Our first full day of the holiday. The weather forecast was not encouraging, either for that day, or for later, when they predicted the tail-end of a hurricane would hit Britain, bringing wind and rain in its wake. Decision: find somewhere local and have a quick look round before the rain comes. Result: a very pleasant if unplanned two mile stroll without ever getting wet.
We parked across the road from Bamburgh Castle - delighted at free parking! There is a sign-posted walk that takes one around the outskirts of the castle, and we thought we would follow that - until we realised that we could head down to the beach.
What a splendid beach! Long and wide, and mainly sandy, but with rocks and rock pools for added interest. Several parties out, walking or encamped in a well-rehearsed routine. What I was to find over and over again was how uncommercialised the beaches are in all the area we visited. I made jokes about the abusive parents who were denying their children the right to sit in a shopping precinct drinking sugary drinks. One family included a child who was obviously a 'problem' - she laid down in front of me, which I found bemusing (rather than obnoxious) and I noticed later a couple of aspects of her behaviour that seemed more toddler-like than the age her appearance suggested. She and her older brother were obviously enjoying themselves exploring the rockpools and playing on the beach.
We had our own fun exploring the rockpools.
I decided I would devote this holiday to photographing nature.
We walked as far as the lighthouse, which had a face. I'm always slightly disappointed when lighthouses aren't made out of tall towers, even though I know it makes more sense to build a low-level squat building on a high cliff.
We walked along a minor road with views of an unremarkable village, and flowers.
We reached the spot on the dunes where we had earlier diverted to hit the beach, and continued our walk round the castle. I took a lot of photos of Bamburgh Castle, and then remembered how last year I got totally fed up of photos of St Michael's Mount.
This couple intrigued me, walking the dunes.
We had a great view of Inner Farne (I found out the next day that a Twitter 'friend' from South London was visiting the Farnes as we did this walk, and was staying in Seahouses, too!)
And more flowers
As we approached the car, it seemed like it would rain, After a discussion, we decided to head for Alnwick, the nearest town of any size. It was quite a drive, about fifteen miles mainly on B roads with their fair share of bends, often sharp. On a Sunday, there wasn't much open, and what there was was due to close within little more than an hour. A quick dash round Morrison's for a few things we hadn't been able to get at Seahouses co-op, and then a sit down and a cup of coffee. At quite possibly the worst café ever.
Imagine if you will, a country town serving a wide rural and coastal area, residents and tourists, just off the main London-Edinburgh trunk road. A town with several cafes and similar places. all competing for the passing (and returning) trade. You make an offer to the customer; the customer pays their money, and expects a certain standard.
I ordered a scone with butter and jam. She upsold me one with cream. I am capable of resisting upselling, but she was pleasant, I was in a mood to relax, and I like a bit of cream with a scone. We agreed to sit outside on the cobbles of the market square and she'd bring our order out.
The scone with cream arrived. Cream? Squirty cream! Who puts squirty cream on scones? Is this even a thing? I was rendered speechless. I bit into the scone. The key to a good scone is to serve it the day it's baked; at worst, the day after. This was so stale I concluded it must have been Friday's batch. Perhaps baked on Friday afternoon 'to do the weekend'. I suppose I should have complained and demanded my money back. But we don't, do we. Better to bear the loss than endure the stress of the confrontation.You walk away; you won't come back. But as a visitor, even if it was the best scone ever, you're unlikely to return, you have other destinations planned. Stale scone with squirty cream. As if!
In the evening we ate at The Spice House in Seahouses. Mixed. The young men who greeted us and took our order were warm and welcoming. We were able to buy bottled Northumberland-brewed ale (surprising for a curry restaurant). And my starter of mushroom and paneer was delicious.
On the other hand, my main course didn't really taste of curry and didn't consist of much other than prawns and sauce. The middle-aged man who took over serving us was super-grumpy. I decided to put it down to Ramadan fasting.
Obviously, people are free to choose their religious practices etc etc etc, but it got me thinking. Whoever invented Ramadan fasting in the Dark Ages didn't know that Sunrise to Sunset could last 17 hours (18 in Inverness on 21 June), had no concept of Bangladesh or England, nor would be able to imagine people from one place serving food in the other place to people who had no intention of carrying out a dawn to dusk fast, ever. And, frankly, the Dark Agers knew little about physiology, hydration, energy levels or anything. I do understand why a Bangladeshi immigrant observes the Ramadan fast. But I'm not entirely convinced it's an unfettered free choice.
Onshore wind turbines began to appear - at least in my consciousness - at about the turn of the century. Flying out of Glasgow Airport on a glorious sunny day, the array of wind turbines on the hills below appeared like elegant dancers or a Calisthenics display. Soon after I began to read about people who opposed wind turbines because they are a 'blot on the landscape' or 'generate more traffic'. I was puzzled. I agree - in comparison to pristine virgin countryside untouched by human hands, they are indeed an imposition. but I don't know of any pristine virgin countryside untouched by human hands, at least not in England.
One day, in Surrey, from the vantage of the North Downs, I took several panoramic photos of Surrey but knew something was missing. Not a wind turbine to be seen, nor any solar panels. How peculiar, how utterly un-English I thought.
A month or so later I travelled by train, up the East Coast Mainline. Somewhere near Selby, I counted the Power stations, which I presumed to be coal-fired. I couldn't be sure if there were four or five arrays of cooling towers. On the way back, the train ground to a halt. I took this photo with my phone camera. This is not one but several such constructions visible at once, from the train, and I discovered in July, from the A1 (M).
These are not alien constructions to me. Similar buildings a well-remembered feature of childhood outings, of trips through and around Nottinghamshire as a student and after, and indeed many journeys throughout England for work and pleasure.
I looked up a list of power stations past and present. Look at Greater Manchester, or Cheshire, not known for its coalfields. Look, of course, at County Durham, Nottinghamshire and Kent, traditional coalfields. Or Oxfordshire, home to recently-demolished Didcot Power station, and not a well-known mining area. And then, look at Surrey. Not a fossil-fuelled power station, ever. Two small, recent hydro-electric stations. On the regional news just this week, Surrey residents objecting to an application for a solar farm.
Surrey is known as the place where the decision makers live. Not the elected politicians representing areas such as Selby, Didcot and Fiddlers Ferry. The Senior Civil Servants, the Captains of Industry, the Architects, and Judges. They live in Surrey.
In Surrey, electricity is something that comes out of a socket in the wall. They think that wind turbines are a blot on the landscape. They must never have seen Ratcliffe-on-Soar or Ferrybridge. They think wind turbines generate traffic - and, perhaps, coal is transported to coal-fueled power stations by magic carpet.
Everywhere else, electricity comes from power stations. Yes, these provide employment and economic activity. But they dominate the landscape in the Vale of York, an area no less beautiful than the north downs of Surrey. The choice isn't between wind turbines and nothing; electricity comes from Behemoths that belch out pollutants in places where people live. Just not in Surrey.
The day started badly. A small delay creating a domino affect, so it seemed that we boarded the Guildford train at Clapham Junction some two hours after leaving our home two and a half miles away. And when the cold wind blew and the dark skies loomed heavy at CJ, I questioned the sanity of even embarking on a country walk.
A pleasant riverside stroll from Guildford station to the town centre (although I didn't turn my tracker on until we were almost at the castle.
The instructions I followed suggesting by-passing Guildford Castle. I went in. The gardens were very nice, full of colour. I'm not usually a fan of what I call 'Municipal Borders' but this was a good example of how they can be done well.
I could have taken even more photos but we were accompanied by the parents from hell. This doesn't entirely do their behaviour justice (and it's not the child's fault). Everyone else in the park was adult; some were reading, others were exchanging glances of exasperation, not at the child but at the very loud parents. Running around is essential for every child; that's why councils provide parks, with children's playgrounds and open spaces. But they couldn't be bothered to go there. The rest of the world has to revolve around their princess, but she's just an inconvenience to them.
Guildford is known for its centuries-old furniture shop
We were soon clear of the Town Centre and climbing the steepest road ever, in the history of steep roads (or so it seemed at the time). The instructions said, 'Pause halfway up, turn around and admire the view'. I did.
I crossed the road. "Oh, that view!" I exclaimed
At the end of the road was open country. Pewley Down was donated by the Friary Brewery for use as a public area in memory of those who perished in The Great War. On it stands a memorial. A clearly neglected memorial (it's not as though anyone has any interest in remembering the Great War currently). A thoughtful gesture from the brewery; the site affords panoramic views of the surrounding countryside
We turned down a footpath on the right and followed it past commercial stables and into a wood.
The instructions said - in late March and April you'll want to take a diversion to see Southern England's best bluebell wood. Of course we did. It was mid-April, and we had seen some good bluebells in our garden and on Rush Common, Brixton Hill. Turn right, it said, so we did. What bluebells, we exclaimed. Me nearly in tears of disappointment.
Oh well, let's just carry on along the path. Gosh, there's several people taking that path to our right...er, okay, let's see.
We spotted a very strange couple. A young woman jumping on and off logs, and behaving a bit like a slightly 'special' child who's never been out before as her boyfriend took photos with his Applephone. I'm not sure whether the photos were of her or the bluebells. But they (she) obviosuly needed our attention. I'm not sure why.
Oh, I see. Bluebells. Not bad. As bluebells go.
We'd barely passed a soul since leaving Guildford Castle gardens. Suddenly, we were in the company of several tens of people. Oh, gosh, there's a car park not 100 metres away "We always go for a walk on Saturday afternoons, not like those chavs that just sit around on the sofa".
The walk took us up a steep hill. There were a fair few people attempting it, or coming down, although fewer than near the car park, and the numbers thinned out near the top (tried, turned back). It was quite challenging, but we were following a woman who must have been nearly 80, if not more so (off to tend to a grave up the hill). And later we saw cyclists. One of those days I was glad to be on foot, not on two wheels.
The climb was worth it for spectacular views. Something was missing, though. And that is quite a separate blogpost.
The church is called St Martha's on the Hill
We descended to a clearing approximately 100 metres from a car park. several children played on tree trunks in a bored 'wish we could move on' way. Four adults, probably two couples, stood talking. One each male/female wore walking boots and outdoors clothes. One man wore trainers, one woman wore fashion boots with a heel, and shifted her weight from foot to foot. I imagined that they were relatives or old Uni friends "Come and stay for the weekend, we'll go for a walk!" said the Outdoors couple.
"Ooh yes," said the others. "We always go for a walk on Saturday afternoons...WHAT, how can we possibly go more than 100 metres from the car park? What will happen to our protecting carapace? Up a HILL? You are joking! But it's muddy! Ugh, how soon can we go to the pub? The kids love to let off steam in pubs."
This was a nice tree
We turned off and again descended, not seeing another soul until we were 100 metres from our final destination.
Down to Tilling Bourne and into the grounds of an abandoned gunpowder mill (1626 - 1920). A good readable history on the Wey Valley website. An eerie and mysterious place, now given over to nature.
A picnic area lies just 100 metres from the short pathway into the village. Suddenly, it felt like Piccadilly Circus. We had a decent pint at The Percy Arms, conveniently situated just opposite the railway station. It looked a nice place to eat, too, but the trains to Guildford are infrequent, and we were muddy and tired,
A really beautiful walk, very few encounters with other people, except at a couple of pinch points. Only 4 miles actually walked, according to My Tracks app, but that was four miles included two steep climbs (and matching descents); an expert walker wrote
it’s fair to say that five miles is quite a long walk for most people, unless you have a stop along the way
Worth reading that article, if you want help progressing more than 100 metres from the car park.
I followed the instructions from a TimeOut walk, Guildford to Gomshall 10 miles. The Chilworth abbreviation enabled a link up with public transport.
Some recipes just lend themselves to be photoblogged. Some months ago, I set about cooking Ottolenghi's multi-vegetable paella. The recipe is available from the Guardian; I got it from his book Plenty, a vegetarian cookbook heartily endorsed by my meat-eating partner. I'm probably going to get Plenty More, due out in September.
Such a recipe is really quite simple, but requires quite some prep before you properly start. I find chopping vegetables to be very therapeutic. The more you do it, the better you get. A sharp knife is essential - I sharpen before each session.
Fry the vegetables
Assemble (and add) the additional flavours
Simmer most of the ingredients
Prepare most of the remaining ones (I have no idea what that wine glass is doing there)
Scatter tomatoes, artichokes and beans over the dish
He says cover with foil and leave to rest, but that left the tomatoes/beans/artichokes still cold, which I didn't want
So I heated it through.
Finish off by sprinkling it with olives and lemons, and serve (no photos of 'serve'; eating takes priority!). A great early Saturday evening repaste. Definitely one to do again
Over the years I've dallied with concepts such as 'Daily photograph' and 'On this day', but they've all petered out. Largely because my life is quite complex. Not amazingly so, but there are so many things to do, or I'm not in the mood.
Even so, I thought it would be nice from time to time to revisit the past.
Such as, a long weekend in Jersey in 2001. Just weeks after I had acquired my first digital camera.
It was the first time Jimmy and I had been away together (after eight months together) except for weddings. Odd things, weddings. Less said the better, in all honesty.
We stayed in the Merton Hotel in Jersey, within reasonable walking distance of St Helier. Amazing swimming pools. Indoors included a water slide. Outside was heated, so on the last day, which was quite cold, overhung and with drizzle, it was great to lie in the jacuzzi. Especially because almost everybody (Jimmy included) had decided it was not the weather for outdoor pools.
I really liked Jersey. We ate some good food in good restaurants. We were less experienced with fine dining then, but I think we'd still approve of what we ate. The Jersey Museum was interesting, especially in respect of the Nazi occupation, and the town was a pleasure to walk around.
And I saw this rather amazing toilet seat in a restaurant.
Actually, this isn't a short story. But it sets the scene for future short stories.
We started our holiday the first weekend of July and stayed in Seahouses for two weeks. A splendid time was had. My brother, who visited Alnmouth last year, described Seahoouses as 'like Blackpool', which got me rather excited. But although incorrect, I could see his point. More commercialised than the rest of the North Northumberland coast, which has its advantages and disadvantages. We chose Seahouses as having amenities, and we chose a cottage in North Sunderland as being slightly away from the main drag. The 'slightly away' became the main - only - downside of the cottage; the walk back from eating places seeming longer and longer each time.
The journey up seemed epic, even though we split it over two days. On the first day we travelled as far as Darlington, largely because there wasn't a hotel to be had for many miles south of there. We crawled through Yorkshire, but were grateful that we were passing through before the Tour de France the next day. You don't want to arrive very late at your holiday cottage; as it was, we arrived at 5pm at Darlington, which was fine for a Premier Inn. Premier Inn fulfills its offer splendidly - ideal for one night, especially when in transit.
Saturday's journey was much easier. A good breakfast and no sense of rushing. Getting past Newcastle was surprisingly easy, and not much later we followed a sign pointing to the Northumberland Coastal Route. We were disappointed that we couldn't actually see the sea, but, slowly, it dawned on me that it's a spinal access to the Northumberland coast. It avoids the A1 and there are numerous turns off to coastal settlements.
We tried High and Low Newton, but the pubs in both villages were hosting wedding receptions, unsurprising for a Saturday in August. I'm sure they would have been welcoming but you can't reasonably expect attention in such circumstances. And it had started to rain. As we approached Beadnell I realised I was dying for a wee. The weather wasn't great, but I was sure we could find a loo. As we did, free, in a free car park! And the weather bucked up. We followed signs to the beach and, to our delight, found an enormous expansive sandy beach. There were a good few people on it but it was far from crowded.
We walked for a while, especially near the harbour. This features some historic lime kilns (1747), later used for curing herring; oddly I didn't photograph them
It started to drizzle just as we returned to the car and we drove away, to Seahouses. The drizzle soon stopped. As expected, our cottage was not ready; we were early. But we took the opportunity to wander round town. Tea and quiche at Trotter's Bakers; we returned frequently for bread and other baked goods. A look around the harbour and a quick drink in the Olde Ship. Good pub, decent ale.
It was time to take possession of ou rental cottage. Slight trpeidation on walking through the door, followed rapidly by great relief. Spotlessly clean, recently re-decorated, tastefully decorated and fully equipped. The owners had obviously put some thought into it, with a comprehensive residents' guide and everything you need for a self-catering holiday.
Such a contrast to the place we had in Cornwall! They even left us a pint of milk and a packet of chocolate digestives, as well as unopened soap in the bathroom, washing-up liquid and enough dishwasher tablets to see us into the week. I joked with the next door neighbour that I had finally found the thing that was missing - a tea strainer, but we were using teabags anyway. And the neighbour offered to lend me her spare strainer. There was a decent selection of board games, books (and not just the usual holiday let Da Vinci code) and DVDs. I'm sure last year's man would have whipped away anything like that.
In the evening we went to one of Seahouses three fish-and-chip restaurants, Pinnacles, a favourite of the Hairy Bikers and Robson Green. It was fine, although, to be honest, it didn't strike me as anything special, and we later agreed it wasn't the best fish and chip restaurant in Seahouses. When we ordered, I was a bit taken aback when she asked us whether we wanted a slice of bread; I later learnt that, round there, it's not fish and chips without a slice of tasteless processed white sliced.
When we retired to bed, we found the bedroom to be very good. Lovely comfortable king size bed, and, again, tastefully decorated, although I forgot to take a photo. The only downside was that, being an attic bedroom, there were low beams and sloping gables. Even I bumped my head several times. You get used to it, but I'm not sure I'd want that permanently.
We booked our main holiday last year for September. At some point it seemed a long way off so we thought, hey, why don't we have a weekend away! In summer hotels are often booked up on Saturday nights, and generally don't have 'offers' - presumably because of weddings and other get-togethers. But we booked Thursday and Friday night and enjoyed a lovely little break at Lythe Hill. We've been before and I nearly opted to go a third time for my birthday this year (before opting for Bournemouth). I'm sure I'll return sooner rather than later.
Situated just outside Haslemere, Lythe Hill is accessible by bus should you choose. 2 acres and 44 rooms, so plenty of opportunity to 'get away from it'. We had a superior room on the first floor. Previously we had stayed in a room named after a novelist - Jane Austen, if I recall correctly. This time we were on Politicians' Corridor. I had mixed feelings to be staying in 'Nancy Astor'. Obviously great to be in a room named after a female politician, but, being among Baldwin, Churchill, Disraeli and Eden, I considered it a pretty appalling attempt to avoid naming a room after Britian's greatest ever Prime Minister. A very nice room, though!
A highlight of Lythe Hill is the spa. Obviously, not a good place to take photos, but worth taking a look on their website and I've copied their swimming pool photo - fair use for 'review and criticism'. The 16m pool is bigger than any indoor hotel pool I've been in, and is complemented by the jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, and the tempura shower (tried once, never again, although I accept that have a cold bucket of water dumped on your head is therapeutic). In between swims we reclined on the sun terrace, clad only in swimming gear and complementary bath robe, sipping tea and eating sandwiches delivered from the bar. The pool has a specific hour each day when children are welcome; outside of those times it's very quiet and relaxing.
I did have a good laugh (in my head) at one pair of young women. They were barely out of their teens and had come for a 'spa day'. I noticed that they bore copies of 'Wedding flowers' magazine. I was quite aghast at that - imagine having a whole magazone devoted just to the flowers. I couldn't help fast forwarding to the bored housewives I'd seen at Devil's Punchbowl, and recalled a conversation with a friend a few weeks earlier. I think it was her cousin or somesuch she was talking about. She's of Sikh background. Her cousin was due to marry and she asked him what he and his fiancée had in common, what did they talk about. "The wedding" he
replied. So she asked what they'd talk about when they were married. "The wedding" he replied. My friend was quite flummoxed by this, and we agreed that too many people plan the perfect wedding but not so much a great marriage.
These young women entered. They didn't spend long in the sauna, and made tentatively for the pool, one complaining how cold it was (warmer than a council pool, let alone a Lido or the sea). The jacuzzi was also too cold, so they went in the steam room for over a minute, before retrieving their bathrobes - which they had unceremoniously dumped on top of my belongings 'oh, that must be the place where people put things'. They were impeccably manicured and hair-done, bodies dictated by advertising, and their lives revolved around spending hundreds (if not thousands) on wedding flowers. Although an atheist, I raised a silent prayer of thanks for my life!
We spent several hours on both Friday and Saturday between the spa and the sun terrace: it's nice that even though you check out by 11am (industry standard) you're able to use the spa throughout the rest of the day. On the Saturday afternoon we had afternoon tea, which I blogged some months ago. On both evenings we ate in the hotel restaurant.
I started with a dish based around mackerel. As you can see,it incorporated several elements and I noted in my diary that it was 'extremely good'
My main course was a wild mushroom open lasagne. The individual elements were good, including proper wild mushrooms. I just wasn't entirely convinced it worked as a cohesive whole.
I finished with what can only be described as a show-stopper, one of three great great puddings of 2013 - the others being Sweet Curry Plate from Ben's Cornish Kitchen and Vanilla poached pear, ginger ice cream, rice pudding, Nick's raspberry jam and peanut brittle from Wild Thyme
The Lythe hill pudding delight was a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. Anyone who watches Masterchef will know how some critics - rightly - consider the deconstruction an abomination. One is tempted to say 'put it back together and stop messing sround, dear boy' and wonders whether showing off cleverness is a poor substitute for taste. Fortunately, this cheesecake was all about the flavour!
Ricotta doughnut sticks, vanilla shortbread (crumbled), very creamy vanilla ice cream and macerated strawberries. Delicious!
On the second night I had asparagus velouté. Full of flavour but surprisingly difficult to eat.
Main was a fillet of halibut with a halibut brandade (mash) and roasted baby vegetables. Nice without being exceptional
I finished with deconstructed carrot cake. Very tasty but not a patch on the previous evening's strawberry cheesecake. And an example where I was unsure how deconstruction added anything to a classic dish.
Overall, an excellent and relaxing mini-break at a good hotel. I really only have one criticism - the lake. Both of our visits have been in August and the lake really does stink. It's not a problem if you're in your room or on the terrace bar, but it's off-putting if you want a lakeside stroll. Several recent reviews on TripAdvisor have mentioned this. Also, I note the very recent comments on how stuffy the rooms are in a heatwave, not a problem for us on this visit but reminded me of when we visited in 2011. And, finally, weekday breakfast is brilliant, but Saturday is more slapdash with less choice.
To conclude, I would highly recommend Lythe Hill and intend to return, but a few issues require attention and do make the difference between it being a good hotel and an exceptional one.
These photos have been added to my Surrey album
Surrey Life review
Tooting Bec Common is my nearest sizeable open space. I've lived within walking distance of it since 1991 yet only actually discovered its glory in 2008. Paired with the much smaller Tooting Graveney Common in the far south and you have the technically correct "Tooting Commons".
There are people who go on the Commons daily or near daily, to walk their dogs or as part of their journey to work or school, or as their regular constitutional. It must be great to do that, to see the minute changes through the season. On the other hand, I like to see many different places, and in south London we have no shortage of great wild nature places to visit. Although densely populated, London is mainly green space or open water, with fairly little of that being private land. We might not have rolling hills visible from our windows but we have no shortage of diverse parkland in which to roam.
Anyway, even in winter I like to go down to the Common from time to time, sometimes as a scenic walk finishing with cake in Streatham. Because it's so familiar I rarely take photos, especially if I'm on the bike. But perhaps there is something about Spring that pushes the urge to photograph. These are all from mid-April.
It's nice down by the lake, but unfortunately a large colony of rats seem to have taken over. Mildly fascinating the first time
On a subsequent visit I had to move from the lake: too unsettling to have rats scurrying about and pigeons seeming to fly directly at me. Perhaps even more disconcerting was the parents encouraging their toddlers to throw bread into the lake. "Feeding the ducks" they think they're doing. It's bad for the water fowl and it just encourages the rats, and might also encourage e. coli. If I were a mother of a small child I would be repelled by the rats, nature's way of telling a mother to protect her young. Still, I saw a robin.
The Commons cover 92 hectares (221 acres) of wildlife areas, woods, sports pitches, playgrounds, a lido, an Athletics track. According to Wikipedia (subsequently removed) "Ribblesdale Rovers FC have been playing here since their founding in 2013 and have attracted crowds of up to 20 people on a weekly basis".
Oddly, I never think to photograph the woods. I guess because they're just trees. Down the southern end are more trees, and open space
Lurking behind the trees is the viaduct that carries the branchline of the London-Brighton railway to Streatham Hill and beyond.
From time to time when I am cooking I like to photograph the process. Much of what I cook doesn't really lend itself to photography, especially stews and anything made of pulses - which I love. One weekend I made three different dishes all photographable. The first was Millionaire's shortbread. A simple recipe technically, but one that can't be made in a hurry.
On the Saturday I made the biscuit base but didn't think to photograph it until the cake was assembled and served! After baking it for 30 minutes, you have to set it aside to cool.
In the meantime, you make the 'custard' or caramel. Melt butter, condensed milk and golden syrup.
Cool it a bit, and then pour it onto the cooled shortbread, and leave it to cool completely. I suppose if you start early enough in the morning you can make this in a day, but, in practice, I would recommend starting it the day before.
At this point I left it to cool overnight.
Next day, all I had to do was melt the chocolate. I've been melting chocolate over a bain marie for years, decades. But it's only recently that I've learnt that you mustn't let the simmering water in the saucepan touch the bowl the chocolate is in. Suddenly, this becomes technically more difficult!
As a kid, you'd use Scotbloc chocolate flavoured cake covering because you knew no better and it's just 'cooking chocolate'. I used Sainsbury's. With a BOGOF, and containing more cocoa solids than Green & Blacks this seemed the best chocolate available on the hill, without venturing to a artisanal chocolatier - there appear to be none, yet, in Brixton/Streatham/Clapham/Balham/Norwood. Only a matter of time, no doubt.
Pour the chocolate onto the cooled caramel custard that sits on top of the shortbread.
Good quality chocolate melted properly gives a sheen that even reflects the colour of the paint on the kitchen wall.
And leave it to cool, again, this takes several hours.
Easy to execute, pay attention to execute it properly, and plan for the hours and hours of cooling time. I thought it was gorgeous; Jimmy said it was too sweet!
I've found recipes on the internet that suggest adding some sea salt to the caramel, and others that round off the display by piping some white chocolate on top of the dark!
It was a pleasant journey, pretty much A3 all the way, with just one bottle neck on the outskirts of London. A ride of sheer pleasure through the Hindhead tunnel, and then doubled back to visit Devil's Punch Bowl.
According to Wikipedia
The Hindhead Tunnel, opened in 2011, is part of the 4 mile dual-carriageway Hindhead bypass that replaced the last remaining stretch of single-carriageway on the 68-mile A3, the London to Portsmouth road. At 1.14 miles in length the tunnel is the longest non-estuarial road tunnel in the United Kingdom, and takes the road beneath the Devil's Punch Bowl, a Site of Special Scientific Interest...
...Tree felling was scheduled to minimise disruption to nesting birds and to other wild-life and in certain instances, animals such as dormice were removed to similar habitats elsewhere. After the works were completed, 200,000 trees were planted on the route of the old road.The restoration of the old road to nature removed a barrier that prevented the migration of ground-nesting birds, such as woodlarks and nightjars from one part of the nature reserve to the other.
We stopped for coffee at the National Trust coffee shop and were obliged to endure the bragging of the women at the next table, all showy off about things they were spending their money on and nothing about actually doing anything. Pretty ghastly.
The National Trust have done their best to make this visitor friendly, clearly signing several walks of varying length and degrees of difficulty. We set out along one. And didn't get very far.
We had the misfortune to be unable to escape the most ghastly party imaginable. Two self-absorbed mothers, one pushing a buggy, and several out-of-control children on bikes, trikes and scooters ignored by their miserable inadequate sub-human mothers. Lots of incidents, but perhaps the worst was the toddler on the trike deliberately driving it between us, then turning round to try and drive the trike through my legs. I haven't kicked a child since I was one myself but I was on the verge. Or the child on a bike, about seven, who overtook us on the path and turned round to ride at speed directly at us, slamming his brakes on just inches from our feet. The revolting specimens posing as 'parents' did nothing. Absolutely nothing. Carried on walking, heads down talking loudly about shopping for materialistic status symbols. Nasty crud. I don't know what you're supposed to do when physically harassed and assaulted by pre-school and KS1 children.
We turned back and managed to salvage the morning by walking off the path and onto the Common. That was enormously rewarding, not least because of the butterflies. Something magical happened last summer, and that weekend was its zenith. Later, at Lythe Hill, I stood by the tennis court and watched flocks of butterflies dancing in the sunlight. Such joy, and such a variety I have never encountered before. And many pollinators, too.
What made this special was that we saw so many butterflies, wild flowers and bees on a piece of land that was only actually two years old, that had previously been the main London-Portsmouth Road. Very encouraging to see how quickly nature can reclaim itself.
We returned to the car park and had to endure further minutes of the vacuous bored housewives of Surrey doing their attention seeking shouty thing around the enormous fuel-inefficient cars they struggle to park, let alone drive. Pathetic little parasites.
Onto Haslemere town centre and the outstanding White Horse for lunch. This was the fourth time we've eaten here, and it's a lovely addition to any break at nearby Lythe Hill. Really good food - I had asparagus and pea gnocchi, perfect for lunch on a day when you've already booked dinner! The staff at the pub are lovely, too. Unfortunately, its clientele is also infested by the Smug Surreyness of the area.
Particularly hilarious was the loud over-sharing conspicuous consumers at the next table. Once they had finished shouting about their expensive holidays of conspicuous consumption and intellectual vacuity, they moved on to discuss a visit to some friends to who had recently moved to 'it has a Manchester postcode but it's really Cheshire' and how marvellous that place is. They could only be talking of Sale, my home town.
I'm not going to go all pedantic about the Local Government Act of 1974, merely observe that Cheshire's reputation (notwithstanding industrial towns and its fair share of rural poverty) is green fields, cattle grazing, market gardening, picturesque villages, National Trust estates, and spacious villas with paddocks and orchards. Sale, on the other hand, is an unremarkable commuter suburb, congested with traffic, dense housing, including 'rough' council estates, and a pre-dominance of two/three bedroomed semis and terraced houses, with a few patches of larger urban villas.
She also boasted about how good the schools are. Surely if her friends were any good as parents, their kids wouldn't need good schools - an intelligent child with engaged parents can do well academically from a mediocre school. Good schools are great for the dim or for those who parents don't really care. Ultimately, I couldn't quite work out what she was boasting about or why, it was just boasting for its own sake. No mention of how the friends are settling into their new home, no mention of them actually doing anything. Just boasting about material status. No amusing anecdotes, no yearning to relocate or delight to remain. Just shouty boasting.
Surrey has some beautiful scenery, and the staff I have met at places like Lythe Hill and the White Horse, as well as elsewhere, are as nice as you'll find anywhere. But it's difficult to love Surrey when so many of its residents seem to be loud shallow bragging no-marks. I have friends that live in Surrey, and they're not like that, and I'm sure that plenty more Surrey residents - the ones you don't notice - aren't, either, but I've never been anywhere with such a dominant pattern of behaviour. It's the last place I'd like to live.
I'm blogging this to round off a short series. I am fairly certain there will be further Afternoon Tea outings but probably not until the winter - unless on holiday, although cream tea might happen. I was quite struck by the idea of sampling different offerings, 6 in the past year, but all things in moderation.
The Marriott at County Hall had a time-limited offer that wasn't cheap but included unlimited 'sparkling wine' . Not surprisingly it was booked solid on most of the dates we could do, except for one Friday afternoon in April, which I booked - and later realised it was Good Friday. My constant companion was fine about that, but with one condition - no meat. He, like I, was brought up a Catholic, and for him it's important to abstain from eating meat on Good Friday (he is past the age where fasting is obligatory). I know that the theologians among you will point out that a champagne afternoon tea is not wholly in the spirit of penance, to which I will say 'Haven't you got better things to worry about?'
I rang up a few days before and asked whether a vegetarian option was available. (I decided to keep it simple and not mention fish - Himself is not a big fan of smoked salmon). I laid it on with a trowel that it was Good Friday, hence no meat. The calltaker was slightly non-plussed, but noted that we were veggie and all was in order when we arrived. I actually think the veggie option was a win: I've read other blogposts from this venue and whilst their sandwiches were good, ours were outstanding.
Like an idiot I didn't write them down but thy included a cheddar and pickle, beetroot, cucumber, tomato, and cream cheese. None of which probably seems that tempting but all exceeded my expectations/pre-conceptions. Quality fresh ingredients, used by someone with a sensitive intelligent understanding of flavours. Jimmy normally doesn't like cucumber, but enjoyed his cucumber (and, if I remember rightly) mint sandwich. I'm not a big beetroot fan, but this went down well.
We started with a rhubarb 'soup'. Again, I forget the details but it was topped with a foam of, I think, raspberry.
On arrival we were presented with a case each containing sample jars of a wide variety of different teas. I thought that was a great idea, you could choose at your leisure, and were encouraged to sniff the contents of the individual jars. It was a bit overwhelming in the end, though, as I dithered between Darjeeling or Darjeeling first crop (or some such). Better than being shown a box of cardboard boxes of teabags, though, or being presented with the exciting choice of English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Thoughtfully planned, but when the teapots arrived the waiter just poured the first cup without checking with me, or checking that it had brewed long enough, or stirring it. If you are making a big deal about serving afternoon tea it might actually help if you train your staff how to serve tea properly. I don't think I'm asking too much.
Much of the offer was truly excellent but in other respects I was slightly surprised at standards that were less than professional and/or luxurious. Noise.The musical accompaniment was down market commercial 80s pop. I'm a big fan of this genre but it was just wrong in this setting and for this experience. Arguably music isn't necessary, but if it has to be played, instrumental is best. Light orchestral, perhaps, or plinky plonk jazz piano that I only like in this sort of setting.
The sandwiches were followed, in time honoured fashion by scones, or, on this day a savoury scone and a hot cross bun. Usual clotted cream and jam to go with the hot cross bun; a cream cheese and chive for the scone.
We were seated in the 'quiet' room but the next table, several feet away, were a group of loud shallow ignorant Americans, having tea to mark someone's Marathon run. I'm sorry to serious runners who might read this, but they confirmed every stereotype of the dull-as-dishwater sporty type. No conversational skills, just an analysis of each mile run, an incredulity that friends were able to track the position of the runner (um, technology, quite probably American technology), and amazement that the marathon went to places that didn't seem to be London (I assume they mean Greenwich and Woolwich, which have been part of 'London' longer than the USA has been the USA).
It slowly dawned on me that I really didn't have to listen to every loud word they said, that I wasn't eavesdropping but I was rudely having this utter tedium forced upon me. I went over and politely asked them to be quiet. One of them spoke to me rudely and insultingly. But I shouldn't have been put in that position. I'm not sure what the answer is: it would be very odd if the waiting staff policed the noise levels from each table. It's probably too much to ask ultra-competitive dullards to consider the people round them. Still, the message went home, I didn't have to endure their mind-numbing monotony any more.
Scones were followed by cakes. I was somewhat non-plussed. The promotional material for this place shows cakes that have been carefully designed to appeal to the eye as much as the tastebuds. Instead, we got this
They tasted all right, but were really quite disappointing: no better (worse, really) than you'd expect from a small cafe in a town or suburb. It's like they couldn't be bothered, as it was a Bank Holiday. The sort of thing you'd run up at home.
So, on balance it was quite a mixed experience and I'm not sure I could recommend it. Noisy table mates in a 'quiet' area, cakes not up to the standard advertised, and pretty lousy service. Another waiter was both incomprehensible and over-excitable. She listed the various items that were brought to the table, but despite asking her to repeat, and carefully reading her lips, I was still left in partial ignorance. Her enthusiasm was too much "You are having AFTERNOON tea, this is so FUN..." "You will ENJOY the cakes". You don't get that at lunch or dinner sittings at restaurants; there's something very odd - quasi-religious - about the Afternoon Tea culture, that you are instructed in how to feel and think. I saw a review on TA that described (presumably) this waiter as overbearing and inappropriate.
It was interesting being in the the old seat of London Government, County Hall. We sat in the 'library lounge' and I was amused by the selection of books, seemingly random, next to my seat.
I'm sorry I didn't get a better picture of the Easter Egg tree in the foyer
When you arrive at the Marriott County Hall, the first thing you see is this, a cheap green carpet
There's a shop on Tooting High Road that sells carpet that more closely resembles turf, but I ask myself - you're a 5 star hotel in the epicentre of one of the world's great cities, couldn't you even be bothered to buy some real turf, or perhaps plant this structure with wild flowers, you know, to look like you give a toss? First impressions count! And this underlines the lack of attention to detail experienced in the Afternoon Tea.
It was nearly mid-April and we were experiencing the third warmest Spring on record. A pleasant Saturday afternoon beckoned and pulled us towards the River Thames. Actually, it wasn't quite as warm as we expected. I wore a blouse and a spring-weight cardigan , which was okay for strolling in mid-afternoon, but we emerged from a pub after a late lunch/early supper and from five o'clock the temperatures fell and it became increasingly chilly. Nevertheless, the sunshine was welcome, as was the dryness of the day.
My app recorded the total distance walked Hampton Court railway station until a bus stop in Walton-on-Thames as exactly 5 miles. I attach a map of the route but it really is the easiest walk to follow - just walk along the River Thames, with no real interruptions or obstacles. The path was temporarily diverted a few yards inland for a short distance in Hurst Park but we could still see the river.
We encountered relatively few people en route. There were clusters around entry points, indicating that people go for just a few tens of metres along riverpaths before turning back and returning to their cars. None of my business, I know, and some people have good reasons - poor mobility - why they can't venture far, but I'm sure that many more, not necessarily physically lazy, have never considered venturing off into the unknown. Some people maybe anxious about personal security, and one does read of incidents, but they are almost all in the evening, often in the dark or twilight. I don't see too much of a risk on a dry sunny Saturday afternoon - although 'quiet', nevertheless we we were overtaken by cyclists or passed opposite direction walkers every two or three minutes.
As I walked along I took a good few photographs. None of them is outstanding, but I think as a collection, they tell a little story about life beside this 5 miles of the non-tidal Thames.
Lots of houseboats moored on the river. Some of them quite fancy. I increasingly like the idea of living on a houseboat; or an an island in the Thames. Perhaps a houseboat moored alongside an island on the Thames.
Plenty of water fowl at different spots on the way - a Tufted Duck and what I'm pretty sure is an Egyptian goose
Some pleasant houses on both banks of the river - perhaps no more pleasant in design than those that stand only on roads, and, frankly, if you had a river view and mooring rights, would you care greatly about the architecture of your house!
It's not all idyllic, though. You might be stuck with a neighbour who conspicuously flies a UKIP flag. Or have an ugly pseudo-Georgian* mansion overshadowing you (*for all I know, or care, it might be a genuine historic building!)
Everything I have read (admittedly, not much) about this stretch of river mentions the view of St Mary's Parish Church Hampton. The site "is said" to be that of a Romano-British chapel; historical records of a church being here stretch back to 1342, 150 years before King Henry VIII (I mention him because of his close association with nearby Hampton Court). It's reasonably safe to say that this church, and its view, has dominated the entire history of civilised metropolitan Surrey.
And what do I see? The more I look at it, what dominates the eye? Like a portrait taken with a blouse button undone or lipstick on the teeth - no, because they are inadvertent. I see a car park.
Regular readers will know my antipathy towards organised religion and my ambivalence about preserving old churches just because, and may also know that I embrace modern architecture alongside the historically interesting. So more taditional or conservative people than I should be furious at this. All I see is a car park. No spot of land in this sometimes awful country is too nice, historic or strategic to prevent people parking their cars there. Often without paying and rarely paying full market rent for the land they so casually occupy. Well done careless car-driven people of Hampton. Your potentially beautiful church looks like the backdrop to a car park from Hurst Park. You haven't thought this one through, have you?
I took a picture of someone's delightful rock garden. It wasn't until I uploaded the photos at home I noticed the topiary teddy bear!
Outside their house across the towpath near their mooring they had sculpted a child riding a bird.
Further along, the houseboats were humbler. I felt it my duty to collect evidence of modern day slavery. Shocking. Those poor rag dolls, desperate for freedom.
We passed a City of London coal duty boundary marker. I photographed it for future reaearch (reading Wikipedia). In brief, if you imported coal into London, you were liable for duty. The post served to remind you. The inscription refers to Acts of Parliament during the 14th & 15th years of Victoria's reign. There's an entire dedicated website City Posts.
We came upon Sunbury Lock. Locks are endlessly fascinating. It was our good fortune to see two pleasure boats enter the lock to be transported downstream.
The lock lies by Sunbury Lock Ait (Ait means a small island in a river). The Ait is accessed by a footbridge. I used this as a vantage point for more photos up and downstream.
We stopped for fish and chips at The Weir. Very good they were, but there's a natural limit to the number of plates of fish and chip one can photograph. And I didn't get my camera out for the brisk walk to a more central part of Walton, and a bus stop. the Weir seemed a very nice pub, apart from the dog (off its lead, despite signs) that slobbered over Jimmy - not at his behest - and stained his trousers. Totally unacceptable in any establishment, especially one that serves food.
View 52-54 Bridge Rd in a larger map
Writing this because it's too long to Tweet.
In my long ago childhood, I attended two faith schools. One from 5-11, and one from 11-18. I could write about their flaws, but overall, they were good schools, with some excellent and many good enough teachers, and gave me a very good academic education.
I think it was wrong for my parents to send me to these schools, for several reasons.
They were not my nearest schools. Other children living nearby went to maintained Primary schools and, generally, one of the Sale Grammar schools. My friends at school did not live near me. While it's possible to maintain separate friendship groups in school and out, it takes effort, mainly from the parents. Why would a Sale Grammar girl want to hang round with me rather than her other Sale Grammar friends living just a few roads away? And at the age of 12 or 13, how reasonable is it to hang out with school friends living in Warrington or central Manchester?
By choosing different schools from the very good local ones, weren't my parents sending a message to our neighbours 'your schools aren't good enough for my child' and implying 'your children who go those schools aren't good enough for my children'?
I had to get the bus, even to Primary School. This meant I couldn't hang out with my classmates or dawdle home on summer's evenings. Because of logistics, my bus contingent had to sit around in the school hall for half an hour or more (missing most of children's TV, in the days before videos).
Although I grew up in Sale, I went to school in Altrincham. Yes, the two towns are joined at the hip, like Romulus and Remus, Brighton & Hove, or Ant & Dec, but they are different towns. One is M33, the other is WA14. I think I can still walk around Altrincham while reading a book, but I have no muscle memory of Sale. Where am I from?
My parents were not particularly well off, but neither were they poor. I think they were probably typical of most people living in our immediate area. Decent but modest salaries, reduced to a level just above struggling by the cost of children, running one modest car, rarely replaced. Altrincham contains some very rich areas - I read only a few years back that the Altrincham & Sale constituency was in the top ten most prosperous out of 650.
Despite going to a faith school with a strong positive ethos of fairness, equality etc - the wishy-washy quasi-socialist aspect of liberal Roman Catholicism (of which I approve, and is an important part of who I am) - the prevailing culture of the school community was conspicuous materialistic consumption.
When your classmates have cottages in Wales, holidays in the South of France, several cars, often Jaguars, renewed every couple of years, and clothes from Benetton, it warps your perception. I was avaricious and resentful. Goodness knows how the very small number of girls on free school meals or in jobless households felt.
I think it warped my ambitions to an extent that I was determined to follow a career that paid a high salary rather than one that fulfilled me personally - and, to an extent, that's where I am. My salary is well above the London median, and I could have followed a career path into a six-figure salary; thankfully I chose not to. I frequently get some personal fulfilment from work, and appreciate the money/time to pursue other interests.
I could be disparaging about the ideological religious agenda of Catholic Schools - for example, we had a visiting speaker from SPUC, the militant anti-choice pressure group. However, I am pretty certain it backfired. Because we had been taught to think and challenge, and because of the liberal feminist ethos that was quite advanced for Thatcher's Eighties, most of the bright girls, the opinion leaders, were angry at the propaganda and brainwashing, and inspired to form cogent arguments to defend a woman's right to choose.
But I think the lasting damage of going to a 'faith' school was the lack of community. When you're a child your geographical horizons are narrow, and it's difficult to build solid lasting friendships with people who live across the A56, or in another county. Selective 11+ schools divide a community; religious apartheid adds to this.
The prosperous Irish diaspora dominated the culture and there were relatively few real Mancs or Cestrians. If you weren't Irish enough there was a slight hint of being a lesser person! I grew up thinking that everybody was Catholic or Protestant, and white, except for the one friend who was Muslim, with prosperous Pakistani parents (and whose companionship did open my eyes).
I'm not sure the non-faith schools in the area at that time were more ethnically varied, but I would have learnt not to categorise people by which church they go to, because most don't. I would have seen it's possible to be a normal decent person who judges the difference between actual right and actual wrong on how it affects other people, rather than being a nasty person who follows The Rules.
This is not a criticism of the schools I attended, and perhaps it reflects on the passive, over-protective, anti-social attitude of my parents, who saw no need to mix with non-Catholics (except Grandad!) or to pursue structured or unstructured social activities outside of school and church (and then, barely).
I'm sure more enlightened parents, then and now, who choose faith schools also ensure their children take part in sporting or cultural groups outside the narrow faith community, and will organise playdates and encourage hanging out with friends from different social circles. Interestingly, my partner who grew up in south London, and whose parents had no interest in academic achievement, also insisted on the Catholic apartheid system they brought with them from Ireland, and he too suffered the no-friends-locally/long-journey-to-school syndrome, and neither of us is able to maintain deep friendships (although superficially we are both quite gregarious and 'friendly').
I don't criticise anyone who chooses to send their child to a faith school because they can select (by parental attitude); but I have observed too many schools whose self-proclaimed 'Christian ethos' is a complacent assumption that bad things such as bullying don't happen.
There is a problem when a parent's desire for a 'faith' school sends out a message of inherent superiority. It's also a problem when many children are driven or bussed to their faith schools, when too young to understand or decide whether they have a religious faith, and many others are driven away rejected by their local taxpayer funded school because of their parents' non-attendance at church.
It was often church schools that introduced education to poor areas, but that was 150 years ago! That doesn't make it necessary to fund such schools now - although, frankly, abolishing them would be a policy, legal and administrative nightmare, so it's no surprise no government has tried. I find it preposterous when certain people attempt to explain the special status of Church schools by 'but the parents raise funds for them' - almost as if that doesn't happen in (supposedly) non-religious schools.
The irony of parents fighting to send their children to specialist christian schools is that every school in England that isn't a specialist Christian school is by default and by law a Church of England school. Of course, this law is honoured more in the breach than the observance, but the time has long passed where Catholic parents (often of Irish ethnicity) demand special schools to keep their children away from the quasi-paganistic practices and beliefs of a state-sponsored Protestant school. I'm sure if such an arrangement happened in a foreign (not former British Empire) country, we'd laugh and call it an archaic and probably corrupt foreign peculiarity. But in England, it's the norm.
Last summer we went to Chez Bruce to celebrate Jimmy's birthday. So long afterwards, there's not anything meaningful I can say, especially as the food was superb and the service was faultless. Also, I drank quite a lot for lunchtime, and it was the hottest day of the year. We sat on Wandsworth Common for a while afterwards; back home, it was stifling indoors even with a through draft with both front and back doors kept open (and hotter outside).
I enjoy the photographs I took:
I started with a Gazpacho with marcona almonds and basil oil
My main course was Cornish hake with grilled squid, sautéed black rice, bisque vinaigrette and fennel
I'm really rather pleased of that photo of an obviously photogenic dish.
Cherry and pistachio tart with clotted cream
And, because I was quite squiffy, I took a couple more photos.
Very nice; I would highly recommend it. I must go back again soon!
What a miserable winter 2013/14 was. I am immensely grateful, living on a hill and inland, I was not affected by floods how many people were. Even so, the seemingly constant heavy rain and strong winds was not conducive to going out. I've blogged about a New Year walk around The City, and a fortuitous stroll along Bournemouth seafront, but other than 2 or 3 pleasant but uneventful walks on Tooting Common, and one to Brockwell Park, these are my only 'going out' since returning from holiday in September.
I took time off sick in February and March. It retrospect it might have been easier to take a full week, rather than a day here, a couple of days there. Something dawned on me in late March - how good I had felt walking through Central Croydon after a work-related meeting, and a similar work-related jaunt to leafy outer suburbs. Both days were bright sunshiny days. One was pretty cold - scarves and gloves - but that mattered less than the brightness of the sun. In short, I am fairly certain I have Seaonally Affective Disorder. I don't want to be pseudo-scientific, and I'm very aware of the power of suggestion, but I have felt so much better since the Spring Equinox.
The odd trip out, in glorious pre-Spring weather, only served to mask the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I've ignored it for too long. I've treated it like hayfever or migraines, afflictions that make me lose several hours every couple of years, but not comparable to people whose lives are devastated by them. Everyone feels a bit down in winter. It's not that I'm depressred, just de-energised, lack-lustre, indifferent, apathetic. And yet, that isn't me in sunshine. I walked three miles, which is nothing really (although three miles of pootling and stopping to admire the view surely requires more energy than yomping across country). I was tired in the evening, and had to leave a birthday party early, but it felt a lot more positive than the world-weariness I had felt for months.
The Wandle never ceases to amaze. I could walk its banks for ever and always see something new. Early on, we detoured into the wheelhouse at Merton Abbey Mills and saw behind the water wheel.
Along the river were scenes of devastation:
The sandbags were out by the flats in Ravensbury Park - thankfully, looking unneeded. What a great place they must be to live. Whenever I go past there are always people out enjoying their amazing back gardens, and the kids obviously love living in the woods - even when a kicked football falls dead in a squelchy hidden puddle!
A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem...wetlands consist primarily of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.
During the winter, some attention-seeking MP was condemning money spent by the Environment Agency on creating a wetlands in his - admittedly subaquatic - constituency. I sighed big sighs - if the water doesn't go into wetlands, it has to go somewhere else.
I got told off by a rather bossy dog woman for wearing the wrong shoes. I was stunned into silence until she had gone. She wore Wellingtons, which are right for her, but they give inadequate support and cushioning for me. It wasn't like I was wearing sandals or PE pumps. I was wearing proper genuine walking boots, Gore-Tex from an outdoors shop. They did me just fine. Yes, they're suede, but I can't help being innately stylish. I pass judgement about people's footwear all the time - in my head. They're adults, they'll cop onto themselves one day, and it's none of my flipping business. It's uncouth to criticise strangers whose behaviour is not affecting oneself. Rude dog woman.
The walk through the Wetlands goes into Morden Hall Park; several attempts to take iconic bridge photos.
Stroll across to the Snuff Mill.
It was great to see many people out in the park, but sad not to see those those not enjoying the welcome and overdue sunlight. Part of me thinks that everybody should spend more time in our great parks, but another part of me thinks, no, we don't want the stunningly secret Morden Hall Park to be over-run by people! If you've never been, you could do worse than follow Morden Hall Park walk. Indeed, there are things in that I've never seen.
Great, too, to see early signs of Spring. I feel guilty for writing that. Last year, Spring arrived late, and all the better for it - bumper crops and so on. But I so wanted the gloom of winter to be over.
I took many poor quality shots of wildfowl, including herons, but I have more than enough mediocre photos of wildfowl. Time to say, enough is enough.
Normally in Morden Hall Park we walk (or cycle) down the grand drive next to the Hay Meadow, but this time we took the riverside route, through the arboretum...squelch squelch! It was so quiet, we only passed one other couple. We sat on a bench to watch the world go by but nothing did.
except some geese, and a heron taking flight
Not even much traffic on Morden Road
Into Ravensbury Park where the millstream flowed in full force.
Several rubbish attempts to photograph waterfowl. Maybe I should get a DSLR with a Zoom lens. One more thing to carry around, and lose. Or I'd be daunted by using it so my photography would dwindle and cease. I was quite pleased with these, anyway
Just before we saw the swan we had noticed a couple of women in their mid twenties. We both thought they were probably Irish Travellers. One was careering along the footpath on a child's scooter (although I've subsequently seen rather too many adults on such a scooter). The other was taking an enormous St Bernard for a walk. We met at the swan, there was also a Polish mother and toddler. Our attention was drawn by the swan. The St Bernard stood there, relaxing, keeping an eye on the swan, not getting excited or agitated. I have never seen a dog so disciplined and well-behaved in the presence of water fowl. Swan, St Bernard, Sunshine...can't beat that (sadly, the St Bernard was lacking brandy). If I ever had a dog it would be a St Bernard. And not for the brandy! I should have photoed the St Bernard, but I didn't, so here's a photo of the London Rd bridge
We had caught a bus and a Tube to get to the Wandle, now we were in for a new adventure - a Croydon tram. Amazingly, only my second ever ride on a Croydon tram, and Jimmy's first
Our journey ended on a standard train to Streatham Common, not a station we use much. And early dinner in the Railway. Not sure what to think. Very positive about their craft ales and ciders, but this is no way to serve tea.
I shouldn't have needed to ask for this. Granted, this wasn't in the tea room. Even so, it's not difficult - teabags don't go in teacups. If you're making it in the cup, the cup must be a mug. If you're serving it in a teacup, it should be brewed in a pot. The water was not boiling. Their ineptitude at making tea made me less well disposed. I was part of a mass exodus when several of us separately but together decided it's pointless being in a pub where you can't hear yourself think over a baby that wouldn't stop screaming.
The squid for a starter was very nice.
and the Somerset brie, chargrilled courgettes & sun dried tomato chutney on brioche bun, hand cut chips, bloody Mary ketchup filled a spot. Foodwise I'd go back the next time I come off a train at Streatham Common starving hungry. But maybe the service and ambience would put me off. Too far to 'pop out' to, but not special enough to justify a special journey.
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We stayed one night in Botany Bay. In the evening we went into Broadstairs to sample a well-reviewed modern British restaurant, Wyatt and Jones. Independent, family run, seasonal local produce. Also, I notice, our childrens menu consists of a selection of smaller portions from our adult menu. I know people who are frustrated because far too many 'restaurants' think children's food should be mechanically processed offcuts deep fried and served as finger food. So, although I have no direct interest, I will praise any restaurant which overtly states such a policy!
They open for breakfast and lunch (I've been told good things of their breakfasts) but they don't open all day - they close for three hours in the afternoon, presumably for staff lunch and rest and for dinner preparation.
Before settling down to eat I took a short stroll to the shore to capture the glory of the evening sun.
I started with a fish soup with scallops, prawns and mussels. Substantial, wholesome and tasty, although I'm not sure 'soup' is the right classification, but soup or stew it hit the spot. Good tasty fresh pieces of seafood and fish, and a sauce with robust flavours.
My main course was cod loin in garlic butter, creamed greens, fried potatoes, clams & asparagus veloute.
The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed I don't eat meat but I eat a lot of fish and seafood, especially when dining out - when I'm cooking for myself at home I like both big pulse-rich foods with lots of spice and also egg-and-cheese heavy dishes. But, possibly, my most favourite food group is sauce. And this is why I love Modern British food. Sauce, bringing the dish together. I have been in restaurants abroad - such as Spain -who have served up a lovely fresh piece of fish. but with no or few vegetables, and no sauce, the result is disappointing. (And I'm no fan of Nick Clegg, but his wife his Spanish, and he has made a similar complaint about Spanish food).
And this cod dish was an exemplar of great Modern British food. Ostensibly the cod was the star of the show, but the falvoursome veloute brought it together as a dish of balanced elements, each mouth ful a flavour sensation.
Furthermore, it was delightful to find this restaurant in Broadstairs. I fully admit to having misjudged the town, influenced perhaps by MArgate's reputation as a downmarket seaside town past its best (not entirely true). Nevertheless, it doesn't have a foodie reputation, and the town and area's marketing is driven by sandy beaches. I travelled for the bech and I found a restaurant that, although not 'cheffy' (or 'poncey' delivers good quality fine dining.
However, it turned out that the starter was far too generously portioned, and I didn't have room for pudding.
Lovely mini-break in Bournemouth. A wonderful escape from the stresses of work and the stress known as 'Other People'. On the Friday we walked along the seafront to Boscombe A sunny February walk in Bournemouth and on both evenings we ate in our hotel Blake's Restaurant Bournemouth. On both days we had a light lunch in the local pub - the Goat and Tricycle, reputedly the best real ale pub in Bournemouth. Jimmy had a chat with the manager, who said how many barrels they turned over each week - and how many at Christmas. I forget the numbers now but Jimmy was seriously impressed. A good selection of ales and 'proper' ciders and a wide selection of food, from bar snacks to main meals. A good turnover of customers, too, and a reasonable social mix: local workmen, dog-walkers, retired or mini-breaking couples. I felt entirely comfortable there on a Thursday afternoon.
I had planned that we would spend all of Saturday in Bournemouth, perhaps even taking an early dinner before travelling back late, but the weather forecast was not good. Jimmy insisted we get away fairly early. I was disappointed, but I remembered how critical I am of people who travel unnecessarily, putting themselves and others at risk, in bad weather.
After breakfast on Saturday we walked to the clifftop, and down to the Undercliff Promenade to look at the brewing storm. It was lively out there, a contrast from the previous day's relative calm. and, yet, as pictures of the storm-battered winter of 2013/14 go, these are about the dullest you'll see! There was even someone on the beach with his small child, and they looked perfectly safe.
Nevertheless, there were signs of an impending storm and we decided to call it a day and head home. Ironically, our Railway Replacement bus service to Southampton Airport Parkway was a highlight - travelling through the New Forest in glorious sunshine. The train journey was uneventful. We changed at Woking and they were announcing (further) chaos on services to the West Country - this time, a landslip at Crewkerne. On Twitter I was reading various South Londoners caught in flash downpours. This was quite surreal, as we enjoyed surprisingly beautiful weather. Until we reached Streatham Hill, when the heavens opened, and we were soaked in the short walk - dash - from station to fishmongers.
In retrospect, we could have stayed all day in Bournemouth and still got home safely, but I think it was the right decision to make. There were still more storms to come - especially the Valentine's Day storm, which affected previous holiday destinations of Milford-on-Sea and West Bay, but I am rather relieved to have escaped this winter's exceptional storm without one dramatic photo to share with you.
The famous Heatwave of 2014. A grey, rainy, cool Spring looked like there was no end. I got sick of people moaning "We've had no summer". I recounted the years when similar conditions had prevailed right up to the middle weekend - or even the quarter-finals - of Wimbledon and turned into two months of glorious summer. But no one paid me any attention!
The Heatwave broke out and we went to Battersea Park. The next two weekends involved day trips to Hove. They probably merit a blogpost, but on the first occasion I forgot to take my camera; on the second I forgot to take photos.
On the third weekend we booked an overnight stay near Broadstairs, on the recommendation of a colleague. Thanet is close enough to London, but, by train, a bit too far to do in a day and back.
With the Heatwave holding and showing no sign of relenting, booking a seaside hotel wasn't easy. Most demanded a minimum of two nights stay, others were fully booked on the Saturday night, probably because of weddings. We settled on what was called the Fayreness Hotel, but has subsequently changed hands and is now called the Botany Bay hotel. At the time, I concluded it served our purpose well enough - decent breakfast and clean room, and extremely handy for the beach. And with the change of ownership, any further comment is irrelevant.
We caught the High Speed out of St Pancras, and on arrival in Broadstairs we walked own into town. I don't know what it is with seaside towns, but they all seem to have their stations well away from the town centre and the beach. We took a taxi to Kingsgate, although we could have caught a bus. We lunched while waiting for our room. I had a decent enough veggie burger, its presentation elegant if somewhat clichéd.
We spent the afternoon on the beach. For weeks before - and to come - Britain had basked in temperatures above the seasonal average. But not that day and not North East Kent. Officially, temperatures were struggling to get out of the teens.
The main beach was full of a 3-coach school party. From their diverse appearance I guess they had travelled from the London area. Well supervised and well behaved - they tidied their litter up into bin bags they left next to the bins - but there was a lot of them, probably Years 5 and 6. I felt a bit sad. Very few of the children went anywhere near the sea. A good few of them remained dressed in layers. The ones that did go near the sea were called back by the adults. (Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Not my idea of fun being responsible for other people's children in a potentially dangerous place. Dangerous especially because it seemed most of the children had no familiarity with beach and sea. And those that headed to the sea, presumably they were experienced, but could the teachers and helpers take that chance?)
We headed along the beach and past a rock that stuck out. That was fine for a while. But it began to feel very cold. It dawned on us we were now in shade, so we returned to the main beach and basked in the sun for another hour or so. There were plenty - but not too many - people on the beach, but no one was venturing in the sea beyond a hesitant paddle.
In the evening we ate in Broadstairs, and returned to our hotel for drinks. There wasn't much atmosphere in the hotel bar. We had tried taking a walk along the clifftops in front of the hotel, but bizarrely, we were swarmed by large hoverflies, which were quite scary. Perhaps not scary like wasps, but they kept flying at me, so my impulses - blinking, swatting, ducking - were in overdrive. I've never encountered anything like it.
We were on the beach mid morning and again walked along, to get away from what was obviously the main drag. It began to fill up with people, old people and young, couples, friend groups, families. We never felt overcrowded, knowing that if you want beach tranquility on a July Saturday in a heatwave you have to travel.
One thing I concluded from this visit, and from my two daytrips to Hove is that there's no need to be on the beach early. I should have known this, but too many holidays in Southern Europe and beyond have caused me to forget England. It wasn't really that pleasant in the water at 11am; by 3pm it was gorgeous. So therapeutic.
This stretch of coast is sandy; even so, I was glad to have brought beach shoes. We sat by some rocks that needed crossing to get to low water and were submerged at higher water. There is no feeling equal to that of floating in the sea on a day that - eventually - became very hot. I do regret that, having set our hearts on (a very fine) afternoon tea, we left the beach too early. We can have afternoon tea any time; sea swimming is a rarity in England - I haven't done it since (I had hoped to in Cornwall, given that the sea is at its warmest in September, but the air temperature rarely rose above 20C).
When we left the beach we had to return via the 'main' part. I gasped at how crowded it was. People's towels were almost touching the towels of their neighbours; there were perhaps a dozen rows of people. We had chosen a better part - but further to walk from the stairs and ramp. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised - a week or two earlier, I had seen pictures of 'Standing Room Only' at Brighton beach, such as this one, from Stephen Liddell's blog.
We returned into Broadstairs. The beaches were busy there, too. We wandered around for a while but it was too hot for wandering, so after a drink or two, we caught the High Speed home, avoiding the worst of the rush.
It was an enjoyable time away, but I made a mental note for the future - don't be the person who leaves the beach too early in the day. I'm sure it would have been great for swimming even at 6 or 7pm, and a hellish journey on an overcrowded train would not be the disaster one dreads!
We went to the Connaught a couple of years ago. The restaurant and leisure facilities were a high standard, and the room good enough, and it's situated close to the beach. We got a deal for out of-season/non-Saturday night, and splashed out on a sort of birthday treat.
There's a lot of good things about this hotel, but I'll get the criticisms out of the way first. Firstly, the rooms - they really are nothing special. No specific criticisms, and, indeed, as spotlessly clean as one would hope. But, to be frank, having stayed in a couple of Premier Inns recently, if I was choosing on the basis of room alone, I'd opt for a Premier Inn rather than this 4 star hotel. Premier Inn has better fittings and better bed coverings, the rooms are bigger, and, perhaps most importantly, have temperature/air-conditioning control in each room - in the Connaught, the room was just too warm for a truly comfortbale night's sleep.
The other criticism was having the one Michael Buble album on loop throughout our entire stay, through both breakfasts and dinners, and at all other times as we came and went in the communal areas. The time we stayed previously, it was a light classics album, more to my liking, but even so, if I never hear Maria Callas sing Casta Diva again, it will be too soon.
The staff are outstandingly good: warm and friendly without being intrusive, and with sufficient attention to detail without fawning. We had two good/very good meals at the restaurant, although to be honest there wasn't one dish - with the possible exception of the cheese board - that really had a wow factor.
Stupidly, I didn't make a note of what I had to eat and three months later, it's hard to remember precisely. I started with a non-meat Scotch egg, which was tasty, and I followed with a fillet of white fish, served with a variety of vegetables done in different ways. This was faultless and tasted perfect, although I keep looking at this photo and thinking - they've tried to do something with the presentation that didn't quite come off. No matter, it was appetising to the eye and cooked to perfection.
I hated rhubarb as a child, unfortunate, as it grew in the parental garden. It came back into fashion only just a few years ago and I decided to ignore my childhood hatred and try it again, with little luck. So, in a way, I was fortunate to make the mistake of ordering this rhubarb cheesecake. As you can see, it's presented elegantly, and all the non-rhubarb bits were adorable, but even though I ate the rhubarb, and it was possibly the nicest rhubarb I have ever eaten, it still wasn't for me. So, in future, I can be confident I don't like rhubarb, having been presented with a clearly delicious rhubabrb dish!
The following evening I started with the double baked cheese souffle, a wise choice, recommended by Jimmy who had had it the previous night. There's a risk that such a dish could be insipid, but this was packed with flavour and was just the right consistency. I'm afraid the photo doesn't do it justice, indeed I'm disappointed with the entire set. I'd like to say that the really rather good wine slipped down too easily - it did - but that's no excuse at Starter time! I think I over-estimated the ambient light.
My main course was pan fried salmon, with parmentier potatoes, shrimp and capers in brown butter, cauliflower florets and wilted shrimps. I had been tempted by the wild mushroom risotto. I do like risotto and I love wild mushrooms, so, obviously, it's a great dish. But it seems that currently, it's becoming a predictable choice for 'veggie option', so I thought I'd go for the salmon. A really good dish, with some classic traditional ingredients combined in an intelligent modern way. And, let's face it, when it comes to fish fillets, you really can't beat a good old pan-frying: ignore the health freaks - grilling's all very well, but nothing stimulates the succulent juices like pan frying.
Not too many years ago, I proclaimed that 'cheese boards' were dated and well out of fashion, and no restaurants actually serve them. What an ass I can be. Of course they're not, and of course they do! Nobody does cheese like the English, and 'the West country' probably rivals Lancashire/Cheshire/Shropshire for its quality of cheese.
The menu specifies 'up to 4 cheeses' but the lovely waiter gave me five of my own specification, from Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall. Yes, it probably wasn't wise after a cheese souffle starter, but, heck, that's what Lansoprazole is for. And port, obviously!
A couple more indifferent photos of good food.
If we return to Bournemouth - perhaps if we get a heatwave - we might stay in the Travelodge a few yards away, and eat in Blake's again.