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New Scotland, Canada, and Cape Breton’s 21st Celtic Colours

14 Oct

Nova Scotia is unique, language. music, dance, food – you won’t find them quite the same anywhere else. But three small examples illustrate how different the people are too.Whilst waiting outside St Mathew’s Church, Inverness, on Cape Breton Island, to collect afternoon concert tickets, a man driving by slowed then stopped at the intersection. He smiled at us and called out a cheery, ‘Good day’. I don’t believe it was a case of mistaken identity. This happened more than once.

 

We were at the church to meet a local man who was giving us tickets for the show. This chap overheard us at lunch bemoaning the fact that the Celtic Colours International Festival concert that afternoon was sold out (as were many of the musical events across the island). He offered us his two spare tickets, gratis. We accepted the tickets but insisted on paying face value. It was a tussle I tell you!Joanne MacIntyre and her four sons singing a capella in Gaelic at St Mathews. Spine tingling!

Then, as I hobbled into the regular Saturday night regular dance at the West Mabou hall, I greeted an elderly chap just putting his cane on the bench. We commiserated with each other about needing a walking stick, his for his hip, me for a damaged foot from a careless misstep onto the pavement that morning. I sat and watched him dance every dance for the next hour, a wide grin on his face, sweat leaking through his checked shirt.

Next day at the afternoon ceilidh at the Celtic Music Interpretation Centre in Judique there he was again! This time with two ladies as well as his stick. Once more he danced every dance.

Even though we only stayed four nights it’s clear to us that this small island at the furtherest tip of Nova Scotia is peopled by super friendly, fit people!

 

Our trip to Novia Scotia, and particularly Cape Breton, coincided with fall foliage and the 21st annual Celtic Colours. Starting and finishing in the impressive, historic citadel and port city of Halifax, we drove and walked as much as humanly possible in a week (given my injury). On reflection we should have allowed two weeks.The only moose we saw in Nova Scotia, or as Stuart would say, ‘No moose in the spruce!’.

Halifax is fascinating. So many tragic events have impacted upon it; the catastrophic harbour munitions explosion and resultant tsunami of 1917 that killed 2,000, injured 9,000 and obliterated an entire waterfront community, the search, retrieval, storage and burial of 150 of the bodies from the Titanic, and the search and recovery effort for Swissair flight 111 which crashed into the sea off Peggy’s Cove with the loss of all 229 people on board. Halifax was also the embarkation point for thousands of Canadian armed forces personnel who lost their lives or health to the Second World War.

The full force of the city’s importance to the War of the Atlantic hit home when we toured the last surviving Flower Class Corvette, HMCS Sackville, one of 109 of such vessels. Sackville, like many of the Corvettes operated out of Halifax. Their role was to escort and protect Allied shipping in the mid-Atlantic gap. That six-year campaign was the longest sustained military battle of the war. Sackville is now a Naval Museum at Halifax Dock and in dire need of funds to preserve it properly as an accessible historical vessel. 

Halifax is also a symbol of hope as it was the gateway for more than a million immigrants and refugees. By contrast again, it is a favoured port for modern cruise ships, including, of course, Queen Mary 2. Up to four ships can dock simultaneously.

Its mid-18th century citadel and the immaculately maintained Victorian Botanical Gardens are both within easy walking distance of the dockside.

We were impressed by the range of bars, excellent restaurants and live music venues. Favourites were The Wooden Monkey for its amazing vegan fare, and The Old Triangle, a proper Irish pub with live traditional music nightly and chatty locals.

Our quaint, 130-year-old hotel, The Waverly Inn, was frequented by Oscar Wilde on his lecture tour and by PT Barnum when he visited Halifax scouting for talent for his circus.

From Halifax it was a short drive south along the coast to Peggy’s Cove and the most reproduced lighthouse in the world, Peggy’s Point, or so it seems. My advice: go early in the morning to Peggy’s Cove before it’s crawling with selfie-snapping tourists and the roads are blocked by massive coaches. 

Then, on the way back to the car park and visitors’ centre, pick up a take away coffee and some blueberry flapjack from charming Peggy’s Cove Cafe and Gift Store. Drive back towards Halifax for five minutes. On a bend to the left you should see a car or two parked by the sea side of the road. Pull over there, bring your coffee and goodies and walk along the trail towards the sea for ten minutes until you come to a rocky granite outcrop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. That’s Polly’s Cove, the perfect spot for a panoramic morning coffee away from the madding crowd and the start of a scenic coastal walk. The wild cranberries dotted here and there weren’t quite ripe but we couldn’t resist sampling a few.

Leaving mainland Nova Scotia for Cape Breton Island we stopped overnight at Louisbourg, a town time forgot. With its well preserved weatherboard heritage homes and a lighthouse and coastal path that almost rivals Peggy/Polly’s, Louisbourg has the added attraction of a reconstructed early 18th century fortress. It was originally built by the French then variously held by the French and English over the course of fifty years until the English army destroyed it in 1758.

The early 1960s reconstruction of what was formerly designated an historic site as a National Park was a work creation and retraining scheme by the Canadian Government for men who’d lost employment with the closure of the local coal mines.

Rather than boring uniforms, almost all staff on site wear period costumes. We had interesting chats with marines and captain’s wives who’d researched their character’s histories deeply. Young French marine, Jean Montagne (in his other life a university music student), well into his fourth year of service at Louisbourg complained bitterly about harsh conditions and almost constant debt. With 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off he had the opportunity to generate additional income, however the winters were so hard the fortified town’s population of around 4,000 fell to a quarter and seasonal labouring work dried up.


Wendy Margaree Band

Our B and B, Heritage House, Luoisbourg


From Louisbourg we drove to the port of Sydney for The Grand Opening show of the Festival, called ´We Walk As One’, an almost sold out event in a converted ice hockey stadium holding 2,000 people.

Memorial to young sailors lost at sea above and the giant ceilidh fiddle on Sydney’s waterfront below.


Two Inuit women, who go by the name of IVA, opened the program with a trio of mesmerising throat singing duets, mostly sung nose to nose in a loose embrace. Then we had hilarious, talented Gaelic singer Cathy Ann McPhee with Celtic harpist Patsy Seddon closely followed by the multi-talented Cape Breton Band, Coig. A troupe of step dancers from tiny coastal Cheticamp joined them on stage for the final part of their set. These middle and high schoolers of all shapes and sizes were so polished and foot perfect it was a joy to watch them.

In the second half the big names came on, Heather Rankin of the Rankin Family from Mabou with her unmistakeable cut glass vocal tone and finally the trio, Michael McGoldrick and John McCusker from Ireland with John Doyle, originally from Cape Breton, who blew us away with their musical virtuosity.

It wasn’t all music and dancing though, we drove the full Cabot Trail coastal loop and also walked the Skyline circle. The fall colours were yet to hit their peak but it was still beautiful and we had plenty of sunshine to light up the leaves.

Salty Rose’s and the Periwinkle Cafe Ingonish

On our final night in Mabou we stayed at Laurel’s bed and breakfast, a lovely farmhouse. Of course Laurel, whose grandmother was Cape Breton born, is an accomplished singer, arranger and music professor. By now we’d come to expect everyone could at least dance, sing and play one musical instrument, if not perform all skills on demand! Laurel patiently answered our many questions about Cape Breton history and culture over the best vegan breakfast we’ve had on this trip.

I was sad to say goodbye to Laurel and her sweet dog, Hector, as I felt we had just started to relax into the island’s slower pace. Passing over the causeway to Cape Breton has a slightly ‘Brigadoon’ feel to it. We didn’t fall in love with a local, but do feel great affection for the place and people. I now understand why so many folk who work in distant parts keep a cabin at Cape Breton.

The Rankin family owned Red Shoe in Mabou above

Mabou

Inverness Beach above and Nova Scotia’s coffees below.

Postscript:  To celebrate Canada’s 150 years as a federated nation all national parks have free entry in 2017!

Four Canadian Cities in 8 Days: Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal

9 Oct

You know the beer tasters they serve in fancy pubs, four small glasses of different brews? Our city experience on this Canada trip was a taster. Just enough to sample the differences and know which ones we preferred. 

This wasn’t our first visit, we’d both been in Canada for business, but now we were tourists with time to explore.

 

Stuart and I incline towards different things, my tolerance for galleries is higher than his whilst Stuart likes science museums. We do however agree on what makes a great city. Much of what makes a city ‘work’ for visitors comes down to the city authorities plus geography, topography, culture, language and history.

 

All four cities are worth visiting, but there was a clear winner and runner up for sheer gorgeousness and interest. You’ll be able to tell easily which those were from the photos and comments. Obviously this was a highly subjective, brief experience. Who knows, you might not even like beer.

Toronto

A flat, bustling, lakeside city of 2.8 million people, Toronto famously has the most diverse population in the world. You’re as likely to hear Punjabi as French here. The birthplace of outstanding universities, company headquarters for global IT companies and major consulting firms like McKinsey, as well as home to major ice hockey teams and the Toronto Blue Jays (do not underestimate the importance of these sports to Canadians). The city’s grid layout makes it easy to walk around the distinct neighbourhoods and the Ontario lakefront is pleasant, but not as appealing as it could be. At pavement level there is considerable litter and bird droppings in a lot of areas with a feeling of grubbiness in several neighbourhoods. As I noted on my first visit a decade ago, people who sleep rough in Toronto (no doubt with drug/alcohol/mental health issues) often lie down in the middle of the pavement and sleep/pass out. Tourist numbers are on the low side.

We discovered the chain called Freshii – it was a good day when we could find a Freshii bowl.

Ottawa

This is Canada’s Canberra, where the theatre of federal politics is played out by politicians, civil servants and a supporting cast. Happily for them the backdrop is the confluence of the Gattineau and the Ottawa Rivers with towering cliffs topped by a Disneyesque Parliamentary Complex. Ottawa, super clean and is easy to navigate on foot with all major sites within thirty minutes of each other. The smaller populations of 950,000 means the cultural offerings are fewer and less diverse but the national museums and collections located here have been generously funded. People are generally bilingual but initial contact is usually in English. I saw some street dwellers and beggars but fewer than Toronto. There are not a lot of tourists. We noticed some similarities to Melbourne in the hipster culture of dress and cafes/bars.


Quebec City

Strokingly beautiful by day and breathtaking by night, the historic walled part of the city perches atop the cliffs and hugs the portside of a broad reach of the St Lawrence River. Proudly French in heritage and language, with a population of 540,000 Quebec is highly dependent on tourism. The Chinese have discovered Quebec City in a big way. When the river is navigable (May through October) cruise ships dock here, up to a maximum of four at a time.

Incredibly Queen Mary 2 berthed right on the old dockside the morning after we arrived – was she following us? She only visits Quebec City once a year and stays for two nights so we had plenty of opportunity to see her in all her glory from the dock and from the water as we took a river cruise (principally to view the Motmorency Falls) and also crossed over by ferry to Levis on the opposite bank.


Special mention for the Chateau Frontenac Fairmont Hotel situated on the clifftop above the port. Yes, it is ludicrously photogenic, but it is also a very well run hotel. I reserved a table for dinner (one day beforehand) in their more casual restaurant overlooking the river. We had a magnificent view of QM2 as the sun set and the city and ship’s lights came up and the dinner and drinks were delicious and reasonably priced.

Montreal

With 1.8 million French-speaking Montreal is a busy, prosperous city with a lively downtown. From our hostel near the Latin Quarter, we could walk to all the major sites and neighbourhoods (or the subway would be good for those less mobile). From the riverfrontage on the St Lawrence a gentle rise takes you up to Mont Royal. The topography is therefore not as striking as Ottawa or Quebec City and there aren’t as many landmark historic buildings, however the quirky public art and richness of the cultural offerings more than compensates. This is city that loves to party.


Note on train travel:

We took Via Rail between cities, booking online all but one leg which we bought at the station. Stations are centrally located, trains run on time and while the rolling stock is aging seating is comfortable, bathrooms clean and all trains had wifi and a drink and snack service.

 

Note on accommodation:

Central city hotel accommodation is relatively expensive (always more than AUD200 a night) so we chose two Auberges which are well run hostels that have dormitories as well private en suite rooms.

Postscript: Big shout out to two gorgeous women, Eliza in Toronto and Jacinthe in Ottawa. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with us.

Chicago: Just Go

28 Sep

I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to see Chicago. Maybe I felt like I already knew it as it’s been the backdrop for so many of the movies and TV series that have entertained me over the years. Top of the list is John Hughes’ “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. I’ve watched it several times, first with young sons and latterly as a kind of guilty pleasure, that I’ve memorised whole sections of dialogue. Ferris gave me my mantra: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Frankly, a large part of my reluctance to go to Chicago was ignorance of how truly fabulous the city is in real life, coupled with an unwillingness to travel to the US during the Trump presidency. Stupid I know. What can one person’s passive rebellion do? Similarly I won’t go to Myanmar while it is governed by its repressive, genocidal regime. Call it Travactivism.

However when we committed to the Queen Mary 2 Southampton to New York trip all sorts of possibilities came into play and my cognitive dissonance dance began. My resolution was, ‘Well, if we’re going to be in the States let’s make it count and see some iconic place we’ve never been to before’.

 

Chicago leaped out as the obvious choice.

The entry point by car from the east.

Yes, I went up there to get this shot.



Three nights was never going to be long enough to do it justice so we confined ourselves to packing in all the sights and delights of downtown and the lakefront. Staying smack bang in the centre of The Loop helped. We walked or cycled most places, only taking taxis at night to zip between music venues. On our final day we hopped the L train just for the experience and then took the blue line to the airport. Three bucks a ticket!

The scorching September Michigan weather continued in Illinois. It was lovely to see office girls in pretty frocks and sandals collecting their lattes on the way to work or eating sandwiches in fountain squares.Chagall mozaic in the street and detail below.

We watched cheerful bicycle paramedics prepare for their day’s work.

 Highlights for me were:

 

Scoring a half-price seat for “Hamilton: An American Musical” at the CIBC Theatre just one block from our hotel. I couldn’t believe my luck seeing it.

The show surpassed my high expectations; fast, funny, hummable, danceable, clever choreography, costumes and staging with standout leads. Lin Manuel Miranda’s replacement, Miguel Cervantes, was terrific, but Alexander Gimignani’s King George stole the show.

Only one seat was available so Stuart missed out. Don’t feel sorry for him though, he had his own adventure that night. We went for a preshow drink at the lush Palmer Hilton hotel lobby bar and come showtime I skipped off to the theatre. Stuart was supposed to go for a Chicago deep dish pizza dinner then to a jazz bar, the Green Mill.

Lobby bar at the Palmer Hilton

I was back in the hotel at 10:30pm but Stuart didn’t arrive until 11pm, rather the worse for wear and starving. It transpired that four American women who had been sitting drinking next to us befriended him in the bar, bought him a drink, and then they all went to the club together where nobody ate much but everyone drank some more. The old dog still likes to play!
Top daytime experience was the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour on the lovely cruiser, Chicago’s First Lady. In ninety minutes we received an expert introduction to the history and architecture of Chicago from Claudia, a volunteer guide from the Foundation. We’d seen the city panorama from the 103rd floor of The Willis Tower, but the view from water level with the play of light and shadow and reflections on the glass-encased buildings was exquisite.

And the splendour of the Institute of Art Chicago’s collection is almost overwhelming. We went the afternoon we arrived, a Thursday, as they’re open until 8pm. Even with two hours we were pushed for time to see all we wanted to. We’d stupidly forgotten to check the time difference from Holland (Michigan) to Chicago. It was only when we were sitting down to a vegan sushi dinner that we realised we’d gained an hour and could have seen much more. 

The Chagall windows alone were worth the admission. (Collage below)

The fourth peak Chicago experience was Millenium Park, especially Crown Fountains, both by day and by night. Such a simple concept brilliantly executed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. I could have watched for hours mesmerised by the different faces of Chicagoans projected on the cascading glass cubes. In the daytime kids splash in the shallow black granite pool between the towers.

 

Fifth in the league of great stuff has to be our mega music night. Wandering north of the river we stumbled into Chicago House of Blues, one of the great blues music venues. It’s known for funky decor and excellent visiting acts so we wanted to find out who was on the bill while we were in town. We talked to the first person who came along and when we expressed interest in seeing the Saturday night show, a return gig by a former child blues guitar/singer prodigy called Jonny Lang, the staffer said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ll just go see if we have tickets available’. He came back from the ticket booth with two tickets and said, ‘Here you are, enjoy!’ He wouldn’t let us pay so we promised to spend up big on drinks and food on the night.

That helpful person was the assistant manager, Joe G (Joseph Gasparo Jr), who started at the club as a bouncer in 1996 and worked his way up.

Stu with Joe on stage.
That same night Melody Angel, a beautiful, young, self-taught blues/rock guitarist-singer was gigging at Buddy Guy’s Legends. With some swift footwork we managed sunset drinks at Raised Rooftop Bar followed by dinner at House of Blues, then checked out Jack Broadbent (Jonny Lang’s support act) before zooming down to Buddy’s for Melody’s set, then back for Jonny whose set started at 10pm. Tiring but well worth it!

The gorgeously talented Melody Angel.​

 

Guitars of some of the legends who’ve played at Buddy Guy’s above and Jonny Lang below.

The final Chicago highlight (there were more but I’m alread testing your attention span) was our city cycle ride early Sunday morning to Navy Pier and then north along the lake on a well constructed two lane cycle way separated from a walking/jogging path.

The lake water looked clean as were the beaches. Different sections leant themselves to different activities and groups: families with sun shades and paddling toddlers, bikini clad beach volleyballers, exercisers, sun bathers, it looked like a midsummer’s day on the Cote D’Azur.

We only saw three police officers all morning, three uniformed chatting African American men bareheaded in the full sun. The lakeside area is designated parkland and alcohol consumption is illegal (except in the only licenced premises, a cafe/bar called The Shore Club).

This brings me to my final comment on Chicago. Whatever one’s opinion of the incumbent Mayor, the high profile Democrat, Rahm Emanuel, he is doing some things right, especially for visitors. The streets are the cleanest of any major city I have ever been in bar none and I never felt unsafe.

With zero dog shit, litter or broken glass I had no qualms about walking barefoot back to our hotel late Saturday night (those shiny shoes I bought in New York gave me bleeding blisters almost immediately. Aaaah vanity, thy name is woman).

Sure, there were panhandlers and some interesting characters about, but they never bothered us and the people who are sleeping rough have pretty salubrious digs (during warm weather – not sure where they go mid-winter). The riverside where South Wacker Drive runs out is peppered with tents, washing lines, bicycles and deck chairs. Someone had even set up an outdoor office.

All in all Chicago was a deeply satisfying experience. We understand now why it is such a popular destination for domestic tourism.

 

“You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.”

(Last line by Ferris Bueller)

Postscript: Other TV favourites set in Chicago are ‘Chicago Hope’ with Mandy Patinkin, E.R. with George Clooney of course, and more latterly, ‘The Good Wife’. I was delighted to see the spin off series, ‘The Good Fight’ written around Christine Baranski’s character, Diane Lockhart. Go Diane!

Indian Summer Lakeside: Leelanau, Michigan

26 Sep

Clean sandy beaches, farmers’ markets, vineyards, hops, apple trees and cherry orchards, along with microbreweries, kayaking, hiking and cycling – Leelanau County at the 45th parallel on Lake Michigan has a lot to offer and we pretty much did it all in five perfect Indian Summer days. 

Once we ditched our plans for South Carolina and Georgia and found the fine weather forecast for Michigan I used google maps’ satellite view to locate beaches and lots of green space and zoomed in on Leelanau, a peninsula projecting into Lake Michigan. The entry point is Traverse City, a pleasant low-rise lakeside town. From landing in Detroit to Traverse it’s an easy two hour drive.

We based ourselves at Suttons Bay half way up the eastern side of the peninsula. Suttons prides itself on what it doesn’t have – no fast food franchises, parking metres or stoplights. It does have a vistor information office, Inland Seas Museum, a small marina, sandy public beach, an excellent cycle trail (the TART Trail), a laundromat, large supermarket, bicycle, SUP and kayak hire and a strip of shops and cafes.

 

To get our bearings we took a scenic drive from Suttons north to Omena and on to Northport and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, then over to Leland.


Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is lovely but has very little easy public access. We hiked up and down and up and down Sleeping Bear Dunes (many times) from Little Glen Lake to Lake Michigan and back. A good workout for the legs.

While I did laundry duty Stu sampled Hopalot Microbrewery which he pronounced excellent so we both went back next day and enjoyed live music.

We also tried Ben Crow’s Green Bird Winery and organic Cider and also dropped into Black Star Winery and Equestrian Centre and the Aurora Winery for tasting.

For a change of pace we rented a double kayak and paddled the waterfront checking out lovely lakeside properties and the magnificent heritage ketch, the Inland Seas.

The next day we rented bicycles from Suttons Bay Bikes to Cycle the TART Trail System from Suttons Bay to Traverse City – an almost flat 34 miles return of rural landscapes. Our reward was cherry pie at Cherry Republic. Got thoroughly soaked by a storm cell on the return – invigorating!


Leo Creek Preserve was sandy scrub one year ago. A team of volunteers has transformed it into a welcoming, productive community permaculture garden.

On our final day we drove to Port Oneida through fall colours and did the Pyramid Point Walk through meadows, beech and maple to the high sand bluff overlooking Manitou Island.

To break our car journey on to Chicago, the next destination, we stayed in Holland for two nights. It too is on Lake Michigan, but it’s historically an industrial town and less appealing than Leelanau.

 

We rented bicycles again, this time from the friendly folk at Cross Country Cycle store, a huge place with nearly 600 bicycles and two friendly dogs.

We rode mostly cycle trails via a coffee stop at well-run Lakeside Cafe by the marina out to Holland State Park and the Big Red Lighthouse, (not so big actually) built in 1907.

It was another hot day so shady umbrellas at a downtown Irish Pub and a cold Kilkenny revived us for the return cycle via Windows on the Waterfront. We gave the adjacent Windmill Island a miss, it looks totally fake.

In the evening we drove up to Grand Haven for sunset over the lake then found delicious vegan Indian food at Cumin Restaurant in Holland, run by a charming group of Nepalese.

 

On our other night in Holland we went to the movies and to see ‘Home Again’ in a Gold Class standard cinema for USD6 each (standard Tuesday night price). We were the only ones at the screening.

For a relaxed family holiday or a couples’ getaway Leelanau’s clean air, waters and easy-going locals make it ideal. No tour buses or selfie sticks here!

Recharged and Almost Ready to Go!

11 Aug

Our three-month sojourn back in Brisbane, Australia, ends in one week. Trips to Melbourne and Cairns with family, and a couple of weeks spent renovating Tristan’s Toowong townhouse with Tristan and Jenny (they flew out from Scotland for this DIY project and Cam came up from Melbourne for a weekend) made the weeks go too fast.


Stuart has been working almost full-time planning ‘Gypsy Hill House Mark Three’ so it’s ready for the end of year holidays. The house will be built off site in two sections, trucked down from the Sunshine Coast and assembled on the ridge, after our 200 metres of driveway is complete. You can imagine the degrees of difficulty involved in that enterprise. I try to keep out of it but when it comes to the kitchen I can’t help myself.

Most of this time we’ve been camping at Tristan’s. And when I say camping I mean camping. His house is for sale unfurnished. We can be contacted by the agent with a few hours notice to have it ready for inspection any day, plus two open houses each Saturday. We’ve become adept at removing all traces of our habitation including mattresses on the floor. Kind friends loaned us a minifridge, others have had us to stay a couple of times (TV! Wifi!) and we escaped to Ballina for a few days so it hasn’t been a hardship. About half the planet sits, eats and sleeps on the floor, why not us?

We made a concerted effort, despite disagreements about what goes and what stays, to sort our storage unit. We got rid of a fair bit of excess by recycling, selling and giving things away. There is still far too much to furnish a two-bedroom house however I’ve been over-ruled several times. Who needs 38 china tea cups, saucers and side plates besides a tea shop?!

With Stuart immersed in planning I’ve organised most of the upcoming nine-week trip, a ‘quickie’ by our standards. There’s a dash of nostalgia plus some bucket list items and a fair chunk of family and friend catch ups. It goes something like this:

Melbourne, West Coast Scotland, London, Southampton to board the Queen Mary 2 (travelling with friends) for the Fashion Week crossing to New York, US Open Tennis Men’s Semi Finals, Flushing Meadow, Queens, Princeton, Savannah to Charleston, Chicago, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, for the Celtic Colours festival then back to London and Edinburgh before returning to Melbourne at the end of October.

 

Pretty fabulous wot?! Stuart’s on Atlantic iceberg watch, well he has to worry about something so it might as well be that!

Look, no ski boots, flamenco shoes or hiking boots, just your standard 20s flapper outfit and two other ‘formal’ outfits for the QM 2 plus reading material for my poolside deck chair lazing!

Rock Stars for a Week: North Cornwall, UK

18 Apr

April 7-14 April, 2017
Okay we weren’t actual rock stars but hear me out – we stayed in Rock, became accidental TV extras and spotted three bonafide celebrities. More on that later. So yeah, we rocked it!

Stuart’s family have been going to Cornwall since Grandmummy was a grommet, so when she had her own children – Stuart and his two siblings – they too began the annual trek to Rock for a beach holiday.


Thus the fourth generation got their first taste of Rock as were 15 adults and two babies.

Baby care necessarily limited some people’s participation, but family members still managed an awful lot and we have the Tshirt to prove it! (Designed by daughter-in-law Jenny and produced in the UK.) Cool huh?!
Our agenda:

Surfing at Polzeath

Stand Up Paddle Boarding (photo by SJT)

Coastal Walking

Colin and Paul on duty at Stepper Point Coastwatch.


Kite Flying

Frisbee

Billiards

Rounders (Photo by SE)

Cycling (The Camel Trail from Wadebridge to Bodmin is mostly flat and off road, fine for a trailer and even tandems!)

Table Tennis
Wine Tasting

Ferry Rides

Board Games (Carcassone, Articulate and Bananagram entertained our mob)

Pastie, Fish & Chips and Cream Tea Eating

Cornish Ale and Cider Drinking (Doom Bar and Rattler were the preferred tipples)

Unfortunately we didn’t get around to sailing, water skiing, wake boarding, mackerel fishing and kayaking. Next time!

If you’re looking for guaranteed family beach fun look no further.


Back to our rock star status. When we walked from Lundy Bay to Port Isaac we literally walked into a shoot for the new series, the eighth, of ‘Doc Martin’. They were shooting a scene with Joe Absolom (Al Large and Matthew Rose in Eastenders) and a new character played by Art Malik. Joe and Art walked and talked as they entered the chemist and then reappeared. We found a seat outside The Mote pub, got some drinks and watched the action. A young woman in a hi vis vest stopped foot traffic and instructed us all to act as though we weren’t watching a TV show being filmed. I still managed to sneak a photo of the actors. Should we appear in the final cut of the episode we can claim 50 quid each as our appearance fee.

Walking past Doc Martin’s house.

The other series that have boosted Cornwall’s international profile are ‘Poldark’ (the remake) and Rosamunde Pilcher’s German dramatisations of over 100 of her stories. 

The third star we saw was Gordon Ramsay. Strolling to the Rock ferry we saw Ramsay behaving completely out of character. Driving his huge, beige Range Rover he’d had to slow to pass a car that had stopped to let him pass. We witnessed his smile and cheery wave of thanks to the other driver. Apparently he has a couple of properties at Rock and is seen regularly. Not so Rick Stein. Two of our party dined at his seafood restaurant, imaginatively called The Seafood Restaurant, in Padstow across the Camel River estuary. Zero sightings of Rick.Rock’s Blue Tomato Cafe has the friendliest staff and best coffee.

All in all a highly successful family holiday continuing a tradition we hope persists for many generations to come.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Getting to Rock:
Ditch the long drive and fly into Newquay just forty minutes from Rock. We flew Flybe from Gatwick. They have the usual baggage allowance and good value fares.

 

We rented a small car from Europcar. Pick the smallest car you feel comfortable driving as the lanes are narrow and parking spaces minute.

 

Staying:

We rented through John Bray, the longest standing holiday accommodation agency.

Eating and Drinking:

My preferred supermarket delivery is through Tesco as they’ve been great thus far. Online ordering is easy and you can pick your delivery hour.We cooked meals at home but we did have one group dinner at the St Enodoc Hotel where we were thoroughly spoiled. Check out their vegan menu and my two dishes. Outstanding food and service, great views and a full-sized billiard table! 

 

Up Hill and Down Dale: Yorkshire and Northumberland

30 Dec

Choosing children’s names is best undertaken with due care and concern for their future. That’s why we named our second son after a character in a TV series.

We couldn’t agree on a first name from the baby book we used to name our firstborn, Cameron, however we could agree on Tristan, the name of the feckless but loveable young trainee vet in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.

The series, based on the best-selling book, is set in the glorious Yorkshire Dales. Each episode found us glued to the small screen as Siegfried and Tristan Farnan, and James Heriott tore along impossibly narrow dry stone walled lanes up hill and down dale at high speed to deliver calves, stop foot and mouth disease and treat ‘flop bot’.

Thirty years later we’ve finally visited the Yorkshire Dales (an attempt in the 70s was aborted when Stuart ate toxic mussells) to tramp through snowy fields and sup local ales in front of crackling fires. As luck would have it we drove up from Cambridge during the post-Xmas 2014 big freeze. We missed the blizzard but passed abandoned cars along the highway.

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With the benefit of local knowledge for trip planning, courtesy of friends from our California days, Linda and Colin who live in Yorkshire, we stayed two nights at The Cow and Calf Hotel, tucked into Ilkley Moor.

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On our first morning we woke to bright blue skies and freezing conditions, snow still crunchy underfoot. Perfect conditions to hike up to the Cow and Calf Rocks and on to the crest of the moor passed by fell runners and their dogs.

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With Linda and Colin as our guides we went on to Bolton Priory (established 1154) to stroll the National Trust grounds and visit the active, small, stone priory church with its wall paintings by Thomas Bottomley.

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I’m deep into the Shardlake series by CJ Sansom on the recommendation of my well-read friend Anne. This series of historical crime fiction opens during the dissolution of the priories and monasteries by Henry VIII. It’s especially interesting if, like me, you’ve read Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books. I walked through the ruins and graveyard imagining it both in its prime, as an Augustinian centre of worship and wealth, and during its destruction, as the building was stripped of precious lead, the canons pensioned off and the Priory’s servants cast out to their own devices.

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With Linda and Colin at The Priory

Lunch in The Snug of The Fleece in Addingham introduced us to the largest Yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen, as well as delicious Copper Kettle and Black Sheep beer.

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A Yorkshireman and some of his favourite things.

Next day was similarly bright and even colder. A quick stop in Harrogate provided a coffee stop at the Rasmus cafe and design centre, followed by a peek at the Debenham’s sale. A sharply discounted Ted Baker dressing gown in the style of Obi Wan Kenobi will become our communal cosy garment in Tristan and Jenny’s Edinburgh apartment.

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A borrowed scraper!

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A cold Cupid and Psyche in central Harrogate.

The goal for our final day with the rental car was to drive to and walk in Nidderdale, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We warmed up with leek and potato soup at the cosy Sportsman’s Arms at Wath-In-Nidderdale, before heading uphill across farmers’ fields for a ninety minute loop walk. As we walked we could hear the boom of guns in the distance. Not a good day to be a pheasant.

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The afternoon’s destination, Masham, had to be abandoned as the tyres on our rented Seat failed to grip on a more or less deserted snow and ice covered road. The view from the highest point we could reach showed white hills as far as the eye could see.

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We spent our third night in northern England in the Northumberland town of Wooler, an old mill town at the base of the Cheviot Hills, a popular walkers’ area. The No1 Hotel and Wine Lounge is interesting in a slightly Fawlty Towers way. Our bedroom had a freestanding tub, rhinestone encrusted bed cushions and a collection of dried branches suspended from the ceiling entwined with small white lights. Stuart said he felt like he was sleeping in a scene from ‘Day of the Triffids’.

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On the advice of two local men I accosted in the street early next morning, we drove up to Wooler Common carpark which now doubles as a skating rink, to walk part of St Cuthbert’s Way. St Cuthbert (c. 634 – 20 March 687) was a monk, missionary, bishop and hermit during the early Northumbrian Celtic church formation and is regarded as the patron saint of Northern England.

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Once again I was reminded of how hardy medieval folk were (and how soft I am) as we hiked uphill through mud and snow with the wind whistling across the moor. Oddly the gorse was flowering.

We heartily enjoyed our stopovers en route to Edinburgh and have added The Dales Way, a 78 mile walk, http://www.dalesway.org/route.html to our list of future adventures.

From Wooler to Edinburgh was an uncomplicated drive via Coldstream where we saluted the first of the Scottish flags flying proudly in a stiff breeze.

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