Friday, 27 January 2017

Five on Friday - MK50

This is something of a record for me 4 blog posts in one week! 
Joining with Amy and  Five on Friday for something completely different to the previous holiday posts. Sadly Milton Keynes is not as attractive as Madeira or as warm and sunny.

Happy Birthday Milton Keynes!

On the 23rd January 1967 the formal designation of a new town was set out in Parliament.  So this week Milton Keynes, named after one of the existing villages within the designated area, celebrated it's 50th Birthday. There have been a number of events and celebrations this week including a birthday party and cake. It even reached the National news on Monday.
I came to MK for a job never intending to stay but here I am 26 years later and my mother joined me 5 years ago.

Milton Keynes is often the butt of many a joke, usually involving concrete cows and roundabouts. Yes there are concrete cows, a great arts project led by Liz Leyh in the 1970's and many, many roundabouts.
 (Pictures and information about the concrete cows and be found here.)
 For Five on Friday here are five things that I like and enjoy about my adopted home.

1. History

Surprisingly, amidst the many roads, new housing and modern industry there is a lot of history in the area. The Milton Keynes Development Corporation who oversaw the development of the new town, worked hard to preserve and incorporate historic site and buildings into the new town plan.
There are more than 1000 listed buildings in the MK area

 This poster from the celebration exhibition illustrates some of the Grade 1 buildings of "exceptional interest". It includes my local church St. Mary's

St Mary's Church

One of the original farmsteads in the village

The Dower House dating from the 1600's

The grid square where I live was one of the many small villages absorbed by the new town. The historic centre of all the villages have been preserved and conservation areas established to protect them. Planning for these areas is very strict.

2. Green Spaces

A great many parks, lakes, woodland and landscaping was all part of the original plan for MK. The Parks Trust established in 1992, are now responsible for up to 5000 acres of green space. Over 22 million tress have been planted in Milton Keynes and in the drought of 1976 residents were asked to "adopt" a tree to keep it watered and alive. 
There are many lakes which not only serve as nature reserves, they also provide a complex network managing water levels preventing flooding. Two of the larger lakes are also used for recreation with sailing, windsurfing and paddle sports available to residents. Views of my local lake can be found here in a previous post. 
These two green spaces are just a short distance from my home

Field Boundrey of the Conservation area

I pass this area everyday on the way round to visiting my mother and yesterday I noticed the snowdrops that carpet this area are just beginning to peep through.

The beginning of the Woodland area on the next development 

3. Roads and Communication Links

Milton Keynes is famous for its Grid roads and roundabouts. At the last count there were over 130 roundabouts but the number grows all the time. Love them or hate them traffic, flows well through the grid system and although there is some queuing at peak times of the day, it is nothing like the grid lock of many towns and cities. The grid system can be very confusing as the tree lined roads and many roundabouts all start to look alike and there have been times when I have got completely lost! 

Less well know are the miles of paths, redways and bridleways. The redways are pedestrian and cycle routes which are made of red tarmac, hence their name. It is possible to get about the whole of MK by foot or on bicycle without going on any of the main roads. The footbridge seen in the picture above is part of the redway system.

This path leads through the centre of our development to the local shopping centre on the other side of the grid square.

There are also bridleways for horse riders

This bridleway passes the back of my house and I often hear horses cantering by when I'm in the garden, which seems bizzare in a largely urban area. 

4. Art and Sculpture

The Development Corporation had an ambitious public art programme and this has continued since the Council took over several years ago. Many works of art have been created by residents and arts groups in partnership with artists, such as the Concrete Cows. Others have been specially commissioned from leading modern artists.

One of my favourites is The Whisper by Andre Wallace

It sits outside the Central Library and I like to imagine the secrets they are sharing. What are they plotting or are they just gossiping about the people walking past?

I came across this natural sculpture created from a fallen tree when out in my local area yesterday taking photographs.

The details of the hedgehog and leaves were a lovely surprise on a bleak, cold day.

There are many local centres, sports arenas, arts centres, museums and theatres with plenty going on for varied interests, young and old.
(Goodness, I am sounding like an advert for the area).

5. Friendships

In the 26 years I have lived in Milton Keynes I have made many good friends. Perhaps that is a feature of a "New Town" - many people come from lots of different places and are thrown together. Many did not grow up in the area and are a long way from their families so traditional support networks do not always exist. I know some people can find MK isolating and lonely but if you can have the to courage to join a community group I have always found people very friendly and welcoming. I met one of my good friends at the interview for my first job in MK, we hit it off immediately and have been close ever since. Other friendships have developed through work, art groups and the Embroiderers' Guild. 

There are things about MK I do not like such as the increase in littering that has occurred over the last few years; the increased density of housing on some of the newer developments and the abandonment of the grid road system in the new expansion areas. A big mistake that I think will come back to haunt the current planners. 

There are plans to continue celebrating MK50 with lots of events, festivals and activities throughout the year. Any excuse for a party sounds good to me.

Part of the programme of events

Life is never perfect but I enjoy living in my adopted home and wonder what the next 50 years will bring for Milton Keynes?  Do you enjoy the area you live in?

Thank you Amy for hosting Five on Friday. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

JST Adventure Part 3 - Assisted Climb and return

On Day 7 and on our third  and final day in Madeira it was time for assisted climbs. This is an opportunity for crew members who do not feel confident enough or who would be unable to ascend the mast in normal circumstances to achieve  their goal. The three wheelchair users who wanted to ascend (including myself) assembled at the main mast and the others assembled at the forward mast. The rest of the crew are on deck to assist. 

How does someone who is normally a wheelchair user ascend a mast?!

This is one of the many amazing things about JST, they have developed a method of hoisting someone complete with wheelchair up to the first platform. When I sailed on Tenacious many years back, I was unable to take part owing to a fall and bruising so this was one of my goals for this trip. Although I am not fond of heights it was something I really wanted to do to prove to myself I was still capable of a challenge.

Here I was all ready, sitting in a fabric Bosun's chair and strapped into my chair. I had to swap chairs just after this picture was taken because it was discovered my chair was too narrow for the apparatus used to lift the chair.

Looking a bit more serious as the lift begins. 
There are two sets of ropes for added security.

My Watch plus others were there to haul me up with the ropes.



and up

to the platform

where two members of the PC were waiting for me to be lowered onto the platform.
It was an incredible feeling being so high and able to experience being level with the yardarms.

This photograph makes it look far more scary than it felt returning to the main deck.
It is very humbling that all the crew involved in my ascent, worked together as a team and with good humour, to enable me to have this experience.
Thanks Guys, it was AMAZING.
 Many thanks to Avril and Mike for the photographs too.

After lunch Captain Chris briefed us on our return voyage and we set sail into open waters again.

Bringing the buoys in and lifting the DOTTI boat back onboard. 

Goodbye Funchel Pilot boat

Goodbye Madeira and hello choppy waters again.

There was a strong North Easterly wind blowing which meant we had to motor East before we could head South Westerly towards Gran Canaria the following day.

Happy Hour (cleaning time) followed our departure and Sam, another wheelchair user and I were given the task of cleaning all the stainless steel rails on the Bridge. The sea was very lumpy and we were both being tossed about so had to hang on the best way we could. This led to quite a bit of laughter and us both being covered from head to toe in Cif. 
We were glad when it ended and it was time to relax with a cuppa.

The following two days were spent at sea. The routines of the ship, wind across the sails and surrounded by ocean lend a calmness and tranquility that has always spoken to me and why I love sailing. I am not sure if it is pure escapism or being surrounded by the elements and working with nature but it has a positive effect on me both physically and mentally. 

We had seen very little wildlife during our voyage but on our last Watch, on the last day, we heard and saw a whale spout on the Port side of the stern. The spouts continued to the stern of the ship and finally on the Starboard side we saw the dorsal fin of a Minky whale. 
Excitement all round and it was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

Later that afternoon we arrived in Gran Canaria and it was time to stow the sails, sort and pack everything away. 
Once everything was shipshape we went ashore for a final meal with our Watch and a few other friends.

As you can probably tell by the number of glasses on the table a good time was had by all.

Although I had been very nervous about taking this trip I am so glad I dared to give it a go. New friends have been made, challenges achieved and as a result my confidence has improved. 
Jubilee Sailing Trust aim to change lives - I'm not sure if my life has been changed but it has certainly been enriched by the JST experience.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Jubilee Sailing Trust or would like to experience a voyage with them yourself details can be found here.

Photographs by Tony, Ken, Avril, Mike and Anne

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

JST Adventure Part 2 - Madeira

 Madeira is a very beautiful Island, which I had never visited before although it had been my parents favourite holiday destination. This was one of the reasons I was attracted to this voyage as I wanted to see for myself what it was about the island that appealed to them.

After a 02.00hrs start from the Ilhas Desertas we arrived in Funchal harbour at 05.30 and were given shore leave after breakfast. A group of five of us decided to stay together and share the activities we wanted to do. This included a visit to the Botanical Gardens, Monte Toboggan ride and a trip on the Cable Car. As we had two wheelchairs with us the best solution was an agreeable taxi driver with a large people carrier. 

First stop was the Botanical Gardens.

There was a lot of work going on in the garden with gardeners busy distributing topsoil and replanting some areas. The island suffered severe wildfires in August 2016 and evidence of this could be seen around the edges of the gardens.

This palm tree with its scorched trunk seemed to be recovering and growing new leaves.

There was much colour and lovely planting throughout the garden.

The flowers and leaves of this tree looked very much like a hydrangea.

Orange bougainvillea and lime green ferns along this wall were a perfect combination. 

The formal terrace

These bright red salvia were a great contrast against all the shades of green.

Unknown but extraordinary plants that were growing to 8 - 10 feet tall.

There were many Geckos darting along the path and among the bougainvillea.

We had a relaxing time in the Gardens, which may have involved drinks and an ice cream or two. On our way back to the entrance we found this exotic area.

with beds filled with Bird of Paradise flowers

amazing cacti in flower

This cactus was covered in an enormous web with, I was told, an enormous resident.
I did not get close enough to look!

Our next stop was the Monte Toboggan Ride

Originally they began using toboggans in the mid 1800's to transport goods down the steep 5km hill between Monte and Funchal. Today they are a tourist attraction and thousands of people every year slide at high speed down the narrow streets in traditional wicker toboggans called carros de cesto (basket-cars!). They are controlled by two carreiros traditionally dressed in white cotton clothes and a straw hat, using their rubber soled boots as brakes.

The photos above were taken by Tony out Watch leader.

As we were a group of five a slightly larger toboggan was produced and three of us fitted in that and the other two in the normal toboggan. This would not normally have been my usual choice of attraction because I do not like fair ground rides and I'm not particularly fond of speeding down hills in an open wicker basket. However, wedged between two new found friends it was a great experience and not to be missed. Apparently, the toboggans do not reach the speeds they used to on the old friction free, slippery cobbles since the roads have been tarmacked. I was rather unnerved to discover the roads are still used by traffic and there are carreiros at junctions stopping cars to avoid collisions. There was official photographic evidence of our ride but the expression of horror on my face made me decide it was one souvenir I could live without.

Third and final attraction, the Cable Car

The taxi driver picked us up at the end of the toboggan ride and took us back up to Monte. We returned to Funchal Old Town on the Cable Car. It was quite tranquil travelling smoothly through the air looking at the vista of Funchal rooftops and the wide ocean bay.

 After a late lunch in a back street bar recommended by a bus driver (we wanted somewhere the locals ate rather than a tourist restaurant) and much hilarity with the proprietor,

The helpful bar owner who went down the street to the local shop to get the ice creams we requested.

we returned to Lord Nelson for a rest before eating out again that evening.

Apologies for the length of this post and I hope this is not becoming a boring recital of my holiday snaps. Well I guess it is, but please feel free to leave at any point. 

 The following day a tour of the island was organised for all those who wanted to go. A large percentage of the crew climbed onto a smart executive coach and we were taken on a whistle stop tour of some of Madeira's highlights. The coach made its way West along the Southern coast past Camara de Lobos, a traditional fishing village, where Winston Churchill loved to paint during his many visits to the Island. Our first stop was at Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe and the second highest cliff in the world.

There is a glass viewing platform, which the intrepid ventured out onto but the view down below was not for those suffering from vertigo.

Spectacular views of the coastline.

The coach then took us to Ribeira Brava a small town on the South West coast. It had been very difficult to access this village until a two lane motorway was built several years ago. We had time to wander and admire the local market, quaint shops and pretty church.

Ribeira Brava is becoming popular with tourists as it has a small beach

Ceramic illustrations in the indoor market showed what was sold in each shop.

Local embroidery
Christmas displays were still up as Christmas is celebrated on the 6th January

We then headed North into the mountains and Encumeada where the temperature dropped by over 10 degrees. Our tour guide had promised us several seasons in one day and that was an accurate description. At the top of Encumeada the South and North coasts of the island are visible on a clear day.  

The roads throughout the island are spectacular

The cloud tumbled over the top  the mountain like a waterfall

It was very cloudy at the top of the mountain so no views for us.
We wound our way down through mountain passes to the village of Sao Vicente on the North coast where we had lunch. It was much cloudier and colder on this coast and looked rather forbidding.

The Atlantic waves pounded in on this coast

The cliffs, dark sea and cloud were very atmospheric

Following lunch we made our way West to an area famous for its viticulture. This is a much more sparsely populated place although there are some splendid Manor houses built on the wealth of wine production.

The last resort we visited on the North Coast was Porto Moniz famous for its natural swimming pools.

The weather had turned cold and grey and although the pools looked very inviting no one was braving the weather and distinctly chilly looking water.

It was time to head back to Funchal, back through the mountains where amazing waterfalls could be seen

The roads around the island have had much investment since Portugal joined the European Community. Seeing glimpses of the old coastal road made me very grateful for this!

We arrived back at Lord Nelson tired and amazed at the variety such a small Island could provided. It is an Island of contrasts - the large and growing metropolis of Funchal, small, unique fishing villages and mountain villages. The South and North coastlines of the island are dramatically different both in topography and climate. The Mountains and Sierra have their own unique features too. We only saw a very small part of this beautiful Island and I am sure there is a lot more to explore. The people are lovely too, helpful and charming. I do not think I have met more considerate motorists anywhere, but I guess when you drive on those steep twisting roads politeness and giving way to one another is essential for everything to work.

I can now understand why my parents loved this Island and I would very much like to return myself one day. 

To be continued (if you can bear another installment) with
Assisted climb and return home.

Photographs by Tony, Allan, Ken and Anne