I would hazard to guess that not many people can say that they started their day with a pleasant swim in the Sea of Galilee, but that is what I did. Having reconciled in my mind the fact that it may be called a Sea but is actually a freshwater lake, it made for a lovely dip and many people in the group took advantage of this cooling start to the day.

Driving through the Golan Heights and Galilee regions revealed changes in rock type (basalt) and lots of different crops being grown successfully – cotton, corn, peaches, cherries, tomatoes … The way the Israelis have again increased the productivity of the region with horticultural strategies was impressive. North Golan is about a thousand metres above sea level, but the hot summer temperatures compensated for the altitude. We drove past old Syrian village ruins (until 1967 this area was owned by Syria and prior to that, by the French) and headed for Katzrin.

Our visit to the recreation of an Ancient Talmudic Period Village (Park Katzrin) was very educational. We dressed in clothes that would be worn during the Talmudic era (confronting for those of us who don’t really do dressing up, but I coped and found wearing a sack-like outfit surprisingly comfortable) and experienced various activities including a talk about the onsite archaeological synagogue, a visit to a recreated Talmudic home, and a lovely music session with instruments from different parts of the world.

In the Valley of Tears, we were treated to a talk from Avigdor Kahalani entitled “Following the Warriors of Israel”. There aren’t many speakers who could command the attention of a crowd of teachers (notoriously poorly behaved as an audience) in 40-degree sunshine in a concrete amphitheatre, but Mr Kahalani did. His story of how he led his tank corps and won a medal of valour was brilliant and we were really grateful to be provided with a copy of his book to take home and read.

We left the site in a convoy of ex-army Land Rovers open to the dust and wind and drove right up to the Syrian border, where we looked at the security fence and stared at a small Jewish settlement whilst listening to a fascinating account of the politics of the area. I have to say that I had naively assumed that with a little background reading, some logical thought and time spent listening to experts whilst in Israel, a sensible solution to the whole Middle Eastern political situation would become apparent. I confess my disappointment at having to report that the more I find out, the less likely this seems. I thoroughly dislike not being able to at least have some idea of how to fix things, but this one is tangled and nuanced and as yet, I have formulated no helpful suggestions whatsoever.

For me, the Hula Valley had always been going to be a highlight of the trip. Birds know no geopolitical boundaries and this area forms part of the migration route for many millions of birds each year. I could barely contain my excitement as we boarded golf buggies and drove around the bird sanctuary and observatory, accompanied by hoopoes (Israel’s national bird), pied and white-throated kingfishers and European bee eaters. A new species for me was a black francolin; and the coypu, a rodent from South America that we watched swimming across one of the lakes was also something I’d never seen before. I was lucky enough to be allowed to release by hand a reed warbler that they had caught earlier that day for scientific banding purposes. I didn’t want to leave. I may retire to the Golan Heights and watch birds.

A visit to the ancient mystical city of Tsfat involved watching an artist blowing glass and admiring various art galleries selling their wares. This was followed by a talk in the Druze village of Julis, where we learnt about their religion and enjoyed a delicious lunch of salads, hummus and other delicious foods.

The long drive down to Yerushalayim was worth it when we arrived in the late afternoon light and saw the limestone buildings glowing as the sun set. My evening was made even more special as I met up with five OKCs and our newest potential Carmel enrolment (see the photograph). They treated me to a fabulous dinner (I had hummus with eggs) and it was so good to be able to talk to them about their experience of our wonderful school and hear them talk about their lives now. I reckon these marvellous young people showed just about all of the characteristics of a Carmel graduate that we have been listing at school this semester. We walked around Jerusalem after dinner, chatting and enjoying the company - it was a very special evening for me.