Cottesbrooke Hall and Brixworth Church

Reading time: 2 minutes...
Cottesbrooke Hall

Fresh from our soaking at Deene Park a few days ago, we braved the elements and headed off to Cottesbrooke Hall today. The Queen Anne style House dates from 1702 and enjoys Grade I listed status. It has Gardens too!

It’s not the first visit for me (apparently, we came here 20ish years ago), although it might as well have been, as I don’t recall any of it! 😁.

The House opened at 2pm and when we arrived at around 1.45pm, there was already a queue.

True-to-form, just as we got out of the car, it began raining – but as we were on the first guided tour of the House (2.15pm), it didn’t matter much initially.

The House

The House is still occupied by the owners – The MacDonald-Buchanans – and because of that, no photography is allowed inside the House. That’s a shame because there’s plenty to see here, including a massive collection of paintings of race-horses. Unfortunately, our Guide wasn’t the most interesting we’ve met on our travels, and we were slightly relieved when the Tour ended after its allocated 40-minutes.

The Gardens

Next stop was the Gardens. That’s more like it – an opportunity for photographs! Unfortunately, the weather continued its cold-and-damp-plus-rain, which took the edge off our visit! 😒

Then we had even more rain, so we hurried round. I’m sure if the Sun had been shining (or, at least if it wasn’t raining) we would have stayed for longer!

It was turning colder too! Time for a ‘strategic withdrawal’. 😊

I think overall, as lovely as the House and Gardens were, the experience had been a tad disappointing. Perhaps on another day, when it’s hot(ter), and with a Guide who’s a bit more engaging, we might have a more positive view. See you again in 2039!!

Click HERE for the Website

Brixworth Church – ‘All Saints’

We headed back to the car and on the way back decided to take a short diversion to nearby Brixworth – more specifically, the Anglo-Saxon Church: ‘All Saints’. It’s pretty old, dating back, in parts, to the 7th century. Wikipedia comments: “It is the largest English church that remains substantially as it was in the Anglo-Saxon era. In all the time we’ve lived here, we never visited this village – and Ann confirmed the fact too! A truly impressive structure!! 👌👌

All Saints, Brixworth
An impressive entrance

It certainly boasted some impressive stained-glass windows!

Approach to the Altar

It is the largest English church that remains substantially as it was in the Anglo-Saxon era – Wikipedia

This had been an impressive visit – definitely worth a look if you’re in the area! 👍

Click HERE for the Website

Turkish Delight: Day 3 – Istanbul (Mosque Mania)

Reading time: 3 minutes...

The Blue Mosque and The Hagia Sophia are right here on our doorstep, but every day we’ve passed them, the queues have been far too long.

As it’s our last full-day here in Istanbul, the plan today is to have an early breakfast and try and get to them both ahead of the crowds.

We’re also going to squeeze in a local Bazaar near the Blue Mosque and the Cistern Baths.

It seemed to be a good plan as there were no queues at all at The Hagia Sophia. Here are a few facts about the Mosque/Cathedral…

  • One of the largest Cathedrals in the World
  • Over 1500 years old
  • Great examples of Byzantine Art and Architecture
  • Has also been a Mosque
  • Now a Museum

There is plenty to see here, and it runs to TWO floors…

…with some stunning mosaics…

…and as you would expect, it’s a pretty big place.

Currently though, there’s a lot of scaffolding in place as extensive renovation work continues, so it was best to look UP rather than ACROSS!

Next stop was Cistern Baths (Basilica Cistern). It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian and is an underground chamber filled with columns partly submerged in water. Back in the day, this is where the locals collected their fresh water supplies.

We steered ourselves round a horde of oriental tourists all armed with the obligatory selfie sticks and headed for the ticket booth. Moments later, and for just 20TL (£3.75), we were soon heading down some very wet stairs into the darkness. It was more-or-less pitch black down there save for a few strategically placed downlighters.

There were plenty of signs up to warn visitors NOT to use flash, but that wasn’t stopping the hoards of camera-phone users regularly lighting-up the whole place. Clearly some enforcement was required here, if the relics weren’t to suffer! It was only the fact that our ‘proper’ camera was able to function (to a degree) in the dark that we got any pictures at all!

Whilst I recognise to need not to flood the place with lighting, it could have done with some ‘smarter’ type of lighting – it was almost impossible to see the settings on the camera and I think we ended up deleting far pics more than we kept.

Film fans will be pleased to hear that a James Bond film has been shot here (From Russia with Love) as well as one of the recent Dan Brown novels (Inferno). Worth a look, but watch your step, as it’s very slippery.

Continuing our Mosque Mania tour, next on our list was The Blue Mosque. Here come those factoids…
  • Built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I
  • Erected on the sight of the old Royal Palace
  • Sedefhar Mehmet Aga was the Project Manager
  • The Mosque its name from the blue tiles on the interior
  • Also known as ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’

Once again, there were no queues and after removing our shoes (placing them in the handily supplied plastic bags) and Ann ‘scarfing-up’, we were in! Good to see that the officials on duty were suitability-checking head-gear – I saw at least one disrespectful ‘twatty’ trying to get in by using her ‘hoodies hood’ as a head-covering’ – and it obviously failed because later, inside, she was wearing a brown scarf!
Thumbs up
Being an active Mosque, it was a lot busier, but somehow, it all felt a bit lack-lustre

We’ve seen quite a few Mosques on our travels and I think all-in-all, although impressive, it wasn’t quite as ‘Wow!’ as some we’ve seen elsewhere. Still worth a visit though!

Then it was off to the local Bazaar – not so many Spice Shops though these days, mostly Jewellers and Carpet/Cushion retailers! – Oh, and quite a few obligatory cats too!

This led us to the entrance to imaginatively titled Mosaic Museum – not surprisingly, a museum full of ancient mosaics (from the site of the Emperor Justinian’s Palace).

Most of the 6th century finds were from excavations in the 20s, 30s and 50s, these were a great collection from times-gone-by – and all in pretty good condition too!

Impressive stuff and so much variety too! – Eagles, Deers, Snakes, Ducks and a horned, winged Tiger-ey thingy!

Our final morning stop was due to be the Carpet Museum but (as we discovered later) some little funster had turned the road sign round and consequently we headed-off in completely the wrong direction. We didn’t quite end up in Syria, but it felt like we’d travelled about the same distance!
Sad smile Sad smile

On re-treading re-tracing our steps, we did eventually find it, but by then, we’d lost the Wilton will to live and headed back the Hotel for some well-deserved R and R!

Into the afternoon, and a trip to nearby restaurant territory – just across the road from the Mosques. We settled on Sura Restaurant (but there were loads to choose from) and it turned out to be outstanding, both in service and food quality and quantity.

Then it was back to the Hotel to pack, update the Blogs, ready for the taxi tomorrow morning. We finished the day with a Netflix Binge:- ‘Designated Survivor’.
Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up

Wow! It’s been a great break in the old part of the City and we feel we’ve got a real measure of the land, the people and the culture. It has been cold though, and I think that ‘took the shine off it’ a little. Still, I’m sure we’ll be back!

“Güle güle” Istanbul!

All the photographs from our short trip to Istanbul can be viewed HERE

Turkish Delight: Day 2 – Istanbul (Turkey on a Bus)

Reading time: 3 minutes...

Turkey on a Bus? No, not a packed lunch! Today, we took the easy way for seeing Istanbul – by Bus! – courtesy of Big Bus Tours. The morning trip was the ‘Red Route‘ and in the afternoon, the ‘Blue Route‘. Total cost, just under £30 each and that included both routes (free wi-fi too).

The Red Route is a two-hour hop-on-hop-off tour taking in over 20 landmarks. We picked up the Bus near the two Mosques in Sultanahmet, just a short walk from our hotel.

11.15. We’re off! It’s a cold morning, but they’ve thoughtfully closed the roof on the Bus to keep the heat in (what heat?) pic In hindsight, choosing to sit upstairs wasn’t one of our better decisions of the holiday – Even with the roof ON, it was freezing! Eventually, we moved to the lower deck where it was a healthy +2C
Sad smile

Maybe because it was a Saturday, but the majority of the trip consisted of moving from one traffic-jam to another (Istanbul can be a busy place by car). So, all-in-all, temperature and traffic combined, it turned out to be all a bit lack-lustre. I’m sure if the weather had been warmer, and the traffic quieter, it would have been more enjoyable – over 20 stops should be a really good way to get a sense of scale of this ancient city.

Symbolically (and eventually) we did cross the Bosphorus Bridge from Europe into Asia – and back again.

Because of the continued traffic congestion, our trip got us back to base a little later – at 1.30pm. We decided that as it was so cold (even with gloves, scarves and a double-layer), extreme measures were called-for in preparation for our second bus-trip of the day – the Blue Route.

So, it was a quick walk canter back to the Hotel, grab a hot drink, a nibble and then ‘suit-up’ with even more layers – and even a hat! (have you seen me in a hat? Scary stuff!)

We had about 20 minutes for the top-up of clothes before the Blue Route departed – and we made it with about 5 minutes to spare. The reason for taking this route was that it took us in the direction of a very, very (very) old Church in the old city – St Saviour in Chora – dating back to 1315. Armed with just a map and a heavy sense of purpose, we jumped off the Bus just a few stops later and headed into what could be described as ‘authentic Istanbul’. Of the four people we stopped and asked for directions, none spoke any English, but the international language of ‘pointing’ and ‘waving hands about’ worked – and after a thirty-minute yomp (mostly uphill) we eventually got to this unique destination.

Was it worth it? Oh yes! Although the Church was mostly closed-off because of extensive renovation work on its ancient collection of mosaics and frescos, what we did see was beautiful… and some!

We took a more direct walk back to base – a south-easterly direction taking in the following roads: Macar Kardesler Caddesi, Sehzade Basi Caddesi, Vezneciler Cad and then followed the Tram route back to where we’d started this morning. Macar Kardesler Caddesi and Sehzade Basi Caddesi were a bit like Oxford Street back in London although the first 20 or 30 shops (really!) were all Wedding Dress specialists – very bizarre… but definitely NOT a Bazaar!

Still, it would keep most most betrothed guys happy as Istanbul must be one of the few places in the world where you can literally pop next door for a Kebab, whilst the other-half is trying on her wedding shoes!
As we continued our walk, Retail Outlets gave way to loftier matters in the shape of the Monument Fatih…

and the magnificent  Valens Aqueduct

And of course, you don’t have to walk far here to encounter a Mosque you’ve not seen before – and this afternoon’s walk was no exception…

Another 25 minutes and we were soon back to familiar Mosques in the shape and size of The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia – and therefore close to base. We were feeling pretty smug having walked ALL the way back – some four kilometres (which is good for us – and good for us!!). Next stop? Feet up for a few hours before heading out, back into the city in search of an evening meal.

7pm: Off into the City to find some nosebag! We didn’t need to travel far – five minutes later, we were being offered a seat in The Han an authentic looking Turkish restaurant, just down the hill from our Hotel.

Compared to a Saturday night back home, it was very quiet – but that meant we experienced great service! pic We managed Starters – Cheese Pancake for Ann, Mince Pancake for me…

…and then the main event – The Han Special Kebab…

…and to finish – A cup of Turkish Tea each…

Oh, and somewhere amongst that lot was a glass of white wine and two beers. Total cost? Just under £47! 🙂 We then took the short walk back to the Hotel for a spot of Netflix. Tomorrow is our last full day here and we aim to see:-

The King’s Men

Reading time: < 1 minute...

Well, it wasn’t quite all of the them (see the photo below) and luckily, we didn’t have to go to ‘the top of the hill’ to see them.

What we did see (and hear) was 7 (of the 15) guys who are Choral Scholars from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, performing in a close-harmony group, as part of their annual Tour. And, in short, they were just fantastic! As a bonus, if they ever decide to give up singing, their future as Raconteurs is also assured as they had us in stitches between the songs.

The Church was packed, and although the ticket sales were driven (slightly unusually) by Coleman’s the Stationers, it was a sell-out!

As you can see, it was a varied programme (our fave being Part 1), where they performed a very wide range of tunes – ‘Prayer of King Henry VI’ through to ‘Postman Pat’ by way of ‘In the Bath’! There was also some limited audience participation for the final track – ‘Minnie the Moocher’ (where I think some of the congregation got a bit carried away).

The Organ Interludes was just as spectacular with one of the ‘Men’ playing as if his life depended on it (and it may well have done, as we learned it was to be his final performance with the ‘Men’). He really made the organ come alive!

For many there, tonight was probably the best fun you can have on a Saturday night – and keep your clothes on! (well, maybe!?)

The Church had also laid-on some quality nibbles during the interval too! It all finished just before 10, and as David and Valerie were good enough to act as chauffeurs, we were soon home.

All-in-all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Kettering Citadel Band – In Concert

Reading time: < 1 minute...

Kettering Citadel Band Concert 2016
We popped over to the Holy Trinity Church in Rothwell tonight to see the Kettering Citadel Band (supported by the Kettering Citadel Songsters) in concert. It was in aid of the Rothwell Corps and Community Project and there were over 100 people there.

Typically for Rothwell, parking was a ‘challenge’ with the main car-park in Bridge Street bursting at the seams (with other motorists circling). We headed back into Bridge Street and eventually found a space round the back streets.

We haven’t been to this Church for years – we reckon nearly 20 – and I’d forgotten how large it felt inside. It’s pretty old too, with the current building dating back to 1130.  Just like the car-park, it was packed inside, but helpfully, Keith who helps out at the SA in Rothwell pointed out the two types of seats – ‘church-like’ and those with a cushioned seat – I think we got the last two! A couple of Southern Softies us!!!!

It was good to see Richard and Pauline at the helm doing what they do best – and Jack was in top form compering the evening including some humorous and reflective messages – for obvious reasons, I won’t say his performance was EPIC though! (you had to be there!!!)

It was a varied evening of music, from the traditional to the modern, with the acoustics of the Church helping the Band and the Choir to sound even bigger and better – and grander – than normal.

All-in-all a great evening – all for a worthy cause too!