Kids-friendly @The Larches

In response to some comments from guests staying at The Larches, we’ve made a few changes, which make the cottage more attractive to families with children.

We know from experience that kids aged eight years upwards love to run around the garden, exploring the terraces, chasing up steps, checking out the Belvedere and more. To add to this we have now created a small climbing wall out of the natural bedrock of the garden. In this way youngsters can practice some easy manoeuvres on a rock face.

The wall is above the large stoop stone and leads directly up to the wrought iron garden seat at the top of the garden. Parents should make their own judgments about the suitability of the climbing wall for their children and we suggest that the children are initially accompanied by an adult. The picture above shows a nine year old leading the way to the top with her younger brother at the bottom.

Turning to the inside of the cottage, there are two flights of stairs, separated by a small landing. This provides access firstly to the back door of the cottage and secondly to the upper floor, where the sitting room and kitchen are located.

We’ve now installed a gate at the top of the carpeted stairs, which can be folded back against the balustrade, when it’s not needed. There is a similar downstairs gate, when you want to restrict access to the stairs. This gate is kept in the downstairs toilet below the stairs as it cannot be folded back. It is easy to fit but we find this is less well used, because the living space of the cottage – as opposed to the sleeping space – is primarily on the top floor. The photo above shows the top gate in position.

We have referred elsewhere to some of the attractions for children in the immediate Keswick area like The Lake District Wildlife park at Bassenthwaite and the cycling, walking and zip-line facilities at the Whinlatter Forest centre in the woods above the Larches. In addition to these we highly recommend the small railway journey up and down the valley at Ravenglass. It’s about an hour’s journey by car from The Larches but a great day out for any child (and adult) with an interest in trains. Check the train times before you go.

Skiddaw’s scarlet tops

Though the hamlet of Seldom Seen is hidden away from the A66 and the casual walker, The Larches itself provides a wonderful viewing point of the surrounding mountains, especially if you climb up the steps to the top of the garden.

Over this last weekend, I had arrived back at the house late in the afternoon. Dusk was approaching and I glimpsed a flush of sunset colour to the north from the first floor sitting room. This merits a quick climb up to the Belvedere I thought, grabbing my camera on the way.

What a sight across the marshes of Skiddaw’s top from the Belvedere deck! I had never seen the likes of this before. The picture below tells it all. It’s worth a visit to The Larches for this alone!

Paris Belvedere @ centre stage

It’s exactly two years since we spent a long weekend with our family in Paris, walking the streets, enjoying early morning crepes, visiting galleries and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I’d decided in advance though that we must visit the the city’s Belvedere, built just after the 1867 Great Exhibition in Paris.

After a few enquiries we got some positive directions. It was in the North East of the City in the 19th arrondissement and easily accessible by the metro and a short walk. It was located we discovered as the centre and crowning point of Le Parc de Buttes Chaumont, a jewel of a place with a lake, cliffs, gardens, grassy slopes and people enjoying the sun and feeding the birds. It could be paradise!

Imagine then our surprise to read this last week that the network of jihadists responsible for the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and of police and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket trained here in this beautiful spot and now were being described as the Buttes-Chaumont cell (Financial Times Weekend, 10 January 2015).

For the record the Belvedere, curiously described in the Guardian (13 January 2015) as a ‘faux Roman temple’, was erected in 1869, exactly the same year as New York’s Belvedere was built in Central Park. Some cultural rivalry is surely evident here!

The site of the park was originally a quarry opened up for the construction of the 1867 Exhibition (See engraving of the original site) and the Belvedere stands in a central position on the rock, high above the surrounding lake. From its lofty position it has a magnificent view towards the centre of Paris, with the Sacre Coeur evident in the distance (See picture below)

Hebrides get last mile www access

We’ve been back on Mull at the beginning of the month to join friends for a week’s break on this wonderful wild island. The weather was great, the sun shone and gentle winds encouraged lazy days and relaxation. Even a rain soaked walk up Loch Ba provided us with some stunning views of white tipped sea eagles with their 6 feet wide wingspan.

We can never resist a visit to Tobermory with its shops, distillery and ‘Fish Cafe’ restaurant, voted the finest in Scotland. What we’d not anticipated though was participating in a historic moment in the country’s quest for digital recognition on the world wide web.

As we walked down the sea front, out from the low waters of the harbour and onto the muddy strand came a wading figure in thigh length boots, white helmet and dark grey waterproofs. He was making for a large JCB digger surrounded by a crowd of technicians, where a recently excavated narrow channel could be seen revealing a 50 mm cable.

“What’s all this for?” I asked a French engineer talking vigorously with a colleague involved on the project. “There’s a multi national team working on this and we’re just reaching the end of a big project. Once the cable out there is joined up with this one on Mull, the fibre link to the whole of the Hebrides islands will be completed.” More details of the project can be found here.

This is great for those who live and work on these remote western islands of Scotland and will mean that subscribers can easily be provided with internet speeds of 100 Mbs. I had heard the new SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon talking about this project at an IT conference in Edinburgh two years ago and never thought I would be a witness to its final completion!

Can it help to revive the fortunes of such far flung communities, where the long term trend has been of moving back to the mainland? Islanders, planners and politicians will be watching the impact of this major project with interest and bated breath.

A new kind of Cargo cult?

Remember the talk of cargo cults in the 1960s in Melanesia? People in some of the least developed countries believed they were seeing a god-like revelation, when planes carrying items from the industrialised world arrived in their lands from the skies. It was a clash of cultures, a disjunction that pointed up some of the inequalities across our world.

I got an inverted sense of this kind of thinking on flying recently to the UK from impoverished Nepal via the oil rich gulf states. Here a ‘reverse cargo’ cult was developing, but now the cargo is human. The vast majority of the 250 passengers climbing aboard the plane (see photo) in Katmandu were young Nepali men, returning or looking for work in the huge construction projects being developed in centres like Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

This is the world of the remittance economy, where young men earn money abroad to send back for supporting their families and children at home. They make real the dreams of the oil sheikhs, dreams of soaring office blocks and World Cup 2022 football in Qatar.

Nepal and India are heavily involved in this, but things are often not what they seem. The young man beside me on the plane talked about his experience in night security work – long hours, bad living conditions and low wages, with the security companies taking the lion’s share of the contract monies.

The construction work is often dangerous and in some cases workers have been forcibly prevented from returning to their own countries. Many have died on the work.

In an interesting article, “Oil-Led Development: Social, Political, and Economic Consequences”, Terry Lynn Carl from Stanford University describes the impact that this model of oil-led economic growth – with the importing of cheap labour – has on the receiving countries, creating slower growth, a lack of incentives, high unemployment, poverty, poor government and corruption. This ‘paradox of plenty’ or the ‘resource curse’ has harmful repercussions for the dominant resource-rich countries too.