Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Forty-four… …and final

Wednesday 26th July 2006

Although the tide was not completely out, we set off for St Michael’s Mount early in an attempt to beat the mob!! We were fortunate enough to catch a ferry and be at the entrance just before it opened at 10:30 and, but for an out-of-sorts National Trust gatekeeper we might have gained entrance a little earlier.
The climb up to the Mount is a steep one – the most difficult section being the so-called “Pilgrim Steps” which were not only steep but uneven in the extreme. Not for the respiratory-challenged.

Pilgrim Steps, St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall
26 July 2006

Determined to keep ahead of the other “tourists” behind us, we accepted the challenge the climb offered and arrived at the castle a “little” shorter of breath than we had been earlier.
Part Benedictine priory, part embattled castle and still the home of the St Aubyn family (to whom it was sold in 1659), the house itself was disappointing. This was probably as much a result of significant renovations being undertaken (which did nothing for the aesthetics or the atmosphere of the place) as a decided lack of information about what we were seeing.

In the time that we were there – no more than 45 minutes – the place was literally over-run by sightseers in sufficient numbers to make us feel that we’d rather be somewhere else. Perhaps it will be more attractive when those extensive renovations are completed, but we are less sure even that would be worth battling the hordes to view.

View of St Michael’s Mount from Marazion, Cornwall
26 July 2006

Even the crossing of the causeway – now exposed by the low tide – was a trial, faced as we were by a continuous stream of tourist, bicycles and motor vehicles all intent, it seemed to us, on pushing us off!! We returned to the hotel for lunch on the sundeck – very pleasant.

Foodie news: Norm had a main of char-grilled Cornish rib-eye steak, wild mushrooms, watercress puree and Lyonnaise potatoes; Carol had grilled fillet of sea-bass, braised fennel, herb veloute. Having constrained ourselves thus far, we broke out and had dessert – in Carol’s case, Tiramisu and Norm’s, fresh raspberry bavarois. We swapped half-way and, by common consent, Carol got the better deal! That’s not to say they were not both great – just that one was greater than the other.

Thursday 27th July 2006

An early start – cup of instant coffee and NO breakfast – to drive the 30 odd miles to Summercourt where LRC was booked to have her brakes attended to! We arrived there at 8:00 am and booked in, but, contrary to the earlier advice in Taunton, the brakes really did need replacing. So, with the amount of work that needed to be done – including getting new discs from another dealer 30 minutes distant – we finally got away somewhat lighter of purse at about 11:30. The only one not now squealing is LRC!!

Arriving back at Mount Haven we each had a cheddar and home-made chutney sandwich and a well-deserved glass of Pinot Grigio.
Later, feeling in need of exercise, we took the coastal path recommended by our hostess to the “nearby” village of Perranuthnoe – what a wonderful name. It has to be said that unlike some of our walks through parklands and woodlands this 4 mile round trip might better be described as a coastal “market garden” one. It was none the less enjoyable for that, not least however because it gave us the appetite we didn’t need for our evening meal.

Foodie news: Norm succumbed to the temptation of one of his favourite entrees and savoured again the trio of scallops; Carol had spicy salmon cake, tossed mesclun, lemon dressing. For mains, on Carol’s recommendation, Norm had the grilled fillet of sea bass; Carol the warm tartlet of broad beans, fetta and sun-blush tomato and pesto dressing. More Yums!!

Friday 28th July 2006

Today we left Marazion and the Mount Haven Hotel with more than a little reluctance and headed for Exeter via St Austell, Truro and the Dartmoor National Park. We stopped to photograph Dartmoor ponies and, later, the Clapper Bridge at Postbridge.

Dartmoor Ponies, Dartmoor, Devon
28 July 2006

Photos: Our meeting with some Dartmoor Ponies, Dartmoor, Devon – 28 July 2006

The clapper bridge is a simple form of stone slab bridge, particularly associated with SW England. They were constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries by mediaeval tin miners and farmers. This bridge straddles the East Dart River, just 20 metres from the main road bridge (built in the 1780s). Constructed from four large granite slabs and supported by three granite piers – each slab is over 4 metres long and 2 metres wide – weighing over 8 ton each.

Clapper Bridge – Postbridge, Dartmoor, Devon
28 July 2006
Main Road Bridge (the 1870s) – Postbridge, Dartmoor, Devon
28 July 2006

We arrived at our hotel just north of Exeter – the “Gipsy Hill Country House Hotel” at around 4:30 pm and were delighted and surprised to find that we had again scored a four-poster!

Foodie news: We both chose watercress and potato soup – which was fine; the mains of poached red schnapper with a cream fennel sauce on a bed of crushed new potato and chive mash left a whole lot to be desired. In fact, it would be up there with some of the worst main courses we have had. Thank goodness we are here only for one night.

Saturday 29th July 2006

A long day’s drive today to get us to Portsmouth – made longer by delays caused by school holiday traffic. Our only stop was a very brief one at Dorchester for a refreshing coffee.

Accommodation was at the Portsmouth Marriott which, being slightly north of the city meant, thankfully, that we didn’t have to battle the “downtown” traffic to find it. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to allow Norm to call Michael in Boston to seek his help with the laptop which was showing signs of imminent collapse. Thanks to his advice to remove the battery, it survived another 12 hours.

Foodie news: Norm had a calamari salad starter, while Carol’s was a king prawn salad which was served on a bed of grilled zucchini with a pesto rocket salad. Both delicious. For mains, Norm had seared salmon with a side salad and balsamic vinegar dressing, Carol had sea bass on mashed potato – much too buttery for Carol but not for Norm, who demolished it with gusto!!

Sunday 30th July 2006

Having last night accepted an invitation from Ronnie and Brian, friends of Carol’s, to join them for breakfast in Littleton, near Winchester, we made another early start this morning.
In one of our now more frequent navigational triumphs, we arrived at 8:00 am and the welcome cup of coffee needed to sustain us for a pre-breakfast visit to the local Farmers’ market in Winchester. Apart from the opportunity it provided to show off the market itself, Ronnie wanted to buy the makings of traditional Sunday lamb roast dinner. We could not help but be impressed with the range offered, the freshness of the produce, the friendliness of the stall-holders and, not least, the “tasting samples”.
Despite these, we were ready for the hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs that Ronnie cooked for us. Fortunately our roast dinner was a mid-afternoon affair and a most enjoyable one – not only the food, but also the company which included Ronnie’s sprightly 90 plus father!
Needless to say we had no need of dinner on our return to the hotel, so restricted ourselves to some nibbles with our Pinot Grigio.

Monday 31st July 2006

Alas, laptop – kaput!! Norm devastated!! We were able to find a Toshiba service specialist in Reading to pick up the “patient” from and return it to the Slough Marriott where we are staying until we fly to Boston on 6th August. It will come as no surprise that the “pick-up” did not quite go as planned. The courier was due to pick-up between 3:00 and 5:00 pm – so wouldn’t you know it – he arrived at 3:00. We, delayed by the need to purchase suitable packaging, arrived at 3:20!! Another phone call was needed to arrange for him to call again, and Norm finally bid his beloved laptop farewell for an unknown period soon after 4:00. We treated ourselves to a much-needed gin and tonic.

We then unpacked LRC in preparation for her sale and having a spare large post-box (because we didn’t know what size we’d need for the laptop) decided to use it to mail home our unneeded winter jackets.

Foodie news: Entrée for both was char-grilled asparagus spears with rocket and a side salsa of tomato mustard vinaigrette. For mains, Norm had a small rack of lamb, new peedie potatoes and an extra large amount of minted peas; Carol had seared salmon on a bed of butter beans, asparagus, roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic butter. “It was brilliant”, she said.

Tuesday 1st August 2006

The Marriott has a Legoland promotion for families during the school holidays, so by 9:00 am a queue had formed outside the restaurant. Lucky we were there at 8:30. The longest queue was for fried eggs where the cook was doing four at a time in a frypan. Perhaps an earlier time for breakfast!
The phone call that the laptop had been received at service centre was encouraging, but we’ll just have to wait for the diagnosis and recommended cure. Hopefully it won’t take too long. Norm organised Clio’s valet clean for tomorrow at an exorbitant price – so they better do a good job.

We also rang local Renault dealer to arrange sale of Clio. This we did – at a slightly lower price than Norm had hoped for – but with the benefit that it would be all settled on Friday.
In the meantime we decided to go shopping in Slough where Carol bought some birthday shirts – not suits – for Norm and visited the Post Office where we posted home our redundant jackets and some, now, equally redundant guide books to Roger and Denise.

Foodie news: Norm had crab-crusted halibut with a warm nicoise salad and creamy white wine and parsley sauce, new potatoes and roasted cherry tomatoes; Carol had Caesar salad with king prawns and garlic ciabatta croutons. Dessert: trio of crème brulées – raspberry, classic and cinnamon.
We found dinner a less relaxing experience than we are used to – or wanted. Children running wild were an unwelcome distraction – and the apparent indifference of their parents helped not at all.

Wednesday 2nd August 2006

Breakfast queue was too long – and populated by some of the previous evening’s “offenders”, so we retreated to Chats Bistro next door for toast and coffee.

We ventured into Slough where we visited the Tesco Extra there. Although ginormous by Australian standards, the personal assistance we received to show us where we might find something as trivial as iron-on hemming tape was outstanding. Unable to find a Starbucks – much gnashing of teeth – we had to settle for a Costa low-fat espresso caramel frescato! Not a Frappuccino, but yum nonetheless!

Returning to Langley for our separate hair-dressing appointments, Norm had his ears lowered and eyebrows de-bushed – and was introduced to his new “youthful and stylish” look!! Leaving Carol to do likewise – but without the need for the “youthful and stylish” bit – Norm returned to the Marriott where the mobile valeting service was to make Clio a new and attractive woman.

This proved to be a longer process than either of us had anticipated and Clio was still in the middle of her ablutions when Carol rang to be picked up from Langley. She had no alternative but to walk back to hotel – something which she actually appreciated after being anchored in a salon chair for so long. We then demonstrated our tailoring skills, using the aforementioned hemming tape, to shorten Norm’s new M&S trouser legs – and it worked!!

Foodie news: Our waiter was kind enough to ensure that we had a table to ourselves in a corner away from the Legoland crowd. Norm and Carol had entrees of char-grilled asparagus spears in melted butter with rocket salad and a herb and tomato vinaigrette dressing. For mains, Carol had Caesar salad with shaved parmesan and char-grilled chicken plus two slices of garlic bread – one of which she inflicted on Norm in self-defence; Norm had half a roast chicken, lots of beans and peedie new roast potatoes.

Thursday 3rd August 2006

Despite our best intentions to be down to breakfast before the hordes, we slept in this morning. Wow – 8:30 am!! Not only was it a mad rush to get our laundry down in time so that it can be packed tomorrow, but also a battle to get breakfast. The restaurant was full so we went next door again to Chats Bistro where, we were told, breakfast would be available as well. There, we were told that it was, but we had to let the restaurant know.

When we tried to do this, we were told that breakfast was now “off” in Chats!! At this point Carol became “unhappy” – with such good effect that the Restaurant manager said: “Please have breakfast in Chats; we’ll sort it out later!” Needless to say we had breakfast there!
Marriott may have wished we hadn’t, as Norm soon had whisps of smoke emanating from the toaster. They would have been something more substantial but for the intervention of a member of staff clearly trained in Occupational Health and Safety!!

And here the Odyssey – or at least our record of it – ends.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Forty-three

Friday 21st July 2006

Today off northeast to the Cheddar Gorge and, later, Wells.

The Cheddar Caves and Gorge are a nationally important nature reserve. Early humans once lived in the caves, which are now colonised by endangered “horse-shoe” bats – the name which comes from the large horseshoe-shaped noseleaf used for directing their ultrasound.
During our time there, we visited Gough’s Cave, named after the explorer who discovered it in 1890. We were given audio-guides which enabled “Mr Gough” himself to lead us informatively through this very chilly (11°) environment. One feature of the cave was that, because of its even temperature, the huge rounds of Cheddar cheese (for which the area is famous) used to be stored there.
Now experienced hop-on-hop-off bus travellers, after as ordinary a lunch as the best of a bevy of very “tourist-trap” cafes could offer, we took the bus up from the lowest point in the village through the gorge to view the landmarks and the rocky pinnacles rising sheer above us. Despite his best endeavours, Norm’s attempts at capturing, digitally, what we were seeing from the top of a swaying bus were not a success.
Although we’d have difficulty articulating why we both came away from Cheddar with a vague sense of disappointment. Perhaps our expectations were too high!

Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
21 July 2006

Leaving Cheddar we drove up through the gorge on a longer but more scenic route to Wells. Here we visited the Cathedral which Carol had not seen before and, like Norm, was awed by the beauty of the Chapter House and the Sacristy; and intrigued by that “Clock”.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset
21 July 2006

The time spent there meant that we were unable to give the adjoining Bishop’s Palace and Gardens (and the just wonderful sculpture exhibition there) the attention they deserved, so we decided to make a return visit on our way to Tintagel on Sunday.

Foodie news: Norm started with the rabbit and Chablis terrine that Carol had savoured on the previous night, and a main of braised shank of lamb, parsnip puree, roasted root vegetables, rosemary and redcurrant jus. Wow! Carol again had two “starters. First, traditional garnished Scottish smoked salmon, buttered brown bread (which she chose not to eat), and caper berries.
Seldom have either of us seen as much smoked salmon on a single plate! Then, the crispy duck salad which Norm had enjoyed earlier. More YUMS – even if we both felt somewhat over-indulged. Each night, as an accompaniment, we have enjoyed freshly-baked olive bread which is served appetisingly warm.

Saturday 22nd July 2006

Concerned about the reappearance of LRC’s “squeaky squeal”, we sallied forth early to see if we could find the Renault dealer in nearby Taunton. As Clio is very selective about when she squeals we had our fingers crossed that on this occasion she would actually do so when we got there. Having found the dealer, it took a number of circuits of the block with the service engineer before LRC obliged with her not too lady-like squeal. His initial diagnosis of “dusty brakes” was confirmed by an inspection on the hoist, and the advice that a “clean” was all that was needed. We were assured that, apart from the irritation to our – and other’s – ears, it was nothing serious.
As the dealer was unable to carry out the “clean” at short notice, we decided we’d “live with” the problem a day or two longer and try and book the “girl” in somewhere near Marazion sometime over the next few days.

Whilst there, we took the opportunity of exploring Taunton – not entirely to find a Starbucks “Caramel Frappuccino” – but in the end settled for one of Costa’s adequate alternatives.
For the rest of the day we put our noses to the grindstone to update the “updates”, finalise accommodation through to the end of our trip, and respond to what now seems to be a mountain of e-mails.

Foodie News: We shared an antipasti plate for two – and what a treat – artichoke, black and green olives, pastrami, prosciutto, sun-dried tomato, spicy savoury couscous. For mains, Norm had seared fillet of Scottish salmon; and Carol had crispy duck salad. Both up to the high standard we had come to expect at the Walnut Tree.

Sunday 23rd July 2006

After a late breakfast, we made our return visit to Wells, to give proper time and attention to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens and, in particular, Philip Jackson’s sculpture exhibition “Sacred and Profane”.
It was an absolutely beautiful day, huge horse chestnut trees in the gardens were in full bloom with white carpets of spent blossom beneath them. Together with the architecture, these served as a marvellous backdrop for his exhibition. We spent some time admiring the works – and trying to capture some of them with our cameras – samples of which follow:

Cloister Conspiracy – Philip Jackson
23 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to the Philip Jackson Exhibition, the Bishops Palace and Garden, Wells, Somerset – 23rd July 2006

We would have no argument with the following view about Jackson’s work:
“Jackson’s work delights, mystifies and questions in equal measure encouraging the viewer to return time and again to enjoy the drama and spectacle. In this garden with its backdrop of breathtaking architecture, the sculptures will glide, posture and pervade the space…”
A visit to his website at Bronze Sculptures, Sculpture, by Sculptor Philip Jackson UK is recommended.

It was not all sculpture, however, as we explored both the Gardens – including the wells after which the city was named – and the Bishop’s Palace.

One of the features we failed to see but intrigued us was the bell hanging from the gatehouse which the mute swans ring for food. Apparently they were trained to do this in the 19th century and the present pair continues the tradition passing it on to their young.

We left Wells soon after 3:00 pm for the drive to Tintagel where we are staying for the next two nights.
Our accommodation is at the “frozen in time” Camelot Castle Hotel. Built in 1899, it must then have been a luxurious addition to Tintagel’s available accommodation. It has to be said however that its luxury (in every sense of the word) has long since faded – and, as Carol has said, that’s not only the curtains! The walls are adorned with photographs of famous guests of a bygone era, such as Noel Coward, Sir Richard Harris, Richard Burton and Roger Moore – all nattily dressed for dinner with the obligatory aperitif – and cigarette – in hand.

Camelot Castle Hotel, Tintagel, Cornwall
23 July 2006

Foodie news: We both had crisp green salads as entrees – perhaps to compensate, in Norm’s case, for the two frappuccinos he had had earlier in the day. This was followed by had pan-fried salmon, – nice enough, but which would have been better if it had not been floating in a sea of lemon butter – so much so, that we had to rescue the salmon and place it on rafts of roast potato slices.

Monday 24th July 2006

Today was Tintagel marathon day. After breakfast we packed our cameras and started out on the coastal path west of the hotel towards Barras Nose, stumbling across three Shetland ponies with a tiny foal fast asleep in the grass. The path gave us a continuous magnificent view up the coastline to Willapark headland. We continued along the path to Tintagel Castle and explored every headland within the surrounding National Trust property.

Tintagel Foal
24 July 2006

After multitudes of photographs, the steep ramps and steeper steps got the better of our feet and muscles and at about 1:30 pm we decided that a long cold drink and something to eat were called for. Altogether we had spent about three and a half hours in King Arthur’s legendary domain and its spectacular setting.

Tintagel Stack
24 July 2006
Arch at Tintagel
24 July 2006

After lunch we decided not to walk back to the hotel but opted for a dusty Land Rover service ride to the village. There, after a short stroll through the village, we discovered a coffee shop that served “real” iced coffee.
Not up to Starbucks’ standard, but for a village the size of Tintagel remarkable!
Foodie news: We both had a starter of a smoked mackerel on a crispy green salad. For mains, Norm had marinated grilled gammon with plum sauce and a few wicked roast potatoes and Carol had grilled salmon fillet on mashed potato with a mustardy white sauce. Both mains were much better than the previous night’s offerings.

Tuesday 25th July 2006

We set off this morning for our three-night stay at the Mount Haven Hotel in Marazion overlooking St Michael’s Mount. On the way we stopped into St. Ives – a most attractive seaside town. It was a steep walk from an almost packed car-park into the town where it was a battle to find room to walk in the narrow twisty streets dodging, people and cars. We were able however to make it to the harbourside where Carol managed to take photos of any number of small but colourful fishing boats left high and dry by the receding tide.

St Ives, Cornwall
25 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to St Ives, Cornwall – 25th July 2006

We then walked around to the beachside café/restaurant across the road from “Tate St Ives” where we managed to find a table with a marvellous view across the beach full of sunburnt – or sun-burning – holidaymakers. There we shared a ginormous Atlantic prawn sandwich and side salad accompanied by wonderful espresso coffee and two bottles of mineral water. An excellent place to have lunch if you are ever in St Ives. This gave us the necessary stamina to tackle the even steeper return climb to the car park – for which we only had to ask directions once. Our drive from St Ives to Marazion was, unintentionally, via a narrow windy B road. This provided any number of challenges – having to share a truly one-car width road with large trucks, and surviving the assault on our olfactory senses of a trailer load of what will, when properly matured, be a wonderful fertilizer for next season’s crops.

A warm welcome greeted us on our arrival at the Mount Haven Hotel and after being shown to our room we were treated to cappuccinos and choc-chip biscuits on the deck overlooking St Michael’s Mount.
Foodie news: Norm had an entrée of a trio of half-shell scallops – hazelnut and coriander butter, red onion salsa, citrus crème frâiche; Carol had new season’s Cornish asparagus with a warm casserole of mushrooms, spring onion and parmesan shaving. As if mains were called for at all, Norm had mint and rosemary Cornish lamb skewers, pilau rice, yoghurt dip; Carol had grilled swordfish steak with side salad. YUM, YUM

 

 

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Forty-two

Sunday 16th July 2006

Today was (and not just for Norm) an aviation treat – the second day of the Royal International Air Tattoo. As we had learned about the event too late to organise tickets on-line, we knew that if we were going to get any sort of a view at all we’d have to beat the rush and be at the RAF Fairford base really early!!
We responded to the 4:30 am alarm call reasonably promptly, but much to Norm’s horror, set off without breakfast! As if this was not enough, the day was nothing like the start of the 30° plus day forecast being foggy, cold and all of 9° when we “touched down” at 6:30.
As we had dressed for the heat, the hour-long wait until the gates opened seemed a lot longer. By then the queue behind us stretched back further than we could see and we were caught up in something of a stampede just to get to the next set of gates where the entrance tickets were sold.
Once inside, spurred on, as much by the competition as the cold, we made our way as quickly as frigid bones and chilled muscles would allow to the grandstand enclosure. There, our efforts were rewarded and we managed to obtain seats in the very top row of the stand from which we had an uninterrupted view of the aircraft whether they were on the runway or in the air.
By that time we were hungry as well as cold – the remedy for which was a seriously over-priced egg and bacon baguette and accompanying cup of hot chocolate each. Expensive they may have been and unlikely candidates for Foodie News – but worth every penny!!

While waiting for the start of the air show at 10:00 am, we did a circuit or two of the static displays which included, surprisingly for an air show, classic and vintage cars. These included a couple of MGs – a marque in which Carol has more than a passing interest.

1931 MG – M Type, Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire
16 July 2006

We also found it almost impossible to miss the RAAF Boeing 707 from No 33 Squadron – suitably dressed out with an Australian Flag, the Boxing Kangaroo and a blow-up kangaroo in the cockpit – as did the queue of children waiting to be taken on a tour and, perhaps, getting a “Vegemite” sandwich for their trouble – or patience, or both.

We went back to our seats just before 10:00 am for a non-stop flying display which continued until 6:00 pm. In the course of the day, the weather changed remarkably – from 9° and fog to clear blue skies and 30°. Absolutely perfect! For plane-watching. Apart from comfort breaks, the occasional bottle of water and the compulsory ice cream, we didn’t move from our seats – and didn’t want to.

RAF Red Arrows Team, Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire
16 July 2006

The display of both aircraft and flying was riveting. Amongst highlights for us were:

    • The aerobatic teams, including the RAF’s “Red Arrows,” the Spanish Air Force’s “The Patrulla Aguila” team (earning a standing ovation for the being the only team to land on the runway together at the same time), and the Swiss Air Force’s team’s immaculately precise display ending with a “starburst” manoeuvre that included stars,
    • The remarkable Russian MIG on its first display outside Russia,
    • the “Utterly Butterlys” – two Boeing Stearman A75s biplanes each with an extremely brave and agile woman performing on the top of the upper wing.
    • The RAF Harrier showing off its amazing versatility both in vertical and level flying.
    • The Bell/Boeing MV-22B Osprey and the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s F-16AM Fighting Falcon,
    • andThe Battle of Britain Memorial flight, comprising a Lancaster bomber, a Hurricane and a Spitfire was accompanied by music and commentary which was very moving. “Engineers designed them, craftsmen and women built them, and heroes flew them”.

All are shown here:
Photos: Our visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire – 16th July 2006

There was so much more – but too much to include here. Needless to say we had a wonderful day – even if long, hot and tiring. Because of the traffic volume from the Tattoo, we didn’t get back to the hotel until 8:00 pm – tired, but not sufficiently to forgo dinner!.

Foodie news: Norm had pan-fried salmon, sautéed baby spinach, saffron, fennel and lemon butter meuniere plus vegetables which included baby Brussels sprouts, leek, carrot, broccoli and cauliflower. Carol had the pan-fried salmon but with a green salad.

Monday 17th July 2006

Norm spent most of the morning trying to track down a power adaptor to replace the one lost, stolen or mislaid in Shrewsbury – and which was essential to recharging the batteries of the laptop as well as our phones and cameras. Fortunately he was able to do so and we later picked up TWO at Argos in Cheltenham.

We enjoyed a pleasant walk into Cheltenham which turned out to be a beautiful city with lots of French overtones – from street names, cafes, open spaces, architecture and gardens. Not only that but we managed to find a Starbucks with “Caramel Frappuccinos”.
As the temperature had risen to the mid 30s we decided against walking home and took a cab.

Foodie news: Norm had Crab thermidor, sautéed spinach, Paris mushrooms a la crème, served with garlic herb rice. Carol thought that Norm’s pan-fried salmon from the previous evening with the vegetable looked pretty good, so she decided to order one. It bore no relation to the previous night’s offering or what was described in the menu.
Be aware of this, those of you who should mistakenly choose to stay at the Cheltenham Thistle Hotel.
The Pinot Grigio was, of course, up to its usual comforting best!

Tuesday 18th July 2006

A forecast of another mid-thirties day led to our decision to drive into Cheltenham mid-morning. We took the camera with us because we were so impressed with the gardens and architecture that we saw yesterday that photos were a must.

Cheltenham Streetscape, Gloucestershire
18 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire – 18th July 2006

We also, of course, stopped by at Starbucks for our Caramel Frap and lunch.

Foodie news: We both had a light meal of “Salmon and Slaw” – poached salmon escalope served cold with mixed leaves, potato salad and crunchy cole slaw. In the event we had rice and pasta salads – so much for the menu. The pinot Grigio was still as advertised.

Wednesday 19th July 2006

Our choice of a day to travel south to North Petherton, near Taunton, was not an altogether happy one as it meant driving in mid thirties plus heat without the benefit of air-conditioning. Accordingly we spent the morning in the air-conditioned comfort of the Cheltenham Thistle (one of its few “pluses”) and then made the 75 mile motorway dash to “The Walnut Tree” in the hope that the requested air-conditioned room would be available. Thankfully, it was!

Foodie news: We both had poached corn-fed chicken breast, home-made tagliatelle, king prawns, dried chilli, and rocket and parmesan salad. YUM!

Thursday 20th July 2006

Encouraged by the slightly cooler weather – an almost pleasant 27° – we ventured out to two National Trust properties today.

The first, “Montacute House”, is a huge mansion and is said to be the first example in Britain of domestic architecture which combined the native Gothic tradition with new Renaissance from the Continent. The original owners were the Phelips family. Sir Edward Phelips made his fortune as a successful lawyer, entered parliament, where he rose to Speaker and led the prosecution of Guy Fawkes after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Another important “name” associated with the House, was that of Lord Curzon, an early advocate of preserving the ancient buildings of England. He was poised to become Prime Minister in 1923, but was passed over in favour of Stanley Baldwin.
The gardens here were formal in character but the inclusion of winding pathways between tall hedges for us to explore was sufficiently attractive to occupy us for an hour or so.

Montacute House, Somerset
20 July 2006
Montacute House, Somerset – Old Stables
20 July 2006

Our second call for the day was to “Barrington Court” – a Tudor manor house which, although managed by the National Trust, is tenanted by Stuart Interiors who use it as a sympathetic “showroom” for their Gothic, Elizabethan and Stuart style furniture.
Whilst the tour of the house was extensive and of interest, neither of us was altogether comfortable with the inclusion of antique and reproduction furniture for sale.
The gardens, however, were magnificent, from formal flower gardens to working kitchen gardens – the lushness of which would turn any vegetable grower “green” with envy!

Foodie news: Norm had a starter of Crispy duck salad – watercress, rocket, bean shoots, chilli and ginger; for main, rib-eye steak, tempura of onion and fresh watercress. Looking after his waistline, he spurned the “hand-cut chips” and Béarnaise sauce. Carol had two starters: the first being a confit fig and green tomato tart, topped with dressed rocket and Manchego crisp; the second being rabbit and Chablis terrine with Swiss sweet potato salad, fresh honeycomb and Shiso salad. Double YUM!

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Forty-one

Monday 10th July 2006

Nothing much to report other than that we had one of our best dinners in the UK at a local Italian restaurant called “Felicini”. Norm had char-grilled lamb cutlets with Hummus, roasted vine tomatoes and couscous. Carol had grilled Tuna steak with balsamic dressing on a bed of rocket salad, roasted zucchini, aubergine and red capsicum – plus roasted vine tomatoes. On the side: roasted new potatoes with rosemary, garlic and sea salt. Dessert – a divine tiramisu of which there was fortunately enough for two!! YUM times two.

Tuesday 11th July 2006

On our way to Shrewsbury, where we are to stay the next couple of nights, we called at Tatton Park. When we arrived we found that the mansion was closed until 1:00 pm. Fortunately though, the garden was open and we were able to purchase a guided tour of the mansion for midday. The highlight of our stroll around the garden was the Japanese garden – it was just beautiful.
The guided tour was made the more interesting – and rewarding – by our guide’s feel for the history of the mansion itself. Tatton Park has much to offer. Its two historic houses – the Mansion and Tudor Old Hall – are set in 1000 acres of beautiful parkland with lakes, tree-lined avenues and herds of red and fallow deer. A really enjoyable couple of hours were spent there.

Tatton Park, Cheshire- Japanese Garden
11 July 2006
Tatton Park, Cheshire – More of the Japanese Garden
11 July 2006

Our next stop was at “Little Moreton Hall” which, as a result of Norm’s not checking opening times beforehand, was – of course – closed today. He was however able to show Carol from the grounds why it is one of the most photographed Elizabethan homes in Britain.

Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire
11 July 2006

From there we headed to “Albright Hussey Manor”, a country house hotel just north of Shrewsbury. The present house was built in two parts; the timber-framed half in 1524 and the stone or brick half in 1560. It was converted into a high-class restaurant in 1967. The Subbiani family purchased this moated manor house in 1988 and over a period of eight years restored and converted it into one of the premier hotels in Shropshire. Needless to say, our room – and the hotel itself – are gorgeous.

Albright Hussey Manor Hotel, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
11 July 2006

Foodie news: Pre-dinner drinks were served with complimentary black and green olives whilst we perused our dinner menu. So civilised!! Shown to our table we were served yet another complimentary dish – a starter of ducks’ liver pate on corn crisp bread with rocket garnish. For mains, Norm had seared salmon on a bed of wilted spinach with prawn butter and roasted new potatoes, and Carol, grilled kingfish with Lyonnais potatoes, pancetta and braised kale served with a red wine reduction. Norm’s dessert of raspberry crème brulée turned out to be more than a little disappointing. Carol’s choice was better – grilled fresh figs with marjoram scented mascarpone ice cream in a brandy-snap basket. Yum, figs, Carolyn.

Wednesday 12th July 2006

Today we drove into Shrewsbury. The original intent was to visit the Castle – which we have yet to find. We did however find that Shrewsbury town centre is a most attractive gabled one and reminded us of York and “The Shambles”.

View of Shrewsbury, Shropshire – from the Castle
12 July 2006

On our exploratory meandering, we did visit Shrewsbury Abbey which was founded in 1083. For whatever reason, we didn’t warm to it in the way we did to say York or Bath. The brown stone from which it is built didn’t help and, it has to be said, it is badly in need of a lot of TLC! One feature that may be of interest – that has nothing to do with history or architecture, however, is that the abbey was where Ellis Peter’s “Brother Cadfael” detective stories were based.

Shrewsbury Abbey, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
12 July 2006

Foodie news: We restricted ourselves this evening to a Caesar Salad each – more than ample after a lightish lunch!!

Thursday 13th July 2006

Another great day. First, to the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford. The museum houses one of the largest aviation collections in the UK. Over 60 historic aircraft (in a collection spanning nearly 80 years of aviation history) are displayed in three wartime hangars on an active airfield. The display of aircraft, missiles and aviation history was comprehensive and well presented and included a number of very good interactive exhibits designed for children but which, whilst we were there, tempted more than a few “dads”. There was also a “Black Hawk” flight simulator which, being still a Tiger Moth devotee, Norm could not be persuaded to try – and Carol wasn’t even going to think about it.

In the afternoon, we decided to check out Ellesmere, Shropshire’s “Lakeland”, with the intent of making it a full day visit tomorrow and, perhaps, taking one of the boat trips on offer. In the event, we started walking through the pretty market town with its Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings towards the Llangollen Canal. Our unplanned exploration of the 46-mile canal started out as a short walk along the towpath, but the signpost to Colemere Country Park – for one of us at least – was a temptation she couldn’t resist. It was, after all, a beautiful day and the good long circular walk around the mere and back along the towpath again to Ellesmere was just what we needed. The scenery on both sides of the canal was just beautiful, and in no way lessened by the sight from the tow-path of brightly coloured canal boats (some sporting NZ flags).

Llangollen Canal, Ellesmere, Cheshire
13 July 2006

Although the walk turned out to be much longer than we had intended – taking us nearly three and a half hours – we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Foodie news: We both had “Noisettes of Frodesely Lamb with honey-glazed turnips, gratin dauphinoise and a roasted garlic and thyme sauce”. Outstandingly good.

Friday 14th July 2006

Given how foot-sore we could have been, but, of course, were not – all lies – we restricted ourselves to a sortie into Shrewsbury. We visited Shrewsbury Castle which houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum and spent an interesting couple of hours there. Of particular interest to us were exhibits from World Wars I and II which had Australian and NZ connections including HMAS Shropshire (a sister ship to HMNZS Achilles at the Battle of the River Plate) Australia’s representative at the signing of the formal surrender documents that ended the war with Japan.
From “Laura’s Tower on the Castle’s walls we had an expansive view of Shrewsbury and some of the surrounding countryside.

View from Shrewsbury Castle, Shropshire
14 July 2006

Foodie news: We both had Lemon sole with prawn butter sauce, new potatoes and green salad. YUM, YUM, YUM! Although we didn’t need it, we rounded out a really beautiful meal with shared cheese platter.

Saturday 15th July 2006

Blue skies, sunshine and 26° when we set off for Cheltenham. On the way we stopped first at Stokesay Castle. Set in a green valley amid the Shropshire countryside stands Stokesay.  One of England’s most delightful manor houses, it dates back to the 11th century and its Great Hall remains unaltered since it was built in 1291.
We took an audio tour which not only explained how the castle had been developed under different owners but, perhaps more importantly, made us feel part of its history and the people who made it so.

Stokesay Castle, near Craven Arms, Shropshire
15 July 2006

We also paid a brief visit to the Church of St John the Baptist which is in the grounds of the castle. Unusual were the canopied pews reserved for the use of the owners of the castle. The Church also has a staunch group of bell ringers and from the photographs and journals we saw there, bell ringing is still practised much more widely than we had imagined.

Church of St John the Baptist, in the grounds of Stokesay Castle, Shropshire
15 July 2006

Our next and last stop for the day was Berrington Hall, a National Trust property just north of Leominster. The Berrington Estate was purchased by the Right Honourable Thomas Harley – of Harley Street fame. The main structure was completed in 1781 and the interior was finished in 1783. The last owner of the house was Lady Cauley – a feisty one by all accounts – who continued to live in the house until her death in 1978 aged 100 years. We’re sure the National Trust was somewhat relieved. In our tour of the house, the ceilings were by far the most attractive feature of what we later agreed was a house frozen in time – with the lack of warmth that that implies.

Another lost hotel – this time brought about by the search for a road name rather than that of the hotel!!  Needless to say, after passing it three or four times, we were finally pointed in the right direction by the staff of the Travelodge just across the roundabout!!

Foodie news: Norm had Caesar salad – as that’s how it was described – but it bore no relation to either menu description or any other Caesar salad he’d enjoyed previously. Ditto, Carol’s Tuna Nicoise Salad. Perhaps the only positive part was the pleasant garden environment in which we didn’t enjoy them.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Forty

Saturday 1st July 2006

A Manchester exploration day. We caught the bus into the CBD (having bought an economical £3.00 weekly ticket), where Norm was able to purchase two pairs of much-needed shoes – and Carol a less-needed blouse for a special dinner on Monday night with Roger and Denise.

We also made bookings for our four days in “Gay Paree” next week. After one of those obligatory “caramel cappuccinos” each, we made our way across St Peter’s Square to join the “Hop On – Hop Off” City Sightseeing Tour Bus. We had 10 stops – and hopped off at none of them – but thought the overview of the city the tour provided worthwhile. Of most interest were the older buildings in the city itself though the sheer bulk of the “Trafford Centre” (a ginormous shopping, leisure and entertainment complex) couldn’t be ignored. Sadly, it had taken the place of a deer park in earlier times. For us the much preferred option.
Of all the sights, however, on the tour, the one that had most “wow” was the terribly-named “B of the Bang” sculpture. B of the Bang is a sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick. It is the tallest self-supporting sculpture in the United Kingdom and was erected close to the City of Manchester Stadium to commemorate the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The sculpture takes its name from a Linford Christie quotation in which he said that he started his races not merely at the ‘bang’ of the starting pistol, but at ‘the b of the bang’.

The B of the Bang, City of Manchester Stadium
1 July 2006

It was a very warm day – 24° and very humid – and almost made us feel at home! After a “caramel frappuccino” at Starbucks we headed towards where we thought was the bus-stop for our trip “home”! We did find it, eventually, with the help of a local.

Foodie news: Norm had a Caesar salad with bacon and chicken, Carol a grilled halloumi and asparagus salad with salsa verde. We shared a pinot Grigio – a bottle, not a glass – and for dessert, a large packet of salted potato chips which Carol craved – and Norm helped eat.

Sunday 2nd July 2006

A very warm and humid day (28°) and one on which air-conditioning would have been very welcome. Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have any, but we “bravely” soldiered on catching up on mail . We did, however, fit in a walk to and around Didsbury village including a very pleasant sortie into the nearby Fletcher Moss Gardens.
In the evening, thunder, lightning and very heavy rain made our 200-yard expedition to a local restaurant for dinner more than a little daunting. But very necessary if only to keep our readers gastronomically informed and, as you’ll read, worth the drenching!

Foodie news: Norm had a chicken liver and bacon entrée, while Carol’s was Thai lamb with couscous and rocket salad. Mains were traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for guess who, and grilled salmon fillet, peedie new potatoes, sugar snap peas, carrot and zucchini for Carol. Dessert was what remained of the liquorice allsorts from LRC’s glove-box!!

Monday 3rd July 2006

We spent most of the day catching up on e-mails, plus some banking and shopping. We purchased a potted Begonia as a thank you for Roger and Denise’s invitation to join them for dinner this evening.
We walked from Didsbury House, stopping only to buy some appropriate Moet and Chandon on the way.
This “homecoming” for Norm and “introduction” for Carol was made the more special by the warmest of welcomes to us both. Being a warm night, we had pre-dinner “bubbly” and dinner in their beautiful secluded garden.
For all you foodies out there – with apologies to Denise if we’ve got some of it wrong – our starter was chilled cream of cucumber soup with “just a hint of tarragon”. This was followed by succulent chicken breasts accompanied by a huge bowl of new potatoes, shredded cabbage and swede. For dessert we indulged in pears poached in red wine with lashings of fresh cream – Carol had two servings of that. Yum! We also savoured a glass or two (?) of a southern Italian red wine the name of which has long escaped Norm, though the flavour has not!
We arrived at 7:00 and left at around 11:30, which will go some way towards showing how enjoyable an evening it was. Good food, good wine – and great company.
Thank you, Roger and Denise.

Tuesday 4th July 2006

American Independence Day. Music at breakfast on Classic FM – comprising as it did works by American composers – left us in no doubt of that!!

Roger and Denise picked us up at midday to visit Arley Hall and Gardens, in Cheshire. On the way we passed through as picturesque and delightful example of a typically English village as one could wish to see. Alas, its name has gone missing without trace! If only we’d brought the cameras – again! After lunch in the Tudor Barn Restaurant which forms part of the Arley Hall estate, we strolled through what has been described as a quintessential English garden, a colourful feature of which was the double herbaceous border laid out in 1846.
We would have extended our stroll to include the woodland walk but, like some of the flowers, wilted in the heat and retired to the restaurant for refreshments in the shade. Thanks again to Roger and Denise for a pleasantly relaxed – and relaxing – afternoon.
Perhaps not surprisingly, dinner comprised nothing more than a huge bag of lightly salted “crisps” to accompany the Pinot Grigio!

Wednesday 5th July 2006

This morning we flew to Paris and over the next four days, from our hotel base near the Opera, walked our feet off from dawn to dusk. That’s not to say we walked everywhere but made very good use of the “hop-on hop-off” L’Open Tour Explorer Bus (which with four circuits covers the largest area of any city we’ve visited) to travel the longer distances between some of the sights/attractions.

Thursday 6th July 2006

On the first day we took the “Paris Grand Tour” which covered the inner city and included stops at The Louvre, Notre Dame, Champs Elysée, Musée D’Orsay, Musée de Rodin, Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower.
We did this as much to orient ourselves as to plan some sort of itinerary for those sights we really wanted to visit in the short time we had. To this end – and to save some money – we had earlier bought “Paris Museum Passes” at the airport.
The following day our first stop was at the Louvre where we spent most of the day soaking up as much as we could absorb of what there was to see. Of particular appeal were the following: “The Venus de Milo”, “The Seated Scribe” from the Egyptian collection, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” and the two rooms and archaeological circuit beneath the Louvre which presented the history and architectural development of the Palace.

The Louvre – Seated Scribe
6 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to the Louvre, Paris – 5th July 2006

We then walked as far as Notre Dame but were dissuaded from visiting by the masses of “tourists” – deciding to try again on a later day.
Instead we caught the “Batobus” boat to the Musée D’Orsay – which we both found more appealing than the Louvre. Here, the building itself (once a railway station), the interior layout and collections all combine to offer a really great “museum experience”.
Apart from the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, the following pictures will show best what appealed there:

Musee D’Orsay’s Iconic Clock
6 July 2006
Musee d’Orsay – Pan et oursons by Emmanuel Fremiet
6 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to Musée D’Orsay, Paris – 6th July 2006

All “Museumed out” for the day we walked back to the hotel through the Place de le Concorde, past the Madeleine and up to Boulevard des Capucine – where we succumbed to the temptation of the nearest appealing-looking restaurant.

Friday 7th July 2006

Today we took a different circuit on our L’Open Tour Explorer Bus to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Montmartre
7 July 2006

Here, thinking we were paying an entrance fee to visit the “Crypt” we found ourselves on the first of 370 steps to the Basilica’s dome. Regaining our breaths and normal heart-rates (something that was not immediate) we made our way to the walkway that encircled the dome.
From there, the extensive view of Paris and the surrounding countryside was just stunning – and well worth the effort involved in the climb.

View over Paris from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Montmartre
7 July 2006

Our visit to Montmartre would not have been complete without a circuit of the Place du Tertre where we had almost to beat off “quick-portrait artists” determined to record one or other – or both – of our faces for posterity.
We settled for “people-watching” instead – though the people were, like us, mainly tourists.

From Montmartre, our “hop-on hop-off” route took us via the Gard du Nord (and – for us anyway – an obligatory Starbucks stop) to Notre Dame Cathedral where, today, we did brave the tourist throng and, having done so, understand why it is such an attraction.
Then, to the Champs-Elysées and on to the Arc de Triomphe where Carol got some really great photos – a couple of which are here:

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris – Detail
7 July 2006
Arc de Triomphe, Paris – Detail
7 July 2006

No visit to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower, even if the queues (and, perhaps as much, our earlier exertions at the Basilica) dissuaded us from “reaching for the sky” here! We settled for photos from terra firma.

Eiffel Tower, Paris
7 July 2006

Saturday 8th July 2006

Our last full day in Paris – and we made the best of it. Another visit to the Champs-Elysées – this time on a purely window-shopping rather than cultural excursion – to see how Parisians kept their credit-card providers happy. We could see why – but before you ask, we didn’t feel any need to do so with ours – they are already adequately provided for.
The Tombeau de Napoleon had not been on our list of “must-sees” but because it was one of the sites covered by our “Paris Museum Pass” – and was on our way to the Musée Rodin, we stopped off there. If ever one needed evidence of how Napoleon was – and may still be – revered by the French, this is where you’ll see it.

Tombeau de Napoleon, Paris
8 July 2006

Musée Rodin was but a short walk away, so we ended our cultural tour of Paris there – and loved it, from the beautiful garden setting and its massive sculptures to the smaller ones displayed within the museum itself.

Musee Rodin, Paris
8 July 2006

Photos: Our visit to Musée Rodin, Paris – 8th July 2006

One of our favourite streets was Boulevard des Capucines – a wide leafy street with plenty of “Starbucks” to sustain foot-sore tourists like us. It also had one of the best restaurants we ate at in Paris.

Boulevard des Capucines, Paris
8 July 2006

Sunday 9th July 2006

For us, Sunday breakfasts are usually of the “bacon and egg” variety, so for our last breakfast in Paris we had just that. Well almost. What we actually had, at McDonald’s (just down the street from our hotel) was the French equivalent of a Macca’s breakfast which included juice, yoghurt, bacon & egg McMuffin, three mini croissants and coffee. At €4.95, it was great value!!
Suitably sustained, we made good use of what time we had until we had to go to the airport and the absolutely beautiful morning it was to explore on foot the tree-lined streets within walking distance of our hotel. It was just a magical way to end a wonderful visit and will long stay in our memories.

Our flight back to Manchester was thankfully uneventful (including, on this occasion, getting all our cases), as was our return to the newly-appreciated comfort of our Didsbury B&B.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-nine

Monday 26th June 2006

A regretful parting from Jan and Chris at “The Wheatsheaf” Hotel. We enjoyed the welcome we’d been given – and being spoiled.

First stop on our way to Chollerford where we are staying tonight was “The Alnwick Garden.” Norm had visited earlier in deep winter when the only real attraction had been the stunning water features. What a difference it was today in its summer glory.
Our first visit was to the Rose garden – most noticeable was the perfume from the huge array of mostly old-fashioned roses along pergola-lined paths and banks of multi-coloured blooms.

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland – a sample of what’s to follow
26 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland – 26th June 2006

Apart from the roses, the two most appealing feature of this garden, for us, are the myriad of water sculptures hidden behind tailored hedges, and the large “Treehouse” featuring rope bridges and walkways through the trees. The Treehouse is large enough to contain a restaurant which unfortunately was booked out at the time we were there.

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland – Treehouse
26 June 2006

We settled for cappuccinos and chocolate fudge cake in the pavilion of the newly-completed visitors’ centre. We spent a most enjoyable couple of hours there and would happily revisit it in the future.

Then on to Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, which entailed a lovely drive through beautiful scenery from Alnwick all the way to Corbridge. The fort is quite impressive as it contains the best visible remains of a Roman cavalry fort in Britain. It includes the commandant’s house, and the military bathhouse, one of the best-preserved buildings along the line of Hadrian’s Wall.
Carol was fascinated with the Museum which displays an extensive array of local Roman archaeological exhibits. We both felt however that the Museum is in need of expanding and updating so that the artefacts were more interestingly and informatively displayed.

Chesters Roman Fort, Northumberland
26 June 2006
Bridge at Chollerford, Northumberland
26 June 2006

By 5:00 pm, realising that time had got away from us a bit, we made our way into Chollerford and the “George Hotel” for some well-deserved food and drink.

Foodie News: Carol had an entrée of fetta and tomato salad, followed by a main of smoked haddock on a chive and garlic mash; Norm’s entrée was so memorable that he can’t even recall what it was, followed by an old favourite – not one of Carol’s – lambs liver and bacon on a chive mash.
After dinner we took a walk along the riverfront as far as the site of Chesters Bridge just opposite the fort we had visited earlier. We found this impressive too, not least because we didn’t know it was there.

Tuesday 27th June 2006.

After quite a long drive from Chollerford we arrived at Fountains Abbey – one of Norm’s favourite places. Sustained by cappuccinos and goats cheese and herb scones, we walked the two-mile circuit around Studley Royal Gardens before succumbing to the photographic opportunities offered by the Abbey itself.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire
27 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire – 27th June 2006

We unintentionally followed a somewhat roundabout route – but finally arrived at the York Marriott (opposite the picturesque York Racecourse) where we’ll be staying for the next three nights.

Foodie news: Carol had a main of baby spinach, blush tomato and Portobello mushroom salad with Madeira vinaigrette; Norm had a traditional Caesar salad with garlic ciabatta croutons, char-grilled chicken and shaved parmesan. We finished with a trio of crème brulées (raspberry, cinnamon and vanilla). Gorgeous!
Needless to say, we forwent our evening constitutional.

Wednesday 28th June 2006

Mainly due to a sudden and heavy downpour, our first stop this morning was at Micklegate Bar Museum. This was a chance discovery while trying to escape the rain – and a “happy” one. Unprepossessing at first sight, its very simplicity and folksiness added to the appeal of what was being exhibited.
For the uninitiated a “bar” – no, not that one – is a gateway “to let you in, but which can also bar your entry”. York has four gateways or bars some of which are connected by the carefully restored and maintained medieval walls which now encircle the old city. The Micklegate Bar was traditionally the monarch’s entrance – and where traitors’ heads were displayed.

Micklegate, York, North Yorkshire
28 June 2006

We “walked the wall” from Micklegate to near the Minster, which being the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, we couldn’t resist the temptation of visiting.

York Minster, York, North Yorkshire
28 June 2006

Our visit to this beautiful church was enhanced by being part of a small audience to hear the York University Symphony Orchestra rehearse for a concert in the Minster that evening. We were both entranced by the beauty of the music played under the soaring arches of the Minster’s nave.
We were treated to Walton’s “Crown Imperial” and parts of Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”, and were sorry when it ended.

Our resumed tour of the Minster included a visit to the Undercroft, Treasury and Crypt. Much of the Undercroft and the Crypt has been turned into a museum showcasing artefacts found on the site during the excavation in 1967-72 to shore up the Minster’s foundations. Below the ground are the remains of a Roman fortress, Viking, Norman and medieval carvings, together with treasures and jewels of the Archbishop’s. It is also the final resting place of St William of York.

Time had gone very quickly and we only had time to put in Carol’s camera’s memory card for transfer to CD before the shops closed and it was time for us to return to the Marriott for a well-earned drink – and tucker!

Foodie news: This one’s easy. Just reverse the meals and delete dessert! Halos shining brightly – all that “green stuff”.

Thursday 29th June 2006

This morning we walked into York to explore the pedestrian city precincts. These included a meander through the “Shambles” and the markets. For those of you who don’t know, the Shambles is a bustling centre-piece of historic York.
The street today is one of the UK’s most visited, and has become a centre of shopping, tourist attractions, restaurants and many other things to see and do, including tours, ghost walks and historic talks. If you want to know York, you need to get to know the Shambles. The way that 15th century buildings lean into the middle of the cobbled street means that the roofs almost touch in the middle.

York – The Shambles, “Little” in this case
29 June 2006

Mentioned in the Doomsday book (making it over 900 years old), we know Shambles to be York’s oldest street, and Europe’s best preserved Medieval street. It really is a very special place. Although you probably won’t want to know this, the word Shambles originates from the medieval word Shamel, which meant booth or bench. It was once also referred to as Flesshammel, a word with meaning around flesh; this is because Shambles was historically a street of butchers’ shops.

We also visited the Markets which covered a large area and offered a huge assortment of goods, but which didn’t tempt us to buy! We decided to get an overview of York on the “Hop-on-hop-off Bus” which for the first time in our experience didn’t have a live guide – the commentary being pre-recorded.
Our only “hop-off” was at “Clifford’s Tower” which stands on a high mound erected by William the Conqueror as part of his campaign to overthrow the North. He threw up two mottes (mounds) with wooden keeps on top – one became Clifford’s Tower and the other, Baille Hill, which can be seen on the side of the river, although the tower there has long since disappeared. Clifford’s Tower was the scene of what was perhaps one of the most terrible events in York’s history. In 1190 the Jews of York sought refuge there after being attacked by a local mob. They were given the choice of being either baptised or killed – but took a third option and committed mass suicide. At this time the tower was built of timber and was burned to the ground. It was only later rebuilt in stone.

Clifford’s Tower, York, North Yorkshire
29 June 2006

Not far away is the Jorvik Viking Centre. Here we journeyed through a reconstruction of the actual Viking-Age streets which once stood on this site, still with sounds and smells!! The houses and shops are laid out in exactly the same pattern as they were in the year AD 975 – and even the faces of the people you see have been reconstructed from Viking skulls. Well worth a visit. All “archaelogicalled out”, we felt the need for sustenance and visited Starbucks for a large Java Choc Chip Frappé each. Now there’s indulgence – but well recommended nonetheless.
From there we picked up Carol’s photo CDs, and trudged our weary way back to the Marriott. Norm’s the only one admitting to the “trudging” bit!

Foodie news: For both, baby spinach, blush tomato and Portobello mushroom salad with Madeira vinaigrette. If you assume we liked it – you’re right again!

Friday 30th June 2006

Our travels between York and Manchester took us through the Peak District National Park as far as Glossop and included a side-trip up past Ladybower Reservoir and back. We then tempted fate – at least for LRC – by “racing up” a steep and narrow B road which had been closed last time Norm passed this way.

Peak District, Derbyshire – That B Road
30 June 2006

As so often has been the case, Clio was up to the task – though at one stage we thought that one or other of us might have to get out and walk!

Eventually finding our Manchester B&B, “Didsbury House” turned out not to be a B&B after all, but a hotel where we were able to indulge ourselves sufficiently well to do a “Foodie news” report without stirring a muscle, so to speak.

And so, to Foodie news: we shared a plate of antipasti of assorted Italian meats (both leg and prosciutto ham), grilled vegetables, salad with fetta and freshly shaved parmesan and served with crusty bread rolls. As a main, Norm had “fish pie”, which turned out to be quite a variety of fish in a tasty creamy vegetable sauce and mashed potato crust. For dessert Norm had chocolate mousse with almond crust and fresh raspberries, and Carol apple shortcake with fresh apple slices and caramel drizzle.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-eight

Wednesday 21st June 2006

A wild and woolly night – weatherwise – followed by an equally wild, woolly and wet day. It was with some reluctance that we ventured out, but Stirling Castle beckoned and the prospect of a bracing walk up Castle Wynd appealed to one of us at least!!
Dashing between heavy showers and wind gusts we managed to piece together a truncated exploration of the Castle led by a guide with a heavy Scots accent made no more understandable by the staccato speed of his delivery. It did however give us an overview which we used to backtrack and view places of interest to us.

Because of the unsympathetic weather, most of what we went back to was indoors. The restored Great Hall, the Chapel Royal, the Great Kitchens and the craft displays in the vaults impressed us most. Two completed tapestries (of a series of seven planned) hang in the Chapel Royal, each taking two years to complete. When the series is complete it will be hung in the Royal Apartments currently undergoing extensive refurbishment to restore them to their original glory.

Stirling Castle, Stirlingshire – Tapestry
21 June 2006

After a warming cup of hot chocolate in the Unicorn Café, we caught the Stirling City Sightseeing tour bus. The 40-minute tour took us through the city centre to the Bridge of Allan, Stirling University campus and the National Wallace Monument. We decided not to venture out at any of the stops, but would recommend the National Wallace Monument as an ideal place to get a view of Stirling and its surrounding countryside – and the makings of a heart-attack as you climb the 246 steps to the top!
Another hot chocolate was needed to restore us and after a short walk around the city centre we decided not to brave the elements any longer and took a taxi back to our hotel.

Foodie news: We both had the same entrée as last night (venison terrine with onion marmalade) and main courses of seared salmon fillet with broccoli and peedie new potatoes, and, in breach of the so-called rules of wine etiquette, a glass of French merlot each. A lovely meal!

Thursday 22nd June 2006

A fine start for our drive to Swinton, though sadly, the weather deteriorated the further south we went. For our first visit however, the skies were clear and the sun was warm.

Craigmillar Castle is one of the best preserved castles in Scotland. It was begun in the early 15th century by the Preston family, who had acquired the lands of Craigmillar in 1374. The earliest part is the lofty L-shaped tower, housing the laird’s main accommodation. A little later, the castle was enlarged by the building of a great enclosure wall with round towers projecting at the corners. These towers bristle with gun-loops. In the 16th century the east range was rebuilt, possibly after the burning of the castle by the English in 1544. After the murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, at Holyrood in 1566, Mary Queen of Scots sought the peace and quiet of Craigmillar. It was here in that same year that the famous “bond” was signed between the Earl of Bothwell and other noblemen which led to the murder of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley.

Craigmillar Castle, Edinburgh
22 June 2006

Our next stop was Dirleton Castle near North Berwick. By then the grey clouds had gathered and fine rain misted the air as we walked through the gardens. Norm had visited the castle in February and said then “What’s different about Dirleton is that it is set in a garden – bare today, but one that must really be a picture in the spring and summer!”
Today it was just that – a glorious blaze of colour, predominantly in vibrant shades of blue, pink, mauve and yellow.

Dirleton Castle, East Lothian – Garden
22 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Dirleton Castle, East Lothian – 22 June 2006

Originally built by the De Vauxs who came to Britain in the wake of William the Conqueror, Dirleton Castle’s history is intertwined with the families that later lived there, namely the Halyburtons and the Ruthvens, who adapted it to their needs in the 14th and 16th centuries respectively. Dirleton too fell, in 1650, to Cromwell’s guns, and was left to decay. Apart from exploring and enjoying the “three ages” of the castle itself – and, of course, the gardens – an “extra” was the large dovecote in the grounds, which must have housed (nested) hundreds of birds.
The arrival of heavy rain accompanied by blustery icy gusts forced us to shorten our stay at Dirleton, and forego altogether our planned visit to Tantallon Castle. However, to compensate, a cappuccino ice cream was enjoyed in Clio’s cosy warmth.

We arrived at the Wheatsheaf Hotel to the warmest of welcomes and a lovely room in the newly completed “executive suite”.
As had happened at the Bridge of Oich, a Harrier jet made a low-level pass directly overhead as we were unloading the cases. Again, a missed photo opportunity!! Tantalisingly, he made a couple more passes but unfortunately too distant to photograph.

Foodie news: Mains: Norm had grilled whole sole and asparagus spears with peedie new potatoes and stir-fried vegetables; Carol salmon, haddock and dill fishcakes with tomato salsa and a rocket salad on the side. For desserts, Norm had sticky toffee and pear pudding with vanilla-pod ice cream, and Carol crème brulée with rhubarb coulis. One of the best meals we’ve shared!

Friday 23rd June 2006

Foodie news: Crispy bacon omelette (with more bacon than egg mixture) was just a treat – for Norm, of course. Carol was more circumspect and settled – with obvious enjoyment – for boiled eggs with “soldiers” properly de-crusted and buttered!

We headed off to Kelso, which according to Sir Walter Scott was “the most beautiful if not the most romantic town in Scotland”. Even if what he said was true, this was not the reason we visited Kelso – but, somewhat more mundanely, so that Carol could make a long-overdue hair appointment. Appointment made and some shopping chores completed, we decided a much-needed cup of coffee was in order. By chance, in the coffee shop, we found a brochure on “Floors Castle” – a short walk from the town of Kelso. It read like a good place to visit, so that’s were we headed. We were very pleased that we did.

Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and home of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and their family. In 1721, William Adam was commissioned to make additions to the eastern end of an existing tower-house to create a plain, but symmetrical, Georgian country house. The 6th Duke remodelled the castle in the early 1800s, drawing his inspiration from the highly ornamented picturesque style of Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh. The result is a romantic fairytale castle with its roofscape of turrets, pinnacles and cupolas.
Our first impression of the castle as we walked up the tree lined driveway was how large it was and how attractive. We wandered through spectacular state rooms filled with priceless European paintings and tapestries. Impressive as these were, Carol was particularly taken by a display of blue Ming ceramics. As we moved from room to room we found the displays were considerably enhanced by the inclusion of family photographs which gave the impression of a much-loved home – which it still is.
“Floors” is also known for its equestrian associations and the Floors Castle Horse Trials are held there annually. We managed to spend three satisfying hours there both in the castle and its surrounding grounds.

Floors Castle, Kelso, Roxburghshire
23 June 2006

Foodie news: Norm started with roast parsnip soup with parmesan cream, accompanied by home-baked sun-dried tomato bread. This was followed by a herb and mustard crusted rack of lamb with rosemary jus and crispy stir-fried vegetables.
Forgoing a starter, Carol enjoyed goats’ cheese and caramelised onion tarts with rocket and salsa salad, and a large serving of roast new potatoes – which she willingly shared.

Saturday 24th June 2006

Today we visited Paxton House Gallery and Country Park. “Paxton House” lies at the heart of eighty acres of woodland, parkland and gardens. It was built to the design of John Adam in 1758 and is one of the finest 18th century Palladian country houses in Britain. It also boasts one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture in Scotland. Our excellent guide was very informative on the history of the property, but the house lacked warmth and felt more like a museum and art gallery than a former family home.
Despite the drizzle, we enjoyed a stroll around the formal garden and the woodland riverside walk leading down to the boathouse. This was built around 1848 and, now restored, houses a museum of salmon net fishing.

Turning left out of the Paxton House gates we followed the road around to the Union Chain Bridge which had been pointed out by our tour guide. It was built 186 years ago by Sir Samuel Brown, who made the transition from Royal Navy captain to designer of the world’s longest iron suspension bridge in a single leap. The bridge is very narrow – one small car width – and designated “weak”! There are signs indicating that only one car at a time should be driven over it, and that “Stopping” was not allowed. With its light load, LRC had no difficulty whatsoever safely negotiating the border-crossing to England and back.

Union Chain Bridge, Northumberland
24 June 2006

Foodie news: Norm had an entrée of haddock Scotch egg with mango curry mayonnaise and a main of Wheatsheaf seared scallops and lemon butter sauce; Carol had goats cheese on roasted vegetables – which would have been wonderful if the vegetables had not been swimming in olive oil. We also shared a cheese platter as a worthy complement to our final glasses of merlot.

Sunday 25th June 2006

Alas the weather was still rainy and, early on, was a bracing 9°. We ventured over to Berwick-on-Tweed to find a photography shop where Carol could have the 476 images on her camera’s memory card transferred to CD. Unfortunately, the one photography shop we found was not open on Sundays.

Instead we made the most of being there by walking around Berwick Ramparts. This is a huge complex of 16th century town fortifications, founded by Queen Mary. Built inside the medieval town wall, which was then abandoned, they gave defence against the development of artillery and are unique in Britain. One and a half miles in length, the stone-faced ramparts are strengthened by immense arrowhead-shaped bastions, which flanked huge wet ditches. In the end, in the interests of avoiding hypothermia, we cut short our walk and made for the nearest coffee shop, “Luigi’s”, for a warming caramel cappuccino.

Both warmed and refreshed, we headed back towards Swinton, stopping at “Manderston House” on the way. What a find! Manderston is the supreme country house of Edwardian Scotland – and the swan-song of its era. This is a house on which no expense had been spared in its creation. Its opulent staterooms we found more appealing than those of Paxton House – but more for the homely touches they contained than their opulence. The house also features the only silver-staircase in the world which, we were told, is cleaned at least twice a year by a team of local volunteers. Given the intricacy of its design, this would take many hours to complete.

Manderston House, Duns, Scottish Borders
25 June 2006

Like so many stately houses, Manderston stands in extensive grounds – in this case, over 50 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and lake walks. Despite the cold, we spent at least two hours discovering the visual delights these offered – though we’re less sure the photographs will do them justice.

Photos: Our visit to Manderston House, Berwickshire – 25th June 2006

Foodie news: Carol had her favourite salmon, haddock and dill fishcakes with tomato salsa and a side salad; Norm had medallions of pork fillet in an onion and lemon cream sauce, stir-fried vegetables and roast new potatoes. All delicious.

 

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-seven

By popular (?) demand, brief details of what we have partaken each day will be included in a new “Foodie News” section. If there appears to be a reduction in the number of courses at dinner, and an increase in the number of salads, put that down to a marked improvement in the eating habits of one of the partners involved!

Thursday 15th June 2006

Today we reluctantly left Mackays Rooms and Restaurant in Durness. After a breakfast that included a house specialty – porridge with a wee touch of whisky – we headed south. Unlikely as it may sound, the porridge was absolutely delicious – being not unlike a crème brulée in that it had been topped with a combination of whisky and brown sugar which was then caramelised. Wow! Norm added his usual crispy bacon and poached egg on brown toast with lashings of Highland butter to keep his strength up for the drive ahead.

Our route took us down the A838 through magnificent scenery – Highland mountains, some of which still had drifts of snow on their summits, and the expanses of Lochs More and Shin.
We took a coffee break at the excellent visitors’ centre at the Falls of Shin.
The last time Norm was there, in March, it was surrounded by deep snow. Today it was rich with new green foliage and the falls were fuller than they had been then. October and November are the prime times for salmon leaping, but we were surprised and delighted to witness at least three salmon making the attempt. It was an experience that will long remain with us even if our attempts to capture this on film were regrettably unsuccessful.

Falls of Shin, Lairg, Sutherland
15 June 2006
Falls of Shin, Lairg, Sutherland
15 June 2006

Foodie news: Back in Inverness and the Lochardil, Norm dined on grilled sole with toasted almond, new and roast potatoes, green beans, diced neaps and carrots, whilst Carol enjoyed a grilled tuna steak with olive oil and lime dressing plus a fresh green salad. We shared a rather scrummy sticky-toffee pudding to round out the meal. Yum!!

Friday 16th June 2006

An early morning start – no breakfast – for the two hour drive to Fort William in order to be in time to book seats on the Jacobite Steam Train. We had hoped that we might be able go today. However, with very low cloud we’d be unlikely to see much of the scenery for which the rail trip is famous. This being the case, we booked for Monday next. The service doesn’t run on Saturdays or Sundays. All of this has meant a change to our very loose schedule resulting in an extra night in Inverness and a booking for Sunday and Monday nights in Fort William.

For the foodies, two cups of hot chocolate (each), a bacon butty for Norm and fresh raspberries and ice cream for Carol sustained us for the next step of our journey.

Returning to Inverness, we stopped at the world famous Commando Memorial which stands high above Spean Bridge on a magnificent hilltop site overlooking Ben Nevis. The three gigantic bronze figures stand proud in battledress, woollen caps and climbing boots looking across the Great Glen. The 17 foot high Memorial was designed by Scott Sutherland from the Dundee College of Art in 1949, and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1952.
Hundreds of veteran Commandos make the annual pilgrimage to attend the Service of Remembrance and Wreath Laying held at the Memorial in November. A very moving sight!

Commandos Memorial, Lochaber
16 June 2006

Four miles south of Invergarry, we came upon the Bridge of Oich. Designed by James Dredge in 1854, this splendid suspension bridge was built using a sophisticated patented design of double cantilevered chain construction with massive granite pylon arches at either end. Despite these technicalities, it really is most attractive.
Our quiet admiration of the bridge was shattered by two very low-flying Harrier jets which had zeroed in on us as likely targets. Alas, the surprise of their attack was such that the photographic opportunity it offered was over before they had disappeared down Loch Lochy.

Bridge of Oich, Aberchalder
16 June 2006

Passing through Fort Augustus we were halted by the movement of a single-masted yacht through the swing bridge on the Caledonian Canal. We subsequently made a brief stop to view the locks.

Foodie news: It was a bit different tonight. Norm ordered smoked haddock which came out thickly battered, with chips and mushy peas. Although he ate it – but shouldn’t have – it was nothing more or less than a disaster!!
Carol’s cold cuts and salad (with two servings of balsamic vinegar, one in a delicate jug, the other in a gravy boat) was really quite good. The ham portion of Carol’s cold cuts was passed to Norm to assist in balancing the nutritional value of his meal. The Pinot Grigio, however, was excellent!

Saturday 17th June 2006

Being a wet and miserable day, it seemed to be an ideal one for such mundane things as shopping, mailing and, for Norm, a well-overdue visit to the barber!
Foodie news: Healthy food tonight. We both had the most succulent seared salmon accompanied by a large side salad, and finished with a platter of Scottish cheeses – and, of course, the obligatory Pinot Grigio.

Sunday 18th June 2006

We awoke to sunshine and 23° – and, after some shopping in Inverness, headed off to Fort William. The clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped and the rain progressed from a fine drizzle to steady heavy downpour!!

Nonetheless, we braved the elements to take the 30 minute return trip on the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola system. This, the only such system in Britain, carries visitors from the car park 100 metres above sea level 650 metres up the mountain of Aonach Mor, which at a height of 1221 metres is Scotland’s eighth highest mountain.
Any hope we had of obtaining stunning photographs was dashed by a complete “cloud-out” half-way up the mountain. In light of this, rather than stay at the top, we continued back down to the Nevis Range Mountain Centre. For all that, it was an enjoyable experience – and one we’d be pleased to repeat under more favourable weather conditions.

We also paid a brief visit to what was left of Inverlochy Castle. All that remains were the foundations and walls of what must once have been a substantial fortress.

Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William – Entry
18 June 2006

The weather continuing unpleasant, we opted to check in to the “Imperial Hotel”, our base for the next two nights, somewhat earlier than would otherwise be the case.

Foodie news: For reasons we need not go into here, we chose the Alexandra Hotel restaurant in preference to the Imperial – and weren’t we glad we did. Carol had dressed Mallaig crab with salad, Norm had masses of Arsaig mussels with garlic and white wine cream sauce and crusty bread. Absolutely scrumptious! Accompanying wine – Pinot Grigio, of course.

Monday 19th June 2006

This morning we boarded our pre-booked trip on the Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig. The trip from Fort William, with a short stop at Glenfinnan for morning tea, takes approximately two hours. It has to be said that, the weather was such that our lunch at Mallaig will remain longer in our memories than the trip itself. That has nothing to do with the scenery, but rather our inability to see sufficient of it for our enjoyment under the weather conditions that prevailed.

Jacobite Steam Train at Glenfinnan
19 June 2006
Steps below Glenfinnan Station
19 June 2006

For the foodies, that memorable lunch, comprised for Carol, oven-baked haddock and green salad and for Norm, local langoustines and salad. How could we adequately describe a meal that probably outshone last night’s? Having acquired a taste for Highland seafood, we indulged ourselves again this evening at the Alexandra Hotel, but both settled for a main dish only of steamed fillet of salmon, peedie new potatoes and salad!! Life’s tough in the Highlands!!

Tuesday 20th June 2006

Today we left Fort William under lowering skies towards Stirling. We had the choice of two routes, but decided on taking that which enabled us to explore the “Hermitage” walk. Norm had been there before, loved it, and thought that Carol would feel the same – and she did.
It was better the second time around for Norm, first because of Carol’s appreciation of its natural beauty and, secondly, the changes the new season had wrought since Norm’s previous visit. We spent some time there trying to capture on film the beauty of our surroundings. Some examples follow:

Hermitage Walk, Dunkeld, Perthshire
20 June 2006
Hermitage Walk, Dunkeld, Perthshire
20 June 2006

And there are more:

Photos: Our visit to and walk at “The Hermitage”, Dunkeld, Perthshire – 20th June 2006

Our accommodation in Stirling was at the “Park Lodge Hotel” – a most attractive ivy-clad Georgian country house set in a leafy and quiet residential street close to the centre of the city.

Foodie news: For entrée Norm had venison terrine with onion marmalade and Carol had thinly sliced avocado set on a bed of crisp salad leaves and cherry tomatoes but without the egg and the olives shown on the menu!!
We both had grilled halibut with a red pepper and white wine cream sauce, Carol’s with salad and Norm’s with new potatoes, snow peas, mushrooms and corn. This was followed by a shared cheese platter which rounded out an excellent meal served in an informal but gracious setting.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-six

Friday 9th June 2006

Unable to get accommodation near Scrabster for our ferry trip to Orkney, we (one more reluctantly than the other) skipped breakfast for a 6:00 am departure so that we could catch the 1:30 pm ferry. Having travelled this way more than once before, Norm had assured Carol that the drive up the north eastern coast was very scenic. Alas, all that Carol saw was fog, fog and more fog – all the way to the ferry. The ferry trip was a smooth one and we arrived at the Kirkwall Hotel in mid afternoon.
Making good use of the extra time, we paid a visit to Kirkwall’s St Magnus Cathedral. St Magnus was founded in 1137 by the nephew of the martyred Earl Magnus, is dedicated to him and contains his remains.

Saturday 10th June 2006

Despite the unsympathetic weather – very cold and very windy – today was another busy touring day. First to Skara Brae. The village of Skara Brae was inhabited before the Egyptian pyramids were built and flourished many centuries before construction began at Stonehenge. It is some 5000 years old. The structures of this semi-subterranean village survive in impressive condition, as so amazingly, does the furniture in the village house (all made from stone).
Whether or not it was a result of “that” weather is difficult to say, but Skara Brae did not “grab” us to the extent that Ireland’s “Newgrange” had. Having said that, it is an important element in the history of the Orkney Islands and, as such, is worthy of its inclusion as a World Heritage site.

Skara Brae, Mainland, Orkney
10 June 2006

The visit to Skara Brae also included entry to the adjoining “Skaill House”. This is the finest 17th-century house in Orkney and overlooks the spectacular sandy bay of Skaill. It was the home of William Graham Watt, the seventh laird of Breckness, and it was he who discovered Skara Brae in 1850. The house was originally built for Bishop George Graham in 1620 and has been added to by successive lairds over the centuries. It was here that we discovered the “Orkney Cog”, of which more later.

Then on to Earl’s Palace at Birsay, for the briefest of stops for it was – as the photo clearly shows – just another ruin!!

Earl’s Palace at Birsay, Mainland, Orkney
10 June 2006

Our last tourist stop for the day – not least because it hadn’t got any warmer or less windy – was at the Broch of Gurness. This is one of Orkney’s best-preserved brochs, from about the 1st century BC and occupied by both Picts and Vikings. It provided an interesting contrast with the much earlier Skara Brae.

Sunday 11th June 2006

Not being totally “archaeologied out” we booked our viewing of “Maes Howe”. With the “Standing Stones” at Brogar and Stenness, Maes Howe is one of three great monuments at the heart of Orkney. Built about 5000 years ago, it is a large mound containing an entrance passage and burial chambers and is a remarkable mixture of simplicity and sophistication.
One of the most fascinating aspects of our visit inside the mound was being able to see the Viking runes which, when translated, were as good as being graffiti. For example, at one of the highest points on the chamber’s ceiling the runes carved there, when translated, read “Tholfr Kolbeinn’s son carved these runes high up”.
Moving to relatively more modern times, we next visited the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces close to St Magnus Cathedral, and with which they have a close connection. The earliest visible parts of the Bishop’s Palace date to the 12th century. The imposing round tower was added about 1500 by Bishop Reid, and further modifications were made about 1600 by Earl Patrick Stewart. The residence he built for himself, known today as the Earl’s Palace, has been hailed as possibly the most accomplished piece of Renaissance architecture left in Scotland.

Earl’s Palace – Kirkwall, Mainland, Orkney
11 June 2006

If you are ever in Orkney, you must try the Orkney Ice Cream, which we did on our way to the Kirkwall Museum. Yum! The Museum is housed in what was originally the manse for the Cathedral clergy. It presents the history of the Orkneys, from the Stone Age, through the Picts and Vikings, to the present day. In an eclectic mix of exhibits, there is a large collection of photographs. The total collection is said to be of international importance and, for us anyway, displayed in such a way as to make the history live.
After another “hard day at the office”, we sought and found our sort of refreshment – no, not that alcoholic stuff – “caramel cappuccinos” which we took back to the hotel to savour in comfort.

There was a brilliant sunset this evening and below are photos taken around 10:30 pm – at great risk to Norm’s life and limb – from our 3rd-floor bedroom window:

Sunset – Kirkwall Harbour, Mainland, Orkney
11 June 2006

Photos: Sunset, Kirkwall Harbour, Mainland, Orkney – 11th June 2006

Monday 12th June 2006

The creation of Carol’s “Hoxa Reflections” Ring at Sheila Fleet’s Workshop
12 June 2006

This morning we went to Sheila Fleet’s workshop intending to purchase a ring to match the pendant that Norm had earlier bought for Carol. Norm also wanted Carol to meet Sheila and visit her workshop. As it turned out, Sheila was unable to provide a ring of the correct size and, at her suggestion, we were able to watch Carol’s ring being made from start to finish.
A big thank you is due to Helga and Leila for allowing us to watch them demonstrate their expertise. Many thanks to Sheila, too, for allowing us to do this as it has made the ring very personal to both of us.

Norm had visited the Italian Chapel previously and thought that Carol would appreciate doing so too. As many of you will know, the chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war whilst they were being held on Orkney Island to help build “Churchill’s Barriers”. Carol was moved by the artistry and spiritual meaning it had to those men so far from their home and families.

We also revisited the Gift Shop at Skaill Hall because it was the only place that we’d been able to obtain a miniature “Bride’s Cog” – something that had appealed to us both. We liked it because of its uniqueness to Orkney and because a reading of the recipe for the punch proved how hardy these Orcadians are. The little lady who served us told us that she had one made up for her daughter’s wedding.
The “Bride’s Cog” is the only remnant of the traditional Orkney weddings of previous centuries. The cog is a wooden vessel and is likely to have originated in Norway. The Bride’s Cog referred to the drink inside the cog, which was a mixture of hot ale, gin, brandy or whisky, spiced and thickened with eggs. This drink was passed around and designed to finish off any members of a wedding party who were still sober!

This evening we shared a most enjoyable dinner with Rick and Sheila – who we now consider “old friends”. We left Kirkwall at 8:30 pm for Stromness and the ferry, on which we were able to take advantage of the facility to use it as a B&B prior to our departure at 6:30 am on the following morning.

Tuesday 13th June 2006

We awoke after a most comfortable night’s rest in our tiny cabin. The ferry’s departure woke us at 6:30, so we decided to have a shower before going down for breakfast. Carol was fairly lucky. She had the calm waters as we left the harbour. Alas, when it was Norm’s turn, the ferry was well into a “shake, rattle and roll” routine through some very rough seas. Needless to say, the colour of his complexion as he staggered out of the bathroom had nothing to do with the remnants of his shaving cream!
One of us had breakfast, and there’ll be no prizes for guessing whom! Norm’s condition had improved somewhat by the time we landed, and – stiff upper lip in place – it did not inhibit our plans for the day.
These included a deservedly short visit to John O’Groats and then to Duncansby Head, where Rick Fleet had taken Norm on an earlier visit. On that occasion it had been shrouded in fog, but today, however, while the wind was blowing a gale, it was clear enough to get some photos of the Stacks of Duncansby.

Stacks of Duncansby, Caithness
13 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Duncansby Head, Caithness – 13th June 2006

On our westerly route to Durness where we are booked for two nights, we visited the Castle and Gardens of Mey – the late Queen Mother’s home in Caithness. Having acquired the most northerly castle on the British mainland, she renovated and restored it and created the beautiful gardens we saw today. For almost half a century she spent many happy summers here and shorter visits at other times of the year. Its appeal for us was its unpretentiousness and the feel that this really was her home – from the little stuffed Loch Ness Monster at the top of the curtains (which she used as a talking point to make visitors feel comfortable) to the displays of family photos, gifts and memorabilia from years past. Perhaps because of this, it was with some sadness that we left to move on.

Castle of Mey, Caithness
13 June 2006

We arrived at Durness, where we were to stay at “Mackays” – one of those Restaurants with Rooms. We would have no argument with the blurb in the Mackays’ brochure that it was “without doubt the premier place to stay in the most far-flung corner of Scotland – understated quality, style and elegance, fresh Highland food and drink at its best”.

Wednesday 14th June 2006

What a day this turned out to be – and we may just let some of the photos do the talking for us. Durness Beach – a spectacularly scenic beach where we tried to out-shoot a professional photographer up to his hips in water trying to capture that elusive shot.

Durness Beach, Sutherland
14 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Durness Beach, Sutherland – 14th June 2006

Then to Smoo Cave, which is located at the eastern edge of the village of Durness. It is a dramatic location, being set deep into limestone cliffs. Smoo Cave is quite large – 200 feet long, 130 feet wide and 50 feet high at the entrance. We weren’t quite sure what to expect as you can’t see the cave from the road. Getting out of the car we walked across the bridge towards the entrance path. As we were crossing the bridge we heard voices. To our astonishment, these were coming from the cave below our feet. Looking down over the parapet of the bridge we could actually see into the cave. Following the path down from the bridge we came to the entrance of the cave, where a small footbridge takes you over a stream and into the furthermost part of the cave itself.

Smoo Cave, near Durness, Sutherland
14 June 2006

We decided to take a trip out to Cape Wrath – the most north-westerly point on the British mainland. At the point is Cape Wrath Lighthouse, which was built by Robert Stevenson (a relation of Robert Louis’) in 1828. The name of the headland derives, not from the stormy waters of the area but from the Norse word for a turning point, for here the Norsemen turned their ships to head for home.
To visit the lighthouse we had to cross the Kyle of Durness by a tiny ferry boat (more like a fishing boat!) – and then travel twelve miles by minibus along a track which was very rough and very narrow but had some magnificent views.

Our Ferry for Cape Wrath, Sutherland
14 June 2006
Cape Wrath, Sutherland
14 June 2006

At Cape Wrath itself, we had views of the Clo Mor cliffs which, with a drop of 620 feet, are said to be the highest cliffs on the British Mainland. Just to the east there is a virtual sheer drop of 900 feet. Looking east from the lighthouse you can see the sea cliffs stretching out towards Durness – cliffs which provide ideal habitats for many sea birds.

Cape Wrath Lighthouse, Sutherland
14 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Cape Wrath, Sutherland – 14th June 2006

We spent an hour at the Cape. When we arrived back for our ferry we found that the tide was ebbing at a faster rate than seemed to us desirable. With some scraping of the boat’s keel on the sandy bottom, we did however avoid a night stranded on the wrong side of the water! The photos just do not do justice to the Mor cliffs – or the Kyle. We found it to be one of the most beautiful places we have been to.

Norm’s Overseas Odyssey 2005 – 2006 Episode Thirty-five

Monday 29th May 2006

We caught the first ferry from Larne to Cairnryan for our return to Scotland. It was cold and raining again but the seas were calm. We stayed overnight at Lockerbie – at what has become one of our favourite hotels, Dryfesdale. We were greeted with a warm welcome – and our usual table had been kept for us for dinner.

Tuesday 30th May 2006

Today we drove to Edzell to meet up with Carol’s relations, who had gathered especially for the occasion. An extremely warm welcome greeted us with a shared family gathering. We later set off on the 16 mile drive from Edzell to find our accommodation. Sited in the beautiful surrounds of Glen Esk, the “House of Mark” had once been an old Scottish manse. It and the adjoining stables have been converted into a most comfortable B&B which had the added advantage of offering an evening meal as well.

Wednesday 31st May 2006

Carol’s relations, Elizabeth and Allan, picked us up from our B&B to take us out for the day. It turned out to be something of a whirlwind tour of the local attractions. We were first taken by what is known locally as the Cairn O’Mount road. This entrance to Deeside gives the visitor a high level view of the majestic mountains to the west whilst winding across open moorland and through pine forests. In keeping with tradition, we each placed a rock on the cairn itself which is at the highest point. We then drove through spectacular Highland scenery stopping at Ballater for morning tea, where Carol pinched all the raspberry jam for her scones. I pinched the cream!

Next stop was Crathie Kirk – the Royal family’s local church when at Balmoral – but as the church was not open to visitors we took the next best option and visited the nearby Royal Lochnagar Distillery! The guided tour there was excellent – not just because it finished with the traditional sample dram of whisky.

On returning to the main road, we realised that Crathie Kirk was now open, so we proceeded to join other visitors in viewing this special icon of Scottish and Royal history. The present Church was built in 1895 and overlooks the old Kirk yard where the remains of the original 14th-century church can still be seen. John Brown, Queen Victoria’s personal servant, is buried there within the old cemetery walls. Many of the features of this local church from the plain granite walls to the impressive Scots Pine roof and stained glass windows in the chancel and transepts are among the many gifts donated over the years by individual members of the Royal Family.  Well worth seeing.

We continued on to Braemar village for lunch in a small village restaurant. Main courses were, at best, basic, but the desserts were decidedly wicked – in particular the rhubarb and apple crumble and cream! Maybe as an aid to our digestion the whirlwind tour became something of a tornado as Allan whisked us – at some speed – along the narrow roads that are a feature of the area. Perhaps he was demonstrating his earlier acquired driving skills as a local police officer.

We arrived back at the House of Mark in time for dinner at 7:00 pm which, unbeknownst to us, was to be shared with a group of six women who meet annually to reminisce over their years together at St Andrew’s University thirty-five years ago. The conversation was lively, humorous and, at times, intellectual even – and the wine flowed freely. A perfect end to a perfectly full day!

Thursday 1st June 2006

We called in to say goodbye to Elizabeth and Allan before compensating for the previous day’s indulgence by taking what is known locally as the “Blue Door” North Esk River Walk.
The blue door correctly describes the almost too discreet entry to the “Walk”, which would have been all too easy to miss if we hadn’t been warned. The path meanders along the banks of the North Esk River past pools where salmon abound, amidst stands of conifers and leafy glades. The banks are the homes to otters, and red squirrel may be spotted in the surrounding trees – though, try as we might, we didn’t spot either.
For all that, it provided the sort of magically serene break that we both needed, and as such, comes highly recommended to any of you who happen to be in that locality.

The “Bue Door” River Walk, Edzell, Angus
1 June 2006

Friday 2nd June 2006

Alas, a day when it was necessary to get LRC’s recurrent squeak looked at to ensure that it was not of the “fatal” variety. After spending some hours awaiting the diagnosis, it appeared that “she” would survive – and we with it, without horrendous surgical or post-operative care costs!

Saturday 3rd June 2006

We arose early and, on the advice of our host, went castle-hunting along one of the walking trails that meander through the glen. For reasons unknown, we failed to find the castle that day but stretched our legs for a couple of hours through scenery that was not what we had come to expect elsewhere in the glen – being barren and somewhat forbidding. We did, however, stumble upon the “Queen’s Well” in Glen Mark, built by public subscription to celebrate a visit by Queen Victoria in September 1861 to the spring that feeds it. Carol wondered why on earth Queen Victoria was out there!

The “Queen’s Well” in Glen Mark, Angus
3 June 2006

Sunday 4th June 2006

We left Glen Esk this morning for Aberdeen and on the way visited Balmoral Castle. Nestled within the stunning Highland scenery of Royal Deeside, on the banks of the river Dee, this is the Scottish home of the Royal Family.

Originally a 16th-century tower- house, it was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848. The woodland near the castle is said to have reminded Prince Albert of Thuringia in his own country and, whether as a result of this or not, he bought the house and estate as a gift for the Queen. In 1853 William Smith was commissioned to design the castle in the Scottish Baronial style. In 1856 the building was completed, it now being a full and working estate with around 100 buildings surrounding the castle itself.
The castle not including its land and estate is valued at around £160 million and remains privately owned by the Royal Family. Today, the Balmoral Estate is still a working one, occupying over 200 km² of land. The Royal Family employs around 50 full-time and 50-100 part-time staff to maintain the estate and look after the animals etc.

Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire
4 June 2006
Balmoral Castle Ponies
4 June 2006

Our first stop was at the most attractive newly-completed Gift Shop and Café, where we enjoyed much needed coffee and scrumptious Scottish shortbread. We decided to take the audio tour – a wise decision, as it enabled us to take a leisurely stroll through the magnificent grounds and those parts of the castle open to visitors.

Photos: Our visit to Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire – 4th June 2006

Our enjoyment of this was helped not a little by the fact that it was a warm, sunny and beautiful day. Apart from taking away some wonderful memories, Carol now has an official Balmoral Castle jacket – with, of course, the obligatory Coat of Arms!

Tuesday 6th June 2006

We set out for Inverness for an overnight before our expedition to the Orkney Islands.
On the way we visited “Crathes Castle”. Crathes is a magnificent 16th century tower house standing on an estate granted to the Burnett family in 1323 by King Robert the Bruce, and was held in that family for almost 400 years. The castle contains a significant collection of portraits, and intriguing original Jacobean painted ceilings survive in several rooms. The castle estate covers 530 acres of woodlands and fields, including nearly four acres of a walled garden.
Given the sort of day it was – bright, sunny and warm – we enjoyed immensely our leisurely stroll through the informality of the woodland walk. In striking contrast lay the beauty of the more formal garden we next visited. This provided a different environment but was no less enjoyable.
Foodie news: Lunch in the castle café was close to gourmet class: a shared brie, onion marmalade and red grape sandwich was consumed with gusto!

Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire
6 June 2006

Photos: Our visit to Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire – 6th June 2006

We had booked at the Lochardil House Hotel which was so difficult to find that we had to resort to buying a street map – duh! The search was worth the effort though, because we were shown to a beautiful large room overlooking the garden. The restaurant also had a garden view and the food was excellent even if the service was a little unprofessional.

Wednesday 7th June 2006

A beautiful sunny day today – and ideal for our cruise on Loch Ness to visit Urquhart Castle – although it started out being “one of those days”!
We had bought tickets and boarded what we thought was the correct boat. Fortunately, however, an overhead conversation between the skipper and a passenger made us realise that we were not on the cruise that we had planned to take.
We just had time to scramble off and make our way to the correct jetty and boat. The half hour cruise down to the castle was absolutely stunning and made up for the earlier hiccup. As it turned out, the timing of the cruise could not have been better as it allowed us “our” hour at the castle before the “coach” hordes descended on it.

Urquhart Castle, Inverness
7 June 2006
Urquhart Castle, Inverness
7 June 2006

Thursday 8th June 2006

Our target for the day was Brodie Castle. A strikingly handsome Scottish castle, located just 30 minutes from Inverness, Brodie is the embodiment of 16th century grandeur. Home to a superb collection of porcelain, furniture and 20th century art, and renowned today for its unique daffodil collection (which one of its owners had spent many years developing).
Amongst the many paintings on display is that of the wife of an early Brodie. She was burnt to death in an upstairs bedroom. The painting was altered after her death to show her pointing upwards to the room where she died, though the guide suggested that it may have been meant to indicate where she was supposed to have gone – heavenwards!
While we were less taken with the interior of the castle and its treasures than some others we have visited, we did enjoy an extensive walk through some beautiful woodland that encircled the large man-made lake.

Brodie Castle, Forres, Moray
8 June 2006
Brodie Castle Woodlands, Forres, Moray
8 June 2006