A week in Far North Queensland

A visit to Far North Queensland (FNQ) a couple of weeks ago reinforced the conclusion that a longer time is much better. With the world’s oldest rainforests and largest coral reef, as well as scenic country, wilderness, misty mountains, tropical agriculture, intriguing towns and a distinct culture, FNQ is substantially different to my home territory 3,000km to the south.

Friends Peter and Steve generously provided accommodation at their rainforest B&B, located about an hour and a half south of Cairns. This base offers exceptional relaxation in a very special environment; with the sounds of a rushing stream and rapids coupled with late Wet Season showers on a tin roof, the deep green of the rainforest, wild bird calls… as well as walks beside surrounding sugar cane and banana farms, and allowed easy day visits to:

  • characterful Innisfail – featuring Art Deco architecture and quirky local culture, and access to the abundant harvest of its fishing fleet
  • the Atherton  Tablelands – gorges, waterfalls, more rainforest, atmospheric towns, lush farms of cattle, sugar cane and bananas
  • the Mission Beach area where two world heritage areas meet (the Wet Tropics and the Barrier Reef).

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Mission Beach looking out to the Coral Sea and Dunk Island, one of many islands close to this coast. You can walk 14 km along the beach for similar sublime views, then explore the rainforest as a contrast, hopefully to sight a Cassowary.

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A wild Brush Turkey making eye contact at breakfast time.

Utchee Creek swimming hole at the rainforest B&B.

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In Australian country towns, pubs usually represent the strongest architectural presence, occasionally challenged by churches. Pub patronage has generally been more enduring.

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The Criterion Hotel in South Johnstone.

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The Malanda Hotel at Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands – above. Below – the Grand Hotel in Atherton and the Royal Hotel at Herberton.

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Innisfail was substantially destroyed by a cyclone in 1918. An Art Deco theme in the rebuild is a feature of the town, similar to the architecture of Napier in New Zealand, rebuilt after that town was destroyed by earthquake in 1931.

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The sign for Ansett Airways – ‘Book Here’ – omits to mention that the airline became bankrupt in 2001, probably just another example of local humour.

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While some towns in FNQ are flourishing, others like South Johnstone are in decline.

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Sugar mills remain important.

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South Johnstone; the cane train line to the sugar mill runs up the middle of the main street.

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Tully’s sugar mill. Tully is the wettest (or second wettest) town in Australia averaging more than 4,000 millimetres (160 in) annually.

I’m heading north again very soon.

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Bergerac Reflections

Bergerac was once important in the Dordogne River boat trade. Now, as a medium sized town of about 30,000 people in south west France, a day visit easily allows enjoying the market (Saturdays and Wednesdays), an exploration of the medieval centre and port, securing a table for lunch, and a walk along the river.

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A bridge over the Dordogne River in Bergerac.

There are many lunch choices.

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The market is a meeting place.

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A Walk on the Isle of Skye: Tragedy, Scenery, Legends, Sheep, and the Highland Clearances

I walked to Boreraig in late August 2017. Boreraig was a Highland crofting village until its inhabitants were forcibly evicted in 1854. The walk provides an opportunity to enjoy the Isle of Skye’s unique scenery, as well as to reflect on the Highland Clearances, and the continuing widespread involuntary displacement of people around the world.

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The walk commences at the ruin of Cill Chriosd (Christ’s Church in Gaelic) once the main parish church on Skye. Here, the church ruins and graveyard at the left stand below Skye’s imposing Cuillan mountains, with the ruined wall of the Suardal marble cutting and polishing works in the foreground.

Next, it’s a lengthy and steady climb.

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It’s a long way to fall from the crest of the hill before the descent into Boreraig.

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Walking or mountain biking are the only options to reach Boreraig by land. I saw only one other couple on my walk. An old stone fence from the village can be seen beyond the cyclists.

About 120 people lived in Borereig’s 22 houses before their forced eviction. Once a beautiful setting for a village, now it’s sombre, eerie and forlorn.

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Stone fences snaking into the distance, and piles of overgrown rocks where houses once stood, are a lonely reminder that a community once existed here.

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The return walk offers more of Skye’s ever-changing light and views.

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On the right above is Beinn na Caillich, one of the Red Cuillan. Local legend claims that the grave of a Norwegian princess from the Viking era is located on the summit where she was laid to rest so that she could forever face the land of her birth and feel its winds.

If you stay on Skye for a while, it’s easy to believe in legends.

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In many cases, sheep replaced people in the Highland Clearances as they offered more money to the landowners.

I’ve written more about Skye here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nomadicpaths.wordpress.com/5477

Walk details

  • Distance: a return walk of 10.2 km from Cill Chriosd on the Broadford to Elgol road. A longer walk includes visiting another Clearance village – Suisinish.
  • Terrain: a steady climb on well defined paths and tracks that are sometimes boggy, and often uneven, followed by a gentle descent into Boreraig. An early part of the walk follows the old ‘Marble Line’, the rail line that was used to move marble down to the Broadford jetty in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The marble is claimed to be better than Italy’s famous marble from Carrara.
  • Total Ascent: 353m (1158ft)
  • Rating: Superb

http://www.go4awalk.com/walks/walk-search/walk.php?walk=h149

The Clearances

The Highland Clearances were a disaster for Scottish Gaelic culture. Like all major historical events, they are complex. The Laird of Boreraig, Lord McDonald of Skye, claimed that the crofters of Boreraig had to move “because they (the people) were too far from Church.” This was not the real reason for their eviction. Lord McDonald was close to bankruptcy at the time. In an attempt to reverse the debts, the administrators of the McDonald estate cleared Boreraig  and other villages and replaced the people with sheep, because sheep provided bigger profits.

More reading

This site has a brief history of Skye:

http://www.scottishaccommodationindex.com/isleofskyepics.htm

http://www.electricscotland.com/history/clearances/29.htm

http://www.blaven.com/sevenmiles.aspx

http://www.scotsman.com/sport/boreraig-and-suisnish-1-1393025

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boreraig

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11562/skye-boreraig

 

Is this the world’s most beautiful public toilet?

In some countries, finding a public toilet/WC may be easy (as in China, France, New Zealand, or Australia), or virtually impossible (as in the USA or Italy).

Where a country lacks public toilets, locals probably expect that visitors will follow their own example, and use an establishment such as a bar or café. However, in popular tourist destinations, grim faced waiters and grimmer signs, or locked doors, provide a strong disincentive to anyone seeking relief without becoming an involuntary customer. In smaller villages and localities, there may be no such prospect at all. Is it possible that locals in those countries have developed a Darwinian survival trait that allows them to better control their bodily functions?

Most public toilets make no concessions to aesthetics. Not so this one in Pont Aven, Brittany; my selection for the most beautiful public toilet in the world. Why? It’s an elegant structure, reminiscent of the hórreos or granaries of Galicia in Spain. Traditional stone construction integrates subtly with the convenient central location in the village, and the Aven River below provides soothing sound effects of running water.

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Rome on a rainy Sunday

Roving sellers switched from other wares like scarves and trinkets and sold umbrellas to those who did not expect rain. My sturdy new umbrella was large, blue and white with brass fittings, and a bargain at €5.

The rain started falling quite heavily at Piazza Navona. Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) looks splendid in any weather.

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The rain continued to fall as we crossed the bridge to Trastevere on the way back to our rented apartment. The new umbrella continued to excel.

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It’s now late on Sunday night in Trastevere as closing times near. The festive crowds of Friday and Saturday nights are long gone.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mobile 4

After dinner, I left the umbrella at the restaurant. I returned a few minutes later and recovered it. Alas, on unfurling it the following morning, I discovered that although apparently identical at night, the umbrella was of a different colour and was well used with several holes, tarnished brass fittings, and a handle that comes off.  I hope that the new possessor of my fine umbrella values it as much I would have.

 

A Hong Kong Wander

A visit to Hong Kong can be frugal and slow, or the opposite. A leisurely stroll around older neighbourhoods, like Sheung Wan, gives a glimpse of earlier times, and the everyday, where locals walk, eat, shop and congregate. Better this than the multi-storied glittering halls of consumerism where international brand name items sell for absurd prices amongst excesses of air-conditioned marble and glass, overpriced food, and bored sales staff.

Cheap entertainment, cheap views, cheap travel ….

Many of Hong Kong Island’s streets are steep. When walking becomes tiresome, an easy way to ascend is to use the elevators in Central that whisk people 800 metres up from the harbour. Good views abound with  little effort.

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To a foreigner, shop displays range from the mundane to the bizarre. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know whether to reach for a cookbook, or just remain mystified. (Apologies for the bad phone photos).

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Lizards and starfish.

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Hong Kong is industrious.

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Quaint workshops and shops are easy to find, like this old operating printing press.

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Hand carts are crucial for deliveries. However, Hong Kong is not all hard work.

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Hong Kong’s public transport is very good and cheap. A 30 minute ferry trip to Lamma Island costs HK$35.6 (about AU$6) return. Lamma is rather laid-back, sparsely populated, pedestrianised, and a quiet and forested contrast to the city. The local fishing industry supplies the island seafood restaurants, which make a good place for lunch.

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Lamma’s main village – Yung Shue Wan – seen from the ferry. Below, inside one of the island’s temples.

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Hong Kong Island’s double decker trams are cheap HK$2.30 (AU$0.38) for an adult fare, and a nice scenic and relaxing way to travel about.

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Eat where the locals eat, here at a wet market (selling seafood, meat and fresh vegetables). Join them for cheap authentic tasty food.

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Impressions of Bruges: Belgium’s beautiful medieval town

Bruges was a major economic, cultural and artistic centre of medieval Europe. Protected by its long decline in fortunes from more recent negative ‘developments’, she remains an intact and relaxed small city that attracts many visitors.

Bruges is appealing for her splendid architecture, history that is honoured and celebrated, a refined life-style where locals bicycle and walk through old streets that ban cars, a regular tourist income from the many visitors, and Belgian specialities like chocolate, handicrafts, beer…

Morning school’s out, and it’s time for lunch.

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The Markt is Bruges’ main square. Medieval streets wander off into labyrinths, allowing a visitor to become lost – later to find canals, squares, quiet streets, churches and lanes to savour.

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Tourist boats now ply the canals that were once crucial to Bruge’s commercial importance in European textiles.

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Romance is in the air.

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Chocolate art.

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There must always be music.

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