Our annual Kingswood village Christmas dinner was again hosted by Ian and Julie. How they manage to quietly cater for 30 plus of us with no signs of stress is beyond me. It was a lovely evening out with the various friends in the village. The weather was cold walking there and back, but dry. Snow forecast for tonight.
Instead of visiting Waddesdon for a Christmas spectacle, we decided to visit Mottisfont. There was a special Kaffe Fassett display on, so Rosemary was interested in going. We would also get to see the house dressed for Christmas.
We arrived and headed straight to the house to see the exhibition and house dressing. Not quite to the scale of Waddesdon Manor, but still very good to look at. The Kaffe Fassett show covered four rooms and had a lovely embroidered chair, pullovers and lots of patchwork quilts. Incredible work, though you could see the work was done at speed and not always finished neatly.
We stopped for lunch in the stables, and then we went on a guided wetlands nature walk. It takes you through wetland woods areas where you are not allowed on your own . We learned that peat was dug here, and that lakes and navigation were also built to get the stone close to the construction site of the original Mottisfont abbey.
There was not much to be seen in the gloom of a cloudy dismal winter day, excepting that two kingfishers were spotted flying along the dykes.
We also learnt that the river fishing rights were owned by the National Trust, and that this is one of the most expensive trout fishing river in the UK, the River Test. The art of the dry fly tying was realised here. We saw some trout who became very active when some food was fed to them.
Back to the stables for tea, and then on home.
Bicester Village, the outlet retail park, has expanded. Tesco was demolished, and rebuilt on the other side of the road. The land where Tesco was became an extension to Bicester Village. This extension opened in October, We visited the village for the first time in ages. We went in the evening to see the Christmas lights, and not to buy. Was easy to park, being a Tuesday. It was bitterly cold. There were some new shops, and some disappearances. We were intrigued by the only electrical shop which sold wifi/bluetooth speakers for more than a grand: the Devialet Phantom range.
Rosemary said she liked the lights and planting, but rather preferred it when Tesco was there.
Our usual Kingswood firework display at George and Annie’s, with firework maestro, Ian. BBQ food cooked by Keith and Duncan & served by Karin & Charlotte. It was a lovely evening, no rain again, with a glimpse of the moon. Bonfire made from pallets and garden waste.
We went into Oxford with Valerie and Norman. Norman went his own way to see an exhibition at the Ashmolean, while Rosemary, Valerie and I walked on to the Jam Factory. It’s near to the rail station, and is a café/bar /restaurant /exhibition space /entertainment space built from a converted, yes, Jam Factory. We went to see a set of post card sized art works produced by numerous artists which were being auctioned to raise funds for Sobel House. We all selected a few, and started to bid on them over the next few days. Only my bid was successful for an evil looking cat which I bid £5.01 for. I say successful, because no one out bid me. I still did not receive it, it was lost or sent off to someone else. I did receive a replacement card, a Lion, on whom no one bid, but it was not my evil looking cat. Yes, a tad disappointed.
We drank coffee and chocolate while we perused the cards, and looked at some of the other paintings. The men’s loo was decorated in old Beanos. The place was quite pleasant and had some interesting food on the menu. Probably worth while returning to, instead of eating in the usual Vaults and Gardens where we now headed off to.
We passed through the covered market which was semi open on a Sunday. There was an excellent Halloween cake sculptured into the shape of a hacked off leg in the cake shop.
On the junction of Turl Street and Market Street, outside Norah’s Antiques was a production team filming a scene from an episode of Endeavour. We waited and watched them film a street scene with Roger Allam (Inspector Thursday) considering the shop window. There were also quite a few old 60s cars parked in the surrounding streets, so I expect there was quite a bit more filming about to be done.
We walked on to the Vaults and Gardens for lunch, where we were quite quickly served and found somewhere to sit.
After lunch we visited All Souls Collage and took walk around their quads and the chapel. There is a magnificent screen with niches containing statues of saints, bishops, and monarchs, arranged in rows on either side of a Crucifixion scene, just above the altar, and a Last Judgement, high up under the roof. The original statues, destroyed in the sixteenth century Reformation, were not replaced with the present Gothic imitations until the nineteenth century.
After All Souls, we split, Norman and I took a quick walk around the university parks, while Rosemary and Valerie headed to the new Bodlein library to see the latest Treasures and Jane Austin.exhibitions. We all met up at the library and then went for a beer at the Lamb and Flag before going home.
Met up with Valerie and Norman, their daughter & her fiancé, for lunch at the James Figg pub in Thame. They had been attending a wedding at Notley Abbey nearby. We had never been to the James Figg, and to be honest we have not been to most of the pubs and restaurants in Thame. Steve frequents Costa when Rosemary is doing her round of charity shops.
The James Figg is themed on boxing, named after James Figg an English bare-knuckle boxer. He is widely recognized as the first English bare-knuckle boxing champion, reigning from 1719 to 1730. He was born in Thame. It’s a good pub, with a good choice or real ales, or is that cask ale, or the new trendy phrase of craft ale. In any case, it caters well for beers. Extensive menu, though we wanted to eat relatively lightly, so we all went for starters, each choosing three starters for £10. This was a kind of tapas meal.
Yes, I can quite recommend the James Figg, maybe Costa is going to see a lot less of me.
We departed for home, Norm and Vallerie driving over to our house for the weekend, while Rosemary and I quickly dropped into Waitrose to buy some more Monkfish. We had decided tonight’s menu was Monkfish. I was looking for a Kilo for the four of us. My first shop the previous day was Tesco in Bicester where they had one filet, just under 350 grams. I bought this, at the same time phoning Sainsburys in Bicester. They too had one small fillet in stock, so I reserved that and walked over there to buy their’s. Good thing I had reserved it because someone else wanted it. It was small, 250 grams.
Waitrose had masses of Monkfish, and large fillets. I bought 400 grams to make up my dish. So, Waitrose came up trumps, but a high premium. Sainsbury was £16 a kilo, Tesco was £20 a kilo and Waitrose £26. Quite a difference in price
My birthday was celebrated at Canaletto with Ian and Julie, and of course (well, she paid, too) Rosemary. Had a very good meal there, and a reasonable number of other people, considering it was a Tuesday evening, were also dining, My main course was Monkfish which set me thinking about serving Monkfish at home. I have cooked it before, but please read my next post, about my trials and tribulations buying Monkfish the follows nag weekend.
The reason we rushed back from Scotland was because we were booked to see a musical at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury. The show was a Small Faces musical called All Or Nothing. The touring play was about the early days of the Small Faces, their rise to fame and how they were ripped off by their various managers. We went with Ian, Julie, Ian, Judith and Sue. The original reason we went because the grandson of a friend was starring as Ronnie Lane. The musical was excellent playing many of the hit records from Small Faces and other 60s music. We learnt much about the Small Faces, which I “verified” on Wikipedia when I got home. The music was loud and at the end the whole audience was standing, clapping and singing along to it. This gets my vote! Friend’s grandson……..Brilliant!
Leaving Inverness at 9.50 we headed off south to stay at a campsite near Carlisle, the Darlston Hall Holiday Park and Golf Club. A five-hour drive with 42 minute stop near Stirling. Average speed 53.2. The road from the motorway to Darlston Hall competed with Milton Keynes on roundabouts, coming a very credible second.
Darlston Hall has many permanent holiday homes. The campsite does also have touring caravans with many obviously parked over the week for weekend use. Not many people in residence today. We took a walk into the village to buy some food, 1.5 mile walk mainly along road. The village has a butchers and a well stocked CO-OP. The walk back was different, through the church cemetery, around the playing fields and past the Nestle factory. The path continued along the river, until we took a left and headed into the holiday park. The holiday park has a golf course, and the camping fees include use of course.
We ate our meal and went to bed. The wind was rising and at midnight I closed the pop up roof, good decision as it was raining and very windy in the morning.
Final drive back home, where we met horrendous rain and wind over the lake district. Windscreen wipers working at maximum. Van battered by winds. The BBC news in the evening, picked out the lake district as having over 20 cms of rain that day. Further South it all dried out for the rest of the journey home. Being skin flints, we drove the M6 through Birmingham, not a bad choice, very free flowing traffic, and saved us £11, almost missed the M42 junction.
We had arrived in Inverness, parked the van in the hotel carpark, and so went to check in. Ravi was there with his American friend Roberta and they waited for us to dump our stuff in the room. We were going over to the Hossack institute for a hog roast, by way of the Nip Inn for a quick pint of beer. The pub was so chosen as a favourite of Hughie’s (Maggie’s dad).
The Hossack Institute, is near to Madras Road and India Road. Maggie was there, and so were the rest of her family. We were shown around the renovated building and the additional land surrounding the building. There had been much work renovating the building. Hog roast was served with salads, beer and wine & rounded off with cheesecake.. There was a rehearsal of bagpipe playing in the garden. This was played by a Dutch man, a friend of Gordon Hossack, brother of Maggie who was going to have his ashes scattered on Monday
Afterwards we went back to the hotel and rested until dinner at 7.00 where we sat at a table with Ravi and Roberta.
After breakfast, we were ferried (by taxi) down to the end of Kessock Road where Gordon’s ashes and flowers had been placed awaiting the tide to wash them away to Holland. Bagpipes were played and Tomatin single malt whisky was drunk from a quaich and thrown to the wind.
We walked back to the institute for lunch, by way of Carnac Point. The afternoon was our own where we visited shops and Inverness Castle.
The evening was a Ceilidh and buffet. Lots of photographs and videos taken of the event. Pipe music and speeches made, the dancing started. Beer and several whiskies were drunk. True to Blasdale tradition we were one of the last to leave.
We set off for Scotland on a Friday morning, the intention was to meet friends for a party in Inverness. Our plan was to drive around 6 hours and then stay two nights somewhere and then continue for another 4 hours to arrive in Inverness. Our planned stopping place was Culzean Castle near to Ayr, a Camping and Caravan site in the Castle grounds.
Off we set, no weekend drivers around and we made very good progress. Alas we took the expensive decision and went via the M6 Toll road. How flipping expensive is that, £11, could have done over 100 miles on French toll roads for that price. In France we were treated as a car, in the UK as a van. On we drove continuing at maximum speed until we reached the motorway upgrade. A few years ago roadworks were kept to no more than 3 miles. This so called intelligent motorway upgrade went on for 10+ miles with average speed cameras, and hardly a person to be seen working. Oh well, at least we made a reasonable 50mph on that section, and of course Google Navigation knew about this and had already factored it in for our estimated arrival time.
We stopped off for our own home-made sandwiches (we have to make some savings after the M6 toll fiasco) at the Westmorland Services which has the famous farm shop. We did buy a Cappuccino, and some posh bread, which turned out to have raisins in it. (This bread turned out fine as a complement to are pre-prepared evening vegie stews over the next two nights.) Google had not factored in this stop, so we were now behind her schedule.
We continued on our way crossing into Scotland and turned off at J12 towards Ayr. Rather worryingly there were road closed signs on the way we were going. We continued, then more signs with some mentioning the village of Douglas, but we continued. There was hope, vehicles were still coming the other way. Suddenly we saw there was a recovery operation in progress where some vehicle had gone over the edge of the road on a bridge and down into a small valley. There were a couple of marooned trucks on either side of the recovery. No problem Google sorted us out with a short detour down some single-track roads. We were soon at Culzean Castle after travelling 376 miles at 53mph.
At Culzean Castle campsite, we were greeted by the site manager and were shown various parking options. We chose one over-looking the sea and potentially the Isle of Arran. Yes, it was in view. Still with some day-light, we took a little walk through the woods and to the National Trust of Scotland road entry to the castle grounds. Back at the campsite we ate our dinner of bread and veggie stew, and took a well-earned drink before going to bed.
Today we had the entire day to explore the Castle grounds. We walked back to the entry, showed them our NT cards and walked to the castle to get the first tour of the day. Wow, the flint lock pistol collection was fabulous with more than 750 pistols. The largest public display of flint lock pistols in the world. We were explained the history of the place. Not much sticks in my mind, other than the male line were always called Archibald Kennedy. The top floor of the house was set aside for Eisenhower, who used it during WWII and after when he was president until his death in 1969. The floor is now set aside as the Roosevelt Hotel.
The park is huge and we spent several hours exploring the lake and various paths through the site. We ended up for scones, jam and tea at the visitor centre. Our walk back to the campsite was met by a stream of cars and taxis arriving for a wedding which was due to take place that evening.
Our humble evening meal over, I went out to photograph the entry gates to the park. There were some nice steel lighted balls which deserved a picture, and a fabulous gateway from the public road which looked good in the dark.
Up early, packed away, we set off from Culzean at 7:39, stopping at the Electric Brae to try and figure out whether the road sloped one way or the other. Wasn’t total impressed, but the real slope was in the opposite direction to the perceived eye view of the slope. I think the picture proves this, then I am taking it for granted that the plaque was not misrepresenting the heights. We arrived at Inverness in a few minutes less than the predicted 4 hours given by Google. One overriding thought about Scottish roads are the number of average speed cameras on the A9, the number of flashing signs in villages for speed, and the pervasive 20 mph zones in villages and towns.
Today was meant to be a cloudy day with a bit of sun. Give me more of these days, it turned out very well. We decided we would take Van the Van our for a ride to Lake Der. This is an artificial lake which takes the winter flood water from the river Marne and stores it until the Summer when IT is slowly released back into the river. The River Marne is a tributary to the river Seine, and joins the Seine where it enters Paris at Ivry-sur- Seine. This lake and other control mechanisms were built to control flooding of I assume Paris which occurred several times in the 20th century.
Lake Der is now a habitat for birds and there’s also a place for water sports. We were trying to locate places where we could stop and view birds. It seemed difficult, all car parks were limited to 2 meters high vehicles, whereas we are a little higher. The alternative were the Aires, but they were all gate controlled and thus needed to be paid for. We drove around and were about to give up when we saw a road that allowed us on to the top of the dyke. At least we could now see the mud flats and the hundreds of birds feeding. We drove slowly along. Grabbed a few pictures, but the feeding grounds were too far away for a decent picture. The lake is at a low point at this time of year because the water is being let out for the winter floods.
At the end of the road we were back at the parking. Stopped and decided to check the Aires for the prices. Was free during the day. Hurrah, so parked and walked to a nearby hide. We spent a while watching the birds.
Now we tried to find a restaurant for lunch. Nearby, closed, must be Monday. Another place located, but Google took us down the N road, and there was no way off. Gave up and went to Leclerc and bought some bread and pain au raisins.
Nice picnic late lunch at campsite, and then a walk down to the Etang. We walked around it, seeing the work which was in progress. The place was rather devoid of birds. There was excitement when we heard a snort and splosh as we walked up to some reeds. There were tracks in the grass and down the bank. Some mammal which we never saw, I expect it may be a coypu.
Back at campsite consumed another bottle of Vouvray and then ate supper, emergency rations of lentils and tuna. Able to sit out later as warmer in the evening with the protective lay of cloud. Fun watching one mobilehome moving around trying to connect to the satellite TV.
Tomorrow we are off back home.
The night had been chilly, with heavy dew in the morning. Breakfast of chocolate pastries and coffee. Lovely sunny day. We wanted to walk to the Etang available for campers. So off we set on the short 1K walk. As we crossed the canal we saw the campsite owner’s wife, dog and another woman on the towpath. One woman was sitting on the ground and R became a concerned citizen. So we walked along the canal to investigate, our pretext being to look at the lock gates further on. The woman on the ground was an artist drawing the canal and bridge, madam was just there chatting to her. We continued to the lock gates. They were automatic hydraulically operated gates, much wider than UK locks. Like the railways, British canals were built on the cheap and are smaller than the continental ones.
We turned right here and headed out into the country with the intention of doing another right hand turn to get as to the target Etang. The tarmac road we were on was by far the worst road we had encountered in France. It still was far superior to most of the country lanes in Buckinghamshire! After walking across a stream and through a wood we were into open country, huge fields going on for miles. Next, we came across a marked Etang (on the map) on the left advertised as Carp fishing holidays. There were some fishermen, and they were English. On the right with no mention of an Etang on the map, was another stretch of water. Possibly a newer flooded gravel pit, all fenced off with permission for nothing including building. It though had one swan. Here we turned right along gravel road heading for our Etang, passing another Etang very overgrown around the edges, but with three swans.
We came to our Etang, all fenced off, so we walked along the side of it towards our campsite. We then came across the entrance. There seemed to be much redevelopment work going on. This Etang was for the campers, and allowed fishing, bathing, walking etc. The lake now seemed recently to have been divided into two and had a stoned beach created. We left, walked back to the campsite.
The afternoon was spent eating, Sunday lunch of pork. Alas not grilled as we were only on a 6 amp supply, but more stewed on the gas with beans and tomatoes. We spent the afternoon lazing and reading, then eating a cheese sandwich for supper. During the afternoon we both were amazed at the number of blackbirds inhabiting the hedges of the campsite. Not only blackbirds, but woodpeckers, who alas flew away as soon as a glass lens was produced.
Again, the birds provided a musical accompaniment as we ate. Once it was night, the bats and owls arrived.
The village has a pack of dogs somewhere, who decide to howl at irregular intervals. Also, being Sunday night the lorry traffic on the distant N road picked up and we could hear a distant but constant sound of traffic through the night.
We packed up on a reasonable day with the sun attempting to dry the awning out. The awning was, as usual, a sod to pack. It is so heavy with the inflatable tubes which are also a pig to totally deflate. Each time we take it down, the folded package seems larger than ever. The awning is so difficult to manoeuvre, and you end up dragging it around on the ground making it dirtier and dirtier each time you erect and take it down. Yes, I was beginning to lose it and wish I had never bought the blessed thing. A sale on eBay I expect.
We set off in a northerly direction on the toll road toward Dijon and beyond. Our aim was to reach a small campsite near to Vitry-le-Francois. Google pulled us off the toll road early to take us on the N67 towards Chaumont. An excellent choice by our silicon friend.
On the payage we tried to have lunch. I had always considered French motorway cafes to be superior to our UK ones. Not anymore. The first attempt we could not find anywhere to park, except for some useless empty car parks on the other side of the motorway a good 10-minute walk away. The signage was appalling as well. The next attempt, at least the café was on the same side of the road, but again the signage was crap, and the place seemed full. We ended up parking with many other cars in the lorry park. Then the food, on one counter doing croque monsieurs and coffee, was one poor over-worked girl with a large queue. Ended up buying iced Starbucks coffee and sandwich. Christ, white square bread and it tasted sweet. No sorry UK has it right, choice of foods and now we have M&S or Waitrose selling pretty good sandwiches / wraps / couscous / salads etc. Sorry France you have lost the plot on convenience foods.
We made it to Vitry-le-Francois and went shopping in a Leclerc. Provisioned now for the next three days.
We drove to the campsite Camping Nature, in the village of Luxémont-et-Villotte, priced at 15 Euro for the night, small campsite. No nudity, despite R’s initial thoughts on its name. No delineation of parking spaces, but nice green grass and very quiet. There are five of us here for the night. Looking forward to the walk to the Etang, and along the canal. Fifteen kilometres away there is a large lake, built to alleviate the flooding of Paris. It is meant to have some good bird viewing hides, so maybe Monday for that.
Tonight, we had a bottle of fizzy Vouvray, and the remains of yesterday’s meal (lardons with onion, pepper and tomatoes) with some cravats. Tasted delicious. For Carbohydrate some du pain, which I reckon was stale the moment I bought it. But after a quick heat through, it was fine.
Sitting in the quiet as the sun set, there was a raucous chorus of birds settling in a bamboo grove on the campsite. This was shortly complimented with an aerial display by some bats. Not seen so many bats flying around like this for a while.
The facilities here look good, nice and clean tiles etc. Yet to test the temperature of the shower. R had already complained about the lack of loo seat and chilly water in the plate cleaning area. There though was hot water available in another large laundry sink nearby. Problem solved.
Near the campsite are rows and rows of flashing red lights. Are they a landing strip for UFOs? Google maps show nothing. Investigate tomorrow on our walk. (Turned out to be lights on wind turbines.)