There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Monday, 19 December 2016

Cannock Chase Mild and Dry - So Much Better: The (N + 6)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

I wonder how many annual Chip Walks I have been on? It may be as many as twenty - Francis and I have the honour (?!) of having walked every one of them - but this is definitely the seventh on this blog. Brian, an ever-present until 2011 but now removed to Torquay, kindly commented on last year’s post that I was still finding new things to say. Well that was last year, this year I am struggling...

Cannock Chase is the perfect place for a winter walk; a pile of pebbles a hundred metres high is always going to drain better than the surrounding Staffordshire clay. Unfortunately the Chase is not very big, at 68km² it is England's smallest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and as we all live west of the Chase and the lunchtime stop is fixed at Longdon (or the Chetwyn Arms, Brocton, when the Swan with Two Necks was closed) available routes are not numerous.

We met at the Cutting Car Park at Milford on the Chase’s western edge, just like last year only this time it was not raining. Six participants is a healthy turn out and it was good to see Alison C and Sue who had been unavailable last year. Anne who has been with us the last two years was unfortunately unavailable and Torquay-based Brian, must be regarded as a permanent absentee from this, though not other walks.
Sue, Mike, Alison, Francis and Lee
Cutting Car Park, Milford

As usual we walked towards the Cutting itself (which I wrote about in ((N + 3) Jan 2014) and, again as usual chose the path along the top, avoiding the muddy bottom.

Choosing the path along the top rather than the one with a soggy bottom
 I rarely look into the Cutting, but I did this year and was surprised by its depth.
Looking down from the top of the Cutting, Cannock Chase
At the end we passed Mere Pits and, again as usual, walked along the lip of the Sherbrook Valley to the largely empty Coppice Hill car park. A small diversion took us to the bird feeding station. In last year's rain there had been many birds, but my attempts at photographing them were as dismal as the weather. This year there were fewer, but I got a reasonable shot of a great tit.
Great Tit, Coppice Hill feeding station, Cannock Chase
As on all these walks we eventually turned down into the valley and equally inevitably crossed the brook. There is not much of it this far up and some of us eschewed the stepping stones and strode through the inch deep water.

Down into the Sherbrook Valley, Cannock Chase
From here we turned onto Pepper Slade. 'We don't often come up here,' Francis remarked. Had a cheery Black Country musician appeared among the pepper vines and yelled 'It's Christmas' it really would have been different, but this is the Chase, where most paths look like every other path - and that includes Pepper Slade. I don't want to sound grumpy  - it was great to be out in the fresh air on a mild, dry December day - but I am just struggling for something new to say, and I discussed the local use of 'slade' back in 2011.
Pepper Slade, no Noddy, no spice
Near the top was a plantation of ‘Christmas trees’, though they were obviously not, as they were still there in late December - and a bit spindly too.

Not really Christmas trees, Pepper Slade

Progressing to Rifle Range Corner (though the WW1 rifle range has long gone) we paused while some thought was given to the route, not that there was much choice.
That's clearly not Santa  getting advice from a couple of dodgy looking elves
Rifle Range Corner, Cannock Chase
We followed the minor road (Penkridge Bank) for a couple of hundred metres before turning right down towards Fairoak Lodge. Well off the road and deep in the woods is a clearing with a few houses. We had intended turning left down to Fairoak Pools but missed the path, arriving in the yard of the last house just as the owner came out. 'I think Santa's lost his way, ' he said cheerily, which was odd as though Lee and Alison were impersonating elves Santa himself was not actually with us this year. He directed us back up the path where we found a small track descending in the right direction. Sue set off down it.

Sue heads off down the narrow track
There was no sign and it was so small I wondered if we were on a deer trail, but it soon widened and we quickly reached the path past the pools.

The path widens as it heads down to the Fairoak Pools, Cannock Chase
We stopped for coffee at the same seat as last year. Although the continuous drizzle was mercifully absent this time everybody except Alison  decided the bench was too wet to sit on.

Coffee break by one of the Fairoak Pools
Last year the water fowl had been pleased to see us. This year they ignored us - perhaps they remembered that we had not fed them. We fed ourselves though, Mike generously sharing a tray of mini mince-pies.

One of the Fairoak Pools, Cannock Chase
Refreshed, we continued along the bed of the River Budleighensis (see last year's report) past the two Fairoak pools and then turned right between the Stony Brook pools to cross the brook on the day’s second set of stepping stones.

Across the stepping stones between the Stony Brook Pools, Cannock Chase
We followed the path to the minor road, walked under the railway bridge to the Hednesford Road, crossed it and started the long drag up Miflins Valley. Every time we come here I describe it as a 'long drag'; it is a steadily rising path which seems to return little for the effort made. I am also irritated by my inability to discover the origin of the unusual name. The only notable Miflin I can find was Thomas Miflin, Governor of Pennsylvania in the 1790s, but his family came from Wiltshire.

The long drag up Miflins Valley, Cannock Chase
Despite my dislike of Miflins Valley, I must admit it has some fine beech trees. I photographed one last year and some different ones this year.
Beech trees in Miflins Valley, Cannock Chase
The path eventually runs into the continuation of Marquis Drive. It is difficult to believe that on such a well-worn track we could make the second navigational error of the day, but we did. The Chase is not an easy place to navigate; the rights of way shown boldly on the map are sometimes barely visible on the ground and the often substantial forestry tracks are faint on the map. We headed too far south and reached the wrong side of Wandon caravan park. I have never been to Wandon before but now know it is not worth the detour. The result was a slightly longer than expected walk along the minor road to the Stile Cop car park from where Lee drove us to Longdon and the Swan with Two Necks.
Arriving at the Stile Cop car park
The object of the walk is fish and chips. They tried to palm us off with their 'Festive menu' but we stood firm. 'We only have five small fish and chips,' the six of us were told. Sue, who in 2011 disgraced herself by eating chicken and pasta on a chip walk (‘I don’t like the greasy batter’) looked smug but redeemed herself anyway by ordering scampi and chips which has been deemed acceptable since at least 2014. Then Alison was informed that, despite earlier suggestions, none of the five remaining fish were gluten free. She had gammon steak, but under the circumstances escapes censure.
Lee, Sue and Francis get stuck into their fish (or scampi) 'n' chips
Swan with Two Necks, Upper Longdon
The fish was described as ‘small’ which clearly involved some use of the word previously unknown to me; I was well stuffed and failed to finish.
Swan with Two Necks, Upper Longdon
There was no question about whether there would be an afternoon walk - unlike last year when the atrocious weather was a terminal discouragement - but as lunch arrived just before two it was three o'clock before Lee had driven us through Rugeley and past the now redundant power station to the Seven Springs car park. My map does not mark any springs in the vicinity, let alone seven.

With sunset at 3.55 it was never going to be a long afternoon, but we left the ‘springs’ at a smart pace through an area of silver birches.
Through silver birches from Seven Springs, Cannock Chase

From here there is hardly any descent into the Sherbrook Valley and we crossed the stream on the third set of stepping stones for the day, but the first called The Stepping Stones.
Crossing the Sherbrook at the Stepping Stones, Cannock Chase

A very gentle climb up the other side brought us back to the Cutting car park just as the sun was setting. And so ended a very pleasant day’s walk.
And back towards the Cutting

Despite my misgivings I did find something to say - over a thousand words of something - though little of it was new (and the stuff about Thomas Miflin was deeply irrelevant!). I'll try again next year.

The Annual Fish and Chip Walks

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Macau (1), The Macau Peninsula: Part 3 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is the first of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post). It covers little of the same ground.

As in 2010 we started from Hong Kong, leaving our Kowloon hotel at 8.15 for the Sheung Wan jetfoil terminal. We had not previously travelled to Central on the MTR at rush hour – an interesting experience which brings you into crushingly close contact with your fellow travellers.

Arriving early, we and drank coffee and waited for Brian and Hilary, friends for the last twenty-five years, and Hong Kong residents for two decades before that, to arrive from Ap Lei Chau. They were early too, so we caught the 9.45 ferry.
On a bumpy sea, jetfoils feel as though they are bounding from one wave crest to the next and just missing, but despite the continuous lurch and crash we completed the 65km journey in the scheduled 55mins. Construction of a Hong Kong-Macau bridge-tunnel-bridge started in 2009 and should have been completed last month (October 2016). It will cut the journey time to 30mins but although we saw pylons aplenty, there is much work yet to do. [update: it was completed Nov 2017 and should open July 2018].
The journey across the Pearl River Delta to Macau, which consists of a small peninsula and two joined islands, Taipa and Coloane
It is an old map, Macau is no longer Portuguese and Hong Kong airport is now on Chek Lap Kok Island

Macau’s raison d’être is gambling and shuttle buses wait to whisk punters from the ferry port to the casinos. We are not gamblers – I completely fail to understand the attraction – but we hopped aboard the Grand Lisboa bus anyway. Deposited in the hotel basement, we made our way through the casino, wallets unopened, to the waiting world above.

The Grand Lisboa is one of 19 hotels/casinos owned by the Stanley Ho organisation. Well into his 90s Ho probably has little control over the businesses he founded while his three surviving ‘wives’ (polygamy is technically illegal) and many children, own or squabble over his billions. Ho related businesses, including the jetfoils that brought us here, reputedly employ 25% of Macau’s workforce. Businessman, philanthropist, politician and (allegedly) gangster, Ho is also an art collector and the hotel lobby displays some remarkable pieces, including several large, intricately carved ivories - it is antique ivory… but even so…
Grand Lisboa, Macau
This photo comes from our sunnier 2010 visit, but it hasn't changed

A short walk took us to the Largo de Senado, the heart of Portuguese Macau. Little remains of Macau’s Portuguese heritage (for colonial history see the 2010 post) but the Largo looks the part (like the Grand Lisboa doesn’t).
Largo de Senado, Macau
In 2010 we visited on the 15th of November, a warm sunny day, unlike the cool 25th of November 2016, but being that little bit later meant we could enjoy the Christmas decorations.

Christmas decorations, Largo de Senado, Macau

Nearby a new shop was opening. A couple of dragons had been invited to dance…

Dancing Dragons, Macau
…to the rhythms of their youthful percussionists…
Youthful percussionists
…until all were satisfied that good luck had been guaranteed.
Good luck is ensured, the shop is opened and the dragons rest
Continuing north, past a small fish market…
Fish market, Macau
…and the façade of São Paulo Church (see 2010)…
Sao Paulo, Macau
…we encountered shops dispensing samples of the salami-like meat, which we tried in 2010 and again this year. I still wonder why anyone why anyone would think sweet salami is a good idea.
Sheets of sweet salami. A good idea?
After a snack lunch we continued to the Old Protestant Cemetery. The Portuguese did not permit Protestants burials in their Catholic Cemeteries and the Chinese wanted no foreigners in theirs, but prods – British, American, Dutch and Scandinavian – continued to die. Clandestine burials along the boundary wall separating the Macau peninsula from China were the only solution until 1821 when the East India Company bought a plot of land to create a Protestant Cemetery. It is no longer in use, but remains well maintained and is a very pretty place.,
Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Pride of place goes to George Chinnery…
The grave of George Chinnery, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…a London born artist who left for Chennai in 1802 aged 28 and spent the remaining 50 years of his life in Asia, the last 27 in Macau. He painted portraits of the rich and powerful, both Asians and Europeans and as the only European painter resident in Southern China in the mid-early 19th century, his depictions of the life of ordinary people and the landscape of the Pearl River Delta are especially important.
Macau Street Scene with Pigs by George Chinnery (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
Also buried here is the missionary Robert Morrison who compiled a Chinese dictionary for foreigners and translated the bible into Chinese….
Grave of Robert Morrison, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…Captain Henry John Spencer-Churchill, RN, Winston Churchill’s great-great-grand-uncle, and American Naval Lieutenant Joseph Adams, grandson of John Adams and nephew of John Quincy Adams.
Grave of John Henry Spencer-Churchill, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Most poignant are the simple, laconic gravestone of young men, often sailors, who died, far from home, from accidents and disease. Dates of death before 1821 indicate their remains were moved here from earlier unofficial interments.
Older gravestones, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Hilary had been keen to show us this cemetery and, as Lynne says ‘you can’t have a proper holiday without a good cemetery’.

We moved on to the A-Ma Temple, in the south western corner of the peninsula, a bus ride away.

As regular visitors Brian and Hilary were able to introduce us to Macau’s remarkably efficient bus system. Routes are well mapped and each stop has a schematic for its particular route with the stops named and fares clearly shown. The stop are displayed and announced on the bus in Chinese and Portuguese. The one small difficulty is that drivers do not give change, but Hong Kong dollars, notes and coins, are accepted at parity with the local pataca so we managed to scrape together the exact money for our fare.

The bus dropped us outside the temple, a series of shrines straggling up a rocky promontory. Built in 1488, A-Ma predates the city which may have been named after it, Ma-ge (The Pavilion of Ma) the first Portuguese arrivals were told when they asked where there were.
A-Ma Temple, Macau
A-Ma (The Mother) known on the mainland as Mazu (Maternal Ancestor) or more formally as Tianhou - Tin Hau in Hong Kong - (Empress of Heaven) is the Goddess of the Sea, a deification of the allegedly historical 10th century Fujian shaman Lin Mo.
A-Ma protects sailors, and several rocks have been decorated with fishing boats.
Painted Boulder, A-Ma Temple, Macau
Some sources describe the temple as ‘Buddhist’ though ‘Mazuism’ occupies the grey area where Taoism blends into Chinese folk religion. The temple has Buddhist and Confucian elements, but such distinctions are of little importance in southern China - any gods will do, as long as they bring good luck.
Shrine, A-Ma Temple, Macau
In this spirit of ecumenism Lynne bought some incense sticks…
Lighting Incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
…and offered them with due reverence.
Placing incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
We climbed to the highest point of the temple, lit some more incense sticks and descended.
Shrine at the top of the A-Ma Temple, Macau
Walking back towards the Mandarin’s House we passed the ‘Moorish Barracks’ a strange hybrid of a building erected in 1874 to house an Indian regiment the Portuguese brought from Goa to aid the Macau police….
Moorish Barracks, Macau
…and the little Portuguese style Largo do Lilau, in one of the first Portuguese residential areas. Its spring was once Macau’s main source of drinking water – 'one who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau', as the saying goes.
Largo do Lilau, Macau
The so-called ‘Mandarin House’ was built in 1869 by Zheng Wenrui. His son, the far-sighted political reformer Zheng Guanyin (1842-1922) lived here while writing his masterpiece ‘Words of Warning in a Prosperous Age’, a book which influenced, among others, Lu Xun (we met him in Beijing in 2013) and Mao Zedong.
The Mandarin House, Macau - it doesn't look much from the outside
It was the largest family house in Macau, but in the mid-twentieth century the Zheng family moved out and the house was let – sometimes to as many as 300 tenants and  living conditions became poor.
The Mandarin House, Macau
The Macau government acquired the house in 2001 and carefully restored it.
The Mandarin House, Macau
I have always admired the way the Chinese can create oases of peace amid vast bustling cities and this house, with its spacious and beautiful rooms, exudes quietness and calm.
The Mandarin House, Macau
Part of me would like to live in a house so sparsely but elegantly furnished, but lacking the self-discipline I know I never could.
Macau is still divided into its original Portuguese parishes. We continued towards the centre through the streets of São Lourenço…
Sao Lourenco district, Macau
….and dropped into the mother church. One of Macau’s oldest churches, São Lourenço was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. The exterior received a 19th century make-over, but the interior remains calm and unbothered by baroque.
Sao Lourenco, Macau

Nearby, the neo-Classical Theatre of Dom Pedro V, built in 1860, was one of the first Western style theatres in a East Asia.
Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
The theatre has seen periods of neglect, but is currently open, in good repair and well-used.
Inside the Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
It was now late afternoon, so we took another bus up to Macau’s northeast corner and checked into the Mong-Ha Pousada, a former army barracks, now a training hotel for the hospitality industry.
Our room was pleasant and we had a rest, a shower and shared a bottle of wine with Brian and Hilary before heading back towards the Temple of A-Ma for our evening meal at La Lorcha where they ‘endeavour to offer [their] customers the best dining experience they can have in Macau bringing a centuries-long cuisine resulted from the combination of Portuguese sailors with the local Chinese community.’ (from their website, grammar and spelling adjusted). This is, I presume, the definition of Macanese cuisine.
Lynne and I started with octopus salad, Brian with the caldo verde he enjoys so much in in Portugal (and Hilary’s starter is hidden behind a very familiar bottle of Dão). So far so Portuguese.
Dinner at La Lorcha, Macau
Like us, Brian and Hilary are no strangers to Portugal, but they knew Macau first and approached Portuguese food from that direction. For Lynne and I it is very much the other way round and we thought we had made very Portuguese choices for the main course too, pork and clams (eating clams for the third day running was an error that was nobody’s fault but mine) and ‘African chicken’, assuming it to be chicken piri-piri by another name.
We were wrong, ‘African chicken’, chicken covered in a peanut, tomato and chilli sauce, is a Macanese speciality. Whether it really has African origins or was invented in a Macau hotel in the 1940s is open to debate, but it is said (by The Guardian, among others) to be ‘Macau’s favourite dish’. Lynne’s verdict - ‘all right, I suppose.’
We were disappointed by the meal which seemed uncharacteristically heavy by Cantonese or Portuguese standards - and by the rather surely service. Tomorrow we eat at the legendary Fernando’s, so I will withhold my judgement of Macanese cuisine until then.