- 27 Mar. 1919
1919 March 27
My very dear Mother
We have been here nearly a fortnight, and though we are anxious to be getting on to Principe, it is very delightful being here and I am not at all tired of Madeira. We have had a variety of weather; but there is always a good deal of hot sunshine every day. At first we had three days of “leste”, a hot dry east wind coming from the Sahara; it blows in gusts—dead calm for a long time then quite suddenly a furious wind for about 10 minutes. It did a good deal of damage to the trees and to the tiles on the roof here. Afterwards we had brilliant weather all day, but not quite so hot. This last week we have had a good deal of rain—chiefly at night but some sharp showers in the day as well—with snow on the tops of the mountains. Now it is comparatively cold; but that is only relatively speaking; because I am still wearing my thinnest shirts & vests and can sit out of doors even at night.
I have been two good long walks on the mountains. The funicular railway is not running regularly but there are occasionally excursions. We went up one day starting at 12 o’clock and reached the top—Terreira de Lucta—(2800 feet) about one o’clock. Cottingham and I took some sandwiches, and walked on at first by road and then on the hillside, making for a special view-point in the centre of the island. He found it too hard work, so I left him for 1½ hours and finished the climb alone. The view-point, Ariero Observatory, is 4800 feet above sea-level, and is a balcony overlooking a magnificent gorge at least 2000 feet deep which winds down to the sea on the other side (north) of the island. After seeing this, I rejoined Cottingham and we walked back to Terreira de Lucta which we reached about 5 o’clock, and then came down into Funchal in a toboggan a run of about 4 miles.
The second expedition was to the Grand Curral a point further round to the west. Cottingham and I started at 9 o’clock, and we got back about 5∙30. The walk was nearly twenty miles; but the weather was cooler so it was easier. Most of the way was along paved roads often very steep. We got many fine views on the way; and in places the gorse was out, and looked very pretty. The Grand Curral (=great cattle-fold) is a small plain almost entirely surrounded by a ring of mountains—like the crater of a volcano. We looked down on it from a saddle 3300 feet above sea-level and more than 2000 feet above the Curral. On all other sides the mountains were much higher. It is extraordinary, how much of the land is cultivated, all the steep sides of the mountains are terraced into tiny fields up to a great altitude. There is an elaborate system of irrigation; the artificial water-courses (called “levadas”) tap all the rivers near their sources, taking away nearly all the water and leaving only stoney† beds.
The main place of resort in Funchal is the Casino. We often go there in the afternoon for tea. The tea (the beverage) is much better than at the hotel; it has been very scarce in Madeira. There is a roulette table which is well-patronised and it is interesting to watch the players.
The beach is very poor, very steep and stony; and is unattractive, because it is used as the general rubbish-heap. But it is interesting to sit on the pier especially when any of the large steamers are in. There has been no mail from England since I came; but we are expecting one today—the Chepstow Castle—. I did not know I should be here so long or I would have asked you to write here.
There are lots of bananas here and I usually get through about a dozen a day. There is not much other fruit. Prices are generally a bit lower than in England but there is not much difference. The meat here—mutton, veal, beef—is extraordinarily good the best I have ever tasted I think. We can get good cigarettes at 10 a penny; but I chiefly smoke a mixture of native tobacco at a penny an ounce with imported tobacco at a shilling an ounce—the native stuff is too dry to use by itself.
We made friends with a gentleman from the telegraph (cable) station, and he got us permission to see round it yesterday. It was very interesting. They have a lot of new improvements since I was at the station in Malta.
There was a British warship here one day, and they had a football match against the Cable station, which we went to see. The weather was more suitable for watching than for playing. They must have found it terribly hard.
We know a number of people in the hotel. Ritson a commercial traveller from Manchester, Ash a queer old gentleman, Mrs. Caswell a merry widow and her daughter, Mr and Mrs Thomas from Swansea and others. Most of them intend to go on to the Canaries next Sunday. The landlord & landlady Mr. & Mrs. Jones are extremely pleasant & good-natured people.
Three ships were torpedoed by submarine in Madeira harbour during the war, and one sees the masts of two of them sticking up out of the water. The town was also bombarded and there are a few traces visible.
I hope all is going well at Cambridge. I shall be glad to hear news of you when I reach Principe.
With very dear love from
your affectionate son
Numbered ‘3rd’ at the head. Four passages have been marked off and emended in pencil by a later hand.