Azores High (points). I cannot recall any lows!

Forgive complete silence over the past few weeks. After several days at anchor in Horta harbour, it looked as if the marina was emptying out a little, so Tom visited the harbour office with Dora in tow, engaging her best “cow eyes” which secured us a berth in the marina to ourselves on a finger pontoon, so we’ve been able to come and go as we please and have running water and electricity on tap. We’ve taken advantage of this luxury and had an impromptu summer holiday.

Faial is one of a trio of islands (the others being Sao Jorge and Pico) within easy reach of each other by subsidised ferry and we’ve been doing some exploring. The islands are all volcanic in origin – some more obviously so than others.

Perhaps my favourite of all our pictures of ever present Pico, poking its head out of the clouds.

Pico is dominated by an enormous cone volcano – the highest mountain in Portugal – with solidified lava flows going right down to the sea. The enterprising settlers in the 15th century began growing wine on PIco and this required some innovative methods of cultivation due to the local environment. The rocks left by the old lava flows were broken up and used to build stone enclosures within which they planted individual vines, with soil imported from Faial across the channel. The vines are now a UNESCO world heritage site, dominating the landscape and producing deliciously drinkable wine.

A sample of the lava enclosures for vines on Pico. Faial in the background.

Faiail has a central but less obvious volcano, with an enormous caldera inside. As a change from the family Sunday hike up a volcano, we walked around the rim of this one. To liven it up the girls went one way and Tom and I the other and had a race to see who would get round the 7km rim first. Age triumphed on that one.

Caldera walk on Faial. Fortunately that wasn’t the last time we saw the children.

At the western end of Faial there is a far more dramatic reminder of the origins of the islands. In 1958, an eruption occurred to the west of the existing lighthouse on the point. This continued spewing ash and lava for some 18 months or so, and there remains a very lunar landscape on the western tip with the unique sight of a lighthouse a good few miles in from the sea. These eruptions left a lot of people displaced and the US government issued some 2000 plus visas to the Azoreans and their families which resulted in a significant out flow of people. It also means that whilst getting lost in fairly remote villages, we end up redirected on our way in perfect American English by a returned resident, and we found English very widely spoken across the islands. I expect that loss of so many young families actually made viability of island life quite precarious at the time, though Faiail has a young and busy buzz to it nowadays in the height of summer.

Old lighthouse on the western tip of Faial. All the land beyond appeared in the late 1950s.

Dora and I inspecting one of a number of natural swimming pools wondering just how cold it would be.

Sao Jorge is definitely less populated but dairy farming, tourism and keeping the hedgerows looking beautiful seem to provide sufficient employment for the population. Daisy and I had a mini break on Sao Jorge, where she gamely joined me on some quite extreme walking on the exceptionally steep north coast. We saw wild orange trees and met an old lady who lived in an isolated one room hut by the sea with an Alsatian for company and a well kept visitors book. And had four different home made jams for breakfast at our simple but perfect hotel!

It’s quite hard to tell just how high up we were in the first picture unless you zoom in. Having made it down to the coast Daisy gamely kept smiling all the way back up again!

The Azores has accents of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall to its landscape with some unique features of its own. The grass grows richly, the roads are well maintained and virtually empty of traffic and the hedgerows are made up of blue hydrangeas. I could spend months here very happily exploring all the hiking trails and continuing to sample the local jams (fig, pineapple, orange, strawberry), pastries and vegetable soups, staying in restored farm buildings built from volcanic rock. But I will have to save that for another time, as the pages in the calendar keep turning and it is time to be moving on.

Cherubino’s crew looking East, checking out what lies ahead.

Tomorrow we set sail for La Coruna in Galicia, a week’s sail from here, if the winds are favourable. We are hopeful of a peaceful and uneventful voyage for what will be our last ocean (as opposed to sea) passage.

So lovely is Horta that many sailors decide to put down more permanent roots here.

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