Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Spain again 2023


It’s nearly the end of September and we’ve been back in our casa (house) in La Fresneda for a week or so. The 1,000 plus miles it takes to get here in the motor caravan had its usual up and downs starting with a good last UK night in Blake’s our usual pub in Dover – with live music. We made a dash to the east above Paris using the boring but fast toll roads reaching Reims, the first place we ever stayed at in our previous motor caravan, then spending a nice night in nearby Epernay drinking Belgian beer rather than its main product: champagne.

We then passed through the middle of France joining the gloriously toll free (mostly) A20 with a couple of overnight stops at St Floret sur Cher (see the chateau) and Cazeres. The latter is a town near Toulouse where we had a few drinks with a well travelled man originally from South Africa and the landlord of the pub who was from Spain. The Bistrot de Olive didn’t serve food so the landlord sold us the makings of dinner but that’s another story.

Then over the glorious Pyrenees via Pont de Suerte and a long drive to our village where we dined on tapas at our local pub Bar la Plaza. As usual things have changed in the village somewhat. This time the place was overrun by motorcyclists and we found that many of the empty houses are now doing Airbnb. Our own house was difficult to enter (jammed doors again) but otherwise fine and is looking rather nice with the climbing rose and serpentine grape vine that we have established on its main wall.

The huerto continues to be invaded by armoured weeds, but we have a mini harvest of little apples and big bunches of grapes are hanging from the almond tree (no almonds though). Very few olives in the grove but that’s OK, we don’t know what to with them these days anyway. The caseta still has water ingress which is beginning to rot the beams but mostly OK. I blame the builder for water problems and have told him (me) that he must try to fix it (again) this time.

It is very hot and I am less inclined to work in the heat nowadays: spending more time in the house and in the motor caravan where I am trying to get the new fridge I fitted before our trip to function. Happy days.

Friday, 15 September 2023

Refrigerators and everything you need to know about Oxford University


Just off on another trip to our village of La Fresneda in Spain after the long and frustrating task of fitting a new refrigerator to the old motor caravan. Not an easy job, it works off the camper’s battery, plug in mains, or gas. At this moment it does not work with any of them, so that’s not good.

Meanwhile I have been working hard to finish my latest video before I go and have just launched it. Its title is: Everything you need to know about Oxford University: The brief guide. Some task, and some claim. Everything? Well of course not. Anyone who does know everything about this arcane, yet adaptable institution is probably incapable of explaining it to anyone except themselves. But I’ve had a go and with the help of some good and knowledgeable friends it’s finished and viewable on Youtube. Have a look.

The next blog will probably be from Spain, there were many of those in the past.

Friday, 1 September 2023

Walking the Cotswold Way pursued by a golfing trolley

I like to take long walks occasionally and I do not like the idea of paying for overnight accommodation, porterage and such, so I wild camp and carry everything on my back. But it’s heavy and seems to become heavier as the days progress. That’s why for some years now I have been incubating this idea of pulling my camping gear behind me rather than hefting it on my back. I tried various solutions without success. Then I made a lucky find. Someone in a rather rich area near my flat in Oxford had thrown away a used golfing trolley. I adapted it and this contraption with the luggage bag or box (a slightly modified modern grass box from an electric mower) plus flexibly attached and also modified haversack became known to me as the trolley. Now I could carry a much bigger tent and have a go at a walk I have often fancied: the Cotswold Way.

So, at the end of August in 2023, I struggled onto a very busy train from Oxford with my trolley and travelled to Bath, the southern end of the Way. It seemed to take forever extricating myself from the city but I did it and ended that first day in a camping spot beyond a rusty gate just to the north of Hinton near a massive manure heap and a wood. As I erected the tent a car parked in the rusty gate entranceway! I could not believe it. Who could it be? The owners of the field? Officers of the Stop Wild Camping Brigade? Lovers? Everything was already wet from the rain soaked grass so I had no choice but to continue making camp. By the time I’d finished it was almost dark, so I took my torch to the gate and waved it about a bit. A light came on in the car and the driver’s window was lowered. A youngish woman said, “Sorry, is this your gate?”

“Not exactly”, I replied as she quickly reversed and sped off, away from Hinton. I walked in the other direction in the near darkness to Hinton’s only pub, the Bull. It had beer, but no food so I dined on salted peanuts. No breakfast the next day either as I towed the trolley alongside the M4 then crossed it to the village of Tormarton. Its pub had closed down, so on again to Old Sodbury where in a pub called The Dog I had a much needed sausage, egg and chips.

By this time I had developed a hatred of styles, kissing gates and all of the things that blocked my way along the Cotswold Way: they are not made for walkers with trolleys. However, that night I made it to Hawkesbury Upton where lay my perfect pub: the Beaufort Arms. Perfect with one exception, the otherwise friendly landlord did not provide tasters of the real ales he purveyed. “You can buy a half or a pint,” he told me bluntly – and he had good reason for his rule. Had a good dinner of faggots and mash then returned to my camp in a corner of the local football field.

Hygiene when wild camping is always a problem, but I did manage a refreshing wash down the next day in a very cold stream. I then sweated my way up Wortley Hill, which overlooks Wotton under Edge. But there was a reward for my efforts: the first good views of the Severn Valley with that wide river shimmering in the distance beside my ancestral home: Berkeley.

A long trek then to North Nibley Monument with its even more panoramic views and onwards to Dursley where I drank in the Old Spot, lost my boots, and had great difficulty finding a wild camping site. Next and last day I made it to Stroud in my sandals and took a three bus trip to Stow on the Wold having completed about half of the Cotswold Way’s one hundred odd miles. There I parked my trolley in the garage ready for an assault on the other half of that beautiful, but challenging footpath.

(This is a much abbreviated version of my notes. If you want the whole story email me.)

Tuesday, 11 July 2023

Religion and Climate Change


I’ve not written many blogs this year and I’ve not been to many lectures. What’s happening to me?

Well, I am spending a lot of time writing my next book and I also devote many hours to making videos for my Rob’s Oxford channel. But tonight I did go to a lecture, actually more like a debate, at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History just round the corner from where I live.

It was titled “Is livestock grazing essential to mitigating climate change?” Not a very exciting topic for many, I thought, but I do have an interest in this topic through the field we have been re-wilding for some years at Stow. Anyway I could not have been more wrong, it was exciting and the main lecture theatre was packed to the gods, literally. Probably 200 people there and the place was abuzz even before the debate started. If I had done my usual 'just in time act' I wouldn’t have got a seat!

The speakers were Allan Savory, listed as a founder and leading proponent of Holistic Management and George Monbiot, simply described as a prominent critic, but generally known as a writer specialising in environmental and political activism.

Why did I put religion in the title of this blog?  Well, I do not think I have ever witnessed such passion and division at a lecture in Oxford before this one. And the zeal of the supporters for each point of view certainly smacked of religiosity. It extended to applause and hooting, yet hooting, at times

So what was it all about? Actually I wasn’t quite sure. I certainly did not understand what the holistic man supported. Lacking only the surplice, he talked like a vicar, a passionate one. He lived in Africa but had spent the last two  years in the USA. He had been a military man and seemed to think that military thinking was the only way forward for dealing with climate change. He did not seem to address the title of the debate.

Monbiot was much clearer. He knew that grazing animals and big corporations were the problem and rewilding together with vegetarianism or even veganism the solution. He was more explicit, more passionate and strongly challenged Allan Savory to address the topic under discussion.

At it simplest I think the Monbiot camp favoured banning grazing animals and Savory favoured biodiversity but I may have oversimplified. The audience seemed to know what was what and divided almost equally into the camps, I think.

Savory had the last word by reading a statement which sounded like a sermon and ended with the repeated statement that “we have to look after each other”. Amen.

Meanwhile the sheep in the next field are attacking my rewilded hedge. Should I let then in? Not likely.

Thursday, 4 May 2023

A day in life of an Oxford tour guide.

 Here you can read about three very different Oxford tours and then get a link to my latest video,  a pub one and just the place to go after these three tours.

Tour 1 Chaos

Four mature guides, including myself, were waiting for a party of eighty people on a company jolly to Oxford from a far eastern country which will remain nameless to protect the innocent. They arrived at the visitor centre of the college of Christchurch and the first requirement was - you’ve guessed it – toilets. That took a while. Then they had to be lined up in four different groups, single file, for the distribution of audio-visual guides – the staff members at the visitor centre are quite draconian about this. That too took a while. In fact half an hour had passed fruitlessly by before I could take my group into the college through the Meadow Gate. Inside they fiddled haplessly with their multiple language audio-visual guides attempting to begin the tour – many failed and I helped as best I could. I would much prefer to guide them round this top tourist spot myself, but the college no longer allows us to do so.

Their group leader was enthusiastic, but spoke little English. Nevertheless he managed to convey to me that the full tour was far too complicated so I suggested that we just visit the dining hall (he called it the Harry Potter dining hall) and the cathedral. So, we joined the slow moving queue on the famous (Harry Potter) access stairs then wormed our way slowly around the even more famous dining hall while they filled their phones with images of it all.

The next port of call was the visually striking Tom Quad, where more images were captured and the group scattered before we could herd them into the cathedral. Once inside I had just one follower – the group leader – he had lost the entire group.

Somehow we got most of them together in order to leave the college and as we left they dispersed. I explained as best that I could that it was now my role as the guide to take them to a number of interesting sites in the city. Their leader smiled tolerantly whilst continuing to send them off, unaccompanied, with instructions to meet at McDonalds at 4pm. Soon he was the only person left – so I went home. An unwanted and useless guide.

Tour 2 The donor and family

Many people give money to Oxford University and its colleges. The most recent big ones are: the Blavatnik School of Government, Reuben College and the nascent Schwartzman Centre for the Humanities. Many other philanthropic gifts have been provided and donors seem keen to oblige.

This tour had been arranged by the University and I was the guide. My role was to show the potential donor (PD) around the central buildings, explain the way the University and Colleges interwork and so on – the usual stuff. The group consisted of the PD and wife, their two teenage sons and a younger daughter, an Oxford graduate who worked for the PD and a young lady who worked for the University and who had the resources ready to pay for any entry fees.

I was a little nervous, this was not my usual group by any means, and people with huge amounts of money can often be egotistical and demanding. This PD was not; in fact he was quite pleasant, fairly knowledgeable and engaged. After him my main worry was the Oxford graduate.  How dare I, having finished school at the age of sixteen, explain the intricacies of the top University in the world when he had just recently been though the mill? In fact he was delightful, telling me in an aside that he had not yet experienced the graduation ceremony. Then there was the PD’s wife, she was not happy and her face portrayed that. I have no idea why she was not happy, but she contributed little to the proceeding and did not sour them. Then there were the two lads. They were at the age where showing interest in something said or shown by a person of my age would be devastatingly embarrassing and they mostly avoided eye contact. The daughter was rather sweet, and responded well to my asides about the locations used in the Harry Potter films. I believe the high point of the tour, the thing which really grabbed their attention was the long list of past donors which is displayed within the Clarendon Building passageway.

The tour done, the PD took me aside and said that on the basis of my tour he had decided to donate a huge sum of cash to the University and then requested a visiting card from me. I hasten to add that only the final part of that sentence in true. But he seemed happy enough and walked off with his minders to a busy day where he would see more of the university and its colleges than a humble tour guide ever would. 

Tour 3 The American Indians

This was a tour that had all the hallmarks of failure. It was in my diary as a group of Indians arriving at a certain time date and place who had prepaid for a visit to New College. Well, first the booking had two different dates, second the group were American not Indian and third the college was closed on the day of the tour! I thought the second date the most likely but went along to the meeting place on the first just in case. Just as well, there, at the Martyr’s Memorial I was approached by Bob and his eight or so companions. They were my sort of age and enthusiastic about Oxford, though they had very limited time to spend with me.

I whizzed them round to St John’s College which was open and free to enter and there gave my potted version of what a college does in the Oxford scheme of things and then what was left for the University to do. They were hungry for details. The questions kept a ‘coming and I did have all the answers for them. They particularly liked the chapel and the magnificent Canterbury Quad. After that we ventured into the city proper where we shared the wonder of the Divinity School, the Sheldonian Theatre and Old Schools Quad followed by the majesty of Radcliffe Square and its dominating Camera.

They appreciated the whole thing so much and my delivery was much enhanced by their obvious appreciation. There was talk of return trips and a general ambience of a good experience shared. I cycled home a happy man and a contented tour guide.

That was quite a day. As you know my other thing is making videos for my YouTube channel: Rob’s Oxford. Here’s the latest, fresh out of the “studio”.  It’s about the Harcourt Arms, one my and Margaret’s favourite pubs. We go along most Sunday’s for its excellent open mike night – and beer.

Saturday, 15 April 2023

Back from the world trip and straight into a pub


Now settled back in England after the world tour and spending some of my time making my notes and recollections into a book of sorts. Don’t know whether it will be published at all but I am enjoying revisiting all of the places that we visited in this way – have just left Hawaii and arrived in Tasmania. I expect that I will finish it later in the year.

Also have resurrected and added to one of my favourite tours: Literary Oxford. I‘ve given it a quite a few times now for Bodleian Tours and the Oxford Literature Festival and it’s been great. It covers ten or so colleges detailing the work of authors and poets from them plus a visit to the Divinity School which has the first library of the University (outside of the church) above it.

Meanwhile I have been working on another video and this one has been a great pleasure since it is based in a pub and, unlike my earlier Pubs of Oxford videos which were mostly done during lockdown, this one captures the family who run the Rose and Crown telling me what they do there. And, what is more, it’s my local (or at least one of them).

It’s a great little pub, very traditional and very welcoming. Have a look. Here’s the link.


Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Taiwan Calling


This is the last in a series touching on our trip around the world, and Taiwan has to be the most foreign. Why? Because all of the other countries had strong colonial of some sort, and boast a common language, or so it’s claimed.

Taiwan is a busy, sometimes frenetic, place of great beauty and great danger: earthquakes, typhoons, snakes and China.  However, there is no day–to-day awareness of that danger to my mind: life goes on, and for many it is a good life.

We have rather a unique view of Taiwan since our eldest son lives there and is married to an aboriginal lady. Consequently, we spent Lunar New Year’s eve way up in the mountains where her father has built his own house with, perhaps, the most stunning and (for the vertigo sufferers such as myself) dizzying views that I have witnessed in Taiwan. There we barbecued food whilst alcohol ran freely (including the father’s own peach wine – very strong) and various members of the family, young and old dispatched hundreds of rockets over the peach trees which cling tenaciously to the mountainside: those fireworks exploding noisily in the valley far below. Meanwhile red envelopes containing money were given to the children and even some for us as honoured guests – how kind.

Though most of our time was spent with our son, his wife and their two children; we did venture further afield taking the rather famous Alishan Forest Railway up to the park of the same name. It’s a tortuous trip in a small, narrow gauge, train traversing a line that rises steeply by utilising switch backs, U-turns and spirals. Originally created by the Japanese colonists to bring down timber from Alishan, it is now a major tourist attraction and is certainly a memorable experience for all – especially the vertiginous. We stayed up there in Alishan’s wonderfully laid out park in a hotel which turned to be our most expensive, meanest and coldest of the whole trip! But the views compensated: so dramatic, especially from the railway station.

One night was certainly enough in that hotel so we moved by bus (another dizzying, but stunning, experience) to Sun Moon Lake. Here is what I wrote in my notes. “This is one of the most inspiring, tear jerkingly beautiful locations I have ever visited. The view from the hotel lobby this morning caused me to stop in my tracks and gasp. It’s probably impossible to put into words but I’ll try. The lake is suffused with sunlight and rippling softly. There seems to be many islands but some are actually low hills on the distant shore. In the background are many grey/blue mountains of random heights, the biggest looming right up towards the sky and each of them wreathed with the soft whiteness of clouds.

Though roads are constantly improving across the country and there are many overpasses to speed the flow of traffic, the scooter is still king. Margaret christened them “replacement legs” and she’s right, people do not seem to walk very much because it is so easy, and cheap, to hop onto the scooter and park on the pavement right outside the shop or eatery that you are making for, thus creating a street scene that is unsightly, dangerous and awkward to negotiate on foot. My son took me to places where change is beginning, where pavements are for pedestrians and there are more trees and some modern apartment blocks, but this will surely take decades to make a great impact.

I’ll finish by confessing to my love for the flora and fauna of Taiwan, particularly the former. Things grow so luxuriantly there, and on any surface: including each other. Not far from my son’s home the straggle of houses finishes and wild, almost impenetrable jungle abounds. It may soon devour the scooters as you can see. I call this a “natural ending”.

And so ends my trip. After three months covering four distant countries and twelve air flights we arrived back in Oxford, which was cold but still lovely and a complete contrast to the places we have visited. Now I must begin work on a book detailing our travels.

Thursday, 12 January 2023

New Zealand Calling

 Is there a tangible difference between Australia and New Zealand beyond geography? Well, they do have a lot in common - but there are real differences. Upon leaving Adelaide we stayed for a few days in Auckland, NZ residing just beneath the incredibly thin and high Sky Tower. On our first morning we visited the War Memorial Museum located in the city’s wonderful park: the Auckland Domain. The museum covers a range of topics, but we were most interested in the history of the country (and certainly not that of Stonehenge which was currently being covered as a guest display from the UK), particularly the coming of the Maoris (known to themselves as the “Mouldies”. That part of the museum began with a vast area devoted to Polynesian cultures – the true ancestors of the Maoris before their incredible journeys from the Cook and Society island groups – and it is that journey plus their settlement of New Zealand that particularly interests me.

Maoris first landed their ocean-going canoes in NZ only 800 years ago or so – whereas the original people of Australia were there 50,000 years ago when their land split from the main continent. I have a personal interest in all of this since the reason for stopping off after leaving Australia was, at least in part, to link up with our granddaughter. She was there for Christmas and New Year with her New Zealander husband (who himself has Maori ancestry) and a first chance for his family to meet their baby son, our first great grandson.

Though thrilled with the wonderful blue-green experience afforded by the landing at Auckland airport (one of the best airport approaches in my estimation), we were not that taken with our second visit to Auckland itself: we later regretted that we did not hire a car to explore the reportedly beautiful coast to the north. However, our main objective was not there so after a short stay we took the bus south travelling to the west coast via the green, lumpy countryside of those parts. Unfortunately I had return to Auckland soon after leaving because of the ‘suitcase incident’ – don’t ask. So we spent the day of New Year’s Eve travelling by bus to the island of Mount Maunganui, then on the following day I spent eight hours travelling back to Auckland and half of the next returning to the Mount. Maunganui is the place that my grandson-in-law regards as home and this is where I saw the New Year in, sitting in the garage of an Airbnb with a group of his NZ friends who displayed an enviable capacity for alcohol, cursing and beer pong. It was fun and I added just a little to the atmosphere by getting them to sing and dance to Auld Lang Syne.

The mount is a strangely fin-shaped volcanic cone at the western end of the island, itself bordered by the finest of white sand and pummelled by roaring surf which delights surfers but knocked me for six over and over again. It lies in the Bay of Plenty next to Tauranga and is known by some as the party island of the country despite severe restrictions on the consumption of alcohol outside the home (and Airbnbs).

We returned to Auckland for our next flight (to Taiwan) and had a pint in the Shakespeare Hotel which has its own brewery and was the scene of violent glass throwing on our previous visit. The beer there was not bad and the fish and chips just great. But the best pint to my mind is Galbraith’s just to the south of the city. This place is unique, not only does it have its own brewery but serves the beer at cellar temperature through a fine set of handpumps. Yes, REAL real ale. That was and I’m sure will remain, the best pint of my round the world trip. Still, when in Rome and all that. Do they serve real ale in Rome? ‘Course not.

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

Australia Calling

I know, I know. Tasmania is part of Australia and I’ve already written about that. But it seems like another country, just as the State of South Australia that I visited seems a different country from West Australia its neighbour to the west and Victoria to the east. I think these state are more like England, Scotland and Wales in this respect rather than, perhaps, the counties of the UK.

Our son greeted us at the airport together with his two kids who were squirming with ... with what? Excitement, embarrassment, shyness? Who knows? After all they hardly know us plus they are just five and six years old. Then we took a taxi and my son took them home, no room in his car because of the child seats regulations!

This was a return for us – and a goodbye. They rent an ugly but quite spacious bungalow in North Brighton, Adelaide but had just bought one of their own in the same area – so we now know that Australia is their permanent home. Most of Adelaide’s housing consists of bungalows and on a previous trip I regarded them as little more than sheds: this time, because of their purchase perhaps, I realised they are often quite characterful and certainly varied. Meanwhile there is a trend there towards demolishing the bungalows and constructing two storey and/or multiple homes.

For me the most welcome, the most startling, and the most interesting aspect of the country is the birds: so colourful, so splendid, so musical yet also cacophonic, and so proximate. For colour my favourite is the Rainbow Lorikeet – so beautiful, so noisy. For musicality it’s the Australian Magpie, so lyrical, so black and white. But of course I love the mammals too, though there were not so many wild sightings this visit (we did visit the excellent Adelaide Zoo guided by our grandchildren).

My three week stay consisted primarily of working on my son’s new home: fencing in his dysfunctional swimming pool (a legal necessity there), repairing a collapsing garage, some rewiring and so forth. However, I was allowed a holiday of three days; so we hired a car and travelled north towards the York Peninsula through bleak flatlands mostly consisting of natural low scrub, vast wheat fields, or enormous sheep enclosures. The roads were mostly straight, lonely and well-made though we also traversed long miles of unsealed roads at ten miles per hour or less. On the latter we met a kangaroo and experienced a limited, but enthralling, degree of interaction.

Star location of the trip was Moonta, an ‘ancient’ town owing its existence to copper mining and imported Cornish labour (the pasties were good). We resided in a hotel that served no food and dined in a motel that had no beds! We also enjoyed the local museum which brilliantly told the story of this now defunct mining area from all aspects: community, technology and workforce and so on. We also visited a seaside town called Port Broughton and a wine town in the Clare valley.

Of course I much prefer beer to wine and, on this trip, evolved a technique for obtaining beer which was not ‘teeth shatteringly cold’. What I did was this: I ordered bottled from the store at room temperature and mixed them with the near zero stuff from he tap to attain the perfect cellar temperature of approximately twelve degrees centigrade – much to the astonishment and puzzlement of both drinkers and bar staff.

 Christmas was very different to my norm. First of all the sun was shining and it was hot. I went for a run as ever in the morning and found nearby Brighton beach buzzing with swimmers, sun bathers, dog walkers, kayakers, surfboarders and so forth. The water looked so blue, so inviting, so tempting that I stripped to my shorts and underpants and plunged in. Cold, but refreshing, I truly enjoyed that swim, my first on a Christmas day so it really had to be done. I then dripped, towel-less back to the Ilfracombe Avenue bungalow for present giving and a spiced beef Christmas lunch.

In the afternoon, guess what we did? Yes, the whole family went down to the beach dragging a tent, in which Margaret sheltered from the wind-blown sand, an inflatable paddle board and all the paraphernalia apparently necessary for a family beach visit. And there I was again; swimming on Christmas day plus playing ball and drinking beer, not at the same time of course, on a glorious sun-baked beach in the antipodes.

On Boxing Day there is a tradition within our family to take a long walk, so, even though the heat was omnipresent, my son and I did just that. We followed a trail up to some waterfalls located in a national park on the eastern outskirts of Adelaide and found, just like us, they were dry. However, we met an emu, which was nice.

It was not all building work and play though. I did some interesting research into a famous man who headed a ground-breaking medical team in Oxford and was born and educated in Adelaide. Watch this space for the forthcoming video.


Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Tasmania Calling


Hawaii to Hobart is a long stretch, we were in the air for 11 hours before changing at the airport horriblis: Melbourne. So, after further delays, it was quite late when we arrived at the Doctor Syntax Hotel and consequently there was no-one to let us in and nowhere to eat! As ever all’s well that end well and next morning I took a run down to nearby Sandy Bay – and was impressed. I liked Hobart with its individual houses that struggle up the hills surrounding the vast and convoluted bay.

It was an easy walk into the city where we learned so much more about Tasmania: from the original natives , through the convict age, the immigration phase and including some intriguing things about the flora and fauna. We also visited a pub with a handpump! Unfortunately for me it only delivered imperial stout and the rest of the beers were cold, fizzy and expensive craft ales – the norm for the last few weeks and for the rest of my world trip.

Idiosyncratically we took a bus to our next stop: Port Arthur. It dumped us about a mile away from our hotel , the Fox and Hounds.  Though isolated the place was great. Have you ever opened the door of a hotel room and expostulated a loud “Wow”? This “wow” was not for the room but the view: straight out onto the wood-lined bay with the sea lapping the shore a few metres from our full length window. Wow. Next day we walked down to the Port Arthur prison­ which was where those considered the real bad ‘uns of the day were confined, beaten and educated. It was by all accounts a horrific place, but is now tranquil and despite its horrific past, rather beautiful.

Returning to Hobart I gave in and hired a car from a backstreet dealer called Raj and we went ‘a touring. I like Tasmania. It seems that there is always a mountain range in sight plus easy travelling distance to the highly varied coast. We saw spectacular waterfalls, long stretches of zero occupation countryside, chainsaw carvings in the remnants of condemned trees, and even visited Pontypool - not the 25,000 population town of Wales  from my childhood, but a sparse community of ten farms  dotted beside a long rough road and ending in the middle of nowhere.

Our favourite place was the second city of Launceston, with its impressive civic buildings, lovely setting, beautiful parks and a memorable ravine through which one of its two rivers squeezes  into a steaming cataract. There and elsewhere we met people with English connections: direct or through ancestors. And it is there that we attended a live music concert in a pub which was great.

We found the  people of Tasmania to be very forthright and friendly, our only criticism of the place can be applied to anywhere where the USA has had an influence: the meals were just too large. We adapted by ordering one meal and two plates.

It rained heavily on our last day in Hobart and our plane to the mainland was cancelled at the last minute - an unfortunate ending to an otherwise great fortnight. Oh and don't forget the black swans, so many, so black.