UK CARAVAN HOLIDAY 2018

We’ve been on our travels with our caravan throughout the UK. We had a few adventures with the caravan which I won’t bore you with (all solved eventually by our hero.) The caravan is very comfortable and we like using it.

Our first stop was on Derwentwater in the Lake District which, save for some owls was the quietest site I have ever visited. Our previous stopover which was at Tebay at Westmorland has ceased to be a caravan site which we were rather disgruntled about (no-one asked us!) but this site, although pleasant is too far from the M6 for us to use frequently, We explored Keswick which is an attractive town, and also visited the house where William Wordsworth grew up which is a very elegant and attractive Georgian house in Cockermouth, and Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where he lived. which was dank, dreary and horrible. I personally thought Wordsworth was an indifferent poet. He was Poet laureate for a number of years, accepting a quite substantial payment for his services and never wrote a single poem as laureate. We visited the coastal towns of Maryport and Workington but did not find them attractive. There is no doubt that that the Lake District is a lovely place (each lake and valley is quite different) with some good-looking towns and villages, but I can never get used to how parts that appear to be fairly remote are invariably teeming with bands of walkers lurking behind every tree.

We then installed the caravan on the Edinburgh site. One does not expect quietness on a city site, and this park down in Granton near the river was convenient(an area of Edinburgh I did not know at all) but the whole of the North part of the city must be severely affected by aircraft noise. We were on the flightpath of incoming aircraft I think – we had some quite windy nights and we could hear their brakes squealing and became quite anxious on their behalf. I thought aircraft were halted between the hours of midnight and 6 am but this was certainly not the case here where they were still coming staggering home at 2 am and started up again at 4.30.

We visited Joanna and attended her birthday party, and spent a few pleasant days in Glasgow, and visited my brother in Fife, crossing over the new road bridge to come back in to Edinburgh. It is slightly disorienting to revisit a city which was once yours but is no longer. You think you know it well and in part you do, but you can suddenly find yourself ‘lost’ in redeveloped areas. It is fun to be a tourist though.

We took a bus tour on an open-topped bus and were surprised how close together the famous buildings were. Edinburgh is a beautiful city.

We toured Britannia. It is surprisingly modest and attractive. The queen’s choice of furniture and soft furnishings, while not fashionable (it was fitted out in the fifties) was elegant and could have been lived in quite comfortably today. The ship was very well adapted for sightseers and good provision was made for disabled access. Considering the queen’s long service, her age and her reputed enjoyment of the vessel, plus the use the Government made of Britannia, it seems very churlish and short-sighted of Blair’s government that he did not prolong the ship’s life while the queen lived. I felt however that the accommodation provided for ratings was disgraceful, and that in a 20th century ship it should have been possible to provide a comfortable private space, albeit small, for everyone.

We visited the town where I was born in Angus from Edinburgh, but I will write about that separately. We visited friends while here and met friends in Edinburgh. Alexandra came through in the train and we showed her the university area and the different sections of the city. We went with her to Holyrood Palace where we both visited the Palace and saw an exhibition of Canaletto paintings bought in a job lot by George III. They were not perhaps the artist’s finest, but a Canaletto is not to be sneezed at! We had lunch here.

And so we left Edinburgh and came down the East Coast road to Berwick on Tweed. The site faced the sea. We looked at Berwick and then drove to Kelso. We also visited Floors Castle, with which I was decidedly unimpressed. It is vast, like Versailles perhaps, (it is in the French style). No-one could possibly require this much accommodation. It was supposedly adapted for wheel chair use but the paths were gravel; there was only one accessible toilet a long distance (over gravel) and the care of visitors did not seem to figure high in their priorities. Also what was available to the public was a series of rooms in one of the needless wings furnished lavishly in a very extravagant French style, with extra-ordinarily elaborate and ugly French furniture. Apparently the castle had been restyled by an American heiress with unlimited funds and very poor taste, part of whose family were French. These rooms although furnished as ballroom, dining room, etc (there were no bedrooms or kitchen on display) had never actually been used for the purposes they were dressed for and one rather got the impression that the owners had decided to benefit from the financial advantages of having visitors and complied with the requirements to the lowest standards, and from their ugly collection of awful furniture had thrown together a couple of rooms. They can keep Floors Castle as far as I’m concerned.

We also visited Lindisfarne which is lovely but was very busy at 10 am and as we returned across the causeway, battalions of buses were fighting their way over.

A long day down the M1 and then, seeking entry to visit our last site, Moreton-in-the- Marsh in the Cotswolds. Here we visited John’s sister and her husband and son, and then took Helen out to lunch in Stow. The next day we visited friends in Iffley in Oxford. (Will write more separately). We chose NOT to visit Highgrove, garden of the Prince of Wales. It cost £150 for 2 people to visit the garden and have lunch, which is daylight robbery. We went instead to Burford, and to a mill that sold throws and tweeds, although we did not buy any(this time.)

So back to our site and then the short journey home where we got here by lunch time.

The weather was mild and often sunny; there were storms but they were mostly throughout the night. We enjoyed our new caravan. It was lovely to see so many friends; and if we didn’t get round to you, I hope we’ll be back in years to come.

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THE JOYS OF CARAVANNING

We went out the other day to look at caravans and confirm that we didn’t need a new one – but guess what – we decided we did!

Many non-caravanning people do not understand the appeal of caravans and simply regard them as a hazard and nuisance on the road. But a caravan adapted to your needs can provide you with a very comfortable base for your holiday in a safe and attractive environment for between 20 and thirty pounds per night for two people. For this you get a spacious ’emplacement’ with a space for your caravan in the middle and room for your awning on one side and your vehicle on the other.

Caravan sites vary enormously from the spotlessly clean, excessively controlled affair where your caravan has to be parked at an exact angle, with impressively equipped communal kitchen, washing up area, laundry and shower room. Occasionally there is even a bath. On the other hand you can have a windswept field with long grass and a few sheep in it with no facilities at all. When we moved from England to Scotland we stayed on a very peculiar site with rather unsavory people on it. When I opened my bedroom curtains one morning, I discovered my window had been lined up with another caravan’s which was far too near ours and I was afforded an excellent view of its interior which was empty of all furniture apart from a dining chair on which a naked man was seated, strumming on a guitar. We were on another site that same evening. (This is the only caravan site I’ve ever come across which has been like this.)

We have caravanned for 40 years. Your requirements change. We had a 5 berth when we had the children with us. For the past ten years or so we’ve had a 2 berth. Now we’ve bought a 4 berth. This has as well as the usual seating area which can convert into a comfortable double bed, two single bunks which are permanently made up, and which are 4” wider than previously, \and one of which is 6’3” long. This means we do not have the labour of making up the bed twice daily, and I can retire to lie in my bed easing my painful back but still being part of the group; and grandchildren can sleep with us while their parents go out to dinner. This is a new design and should also appeal to families with teenagers.

Awnings which are like large tents attached to the side of caravans and which double the covered floor space have also now improved. They now ‘blow up’ with an electric pump which makes them a lot easier to erect.

Another development over the past ten years has been ‘the mover’ which is a remote control whch will move the caravan forwards. back and sideways without you’re having to humph it.

You can equip your caravan for your personal needs. Book, music, TV all go with you. The caravan will carry your clothes hanging up (although the wardrobe’s miniature dimensions are not one of its best selling points. ) Cooking simple meals is not difficult, and you can always eat out.

You’re very much out in the open air. Lying in your caravan while heavy rain pours down your windows, or on a clear night you can see stars through your roof light, or surviving a thunder storm – these are all enjoyable experiences.

As I made clear in my blog on Norfolk, most other caravanners are helpful and friendly. But occasionally you come across somebody memorably awful. We were, I think, in Belgium one summer and an older British couple parked next to us. We had three children with us and did not have time for prolonged social exchanges. A friendly wave or good morning was as much as we could manage. They invited us for a glass of wine that evening but we declined because we had to supervise the children. Clearly this didn’t suit our neighbours. They terminated the exchanges of waves, good morning etc. We then watched in fascinated horror while they entrapped a different English speaking couple every night. They would lull them into a false sense of security with duff wine. They would then indulge in one long boast : their country house; their flat in town; their glittering careers; the generous salaries they enjoyed; their dining out in famous restaurants; their holidays etc ad nauseum. This was boring and tedious in the extreme, particularly since exactly the same speech was offered night after night. On the last night, before he and we were due to leave the next morning, he was showing his guests out when John said to me (quite loudly), “Oh, Annie. He forgot to tell them that his drive is one mile long.” He looked at us with extreme hostility but said nothing. We left that site at first light and were enjoying croissants and coffee many miles away.

HEREWARD-THE-WAKE COUNTRY

HEREWARD-THE-WAKE COUNTRY

 

On our recent holiday in Scotland, we had planned to break our return journey at Blair Drummond, and at Berwick on Tweed, and at Cromer in Norfolk. However, events conspired against us. We were coming through Glen Coe, in heavy rain and with equally heavy traffic when one of our caravan tyres blew out. John was able to keep control of the outfit and there was a layby near us, but in such foul weather with poor visibility and fast and heavy traffic on a two lane road, we were obliged to drive to the layby. This proved damaging to the wheel. John was unable to remove the wheel because the layby was on a slope, so we sent for the Green Flag people. They arrived in abut 4o minutes (their service was excellent throughout.) The spare tyre (which in a caravan is stored in a very inaccessible place underneath) proved to be low in air but we pumped it up and set off gingerly to Blair Drummond where staff (and indeed fellow caravaners) were extremely helpful.) We were fortunate that we were in a centrally located site with the cities of the central belt available to us. The site proved very accommodating and helpful and we stayed there for several days while we obtained a new wheel and tyre. (I won’t bother you with the tribulations involved there.) Everyone was however extremely competent and attentive and eventually we were ready to proceed with everything in order.

By this time we had missed our slot at Berwick upon Tweed, so we obtained earlier entry to our site near Cromer, Norfolk. We generally plan when touring to leave about 9 – 10 am and arrive at our destination for the night at about 2 pm; or to drive about 200 – 250 miles. Today however we were coming from Stirling to Cromer which was far too long and we were therefore extremely tired when we rolled in to that site.

We had problems with our ‘mover’ (a boy’s toy where a remote control moves the caravan ) but again our fellow caravaners were helpful and 5 men materialised from around us and manhandled the vehicle into position; John was able to fix that problem himself but it was not welcome as yet another problem at just that point. (You have to be practical and able to fix things in order to caravan).

So it was with a slightly jaundiced eye that I viewed the map of Norfolk the next morning for our five days that we were due to spend here.

One of the many things I love about England is its extreme diversity. Even 50 miles can produce an entirely different landscape and one county is unlike every other.

Considering that Cromer is famed as a beach resort, and there are several coastal resorts here, I was not at all impressed with its beach credentials. I suppose this is a matter of expectation. As a Scot, I expect a beach resort to have a small attractive town with ancient stone houses, and a wide sandy beach heavily covered by clean white sand, with free and easy parking access. The beach to be enclosed on two sides with ranges of rocks big enough to give shelter, and a tolerable hotel or restaurant within driving distance. You will understand I’m sure that this utopia is not readily to be found in modern England. Norfolk beaches, so far as I could see, were mud with pebbles on them, featureless and without shelter.

Sherringham is a middle range resort, with many cafes, icecream parlours and bucket and spade jobs. It was amiable enough. It had a steam train and a market.

When you arrived in Cromer itself you were on the level of a high cliff with a series of ramps to get down to the ‘sand’ which was largely small pebbles. It was on a point, and big waves slapped into the walls and men were surfing on these. There was a breeze. We sat on the pier and had an ice-cream.

We went to Caisters (depressing and horrible) and Gt Yarmouth (horrible and depressing) and just fled away. But then we chanced on Horsey Windpump with its lakes, rivers and canals, plus a wind/watermill being restored, which was lovely.

We visited a lavender farm which had lovely gardens but was grossly overcrowded. I ate a scone with lavender in it and thought, after a few mouthfuls) – you could have too much of this!

We went out on a boat on the Broads (where memorably we were luckless enough to encounter the penetrating tones of the extremely observant grandmother of Mary and Tracy ) and that was relaxing for an hour (once we go out of earshot.)

Holt was an upmarket inland village with nice shops and unbelievably expensive clothes.

We visited the exquisitely beautiful l6th century Blickling Hall, all the more surprising because it’s made of bricks. Robert Adam had a hand in it, as had Capability Brown. It had been gifted to their creatures by both William the Conqueror and Henry VIII so it had certainly attracted some negative vibes. They were all naval men, able administratively, who had made the family prosperous through hard work and steadiness and judicious support of the ‘right’ (ie the winning) side. They were none of them oustandingly goodlooking but they obviously had excellent taste through all their generations. The final one was the last Deputy Vice Roy of India. I could find no reason why everything was so beautiful. On the whole, it had a peaceful history.

We also visited Sellrig Hall. Similar to Blickling but not half so beautiful and more pretentious.

There were some fine and ancient churches with their walls pierced by enormous clear glass windows. They were light and airy and were protestant for what that’s worth, as it was of the variety that is just a spitting distance from Rome. Some of the churches had round towers, and these were noticed by John who made off to examine them. He came back and reported that the round towers were much older than their attached churches and that there was a Society for the Preservation of round-towered churches and Prince Charles was its President. We figured he would be.

 

Norfolk is lovely in its way. It’s flat and water-lidded. As with any drained marsh, it is lush, full of flowers and trees, It’s not on the way to anywhere, so if you’re here you have to have business that’s to do with Norfolk. It’s still heavily agricultural; they were rushing to gather in the harvest. There is an old-fashioned air which is not unattractive, a warm bucolic accent, and loads and loads of sheep.

We did not exhaust all its possibilities; it would be nice to return.

I have one other small connection with Norfolk. One of the book groups of which I am a member was registering with the Library so that we could borrow books for longer than the time generally allowed. We decided to call ourselves West Sussex Book Group. The Librarian was one of those I remembered from school, whose main purpose was to prevent pupils from reading as far as possible. She was able smugly to inform my friend that, No, she could not register under that name, it was already taken; and no she could not borrow books until she had registered. Three times she refused us. She also declined to give us the list of names already used – Data Protection wouldn’t permit it. It appeared to me that she could refuse us in perpetuity – not to mention what a fruitless waste of my friend’s time it was. I had a burst of temper and said to my friend, We’ll sort her out. Tell her we’ll be the Hereward-the-Wake book group. Carole went back and waited patiently until the unhelpful librarian could no longer put off seeing her. “Yes,” she said with the smug air of one who can refuse as much as she chooses. Carole said quietly, I’d like to register our book group as the Hereward-the-Wake book group. The librarian was gob-smacked. “You can’t call it that.” she said. “Is some other group using that name also?” enquired Carole, pleasantly. The librarian had no option but to register us. I’ve had an affection for Hereward-the-Wake (of West Norfolk) ever since.

SPRING IN STRATFORD

SPRING MET US IN…

Spring met us this year in Stratford on Avon.

We had been in Scotland where the weather for March was quite benign, being either sunny, windy and cold, or grey, overcast and milder. There were a few daffodils out, and in people’s gardens some snowdrops, hellebores and primroses, but it was still The Frozen North.

We drove back, stopping for lunch at Westmorland and for the night at Warwick. That was all fine, but of course a motorway and a service station do not offer much contemplation of Nature Live, although from our window in Warwick we could see a small area of grass planted with very young trees, each one containing a single crow’s next.

We declined the doubtful privilege of breakfast in our hotel and headed off, quite early, for a proper English breakfast in Stratford on Avon. It was really quite foggy, so we followed Sat Nav cautiously through the English countryside. We were due at Stow in the Wold for lunch with John’s sister and brother-in-law, so we were in no rush. We arrived safely, and eventually we found a restaurant with what we wanted, and settled down to a leisurely plate of sausage, bacon, eggs, etc.

When we emerged the mist was gone and the attractive town was bathed in sunshine. The hordes of marauding tourists had not yet descended in full force, so we got to observe the town under favourable conditions: very few people and bathed in sunshine. It has wide streets and many well preserved ancient buildings. The hawthorn in the hedges was a delicate green, with scatterings of tiny white blossom which I think is the blackthorn (or sloe.) Gardens were full of snowdrop, narcissus, hellebores, crocus. There was even one magnificent magnolia, almost fully out (probably the early pink Campbelli…) We walked along the river, where I remembered how I had walked on the other bank with three of my girlfriends not so many years ago. They were teasing me because I was wearing my ‘cockerel’ knitted jacket which boasted the head of a cockerel on its back. As I recall I defended my choice, for there was no way I was going to admit that I had purchased the garment without noticing the offending decoration. The memory was pleasant but overlain with sadness because of the four of us, only two still survive. I turned away from that reflection to admire the river and its banks lined with weeping willow, whose pale green fronds stirred lightly in the wind, like a lady’s long hair. An armada of swans (at least a hundred) had gathered together near the bridges and were gliding up and down waiting for tourists to arrive with bread.

I thought, We have survived the winter!

HERE LIES THE BODY…

When I was a child, my father banned the reading of books, as being a possible influence in opposition to his own ideas. (This was not the reason he gave of course.) (This edict was completely ineffective: I could always obtain books by one means or another; I had stashes where I hid them, and read them in secret places.) There were a few honourable exceptions to this ban of course. The Bible and theological tracts were permitted as were any subjects of interest to him. I therefore have a surprising knowledge of completely unlikely subjects; bee-keeping, for example; wood-working tools, and the various breeds of sheep and cattle in the British isles. This book had pictures and was much studied by me. Far from being useless information as I thought at the time, this knowledge has proved to be of satisfying value in delivering put downs to arrogant farming types who have assumed I am an ignorant townie (which of course I really am, except that I inexplicably can talk about sheep and cattle.)

So when Leicester was mentioned, I visualised a heavy set, large headed, long haired ram, and when I looked it up, this was indeed the case (breed now very rare). This variety of sheep was taken to Australia so its descendants are there.

And Leicester has been mentioned a lot recently, what with the bones of Richard III being discovered ‘in a car park’ and with Leicester Football Team winning the League against all odds. I wanted to see what kind of a town this was.

Scots without relatives or business in England generally have a lamentably poor understanding of the country. They know the M6 and M1, and the Channel ports, and they will have visited London, and in my case certainly, that was it. Now I’ve turned into an effete Southerner who doesn’t like ‘weather’ I do know the Southern half of the country quite well, but I’m decidedly vague about the mysterious regions North of Oxford, and I irritate friends as I am unable to distinguish between the

Midlands and the North.

So we set off to explore Leicester. It’s just off the M1 and it must be pretty near the centre of England. It has no truly significant geographical features. It stands on a very slight incline – well you could hardly call it a hill – and the River Soar runs through it, but it makes no great impact on the city. It’s surrounded by flat, green, well wooded country. It’s larger than I expected and it has the depressing, rather messy suburbs that many English towns have. We can see our hotel, but we would never have gained access to it through the muddle of streets without Sat Nav and even with Sat Nav we have more than one pass at it. It’s traffic has no logic to its flow and parking is very difficult. First impressions are not favourable.

The natives are friendly however. Although it received 10,000 Ugandan refugees in the days of Idi Amin, it still retains enough of its original population to have a ‘look’. The men are sturdy and personable, and the women have pretty, squarish faces and both have charm. Famous sons of Leicester (there are many) include the brothers Attenburgh and Gary Lineker.

In the morning we are agreeably surprised. Only 15 minutes flat walking and we arrive at the ancient part of town. You realise that this has always been a rich town – famous for wool, and for manufacturing wool products, and for leather work. Presumably it didn’t suffer heavy bombing because so many of its ancient buildings are intact. We visit the Cathedral first. In itself it is interesting, being square in shape with chapels at each corner. It still holds the statues in its niches. (The town stood for Cromwell, so possibly it’s church buildings were not dealt with harshly.) It is a successful blend of ancient and modern. The Bishop’s chair is an extraordinary tall throne with a gigantic back in the shape of a leather cross,in garish colours. (The person showing us round alleged that the current Bishop did not like it.) The tomb of the king was behind the altar and was a large slab of marble with a cross cut deeply into it, his title, King Richard III cut into it in gold letters and a small coat of arms in precious metals. It is all in appropriate and quiet good taste, and surprisingly moving.

Directly opposite the cathedral and no more than 5 minutes walk away is the attractive modern building which houses the Visitor Centre which explains how his body was found. Although we all know he was ‘found in a car park’, originally a monastery stood there and Richard who had set off from Leicester Castle to do battle, was returned to their care when dead. He was buried, and found, in a coffin. In time the avaricious and predatory Henry VIII ravished the monastery and stole their wealth and awarded their lands to some creature of his, who created a garden there. Naturally he would not want to draw attention to the former king for the Tudors were always uneasy about him, so he just planted a stick to mark the burial place and that was lost over the years. Within that museum, under the floor under glass, is the actual place from which they removed the body. Interestingly, when they were about to dig the site, a lady came who had the equivalent powers of a water diviner, and she indicated where they should dig, and there indeed they found the body.

There are plaster casts of his skeleton and skull. His skull is recognisably like the portraits of him. He was not a tall person, and although he did have a pronounced scoliosis of the spine it was in his lower back, and he had, carefully dressed, looked quite normal. The Visitor Centre invites you to consider whether he was in fact the murderer of the princes in the tower, but leaves you to draw your own conclusion. In my opinion a much more likely candidate was Henry Tudor (VII). Richard III had a strong claim on the throne in his own right, whereas Henry Tudor was from an illegitimate descendant of a king, and had no legal claim whatever (except, as with William the Conqueror, by right of conquest). Henry Tudor found himself with three other claimants, the two princes, and their sister Elizabeth, whom he married. We’ll never know; so you can take your pick.

It was surprising and moving to see how the crowds turned out to watch his cortege pass through the villages of Leicestershire on its way to the reburial. The guides to the cathedral said visitors to the city had increased 10 fold since Richard was reburied.

We had gone to see how they had won the football league (causing one of their most famous sons to be obliged to present Match of the Day clad only in his underpants) but looking at their town, I could understand how they had managed it. The Midlands and the North are different kinds of England. They can stand their ground. It cannot have been easy for Leicester to hold on to Richard’s body and to raise the money to so swiftly built such an appropriate and attractive Visitor Centre. They didn’t lose their nerve there, and they didn’t lose it at the football. They can grasp an opportunity when they see one.

I was wholly impressed by Leicester. We didn’t see the half of it and I would like to return one day.

That Leicester ram knows a green field when it sees one and it knows how to hold on to it.

BETWEEN BATH AND BRISTOL

We spent 8 days in our caravan on a site (adults only) between Bath and Bristol. I wouldn’t have specified the ‘no children’ clause but it was quite peaceful and quiet. We had neighbours who arrived with their dog, a kind of elderly cross collie. I never observed the woman close up, but she had a very youthful style of dressing for a middle aged woman, with pretty dresses and with her hair worn long and with flowers in it. When they were on the site, she sat outside with the dog beside her. Every time anyone walked past, the dog barked, and if the passerby was a man, he did a long howl as part of his I-ain’t-nothing-but-a-hound-dog act, whereupon the fairy princess would reprimand him, and then embrace him. They could play this game for hours. I was mildly irritated when I discovered his name was ‘Woofy’. How is that helpful? I wondered if you could have a site that specified, No children, No dogs (No fairy princesses?) then I thought, No, that wouldn’t do. You never know where you might end up.

The roads in Somerset and Wiltshire are often very narrow, very hilly, and with high hedges. The standard of driving was poor and I was astonished at the rudeness of many drivers (failing to acknowledge a courtesy for example.) Something has happened in the country at large but I cannot quite put my finger on it yet. There was a faint air of sullenness and resentment.

We went one day to Burnham on Sea and Weston super Mare. The beaches are wonderful; the towns less so. We had a coffee on the promenade where an elderly blind woman sat by herself, praying (out loud.) I felt like saying, God will hear you even if you are silent; but forebore.

There was a lake beside us (Chew Valley Reservoir) and we often went there to watch the ducks, grebes, Canada geese and swans. We bought ourselves a good pair of binoculars (so much more useful than a ruby!)

We visited Wells another day. Only with our blue budge were we able to find anywhere to park. Wells is an attractive town but it was very busy. We had lunch in the sunshine in the terrace of a hotel.

We drove to Bristol and walked at the docks and waterfront. We debated going on to the SS Gt Britain but we had seen it before and it was drizzling.

Bath is always a delight, even infested with tourists. A notable feature of our trip was the absence of foreigners; but the Japanese and the Americans were out in force here. Bath really is a beautiful city with its crescents, its circles and its squares. However it was reaching a level of crowdedness that was bordering on unacceptable for me (but I would regard the ideal state of affairs as ourselves,at one end of a street and another family at the other!) We went round the Museum of Ffashion, which was interesting, but when you come to the modern exhibits, what is shown is so unlike anything one would ever see worn by any sensible person, it makes you wonder about the veracity of all the other exhibits. We had lunch in a pub called the Marlborough which was excellent. On another day we returned to Bath and visited The Baths. I have mixed feelings about this place. The real story here is how during the whole history of man inhabiting the earth, the Bath waters have flowed at a steady rate and temperature, and when you stand before them in the steam you realise we walk on a living planet whose complexities and miracles we barely understand. Beside this miraculous wonder, the Roman and Victorian buildings seem largely irrelevant. I make my genuflections 3 times as we pass through: once to the head of a god ‘experts’ speculate on his identity, but which in my opinion is clearly Neptune; once to the goddess Minerva, and once again to Neptune at the outpouring of the water. I dip my fingers in the water which is warm to hot (though there are signs telling you not to do so.) We had a late lunch at a Blanc Bistro where we had lamb, pink and tender; and a wonderful pudding of pistachio souffle and chocolate icecream which I shall attempt to replicate. We also had a look inside Bath Abbey which had an exhibition of needlework diptychs on the life of Christ which were quite stunning.

On another day we decided to have a quiet day at the conservation village of Lacock. However it was hosting a second world war re-enactment and was full of tanks, 2nd world war vehicles, men dressed up in uniform, men carrying machine guns under their arms (were they real guns, were they loaded? – I don’t know, but I didn’t think, given the times we live in, this was a good idea.) I saw one man, tall and good-looking but running to fat in his middle age, strutting his stuff in Nazi uniform, and informing a fellow enthusiast that although he was wearing Nazi uniform, he wouldn’t wear the swastika. I must admit the logic escaped me.

It was a pleasant holiday and I’d recommend the area.

SCOTLAND, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW I T

On our journey to Scotland a few weeks ago, we stopped for the night as we usually do at the Westmorland Hotel at Tebay services. We were having a pre-prandial drink in the bar when a tour group of Americans began to congregate. A woman called Patricia began to talk to me. “I’m so pleased we’re in Scotland,” she told me, “I’ve always wanted to see it.” I told her she wasn’t there yet, and she looked extremely confused and referred to a higher authority (her husband ) as if I didn’t know what I was talking about. He came from Idaho so he only knew about wheat and had no idea. “We’re having a lecture on how to build stone walls.” she volunteered. “I think it must be a hobby.” I left her to it.

After our horrendous experience in Skye coping with the influx of mostly American tourists from a gigantic cruise ship, I thought I could design a tour of Scotland that would appeal to most of them.

Cross the Border and visit Floors Castle (Downton Abbey). Proceed to Edinburgh by way of Rosslyn Chapel (the Da Vinci Code)and visit Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street and Holyrood Palace to see where Rizio was murdered in Mary Queen of Scots room. Through Stirling visiting the Wallace Monument (Braveheart). Drive through Glencoe, (Skyfall) hearing the tale of how the Campbells broke the laws of hospitality and murdered their hosts. Over the sea to Skye, visiting Dunvegan Castle and Flora Macdonald’s cottage (it’s amazing how many cottages she lived in), then back across the new bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, popping down to see what we heard one visitor refer to as Elaine Donan’s castle (Eilean Donan) (iconic Scottish castle though in fact it is a fake, built in the 1930s). Over to Loch Ness (Nessie). I read that Loch Ness ‘contains more water than all the other lakes in the British Isles put together’ and wondered who had measured that and how. Finally across to Deeside to see Balmoral.

It is Scotland, Jim, but not as we know it.