The Smallest House in Great Britain

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This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.

The Steepest Street in the World

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Recently on holiday in North Wales with visiting grandchildren, we took them to Harlech to explore the castle, perched high above the surrounding area. A very successful visit it was, and they enjoyed the ins and outs of this part-ruined but interesting and historic national monument.

After we’d seen the castle we found the recently announced steepest street in the world – Fford Pen Llech –  and walked first down, then back up up it. I can vouch for it’s gradient – my legs really felt the stretch walking back up and I couldn’t stand up straight. The grandchildren, they of the young legs and mobile knees, took it literally in their stride and once back up, went straight to the children’s play area by the castle for more activity.

I went for a sit down!

Street musician, Lincoln

This cool older guy was at one with his saxophone and lost in his music in Lincoln’s busy highP1010462 street. On a sunny day, there were  plenty of people about and, as someone who has been occasionally visiting Lincoln over the years, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the city has come on and is more in step with the times.

Lincoln has always been dominated by its huge spectacular cathedral. The ascent up the cobbled and appropriately-named Steep Hill to reach the cathedral on foot is part of the visit. It can be a challenging walk!

It’s a lovely place to visit, especially now it attracts a lot of tourists. When I first went there in the late 60s, it was a bit of a dull and proper city, compared with swinging London, where I grew up.

When the university was set up in the city, it breathed new, young life into the place, making it a livelier destination than it ever was when I first went there.

In the footsteps of the famous

We didn’t plan it this way, if fact we hardly planned it at all. A six week Grand Tour of Europe in our motorhome, visiting places we’d not seen. The rough outline was to start off in Holland, go into Germany and then play it by ear as to where next, with a visit to Weimar high on our list of “must sees”. Leaving in late summer, we were to return in early October. Our default plan was that we would follow the sun. This we did, but we somehow also managed to follow in the footsteps of the famous.

In Hamelin we couldn’t help but be immersed in the story of the Pied Piper. From the campsite by the River Weser it was an easy walk into the town, and once there we appropriately followed the sound of music, as did the children in the famous story. There was a festival in full swing. Live bands ranged from jazz to noisy europop. We’d missed the weekly enactment of the Pied Piper story but we spotted several “Pipers” decked out in full costume. We didn’t see any rats…

Travelling east through the Harz Mountains we reached Weimar, famous for the founding of the Weimar Republic between the two World Wars, and a hot bed for German creativity. The Bauhaus Arts and Crafts Movement was founded there, writer and politician Goethe lived there, as did poet and playwright Schiller. Composer Liszt also lived for some time in Weimar.  Goethe & Schiller

We visited the homes of both Goethe and Schiller, now interesting museums with rooms intact as when lived in by these two cultural giants. Weimar itself has a pleasant cosmopolitan atmosphere, wide leafy boulevards and extensive parkland. The central square is dominated by a statue of its two great men, who were close friends.

In the original rough plan, it was planned that we would continue to head east towards Dresden and then to Saxon Germany with its weird rock formations. But the weather app was reporting highs of 13 degrees there, with rain, so we implemented the default plan and followed the sun south.

Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance appealed and the well-appointed lake shore campsite was a pleasant 10 minute walk from the town. Views across the lake to the Austrian and Swiss Alps were a daily delight, as were the nearby nature trail, cycle path and lakeside bars where we enjoyed our early evening weissbier. Once again we were travelling in the footsteps of the famous. Friedrichshafen is home to the Zeppelin Museum, and is the city where these airships were born. The Museum is well worth a visit, with a mock up of part of an airship. We learned that they were built with large viewing windows on the underside, giving passengers a wide angled panorama of the earth below. After the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, this method of air travel ceased, but it’s still possible to take a trip in a Zeppelin over Lake Constance. It’s a fascinating and impressive sight to see one pass overhead.

We moved on, travelling through Switzerland, Italy and into France where we stayed in St. Rémy de Provence. We knew it was famous for Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night” but there were only a couple of tatty information boards about this. St. Rémy is also the birthplace of Nostradamus, famous for his prophesies, but we saw no other reference to him at all apart from a side alleyway named rue Nostradamus, and a Banksy-type graffiti image of him on a wall. Did they miss a trick here in St. Rémy by not featuring him more, or are they a bit ashamed of him and his prophecies?

Heading north we stayed at the municipal site in Langres, set on the ramparts of this picturesque hilltop town, once again chancing upon another famous figure. Philosopher and writer Diderot was born here, and Langres proudly celebrates the man who wrote the Encyclopédie, a dictionary of arts and sciences.

Famed for its archiQuiche Lorrainetectural grandeur, Nancy beckoned. The École de Nancy led the Art Nouveau movement in France and the city offers a visual feast to be savoured. Whilst there we sampled one of the region’s famous dishes. I have to question the saying, “Real men don’t eat quiche”. The portions of Quiche Lorraine we had for lunch were so large and rich we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

This edited and updated article first appeared in the Murvi Club in-house e-magazine.

Costa Rica kitchen

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We stopped at this roadside cafe and fruit stall while travelling in Costa Rica. We’s seen the strawberries on display and wanted to take some back to the hotel with us as a juicy treat for dessert.

The smiling lady in the kitchen was happy for me to take her photo while she prepared food. Her companion posed obligingly, offering the strawberries. But I have to be honest. Although the strawberries looked delicious, they were not very  tasty, and were a bit of a disappointment. Still, the photos aren’t too bad.

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The freedom bug

I’ve been a motorhomer or 20 years. I love the freedom, flexibility and sheer joy of being on the road. I wouldn’t swap van trips for package holidays, and I reckon it all started when I was sat on the back seat of my dad’s black Ford Anglia. Here’s how.

We were following our brand new Connaught Cruiser caravan which was being towed from the deConnaught Cruiseraler’s in Ilford to a campsite near the Essex coast. It was 1950, I was 5 years old and completely innocent – I had no idea that the “freedom” bug would bite me hard as soon as we started taking holidays in that caravan. A magical exploration of seaside and countryside opened up. There were sand pies, Punch and Judy shows, dens to be made in undergrowth, and a stream to be paddled and fished in. Then there were the birds, butterflies and wild flowers to spot and tick off in “I-Spy” books, and long grasses to lie in watching bugs and insects of all kinds at close quarters.

The freedom bug that bit me continued to nibble away contently. In my 20’s, as a young mum, we took our 6 month old son on his first camping holiday in France. This was the 1970’s and there was a horrified reaction from family and friends to taking a baby abroad, let alone go camping with him. “You can’t do that!” they said. Fortunately, I’d married someone who was quite happy to go along with my passion for the freedom, fresh air and flexibility that camping offers. He’d never had holidays like it and he’s probably just a tad more enthusiastic about the freedom and flexibility thing than I am, having not grown up with it and coming to it later in life, so to speak.

We graduated from holidays in hired tents to owning our own but for years there had been a background yearning, a constant inner gnawing at us by the freedom bug, to have our own motorcaravan. In the 1980’s we nurtured a pipe dream of taking the children to the United States, hiring an RV and having the holiday of a lifetime; the dream dissipated when we did the sums. Practically, this wasn’t going to work as we simply couldn’t afford it. But the open road still beckoned along with the attraction of having a home on wheels.

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To the manor born

Hazelwood - I was born here!I was born in a castle – a real castle with lots of history steeped into its walls and surroundings, and a mention in the Domesday Book. The castle is Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. It was owned by barons and dukes for 900 years, and in 1461 a battle in the Wars of the Roses took place on the adjacent moor. It has priest holes and underground passages, and its own chapel. It is now a rather classy country hotel but it retains most of its original features.

Between 1939 and 1953 the castle was requisitioned as a maternity hospital and my mum was booked in to Hazlewood for my birth in September 1945. She left heavily blitzed London for Yorkshire and going north must have felt like going to a foreign land for her; she was a Londoner through and through.

Her stories about the castle as a maternity home included a description of the large Norman Hall as the lying-in ward, where the expectant mums stayed. Babies were born in a separate, adjacent room where Queen Victoria is supposed to have once stayed. It has a huge stone fireplace with ornate chimney breast and is now used as the room where weddings take place.

 The Norman Hall used as the lying-in ward.      The impressive birthing room

During the time that Hazlewood was used as a maternity home, over 2,500 babies were born there. I’ve made a couple of nostalgic visits which brought my mum’s stories to life. Especially moving was to stand in that grand room where I was born.

My dad travelled from London to see me as a new-born. The bus dropped him off at the end of the castle drive and he walked for what seemed nearly a mile between huge rhododendron bushes. When he arrived, the matron told all the ladies in the ward to smarten themselves up as the King had come to visit. Then in walked my dad! It was a story that used to come out at family gatherings, as did the fact that there were not enough cots for all the babies, so a bed was made for me in a large drawer.

In the courtyard