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Reports of our talks.

“Trans Africa: South to North, East to West.”

“Trans Africa: South to North, East to West” was the subject of the latest presentation to Travel Talks, provided by member and Club Treasurer Eric Hodge. Les Mason welcomed Eric and explained that whilst most of our presentations are based on travel within the last few years, Eric’s journey was in 1972-73  and took six months, and an awful lot of planning. So a talk with a difference!

Eric explained how he and his wife Thérèse still have the photographs from their epic and at times hazardous journey across the huge continent of Africa. These images provided an insight into the Africa of old with the villages, the abundant wildlife, spectacular scenery and at times almost impassable roads.

It was certainly not a journey for the faint-hearted. The couple drove over 13,000 miles and crossing fourteen countries. It was the time of notorious dictator Idi Amin, and of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Eric explained how they need to avoid any evidence, e.g. in their passports, of having visited South Africa – or they would have been refused entry into other African states.

Prior to the journey, the couple spent a year making extensive plans and preparation for their African adventure. This involved researching the road routes and driving conditions across the continent, the location of bridges and ferries across raging rivers, and where they could locate supplies of food, fuel and water. They even carried cigarettes, pencils and pens to distribute as gifts to villagers who helped them along the journey.

They reinforced their van to hold fuel containers, wheels, spare vehicle parts and a diverse array of vital items. And, of course, they needed to carry their food, water and first aid equipment. Extensive preparations proved worthwhile, as they encountered many hazards along the way, including breaking down three times as the traversed the barren landscape of the Sahara.

We were in awe of the couples’ skills as Eric explained how he and Thérèse learned to extricate themselves by digging their way out of mud and sand. Sometimes they had to lay a piece of fabric or vegetation beneath a wheel in order to gain traction, or by partially deflating the tyres to aid their extrication from the mud or sand. Often they needed to use these skills to help local people and fellow travellers.

One very interesting experience was having their van ferried across a wide river – having firstly to drive it onto planks laid astride five canoes lashed together.  This after having spent an hour in negotiations over the price, which then included a few cigarettes, and pencils. . It really was an experience!

Their travels took them across Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zaire, Nigeria, Algeria and many others countries. Throughout their journey they were moved by the hospitality and helpfulness of the local people. The wildlife was amazing with close encounters with elephants, giraffe, gorillas, hippo, leopard in trees, and many more. They showed us Stone Age cave paintings, ancient African settlements, the thundering cascades of Victoria Falls, the towering heights of Kilimanjaro, tea crops in Kenya, and the vast herds of wildebeest in the Serengeti. All this left a wealth of memories which they shared with us.

Chairman Chris Buxton summed it up most eloquently when she recounted a quote told to her many years ago, “When the sunshine of Africa burns itself into your heart, it stays with you forever.”

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Yellowstone– A World of nature

“Yellowstone- a World of Nature” was the subject of Trevor Davenport’s  third resentation to the Club. Host David Stretch introduced our guest speaker. He explained that Trevor, from Formby, is a keen photographer and an award winning member and Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.

The journey was the result of his interest in photography and nature, and his son’s fascination with vulcanology Trevor travelled to Jackson Hole in Wyoming, which he reports, is the poshest cowboy town imaginable. Here he met up with his son who had flown in from Japan, and together they toured both Yellowstone and Teton National Parks.
His informative and entertaining narrative kept us all enthralled as well as forewarned! He explained that Yellowstone, the first and largest of the American National Parks, offers amazing views of geothermal activity with its geysers, sulphur springs and bubbling mud pools.  But a word of caution; when this super-volcano erupts once more which it will, then the explosion will be 8000 times more powerful than Mt St Helens. So this is an area to treat with respect.

Trevor’s skills were certainly apparent in the quality of his stunning photography. He visited Madison River, made famous by the landscape phography of Ansel Adams, He then had us all laughing as he revealed a beautifully composed shot of the Madison River– and then another from further back, revealing the hundreds  of others waiting for their opportunity to capture the moment on camera! Patience is a virtue in photography.

We were delighted with his views of Old Faithful which, Trevor assured us, grumbles before erupting with its ghostly images appearing in the clouds heated spray. He found it quite haunting. Thermal pools such as the Grand Prismatic Spring were magnificent in their coloration, caused Trevor said, by the many thermophiles – bacteria that can live in waters at high temperatures. Porcupine Valley in contrast appeared as a Venus-like planet with travertine terraces and smelly hydrogen sulphide clouds.

Not only was the scenery fantastic but we were treated to a plethora of wild life images.  Trevor and his son were fortunate to encounter, both black and grizzly bears, coyote, wolves, lynx, elk, and bison… and they had superb images to prove it!
Member Mike Wilkinson commented, “It has been a great evening. What wonderful photography! All very informative and Trevor really made me laugh with his amusing anecdotes too. There was something to appeal to everyone.”

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“Castles, Cathedrals, Palaces and much more”

Spain and Portugal were the locations for the Travel Talks presentation by Dave and Julie Swift’s, entitled “Castles, Cathedrals, Palaces and much more.” The couple, from Lytham, are skilled speakers and their narrative and beautiful photography enabled us to enjoy the variety and spectacle of these two Iberian countries.

As their title suggests, the talk covered a huge range of themes. Historically we learned about the regions Roman bridges, gatehouses and hugely impressive aqueducts.. There were medieval city walls and impressive castles. The Castillo de Coca in Portugal, for example, gave an insight into the distinctive Moorish and Muslim designs to be found.

Julie reminded us of the long lasting impact of joint monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Their marriage united their domains to create the nation of Spain. They defeated the Moors, introduced the Spanish Inquisition, sponsored the explorations of Christopher Columbus, and had a lasting impact on the Spain of today.

Our travellers visited stunning and very different Cathedrals and monasteries. For example they found that in Toledo the Monastery of San Juan do los Reyes has walls which are festooned with the chains of slaves who had been enslaved by the Moors. In contrast, the San Lorenzo del Escorial is one of the largest monasteries in the world and was founded by Felipe II in 1577.

The pilgrim route to Santiago de Compestella, river trips, vineyards, port wine and fishing pots all added to the variety of this very enjoyable evening.

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Norway. The World's Most Beautiful Country?

That was the question put to our audience by Steuart and Anita Kellington from Clitheroe. They had wanted to visit Norway for some time and had finally put together their perfect package. Firstly, a visit to the northern Lofoten Islands then  they flew south west to stay in Ulvik, which is situated on Hardangerfjord.

We were introduced to their experience with a series of beautifully captured images set to music from the Norwegian Rhapsody.
During the week spent on one of the most stunning island archipelagos in the world, their base was the picturesque coastal town of Svolvaer. This little town has many red and yellow fishermen’s cabins set on the harbour with mountains as a striking backdrop. On a walk, they visited the historic town of Kabelvag which is the oldest town in Norway.

Steuart and Anita showed us how white sands on the beaches contrasted with the turquoise blue seas, and reflections of the yachts in the harbours were a photographer’s dream. They visited the gallery of the artist Gunnar Berg and walked through churches finding votive ships hanging from the ceilings.
A fascinating visit to the Viking Museum set in a reconstructed Viking Hall was where modern day “Vikings” explained and demonstrated all aspects of living, eating, hunting, weaving and carving.

On their travels around the islands they also saw many stockfish frames for air-drying cod, which was for centuries, Norway’s biggest export.
In their second week in Norway, Steuart and Anita took it in turns to guide us around the fjords and the mountains. Based in Ulvik, they discovered upland meadows, and apple and cherry orchards in the Alpine scenery.

This is an area of deep fjords, towering cliffs and small isolated farms. All this was enhanced by stunning waterfalls they photographed on their route. Anita was particularly impressed by a a very stylish “Loo” situated right on the side of a waterfall where you could watch the falls thundering down through a large glass panel!

A spectacular cruise from Gudvagen took them to the village of Flam where many cruise ships use the port as a stop off when visiting this lovely area. Steuart and Anita then boarded the world famous Flam Railway which took them from sea level to 866m. This is an engineering wonder with it’s steep gradient and numerous tunnels hewn out of the rock walls of this stunning valley. It is known as one of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys.
The Kellingtons finished off this enjoyable evening for us with more images of their trip accompanied by another excerpt from the Norwegian Rhapsody.

Our host for the evening, Karen Stretch thanked Steuart and Anita, saying that their photography had shown us just how stunning Norway is, with it’s clear air and wonderful light and repeated the question to the audience,”Did tonight make you think that Norway is the world’s most beautiful country?”

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“A Personal Perspective of Peru”

On a frosty and foggy night the audience of the Club delighted in the story, images and videos of Les and Pauline Mason’s journey through Peru. Pauline and Les firstly introduced us to the bustling city life of Lima. The Mira Flores district on the coast has many mosaics and we saw the huge statue of “The Lovers” that dominates the park. In between the beautiful squares that house the Cathedral, the Palaces and the Government Building there are pre- Columbian Temples and museums.

Their next destination of Arequipa showed us a white city built with sillar rock from the petrified ash of the three surrounding volcanoes, Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. One of the highlights of this visit was to wander around the 6th century Monastery of Santa Catalina where wealthy young ladies were sent to become nuns.  

Les told us about the drive up through the Altiplano into the Andes towards the Patapampa Pass at 16,109ft. Here, their guide urged them to drink or chew the coca leaves which combat altitude sickness. This trip was their first glimpse of the indigenous Alpaca and Llama. The site of the discovery of the sacrificed Inca Ice Maiden named Juanita was pointed out to them en route.

Staying in the town of Chivay,which was hit by an earthquake a month earlier, they sampled the hot springs at the hotel, and the next day our treat was to watch a wonderful video of the soaring Condors in Colca Canyon, accompanied by the haunting sound of the Peruvian pipes. It was here that Les and Pauline sampled their first taste of the Peruvian staple diet of guinea pig.

Moving on to Lake Titicaca, our intrepid travellers sailed out on the highest navigable lake in the world to visit the floating Totora reed islands that house the Uros people. On the way they climbed to the top of the island of Taquile, and saw the famous knitting handicrafts being delicately made by the men!

The enjoyable train journey to Cusco took them about ten hours, in Pullman carriages with fine dining and breathtaking views from the observation car. We were enthralled watching a short video of the train going right through the middle of the market of Juliaca. After settling in to their Cusco hotel, they wandered around and marveled at the Incan architecture and the skillfully worked stone blocks.

Aguas Calientes, en route to Machu Picchu was where Pauline and Les left the train to do the strenuous day’s hike along the original Inca trail to time their arrival at the Inti Punku or Sun Gate to watch the sun set over the ruins of Machu Picchu, one thousand feet below them.

They finished off this exciting adventure in the Peruvian Rainforest on the Rio Madre, a tributary of the Amazon where we saw Spider and Capuchin Monkeys, caiman, many exotic birds, and most of the jungle creepy crawlies!

Janet Lumby was our host for the evening and thanked Pauline and Les for a very interesting, well presented and diverse presentation that covered the culture, architecture, wonderful scenery and wildlife, and of course, our flight with the Condors!

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Les informed members that the recipe for Pisco Sour would be available on the website. True to his word, here it is:

3 oz Brandy*                                                                  *Pisco is a type of Peruvian brandy.  
1 oz lime juice
1 oz sugar syrup
1 egg white

Place in a cocktail shaker with a couple of ice cubes. Shake well and pour into a cocktail glass. Add a couple of drops of Angostura bitters.

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Members Evening

Our latest meeting of Travel Talks offered a trio of presentations encompassing: The Azores, Milwaukee in the USA, and finally a visit to the Isles of Scilly. The talks were provided by our own members: John Atherton, David Stretch and Ann McCarthy.

Host and vice chairman Keith Buxton, reminded us that “Members’ Evening is a yearly event which we all look forward to, offering as it does a variety of places and experiences to enjoy.”

John Atherton, a former Blackpool teacher, has both worked and travelled abroad extensively. He gave a very entertaining and informative account of his experiences when visiting five of the many volcanic islands of The Azores.  We had scenes of the volcanic cones, lava tunnels, and natural hot springs in this thermally active area. In contrast to this, the wildlife, the vineyards, the cathedrals, the beautiful scenery as well as local customs such as a soup festival, all enriched this fascinating debut presentation.

David Stretch, from Poulton le Fylde, gave a very different talk. He spoke about Milwaukee, which he informed us, is the cream city of the USA. It is the USA’s leading producer of powdered milk and also cheese. A keen enthusiast of anything American, David enjoyed visiting breweries, a museum devoted to the Harley Davidson motorbikes, and a museum of Experimental Aircraft.

Lastly Ann McCarthy, like the first speaker, had also enjoyed visiting islands. Unlike The Azores, hers were very different and much closer to home – namely The Scilly Isles. The beautiful coastal scenery, quiet beaches and attractive villages, the gardens of Tresco and the evidence of Iron Age settlements, all offered a very pleasant end to the evening.

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“Russia’s Arctic East of Murmansk”

The Club welcomed the return of Mo Holland as she presented ‘Russia’s Arctic, East of Murmansk.’  Kendal resident Mo was introduced by host Sheau O’Hara,  who said, “I am delighted to welcome Mo on her third visit to Travel Talks. Mo is a programme manager for cruise companies who take visitors to new and unusual destinations. She is well travelled, and has a host of tour experiences to share with us.”

Mo is a fascinating speaker, and her detailed account of the history of this part of Russia, which impacted so strongly on modern-day life, added real depth to her presentation. She recounted how Winston Churchill described Russia as.... “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” How true!

Mo told us of the first people to settle in the Arctic area of Solovki and the White Mountains, and of their descendants, the Sammi, who struggle to maintain their way of life. Her presentation filled us with awe, pity and respect for the courage and determination of the Sammi people who inhabit this desolate area and who continue to be persecuted.

At Murmansk, the headquarters of the Northern Fleet of submarines, life can be challenging. Mo’s photography showed us the industrial landscape of this area, with its abandoned nuclear submarines, poor housing, bitterly cold and sunless winters and contrasting long days in summer. It is certainly an unusual destination for intrepid travellers.

Solovki, in contrast, was quite different, with its beautiful restored 15th century monastery which is entirely enclosed by impressive walls. It is an area which Mo loves, but this too has a dark side. Mo gave a moving and heartfelt account of how, in 1921, the monastery was closed and became a gulag for incarcerating dissidents. Over 80,000 people lost their lives. Fortunately it 1939 it was again opened as a monastery, and Mo was able to share with us her deep respect for the love, devotion, bravery and fortitude of the people of this arctic area of Russia.

She visited the 12th century city Archangel which developed as a major trading area, and we were able to see its beautiful onion domed cathedral with its stunningly decorated interiors.

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Roads Less Travelled - Namibia, Botswana and Zambia

“Roads Less Travelled” was the very apt title of Zoe and Alan Barker’s presentation to eighty five members from Travel Talks. They entertained us with tales of their visits to different countries in Africa.

Member Ken Hall welcomed the couple to their first presentation at the popular club. He said, “Zoe and Alan have a passion for mountains and four-wheel drive vehicles, and will share with us their at times hair-raising adventures, as they explored less well frequented parts of Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.”

Zoe and Alan, from Stockport, explained that when they visited countries in Africa, they took care to check on the Foreign Office website regarding their destinations –risk of terrorism / tourist attacks / theft / wild animals / etc – but then carried on regardless! At least they had been warned, and they delight in travelling to remote areas which are rarely visited by tourists.

Their first trip was to Namibia, and involved the sensible decision to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle which would be able to cope with off road routes. However when they arrived, complete with a very small £5 ‘value’ tent for their accommodation, they found that their VW Jetta was decidedly not four wheel drive! But they pressed on and explored remote areas of Namibia, including the Skeleton Coast. This was named ‘the Gates of Hell’ by sailors, and it lived up to its reputation as they saw numerous shipwrecks submerged by the ever moving sand-dunes.
  
This contrasted with Fish Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. Exploring by light aircraft, it proved a hair raising trip when, on a turn, a door flew open and the passenger nearest was not wearing a seat belt!

A second visit was to Botswana, supposedly the safest country in Africa. It was beautiful. However crossing crocodile infested waters in a mokoro, a small wooden canoe, did not feel so safe to Zoe, who confessed to feeling petrified! Whilst in Botswana the couple visited Tsodilo, a UNASCO World Heritage Site where they were awed by the ancient rock art of the Bushmen. Over 3500 paintings, including rhino, water buffalo and humans could be seen.

Finally, to Zambia, and at last a four wheel drive vehicle complete which came complete with a tent on its roof!  However more unexpected adventures followed, including coming up close and personal with a hippo which chose to visit the camp, and being stranded for three days as their vehicle was trapped in deep sand! Fortunately our resolute travellers overcame these obstacles to enjoy viewing wildlife in the reserves, and concluding their trip with a rather apt visit to the memorial to Victorian explorer David Livingstone. Perhaps he was the inspiration for their African adventures!

Ken thanked Zoe and Alan for providing such a fascinating talk, and Programme Secretary Joan Gaffiney added, “What an inspiration!  With their wonderful photography and witty and entertaining narrative Zoe and Alan have reminded us of the beauty of Africa.”

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Eritrea and Ethiopia

Host Eric Hodge, from Poulton, welcomed celebrity speaker John Pilkington on his twelfth visit to the group. John is a travel writer, photographer and journalist. He has presented several programmes on BBC Radio 4, and has reported for ‘From Our Own Correspondent.’ He has spoken to over 1000 audiences in 5 countries, and holds the Royal Geographical Society’s Ness Award for popularising geography and the wider understanding of the world.

His presentation began with a short historical introduction which set the scene for his journey through Eritrea and Ethiopia.  John explained that in 1867, following an unsuccessful plea for military assistance from Queen Victoria, the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros  held hostage the British Consul and several colleagues. In the following year, an expeditionary force of 14,000 troops lead, by General Napier, was sent from India to rescue the hostages.  So on the 150th anniversary of the venture, John commemorated this event by retracing the steps of this campaign.    

He travelled to the isolated war-torn country of Eritrea and to its capital of Asmara, located at 7,500 ft in the cool mountains.  This mainly camel trading and marketing city was established as the capital by the Italians, and it still retains some of the colonial art-deco buildings, as well as the graves of 4,000 allied soldiers who died there during the Second World War.  Sadly many of the grand Ottoman buildings have been destroyed, or are sadly neglected.

The British rescue forces landed on the Eritrean coast. They brought with them 44 elephants and numerous camels and donkeys, and established a base camp. John explained that they had to build their own port infrastructure and used some of the first water condensing boilers in order to provide the force with much-needed water.

Travelling inland, John ascended the 6,000 foot route through the tortuous Devils Canyon to reach the highland plateau, only to find his journey interrupted by the ominous sound of gunfire in the distance. He had to turn back, just a few miles short of the Ethiopian border!

Forced to changed route, he eventually entered Ethiopia and continued his journey with a local guide, travelling through the Simian Mountains to villages such as Gondar where he witnessed a spectacular Christian Ceremony of the Epiphany.  We saw marvellous images of the Ethiopian people who, with their stunningly colourful clothes and beaming smiles, danced well into the night.

The final two weeks of his journey was along narrow, steep and winding tracks though the Simian Mountains to reach Magdala. Along the way John hired a donkey which he named Donald, who turned out to be totally unsuitable and lazy, but cute nevertheless.

At this point we saw John Pilkington as we have not seen him before - haggard and emaciated! Both he and the 1868 expedition had toiled in the heat of March and April and it was a truly remarkable feat that the army had managed to get all their equipment, guns, and ammunition, along with the elephants, up to the gates of Tewodros’s stronghold at Magdala.

After a short bombardment, Tewodros surrendered to the better trained and equipped British force, and the hostages were released, although it has to be said, they were and in much better condition that any of their rescuers.

Members Beryl Burnett, and Heather and Bernard Wright from Marton, enjoyed the evening and reported that this was “A geography and history lesson all rolled up in a fascinating, well produced, and well presented talk on a subject that few of us know anything about.”

Eric thanked John, and concluded the evening with the serendipitous revelation that his grandfather actually took part in this Abyssinian Campaign - he had even brought along his grandfather’s campaign medal to show us.

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Lake Come, The Jewel of Lombardy

Our speaker Val Fillingham, was introduced and welcomed by Chris Buxton, the Chairman of Travel Talks. Val is well travelled and this was her 3rd talk to our travel group and  is a member of Poulton Photographic Society. Val’s philosophy is that “Travel wouldn’t be the same without a camera in hand!” Chris explained that her talk was all about her visit to Lake Como  in the spring.

Val started by telling us all that this beautiful area of Lombardy in Northern Italy is known for it’s dramatic scenery in the foothills of the Alps. She showed us a map which clearly showed the upside down ‘Y' shape of the lake. Como is the third largest lake in Italy and is of glacial origin and the granite and limestone mountains reach an elevation of around 2,000ft.

Cadenabbia was the the town chosen for Val’s base while touring the area. It is situated on the western shores of the lake, and her hotel had beautiful views across the lake to Bellagio. The story goes that there was a tavern where boatmen used to arrive in their flat bottom cargo boats for a rest, and this tavern became the first tourist hotel in the early1800’s. We were surprised when Val told us that a regular visitor was Mary Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein!

The elegant promenade around the lake at Menaggio was the best viewpoint to see this medieval town at it’s best. Val took us on a wander through the old part to show us the narrow streets with the many shops of craftsmen are selling shoes and clothing. Then we went on an idyllic voyage on the local ferry which took us across Lake Como to Lecco. The snow still capping the mountains was a wonderful contrast to the blue of the waters. Arriving at the port, we saw the stunning jagged peaks as the backdrop to the 10th cent church of San Giovanni which was built in the 10th cent.

Our next adventure was taking the Bernina Express to  St Moritz. This scenic rail journey took us across the Italian border and through the alpine countryside to St Moritz, from sea level to the mountains in one journey, we were up in the snow watching the cable cars ferrying skiers to the peaks.

Val showed us many other small towns as she explored around this beautiful lake, she visited museums, and art galleries and showed us the stunning classical architecture of the huge summer houses that are owned by the very wealthy. She told us of the famous and infamous people that have lived and worked around the area starting from the Middle Ages and now there are the celebrities of the present day!  All the members enjoyed the ride on the funicular railway ride to the village of Brunate, she told us that this train made it’s first journey in 1894!

We finished our Italian evening at the spectacular Milan Cathedral, which took nearly six centuries to complete. We were all amazed by the intricacy of the delicate carvings that decorated the exterior with over three thousand statues, and thousands of individual spires, it was stunning!

Chris thanked Val for the quality of the photos which certainly showed the area at it’s springtime best.

Janet Lumby from Bispham said " It had been really fascinating seeing so many different styles of architecture, and she had particularly enjoyed the tasteful and colourful spring flowers that were displayed everywhere."

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Canada- The Rockies to the Badlands

Travel Talks had a great start to the new season when over ninety members and guests enjoyed a “Canada: The Rockies to the Badlands.”
It was presented by Blackpool residents Chris and Keith Buxton who are popular speakers as well as Chairman and Vice Chair of Travel Talks.

Superb photography and videos, accompanied by well informed narrative, enabled us to appreciate the couples’ experiences as they explored this beautiful and diverse area of Canada.

Their trip began in Vancouver from where they travelled to the Rockies. Fraser Canyon, with its fast flowing river, proved an important route during the gold rush of 1850. Chris recounted how the river was home to the longest fish ever caught in North American rivers – a massive 12ft 4ins long sturgeon – caught by an English fisherman!

We saw stunning mountain scenery, emerald green lakes and glaciers, and much local wildlife. This contrasted with scenes of railways, steam engines and mining facilities introduced into the area by European settlers.

Chris and Keith learned about the lives of the First Nation Americans, their town of Squamish, and we saw examples of their art work and heard their music. It is here that we find the mythical Sasquatch- the hairy, upright walking ape like creature of legend.

The Badlands provided a contrasting and equally fascinating landscape, including stratified hills made up of distinctive layers of sedimentary rock, canyons with curious and evocative names such as Horse Thief Canyon, towering hoodoos and amazing fossils. A highlight was a visit to the Royal Tyrrell Museum which houses a breathtaking display of reconstructed skeletons and life-size models of dinosaurs from prehistory.

Pauline thanked the couple for their inspirational presentation, and husband Les Mason concluded, “Chris and Keith’s talk did much to illustrate the personal, social and cultural aspects of this area, which many visitors might neglect, and as usual we were treated to superb images of the outstanding scenery. “

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