Brighton

I have neglected my blog for a few days but I will add a few highlights just so that you know I am still here and going well. Thursday and Friday were spent venturing south and exploring Brighton, an historic sea-side town favoured by royalty, the literati and now us!! Vanessa had two days off (because she is working the weekend) so we decided to head off on Thursday morning. It was a foggy morning but the day improved as we went on. David navigated the motorways with great skill and by late morning we were in Brighton.

I had lashed out and booked us into a lovely waterfront hotel and for once we were lucky. Instead of facing the parking lot beside the hotel or the waste disposal unit in the alley as is normally the case for mere mortals like me, our rooms were on the third floor facing the beach, making for lovely views, especially at sunset.

The view from our hotel showing part of the Brighton Pier, complete with rides and entertainment

We spent the afternoon wandering the Pier and the beach. It was so spectacularly dissimilar to Australia that it felt like wandering in some kind of English documentary about the ‘seaside’. I don’t know why I was surprised to find that the beach was rock! By now I should be expecting it! They were very beautiful rocks, smooth and infinitely diverse in size, shape and colour. There were few tourists around, most have packed it in for the season. As a result it was quite peaceful.

I was one of the few pointing my camera at the ground rather than at the Pier.

The winding streets are full of pubs and restaurants and little shops selling interesting things. It was not difficult to spend a few hours just walking before heading back to the hotel for a rest, a shower and a pre-dinner drink.

The sun sinking over Brighton Beach. The ocean was calm, the lamps were lit and the colours were much more beautiful than this photo shows.

We had dinner at a very odd restaurant – vegetarian fine dining, which David says is code for expensive and not very satisfying!! I tend to agree with him – even though it was my choice.

The next morning we were keen to explore one of the highlights of Brighton, the Royal Pavilion. It was built over a period of 40 years by George IV  and others to indulge their royal passion for architecture, design and opulence. It’s a toss-up whether it’s spectacular or spectacularly tasteless! The outside is Indian in style and the inside is Chinese, or at least what George IV etc thought of as Indian / Chinese, given that they hadn’t visited either.

The exterior of the Pavilion.

Another view of the Pavilion and gardens

Summer is over so the gardens were fading but it was easy to see how beautiful they would have been in the earlier in the year. We explored the city until later in the afternoon and then decided to head home. The M25 was chaotic after several accidents so we took a series of secondary roads and eventually got home. We all needed an early night, especially Vanessa who had work today.

David and I have spent today (Saturday) looking at used cars. His first little car is on its last legs and will not pass its annual inspection in a few weeks time. I am keen to see him driving something reliable (if not glamorous) before I leave. I think that we have found a Nissan Micra that is in good condition and affordable so we’ll get a mechanical ‘check-up’ done and go from there. He and Vanessa have been saving hard and have a modest but adequate budget.

I have spent tonight watching Midsomer Murders and eating room service soup. I am looking forward to heading home and being back in my own bed but it will be hard to leave.  I hope that everyone at home is happy and well. I have given Hannah my picks for the Melbourne Cup – Wicklow Brave (for Ireland) and Humidor (for how my classroom feels in the Summer). Lots of love to you all, I’ll see you soon

Meredith

 

Back to England

I am writing his on Tuesday night. I am once again conscious of the fact that if I don’t make a few notes, I will forget where I’ve been and what happened. It was lovely to talk to you tonight Mum. I can’t believe you had so many children call in for Halloween. Amazing!

On Sunday I decided to make the most of my one full day in Dublin by getting a ticket on a Hop On Hop Off bus and getting the full guided tour of the city centre. Dublin has a lovely Georgian district that has been lovingly preserved. All of the buildings are four stories tall with graceful, symmetrical lines. The story goes that on the death of Queen Victoria, the residents were instructed to paint their front doors black as a sign of respect and mourning. This is what happened!

Image result for dublin doors

To this day, the doors in the Georgian district are painted a wide variety of colours – nobody tells the Irish what to do!

For me, one of the highlights of the city tour was Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university. Amongst other things, it houses the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript dating from about 800AD. It is a Latin copy of the four Gospels of the New Testament which is as much a work of art as it is a work of religious significance. They have a terrific exhibition including enlargements of the more famous pages and lots of information. The actual book is behind glass in a dim room, and viewers file past speaking quietly and generally in awe.

The main quadrangle at Trinity College

Also on display is the University’s original reading room, complete with busts of philosophers and giant shelves filled with rare and precious books.

Never mind the tourists – look at the books!!

Also on our route was the Guinness plant. I’ve never been a big fan of Guinness (and I’m still not) but the man himself did a great deal for Ireland and Dublin in particular, funding hospitals, housing for poor workers and investing in public open space. The tour of the plant was really interesting and it was pointed out to us that the Guinness plant is visited annually, by more people than the Taj Mahal!!

Showing off!

By the time I’d done Dublin I was pretty tired so it was an early night before embarking on the journey back – Dublin, Heathrow, Paddington, Queens Park, Watford. I thought about spending a few nights in London but I decided that I’d rather spend a bit more time with David and headed back to Watford.

Today is Tuesday and it has been spent regrouping and relaxing. Tonight I went to see the new Thor movie with David and Vanessa which was lovely. We are planning a trip to Brighton on Thursday and Friday which I am looking forward to.

I am looking forward to heading home next week but I will be sad to leave David behind. Hope you are all taking care of each other. With lots of love,

Meredith

 

Last day on tour

I opted to get up early on Friday morning and join in a walking tour that explored the Viking influences in Waterford. It is a place that has been subject to invasion by Vikings, Normans, Anglo-Saxons and ultimately the English, all of whom tried their hardest to kill off the locals and destroy their culture. The city still has remnants of the walls and towers the Vikings built and there are some wonderful examples of medieval architecture. We had a local guide who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.

Our guide in full flight, explaining the intricacies of arranged marriages and royal alliances.

You can’t go to Waterford without visiting the Waterford crystal factory and we enjoyed a very informative tour of the production floor, watching master craftsmen go about their business. I’ll never look at a vase the same again.

Leaving Waterford, we drove on to New Ross where many of the so called famine ships left from, taking poor Irish peasants to the New World. Apparently Canadians in Newfoundland still speak with an Irish accent! There is a terrific replica of one of the ships and we had an excellent tour of the exhibit. The whole thing is funded by the Kennedy Foundation. John F Kennedy’s family originated nearby.

A replica of the tiny ships that took Irish migrants to Canada and America

We headed towards Dublin and ate our last meal together in a country house where a lovely Irish chef (Katherine Fulvio nee Byrne) entertained us with stories of traditional Irish cooking and fed us very well.

Our final dinner

Friday night was spent relaxing and saying goodbye to everyone. This morning most people headed to the airport to continue their adventures or to go home. I am spending two more nights in Dublin and hoping to do some walking and see something of the city before heading back to London.

Thanks for your message Al. Glad everything is going well. I am thinking of you all and send lots of love.

Meredith

Blarney and Craic

On Thursday the fog hung low and thick over the landscape, giving the countryside (when we could glimpse it from the bus) a soft, muted look. We travelled east from Killarney to Mallow and then south towards Cork, stopping at Blarney Castle. The grounds had suffered a lot of damage from hurricane Ophelia and a number of the old trees had lost limbs. I was quite prepared to find Blarney Castle crass and commercialised but the reality was much more moving. With the fog across the property, there was a strange eerie, muffled quality to walls and it was easy to imagine the stones being cut and placed when the tower was originally built.

Blarney Castle

The walk to the Castle was beautiful, fresh and cool, and many of the trees were still showing the colours of Autumn. The Castle itself is well cared for but not ‘restored’ as such. It doesn’t have reproduction furniture or rooms set up to look ‘real’. Instead, people climb the narrow, almost vertical, stone staircases which spiral up to the top of the battlements. No doubt on a sunny day with hoards of tourists competing for space it would have been quite different. However, the season for visitors is almost over, kids are back at school and the weather is unpredictable at best. We were almost the only ones there and the experience was very peaceful. The view from the top is stunning. I didn’t feel the need to kiss the Blarney Stone. My speaking skills have always been more than adequate. I just enjoyed the place.

One of my travelling companions offered to take this snap at the top of the Castle.

On the walk back to the little town I reflected on Pooh and Piglet and the 100 Acre Woods.

The perfect place for a game of Pooh sticks.

The drive on into Waterford was lovely and in the late afternoon we had the opportunity to drive out to what was described as an “ordinary Irish village pub”. When we got there, it was just that – O’Grady’s Pub run by third generation publican Fred – but we certainly got much more than we were expecting. The publican and his 7 year old son Liam gave us an introduction to hurling, the most popular Irish game in this part of the country, in the field behind the pub. Hurling is like a combination of hockey, lacrosse and soccer, played with vicious looking clubs! Liam’s skills were amazing and we were all entertained by the seriousness of his demonstration, despite his almost incomprehensible Irish accent and his tendency to throw in the odd Gaelic expression.

Back in the pub two guys entertained us on a banjo and a guitar and the crowd was in fine voice. We sang everything from Danny Boy to Waltzing Matilda and Deep in the Heart of Texas. The barman invited people to pour their own Guinness and, while I didn’t have a go, one of the New Zealanders on tour proved to be a natural.

Guest barmaid Angela

Back at the hotel everyone agreed that it had been a terrific evening. We ate our dinner and fell gratefully into bed.

 

 

Forty shades of green

Driving through the Irish countryside is going to be one of the highlights of this trip – I can already see it. At every turn in the road there are magnificent views, green fields, the tumbled ruins of medieval buildings, mist on the slopes of distant mountains and picturesque villages with quaint pubs. Just beautiful.

We drove west across Ireland stopping regularly to explore little towns and ended up in Galway where we were set loose on the city to see the sights and get our own lunch. The cathedral was spectacular and although it is a relatively recent addition to the city (1965), it has been constructed using traditional materials and methods. I Ate at a tiny 17th century pub – vegetable soup served with bread which I ate with the biggest spoon I’ve ever used to eat with … very odd!

Galway town centre

Then it was south towards Limerick. On the way we stopped at the quaintly named Bunratty Park, a restored castle and reconstructed village featuring people making bread and tending animals and generally going about their old-fashioned business.

Bunratty Castle where we climbed up and down tiny stone spiral staircases until my knees said, “No more!”

A farmer’s cottage, lovingly recreated

It was only a short drive on into Limerick where we were staying the night. It was dusk as we arrived (although technically still late afternoon!) and the city was very atmospheric. Every town in Ireland seems to be on a river and Limerick is no exception.

The River Shannon flows past King John’s Square.

No rest for the wicked! That evening we had the option of heading out to an Irish medieval dinner and entertainment. It was not dissimilar to the Scottish night we had in Edinburgh Mum. Good solid food, Irish dancers and singers and the company of others from our group. In contrast to lunchtime, the soup was served without spoons (apparently they weren’t invented in the Middle Ages!) and we drank it straight from the bowls!

A troupe of ‘medieval maidens’ provided part of the entertainment.

Tuesday we were up early and on the road heading towards the Cliffs of Moher. Despite the light rain and the howling Atlantic gales, the coastline was spectacular. There was a  terrific visitors’ centre that explored the relationship of the Irish people with the Atlantic Ocean.

Smiling into a head wind, the Cliffs of Moher behind.

We continued south and crossed the Shannon estuary on a ferry before arriving in Killarney where we will stay for two nights. It will be nice not to have to have my case packed and outside the door at 7am. I’m sure you remember the drill Mum. We had the option of taking a ride in a ‘jaunting cart’ which proved to be a delight, despite the drizzle.

Six of us shared a cart

Billy and Sean

Driving through the part. Generations of men have made part of their living taking visitors for rides in their jaunting carts.

Tuesday evening was a lovely meal in a local establishment with live music my a local trio.

Today is Wednesday and I have almost caught up with my notes. I was in danger of forgetting what had happened – or at least the order in which they had happened. The best part of today was spent on a scenic drive called the Ring of Kerry – Kerry is the county and the route is circular, hence the name. It was a beautiful day of spectacular scenery, regular stops and homely food. Tonight is a ‘night off’ and I plan a quiet bowl of soup at the pub and maybe a bit of television (although Midsomer Murders is nowhere to be seen in Ireland).

A fellow selling St Brigid’s crosses on the side of the road. No doubt he’s got the donkey trained to watch for the tour bus .

The kind of wild country we travelled through.

The pace of the tour is fairly hectic but I suppose that if you’ve only got a week in Ireland, you may as well see what you can. I am thinking of you all and hoping that everything is okay. Good luck at bowls Mum.

With love from Meredith

 

 

 

 

 

Mt Hawke → Exeter → London → Heathrow → Dublin!!

A couple of days of travel as I begin the next leg of my journey. On Friday afternoon, Lyn and I drove together while Dave followed us up onto Bodmin Moor, towards Exeter. We stopped at Jamaica Inn, an historic inn frequented by honest travellers, highwaymen and smugglers alike (if the stories are to be believed) and the setting of one of Daphne du Maurier’s famous novels, for a cream tea, a kind of farewell to Cornwall.

Dave tucking in to scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream.

We said goodbye to Jamaica Inn and to each other. I was sad to wave goodbye to Lyn, she is a great friend and we have had a lovely time.

I motored on in my hire car, returning it without a scratch, and stayed the night at the same hotel in Exeter as last time. I had an early night and then caught the train back to London. It was a very peaceful journey, not quite as chaotic and the trip down.

exeter

The train terminated at Paddington station where I had some lunch and a bit of a browse before catching the Heathrow Express train to my hotel at the airport. Another quiet evening – I set my alarm for 6.20am and got into bed and spent the next goodness knows how many hours solving the world’s problems and worrying about whether I would sleep through my alarm and miss my plane. I eventually managed a few hours sleep and caught the shuttle bus to Heathrow at 7.30am.

The flight to Dublin was delayed a little but eventually I arrived and was met by a very nice woman from Trafalgar. There were a few of us on the flight and she marshalled us all onto a waiting bus and got us to our hotel by 2pm. This afternoon was spent on a sightseeing trip around Dublin with a very informative commentary, followed by dinner at a traditional pub – including the obligatory glass of Guinness! Not quite my cup of tea but it was a fun night regardless.

This is what happens when you give your camera to an American and ask them to take a photo. I should have stuck to selfies.

Tomorrow we are up early and off to Galway so I had better hit the sack. Thinking of you all. Lots of love

Meredith

 

 

Wednesday and Thursday in Cornwall

Having spent all day yesterday touring the county, we were all determined to have a quieter day. However, once we left the house and drove down towards Falmouth, it seemed that every junction in the road lead to another village that I “must see”. Lyn and Dave relish their role as tour guide and Dave particularly has a little story about every village. It became a source of humour that every time we got out of the car, Dave met someone he knew – ex-students, colleagues, childhood friends and casual acquaintances. We walked along beaches, looked at small harbours and drove down narrow country, lanes  through villages with names as quaint as Treverna, Gweek and Porthleven.

 

Porthleven – scene of our pastie luncheon

Lunch was Cornish pasties at a harbourside cafe in Porthleven and then it was on to Marazion, north to Hayle and a trip along the coast road, stopping regularly to look at the huge swells generated by Hurricane Ophelia and to photograph the ruins of Cornish mines. The coastline is often used in filming, notably in The Onedin Line, Poldark (both the one we watched in the ’70s and the recent remake) and Doc Martin.

Trevellas Cove near St Agnes

Lyn took this lovely photo at dusk, looking through the ruins of an engine house. The coastline is littered with reminders of Cornwall’s tin mining past.

People often say that even after a cool and cloudy day, the sky will clear and the evening will be mild and pretty. This was true of our last few minutes on the coast before we went back to Lyn’s place to get dinner.

Enjoying the sunset

Today, Thursday, the weather closed in and we had some rain and fog. Lyn had a hairdressers appointment in the morning so I took it easy and then in the afternoon we drove down to St Austell to visit Lyn’s mum. Pat is 87 and I have met her several times over the years, in Southern Cross and Perth. She is a lovely woman with a lively sense of humour. We had tea and fruit cake and when I said I wanted to take a photo, she got all nervous and wanted to check her hair!!

Pat and Lyn

The evening has been spent quietly watching some TV and doing the crossword in the paper. Tomorrow it is back to Exeter, then on to London on Saturday ready to begin the next leg of my adventure. I hope that all is well with everyone at home. With lots of love

Meredith

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day out in Cornwall

Tuesday the forecast was for showers in the afternoon so Lyn and David, my Cornish tour guides, suggested we head out and see some of the sites. In the end, the weather was fine, if a little chilly. From Mt Hawke we headed south-west to St Michael’s Mount, a monastic settlement that is now owned and operated by the National Trust. It is reached via a cobbled causeway that is accessible only at low tide. It was a beautiful place that has been lovingly cared for. We could have stayed all day but the tide was coming in so we had to move on.

Lyn and I standing on the causeway leading to  St Michael’s Mount. The causeway is under water at high tide. The monastery looms behind us.

 

The beautiful stone of the monastery. 

Looking from St Michael’s Mount back towards Marazion.

From St Michael’s Mount we travelled clockwise around the tip of Cornwall visiting Penzance, Newlyn (where both Lyn and David grew up), on to Mousehole (which for some reason is pronounced Mouzal), Lamorna (where we explored a ring of ancient standing stones and I thought of the day you and I were last back to the bus in the pouring rain near those other standing stones Mum), Land’s End and around the tip of Cornwall to St Ives. In each of these places we walked and looked at the local architecture and buildings of note and sometimes sat down for a cup of tea.

The inner harbour at Newlyn

One of the tiny alleys in Mousehole

Lyn and I with Mousehole harbour behind us.

St Ives is the most gorgeous town. It was a fishing village and it retains all of the tiny harbour, original buildings and narrow cobbled streets but these days it earns its living as a holiday destination and centre for artists and craftspeople. Dave said that the buildings generally go craft shop, pastie shop, holiday unit, pub, craft shop, pastie shop, holiday unit, pub and repeat! Personally I thought that sounded fine! We got there at about 5 and Dave suggested that he had timed it perfectly so that Lyn wouldn’t be able to buy any more craft!! We had a lot of laughs.

By the time we had explored St Ives it was dinner time so we found a pub and enjoyed Cornwall’s finest sausages and mash. It was a terrific day out. Sightseeing is easy with a knowledgable guide, especially when all of the destinations are a matter of minutes apart.

Lots of love to everyone

Meredith

 

Dartmoor and Cornwall

I’ve missed a day and so much has happened that if I don’t write something now, I’ll forget where I’ve been.

On Monday morning after breakfast, I wandered up to the Visitor’s Centre in Exeter and helped myself to maps and pamphlets and guidebooks that were likely to be of use in my travels through Devon and into Cornwall.

I picked up another white Fiesta and, with the aid of Google maps, I motored off in a westerly direction, intent upon exploring Dartmoor. Dartmoor is a national park and home to numerous sites of outstanding beauty. It is also littered with tiny hamlets and small villages boasting a wealth of cafes, antique emporiums and craft shops. Alison, if only you were here!! The town of Ashburton was lovely – I wandered cobbled streets and looked in quaint village shops before heading on to Bovey Tracy where a collective of crafts people have the most exquisite shop I’ve seen in a long while. Hand made jewellery, felting, blown glass, pottery, art work and any number of other crafts were on display and for sale and I would have loved to buy one of everything! Sadly, my budget and my luggage allowance precluded this and I limited myself to a bowl of excellent soup and a cheese scone.

Hand felted hats! Mum, I include this photo only because it reminds me so much of the one you and I took in the exorbitantly priced gift shop in Edinburgh.

The view from my lunch table.

The journey onward through Dartmoor can only be described as testing. To say these roads are narrow is like saying Stephen Hawking is smart! Most roads were just tiny laneways and the deeper into Dartmoor I drove, the narrower and more winding they became. On either side there were towering hedges and stone walls.

Looking from the road out across the moors. You can see how dark the road is and how lovely and mysterious the trees are.

Another view through Dartmoor

The lanes wove through woodland made up of oak, birch, willows, ash, alder and elm (that’s according to my trusty guide book) and each time I met an oncoming car I had to find a driveway or a little widening in the road so that we could pass. On one occasion I had to reverse a hundred metres of so (it felt like kilometres) to find a suitable place.

One of the roads I travelled. This is a two-way road and I have pulled off into a little curve designed to allow oncoming traffic to pass.

I drove most of this leg of the journey in second gear!! It was extremely picturesque, very beautiful and absolutely hair-raising. The tops of the moors reminded me of Wales, complete with sheep and wild ponies but without the soft, purplish tinge.

The open moors, complete with wild ponies.

Eventually I made it through Dartmoor to Tavistock and then back onto main roads and on into Cornwall. Google maps had done an amazing job keeping me on the right track and the Fiesta proved very reliable. I drove on for another hour to Truro where I stopped and gave Lyn a call to let her know I was on my way. She was in St Austell visiting family and said she’d be another hour getting home. I had a wander round Truro and by the time I was ready to head to Lyn’s place it was getting dark. Lyn had asked me if I would be right to find her place and (full of confidence after my day on the moors) I said yes!. Quite some time later, having seen a good many miles of Cornwall’s interior, I was forced to admit defeat and give her a call. She asked me what landmarks I could identify and when I said I was near a pub called The Old Plough, all I could hear was her partner Dave, laughing in the background. He said, “Tell her to wait there and we’ll come and find her.”  As is turns out, I had the right street but the wrong village! I bought us all dinner at the pub before following Dave and Lyn back to their place (which in all fairness was only about 8 miles away).

It was wonderful to see Lyn again. She is just as lovely as ever and sends much love to you all. I will continue my story tomorrow. Thanks for your comments Al, it’s lovely to know that you are there.

With love to you all

Meredith

To Exeter

Today has been lovely. This morning I had a sleep in and got up in time to check out of the hotel and get a cab to Waterloo Station where I was catching the train to Exeter.

Sitting on the mezzanine having coffee, watching the departures boards scroll through

Waterloo is a BIG station, like a shopping centre with links to hundreds of other places. I found a comfy spot and got a coffee made by a REAL barista (as opposed to one of those coffee machines where you press the button labelled cappuccino and dishwater with scum on top comes out!). I sat and watched the people come and go like ants following their respective trails, read the paper (full of Harvey Weinstein and Brexit) and waited for my time to board.

I’m not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn’t chaos and overcrowding!! The train stops at perhaps 15 stations on its way to Exeter and some people (like me) are on for a three-hour journey while others are only going two stops. Some were standing in the aisles and others (like me) were quick enough, or lucky enough, to get a seat. Some have bags of groceries and other shopping. Others have suitcases and hand luggage (like me).  There really isn’t anywhere very much for luggage to be stowed so my case rode in the space where one carriage joins another. I was worried about it at first but then three Australian back packers who couldn’t get a seat and who had decided to set up camp on the floor in the same little area laughed and said they’d mind it so I sat in my seat and looked out the window while three students taking a gap year from Adelaide looked after my case!! Sometimes you just have to trust in people.

Devon

The colours don’t look as bright and you can’t see the little village in the distance but this give you some idea of the lovely countryside we travelled through.

The woman sitting next to me was reading a book about women and work, focussing on the crafts that women have specialised in over the last two or three thousand years. We chatted a bit and then she got out an amazing little spindle that she used to spin a blend of silk and Australian merino wool. She makes her own yarn which she then knits into scarves and jumpers, creating a nice little income on the side. We had a good talk and then she headed for Bristol and I headed on to Exeter.

I arrived safely, thanked the backpackers for their custodianship of my case and found my hotel without too much difficulty. I got in at about 4 o’clock so I decided on a quick walk around the city centre which is very pretty.

The centre of town retains a lot of its heritage and shopkeepers seem keen to make the most of it.

There’s a photo opportunity on every corner

Exeter Cathedral, competed in about 1400

Another view of the cathedral. Please not the seagull on the statue’s head!

Tonight I have had a quiet dinner at the hotel and I plan to get an early night and head out to explore Dartmoor tomorrow … at least that’s the plan!

Lots of love to everyone at home

Meredith