NOT Barcelona April 2010

Today should have been my day for blogging about my latest trip to Barcelona and perhaps for posting a few new pictures from Las Ramblas or the waterfront - Eyjafjallajokull saw that off.

I’m going to pass on speculating about whether this is the Icelandic economy getting its revenge or even whether this is really how the Gaia hypothesis is going to work.

The ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokull has, for me, had a few positive consequences, although various friends who are either stranded overseas or have long haul trips in the very near future are probably struggling to see any positives.  It’s given me a chance to play with the new camera I eventually got via Amazon last Monday (the last mile really does still challenge the online shopping process), to buy a decent lens to go with the camera (from a bricks and mortar dealer), and to reflect on the assumptions I make about the ease of air travel.

Over the last three years I’ve made something like 30 international trips that involved flying.  At the slightest provocation I’ll head for an airport clutching my passport and, despite grumbling about the fact that yet again I’ve not got a free upgrade, I’ll sit back and wait for the plane to push back and look forward to the new sights I’ll be seeing in a few hours.
The extended closure of UK (and most of northern and central Europe) airspace for the last four days with the prospect of ‘normal’ service being a considerable way off really does start to challenge assumptions about being able to do this. A number of travel bloggers have started talking over the weekend about the "end of air travel for several months" or even a "return to the 1900s (but this time with Web 2.0)" - this might be a bit over the top but it does provoke thoughts about doing stuff more slowly.  I'm not quite sure that my soul moves at the speed of a camel, but the assumption that heading off around the world should mean long haul flights and jet-lag might need to change.  In recent months I’ve mused about going round the world by train or going on safari by boat.  Both of these examples are quite do-able now although the competition for the limited spaces might get a bit tougher and I'm going to need to ask my boss for much longer vacations.

In the short term, I’m certainly looking forward to heading for my next US conference by liner from Southampton, rather than by Airbus from Heathrow.

Or more likely attending by video conference from my desk. :-(

North Devon April 2010

There’s nowhere we’ve been to more often than North Devon.  Despite my habit of keeping notes of where I’ve been, I really don’t know how many times we’ve walked along various bits of the North Devon coast, particularly around Morte Point and the Bull Point Lighthouse.

I started my regular Devon visiting in the mid-80’s when my wife and I would visit a somewhat eccentric elderly aunt (of hers) who lived in a slightly run-down wooden cottage, a building that was once apparently the Woolacombe golf course club house before it was - somewhat implausibly -  moved onto the cliffs just outside Mortehoe.

For us, Mortehoe was the default place to head to in both spring and autumn, not too far from Bristol where we were living at the time, but far from the crowds (at least if we were there out of season).  When Freda passed away we thought about buying her cottage but decided against it because it seemed at the time to be a bit too far from Oxford but that distance hasn’t stopped us returning regularly since.

We try and get back to Mortehoe every couple of years (although we missed out on the 2008 visit) now staying at the Watersmeet Hotel which really is on the coast between Mortehoe and Woolacombe.  The Watersmeet is a slightly old-fashioned country house hotel "built in 1907 as an Edwardian Gentleman's residence by the sea" (as it says on the website).  The location is fantastic with every room promising (and delivering) a sea view, and the spectacular dining room faces west, looking out to sea giving you to chance (weather permitting) to watch the sun dipping into the sea as you dine.  After a long walk in the sea air and a good dinner, the sound of the waves at high tide on Coombesgate Beach pretty much guarantees a good night’s sleep.

As usual when staying in Mortehoe we walked to both Morte Point and Bull Point, and walked for miles along the beach at Woolacombe.  On some visits we‘ve had only the occasionally dog-walker on the beach for company, on this occasion (we were there for the Easter weekend) the beach was littered with hardy picnickers (windbreaks, fleeces and woolly hats) and surfers (wetsuits clearly needed).

Being in North Devon for the Easter weekend also gave us the chance to see things that aren’t on offer at other times of the year - the lambing at Borough Farm, and the Exmoor Border Morris dancers outside The Ship Aground in Mortehoe.   A fantastic weekend, and the weather even decided to co-operate.

We’ll certainly be back in Mortehoe again - maybe we don’t need to wait until 2012 to do it.

Devon April 2010