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.