Not all who wander are lost – Part I

I used to be terrified of flying. Any time I was on a plane was absolute torture, even when it was on the ground. I’d spend entire flights with my head screwed round on my neck, scanning the faces of the cabin crew for signs that the plane was in trouble. I was convinced that it was only my vigilance that was keeping the plane in the air, and that the moment I stopped paying attention it would plummet to the ground. Not the most relaxing way to travel.

These days I’m much more chilled about it. Thanks to the great good fortune of having a house in Majorca for the last eleven years, I’ve flown backwards and forwards enough to recognise that the thumps, bumps and lumps are a completely normal part of a plane’s functioning and not an indication that it is about to crash. But given the choice I still prefer to drive.

So this new thing we do, the once a year at the end of the summer taking the ferry and driving to our house in Puerto Pollenca rather than flying thing, is right up my street. In 2015 we took the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao and then on through Spain (which you can read about in The San Sebastian Crawl and Taking the Long Way Round). This year we decide to be a bit more leisurely about things, to take our time and a couple of friends, and explore France on our way. Should be fun…

But when the alarm goes off at 4.30 in the morning, on a sticky night at the end of August, I’m wondering if this driving to Majorca idea is really such a good thing. We stagger out of bed, dress and get ready in the dark, climb sleepily into the prepacked car, and set off as the sun begins to rise. We call in to pick up the friends who are joining us on our trip, and head for Newhaven. As we drive across the Ashdown Forest the sky is beginning to glimmer with the promise of a stinking hot day to come. But for now it’s cool and clear, and at this hour of the morning the only word for the view across the rolling gorse and heath of the forest is… what is it, stunning, glorious, absolutely blinking sensational? We don’t know it at the time but this is how it’s going to be from here on in, until we get to our house in Puerto Pollenca. Wall to wall sunshine. Just bloomin’ gorgeous.

The sun is properly up by the time we drive into Newhaven. The ferry port at Newhaven is much smaller than Portsmouth; the harbour is smaller, the ferry is smaller; it’s all on a reduced scale compared to last year. Seats on the boat not as comfortable, cafe more basic, food less appetising. But it does what it says on the tin and we’re only on board for four and a half hours. And boy oh boy is the sun shining; the sun is shining as hard as it possibly can. There simply cannot be a better day for setting off across the Channel.

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Leaving the harbour at Newhaven

We arrive in Dieppe at 2pm; the ferry driver/captain/steering person performing an amazing feat of reversing and side-shifting a largish vessel into a smallish space in the harbour. By the time we dock the four of us are back in the car and ready for the off. This stage of the journey we’re not going scenic, we’re heading for our first stopover by the quickest route possible. We’ve been up for a long time and it’s H.O.T. Outside it’s 35 degrees. In this heat the only sightseeing we’re doing is from the inside of our air-conditioned car.

We’ve chosen our stopovers en route through France with the help of Alastair Sawday’s guide to French B & B’s. For our first night we’ve booked rooms at the Chateau de St Frambault in Roeze-sur-Sarthe near Le Mans. It’s looking very promising as we turn between wrought iron gates and head up the long drive towards a rather lovely lemon coloured chateau looking down at us across sloping lawns and ancient oak trees. The grounds aren’t grand, there’s little planting to speak of apart from topiary, grass and trees, and the grass isn’t mown to English standards, but the building and its setting have an easy elegance and charm which suggest that we’re in for a treat.

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Chateau de Saint Frambault

As we pull up at the back of the chateau it’s 6 pm, and the car reading shows the temperature at 37 degrees . It’s like getting out into an oven. We are met by the very delightful Madame de Goulaine who takes us inside to the mercifully cool interior of her very beautiful home. She tells us that they have only been doing bed and breakfast for a few months, but they seem like old hands at the job. The rooms are gorgeous, the bedrooms beautifully and individually furnished with good linen, very comfortable beds and excellent state of the art bathrooms. There is a very stylish salon and a beautiful double aspect dining room with tapestries on the walls. It’s not a big, grand chateau, more a characterful home with a real sense of the people who live there.

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View from our bedroom window

Madame offers us a dip in the pool but we’re too hot to go to the effort of changing in and out of swimming things, so we settle into our rooms and then head out for our first dinner on the road. This turns out to be the worst meal we will eat in the whole of our trip, also the most expensive – on the hottest evening we will encounter. But the setting is incredible. We sit on a terrace beside a river whose surface is turned to gold as the sun slides down behind the trees.

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Sun setting over the river at Malicorne-sur-Sarthe

We have a bit of a moment on our way back to the Chateau when the satnav seems to lose its head and take us into the middle of nowhere. Which is where the Chateau is located, but a different middle of nowhere to the one we find ourselves in. In the dark one remote french lane looks pretty much like another, and we have a panicky moment where we begin to think we might be spending the night in the car. But it turns out that the satnav isn’t quite as deranged as we think, and we are actually very nearly where we want to be. We turn between the iron gates to the Chateau with profound relief.

It’s a hot night. Our room is on the third floor, up in the eaves. It’s lovely, comfortable, beautifully done. But who can sleep when it feels as if you’re lying in a sauna with the temperature turned to maximum? (Well actually Graham can, but today he’s been doing all the driving and has been awake since 4.30!) Even with the fan going at full pelt I lie in a pool of sweat and try to conjure up icebergs and snow covered mountains. It’s not hugely successful.

But it’s been a great first day. And we’ve got tomorrow to look forward to. And more tomorrows to come. And our journey is only just beginning.

 

Bay Watch

At 8.30 this morning, as I swim out across the millpond still surface of water that might actually be warmer than my bath, there’s a song rattling around my brain. It goes something along the lines of

‘It was thirty years ago today…

…dum di da…

That I first came to Pollenca Bay…’

Now I’ve got to be honest and admit that I can’t be precisely sure that it was thirty years ago to the day that I first came to this island. Thirty years is rather a long time. And some of us don’t have the memory they used to! But it must have been pretty close. Because the first time I came to Puerto Pollenca I was pregnant with my son. And it was September. And he’s going to be thirty in December! (How it manages to be possible that I’ve got a son who is going to be thirty is a whole other question? But we won’t go into that one here!)

So as I was saying… It was thirty years ago that I first came here. My mum and dad were renting a one bedroom apartment behind the Ila d’Or and I came and slept on the sofa-bed for a few days. We did pretty much the same sort of thing we still do today. Wandered into town along a Pine Walk that looked not hugely different to how it does now. Could it have been narrower? My memory says it was. I do know that the path was of beaten earth, with here and there the roots of the pine trees twisting up through the surface. There were certainly no sunbeds or umbrellas on the beach; the villas along the sea front were not so smartly dressed as they are now. Were all the apartment blocks there? Most of them I think.

I do remember that thirty years ago there were boats moored in much closer to the shore, so that when we swam we had to negotiate our way between them. Was the water quite so clear and sparkling in those days? I’m telling myself it’s cleaner now than it used to be. Not all change is unwelcome!

Sis Pins and Miramar – definitely both there; been there a lot longer then I have. Corb Mari was called the Bec Fi – in those days my dad’s favourite restaurant. We used to go to La Lonja for dinner, but the jetty was wooden and we sat at tables by the water’s edge and threw bread to the fish. On the way home after dinner we often stopped at Katy’s Bar (now a private house just after you get to Little Italy) for a late night lamumba. We ate lunch at the Ila d’Or – beaten earth under the pines, plastic chairs and tables, and the bar was built of wood with a straw roof rather like the swanky new beach umbrellas that have appeared on the beaches this year. The food in those days was simple: squid, sardines, tortilla. But the white painted hotel was as quietly elegant as ever and the view from the bar at sunset was – as it still is today – impossible to beat.

So there have been a few changes. Which in thirty years is inevitable. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the way that the water of Pollenca Bay has stayed blue and beautiful and better than anywhere else in the world.

I wish I could show you some pictures of what it used to look like. Unfortunately back then I was more interested in taking pictures of my family than the view. But for those that are interested here are a selection of more recent pictures taken at various times of the day from various locations around the bay.

 

And if anyone has any old photos or memories from those far off days I’d love to hear about them.

 

 

 

 

The Curious Behaviour of the Cycad on the Terrace

So I know that paraphrasing someone else’s title in order to attract attention is a cheap trick. But I have a sneaky feeling that if I called this post something like ‘The Life Cycle of the Cycad’ people not so interested in cycads (of which I recognise there may be many) might not read it. And I’d hate for you to be missing out!

Because who would have thought that a garden terrace in downtown Puerto Pollenca would see so much action? We’re not just talking sightings two days running of a Pine Marten, (see Pinch Me post) which is one of the creatures that David Attenborough has never seen in the wild but wishes he had. There’s another extraordinary thing happening out there which I simply have to tell you about.

A couple of years back, when I arrived in Majorca after a winter at home, it was to find that the cycad (for those cycad novices that’s the frondy green plant in the black planter) on the terrace was behaving rather strangely.

Hmmmm?
Hmmmm?

A cycad with a head the size of a football. Is that normal?

Cycad
…???????

I kept a close eye on developments. The head grew bigger. It was unnerving.

Then the following year this…

........?
Alien eggs?

Even more unnerving.

Then…

Nothing.

By the beginning of this year the weird eggy looking things had gone a bit flaccid. When we arrived from the UK in June the few remaining leaves had began to go brown. I prepared myself for the worst. Clearly this was a cycad on its last legs.

So imagine my surprise when I returned at the end of August

to this…

Cycad explodes on terrace
Cycad explodes on terrace

And it’s not just one cycad. Now there are four!!! Three little baby cycads are battling it out for space in a very crowded planter.

Now if you happen to be an expert on this kind of thing, you will probably tell me that this is entirely normal behaviour for a cycad and only to be expected. But to me it’s… well, quite frankly, it’s very curious.

A ducky and a horsie…

It’s been a big year for clouds. They’ve been everywhere. Even out here in sunny Majorca. When I’m here I’m used to waking up to blue skies without a cloud in sight. But this year it’s been the other way round.

Now you might think that’s not a great thing. But as with everything in life there are compensations. And the compensations are that when there are clouds around you get to see some pretty amazing sights.

In June it was this:

Genie cloud...
Cloud over Pollenca Bay…

We’re eating lunch at the Mirador de la Victoria restaurant near Alcudia when a cloud genie rises out of the Tramuntana mountains to hover in the skies above our heads.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, as we headed towards Alcudia early one morning, the sun was negotiating with the clouds for the day ahead.

Morning sun over Pollenca Bay
Morning sun over Pollenca Bay

Later that same day, the clouds were winning. But we weren’t complaining.

Sea shimmer
Sea shimmer from Val d’Or

Because, as with so many things in life, you’ve got to have clouds. If for no other reason than to give the sun something to work with.

Sunset strip
Sunset strip

Without clouds you wouldn’t see this:

You gotta have clouds...
You gotta have clouds…

Sometimes it helps when man joins in:

Strip lighting...
Strip lighting…

But nature does a pretty good job on its own. As we made our way to the ferry port in Barcelona on our way here the sun was setting over the sea.

Barcelona sky
Evening sky in Barcelona

Even the moon was joining in!

I was looking for a quote about clouds to tie this post together. Something meaningful. Something worthy and deep and philosophical.

So here you go:

“Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton… I could just lie here all day, and watch them drift by… If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations… What do you think you see, Linus?”
“Well, those clouds up there look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean… That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor… And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen… I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side…”
“Uh huh… That’s very good… What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?”
“Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind!”
Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960

Pinch me…

Something so extraordinary has just happened that I’m sitting here wondering if I really saw what I thought I saw. Surely not! It couldn’t be! Could it? Luckily I’m not alone. If I was, I’d be telling myself I was seeing things.

Because I’m lounging on the sofa on our terrace, thinking about important things like where to go for lunch and whether my Candy Crush habit is turning into an addiction, when what looks like a cat slides under the gate and putters up the garden path. Most of the houses around us are unoccupied so maybe this thing that looks like a cat thinks there’s no-one home. Because it’s looking pretty relaxed. Until it catches sight of us, stops, stares, and slips away under the hedge while we’re still registering that this thing that looks like a cat isn’t.

The terrace in question is in Puerto Pollenca, Majorca. It looks out over a (very small) garden, with a gate opening onto the pool area we share with thirteen other houses about ten metres away from me. So we’re talking seaside, built up, urban – not pine forest, secluded, unpeopled. Which is the kind of habitat what I’ve just seen prefers.

Because this thing that looks like a cat is a Pine Marten. Honestly. I promise you. In Great Britain they are incredibly rare; shy, secretive creatures you might catch a glimpse of in Scotland if you’re very very lucky.

And I’ve just seen one. So close I could have reached out and touched it. Unfortunately I was too stunned to get myself together and take a photo. But even so…

Too exciting not to share.

Happiness is….

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking. As you do. When you’re away for a month. With lots of time to sit around and do that kind of thing.

And one of the things I’ve been thinking about is the definition of happiness. And I’ve come to the conclusion that for me happiness is when I’m living in the moment, when the moment is where I want to be, and when there is absolutely nothing about the moment that I would change.

And I know what I’m talking about. Because out here in Puerto Pollenca those moments are blessedly frequent.

Like every morning. Because every morning I get up. And the sun is shining. And I put on my swimming costume. Wrap myself up in a towel. Leave the house. Walk the couple of hundred yards to my favourite view in the world.

First view of the bay
First view of the bay

I kick off my shoes, drop my towel on the jetty. Say good morning to the ‘the bird that isn’t a heron’ that always stands at the end of the jetty at this time of day. And walk into water that is translucent and gleaming and body temperature warm.

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This isn’t swimming, this is a daily baptism. I breaststroke my way out to the boats. Tread water, look back at the view of Pine Walk from the sea. The up and down roofs of the villas and apartment buildings, pink and cream and white and yellow, clustered along the water’s edge, shaded by the pine trees.

I swim back to shore, slide sandy feet into flip flops, pick up towel and head back to house for breakfast.

Happiness is….

Spot the difference….

So I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca. And I’m doing the things I always do when I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca, like swimming in the crystal clear waters of the bay,

Pollenca Bay
Pollenca Bay

wandering along Pine Walk to the Illa D’Or,

Pine Walk
Pine Walk

soaking up a bit of sun, trying not to eat and drink too much so that I don’t come home the size of a house. And it’s all pretty much how it usually is, which is pretty much perfect.

Except for something’s different. And the something that is different is that when I’m sitting in the sun reading one of the books I’ve brought out with me, and beside me other people are sitting in the sun reading one of the books they’ve brought out with them, some of them are reading…. MY BOOK. That’s the book written by me.

I cannot begin to tell you how extraordinary that feels. Extraordinary and unanticipated and…. kind of amazing. Because they seem to be enjoying it. And I get to have a lovely time talking about the characters and the places and the plot. Which I love doing, because I love the characters and the places and the plot. Because the characters feel like family to me, and we all love to talk about our family, don’t we?

So here is Sue. And she’s reading The Greenyards Legacy.

photo copy

And if you’re interested, (which of course you are, aren’t you?) you can find out what she thought about it by clicking here.

Exciting, huh?