That was the year that was…

That was the year that was…

January marked the starting point to our six-location holiday year. Taking full advantage of our retirement, we resolved to discover new (and re-visit a number of old favourite) locations.

The year began during the Points-free weeks offered at Henllys – a first visit for us to this charming property.

Travelling on the day of the worst storms for a decade, the (usually four-hour) drive from the Midlands took six hours. But the arduous journey was repaid with a luxurious apartment in the main house, offering stunning views across the Menai Strait to the snow capped Snowdonia mountain range.

We quickly embarked upon a week of exploration of this unique island. A ‘must’ on the list was a visit to Newborough Forest. Seven hundred hectares of Corsican pine, this conservation area is noted for its winter population of ravens.

Taking advice from the Anglesey tourist information leaflet, our starting point was the car park. A walk of approximately two miles via the beach and sand dunes led us to Llandwyn Island, encountering on the way six of the wild horses that inhabit this isolated isthmus.

Here, the whitewashed coast guards’ cottages of yesteryear greet you with their spectacular views towards the Three Rivals Mountains of the Lleyn Peninsular.

Blue sky, winter isolation; magnificent.

Spring

February saw us at an old favourite, Le Manoir du Hilguy. Unfortunately, the crossing to Roscoff was cancelled due to high winds, forcing us to undertake a 500-mile trip via the Channel Tunnel. However, finally settled into Fragonard, our home for the next two weeks – the weather warm, with a feel of spring in the air – we purchased another well prepared HPB walk pack.

We managed to adapt Walk number 12 by reversing the direction out of St Marine and following the coast via Pont de Combrit along Plague du Kermor and Plage du Teven, entering the picturesque village of Ile-Tudy through its narrow streets.

There we found ourselves taking coffee and enjoying delicious pastries in the square, savouring the continuing warm weather.

To burn off the resulting calories, we wandered around – looking at the fishermen’s cottages and catching glimpses of new vistas of the mirror-calm lagoon surrounding us – before heading on to an old favourite inlet known as The Letty.

Beaches

Portugal in spring lived up to its reputation: fields of wild flowers, nesting storks with their young, bee-eaters and golden oriel were all spotted within walking distance of Quinta Do Rosal – a quiet Tenancy location which is ideally situated close to beautiful beaches and the nearby Monchique Mountains.

A simple pleasure was the market in Armacao de Pera, where we purchased fresh local produce: oranges, cheese, olives and live snails by the quart as well as fish from the fishermen’s co-operative.

At this time of year the old town has that ‘shabby chic’ feel and quietness that encourages you to linger over coffee in the morning sun, looking out over the beach. The drive back to Quinta Do Rosal – along the winding coastal road – was a treat, the hedgerows a profusion of colour. And we stopped for lunch (more than once) at Restaurant O’Algar, where fresh locally-caught fish is a speciality.

Alas, our time in Portugal passed too quickly. But there’s always next year to look forward to.

June

June saw us handing over our house keys to the builders as we headed off for a week in the dog house (sorry, the cottage named ‘The Kennels’ at Glanusk), a lovely Welsh home-from-home Tenancy on this old country estate, with the Usk within casting distance.

Unfortunately heavy rain (a pattern that summer) turned the river into a raging torrent the colour of drinking chocolate – so, alas no trout or salmon this holiday. On our one and only fine day we drove to Claerwen and Elan Valleys, a huge catchment area of 180 square kilometres, whence originates the water supply that travels so many miles to Birmingham.

Easy road access allowed us ample time to visit several of these magnificent Edwardian engineering wonders, the reservoirs at full level emptying over the sills in a cascade of white mist.

On our way back, we stopped off to view the red kites’ feeding centre. It was great to see these lovely raptors.

Sunshine

In seemingly no time at all, it was August and - with glorious sunshine - we headed to Fishguard for our crossing to Rosslare, Ireland, to enjoy a two-week holiday split between the Tenancies at Ardnavaha House, Clonakilty and Belle Isle, Co Fermanagh.

Kinsale was little changed, and hadn’t lost any of the charm that we so appreciated on our previous visits (although the Fishy Fishy Restaurant had moved to the harbour front).

A new discovery very close to Ardnavaha was the delightful Lisselan Gardens, once the home of Henry Ford. Although small, this is one of the nicest gardens we have visited, with its own nine-hole golf course. And the sun shone! Courtmacsherry tidal bay and estuary is within a short distance, and is recommended.

Soon enough, however, it was time to move north, breaking the journey overnight at Cong which is situated between Loch Mask and Loch Corrib.

Following an early start (which is essential to make the most of the 200-mile round trip) we drove north – through towns with names that brought back sad memories of troubled times – to the Antrim coast.

The Giants Causeway and Carrick – with its Rede rope bridge – were great, though busy. (If you’re planning to follow in our footsteps, do leave enough time to tour the Bushmills distillery and sample the 12-year-old malt.)

Majestic

September saw us back at Tigh Mor, enjoying the newly refurbished Davidson apartment. During our stay, we revisited The Isle of Skye. Was it really 35 years since our last visit?

A phone call secured overnight accommodation at an old Victorian hunting lodge. Once again wild weather struck, but it did not detract from the pleasure of the drive: Glencoe in all its splendour; Fort William, then onto the road to the Isles.

We stopped at Kyle of Lochalsh to admire the bridge (last time, we went by ferry). The Cullins were majestic; moody and draped in mist.

The following day, after a visit to Portree, we re-crossed the bridge, making a detour to take in Plockton, an old fishing village that was featured in the TV series Hamish McBeth.

Returning to Tigh Mor we were stopped by several roe deer crossing the road into the reed bed enclosure.

Each evening – from the comfort of our apartment – we were lucky enough to witness the spectacle again. And as the deer meandered down to Loch Achray we reflected on how lucky we are to be members of HPB.

And how fortunate to have another year of Bond breaks to look forward to, too.

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