27 February 2011

Sun, sand and windbreaks

Summer holidays - what does that mean these days?  Long haul flights to far off destinations with white sand and turquoise seas or short flights to European destinations.  Perhaps a bit of culture is called for in Greece or Italy; food foraging in France or cruising the oceans of the Caribbean.  Will this year be minus volcanic eruptions, air traffic control and  baggage handler strikes?  Whatever you choose, I hope it is exactly what you saved, planned and dreamed of during the long, dark days of winter.

As a child you had no say in your destination for the precious week or two weeks of a holiday - that was down to your parents and most of us at some time, can recall holidays we would rather forget in some boring (to us children) seaside destination in the wet.  Cardigans and thermos flasks seem to loom large in my memory along with long journeys in the back of our faithful Austin A90 sat next to the dog who panted and dribbled happily whilst taking in the ever changing scenery.   

Beaches in those days did not come with the sunlounger and umbrella, but you took bags of 'stuff'.  Towels - to lie on and to undress under - plastic boxes of sandwiches that always had sand in them and anything else that might be 'needed' due to vagaries of the British weather.  If you went to big seaside towns, you could get a deckchair - I hated them after having trapped my fingers in them at an early age - and more importantly, the vital windbreak for those 'gusty' days.

About 10 years ago whilst on holiday in Dartmouth, I went on the steam railway down to Paignton.  Now it was a lovely sunny day when we set off but in Paignton there was quite a sea mist but the determined British were still out in force on the beach, windbreaks up, anoraks and big cardigans as far as the eye could see.  A true British seaside vision.

Dartmouth to Paignton Steam Train

Paignton beach - note windbreak

Top of the destinations when you lived in the North of England, was Wales and for us in particular, the North Wales coast and Llyn Peninsula.  My godfather had a cottage just outside Harlech, which he kindly loaned us for summer holidays.  Harlech is  beautiful with an impressive Castle and fascinating history, as all Wales has, about its battles with the English.  (http://www.visitwales.co.uk/)  I hope the great bakery that did a super line in big, fat juicy jam doughnuts is still going.  Many a splatter of jam eating those.

Harlech Castle

When the castle was first built, the sea came right up under its ramparts but now it sits proudly above the sand dunes looking out to sea.  The beach at Harlech is glorious - as good as any foreign one - and when the weather is right, it's an idyllic place to spend a holiday.  The other castles all along this coastline are impressive too.

Harlech dunes and beach

When I was older, I spent quite a few happy times on this beach and exploring the beautiful coastline. However, I vividly remember damp holidays where the only past time appeared to be darts - my godfather honestly thought he had woodworm.  I never dared reveal the truth. A favourite place to spend a few hours was Portmeirion - the location for the iconic series The Prisoner.

Portmeirion Village

A magical place to walk around and wonder at the vision of William Clough Ellis - all these buildings might have been lost forever, if it had not been for him. (http://www.portmeirion-village.com/)

Further along from here is the brilliant Ffestiniog Railway that winds up over 700 feet and along 13 miles of track through the stunning scenery of seas, lakes, meadows and waterfalls.  (http://www.festrail.co.uk/For children who have never been on a steam train or a train for that matter, this is just brilliant - actually all of these treasured lines up and down the country are so worth a visit.

Ffestiniog railway

My first holiday with a friend involved an overnight coach trip from Macclesfield to Bournemouth to stay in a bed and breakfast close to the centre of the town.  A great time was had as it was an exciting time in music and I saw an early Fleetwood Mac, Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, and favourite of all, the Amen Corner with the amazing Andy Fairweather Low - who I might add was quite impressed when I told him - many years later when he came to appear on a show at Granada - that I had seen him at the Pavilion Gardens in the late 60s.  I do not remember any sunbathing happening on this holiday but certainly in the years to come, the beach started to play an important role in holidays.

Bournemouth beach and pier

My first major beach holiday was courtesy of my late boss at Granada Television - the wonderful Muriel Young.  Muriel had discovered Portugal and the Algarve coast in the early 60s and built a beautiful villa in Santa Eulalia, just outside Albufeira.  She went twice a year with her family and friends and through her, various other famous people bought places in the area - Cliff Richard being one, who now has a very successful vineyard, Adega Do Cantor (http://www.winesvidanoa.com/). The rest of the year, the villa was rented out through an agency which funded its upkeep and maintenance for the year. The villa was beautiful, with its own pool and surrounded by pine trees and best of all, an orange grove where you could go and pick your own oranges fresh from the tree.  One day I picked one as I was leaving for the UK and a few hours later, I gave it to my lovely next door neighbour, Hilda, who could not believe that a few hours before it had been on a tree in Portugal.

Albufeira beach

My memories of mine and Cheryll's first visit to Portugal are as clear today as they were then.  The blue skies, the smell of food being grilled with the whiff of garlic and the beautiful scenery.  The terrifying driving standards and interesting use of large tyres for roundabouts.This was 1979 and Albufeira was still an unspoilt fishing village.  New buildings were springing up but there was still countryside all around and a lack of commericalism and tasteless architecture that has now, in my opinion, blighted great swathes of coastlines around the world. 

The main square in Albufeira had a market and when the bus went up the left hand side of the square, people squashed themselves into doorways to let it go past, and as it turned the corner, people would move their chairs and tables to enable it to continue its journey.  All great local colour.  We would walk down to the beach at Praia d'Ouro which at that time, had a tiny gypsy market on the edge of it and then walk back up towards the crossroads stopping to buy massive strawberries or to rummage in the supermarket at the crossroads, wondering at the amazing array of strange things we could find.  A favourite shop in Albufeira was an old fashioned chemist who seemed to have a great stock of Christian Dior perfumes at knock down prices.  I still have, even all these years later, a miniscule drop of Eau Fraiche in its black and white box, that I bought there. 

Just up from the villa was the original bull ring - a strange place which appeared to be built out of corrugated iron sheets and next to that was a great restaurant and bar - we didn't enquire too deeply into where the steaks came from though.  Also near to the villa, was a fantastic chicken restaurant, Franginhos, run by the Birch family who were friends of Muriel.  I made contact with Nigel Birch (one of the sons) last year and was delighted to hear he was still living on the beautiful estate that we had visited with Muriel but now is totally involved with Cliff Richard's vineyard - what a small world we all live in.  Sadly the restaurant is no more but the memories of their piri piri chicken live on in mine and Cheryll's memories.  Along with the memories of great dinners followed by great nights in the The Showboat Bar opposite, run by a wonderful Yorkshire man, Peter and his Dutch partner, Rob.  Happy days.

We made great friends with local portuguese people and as we returned every year, we were invited to birthdays, taken on trips to see new restaurants, whisked off to bars and discos.  Muriel loved the fact we returned from each trip armed with the latest gossip and scandal of the area.  We thought nothing of hitching a lift in the back of the little water trucks or on the back of a cart being pulled by a donkey as we were all treated so fantastically.  I think we kept them going in gossip for years. I had my 30th birthday there and it was fantastic as the locals had organised a special cake and everything for me - such thoughtful friends.

Life moved on for Cheryll and I as we gained husbands. I discovered and fell in love with Greece for a few years,  but neither of us ever forgot Portugal. In fact, a standing joke between Cheryll and I was retirement in Portugal in a rocking chair, covered in a shawl, cat on knee!  It was with Cheryll that I came to discover Lisbon and my present life.  I have my rocking chair and cats (sadly the shawl is actually a Spanish one) so just waiting for her to arrive with hers and then we're 'sorted'!

1 comment:

  1. Remember going on the Ffestiniog railway...I am trying to remember where we stayed a large mansion in a small village....friends of Lesley....who I was going "out with"...there is a nice old turn of phrase...at the time. Lesley was a hairdresser training with slaon in St Anne's Square...and I cannot remember name of that either. Back in 1965 !!!!