Monthly Archives: January 2015

On to the East coast…..

ON TO THE EAST COAST

Having enjoyed the meeting at Jordans I returned to Thebus and was then confronted with a problem.  My googling of the previous evening had shown me there were few, if any suitable places to turn round if I went up the road, and where I was it was just too dangerous to perform a three point turn, not that I would have managed to turn in three, or possibly even thirty three goes.  The option was to  reverse up the road and use the junction about fifty yards back, which was even nearer the blind corner.  So I would have to wait till the traffic slowed down.  Well slow down is not the correct word, as in the south drivers tend never to slow down, no matter what time of day or night it is – I suppose ‘thin out’ might be better.

We waited and waited, then waited some more.  I did finally risk it at gone midnight, though I was lucky to have completed my manoeuvre just before another car came whisking round the bend.  But, the benefit of all this is that I have discovered that between 12.30 and 2.30 is a good time to travel.  It had been my intention to get out of the layby I had been stuck in, and drive on to park up with the lorries at the first available opportunity, get some sleep then start out early next morning.  Of course the first layby I came to was nose to tail HGVs, and the next, and the next, and then I was straight on to the motorway system.

But the good thing was that pretty well all the lorry drivers were off the roads tucked up in the lay-bys, most of the early morning workers had not got going, and that just left a few late night revellers, and those going to and from the airports, so all in all it was a very relaxing time to drive, especially on the M25.  I shall use this knowledge to my benefit in the future.

I was heading over to the east coast at Leigh on Sea, well Old Leigh on Sea to be more precise.  A bit of googling had lead me to believe this was a rather scenic little fishing port, plus there was a chance of some nice seafood.  Always ready to try some nice food, especially fresh shellfish we headed in that direction.

As it was the scenic part of town I was going to, plus anywhere in the South East is almost impossible to stop in I spent quite a lot of time researching places to park up at, and even phoned the local authority, who I have to say were no help at all.  The upshot was that I put in the postcode for what looked to be a suitable carpark just past the train station, where there were no height restrictions and the charge was around £3 a day, or £6 for me as we would need two spaces.  Strict Lady did pretty well, until of course the last mile or so, but I switched her off and followed the signs for Long Term parking by the railway station and we ended up at a biggish looking carpark, though nearer the station than I imagined.  Plus the charges were higher, but then the internet is not always up to date.

I have to say the upright and very solid looking metal poles flanking the exceedingly narrow entrance did not fill me with delight, especially at just gone two in the morning, but with very careful driving we got in.  The carpark was large and almost empty, but was right next to the platform and rail line which I hadn’t expected.  While I was mooching around it a white van tore up behind me, passed, and pulled into the far corner, then to my surprise drove off again.  I wondered if it was a courting couple put off by having someone else potentially near them and busied myself finding a place with two end to end spaces which were also on the end of a row, so I could get out when the carpark was full.  Then found sufficient coins for the fee of over ten pounds.  Finding the ticket machine in the dark was not easy either, and I was just feeding it when the same white van tore in and rushed over to the far corner again, where someone climbed in.

It occurred to me they were security men, and hoped they weren’t going to be patrolling like that for the rest of the night, but in fact we neither saw nor heard them again, and later I wondered if they had been watching of CCTV, saw us and thought we might be the advance guard of a horde of travellers and had come down to sort us out – I think it is probably a cockle picking area, and perhaps they get trouble with them as in Scotland – but when they saw me with my walking stick putting money into the machine realised we were pretty harmless and left us alone.

I felt a bit wound up after my late night journey so stayed up for a while to have a hot drink and relax, so didn’t get to be till around 3am and so it definitely wasn’t ‘up betimes’.

Jordans Quaker Meeting House, Buckinghamshire

JORDANS QUAKER MEETING HOUSE

Back in the early 1980’s I met a lovely lady doctor who introduced me to homoeopathy.  She always had time to speak to you, as well as discuss your ailments, and I discovered that although she had been brought up Church of England, she had decided to become a Quaker – and ever since then I had been meaning to attend a Meeting of Friends.

Having left Taplow I intended to drive over towards the East Coast just above Canvey Island, and just below Southend-on-Sea.  And it wouldn’t be much of a detour to go via Jordans, a small village close to Chalfont St Giles, where there was a very early Quaker building, and being Sunday I would be able to attend a meeting as well.

I knew the lanes would be both narrow and busy, and spent quite a lot of time on Google Earth trying to check it out, but all I succeeded in doing was ascertaining there would be nowhere for me to park.  I did telephone, but think I got through to the central offices rather than Jordons Meeting House, and it being Saturday the offices were closed.  So once again Strict Lady was set up with the postcode, and hoping for the best we set off just as the sky was beginning to lighten.

It was only thirty minutes or so from Taplow and being Sunday morning I was relying on most folk still being abed, and so it proved.  When it looked as though we were about half a mile away there was a muddy layby, well not so much a layby as somewhere a continual pulling in of vehicles had flattened the verge to the extent it acted as a layby.  Still, that would have to do – I was pretty certain I wouldn’t get closer without getting into real trouble when turning round.

I waited there until about three quarters of an hour before the ten thirty meeting, then unloaded the scooter and set off as quickly as I could up the dangerously bendy B road, which by now had plenty of fast moving traffic on it.  The building itself was literally only a couple of hundred yards from where I had parked, so I arrived good and early and not only did I have time for a chat with the lovely lady who opened the doors for me, but also a wander round to take some pictures before the service.

It’s a serene and calm spot.  Apparently when religious dissent was frowned on, burial in consecrated ground was not permitted, and a kind farmer had allowed one of his fields to be used for Quaker burials.  In 1688 the law was changed and any faith allowed to build its own ‘church’. The Quakers of the area lost no time and built a simple meeting house, which has been very little altered over the years, though the roof had to be restored after a recent devastating fire.

This calm and simple interior was the perfect backdrop for the meeting, which involves sitting in companionable silence together waiting on God, though if anyone has something they wish to share with the meeting they simply stand up and share it.  After about an hour everyone shakes hands, then adjourns for coffee and a chat in the attached building, an adapted barn which was changed after the fire to make a nice bright airy meeting room and offices.

William Penn was one of the early Quakers here, and is buried along with his wife and five of his children.  From a little reading it would appear he was the somewhat wayward son of Admiral Penn who had been instrumental in re-instating Charles II.  A while later Charles granted William the charter for what is now Pennsylvania.  Penn had wanted to name it Sylvania as it was so beautifully wooded – hence sylvan, but Charles said he should add his own name and it became Pennsylvania.

It was William Penn who signed a treaty with the indigenous Indian population and both communities lived in harmony throughout his lifetime – though he was not without troubles of his own, and returned to England where he died some years later, apparently penniless, though still Governor of Pennsylvania.

The January morning I visited was still and crisp, giving a beautiful frosting to the mossy lawn and russet oak leaves trapped amongst the longer grasses.  The first of the snowdrops were through, though still flattened from the bitter night before, and the well used badger track came in through the hedge and travelled straight as an arrow across the burial ground.

 

The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace

THE STATE ROOMS OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE

Having visited London the day before to see Cirque du Soleil I was feeling more confident about my ability to get about, so, knowing the trains left for London every half hour, and allowing a half hour to walk to the station, then the train journey and taxi to Buckingham Palace I started out at one o’clock to arrive for my four thirty entrance to the Palace.

As I approached the station I became aware that no train had passed whilst I had been walking along side the railway line, and thinking one might be due at any minute and I would miss it by seconds, then have a half hour sitting on the platform, I increased my pace to its maximum.

Good, no train yet, so it would be here any minute.  I walked on up towards the London end – (see I am a quick learner) and found a seat next to a young lady busy texting, and settled down to wait, checking the time of the next incoming train.  But nothing on the board, then it flashed up and there was about a quarter of an hour to go.  Then, a bit later came a message about delays, and the train was put back by half an hour.  Chatting with the nice young lady next to me it transpired that she had already been waiting for over an hour, and the train time kept being put back.  So we sat together and nattered a while, during which time nothing going in the London direction came through.

She was headed for work, and with only a three hour shift said if the train didn’t come soon it wouldn’t be worth going in at all.  As she only worked in Slough, and thought it might be easier for me to catch a train into London from there, we shared the cost of a taxi.  But sadly the trains had been delayed as someone had been hit further back up the line, so Slough was much the same, though when the train did eventually arrive I think it was a faster one.  There was plenty of time for me to wander round Slough station, and photograph the somewhat motheaten stuffed dog in a glass case, who had been brought to the station as a puppy and collected many pennies, I think for the Railway Widows and Orphans Fund.

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Eventually the train arrived though not before I was beginning to consider the possibility of a taxi from Slough to Buckingham Palace, but it got us there quickly and a taxi from the ranks soon delivered me to The Ambassadors Entrance.

The tour I had booked was a lot more expensive than the normal entrance fee, but the group was limited to thirty in number and we were then the only ‘tourists’ present – so accompanied by an articulate and well informed guide and a couple of minders it felt as though we had the palace to ourselves. The State Rooms are vast so our group fitted in one small corner, and thinking of the fact that some 400,000 people look round the palace in the eight weeks it is open in summer it was definitely worth the extra expense, plus you get a glass of champagne and free admission to the palace for a year.  Oh! and twenty percent off in the gift shop, though even with that I didn’t buy anything – but the stuffed corgis were going down a treat.  Toy ones that is not the real ones!

Here are a few more facts from the Souvenir Guide Book you are given at the end of the tour –

There are 775 rooms and 700 members of staff.  The 760 windows and 1,514 doors are cleaned every six weeks. The palace is 108 metres across the front and 120 meters deep, and there are two full time clock menders to wind and keep the clocks in order.

You wait at the gates to the Ambassadors Entrance and have your tickets checked then though a scanner before entering the palace to be seated on suitably gilded palace chairs until the entire group is assembled when you are taken through to the marble pillared hall.  Non of the ropes to hold one back and steer you though the rooms were there, so we could pretty well wander at will, though I was aware that we were constantly shepherd by the two assistant guides, and there were quite a few staff on duty in the first area, though all discretely placed.  You leave your overcoats and any bags in the cloakroom, though ladies are allowed to keep their handbags, and you can use the very nice loos.  In the ladies each of the individual basins had its own mirror, Molton Brown hand wash, extra thick hand towels and waste bin.

The we assembled back in the Marbled Hall, next to the Grand Hall, where 104 marble pillars, each carved from a single block of marble weighing up to 24 tonnes line the walls.  Through to the Grand Staircase, then up and on through a series of increasingly splendid State Rooms.  I have to say the souvenir booklet didn’t do justice to the size, and dazzling splendour of each of these rooms, and without all the ropes, and with just our group it was a magical experience, you really got to feel what it would be like to live in the palace.  The final room – The White Drawing Room was breathtaking in its magnificence, but at the same time you felt it would be a comfortable room to sit in beneath the largest and most beautiful chandelier, not only that I have ever seen, but that I could ever imagine.

Then back down to the Grand Hall for a glass of champagne, and I even got to sit on one of the silk banquettes, as by then the folding seat they had given me to take on the tour had disappeared.

As we weren’t allowed to take photos I have found some on the internet for you.  They are really good, and give an idea of the experience when looking round the State Rooms, though you still don’t get a feel of how impressively big everything is, and you get to see a lot, lot more on the actual tour.

http://www.eyerevolution.co.uk/blog/new-buckingham-palace-virtual-tours-in-celebration-of-the-royal-wedding/

And this is supposedly a virtual tour, though I don’t think it gives a true feeling of the rooms at all

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We weren’t rushed off at all but left at our leisure through the main doors, across the inner quadrangle, and out to mingle with the waiting gaggle of tourists.  Well worth doing and I highly recommend it unless you are an anti-monarchist in which case you would come out totally wound up and seething with rage 🙂

I got a few photos of the outside, though we were not allowed to switch on our cameras until safely out through the gates..  Then back to Paddington – as the tour of the palace is about a half mile walk and by now it was seven o’clock it was definitely taxi time.

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After my poor taxi hailing performance the day before I was determined this time and put out my hand firmly …. only to be completely ignored.  I waited until I saw another and tried waving my stick.  Same result.  I was not going to be beaten – and next passing taxi waived my Buckingham Palace carrier bag.

Okay ….. this required more determination, and a little artifice.  I moved up to a lamp post, and sort of lurked behind it, homing in on a taxi with its sign showing and waited until almost the last minute, then sprang out into the road in front of him, arm, stick and carrier bag all flailing.  I think he was so surprised he pulled over without thinking.  Right – technique firmly sorted, and embedded in memory banks.

Back at the station I wasn’t going to be caught out by ill-informed porters this time and headed for the notice boards in the centre.  Arrggghhh!.  The train was now boarding at the platform I had tried yesterday.  Going as fast as I could I hobbled towards it …. good luck catching it …..was the comment as I passed the ticket barrier, and of course I didn’t.  So back up again to check on the boards, a mistake as to which train etc, etc, but finally the right one, and a good sit down until Taplow, before another long stumble in the dark back to Thebus and the patiently waiting Phoebe.

But another good day and something else I am really glad I have experienced.

Cirque du Soleil – Royal Albert Hall

THE CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – KOOZA

The Harvester Breakfast is good, especially if you want to make a real pig of yourself, which I didn’t, but basically for £4.99 plus £2.25 for unlimited fruit juice and hot drinks you can eat as much as you want from the entire breakfast range.  I choose a normal cooked breakfast, fruit juice and toast and marmalade which was plenty to keep me going till I needed to start out on the scooter to reach the station.

But on arriving there was nowhere to leave the scooter.  I knew from previous enquires there was no chance of getting it to London on the train.  So annoyingly I had to drive back again, and then pay £10 for a taxi.  Still we got there, though now there wasn’t much time left to walk across Hyde Park which had been my intention.  Those of you who know London will realise that I had no chance of getting across to The Royal Albert Hall from Paddington on foot anyway, and before I even got out of the station I realised that as well and headed back to the taxi rank.  Still I got driven across Hyde Park so that was something.

So from having probably been too late and flustered, I was now far too early.  Although I was not hungry after my big cooked breakfast I managed to force down a slice of their rather nice carrot cake and another coffee whilst chatting to two very bubbly ladies who had also come to see the show.  After a pleasant time spent with them the doors opened good and early, so I went to find my seat.

It really is a most magnificent building, and even sitting there watching it fill up before the show is an experience .  I took a little video clip of the interior, and you can see the Royal Box is only a couple of spaces along –  Its the one with the dark purple rather than red curtains – though there was no royalty in attendance  for my showing.

I saw the two ladies I met earlier getting seated down in the rows close to the stage, so I expect they had a terrific time, as the clowns were racing up and down the aisles and even leaping over some of the chairs, throwing popcorn, and firing cannons with paper streamers over all those closest to the stage.

The show itself was fantastic in the true sense of the word.  How the performers managed to do what they did is almost beyond belief, except they did it right in from of my eyes, and in front of thousands of others too.  Even the sound, though exceptionally loud, as is the fashion nowadays, was not unbearable, and completely undistorted, though the whole building shook and reverberated.  Of course no photographs were allowed, and they made a very specific announcement forbidding it because of danger to the performers as well as the normal reasons, though that didn’t stop the lady behind me taking one at a very precarious moment for the acrobats and with a flash on!  An attendant came in during the interval to chastise her, but she wouldn’t own up till he had gone, even though we all knew it was her.

And although I am sure the acrobats are practice perfect there really were some death defying moments.  I think at one point they had a high wire with two trick cyclists balanced on it, with a pole between them and another acrobat balanced on a chair on the pole, doing acrobatics !!!  My hands actually hurt from clapping.  The lady sitting next to me, and who amazingly also had a motorhome which she drove on her own, gave me some cooling cleanser for them, and I have to say I really needed it.  – I was exhausted from just watching the show.

This is a much better video than I could take but gives a much better idea than my poor little clip at the end of this post

When the entire troupe came out to take the final bow I was amazed at how few of them there were, the acts were so diverse I thought there would be fifty or sixty of them, but there were only around thirty, maybe less.

Getting home after the show was even more problematic.

On the way in I had asked about taxis home and was just told there would be lots outside in the street.  I think I must have misunderstood where, and walked past them, and I have to say I have never in my life had to ‘hail’ a cab, though I know how it should be done.  But whether as a sole, and not young, lady I look like a poor tipper, not one would stop and they continually just drove on past, even though their lights were on.  I went all the way back in to the hall to ask again, but the men on the desks were not that bothered, and in the in end I thought I would try walking.  I had got over the Serpentine and a bit further on, but stopping a nice guy to ask how much further it was he thought it would be too far for me , and kindly stopped the next cab.

By now I was feeling pretty tired and arriving at Paddington, headed for the platforms we had come in on to ask one of the ticket guys on the barrier where the train back to Taplow left from.  I think there was a mix up, and in the end I had to walk as fast as I could (which is not very) all the way round the other side of the lines.  Still – I did catch the train, and after nearly an hour to recover I felt too mean to pay another £10 for less than half a mile up the road, and slowly made it back over the incredibly uneven, and surprising dark and  unlit pavements.  Who ever is in charge of the approaches to Taplow Station needs a severe talking to, and I might just be the one to do it!

Still a most enjoyable evening with the Cirque du Soleil and one I shan’t forget.

 

Let down by the caravan site…..

LET DOWN BY THE CARAVAN SITE

When I visited the Royal Albert Hall to see Carmina Burana, I had taken the afternoon tour, then had a snack in the cafe there whilst waiting for the doors to open for the evening performance.  Sitting chatting to a nice couple I was sharing the table with, there in the background there was an endless loupe playing past performances, one of which was The Circe de Soleil.  Even though I wasn’t strictly watching it I think it must have somehow got into my subconscious, and when the Royal Albert emailed me with a flier I thought how wonderful it would be to see it ‘in the round’ so to speak.

Booking what appeared to be the last ticket with a good view, I found I would be seated in the box just next door to my last visit.

Arranging with  campsite I had used last time about when to expect me, I telephoned a couple of weeks prior to the night just to confirm and there was no answer, plus my messages were not returned.  I kept trying at odd hours and eventually got through to receive some sort of mumbled reply that they had some problems with the council, and weren’t doing it anymore!!!  Eeeekkkk!  Especially, as after having booked for the Circe de Soleil, I thought a visit to Buckingham Palace would be good and found that the very last ticket available before The Queen returned from Sandringham was for the day after, and had booked for that as well.  What to do now!

When I visited London with my brother last year and we had driven to Slough station to catch the London train, I had jokingly said I wondered if I could get Thebus in the parking there.  Thinking back it would certainly solve one problem if I could park by a station, as then I could just catch the train to London myself and get a taxi at the other end.

I did the Google Earth thing on Slough station, and there was a carpark within a manageable walk which had end to end spaces big enough to take Thebus.  So I was all set to do that, when I remembered the passing population at Slough railway station, and began to have serious doubts about leaving Thebus there for any length of time.  Many years ago, when presumably things were not so bad, I remember a friend telling me that the entire family had been sitting watching television one winters evening with his BMW parked right outside the lounge window, and hearing a bit of a noise he went out to find that some of the wheels had been removed.  Yet another eeeekkkkk!   I know Phoebe would be inside, but they might even steal her!

So Slough was off the list, what about stations further up the line?  Nothing closer to London looked any better, and most of their carpark looked too difficult to get into anyway.  Going the other way Taplow seemed as though it might fit the bill.   The carpark was small and I would have to park sideways on, but I could pay for four or five spaces

Someone suggested the Motorhome Sales people right by the station, but they couldn’t help, and also The Harvester pub.  I thought the station was my best bet as then I would be close for the trains, so putting the postcode into Strict Lady we set off.

Coming down from the north you use quite a lot of the motorway system as you approach London, and though it was my fault rather than Strict Lady’s I somehow took a wrong exit and we took a short tour of Heathrow Airport and environs, followed by another round the outskirts of London to get us back on track. So we eventually arrived at Taplow in the small hours.  Not of course that meant there was no traffic, but at least there was little enough that when I discovered there was NO chance of my getting Thebus onto their carpark unless I paid for every single space…. and as some were already occupied, even that was not an option.

Eventually I managed to turn round, and avoiding the low bridges in every direction, plus negotiating the hairpin bends we got back to the main road.  I drove on up in a desultory sort of way vaguely hoping there might be somewhere to park, though not feeling very optimistic and after a few miles gave up, turned round, and quietly crept into the almost (but not quite) empty carpark of the local Harvester Inn.  I was feeling pretty tired by now, but setting the alarm for six, so I could speak to any early morning staff and apologise for my being there I crept into bed.

The first to arrive was a large van, and popping out to see them it turned out they were builders on some renovation work, but they said it opened pretty early so I settled down to wait.  Some of the staff went in by the kitchen door and giving them time to get themselves sorted I went in and breakfast was being served.  Asking for a table and if I could speak to the manager the very pleasant lady who had shown me to my table said she was duty manager for the day, and when I explained my predicament and asked if I could park up she seemed to think it wouldn’t be a problem and so it proved, though I have to say I felt a bit twitchy about being there.

Star Spangled Spanner

STAR SPANGLED SPANNER

I bought Thebus just over a year ago, and when starting on my trip to Scotland, not wanting to return just to have the MOT done I decided to get it early, and travel without hindrance  Of course that was pretty well a year ago so the time was coming round when it would need to be done again.  Plus I still hadn’t travelled over to the kind folk at Star Spangled Spanner – is that one of the cleverest names you could imagine for a firm supplying parts for American RV’s.  They had helped me out when the awning had fallen off at the Burtonwood rally.  Not only taking the awning off for me, but transporting it back to Lincolnshire to await the parts necessary for its refitting.

So I headed over towards Lincoln, arriving in the early morning, down what appeared to be a country lane, and was except that the area was host to numerous poultry farms, and the very large delivery lorries taking in the tons and tons of food, and taking out the hundreds of thousands of eggs had also decided that the early morning was the easiest time to traverse the narrow lanes.  But we arrived safely and were dealt with promptly and efficiently.

Thebus was sorted and although it appeared his rear brakes had been stuck on for some time and had to be chiselled off – I look forward to better mileage in the future – and lots of his lightbulbs needed replacing ready for the MOT that was all done and he sailed through.

Whilst I waited for the work I planned my journeys for the next few days – tea and a visit to The Mansion House at Doncaster, a visit to a Medieval Manor house, a look round Lincoln and the cathedral there, then pop into Ely and on down towards London

What is the point of planning things?  Just as I was entering the postcode for my first port of call there was an urgent noise as the house water pump sprung into action.  It was fortunate I was sitting there, as in anticipation of the journey I had just filled the very large water tank up to the brim, and goodness knows what the place would have looked like had it all pumped out over the floor, which it would have done

The clip which held one of the pipes onto the kitchen taps had failed and popped off.  Fortunately I leapt up, and switched off the house pump, and other than a few drops of water into the cupboard under the sink that was it.  But it meant another day whilst the awkward tap was replaced with something stronger and more likely to last.

Nattering while waiting it turned out there was someone on site who may be able to help me with the lost data on my old laptop, so of course that was too good an opportunity to miss so I hung around for another couple of days, though unfortunately the photos that were lost seem to have remained lost.  Oh well!  Worth a try.

But it was a lovely peaceful place to stay.  Although there were quite a few folks there, and mostly with RV’s it seems a quiet laid back sort of a place.  Worth a visit for a relaxing few days even without needing repairs on the RV.

Then Phoebe was suddenly very ill.  She had been fine in the day, and whilst I was sitting up to the early hours trying to update last year’s journal by using the internet when there are less folks on and speeds faster -and she was still fine when I went to bed, but about four in the morning she woke me with the horrible retching cough she had last year before we started out, and which nearly saw her off.

Someone who helped me with the garden at the time usually brought her dog along and one day the dog was coughing badly.  Now I probably should have thought kennel cough, but I didn’t , and when Phoebe started retching a few days later – sounding quite different from the cough of the visiting dog – I just thought she had got indigestion from some rather rich feeding she was enjoying at the time.  The upshot was it really got a hold, and since then although she is over it sometimes it resurfaces.

 

When I got up in the morning she didn’t want to get out of bed, her heart was racing and breathing laboured.  Finding a vet at short notice is never easy.  Plus Phoebe is a bad enough traveller in Thebus, but goes into a flat spin if she has to travel in another vehicle, and  I wasn’t certain that her heart might possibly be involved as well, so didn’t want to stress her out dragging her to the vet.  Of course, though I phoned round I couldn’t get anyone to come out straight away.

Fortunately back at the end of 2013 before we started on our travels, when the stress of the move was bringing it all back (involving three midnight call outs to the vet, an intravenous drip, and three different courses of antibotics) I had asked for some medicine to take with us.  So suitably dosed up with some homoeopathic remedies, and a course of antibiotics started, plus telephone consultations with all and sundry, by about two in the afternoon she was looking much better, and by next morning no one would have thought anything had been wrong with her.  But she certainly had me worried.

Of course when I am ill, I just think I will soon better, but when its my dog its a different matter 🙂

The Bell Inn at Stilton – famous for cheese

THE BELL INN AT STILTON

Whittlesey being in the eastern part of the country I arranged to meet up with my brother who lives near Kings Lynn, and the Bell Inn at Stilton was one of the places I had been wanting to visit.  Situated on the Great North Road, which was quite literally that in the days of coaching inns, when The Bell Inn was a prime stopping place for the stage coaches going to and fro between London and the North.  The Bell Inn is a wonderful old golden stone building, situated now on a very quiet backwater since all the main roads have bypassed it and it is now a ‘No Through Road’, its wide main street  culminating in a dead end

Stilton is of course famous for the cheese supplied by the proprietor of The Bell Inn to en route travellers.  When it first became well known as a cheese it was named for the town it was supplied from – Stilton and was simply known as Stilton cheese.  Later on as the cheese became more and more popular the local suppliers couldn’t keep up with demand and it began to be sourced from further afield, particularly from the rich dairying lands nearby, and by the 19th and 20th Centuries it was always said that no Stilton was ever produced in Stilton itself but all came in from the surrounding areas, though of course this has now been proved to be incorrect.

If you want to read more about the history of Stilton cheese this is a good link

http://www.stiltoncheese.co.uk/history_of_stilton

I had held off from buying Stilton cheese when in Melton Mowbray knowing I intended to visit Stilton and thought to try the cheese in the place it had come from, though in the event I didn’t.  Mainly because we both elected to have the Roast Beef, it being Sunday lunchtime, and I have to say the portion was so huge and the food on the plate so good, that having eaten every single morsel I didn’t have room for the cheese board.

If you are in the area I can highly recommend their Sunday lunch.  We ate in the bar which was a homely place with settles, beams and a flagged floor, the food came quickly and there were two good slices of nicely cooked tasty beef, a Yorkshire pudding, plenty of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, peas, fresh carrots, and some lovely fresh green savoy cabbage cooked to perfection.  I asked for horseradish and when it came it had a good home-made taste without any of that glopeyness one gets with pub sauces nowadays and which makes everything from horseradish to tartar sauce have the same disgusting taste and texture.

The meal there could not be faulted, and had I cooked it myself at home I would have been proud to serve it up.  And they had some nice local beers on offer as well, so we tried a couple of those.

The road outside was wide so there was plenty of room to park Thebus, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable visit, and lovely to meet up with my brother as well.

Straw Bear of Whittlesey

THE STRAW BEAR OF WHITTLESEY

I have written it as Whittlesey as that it what the place is known as now, but when the Straw Bear was first mentioned it was spelt Whittlesea, and that is what the organisers of this Plough Festival have named it.

I found out about the Straw Bear once my interest was stirred in our old customs when finally getting to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.  I knew The Straw Bear was an old custom, but didn’t realise until I arrived on the day that it had been banned back in the early part of last century and todays Straw Bear is a revival started in the 1980’s.  But I have to say they had done a good job of it, and the Straw Bear himself was magnificent, and ably handled by his very photogenic keeper – a real old-fashioned gentleman.

The festival was thronging with folk, I would think a lot of them local, but there were a huge number of visiting folk dance teams as well.  I am not sure how many there were, but at least thirty or more, and there was dancing going on the entire day.  The procession itself was so popular that I had quite a job to get to see much of it, but I have got a few shots of some of the teams there.

And getting to actually see the Straw Bear was even more problematic as he was invariably surrounded by a close press of folk wanting to talk to his handler and have their photo taken with the Straw Bear,  and very obliging he was too, especially with the young ladies!   There was a mini Straw Bear with a pretty little girl and I assume her brother as handlers and I got a charming shot of all the bears and their keepers together in a sort of Straw Bear Family.

The festival itself is linked to Plough Monday.  Which was the first workday back after the Twelve Days of Christmas, when it was traditional to dress the ploughs, and the plough teams and have them blessed for the coming year in hopes of a good and fruitful harvest.  And there was a beautifully decorated plough on show which was dragged to the market square by a team of ‘ploughboys’.  In the photos you will see many of the dancers have brooms, the idea of this was to sweep away any of the old year’s bad luck leaving a ‘Clean Sweep’ for the New Year’s Good Luck. And of course in the East of the country the Plough Boys would often dance with brooms when on their circuits.

In Whittlesey Straw Bear Day has always been celebrated on the Tuesday after Twelfth Night, rather than the more usual Plough Monday, so perhaps the celebrations there went on a longer. Or maybe having had a good celebration on Plough Monday, Straw Bear Day on Plough Tuesday was just a bit of a continuation

When the Straw Bear would have been at his heyday it would have been quite usual for real Dancing Bears to visit towns to perform. and their handlers or drivers pass the hat around. These poor creatures possibly having a marginally better existence than there predecessors who in earlier centuries would have been used for bear baiting by dogs.

But the happy Straw Bear of Whittlesey and his admiring public show even bad things can eventually be turned to good, and of course the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival now raises loads of money for its good causes.  It may take many centuries but things come good in the end.

Melton Mowbray, lovely old market town with a traditional feel

MELTON MOWBRAY – HOME OF THE MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIE

Passing so near I felt a visit to Melton Mowbray was called for to try one of their famous pork pies.  It’s a pleasant old fashioned market town, and is known for its busy and thriving market held on a Tuesday.  As I was visiting on a Friday the town was quieter, which suited me, and having been brought up in a rural area at a time when nearly every town had its own market I have seen plenty of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry in pens, but for those who haven’t experienced the hustle and bustle of a weekly market I would suggest a Tuesday would be the day to visit.

Being quieter it allowed me to park up just behind the church and then take the scooter round the town, admire the charming old buildings, and find the Pie Shop to ‘taste their wares’.  Not only did I purchase one of their finest hand raised pork pies, baked on the premises,  but a baby one with gooseberry chutney topping, plus a fine large Melton Hunt Fruit Cake

The Melton Mowbray area applied to the EU for Protected Pork Pie status which was granted in 2008, with the result that the Bowyer’s Wiltshire Factory was closed with the loss of four hundred jobs and production moved to Nottingham!  Where Bowyers can now continue to sell Melton Mowbray Pork Pies!

I have to say the produce of Melton Mowbray was on a sticky wicket after my tasting of the pork pies produced by Sally and Niner.  They had gone on a course for farm shops wanting to make their own pies, and the quality of the pies they made after just one lesson had to be tasted to be believed.  Outstanding is the only word which comes to mind.  If they ever do decide to kill one of their rapidly increasing herd of pigs (97 at present and rising quickly) then I know where I shall be buying my pork products.

But back to the Melton Mowbray ones – good but not in the same class!

The Melton Hunt Fruit Cake however was top class, and would stand comparison with the best that I have made, and I like to think I am a pretty good cook.  It is made to an 1854 recipe for cake supplied to the Belvoir hunt as an accompaniment to the stirrup cup before the start of the hunt.

Then I went on a small hunt of my own, though in the event unsuccessful.  I was looking for traces of ‘red paint’

In 1837 The Marquis of Waterford and a party of his aristocratic friends had been staying in Melton Mowbray for the Croxton Park Races. One night after too much liquid refreshment, their antics became a scandal and made the national newspapers of the time, including The London Examiner.  According to press reports, the Marquis and his friends arrived back in Melton Mowbray from the days racing – and subsequent drinking – in the early hours, only to be confronted by the toll keeper at the town’s toll gate on Thorpe End.  In high spirits the refused to pay their tolls and barricaded the toll keeper into his home – nailing the doors and windows shut – before daubing the house with some red paint they had found!

The drunken group proceeded down what was then Beast Market – now Sherrard Street – painting more buildings along the way, and causing damage to property, ending up in Market Place, where it was reported that the Marquis of Waterford was lifted up, so that he could paint the swan adorning the outside of the Swan Porch building.

And it wasn’t just buildings that received a covering of red paint – local officers who tried to stop them were coated and assaulted too!

Once they’d sobered up, justice caught up with them. They were tried in 1838 and each member of the party was fined £100 each (then a huge sum) for common assault, although they were found not guilty of causing a riot.

By then the story had entered folklore, and the phrase “painting the town red” had entered the English language. The original Swan Porch building was devastated by fire in 1985, and as part of the restoration, the white swan was cleaned, revealing red paint, though it is now white again, and today the lovely old building looks in dire need of some TLC

The church was stunning from the outside in sharp January sunlight, and inside were many old monuments and effigies.  A beautiful carved alabaster lady with angels supporting her head, and a crusaders tomb, with its painted shield and sad long eared dog supporting his feet, looking even more sad since the Puritans chopped off his nose.

On the way up to the town centre I had passed a really attractive old pub, which had once belonged to the church, housing the Chanty Priests, and dating back to 1327.  After the dissolution of the monasteries the lands eventually came to Henry VIII and were given as part of the divorce settlement to Anne of Cleaves.

I popped in for a coffee on the way back to Thebus, partly as it was a cold day and I needed a warming up, and partly to see the inside of such a beautiful old building.  The fire was roaring away and the pewter tankards twinkled from the wonderful old beams, whilst a medley of wooden chairs and tables completed the scene.

Ground coffee, freshly made in a pot with enough for a second large cup, served on a tray with those crumbly sugar lumps and a mint was £1.60.

I intended going back in the evening for supper, but being a Friday it sounded as though they would be very busy, instead I went back for a late lunch of the prizewinning local sausages – four tasty sausages, and huge mound of mash and lots of thick red onion gravy, all home cooked and enough to feed a hungry man for  £7.95 and a half pint of the locally produce Tiger Ale.  Highly recommended and well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Tresham’s Trefoil Lodge – amazing triangular building!

TRESHAM’S TREFOIL LODGE

Being a member of English Heritage I knew that my route towards Whittlesey to see the Straw Bear would take me near the Trefoil Lodge at Rushton designed by, and built for Sir Thomas Tresham, father of one of the Gunpowder Plotters. He had been converted to Catholicism in 1580, one of the dates carved on this extraordinary building, who’s construction reflects the Mysterious Three of the Holy Trinity and is also a play on Tresham’s own name: on the entrance front is the inscription ‘Tres Testimonium Dant’ – ‘there are three that give witness’

He had been imprisoned for a total of fifteen years in the late 16th century for refusing to become a Protestant, and on his release in 1593 he built the Lodge as witness to his faith.  Its three walls are each 33 ft long , with three triangular windows surmounted by three gargoyles.  It has three floors, a triangular chimney and three Latin texts each thirty three letters long.

Still I suppose it filled in some of the fifteen years with nothing else much to do!

I had been forewarned by my English Heritage handbook that the lodge was only open in the season, but I was happy to look at it from the outside, but what it didn’t warn me of was the six foot high brick wall which ran for miles round the edge of the park containing the lodge, and the heavy padlocked iron gate preventing access to its garden, so the photos you see now are more than I saw when I finally arrived having run the gauntlet of lanes marked  “Narrow Road’  ‘Unsuitable for HGV’ and ‘Vehicles over 7.5 Forbidden’ which warned me what I was in for.

But I parked in the muddy pull in opposite the lodge, and even though the sun was shining directly into the camera lens when held at arms length above the wall I managed to get a few shots of what I had missed.  I can understand it not being open in January, but fail to see why the small gate was so securely locked.  I am sure anyone up to no good would have simply lifted it off its hinges or scrambled over the wall, so it was only folk like me who were paid up members who couldn’t get in 🙁

 

Wassailing the Apple Orchards on Twelfth Night

WASSAILING THE APPLE ORCHARDS

Year on year from time immemorial the cider apple orchards have been wassailed to encourage a more fruitful harvest, and when I had my own cider apple orchard I wassailed it.

Wassailing is normally done around Twelfth Night.   I wassailed mine on Old Twelfth Night – the seventeenth of January.  The Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 meant the loss of eleven days, which caused riots at the time as people demanded ‘their eleven days back’.  And if you have ever wondered why the tax year inexplicably starts on the fifth of April, then this ‘explicts’ it.  The general populace may have lost eleven of their days, but the revenue had no intention of losing eleven tax days.  The New Year in those days started on Lady Day the 25th March which was the spring Quarter Day- they promptly rearranged the tax year to start of 5th April and so it has remained.

Still back to more pleasant things such as wassailing.  The word itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’ – good health in the form of a toast to the trees to encourage fruitfulness, and good health in a toast to each other for the coming year.  There are many old recipes for Mulled Cider – Lambswool being one, and when Shakespeare refers to ‘roasting crabs hiss in the bowl’ it was probably for this purpose, as after the crab apples are roasted and their pulp squeezed out onto the hot spiced and honeyed cider it floats on the top like lambswool.

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl

Tu-whit;Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marion’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,

Tu-whit;Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Another poem I learnt as a child, though it has been many years now since  I snapped off huge icicles from the barn’s eves for mock sword fights.

I keep digressing – but the night was great fun.  We all trooped a good half mile or more up the lane to the orchard which was to be wassailed.  Waiting for the torchlight procession to pass I spoke to the farmer who’s orchard was to be wassailed.  How many folk do you think there are? he asked – Fifty?  More like five hundred I think!

Super Scooter outshone himself, and when we finally arrived at the field to be confronted by a huge puddle flanked by a sea of deep mud I only tackled it secure in the knowledge that there were sufficient strong men there to push Thebus out, let alone my little scooter, but he tackled it without assistance though we did spectacular sideways skid up the slope with rear wheels spinning. Then he made it across the rough field beyond, to the huge circle of gathered revellers waiting to light the fires.

Twelve fires were ready prepared in a circle.  A thirteenth – the Judas fire – was lit and immediately snuffed out, then the Herefordshire Thorn was lit and sung to, the chosen tree wassailed and anointed with toast dipped in cider, and cider poured round its roots.   Then after much singing and dancing and a bit of gunshot into the trees for good measure we all trooped back to the local hostelry for refreshments and an evening of music and singing – but not before being treated to a traditional mummers play performed by the light of the still flaming torches.

YouTube clip of The Mummers Play to follow when good enough connection to upload 🙂  Subscribe to my channel (red subscribe button at top of page) to know when it is published

 

Cardiff Castle and its eye-popping Burgess interiors

CARDIFF CASTLE

     Once again it was a dull, wet morning so I waited for it clear a little before setting off to see Cardiff Castle, i know it may not be the ideal time for seeing round Britain weatherise, but it does mean that I can enjoy those places which are open with perhaps a little more peace than in the normal tourist season, and so it was with Cardiff Castle: although I was not completely alone on my tour there were many times when I had the room to myself.
     Cardiff Castle really is an old castle. In the specially built modern cafe (serving excellent hot chocolate and buttered Bara Brith) they have a fine section of original Roman wall, thought to date from around 300 AD, though apparently the Romans occupied the area from almost the beginning of the Millennium.
     The site would then seem to have then been abandoned from sometime after the Romans withdrew until the arrival of the Normans and the Marcher Lords, the estates then passing through the hands of many famous families starting with the Lords of Gloucester, then the de Clares, the Dispensers and Beauchamps, to the Nevilles and Tudors – then on the Herberts and Windsors and finally to the Butes who gifted it to the city in 1947.
     I had heard the interiors by Burgess with some of the original furniture, notably in the library, were splendid, but that does not prepare one for the eye-popping exuberance and intricacy of the design and work.  Apparently it took at least twenty years, and looking at it I am surprised they finished it so quickly.  One could spend an entire day or more just looking at a single room.
     An additional guided tour would have shown me extra rooms, but I think at the end of the few I did see I had reached visual overload.  I have added a YouTube slideshow, but if you want to pause it to enjoy the detail more fully just click on the photo and it will pause, then click again to start.
     There is a Mews on site, but I hate to see the birds tethered on their perches, they always look so hunched and sad, so I didn’t even look at them let alone photo them, but this one was out for a walk with her young falconer.  He said that she had eaten too much over Christmas so he dare not fly her as she would probably not bother to come to the lure, but she was a beautiful bird.
     I was reminded of one day back in the early seventies when driving up the lanes by Stokesay Castle I passed a guy returning from flying his Peregrine Falcon.  I stopped to chat with him and the sight of the magnificent bird on his gauntlet has stayed in my memory all this time.
     Pictures in the mind come with the sounds, scents and emotions of the memory, not just the two dimensional images which show on a YouTube clip.

 

St. Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life, Cardiff

ST. FAGAN’S – THE MUSEUM OF WELSH LIFE

An early trip down the steep and narrow bank from Llangynwyd was most definitely called for, so it was positively ‘up betimes’. This had its downside, as the lanes being so narrow in the village, folk had to squeeze their vehicles into the most unlikely spots in order to park overnight, and that, added to the strategically placed memorial cross right at the centre of four narrow lanes made one of my, by now famous fourteen point turns a necessity, but we left quietly so hopefully didn’t wake anyone.
Down at the bottom of the bank, either I was full of confidence having made it through once already or someone had moved an extra vehicle, but we more or less sailed through easily, and out onto the main road to head towards Cardiff.  I couldn’t remember if we would need to go through the city, but in fact it was an easy turn off the main road, so we arrived masses too early as it did not open until ten o’clock, but fortunately there was a contractor’s carpark, which as we were still in the Christmas holiday period was quite empty and we parked in there to wait for the gates to open.
Having got in although the carpark was huge there were no ‘coach’ type spaces that I could see, but we managed to find ourselves somewhere on the end of a double row, and with a bit of changing around organised it so the door opened outwards onto the end of the rows and I wouldn’t get stuck trying to get in and out if someone parked next to us, as I had nearly done in Gloucester.
Once again I was very lucky with the weather, the previous evening had been one torrential downpour of rain, and the roads all the way were flooded with huge pools of lying water, but most of the rain had eased by the morning, and before the gates to St Fagan’s opened at ten the sun was shining brightly, though there was a definite January nip to the air.
The site  itself is huge, and beautifully wooded.  A hundred acres or more, given together with the Castle and Gardens plus the home farm by the Earl of Plymouth back in 1948 for use as a Folk Museum.  Admission is free though parking was £3.50 and though the first ticket came out easily the machine then kept returning my last £1 coin.  Explaining to the lady at the gate that I had only been able to purchase one ticket when I was actually taking up two spaces, she said not to worry as they wouldn’t be that busy at this time of year.  But by the end of the day there were lots of families with children enjoying the beautiful castle gardens as well as viewing the many historic building brought here from all over Wales and meticulously re-erected.  Dogs on leads were welcome in the grounds, but not the buildings so I left Phoebe in Thebus, but I think she sensed I might have taken her as she looked quite disappointed when I left.  I had thought to go back halfway through and collect her, but by then had realised how large the site was, and didn’t want a repeat of Stowe, when she ran out of steam at the farthest end of the gardens.
All the wonderful ancient buildings were furnished in period and most had a fire going in the huge old hearths which really added to the atmosphere, quite literally when the chimneys weren’t drawing well and the smoke hung in the rooms.  The buildings were from all periods so there were fourteenth and fifteenth century farmhouses and cottages through to prefabs.  And not just houses, there was a tanners, a saddlery shop, bakers, flour mill, grocers, and hardware shop, plus church, chapel, school, and workmen’s institute and much, much more. Each building was fully described, and the curators or volunteers in each were helpful with any questions one had.
The shop next to the grocery store was selling food, and I think anytime other than the Christmas break you could have bought flour, bread, home made sweets, and any number of craftsman made items.  I would guess that many of the picnickers must throw crumbs to the birds as just about every building had a robin or maybe two in attendance and looking very hopeful.  You can see them in some of the photos, certainly the one at the first house came close enough to see!
The row of miners cottages was interesting, similar to the ones in the Slate Mine near Snowdon – the museums belong to the same group – they had furnished each individual house at a different period – from late Georgian through Victorian and Edwardian up to the  Seventies, and the gardens were in period as well, down to the pigeon loft and crates of empty milk bottles on the rusting corrugated iron roof of the coal house
I went back to Phoebe at lunchtime and just had a quick hot chocolate to warm me up after her letting her out for a few minutes, then visited the castle and grounds, which were all beautifully kept and would be a wonderful place to take the family for a safe Sunday walk around – the younger children really enjoying the wide open spaces of the lawns to run around on.

On to Cardiff and the Cardiff Art Gallery

ON TO CARDIFF

Visting St. Fagan’s and talking with some of the helpers there they said that Cardiff Castle was not to be missed, plus I had already heard about the fabulous interiors by Pugin.  Looking up on the internet, wonder of wonders there was a campsite within easy distance of the city centre: they were open all year, and not only that but had plenty of space, so that was our next (quite literally) port of call.

Everyone who lives in Cardiff, almost without exception is full of praise for their city, and although I did not get to see all that much of it what I did see was beautiful.  For a start the campsite is not only within reach of the centre, but is flanked by wide expanses of park and playing fields.  The weather had been wet so I didn’t risk taking the scooter on for fear of getting stuck, but there looked to be acres and acres of it.  There was certainly plenty of space for Phoebe to stretch her legs, though she seems less and less inclined to do much running about, perhaps like me she is getting a bit arthritic.  Certainly jumping up on the settee takes a bit of forethought and organization on her part.

All the staff at the site were most friendly and helpful, and as the ground was so wet most of the motorhomes and caravans were sited on hardstanding, though I did see one intrepid camper with a small one man tent was set up on a slightly drier piece of ground.

It had rained in the evening and continued on through the night with the next day dawning with a steady solid downpour.  I didn’t fancy going anywhere in such conditions and did a bit of work on how this new WordPress programme is going to work, plus with Cardiff’s super speed on the MiFi managed to upload some bits and pieces to the YouTube Channel.

I do love keeping the journal and blog, and taking the photos.  Though it takes a huge amount of time it is a really good way of keeping a diary so the memories stay fresh.  Having done so many things in the last year, it would be very easy to forget, or for places to blur together.  I think I probably enjoy reading back over the things I have done more than the folk it was originally started for.

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In the afternoon although the skies looked threatening it was at least dry so I took a chance and got the scooter out to go and see the collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist works at Cardiff Museum.  Many years ago I studied art history for a short while and was interested to find out about how such a fine collection of work from these artists had arrived in Cardiff – second only in importance to the collection at Quai d’Orsay in Paris

 

The core of the collection is bases on the works given by the Davies sisters, and this is what the BBC site has to say about them

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/sites/davies-sisters/

Gwendoline and Margaret, born in 1882 and 1884 respectively, were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, a wealthy industrialist who made his fortune from contracting, coal-owning, railways and the docks at Barry.  Brought up in a strict Welsh nonconformist tradition they were strict Sabbatarians and teetotallers until their deaths – neither marrying

Their grandfather left them £500,000 each and although they had no tradition of art appreciation, the money enabled them to become passionate collectors of art from around 1908 onwards.  Under guidance they initially bought paintings by the likes of Turner, Corot and Millet but were encouraged to buy the works of Carrière, Monet and Rodin. By 1924, they had amassed the largest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in Britain.

Between 1951 and 1963, they bequeathed 260 works to the National Museums and Galleries of Wales – completely transforming its art collection with works such as Renoir’s famous La Parisienne, Monet’s Rouen Cathedral and Rodin’s The Kiss.

I have an ambivalent mind about ‘modern’ art, even though these are hardly modern now, so I won’t write anything about the pieces I photographed.  I think art from the late 19th C. onwards is more about what the artist has to say to you and how you feel about their work, so how the pieces come across to someone else is hardly relevant.  But I spent an enjoyable afternoon there

The place is huge thought I only looked in two or three of the galleries, admission is free and the staff are pleasant and helpful.

Y Fari Lwyd, The Old House Inn, Llangynwyd, Glamorgan

New Year’s Day 2015

Y FARI LWYD, THE OLD HOUSE INN, LLANGYNWYD

There is a fascinating an ancient tradition which has taken place each and every New Year from time immemorial – Y Fari Lwyd at The Old House Inn, Llangynwyd.  Translated it means The Grey Mare, and I would guess is Celtic in origin, making it thousands of years old, and must be related in some way to the horse goddess Epona.  At The Old House each New Year has been welcomed in this way as long as anyone can remember.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The current leader of the revels being Gywn ‘Y Post’ Evans (above) who took over from his father in 1996.
His father Cynwyd Evans who was born in 1910, had first travelled with the mare with his own father in 1923, and the horse skull of the Llangynwyd Y Fari or Mari is as old or older.
I suppose the tradition ties in with the Mumming and Winter Visiting rituals, this particular one being very much concentrated on the Winter Solstice.  The Mari Lwyd is carried from house to house – or now more generally from pub to pub – singing at the door in the old traditional Welsh verses asking for admittance with the intention of getting some seasonal cheer, and perhaps a gift of money, nowadays normally for charity – this year the Air Ambulance were the very worthy cause.
When I have read about the custom it was called the Mari Lwyd, which translates from the Welsh into English as Grey Mare, but getting to Llangynwyd it was called Y Fari Lwyd.  Asking a Welsh speaker, it is to do with the way the Welsh language is formed – so when there is a ‘The’ or Y in front the M changes to a F which is actually pronounced V –  Well – I am glad I cleared that up in my mind!
The first few verses of the visiting group are set, as are the responses from those inside, but then traditionally it would have turned into a contest of wit in which the contestants mocked each other in impromptu verse and sung riddles, often referring disparagingly  to their opponents singing abilities, drunkeness and so on. This is known in Welsh as the pwnco.  Of course the eventual intention was to let the luck-bringing horse into the house, possibly to chase away any bad luck remaining from the old year and sweeping the way clean for the New Year and New Luck.
From memory there are many bad luck chasing customs involved with the Old/New Year, generally with the luck bringers entering by the front door and exiting by the back, often sweeping their way through the house  and I did notice that one of the New Year’s Day party from St. Fagan’s was carrying a besom, plus one of the opening stanzas in the singing asks of the house owners – ‘What way the departure tonight’ , though both our horses came in and left by the same entrance.
And there were in fact two.  The first is the traditional local horse which came in lead by Gwyn ‘Y Post’ who is a lovely guy.  Now retired and moved a little way away he still has strong ties with The Old House Inn and you can tell he loves being able to maintain such a wonderful old custom carried on faithfully by his father and grandfather before him for so very many years. He is a wonderful strong singer, and in true Welsh fashion sings in the local choirs.
To see Gwyn and his horse check back to last year HERE
The second horse was brought on New Year’s Day by a party from St Fagan’s the Museum of Welsh Life in nearby Cardiff.  Their horse was much more terrifying in appearance, with far more of the skull about it, and far more likely to cause mischief and nip the ladies with its big sharp teeth causing some squeals.

Both were great entertainment and it was wonderful to see such an old custom maintained.  It would be sad if  something which might date back to Celtic times, or even before, were just allowed to die away.
The folk myth of Y Fari Lwyd is beautifully told in words and music on this clip