Thursday, 30 June 2011

Curious Fish Shop in Ville Close and everywhere in Brittany.

Heading off towards the Tinned Fish Emporium
 in Ville Close
The people of Brittany must be great tinned fish eaters.  We first saw a shop dedicated only to the promotion and sale of tinned and otherwise preserved poisson in Quimper.  We thought it must be a lone optimist's business enterprise idea that would surely be destined to fail, purely through lack of variety.  How wrong were.  Since then we have discovered that the tinned fish shops are everywhere. 

They must be part of a chain, or a franchise.  Does anyone out there know?

The shops are very attractive and on closer inspection sell a fairly wide range of tinned fishes.  Sardines in everything you can imagine, pilchards in everything, mackeral in everthing, tuna in ....., well you get the idea.  The assistant in the Ville Close branch of Fishes R Us (no it isn't really called that) let me take some arty shots, so of course we had to buy two tins of soupe de poisson, which we have now consumed.  It was delicious. 

I wondered if tinned fish shops are aimed mainly at tourists.  A Tourist Attraction.  Do people from countries deprived of sardines in tomato sauce head to Brittany to find and buy from tinned fish suppliers? 

This is certainly another example of a nation cleverly exploiting it's natural resources (see previous blogs - Lanzarote/Volcanoes). 

Further investigation into the popularity of tinned fish showed that all hypermarkets, supermarkets and local épiceries have enormous displays of it.  So the French must eat it too. 

Catch of the Day

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ville Close, Concarneau's Walled City

Construction of the old walled city of Concarneau, Ville Close, began in the 14th Century.  The sturdy walls rise from the rocky outcrop on which the town is built. Inside the walls is a thriving small town of narrow cobbled lanes. We filled many happy hours wandering through the historic streets, looking at the lovely timber framed houses.  We mooched through the shops and galleries, enjoyed lunch one day in one of the many restaurants, and had hot drinks to warm oursleves in Salons du Thé. 
The Bridge from the Fishing Port into Ville Close
You can drive to Ville Close from Le Cabellou Plage on the main road.  Park on the quayside next to the
Tourist Information Centre  and walk across the bridge to the walled city. 
Through the Arch is a Town of Delights

0.80c pour un aller simple

On the Ferry and Dressed for Winter
We found it much more fun to take the short drive from Le Cabellou Plage to the quay at Le Passage, park for free and then catch le petit bateau - the ferry, for the short trip across to Ville Close to enter the city from the sea.  This costs only 0.80c each way, or buy a book of tickets for 5 euros 70c.
It was cold and windy or wet the twice we went over.  Despite being a chilly Concarneau when we visited, it didn't dampen our enthusiasm for the place.    The narrow streets still bustled, the granite buildings and the timber framed houses were just as picturesque. 
The Top of the Town near the Ferry
Mmm - What to Choose?
Un Cheval au Chocolat
One of the shops we loved was the Chocolaterie.  Visit here and be enveloped in a smell that is like a warm chocolatey hugg.  I defy anyone to walk in and not come out with a treat.  I'm not a chocolate fiend but I just had to help Grasshopper eat some of his luxury pick and mix chocs.  They do wonderful expensive gift selections - which can only be for the very well off or the seriously addicted.  The sugar craft and chocolate scupltures that are displayed were incredible.      

A Sweet Dragon - literally.



Saturday, 25 June 2011

Laid Back at Le Camping Cabellou Plage

We left Quimper with every intention of staying in an Aire in Porzou that night.  We had heard and read so much from other motorhomers about this cost effective way of travelling around so of course we wanted to try.  In France les camping cars are welcome in villages and towns where it is recognised that motorhomers 
bring in custom pour les boulangeries, les epiciers et les bar-tabacs.  Special parking areas are set aside, sometimes with electricity and fresh water available, also chemical toilet emptying points.  I've also heard, (although I've yet to find out for myself) that some have toilets and showers.   The fees for staying overnight are reasonable and sometimes free, but as you would expect the camper vans are usually close together so OK for a one night stopover, although we know some people do stay for a lot longer. 

However our Aire adventure was not to be.  When we eventually found the Aire we had planned to stay at in Porzou, it was full and not nearly as big as it appeared in the photo in the Vicarious Books 'bible' ''All the Aires,  France''. 

Well we were at a loss as to what to do as we didn't have a Plan B.  Luckily we saw a car park ahead of us.  It was next to water, there were boats, it was picturesque - the perfect place to re-group and stop panicking.

So we parked, got out the folding chairs and settled down for a de-stressing Earl Grey tea and Egg and Tomato sandwiches. 

Porzou with Le Camping Cabellou Plage
in the Far Distance
It was so pleasant we talked of an overnight stay there.  As we tucked in, an English couple (Pauline and David) out for a walk stopped and asked where we were staying that night.  When we said ''here'' they looked at us doubtfully and said they'd found a great campsite with wonderful clean toilets at the other side of the bay.  They pointed it out in the distance, told us the name and after a little more chat went on their way. 

By the time we'd finished lunch we were both coming round to the opinion that the car park might not be an attractive option after dark.  So off we went to track down Le Camping Cabellou Plage.  It didn't take long to get there.  We drove in to find Reception closed.  There was a telephone number which I rang, but of course the answerphone message was in French.  Once again my comprehension skills were totally inadequate. 

Luckily we didn't have to wait long before a very pleasant lady (Valerie - I found out later) arrived carrying an armful of clean blankets (Le Camping Cabellou Beach also has Holiday Chalets on site).  Although we couldn't speak each other's language too well - she quickly grasped that we wanted un emplacement, mais non, nous n'avions pas resérvé.  It didn't seem to be a problem and she beckoned us to follow in Wanda.  Grasshopper drove, and I walked with Valerie down through the site.  I liked what I saw.  Very spacious pitches, separated by well trimmed hedges, mature shrubs and trees.  As it was early in the season there was lots of choice and Valerie seemed to understand when I said ''je voudrais un emplacement regarder la mer'' (yes I know - but I'm still learning).

She spoke with a gentleman who was hedge trimming.  He turned out to be Jean Christophe, one of the owners.  In perfect English he asked us how long we would be staying.  We thought initially three nights -maybe more.  He suggested we choose the pitch we wanted and pointed out a few that would be more sheltered from the wind.  Brittany is known for le vent, which (like Lanzarote - see April/May blogs) seems to blow most of the time.    In the end we chose a less sheltered pitch for the sake of a view of the bay and the boats. 

Un emplacement avec une vue de la mer.

The site exceeded our expectations.  We are so grateful to Pauline and David for taking the time to stop and chat and for recommending Le Cabellou Plage to us. Each pitch has its own fresh water, 10amp electricity and chemical toilet emptying point.  The pool and bar area is lovely.  Families will enjoy the children's play area.
Brave Souls in the Pool
Unfortunately it was too chilly for us to venture in to the pool.  Some people were brave enough though.  We were too early in the season to be able to benefit from the bar which opened the week after we moved on.  Fortunately, walking to the left out of the gate alongside the sea, we found a friendly Bar Tabac - Le Dundee, with tables outside where we enjoyed coffee and des Fars Bretagne.

Curious Fish (on the left) at Le Dundee

With only the road between Le Dundee and the sea, there is plenty of opportunity to drink in the view along with your café crème. 

La Plage Belle Etoile with Porzou in the Background
It seems that the people of Brittany get out and enjoy their coastline.  The beach near Le Camping Cabellou Plage is called La Plage Belle Etoile.  It was light at nights so we never saw if there was a beautiful star suspended in the heavens over the sand, but always there was plenty of boating, windsurfing practice and walking.

Messing About on the Water

Gaëlle, co-owner of Le Cabellou Plage as well as being Jean Christophe's wife, was also wonderfully patient and allowed me to practice my French with her even though she spoke perfect English and my linguistic attempts must have seemed excrutiatingly slow.  Gaëlle is happy to share information about the lovely places to visit in the area (see my next blog), and practical things like the two gorgeous patisseries to be found in the local village about 1km away, as well as the supermarkets for bigger shopping expeditions.  WiFi (weefee) is free and you can connect in the area near the bar.  It wasn't always easy to connect and it was very cold sitting outside the bar in the evenings.  If only it had been open! 
However a quick mention of WiFi connection difficulties to Gaëlle and it was sorted out the next night.
This is the perfect time to mention Nora and Neil from Ireland.  One of the problems I had with the lap top, was the difficulty I've had in seeing the screen outside (hence needing to try to connect in the evening).  Despite evening 'surfing' I found I had to cover both the screen and me with a huge blue towel in order to be able to see to email and blog.  Slightly eccentric I know.  Nora - who is a computer whizkid solved the problem for me in one easy step.  You probably all know this, but in case you don't, all you do is simultaneously press the fn key and the right arrow key - and bingo you can lighten your screen as much as you want.  To darken again press the fn key and the left arrow.  Simple when you know how!

We hope you are still enjoying your trip Nora and Neil.  You too Pauline and David.
Immaculate Toilet and Shower Block
People who regularly read my blog perhaps know by now that in common with other motorhomers and caravaners, a site gets the thumbs up (or down) depending on the state of its loos and showers. 

Well Le Cabellou Plage does get the upturned digit - because washing and sanitory facilities are new, well built and maintained, scrupulously clean, the loos have big flushes and there is an abundance of toilet paper. 

French Style Toilets (and very clean)

The showers although hot, are those interrupted water flow types, which is a bit irritating, and you have to remember to take your own soap and towel when you go to the loo because soap isn't provided and there are no hand dryers.  Also you have to sit on cold porcelain shaped like a loo seat, which is odd to British bottoms, however because everything is kept so immaculately clean - we got used to it. 

We found it quite difficult to leave Le Camping Cabellou Plage.  Gaëlle was happy for us to stay for an indeterminate length of time.  The site is reasonably priced, plus early in the season there are discounts to be had. So our three days stretched to six, but in the end Carnac beckoned with its mysterious menhirs, alignements and dolmans.  But first we enjoyed the delights of the walled city of Concarneau.  Please check out my next blog.
If you read this Gaëlle and Jean Christophe, and if you want customer feedback, we really enjoyed staying at Le Camping Cabellou Plage, it is a credit to you both and your hard work.  The site is attractive and in a beautiful and interesting area.  We definitely want to visit again and wouldn't hesitate in recommending it to everyone.  The only improvements I could suggest would be soap dispensers and a hand dryer in the loo. 

To see more details about Le Camping Cabellou Plage go to:

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Kindness and Grumpy Old Men

The first people we met on arriving at L'Orangerie were Jan and Terry from Teeside.  They are seasoned explorers of France so we were pleased to accept their offer of hints and tips about the 'must sees'  and 'don't bother with', places to visit and camp in Brittany.  The following night after dinner we knocked on the canvas of their (very posh) awning and were welcomed in with a Kir.  Deidre and Ger from Ireland joined us later.  After a glass or two we were chatting and laughing like old friends.  That is until a very taciturn GOM looked in through the door and asked us to keep the noise down as it was 10.30!  As more than two of us in the group are personnes du troisieme age and none of us were dancing uproariously to loud music (there was no music at all) we were gobsmacked.

However, as always respectful of others, the group broke up soon afterwards.  As we hadn't got round to the 'must sees' and 'don't bothers' we arranged to meet at ours the following night. But dear reader when we started motorhoming we quickly came to realise that for most people caravanning and camping is a social activity.  We expect sometimes to hear other people chatting and laughing well into the night.  If we haven't been part of their group, it has never occurred to us to complain or to try to spoil their enjoyment.

Glace de Cassis in Benodet

Jan and Terry's great advice led us to beautiful Benodet, then Carnac and Concarneau.  Bendodet is a picturesque ville situated at the estuary of the River Odet.  It was sunny and warm when we got there so we got the best of both worlds - a gorgeous river, boats bobbing in the sparkling Port, then the curving sandy bay and bright blue sea.  Fantastic - we loved it.  I took some photos - but they didn't do the place justice.  But we did enjoy the best cassis glace we'd ever tasted, so here is a photo of the ice cream.

As well as loads of hints and tips about where to go Jan also solved a domestic problem for me which has irritated me since we first bought motorhome Wanda.  We chose fitted carpets (first big mistake) then tried to protect them with rugs of a similar colour (neutral - second big mistake). I swear that these rotten rugs are alive.  They are perpetually walking and crawling up the front of the cupboards.  I must pull them back every 20 seconds several hundred times a day!  I have also invested tens of pounds on gizmos meant to hold rugs in place.  All of them useless.  They have become my Achilles heel that I speak about to anyone who will listen.  Jan, bless her generous heart not only listened but gave me, yes gave me, The Solution.  A large white rectangle of  'stuff' that sticks to the carpet and the underside of the rug.  Bingo!  No walking, or at least so slowly that my sanity is saved!  Merci beaucoup Jan.

Kindness didn't stop there.
Terry a Country and Western musician gave us a copy of his CD ''Live at the Rimswell''.

Watch Terry on You Tube

We are looking forward to getting together again at the Western Motorhome Show in Malvern later in the year.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Jaunts in Quimper

Walk out between the big gateposts near reception at L'Orangerie de Lanniron and take one more step forward.  Look back over your left shoulder and you will see a footworn soil path between the trees and the perimeter of the estate.  This is the unmarked start to the footpath into Quimper (thank you Anna in Reception, we would never have found it).

We enjoyed taking the slightly downhill walk in to town, past the memorial.  See photo on
also the stroll along the River Odet. There are some seats just as you reach the outskirts of the town near a children's playround, where we would often sit to admire the view.   If you walk this way you may notice ''deux ou trois mesdames gentilles (du troisième âge)''. They were there each time we passed and to our pleasure responded avec plaisir when we wished them ''Bonjour mesdames''.  
Physic Plants in the Priory Garden
Our next happy discovery was Le Jardin du Prieuré Locmaria (The Locmaria Priory Garden) which was re-created in 1997 to echo the convent gardens of the 15th and 16th centuries.  Plants for food, medicine and dyes are grown in neat beds.  All are named.  The roses that climb and trail over walls and trellises appear to be the old fashioned fragrant varieties.  There is plenty of seating in the sun, also in a shady arbour near a water feature.  

On the opposite side of the little square is the shop, pottery and museum of HB Henriot.  We looked in the shop and loved the brightly painted designs, but didn't buy anything because even the seconds were ''trop cher pour nous''.

At the first bridge, some men were playing a spirited game of pétanque.  They were happy to share a joke with us when I was taking photos. 

A Jovial Game of Pétanque
On the other side of the first bridge, is a Super U Express, which we found handy for buying basics before our walk back.  Head towards the Cathedral that you will see in the distance. Turn left at some point and explore the old cobbled streets. The buildings are beautiful and medieval in appearance.

Old Quimper
Quimper is a thriving, 'upmarket city'.  People look affluent and are very well dressed. There are lots of designer shops.  Prices in the indoor market and in the cafés reflect this.  I was horrified to realise later that we had paid over 6 euros for a small punnet of strawberries which turned into mush in my rucksack by the time we'd walked around all day.  Yes I know I should have bought them later in the day (and gone to the Super U previously mentioned).

The Cathédral St.Corentin with its tall, ornate spires and glorious stained glass windows is not to be missed.
St. Corentin Catherdral in Quimper
There always seems to be plenty of activity in the cathedral square.  One day we joined local people listening to folk music at a fund raising event.  I joined the queue to buy breton crepes being made at what I took to be a school stall.  I guessed that teachers were doing the making and pupils were wrapping homemade cakes and taking money.  I enjoyed my first ever crepe au chocolat.  At only 1 euro each I think I found the culinary bargain of the tour.
We wait excitedly for crepes.

Seeing the number of hat shops (three) in Quimper it is tempting to think that the local population are enthusiastic chapeau wearers. 
We've seen people in floppy sun hats, and members of a stag party in luminous sombreros, but none wearing fascinator, fedora, boater or bonnet.  Nor have we seen women in national dress wearing 12'' tall decorative lacy numbers although we've bought postcards featuring them.  You can be sure that if we come across one of these exotic creatures you will hear of it on this blog.

We finally got in to see the excellent l'exposition of Breton Art  - featururing Turner (2 paintings) and Monet (3 paintings).  I particularly loved Turner's ''Le Port De Brest, le quai et le chateau''.  Warm colours I could live with.  Although these big name attractions were in short supply, the other artists' work was incredible.  The painted detail of the rocks, sea, people and their lives was superb.  In some it was difficult to see that they were paint not photographs. 

I realise that some modern art is stimulating and thought provoking (although ''the emperor's new clothes'' can come to mind), but I so admire the talent of those who can paint so skillfully that silk looks like silk and rock looks like rock and everything is in perspective.   We didn't have enough time to linger and there was so much to see, that I regret I can't give names and examples of the paintings I loved - I just urge you to visit if you can.
Having fun in the Catherdral Square, Quimper
When we left the art gallery we went for a coffee and small brandy at one of the two cafés in the cathedral square.  The waiter disdainfully pretended not to understand what we were ordering in French.  As it was such a simple order and no-one else has had a problem with understanding what we have said so far, I put his derisive attitude down to a personality defect.  To add insult to injury they charged us almost 20 euros (yes honestly!). 

So if you like condescending treatment and paying through the nose for mediocre coffee and contemptuous service go to the Le Finistère Café (orange décor) at the edge of the square.  As you might guess we will not be going back. 

I must emphasise that this person has been the exception.  Everyone else we have met has been friendly, welcoming and charming.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

L'Orangerie de Lanniron

The Château at L'Orangerie de Lanniron

Well! What a fabulous place

Plenty of Space to Stretch Your Legs
This beautiful campsite is in the grounds of the Château which was once the palace of the Bishops of Cornwall.  Historically it has suffered difficult times - notably during the French Revolution and during the German occupation. 

There is a memorial on the path from L'Orangerie to Quimper commemorating prisoners of war who were incarcerated there. See Grasshopper's photo on

A number of companies have holiday chalets within the grounds.  There are also a small number of holiday homes, however the area is so large that the place does not feel crowded.  Facilities include a golf course, restaurant, and a fabulous swimming pool.  There is a smaller pool near les emplacements, but it was closed when we were there. 

I mentioned the bar in a previous blog, no further comments are needed other than to say that all of the staff were very, very nice and organised pétanque and ping pong competitions and crepe making demonstrations, but there is no pressure if you do not want to take part.  There is also a small shop on site that sells fresh bread daily, also cooked chicken and pizza in the evenings. 

The pitches for touring caravans and motor homes vary in size, but some are big enough to take our rig.  We were lucky enought to have fresh water and electricity as well as grey water disposal on our pitch.  The site is imaginatively planted with mature trees and exotic shrubs.  These border all the pitches giving a feeling of seclusion.

The reception staff are charming and friendly.  They are happy to share information about the interesting places to visit.  They were very patient with our efforts to speak French with them.  It was comforting that some could speak English because they helped us out when words failed us, which was often.  The restaurant and swimming pool are behind reception. 

Curious Fish Swimming

The pool is a glorious, if quite chilly, extravaganza of jacuzzi whirls, currents and water slides.  We loved it and had it all to ourselves, perhaps because we stayed early in the season.

There are lovely walks through the grounds and around the château.  These are well kept. 
The footpath into Quimper is  about 2km (+), through woods and away from traffic.  It is used frequently by local people, most on cycles.  We often walked around the service roads through the grounds.  They are very countryfied with lots of wildflowers.  We even came across a pen of hens, geese and ducks.

A Handsome Couple at L'Orangerie
There is a modern, very well maintained and very clean toilet and shower block.  With proper loos, toilet paper, soap and hand dryers.  We found that this is not always the case on some sites! (see later blog). 

There is a spacious washing up area at one end of the toilet block and a laundry room at the other end.

We felt so comfortable here that we extended our stay by 2 days. 

Driving to L'Orangerie de Lanniron at Quimper

First Customer of the Day
Grasshopper had planned a lovely route diagonally across Brittany from St. Malo to Quimper.  It was a bit hairy getting out of St.Malo but soon we were on our way, stopping for a coffee at an Aire de Service just as the kiosk was opening at around 8.30am.

We avoided the boring dual carriageways and travelled through pretty and quiet towns and villages. We had no problems with the size of the vehicle as the streets weren't too narrow.  There were plenty of picnic spots well back from the roads so we were able to stop and make refreshments.   Traffic was very scarce all the way until we reached the outskirts of Quimper.

Traffic wasn't the only difficulty.  Quimper seems to have the most roundabouts, slipways, flyovers and underpasses than any other town (apart from Redditch and Telford) I've ever travelled to.  The directions were to follow the Centre Ville signs and then head out on the Southern Ringroad towards Pont L'Abbé, and look for the Lanniron sign.  I was fine with the Centre Ville signs.  Then they disappeared.  As the signs are on the exits only Grasshopper's sharp long distance eyes could sort where we needed to go out of the dozens of place names (all written in very thin letters) listed on every sign.   Of course the signs don't say Southern Ringroad (why would they?).  Clever G worked out that the Sud Ouest was the way we needed to go and then it was just a case of travelling as slowly as was decently possible and keeping les yeux skinned for the very tiny Lanniron signs.  All of a sudden there was the final swing off the road, we left the horrendous traffic behind, drove through les portails and pulled up with great relief in front of the Reception at L'Orangerie de Lanniron.
Determined to state who we were, and give our booking details in French,  I had practised whole sentences in my best French accent for several days.  I can report to mes amis that I delivered what was needed with la confiance.  Unfortunately I must have given the impression that I could speak and more importantly understand French.  The smiling receptionist called my bluff and delivered a lengthy response that definitely included a question.
Grasshopper said mon visage took on the expression of a buddha.  There was a fairly long embarrassed silence until I managed to splutter out my preferred standby in moments of terror ''Pardon Madame je ne comprends pas, mon francais est très mauvais!!''

Fortunately Anna was very good humoured, spoke perfect English, and even allowed me to continue trying to speak to her in French over the next seven days.  I like to think I improved, but Anna may tell you differently.

As le camping is situated on the vast acres of a grand château, Anna biked with us to show us les emplacements and helped us choose one of a suitable size and position.  We straight away hit it off with Jan and Terry who were pitched nearby (more of them later).   Soon we were settled in with the awning up, a meal made and a glass of red at the ready.

Setting up Camp at L'Orangerie

L'Orangerie had only opened for the season a few days earlier, so when we met Jan and Terry and another couple for a drink later at the bar we found it rather poorly stocked.  Although there was one bottle of red wine on a shelf we were told it was just for show.  I managed with rosé.  There were four pumps for beer but nothing in them, so Grasshopper coped with a bottle.  The drinks were also very expensive considering this is France and they just about give the stuff away.  So we only had one.  This and the extortionate cost of WiFi were the only negative points we found about staying at L'Orangerie.  As a result we didn't drink at the bar and couldn't access the internet until we finally found a McDonalds (free WiFi). Even then it was a bit of a trek on the hellish roads (that we got lost on every time we went out), hence the news blackout.

If the management team at L'Orangerie is interested in feedback that could improve business why not offer free WiFi in the vicinity of the bar?  People using the internet would buy tea, coffee, soft and alcoholic drinks if they were available and reasonably priced.

Everything else about the place was fantastic.  Please read my next blog to see why.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Et maintenant mes amis, en France!

Of course we arrived at Portsmouth three hours too early for the ferry to St.Malo.  Well you need plenty of time for stops at our age.  There were cars already in line when we arrived but we were first in the queue for caravans and motorhomes.  Of course we had an advantage over the cars.  We could make cheese and ham sarnies and cups of tea, but once that was done what to do?  We still had 2 hours and 30 mins until cast off.  So we sampled the delights of the loos and Costa coffee in the spanking new terminal.  Both excellent. 

First in Line and Three Hours to Go
We knew from past experience because of the size of Wanda and Daffy that we would be last to board (apart from the pantechnics, or pantechniques en France?) and so we were.  We'd booked a cabin so managed to sleep for few hours.  But first we tried out le francais at the bar (well any idiot can manage 'je voudrais deux verres de vin rouge' can't they?).  Of course they confounded us by offering deux varieties (in french) so we took pot luck and tried to repeat one of them in a devil-may-care french way.  Anyway what we got tasted fine, so 'heureux jours' et 'a votre sante'.  I can't put the graves and accents in this using blogger, so my attempts at writing French doesn't look right.  Can anyone help?

Kirkharle - Birthplace of British Landscape Architecture?

You already know of Lancelot Capability Brown.  If his name is unfamiliar to you (although how many people call their children Lancelot Capability?) his style of gardening will not be.  Perhaps you have enjoyed strolling through the rolling acres around  Blenheim Palace, Longleat or Chatsworth.  Although the land around these and other great houses appears to be as nature intended for true English countryside, the harmony between open space, trees and water is as a result of Capability Brown's vision and perhaps his formative years in the North East of England.

We love scenery like this.  Mam had been before to Kirkharle, Capability Brown's birthplace, and was happy to go again, so one beautiful morning in April we strapped ourselves in the little yellow car and drove from Hexham, towards Morpeth on the B6342.  The scenery along the route is as you would expect for this part of Northumberland, breathtaking.  You travel up hill and down dell, alongside green fields edged with dry stone walls.  The open spaces are broken by mixed woodland and dramatic everygreen forests. At this time of year cherry trees are in blossom, majestic chestnuts and copper beech are in bright leaf and lime green willows reach towards fast flowing streams.

We pulled into the car park and wanting to stretch our legs, headed first towards the lake.  This has been developed from what is thought to be one of Capability Brown's first designs, drawn when he was 23 but never used until now.  The plan was rediscovered in 1980 by the current landowners.  The design has been adapted to take account of modern needs, including the A696 which obviously did not exist in the late 1730s when Brown drew the plan.  Sympathetic planting of trees will in time mask the road and give shape to Capability's ideas. 

Unfortunately the house where Capability was born in 1716 is no more.  It is thought to have been situated somewhere in the area where the car park is now.  His father was a tennant and employee of the then landowners - the Loraines.  Capability lived and worked at Kirkharle until he was 23.  Within 2 years of leaving he was Head Gardener for Lord Cobham of Stowe.  Although you are unable to physically see his first home, you can walk in his footsteps and see some of what he saw that shaped his ideas and our appreciation of English landscaped gardens.

The courtyard area is home to artists and craftspeople although unfortunately when we were there a number of the units were closed.  However we admired the paintings, antiques, bespoke furniture and other works of art in a couple of galleries. There were some dramatic sculptures in and around one unit, but no one was around to ask about them. 

When Mam had done enough walking we went to the very nice coffee shop in one of the buildings for a homecooked lunch.  There was a good choice from dishes of the day, salads, paninis, sandwiches, cakes and scones.  It was fairly busy with business people as well as those just enjoying a day out. 

I forgot to take my camera that day, but click on for photos and more information about Kirkharle Lake and Courtyard.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

North East Attractions (as well as Hadrian's Wall)

Just Good Friends
We had no grumbles about the weather when we stayed at Fallowfield Dene in Acomb this time.  Every day was warm and sunny.  Perfect for exploring the area - and there is plenty to see and do.  Apart from the fantastic scenery and of course Roman forts along Hadrian's wall (Chesters has the most amazing and large collection of Roman artifacts) there are many simple pleasures to be found as you travel around.  What could be nicer than a pleasant drive on quiet and good roads, then a walk alongside green fields, followed by a homemade ice cream and a stroke of the cows that gave the milk for your iced confection?

Sis and I did just that when we visited Vallum Farm off the Military Road (B6318).  They also do meals, homebaked cakes and snacks in the log cabin tea room.  There is also a big play area for children and seats outside, so it is a fun trip out for families in school hols.  Other interesting businesses on the farm site include a fish and game smokery, and a dog hydrotherapist!  You could check out their website for details and a map.  I've tried the link from this post and it doesn't work so it would be best if you search for it yourself.
A target for walkers off the Military Road
Drive the other way towards Cumbria along the Military Road and you'll reach a sign for Lanercost pointing to the right.  You just have to take that road.  Lanercost Priory is a ruin now, but a big one.  Part of it was re-roofed in the 19th century and is now the parish church which is fully used today. 

Lanercost Parish Church and Priory

You'll be treated to wonderful scenery (well monks always chose the best sites didn't they?).  Grasshopper and I had a fascinating and varied trip there.   While we were touring the church the organist was practising, so we enjoyed a free musical treat.  Fans of the Arts and Crafts movement will be interested in the three windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris's company.  The ruins and graveyard capture the imagination.  Some of the stones used in building the Priory were 'recycled' from Hadrian's Wall.  You can see the Roman markings on a few. 

There are some very old tombs, and a heart rending but beautiful effigy in terracotta of baby Elizabeth Dacre Howard who died at only four months in July 1883.

The Priory has had a turbulent history.  Frequently attacked by the Scots (including Robert the Bruce), it housed Edward 1 and his retinue for five months in 1306-7 on their journey north to fight.  This strained the priory's resources.  Then Henry V111 did his worst and the Priory passed to the Dacre family who made part of it into a comfortable home. 

The Dacre Great Hall (on the first floor of the building next to the church) is now a very unusual village hall.  We were lucky it was open to visitors that day.  There are faint remnants of wall paintings dating from the sixteenth century and a huge fireplace.  When we visited, one of the village ladies was cleaning the diamond paned windows.  Quite a task.  The hall was to be decorated for a wedding that was being held there later in the week.  What an atmospheric place for a reception.

Next door to the Priory off the main road is a lovely tearoom, restaurant and shop selling very smart gifts and local produce (also of course, ice-cream).  It was lunchtime when we arrived so I chose Caesar Salad.  Grasshopper had a panini.  There was a huge pot of strong tea, which they were happy to top up with more hot water.
Time for Lunch at Lanercost

View of Lanercost Priory from the River

There is plenty of parking, so you can leave your car at the cafe while you tour the priory, church and village hall.  We also walked through the nearby pasture to the meandering river.  There were new lambs to coo over and some fancy hens in a pen.  The view back across the field to the priory and the  gentle hills in the background is very easy on the eye. 

We left to drive back to Fallowfield Dene feeling uplifted and relaxed.  A great day out.

Artistic Northumberland

Sis and I had fun visiting some of the alternative (to Hadrian's Wall) attractions in Northumberland.  This beautiful and diverse county is a magnet to talented artists and craftspeople who draw their inspiration from the land and seascapes and the resourceful people in the North East. 

We had a wonderful day at 'The Hearth' in Horseley Village

We visited on one of their open days.  Everyone with studios and workshops there were happy to talk about their work and methods and answer my daft questions.  Obviously retail therapy opportunities were available.  Most of the artists and craftspeople run workshops around the North East, so if you are lucky enough to live locally or fancy having a great summer holiday learning a new skill I can't think of a better place learn it.  There are 'Art Tour' open events throughout June and July.  To find out more go to  I'm sure you will have all your cultural, creative, spiritual and historical needs satisfied and have great fun participating. 

Take a few extra layers.  The sun shines brightly, but the wind can cut across from the North Sea.  If you are like Sis and me you love warm and cosy clothing.  Sis spins wool from natural fleeces and then knits it!!  One of her favourite suppliers was to be found at The Hearth.  Was that why she suggested a day out there?  Anyway glorious fleeces with natural dyes (done in a tin bath the night before) were purchased and are being stroked and contemplated right now by Sis prior to actual spinning and knitting.  If this appeals to you too go to

Mandy Patullo at Work
Mandy Patullo who does fantastic applique, embroidery and handstitching work had so much to show and was happy to spend time with us. Sis has already been on one of her workshops and plans to do more. 
David Holliday in his Studio
I loved David Holliday's watercolour paintings - if I had money, his work would be some I would choose.  His landscapes and townscapes remind me of places I grew up in and near.  I was particularly drawn to his painting of the Swing Bridge across the Tyne.  See it on

Sis bought me irrisistible Earl Grey Tea handmade soap from Ceri at the Oakwood Soaperie  All the soaps and skin care products are made with gorgeous essential oils.  I also found another great use for Ceri's body butter cake.  Not only is it very moisturising on dry skin, I found it great for smoothing and separating newly washed hair.  It definitely calms my frizz!

Everything I saw and learned on The Hearth open day was fascinating.    Click on the first link to find out about the artists, jewellery makers and printmakers I haven't mentioned here.  We also enjoyed homemade soup and refreshing elderflower presse at The Hearth's cafe.  If you fancy a bar meal and a drink with more kick, the Lion and Lamb pub is right across the road.  Free WiFi is offered there too.