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Happy eaters…

We’ll be back – The Priest Hole, Ambleside

If it’s Friday, then it must be Ambleside and time to head out for an evening meal at the place we’d book a table for 8.30pm earlier in the day.

The walk from Wanslea to that establishment wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, so we arrived early and that’s where our problems started.

The person at the desk couldn’t comprehend that we’d arrived early or that we had a table booked for 8.30 in my name. After ten minutes of faffing about on the computer, the booking was found, and we were in – or so we thought.

The next person we spoke to couldn’t understand why we wanted to just leave our name and telephone number in line with the guidelines at the time and insisted that we scanned a QR code. 

Eventually he relented when we pointed out that we’d already left a name and telephone number when we made the booking and that we’d never used a QR code ever for anything.

We were eventually shown to our table and given menus to peruse. What we hadn’t realised was that this particular establishment only offered vegetarian choices and I was looking forward to eating something a little meatier.

Given the palaver we’d already had, we left and went in search for another place to eat. The Michelin starred places didn’t appeal and the couple of nearby pubs were full, so we looked around and found The Priest Hole (thepriesthole.co.uk).

And it had a table – on a Friday night after 8.30!

Once in, names and numbers were taken and then we removed our face coverings and sat down, took a look at the drink’s menu, ordered and then examined the main menu. Both of our choices were easy to make – local lamb shank with all the trimmings and the fish special for Caroline. 

After the mains were polished off, extra drinks, dessert & coffees were ordered, thoughts turned to booking in at The Priest Hole for the next night. 

The small problem was that at that time, there wasn’t a table available for Saturday night, so my name and number was taken once more so I could be contacted during the day on Saturday should a table become available.

With that arrangement out of the way, it was time to head back to get some shut eye after our respective days out. Glasses of water were used to dilute the alcohol stream before turning in at a later than usual bedtime.

What we didn’t expect was the sound of car doors slamming outside at 1am and a few people congregating in front of the main door for a loud chin wag and ciggie consumption.

It was tempting to shout STFU out of the window, but I refrained because I just knew that that would not be a good idea, especially at breakfast time!

Lakes Day Two…

Bridge House, Ambleside

After a reasonable night’s sleep, showers and coffee made in our own cafetieres were a great way to start the day before breakfast.

Our choices had been made the night before with Caroline choosing the lighter breakfast whilst I went for my first morning full English in months. 

Wearing masks into the breakfast room wasn’t a problem for us or the staff, but it appeared to be for one or two others over the few days we were there.

We were up early, largely because Caroline had booked a hire bike from Ghyllside (ghyllside.co.uk/content/12-bikehire), one of her favourite places to hire bikes from. 

The forecast wasn’t that good for the first part of the day, so I was pleased that I’d opted to drive around to Hawkshead to sus out a potential lunch spot before meeting Caroline at the half-way point for the ride she was doing.

Why? Because it wasn’t long before it was hissing down and thoughts of taking quite a few photos disappeared…

After a mooch around a couple of shops in Hawkshead and buying a copy of Lakeland Walker magazine, thoughts turned to coffee and sustenance.

Which came in the form of coffee and fresh scones at Minstrel’s Gallery Tea Rooms next to the King’s Arms pub in the oldest part of the village. 

The phone eventually rang when Caroline checked in to see whether or not I’d found somewhere to chill out, got directions and then entered the tea rooms in a slightly bedraggled state.

Drying out and warming up…

After this, Caroline headed up to Grizedale Forest whilst I headed into Langdale. The weather hadn’t improved, so I went in search of some hand gel and a couple of snacks for later on in the afternoon.

With Caroline on her way back to Ambleside (in an area that isn’t noted for good mobile phone reception), I headed back to Wanslea, parked up and wandered in to various shops to see what offers there were on footwear – Caroline’s shoes were letting in water, a sign of their age rather than the effectiveness of the waterproof membrane.

Once back at Ghyllside and the bike returned, it was rather obvious that an outside café experience was needed because of the mud and skunk stripe Caroline had acquired on her ride. After coffee and cake, we booked a table at a restaurant for that night before the search of new shoes.

Which was easier said than done. I’d seen a couple of options whilst waiting for Caroline but getting anyone to served proved difficult. Someone turned up eventually but wasn’t interested and whilst it was tempting to intervene, I wasn’t being paid to do so and after a discussion we went into John Gaynor’s and sealed the deal on a pair of Merrell shoes.

Next up was back to Wanslea for showers and a change of clothes before exiting for our evening meal – which wasn’t taken at the place we’d booked!

Once more into the Lakes…

As I mentioned on Monday, both Caroline & I have visited the Lake District on several occasions and know the main areas pretty well.

Bridge House, Ambleside

We’d not stayed in Ambleside for a few years though and that’s why we chose it for our first post-lockdown visit to the National Park as we could wander around the village, head off on foot to other villages or as in Caroline’s case, hire a bike and explore on two wheels.

Getting there from home was easy and didn’t involve maps, route cards or any form of tech to get there, just good old-fashioned nous, memory and familiarity with the roads.

As Caroline had been on twelve-hour nursing shifts on two of the three days before we headed off, we didn’t have an early start. 

We made a brief stop at the Rohan shop in Long Preston for a retail therapy raid on both sale and previous season’s offerings before heading to Wilf’s Café in Staveley for lunch and a couple of cold drinks.

Which was great in theory, but we weren’t expecting the car park to be that full, so we headed off in the direction of Ambleside to park up, have lunch, explore some more and then head to the B&B we were staying in.

After one circuit of the village, we parked up and walked out to Fresher’s Café (fresherscafe.co.uk) at The Courtyard on Rothay Road. 

Ordering a full English with a cold Coke was a no-brainer for me whilst Caroline chose the Quiche Lorraine and sparking water. Coffee followed, as did a wander around before coffee and cake beckoned at Zeffirelli’s.

With the car park ticket running out, we headed for Wanslea Guest House on Lake Road to park up, check in, unpack, snooze and change before we took a walk into the centre in search of food first and a pub visit afterwards.

We looked at quite a few places on our way through the centre. Some were closed, others far too expensive for our budget (and not to our tastes either having looked at the menus) and then we came across Sheila’s Cottage (sheilascottage.co.uk), a place I’d visited before – in the 1970s when killing time at the end of a school trip to the Lakes.

After a couple of very good mains, desserts, mineral water and coffee, it was time to head to one of my favourite pubs in AmblesideThe Golden Rule.

Rules were in place for choosing and serving, but with a good selection of ales and ciders to choose from, neither of us were disappointed at our respective choices of ale for me and good cider for C.

It may have been a long day, but as the food and drink had been so good, it was time to walk back to Wanslea and do a very important task – fill in the breakfast order!

Oxford weekend…

Hampton by Hilton, Oxford

After leaving Burford behind, it was time to head to Oxford and the Hampton By Hilton next to Oxford United’s home ground.

Well, the theory that it would be easy to find was great as we were following the route card we’d got from the AA’s route planning software (we don’t use rat nav…), but there were one or two problems as we approached and ended up in the wrong place…

Fortunately, Caroline has an app on her phone to deal with such matters and after a while we found the hotel, got the bags from the boot and headed to the check-in desk.

Now we’d booked directly with Hilton (£110 for two nights) and knew what the post-lockdown breakfast would be – continental style, in a paper bag.

Unfortunately, not everyone had got the message. One bloke in front of us was adamant that he wanted a cooked breakfast and only a cooked breakfast as it had said on a third-party booking site that cooked breakfasts were available…

Our check-in was easier as we joked about the unhappy eater before getting our keys and heading to our home for the next two nights. 

We’d asked about places to get an evening meal when we checked in and as luck would have it, there was an open Chinese buffet restaurant on the leisure park behind the hotel and also a good selection of local takeaway leaflets in the reception area.

As we hadn’t eaten out for a while, we headed to the buffet and embraced the new norm by getting our temperatures taken, leaving names and contact details and slathering our hands in hand gel before we could get a table.

Drinks were easily ordered, but instead of putting our own food onto the plates at the buffet, a full-face covered member of staff asked what we wanted from each section and served it onto our plates as we went mask clad around the one-way system.

Yes, the food went down well, as did the second round of drinks before it was time for desserts – fruit for Caroline and a slice of a seventies favourite for me – Black Forest Gateau with cream…

With the place slowly emptying, it was time to call it a night and we headed back for coffee and a good night’s sleep before heading into Oxford the following morning.

Which started with a very good pot of Taylor’s Rich Italian coffee made in our own stainless coffee presses as a means of getting caffeine into the system just in case there wasn’t any at breakfast.

But there was – the usual Hampton By Hilton coffee machines were sparked up and ready to roll, so the usual methodology was used to fill the disposable cups – three pushes of the espresso button for me and two presses of the same button plus some hot water for Caroline as a means of getting something approaching the coffee we had in the room.

Our breakfast bags contained the milk pots, bread rolls, butter or spread, jam, yoghurt and disposable cutlery as a means of providing some sustenance to start the day. Yes, I’d have rather had the usual breakfast buffet selection, but unlike the unhappy eater, I could live without it until things opened up and changed once more.

With breakfast done, it was back to the room to pick up the day bags and then go in search of a taxi to get us into the centre of Oxford

We could have used our car, but with last night’s navigating and the potential cost of car parking in the city centre, we lashed out a bit (£12) for a cab ride into town in a posh for us Mercedes.

With no map or guidebook on us, getting around the centre of Oxford on foot was quite easy as we used the maps on street signs, finger posts and a couple of ideas scribbled on a Post It Note to find places of interest.

As the UK had only opened up for travel purposes the week before, we weren’t expecting to do much in the way of indoor sightseeing. 

One open venue that we did come across was Oxford Jail. Yes, I’m a bit of a heathen when it comes to visiting museums and historical sites, so it’s usually down to Caroline to head off and take a look around such places whilst I head off with a camera in search of interesting places or buildings to photograph or to find a cup of coffee, beer or whatever instead.

My mission on this occasion though was to find the location of a café that I’d seen reviews of whilst doing the day of research for this trip. After finding it and then doing some book shopping at the nearby Waterstones, I headed back to find Caroline as it was approaching lunchtime.

Which was spent in a very leisurely way outside the The Handle Bar café. The adjacent bike shop may have been closed, but the café was very much open for business with a good menu selection that allowed me to have a full English a little later than usual. 

Although we’d had drinks with our lunch, we decided to find somewhere else to have coffee and cake, but I will admit we wished we had stayed put at the The Handle Bar rather than move and indulge at the café we found later…

We did wander around the shopping centre, but many shops were not open for business, so spending was kept to a minimum. What was a delight was wandering around the Covered Market and spotting various characters from Alice In Wonderland looking down at us from above.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was my knees playing up, something that hadn’t happened for a few years, so I plonked myself down on a seat for a while and Caroline wandered off to do some exploring on her own around the colleges and the Cherwell.

Once recovered and with Caroline back, we headed off into parts unknown by just following our noses and ending up by Radcliffe Camera, The Bridge of Sighs and Trinity College before heading back to the main shopping streets to hit M&S food department.

Trinity College, Oxford

As we’d had a full lunch then coffee and cake, a picnic style evening meal was declared and bought along with beer and cider to wash it all down with.

Although we had a card from the taxi company, we decided to bus it rather than lash out on another cab ride. Although I had plenty of cash on me, the buses were only accepting contactless payments, so Caroline came to the rescue with her debit card and I just handed over the cash to her instead…

With this being one of the few full days we’d had in the open air since the start of UK Lockdown 1, eating and drinking the contents of the M&S bag were the highlights of that particular Saturday night as there wasn’t much on TV and the cinema at the leisure park remained closed to one and all.

Sunday started in much the same way as Saturday, but whilst we had intended to bite the bullet and drive into Oxford, park up and have another wander around, we reckoned without the Road Signs of Oxford.

Yes, we got lost and the road we were on was the one out of the city. 

So we decided to do a bit of exploring by car, top up with petrol, seek lunch and then head in a homeward direction…

So we’d done it – our first weekend away since UK Lockdown 1.

The second one started just four days later…

But we will return to both The Cotswold and Oxford!

Back – to the future!

Well, the software has been updated and new pics loaded, so here goes!

 

Which detective lives here?
And works in this office?
Soouthwold by the sea
Southwold’s inshore lighthouse
And another detective endeavours to work in this city.

TV travel…

thumb_DSCN2217_1024The Alhambra, Granada…

With travel prospects outside the UK being on hold at the moment, filling in gaps that were supposed to be holidays has been interesting.

Yes, we’ve been to Oxford and Ambleside in recent weeks and had a fortnight long Scottish trip planned using trains and buses to get between home, Glasgow, Fort William, Mallaig, Inverness, Kyle Of Lochalsh, Stirling, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and then back home.

That last one has been moved to 2021 though as there’s an impending wedding – not us, but Caroline’s eldest son and his fiancee.

In between times though, we’ve been watching a few travel related TV progs and got a few ideas from Rick Stein, The Hairy Bikers, Richard Ayoade and Anthony Bourdain (the last one seen was a visit to Granada).

Some were familiar to both of us, some to me and one to Caroline as Jerusalem was visited when she lived on a kibbutz in the late 1970s.

Greece, France and Sardinia would be new destinations for the two of us, but return trips to Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Norway are being added to the mix, along with a visit to Malta to make up for that trip which was cancelled a week before departure thanks to Covid 19.

There are other plans, but they’re not totally fixed yet and quite a bit of flexibility is built into each plan!

In the meantime though, it’s a Bank Holiday Monday here in England and there’s a few more Anthony Bourdain shows to watch on Netflix…

15 years…

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I’d never been to Aldeburgh fifteen years ago.

There has been a lot in the UK media about the National Health Service for a while now, but with that election less than a fortnight away, it’s being discussed left, right and centre by voters, politicians and media outlets.

It’s fifteen years to the day since I had a close shave by having a stroke, but I’m very glad to have been looked after by those working in the A&E, intensive care, stroke unit, MRI unit and physios at Airedale Hospital.

The aftercare is still ongoing through my local medical centre a mile away who keep an eye on the meds I take everyday, sometimes at weekly intervals or three monthly intervals depending on test results.

Whilst there have been a few changes in lifestyle since that day in 2004, things that haven’t changed include a very healthy respect for the NHS and a shared enthusiasm for travel.

Caroline and I been to places that we’d never even thought of visiting fifteen years ago both in the UK and Europe.

Yes, there are places I’d like to go that are quite a distance away from home, but with work and holiday time still a major factor to think about, we’re still heading around the UK and Europe for the time being.

For our next few trips we have four new options plus four return visits to think about in Europe, a big rail based trip here in the UK, one or two ideas about rail trips in Canada and quite a few potential destinations that are also in the UK, we aren’t short of ideas regarding places to go.

Our new mantra as it were is “Keep on keeping on!” and the reasons for that my well be revealed next Monday…

In the meantime, Caroline and I are having a grand day out – a day of shopping in Manchester, not Milton Keynes!

Ellan Vannin

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Laxey Wheel – just one of many great sights on the Isle of Man

Yes, I know that it’s quite a while since Caroline and I visited Isle of Man, but there’s been quite a few adverts and programmes on television over the last couple of weeks here in the UK highlighting the island and its many charms.

As well as coverage of the iconic TT Races over the last fortnight – the build-up, the classic races of recent and not-so-recent years, profiles of current riders and legends such as Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop, there’s been segments shot on the island in programmes fronted by bike nut Henry ColeFind It, Fix It, Drive It on More 4 and The Motorbike Show on ITV4.

It’s been a while since I last rode a motorbike (1975 to be exact, around the back lanes near Glenridding in the Lake District), but I suspect that now would not be a good time to give it another go thanks to some small balance problems after having that stroke in 2004…

Our journey to Isle of Man started with a train ride to Liverpool and a wander down to the Hampton By Hilton hotel once we arrived. After checking in, we headed out to explore the area surrounding the hotel.

There had been a small festival taking place on that Sunday, but it was winding down as it was nearing 6pm, so we contented ourselves by just strolling around and seeing what was out there. As we’d not had lunch we were on a mission as we were beginning to feel the need – the need to feed!

The pub we’d spotted earlier in the day had already stopped serving food, so a nearby group of restaurants looked very, very tempting. Yes, they were chains, but by that time we were passed caring…

No tables were available at our preferred choice, so we ended up going to another pizza place a few metres away. Calamari was tried for the first time, but after polishing off the bowl, Caroline and I came to the same conclusion – what was all the fuss about?

Our respective pasta and pizza courses were more impressive, as were the desserts and the coffee that rounded the meal off. Yes, it was a budget busting bill, but hey, we were hungry and that’s all that counted at the time we ordered the food, wine and beer.

After a good night’s sleep, breakfast really set us up for the day, but not in the way we expected. Yes, Caroline went for the light option and I opted for the full English, but we ended up making different coffee choices.

I’m not a fan of machine coffee, but I tried a black coffee with some cold milk and it didn’t impress. The next cup though did hit the spot, largely because I hit the Espresso button three times before adding a smidgen of milk. Not perfection, but a distinct improvement on that first cup!

As we were getting ready to head back upstairs for our bags before checking out, one of the restaurant staff invited us to help ourselves to croissants to take away with us. Whilst we grasped a couple each for lunch, the lady offered us a couple of paper bags and napkins to stash the croissants in.

So there is something to the concept of getting a free lunch!

Once we’d retrieved our bags and checked out, it was time to head towards the sea cat Manannan for our shortish hop across the Irish Sea.

One of the first things we noticed after landing at Douglas was the friendliness on Isle Of Man, starting at the aptly named Welcome Centre when we sought and bought our travel and heritage smart cards.

This friendliness continued as people stopped to ask whether they could help us as we made our way to our hotel, searched for eating places and started to use those smart cards. It was our own politeness though that bagged us the last two seats on the Manx Electric Railway between Douglas and Laxey the following morning.

We’d normally leave such an impressive sight such as Laxey Wheel until near the end of our trip, but we had seen the ten day weather forecast for the island and it did not look good. So Laxey it was for the first part of the day out and the summit of Snaefell the rest.

Caroline had seen Laxey Wheel before on a previous visit to the island thirty years before our visit, but I’d only seen it on Coast, World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides (that man Henry Cole again…) or in photographs.

Once seen, Caroline’s insistence we head there was fully justified.

You can see the wheel just from the entrance gate and there were many people who did just that, but got not further than the gate. Once inside the gate, you get the feeling for the scale of the wheel known as Lady Isabella and for the site beyond the impressive water feature.

After a coffee in a nearby cafe and lunch in the Laxey station cafe, the next phase of the day kicked in – a ride to the summit of Snaefell and back on the Snaefell Mountain Railway via The Bungalow, just one of the many notable places on the TT Mountain Course.

Walking around on the summit brought some impressive views as were luckier with the weather than Julia Bradbury and a film crew had been whilst filming a programme segment on Snaefell for ITV.

We had been lucky with the weather, but had come prepared with mountain jackets in our day sacks and by wearing fleeces and walking trousers rather than the t-shirts and shorts favoured by some fellow explorers.

We weren’t that lucky the following day though when we visited Peel – those waterproofs did come out of the packs. Caroline made good use of the heritage aspect of those smart cards whilst I hit the motorcycle museum, had a kipper bap for lunch and sheltered in cafes so I could rest my left leg that was complaining after being cramped on the trams the previous day.

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Thursday’s visit to Port Erin on the steam railway was a delight. Fine weather, a good lunch next to the beach and plenty of fresh air made the day, which was just as well as the weather closed in for the rest of the week.

We did make it to Castletown and Ramsey, but the rain gods had the final word on those days. Saving grace? Crossing the TT finishing line  – on a service bus to Douglas rather than on a high powered motorcycle!

This is just a taster about Isle Of Man. There will be more over the next couple of weeks when I have days off. We will be returning to Isle Of Man, but in the summer months and we will take the car so we can do the whole of the Mountain Course and explore the parts we didn’t get to…

It won’t be over the TT weeks or when there’s other racing taking place. These will be watched at home if for no other reason than we’ve seen what the hotel rates are for those particular times when fans head to Isle Of Man to watch the racing and their heroes at play…

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So here I am once more…

It’s a while since I had a long session on my own computer – too long in fact.

But today was the day when it was booted up, the latest version of the system installed and one or two apps that are good to have around.

So, it’s back to the future with more words and more pictures too.

Here’s a few pics that I’ve looked at in readiness for the next few weeks…

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September on Isle of Man

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Isle of Man once more

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One from Dumfries & Galloway

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Aldeburgh, Suffolk

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The bridge at Ronda, Andalusia

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Sunset at Cadiz

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Indoor market, Seville

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Flamenco in Seville

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Seville once more

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No fog on the Tyne

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No prizes for guessing the country or the resort…

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Taormina in the foreground, Mt Etna in the background

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Teatro Greco, Taormina

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View towards Letojanni from Teatro Greco, Taormina

More coming your way soon!

Hello again, again!

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Yes, it has been a while, hasn’t it!

Time flies when you’re having fun, working, travelling or throwing the clock out of the window.

Yes, the clocks changed here last night, but Caroline and I have two more time changes to come over the next two weekends…

Where are we off to?

All will be revealed upon our return, but rest assured, we haven’t planned a trip like this one.

The last big trip mentioned on here would be our visit to Isle Of Man back in 2017.

Since then both of us have new jobs, we’ve made flying visits to North Norfolk, Suffolk and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and also made two road trips around Andalusia too.

I’m back in retail for the first time since 2013 and it’s been an interesting move to make, especially since it’s working for a company whose clothing I’ve been wearing for over thirty years now – Rohan.

As this could be seen as a potential conflict of interest, I’ve taken the decision to not mention product names in any future pieces on what Caroline and I take with us when we’re travelling (even though we do use items from other brands from time to time) and use more generic references to items i.e polo shirts, t-shirts, travel jeans etc.

Given that there has been comment in the mainstream media concerning promotional products being mentioned and photos appearing on social media, I think that this is a sensible idea to adopt regarding product mentions on wisepacking.

There’s a lot to do over the next week, but I may be checking in again later this week!