Tag Archive | travel

Jurassic Coast


Cliffs at Swanage beach


While visiting England this month, I took a quick trip with my mum down to Bournemouth and from there across the chain ferry at Poole to Swanage, the beginning of the Jurassic Coast.  This 95-mile section of coastline along the south-west edge of England is designated a World Heritage site–right along with Stonehenge, The Sphinx, and the Taj Mahal.  The coast is special because in this area the exposed rock cliffs date to the Mesozoic Era, including the Jurassic, and are loaded with fossils of the time.  A leisurely beachcombing walk can yield a treasure of stones containing the fossilized remains of plants and animals that lived 250-65 million years ago.

The cliffs at Swanage Beach date mostly to the Cretaceous Period, 125-90 million years ago, the end of the Mesozoic.  The oldest rocks, from the Triassic in the 250 million year old range, are found at the far west end of the Jurassic Coast in Devon.  The land feature is unusual because the layers of earth were tilted in this area of England, lifting and exposing very old rock that is usually hidden far below the surface.


Four small stones containing fossils, found on the Swanage beach. The largest is about 4″ across.

I strolled the long, yellow sand beach at Swanage for two hours and hunted near the cliffs for fossils, with some luck.  The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are quite unstable and tend to collapse, especially after big storms cause erosion.  This can make for unsafe conditions.  The day I visited was sunny and dry, with no large amounts of water running off the cliffs and the tide was at the lowest ebb.  I felt fairly safe getting a close-up view.  All the erosion causes stones from the cliffs to be broken apart, pulled onto the beach and smoothed by the waves to produce fine small specimens.

The best fossil remains are reported to be at the far north end of the beach in the chalk cliffs.  The chalk also represents the youngest rock formations.  I wanted older fossils so I searched farther south.  I found several very interesting small rocks and an area where larger sandstone boulders had fallen to the sand, revealing the fossilized seabed trapped within the rock.16567205450_ceac282587_o

Some of the fossils I collected include what seem to me to be small members of the coral family, echinoids, possibly gastropods and mollusks, and perhaps crinoids.  I am no fossil expert.  16568319569_6222dd4c52_o16753374182_53d0629f0b_o

The large sandstone boulders that have broken open appear to contain crinoid fossils, the long tubes could have been the stems of the animals.  The small pale yellow sandstone rock specimen, in the bottom left of the photo of four stones above, could be the fossilized remains of the feathery tops of crinoids.  16728761966_47cecc0441_oThe tube-shaped creature in the hard blue-gray stone I found washing in the surf zone is a common form of fossil that I have seen in the UK and on the US west coast.  I am not certain what this life form was and prefer not to speculate for fear of being mistaken.


Preserved tree, possible soft jet, the longest piece about 6″.

Another rare find were bits of wood that the waves had broken from a small tree buried in the cliffs.  If this placement is to be believed, the tree became entombed millions of years ago.  Yet, the fragments appear nearly wood-like with the grain still visible.

The specimens seem to be a type of soft jet, wood that was preserved under severe pressure and not turned to stone, or petrified.  The wood is inundated by veins of harder sandstone mixed with pyrite.  The pyrite is so bright and shiny that is is easy to see why it is called fool’s gold.  16134753673_bf7243d670_oIf the location of this ancient log (encased in hard sandstone at the base of a fifty foot tall cliff) is any indication, then the wood is millions of years old.  The color is a brownish-black and the texture is fragile, easily crumbled.

This perfectly preserved wood may be my favorite find of the excursion.


Visiting England


This is written from Birchington in Kent, England where I’ve been visiting my mum for the past few days.  I wanted to share a couple of my favorite British foods.  Above are Scotch Eggs.  I LOVE these.  They are not readily available in America, but are so common in England they can be purchased in the cold food cases of small shops, even drug stores.  A Scotch egg is made by wrapping a hard boiled egg in a shell of spiced pork sausage meat.  The meat is lightly breaded and the whole assembly is deep fried until the sausage is cooked.  These eggs may sound peculiar, but believe me, they are delicious!  Eaten warm or cold, two make a very filling lunch or breakfast.DSC02742

Another must meal while I visit Britian is fish and chips.  The country is heavily populated with shops selling breaded, fried fish filet with thick cut potato fries.  The meal can be served to go, wrapped in paper, including old newspaper.  I prefer to eat a nice fish and chips meal at a sit-down restaurant, preferably with a cup of tea.  The meal above was serve with mushy peas, a side dish of dried green peas that have been soaked in soda water overnight and boiled to soften.  They have the taste and consistency of a very thick green pea soup, delicious.  I like my chips seasoned with malt vinegar and salt.  This particular fish and chips meal was at the Bournemouth branch of the Harry Ramsden restaurant chain.  These people know how to do this dish right.  The batter coating is perfect:  light, crispy and no absorbed fat.  My mother swears their chips are the best she’s ever had (and she’s eaten a lot of chips!)




Fallen in love with a brandy liqueur I discovered in the Algarve.  Medronho is wonderful!  The liqueur or in Portuguese, licor, is made from the fruit of the medronheiro (medronho) or strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo,) that grows wild in the arid, rocky parts of Portugal.  The brandy smells and tastes delightful, fruity, sweet and flowery. The distinct overtones of honey are from honey added to create liqueur with up to approximately 30% alcohol content.

This stuff is delicious!  It is called firewater by the locals because it warms as it flows down your throat.  Medronho is a truly native spirit.  The strawberry trees are not farmed, but grow wild. Farmers pick the fruit from their trees to make preserves and jams and to ferment for the alcoholic drink.  Because it is made in small batches by local farmers, there is never a big supply of medronho and the price reflects that.  Luckily, since it is taken in small shots, or as I like it, over ice, a little medronho goes a long way.

There are different varieties of the brandy made from strawberry tree fruit.  Some is just plain, straight aguardente de medronhos with as much as 48% alcohol content, some is sweetened with honey to make the licor and some is special, aged medronho. The licor is a lovely golden color from the honey.  It is my favorite.

I purchased this little bottle for 4 euro in a gift shop at The End of the World, Cape Sao Vicente, the most southwesterly point in Europe.  The bottle only held 2 oz, one shot, but I could feel the effects. It is very warming, even at the 17% alcohol content of this particular brand.a2

I brought one small bottle home with me from my recent trip to Portugal, to share with my husband.  Last night we had it and now all that is left is the forlorn glass remains.  I put it in the window with some of the unprecedented three-plus feet of snow we have as background.

The rain running down the window could represent my tears at the empty bottle.  Sure wish I’d loaded my luggage down with medronho, although I may not have gotten so much past customs.  The brandy is not available in America except via airmail from Portugal.  Guess I’ll just have to go back to the Algarve!

Here are links to a blog site about the medronheiro tree, its fruit and alcohol.



More Algarve Portugal


Beach at Armacao de Pera

Back in Maine after a seven day stay in the Algarve of Portugal, the return to winter is a rude shock. The Algarve, the southern or bottom region of Portugal, borders the Atlantic just before the waters become the Mediterranean.  The weather is very similar to that of coastal regions farther east in the warm areas of the Sun Coast of Spain, the beaches of Provence, France and the coast of Italy. It is an arid region with plenty of sun.  The cool waters of the Atlantic are more chilly to swim than those of the Mediterranean.


Fossil shells in the sandstone cliff

The Algarve coastline consists chiefly of very tall sandstone cliffs, perhaps a hundred feet or more in height, that are a pale orange and yellow and riddled with layers of petrified shells.  Interspersed among the cliffs are numerous pocket beaches and also some very long expanses of open beach with marshy lowlands. The sandstone of the cliffs is easily eroded, creating endless sea stacks and cave grottoes.  Shown above is a pocket beach with a tiny natural doorway in the bottom of the cliff that I climbed through when the tide was up.  My footprints were the only ones in the sand.


Sea stacks near Lagos

Near our hotel a farmer kept a small herd of goats.  He took the animals out in the evening to free graze on the top of the cliffs.  The nimble goats raced and jumped along knife edge trails.  Any second I expected to see a goat fall cartwheeling from the heights, but no animals were lost.


Goats on the cliffs

Although the climate is arid, the Algarve teems with plant and animal life.  Birds call all day and small reptiles and mammals scurry in the underbrush. Orange, lemon, tangerine and other citrus, and fig trees grow in orchards and in peoples’ yards.  Olives and grapes are abundant.  Agave and cactus plants pop up everywhere and flowers abound.  On a walk to the mercado (grocery store) I passed this lovely little wild orchid thriving in a neglected planter.  It is the common Mirror Orchid, so named for the reflective purple-blue central area of the flower.


I wish our stay in Portugal could have been longer, but duty calls and all vacations must end.

One day I hope to return to the Algarve to further explore the coastline and surrounding mountains. This region was the last to leave Moorish control and medieval buildings or their ruins are on my list of future explorations.

Sunny Portugal

Here is a photo from our hotel room balcony, lovely Armacao de Pera, in the Algarve of Portugal. The weather is warm and sunny, in the 60s and 70s F, with a nice breeze. Birds are singing in the tree tops. The roar of the waves on the yellow sand beach is muted by the distance but constant.
The sandstone cliffs are filled with fossil shells. Slowly the ocean works into the cliffs, crumbling them back into sand. In some places grottos and sea stacks form, interesting for photography and exploration.

Warm England

daffsI’m in England, visiting my mum.  She lives in Kent, the southern part of England where the temperatures are quite moderate and they hardly ever get frost or snow.  See how the daffodils are up and almost ready to bloom on Feb. 21!

Her azalea plant is in full bloom, very pretty.  azThe lawns are green, and some trees, mostly what look like cherries, are blooming.  Also the gorse is flowering, a pretty yellow bush. There are lots of birds singing and the sun is bright with temps getting into the fifties today.  A lovely break from three feet of snow and temps in the teens in Maine.

After a few days in the UK, Mum and I are flying down to Portugal, to the Algarve, the beautiful southern coast.  I hope to have some excellent shots of Portugal to blog about soon.rose

Here is the back lawn at my mum’s in Kent, with a small pyracantha bush covered in bunches of tiny berries the birds love.  I still am not accustomed to all the green after months of ice and snow.

Poor England has not escaped the ravages of winter.  Their suffering has come in the form of endless rain.  The flooding is evident in farm fields and I even saw a soccer field under water.  I am very fortunate to have the sun today!


Dreaming About Sunny Places–Torrox, Spain


Hibiscus at Playa Torrox


Playa Torrox, gazing toward Africa

Snowing again!  To ward off the winter blues here are some shots of the beautiful Sun Coast of Spain.  Wish I was there again right now!  Playa Torrox is a long, sandy Mediterranean beach with lots of lovely stones, shells and sea glass.   I spent may delightful hours collecting surf-polished sea glass from this beach to add to the weight of my suitcases. The wind and surf were often up at Torrox

a7Torrox is near a very high vantage point on the coast called Balcon de Europa. One can see miles and miles of the warm Mediterranean Ocean from the heights.  Little fishing boats pull up on the sandy beach below the cliffs and the fresh catch is brought to the local markets.  The seafood on the Sun Coast is wonderful.


View from Balcon de Europa


Cooling fountains in a garden at Alhambra

Also near Torrox is the ancient city of Granada and the remains of Alhambra, the residence of Moorish conquerors of Spain.


Orange trees on a plaza in Granada


Bird of Paradise blooms at Torrox

There, I feel better already. I can almost remember a soft, warm breeze, the cry of gulls and the aroma of tapas sizzling on a nearby grill.