Our orientation day…

I’ve always enjoyed planning. It can be frustrating but, given enough information it gives me great satisfaction. So with a pinch of military precision I carried out our plans for a day out in Durham.

I’d found that it was possible to use the Park and Ride at Howlands, get into Durham, lunch at Cafedral get back on the bus and walk to both the Oriental Museum and the Botanic Gardens. I hadn’t factored in closing times but anyway….

We’d been to Cafedral a couple of years ago. It’s just as lovely as we remembered. Delicious main courses with slices of yummy chocolate cake for afters. The atmosphere is warm and friendly and the cafe has a wacky, shabby chic interior. It’s a family run place and Aiden, son of the owner remembered us from our first visit. We were so pleased, we booked to have lunch there on Sunday.

Returning to the park and ride, we strolled round to the Oriental Museum , which again we’d first visited two years ago. It really is a stunning museum, especially with the chariot sculpture outside, which Susie couldn’t resist posing in even though she’d mislaid her whip. Considering the museum’s floor space is about the same as a large detached house, they pack so much in. Exhibits are cleverly displayed on four levels and the opportunity for children to interact and learn is simply superb. We did laugh when we overheard a mother say to her son, “Harry, you’d have missed a whole civilisation if you’d gone down the stairs”….

Leaving the museum we realised that there was no time left to look round the Botanic Gardens before it closed, so our intention is to try and go on Sunday….post lunch of course…

In case of inclement weather..eat lunch.

Today we set off up the A1 to Alnwick to visit the formal gardens which are attached to Alnwick Castle. Mum had previously visited the castle, so we were spared the ‘Harry Potter’ experience (scenes from the movie franchise were filmed there) and the tribes of young children with cheap chinese made replica ‘broomsticks’.

We’d tried to book a table in ‘The Treehouse’ but it was full, so we ended up in ‘The Potting Shed’, with sausage sandwiches, fries and coffee and walnut cake. At least the hot food came from the restaurant. Of course it began raining, after all this is the UK in August. A brief foray into the gardens was made but it was too wet to walk round comfortably so we retreated into the covered entrance area along with 90% of that afternoons visitors.

However it did stop raining and we made our way through the tree and shrub lined paths to the ornamental gardens at the top of the hill. These are really beautiful and on exiting you are presented with a wonderful view of the cascading water feature.

To descend the hill, we walked off to the right and followed a winding path, lined by groves of flowering cherry trees, under which are installed adult sized, two person swing seats. It must be breathtaking in the Spring…

Wearily, we got back to the car park and retraced our route home, though being delayed half an hour by traffic on the A1 near the dreaded Metro Centre wasn’t in our plans. Tomorrow Susie and I will hopefully be visiting the Orient, looking at botanicals and eating at ‘Cafedral’…..

How to pickle a parson…

On Sunday we undertook a ‘recce’ trip to the venue for Mum’s party, the Pickled Parson at Sedgefield for lunch. It’s honestly, a lovely warm welcoming place, with great food and friendly, helpful staff. The portions were huge and we rather lingered over our meal so that we could get up from our table with the minimum of effort. Oh yes, the origin of the name….

A local clergyman passed away and his wife preserved him in salt, so that the local tithes could be collected by her, rather than going to the bishop. His death was announced at a more ‘convenient’ date…

We’ve struggled this weekend, through non functioning phone lines, my Mum’s oxygen compressor which stopped working on Saturday night, a flash flood that inundated the car park outside this bungalow, leaking solar panels which supply the hot water and an overheated living room (26 degrees C) thanks to the compressor. Nevertheless, most problems have been resolved (except for the greenhouse front room) by today.

Susie and I decided to escape into Durham for a couple of hours, using the park and ride. I needed to call in the bank and Susie wanted to exchange some old notes and £ coins..who knew they weren’t accepted any more??

 

It did offer us the opportunity to call into Bells for ‘proper fish and chips’ again. We also love the Fentimans soft drinks they offer, traditional lemonade, shandy and dandelion and burdock. I can remember having Fentimans delivered to our door when I was about seven or eight. Before any of you ask, it was by lorry, not horse and cart…

Weather permitting we are visiting Alnwick Castle Gardens tomorrow…… of which more anon..

Do I really look that old??

So we begin the summer sojurn..taking in three countries, the UK, Poland and Germany. I suppose you could stretch that country list to four as we landed in Scotland and drove to England but anyway….

We flew from Nantes to Edinburgh. Nantes Airport isn’t very large and I struggled to find many redeeming features. When we landed in Edinburgh a couple of hours later it became more apparent that Nantes has at least something going for it….

Edingburgh Airport isn’t bad, it’s just a bit bland and spiritless. We had a hire car to collect, which involved a long trek to the furthest flung part of the airfield, then a drive along the bypass (with a short and unintended diversion) till we picked up the A8 for Jedburgh. We stopped for dinner in Lauder at the Firebrick Brasserie which was lovely. Fresh ingredients, well prepared and with charming staff.

There was only about an hour of daylight left when we drove out of Lauder and night had almost fallen by the time we crossed over the border at Carter Bar. Luckily there were no customs checks as we transited countries, haggis hunting season has long passed and smuggling the wee beasts is no longer as profitable as it once was.

We didn’t get to my Mum’s until just after midnight and over a cup of tea, we sat at the kitchen table while she opened her 90th birthday cards. Lunchtime on Saturday saw us in Bells Fish restaurant to celebrate her special day. What better way than with cod and chips? The staff knew it was her birthday and they presented her with a small cupcake complete with lit candle and the whole restaurant joined in with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’.

Mum was in her wheelchair and as I was negotiating the way out, a lady from the table next to us asked if my Mum was my sister. Either my Mum looks young for her age or life has been unduly cruel to me…

In which we take an unusual diversion..

On Monday we woke to thundery rain and a sharp drop in temperature. We had a lazy morning and by the time we were due to go out for lunch, the weather had improved. Maggie was taking us to the Relais de Mirepoix which turned out to be delightful. A lovely setting, delicious food, friendly service and a warm welcome from Emma, who knew Susie from her ‘previous incarnation’ when she was resident in the Ariege. The food really was exceptional and it’s certainly a restaurant we’ll visit again if we can.

The rest of the day we spent making preparations for our return the next day. Tuesday morning we said farewell to Maggie and began our drive to the Auberge Duypuytren where we’d broken our journey on the way down. The journey didn’t commence until we’d popped into the pharmacy, the supermarket (for wine) and I’d filled up (with diesel for the car, I should clarify). I programmed the satnav and immediately confused it by having to take diversion because of roadworks on the way out of Lavelanet. This took us (as only French ones can) in many differing directions, ending up down a no through road. I saw the Citroen in front take a left turn to nowhere, or so it seemed. But no, the contractors had cut a temporary road (tarmaced) across the local soccer pitch which brought us out just after the works. It was a tad disturbing to drive past goalposts, but in these cases we generally just look at each other, shrug our shoulders and say, ‘it’s so French’.

The rest of the drive was uneventful (and boring if I’m honest) and we spent another restful evening at the auberge, which we’d use again. Another hot and sticky drive the next day, broken only by a quick French autoroute service area meal. It proved that despite the autoroute being superior to and more costly than a UK motorway, it doesn’t improve the food. At least the fries were nice….

We came home to a clean home, well looked after animals and a wonderful meal from our house sitters, Stephen and Ariel. Such was their impeccable service, we’ve asked them to come again. Just a few weeks till the next adventures in Durham, Poland and Berlin…you can’t keep these OAP globetrotters down…

 

A celebration, Col De Port and cowbells..

Yesterday we attended a celebration with many of Susie’s friends. It wasn’t on the occasion of a wedding, christening or engagement but a celebration of the life of Keith. Peta and Keith were dear friends of Susie’s and after Keith passed away earlier this year, Peta was determined to hold an event on his birthday.

It was a gathering filled with sad moments certainly, but mostly happy tales and memories of him and his life. It was quite wonderful and Susie and I were priviledged to have been invited to share in such an amazing send off.

Peta lives in Seix, almost two hours drive from Rivel, where we are staying with Maggie. I relied mainly on the satnav to get there, but the return trip was more, well lets say spontaneous. We went over the Col De Port, which if it isn’t on ‘Le Tour’ as a mountain stage, darn well should be. I drove round winding hairpins, slowly ascending through tree lined cliff faces and crossing fast flowing streams. At the top, we were rewarded with the sight ofa large herd of cows, gently grazing the mountain pasture and ringing their cowbells as they meandered through the roadside fields. It was a wonderful scene and of course we stopped so I could take photo’s.

We descended and drove towards Rivel, though when we reached Lavelanet we were greeted by a different celebration. Young people were waving French flags, hanging out of speeding cars and being pursued by gendarmes in patrol cars with blue flashing lights….Yes, France had won the World Cup….how fortunate I thought, that we were driving a French registered vehicle and not an English one…

Sweaty lycra and a flexed finger..

Normally, superstitious people would tell you to avoid travelling on Friday the 13th. So obviously we didn’t take any notice of silly things like that when we planned a short trip down to the Ariege where Susie used to live. We reckoned without the Tour De France. Fridays stage ran from Fougeres to Chartres and bisected our region West to East. We wanted to travel North to South. It’s difficult to portray how important Le Tour is, certainly enough to invoke major road closures while the riders pass, though preceded by a lengthy publicity caravan and followed by the team cars, medical personnel and official cars.

I slaved over online maps and the race time schedule, trying to locate the most convenient point to try and reach when the roads were open again. Needless to say that afternoon we couldn’t attempt to drive down our chosen road and we circled back towards home and tried a more direct route. Friday the 13th doesn’t always turn out as predicted, as we arrived at the crossing point just as they were removing the plastic barriers. Much relieved we headed toward the autoroute.

Some five hours later and despite an unexpected, sat nav induced tour of the light industrial areas of Poitiers, we arrived in Pierre-Buffiere and the Auberge Dupuytrens. It’s a charming place (though with lots of stairs to it’s rooms) and has a good restaurant. In our room, to which the term bijoux could readily apply, we read about Guillaume Dupuytrens, who was born in the town and was an anatomist and military surgeon in the early 19th Century. It was he who first described a condition of flexed and rigid fingers which became known as Dupuytrens Contracture. I’d appreciate a quick mention if this nugget of information ever came in useful during a game of Trivial Pursuit or a pub quiz with a very eclectic and esoteric question setter.

This morning we were on the road again and by mid afternoon (without sat nav dramas) we’d arrived in Rivel to stay with friends Maggie and Martin. Tomorrow afternoon we drive to Seix to join in a celebration of the life of one of Susie’s friends who died earlier this year.