Posted by: travelrat | October 20, 2016

I thought I didn’t have any whale pictures …


We saw plenty of humpback whales on our whale cruise in Alaska, but didn’t get any really good photographs. Then, the other day, I was browsing through my detachable hard drive, and came upon a file.

It contained pictures of whales spotted on our Queensland whale cruise in 2010. I’d put them on one side, intending to ‘do something about them’ … and almost immediately forgot about them. So, I ‘did something about them’, and here they are.

They’re actually Southern Humpback Whales … but let’s not get too particular. I doubt if the whales would, if the two ‘tribes’ ever chanced to meet.

The humpback is, of course, only one kind of whale, so the list is by no means closed. There’s a chance we may see some on our South America cruise next year … although, at the moment, we have no plans to go out especially looking for them. But, the best encounters occur when you least expect them.

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Posted by: travelrat | October 18, 2016

100 Days to Go


18th October 2016. Nothing particularly outstanding about the date, apart from the usual question: ‘Where did the year go?’. It’s significant for us, though, because today it is exactly 100 days until our next scheduled trip.

Which is a good thing, because I’m running short on ‘blogunition’. I think I have enough stuff on the Canada/Alaska trip to keep us going until we leave, but the Australia budget is rapidly coming to an end. I’ll wrap that up with a slide show of the pix I took on the day trip we did in our last week there.

There is the off-chance that something may come up in the meantime … a blog trip, maybe, or an offer too tasty to refuse? But, as my dear Grandma used to say ‘If tha’s got nowt to say, say nowt!’  So, apologies in advance if the posts get a little thin over the coming weeks.

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Posted by: travelrat | October 16, 2016

Travel Theme: Dried


When I hear the word ‘dried’, my first thought is of the foul dehydrated potato they used to serve to the Armed Forces. It was rumoured that they made a huge stockpile of this during the war, and it had to be consumed … which took until the mid-70s to do, because they usually put ‘real’ potatoes on the servery as well, so most people rejected them, and they finished up in the pigswill.

Fast-forward a few years, and I think of those packaged ‘dehyds’ we used to take on camping trips with us. You just ripped open the package, poured into a billy, added water and boiled. But, they didn’t last long … not for me, anyway. I soon discovered that a can of curry or stew didn’t weigh much more, and could be eaten cold when my stove ran out of gas, and I was miles from anywhere.

But, dried camping food isn’t always so bad. A packet of the excellent ‘trail mix’ was always in a handy place in my sac … nuts, dried fruit, raisins, and sometimes, I’d mix in some chocolate peanuts or Smarties. A lot of my friends did that; we called it ‘scran’. Sweets, chocolate, raisins and nuts. (The Navy also use this Northern dialect word, but, in their case, it stands for ‘S*** Cooked by the Royal Navy’)

Even though I don’t camp and hike as much as I used to, there’s often still a packet in the car when we go on a road trip, and invariably some in my carry-on when I fly.

Speaking of carry-ons … when discussing a ‘hand luggage only’ trip, someone once remarked it was a pity they didn’t do ‘dried’ toothpaste or shaving cream. I said they used to, and wondered if they still do it; toothpaste in a solid block, on which you rubbed a wet toothbrush, and a stick of shaving soap, which you applied with a brush,

For many years, dried flowers were a prominent decoration in our house, but they went out of fashion. But, when people remarked on the ‘dried flower’ arrangement we still have, I invite them to take a closer look. Because, it’s actually made of wood!

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. See more at


Posted by: travelrat | October 13, 2016

Fovant Badges Revisited.


If you can remember that far back, some years ago, I visited the Regimental Badges hill carvings at Fovant, Wiltshire. These were carved exactly 100 years ago, by soldiers in nearby camps, waiting to be sent to the trenches of France. To commemorate their centenary, another carving, a poppy, was recently added, and I wanted a photograph of this.


My first visit, all that time ago, didn’t produce very satisfactory results, and I thought one day. I’d return, make a series of pictures, and make a David Hockney-type ‘joiner’. That never happened, but I’ve gained some new technology since.

The GoPro, as some people will be aware, has a rather wide-angle lens, and I can take panoramic pictures with my tablet.

So, the pictures are an improvement on those I took earlier, but they’re still not exactly what I want. I visited in the morning, and was shooting into the sun. I think the badges would show up better with the afternoon light on them.

And, I must apologise to my Aussie friends; I did try to get an image of the AIF badge, but, try as I might, I could not find the right angle!


Posted by: travelrat | October 11, 2016



Ketchikan: 12th May 2016.

 We didn’t book a tour at Ketchikan. We’d heard a few negative things about it, including ‘Take your waterproofs! It’s always raining’.  So, it’s best to wait until the last minute, so you can better plan your activities according to the weather.

 Now, if you remember, ‘they’ said the same thing about Bergen when we visited three years back. In each case, we got lucky. It was a beautiful day; not only did the rain hold off for us, but the sun came out.

The city was founded in 1885, when a salmon cannery was opened here. It used to be known as the ‘Salmon Capital of Alaska’, but the cannery is now closed, and the boast is simply the First City, for it was, indeed, the first settlement in the state to achieve city status.

The tour operators were on the dockside waiting for us, anyway. From the many on offer, we picked the ‘wildlife and totem pole’ safari …although we were warned that the wildlife wouldn’t appear to order. It was, for instance, a bit early for bears … although there was an off-chance that there might be the odd bear that hadn’t read the book. No bears this trip, though, but the lady in the coffee shop said she’d seen ‘evidence’ of their recent passing on her way to work that morning. I guess they don’t only do it in the woods! We did see plenty of eagles, and, a fair distance away, a group of sea lions. And, one passenger claimed to have seen a whale.

The totem poles, however, weren’t going anywhere, There’s a whole collection of them in several parks, and we spent a fascinating half hour looking around one of them. I do have to do more research into what they’re about … especially as we’re going to see more in Vancouver.

We got off the bus at Creek Street, the oldest part of town. Once, it was a notorious red light district, catering for first the cannery workers, then the loggers. But now, the clientele is long gone, and the street of wooden houses is mainly a collection of gift shops and souvenir shops, for Ketchikan is now noted for arts and crafts. The houses have been authentically preserved,  and one of them, ’Dolly’s House’, recreates the days of its original purpose. However, the $10 entry fee (included in the tour fee!) does not cover the ‘services’ of its staff!


Posted by: travelrat | October 9, 2016

Travel Theme: Enlightened


Occasionally, on my travels, I meet up with someone who’s journeying to ‘seek enlightenment’. To me, that suggests trekking to a cave halfway up a Himalayan mountain, and spending a few months sitting at the feet of a 150-year–old sage, who will impart all that life and the Universe is about. Or, maybe not?

I don’t really like the word, anyway; I used to work for a guy who’d irritatingly prefix every question with the words ‘Enlighten me!’ … and, since he wasn’t really the sharpest tool in the box, he asked a lot of questions.

I don’t really think it was the right word to use, anyway. It’s not just about finding out something you didn’t know an hour ago; it’s more like discovering something that alters your conception of things. So, using that definition, all travel will give you enlightenment. For instance, you will find:

Sweden is not populated by nymphomaniacs

Australians aren’t all beer-swilling misogynists

Russians aren’t universally paranoid and suspicious, and much more.


Let me finish with a tale of how someone found enlightenment:


A colleague and I were doing some military-connected survey work on a remote Hebridean island. Settling down to our first evening meal, we were approached by the island’s policeman, who peremptorily demanded to know who we were, what we were doing, who said we could do it and why wasn’t he told about it?

We were rather annoyed by his manner. We’d called at the ‘poliss hoose’ that morning, to ‘make our number’, found nobody in, and left a note, intending to return the following day. Maybe the policeman hadn’t seen it?

Our landlord said: ‘Don’t worry about him, lads! He’s new here, and hasn’t yet got the Way of the Island.’

The Way of the Island! I liked that expression. For me, it summed up all that was laid back and relaxed about the place.

We returned a year later, and stayed once more at the hotel by the long, lonely beach, and enquired for Angus, who we’d met on the previous visit, and lived at the croft out on the headland, nearly three miles away.

Angus had been a bad lad, said the landlord. He’d lost his driving licence after running foul of the Law on the mainland a few months before. That was bad news. There was no public transport at all on the island, and you either drove or you walked.

But, he’ll be here later, we were told and, sure enough, shortly afterwards, he arrived at the pub riding his motor-bike. It was quite legal, the landlord explained, … so long as he rode along the beach, below the high-water mark, and stayed off the road.

Our friend the policeman was in the bar. ‘I hope I didnae see you riding yon bike across the road, just now, Angus!’  he said.

‘Aye, I hope ye didnae see me, too!’ said Angus

The ‘poliss’ chuckled, and turned back to his beer. He’d found the Way of the Island! And, hopefully, found Enlightenment.


This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at



Posted by: travelrat | October 6, 2016

The Siege of Wardour


Old Wardour Castle: 15th July 2016

After I’d posted about our visit to Old Wardour Castle the other week, I was asked if I’d write a short article about it. I was a bit reluctant at first, for all I had in the way of pictures to illustrate it were shots of the castle taken from various angles, on a not very bright day.

Then I remembered, back in the 90s, I’d attended re-enactments by the Old Wardour Garrison of the two sieges in the Civil War … they used to deal with both sieges on alternate years. But, that was back in the day, and all the pictures, good as they were, were on slide.

I have a slide scanner, but it’s a laborious process, and doesn’t produce the best results.

Or, so I thought … the few I chose did turn out fairly satisfactorily. And, here they are.

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Posted by: travelrat | October 4, 2016



Strathalbyn: 7th December 2015

 We didn’t go to the Barossa Valley this time, but there are many other wine regions in South Australia. There are many to the south of Adelaide, but, before we checked them out, we called at Jack’s Bakery, in Strathalbyn, for lunch.

It seems a bit repetitive to say once more ‘I had a pie’  … but there are pies and pies, and some of the best come from small bakeries such as this. I had the peppered beef pie, which was like no other pie I’ve ever tasted, and immediately went on to my list of favourites.

As the name suggests, Strathalbyn was founded by Scottish settlers, and the Scottish Presbyterian Church is a dominating feature in the town. Most of the shops seem to be antique shops, most of them virtual treasure caves of bygones. You would think, with these, and with the charming, old-world atmosphere of the town that it would be thronging with visitors. But, not so! We had no problem finding somewhere to park, and there were so few people about that I was able to stand in the middle of the road and photograph, without inconveniencing anyone, or getting run over.


We visited two wineries on the way home … and, of course, tasted their wares. The first was the Angas Plains winery in the Langhorne Creek wine area. As at Coonawarra earlier in our trip, the vineyards are on flat land, not slopes, and the wines they produce are quite acceptable. The winery and cellar door are in a rather anonymous shed that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a trading estate or business park.

In contrast, our next winery was a delight in every sense. At the Longview winery near Macclesfield, we were back in the hills, and there’s a ‘long view’ of the rolling vineyards on every quarter. The building itself, which was formerly a dairy farm, is very pleasant to look at, too … in fact, it’s a favoured location for weddings and the like.

I’ve said before, though, that the setting of the vineyard and the winery aren’t really that important, and it’s the quality of the wine they produce that is the main factor. That probably holds good if you buy your wine in a shop … but it certainly adds something to a personal visit.

Posted by: travelrat | October 2, 2016

Travel Theme: Sound


Whenever I travel anywhere, there’s usually a little audio recorder among my stuff. It doesn’t see a lot of use, because my video camera can capture a lot of the sounds I come across. Video footage has much more impact if you have a background of buskers, the calls of market traders, the song of the Call to Prayer from a mosque … the list is infinite.

But, there are a few occasions when the sound can stand on its own. I’m old enough to remember when we discussed what was on the radio last night, rather than television. And, I remember once doing some work with the television on in the next room. I got a good idea of what was going on from the sound alone, and we spent the next couple of days discussing whether that was good television or bad.

I also recall almost falling in love with a voice on the radio … only to see a photograph, and be disillusioned because she was old enough to be my mother, and had, to be kind, ‘a good face for radio’.

Earlier on, I made a few attempts at podcasting … you’ll find them if you scroll back far enough … but I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the results. You can’t just embed a sound file into your blog, like you can a video; you need to find a host, and put in a link to your waffling.

But, maybe things have changed in the meantime? Maybe I’ll do a little more research into it?

I sometimes compare audio with photography. Sometimes, colour is not necessary; the picture has much more impact in monochrome, and the emphasis is on the shape, the texture or just the message. Likewise, a sound can stand on its own, without the need of visual cues to interpret it.

I’d like to be able to incorporate some sound into this post; instead, I’ll just put up a couple of pictures of people making sounds!

Busker, Rundle Mall

This week’s contribution to the ‘Travel Theme’ See (and maybe hear) more at

Posted by: travelrat | September 29, 2016

The King’s Gate Dig.


They say ‘History is all around us’. If you live around here, it’s under us as well. We sometimes joke that you can’t put a new flower bed in your garden without having a geophysical survey done first. The oldest known settlement in Britain of any kind was not far from here, and the dig around King’s Gate is unearthing ‘finds’ from the Neolithic right up to Roman times.

They’ve already found the grave of the famous ‘Amesbury Archer’, as well as the foundations of a Roman villa and a Roman cemetery. They held an ‘open day’ at the latest phase of their work last week, Of course, there’s a lot of painstaking lab work to be done before their finds can be properly analysed, but there’s enough to see to make a rough guess at what went on here.

They found post-holes from what used to be the framework of an Iron Age house. The posts were believed to have been much thicker than the hazel sticks used in the Neolithic houses at Stonehenge … maybe we’re looking at the forerunner of the half-timbered house here?

More post holes suggested the existence of ‘four-posters’. You may remember that there were some of these at Durrington, but the archaeologists said they didn’t know what they were for. However, the man here said he had a theory that the post may have been used to raise a grain store off the ground … like the later ‘staddle stones’, still found in many a barn around here.

Many of the ‘finds’ from this dig probably would, if you found them digging in your garden, and didn’t have any archaeological training, you’d probably toss aside. But they found one thing instantly recognisable. A pit containing the bones of several cattle. But, I’m wondering why they were buried here (presumably, they ate the meat and used the hides?) Did they maybe attach some religious significance to the practice?

We’ll probably never know for sure … but it’s fun to guess.

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