On a Lenten Walk

My wife had a study day at a Cliffe College, in the beautiful Peak District and so, having dropped her off, I took the opportunity to spend some time alone with my thoughts and reflect on this time leading up to Easter.

What better place than to go for a long walk than in the “Wilderness” of the hills and dales though it was far from being quiet, there were many walkers around enjoying the early spring – and I certainly wasn’t contemplating spending 40 days and 40 nights there.

As I walked, I determined that I would seek to take lessons from the things I saw around me.

I set out to walk up the high hill known as Mam Tor (The Mother Mountain). Some 3000 years ago, a settlement was built on its summit, and remnants of pottery and tools have been found scattered around the area. Today, a stone pathway leads walkers safely to the top – stray from it, and you put yourself at risk of stumbling on the steep slope. As I walked along that path, I once again understood that God’s word serves exactly the same purpose; it leads us safely onwards, directing our footsteps. How easy to try and take a short cut and then stumble by the wayside. Of course, being made of stone, some parts of it were rough – just as life is, and, not being as fit as I used to be (or ought to be), occasionally I had to stop to catch my breath. Sometimes on our Christian journey, it is so important for us to take the time to stop and reflect. We can so easily get bogged down with the everyday concerns of church life (and our lives in general) that we need to stop and refocus our attention on Christ – take time to catch your breath.

When I reached the top, I gazed out at the scene below me. Hazy as it was, the view from the top was still breath-taking and my thoughts moved to the words of Luke 4: 5-7 where we read that the devil took Jesus up high, showing Him all the Kingdoms of the world in an instant and offering them to Him there and then if He would only bow down and worship him. So arrogant in his rebellion against God, the devil sought to draw Christ away from His mission and claim the world as his own. Christ though, refused to validate the devil’s claim by refusing to bow down – “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil tries to make a similar claim on our lives, he entices us with material wealth and possessions and makes false promises – but our lives belong to the one that gave it to us, the one that knows all our needs and meets them. Oh the devil continually points out our faults to us, he tells us how undeserving of God’s love we are, but it is by God’s Grace that we are saved, all our wrong-doings are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus – we need to worship the Lord and serve only Him.

Walking to the foot of the hill by a different path led me to the Blue John Mine and the remains of the road that used to run between Castleton and the road to Chapel-en-le-Frith until a major land-slide brought about its closure in 1977. The tarmac lies twisted and cracked and in some parts at different levels. It has been many years since I walked along that road and I came across something that I never knew about – The Odin Mine. A disused lead mine at the base of the Treak Cliff hill. On the opposite side of the road is the site of the “Crushing Circle” where the lead ore was ground down by huge grit-stone wheels in order to get at the valuable mineral trapped within the rock. I sat there for a while pondering on those that carried out this work and wondered what I might glean from this. Jesus, the man, contained within him a gift so valuable it was beyond price. That gift is eternal life for all those that accept him into their lives. But, just as the ore had to be crushed to get at what was inside, so too Christ had to be crushed. To pay the price for all our transgressions, he had to be whipped and scourged and taken to the cross, there to die; broken; crushed. And he did it willingly.

A little way along the road I heard the sound of a shepherd whistling instructions to his dog. It is lambing season, and the field was full of new-born lambs eagerly suckling, their tails bouncing as they tugged away at their mother’s teat. The shepherd placed food into the troughs and the sheep came to him. A simple image; Christ as our shepherd, tending his flock.

From here, I walked up Winnats Pass, a high-sided gorge that, as I discovered on this walk, was formed underwater and is actually the remains of a coral reef. It is certainly awe-inspiring walking up the steep incline surrounded by towering rocky outcrops. I even found a rock at the side of the road that showed the distinct veining of the Blue-John fluorspar that the area is famous for.

And then I found a cave-like opening. It was a natural formation and yet seemed almost like a doorway. I didn’t go into it, water was dripping from the overhang and the ground around was very soft and muddy, but, as I looked at it, I saw in my mind’s eye the tomb where Jesus had been buried. I imagined a great stone rolled over this doorway into the cliff and then again saw it moved away. I moved a little closer to try to see in; the cave was empty, just as the tomb had been almost 2000 years ago when the women went there early on that first Easter morning – and there was but a single thought running through my mind – JESUS IS ALIVE. I hadn’t been alone on my walk; He had been with me the whole time. It was Him that had spoken and revealed Himself to me in the wonderful things that I had seen around me.

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On walking on fire

I recently had the opportunity to undertake a rather unusual challenge to raise money for The Children’s Heart Surgery Fund at Leeds General Infirmary – a Fire Walk.

In the eyes of many, there is an air of mystery surrounding this practice – fire is hot; it will burn you, so how can you walk over glowing embers radiating temperatures of around 1000 degrees centigrade? It defies logic.

Certainly many of those that I spoke to before the event had various theories about how it is done; they put some protective cream on your feet, they hypnotise you, it’s “Mind over Matter,” it’s about chanting a mantra to give just a few. But, as I found out, none of those is actually true.

What is certainly true is that there is a very real and present danger when playing with fire – human flesh is destroyed at around 300 degrees centigrade and one does not undertake this activity lightly. Every natural sense tells you not to walk onto that glowing pathway.

In reality, physics plays a major role in the ability of an individual to walk across a seemingly impossible bed of hot embers.

Walking at a good pace ensures that the foot does not come into contact with the glowing embers for any length of time. Dry wood, whilst radiating a great deal of heat, is in fact, a poor conductor of heat and so does not transfer heat easily to the walkers feet (although standing still on a burning log would certainly not be recommended – that would burn). In addition, a phenomenon known as the leidenfrost effect may also come into play in which a liquid (the natural moisture of the foot) coming into contact with heat creates an insulating vapour that may help protect the walkers feet.

Accepting the physics of the act however can only take you so far. Feeling the heat of the fire on your face and body produces a natural instinct to avoid walking. It is a primal fear that screams in your mind to turn away. Facing that fear, deciding to ignore the inner voice and choosing to walk along the burning path is an act of self-determination that opens the individual to a world of new possibilities.

Would I do it again? in the blink of an eye – especially if it meant raising another £800 for such a worthwhile charity.


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On Santander Bank

Dear Sirs,

TWO weeks ago, I sent you a letter asking to close an account with Santander Bank (apparently voted “Best Bank 2012” by some money magazine!). This account, which has only a small balance in it, is an “on-line” account opened with the Alliance & Leicester Building Society before they were “swallowed up.” This means that money could only be paid into and out of the account through the internet using a nominated account (details of which you have had for quite some years now).

Today, I received your letter asking for proof of my identity;

1)      My passport – I’m NOT sending that through the post to you so, phoning up for advice, I’m told “a photocopy will do”. Now, since you cannot be sure that it is indeed ME that sends the passport, and, since it is only a photocopy, how sure can you be that it is genuine?

2)      Proof of my address – Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but have you not just written to me at my home address to ask me to send you proof of my address? The same address that is on your records and has been for some time? And you want me to send you a copy of a utility bill with that same address on? And a copy of YOUR letter that you’ve just sent to me at MY address?

Now the logic of your request has thrown me completely and surely, the best security and proof that the request came from me is;

1)      MY SIGNATURE on the letter requesting closure – which, although there may be some slight variation, has not substantially changed since I opened the account.

2)      MY ADDRESS – the same one that is on the account, the same one that you have written to me at and where we have lived for almost 28 years and against which the Alliance and Leicester held a mortgage at the time that we opened this account.

3)      MY NOMINATED BANK ACCOUNT – into which I asked you to transfer the small balance, which is exactly the same one that you have on your records.

Since I would like MY MONEY, I will send the items that you have requested and hope that the transfer is effected soon after. As I stated on the telephone, if I owed YOU money, it would certainly not have taken you TWO weeks to “process” a demand; in fact you would have been all over me like a rash.

Yours faithfully,

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An open letter to SKY TV

Dear Sky TV,

You recently wrote to me asking that I consider becoming a SKY customer once again. To tempt me you sent a shiny document (obviously paid for by SKY subscribers) trying to tell me why you are so much better than Virgin. So let me now ask you (albeit tongue in cheek) some questions in a similar vein


Sky Atlantic – Wow Sky, how did this channel come about?

Well let’s see, we had a bit of a fall out with Virgin a few years ago because they refused to pay us the extortionate amount we wanted to carry our channels and so we pulled Sky One from them thinking that people would be so upset about not being able to see the last episodes of LOST that we they would migrate in their thousands to SKY.

Oh I see. And did that happen?

Well no, in fact we realised that the Virgin channels Bravo and Living were actually getting a bigger market share than we were.

So what did you do?

Oh that’s easy, we bought the channels from Virgin, got “rid” of Bravo and re-branded Living to SKYLiving. Then, after a while we brought out the “exclusive” Sky Atlantic – which had a lot of the Bravo programmes on it.

AH – so you effectively re-branded Bravo as well, but because you removed that channel for a while, you were able to ensure that you could keep it to yourselves and use it to draw people away from Virgin – has it worked?



OK, let’s talk broadband – I see you try to say that Virgin cannot guarantee their speed due to their “Traffic Management Policy” and yet I am consistently receiving 60mb without any issues (its plenty fast enough for me though I could upgrade to 100mb) I believe that this is because, in spite of the policy, the system’s capacity make it very unlikely that it will ever need to be slowed down – You didn’t mention this in your booklet. I take it that you can guarantee a high speed connection equal to or better?

Well no, our “up to 38mb” service is only available where fibre optic cable lines exist. Our standard service speed, well, although we say we don’t slow you down dependant on traffic, speed does depend on how far away from the server you live (I know, the speed my dad gets is rubbish! He lives in a little village).


OK, what about my landline telephone then – Why is THAT better from SKY than Virgin?

Well it isn’t really.

Oh, OK, so can you offer me a competitive mobile phone service? One where calls to mobile numbers on that mobile network from my landline are INCLUSIVE?

Err…. No we can’t


You claim that I can watch Sky on my iPad on the bus – do you give me an iPad then?

Well no, you have to buy one yourself – Ah.


So tell me again, how do I watch SKY on a mobile device if there isn’t WiFi (which admittedly I need for Virgin) on the bus?

You use a 3G network – Is that free then? Oh NO, that will cost you dependant on your 3G provider – so it’s NOT free like you say then? No. So that makes it better than Virgin’s TV anywhere service because….?

Well, because you can use 3G – But I don’t want it to cost me. Also, do you know how annoying it is to be sat next to someone on a bus watching TV that way?


F1 in HD eh? – Not available on VirginThat’s right. Actually, haven’t I seen the BBC carrying the actual F1 races in HD? Well yes, but we show all the practice sessions as well – WHOOPIDOO! Not interested at all so this is NOT a selling point.


Movies and Sports in HD – Is that right? Virgin don’t do HD Movie channels? Strange, they all seem to show up on my EPG (greyed out because I don’t subscribe) – Sports, not bothered and don’t subscribe, but let’s see, I get Eurosport, Eurosport HD, Eurosport 2, Eurosport 2 HD, Extreme, ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN America, ESPN Classic, At the Races, LFCTV, Motors TV, Sky Sports News all included in my package. Not really a selling point I’m afraid, too expensive.


More HD Channels available – you mean ITV2 HD, ITV3 HD and ITV4 HD and, of course Sky Atlantic HD. And these are available free then are they?

Of course not, we charge you an extra £10 per month for them and all the other HD channels.

Oh I see – so why is this better than Virgin who don’t charge for HD?

Well, because of the extra channels

I don’t think so really.


A dedicated 3d channel, now that’s good I admit, except I don’t have a 3d TV but if I did there is 3d content available on Virgin isn’t there?

Well yes there is but we chose not to make that point clear in our leaflet because it isn’t a dedicated channel.

And is that free?

Yes it is… well no, not really, because you have to take our highest package to get it.


It’s good to see that you can now get catch-up TV through SKY. Does that come free via the satellite then?

Well no, you have to have your box connected to a broadband connection like SKY broadband.

So I HAVE to have broadband to get catch-up even if I don’t want it?


So although you say that there is no extra cost, there is?

Er, well yes I suppose there is, but we don’t charge extra for the service.

No, neither do Virgin.


So how many channels can I record at once with your best box?


Oh, its THREE with Virgin’s TIVO and I can watch something I recorded earlier at the same time.


Does your best box suggest programmes that I might like?



Does your best box record programmes that I might like based on what I watch so that I can view or delete them?



I’ve seen your “on-demand” content and found it to be very limited compared to Virgin’s.

No comment


I get crystal clear pictures in HD on my TV – can you guarantee that?

Yes, provided that you pay for the HD package…… oh and the weather is OK, heavy rain, lightning and certainly snow can cause the picture to be a little fuzzy or non-existent.

So NO then really.


And if I want an extra HD box in another room, that’s included in my package is it?

NO! But we can let you have one FREE box for an extra payment of £10.25 per month + the cost of HD

Not really FREE then is it?

The first box is but you have to pay the subscription.

Not as good as Virgin then is it?

I won’t ask any questions about the major shareholder of SKY and his empires involvement in mobile phone hacking – that might be a little too much.

So SKY, in essence, I left you because you were so greedy that you put up the subscription TWICE in one year. Let me assure you, that while ever I live in a cabled area, it is VERY UNLIKELY that I will choose to return to you as my TV/BROADBAND/TELEPHONE provider so please, do not bother writing to me again and save your subscribers a bit of money.




Paul Laycock

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On Bonfire Night – November 5th

In 1605, conspirators under the leadership of Robert Catesby, plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament using 36 barrels of gunpowder. Their intention was to kill the King (James 1 of England/James VI of Scotland) at the state opening of Parliament on the 5th November.
Their motivation was one of faith. England had become a Protestant nation under Henry VIII and there had been much persecution of the Catholics under his daughter Elizabeth I. The plotters hoped that by getting rid of the King, his young daughter, Elizabeth would become queen and be sympathetic towards the Catholics.
On the night of the 4th November, Guido (Guy) Fawkes, an explosives expert, was discovered in the undercroft with matches and fuse all ready to do the deed. He was arrested, tortured and eventually executed for treason (hanged, drawn and quartered), a gruesome way to die. Some of his co-conspirators suffered the same fate.
In celebration of the foiled assassination attempt, people throughout the country celebrated with bonfires and the tradition continues to this day with the addition of fireworks displays. Many people probably don’t give a second thought to the reasons why we celebrate “Bonfire Night” even though the rhyme says;
Remember, remember,
The 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

In today’s terms, the plotters would be regarded as terrorists. Guy spent many years away from England learning his craft before being recruited as one of those that would see change through acts of violence. Their actions did nothing to bring about positive change regarding the treatment of Catholics, in fact it had the opposite effect; driving the wedge that separated different sections of the population deeper, causing suspicion and hatred to fester – it “proved” that Catholicism was a threat.

So here we sit, 406 years later and what has changed? There are still those that would commit atrocities in the name of their faith albeit Islam rather than Catholicism and, just as the plotters actions caused the rift in society to widen, so too, these modern fanatics create racial hatred and tension. We need to understand that the actions of an extreme minority, does not necessarily reflect the desires of the majority who simply want to live in peace, side by side.

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On seeing Iona in concert (15th October 2011)

Who are Iona? They are a group of Christian musicians taking their name from the tiny island off the West Coast of Scotland where the exiled Irish Monk Columba established a monastery.

Formed over 20 years ago, their music reflects their faith and their Celtic roots. The use of traditional instruments such as the uilleann pipes, tin whistle and violin alongside modern synthesiser keyboards, guitars etc. creates a distinctive, somewhat ethereal music style, that is difficult to categorise but, if you know the music of Clannad, that will give you some idea.

It is this “otherworldy” sound that makes the title of their latest album, “Another Realm,” very appropriate and we were lucky enough to have front row seats at a recent gig at The King’s Church Centre in Bolton that was part of their tour to promote the album. This album (2 CDs) is, in my opinion, their greatest production thus far and demonstrates their God-given talents superbly.

Having been a fan of their music since their formative years, it was great to finally see them perform live and even better to be able to say “hello” to them after what I can only describe as a spiritually uplifting concert.

Joanne Hogg (a doctor who gave up her medical career to pursue her music) lead singer and song writer of the group suggested that we might want to close our eyes for an instrumental piece called “Ruach” (a Hebrew word meaning wind, breath, spirit which, when applied to God, indicates creative activity and active power). The audience were then truly transported into “Another Realm” as drummer/violinist Frank van Essen (who co-wrote the music with guitarist/keyboard player Dave Bainbridge) played a hauntingly beautiful piece that so enraptured everyone that, when it was finished, there was utter silence – to applaud would have broken the moment.

But along with the thought provoking, there were the traditional style toe-tapping reels (we were challenged to get up and dance!) led by Martin Nolan on the pipes and tin whistle whilst bass guitarist Phil Barker helped keep up the beat.

You can see some photos from the concert by clicking here.

You can find out more about Iona and hear some music sound-bites by visiting the following sites.




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On Visiting Bulgaria

Although it is impossible to gain a true insight into a country’s culture and beauty in such a short space of time, our week on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria certainly gave us a taster. Bulgaria is still a relatively “new kid on the block” when it comes to holiday destinations, and this was our first visit.

Whilst most of the people that I know who have visited the country have stayed in the purpose built holiday resort of Sunny Beach, we chose the quieter resort of Obzor, staying at the four star Riu “Helios Bay Hotel” on an “all inclusive” basis.

Finding fault with the hotel would be very difficult. The staff were friendly and helpful and it was kept impeccably clean. Our room was bright and airy and very comfortable with a balcony overlooking the pool area and a view of the beach and the sea. The food, was excellent with a wide variety of national dishes on offer.

Some reviews would have you believe that the German visitors dominate the pool and activities. Yes, some of them did try the proverbial “towel on the sun-bed” trick from silly o’clock, but the hotel has a strict “no reserving” policy and the behaviour wasn’t a problem (at least until the next lot arrived) and we were always able to find a suitable spot. We did however witness examples of out and out greed from some guests (of no specific nationality) who piled their plates with more than adequate amounts of food from the buffet and showed little respect for others in the queue, but, since there was an ample supply, no one went hungry and “seconds” was always an option. I can only assume (hope?) that they had their comeuppance later in the day by suffering with an unpleasant dose of indigestion, or worse!

When it comes to haute cuisine, Bulgaria isn’t a name that readily springs to mind, but our experience of food during our visit was extremely positive. As our holiday was “all inclusive”, we did not need to find local restaurants (although there are quite a number in Obzor), but the range of food (and amount!) on offer at the hotel was impressive to say the least. From grilled fish of many varieties, to deep-fried cauliflower; from roast turkey to tasty “kavarma” (stew). Deserts were equally diverse with ice-cream, cakes, milk puddings (which though labelled as “mousse” were, to our minds, more akin to blancmange in both texture and taste) and syrupy “baklava” . We were truly spoilt for choice at breakfast, lunch and dinner (with snacks on offer in between!).

Again, drinks were included in our holiday package with ample supplies of local wine, beer and spirits. The “national” drink here is Rakia. We had some when the hotel held a folklore evening. Talking about it after with some other guests, I was asked if it had an “aniseed taste”; my response was “No,” and proceeded to liken it to how I imagine turps might taste. Actually, once the initial mouthful has anesthetised your taste-buds, the second and subsequent shots don’t taste too bad and it does leave one with a pleasant glow. As they say in Bulgaria наздраве” (Nazdrave) – “to your health.”

Every evening there was entertainment. Some of this was provided by the Animation Team who also organised the daily activities programme. To describe their efforts as “cheesy” is perhaps a little unkind since they are not professional performers and they did their best with the material provided.

On other nights, local artists performed for us. We were very impressed with Svetlana’s abilities with the hoola-hoops but were bemused by the “Magic Show” where no one actually did any magic, other than the one trick when some brightly coloured hankies suddenly became tied together. On the other hand, the guy did demonstrate some amazing balancing skills with knives and other sharp objects.

The performance of traditional music using bagpipes and drums, together with dancing gave us a cultural boost. They even got me up with them as they encouraged guests to follow them dancing in a long line (not quite the Conga!).

So what of the resort centre where we stayed? Well as I said, Obzor is a much quieter place than Sunny Beach; MUCH quieter. It’s a developing area and, without sounding negative, it will be nice when it’s finished. The old town is expanding with apartments and hotels springing up in vacant plots in what, at the moment, appears to be a quite haphazard pattern. As for night life; well there are a few restaurants and bars with the Flintstones themed “Bedrock” bar, situated next to the town square, being quite original – there are even dinosaurs dotted around the “stone” tables.

Aesthetically, there are a number of fountains, one in the town square and others in the public park where you can also see the remnants of the towns Greco-Romano origins with sections of columns on display (more can be seen in the local museum).

Shops, or rather wooden cabins, line the main street and sell a variety of clothing (though somehow I don’t quite believe that Dolce and Gabana have approved their products being sold in these simple and humble establishments!). Alongside the local pottery, there’s locally produced honey, sweets and fruit, all at reasonable prices.

Nestled behind these shop-cabins, down a few steps, is the municipal church, a modern-looking building with white-washed walls and a bell tower. Once inside however, the visitor is transported to a different plane of existence. Ornate, gold-coloured chandeliers with colourful icons hang from the richly decorated ceiling, candles in memory of the dead and others representing prayers for the health of the living, flicker and burn in alcoves surrounded by brightly painted frescoes depicting various saints, angels, archangels and biblical stories. Also on display are some fine examples of icons, used to centre and focus the prayers of the faithful.

However, it is the beach that sets this small town apart and attracts visitors from many nations. The sand is soft and your feet sink deeply as you walk along the edges of the Black Sea, the waters of which were warm and inviting (certainly warmer than the hotel pool!). A word of warning though, the sand dips suddenly only a little way out from the edge and you need to observe the warning flags as only parts of the beach are covered by lifeguards. We also saw the remains of jellyfish strewn on the sand following a blustery night so watch where you tread.

Bulgaria appears to be a country of contrasts; where the new ideals of an emerging capitalism sit side by side with tradition and the remnants of the former communist regime. Such stark differences were very apparent during our visit to Varna, the country’s third largest city and its “Sea Capital”, where row upon row of towering, uniform grey, concrete blocks, built to provide mass housing during the communist period, sit alongside brand new shopping malls selling expensive designer labels and cheap fast-food, whilst in the old town, golden domes adorn the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption with its frescoes and icons so typical of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

To the south of where we stayed, and close to Sunny Beach situated is a small rocky peninsula approached by a narrow stretch of land where the historic town of Nessebar can be found with its quaint cobbled streets and traditional (National Revival Period) style houses; wooden upper living rooms built atop stone storage rooms and church buildings (many of them) from the middle ages. The town can trace its history back some 3000 years making it one of the oldest towns in Europe. Here, shops sell locally produced pottery and the women sit at their doorways, chatting, knitting and crocheting their delicate tableware and clothing. Sadly, here too are the shops selling the ticky-tacky; that endless supply of souvenirs available world-wide, most likely mass-manufactured in some distant land but here, baring the label, “Bulgaria.”

It seems though, that no matter where you go in Bulgaria you are faced with shops selling products containing roses. Little surprise since the country produces some 70% of the world’s supply of rose oil. From soap to face-cream, liqueurs to honey, Bulgarian delight to Rose Jam, the Rose of Bulgaria is renowned, and, I must admit, smells very nice.

But as with all trips, ours came to an end and it was time to make the journey home. Flight times to the UK are, for the most part night affairs. Ours left Burgas airport at 04:45hrs meaning that we had to leave our Hotel at 01:00hrs. I would therefore highly recommend that you arrange to keep your room as late as possible (we paid 100LV [£50]) to keep ours from 12:00 noon until 22:00 hrs and were glad of the ability to shower and change. Flights also appeared to be “clustered” such that, when we arrived at the airport, passengers awaiting several other flights were already there. Burgas is a small airport and gives the impression that it is ill-equipped to provide the necessary service to what must be an increasing passenger flow. We had to queue outside to get to baggage check-in; it was not clear where we were supposed to go after check-in and so ended up on a roof-top observation area surrounded by expensive coffee shops and food outlets. The toilet facilities were in a “Portakabin” style building and when we were called through to board, only then did we discover a larger departure lounge complete with a duty free shop. Not that there would have been any seats if we had known and people were sat on the floor, tired and exhausted. The good news was that the flight left slightly ahead of schedule and it was a smooth journey. We had hoped to catch some sleep on the journey however, this didn’t happen for us. We arrived home, aching and totally shattered.

Would we go again? Yes there is so much more that we would love to see and do, Would we stay in Obzor again? Maybe in a few years when it has developed more.

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