31 August 2017

Broxted

"The Prince of Wales" in Broxted
Before the flight to Carcassonne, Shirley and I stayed overnight in a rustic B&B in the Essex village of Broxted. It is just three miles from Stansted Airport and directly beneath the flight path for incoming aeroplanes. The noise of their engines interrupts conversation if you are talking outside.

We donned our walking boots and enjoyed a long, circular ramble that took in two ancient churches - Broxted's parish church - The Church of St Mary and the disused Church of St Mary in the tiny hamlet of Chickney.   Confusingly, they both have the same name. It was late afternoon, melding into the early evening and the end of a proper English summer's day.

There were brambles in the hedgerows and in the distance a combine harvester worked its way through a field of ripened wheat. We discovered that Broxted church has a special significance for our nation's three most famous former hostages - Terry Waite, Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. They were present to witness the unveiling of two modern stained glass windows which are known as The Hostage Windows. For a long time McCarthy lived next to the church.

It was nice to find the other church - the Chickney church open to visitors. Services haven't happened there for many years and the wooden pews were coated with a film of dust. I observed two Saxon windows that proved the main part of the building dates back over one thousand years - to distant times before the Norman Conquest. It was very atmospheric.

After our ramble, we went for dinner in the nearby "Prince of Wales" pub. Homemade steak and mushroom pie with fresh vegetables, mashed potato and gravy - all washed down with Black Sheep bitter.
Our B&B room in Broxted
On Saturday morning we had breakfast round the kitchen table in Church Hall Farm. It was a very quirky room with oak beams and a character that had evolved through the years. We were joined by a young couple from Luxembourg who were over in England to watch a motorcycle grand prix at Silverstone.

After breakfast, we packed up ready for our short drive to Stansted and the flight to France but perhaps more of that tomorrow... 
Two fingered gesture from a passing car.
One of The Hostage Windows in Broxted's parish church
St Mary's, Chicney. Now disused.
You can see a plane descending upon Stansted Airport.

30 August 2017

Hello

Cattle above Ax-les-Thermes
Hello. Do you remember me?

We got back from France last evening and zoomed northwards in time for the quiz at "The Hammer and Pincers". By the way, with my chum Mick we won one of the three monetary prizes. It helps to know that Florence Nightingale planned her funeral fifty three years in advance of it.

France was hot when we left it - well maybe not all of France but certainly the L'Ariege area west of Carcassonne. The late summer landscape was  baking and fields of ripening sunflowers hung their weary heads awaiting the impending harvest.
The Cité de Carcassonne
We had three lovely days there. It was good to catch up with my brother Robin and his long time girlfriend Suzy. Each evening, as darkness was descending, we enjoyed simple, rustic meals on the terrace - talking, laughing and drinking French wine until tiredness arrived and our beds beckoned.

I didn't look at a screen once while I was there - no TV and no internet. It was a pleasure to be out of this addictive loop. Instead, I swam in the pool and we drove out to Ax-les-Thermes, Foix, Mirepoix and upon request back to Carcassonne to wander around the walled and medieval "Cité" that has figured in various films and is certainly a wonder to behold.
Sunrise over Floc
For our son Ian and Frances's boyfriend Stewart, it was the first time they had been to Robin's place. They both loved it and appreciated their Gallic break on the doorstep of the Pyrenees. I asked Robin if he would take Stew out for a ride on his biggest motorcycle - a shiny Honda beast with more power than your average small car. It was better than the scariest fairground ride and better still - Stew lived to tell the tale.
Frenchman in Ax-les-Thermes
At the single pay kiosk by the closest petrol station to Carcassonne Airport, I was fumbling to provide the right amount of cash to pay for filling up the hire car. A woman got out of the car behind and angrily poured forth a tirade of French abuse. How dare I hold her up for thirty seconds? Of course I didn't understand a single words she was saying so I just ignored her and asked the kiosk attendant for a receipt. These days some hire companies have developed the nasty habit of asking for proof that renters have filled up with petrol. I hope that my abuser rots in hell.

Fortunately, she didn't sour the end of our long weekend. Vive La France!
By the river in Foix
In an antiques shop in Mirepoix
Robin and Suzy's place in the sun

25 August 2017

France

Yesterday afternoon's masterpiece
Later today, Shirley and I will be driving down to Essex. I have booked a night in a B&B near Stansted Airport. Then tomorrow lunchtime we will be flying to Carcassonne in southern France.

We will not be travelling alone. Accompanying us will be our son, daughter and daughter's boyfriend. We are all off to stay with my brother Robin and his girlfriend Suzy for three nights. They have a big property in the hills between Toulouse and Andorra. Any bloggers who have the bright idea of burgling our home while we are away are in for a big shock as I have installed various booby traps inspired by "Home Alone".  I advise you to stay away!

Of course it is possible that we will not get on the aeroplane. We are flying with the budget airline - Ryanair. This company is notorious for treating its passengers with contempt. Complying with all their regulations is like tackling an obstacle course designed to trip customers up. In Ryanair's philosophy, it seems the customer is always wrong and they are always right. They are especially pernickety about the size and weight of cabin bags and delight in nailing passengers whose bags don't fully comply with the rules.

I was going to take Robin and Suzy a vintage Sheffield-made cake slice but internet research led me to the conclusion that airport security might very well confiscate it. Instead, I have made a picture of their place and put it in a frame. After much patience, I managed to get through to  an airport customer service call centre. I was assured by a helpful fellow at the other end of the line that I wouldn't have a problem with the picture at security  even though there's glass in the frame. Let's hope he's right.

Allah willing, we'll be back home on Tuesday. In the meantime there'll be no more blogposts from me as internet connectivity at Robin's chateau is usually poor. Was it really July 2012 when I was last there?  Seems like hier.

24 August 2017

23 August 2017

Chef

Following advice from Meike in Germany and Lee in Queensland, Australia, I set about preparing the medium-sized courgette. First I cut it into fairly thick slices. Then I dipped them. First in plain flour I had seasoned in the green bowl. Then  into the egg mixture. Then over into the white bowl where I had some oven-dried white breadcrumbs
The courgette slices were then placed on an oven tray that I had brushed with olive oil...
 In the hot oven for forty minutes and the slices came out nice and crispy...
Then onto the plate along with new potatoes, buttered asparagus and three caramelised onion and pork sausages
It made for a very nice meal. The courgette slices were crunchy on the outside and rather creamy on the inside. It would be nice to play around with different levels of seasoning and herbs in the flour mixture. It's a question of balance . I think I got it right last evening. It would be easy to overdo or under do the seasoning element.

22 August 2017

Inequity

Our daughter Frances still owes the Student Loans Company £26,000. If she had been Scottish and had attended a Scottish university she would owe nothing, not one penny, zilch! This is patently unfair. Every month The Student Loans Company deduct money at source from her salary. She has paid off about £10,000 since she started her working career. A parallel Scottish graduate would have been able to use that money to buy a car, have a round the world holiday or build a deposit for a house purchase. As I say, it is damned unfair.

Anyway, back to Kirkcudbright the weekend before last. I am sitting in "The Steam Packet Inn" talking with my new best friend Jack. He is wearing a faded Glasgow Rangers football shirt and his accent is as thick as a bowl of Scottish porridge. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he had just turned sixty. He opens his wallet to proudly show off his free bus pass. In Scotland, men are still entitled to free bus travel when they reach the age of sixty. Jack was rather puzzled when I told him that I am sixty three and won't be entitled to a free bus pass till I'm sixty five. England v Scotland - there's another blatant injustice.

On the morning of Monday the 14th, I met my camper van friend Jimmy again by the drizzly wharf, overlooking the River Dee close to where his vehicle had been parked up for the night. I extolled the virtues of a town that has no double yellow lines, no parking ticket machines and no parking enforcement officers.

I said to Jimmy, "I hope it stays this way and that Kirkcudbright council don't get greedy and start to squeeze parking charges from motorists."

"Nae chance of that," smiled Jimmy, "as long as England keeps subsidising Scotland!"

That made me laugh somewhat ironically..

"I wish they's subsidise Yorkshire in the same way!" I said.
_____________________________________________________________________

By the way - here's a little known fact. Using our ancient county boundary line, the population of Yorkshire is bigger than the population of Scotland and yet our county has been denied so many of the benefits that have headed Scotland's way. Here's one symbolic example - The Scottish parliament building which opened in Edinburgh in 2004 cost £414 million to build and currently costs  £72 million a year to run. There is no parallel building in Yorkshire. Jimmy was surely right about subsidisation. 

21 August 2017

Courgettes

Let me begin with some clarification. Americans and indeed some other societies have a different name for the humble courgette. They call it zucchini.

Earlier on this year, I planted five courgette plants up in our vegetable plot. As usual, these plants are thriving. For some reason they appear to like our soil. I might not have much luck with carrots and certain potato varieties but I don't have to try with courgettes.

Ideally you want to pick courgettes when they are young, like this little fellow:-

Apart from anything else, such picking allows new plants to fruit. When young courgettes, can be used in various dishes as I am sure the culinary gurus who visit this blog will agree.

When growing courgettes, you should watch out because in the height of the growing season a small courgette can easily grow too big, like this handsome chap:-

At this size the courgette is still useful in the kitchen though the skin will be less tender.

Because of unsettled weather and a couple of trips away, I somehow missed the following monster courgette, growing under the foliage. I shall call him Led Zeppelin. He weighs as much as a cannonball.Apart from firing him into next door's garden, I wonder what else I could do with him. Any suggestions?

19 August 2017

Fourteenth

Regarding Monday August 14th...

As expected, Monday morning was grey and wet but I didn't mind as I was driving home. I paid one last visit to Kirkcudbright where I bought Shirley some heather soap from the Scottish tourism shop and paid a visit to The Harbour Gallery to see the fine art exhibition - an eclectic collection of pictures of Galloway. It was certainly worth the detour.

Then I was back on the A75 heading east towards Gretna then south upon the M6 into England. To my surprise the weather was clearing. At Penrith, I stopped to look at my road atlas. It gave enough detail to guide me to "The Tan Hill Inn" which sits on the moors north of Swaledale close to the ancient border between Yorkshire and Westmorland (now Cumbria).
Entering Barras
Above Barras looking west
I left the A66 at Brough and very soon Clint took me along single track roads towards the moors. The last settlement I passed through was Barras - a strung out  agricultural community. And then it was up onto the wild moorland. I had six miles to go to "The Tan Hill Inn", the highest pub on the island of Britain.
Two views of "The Tan Hill Inn"

It's wonderful that this remote pub soldiers on. It was built during the lead mining boom of the eighteenth century. The lad miners have been replaced by day visitors like me and passing hikers on The Pennine Way long distance footpath. It's somewhere I have wanted to visit for years.

Inside nearly all of the tables were occupied but there was a little copper table in the corner for Sad Sack. I had a cheese and tomato roll and a coffee and as I prised open the double glazed window for some fresh air I thought of Ted Moult and an old TV commercial for double glazing that was set in this pub - "Fit the best, fit Everest". 
 In Arkengarthdale

The drive down to Arkengarthdale and Swaledale was breathtaking. So many wonderful sights. I could have easily spent a week exploring the area but I was just passing through. In "The Tan Hill Inn" I had hatched a plan to visit The Weaver of Grass near Bellerby. Of course I didn't know if she would be in or not. I would simply chance it.

I went into the village stores in Reeth to purchase a tin of salmon. Some women like flowers or chocolates or perfume but I guessed that Pat would prefer salmon  as she is addicted to it. I walked up the driveway to the back door where a message invited me to go inside to the inner door but unfortunately the back door was locked and I couldn't see her new car in the now deserted farmyard.

Peering in through the side windows, I could see several sealed cardboard boxes. She has often referred to them in her blog as she prepares to move down the road into the little market town of Leyburn. However, it was a surprise to see so many posters of  Jim Reeves and Val Doonican plastered on the walls. I guess The Weaver is a big fan.

Then I commanded Clint to whisk me back to Sheffield. It had been a super weekend. A lovely adventure. So many glorious sights and well worth waiting for that good weather slot. Finally, here's a bull with two girlfriends seen above Ross Bay on the coast of Galloway:-

17 August 2017

Thirteenth

Regarding Sunday, August 13th....

In the B&B, I came downstairs to a delightful fried breakfast followed by a freshly prepared fruit salad. The woman who runs the place is an artist. Her pictures are displayed on most of the walls. Her black Labrador drooled as I ate my last chunk of sausage. She wasn't getting any of it.

The morning was glorious and soon I set off for Sandgreen along a quiet lane. Checking my Ordnance Survey map, I stopped occasionally to take pictures such as the following:-
But very soon I reached Sandgreen where I looked out over Airds Bay:-
From there I backtracked - this time heading to Knockbrex and Carrick. The tide was out so I donned my walking boots and set off over the tidal flats to uninhabited Ardwall Isle. The ruins of a chapel were marked on the map but I couldn't find them. I think they were hidden by undergrowth. I walked to the west of the little island and looked north to Murray's Isles:-
To the west of  Knockbrex Hoiuse I had noticed some strange pillars protruding from the rocks. In past times, they guided boats into the estate's little harbour. With difficulty, I made my way along the rocky foreshore to photograph them:-
Back in Clint, I travelled eastwards towards Borgue where I attended the village's summer fair and won two bottles of beer. I also had a pint of: bitter shandy in The Borgue Hotel:-
My next destination was Ross. It's a hamlet near the entrance to Kirkcudbright Bay. I had spotted it when studying my map back in Sheffield. I wanted to walk round the little peninsula south of Ross Bay to see the island of Little Ross with its lighthouse, beacon and harbour house. It is currently up for sale and the starting price is just £350,000 though bidding may well push it up to the region of half a million or more.

On the foreshore I noticed an old caravan with a large Scottish flag fluttering over it.  By chance I met its occupants - Tommy and Margaret from Glasgow. Both in their seventies, they had been visiting their caravan (American: trailer) for over thirty years. Margaret was about to go swimming in the bay. We spoke about happiness, Brexit and Little Ross and Tommy explained how to circumnavigate the peninsula:-
The island of Little Ross
Black and white sheep on the slopes of Meikel Ross
By the end of this little walk  it was almost five o' clock. I headed up the western side of Kirkcudbright Bay, stopping only to spend ten minutes at Dhoon Bay:-
Then Clint and I drove on - back To Kirkcudbright. I was thirsty and quite hungry. I went into "The Steam Packet Inn" for a pint of Deuchar's bitter. There I met a local man called Jack. He had worked as a fencer for forty years - not waving swords, but building fences. He showed me his free bus pass which he had collected the day after his sixtieth birthday the previous week. He seemed confused that I, as a sixty three year old Englishman, am still not entitled to a senior citizen's bus pass. There are different rules in Scotland and some of them seem most unfair.

I enjoyed a tasty fish and chip supper in the nearby "Polarbites" fish and chip restaurant and afterwards spent an hour chattering with a couple of seniors who are touring southern Scotland in their new camper van. They even invited me inside to show off the interior of their vehicle.

I didn't make it back to the B&B till ten thirty. There was a note on the door asking me to lock up. Behind the kitchen door the malodorous black Labrador woofed a greeting as I mounted the stairs to watch football highlights on the little TV set in my room. It had been another wonderful day, exactly thirty three years since our lovely son Ian was born.

16 August 2017

Twelfth

Regarding  Saturday, August 12th....

Last Friday night, I reached The Cumbria Park Hotel in Carlisle exactly three hours after setting off from Sheffield. After a hearty breakfast, I had a little stroll round the neighbourhood and took a photograph of  a nearby pub - "The Crown" where I had enjoyed a couple of late pints. Back in the hotel car park I noticed a statue with an adjacent sign. It seems that I was standing on the site of one of the largest Roman forts that was built along the course of Hadrian's Wall during the first century BC -  Uxelodunum.
Then Clint took me back to the M6 motorway and into Scotland. I turned left just past Gretna Green and drove along the A75  under grey skies towards Dumfries. As Clint's windcreen wipers swished away the rain I was cursing the BBC weather service. Had they got the weekend wrong?  It was the promising weather forecast that had spurred me into action. However, by the time I got to Phoenix Dumfries the grey was giving way to the blue.

I headed south onto what I shall call The Desnes Ioan Peninsula as that was the medieval name for this secret corner of Scotland. You might also say that I was travelling along the East Stewartry Coast. The weather was improving all the time and I made several stops along the winding road taking several diversions and snapping lots of pictures. The roads were quiet and the sun was shining. 

One of my first stops was in New Abbey where you will find the ruins of the pleasantly named Sweetheart Abbey. It was founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in  memory of her recently departed husband. After his death,  Dervorguilla apparently carried his embalmed heart everywhere she went - in a casket made from silver and ivory. I wonder why this practice isn't followed in modern times. It shows true love. She was even buried with said heart.
Sweetheart Abbey rising above the houses in New Abbey
The John Gray scarecrow in New Abbey
Down the coast, I took a detour to the village Carsethorn which was once a medieval port. There's a pub there, a telephone box and a few houses that look out over The Solway Firth. At low tide, the waters recede significantly leaving sand banks, mud flats and occasional quicksands. It's paradise for seabirds and waders but challenging for sailors and watersports enthusiasts.
Tidal flats at Carsethorn
And then I travelled on to the hamlet of Overton. At the junction with the main road there's a quirky bus shelter which local children have vandalised decorated while waiting to travel to school in Dumfries:-
Onwards to Southerness with its lighthouse. Close by there's a holiday site with static caravans, a pub, an amusement arcade and a fish and chip shop. I ate golden chips from a polystyrene container and drank tea from a cardboard container before visiting the "table top sale" in the pub. Most of the stuff displayed belonged in a rubbish bin so I didn't stay long.
Southerness Lighthouse
This blogpost could easily stretch as long as as a roll of toilet paper but I'm trying to reduce it down to a few sheets. After Southerness, I headed west through Caulkerbush and Heughs of Laggan to Sandyhills Bay and  Portling. Images from these places are shown below:-
At Sandyhiills Bay
Portling House enjoys magnificent views across The Solway Firth
Clint and I then travelled inland to Dalbeattie but we didn't stop there. We cut south into what was now the old county of Kirkcudbrightshire. I was conscious of the time as I travelled around the next peninsula, arching round towards to the county town but I made a few more stops. For example:-
Orchardton Tower
The ruins of  Dundrennan Abbey
Even though I hadn't travelled far and had taken my time over the journey from Dumfries I realised that I had missed so much along the way. For example, I didn't even drive into Rockcliffe and as I say I missed Dalbeattie entirely. But it was now late afternoon and I had to press on to Kirkcudbright - my Shangri La, my San Francisco - the place I had been dreaming of for several weeks.
A view of Kirkcudbright from Toll Booth House
 Finally, I made it there - Kirkcudbright - "the artists' town" and joy upon joy there were no double yellow lines, no parking machines in the car park and no parking enforcement officers strolling around like stormtroopers. It was indeed a modern day Nirvana. I treated myself to a pint of shandy in The Kirkcudbright Bay Hotel and then strolled around the little town for a while before heading to my B&B accommodation in the hamlet of Girthon. 
Church ruin by Kirk House in Girthon
I was staying in Kirk House by the ruined church. After an hour's rest, I headed into the old mill town Gatehouse of Fleet for more exploration and my evening meal which was ordered in a busy pub called "The Masonic Arms" - just off the high street.
A window  in Gatehouse of Fleet
It had been a wonderful day. So many lovely sights. I was already looking forward to Sunday August 13th which will be the subject of my next blogpost.