Posts Tagged ‘hills’

One Stoat, Two Stoat, Three Stoat, More.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

In an attempt to work off our Christmas bellies, Sir Pubert, Katy, Ken and I headed to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales on Boxing Day for a walk in the hills. Ken, local Yorkshireman, avid explorer and map reader, was our guide and had planned the walking route. Having parked our car in Malham, we wrapped ourselves in multiple layers, grabbed our picnic lunches and headed off. Adventure awaited!

Malham

Off we go!

Ken and Katy sprinted off in front of wheezy–Sir–Pubert and “I’ll catch up in a second, I just want to take a photo”–tourist–me. Every minute or so I needed to stop and say, “Wow.” as the scenery expanded and the Yorkshire Dales showed us what they are made of.

We were in limestone country and our first stop was Malham Cove, an impressive and formidable limestone amphitheatre. We climbed up to the top (via some easy-access steps) and then had a view over the rolling hills of the Dales.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove

The landscape shifted from green hills to rocky outcrops with waterfalls and streams winding through the valleys. It was beautiful. I have generally considered myself a city girl, but having the opportunity to stomp through mud, water streams and climb over rocks was very stimulating. This was helped by the fact that the weather held out and we managed to complete the walk sans pluie.

View from Malham Cove

View from Malham Cove

We stopped for lunch (I don’t think many walkers have stilton and walnut sandwiches, but we picnic in style.) sitting on a small rocky amphitheatre. Enjoying the quiet and the expansive view, I spotted a white object tumbling down the small road in front of us.The pure white stood out clearly against the black bitumen and it soon became clear that it wasn’t just a polystyrene cup blowing in the wind. I nudged Ken and asked him what it was. As they say in the north, Ken got dead excited.

sandwiches

Sir Pubert makes some seriously good sandwiches.

The tumbling white thing was a stoat in ermine – a weasel-like creature whose fur coat changes from brown to pure white during winter months. Apparently it was quite rare to spot one of these little guys and I had just spotted something rather special. Ken whipped out his binoculars and we all had a close look at him as he jumped and tumbled his way over rocks and through shrubs looking for food for his own lunch.

stoat

This isn’t the stoat that I saw but look at him! SO CUTE! www.telegraph.co.uk

His tumbling running action (these guys don’t really run – they look like they are having the BEST TIME EVER jumping and skipping and leaping about like 4 year old girls who have just consumed excessive amounts of sugar at a birthday party) and his adorably cute face fooled me into thinking he was an innocent little thing. Apparently not. These guys are vicious killers who bite and snap the spinal cords of rabbits. Coming from a country where everything kills you, I’m not entirely surprised.

Here is a BBC documentary showing the leaping cuteness. It also shows the less-cute rabbit killing. You’ve been warned.

The stoat eventually disappeared into the rocky landscape and we continued on our walk. We hadn’t walked far when Sir Pubert called for the binoculars and looked down into the valley at a dry stone wall that had some remarkably white stones near the base. Then the stones moved. He had spotted two more stoats living in the stone wall, potentially waiting the lunch that was being collected by the stoat I had spotted earlier.

While it would have been great to stand and watch our new furry friends all day, our fingers and toes were turning numb and the idea of warming cups of tea was too exciting. We walked on, heading back to Malham and to the Buck Inn where we re-heated ourselves by the fire.

As we drove out of Malham the rain started and we drove home in a constant downpour. Perfect timing with the weather, rare animal spotting, fantastic views and delicious blue-cheese sandwiches. It had been a great day.

Portugal, I Love You

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

You know you’ve enjoyed a country when your stomach is screaming with pain from eating too much food and drinking too much wine. Maybe it was the fried, salted peppers, or maybe I just over indulged but my stomach is currently on holidays from my excessive Portuguese eating habits. It is glad to be back in the country where while everything is full of butter, it doesn’t drip down your chin as you bite into your food.

Jess and toast

Butter chin!

We returned to Paris at lunch time on Sunday after a week away in Portugal. Sunny, warm Portugal. It was Tom’s birthday present – I bought him tickets and accommodation for four days in Lisbon and three days in Porto. The main reason for this present was because Portugal is a country I have wanted to visit and I had started to miss the beach beyond belief. Really, it was a present for me, but Tom didn’t seem to mind.

Lisbon was a fascinating city and I don’t think I have ever walked through a city that has worked my calf muscles as much. I thought there were hills in Lyon – that was NOTHING compared to the mountainous terrain of Lisbon. You can be walking along a street and decide to turn right, only to discover that to get to the next parallel street you have to go up an almost vertical incline. To add to your woes, you have to deal with cobblestone footpaths that are made up of super slippery tiles, so you have to grip on with your toe, feet and leg muscles to avoid going backwards.

Lisbon hills

Danger hill alert!

Of course, you then get to the top of the hill, walk along a nice flat area for awhile, only to discover that you now have to go back down the slope without slipping over and falling on your butt. It was hilarious watching slow and cautious tourists being over taken at rapid speed by locals, often elderly women with walking sticks. I was once over taken by an old lady carrying a carpet over her shoulder. I wanted to bow, kiss her feet and compliment her on her walking abilities and hope that one day I could walk as well as she could.

Portuguese lady

Look at that skill!

The good thing about hills is that you often have a nice view from the top of them. There were LOTS of nice views in Lisbon and these vistas, terraces, or look outs were really well used. There was almost always a little kiosk cafe where you could sit and have a drink, a historical monument or an over priced tourist venture.

Lisbon

Beautiful Lisbon.

On our first day in Lisbon we were the stupid tourists who paid to go up a lift that used to be run on steam (if it still was run on steam I would have enjoyed it more. Instead it was just an ordinary lift with wires and electricity and stuff) for a 5-10 second ride in order to get ‘a view’ over Lisbon. If we had waited and walked around for a bit longer, we may have realised that if we had walked up the hill NEXT to the lift, we could have had the same view for free. But hey, what’s the point of being a tourist if you don’t get ripped off? Plus it was Portuguese prices which means we could have gone up and down the lift four times before it cost anything near the price of going up the Eiffel Tower.

Lisbon elevator

The Elevator of Santa Justa

It was interesting being in a European city where there are few buildings dating back past the mid 18th century. A massive earthquake in 1755 destroyed most of the city so it was interesting to then visit Porto which has some much older buildings and feels like a much older city. There is a feeling of hardship in Portugal – it is one of the EU countries currently struggling with its economy and it is quite obvious from the living standards in the cities and it the country towns we passed when on the train. People make do with less and have done so for centuries but global economies are making it harder for this to be possible. However, while people’s homes appear run down and falling apart, it was also interesting to see that houses with city or water views that had once belonged to generations of family members were being transformed into fancy hotels and tourist restaurants. This really annoys me. The fact that large numbers of delightful cities are transformed into Disneylands just to maintain economies and to satisfy rich tourists is horrifying. While I am one of those tourists, I don’t want to see a city taken over by souvenir shops and tourist menus. I go to a city to see its history, discover how people live there, and eat local food. This is becoming much harder to achieve.

Lisbon restaurants

Tourism is taking over

Anyway, potentially contradicting my previous statement, we spent one afternoon in Porto doing what the tourists do – visiting port cellars and sampling the local produce. Much like going wine tasting in the Swan Valley or Margaret River, there were hoards of tourists wandering from cellar to cellar, demanding free samples and feeling hard done by if they had to pay for something. We joined in and visited four port cellars and sampled approximately 10 different ports. That’s a lot for one afternoon.

Port

The first three ports

In two of the cellars we were able to join tours that took us into the caves where the port is stored and provided us with a bit of information about how the port is produced. You can see a highlight of these tours in a movie on my Flickr site, where a particularly amusing girl provided us with a very interesting tour of the Croft cellar. The main reason it was interesting was the way in which she spoke English – it was just delightful. Plus the fact that she appeared strict and like a scary teacher at first, and then started dropping really sarcastic jokes throughout her speech just made it a tour to remember.

Basically, the key thing I learnt from my four cellar visits, ten ports and two tours, was that I like Tawny Ports because they are oakier due to being aged in smaller oak barrels than Ruby Ports. See? I was listening. And if you have a vintage port, drink it within 2-3 days of opening. And all Port grapes are grown in the Douro region in Portugal. SO THERE YOU GO.

Portugal was fantastic. I will write some more later but right now I have to go and buy a baguette for lunch. Tough, I know. I do have to venture outside into grey and windy Paris where it is fairly cold. That’s not sunny Portugal!