Travel: Blue seas, blue skies and a Blue Peter garden: John Noakes took his own advice and went . . . to a secret Majorca. Frank Barrett soaked up wine and sun with him

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The Independent Travel
IF YOU were to institute a search for the former Blue Peter presenter John Noakes, you might well begin the hunt on a wild and wuthering Yorkshire moor. He is, after all, a famous native of Halifax - and the signature tune of his post-Blue Peter solo series, Go With Noakes, was that stirring anthem, 'On Ilkley Moor Baht'at'.

Since Noakes vanished from our screens a decade ago, one has imagined him lodged in a Dales cottage, striding the moors with Shep at his side - privately embarking on the occasional parachute jump or packing his abseiling gear for a Nelson's Column cleaning expedition.

Majorca, most people's idea of the hellish package holiday island, would seem about the last place to find this childhood icon. Is it possible that this larger-than-life character who once bestrode the world of children's TV can now be languishing in low-life beach bars and scrofulous discos?

You'll be relieved to hear that, while the Noakeses' house is less than 30 minutes' drive from the East Ender pubs and Rover's Return bars of Magaluf, it occupies quite another world of almond trees and bougainvillaea in the quiet hills above the lovely old town of Andraitx.

Nor has Noakes, in his 60th year, lost the irrepressible bounce that endeared him to millions of youthful hearts. The face may show one or two more lines, the mop-top haircut is greyer, but he still flashes that naughty-boy grin when he is asked what strikes him as a daft question.

'Why did we come to Majorca? Second to Halifax, I can't find anywhere nicer. Having sailed quite a bit around the Med from here to Sicily, to Tunisia, Corsica, Sardinia and Malta, I wouldn't have anywhere else.'

Majorca is once again luring the rich and famous. The film star Michael Douglas recently bought a large country estate near Deya, though Noakes has yet to bump into him in the local Spar.

He and his wife Vicky were sitting by the pool in the garden of their small, attractive stone cottage. On the table were a couple of bottles of fine Mallorquin red wine and a bowl of home-grown almonds, blanched, roasted and salted by Vicky ('here's some she prepared earlier,' I said - groan, groan, said everybody). Sitting here, one could easily see how Majorca might offer a highly agreeable alternative to Britain.

John particularly enjoys the seasons. 'Here you have winter, summer, spring and autumn . . . If you go to the Caribbean it's difficult to tell which season is which. The nice thing is that in the spring and autumn here it's like an English summer.' Again he flashes the grin: 'Do you ever have a summer over there in Britain? I used to have a summer in Halifax.'

During the summer months the Noakeses take to their yacht, on which they live something of a gypsy existence. From October to the end of April, however, they are back in their cottage.

During the winter, Vicky is an enthusiastic walker. 'Majorca is the most wonderful place for people who want to come on hiking trips. There are paths to suit different grades, from beginners to the really serious mountain walkers.'

John agrees that winter is surprisingly attractive. 'November and December can be lovely. We had a picnic on Christmas Day, we went out in the car and took sandwiches.'

Doesn't he miss the wind and rain of the Yorkshire moors? 'The rains came on Boxing Day. It hurtled down. But it's good for the island. It's been in drought now for about five years. This year has been the worst for at least 30. They've got to get in desalination plants, and every year they say 'We can't do it this year because it's too expensive.' It's frightening, because eventually there's going to be no water . . . and we're going to have to get around with camels.'

Who's to blame for the water shortage, the tourists or the people who run the island? 'It's the fault of the people who run the island. Oh no, they're going to kick me off, I can see it.'

Vicky says that most Britons don't realise what a beautiful place this is. 'People think Majorca is kiss-me-quick hats and fish and chips. It isn't. There is a marvellous alternative Majorca which really is worth exploring. The north coast, the mountainous region, is really lovely. The main thing about Majorca is the amazing contrasts: you get flatlands, you get rolling hills, you get mountains.'

'And it's full of crumpet on some of the beaches,' adds John with a lascivious leer. 'It's quite nice]'

Vicky rolls her eyes. 'You can see why John is here. Just like Blue Peter, isn't it?'

Now they are residents, have they come to resent the tourists? 'The island can't do without them,' says John. 'At one time this hill used to be all terraced and have olives and almonds and food growing. I don't think the local people could do it now, they wouldn't be able to. They've got to have the tourists.'

The locals may be abandoning the fields, but John Noakes hasn't. He takes me around the orchard. 'It used to be like a jungle. I've cut all the trees back slightly and I've put in pathways. My son is a landscape gardener but I haven't a clue. I've got almonds, two grapefruit trees, a couple of orange trees, a couple of lemon, a pear, a peach, an apple, a plum and a banana. The lemon is coming back. It's one of the few trees that has fruit and blossoms and gives off little new lemons while the old lemons are still on. We have one lemon tree left for the gin and tonic.'

He seems to hold the almond trees in greatest affection. 'I love almonds. Every year we take them down to the local co-op. They have a romping machine whichwas broken this year. It crushes all the shells then sorts and shakes the kernels out.'

And after pruning, he has a store of almond logs that provides open fires throughout the winter. It sounds the perfect existence. 'It is. It's very similar in Halifax.'

So this is, in some respects, a modern Blue Peter garden? 'Percy Thrower would have been proud of me. Everything I know was taught to me by Percy.'

From the edge of the garden there are stunning views down to Andraitx. 'At night the view is lovely because all the lights twinkle. Do you remember the film Brigadoon - you'd be far too young - with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse? You look down this valley and there's this little sparkling village with these twinkling lights. It's just like Brigadoon.

'The best place to see the view is when you're sat on the loo at night. Don't laugh. And first thing in the morning the sun hits it long before it gets round to us. There's a wonderful picture to be painted, I'm going to have to take lessons.'

Is there anything he misses about England? 'Harry Ramsden's and his fish and chips. I wish he'd send me a packet of frozen.' Nothing else? 'We've got a C & A over here and a Texas. It's quite civilised.'

John is keen to return to television. He has plans for a sort of Go With Noakes for the over-50s, showing them, for example, how they can sail the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

Will John and Vicky go back to England eventually? 'Maybe, when we're too old and have no money. Which may be next week . . . .'

John Noakes's Majorca can be heard this morning on the BBC Radio 4 'Breakaway' programme at 9.30am.

(Photographs omitted)

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