Throwback: The tall ships

I don’t know why I suddenly took a notion to go chasing the tall ships this year – I have been before, but not for 5 years, and only to sensible nearby places like Hartlepool and Greenock and Lerwick and, well, Kristiansand – but I was going to Norway most years at that point.

Kristiansand seems to have been the first time – it was the end of a trip that had taken me from Copenhagen to Helsingør (Elsinore) to Gothenburg to Oslo, which had been a good adventure, and I the tall ships were good fun too, with lots of stalls.

This was where I met my two friends – Sørlandet in the Sørlandet (the southern region of Norway), and Shtandart keeping everyone entertained with a battle.

Battle by sea
… and by land
Masts (Lord Nelson, presumably)

The last day I was there was the parade of sail – with a wonderful vantage point on an (almost) island hill where half the world seemed to be.

Parade of Sail
From the hill

A week later I was in Hartlepool, where I seem to have only taken picture of Alexander von Humboldt! (And a Norwegian coastguard ship, and Trincomalee…)

Alexander von Humboldt

The next year the tall ships were in Scotland twice, and I was off to Lerwick on a very busy overnight ferry – it was a good excuse to get to Shetland, where I’d never been.

Masts in Lerwick

While I was there I went up to Unst, and saw various northernmost things. The famous decorated bus stop had been done up for the Tall Ships as well – I was pleased to see Patrick O’Brian represented!

Seafaring bus stop

I didn’t get to see the parade of sail this time – it was delayed by bad weather, and I had to leave on Sunday night (the ferry didn’t seem to mind the weather so much). It did mean that I got maybe the best possible view of the ships still at the quayside.

Lerwick harbour

What I did on my holidays part 4 – Cape Trafalgar

Cape Trafalgar was not at all what I had expected, or what anything I’d read about it had led me to expect – I had imagined something wild and rocky and lonely, not the far end of the beach in a little seaside town. Possibly because the only cape I really know anything about is Cape Wrath!

Cape Trafalgar

I knew there was nothing in particular to see there – it’s not like a battlefield, and even on a battlefield there’s not much to see – but I was always going, as soon as I’d worked out that I could. And in the end there was more there than I expected.

The original plan had been that I would go the day after I came back from Gibraltar, and have my last day in Cadiz itself, but there were two problems with this – that I was tired of travelling (not insurmountable), and that I’d lost my tablet charger somewhere along the way, and more to the point the adapter attached to it, which I needed to plug in the camera battery charger.

So I couldn’t go anywhere until I had found a new adapter – which I did more easily than I expected, in a jenny-aa-things shop on an early morning expedition, but not early enough to be ready for the morning bus.

The little town is a place called Caños de Meca, about an hour and a half from Cadiz by bus – although it was a stopping everywhere kind of bus.

(I have to say, by this point I was feeling quite a lot of sympathy with Stephen Maturin’s complaint about the ‘barbarous jargon of the Andalou’, and it seemed to be worse down here. Dos was do, tres always sounded to me more like seis, Cadiz was pronounced something like Ca-ee, and a lot of it I never got my head around at all. I still liked the t-shirt of the girl in the bakery where I got my breakfast, which said ‘Habla bien, habla andaluz’.)

I walked out to the point along the beach, which was more appealing than the road, and came up eventually on the road through the dunes to the lighthouse.

The way to the lighthouse

(There was a road, honest. There was just a lot of sand as well.)

I liked these flowers, which were more exciting than anything that grows in sand dunes at home.

Sand flowers

On the road I came across this plaque, commemorating the bicentenary of the battle.

Bicentenary plaque

It’s not even all that obvious a point – just one of several on the coast between Tarifa and Cadiz. (Africa should be just behind that last point, but it was hiding again. I only saw it from the road coming down to Algeciras.)

Other points

It’s a place that’s been used for a long time, though – as well as the modern lighthouse, there were the remains of a much older watchtower behind it.

Old watchtower
Faro de Trafalgar

Round the back of the lighthouse there was an information board about the battle. (Board 1 was about the geology, I don’t know what 2 was!)

Information board
About the battle

And down below that there were finally rocks, and a little beach where I went swimming – even on a calm day there were some good Atlantic waves coming in, which is my favourite kind of sea – just stand and let them bounce you about. It probably would be a wild place in an autumn storm, to be fair.

Less than 24 hours later I was in Argyll, slightly dazed by the change (not that I haven’t gone swimming in the Atlantic there many times, but not this time).

Atlantic waves

Since Trafalgar is the name of the point, it was hard to tell which names were just geographical. This place had definitely named itself after the battle, though!

La Batalla
Trafalgar restaurant

What I did on my holidays part 3 – Cadiz

In Cadiz I was on the trail of my real rather than my fictional hero – as I posted while I was there, Cadiz to me is the place where they shouted ‘Viva Collingwood’ in the streets (in 1808, when the Spanish first rose against the French, and he was in Cadiz as C in C in the Mediterranean to offer support).

It was also, although I didn’t know it beforehand, the place where the first Spanish constitution was written, and the first parliament held, in 1812. (I meant to go on a guided tour and learn more about it, but one day I had sore feet and went to the beach instead, and one day I went to the right place at the right time and nothing happened.)

As well as that, it was a good base for going to Gibraltar and Cape Trafalgar, but I didn’t work that out until I knew I was going to Cadiz – I was just following the tall ships. And Collingwood.

As it turned out, I just fell in love with it as a city – it’s a real old town place of tall narrow streets and even narrower lanes which turn corners when you’re not expecting it so that you’re never quite sure where you are, and squares for sitting in, and a beach right at one end of the old town, and there was always a sea breeze and sometimes clouds so that I didn’t roast the way I had in Lisbon, and it was lovely. I can’t think of an excuse for going back, but if I do, I will!

Having returned from Gibraltar, I began my real sightseeing with the Torre Tavira – less for the camera obscura (I’ve lived 30 years in the same city as the oldest one in the world without ever getting round to visiting it) than because I always climb up tall places for the view, wherever I go.

Torre Tavira

The camera obscura was fun, it turned out, especially when they picked people up on a bit of paper and left them walking in the air – but the tower did have a wonderful view over the rooftops.

Rooftops and towers

A lot of buildings had these towers – it’s always been a seafaring city, naturally, and they were used to keep an eye on the ships in harbour. So it was nice to find out that we had some ships to look at.

Tall ships

There were different kinds of towers, some with extra platforms, and some without, but I think the octagonal one is supposed to be unique.

Tower varieties

From there I went on to the Museo de las Cortes, the museum of the parliament of 1812. The plaques over the outside date from the centenary in 1912, and I found the geographical spread interesting – not just representatives from across Spain, but from the Spanish colonies in South America and elsewhere.

Museo de las Cortes

Inside there was a bit of a mix – paintings of Cadiz notables on the walls downstairs, and upstairs mostly momentos connected with the Cortes.

I wasn’t really expecting to find Collingwood mentioned – his involvement was much earlier – but I was surprised to find Nelson (and Villeneuve, and Gravina, and Victory) instead.

Gravina and Villeneuve

The main exhibit, though, is a model of the city from 1777 – it has changed, but not as much as it might have done, and it was interesting to be looking down on it after looking down on the real thing.

Town plan

There’s also a large and very fancy monument to the constitution, supported by all kinds of statue people and topped by a book – this was where the walk was supposed to start, except that it didn’t.

1812 Monument

Instead of going on the walk that first day back, I went down to the beach in the evening as it started to cool down, had a swim and watched the sunset while drinking beer. I think this was a better plan.


Both sides of the little beach have their old fortifications – this was the original Phoenician harbour, although I think it’s silted up a lot since then.

The other side of the bay had a little fortress on an island (more or less), at the end of a causeway. My guidebook talked about Cadiz crumbling away in the sea air, but this was the only place it was really visible to me.

Castillo de San Sebastian

I wondered when I looked at it first whether it had originally been a real island, but when I went back the next day I realised that you would always have been able to walk there at low tide. This is still the Atlantic coast, the sea moves!

Low tide

The next morning I went sightseeing again while it was still cool, wandering round the main old buildings of the city.

This is the cathedral, quite clearly built in two kinds of stone at two different times, but I liked it anyway.


I stumbled across these plaques on my first night in Cadiz, when I wasn’t thinking about Trafalgar at all (I knew it was close, because I was going there on a bus, but I hadn’t really taken that in). This is the house on the corner of the cathedral square where the Spanish admiral Gravina died of his wounds, a few months after the battle.

Gravina plaques

There are some fancy old houses tucked into the streets behind the cathedral – this is the Casa del Almirante (although I’m not sure which admiral – not Gravina!)

Casa del Almirante

Another big square, closer to the port and the station and the rest of the world, holds the Old Town Hall of Cadiz, begun in 1799.


Down at the other end of the old town, this is not the theatre where Collingwood was cheered for 15 minutes when he went to the opera, because it was built in 1861 – but it was built on the site of an earlier theatre, so it might be the same place. I took a picture of it anyway!

Gran Teatro Fallo

I did go down to see the tall ships, but after Lisbon they were a disapppointment – a great bare empty place with a couple of official refreshment places set miles back and a handful of touristy stalls, and generally badly organised (they had people right outside the gates giving out free cans of juice, and men with guns right inside the gates tell people they couldn’t come in with cans, and once you’d walked the quarter mile or so along the ships in the heat they told you that you couldn’t get out at that end and had to go back to the beginning).

But have a picture of Alexander von Humboldt’s nice green sails, since I was reading a book about him.

Tall ships again

What I did on my holidays part 2 – Gibraltar

I spent a night and part of a day in Cadiz before heading on to Gibraltar, but I did most of my touristing and all my photo taking there after I got back, so it can wait.

Approaching Gibraltar wasn’t quite what I expected – the rock is so famous that I had thought it must be the one thing standing up out of the landscape (and it had all been fairly flat on the way to Seville and Cadiz), but we’d come way up over the hills on the way there, and I think the hills on the other side of Algeciras Bay were higher.

I ended up thinking that it was famous not because it was tall but because it was cut in half – and it was fairly striking from that point of view. It’s still not as high as Allermuir, though!

The Rock
Tower of Homage

I went into Gibraltar that first evening for dinner and a look about, but didn’t go very far, because I decided that if I was on an Age of Sail adventure I might as well have my dinner at the Lord Nelson, just inside the land gate.

Famous Lord Nelson

The new part of Gibraltar was so much a theme park of Britain – it even had the same litter bins – that I decided I should be as British as possible, eating fish and chips and drinking Old Speckled Hen. And it was quite nice to be able to speak English to people again, especially after two days in Portugal where I didn’t speak the language at all.

On the next day I came in quite early (after a bit of trouble over the luggage lockers at the bus station in La Linea, which had lost their tokens. I eventually left my bag at the airport in Gibraltar, which was an adventure in itself).

There’s a real divide still between the new part running in from the border and airport, and the old walled town. There is a main road running into the town, of course, but pedestrians are funnelled off to enter by the old land gate.


The water gate is another side of the square, although the water must have been a lot closer before they made a lot of new land.

Grand Casemates Gate

The thing that I most wanted to see in Gibraltar was the Trafalgar graveyard – which doesn’t actually have many graves from Trafalgar, but does also have some from Algeciras and other battles from around that time. It’s a nice little place, tucked in just outside the walls.

Trafalgar Cemetery
Algeciras gravestone

Here are the two real Trafalgar graves, for a Lieutenant from Colossus and a Marine Captain from Mars.

Trafalgar gravestones
Trafalgar gravestones

There’s a statue of Nelson just over the road, of course.

Nelson statue

After that I went prowling around the town a bit, looking for old buildings, including the Governor’s House and the churches, and finding some that I didn’t expect, like the Garrison Library (which had its door open – it smelt wonderfully of old books and had a cat), and old barracks buildings.

Governor’s House
Georgian doorway

Apart from Nelson, I was on the trail of Jack and Stephen, but the docks have been changed so much that it’s hard to get any idea of where Worcester would have been – and it’s hard to get a good view, as well.

Docks and dockyard

And then my camera battery died without warning – it was a new camera, and I didn’t know it wouldn’t warn me – so there are no photos of the clouds whipping over the rock just as when Stephen was watching them, or Nelson’s Landing (which is only a huge Victorian gun anyway), or the gateway of the Victualling Yard, or Algeciras Bay where the battle in Master and Commander was, or Africa being invisible (hard to photograph anyway), or even the top of the rock (where I shouldn’t have gone, because the cable car was mobbed and I didn’t have much time).

It did come to life for long enough to take one picture looking back over Little Bay to the old naval anchorage at Rosia Bay, but that was all.

Little Bay to Rosia Bay

Oh well. I was already thinking that I’d like to go in spring or autumn when the migrating birds were passing over…

What I did on my holidays part 1 – Lisbon

I’ve been distracted for the last month or so by going on holiday and coming back, and generally never settling in one place. But this does at least mean that I have a lot to post about!

I started a week of wandering through Portugal and Spain in Lisbon. Since I’m not a Pensinsular War geek, it’s not a place – or even a country – that I knew very much about, but it turned out to be a really nice one.

I started my time there by going out to Belém, closer to the rivermouth, since that was where all the maritime things seemed to be. It was Sunday, and very hot, and everyone seemed to be going there, with the tram getting more crowded at every stop, so that I ended up getting off at the first stop with Belém in the name and walking the rest of the way to the tower.

The Tower of Belém was built as part of a defense system at the rivermouth in the 16th century – when it may have been a bit further into the river, which has shifted since then.

Torre de Belém

I thought about going inside, but it was busy, and the river was more interesting to look at.

The Monument to the Discoveries would probably be very imposing if all its figures weren’t covered in scaffolding, but as it was the map in the space in front of it was more interesting, with sea monsters and mermaids as well as the dates of Portuguese discoveries.

Monument to the Discoveries
World map

Another mosaic was laid out in front of the fountain in the square on the other side of the road, this time with the zodiac running across it. Almost everything in Lisbon seemed to be tiled in some way, sometimes with real slippery tiles on the pavements as well as the houses, which wasn’t great on the very steep slope up to where I was staying!


Over the road again was the Jerónimos Monastery, built through the 16th century, and containing the tomb of Vasco da Gama.

I wasn’t very keen on the church at the eastern end, which is a bit fancy for my tastes, but did like the long rows of windows and arches.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Church of Santa Maria

The western end of the monastery is now the maritime museum, which again began with a map of Portuguese exploration.

Maritime Museum map

I had forgotten until I got there the extent to which Portugal had been a seafaring and exploring country in the early days, although it was obvious once I remembered to think about it.

I did find this British frigate in one of the paintings on the walls, though.

British frigate in the Tagus

I had been confused all along by the name of the river – it’s called Tejo on all the modern maps and information, and I knew that wasn’t the name I was expecting, but couldn’t think what was, and wondered if the estuary had a different name from the river itself – it wasn’t until I saw this that I realised it was just that English traditionally used the Latin name!

A long hot way uphill from Belem is the Palace of Ajuda, which I was keen to see because it was the Portuguese equivalent of Georgian – built around the turn of the 19th century, and not finished when the royal family fled to Brazil in 1807. Ajuda and Belém had been some of the places least damaged in the great earthquake of 1755, leading the royal family to move out of Lisbon itself.

It’s an impressive building, and did remind me more of Georgian architecture, but it’s in the middle of some very ordinary looking streets, and I had the impression that no one really knew what to do with it.

Palace of Ajuda

The arches of the entrance were impressive.

Palace of Ajuda entrance

Further up the river, though, was what had really brought me to Lisbon – the Tall Ships.

Tall ships

Neither of my particular friends – the elegant Norwegian Sørlandet and the little Russian Shtandart – were there, but it was an impressive show all the same, and I wandered along admiring the ships and watching the soft southern light fading. (And thought of Stephen Maturin talking to Jack and Sophie about the south – I would take the long slanting northern light over it any day, but I can definitely understand why someone brought up with it would miss it.)

Southern light

Later on the night ended with fireworks, and all the ships sounding their horns, which is a very sad sound.


Lisbon is a city built on many hills, and I started the next day by climbing the one that I was staying halfway up anyway, to look over to the castle on the opposte hill.

Castle on the hill

It was another blazing hot day, and the botanic gardens seemed tempting, since there had to be some shade there. And there was – it was mostly trees, although with a few flowers, but generally all a bit run down.


The opposite hill, which I visited in the evening, had not just the castle but the cathedral, in lovely golden stone.


Again, I could have visited the castle, but didn’t, because by that time I was more interested in finding some dinner! It’s something to go back for…

In between I had been back by the river at Belém, to watch the parade of sail – which is really a parade of no sail at all, although a few people were pretending. Still, it was nice to see the river mouth full of ships, as it might have been once upon a time.

Mouth of the river