Friday, 7 December 2007
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
One of the things about walking along this stretch of the Northern California coast is that there aren't many choices to make. There is only one decent road - Highway 1 - which heads north in one direction and south in the other. As long as you keep the sea to your left you can't go far wrong. It can get a bit boring at times but there is always something interesting to distract your attention.
Take, for example, the proceedings of the Irish Beach Architectural Design Committee. Irish Beach is a "second home and rental development" located about four miles north of Manchester (remember, this is Manchester California, we're not talking about Salford here). Such developments are springing up all over coastal California as city-dwellers go in search of idyllic country retreats. Government planning laws in the States are nothing like as strict as they are in the UK, but this does not mean that you can build what you want. In place of the Local Planning Department sits the Architectural Design Committees - collections of local citizens who decide what you can build, where you can build it, and - in some cases - what colour you can paint your front door. So the next time you get fed up with your local bureaucracy, have a read of the Committee Minutes and the extended discussions about the design, size and location of the sign outside the office of William Moore and be thankful that you are not a resident of this particular piece of the Land Of The Free.
A few miles further north is the Inn At Victorian Gardens, a very select little establishment which caters for the type of guest who likes good food, fine wines, tasteful furniture, spectacular coastal views and a generous dollop of American eccentricity. If you have a few minutes to spare, take a look at their website and, in particular, the Flash Presentation. It's a mixture of soft-focus, grainy art-photos and verse. For example, describing the overall ethos of the Inn, the poem states : "Time is taken / from the hands of an antique clock / and shaken out like fine linen / to remove its kinks". By the time you have read it all you are not sure whether it is rather good or just plain tacky. Fearing that she may have been "shaken out like fine linen", Amy was not keen to stay, she we kept on walking.
The next little town we came to was a small town of some 200 inhabitants and the wonderful name of Elk. Originally it had been called Greenwood, but then someone discovered another place with the same name somewhere else in the State, so they changed the name to Elk. Elk was a lumber town, its fortunes were built on the destruction of the great Redwood forests to the east of the coastal strip. The timber was cut at the steam-driven sawmill in Elk and then shipped out from the wharf. When the redwood ran out, Elk went into decline and by the 1930s had become a ghost town. It only began to slowly come back to life in the 1960s and 70s when this part of the coast was beginning to open itself up to recreational use. Now it has a generous collection of small hotels, inns and - for some unknown reason - massage parlours.
Our final destination for the week - the small town of Albion - was also a lumber town. The town was founded in 1853 when a retired English sea captain, William Richardson, built a saw mill there, the first saw mill on the Redwood Coast. Like most of its neighbours, the town has now lost its timber trade, but a lasting reminder to the power of wood in this part of California can be found in the wonderful wooden bridge that carries the coast highway over the Albion River. The bridge was built in 1944 when steel and concrete were in short supply. It is the last remaining wooden bridge on the coastal highway and has now become a tourist destination in its own right.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Returning to the point I was trying to make, I mused - somewhat rhetorically I must admit - "how do they come up with names for all the places?" I said this as we walked passed Schooner Gulch. There is a State Beach here and Amy soon drew my attention to a notice which provided an answer to my question. It is said that Schooner Gulch got its name from a story in which a schooner was sited, one evening, stranded on the beach in the mouth of the gulch, yet in the morning showed no evidence of being there. "Spooky", I said to Amy. She continued to play dumb.
"OK, clever-clogs", I said as we passed Galloway Creek, "what about this place?" She found another notice which proclaimed that one John Galloway was the first recorded occupant of the area. John was born in Scotland and occupied an area of Schooner Gulch between 1866 and 1868, which was largely used as a milling operation for timber.
A little further up the road we came across a signpost pointing to Bowling Ball Beach. There were no handy noticeboards here, so I challenged her yet again. This time she pulled me down to the beach. When I saw the large round boulders lined up along the line of breaking surf I knew that she had won yet again.
What if global warming
brings our Pacific Ocean
washing new shores halfway
up Main Street hill, no
longer where it is now out
at the Cove? People with
good credentials are making
Point Arena's response: Tut!
Tut! Henny Penny, the sky’s
not falling; it just has a
hole in it, and what can we
do to help with the patching?
Perhaps there was something in the air because I was suddenly gripped by the desire to wander. For weeks now Amy and I had been heading north in a straight line, sticking to the main highway, oblivious of all tempting side roads and paths. "Let's go to Arena Cove and then to the Lighthouse", I said a little too loudly. Amy didn't seem to object and therefore we struck out for the coast.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Mendocino County is big : weighing in at some 3,510 square miles. The Guide Book says that it takes more than 3.5 hours to drive from one corner of the county to the other : it will take Amy and I a lot longer than that to walk up the picturesque Mendocino coast. More than half the of the county is owned by either national and multi-national timber companies or are State or Federally controlled forests which are also logged by the large timber companies. Over recent years Mendocino County has seen increasing battles between the natural resource extractors, developers and people who have come to the county to escape urban blight, density, crime and lack of natural open space.
Our introduction to this new County came as we crossed the Gualala River and entered the small town of the same name. According to the town website, some people call it gwa-LA-la, but the natives call it wa-LA-la. This comes from the Kashaya Pomo Indian phrase, "ah kha wa la lee" which means, "Where the water flows down". The town slogan is “Gualala … where you can fall asleep to the sound of the sea”. The promise seems to have struck a chord with migrating whales who often bask on the sand bluffs near the mouth of the Gualala River. Whales are bif business around here, there is a Whale Watch Inn and an annual Whale and Jazz Festival. Amy suggested it would make a suitable location for her to extend her dietary experiences but I persuaded her that eating whale steaks might get her run out of town.
Looking for a suitable alternative for dinner I checked out the listing of places to eat on the town website only to discover that all the restaurants and hotels seemed to only serve breakfast. Whether this is due to some ancient Pomo custom or to the fact that the website is incomplete we never discovered. We did discover however, just north of the town, the Bones Roadhouse. Amy said this sounded a very superior kind of place and she settled down to Kielbasa sausage, BBQ chicken, marinated turkey breast, not forgetting their “lip-smackin’ sides”.
We were now in Redwood country, indeed, this bit of the coast is often known as the Redwood Coast. Confusingly the particular species of redwood (or sequoia sempervirens) found on the Redwood Coast is the Coast Redwood! The trees are famed for their mighty size and great beauty. They also have the very useful capacity of being resistant to decay and fairly resistant to fire as well. This natural resistance came in very useful during the fire that followed the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. P. H. Shaughnessy, Chief Engineer of the San Francisco Fire Department wrote:
"In the recent great fire of San Francisco, that began April 18th, 1906, we succeeded in finally stopping it in nearly all directions where the unburned buildings were almost entirely of frame construction and if the exterior finish of these buildings had not been of redwood lumber, I am satisfied that the area of the burned district would have been greatly extended”.
North of Gualala we entered a land of secluded bays, rocky headlands and small isolated communities. One such was Anchor Bay which is about midway between Gualala and Iversen Point. Like many small rural communities in America the history of the town is the history of one or two families. The history of such communities is also remarkably short and can be retold in the reminiscences of just a few generations. The Anchor Bay website explains about the history of the settlement in the following terms:
"Anchor Bay, as a name, was not used until about 1915", recalls Jim McNamee. "Young Dave Berry, Dave Berry's son, was fixing up the place. His father was getting old. He called it Anchor Bay. He put up the sign and the anchor which he hand carved. Berry bought the place from a man named Meagher. Berry came to Gualala from Fort Ross. He had a blacksmith shop in Gualala for quite a few years. Originally he came from Switzerland. Berry also had a blacksmith shop in the building which was the pottery in Anchor Bay. They had pottery, bricks, alot of things made out of clay, but it wasn't very good clay. It came from where the bulk of the Mar Vista buildings are now."
As we have discovered so many times so far on this brief trip of ours, one of the great strengths of the internet is to collect and preserve such memories. The virtual traveller who uses the web as his or her vehicle of discovery becomes a multi-dimensional traveller : travelling in both time and space. As I explained to Amy, as we wondered along the uncrowded highway, we had almost achieved the ancient dream of time-travel. She was not really interested. She was barking at a basking seal. She got quite a shock when the seal barked back.
We ended the week at Iversen Point. If that sounds like a big important place it is not. It’s a name on a map and little else other than some rocks, some surf and some redwood trees. “Get used to it”, I said to Amy, “we’ve a lot more of this to come before we see the city lights again”.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
For the rest of the week, the road meandered north with the sea to the left and the forest to the right. You got the feeling that you were leaving civilisation behind, that you were heading into the wilderness. And then, at the end of the week, we came to The Sea Ranch. The Sea Ranch is "the ultimate in Northern California Coastal Living". It is a massive "second-home" community serving the people of San Francisco and other major urban centres. It has its own airport, championship golf course and award-winning architecture.The houses are supposed to blend in with the landscape so that the development will "live lightly on the land". The overall plan incorporates a set of building guidelines that require homes to be designed and sited to blend all structures onto the natural setting and minimize the visual as well as physical impact upon the landscape. The result, I must say, reminded me of those concrete bunkers which were thrown up on the south coast of England during the second world war. They blended in with the natural environment - they had to do or get blown up. It's odd thinking of such things here on the isolated California coast where Film Directors, dot-com millionaires and investment bankers come to find escape. It was posh and in places it was pretty. But it wasn't real and neither Amy nor I felt any desire to sink roots and live lightly on the land here.
Saturday, 27 October 2007
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Amy and I started our week by continuing our walk up the east side of Tomales Bay. "Bay" is a misleading description as it is a long flooded valley rather than a traditional seaside bay. But it is beautiful, and when the sun is setting there are some delicious views across the strip of calm water towards the low hills of the peninsular. You can get a good impression of the calm and tranquility of this wonderful little spot by looking at the video clip of the Tule Elk Preserve which is part of the "Sunrise Earth" on-line project. But as you listen to the birds singing and watch the elk peacefully grazing along the banks of Tomales Bay, just remember that the mighty San Andreas Fault line dissects the bay. Calm and tranquil it may be, but it has a greater capacity for destruction than anything so far cooked-up by mankind.
Leaving the coast behind we follow the old route of the North Pacific Coast Railroad inland, heading for the small town of Tomales (population 210). This place has been known as "the beautiful little town of Tomales" for over 100 years. Little seems to have changed and the locals seem proud of the fact. If you visit Tomales.com you learn that the local population is made up of "a mix of third generation ranching families of Irish, Swiss and Italian descent, and a diverse group of new families attracted to the quieter pace, family-oriented values that Tomales offers". Tomales boasts that it is the only community in Marin County that has retained its turn of the century rural community integrity. "Our community pride is contagious", declares the website and I told Amy about the claim. She doesn't always hear very well (it's all that fur in her ears) but she obviously picked up the word "contagious" because she stepped very carefully until we hit the far side of town.
Just north of Tomales you come to The William Tell House which claims to be Marin County's Oldest Saloon. It's an odd little place which seems to stick out from the background scenery like a sore thumb (or given the legend behind the name, like a sore head). The website has a section headed "history" so I turned to that to find out about the history of the saloon. Unfortunately it just gives you the history of William Tell rather than the story behind the saloon which, I a sure, would have been much more interesting. Equally, the website has a section entitled "Beer" which simply has a list 22 different wines which are available. Sounds like an odd kind of saloon to me - no idea what William Tell would have made of it.
We continue along the main road towards the coast and by the end
of the week reach Bodega Bay. There is a neat link between Bodega Bay and Capitola through which Amy and I passed some twelve weeks ago. If you have been following our adventures carefully you will remember that an invasion of birds at Capitola gave AlfredHitchcock the idea for the film "The Birds". Wanting a remote but beautiful coastal location to film the story he came north to Bodega Bay. It's a beautiful spot, with its fishing boats and rocky coastline. It made a suitable spot to celebrate the end of our week's walking. So, one sunny afternoon, Amy and I sat on a wooden jetty and watched the birds circle overhead. I turned to Amy and said : "I wonder what would happen if ....", but that's another story.
Monday, 24 September 2007
The fear and destruction of 1906 put our argument into perspective, so Amy and I decided to settle our differences. We would take the road up the east side of Tomales Bay. In return, Amy agreed that we could spend the night at the Point Reyes Station Inn which advertises itself as a "newly built Inn with an old world character". She pointed out that the website said "well behaved pets welcome". A asked what significance that had for her. And so we fell out again.
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Very soon we came to Stinson Beach. Here we found over three miles of sandy beach, a 51 acre park, 100s of picnic tables and a snack bar. To our surprise, we also found William Shakespeare. Each year, Stinson Beach gives itself over to the Shakespeare at Stinson Festival and our journey up the beach coincided with a production of the Taming of the Shrew. Amy - who considers herself to be a logical dog - could not understand why, earlier in the day, I had found the sight of a few naked sunbathers uncomfortable whilst, a few miles further north, I could walk passed a group of eccentrics dressed in 16th century costumes and shouting strange insults at one another without batting an eyelid. What she didn't realise was that I was rushing her onwards for, as far as I can remember, there wasn't a part for a dog in the play. One might be tempted to ask why Shakespeare at Stinson Beach? "Why not" those Bard-loving citizens of Northern California would reply.
Towards its norther extremity, Stinson Beach provides a natural bar which stretches out across Bolinas Lagoon. However, it is impossible to walk all the way to the small town of Bolinas without getting your feet very wet. Amy pointed out that in her case it would be her feet, her legs, her tummy and her head, so we turned back and followed the road which runs up the east side of the lagoon. There is some nice little beach houses here and for a few moments Amy and I dreamed. Despite our best efforts we couldn't dream up a way of affording the $4,000 a week rental and therefore we walked on.
Bolinas Lagoon is almost the last point at which you can see the distant towers of San Francisco. We were about to say goodbye to big-city life for the best part of a year. We turned our respective backs on city-scapes and bade a hearty welcome to gulch-country. As you follow Balinas Lagoon to the north there are an awful lot of gulches. Within just a few miles there's Wilkins Gulch, Pike County Gulch, Morses Gulch, McKinnan Gulch, Cronin Gulch, and Copper Mine Gulch to name just a few. Amy asked me what a gulch was, which under the circumstances was quite a reasonable question. I quoted her the standard dictionary definition - "A narrow rocky ravine with a fast-flowing stream running through it" - and she pointed out that none of the so-called gulches had any streams in them. At that very moment we were passing a sign pointing towards "Flying Pig Ranch". Not everything is what it says it is, I replied. She didn't reply. She was too busy looking up into the sky for a passing bacon sandwich.
Leaving Bolinas Lagoon behind, the Shoreline Highway, Amy and I cut up through the hills until we eventually reached the town of Olema. With a population of 55, Olema is now a sizeable town on our route and therefore worthy of full investigation.
The town takes its name from the Miwok Indian word for coyote. The town reached the zenith of its fame and fortune in the mid nineteenth century when it became a popular place for workers in the booming logging industry to relax. There were numerous saloons and establishments of even lesser repute. It would never grow bigger. As the logging industry faded so did the fortunes and notoriety of Olema. Today it is a sleepy little place with a handful of shops and houses. It is also the place where the Shoreline Highway meets up with Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. If Amy was surprised to see this archetypal English name out here in the hills of California she did not give it away. By contrast I was intrigued until I discovered that Drake is supposed to have landed on the beach just down the road with the crew of the Golden Hind during his voyage around the world. "It's a small world", I said to Amy. "Wuff", she replied.
We ended the week at the Olema Inn. Whilst genuinely old, the Inn has none of the dubious attributes of those earlier Olema saloons. In fact it is quite a refined place : "a gateway for simple indulgences and small luxuries where you can dream away your cares and escape your troubles". For her simple indulgence, Amy had a plate of chicken. For my small luxury I had a bottle of the 2002 Beckmen Vinyards Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley : a snip at just $31. Ah the simple pleasures of life.
Monday, 10 September 2007
And talking of refreshing, the reason we were so keen not to miss Muir Beach was the wonderful Pelican Inn. Our tongues had been hanging out ever since we had sampled the waters of Rodeo Lagoon (OK, since Amy had sampled them and told me about them). And here, in a remote spot in Marin County was an authentic English Inn. They served Yorkshire pudding and had Fuller’s London Pride Ale on draught. At $250 dollars per room per night it might be on the pricey side, but what the hell, this is the virtual world with, I assume, virtual money. The taste of that beer was anything but virtual.
The next day we were due to continue along the coast. Both of us had slept well and were convinced that this place was pretty close to paradise. We realised that we could abandon the great project and spend the rest of our virtual lives as house-guests at the Pelican Inn. There were all sorts of wild critters for Amy to chase and all sorts of beers and whiskeys for me to sample. We thought about it long and hard. While thinking about it Amy polished off a plate of bangers and mash and I flirted with a bottle of Theakston "Old Peculier". It was Amy who eventually got up and pulled me away. If she noticed the tear in my eye as we left the Inn behind us and headed towards Rocky Point, she was kind enough not to mention it.