Another Amazing Journey.

I acknowledge those creative souls that brought us Sgt. Peppers and as they said 'It's wonderful to be here, It's certainly a thrill, You're such a lovely audience...'

I thank you for joining me as I (we) meander through the next seven weeks.

There is much to anticipate and most of all this is about a family wedding at Chateau Villesavin on July 15th. But before I get too far ahead let's begin with the first step, well steps really, and how we got to London, which is where we start the European part of our adventure.

We, Ian, myself and Sandra departed from Sydney on Friday afternoon and arrived at Kuala Lumper airport for a brief stop before getting onto flight number two to Adu Dhabi. However the stopover at KL was a little longer than first planned but no problem, we managed to amuse ourselves by checking out the many and varied possible purchases from the shops in the airport. I'm not convinced that Corn flavoured Soy Milk is on anyone's shopping list! But maybe Nips are...

By the time we board the next plane we are somewhat sleepy and luckily we scored an empty flight and claimed a row of seats each. Yippee! We can lie down and sleep, well at least until it feels like we need hip replacements.

So before we take step three of our journey we decided to rest overnight in Abu Dhabi. This gave us a day to have a brief experience of the heat, birds, heat, sand, heat, religion, heat, culture, heat and history, of a new place for us. DID I MENTION THE HEAT!!

An overwhelming need for rest and cool meant we returned to our rooms and slept for a couple of hours and then decided to take a taxi ride into town.

Of all the things we had planned we hadn't considered the timing of Ramadan. This is a city that takes this very seriously and consequently finding somewhere to eat proved a challenge. Eventually in a food hall there was a screened section for 'the likes of us' where we could purchase and consume some lunch. But at least it was a lunch with a view.

Our final activity, and I say activity with care because we being in any way active was just not going to happen (did I mention the heat) - was a walk to the 'Souk'. This is an indoor air-conditioned market with eateries which would not open until sunset at 7pm.

While we waited for the sun to set a slow walk through the market provided lots of interesting 'bling' on offer. My favourite was the gold trolley in the picture, just wouldn't fit into my hand luggage.

Tooting Days

Departure from Abu Dhabi and arrival in London was very smooth. A friend recently said that once you've flown in an A380 there is no going back and I can only agree wholeheartedly. Once we had landed and refuelled on coffee we headed towards the tube to find our way to Tooting Broadway where we will be based for the rest of the week.

As our abode is on the fourth floor there is much to see and the blue skies of the afternoon are looking promising for our days to come. Our plans are open ended so we shall see where our adventures take us once we have had a good night's sleep. We did step out briefly for a 'swift half' at the pub, much enjoyed.

The morning dawns with some thin sunshine and once we had breakfast we go a walking to Tooting Park. This park is in direct contrast to the enormous 'industry' of the hospital next to it. Happily we found some bird life and some very healthy looking grey squirrels.

We plan to have 'elevenises' with some friends nearby and so with goodies (cake included) in hand we hot foot it along the various roads of Tooting. Tooting is an interesting area, not the cleanest streets we have walked but at the same time there are lovely buildings, people and greenspaces.

A wonderful time was had by us and the company we played with.

It is spring time and that means long days. We make the most of the light and decide to take an afternoon walk in Morden Hall Park, a National Trust space with lots going on and the River Wandle meanders its way through the property. There was a very productive working Snuff Mill here until 1922 and now the place is a hub of activity for walkers with dogs, families, and interlopers such as us.

We're in London Town

Our days in London are full and fun. From walking the streets of Tooting to Kew gardens, visiting the Hendrix and Handel Museum and laughing our way through another brilliant performance of Twelfth Night at Shakespeare's Globe it has all been excellent.

Our visit to Kew Gardens begins early and after three changes of train lines we arrive at a little village centre where there is deliciousness on offer - we choose a coffee shop and feast on cake before starting our exploration of the gardens. A grand tea party indeed!

There is so much to see and enjoy here and we catch a ride on a little train before deciding that we will go walking in the wooded corner, as ordained by Queen Victoria. Many birds and wooded pathways later we come to a peaceful lake which is also full of life.

Back on the train we head for the Orangery. Here we wander through Kew Palace and its gardens. George III, Charlotte and their many children used this house and gardens as their home and sadly for George it was his asylum during his bouts of madness.

A walk through one of the conservatories, complete with water dragon.

A little piece of musical history and on the road

Just down the road from Oxford Circus is a place I like to call into. Previously it was just the house where Handel lived, composed, had performances and eventually died but today it has become the place of two blue plaques next to each other because Jimmy Hendrix, lived in the flat next door - and yes there were many years in between these close sojourns.

Two red doors, two musicians many years difference but yet.....

Shakespeare's Globe beckoned and so to see Twelfth Night we go. So much laughter, so much music and fun to finish our week in London.

Our departure from London and our road trip towards the North is the next part of our adventures. We called in at College Lake for lunch and a lookout for the birds.

And a brief call into Tring, with the museum full of preserved animals, birds, fish, insects of so many types, was a must.

Our penultimate stop was dinner with friends at The Rose & Crown in Mayfield with an amble down a quiet country lane to end the day.

Escape to the country, in stages.

So many days, so much to explore and learn. Leaving London behind and arriving in Bramhall, near Manchester, has added many stories. From parks, canals, cotton mills to museums all will be revealed. But the view from the window is the outlook of our English Country Garden for this week.

To begin our week we take the plunge and head into Wales. The reason for this is that there is a RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) site on The Point of Ayr. We arrived in a small but quirky beach side town - with seaside type arcades. The best cafe, as seen in the picture, offered coffee and scone and free wifi.

The cafe picture is definitely not indicative of the weather in the great outdoors. Here we are trying to shelter from the sandy wind. Although some hardy locals were not to be deterred and with buckets and spades they bravely took to the beach.

The second stop in our RSPB adventure was to Burton Mere Wetlands. Another great place to enjoy the wildlife. Here we saw Avocets, Sedge Warblers and Skylarks to name a few. And in it's favour we could watch from a large glassed hide / visitors centre.

Industrial Revolution Stories and an Opera House

Built in 1784 for the purpose of Cotton Milling this building offers many stories of life, families, children, technology and the growth of the industrial revolution. We spent a fascinating time here. It is both beautiful and challenging to see and hear how life and work happened at the beginning of the 19th century for the working class in a mill which was managed by a fairly benevolent owner.

Initially the industry was powered by the River Bollin with an impressive water wheel then onto steam power. There are a number of working machines still maintained and watching and hearing them operated is so interesting (and noisy). It was the noise that caused the workers to create some interesting sign language as well as other terms that have entered our common usage.

Carry the can - the apprentices carried the cans of unspun but cleaned and combed cotton ready to be twisted.

Doff your cap - indicates that it's time to change spools on the machine

Heirloom - yes it was about the loom being passed onto the next generation or the heir.

Spinster - the girls that didn't marry became the spinners of the family.

Our evening included meeting up with friends for dinner. We met in Buxton which is known as a Spa town and there is an impressive old building being reconstructed with funds from the Lottery once again and it is very much a building in the Bath style with an impressive half circle frontage. But the Opera House stands grand and magnificent. The trip back was across the Moors of the Peak District, both eerie and wonderful.

Parks and Buildings in Bramhall

A wander through Bramall Park which has a Tudor Manor House dating back to the 14th Century was a very pleasant way to spend an English country morning. The grounds were styled in the late 18th Century in the Romantic Victorian style but really everything in this country is green. You can barely see the stone bridge pillar for the greenery.

An Aqueduct, an old Roman city and a boat lift.

Back to Wales we go. Just a hint of what we have come to find, the World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Ian has wanted to check this out for a while and today we get blown away by the enormity of of this waterway built between 1795 and 1805.

Yes it's that high and it has a walkway and fence on one side only the other side .... well you can see. I did walk across but kept my eyes on the horizon - definitely no looking down. We also had a ride across in a Narrow Boat, again I didn't sit by the window, particularly on the non fenced side!!

Once we had experienced the heights of an Aqueduct we then visited the City of Chester. Here we are in the remnants of a Roman Amphitheatre. This city still has much of its Roman Wall which you can walk along and access various city locations.

Many cities in the country have cathedrals and Chester has an old, large and very grand one. Worth a walk through and it abounds with the excess of ostentation which certainly impresses.

Our final stop in this busy day is a boat lift. The purpose behind this contraption is the provide a 'bathtub' for boats so they can be lifted or lowered 15 metres - go figure!

The house of author Elizabeth Gaskell

Into the home of Elizabeth Gaskell. I had discovered this place when checking out the stories of Manchester and having read some of her books was keen to visit. This place is very lovingly being cared for by those people who set out to save the story of Elizabeth Gaskell and formed the trust that is so far successfully getting on with maintaining and rebuilding the house (with the help of lottery funding).

Elizabeth's work space. A table in the dining room where she managed to write her books in amongst the busyness of domestic life. I love the circle of life - from our visit to the Cotton Mill where we discovered that a relation of Elizabeth's was the resident doctor to her stories of the life of the working class Manchester and the industrial revolution go hand in hand.

...and yes I did get out for the day without a bonnet.

Sunny days in the Dales

Blue skies and sunshine start us off on our sojourn in the North Yorkshire Dales. We have been in this area before and there are many, many reasons for us to be here again, not least the stunning countryside itself. This is an area which has had the foot of humankind walking, farming, fighting and dying on it for such a longtime. There are Roman stories, Anglo Saxon stories, Norman stories and even Arthurian mythologies and no doubt many more.

Departing from Bramhall we have a plan.
1. Coffee in Settle, which is bustling with Friday morning activity.

2. Drop in at Ribblehead Viaduct.
I know I suggested that it was sunny, which it was, the morning after our arrival, but at Ribblehead viaduct it was windy wet and very cold but grand and glorious all the same.

3. Lunch at Wensleydale
Arriving at Wensleydale cheese was a welcome relief from the cold and once we had circuited the cheese tasting (a few times) we then had some lunch in the cafe and yes there was some cheese involved.

4. Arrive at Rundales Cottage.
This almost went to plan but as I was navigating we only almost made it - at least we were only a few miles out. We eventually made it after asking a local for some assistance. We arrived to a gathering of Ford Anglia enthusiasts - the owner of the cottage is a keen club member and this weekend is the Ford Anglia 105e touring weekend.

5. Have a celebration birthday dinner.
As you can see we certainly had a feast. It was Sandra's birthday and we went to one of the local pubs, the Mason's Arms. It provided excellent food and drink in quintessential English Pub style. All done with plenty of gravy!!

Peregrines, a 17th Century bridge and another viaduct.

A bright, warm summer day greets us and we head towards Malham Cove. Before we get there we pass a 12th century (maybe) ruin of a castle reported to be a castle of Uther Pendragon. Mythology abounds and if this person was real and if he was father to Arthur we do not know, but never let that get in the way of a good story. There is even an old song that suggests there was some attempt to change the course of the river Eden:
Let Uther Pendragon do what he can
Eden will run where Eden ran.

Here we will see Peregrine Falcons and their young on an ancient cliff face which would once have had water flowing over it but now is the perfect place to bring up the children, of which there are three. The circle picture has been taken through a scope that the RSPB have available for people as they come by, and lots of people do. I am cooling my feet in the water that runs at the base of the cliff, it is fresh and sweet.

From the cliff face to the dales we chance a public footpath which we believe will take us to an old 17th Century packsaddle bridge. We do find the bridge and again I find myself at waters edge happily splashing myself and others. Before we get to the bridge we did need to pass a few sheep and climb a wall but what fun it was!

Nestled deep in one of the dales is this treasure, another viaduct very much covered in green but just perfect in the evening summer light. The last point of call for our adventures today. This had been a most excellent day in the Dales.

Just around here

Found this little left over Ford Anglia and though I might take it for a spin.

This is the view from garden where we are staying and so we decided to enjoy the moment this morning and relax in these beautiful surroundings.

Cottage perfection!

We wanted to have a Sunday lunch at the local pub so it seemed like a great idea to go a walking along the public footpath. So the walk went well and you can see the mysterious green pathway we took. Unfortunately the requisite pub decided not to be open today so back along the green path and collect our car to go into Appleby and as you can see roast lunch was much enjoyed.

Sunshine, Fels, Vales and fun

We have come to the Lake District with its spectacular natural beauty, history, farming, and many, many stories. It is certainly warm and there have been many locals feeling the heat - comments like, "I wouldn't want it to be like this for long." But our days continue to be full with finding places that provide a story of the people of the landscape as well as finding spots of natural beauty - well that's everywhere really. The picture above is the view from the front door from a house called Acorn Bank.

But before I say more about the grand house I need to include this gem. Ford Anglias feature at this place we are staying - they are much loved and they continue to have a life even when they can't be driven any more - so here we are looking - well you can decide.....

So now back to the grand house. Although I haven't dressed formally for the occasion admittance was allowed and we were received into the front room with a very, very large fireplace. But not only is there a grand house there are gardens, both formal and wild and then there is a water mill.

The afternoon found us walking around Haweswater Reservoir, one of the constructed 'lakes' of the lake district. We went for what was to be a short walk around the edge to a bird hide. Turned out not to be so short nor did the bird hide get found - walkers (here they are called ramblers) coming from the other direction did say that the bird hide was no longer standing - neither was I, really!

Dales paths,Wordsworth paths and Caldbeck

There are many public footpaths to find in this landscape and today we found one in the area relating to the book A Shepherd's Life, which I read recently. I'm standing atop a stile about to walk across another sheep paddock (not to far) that overlooks some of the ancient farming land with Herdwick Sheep, and various other I couldn't begin to identify. Very beautiful.

Having gathered our strength overnight we are back on the trail this morning. To the Force we go. I am referring to the Force which is also means falls and following Wordsworth's paths where he was inspired to write those words "I wandered lonely as a cloud..." and I am joined by a fair crowd of other walkers (ramblers - because many have those poles) - this is The Lake District after all.

Lunch was much enjoyed in the village of Caldbeck. The tea shop was tucked in behind the trees and next to the beck (stream) - just perfect.

Midsummer's day and we are having a train morning from Appleby-in-Westmorland to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The station has some left over suitcases so it looks like they have found a good use for them. A misty day just adds to the wonder of watching the fels, vales, stone walls, barns and houses pass by - not to mention the viaducts we cross!

Before leaving this quaint and lovely place we spent the afternoon in the town of Appleby-in Westmorland. In the centre of the road stands the Moot Hall. It is the building in which the council meets and has done so from Tudor times. We had a personal tour of the meeting hall upstairs when Stan, a previous mayor, invited us after our enquiries at the information centre about the building.

Appleby is an old town, probably settled by vikings in the 12th century Appleby is Norse for 'place with apple trees'. It has the River Eden winding its way through it and it has an historic horse fair each year which seems to have begun around 1685. So many stories layered over time make for an interesting town.

Scotland days

It is difficult to capture the extent of the green hills, lochs and other water ways and their shimmering beauty both in sun, rain and wind. All of which we experienced during our stay in Callander, known as the gateway to the Highlands. We are here in Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park. There is much to explore and enjoy.

Before arriving in Callander we have time to have a trip into Glasgow. We use the park and ride system and this option is a subway. A friendly local assisted us in our confusion as to where to catch the subway. He spoke in his thick Scottish accent and cheekily told us that if we asked a local in Glasgow directions we would most likely get directed to the closest pub. The place felt like a busy, gritty and brutal city but all the people we came in contact with were helpful and engaging.

Callander is a small and lively hub, in a quiet sort of Highlands way and it has much to offer. Nestled on the River Teith and surrounded by green hills which change character many times in the day and when sun, mist, rain or wind wrap around them it is beautiful. But this is the peak of summer I'm wearing jumper and coat, imagine winter , lots of snow and the long nights. For now the days are long and light twilight lasting well past 11pm.

In preparation for any walking I have acquired my rambling pole - it should see me through. Further reasons to have a large pole in hand:
1.This is Rob Roy territory from the clan MacGregor. The real and the mythic story have blended together over time mostly from the successful story telling of Walter Scott but just in case I'm armed, poled and ready.

2.The Trossachs National Park is so named because Trossachs means a 'bristly path' So I should be able to clear any path needed.

With paths cleared and sorted we venture forth and find many birds and red squirrels in the woods. We have lunch with the friendly people in Drymen, I guess there had to be one village where you dry oot.

We traversed Loch Katrine, found the viaduct in Glenogle, then survived the wild waters of the Falls of Dochart and finally crossed over on the Bridge at Bracklinn Falls.

We have watched many lovely birds but my heart is given to this little one who greeted me in the car park. We definitely had a moment.

To the beach we go.... Seahouses.

We leave behind the glorious greenery of Scotland and head east to the coast of Northumberland, Seahouses to be exact. We hope to be seeing puffins, razorbills and many other birds as well. Above is a view across Spittel beach near Berwick with a lighthouse on the point. While we were watching the action on the beach a pod of dolphins turned frolicking and splashing quite close to the shore.

Before we arrive in Seahouses we have time to call into some lovely places on the way. One of them is Dunbar, note the blue sky it may not be back for a while. Every town or village has a story or two and Dunbar has a couple on display. We had coffee at Black Agnes's - the plaque tells of how she and a few others managed to defend Dunbar Castle against the English army in 1337.

Next stop the current English and Scottish border.

A stop in Berwick-upon-Tweed was called for and the three bridges are looking grand, the oldest of them being built in 1624 - even then it was modern because there had been many other wooden bridges before that one. The viaduct stands tall and strong in the foreground.

We had thought we would have some sunshine or if not at least not wind, rain and cold that has prevented us from getting the much anticipated boat out to the Farne Islands. We have much fun anyway and here I am in front of the ruins at Lindsfarne.

We circuited the walls of Bambrough Castle - enormous and erupting from the stone on the point and survived the winds.

We visited Alnwick and met Harry Hotspur, tops name for a knight, and walked the streets and market square but there is an eerie presence on the top of Alnwick Castle.

Our final very adventurous effort was a walk along the cliffs of Berwick. It should be pretty flat (it is) and not to far (it isn't) and there is a track (sort of). But as you can see it is spectacular and we did find birds nesting on the cliff face at Needle's Eye. Sandra captured this wonderful image of Razorbills just 'chillin' on the rocks. We were more than just chillin' I think we were a little bit frozen but very happy.

Stavanger in Summer.

We arrive in Stavanger to a very lovely summer day. Looking across from the balcony of the home of Karianne and her family where we have lunch and time to catch up with her fun little Johanna who is about to turn one.

We are staying at the home of Karianne's parents, Kate and Morten. Very hospitable and generous people who have prepared a delicious local delicacy of reindeer even though they depart early tomorrow for Spain. Speaking of early morning or late night - this image was taken from our bedroom window at 11pm!

The darkness of night here in summer is but a brief few hours.

With the sun shining again on our second day we decide to grab the opportunity and get on a boat to see the Lysefjord. The harbour is just beginning to gather momentum when we arrive. There is a cruise ship docked, it is a popular spot for cruise ships, but thankfully we manage to get tickets on a Fjord trip at 11am. In the mean time we enjoy the surrounds of the harbour, check the markets setting up, wander some of the streets and find a coffee shop.

While wandering up and down the cobbled streets I meet this chap.

The trip along Lysefjord was truly awesome. There is archaeological evidence of a settlement at the mouth of the fjord dating back to 1500BC. The track of the glacier from times past and then the flooding with sea water as the glaciers melted has left this 42km long fjord with vertical rocky mountains of about 1000 metres and it is just as deep in places too. The falls at Hengjane are known also as Whisky Falls, apparently illicit liquor was made and sold in Stavanger, which was very popular during prohibition during the 1920s. Then there is pulpit rock in the last image. Yes there are people sitting on the edge of it, it's a very popular walking spot. I know I'll only be seeing it from the water!

This lovely place has been our base/home in Stavanger. Very generously shared by friends who have headed to Spain for their sunny holiday.

Just a short walk from the house we went looking for the lake and before we got there we had a sneaky ride in an elevator on the outside of one of the hotels nearby to see the view from on high.

It was a wet and windy walk and just a little cold. This pole seems ok as it has been covered by the knitting ninjas. I'm standing outside just one of the many snazzy domes that trap the best of the Stavanger sunshine.

The next morning beamed bright and so off we go to downtown Stavanger to visit the museum of archeology and find a story of vikings. The use of the word viking relates more specifically to the act of going on a journey rather than a person so it seems we are viking as well.

Before getting to the museum we walked past bright spring flowers and another excellent Norwegian building which, I think, is part of the university.

At the museum there is much of interest. The Viking women were skilled in many areas and often trained in combat as well. The preservation of many of the pieces in the museum is because they laid in the bog for centuries. The butter churn and butter, which really is well preserved butter (and a little bit rank according to the information when tasted by someone) are just some of the things on display that were bogified.

The evening is spent celebrating the first birthday of this special little lady. Much laughter and cake was enjoyed.

Our last day in Stavanger and it is a day for some to get to the shore and get wet. There is a group of young children in the background and they are very content to play and paddle. I did consider putting my feet in but we have other plans for now that don't include a swim.

I am in fact standing on the point where three bronze swords standing 10m tall identify the place where the Battle of Hafsrfjord was reputedly fought around 872 when King Harald Fairhair gathered Norway under one crown.

And the final part of our viking is a walk into a Norwegian wood. Cool, quiet and eerie but oh so good.

France and the reason for it all.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité, as the Mairie (Town Hall) says. We are in Paris, sort of. We're not quite in the real Paris we are just outside the 'magic circle' in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre which some sources suggest is the most densely populated municipality in Europe. Given the noise and busyness of the streets and shops it would seem like a very reasonable assessment. For the next few days we will explore this part of what is probably a more 'regular' type of Paris.

Just a couple of buildings around the streets where we are staying. The big building in the photo on the left is a Bicêtre Hospital, opened in 1642 and during its period of being a mental institution the Marquis de Sade was one of those detained.

Off the main street there are many little places but what soon became our favourite is this tiny boulangerie. The goodies in the window are just a portion of more inside but the baguettes were the winners. Ian did many a pre breakfast walk to acquire goodies for us all.

As the day of the wedding gets closer the gathering travelers who are on their way start to appear in France. Some of us get together in Paris and it is summer on the Seine and the music is playing, the feet are dancing and fun is happening.

We have moved into a terrific house for the week to come and from our bedroom window the view shows how the garden runs all the way to the river, many a dip will be had but I sat on the jetty and enjoyed to peace and quiet. The Loire in Blois runs fast and clear under a delightful old stone bridge. A shared lunch in the market place to celebrate a birthday was just another highlight of one of our days.

With the sun shining there is a window to enjoy some of the delights of the Loire valley famous for many châteaus and castles. A wander through the town of Blois and a visit to the castle was much enjoyed. The two tiny people on the bridge are Dylan and me - tops bridge too!

There is also the chance to visit the last home of Leonardo Da Vinci. Francis I of France invited Leonardo to Amboise and provided him with the Clos Lucé, where he could live and work. He brought with him the famous Mona Lisa painting. As this was where Leonardo died it seems reasonable that it now hangs in the Louvre. With a workshop and study he continued to think big and be creative.

Incidentally we were checking out the birds on the river when we turned around to see this 'little' place. There are many fantastic buildings along this river, not all are on the 'to visit' list but they are still surprising.

And so the wedding adventures begin stage one: Thursday afternoon at the local Mairie. A delightful council official in his tricolour sash carried out the duties of legally marrying Em & T. A gathering of close family and friends celebrated the afternoon and evening with them.


Friday, Bastille Day, was a 'get ready' day. Access to the château during the afternoon meant all hands available to the fray. Bunting raised, tables built, tents erected and many decorations added. The evening included get togethers at two houses, 'both alike in dignity', the gathering room in our abode served very well.

Saturday and it's time to 'get thee to the church on time'. We all scrubbed up pretty well but the number one couple looked very classy. A loving, inclusive, French and English ceremony and with a song written and performed by Dylan as well as a surprise recording of a song Emlyn wrote and performed.

Convoy time post the ceremony, all follow the little red car. To the château we go - Château De Villesavin. Here we gather first for the cocktail party on the lawn then for the dinner in the Orangery and finally for the party of all parties where those still standing at 6am are treated to Onion soup (French of course), reportedly very yum. A very fun, enjoyable, loving, delicious and entertaining time was had by all.

The final part of this generous celebration was a BBQ picnic on the lawns at the château on Sunday. Here people enjoyed newly found connections, chatted, shared more delicious food and even played a game of cricket. A truly excellent and tops celebration from beginning to end.