From Places

The Canal

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La Basseé, Flanders, Northern France

Continuing along the canal we reached a third bridge, about a mile and a half west, which carried the road from the village of Auchy north to Violaines. In a typical Flanders landscape, we could see its church steeple in the distance, across a mile or so of golden wheat fields... It was this crossing, I determined, where the British Army had been forced to blow up the bridge in 1940 and which the German general, Erwin Rommel, had ordered his Panzer division to rebuild in pontoon sections, so that they could encircle the desperate Allied forces defending La Basseé.

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Dunnottar In Light And Dark

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Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Under grey skies, the air damp, with the prospect of drizzle, and with hardly a soul about as the afternoon turned to evening, the castle stood in complete contrast to the cloudless spring day on which we had viewed it last. I rejoiced, not out of some perverse enjoyment of the gloomy backdrop for which Dunnottar was more naturally suited, though it was, or even the chance to have the place to ourselves compared to the tourist horde that had swarmed over it on the last occasion – like a besieging army in shorts and gold-trimmed trainers – but quite simply for the chance to experience the castle in a different context and to gain a more rounded impression of the attraction as a whole.

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Lochaber No More

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Kohima, Nagaland, North-East India

High among the backstreets of a city in the hills of north-east India, in a compound that serves as the back yard for a ring of brick and concrete bungalows, and under a rusting water tank that serves the same, the brass plaque engraved with a kilted scottish piper in relief and an inscription apparently taken from a 1970s Proclaimers song is totally unexpected. I had found the memorial by accident and now I wanted to make sense of it.

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Flor and Fernando and the Moai

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Easter Island, Chile

On our first morning after arriving we breakfasted with a middle-aged Chilean couple, Flor and Fernando, whose enthusiasm for being on the island was countered only by their vagueness about what they were here to see or do. When out and about on the island, this apparent contradiction manifested itself in general excitement, each of them taking it in turns to point and gesticulate at the slightest thing, without seeming to distinguish between, say, the fantastical size and shapes of the moai – the stone heads of Easter Island – at which they would nod gravely before moving on, or a nicely weighted walking stick found beside the path along the way, over which they would fight like children.

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Lunch On The Kyles Of Bute

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Colintraive, Cowal Peninsula, Argyll

After four days in which we had enjoyed the island in mild spring sunshine we took the opportunity of a forecast for bad weather to plan for a day off and a leisurely lunch. The Isle of Bute has no peaks to challenge the serious walker but the long and mostly accessible coastline twists and turns around enough bays and inlets to compensate while its countless ruined churches, stone circles, historic houses and gardens and other monuments present enough diversions for the visitor who likes to potter. I nonetheless relished the prospect of a break from this activity and conjured up the picture of freshly cooked seafood served in a cosy bar in front of a roaring fire while a storm battered against the windows.

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Stromboli

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Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy

"Stromboli! Last year you erupted like a firework – I saw it on TV. This year we’ve come to see you in person and what do we get for our trouble? Nothing!” The old lady had lost patience with the volcano and rose precariously from her seat on the gently pitching boat to berate it. She shook a fist at the wall of grey rock which rose sheer from the sea in front of her. Sitting beside her, her granddaughter held her other hand and steadied her with a palm on her back. She joined in the general laughter at the old lady’s outburst but looked embarrassed and gently tugged at her grandmother to resume her seat.

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Three Gentlemen Of Burma

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Moulmein, Myanmar

“You got room for a small one?” A pronounced Australian accent boomed over the murmur of other tourist voices and the coughing scooter engine as we pulled up in front of the hotel: two westerners jammed behind a large Burmese driver. Tired after a long and hot day of pagoda-hopping and evidently looking lost on the way back into Moulmein town centre, we had been more than happy to accept the scooter driver’s offer of a lift. Balanced precariously, we descended slowly to the riverfront and guided him to our accommodation. I was peeling off the equivalent of a dollar in Myanmar kyat when Denis introduced himself.

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Zaghouan

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Zaghouan, Tunisia

The guidebook had said there was just one hotel in town. It also warned travellers that they were likely to be approached by Tunisians with offers to experience an overnight stay, and to eat couscous, with local families. As the hotel was shuttered, cobwebbed and very obviously closed, the offer to stay with Mohamed and his family was not unexpected and initially appealling.

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The Festival of Saint Candida

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Ventotene, Italy

The festivities which began on the Tuesday morning ran to a formula that was repeated with minor variations on each of the successive ten evenings – unless the wind blew too forcefully or from the wrong direction.

They started with a church service attended by a congregation consisting largely of an older generation and mainly of women. It involved the traditional Catholic mass, a musical interlude provided by local schoolchildren and a sermon given by the priest on an aspect of island life: the sea, the fishing trade, emigration, island culture and architecture, key people in the community (alive or dead) and the role and importance of St Candida herself.

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