Valley of the Saints

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On a grey, chilly, windy day in August I visited the Valley of the Saints in northern Brittany. Like a modern-day line up of Easter Island-like giant statues, some of the many religious saints associated with bringing Christianity to Brittany are depicted in stone, sculpted by modern-day artists who are taking part in this developing project.

About 50 saints are already in place, standing proud on a windy hillside with views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. Each one is different and has it’s own story – there is a guidebook outlining the story of each saint, and there are guides too, to tell their stories.

The teenager in our Anglo-French family group took it upon himself to entertain the younger members of the group, making up stories for them about the statues and acting as an alternative guide – his stories were very funny and creative and while the children half-beleived what he was saying, the adults were chuckling a lot. If there was a saint with a sense of humour somewhere on that hillside, he or she would have been proud of our alternative guide and his amusing tales.

The saint with an axe in her head, pictured above, is touching a lion’s head – you can just see it’s teeth. Our alternative guide’s take on this one was that she reminds us to be kind to animals and the environment, otherwise we will come to a nasty end.

I fully concur with that.

Brittany rocks!

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Excuse the pun. There are a lot of rocks and boulders in northern Brittany and I saw some of them on my recent visit there. The lush green valley with moss-covered boulders is at Huelgoat (pronounced Hwelgwa, according to the French branch of the family I was holidaying with).

We took a walk in the Argent Valley, where these huge mossy boulders tumble down into the river, and are invitingly easy to clamber on and explore. The surrounding forest is a peaceful, shady place and the star feature is the Trembling Rock, which is said to move. One of the teenagers in our party tried to get some movement out of it by leaning on it and pushing. I have to be honest and say it didn’t appear to move to me….

The pink rocks of the Cote de Granit Rose stretch way along Brittany’s northern coast, near Ploumanac’h, and their formations are weird and fascinating. The sea has shaped them such that it’s possible to see (with a little imagination) recognisable objects – is that  tortoise? Or a lizard? Or an elephant? – were some of the suggestions we came up with.

We were following part of the sentier des douaniers – a path by the coast used by smugglers and strewn with these fantastically shaped rocks.

The Smallest House in Great Britain

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This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.

The Steepest Street in the World

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Recently on holiday in North Wales with visiting grandchildren, we took them to Harlech to explore the castle, perched high above the surrounding area. A very successful visit it was, and they enjoyed the ins and outs of this part-ruined but interesting and historic national monument.

After we’d seen the castle we found the recently announced steepest street in the world – Fford Pen Llech –  and walked first down, then back up up it. I can vouch for it’s gradient – my legs really felt the stretch walking back up and I couldn’t stand up straight. The grandchildren, they of the young legs and mobile knees, took it literally in their stride and once back up, went straight to the children’s play area by the castle for more activity.

I went for a sit down!

Safety first

P1060936Not a warning sign you’d ever see in the UK, but in Big Bend National Park in Texas, yes you would.

This was on display near the main visitor centre, and looked new. It was different and more detailed than the warning sign I’d seen about Mountain Lions when I visited the park 10 years ago. This was an update, and it included Black Bears. I had no idea they were in the park.

We didn’t see bears or lions. The nearest we got to a lion encounter was from the safety of our air b’n’b accommodation just outside the park. You can read about it here.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed as there seemed to be less wildlife about on this trip. Yes, there were birds – mainly hawks soaring overhead, and the ever-present turkey vultures. There were small birds too, in the scrubby bushy areas of the desert, which sent me scrabbling for my Birds of Big Bend laminated fold out to ID them, The best and closest sightings were of road runners – appearing too quickly to whip out the camera, and one anxiously rushing past 2 or 3 feet away. It was good to get a close look and see the colours on the head of this eccentric-looking bird.

This trip excelled in the desert flora, with magnificent views of the mountains just about everywhere.

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Flowering Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend

Street musicians, New Orleans

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Oh they were good, this trio, very good, with a nice easy style. They’d gathered quite a crowd around them on this busy Sunday morning and I stood around watching and listening for quite a while.

They deserved every dollar bill and more that was put in the hat out front of their space.

New Orleans – NOLA – what a place, with a special buzz and music at every street corner.

I first featured NOLA in a post a last year, when these musicians made an appearance along with other street scenes.

A day trip to Mexico

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On our recent road trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, we took the legal crossing point across the Rio Grande into Mexico to visit the village of Boquillas. The day was overcast, cold and windy. We needed plenty of layers to keep warm and the constant, buffeting wind blew dust into our eyes. But it was worth the discomfort as we had a memorable and enjoyable day.

Not knowing what to expect was part of the experience. I’d not anticipated the scruffy dusty road which we followed to the village, athough there was the option to ride there on horseback. The male inhabitants of Boquillas hang around as each ferry arrives offering to be guides.  I was saddened when we got off the boat to be greeted by a needy but cringing small dog, looking for a little TLC  .

The ferry is a rowing boat; the crossing is quick as the Rio Grande is quite narrow at this point.  The walk into Boquillas is less than a mile.

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 More horses were tethered at the entrance to the village, and a less needy and probably more loved dog sat watching us as we walked by.

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Boquillas is small so it didn’t take too long to explore along the main street and some of the side streets, all of them dusty unmade roads.

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We found one of the two churches – there is a Catholic and Baptist church in the community. We heard music as we approached the village but didn’t know what it was or where it was coming from. There were trumpets and a furious banging of drums. It sounded awful. Turning down a side street we came across the school, where the children were lined up in the playground for band practise. This was being led by a soldier in uniform, and he was blasting away on the trumpet, the children joining in with trumpets and drums. I later learned that this was only their second lesson, which explained why it sounded, well…raw. The smiles from the children as I took this long shot are a delight; they were enjoying it!

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I stopped to look at the local crafts and wares on display outside some of the houses, and spoke to Ruffina, who was selling bags, wall hangings and pottery along with ocotillo, cacti, scorpions and roadrunner wire and bead ornaments. She was a friendly, cheerful lady, as were the staff in the restaurant where we had lunch.

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Granddaughter wanted to ride back to the ferry on a horse, which was led by a young woman named Veronica. She was happy to talk and told me that the village was a happy community where many people come from the same family and where everyone supports each other. She’d been to college, had worked away in a larger town, but returned to stay in Boquillas, simply because it’s friendly and it’s home. They have no AC in the village so suffer in the summer heat and stay indoors. It’s windy most days, some being worse than others, and although they have TV there is no internet. She laughed and said they just do without and if they really need to use it they travel to the nearest town. I got the impression they don’t bother to do so very much and suspect life is much simpler. What is important is their community.

I bought some bead and wire ornaments and a wall hanging, embroidered with a roadrunner and the words “No Wall” on it. Ruffina fetched it specially to show me when she realised I liked birds. The slogan it carries is bang on for current topical and historical significance. We never saw any signs of Trump’s wall on our trip; the mountains in this area form a natural barrier.

Then it was back into the US via the very small and efficient entry point, bringing with me the local crafts along with some good memories of a new and very enjoyable experience.