Writers’ Block – err no!

It’s  a poor excuse to say I’ve been busy, but I suppose I have been busy squeezing in trips to Naples, Santorini and Nice to finish off my 2015 year of travel. Naples was great, Santorini and Nice were outstanding.

So – I’m just throwing this little blog out there in an attempt to get back on track again.

My campervan road trip finished with me and Phoebe in one piece having done 4004 miles ( it might have been 4003 but I’m a bit OCD and probably popped up to Lark Lane to add the extra mile).

I need to do a post about some of the people I came across on the French trip – Thomas, Andy, the ‘Probins’, the hitch hikers and there’s the little matter of two boss weddings, but I’ll leave that for now and just zip to the last 48 hours of the trip.

Who would have known that Dartmore jail has a sort of ‘Visitor Centre’? They call it a ‘museum’ but trust me it’s just as much a Visitors’ Centre as a ‘museum’. As is my wont, I was taking the scenic route, this time from St Ives (thank you Iain and Emma – more of you later) to Liverpool. I headed over Dartmoor on the B Road. Who could possibly resist a B road over Dartmoor?

To anyone who remember the Krays, the Great Train Robbery, the travesty/tragedy of the ’64 FA Cup Final, indeed the 60’s in general, ‘Dartmoor’ is synonymous with the ‘glamour’ period of British crime. A time when you knew where you were with yer criminal. Hard men, working class ‘bad uns’ specialising in  cockney accents and facial twitches. Not like today’s, sinister, anonymous, cyber-savvy, oiling the the wheels of international terrorism lot who, quite frankly, lack the moral fibre of yer villain of the 50s and 60s. Mind you, the £14m Hatton Garden burglary  – or ‘heist’ as the popular press insist – does represent something of a return to the ‘good old days of crime’.

Can I just say at this point I’m probably talking sociological bollocks. Can I also add that if it were the 1970s and I was Frankie Howerd, I could with some justification protest ‘But, some people like my bollocks’ but that would be an outrageous double-entendre that even Frankie Howerd wouldn’t attempt unless times were really hard…… Sorry.

Where was I? Oh yes – Dartmoor ‘museum’.  Hmm. I’m not sure. The history was interesting. The garden benches produced by the prisoners were excellent – indeed I may try and remember to buy one. But it felt a a bit wrong to be across the road from people who, for whatever reason, are incarcerated and probably not too happy with how their life had panned out while we visited ‘their’ museum? Also, I just felt there was a bit too much of the Mr McKay (‘Porridge’ – 1970s BBC..well worth Googling) about the man who checked me in and gave me a sideways look when he noted I was from Liverpool. You had to say where you were from for the visitor stats.  I do not go around saying ‘Arr eh, calm down, calm down’ and I do not possess a Liverpool accent.

Despite my qualms about the ethics of the place – it was genuinely interesting and the prisoners’ woodwork is superb. The garden gnomes produced by the inmates were not superb and I did wonder if they were just having a bit of a laugh and taking the michael.

Anyway – the major point of this post is really to say how beautiful and perfect was my final resting place that night. The last night of my 7 week road trip.

I headed for the Forest of Dean, as you do when you’re taking the scenic route from Cornwall to Liverpool, and after a very interesting two hours I spent gatecrashing the Asha Centre – http://www.ashacentre.org

a beautiful place of gardens, meditation areas and generally gorgeous gardens I needed somewhere to sleep that night;  my final night of the 7 week trip.

There is a God; karma exists.

I was in Ross on Wye. It was 9pm. In the gathering gloom I rang a small campsite. Yes – the nice lady said I could camp there in the field behind her bungalow where there was only a few visiting, travelling people camping.

50 yards from the house was a pub – The Crown Inn, Lea.  In the pub was a newly opened Indian restaurant/kitchen an off- shoot of an award winning Indian restaurant from Cardiff. I’m sorry, but it was bliss, heaven. My trip ended with a superb Indian meal and lager and chat with the lovely restauranteurs and the locals. It felt so good to be home. So ‘English’ to be having an Indian meal, in an English pub on the edge of  Wales.

http://www.spicerouterestaurant.co.uk

It felt perfect. The circle was squared. The following day up the A49 through Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, back to Liverpool in the gentle rain of an English summer; I was home. It felt good.

 

 

 

 

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To the end of the road……999 miles

The idea of blogging as I go has certainly not been a success! I’m writing now in late September having been back home in Liverpool since August 19th. So – I’m going to try and close this particular post with something of a very brief resume of the remainder of the trip. Since getting home, I’ve had 4 days in Naples and tomorrow I’m off to Santorini for a week. However, back to France.

After leaving the Dordogne and heading for Carcassonne in the spirit of 69, we stayed for three days by the lovely River Aveyron in the dept of Tarn et Garonne. Highlights of this area would be St Cirq La Popie, Puycelsi and St. Antonin. This was followed by one night in Castres where we had stayed in 1969 before heading over the Montagnes Noirs to Caracassonne the final destination of the 1969 trip. At Carcassonne, we met up with Geoff – Margaret’s husband – who was flying in to rendezvous with us at Carcassonne airport. It was rather magical to be driving through idyllic, rolling hills 10 miles from the airport and see Geoff’s plane coming into land. Nice symmetry after nearly 1000 miles travelling.

Much of the rest of his post will be photos but please stick with it. A highlight of week two was without doubt meeting up with my exchange student, Dominique who Margaret had not seen since 1969 and I had only ‘found’ in 2007. Dominique’s visit to Preston was probably the inspiration for our trip to the South of France 46 years ago. Argh !!!!!

However, the circle was complete with us meeting up again.

Some photos:

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie
The River Averyon at St Antonin - Noble - Val
The River Averyon at St Antonin – Noble – Val
Puycelci
Puycelci
Margaret apparently 'laying down the law' :-) in Puycelci
Margaret apparently ‘laying down the law’ 🙂 in Puycelci
Albi cathedral. We were there in '69
Albi cathedral. We were there in ’69
Castres. I like Castres. Understated.
Castres. I like Castres. Understated.
Hurrah - we've made it! Caracassonne.
Hurrah – we’ve made it! Caracassonne.

Got to say, the 2015 trip was probably a lot more comfortable that the 1969 one in an Austin A40 and Preston Scout tent. Whatever, both were great and what a joy and privilege to have made both trips.

Well done Norman and Margaret!!!!  Please forgive that little bit of family backslapping.

Finally, thank you to Geoff, my brother in law who flew into Carcassonne to take this photo.

Margaret and Geoff. :-)
Margaret and Geoff.

Margaret and I arrived on July 13th. Really nice of the good people of Carcassonne to put on a spectacular firework display to welcome us.

July 13th - our arrival - Bastille Day
July 13th – our arrival – Bastille Day

 

Nearlyforgot!

Dominque and his wife Sylvette. Dominique I tracked down in Nimes in 2007, 38 years after he stayed with my family for 2 weeks in Preston on the Preston – Nimes  Twinning exchange. There was no escape for the man. I found him. It was great for us all to meet up.

Sylvette, Dominque, me, Margaret
Sylvette, Dominque, me, Margaret

Would you believe Dominique and I have the same ‘breed’ of Campervan. Come on – that’s pretty spooky/good/cool/ an example of synchronicity?

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A bientot Dominique.

1969 revisited – the remainder of the trip

Wednesday, July 8th

We leave Montreuill-Belay which is about 25 minutes south of Saumur in the Loire and head to Sarlat in the Dordogne. I really like the camp site we have just left and will defo keep it on my itinerary for future trips to the south.

Yesterday, at home in Liverpool – real time,  I was looking at a route to the south of Spain for some winter sun. Hmmm – not sure if I’m ready to join that gang yet. Not that I know ‘that gang’ but Malaga in January isn’t exactly the lotus-eaters is it? Younger readers may want to Google ‘The Lotus Eaters’, a TV series from 1972 set in Crete. The drama focused on a group of ex pats living on the island of Crete and living their life as ‘lotus eaters’. According to Greek mythology those who ate the fruit of the Lotus tree lost the desire to return home. They were basically living a pretty chilled life! I’m not sure I am a lotus eater, I think I quite like returning home. However, my memories of the series are that in a grey, 1970s Preston, I found the programme beguiling. The ‘Telegraph’ describe the Dvd (sold out) as ‘tantalisingly watchable’. I feel I have to add something of an editorial warning here to my love of the programme, I also quite liked ‘Elderado’ the Spanish-based soap opera which went our nightly on BBC1 in the 90s, but I certainly wasn’t beguiled by it.

The haunting theme tune of ‘The Lotus Eaters’  trailing from the windows of our terraced house on a Sunday night in Preston took me far away from Lancashire and probably also far away from doing some homework!

Perhaps I’ve always come to things late in life, but in four weeks time, I plan to visit my first ever Greek island – Santorini. I’ll let you know. First, I have this to write and a little trip to Naples to fit in.

Back to the plot – me, Margaret and ‘Phoebe’ heading south into increasing sunshine and warming temperatures. We’re heading to the excellent Les Mathevies camp site at Sainte-Nathalène which is about 20 minutes from Sarlat in the Dordogne but more of that later.

The route down to the Dordogne is beautiful and just gets better and better as you go. Although Ste-Nathalene was our final destination that day, first we were making a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane, the scene of a Nazi atrocity from June 1944 and today perhaps France’s most significant  national memorial.  One great thing about working in a school is your have on tap a ready source of knowledge. Computer issues see the IT dept; find out what the favourite books are of seriously  well read, processionals, ask an English teacher; want to know someone’s favourite number, ask a Maths teacher. Ho, ho. Sorry.

But a member of the History dept, Matthew, told me a few years ago that he and his girlfriend had visited this place near Limoges called Oradour-sur- Glane. His description of it and the impact it had had on him, was such that I resolved to definitely visit it one day. I have now been three times.

On the way to Oradour-sur-Glane, we stopped for coffee in the lovely village/commune of Availles-Limouzine.

Crossing the River Vienne at Availles-Limouzine

Crossing the River Vienne at Availles-Limouzine

 

Arriving at Oradour-sur-Glane

Souviens Toi - Remember!

On Saturday, June 10th 1944, six hundred and forty two men, women and children were slaughtered by SS Stormtroopers who were heading North to engage with Allied forces, this being 4 days after D Day. This mass murder was inflicted on especially innocent people – there having been no history of resistance by the Maquis (the French Resistance fighters) in Oradour-sur-Glane. There had been resistance in neighbouring areas but they were left alone thus heightening the terror of the mass killing in Oradour.  It goes without saying that this is one place perhaps we should visit, and the message ‘Souviens-Toi. Remember’ is as relevant today as ever.

 

The church where the women and children were murdered although two escaped and so we today know the story of what took place there.
The church where the women and children were murdered although two escaped and so we today know the story of what took place there.
The village has been left as it was found the day after the massacre.
The village has been left as it was found the day after the massacre.

What always strikes me when I have visited Oradour is that these magnificent, beautiful trees were there on that day. On my visit last year, the trees were shedding their leaves like tears. Those beautiful trees: a silent witness to the horrors of the day. As visitors you are asked to keep silence. It is a request that is entirely appropriate and held by all.

After a four hour visit, we move on and arrive at our resting place for the next two days: Camping Domaine de Mathevies at Sainte-Nathalène.

This magnificent place I discovered last year while ‘wandering about’ a bit on my own and I would highly recommend it to all.

http://www.mathevies.com/

The site features on  the front cover of ‘Cool Camping Europe’

Well done Les Mathevies

and by some stroke of luck/my inability to remember which pitches the co-owner Natalie said I could NOT have, we ended up being allowed to stay on the same pitch as the front cover above. Thank you Natalie and Patrick. It was Patrick who said we could. I suspect he was doing his bit for ‘Care in the Community’ looking after we mature travellers.

Good morning Dordogne.
Good morning Dordogne.

So there we are, settled on an excellent campsite with a magnificent view to wake up to.

Unashamedly I love my VW campervan. There is a definite pecking order of VW vans which I won’t go into here mainly because I’d need a handbook to really remember all the different models. I just love my van and the freedom it gives. However, VW owners do sometimes acknowledge each other and then model can become a factor in the interaction. About 50 yards from us at Les Mathevies, was a campervan, more or less the same as mine, but older. Mine’s a T5, my neighbour’s was a California. Californias are the real deal whereas mine is a bit of a hybrid – a conversion from a ‘proper’ van whereas the California left the German production line as a campervan. Californias have pedigree. However, mine is rather good looking and much younger than my neighbours, hence perhaps some sort of equality of respect was established between we two owners.

I do want one recurring theme to be returned to in my blog and that is an acknowledgement of ‘social norms’. Social norms are a defining and identifying feature of any culture and culture is fun! Okay – me and the California driver are English. We make no contact in the first 24 hours. While I certainly was not monitoring the movements of the California owner in any shape or form, I was aware of him passing, sometimes at impressive speed on his early morning runs. I mean there are hills here and the temperatures were always either in the 30s or heading that way.

His wife passed often with their young baby on their way to the showers, washing up area etc etc. I mistakenly thought my sister was quite a shy person – shows what I know – and it was not long before Margaret had made relaxed, chatting, passing contact with mum and baby. This is what happens on camp sites isn’t it? Perhaps I’m just not very good at it and will either spend a week avoiding eye contact or communication of any sort; or, go to the other extreme and start issuing invites to random strangers – okay, perhaps not at all random – to ‘come to Santorini with me!’

I don’t know who cracked first; me or California man. But with a certain English reserve we made contact. We connected. We came out. We had a campervan compatibility that cannot be denied.

‘Hi’. It was me who cracked first.

‘Hi’- Mr California.

Forget the minutiae of the conversation. The guy was a delightful young man, an IT/software consultant sort of thing. They live in the South East and have travelled widely in their van. Loads of places. Scandinavia; Holland; Spain; proper stuff and now they have a little baby and they were having their first trial trip in the van with a baby. The searing heat of this summer in France was difficult for the baby – Freddy – but all was going well.

I gingerly asked the guy a question – we didn’t exchange names. Our connection was a technical/travelling/camping one, not a strictly social interaction. The question:

‘Err, does your van have a name?

‘Of course’, Mr California man replied, ‘It’s Birgit’. He explained they had wanted a sturdy, German, reliable kind of name. However, Mr California’s van had in fact fused the entire camp site a couple of times before our arrival, so perhaps Birgit was being a little too sturdy and not quite reliable enough except for a certain consistency in blowing fuses. I explained that I had gone for the more esoteric ‘Phoebe’ – a name I remember fondly from my childhood being used for ‘sun’ by my farming family. Blimey – another connection – Greece comes to the Peak District ( where my relatives still farm). Mr California went on to defend the principle of naming your van and proudly announced that ‘Sally sat Nav’ approved as well.

Trust me – it was a good, genuine laugh. Two grown men – me more grown than he – acknowledging that  we were having a conversation  that would take a certain confidence to have. Basically, there is fun to be had in having a campervan. That may sound too obvious to be true.

Anyway – that was the end of the interaction with our near neighbours save that on the day we left we went to say goodbye and quite rightly it was left to Freddy to cement the brief camp site friendship and make chatting easy.

'Freddy'
‘Freddy’

Babies are great but I hope I’m man enough to admit that I was as interested in Birgit as I was in Freddy.

Freddy, Birgit and family.
Freddy, Birgit and family.

I went to say my goodbyes to Patrick and Natalie who are lovely, friendly, funny (amusing) people who own and run this great campsite. I mean, if it’s on the front cover of Cool Camping  Europe, you know it’s going to be okay!

Apart from being a great site for location, facilities, surrounding beauty, fabulous local craft beers etc etc, Patrick and Natalie bring an understated warmth to the experience of staying with them and their family. I hope to see you next year.

I wanted to add a photo to give the above a bit of body. Natalie was a slightly reluctant model for this photo. They were at work after all and it was late. Patrick, on the other hand, asked if he should take his top off. I explained my Blog was not one of those sites. 🙂

Natalie and Patrick
Natalie and Patrick

Thanks very much Patrick and Natalie for a great little visit. Hope to see you next year

Finally – Freddy’s mum and dad. I’m not sure you will be reading this because it all happened nearly 2 months ago, but if you are, all the best to you in your future travels. If you are reading, did I get your van name right? I wouldn’t want to offend and detail is important.  🙂

 

 

Bonjour La France – On est arrive

Bye Bye Poole

Tuesday July 7th we left Poole against a backdrop of drizzle and grey – a weather feature that was to stay locked over England for the next 40 days. I hate that kind of weather oneupmanship that I think we Brits, in particular, seem to trade in and possibly excel at. You know the sort of thing. You tell your mum that the weather has been awful where you live, in say Manchester and receive the reply: ‘Ooh – it’s been lovely here.’ But mum, you only live in Bolton! Your mum’s claim that Bolton possesses a magical micro climate does not stand up to close meterological analysis.

Some British holidaymakers (what a lovely 1950s, Enid Blyton term) get very niggly if while they are on holiday ‘abroad’, the sun is shining hard at home. Even worse if ‘home’ is getting better weather than them. I hate all that. Weather is weather. Live in the moment. Carpe diem. That reminds me; Buddhist meditation tonight. Hope I remember how to do it. It’s hard work this enlightenment business you know.

Back to climate issues, isn’t it Scandinavians who tell us that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing?  ‘Layers’ is the answer apparently according to my friend Danny who knows about these things although he’s not Scandinavian. He lives on the Wirral.

Got to admit to some hypocrisy here in that I do actually believe that Liverpool does have more than its fair share of sun – something to do with being on the coast? The rain from Ireland only decides to fall from the sky after Warrington? As I am writing today – 24/08/15 – ‘Mediterranean Merseyside’ is bathed in sunshine thus confirming my theory.

I digress. We’ll never get to Carcassonne at this rate. We’re still in Poole harbour and I have to say I am a bit pleased we are leaving in drizzle because I know we are heading to the sun. Come on Phoebe!

Bye Bye Poole
Bye Bye Poole

The crossing….easy peasy. Very quiet, this being out of school holidays. I spent 40 years working with children. I like children but I’m equally happy when they are in a large minority. Yes – it all was easy peasy, but just perhaps a little bit queasy? Okay; that was only me. Here is Margaret relaxing and perhaps ensuring we’re heading in the right direction. Margaret was to become navigator for next 7 days although I did not allow her to overrule ‘Sally Satnav’

Straight ahead driver, sorry Captain.
Straight ahead driver, sorry ‘Captain’.

Don’t you just love it when you leave the ferry and start to drive ‘abroad’. It’s exciting isn’t it. An adventure.

Very vaguely following our 1969 route which if you remember was head of for Brittany and turn left, we headed down the Cherbourg peninsula aiming for Saumur in the Loire valley. My love of always trying to take the ‘scenic route’ when driving is made a simple task in France where the majority of the roads are the ‘scenic route’. Contact me if you want specific directions, but essentially I took a straight line down ‘ordinary’ roads. For ‘ordinary’ read well maintained, serenely quiet and all rather beautiful.  An easy, stress free journey.

I say, stress free, but having done perhaps 550 miles in two days and only arriving in France in mid afternoon, it was good to reach our first night’s camping spot:
Town:  Montreuil – Bellay.  Campsite:  Camping Le Thouet       http://www.campinglethouet.com

I’d not booked but I’d stayed there last year. I like it. Quiet, by a river, approached through vineyards and all for just less than 20 Euros a night. What is there not to like? Well – my dear sister thought it was a bit basic but hey – come on Margaret –  spirit of 1969 and all that. Okay there were a few nettles perhaps and the grass wasn’t manicured but we were the only ones on this on the field and the evening sun gave a hint of the beautiful weather to come.

The 'basic' field.
The ‘basic’ field.

 

My 'basic' accommodation
My ‘basic’ accommodation
Margaret's less basic accommodation :-)
Margaret’s less basic accommodation 🙂

That’s about it boys and girls for Day 1 in France. I think we had some cheese, some pate, some baguette some wine in the setting sun. In 1969 I’m sure we would have had beans or something similar from my dad’s corner shop. As for 2015, ca marche bien.

STOP PRESS: Mediterranean Merseyside still bathed in sunshine. E mail received from our teacher, Jane. Buddhist meditation classes don’t restart until Sept 7th. Phew – two weeks to get back on the mindful track.

Runcorn to Rodez

Day 1 July 6th  2015

You know what it’s like with children. They can get ill on the day you’re about to travel.  The van – Phoebe – took ill the day before departure. The water pump packed up. Widnes Camping Caravanning Company to the rescue. Other camping and caravanning companies are no doubt available, but this lot were brilliant. A new water pump was fitted by 10am on the day we were setting off.

Campervan 'hospital'.
Campervan ‘hospital’.

Thank you very much Widnes Caravan Centre. An excellent service.

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We’re off !!

1969 – 2015. Hey, what’s 46 years between friends, or even family. Gulp!

015

I’m writing today in the idyllic Averyon valley looking back over the past couple of weeks or so.   The trip meter is reading 1300 miles – most of them completed in Runcorn on this first day. No – that’s unfair – but the name ‘The Runcorn Expressway’ on that day was truly an oxymoron. Most drivers took well over an hour to travel 2 miles on this route which ironically we were taking to avoid the busy M6. I managed to escape the queue but then spent 40 mins trying to get out of Runcorn  by another route. Eventually I admitted defeat and went back over the Runcorn bridge to Widnes and essentially we started again. I’ve lived in Liverpool since College days and so know the area well but Runcorn has had the capacity to defeat me and, this time my Sat Nav, for more than four decades.

Slightly geeky, route type information coming up now. Starting again,  we took the M62 to the M6, over the Thelwall Viaduct. We did not take the M6, known affectionally by some as the Cheshire/Staffordshire free car park, but went for the M56. Waving at the stationary Runcorn Expressway traffic as we past, we were now zooming down the M56 heading for Chester. Stopped at Services for a coffee. Great! It’s all going very well. Travelling for an hour and a half and we’re half way to Chester! A journey that at night might take 30 mins? It’s 1969 all over again. Let’s camp in Nuneaton? Perhaps not.

However, all was good. The sun began to shine and we headed south. M56 to Chester. Then, fast dual carriageway to Wrexham, Oswestry, Shrewsbury, Kidderminster, Worcester, a bit of M5 then swerve around Swindon ( much like the one and only Preston North End had done a few weeks previously at Wembley – see earlier post).  We were soon entering into the gilded South of England. Marlborough – beautiful, undulating fields of wheat, a clear blue sky and a definite spring in Phoebe’s step. Phoebe is my van, Margaret is my sister in case there was any confusion.

Okay – a confession about the Phoebe thing. I confess, yes –  I did name my van. I know that is a potentially high-risk strategy. It could mark you out as being a slightly soft, nerdy type – perfect! Since I’ve only got 4 followers to the blog though, I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue.

Where were we – oh yes – Marlborough. Marlborough. Kate Middleton. Marlborough School. I like Kate – well you know, she seems a nice girl. It’s not her fault she’s joined the ruling aristocracy and will one day be Queen. Oh – perhaps it is her fault. Anyway – good luck to you Kate and your family. You seem pretty normal to me and ‘normal’ is good. I was once at a conference at Oxford University where 95% of the delegates were from the Independent sector. The teacher from Marlborough College looked, well, amazing in his multi coloured blazer and matching tie but he could have come from another planet than the world most of us occupy.  I am not judging, just saying, we undoubtedly do live in two nations when it comes to some aspects of education.

Apologies for the above paragraph. It will probably be edited out, if the blog had an editor other than me.

We left Marlborough behind along with my silent musings and by early evening were in Poole eating superb fish and chips overlooking Poole Harbour. A beautiful setting sun and bathing in its warmth marked the end of a good day; a satisfying day’s travel; a lovely day.

Poole, Dorset.
Poole, Dorset.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Cherbourg. No camping tonight. We stayed the night at Margaret’s son’s house in Poole. Nice one Nick. :-).

A bientot encore mes amis. Feel free to comment or sign up to follow the blog.

🙂

1969 – 2015 Preston to Carcassonne – a roadtrip revisited

In July 1969 my sister and I set off from Preston to travel to Britanny in our dad’s Austin A40. We had had an exchange student from Nimes (Preston’s twin town) staying with us only a few weeks previously and on a bit a crazy whim and to allegedly help with my A Level French and Geography, we just basically set off with a borrowed largish, box-walled scout tent and a ridiculous amount of food from our parents shop and, I recall, a solid fuel stove – I think – and a kettle.

Margaret driving, me navigating we hit the road. If there is such a thing as intrepid but cautious travellers then perhaps that was us.

Night 1 –  Camped at Nuneaton! Nothing against Nuneaton but this was hardly blazing a trail. The M6 and M1 didn’t join up in those days but that is probably not an adequate excuse for only doing 120 miles on Day 1.

Night 2 – Camped at Dover. Two days and we hadn’t left the country!

Night 3 – Honfleur, Normandy. Honfleur, as you probably know, is a beautiful, picturesque fishing village. In 1969 it was probably even more quaint, unspoilt and perfect. I thought that all French towns were going to be the same!

I don’t think I had a clear idea what Brittany was going to be like but, similar to much of England this summer, it was raining so on Day 4 we basically turned left and headed south looking for sun. Rouen, Le Mans, Poitiers, Limoges. No motorways, truly empty roads. French roads are a delight today but in the late sixities, they were truly blissful although my memories of the them are all in black and white and accompanied by the smell of Disque Blue which I bought and smoked like a true wannabe student from the Spring of Paris ’68.

Today, I’m writing in France in July 2015.

Given secure internet connections and a fair wind, I’ll try to post a bit as I go but first a shot of Margaret on our 1969 trip. We were camped somewhere near Rodez, only about 60 miles from where I am today.

IMG_3044

A bientot.

🙂

The Leaving of Liverpool

In July 1969 my sister and I set off from Preston in an Austin A40 heading for France. Margaret was driving, I was ‘navigator’. I was studying A Level French and Geography. We set off for France for the language and the Central Massif for the Geography. Tomorrow we set off to recreate this road trip and are scheduled to arrive in Carcassonne on July 14th – ‘Bastille Day’.

Our transport this time is ‘Phoebe’ my VW T5 campervan.

Phoebe wants to look her best for the trip
Phoebe wants to look her best for the trip

But what are we leaving behind? A Liverpool that has been reborn since winning European Capital of Culture in 2008. As I write, the Liner Queen Mary 2 is leaving Liverpool bound for New York recreating the first transatlantic crossing 175 years ago. Today, Liverpool attracts visitors from around the world. In 1840 when those first Cunard transatlantic liners set sail for New York, Liverpool was undoubtedly the second city of the Empire and perhaps in this spirit, it just unashamedly ‘borrowed’ some of London’s landmarks. So, in Liverpool, we have Islington, Kensington, Pall Mall, the Strand, Wapping, Drury Lane. Are there more?

But, what of my local Sefton Park Liverpool?  There’s a fair bit of independent, quirky, self confidence lurking in this really pretty fab patch of South Liverpool. In my local bakery – Aigburth Bakery-  you’ll find a fair smattering of irony and a definite statement of intent which, let’s be honest, is refreshing in our brand-based, commercial world.

Free coffee with a newspaper
Free coffee with a newspaper

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Bit of irony and a free coffee but not with this newspaper. You okay with that?

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Today in Liverpool we see lots of this.

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This happened to be Hollyoaks. Drama?  Hmm……Perhaps?

I left the film makers to it and then bumped into two pirates watering their tomatoes on the allotment, as you do.

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http://bandb.liverpoolpiratebrethren.org.uk/ if you want to book a couple of great pirates. Allotments are a place of real, individual character. I always knew gardening was for me. If you’ve read previous posts you’ll know I’m the proud custodian of Lilo Lill’s shed (‘Carla Lane’s ‘Bread’) and I know Lilo Lill would have been proud to have Mycroft and mate as neighbours.

So – that’s something of what I’m leaving behind in Liverpool as we head off on Monday for the South of France. We’re heading into extreme temperatures 35+. However, the UK this week has seen our own record temperatures. My blog aims to be centred around social norms. Well – a bit of heat in Britain and we go rather crazy. Transport chaos, some frenzy from the press, and we are suddenly in melt down. I’m pleased to say that earlier in the week I bumped into Geoff, the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese pub in Frodsham  who was unashamedly embracing our Mediterranean weather.

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Well done Geoff, I say. Nice meeting you. Thank you for letting me take your photo and I’ll pop into your pub on the return trip from France.

Blogging from Buxton

Lovely place Buxton. A northern version of Bath.

‘Bath’ in its Regency architecture, spa baths and thriving Arts festival. ‘Northern’ in its capacity to snow in June and force cancellation of a county cricket match (June 1975).

Google Buxton and you’ll find great guides to all it has to offer. I popped into the small but perfect Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and found the ‘artistic temperament’ alive and well in the Visitors’ Comments section of one gallery.

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It’s good to see debate on the merit of Art is not just reserved for perhaps pretentious, London literati types but thrives here in North Derbyshire. Apologies to any of my London Literati friends. It’s just I liked the two Ls and did it for the ‘L’ of it. Alliteration lives.

On to Flash to watch a Teapot closing a major road blessed by the C of E with a dash of Paganism

With reference to the above, this Blogger does not use mind altering drugs, unless you count having a season ticket for Preston North End which, as we have already established, can lead regularly to emotions ranging from ecstasy to despair. (Editor’s note: it’s summer).
I don’t think you can get more eccentrically British than the sight of a giant teapot closing the A53 – one of the most dangerous roads in Britain. (Google it). The A53 skirts round Flash – the highest village in England a short way from Buxton. In 1846 long before the NHS, the good folk of Flash village formed a Friendly Society ‘The Loyal Flash Union’ which became known as the Tea Pot Club because the money was collected in a teapot. Appropriate perhaps in this area where Methodism thrived. Being a member bestowed benefits if you were ill or could not afford to pay for your funeral. Hard times which I trust our current Government will not take us back to.

Forget what I said about Methodism. The Teapot parade has been making its way to the Travellers’ Rest pub (now renamed ‘The Knight’s Table’  I have to ask why???)  for ‘refreshments’ for over a hundred years. It was from the pub that I saw the parade make its way down the A53 – temporarily closed by the police. A great sight.

A teapot, Bagpipes, two Church of England clergy quite rightly bestowing their blessing on this essentially philanthropic organisation. Well done Flash!

I still think there is something vaguely pagan about our two clergy. Perhaps this will rejuvenate the Church to discover its Druid roots. More of that another time perhaps. Here’s a few pics in case you thought I was making it up.

The Teapot!
The Teapot!
We love the Scots you know - seriously.
We love the Scots you know – seriously.
 Go C of E
Go C of E
Well done the Teapot Parade. Keep it up.
Well done the Teapot Parade. Keep it up.