Twenty years ago, Polzeath had a hippy feel to it. All was peace and tranquillity. Similar to California, I expect, but with more pasties. Today, smart houses, which cost well in to seven figures, line the bay and the place has been spruced up enormously. The reasons for going there remain the same though; a fantastic beach and great waves.
The coastal weather has beaten the forecast again. After the rain at the weekend, it has been fine and today, the sun shone. We went to Polzeath and hired some body boards. We were not alone. It is a working day and not yet the half term holidays (if they are allowed to happen), but the beach car park was packed and the sea equally busy. We seemed to be the youngest people in the water; the “grey” surfing market has taken off enormously in the last decade.
In the afternoon, the tide receded, the clouds rolled in and it rained eventually, but by then, it didn’t matter much. Tomorrow is the Idle Skier’s birthday and accordingly, through force of habit of many years, it is back to the Polzeath waves.
The western tip of the British Isles is a land apart. Gentle rolling hills in Devon give way to a wild landscape on the north coast of Cornwall, where the North Atlantic breakers have come all the way from the Americas.
Early in 1998, when our Westie joined the payroll, Mrs IS decided that on no account were we spending our summer holiday abroad. Instead, we spent a fortnight on the beaches of the West Country. We have been returning pretty much every year since, latterly for this week in early October.
A regular haunt is Summerleaze beach in Bude, on the north Cornish coast. We have been lucky with the weather over the years. Often, when the cloud hangs low over Bodmin Moor and characters from Jamaica Inn might be about their business happily, the sun manages to show its face on the coast.
Bude sea pool and Summerleaze beach
Today, however, Storm Alex, which yesterday had made our journey to Cornwall extremely wet, continued to blow strongly. Walking on the beach this morning, we were soaked in next to no time. In the afternoon, we went on to Widemouth Bay, where the car rocked in the wind when we parked.
Our luck with the weather may be finished for the time being. Rain is forecast for the week. Luckily, we packed some books.
The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided recently that all restaurants and pubs should close at 10.00pm, as a containing measure for the current pandemic. Critics suggest that the effect of this arbitrary closing hour is to force everyone on to the streets at the same time.
It is not often in this current, strange world that the Idle Skiers are night owls, but last night we ventured into the West End for dinner with a friend. A very pleasant time was had by all, but sure enough, at 9.59pm we were decanted on to Pall Mall along with everyone else and the rush for buses, taxis and tubes began.
Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge were as busy as ever and the traffic crawled along as if it were the rush hour of old. In March and April, London began to resemble a ghost town, so it is probably a good thing that people are out and about again. They were all Londoners though and tourists are a rare sighting. The big hotels lining our route home seemed eerily empty still.
Way back, at a time when the world went about its business in the usual way, as long ago as January I think, the Idle Skiers signed up for a 50 kilometres walk in the Chiltern Hills.
As I have mentioned before, the people behind the walk organise several long distance yomps each year, but so far, in 2020, they have all been cancelled. It was a surprise to everybody therefore, including the organisers I suspect, when the Chiltern event went ahead yesterday.
There had been much hard work to obtain the necessary permissions and a few compromises had been made. The route, originally one long loop through the hills, starting and finishing at Henley, became two 25 kilometre loops centred on Henley show ground, with just a couple of short excursions into the hills. We were happy it went ahead at all.
It was bitterly cold at the start and though the sun came out quite early in the day, it remained chilly throughout, with a vicious wind during the morning. The countryside was beautiful though.
As usual on long walks, Mrs IS was off like a shot from a gun and after a couple of kilometres, she was out of sight. I next saw her near the lunch stop, where the end of the first loop and the start of the second loop coincided. In the afternoon, Mrs IS was back at the finish and ready to head for home whilst I still had several kilometres to cover. Fortunately, I had the car keys.
A couple of years ago, I walked from London to Brighton for the Dogs Trust. We hadn’t arranged any formal sponsorship this time around. However, some friends are kindly giving us money for this walk to pass on to the Trust.
A couple of miles beyond Kingston upon Thames is Hampton Court. It is a magnificent house, built by the river for Cardinal Wolsey and, in a belated attempt to save his position of power, given by him in 1529 to King Henry VIII. In most years, it is a major tourist destination. For us, it has long been the turn around point on a River Thames walk.
This morning was bright and sunny when we headed out, westward bound. As far as Richmond, it was busy with runners, cyclists and dog walkers populating the riverside. From Ham House onwards, it quietened and beyond Kingston, we had the path more or less to ourselves. The palace, when we reached it in the early afternoon, was also more or less deserted. It is great news for Londoners, hemmed in as we are normally by the tourist masses, but poorer news for the capital’s battered economy.
Our trip took us through Putney to the bridge, along the Thames path to the equivalent bridge at Hampton Court and then back to Kingston, where we picked up a bus home. On a warm day, with a touch of autumn in the air, our winding journey along the river covered about 32 kilometres. We put our feet up for a while when we reached home.
In summers past, when the sun has shone over the cricket ground at Arundel, the buzz of insects has been disturbed on occasion by the mightier sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the power behind the Spitfire fighter.
Sure enough, the sound of the engine would be followed shortly by the sight of that most elegant of planes. I do not know where the plane flies from, but Goodwood is not far away and that seems as good a bet as any.
In this shortened cricket season, the Spitfire has not been seen, until today anyway. It is early autumn, the second week of September, but the sun shines brightly on south east England. On a warm day at Arundel, the bees were working with added urgency and the wasps were angrier than usual.
Shortly after mid-day the thunder of a Merlin engine was heard and sure enough, the Spitfire appeared over the trees and made a long loop around the ground. The players paused, the spectators looked up and the early patrons of the pavilion bar decanted themselves outside.
A mackerel sky
I tried to take a photograph, but by the time I had found the iPhone, unlocked it and managed to open the camera, the plane was a distant speck in a mackerel sky.
I don’t know if the Spitfire is the finest plane ever made, or the Merlin the greatest aero engine, but one thing is certain; eighty years after their finest hour, still their sight and sound make us stand and stare.
The English summer is time for cricket and so it has been since the eighteenth century. For a long time this year, though, cricket bats and balls lay untouched. The fear was that the recreational game, time consuming and expensive as it is, might be diminished forever by a lost season.
A few weeks ago, however, the season got underway, belatedly, and today the Idle Skiers enjoyed a day beyond the boundary for the first time since September last year.
At 1.30pm this afternoon, under a threatening sky, the umpires called “play” at Arundel Castle cricket ground. The lunch tent was busy, the tea hut and bar were open and all seemed well with the world.
It was a short respite from a benighted year. Moments after this photograph was taken, in the mid afternoon, the skies opened, the rain poured down and lightening flashed through the sky briefly.
Our season is underway though and with a few fixtures left in the summer, the Idle Skiers will be found in West Sussex more often than not.
The sun shines on Wengen this morning, but for the Idle Skiers our day is taken up by a trip to Zurich airport and a flight to London. After nearly five weeks, we are on our way home. Why now? Well, the need to quarantine in England when returning from Switzerland seems a possibility very soon, and we didn’t like the idea of doing the time.
The U.K. government’s policy on the pandemic is described as “whack a mole”. Whilst I don’t think they could change much in their approach, it is more like “pin the tail on the donkey” with its seemingly random effect on people’s lives.
In the last five weeks, the sun has shone more often than not and we have covered some dusty mountain paths. Now we hope for the weather to turn sooner rather than later and for snow to be thick on the ground by November. Fingers crossed.
The weather has been changeable for the last couple of days. The sun has shone and then the thunder and lightning has rolled in. We have tried to match our walks and tennis to the weather, not always successfully.
The other day, shortly after running into some friends in the Lauterbrunnen valley and following a quick coffee break at the Trummelbach falls cafe, we were caught in a big storm. We had just managed to put on our wet weather gear before the rain hit. Around here, in this sort of weather, if you are still fishing the jacket and over trousers out of the rucksack when the rain arrives, it is too late and you might as well not bother.
Today was set fair though, according to Meteo Swiss. In fact, it was pretty warm, though not like the intense heat of last weekend. I walked down to Lauterbrunnen, took the cable car to Grutschalp, then the top path to Allmendhubel and on to Murren.
This was a new venture. Mrs IS has done the walk in the past, but for me, until today, it was just a sign post. It was well worthwhile though, with a long uphill stretch in the cool of the trees and then spectacular views all the way to Murren.
Lunch was on a bench in Murren, the village being busy, but not in the same way as our last visit a couple of weeks ago. In the afternoon, I took the path along the side of the railway line. It was quiet, except for the cyclists on this non cycling path. Things are not what they used to be, even in Switzerland.
On Saturday we had our hottest walking day ever in Wengen, possibly anywhere. We went to Scheidegg via Mettlenalp and Biglenalp. From Scheidegg we took the granny path to Mannlichen, with a steady stream of grannies coming in the opposite direction. It was about a five hour trip, door to door, and when we made it home, it felt like we had been walking on Mars.
So, in a solo trip today, I headed for the shade of the Eiger trail. Tucked under the north face, it is an hour before the sun is on the path at all. Since the work on the new cable car station began a couple of years ago, the start of the path has been much lower, going through the Punch Bowl rather than along the scree slope at the base of the mountain. It is still an awe inspiring sight though.
The path does emerge into the sun finally and drops down through a rocky landscape to Alpiglen. By the small hotel above the railway station is a meadow, which I am sure must be the place Heinrich Harrer described in The White Spider, the camping ground where Fritz Kasparek and Harrer spent the night before their climb of the north face in 1938.
From Alpiglen, I took the big path back to Arven and from there headed to Mannlichen. My lunch stop was by a trough on the path to Mannlichen, just before the trees. As I ate, a rock slide came down the north face. It sounded like a snow avalanche, but was grey and left a pall of dust on the scree slope.
We had an excellent meal at the Caprice tonight; it seemed well earned.