Sunday, 21 December 2014

On hold...

The last week has been spent in a blur of stress and anxiety.

Very early on Monday morning The Ragazza was returning from Oxford where she'd been to a concert by a band called Taking Back Sunday. The train was cancelled so Great Western Railways put on a replacement bus. That bus broke down on the A34, a busy, unlit, dual-carriageway. The driver permitted some of the passengers to leave the bus to call home. My daughter was one of those who had just stepped off the bus when it was struck by a DHL lorry.

The DHL lorry clipped one side of the broken-down bus as the driver attempted, at the last minute, to avoid a collision, which spun the bus round causing it to hit my daughter and throw her 20 feet into a ditch down the embankment.

She was seriously injured.

4 am on Monday morning that phone call that every parent dreads.
"I'm so sorry to have to tell you. Your daughter is in the ER at John Radcliffe hospital. She has severe injuries. Come now."

When I arrived I asked if we could wait for her father before she went into the operating theatre. A surgeon looked me in the eye and told me, "Her injuries are life-threatening, if we do not operate now she will die." My daughter told her boyfriend, "Look after my mum, she gets anxious, don't let her panic about me." When they wheeled her away I panicked. Oh boy, did I panic.

She had that surgery during the night.
Her spleen had to be removed. Her left kidney was smashed. She had suffered a broken cervical vertebra, two fractures to her pelvis, facial lacerations, a punctured lung and ten splintered ribs. She also sustained an injury to her brain.
My baby was broken.

We, the nurses, her brother, boyfriend and I, have made five attempts to wake her since Wednesday morning. Each time she became so stressed and distressed that we had to stop and she had to be sedated again. It has been a week of having to face the unspeakable possibility of losing her.

Today we arrived at the hospital at 8 am as usual to be told that The Ragazza was awake, had had her breathing tube removed and was stable. She's not out of the woods yet, she still has a long way to go but today, for the first time, I could smile again.

The police are investigating the accident. There are many questions to be answered.
GWR have left us messages offering support and assistance but we have coped as a tight-knit family unit and supported each other.
The band whose concert she had attended the previous evening sent a video wishing her well.
And DHL whose driver almost killed my daughter have not been in touch to enquire how she is.

Police reports indicated that the lorry driver had only reduced his speed by 1 kmh before the crash.
He had 200m of clear visibility.
I am no expert but that indicated to me that he was not looking at the road.

In court he was found guilty of careless driving, fined just over £300 and had 5 points on his licence.
My daughter was unconscious for 4 days, in ICU for 7, then on a trauma ward over Christmas.
Her recovery from her injuries took 5 months.
And she was not paid for 4 of those months.

I wanted to go to the court, to stand up and say to them "It took me 4 years of intensive medical assistance to conceive that child. Her birth was long and difficult. Once I had my perfect baby in my arms it was all worth it. I took 10 years out of my career to raise her, to give her the happiest, healthiest start in life and the best childhood possible. And she grew into an amazing, kind, intelligent, caring woman. She has just started teaching little kids. She loves her job and her kids love her. I had thought that my days of stressing and sacrificing and worrying were over. I thought I could relax. And then that lorry driver hit that bus and my beautiful daughter was broken forever. And do you know what made it so much worse for us, her  family? Not one word from the company for whom he works. Not one message of sympathy as we sat by her bedside praying that she would live. Not one offer of help and support. Not one word DHL.'

Picture Oxford Mail 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Please, touch the exhibits ... Avebury Manor

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks, since my weekend in Wiltshire back in, when was it, September, but a project at work, trying to impress a new boss and being a good all-rounder got in the way, and then there were some compelling books that I picked up and couldn't put down and now it's November and that means NaNoWriMo and so ...

Enough excuses?  Enough excuses!

Avebury Manor, which pictures will remind me of late-summer and gardens filled with bumble bees and blossoms and oh, it was such a nice, friendly place to visit and a real antidote to the disappointing B&B where I'd spent the night.

Avebury Manor has been home to many families since it was built in the 1550's. In 2011 a team of historians, designers, craftsmen and volunteers transformed it for a major TV project.

The rooms are decorated to reflect key moments in its history, linked to the real stories of the house and its occupants (National Trust

The entrance is through a delightful garden. In September it was filled with dahlias which, I was told, would soon be lifted and stored for the winter. I spent a great deal of time dallying among the dahlias, taking photographs that would, I hoped, be the subject of some amateur art-work when time permitted and which, so far, it hasn't, so that's another reminder to myself to make time in my busy life to do that which pleases me.

A colour-coordinated bee.

I love the detail of his wings, I think that he may be my first subject when I dig out my sketchbook.

The garden was, of course, filled with the buzzing of industrious insects which, with the autumn sunshine and the scents of flowers created a very relaxing and zen atmosphere.

I could sit here uploading dahlias all day, and why not?
It occurs to me that digital photography is one of modern life's blessings, Does anyone remember the days when you took a roll of film to the chemist to be processed and received back a motley collection of prints, some of them over-exposed, many of them of people missing their feet, all pot-luck and a pretty pricey exercise.  

When I could finally tear myself away from the flowers I entered the manor house.

I'm accustomed to being greeted by stern-faced guides and that silky red rope that keeps the public away from the furnishings. No matter how hard I try I can't help feeling a sense of inferiority, like one of the staff grudgingly permitted to venture upstairs on special occasions, when faced with those red ropes. I do understand that we can't be trusted, I once spoke politely but firmly to a rather large American tourist who plonked her posterior on one of Victor Hugo's chairs in his house in La Place des Vosges in Paris, but still, I dislike the red ropes intensely.

So I was surprised and delighted to be greeted by smiling guides who invited me to wander at will and please, sit on the sofas and finger the furnishings to your heart's content.    

The Elizabethan room was one of my favorites.
Sad to say that I was so busy chatting to the guide and admiring the room that I only took one picture. Which means that I'll have to return before too long to take more. Such serendipity!

Upstairs in the Queen Anne room the guide asked me to climb onto the four-poster bed and, accompanied by another visitor, I sat and listened as she talked about the room and its restoration. And then a family came in and the small children clambered onto the bed with us and I told them a short bedtime story before wishing them goodnight and tip-toeing out.    

The next room was my second-favourite, or perhaps joint second with the kitchen,  because I could imagine sitting on the chaise longue with a book, the sunlight streaming through the window, a clock ticking companionably nearby and a dog snoring on the rug. It was a room in which a lady would loosen her corsets, let out a sigh of relief and relax.        

Downstairs again because sadly the Elizabethan bedroom had recently suffered a floor-malfunction when great chunks of plaster fell into the room below and a close inspection revealed woodworm and rot in the timbers. Such are the pitfalls of living in an old house.

The dining room, like the other rooms, had been decorated and furnished to match the era of one of the house's owners and I'm afraid that I can't recall who or when, but the hand-painted wallpaper was produced in China and is quite lovely.

I sat at the table, I tried out the cutlery and raised a glass of wine and imagined dinners taken there,  and all under the smiling gaze of the guide.  

My friend H.H. would love this room, quite manly and with riding boots under the side-table and crops nearby.

She also would appreciate the hunting scene. We've had many a disagreement over the cruelty, or not, of hunting foxes with hounds, she having been a keen huntsman (woman)  and me being the type who takes dead pigeons home to cremate in the fireplace and who rescues snails from busy footpaths.  

Each to their own ...

In the kitchen a couple of children were mixing bread.
"This is so cool," one of them said.
"Yeah, I'm going to peel a spud," said her brother.

The tea in the pot was hot. I poured a cup for a fellow visitor, and it struck me that we were interacting with the house and the exhibits but also, equally importantly, many of us were interacting with each other. And that was nice.

I did, however, decline to black-lead the range.

In the sitting room the time was the 1930's. On the radio Chamberlain was declaring, " This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a Final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.  I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany."

I sat in a chair and felt a chill run down my spine, and the realisation that they heralded another war with all its horror, and a sense of the futility of nations fighting nations. But I also felt a sense of pride that this little island was, once again, one of the first to stand up against tyranny.

It's strange, and it was unexpected, but it was in this room that I could, had I been given to such flights of fancy, have felt the presence of people who once lived here. Later I realised it was because it was familiar to me from my childhood and my paternal grandparents' home. It was quite comforting, feeling that connection to my own past.

And so to leave the house having only described those parts of it that appealed to me the most, and to enter the other gardens.

Of course I coveted the vegetable garden, whose produce may be purchased, although in late September there was only a marrow on offer. A large and splendid marrow of course but ...

I pinched a sprig of lavender to take with me, mea culpa but it could be considered an act of pruning, perhaps?

And so to the end of my visit to Avebury Manor.

I recommend it, in fact I encourage you to visit, especially if you have children or if your inner child is not far from the surface, because it really is as visitor-friendly and welcoming as I hope I've portrayed. And as much fun.

Is there room for another dahlia picture?

Of course there is!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red

It is Remembrance Sunday and so I'd like to post a few of the pictures that I took yesterday at The Tower of London's poppy tribute to the 888,246 British and Commonwealth lives that were sacrificed during the First World War.    


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Circling Stonehenge ...

The English Heritage website describes it as:

Winter sunrise at Stonehenge

Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. Begun as a simple earthwork enclosure, it was built in several stages, with the unique lintelled stone circle being erected in the late Neolithic period around 2500 BC. Stonehenge remained important into the early Bronze Age, when many burial mounds were built nearby. Today

Stonehenge, together with Avebury and other associated sites, forms the heart of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site", with a unique and dense concentration of outstanding prehistoric monuments
English Heritage

Stonehenge had changed since my last visit around twelve years ago with The Bostonian, his son and my Rags. Not the stones, of course, they remain solid and unchanging now that they have English Heritage acting as their custodians, but the layout of the visitor facilities which have been moved from the area near to the stones and are now about a mile away.

So now you enter from a roundabout to a large car-park, a new entrance where the queues were long because I had timed my visit to coincide with the autumn equinox, a beautiful sunny day and with the recent showing of a BBC TV series about the recent archaeological work at Stonehenge and the surrounding area. I had been aware that I could have pre-booked a ticket but I'd foolishly dismissed that good advice and so I kicked myself as I joined the end of the slow-moving queue. And then I thought, why not cut the queue by joining English Heritage, which would also give me free-entry to many other places to visit and so two birds, one stone, if you excuse the pun. I popped into the E.H office and a lovely lady sorted out my annual membership, gave me a bag full of goodies and led me past the ticket office and past the queue to pick up my audio guide (I was given two which meant I was able to pass on the spare to a lady who'd neglected to collect hers) and so to enter the site. Perfect!      

I chose to take a shuttle-bus to the stones rather than walk on wonky-knees that had stiffened-up during the sixty-minutes of stop-start crawling along the two miles or so of dual-suddenly-narrowing-to-single-carriageway, trust me, the traffic can be a problem when approaching Stonehenge. (See also Equinox and The BBC above.) Some people in their reviews have complained about being 'shuttled to the stones' but it's purely a matter of choice and one can, if one wishes, walk. Or, do as I did, and hop off the shuttle-bus half-way to take in the landscape and some of the nearby barrows as you walk the last half-mile up to Stonehenge.

I love the Neolithic, I love stone circles, I love prehistoric treasures, but even so I was not prepared for the feeling of, how to describe it, the sensation of being close to the people who once walked on that land. It was like being transported back in time, and feeling as if turning my head quickly would enable me to catch a glimpse of one of our ancestors. It was like looking back through the millennia to the Neolithic landscape. Hardly surprising, perhaps, that the past should feel so present where from every angle, whichever way you turn, you see barrows and stones and the faint lines of former henges and avenues.

And I arrived at the stones...

I walked round once while listening to my audio player which gave a brilliant account of the history of Stonehenge, the people who brought the stones to this site, when and why, and some added extra information for those who, like me, couldn't get enough of it.

And I took photographs, lots of photographs of the stones and the crows and also some of the other tourists who asked me if I would kindly take their group photographs, quite a few of them in fact...

And I spent a great deal of time snapping and chatting, and once or twice I explained a couple of the signs to a nice Italian family who didn't speak English...

And I acted like a tourist, except that no-one took my photograph...

And then I popped my camera away and switched off my audio-player and I walked around the stones again...

And this time it felt as if everyone else had vanished...

and even though I knew that there were hundreds of people around me, and they were chattering and laughing and posing for 'selfies' ...

The second time that I walked round the stones it was as if I was totally alone...

I often feel that we spend far too much time viewing the world through the lens of a camera and fail to see it with our own eyes, and so I walked and I looked.

I could have circled the stones at Stonehenge all evening, all night if that had been permitted, but I was exhausted and felt a little punch-drunk, so I hopped on the bus back to the visitor centre, grateful to be able to sit down and rest my aching knees.

I spent a lot of money in the shop. It was a rare act of indulgence as I filled my basket with postcards and pictures, books and key-chains and a large, beautifully decorated mug that, I've discovered, holds enough liquid for me to enjoy a pleasant thirty minutes in bed each morning sipping tea and contemplating the day ahead.

And then to the exhibition...

You enter a large circular area where you are surrounded by an almost-360 degree picture of how Stonehenge would have looked when it was first constructed.  

And the images change to show a summed solstice sun rising over the stones...

And snow falling during a winter solstice...

Which, of course, I loved.
I'd have spent more time in there, watching the changing scenes but time was passing and there were no benches on which to sit and I was tired, and so I allowed myself to watch just one more year at Stonehenge and then I entered the exhibition itself.

It was thrilling to see these objects from the past

And the bones of an ancestor...

I left clutching my large bag of goodies, my knees-aching were but I was smiling as I set off to drive the 25 miles to Avebury and the B&B in which I'd booked a room for the night.

I think I may be returning to Stonehenge soon...

Advice For Visitors:
1. Pre-book a ticket or, better still, join English Heritage
2. The visitor's centre has a cafe, toilets, a large shop and an English Heritage office for info, buying membership, advice etc, and the staff are lovely.
3. Pick up the free audio-guide from the kiosk behind the ticket office.
4.Shuttle-buses take you to the stones but it's nice to walk the last half-mile.
5. Please do not climb on the barrows, unless you are the kind of person that feels it is acceptable to clamber over someone's grave.
6. Take your time, circle the stones several times.
7. It will be busy, do not feel cross because there are crowds, remember that you are also a part of the crowds and be happy to be there.
8. If your visit coincides with one of mine I will happily take your photo.
9. You may not enter the stone circle except at special times of the year. Again, do not be cross, it's for the benefit of the stones and because there may be more archaeological remains underfoot. And you really don't want to be the one who knocks over a standing stone, do you?
10. Enjoy.

One last request for English Heritage - Please consider hosting women's camping events at Stonehenge, I think they'd be very popular and I'd be there in a flash :)

Monday, 22 September 2014

Checking-in and checking-out a B&B

Last weekend I had planned a little adventure. After the marathon-workload that was my August when I worked for twenty-nine of the thirty-one days of the month, I decided that a little treat had been earned and that treat would encompass one of my passions, Neolithic stone circles.

I did not expect it to be a learning opportunity for me as a potential B&B owner. It was, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here to gauge the opinions of others. I do not plan to name the B&B in which I stayed for the sake of fairness since I did not mention any of the points listed below to the owner because I did not think he would take kindly to my feedback.

I had booked a B&B online, chosen for its location and for the rave reviews that others had left about the establishment, and because it looked 'quirky' and 'homely' and I do like quirky, homely places.
It was priced a little on the high-end of the market, in honesty more than I would have expected to pay for a bed and breakfast, but the location was perfect and I thought I'd earned it, so I arranged a stay and the owner immediately took £140 from my bank account which surprised me but perhaps that is the norm?

Point 1. I would not expect people to pay the full amount in advance. What if there were 'issues' either with my establishment or with their travel plans? Would not 50% be more reasonable as an upfront payment?

So, the booking was confirmed and I was told that I would have an en-suite room, which, for that price, I would have expected.

Point 2. Check-in time was 5pm. Check-out time was 10am. I would have liked to have arrived a little earlier, at 4pm perhaps, in order to relax after a strenuous day at Stonehenge, to bathe, change and prepare for dinner at a nearby pub/restaurant. And I would have liked to have had the option to leave a little later, especially on a Sunday morning.

I arrived, was met by the male owner (his wife has a job outside of the B&B) who was polite and smiling in a ... no, no bias here, in an apparently friendly, albeit a little patronising way (my personal opinion), and escorted to my room, past a sign instructing me to remove my shoes, which I failed to notice on arrival and so entered fully-shod, carrying my own laptop case, overnight bag, bag of books on Neolithic stone circles, goodies purchased at Stonehenge, my picnic bag, camera and handbag, none of which the owner offered to carry for me and all of which I had been obliged to remove from my car since a notice in the village's 'resident parking area' had cautioned me that thieves operate in the area. No parking at the B&B itself.

Point 3. I did not feel 'loved'. That may seem like a small point but a middle-aged, oft-times shy woman, travelling alone, does appreciate a few gestures of kindness and consideration. Again, a personal opinion.

My room was 'interestingly' furnished. As I said before, I do like quirky, I seek out the quirky, but there's quirky and then there's a room that looks as if it's the store-room for a junk shop. But, again, a matter of personal taste. There was not, however, a dressing-table or a chest-of-drawers and the only hanging space was a cupboard with a single, sad coat-hanger swinging sadly from a low rail. I was only there for one night and had no need to unpacking but it would have been nice to have had some useful bedroom furniture.

The refreshment tray comprised tea-bags, one herbal, one organic, four 'value', some cartons of long-life milk and cream, tubes of sugar and instant coffee. I had brought my own teabags and some fresh milk, a small packet of biscuits and some decent decaffeinated coffee. I'd have provided those to guests and, I think, home-made biscuits and maybe, being in rural England, a little home-made fruit cake, a scone and jam or a cupcake... A welcoming tea-tray is important, I think, and for £140 a night a biscuit would not have broken the budget.

On a practical point, the kettle and tray were on a low coffee table which made bending double to pour boiling water a potentially hazardous affair. It could easily have been located on one of the 'interesting' pieces of furniture at worktop-height.

The other surprise was that the room was not en-suite, my bathroom being situated along a corridor. This was not welcome news and unexpected since I'd been told I'd have an en-suite. Large bath robes were provided, the bathroom was large and lovely, the toiletries were of good quality but padding along a corridor to perform my ablutions was not a pleasant prospect given that the other guest room had been taken by two men. Call me old-fashioned, call me middle-aged, call me silly, but I felt put-off. My own B&B will not have en-suites but the two bedrooms will only be offered to couples, families or friends and that entire part of the house for guests will be for their sole-use.

Point 4. I think it a good idea for the owners to stay in their own guest rooms in order to test the facilities they are offering.

I did not bathe before dinner. I went out and found the pub that the owner suggested, a 10 minute drive from the B&B and past some lovely small stone circles and one avenue of stones, had a decent dinner and returned to my quirky room.

Being a fan of fresh air I opened the sash windows as wide as possible which proved noisy, given the pub next door at which people were drinking at tables outside, and the road into the village which passed in front of the B&B, and the loud shouts of people leaving the pub at closing time, but I live in a quiet little house at the end of a lane and am accustomed to only hearing owls and the sound of my own eyelids blinking when I am in bed so, again, a personal opinion.

I slept well in a comfortable bed with good pillows and linen, although I did wake several times, once after a dream  in which I was obliged to cook breakfasts for everyone and once when I dreamt that I over-slept and missed the check-out deadline, which I take as an indication that I did not feel at ease. And I did have to scuttle to the bathroom once which was not nice. I tweeted that incident and someone replied that for £140 there should have been a limo service, to which I responded, or at least a piggy-back?

The morning shower was not good. The shower head was directly overhead and fixed in place so I risked a thorough drenching which, with long hair that did not need washing, made cleaning myself awkward. I could have had a bath, I'd brought  some lovely organic lavender bath soak for that purpose, but I'd been told that breakfast would be served at 8:30 am on the dot, and I hadn't time to linger in the bath.

Point 5. Breakfast at 8:30 am precisely, on a Sunday morning. I would offer guests the choice of eating breakfast between 7 am and 10 am. Later if they wish to have a lie-in. They are, let's face it, on holiday.

I entered the dining room, again furnished like the store-room of a junk-shop, where a table had been laid for one and where the other two guests were already seated at a second table with their backs to me, gazing out of the window. I said a polite 'Good morning' and sat down. I think they replied with a similar greeting but I can't be sure. We ignored each other after that. There being no sign of the host I ate the interesting little bowl of fresh fruit salad that was on my table and then popped upstairs to fetch a book for company. The owner appeared, asked if I wanted the 'vegetarian cooked breakfast' which was all that appeared to be on offer, and would I like brown or white toast which I declined since there was only an odd-looking vegetable spread in little luminous green packets on the table and no offer of butter, and disappeared to find my coffee. While he was gone I drank my concentrated orange juice, observed some packets of cereals on a sideboard nearby and wondered if they were for guests, or for show.

My coffee was, coffee. My cooked vegetarian breakfast was awful - a fried egg, some potatoes, sliced mushrooms a fried tomato sprinkled with something green, cheap-tasting baked beans and the worst vegetarian sausage I have ever encountered. It was tepid, tasteless and truly awful.

Point 6. Breakfast could have been the saving grace of the B&B. A fluffy cheese omelette, pan-fried mushrooms on thickly-sliced, generously-buttered toast, poached eggs and toast,  boiled eggs and toast soldiers, cheeses and fruit, the list of possibilities could go on...  Needless to say, a nasty pink, cardboard-textured vegetarian sausage should never, ever, ever be included in a meal for anyone. I wished that I'd accepted his offer of ketchup, which I should have taken as a warning and why wasn't it on the table anyway?

I think that breakfast was the nail in the coffin of the B&B.
I could have forgiven the lack of an en-suite because the bathroom was lovely and the towels were fluffy and the toiletries were nice.
I could have forgiven the sad tea-tray because I had brought my own provisions.
I could have forgiven the lack of bedroom furniture because the bed was comfy and the linen good.
I could have forgiven the noise from outside because the view of outside was of a stone circle and sitting in bed, sipping tea and gazing at it next morning was lovely.
But I could never forgive the breakfast and, let's face it, breakfast is one half of the B&B experience.
When I arrived home yesterday evening The Ragazza showed me an episode of a TV series in which a set of B&B owners stay at each others' establishments and compete to win a prize for the best value B&B. The B&B at which I had stayed had taken part a few years ago. They had charged £250 a night. The other B&B owners who judged it raised similar points to mine, above.  Needless to say, it came last in the competition. Had I watched the programme before I booked the room I would not have stayed there, but now I understand why I formed the impression of the owner that I did, having seen how he behaved during the competition.

An interesting experience and a good lesson in how not to run a B&B.
Location may be important, being situated next to a stone-circle may be a bonus, but really....


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Kayaking the Pink Granite Coast

I am a firm believer in the benefits of play.
As adults our lives are often so stitched-up with work and worries, duties and daily tasks, that we can easily forget to have fun. And when that happens our minds become narrow and closed and we lose an important element of that which makes us human - our curiosity and our sense of adventure.

So, on holiday, I like to return to my seven year-old self, the little feisty kid with waist-length blonde plaits, scraped knees and freckled face. On holiday I like to play.

The Rags and I went kayaking in the Gulf of Maine twelve years ago and, aside from an unsuccessful attempt at canoeing on the Thames when I capsized my craft so often and had to be dragged from the water so frequently that our instructor gave up on me, we hadn't enjoyed Riparian Rolics for a long time. So, with The Ragazza and the BF, I planned a kayaking adventure on the Pink Granite Coast.

I'd taken the precaution of booking online and in English to avoid any confusion and hitches but even so... We arrived early at the Club Nautiqe de Tregastel (link here) which was not easy to find and which driving down dead-ends and round in circles had put the BF (our self-appointed driver in France) in a mood that was tense, to say the least. We parked and walked expectantly to the club where small, sun-tanned kids were wandering around in wet-suits and everyone seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going, except us. We marched into the reception area to be greeted by a woman who spoke only French and who insisted that she had no record of our booking.  The BF's tension increased and the pressure on me mounted. There was an exchange, polite but insistent, no there was no booking, yes there had been, no there hadn't, yes there had, until I suggested that we make one for that afternoon, an hour kayaking with a guide for three people, that being all that I could afford to pay when presented with a new price list. And so, it being lunchtime when everything in France grinds to a halt, we left to find food.

An hour later we were back. And this time we were armed with the e-mail confirming our booking, courtesy of The Ragazza's phone. We found the changing rooms (no signs on the doors or directions), we changed into suitable clothing, we wandered outside feeling self-conscious and gauche, and were duly pointed to a row of kayaks and pretty much told, there they are, see you in an hour.


I protested, we had requested an hour with a guide, we were not capable of venturing forth alone and unguided on the high seas, we would pose a risk to shipping and a danger to ourselves, what if we ended up encountering a Brittany ferry?  What if the currents returned us to England? What if...?

And then everything changed. A guide was found, we were informed that our bill would be a great deal less than we'd been told that morning, we were promised two hours instead of the one that I thought was all we'd been allocated, we were kitted out in life-vests, handed a paddle and asked to follow Eric to the kayaks on the beach.

And from that moment it was blissful, heavenly, brilliant!
We paddled in the shelter of the pink granite rocks which, as I kept informing the Ragazza and the BF, would once have been the tops of mountains higher than the Alps, wasn't that amazing? We navigated small channels between the rocks with only the occasional mishap when one of us, the oldest and wisest, became stuck on said-rocks and had to be pulled back into the sea. We admired the crystal-clear water and all that we saw beneath the waves, and you have to be above the waves to appreciate the beauty of that which lies beneath. We ventured out into the sea beyond the safety of the little bay and battled the current. One of us, the oldest and least wisest, even tried to copy the guide as he practiced some fancy-schmancy kaykaing near the rocks, before being politely told to desist. In short we had a wonderful afternoon.

Our guide was great, patient, reassuring and even laughing at my silly French humour.
It had all been worth the hassle and the misunderstanding.

When we finished and when I finally managed to extricate myself and my wonky knees from my craft, having thought at one point that I might have been forced to board the ferry home still 'wearing' a kayak, we thanked Eric and gave him a tip which, he said, was not expected, but which we said had certainly been earned, and which he said would buy him a lot of beer, and we left to find a certain establishment nearby that sells the best cheese omelette and fries in the world, by way of celebration.

We will return, that much we've promised ourselves, perhaps for a whole day of kayaking next time.

Sadly, I have no photos with which to illustrate his post.
Save for the one that I took from the restaurant which, I think, captures the mood of the day perfectly. Apologies for reproducing it but it is my favourite.

So, kayaking at Tregestal.

Useful Information:
The Club Nautique Tregastel caters for all ages and offers courses in kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing, sailing etc.

Equipment for kayakers:
Shoes, suitable for those occasions when you part company with your kayak and find yourself standing on rocks, stones, sharp stuff on the seabed. Carrefour sell cheap canvas shoes that do well.
A hat if you find the sun too much.
Swimsuit, see shoes, above.
Sun cream, unless you like to look like a cooked lobster.
Wetsuits are provided if you kayak in cold weather or plan to be submerged in deep water.
Life-jackets are provided and must be worn.

Changing facilities, toilets and showers are provided on site but there are no lockers for valuables so best to leave the diamond tiara at home.
Car parking is available nearby and is, of course, free.

One last picture, of my muse, the pink castle that inspired me to write my second novel



Thursday, 31 July 2014


I think that one day, when I finally am finished with the world of work and have established a modest means of supporting myself in retirement, I would like to live in Trégastel.

It is a most delightful little town, not too large, not too little, situated slap, bang on the Pink Granite Coast of Northern Brittany which is one of my favourite places in the world, along with Finnish Lapland and The Alps.

When I lived in Brittany I never visited Trégastel, which is perhaps as well, had I done so my English and French O.U. studies would have been neglected while I returned there every few days to soak up the beauty of the place, along with the scents of iodine, seaweed and pink rocks.

Last year The Ragazza, her boyfriend and I discovered it and during our visit earlier this month we returned several times, heading first, as has become our tradition, for the aquarium in the rocks.

We took dozens of photos, I could sit here all day posting pictures like the online equivalent of that boring neighbour back in the 70's, the one who always invited everyone to see the slides of his summer holiday, but better not.

Instead just a few snaps of the things that caught my attention and made me pause ...  

Scallop on the sand...

and starfish...
with that colouring it should be re-named a sunbeamfish

I don't recall ever seeing a live cuttlefish before. They're usually only found as dried-up, bleached white remains that folk feed to caged-birds. They're really quite lovely and a little other-worldly. 

The Rags and I love visiting zoos and safari parks. Of course I remember when large cats were kept in concrete cages and elephants were tethered in small enclosures and back then zoos were not such nice places. But now we've adopted a kinder, more considerate approach to keeping wild creatures in captivity and many zoos are engaged in conservation work which we like to support when we can.

Aquariums are special, I think its because we get to see a whole different environment that we wouldn't see otherwise and we humans do seem to be drawn to water...

The aquarium at Trégastel is perfect for children. 
It's small enough not to exhaust them, large enough not to bore them and there are interesting French and English signs that describe the inhabitants and their lifestyles, which always fires a child's imagination, at least in my experience. 


And, of course, it's built among the boulders...


And when you've finished wandering and gazing and calling 'Come, look at this!' to your companions, there's a small and quite tasteful shop from which you can purchase all manner of souvenirs and postcards, books and mugs. 

And then you emerge, smiling and blinking into the bright Breton sunshine and wander round the corner to a little restaurant called Les Sept Iles which serves, in my opinion, the best cheese omelette and chips in the world. And for the smaller people with you, the ice-cream concoctions are served in the most outlandish whimsical bowls whose appearance will make everyone nearby smile. 

Could it get any more perfect than that?