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.
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Main Index (text only)
- John's Travel
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Breaky Bottom
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
- 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.
- [Sunday 22nd July]
- 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.
- [Wednesday 18th July]
- 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.
- [Wednesday 4th July]
- Sports Day
- [Tuesday 3rd July 2018]
Erika's school sports day.
- [Monday 2nd July]
- 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.
- [Monday 25th June]
- 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.