup’ and “Handbags and Glad Rags’ for Rod Stewart. As soon as he started he was absolutely captivating – a true professional – producing so much emotion in all of us. And we were literally sat on sun beds around the pool with the sun setting – pure magic. We were all up dancing at the end … and as we looked around we saw the kitchen and restaurant staff dancing away in their areas – that will be a very special memory. And he still has the Rocker twinkle in his eye – a lovely man and a real charmer.

Mike D’Abo – magical memories

On Sunday, we met up with them all for a fabulous lunch at ‘Jake’s’ followed by some beach bar drinks, including Tequila shots, before sensibly managing the beach walk back to their hotel (the SOCO Hotel) before the tide came in – got just a little wet! After a few rounds of cocktails and a set by Mickey Biggs, Steve and I headed off for a reggae bus ride back to our very pink Butterfly Beach Hotel.

Waiting for the others to join us at Jake’s

Beach bar drinks
Ben in party swing

Making our way back to the SOCO hotel, avoiding incoming tide

Karen and I having enjoyed a cocktail or 5!!

Such a fun night

So another fabulous few days. Time is running out now but we’ll make the most of every minute that’s left. Had planned to do boat trips and island tours but the weather and ‘rock and roll’ gigs have sort of nicely interfered. Still we’re happy with the great company we’ve had, the relaxation of walking, swimming and simply looking up at blue sky and palm trees. What more could you possibly want. And something tells me we’ll definitely be back – so it’s good to leave things for the next time.

It’s our last night tomorrow and Ben’s going to be doing a gig at the hotel which will be such a fabulous way to end off our Caribbean travels. (For our MK friends, Ben Waters will be performing at The Stables on 1st November) https://stables.org/event/ben-waters-band-and-and-the-eskimo-brothers – think you’d enjoy it.

Until next time – a sunny pina colada cheers!

Au revoir Martinique …. hello Barbados

Friday 30th September – Wednesday 5th October 2022

Pretty Martinique

Our last few days in Martinique passed by in relaxation and continued partial confinement (just in case). The weather had taken quite a downward turn – more wind and rain than we’ve had up to now but it has meant that we’ve been able to walk without feeling so drained and scorched. And our spoken French is picking up – it takes a few days to get into the swing. So plenty of ‘bonjours’ as we’re out walking and a few short conversations with staff and other visitors. We are definitely the only English speaking guests here – as there are no direct flights from the UK it would seem that it’s not a popular destination for the Brits. It’s a shame as it’s very pretty, lovely people, fabulous clothes shops and delicious French foods available (still at a price however, although the wine’s more reasonable).

On Friday afternoon we decided to venture into the village for early beers and early dinner (outside only of course). Since our first wander into the fishing village we’ve discovered a whole new beauty about it and it seems a shame that we weren’t able to make full use of it (darned Covid)! But at least we didn’t leave not having appreciated it.

Our pretty fishing village in Sainte-Luce. The sea laps up to the restaurants

A touch of Art Deco in the village

Over a few ‘Lorraine’ beers we got chatting to a German chap who is travelling to all the UN registered countries in the world. He has done 147 already and next on his list is Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan! Strangely enough he was a huge cricket fan, even though cricket is not played in his country, Steve and he naturally conversed on the subject in utter bliss!!

Turned out that the restaurants didn’t open till 7.00pm which meant drinking beer for 3 hours – such punishment. When we did finally eat we seemed to make an unlucky choice as the tuna was tough, bland and generally inedible. Luckily we had a little kitten with us all evening – he ate very well.

At least someone enjoyed the overcooked tuna !

Although quiet during the week, at the weekends the beaches become party land for families and friends. Huge tables (posh with white tablecloths) are set up with food and drink and the locals gather to chill or ‘lime,’ On the Saturday we managed to find an uninhabited little stretch of beach and spent a couple of hours on what felt like our own little desert island, swimming, reading, snoozing … that was until a nearby house went into full reggae and 70s disco mode, at unbelievably loud volume, with some fabulous dancing in the garden (Steve edit: The music was loud enough that I was able to Shazam a couple of songs on the beach for future use in the kitchen!). We bobbed along to the rhythm but still didn’t get an invite! They had no idea what they were missing!

On Sunday we fancied some exercise so plumped for an early morning 6 mile walk – out and back on the coast trail. There was shade in parts but jolly hot where there wasn’t … felt so good to be up and out though and good to explore this part of the island that’s been home for the last week.

After the disappointment of the tuna, we enjoyed dining in the last couple of nights – sitting outside on the verandah to enjoy our amazing views and the night skies. It has been such a blessing to have the kitchen this week while I’ve been poorly, as well as my wonderful Chief Cook and bottle washer Steve (lucky I packed him)!

And then it was time to leave Martinique on Monday morning, so we said our ‘au revoirs.’

Leaving Brise Marine Hotel

Woah, we’re going to Barbados, … Woah back to the palm trees

Flying high on Coconut Airways ….. Climbing high, Barbados Sky

Charlie drove us to the airport which turned out to be a more sophisticated operation than we’d imagined. In fact the whole journey from beginning to end was absolutely trouble-free. There were just 8 of us boarding the ‘Air Antilles’ flight to Barbados – thought we might be sitting with the pilot. Took off and landed 20 minutes early and then there was a slick taxi booking service in Barbados, unlike so many countries where you’re bombarded with drivers waiting to rip you off. Before we knew it we were completely unstressed in our Butterfly Beach Hotel in Oistins Bay – a very pink and heavily butterflied hotel on the beach – just as it says on the tin!

Martinique Airport

Walking out to our little plane

The Butterfly Beach Hotel

lots of butterfly artwork

Barbados looks like it’s going to be fun. Within an hour of arriving, we’d had a terrific lunch with wine, got to know the restaurant staff, checked out the facilities, lost the hotel key in the sea (fell out of Steve’s pocket) and I got nipped on the ankle by a crab – scared the Bejesus out of Steve with my blood curdling scream! I think they knew we’d arrived.

Our lovely hotel in Barbados

Our hotel beach

I keep going to speak in French now so need to adapt back (just so cosmopolitan)! And just about all the guests are English including a touring Cricket Team from Bicester and Oxford. Our hotel is a small family run establishment renowned for its repeat customers – everyone seems so happy and friendly. Steve’s been out running, we’ve walked a fair bit and loads of swimming, both pool and sea. But largely chilling (our new way of life it seems).

Having a really bad weather day today – huge winds and rain, massive waves – so it’s a perfect time to blog.

We have some friends from England due out this week so it could get busy – we’re not bored with each other (honest) but looking forward to some company! Seven days to go before heading back to Blighty – let’s see what Bajun life is all about.

Covid and rain stop play … for a bit!!

Sunday 25th – Thursday 29th September 2022

I guess it was absolutely inevitable that within 8 weeks of travelling there would be a few grim days – well they sort of landed on us this week. On Sunday I’d woken up with a sore throat and general grogginess (even put off going to the gym!) but by that night I had gone into full fever mode – shivering and freezing cold one minute, burning up the next. Steve and I hardly slept and unfortunately we had to be up at 4.15am to get the ferry to Martinique – not great timing!! But it had to be done so I just took the pills and managed the journey the very best I could, including a bumpy boat ride, long passport queues and an extremely loud French taxi driver. When we arrived at our hotel in Sainte-Luce we were 3 hours too early for check in (they were not for budging, but did allow us to leave our luggage) … and killing that time in the local village was the hardest bit ever, I was feeling progressively rotten.

All aboard – the ferry to Martinique

I took the opportunity to go to a pharmacy to buy some covid test kits although I think I’d pretty much guessed that this was what I had. I paid the money thinking I was going to be given a box to takeaway but I was then ushered to a room at the back for the test to be done – within minutes it was conclusively positive. After a lecture from the pharmacist (in Franglais) about safe travel I was asked to wait outside the shop for my receipt. I noticed the other assistants had applied their masks now and clearly didn’t want me inside – I felt like a leper – and stood on the pavement in the heat, feeling very sorry for myself.

Steve managed to get some lunch and we were able to check out the local amenities. It’s a simple little fishing village – lots of fruit, fish and things made out of coconuts stalls, local shops, one ‘superette’ and a few restaurants. A lot of places were closed and we realised later that they have the 12-4pm siesta time here. It was an overcast day although still clammy – we definitely weren’t getting the wow factor.

Our little fishing village in Sainte-Luce, Martinique
The local supermarket

Then finally at 2pm, after an horrendous night, 10 hours of travelling/killing time, whilst suffering my 1st day of Covid, we got to check into our room and I was able to sleep and sleep and sleep!! But not before that “oh what have we done’ feeling, as our accommodation turned out to be somewhat basic! One fortunate thing was that there was a spare sleeping area, curtained off from the main living space – because apparently we’d been given an upgraded ‘shack.’ It’s been perfect for my recovery though – my own little hospital ward!…. and a greater chance for Steve to avoid the lurgy!

My own little Covid wardand I can hear the sound of the waves lapping as I fall to sleep

The first couple of days continued in a sort of negative fashion. Having resigned ourselves to Covid confinement, I think each little detail about our rooms became a huge deal. After 4 days of bite-free bliss in Rodney Bay, we were back to being repellant-dependant. It turned out that the rooms weren’t due to be cleaned daily – think, after much discussion in our feeble French, we might have persuaded them round on this one!! The towels were threadbare and we had to ask for some beach towels. The only things supplied were one bin bag, one toilet roll, and a small jug of rum and orange – to last us the whole week! This meant that while I was laid up, Steve had to pay another £60 to get a taxi to the nearest big supermarket to stock up on bin bags, toilet rolls, tea bags and enough food to last us the week, as it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to go out to eat. Luckily we do have a kitchen area. What made it even more painful was that we’d just paid £80 for the same taxi driver to bring us here from the airport … he said to Steve “you should have said, we could have stopped on the way) – grrrr!! And, even though our views are to die for, it continued to be dark, cloudy and rainy … it was going to be a long week.

It may be grey but these views will cure anything

But things always brighten up don’t they, and we should know this from experience. So many times we’ve arrived in places and thought this is horrendous but they turn out to be brilliant. That’s the adventure of budget travelling – I think my being ill had magnified minor issues. It took waking up to blue sky and sunshine on Wednesday to discover that we were actually staying somewhere quite wonderful. We are literally 15 yards from being in the sea and our little stretch of beach is delightful. Steve had been out running (in the rain) over the last couple of days so had familiarised himself with the area a little and as I was feeling a little stronger by then we decided to try a walk. Turns out we are on a fabulous coastal path (trail) and yesterday and today we have been able to venture out on it – walking slowly, building up my strength – not touching anything or anyone!! We have Caribbean beauty at its absolute best – so many pretty secluded beaches, lush forest, magnificent bird life, beach bars and restaurants (desperately hoping I’m well enough for us to sample by the end of the week). We’ve managed 3 and a half miles so far – hoping to add a bit on each day. And swimming too – the sea is amazing.

Steve loves a panoramic shot!

So, as you can see, not really a whole load to complain about with this lot on our doorstep. I think we’ll manage!

And even though there’s still heavy rain on and off during the day, it’s not at all cold. One of the best things about being confined to barracks is that we have regular hummingbird visits – our verandah has a sweet water feeder designed for them. Some of the other birds try it out but their beaks aren’t long enough. The colour of the hummingbirds and their quick motion is such a spectacle (they are the only birds that can fly backwards) and each visit leaves us in awe.

Our stunning hummingbird visitors

A few others come to try!!

And the two regular seabirds here seem to be the Frigate Bird which we’d seen in St. Lucia and a new one for us – the Pelican, both pretty prehistoric looking. And boy can they dive bomb where there’s fish involved!

Pelican

The quite magnificent Frigate Bird

Hopefully we’re over our grumbles now and each day I’m feeling brighter.

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world … oh yeh.”

Hotel living in Rodney Bay …

It turned out that Presley had brought his ‘friend’ along for our journey up to Rodney Bay – her name was Eunice and she sat in the back with me.  I have a feeling that they were a little more than friends.  It was Presley’s birthday and he seemed to want to celebrate as we went along …he was particularly chirpy.  We’d only got down the road when he pulled up at a local seafood bar for some refreshment.  Nothing like a bowl of Octopus Stew to set you on your way!!!  Steve was very gallant in eating a bowl of it – I chickened out .. and declined the offer of a fish too – they didn’t look too appetising.  A little reluctantly, we joined in the celebration with a beer though … but there was something slightly disconcerting about Presley driving along with a beer in one hand and the other hand on the wheel, going round steep and twisty corners!!!  

Our first pitstop in Laborie – 15 minutes after leaving!

Anyone for a bowl of Octopus Stew!!?

… or an appetising fish perhaps!?

We drove up the East Coast – this was a part of the island we’d not yet explored. The further north we got the lusher it became and we stopped at some spectacular viewing points, driving through banana plantations and rain forest – everything felt so fresh.  

Mondeie Lookout Point

They love their colours here

En route we stopped for some sustenance at a roadside stall, famous for its wood-fired oven baked bread and pizza. We were invited inside to watch the preparation and cooking – full credit to the young man – he had the hottest job ever!  We feasted on hot bread and cheese, politely refusing the addition of herring.  

After three hours of travelling we finally arrived at our destination – The Bay Gardens Resort. We said our goodbyes to Presley and Eunice and they set off to return to the south. What a fabulous choice – the resort is on the beach, the bedrooms are beautiful and have air-conditioning (after 5 weeks without I can’t tell you how amazing that feels) and the pool and poolside bars and restaurants all very fancy. It felt quite a culture shock to be staying somewhere so civilised … and completely devoid of chores!

Overlooking Castries, the Capital, as we near our destination

Our incredibly comfortable and air-conditioned bedroom at Bay Gardens Resort

Our dreamy stretch of beach

Wasting no time, we quickly unpacked and headed to the pool and to the beach.  At sunset we took up the offer of a complimentary rum punch sitting at the beachside bar.  In the first few hours of arriving we’d bought a palm basket and some jewellery from hawkers (we’re rubbish at saying no!) and consumed a whole load of rum punch – all before changing for dinner. 

The first Rum Punch

This is Pious Joseph who managed to sell us some jewellery

And so the day progressed in that ‘first night of the holiday’ mode – stunning meal of shrimps, lobster, chicken and salad with chilled white wine – having lots of fun with the restaurant staff.  An after dinner cocktail turned into three as we ended off the day dancing to a country singer, meeting lots of new friends and flopping into bed in the early hours.  Who said we’d missed company!?

The hotel beachside restaurant

And the last few days we’ve really just taken the opportunity to relax.  We decided not to do any trips or water sports (1) because we’re saving our pennies for the next islands  (2) we just fancied being lazy!!  Having said that, Steve has run the last two mornings and I did the hotel Pilates class yesterday, even though I was the only guest to turn up!  Loads of swimming too, both in the sea and the pool. And earlier and more sober nights.

 

Steve out on a run

Me in Pilates action!

There’s plenty of restaurant choice for the evening – we walked along the beach to Spinnakers the 2nd night and enjoyed Red Snapper and Sweet Potato and Coconut Curry.  Last night we walked into town for a pizza and there was quite a buzz going on.  

At Spinakers Restaurant, just along the beach

Unfortunately I’m feeling under the weather today, sore throat etc. – hoping it won’t last. Plus it’s been heavy rain most of the day so thought I’d attempt to blog.  Steve’s been filling the time by watching some cricket on TV … and there’s also a great selection of golden oldies to choose from including ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ , Benny Hill, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘On the Buses!’ – what more could you possibly ask for!!!? We have to be up at 4.30am tomorrow to catch the ferry to Martinique … so, it’s packing and an early night for us … here we go again.

Fond farewells … it’s time to move on in St. Lucia

Friday 17th – Thursday 22nd September 2022

And just like that, the house-sitting assignment comes to an end and it’s time for us to move to pastures new. Although parts of the last 5 weeks have been tricky, that can’t be denied, our overall experience has been amazing and one to be remembered for a long long time – for all sorts of reasons!

Last Friday we took the mile wander up the road again, to Roses Bar, with the intention of saying our goodbyes. Turned into a fun session with Brad, Rose and all the chaps – they certainly like a drink and a chat. We introduced Brad to our blog and he loved it – he showed lots of the customers, feeling famous as he was so largely featured. We stayed longer than intended as we were being bought drinks and didn’t want to appear rude. But we tore ourselves away at 6.30pm as it was getting dark and we still had a supermarket shop to do … and that closed at 7.00pm. We did however get talked into going back up for a final beer and goodbye on our final evening here – Wednesday.

As you can see it’s quite a lads affair!!

Steve impressed by this large bunch of plantains

Masseys, the supermarket, is across the road from Roses Bar and even getting that far we got pretty wet as the rain had started. We’d just got inside though when the heavens opened and there was an almighty downpour. The metal roofs in these parts certainly alert you to the situation. Feeling a little ‘merry’ after a few beers we were still relaxed about the storm outside, the mile walk home in the dark and the heavy bags we were clearly going to have to carry … it’ll be fine!! Towards the end of our shop, and by miraculous coincidence, we came across a young English couple … these are the first non-local people we have met in the last 5 weeks. So of course we got chatting and exchanged our stories – they really were sweet. They have just moved to live in St. Lucia and are so excited about their adventure. It just happened to come up in conversation that we had no car so they very kindly offered us a lift down to nearer our accommodation – we accepted without hesitation. They dropped us at the top of our lane so we just had a 10 minute squelchy walk down the muddy overgrown path to the house – we were like drowned rats when we got home – I think we even scared the cats!! But we’d had a great couple of hours and now had enough supplies for the rest of our stay.

We’ve had so much rain, thunder and lightning this week – a real tropical storm. There’s always sunshine in between though and things dry up so quickly. We’re still swimming everyday and making sure we enjoy these last few days of having a swimming pool to ourselves – that really has been such a luxury. We’ve even swum in the rain this week – no time to waste! And a couple more after dinner skinny-dipping swims too. I can’t begin to explain the marvel of floating in the dark under the magnificent array of stars, there’s very little light pollution here – that memory will stay with me forever. And because, as many of you will know, we always have music playing, we’ve discovered that late night pool dancing is on another level to kitchen dancing – absolutely magical and hilarious. Thought of all our fellow kitchen-dancers, including Immy!

We had an early rise on Monday, 5.00am, to be able to watch the Queen’s funeral live. My goodness, what a send off, it just couldn’t have been any better, so appropriate and deserved. Thrilled that so many people turned out to show their respects and the pageantry was something else. We couldn’t believe how seven mesmerising hours slipped by … and we’d only had a cup of tea. Betyann was in cleaning that day and watched some of it with us – she was absolutely fascinated. We tried our best to explain who was who and why we did things in such an extraordinary way – like all of us, I don’t think she’ll ever forget the spectacle of how we said goodbye to our beloved Queen Elizabeth II.

On Tuesday we spent quite a few hours making sure everything was ship-shape for the Doc’s return on Wednesday afternoon. It’s been so disappointing for Steve not to have the lawn at its best, due to broken mower, after all the effort he put into it in the first couple of weeks. But inside and out we made sure everything looked marvellous for the homecoming – our job was done. We’ve even managed to keep the cats alive!!!

As the Doc arrived back after a 2 day journey from Upstate New York, we grabbed Presley to drive us up to the bar for our final night beers. Turns out Presley has his own bar just near Roses so we stopped in there for a couple first (there were a lot more females at that one). And then on to Roses. We were given such a lovely farewell – people we hadn’t met before turned up as they’d heard about us and wanted to meet us before we left. A fair few rounds of beers ensued and much much laughter – we will treasure that night always. Presley gave us a lift home and we had a lovely chat with the Doc over dinner and wine.

Oh my goodness, there is SO much we are going to miss about house-sitting in River Doree, Choiseul. The views of the Caribbean Sea at the bottom of the garden and the views of the Pitons as we walk up the road. Picking fresh fruit from the garden and enjoying local foods that are kindly donated by the villagers. The ready smiles and ‘hellos’ from everybody we see. Although we hated it at first, we’ve even grown fond of the night-time jungle noises – so atmospheric. We’ll miss our lovely furry chaps – Tabby and Bebe – they’ve been an absolute joy. The birds too – our increasing number of egrets, the magnificent frigate birds which soar above us each day and the stunning hummingbirds. We’ll certainly miss the swimming pool and the relaxation it’s brought us … and from our sun loungers waving to the British Airways flight as it comes into land around 3.00pm each afternoon. And it’s hard to say goodbye to our new friends – travelling is the best adventure but always brings the sadness of farewells – we will miss seeing Betyann, Paul, Presley, Ian and all the lovely folk at Roses Bar.

The Caribbean Sea views at the end of the garden

These views of the Pitons as we walk up to the supermarket

Wax Apple

The tremendously tubby ‘Tabby’ … affectionately known as ‘Fatcat’

…. and the bewitching Bebe

We started off with one Egret each day, now we’re up to about 12

The sight of these magnificent Frigate birds

The British Airways flight which passes at the bottom of the garden every afternoon, coming into land

Bye-bye to our beloved pool – it’s been a blast!

And then it was time to say goodbye to the Doc, the house, the pool (after a final swim in the rain) and the cats. Presley is driving us up the East Coast of the island today, stopping off at some sights, on our way to our new home for the next 4 days at Bay Gardens Resort in Rodney Bay. The rain has been pouring all morning – raining tears as we depart this little piece of Paradise.

Saying goodbye to Paul (the gardener)

A huge fond farewell to the Doc, Jay x

‘The Doctor’s Inn’ …. we’re out!!