Royston walks during lockdown – April, June & August 2020

All the walks described in this blog incorporate Royston and the surrounding villages of Reed, Barkway and Barley undertaken during the Covid 19 lockdown of 2020, with variations of the same walk. UK Covid19 guidelines permit one form of outdoor exercise a day, provided social distancing measures are maintained. Fortunately for me, living in Royston in the Hertfordshire countryside means that a walk or a cycle can be undertaken whilst meeting very few en route and such instances where one does encounter someone, maintaining a wide berth of more than two metres is not a problem. Despite the UK now having been in Covid19 lockdown since 16th March, people out walking on the countryside generally still maintain social distancing.

Read FULL text and photo album – click Google Photos album.

Saturday 18th April

Much as I try and keep off tarred roads, even if they are only country roads, I was on a mission to explore. I had cycled this road many times past Newsels Barn Farm and Newsels Park Stud and on up the steep hill towards the road that runs into Barkway however was intrigued by a gravel road, known as Stock Bank, that led off to the left. It drops down into a dip before ascending and reaching The Mount behind The Chequers pub, along the Cambridge Road into Barley. There is however a turn-off in this dip that runs south, rising slowly, until one reaches a tarred road which accesses Newsells, a collection of houses that scarcely makes up a village, as there are, to my knowledge, no shops or pubs to speak of. It’s gorgeous countryside, many old homesteads to be found en route.

Sunday 19th April

The idea was to pick up The Mount, a gravel road running behind The Chequers pub, down the hill into the dip I had approached the day before from Stock Bank, off the Royston Road, before heading via Newsels towards Barkway. On this occasion however, I cut short of walking into Barkway itself, instead picking up the path at a junction which would lead me to where Royston Road climbs before meeting The Joint into Barkway. In the village of Newsells, whilst maintaining social distancing, I struck an interesting conversation with a local family en route, who immediately guessed my country of origin. Despite having resided in the UK for close on 20 years, I have yet to lose my accent and probably never will. We chatted about Covid19, the subject on everyone’s lips, and the government’s handling of it.

Saturday 13th June

It was an unusually hot Saturday morning when I repeated this four hour walk last undertaken in April, a circular route from Royston to Barley via the black barn and bridleway off the B1039, bypassing Barkway and Reed along The Joint and back along the Hertfordshire Way following the Greenwich Meridan. It was on the first section up to Horseshoe Farm, Barley , that I met some horseriders, the lead rider turning out to be a South African woman living in Melbourn, a village just outside Royston and across the county border in Cambridgeshire. I don’t recall whether she recognised my accent or I hers. A decent temperature today at 24 degrees. Once again, the duration of the walk was roughly 4 hours.

Saturday 22nd August

Another walk along this north Hertfordshire route today, on this occasion tackling the walk in an anti-clockwise direction. In the village of Barkway, I stopped by a tea-room doubling as a florist. Despite just having shut in order to prepare bouquets for a wedding, they seemed to empathize upon learning I had walked from Royston, so the young waitress agreed to make me a pot of tea. I’ve recently incorporated an alternative route to my local Royston evening walks, which takes me through woodland adjoining Burloes Farm, rather than along the B1039. The setting is sumptuous, as can be seen by these late afternoon photographs. Burloes Hall is a beautiful Queen Anne country house with stunning views of the rolling chalk hills of North Hertfordshire. The generous lawns, bordered by handsome beech trees and mature yew hedges enclose secret Edwardian gardens makes Burloes Hall an ideal venue for weddings.

Read more and view FULL photo album – click Google Photos album.

Namibian adventure Dec 2019 – Jan 2020

Having communicated with one another for about a year on social media, the time had come that we would finally meet. Ursula is a native of Swakopmund, Namibia, a town on the Atlantic Coast I had last visited in the mid 1990’s on my African Overland tour between Cape Town and Nairobi.

Having boarded the 10h10 flight from Cape Town International Airport to Walvis Bay Airport, located in the Namib Desert, a somewhat surreal sight, the passport check upon arrival proved a rather lengthy and tedious affair. Ursula, known locally as Ulla, had waited patiently to meet me, although she admitted a element of nervousness. Taking the inland road via Dune 7 rather than the coastal route, we arrived back in Swakopmund within half an hour.

[For the FULL blog and photo album, click here]

[For the FULL blog and photo album, click here]

An eventful Cape Point cycle – Dec 2019

Ralph and I then set off on the road back to Sun Valley. We hadn’t gone far when the curse struck again and I suffered a tube puncture, in fact a split along the seam. Whilst trying to repair it, this guy in a bakkie pulled over and eventually offered to take us back to Muizenberg, totally out of his way, in the spirit of Xmas. The journey proved quite entertaining as he relayed his life’s adventures in colourful detail, an upbeat ending to an event-filled day’s activity.

Read more and view photo album – click here.

Pringle Bay to Hangklip Peak – Dec 2019

My hiking buddy Ralph had suggested a walk that involved an ascent of Hangklip, a hanging rock that leans out to sea and marks the eastern end of False Bay, just beyond Pringle Bay, not far from the turnaround point of our cycle a few days earlier, at Rooi Els. The Hangklip Mountain at 484m above sea level is packed with numerous natural caves, and was once a refuge for bandits and slaves escaping their Dutch masters, hence the mountain cave being named “Drostersgat” – Deserters Cave.

[Full album of photos and text – click here]

[Route on Strava]

Reunion with Forbes neighbours and Kalk Bay tidal pool – Dec 2019

Once again, as the festive season approaches, it was time to catch up with my Tokai, Cape Town neighbours Ian and Lily Forbes, who were battling to wind down work activity associated with their electrical business, late on a Friday afternoon. In the midst of all of this grandson James was being entertained.

As is tradition upon every visit, I join them for an early morning dip in the tidal pool at Kalk Bay followed by a coffee at one of the multitude of cafes on the main road, alongside quirky Bohemian shops.

[To view full album of photos – click here]

Gordon’s Bay to Rooi Els cycle – 15th Dec 2019

First outing in South Africa with my hiking buddy Ralph, a 40-odd km cycle along the pristine Cape Peninsula False Bay coast from Gordon’s Bay to Rooiels and back. The weather was just perfect, a slight breeze without being gusty. We reached Rooi Els in just over an hour, stopping occasionally.

Endless photo opportunities present themselves en route. We scoured the rough roads of the town and its scattered array of up-market holiday homes. After enjoying a pot of tea each at a restaurant in Rooi Els, we headed back with great expectation though sadly, my cycle was cut short by a sudden puncture.

[Full text and photos click here]

An anthology of UK hikes from 2019

Here is an array of hikes and activities across the UK from 2019. Highlight of the year was having my brother over from Cape Town mid-summer for a long-overdue trip, which included a long weekend in the Brecon Beacons, exploring the Pembrokeshire coastline.

Please click on each of the links below to view the full blog and album of photos. 

A variety of Royston walks – 2019 – tba

Roaming the Kent countryside with my brother Eynsford – Shoreham – July 2019

On the Sunday over the weekend of Michelle’s birthday, a Sunday walk was arranged with my good friend Tammy. I was thrilled that Gordon, despite not being a regular hiker, had decided to join us; he had taken up cycling at the beginning of the year, some years earlier having undergone a quadruple heart bypass operation. Having driven with Tammy around midday to the Eagle’s Heights Wildlife Centre near the Eynsford Viaduct, not far from the remains of the Roman villa, we set off towards higher ground, skirting Lullingstone and Preston Hill Country Park. Boasting an internationally renowned collection of ancient trees, spectacular wildflower displays and countryside walks, Lullingstone Country Park is the perfect place to get back to nature.


Pilgrims Way – Wrotham to Otford – July 2019 – tba

Gower Peninsula Tour – The Mumbles & Worms Head – July 2019 – tba

Tenby town & beach stroll – July 2019 – tba

Dinefwr National Park & Castle Walk – July 2019 – tba

Marloes Sands Pembrokeshire Coastal Path Walk – July 2019 – tba

Lewes South Downs Walk – Aug 2019 – tba

St Pauls Walden – Whitwell – Stagenhoe Walk – Sept 2019 – tba


Green Chain Walk – Eltham to Thames Barrier Nov 2019

A mid-autumn walk was hastily arranged with my friend Tammy, on a weekend I had treated my niece and her partner to the Women’s football match between England’s Lionesses and the formidable German side at Wembley Stadium, before a record-breaking partisan crowd of 78,768. Tammy’s usual walks take one along the North or South Downs, so this was a break with tradition, perhaps more in terms of walks I have done with her in the past. The Green Chain Walk is a linked system of open spaces between the River Thames and Crystal Palace Park, so the route we were following from Eltham to the Thames Barrier in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, was a section of a much broader route.


London Walk – Greenwich to Rotherhithe 1st December 2019

Another mid-winter inner city walk with my friend Tammy, on this occasion after taking the bus from Eltham down to Greenwich. I had journeyed down to my niece, Michelle, and Adam, to deliver Christmas presents for their 3-year old son, Dylan. We had both come down with a bout of flu but felt that a walk in the open air does more to restore one to good health rather than remaining indoors. We set off from Eltham by bus to Greenwich however a catasrophe was averted when I realised I had left behind my lovingly-prepared rye bread and pate sandwiches. Michelle, still in her pyjamas, hastily drove down from Chislehurst to drop the munchies off just in time.

An anthology of UK hikes from 2018

Here are some of my most recent UK hikes and activities from 2018. Some walks are concentrated in North Hertfordshire, not far from Royston however some walks are located further afield along the North and South Downs. Please follow the links to each Photo Album.


Barkway – Anstey walk – Nov 2018

The end of the year was fast approaching and with the onset of winter though by all accounts, a mild one, as global warming becomes a fact of life. Time to get in one or two last walks before heading off to Cape Town and warmer climes. I drove to the village of Barkway not far from Royston, choosing a walk I had done before in many guises. Leaving my car on the High Street in town near the war memorial, I headed east past the sports grounds and along the northern edge of Earl’s Wood towards Nuthampstead, emerging at Park Farm Lane in Little Cokenach. Around 6,000 medieval moated sites have been identified in England and Cokenach is the location of one such site.  The path continues behind The Woodman pub off Bell Lane and heads towards a landing strip on the eastern border of Hertfordshire into Essex, which served as a former Royal Air Force station for RAF Nuthampstead.

[Photo Album]


Baldock – Weston walk and the grave of Jack o’Legs – Oct 2018

I drove into Baldock on this Saturday morning to pay a visit to Chapmans, a butcher that sells a variety of my favourite South African food products, such as Ouma rusks and Pronutro breakfast cereal. They also make their own biltong and dried boerewors.
I had planned a walk after and discovered a car park at Hatch Lane, off London Road, in the Weston Hills Reserve. The weather wasn’t the greatest so I decided to take in the neighbouring village of Weston itself, crossing the A505 Baldock bypass on the Weston side of the tunnel. At Church End, I headed up the lane to the Holy Trinity Church, the parish church for the village of Weston. The church building stands to the south-east of the village on high ground, and is built of flint and coursed ironstone rubble. It was Grade I listed in 1968 and the the supposed grave of the giant Jack o’Legs is in its churchyard.

[Photo Album]


Ayots Green, St Lawrence and St Peter walk with HCL colleagues – Oct 2018

A few days after my walk via Ayot St Lawrence and the disused Ayot Green way rail track from the village of Codicotte, it was time to take my colleagues from our HCL office on a shorter jaunt that overlapped that route, to some extent at least. Although the clocks had not yet gone back, we would still be constrained by the amount of available light, having left the office around mid afternoon. The planned route was to drive to a parking spot near the disused rail track at Ayot Little Green, just outside Welwyn Garden City, then set off past the Waggoners pub towards Brockett Hall, former home of the British Prime Ministers Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston, now a golf course. We were warned off by the groundsman for veering off course(!) but crossed the River Lea via the bridge at the weir in Brockett Park, near Lemsford.

[Photo Album]


Little Wymondley to St Pauls Walden – Oct 2018

This a new route uncovered on a gloriously yet unusually sunny Autumnal day, starting out from the village of Little Wymondley, located on the opposite side of the A1(M) highway from Stevenage, in Hertfordshire. At the edge of Hitch Wood, where the path crosses the B651 once more (on the Whitwell Road), lies an ornate gated entrance to a large estate which is home to the Sue Ryder Care Home, in the village of St Paul’s Walden. Stagenhoe is a Grade II listed stately home, with its surrounding gardens and is one of two large manors with fine grounds in the village, the other being the historic home of the Bowes-Lyon family St Paul’s Walden Bury. Notable members of the family include the Queen Mother, born Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, mother of Elizabeth II; she was baptized in the All Saints church in St Paul’s Walden.

[Photo Album]


Codicotte walk revisited – Oct 2018

My good buddy Zoltan, based in Zurich, had flown over for the weekend for a Rick Wakeman piano concert at the Derngate Theatre in Northampton on the Friday. A walk Saturday was in the offing and I proposed a repeat of the circular walk I had enjoyed immensely a few months back i.e. Codicote – Ayot St Lawrence via Ayot Green’s disused rail track and back.

At the taile end of the walk, we stopped for half a pint of cider at the Brocket Arms pub in Ayot St Lawrence, Zoltan not wishing “to get drunken”, as he would put it. In the fading light, we needed to crack on. Just as we left the village and picked up The Hertfordshire Way path heading north towards Codicotte, we heard a sudden crashing noise close by. A huge tree had fallen over just off a gravel track from the direction of Kimpton Mill. A cloud of dust descended into the air and birds took flight in panic. We reached Codicotte and stopped off at the Bell Motel on the High Street of Codicotte for further refreshment.



A tour of North Hertfordshire villages – Sept 2018

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of Tom Schumann on 13th June, 2018, after a long, courageous battle with cancer. Tom’s widow Karin, along with her daughter Sarah had planned to visit her son Tim, an architect based in London. It was with therefore a privilege to have them as guests in Royston for couple of days.  They had travelled up from London on the morning of 26th September to Cambridge, where they had spent the day. I had arranged to pick them up at Royston station. The evening was spent having dinner at the Fox and Duck Restaurant in Therfield. Having taken leave for the next day, I suggested an impromptu tour of a few villages in North Hertfordshire, not far from Royston.

[Photo Album]



North Downs walk with Tammy and Alfie the Labrador – Sept 2018

On a fantastically warm day in late Autumn, I met up with my friend Tammy for an 11 mile walk on the North Downs from Shoreham, Kent today, accompanied by Alfie the Labrador, whose owner is one of her neighbours. A detour took us to the Rising Sun, a ramshackle pub, if ever there was one. Alfie the Labrador is a dog like no other, possessing an insatiable appetite, hoovering up any variety of food en route. Fallen, rotting apples, discarded old bones, nothing escaped consumption. Having ordered beers which we were to enjoy in the sunshine in the back garden, Alfie made a beeline for the garden table at which some folk had just been eating. Without hesitation, the hound leapt onto the table to grab a left-over sandwich, much to our embarrassment. Tammy had brought along some dog treats however these were chicken feed compared to what had been consumed.

[Photo Album]


Patmore Heath – Manuden Walk – Aug 2018

Not far from Bishop Stortford near Stansted Airport, this walk involved crossing the border between Hertfordshire and Essex. Patmore Heath, a 7.6 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in East Hertfordshire caught my eye as I was driving around looking for a starting point in an area I was unfamiliar with and had not walked before. The site was notified in 1985 under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is home to a large amount of dry grass, as well as marshy-areas. Some really gorgeous houses are located around the heath in a way that gives the area an air of a real country village bereft of too much planning; the sort of place where you’d like your kids to grow up in.

[Photo Album]


Essendon walk via Newgate – Aug 2018

It was a warm day in August during a heat wave that lasted several months in the summer of 2018, throughout the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia, The green belt east of Hatfield and south of the A414 in Hertfordshire had long since attracted my attention. Essendon is a village and civil parish in Hertfordshire 6 miles, south-west of Hertford. The village has a view of the Lea river valley to the north, as it flows between Welwyn Garden City and Hertford. Although on an ancient site, St Mary’s parish church in the town dates mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries and was restored in 1883. It was here that I engaged in conversation with someone attending to a parent’s grave, to determine where to pick up the start of the path at the rear of a residential area.

[Photo Album]


Codicotte – Ayot St Lawrence – Shaw’s Corner via disused rail track – Aug 2018

This walk from the Hertfordshire village of Codicotte, just outside old Welwyn, where I lived when I first arrived in the United Kingdom in 2001, at the tail end of a lengthy season of unusually hot summer days, turned out to be one of the nicest, most picturesque routes I have done in a long time, lasting more than 6 hours, taking in much in the way of history.  It was late afternoon between four and five o’clock that I reached the starting point of my walk and felt I had earned a drink or two at the Bell Motel on the High Street of Codicotte. The town was on one of my favourite cycle routes from old Welwyn towards Peters Green via Kimpton. In fact, I recall popping in to watch a live broadcast of a World Cup 50 overs cricket match between an England side featuring Kevin Pieterson and a South African led by Hansie Cronje prior to the scandal that ended the latter captain’s career. South Africa won that match.

[Photo Album]


Easter weekend Kent walk April 2018

An Easter weekend Kent walk on 1st April with my friend Tammy, who hails from Eltham, south London, starting out at Pedham Place Golf Centre, a total of ten miles.The Darent valley was one of the major areas of Stone Age settlement however Shoreham is not mentioned in the Domesday Book. The village was the birthplace and home of Private Thomas Highgate, who was the first British soldier to be shot for desertion during the First World War on 8 September 1914, following the Battle of and Retreat from Mons. It was the most bombed village in the United Kingdom during the Second World War because the Army took over several manor houses for operational use.

[Photo Album]


A Royston circular walk after a thawing of “The Beast from the East” Feb-March 2018

The cold spell enveloping the United Kingdom at the end of February – start of March brought with it snow, though with more severity elsewhere than it did in north Hertfordshire. By Sunday the thawing had begun as temperatures began to rise and a walk was in the offing. Muddy conditions prevailed. The circular route is one I’ve done many a time, from Royston to Reed along the Greenwich Meridian, across the A10 and back via Therfield along the bridleway into Royston.

[Photo Album]


Barley – Barkway Circular Walk Feb 2018

Persistent rain and extreme cold rendered any form of outdoor activity an unpleasant experience. Sunday 11th February 2018 gave way to sunny skies despite the cold. Decided on a walk from the village of Barley just outside Royston, north Hertfordshire, heading south along mostly farmland towards Nuthampstead, before turning west through Cokenach (farm) and into Barkway. Early in the walk I encountered the local cricket clubhouse at Barley, the existence of which I was unaware of. In the end, a rather pleasant 3-4 hour walk with the bonus of spotting deer trouping across the fields at Cokenach Estate. It might have been around 5 degrees Celsius but that’s not to say it can’t be fixed by a flask of hot tea and the occasions when the sun managed to escape from behind the clouds rolling in from the south-west!

[Photo Album]

YES 50th at the London Palladium – Sat 24th March 2018

It’s quite unbelievable to think that a band of artists can embark on a tour in what is their 50th anniversary year, playing a genre of music known as progressive rock, so far removed from mainstream pop. I have followed YES since 1971 and have never tired of their music, whilst having enjoyed and appreciated many other bands and musical styles. To have sustained the high levels of interest and creativity for that period of time is quite remarkable, particularly….. And what better venue to enjoy them than the London Palladium, built in 1910, arguably the most famous theatre in London and the United Kingdom, especially for musical variety shows. Indeed, several of my grandfather’s brothers as well as his own father work in the theatre in London around that time and may have set foot in this hallowed establishment. Sitting in the upper circle among the paper bag rustlers however, I felt at times like a contortionist doing a Houdini impersonation. It’s a beautiful theatre but the lack of leg-room makes for an uncomfortable few hours. At least my mind was distracted thoughout for the two or so hours by what was happening on stage, as I found myself utterly engrossed entirely by the performance by a truly wonderful set of musicians.

YES has been through many line-ups, some more controversial than others, the current representation being no exception. It may not be the classic early 70’s line-up but they still deliver a flawless performance with gusto and professionalism. The fact that their are two incarnations of the band for fans to squabble over testifies to their popularity. Much of what has been said written by so-called fans in attacking certain members of the band has been vitriolic, childish in the extreme and downright personal. There is not much that can be done to bring back the late Chris Squire, legendary bass guitarist, who, until his untimely and sad passing in June 2015, was the only member of the band to have played on all their studio albums and to have taken part in every single tour. It was a personal Squire request before he died to have his longtime collaborator Billy Sherwood, who played with him on side projects, take over the mantle and fill his huge boots. In terms of his playing style I think he is a natural successor, apart from the fact that he was very much part of the band in the late 1990’s.

The sound at the London Palladium was magnificent and the band were cooking, to put it mildly. The stage lighting too was superb. In many respects I enjoyed the show more than the one a week ago at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where I sat in the 3rd row centre. For one thing, the sound up in the rafters was more balanced notwithstanding that I could discern the various instruments more easily. For the show up north, I felt that the keyboards seemed too low in the mix at times and the bass was muddy. There is no question that guitarist Steve Howe is the driving force behind the band and one of the reasons I prefer this line-up to that of ARW, whom I saw late last year, featuring founder member and lead singer Jon Anderson, along with keyboardist Rick Wakeman and 80’s guitarist Trevor Rabin, the latter a fellow countryman of mine.

Firstly, the current line-up that includes keyboardist Geoff Downes, has provided an opportunity to hear music from Drama, which I happen to like very much. It was a real treat to hear Trevor Horn guest on Tempus Fugit during last night’s encore (Onward was dropped from the setlist as a result). It is a fact that Jon Anderson has in the past refused to perform anything from that album. I also feel inclined to want to hear some of YES’s arguably challenging but unquestionably more controversial work such as Tales from Topographic Oceans and possibly Relayer (rumour has it that keyboardist Patrick Moraz may feature in some capacity in future, possibly on the next American tour), which Rick Wakeman is reluctant to perform, having left the band in 1974 due to his lack of enthusiasm for that material. Whilst I do enjoy YES’s more commercial Rabin-era music and shorter song format (apart from Talk, which ventured more towards epic-style compositions), I prefer the other material, which I have more desire to see performed live, Talk aside. Having said that, I would go and see both bands.

The rearrangement of classic-era YES songs for ARW’s live performances represented too much of a departure from the original sound, much of which I simply wasn’t too enamored with. Though the idea of re-interpreting the songs is an exciting prospect in itself, I found the sound and arrangements too cluttered and congested at times, with Rick and Trevor soloing full tilt. The simple fact is that my preference is to hear YES music sound as close to the original as possible, which is purely a personal choice. The fact that YES-official are deemed copy-cats by fans who despise the line-up I see as a complement in some respects. The complexity of YES music is such that it takes incredible skill to replicate the parts. Whilst Trevor is a great guitarist, personally, I love Steve’s unique guitar sound, instrumentation and style too much. On other fronts, I do miss Rick’s showmanship and personality. There is no question that he is a better keyboardist and soloist than Geoff, though the latter is a great keyboard player in his own right.

In some respects, what can be said of lead singer Jon Davison is that, paradoxically, he has on one hand found himself in right place at the right time but at the same time not. Allow me to explain. Due initially to founder-member Jon Anderson’s ill-health at the time (roughly 2004) leading to subsequent tensions when Chris Squire was still in the band, Jon Davison was asked to join YES. Jon Anderson has over the years been my favourite singer by a mile. The fact is that the American, more than any other singer, looks and sounds much like Anderson in so many ways most of the time. I shut my eyes during the rendition just before interval last night of And You and I and swore I was listening to Anderson. Until such time as the current line-up of YES release an album of music worthy enough to join the ranks of YES’s classic albums, undoubtedly a daunting and possibly impossible task, replicating rather than replacing the legendary and much loved Lancastrian remains Davison’s role in the band for the forseeable future. I do think he is a truly fine singer and performer. Heaven and Earth certainly has its moments but would have benefited from more time and refinement. It is improbable that a healing of the ways and reconciliation between the respective parties is likely at any time in the near future. Jon Anderson’s voice is still in fine fettle. He is 73 though and certainly not immortal, though his popularity seems that way. His frailty is such that lengthy tour appearances are likely to become more limited as time goes by. My hope is that to be fortunate to hear more great YES music in years to come, regardless of the line-up.

St Patrick’s Day Manchester visit for YES concert

[Photo Album – click to view]

Progressive rock band YES embarked on a 50th anniversary tour for March 2018. Subsequent to my booking for one of two shows at London’s hallowed Palladium, a prime seat in C row middle became available for the Bridgewater Hall concert in Manchester, which I found hard-pressed to pass up on. Attending several shows is not an unusual idiosyncrasy amongst the YES fanbase. After a positive AirBnb experience in Berlin, I opted for the same on this occasion, coupled with the decision to travel up by coach Saturday, back on Sunday, in order to keep costs to a minimum. A return of the extreme weather conditions associated with the Arctic Beast lashing the United Kingdom once more in the space of a week, may have resulted in some logistic issues however it all panned out well in the end, despite the early 5 o’clock start Saturday with a 6 a.m. train into the capital.

The Megabus journey from London Victoria to Shudehill coach station takes about 4 and a half hours. The music from the concert I was attending that evening seemed light year away culturally from the conversation taking place amongst a half a dozen or so black guys from south London sitting in close proximity on the bus, who were obviously well versed in the current trends in rap music. I realized I understood little of what they were saying. Blue skies interrupted by spells of light to driving snow persisted throughout the day as I explored the streets of central Manchester. The Greater Manchester Metrolink tram/light rail system snakes its way through the city centre and serves a dual purpose in allowing any visitor to maintain their bearings whilst wandering the streets. The number of homeless on the streets, sleeping in doorways or asking for spare change remains a disconcerting experience which, sadly, plagues most modern cities in the UK and Europe. I stumbled into a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Ann’s Square

which threatened to get out of hand when the activists and and a passerby began trading insults.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover some truly exquisite architecture. The Royal Exchange was one of the world’s centres for cotton trade until the Second World War, when the building took a direct hit during the Manchester blitz. Reduced in size but not stature, the Hall was repaired and saw continued trade until 1968. In the 18th century the trade was part of part the slave trade in which African slaves were transported to America where the cotton was grown and then exported to Liverpool where the raw cotton was sold. The raw cotton was then processed in Manchester and the surrounding the cotton towns and Manchester Royal Exchange traded in spun yarn and finished goods throughout the world. Threatened with demolition, the building remained empty until 1973 when it converted to house a theatre company. It was damaged on 15 June 1996 when an IRA bomb exploded in Corporation Street less than 50 yards away. After repairs taking over two years at a cost of £32 million, the refurbished theatre re-opened on 30 November 1998. The theatre was repaired and provided with a second performance space, the Studio, a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars and rooms for corporate hospitality. One can still however see the original trading board with the day’s closing figures.

Manchester Cathedral is an absolute gem and I spent an inordinate amount of time photographing the nave from various angles. Although there is evidence of an early Saxon church in Manchester in the form of the Angel Stone, dated to around 700, which was discovered embedded in the wall of the original South Porch of the Cathedral in the 19th century. The present church was built beside the manor house – now part of Chetham’s School of Music on the site of Manchester Castle, around 1215. The church became a cathedral in 1847, when the Diocese of Manchester was created. During the Manchester Blitz in 1940, a German bomb severely damaged the cathedral. It took almost 20 years to complete the repairs. All the Victorian stained glass was destroyed but replaced over several decades.


The AirBnb I had booked was situated at least 30-40 minutes’ walk south of the city, off Princess Street. The owners being away, I located it before the evening concert, in order to freshen up. The Bridgewater Hall, venue for the concert, cost around £42 million to build and currently hosts over 250 performances a year. The hall is home to The Hallé orchestra, and is the primary concert venue for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m not fully convinced the sound was of the best from my vantage point – Geoff Downes’ keyboards seemed low in the mix. YES played for over two hours and was well received by the enthusiastic audience of die-hards. I particularly enjoyed the second half of the show, which featured two sides of 1974’s controversial Tales From Topographic Oceans. A visit to the merchandise stand at the interval dented my wallet a tad – the 50th anniversary program resembles a book, more than anything. Like most cities in the north of England, the streets come alive at night as the multitude of clubs in the city are besieged by teenage revelers. I’m always astounded as to how scantily clad girls are willing to pay the price in order to withstand the extreme cold, in order to look the part.

It was the final fixture of the Six Nations 2018 rugby season and Ireland, who had already secured the tournament, were playing hosts to England. This being St Patrick’s Day, the city was also crawling with Irish wearing all sorts of green attire commemorating a holiday steeped in tradition, whilst celebrating the fact that they had got one over the English. A huge tent had been erected outside the town hall, where the match was being broadcast.

[Photo Album – click to view]