The Most Beautiful City in the World?

I was filled with excitement to be heading back to Cape Town, man I love Cape Town. This time, fearing it may be our last time we had booked two extra nights giving us three in total. Which, as ever, just was not enough.

Our mini break did not start well and we watched the luggage conveyor belt at the airport spin round and round with no sign of the boys big bright red suitcase. Eventually we were told “there are no more bags to come off”, and the reality that one of our suitcases was missing hit home. We logged a missing bag report and would have to wait and see where it was but for the time being, the boys had nothing but the clothes they were standing in!

Determined not to let this ruin our time here, we left and met the ever lovely Julian, waiting outside to transfer us to our hotel. Having previously stayed in the tourist trap water front, and in the city centre, this time we opted for a beach side suburb of Cape Town called Camps Bay._MG_3356 Our hotel, Place on the Bay was lovely, and what it lacked in finishing touches in made up for in location, sat as it was just across the road from white sand beach, rolling Atlantic waves and the palm tree lined promenade of one of Cape Towns most beautiful districts.

Our time in Cape Town was amazing, we played on the beaches, paddled in the sea, shopped in local markets and went exploring in the rock pools. The highlight however was our day trip safari to Inverdoon Game Reserve. Reliably informed that the reserve was a two and a half hour drive away we set out to arrive at 10am, by leaving at 8 am, not as you will notice, on time! Traffic leaving cape Town was slow, and the whole of South Africa was, it seemed, covered in a thick blanket of fog. Despite having directions to the reserve, we did the usual thing and plugged our destination into the Sat Nav, and blindly followed it despite it taking a different route than that which was recommended. It wasn’t long before, in terms of time, we realised this was a mistake and we climbed higher and higher through steep mountains up into Bains Klooff Pass. Late we may have been, but speed was not an option as we travelled through stunning scenery of forest and cliffs with shear 400ft drops to the side of us.

Its hard to express just how incredible the landscape was, and unfortunately, already now very late for our safari I had no time to stop and photograph the area, but I was breath taken at its beauty. As a troop of baboon crossed the road ahead of us we reached the summit of the pass, and looked down the valley ahead of us, the twisted layers of rock, lush green trees and rivers cutting its way down hill as waterfalls either side of the valley crashed down to meet it.

Leaving the pass behind us we reached Cares, a medium sized town and the first in South Africa we had seen that felt like Africa, the shop signs were largely in Afrikaans and white man was all but absent. As we passed through, there seemed to be a protest of some sort going on, a large gathering of people and two or three police cars made us a little wary as we slowly drove through the crowds. We needn’t of worried it was all very peaceful, and we do not really know what the commotion was all about, but as we left town and came across another of South Africa’s shanty towns it was a stark reminder that behind the sheer beauty of the country and friendliness of it people there is still a troubled country. Thirty years after apartheid has ended the country is still divided by class and race and the ruling, majority black ANC party have some way to go before this country is at peace with itself and there is anything approaching equality in this beautiful land.

Leaving Cares was my opportunity to make up some time, as the most wonderful, strait road opened up for miles ahead on the flat, wide, river valley floor. High mountains boarded us and my foot hit the floor with the speed gauge hitting 150kph it was exhilarating to scream through the valley on the empty road in my little Hyundai! If we arrived at Safari past 10.30am there was a chance they would leave without us, it was now looking to be impossible to make up the time and as the tarmac road ended, and a gravel track lay out ahead of us our only hope was that the group was small and kind and that they would be gracious enough to have held off and waited for us.

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Long Strait Roads, paved in gravel made for exciting driving!

With clouds of dust behind me, and stones flying about I took the little car to its limits across the gravel, only slowing down when we came across the most wonderful road sign, “Caution, SLOW, Tortoise in road!!! Turning into the safari reserve we saw our first wild African animals, Springbok, the national animal of South Africa, grazing peacefully in fields adjacent to the gravel road. We were welcomed at the reserve and quickly hopped onto a safari 4×4 which shot across the African bush, shaking and bouncing us to catch up with the main tour group had already departed.

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Springbok are very common.

A wonderful three hours was then spent out on the reserve catching a privileged look of Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Buffalo, Zebra and the delightful tortoise crossing the road, before the highlight in the Cheetah reserve.  A game reserve is not 100% wild, it is a managed environment, many of the animals have been rescued from hardship or exploitation, and the animals are fed during times of drought, but they are free to roam, to hunt and live an all but wild existence on the 15000 hectare estate. The flat valley floor and grassy plains stretched for mile upon mile bordered by a circle of mountains on the far horizon, it was a true privilege to be there and a day we will all remember, a big thanks to Gran Mitch for the gift that allowed us to do it.

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Relaxing by the pool. If the boys look cold, its because they were, the water was icy and Bev and I were going no where near it!

All too soon our time was done and we headed back to Cape Town. Surrounded by the 2000+m mountains of the Matroosberg Range, and following the wide flat Breede River valley through vineyards and mountains past lakes and streams the drive back was as stunning as the drive there, only this time I stopped to take some photos. This area is simply stunning and left me dreaming of returning one day for a more extensive exploration.  Returning to Cape Town we felt strangely at home in this foreign land, like we were somehow returning home from a day out, rather than returning to a hotel following a day on safari.

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Matroosberg mountains

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Vineyards of the Breede River Valley

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View from the car as we wound along the Breede Valley. (No I didnt take the photo whilst driving!)

 

Our last days in Cape Town went too quickly, more beach, more rockpools, more sun and more good food. Before long we were back in the now very familiar Seamans Mission, passing our luggage over to the handling crew, and waiting to once more board the RMS St Helena. We had been a little apprehensive about our new final year in St Helena. Many good friends had left the Island whilst we had been away, and I was due to start a new job. Just before leaving St Helena some 8 weeks ago I had interviewed for and been offered a post with the Airport Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Program as a Team Leader, supervising staff in the field, managing various outsourced contracts and assisting with the project management of the Islands largest ever conservation project. What would this last year hold for us, many changes in store, two parents working full time, Charlie starting in year 1 (proper school) and friends leaving the Island. Boarding the RMS is always special, but this time held even greater significance for us, as, just like two years ago, we stepped into something of the unknown.

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One of my favourite photos of all time. Taken with a self timer on a stunning beach in Clifton. I sometimes have to pinch myself at how lucky we are, and how lucky I am. Moments of peace and beauty allow one to remember the good things in life, I will never forget this moment.

As always the RMS has a calming influence and before long we had met new friends heading to St Helena for the first time, and old friends heading back following periods of leave or medical. The nervous and excited questions of our new friends helped to re-assure us, we were the old hands, and although changes were afoot, no doubt St Helena will be the same place, and as Cape Town disappeared into the sea mist a feeling of contentment came over me. St Helena we are coming home.

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Six weeks, and hundreds of Miles

We touched down in Brize Norton, near Oxford, and, following some confusion at the public entrance gate, we met up with Bev’s Mum and Dad who were there to welcome us and take us to Bradley Stoke, Bevs family home just outside of Bristol. Whilst it was lovely to see family, the suburbia of Bristol filled me with horror. Traffic is almost without exception terrible. The M5 is a car park and it seems that those roadworks that were present 12 months ago are still not finished, and yet new ones have sprung up everywhere, clearly UK highways have money to burn as they seem to have erected cones and 50 mph speed limits on every section of every motor way we travelled on. We spent two days shopping and spending money like it was going out of fashion. Now I quite enjoy spending money, but I don’t enjoy shopping, and find myself scowling at hundreds of people, strangers, whom I have a preconditioned dislike for in the jungle of Cribs Causeway retail park.

My mind turns to our final return to the UK and I don’t like it, I don’t like the row upon row of red brick housing, the people in the street whom ignore you as you pass them, or the weather, the world renowned British weather. As I hear tales of the continued Indian summer back on the Island, I check the weather forecast and hear the bemoaning’s on social media of people questioning where the British summer has gone.

After a few days with Bev’s parent we travel to North Wales to see my folks. This is something I was dreading, not of course seeing my parents, whom I of course miss greatly. But I dread the drive ahead, having not driven more than 20 minutes on the Island I now have to tackle 4 hours of British motorways. Quite how more people don’t die on our roads is beyond me, the tail gating and under cutting is terrible. Maybe I have become soft, maybe it has got worse, but I genuinely felt nervous for much of the journey, as BMW after Audi took a fancy to my rear end and felt the need to drive within a few feet of me. Roadworks, roadworks, and roadworks, full of speed restrictions and cones and yet noticeably devoid of anyone actually working. Perhaps we should just re-name them roads, as there never seems to be any works taking place.

Ok, so as you can probably tell my first week or so in the UK did not fill me full of joy for our eventual return in twelve months, but it did get better. We spent a lovely week in the Llyn Peninsular, a week in Yorkshire and the East Yorkshire coast, ate in nice restaurants, and had lovely days out. The weather improved, considerably, and the British summer reared its head, basking us in 32 degrees of lovely sunshine. We caught up with some wonderful friends, friends whom reminded us that there are people, aside from family, whom we miss greatly and who will always, no matter where in the world we live, or how long the intervals we see each other, be our best of friends. And of course we felt the love of our families, it is so clear just how much we are missed and how much the boys being away leaves a gap in our parents’ lives. It was wonderful to see how well they played with their cousins, and how quickly and easily the chaos ensued.

A lovely week spent on the Llyn Peninsular in North wales, lots of time on the beach, crazy golf, swimming, football and even sunshine.

 

Chester Zoo, always a must for us when we are in the UK, and one of the best zoo’s in the country if not Europe.

 For my birthday we spent the day in the seaside town of Llandudno, exploring the oldest copper mines in Europe, fascinating and fun.

Off to Yorkshire to visit my brother and his family, more sunshine and more fun.

North East Yorkshire with Bev’s sister and family. A wonderful part of the country that I had not visited before. Stunning views, lovely people, country parks and seaside villages. A real gem in the British Isles.

Air Trail, a high rise playground of ropes and Ariel challenges. Great fun, although a little tame for me!

Having travelled many miles, through dales and coast, hills and fields I found myself thinking “ I could live here, this is nice, and maybe coming home wouldn’t be so bad.” Within three weeks of being back in the UK St Helena starts to seem a million miles away, we discuss what jobs we might like to do, and Bev insists that we will move to the Isle of White. We settle in, Bev moans about the amount of dog poo on the streets, I become grumpy again, and get annoyed if the cash machine takes more than 30 seconds to dish out my money. Normal service is resumed.

I could list the days out and places we went, but filling the pages of my blog with eight weeks worth of, “we went here, we saw that, we did this” would not make good reading, (and the photos tell the story anyway) but suffice to say we all had a lovely trip home, it went quicker that I expected, and was more enjoyable than expected. There are some beautiful places in the UK, and if we can manage to move to one of them, maybe living back in the UK wont be so bad after all.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to Warner Brother’s Harry Potter studio tour. A chance to walk around the actual sets used in the films, see the costumes and models. We spent a fascinating five hours here and I could of stayed a lot longer. I’m not a particular fan of Harry Potter but to see how these films are made and walk in the footsteps of Dumbledore was an amazing experience. Wonderful fun for kids and grown ups.