Holiday: Scotland โ€“ Day 1(8)

Reading time: 3 minutes...


We always go away for my birthday and this year is no exception. Although the official celebration is still a week away, we thought we’d start early! ๐Ÿ˜

What a difference a year makes! Twelve months ago for my celebration, we were in central London, shoulder-to-shoulder on a sweaty tube-train! This year, we’re heading in completely the opposite direction, spending just over a week in the Scottish Highlands.

10.30am: But first, we needed to get there! We headed for our least favourite airport – Luton – and our 1.55pm EasyJet Flight – EZY147 – destined for Aberdeen Airport.

I really hate Luton Airport with a passion – it’s always so busy and the whole experience tends to feel like a rugby scrum at all points of the process! And to bring out my snobbish tendencies, I often seem to be in a queue somewhere behind the family that finds it impossible to speak quietly, whilst sporting the maximum number of visible tattoos! Yuk! ๐Ÿค” Given current Coronavirus-conditions, I wonder what it’ll be like today?

11.45am: Actually, it was almost pleasant! Outside, the place still looks like a building site, but inside, it was relatively peaceful and well-organised !

It was a shame that many of the eateries were closed, but we did find a Pret for a coffee and a sandwich; and for payment, the obligatory second mortgage! ๐Ÿค” The retail outlets looked a bit sad where some looked as though they’d not re-opened since you-know-what!

What could possibly go wrong?

2.55pm: We landed on time at just before 3pm and with only hand-luggage to slow us down, we were soon on our way to the car-hire point to pick up our ‘wheels for the week’. As we quickly discovered, it’s another of those airports where you need a car from the Terminal to get to the err, car-hire desk. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

3 miles later…

On arrival, oh joy! No-one on the Avis desk! ๐Ÿค. Luckily there was a mobile number to call. Apparently, ‘because of COVID-19, there are fewer staff on duty’ and the solitary member of staff, was elsewhere on vehicle returns and there had been some confusion over the plane’s arrival time.

What, no staff!

3.45pm: Just ten minutes later, we were sorted – sort of! Instead of the promised Vauxhall Astra, we were upgraded to a Mercedes A200. A car so technically advanced, even I couldn’t work out how to put it in gear! (that’s my street cred in tatters!). A quick training session from the Avis staff revealed that the ‘gear selector’ normally located in the centre console was, on this particular model, actually a fake and the gear ‘lever’ was on the steering column! Doh! I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t we just consult the handbook? Simples! There wasn’t one! ๐Ÿ™„ Apparently, Avis remove them as a matter of procedure! ๐Ÿค”

Top (no) Gear!

We were soon our own way to Richard and Lynn’s. It was a gorgeous day, pleasantly warm at around 18โ„ƒ. Under normal circumstances, our destination was just 40 minutes away. I say ‘normal circumstances’, because we dialled in the post-code only to find that when the sat-nav pinged to announce our arrival, we realised that the rural nature of the area meant the postcode is shared with about 30 additional locations! A few fumbled mobile calls to our host (hardly any signal at all here) and we were now pointing in the right direction. And luckily, Ann’s razor-sharp memory pinpointed the finish line. Lynn met us on the drive and we were soon bumping elbows at Culdrain House.

Perfect! (1)

5.30pm: With elbows retracted, we headed for the garden to enjoy the pleasant weather, oh, and Richard’s home-made very pleasant Rhubarb Gin! We reckon it’s close on 20 years since we were last all together here – and we some serious catching-up to do!

Perfect! (2)

Our hosts’ ‘pet complement’ has expanded since we were last here, and we were soon greeted (‘smothered’ actually!) by dogs: Dougal, Pippin, Merrie and Parker (Dot and Dash, their cats, were temporarily AWOL).

6.15pm: A quick unpack and we were ready for Dinner!

7.30pm: Time for our evening meal. Richard and Lynn had been busy in the kitchen and we tucked into Roast Pork and a very tasty vegetable selection followed by Lynn’s homemade Eton Mess. Our catch-up conversation continued helped along by some excellent wine choices! ๐Ÿ˜›

10.00pm: With the meal over, we were beginning to flag and by 10.30, we called it a day.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks good, just shy of 20โ„ƒ, so we plan to explore some places that Richard had helpfully pointed out on the map including the Moray Coast.

10.45pm: ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Film: TENET

Reading time: 2 minutes...


Here we are then, my first visit to the cinema since before lockdown. And what better movie to blow the cobwebs away than Christopher Nolan’s latest epic – TENET? Nolan is famous for his dislike of green-screen and CGI, so we were looking forward not only to the story, but the ‘set pieces’ too. Apparently, it’s more like Nolan’s Inception than his recent Dunkirk.

Jo, Janet and I set off for Cineworld at Rushden Lakes for the socially-distanced 7pm performance – the IMAX version of course! ๐Ÿ‘ (What? You’ve never seen a film on an IMAX screen? – more details HERE).

Official Trailer from 8 months ago

All the hype about this movie suggested a brain-scrambling plot involving time-travel, and that’s all we knew. The cinema-screen was about a third full and everyone seemed to be observing the wearing of masks (until the lights went down because obviously, COVID can’t travel when it can’t see! ๐Ÿ™„). After sitting through what seemed like a million cycles of Cineworld’s ‘unlimited’ advert, the main event finally began – that massive IMAX screen looked fantastic but the centre (voice) channel was a bit muffled.

Latest Trailer from a few days ago

How Was It?

In true Director style, Christopher Nolan’s cinematography was epic featuring scenes that made the most of the big-screen. If our hero (‘The Protaganist’) doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance then he’ll surely win the ‘Most Perfectly Manicured Beard’ award! ๐Ÿ˜.

Nolan has a habit of always casting Michael Caine in his movies, but in this outing, his part was small – albeit significant. Kenneth Branagh was the baddest (and nastiest) bad-guy I’ve seen in a while.

Why crash a jumbo-jet using the latest post-production SFX when you can use the real thing – and with car-chases a staple of many films of this genre, to stand out from the crowd, Nolan does the same – but films much of it backwards??! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Standout moments for me were the ambushing of the security vehicle involving a perfectly choreographed 10-minutes of multi-vehicle manoeuvering – remember, no CGI here, just good ol’ fashioned planning and precision, perfectly executed.

TENET was one of those movies that demanded that you pay attention. A quick visit to the loo could spell a disaster in that every minute was relevent to the story.

With the actress and the bishop on standby, apart from Michael Caine’s ‘small part’, it was a really long one (ooo err!), coming in at a whopping 2 hours and 30 minutes!

Overall then? Well, I guess this film might be looked back on in years-to-come as either a masterpiece or a complete dud. For us three, and me in particular, it felt like the latter – a totally incomprehensive mess, clever in concept, but completely confusing with a plot that demanded a very large brain and 199% attention! The poor sound quality of the narrative channel didn’t help things either.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

or

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a Saturday-night-style blockbuster, this IS it, but if you want a coherent plot with a beginning, middle and end – this ISN’T!

In short, BIG and BAFFLING and totally BANANAS! ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿค”๐Ÿค”

The IKEA Experience

Reading time: 2 minutes...


As part of our regular dose of ‘retail therapy’, we headed over to IKEA in Bletchley today. Trish and Sean joined us, with a view to them getting some ideas for Sean’s new place in Burton Latimer – and maybe bag a bargain!

I can’t remember the last time we shopped here, but judging by the crowds flocking in the same direction as us (as well as the already 99%-full car-park) – it was as popular as ever!

Covid-19 ‘arrangements’ meant the crowd aspect was somewhat amplified as we joined an ever-growing snake-of-a-queue as the minutes ticked down to opening time at 11. I guess we only queued for about 15 minutes, but it felt longer due to the regimented enter/don’t enter traffic-light system (literally, but minus the orange one!) above the door and not helped by the hand-sanitising dispenser suffering a goo-slow (see what I did there?) just 1 minute into the doors opening! ๐Ÿ˜•. It was going to be a real test for social-distancing, but at least masks were clearly in use.

Safely sanitised by a helpful member of their cleaning-squad, we began our exploration of Planet-IKEA. In the time between our previous visit (1837???) and today, I’d completely forgotten two things about Sweden’s favourite DIY destination: one specific to Bletchley and one more general. First, this particular IKEA is simply massive – and I do mean massive! (311,077 sq ft – 0.03 kmยฒ – since you asked). The shopping area went on and on (and on!). Second, the prices! There are low prices and then there are IKEA prices! It’s a bit of a clichรฉ I know, but I really don’t know how they do it for the money! Especially, some wooden furniture, where if you built it yourself (you wouldn’t let ME make you anything in wood – just saying!) the cost of the screws alone would exceed the price of the price being charged here! Amazing!! ๐Ÿ‘

You name it, they had it – in all the colours in all the sizes. Two hours later, we were on our way out – each of us with our bagged bargain or two (or three… or five!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

An amazing experience! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘ And if the queue was long when we arrived, you should have seen it as we left – at least an hour of traffic-light-watching before these poor souls were going to be able to get in ๐Ÿค”

Return to Kelmarsh

Reading time: 2 minutes...


Well, I haven’t been here since the 14th December 2011
for my wedding! ๐Ÿ‘ ๐Ÿ‘ฐ๐Ÿคต

A Memorable Day! ๐Ÿ˜

Click on the button below for a trip down memory laneโ€ฆ

Welcome back to 2020! The reason for today’s visit was an invitation to a private tour around Kelmarsh’s well-known Gardens (where Mrs P is a volunteer-gardener).

Kelmarsh’s back garden all set for Shambala

9.55am: On arrival, we followed the arrows to the rear of the Hall, where a member of the Kelmarsh team pointed us in the right direction. Given the tropical weather of the past few days, this morning looked like it was going to be a bit of a disappointment! There was a trace of blue in the sky – just a trace – but that was to change later to grey, accompanied by a well-needed downpour of rain of biblical proportions! Luckily, we were to miss the moisture by a whisker!

10.10am: Given the really hot weather of late – and the lack of rain, first impressions of the Gardens were excellent, with hardly a weed in sight, with a blaze of colour for us to enjoy!

…even if I didn’t know the names of some most of what I saw! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Mrs P did though! ๐Ÿ˜˜

10.25am: Looking at the sky, where its light blue hues had changed to a depressing mid-grey – so we quickened our pace..! ๐Ÿ™„

…but in spite of the deteriorating weather…

…the flora still looked in rude health!

The Succession House

10.30am: We could hear thunder in the distance, so we called it a day and headed back to the car

Just before the storm!

10.40am: It had been a very memorable (but slightly curtailed) visit, but the Gardens looked fantastic and it was great to see Kelmarsh Hall again after all these years. We hadn’t been in the car long before it belted it down with rain, so it looked as if our timing had been well-judged.

As usual, click on the button below to see the photo gallery with some additional photographs (and none of my chat!) ๐Ÿ˜

Hardwick Hall with Dennis and Sandra

Reading time: 3 minutes...
Hardwick Hall


9.55am: We drove the (just under) 90-mile journey to Hardwick Hall today, to meet up with fellow lovers-of-old-buildings and all-things National Trust, Dennis and Sandra. We last visited here back in October 2010 for a Murder-Mystery evening with Ralph and Karen (BTW, the Butler DIDN’T do it! ๐Ÿ˜).

Hardwick is a spectacular Elizabethan house filled with rich furnishings and tapestries preserved by successive generations of the Devonshire family (thanks NT!) – you can read more HERE.

Although the Hall itself was still closed to everyone because of COVID-19, our plan was to look round the Gardens and surrounding land, as we’d never done that before.

We’re building up quite a ‘back-catalogue’ of our get-togethers with Dennis & Sandra, having explored the following, in the past few years…


Castle Howard (December 2019)
The Royal Armouries Museum (March 2019)
Bolsover Castle (October 2018)
Belton House (May 2018)
York (February 2018)
Burghley House (October 2017)
Hull (May 2017)
Leeds (February 2017)


(Click on the titles for more details)

It certainly looked like it was going to be a nice day for it! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž

Well, I thought it was artistic! ๐Ÿ˜
Click on the pic for a larger version

11.35am: When we arrived, it was already quite busy, and after bumping elbows, we were joining the short queue to get in! In typical NT efficiency, we were processed in the nicest possible way and soon examining the site-map for inspiration. Who needs foreign climes when you can enjoy days like these here in ‘good ol’ Blighty?!?! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Pity the poor window-cleaner! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
“I’m off to mow the back lawn – I may be some time…” ๐Ÿ˜‚

There is a lot to cover here and that’s without visiting the Hall, so best bring your walking-shoes. Bring a picnic too because providing it’s not too busy, there are quite a few picnic tables just inside the entrance. Not into picnics?, there’s cafรฉ and an ice-cream vendor too! Yummy! ๐Ÿค—

๐ŸŽต Here we go round the… ๐ŸŽต

Ever tasted mulberries? Well, Ann and I hadn’t! Dennis and Sandra pointed out the trees during our walk around, and so we sampled a few! If sweetness is measured on a scale of 1 to 10 – these scored 11! ๐Ÿ˜›

Sweeter than a sweet from Mr Sweet’s sweetie-jar!

After Nature’s sweetness came a call from the same source! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ (See what I did there?)…

…These days, the ‘new-normal’ dictates some compromises, and the Loos were having to be managed manually (so to speak!). Quite how the member of NT staff managed to do it so enthusiastically and efficiently – and with a smile, is beyond me! Her sole task was to determine which cubicles were empty and then announce them by their letter-designation – “Cubicle D, Sir please!” – a sort of Bog-Bingo without any prizes! ๐Ÿค”

12.15pm: After completing our Bingo round, it was off to the walled garden. And what a delight! Given the time of year and considering the NT is probably short on garden-volunteers – it looked stunning! Full of colour and not a weed in sight!

Lunch is served…

1.05pm: There’s something about eating outdoors isn’t there? Everything tastes nicer and if the weather is good, that’s a ‘Brucie-bonus’. Today, I even ate lettuce (surely the world’s most useless salad-component – it takes up so much space on the plate for so little return!!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

Walkies!

2.00pm: Time to walk off that lunch! Fortunately, there are quite a few to choose from here. We re-visited the map and headed off in the direction of ‘Lady Spencer’s Walk’. It all went horribly wrong in terms of the direction of travel with further signage (apart from the one above) cunningly concealed to test our natural sense of direction – and eyesight. Luckily Dennis and I were on the case, although I’m not sure I helped much, as my sense of direction only tends to work if I can get a GPS signal! After a couple of missteps resulting in us getting up-close-and-personal with a barbed-wire fence, we did eventually make it back to the car park.

“Anyone seen the car-park?”

3.05pm: It was time to say our goodbyes, compare elbows and our walking apps!

Not a bad distance and our speed clearly illustrated that this had been a slow stroll rather than a sweaty sprint! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ We had a super day catching-up, and we really only scratched the surface of the ‘walky bits’. We’ll be back again (hopefully before another ten years has passed) and maybe next time, the Hall will have re-opened as well!

You can see ALL our photos from today, and bypass my commentary using the link below…

Weekend with Ralph and Karen

Reading time: 3 minutes...

Friday


11.35am: Ralph and Karen arrived after a trouble-free journey from theirs. With hardly a moment to catch their breath, we whisked them off to The Old Forge for a pre-arranged lunch at 12.20. ๐Ÿ˜. We hadn’t been here for a while (July 2012 according to my Blog, but I definitely think we’d been more recently), but even with the restrictions of social-distancing, it was a great experience, however you choose to measure it – as good as we remember it! A great experience, and good to support a local business! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

2.15pm: We spent the rest of the afternoon in the garden soaking up the Sun. Boy! was it hot!! Apparently, the hottest day of the year so far and the third hottest on record according to the news. Here in Kettering, it was into the mid-30s… and extremely humid! ๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต๐Ÿฅต

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7.45pm: We eventually retreated to the coolness of the lounge and (literally) chilled-out for a few hours. Ann prepared a simple supper of cold meats (followed by a not-so-simple Baked Alaska) and we watched Triple Frontier on Netflix. Starring Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal as a group of former U.S. Army Delta Force soldiers who reunite to plan a heist of a South American crime lord, for me, it got better and better, with some great actio sequences and high production values.

10.15pm: With the movie over, we caught up with the news headlines – NOT good news as we learned that planned relaxation of some of the lockdown rules were now postponed due to an increase in confirmed cases.

10.40pm: Nighty-night! ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

Saturday

9.25am: A simple breakfast of fruit, yoghurt followed by toast!

10.35am: I took Ralph and Karen out for an extended walk taking in the top meadow, St Botolph’s Church, the bottom meadow…

ยฉ Ralph

…and then Wicksteed Park…

Lamb Prepped!

…leaving Ann and Karen to weave some magic in the kitchen ready for tonight’s meal!

Boys’ Stuff!

1.30pm: Ralph and I caught up with the British GP Practice and Qualifying laps from Silverstone that we recorded earlier.

2.25pm: A snack for lunch – Toasted Cheese! ๐Ÿ˜ followed by not-very-much for us boys, but the girls were busy in the Galley!

5.30pm: Nick and Celina joined us. We haven’t seen them for well over a year and we all had lots of news to share. Ann and Karen had done a great job in the kitchen turning out a menu that was ambitious as it was delicious (unsurprisingly!) ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

Lovely Lamb!

7.15pm: All the food was ready… WE were ready… and so we tucked-in. The only BIG decision was whether to eat inside or out – and so we took a vote and the (almost) unanimous decision was ‘OUT’, but carefully socially-distanced, of course. It was a bit blowy to start with, but it soon settled down. Not surprisingly, the Lamb took centre stage! ๐Ÿ˜

…closely followed by those very Summery desserts! We all did the menu justice and there wasn’t much leftover by the end, save a slightly thinner look lamb! – I feel some meaty leftovers coming on for next week!

11.20pm: Well, the evening flew by! We sank a few litres of the grape and caught up with everyone’s news. Before we knew it, it was past 11 and getting colder, so we headed for the Lounge.

After (ahem!) testing and tasting some more grapes, we found ourselves watching highlights of the cricket! As the wickets tumbled, we were all too well-mannered (or tired, or drunk, or something) to call it a night ๐Ÿ˜‚

00.07am: …and then Saturday became SUNDAY! Collectively and individually, we were all shattered – socialising is such an exhausting activity but eventually, just like the Irish cricket team, we eventually admitted defeat.

We waved goodbye to Nick & Celina and staggered to bed. ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด. Even for me, I felt a lie-in was going to be necessary… ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Sunday


7.45am: Well, that was the lie-in sorted. Ann continued though, whilst I got on with some faffing (and writing this!)

9.35am: For breakfast, we ate outside – again, blowy but warm!

10.55am: We said goodbye to our best friends, and they headed for home by way of a Sunday lunch somewhere!

A great weekend catching-up with great friends! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

Holiday: Marlborough – Day 5 (of 5)

Reading time: 4 minutes...


7.00am: Morning! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Swindon Designer Outlet

The latest weather forecast suggests that it’s not going to be as bad as we thought, but we still need our weekly dose of ‘retail therapy’! So, we’re NOT packing the sun cream, instead, we’re heading for Swindon Designer Outlet. Last time we were here was back in March 2012 during Ann’s birthday break/Easter week when we were staying at the National Trust’s property on the Coleshill Estate.

It was only a short drive to the land of bargain-shops, and after topping up with electrons, courtesy of InstaVolt* in Swindon, for the journey home tomorrow, we were ready to splash some cash.

*InstaVolt was a new experience for us, and from our charging session today, they are the simplest, most straightforward Chargers to use. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Ten minutes later, we were parked at the Outlet, and warming up our plastic! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Opened in 1997, this particular Outlet has been built on the site of Swindon’s Great Western Railway Works. It’s easy to get to, and is located off junction 16 of the M4. As you might expect, there’s plenty of parking and quite a few places to eat (although given the current coronavirus, many had restricted eating arrangements).

11.05am: Everyone likes a bargain, but our experiences with ‘Outlets’ is that they can be a bit ‘hit or miss’. Sometimes there’s plenty to tempt the shopper, whilst at other times there’s hardly any bargains at all. Happily, today, it was the latter for us! ๐Ÿ˜ M&S did well from our patronage with prices so low they even surprised seasoned-shoppers like us! ๐Ÿ˜

The ‘new’…

Given the Outlet’s heritage, it’s great that they’ve respected the past and blended the old with the new. They also have a regular rotation of ‘chuff-chuffs’ in the entrance on long-term display. If you like your steam locomotives, there are more details HERE on past and present exhibits.

12.45pm: All that bargain-hunting sharpened our appetite, and just before 1, we looked for somewhere to eat. Not everywhere was open (or didn’t look like they were!) so we chose Wagamama, who seemed to be doing a reasonable trade…

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how restaurants are suffering from the impact of lockdown – happily Waga’s business doesn’t appear to be one of them (looking at how full they were and the growing queue outside). Somewhat paradoxically, if you know Waga’s format you’ll also know that their standard seating arrangements doesn’t really lend itself to these socially-distanced times – they’re just too communal!

Ingeniously however, they’d installed table-mounted moveable partitions to create a degree of separation between neighbouring tables. They could be adjusted to accommodate different group sizes and from our time there, it seemed to be a good solution to every restaurant’s nightmare.

The place was really buzzing and our food and service was excellent – in fact, apart from the partitions, it all seemed very ‘old’ normal’. They were doing a healthy trade, and the staff seemed to be enjoying themselves. No waiting around to pay the bill either, instead, we paid by mobile during our Dessert! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

1.45pm: This hadn’t been the day for lots of serious walking (we only covered just over a mile) so we drove back to the Hotel to gloat over our bargains – and to begin the process of packing. We’re home tomorrow by about lunchtime.

Push the button to see all the photos (and none of my waffle) from this week’s adventure