2, 4, 6, 8, Autoroute…

After a reasonable breakfast this morning, we left out overnight B&B. We were very impressed by the medieval town, less so the hotel, though we would return.

It wasn’t long before we were heading south on the A71 towards Clermont Ferrand and the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne. We even stopped at an ‘aire’ to top up with some overpriced fuel and buy some insipid ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Shortly after devouring the sandwiches we encountered something rare on French autoroutes, roadworks involving a diversion. We took in a slow tour of some intriguing semi industrial areas, including a second hand vehicle outlet selling a red ‘Arriva’ double decker bus. Anyone standing at a stop waiting for the number 72 will have a long wait…

Eventually we got back onto the autoroute and drove further south to our exit towards the Gorges Du Tarn. A very twisty, almost single track road led us to a small French village which is confusingly called Boyne. Seeing no obvious signs of a battle we drove through and a few short kilometres later, here to the Villa La Muse, where we stayed three years ago. The image above is the view from one of our bedroom windows.

This evening we strolled over the river to Le Rozier for our evening meal. We’d discovered L’Alicanta last time and it didn’t disappoint this time either. It made the 15 minute walk there and the 25 minute walk back worthwhile…

Apart from having breakfast tomorrow our plans are fluid and undefined. If the forecast rain appears they’ll definitely be fluid.

Shall we go or shall we stay?

On Wednesday we eagerly awaited our petsitters, who arrived in good time. They stayed about an hour and decided to leave. I should stress this was no fault of ours or theirs. A family illness had worsened considerably and despite their willingness to fulfil a commitment to us, they decided to go back to the UK. We understood though obviously it put us in a difficult position.

We managed to get in touch with Trusted Housesitters and our dates were turned ‘live’ again. I sent off multiple requests to sitters who appeared to have dates free without success. Wednesday became Thursday, we cancelled our first two hotels and we became convinced that our holiday wouldn’t take place at all. Then someone smiled on us and we found Jayne, a petsitter from Brittany who’d had a cancellation and could be with us on Friday morning. I don’t think we’ve ever been so glad to see a stranger turn up at the house. After a brief tour and a ‘greet the animals’ session we hit the road.

Obviously our travel plans had to change and I found a hotel in Mennetou – Sur – Cher, about half way between home and La Muse, our destination for Saturday. The hotel is good, the owners welcoming and the village rustic and charming….

We had a passable meal, (you’ll notice an absence of foodie photos which should tell you everything) and here I am slaving over the keyboard while France’s noisiest fly tries to land on my head. Let’s face it, I have a pretty wide runway to aim for.

So tomorrow we head off for La Muse. Hopefully breakfast will be filling and the roads empty…..though I suspect those two wishes may be interchangeable….

 

A holiday, a holiday, the last one of the year…

I’ve done two shameless things. Firstly, I’ve used an image of our soon to be new kitten Cleo, to gather in readers. Secondly, I apologise to any Fairport Convention fans (a folk rock group from the 1970’s)  for altering the first line of their track, ‘Matty Groves’ to suit the blog title.

Since returning from the UK at the end of July nothing really newsworthy has happened. In fact nothing newsworthy ever happens here, nothing that would grace the front page of a tabloid newspaper anyway. We’ve hosted Monika, a lovely German workawayer from Cologne for a fortnight and continued to sample the local restaurants once or twice….a week. Obliquely, there’s a new bean to cup coffee machine in the kitchen and we’re making travel plans for next year.

However, lets preview the last instalment of our 2019 excursions. Next Thursday, we drive to Tours for an overnight stop, then Vichy for another. We have decided not to drive long distances any more, preferring to break the journey into smaller bite size pieces, sort of a ‘menu degustation’ by car.

After Vichy we drive to the Gorges De Tarn, staying in the same B&B we used a few years ago. Then Pezenas, which we love and a short stay with friends Maggie and Martin in the Ariege, where Susie used to live. Much as I tried to dilute Susie’s enthusiasm for Toulouse I’ve been persuaded (torture was implied but not carried out) to stay there for a few nights and have been promised interesting and informative walks round the city. I trust these are relieved by numerous refreshment breaks. We return via the I’le D’Oleron, somewhere we haven’t visited.

It would be folly to think we haven’t planned where to have meals ahead of time. I think there’s only one night we haven’t got a restaurant booked and we’re on the waiting list for that.

So as ever, I look forward to boring everyone with our adventures, copious photos of our food and the sunlit scenery…well we hope it’s sunlit…

Stokesley, sock dryers and Sunday in Sedgefield…

On Friday, we’d arranged to meet our friends, Malcolm and Margaret in Stokesley, a small market town on the edge of the North Yorks Moors. We wandered around for a little while before meeting them and discovered a pack horse bridge over the river. It’s on an old route from Durham, through Helmsley and on to York. Records date the bridge to 1628. The tea room we’d intended to try was packed out so we repaired to Sadlers, where we had a lovely meal and a long catch up chat. The forecast rain didn’t begin till we’d said goodbye and we made it to the car without getting wet.

The next day, we’d booked an afternoon tea at Ushaw College a former Catholic Seminary, whose college and grounds are now open to the public. It lies on Ushaw Moor, a short 10 minute drive from my Mum’s home, the visit brought back quite a few memories for her. Confusingly, afternoon tea wasn’t served after 2pm so we’d opted for a 12:30 slot. The tea was slightly uninspiring and we partly regretted not using the refectory instead for hot food.

Some of the college is impressive, other parts less so. There was an animatronics installation of an eagle, the stunning refectory, chapel and a display of vestments. I was amused by the display of a sock dryer from the 1950’s, I seem to remember those winters being damp and dreary,  so a sock dryer would be a most useful item to have…

The gardens are small but beautifully managed and we whiled away half an hour round the curved paths.

Sunday lunchtime saw us back at the Pickled Parson in Sedgefield, where last year we celebrated Mum’s 90th birthday. We were recognised, which is always a nice thing and we enjoyed a relaxed lunch (I particularly recommend the deconstructed cheesecake)

Tomorrow we drive down to Stansted for our flight home on Tuesday morning…

 

Beam…ish

Our visit to Beamish Open Air Museum had been postponed several times, going back a couple of years then a week or so back, because of bad weather. Today though, we took the plunge and actually visited.

Beamish is a huge site and requires some walking. There are period methods of public transport, a tram and bus but neither of these are adapted for wheelchairs. Luckily my cousin Dorothy had come along with us and took charge of my Mum in her wheelchair. From the entrance, we walked round to the 1900’s pit village. The exhibits are not facades or reproductions. Francis Street is a row of six cottages, transplanted brick by brick from Hetton-le-Hole and rebuilt on site. They are furnished in period, inhabited by ‘guides’ who will give you a totally realistic feel for what a harsh and hard life it was for miners in the Durham coalfield. There’s even a roaring coal fire in the hearth..

We could have spent longer chatting to the occupants but there was a school to visit, an engineering shed for the small shunting engine and a drift mine, down which Susie and Dorothy went, a sobering experience.

There’s fish and chip shop, which uses coal fired ranges and fries in beef dripping. We stood for about 30 minutes to get served but it was worth the wait. We enjoyed a tour round the 1892 school building and read about the corporal punishment given out for what seems minor offences now. Whipping for scribbling in books….

We wanted to move on to the 1900’s town but it was too much of a trek with the wheelchair. Beamish do provide transport adapted for wheelchair users, but it was off the road and they’d hired a slightly smaller modern mini bus to fill in. Because there were other wheelchairs, we had to wait quite a while before we could be dropped off at the town and unfortunately we had little time to look round and were a bit disappointed to have missed some exhibits.

It’s worth pointing out again, that this is an enormous site and because of it’s size it’s been possible to utilise real buildings. No reproductions or cinematic ‘sets’. You’d have to be there early and be quite fit if you wanted to see it all in one day. It’s wonderful and we’ll go again on our next trip…

Vindolanda, shoes and loos…

We were really sad to leave Horncliffe this morning. Trevor and Fiona are a lovely couple and run one of the best b&b’s we’ve ever stayed in. Anyone that offers you a menu for breakfast which includes porridge with cream, honey and a small slug of whisky gets my stamp of approval.

Though we were heading back to my Mums, we made a detour towards Hadrians Wall. Driving in the general direction of Bardon Mill and Housesteads, our detour naturally became ‘getting lost’. As luck would have it, we found a roadsign to ‘Vindolanda’.  This is one of the most outstanding excavated Roman sites on Hadrians Wall, if not in the north of England. It’s popularity was reinforced by the overflowing car park, in which we were lucky to shoehorn the car.

The reception staff were brilliant, chatty and enthusiastic. We grabbed a quick drink in the small cafe, while waiting for a guided tour. Our guide was knowledgeable and eager to answer questions, even ones from an obnoxious person who decided to try and prove he knew more than the expert.

We were shown how complex and expansive the site was. (There are still digs ongoing) Latrines for up to 25 people where strangely, leather shoes had been recovered. It was supposed that if you were using the latrine and your shoe slipped off, the last thing you’d want to do is search for it. However, over 6,000 leather shoes have been unearthed from the site (not all from the latrines), some of them in a remarkable state of preservation.

It’s a unique site, with a well laid out museum displaying the recovered artefacts and warm and welcoming staff. The only part the spoilt our visit was the weather, which had turned wet and blustery when we walked back through the site to our car. If you’re in the area it’s a must see.

It wasn’t too long before we arrived at my Mums and we quickly popped out for fish and chips. Tomorrow we’ve planned a visit to Beamish Open Air Museum. That’s over 1,000 years of history in two days….

 

 

A day on the ocean waves..

The boat trip to Holy Island was going to be a highlight of our trip. We found the excursion website to be impossible with which to book online, so arrived early at a packed Seahouses (at the rear of an overflow car park) and stood hopefully at the booking office window. “Sorry”, we were told, “it’s full”. She even rang and checked for us, then Neptune must have smiled on us, as the phone rang and suddenly they’d had a cancellation.

We mooched about to fill in the time till departure (sorry Seahouses but unless you want to stuff yourself silly there isn’t a lot to do) and then we assembled in the green ticket line. The weather was beautiful, the sea calm and we sailed out of the harbour, firstly for the Farne Islands and their extensive sea bird population, then Lindisfarne.

Truthfully, we were a bit deflated on exploring Lindisfarne. It has a certain mystique but also an eerie empty feel, which may have been caused by high tide and most of the tourists leaving before they were cut off. For the most part it was closed and far too late to easily get a hot meal. Ok, two huge toasted teacakes helped stave off the pangs of hunger.

We boarded for our return trip in gusting rain, which made the sight of Bambrugh from the seaward side even more foreboding. I think we could be referred to as ‘weatherbeaten’ when we got back to Seahouses and we decided to drive on to Berwick for a meal before returning here. We really enjoyed the day and it was an unforgettable experience, though for both of us it was something to be ticked off the bucket list rather than to be repeated.

Tomorrow, we drive back to my Mum’s. Though not before a diversion to look at Hadrians Wall and Corbridge.