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We decided to live aboard Harmonie during the summer months and to rent English property during the winter with the idea of researching where we would like to live permanently once Harmonie is sold. Over the course of our 38 years of living together we have lived for extended periods in Australia, Edinburgh and Somerset with the odd visits to Sues birthplace, New Zealand. This web site has described our travels since we purchased our barge Harmonie in 2005 but we were now looking forward to coming ashore and determined to find a region in England where we have not lived before and that met our aspirations.
The first thing to decide was if we wanted to buy a property or rent one? During much of our lives together we have experienced some years of living in places where, for various reasons, we no longer wished to live due to being unable, for various reasons, to sell the property in which we were living. We also asked ourselves if we really wanted to tie up most of our capital in property at our time of life which represented most of our ill gotten gains over our joint working lives! There seemed to be a real advantage to living a lifestyle comparatively unrestricted by shortage of funds and being able to up sticks and move somewhere else at the end of a lease, free of the vagaries of the property market. We could also afford to rent a much better property than we could afford to buy.
So a decision was made to rent and we began the process of identifying the likely places we might live. Having lived in Edinburgh for 16 years, as much as we loved living in that beautiful city, we had become softer as we matured in Somerset with its milder climate and did not want to go too far North.
Sue had researched her family ancestors who came for the Nottingham and Lincolnshire areas. She had arrived at the stage where she needed to carry on the research in those places where they originated so that was one area which was a likely candidate. Our friends Keith and Jenny in Ilkeston sold us on the delights of Derbyshire which were not far from Sues area of research but I knew the area pretty well from my caving days so it was not exactly new territory.
Then Pete and Jan offered us one of their properties to rent for the winter in Bradley Stoke so we decided to look at Worcestershire as a potential place to live. It had a premiership Ruby club (hanging on to a premiership place by the skin of its teeth) and was within easy reach of Gloucester and even Bath at a push so some good Rugby venues were there. We both enjoy walking and we had the Cotswold and Malvern Hills within easy reach with Shropshire and the Welsh hills also a day trip away. A visit to the city of Worcester converted Sue to the idea. Plenty of good restaurants, shops, cultural events, concerts and a buzzy feel to the city which she loved and the locals we met were keen to welcome us there. We have not closed our eyes to other regions of the country but somewhere in this area looks favourite at the time of writing.
We first investigated the vale of Evesham making several diversions due to bad flooding in the area at the time of our visit. Evesham itself had let itself go and needed the likes of Mary Portus to inject some entrepreneurial spirit into the place. Even the latest covered shopping mall contained a high proportion of failed businesses with many units to let and the high street was in a similar condition with charity and empty shops galore. It is a pity because it is an attractive town astride the river Avon with lots of old interesting buildings.
The difference just a few miles away was all the more noticeable in the little Georgian Market town of Pershore, another town on the river Avon surrounded by pretty country and the site of a lovely old Abbey dating from 680 AD. Here was a high street full of little independent shops with hardly any empty and one that Mary Portus might use as a good example of how to turn civic pride to advantage. They even had a town loyalty card that gave you discounts at local shops. When we called in at the town hall to get information we were plied with various literature and given the big sell about what a great place Pershore was to live in.
We spent the night at Droitwich where we indulged in an Indian meal at the Raj Tandoori which was probably OK but we are completely spoilt after visiting the Raj Pavillions in Horfield, Bristol where we have eaten such good food that nothing else seems to compare! At the other extreme we did find Julies Cafe for breakfast, just off the A38, we were served 2 eggs, 2 rashers of lean back bacon, two pork sausages, baked beans and fried bread with buttered toast and mugs of builders tea, all for under £4 each! You could add mushrooms, tomatoes and black pudding for a few bob more! Magic!
The city sits astride the river Severn which was of course flooded but we were told was not really a problem as they were used to dealing with it and the flood defences were much improved. The racecourse and county cricket pitch beside the river were under several feet of water and you could see evidence of the water having been much higher.
We wondered around the pedestrianised city centre and Sue quickly found a T K Maxx, adjusted her shopping black belt and went for it, emerging with Christmas presents which were of course "absolute bargains and not to be missed". I must admit that she did look terrific in the coat she chose and I am not one to take the slightest interest in clothes normally.
Two of its Anglo-Saxon Bishops were sainted. Saint Oswald established a monastery here in 983 then Saint Wulfstan began the present building in 1084 and apparently got on rather well with Bill the Conk considering their ethnic differences. King John was buried here in 1216 and his is said to be the oldest Royal tomb in England. Other famous memorials are to Prince Arthur, who was buried here in 1502 and was the elder brother of Henry VIII. Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon who married Henry after Arthurs death. Henry then dissolved the monastery during the reformation in 1540. Another more modern memorial is to Studdart Kennedy, otherwise known as Woodbine Willie, a poet famous for his writings of the Great War. Sir Edward Elgar, born a few miles from Worcester, performed in concerts here on many occasions. There is a stained glass window to his memory but he is not buried here as he was a Roman Catholic.
Our next port of call was Great Malvern which is close to Worcester but we took a round about route and approached it from the West. The Malvern Hills are an area of outstanding natural beauty and although we had walked over the top of the hills, had never seen them before from this direction. Sue thought it reminded her of parts of New Zealand. The photograph below is taken from a ridge above the Teme valley looking across the valley to the Malvern Hills on the horizon.
Great Malvern is built on the steep side of the hill and if we lived here we would certainly keep fit walking around the town. It must be difficult to get around when it snows and many of the steep pavements have handrails alongside. Its most impressive aspect from Sues point of view was that it had an excellent Waitrose supermarket where we were able to stock up with Lapsang tea bags, a rare commodity it seems.
Back in Droitwich we discovered the Robin Hood Inn on the A38 towards Bromsgrove where it was pie night so I had an excellent Steak and Kidney Pudding with a suet crust but Sue chose chicken breast stuffed with haggis and declared it delicious!
Next day we began at Alcester having been diverted several times around flooded roads. Alcester is a really pretty place, full of black and white half timbered houses of ancient lineage. We both thought that this might be a great place to live but when we began to explore we realised that the place was too precious and was also full of doddery old folk. We are old but not yet doddery and not ready for that environment! We noticed a motor home during our travels which had painted on the side "Adventure before Dementia". Our thoughts entirely!
Lunch was at Tewksbury in the Royal Hop Pole Hotel, a Weatherspoon pub so we had a nice lunch and a fine pint for a very reasonable price as usual. Mr Pickwick stayed here according to Charles Dickens and these Weatherspoon pubs do take some beating!
Lots of rental properties round here if we were so inclined and close to Gloucester and Cheltenham where we found ourselves next, checking out prices in the Dunelm Mill shop before driving back to Bradley Stoke.
Against New Zealand, England played well. Actually they played very well, perhaps amazingly so. No, lets face it, they were incredibly brilliant, dominating every facet of the game!! Brother-in-law Fred in Auckland reckoned it England's best performance ever against the Blacks in his lifetime!
On the morning of the same day of the momentous happenings above, Sue and I did another exploration of the Cotswold Way. We began at Wotton-under-Edge and walked up to the top of the escarpment following the Way to emerge above the town with fine views out across the Severn valley with the towers of the Severn Suspension Bridge shining in the winter sun. The Way winds through the beech woods following the edge of the escarpment, past the earthworks of the ancient fort known as Brackenbury Ditches and after a couple of miles arrives at Nibley Knoll, surmounted by the Tyndale Monument.
William Tyndale was born in these parts and made the first English translation of the New Testament in 1525. At that time such unauthorised scriptures were forbidden by the Roman Catholic church and under English law such actions were punishable by death. Tyndale was forced to leave England to carry out the translation.
You can climb to the top of the monument for an even better view but we didn't. The Eagle eyed might notice the Severn Bridge at the bottom left of the picture above.
Flood Prevention Rant
The wet weather has improved somewhat but the Somerset levels are still under water and likely to be for months to come. It gets worse every year and is less to do with global warming but more to do with drainage, or lack of it.
End of Rant
Local knowledge kept us clear of the Somerset flooding when we drove down to South Petherton. The main objective on this trip was to get rid of the files from our business which had been stored for seven years in our neighbour, Davids cellar. The council wants good money to dump these files but fortunately Martock Waste Paper took them all including binders and shredded them for nothing, in fact the bloke thanked me for delivering them! We stayed the night in Davids annex, remembering to take him some "rent"! This dates from the time we owned the Deli next door and our friends the Hockeys lived for several months in Davids annex when the rent was a case of champagne a month which we all drank!
David and the Hockeys joined us for a meal at the Crown and Victoria in Tintinhull where we all ate good food but at astonishing prices. My faggots and mash were £13; pub food at gourmet prices - no wonder pubs are going broke. We met daughter Becky in a Tiverton Weatherspoon pub the next day for lunch where three adults and two kids ate for £20 - from the sublime to the ridiculous. They recently arrived back from Australia after a fruitless search to find work for Tom who is an aircraft technician but did not have the right qualifications for the Aussies. He had well paid contract work within days of his return so their original plans to emigrate may now be abandoned.
After a Christmas present buying visit to Clarkes Village we arrived at the Palmers residence and with Mike, Pat and Alistair, drove up to Shepton Mallet to the best Fish and Chip shop in Somerset followed by a few pints in the best pub in Wells. They are all off to Las Vegas for Christmas. We left promising ourselves a trip down to Italy sometime soon for a second attempt on the Alta Via 2. This is one of six high level routes along Dolomite mountain ranges involving via ferrata ascents and descents. Mike and I completed Alta Via 1 about 40 years ago and were stopped by snow in June on the Alta Via 2 so we need to complete it before we get too old!
Back in Brissle our free bus passes had arrived so off we went to the Docks where there was a Christmas Market with lots of interesting craft stalls. We then took the bus back to Gloucester Road in Montpelier to investigate a tee shirt shop called The Beast we had spotted from the bus coming into town. They sell shirts with Brisslespeak on them like 'Gert Lush' and especially for the ladies, 'cuz ize wurf it' on tops and thongs! Walking up the hill we discovered a deli that sold Colston Basset Stilton and Montgomery Cheddar so we will be back again for sure.
I have recently upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8 64 bit Operating System. If you are contemplating such an upgrade my advice is don't do it, especially if you run old programs. Microsoft do a scan and tell you which of your programs will not work so I knew that for example my FTP program would not run and checked with the author who wanted more money for his latest program which would run so I downloaded a freebie which works fine.
We celebrated my 72nd birthday together with Peter and Jan at the El Peurto Tapas Restaurant in Bristol Docks where they advertised Jazz on my birthday. It looked a nice place with, they claimed, authentic Spanish food cooked by Spanish chefs. Their web site explained the way tapas is served continuously throughout the meal. We ordered the Christmas menu for £20 a skull and 14 dishes were served in one go so that by the time we had worked our way through half of them, the rest were cold and they were not very hot to start with. The food was of a reasonable standard with the exception of the patatas bravas which were nothing like the real thing. We did complain but it had zero effect so they have certainly lost any future business from us. The Jazz, however, was excellent; electric piano and string base playing mainly Latin American standards which are just my cup of tea!
A half hours drive from Bradley Stoke takes you to the park-and-ride car park on the top of Lansdowne Hill where a bus service runs every 15 minutes into the city of Bath. Another glorious winters day saw us soaking up the atmosphere in this, one of our favourite places. This was a test run for the next Saturday when I come over to watch Bath Rugby beat Saracens (Ho, Ho, Ho) and Sue completes the Christmas shopping. Sue bought me a lined waterproof Bath Rugby jacket from the club shop for Chrissie on the understanding I can have it early to wear for the game as the weather forecast was dire.
Carols were being sung for various charities, buskers were much in evidence playing trumpets, harmonicas and French Horns, but Sue was intrigued outside a Chinese restaurant with a group of Chinese in Santa Claus hats singing carols... in Chinese!!! The highlight was a Spaniard playing brilliant jazz guitar at the bottom of Milsom Street, playing so well that we were obliged to stop and listen and reward his efforts.
On the following Saturday we had a poor lunch at Brown Brasserie then I went to the Rec to see Bath play Sarries and Sue went shopping, of course! I then sat for two hours in the pouring rain watching one of the most dismal performances from a Bath Rugby side I have ever seen. The Kiwi Beaver, Steven Donald, missed all his penalty kicks and was more like a mole than a beaver. Apart from an occasional flurry from Bendy and Biggsie the rest of them seemed to have lost their Rugby brains while Charlie Hodgson gave the Beaver a lesson in how to kick penalties with 5 penalties and a conversion. As one Barf wit behind me said "Carn Barf, get a move on, we're getting wet 'yer."! Despite having most of the possession we failed to score a single point and Sarries scored 22 including a Wigglesworth try set up by Hodgson!
Sunday saw us back in Somerset for lunch at The Greyhound in Staple Fitzepaine with the family and to exchange Christmas presents. Unfortunately, eldest granddaughter Eliza had all her wisdom teeth removed two days previously so could only have soup and was feeling pretty poorly.
On Christmas Eve Sue was busy honey roasting a gammon. We splashed out on a couple of Lobster tails from Aldi round the corner for a our Christmas Eve supper which cost more (and was tough and tasteless) than the roast Gressinham duck we had for our Christmas day dinner which was tender and delectable. Breakfast was the usual scrambled egg and wild smoked salmon.
Web Site Developments:
When I first began developing web sites in the early 1990's it was important to keep file sizes to a minimum, especially graphics, due to slow connections. It is still important when people send us photographs with emails and they do not bother to reduce the size as we are on a mobile connection which restricts the amount of data. To get an idea of relative size we were sent three photo attachments recently which together totalled 4.5Mb whereas my entire web site is only now approaching 58Mb but has nearly 2000 files! You can reduce the size of a typical photo from your digital camera to make it twenty or thirty times smaller and still display a very acceptable image resolution. With web sites we often have to restrict our use of certain sites like Google Maps which consume lots of our data allowance and infuriating programs that download themselves and other data without asking permission.
Data allowances are slowly going up and prices coming down so file sizes are becoming less important. We are currently on the Three Network in the UK who charge us £15 a month for 10Gb of data but in Belgium we pay €35 for just 1Gb and if you exceed the allowance the charges are horrendous. In general the Eurozone countries are all more expensive and lag behind the UK in their use of the internet in many ways.
Mobile Internet download speeds have also improved with faster UMTS connections more available than the old slow GPRS ones so I decided to use bigger graphics files on the web site and have been busy updating older pages, which had tiny pictures, with larger ones. You might like to have a fresh look at some of the earlier pages and I have certainly enjoyed reliving our old adventures during the process. Other improvements include a search engine bar at the top of each page. Previously you could only search the site from the home page but now you can search from almost every page.
In the past, most browsers displayed a caption describing the content when you placed the mouse cursor over the photo. It required a special code called the 'alt tag' which was intended to display text if the graphic file was missing and for blind users who use special software to read the pages. Modern browsers will now not display the 'alt tag' when you put the cursor over the image so I have had to put in new code behind every image. Of course the site was originally coded using an early version of HTML and today style sheets have made life easier but to incorporate this more modern technology would entail a complete rewrite so let's hope browsers continue to interpret this ancient code!
A minor miracle occurred in Exeter where Bath Rugby drew 12-12 in a premiership game, their last this year! Our winter sojourn continues into 2013.