Monday, 10 August 2015

Pembroke, the Welsh far west

Driving to Pembroke you do get a sense of how far west it is compared to the other Welsh counties. Its eastern borders are for the most part, further west than most counties western borders. You can almost sense the proximity of Eire as witnessed by the regularly departing ferries on a 3 hour journey from either Milford Haven (Aberdaugleddau) or Fishguard (Abergwaun). 

We stayed in Pembroke, the county town, that is very old and remarkably well preserved both in the number of old buildings and the layout of the streets. Henry VII was famously born at the Castle that is itself in remarkably good condition with glass windows in many of the apertures. The high street has many fine pubs and we ate at the Kings Head that served Dylan's excellent dark beer. I had a fantastic curry and the prices were very reasonable.

We visited all of Pembroke's major towns and were able to surmise that in size and popularity and population Tenby was clearly the winner and the most major centre. It also has connections with Henry VII who escaped to France from here, and Dylan Thomas who frequented some of the pubs. It also has probably the most western located Sainsbury's in the United Kingdom if not the world.

To get in touch with nature we took a trip to Skomer Island where we saw puffins and fulmars in amongst a plethora of gulls and rabbits. A beautiful island and we took 4 hours to walk right round but not the most interesting, either that or all the animals were hiding. Skomer is also home to a lichen that is unique to this island.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sixties the new middle age

After another break I am back, I cannot decide if I am a blogger or not...still we will see.

This blog is about new experiences and not giving in to the dark side. When I think about moments in my past there have been some that I have not been terribly proud of, others that were turning points and have remained with me all my life. Like the day I decided to move to Canada and more telling, the day I decided to move back home to the UK. We are all faced with momentous decisions, getting married, having children, career choices.
R2D2 on Cereal
But as you move into your sixties the focus dramatically changes. Yes there are those career minded people who work into their dotage, or the man who decides to start a family with a young wife. Des O'Connor for one. But generally the sixties are a time for winding down, taking stock and enjoying the fruits of your years of work. I always wondered what it would be like for me and to be quite honest some things have not changed:

Star Wars defined my coming of age, I saw the first movie in 1978 at the Odeon and here I am at 61 faced with part VII coming on to the world stage as strong as ever.  No change then.

I can remember listening to Radio 1 in 1967 with Tony Blackburn and all the hits of the day and I was barely 13. Today I have spent a happy afternoon listening to Greg James on Radio 1. No change then.

The author with a local author
I had my first model railway at the age of 14 or 15 and I had grand ideas. Today I worked on my new model railway and posted a video on Youtube  I am not sure if it is any better than those ones I did in the sixties but it must be my fifteenth or sixteenth attempt at getting it right. No change clearly !!!

What is certain is my intention to adopt the mantra of not going gentle into that good night. I have a life to live and I will live it. I am not exactly sure when I made this decision but if I were to place a point for it I would say at age 59 and 11 months precisely. I have not looked back, I could spend my years feeling apologetic for my misdeeds or I could say the page has turned and this is a new era where neither blame nor accolade is justified. 
Random photo of my travels.
Lady Godiva in Coventry

.......and one of my commitments is to use this blog as a record of my life from hereon in. So if you follow me and are curious then please bookmark and return in a week or so to see the first effort.

Blessings upon you all

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Season's Greetings

As I write this blog, the end of the year is approaching at a rapid pace and Christmas along with it in all its trimmings and commercialism. For me the commercialism of Christmas is not so much that it disguises the true meaning of Christmas, but that it disguises the joy of life itself. Do we really need to see one more picture of one more family going overboard in their commitment to celebrating the birth of Christ. How about the man who decorated his house so elaborately that it caught fire from a shorted fuse. Where is the sense of 50 or 100 people jumping into freezing water for a swim on the coldest day of the year. Why bury Oxford Street in so many lights that the night becomes day. And why, oh why does the old tradition of a carol service on Christmas eve become a mayhem of carol services for all kinds of things starting in late November. I have long taken issue with Christmas starting in September and October but I think I gave in on that years ago. But I do object to this incredible proliferation of services often disguised as raising funds for charity. Not to be controversial but it makes one long for the Indian Diwali or the Chinese New year that are short sweet but no less sincere. 

I loved Christmas as a child and bemoaned all through my adult life at how long the Christmas season became. My earliest recollection  is of a now defunct department store in Toronto that always cleared its Christmas space the week that kids went back to school in early September, the plastic trees and ornaments came soon after and santa's grotto was in place by October. Now this is a given and we have come to accept it. I never imagined it could get worse but now my head veritably spins with all the carol services. I just want to get to Christmas Eve to get to the actual carol service that may actually mean something.  

I think the real joy of Christmas is its timing in the year, close to the winter solstice, I am told to give the heathens something to celebrate instead of dancing around stonehenge on the 21st. Also close to New Year's bringing a real sense of rebirth as the months and seasons start their new march from January to December again. For me I used to wish for the New Year to get rid of Christmas but I don't feel like that any more. No for me now the longing for new year is for the rebirth of the earth, as the crocuses and snow drops push up, as the daffodils start to appear, as buds fatten and birds start to sing again. As the sun starts to rise again in the sky in a real dawn and not hug the horizon for a few hours. 

But most of all we have started a new tradition, the cheap holiday booked in seconds over the internet to take me to Southern Europe to Portugal and the Algarve where 20 degrees in January is not unheard of. Where oranges hang from trees in winter. Where fish restaurants reign supreme, this is the new Christmas Season for me, a chance to celebrate life and a love of this earth in a land of colour.

Roll on January, with apologies to all those Christmas/Solstice/New Year revelers........

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Oswestry Food and Drink Festival

This year we visited the festival as returning visitors full of expectations of a good time and we were not disappointed. So, to backtrack, we discovered Oswestry as a place to visit in the Spring of 2013 and went there several times over the next few months. Oswestry is a relatively unchanged market town but has modern shopping stores like Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Boots and Costa Coffee. Our visit in July of 2013 was the same plan as before but we were delighted to find the street full of vendors selling all kinds of food and drink. We had a great time sampling the fayre and enjoying a lovely warm day, there were even some street musicians playing excellent music. We walked all the way up the Main street turned left at the old Llwyd building and walked up to the market square. We then worked way round to The Post Office and back into the centre. This year we made a planned effort to visit the whole fayre properly.

The fayre was a week later in 2014 and we arrived and parked around 10.30am. I had my camera ready
and we started at the Sainsburys end of the main street. There was an amazing bread stand selling every kind of loaf and I recognised the vendor from last year. Further on was the cheese man with a huge variety of cheeses and then the first of the beer stalls. I tried several beers from each man and all of these samples were free, but they were happy to give them out especially when I then bought bottles from each vendor. They were delicious as I am a great fan of real ale. (If ever the dear reader is up in Scotland then is a tavern in Cawdor near Inverness that sells Mcgregors ale. I am sure it is available elsewhere but a finer richer beer you will not find. Just a by the by.) So back to the festival...

Close to the heart is the main tent that provides information about the festival, a sort of tourist information centre where polite ladies can tell you everything about what is going on. We stopped there for quite a while and picked up several brochures including the very useful map of the town and a list of all the participants. S far we had spent much of our time on Cross street but there was still the whole of Bailey to cover. I turned away from the information tent and spotted the truck that carried the oxygen tanks that were being used to blow up the balloons. Last year the balloons were green but this year they are pink. It is now August 13th as I write and the balloon is still hanging in my office although I will confess I have filled it up again by carefully not completely tieing the balloon end off. A trick I learned as a kid. Be careful if you do this because the weakened balloon can eventually pop unexpectedly.

Time for a break and we headed into Costa's. Now I know this is not strictly part of the fayre but these
shops actually are quite quiet with all the customers eating and drinking outside. So we had no problems finding a table and getting a coffee. We were soon finished and heading back and up on to Bailey street where the vendors continued unabated. We finally found the cupcake stand which had moved higher up this year, the display and assortment of cakes was even better than last year. Then more cheese, more beer until we reached the square and there was my olive man from France. A bigger display of olives you will never see and we bought our fill. Higher again into the square and this is where much of the fresh fruits and vegetables are sold.

We returned back down the hill via Willow street and came back to the centre before heading back down Cross Street to complete our shopping at Sainsburys. More than anything else the festival tells the story of what a wonderful town Oswestry is, how friendly are the people and how proud they are of their little part of England that is still not sure if maybe it is really Welsh. I would recommend a visit by anyone if they are ever in this corner of Shropshire and especially at the time of the Food and Drink Festival.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I'm going to Scotland

July 7th 2014 
I first went to Scotland as a young teenager and stayed at Troon in Ayrshire then a few years later at a hotel in Pitlochry. At 19 and 20 I went to Glasgow twice on summer geology college trips but little did I realise at that point that I was saying goodbye to Scotland for forty years. Forty Years, my God, where does your life go. Very scary thought.

So as the pending referendum for Scottish independence approaches, fortune has presented an opportunity to return. We are meeting some friends from Canada and plan a tour of Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Inverness and Edinburgh. I am setting up this blog now so that I can update it daily as the trip progresses. A sort of live interaction for anyone interested. 

Day one is Sunday July 27th 2014
Galloway Arms Hotel
We crossed the border just before 4pm, passing the large Saltaire poster by the roadside. We immediately turned off left for a 25 mile trip to Dumfries. We had the usual nightmare of finding the Glenaldor Hotel not through any misdirection, simply that not every road has a name board and you have make a few guesses. Evening was spent driving to the Galloway Arms Hotel in Crocketford for supper then a pilgrimage to the Robbie Burns mausoleum and Burns house. 

Day two is Monday July 28th

Well we made it up the M74 to Glasgow past all the signs for the Commonwealth
Cairndow Coaching Inn
Games and despite forebodings of traffic jams, survived to the Glasgow Airport unscathed. We parked and went into the arrivals area, checked that the flight was on time and settled in a coffee shop to wait. Checking emails the news came through that our friends flight was delayed from Toronto by severe weather and missed their connection in Iceland. So we travelled up to Cairndow alone, stopping at Luss by the side of Loch Lomond. Luss is portrayed as the prettiest village in this area but sadly overrun with tourists all wanting to see the prettiest village! Arriving at the Cairndow Coaching Inn around 3pm we had lunch and then spent a pleasant hour walking around the Arkinglas tree reservation. It lays claim to containing the tallest tree in Britain and there certainly was a mighty silver fir. But my favourite was the redwood grown from seeds brought from California over a century ago. We were only vaguely hungry in the evening so we shared Scampi and chips in the garden at the front of the lnn overlooking the loch. 

Day three is Tuesday July 29th 2014
Green Welly Shop
Today was the big drive day because we had to track back to the airport, pick up our friends and drive up into the highlands. Our first stop was a brief moment by Loch Lomond to take a photo then a bite to eat at The Green Welly Stop in Tindrum. From there we took the highland road through a dramatic mountain landscape and then down into the Loch Ness faultline. We arrived in Fort Augustus at 5pm and walked around the locks followed by supper at The Lock Pub. Finally settled at the Netherwood B&B with house martins nesting at the front door and red deer grazing in the field across the way. I am now drinking my friends Peter Lehmann Shiraz as I rest in our bedroom suite.

Day four is Wednesday July 30th 2014
Skye Bridge

Today was the first real day of exploration as we headed along a mountain road to Kyle of Lochalsh stopping at several mountain vistas on the way. The weather has deteriorated but not enough to stop activities. At Kyle we went over the new bridge to Skye and stopped at the tourist office in Kyleakin where a knowledgeable gentleman recommended Portree (literally the Port of the king or rex) so we headed off into central Skye. We stopped for a short mountain hike but only got about a kilometer as we were beaten back by midges. I saw a new butterfly, scotch argus, beautiful brown and orange spots but sadly hid in the grass and my camera was confused by the focal point. Note to self, I need a manual focus. On to Sligachan where we stopped in a bar that had 400 different whiskeys, Jeff was in his element but refrained until the return trip. We spent some time outside with a load of tourists all taking photos in the brief sunshine. We then moved on to Portree, a pretty town where we had supper at the Rosedale Hotel. Picked up wine, milk and haggis flavoured crisps at the Co-operative the headed back to Sligachan where Jeff got his fine rare scotch, Talisker Dark Storm and I had whiskey flavoured ice cream, delicious. The rest of the day was uneventful as we drove back to the Netherwood.

Day five is Thursday July 31st 2014
Scotch Argus
Deciding to take a break from the car we travelled just twenty miles to Fort William and the foot of Ben Nevis. We visited the information centre and got instructions for climbing Glen Nevis, a route that leads up a steep gorge to an open flat valley known as a hanging valley gentle in its upper course but steep in the lower here a passing glacier had truncated the river course. I found the Scotch Argus again and spent a happy time chasing several individuals whilst the others admired the scenery which was spectacular. We returned to Fort William and drove over to the ruin of Inverlochy castle, but just before we arrived, I noticed that the steam engine that pulls the Jacobite train was puling into shed for the night. To my delight, photos and videos were obtained. The castle itself was in pretty good shape and provided good photo opportunities. Finally a visit to the Newton Locks, that control the water supply into Loch Lochy, and a place to view Ben Nevis. Sadly the mountain weather did not cooperate so we headed home and went to supper at Fort Augustus.

Day six is Friday August 1st 2014
Urquhart Castle
After saying goodbye to the hosts of Netherwood we headed off for Inverness. The first stop was a field of highland cattle where we took photos and I actually fed one, its muzzle was so gentle as it lifted the feed. Then on to Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness and the spectacular Divach Falls near Drumnadrochit. Finally arriving at Inverness where we parked in a multistory and roamed the town including visits to the whiskey shop, Marks and Spencers and Boots. We then drove to Nairn where we had rented an apartment and went for a walk on the beach.

Day seven is Saturday August 2nd
Ivatt Mogul on Strathspey
Drove to the Bloomhill station on the Speyside Railway where we bought tickets to Aviemore on the steam train. We had an hour to kill so we went to the Heather Restaurant about a mile away and had clootie dumpling and coffee. Then back to the station and a great ride to Aviemore including a band playing on the station. Next stop was Cawdor Castle made famous in Macbeth where we toured the castle and gardens, on leaving I passed the Lady Cawdor who greeted me with a "Good Afternoon" and I replied hello. We smiled and went on our way. This brief encounter caused much excitement with my friends who had learned a lot about her yet, .because I had walked ahead, it was me who had the encounter! We then had a drink at the Cawdor Tavern before a whirlwind shop at Sainsbury's. 

Day eight is Sunday August 3rd
Whiskey Galore
For some reason today I am exceedingly tired. I put this down to seven days of continuous sightseeing and touring, normally days like these are once a week but my soles are just tingling. Anyway the day started off with a visit to the Benromach   Distillery where we took a tour with Jim Lowther, an employee of the distillery and an ex RAF electrician from Kinloss. It was very interesting although, fine single malt whiskey it be, it still was not the drink for me. On to Elgin to see the ruined cathedral and a pint at the droughty pub. On the way back we stopped at Forres to see the Celtic stone and the award winning gardens.

Day nine is Monday August 4th
Forth Rail Bridge
Happy Simcoe Day in Ontario Canada. The day was spent travelling 180 miles from Nairn to Edinburgh with one stop at The House of Bruar near Pitlochry and a second at the Forth Bridges at North Queensferry.   But another crisis approached when we arrived at Edinburgh Airport to discover Heather and Mathieu's plane was held up in Birmingham for four hours. We left the airport and spent an hour in a field watching trains go by and planes take off. At 8pm the plane arrived and we went to the Gurkha Indian restaurant in Musselburgh. Quite tiring but all worked out in the end.

Day ten is Tuesday August 5th
Fringe Festival
Took Scotrail from Musselburgh to Edinburgh and walked towards the Royal Mile where there was a throng of people enjoying the Fringe Festival. What it is, is a load of people acting or singing to promote either a show or a performance or a CD or simply for you to give them money. Some of the stuff was bizarre but some was really good. For me the best was a boy girl team playing violins whilst standing on a bollard. This can be seen on my Flickr and youtube accounts. After we walked through the city, visited Barclays and had tea in Marks and Spencers. Finally a second walk up the Royal Mile and supper at the Broad Street Bistro. My feet were absolutely dead at the end of the day.

Day eleven is the penultimate day August 6th
Feed the Birds
Tomorrow will be the last blog entry since the day after is simply the journey home. However I will add an addendum if anything of import happens. I am very much against updating blogs except for spelling or grammar. The thoughts should stand as they are written. So today was a journey through the lovely Southern Uplands of Scotland stopping at a delightful cafĂ© called the Red Barn. The waitress had a very English accent yet had grown up locally. Being a Scot with an English accent made her uncertain where she belonged but put it down to an English mother and growing up close to the border. She is a medical student and will no doubt make a worthy contribution to society. On to the border and go in search of Hadrian's wall stopping at Brampton for directions and food in the co-op. Now all who know me know that I am not a pleb, but lets face it Hadrian's wall is ....a wall and while it is a great engineering feat from the days of antiquity, it still remains a wall and I just can't get excited about it. So the others went off and I looked after the car since we fortuitously had no change to pay the parking meter. On to Windermere and finished the day with supper at the Hylton restaurant and a walk by the lake to watch the birds being fed.

Day twelve is the last day August 7th
Helvellyn and the Red Tarn
OK the last day and lets wind down and take it easy. NOT! No let's completely knacker ourselves and climb Helvellyn, the third highest peak in England. To be fair it was beautiful, with hillsides of fern, green slopes, panoramic views and lakes especially the Red Tarn. I did fine on the way up, just got very tired but the views were worth it. But the walk down, I fell twice when I went on to the grass off the rocks. I hurt my knee both times so it was just plain dumb. I hobbled to the car and we went to the Travellers Rest and had a great meal including sticky toffee pudding with custard.

Brief Encounter
The journey home through England is not really part of the Scottish trip but we did stop briefly at the Carnforth Station, interesting because it is where David Lean filmed 'Brief Encounter'. We have a scone and tea in the actual cafe in the movie and the proprietor was very knowledgeable and forthcoming about all things related to the movie. After that, it was a beeline for home