A night in Plymouth & a day trip to Oxford

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Heathrow

Tuesday July 4, 2017

Here we are at the Ibis Styles, Heathrow. We arrived last night after the five-hour bus trip from Plymouth, where we had stayed overnight Sunday after the five-hour ferry trip from Roscoff. We didn’t have a chance to see much of Plymouth though we did manage a walk along the Hoe for a ways, and along Armada Way to check out the route for the morning from our very nice guest house to the bus station. But given the number of ferry and river  trips on offer,  I suspect Plymouth will be on our re-visit list should we get back to the UK. Oh and I found a dragonfly sculpture.

We also had an excellent meal on the Sunday night, right up there with the other ‘best meals out’ of our trip, which include the fish and chip meal at a pub in Bugbrooke, two Italian meals — one in Poole and one in St Malo — and the meal in Guernsey (Italian for me again, and sirloin for L).  Sadly the food at the Ibis is not up to much (reminds me too much of the Baltic container ship cooking), though the room is comfortable enough and we are enjoying watching Wimbledon and the Tour de France on the telly.

Today we did a day trip to Oxford.  A lovely day, though it was by far the most tourist-filled place we’ve been to on this trip. So not a lot of photos because it was impossible to avoid the randoms (except in flower close-ups). It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me as I was lucky enough to spend three months there nearly 20 years ago, and it was fun checking out the places I remembered. We were also lucky enough to talk to the Bodleian chief librarian (maps) about a most amazing tapestry on display, the Sheldon tapestry of Worcestershire, created about 1590. (google it for better pictures than mine).  We finished the day by walking along the canal towpath, which seemed fitting given we started this holiday on a narrow boat.

Tomorrow we start the long flight home, though not till later in the day, so we may fit something more in tomorrow morning. Or maybe not.

 

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Captain Nomore’s Blog: No. 7

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Sunday 2 July, 2017

Back to Blighty

It is Sunday and following a night of little sleep we set off to the ferry terminal for the 9.15 to Plymouth. We are on the Brittany Ferries’ Pont-Aven. She is about 40,000 tonnes and carries 650 cars and 2,500 passengers. I guess, unlike the Santa or the Monte, she probably has more than two cooks. We are, today, back to Blighty and tomorrow on to Heathrow. There is an excitement about going home after two months on the other side of the world. Back to the water going down the plug hole the right way, north being the direction to the equator, and the vagaries of living in the southern South Pacific, somewhere down near Antarctica.

I was offered a job yesterday at Jean-Luc’s creperie. Jean Luc owns the apartment we rented for the week in Roscoff. His creperie was just downstairs from our lodgings. He had been away in Corsica and only arrived back the day before we departed. We ate there on our final night in France and Jean Luc invited me to make the crepes. He showed me the correct way to hold the paddle, the correct way to move the batter and the wrist flicks with the long flat spatula to lift and fold the cooked crepe. I think he was impressed by my ability to handle the process and suggested I may like to work with him over the coming summer. His holiday to Corsica had been to prepare himself for the summer season. For the next two or three months his creperie will be chock-a-bloc with tourists. I am not sure how many of the tourists will be visitors to France as it seems, from our time there, most of the visitors are French people having domestic holidays.

Our apartment was, in French terms, très joli, très confortable. It was not overstuffed with either furniture or ornaments. We could, though, have done with some full-size towels. Jean Luc said his son, who was looking after the flat for the first time, wasn’t quite up with the play in le linge department. Such is the stuff of life. We coped, we managed, we jumped up and down to get dry.

Mid-week the weather became very Wellingtonish. Roscoff is out near the snout of Finistère and gets all the stuff that blows in from the Atlantic. It rained, particularly on the day we visited the Ile de Bartz. The trip home included a 500-metre pier trudge into cold driving rain. Roscoff is very tidal and when the tide is out, the ferry cannot berth anywhere near the dock; rather it drops the passengers at the very end of an exposed rain and wind swept concrete walkway with no shelter. Hmm. By the time we got home our clothes and shoes were soaked. I had a shower immediately to warm up and then I investigated the switch box to see if I could get the heaters working. Sure enough, a flick of the two switches labelled chauffage saw the heater light come on and an hour later the whole flat was toasty warm.

Roscoff is little more than a central shopping street with restaurants and souvenir shops and little else. There is a supermarket; however, it is about a 40-minute walk. Lovely though it is, Roscoff would not be my pick for a three-month sojourn; it is a place that travellers pass through while going to and from the UK or Ireland.

We are now in the southern approaches to the English Channel, or La Manche as the French call it. We are belting along at about 50 kph with only the breeze we are creating and surrounded by a dead flat calm. Unusually, the channel seems empty, I have not sighted any other ships since we left Roscoff, now some four hours ago. The sun is streaming into the large passenger area at the front and we have a cubicle with bench seats each side of a table. It is a sort of six seat dinette arrangement looking directly on to the sea. The ship is largely empty so we can stretch out on the padded sofas and nod off occasionally. It is a bit like business class in the air. Perhaps I could have a word with the driver and suggest to him that a visit to Wellington may be in order. Maybe, though the Porn-Aven, at 380 feet and forty thousand tonnes, would be missed at Plymouth, our destination.

Our next accommodation, the Mariners Guest House, is about a mile and a half from the ferry terminal in Plymouth, but hey, it is close to the bus station for tomorrow’s journey to Heathrow.

The sun is out again

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Saturday July 1, 2017

This has been our last full day in Roscoff and the sun came out for the occasion. The rain started on Thursday afternoon, just as we were leaving the garden on the Île de Batz. By the time we’d walked the twenty minutes to the Ile de Batz ferry terminal, we were drenched, at least in the front from rain jacket hem down. There was a brisk wind worthy of Wellington which drove the rain against us. When we arrived at Roscoff, we had to disembark at the end of a very long pier, as the tide was out. This time the rain was driven on to our backs and we were drenched on the other side. Wet jeans are not comfortable.

The rain continued on and off yesterday, and it was the coldest it has been since we’ve been in France and colder even than the occasional wet day we had in England. However, it has passed today, though the wind was still a bit Wellington-like in exposed places. We started the day following the test match. We couldn’t find a sports bar so had to follow live update comments, which we did on the UK Telegraph’s site. Disappointed the ABs couldn’t hold out for the draw, but hey, it makes for a good final test.

Coffee and croissant/pain au chocolat at the salon du thé across the road, as has been our habit this week, and then off to another garden of exotic plants, this one just past the Brittany ferry terminal. It always surprises me for a moment to see flax and cabbage trees classified as exotics but of course that is exactly what they are in the northern hemisphere. Of course you don’t need to go to a garden of exotic plants to see them over here because they are everywhere. Still, it gives me a buzz to see them this side of the world. They thrive here, too.

Later this afternoon we went for a walk along the sandy beaches on the west coast of Roscoff. The tide was out so we were able to walk as far as we wanted along the beach. There’s no continuous promenade because private properties jut out every so often, blocking off access by path above high tide. We finished the day with dinner at the crèperie below our flat — both are owned by Jean Luc, who as well as a crêpe chef is also an established artist, selling in Paris and New York. But more on that another time. For now, some photos to celebrate flowers in the sun. Tomorrow we leave Roscoff by ferry for Plymouth and so the end of the holiday starts.

PS. I think I’m getting a little obsessed with photographing flowers  so I’ve included a flaky-paint door to liven things up a bit.

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The dandelion tree

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Roscoff

Thursday 29 June, 2017

Today we went to the Île de Batz and, much to my surprise, I came upon a dandelion tree. Truly, it was a dandelion tree. Well that’s the translation I’m giving to the French label of Pissenlit en arbre. It was in the Jardin Georges Delaselle, in which two-thirds of the species in the garden are from the southern hemisphere, so lots of flax and cabbage trees and even (though I missed it) a pohutukawa  in flower. But more on the garden in another posting. This evening I’m sticking to the dandelion tree (though I may include a few other photos, depending on how speedily the uploading goes).

It was the flowers that caught my attention first, and had me thinking how similar they looked to those of the dandelion. Except this plant was maybe a metre or more in height, so nothing like the growth habit of the humble dandelion we know as a weed. And then I looked more closely at the leaves, and again I thought, that looks bigger, but similar, to those of the dandelion. So that had me searching for a label, and, voilà, there it was: Pissenlit en arbre. Who knew? Well, I know the botanists among you will probably know, but it was a surprise to me. The botanical name is Sonchus congestus and it is a shrub endemic to the Canary Islands, or so the label told me.

That said, I also think I am doing a bit of muddling reminiscent of damselflies and dragonflies here, and mistaking  sow thistles for dandelions. Mr Google tells me the dandelion is Taraxacum officinale, while Sonchus is a sow thistle. And yes, when I look now, those leaves and branching heads of flowers do look rather like sow thistles. Whichever, I was nevertheless chuffed to happen upon a shrub on the Île de Batz looking like an overgrown dandelion and labelled Pissenlit en arbre.

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And here’s a few non-dandelion/sow thistle photos from the island (not necessarily from the Jardin Georges Delaselle).

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Captain Nomore’s blog: No. 6

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Thursday 29 July, 2017

Morlaix and the skinny house

These are the last few days of holiday. Not that I am going home to go back to work, come to think of it. Now that thought has cheered me up considerably so I guess now I can happily write about the holiday which is really just a part of the very long holiday. Maybe if I do not work, I cannot, logically, have holidays. Enough of that, it is too much like thinking, too much like hard work.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, then Saturday and then Sunday. Sunday is the beginning of the long trek. The day will start with a trek because there are no buses to the ferry. It is about a half-hour walk and we will need to set off about 7.30 in the morning. The forecast is for fine weather. I am not concerned about the state of the sea for the trip; the ferry is bigger than those plying Cook Strait. Rather I am concerned about the walk to get the ferry. Today it poured down in the late afternoon. We are well out to the point of Finistere and subject to the vagaries of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf Stream.

Yesterday we caught the local bus to Morlaix, about 45 minutes away. Morlaix has a huge railway viaduct passing over the downtown area. The viaduct is massive, built from pink granite, with arches upon arches. The Allies tried to bomb it during the war but they were unsuccessful. Maybe the bombs bounced off. It is massive and looks as though it would withstand most anything soldiers could throw at it. We climbed to the top of the first set of arches passing a charming little skinny house on the way. It was only one room thick with windows on to the street in front but not at the end, and only a door on the back wall.

The second set of viaduct arches probably rose another 40 meters above us as we walked across the lower set. From our vantage point we could see down to the harbour and of course that is the direction in which we set off once down from on high.

The harbour was lock-bound and provided a marina for about 200 yachts and power boats. The lock would probably be able to handle vessels of maybe 100 feet in length and seemed much larger than would be needed for today’s maritime traffic.

Earlier in the day, back in Roscoff, we happened upon the arrival, unloading, loading, and departure of the landing craft barge taking freight to the island of Batz. The crew were clearly adept at handling the trucks and freight pallets. The first truck came off pretty much as the ramp hit the slipway. I guess there was a hurriedness to the operation because the tide was either rising or falling rapidly. The real danger would be becoming stranded by a falling tide. The vulnerable part of the landing craft is the two legs at the back where both propulsion and steerage are provided. Letting the legs ground would probably result in damage.

We ended the day, as is usually the case, back at the flat, eating tea while writing. We eat out infrequently. One of the first things we do at each new stop is shop for the basics, like porridge, paper towels and other boring stuff, setting up the week for budget dining. It is not that we are tightwads (actually yes, we are), but because we eat much as we do at home, lots of salad and vegetables with limited meat.

Our internet connections have been either very good or non-existent. This week we are back to the dongle. Dongles are great except at those times everyone is on their mobile phone. The 3G network seems choked at times. Still we are pleased to have the dongle, it suffices when there is no other connection available.

Tomorrow I will do the laundry and we may not do much else. Saturday we will pack and Sunday we will rise at the crack of dawn and walk to the ferry. I have bought two of those ridiculous plastic ponchos, the ones that cover everything including the pack. With luck they will be discarded unused once we arrive at the Portsmouth accommodation.

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On the lock footbridge at Morlaix, tide out below the lock
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Same point on the Morlaix lock footbridge, looking above the lock to the yacht basin

Morlaix

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Thursday 29 June, 2017

Roscoff

We went to Morlaix yesterday afternoon. It’s about a three-quarter hour bus trip from Roscoff and is where we changed from the train to the bus for the final stage of our trip to Roscoff last Saturday. That was a bit hectic, getting off the train and working out where the temporary bus station is. Of course it was quite obvious when you knew, but it wasn’t well signposted.

Anyway, today we didn’t get off the SNCF stop but carried on to the viaduct stop in the centre of town. It’s so named because there is a 60m high railway viaduct, built in the 1860s, that towers above the town. Of course we would have known this if we’d bothered to read the guide book beforehand, but we didn’t and we hadn’t so the viaduct came as a surprise. Usually our choice of destination is dependent on whatever bus route we can work out and find the stop for. But the viaduct — it’s lovely. We were able to walk up to the pedestrian bit below the railway line, which gives fabulous views of both sides of the town. Sadly I didn’t get a good shot of the arches because randoms kept getting in the way. However as two of them were workmen with a ladder fixing stuff, there was no way I could wait it out till they moved.

The other surprise was that the town has a substantial river port for yachts and other small pleasure craft. So of course we walked along to the lock and back the other side. After that, time for a bite to eat and time to buy half a dozen macarons. Surprisingly, these are the first macarons I’ve bought on the trip. Worth the wait. Of the ones I’ve tasted so far, the citron vert is the best. A nice sharp tangy taste to the filling that cuts the sweetness. Still two more flavours to try, but I think the citron vert will be the favourite.

Here’s some photos from yesterday.

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A kind of ballet

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Roscoff

Wednesday 28 June, 2017

A little rain overnight but this morning all fine again, though overcast for the morning. Still warm enough to venture out without a jersey. And this morning we ventured out to the open-air market, held every Wednesday morning along by the lighthouse. And a good market it was too, though I didn’t buy anything. L sampled some of the food and pronounced it good, and bought a new bumbag. And here’s me being touted at the one who gets obsessed about finding the perfect bag. Me, who’s stuck with the little black, unreliable zippered worn-out wallet-y purse right through this trip and which has (so far, touch wood) done its job admirably. The zip only fails if I try to put both cell phone and glasses in the wallet.

Anyway, it was a good market, and there was lots I could have bought but didn’t, being mindful that anything I buy, I have to carry.

What did catch my eye most this morning, though, was watching the Ile de Batz freight ferry — a roll-on roll-off barge capable of beach landings — unload and load up again. First about five large trucks were driven off — three at least were articulated. Then two men, a tractor each, loaded the barge for the return journey with trailers filled with supplies of various sorts. It was like watching a synchronised tractor ballet. Those guys had it down to a fine art, swooping and turning, one each end of the ramp, preparing to back up the ramp and off-load the trailer. One would back up first and while he was positioning his load, the other would be starting to back his load up. I thought at times they couldn’t possibly have enough room to manoeuvre past each other, but of course they were giving a master class.  The photos below don’t really show the beauty of the manoeuvres but may give you a bit of an idea.

So market over, ballet over, and it was time for a coffee and pain au chocolat (croissant for L) at what’s become our ‘regular’ — a small salon du thé which we used on Saturday last while we were waiting for instructions on finding the keys to our accommondation. We liked it so much — and it is just across the road — that we’ve back every day since.

The afternoon was a trip to Morlaix, which is  a 45-minute bus trip and a place we both enjoyed spending a couple of hours in. But I’ll tell you about that next time.

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Captain Nomore’s blog: No. 5

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27 June 2017

Enthusiasms

I think we are both starting to feel the pull of home. Back to the Wellington winter and the frequent school pick up trips that J and G text us for. They are both charming with their requests and never grump if we are unable to oblige. We have over the past year or so realised that giving them rides home either to their place or ours means we remain part of their world. Going away for two months is a long time, particularly when you remember the ride requests will fade in the next year or so as they both move on from secondary school. Anyway, for both of us, going home to the 3.30 ride request is something we look forward to.

J has asked me to do some travel writing. I am a bit bemused by this as I thought that is what I have been doing. Leaving that to one side I have said to her that I am happy to do the writing but only after I explain the title to this entry: enthusiasms.

When we travel we walk and when we walk I do a lot of thinking. Thinking and walking is multi-tasking for me. I drift into a semi-concious state, remaining aware of traffic dangers and tripping hazards, but largely just dreaming along. I think J does the same thing because on occasion, out of the blue, she will ask me what do I think about having big blue pots to provide height in the garden.

On this trip, I have had enthusiasms to buy another yacht, double glaze the house, walk home from Heathrow, live on Sark for three months, shift into a caravan and have the house as a holiday let, buy a folding e-bike, shift to Leighton Buzzard and live on a narrow boat, buy a bus, shift the garden gate, paint the bedroom, buy a blind for the bedroom, and redo the bathroom. Perhaps the bathroom is less an enthusiasm and more a looming necessity.

These ideas come and go. They are my enthusiasms. Now that I am older, the enthusiasms generally recede before any money is committed. Though over the years I have managed a few times to buy at the top of the market and sell at the bottom. I didn’t heed the adage that boat owners have two good days, the day they buy the boat and the day they sell it. I have made some remarkably stupid financial decisions over the years; however, here we are in France for a month so maybe not everything has been a disaster.

Nowadays my enthusiasms die off either from the recognition of a likely bad outcome or from the cold-light-of-day prospect of parting with money. The e-bike enthusiasm died in a dream where the folding mechanism came adrift while racing down Ngaio Gorge. The racing became hurtling and the bike folded in on itself sending electric sparks tingling up my rear and abrasions climbing my leg. I woke from the dream and reassured myself it was only a dream. Mind you, I have avoided admiring any folding bikes since.

Sometimes enthusiasms survive the trip home and become true. The camping car is the best example. We bought an older station wagon where the back is large enough to sleep in. With a box on top of the car and a tent that fits on the back we are ready to set out on the Not Highway One Part 2 tour. This will be for about three weeks next summer. If we have one.

Back to this holiday. There is a week to go before we board the A380 and thunder off halfway around the world. Back to the world of the 3.30pm text. I am looking forward to it and I think J is too. To get home we will take the ferry from Roscoff to Portsmouth, the bus from Portsmouth to Heathrow, the A380 to Singapore and then on to Auckland, the A320 to Wellington, the bus to the city and the train to Khandallah station. Then the five minute walk up the hill to the garden gate. Unless of course someone comes to pick us up.

 

Captain Nomore’s blog: No. 4

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Sunday 26 June, 2017

Tidal range and gardens

This is our third holiday week in France. We began with a night in St Malo, moved on to Vannes, then Quimper and now, to finish off, a week at Roscoff. Roscoff seems such an un-French name; it is, though, a place of captivating beauty and style. The woman in supermarket said Roscoff was like a film set and we would agree.

The tidal range here must be about 20 feet. Aligned along the sea wall there were five or six large trawlers (50 feet or more), each lying up against the wall with their keels exposed. They all looked as though they were regularly moored there rather than it being a haul-out quay. The harbour itself was drained completely, with a lot of small inshore fishing and pleasure boats sitting on the mud. Around the corner from the old harbour is the big-ship ferry terminal, available at all states of the tide. We walked over to it, partly to track a path for next Sunday and partly because ferries, harbours, containerships and tug boats have a magnetic pull on me, if not on J. She says, though, that she tags along quite happily. While we watched, a Brittany ferry left and an Irish ferry arrived.

Early in the day, on our first venture out to find the supermarket, we saw crowds lining up for the cruise boats to an outer island. I am not sure if we will do one of these trips or not. The Quimper river and estuary trip has put us both off tourist boats. Of all the tourist boat trips we have done, the Wareham boat from Poole was way ahead of the rest. The commentary was as needed rather than neverending, and the parade of passing boats was fantastic.

J is finding plenty of gardens to photograph here in Roscoff. There again, J finding gardens and plants to photograph is not unusual. One of the best was back in Quimper where some inner-city sections on different levels had been formed into a series of roomed gardens. I think these are J’s favourite types of garden. Added was the magic of simply coming across the garden rather than planning a trip to it.

Going back to Vannes, I can barely remember the gardens, though one does stick in my mind. It was a private garden, photographed from over the fence, on the Ile d’Arz. Further back than that, of course, are the two gardens on Sark. The first the public garden, La Seigneurie. This was the garden that led to my enthusiasm for returning to Sark for a three-month stay. The second garden was the private home with the sign on the gate saying please wander in. The garden was paradise for chickens.

I think this week augers well for walking and garden shots. I have a book that I carry, not to write notes in but to read. I can sit and read in any garden while J takes her time to photograph the plants (some holding hands), the insects, the bees, the bumblebees, the dragonflies, the damselflies, and occasionally me.

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And so to Roscoff

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Roscoff

Saturday 24 June, 2017

Travel day today, from Quimper to Roscoff. Our train (which was in fact a bus for the first part) didn’t leave till early afternoon so we spent the morning in a sports bar in Quimper watching the All Blacks beat the Lions. A good way to start the day.

First impressions are that Roscoff will be a great place for our last week in France. We didn’t arrive till about five-ish so have only had a cursory look around. There’s a main street with the shops, plus a street or two either side, and then there’s sea on both sides. Our flat is clean and comfortable and spacious. It’s above the owner’s creperie, which no doubt we’ll try at some time. At the moment he is on holiday in Corsica but has been easily contactable by text and email — luckily for us, as we had a moment where we couldn’t find the key.

But there’s a whole week ahead to explore and describe Roscoff. For the moment, here’s some photos of the set of gardens outside the cathedral at Quimper that I mentioned in the last posting. I know they are super formal. But they are superbly maintained, and I think they are just right for the setting. The River Odet is on the other side of the road, and it’s along this road that we walked to and from the railway and bus stations. So we’ve passed the gardens a number of times, and every time I stop and admire them. As I do with the containers hanging over the railings. Which means lots of photos. Of course I don’t need so many photos. But I take them anyway. And here’s a selection from this morning for you, including one of the passerelle container plantings and another of a swarm of fish in the river (if swarm is the right word).  It’s the first time I’ve seen  fish in the river. This was only one of about three or four lots that we saw as we walked past to the station.

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