Posted by: travelrat | April 17, 2014

The Chocolate Factory

Chocolate Factory 2

Rascafria: 27th November 2013

When I returned home from Torrecaballeros in 2012, I found a chocolate shop had opened on Madrid Airport. Of course, I bought chocolate … and found it surprisingly good. Although I’d never really figured Spain as a chocolate-producing country, this was on a par with the products of Switzerland or Belgium.

And, on our walk into Rascafria, we found a shop and factory which made the stuff. Of course, I think almost without exception, we all bought some. And, I was especially glad we had our Spanish companions along.

‘Do you really want that?’ I was told ‘That’s diabetic chocolate!’

I didn’t, and was steered toward the ‘real’ chocolate.

There was a window between the shop and the factory, through which we could watch what was going on … which, I had to admit, was not a lot. Perhaps most of the industry happens when the shop closes?

But, I was reminded of a visit to a chocolate factory in Belgium on a coach tour some years ago. We were taken to a long corridor, with a window all the way down one side, through which we could see a number of white-overalled people stirring brown stuff.

‘This is where we make the chocolate!’ (We’d kind of worked that out for ourselves)

Then … I swear I heard her counting to twenty under her breath:

‘If you follow me, I will take you to the shop, where you can buy some of our delicious chocolate!’

Later.,I saw our driver and courier heading for the coach, each carrying an industrial-sized box of pralines. Did they buy them, I wondered, or was it baksheesh for bringing a busload of tourists to the factory? From their furtive body language, I suspected the latter.

On this occasion, I was very good. I took most of that chocolate home. And, very nice it was, too! But, I wonder if most of what was bought that afternoon ever made it out of Rascafria, let alone to the airport!

Choco;ate Factory 1

Posted by: travelrat | April 15, 2014

Windermere Station


The NIMBY mentality is nothing new. Back in the 19th Century, in the heyday of the railways, a line was proposed, which would completely traverse the English Lake District. Voices were raised, and the loudest of all was the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth.

In those days, the ‘Top Versifier’ was much more influential than he is nowadays, and the railway came to a shuddering halt at a sleepy little village called Birthwaite. The Bard of Grasmere went on his way, rejoicing that he had kept the unlettered masses away from his beloved Lakes for a little longer.

The railway company had a stroke of PR genius; they arranged for Birthwaite to change its name to Windermere! No matter that the lake of the same name lay a couple of miles away, down the hill. The ‘trippers’ came, and undertook the trek or carriage ride down to the lake, to have a sail on the ‘Lady of the Lake’, or just wander around seeing what was to be seen.

(If, incidentally, you saw the episode of Poirot, where the sleuth and the faithful ‘Esteengs’ got off the train at ‘Windermere’ station, and just crossed the platform to board a steamer … that wasn’t Windermere; that was Lakeside, on a different rail network entirely)

As was their habit, the Victorians built a grand station at the terminus of their line … four platforms and a turntable, with a glass roof overall, and a most imposing entrance. Even as late as the 1950s, it was presided over by the grandly-uniformed Station Master, wearing as much gold braid as an Admiral.

But, the station has now been moved to a much more modern structure, about a hundred yards down the track. The old station is now … a supermarket!

And, unfortunately, there’s little to be seen of the building’s former grandeur … maybe they should have made it a Listed Building, or something.

Picture by an unknown photographer. From an old postcard.

Picture by an unknown photographer. From an old postcard.

Posted by: travelrat | April 10, 2014

Walking into Rascafria


27th November 2013

Quite often, the locations for Vaughantown programmes are within easy reach of a town or a village. But here, as at Gredos, that town is just a little bit too far to walk in the 50 minutes allocated to a ‘one to one’. So, as we do at Gredos when we walk into Barco de Avila, we devoted a block of time to a ‘many to many’, where we all walked into the town in a body.

For those who don’t want to walk that distance, though, a participant who brought a car can usually be persuaded to provide a lift.

The walk into Rascafria is along a pleasant, tree-lined path along the riverside. But, we didn’t just talk. A diversion was provided in the form of a ‘photographic scavenger hunt’. We did something similar at Torrecaballeros last year, but that activity took place wholly within the hotel complex.

On of our tasks was ‘take a picture based on a record album cover’. I think, without exception, every group made a beeline for the zebra crossing outside the hotel, and did ‘Abbey Road’. But, most of us had better ideas further on.

The weather, again, was bright and cold … at least, we thought so at first, but jackets and sweaters were being discarded after only a few hundred yards. And, when we reached the village, we saw quite a few people sitting outside the cafes and bars in their shirtsleeves.

Rio Lozoya

Posted by: travelrat | April 8, 2014

Chasing Blossoms in the Lyth Valley

Blossom, Lyth Valley

There are some places to visit where you have to be spot-on with your timing. You might have a window of maybe a couple of weeks … maybe even a few days … to see the place at its very best. The rest of the year, it’s rather ordinary. And, if you’re unlucky with the weather, that window gets even smaller.

One such place is Cumbria’s Lyth Valley, famed for its displays of damson blossoms in the Spring.

(For those who don’t know, a damson is a small, purple plum. It’s rather sharp and acid on its own, but makes delicious jam and pies, and there used to be … maybe still is … a small brewery which used damsons to flavour one of its brews. And, I can tell you, that beer with roast lamb was an almost ideal pairing)

Unfortunately, we were a little early with our visit. The blossoms on the damson trees were just minute white globules on the trees at this stage. But, the hawthorn blossoms were out, which was some consolation, although it wasn’t really seen at its best, owing to the rather damp weather conditions.

We nearly collided with a tourist coach which was really a little bit too big for these narrow roads. I did hope they hadn’t come especially to see the blossoms, for I fear they were going to be rather disappointed.

Of course, it’s impossible for tour operators to predict the optimum time to see the blossoms with any accuracy. But, when I was at school, ‘urban myth’ told of an old lady who could pin it down to a few days with remarkable reliability. It was said that she could foretell when the Autumn colours would be at their best, too, and several coach tour companies had her on a small retainer.

Luckily, I have relations in the area, and can always try again another time. The Lyth Valley blossoms are on the same list as the Northern Lights. I’ve seen them … but would still like to visit again when conditions are better.

Posted by: travelrat | April 3, 2014

The Tree Museum

Arboreto 1

Rascafria: 27th November 2013

‘They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum/ and charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em’ sang Joni Mitchell in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’.

The correct word for ‘tree museum’ is Arboretum … or, in Spanish, Arboreto … and there’s one just across the road from our hotel. However, it didn’t cost a dollar and a half to get into the Arboreto Giner de los Rios; it was free! Although, for some reason, it’s not open on Mondays and Tuesdays. But, on Wednesday morning, I was there with my Spanish companion of the hour almost as soon as the gates opened.

It may be thought there would be little to see in November, but there was still a little bit of Autumn colour still hanging on. And, there were one or two bushes absolutely covered in snowberries. This really ought to be a sight to see at other times of the year.

And, it forms yet another nice backdrop for pictures of the monastery, and the mountains beyond. I made a note to make another visit earlier in the year … but there are one or two other locations I want to check out first.

Arboreto 2

Here, I leave it for a couple of days, for I’m off up to Cumbria for a long weekend … and hoping I can find something interesting to video, photograph and/or write about. See you next week! 

Posted by: travelrat | April 1, 2014

Uppish Ghyll

2012-01-01 00.05.15

I’ve recently acquired a new slide scanner, and I’ve been digitising some really old slides. The other day, I was dealing with some stuff from Yorkshire, when I came upon some pictures of Uppish Ghyll. I immediately thought of a childhood song:

‘Oh, take me back to Uppish Ghyll
where the water flows uphill’

Now, although it sounds like a nonsense rhyme, it isn’t. Uppish Ghyll is in limestone country, where underground rivers aren’t uncommon. Uppish Beck emerges from the ground at the head of the gorge, and flows down the opposite side of the hill. The strange thing is, the stream first  goes underground at the foot of the gorge, at least thirty feet below the head.

This was proved beyond doubt in the early 1950s, when Dr. Michael Ure, of Leeds University, and Professor Karl Horstmann, of the University of Heidelberg showed, using coloured dye, that the water did indeed, flow uphill.

This happens when an underground river meets a bed of impermeable slate, which, in some cases, forces it upwards. The phenomenon is named after its discoverers, and called the Horstmann-Ure Effect.

It was believed that this feature was unique, until the discovery of similar phenomena in the Bowyang Caves, in South Australia, and the Gouffre Breauque caves in the Tarn Valley in France.

Posted by: travelrat | March 27, 2014

Inside the Monastery

Inside 1

Rascafria: 25th November 2013.

Usually, Vaughantown programmes present an opportunity for some sightseeing; all work and no play, as they say … Often, this is done in our free time in the afternoon, like our flying visit to Segovia the previous year.

Today, we had a chance to see around the monastery itself, guided by one of the monks. But, we didn’t use our free time: we did it in the form of a ‘one to one’; the monk gave his presentation in Spanish, and our Spanish friends translated for us.

Inside 3

The interior is equally as imposing as the exterior. Normally, I’d think it a bit too ornate and over-decorated for my taste, but it was cleverly lit to show it off to best advantage. And, I did wonder, with the monastery sorely under strength, with only eight elderly monks … how did they manage to keep it so clean?

We had to make a small donation, which also entitled us to visit the Art Gallery, at which almost the entire works of the artist Vicente Carducho are exhibited. I couldn’t find the time for that, but, if the illustrations in the leaflet I picked up are anything to go by, it’s certainly worth seeing.

Maybe next time?

Inside 2

Posted by: travelrat | March 25, 2014

New Toys 2.1

Stonehenge Panorama

Until fairly recently, I’ve been using Windows Movie Maker to edit my video clips. A few months ago, it threw a wobbly; I could still make videos, but wouldn’t convert them to any recognisable format when finished. Could I maybe solve the problem by uninstalling and then reinstalling it? Can’t be did, said Bernie, my computer guru, because it came bundled with the computer.

However, I also had Movie Maker on my Netbook, which temporarily solved the problem, although it had fewer bells and whistles on it than the one on my desktop PC.

Then, I got the GoPro … the output of which both computers had difficulty reading. The time had come; I had to buy some software.

What I got was Serif’s Movie Plus … I already have desktop publishing and photo software from this company (, and was highly satisfied with both. And, they have some pretty tempting offers from time to time.

It’s a pretty steep learning curve getting to know the GoPro and Movie Plus, and I don’t expect to digest it all overnight. But, I’m getting there slowly, and here’s my first GoPro/Movie Plus effort.



Posted by: travelrat | March 20, 2014

In a Monastery Garden … and Beyond.

Lozoya River

Rascafria: 25th November 2013

On arrival at Rascafria, we had lunch, checked in, and had a little free time to unpack, have a look around and maybe a short siesta. Then we all met in the room that Pete, our MC, had christened ‘The Library with No Books’, and introduced ourselves, although most of us had done that already on the bus ride up.

Then, it was down to business … the ‘one to ones’, around which the programme is built. We didn’t go far, for it was getting dark already, so most of us either stayed in the ‘Library with No Books’, or adjourned to the bar.

The following day, we ventured a little further. And, for the first time ever on a one to one, I donned gloves, a woolly hat and a parka. These aren’t garments you’d normally take on a week in Spain, but remember, this is November, and we’re 3000 feet up.

But, nobody really complained about the cold … we couldn’t, really, for many of our group were Canadian, and we didn’t really want to be told how cold it gets where they’re from.

Fountain at Rascafria

There’s an extensive garden around the monastery, but, of course, there’s not much growing at this time of year. But, I think just about everyone photographed the icicle-festooned fountain.

Usually, the rule on a one to one is strictly No Spanish … but, I’m afraid we bent it on one occasion. On our walk, we met a talkative old gentleman who passed the time of day with us for a short while. And, he spoke no English. But, he did name some of the surrounding hills for us … the Cabeza del Hierro range, the highest point of which was a mountain called Peñelar. My ‘Spaniard’ did, however, get some useful practice in translating the bits I couldn’t understand.

Cabeza del Hierro

Posted by: travelrat | March 18, 2014

More New Toys


I suppose it’s having plenty of time on my hands is the reason for entering so many competitions … especially those with tasty prizes on offer. And, I often wonder about the odds against winning something … are they longer or shorter than the Health Lottery, which I play every week?

I wasn’t expecting great things when I entered a clip in a travel video competition … you can see my entry at  if you’re interested … so I was most surprised to hear that I’d won a GoPro Hero 3+. Just at the point where I was counting my pennies, and wondering if I could afford to upgrade to an HD camcorder.

It’s a bit hard to get used to. You can’t zoom, and there’s no viewfinder, so you have to school yourself to keep your fingers clear of the lens. Also, you can’t view your footage in camera; you have to wait till you can get to a computer … rather like waiting for your pictures to come back from the lab in the olden days! In fact, I did compare it with one of the old Instamatics, except the results are much better.

On the plus side, it’s equally at home with still or video, and will easily slip into a pocket if you don’t want to haul a DSLR around with you. Its main advantage, though is that it’s waterproof; you remember I wished for such a facility when we went tubing on the Mulgrave River. Of equal importance is the fact it can be remotely controlled, although I haven’t quite got the hang of operating that facility yet.

The camera comes with a variety of mounts, and the little booklet contains details of the exciting places you can mount it, using the remote control. So, I suppose the next things I shall have to buy are a motor bike and a snowboard.

One of the first 'stills' I took with the GoPro

One of the first ‘stills’ I took with the GoPro

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