Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

Good-bye, TDOT

14 March 2018 – The visit ends as it began. With a great visual punch of art.

But, this time, not street art!

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, not all of Toronto’s art is on the street. Some of it is on walls — interior walls, you understand,  and sometimes visible only by paid admission. Really.

I spend my last day in Toronto — indeed, I am en route the airport — at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture and exhibitions come second to the power of memory and the joy of seeing old friends and former colleagues.

Mind you, as “second” goes, it’s first-rate.

I visit the Burning Forest …

La Forêt ardente, Jean Paul Riopelle, part of the Mitchell/Riopelle exhibition …

wander through the Narcissus Garden

one installation in Yayoi Kusama’s multi-floor exhibition …

and drink my latte under a bright winter sky in the AGO’s Galleria Italia café.

 

All that skyscape is curated into multiple images by the lines and curves of Frank Gehry‘s architectural magic, a fitting tribute by this native son to his home town — indeed, his home neighbourhood.

Over the years, one weekly shift after another, I nursed my coffee-break lattes under these soaring arcs, exposed to the weather visually but protected from it physically, and so free to enjoy its every mood.

One more latte, this time as a visitor. The perfect end to the perfect final day of my visit.

And I’m off to the airport, and home.

 

Sorry …

12 March 2018 – “Sorry.”

And there you have it, in one word — the world’s image of Canadians.

We are so polite, and endlessly apologizing. Even to the person who has just stepped on our toes. (Fill in your own favourite Canadian joke right here.)

So this is surely the ultimate Canadian coffee shop. Never mind that it is sleek and classy, overlooking the equally sleek and classy Village of Yorkville Park.

It has ur-Canadian DNA.

I am not the first to make this connection. In January 2016, a BlogTO correspondent wrote:

Its name is a playful nod to Canadian politeness, as the stereotype says we tend to apologize all the time, and as my friend and I prove is true since we realize we’ve inadvertently said “sorry” about five times since we’ve arrived.

And the Sorry website says:

We’re here whether you need a dose of inspiration or just a sorry excuse to get away from it all.

Hmmm. Now for the awkward bit.

I feel compelled to reveal that I didn’t go in. I went & found myself a latte somewhere else.

Sorry.

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

Honorary Tuesday

3 March 2018 – It isn’t Tuesday, but the original Tuesday Walking Society is out in full two-woman force, and in honour of our reunion we declare the day to be Honorary Tuesday. Makes us happy.

As so often, for all those Toronto years, we meet at an agreed time & place — this time, the Pape subway station.

I just have time to admire the frosted-glass artwork on the stairs …

when Phyllis appears. Back onto the subway, on to Main station.

Where we walk down-down-down, headed for Lake Ontario and, eventually, this year’s Winter Stations art installations along the waterfront in the city’s Beach neighbourhood.

Memories of other walks, as we walk… Once more alongside Glen Stewart Ravine as it broadens into Glen Stewart Park. This time with a fresh dusting of snow, and a snowman-in-the-making.

Mum is doing most of the work; small child pats the snowman occasionally; dog watches peacefully from one side.

The sun comes & goes; the wind comes & goes (but, mostly, comes); we reach the boardwalk and head east. The water is cloudy and choppy, wind-driven.

This is the city’s fourth annual Winter Stations — the idea being to have some wintertime fun with the lifeguard stations that otherwise just stand there, cold & bleak behind the snow fence, until it is summer again.

Here’s the wintertime fun: invite design firms internationally and universities provincially to come up with art installations that will each wrap themselves around one of the stations.

We reach the first installation.

Shazaam! Inside lurks one of those frames; outside, it’s Pussy Hut, an American tribute to the pink pussy hats worn worldwide on Women’s Day.

Beyond the hat/hut, you can see more of the installations — Revolution, with its megaphones; the ovoid Nest, with its colourful criss-cross of tapes; and then the boxy, bright-red fabric panels of Obstacle.

Nest, the work of Ryerson University students, is designed to offer “comfort and introspection within a system of complexity and disarray.” On a windy day like today, the concept becomes physical reality.

I enter, I peer up through its shell, through the lifeguard station frame, out to the clouds above.

On to Revolution (OCAD University). Much friendlier than it sounds: 36 vertical tubes, at different heights, easy to swivel — to revolve! —  that invite everyone to shout their opinions into the air.

I don’t shout. The tubes strike me more as telescopes than loudspeakers — perhaps because we are water-side? — so, instead, I peer through one of them and enjoy the change of perspective.

We can’t find an identifying sign for this next installation, but its anonymity doesn’t keep it from providing what they are all meant to provide: pleasure and comfort on a chilly winter day.

At the moment, it’s to the benefit of a tired gentleman and his dog, bright red ball still clutched firmly in its mouth. (Later, online, I learn this is Rising Up, the work of U of Guelph students.)

On to that boxy collection of bright-red fabric panels, each swivelling quite forcibly with the wind.

I put a hand to one, thinking I’ll slide inside. Oww! I’m smacked by the wooden frame that holds the fabric taut. And I discover why the UK design team called their creation, Obstacle.

“At first it appears impenetrable,” they tell you, but with closer inspection and especially through cooperation with others, you can make your way inside.

Phyllis and I have a long history of cooperation, but we don’t make our way inside — we move on to Make Some Noise!

Who can resist? It’s an “oversized noise box,” say its German designers, with black horns and red hand cranks to get ’em wailing.

So we do. And so does everybody else that passes by.

We are veterans of previous Winter Stations exhibitions; we are veterans of blustery Toronto winters; we are veterans of the impact of those winters on the city waterfront.

But we do not expect what we see next.

Three surfers! In wet suits, mind you, and surely insulated wet suits at that. But still …

They offer one more tribute to lakefront fun in winter — the perfect grand finale to Winter Stations. We admire them, but have no desire to emulate them.

We head north to Queen Street East, correctly anticipating a different kind of water, the hot kind that brings you lattes.

What we don’t anticipate is what happens after that.

Next post. You’ll see.

 

 

 

Hello, TDOT

28 February 2018 – I emerge onto Bloor St. West from the rapid transit link between the airport and downtown Toronto, and start to laugh. Right there on that busy sidewalk, with traffic whooping by in the railway underpass.

“Hello TDOT,” I say to myself, and take the photo.

A whole riot of street art, running through the underpass. Definitely Toronto. (And thank you Barb, for this bit of local slang: Toronto aka T.O.; i.e. tee-dot-oh-dot; thus TDOT.)

That’s yesterday.

Today I’m walking around a bit of Riverdale, mostly on Pape between The Danforth and Gerrard. And yessir, TDOT just keeps kicking up more street art.

A fish threatens to swallow a phone box …

and he might as well, having already swallowed the phone.

A car makes a coffee-brake, right over the Schmooz café …

which I extra-love, since I made that same coffee brake pun in a post last October.

A guy eats an ice-cream cone, and clearly doesn’t like the taste …

which is fair enough, since the owner of this now-closed corner store has pinned a furious handwritten note to his store door, making clear he really doesn’t like the graffito.

On the other hand, a very spiffy meat & deli shop just south of Danforth not only accepts the mural on its side wall …

but the owner probably commissioned it, since it bears his store name in bold block caps.

About face, I’m heading south again. Some homeowner loves poppies, right there on his front porch.

Maybe painted them himself? (Or herself, come to that.)

Monkeys on a utility box, beside the Lucky Coin Laundry …

and, under the laundry’s neon logo, a beautiful poem by 14h-c. Persian poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz.

Forget washing your clothes! It’s dog-wash time at the Fur Factory …

and, if you get close to that vertical line of thumbnail images, cats are also acknowledged.

Another dog under the adjacent Atomic Age comix store, looking back in some amazement — as well he might — at the red techno-monster behind him. And robot dog.

It’s cat-and-dog time farther south as well.

Be sure to read both signs …

and if you think the second one says, “Beware of the dog,” read it again.

I know. I had to read it twice myself.

Your reward for close scrutiny is …

a flower.

Tacked to a utility pole that has clearly had many other things tacked to it in its time.

But none as pretty, I bet.

 

 

The Path to Wigan Pier

18 May 2017 – Another borrowed title, this time slightly amended. George Orwell called his 1936 book The Road to Wigan Pier, using the pier to symbolize the region’s industrial decline. My cousin Jane (right) & I, plus her husband Rick, are on the path alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, walking our way to that famous pier.

Walking our way along a very short stretch indeed, from Top Lock to Bottom Lock in the Wigan Flight of locks, which accounts for 23 of the canal’s 91 locks. This Flight allows boats to rise (or drop) 200 vertical feet in a distance of just over 3 miles.

Work on the canal began in 1771 & was completed some 45 years later, a total of 127 miles, all of it dug by hand. The canal linked with other canals, a fast means of transport for its day, its barges carrying produce — e.g. coal, limestone, woollens — throughout the region.

Today the canal is for pleasure, maintained in part by volunteers, funded by both public & private sources.

We walk under graceful arched bridges …

pass fishermen by canal’s edge …

and read fingerboards.

I spy our destination, Wigan Pier, on the lower left finger and chirp to Rick, “Only 7 minutes away!” He replies, “By bicycle.” Ohhh. Oops.

And, of course, we see the narrow boats that have replaced the old industrial barges.

Sometimes they are right in a lock, here twinned and riding low …

and sometimes they are tied up.

Solar panels, I am told, are not unusual these days.

We stop to read a red metal detail map by the path.

We’ve come from Top Lock, well off the bottom left corner; we are are now near Bottom Lock (# 9, near the bottom left corner).

We will now walk on to Pottery Changeline Bridge (# 6), turn left along the canal and, — at #2 —  finally reach oyr goal: Wigan Pier.

Here it is! Wigan Pier.

Really. Those up-tipped metal stumps. That’s it.

In a manner of speaking.

Orwell wrote dolefully: “Even the place where it used to stand is now no longer certain.” A plaque explains why. In 1929, 7 years before his book was published, the pier had been sold for scrap. What we see now is a reproduction, created in 1986 by students of Wigan and Leeds College.

So: it’s a repro.

But still worth our respect, and our time. It represents one of the piers, or “tipplers,” that used to dot the canal.They were points where tubs of coal would be run down tracks from the collieries, to hit a jetty and “tipple” (topple over), emptying their load into a waiting barge in the canal itself.

The contents of each tub had been shaken & sorted by Pit Brow Lasses, working in teams of six. They did it all by hand, 12 hours a day. “Reet ‘ard work…” as one described it, back in 1880. “Our muscles are bigger than most men’s.”

At night they would soak their hands in cold tea, to soothe the cracks in the skin.

Jane, Rick and I head off to a tearoom. We too will seek out tea — hot tea, though, to soothe our throats.

 

The Right Attitude to Rain

16 May 2017 – A borrowed title, so thank you Alexander McCall Smith: not just for the book bearing this title in your Sunday Philosophy Club series, but for the others set in Edinburgh and of course for the Botswana series (beginning with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) that first enchanted us all.

The McCall Smith title comes to mind as we begin to explore Dartmoor and East Devon with dear friends who live in the area. Sally & I left Guernsey in blazing sunshine. Here in Devon … well, it has occasional sunny moments, but, mostly, it rains. Mist to drizzle to rain to steam to drizzle to rain to mist …

McCall Smith says: “The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain — just as the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.” We have rain, but we have so much more as well.

Consider our outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, two towns on the English Channel coast in East Devon.

The weather is blustery and capricious. Our host friend bemoans the lack of sunshine. I insist the weather is “atmospheric.” She thinks I am being polite. I am not. I find this weather immensely more interesting, more stimulating, more … well … atmospheric, than sunshine could ever be.

Boats in this sign-posted Fishermen’s Area in Sidmouth gleam in the mist; towering red cliffs, formed in the Triassic era (icons of the region’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), loom as dramatic backdrop to the east.

We walk along the ocean front, just as wind-tossed to the west as to the east …

and then turn toward town.

The beach front is lined with hotels, legacy of the Georgian & Victorian passion for coastal resorts in the 18th & 19th centuries …

imposing collectively as streetscape, and rewarding for their individual detailing as well.

This 1891 scrollwork, for example.

And on into town.

Sally & I want fish & chips. We do. We are unapologetic. Occasionally we acknowledge we are tourists & we just want to do a tourist-y thing. Like smothering chips in malt vinegar, and knocking back the breaded cod.

Fortunately, our friend happens to love a good face-full of fish & chips herself, from time to time, so she guides us to her own favourite spot. Yum.

After, we stroll the town, tempting ourselves in the shops.

It is very pretty, very tempting, but I spend my time looking, not buying. Enjoying everything I see, including the traditional red telephone box and red pillar letter-box.

The pillar box makes me laugh: I remember listening to one French tourist tell another, on a bus in Guernsey, how she eagerly wrote lots of postcards on her first visit to the island and posted them in the nearest pillar box — only to discover later she had posted them in a round refuse bin!

Back to the car. Our next stop is away from the coast in Otterton, and then back to the coast, to the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, where the estuary provides a significant reed bed and grazing marsh for wildlife.

Ocean-front signage is very 1930s sunshine-cheery.

Today’s reality requires a right attitude to rain.

Mist, wind, drizzle; everything gleams.

I am enchanted by the beach pebbles, and later learn they are as ancient as the cliffs. Sandstones, formed some 400 million years ago in what we now call Brittany, eroded over time and were transported first by Triassic-era rivers and later by the ocean itself to their present location.

Steps lead to the beach at various points along the oceanfront.

I walk among the pebbles. Crunch! Crunch!

I fill both jacket pockets with them, intent on shape & size & colour. (Later, I donate almost all to my friend’s garden; only one will come home to Vancouver with me for my own balcony garden.)

Time to turn back. I pause a moment, enjoy that line of beach huts, still boarded up, awaiting summer.

Meanwhile, they are bright with springtime rain.

 

Gorse, of Course

11 May 2017 – We don’t have gorse in mind as we board the Sark Belle for our day trip to this historic, enchanting little (5 1/2 sq km.) island member of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

We’re thinking wildflowers, walks, sweeping views, and narrow roads & lanes free of cars but alive with tractors & tractor-drawn carts (tractors being the legal car substitute), bicycles, horses, and “shank’s mare” (leg power).

It all makes me think of my childhood summers on Dorval Island near Montreal, and my year as an adult living on Algonquin Island, one of the two residential islands in Toronto Harbour.

But, back there, we haven’t the old, old stone homes and out-buildings …

or the fingerboards.

Sally & I study this one, and follow the fingers for La Coupée and Little Sark. The former — a 91-m. narrow track with 100-m. drops either side — leads to the latter, the nearly-separate southern section of the island.

Our goal is simply to walk — to breathe the fresh air, listen to the cascades of bird song, enjoy the hedgerows, the sweeps of fields & cliffs, the wildflowers.

We walk pretty steadily through Greater Sark, heading for Little Sark, and then abruptly pull up — like everybody else — at the sight of La Coupée.

We’ve been told that for most of its history, the track had no railings at all, that in those days small children crossed on hands & knees on days of high wind, and that — as a plaque now notes — German POWs build the present railing under British supervision immediately after World War II.

You peer over the edge down into La Grande Grève, you appreciate the sturdy protection.

Another 15-20 minutes down-island, and we stop for lunch in a tea garden. (No latte, not this time: good food, sparkling water, shrubs, flowers & bird song instead.)

We know we have to walk all the way back up-island again, we’ll have a ferry to catch, but we can’t resist a side-trip while here. It’s a 15-minute walk to either Venus Pool or the Silver Mines, promises a brochure. We ask directions, and we’re on our way down the appropriate lane.

And through the appropriate farm gate.

That’s a ventilation shaft for the one-time silver mines straight ahead, one of several that still dot the area. They are a handsome, craggy sight in a sweeping, craggy area …

softened by great rolling swaths of gorse.

It is everywhere.

Ulex europaeus, if you want to get scientific about it, an evergreen shrub with brilliant yellow flowers that provides shelter for insects and birds. Tough & tenacious, say the descriptions — potentially invasive, in fact. Yes, that adjective does come to mind.

We go not quite all the way down to the water, then head back to the main road and continue up-island.

We really do want to get ourselves prudently back onto Greater Sark, within striking range of the ferry dock, but another diversion looms.

Well, more for Sally than for me.

She is a horsewoman, I am not. I watch from slightly afar as she horse-whispers the animal from a skittish distance right up to the gate. I watch him relax toward her hand, bend his head, make contact.

It’s a lovely moment.

Then, hip-hop, we’re back across La Coupée — and, yes! with time to spare for another diversion. This one westward toward the Gouliot Headland. Down more lanes, past the Duck Pond (with Mallards paddling about, to justify the name), a sideways slide past a cart heaped with tree trimmings, through another cattle gate (opened & carefully closed behind us) …

and we’re positioned for more sweeping views to the cliffs and water edge.

With lots more gorse!

Gorse lines the hedgerows as we return to the main village, walk past its shops; I point out the café where, during my visit three years ago, I shared a table with an aging lady who informed me that she was the last baby delivered by the German doctor on that island before the surrender of the occupying forces. (“One year, at the Liberation Day celebrations, I was introduced to Prince Charles!”)

We take the pretty little woodland path from the village down to the harbour, and then the tunnel through the rock to the harbour now in use.

Back on Guernsey, back up the Constitution Steps — all 3,037 of them (OK,I made that up) — to our self-catering apartment in La Madeleine, and we collapse.

I check the pedometer app on my iPhone. Congratulations! it cries: you’ve walked 17.2 km today.

Yesss!

 

Donkey Island

8 May 2017 – The taxi driver cries, “Oh, I’m a donkey!” and then, via the rear-view mirror, checks out my reaction with amused eyes. I have just asked if he is native to Guernsey, or an in-comer. Will I know that he has just answered my question?

Yes. Got it. He is local.

Jersey islanders (boo, hiss!) first hung the tag on Guernsey residents, no compliment intended. Guernseymen decided it fit them to a tee: tough, stubborn, strong, and, even so, sweet. No wonder there is this sculpture of mother & foal opposite the Town Church in St. Peter Port, and donkey images on every tourist item you can imagine.

My friend Sally & I are starting a UK holiday here on the Channel Island of Guernsey — but we quickly discover that, in fact, our UK holiday won’t start until we return to the English mainland. Guernsey gives its name to the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which also includes Alderney, Sark and other smaller islands); Jersey comprises the Bailiwick of Jersey; they are both Crown dependencies, remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and not part of the UK.

The history, you will now rightly conclude, is complicated, and rife with political take-overs, from pre-historic eras to the Romans, and on from there. The most recent take-over was in living memory and, thankfully, cut short: Nazi forces occupied the Channel islands during World War II.

As it happens, we will be here for Liberation Day celebrations (9 May, tomorrow), but there is much else to celebrate, at all times.

The sea, of course, the busy ports (here, a section of St. Peter Port Harbour at low tide) …

harbour walkways accessible only at low tide …

and the homes, walls and steps that seem to erupt from the very ground beneath them.

As indeed they do: the island is rich in granite. Charmingly, wildflowers erupt as well, filling minute crannies & softening the rock face.

Sally leans in for a closer look, as we walk down Rue Berthelot.

“Down” is literally true, by the way! The capital St. Peter Port steps vertically up from the sea. Whether you choose a narrow road or one of the pedestrian staircases, you & your leg muscles are in for a work-out.

An early visit to the Tourist Information Centre pays off: we snag the last few seats on the next day’s “Old Number Eleven” tour — the last in a series on offer during the month-long Heritage events, due to culminate on Liberation Day.

The Number Eleven was a bus route, and we join a lot of nostalgic “Donkeys” on the 1954 Albion Victor bus that will follow the old route out to Portelet at the south-west corner of the island.

It’s a great stopping-point for visitors as well, because from here we can also visit the Star Fort at Pezeries Point and the Table des Pions. We enjoy both, but are most touched by something else: a rusted, badly eroded and deformed airplane propeller propped against the fence overlooking the bay.

On 11 June 1944, the German occupiers shot down a B17 Flying Fortress that was presumably returning to England from a bombing raid on France. Eleven men lost their lives. Much, much later, a fisherman hauled up this airplane remnant with his catch. The paper in front of it, sheathed in protective plastic, reads: “… You sacrificed your young lives for our freedom. The people of Guernsey thank you. Rest in Peace.”

That’s not litter, to the right of the propeller; it is just the latest in an intermittent, but continuing, series of floral tributes, offered anonymously.

Old Number Eleven now shakes free of her one-time route, and we are treated to a near-circumnavigation of the island. Next stopping point: L’Ancresse Bay in the Parish of Vale, toward the north-west. More military history — this time scattered throughout a golf course, and of much earlier vintage.

This is L’Ancresse Tower No. 7, one of 15 loophole towers built 1778-1779 as part of the island defence system against a possible French invasion. Why a possible invasion? The Americans declared independence in 1776, the French allied themselves with the rebel cause, and the British Crown not unreasonably thought it might lead to an attempt to retake the Channel islands.

As it happens, it didn’t. Today pigeons inhabit the towers, and golfers do their best to shoot around them. (Still … would a shot in one loophole and out another qualify as a hole-in-one?)

All that was yesterday. Today Sally & I follow up with another bus ride, and another dip into the history of the German occupation. This time it is a regular modern bus on its current route, depositing us in Forest, where we walk past the ancient parish church, Ste Marguerite de la Foret (its earliest parts dating from the 13th c.), to attend a lecture in the German Occupation Museum on Guernsey’s resistance heroes.

 

Pre-lecture, we wander country lanes (“ruettes”), admiring the riotous abundance of wildflowers & woodland, and the simple elegance of the buildings.

Then into the Museum.

It is an informed, personal & touching talk, given by the man who created and runs the museum. It is not the history of the war, or even the history of the Occupation on Guernsey; it is the human story of three individuals, and why they mattered. But through these three stories, we feel the larger history.

Even the little Tea Room contains memorabilia.

Tomorrow is 9 May, 2017.

The island will celebrate, and Sally & I will be there.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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