4 North to South

Brigflatts

Ideally located just off the A683 that runs between Sedbergh and Kirkby Londale, I fell in love with the place and in particular The Swan Inn just down the road towards Kirkby.

Landlord Richard Lappin and his wife Lynn made me welcome and I probably spent as much time there as I did in the cottage!

It was an easy drive down to Broughton to work on the Star and things were ticking over nicely. I even tried a  spell on the Farmers Guardian next door to the Star but my knowledge of livestock and farming in general is limited and while the sub-editing and headline writing was the same as anywhere else I quickly tired of the content.

Word had started to spread around the Star office of work on the nationals in Glasgow and I went up to give it a try. I loved it and before long had quit Broughton and went full-time in Scotland working on the Daily Mirror sports desk,news subs desk, the Daily Record as well as the Star and the Daily Express.

I was also still doing football matches for The People on Saturdays. I had joined them in the mid 80s switching from the Daily Star and I covered Premier League, Championship and the odd League One and Two match right through until 2012.

Working in Glasgow with my old mate Bill Hudson was great. Bill lived in Portobello, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, a good hour or so along the M8 from Glasgow city centre.

So with me still based in the Dales some nights we sat in the car and tossed a coin - Portobello or Cowgill? If Cowgill won it took us close on two hours to bomb down the M74 and the M6 but we still managed an hour or so on the drum kit and guitars before retiring to bed.

Well there was no rush the following day. We didn't have to set off back to Glasgow till 2pm, plenty of time for a good full breakfast and a stroll in the gardens and around the pond that filled the seven acres around Keepers Cottage, a delightful country mansion I had switched to from Brigflatts in July 2004.

Two more jobs came up when I moved back down to Middleton. One was in Grand Cayman on the Net News in George Town the other was on a local paper in Dunfermline.

A no brainer eh? The Dunfermline job was paying £24,000 a year though and it would have enabled me to still do the odd shift on the nationals in Glasgow in the evening.

I had accepted the job in Cayman though and so it was off to the West Indies!

I got the job on the Net News because of a hurricane that had devastated Cayman in September 2004 - Hurricane Ivan.

The Cayman Net News was the newspaper that broke and told the real story of how the island had been affected by that hurricane. The island government were not too happy about that, but the rest of the world needed to know and particularly people with friends and relatives there.

The job at the Net News was offered and accepted over the phone, so other than thinking I was off to spend my life and career in a Caribbean idyll, I had little idea of what was in store for me.

When the plane from Atlanta turned across the sea to approach the runway at Owen Roberts International airport in George Town, I did.

 

Seven Mile Beach George Town Grand Cayman

 Any palm tree left standing was at a 45 degree angle to the ground and I had visions of spending the rest of my nights in a hammock slung between two of those remaining palm trees on a beach somewhere on the island. That was never going to happen however for, as I later discovered, sleeping on the beach was banned!

While there was much devastation, George Town, the main and really only sizeable town on Grand Cayman, was up and running again and we had electricity, running water and Yes a bed for the night.

On to the job and I went straight into the office on arrival after being greeted by a mini Calypso band at the airport entrance while strolling across the tarmac to begin my new life.

Nice touch, but anyone who knows anything about Grand Cayman knows the place is all about just two things, tourism and MONEY!

It's the fifth biggest financial centre in the world, even though it is just 20 miles long by six miles wide.

I wasn't here for a holiday though....well not entirely!

After a rapid introduction to the office and life in general on Cayman I set to work doing the sports pages and covering anything and everything else that cropped up.

One evening during my few leisure hours, I got an early tip about an American tourist who had an arm chopped off by a wakeboarder as he snorkelled just off George Town harbour.

I managed to get myself into the Intensive Care Unit at the local hospital the following morning and got a great personal story direct from his fiancee.

Unfortunately, because of the island's policy on protecting the tourist trade, the original version was very much watered down when it appeared in the Cayman Net News a day or so later. Instead of shock, horror, blood and gore it read: "On a sunny afternoon just off George Town harbour an unfortunate accident occurred"........you can guess the rest.

It all went a bit quiet on my return to the UK after that "experience of a lifetime" in the West Indies. Spells of freelancing in Manchester, Barrow and of course Glasgow were broken by trips to the Republic of Ireland taking in Dublin, Cork and Galway was followed by three days in Rome in 2006 until the opportunity for another great adventure presented itself in 2012 - a month long trip to South Africa!


KLM 747

A bit of financial good fortune enabled me to book the plane tickets toute suite and I boarded a plane at Manchester International Airport at 6am on Tuesday November 20. Cape Town and after switching to a KLM 747 in Amsterdam headed south for Africa and Cape Town.

It was a fantastic journey over Africa. My first visit to that massive Continent and  seeing it from 30,000ft was different. Primarily desert below me but brilliant all the same.....I swear I spotted a camel trail too!

So when the lights of Cape Town flashed by the window as we landed at about 9.15pm I was in a state of real euphoria.

 

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Cape Town

A fella from British Columbia who flew tourists about in his small private plane for a living had been sat alongside me throughout the 13-hour 6,326 mile flight.

He had booked in at a cheap backpackers hostel in the city and a seat in a mini bus to take him there. Would there be room for me? There was but on arrival at the hostel things took a downturn. It was deserted apart from one inmate munching silently on a sandwich.

"What's the crack?" I asked my travelling companion. "Oh, I didn't tell the owner I would be arriving till midnight so you'll just have to wait to see him."

Bugger that for a game of soldiers. It was only 1030 and as always when arriving in a new place I just wanted to dump my backpack in a room and get out for a beer and a look-see.

I left my mate to it and opened the security gate onto the street. Glass littered the pavements, there were several cars parked along either side of the road leading down to a larger avenue. I went down to the junction and looked around. There was a brightly lit hotel just to my left. That would do.

So, a night in the Cape Royale Hotel was followed by a 17-hour coach journey to Johannesburg. It was 5am and apart from the giant tower, similar to the Post Office Tower in London, that dominated the skyline I was transfixed by the hordes of people walking along the hard shoulder. They were off to work.

There were similar numbers on the Metro train I eventually decided on to get me out to Springs where my friend Robbie Addinall and his family lived.

I was simply trying to make the 50k journey east out of Jo'burg as quickly and cheaply as I could.

That trip on the Metro was an eye-opener!

To say people were shocked at what I had done would be a massive understatement.

I admit I did feel like a spot on a domino surrounded by all those black faces on that train but I had a whale of a time and I think they were more frightened of me by the end of it!

Indeed Robbie  who I had met during my time on Grand Cayman, said the only reason I had made it was because the other people on that train thought I was the mad, dangerous one!

I just added it to my already long list of adventures and stored it in my memory bank for future reference.

But travelling on the cross-country trains in South Africa is slow, restrictive and if you want do it safely and in style it can be expensive.

Luxury class on the long distance Blue Train will set you back a few thousand rand....but it is a bit like going on the Orient Express.

The Purple Train with your own sleeping accommodation and good food is what most people go for at £125 for the near 900-mile, two-day trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Bog standard cattle truck class is just £37 - but you would be wise to consult a funeral director before embarking.

Coach travel in comparison for the same journey is around £26 and can in fact be quicker - 17 hours from Cape Town to Jo'burg on the one I tried.

 

Johannesburg

The scenery is awe-inspiring but some of the locals are not so attractive. I was packed like a sardine onto that Metro train on Platform 5 at Jo'burg station later. Then a minor panic ensued after a 15-minute wait. Everyone rushed to the doors - and I mean rushed.

Was it a bomb alert? A herd of marauding elephants perhaps. No, apparently they had decided to switch the Springs train which I had boarded to another platform at the last minute and it was everybody off!

Up the stairs, along the main concourse and back down the other side to board another train which eventually departed packed to the gills - and just to make matters worse with a religious nut in my carriage screaming his head off for the entire journey. They were all going to work, but for me this was supposed to be a pleasure trip! Welcome to South Africa!

It didn't smell too bad considering the numbers packed shoulder to shoulder on that train but halfway into that 50 kilometre trip even I began to feel claustrophobia setting in and I braved the considerable jump onto the platform and disembarked at Gremiston, home of the former Leeds United winger Albert Johanneson.

It all got considerably better after that and after a calming fag or two by the market a kindly security lady directed me to the camper vans or mini buses that doubled as taxis and I was transported for a further 12 rand the few miles to meet my friend in Benoni, the next town along from Springs.

The Metro, by the way, had cost just 8 rand for that 50k ride to Springs, about 50p. So really it was a bit like travelling on British Rail but at about 5 per cent of the price!

Value for money? Well if you have a sense of adventure, Yes. But if you value your life take the car or better still a plane, which is what most South Africans who can afford to do!

After a day or two relaxing after that mammoth three-day journey from the UK I was taken by road to Loksop Dam about 150 miles to the north east of Johannesburg. My driver was Gert Parsons, a former Mayor of Springs who just happens to be my mate Robbie's stepdad.

We journeyed through the coal mining area of Witbank and on to a beautiful country retreat at Karlspoor where Gert and the family had once owned a large house in the hills. It is all still there but Gert sold the house some time ago and I guess he was using this trip to look at other plots as he dearly loves the place and I think he had ideas about moving back eventually.

Anyway, my quest for wildlife was sated a little but not a lot as we saw impala and gnu-type animals but no giraffes or rhino - and definitely no lions! They were all in hiding as were the hippos, crocs and alligators - and you have to go a bit further north to see lions in the wild anyway! It was high noon after all so maybe they were sensible, staying out of Bott-vision in the shade.

Loksop Dam itself was very impressive too as it rivalled anything I had seen in the world - yes, even in Yosemite National Park in North America and the English Lake District.

 Robbie's brother Jacques also took me to his unit and offices close to the Kyalami moto racing track in Jo'burg. Jacques and his partners ran a firm called Betta Batteries that mad big industrial batteries. They also did LED lighting. The company already had bases in Jo'burg, Amsterdam and Shanghai and Jacques opened another arm in Brisbane.

That all sadly had to be liquidated after his partners took him for 2m Euros. Not deterred Jacques and Robbie are now about to open a restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam where they now both live. Good luck with the Braai Pit boys!

After three weeks with Robbie and his family in and around Jo'burg we were back off south again down the N1 and a whirlwind 15-hour trip to the beautiful Garden Route area on South Africa's east coast.

We set off on our mammoth 8-900 mile trek at 3am and arrived in Knysna overlooking the Indian Ocean at 5pm the same day!

Not a bad effort Robbie considering you had a boisterous two-year-old, his daughter Helena, as well as me in the car!

But Robbie, like his wife Chantelle, stayed remarkably calm on that long cross-country journey.

Knysna is a beautiful coastal town and the Heads are well worth a visit. The East Head restaurant is a great spot to eat. The views out to the ocean between the two great rocks and back towards the harbour and town in the other direction are wonderful. The beach below is also accessible - but watch out for those extremely strong and unpredictable currents if you venture into the sea!

I made my way back to Cape Town from Knysna eventually by coach but in between stayed at Robbie's cousin's place on the exclusive Fancourt golf resort in George. Fancourt was ranked the world's ninth best golf resort and I hadn't a clue we were staying there till we arrived. All Robbie said was that we were staying with his cousin down the road in George and golf was mentioned.

It turned out that Robbie's cousin's husband Spencer Cooper was Fancourt's head greenkeeper and he took me on a tour of the place on arrival. He pointed out where President Obama and Tony Blair had stayed when they came for conferences at the complex and we drove through a housing estate of neat, exclusive properties where former South African cricketer Hanse Kronje's widow still lives.

Hanse crashed his plane into the nearby Outeniqua mountain range, which is often covered in thick mist caused by the sea air mixing with near desert like temperatures on the other side of the range around Oudtshoorn.

The beautiful copper coloured mountains are a joy to behold and it was truly an experience of a lifetime driving through the mountain roads surrounded by those magnificent bronze rocks

I thought the Du Toitskloof range and the Huguenot tunnel just north of Cape Town on the N1 was spectacular. I had travelled through that region on my second day in SA - but this was something else!

Knysna, George and the Indian Ocean (above) were magical. I don't think I have seen waves crashing so fiercely and spectacularly onto a beach as I did when we drove down the hill between George and Knysna.

I had enjoyed my first few hours in South Africa at the Cape Royale Hotel so it seemed appropriate to spend the last day of my month-long visit to South Africa touring Cape Town.

My guide was a Scouser, Keith O'Brien, who had gone to Cape Town in 2010 for the World Cup and never returned!

It was a great day that started with breakfast at the Royale and then Keith walked into the foyer with his two daughters. He took me off to the harbour area and when I requested a look at Robben Island Keith replied: "What do you want to look at a place where a bloke was banged up for 27 years for?"

I later discovered that Keith's lovely wife was a Cape coloured lady from Cape Town so I was glad I had not pushed my request for that look at Robben Island. Anyway, once you have seen one prison you have seen em all!

Back into the car and a tour round the coastal area on the way back to Keith's house took us through Llandudno. No, we had not veered 7,000 miles off course and found ourselves in North Wales. Llandudno was just one of many British place names given to towns in SA along with lots of Dutch and German places too.

Keith was a property dealer with a company back in Liverpool and he conducted the business from his study in the rented house in that suburb of Cape Town still using an 0151 phone number via Skype!

So there I was sitting in the shade in his back garden keeping an eye on the two girls in the pool with one ear cocked to what Keith was saying in the study. It went along the lines of: "Well, if they don't like the one in Bootle send em up to the one in Huyton!" Hilarious!

It was with a certain degree of sadness that I boarded my midnight flight out of Cape Town to Amsterdam - but boy oh boy did I have some happy memories and tales to tell about my epic trip to South Africa.

It was always going to be hard to follow that adventure with another one anywhere near as good so it was time for a spell of relative quiet domesticity back in the UK.

Things did seem to pale after my journey to and through South Africa. Even my beloved Yorkshire Dales did not seem anywhere near as appealing anymore.

Maybe I had done the big one and nothing would ever top it. I doubt it. I still have a whole lot more to see in the world. Athens to San Francisco going east or SF to Athens going west of course.

 

athens.jpg

Athens

I made it to Greece again and Athens for the first time on November 24 2016 on a flight from Manchester via Munich.

I had booked into the Royal Olympic hotel in the city centre. A spectacular panoramic view is available from the seventh floor restaurant. In front of you is the Temple of Zeus, the Acropolis is to the left and the St George's Hotel perched atop a huge cliff up and over to the right. Amazing and a fierce lightning storm that night made it look even more spectacular.

Three days sightseeing in Athens and what followed in Crete are all here for your delectation.

Ayios Nikolaos, dubbed the St Tropez of Greece, is superbly located. Just an hour from Heraklion airport and about half that to the south coast town of Irapatrea which boasts a slightly warmer climate as it faces out towards the Libyan Sea and North African coast.

Sitia at the eastern end of the island is an hour away but it is a very long haul over to Hania on the western tip of the island. A day or two really as it is at least 150km each way and in a car it will take you about three hours to drive there without breaking too many speed limits.

The mountains are that bit more rugged, darker and higher than on the rest of the island. The highest are 5000ft - around 1500ft higher than Great Britain's highest peak - Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands.

Hania is popular with people as it faces the west and the rest of the Mediterranean and its European countries such as Italy and Spain. There are many islands between Crete and Gibraltar and around Italy and Spain hence the area's popularity with cruise ship companies and their passengers.

After a couple of weeks in Ayios I was off up the mountain to Kavousi renting a luxurious two-bedroomed villa.

It was heaven. Even the 3km walk every morning down a rocky road was bearable. It took me into Kavousi the back way and then after a coffee and a bite to eat at Maria's cafe bar it was the bus to either Ayios Nikolaos or Sitea.

Shortly after Christmas my driving licence arrived from England in the post and I was mobile with my own little hire car for the next month. A smart little red job that did the business and got me around the island from Rethmynon to Sitea and many places in between over those next four weeks. Great stuff.

Just under a month after moving to Kavousi I met a fellow ex-pat in the village and before I knew it I was on my way to Elounda where I still am three months later.

After a four day trial period I took out a six-month let with Mary a Greek/Polish lady who came up with an acceptable long term rate. She also kept a motherly eye on me and whisked round the apartment with a broom or mop whenever she popped in to say hello. Excellent landlady/lodger set up eh?

Elounda is described by some as in its own little bubble. Its a town some 10km from Ayios and there is the added bonus on that journey of a spectacularly scenic mountain road that looks down over the sea from Ayios to Elounda.

The rich and famous holiday in Elounda and Ayios but there is also everything for the likes of me and others who live on much tighter budgets. For instance you can rent an apartment for as little as 200 euros a month if you intend to stay long term. That's cheap.

 

 

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre