Sunday, 28 August 2016

Catching up in Hall Green before our next adventure

How has this happened?

Sooty cat, unimpressed by all the recent action
Two weeks passed in a flash, have I been in stasis? Have we done anything exciting?
Abi has been and gone and come back and gone again, Sooty is still having an affair with Brian and we've finally booked flights! Am I excited? No!

So Brian has finally finished his battery of healthchecks which are all clear, we've seen Alex for coffee, Jason for financial advice, Denise and Paul for a nice walk and good pub lunch. Can I remember anything about the walk? Not really, it's all about the chat.

Out walking with Denise & Paul near Great Alne in Warwickshire
We've been to the gym (scary), spent a day gardening for mum (really scary) and had a yellow fever jab (really really scary for B!) And then we've eaten. We went round to Steph's so Brian could help Sam move a radiator and I could help entertain Rory. What a sweetheart, but he doesn't stop. Lovely lunch and chippy tea. We went round to Fiona's for a birthday BBQ for Jenny, Abbie, Fi and James, everyone except Becky really! James was cooking from the moment we arrived till we left, yummy it was too, along with cake for all. 
The lovely 11th century church at Great Alne
As if this wasn't enough we went out for a curry in the evening with Mum and Abi and Helen and Ian. H&I volunteer to be stand in emergency help for Mum while we are away so touching base every now and then seems a good plan. It also seemed a good idea for Abi to come along as everyone has heard so much about each other.

Jackie, Denise and Paul
Yesterday, B's birthday, we spent with H&I, we walked into Birmingham along the canal from Bourneville. Mexican quesadillas for lunch by the canal, new for H&I and good training for us. Before meeting up with Manu and Crystal to look at the massive disruption in the centre of Birmingham where they have demolished the old library and one of the major ring road underpasses, pleasant pint and home on the train. A first for Monty Dog, also a first on an escalator! Back to H&I where B baked himself a smaller version of the favourite Oreo birthday cake, with moral support from the rest of us. Helen made pizza dough, Manu and Crystal turned up with freshly cooked dumplings for starters and we all created our own pizza, followed by cake and a random sampling of the liqueur cabinet! If that wasn't enough we are off to Tim and Jill's in Derby for a 'Monday Club' buffet, then lunch with Judith and Richard tomorrow, out for a curry with Dani and John on Tuesday........

Very pleasant Warwickshire countryside and country houses
James, my daughter Fiona's partner permanently BBQ'ing
So why were quesadillas good training for us I hear you ask? We have our next Housesit planned, 5 weeks in Mexico over Christmas looking after three dogs, a mere 8000km from where we may be in Santiago, a fifth of the way round the world, but hey it sort of makes sense!

So along with Sooty fussing, an ongoing DIY project for Abi, and shopping, I have a rucksack on order, but no new clothes to put in it, B has clothes but no bag, it's all been fairly busy! 

Nephew Nick in the hot tub with Sam and Rory looking on
Stop Press. B now has a bag too, H&I have bought him the same as mine , so it's just clothes for me then....

Brians youngest granddaughter Jenny enjoying the hot tub at the party
Birthday girl Abbie talking to her Grandmother (Brians ex wife). In the middle is Becky, Brians middle granddaughter with boyfriend Harry
The birthday cakes. Brians is on the left
Brian with his Cookies and Cream Party Cake that he baked
Malcolm holding the cake for Abbie on the right. Steph (pregnant with her second child) is taking the photo
Sooty cat still unimpressed by the action

In the cool Gas Street canal basin just off Broad Street in Birmingham City Centre with Ian, Helen and Monty dog
Outside the new library in Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham
A skull sculpture in Centenary Square with curry plants growing all over it. The smell was amazing. Behind is the old registry office currently under development
Birmingham is undergoing big changes. Already the new Bull Ring with the iconic Selfridges building is complete along with the new fabulous Grand Central (New Street) railway station are open but this area is where the old library once stood and is being redeveloped as a huge pedestrianised area with big open spaces and shops to link it to Broad Street, Centenary Square, the new library and all the other fabulous building now putting Birmingham really on the map as a great place to visit. This is due for completion at the end of 2017. The demolition has given a rare view of the superb architecture of the Law Courts, the Art Gallery and the Town Hall
We met up with Manu and Crystal as well and here we all are next to the Town Hall peeking through the barriers at the work going on
Victoria Squre, Birmingham with Manu and Crystal chatting to Jackie while Helen, Ian and Monty dog look at a notice board
Manu, Crystal, Ian, Helen and Jackie making home made pizzas in Ian and Helens kitchen
Brian with his birthday cake
Excited yet Sooty? No, apparently not!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Coniston and the English Lake District

Jackie, Brian and Pauline with the Old Man of Coniston in the background

Our two week housesit for Tim and family in Derby fell through after he ruptured a lung at the gym so couldn’t fly, opting instead for a staycation (he’s going to be OK apparently), Pauline (Jackie’s mum) had a positive meeting with her IFA, Jackie got frustrated looking for last minute housesits with people not replying (‘yes, we understand you are desperate as you’ve been let down by a housesitter at the last minute, are going on holiday and need to find someone quick, but it works both ways, we have also been let down at the last minute and need to know where we are going to go, so if you’ve found someone else have the decency to let us know after you’ve read our application, we don’t want to apply for lots, get lots of offers and then have to let people down, so we’re waiting to hear from you before applying for others!’ Moan over). In the absence of anything positive, Pauline said ‘Why don’t we all go away for a few days, my treat! What about the Lake District?’ Why not indeed!

The view from our lounge window of Coniston water
Jackie and Pauline in the kitchen
Sometimes late breaking decisions work out well and our trip with Pauline to the Lake District was one of those. Despite being in the middle of the main holiday season where prices are usually very high and availability scarce, after a few hours searching on the internet we found a really good deal: a two bedroom self-catering cottage in Coniston village, high up on a hill with superb views over Coniston water (they call them ‘water’ up there, not lakes), 3 minutes walks from the famous Sun Inn pub and with walks straight from the cottage, including one to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. The owners had had a late cancellation so offered us a very good discount for a 5 day break starting the day after tomorrow, so on Sunday morning we packed and headed up the M6 motorway, arriving at 3:00pm.

Heading out for our Coniston Water cruise
Coniston Water and its surrounding are both very picturesque and historically interesting, so here are a few facts:

  •  The lake is the third largest in the English Lake District at 8km long, 800m wide, has a maximum depth of 56m and is 44m above sea level
  • The Old Man of Coniston rises to a height of 803m, towering over the lake and immediately to its west. It is a straightforward walk to the summit, usually starting from the Coppermine valley, so named because of its history of copper mining in the area and still littered with old mineworkings, slag heaps, rusting mining equipment and gravel access roads and bridges in the valley and halfway up the summit path route (See: Old_Man_of_Coniston).
  • The Victorian artist and philosopher John Ruskin owned Brantwood House on the eastern shore of the lake and lived there from 1872 until his death in 1900. The house is a Grade II listed building and is now a museum dedicated to John Ruskin and is open to the public. Access to it is either by road, round the lake from Coniston village or by taking the Coniston Cruises ferry, as we did one day. (See: John Ruskin). 
  • Arthur Ransome lived in a cottage on the eastern shore of the lake and wrote his novels Swallows and Amazons in the 1930’s, which were set in the area (see: Swallows and Amazons). Near to his cottage in the lake is the small Peel Island with its secret harbour, which has been identified as Wild Cat Island in his books. The Coniston Cruise we went on took us past Peel Island, but we couldn’t land as the water is too shallow. We could see a number of kayaks in the secret harbour and youngsters scouting around the island though which all looked very exciting! A new film of the same name has been made, filmed on location on Coniston Water and Peel Island and is due for release on 19th August, perhaps we should go and see it…. (see:
  • The lake is also infamously known as the place where Donald Campbell lost his life trying to break the water speed record in his craft Bluebird K7. On 4th January 1967, almost 50 years ago, approaching his goal of exceeding 300mph his craft became airborne, somersaulted and smashed itself on the surface of the lake killing him instantly and taking him and most of the craft to the bottom of the lake. The main part of the fuselage was recovered by divers in March 2001 and Donald Campbell’s body was recovered in May 2001 and is now buried in Coniston Cemetery. The body of the craft survived for 34 years underwater mainly as the engine acted as sacrificial anode, meaning the engine corroded in preference to the body due to its electropotential difference (See: Galvanic corrosion).  The craft is now being rebuilt using as much of the original structure as possible and it is hoped that it will eventually will be used on Coniston Water again for some speed trials (see:   
Peel (Wild Cat) Island on Coniston Water

The weather in The Lake District can often be wet, sitting as it does in the North-West of England surrounded by mountains, but we were fairly lucky, only having rain on a couple of days, cool, cloudy weather on others and even some sunshine, allowing us to get out and about exploring.

A boat trip on the lake was high on our list, but first we had an afternoon in Coniston village followed by an evening out in the Sun Inn on Sunday and then a trip to Ambleside on Monday, followed by a drive over a small part of Wynrose mountain pass. Ambleside is famous for its outdoor gear shops and with our forthcoming year long trip to South America rapidly approaching we have plenty of outdoor gear to buy, so it was a perfect opportunity, but perhaps not for Pauline who we dragged along as well! New approach shoes for Jackie and lots of looking at backpacking rucksacks, but there’s a lot more work to be done on that!  

A little robin sitting on the fence at Brantwood House
Old mine workings on the Old Man of Coniston walk
Tuesday was our day on the lake with Coniston Cruises, which has about 5 stops at various points where you can get off and on, waiting for the next one to continue, plus a close encounter with Peel (Wild Cat) Island. We made just one stop and that was at the Brantwood House stop, not to visit the house (we’re not really John Ruskin fans), but to stop at the cafĂ© for lunch and enjoy the superb views of the lake framed by the Old Man of Coniston in the(brief) sunshine. A nice amble along part of the lake edge afterwards and then back for afternoon tea and cake at our cottage!

View of Low and Levers Waters from near the summit of the Old Man
On Wednesday we left Pauline to explore locally while Jackie and I took a walk to the summit of the Old Man of Coniston. It was pleasant but relatively steep walking in partly sunshine (but no rain) and always good views, particularly as we approached the summit to enjoy expansive views across the Lake District with views of Scafell and Coniston and Windermere waters. It’s a popular walk for people of all nationalities and we heard many different languages from people going up that we passed (and passed us) and people on their way down. 
On the summit of the Old Man of Coniston
Not far from the top, on a particularly steep part above a small lake Jackie stopped a couple on their way down as they were about to pass us ‘Are you Wendy’ she said, ‘yes’ came the reply ‘and you must be Sion’ Jackie said to her partner, ‘yes’ he said. It turns out she is ‘friends’ with them on Facebook but has never met them, Abi (Sooty’s owner in Hall Green) having suggested she ‘friended’ them sometime ago. An amazing coincidence, but even more amazing that Jackie recognised someone she had never met. Nice couple and a welcome break on our steep uphill section.

The summit shelter
The final moments of Bluebird K7
It only took us 3 hours door to door to do it and we were back down before the forecasted afternoon rain, to settle down to do the 1000 piece jigsaw Pauline had brought. With the 3 of us working at it we had it done in 3 hours in time for wine and dinner, not bad eh!

Thursday was wet so we went into Coniston village to the John Ruskin museum which featured not only John Ruskin but a section on Swallows and Amazons and a whole wing devoted to Donald Campbell and the Bluebird K7, with one section of a crushed air intake and the corroded engine on display. I remember the original crash in January 1967 as an 11 year old and can remember my mum waking up my brother Tony and I with the news that Donald Campbell had been killed. I was only dimly aware of him at the time but can remember those images of the caterpulting craft and feeling quite shocked at seeing someone killed in that way and it brought all those memories back to me. We finished the day off with a drive round the lake, returning home the following day down a very busy and slow M6 back to Pauline’s house in Alvechurch for the night.  

A photo from the John Ruskin museum of the recovered Bluebird K7 in March 2001
It’s now Sunday afternoon and we’re now back in Hall Green in Birmingham looking after Sooty the cat, having taken Abi off to the airport yesterday afternoon for her holiday in Jersey.

We’re here for a few weeks now, probably until we head off for our South American trip. We are now in the final stages of planning that and will be booking flights within the next few days, probably heading out of the UK around 14th September and expecting to be away for about a year. Exciting times!!
This crushed component is an actual air intake from Bluebird K7 and was too corroded to use for the rebuild. Apparently it originally extended as far as the beam by the person in the white jacket. The impact with the water crushed it to this length
This is the original engine from Bluebird K7 and is heavily corroded. It saved the body by being the sacrificial anode
Walking up to the Claife panoramic viewing station on Windermere
View through one of the stainglass edged opening in the viewing station
Back with little Sooty in Hall Green....
She seems quite happy her staff are back!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Aylesbury and on

Winston sniffing the camera with Edith behind
This may be a pictureless blog, or not very good as first try posting from the iPad as a) although it's been very chilled we haven't done too much and b) we are going to be wifi free for a few days! Due to circumstances beyond our control we are not in Derby, poor Tim, while in the gym suffered a pneumothorax, or partial burst lung, normally an athlete's injury! He should be fine, but can't fly, so their trip to Italy is off! We were invited to stay while they were on their staycation but this felt a bit intrusive, so as a late breaking decision we are off to Coniston tomorrow for five days with mum! Looks like a lovely cottage, but no wifi!

The Boer War Monument atop Coombe Hill
The PM's country retreat of Chequers with Coombe Hill behind
We had a lovely last few days with the small furries, involving a dental appointment for Brian leading to a trip to Lockwoods in Leamington, followed by a few short local walks, Coombe Hill and Wendover woods. Interesting time at Coombe Hill with our own personal National Trust guide, as no one else wanted to join us. "See that wind turbine over there? Used to be the biggest, now second biggest. " Turns out to be right by where we were staying. Interesting? Brian thought so!

The inadvertent power of photo manipulation. This is a view from the top of Coombe Hill showing the PM's country retreat of Chequers (partly covered by scaffold). I thought I was joining two photos taken from the same point but, after joining them using a bit of software I have I realised I had taken them from different points. The result is 2 Chequers! I can't even see the join of the two photos - scary!
A Red Kite sits in a tree at Coombe Hill
Brian did a slightly longer walk on his own, breaking in his new walking shoes, though they may have broken him in. Hopefully they will reach an agreement after the amount he spent on them!
I had a quick look round Aylesbury, as it used to be a regular shopping haunt. Not anymore. Brian popped into an ex customer of his which was much more satisfying, he was greeted with open arms, literally and lots of chat.

The lovely village of Ellesborough in the Chiltern Hills
Late night summer drinks in Ian and Helens garden
Back up to the Midlands for more medical appointments. Three hours, over two days in the dentists chair for me, and a follow up for the small lump Brian had removed from his top lip. The fact that he needed a follow up had been concerning, does more need to come out? Fortunately no, she wanted to see him as this kind of lump can be an indicator of Lynch syndrome. "Has anyone in your family had bowel cancer?" She carefully started off asking, thinking she was going to be the bearer of bad tidings. Explaining that he does have Lynch syndrome and as a result a barrage of tests the appointment finished quickly and painlessly!

Monty dog isn't sure whats going. It's what happens when humans have too much wine!
We spent yesterday with Helen, Ian and Monty dog, B and Ian path laying in the garden and H and I hedge trimmings and all sorts. Went out for a yummy meal at Blue Ocean, the Malaysian fusion restaurant we discovered in Acocks Green. All quite restrained as I can't drink on my dental antibiotics there was no heavy drinking by anyone, what sweeties, but a lovely day!

Ian working hard while Brian looks on
Woke to an email from the two fluffy bunnies in Acocks Green saying their sitter has to leave any chance of us filling in? What appalling timing!

Monty dog makes light work of destroying a box