Month: September 2018

10 July to 15 August 2018 – over to France and sitting out a heatwave

Despite our inclination to be economical we decided, as usual, to take the easy way over to France on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry. Weighing up the cost, with my thumb only lightly on the scales, there seems to be a saving of about £50.00 between the expense of the ferry from Hull versus the Tunnel from Ashford  once you have allowed for an overnight somewhere down south and the diesel.  The sheer pleasure of not having six or seven hours driving on English motorways and of waking up on the continent after an all-you-can-eat buffet the night before is worth more than that – so the rationalisation is not hard!

Portia follows a now-familiar route through Belgium into France taking a short stretch of A1 and A26 before turning south onto small roads and finding the free aire in the middle of Sezanne. There is free hook up too as electricity is provided for the market stalls on Saturdays – so no parking on Friday night unless you are a very early riser. This is a little town where we have stayed several times over the years in hotels – it has some charm. It has old ramparts for historic safety and the shops nestle closely up to the church – to the point of sharing a wall.

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It is an auspicious night: the bartender in sports bar opposite the church has a big screen and says he will be showing the England-Croatia semi-final of the world cup that night. We walk in optimistically and are offered the best seats in the house. We walk away disappointed some time later  followed by only a modest degree of sympathy from France supporters in the bar:-(

All is pretty much OK at the fermette and the weather is hot.  One problem – the air con on Trudi is not working. Arrangements are made with Extreme Cars where the amiable petrolhead owner thinks twenty years is a bit young for the vintage of cars he deals in, and an Audi saloon a bit tame for the other four-wheel drive monsters he favours. He has looked after her before though and inspires confidence. He regasses the system and refuses payment until we have run the car for a week or two to see if it stays full. It works so we dutifully go back to pay two weeks later when he claims not to have made up the bill and to wait a bit longer. There is a chance we may forget altogether if he does not charge us soon!

We will be having visitors in the next week or two so I am hoping the heatwave stays away for a bit as the spare bedroom gets quite hot up there under the roof.  Jill is the first to arrive for a couple of nights.

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She has recently moved to Ireland is searching for a barge to live on.  It seems barges for sale are more plentiful in Burgundy and considerably cheaper.  The plan is to buy one in Burgundy and  sail it up the canals and rivers via Paris to Le Havre then hire a qualified pilot to sail it over to Ireland.  The idea of a barge wallowing its way across the channel, let alone tackling full exposure to the Atlantic in Fastnet, is scary to say the least.  But apparently these thirty to forty ton barges can do it given the right sort of weather.  I will definitely not be crewing for that leg of the journey.

Barges are available at several locations near us so we all drive (with working air-con) to the canal ports of Decize, Nevers and Briare to view tjalks (pronounced cholk). These are relatively small as Dutch  barges go, with elegant lines – high at the front and wide in the body. None of them are quite right but there is another further away between us and Charles De Gaulle airport.  Jill views it externally on her way back to get her flight and we go for an inspection with the agent the following week.  The Friso is an appealing boat to look at. Tatty and in need of a lot of love and attention internally, but the price is both good and negotiable.

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Jill starts the negotiating process and we casually agree to man the boat with her as far as Paris in a few  weeks when other friends can take over. Things go quiet for a few weeks while plans are put in place.

The heatwave starts getting serious. We continue mooching around in the cool of the house and going to the lake for a swim every afternoon or evening.

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The following week Caroline and Hugh turn up en route to a holiday in the french alps. Caroline has recently retired and they are thinking of buying a campervan.  I am trying to persuade them to go up a step and get a motorhome. You really do need full bathroom functionality whether you are parked overnight down a country lane or in a city centre car park. So they are coming to see Portia and talk motorhome. It looks as if a panel van conversion might be the ideal compromise for them.  Good luck in the search – it is good fun. Caroline was my boss at the British Library and Jill was my boss in my last job at Europeana. My last two bosses, by chance, in one week? Good job I am not a paranoid sort or person!

The village summer meal and dance arrive a week later than expected and we go along to sit with half-a-dozen Dutch neighbours who have all turned up for the event. There is a raffle at the event and I win the main prize! A hamper with bottles of wine, jars of pâté, honey sweets and a whole jambon!

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To serve the jambon a stand and a thin, sharp knife are needed. These cost many times more than the raffle ticket but Amazon swiftly provides and we have a ham-eating apero under the apple tree. The eating, drinking and talking extend into the night. Another great evening.

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The days continue hot, the plants start to wilt despite watering, we continue mooching and the car air-con gradually stops working:-( Mr Extreme Cars cannot help immediately as he is about to go on holiday until 3 September so it is clearly time for us to take to the roads in the van and find cool beside some lakes. The Morvan with all its waterways is a mere half hour away so we decide on a little tour of municipal campsites bordering a lake or river.

 

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9 April to 9 July 2018 – At home most of the time…

We spent the next three months sorting out house and garden – the latter which had been sadly neglected over the better part of the last two springs and summers and was looking very unloved. Everything had grown magnificently however, almost as if it preferred being left to its own devices:-( But we did at least need to be able to get into the shed and hang out the washing, so serious hacking back was called for.

We had a great day out to Barton on Humber with Corine to walk the southern banks of the estuary (in the blazing hot sunshine with no shade).

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We ended up at Alkborough, birthplace of my father, where we trod the grassy outlines of the ancient labyrinth at Julian’s Bower.

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This led to our next outing in Portia: to Spurn Head at the end of June with both Corine and Juha to experience the Yorkshire Wildlife Unimog Safari. This runs all the way down the peninsula to the lighthouse and beyond where the Humber joins the North Sea.

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We have been a couple of times before when you could still drive the three miles down the sandy, shingly, scrubby spit of land on a rather questionable road. That question was finally settled in 2013 when a tidal surge raging down the North Sea broke through the neck of the peninsula and washed the road away. There is still a stretch of dry land linking to what is officially now classed as an island, except when the tides are particularly high, but you must either walk or take the Unimog. And be sure to get your timings right!

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We stayed at the Blue Bell Pond Campsite close to the old Blue Bell café at the start of the peninsula. It is a nice site but the facilities are housed in some kind of old metal container and kept locked.  You are given a key but it is so stiff I can only just manage to get into the toilet and not at all  into the shower room. The shower costs a pound on top of the £18.00 per night, which is a bit steep, and the machine only takes old pound coins! The site owner has a stash of these apparently – if you can find him. But – it is a great location in this out-of-the-way place that feels like stepping back in time 50 years.

Corine and Juha are staying in a B&B up the road and we arrive a day earlier.  This gives us a chance to cycle electronically around the area to see what there is to see.  There is plenty! This whole area has a complex history for somewhere so isolated. Being at the mouth of a main river inlet to the country has made it an important strategic site at various points in history.  Henry Bolingbroke landed here in 1399 when he returned to dethrone Richard II and, a mere hundred years later, Edward IV made landfall after his exile. Napoleon threatened as well. The most interesting history is in the 20th century when the whole area was pressed into military service for the world wars – it was again seen as a potential entry point to England. Forts were built at either side of the river mouth for the first world war and refurbished for the second. Barracks were built at the point, a light railway serviced both them and the coastguard station.

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In fact there was a whole community with a school down there for a large part of the century. All long gone now – partly claimed by the sea as the North Sea tears the sand off all the way down the east coast side and deposits it at the southern tip. A few old wartime buildings remain and, of course, the coastguard station – one of only two paid coastguard services in the UK. There has been a lighthouse here since time immemorial although the first one is now some way into the sea. Now even the second one is disused as a lighthouse but available to climb for a modest fee. (Included if you are on the Unimog Safari.)

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An unusual monument stands in a field a short walk from the road. It is one of the last extant sound mirrors built during the first World War as an early warning system to detect for approaching Zeppelins and other early German aircraft. This bizarre concrete dish construction would focus the noise of aircraft engines onto a microphone thereby amplifying the sound. The relatively slow aircraft of the time could be heard and located before they came into view. This one is reputed to have been manned by J R Tolkein in 1917 when he was convalescing from Trench Fever.

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Other than that we spent time enjoying all the activities York has to offer the lucky retiree – and they are many.  A programme of Free lunchtime organ recitals at different local churches for a start. The beautiful Central Methodist Church has a truly magnificent old organ with 2,500 pipes (!) suspended on the wall and the organist sits in a console sunk in the middle of the room as if accompanying a silent  movie. St Martin Le Grand is not so lucky: having been bombed out in the war only half the ancient building remains and it now has only a small modern organ “..with only 170 pipes and three stops”.  The organ was the gift of the West German Government and Evangelical Church so you can’t get nasty at that. It definitely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, had a  rather thinner sound.

I had no idea one could so quickly learn to differentiate one church organ from another! Or that we would spend some of our retirement time in several of York’s historic churches. It turns out there are concerts and not-especially-religious festivals in them all the time. A beautiful flower festival and choral performance in Holy Trinity on Micklegate and, later, a celebratory Norwegian event with a requiem by Iver Kleive in our local ancient church, St Olave’s. Our most amazing church experience however had to be the incredible light show at York Minster. Emptied of 1,400 seats, the whole length of the cavernous ceiling and great west wall were blasted with light and sound taking us from creation to both heaven and hell.

Then there was the wonderful Festival of Ideas run by the University offering dozens of talks and films and workshops at locations all over town on a huge variety of subjects – some very obscure (Gilgamesh anybody?) but nonetheless engaging. The launch was truly amazing – a performance of The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo live in the Minster. This and most of the talks were free and given by experts in their field. We went to some held in King’s Manor which is a short walk from chez nous and felt hugely privileged to be able to benefit from it.  I could go on but this is turning into a bit of a personal reminisce – it is easy to forget though so I am glad to get it written down. There were many more summer activities coming up and I felt a bit sorry to be missing them. However, Europe was beckoning and Portia was getting restless.