Freiburg im Breisgau

I fell asleep to the internal echoes of Eddi Reader only to be woken up three short hours later.

Skip this paragraph if you like because here I will list all the things that went wrong. A proper whingefest if you like. I’d booked a taxi for 3am. The service had been totally reliable on previous occasions, but today, there was no sign of a cab. The three of us (me, Liesel and Leslie) were standing outside like an ugly flytipped sofa, waiting, waiting. No message, no email. After ten minutes, I went online and booked an Uber. He was five minutes away, so that’s not too bad. I went online again to cancel the original cab. Just as he turned up. I told him he was too late, and he replied by saying ah yes, the cancellation had just arrived. Now if they’d sent a message at 3am saying he was going to be 15 minutes late, that would have been ok. But again, a lack of communication caused a problem. A minor problem, yes, but an unnecessary one. On the way to the airport, I looked at my email to check my electronic boarding pass was still there. It wasn’t. Yesterday, I clicked the option to add it to my Google Wallet. Ok, it said. Well, I don’t know whose Google Wallet it was sent to, but it wasn’t mine. And it seems that in the process, it deleted the email because, well, obviously, I shouldn’t need it any more. I restored the email to my inbox, and took a screenshot of the QR code. Just in case. Not my problem I know, but I did feel sorry for the lady in the next queue to ours who wanted to go to Nigeria but she didn’t have the relevant travel documents with her so she wasn’t able to check in to her flight. So of course, I started to worry that I too might need extra documentation to travel to Germany. Security is always a lottery. This time, the Fast Track Security queue, for which you can pay an extra £5 to join, was upstairs, while Normal Security was downstairs. Today, we had to remove all electronics, and, for the first time ever, this included toothbrushes and shavers, anything with a battery inside. But we didn’t have to take our shoes off. Although I found out later that Leslie had had a pretty good pat-down and had had to remove her footwear. I groaned when I realised that again my bag had been pulled aside. Inside, in the depths of my toiletry bag, the officer found a tiny tube of toothpaste. So small that I hadn’t seen it when I recently repacked the bag. So small that it had somehow got through security when I flew back from Anchorage last time. ‘Let’s fill our water bottles’ suggested Liesel. But could I find a water fountain at Manchester Airport Terminal 1? Nope. I’ll just fill the water bottles from the water jugs at one of the coffee shops then. Nope. If you want tap water at one of these places, you have to line up and ask for it. What else? Oh yes. I don’t like escalators when the handrail moves at a different speed to the stairs. You either fall over forwards or keel over backwards. You don’t? Oh, it’s just me then. Actually, I felt nowhere near as panicky as I had on my last flight. The queue for Leslie to check in was long, yes, but we could see it was making progress. And, we had plenty of time.

Liesel and I took it in turns to visit a couple of the coffee outlets for a sort of breakfast. Yes, we had lots of time to pass before our flight. Too much time maybe, but I wasn’t going to worry about that.

Goodbye misty Manchester

The flight from Manchester to Frankfurt was uneventful and I kept my beady eye on the steward as he handed out the chocolates. The plan was for Liesel and me to escort Leslie to Frankfurt and make sure she caught the right plane back home to Anchorage. This we did and, bonus, she didn’t have to go through security a second time at Frankfurt. It was a quick farewell in the end and I think Liesel and I will both miss having her Mom around.

We now had a couple of hours to kill at Frankfurt Airport before catching our train. I thought I’d seen enough of the place after several bus tours around the ginormous airport over the last few months, but no, there is plenty more to see. The border official let us through without any awkward questions: nothing about Covid nor stuff we were bringing into the country and, I’m glad to say, no awkward questions about paperwork that we didn’t know we needed.

Oompah band

This band of merry musicians put a smile on everyone’s faces as they oompahed through the airport.

The railway station was a reasonably long walk away but we were glad to get the steps in. At least it was all under cover, we didn’t have to go to the outside world at all.

Pringles tree

There are designated smoking areas which of course we’re no longer used to, so every now and then, we’d walk through a cloud of carcinogens. The worst place was on the platform for our train, so we didn’t hang around there longer than necessary.

It’s just over two hours on the train from Frankfurt to Freiburg and the time flew by. I read a good chunk of my book and glanced out of the window now and then, but the landscape didn’t really engage as it passed by at 160 kph.

Big chocolates, so many flavours, at Freiburg station

Our hotel was not even a ten minute walk from Freiburg station. Yes, we’re in a hotel, a Best Western, also known as Hotel Victoria. We settled into our very comfortable room in what is one of the most eco-friendly hotels in one of the greenest cities in Germany. Allegedly. All the power in the hotel is generated from solar panels on the roof, wind and, er, the burning of woodchips.

Solar panels and smoke

We dined at a Morrocan restaurant just round the corner and we were surprised that they only took payment in cash. So, while they kept Liesel hostage, I went for a walk to get some money out of a machine. The machine conveniently located next door didn’t recognise my card. The machine all the way back at the station did so I took out as many euros as I was allowed. On my return, I was pleased to see that they hadn’t got Liesel to do the washing up for them.

Rain had been forecast for most of our time here, so the sunshine on Sunday morning was a bonus. We walked into town, the old town, where we admired the architecture, commented on and tried not to trip on the cobbles, noticed and tried not to impede the progress of the many cyclists in town.

The Visitor Information office is in the old town hall, next door to the new town hall. I downloaded an app that guided us around the town: at least the commentary was in English. There’s a lot of history here, including an old Roman wall, very similar to the one in Chester, what’s left of it.

I mentioned the cobbles. Most streets are cobbled, and there are smaller stones at the sides, for pedestrians. In places, there are mosaics. This is one of the first to catch my eye, outside the town hall, der Rathaus:

Guildford

Guildford is just one of Freiburg’s several twin towns and sister cities in and beyond Europe, each of which is marked by one of these mosaics, contructed using pebbles from the nearby Rhine. Guildford has been home to such luminaries as Nobel-prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, code-breaker Alan Turing and is the birth place of musician Mike Rutherford, DJ Tony Blackburn, and, er, me.

While sitting in the square waiting for the 12 o’clock chimes, we were mobbed by a swarm of sparrows. They detected my phone and were about to depart but they were just a second too late… The main danger though was bonkers. They’re like conkers, only they fall out of trees and bonk you on the head. There are chestnut and horse chestnut trees all over town, you can’t walk anywhere without encountering chestnuts or their spiky cases.

A flock of sparrows

Oh look. In my bag I have some salt-peter, some sulphur and some charcoal. I know, I think I’ll go out and leave these random chemicals unattended on the stove. Boom. I’ve invented gunpowder. Actually, this story is attributed to a monk, Bertold the Black, who supposedly lived in Freiburg in the 14th century. There is a statue here honouring the monk for his invention, even though the Chinese beat him to it by several centuries.

Berthold Schwarz

Other features that you can’t avoid in Freiburg are the tram lines and the little canals alongside most of the roads. These drainage ditches are dry most of the time, and if you’re unlucky enough to fall into one, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger. Children play with little wooden boats when there is flowing water in these Bächle.

A typical Freiburg street

We never made use of the service but we saw quite a few of the bendy trams in Freiburg. The Cathedral tower is an impressive 116 metres tall, and the building is, by coincidence, 116 metres in length. Just as you’re marvelling at the architecture and the stone masonry, you turn round and encounter some absolute kitsch, totally out of place.

Freiburg Münster
Cute, not cute

Before you ask, no we did not buy a souvenir cuckoo clock.

No new buildings in Freiburg can be higher than the top of the Cathedral tower. There are over 100 gargoyles protecting the fabric of the building from the worst of the rain. Most are monsters or people, but this one is the funniest.

Freiburg gargoyle

We admired many of the mosaics that remain outside shops even though the shop itself may have changed usage over the years. I don’t mind posing for a photo so I was delighted to sit next to this knife.

Mick the Knife
Pillar of the community

This chap is just one of many who we saw embedded in the walls around town. The steps here lead up a hill which we decided to pursue on another occasion. And sadly, even the most aesthetically pleasing of towns and cities have their unfair share of graffiti artists. Arstist? Vandals.

Black cat

Here is another mosaic that we liked, and then we found out its significance. You wouldn’t want to be taken to The House of the Black Cat, because that’s where the local executioner, the hangman, lives.

Record shop

Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and was surprised but mostly disappointed to find absolutely no reference to David Bowie. So my theory needs a slight adjustment: Every record shop still existing in the UK has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

By contrast, the destroyed synagogue’s memorial fountain is quite moving. Its shape reflects the ground plan of the old synagogue and the mirror-smooth surface is the perfect place for reflection. Literally.

We dined at a Thai restaurant just round the corner from our hotel. It was Sunday and we hadn’t anticipated that most places would be closed. There was nothing wrong with Thai Chi, for that is what it was called. The experience led me to suggest that more restaurants should have model villages inside their dining tables.

Model village

Monday started with another big breakfast in the hotel before we set off through the town and back to the stairs that we’d abandoned yesterday.

The Monday market was set up in the Cathedral square, with lots of well presented, fresh produce, 27 types of ham, 49 species of sausage, 56 varieties of cheese and best of all, 19 types of locally baked bread.

Market wares

We didn’t buy anything now, but later on, on the way back, we did buy a punnet of raspberries.

I would like to tell you how many steps there were, but I soon lost count. Eventually they gave way to a path which was quite a steep slope. We were determined to reach a certain point though, however long it took, however many times we had to pause to catch our breath or just to admire the view over the town. And the views were spectacular. We kept a close eye on the Cathedral tower, waiting for the moment when we would be looking down on it. We were gaining altitude pretty fast, or so our bodies thought, but that tower was keeping its place.

Selfie of the day from halfway up Schlossberg

On passing a small group of students, we realised that we too could have taken the funicular railway but we’re glad we didn’t! Nor did we ride it back down later on.

Funicular railway

There’s a playground on the hill too, in which the equipment resembles weapons of war. Bizarre, I know. The cannon could be used as a slide or a tunnel. The poles are lances and spears.

This is not a cannon

I was surprised to see vineyards here too. Surprised because, at the bottom of the hill, by the stairs, there was a sign saying the the path would be closed whenever it’s too icy or covered in snow. We’re at the edge of the Black Forest here and obviously it must get really cold in Winter. So, not an ideal environment I would have thought for growing grapes. I suppose they know what they’re doing!

Vineyard above the town

On and on and up and up. The well-laid path gave way to a dirt track. Proper signage was replaced by spray-painted red arrows on trees and rocks, directing us to our goal for the day, the viewing platform that we’d seen from way down below in the city centre.

Public lavatree

I’m always on the lookout for comfort stops, although I felt this one was just a bit too exposed. But it was just a few hairpin bends away from Schlossbergturm or Aussichtsturm Schlossberg or Castle Hill Tower.

Schlossbergturm or Castle Hill Tower

We sat down for a few moments admiring this very basic structure, before setting off to climb the 153 steps. Do something scary every day. I climbed steadily to the top, and I mean the very top, as high as I could go. It is very hard holding on that tightly to the handrail while trying to take photos without dropping the phone while the whole edifice is swaying in the wind which is now so much colder than it was at ground level, some 35 metres below. Although it seemed much further away, from my scared vertiginous viewpoint. Another surprise was being joined by Liesel whom I’d left sitting on a bench way down below, ready to catch me or anything I dropped.

Some of the first few steps up the tower

Each of the steps has a message from someone who’d sponsored the construction of this viewing tower. I like Klaus’s: This tower has always been a dream of mine.

The view from the top

This picture was taken from the top and it doesn’t reveal at all just how much I was shaking at this point.

Near the base of the tower is a display which incorporates a pair of binoculars. And if you look through these, you see an image of what the site looked like hundreds of years ago, when there was a castle or a fort here.

What it used to look like

Walking back down the hill was a bit easier, but you couldn’t totally relax with those gradients. At the first sign of a coffee shop, we stopped, me probably more eagerly than Liesel.

Liesel got stoned and had to have a lie down

We dined in an Italian restaurant that evening. Yes, of course I had a pizza. Then back at the hotel it was time for some pampering.

Mechanical foot brush

This device doesn’t offer a full-on pedicure, but I was able to give my feet a really good scrub.

Tuesday started with a big hotel breakfast and then a long, long pause in the proceedings, in our room, reading, doing puzzles, neither of us wanting to move. Or something. Liesel gave in first and she went out for a walk. Then after a few minutes, I decided to move too. I was still listening to something fascinating, so I thought I’d visit the hotel gym and have a quick walk on the treadmill while still connected to my podcast. I managed 25 minutes but I hope I can get over the tedium of this form of exercise when we get home and make full use of the gym in Wythenshawe, the one we so rashly joined last week.

I met Liesel outside later despite the rain, but usefully, the hotel had plenty of umbrellas to choose from.

Selfie of the day if it were 1940

It didn’t take long for us to pack and move out the next morning. We left our bags at the railway station while we looked around the Cathedral. Even though there are big signs asking visitors to stay silent, I was surprised that it was so quiet inside, given how many people were walking around.

Inside the Cathedral

We paid a return visit to one of the cafés we’d visited a few days earler, only this time we sat inside for our coffee and tasty treats.

We walked back to the station and spent time exploring while waiting for our train. One retail space was full of vending machines, selling everything from snacks and drinks to items of clothing and toothbrushes. It was a bit like Japan in that respect. There was even a popcorn machine, but Liesel wasn’t tempted to use it.

Something happened at the railway station but we never did find out what. An alarm went off, and everyone was evacuated from the station concourse. Those of us already on the platform waiting for a train were allowed to stay. The train ride back to Frankfurt was uneventful. This was followed by a ten-minute walk to our hotel for just one night. And not even a whole night, as we had another early morning flight. As luck would have it, the railway station, our hotel and the airport were all within walking distance of each other: or maybe Liesel planned it that way?

Our alarms were set for 5am. Walk to the airport, through security, to our departure gate, coffee and quick breakfast, flew to Manchester, taxied home, collected the mail and that’s it. We’re back. Did it really happen? Yes. The rest of the day was a blur. I was occupied but I can’t tell you what I did. A quick walk in the drizzle but I timed it badly, no massage for me today.

On Friday, I met up with some people to talk about Thrive Manchester, what can they do to support people and how can whatever that is be better publicised. Boxx 2 Boxx is a great venue for such meetings.

At home, I made progress on a couple of my ‘to-do’ items. The lists still grow faster than items are crossed off, of course.

The radio show this week, recorded before we left for Germany, was Hundreds and Thousands. It was approximately the hundredth show I’ve put together. You can hear it here:

Final week in England

16th century beer was often strengthened by mixing it with lant (stale urine). So says a wall in one of the lavatories at Little Moreton Hall. Liesel and I took Leslie for a short walk here, and a small wander around the small house. I’d forgotten just how wonky the building is, with sloping floors and crooked windows. The National Trust check it every so often and they think it’s safe, it’s not going to topple over any time soon.

Little Moreton Hall

In the courtyard, one of the guides gave a brief history of the place. He was dressed for the part and he noticed that we, and many others, had gathered in the small area illuminated by the Sun.

Liesel and Leslie in the garden

We sat in Mrs Dale’s tea room for a cuppa before setting off for home. Briefly, we thought we were in France: we passed by a field full of sunflowers reaching for the sky.

I’ve mentioned Slitherlink a few times and this weekend, for the first time, I succeeded in completing one of the hard, huge, square Slitherlink puzzles in less time than the ‘median’ time they claim it takes. I shall add that to my list of personal achievements for 2022.

A couple of days later found us escaping coverage of the Queen’s funeral on TV. After ten days of mourning, the UK was in danger of returning to some degree of normality.

We drove to Alderley Edge having arranged to meet up up with Jenny and the family. Yes, Martha and William had the day off school. We thought we’d have the place to ourselves. Huh. Everybody else thought the same.

I tested myself by walking ahead and down a long. long hill, knowing I’d have to walk back up. I managed ok, thanks, no shortness of breath on this occasion. Martha and William showed me their new trick: jumping over a rift in the rocks.

The Veteran Tree

As requested, I took a careful look at this veteran tree and I memorised the text on a nearby sign.

A veteran tree has the same characteristics as an ancient tree, but these are caused by natural damage or by the tree’s environment, rather than its age.

The characteristics are:

► A low, wide and squat shape because the crown has reduced
► A broader trunk than those of the same species at the same age
► Evidence of decay, such as a hollow trunk, the presence of fungi known to cause wood decay, or rot holes where limbs have fallen off or the bark is damaged

Why are veteran trees important?

Veteran trees are habitats for many rare and specialised species of wildlife and fungi. Looking after these trees is a vital part of our conservation work. Tree branches and limbs which have dropped to the ground are kept, as they help protect the roots of the tree. Veteran trees that have fallen over are generally not removed, as they are still habitats and may even continue to grow, making them ‘phoenix’ trees.

I don’t recall what species of tree this is, though.

It was a beautifully clear day, but I was still surprised when I saw Manchester way over there in the distance.

Manchester

William probably walked twice as many steps as the rest of us. Well, ran, mostly. It was quite hard to find him a couple of times.

William in the den

Liam filmed Martha as she walked carefully along a fallen tree.

Martha on a balance b

I thought about suggesting she perform a forward roll on the log, like she does at gym, but I kept quiet: she probably would have taken up the challenge.

Liesel, Leslie and I joined the Wednesday well-being walk in Northenden. On this occasion, they went through the woods again, while I joined the group that walked a little further afield, along the river towards Didsbury and back. We spotted the heron, not in his usual place on the weir, which was unusually dry, but hiding under the bank. He was very still, just like the cardboard one that Liesel and I saw near Hampton Court that time, many years ago!

Heron on the Mersey

Later that day, Liesel and I collected Martha and William from school again and took them home to play. William wanted to join in with the craftwork, but he didn’t really move beyond cutting up pieces of paper with the many different pairs of scissors we have at our disposal. Pizza for supper with home made salad: it all went down very well. And it was then time for Martha and William to say their farewells to Great Oma, who would soon be flying home to Anchorage. I’m really glad they’ve met at last but I can’t help feeling sad that Klaus never spent time with our grandgchildren.

We haven’t been into Stockport for a long time, so I’m tempted to give you twenty questions in which to work out why we visited on this occasion. But that won’t work, because I don’t know when you’ll be reading this, and I certainly can’t think how to reply to your twenty questions in a timely manner. So I’ll just tell you: Leslie wanted to buy some locally distilled gin to take home for Aaron and Jodi, so we drove over to Stockport Gin. Leslie bought a bottle and some small bottles for Liesel and me.

Record shop

Of course I checked the window display of this record shop, and found the David Bowie t-shirt. So my theory is still looking good: Every still existing record shop has, in its window display, either a David Bowie record or some other David Bowie merchandise.

On Friday, Liesel and I were a little late for the well-being walk in Wythenshawe, but we soon caught up with the group. We tried hard to persuade, cajole, convince Leslie to join us, but she put her foot down and declined the invitation.

And then, in a fit of madness, after we’d had coffee, Liesel and I joined the gym. I know, I know, I said ‘never again’ after the last time. But we feel we should make more of a concerted effort to build up strength, stamina, and all that malarkey. We’ll see how it works out over the next few weeks and months.

The radio show this week had the theme of Photographs. Wythenshawe Radio however transmitted an old show, the wrong one. Oh well. But you can hear a couple of hours of photographic music right here on Mixcloud.

Leslie packed a huuuge case, which weighed in at 23 kg, so heavy, it nearly fell through the floor. Liesel and I packed our bags, 7 kg each.

In the evening we drove over to Castleton for a concert. I’d booked tickets for Eddi Reader a long, long time ago and I was able to purchase a third ticket for Leslie too. The car park at Peak Cavern was incredibly full. I was hoping we’d be amongst the earliest arrivals so we’d have a choice of seats.

Peak Cavern is also known as Devil’s Arse! and whoever came up with the idea of holding concerts here needs to be congratulated.

Welcome

It was quite a walk from the car park to the cave itself, but it sort of made up for the fact that we’d not paid a visit a few weeks ago when we’d been staying in Castleton. I don’t know what the capacity is, but we ended up sitting in what would have been row AZ if they’d been labelled. The benches weren’t very comfortable to be honest, I’m sure my fidgetting annoyed the people behind. Much like the big head of the tallest man in the world annoyed me when he sat down right in front of me.

Billy Big Bonce

Bats flew around while the support act, Jill Jackson told stories and sang some lovely songs. My old ears plus cavernous acoustics meant that I couldn’t really hear everything she was saying. Did I buy her CDs? Don’t tell Liesel, but yes, of course. Did I invite her onto my radio show? No, I was too intimidated by the long queue of people who also wanted a quick chat.

Jill Jackson

Eddi Reader was as gloriously entertaining as she always is. This show originally was meant to be part of her 40th anniversary of performing, but Covid ruined a lot of plans.

She sang a nice mix of songs we know and some that we’re not so familiar with. Did I buy any CDs of hers? Well, no, because we already have them, all the ones up for sale, anyway. She was joined on stage by Boo Hewerdine and her husband plus a couple of others whose names I missed. By the time Eddi appeared on stage, the bats had disappeared.

Eddi Reader

I went for a wander to try and get better photos, but actually it was much more enjoyable to just sit there, even on a hard bench, with my eyes closed and let her voice permeate my whole being. I was nudged a couple of times, allegedly for singing along too loudly. I suspect my drone has suitably enhanced the videos made by fellow audience members.

What a great way to end Leslie’s six short weeks here with us in the UK. Well, apart from having to now walk back to the car park, along a slippery path, in the dark!

Oh, and apart from getting to bed at about 11pm and having to get up again soon after 2am. But that’s another story…

And back to Northenden

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Nice and dark because we were well away from major sources of light pollution. And it was stormy. It rained. It was still raining when we got up early for breakfast. Nevertheless, we were determined to have a nice day out.

We drove north to St Bees. The rain stopped, hooray. It started again, oh no. We parked by the beach and had a short walk along the beach to clear the air. We had had coffee in the seafront café, along with a scone, and that was very pleasant. But in the toilet, I was horrified, shocked and almost gagged at the sight of something I’d not seen for decades. A flystrip. A sticky strip of paper along with several corpses of long-dead flies. Such a contrast with the stark beauty of the beach.

The beach at St Bees

St Bees is the start (or the end, depending which way you go) of the Coast to Coast walk, something that has been on our bucket lists for a long, long time.

Coast to Coast Walk

We did witness one young man set off on his bike, and (I’m guessing) his Dad with the support vehicle. Today wasn’t perhaps the best day to set off. There’s a a lot of water in them there clouds.

But the main reason we came to St Bees was to visit the very old priory, now the parish church of St Bees.

St Bees Priory front door

Once we parked in the correct place (that’s another story) we easily found the elaborate front door.

As we explored the building, the organist kept us entertained. There’s a lot of history here. We stood at the site of the South Chancel that was the focus of an archaeology excavation in 1981.

Although the Monastic burials were expected, the discovery at a 14th century vault containing two bodies was not. One female skeleton lay beside the nearly perfectly preserved body of a man wrapped in a lead coffin.

Priory interior
After the Flood – including scientifically inaccurate rainbow

Some of the gravestones in the cemetery had lost their battle with the elements. Even some Victorian epitaphs were very hard to decipher.

Celtic cross
St Bees Priory

The sundial in the graveyard was a grave disappointment. No gnomon, no good, but there was no Sun anyway, so no problem.

The walk to the RSPB site on the coast was exciting. The local farmer had erected a sign saying ‘Authorised vehicles only’. So we had to park on his land and pay for the privilege. Don’t mind paying, but not so keen on the underhand way he goes about it. Then when we’d parked up, a woman came running out and told us to rotate the car 90° to make room for more vehicles. Ooh, sorry, we all missed the sign that wasn’t there

The road was passable except for one huge puddle which we negotiated by utilising a well placed gate.

Puddle and gate

After passing by the lighthouse, we eventually came to the cliffs. Fortunately, there was a display depicting all the birds that we wouldn’t see on this occasion: fulmar, kittiwake, peregrine falcon, razorbill. We did see herring gulls, a cormorant and ravens. Sadly, puffins weren’t even mentioned!

Stack with no birds

On to Ravenglass for a ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway train.

Leslie and Liesel at the back of the train

Our compartment was at the back of the miniature train. We passed through some pretty countryside, and I wondered how the train kept upright on a mere 15-inch gauge railway track.

Yes, of course we waved at passengers on the train passing by in the opposite direction. And at people on bridges and in the fields.

I’m sorry I missed seeing the steam engine on the turntable at Eskdale as it turned round to take us back to Ravenglass. I always wanted a turntable when I had train sets but that boat sailed a long time ago.

R & E R Steam Engine

Back in Ravenglass we went for a walk to the site of the old Roman Bath. Yes, I was surprised too. Who knew the Romans were in this part of the world?

Roman Bath House

We met a lady who used to live in the area and she was really enthusiastic about it. She told us tales of playing here as a child.

The tide was safely out (we hoped) so we walked back to town along the beach. The sea was remarkably calm, but that didn’t help me achieve any stone skimming PBs.

Pauline thought a gull was in distress when it kept jumping out of the water and being dragged back. But as we got closer, we realised it was just messing about, practising its take off and landing and its diving skills. Very entertaining and I’m so glad I didn’t have to hold Pauline’s coat if she’d been required dive in and rescue to poor old bird.

A gull having a good time

A hearty supper was taken at a local pub before we set off for Nether Wasdale for our final night away from home. It’s always an anti-climax when you’ve been away for a while, had a good time and you have to go back home, back to normal.

Another early breakfast was taken and by the time we left, we anticipated arriving home by about 12.30. Plenty of time to get ready for our 4 o’clock date. Rarely have we been more wrong. We thought this would be as bad as it gets:

Cows crossing the road

Cows walking, running and stumbling across the road held us up for a couple of minutes. Never mind, we’ll soon be on the motorway.

It took over six hours to get home. There’d been an accident on the M6. Liesel, Leslie and I were on the M6. I sent a message to Pauline and Andrew who were behind us, saying it might be best to come off the M6 while they had the chance. Their diversion was slow as well. They took even longer to get home. In a first for me, I leapt out of the car while it was stationary on the motorway, ran up the embankment, climbed over a fence, missed jumping into the world’s largest cowpat by about three inches, relieved myself, jumped back over the fence and ran several hundred yards along the motorway to catch up because, of course, the traffic was now moving, at least for a while.

In Ambleside, I’d bought myself a new shirt, a very rare occurrence. I was glad to have time to change into this shirt for our family gathering at Gusto in Cheadle Hulme. When Pauline and Andrew arrived, there were ten of us altogether and we had a very nice, civilised meal, thank you very much. 

At this point, you’re expecting to see photos of the ten of us, in various groups and subgroups. Other than some blurry photos of me with Helen, and Martha with Helen, I have none. We’ll just have to gather together on another occasion.

And so our mini post wedding weekend travels come to an end. A splendid time was had by all. Thanks to Liesel and Leslie; Pauline, Andrew and Rob; Helen; Martha and William; and Jenny and Liam, the new Mr and Mrs W, for a brilliant time. And thanks for the opportunity to present a controversial Oxford comma plus did you notice the controversial use of semi-colons where commas ought to be?

Back in Northenden and all is well with the world.

To Nether Wasdale

Another big breakfast gave us the energy we needed for a relatively lazy day. Apart from anything else, it felt only fair to give Andrew a day off from driving.

Our first bus was an open-top and the commentary was supplied by Count Arthur Strong, either that or CAS has a vocal doppelganger.

Reflections on Grasmere

We spent some time in Grasmere, the village, having driven by Grasmere, the lake. I’m not saying Grasmere doesn’t welcome visitors, but I think the sign could be a little bit more prominent, maybe with a larger typeface than this embarrassment:

Grasmere Village Centre

Grasmere Parish Church is dedicated to Oswald of Northumbria, king and champion of Christianity, who is believed to have preached on this site sometime before 642AD when he died in battle.

It is a Grade One Listed building of national historic interest. The oldest parts date from around 1300AD, but it is probably the third church to have stood on this ancient site by the side of the River Rothay.

Grasmere Parish Church

It’s not really keeling over, but you knew that, didn’t you? Almost in the shadow ow the church is the so-called Grasmere Gingerbread® Shop. It’s a very small shop, so Pauline went in on her own to buy some gingerbread®. We have Sarah Nelson to thank for creating this cross between a biscuit and a cake and I wonder what the secret ingredients are?

We visited William Wordsworth’s grave as did some of his descendents, or so they claimed. I took a photo for them but didn’t think to take a picture of them with my own phone.

Wordsworth’s grave

(I recently played Taylor Swift’s song The Lakes on my radio show, which includes a nod to Wordsworth. See what you’ve been missing?) The Daffodil Garden is full of daffodils, but not at this time of year. It was interesting to walk along the path that acknowledges the hundreds of people who contributed to the garden.

Subscribers

After a pleasant wander, we took the bus back to Ambleside. You can’t help but admire the lady who put this display together in the bookshop window.

Menopausal window dressers, eh?

A third bus took us to Coniston. The driver was very patient on the narrow roads, and very skilful. I think we were all glad to let someone else do the driving for us. Some of the car drivers going in the opposite direction looked terrified, I suspect a couple of steering wheels will have been crushed, they were being gripped so tightly.

As Pauline pointed out, here’s something you don’t see very often these days:

Butterfly nets

I trust they’ve been failing to sell for a number of decades because we just don’t want to be catching butterflies any more.

Coniston Water is famous for two things. It’s where Donald Campbell died in 1967 during his attempt to break the water speed record in his boat Blue Bird. And one of its islands was the inspiration for Swallows and Amazons,
the first in a delightful series of books by Arthur Ransome that I enjoyed over fifty years ago. Time for a re-read?

Andrew, Pauline and I took advantage of our perfect timing and climbed aboard for a guided boat tour of the lake. The commentary wasn’t provided by Count Arthur Strong on this occasion. In fact, she didn’t even look like him.

Sailing on Coniston Water
Rowing on Coniston Water

After a quick cup of coffee, we walked back to town, consuming blackberries on the way, and took the bus back to Ambleside. As Crowded House might sing: Four buses in one day. We greeted a few locals, although some were a bit wary of strangers.

Ewe looking at me?

The return bus ride was less exciting, in the sense that there was far less traffic fighting the bus for space.

Our evening meal was taken sitting inside a tuk tuk in a Thai restaurant. The waiter was very apologetic about this being the only table available, but we didn’t mind at all, even if the whole edifice moved every time one of us did.

Tuk tuk

Andrew returned to driving duties and took us to the other side of the Lake District to what was our final b&b. To quell any doubts you may have, we went in the rental car, not in the tuk tuk.

Buttermere is a good place for a walk. It’s a small lake, but we didn’t walk all the way around. We did climb the hill, though Pauline and Andrew went a bit further than I did.

Up the hill forwards
Buttermere

It was fascinating to see water flowing out of the lake into a stream. We know it happens, but we’re more used to seeing streams flow into the main body of water.

Just as we thought we were making good progress, the road was blocked.

Flock of sheep

We weren’t held up for long, the sheepdogs were doing a great job of controlling and herding their charges.

The hotel in Nether Wasdale was very easy to find, after a long and beautiful drive through the mountains. I realised that after all the time spent in Ambleside, we never did get to stop at Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived for a while with his sister Dorothy. But as with all tourist attractions, it’ll still be there next time.

The three of us went for a short walk in the direction of Wastwater and returned for a drink. St Michael and All Saints is a very small church, very quick and easy to explore.

Pauline stayed in the area over fifty years ago, so our mission was (partly) to track down the cottage in which she stayed. Our drive towards Wasdale Head was curtailed because there was too much traffic coming towards us and there was nowhere to park.

We ate a late lunch (picnic food again) and quaffed our drinks on a bench over the road from the hotel, enjoyed the sunshine and the quiet. Car headlights flashed us, announcing the arrival of Liesel and Leslie. Liesel had successfully completed a couple of work projects at home. On the way to Nether Wasdale today, they’d stopped at a Bobbin Mill for a break. And it was more interesting, I think, than they’d anticipated.

The big evening meal was closely followed by a big breakfast in the morning. We were well stocked up with energy for a long hike, even if we had a lot of extra weight to lug around. On this occasion, Liesel drove us to Wasdale Head, and it was a much more pleasant ride than yesterday, much less traffic.

It was hilly, gorgeous view of the mountains and, occasionally, the lake. Becks, streams, waterfalls and sheep all competed for our attention.

View from the car park
Andrew on a bridge

In fact, at one waterfall, we met a couple who were enjoying the outdoor shower, emerging as if in an old advert for shampoo. That’s what they do. The previous day, they’d showered under four waterfalls.

Ritson’s Force
Liesel and Leslie

The blackberries were bountiful. Some were bitter, sour, most were ok but some, on the sunny side of the bush, were sweet and juicy, the taste of childhood Autumns.

Funny looking blackberries

The going was tough in places, but we all kept going, with encouragement from the others. We were greeted by sheep now and then. They drew our attention to the dry stone walls which are different in style to those in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

Spot the sheep

We tried not to worry the sheep, at least we didn’t have a dog with us. But when I mentioned in passing to one ram that Liz Truss might become our new prime minister, he looked horrified.

St Olaf’s, Wasdale Head, is England’s smallest parish church.

St Olaf’s

This one was built in about 1550 but there has been a church on the site for about 950 years. There was no need for a guided tour on this occasion.

The body and blood of Christ

On the way back to Nether Wasdale, we stopped on a beach by Wastwater for our lunch. We sat on rocks for a bit, but my sister and her partner went over to sit on the grass. Again, we consumed a few handfuls of blackberries. What a wonderful lifestyle. Perfect temperature, gorgeous scenery, no deadlines to meet, no work to complete.

More sheep

The postprandial perambulation up the hill proved too much for me and Leslie so we waited while the others conquered the mountain. Or so they claimed…

We fell asleep to the sound of people enjoying themselves over the road, as they celebrated Holly’s Dad’s 70th birthday. Did we gatecrash? No: far too knackered! Besides, we don’t know Holly nor her Dad.

To Ambleside

Newby Hall is a Grade I listed building in North Yorkshire. Pauline chose this as the venue where we could meet up with a school friend of hers, Yvonne, and Yvonne’s husband Ian. They live a bit further north in Yorkshire. I haven’t seen Yvonne for over fifty years: in fact, the last time I saw Yvonne in real life, she was wearing her school uniform. Sadly not the case today.

The gardens are quite extensive and we wandered through chatting and admiring the work of the gardeners.

Lobelias

The colours were almost out of this world, I’m sure this verges on the ultraviolet.

Beacon

During the guided tour of the house itself, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. But there was more Chippendale furniture here, lots of books and pictures. Somehow, we missed seeing Gyles Brandreth’s collection of teddy bears.

We admired the miniature train as it whistled on by, but we were more interested in going out on a boat ride, on the River Ure. I saw a flash in my peripheral vision, and that was all I saw of the kingfisher, although others saw it for longer. Neither did I see the otters nor, thank goodness, the minks that are wreaking havoc on this stretch of the river. Still, it was a very enjoyable way to pass the time, sitting down, after walking around the gardens.

River Ure

What a beautiful day too. We ate lunch outside, torn between sitting in the shade and soaking up and enjoying the full blast of the Sun.

The shell grotto was interesting, Martha would love it, although there are warnings about the sharp edges.

Shell grotto
Newby Hall

It was lovely to meet Yvonne again after all this time and I said I hoped to see her again before another fifty years have passed by.

Back at Pateley Bridge, we weren’t tempted by the Oldest Sweet Shop in England. I don’t need to eat the oldest sweets in England, wherever they come from.

The Oldest Sweet Shop

But we couldn’t resist visiting the local car boot sale early the following morning. I tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal from Liesel the ten CDs that I’d bought. But I really do need them for the radio show. I do, I do.

Nidderdale AONB from Pateley Bridge High Street

We drove to Brimham Rocks, another place that was previously unknown to me. Everyone else on the planet knows about the place though, so they all came along today too. One car park was full but as members of the National Trust, we were directed to the upper car park. By ‘us’, I mean Liesel, Leslie and myself. Pauline and Andrew weren’t so lucky. They arrived a few minutes later and were sent to the overflow car park, quite a long walk away, as I discovered later in the day. Jenny, Liam and the children arrived in a third vehicle and found a parking space somehow.

Brimham Rocks is a fascinating place. There are several stacks of rocks which all invite you to climb them. I quite enjoy climbing up such rocks, intermittent shortness-of-breath issue permitting, but I really don’t like going down again. My depth perception while looking down has always been a bit dodgy, I almost have to do it by feel, even if that means using both hands and shuffling down on my bottom.

But William especially was in his element, he is such an adventurer.

Lover’s Leap

I think each of the stacks has its own name. I was surprised to see some of the individuals who scampered at least halfway up some of the rock formations, just to have their photo taken.

320 million year old structure

Again, the weather was quite agreeable. Except that when we sat down for our pre-packed picnic lunch, the wind got up a bit. Later on, we realised we’d plonked ourselves down in the middle of a wind tunnel.

Martha and Jenny way up there
Liesel and William up there
Jenny, Martha, Liam and William the conquerors

The café and ice cream shop are at the top of a hill, you just keep walking up until you see the queue. When you look away from the shop though, you will see lots of big golf balls on the horizon.

Menwith Hill

This is RAF Menwith Hill, a top secret listening station that at one point didn’t even appear on OS maps. Don’t tell anyone.

Pauline and Andrew

Get back from the edge, William!

One last rock for William

We all returned to out accommodation in Pateley Bridge, all 9 of us, where we ate supper from the local chippy. William must have Duracell batteries, he never slows down. But he did lose the wrestling match with a foot stool.

William v stool

As I hinted at earlier, Pauline, Andrew and I  walked a long, long, long way back to where they’d been encouraged to park. Liesel and Leslie wanted to leave earlier. Oh well, we always need more exercise. But if I’d realised that Pauline and Andrew had parked in the next country…

Before leaving for our next base of operations, I needed to get some cash out of the ATM. They saw me coming, and watered the hanging basket. I was typing in in my PIN code and wondered why my leg was being splashed. I stood back, looked up and got a faceful of water too. There are some jokers in Pateley Bridge.

Mick’s coming, quick, let’s water the flowers

Liesel had some work to do and the 4G and Wifi services hadn’t been too reliable recently, out in the countryside, so she and Mom chose to go home for a couple of days.

I accompanied Pauline and Andrew on the drive to Kendal, which was long but uneventful. Yes, the country lanes were narrow in places. And inevitably, we followed a tractor for a short while. On the way, we passed by close to Giggleswick,  Wigglesworth and an advert for Biggles removals. Like Bakewell, Kendal was a bigger town than we remembered from previous visits. We’d moved on from Yorkshire to the Lake District for more adventures in the big outdoors.

Old Shambles

My sister Pauline is always more than happy to pose for a photo.

Kendal United Reformed Church

During our travels, we visited a few churches. I like to light candles for my Mum and Dad and Sarah, but this year, there has been no facility to do so. I wonder if they’ve stopped this practice because of the fire risk? Having said that, no, we didn’t visit this United Reformed Church.

Fryer Tux Fish & Chips

I’m sure there’s more to Kendal than bad puns for shop names! Oh yeah: Kendal Mint Cake. But in the end, none of indulged in that very sweet and minty delicacy. We walked down an alleyway to look in the bookshop, only to be greeted by the sign: ‘Sorry, this is a storeroom, not a bookshop’. So we schlepped all the way back up the alley and wondered why they didn’t put this warning at the top. There are some jokers in Kendal.

And so to Ambleside, where we stayed at a b&b for a couple of nights. The first thing you notice about Ambleside is the ridiculous amount of traffic (yes, I know, we were part of it) and the one-way system. We couldn’t park outside the b&b, so we stopped as soon as we could. Andrew and I waited for Pauline to go back to ask our hosts where to park. They told us. Reluctantly, they gave us a Parking Disc that would allow us to park on the street for up to an hour at a time. We also got a pass that allowed us to park in the nearby car park overnight. We later found several of these rare, precious and beautiful Parking Discs in a basket by the Co-op supermarket.

We bought some groceries for a quick picnic which we enjoyed while sitting by the river, in view of Bridge House which was built over Stock Ghyll more than 300 years ago, probably as a summer house and apple store for Ambleside Hall.

Bridge House

Mostly we enjoyed our bread and cheese and tomatoes and crisps, which we ate without the aid of a knife. But, we were joined and pestered by a very aggressive mallard. He pecked at our shoes, attacked Andrew’s leg, and scared away the sparrows.

Mallard v shoe

We went for a nice, long walk to the head of Windermere, passing by the sporting facilities on offer: bowls, tennis, rugby and crazy golf. We were quite lucky with wildlife too.

Pond skater
Otter
Red squirrel

Well, I admit the last two aren’t the real thing, but they’re as close as we got on this occasion. There was a tree close to the lake that drew my attention though.

Tree

Our walk took us through a field of cows, which Liesel would have enjoyed, but they weren’t interested in us. We also saw a deer, a female deer with twin fawns, which was nice and unexpected.

Deer family

Silhouetted again a bright sunset sky was the church of St Mary’s.

St Mary’s

Liesel and Leslie decided to stay at home in Northenden, leaving me, Pauline and Andrew to amuse ourselves here in Ambleside.

To Penistone and Pateley Bridge

Liesel and I didn’t hear them go, but Pauline and Andrew left early to take Rob back to Manchester Airport. His short time here in the UK was over but I’m so glad he was able to come over for his cousin’s wedding and to spend a couple of days with us in Derbyshire. Afterwards, Pauline and Andrew drove to our next b&b visiting Ladybower Reservoir on the way.

Liesel and I and Leslie got up, packed, and looked out of the window. It was drizzly, we could no longer see the castle at the top of the hill. So we decided not to walk up, we wouldn’t see the views today.

We drove to Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, in the rain, quite hard rain at times, on more narrow roads. Liesel drove, I navigated, as is out usual practice.

Call me cynical but I have a theory. The harder it’s raining, the further the car park is from whichever venue we’re visiting.

Nostell Priory

The highlight for me was seeing an original John Harrison long-case clock. I took several pictures of it from different angles so that one day I can 3D-print one of my own.

John Harrison clock

But the main collection is furniture designed by Thomas Chippendale, even if he didn’t do all the woodwork himself. He was a local lad who did very well. Some chairs looked more comfortable than others, but I wasn’t allowed to try them out. ‘This isn’t Ikea, you know’.

Gentleman’s dressing table and writing desk by Chippendale

The tour of the house was interesting, lots of old stuff to look at and a reminder of how easy it is to acquire too much clutter!

I was introduced to a lady in a wheelchair. This is Daisy, said her guide, she’s 105 years old. I wished her a happy birthday. For safety reasons, she wasn’t allowed up to the first floor, not even in the lift. So I took more pictures upstairs than I need to, so I could show her. By the time I went back down, she’d disappeared. Fast mover.

When buying tickets, and a couple of times later on, we met a guide with a French accent. I was curious/nosey enough to tell him that his Yorkshire accent wasn’t very convincing. Where do you think I’m from, he asked. France? Maybe Switzerland? Nope. He’s from Lithuania and has been living here for 11 years.

I haven’t even mentioned the library or the doll’s house! We walked around the garden for a while so here’s the obligatory photo of a flower with raindrops.

Raindrops on roses
Banana leaves

We might return to Nostell one day, not for the house or the garden, but to take the children to enjoy its adventure playground.

We found our next b&b in Millhouse Green, near Penistone, very easily. We have an en suite bathroom. So I won’t be disturbing everyone when I find all the squeaky floorboards as I make several trips to the loo in the middle of the night.

We sat outside in the Sun and chatted, watching the mallards on the river Don at the bottom of the garden. Pauline and Andrew arrived, soon after which, Andrew and Liesel went to the local chippy to buy our evening meal. We dined outside. What a nice way to end the day.

Al fresco

The breakfast was very satisfying, thank you, Di and Dave. But the best news today was that I completed the Nerdle puzzle for the 200th day in a row.

#not #humblebrag

The first time I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park was in 1991. It was a campsite for the night during our cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I’ll Rot13 the next bit, it’s not for squeamish souls. Vg jnf cbhevat jvgu enva fb bs pbhefr, V arrqrq n jrr va gur zvqqyr bs gur avtug. V jnfa’g tbvat gb jnyx nyy gur jnl hc gur uvyy sebz zl grag gb gur gbvyrgf, abg va gung enva. Vafgrnq, V jrag oruvaq gur arneol Urael Zbber fphycgher. V guvax vg jnf guvf bar,  Ynetr Gjb Sbezf. Fbeel, Urael.

Mick and Large Two Forms

Today though was bright and Sunny and we had a lovely wander around the park. There’s plenty of space between the items.

Love (by Robert Indiana)

There’s something about the combination of primary colours I like, here.

The Corby Rocker (by Jason Wisher-Mills)

“The Corby Rocker was made with a group of adults with learning disabilities, based at Oakley Grange in Corby, Northamptonshire. The rocker’s exuberance and love of life was my attempt to capture how much this group had inspired me, how I felt about them, and how they had given me a new artistic voice. Simply put – meeting them changed my life.”

And it impressed and amused several visitors today, too, Jason!

Charity (by Damien Hirst)

I remember seeing this little girl, and other charity collectors, outside shops when I was growing up. Damien Hirst made this larger-than-life version.

Not all artists take their work seriously of course. One piece celebrated William Harvey, who first discovered the circulatory system in the human body. This is on the back:

The First Doctor

Well, it made me laugh anyway! (That’s William Hartnell, not William Harvey.)

There are still a few signs and indications around, marking the Tour de Yorkshire races from a few years ago. The event stopped during the pandemic, and I don’t know whether it will come back.

Funny place to park a bike

But one highlight was the early morning visit to the local car boot sale. I tried unsuccessfully to hide the ten CDs I bought from Liesel, but I do need them for my radio show. Andrew enjoyed a bacon buttie and I’m not sure anybody else bought anything.

Illustrated history of Penistone

We’ve been to the National Trust property, Wentworth Castle Gardens before, but it was only when we arrived this time that I recognised it. It was a good place to meet up with Jenny and Liam and Martha and William.

Multi-coloured flower bed

We had a picnic, which included cherry tomatoes, by the folly that is Stainborough Castle, which William in particular enjoyed exploring. When he wasn’t impersonating a hamster, that is.

William the hamster

Jenny and Liam were looking good after being married for six whole days.

There’s a fun playground here too and between them, Martha and William nearly wore out the zipline.

This was a nice, sunny day, and we enjoyed watching the sunbeams as we drove to our new place at Pateley Bridge. No, we’re not on the run, we’re just touring around staying in different b&bs for two or three days, doing some sightseeing.

There’s a car park just down the road from our new place, and we spent a lot of time walking up and down Pateley Bridge High Street, which is about the same gradient as Guildford High Street. This is the only town within the Nidderdale Area of Natural Beauty and I think the locals are very proud of this fact.

History of Pateley Bridge in two plaques

Our only regret in Pateley Bridge is that we weren’t invited to the party on our first night: it was only just over the road. One of those where the blokes have a contest to see who can impress the boss by laughing the loudest. Actually, not my sort of party at all…

To Castleton

Following the absolutely fabulous Wedding Weekend, after all the fun and farewells, we drove to Bakewell. Six of us altogether: Liesel, Leslie and myself in one vehicle, Pauline, Andrew and Rob in their rented car.

The last time Liesel and I visited Bakewell, we were on our bikes. We’d had a good day cycling around, visiting Eyam and a couple of other places. The lady in Buxton Visitor Information told us that the bus back to Buxton had bike racks on the front. She lied. The bus came, with nowhere to hang our bikes. Plan B: ride back to Buxton as quickly as possible along the A6, in the rain, as it got darker and darker. It was not fun. Too much traffic, too many close passes. We left the bikes at our b&b and legged it towards the Opera House. After a bag of crisps for supper, we settled in for a groovy concert. I can’t remember the name of the Pink Floyd tribute act now, but they were good. We would have enjoyed the show more if we’d arrived at a more leisurely pace and having eaten properly. Still, an event not to be forgotten. Nor repeated, if I understand Liesel correctly.

Today though, we had a nice break in Bakewell, including of course one of their famous tarts. Bakewell is bigger than I remembered. I had to ask in the Information Centre where the nearest public convenience was located. She told me. I trusted her. I found it.

Record shop

There aren’t many record shops left around the country, but I have a theory that every remaining one now has at least one David Bowie album in the window. Bakewell didn’t disappoint.

The bridge over the river Wye is in danger of collapse, being weighed down by a million padlocks. I hope they’re not, but I suspect many of the keys have been thrown into the river below.

What a lot of padlocks

We backtracked a bit to spend some time at Haddon Hall. What a fascinating house, even if the presence of bats and/or their produce induced a coughing fit in me. There is a lot of original building work here. GM knew how to keep the roof up.

A nearly 400-year old roof

This place has been used extensively for filming and the guide told us that after a recent episode of a TV series was filmed here, the crew left behind the protective pedestal at the base of this very old supporting pillar.

21st century protection for the 500-year old supporting pillar

The windows look warped, but they were constructed this way.

Wonky windows

I looked for but could see no obvious mathematical pattern, so maybe it was just random on the part of the window-maker. Or maybe he just couldn’t cut the lead beading to the right length.

The gardens were delightful too, so here’s the obligatory photo of a flower with a bee, a very distinctive bee, as it happens.

Yellow flower with exotic bee

We followed some very narrow roads on the way to Castleton, which was to be our home for a couple of days.

I’m not going to list all the toilets I visited but one invited me to leave the door open when I’d finished, due to nesting swallows. I saw the nest, but the occupants were probably out shopping or something.

Monsal Head provided a good viewpoint, just one of very many gorgeous sights we’d see over the next couple of weeks.

Castleton is a small town, with narrow roads, several pubs and lots of shops selling ‘stuff’. The GPS told us we’d arrived at our destination, but I couldn’t find it. Neither could Andrew who I bumped into, also wandering around aimlessly looking for it.

It took the man in the pub to show us where we were supposed to be. Up a steep hill, behind the road we’d been searching on. Now, if they’d told us our cottage was above the fish and chip shop, we’d have found it much sooner! I suspect the b&b has a deal with the pub. Their guests will get lost, go to the pub for directions and then feel obliged to take a drink there.

We looked up at Peveril Castle and decided to visit it the following day. Instead, now, we went for a walk towards Blue John Cavern, which we would also visit the next day. This Cavern was the main reason for being here: Pauline’s wanted to visit for many, many years.

So, yes, of course we had a drink at the pub. A nice refreshing pint of shandy in my case.

Devil’s Arse!

Liesel and I have tickets for a concert here in September, so it was quite funny to see we’ve ended up so close by today. Will we stay in Castleton overnight again, then? To be decided!

I took pictures of the hills surrounding us, but they’re never as good as the real thing. Nor, as Liesel and I have discussed several times, as good as water colour or even oil paintings, which seem to capture the essence of a place much better than a photograph. But I can’t paint, so I’ll continue to take pictures.

While the others returned to our digs, Pauline and I roamed a bit further afield, around the town. We can buy lots of Blue John based jewellery, as well as other stones and, yes, ‘stuff’, ‘clutter’, items to sit on a shelf and gather dust.

A cacophony from the sky drew our attention. It wasn’t quite a murmuration, but certainly a large flock of birds was flying around as a group. What were they? We didn’t recognise the call and couldn’t identify them. They settled on top of a tree. I used an app called Chirp-o-matic which identified them as jackdaws.

In our cottage, we only found one toilet roll. Two of the lamps weren’t working and the replacement bulbs were the wrong sort. I suspect the b&b has a deal with the local supermarket. Their guests will visit the shop desperate for toilet paper and then buy lots of other items as well.

Hundreds of jacksaws sitting in a tree

It was a muggy evening and the following day, we awoke to slight drizzle. Despite this, we aimed to be at Blue John Cavern by 9.30.

Pauline contemplating life the universe and everything

Behind us as we looked down towards the cavern stood Mam Tor. This used to be a much bigger hill, covering the whole area. Yes, we thought about walking up the hill. And it’s the thought that counts.

Liesel and Leslie weren’t interested in the cavern, so it was just me, Pauline and Rob who descended the 245 steps. It was wet inside, dark, damp, and a bit slippery in places. Blue John stone gets its name from French, bleu et jaune, and it is a coloured variety of fluorspar. This is the only place known to have Blue John.

Meanwhile, Liesel nipped home to work  and to get some more clothes, as well as take back all our wedding gear.

Blue John stone in situ

The guide illuminated some of the more remarkable rocks. The place started off as a lead mine but people still like to mine for Blue John, but on a much smaller scale of course.

Another seam

Climbing back up the steps wasn’t too bad. We stopped a few times to look at other features. I must say, though, it was nice to get out in the fresh air again. I didn’t even see the large rock spiders that scurry from between the rocks when they hear a loud noise, such as a clap.

The three of us with Andrew visited Peveril Castle in the afternoon, just up the hill from our b&b. It was a well-made path but, whinge incoming: I don’t like it when there are steps, each one of which is on a slope. Steps are ok, slopes are ok, but I find the combination very uncomfortable, especially going down. We stopped a few times on the way up, to admire the views, but mainly for the brief rests.

Peveril Castle on a steep slope

The views from the top of the hill were fantastic of course, but photos will never do them justice. Nevertheless, here’s one.

The view from Peveril Castle

The spiral staircase in the castle was a bit intimidating. If I were to be tried here for some minor felony, in the days when the castle was used as a court of law, I think I might plead guilty just to avoid it having to climb it.

In the evening, we enjoyed a meal at The George, table 52 at the end of the garden, if you’re interested.

In an unusual turn of events, we watched TV in the evening: the first couple of episodes of Ghosts. And I think this was the only TV we watched for over two weeks. Most of us, anyway.

This was followed by a good night’s sleep, in preparation for the following day’s adventures. The smell of fish from the chippy below was not at all a problem.

And back home again

I was fully prepared for a stressful journey back home. I told myself that whatever happened, it was out of my hands, I could do nothing about it. I could control my breathing. What’s the worst that could happen?

But then reality kicked in and as I write this at home several hours after the events, I am still breaking out in cold sweats. This post is quite negative, so feel free to skip it. I’m only writing it because in years to come, it will be hard to believe that any individual trip can be this stressful.

If I were an explorer, venturing into the unknown, I would expect to be scared and hesitant. But my plans entail using supposedly well ordered 21st century travel infrastructure. It should be comfortable, safe, predictable, civilised.

After two weeks with the family in Anchorage, it was time to go back home. Liesel and Leslie dropped me off at the airport in very good time, at 10.00am, for my 12.40pm flight. The queue for checking in was already quite long but, as I said, I was in very good time.

At 10.30, I was able to report that the queue was moving, albeit slowly. There was only one person behind the desk but I told myself I’m sure they know what they’re doing. After all, this flight is a weekly event, they know how to process all these hundreds of people in good time, right?

As well as all the potential passengers, we were surrounded by dozens of chill boxes containing newly caught Alaskan salmon, destined for domestic freezers back home in Germany. I was glad I wasn’t checking in any luggage, it might have been crushed by all the fish.

10.50 arrived and so did the other queue, the so-called Premium Economy passengers. At this point, the still solitary check-in person gave them preferential treatment. This was the point at which I first began to feel uncomfortable. The dad in the family behind me in the queue was becoming agitated too. He was edging their luggage forward a centimetre at a time, even though nobody else in our queue was moving.

At 11.11, I reported to Liesel via Whatsapp that our queue hadn’t moved for 20 minutes. There were about 20 people in front of me at this point and probably well over 100 behind. 70 minutes in a queue seems unreasonable to me. Still just one person working, processing people in the other line.

The bloke behind spoke to a passing uniformed woman, asking for reassurance that we would be checked in in good time?
Uniformed woman: I don’t know, I don’t work for Condor.
Agitated bloke: But you work for the airport, no?
Uniformed woman: No, I work for a cruise liner.
Agitated bloke now deflated. This brought a rare smile to my face, thankfully hidden by the mask.

11.25, she took a group from my queue for the first time in 45 minutes. Via Whatsapp, Liesel commented that at least I had snacks. Well, yes, but eating was the last thing I wanted to do. Not throwing up was a major achievement. I know it’s out of my control, but that’s the problem. I can see the problem is not enough check-in personnel, and the solution is obvious: get more people. But I can’t do anything about that.

11.28, ‘holy moly’ is the phrase I didn’t use, someone else turned up to work at the check-in counter.

11.30, oh, she’s gone away again, a man appeared from nowhere to tell her that she couldn’t use that terminal.

11.42, Liesel asked if I’d reached the counter yet: nope.

11.45, I’m at the counter and my two boarding passed were printed within 30 seconds. 105 minutes waiting and less than one minute at the counter. Paradoxically, I felt short-changed, it should have taken longer, there should have been more of a ceremony, fireworks, everything.

Deep breaths as I now walked round the corner dreading the length of the queue I’d have to contend with before going through Security. It was now within an hour of the scheduled departure time.

12.00, Security was a breeze. A short wait, my bags went through without being pulled aside. At this point, I was shaking but no longer felt like I was going to be sick. I knew it was only a 10-minute walk to the boarding gate, so I took time out to buy a coffee. If I’m gonna be shaking, I might as well take on board some caffeine, was my strange train of thought.

I arrived at the boarding gate. No staff here and nothing displayed on the screen, just a lot of people sitting or milling about, some of whom I recognised because I’d been watching them ahead of me in the queue. What’s going on? Nobody knew. So I backtracked to find a screen displaying all the departure details, just to make sure the gate hadn’t changed since my boarding pass was printed. It hadn’t, but the information gleaned was much worse.

Destination Frankfurt

As you can see, my 12.40 flight actually departed at 11.55. Cue another surge of adrenaline, panic and cold sweat. How can a flight depart so early, especially when so many people were still in the check-in queue at that point? I know, I’ll ask a member of staff what’s going on. Only there were none.

12.42, two minutes after the scheduled departure time, two members of staff turned up, the two who’d been checking people in, one of whom had turned up just as I was being processed. The screen here at the gate was still not showing anything, so people swarmed around them asking for information. It seems this flight was so over-subscribed, they’d squeezed in an extra flight. Well, that’s great, but why not tell us? Why not update the departure board to reflect this fact, rather than telling us our plane had taken off a long time earlier? The lack of communication probably caused more anxiety than anything else.

And now of course, I know this flight will be leaving very late, making it more difficult for me to make my connection at Frankfurt airport.

1.12, finally, I am sitting on the plane, trying to tell myself that I just don’t care any more, but even this little trick isn’t working today. The stewardess (do we still use that term?) welcomed me in German to which I replied ‘schanke dön’. Proof that my brain was well and truly addled.

The pilot made an announcement, welcoming us on board. He also apologised for the delay, which was because it took longer than usual to move the plane to the departure gate from the other terminal.

Some good news though: I had two seats to myself.

Oh, but the bad news: my vegetarian meal wasn’t. There was a huge lump of beige meat on a bed of vegetables. The crew-member took my ‘non-lacto’ meal away and replaced it with a proper veggie meal. This didn’t bother me at all. A mistake was made somewhere along the line, and the problem was resolved. This is on a different level to the general level of incompetence experienced at the airport.

At some point, over Canada or Greenland I guess, I asked a crew member what time we expected to land at Frankfurt. About 9am local time, she said. Which was good news. My onward flight to Manchester departed at 9.45. Last time I flew from Anchorage to Manchester, transiting at Frankfurt, I just walked from one gate to another, dead easy, took five minutes or so. I was happy that I would not, after all, miss my connecting flight.

I couldn’t sleep during the flight, but I did start to relax a bit.

It was an unusually bumpy landing in Frankfurt, and for a moment, I thought I had plenty of time. But no. Instead of disembarking into the terminal building (just a few gates away from where my next flight would be boarding, as I thought), we stopped in the middle of nowhere, and had to take a bus to to the building. A quick 5-minute ride, surely? Nope. 15 minutes, so of course, the panic is now beginning to build again. Still, once inside, it should be a quick walk. Breathe.

I followed the signs to my departure gate, checking the screen on the way, which was just as well, because we’d been promoted from B24 to B27. Follow the signs. Just round the corner, surely. Down the stairs. Round this corner, then. Nope. Down more stairs. To a shuttle bus that would take us to the gate. A quick 5-minute ride, surely? No, another tour, seemingly of the whole airport. I really had not considered the possibility that I’d have not one but two shuttle bus rides at Frankfurt.

At the gate, I joined the queue to go through, not really caring what ‘group’ of people they were letting through, I just wanted to get on board, now, with only 5 minutes to spare. The machine rejected my boarding pass, it flashed red, but at least klaxons and alarms didn’t go off. The flashing red light stirred an otherwise disinterested man into action. He told me to go to go to that desk over there.

In front of the desk was a woman asking the young assistant what had happened to her luggage, last seen in Bucharest. It was probably a short conversation but at the time, I thought she’d never stop talking and get out of my way. But she did, eventually, and I presented my errant boarding pass.
Assistant: Have you just flown in from Anchorage?
Me: Yes I have.
Assistant: You’ve been cancelled, you flight was delayed, we didn’t think you’d get here in time.
Me: Oh. (And much more in my head.)
Assistant: How many checked items do you have?
Me: I don’t have any checked items. (Thank goodness, good planning there.)
Assistant: Would you like to be reinstated?
Me: Yes, please. (People were still going through the gate, so I thought I was OK for time.)
Assistant: (A million clicks on the keyboard. Then she gave me a brand new boarding pass.)
Me: Thank you very much.

I walked straight back to the scanning machine, jumping the queue, I’d already queued once pointlessly, and I’ve never seen such a welcome sight as this green light.

Of course, my seat had been reallocated and I was now sitting much nearer the front, by an exit, with plenty of leg room but no little table in front of me.

Lots of space, man

This flight was uneventful. The worst part was me being in the toilet when they went round giving out the chocolates. Huh. So when a crew member was distracted by another passenger, I just grabbed a chocolate off his tray. He didn’t notice.

Going through passport control at Manchester airport was a breeze on this occasion. All the machines were working. I had to temporarily remove the protective ‘I am European’ cover from the passport before the machine could read it.

Nothing to declare of course, so straight through Customs, also straight through the unavoidable but I’m sure very lucrative duty free shop, and out into the real world. Of course, the taxi I took home only accepted cash, so we had to go via an ATM.

At home, I climbed the stairs, went inside, collapsed on the bed and had a quick and very welcome nap.

As I said to Liesel, if I were a spy and you wanted to extract my secrets, you couldn’t come up with a more severe form of torture than making me fly internationally through under-staffed airports.

Thanks, I feel better, now. Very cathartic. I feel purged and cleansed but I will be searching for ‘industrial strength anti-anxiety medication’ when I’ve had another nap.

Party, plants and Petra

It was good fun going through photos for a couple of days, on Klaus’s computer, on Facebook and some really old, physical photos. They made for a fascinating slideshow at the party to celebrate Klaus’s life.

Klaus

Here is former marathon runner Klaus, with baby Liesel and her grandmother, with a freshly caught fish and barbecuing. Here’s Klaus’s obituary.

There was far too much food for the hundred or so people who turned up, so it’s been leftovers all week. Huli-huli chicken and kalua pig are two Hawaiian dishes that Klaus was especially fond of. The family have been enjoying the leftovers for a few days now.

Klaus was famous for his sense of humour. He was always telling jokes, so with that in mind, we set up a Joke Board, inviting contributions from the guests. Well, needless to say, some of the jokes are too rude for this family-friendly blog, but here goes anyway:

Joke board

Fifteen years ago, Liesel and I visited Bremen with Klaus and Leslie, a family reunion with some long-lost German relations. One of the side-trips was a tour of Beck’s brewery. Afterwards, we were given some samples to try: six, I think, small glasses of various beers and lagers. Which one did you like best, Klaus? To everyone’s surprise, he picked the non-alcoholic beverage. I imbibed some Beck’s today, it seemed the right thing to do. Prost!

Amongst the guests was Holly, our friend who flew up from Washington. Liesel and I were happy to give up our bed and sleep on the blow-up bed for a couple of nights, even if it did make farty noises every time one of us moved.

On one of our walks to Kincaid Park, Liesel picked both of the raspberries. Yes, there were only two ripe ones on the bush, but there’ll be plenty more soon. Maybe all that rain helped speed up the ripening process.

Yellow toadflax

It’s nice to be out in the Sun again, of course. And we do like seeing the odd splash of colour.

Red elderberry

At least, I think this is elderberry. But I wasn’t confident enough to pick the berries with a view to making elderberry wine. Well, I can’t help thinking about the times you were a wife of mine. You aimed to please me, cooked black-eyed peas-me, made elderberry wine. That Elton John song came to mind and was my earworm for the rest of the day.

Fireweed

Well, I think this is fireweed, it’s quite prolific in some places.

Selfie of the day: Holly, Jyoti, Liesel, Mick

I have to confess: Holly took this picture: if I’d tried to take a selfie, there would have been at least half of someone’s face missing.

There is a cat who lives in the house with Leslie. Her name is Petra and she is very shy, timid, secretive. I have often seen the tip of her tail disappear around the corner as she heads towards her favourite hiding place, the back of the closet. But one day, I was at home on my own, glanced down from the den, the upper landing. I saw the cat. The cat saw me. The cat crouched, ready to move off. I slowly extracted my phone. Turned the flash on. And I now have photographic evidence that the beast exists.

Petra

As you can see, her headlights are on full-beam. And this is the face that greets Leslie when she wakes up each morning. Luminous green, scary, starey eyes and everything.

Liesel, Holly and I walked on the boardwalk at Potter Marsh. One of those borderline days when even I was taking off and putting on my coat as the wind cooled and warmed up again.

The water in one of the streams was a bit murky, but it was good to see the salmon swimming upstream

Salmon

No birds to speak of, but I had some success with the dragonflies. One was on a lady’s shoe, so we helped it escape, and out of the way, we didn’t want anyone to stomp on it.

Dragonfly on a stranger’s shoe

And then there was this chap.

Dragonfly on the fence

He was very cooperative, he stayed very still, but at least he was alive. Or she, I don’t know how you can tell. I was able to get a nice close-up without him flying off.

Face to face with a dragonfly

We drove up to see Catherine and Hans. Their rhubard crumble was delicious. Holly knew Catherine from a long, long time ago. Holly and Liesel were travelling in Europe and spent some time with Catherine and Hans in the Netherlands. We had a good chat, enjoyed the view and the sunshine. George the Bernese mountain dog lives with Catherine and Hans. He wears children’s grippy socks indoors so that he can walk on the wooden floors without slipping.

George

When he’s out for a walk, he’ll let you know he’s had enough by lying down on his back, in the middle of the road.

Later that afternoon, Aaron, Jodi, Asa and Gideon came round with friends visiting from Germany: Fee, Jorn and Philip. It was a raucous evening, and again, there were stories about Klaus.

Jyoti, Liesel and I had a quick walk around Little Campbell Lake, also known as Beercan Lake. The ladies had a longer walk than I did, but it was nice sitting on the bench, watching the young people in their kayaks. This lake is where Liesel and I were married all those years ago. It was frozen at the time, so a very different vista today.

Beercan Lake

In Kincaid Park, near the chalet, we admired the multi-coloured bench.

Bench

It was windy here today, and a few people were flying kites. The clouds were fascinating to watch, swirling and whirling around. Someone suggested it was like a scene from Harry Potter.

Kites and clouds in Kincaid Park

Indoors, I was quite busy doing some DIY. The key lock box combination is … haha, I nearly revealed it. I tightened up the screws holding up the hanging basket bracket. I changed a lightbulb outside the garage, quite possibly the most awkward lightbulb in the world, in a brass and glass case, with a hole not quite big enough to fit a bulb and fingers at the same time. Duct tape, as is often the case in Alaska, was my saviour.

Last week’s radio show was themed around Religion, but as someone commented, it’s not at all dry and preachy. Please give it a listen here.

If you would like to see a list of all the shows that I’ve uploaded from Wythenshawe Radio and beyond, then please follow me, mick_the_knife, on Mixcloud, you’ll be notified every time a new show appears.

An unexpected job was to clear out some cr I mean rubbish, old stuff, from the garage. Some was thrown away but a lot was taken to the charity shop. This provided the day’s scary moment. Do something scary every day, someone once said. Well, I don’t manage to every single day, but I made up for quite a few days on this occasion. I had to climb up the ladder several times, to take things down from high shelves and to put other items up there. My palms were sweaty, but I didn’t show my fear to Liesel and her Mom. I am very proud of my stoicism. Ladders and me have never really got along. This was after Liesel had taken me to the local supermarket, Carrs, for my second Covid booster jab. I have a slightly sore arm, but otherwise, no problem. The bonus was, the pharmacist gave me a voucher, so we got 10% off the groceries we bought. $12 saved. That’s almost as good as the chocolate I was given with my very first Covid jab, last year. Almost! 

My time in Anchorage is nearly over. Before I arrived, Liesel and I had the following telephone conversation. (Remember, on my last trip, I ((very) briefly) swam in the lake at Nana’s Cabin in Talkeetna):

Liesel: When you come over, will you bring my swimsuit?
Mick: Yes, of course, where is it?
Liesel: Under the bed, I think.
Mick: OK. Why?
Liesel: We’re going to Talkeetna and I thought I might go for a swim in the lake.
Mick: Oh great, I’ll bring my budgie smugglers too.
Liesel: You’re not going.
Mick: Uh?
Liesel: I’m going with Mom and Jyoti after you’ve gone back home. (There was an evil cackle at this point, or maybe I imagined it.)

Huh.