For this year’s holiday in Crete (2017) I flew from Heathrow with BA, and stayed at the Bath Road Premier Inn the night before. I didn’t just book the previous night’s stay with Premier Inn, I booked the complete ‘SleepParkFly’ deal – a single price for the night’s accommodation before the flight, the overnight parking at the hotel, and then the parking while I was away. That seemed to be a good deal so I shall be repeating the exercise for next year’s holiday. This will actually be a bit more complex – I shall be flying out of Gatwick but returning to Heathrow – so I booked the SleepParkFly package at the Bath Road hotel again, and I shall get the National Express coach from Heathrow to Gatwick the morning after (my flight doesn’t leave Gatwick until the afternoon).

I did notice when I booked for next year’s holiday (2018) that the price for the SleepParkFly package had gone up quite a bit. However I thought it was still a good deal – it included vehicle drop-off and pick-up at the terminal, so no messing about with shuttle buses from distant car parks.

I’m now in the early stages of booking a holiday in Rome in the early summer/late spring and again the BA prices and flight times from Heathrow look attractive, so repeating the SleepParkFly exercise looked tempting. When I tried to check the cost I couldn’t find any prices quoted, however. So I did a bit of digging and found the following comment on the the Premier Inn website: “We’re not currently taking new Sleep Park Fly bookings at our Heathrow hotels.

Doing a bit more digging, I learned that in fact Premier Inn’s SleepParkFly partner at Heathrow, Purple Parking, went into administration in early November. They were then saved by another company, Holiday Extras, and as a result of the rescue Purple Parking are continuing to trade. (Here’s a link to a press release on the Holiday Extras website.) Obviously, however, the new owners and Premier Inn have not so far been able to reach agreement about new bookings so the arrangement has broken down.

Interestingly, however, Premier Inn continue to offer SleepParkFly packages at their hotels at other airports – Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted. Perhaps Purple Parking weren’t involved in those arrangements? But let’s hope that Premier Inn can reach agreement with a provider at Heathrow, as I felt that it was a good service.


Last weekend I was in London for 24 hours. My wife and daughter were visiting a sewing show at Excel so I had the day (Sunday) to myself. The weather was glorious – sunny until late in the afternoon, quite still, and quite warm by mid-afternoon.

We were staying at in Stratford in East London and on looking at a map I spotted that there were a number of canals and waterways nearby which I decided I would spend Sunday walking along.

First up was the River Lea Navigation, which I encountered in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park. It’s been significantly tamed – as you can see from the couple of shots I got of this waterway, it’s been incorporated into the Olympic Park.

Next was the Hertford Union canal, a short (couple of miles) canal linking the River Lea with the Regent’s Canal. This was very much a typical narrow-boat canal of the kind I’ve seen all over England. There was even some canal boat activity – saw a boat being locked-down towards the River Lea. The environment this canal runs through is quite ‘gritty’ – there are still a lot of older building backing onto it, and the canal-side architecture has been ‘enhanced’ by the street artists. However, the canal also runs alongside Victoria Park and I diverted into the park for a while.

The western end of the Hertford Union forms a T-junction with the Regent’s Canal. Annoyingly, this was the only area on this walk where I had to divert away from the canal. There’s an apartment development under way – Bow Wharf – with the apartments expected to cost up to £1M. How the East End has changed! – although I suspect that this part of the East End was always one of the better parts. Once back on the Regent’s Canal I was walking along the edge of Mile End Park the Regent’s Canal runs alongside it for a mile or more – and I was struck by the new architecture on the opposite bank. Was this canalside the focus of early development? Certainly it all looked much more modern than the housing along the Hertford Union. Not a much life on the can, however – for long stretches the surface of the water was completely covered in green algae which suggested to me that there wasn’t much traffic along it.

The final stop for this main walk was Limehouse Basin, at the end of the Regent’s Canal, and the site of a junction between the canal and the Thames. That said, I assume that the purpose of Limehouse Basin was to permit transhipment of goods from canal narrowboats to Thames barges & lighters, and vice-versa – I’m not sure about narrow boats on the tidal Thames! Today, as can be seen from one of the pictures, Limehouse Basin is home to a great many pleasure craft of different sizes.

Later – after a break for lunch and a relocation to the O2 area, via Canary Wharf, I walked along the Thames from the O2 to Greenwich. By this time it was getting hot, and annoyingly i again had to divert into a back street because the Thames path is currently blocked by a new development. But the walk along the Oval College was as magnificent as ever, and there was a cruise ship moored at Greenwich Pier.

Walk in the Peak District


The view from Monsal Head (taken on a different occasion)

Since I retired I’ve been able to get back to doing some walking in the Peak

District. I’ve been pleased to find that I can still do 10 to 12 miles over the hills, although the longer distance does now leave me tired. This year I’ve been out a handful of times. A couple of these were quite hard – I remember one in the upper Derwent Valley when I went badly off the path and spent a very tiring half hour floundering through waist-high bracken and heather which was very successfully concealing uneven ground below; the result was several stumbles and much hard work. I was glad to finish that one. But in mid September the weather cleared up after several days of rain and I went out again, to an area that I’ve never really walked – just to the north of Monsal Head.

The walk was about 10 miles round altogether, and was quite easy underfoot. It divided nicely into two – out and back. The outbound half took me to Foolow Village. After a couple of miles climbing up not-too-steep slopes the route levelled off and I had another couple of miles walking across the limestone – pretty level, and good underfoot. This was a really good section. A final stretch along a lane took me into Foolow village where I ate my lunch – alongside the pond, no less.

After more walking across the fields to Wardlow Mires the return section begin in earnest at the entrance to Cressbrookdale. This continued easily for a mile or more, and indeed I could have stayed on the path in the bottom of the dale all the way to Ravensdale Cottages, about three miles or so. But I was tempted by a suggested diversion on a side path, steeply up the side of the dale to the rim for the sake of the views, and I did this. Readers, the views were great but it was hard work! Then down an equivalent path back to the dale bottom. Beyond Ravensdale Cottages there was some road walking untilI I reached Cressbrook and the river Wye, where the path took me up to the Monsal Trail. It was about a mile along that to the viaduct over Monsal Dale, followed by the sting in the tail – the climb from the viaduct up the Monsal Head hotel, back to where I’d left my car.

As ever I had my camera and took a number of pictures. Looking at them on the computer I decided that they felt very ‘monochrome’ so that’s how I’ve processed a number of them.

Three Walks

Looking back towards Salcombe


Well, after a long pause with no posts I’ve finally got something to write about. So why haven’t I posted since I got back from Crete in June? – well, mainly because this is my Travel blog and I haven’t done any actual travelling since then…. Several trips were planned but subsequently cancelled, hence the paucity of posts. But I have been doing some walking in one context or another, so here are some posts about these walks.

The first walk was in August during a family holiday in Salcombe in the South Hams district of Devon. This was the third such family holiday in four years. I decided there was no need to do posts specifically about the holiday – it was pretty much the same mix as on previous years. However, for those who might be interested, here’s a link to a previous post. One difference this year was that our younger daughter, Jude, was with us and she had made it clear that she wanted to walk a stretch of the South West Coast path; and would I like to accompany her? Yes was the answer, of course.

We decided to do the stretch westwards from Salcombe round to Hope Cove – that’s about 8 or 9 miles – then head back to Salcombe across the fields to the village of Malborough – that would add another 2 or 3 miles to it. Then we’d aim for one of the occasional buses that run from Kingsbridge to Salcombe via Malborough. Along the way we reckoned that we might also enjoy a cream tea at Hope Cove, so we weren’t aiming on breaking any records on this walk.

My recollection is that we set off before 10 o’clock and did the familiar walk along the road to South Sands. Beyond that we climbed steeply uphill towards Overbecks, a National Trust house which sits high on a cliff overlooking the Kingsbridge estuary. (It’s actually a ‘Ria’, I’m told, since there isn’t any river – it’s completely tidal – and there has to be a river for there to be an estuary.) We turned off the paved driveway to the house and at last found ourselves on the actual SW Coast Path heading southwards round Starehole Bay and towards Bolt Head. This was where things got dramatic and beautiful, of course.

I won’t bother describing the route in detail, but here are some impressions of it that I remember:

  • it wasn’t quite as much ‘up and down’ as I’d expected – there were some white long stretches, e.g. over The Warren, that were on a level. I recall getting very tired many years ago during a walk over the Seven Sisters in Sussex, but this was no where near as bad;
  • we were surprised to notice that a group of young people were going a long way off the path to avoid a herd of cows (and they were cows….). In my experience you’ll be OK with cows as long as you don’t get too near to the rear end – that can get messy with not a lot of warning. Horses, on the other hand, can be vicious brutes;
  • the stretch around Soar Mill Cove was quite steep, on both sides, and we were surprised to see several older people being helped down the paths (which were quite rough thereabouts) towards the Cove. I couldn’t help feeling that getting the old folks back up was going to be difficult. (And before anyone criticises me for being age-ist, I’ll just say that I’m 67 and these were people who looked considerably older than me….);
  • walking around Bolt Tail, with Hope Cove constantly in sight – indeed, at one point we were walking from Hope Cove – was hard.

In Hope Cove we each had a cream tea to die for, at the Cottage Hotel, and then set off across the fields to Malborough. This section couldn’t help but be a letdown after the coast path, but it was the best way of getting back to Salcombe. In Marlborough we had a quick drink at the Royal Oak and then headed off to the junction with the main road to catch the bus. We left with almost 10 minutes to spare, but all we saw was the back of the bus disappearing up the road – it had left early.

I knew the name of the bus company (“TallyHo Coaches”), got their phone number via the mobile, and immediately rang them to complain, politely but firmly. They were very apologetic; confirmed from their equipment that the bus had gone through the timetabled stop at Malborough Garage 7 minutes early; and duly sent an 8-seat minibus from Kingsbridge to take us to Salcombe, at no cost. Well done TallyHo! – it’s how you recover from a cock-up that give you an opportunity to impress customers.

Tomorrow – or soon, anyway – a walk in the Peak District.

Chania Harbour and Porto Veneziano hotel

After leaving Palaiochora I went back to Chania for three nights. This was my third holiday in Crete and all of them have featured nights in Chania so I was wondering if I would be getting bored with the town. But not so – I find it as delightful and entrancing as ever.

This year I was staying at the Porto Veneziano hotel. I found it to be very good. It’s a much more modern hotel than any of the others I’ve stayed at in Chania – indeed, it’s almost the only new structure around the harbour. So the rooms were very modern and comfortable and there were good facilities on the ground floor. There’s no restaurant (well, apart from a buffet breakfast area) but that’s not a hardship – there are a million restaurants around Chania harbour, including a couple just outside the hotel. This hotel is right at the eastern end of the harbour, very close to the Venetian Arsenal, which was also new to me – previously I’d stayed at hotels at the opposite end of the harbour, which is a good half-mile or more away. I found some areas of Chania that I’d never explored before – the area further east of the harbour, round by the Sabbionara Rampart and the walk around the bay to the east of that. I was also closer to the oldest part of Chania, ‘Kasteli’, the low hilltop immediately behind the eastern end of the harbour. There are archaeological excavations around that area which reveal the history of the settlement that became Chania going back to Minoan and even pre-Minoan times – nearly 4,000 years ago. Some areas have been excavated and have interpretative displays, in English and Greek, available to read. But the highest point of the hill is occupied by much more recent buildings, so what might lie beneath those areas is still unknown. As ever when looking at very old archaeological sites, I’m completely thrown by the fact that the historic ground level is a number of feet lower than ground level today. Who knew that 4000 years of rubbish would have such an effect?

Here are some more pictures of Chania harbour:

On my first full day in Chania I actually went to Heraklion! I did this on the regular public bus which took longer than I had remembered – about two and three-quarter hours going, and a solid three hours on the return. I had thought that the journey time was more like a couple of hours or so, but I was mistaken. My target in Heraklion was primarily the Historical Museum of Crete which I found easily and which was good. There was a particularly good room on the ground floor about the Ottoman conquest of Heraklion in the 17th century, and the way the defences of the city were enhanced over the previous fifty years or so to combat the threat. Another display featured a large number of icons – all beautiful and colourful, and ranging from very skilled and sophisticated to icons that are cleary the work of more rustic artists.

After spending a couple of hours or so in the museum I went down to the harbour where there is large Venetian-era fortress (the Koules fortress) which has been restored and opened to the public in recent years. It’s a truly monumental piece of architecture with walls some yards thick in order to withstand the Turkish attacks. All to no avail in the end…

On my final day I went to a resort not far from Chania, Kalyves. I had been looking at this as a possible place for a holiday for Val and I together someday – it’s not too far from Chania and and not too commercialised. In the event however I came away a little underwhelmed with Kalyves. I think if we go there it might be better to spend a few days in a good resort hotel  somewhere like Platanias, in the developed strip west of the town, before going back to Chania for a final few nights. But I finished the day with a beer in a bar in a road away from the harbour – very quiete, a bit hippy, and not too commercial.

Fisherman with a view

Then the following morning I had to leave. I took a final few pictures around the harbour; I bought a small piece of local art ceramic from a small gallery; and then it was time for the taxi to the airport to wait for the flight home.

I eventually got to Palaiochora just before lunchtime on Thursday. While I was waiting for my room to be ready I reacquainted myself with the town, and walked around for a couple of hours. From one beach to the other, and a climb up to the Castro at the end of the peninsula, did the trick. A cappuccino and sandwich at the Castelli snack bar above the sandy beach also helped.

I checked in and then just rested at the hotel for a couple of hours – after all the travelling I was ready for that. Although the weather was better – it wasn’t raining, for example – it wasn’t very warm either so sitting on the beach wasn’t quite right. Eventually I decided it was time to go out and eat, and I had a Cretan meal in a traditional taverna, ‘Portofino’, overlooking the stony beach. I had a Graviera Saganaki starter (a fried breaded cheese dish – very tasty) followed by “lamb and potato from the oven”, which was also good if very filling. Then back to the hotel for an early night.

Friday was the highlight of my stay in Palaiochora. Starting just after 10 o’clock I walked up to Anidri village, about three miles away. There’s a good kaffeneion there in the old schoolhouse at which I enjoyed the best cheesecake in the world, but the main point was that Anidri is at the top of the eponymous Gorge, which leads down to Giaskala beach itself about three miles from Palaiochira. Immediately after starting the gorge path I found the old (14th c.) chapel of Agios Giorgios – St George – complete with frescoes of him slaying the dragon. The chapel is very small and very peaceful, and well worth a visit.

Then it was on down the gorge. This took about an hour, so it was much simpler, shorter and easier than last year’s walk down Samaria gorge. Nonetheless it was a very enjoyable walk. At Giaskala beach there’s another taverna where I enjoyed a glass of fresh orange before the walk back along a dusty road back into Palaiochora. I’ll admit, this section was somewhat underwhelming. Then it was back to the hotel at just after 3 o’clock.

I ate in Portofino again that evening, this time rather less successfully – “beef from the oven”, which was tasty enough but of which there was a huge amount.

Saturday was my last full day in Palaiochora, and I spent it exploring the beaches. In the morning I walked out along the road leading westwards of the town, along the sandy beach, and then walked back along the beach itself. I paddled! The weather was sunny and warm, but again there was a stiff breeze which was hitting the sandy beach hard and it wasn’t the right place for sitting on a lounger. So I headed up to Castelli again and had my first serious junk food of the holiday – a club sandwich + fries, which was in fact delicious, and which was followed by a glass of draft Alpha. In the afternoon I put on my swimming gear and walked up the stony beach to a beach club – Perla Cove – where I bagged a lounger and enjoyed an hour on it. This beach is out of the wind. I did try going on for a swim but the beach is, as I’ve mentioned, stony underfoot (and thus painful), while the rocks that are permanently under water (even just a few inches) are very slippery, so I thought better of this. As an alternative I headed for the bar above the beach and let the barman mix me a gin and tonic. Then back to the hotel – slowly.

View from Castro cocktail bar

I spent the main part of the evening having first a cocktail and then a meal at Castro, a restaurant/cocktail bar on the way up to the the actual castro. It’s stunningly located, high up above the town, but the wind got up and I was in shirt sleeves, so I ended up very cold. The plate of pasta was excellent, however, and the glass of raki at the end had a certain warming effect. Either that or it helped me stop worrying about the cold…. A quick trip back to the hotel was followed by a visit to Monica’s Garden, Palaiochora’s best (only?) wine bar where a glass of cretan wine was enjoyed. Then back to the hotel for the last night.

The following morning it was time to move back to Chania. One last look around Palaiochora after breakfast, finish packing, and then I was on the midday bus.

Last look at the beach

Chania in the rain

It’s early summer (OK, late spring) so it must be time for my holiday in Crete. As usual I’m there for a week, with the first four nights in Palaiochora and the remaining three nights in Chania. Bearing in mind last year’s long wait for the flight home at 9pm (and the consequent very late arrival ay East Midlands airport) I looked for more convenient flight times and booked with BA out of Heathrow. Outbound flight would be at 7:05 am and the return flight would be at 13:45, Chania time. Of course, the very early outbound flight necessitated an overnight stay near Heathrow the day before, and indeed flying our of Heathrow meant I would have to do the Totley to Heathrow drive twice. The flights were on successive Wednesdays

The drive down to Heathrow was easy – 165 miles straight down the M1 and onto the M25, it took three and a half hours with a couple of shortish stops, and I achieved a magnificent 54mpg! I got to the Premier Inn on Bath Road at just about 2pm, checked in, and decided to go into central London. This required a bus from outside the hotel to Hounslow bus station followed by a Piccadilly line tube, and the whole experience took about an hour; so a bit of a faff.

While I was wandering around St James/Piccadilly I received a text from BA – my flight would now depart at 9:05 the following morning, i.e. two hours later. In and of itself this didn’t bother me too much – I would still have needed to get to Heathrow the day before. But it could have an impact on my plans for the following day. With the flight originally planned to arrive at Chania at 1pm I would have had plenty of time to get the last bus from Chania bus station to Palaiochora at 4pm. But an arrival at 3pm would put the operation in considerable jeopardy – getting through immigration, retrieving luggage and getting into Chania by 4pm would be tight, and any further delay would rule it out. And a later taxi wouldn’t be an option – it’s 75 kilometres from Chania to Palaiochora, over the mountains, and this would cost £££ (or €€€ actually). So I decided to book an emergency room in Chania for the first night and was able to get space in the Casa Veneto in the old town, for €51. I also contacted the Hotel Glarios in Palaiochora to tell them I wouldn’t be there the first night. Continue Reading »

13 hours to Inverness

Regular readers may remember the posts I did about my visit to Inverness eighteen months ago, and the very enjoyable train journey I had to get there. Val and I decided to repeat the experience together, so yesterday (26 April) we set off.

The main part of the train journey – the ride to Inverness on a Virgin East Coast HST, in 1st class with all the benefits – wasn’t due to start until 13:55 at York (the nearest point we could connect with that service). Just getting ourselves to York started at 10:45 with a taxi to Sheffield station, then (after a wait at Sheffield because we were early) a Cross Country train to York which got us there at 12:40, so more waiting ensued. (Why did we do all this so early? Well, our ticket from York was an Advance ticket and was therefore only valid for that one train, and the taxi and early train to York were to ensure that we didn’t miss it.)

Finally the Highland Chieftain pulled into York, on time. We boarded, found our seats, sat in them and were quickly served with wine and water and had our lunch order taken. About 20 minutes or so into the journey I became aware that the train seemed to be gradually slowing and not making much noise, but we were still moving so I gave it no thought. I think I had just been served with my lunch when the train manager made an announcement – “the train driver has just told me that he’s lost power to both locomotives, but he is trying to restart them! I’ll keep you informed”. I then noticed that the train had continued to slow, and shortly afterwards drifted to a standstill. On the East Coast main line….

Time passed, with various announcements to the effect that (on the advice of a remote technical team he was in contact with) the driver was trying this, that, and the other, but apparently without success. Eventually we received a very depressing message – the driver had been able to get the rear locomotive running but unfortunately the train could only be driven from there and not from the front loco – so we would have to head southwards, back to York.

We arrived back at York at around 3:45, and at that point some confusion ensued while the Virgin East Coast staff worked out what to do. Passengers for stations as far as Edinburgh were advised to transfer to other Virgin East a Coast services. The problem lay with those passengers who, like us, had been going north of Edinburgh – that train was the only Virgin service that went up that line. But eventually they found a spare HST that they could press into service – actually, I think it was a service from Kings X terminating at York that should have headed back, but they cancelled that journey and sent it on to Inverness. We set off from York again at 4:45, nearly three hours behind schedule.

Thereafter the journey proceeded quite well. We were kept well supplied with food and drinks, and standard class passengers were getting free tea, coffee and snacks. But we must have lost more time and it was 11:35 when we reached Inverness. It was nearly midnight when we reached the hotel, just over thirteen hours after leaving home. We were shattered.

Courtyard of XVA Cafe, Bastakia quarter

On the morning of my second day in Dubai (the only full day) I visited the Dubai museum and then the Bastakia quarter.

The Dubai museum is housed in the former Al Fahidi Fort, itself the oldest building remaining in Dubai. Somewhere in the museum there’s a map of ‘Old Dubai’ which shows the small town backing onto the Creek to the east with the Al Fahidi fort acting as the secure gateway to the town on the west. Now it’s buried in an inner-city area which looks ripe for re-development.

The museum, which consists of two sections, is excellent. First is the courtyard of the old fort itself, i.e. at ground level. Within that space are a number of old boats of various sizes together with a reconstructed traditional house. Possibly two houses, in fact – there’s one with thicker walls that might have been (semi) permanent and was the winter house, while an altogether lighter and flimsier structure that is described as a summer dwelling – this latter might have been temporary, erected by the inhabitants anew each summer. Secondly there are the new underground galleries. These consist of a series of life-sized dioramas showing life in Dubai as it was in the first half of the 20th century. It shows the people and the trades, crafts and activities they followed at that time. There are also interpretative displays about pearl diving – at one time Dubai was a centre of this activity – and above all there are evocative displays about the bedouin and their way of life. It’s a very good museum, and I came away with a very clear understanding of how much Dubai has changed in 60 years or so – you won’t see any pearl divers or bedouin today. In fact, that point began to niggle away at me as I was going round – the museum is a wistful evocation of how things were, with a subtext of “and this is how the real arabs lived”, yet every decision that has been made by this city’s rulers in the last 60 years or so has been to remove Dubai and its people ever further from that. In Singapore the clear message was “this is how things were – look how well we’ve done!” while in Dubai the message was almost “this is how things were – look at what we’ve lost….”.

After that I went round to the nearby Bastakia quarter. This is a fairly small area of old Arab houses that’s been preserved. The houses themselves have all been repurposed, mainly into hotels or guesthouses, cafes and restaurants, and/or art galleries. It made for a very pleasant hour or strolling around. Being Arab houses they have blank exteriors – just a few very small windows facing out (and mostly on an upper floor at that). But each house is arranged around an internal courtyard, and these were delightful.

Later that day I went to the mall and had my less-than-pleasant subway experience – see here – before eating in the hotel.

Batu Feringhhi beach

I’ve just realised that I haven’t written anything about Batu Feringghi or its beach. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the town, or the resort, itself – just a road running past the beach and lined with eateries and a few hotels such as the one I was staying at, the Lone Pine. To be honest I found the eateries a bit intimidating – there’s a picture below that might explain why that was.

The big attraction (?) in BF (apart from the beach) is the night market. This is basically many, many market stalls running alongside the road and filled with – stuff. There was nothing there that attracted me. Quite a lot of the stuff looked like it was fake – there was one stall selling stuff that looked as if it was labelled Cath Kidston, but for very low prices, while another stall had what at first sight looked like Lego Star Wars kits, but if you looked closely you could see that they were made by “Lelo” and were in that company’s “Star Wart” range…. The pictures were correct, so it was pretty much a rip-off of this model. But basically the night market left me cold. Or hot, actually – the stalls are built right up against the road so the only way of getting along is by walking through the middle of the stall, and they were hot and crowded.

I did enjoy walking up the beach, however. It’s a beautiful setting – a crescent bay, hills at each end, and the sun sets behind them. There weren’t many people in the water, which given the health warnings I’d read about the pollution was understandable. There was a lot of water sports, and one or two beach bars. I decided to patronise Bora Bora, and had a good time there. I also ought to say that the hotel was very good – very restful.

My main reason for going to BF was to have a break between the visits to Singapore and Dubai, which I expected would be hard work (though enjoyable). The day spent around the pool at the Lone Pine was very relaxing, and I certainly enjoyed the couple of hours in the the Bora Bora beach bar on my last evening there.