A Canned Heat song from their 1968 album “Boogie with Canned Heat”, the first few words of which are traditionally intoned by me as Sonia and I turn onto the A9 at the start of a car trip. And true to form, the words hung briefly, listlessly and tunelessly in the air around 3:00pm on Saturday 4th July as we started our journey to Ecclefechan. But fear not, Dear Reader: Ecclefechan – birthplace place of Thomas Carlyle and home to the eponymous tart – was not our ultimate goal. Whilst the village has its attractions, perhaps, it would hardly support a summer holiday.
On the way down the road, we took a break by pulling into Stirling services, where a shoogly table resulted in me spilling at least half of a freshly made cup of coffee over my groin. Luckily, I’d gone for a latte, so it was only my pride that was hurt. My trousers did look like I’d had an embarrassing accident of an entirely different nature, though.
About a year ago, Mrs M and I stopped in Ecclefechan for the first time in our lives and over-nighted in the Ecclefechan hotel. Sonia describes it as like Fawlty Towers but without the bad temper. A couple in their thirties and the parents of one half thereof have taken on quite a battle. They left a Blackpool B&B to run the hotel which is generally in quite a run-down condition. When we were there last year, one bedroom had been renovated and the rest was a mix of shabby (without the chic) and dilapidation. We were interested to see how they had fared, hence our visit this year. There are now about three renovated rooms, but the food hasn’t kept up with the slow move up-market and I suspect the way ahead continues to be uphill and stony for them. Grandad’s jokes haven’t changed either. But then neither have mine.
The following morning, after a lack-lustre and toast-free breakfast, we continued our journey south. We were at Loggerheads – a place near Stoke on Trent, not a state of marital disharmony – soon after a visit to the Dorothy Clive garden at Market Drayton and by evening we had arrived in Southampton to stay for a couple of nights with daughter no.1, Joanna, and fiance Ben in their flat.
It’s very heartening to see both our daughters developing from girls to young women with careers, responsibilities and likeable young men who are genuinely fond of them. Somehow or other, against all the odds, we seem to have got something right. And that is in no way to take the credit away from Jo and Sarah themselves.
On Monday, whilst Ben went off to work on seaweed ice-cream or something, and Jo went to support people with social and psychological problems, we went to Winchester. There was a food fair there and one of Ben’s creations – the much-publicised gin and tonic ice cream – was on sale. Having had a surfeit of ice cream the night before (salted caramel and G&T were a couple of my favorites – though the hazelnut wasn’t at all bad…), we eschewed the ice cream tent, but ended up eating in the River Cafe Canteen, which was quite good.
Tuesday saw S & I having a lazy start and then eventually driving to Portsmouth and staying in the George Hotel near the Dockyard. This was basically a time-killing exercise until we caught the ferry on Wed. morning. We killed time by visiting the Dockyard – too late in the day to make it worth paying to see any of the highlights – wandering round a large shopping centre patronised by italian schoolgirls as far as I (or the eye) could see and then going to see “Mr Holmes”. Sir Ian McKellen is excellent: a top-notch actor. We both enjoyed the film a lot though I had been less than enthusiastic about going.
I had a poor night’s sleep on Tuesday night, but we were up and going promptly to get the ferry to Caen. We were also very thankful we hadn’t booked to go via Dover / Calais.
The crosing was uneventful. I had booked a cabin and we both took advantage of it to have a snooze. Pretty good value really as it included a bijou ensuite toilet and shower. Mind you, descending from the top bunk was a bit of a challenge.
Before leaving Old Blighty I had booked a couple of nights in a rench B&B not all that far from Cherbourg (Yes, we were arriving in Caen, I know…) I want you to forget all ideas of British B&B landladies, Les Dawson etc. I am writing this on our second evening in the Laiterie (Dairy / Milk Processing Plant) de Tocqueville. The welcome is excellent, the rooms / facilities superb and the location perfect. The “Laiterie” is just over 100 years old, but renovated to a high and stylish standard more reminiscent of an upmarket hotel than a mid-range B&B. If you read this and fancy headingover to Normandy, you should definitely think of staying here.
Today (Thursday) has been very lazy. There’s been a lot of quiet reading in sandy coves by rocky promntories, interspersed with looking at light-houses, wandering along country lanes to see converted windmills and even some admiring of conversions of concrete gun emplacements into desirable residences. Both tonight and last night we have eaten seafood in portside restaurants and wandered through sundrenched alleys and courtyards.
My seafood-related French has been found wanting, but I’m working on it…
Sadly, the Laiterie is full tomorrow, so we have to find somewhere else before taking temporary ownership of out gite on Saturday. The current plan is to drive towards Le Mont St Michel and locate a suitable hotel / inn / auberge / chambre d’hotes for one night.
I think that’s it for now. Bonne nuit.