The Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan.

A look at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is an iconic institution. Mounties dressed in their red serge parade uniforms are seen as symbols of the nation yet are also members of a police force using modern methods to maintain law and order in a country that their predecessors helped forge.

The North West Mounted Police

The Mounties trace their history back to 1873 when the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was established, after a report to the government described Canada’s western regions as being “without law, order, or security for life or property.” It was decided that the lawlessness had to end and three troops of 50 men were recruited from Ontario, Quebec and Canada’s Maritime provinces. The force’s current name was adopted on 1 December 1920 when the NWMP and Dominion Police forces merged.

Then, as now, recruits to the force were expected to be of upstanding character. Recruitment notices promised constables one dollar a day and stated: “Candidates must be active, able-bodied men of thoroughly sound constitution and exemplary character. They should be able to ride well, and to read and writer either the English or French language.” Their duties including calming unrest among First Nations people – then known as Indians – who had lost possessions to unscrupulous traders and suppressing illicit whiskey trafficking.

A March Out West

The initial march west, under the command of Commissioner George A. French, has entered into Canadian folklore. On 8 July 1874 the scarlet clad force set out from Dufferin in Mantoba, filing through a sparsely settled region with a baggage train that included field guns, agricultural equipment and cattle. They reached their destination – near modern day Lethbridge, Alberta – and established Fort Macleod, named after the NWMP’s Assistant Commissioner, James F. Macleod.

The first outlaws to be brought to justice were four whiskey traders. Remarkably, in the era of the Wild West, no member of the force fired a shot in anger during the first five years of the NWMP’s existence. In a region with few permanent settlers the officers won respect by undertaking tasks beyond merely enforcing the law. These included carrying mail, arranging weddings and funerals and helping fight prairie fires. When required, a Mountie could also undertake the duties of a coroner and acted as a Justice of the Peace.

The Blackfoot Treaty of 1877

The red coat became a symbol of authority, honesty and fairness. The NMWP played a key role in pacifying warring tribes and negotiated the Blackfoot Treaty of 1877. Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot Confederacy said; “If the police had not come to this country where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been left today. The police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter.”

Today the RCMP has more than 28,000 employees and the largest jurisdiction of any police force in the world, stretching 5,240km from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and 4,828km from Canada’s border with the USA up into the Arctic.

The Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the RCMP Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Sunset Retreat Ceremony at the RCMP Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Royal Patronage and Exploration

In 1903, the year prior to King Edward VII bestowing royal patronage, the NWMP established its first post within the Arctic Circle on Herschel Island, in order to stop whalers harming Inuit people. Under the command of Sergeant Henry Larsen Mounties even became pioneering navigators when, in 1940, the RCMP schooner St Roch became the first vessel to navigate the North-West Passage from west to east, while on patrol and delivering supplies to isolated police stations.

Thanks to such deeds and the influence of Hollywood the reputation of RCMP grew internationally. Many people falsely assume that the force’s motto is “a Mountie always get his man” but it’s actually Maintiens le droit, meaning ‘Maintain the right’. Television and movies also tend to convey the idea that officers their red uniforms and Stetson hats for everyday duties. That isn’t the case; these are now parade dress. When you’re on the streets of Canada you’ll see members of the RCMP on patrol wearing blue uniforms.

Values of Honour and Integrity

Honour and integrity – values emphasised in screen depictions of Mounties – do play an important role in the RCMP creed. The principles of justice, mercy and truth are reinforced during the training of members of the force. Today every Mountie’s career begins with a 24-week basic training programme at the RCMP Academy, known as a Depot Division, in Regina, Saskatchewan, which was established in 1885 along the lines of the Royal Irish Constabulary’s Depot of Instruction.

Around 14 per cent of recruits drop out of the course, with is offered in English and French and currently attracts approximately 18 per cent of participants from ethnic minority groups. In 1990 Baltej Singh Dhillon, a Sikh, was permitted to wear a turban rather than a Stetson. The first female Mounties graduated in 1975 and about a third of the cadets at Depot Division are currently women.

The Sunset Retreat Ceremony

During summer months visitors are permitted into the Depot Division to watch the weekly Sunset Retreat Ceremony, held on Tuesday evenings. Mounties drill and march in formation while bands perform. As the sun begins to set the Canadian flag is ceremonially lowered.

The adjacent RCMP Heritage Centre is open throughout the year and tells the story of the force. Visitors can see early uniforms, learn about the RCMP’s diverse roles and read about episodes from its history, including serving in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902 and on the Western Front and in Siberia during World War One (1914-1918). Artefacts on show include the Sioux chief Sitting Bull’s rifle case, medals and vehicles.

The RCMP has evolved into a modern police force. Visiting the RCMP Heritage Centre illustrates how its traditions and values reflect those at the core of Canadian society.

Further information

See the Tourism Saskatchewan and Canadian Tourism Commission websites.

Learn more on the RCMP and RCMP Heritage Centre websites, including opening times and temporary exhibitions.

A Mountie in stained glass at the chapel at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan.

A Mountie in stained glass at the chapel at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Wisps of cloud under the summit of the Dents du Midi mountain, in the Chablais Alps, Valais Canton, Switzerland

Exploring the mountains of Switzerland

Looking across the Rhone Valley from the Swiss town of Villars and you’ll see seven jagged summits gnawing 3,257 metres into the sky. Ask a French-speaking local the name of peaks and you’ll be told they are the Dents du Midi meaning ‘the teeth of the south.’

If you enjoy mountain scenery there’s certainly plenty to get your teeth into in Switzerland’s Lake Geneva Region. Vaud, a canton that joined the Swiss Confederation in 1803, stands central to the region. Within its boundaries you can visit the Alps, of which the Dents du Midi are a part, plus the Jura range of mountains.

Walking in the Waadtlaender Jura

The Jura are not so rugged as the Alps, nor do they match their altitude. The peaks of the Waadtlaender Jura rise to around 1,700 metres above sea level. Their densely forested slopes make them scenic. Trails through their arboreal coverage prove popular with walkers of all ages.

The mountains themselves were forced upwards during the Cenozoic Era – about 65 million years ago – around the same time as the Alps were formed. However, the Jura’s limestone base is significantly older and, as their name hints, can be dated to the Jurassic period, of around 200 to 145 million years ago. The Prussian geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt did indeed find fossils in what he termed the Jura Limestone but none of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which may have terrorised visitors to Jurassic Park but actually walked the earth as recently as 68 to 66 million years ago, long after the Jurassic period.

The Jura are dwarfed by the Alps and the highest peak in Vaud is on the Diablerets massif, at an altitude of 3,209 metres (the Dents du Midi, in case you are wondering, are in the neighbouring canton, Valais).

Golf in the Mountains

You don’t need to be into winter sports or a skilled climber to appreciate the Alpine scenery, though skiers and snowboarders are drawn to the mountains above Villars-Gryon to enjoy 125km of pistes, including some that zip straight over the top of the inclined, snow-covered fairways of Golf Club Villars.

Early Alpine tourists, in the mid-19th century, would have needed to carefully prepare if they wished to reach the summit of the Col du Pillon (1,546m) or gaze at Tsanfleuron glacier above Villars. Today the latter is known as Glacier 3000, due to its altitude, and cable cars make the ascent accessible to all.

A sleek, modern mountaintop building – something that might not look out of place in a James Bond movie – houses the Restaurant Botta, named after its designer, the architect Mario Botta. On clear days diners have panoramas of snow-capped summits, including views of the Matterhorn, which peaks at a prodigious 4,478 metres above sea level. Many people come here to relax on sun-loungers and enjoy the views on sunny days rather than to exert themselves descending the 7km long Olden piste.

Exploring Bex Salt Mine

If the weather proves less favourable you could always take shelter underground while exploring a historic attraction. The importance of winter sports on the region’s economy might lead you to think it’s snow that the Swiss would nickname ‘white gold.’ In actual fact, the term has long been associated with salt. For centuries salt was essential for the preservation of food. Bex Salt Mines have been a source of this valuable commodity since 1684.

The narrow-gauge trains once used by salt miners to reach their place of work now take you into the heart of the mountain. Guides then lead you on foot to explain the history of the mine on a guided tours lasting approximately an hour. An audio-visual presentation, providing detailed background information, is held at the site of a reservoir excavated in 1826.

Trains also prove an effective way of travelling around the Lake Geneva Region. Many travellers fly into Geneva, at the western edge of Lake Geneva. The outline of the lake, when seen on a map, bears a striking resemblance the arched form of a leaping yet tailless fish. Geneva would be located at the tail while Villars is situated in front of the head.

Rail Travel in Switzerland

Trains skirt along the scenic northern shore of the lake – through Lausanne, the capital of the Olympic movement, and Montreaux, a city renowned for its annual jazz festival – then use their rack and pinion system to climb into the mountains. It’s worth having a camera at hand throughout the journey.

Swiss cheese is known throughout the world and the hamlet of Etivaz gives the name to one of the country’s finest. Production of Etivaz takes place from May to October on farms at between 1,000 and 2,000 metres above sea level. Alpine herbs consumed by grazing cows help give the cheese a distinctive flavour. Wheels of freshly made cheese are delivered to the La Maison de l’Etivaz, where they mature with the help of salting and regular turning.

Sharing Fondue and Drinks

At Le Chalet in Château-d’Oex you can see demonstrations of traditional cheese making over a log fire. The wooden building dates to 1837. You can also taste cheese fondue, a national delicacy and a dish made for sharing, at Le Chalet. There’s more technique than initially meets the eye to scooping up gloopy fondue on pieces of skewered bread. According to a light-hearted local tradition, diners who lose their bread in the fondue pot end up paying for a round of drinks.

Fondue isn’t the only method of consuming mountain cheese. Within the Refuge de Solalex, in the mountain hamlet of Gryon, you can take a seat by the fireside and watch as cheese is melted by the fire for raclette, another popular Alpine dish.

As locals well-know, there’s much to explore in the mountains of the Lake Geneva Region and good food is essential to making the most of life.

Further information

The Switzerland website is a good source of tourism related information and Swiss Travel Passes.

Evening in a mountain valley at the village of Solalex near Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

Evening in a mountain valley at the village of Solalex near Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

Pablo Larrazabal addresses the ball on the 18th fairway of the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Golf in Abu Dhabi

“If it’s a first trip to Abu Dhabi it’s a bit of a whammy because at this time we’re beginning to really reap the benefits in the growth of tourism to Abu Dhabi,” says Chris Card, the Group General Manager of Troon Golf, within sight of the falcon-shaped façade of Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s clubhouse.

Though we’re in the United Arab Emirates, a nation often associated with the arid landscapes of the Arabian Peninsula, the fairway we’re on is well tended and lush. The only sand in view is within a carefully raked bunker.

It’s a January afternoon and a soft breeze is swaying the palm fronds along the edge of the course. The sun is shining and the temperature is about 23°C. The weather is ideal for golf.

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Some of the world’s best golfers play along the fairway during the annual Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which was established in 2006 and has helped raise awareness that the emirate is a viable golf destination, especially during winter. Players such as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have competed in the event.

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is part of the PGA European Tour. Gary Stal, the French golfer, lifted the silver falcon trophy upon winning the 2015 tournament, following the examples of Pablo Larrazabal, in 2014, and Jamie Donaldson, in 2013.

Peter Harradine Designed Courses

Abu Dhabi Golf Club has two courses, both designed by Peter Harradine. The championship standard National Course has 90 bunkers along its 7,334 yards. The nine-hole, 3,399 yard Garden Course is floodlit and easier to play, making it accessible to less experienced players.

The National Course is one of three championship standard courses in the emirate.

“Of the three main championship golf courses, you’ll have three completely different experiences. From a links style golf course at Yas Links to more of a beach style at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club to a traditional style at Abu Dhabi Golf Club,” says Chris, who still plays when he can find the time.

Pablo Larrazabal during the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Pablo Larrazabal during the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Abu Dhabi’s Tourist Attractions

“It’s a good time to be here. We experience not only fantastic golf, fantastic hospitality with all of our resort partners and hotels and a great service from Etihad. But we also have things like Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld. You can’t miss the heritage side of Abu Dhabi,” says Chris, who previously managed at the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland.

The emirate is experiencing rapid development of its tourist attractions and the opening of a number of leading museums is planned over the next few years. The doors of the Louvre Abu Dhabi are scheduled to open in December 2015.

It’s anticipated that golf will be just one of the reasons visitors head to Abu Dhabi in the years to come.

How to get here

Etihad Airways is the national carrier of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi International Airport is Etihad’s hub for international connections. Check the possibility of arranging a stay over in Abu Dhabi to get a taste of what the emirate has to offer.

How to play

Take a look at Golf in Abu Dhabi to find out more about golf within the emirate. The site offers a number of golfing packages. Abu Dhabi has six pay and play courses, including three of championship standard.

Most hotels can arrange tee-off times for guests. You can also contact courses such as the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club and Abu Dhabi Golf Club directly.

Where to stay

The 172-room Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa (P.O. Box 126797; tel. +971 2 616 9999) provides stylish accommodation with private balconies and views of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s championship golf course. The Westin’s Heavenly Spa has six treatment rooms. The 700 square metre, lagoon-style pool area is fringed by palm trees, with sun loungers and a pool for swimming lengths. The hotel has six bars and restaurants serving international cuisine, including Sacci, where Italian food is served.

Further information

See the Visit Abu Dhabi website.

The Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.

The Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.

The North Brabant Museum in 's-Hertogenbosch.

A weekend in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch)

Don’t be confused by the fact the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch is also interchangeably known by its informal, abbreviated name, Den Bosch. This is a compact city with medieval origins and plenty to offer for a weekend break.

The city centre has a cobbled market place and numerous brick buildings on narrow lanes. It’s a pleasant place to stroll around, with plenty of bars and cafes to dip in and out of.

Brabant is not Holland

Locals are proud of their heritage and quick to point out their city lies in Brabant, which is part of the Netherlands but not Holland, which is a different province. They like to think of themselves as more laid back than the folk up north and will tell you this is the region to head if you enjoy good food and drink.

“We’re Catholics here so enjoy our beer and partying, then go to Confession and cleanse ourselves of sin, especially after the Carnival season, when this city goes absolutely crazy,” I was told jokingly by one resident in a conversation outside of a bar.

Attractions in Den Bosch

Arguably the best known landmark in Den Bosch is St John’s Cathedral, a 73 metre tall Gothic style place of worship housing an ornate pipe organ that was built between 1618 and 1638. The ramparts, surrounding the old town, are also worth wandering along. The citadel is a fine example of star-shaped, 17th century, military architecture.

You can take a boat tour around the narrow canals of the city centre. In places this means heading underneath buildings and passing colourful but grotesque sculptures based on the creatures depicted in paintings by Heironymus Bosch.

Bosch died in the city in 1516. His works depict moralistic and religious scenes and are distributed in leading art museums. His The Garden of Earthly Delights, for example, is in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. You can view the details of all his paintings on copies displayed within the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center (Jeroen Boschplein 2). The attraction within a former church hosts a recreation of his studio, more of the sculptures based upon his demonic creatures plus an astronomical clock that shows scenes from the Last Judgement.

If you enjoy art and history then head to the recently renovated museum quarter. On 24 May 2013 a ceremony was held to officially reopen of Het Noordbrabants Museum (North Brabant Museum), which is physically connected to the neighbouring Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch (De Mortel 4).

The Stedelijk has a collection of art jewellery and ceramics and hosts regular contemporary art and design exhibitions.

Het Noordbrabants Museum (Verwersstraat 41) is located within the 18th century military governor’s mansion and tells the story of the region’s heritage, history and culture from pre-historic times onwards. The highlights include archaeological finds from the Roman era to products designed and produced in Brabant. The museum’s impressive collection of artworks includes paintings by Vincent van Gogh, who was born in nearby Zundert.

2015 marks the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death. This is being commemorated by the Van Gogh Inspiration Year in Het Noordbrabants Museum. The exhibition Design from the Land of the Potato Eaters – Designers meet van Gogh runs until 26 April and examines how farmland, nature and simplicity – themes present in Van Gogh’s works – continue to influence new and established designers. More than 60 pieces from the highly regarded Würth art collection will be on display until 17 May in Hockney, Picasso, Tinguely and other Highlights from the Kunstsammlung Würth.

I could easily have spent longer than a weekend in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and heartily recommend a visit.

Quirky but Interesting

The city was founded by Henry I, the Duke of Brabant, in the late 12th century. The name ‘s-Hertogenbosch translates to ‘the duke’s forest’ while Den Bosch means simply ‘the forest.’

Detail of work by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 - 1516) at the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center.

Detail of work by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 – 1516) at the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center.

Ideas and Recommendations

Time for a Coffee

If you’re indecisive but love coffee then Den Bosch will prove a nightmare for you; the number of cafes is prodigious. If you enjoy music, pause in De Toonzaal (Prins Bernhardstraat 4-6), which locals recommend for its free Thursday evening concerts. High teas are served in ‘t Opkikkertje (Markt 38), a café with terrace seating on the marketplace plus a traditional, partially wood-panelled interior housing a collection of frog ornaments.

One of the highlights of any coffee break has to be trying a Bossche bol. There enormous cakes are essentially a spherical take on the chocolate éclair. Jan de Groot (Stationsweg 24) is said to be one of the best places to try one of the Bossche bollen.

Take Something Home

If you enjoy browsing market stalls then plan to be in the city on a Saturday when they are erected on the market place and in adjacent streets.

For a pair of traditional wooden shoes, head to master clog maker Frans van Kuijk (Voorstraat 47). Dutch souvenirs are available in De Kleine Winst (Markt 29).

It’s Beer O’Clock

Be prepared for a long night if you head out on the weekend in Den Bosch, which is renowned throughout the Netherlands for its gezelligheid. Ask for a precise definition of what that means and you’ll be met by a lot of umming, arring and shoulder shrugging but it boils down to warmth and hospitability. In pubs it means people are quick to chat to strangers.

The compact ‘t Bonte Palet (Hinthamerstraat 99) makes claims to being the city’s smallest pub and is crammed with bric-a-brac. De Gouwe Sleutel (Koninginnenlaan 28) is a laid-back, long-established bar with a wide selection of draught beers.

Don’t be surprised if you see people standing chatting on the streets with glasses in their wee hours of the morning.

Time to Dine

Breton (Korte Putstraat 26, tel. +31 (0)73 513 4705) is a cosy brasserie style restaurant with a modern, neutral interior. I chose to sit outside, under the canopy, where I could watch life unfold in the lane around me. Grilled prawns, served in a garlic sauce, followed by a rib eye steak proved a good start to an evening out in the city.

Choosing the three course menu in Zaher (Orthenstraat 87, tel. +31 (0)73 879 5185) means you’ll have an opportunity to taste a selection of Afghani cuisine. The hospitable owner took a few minutes to explain the influences behind the cuisine he serves and introduced each of the dishes, some of which are spicy while others are mild and fragrant.

Where to Stay

Booking one of the four rooms or two suites of the 3-star Stadshotel Jeroen (Jeroen Boschplein 6; tel. +31 (0)73 610 3556) places you in the centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, adjacent to the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center. The rooms have single beds and are located above Brasserie JB, where Fairtrade teas and coffees are served.

The 125-room Golden Tulip Hotel Central (Burg Loeffplein 98, tel. +31 (0)73 692 6926) is a comfortable, 4-star hotel with rooms overlooking the cobbled market square in the heart of the city. There’s a fitness room up on the seventh floor. The hotel has a brasserie overlooking the marketplace plus the fine-dining Restaurant De Leeuwenborgh, serving French and Dutch cuisine.

Getting to ‘s-Hertogenbosch

KLM flies into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol from regional airports across the United Kingdom as well as international airports around the world. By train ‘s-Hertogenbosch Central Station is a 65 minute ride from the railway station at Schiphol.

Further information

Find out more about the city and its attractions on the ‘s-Hertogenbosch Tourism Board website.

Visit Holland has information about the city, the surrounding region and the Netherlands as a whole.

The central railway station in 's-Hertogenbosch.

The central railway station in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Horses and riders during the Osterreiten (Easter Riding) procession at Panschwitz-Kuckau in Saxony, Germany.

Osterreiten – Easter riding in eastern Germany

“You know Osterreiten, the ‘Easter riding’ tradition of Saxony’s Sorbian speaking people?” I was asked while dining in Dresden’s Altmarktkeller.

That assumption was wrong, but I was about to learn. Over a couple of Schwarzbier, black beers served by a waitress dressed in a Dirndl – clothing I’ve always associated more with Bavaria than Saxony – I heard how eastern Germany’s Roman Catholic Sorb minority had survived challenges posed first by the repressive National Socialists and then the authorities of the German Democratic Republic.

“There are maybe 50,000 Sorbs,” I was told. “They are scattered throughout the towns and villages east of here. Some also live up in Brandenburg.”

If you take a train through Saxony’s Lusatia district you’ll spot a number of stations displaying bilingual place names. They are shown in German and Sorbian, a Slavic language. Bautzen, an attractive city roughly 50km east of the state capital, is also known as Budyšin.

The story of Osterreiten, horseback processions held by Sorbs on Easter Sunday, grabbed my attention. My hosts, a local couple, suggested we view one of the rides at the Kloster St Marienstern, an abbey in Panschwitz-Kuckau, a village lying on the plain north-west of Bautzen.

Osterreiten takes place in towns and villages throughout the region. One of the rides parades through the centre of Bautzen.

“You’ll make better photos at Panschwitz-Kuckau because it has a Gothic abbey with tall, arched windows and a white façade with red edging,” I was told.

We parked on Mühlweg, whose name was also shown as Młynski puć on a bilingual street sign.

As we walked towards the abbey we passed a war memorial, commemorating the fallen of the two world wars, plus a streetside crucifix bearing golden Jesus and Mary figures. A hand-painted sign read Knjez je nam bliski, without any translation into German.

Colourfully painted Easter eggs swung from trees in the gardens of a number of houses. Attached by ribbons, they bobbed in the wind under the still bare branches, reminding me of baubles hanging from a Christmas tree when it’s lost its needles.

Osterreiten is a solemn tradition, undertaken by Sorb men dressed in black. The participants don top hats, long coats, black ties and knee-length riding boots to ride horses in processions accompanied by hymns.

I was expecting to see mounted figures already present within the abbey’s courtyard, where hundreds of spectators were gathered. As we waited for the arrival of the riders I heard how a tradition of springtime riding pre-dated the arrival of Christianity, a thousand or so years ago. Men used to ride across the countryside to banish evil spirits from the fields ahead of the growing season.

Bells rang, announcing the start of the Easter riding. I could make out distant singing before the first hooves clattered against the grey cobbles of the courtyard.

The horses looked well groomed, with flowers adding a flash of colour to their polished halters. The costumes of the men riding in the procession reminded me of pictures I’d seen of funerals in bygone days. To my ear, the tone of their hymns sounded more like a dirge than a celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

Religious observance, I’d heard, had been central to the Sorbs maintaining their identity during the twentieth century. Traditionally speaking, Saxony is a Protestant state and the Sorbs form part of a Roman Catholic minority. No religion received encouraged during the days of the German Democratic Republic, which ceased to exist on 3 October 1990.

Riders at the head of the parade carried red banners. One depicted the Lamb of God while the other showed a hilltop crucifix in front of the rising sun. Behind them rode a man holding a wooden crucifix bearing a sculpture of Jesus. Some of the men held hymn books but most knew the words by heart.

After circling the courtyard a number of times the parade headed out, to ride through the countryside and nearby villages.

When most onlookers had filed away I spotted an aged Sorb woman, dressed in black with white lace at her neck. With her headscarf pinned back into the shape of a bonnet and a heavy woollen jacket buttoned to the lace, she would not have looked out of place in a late nineteenth century oil painting depicting rural life.

As we drove back in the direction of Bautzen we saw the slow Osterreiten procession heading across recently ploughed fields. The tradition of Easter riding may not be well-known outside of Germany but lives on in the Sorb communities of Saxony.

Further information

Learn more about Saxony via the Saxony Tourism website.

Find out more about Germany and its traditions on the Germany Travel portal.

Kloster St Marienstern (Ćišinskistrasse 35, Panschwitz-Kuckau) was founded in 1248. The treasury museum is open to the public from March to October (closed Mondays).

Getting there

Lufthansa flies from London Heathrow to Dresden via its German hubs. Germanwings flies between Manchester and Berlin. Regional trains provide connections between the German capital and the towns and cities of Saxony.

Where to eat

The Altmarkt Keller (Altmarkt 4, Dresden; tel. +49 (0)351 4818 130) is a German beer house serving hearty Saxon and Bohemian cuisine. It has an atmospheric vaulted cellar and outdoor seating under umbrellas.

Where to stay

The 30-room Hotel Goldener Adler (Hauptmarkt 4, Bautzen; tel. +49 (0)3591 48660) has 4-stars and is located next to the town hall in Bautzen’s Altstadt (old town quarter).

Hotel Evabrunnen (Altmarkt 30, Bischofswerda; tel. +49 (0)3594 7510) has 41 affordably priced rooms and provides breakfast.

Horses and riders during the Osterreiten (Easter Riding) procession at Panschwitz-Kuckau in Saxony, Germany.

Horses and riders during the Osterreiten (Easter Riding) procession at Panschwitz-Kuckau in Saxony, Germany.

The MS Magellan cruise ship docked at the Port of Tyne, England.

The Magellan cruises into the Port of Tyne

Even before the clocks went back an hour, marking the official start of British Summer Time, the 2015 cruising season had opened at the Port of Tyne.

On 28 March 2015 Magellan, the Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) line’s new flagship, docked at the Northumbrian Quay to embark around 600 passengers sailing on a seven night cruise to the Norwegian Fjords. She will return on 4 and 11 April, repeating a journey encompassing Dundee, Ulvik, Hardangerfjord and Eidfjord before visiting Flåm, Sognefjord and Bergen.

Cruise ships will dock at the Port of Tyne 27 times over the months ahead. For the 2016 season 32 cruise calls are already scheduled.

Named by TV’s Gloria Hunniford

The Magellan was named by Gloria Hunniford, the television personality, during a ceremony at Tilbury on 12 March. The naming was in honour of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese-born explorer who led the expedition that in 1522 completed the first circumnavigation of the world.

Launched in 1985, the Magellan carries an average of 1,250 passengers in 726 cabins distributed across nine decks. No children are permitted aboard and youngsters aged from 16 to 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

I was invited on board for a tour of the ship and lunch in the smart Kensington Restaurant, one of the Magellan’s two waiter-service dining rooms, the other being the Waldorf. Additionally, Raffles Bistro is a casual dining environment.

Robert Falcon Scott and Live Entertainment

A number of bars and lounges on located on the ninth deck and in outdoor areas. The ship also hosts Scott’s Nightclub, named after the British Antarctic explorer (not the London-based Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, as I initially surmised).

Live entertainment is provided via two cabaret shows an evening in the plush, theatre-style show lounge, which has 793 seats.

The Magellan’s facilities include a wellness centre, a spa and salon area plus a fitness room. A library and shops are also located onboard.

Cruising and North-East England

“CMV has enjoyed a very successful time cruising from Newcastle, so this year we are using two ships in order to respond to what is in demand in the North East. The Port of Tyne offers us good facilities and, most importantly, a quick check in and disembarking operation for our passengers,” said Mike Hall, CMV’s Head of Marketing.

Susan Wear, Port of Tyne’s Director of Corporate Affairs, presented CMV with a piece of hand blown coloured glass to commemorate the Magellan’s inaugural call.

“Cruise departures are growing, with many more people choosing to start their holiday directly from the Port of Tyne and it is really good news that CMV and Fred. Olsen are both extending their departures to include new and exciting destinations like St Petersburg, Morocco, Spain and the Azores,” said Ms Wear, who estimated that the Port of Tyne contributes around £560m a year to the economy of north-east England.

Cruise and ferry passengers account for a spend of around £50m while visiting destinations in the region, including the cities of Newcastle-Gateshead and Durham plus nearby attractions, such as Alnwick Garden and the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

The Port of Tyne is one of the country’s fastest growing deep-sea ports and was named UK Port of the Year at the 2014 National Transport Awards.

Further information

The Cruise and Maritime Voyages (tel. +44 (0)844 998 3877) ship Marco Polo is also cruising from the Port of Tyne in 2015, sailing to a number of Baltic cities and St Petersburg on 12 May and 6 June. She will depart from Port of Tyne for a 12 night cruise to Iceland and the Northern Isles on 25 May.

The Magellan is registered in Nassau, the Bahamas, has a length of 222 metres (728.4ft), a beam of 28 metres (92ft) and a capacity of 46,052 gross registered tonnes. She is stabilised, has air conditioning and 12 decks. The ship has 12 categories of cabins plus three types of deluxe staterooms in 14 balcony suites. The Magellan’s cruising speed is 15 to 16 knots an hour.

Cruise Critic named Port of Tyne the UK’s Best Port of Call in 2011.Creme Brulee served in the Magellan's Kensington Restaurant.

Creme Brulee served in the Magellan‘s Kensington Restaurant.

The spire of St Mary Magdalene church rises over building on the market square in Newark-upon-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

Exploring England by rail: Newark-upon-Trent

Newark-upon-Trent lies on the United Kingdom’s East Coast line, meaning it’s accessible for visits by rail. Yet for years it’s also proven a surprisingly easy place for me to zip through without stepping down from the train.

A discounted rail fare offer proves the tipping point for change, encouraging me to take a day trip to Newark, a history-rich town whose heart is a vast, cobbled Market Square. The medieval spire of the Church of St Mary Magdalene peeks above the pastel fronted buildings abutting the square. The church’s interiors were restored during Victorian times by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the prolific Gothic revivalist architect who designed the Midland Grand Hotel (today the chic St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel).

A Photogenic Town Centre

The most striking facade on the photogenic square is the town hall, an elegant, honey-coloured Georgian building, which I enter to view the restored assembly rooms and to take a look at the civic museum and art gallery. Town charters, mayoral robes plus roughly pressed, diamond-shaped coins known as siege pieces, dating from the Civil War in the 1640s, count among the exhibits.

Newark was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and besieged three times between 1642 and 1646. Newark Castle, whose shell overlooks the River Trent, was torn apart by Parliamentarian troops in 1646.

I wander past a number of timber-framed buildings, including the Governor’s House, which must now be the most eye-catching of all the many Greggs cafés and snack shops in the country. I also spot a handful of antique shops as I mooch around the compact town centre.

National Civil War Centre

All told, Newark makes a positive impression and I mention this to Michael Constantine, manager of the National Civil War Centre, when we meet at the attraction, which opens on 3 May 2015. He’s heard numerous similar comments and nods. “People here often say ‘Newark’s the best town you’ve never visited’,” he jokes.

The family-friendly centre will host artefacts and exhibits relating to the build up to the Civil War, look at how the war affected Newark and the country as a whole, and also examine the legacy of the conflict. There will be interactives plus films bringing to life the stories of individuals involved in the siege of Newark.

Michael explains how an augmented reality Civil War walking trail will become active from mid-April. People will be able to use smart phones and tablets to trigger film clips and games at various points around the town. I spot a handful of the trails information boards, still covered in protective sheeting saying ‘Coming Soon.’

On the edge of Newark, in the Sconce and Devon Park, I visit earthworks constructed by Royalist defenders nearly 400 years ago. The Queen’s Sconce is one of the best preserved examples of 17th century earthworks in Europe. Defenders stayed ‘ensconced’ as part of efforts to stay safe from cannon and musket fire.

Sitting on a park bench overlooking the sconce, enjoying the warmth of spring sunshine, I can’t help wondering why it’s taken me so long to finally travel to Newark.

Ideas and Recommendations

Time for Lunch

I paused for a hand-pulled pint and a pot roasted partridge in The Prince Rupert (46 Stodman Street; tel. +44 (0)1636 918121), a pub whose history dates to “c.1452” according to the sign outside. The pub underwent major renovations before re-opening in 2010. It has Olde Worlde style rooms with oak beams plus a bright conservatory area.

The food served here goes way beyond simple pub grub, though dishes such as fish and chips and burgers are available. My partridge was slow cooked in red wine with smoked bacon and redcurrants and served with savoy cabbage, mashed potato and parsnip crisps and just what I want from a gastropub. The availability of free bottled tap water on tables is a welcome sight after spending a morning walking.

If you enjoy pizza then you may be drawn by the ‘pizza and a pint’ specials or be tempted to design your own from the list of toppings available.

Pot roasted partridge served at The Prince Rupert in Newark.

Pot roasted partridge served at The Prince Rupert in Newark.

Take Something Home

Wandering through Newark means you’ll be able to browse the windows of numerous independent shops. The Buttermarket, which was converted to an indoor shopping centre in 1990, is home to several of them.

I picked up a couple of interesting, European craft beers at The Real Ale Store (12–14 Kirk Gate), which stocks bottles produced by international and British breweries.

G.H. Porter Provisions (1-3 Bridge Street) is a fine example of a long-established delicatessen whose displays and shop window continue to look attractive. Porter’s has been in business since 1890 and is best known for smoking meats and roasting coffees.

Quirky but Interesting

King John died at Newark Castle on 19 October 1216, a little more than a year after putting his seal to the Magna Carta. John was in conflict with feudal lords, fighting what became known as the First Barons’ War. It was to be John’s last.

Rumours persist that he was poisoned by a monk at Swineshead Abbey, where he stayed after losing his baggage train. It’s now thought John contracted dysentery and that his condition deteriorated over the following days. He was too ill to travel on from Newark and passed away in the castle overlooking the River Trent. His body was moved and buried in Worcester Cathedral.

Time for a Coffee

Newark hosts a good number of cafés, including a Starbucks on the Market Place. The Charles I Coffee House (37-39 Kirkgate) is within the timber framed building.

I enjoyed a coffee and a slice of carrot cake in Stray’s (16-20 Middlegate; tel. +44 (0)1636 700 597), which doubles as a jazz and tapas venue on Friday evenings. The personable owner, Mat Short, is passionate about jazz and hosts open sessions on the second Sunday of each month.

Frameless, black and white photos of jazz musicians are displayed on the brickwork walls of the split-level café, which backs onto the independent bookshop opened by Short in 2003.

It’s Beer O’Clock

If you enjoy real ale head to the Just Beer Micropub (32A Castlegate), tucked away off the main road in the Swan and Salmon Yard. This narrow but atmospheric pub has tapped more than 3,000 casks and served more than 2,600 ales since opening in August 2010. You’ll find a dartboard to play with, as well as a beer engine with moving parts. Beers are served from behind a tiny brick-built bar just wide enough for three people to stand abreast.

Getting to Newark-upon-Trent

Newark Northgate is 1 hour 13 minutes north of London Kings Cross railway station, 1 hour 47 minutes south of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and around 3.5 hours from Edinburgh. Newark Northgate station is located just under a mile from the town centre.

When to Go

The National Civil War Centre (14 Appletongate) opens in Newark on 3 May. Historic re-enactment groups will be in town over the bank holiday weekend (3-6 May 2015), recreating Civil War fighting between Royalist and Parliamentarian armies.

Where to Stay

Kelham House (Main Street, Kelham; tel. +44 (0)1636 705266) is a country manor located a couple of miles from Newark. This Edwardian house dates from 1903 and provides luxury accommodation in 12 guestrooms. Over recent years Kelham House has been developed into a conference and wedding venue. The hotel’s Kitchen Garden Restaurant serves British and European cuisine.

If you’d prefer to stay in town then the Grange Hotel (73 London Road; tel. +44 (0)1636 703399) may be more your style. The hotel has 19 en suite bedrooms, some with four poster beds, a restaurant and a bar. The well-tended Victorian garden has helped the hotel scoop awards in East Midlands in Bloom competitions.

Further information

See the Visit Newark and Experience Nottinghamshire websites to learn more about the city and surrounding region. The Visit England website also has information.

The Classical Georgian facade of the Town Hall and Butter Market shopping arcade, built in 1776, in Newark-upon-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

The Classical Georgian facade of the Town Hall and Butter Market shopping arcade, built in 1776, in Newark-upon-Trent, Nottinghamshire.

The Berns sign in Stockholm, Sweden.

Berns – a Stockholm boutique hotel and more

Berns, I learn during my two night stay close to central Stockholm’s Nybroviken Harbour, is more than just a hotel. You might think it smacks of marketing speak to describe a hotel as an institution but this place is worthy of the term.

Heinrich Robert Berns, a successful pastry chef, established his café-cum-concert hall, Berns Salonger, at this site back in July 1863, with an orchestra proving a popular draw. Today it’s also a live music venue, a nightclub and has two restaurants. The hotel side of the business was established just a generation ago, in 1989. Berns is a chic yet affordable boutique hotel with 82 individually furnished guestrooms, designed by Olle Rex and displaying original artworks.

Stockholm’s Cultural Scene

This hip venue has its finger firmly on the pulse of Stockholm’s cultural scene. Berns partners with the city’s fashion and art weeks, as well as the film festival, which explains why you’ll see photos of actors displayed around the hotel. It also means you’ll be able to get hold of tickets for fashion shows if you’re around during Stockholm Fashion Week (held in mid-May).

On arrival the reception staff prove personable and well-informed about Stockholm’s attractions, helping me to orientate and find attractions and bars. Their willingness to chat is welcoming and they strike a balance between professionalism and informality.

Chic Accommodation in Boutique Rooms

I’m staying in room 508, which has a flat-screen TV at the foot of the bed, on top of shelving containing a number of coffee table books on art, Swedish design and photography. I grab books on Helmut Newton and Andreas Gursky and flick through them while relaxing on the leather sofa. My room also has a desk and French windows. The mirrored bathroom has rainfall and power showers plus a gorgeously scented range of Malin and Goetz skincare products, including a rum body wash.

Berns is no stranger to visiting stars and dignitaries. Guests have included the Dalai Lama and Bill Gates. The hotel made the news a few years ago when the Spice Girls shocked neighbours by sunbathing topless. The terrace they appeared on is visible from my room.

Live Music by International Stars

Long before the hotel was built the Stora Salongen, an ornate music hall, was drawing people to Berns. The hall dates from 1886 and holds up to 1,200 people. A number of top international performers have appeared over the years. In 1968 the Supremes and Aretha Franklin played, and in 2012 Rihanna performed. The Prodigy, Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan are also among the names to have been on the stage. With bas-relief stucco, gilded artwork and chandeliers it’s not the kind of place I immediately associate with the pop and rap acts who’ll be performing over the months ahead.

“I have a deluxe room above the stage that used to be the dressing room of Marlene Dietrich and displays photos of her,” says Annika Frisch, Sales Manager at Berns, as we chat on the balcony. Dietrich performed here more than 20 times over a five year period. She is, of course, one of the divas widely adored within the gay community, which the hotel welcomes.

Nightclub, Bar and Restaurant

Berns tends to become busy at weekends and is popular for its basement nightclub, 2.35:1, named after the format of video films once shown there. The décor of the club changes every three to four months, with original artwork by Swedish artists displayed on the walls. The club remains open until 5.00am but I don’t notice the sound from my bed.

A buffet breakfast is laid out in the conservatory of the original hall, which has mirrored walls, chandeliers and booths with leather seating. Since 1940 it has hosted an Asian restaurant, Asiatiska (+46 (0)8 5663 2766), for which reservations are highly recommended. DJs perform on evenings from Thursday to Saturday. I book a seat at the sushi bar. The chefs prove entertaining, working with verve to prepare sushi and sashimi dishes. As the evening progresses the place takes on the feel of a lounge-bar.

Sipping on a Swedish wheat beer I mull my options for the night ahead. Do I stay here for the evening or head out to a nearby bar?

Further information

Berns is located by Berzelii Park (Post Box 16340, 10327 Stockholm, tel. + 46 (0)8 5663 2200). See the Berns website for more information, to book a hotel room or to make a table reservation.

The hotel also has a compact fitness room plus eight meeting and conference rooms. Berns Bistro and Bar (+46 (0)8 5663 2515) also serves French style cuisine in the pavilion next to the hotel.

Guests booking rooms directly with the hotel can take advantage of a weekend package providing a VIP wristband giving priority access and free entrance to 2.35:1 plus five other leading Stockholm nightclubs (Ambassadeur, Hell’s Kitchen, Sturecompagniet, The Spy Bar and The White Room).

A room at Berns hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

A room at the Berns Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden.

Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

Kit review: Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket

Despite the chill in the air and overcast sky, we’re told spring is on the way to the United Kingdom. I’m planning to get out and walk a lot more frequently during the weeks ahead, so currently in the process of updating my equipment and outdoor clothing. A lightweight waterproof jacket is the latest addition to my wardrobe.

Craghopper’s Reaction Lite Jacket retails for £70 and is on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award list of recommended kit. I choose the blue version of the jacket, which is also available in black and red.

The material from which the jacket is made is a laminated fabric called AquaDry Membrane, created by fusing a breathable waterproof membrane to a durable outer shell. According to product information, the material has been treated with a ‘durable water repellent,’ known by the acronym DWR, which helps keep the outer surface dry. The breathability allows water vapour to escape while retaining body heat.

Water Resistant and Windproof

As you’d expect from a high quality water resistant and windproof jacket, seams are taped to prevent the ingress of water during rainstorms. In my tests featuring stretching and a high-pressure shower, the fabric –which is also tear resistant – lived up to the manufacturer’s claim that it remains waterproof even when stressed.

Though clearly designed for outdoor activities the Reaction Lite Jacket has a sleek, contemporary look. Weighing 485 grams, the jacket is lightweight, so no great burden while in a rucksack.

Pockets are zippable and deep. In addition to the two on the outside, at waist level, there’s an inner breast pocket. This doubles as a storage pouch for the jacket, which packs in on itself, reminding me of the raincoats I used to have as a child.

The hood holds an internal peak and has a Velcro strip at the rear so that how it sits can be adjusted.

This piece of kit looks and feels good and will be with me during my forthcoming walks in the Durham Dales and Northumberland National Park.

Further information

Craghoppers garments come with lifetime guarantees. The company also offers an internet price match promise. The product code for the Reaction Lite Jacket, which is available is sizes from XS to XL, is CMW682—CH.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is aimed at people aged between 14 and 24, encouraging the development of life and work skills through activities including outdoor expeditions.

A Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn. Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

A Craghoppers Reaction Lite Jacket being worn.

Dickies Medway Saftey Hiker boots being worn.

Kit Review: Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots

Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots bridge a gap between hiking gear and work wear.

As someone who has suffered from plantar fasciitis - a painful, long-term injury affecting the heels and soles of my feet – I’m keen to wear only quality, comfortable footwear. The condition is sometimes known as jogger’s heel and affects many runners, dancers and basketball players; years of leaping for rebounds on courts up and down the country stressed tissue on the sole of my feet.

Energy Absorbing Heels

These boots have antistatic and energy absorbing heels, which podiatrist Dina Gohil says is a trait of good walking boots.

Weighing in at 840 grams per boot, according to my trusty kitchen scales, you know you’re wearing the chunky but comfortable Medway Safety Hiker. The boots have vulcanised rubber scuff caps and heel guards and waterproofed leather uppers with a waxy finish.

I tested the boots by walking in the Durham Dales and pounding the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and found they offer good comfort plus ankle support.

The outsole is made of a cemented rubber compound, said by the manufacturer to be heat resistant to 300°C, not something I was able to put to the test effectively, even with sunshine streaming down to warm Newcastle’s Quayside on a beautiful spring day.

Water-resistant and Insulated

They are lined with breathable, water-resistant Thinsulate insulation.

The boots have steel toe caps plus a steel mid-sole, offering protection to ISO 20345 standards. This means they can withstand 200 joules of impact and 1500 Newton’s of compression.

Dickies Medway Safety Hikers look to be practical, hard-wearing and available in either brown or black.

Further information

Dickies was founded in 1922 and is today the world’s largest privately owned work wear company. Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boots retail for £60 and are available in sizes 6 to 12. The boots comply with European personal protective equipment standards.

Podiatrist Dina Gohil‘s clinic is at 58 South Moulton Street in Mayfair, London.

A Dickies Medway SS S3 boot.

A Dickies Medway Safety Hiker boot.