Category Archives: Adventure

Portugal

After many hours I’ve finally finished editing all my photos from our recent Portugal trip, I took over a thousand! Don’t worry, I won’t inflict them all on you now but I have selected my top 33.

This was our first time in Portugal and our primary reason for being there was, of course, my sister’s wedding (see my previous blog). But aside from that joyous occasion we also managed to get out and about, including one trip to Sintra and two to Lisbon, so here goes.

We stayed at Cascais (pronounced Cashcaish – just think Sean Connery and you’re halfway there) which is a seaside town just west of Lisbon. It has a Goldilocks quality to it, in that it’s not too big and not too small- just right in fact. The beaches were clean and the amenities plentiful, there were plenty of bars and restaurants but it never felt too commercial or sprawling. We had great weather too with clear skies virtually every day, the hot sun made the beach even more inviting and the water was lovely, once you got over the initial cold shock of the Atlantic chill. I found I was acclimatised pretty quickly except for my hands which seemed to take forever to warm up. For about five minutes after diving in I found I was swimming with my hands held aloft out of the water, which must have looked pretty strange.

Sintra is a 30 minute bus ride north of Cascais and was the summer retreat of the Portuguese Royal Family. There are several sites to visit but we only had time for two; the Palace de la Pena and the old Muslim Castle.

The Palace sits on top of a hill and when we got there it was shrouded in cloud, which only seemed to make it more magical – we later found out that it’s common for cloud to mystically cling to that particular hill and the locals refer to it as the Queen’s Fart!

Imagine you asked  an eight-year-old girl to design a palace with a set of brightly coloured crayons, the Palace de la Pena is that design on steroids. It really is amazing, with no expense spared and a real sense of palatial extravagance gone mad.

A short walk away is the old Muslim Castle. This was the opposite of the Palace as it had a strong military reason behind it, was bare stone and pure medieval functionality. It is impressive though and has a fascinating history. The low cloud robbed us of the supposedly best view of the Palace, but added a real sense of mystery and mood to the brooding towers and precipitous walls.

In Lisbon, we hired a Tuk-Tuk and held on for dear life as we raced through the steep streets, stopping at a variety of different Cathedrals, Churches and viewpoints. It was a great way to see the city if you don’t have much time. We also managed to fit in the Timelife Market and the Elevator, which is an old viewing platform, squeezed in between the buildings and reached by a rickety lift. Apparently the whole thing was built by one of Gustave Eiffel’s (of tower fame) apprentices, and you can certainly see the influence – it’s beautiful, quirky and the views from the top are great as long as you’re okay with heights.

Lisbon is a beautiful city, especially the old sections we explored.

From Lisbon we caught the underground Metro and travelled further out to the Oceanario, the second biggest aquarium in Europe. Incidentally, once you get there the whole area has been developed into a very futuristic seafront and you can also see the longest bridge in Europe snaking 17km off into the distance.

The Oceanario didn’t disappoint, with sharks, manta rays, penguins and even two gorgeous sea otters – Clare could get over their “little hands”.

My overriding memory of Lisbon is one of a beautiful place, with warm friendly people, obviously it’s hard to get a real sense of a place on a short holiday, especially when you consider I probably had at least two drinks in me at any given time. But, from my brief experience there, it’s great place and I would heartily recommend it. We had a great time in Portugal, especially magic with the wedding and the time spent with our wonderful family – usually ending the day here, in the Duke’s pub in Cascais.

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So much to see and so much we missed, I suppose we’ll just have to go back.

Chris

 

Rachel’s Wedding

We’re just back from our trip to Portugal and our main reason for being there – my sister Rachel’s wedding to Neil Gunn.

As well as the wonderful wedding, this event had special significance for me as it was the first time I was with all my Irish siblings at the same time (I‘m not going into the history here, wait for the movie), so we were all looking forward to it, but that’s enough about me, this was Rachel’s (and Neil’s) day.

Most of the guests stayed in Cascais, not far from Lisbon, and we all met at the railway station to be picked up by coach for the 40 minute trip north to Mafra and the Quinta de Sant’Ana where the ceremony and celebration took place. A stunning venue in a beautiful location.

The actual ceremony was fairly brisk, with a reading by my brother Peter, and yours truly, amongst others. Rachel looked stunning, as did the bridesmaids, and Neil looked very chilled – which was nice. The atmosphere was very relaxed all round in fact, with no trace of bridezilla anywhere, considering how much work must have gone into the day, that’s quite an achievement in itself.

Out of the church, a few photos and then a short walk through the town to the Quinta. This place was gorgeous, with the only Portuguese Irish Band I’ve ever heard, wine-tasting, great food and even white doves flying overhead at just the right moment – I have visions of guys hiding around the back waiting for the signal to chuck ’em in the air. It was almost too perfect.

It was great to be with everyone for such a wonderful occasion and I even got a few mentions in the speeches, so I feel especially honoured. The icing on the cake though was the chance to get a photo of me with my Irish brother and sisters after all this time, so it really was a wonderful day – thank you Rachel (and Neil obviously).

You now, we should do this every year!

Chris

 

Full Bloom at Dunham Massey

It’s the weekend, spring is here and the sun is out. Lady Hughes and myself had taken a few days off over Easter with no great plans, so we decided to take it easy and go for a stroll around Dunham Massey.

Knowing the flowers would be out I figured this would be a good chance to practice my macro (close-up) photography on subjects that weren’t going to run away while I worked out what I was doing – though they do have a tendency to waft about in the breeze just as you’re about to take a shot, no matter how much I shouted at them.

Dunham Massey is stately home (and deer park) in Cheshire, not far from Altrincham, and only 15 minutes drive from our house so we know it well. As it was a sunny weekend, it was very busy with lines of people queuing up for ice creams and every inch of manicured lawn full of families playing football, throwing frisbees and trying to fly kites. We decided to head for the relative calm of the gardens.

Now my knowledge of horticulture if virtually non-existent, so apologies for the lack of information, but there were lots of flowers and they were very beautiful – if you want to know more, get a book.

Without getting too technical, macro photography can be a bit tricky. As your subject is usually on the small scale, your margin of error is pretty small too. I’ve found picking the appropriate depth of field particularly challenging, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it now and I’m much happier with these shots – what do you think?

As I started to get more comfortable with the technicalities, I thought I’d try and move on from flowers and get some shots of the insects. You need to be quicker with these so they were a bit more of a test – I’ve found it’s very hard to get a bee to pose for you.

 

Chris

Three Shires Head

Hiking boots back on this Easter weekend for a lovely short walk with Lady Hughes, my Dad, my sister Bev and my nephews James and Matthew and my niece Libby, not forgetting our Ziggy as well.

Bev chose the walk, a short circular route from Clough car park, near Wildboarclough, to Three Shires Head and back round again. Three Shires Head gets its name as its the point where Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire meet. I’ve walked here a few times in the past but not but this route so it was familiar, but new – if that makes sense?

After a few minor mishaps, including losing Bev’s car on the way and someone forgetting their boots, we were soon off in the brilliant sunshine.

The walk was great, if a little boggy in places, with beautiful views of Shutlingsloe in the distance – the Matterhorn of the Peak, apparently.

One interesting spotting on the way was George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and MP for Tatton, who we passed roughly half way round. He didn’t make eye contact and I fought the urge to stop and berate him for his part in the Brexit debacle – the things you see when out walking in the English countryside eh.

Chris

 

 

 

British Museum

Another wet weekend forecast, with grey clouds and rain, so off down to ‘that London’ for a trip to the British Museum. Lady Hughes and myself had never been to the British Museum, so this promised to be interesting.

Looking at the website, we saw that it was walking distance from Euston Station, free, and the average visit lasted 2.5 hours – all I can say about that last one, is the average person can’t be looking at half of the stuff or they’re constantly being visited by runners trying to beat their personal bests for getting around as quickly as possible.

I didn’t actually know much about the British Museum, obviously, I knew it had a lot of antiquities and priceless artefacts – at what point do things become artefacts by the way? My house is full of ‘stuff’ but I wouldn’t describe anything as an ‘artefact’ as such. I don’t complain that people aren’t putting their artefacts away, or I’m sick of tripping over artefacts left lying around on the floor. Maybe it has to be in a museum first? Maybe museums have artefacts and I just have stuff.

Anyway, I didn’t know a lot about the British Museum.

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We entered through the North entrance, which meant we missed walking through the main entrance into the Great Court which was renovated for the millennium with a beautiful sweeping roof making the courtyard into a stunning indoor space. So when we stumbled into it, it was a wonderful surprise.

The exhibits themselves were impressive and extensive, with highlights including; the Elgin Marbles, The Sutton Hoo collection, the Lewis Chess Set (finest chess set in the world, apparently), the Rosetta Stone, the Rothschild collection, the Egyptian collection, Roman collection and the Assyrian collection – if you don’t know what any of those are either google them, or visit for yourself, I can’t do them justice here.

Needless to say, some of the exhibits were amazing, especially when you consider how old they are. In fact, we were able to handle a flint hand axe that was 500’000 years old. Which is pretty impressive in itself, until we were told that it wasn’t made by a human but by a species of early man now extinct – get your head around that.

Yes, lots to see, and it was pretty busy, so lots of people too. I saw one woman literally give up and tell her friend, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t do this anymore”. Her friend seemed to understand and helped her to the exit. Like all museums, you’re walking around looking at stuff, sorry, artefacts. And even the most enthusiastic and interested get a bit weary after a while, so we did skim a few sections – there are only so many Greek vases I can look at and still summon up the interest to read the description.

The map, offers some ‘not to be missed’ suggestions and we focused on them in the end to give us a bit of a focus. This worked a treat as it meant we saw most of the museum anyway, even if parts were a little cursory.

So, in summary, if you like a good museum I certainly recommend this one – it’s a cracker. But wear comfortable shoes and maybe check out the website to see what you definitely don’t want to miss. Also, I’m not sure I’d bring small children, unless you’re confident they’d really be up for it.

Chris

More Artistic Endeavours

I’ve been working on some more digital art.

As I said in my previous post on digital art, these pictures are ‘painted’ on a computer, using a variety of tools including drawing, painting, airbrushing, etc. They aren’t created by the computer, they’re created by me. Nowadays people assume digital means it was done by an app or a filter.

So, you may say, why don’t you just use paint like normal artists? Well I used to and I may go back, but the fact is this is just so much easier. I don’t have to buy lots of paints and brushes, I don’t have to put on overalls and I don’t have to clean up afterwards. I can just switch on the computer and get started. If you think of digital photography compared to film photography and you get the idea. It’s just cheaper and hell of a lot more convenient. I quite like the polished, airbrushed look you can achieve as well.

One drawback however, is the reduced value. If I used oil paints on canvas, it would be unique, and though I could make prints of it, there would only ever be one original. With digital art you simply need to copy and paste and you have another exact copy. If you can make unlimited perfect copies of something at no expense it’s difficult for people to see them as having any value. Luckily I don’t have to consider that too much as I just do these for my own pleasure – but if you’d like to buy a signed copy please get in touch!

By the way, these are reduced resolution copies so they load on the page easier – it also stops any unscrupulous readers trying to make bigger prints for themselves.

Anyway, that’s enough whingeing, here are the pictures. I hope you like them.

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Roy Keane

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Lawrence of Arabia (portrait)

I’ve actually had this one printed as a large acrylic, and now hangs in my office.

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Mako Shark

I thought I’d try something other than a portrait.

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Layna Fergus

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Clare Hughes

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George Best

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Eric Cantona

If you’re going to paint great Manchester United players you can’t leave out King Eric.

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Clint Eastwood

lawrence-020217-version-2Lawrence of Arabia (landscape)

I painted this as a matching piece for the portrait, but changed my mind about printing it.

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James Bond

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Willem Dafoe

 

Manchester Macro

I’ve not posted anything for a while, don’t worry, I’m not dead – just getting a few things sorted, unfortunately not the kind of things that make great blog posts

So, to get the ball rolling again, I’ve done a little photography project.

My lovely wife, Lady Hughes, gave me a new macro (close-up) lens for Christmas and I haven’t had chance to try it out properly – until today.

I’ve always wanted to have a go at macro photography so I dropped various hints in the run-up to Christmas and Clare didn’t let me down. Many lenses have a ‘macro’ setting, allowing you to get a bit closer, but they’re not strictly proper macro lenses like this one – Canon EF 50mm macro, for the photographers out there. It’s not a microscope, but it allows you to get very close and still be able to focus.

The challenge I set myself was to go to the Northern Quarter of Manchester, a place I’ve photographed several times before, and try to get a new perspective with the new lens.

What I found was you start looking at the details, the textures, patterns and the abstract. It’s quite interesting walking round a place you already know and just focussing on the small. You also get a few strange looks from passers by, wondering why you’re taking pictures of a bollard from only six inches away.

Going through the photos afterwards, I realised that the wide open aperture I used gave me a very narrow depth of field, which was a bit tight on several shots – but hey, that’s a learning point for next time.

Here’s the rest of the pictures, see if you recognise any of the places, and feel free to give me any (constructive) feedback.

Thanks,

Chris

Autumn Update

I’ve not ‘blogged’ for a while now but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up or stopped having adventures, in fact it’s partly because I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write any posts – that’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, here’s a quick update on the story so far.

Two weeks ago, Lady Hughes and myself had a visit from my Brother Peter and sister Claire, over for the weekend from Dublin. We were really looking forward to this as we always have a great time with them, but it did pose the question of, what makes the perfect weekend in Manchester?

Now the answer will obviously vary, depending on your tastes and interests, but in the end we came up with a Friday night in the Northern Quarter, Saturday morning tram to Media City, Imperial North and the Lowry, then on to Castlefield and lunch at the Wharf. Stroll through Christmas Markets, meet up with both of my sons, Alex (and girlfriend Jade) and Elliott, and then onto Mr Thomas’s Chop House for dinner. Finished at the Molly House in Manchester’s Gay Village. Sunday was gentle (very gentle) recovery and prepare for their flight home.

We had a great time, but I must confess I did get very drunk on the Saturday and made a bit of a fool of myself apparently, so apologies to anyone I may have offended – I didn’t mean it, honest.

No photos I’m afraid (or perhaps, thank god), as we were too busy have a good time.

The week after I was invited by my good friends Mark and Andy to try the famous Ale Trail train. The idea is that you catch the train from Victoria Station to Batley and get off at each stop for a drink as there’s a recommended pub at each one. Lady Hughes decided to come along for moral support.

So we caught the bus into Manchester, and walked to Victoria Station to meet the guys at 3pm.

After a brief scare due to a fire on the track, and a quick warm-up pint at Victoria, we set off and were soon at pub number 1 on the list, the Station Bar in Stalybridge (great pies).

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We then progressed onto Greenfield and the Railway Inn, Marsden and the Riverhead Brewery Tap & Dining Room, and finally Slathwaite (pronounced Slowat) and the Commercial.

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At this point we all agreed it was time to head home. Due to a cancelled train, it was quicker to go on to Huddersfield and get a direct train back to Piccadilly than to wait for the next scheduled train back to Victoria.

Overall, we had a great time, but the actual pubs weren’t as great as I’d hoped, Stalybridge Station was probably the best. Also, word had obviously got around and there were a lot of people doing the same as us. This meant that when the train got into each station there was a bit of a sprint to each pub and get a drink. That being said, we did meet some great people and it was a bit of an adventure.

Would I do it again? Probably not to be honest, but I’m glad we did it at least once.

What else have I been doing? Well I’m writing a new screenplay, a dark thriller, and I’ve been doing a few more portraits. Here’s one I did a week or so back, Roy Keane:

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Lady Hughes and myself have also joined a gym, so we’re ‘sculpting’ our bodies in readiness for next summer – at our age it’s a much longer job than it used to be.

Last week we went to Jon Ronson’s ‘Psychopath Night’ at Home (the venue, not our home, if that makes sense?). Great night and we even got to meet the man himself afterwards.

So, that brings us up to date I think. Next big thing is probably Christmas, so there’s something to look forward to.

Chris

 

 

 

Brussels

Part three of our trip to Belgium.

After three lovely days in Bruges, we jumped back on the train to Brussels.

On the advice of Xavier, the owner of our Brussels B&B (X2), we avoided Brussels Midi station and headed to Brussels Central, much nicer and the same distance from our accommodation.

After the medieval splendour of Bruges, Brussels’s modern, sprawling, capital required a slight gear change in attitude, especially as it was raining.

Once we’d navigated our way to the B&B we dried off, relaxed with a coffee and were briefed on the best places to eat, see, visit, etc. Xavier, the owner, was very thorough, drawing it all onto a map and labelling the key locations so it all made sense. As we were early for the room, we left our bags and set off again into the city.

 

Comparing Bruges to Brussels is a bit like comparing York to London. One is a small, beautifully preserved medieval gem and the second is a large modern city with lots of historic places mixed in with the modern. Brussels is beautiful, but it can also be dirty, drab and shabby – like any big modern city.

 

We followed Xavier’s suggested route and found some of the most beautiful bits. One suggestion was the comic book festival at the Royal Park and the balloon parade, which was starting at 2pm. Even though we aren’t the biggest comic book fans in the world, we thought it would be colourful and interesting so we agreed to give it a go.

 

The festival was interesting, and colourful as promised, but Lady Hughes really wanted to see the balloon parade so at 1.30pm we found a spot and waited as the large inflatable characters were prepared. 2pm came and went and they still weren’t parading. Due to the crowds, and recent events, security was tight with lots of police and heavily armed soldiers patrolling the area.

 

At one point, a small girl lost control of her little balloon and it floated in the breeze, bouncing across the floor towards me, with her chasing it. When it came to me, to help her, I reached out my foot and gently stopped it, so she could catch it.

BANG! The balloon popped.

Four things happened. First, everyone jumped, including the police and the heavily armed soldiers just yards away. Secondly, the little girl stopped and looked up at me with a shocked, hurt, expression, her eyes saying “why?”. My guilt was only tempered by the thought that I might be machine-gunned down as a potential terrorist at a balloon parade at any second – not the way I want to go believe me. Third, every adult within twenty yards took in the scene and looked at me as though I was the most heartless, reckless bastard they’d ever seen, and the fourth reaction was one guy, stood about ten yards away who was just pissing himself laughing.

 

We continued to wait for the parade, until a tall man in a long coat, with a large support boot, sat down next to me and proceeded to grunt loudly. At this point Clare decided we should go, so we never did see the balloons parade – but at least I survived, which is always a good day in my books.

Following Xavier’s map we eventually found the Grand Place, which had been previously described to me as the most beautiful town square in the world. This we had to see, and it did not disappoint.

 

The stunning architecture was enhanced by the fact that most of the square was filled with the Belgium Beer Festival, so, when in Rome, etc.

A few beers later, we continued our exploration and found more beautiful parts to the city which I won’t list here. That evening we returned and had a lovely meal, and a few more beers, in Le Cirio, one of the oldest restaurants in the city.

The next day we had planned to visit the art gallery before catching our first train home, but we arrived at the entrance to find they were all shut on Mondays, so we quickly changed our mission, jumped on the metro and headed off to the Atomium. Just sixteen stops out of town.

The Atomium, was built as part of a World’s Fair in the fifties and is sometimes referred to as Belgium’s Eiffel Tower. It’s certainly impressive, commanding the view as you walk the short distance from the metro station.

 

Once inside we bought tickets to the top and explored the various ‘rooms’, etc. The 360°view from the top was wonderful and the light shows as you travel through the escalators and ‘balls’ as Clare put it, gave you the feel you were in an old science fiction movie. It was as if we’d travelled to the future, just a 1950’s version of the future – if that makes sense?

 

Back on the metro we headed back to the B&B to grab our bags and then hiked to the Midi station, which didn’t do much to improve our first impression, and the Eurostar home.

Looking back on the whole trip, Bruges is beautiful but so is Brussels in the right parts. I’d definitely go back to both and I think everyone should visit the WW1 Battlefields, at least once, as it really gives you a powerful perspective on the cost of conflict, in a way you can’t get from a documentary or a museum. Even now, as I watch the news there are events happening in the world that seem very similar in their own way, as if we have forgotten many of the lessons. It’s important to refresh what we’ve learnt to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes and the best way I’ve found is to go there and see for yourself.

Chris.

WW1 Battlefields

Part two of our trip to Belgium.

As we were in Bruges, and I’ve always had an interest in the First World War, I really wanted to visit nearby Ypres, an iconic location

Clare and myself decided that we’d make the journey by train on the third day of our trip, but as we weighed up the travel options we realised that it was doable but would take hours. When we mentioned this to the owner of the B&B she suggested we go with an organised tour company – Quasimodo Tours.

I was hesitant, not just because they were named after a famous hunchback, but it was a bit expensive and I was concerned it would all be a bit rushed. In the end we did opt for the tour as it meant we could relax about the travel logistics and we’d get to see more sights than if we were on foot.

After a few complications booking the night before we were picked up by taxi at 9am and driven to the pickup point – all part of the service.

The tour was extensive to say the least, lasting nine hours, we travelled around the area with our guide Phillipe giving us a constant commentary on what happened where and why. He really was excellent, with a genuine passion for the subject and a talent for bringing it all to life. We visited a lot of sights around the Ypres Salient including (thanks to Quasimodo for the info):

Langemark German Cemetery: the second largest German cemetery containing 44,000 bodies. Among them are more than 3,000 German students who died during the battle for Langemark, more infamously known as the “Massacre of the Innocents”.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial Wall: The largest of the Commonwealth cemeteries. Almost 12,000 soldiers are buried here and another 35,000 are listed on the memorial wall – soldiers with no known grave.

Walking through the sea of gravestones, reading the names and where they came from, the emotional impact was very strong, very moving. Especially as many I came across, seemed to come from Manchester.

Polygon Wood: two cemeteries here and two memorials. Most of the dead here are from Australia and New Zealand, but there was still several Manchester graves scattered around.

The Brooding Soldier at Vancouver Corner: Memorial to 2,000 Canadian Soldiers who lost their lives in the St Julian area during the first gas attacks in 1915.

Hooge Crater Cemetery and Museum: we had lunch at the nearby restaurant and explored the museum with its wealth of artefacts.

Hill 60 Preserved Battlefield (Messines): This was the site of vicious fighting including the detonation of two massive mines under the hill which killed 650 Germans.

Control of this strategic point changed hands several times, which can be seen by this British bunker, built on the remains of an older German one.

Ypres and the Menin Gate: The Menin Gate is a memorial to almost 55,000 men who fell during the Great War and have no known grave.

Ypres itself was completely destroyed during the war and everything we saw was rebuilt afterwards, which in itself was amazing, especially when you looked at the great Cloth Hall.

There was a blacksmiths event on while we were giving Clare the chance to buy an Ypres poppy to go with our Tower of London one we bought a year or two ago.

The Yorkshire Trench and Dugout: These are the remains of the actual trenches, reinforced with concrete to preserve them.

Essex Farm Cemetery and Dressing Station: one of the original cemeteries and made up largely of burials from the dressing station on the site. One of the youngest soldiers to die in the war – Valentine Studwick, a 15 year old from Surrey, is buried here. Dr John McCrae, a Canadian, wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields” here in 1915.

Phillipe also took us to the Menin Road and Hellfire Corner, the most dangerous place on earth during the war. He also showed us some recent finds, dug up by local farmers. This ‘Iron Harvest’ of shells, grenades and assorted ammunition continues to this day and is a constant danger for the locals.

It may sound a bit depressing to spend a day visiting cemeteries and it certainly wasn’t ‘fun’ in the literal sense, but to actually stand where all these events happened, hear the accounts and see the names of those men and boys whose stories ended there, was something I’ll never forget. It was fascinating, enjoyable and very, very moving. Also, when we look at issues such as chemical weapons, long-term effects for communities and war in general, there are still lessons to be learnt today from places like this.

If you have an interest in history and the subject, I’d heartily recommend it.

Chris