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Friday, November 27, 2015


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If anyone mentions ‘pirates’ to me it immediately piques my interest. So when my friend Inkasuggested that I might like to visit the pirate island of Tabarca off the Coasta Blanca in Spain, I was more than interested.

We caught a boat from Torrevieja for the short, pleasant cruise to the island, just a few nautical miles off shore. The island was once known as Illa de Sant Paul (Saint Paul’s Island) because it is believed that St. Paul disembarked here. For many years up to the 18th century it was a refuge for Barbary pirates and part of the Republic of Genoa. Later it was fortified by Charles III of Spain. Around that time, some Genoese sailors were shipwrecked off the coast of Tunisia and rescued by islanders from Tabarca. They settled there and people of Genoese descent can still be found on the island. From 1770 the island was known as Nueva Tabarca (New Tabarca).

My two travel writer friends, Inka and Darlene and I wandered around the old town and explored the shoreline and ruins. The island was once fortified with walls, bulwarks, warehouses, a governor’s house and barracks.

The gateways are still there as are the Governor’s House (now a hotel) and the church of St Peter and St Paul built in 1770. Later the garrison was removed and by the end of the 19th century the island was populated by about 1,000 people, mainly fishermen. Tabarca is the smallest inhabited islet in Spain. Today the population is around 50, although during the tourist season there are up to 4000 people a day who arrive as visitors.

After seeing all the sights around the town, we stopped by a restaurant for lunch, attracted by the ‘pirate’ who welcomed us inside.
Inka meets the Pirate

We chose a table on the terrace of the Nou Collonet, overlooking the sea and enjoyed a delicious lunch from the menu of langostas y bogavantes, pescados and other traditional Spanish cuisine. The island has several good restaurants as well as hotels for overnight accommodations.

After lunch we hiked across the desolate grassy expanse to the garrison ruins and the old lighthouse at the tip of the island. Tabarca is a protected marine reserve for seabirds and various marine fauna. The sea around the rocky shoreline is crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling. It was declared a Marine Reserve in 1986, the first one in Spain. Boats to the island run from Alicante, Torrevieja and Santa Pola. Some of them have glass bottoms so you can view the reefs and sea life.
 Old Fortress

I didn’t see any pirates on Tabarca other than the one who welcomed us to the restaurant, but it was certainly an excellent way to spend the day with my friends. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TREDEGAR HOUSE: Home of one of Wales Most Illustrious Families


It was the mention of the famous pirate Capt. Henry Morgan that first sparked my interest when my cousin Nicola suggested we visit a country manor in Wales. Although Capt. Morgan, for whom the famous rum was named, was the son of one of the nine illustrious sons of the original owner of this 17th century Charles II era country house, it somehow made the visit more intriguing.

Tredegar House, near Newport Wales, was the home of the Morgan family for over 500 years and later the home of the Lords Tredegar, one of the most powerful and influential families in the area. The mansion is surrounded by a landscaped garden of 90 acres and is one of the most outstanding houses of the Restoration period in Britain.  The earliest part of the building dates back to the late 15th century but it’s been restored over the ages. It was originally built of stone and later rebuilt with red brick.

The name Tredegar came from Tredegar Fawr, the name of the mansion of the old Morgans who were descended from Cadifor the Great, the son of Collwyn who owned the land where the mansion stands. It was occupied by the Morgan family from about 1402. The earliest documented owner was Llewelyn ap Morgan. The Morgans were one of the most powerful and influential families in the area. In 1448 John Morgan was created a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and was rewarded for his support of King Henry VII. Around 1490 he commissioned the building of a new house at Tredegar, though a wing of the original stone manor house still exists. The newer palatial house was visited by Charles I and his retinue during the 1600’s.
We walked through the gardens and passed through the high ornate Edney Gates to get into the building. The gilded gates were built between 1714 and 1718 for John Morgan and are an example of early 18th century decorative wrought ironwork. Just past the gates is the Stable Block which housed the many horses owned by the family.
The Edney Gates

Once inside the palatial mansion, the docent showed us the way to proceed through the various rooms, all furnished in the style of the period with oil paintings on the walls. In one of the rooms there was a large oil painting of Godfrey Morgan who fought in the Charge of the Light Brigade. He is pictured with his famous steed, Sir Briggs. Morgan, age 22 and Captain in the 17th Lancers, and his horse survived the battle.  They lived at Tredgar house until the horse’s death at the age of 28. Sir Briggs was buried with full military honours in the Cedar Garden of Tredgar House. There were luxurious bedrooms with decorative furnishings, everything laid out as if the rooms were still occupied by the ladies and gentlemen of the family. In the dining room there was even food displayed on the tables to illustrate the sumptuous feasts that were served there.
Every room we visited had display of the history of this illustrious family, throughout the generations.

Godfrey Morgan and Sir Briggs

The Dining Room

The Morgans were a renown family. Besides the infamous Caribbean privateer, Henry (Sir Harri) Morgan who began as an admiral of the Royal Navy, there are many tales of ill-fated marriages, riotous parties, war heroism and even the dark arts. The docent hosts at the house related some of these tales to us as we walked through the various room.

We visited the servant's quarters and kitchens which were reminiscent of the popular TV series Downton Abbey. There some of the secrets of the servants were revealed including concealed drawers full of spices and a silver safe that was always protected by a guard.
 Buzzers for calling servants


Head Servant's quarters

Eventually the family's financial assets were depleted through their extravagant lifestyle and the eccentricities of the owners. The last Baron of Tredegar, John Morgan, died childless in 1962 at aged 54. His death was the end of the Morgans of Tredegar. In 1951 the house was stripped and the contest auctioned. It was turned over the National Trust and refurbished in 2012. 

Friday, November 13, 2015


Caerphilly Castle

Every time I visit my dad’s home in Caerphilly Wales, I spend at least a day ‘inspecting’ my castle. If you wonder why I’ve laid claim to this famous castle, built back in 1271 by the English chieftain Earl Gilbert de Clare, it’s because I grew up hearing stories from Dad who used to play inside it when he was a boy. From the first time I actually saw the castle back in the mid ‘70’s up until now, I feel I ‘own’ a piece of it and thus I have chosen to refer to it as my castle!

Earl Gilbert de Clare’s castle was besieged by Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, back in the late 1200s and Henry III stepped in to enforce a truce after which Earl Gilbert regained possession of the castle.

It was again attacked in 1316 during a revolt by another Welsh lord, Llewelyn Bren. During the 15th century it fell into decay and it wasn’t until 1929 that it was restored by the Marquises of Bute. It’s one of the best preserved castles in Wales and is now protected by the Department of Environment.

The castle has many stories to tell.  In one big room there is a tapestry hanging on the wall depicting three women who were noted inhabitants.  The first is Alice de Lusignon (1236-1290) the first wife of Gilbert de Clare. As he was away at war much of the time, the lonely queen found comfort in the arms of a local knight. When Gilbert found out he had the knight hanged and annulled his marriage to Alice. In despair she left off the castle walls. It is her ghost who is said to haunt the castle.

I published a story about this famous myths, the Green Lady, a tale that has intrigued me since I first began to visit Caerphilly castle. I’m always aware of her apparition each time I go, watch for her on the walls on a moonlit night, ‘feel’ her presence as I wander the narrow stone passageways and enter the big empty palace rooms.

 The second woman is Joan of Acre (1272-1307) daughter of Edward 1 who became Gilbert de Clares wife in 1290. After bearing him four children, Gilbert died so her father arranged a second marriage but against his wishes she married a commoner, a knight named Ralph de Monthermen who later the king grew to like and accepted the marriage.

Eleanor de Clare is the third woman pictured in the tapestry (1292-1337). She was the daughter of Gilbert and Joan. After Gilbert died the castle was bequeathed to his 3 sons but while they were away the castle was besieged by Llewelyn Bren and under Eleanor’s it was successful held out til help arrived. She also survived an unhappy marriage to a dangerous and disliked husband and an imprisonment in the Tower of London.

As you stroll around the long passages and up the winding stairways you’ll see different displays and art work telling the castle’s history. And out front, beside the moat there is an interesting display of siege equipment. 

Monday, November 09, 2015


On an overcast day late August in London, I joined a London's Walks touring group to spend the morning and afternoon walking in the Cotswolds.  We met our friendly host/guide Richard at Paddington Station at 9.30 then boarded the train for a pleasant journey to Oxford where we transferred onto a touring coach to drive through the quaint towns of the Cotswolds, some dating from the 1400 - 1700s.

The Cotswolds is an area in south central England roughly 25 miles (40km) across and 90 miles (145 km) long stretching from the south-west just south of Stratford-on-Ave, south to Bath. The name, "Cotswolds" is attributed to mean "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides" (wold meaning "hill"). However this is contested and usually the name is accepted to be derived from Codesuualt, or variations such as "Cod's-wold" which means "high open land"

There are remains of Bronze and Iran Age forts in the area and later the Romans built villas there. During the Middle Ages the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade and the area is still populated with sheep farms. Today many of the Cotswolds homes and estates are occupied by wealthy Londoners or retirees.

The home of Graham Greene, author

We drove through many of the lovely towns and at some we stopped to walk around. At Chipping Camden when we stopped for lunch it took me ages to find a dining place that wasn't full of people and by the time I did, I only had ten minutes left to down a bowl of soup and some yam friends. Then it was back to the coach until we were let off again at Lower Slaughter. From there we walked in the misty rain across the fields to Upper Slaughter.All along the way our friendly, informative guide, Richard, told us stories and interesting anecdotes.

The entire day, in spite of the rain, was pleasant though by the time I'd walked the six miles around and to villages, my feet were soaked and sore. It was worth the effort though and I'd recommend this walk to anyone who likes the countryside.