CHAPTER FOUR TRAVEL NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON APRIL 2018
With Cyberspouse going on a one day course near Stratford-upon-Avon, we recently booked two nights at the originally named hotel The Stratford. Formerly the town hospital it had pleasant spacious gardens at the front and plenty of parking at the back. It was about ten minutes walk from the historic heart of the town.
Our room was large with a very wide screen television. We were not asked if we wanted to book a table in the restaurant for dinner, we found out why the next morning.
After our slow journey we wanted to stretch our legs, explore the town and go down by the river. The sky remained an unrelenting grey, but it did not rain and we got a picture of William Shakepeare’s birthplace without too many people in the way. We had our dinner at The Golden Bee, another Wetherspoons pub to tick off our collection.
On our return to the hotel we went to the bar to get a cup of coffee; not an unreasonable request in a hotel. There were several other guests so we assumed someone was around to serve us... yes, but still took a long time for two over expensive lattes to arrive. Both were dark and too strong, no pretty stripes, one merely warm, the other burning hot.
The next morning when we went to breakfast we were asked if we were with the ‘Bridge Group’. Non bridge players were relegated to the hotel lobby for breakfast; it was a bit of a trek backwards and forwards to the buffet bar in the restaurant and then a manoeuvre between tables crammed together.
The food itself was indifferent, but amusing. Breakfast buffets are never as good as freshly cooked and toasters never seem to work properly, though it makes for camaraderie among hotel guests. Each passing on tips; you have to put it through twice... it takes forever... it was not a surprise when smoke started coming out. The continental selection had a lyrical description on the menu that bore no relation to the reality. The croissants and fresh uncut loaves were very nice, but thin slices of cheese were curled up, the only meat was salami and the unpeeled fruit had been hacked into pieces impossible to negotiate.
The staff during our stay were friendly and smart, with one exception. The excellent view of the reception desk from our breakfast table provided us with free entertainment. The large chap who was on reception shuffled out to help people with his shirt hanging out and in general disarray. He didn’t seem to be able to help any of the guests who came with queries and problems ranging from toilets to windows.
An intriguing sight was a large white bear who I came to call Sad Ted, he was sitting by the entrance waiting to be won. Who would want to win him or how he was to be won I’m not sure, but it seemed to involve putting your business cards in a bowl. He was still there when we left.
On Saturday the sun came out and I made the most of my day wandering around the town. The ticket to Shakespeare’s birthplace lasts all year, or you can buy a ticket to include all five historic locations. The town deserves at least a week to sample everything on offer. The River Avon and the canal were in holiday mood in the afternoon; after our late snows and wet spring everyone was out and there were plenty of boat trips on offer. The river is also the location of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre.
I’m looking forward to going back; we'll look on line and see what hotels come up next time.
Read about Shakespeare's birthplace in my blog.
Our autumn trip to Normandy followed a straight line from home. The Barfleur car ferry sails daily to Cherbourg from Poole taking four and a quarter hours, all the fun of a cruise without time to get bored. Leave in the morning and have breakfast on board, return in the evening and have dinner. Regular passengers head straight for the lounges to bag the best seats, but to get the total experience don’t leave your coat in the car, wrap up and stay up on deck as you cruise out of the world’s second largest natural harbour. The boat passes Brownsea Island, avoids colliding with the chain ferry that links the millionaire real estate of Sandbanks with the Isle of Purbeck, then sails out past Old Harry Rock and Swanage and down across the English Channel.
We drove south on smooth roads with light traffic to Mont-Saint-Michel where we stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast for three nights; peaceful, but near enough to the new ‘tourist campus’ to use the free bus shuttle to the island. Everything has been redesigned to protect the environment and cater for tourists. Barriers across all the roads ensure only locals and tourist coaches pass through. Holidaymakers can stroll around the hotels, restaurants and campsite in peace. To walk to the island takes just over half an hour and there are also horses and carriages.
Mont-Saint-Michel is spectacular, a granite rock that became a mediaeval city surrounded by the largest tides in Europe; groups of walkers can cross the vast bay at low tide with a guide. We enjoyed a beach walk at low tide, keeping close to land and a close eye on how far others roamed, assuming they knew what they were doing. Back on land the island is very busy with tourists, but you can branch out and explore and it is a good way to keep fit going up and down the many flights of steps. Reward yourself by stopping at one of the many restaurants and coffee shops and enjoying the views. The abbey is the only part that involves paying, but is worth it for the view from the top terrace.
For the second part of our holiday we travelled back up the coast to Montmartin-sur-Mer and stayed in a lovely farmhouse gite. In contrast to the camping field next to the farm, our outbuilding had been refitted with a super modern bathroom. Our hosts spoke no English, thus making this a ‘real’ experience and my smattering of French quite useful. We sat in their kitchen for petit dejeuner and drank coffee out of bowls. A short walk to the beach provided spectacular sunsets if the weather was fine. The weather was exactly the same as the English weather we had left behind, brilliant sunny days alternating with rain or grey drizzle. We had come prepared and enjoyed walking on the beaches and sand dunes and exploring the bay which changed remarkably with the same huge tides; at low tide the locals go out to pick up the seafood left behind and many tractors and trailers drive out to the mussel beds. There were small seaside towns to explore, all of them very quiet, but with enough places open to find coffee and good meals.
READ 'TIDES AND TOURISTS' AT TIDALSCRIBE
LINK IN HERE
DOWN TO THE DOCKS JUNE 2017
Family fireworks take on a new meaning when family members are pyrotechnic experts; though we had never heard of the Battle of The Medway we decided at short notice to take the opportunity to see the large display they were working on at Chatham Dockyards. It was the celebration of 350 years of friendship with Holland; the anniversary of an event described by Samuel Pepys; the Dutch Fleet had sailed up the River Medway and destroyed the English Fleet.
We managed to book the King Charles hotel, once a NAAFI club, now a family run hotel, for a bargain two night break. We found it with Sat Nav and parking was easy; as promised it was within walking distance of the dockyards. We needn’t have worried about finding ‘somewhere to eat’ close to the river. The naval dockyards closed for good back in the eighties, a great loss for industry and tradition, but regeneration makes the docks a desirable place to live and a great leisure destination. There were many restaurants to choose from and the whole area was buzzing with people and live music. On the hottest day of the year so far it was a fine evening for the firework extravaganza that was well worth our journey.
Back at the hotel our room was basic but clean and had real windows that opened in both the bedroom and en suite bathroom, a pleasant change from many hotels where windows open only two inches for ‘our guests’ comfort and safety’. Getting air circulating helped beat the stifling heat of the ‘hottest June on record’.
At breakfast the buffet was uninspiring and we opted for a continental which consisted of half a baguette, some reasonable ham and a thin slice of sweating cheese. We recovered from this meal in the very pleasant courtyard garden.
The walk to the docks was much longer in the heat, but worth it. We had already visited the historic dockyard in the autumn and that deserves a whole day, with a submarine and other ships to visit and a rope walk where you can see rope being made. The long rope walk building forms part of the setting familiar to viewers of ‘Call The Midwife’. Scroll down for notes on our September travels in Kent.
This time we walked around the many basins and by the river. There is a big shopping outlet, plenty of pubs to idle by the water or you can stroll around looking at boats old and new. We spotted a boat about to leave on a trip and ended up cruising to Rochester and back. An ideal way to visit this little city full of interesting old buildings; Charles Dickens set his unfinished ( last! ) novel ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ in Rochester Cathedral.
The walk uphill back to our hotel was very hot especially as Cyberspouse decided we could cut through the university campus. There were lots of lovely old naval buildings to see, but no way out and we ended up back where we started at the bottom of the hill.
We had planned to try the hotel restaurant, but had omitted to read that it was closed on Sunday evenings, luckily the bar offered meals and plenty of sofas to flop down on. I had lasagne which was very good and Cyberspouse ordered ‘the worst ploughmans he had ever had’ - the same baguettes and sweating cheese from breakfast!
If you have ever lived in Australia you will know that wherever you go you are usually bound to meet an Australian. We met a very interesting couple; he was from Chatham and had worked at the dockyards before emigrating to Australia as a young man, so had plenty of stories and we gleaned more from him than from our visit.
Would we return to the hotel? Yes, it’s an ideal location to enjoy the area at a budget price and it’s fun to stay somewhere different.
Chatham and Rochester are worth several days' stay.
I LOVE LINCOLN
We finished February with a three night stay in Lincoln for a get together. Lincoln is one of my favourite cities and we have visited quite often, usually with free accommodation; we were happy this time to volunteer to stay in a hotel and I knew which one to choose. Seven years previously we had stayed at The Lincoln, memorable for the bed that was extra small in the forlorn hope of making the room look bigger. From the outside you might think the building was council offices, so why did we want to stay there?
The front of the hotel looks out through picture windows across the road to the cathedral, so you can enjoy the view while eating your breakfast or sitting in the lounge. I love the lounge with its retro look and it was still as fun as I remembered.
I should point out that we had booked a bed and breakfast bargain in a standard room at the back of the hotel. We chatted to the staff and gathered the cathedral view rooms with balconies were larger, so if you are very tall please don’t be put off staying at this great hotel.
The staff were all friendly and helpful, the breakfast was delightful with plenty of choice; menu and cold and hot buffet. The dining chairs were a little strange, looking like they were made of glass, actually plastic, but felt rather flimsy. And what was our room like this time? Still small, but this time we had a little balcony looking over the garden and with a view of the top of the cathedral.
The location of the hotel is perfect; in the Lincolnshire landscape of flat fields and open skies the cathedral stands out in the distance. The old city is on the Lincoln escarpment, not a hill, though the narrow cobbled street you climb to reach the cathedral quarter is called Steep Hill. Nearby is The Collection, a child friendly museum and the Usher gallery. So whether you want to see the castle’s copy of the Magna Carter, explore the cathedral, enjoy art or archaeology, there is no need to wander far.
Of course no visit to Lincoln is complete without a walk up or down Steep Hill, the narrow cobbled street usually thronged with people following in the path of the old pilgrims climbing up to the cathedral. There are ancient crooked little buildings that must have seen many changes, now enjoying life as intriguing shops or delicious eateries.
Keep going through the arch to enjoy modern shopping centres or follow the canal path to England’s oldest inland harbour to find your favourite chain restaurants and cinemas.
And if you are staying at The Lincoln Hotel you will have to walk back up the hill, although we did spot The Walk & Ride 'Steep Hill Shuttle' bus…
THE WEBSITE OF AUTHOR JANET GOGERTY