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ride ’em, gaucho!

A long held ambition of mine has been to visit South America, in particular the city of Buenos Aires, so this Spring I did exactly that. First stop was Santiago, Chile. The capital was disappointing – very polluted and, to my mind, just not that attractive. On the other hand, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, on the Chilean coast were a delight. Valparaíso is where you will find La Sebastiana, sitting atop a steep hill and looking out to sea – this is the quirky house which belonged to the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Now a museum, it’s everything you’d expect from an eccentric artist. His portrait on a wall near the house announces its presence

The Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda

Pablo, by all accounts, loved the sea so he positioned his splendid abode in the best place to appreciate it!

Valparaíso has around 16 functioning ‘elevators’ – more akin to funiculars than lifts, as they rise on an angle, rather than vertically. They help you up the steep slopes which the town is built on. The traditional dwellings look very precarious but, as our guide explained, Chile suffers 2,000 earthquakes and tremors a year so rebuilding is far easier if your house didn’t take long to erect in the first place!! What they lack in architectural sturdiness they make up for in decoration – the street art is something to behold – skilful, unapologetic – a joyous blast of colour.

The other thing that struck me about Valparaíso was the ‘tinglado de alambres’ , as my father in law would say, that chaotic overhead ‘tangle’ of electricity cables which just add another layer to the haphazard nature of the place.

Our visit to Valparaíso was fleeting. It was March – the seasons are topsy turvy – our Spring is their Autumn so they were heading towards the end of the tourist season – it was fairly quiet, much nicer for us. We had lunch by the sea in Viña del Mar, a bit further along the coast, and next day we were packing our bags again and boarding a coach to Mendoza, in Argentina – just a hop across the Andes! Again, the town itself was unremarkable and there seemed to be a lot of building work going on which didn’t help. But the journey across the Andes was anything but unremarkable! There was a geologist in our party who was in seventh heaven, studying the rock formations and strata, which even to the untrained eye like mine was fascinating.

Winding slowly up the mountain side

Of course, as every wine drinker knows, Mendoza’s claim to fame is its wine production, especially Malbec. And we were not short of opportunities to sample it! Our hotels laid on wine tastings and there were also excursions to local wineries to sample their wares – we were spoilt for choice. I made a pleasant discovery – a locally produced port called Malamado – inky black and velvety smooth – easily the best port I have ever tasted (sorry, Portugal!!) Needless to say, I brought some samples home with me!

Some Malamado port from Mendoza to go with my Stilton and cashews

The highlight of this trip turned out to be, not Buenos Aires, though that came a close second, but the Iguazú Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The river Iguazú forms a natural border between the two countries, with Paraguay to the north. There are around 275 separate waterfalls – and many islands dotted about – and together they are a truly awesome sight. The most impressive is the Devil’s Throat, a huge chasm in the middle of the horse shoe shape fault line, the volume of water tumbling down into it over the rocks just takes your breath away – and the noise is thunderous!

IguazúFalls lookout point

Boat trip to the Iguazú Falls

Don’t forget your rain poncho! You get drenched by spray here
The beautiful – and refreshing! – pool at our accommodation in Iguazú

Our accommodation in Iguazú was a beautiful two storey hotel with a lovely pool where you could relax with a cocktail and watch the sun go down.- a welcome change from the high rise modern hotels we stayed in most of the time with a ‘bird bath’ on the roof. The town of Iguazú itself is nothing to write home about and had we stayed any longer my time would have been spent in the swimming pool – or very near it!!

We had the opportunity to see the falls from both the Argentinian and the Brazilian side. Overkill you might think, but not a bit of it – they are very different experiences. Personally, I preferred the Brazilian side. Not being a sun worshipper, I found the long, exposed walkways over the river in the blistering heat on the Argentinian side very tiring – no shade at all and a lot of walking. It was a relief to get back to the train for the ride home that day. The set up on the Brazilian side was quite different. Yes, there were lots of steps to go down to get to different walkways and viewpoints but we had the luxury of a lift to get back up to the exit. There was also a lot of lush vegetation providing welcome shade, so the whole experience was a lot more pleasant. There was a certain amount of queuing involved but, as with everything else we did, our guides used their experience to time our visits to minimize time spent hanging around – and for the most part it worked! Food outlets were geared up to cater for all tastes – the food, mostly burgers, chips, pizza and the ubiquitous empanada – was mediocre, as it tends to be when large numbers of people are being catered for quickly, but the system they had in place was slick and we were dispatched efficiently. BUT – we weren’t there for the food!! The critters we came across, however, WERE! In the UK you might see the odd squirrel or gull but here the animals were a bit more exotic: – coatíes (a type of racoon), marmoset monkeys and even a resident family of capibarras (those giant rodents that to me look like a cross between a guinea pig and a beaver), grazing contentedly for us to admire!

Gissa doughnut!!
Family group of capibarras grazing

Marmoset monkey at Sugar Loaf mountain

Apparently, there are jaguars in the forest but this was the only one we saw!

Entrance to the Iguazú Falls Park

From Iguazú it was on to Buenos Aires. We hit town the day a political demonstration was in full swing so had to wait till the next day to fully appreciate the ‘Pink Palace’ where Eva Perón made her emotive speeches. Of course, you have to visit La Boca, that colourful ‘barrio’ first colonized by immigrant Italians and now an artists’ colony and – it has to be said – a tourist trap. Even so , it’s pleasant wandering around the stalls and bars, watching the couples dance the tango to entice the punters to stay and spend their money – it wasn’t a difficult decision – shall we sit in the warm sunshine with a drink and soak up the atmosphere of this unique little patch of Buenos Aires or go back to the hotel?

La Boca – Buenos Aires
El tango argentino en el llamativo barrio de La Boca
Reflections in a modern office block in Buenos Aires

It’s true what they say, Buenos Aires does have the feel of a European city about it – small wonder it’s called the Paris of South America. Some beautiful buildings, some fancy shops, lots of good eateries and, of course – more tango! We were treated to dinner and a tango show at a theatre near our hotel. Dinner was, of course, more steak and more red wine – I wasn’t complaining! Delicious – both!

Another highlight of this tour was the gaucho ranch – we glimpsed a bygone era when we looked round the old farmstead, now a museum, but still fully furnished with all the trappings of family life.

But best of all were the horsemanship of the gauchos – and the fantastic barbecue: steak – I think the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere – and also chicken, homemade sausages, morcilla and salad, all washed down with more red wine.

Our superb barbecued steak

Gaucho skills have evolved to wow the tourists – at least on this showcase ranch, so instead of using the traditional bolas to lasso a steer, they now spear rings dangling from a cross beam and then propose to the first attractive girl they see in the crowd. It’s still pretty impressive stuff!

There were five brothers on this ranch, all equally adept riders
Will you marry me?

Our final destination was Río! And what better place to end our tour! Our hotel was directly opposite Copacabana Beach – we’ve all heard of Río’s famous attractions – the Sugar Loaf, that other beach – made famous by the sixties ballad ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, the Christ the Redeemer statue, visible from practically everywhere! We visited all these and they did not disappoint. I will definitely be going back!

Copacabana Beach from our hotel
Brazil was hot and steamy
Cristo el Redentor
One of the many stunning views from Sugar Loaf Mountain, Río
View back down to the first cable car station from the second on Sugar Loaf, Río
A reflection of the weird and wonderful exterior of Río Cathedral
Copacabana Beach with a magnificent sandcastle of the Christ the Redeemer statue!

Arthur’s Stone

Hidden away in the Herefordshire countryside is Arthur’s Stone, a magnificent ancient burial chamber. I cannot better the information provided by the sign within its enclosure by English Heritage so here it is:

You can get up to the Stone by car from the village of Dorstone but we did it the hard way. Starting from the bridge at Bredwardine we crossed the road, with the Red Lion pub on our left. The narrow lane quickly becomes a steep hill. We passed some local houses whose gardens contained some attractive (and ferocious!) residents

Got any liquorice allsorts?

These aren’t actually that uncommon now around these parts

After wending our way up through some undeniably stunning countryside, we turned left down a smaller track which eventually comes out at a couple of houses and a stile into a field which is impossible steep!



Onward and upward ! We crossed another few fields and negotiated stiles and gates, saying hello to a lone horse and myriad sheep – to eventually reach our goal

Arthur’s Stone

There is something undeniably pleasing about the placement of the stones. Apparently this burial chamber has never been excavated so the many legends that surround it are pure conjecture. Whatever you may believe it is worth a visit – but take my advice – go by car!!

Oh! There’s King Arthur!

Cycle Rides to Ten Herefordshire Churches

Blogging’s the aim and cycling’s the game. Within a 15 mile radius of my house there are so many delightful country churches. I decided to pick just a few and rate them according to these criteria – the first one being the most important to the weary cyclist:

  • a comfy bench in a quiet spot to refuel and enjoy a few minutes’ quiet contemplation
  • an interesting setting and a beautiful view – hereabouts that’s easy – the stunning Herefordshire countryside
  • is the church open?
  • what architectural jewels and decorative features are to be found inside and out?
  • does the church have any stained glass windows ? a universal characteristic of religious buildings, dating back many centuries, so it would be disappointing not to find some nice ones
  • and finally, the bell towers and the bells themselves – there is no sound more quintessentially English than church bells on a Sunday morning or pealing out in celebration for a wedding

I set about this personal survey last summer (2018) and of the 20 or so churches I have visited so far I have short listed the ten below.

Here they are in reverse order:

10. ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH, BREINTON – although Google tells me this church is only 2.4 miles away from me,  I cycle this loop a lot and I can tell you the scenic route is nine miles.

Hidden away in the narrow lanes of lower Breinton – a small church with a feature I especially liked – a lyche gate which looks a bit odd as it stands in isolation now but it opens out onto an apple orchard, which, in the Spring, must look glorious. Apparently, this was the original entrance but now the church has a wide sweep of grass bordered by a shrubbery and a gravel drive up to the entrance from  the opposite side – and a handily placed bench where you can get your breath back.  There are only two bells here which are not often rung,  but the church is still regularly used by the local community.

        

9. ST. MARY’S, MARDEN          (a round trip of 12 miles)

A very substantial building with TWO fine benches to the right of the main entrance!

The day I visited was a Saturday and there was a lot of activity inside and out – this is clearly a church open for business! The bell tower was also open – no danger to the public – the bells  are safely locked behind a grille but easily visible. There are six bells which were refurbished in 2016. I have discovered that churches have some very quirky access points to their bells and this one has what the locals call ‘the fireplace’ – a sort of stone mantle that you have to duck underneath.

      

Inside felt very community and child centred – obviously, attracting the punters of tomorrow is of the essence!

8. ST. MARY, TYBERTON – the round trip can vary between 20 and 25 miles depending on my route and that depends on the  weather!

Tyberton is a small village so has a small church to match. It was built within the grounds of Tyberton Court in around 1719 – comparatively recently for a church. Personally, I prefer my churches to look more traditional. This one  lacks any interesting architectural flourishes – it is of red brick with plain glass windows.  What it does have, which I have not come across anywhere else is a resident vicar, albeit a dummy one! who lurks in the belfry – quite scary when you first come across him in the gloom.  Bell ringers from other towers are aware of his presence but no one has yet explained to me why he is there!!

   

7.  ST. ANDREWS at HAMPTON BISHOP   – a 15 mile round trip, going out on the B2442 and back over the river bridge onto the B4399 and through Holme Lacy – there are intermittent bits of bike lane through the Industrial Estate and towards home.

First impressions of Hampton Bishop church? Well, the churchyard struck me as very unkempt, but I was told by one who knows that the idea was to create a wildlife sanctuary – so there!

You are still able to make your way up through the headstones. Despite the long grass, the all important bench is the first thing you see to the right of the gate, slightly raised so ideal to survey those who come and go .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This church dates back to the 12th century and has a black and white timbered belfry atop a Norman tower.

 

Inside I found this lovely stained glass window.

6. ST.PETER’S at PETERCHURCH – this church is the furthest away from me of the 10 on this list – a round trip of 28 miles, so not one I undertake regularly!!   My loss, as it turns out,  as it has become ‘dual purpose’ along with many other churches in their battle not only to survive but to attract new blood. Now a community based social hub with a library cum bell tower on the first floor, which you reach via a set of user friendly steps rather than the usual narrow, cobwebby, dark, spiral staircase. Downstairs are comfy sofas and tables and chairs where you can have a coffee and something to eat – in the warm.

      

5. ALL SAINTS’ CHURCH, BROCKHAMPTON – a round trip of 22 miles – as the crow flies! A doddle on the flat. However, to reach this gem of a building there is a serious climb up through Capler Wood,

      

or maybe straight through Fownhope and round the back,  or maybe even through Woolhope – but that way lies Haugh Wood! Whichever way you choose there is no avoiding a few hills!

But great on the way back down!

And the reward? The setting is spectacular – rolling countryside with the River Wye in the valley below,

then a picture perfect village and then ….. as stunning an example of an Arts and Crafts building as you will find anywhere. Brockhampton  church is as gorgeous inside as it is out, chock a block with special features, especially, for me at least, the lighting,  and all topped off outside with a thatched roof – very unusual.

      

So why did this church only make number 5 on my list?  Simply because it is not the easiest church to get to by bike – unless you’re Chris Froome! And I don’t remember seeing a bench outside either.

4.   ST.PETER’S CHURCH, WITHINGTON – on a triangular ride  through (Hampton Bishop) > Mordiford > (Dormington) > (Bartestree) > (Withington) >Sutton > (Lyde )> Holmer and home it would be the best part of 20 miles. If I wanted to brave the main Hereford to Worcester road (the A4103) it would be  12 out and back.

This church had to feature on my list as it has many family connections. My mother came from Withington and she and my father are now buried in the churchyard there, along with many of mum’s relatives. As well as that, I was christened there at the grand old age of 19 – so I do remember it! This was because my husband to be, who was a practising Catholic, wanted to be married in the Roman Catholic church in Hereford and the priest was horrified to discover that let alone not being Catholic myself I hadn’t even been christened as a baby!! So we set about amending that asap.

Withington church is a regular pit stop on my cycle rides and from the bench round the back you can sit undisturbed and look out over the fields adjacent to Withington Court, the farm where my grandfather and at least three of his sons worked – so the village and the church have lots of happy childhood associations for me.

    

 

3. ST.PETER’S CHURCH, DORMINGTON –  8 miles away

This is a very appealing church, Norman in origin but greatly renovated in the 18th century –  the outside space as attractive as the interior:  – a pristine lawned area with immaculate borders and a beautiful tree providing shade for the bench nearby.

      if you walk along the lane to the left of the church you will come to two burial grounds where you can sit and rest in absolute quiet.

And in front of the church is another bench, a bit uncomfortable to sit on but with a bin attached so there is no excuse to litter the churchyard!

Inside are these lovely stained glass windows

      

I could only see three bell ropes so I am assuming the church has a ring of three bells – whether they are rung regularly I don’t know.       The afternoon sun produced a magical effect on this statue on one of the tombstones at the front of the church.

 Many people don’t even realise this church is here, tucked away as it is between the houses and set back a little from the road. Most cars that use this road are speeding along this ‘rat run’  from Mordiford to reach the main Hereford to Ledbury road – the A438. They should slow down and take a look!

2.   ST.CUTHBERT’S CHURCH, HOLME LACY – 8 or 9 mles away.

You could be forgiven for missing this church – it’s down a long country lane which veers off to the left of the smart entrance to  Holme Lacy House Hotel.

So here’s our bench ………….. so far, so good.

but what’s this?

So, sadly, a redundant church – but, as with all things which we want to keep alive, the Churches Conservation Trust has diversified! This church is near the River Wye and ideal for ……………   ‘champing’ !

I wondered what these were for! They look a bit spartan here but when you visit the Churches Conservation Trust website you can see how inviting they look all decked out in comfy throws and pillows and such for a good night’s kip!!

The Scudamore family were great patrons of this church and John Scudamore, who died in 1571,  is buried here alongside his wife in an impressive tomb.

The beauty of this historical church is reflected through its stained glass, historic 17th century font, organ – all the things you would expect to see in a church

    

 

 

 

 

and a couple you might not! Like this outside loo complete with tiny gargoyle!

Even though this historic church with its beautiful interior is no longer used for worship, it has a ring of eight bells which pealed out on November 11th, 2018, along with many other churches nationwide to mark the Centenary of Armistice Day.

And finally, top of my list is ……………….

ST. MARY & ST.DAVID CHURCH at KILPECK

Its reputation precedes it.

This church nestles at the end of a lane off the Hereford to Abergavenny section of Route 46 of the national cycle network. I have only cycled along a tiny part of it  – it runs from Droitwich to Neath – 80 miles! – a bit beyond me!

A building of well documented historical and architectural importance and a smart building! the lights come on for you as you advance towards the altar – I don’t know how many churches are ‘smart’ but what a good idea – after all, they are often dark, cold uninviting places. There are a couple of benches outside, the views across the fields are not very exciting but it is a quiet place to sit and rest.

As I left Kilpeck church I saw this familiar vehicle parked outside! Hope the lead is still on the roof!