Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Ten

Saturday 23rd September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 24th and Sunday 25th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the trip itself:

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


So, another dream fulfilled.

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

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Nine

Thursday 21st September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 22nd September 2017

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

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

I must say I found it all of it impressive.

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

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

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

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

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


Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Eight

Monday 18th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mont Orgueil, Saint Martin, Jersey
18 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 19th September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 20th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Malo’s Cathedral – Rose Window
20 September 2017

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

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

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

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Seven

Friday 15th September 2017

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

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

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

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


View from Eastern side of Sark towards France
15 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 16th September 2017

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

The Little Chapel, Saint Andrew, Guernsey
16 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 17th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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


Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Six

Tuesday 12th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 13th September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandbanks Chain Ferry, Poole Harbour, Dorset
13 September 2017

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

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

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

Thursday 14th September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bed was bliss.

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Five

Friday 8th September 2017

It will come as no surprise to learn that most of today has been spent writing up what I’ve been up to over the past three days and getting Episode Four away. This wasn’t too much of a hardship, however, as today was even greyer and rainier than yesterday. Tempted by an apparent lift in the weather mid-morning I ventured out for a leg-stretch break into the centre of the city to hit an ATM but unwisely failed to take an umbrella or even a rain jacket. And, of course, the skies opened up again and guess who got quite wet.

So back to writing up…

Given that I have been able to track down James to where he and his family lived from at least 1812 until 1834 (when their last child was born), I appear to have progressed as far as I can here on the ground in Waterford. As the time of their apparent disappearance is not long before the beginning of the famine, the abandonment of properties by bankrupt landlords and the beginnings of civil unrest, perhaps Stephen lost his position as a Land Steward and had to move on.  It’s nothing more than a theory at this stage and only wormed its way into my brain after reading this article, “An Overview of the Famine in Waterford”.  Maybe it will provide you with as telling a context as it did me:

In any event, finding out what happened to the family from say 1840 on will, I suspect, require a lot more ferreting online – and that’s better done at home.

The important thing for me was to be able to establish that this James really was my great great grandfather – and that I’ve done, with the added value of knowing exactly where they lived and worked.

So, with that sorted I can go to dinner happy and plan some sightseeing for the morrow. And the dinner was even more happy-making – Pan-seared Supreme of Chicken on a bed of garlic and lemon tossed green beans, crispy bacon and a sweet red wine jus and a just yummy side of stir-fried root vegetables.

Saturday 9th September 2017

Having forecast showers I could not have been more pleased to see a relatively clear sky and a day that boded well to be just right for seeing the sights. What I didn’t bank on was the cold and gusty wind that buffeted me as I left the hotel – and didn’t let up all day. But spoil my first real tourist-type day – not a chance!

After my usual fortifying breakfast I headed about 40 km south to Dungarvan where the Castle there was on my OPW Visitors Card. Guess who was there just as it opened, again?

Dungarvan Town Map Sign near Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017
Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017

My first impression was that there wasn’t going to be a lot to see, but a pre-exploration video gave all three of us early-birds an excellent timeline-based history of the castle. Some of that history I’ve added below, courtesy Dungarvan Tourism:

“Dungarvan Castle is an Anglo-Norman fortification founded in 1185. It was built in a very strategic location at the mouth of the River Colligan. From here ships could be anchored, and soldiers could command the narrow strip of land to the south of the Comeragh Mountains, which linked East and West Waterford. It is one of the few royal castles built in Ireland in the 1200s. During the Irish Civil War the barracks were taken by the IRA forces who set fire to it before leaving in August 1922. With the foundation of the Garda Siochana in 1922 the building was restored and used as the local Garda Station until 1987.”

Not mentioned here but part of the video coverage was the fact that the castle was one of the properties over which the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond fought the Butler Earl of Ormond in the Battle of Affane in 1585. Now you knew I’d have to get a Butler reference in there somewhere, didn’t’ you?

As for the castle itself, my Tourism source provided this:

“The castle consists of a polygonal shell keep with an enclosing curtain wall, a corner tower and a gate tower. The shell keep is the earliest structure, dating from the 12th century. Inside the curtain wall is a two storey military barracks, which dates from the first half of the 18th century. The barracks is now restored and houses an informative exhibition on the history of the castle.”

From this you’ll gather that there was, as I had suspected, not a lot to see but I did explore the barracks and one of the towers – and have the following Photographic evidence:

Barracks Room Recreated – Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017
View of Harbour from Dungarvan Castle, Waterford
9 September 2017

Still heading South, my next stop was at Ardmore to visit St Declan’s – the ruins of which are said to be of Ireland’s earliest Christian settlement.
The present site comprises a 30m high round tower – a significant landmark on the settlement’s hilltop site – the roofless shell of Ardmore Cathedral, an 8th century Oratory and an extensive graveyard.
Two features of the cathedral were the Romanesque arcading decorated with carved-stone biblical scenes, and inside, among a number of grave slabs of seemingly different ages two Ogham stones one of which has been erected in a niche in the wall. All were to varying degrees, photogenic, but the results of the best appear here:

Round Tower at St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017
Romanesque Arcading with what are believed to be 12th Century stone-carved Biblical Scenes – St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017
…and, finally, a scene from the Graveyard – St Declan’s, Waterford
9 September 2017

One of the must-do activities in County Waterford is what is known as the Comeragh Drive and, would you believe it, it just happened to be on my way home to Waterford.

I have no reason now to doubt why it’s so high on the list of tourist attractions.  At the expense of appearing to go overboard, it was just a visual smorgasbord of the greenest of green agricultural land, deep green natural forests, heather-covered hillsides and a huge sky variously cloudless blue to threateningly storm-clouded. The round trip is some 150 kms long but it didn’t seem so as, with only minimal traffic I was able to just meander along – if you can meanderingly drive – to soak it up.

While, for once, I believe these photos may do justice to what I saw, however good I may think some of them are, they’ll never capture the beauty or sense of space and peace that I felt.

Scenes from Comeragh Drive, County Waterford
9 September 2017

And to end a tiring but very rewarding day I went fishing again, this time savouring a “Trio of Fish” Linguini which the menu described as salmon, prawns and smoked haddock cooked in a creamy spiced sauce and finished with Parmesan cheese and fresh rocket leaves. It was a huge serving – as they all have been – and very rich and I have to admit it beat me in the end. That’s not a criticism of the meal but an admission of defeat from a weary wanderer.

Sunday 10th September 2017

Breakfast is not served until 8:00 am on Sundays, so I had a good excuse for a Sunday morning sleep-in and as the rain had returned what better excuse did I need? None at all.

As I haven’t made very good use on OPW card – and after yesterday’s success – I felt I should find another of their properties. As luck would have it, Ormond Castle which has only recently re-opened after a two and a half year renovation break was one I had not seen before and more enticingly was within half an hour’s drive. And, the rain seemed to be easing, said he optimistically.

With every intention of beating the crowds, I was first there again, and the guided tour started 10 minutes or so later when the rest of the crowd arrived – all two of them!
The guide was excellent, spending close to an hour providing us with the sort of relaxed but empathetic commentary covering the history, architecture and decoration of the castle that only comes from long experience as a guide and a real feeling for the property.

Ormond Castle, Tipperary
10 September 2017

The most important thing about the castle is of course that the Elizabethan manor house that fronts the earlier 14th century walled castle complex was built by a Butler – Thomas Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond, no less, around 1560.  That there was any doubt that the original castle was old this photo will quash that.  Walking through the manor to this seemed to me to be an unusual and not too sympathetic conjunction of the two buildings.

The ruins of the earlier castle – Ormond Castle, Tipperary
10 September 2017

But back to the manor house,.  According to the guide, it is the best example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. That this is so he believes was a natural outcome of the fact that Thomas, being a minor and ward of the court, spent much of his youth at Elizabeth I’s court.

Apart from a magnificent long gallery, the feature I found most appealing was the decorative plasterwork much of it original, although now painted white rather than being highly coloured as we were assured it once was. Also impressive was the structural timberwork throughout and, in particular, that in the attic roof space. Much of this too was original oak and secured with wooden pegs rather than nails.

Then it was off home again to continue the writing-up – and a little “downtime”. After all a Sunday morning sleep-in deserves a matching Sunday afternoon nap.  Well, doesn’t it?

Eschewing fish for once, I weakened and finally had a steak.  On this occasion it was a 10oz Sirloin rested on a bed of sautéed onions and mushrooms and chunky chips and, thoughtfully, with a large dollop of garlic butter in a dish on the side.  It was delicious, although the size of the serving beat me again. Tony would have been horrified.

Monday 11th September 2017

This is my last day in Waterford before heading off for Dublin and then London tomorrow.  As such it has, apart from outings to return the rental car and reserve a seat on the train, been a repacking and housekeeping sort of day.

The return of the car was relatively painless but because Enterprise Rental Car’s office is 6 km out of town I was very grateful for the ride back they gave me.

I was less enthused with Irish Rail.  Having made a special trip across the bridge to the station to organise a reserved seat, I was more than somewhat surprised that reservations can only be made online and the reservation slip is only then able to be collected from the ticket dispenser at the station.  Still, I did get a stretch of the legs even if the howling near-gale nearly blew me into the River Suir on the way over and onto the roadway on the way back.  While I was out and about I also rode the wind into Waterford to visit the Library and see if they had any suggestions as to how I might continue my quest.

Regrettably, their genealogy specialist, Etta Cowman, only works on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the Library assistant encouraged me to leave a note for her and she felt sure she would email any suggestions she might have – particularly in respect of sources like estate records.  Haven’t the folk here been just wonderful?

Well, apart from finishing my Fitzwilton gastronomic exploration on a high but healthy note with, would you believe, Seafood Chowder, it’s off to finish the packing and bed.

So, it’s a farewell from Ireland to, in a couple of days time, a hello to the Channel Islands, from where I hope to continue the “beyond” bit of “Britain and beyond”.

But how could I say farewell to Ireland without saying “thanks” for so much friendly and freely-given support – and I do so now.

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Four

Tuesday 5th September 2017

In my haste to get Episode Three away before the Hotel Internet crashed again, I omitted to pass on any foodie news. Perhaps the reason I forgot to do so was that it didn’t rate a mention. It was as described, a fish and leek pie – and that’s about all that’s worth saying about it.

The morning dawned also as forecast, heavily overcast and rainy enough for me to move to Plan B – stay home and try and follow-up some of the leads Stephen gave me yesterday. It turned out however to be one of those frustratingly unrewarding days where I would probably have been better being soaked to the skin sight-seeing.

Dinner tonight went part way to lifting my spirits being Tagliatelle with smoked chicken in a mushroom and cheese sauce. Perhaps not as creamy as I’d like but almost up there with the baked salmon earlier in the week.

Then off to finish my packing ready for the move to Waterford tomorrow.

Wednesday 6th September 2017

It will probably come as no surprise that I included black pudding in my last breakfast at the Herbert Park Hotel. From what I’ve read the Waterford hotel, The Fitzwilton, seems unlikely to run to that. But who knows? And you know I’ll let you know anyway.

I was able to get an earlier train from Dublin than I thought I would which I hoped would give me time to get around to the Waterford Heritage Centre this afternoon and get a flying start at my quest for James. It did.

But first I need to tell you about the train journey. The service is very much a commuter one – being one class only and a very busy one.  I gather that at peak times, some passengers have had to stand all the way to Waterford.  As I only got to board 10 minutes before it left I was unable to find a seat with a table or even one facing in the direction of travel, but not looking forward to the prospect of standing, I find one eventually just before we left.
The carriages do not seem that old but have a decidedly well-used look and in need of some deep cleaning and thorough deodorising. But as the trip only took a little over two hours and was a whole lot cheaper than driving down, I shouldn’t complain too much.
Fortunately my room at the Fitzwilton was ready, and being quite a big one I was able to spread myself about a bit. Although said to have been refurbished at the end of last year it shares the train’s well-used look but is clean and odour-free.

The Heritage Centre is about a 15 minute walk from the hotel so, after a couple of hours on the train, it didn’t do me any harm at all to do that. Michael O’Connor, the genealogist who helped me when I was last here in 2006 had aged. I wonder how that happens.
Be that as it may, having shared with him what I had learned at the National Library he agreed that the Counsellor’s Road lead was an important one in narrowing down our search, and he was off, almost in mid-sentence, to get a map to show me where it was.

A copy of the map he gave me, old and battered as it was, is shown below.

Old Ordnance Map showing area around Peafield, Kilmurray, Kilkenny

I had told him that I had hired a car which I was picking up tomorrow with the specific purpose of visiting places which might have traces of James and that this new find would be high on that list. Michael was concerned that the old map might not be too useful as a navigation aid, so offered to drive me out to show me exactly where it was and how to get there. As it happened he was booked in for a game of golf later in the afternoon and where we were going was he said not too far out of his way. Heritage Centre service above and beyond, nonetheless.

So off we went and over the next hour he not only showed me how to get there but as exactly as he could where the family lived. The area is now, as I assume it was back in James’ time, primarily agricultural land but changed to the extent that there are few if any old buildings left and these are interspersed with one or two light industrial businesses, which add nothing to the rural scene. But at least now, thanks to Michael – and it’s a big thanks – I can meander all around there tomorrow and if nothing else soak up a bit of the atmosphere. I also hope to go on to Slieverue and see what I can discover in the graveyard of the church there that was James and Mary’s parish church.

After that I may see if I can find a connection in the Griffiths Valuations that are such an important genealogical resource here, but they may be a little too late of date to be helpful. But even if the timing is not right, I may be able to get hold of a copy of the Griffith Valuations map that shows where they lived.

And as a fitting end to what had turned out to be one of the most rewarding family search days I’ve had was, would you believe, the best seafood chowder I’ve had in many a long year – and at half the price of the one in Dublin!!

Thursday 7th September 2017

Another grey and damp dawn but not sufficiently so to deter me from my sortie into Waterford for some shopping before picking up the car to explore the wilds of Peafield, Kilmurray on my own.

But first things first. The Fitzwilton breakfast does run to black pudding and, only for comparison purposes you understand, I had to sample it. A little more oatmealy and a little less spicy than the Dublin offering but I dare say I can put up with that.

I picked up my car, VW Golf, which though considerably smaller than I’m used to is just what I wanted to navigate the very narrow roads in country County Waterford, one of which is Counsellor’s. The Rental Car people were very keen for me to upgrade to a brand new Skoda – at an increased rental – so I had no trouble declining their kind (?) offer. Before I left their yard I spent a little time loading some of my rural destinations into my phone so that I could concentrate on the business of just driving – and I’m glad I did.

I drove up and down Counsellor’s Road a couple of times but was unable to find a vantage point where I could take any photos. I haven’t even got one of a road sign – mainly because there weren’t any. And I have to admit that with high hedges on either side of the road there was not a lot to be seen or photographed. And I didn’t think that Ellickson Engineering’s plant qualified as photogenic. But I can say I have driven on the same road on which my Butler forbears either walked or rode.

Then off to Slieverue to visit the Church of the Assumption and its graveyard. Although not a big graveyard, it took me all of two hours to work my way up and down the rows of headstones – much of which time was spent trying to decipher the faded and eroded inscriptions. As I had been led to expect I found only two dedicated to Butlers and either the names didn’t match or the dates or both. But photograph them I did on the off chance that those named will pop up in my research sometime in the future.

Photos of both appear below:

Two of the “Butler” Headstones in the Church graveyard, Slieverue, Kilkenny
7 September 2017

I also spent some time in the church because, as I’ve mentioned already, that’s where James married Mary Connery and all their children were baptised.  In the early days it must have been a quite populous parish, as the church is much larger than I thought it would be.  As you will see, however, as a result of what I assume was a budget-bound renovation, it is not particularly attractive from the outside.

Church of the Assumption, Slieverue, Kilkenny
7 September 2017

Internally it was somewhat better though still quite bare and unadorned.  An exception was the altar front – the style of which appealed to me.  And if you look really closely, the wider angled photograph shows, to the right of the Sanctuary, the glitter of a couple of candles that I lit, on behalf of Butlers everywhere, to add to those already there. I have no idea who lit them – because I saw not a soul (pun intended) while I was there.

Altar, Church of the Assumption, Slieverue, Kilkenny
7 September 2017
Interior, Church of the Assumption, Slieverue, Kilkenny
7 September 2017

As the rain that had started to fall as I finished my headstone survey had become quite heavy by the time I left the church, it seemed that the smartest thing I could do would be to head for home – and that’s what I did.

I had not got too far into writing up the day’s events when I received a phone call from Michael O’Connor who was downstairs in reception. He had brought a copy of a book that he had bought for me entitled “Sliabh Rua – A History of its People and Places”. As it is about the very parish in which James and his family lived, namely Slieverue, he felt it would help provide me with some contextual background for my future family history-writing endeavours. I offered to pay him for it, but he declined saying that I had bought it already as part of the small commission I had paid him. What a thoughtful gift?

But there’s more. As it was only about 5:00 pm, he asked if I would be free to join him in a drive to one of his favourite parts of Waterford, Dunmore East, about 20 km away. I accepted gratefully and I hope, gracefully. Anyhow we had a very pleasant hour or so together chatting about all manner of things and not just genealogical.
And having seen Dunmore East, I now understand why this fishing village has become such a tourist attraction. Apart from its cliffside setting, it features quite a number of thatched houses, in some cases built quite recently to match the thatched fishermen’s cottages of times past.

A cliff-side view of part of Dunmore East, Waterford
7 September 2017

One of the prime viewing spots is the Dunmore East Golf Club, where Michael plays on occasion, and where I was able to enjoy the view with him over a cup of coffee.

Declining an offer to join me for dinner, Michael dropped me back home around 7:30 pm whereupon I rounded out another just great day with another bowl of my Fitzwilton favourite, seafood chowder!

And, how good is all of that?

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Two

Friday 25th August  2017

“Up, up and away…” but, on this occasion, with Rex and not TAA.

A relatively early start this morning – well at least early for me  – so that Carolyn and Tony, who had kindly offered to drive me, could get me to Williamtown to catch the mid-day  “Rex” flight to Sydney.

Rex Saab

I had originally planned to get the train from Gloucester but, as the only one that would get me there in time, left at the ungodly hour of 2:30 in the morning, that was way too early for me, if not for them.

Apart from leaving at a decent hour, one unexpected benefit of taking the Rex flight was that my checked baggage is limited to 15kg –  a restriction I’ve already been grateful for when hefting the suitcase off the carousel in Sydney and transferring to the International Terminal.  And perhaps I’ll be even more appreciative when hauling it up the stairs of the smaller hotels where I’ll be staying  – particularly in the Channel Islands.

Carolyn and Tony dropped me off at Williamtown just before 10:00 am in ample time to meet what we understood were the new reporting times necessary for additional security screening. It turned out that this was no longer the case and that as a result the check-in gates would not be open until 11:00. That didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem as I had a well-sited people-watching spot where I could entertain myself observing how little people read signs. More than a few climbed under barriers to seek assurance from check-in staff that the signs that said that a gate doesn’t open until 10:45 or 11:15 or whatever really meant that – or fronted up to, say, a clearly signed Jetstar desk with a Virgin ticket or vice versa. What was that about small things amusing small minds?

My REX flight was delayed by about twenty minutes but having planned ample buffer time this wasn’t a concern. The flight itself was very pleasant, flying as it did at a height that made viewing the countryside possible. And with only seven passengers to fill the thirty or so seats, we all had more than enough personal space even if the seats themselves were of the tightly form-fitting variety.

I made the transfer between the domestic and international terminals by rail and, if somewhat more expensive, found it much more Norm-friendly than having to drag luggage on an off a bus. As had been my hope, I was at Emirates Gate E by 2:30 pm believing that by so doing I would be first in the queue. Again, the shortened reporting time meant that the check-in desks wouldn’t be open until 3:00. Needless to say, I was first in the queue when they did finally did.

The check-in in was both efficient and friendly and in no time at all I was lining up at “Border Control” to be scanned, patted down, hip-frisked and “wanded”. Again all very efficient but in a much less officious manner than I have sometimes experienced. The police and security presence was much greater, too, than I remember but not obtrusively so.

After a welcome and needed walking expedition within the terminal for a little duty-free shopping and some necessary currency exchange transactions I succumbed to the temptation of a long icy Campari and soda and a small plate of cheese, crackers and fruit, but only to tide me over until whatever the in-flight offering might be. I had a comfortable window seat in the lounge but the outlook overlooking a busy section of the tarmac did not quite match the relaxing ambience of the lounge.

The flights themselves were comfortable enough with good and well-placed seats, welcoming cabin crews and classy-looking menus. The fact that one or two of the meals did not live up to what the menus appeared to promise was disappointing but not sufficiently so for me to rate the flights anything other than very good.

Saturday 26th August 2017

I had forgotten how long the flights were and how mind-numbing. Although I knew that the flight to Manchester was via Bangkok and Dubai, it hadn’t registered how much the route through Bangkok lengthened the whole flight. The stop at Bangkok was quite a short one and we had the option of getting off or staying on the plane for the hour and half it was there. But once we were advised that we had to take all our personal belongings off and recheck them through security on our return, I and a number of others opted stay put. The seven hour leg to Dubai seemed to pass more quickly, but a delay in actually getting off the ground in Bangkok meant that arriving in time to catch my Dubai to Manchester flight was going to be a near thing a – and it was.

No longer noted for my speed over the ground – if I ever was – I made the transfer through a rather cursory security screening, onto the inter-terminal train and a faster than normal shuffle to make the departure gate with only a minute or so to spare. All doubtless good for my cardio-vascular system – considerably less so for my stress levels and blood pressure. But even I was surprised at how effectively another icy Campari and soda and some soothing music helped to reduce this.

Despite the inauspicious start, the leg to Manchester was the most enjoyable and I had a longer and better sleep than on either of the earlier legs. And we touched down twenty minutes early. As if determined to not let me finish my flights on too much of a high, this time advantage was soon lost thanks to an hour long slow shuffle to and through Border Control – something that was the subject of front-page newspaper coverage next morning.

Despite this further setback, in Norm’s eyes anyway, I was delivered to Roger and Denise’s door earlier than I had anticipated – and to as warm a welcome as only long and dear friends can give. It will come as no surprise that in this friendliest of environments, those perceived setbacks just seemed to fade away.

Although we keep in touch by email it is not quite the same as sitting down in comfort and having a good chat. After all, having not seen them for a little over three years, we had a lot of catching up to do. For some reason or other, I only lasted until about seven before collapsing into bed – a really comfortable new one. Thanks to you both for the welcome – and the welcoming bed.

Sunday 27th August 2017

I had been keeping a weather-eye on the weather (LOL) for a week or so before I left home and a single word described it more than adequately “rain”. As if arranged for my arrival, we have been treated for the Bank Holiday weekend with mild temperature and sunny spells. Fine enough in fact to be able to enjoy morning coffee, pre-dinner drinks and dinner in the garden. Really lovely.

Over the next few days, between Norm’s lapses into jet-lag, we shared lots of the chat that close friends happily indulge in, enhanced at the appropriate times with more of Denise’s gourmet home cooking.

While the late summer weather lasted we also ventured out to visit some of R&D’s favourite haunts:

Although Roger and Denise’s favourite the “Bird in Hand” some 30 minutes away in North Cheshire was closed for renovations, there was another one quite handy, the “Plough & Flail”. Here we enjoyed a steak and ale pie and a half pint of one of the local ales in a really nice atmosphere – as you’ll see below.

The “Plough & Flail”, Mobberley, Cheshire
27 August 2017
Norm and Denise, pausing for a photo – Arley Hall and Gardens
29 August 2017

“Arley  Hall & Gardens” some 35 km south west of Manchester where we enjoyed warming vegetable or minestrone soup served in bowls shaped like flower pots. All of which set us up for a leisurely but very pleasant walk through part of the garden, Denise and Roger’s favourite woodland walk being a little too muddy.

Appetites revived by our meandering amble along what I understand is a familiar route through the garden, we then indulged ourselves with scones, jam and cream – with tea of course – in what had become a warmer and sunnier courtyard than was the case at lunch time.  All very salubrious.

Arley Hall & Garden, Cheshire
29 August 2017
The Clock Tower, Arley Hall & Gardens, Cheshire
29 August 2017

Lunch at “Casa Italia” within short walking distance where we shared Carpaccio, one tuna and one beef, served on a bed of rocket, Parmesan shavings and olive oil dressing, followed by Lasagna Di Carne (traditional lasagna with beef ragu in a rich béchamel sauce) and which, with due deference to Carolyn, would be the best lasagna I have ever had. A beautiful meal in authentic surroundings and served by the friendliest of staff. Superb – not a word I use often.

“Casa Italia”, Didsbury, Greater Manchester

More soon from Ireland, internet connections willing.

Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode One

16th August 2017

It’s a while now since I’ve put a finger to a keyboard to chronicle a trip so I thought it might help if I got in some practice before I leave.

So, when am I going, where am I going and why?

Well, this is when I’m going:

Friday, 25th August

…and, this is where I’m going:

    1Berrico, Australia
    2Williamtown, Australia
    3Sydney, Australia
    4Dubai, United Arab Emirates
    5Manchester, United Kingdom
    6Dublin, Ireland
    7Waterford, Ireland
    8Dublin, Ireland
    9London, United Kingdom
    10Dorset, United Kingdom
    12Sark, Guernsey
    15St-Malo, France
    16Mont Saint-Michel, France
    17Dinan, France
    18St-Malo, France
    19Fougères, France
    20Sainte-Suzanne, France
    21Laval, France
    22Chartres, France
    23Paris, France
    24Dubai, United Arab Emirates
    25New South Wales, Australia
    26Gloucester, Australia
    27Berrico, Australia

    …and, why?

    Now that I’m well and truly focussed on putting some more flesh on my somewhat skeletal family tree, I need to break down the brick wall behind which my great great grandfather, James Butler, is hiding – and that just happens to be in Ireland.  So, I plan to spend a few days digging into the records held at the National Archive of Ireland in Dublin and a like period in Waterford where he is purported to have been born and lived.  As some of you may remember, I did all this before back in 2005 but, with many more records available now, I’m hoping for better results.

    Then, having had it on my bucket list for as long as I can remember is the Channel Islands, somewhere I have never been before.  Not being as confident as I perhaps once was of doing it on my own, I’ve booked on an 11-day tour with the Back-Roads Touring Co. temptingly titled, “London to Paris via the Channel Islands”.  Of which, more later.

    But the most important and first port of call, so to speak, will be to visit Roger and Denise Mottram old and dear friends of more than thirty years, who have kindly offered to put me up.

    And, am I looking forward to it?  You bet!

    And, would you believe, it’s “more later” time already – with a copy of the Channel Islands tour Itinerary:

    London to Paris via the Channel Islands

    And, although the tickets have still to arrive, this will provide all the evidence you’ll need to prove I’m ready, willing and eager.