The Wyck Hill House Hotel was the chosen venue for the second reunion of past inmates of the REME Junior Leaders Unit, Arborfield.
The address is Burford Road, Stow-on the-Wold, and if you arriving in the area by any other form of transport than car or coach tour the taxi fare from Kingham Station, four miles away, is £20.
According to the taxi driver it has been reopened, following a complete makeover, for about 18 months.
Reception is a desk in the hallway and I was greeted by a pleasant young lady who, having taken my particulars led me to my 1st floor room. I understood why as trying to direct one to the lift would have been quite a feat.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, however they are certainly not soundproof. Mine was opposite the lift door and the “Ding” of it arriving was clearly audible; luckily there are not a lot of rooms per floor!
Perhaps I am just unlucky but my safe refused to lock and, after losing my cameras from a room in Rome, I am a bit paranoid about leaving valuables lying about.
Houskeeping got somebody to me in about 15 minutes and he duly reset the mechanism.
The bar is neatly set out and a Bombay Sapphire and Tonic restored my spirits. The £8.00 for a smoked salmon sandwich, the size of bridge roll, on ciabatta I felt was a bit excessive though it did come with a neat little pot of crisps and a bit of salad.
We were about 50 for dinner and the standard of the food and the service were impeccable..
I had a trio of fish for starter with a light hollandaise sauce and it could not have been faulted. The fish was firm and tasted superb and the sauce complimented it perfectly. The other members of my table reported theirs to first class as well.
I had ordered Pan fried breast of corn fed chicken with thyme rosti cake, savoy cabbage, smoked bacon and shallot sauce.
It came perfectly cooked, nicely moist, and the thyme rosti was a perfect accompaniment. We had the house Merlot to wash it all down!
I picked the Eton Mess for dessert which was adapted to include red berries rather than strawberries but lost nothing for all that.
We finished up with standard coffees.
Breakfast the next morning was delightful. A good selection of fruit, museli, cereals and yoghurts; a mixture of cheeses and cold meats or a substantial cooked menu.
I took the sausage, bacon and black pudding and asked for a soft poached egg. Three out of four right was not too bad. Why is it that nowhere seems to be able to soft cook any type of egg these days.
A large pot of strong English Breakfast tea was just the ticket to see off the excesses of the night (or morning even) before.
The tab for bed and breakfast plus the dinner was £120. Not really over expensive.
We came across this restaurant on our way from Castel Sant’Angelo to The Trevi. Tucked away on a small road, Via di Monte Giordano 28, it looked typically rustic and there were a few locals under the awnings. The billboard outside offered Pizza/Pasta, side salad, bread and water all in for €12 which, by Rome standards seemed pretty reasonable.
Whilst not being exactly enthusiastic the service was competent and we ordered a Pizza and a spaghetti carbonara. The salad proved to be leaves with a few slices of tomato but the carbonara was as good as I have had anywhere, and a reasonable sized serving. Josephine ws less impressed with her pizza but she had been spoiled with the one form the evening before!
We ordered a couple of glasses of the house red, about which one could not complain at al,l and at €3 each was well within budget.
The owner was obviously well known as there was a trail of local businessmen and women calling in and chatting over beer or wine.
Whilst one could not say it is top of the range it certainly provided a pleasant meal at a reasonable price and one cannot complain about that. The loos were clean as well!
Hot off the 07.00 flight from Belfast to Edinburgh and having picked up a hire car I was looking for a likely spot for breakfast. The Dreghorn services are well signposted off the A720 Edinburgh Bypass heading south.
There were not too many people about and the waitress was friendly and efficient. The tables were clean and the restaurant was generally bright and cheerful.
I ordered the “Early Starter” fry with a side of haggis, well it is Scotland, orange juice and tea. The fresh orange juice came first and was .3 litre bottle which is a bit much to go with breakfast I thought. Means they have no waste though as they charge £2.15.
The fry was fine and the egg soft, which is how I like them. Nothing special about the sausage and bacon but nothing to complain about either. As there were a couple of hash browns I kept the toast over to have with the tea.
I got a pot of marmalade from the waitress, which was duly added to the bill.
Toilets were immaculate so nothing adverse to comment on there.
Total bill, including the orange juice £11.45. As I do not normally travel by road on the UK mainland I have no idea how this compares with other services.
Just want to see the pictures – scroll to the bottom
Arrived in Fiumencino without incident and spent and then waited half an hour for the the bags to arrive on the carousel. Could be worse. Caught the shuttle into Rome Termini, on time, clean, pleasant staff – cheers Mussolini!
Hotel (Best Western) Ambra Palace about 10 minute walk away, would have been less if we had known the side streets. Really pleasant front desk staff. They actually still have a light meal menu available at 9.30. Previous experience of Italy told me we’d be lucky if they had a bar open.
Threw cases into room, chucked passports etc into safe and went down for a snack and a drink. Bar full of German ladies! Got complimentary drinks and ordered pizza, only thing available, 12” margherita arrives and is to die for. Have a couple of glasses of the house red and decide to call it a night. Set up free wifi with reception.
Get back to room to find case opened and cameras and lenses stolen. Report same to reception who are obviously used to this sort of complaint and tell us to report it to police. Reception ring local station about a km away and assure me that the English section is open. Walk to station to be told by wpc (or pretty Italian equivalent) to come back tomorrow.
Despite all the hassles we slept well and were down for breakfast around 7.45. Restaurant crowded with Germans and a spattering of Asian and Italian faces.
Could not complain about the food, plenty of fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon and a continental table with cheese, ham and salamis. Being Italy there was also buns or various types.
Following this we made another foray to the Carabinieri, only to be told that there was no officer available and to come back in the afternoon.
We walked round to the Termini to change our internet voucher for the Rome 110 Trambus.
Italians and other European tourists are not good at queues! The first bus took on about a dozen and was full, twenty minutes later the second bus took 5. The third bus, which was right behind, took us; having side stepped a couple of heavyweight ladies of indiscriminate origin and elbowed an attempt to muscle past. Unfortunately it was full on top so we watched the traffic from downstairs.
A crowd left at the Colosseum so we made it up the stairs for the journey to St Peter’s Basilica. The commentary seemed to be offset from where we actually were which made identifying sights a little difficult.
Basilica San Pietro
We finally arrived at the square, were suitably impressed and went off to find the queues for the Vatican museums where we were informed that the Sistine Chapel is not open on Sundays excepting the last in the month when it is free (but the queues go on for ever). We decided to give it a miss and to came back on the morrow. So we filled our water bottles at the fountain at the end of the square and set off to walk to the Colosseum by way of the Tiber footpath.
Looking towards Isolo
It is a pleasant walk along the river down to the Isola. There is a two way cycle path and an expanse of cobbles running alongside the river and well away from the city traffic up above. There was a charity run taking place so lots of “fit” people were jogging or walking in the opposite direction. Never did discover exactly what they were running in aid of.
We departed the river without finding the bridge so nobly held by Horatius against the Etruscan hordes and headed for the Circus Maximus, the ancient athletics field; the Palatine which, according to Livy, was the home of the original Romans, and the Colosseum.
By this time we were starving and passing by a rather dodgy looking Taverna on one corner and a pizza takeaway on the other we discovered what proposed to be a Agora Touristica but without any tourists. It was a small market with stalls selling all kinds of produce, with trestle tables in a corner dispensing hot food and wine out of a 5 litre demijohn. In the courtyard to the rear there was a covered seating area and a fountain. We indulged in a huge cold roast pork bap, Italian sausages, cauliflower and 2 plastic beakers of wine, the lot coming to around €10.
Thus refreshed and having replenished our water from the fountain we headed for the Palatine box office to get tickets for the Colosseum. I produced our Belfast Senior Citizens bus passes and was given free entry to all the sites, happy days.
The Amphitheatrum Flavian as the Colosseum was originally designated is definitely not to be missed. I will not go into the details but it was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and could hold around fifty thousand; every seat being numbered. The engineering expertise to raise and lower animals and people from the lower levels directly into the arena is staggering. It says something that this was built to stage gladiatorial combats, mass executions and the slaughter of animals for the delectation of the masses, and the aristocracy of course. Click here for in depth info. We spent nearly two hours inside with the aid of audio/visual handsets rented for €6 and well worth the money.
Michaelangelo's Moses (with Horns)
From here we decided to wend our way back towards the hotel and lo and behold around a corner we came across San Pietro in Vincoli, Literally St Peter in Chains, a church that not only displays the chains which bound St Peter in Jerusalem but also a massive Michaelangelo statue of Moses, complete with two small horns (these being the subject of a piece by Freud apparently) and a couple of throwaway pieces by students of the master.
Josephine buys a hat outside and when we tell the girl selling that we are from Belfast not Dublin she says we must be good protestants???
Santa Maria Maggiore
From here past Santa Maria Maggiore and thence back to the Carabinieri and; success at last – there is actually an officer there. Fill in form get it signed and stamped and am summarily dismissed as Lazio are in the process of beating Bologna!
Walk back to hotel and collapse into chair in bar with a cold beer.
Retire to room to recuperate in shower – nothing missing!
Out for another walk around the Giardini Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II with it’s florists stalls. Meander back down to the Piazza Maria Maggiore and get no further than the Antico Caffe’ Santamaria. Good move; bruschetta to die for and they do a spicy pasta and bacon beyond compare. Josephine not so taken with the Lasagne. The wine was good and we followed it up with an ice cream and coffee.
And so endeth the first day. For the interactive map of our days walk click here
Day two – Assignment: Visit Vatican museums and the Trevi fountain.
According to the concierge there is public transport strike so we elect to walk. It is about an hour and 20 minutes across the city and far better than the bus anyway. There are bits of ancient Rome around almost every corner. Also quite a lot of buses and trams!
We finally arrived at Basilica and are told that there is, approximately, a two hour queue to get in. We were accosted by various guides offering immediate access and a guided tour for anything from €70 – €35 each. We finally gave in to a nice girl called Antoinette from Sligo! She settled for €35 each as we are pensioners. The set up was run by two Serbs – enough said!
Josephine at the Sfera con Sfera
It turned out to be money well spent. We were an eclectic group of eight, a Danish couple, a Dutchman with his Columbian partner and a pair of Israeli lads. Our guide was a diminutive Roman girl named Ava whose enthusiasm and vivacity were infectious. It is a pretty slick operation, the guide and party have short range radio so that you do not have to strain to hear or worry about getting lost.
It is not possible to describe the wonders on show – starting in the square dominated by the golden “Sfera con Sfera” by Arnaldo Pomadora. An enigma of a piece as its meaning is open to interpretation.
Not the Sistine but!
It is a two and a half hour walk through galleries of Greek and Roman statues with amazing ceilings,, tapestries, frescos and paintings by the masters. Like the Taj Mahal no photographs can do it justice – you have be there. I liked the touch that the major artists painted each other into these huge masterpieces so that each one has Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and daVinci appearing in windows or watching from the periphery. The culmination of the tour is the Sistine Chapel (link is a interactive 3D panorama). I did not know that the ceiling is not painted it is a fresco made up of coloured plaster. The chapel is smaller than one would expect or maybe it is just that it is so crowded it feels claustrophobic.
From the Sistine through the back door into the Basilica San Pietro, the largest Christian Church in the world. A huge cavern of a building with innumerable side chapels and monster sculptures and paintings. Really impressive. One ends up with a sore neck from looking upwards.
Castel Sant' Angelo
Next stop, or rather saunter past, is the Castel Sant’ Angelo a papal fortress, originally built as a tomb for Hadrian (of the wall fame) about 15 minutes from the square. We take in an ice cream on the way. Across the Tiber again and head down the side streets in the general direction of the Trevi. We stop on the way to take some sustenance in a taverna. Main, salad, bread and a bottle of water for €12. This looks good after some of the prices we have seen in passing. Once again we are pretty lucky and the pasta with chorizo is 1st class. Josephine reckons her pizza is 2nd class, but she is not a pizza fanatic anyway. The water is OK but we wash it down with a glass of house white at €3 a glass.
Suitably refreshed we walk on down the calle to discover a veritable plethora of trattoria with single course from €5, we have arrived at the the artists centre on the Piazza Navona. This is a huge oblong square, originally Domitian’s circus, hence the shape. It is considered one of the most beautiful piazza in Rome and is enhanced by the Church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone.
From here on to the Pantheon, originally a temple to all the pagan gods, it was converted to a Christian church in 609. The huge portico is made up of 3 rows of 8 columns, each 60 tons of Egyptian granite (as if there wasn’t enough in Italy). The interior is 40.3metres diameter and the same height with a single hole in the ceiling for light. The floor is concave to let the water flow out through a central drain. More impressive statues and altars and not as crowded as I expected.
From here on towards our last must see destination – the Trevi fountain. It takes one by surprise as you meander up the narrow streeets, suddenly there it is in all its glory, hemmed in by shops and alleys! Another sight that photos really do not do justice.
And so we made our way somewhat wearily back to the hotel. Passing the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of the President of Italy, which is situated on the highest hill in Rome – we know we climbed it! Also en route was the 4 fountains crossroads. We stopped for a cold beer at a small taverna and were serenaded by a couple of troubadours with fiddle and a xylophone – well worth a couple of euros.
So endeth our whistle stop two day tour of the sights of Rome
We had our last meal out in a little restaurant recommended by the hotel and about 5 minutes walk away, the Trattoria Cecio. It says something about it’s popularity that there were turning away casual diners – no booking no table. Josephine had the sea bass and I the squid – not a hint of rubber. We shared a massive Ice and Chocolate confection for dessert. Josephine asked for an Irish coffee which brought howls of derision from the waiter and, beleive it of not, it arrived in an espresso cup – I had a coffee and a grappa. On his way back I explained to the waiter about Tesco’s “BOGOF” and was rewarded with a free grappa – a fine way to end the evening.
There is a great visitors centre, Navan Fort, which is built on the site of the ancient capital of Ulster called Emain Macha or modern day Armagh .
I cannot resist a bit of mythology – The name is derived from the the Celtic meaning Macha’s Twins. Macha’s husband bet the king of Ulster that his wife could beat the kings chariot horses in a race. Despite being heavily pregnant she succeeded and gave birth to twins on the finishing line. Thus the place was named. There is more to it than this so, if you are interested, make the trip and learn!
The grandchildren were enthralled by the exhibition which is brought to life by bluetooth or similar earphones with plenty of scope for interaction with the exhibits.
Following this they had their faces painted with Celtic symbols before making the short journey to the Iron age homestead were they were met by the peasants.
They were invited inside to sit on the rug strewn floor and to help make butter and grind barley in the traditional manner and learn what it would have been like to have been an Iron Age child.
After seeing the crops that would have been cultivated and a demonstration of cooking methods it was back to the main centre to indulge in hands on experience in designing and creating a shield .
Arts and crafts
Unfortunately this did not leave time to go to the cinema to watch the docudrama of the history and mythology of Armagh and Ulster.
We saw it with Peter when he was 10 (16 years ago) and it is a great experience so we’ll be back to let them see it at some future time.
An enjoyable afternoon ending with a picnic in the grounds.
One cannot beat arriving in the warm Jersey sunshine having queued on the tarmac in the wind and rain at Belfast International. Having solved the three dimensional puzzle of fitting four cases, hand luggage and four adults into a Ford Focus we left Trevor to conduct us to the Greenhills Hotel in St Peter’s Valley. He achieved this with consummate ease and we arrived to a very warm welcome and just in time for lunch!
Sun at last!
Ruins of Beau Couperon
Having thrown the luggage into our respective rooms, ours with direct access out into the gardens, we set off to ensure that nobody had stolen any bits of Jersey since our last visit. Thus it was: Shock! Horror! Trevor and Helen discover that the hotel of their youth in Rozele had been almost completely demolished. Not only that but the developer had gone bust in the effort.
Other highlights of the day, Seared scallops for lunch, a charcuterie of continental meats with caramelized figs and Sancerre at dinner.
We started our day on Sunday with a visit to an Antiques Fair at the Agricultural Society show-grounds. It is great to find an event of this type which actually has antiques and curios rather that a lot of middle and far-eastern tat. Trevor and Helen, avid Belleek Pottery buffs, found some 2nd edition pieces which they snapped up at a bargain price whilst I discovered a silver retractable toothpick to replace the one I inherited from my father and which was confiscated at Gatwick airport as an offensive weapon!!
All this wheeling and dealing left us with no option than to drive to Ramsay’s Garden Centre cafeteria for a spot of lunch. Definitely try the Lemon Meringue tart! The Garden Centre does not open on Sunday – Jersey has fortuitously not got caught up in the trend for 24 hour shopping.
Suitably replete we headed to Noirmont a headland with an excellent view across to St Aubin’s as well as the bay at Portelet.
Portelet from Noirmont
As with many of the headlands it is well endowed with fortifications built by slave labour during the last, well the last world, war. DF (direction finding) tower 2, part of the island wide enemy locating system is located here.
Sail surfers in line
From here we progressed to St Ouen’s strand which runs for over three miles.
There was a fresh wind so we were entertained by a group of sail surfers as well as the light aircraft overhead. Finally, stopping for an ice cream at the van, invariably parked by the Military Museum, we wended our way back to the hotel via the cove at l’Etacq.
Monday saw on a shopping spree to St Helier. Well it was a spree for Trevor whose foray into Austin Reid’s resulted in a fine new blazer. The only sports coat I found that I liked turned me into a pretty good clown figure! From there to the central market which has some fine stalls, the most impressive being those selling fruit and vegetables.
We lunched in De Grouchy’s who offer a fine line in scallops seared in the pan with garlic oil and a side salad to make it appear healthy eating – who cares anyway!
Fort Leicester, Bouley Bay
From St Helier we drove up to the north coast stopping at Bouley Bay, another of those sheltered deep water anchorages and home of one of the many diving clubs and of Leicester Castle, a 19th century construction recently adapted to a holiday apartment for 8.
Of course it would not be a proper cove without a legend and a pub, both of which go by the title of the Black Dog.
Study in chains - Bonne Nuit
From here to the picturesque harbour of Bonne Nuit before heading home once again.
Tuesday was a quite affair starting with a visit to La Moye Golf Club pro shop and from there to St Aubin, home to the Old Courthouse Inn, well known for it’s association as Diamanti Lil’s Bar in the Bergerac TV series. It’s well known to my age group anyway.
Diamanti Lil's Bar
Our next port of call was the other end of the island and the Jersey Pottery. Not only do they manufacture some very fine pottery including the Winespeak series of mugs, inspired and decorated with the cartoons f Ronald Searle and associated paraphernalia but they have some amazing driftwood sculptures by James Doran Webb.
The restaurant at the pottery would rival any I have been to for quality and quantity. It is a cross between self and waiter service. Try the oysters and their mixed cheese and cold meat platter – enough for two! They also have a fine line in Piersporter Michelsberg.
Trevor and I finished off the afternoon with a round of “Adventure” golf at the Living Legend park. I’ll not mention that I won by one hole and an outrageous hole-in-one.
We planned to visit the Eric Young Orchid foundation on Wednesday so started off with a trip to La Rocque, another harbour with a crescent of sand made for family holidays. We walked out along the harbour wall from where one can see St Catherines in the distance. From here we followed Helen’s “purple” route to the foundations nursery and exhibition area.
This is not the easiest spot to find on the island, however, the effort is definitely worth it. There are 20,000 species of orchid believe it or not. I will expand on it here you can follow the link above. They have some absolutely stunning blooms on show.
Lunch at the Poplars. This is the quintessential tea room with the best selection of cakes I have come across anywhere. Everything is made on the premises.
From here to Ouaisne; no! I cannot pronounce it either, where there is a beautiful cove and some amazing sights as you may see here!
Amazing views at Ouaisne
Our final port of call was the Catherine Best studio. Set in an old windmill one is able to view and buy her creations – if one is not subject to normal budgetary constraints that is. Personally I prefer her sculptures to her jewellery but I am unlikely to get round to owning any of either!
Today, Thursday 26 March, is Helen and Trevor’s 47th wedding anniversary. We took the bus from the Living Legend to St Helier. If it went straight there it would have taken 15 minutes but, being Jersey, there is not a direct bus in May so we got the Island tour taking an hour and costing the princely sum of £1.70. The idea had been to take the DUKW out to Elizabeth Castle but high winds had grounded the amphibians so we took off on another spot of sightseeing.
Sail framing the lighthouse
We drove round via l’Etacq to La Pulente where there is a well known bar and restaurant with views across the bays. This is the first and only time I have been served an inedible meal in Jersey. I had ordered mussels in a wine and cream sauce. I think that they had dried the mussels before throwing them into the washing up water. Needless to say I was not charged for them.
The wind brought out the best of the hardy sail surfers and surfers for that matter and we were given some truly amazing impromptu displays.
We headed back to the Greenhills where Trevor had laid on preprandial Champagne and a celebration dinner starting with oysters and for me a lobster thermidore, served in the shell. What better than a Sancerre to accompany it. A truly excellent evening with impeccable service as usual.
Our last day was a reprise of some of the favourite spots starting off in Gorey progressing to Greenisland and on to Ransom’s. A wander round the front at St Aubin and from there to St Brelade to visit the Winston Churchill Memorial Park. Generally a not too strenuous day.
All in all a very enjoyable holiday with near perfect weather and great food and company.
Cars - the Jersey passion
Our congratulations to Joe and Carmelita and the staff of the Greenhills who contributed greatly to the enjoyment and, needless to say we have already made a provisional booking for next year!
It is hard to believe it is the middle of June and the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland‘s series of Jazz Train Mystery Tours is already in full swing with the inimitable Apex Jazz Band providing the entertainment as usual. Having been well organised by David Graham we arrived at Greenisland station to entrain and join up with the rest of the party who, having joined the train at Carrickfergus, had already laid out their suppers and opened the obligatory bottles of wine. Needless to say our party was not long in following suit.
The great thing about these “picnics” is that one gets to share all round so we were pleased to pass on spicy chicken legs and receive home made Scottish pasties, the name of which escapes me due to the combination of wine and Claude Hepburn’s amazing version of a hot toddy!
On the move
Brenda, as has become a tradition, passed round her collection of refilled miniature. Dire consequences await those who do not return the bottles!
Of course the mystery bit only lasts a fairly short time as there are a limited number of possible destinations and once one is on the move the series of passing stations is a pretty good indication of where one will end up. Not that it really matters as one platform is very much the same as another as acting as a dance floor is concerned. This time our first stop was Ballymena.
There are those on these outings who have to be admired for the effort they put in to playing the part and their enthusiasm is to be envied.
On this train there were also a group who had belonged to a old time dance class which had unfortunately closed down and they were desperate to practice their skills at any opportunity!
From Ballymena we were transported to Antrim Station where the band once again performed to perfection and Josephine and I were amongst those spent the majority of the time swinging to the music. There were those who were more interested in getting things on camera for posterity!
All in all it exceeded expectations and has been decreed as the best of our outings with the RPSI to date. No doubt we will be signing up next year!