Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
- John's Journal / Blog
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Main Index (text only)
- John's Travel
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Erika's Birthday
Erika's Birthday Party
First Apple from the Tree
L'Orangerie Liqeur and The English Country Inn
Monaco to London
Monday in Monaco
Sunday on the Cote d'Azur
Flying to Nice
Bank Holiday Monday
Dentist and Olivocarne
Cartoon Festival at Jewish Museum
Zoo and Takoyaki
The Girls are Back
Kyle and Al
Lunch in Portsmouth
Vera's Birthday Dinner
No Building Work Today
Second Day of Building Works
Monmouth to London
Chepstow to Monmouth on the Offa's Dyke Path
Champagne Lighthouse Bar
The Blackfriar, The Seven Stars and Murger Han
Pie and Mash
South Downs Way
Middle Temple Champagne Bar
Picnic in Regents Park
Chie and Erika off to Japan
Camber Sands and Rye
And Far Away
Temple of Seitan
Kentish Town Station
Late Turkish Dinner
Hutong in the Shard
Bubbles and Cricket
The Vegetarian Butcher
Blu Tack, Murger Han and Crick Institute
Courtauld, Middle Temple and The Thames
Dinner in the Garden
Back to London
Sunday in Devon
Beer Engine and New House
The Old Inns of England
Alexandra Palace and Go Ape
Large Padron Collider
- Erika's Birthday
- [Monday 10th September 2018]
Erika's actual birthday fell today. The main festivities had been the day before, but she did have plenty of presents to open this morning, then we went for dinner at Wahaca in the evening.
- Erika's Birthday Party
- [Sunday 9th September 2018]
Party for Erika's 6th birthday, with a "Wacky Science" theme.
- North Downs
- [Saturday 8th September 2018]
I was keen to keep up the momentum of my new found love of country walks, not just from the point of view of getting a bit of exercise and some fresh air, but I've also been finding these forays to be quite mentally uplifting. Of all my walks over the summer, and earlier this year, the South Downs has really stood out as being the most memorable and the most elevating (in both a literal and more spiritual sense). However, being the wrong side of London, and with the added difficulty of railway engineering works in that neck of the woods this weekend, meant getting there would have been a bit time consuming today, and I felt guilty about taking too much time out to do my own thing.
Having recently been prompted by Garry Hogg's And Far Away to take a look at some geological maps of the UK, it struck me how on some level the North Downs ought to offer some roughly similar kind of terrain, and given the high speed rail link between St Pancras and Ashford ought to be a bit more accessible.
So today I planned a walk from Sandling to Wye, both stations a short hop from Ashford. The start of the walk was on the Saxon Shore Way, then a mile or two in joining the North Downs Way for the remainder (route here in case you're interested) - apparently about 20km or 12ish miles.
It was overall a pleasant enough walk, but somehow the North Downs - or at least this stretch of it - lacked the sense of adventure and surprising feeling of remoteness of the South Downs. It may of course have partly been down to the weather - most of my walk along the South Downs had been in searing heat, beneath a brilliant blue sky, whereas today was for the large part overcast... but the landscape here in Kent doesn't give quite the same illusion of having been untouched by man - the signs of modern civilisation were never as well hidden today as they had been on that walk in July, and although I was often treated to sprawling views today somehow they never had quite the same sense of drama.
I stopped for lunch at the Tiger Inn in Stowting. Although I have no particular complaints about the food and drink (other than something a bit more traditional would have been nice), the interior does seem to have been blighted with whatever you call that shade of murky green so ubiquitous in pubs of a gastro inclination. I hope society as a whole will look back on this era with the same disdain people eventually came to see the beiges of the 1970s and wonder what were they thinking?
After lunch the walk got a bit boring in places. I had thought looking at the map that by doing the walk this way round I was saving some of the best bits until last, what with the Wye Nature Reserve in the last hour or so. Somehow though that final section turned into a bit of a trudge - maybe the weather - or maybe I was just getting tired and the novelty was wearing off.
I got to Wye just after 3pm. I had originally considered an end-of-walk pint in the Tickled Trout in Wye, but by the time I got there it was only a few minutes until the next train back to Ashford, and I decided instead I should just head back to London so I could resume parenting duties. Erika had been at a friend's birthday party in the afternoon, and I thought if I headed back at this point I'd be back home not long after she got back.
- Vegan Stuff
- [Friday 7th September 2018]
Had a vegan pizza at lunch, and made a vegan steak hache in the evening.
- First Apple from the Tree
- [Thursday 6th September 2018]
Picked the first apple of the season from our apple tree this evening. Very nice it was too (although perhaps still a tad sharp).
- L'Orangerie Liqeur and The English Country Inn
- [Wednesday 5th September 2018]
Experimented with the L'Orangerie Liqeur I bought in Monaco, and received a new (old) Garry Hogg book - The English Country Inn.
- Monaco to London
- [Tuesday 4th September 2018]
Another al fresco breakfast at our hotel before leaving Monaco in style - by helicopter - then the somewhat less exciting flight on a boring old aeroplane back from Nice airport to London.
- Monday in Monaco
- [Monday 3rd September 2018]
Started the day with an al fresco breakfast at our hotel, then went for a morning wander around Monaco, taking in the Japanese Gardens and another trip on the Bateau Bus. Lunch at the excellent pasta place in La Condamine market. After lunch visited L'Orangerie de Monaco and the National Museum before heading back to the hotel to lounge around by the beach and pool for the rest of the afternoon. In the evening we went to Il Terrazzino for dinner, where Chie and I had been on one of our first trips to Monaco, and were presented with a terrifying amount of food.
- Sunday on the Cote d'Azur
- [Sunday 2nd September 2018]
Spent the first bit of the morning in Vence before getting a taxi to Monaco. Spent some of the afternoon swimming at the hotel's beach and swimming pools and then I went for a late afternoon wander around, taking in the Bateau Bus and the Brasserie de Monaco, while the girls did more lounging at the hotel. In the evening went for dinner at our usual pizzeria on the beach.
- [Saturday 1st September 2018]
Got a taxi to Vence in the morning. Th weather just about held out long enough for us to have a wander round the town and an al fresco lunch, but from 3pm the rain started and it absolutely poured down! Just about managed a foray out to the supermarket in what was left of the afternoon. The rain eventually subsided in the early evening and we managed to get out for dinner, and had a very nice meal at what seemed to be the only Provencal restaurant in the town.
- Flying to Nice
- [Friday 31st August 2018]
Flew from Gatwick to Nice in the afternoon, and stayed for our first nice in a hotel near Nice airport.
- [Thursday 30th August 2018]
Brief drink with Tim in the pub next to Euston station as he was working in London today.
- [Wednesday 29th August 2018]
Had Erika's room redecorated today after the soundproofing work. In the evening tried the new 50 Kalo for dinner.
- [Tuesday 28th August 2018]
The usual check on the apples and grapes in the garden.
- Bank Holiday Monday
- [Monday 27th August 2018]
Didn't do much with the day off - mostly stayed close to home, frequented the local playgrounds and briefly popped into the Pineapple.
- Rainy Sunday
- [Sunday 26th August 2018]
Dim sum for lunch, then attempted to make the best of the afternoon despite the rain.
- South Downs
- [Saturday 25th August 2018]
The weather forecast for the August bank holiday didn't look particularly promising, despite talk earlier in the summer of the heatwave returning toward the end of August. Today looked like it was going to be the only reasonable day so I persuaded the girls - who didn't seem extremely keen at the prospect of an early start - to get out of the house at a vaguely reasonable hour, and we headed down to Victoria to get the train to Lewes.
There was a rail replacement bus from there to Southease, which was significantly slower than the train would have been, but by around 11:30 we were on the South Downs Way.
For today's plan, I thought it would be good to pick up where I'd left off on my trip last month. So from Southease we headed West, and my plan was to head in an arc that would eventually bring us back into Lewes.
The first couple of miles brought us tantalisingly close to Breaky Bottom, which despite being probably only half a mile away at one point remained hidden out of view in its little valley. I was tempted to make a detour so we could at least see it but was concious of the fact we'd already be having quite a late lunch with the planned pub stop, and Erika was already getting peckish.
So we pressed on. After the first mile or so of farmland - not wholly unattractive in itself - we climbed a hill (Mill Hill I think, above the farm at Cricketing Bottom), after which we remained on the hilltops for most of the walk. Highlights along the way for Erika seemed to be the occasional appearance of blackberry bushes, and also a field we passed which had some calves in it. Although perhaps a bit less wild then the section of the South Downs Way I'd walked to the East of Southease, the views from this stretch were still really nice, and the landscape all looked a bit greener than when I'd been here in July - there must have been a decent amount of rain in the intervening weeks. We could see the sea to the South, and hills for quite some distance in every other direction. The weather was, to me, perfect walking weather - around 17 degrees - the sun shone and the clouds were only ever patchy, with plenty of blue sky between.
Eventually it was time to leave the South Downs Way and descend down into Kingston near Lewes. This very steep path was quite scenic in its own right, and parts of it were lined with some particularly abundant blackberry bushes, which Erika was quite happy about. Where the path finished, the old street in Kingston began, and it's a charming little village, houses built of a mixture of brick and the local stone, and before we got to the pub we stopped briefly at a "farm shop" which was just a roadside honesty box type setup, with a surprisingly large selection of fruit and vegetables.
We arrived at the pub a bit after 2pm, which turned out to be really rather nice - named The Juggs, after the old road from Lewes to Brighton which we'd be following after lunch back into Lewes. We had a very pleasant lunch in the pub's garden, accompanied by a pint or two of the local ale (Harvey's always seems to taste so much better in the vicinity of Lewes), before then setting out once more for the remainder of the walk back to Lewes.
This was a more pleasant stretch than I had expected - I had thought after the impressive views along the South Downs Way that the Juggs Road might be a bit bland, but actually the first section at least had a windmill and a wide open meadow with more splendid views to be had.
I think I would have liked to hang around in Lewes a bit but it seemed the girls were both a bit tired and keen to head back to London, so when we got back into the town we headed straight to the station and got the first train back to London.
Still, a lovely walk and nice to have been able to share a bit of the South Downs Way with Chie and Erika!
- Dreary Friday
- [Friday 24th August 2018]
Rather a dreary Friday.
- Dentist and Olivocarne
- [Thursday 23rd August 2018]
Took Erika along to my dentist appointment, after which we had lunch at Olivocarne (Oliveto temporarily closed for a refurbishment) and then gelato at Olivogelo.
- [Wednesday 22nd August 2018]
I took the day off work and took Erika to Kidzania in Shepherd's Bush.
- [Tuesday 21st August 2018]
Went to the office again today - two days running!
- [Monday 20th August 2018]
Went to dinner at a local friends' house who had been on holiday in Spain and brought us back a bottle of vermouth.
- Cartoon Festival at Jewish Museum
- [Sunday 19th August 2018]
Went to the cartoon festival at the Jewish Museum in Camden in the afternoon.
- Zoo and Takoyaki
- [Saturday 18th August 2018]
Erika requested to go to the zoo on her first day back in London (where there was a superhero theme today), so that's what we did, followed by takoyaki in the evening with the new takoyaki / nabe device Chie bought in Japan.
- The Girls are Back
- [Friday 17th August 2018]
Chie and Erika got back from Japan today. After another intense morning / early afternoon of cleaning and trying to move all the stuff back into Erika's room I went to meet them at the airport.
- [Thursday 16th August 2018]
Soundproofing guys came back for a little bit in the afternoon to do the last few finishing touches (refit skirting boards, light fitting and power points), although no time left to have the room painted before Chie and Erika returned from Japan. Afterwards I embarked on an intense cleaning operation and started trying to put Erika's room back together.
- [Wednesday 15th August 2018]
A guy came to do the plastering after the soundproofing work today.
- Kyle and Al
- [Tuesday 14th August 2018]
Went out for a drink with Kyle and Al this evening, but neglected to take any photos.
- Soundproofing Finished
- [Monday 13th August 2018]
The main soundproofing work in Erika's bedroom was finished today. Still plastering and painting to go.
- Chapel Market
- [Sunday 12th August 2018]
Went to Chapel Market in Islington in the morning - mainly because I wanted to try a rather fine looking greasy spoon there (Alpino), but while I was there bought some ingredients from the farmer's market and later on made a rather cheffy sort of dinner with stuffed courgette flowers.
- Lunch in Portsmouth
- [Saturday 11th August 2018]
Wander around Portsmouth in the morning, then lunch with Vera and co before I headed back to London.
- Vera's Birthday Dinner
- [Friday 10th August 2018]
Got the train down to Portsmouth to join Vera and family for her birthday dinner.
- No Building Work Today
- [Thursday 9th August 2018]
Builders failed to show up today. Instead, here's some picture of the grapes in my garden.
- Second Day of Building Works
- [Wednesday 8th August 2018]
Not particularly good progress today!
- Sound Proofing
- [Tuesday 7th August 2018]
Builders came to start work on soundproofing Erika's room today. Consequently the flat was in a state of chaos.
- Moving Stuff
- [Monday 6th August 2018]
Started moving things out of Erika's room into the lounge ahead of the building work we'd be starting tomorrow.
- Monmouth to London
- [Sunday 5th August 2018]
Hung around in Monmouth in the morning until the first bus left for Newport, and then got the train back to London from there.
- Chepstow to Monmouth on the Offa's Dyke Path
- [Saturday 4th August 2018]
It wasn't as early a start as I'd hoped for. It was already gone midnight by the time I had got home from Folkestone the previous evening, I'd set the alarm clock for some ungodly hour of the morning, and then proceeded to lay awake in bed, for at least an hour, thinking "I've got to wake up in 6 hours... 5 and a half hours... 5 hours". In the end the only way I could get to sleep was to turn the alarm off, and just accept that I'd wake up whenever I woke up. So it was that I got the 10:45 train out of Paddington bound for Newport, where I would then change to largely double back on myself and head to Chepstow.
In the rush to get to the station and get on the train as quickly as possible I hadn't really eaten anything, so on arrival at Chepstow I availed myself of the "Firstclass cafe" - a delightful little greasy spoon attached to the station - and had a vegetarian sausage and hash brown bap. Possibly I should have indulged in something a bit more substantial given that I had nearly 6 hours of solid walking until my next meal, but I was eager to get going as quickly as possible, and also didn't want to feel bloated. It seemed to be OK in the end.
I had one more quick stop off to make in Chepstow to pick up a paper Ordnance Survey map covering the route. Although I had the OS maps app on my phone it's always good to have a fallback. As it happens the bookshop where I got it was the one Vera used to live above many years ago, and this became a sort of theme of the expedition - I passed very close by to three of Vera's former residences during the course of my walk today, and a few more on the bus back to Newport the next day, given that it went by way of Raglan and Usk.
So it was about 1:45 by the time I was heading out of Chepstow, crossing the bridge over the river Wye - waterway I'd be seeing a lot of today - and joining the Offa's Dyke path.
The first half an hour was through fields and modest hills, but after that it takes a sudden turn for the dramatic, when the river I was crossing over on the bridge a little earlier was now quite far beneath my feat, at Wintour's Leap. It was nice to be treated to one of the more notable scenic views so soon into the walk, albeit that the river is a decidedly muddy brown here, and not perhaps at its most picturesque.
The path then heads away from the Wye for a while, compensated for slightly by at times having far reaching views to the East, across the river Severn instead.
Once I got to the Tidenham Section of the Dyke, a little over an hour outside of Chepstow, I felt I was into somewhat familiar terrain. The part of Offa's Dyke I've been on most is the section up above Redbrook - to the South - which we'd several times been on with Dad to do a mile or two and then back again. That type of ancient woodland atop the ridge seems to occur in a few bursts along the strecth between Chepstow and Monmouth, and this was the first I encountered today.
The downside, of course, of the ancient woodland on the hilltop is that it means for much of the walk there are no views. The tree cover does occasionally break though, and when it does it's very dramatic - and perhaps the most famous view being the Devil's Pulpit. This I reached at around 3:30 and it was rather spectacular. Although it was, of course, one of the few points on the walk when my otherwise largely uninterrupted solitude was, well, interrupted. There were as many as six (6!) other people there. So I didn't linger quite as long as I might have had I had the place all to myself, but I did take a few photos and I think they came out reasonably well.
The Wye Valley is famously the place for which Gilpin first coined the term "picturesque", and although I'm unsure whether it was specifically this view from the Devil's Pulpit which was the spark of inspiration it's tempting to imagine that it might be. The rocky promontory from which the devil would supposedly deliver sermons to the monks below is a natural viewpoint, and the sweeping landscape forged out by the Wye, with the ruins of Tintern Abbey among it, framed by the trees, does look so perfect as to be tempted to imagine it was all planned that way.
With just the slightest twinge of envy toward the people enjoying a carefree afternoon having a picnic while enjoying that view (presumably having parked somewhere close by, and therefore being unconcerned at the though of any long trek ahead of them) I purposefully marched on, conscious of the fact I was probably only about a third of the way from Chepstow to the Boat Inn, and if I wanted to be there in time for dinner I couldn't be lingering anywhere for too long. I did seem to have really got into my stride at this point, and felt I was really bounding along.
Around 4pm, just before Brockweir I emerged from the woods, was treated to wide open views of rolling hills, before then being faced with a decision at the fork in the path. Here there are two possible routes which meet again at Bigsweir Bridge. One follows the banks of the river whereas the other follows more closer the route of the dyke itself, and stays higher up. It looked as though the higher route is a bit more direct, as the river goes on a bit of a meander. I also thought it would be a more authentic experience following the dyke more closely, so I chose the higher route.
This turned out to actually be a largely unrewarding slog, and I wish I'd studied the contour lines a bit more closely. A large part of it seemed to be in a recessed path going seemingly endlessly uphill, without any views to speak of. Some combination of the heat and the sense of it being rather unrelenting made this perhaps my least favourite section of the walk today, and in hindsight I wish I'd gone along the river. Things did improve a bit as I started to approach Bigsweir Bridge, there was an atmospheric downhill section through a bit of woodland strewn with moss covered boulders. Beyond that, once I emerged from the woods, there was open scenery once more, and very nice views down to the river and Bigsweir Bridge. I recall feeling rather elated at that point.
Bigsweir Bridge was a comfortingly familiar sight, a notable feature on any drive along this section of the Wye Valley, and although I was aware I'd have a hill to climb again the other side I felt reinvigorated once more by passing this landmark.
It was now about 5:30, and I had a further hour and a half to go to Redbrook, so I felt somewhat onto the home straight. Yet more ancient hilltop woodlands to proceed through and I have to admit my thoughts at this point were focusing less on the venerable trees and archaic earthworks but more about what I was going to order when I got to the pub.
The final section of ancient woodland was Highbury Wood - the one I was familiar with from walks with Dad when Vera was living in Redbrook, almost 30 years ago now. It felt slightly strange in the early evening, the trees are quite dense here and the light was a little dim already. It was actually a bit sad to be here by myself, a place I would have always previously been for walks with Dad (and probably a reluctant Adrian too). Funny how the exact same landscape can evoke such different moods at different times - I always remember that section of Offa's Dyke feeling quite magical and mysterious, and yet now it had taken on a rather melancholy and almost slightly eerie tone.
My spirits lifted when I emerged from the woods, and down below me saw the Wye, and the old railway bridge which forms the crossing over to the Boat Inn. It's a rather majestic view. My legs were starting to get a bit tired by this point, so the fairly steep descent into Redbrook was a bit of a stumble in places, but I made it to the edge of the village by 7, and a few minutes later I was crossing over the old railway bridge, with the Boat Inn the other side, and feeling rather triumphant.
Although similarly to Highbury Wood I found myself alone at a place I had so often visited with family, there was no ambiguity to the nostalgia here, and I was just straightforwardly delighted to be there. Perhaps it's just down to the conviviality of pubs, or the knowledge that I'd almost certainly be coming back here again with family in the future - Erika has been once and I look forward to bringing her again.
Having been walking for nearly 6 hours, and at least 15 miles to get here I had originally hoped to have a longer and more leisurely stay. However I was conscious I still had to get to Monmouth where my hotel was, and my original hope that I might be able to get a taxi for that last bit seemed a bit far fetched now, especially as I didn't have any signal on my mobile. So, after a Pan Hagarty and some cider, and barely an hour's rest at the Boat, I was setting off again, to follow the Wye Valley Path from here into Monmouth.
Thankfully my feet weren't too sore - on my walk on the South Downs Way last Saturday by the 15 mile point I was really hobbling - but either because the ground was softer or my feet had just toughened up, this time I was past 15 miles and still thought I could do a few more. Especially as the Wye Valley Path mostly followed the river bank for this stretch and was therefore mercifully flat. The sun was starting to set so I kept the pace off, not wanting to run out of light altogether!
I was quite pleased with myself when I found a shortcut, not really marked on the OS map as a proper footpath, over another old bridge and through a field, the other side of which delivered me almost directly into my hotel. The Premier Inn had been the only thing I could find available (perhaps because I left it until the last minute and only booked it on the train on the way down this morning), so I knew I didn't exactly have a night in the lap of luxury ahead of me, but it was good enough.
- Champagne Lighthouse Bar
- [Friday 3rd August 2018]
Got the train down to Folkestone after work to spend the evening at the Lighthouse Champagne Bar in Folkestone.
- [Thursday 2nd August 2018]
Found a place in London which does farinata, near Ladrbroke Grove, so headed there this evening.
- The Blackfriar, The Seven Stars and Murger Han
- [Wednesday 1st August 2018]
Went for a drink with Andrew at The Blackfriar after work, then a quick visit to the Seven Stars, with a late dinner at Murger Han on the way home.
- India Club
- [Tuesday 31st July 2018]
Dinner at The India Club on the Strand.
- Pie and Mash
- [Monday 30th July 2018]
Pie and mash from Young Vegans for dinner.
- Leong's Legend
- [Sunday 29th July 2018]
Late lunch at Leong's Legend in Chinatown.
- Breaky Bottom
- [Saturday 28th July 2018]
Started an otherwise splendid day with a very disappointing breakfast at my hotel, which I'd come to the conclusion was overall really quite naff. The coffee in particular - for which they charged extra - was an abomination - and I should have known better when I asked for a macchiato and the girl taking my order, who, it later transpired, would also be making it, said "somebody told me what that was once".
I checked out of my hotel as quickly as I could after breakfast, and went and sought alternative sustenance elsewhere in Lewes. Thankfully there was a hipster coffee shop wherein I not only had a coffee which was worlds apart, but I could also enjoy blowing off steam with the barista about the prior terrible experience.
After that a bit of shopping, bought some blister plasters and an emergency jacket. It had been far too hot to wear a jacket on my walk yesterday, and it had seemed silly to carry one the whole way, but I was feeling a bit under dressed and it had cooled a bit off today, so I went to Paul Clark, wherein better still they had a sale on, and picked up pretty much the only thing they had in my size, at a bargain price.
I met the rest of today's group at Lewes station - I'd invited a lot of people along, and it seemed hardly anybody could make it which was a bit frustrating as I knew it was going to be a very nice day out. So in the end it was me, Andrew, and four of Andrew's friends with their respective offspring - one couple I'd met before a few times, the other I think I'd only met once before. It seemed they all had an interest in wine though, so I was in good company.
We got the train together to Southease, and from there walked to the slightly surprisingly named Abergavenny Arms (we're a long way from Abergavenny!) in Rodmell for lunch. We somehow managed to stray off the South Downs Way on the way there, and walked along a busy road for a section, which wasn't much fun. Lunch was decent enough, and although the pub was not perhaps the most achingly quaint of country pubs it met our needs adequately enough.
After lunch we walked from there to the main highlight of the day - Breaky Bottom vineyard - which was a much more pleasant stroll - initially up a quiet country lane, and then through undulating fields strewn with hay bales, with views beyond to the rolling hills of the South Downs. The ground was parched almost to the point of golden from the recent heatwave, and added to the silvery blue skies and the chalky white tracks it made for a serene and almost surreal landscape. There was quite a strong, dry summer breeze before we descended into Breaky Bottom's sheltered little valley. Very atmospheric. The vineyard is in quite a hidden spot, and only really comes into view once you've almost arrived, so it's a wonderful surprise, and particularly among the parched yellow gold fields, now mostly bare of their crop, it has the feeling of an oasis in the middle of a desert.
One of our group said it felt as though we had suddenly been transported to France, and the stone farmhouse and winery buildings among the vines definitely gave that sense - perhaps somehow reflecting Peter's part French ancestry.
We knocked on the door on arrival, and after a short while Peter came out to greet us. We were all instantly charmed by this delightful and fascinating man, and spent the next three wonderful hours completely enthralled by him. We started with a short vineyard tour, and I was impressed by how wonderfully verdant and unblemished the leaves of the vines were, despite weeks of drought - and was also happy to see how heavily laden with fruit they were. Peter predicts a very good yield this year. We saw a row of Seyval Blanc, and a row of Chardonnay, but didn't see the Pinots - Peter seemed to be keen to get down to business and start the tasting!
The tasting was the most leisurely, sociable, and just downright delightful of any vineyard tasting I've ever done. We were sat for about two hours, and tasted four of Peter's wines during that time, so had a good long time to savour and discuss each one. Although we did compare tasting notes a bit, Peter was just as (or perhaps more) interested in telling us about the person each wine was named after. These were all fascinating and accomplished individuals, and all friends or family members (or family friends) of Peter's. The conversation constantly went off at tangents, and Peter had a charming habit of asking us to remind him how he got on to a particular tangent. We roamed over the English wine industry in general - many of the other famous winemakers are close friends (or in one or two cases quite the opposite) of Peter's, and also some of the trials and tribulations he has had to deal with in over 40 years of winemaking in this wonderful location.
Perhaps the first of the four wines we tried had a slightly muted reception, but from the second onwards it was hit after hit, for me the "Cuvee Koizumi Yakumo" (Seyval Blanc 2010) and the "Cuvee Gerard Hoffnung" (Chardonnay / Pinot Noir / Pinot Meunier 2009) being the stand-out favourites. By coincidence these were the two we had tasted on Tuesday in Regents Park in preparation for coming here, but of course being in situ at the vineyard and with the winemaker talking to us while we were tasting them made for a much heightened experience.
Sadly by around 5 o' clock it seemed there were other demands on Peter's time - he had some sort of plumbing issue to deal with, and feeling we had already taken up quite a large chunk of his day we suggested it was time for us to head off.
We said our goodbyes to Peter, and reluctantly left Breaky Bottom behind, walking back through that surreal landscape, slightly in a trance, as though half waking from a daydream. We decided to initially pause again at the Abergavenny Arms, and figure out how best for all of us to get back home from there. I was blissfully unconcerned by the passage of time, with Chie and Erika being in Japan, so had no pressure to get back home at any particular time, and hadn't really given much thought to train times etc. Some of the others of course had small kids with them, so it was a bit more of an issue. In the end we split up at this point, with one couple and their little boy staying at the pub for a quick bit of dinner, with the plan to try and get a taxi. The rest of us walked to Southease station, knowing we'd have quite a long wait for the next train, but I at least was quite unfazed by this. We found a nicer path for the return journey to Southease, and it actually made quite a pleasant early evening stroll. There was indeed quite a long wait for a train from Southease, but it came eventually, and from there it all went quite smoothly back to London.
- South Downs Way
- [Friday 27th July 2018]
I had been keen to do some walking while Chie and Erika were in Japan, and having initially considered Offa's Dyke, I was swayed instead instead in the direction of the South Downs for the twin advantages of being quicker to get to from London and also the possibility of including a vineyard tour while in the area! So after some thought about the specifics, I decided to start at one end of the South Downs Way - Eastbourne - and walk as far as Southease / Lewes today, which would then put me in an ideal location for visiting Breaky Bottom vineyard tomorrow.
So I woke up early, packed my new backpack (chosen for better ventilation around the back, given the hot weather) and got the tube down to Victoria in time for the 08:16 train to Eastbourne. This got me to Eastbourne a bit before 10, and with a couple of stops for a late breakfast and to buy a large bottle of water I began to head out of town to start my walk on the South Downs Way.
I had been quite apprehensive about the weather - it was already really quite hot even at 10 in the morning, and of course the South Downs Way being mostly along ridges and hilltops is not exactly well known for its shade. The first climb out of Eastbourne was definitely a bit of a challenge, and by the time I had joined the South Downs Way proper I was already starting to wonder if this was a good idea!
However once I'd got to the top of that first hill, and the path levelled off a bit, with the addition of a light breeze and I suppose just generally having got into my stride, I started to find it a bit more manageable. I'd been very sensible, was wearing a hat, and applied plenty of suncream, and even went as far as to remove my cufflinks and roll up my sleeves.
By around 11:30 I arrived in Jevington, first of the two villages I'd be passing through on today's walk. I considered having a brief stop here, but decided it might be better to just power on through. I took a couple of photos including the place where banoffee pie was invented. Something I couldn't get particularly excited about as I don't really like banoffee pie.
One thing that did occur to me at Jevington was that, reassuring though it was to have these brief glimpses of civilisation, it did mean the path would be descending into a valley and then ascending again. The climb out of Jevington was another bit of a slog in this heat, and by the time I got to the top again I was starting to feel ever so slightly delirious (in a silly sort of way), and, as midday struck, took to singing Mad Dogs and Englishmen, which felt quite appropriate in the circumstances.
There was hardly anyone else around at this point, and somewhere around the top of Windover Hill (or possibly just before) I was treated to really spectacular scenery, and any earlier doubts about whether or not this adventure had been a good idea in this heat sank away. To the south I could see all the way to the sea, and the white horse on a hill above the Cuckmere river, between where I stood and Seaford. The grass was parched and golden as a result of the recent heatwave, in contrast to the dark greens of the wooded patches on the surrounding hills. Perhaps the main thing was that there were so few signs of civilisation in view - the nearby towns and villages were all down in the valleys or clustered along the coast - all hidden by hills from this vantage point. Before coming on this trip I'd been slightly sceptical about how wild the South Downs would feel, being in South East England, and only an hour or so away by train from London... but here I was with barely a house in sight, the signs of civilisation having mercifully fallen between the cracks. I think this was probably the nicest section of the walk - I'd acclimatised to the heat, got into my stride, wasn't yet suffering from blisters and the scenery was spectacular - I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
Sadly I managed to miss The Long Man, near the summit of Windover Hill - my mind was just on other things at that point I suppose. Beyond the summit of Windover Hill I started a long slow descent towards Alfriston, and was grateful for having done the walk in this direction, so that entirely exposed section of the path, with the slightly unforgiving chalk underfoot, in this sweltering heat, was downhill for me rather than up. There was at least a short section near the bottom in the shade, which was much appreciated.
At just after 1 o' clock - perfectly timed for a lunchbreak - I arrived in Alfriston, a delightfully quaint little village, with a very generous selection of pubs for what seemed to be such a small settlement - presumably largely sustained by walkers and other visitors. I'd already researched the luncheon options a bit prior to the trip, and had already written one pub off for being a bit too gastro. I inspected the menu at one of the two remaining options but nothing really appealed, so I plumped for the third and final pub, Ye Olde Smuggler's Inne, which I'm confident was the right choice for me. It was nice and quiet in there, I received a warm welcome from the landlord, and the beer selection looked good, although in the interests of hydration I opted for a shandy. The food was decent and homecooked, and provided sustenance without leaving me feeling bloated, ideal for continuing on my walk afterwards.
I also had an ice cream while in the village, and wasted a bit of time trying to find a recycling bin for an empty water bottle before eventually just giving up and stuffing it back in my bag, and then set about finding where the South Downs Way continued from Alfriston.
There was of course now a bit of a climb to deal with again, which was, again, a bit wearing in this heat, but I did start to get an impression of a slight change in the air, and was aware that rain was forecast for later on, so it was perhaps starting to cool off a bit. Once back up on the top of the next ridge I was in my element again, and between there and Firle Beacon was another very pleasant stretch, with more sprawling views far into the distance. I stopped for a short break at the trig point at Firle Beacon to take in the panorama - I could see for miles in every direction.
I think that was probably the final high point of the walk not just in altitude but in terms of my enjoyment, and after that it did start to turn into a bit of a trudge. This was about the 12 mile point, and I can't remember the last time I'd done that many miles in one day, especially given the at times quite rocky and unforgiving paths along the South Downs Way. I wasn't particularly physically tired, but my feet were definitely getting quite sore, and overall the joie de vivre was starting to ebb a tad.
From here on the sky also started to darken quite noticeably, and just after 4 I heard a rumble of thunder, followed not long after by a sudden downpour. I was very glad to have brought along a waterproof coat and to have a rain cover for my backpack. I suppose to begin with the rain was actually quite refreshing, but my trousers, not really designed for walking, quickly got completely soaked through, and that was a bit yucky. This, added to the fact my feet were starting to hurt quite a bit by now, and the added challenge that I had quite a steep hill to descend towards the end (which seems to be harder on the feet) meant I was very glad when I reached Southease station, especially as by chance it seemed I wouldn't have long to wait for the next train to Lewes. I'd originally contemplated the idea of walking from Southease to Lewes, but I was now at about 15 miles and hobbling a bit, and this just seemed like a good point to stop. Besides, the walk from Southease to Lewes wouldn't be on the South Downs Way!
I arrived in Lewes about 5:15 and limped from there to my hotel - Pelham House - thankfully just a few minutes walk from the station. Although the exterior of the hotel was quite grand and impressive, the welcome at the check-in desk was somewhat lacking (I think given my exertions in getting there today a little congratulation, even if feigned, would not have gone amiss), and my room was a bit of a disappointment - tiny and very bland. Still, it would meet my immediate needs, which were to have a shower and sit for a short while to contemplate what to do for dinner.
I rather fancied a pizza, and used Google Maps to find the one acceptable looking pizza place in Lewes, only to then hobble over there and discover it was closed for the evening, because their chimney needed sweeping (quite a unique reason for an unplanned restaurant closure I thought!) - a pitfall of having a wood fired pizza oven I suppose. Instead, biased not a little by proximity and the desire to minimise hobbling, I went to an Indian restaurant which was actually better than expected for a provincial town. Was pleased to see a masala dosa on the menu.
After dinner I was quite tired out, having got up not long after 6am, and done the longest walk I'd done for probably decades. I did consider just going back to my hotel and having a (very) early night, but even with the long wait between my starter and main course at the Indian restaurant I was all done before 7:30, and it was hard to tell when I might next be in Lewes, a town I knew I was going to like, it being among other things the location of the headquarters of the Chap Magazine.
So I thought I'd just poke my nose in at the Lewes Arms, a pub, similar to the town itself, I just knew I was going to like. Sure enough it was delightful, and as a wonderful added surprise there was going to be morris dancing this evening. So I stayed a while, somehow miraculously managed to stand outside to watch the morris dancing, and watched the local morris side (Blackpowder morris) interspersed with guests from Brighton (Cuckoo's Nest). It was a delightful end to the day.
- Middle Temple Champagne Bar
- [Thursday 26th July 2018]
An evening out in the very pleasant surrounds of Middle Temple Champagne Bar.
- Workman's Cafe
- [Wednesday 25th July 2018]
Went for a fryup for breakfast at the Workman's Cafe near Archway.
- Picnic in Regents Park
- [Tuesday 24th July 2018]
Tried the Plant Burger at Honest Burgers for lunch. Then in the evening went for a picnic in Regents park with Al and Andrew to taste a couple of wines from Breaky Bottom ahead of our visit to the vineyard this weekend.
- Chie and Erika off to Japan
- [Monday 23rd July 2018]
Waved Chie and Erika off to Japan in the morning.
- Camber Sands and Rye
- [Saturday 21st July 2018]
Took Erika down to Camber Sands for the day as she wanted to look for "crystals" - also did some digging in the sand while we were there, and on the way back stopped off in Rye briefly for a quick visit to the Mermaid Inn.
- And Far Away
- [Friday 20th July 2018]
Started reading And Far Away by Garry Hogg, a book about walking from the 1940s which Dad had sent me.
- Temple of Seitan
- [Thursday 19th July 2018]
Lunch at Temple of Seitan.
- Palestinian Cafe
- [Tuesday 17th July 2018]
Tried out our local Palestinian cafe for lunch.
- [Monday 16th July 2018]
Went to a local friend's house for a barbecue.
- [Sunday 15th July 2018]
Erika met up with a couple of her friends at the playground in the afternoon.
- Chap Olympiad
- [Saturday 14th July 2018]
Erika came along for the afternoon for this year's Chap Olympiad, and later on I was also joined by Ricardo.
- [Friday 13th July 2018]
Inspecting the grapes in my "vineyard" again.
- Kentish Town Station
- [Thursday 12th July 2018]
Picture of the garden on the platform of Kentish Town in the morning on the way to the office.
- [Wednesday 11th July 2018]
Took a picture of my Vic Reeves plate to send to friends as it came up in conversation.
- [Tuesday 10th July 2018]
Just one random picture of an interesting sky this evening.
- [Monday 9th July 2018]
Discovered lots of bunches of grapes in the garden now! As many as 12 perhaps?
- [Sunday 8th July 2018]
Took Erika to the beach at Folkestone for the day.
- [Saturday 7th July 2018]
Erika wore her yukata for a Japanese festival in West London.
- Late Turkish Dinner
- [Friday 6th July 2018]
Somehow missed dinner earlier so had a very late meal at the local Turkish restaurant.
- [Thursday 5th July 2018]
Two bottles of Breaky Bottom arrived, and inspected the grapes / olives in the garden.
- Sports Day
- [Tuesday 3rd July 2018]
Erika's school sports day.
- Hutong in the Shard
- [Sunday 1st July 2018]
Went for an early lunch at Hutong in the Shard, then later on drinks in Andrew's back garden.
- School Festival
- [Saturday 30th June 2018]
Did a stint at the bar at Erika's school festival.
- Bubbles and Cricket
- [Friday 29th June 2018]
Out in the garden blowing bubbles and spotted a weird insect (apparently just a "baby" cricket) on the grapevine.
- Southampton Arms
- [Thursday 28th June 2018]
Met Andrew for a drink at the Southampton Arms.
- [Wednesday 27th June 2018]
- The Vegetarian Butcher
- [Tuesday 26th June 2018]
Tried the Vegetarian Butcher's "no chicken chunks" for the first time for lunch today.
- Recycling Centre
- [Sunday 24th June 2018]
Finally got round to hiring a car to take our hedge trimmings to the local recycling centre - Erika came along for the ride and it made for a bizarre but surprisingly nice father-daughter moment. Afterwards a quick lunch at the Pineapple, then we headed down to near Clapham Junction for a barbecue at Chie's friend's house, before I finally rounded off the day with a quick visit to Frank's in Peckham.
- Blu Tack, Murger Han and Crick Institute
- [Saturday 23rd June 2018]
Took Erika to buy Blu Tack in the morning (!), followed by an inspection of the garden, then lunch at Murger Han, and then a visit to the open day at the Crick Institute.
- Courtauld, Middle Temple and The Thames
- [Friday 22nd June 2018]
Went to visit the Courtauld Gallery at lunchtime with Jeremy, then later on met up with Gemma (who was visiting from the US again) and the usual suspects for a varied evening taking in the Middle Temple Champagne Bar, the Thames Clipper, the O2 (yea not really a highlight) and finally the Angel in Bermondsey.
- [Thursday 21st June 2018]
Indonesian food for lunch from the street food market in Kings Cross.
- School Concert
- [Wednesday 20th June 2018]
Erika sang Tomorrow from Annie at her school concert.
- [Tuesday 19th June 2018]
Just one picture of the garden after work.
- [Sunday 17th June 2018]
Took Erika for lunch at Wahaca and a succession of playgrounds.
- [Saturday 16th June 2018]
Odd day out wherein I tried to get on as many ferries across London as possible. Only really managed two, plus the Thames Clipper, and not sure that counts.
- Dinner in the Garden
- [Friday 15th June 2018]
Dinner in the garden I think (or at least pre dinner snacks), a spot of sabrage, and more raspberry picking.
- Garden Bags
- [Thursday 14th June 2018]
Got some garden bags to dispose of the hedge trimmings and had dinner at Ceremony, the vegetarian restaurant near Tufnell Park.
- [Tuesday 12th June 2018]
Picked some raspberries in the garden then a late night drink at the Pineapple with Jeremy.
- Back to London
- [Monday 11th June 2018]
Headed back to London in the morning, just time for a few family photos before we went.
- Sunday in Devon
- [Sunday 10th June 2018]
Quite morning at Dad's soon to be ex-house, then Teignmouth for lunch.
- Beer Engine and New House
- [Saturday 9th June 2018]
Lunch at the Beer Engine then went to see Dad's new house in the afternoon.
- [Friday 8th June 2018]
Decided to have a barbecue as the weather was nice.
- The Old Inns of England
- [Thursday 7th June 2018]
Got a new (old) book today.
- Garden Table
- [Wednesday 6th June 2018]
New garden table and chair arrived today.
- Alexandra Palace and Go Ape
- [Monday 4th June 2018]
Erika had the day off school for a teacher training day today, so we went to Alexandra Palace, and Erika impressed us with her tree top antics at Go Ape.
- [Sunday 3rd June 2018]
Took Erika to the zoo.
- B12 Burger
- [Saturday 2nd June 2018]
Went to my local caff for a restorative fry-up, then went to John Lewis to buy a garden table and chairs, then went to some kind of hipster restaurant to try the new B12 vegan burger.
- [Friday 1st June 2018]
I had an afternoon / evening out with Cardo in and around Portobello.
- [Thursday 31st May 2018]
- [Wednesday 30th May 2018]
Erika was off school, it being half term, so we went to the Pineapple for lunch.
- Jim's BBQ
- [Monday 28th May 2018]
Barbecue at Jim's house in Suburbiton for his birthday.
- Hampstead Heath
- [Sunday 27th May 2018]
Walked across Hampstead Heath to Hampstead, had lunch at the Garden Gate pub, then got the train home. Spot of gardening in the afternoon when we got back.
- [Saturday 26th May 2018]
Took Erika to Franks, then visited Andrew's house.
- Large Padron Collider
- [Friday 25th May 2018]
Paella and padron peppers for dinner.