Saturday, December 29, 2012

Crackers


We are back from the soggy south! Its official that Britain has had the wettest year EVER and we drove through some very damp countryside in Wiltshire - a pity as I was looking forward to striding through fields and forests with my camera. Instead Janice and Gary welcomed us on Boxing Day with home made mince pies, plenty of board games ( and some nifty Wii dancing) and all the TV that we missed on Christmas Day. Family Fun is always the best and its only at Christmas that cracker jokes are funny! How  does Good King Wencelas like his Pizza? Deep'an, Crisp and Even! What do you call a fish with no eyes? Fsh! What do you call a multi story pig pen? A Sty Scraper! Hilarious stuff LOL!
The following day we enjoyed lunch at the Somerford Arms - decked out in wobbly Christmas décor - hosted by a boxer dog lounging in front of the log fire and a parrot muttering in the corner. The food was really delicious - not that we needed feeding as all we have done for the last week is eat! More games and TV and food in the evening.
We had an early start yesterday as sadly Tony's sister in law passed away as we were in transit. Jenny was only fifty three and was a lovely lady who worked hard and together with Graham raised three wonderful boys. Her funeral service reflected perfectly who she was and what was important to her and a most moving tribute was written by her boys - Dear Mom....Some beautiful words were spoken and there was a sense of peace and a sureness that when you live in the hearts of those you love, then you never die.
I must say that I am SO impressed with the younger Gaskins! They have all turned out so well and it was really nice to see them together sharing a genuine willingness to get to know cousins, aunts and uncles and put together the family jigsaw. When there is a large family often it fragments and people lose touch and these days families live far away from one another -  but many of them were there and it was a pleasure to meet them. I hope they manage to keep in touch (Face Book is helping). There are strong family resemblances and mannerisms - you can spot a Gaskin a mile away!
M4, M5, M6 A580 - I managed to manoeuvre my way through the traffic - lots of it - and get home safely. Today we are going to a pantomime - 'Oh Yes we are!' Peter Pan starring David Hasslehoff as Captain Hook! I should imagine there will be more corny jokes, a lot of flying, a dame or two and lots of laughter - we are going to the matinee so I should imagine it will be very noisy too!

Ah the magic of Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Festive Road Trip

There is nothing like a coach trip to remind you how friendly the locals are and we were treated to a lovely outing to the Royal Albert Hall over the weekend. Hattons are based in St Helens and Julia booked it not really knowing much about them - they turned out to be fist class and Alan (our driver) and Billy (his assistant and side kick) were the very best in professional service and entertainment. They were so funny - ripping off the 'pie eaters' (people from Wigan) and each other....they looked after us really well and kept us well lubricated with wine and coffee too!
The journey south only took us 3 1/2 hours - we were dropped at our hotel near Heathrow and given an hour to get ready and then taken into London and dropped right outside Harrods - all lit up and looking a million dollars - you need a million dollars to buy anything there but its free to look! By the time we came out it was raining so we took shelter where we could in the shops and I really enjoyed the reflections on the streets of London - which are not paved with gold anymore - but with chewing gum!!!

We were then ferried to The Royal Albert Hall - which is everything that you see on TV - Rich, ruby red décor was decked out in Christmas Best and the Mozart Choir and Orchestra were dressed in period costume. It was the perfect setting for Carols by Candlelight with lots of audience participation. We were also treated to some great European Choral favourites - Like Zodak - The Priest and the Hallelujah Chorus sang so powerfully they sent shivers down the spine and I am sure mine were not the only eyes that filled up! It was just unforgettable .........lovely and Christmassy!#

After breakfast next morning we were taken into the heart of London and given four hours for shopping or sightseeing. We chose the latter and enjoyed walking around the city before the shops opened and the streets filled up with tourists and shoppers. The rain had cleared and we were treated to some wintry sun as we stood admiring Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. A walk up the mall and through St James' Park and we were back in nature watching squirrels and birds - the countryside is never far away in the UK.

They really go to town and dress the shop windows at Christmas. Each window in Harrods told a different fairy story but my favourite was Fortnum and Mason's (the Queens Grocer) whose windows depicted the story of Dick Whittington with the cat ready to pounce on some delicious treat in each scene.

Footsore and thirsty we headed for The National Gallery - no time to enjoy the famous artworks but the coffee and food was life saving and the view over Trafalgar Square a feast for the eyes. Before getting back on the coach we wandered through the Christmas Market at Hyde Park - an outdoor skating rink beckoned - but I learned THAT lesson last year in Pretoria - my skating days are definitely over! Heading back north - it was hard to believe that we had experienced so much in 36 hours. By now everyone was best friends on the coach - There was a Christmas card waiting for us from Uncle Billy and Alan and when it came to be dropped off...they took us right to the door to save us the taxi fare! That's what I call GREAT service!

Last night my dreams were a multi-coloured mix of London sights and sounds and I woke to the morning of 'night before Christmas'. Lots to do - a last minute shopping rush around town is on the cards! Merry Christmas!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Watery Reflections

Watery reflections, filigree trees and wintry hedgerows created a wonderful backdrop to our first few days in England. After a quick shop for warm socks and jerseys and a much needed sleep after our long haul flight, we headed off to Newby Bridge where Julia and Tom moor their boat, the Niaad. The Lake District really is the prettiest part of the country and each season has its own beauty. We arrived late afternoon as the sun was low in the sky and birds made their way to nest overnight. After a quick visit to the boat to enjoy a glass of champers and the view, we headed indoors to our overnight nest - The Lyndhurst. Chris and Les welcomed us here with a welcome cuppa and home made mince pies. Tom and Tony - self appointed mince pie connoisseurs, rated them a well deserved eight and we wolfed them down while planning our three days of country capers!

These included - a lovely morning at Windermere mooching around the High Street and enjoying the views, Afternoon Tea at Lakeside (which won Best Hotel or 2012) and the afternoon tea was an award winning experience too. It had everything an afternoon tea should have - crisp linen, a variety of teas, fresh sandwiches, scones with homemade jam and thick cream and a delicious array of cakes (seven each to be precise) and all served in a beautiful setting with a view over Lake Windermere. The hotel itself was wearing its festive best and after tea we sank into soft chairs in the lounge and could have nodded off but the grandfather clock chimed six and reminded us to make our way back to Lyndhurst. There was no need of dinner that night - we just snacked on the remains of our tea - enjoyed with a glass of wine!


Next morning the sun was shining and we celebrated by enjoying a walk along the banks of the River Leven enjoying the bird life and country scenes - Just beautiful and serene - my camera went into overdrive! After waiting for a steam train that didn't arrive, we set off for Grassmere where gingerbread is a speciality! A quiet walk around the quaint village was interrupted by children singing so we investigated the nearest church where local children were practicing for that evening's performance of 'A Christmas Carol.' What a touching treat to hear them sing carols and recite the story all dressed in Victorian costumes. We dragged ourselves away in search of the Ginger Bread Shop just left past the home of William Wordsworth - the recipe is over a century old and the gingerbread magic - It disappeared in no time LOL!
On the scenic drive back we caught the sun going down at Waters Head, Ambleside and I jumped out to take these photos - Just a lovely finish to the day out!


Before going home we enjoyed a quick visit to Cartmel - the site of an ancient priory and the quaintest little village which just happens to be the 'home of sticky pudding'. We enjoyed hot soup as we walked the cobbled streets enjoying the Christmas wreaths and decorations.

That night we enjoyed a meal at the Newby Bridge with Christmas crackers, sherry and a cracking fire. The Lake District is a little piece of heaven on earth and the Lyndhurst is the perfect place to explore it from. Sadly we had to pack and make our way back to the north west to make ready for the Festive season. We will be packing our cases again in a day or two to visit London and Carols by Candlelight at the Royal Albert Hall.




Watery reflections, filagree trees, and wintery hedgerows were the perfect backdrop to start our holiday - you can't beat the crisp country air to get the circulation going again after a long haul flight. After a quick shop for warm socks and other necessaties and a much needed overnight in Julia's comfy bedroom, we set off for the Lake District. Each season in the UK has its own beauty and Winter is a favourite time to be in the lakes. We stayed in a lovely B&B in Newby Bridge as Thee Niaad (Julia and Tom's boat) had been made ready for winter and it was felt