Wild, Wet, Windy, Wonderful Wiltshire

Four days walking in Wiltshire, three different B & B’s, six of us who frequently walk together, coordinated and organised by Carol, our ‘Leader’.

It rained on the first day, exactly as forecast. I had my waterproof over-trousers with me (they are the most hated item of clothing I possess) but I couldn’t be bothered to put them on. So my legs were soaked. As was my rucksack. My feet were dry (new boots) but Barbara and Dave had leakages. We were a pretty sodden sight. Still, it was only eight miles and the rain eventually stopped. We went to Barbury castle, an iron-age hill fort, and ate our homemade cake.

Trudging in the rain

There were a few navigational issues and when we realised we had gone round in a complete circle, revisiting the sights we’d seen a few hours earlier, eight miles turned into twelve. Neville blamed himself and insisted on buying the wine at dinner. We were well lubricated by bed-time.

The following day, it was Avebury and Silbury Hill. We walked to the Long Barrow and went inside.

Silbury Hill

The sun shone for the Autumn Equinox. This attracts interesting people. One girl played her guitar and sang beautifully. As we left, she blew us kisses and said we were angels. She wished us a good trip. I think she and her friends were already on theirs.

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We passed a couple lying close and immobile on the grass and another girl cutting herbs outside her decrepit caravan. There was the sound of haunting music around the Avebury stones and peaceful people soaking up the energy. It was a good day.

Unfortunately, the landlord of our B & B for that night kept us waiting around an hour on his doorstep as he’d needed to shop for our dinner. This was worrying but the food was good even if the service was slow. Minor problem when Tony failed to notice the shower head in the bathroom filling his wash bag with water. Oh, well.

The following day was lovely. Good weather again, we walked to the white horse at Alton Barnes.

The Alton Barnes white horse

The dyke that separated the old counties of Mercia and Wessex centuries ago was still clearly visible. Rolling hills, easy going.

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The dyke separating Mercia from Wessex

‘I wonder if we can see Stonehenge from here,’ Carol said, as we gazed at the view.

‘Not if you look in that direction,’ said Tony. ‘It’s north from here.’

‘No it isn’t, it’s south.’

‘Bottle of champagne on that.’

‘You’re on.’

I asked Tony if he was sure. ‘Would I bet a bottle of champagne if I wasn’t?’

It’s comforting to know my husband’s super sense of direction occasionally lets him down. I don’t feel so bad about mine. He’s off to buy the bubbles.

Final day, and a walk around the Chutes. It was the sloe walk. That isn’t a spelling mistake. There were loads, an additional weight in the rucksacks but we look forward to tasting Barbara’s sloe gin at Christmas. It was meant to be a short, easy walk. Something went wrong again, we missed the path and ended up plodding uphill through a rough field with holes to grab the unwary foot. This brought us to a road but no gate or stile. Fortunately the wire fence was neither electric nor barbed. We clambered over it inelegantly, only one of us falling. No damage apart from wounded pride.

We’re looking forward to our next walk. Carol insists we’ll take the champagne with us. That’s bound to help the navigation.

 

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Peace and Love

A Tribute to the British Virgin Islands

Two years ago, some kind friends invited us to join them sailing in the Caribbean. I was expecting smart boats and cruise liners, friendly people, good seafood, clear turquoise sea and sunshine.  I got all this but what I wasn’t expecting to find was a throw-back to the late fifties/early sixties. Sydney’s Peace & Love Beach Bar and Restaurant was just that.

We moored our boat on a buoy in Little Harbour, Jost van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. Looking for somewhere interesting to have an evening drink, we took the dinghy to the nearby beach. Sydney’s was there – but, alas, not Sydney who died in 2010.

Memorial plaque to Sidney

His daughter, Strawberry, ran the place exactly as he did. When we asked for rum punches, she showed us the rum, the punch mixer, the ice and the plastic beakers. We served ourselves and simply told her how many we’d had before we left. Trust worked. The price was good – there were no bar staff to pay.

The pillars and rafters were painted white and covered with names, dates and messages from the hundreds of visitors over the years. Having no indelible pen, we had come unprepared to add ours, although finding space would have been a problem. The other decoration was T-shirts – all types and sizes, hanging everywhere.

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There was liberal use of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ symbol and hearts – Peace and Love. I was back in my youth.  We sat at plastic tables on plastic chairs which were anything but luxurious. But we got the atmosphere we wanted as the sun went down.

I wonder if it survived Irma? It was a shack on the beach. Somehow I doubt it.

A Donkey in the Drawing Room

Thirty years ago our son, Joe, had an exchange visit with a French lad, Paul. The boys kept in touch for around five years then communication lapsed, although I remained in Christmas card contact with Paul’s parents.

When Paul’s father died, I felt guilty we’d not been to see them for so long – there was a standing invitation to their family home near Grenoble. So we made the effort; there was a reunion this summer.

The large, almost-chateau they live in accommodated Joe, his wife, Vic, and their three boys, together with Tony and me with no problem. It has the dilapidated grandeur of a home that has been in the family for years, possibly centuries. Huge, elaborate pieces of furniture sit side-by-side with bits and pieces of the modern world.  It was a continual surprise to see if anything came out of the hot water tap. And the tangle of electrical wires would have sent Health and Safety into a panic. It all added to the charm.

Christine's home
Christine’s home
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…in its grandeur

Christine, Paul’s mother, offered us aperitifs in the large drawing room before lunch. French windows were open on two sides of the room but it was too hot to sit outdoors. The nose of a donkey peeped in. They have many animals among which are two donkeys, gentle, friendly beasts who like human company. Normally they remain in their paddock but when there are children around, they are allowed to wander up to the house, as entertainment. The boys were thrilled.

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The guilty donkey

After some delightful Sangria, we moved into the adjacent dining room. Christine was serving her homemade gazpacho when there was a horrendous crash. Paul went to investigate. He came back shrugging his shoulders as only the French can do and laughing. One of the donkeys had entered the drawing room, skidded on the polished wooden floor and fallen. Paul sorted out the problem. No-one seemed bothered. Vic could barely contain her hysterics. She whispered to me, ‘This is surreal!’

Much wine flowed with the main course, cheese and dessert (in that order, of course). There was no question of helping to clear up afterwards. The staff did that. We were expecting to wander around the estate after lunch – it is truly an estate, acres of it – but there was a surprise planned. Paul offered to take us up in his smaller plane (he has two). He gained his licence twenty-five years ago, the youngest pilot in France at the time, and has been flying ever since.

Paul’s plane

Tony and I went up with him first. My fears of air-sickness were happily unfounded as we did a twenty-minute tour of the area, passing low enough over the house to see the boys in the outdoor swimming pool. I saw one of them wave. Joe and Vic went up next, a trip to Alpe d’Huez where they stopped for a drink before returning. Both Tony and Joe had been allowed to take the controls for a while in the plane.

Such generosity! We’d all had a wonderful treat. Vic’s face was a picture of stunned amazement. She could not believe what was happening and the world she was in.

Paul invited us to aperitifs at the home he shares with his partner, Sandrine, before dinner back at Christine’s Domaine. It was another delightful place, an old family home and barn on land they owned, tastefully restored with a new swimming pool in a natural garden surrounded by mountains. It made the view from our garden in England pretty insignificant.

Eating dinner outside at a granite table in a perfect temperature finished the evening. We spoke in a mixture of French and English that worked well. My French started to disintegrate with the wine – champagne with the dessert finished it off. But we communicated and that was what mattered. Paul and Joe decided they must not lose touch again and were discussing Paul visiting later in the year. He would come by plane – his own, of course.

We left the following morning after breakfast, one of the dogs having stolen much of the brioche.  Christine said she hoped we would return again next year.

I expect we shall.

Ups and Downs

 Walking the northern part of the Cotswold Way.

Pam and Martyn; Tony and Linda.

June 2017.

 

We thought it would be relatively easy after the Coast-to-Coast walk. Around fifty miles on five days, no day longer than twelve or thirteen miles. Easy to be seduced by numbers.

None of the hills is as high as in the Lake District; there is no rocky clambering. But we went up and down a lot. All four of us noticed that.

We decided to travel to and from the walk by train and bus – it solved the parking problem – and ate a picnic lunch on the way there. Tony managed to lose a crown while munching. Not totally lose it – we wrapped it in cling film only slightly smeared with mayonnaise from the sandwiches to keep it safe. There must be a dentist somewhere along the Cotswold Way who could glue it back in.

While enjoying the fruits (or rather the cakes) of a coffee shop in Chipping Camden, we investigated dentists. After some googling, Tony booked an appointment in Winchcombe for two days hence.

While sorting out our rucksacks ready for the start of the walk, we had a major triumph. Our spare car keys, missing since April, turned up in a deep, zipped pocket. As they would have cost around £400 to replace, I announced at dinner we were now £400 better off! We didn’t, however, buy a bottle of best Bordeaux.

The start of the walk in Chipping Camden
The start of the walk in Chipping Camden

The pattern of the days established itself. Was there anywhere we could stop for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea? Pam was on the case and found us somewhere every day.  The walk started on June 8th – the election – and we saw folks going to the polls. The result gave us plenty to talk about the following day. When we had enough breath, that is. Martyn had been complaining about his balls. The balls of his feet, I should add. Changing to a different pair of boots did the trick and he was fine.

It was a shorter day and we felt good.  Luckily we got to the B & B in Winchcombe just before the torrential rain arrived. Our son, Tim, who lives near, picked us up and we had a lovely evening and dinner with him and Jessi. Idris, their one-year-old, had been sick that day but we said we’d risk it.

We were now a further £90 better off. The dentist’s receptionist had phoned to say the cost of replacing the crown would be £90. Tony was not in pain so he cancelled. His own dentist, who fixed the crown in the first place, would do the job for nothing. The money was mounting up!

We needed to order the following morning’s breakfast. I asked for a bacon sandwich.

‘What’s that?’ The landlady replied. ‘I’ve never made one.’

Not sure if this makes her posh or deprived. She made an attempt for me but I suggest she doesn’t try again.

The view from Cleeve Hill

It was Cleeve Hill the next day. Windy but what views over Cheltenham! There was a double marathon coming towards us – some runners doing it in one day, some in two. Had a coffee and chips at the Cleeve Hill Golf Club – very naughty! Felt we shouldn’t complain about tiredness after seeing marathon runners. Puts distances into perspective. Lovely stop overnight at Detmore House in Charlton Kings. It wins our award for the best B & B of the walk.

Encouragement – for the marathon runners!

Day four and a lot of ups and downs. A group of Charity walkers came towards us, totally shattered, having started at midnight and still with miles to go. Such admiration! The final climb up to Birdlip seemed to go on forever and I wasn’t feeling great. No details, but Idris’s bug got me. However, missing a meal always has its positive side if I lose a pound or two.

Final walking day – and I felt well enough to do it. It was the day of the mud. Rain, which we’d mostly missed, and the pounding of marathon runners’ feet had churned up the path making it hard going. We plodded on, the end in sight. We passed both the bottom and the top of Cooper’s Hill where the famous cheese rolling takes place. It’s steep!

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Cooper’s Hill Notice

Finally, pretty Painswick with its churchyard with ninety-nine yew trees. Legend says the hundredth will never grow.

Yew trees in Painswick churchyard

We thanked Martyn for carrying the unused trowel the whole way (if you’re caught short, you have to bury it…) Celebrated our achievement with a bottle of bubbles – only Prosecco, in spite of the financial gains of the last few days!

A super walk – now planning the southern part …

 

 

The Challenges of Iceland

‘Is this the bus to Hotel T10?’

‘No. This bus goes to Hafnafjörður Hotel. Get on it.’

‘So this is the right bus for Hotel T10?’

‘If I take your luggage and tell you to get on the bus, you get on the bus.’

This was our somewhat curt introduction to Rekjavik, Iceland. We rode to the unpronounceable hotel. No-one seemed to know where our bland-sounding hotel was. Turned out you could see it if you looked the right way.

It was a block. T10 was written in huge letters on its side. Fortunately, it was more attractive inside. It would do for the three days we had in the country. We wandered out to find somewhere to eat. There was little choice. We were in the suburbs, a bleak, flat area with no trees and no style. A Taco-style bar fed our needs.

Back in the hotel, we abandoned the television as it had three channels only, one in Icelandic, one in German and a cartoon channel. Perhaps we were in a black spot for reception.

Our plans for an early trip into Reykjavik the following day were hampered by it being Sunday. The first bus wasn’t until nearly 10am so we wandered around in the cold by the bus-stop. It would have been useful to have a bus timetable provided, to know in advance no change is given on buses and that there was a 50% reduction for seniors. A kindly American staying at our hotel paid for us and we reimbursed him later. An expensive ride otherwise.

Rekjavik was another, better world. A mixture of old and new buildings, trees, green areas and a decidedly more pleasant environment. We loved it. The modern, plain cathedral was beautiful and the Concert Hall a joy. Our guide, an opera singer, sang us an old Icelandic song in one of the corners just to show how good the acoustics were.

The Cathedral
The Cathedral
The magnificent Concert Hall
The magnificent Concert Hall

We had lunch in an excellent local restaurant called ‘Fish’. No prizes for guessing what we ate.

'Fish' restaurant

In the evening, we went on a Northern Lights Mystery Tour. The mystery was whether or not we’d see the Northern Lights. We set off in the rain with little hope. But we saw them – at around 1am. However, numerous people set up tripods and eagerly photographed moving clouds before the real thing appeared. (We were a bit smug as we’d seen the Lights before, in northern Norway!) It was a good display, worthy of the whoops of joy it generated and the extremely late night.

The following day, it really was Iceland. There was no snow in the hotel area but there was sheet ice. Crampons would have been useful to walk the short distance to the bus. I had visions of discovering how good A & E was in the local hospital. We were heading for a round trip to see some of the sights.

First we went to Pingvellir where the North American and European tectonic plates are separating at the Continental Divide. Serious geology! It’s also where the Declaration of Independence from Denmark was signed in 1944, an important place for the Icelandic. On to the waterfall, Gullfoss, where there was snow, ice and extreme wind. Staying upright was a challenge. Oh, for the crampons!

Gullfoss
Gullfoss

And then to the Geysir area. Steam was rising from the ground all around us. The original Geysir was not erupting but Strokkur spouts around every eight minutes, a cascade of warm water and small stones.  Impressive.

Strokkur erupting
Strokkur erupting

Luckily everyone speaks English. Icelandic is an odd Nordic language. It’s complicated and has its own rules, pronunciation, grammar – and a few additional letters. I hoped to understand a little as I speak Norwegian (badly), but apart from a few words I was lost.

It was a short, enjoyable Travel Zoo trip. Just a taster. A good way to get a feel for the country, an expensive place with friendly people (in spite of our initial impression!) I’d love to see more.

Lost in Padua

Getting lost is one of my skills. I’ve been practising it again.

We decided to go to Verona, Padua and Mantua, spending a few days in each, a break from a long period skiing in the French Alps. A couple of days before leaving, we discovered our Satnav doesn’t cover Italy. We also realised we’d left our map of Italy back in England. Never mind, Tony had printed off a mountain of instructions.

Verona, first on our trip, was okay. Well, it was more than okay, it was wonderful but from the navigation side of things, it was fine. We stayed in a central B & B and all we needed was a town plan which was easy to buy. A proper map of Italy appeared to be something no-one stocked.  So we decided we’d manage with common sense and Google maps. A mistake.

Three days later we set off to Padua. We were staying in the Euganean hills, at a vineyard called le Volpi (the Foxes). It looked idyllic and promised wine tastings. They were not expecting us until around five o’clock so we decided to have a look around the town centre. At this point we didn’t have a town plan and after several circuits of progressively narrower roads and two traffic violations (going the wrong way down a one-way street and then driving in a bus and taxi lane, neither a good idea), we headed back out of town. We found a car park, too far away to be of any use, and stopped to think.

An elderly gentleman was walking by and Tony asked him about parking. He spoke no English but we got the message across. After much arm waving and instructions to go left and then right and then straight on and then left, it became clear this wasn’t working.  The old man’s face brightened. He said he would come with us (my rusty Italian was good enough to understand that) and eagerly got into the front seat of the car. He took us with no problem to a convenient multi-storey carpark, shook our hands, wished us a good holiday and trotted off. I have no idea if he needed to be in the middle of Padua or not. The kindness of strangers!

Busy, beautiful Padua
Busy, beautiful Padua

At around half past four, we set off for the hills.

‘You’re navigating,’ Tony said. Words that fill me with terror.

It was going well until we reached the limit of our town plan. All I had then were Tony’s printed instructions which worked until we missed a turning. We knew we’d gone wrong but thought Google maps would help. They usually do but I think there was an element of operator error. (I was the operator.) A passing lady tried to help and we called in at a garage for advice. Neither got us on the right road. We phoned le Volpi and said we’d be late.  Five phone calls later, many verbal instructions and a degree of shame at how far we’d strayed from the right route, we arrived. The roads were winding and narrow. It was close to seven o’clock and dark. But our host was most welcoming and said it didn’t matter if we arrived late at the restaurant they’d booked for us. It was down narrower and even more winding roads. They were precise in the instructions they gave us to get there.

 

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Le Volpi vineyard

The following day we discovered the correct, far quicker route. When we moved on to Mantua, the navigation was again easy as we stayed in the centre of town.

Tony is looking into an updated Satnav.

 

A Right Knees-Up

Eight.

That’s the number of knee injuries I’ve had while skiing. You might say my knees are my Achilles’ heel.

It started back in the eighties in Norway, where we lived and learned to ski. I managed to remain injury-free in our first ski season in spite of various mishaps, such as falling off a drag lift and getting stranded on a closed black slope. I was less lucky in the second winter. I fell and twisted my knee. Nothing dramatic and, with difficulty, I skied down to the bottom of the slope. By the time we’d driven the four hours home, I couldn’t walk. A visit to the Medical Centre resulted in large amounts of fluid being drained from my balloon-like joint. When I asked what I’d done, I was told, ‘You fell and twisted your knee.’ Not much info there, then.

Later that season, we went to Voss on the west coast of Norway. My knee had recovered by this time and so had my confidence. We were racing down a series of rollers on a lovely piste, going straight from higher and higher up, no turning, taking off as we sailed over the bumps. Braver and braver; more and more foolhardy. I crashed. Both skis came off so I avoided any more twists but I landed on a knee.

‘Mummy, your face is bleeding!’

‘It’s my knee.’

‘But your face is bleeding!

Three anxious children stood around me. Sod my face, I thought, knowing something more serious had happened. The blood wagon arrived and ferried me down the mountain. It’s not a pleasant experience. Apart from the snow that’s thrown at you and the feeling you’ll fall out at every bend, people peer in to see if you’re still breathing.

I ended up spending two nights in hospital with a broken tibia. Voss is in the area where they speak ‘Ny norsk’ – ‘New Norwegian’. It’s different from the standard Norwegian I’d learned. But I struggled through – and even learned the word for a bedpan!

We returned to Oslo. Our house was up a steep winding path, a challenge on crutches in the snow. I remember hiding in the house, crying from sheer frustration, to be found by our youngest, Tim, aged seven. He was distraught; Mummies don’t cry.

Later on, I had a series of mishaps on ski slopes in France. As ‘camp-followers’ when Tim was ski racing, we skied in many resorts. There was the time one of the racers needed his rucksack at the start of the race and had left it behind. I offered to get it. Rushing along the narrow path to the start gate, I skied over the edge. As I fell and banged my knee, I remember shouting to my rescuer, ‘Get this rucksack to the start straight away!’

Then there was the time we attempted a steep, unprepared slope because the snow looked so good. I’ve never learned to ski powder properly and I certainly made a mess of this attempt. A twisting fall at slow speed, the worst sort; another ligament injury. And I know there was another twisted knee around the same time which kept me from the slopes, but my mind has blocked out the details!

I had a few undamaged years when my knees behaved themselves. But they are out to get me whenever they can. I was skiing alongside the piste in Couchevel, having yet another attempt at powder when I fell. Unharmed, I tried to pull my buried ski out of the snow. Click! I felt and heard my knee go. Another blood wagon ride, no more pleasant than the first time. More crutches. Ruptured ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). At least this time I found out what I’d done. I recovered quickly and skied again the same season.

I knew by now I had dodgy knees. If, in the course of normal activity, I twisted the right one, something moved in it and I had to click it back into place. Painful for me and anyone watching. And it could happen at any time. Then it happened while skiing. I didn’t even fall. My knee would not click back. Here we go again. Another blood wagon ride. This time a broken cartilage which required an operation to remove it. I asked the surgeon if I’d ski again.

‘You’ll ski again if you want to,’ he said.

Of course I did. The operated knee was great, the stronger of the two.

I’m writing this with an ice-pack on my other knee. A stupid fall getting off a chair lift where I lost all grip. Maybe I skied over someone’s ski tails, who knows. Anyway, that put paid to my other ACL. I can still ski using a knee brace.

I’ve got fairly empty knees now. Four injuries per knee. It’s amazing what you can manage without. But it has taught me a little caution as there must be a limit!