Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Last month

 This is a long rambling post, 
written over a couple of weeks (or more).

It seems a long time ago now, but last month Henry and I managed to get away for a short holiday. So much is happening here at Strickley, with progress on the new building being "steady" that memories of time spent across the sea are fading fast.

This was our almost annual get together of girls I was at college with in the late Sixties. Some manage to meet up more regularly (the retirees), but we can't always get away. Sometimes we are the hosts (no travelling or time off work, but a lot of cleaning up), but this time we were going to a posh hotel in Northern Ireland, organised by Helen who lives in County Down.

Six young at heart girls and their partners made their way by various means of transport to County Fermanagh. We were up at the crack of dawn (managing to get through the yard before the cows came in) and headed up to Cainryan. We stopped for a packed breakfast (that sounds much odder than a packed lunch!) and passed through security and into line to wait for the ferry.

We felt like old hands as we drove on - having done this once before four years ago.

We parked below deck and scrambled up the steep stairs to get a window seat at the front of the boat.
We settled down with coffee and cake as we left Scotland on what was to be an uneventful calm crossing.

We were heading for Fermanagh and having vaguely looked at the map, put the postcode into the car's SatNav. All would have been OK, if someone hadn't built a new stretch of road on the outskirts of Larne. The built in navigator kept telling us to turn right, but it was a strictly no right turn dual carriage way. Eventually we got back on track and headed west. There was another little detour at Toomebridge, when after accidentally going the wrong way down a one way street, we opted for the scenic route. I should mention that although we were on holiday, we had a timetable to keep to. I had ordered Afternoon Tea at the hotel for three o'clock. We would soon have been back on schedule, if we hadn't got behind a long line of cars following a tractor and trailer. These farmers get everywhere.Eventually he turned off and we had a couple of miles of clear road. Then we came upon a Vintage Rally - and a little old tractor just leaving. We trundled along knowing/hoping that he wouldn't be going the same way as us.

Eventually we got back on the main road and had a more or less straightforward run to the hotel. At least to part of the hotel. We knew we were on the right road and when we saw a sign saying "Manor House Country Hotel" we turned off and headed up the drive, at just about three o'clock. We found a parking space near the entrance and went to check in. There did seem to be a lot of smartly dressed people milling around, and when I had shuffled through them and into reception, I found out why. This was the entrance to the Wedding Suite and the bride and groom were due shortly. So it was back to the car and round to the main entrance.

There was a queue of wedding guests waiting to check in, and as we knew our room wouldn't be ready for an hour I asked a smartly dressed waiter where Afternoon Tea was served. He had been on the lookout for us and led us through to the conservatory and we sat down to relax. What followed was absolutely amazing. A cake stand full of wondrous things - one for each of us.

That was the start of a magical three days. The hotel was everything we had hoped for - a large room, a comfy bed, wonderful food and friendly staff. We were the first of our party to arrive (having come a day early) and had come prepared to host a bit of a get together the next day. I felt sorry for the young porter who helped us with our bags. Sparkling wine (English of course) weighs quite a lot. After unpacking and a rest we looked forward to a soak in the bath and the evening meal.

Our room overlooked Lough Erne.

Next morning, after a leisurely and late breakfast we thought we ought to buy a few more nibbles to go with our drink, so set off to M&S in Enniskillen. But shoppers are late risers in Ireland and it didn't open until one o'clock. So we had a quick look at our map and decided to drive round the lake. We had no planned route and when we saw a sign that said "Forest Drive" we followed it. We soon lost any sense of direction as the road wound up into the trees. The trees were fully grown and towered all around us, There were signs to view points along the way,and if the cloud had lifted and the rain had stopped we would have seen some magnificent views.

From the Magho Cliffs viewpoint we should have been able to see our hotel (in the bottom photo)

Maybe we'll return one day in better weather. We did see odd glimpses of the sun, but too little.

It was mainly driving rain, and photos quickly snatched between sweeps of the windscreen wipers.

Eventually we headed out of the forest and back round the lough to the comfort of our hotel.

While one of us recovered from the rigours of being on holiday I got ready for our not exactly a cocktail party and then we spent the late afternoon picking up conversations we started nearly fifty years ago. We're all older and have followed different paths (though not so different - I'm the one who didn't stick at teaching), but whatever drew us together at Clough Hall at Edge Hill is still there. A brief break to change and we carried on in the Bistro, then took a break form talking to indulging in another continuing trend from years ago - playing canasta. The hotel let us have one of the Seminar rooms and armed with drinks and savoury and sweet treats we paired off and fought it ought. Despite sitting too far from my partner (Henry) to kick him,  when he didn't put down the card I expected we proved we hadn't lost the knack of winning.

Another good nights sleep and breakfast and we were ready to see more of Western Ireland. We headed off north and west round the lough, pausing to take photos of the cliffs we been on top of yesterday. At least that was what I thought. In reality Henry had spotted a bin where he could dispose of yesterday's empty bottles (instead of shocking the hotel staff by leaving them in the room). But here's a fuzzy picture anyway

We passed through Beleek and into another country - the only indications being kilometre speed limits and slightly different road signs. And beeps on my phone. We were heading out towards the sea and The Wild Atlantic Way.

Four years ago we had seen the Atlantic at it's wildest, at Malin Head as the tail end of Hurricane Catriona hit the coast, so I was hopeful for some more dramatic photographs, We reached the coast at Bundoran and travelled south to Mullaghmore.

The waves were rolling in, but not very spectacularly, and the only wildness came from the sudden heavy showers.

It was now some time since out not insubstantial breakfast so we started to look fro somewhere to eat, and as we approached Sligo we found the perfect place - Henry's Bar.

We skimmed past Sligo and detoured to Strandhill, In summer this seems to be a surfers' paradise, with shops/hostels/training centres down the street to the sea. There was one brave soul out in the water, but unfortunately he fell of and disappeared just as pressed the shutter.

Mindful of the time we resisted the urge to go just a bit farther south and onto the N17 - just so we could sing along. Maybe next time. We drove back to the hotel on narrow twisty roads through villages all called Ballysomething which made reading signposts crucial.

Back at the hotel we wallowed in the bath (only one at a time - it wasn't as big as the Strickley one) and put on our finest clothes ready for an evening of fine dining. The dining room was in the conservatory and the ceiling was covered in stars and reflections of the diners.

So, Henry though this was an ideal opportunity to take the ultimate Selfie. After much trial and error, swivelling round on his chair, pointing upwards and vociferous input from the subjects, he manged to get us all in.

It won't win any prizes, but it's a unique reminder of our time together.

Next day we all moved on, most making their way back to England. We were heading for a couple of days at the hotel we stayed at four years ago at Limavady in County Antrim. So after a quick look at the map we headed off in a vague north easterly direct through The Sperrins  This was a different landscape to the green forests and hills of Fermanagh and felt quite remote in places, so it was a shock to suddenly see a sign to Limavady and realise we were almost there.

We staggered from the car park, through the long corridors to reception with our bags (still heavy with "essential supplies", having forgotten about the drop off point). We collected our key card and tried to book a table in the restaurant, noted for it's food. But it seemed times had changed and it was only open at weekends. So we had to eat in the "Brasserie". Now I've nothing against Pub Grub (especially some pubs near home), but having expected a proper restaurant and well cooked and presented food, it was a disappointment. The food was average (and so was the service and ambience). It was no place for my posh frock.

But, on the positive side, our room/suite was wonderful. We had splashed out a bit, but it was well worth it. If only the food had matched it . . .. And of course we had our own "essential supplies" and glasses.

Four years ago we had planned to visit the Giants Causeway, but car problems (thank you AA!) and a distillery tour at Bushmills, meant we ran out of time. But this time we drove past Bushmills and headed out towards the coast. The National Trust have created a visitor centre, and while impressive to look at, was a bit expensive (£9 - and no concessions for OAPs).

For an extra pound we took the bus down to the rocks. I was a bit surprised by the size of the formations, having always imagined it to be bigger. And we were more than a bit surprised by the crowds. It was midweek, late September and a drizzly day and it was teeming. School parties and coachloads of different nationalities. It was difficult to take any photographs that didn't include them. But I suppose we were on other people photos.

But some are a bit better . .

After heading back up to the visitor centre and buying a scarf (you can never have too many), we doubled back to Bushmills so Henry could spend some money. No tour this time, just a visit to the shop.

Then it was back the Causeway Coastal Route and heading south. There are some magnificent views down this route, and having previously only travelled it northwards, there were was plenty of opportunities for photo stops. This is Dunseverick Castle

And White Park Bay

and zooming in to see the cattle on the beach

and looking East

We followed the road south, turning off towards Torr Head

The road narrowed and wound down towards the coast, past the old coastguards house.

I stayed by the car while Henry bounded upwards to the old lookout station, where he could capture the 360 degree views.

From here continued south to Cushenden, but as the weather was worsening and time running out, we headed across country back to our hotel.

Looking at the map and following road signs took us through yet more different countryside - bleak moorland. We came back down to the main roads and back to the hotel and another indifferent meal (boil in the bag Thai curry? and the economical version of Beef Strogonoff).

And that was it - the end of our short holiday. A  drive south took us to Larne and the ferry home. The crossing was calm, but the weather worsened. The rainbow stretched all the way from Ireland to Scotland.

But as we sailed nearer to Cairnryan the weather cleared.

And then three and a half hours in driving rain back to Strickley.

Well done if you've got this far! And once again, please excuse my ramblings.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Escape to Harrogate

It's as if we've never been away - Henry is out in the barn with James cutting/grinding/hacking something for the new building (which is progressing, albeit slowly - maybe two more weeks?).

But - we're not long back from our night away (having called in at Booths on the way back for the weekly shop).

Henry is an avid fan of Squeeze Official (always has been since the 70's) - and I'm not at all averse. So when the new tour was announced I was poised and ready to click when the ticket sale went live. I thought I was doing well to get two seats in the centre of row B - but did even better than well as it turned out there was no row A - so we were on the front row. I know some people say the sound is better in the middle of the stalls, but nothing compares to being right there at the front - especially with a lowish stage.

We left home as soon as Henry had finished work (about 12) and stopped off for lunch at The Bull at Broughton, arriving at the Holiday Inn in Harrogate just in time to check in. I don't know why, but we were upgraded to an "Executive Club Room" (maybe it was our posh Barbour/Landrover luggage). So there was a comfy chair for me and a large comfy bed for Henry to instantly fall asleep on.
The hotel is about 20 yards from the venue so we had plenty of time to have refreshing drink before we strolled across. We knew that all the shows were being recorded and CD's of the show would be available right after the show. So we ordered one and went to sit in our very comfy seats. The show was a sellout, but not all the seats were taken for the support act - Doctor John Cooper Clarke. He was OK - but maybe better in small doses.

So a quick dash to the toilet in the break (and a long wait in a long queue) and we were geared up and ready to go.

The next two hours went by in a whirl - old songs, new songs, songs we had forgotten about - all performed with joyous abandon and great showmanship. About a third of the way through we were urged to stand and move around. This is when being at the front comes into it's own - I was able to dance, clap, wave and sing with the best of them (with occasional leanings on the stage). The final song finished with the band unplugging their instruments, marching round the stage and off through the stalls to the foyer, where they sat ready to talk and sign albums etc.
Being at the front we were able to pick up one of the set lists.
I put my plan into action - Henry joined the signing queue and I headed for the Merchandise Stall to collect the Live CD and a vinyl album.
I joined Henry in the queue and briefly spoke to the band while they signed my set list, vinyl and live CD.

Then it was a short stagger back to our room and a couple of drinks to recuperate.
On the way home this morning we listened to the CD in the car - and it really was like reliving last night.
As you will have gathered from this rambling - we had a wonderful time. (And we get to do it all again next month when Bellowhead are at Harrogate - you have been warned.)

I only grabbed a couple of photos - the show was too good to view through a lens - so here's one.

Just a quick diary note -

This month the cows have been split into "highs" and "lows" as the new cubicle housing is not ready for them.

The Highs stayed in over night on Thursday 15th October, but still went out during the day. Tonight they are staying in all day.

The Lows will be out for about another fortnight - then in the new building!