Sunday, 23 September 2018

Last housesit and start of planning for our next trip

Brian in Gloucester Cathedral
Things are suddenly starting to get close, we plan to depart the UK a week on Tuesday (2nd October) and there is a dawning realisation of how much we need to get organised between now and then, as well as a lot of socialising to see friends and family before disappearing for some months (Brian plans until mid July next year, Jackie thinks May/June time, we'll see who gets their way!).

We left our last housesit in Stroud on Thursday evening after finally meeting Rachel and her mum, Sarah, on their return home from the South of France. They had a great time by the sound of it and, in the two hours we saw them we talked non stop, but Bramble cat wasn't too bothered, she stayed upstairs on the landing.
The beautiful Gloucester Cathedral
On our last full day there we spent a good chunk of the day in Gloucester which is a really good place to visit. It's an old Roman town  and, although little of it can be seen above ground the remains of a whole Roman city is just below the surface. Any time a building is demolished a team of archaeologists move in to sift through and catalogue the remains below ground. The underground site displaying Roman and Tudor building remains was sadly not open on the day we went, but we did visit the very impressive Gloucester Catherdral ( and the Heritage Centre steeple standing on the corner of Southgate and Westgate Streets.

The Heritage Centre steeple
It used to be a church but all but the steeple was demolished in the 1950's. The steeple still has its bell and, on visiting, the lady told us all about it and then said I could ring the bell if I wanted. Well, I thought it would be rude not to, so I gave several tugs on the rope and disrupted the quiet town centre!

We also visited the Beatrix Potter museum (, mostly devoted to the 'Taylor of Gloucester' based on the local story of a taylor who went home on a Friday night leaving a whole pile of work undone, only to go back on Monday to find the whole suit finished except for one button hole on the waistcoat to which was pinned a small note saying "No more twist" no one knew how this had happened, so Beatrix based the whole story on the mice who went in and did the work. 
The white building on the right is 23 Westgate Street and where the taylor shop mentioned by Beatrix Potter originally was
In the Beatrix Potter museum
Much later it came to light that the taylor's assistant had gone to a local event on Friday night, got hideously drunk and decided to sleep it off in the taylor's shop, which, unbeknown to the taylor, he had a key for. Too embarrassed to be seen leaving the shop on Saturday he thought he may as well finish the suit, except for the final button hole, before sneaking out on the Saturday night. Still a nice story, but not as good as the one created by Beatrix.

Gloucester docks
Sculptures in the Nature in Art museum (website here)
Since getting back we've had three nights staying with Jackie's mum in Alvechurch, during which we managed to get in a proper 'Friday night' - down to the local pub early evening for a bottle or two of red wine and a good chat, followed by a takeaway from the village Chinese - fabulous and just like the old days! On Saturday we managed to catch up with Brian's daughter Fiona and her man James, plus grand-daughter Becky, who all came over for lunch at Becketts Farm restaurant in Wythal (, followed by a trip over to the motorhome storage area to show them Big Ted (we think they liked him!).

Little Sooty cat is pleased to see us
Today (Sunday) we have arrived in Hall Green to spend three days looking after little Sooty cat, this now being the twelfth time we have housesat here. Abi has taken her mum away to Chester for her birthday so we have a few days to catch up with some friends, get a few jobs done and spend time with little, sweet Sooty.

Our diary until our intended departure on 2nd October runs like this:
Tonight: Sunday Tea Club with Manu, Crystal, Ian and Helen in the Chinese Quarter of Birmingham. After meeting at a pub in the centre for a beer, we will visit a small Chinese restaurant where Crystal takes charge and orders everything, presenting us with delicious Chinese food which we eat with Chinese tea and, in the process, have a fabulous evening
The very grand house at the Nature in Art museum
Monday: Big Ted visits the doctor to have his door seen to. The door lock won't open with the key, only the remote, so that's being seen to. Then we visit the physiotherapist to have Jackie's elbow looked at (tennis elbow we think after lots of decorating and roof building), then to Birmingham City Centre (again) to purchase some International Driving Permits (this is just insurance in case Britain leaves Europe on 29th March next year with no deal and our British driving licenses are no longer recognised by Europe).
Tuesday: Pack Big Ted for his night away in Norfolk.
Wednesday: Head off in Big Ted with Jackie's mum to visit Ron and Margaret in Bury St Edmunds, followed by a night away in a small campsite
Gloucester Cathedral cloisters (used in Harry Potter films)
Thursday: Visit Attleborough in Norfolk to pick up a spare wheel for Big Ted that we've bought through the website Gumtree. It's second hand, but was always a spare and has never been used
Friday: Start sorting out all the gear we are going to need for a winter of skiing in the Alps and summer sightseeing, climbing, walking amd via ferrata in Europe. Evening, catch up with Corinne and maybe Helen and Ian to hear about her trip to Iceland
Saturday: More gear sorting and start of Big Ted packing. Evening looks like being the Solihull Mountaineering Club Annual Dinner, if we can get tickets (we may be too late!), but we have got permission from the venue to camp overnight in their car park in Big Ted so, if we do go, it'll be an easy few meters to walk from the venue to our bed!
Tomb of Edward II in the cathedral
Sunday & Monday: Back to Jackie's mums for the final pack of Big Ted, shopping for food to take with us and dropping our car off at the storage area.
Tuesday: Drive to Dover for 9 months touring Europe!

The next blog may be hastily written in between all that.

Jackie hiding behind a whale tail sculpture at the Nature in Art museum
I really liked this sculpture, all made from parts of a car. It stands on an old engine block, its claws are old brake shoes, it's body has a clutch plate in it and there are various springs, pistons and engine plates. Junk to anyone else, art here
A last picture of fluffy Bramble cat in Slough before we left...
And a picture of sweet Sooty cat who we're looking after now

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Stroud, Housesitting and...a thermal cookpot! What on earth is a thermal cookpot?

Preparing our first meal for the thermal cooker
The thermal cookpot arrived, so I read the recipe book and decided on a simple recipe to follow to the letter for a first attempt, so had breakfast and started on dinner, felt slightly odd but.... chicken portions in the pot, with fresh herbs out of the garden, potatoes, onion, carrot, garlic and stock. Heat to boiling, simmer for a couple of minutes, put into the outer pot and leave for a minimum of four hours. 

It was going to be longer than that as we were heading off to walk from the house, to the canal, along to Stonehouse before getting one of the slightly oddly timed trains back. 
The new canal viaduct, old railway viaduct and river Frome behind
The woman in the canal information centre was very helpful, and very enthusiastic, really good to talk to. They have spent lots of time and lots of money restoring the bit of canal near here, including building a complete new section to go under a viaduct, where the original route is now a road. Apparently there is funding agreed to complete the section so it will join with the canal network at Gloucester, the timescale however is still a long way off. It was a pleasant walk, lots of information boards as well as little signs pointing out the bend in the gas pipe where it went round a Telegraph pole, or that the smell you were smelling came from the baize factory where they still make baize for billiard tables.

We got to Stonehouse with minutes to spare or an hour and a half, so tea and cake can wait, we rushed to the station. Perfect timing. As we walked out of the station in Stroud it felt like somewhere we’d never been before, only a couple of steps and we’d got our bearings, so tea and cake, or a pint? We found the pub first....
The restored canal in Stroud

Got back to the house, no smell of cooking, but there shouldn’t be, still somehow disappointing though. Eventually, the moment of truth, open it up and there is chicken falling off the bone, along with perfectly cooked potatoes, magic. Chilli is cooking for tonight with rice in the separate top pot, hope it’s as good.

Saturday, a lovely day for the farmers market, probably as well we’d just had breakfast as there was lots of yummy looking food, so we were restrained with a tartiflette pasty for lunch, to take us back to the Alps, and a Steak and kidney pie for a later dinner. 
Sheep racing at Frampton
We followed this with a trip to the sheep racing, we weren’t racing the sheep, they were meant to be racing each other, though in the event they weren’t that bothered, but with their colours and jockeys strapped on they looked the part. The first race, the only one we bet on, only one sheep could be persuaded to complete the course and jumps, though it did stop for a quick nibble of a jump on the way down! The whole event was for charity, so piece of cake wasn’t for our benefit.... it was a laugh, and a lovely family atmosphere. Here's a link to a news article on the Gloucestershire live website about it:
Not so much as a 'race' more a 'follow my leader'

Yesterday we walked a bit of the unrestored canal, from the source of the River Thames, well a stone saying it was the source of the River Thames, though with no sign of any water, so a bit of a damp squib really, popular though, we were one of three groups being unimpressed on a Monday morning! Found our way to a pub, at the entrance to the long tunnel where the canal path was no longer viable, so not a complete wash out!

The stone marks the source of the River Thames

Tomorrow we may look at Gloucester as we have to collect some new ear protectors for Big Ted, before leaving Bramble on Thursday. Bramble who has finally decided that it’s ok to spend a day on the sofa with us rather than hiding upstairs, who has got us completely wrapped round her little fluffy paw with her huge purr and pathetic miaows. We’ve both had quite long conversations with her as she humours us, all the while thinking just give me Dreamies.....

So plans are coming together, depart for France a week on Sunday ish with a menagerie sit, in Brittany from mid October, cats, dogs, chickens, geese, ducks, goats, a pot bellied pig and a free flying African Grey Parrot.....
The writing on the stone plaque. It says "The conservators of the Thames 1857 to 1974. This stone was placed here to mark the source of the River Thames" This is it's location: 51deg41'40N 2deg1'46W
We walked another mile south hoping to find water. This, believe it or not is the first evidence we found of the Thames. Jackie is standing in the middle of the River Thames!
We walked another quarter of a mile to what was shown on the OS map as a small lake on the Thames. This was it, not a trickle of water to be seen, but there is evidence water sometimes flows here. It's been a dry summer! (51deg41'05N 2deg0'59.1W)
This is a field, but the Severn-Thames canal used to run here and under a bridge behind that tree. The plan is to restore the whole canal, so this just shows what a huge job it will be
This section isn't quite as bad, but still lots of work
The entrance to the 2.7mile long tunnel that forms part of the canal to be restored. Apparently the centre section has collapsed and other parts need major work. 
Our pub lunch stop at the Tunnel House 
Our walk took us over this main railway line. Time for a bit of fun, we thought. We walked over and up the bank and then....
A train thundered past. Hmmmm!
Bramble cat and Jackie have a serious chat at the breakfast table
My favourite photo of Bramble cat. "Where's my breakfast?"