An Oasis of Calm

Nestled between towering mountains in the beautiful Cape winelands lies the magnificent Franschhoek Valley. It is reputed to be the food and wine heartland of the country with its splendid wine estates and top chefs create world-class cuisine. The scenery is breath-taking on a grand scale.

Spectacular vineyards cover the mountain slopes and the valley, settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots, who brought with them their age-old French wine and food culture.

Arriving at Val d’Or Wine estate we are drawn into a beautiful and tranquil setting at the foot of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains.  The reception area of the main house is pleasantly cool as we check in.  IMG_5797 (2)40We are shown to the villa, a serene and spacious building looking out to the vista of Groot Drakenstein Mountains on the other side of the valley.DSC01417 (2)40 Nick and I have a calming green bedroom which acts as a conduit to the hues of the foliage of plants, shrubs and trees and to the lush lawns of the garden outside our French doors.  The grounds are laid out to lawn, flower borders, shrubberies with two ponds adjacent to a swimming pool.  We are going to ‘eat in’ so Charlotte and Ryan drive along to Franschhoek to buy meats for a braai and salads.  We have the bubbly that we bought at Vergenoegd.  In the mellow warmth of the early evening, we eat by the pool. DSC01419 (2)

We wake on our first morning in this idyll and since we are in wine country a winery visit or two must be made.  But first we walk up to the main house to eat omelettes.  DSC01449 (2)40Thence into Franschhoek town which strikes me as oh so French and I then learn that the town’s name means ‘French Corner’.  Here there are lovely shops including several art galleries.  Teddy poses with another outside one of them.  IMG_5756 (2)40

In one of these the Perrymans find a pair of pictures which are, in fact, photographs with much of the detail stripped out.  One is of elephants, the other is a hippo.  They will sit very happily alongside other Africana that they have in their home in England.  In the same shop I see a occasional table which I like very much, made as it is out of plate glass shelves and driftwood.IMG_5761 (2)40

We have a drink in the bar which is the old Railway Station then visit La Motte which is one of the wineries on the main road into the town.  IMG_5782 (2)40Seated at hand-made tasting tables, a welcoming tasting counter or on comfortable sofas, visitors have an unimpeded view of the working and maturation cellars through large glass panels.  We paid a sum to taste seven different wines, probably drank far too much of each and ended up ordering two of the whites and one of the reds.  IMG_5766 (2)40Forty-eight bottles between us.  A bonus was that we could pay in Euros, which gave us a cheaper price and the wines could be delivered from Germany to France.IMG_5778 (2)40

Back at the villa we rested and then spent some time around the pool, accompanied by the lovely dog, Bagel, who belongs to the owner of the estate.  In the evening we went to a restaurant in Franschhoek specialising in South African cuisine.  Aptly named Ryan’s Kitchen the establishment rates no. 2 out of 51 on Trip Advisor.  Ever intrigued by new dishes I chose the Prawn Tapioca “Pudding”, prawn crackers, chopped chives, charred lemon gel to start with.

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I think I am probably one of the easiest people to feed that I know, but I did have to admit to myself that I found the frog-spawn appearance and imagined consistency a bit unnerving!  I know I am on safe territory when I choose Roast Duck Breast, Honey and Dukkah glaze, spiced chocolate & cashew nut puree’s, roast Kohlrabi for my main course.

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The following morning we must check out and return to Cape Town to take a flight to Johannesburg.  IMG_5792 (2)40The next stage of our holiday is going to begin.  Before we leave Val D’Or I take a walk around the grounds and take some photos.  IMG_5748 (2)40The most appealing area is focussed around the pond where there are numerous weaver bird nests suspended in the trees.  DSC01427 (2)40

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With my passion for basketry in all possible materials I find the bird-made structures beautiful.  I’d willingly give one houseroom.

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It’s time to give thanks and move on………………

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Long Overdue Visitors

A few years ago our good friends Alain and Martine invited us to stay with them at their home on the outskirts of Paris.  Ostensibly it was an opportunity for the blokes (Alain, Francois, Daniel and Nick) to go and see a Six Nations match between France and England.  The womenfolk were treated to a trip into Paris for some shopping and I still really love the two swimming costumes and the Rocket Dog canvas boots I bought on that occasion.  After several attempts at an invitation we have finally fixed a week at the beginning of October when they will cross the Channel and spend just under a week with us.

They arrive as foot passengers on Sunday evening; Nick and I have lately arrived back from Hackney having stayed overnight after Lola and Ruby’s show.  We settle our visitors in and then after a night cap retire to bed.  Nick has been pretty much in charge of planning the itinerary as a joint effort seemed to end in dispute!  On Monday we are going to see a bit of Dorset.  We start by swinging by Dorchester to pick up a couple of things and Martine has a brief glimpse of what Dorch has to offer and we agree to return later in the week.  After Dorchester we head over to Lyme Regis for a walk along the prom and Martine and I peer into a few shops, buy stuff and end up with twenty minutes or so in my favoured bookshop whilst Nick and Alain walk up the hill to retrieve the car.


Having sampled the flavour of Lyme (le parfum de la ville) we head back to West Bay where we have fish and chips at The George then spend a bit of time looking round the flea markets at the old Custom House and take a brief stroll beneath the cliffs of ‘Broadchurch’ . martinebroadchurch dsc00851-2blogBefore we head for home we swing by Portland for a stroll around the Portland Bill Lighthouse and our final stop before hitting The Old Workshop is to spill out at the viewpoint and admire the incomparable Chesil Bank and the Fleet.  You can look to the distance and see, beyond the new Marina in Portland Harbour, and the town of Weymouth, the hills on which, with the eye of faith you might discern the Chalk hill figure of King George III who was a regular visitor to Weymouth.

Back at the house we are eating in and I have made a hearty casserole which attempts to replicate in some part a ‘Pot au Feu’ which is a very traditional French dish of very slow-cooked large pieces of beef (usually three different cuts) with whole root vegetables and maybe leeks too.  My pieces of meat are smaller and the gravy is thickened but it seems to find favour with Alain who is very traditional 😉  I’ve made a rhubarb and plum crumble for dessert.  We go to bed not too late as we are going to drive to London the next day.

So the following morning we get our various acts together and leave the house with overnight bags.  Nick has booked us a Travelodge near Clapham railway station to make travelling easier.  But it has its drawbacks as we subsequently find out.  dsc00861-2blogOn the way we stop at the Bull Inn at Ovington just outside Alresford, and which is the most traditional of English pubs.  img_5182-2blogimg_5180-2We meet an elderly gent propping up the bar and we have a friendly conversation about Europe and the Referendum and he seems to imply he voted Remain but at the end I am not so sure.  I find I am so suspicious of people these days, the Leave vote has changed fundamentally my attitude to my fellow nationals, this country and its politics and sadly most of all my attitude towards my Leaver friends.  Much as a lunch would be great at this venue we press on to The Squirrel just outside Godalming where we have a lunch, and a pleasant exchange with a group of young people who wish us a good onward journey in French.

We hit London, and Nick who knows it so well after all the years he worked there and drove around in his series of BMWs, takes us on a tour pointing out the sights.  It seems a bit rushed to me but Alain and Martine cannot fail to have a flavour of the city and in their minds perhaps make comparisons with their home city.

We check into the hotel, take a breather then walk into Clapham to find an eatery.  Alain and Nick have already made a brief exploratory excursion but the restaurant they found is full.  Never mind, we find a large Italian establishment at which we eat, each of us, to our satisfaction.  We head back to the hotel and settle for the night.  For some it is to be very unsettled because in choosing this hotel Nick has failed to consider the effects of staying adjacent to the busiest railway in Europe for it is the transport hub that serves London Victoria and London Waterloo, and through which are funneled between 100 and 180 trains an hour, save for the five hours after midnight!  Nick and I are, by and large, sound sleepers, we did not think…………

The following morning we meet in the café below the hotel for a good breakfast, Eggs Florentine in my case.  Nick and Alain are going to head across to visit Dan in his new offices in Kingsland Road and Martine and I plan shopping.  We take the trains to Oxford Circus and in the space of 4-5 hours we barely manage to extend beyond the immediate periphery of that station.  We walk down Carnaby Street whose shops mean nothing to me, all brands for the trendy young, then into Liberty’s, the briefest of glances in Hamleys.  We probably spent best time in Anthropologie.  Then it’s on to Debenhams, Uniqlo.  A lunching moment, trying stuff on and queuing to pay, it all takes time.  We waste a ridiculous amount of time in Debenhams when I agree to sign up for a store card that will win us an extra 10% over and above the savings we have already made on our handbag purchases.  Before long we must get a train back to Clapham to be there for 5 so we can leave London in time to get home for supper.

On Thursday evening I have invited the McGoverns and my sister Liz, all of whom have met the Duponts, for supper.  Alain helps Nick peel the spuds!  img_6336-2blogFlora the chocolate labrador comes too and finds favour since all the guests are doggie people.  Martine makes us a tasty egg and cheese tart to start with then we move on to my chicken casserole.  Wine flows and it is convivial.  A miniscule European event.  Liz stays overnight.

On Friday this will be the last full day for the Duponts.  Nick and Alain join Cybs for a walk along the beach at Studland, and Martine and I go to Dorchester to shop and we both buy some clothing and some kitchen items. Lunch goes a bit skew whiff on timing but no matter because we are going to eat at The Blue Vinny at Puddletown for a farewell supper.  On Saturday morning we take our guests to Poole to catch their ferry, then we scoot back to get togged up for the village walk which will surely do us good after our week of eclectic activites but little real exercise.


A Stately Woodland Bloom beyond the Ricketts’ Picket……… so tempting to pick it.

We made a flying visit to Godalming.  Ted has turned 8 and we had a pottery wheel with accessories to deliver.  He and his mother tried it out over the weekend.


Nick and I were invited to supper with William and Diana and another couple, all these people being very long-standing friends. We sat in their delightful garden……….. ‘just like old times ;)’……….. and whereas we used to talk about kids and schooling, we now talk about old age, aging parents, retirement homes.  But also books, and fellow friends and grandchildren so it is not all Richard Wilson.  The following day I visited the local garden centre and bought some plants and met Diana again, briefly, for coffee.

Ted recently had his Bear Grylls birthday party in the woods behind 88 Pep.  He proudly showed the remains of a shelter they had constructed and I took my camera up to photograph the foxgloves which have multiplied over the years thanks to the unofficial woodland management that is carried out by fellow occupants of the Pep Road houses.  The 8 semis are such a distinctive feature of the Charterhouse Hill settlement.  There is also a tepee that was started donkeys years ago and is now growing beautifully into its setting.  The tepee and the foxglove swathes are evidence that, notwithstanding you can create these features, Chelsea Garden Style,  by clever planting and rustic-effect construction with felled in-situ timber, it takes decades of working with nature to create, in this case, a guileless but subtly managed hillscape beyond a garden picket fence.

On Saturday Nick drove back to Winterborne K to join the village walkers and Charlotte, Ted and I went swimming in the morning, then created a bottom-of-the-fridge soup for lunch.  Afterwards we delivered Ted to his ‘Battlefield Live’ birthday party then Charlotte and I spent a very happy couple of hours hitting the Haslemere boutiques and buying lovely clothes followed by a reviving cup of coffee with lemon drizzle cake.  This was my highlight 🙂

It’s about having Fun!

At the end of October Nick and I attended a very special birthday and wedding anniversary party.  Our niece and her husband threw a wonderful bash at Maunsel House in Somerset – hailed ‘the most magnificent wedding venue in Somerset’; based on our experience this could well be true.  Guest were treated to a champagne reception with wonderful bites, a supper of four hot dishes and a hog roast all served in buffet style, a great disco with music reflecting the wide age spectrum of guests and to my husband’s great delight, an ‘all you can eat’ Dodgem Cars set up in the grounds!  Nick and Andrew spent hours in total showing off their superior driving expertise to the youngsters.  The opportunity for a family portrait was too good to miss.


A few days after saw us making the Channel crossing to France, happily after the seas had calmed after the storm.  We arrived in the afternoon with the prospect of an evening treat: a soiree with supper and Spite and Malice chez Tuttle.  A couple of days later saw the arrival of our friends the Derricks and Squire Palmer for a weekend of laughter, and improvised and cavalier swine-tasting.  We did the Saturday market and met Brigitte and Georgy for a lunch-time apero in the bar afterwards.  Surely a future fixture in our weekly schedule.

In the week that ensued I shopped in Cherbourg and bought two new pairs of boots, and Nick and I set to and made grape jelly with the remainder of our crop.  With Brigitte’s birthday celebration at the weekend in view, Anne and I set about buying some white tea plates and some porcelain paints in order to decorate the former with the latter as a personalised present.  With much trial and error over four hours one afternoon, we eventually produced a dozen plates with a single design of either a butterfly or dragonfly.  We anticipated this gift would be appreciated and were somewhat nonplussed to discover their recipient pronounce them too large as bread plates, and I don’t think the simple stencilled designs pleased either.  Tant pis – we tried!

Brigitte’s party was held on Daniel’s birthday so a double celebration took place.  The following day we assembled in the bar at midday and Martine and I arranged to go to the cinema in the afternoon to see Majordome, the French dubbed version of The Butler with Forest Whittaker.  What a masterly performance.  That little Cinema Richelieu at Reville is such a perk on our doorstep – it has the most comfortable armchair seating that I know.  During the evening we reassembled chez Poulet where the men played pool. We ate an improvised supper of pizza with little tasters of the two lobsters which the Poulets had lined up for their supper.  It was a convivial finale to a very sociable weekend.

Visitors from Dorset

In the week after the family left France  whilst Nick beavered in the garden, I spent some time with Brigitte and Anne.  We went to the gym and we shopped in Cherbourg together, and Anne and I saw two films at the Cinema Richelieu, our gem of a cinema a few minutes’ drive away, with the most comfortable seats imaginable.  They really are like armchairs.  The week culminated in a supper party chez Poulet for Francois’ 61st birthday. 

A few days later we received Paul and Viv for a short stay.  This fixture was long overdue but such is the nature of our busy lives that we had not managed to find a convergingly convenient time slot.  Whilst they stayed with us we walked some of our local terrain, drove across to the west coast to lunch with a former skipper friend of Nick’s after which drove up the west Cotentin.   Nick and Paul took a fishing trip during which they made a good catch of pollack.  That afternoon Viv and I undertook a Treasure Hunt during an open day at the Hougue fort.  We completed the course with full marks.  And that evening, Francois and Anne joined us for supper; we ate fish pie and enjoyed some good French conversation. 

The four of us travelled back to the UK.  The Conchological Society AGM required Nick’s input as Treasurer whilst I chose to stay in Winterborne K, having supper with Maddy and Andrew on Friday night, using Saturday to shop for some fabric remnants for a cushion project, and some plants from Homebase.

On Sunday I worked the low-walled garden which runs along both sides of the garage at the front.  At the end of the afternoon I had cut back bramble and ivy which was clogging the hedge, had cleared weeds and surplus plants and had translocated foxglove plants from pots and the back garden, to the shadiest corner of the garage bed.  Earlier I phoned my neighbour Brian,  to whom I have promised some plants including surplus Aquilegia and perennial Linaria plants.  He came round and we agreed that I would contact him again when we get back from France after our impending spell over there.  Having packed a lot into our long weekend in WK we sailed back to Cherbourg for the remainder of our April – May stint.