Category Archives: Parks


I’ve just been swimming in a chemically-treated, lightly-perfumed, over-lit indoor pool in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. I loved it. On my way to the pool I pass this fountain.

Oviedo fountain fireworks – waterworks doesn’t quite describe the uplift and spray, does it?

It’s the centre piece of a roundabout which illustrates the cycle of water showering through it every minute. Round and round we go. Up and down, through the pipes, over and over again. Humans have used water, in more or less elaborate ways, to enhance our lives as long as we’ve been drinking liquid to survive. You do know you’re soaking in it? In my time in Spain I’ve seen fountains in plazas, roundabouts and parks. I’ve also seen viaducts.

Segovia viaduct built with no mortar

As I’ve said before, imagine having to work in a frock and sandals to make this big old drain run from mountain to castle for your Roman leaders.

There’s plenty of sculptures too, like this one in the city of Valencia, remembering the river that used to run through it.

Valencia remembers their river with a colossus striding over water

One of the most amazing things about Valencia is that for the last thousand years a group of Spanish farmers, or their representatives, meet, every week, on the steps of the Valencia Cathedral; the tribunal de las aguas. They’re there to debate water; who gets how much, when. You can see them on a Thursday. They don’t keep records and their decisions are final.

Tour guide in Valencia explains the democratic nature of water decisions on the steps of the Cathedral

Compare that to negotiations around the Murray Darling basin in Australia. Irrigation is the largest user of water from the Murray/Darling rivers. Admittedly white farmers haven’t been there for a thousand years yet but they are certainly having trouble working out equitable ways to share the water and keep a healthy river. Couple of Aussie blokes made a tv series about it, if you’re inclined to view a cruise down a river?

The farmers downstream in South Australia do not stand a chance against the farmers upstream in New South Wales and Victoria. There are regular scandals on the border of Queensland and NSW.

Cubbie Station, a Japanese and Chinese owned cotton empire, has a dam described as the same size as Sydney Harbour. Down the other end of the river in SA, Goolwa’s water sometimes slows to a trickle. There’s no regular meeting to solve this ongoing crisis. Just earnest attempts, bitter blaming and ecological desperation.

Back in Spain, Valencia went so far as to move their river away from the city.

Old Valencia river bed is now a running track

Now a lovely park featuring running tracks, modern architecture and playgrounds, the river bed flooded too often and the civic powers showed the flow who was boss and shoved it out the back somewhere.

Valencia tamed their river beds and turned their minds to the future

The same thing happened in Seville. The Gualdaquiver, once a bustling shipping artery, was split to control potential flooding.

Seville’s quiet backwaters

I suppose in Spain climate change may be working for humans because there’s been less rain than normal for many years.

El Torre de Oro – The Tower of Gold – built in the 13th Century – across the river Gualdaquiver


The public face of the river in Seville

On the other side of the Iberian Peninsula, I lived last year on the border of two provinces, Barcelona and Girona, in Catalunya. The border was a river, La Tordera.

Standing on the bridge looking out to the sea and the railway bridge on one side and up to the township of Tordera on the other

In the summer La Tordera dried up. You could walk across it. In the winter it was a full, flowing river. I used to take a photo every time I walked home. There’s no sound track on the following slide show. Do you want to listen to Al Green while you check out the pretty Spanish river?

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In the beginning of my little compilation, you can see the mouth of the river at Blanes beach. In the summer, the mouth is closed. As the waters build up through the cooler months, they breach the sand. Water will find a way.

With my back to Blanes beach, here’s the mouth of La Tordera in cooler days.

Also, the nearby city of Girona features a river bed dry and bare in the summer. The winter rains and their outpourings created marvellous reflections for tourist photos.

Girona quiet waters in autumn – not a marvellous tourist photo

This year I work in the Valle de Nalón in Asturias. When I arrived, El Rio Nalón was a mere trickle.

Tiny little Nalón in autumn

Nalón in the Winter

Now spring is here and the snows are melting in the nearby mountains.

Nalón in spring

Churning white waters fleck the brown flood that chunders down the river bed.

Rivers come and go as seen in two stories in the Guardian today. When Nature’s had enough and farmers have taken all the deep-rooted trees away from the water table, is it surprising that nature will take her own course?

But more achingly important is this story about giving nature a right to exist;

The idea of giving a river legal personhood is pleasantly close to finding Naiad or a River God swimming along the Yarra, or the Thames or the Seine. But remember, “No river, no people, no life.”

They know that in Cape Town, they know it in Los Angeles. Around the world it’s estimated 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.

I don’t have to tell you, do I, that we’re all part of nature!

There’s a lot of charities about clean water; the tap project, charity; water, lifewater,

The Source of the river Aube, one of the tributaries of the Seine, in the Haute-Marne region of France

When I stayed near Auberive, Champagne-Ardenne, France, I was fortunate to visit the Source of the river Aube, set in mysterious forest and retaining an atmosphere of magic. For about twenty metres around this area, the ground is wet and the steady seepage from below begins a flow that ends up joining the Seine. Here was a place it was easy to imagine a Naiad living.

Would we be more interested in protecting water if we returned to the days of worshipping? Would that be enough for us to form a human shield against the likes of Nestlé and Coca Cola? Remembering corporations already carry their own personhood, like Deities!

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, hydro-electricity is looking a lot greener these days. And rivers are so beautiful that Don McGlashan wrote a song about them. Made famous by singer Hollie Smith, here’s a version featuring the composer, a casual rehearsal to swim in.

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Thanks for getting into this river of thought. What, and where, are your favourite rivers? Have you been involved in any water charities? Let me know in the comments section below!

Searching for Arthur Ransome; Coniston Copper Mine YHA, Lake District

Remember Swallows and Amazons? Tales of adventures and holiday intrigue by Arthur Ransome? Remember climbing Kanchenjunga, mining for gold and avoiding pirates? Remember protecting birds and sleuthing? So do I, fondly. So, this year I went sleuthing. I travelled to the Lake District in Northern England to climb Kanchenjunga in search of Arthur Ransome; journalist, novelist, sailor, spy.

Coniston Coppermine YHA with the Old Man Coniston (Kanchenjunga) up to the left and mining workings in front


That’s right. You read correctly. Spy.

Ransome was a British spy (codename C.76) during the Russian revolution of one hundred years ago. He also wrote the biography of Oscar Wilde which precipitated Lord Alfred Douglas to launch into a scandalous trial. In Russia, Ransome liked to play chess — with Lenin — and married Trotsky‘s secretary, Evgenia.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Arthur Ransome’s heart lay in North England, in the Lake District. As the train pulled in to Windermere Station I felt the same excitement and anticipation stirred up before meeting an old friend. This was where I’d spent my childhood – albeit while reading. There was no homing pigeon to let go but I felt I was coming home. I was determined to see the lake. Hefting my pack, I walked down the hill. And kept walking. After too much walking I was hungry for lunch and annoyed they called the town the same name as the lake when the town is actually called Bowness. The lake is far from the town.

The sun came out as I reached the water. The farms and forests made green-hued patchwork around the glinting lake. Struggled to find suitable food, bought fixings and, as fat swans too lazy to even stand watched me balefully, strolled on board a cruise of Windermere.

Lady Windermere’s umbrella with fat swan

The lake itself was just as I remembered – from the books and the screen version (only the first, haven’t seen the most recent) – Swallows and Amazons for EVER! The captain sat on his comfortable stool and sighed as chatty Chinese folk cheerfully ignored his interesting details about the length and depth of the lake.

People enjoyed the sunshine, both around the water and on it; lots of different sailboats and cruisers. There was a houseboat. I did not see a plank. It was lovely; the water’s edge, the forests and the remarkably few buildings. The place was incredibly preserved. Scattered buildings fitted into the theme with one or two modern outcrops that implied influential friends. The Lake District, a living National Park, features farms, tourism and some industry but there you go, it might have developed like Surfers Paradise if someone hadn’t protected it to some degree (surfing on Windermere is unlikely).

Gathered myself together. Found my bus. I could only get as far as Ambleside where I had to wait for an hour for the next bus for Coniston. Found supplies and then dropped into a pub for grog (ginger ale) and hot chips. Thank goodness I did because, after an excellent bus trip (the driver a Henna Dame, recently widowed and newly full-time on those curly stonewalled roads), I needed that fuel for the refreshing walk up to my hostel. My pack was heavy but the views were incredible. Note to drivers: Henna Dame supposed car hire firms kept big cars so punters would have to bring them back scratched. You will pay extra for any damage, of course.

The land was stunning and relatively untouched. I couldn’t believe how green and wonderful the forests were and then coming around a corner, I saw Coniston; a sliver of wonder, a slip of lovely, a slide of thought, a glimmer lake in place.

First glimpses of Coniston Water on the way to the Coppermines

I called in to Holly Howe YHA by mistake and, redirected, marched on up the hill, on the way to Dixon’s farm. Sheep yelled to each other. The Copper Mine YHA was nestled into the hills curving around behind it. With a well-stocked kitchen and dining area, it had a comfortable living room and a terrific view down the valley. The staff were relaxed and friendly, used to dealing with walkers, school groups and naturalists of all ages and stripes.

Evening view from YHA Coppermines

My shared room was labelled Old Man of Coniston. In the morning I got up, ate a hearty breakfast and sat on the front door step to tie my boots. The house martins flew across my vision, getting closer and closer, curving around the front of the building. Worried they were trying to get to their nest, I backed away and one did disappear into the eaves. The others continued to buzz me. We squatted in the sun while the young YHA host spread his map on the ground and pointed the Old Man out to me. It’s obvious after you’ve been up there.

On the way up the Old Man

As I climbed I recognised the lie of the land from Ransome’s drawings. I expected to see those little figures in shorts clambering up the slopes beside me. (I’m sure I saw a man in a squashy hat out of the corner of my eye. He ducked into one of the old workings.) The weather came and went. I felt shivery even in June especially through my sweaty shirt.

Old Mine Workings Old Man Coniston

There were friendly folk murmuring over their picnics, people walking their dogs and plenty of grass for the sheep to gnaw. A small dappled brown bird came along the path with me, a white patch on her rump showing as she flashed away to the side or flounced up ahead. She didn’t seem distressed or leading me anywhere, just hopping along. Like me.

The rocks were bursting through the green grass and there was plenty of bracken growing. But higher up, around the old workings, slate lay piled artistically. There must have been good reason; water, or those enormous cables needing housings or perhaps some kind of machine required flat areas. The closed copper and slate mines left more than their scars on the hills; their rusty remnants now crazy sculptures in the landscape.

The cairn at the top of the Old Man and a view down to Coniston Waters

It was thrilling to think that I climbed, walked and stood just where Ransome might have been. Perhaps once he sat right there and ate pemmican (corned beef) sandwiches. That might have been the very spot where he contemplated the S. A. & D.’s next adventure or the place where he found his ‘Homing Rock’ of inspiration.

Ransome’s Homing Rock and the cairn as he would have seen it

The Lake District inspired many writers. Potter, Wordsworth and Ruskin are honey for bee tourists, but for me, the only attraction was Arthur Ransome. He was the man who taught me to respect nature. He taught me about birds and taking responsibility for the care of the environment. I wondered about other walkers as I climbed Old Man Coniston. Were they for Ransome? I chatted to a father-son duo, both fans of Pigeon Post. (Later I bought a copy for the hostel when I discovered neither of the hosts had read it. You can read it when you visit.)

It was quiet on the Old Man as I sat in the sun. A small chirpy bird from below flew straight up very high, hovered a bit, and then dropped down again, chirruping and whirring as it sank. Looked like fun. Following a current? Far too small and chirpy for a bird of prey but then it might have sighted a tasty insect. But wait, this small, whistly, feathered thing did it again! It flew up as high as me, chirping all the while and then floated down. It was playing a game! Go up as high as possible and then drop down; wheeeeeee …

The chirpy bird turned out to be a meadow pippet, their mating flights called parachuting. It was the same bird – speckly brown – I saw flitting and flirting on the path. I know because I asked a fellow back at the hostel. He wore a tee shirt with a big black bird on it that said ‘Get Rooked’.

Fellow traveller on Old Man Coniston

The wind blew too cool for sitting still. I ran out of food. I thought I’d better go back down again. It would take a couple of hours. I noticed a fault line directly behind the big mining operation. Didn’t suppose there’s many earthquakes here but it looked strange in this setting. Not quite in the lie of the land. Which was jagged and unpredictable enough already.

Because I longed to see Ransome’s desk and red slippers at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, I spent the next day on the buses. I had to go via Grassmere where I leaped from the bus and into the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. I felt huge and bulbous as we tourists stooped our bulky way through those cramped rooms imagining the smoke and coughing and poetry readings. How did Dorothy manage in long skirts?

Looking down on Dove Cottage, Grassmere

I queued to buy Grasmere Gingerbread and a wonderful cross between biscuit and cake it was. I wish I’d known how good because I would have bought another packet. Several. Kendal mint cake, another local essential, was good enough for the likes of Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hilary. I worried it would be like toffee but it’s more like a kind of delicious icing sugar fudge – not hard on the teeth at all.

Local vegan treats

From Grassmere I negotiated grumpy bus drivers and got myself to Kendal. I rushed into the museum ten minutes before closing. The Arthur Ransome room was depleted because some of the exhibits, and yes, those red Turkish slippers, were showing in a special exhibition at Coniston Waters.

Ransome’s chess board

Chess comment

But I was able to see bits and pieces; his chess board, a portrait by Dora Altounyan and some cartoons plus his very small desk. Sketches for Secret Water and Pigeon Post were framed on the wall.

Portrait of Ransome and two of his sketches

On my last day at Coniston Water I was not able to find a sailing school or someone to take me out in a boat, apart from the tourist launch. Seeing I’d already cruised Lake Windemere, I found a large empty rubbish bag near the camping ground and, together with other rubbish, collected some dog owners’ bags of pets’ productions left along the path. Perhaps they think they’ll pick them up on the way back? Note to dog owners: you CAN take it with you.

Even though Coniston was considered the quiet lake and it wasn’t school holidays, there were plenty of people around. Once I’d marched for a bit to shake them off, I found some peace and quiet. Apart from the canoeing school and the little launch there was a kayak powering along with a man singing happily in what sounded like Hindi. Fellow walkers murmured behind me. Baby canoeists cackled and halloooed like lost ducks. Real baby ducks puffed and fluffed behind their proud mother who seemed to travel backwards. Oak leaves shook and danced in the sunlight. I wished I could have been sailing. That’s probably where Ransome would have been.

The Ruskin Museum turned out to be more about Coniston than the titular hero. Work implements, especially those of mining and lace were front, and a room devoted to The Bluebird project, Donald Campbell and his fatal attempt at the speed record, centre.

Not sure why it was named Ruskin lace? I’d always been suspicious of Ruskin because he was mean to his wife although apparently that’s contentious. Apart from his wife, with whom he did not have sex, he also enjoyed romance with a Spanish lady and with another girl of ten years old. His apologists think there was nothing whatsoever wrong with him and he was just high minded and moral. He certainly liked nature, painted nicely and gave inspiring lectures.

Right in the middle of all this was ‘Mavis’, a sailing dingy renamed ‘Amazon’. She was the first boat Ransome sailed with the Altounyan children.

The Amazon herself in the Ruskin Museum

Banners on stands featuring quotes from Swallowdale and Winter’s Holiday told me I was in the right place. I made my way up the stairs and into the small room featuring the special exhibit, ‘Arthur Ransome, Adventures in Russia’. It felt like the tip of an iceberg without much rhyme or reason. For a start, the red slippers that started off the whole shebang, the gift from the Altounyan children, which caused him to pen Swallows and Amazons, were hidden under a shelf without a label. The accompanying notes were illuminating, although in the time I was there, reading avidly, several other visitors wandered in and out and didn’t even open their folders.

exhibition posters from the Ruskin Museum

His ‘Homing Rock’, the piece of Old Man Coniston he always carried – wrote with it on his desk – was there was bigger than I’d imagined and had a hole in the middle to keep it tied to him or his luggage somehow. Various intriguing documents were displayed, such as his passports, both in Russian and in English. There was some doubt about his affiliation when he returned to England but more serious concern when they thought his new wife Eugenia was smuggling diamonds.

Ransome happened to be staying across the road from the Winter Palace in 1917. I was taken aback by comments that suggested him naive or innocent. Ransome was deeply involved with the leadership of the Bolsheviks and I can’t believe he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. He understood strategy extremely well. He predicted the revolution and passed that information to his masters at MI5 and MI6. When it was suggested that Britain should somehow intervene he said Russian people should be left to get on with their lives. (He might have lived to rue that day!) As more information is released more books are written about him.

Some of the many items about Ransome available in the museum bookshop

Ransome understood codes, he knew when to pry and when to lurk and he taught thousands of children how to do it too. They may have turned into spies, birdwatchers or sailors, campers, scientists or journalists, but Ransome knew what he was about. He was about climbing Old Man Coniston. Looking out at the misty sky and watching a chirpy bird chirruping as far and as high as he could go and then parachuting impressively down again. Living your life as high and far as you can and letting the wind fill your sails.

I touched Coniston Waters

What’s your favourite Ransome book?


Seville, land of artifacts

Ah Sevilla, city of the sun …

El Torre del Oro – The Tower of Gold – built in the 13th Century – across the river Guadalquiver. Like Valencia, Sevillians tired of frequent flooding so they split their river in two. This is really only half a river. The rest is round the back somewhere, dilapidated and ignored. Smell that honeysuckle!

My recent visit to Seville highlighted the built environment; how, after centuries of habitation, cities were arranged, paved and decorated for the use of humans, exclusively. Why not? What’s wrong with living in a place and making it comfortable? It’s home, isn’t it?

Holy Thursday in Triana, across the Guadaliquivir from the centre of town

In Seville, the streets, shopping strips and housing areas were regularly hosed, swept and in many cases mopped with soapy water. The smell of bleach rose from the roads. Certainly in the tourist hub of Cathedral and Alcázar I imagined the use of weed killer to be high. There were no insects or creeping things to be found. I didn’t even see a cat in Seville, although that may have been due to the Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions underway each afternoon and evening. The crowds were so intense that all God’s little creatures may have decided to retire.

Parque de María Luisa : when a frog pond may not include live frogs

Some creatures were still in evidence; I saw pigeons and in the Parque de María Luisa, I saw a skink. There was a larger lizard climbing the wall of the Casa de Pilatos. There were plenty of horses dragging tourists around in shining carriages and lots of little dogs trotting through the crowds.

Compare the variety of wildlife on show today with those recorded in tapestry housed in the Alcazár.

I pondered the notion of our enclosing environment as I wandered around the picturesque streets of Seville, watching cheerful families, dressed in their finery, looking utterly glamorous, attending to the needs of the very young and the very old with assiduity. Small boys marched with toy drums. Small girls ate lollies.

With so many of the penitents being children there were a lot of helpful parents supplying water and treats to keep the kids going

In the processions, parents walked beside their disguised youngsters, some of whom gasped for air during the heat of the day, others handed out saint’s cards or sweets to audience youngsters with their hands out. The penitents walked with large candles, their heads covered by cones of different colours, high and pointed, best to reach heaven. After dark some canny kids collected wax from different candles as the processions waited, pausing in the streets, until they held large balls of wax drips.

Keen youngsters collecting wax from waiting penitents

Holy Week this year was marked by beautiful, consistent, sunny weather and, once lunch was over, people flocked to watch the processions. If not their own church and family, I guessed people knew where to find the best sounding bands (for there were some astonishing musical encounters that cut straight to the emotions) or perhaps where to see the best sculpts or flowers in the pasos.

A Paso waits by the Metropol Parasol (also known as Las Setas, the mushrooms) the largest wooden structure in Spain

The pasos did seem to be the biggest draw cards, the enormous weighty displays of the sacred family; grieving Mary and Joseph, or Jesus suffering under the weight of the cross.

Jesus Paso from above. I think the flowers were iris?

Thirty to fifty men labour unseen under each sculpture, which were heavily decorated in precious metals and fabrics as well as candles and flowers. They could weigh up to two tons.

Costaleros – sack men – who carry the pasos in groups of up to fifty men.

Each team had a different style; lifting and shifting the sculpture to bring the agonised sacred faces to life on their journey into the Cathedral for blessing. Shadows flickered across the carved tragic faces caused by banks of candles or flaps of thickly embroidered canopies shaking in a huge puppetry display. Some specialised in the beginning, perhaps a dramatic lift (like a Citroën) jerking powerfully into the air while others gained approval by a shimmery ending as they sank to their supports. Others needed to perform intricate turns in the twisty lanes of their way, shifting back and forwards in a dance.

Oasis Hostel watches a Semana Santa procession go by, just outside our window around 10:30pm heading to the Cathedral to be blessed. Then they came back again around 1:30am. Band still sounding good. Even through the earplugs.

The men did not come out for a breather. They were handed water in a cup under the velvet curtain and only once did I see the officials around them lift the heavy curtains around the base to let some air flow through. It was a feat of strength and teamwork, similar in my mind to the feat of Castelling that happens in Cataluña. While that teamwork endeavours to go up to heaven as high as possible, the outcome of carrying these pasos is to bear as much weight and decoration as possible, to work as one to bring a symbol of family and humanity to the Cathedral to be blessed. That’s how I saw it anyway.

Paso with tree near the Cathedral

A live tv broadcast showed the same Paso with tree. The tv was in a bar near the Cathedral where I enjoyed a refreshing gazpacho. I could hear the band playing outside as I slurped. Note the two young penitents refueling – not all the brotherhood were men.

As family groups gathered on the streets they bought bottles of water, packets of crisps, puffed corn snacks, and tons and tons of sweeties. There were packets of assorted nuts and lots of pipas – sunflower seeds – that folk chewed and spat out as they sipped their beers.

Settle in and make yourself comfy in the living room of Seville

People sat in lines on the edge of the road as they waited for the processions to pass – there were timetables printed in booklets or printed on posters along the way – seventy churches (or parishes or brotherhoods) would bring their offerings to the Cathedral during the Holy Week. Several different routes wound their way through the streets.

There’s no crossing the roads when the processions are moving. Even when they are waiting, the light says stop.

Bars were open to buy beer, pizza, calamari and tons of different ice creams or gelatos were available. And the rubbish piled up. Not just in bins but also near bins and, in the case of the folk waiting in line, just dropped at the feet. It was as though they were at home watching tv, knowing mum would be along to pick up after them. And she was; those ever-present cleaners got to work immediately after every procession. The last penitent, the last paso, the last official, the last band member filed past and the onlookers fell in behind like Titanic victims sucked into the vortex of the sinking ship (I know it’s a myth, I saw Mythbusters too.) In an hour the streets would be free of litter, the washing truck would have done its work and the officials would have removed all barriers and chairs to stack them neatly for the next day.

Nice and tidy by the Museo del Belle Artes early in the morning

Any plant life in this built environment had to be tough. Big fig trees featured in Seville, and in Cadiz, the first I’d seen since Sydney. Where in Sydney, lawn, or even a fringe of deep-green clivia knife-leaves might surround those big dripping trees, most of the Spanish figs I saw were surrounded by paving. There might have been a myrtle hedge or a spindly rose garden nearby but instead of lawn there would be weeds (whose days were clearly numbered). Attempting to avoid the crowds I decided to take a daytrip to Cadiz on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of light), another historic area.

Tempting soccer pitch in Cadiz

I love a good embrasure but this, in a seaside fort called Castillo Santa Catalina, failed to defend Cadiz from unsightly development

Looking over to Castillo de San Sebastián in Cadiz – an evocative fort that must have witnessed many a battle on land and sea. Note extensive paving.

Back in Seville, I relaxed in the famous Alcazár’s natural-looking grassy area called the English woodland. Surrounding it were formal paved gardens, always keeping nature in straight lines. Perhaps it was this contrast that made me realise just how much of Seville is paved.

Pot plants at the Alcazár

The patios I saw around Seville featured gorgeously decorated glazed tiles, pot plants and imprisoned trees. As I peered down from the Cathedral’s tower, the green of the orange grove looked park-like, but it was really just trees in boxes.

The view from the Giralda, the tower of Seville Cathedral. The Giralda is the former minaret from the mosque that the Cathedral is built upon. Check out that office tower! (Don’t you think town planning is an art?)

Vines in the Parque de María Luisa, particularly bougainvillea, with some wisteria or clematis, raised the riot-colour above pergolas while horses hooves clopped and scraped along the paved roadways. All those paved areas must be incredibly hot in the summer.

The Plaza de España is regarded as alien architecture, which is why it featured in Star Wars II. Also, this is not a horse.

Plaza de España was the site of the 1929 Expo. Given it was such a success, Seville thought they’d get into the act again and, in 1992, hosted another Expo. I explored that site with great interest.

Trains not running on time at Expo 92

No, really, there’s no train today at all

You’ll probably have to drive

Plenty of parking at Expo 92

The site of Expo 92 did not enjoy the same success as its predecessor.  Some industry has been injected into the area but mainly it’s a paved ghost town. Which leads to the question, can the processions not move to the more spacious part of the Seville built environment? No. They can’t. The pasos have to go to the Cathedral. Through ancient winding thin streets crowded with people.

From Genesis – ‘Let the waters team with countless living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of heaven,’ as quoted in Edward O. Wilson’s Half-Earth; our planet’s fight for life. Mr Wilson points out that wilderness is remaining land that is not used by humans. It may or may not be pristine, it might be weedy for instance, but it has been left alone. And clearly there’s very little of it in Spain and other European countries where humans have evolved, developed and paved. To me, coming from Australia and New Zealand where human footprints have left lighter scars, a thousand-year-old castle is almost beyond comprehension. And you couldn’t pave all of Australia. (Yet.)

One of the results of this manicured, cleaned and organised built environment was the paucity of diversity. There were plane, pine and palm trees aplenty. There were rose bushes. There was lantana and some oleander. But there was not great biodiversity. There were plenty of pigeons, doves and few ducks. But there were not thousands of species alive and well living in harmony with humans.

See the many different plant species surviving in the Alcazár.

See cute little tourist attractions at the Alcazár

Given the built environment in Seville, although lovely with Cathedral, palaces and windy streets, is not a great habitat for animals, I began to harbour doubts about how safe it might be for people (a kind of animal after all.) I happened to get caught up in a couple of stampedes, or avalanches, during the dawn service, La Madrugada, on Friday morning. Known as the highlight of the Semana Santa, the crowds pressed together to watch the pasos near the Cathedral all night long. I did not see any children.

The panic began as a swelling of sound, dreadful and ominous, and it swept up hundreds of penitents, thousands of onlookers and dashed us all amongst each other, screaming, weeping and falling. It was a demonic thunder in the night, the ground reverberating, people pushing and running and looking around to find it; the truck, the terrorist, the anything? It was just plain, simple, bare, terror. That was all. And it only lasted a moment.

Thank goodness, brave people, like a man near me wearing a grey jumper, lifted their arms and lowered them, palms down, urging the crowd to calm. Those various people saved lives, I’m sure, that night. As I turned back after the panic wave had landed me on the footpath, I noticed a shoe in the gutter in front of me. A cardigan lay crumpled to my left. A pair of glinting eyeglasses had been crushed under a hurried foot. Everyone could see there was no truck or shooter but equally everyone could see the man lying akimbo on the ground in front of the kiosk, and a girl weeping, sitting in the gutter, and all of us, shaken to the core, gasping and thinking of Christmas markets, Westminster Bridge and Nice. Police arrested eight people. They had incited the riot by shouting and crashing metallic objects together. Apparently in 2002 there were more serious incidents and I was told the penitents were schooled to go to the walls or lie down if there was a stampede. So the ones urging tranquility were indeed trying to prevent greater harm.

Just before my first stampede

And so the band played on, with their tiny trumpets carolling into the guts, the encouraging applause echoing from the buildings with the clouds in the sky acting as a roof, shutting in and magnifying the noise. The crowd approved and the procession continued, relief and alarm in awkward balance. As I made my way back towards my hostel the way became impassable. The panic happened twice more. People climbed light poles and trees. There was simply nowhere to run.

An elderly lady watched from a window above the procession. She looked so alarmed as people screamed and jumped out of the way of the phantom truck her hand went to her heart and then she too tried to press down with her hands, like that man in the grey jumper from before. Pressing down with all her might to smother the fears of the people surging in front of her. She made the sign of the cross over her heart and looked to the party-people crowded into the flat over the shop next to me, shrugged, sighed, shook her head, all the time trying to calm the crowd. I’m not sure but she could have said, or gestured, ‘It’s just panic’. The third time less people moved after something crashed and a high young female voice screamed in eerie isolation. The crowd remained skittish then, like cattle about to be drenched or horses led to the starting line, turning nervously and rolling their eyes toward any strange sound. An ice-cream parlour with five young employees lined up by their wares, obviously closing early, rattled down their metallic-grill door; a dad holding nervous girls in a duckling-line sought the least disruptive way through the continuing silently moving procession. This paso featured Jesus and his cross. He struggled on with his burden and the forty odd men under him worked together with all their might to bring heaven to earth for one night.

Once reassured, the paso was worthy of admiration and many videos

The golden light glowed as people regrouped, found their friends, realised they were safe with their families and prepared to leave. The elderly lady spoke at length on her telephone, her hand either on her heart or gesticulating with worry. Young people left the march with worried parents, distress and alarm writ large on their faces. After a while more parents pushed through to pick up their young people – the meetings clearly the result of texting – to embrace them and to carry them away even as they removed their cone hats, some walking in their socks or bare feet. As I left, further away, more people, with fresh picnic hampers, little fold-up stools and happy anticipation walked toward the epicentre. Perhaps dawn was near.

A few days later, back in Barcelona, I decided to visit the Maritime Museum. It’s near the port, at the end of Las Ramblas. (Well worth a visit for the Royal [slave] Galley.) Some colourful costume players who entertained the crowd of merry tourists grabbed my attention. A classic Alien creature, performed extremely well, slyly embraced a short hipster while his friends doubled up in laughter and tried to stop shaking enough to take their photo. On the other side of the footpath a duo of monster warriors had captured a father/son pair and were preparing to behead them with scimitars; warriors, costumes and scimitars all painted the same shine of silver. The father/son pair squirmed in hilarity while granny raised her phone to record their silly troubles. A jolly throng, dressed in colourful summery gear, soaking up the sun and Barcelona atmosphere, surrounded these ‘scary’ pantomimes. And so I continued around the corner and in front of me stood a giant, black, armoured vehicle, flanked by two large police officers holding machine guns at the ready.

In my lifetime the population of the world has more than doubled. Our home is smaller and smaller. There is no room for terror. There is barely enough room for us.

Seville, city of cleans

Odsherred – protecting land formed in the Ice Age

People have inhabited Odsherred for centuries

I was incredibly lucky to spend Christmas in Denmark, the smallest Scandy country. Denmark is made up of a peninsula, Jutland, attached to Germany, and 443 islands, including the highly populated Zealand. (Copenhagen is on Zealand.) The tallest point of Denmark is 170.86 metres, on Jutland. The tallest point of Zealand is 122.9 m. This is before the elevation of buildings and burial mounds …

As a general rule Denmark is low rise …

At the top North-West tip of Zealand is a UNESCO Geopark in an area called Odsherred. It’s about an hour and a half by train from Copenhagen.

An information sign near Asnæs shows Odsherred. The area I visited is up to the left, overlooking the curving bay.

Created in 2014, this Geopark exists to protect and enhance landscapes created by the Ice Age. In general, European Geoparks exist to protect items of interest, geological, historical or ecological and promote development of the surrounds, mainly by tourism. Many information signs are available throughout the park, especially on the many walks. Apparently when the thick layer of ice melted it left deposits of silt which provided fertile soils useful for farming.

Informative signage dotted through the Geopark reveals how ice formed the land and stories of the earliest settlers.

Much of the smooth landscape was reclaimed and drained from swamp. It’s now used to grow potatoes and carrots. You wouldn’t think a park would encourage farming, or in fact any industry. But whole towns and many lives are entwined with the Geopark.

Wintery farmland Odsherred showing the curves of the land. I just missed a little family of three deer trotting down the hill.

I’ve been listening to a podcast, ‘Scotland Outdoors’ from BBC Radio Scotland. On a recent episode, The National Parks Special, the discussion ranges between Scot and American park experiences, both of which have to include people. Scotland encourages development in their two National Parks; housing, communities and schools grow within park boundaries. In the USA, the rangers are aware that in order for parks to survive, indeed, nature to survive, people have to visit, have to experience looking up and looking out into distant vistas. There’s just no getting away from it. The Scots and Yank’s problems are the same. How to manage the amount of people using the park so that the treasured beauty and original purpose of the park is preserved for the next generations while still encouraging people to feel free enough to enjoy the place – without trashing it or doing something humanly possible.

Mike Reynolds from the National Park Service in the USA said, “People that visit National Parks come to generate babies in these parks and then they come to bury ashes of their relatives. The full spectrum of the human experience is often lived through these places, and they’re very personal and they bring solace to people and they bring inspiration … ”

Not so sure about the generation (especially in chilly winter!) but burial is certainly true of Odsherred.  The Ridge path takes in several Bronze Age burial mounds.

Bronze Age Burial Mound

Aproaching a Burial Mound

Another Odsherred burial mound!

A Celluloid Age burial mound houses the ashes of film-maker Ole Olsen and his wife, close to Bronze Age mounds.

Modern Burial Mounds require doors

Esterhøj Reunion Stone celebrates the peaceful agreement to decide Germany’s and Denmark’s borders. The citizens voted to decide which country they’d prefer to live in. There’s no doubt this stone is well and truly in Denmark. It stands on a Bronze Age burial mound at 89metres above sea level.

Sejerø Bay nestles into the curving beach

The inspiration part of Reynold’s comments hold true for Denmark too. Many artists have lived in Odsherred, trying to capture the light and curves of the landscape. Two artists, excited by the creation of the UNESCO Geopark, worked with the schools of the area to create a celebration of people in the landscape. Even though there wouldn’t have been too many humans in the vicinity in the Ice Age, the park is all about people now. Lots of them!

There will be nearly 5,000 of these masks

All schools in the area contributed to the project

As well as geology, Bronze Age artifacts and medieval churches, holiday makers and visitors to Odsherred could take a look at Dragsholm Castle, the largest edifice in the area. Named after a stretch of water where Vikings would ‘drag’ their ships instead of getting caught up in dangerous northern waters, the Castle has been there in some form for over 800 years. The Baron of a century or so ago ordered nearby lands to be extensively drained and donated to the poor to see if they could scrape some subsistence living out of them. (Things have come a long way since then.) The castle has been used as a fort, a prison and now, a fancy restaurant. Apparently there are ghosts, including poor old 4th Earl of Bothwell, whose body was kept in the dungeon for seven years before they decided to bury him.

Dragsholm Slot really love their Christmas trees

There’s even a special treehouse at Dragsholm

Dragsholm Castle outbuildings overlooking remnant water

A forest of Odsherred

I imagine the forests, now still and leafless, must be completely different in their summer green wear. Even so, the forests are effective shields to wind and can block outside views even while cold and brown.

The coast is never far away in Odsherred with incoming storms quickly blown away and replaced by weak wintery sun.

Looking back to dry land from Korevle, where a sand spit has evolved into a large barrier creating the beginnings of a lagoon

Even though Odsherred is an evocative place in winter, I would love to return in Summer, when the Viking museums and art galleries are open. And, although I did enjoy the enthusiastic fireworks of New Year celebrations, I suspect I might prefer the more restrained bonfires of the summer solstice! There will be more people in summer, enjoying the amenities of the Geopark while learning about Sun worship and protecting our environment. For if we don’t have parks to share information and space to play in nature, we won’t have nature. And that’s us. It’s personal, in the end.


Blanes. Winter is coming.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Blanes is a popular seaside resort on the Costa Brava of Spain. I’m lucky enough to be staying here while I work as an English conversation assistant in the next town, Palafolls. As you can see, the town centre of Blanes is a bustling metropolis. The farmers’ market takes place every morning but is particularly busy on Saturday.

In contrast, where I live, on the outskirts of town near the Camping Grounds, winter is coming and the shops are shut. Most of the apartments are empty and the hotels are boarded up.
blanes-masage-theraputico blanes-restaurants blanes-shut blanes-super blanes-wrapped blanes-backstreet


I should add I took these photos on a Saturday at lunchtime.

The built environment

The built environment and the blustery day of Blanes in winter

There is one population though, that owns Blanes in the chilly temperatures.


blanes-black-catblanes-catsblanes-cat-hotelTo the extent that some animal lovers have created Gatolandia – a cat hotel – to feed and provide shelter to our feline friends.

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

The area is very quiet. I am exceedingly lucky. Here is my apartment block. I think about half the flats are inhabited.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.


This is the view looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

This is the view from my little clothes-drying balcony looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

In the other direction, looking toward the Tordera River and Palafolls, you can see the empty caravans of the Campings and the hills of the Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor, one of the national parks of Barcelona province. This ever-changing landscape is swept by winds from the Bay of Biscay. The cloud formations can be spectacular, or absent! On the point of the closest hill is Castell de Palafolls, now a ruin, which some of the young people at my secondary college have promised to show me.

My view in the morning

My view in the morning


My view in the evening

My view in the evening

Even though there’s nothing very natural about these built up areas, I’m sure there’s something still untamed up in them there hills …

Shy and Retiro – the parque to be in Madrid!

The Prado is one of the most important, and popular, museos in the world. Here are some queues on the first of May to prove it!

Here are the queues I walked right by because I bought my Three-Museo Pass (Prado, Reina Sofia & Thyssen) the day before!!

The Prado is filled with history, not only of art, but also of humans and their relationship to nature. There are gods, of course, love, sex and death all captured by the male gaze; Goya, Velazquez, El Greco … It is an overwhelming place of virtuosity and glory. One needs to have a break. Go to the Parque, perhaps?

The Gate on Calle de Alphonso XII - put your back to El Prado and walk right in!

The Gate on Calle de Alphonso XII – put your back to El Prado and walk right in!

I sat under this tree and ate my bocodillo for lunch. It is a cypress.

I sat under this tree and ate my bocodillo for lunch. It is a cypress.

Remember when Babar the Elephant got to be King? One of the many kind things he did for his people was to make a lovely park where they could promenade and play. I’m quite sure Jean de Brunhoff modelled the King’s park on this one.

Imagine having an apartment over looking this park!

Imagine living in an apartment over-looking this!

El Retiro, or Buen Retiro Parque, in Madrid, used to be the Royal playground until it was given to the people in the nineteenth century. Like Babar’s park it’s formal, organised into different areas of play and people use it all the time. Lots and lots of people. It was known as the great art wonder of the world and is jammed full of buildings and sculptures. Even a Crystal Palace!

Amazingly there were hundreds of people walking around on this day but not in this photo!

Amazingly there were hundreds of people walking around on this day but not in this photo!

It’s a reasonable size, 1.4km squared or (350 acres in old measurements, which considering the Imperial nature of this place, is probably suitable). While there are other parks around Madrid (the biggest is Casa de CampoEl Retiro is the most formal, and the most central.

Fuente del Ángel Caído - perhaps the only sculpture of the devil in the world?

Fuente del Ángel Caído – perhaps the only sculpture of the devil in the world?

One of the highlights of the park is the statue of the Fallen Angel. The Devil, writhing in agony, was built by Ricardo Bellver, while the base, with the cheeky devils and creatures, was added later by Franciso Janero. They say it really is 666 metres above sea level.

Cheeky Devils!

Cheeky Devils!

Dappled shade for a quiet moment

Dappled shade for a quiet moment

There were people everywhere! Rowing on the ‘Pond‘. Picnicking. Canoodling. Walking, running, skateboarding, practising their swing dancing … There were folks chucking frisbees, bashing balls with bats, kicking balls and there were dogs. Lots and lots of little dogs. Some big ones, some running about chasing a ball and a white pit bull pulling her owner. And some cats.

Not the only cat in the park

Not the only cat in the park

Imprisoned rose garden

Imprisoned rose garden

At the foot of the Cuba memorial, the fountain plays

At the foot of the Cuba memorial, the fountain plays

The base of the Cuba memorial

The base of the Cuba memorial

Monument to Cuba

Monument to Cuba

There is a House of Cows (not open) and Velazquez has a palace! (Also not open), both exhibition spaces.

The rotunda not good enough for this band!

The rotunda not good enough for this band!

Buskers busked, cafes sold pizza, coffee and coke. The smell of sweet chestnut blossoms mingled with flying balloons and everyone seemed to be having a really good time. Perhaps they’d enjoyed the puppet show or one of the playgrounds?


The competition to have your show run here is fierce

The competition to have your show run here is fierce

I approved of some unkempt areas where quiet souls lurked in shady nooks.

Gone to seed

Gone to seed?

It's not possible to escape battles and warriors, this is Spain.

It’s not possible to escape battles and warriors, this is Spain.

The atmosphere hummed. If there was shouting it blended into the happy relaxation burble that was Madrid’s Public Holiday.

It was the 2nd of May.



Ask your doctor if Nature is right for you

Nature. A new advertising campaign.

Urban nature—pockets of life



On a walk in the park a friend gave me a newspaper clipping. One of her British friends had cut it from The Times of 11th October 2014 and posted it to her—snail mail! (Breaking the magic of the old-time paper trail, I did have to go online to discover when it was first published.)

It is entitled Read about autumn: it’s in animal handwriting and it is by Dr Miriam Darlington. She describes an area between the school and the railway track near the River Dart in England. She notices ‘calligraphy of the wild, a living landscape tracing everything that dragonflies, wrens, dippers and voles need.’ We don’t have voles in Australia, that I know of, but Melbourne photographer, Philip Millar, spends his urban lunchtime snapping surprising avian experiences.

Little Pied Cormorant lounging at freeway pilings

Little Pied Cormorant lounging at freeway pilings

His waterway is between an electricity station and a railway depot and under a freeway. The birds face a fierce industrial aspect yet there they are, surviving.


White faced heron

White faced heron

The water’s edge is, like that of the River Dart, ‘fixed in concrete – engineering designed for the convenience of humans, not rivers—the water is kept flowing along one fixed course, that being a river, it would not naturally choose.’


Fishing Egret

Fishing Egret

It is wonderful that, despite being human, writers continue to write about survivors in an urban landscape and photographers continue to illuminate our understanding about sharing our world with other species.

Philip Millar blogs at and

Dr Miriam Darlington blogs at  and tweets at: