A Walk in the Park

Nick has a favourite local attraction to offer visitors.  At Tourlaville you can visit the parkland within which sits the Chateau de Ravalets.  The gardens have been the property of the city of Cherbourg since 1935, and in their present form are the creation of Viscount René de Tocqueville. The layout of this huge 30 acre site, based on a predominantly English design, dates back to 1872 and makes it one of the most attractive gardens in the Cotentin peninsular, with its two lakes and a glasshouse rotunda. It is currently under restoration to bring it back to its former splendour.

We discovered this local monument a couple of years ago when we were looking for places to walk and pass a few hours.  At that time the Chateau housed a very macabre exhibition which consisted largely of animal bones of all sizes, and small mammal corpses.  Now the chateau is closed for the winter and perhaps more restoration.  As it is, at the present time very few of the rooms are open to the public.

Whilst Mike and Carolyn were visiting we drove to Tourlaville to spend Saturday afternoon walking in the parkland.  There were late bloomers, trees and shrubs in autumn colours and occasional fungi.  At the end of the walk I met a Frenchman who was walking his beautiful grey and white cat.  The cat lives with its owner in a flat but from kittenhood has been brought to the chateau for walks.  The owner showed me a yellow rose, beautifully perfumed, which he said is the rose he would choose above all others.


Sadly there was no plant name tag to give a clue as to the variety, although the opened bud which the Frenchman picked and gave to me strongly resembles the strongly fragranced Lawrence Johnson.



A Gallery of Curiosities

Sunday morning, bright as buttons we leave The Old Workshop with packed breakfasts, girly cabin bags and the week’s trophies.  Hackney-bound, we make very good time arriving late morning.  We deposit two very excited girls with their equally excited parents and walk down to London Fields to visit Tom, Delphine and Juliette.  We have a mission to fulfil; as part of Jeu de Douze Mois we are delivering a consignment of ‘shopping’ as a wedding gift.  It includes a bottle of Bolly, some cheese, packets of bickies and jars of toothsome condiments.  We enjoy a late brunch with them at The Laundry, a eating establishment which offers better than average brunching options.  We take a little walk afterwards, down towards Columbia Road Market and buy cakes at a newly opened shop to drink with tea before we head back to Downs Park Road.  Back with Dan & Co we bid a fond farewell to the Hackneys and drive back to Winterborne K.

We are returning to a mixed week of fixtures: visiting conchologists, a luncheon treat at Clos du Marquis at The Leckford Hutt with the Palmers, the village walk and a Wildlife Trust fungus foray for Nick over the weekend.  Nick learns about some different edible fungi to look out for.  He now knows a Parasol when he meets one, and we have jars of dried ones for winter stews.  For me the week culminates in two days of Bridge tuition with my neighbours Sally, Celia, Chris and Helen, hosted at The Old Workshop and taught by Barry Farncombe of Kitchenbridge.  I’ve tried to learn Bridge several times and although I understand the essential principles of the game, I have failed to retain the rules and protocol of bidding to play the game,  with a bit of insight.  As adjacent neighbours we women are well placed to consolidate what we learn although the other 4 will be at an advantage as they do not spend half their year outside the UK.

One of my conchological visitors comes to collect the shell collection of a mutual friend who has shifted his enthusiasm from shells to a detailed research project on Churches in NorthWales.  The thing that marks this collection out as exceptional is the meticulously curated assemblage of shipworm shells and samples of the wood into which they bore in life, and from which they were extracted once the wood had been cast up on the shore.  Shipworms are thoroughly idiosyncratic molluscs, having the ability to colonise a habitat which is rarely utilised by marine molluscs.  My other visitor has to come to browbeat me into taking up my scientific pen to write a couple of chapters for a specialist book on molluscs in archaeology.  Notwithstanding this we take him and his wife round to the Greyhound for an excellent lunch.

Amongst all our hosting activities we find time to do some stuff in the garden, including the planting of two new trees.  It has taken me 18 months to make a choice!  Finally after consulting knowledgeable friends and surfing the net a bit I have selected Prunus subhirtellus autumnalis for January flowers and Parrotia persica for a good canopy and autumn colour.


The latter is strategically placed to obscure the house on the far side of our neighbour’s garden, which separates us.  Nick continues to dig round the L-shaped border on the east side of the garden.  Into the shorter limb I move one of the Crinodendron hookerianum from the front garden, and a small Pittosporum which experience tells me will grow fast to add to the screening we are looking for.

Before we board the ferry on Wednesday I have also managed to make a whirlwind visit to Hilary Goddard.  It is really good to catch up with her since the occasion of Tom’s wedding and I looked through her portfolios of sketches, some of which will be worked on to produce her lovely oil paintings.  We are hoping for an oil of the French house based on the sketches and studies she made whilst she was our guest.  I am going to buy a gouache study of Canterton Pond, something she had decided should be NFS.  But for our shared love of mauve she agrees that I may buy it once it is framed.  We lunched at  The Jack in the Green at Rockbeare.

To round off our eventful pre-France interlude there is Book Group at the Greyhound, followed by a spot of Bridge revision at Celia’s on Tuesday.  On Wednesday we board the ferry in heavy rain for a windy crossing, and arrive in sunny Cherbourg four hours later.

Some Enchanted Evening

Lola and Ruby have graced our week with their presence.  Now that I look back I see what a pleasure it was to have them around, that it was always good-humoured.  There was ne’er a cross word between the girls themselves nor with us.  (I’d like to write that there was ne’er a cross word between Nick and me 😉 !)  We had fun.


The week culminated in a fish and chip supper at the Marloboro Café by Weymouth bridge followed by an enchanting walk around the Sub-tropical Gardens at Abbotsbury.  Every year they flood light a garden trail there and for 3 nights around 31st October  they bring in themed entertainments and side shows: Free face painting (scary faces), a Laser Rave, a Bug show, a youth drama group ‘Entertainingly Different’, and a hut that the girls would not pass without sampling the art of Dr D Ranged and his scary wounds.


The girls and I leapt and danced to a Dj Allstars & Tara version of Summer of ’69.  In one marquee we watched a ghoulish impromptu enactment of death and consumption by a scorpion in the bug tent, 8 hapless members of the audience having been coaxed into volunteering to be the predator and the victim for a performance moment.

We made our way round the floodlit trail and Lola and Ruby picked up scars en route and Lola ended up dancing The Monster Mash with the youth drama group at the end of the evening.  Driving home it was clear that the girls felt this was the grand finale to their week with us and they have booked themselves in for 2015!

No Half Measures at Half Term

Come Monday morning most of the family had melted away.  Lola and Ruby remained and we were set fair for a fab week.  With something planned every day I hoped there would be no lacunae in interest and activity.

On Monday I took the girls into Dorchester.  We drove up to Poundbury to collect two wicker hearts I had reserved at the flower shop there.  These will be decorated.  L and R spent a very happy half hour in the recreation park there after which we went into the town and had lunch at The Horse with the Red Umbrella.  Afterwards we walked up to the fabric shop so they could choose some material to each make a cushion.  The moment has arrived to teach them how to use a sewing machine.  They chose quite different fabrics, their choices expressing something about themselves.  I will ‘sew’ enjoy showing the girls the magic of a sewing machine.  We started making the cushions the following afternoon after they returned from their Tuesday activity, a scavenger hunt at Kingcombe Dorset Wildlife Trust centre.

On Wednesday I drove them to Kimmeridge for a DWT craft session.  The weather was filthy wet and we drove through large puddles and troughs of water on the windy route to the coast.  They were the only two children so they received undivided attention from the organiser.  This was just as well, it needed one on one to make the various paper kites that formed the activity of the day.

The following day we drove to Burton Bradstock where they splashed around in the pool at the Jurassic Fun Centre.  On the way they kept me enthralled at their knowledge of some of the tenets of geology and evolution as they have learned these at school, in the extra classes they receive as children who are ahead of their game.  Such knowledge was exhibited!  They know more about the world they live in than I did when I left school and indeed for many years after!

On Friday evening we went to a fun Halloween Extravaganza at Kingcombe field centre.  Lola and Ruby carved pumpkins and each made a twiggy spider’s web.  There were quizzes on moths, animal skulls and bats.  The centre has a café for hot food, there were also toffee apples and toasted marshmallows.  The evening was rounded off with spooky storytelling in the yurt.  How much more enjoyable this was than ‘trick or treat’.

But the best was yet to come…………………….


Grappling with the Jurassic

Our French sojourn has ended and before we know it Half Term has arrived with a bang!  Friday mid-afternoon Dan arrives at Winterborne K with Lola and Ruby, meanwhile Barns and Lukie are driving the tribe to rendez-vous with us a couple of hours later.  It being Friday Nick’s priority is a couple of jars at Sunny Republic, Barns and Dan joining him.  Meanwhile Maddy and Andrew arrives for their supper date with the clan.

Thirteen of us clustered round the kitchen table for a noisy and very good-humoured supper.  We played Up Jenkins and we laughed long and loud at the jokes of the young reaching a crescendo over the notion of the ‘Princess and the Carrot’.  Why could one not substitute a carrot for a pea wondered Amelie.  ‘Because a carrot is orange’ responded the quick-witted father.

On Saturday we all went to Hedbury Quarry, just west of Dancing Ledge.  It is a minor hike to reach the coast there and the old quarries offer wonderful climbing walls, including the only grade 1 and 2 climbs in the county – perfect for the youngest of the team.  Each child managed at least one climb, topping out successfully.  This is a sport which exacts trust in others and a bit of derring do, and is a great confidence-building exercise.  Nick left after a picnic lunch, taking the 4 youngest children with him.  I stayed with the adults, Sam and Joel.  In the evening we reconvened around the table for Coq au Vin and Chocolate Fudge Cake.

On Sunday, Barns, Lukie and Dan took Joel to Winspit for more climbing.  Nick and I fielded the other five at Winterborne K, being stranded by the lack of Dan’s car key to bring a second car into action.  Escorted by Nick the smalls ran off steam at the recreation ground, Sam and I tackled the Great Bears circular jigsaw, and completed it :).

When the climbers had returned we sat down to supper; Roast Gammon, potatoes, parsnips.  Chocolate profiteroles were served by Lola and Amelie.  The children retired to the waterbed room for more play, the adults talked and gradually fell into their various comatose states.  Weary people sought their beds, the following morning would be an early one for efficient departure.  Part 2 of the school term awaits.



An Excursion Closer to Huismes: Cyclamen Carpets and Wild Flower beds in my Mind’s Eye

On our last full day in the Loire we visited a local monument much closer to Huismes.  Fontevraud Abbey is a former religious building with an illustrious history and which has acted as a cultural centre since 1975, namely the Centre Culturel de l’Ouest, near Chinon.  The abbey was founded in 1100 and became a double monastery, with both monks and nuns on the same site. In the early years the Plantagenets were great benefactors of the abbey and while Isabella d’Anjou was abbess, Henry II’s widow Eleanor of Aquitaine became a nun there.  The tomb of this formidably powerful woman lies in the vaulted nave of the abbey, next to that of Henry II.  As you move down the nave there is a further pair of tombs, those of Richard I of England and Isabella of Angouleme.

We were able to see the Cloister but not the Chapter House because there was a conference of cartoon animators taking place.  How shocked Brigitte and I were  to see them all smoking in the Cloister during their breaks.  It seemed very sacrilegious. Now the abbey functions as an establishment which boasts a restaurant, an hotel, a venue for congresses and conferences and theatrical events.

There is a curious building tacked onto the main structure at one corner.  Various theories as to its purpose have prevailed in the past, until it was proposed as a fish smoking house, for which purpose the building seems structurally eminently appropriate and the fish scale effect of the roof exterior seems to lend credence to this idea. We strolled around the grounds, enjoying dense carpets of cyclamen and flower beds which had been sown with wild flower seed.  Many plants have made their seed-heads but the multi-coloured dazzle of the remaining flowers is gorgeous.

Leaving Fontevraud-l’Abbaye we drove to Saumur where we found somewhere to have a lunch before driving into the heart of Bourgeuil country to seek out wine-growers who Georgy had flagged up as a sources of favourably priced, well-rated Bourgeuil wines.  We found one of them, and enjoyed a brief tour of the site including the cave, finding that our timing was very propitious.  We watched the red grapes being tipped into the juice-extracting hopper, and went inside to taste the juice from one of the vats.   The Lights and the Roux each bought a modest amount of wine, as a souvenir of our wonderful 4 days in the Loire.

Au Coeur de La Touraine

The morning we went to Azay-le-Rideau we had the pleasure of finding ourselves in a very agreeable commune.  Azay-le-Rideau is at the heart of the 8 villages which make up the appellation for the Touraine white and rose wines, the latter of which I am rather fond.   The village has delights to offer as does the chateau of Azay-le-Rideau which was built from 1515 to 1527, being one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the water.   The writer Balzac, who lived nearby and was occasionally a guest at the château, deeply admired the building, describing it as ‘a facetted diamond, set in the Indre.


Compared to other chateaux we have looked at Azay-le-Rideau is relatively small, divided into two sections, the main central body and a wing at right angles to it, and displays a blend of architectural styles. The château’s most prominent feature is the grand central staircase, the escalier d’honneur , but the one I am much more taken with is the beautiful spiral that climbs up through a corner turret.   Another special feature can be seen in the attics, where the charpente (in French), or the hand-crafted wooden frame supporting the roof, has been recently restored (2010–11) and can be viewed alongside an exhibition explaining the complex techniques of its construction.

The current gardens were designed in the 19th century and consist of a large landscaped park in the English style.   Our access to the grounds was restricted by some mechanical earth movement and re-landscaping of the large lawned area at the rear of the chateau.  We walked beneath some huge trees, ‘des vrais venerables’, and quizzed a gardener who was watering a bed of shrubs, notably hydrangeas.   I bought cookery books with recipes for courgettes and pumpkins.  At the end of the morning we walked up to a bar at the top of the small road which leads down into the chateau drive and drank a glass of wine.  Then we repaired to the gite where Bri and I made lunch then chilled for the afternoon and the men fished the small lake in the grounds and caught small roach (gardons).