Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Dartmoor Days

Tucked up in a lovely cottage in Dartmoor with Dad, Marilyn and Aunty Jean. Roaring wood-burning stove, a lake of alcohol and mad quantities of food. It's nice and cosy, which is lovely as the wind is seriously picking up outside and there's major flooding in many parts of the UK, with further storms expected. 

It took some finding. Dad, Marilyn and Jean came down on Boxing Day, and I joined them last night. A 220 mile journey, which I managed to extend by a further 60 miles when I overshot the junction. Navigating the winding roads of Dartmoor is exciting in the dark. The house is completely remote, down a single-track road.

Today we took a drive out to Bideford for a look at the harbour and the high street.

There was a market with two very talented crocheters who could make any kind of food imaginable. They don't have a website but they're called Twitknits and you can find them at Bideford Pannier Market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.  

There was also a knitting shop with a display of old Singer sewing machines in the window. I love these, as you see the first one in almost every tailor shop in Rwanda.

1921: click to enlarge and read the board.

1897 & 1880 

Time for a hot chocolate.

Then an airing at the beach near Westward Ho!, a town named after an 1855 novel by Charles Kingsley. 

(Panoramic - click to enlarge)

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Well, this is what it's all been about - coming home to the UK. Last Christmas was a total non-event, so this year I wanted to do the whole shebang. Trimmings and sparkle. Festivate myself into a coma.

Loved decorating the tree with mum the other day. Weather has been totally weird. Middle of December and we have strawberries flowering in the garden! The weather has been so mild, except for a couple of nights when it felt really cold. I half hoped it might snow, but Christmas day was drizzle, downpour and high winds. I think there's now a Scottish Channel between England and Alba - about where Carlisle used to be.

Caught up with a couple of friends and attended a totally packed carol sing-along at our local.

Plus an impromptu lock-in with a fabulous pianist called Lincoln who rocked the bar until 1AM. That wasn't the only thing that left me smiling. When I very first got back, my mum was having her front drive redone. A very talented group of builders managed to turn this:

Into this:

*round of applause*

Well, you might also remember that one of those builders turned out to be a guy I used to play with as a kid, but hadn't seen in almost twenty years. Well, he turned up down the pub for that lock-in, and I was amazed - and slightly embarrassed (as I have two left feet) - to discover that he can dance! One moment I was throwing myself around the floor, the next, I had a tall, muscular accomplice. 

I'm a little glum because I'd like to catch up with him properly, but I have no way of contacting him. So, remembering from before that he collects old bottles, I decided to go on a little jaunt. I found a completely incredible antique shop in Northampton called The Old Bakehouse. They have a little village of beach huts out back crammed full of curiosities - everything from dolls' houses to a horse trap. You could get lost in there for decades. 

I soon found a collection of antique bottles and chose an unusual green-glass one. I've put a message in it and wrapped it up for my friends at the bar to give to his friend to give to him. It would be nice to see him again before I fly back to Rwanda, but I'm not holding my breath.

I discovered this in the upstairs room and it fascinates me. It's apparently Victorian. The background is entirely made from thistledown. What a beautiful idea.

Christmas Day was absolutely wonderful. I spent it with 'the kids' (L-R: Lenny, Victor, Milly, Gerald and Woodsy), Mum, Merrick, our friends Steve and Mervyn, and our friends Toni and Dan who run the pub. We drank until the bar closed, then ate ourselves stupid on lamb and turkey with all the trimmings, happily sozzled on G&T, champers, wine and grand marnier with Christmas pudding, chocolate log and fruit salad for pudding. 

It has been splendid, and I know I'll still be salivating over that dinner for months to come once I'm back to goat brochette and melange. I've actually got to the point where I'm slowing down a little with food. When I got back it was a case of whatever I could cram in my mouth, but now I've become accustomed to the idea that a huge selection of food is everywhere all of the time and I've calmed down a bit. I'm sure I'll panic-eat in the last week before getting on the plane.

I booked my ticket back for the first week in Feb. I'm not even thinking about it yet, but I know the time is drawing near. At the moment I'm just focusing on packing tomorrow, heading down to Dartmoor where Dad, Marilyn and Aunty Jean have rented a cottage. I've saved my presents for, and from, them to open together in front of a wood-burning stove. 

Going to do Christmas all over again for New Year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Home Again, Home Again

Final sunrise in Scotland. After almost a month it's hard to say goodbye, especially knowing I probably won't see my friends up there again for a year or so. My last day was greeted with an utterly beautiful rainbow over the Ochils.

(click to enlarge)

I popped to the shop in the shower, and on the way back I thought I'd follow the stream and try to find the end of the rainbow.

I succeeded!

I couldn't get any closer than the second car before it moved behind the trees and up the mountain, but it was so beautiful. Sadly, no crock of gold, but a wonderful sight all the same.

Amazingly, within just a few hours the sunshine had turned to snow!

That's Scotland for you.

The next day I drove about six hours south to mum's. Greeted with a festive fox.

Even our local pub was decked out.

The same night, my aunt arrived from Wales ahead of our annual family gathering, which I'll post about at another date if I can get any pictures. Her lovely dog Peaches came too.

After family had departed, mum and I went to buy a Christmas tree from Welford Christmas Tree Farm, who apparently supply wreaths to Downing Street. They make the most beautiful decorations, including one made entirely from peacock feather. Have yourself a very Gothic Christmas.

They have a petting zoo full of traditional Christmas food - erm, I mean, animals. Even reindeer!

Three-legged Dog

We let the tree settle overnight, then mum and me decorated it and started to put the presents under.