June 21, 2014


Every enterprise has to have difficulties, problems, setbacks, and before every new event one can wonder when these will happen. I wasn't left wondering for very long when preparing for the visit of Juris and his mum Helena; before I had really started packing in earnest and before I had collected the wheelchair I trapped a nerve in my back. Since then everything has been very painful. Oh and I hit the same pothole on the roundabout for M42 J9 that possibly wrecked my shock absorber 2 months ago and will have caused more damage; that matter is now with HAIL.

Putting those negatives behind me on day one it MIGHT be that we can look forward to a more straightforward passage from here on. Fingers crossed.

The collection at Luton Airport was almost painless apart from having to pay £8.20 in the Mid Term car park. We were quickly winging our way into the bosom of Buckinghamshire for the National Trust gardens at Stowe. Attempting to confront the wheelchair issue at Stowe we were offered the loan of an electric buggy to navigate the vast grounds. This was a 4-seater and we ALL got to drive it, though not necessarily with the approval of the NT.

Anyway we made good use of it, discovering temples, rotundas and features in every corner, and in amongst all this the boys of Stowe School playing Tennis, Golf, Cricket and Badminton. Eventually when we got to the top of the biggest hill and at the furthest point from the NT my phone rang; "where is our buggy?" Managed to find our way back and still with a little electricity left in it!

Onwards to the Days Inn on M40 J8A for the evening and our first night. The room is okay, the sleep quite good even with pain in back, and the Thunderstorm magnificent. Now we must make our own breakfast as we don't want to pay £9.99 for a few sausages egg and tomato.

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Our first full day in the south of England began with the traditional English Breakfast. Last night's curled up sandwiches - this is only traditional for Juris, I think. But we decided to save money on a hotel breakfast, and that's what we had. I did take the precaution of buying milk and those miniature cereals packets so at least we were able to have a bowl of Cheerios.

Then we hit the road and headed back into Buckinghamshire for Waddesdon Manor, the huge pile designed and built by the Rothschilds in 1857. I remember seeing a documentary about the Rothschilds and about how in spite of all their wealth and being at the core of the British establishment they were still looked down on as being 'nouveau riche' and not really aristocracy. Well Waddesdon revealed a certain 'aspirational' thinking rather than a 'we've already got there so we don't need to boast about it'.

If the building date had been 1957 instead of 1857 then I would have said it was pure Disneyland and the whole edifice was stolen from 'Cinderella' or some other Walt Disney cartoon made before computers ruined the quality of the artwork. But maybe Walt stole his sets from Waddesdon instead. Its architecture is a jumble of bits probably plagiarized from a number of French Chateau and orther European buildings. The only unity is the poor taste and lack of originality. But it is impressive if only in size and grandeur.

However, the gardens were grand, and we enjoyed the Aviary garden, the truly fabulous Rose Garden which could be smelled almost before it could be seen, and then the Grand Parterre along the frontage of the house.

Helena walked some of the time, and rode in her wheelchair some of the time. Never complained, never made demands, and always seemed in complete wonder at every place she went and everything we saw.

After this, and somewhat later than planned, we headed into the city of Oxford. Arriving at almost 4 O'clock it was too late to do any organised visits, so we just ambled around for three hours. We found a chippery that gave us 'Posh Fish' for less than £6 a head with cheaps and beans or peas and it was really tasty.

Then back to Days Inn at Junction 8A to collapse. Ten hours exploring today. Tomorrow we transfer to Kent.

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Sunday began with a traditional Latvian version of an English Breakfast at M40 J8A Oxford. That is, no eggs, no bacon, no sausages, no fried bread, no mushrooms, no beans, no black pudding ..... Then we had to pack and vacate the rooms.

We decided to visit Wisley Gardens on the way to Tonbridge. Now the weather could have been kinder, but it didn't actually rain, and the grey clouds just subdued the colours and views. It only took about an hour to reach Wisley even with all our luggage.

On arrival we "negotiated" a place in the Disabled Car Park, even though we don't have a Blue Badge. Now I'm getting a bit pissed off with all this tyranny of Blue Badges. It seems you are NOT disabled unless you have a Blue Badge, although of course we all know now that half of all Blue Badges are actually used by the ABLE members of their family when they shouldn't be.

With a wheelchair member we need all the benefits of a disabled space, such as wider space and nearer the facilities. We don't need all the bureaucracy of the Blue Badge scheme, and all the paperwork, etc. I say let people with genuine ability needs use disabled spaces without application or formal processes. Those that use such spaces falsely will have their limbs severed on the spot preferably without anaesthetic.

To add to my annoyance at Wisley, and at some National Trust properties, and at many Supermarkets, there were 'Parent' spaces, Wider spaces for families. I have absolutely NO tolerance of such rubbish whatsoever. You are NOT disabled, and should not be given any more facilities than a single male!!! But just to put it into perspective, you don't need a Blue Badge (or any other colour badge) to park in a Parent space - people trust you to be a Parent, but not to be disabled.

Scrap the Blue Badge scheme, and scrap all Parent spaces.

The wheelchair travelled ALL around Wisley, not only through the various woods, wild meadows, and rose gardens, but also through the hot houses. The Rose gardens were extensive and spectacular, and the Poppy meadow, in commemoration of the Great War was dramatic.

I explained to a number of people how the Poppy came to be such a symbol of WWI (They sprang up naturally in the Spring following all the shelling and fighting across the fields of Flanders and France; Poppies like disturbed ground and can lay dormant for generations). But it seems that so many people are busy clamouring for Parent parking spaces that they do not know some basic history.

We stayed much longer than intended because even in fairly gloomy conditions, it was still truly wonderful. When we left it was too late to move onto another attraction. Instead we headed straight to Tonbridge and checked into the Rose and Crown right on the main street. Then we explored a rather historic and scenic little town bridging the River Medway and guarding this crossing with a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle. Our only hot meal was provided by a Two for One offer on Domino Pizza, and I rather suspects that the remnants of that will provide breakfast in the morning. Hey Ho. It's Chartwell and Hever tomorrow and maybe the Kent coast in the evening; give me some sun please.

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My sister and I have encountered the 'Best Western' chain of hotels before, since they exist in many countries; suffice it to say "Adequate Western" better describes them. This chain appears to buy once proud establishments and does little with them except maintain them. However the Best Western Rose and Crown, Tonbridge did provide us with free WiFi which worked tolerably well, as did the plumbing. I can't comment on the food because in true Latvian tradition I wasn't allowed to have any here.

Best Western only provided us with twin beds, but they worked well enough. One of my readers has asked, "how is your back?" Well I think the nerve is still trapped, and certainly small movements such as turning in bed, etc are the most difficult and most painful; perhaps Juris is glad of the single beds now. Once I am up and about there is too much to do to spend time thinking about my back pain. Besides I would rather complain about the Grand Issues such as The Blue Badge tyranny than complain about my own pain!

We arrived at Tonbridge having knocked off Waddesdon Manor where we spent too long to be able to tick off another attraction. However, there was time for Mama to have a rest whilst Juris and I explored this little town, The Waitrose of course was closed as this was late Sunday afternoon, but we ambled down the rather pretty main street with some properties, such as the Rose and Crown Hotel, dating back to Jacobean times, whilst many others were early Victorian. It perhaps looked a little tired in places, but pleasant enough. The Motte and Bailey Castle was dominant presence on the banks of the River Medway by the rather charming iron bridge across it.

Juris and I investigated the options for eating and returned with Mama to take advantage of Domino's Two for One deal on large Pizzas for collection on Sunday. We returned these to our rooms at the Rose and Crown and ate enthusiastically after a day of thin pickings. The church bells rang out whilst we feasted, and it turns out that my niece Catherine, who lives in Kent, was actually ringing them as Bell Captain.

You can believe by now that cold Dominos Pizzas formed our breakfast, before we set off for two local attractions. Our first was the home of Winston Spencer Churchill at Chartwell, where delightful Kent lanes with Oast houses and little brick villages led us.

It may be four decades since I last went to Chartwell, and it all seemed bigger this time around. Mama was mesmerised by it all. Having foolishly accepted a timed visit to the house 2 hours ahead, we were almost forced to spend 2 hours in the garden; but it wasn't that difficult. The gardens were blooming wonderful, and the only minus point for us is that there are steps. The NT has provided a number of wheelchair friendly ways around but you will still find some steps up or down barring your way to some feature. Mama would not stopped in this way, and abandoned the wheel chair and strode onward.

There was a wonderful rose garden, which in mid June was at its prime. Then there was the Golden Rose Walk, a present from the children to their Churchill parents on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary. A lovely gift, and a delightful place to stroll, and also to sip tea from our flask. The garden studio also helped to fill out our time as Mama took a keen interest in the paintings made by WSC all over the world; politician, strategist, writer, bricklayer and painter, there was no end to the talents of Churchill.

Thirty mintues still remained until our timed entrance to the house, but I negotiated an advance and we entered at 13:00hrs instead of 13:30. The wheelchair was parked outside and Mama set off inside climbing without complaint any stairs that confronted her. Chartwell is a delightful house with charming rooms of good proportion, now filled with His memorabilia; what's not to like. Retrieving the wheel chair from one side of the house to re-unite with Mama on the other side was quite a feat, requiring me to be escorted the wrong way through the house, and then having to circumnavigate the gardens and lug the device up a couple of flights of steps.

After that effort I unanimously decided to visit the restaurant and purchase two "sandwiches". £5.50 is probably the most I have ever paid for a single sandwich, the bread surrounding the Tuna and Cucumber and also the Bacon and Egg sandwich made it very tasty. Don't tell Juris how much they cost. We availed ourselves of the facilities and ate the NT fayre before setting off for venue two.

More Kentish lanes and then we arrived to Hever Castle where our wheelchair status at least allowed us to park on the lawn close to the house. We explored first the gardens, once more entering into a world of Roses, I cannot believe how many Roses we have seen since leaving Luton Airport. And to cap it all, Hever Castle is the home of the Tudor Rose dynasty, the unification of the Red Rose of Lancaster with the White Rose of the House of York. This dynasty was all explained, and complicated it is, on panels within the Castle.

Little remains of the Boleyn (crafty, conniving, ruthlessly scheming Tudors) family as much of Hever Castle was refitted when the Astors moved in just over a century ago. But it has been tastefully done, and was pleasant enough to explore. Mama did it all, including the spiral stone staircase, but was granted remission and allowed to descend by a simpler staircase. Then back to the garden, walking to the lake through the Italian garden, then back to the car where the final portions of the Pizza and the remains of the Chartwell cucumber sandwich were eaten.

Cousin Trish said I must be mad to do Chartwell and Hever in one day, and we were but did it anyway. Returning to Tonbridge the question of an evening meal raised itself. After some lively discussion we ended up at a fish and chippery; where I was disgusted to find that I qualified for an OAP serving of fish and chips at £3.80. I didn't mind saving the money, and the portion was plentiful, but the suggestion that I might be "old" is intolerable. And so exhausted to bed, no time to write up this blog.

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Many people would have thought that driving almost 300 miles from Kent to Cornwall was a big enough task to fill a day, but that's not the way we do things (apparently!), and the National Trust membership needed to be put to good use in spite of the transition we had to make.

So it was that we departed Tonbridge, after gathering a few quick photos and the makings of a picnic lunch from Waitrose. Our first port of call was due to be the gardens at Nymans, and perhaps I should have been a little concerned when Tomtom told me that the 28 mile journey would take an hour, but it took far longer. I wanted one last session with the Kentish lanes, a decision I was going to regret. The journey to Nymans via Eat Grinstead was a real grind, scarcely a stretch of road above 30 or 40mph, several sets of traffic light-controlled road works, and finally a very large tractor crawling along pulling a low loader bearing a JCB.

We paused at East Grinstead for relief and ambled along the pretty main street before finding a lovely cafe where we drunk refreshing tea and delicious lemon curd cake. Juris also purchased cigarettes, which tamed his tiger usefully!

Eventually we arrived at Nymans, once again using our cardboard box inscribed "THIS VEHICLE CARRIES A WHEELCHAIR" in place of the dreadful Blue Badge. But there was a change at Nymans; only two of us had to pay admission which because Juris and I had taken out NT membership meant that we were 'free'. These houses work on the principle that the carer of a 'less able' person is free, and that meant that Juris (or I !!) should have been free at all houses, but because we already had membership we were not given the 'carer' or 'companion' discount. At Nymans, however, they saw the absurdity of this predicament and waved us through - effectively 3 for 2 as it should have been.

The gardens at Nymans are set around the ruins of a manor house which suffered a number of catastrophic fires, the last in 1947. The stark burnt out shell makes a wonderful backdrop to herbaceous borders of colour and variety, with a frame of vivid green topiary at the lower edges of the light stonework. We had a long wander through the arboretum, the wild garden, and surprise surprise the Rose Garden. Having concluded that the sun NEVER shines in Kent, it touched everything with its brightest tentacles and gave us colour and sights of true beauty. I set a target of one hour to "do" Nymans, but needless to say nobody observed my limit.

The journey to Cornwall had to continue, and a route via Guildford and the Hogs Back was chosen in order to stay well south of London and avoid traffic gathering for the first day of Royal Ascot. Once we hit the A31 the tortuous lanes of Kent that had so impeded our earlier journey were quickly forgotten. Then onto the M3 and A303 and a chance to grapple with our huge journey with more determination; even so some cars did overtake us. My Peugeot 208 gave a lot of trouble last year, but now 3 up with a wheelchair and luggage for a week, I cannot complain. We achieved the A303 and later A30 at speeds I will not put in print, the car seeming to relish the extra weight which even improved the handling.

On a late afternoon just prior to the Midsummer Solstice we came across Stonehenge. We had phoned ahead to check on opening times, and having established that 17:00 was last admission the Tomtom ETA of 16:45 looked close, and hence the need to press on down the A303. Arrival at Stonehege was ahead of TomTom and we were quickly at the Ticket counter. Just as at Nymans our NT memberships were accepted and a 'companion' ticket given for free. Then onto a little Land Train driven by a rather struggling Land-Rover that took us all up to the monument.

Bathed in brilliant sunshine the megolithic stones made a majestic end to our sight seeing today. There isn't much you can do at Stonehenge other than amble around the circle covering about 11 hours of the clock face before turning and doing it all again in reverse. But the bright sun warming the stones also warmed our hearts, and we felt no need to rush, even with almost 200 miles still to go. We even sat outside the complex and enjoyed our (late) picnic, but don't tell sister Biddi who was waiting with a meal for us down in Cornwall ! Our picnic was brown rolls already spread with butter, to which each person could add Honey Roast Ham or Smoked Salmon pate which Waitrose had provided in Tonbridge (11 hours ago). We also had apples, fresh tomatoes, cucumber and a flask of Broccoli and Cheese soup. If that wasn't enough we also had bought in the Kentish lanes fresh Cherries and Cherry Tomatoes.

The clock said almost 19:00 when we regained the A303 and TomTom told us that arrival at sister's would be 22:15. It wasn't as simple as that, however, because the petrol meter told me that we would run dry 40 miles from home. I expected to join the M5 prior to Exeter Services, and thereby to resolve the fuel situation, but it wasn't to be because we joined at J29 and then were on the A30 from J30; no fuel. I phoned little brother from the car as he lives at Exminster. "Where is the next fuel on the A30?" He tried to advise us, and then a sign suddenly said "Services". Saved! Moretonhampstead provided us fuel and a little pause for my passengers who were informed that there would be NO MORE STOPS as we were already well behind schedule.

From here on in I could drive the journey wearing a blind fold. I know every inch of it, know when to overtake, when to cut the corners, when to be wary of the white car parked in a lay-by brandishing a speed gun. The only hiccup was just after the sign proclaiming "Welcome to Cornwall". Our welcome consisted of sitting stationary at traffic lights for 5 minutes, and then doing the next 3 miles at 10 mph behind a 'FOLLOW ME' tractor. Pressing on again, I quit the A30 at Boxheater, heading to the coast via Goonhavern and Perranporth through proper Cornish lanes - my favourite way.

22:25 arrival, and if you are exhausted by the account of our passage, consider how these three travellers felt after 12 hours doing it. Enjoyed the frantic drive though on a clear summer evening with little traffic. So to bed and the first sleep on ASDA's finest air mattress on my sister's lounge floor.

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Our first day in Cornwall began with BREAKFAST, now there's a novelty on this trip! My sister's extensive larder provided ANYTHING that anyone wanted, in my case fresh Olive bread, cereal with fresh strawberries. Mama and Juris made their own fresh salad and enjoyed sliced ham on good bread.

Then we set off to show the beauty of Cornwall and there is no finer showcase than the North Cornwall coast. Driving passed the 4 miles of golden sands at Perranporth, then Porth, Watergate Bay, Mawgan Porth and beyond on the coast road that skirts Newquay and reaches the National Trust lands at Carnewas, commonly referred to as 'Bedruthan Steps'. Here we parked up, guided to a disabled parking space where everyone was decanted.

We set off on the clifftop path the wheelchair passing within a foot or so of sheer drops down to still azure blue Atlantic beneath. The colour was vivid, but the surface was too calm, stilled by the high pressure sitting overhead; that same weather system did, however, deliver us the intense sunlight to make everything glow.

My cousin had messaged me: "I trust it is sunny in Cornwall too and that you don’t intend to take Mama on a cliff walk – with or without the wheelchair!" but by the time I read this it was already too late. Mama had been on a cliff walk in and out of the wheelchair. Though we didn't press Mama into going too far, the views were just so vivid that nobody wanted to be short changed of them. We took freshly made Watercress soup in a truly homemade NT cafe served with chunky saffron bread, and I can thoroughly recommend this enterprise.

A short drive across country took us to the 16th century manor house of Trerice, a place that has fond memories for me as both my mother and father would go here at the drop of a hat. Father would march in through the front door and ask to be allowed to cross to the Barn Cafe without having to pay admission; he was always allowed. And so it was with us, Biddi and I negotiated our own free passage to the Barn Cafe, and agreed admission to the house for Juris (as member) and his mum (free as less able). Biddi and I sat at table in the Barn garden supping lovely tea and eating home made Blueberry Victoria sponge cake, whilst the Latvians used up another chunk of the NT membership; that £100 quid has already saved us money.

After that I set the TomTom to take us back to Biddi's house by the shortest route, fully realising just how exciting this might be! True to TomTom's best traditions he found us a long lost ford and then took us down a very narrow lane near St Newlyn East. Now I am used to driving down Cornish lanes so narrow that the wing mirrors get ripped off and all the paint gets scratched from the sides of the car, but this was something else. There was only 3 feet between the foliage on each side of the lane and we needed to proceed slowly and keep the windows shut. Clearly no vehicles had passed down here for a long time, although the cow poo down the centre of this lane told us of bovine traffic.

You can stick your motorways, this is better driving. We cut across to Cubert and then by the back lanes to St Piran's Oratory where St Piran first set up shop in about AD 600 bringing Christianity to Cornwall from Ireland. The remains of the ancient Oratory are still sunk into the Perranporth sand dunes, kept buried because that preserves them better than other means in the shifting dunes.

Thus ended our first Cornish excursion. We will eat a proper meal tonight, the one denied by our non-arrival last night. But tonight we will have Champagne to toast Juris' study success and the imminent start of his research project back in Latvia. Cheers.

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Thursday began again with BREAKFAST; that's two days running. Biddi opened her larder and I ate delicious sour dough bread toasted with butter and Marmite that dripped through my fingers, and after cereals with fresh strawberries and piled high with a dollop of clotted Cornish cream. Mmmm. Mama and Juris made salad and had this with fried leftovers from last night. Everybody had whatever they wanted.

For our final day in Cornwall I chose to go to West Penwith, the very toe of Cornwall. We called in at the Truro Sainsburys arriving there almost on fresh air as the few litres of fuel I had added at Moretonhampstead were running dry; I wanted to be sure to get my double points at Sainsburys on a full tank, and incidentally saved 3pence a litre from what was offered on the A30.

Then via the A394 and Helston to the outskirts of Marazion where we sat in the beach side car park with St Michaels Mount towering above us. A perfect spot for morning tea, and we sat on the beach with our flask and our lemon cake. Mounts Bay showed us its bluest sea and its bluest sky and it was a joy to pause with our tea and cake amidst such marine beauty. Juris and I went for a paddle in the sea, but the shingle beach was uncomfortable on the feet and daunted Mama who had been game to try it.

Then back to the A30, around the back of Penzance, through Sheffield and Leedstown before reaching Lamorna Cove. We parked precipitately above the boulder strewn shore before ambling around the little harbour wall which was thoroughly wrecked by the winter storms. It wasn't as pretty as I might have hoped, but we still had the blue sky and sea, and few other people to spoil our enjoyment of it. A flask of soup with sandwiches provided an excellent picnic at this little cove and we relaxed in the hot sun.

After that I headed to St Just and my favourite road from St Just to St Ives. However my passage was spoiled by German tourists driving cars that were twelve feet wide and they stopped at the approach of anything, even a cyclist. Of course their vehicles were no wider than mine, and whilst it is true that this road is scarcely much more than 12 feet wide and sometimes rather less, it is mostly capable of letting two vehicles drive past each other. The Germans were over cautious and it would be better if they stayed in areas that have bigger roads.

So I quit my favourite road earlier than usual and cut to St Agnes where we could chill out before our evening meal.

Last evening, after our evening meal, Juris and I took a walk from Wheal Coates Mine above Chapel Porth and down to the famous cliffside engine house of Towanroath. This is one of my favourite walks, and only in June can you see the western end of the engine house lit by the sun. Tonight after our meal we took Mama to Wheal Coates Mine for a walk in the evening sun, though NOT down to Towanroath. After that we drove to Chapel Porth beach arriving just moments before the sun crashed into the sea and it was snuffed out. Day ended.

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