EFOG French Excursion - 22nd to 25th May 2010
Saturday, 22nd May. After an uneventful ferry crossing we arrived in Calais around 1-00 p.m. local time and made our way through Bleriot-Plage and Sangatte to Cap Blanc-Nez. At least we thought we had arrived at the car park for Cap Blanc-Nez. In fact we were some 1,500 metres short of the cape. However, we set off on a path towards the cliff top in somewhat cool and grey weather. Along the way we passed several World War II bunkers and gun emplacements built by the Germans with slave labour. As we reached the cliff top the sun was beginning to break through and we could see the route ahead, but not yet a clear view of the English coast some 22 miles to the north-west. The countryside was not unlike that of the Sussex coastal downs - a bit up and down like a roller coaster.
The cape was marked by a large granite column. We descended quite a steep path almost to sea level where a mobile “friterie” selling chips, baguettes and drinks was a welcome sight as most of our group of eight had not eaten lunch on the ship. By now the sun was fully out and the day was warming up nicely. Our original intention was to walk the coastal path between Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Nez-Gris but because we had started late and short of the planned starting point we decided our destination would be the little village of Wissant. We needed the cars in Wissant for our onward journey to Boulogne, so Peter G. and Ken made the return walk back to the car park whilst the main party pressed on towards Wissant.
On a most pleasant summer afternoon we rendez-vous’d in the centre of the village, both groups arriving at about the same time. There was a choice of cafes to have a drink and we settled for one with a cool terrace overlooking the river.
Thanks to some good navigational work by Val and Prue in the lead car, we arrived at the FUAJ hostel in Boulogne just before 6 p.m., having crossed the River Canche. After sorting our beds and a quick clean up we were off into town to find a restaurant for our evening meal.
Sunday, 23rd May. After a very satisfactory continental breakfast (included in the bed-night price of 19 euros) we decided to spend the day in and around the forest of Hardelot. After a brief stop at a Carrefour supermarket en route for picnic provisions we arrived at the little beach resort of Hardelot-Plage. The local tourist office was very helpful in providing us with a map showing a selection of walks in the area. We set off for the Chateau d’Hardelot as a starting point for the chosen walk. The weather was perfect and so was the countryside. The castle itself looked shiny bright and new in the brilliant sunshine. In fact it dated back to the 12th century. We walked around a large lake first. The path was well managed with duckboards across several marshy patches and delightfully shaded by mixed deciduous forest for most of the way. The chateau is currently being refurbished and developed as a tourist attraction. The work is unfinished so there was no charge to look around. We were fascinated by an exhibition of late 18th and early 19th century mainly English cartoons depicting the relationship between the French and the English at this crucial time in the history of the two countries. Next it was time for lunch and we fortunately found a tree shaded picnic table near the main car park. Perfect!
After lunch Maz and Val took a leisurely walk back round the lake, stopping at a hide to look at birds, whilst the rest of us embarked on a forest walk. Along the mainly shaded forest paths it was easy. However, on a section across open rather mountainous dunes and along an un-shaded coastal path it was more arduous in the hot summer sun. Finally we came to a road, more by luck than judgement, and were able to enlist local help on the best route back to the chateau to meet Maz and Val. On the way home we stopped at a café in Equihen-Plage for a welcome cold beer or coffee.
Sunday evening is not the best time of the week to eat out in France as many restaurants are closed or have a limited menu. However, we eventually found a place which was able to satisfy our varied needs. The meal was enlivened by the droll remarks of our waiter on the idiosyncrasies of the English when it comes to eating and drinking.
Monday, 24th May. It was another glorious summer day. We agreed to explore the Foret de Boulogne which lies on high ground a few miles to the east of the town. We stopped off at Carrefour to purchase our food for lunch and for our evening meal. We thought it would be fun to dine “al fresco” in the courtyard of the hostel that evening. The forest was dense, lush and very green. We meandered happily around for a while paying no particular attention to direction or distance. We encountered a number of streams with quite deep cut valleys. It was somewhat wet in places and muddy and slippery on the slopes. Eventually we found a flat more open area covered in wild flowers where we stopped for lunch. A few biting insects found us so we did not linger too long. Now to find our way back to our parking place! We came across a forest road where we were able to work out our position and make our way back.
As it was still relatively early in the day most of us were up for another walk. After discussions we made for the town of Desvres, a little further inland. From the Michelin guide we discovered that Desvres is a long established centre of pottery manufacture. We parked in the town square, although it was more of a triangle than a square, with an interesting chiming clock in the middle. In the local café there was a demand for more Leffe - a rather good Belgian beer.
Two members wished to explore the town and the remainder went by car to the start of the forest walk. A large indicator board clearly showed a number of possible walks. However, as had been the case the previous day, the way-marking was not consistent and we were at times unsure of our position. No matter we enjoyed the paths through the woods. This forest was a little more open with more to see as we walked along. We made quite a large loop, roughly following the southern perimeter of the forest, before eventually coming back to the road near where we had parked the cars.
That evening, our last night at the hostel, we had an excellent cold buffet with meats and cheeses bought from the local supermarket. There was plenty of bread and salad and an ample supply of red and white wine to complement the food. For sweet there was a choice of French apple tart or strawberry cheesecake. A game of pool finished the evening.
Tuesday, 25th May. We had set this day aside to explore the old walled town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Straight after breakfast and vacating our rooms we set off up steep hills and entered the old town through the back gate. The weather was again pleasantly warm and sunny. First we walked the ramparts of the town walls. Along each section and at every corner there were the remains of interesting towers and store houses. On every side there were wonderful views over the town and the surrounding countryside. Inside the old town we had a choice to make - coffee first or the cathedral. Coffee won! Unfortunately, after coffee we arrived at the cathedral just as they were about to close for lunch! 12-00 to 14-00. This is France after all. We walked round the old streets before settling down for lunch at pavement tables. After visiting the cathedral, it was time to meander back down the hill to our waiting cars.
We had a trouble-free journey back to the port at Calais in good time for our evening trip to England, with lovely views of the white cliffs of Dover.
Ken. 11th June 2010
A footnote. Four days after arriving home Ken’s car developed a serious fault which had it occurred a few days earlier would have seriously dampened our spirits.
Camping in Norfolk - 8th-11th May 2010
We started the Norfolk break on Saturday 8th May with some trepidation, in the rain with a forecast not brilliant! Not to be downhearted, we headed for the Manor Farm Campsite at East Runton, determined to make the most of what was thrown at us. Peter and I, with Katie, our Greyhound, met up with Val and her nephew, Charlie, and Gill with her dog, Serena, in a pub in West Runton for lunch. At least it was warm and dry in there! We bravely decided to go for a short walk along West Runton beach - after all, we are an Outdoor Group! It was blowing a gale on the cliffs but the beach was more sheltered and there was only a drizzle - or was that the spray from the rough sea? On to the campsite to set up. Thankfully the rain stopped long enough to get our tent up. Val had arrived earlier, and sensibly found a sheltered corner of the campsite out of the wind. No sea-view from the tents from there, but better than camping in a gale! There was only one problem - we had forgotten to bring a club tent for Gill. No worries - our tent is large, so can easily take 3, plus 2 dogs!
Ann and Duncan eventually joined us after visiting some gardens en route. We drove into Sheringham in the evening for a pub meal, and back to the campsite for a good night’s sleep. Some hopes! The rain battered on the tents during the night, Serena decided she wanted to give me a kiss in the early hours and shoved her wet nose into the back of my head, some of us needed a trip to the loo at daybreak (thankfully the rain had stopped by then), probably after too much wine and coffee the night before, and just as we thought we could get a couple more hours sleep, the dawn chorus had started! A very pretty song coming from a tree near our tents from a Chaffinch (identified the following morning), but I did need more sleep!
The weather had improved by the morning, and after breakfast, we set off for a walk to Sheringham, through woods and along the cliff tops, about 4 miles. It was quite cold and windy, but at least the sun was out! We found a lovely café in Sheringham which allowed the dogs in, and had home-made soup to warm us up. On the walk back, we stopped at the Priory Gardens where some looked at the plants for sale, and a couple of us had coffee and cake, reclining on the comfortable armchairs in the sun in the secluded garden. Did Duncan really want to take an enormous olive tree in a pot home for Copped Hall? (Or was it for home?) Thankfully he thought better of it as he would have needed a crane and lorry to get it back (and £2,000!). When we got back to the campsite we put the kettle on! Gill and Serena had to leave that day, and young Charlie was picked up to get back for his SATs tomorrow. He looked really upset to be leaving. Camping was obviously preferable to exams! The remainder of us drove back into Sheringham for another nice pub meal. The night was rather like the previous one, but without the dog-kissing episode as Serena (and Gill) had gone home! If the rain only fell at night, that was O.K.!
On the Monday we decided to visit the National Trust Sheringham Gardens. We had a lovely walk through rhododendrons, but unfortunately, due to our long winter, everything was late this year. Many were out in flower and looked beautiful, but the majority were late coming out. The bluebells looked lovely, too, and we went up a couple of towers to see the views. We left there and walked through some woods to a small café set in pretty gardens - called “Pretty Corner”. We sat outside in the sun in a really peaceful and sheltered garden setting. Val had to leave us to get home. Down to 4 and 1 dog now! We decided to go back to Sheringham Gardens and do the tree walk this time. Back to the campsite and to give Katie a run on East Runton beach, where the previous day we had watched a couple of surfers braving the cold sea. They obviously thought better of it today, and we went back to Sheringham for the evening meal. Duncan had been updating us on the election fiasco after listening to news on his car radio - Nick Clegg was going with Labour, or was he going with the Conservatives? I was just grateful we were away until it was all sorted!
The night was much the same, except for one difference - there were hailstones all round our tents in the morning! Was it really that cold? This is May! At least it was quite warm in our tent. After an egg and bacon sandwich breakfast, which tastes much nicer cooked on a stove in a tent, we decided to go to Holkham beach which has a gorgeous long stretch of sand, but a long walk across it to get to the sea. It was ideal to give Katie a race round which she loves, but after 3 tiring days, she was not as enthusiastic as normal! After lunch at the café at Holkham Hall, we went to Morston Quay for a boat-trip to see the seals. Katie had to be carried across one boat to the boat we were going on, which didn’t do much for her dignity, but she immediately settled down on the floor of the boat to recover! Last year the seals were sitting on a sandbank and swimming round the boat, almost laughing at the idiots who come out to see them, but this year they had a different tactic. Hide and seek was the game! There was only one on a sandbank - the others were teasing us, popping up here and there out of the water, and back down again. “I’m over here. No I’m not, I’m over here now.” Apparently there have been fewer seals this year, and we only saw Grey Seals, and none of the prettier Common Seals. We then went close to a sandbank covered with nesting and flying seabirds - hundreds of them. The seal trip made a fitting end to a lovely few days in Norfolk, which turned out to be much better than we had expected, weather-wise! At least the days were dry and mainly sunny, but perhaps we should have gone in the warmer weather we had in April!
Gor' - luv a duck - another great day out for EFOG, this time to Barnes Wetland Centre, on 10th April.
When the suggestion to go there had been made at the programme planning meeting, about thirty-two people had thought it was a good idea, and because of the huge numbers expected, we reckoned three leaders should be employed. So, we were pleasantly surprised to find that on the actual day, five members turned up. Unfortunately, Steve was unable to be there on the day, but Fred and I thought we could cope.
Peter, Maz, Jane and Fred went by car, and apparently had a lovely journey. What a joy it must have been to be driving across London on such a fine day! The other group - who couldn't afford the petrol - consisted of myself and a contingent of one member - Pam - and two non-members: Janis and Jenny. Maz was heard to comment that I'd arrived with my harem, but that's not quite fair as non of them are even Turkish. (One is part-Welsh, though – so that may count)
We all spent the beginning of our visit to this wonderful waterfowl reserve by sitting in the sunshine drinking tea and coffee and eating cream cakes. Fred said it was much like being on holiday, and he was thinking that being retired wasn't such a bad thing after all.
However, the relaxation couldn't last, as at midday there was to be a duckling display. With the usual EFOG enthusiasm for excitement, we made our way to the lodge in the North American section, with posters of bison and beavers and deer and antelope playing. We hadn't really known what to expect from a duckling display – Jenny thought something like the Red Arrows, but Paul had in mind more like formation underwater swimming with red, white and blue ribbons trailing from their tails (It's called “Tailing”). However, what we experienced was perhaps even more remarkable (but maybe not). The ducklings were of a variety called “Runners” - apparently bred at a place called Bow Street to pursue villains in much the same way as geese are used to deter Rottweilers from breaking into farmyards.
The ducklings, of which there were five (including one that seemed to be able to make itself invisible from my vantage point), were performing in – of all things – a kiddies garden pool; one of those thin yellow plastic things. The pool was empty of water, but they had in there with them a dish with food placed on it to keep their peckers up, and a water-dispenser – totally unlike those that you get in a typical office scenario where they've gone beyond taps.
Being Runners, their display consisted of running in very complex – one could even say unpredictable – patterns, round and round the pool. These fascinating movements were interspersed with individual demonstrations of sitting down, falling over and even at times apparently falling asleep in the food bowl ! The Great Duck-mistress – who it must be said was not of duck-breed - explained that they were only a couple of weeks old, so their skills would certainly improve with age and experience. Already, these ducklings were so revered for their art that like all the elite, we were told that to touch one would result in severe punishment from the Great Duck-mistress. Inevitably, of course, some of the younger members of the audience and Maz were so drawn to these wonderful creatures that their hands strayed towards them, but a sharp rap on the knuckles quickly put a stop to that!
The demonstration over, we exited from the lodge blinking in the sunshine and from amazement. What a start to our visit! The sight in the pools nearby of Buffleheads, Crested Mergeezers and Deadly Venom-spitting Smew could hardly compare to what we had just seen! Sad to say, we didn't see any beavers, bison or deer or antelope playing. Personally, I have to say, it's a bit of a con just to encourage visitors. The crocodile in the African section didn't look too real to me either; I suspect it was actually a model one – just a deception. Sir Peter Scott has a lot to answer for – especially the massacre of the Ruddy Ducks. Ne Ne, I hear you say!
Still, not to let these things spoil the day, some of our group of eight – which was by now two groups of four (hold on: 2x4 equals - er... 1,2,3,4 plus 1,2,3,4....yes that's right), were treated to not just one but TWO water voles singing to each other in the reeds. And a frog on a log.
So the day was excellent – we probably all got sun-burnt, definitely four of us got chucked out of the binocular emporium for overstaying their closing time and not buying anything, and the two groups of four never met up again and went home their separate ways. Next time we are going to do the other half of Barnes Wetland Centre and I might well take another Cornish pasty to defrost on the way and save some money on buying food at the Centre (it is a bit expensive there).
Paul Ferris, 11th April
Cycling on the Cambs/Herts border
The weekday weather forecast for last Sunday was for heavy rain, so we were relieved to know on the Saturday that sunny intervals would be around for the next day.
At Steeple Morden , Bill and Inger (and Gill Light) were waiting with their bikes. We were puzzled as there was no sign of their white van. Had they cycled all the way from Pymoor and were then prepared to go a further 20 miles ? Er....no.
Lurking in the car park behind us was a new sleek black hatchback, which had a 2-bike rack that could be stored in the boot when not in use. A useful bit of kit and much admired.
We were soon joined by Cliff , Ann, Duncan and Parviz. Leaving Steeple Morton we set off in the direction of "Wrestlingworth". Fearing that the folk there might be violent we continued on to Eyeworth !
This was a typical village ; old houses nestling alongside new ones, and everywhere there were daffodils ; on verges and in gardens , and some had even been planted alongside one of the deep fen-like ditches. I noticed some early yellow coltsfoot by the road and the white blossom of the blackthorn was starting to show as well. Where there were trees there was the first green tinge to the branches ; the new shoots displacing the black/brown boughs of winter.
The roads were undulating - no obvious steep hills but there were several long inclines. When cloudy, a stiff cold breeze sprang up and in this headwind even the inclines were a challenge. However, there were several long downhills on quiet lanes so the sprinters among us could take off and blow away the cobwebs. This is an area of arable farming and the landscape often lacked trees , hedges and fences ,so fields under cultivation were huge. It was strange to see nothing but big green mounds of growing crops right up to the horizon.
We cycled through the immaculate villages of Dunton and Edworth,and stopped at Hinxworth, where an unusual war memorial presented itself as a lunch venue. A central clock tower was flanked by a high wall on either side, complete with wooden seats. Just the place for a group photo as well.
The sun decided to shine and we were glad of the slight warmth as we ate our sandwiches. On the tower a plaque recorded that the restoration of the clock tower in 1997 was funded by Major Robert Clutterbuck , no doubt a descendant of a Vincent Clutterbuck whose name was inscribed on the WW1 Roll of Honour. We were nearly shot off our seats when the bell in the tower above our heads struck one o'clock !
Apparently Hinxworth was known as 'Haingesteuuorde' in the Domesday Book of 1086: 'enclosure where stallions are kept'. Judging by the number of horseboxes in people's yards as we went around, and Newmarket not a million miles away, the locals are certainly keeping up the tradition !
We continued to the large, vibrant village of Ashwell and then on back to our starting point at Steeple Morden. Cliff was in good spirits as he had found a lucky dried rabbit's foot before we set out, and Inger had managed to purchase a bunch of leeks on the way round.
We all thanked Inger and Bill for organising the ride (20 and a half miles) and then fell to the task of putting bikes on racks before leaving this interesting corner of Cambridgeshire and North Hertfordshire.
EFOG Spring Clean Up in Bath, 2010
Over the weekend of 13/14th February 2010, 19 members of the EFOG went to Bath for the weekend on our Spring getaway. Staying in the very convivial Lansdown Grove Hotel, the group had a tourist day on the Saturday and got down to the serious business of walking on the Sunday.
With the weather being unpredictable as it has been this last few weeks, most of the EFOGs decided to join a guided tour of Bath. Who says that nothing is free!! This tour was funded, I guess, by the local authority.
With added non-Effogers, we were a large group (about 25-30) and our guide Cheryl was a gem; she was enthusiastic and had a great sense of humour, you could always hear what she said and she held all our attentions for whole 2+ hours that we were with her.
The origins of the bubbling mud and springs which made Bath famous can be traced back to 863 BC to Bladud the son of King Hudibras. Bladud had the misfortune of contacting virulent leprosy and was banished from court to wandering with pigs in the countryside to survive. He discovered that the condition of the pig’s skin improved with wallowing in the mud and waters and wondered then if his own problem would also improve. The rest is history - he recovered and returned to court and on the death of his father become King.
The Romans arrived in 43 A.D. and were similarly impressed with the healing powers of the waters and amongst many things built the famous spa baths which in part are still standing to date.
Bath always remained an important place of business and pleasure and in the Georgian period the town was transformed on a grand scale. Richard ‘Beau’ Nash set about improving the seedy social habits of the upper classes of the time and improving the lot of the poor and needy. John Wood, an architect, and in later years his son, designed the famous Royal Crescent and The Circus, the Assembly Rooms and many other buildings which still stand and bear witness to the skills of this well respected man.
Many famous people have lived in the Royal Crescent and The Circus: The Duke of York, Sir Isaac Pitman (who invented shorthand), William Pitt the elder, the artist Gainsborough, David Livingstone and Clive of India to name just a few.
After being hit with such a massive input of historical facts and figures we were all understandably thirsty and in need of the local waters and refreshments, in particular Sally Lunn’s Bath buns, which we all pursued with animated enthusiasm.
As a side trip, a couple of the Efoggers also made it to Bristol, about 12 miles down river with a particular destination in mind – the waterfront with its converted warehouses and the restored SS Great Britain. An iron-hulled steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843, the Great Britain also had six masts, and was as fast under sail as the Cutty Sark. The Great Britain sailed around the world 32 times and continued sailing until 1886. She was finally abandoned in 1937 off of the coast of the Falkland Islands. In 1970, the historic ship was raised, towed back to Bristol and has now been restored as an impressive museum which the visitor can go in, round, and under!
After all of that history, Sunday was for the serious business of walking. The group took the train to the pretty town of Burham on Avon, about 9 miles outside of Bath, and after a brief look around the town’s historic attractions and a refreshment stop at The Bridge Victorian tea room, walked back to town along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal. The canal was built by John Rennie and opened in 1723. To solve the problem of the change in gradient along this section, the canal was built criss-crossing the River Avon using two dramatic aqueducts at Avoncliff and Dundas. It’s a very popular spot for both walkers and cyclists – for the very keen you can walk the entire way to London using the canal path and other linking waterway paths, around 250 miles! Another trip for EFOG perhaps!
After a wash and brush up, we reconvened at the dining table for a last get together before dispersing the next morning by bus, train and car back to London and parts surrounding. Many thanks to Ken and Susan for their organisation of another very enjoyable weekend.
Val and Sue
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