Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Five

18th May 2013

After our not quite as early start at Manchester airport as Roger and Denise’s, we made our Air France hops to Paris – and then to Rennes. There we were met and warmly welcomed by our barge skipper and co-host, Ian Slade. The hour-long drive to Redon, where “Libje” was moored was leisurely and enjoyable – passing as it did through at least one of the villages, La Gacilly, that we would be visiting later in the week.

“Libje” – Our private hotel barge for the next five nights
19 to 25 May 2013

We were equally warmly welcomed by Ian’s wife, Jane, and shown to our well-equipped and spacious cabin. We loved the light and airiness of our cabin – adjoined as it was by as minute but practical an en-suite as you are ever likely to find.

Our Cabin on “Libje”

Regrettably the weather on arrival, and later, prevented us making as much use of the comfy outdoor seating on the foredeck. That it would have been just wonderful in more clement weather was emphasised by the hour or so we did once spend there one evening enjoying the view – and the wine and nibbles served to us by Ian and Jane. That’s not to say that we didn’t make good use of the comfort and warmth of the Wheelhouse both to view the stunning scenery or Ian and Jane’s lock-working skills.

The Wheelhouse on “Libje” – and wet weather sightseeing refuge

Over the next five days we enjoyed the warmth of Ian and Jane’s hospitality and relished the fresh croissants and fruits at breakfasts, those just too tempting salads at lunch, and just scrumptious dinners – whether prepared by Jane or partaken with Ian and Jane at some of their favourite local restaurants along the canal. And, how could we forget to mention the just great wines that enhanced our repasts.

All ready for relaxed repasts…

To complement Jane’s culinary and canal lock-working skills, Ian was not only our expert skipper but our driver/guide on excursions ashore. His knowledge of and love for the region showed wherever he took us – be it to the more than just picturesque villages of Rochefort-en-Terre or La Gacilly, the just wonderful 11th century church in St Gobrien or the standing stones at Monteneuf.

We know the expression “the devil’s in the detail”, but devilish or not here it is:
On our arrival on the barge, we were greeted, too, by two canine supernumerary crew-members, Millie and Pippa – welcoming greetings they repeated each time we returned from an excursion.

While we were settling in, Ian “skippered” us to Malestroit, about 30 kms away, where we were to moor for the next couple of nights. On the following morning, while Ian was motor-cycling back to recover the mini-bus, we had our first walk through the village. On his return, Ian chauffeured us to Rochefort- en-Terre. Rochefort won the village with best flower displays in France so many times that it was eventually banned from entering again to give the others a chance! Although too early for the spring flower displays, we could see why it is so regarded.

Rochefort-en-Terre, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Rochefort-en-Terre, Morbihan, Brittany – 20 May 2013

After one of Jane’s light but beautiful lunches with accompanying wine – something we became quite readily used to – Ian took us on a guided tour of the Malestroit. Founded in 978, this medieval town with its winding streets has many half-timbered houses with overhanging gables liberally decorated with wood carvings. And what a beautiful village it is – not only because of the things we saw, but also the friendly people. In fact, in every village we visited, one of the real attractions was the friendliness of people whether it was in shops or just on the street. The cheery “Bon Jour” greetings, accompanied as they were by eye contact, were something we’re just not used to – but love.

Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013
More beauty in Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013

Photos: A few of the carved wooden characters of Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany – 20th and 21st May 2013

Next morning we were off to view the standing stones at Montneuf which, unlike the more famous ones at Carnac, are accessible and “touchable” – something that always has appeal for us whether it be a ruined abbey or a piece of sculpture. This smaller version of Carnac was discovered only 30 years ago after a forest fire revealed the alignments. Extensive searches have now revealed over 200 menhirs (upright stones) and several burial sites.

Standing Stones – Montneuf, Morbihan, Brittany
21 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to the Standing Stones at Montneuf, Morbihan, Brittany – 21st May 2013

We later lunched at Creperie Mael Trech in Malestroit (a nice enough restaurant – and a favourite of Ian and Jane’s – but we have to say that neither galettes nor crepes are altogether favourites of ours).
After lunch we were barging again, stopping on the way to visit the 11th century church in St Gobrien – which has a just wonderful array of wooden statues. Ian tried to convince us that the village had been founded by a Celt from Ireland named G. O’Brien – and the village was named after him!!

Church of St Gobrien, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to the Church of St Gobrien, Morbihan, Brittany – 22nd May 2013

On the way, we passed through some of the prettiest countryside on our cruise, with meadows coming right down to the river as it wound through natural woodland.

En Route to Josselin Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Photos: En Route to Josselin Morbihan, Brittany – 22nd May 2013

On approaching Josselin, where we would be based for the next couple of nights, we were told that just around the next bend in the river Ouse was one of the best and most famous canal views in France. And there it was – the magnificent chateau of the Rohan family towering above the river.

Josselin Castle, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013
Josselin Castle, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

The next day was something of a walking day, but with our mooring just below the chateau walls, nothing was too far distant – even for Norm.
Regrettably as the only tour of Josselin Castle (as the Chateau seems to be called) was in French, we really did quite well matching the Guide’s French commentary with the English in our guide booklet. If we missed some of the highlights within the castle itself, this wasn’t the case with the garden which was just beautiful as was the view from the ramparts down over the river.

Josselin Castle and Gardens
22 May 2013
Josselin Castle and Gardens
22 May 2013

Flushed with this success, we then made our way up the main street to the heights of Josselin where we found, very appropriately, the “Bois d’Amour”. We had no trouble at all meandering our way – for what must have been an hour or so – along the well-kept paths through both woodland and open areas coming out almost at our mooring. But we still had not visited the Basilica “Notre Dame du Roncier”, built on the spot where, in the ninth century, a peasant is said to have found a wooden statue of the Virgin under a bramble bush.

On the following day, after a walk through the western side of the river, Ian took us on an excursion to the artisan village of La Gacilly. The old main street of this town has been converted over the years into a haven for artists and craftsmen. Each shop now houses a different skill with its own workshop. From glassblowing to wood carvers to artists, La Gacilly has it all. In addition, the village hosts each year one of France’s major outdoor photography exhibitions with large and spectacular photographs decorating the town as well as several galleries – sponsored, we understand by Yves Rocher, who are based here.

La Gacilly, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013
La Gacilly, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Although the exhibition does not open until the summer, there was still a sizeable display from last year – an attraction which we found it difficult to leave to head “home”. We had dinner with Ian and Jane that evening at a fine local restaurant “La Table D’O” and, without remembering what we had; know that we enjoyed it thoroughly.

On Friday morning, the weather was at last kind enough, to allow Carol to enjoy her early-morning cycle on the canal path – Norm meanwhile rested up!! After breakfast, we set sail once more passing beneath the walls of Josselin Chateau and past the old artisan quarter of St.Croix. After several locks and increasingly quieter and more rural scenery, we arrive at the little village of Pomeleuc, where Ian and Jane moor for the winter. After lunch we continued upstream, passing the Abbaye de Timadeuc where monks to this day offer a retreat in peaceful surroundings, before reaching our final mooring place at the market town of Rohan that gave its name to the Rohan dynasty that still owns the Chateau at Josselin.

It was with regret that we recovered our suitcases from the spare cabin to pack for our return home, before heading off with Ian and Jane to a local restaurant for our last dinner with them. And, although the name of the restaurant escapes me, the flavour of the escargot that Ian and I had will not!! Whether garlicky or not, it was a fittingly relaxing finale to what had been one of our best holidays ever.

All of which deserves a sampling or two of what we saw and enjoyed:

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 20th May 2013

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 21st May 2013

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 22nd and 23rd May 2013

Next morning we farewelled Jane, Millie and Pippa before being ferried back to Rennes by Ian to catch our flight to Paris to Tokyo to Sydney and home.

Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Four

12th May 2013

If we are leaving the impression we rather liked Llangollen, you’d be right. For, on the next day, we were there again. We had booked a Sunday Lunch cruise with “Jones the Boats” to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct but spent the morning at “Plas Newydd”, the home of the “Ladies of Llangollen” – and what a find that was. The house and garden were an attraction in their own right, but it was the history of the “Ladies” that made it such a fascinating place. Courtesy Wikipedia, this is part of their story and, given the surname of one of the ladies, perhaps our interest will come as no surprise!!

Eleanor Charlotte Butler was a member of one of the dynastic families of Ireland, the Butlers, the Earls (and later Dukes) of Ormond. Eleanor was considered an over-educated bookworm by her family, who resided at the Butler family seat, Kilkenny Castle. Sarah Ponsonby lived with relatives in Woodstock, Ireland. Their families lived only two miles from each other. They met in 1768 and quickly became friends. Over the years they formulated a plan for a private rural retreat.
Rather than face the possibility of being forced into unwanted marriages, they left their hometown together in April 1778. Their families hunted them down and forcefully tried to make them give up their plans – in vain. They decided to move to England but ended up in Wales, and set up home at Plas Newydd, in 1780. They proceeded to live according to their self-devised system though they could rely on only a modest income from intolerant relatives. Still, they restructured Plas Newydd to the Gothic style with draperies, arches and glass windows.
They devoted their time to seclusion, private studies of literature and languages and improving their estate. They did not actively socialise and were uninterested in fashion. Llangollen people simply referred to them as “the ladies”. After a couple of years, their life attracted the interest of the outside world. Their house became a haven for all manner of visitors, mostly writers, but also the military leader Duke of Wellington, who came to visit, too.
The ladies were known throughout Britain, but have been said to have led “a rather unexciting life”. They lived together for the rest of their lives, over 50 years, Eleanor Butler dying in 1829 and Sarah Ponsonby two years later.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Denbighshire
12 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Denbighshire – 12th May 2013

It was with some reluctance that we dragged ourselves away to go cruising. And, anyway it was getting close to lunchtime. We found our embarkation point with some difficulty but were welcomed warmly aboard our brightly coloured narrowboat “Eirlys”. Carrying as it does 50 passengers, it was something of a comfortable squeeze, but neither the number of passengers nor the minute galley seemed to faze our chef and his waitresses at all as they served us a very good Sunday roast lunch. This was accompanied by a very non-intrusive commentary about the history of the canal and the aqueduct we were to cross and, of course, the obligatory glass or two of red wine. Again being the chilly sort of day we were becoming used to, we remained in the warmth of the cabin rather than brave the elements – and the height of the path across the aqueduct – as quite a number of passengers did. We did get a couple of photos though, one of which survived the lunch, the wine and the height:

The river Dee from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wrexham
12 May 219

But what about the aqueduct itself, you ask?

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wrexham
12 May 2013

Well, here we go, again courtesy Wikipedia:

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in Wrexham County Borough in north-east Wales. Built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop, the aqueduct is 1,007 ft. (307 m) long, 11 ft. (3.4 m) wide and 5.25 ft. (1.60 m) deep. It consists of a cast iron trough supported 126 ft. (38 m) above the river on iron arched ribs carried on nineteen hollow masonry piers (pillars). Each span is 53 ft. (16 m) wide. Completed in 1805, it is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain, a Grade I Listed Building and a World Heritage Site.

And, on the next day, guess what? Rain again. Still full of steadfastness, however, we were off, again, first to Shrewsbury, where we walked to the Castle before realising we’d been there before – in 2006. Duh!

An early “Hole in the Wall” – Shrewsbury, Shropshire
13 May 2013

So, only slightly deterred by Norm’s amnesia and the weather, we headed off to Powys Castle & Garden, another National Trust treasure. It was too wet and cold to view the garden, but we spent an informative hour or two touring the house, and later, I suspect to our surprise the really fascinating collection exhibited in the “Clive of India” Museum. That the collection is here arises from the fact that in 1784, Lord Clive, son and heir of Clive of India, married into the Powys Herbert family, whose family seat is this very castle, bringing the Clives’ vast fortune and art collections with him.

Powys Castle and Garden, Powys
13 May 2013
Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire
14 March 2013

On our last day in the Shropshire area, we went all industrial, visiting the Blists Hill Victorian Town at Ironbridge.
This too was a memorable place and not only because Norm tried to leave the little café where we had had a couple of cups of unremarkable coffee without paying. He was chased down, successfully, by an irate waitress who really was convinced he was doing a “runner”!!
But I digress; we will remember our visits to the Bank where we bought a set of old coins and the Pharmacy with its amazing array of wicked-looking instruments and medicines. One of the items on display was a tin of Zam-Buck that cure-all ointment, which Norm remembered from his youth both as a salve and as a name to describe ambulance-men and first-aid officers in NZ. Doubtless, Derek will also recall the name being used in that way.
Another part of the pharmacy was set up as a Dentist’s surgery of yesteryear, a photo of which Carol sent to our dentist in Sydney!! It was, as you’ll see, equipped with a treadle drill – an instrument of torture that some of you may remember. We also watched what we assumed were enthusiastic volunteers put an old working steam engine through its paces – if that’s the right term.

Photos: Our visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town, Shropshire – 14th May 2013

We enjoyed the visit thoroughly. Proof of Norm’s on-going amnesia was further evidenced by an attempt to visit Chirk Castle for the second time. Neither of us can remember when the first one was but it would have been some time in the last five days!!! Needless to say, we didn’t stay.
As was the case at so many of the places we had stayed, it was with reluctance that we left the “White House” and the warmth of the hospitality Ross and Isobel had shown us – to say nothing of the food, glorious food we had enjoyed!

Today was our last touring day but we managed, as planned, to call into Speke Hall on our way “home’ to Didsbury. Speke Hall is a rare Tudor timber-framed manor house in a most unusual setting on the banks of the River Mersey, not far from the centre of Liverpool. Restored and brought back to life in the 19th century, it is a unique and beautiful mixture of Tudor simplicity and Victorian Arts and Crafts’ aesthetics. We first had a costumed guide for a sneak preview and, later tour of the whole house on our own. This would have been fine but for the unsolicited offers of information by a literal swarm of guides who clearly felt we needed their help! We later escaped to the gardens to wander through and get photos of the first real swathes of bluebells we had seen anywhere on our travels.

Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside
15 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside – 15th May 2013

We were, fortunately, able to beat the Manchester “rush hour” and arrive back at our Didsbury “home” to find that we had scored a just delightful light and airy loft style room with skylight windows. Perhaps not surprisingly we spent the next couple of days regrouping and preparing ourselves for the pleasures of barging in Brittany. We walked into Didsbury village each day both to stretch our legs, do any necessary shopping and indulge in a coffee at our favourite coffee shop, Costas.

We usually walked through Didsbury Park as being a more peaceful alternative than busy Wilmslow Road and on the Friday discovered there the chain-saw sculpture entitled “The Owl and her babies”.
And here they are:

Photos: “The owl and her chicks”, Didsbury Park, Greater Manchester – 17th May 2013

On the Saturday evening before our flight to Brittany on the next morning, we enjoyed a convivial and “Yummy” dinner with Roger and Denise at one of our joint favourite eating places “Café Rouge”. It was all you would expect of a dinner with old and dear friends – and provided us with the opportunity to bid them “bon voyage” for their trip to Sicily which left the following morning.
…and what was to follow was just a great way to end what had already been a wonderful tour.

Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Three

8th May 2013

Although Norm had visited Blenheim Palace more than a few years ago, his memory of it was more than a little vague. That being the case, what else was there to do but go? For those who have been there the Palace and grounds are all you would expect from the name “Palace” – which we understand is unusual in that it is the only non-royal or non-episcopal country house in England to hold that title. We thought you should know that!
While the rooms and their furnishings were magnificent, we spent most of our time there exploring the Churchill Exhibition. We both found it fascinating – encompassing as it does, not just photographs and official documents but a sizeable collection of letters – the most poignant of which were those that, as a youngster, he wrote to his parents. He comes across as an extremely lonely boy craving for parental affection that he seemed never to have been given.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
8 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire – 8 May 2013

Churchill’s Grave, Bladon, Oxfordshire

We were sufficiently enthused by the Churchill Exhibition to visit the nearby Bladon village church, where Winston, Clementine and any number of other members of the Marlborough family are buried. That someone whose importance to Britain was so great is buried here (where his parents and brother, Jack were buried) rather than somewhere grander, says much about how important his family was to him.
A day or so earlier than our visit, a floral tribute had been placed close to his grave by the members or descendants of the Dutch Resistance Forces. He seems better remembered in Europe than at home!

With some reluctance, we bid farewell to the “Falkland Arms” for our relatively long drive, via Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, to Maesbury Marsh, in Shropshire and the “White House”, which was to be our home for the next six nights. We arrived in driving rain and cold wind after driving into the wrong “White House” next door. It was only when pulling in to the right place that Norm remembered that the “our” White House was a brick house – with not a hint of white about it. Duh!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Wightwick Manor is unusual in that, in 1937, its owner, Geoffrey Mander MP, persuaded the National Trust to accept a house that was just 50 years old. It really is a lovely Victorian manor house in Arts and Crafts style, set in superb gardens.

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands
9 May 2013

The house interiors feature original wallpaper and fabrics by Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris, along with Pre-Raphaelite stained glass, paintings, and objets d’art. It is designed in a mock-Tudor ‘Old English Style’, with brick and timber-framed whitewashed walls under a tile roof.

The Great Parlour, Wightwick Manor, West Midlands
9 May 2013

…and it was quite a find – helped not a little by an informed and informative guide. Well done National Trust.

We were warmly welcomed by Isobel on our arrival and shown to our light and airy bedroom – adjoined as it was by as spacious an en-suite bathroom as you are ever likely to find! It was, in fact, larger than the bedroom! We later met Ross, our joint host, who was our waiter, wine-waiter and raconteur extraordinaire. Regrettably the weather that greeted us on arrival continued for almost all our time there and prevented us exploring the garden which, in more clement times, would have been a great spot to chill out after a busy day’s touring.

Over the next five days we did, however, enjoy Ross and Isobel’s hospitality and relished the hearty breakfasts and just scrumptious dinners for which the “White House” is recognised. Our dining experiences were made even more enjoyable by being served in the light-filled conservatory. Not surprisingly perhaps, we chose to “eat-in” every night – and on no occasion were we disappointed. Each morning, we enjoyed our post-breakfast perusal of the extensive Dinner menu and found some difficulty making a choice from so many tantalising dishes. Particular favourites included the Sole Meuniere and the Vegetarian Haggis but every dish we tried, be it an amuse-bouche, entrée, main or dessert, was a tribute to Isobel’s cooking – and truly five star.
No wonder the “White House” is listed as a “Gastro” Bed & Breakfast.

To complement Isobel’s culinary skills, Ross was the quintessential “mine host” whose gregariousness, ebullience and quick-wittedness kept us mightily entertained. We thoroughly recommend the White House as a wonderful base for exploring Shropshire and beyond – and, if you are so inclined, acquiring a reason for later dieting regimes.

10th May 2013

Off into Wales today – and Llangollen in particular. Our introduction was not encouraging – not because of the town, but the bitter cold – to the point that Norm had to buy some warming gloves – for, if he remembers correctly, the princely sum of about $8.00 from a recycle shop recommended to us by a Camping, Shooting, and Fishing shop in the main street.
This really was a tourist trip day. First we caught the “Llangollen Railway’s” Heritage Diesel Railcar to Carrog – about 12 km from Llangollen.

Our Heritage Diesel Railcar Llangollen, Denbighshire
10 May 2013

Regrettably, it wasn’t the right day for a steam experience. We nonetheless enjoyed a picturesque ride in prime seats behind the driver.

Photos: Our trip on the Heritage Diesel Railcar, Llangollen, Denbighshire – 10 May 2013

It was a most enjoyable experience – and one we would recommend, but only when the weather was warmer. It was perhaps for this reason, that on our return we beat a hasty retreat back to the “White House” to thaw out.

The following day dawned more brightly and we felt sufficiently confident of our weather forecasting skills to return to Llangollen to take a Horse-drawn Barge Trip to see the Horseshoe Falls. As the trip didn’t leave until 11:30 am, we had time for a leisurely walking tour of what really is an attractive small town. As you’ll see from the photo of the Morris Dancers performing outside the Tourist Office, taken as we made our way to the wharf, the weather was still fine.

Morris Dancers, Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013

It didn’t last and by the time it came to board, it was raining quite heavily. We could only feel for the poor horse and its handler having to brave the intermittent wet – and the cold – for the two hour return trip.

Our Barge awaits us… …and our horse, Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013
The man-made “Horseshoe Falls” – courtesy Thomas Telford
Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013

Photos: Our trip on the Horse-drawn Barge to the Horseshoe Falls, Llangollen, Denbighshire -11 May 2013

We agreed with the reviewer who described this as “possibly the most beautiful length of canal you will ever see, and the horse drawn trip is definitely the most peaceful and relaxing way to see it”. We could only agree.

With the weather looking a little kinder again, we set off for a couple more attractions, Valle Crucis Abbey and Eliseg’s Pillar. By the time we got to the abbey, the cold wind had returned and we were forced to use it more for shelter than the in-depth tour it may have deserved. We also made it to the Pillar, via a cow-pat strewn path. But we did get to them both, steadfast tourists as we are.

Entrance – Valle Crucis Abbey, Llantysilio, Denbighshire
11 May 2013

 

Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Two

On the following day, we explored the North Norfolk Coast. We braved the wind and took a short walk on the beach at Hunstanton but, with the best will in the world, couldn’t persuade ourselves that it had the same appeal for us as Forster’s Main Beach. Our plan for the day also included visiting as many of the sights that Denise had kindly listed for us as among their favourites when they visit this corner of Norfolk.
We just loved the villages of Old Hunstanton and Burnham Market and were able to find the cottage R&D rent each year – and have photographic evidence to prove it.

“Rose Cottage”, Burnham Market, Norfolk – a Roger and Denise Favourite
1 May 2013

We were successful, too, in finding the “Humble Pie” they recommended but, as it was closed for the day, will have to postpone our sampling of that famous delicatessen’s wares to another visit.

The “Humble Pie” – Burnham Market, Norfolk
1 May 2013

We had better luck with the “Stiffkey Red Lion” and found a sunny spot – more or less out of the wind – to enjoy a “half ” of Wherry – and wherry nice it was too.

A “Half” of Wherry – “Stiffkey Red Lion”, Norfolk
1 May 2013

Believing that we would not be able to fit it on our way from Norfolk to Oxfordshire we made a special visit to Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill.  Apart from its lovely garden and grounds the old abbey undercroft that is now the dining room is a must see.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge
2 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Anglesey Abbey Gardens, Cambridge – 2 May 2013

On the way to our next staging post in Oxfordshire, we called in at Saffron Walden to visit a church that friends of Carol had visited and recommended. “Simon” – our GPS guru had no difficulty finding it but his expertise didn’t run to finding us a parking spot nearby. After finding one in what we understood was a nearby car park, Norm’s in-built GPS let us down and it was only with the help of a “local lad” – with cricketing interests and a kind word or two to say about our (Australian) cricketers – who pointed us in the right direction.
And what a beautiful church “St Mary’s” turned out to be – not just because of its appearance but more the feeling we had that this was a truly loved and cared for place of worship. As Carol’s friends had done, we “too” lit a candle.

St Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, Essex
3 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to St Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, Essex – 3rd May 2013

Our next stop was Audley End House and Gardens. We are not usually fans of tours – preferring to make use of audio-guides when they’re available – or to do our own thing at our own pace. Here we had a very good guide, Sara, whose knowledge and enthusiasm added significantly to the appeal of our visit. We spent considerable time in the grounds and gardens but made a brief visit to the newly-restored stables where the two residents “Duke” and “Jack” are lodged in some comfort.

Home for the next six nights was the “Falkland Arms” in Great Tew a tiny village near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.

The “Falkland Arms”, Great Tew, Oxfordshire

We were warmly welcomed on our arrival and shown to our well-equipped room on the first floor. All creaky floors and dark beams – it was a quintessentially old English pub bedroom – and we just loved it.

Our bedroom window – and the view from it across the road to the lovely old Public School
5 May 2013

The quiet country location lived up to our expectations, but the sense of being residents – albeit temporarily – of a just gorgeous Oxfordshire village was a real bonus.
While one of us, at least, continued to manage those hearty English breakfasts, both of us really enjoyed our dinners in the bar/restaurant – and sharing that convivial space with both visitors to the village and “locals” (of both the human and canine variety) made it just that much more enjoyable.
And the hospitality we were shown during our time there was also special – one example of which was that they found a way of fitting us in over the busy Bank Holiday weekend, for what was a special “family reunion” Sunday lunch with Norm’s niece Kathy and her two daughters, Hayley and Rachael, who drove up from Portsmouth for the occasion.

On the Saturday, we paid what was to turn out to be the first of two visits to Waddesdon Manor. Waddesdon Manor was built in the style of a 19th-century French château by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 to display his outstanding collection of art treasures. No wonder then, that we spent nearly three hours in the house alone. That this was so was largely the result of one of the best audio-visual guides we have ever come across. Not only were there audio and visual overviews of all the rooms, but the facility to drill down for further spoken and pictorial information of the important items in each room. Being as crowded as it was for the Bank Holiday weekend we didn’t get to see the garden or the special exhibit in the stables and postponed that until the holiday Monday.

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
4 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire – 4th May 2013

On the Sunday morning – which, for once, was not bone-chilling cold and had the promise of being a fine day – we took a stroll through the village and, later, up the road to the village church. As there was a service in progress and our “reunion” lunch called, we didn’t get to see inside the church.
And as this photo testifies, we had a lovely lunch – with lots of reminisces, recollections and laughter.

Rachael, Norm, Kathy and Hayley
5 May 2013

Not surprisingly perhaps, this took more than an hour or two, but we still managed to fit in a post-prandial recovery walk through the village to admire some fine examples of thatching and some more refreshments in the “sunny and warm” backyard of the Inn to sustain them on their trip home.
Thank you, Kathy.

Photos: Our walk with Kathy, Hayley and Rachael, Great Tew, Oxfordshire – 5th May 2013

Monday had us returning to Waddesdon to complete our visit there.
A highlight was the “Cantus Arcticus” exhibit in the Coach House of the old stables. It was inspired by the shimmering curtains of the Northern Lights and by a piece of music of the same name by a Finnish composer, which in turn was inspired by the landscape and bird song of the Arctic tundra. Light cascades over the curtains of fibre optic, casting soft pools that change colour in response to the music. We spent a deal of time there just absorbing the changing mood of the display.  Regrettably our photographs failed to catch the mood.
We happily filled in the rest of our time there in the beautiful gardens and visiting the small but apparently important aviary.

On the following morning, after an unwanted but necessary visit to the Medical Centre in Chipping Norton for Norm’s monthly INR blood test, we were off to Hidcote Manor Garden. We had seen and heard something of it on a DVD we have of some of the National Trust Gardens, but were delighted that it was so much better in reality – as the following photos, we trust, will show:

Hidcote Manor Gardens, Gloucestershire
7 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Hidcote Manor Gardens, Gloucestershire – 7th May 2013

Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode One

Carol and Norm’s Britain and Brittany
16th April to 27th May 2013

Our most recent foray overseas was every bit as good as we’d hoped.
As I’m not sure if we had mentioned in earlier epistles – of the paper as well as the electronic – form we took this self-drive tour at a much more leisurely pace, staying six nights in country coaching houses, pubs, inns and the like in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Shropshire. All have been different and, in their own way, delightful places to stay – and, as it has turned out, to eat.  We are now totally enamoured of the benefit of having a central base from which we can comfortably reach the places we want to visit – and, after a day’s touring, coming back each evening to what have turned out to be genuinely warm welcomes. 
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On arrival at Hertz depot at Manchester Airport, we were told that the car we had booked and paid for three months earlier was not available!! The agent tried, unsuccessfully, to convince us that a VW Golf was a medium sized car and seemed surprised that we were not happy to tour for a month with one large suitcase in the boot and the other on the back seat!!! With some reluctance, we were offered an exchange for a “larger” car the following day – and we ended up with a practically new VW Jetta and some belated apologies.

We spent the first couple of days in Manchester where our old friends, Roger and Denise live.

Entrance to 11 Didsbury Park, Greater Manchester

Here we stayed at 11 Didsbury Park, a quiet town-house hotel in Didsbury where we were welcomed like old friends – which is what we are really, having stayed there every time we’ve visited Didsbury over the past six or seven years.

We spent the morning of our first day at the local Tesco buying a simple mobile phone on a pre-paid basis – and stocking up on some other essentials like wine.  We ventured into Manchester city itself next morning by bus – and window-shopped for as long as we were able to stand the “spring” temperatures and accompanying wind and rain.  On our return journey to Didsbury, we managed to get the front seat upstairs on the double-decker – and our ride “home” was almost an adventure in itself!

As if to ensure that we were adequately fed before our foray into the country on the following day, Denise cooked up a veritable “feast” for lunch. Accompanied as it was with the appropriate wines – and water, of course – we gave Roger as much help as we could to do it the justice it deserved. And I’m sure we succeeded. Thank you both.

To start our central England circuit, we headed for Yorkshire – and the Loftsome Bridge Coaching House in Wressle, near Beverley. On the way we called in at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – 500 acres of rolling countryside which prompted one reviewer to write: “Probably the finest exhibition site for sculpture in the world.” Be that as it may, we meandered for as long as we were able in the bone-chilling cold of Britain’s late spring (that we later found a pain, in every sense of the word) for as long as we were able, taking in just some of the range of sculptures on offer. Here are a few:

Henry Moore – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire
21 April 2013
Barbara Hepworth – – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire
21 April 2013
Miro – – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire
21 April 2013

…and whilst not exactly sculptural, these two could only be described as just beautiful living exhibits.

Living Sculptures – – Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire
21 April 2013

Oh, and the park has one of the best gallery-style shops we’ve visited. We could have spent lots there – but, regrettably in hindsight, resisted temptation. We succumbed to the temptation of just beautiful Tomato & Basil Soup and Crusty Bread in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Restaurant – and, given the chill of the rural setting, why not?
Loftsome Bridge Coaching House – as was all our accommodation – was chosen on the basis of being central to the areas we wanted to visit and one that had positive reviews. As it turned out, they all lived up to – and, in some cases – surpassed our expectations. In any event we were warmly welcomed on the Sunday afternoon of our arrival and shown to our truly spacious lodgings in the former stables. A complimentary basket of fruit awaited us which, was replenished every day – a hospitable touch that we really appreciated.
The hotel is very much in the country with all the benefits of traffic-less quiet and rural outlook that we were looking for – and, as a bonus, had a view over our very own lake with resident geese and three new goslings.

Our Loftsome Bridge Coaching House Stable Suite,  Wressle, North Yorkshire – and VW Jetta
21 April 2013

Favourite amongst the places we visited in Yorkshire were

    • York Minster, of course,
    • Nunnington Hall (and both for its wire & willow horse sculptures and wonderful “Carlisle Collection” of miniature rooms in the attic);
Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire – and those “horses”
23 April 2013

Photos: Our visit to Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire – 23 April 2013

    • Brodsworth Hall and Gardens (and the “Duty Calls” exhibits recalling how the house, its owners and staff were impacted by WWII 70 years earlier);

Photos: Our visit to Brodsworth Hall Gardens, South Yorkshire – 24 April 2013

    • the Rudston Monolith (2000-3000 yrs old) in the grounds of the early Norman “All Saints” church there; and
Rudston Monolith, Rudston, Yorkshire – and shy tourist, Carol
25 April 2013
    • Burton Agnes Hall & Garden (and its wire & willow geese) and, not least, the masses of daffodils that surrounded the property.
Daffodils in grounds in front of Burton Agnes Hall, Yorkshire
25 April 2013

Another “stately home” visit was to Beningbrough Hall where, in addition to the house and gardens there was a National Portrait Gallery exhibition where we took the opportunity to “commission” a portrait. And here we are – in appropriately period dress:

Carol and Norm at Beningbrough Hall, North Yorkshire
26 April 2013

Although our visit to Hardwick Hall promised the benefit of using our English Heritage card for the “old” Hall and our National Trust Card for the “new”, the warm welcome of the English Heritage staff at the “old” Hall was insufficient to counter the bitter cold of what is a roofless ruin – and we fled to the warmth of “new” Hall. That either hall exists is courtesy Bess of Hardwick, about whom, whether you want it or not you’re going to get a “potted” history:

Bess of Hardwick, as history recalls her, rose from humble origins to become one of the most powerful people in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. She married four times, each time gaining more wealth and her fourth husband was the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the richest and most powerful of the English nobles of the time. For many years the Shrewsbury’s were responsible for the guardianship of that unhappy Queen Mary Queen of Scots.
The story is that Bess had a furious dispute with her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and in 1584 had to leave their home at Chatsworth. She came to the Old Hall at Hardwick and largely rebuilt it as a place for her to live. However, when the Earl died in 1590 her finances became much more secure and she immediately began the construction of the ‘New’ Hall. The Old Hall was abandoned and gradually became a ruin.
With its massive windows and fine proportions it is an impressive statement of the power and wealth of its creator who made sure the statement was made quite clear by having her initials ES carved on stone letters at the head of the towers! The hall was notable for the size of its windows and the amount of glass used, which was far more than in similar houses of the period.

For us, the “new” Hall was just as you might have expected from the status of its owner, a statement of wealth and power – and really quite cold in the other sense of that word.

Hardwick “Old” Hall, Derbyshire
27 April 2013
Hardwick “New” Hall, Derbyshire
27 April 2013

Then on to Norfolk – and our home for the next six nights – The Bedingfeld Arms at Oxborough. Again a warm welcome in what is the village’s “local” pub. We had a spacious comfortable room on the first floor overlooking fields behind the hotel. As visitors from “down under” we found the room very cold and were grateful when someone showed us where the heating controls were and turned them on.
Over the next five days we relished hearty breakfasts (including, again, black pudding for Norm) in the bar and appetising dinners in the restaurant. On one evening when the restaurant was not open, a dinner reservation was made for us at a nearby pub, “The Berney Arms” at Barton Bendish – and this was absolutely delicious.
In Norfolk, as in Yorkshire, the evidence of spring being six or so weeks late was still frigidly clear – bare hedgerows and trees, but daffodils everywhere, even on median strips. All very fine, but we could have done without the unwelcome addition of those chilling winds. 
But brave colonials that we are, we soldiered on. High on our list of favourites would be

    • Blickling Hall (it looks every bit the 16th century stately home it is);
Blickling Hall, Norfolk
28 April 2013
    • the late gothic Paycocke’s House (with its stunning woodcarving and elaborate panelling inside, and tranquil cottage garden outside);
Paycocke’s House, Essex
28 April 2013
  • And, how could we forget Sutton Hoo and its treasures?
    Sutton Hoo is the site of two 6th- and early 7th-century cemeteries. One contained an undisturbed ship burial including a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artefacts of outstanding art-historical and archaeological significance, now held in the British Museum in London. Fortunately for us – and other visitors – replicas of many of the treasures are displayed here, and what treasures they are.
Anglo-Saxon mask motif on the front of the Exhibition Hall, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
30 April 2013
Replica of the “Great” Gold Belt Buckle – Sutton Hoo, Suffolk
30 April 2013

 

Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Ten

Saturday 23rd September 2017

It’s with some sadness to realise that this is the last day of our tour. Sadness because what was a group of people of diverse backgrounds, ages and interest became such a cohesive one and a pleasure to travel with, is breaking up. On most tour groups I’ve travelled with there was always one – and occasionally two – who consciously or otherwise did not fit in.  In that regard, this group was a welcome exception.

But enough of that, we had a long day ahead and I better get onto recording it. Using on this occasion, motorways rather than Back-Roads preferred backroads, we set off not too early on our 200 km to Chartres and its Cathedral. We took a break at a motorway Service Centre after about an hour for a comfort stop and coffee.  Here I was able to demonstrate my suspect technological skills by ordering a N’espresso double espresso from a totally automated dispenser only to find that it didn’t like any of my credit cards, and without any obvious way to cancel the order, I left it to work it out for itself – dIscreetly  of course. In the end I settled for an ice-cold Starbucks Frappuccino from the self-service fridge.

We arrived in Chartres at about midday and were told we had until 3:30 pm to view the Cathedral, explore the town and have lunch in our own time and own pace – a sensible arrangement in that it made allowance for our individual preferences of religious or secular interest.
Most of us headed straight for the Cathedral, wisely it turned out, because the big crowds started to arrive not too long after us. I had visited Chartres on a previous occasion but on this visit was able to spend all the time I wanted just soaking up its splendours.

For the uninitiated, the Cathedral was built between 1194 and 1220 and is best known for its fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, the magnificent 12th and 13th-century stained-glass windows and its stunningly carved choir screen. Some of the photos may, I hope, do some of that magnificence justice.

For the first half hour or so, I did a leisurely circumnavigation of what is a really very big building, mentally noting the features I wanted to return to. On the way I stopped occasionally to say a prayer or two or light a candle or two or just sit.

Of the photos that follow, I can identify and have captioned all except the stained-glass windows, the titles of which have thus far eluded me.

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire
West facade, central portal
23 September 2017
Chartres Cathedral, Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire
Choir Stall Carving – The Three Wise Men (1621-1635)
23 September 2017

Photos: My visit to Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, Centre-Val-de-Loire – 23 September 2017

I spent close to an hour and a half in the Cathedral by which time all my fellow travellers had headed for the town – a small and attractive one – to stroll or lunch or both. After a quick, for me, exploration of the Main Street, I made my hungry way to the small café that we passed on the way to the Cathedral and appeared to a number of us as a good place to have lunch. If any of them had lunched there they were all gone by the time I got there.

Undeterred, I made my way down the narrow stairs to a quirkily shaped and decorated tiny dining room that was close to full of what appeared to be almost entirely locals. But the very Gallic owner responded very positively to my “Un, s’il vous plait” and found me a stool at a bar looking out on the lane behind. Clearly family-owned the menu was a small one but included beef bourguignon which sounded just what I wanted – and it was. It was preceded by a bowl of mixed olives and crackers, crusty bread and a small carafe of a local dry white wine. An appetising way to start.  The beef was every bit as good as I’d hoped – being quite a large serving of this deliciously rich casserole served with tiny round green beans and disgustingly good buttery mash. As you can imagine I enjoyed every morsel, putting the crusty bread to good use in mopping up anything left in the bowl. A great French food finale!

I just had time then for a quick foray into the part of the town where I had sighted a half-timbered house from another time, and a photo of it has joined the library.

Chartres,  Centre-Val-de-Loire – Half-timbered house close to the Cathedral
23 September 2017

One thing that nobody could miss in Chartres was the security presence. As a major tourist attraction in regional France, the Cathedral and its visitors must be rated as one of the most vulnerable targets in France. Certainly there were plenty of uniforms about including local and national police and two small units of the army all in body armour and heavily armed. A bit scary, but reassuring at the same time.

Then it was time to head for Paris and the end of the tour. The 90 km journey was scheduled to take an hour and a half but, in the end, took close to two, courtesy the horrendous Friday evening rush hour traffic once we reached the outskirts of the city. With limited parking in front of our drop-off hotel in Saint-Marcel, Tony and Bill unloaded us and all our goods and belongings in record time and with a hasty “au revoir” they – and our trusty coach – were off.

It was just as well we had made our farewells last evening as all but two couples had arranged to be picked up on arrival and in what seemed no time at all had disappeared and I was the only one left in the tiny reception area that had been packed a few minutes before.

I had arranged to be picked up at 6:50 pm for transfer to Charles de Gaulle airport for my 9:50 pm departure and I must admit to being somewhat concerned, given how traffic was, that that was running it a bit tight. Worry wort to the end, I rang Emirates in Sydney who reassured me that the time that was set was correct, the driver would be there at that time and, unsaid but implied, “stop worrying”!!

There was nothing for it then but to do just that. And to that end, I went to find a drink. Being a very small hotel it didn’t run to a bar but the receptionist said “But we do have a wine bar” and pointed to what looked like a tall automatic beverage dispensing machine. And that’s what it was, an automatic wine dispenser.

Apparently it was designed for wine-tastings and dispenses a properly aerated and (if white or rose wine) cooled glass from an individual test tube type glass cylinder of red, white or rose.  It works in much the same way as a coffee capsule does but is perhaps a bit more sophisticated. So intrigued was I that I found more information about it on a website and, for those who may be interested, I’ve provided a link below:

https://www.10-vins.com/en/the-d-vine

Although designed for wine tasting I thought that for a small hotel with limited space for a bar or storage it was an innovative and simple way of providing its customers a needed glass of wine or two.

I had a choice of 2 whites, 2 reds or a rose and chose the rose. Perhaps recognising my need,  I was very soon the satisfied holder of a glass of rose with a typically French flinty taste but which, in the circumstances, was just what I needed. If you get the impression that I enjoyed it you’d be right – and I would have had another one if I hadn’t run out of Euros.

The Emirates car and driver turned up on the dot and after a hair-raising and unbelievably short 35 minutes we were at the airport. Oh why is it that I worry? No answer necessary.
Check-in, Border Control and security screening passed as efficiently as I’ve experienced anywhere so I was able to fit in another calming glass of rose before boarding.

Once on board and settled, I realised – or perhaps for the first time admitted to myself – how tired I was. In any event, after a light meal or rather a light sampling of a larger one, I slept right through to Dubai.

Sunday 24th and Sunday 25th September 2017

My transfer to the Sydney flight, again via Bangkok, was another of those rushed walk, rail-shuttle, walk treks that I have come to dread and, if the truth be known, hate.
On this leg which left at 9:45 am, I had hoped to finish my Back-Roads survey and start on this episode. In the event, I did nothing more than eat sparingly and sleep.
As was the case on the outward leg, there was no plane change at Bangkok but on this occasion we were all required to take our belongings off and complete the same security screening as if we were joining afresh. This we were to complete within 30 minutes, itself a challenge. But when we returned the plane was not ready and we stood for another 30 minutes or so before boarding.  And guess what I did, ate sparingly and slept!!

We arrived on time in Sydney and, after what seemed like an endless walk to the terminal hub, processed my way through Border Control and baggage claim with relative ease. I again used the Airport Link train to get to the Domestic Terminal where I was nice and early to check-in for my 10:05 am FlyPelican flight to Newcastle where Carolyn and Tony were to pick me up.

And that’s where my dream run ended. An Air Traffic Control outage which must have started around the time we landed meant that both international and domestic flights were either being cancelled or postponed. And as some of you may have seen on the newscasts from Sydney, the airport’s Departures Hall was nothing more than a scene of chaos as the heaving throng of frustrated and angry travellers tried to get information.

Knowing that my flight had been cancelled, I fought my way back through the throng so that I could get outside to get the mobile signal I needed to let Carolyn and Tony know – and work out with them how to re-group. The outcome of this is that I would get the train to Hornsby in the north of Sydney which would shorten their drive to Sydney a little and avoid the worst of the traffic.

This we did and Tony and Carolyn welcomed me back into the fold picking me up soon after 12:00 noon – not that much later than we would have been without the disruption. I don’t really remember too much of the trip back to Berrico, but I do remember the wonderful welcome Mia, Audrey and Nicholas gave me.

Rewarding as the whole trip was, it was great to back home, again, in the bosom of our family and the love and care I receive there.

As for the trip itself:

    1. I can now say that that brick wall that shielded my great great grandfather, James, is well and truly broken down and some new pathways identified. And I know I’m going to enjoy following them up.
    2. The tour of the Channel Islands was a revelation not just for their beauty – and they are beautiful – but also for the history from the Stone Age to the more recent and sometimes horrific past. I had expected the beauty but I hadn’t expected the impact of the history and I now feel that it was the combination that made the visit so meaningful for me.
    3. My visit to Roger and Denise and the opportunity to catch up, share memories and just “chat” as we have done over so many years. My thanks again.

 

So, another dream fulfilled.

Finally, my sincere thanks to Carolyn and Tony without whose loving support this dream trip would not have been possible.

Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Nine

Thursday 21st September 2017

This morning we were up and away for our visit to what was described by Back-Roads as one of the premier tourist attractions in France. And as it draws up to 3 million visitors a year that claim seems justified. Using the back roads on which the tour company was named, the 60 km semi-coastal drive to Mont St Michel’s huge and dedicated parking area took a little over an hour. In the olden days, it was possible to drive all the way to the site, park relatively close and make your way on foot across the causeway. But since 2014, this is no longer possible and all visitors have to take the free shuttle bus, pay for a horse-drawn wagon ride or walk the last 3.5 km via a bridge to the island.

Mont St Michel, Normandy – Horse-drawn transport
21 September 2017

By the time we arrived at the carpark the queues for the shuttle buses were already building and it was nearly half an hour before we could board. Whoever operates the service must have based the busload capacity on the same principle as applied to the Sark toast-rack wagons because each shuttle did not leave until no more could be squeezed in.

But none of this could take away from the iconic spectacle we were able to see from some kilometres away right up to the gates. And, as those of you who have been there will remember, once through the gate it’s a different sort of spectacle as you walk through the quite long uphill section with nothing but shops, restaurants and a lodging or two. This gradually peters out and it becomes more of what I had expected as a fort and monastery, but much to my dismay – or that of my legs and lungs – the way up became steeper and the steps higher. As a result, I have to admit that, unlike three couples in our group, I didn’t make it to the Abbey itself. Be that as it may, I can see why the site has such appeal and regret that the few photos I managed do not do it justice.

Mont St Michel, Normandy – Opportunities for Retail Therapy abound on the Pilgrim’s Path
21 September 2017
Michael the Archangel – Maxime Real del Sarte
Quite appropriately at home at Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
21 September 2017.

Photos: My visit to Mont St Michel, Normandy – 21 September 2017

The three hours that we had there was ample – even for the intrepid climbers amongst us – and by the time we left the bridge was thronged with the incoming hordes. I’m glad we were as early as we were.

Next on the agenda was the truly French picnic lunch Tony had promised us. And true to his word it was no time at all before we were at our secluded countryside picnic area. Here, willingly supported by the group, Tony and Bill set the two on-site tables with the Gallic fare they had prepared for us while we were mountaineering. It could only be described as a feast – consisting as it did of a range of meats, cheeses, salads of varying kinds and the obligatory crusty bread. And all accompanied by our choice of champagne, red and white wine of the region, local beer and cider and, for those interested, Calvados. I was – and it certainly lived up to the description I read later “Calvados, silky, fiery, wondrous”.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our alfresco French picnic – for which, “Thank you” Tony, Bill and Back-Roads.

Needless to say, a number of the picnickers indulged in a bit of “shut-eye” on our way to our last stop for the day, Dinan. Described in the Tourist Office brochure as “one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany, with its long ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port and cobbled streets, it’s worth a day of anyone’s time.” Apart from not having that amount of time available to us, the weather had changed from that perfect for a picnic – sunny and mild, to imperfect for the half-hour guided walk planned – wet and watery. Whether because of the Calvados tasting or the Mont St Michel climb or the weather, I was one of two in the group who decided to shelter dry and warm in the Coach. While this wasn’t said, I had the feeling from the others on their return that some of them wished they had done likewise.

Tonight, because of the change of our hotel to a less than walkable distance, our “taste of classic French cuisine at a traditional restaurant” had to be held in-house and while very nice didn’t quite live up to the Itinerary description.

Friday 22nd September 2017

When we visited the Mont Orgueil on Monday last, I couldn’t believe that a castle could be bigger or more impactful. How wrong I was, Chateau Fougeres was just that.
Helpfully equipped with audio guides we were each able to work our way around what can truly be described as a monumental fortress in our own time and pace, and that is what we did.
But before the photos that may do it justice, courtesy Tourisme Bretagne, a little of its history:

“There has been a castle in Fougères for more than 1,000 years as this site, on a promontory sheltered by hills and surrounded by marshes, was identified by the Duchy of Brittany as the perfect spot to defend its lands from the French. The current castle dates from the 12th century and consists of three enclosures whose walls are dotted with towers: the most impressive being the Mélusine Tower.”

I must say I found it all of it impressive.

Chateau Fougères, Fougères, Ille-et-Vilaine
22 September 2017

Photos: My visit to Chateau Fougères, Fougères, Ille-et-Vilaine – 22 September 2017

On our way to our next scheduled visit, Sainte Suzanne, we paid a brief visit to the site of what must have been a substantial Roman town in Jublains. Other than the ruins of the temple, the very large site has no surviving buildings but the wide open grassy, park-like space is dissected by grit roads, which mark the position of roads that would have divided the urban part of the town.
The temple itself was built between 66 and 120 AD and, with an outer wall measuring 78 metres on each side, must have been huge.
Little remains now other than lower sections of the columns that surrounded the temple.
I regret to report that none of the photos I took survived, nor for that matter, did those from Sainte Suzanne, the last on the list of our visits for the day.

Billed as one of France’s most beautiful villages, I am at something of a loss to see how it earned this accolade. Although I did take a few photos, they were of the countryside surrounding the village rather than anything in it – and I was not alone. For me, anyway, it didn’t meet the expectations I had of it having visited another “most beautiful” village, Rochefort-en-Terre, in 2013.

As it was our last night together, we enjoyed a scrumptious farewell dinner, the French-worded menu for which I somehow or other have mislaid. So, without the enhancement of the French, I savoured a Potato and Leek soup, a Lavoursome Lamb Shank (alliteration intended) and a creditable Crème Brulee. All this was accompanied by a glass or two of wine from the region and, not surprisingly, appropriate words of thanks and toasts to Tony and Bill for their parts in making the tour the success it was. A later than usual night for all of us – but, in the circumstances, why not?

 

Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Eight

Monday 18th September 2017

Our first outing this morning was to one place but with two attractions,

The first of these was La Hougue Bie, a Neolithic passage grave or dolmen built about 6000 years ago. It is not as large as Newgrange in Ireland nor quite as sophisticated but that may be because it’s about a thousand years older. Both, however, predate the Pyramids.
The passage too is smaller and lower and accordingly, for some inexplicable reason, I was unable to stoop low enough to enter it. So you’ll have to do with pictures of the mound in which was built and of the entrance to the passage.

La Hougue Bie, Grouville, Jersey – Entrance
18 September 2017
La Hougue Bie, Grouville, Jersey – Chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarté (Our Lady of the Light)
18 September 2017

One significant difference from Newgrange, however, is that on top of the mound are two medieval chapels, one from the 12th Century and the other from the 16th Century.
As you will have noticed from the photo they appear to be a single structure, and it’s only clear that there are two distinct elements by visiting them.
Perhaps I should have read the accompanying sign first!

The second attraction was in the archaeology and geology museum on the site also managed by Jersey Heritage. This was the Grouville Hoard. It comprises an estimated 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins thought to belong to a Curiosolitae tribe fleeing Julius Caesar’s armies around 60 to 50 BC.
The hoard also includes some gold and silver jewellery and ornaments one of which, a torque, is shown below:

La Hougue Bie Museum, Grouville, Jersey – Grouville Hoard – Gold Torque
18 September 2017

From there we were delivered to Mont Orgueil a large castle overlooking the harbour of Gorey about 8 kms east of the capital, St Helier.
It is also known as Gorey Castle by English-speakers – but whatever it is called, it is absolutely massive.
Before we started our climbs to the top of the fortress we were given an entertaining history of the Castle by one of the volunteer guides, Roger. Whether he had been an actor or not – or just a frustrated one – he enlivened his narration with very good characterisations of notables in the castle’s history from King John, Elizabeth I and Walter Raleigh amongst others. It was a wonderful “performance”.

In summary, the castle has, as Roger put it, cast its imposing shadow over the harbour for more than 800 years and is said to be one of the finest examples of a medieval fortress anywhere.

Mont Orgueil, Saint Martin, Jersey
18 September 2017

I have it on the very good authority of the only couple on the tour that made it to the very top that the climb involved over 220 steps. As a rank amateur, I managed only 180 of those which I must say was considerably more than I thought I’d be able to do. But I did get a goodly number of photos, some of which appear below.

Photos: My visit to Mont Orgueil, Saint Martin, Jersey – 18 September 2017

By the time I reached ground level again, somewhat later than the other more youthful members of the group it was time for a late if well-earned lunch of a really thick cream of vegetable soup.

Our final visit for the day was to St Matthew’s church between St Helier and St Aubin. Tony had flagged it as a surprise and it was only when we made it inside the church that we could see why it might rate such attention. Certainly from the outside it was as plain a church as I’ve ever seen.

It was built in 1840as what is known as a “chapel of ease” but in 1934, Lady Tate (widow of Jesse Boots of Boots the Chemists) commissioned an extensive renovation of the church which just happened to be decorated by Rene Lalique.

As you’ll see from the photos, the work is quintessentially Lalique – but for me the decoration that I assume was meant to enhance it as a place of worship ended up more as a quite a cold and, as such, not particularly welcoming gallery of his work. I’m less sure that others in the group saw it quite as I did, but I know a couple who did.

St Matthew’s Church, Millbrook, Jersey
18 September 2017
St Matthew’s Church, Millbrook, Jersey – Altar Piece in the Side Chapel
18 September 2017

But to that important foodie news. Dinner a vast improvement on last night and I enjoyed an entrée of Ballotine of Duck and Foie Gras, a main of Coq au Vin and a Trio of rich Jersey Ice Cream with fresh strawberry coulis for dessert. Yum time again.

Tuesday 19th September

Our last day in Jersey before leaving Britain for France on this evening’s ferry. And Tony means for us to make the most of it.

Packed and away by 9:30 am we were off on another of our coastal route circumnavigation.

Our first disembark and viewing leg-stretch was at what Tony told us was one of the most photographed buildings in Jersey, the lighthouse at La Corbiere – meaning “gathering place of the crows” on the south west coast of Jersey. Completed in 1873, the lighthouse was the first in the British Isles to be made of concrete rather than the traditional stone.
Try as I might I was unable to screen out the rather ugly lean-to type appendage at the base of the lighthouse and leading me to doubt whether it will continue to hold its most-photographed title.

La Corbière Lighthouse, St. Brélade, Jersey
19 September 2017

Our next stop – for a comfort and coffee break was in a very up-market shop selling pearls – and as you might expect it was called “Jersey Pearl”. Despite my wicked suspicions as to why we called there, we only had time for a coffee and a quick sortie across the road to view some more German bunkers and pillboxes behind the sea-wall.

Our return from our round-the-island tour was our first visit to the centre of the city of St Helier and our first sight of the statue in Liberation Square.  The sculpture depicts the moment when the status of the Island changed from occupation to liberation.  As a matter of interest to me, the sculptor was Philip Jackson whose work we had admired in an exhibition in Wells in England some years ago.

Liberation Monument, Liberation Square, St Helier, Jersey
19 September 2017

The rest of the day was ours to have lunch and visit what appealed to us of a number of options, some of which were included in the Jersey Heritage Card that Tony had bought for us. My choices were the Maritime Museum and, next door to it and covered by the same Jersey Heritage card, what is known as the Tapestry Collection.

The Maritime Museum was a real surprise. Although I expected lots of paintings and ship models I hadn’t expected how interactive a Museum of this nature could be made. There were exhibits where you could simulate the effect of wind on the sea, where you could build the hull of a model ship putting together the jig-saw of wooden components, demonstrate your skill in sailing – be it tacking or wearing or whatever- with a directional fan and a model yacht and on it goes. It was excellent and if it made even me sit on a stool to have a go, it must have been engaging.

The Tapestry Collection sounded like an exhibition of locally woven tapestries demonstrating the skills of the needle-workers. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It is, in fact, a collection of tapestries woven by Islanders to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation from German occupation. There are twelve richly coloured panels depicting the life and hardship under military rule and were created from the memories and stories of islanders who had experienced it,

As a follow up to what we had heard and seen in Guernsey, it provided a graphic summary of those times – and, as such, I found it a telling example of people trying to exorcise their unwanted memories by, in their way, “talking about them”.

All this was followed by a smooth and very relaxed ferry ride to St Malo and, as a result of an unexpected change in our hotel for the three nights we are here, a much longer than usual delivery trip. Because our ferry didn’t arrive in St Malo until 9:00 pm and half an hour later at the hotel, most of settled for a quick drink – and bed.

Wednesday 20th September 2017

We started our day with a wonderful walk around the top of the city walls with views both out to sea and inward to the myriad of tiny streets – many cobbled – and the Cafes, Creperies, Boulangeries, Pizzerias, and more. The views were wonderful and once we got up on the wall not too taxing.

View of the”Fort National” from the City Walls, St Malo
20 September 2017

Tony then lead us through the Main Street most of which is traffic free. All the big names seem to be represented including a branch of France’s main supermarket chain Carrefour – and, no, I didn’t make a surprise supervisory visit. Tony told us that at the height of the season, the streets are shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists but fortunately for us the walk was an easy and “unbumped” one. Overall, St Malo has a lovely relaxed feel and I would gladly revisit it.

We then went our separate ways to shop or visit whatever appealed to us – and in that respect, I have never been on a tour with people who really have no interest in shopping at all other than essentials.

My first call was to St Malo’s Cathedral, La cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Saragosse de Saint-Malo. You can see that I’m getting the hang of the language, now.The cathedral was built in the mid 1100s and is in a mix of Roman and Gothic styles.  It also listed as a “Historic Monument”.

The city of St Malo suffered much bombing and artillery fire by both Germans and Americans during fighting in early August 1944, and the Cathedral suffered significant damage.

On my leisurely walk through the Cathedral, three features that attracted my attention if not admiration were:

1. The Great Rose window which in 1968 replaced the great rose window destroyed in 1693 during an attack on the cathedral by the English. And here was I thinking that it was a victim of World War II

2. The modern bronze high altar supported at each corner by the four Evangelists appearing in animal form. The high altar furnishings include desks, an armchair and two stools, an elaborately carved stoup and a candlestick.

3. The tomb of the explorer Jacques Cartier who was born in St Malo in 1491 and died there in 1557. And, “as every schoolboy knows”, it was Cartier who claimed what is now known as Canada for France.

St Malo’s Cathedral – Rose Window
20 September 2017

It had been my plan to visit the Museum, purported to be a very good one, but by the time I had finished with the Cathedral – or vice versa – the Museum was closed and would not re-open until 2:00 pm.
There was nothing for it then but to go mussel hunting. After all it would probably have been unthinkable not to indulge when you’re in the heart of “Fruits de Mer” country. Anyway that’s what I did at Le Cafe de Saint Malo, one of Tony’s recommendations. While the moules were tiny compared to the green-lipped variety of a country I’m familiar with, the café made up for this with a serving of what seemed to be a hundred of these tiny but toothsome critters. Did I enjoy them and the accompanying crusty bread? You bet!

After such indulgence I traded a Museum visit for the half hour walk back to the hotel and some creative (?) writing.

Foodie News. I ate in-house tonight on, Entrée: Huitres Creuses de Cancale, oysters of course – huge shells, but small, slender and relatively bland; Main: Filet d’agneau au thym, Lamb fillet with herbs and Chariot des fromages affine de France, a selection of French cheeses. All nice enough but not worthy of “Hatting”, for lack of a better term.

Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Seven

Friday 15th September 2017

A not quite so early start for the day because today was Sark day and the ferry didn’t leave until 9:15 am for its 55 minute trip.

The “Sark Venture” – our ferry to the island of Sark
15 September 2017

The trip turned out to be a little longer than that because the remains of the sea conditions we experienced yesterday were still about. Thankfully though, for quite a number of our group the seas were not quite as stomach turning. And as if to greet us to Sark, the sun came out and remained so all day.
On arrival, other than the really hardy ones who chose to walk up to the only town, La Collinettee, we packed ourselves aboard one of the tractor-drawn “toast racks” as they have become known.  Each carried a hundred paying passengers in what can only be described as sardine-can intimacy but, after a mercifully short rocky ride on a rocky road, got us there.

The two-hour horse-drawn carriage ride that was booked for us had been brought forward because of a late cancellation, so we were off again – behind Danny and “Jake”. Each open “carriage” carried ten – two lucky ones up beside Danny and the less fortunate ones – of which I was one – arrayed cosily again on slightly padded bench seats along each side of the tray facing inwards.
With quite high hedges on either side of the unpaved road, we sometimes had difficulty seeing the features Danny was pointing out but we had two stops where we could view the sights. The first was on the Eastern side of the island where we walked down to a cliff-side vantage point from which we could see the island’s lighthouses and across the Channel to France.

 

View from Eastern side of Sark towards France
15 September 2017

The  other was at La Coupee between big Sark and Little Sark where there is a causeway rebuilt by the Germans during World War II using we were told the labour of prisoners – it must have been a mammoth task filling in what was a very deep ravine.

La Coupee, the causeway between Big and Little Sark
15 September 2017

Photos: Views from my visit to “La Coupée”, Sark – 15th September 2017

The waggon (rather than carriage) ride, if not big on comfort, was an enjoyable way of seeing the island’s highlights as Danny pointed them out in his laconic but knowledgeable way.

Our Tour driver, Billy Hunter, asking “Jake” about his horsepower
15 September 2017

In the hour and a half we had left to us after the tour we wandered about the town – or more truthfully – village visiting the small shops that were open and having a sandwich lunch in a garden setting next to the prison!!
Sark Prison is apparently the smallest habitable jail in the world. Built in 1856, it can house two inmates at a push and is still used for overnight stays.

Then it was time to climb back onto the “toast rack” for our fast downhill run to the quay to await the ferry. To everyone’s relief, this was a much smoother ride than the outward one and those of us not staying in the town retraced our steps back up past statues of Victor Hugo and Queen Victoria to our hotel.

Victor Hugo – St Peter Port, Guernsey
Hugo apparently completed “Les Miserables” while in Guernsey
15 September 2017

While most of the rest of the group headed off back down into town for a pub meal I, perhaps even wearier than yesterday, settled for Dover sole in lemon butter and lavishly buttered new potatoes in the hotel’s Leopard Bar and Restaurant. A great way to end what had been a tiring but great day.

Saturday 16th September 2017

The morning began looking decidedly bleak and wet but as has happened so often on this tour the day improved as it went on. Our first visit for the day was to what is known as The Little Chapel, and little it is.
Attractively set on a hillside it is a photographer’s dream – that is if you could time your shooting so as not to be blocked by other visitors or photographers. While quirkily beautiful on the outside, it is even more so inside and I have tried to capture some of that in the photos below:

The Little Chapel, Saint Andrew, Guernsey
16 September 2017

Photos: My visit to “The Small Chapel”, Saint Andrew, Guernsey – 16th September 2017

The chapel has an interesting and, at times, amusing history, so rather than try to include that here, I’ve provided a link to the Visit Guernsey site which tells its story better than I can:

http://www.visitguernsey.com/content/little-chapel

We then paid a brief visit to a gold and silversmith and clockmaker, only a short walk from the chapel – more I suspect so Tony, our Tour Guide, could add to his collection of pocket watches. He had already bought one in St Peter Port, so he must be a keen collector. Having said that it was a really nice store with a sizeable range of gold and silver jewellery and ornaments some of which was very attractive. But there was nothing that really grabbed me and the prices of those that did appeal were way out of my league.

The main stop of the morning was at the German Occupation Museum which in terms of tour planning made sense in that we were to meet later with Molly Bihet, who was a child during the occupation and has written a number of books about this experience.

As for the Museum itself, it is owned and operated by Richard Heaume. Again, rather than get more creative than I should, this is how its story is told on his website:

“It all began when Richard the schoolboy began collecting spent bullets in the local fields after the plough had gone by. In June 1966 Richard`s parents allowed him to use the cottage opposite their house to display his collection. Bit-by-bit, he added purpose-built extensions to the small farming cottage, starting in 1976 with the transport corridor and tea room, and in 1987 with the superb Occupation Street. The museum is now an extensive collection of original Occupation items and documents including many extremely rare pieces.”

And as the website attests, the Occupation Street exhibit is the outstanding feature – if not quite to my mind worthy of the “Superb” label. It is a remarkably comprehensive collection including as it does some quite sizeable exhibits such as artillery pieces, a horse-drawn field kitchen, searchlight and sea mine. While worth a visit particularly in filling a gap in my memory bank of World War II, I found the occupation story it told thought-provoking rather than moving.

German Coast Defence Gun from the Occupation of Guernsey
16 September 2017

We then had some free time before our meeting with Molly at 3:00 pm – time which I used productively I hope in completing Episode Six and starting on this one, Episode Seven.

Our meeting with Molly was held in a private room in the hotel and I have to admit to some reservation about why we were meeting and how it fitted into our exploration of Guernsey. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For those of you who don’t know her story – and I was one of those, this is a short version:

The Channel Islands were the only British territory to be occupied during World War II. Molly was nine years of age in 1940 when the Germans arrived and her family stayed in Guernsey throughout five years of occupation. She did not write her first book. “A Child’s War” about her experiences – or happenings – as she calls them until the 1980s. And it was her recollections of those “happenings” that she shared with us.

She is quite a tall women and shows little sign of her age either physically or mentally. She told her story with quiet passion, touches of humour and the occasional tear in a still strong voice – and engaged us all immediately. That this was so was as much that she, consciously or otherwise, followed a stream of consciousness path rather than a chronological one and I for one found it fascinating. She chatted away to us for a little over two hours without us noticing the time passing. Thank you Molly.

On the foodie news front, I enjoyed seared scallops and a fillet of John Dory which, while beautifully cooked, didn’t seem to have the same whiteness of flesh as I’m used to. Perhaps it’s a different “version”.

Sunday 17th September 2017

On the move again…
Today we headed for Jersey on the 12:45 pm ferry to St Helier, so Tony granted us a bit of a lie-in – postponing our departure from the hotel until 9:30 am. And well-earned it was too.
The later ferry departure time also provided the opportunity of a full round the island coastal tour. This included a quick visit to Fort Sausmarez on the Western coast of the island almost due west of St Peter Port.
Here an earlier Martello tower had been added to by the German occupation forces to make a naval observation post. This along with the batteries that once surrounded it was part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” which was designed to prevent the allies from reaching northern France.

Martello Tower converted by German occupation forces into an Observation Post
17 September 2017

From there we continued our way around a very picturesque coastline to St Peter Port in ample time to join the queue for the ferry – happily a relatively short one. Happily, too, the hour-long journey was a smooth one.

On arrival on time in St Helier we drove a little to the west for a short but very pleasant and needed walk-about in the very attractive fishing village of St Aubin. Here, in addition to our walk-about we managed to fit in a light lunch to sustain us until dinner at the “Hotel Cristina” which was to be our home for the next two nights.
The hotel is set quite high on a hillside overlooking the impressively named “Royal Bay of Grouville” and the views from the Restaurant and Lounge with their huge floor to ceiling windows and doors are just stunning.

Regrettably, this big tick of approval didn’t extend to Dinner which was a disappointment and, as such, not worthy of a “foodie news” assessment. Certainly it was a Sunday evening, and perhaps the Executive Chef was enjoying a day off. We’ll find out tomorrow when we dine in again.

 

Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Six

Tuesday 12th September 2017

The Waterford to Dublin train was on this occasion just fine – clean and deodorised – and with my reserved table seat and a vacant one next to me, all that I could have asked for.

There was an unwanted breakdown in communication from Rideways about where the car that was to take me to the airport was going to pick me up at Heuston Station – as a result of which we finally met nearly 30 minutes later than the designated time.

The driver however was excellent and, with what I feel certain was lots of local knowledge, got me to the airport in ample time.
Check-in with City-jet was a breeze as was the security screening.  But the breeze sort of stopped right there. In what can only be described as a rush of blood to the head I traipsed off – seemingly for miles – to reach Gate 109 only to find, when I read my boarding pass more carefully, that it was Gate 209 that I was supposed to be at. This meant of course back-tracking to the hub of the terminal and then doing it all again in the opposite direction. Duh, squared. And, yes I know, I should have gone to Specsavers!!

As a result of my peregrinations, I made it to the right gate 5 minutes before boarding time only to find that the flight was delayed and wouldn’t be boarding for another hour and a quarter.  Much gnashing of teeth. But it didn’t end there, once we had all boarded there was an announcement from the flight deck that there would be a further delay while they waited for a replacement First Officer and delivery of bottled water which we were told they were required to carry to meet air traffic regulations. The upshot of all this was that we took off at 5:00 pm instead of the scheduled 3:00 pm.

Continuing to show my interest in matters aeronautic, I have to tell you the flight from Dublin to London City was on a British AerospaceAvro RJ 85.

CityJet British Aerospace Avro 146-RJ85
Julian Herzog, CityJet British Aerospace Avro 146-RJ85 EI-RJC MUC 2015 01, CC BY 4.0

Despite its good looks, I have to agree with the reviewer who had this to say about it:

“Incredibly cramped. Leg room is OK but the aircraft is too narrow for 3+3 seating. No arm/shoulder room whatsoever.”

Luckily for me I again drew an aisle seat in a row where the centre seat was vacant.  Fortunately, too the flight took only an hour and the complimentary snack and a miniature bottle of wine – presumably as a form of apology – was very welcome.

Because of the delay in the flight, my transfer had to be rescheduled and the replacement driver didn’t appear until nearly 7:00 pm. The traffic was diabolical but we arrived at the Grange Wellington in good shape at about 7:50 pm. But that shape was shattered – as was I – when I was told that a pipe had burst in my room and it wouldn’t be fixed until the morning.  And being unable to accommodate me because they were fully booked they had booked me into their sister hotel, the Grange Rochester, next door.

By this time I was ready for a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down – but settled for a quick shower and just the good lie down.

But that’s enough of that – tomorrow is another day and the start of a new adventure – London to Paris via the Channel Isles – something I’m really looking forward to.

Wednesday 13th September 2017

Having had a really great night’s sleep I woke refreshed and ready, willing and eager to hit the road – and my eagerness was not at all diminished by the fact that while the breakfast was fine it was black pudding free.

There were two Back-Roads tours leaving the Grange Wellington this morning one to Cornwall and the other ours. The tours are limited to sixteen guests and both tours were close to full. There are thirteen on our tour – 5 Australian couples, a New Zealand couple and me. As such, it’s a smaller group than most I’ve toured with but I think that’s going to end up as a plus rather than a minus. Certainly the friendliness of everyone I met this morning has made for a good start.

Apparently for a group as small as this the tour is usually conducted by a guide who doubles as the driver or, of course, vice versa. On this occasion apparently on health grounds our courier, tour leader or guide, Tony Crompton, is just doing the guiding bit and Billy (whose surname I failed to catch) from Scotland is our driver. I’m sure each is glad to have the other not least because they can share the baggage handling which one would otherwise have to have done on his own.
I wonder if there’s a Specsavers equivalent for the hard of hearing – but there again it could have been Billy’s accent that beat me.

We left London right on 8:30 am and made our way South West in a stop-and-go manner through quite heavy traffic – but nothing compared with that trying to make its way into the city.

Our first stop was At Winchester Cathedral, one that I have visited a number of times, but has always appealed. On arrival we were met by our assigned guide who was another of those whose love of the cathedral and enthusiasm in imparting what she knew and loved about it, was as good as they get.
For me, our visit to the crypt was a disappointment.  And why, you ask.  Because it was bone dry and this meant that the sculpture, “Sound II”,  that I admire so much,  was sadly almost unremarkable without the mirroring effects of a partially flooded crypt.

What was new was a tiny sculpture by Robert Truscott of “Jane Austen at her writing table” commissioned by the Cathedral to mark the 200th anniversary of her death – and erected by her tomb.

“Jane Austen at her writing table” – Robert Truscott
Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire
13 September 2017

After a short lunch break we were off via Poole in Dorset to Purbeck where we were overnighting, before heading to the Channel Islands. On the way we travelled through Sandbanks, which is purported to boast some of the most expensive real estate not only in Britain but in Europe!
Also on the way we detoured a little from our route so that we could cross the mouth of Poole Harbour on the somewhat unusual Sandbanks Chain Ferry.

Sandbanks Chain Ferry, Poole Harbour, Dorset
13 September 2017

From there it was off to Castle Combe in Purbeck to be delivered a little “coached out” to our hotel. And what a hotel it is?
Built in 1590, Mortons House has retained its period features with, according to the brochure, each of its 21 bedrooms having their own charm and appeal.
Mine as it turned out was an attic suite up two flights of stairs the second of which was both narrow and steep. Fortunately my bag and baggage was delivered or I may have become a “cot case” or whatever that old saying was. But as must be obvious I didn’t, and was the delighted occupant of a characterful suite of rooms for “one”.
Two photos follow, one of the bedroom, and one of the view of Corfe Castle from my bedroom window.

My attic bedroom – Mortons House Hotel, Corfe Castle, Dorset
13 September 2017
A view of Corfe Castle from my bedroom window
13 September 2017

Tonight was our Welcome Dinner and the hotel’s restaurant did us proud. From a choice of three entrees, mains and desserts, I dined on a really rich Mushroom Soup which seemed to have been made of loads of field mushrooms and just a hint of cream; a main of mustard-crusted Pork Fillet with tossed green beans and very buttery (yum) mash and a dessert of treacle pudding. All very good but the star of the show was the mushroom soup.

Thursday 14th September

This morning called for a 5:30 am wake-up and NO Breakfast so that we could be at Poole to catch the first ferry to St Peter Port, Guernsey. We were at the Poole docks by 7:30 am but, because we were to be first off the ferry that then went on to Jersey, were the last on – and that ended up being at 9:15 am.  I think we could have stayed in bed and had our breakfast.

The crossing was supposed to be three hours long, but ended up being nearly four as a result first of rough seas and later on arrival at St Peter Port a malfunctioning bow thruster.
Because we had missed breakfast at the hotel we were able to have one on the ferry soon after our departure. For some – but happily not me – this was the recipe for a disaster that doesn’t bear mentioning here other than to say it required a considerable number of bags of the specifically designed leak-proof paper variety – and in some cases mid-voyage carpet shampooing. Nuff said!

On arrival, we did a quick walking tour of the town to orient ourselves and where I could post some cards, hit an ATM and have a light lunch of lightly spiced deep-fried calamari before being deposited at “The Duke of Richmond” Hotel. Spiced or otherwise the calamari didn’t even come close to matching the tenderness of that we enjoy at “Beach Street Seafoods” in Forster.

Once booked into what can only be described as an idiosyncratically decorated hotel which I trust the photo of my room will attest, we were off to a wider investigative tour of St Peter Port and a visit to an unusual manor house.

My bedroom at “The Duke of Richmond”, St Peter Port, Guernsey
14 September 2017

On our exploratory tour of the St Peter Port there is ample evidence of the wealth here, be it in the state of the beautifully cared-for gardens (which included roundabouts) to the quality and size of many of the houses and apartment blocks we passed, as to the overall freshly swept look of the streets we passed through. And I’m sure this was not done just for us.

The manor house is known as Sausmarez Manor, the original portion of which dates back to the early 13th or late 12th centuries, has been altered, reduced and added to over the years with major changes in Tudor, Queen Anne, Regency and Victorian times. The house itself contains some interesting artefacts, but our visit was really made by our guide, who was brimming with enthusiasm and information about the history of the house and its various owners.

After what had been a day of ups and downs in every sense of the word, I had no difficulty in heading off to bed after a glass of Pinot Grigio to complement my light but sufficient smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich

The bed was bliss.