Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

Advertisements

Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of north Morocco.

Chefchaouen is the perfect day or weekend trip on your travels in Morocco.

Famous for the blue painted buildings, more recently featured on French Montana’s ‘Famous’ videoclip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNHkxOU7zz8 that was filmed in the souks and circular main road around the town sitting on the mountain side. The 33 year oldĀ  moroccan-american artist is from the Casablanca and often pays tribute to his love for Morocco.

Back to Chefchaouen, the town is easily navigable by foot, but not wheelchair users, or for those with mobility difficulties. Built on the mountain side, souk and town streets climb up and down through the mountain curves, offering exquisite views over the town and the landscape beyond.

Chefchaouen is one of the easier villages to travel through Morocco. It is small enough to walk through in a day, and big enough that you can find another photogenic corner to help you on your dream-scape of what life may be like in the town, or in-fact to those that grow up in the alleys and buildings, protected by the elements and near everything else.

Here are some of the photos from our visit, we arrived on a cloudy and rainy day, yet it was also wonderful to see the town in non-postcard conditions, a different, and what felt more genuine side of life there. Rain gently encouraged us to go into the local cafe, not the tourist ones, and to get lost around the back streets to a school, trying to find a way through to the main square.

Chefchaouen’s location is equally impressive nesting on the mountain feet, reminds you of the perspectives on life which is so easy to forget when bouncing about between places in a city.

You could say Chefchaouen becomes the little blue light, twilight, dream-scape of adventure.

Bath and Wiltshire

So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.

Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.

The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.

Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.

On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.

Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.

My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.

Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.

Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.

Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.

There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.

Liguria, La Spezia and Cinque Terra

Best known for the five cliff hanging villages along the coast, Liguria offers an authentic taste of Italian daily life by the seaside.

I will begin with La Spezia. A true working port, La Spezia stole my hear not just for its maritime history. It is a truly multi cultural town, dotted with people from accross the globe. Along with the traditional Italian shops and cafes, many other outlets are run by North Africans, Colombians, central Africans, and Asians.

Architecturaly the town is brimming with traditional sepia coloured three floor tall houses, churches from centuries ago and stately complexes embracing church squares. The buildings feature high ceilings, large windows caressing the sharp shadows cast by the blissful Ligurian sun, spacious rooms and grand communal spaces.

The pace of life in La Spezia is slow. Even though I visited during a cold spell in early March, no rain or dropping temperatures can hurry the locals. And that’s the uniqueness of the town in comparison to other. Even though it is the gateway to Cinque Terra, and tourism is a key component to the local industry, it didn’t feel rushed or a place where locals hassle for a quick return. They appear relaxed, welcoming, open to chat and give directions.

The station is a central hub for trains to neighbouring towns and the main big cities in Italy like Genova, Rome and Milan. With a day travelcard, all of the five villages in Cinque Terra are made accessible in less than twenty minutes. Trains run twice an hour until midnight. In the summer, for those seeking the options of a town, an affordable option is staying in La Spezia and coast hopping across the beaches and fishing enclaves of Cinque Terra during the day.

The winning factor in all of this is the weather. The climate is mild, with plenty of sun and a light humidity bringing up the smells of the sea and mixing them up with that of the coastal flora and fauna and the warmth of the earth. Palm trees, pine trees, cactuses…you get the picture. For a real treat take the train from Milan trailing through Genova along the coast where you can discover the many more picturesque towns and villages spreading all along the coast, with none being similar to the other.

Cinque Terra is definitely the right choice for the most romantic and adventurous out there. The five villages of Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza are stunning clusters of pretty multi levelled dwellings swirling down to the fishing ports, interconnected by a maze of steep climbing stairs, walkways and paths layered at variable levels of cobble and tile alleys between, under and below each architectural masterpiece.

The train service makes this a really accessible adventure, with the option of spending a couple of hours at each village, feasible, and even more so being well connected to major city airports a mere couple of hours away.

For a memorable breathtaking break in Europe, search no further. This is truly a stunningly beautiful and unique yet low budget opportunity for a break away from the city hassle in a landscape laid out unlike anything you may have seen before.