Winter Break

Last summer’s stay in Harfleur was marred somewhat by a failure in the hotel’s water supply. I woke on the Saturday morning to find the taps dry due to some roadworks not far away. This was completely beyond the control of B&B, of course, but by way of apology I was given a voucher for a free night’s stay in any B&B hotel. The offer was valid for 6 months, so by late autumn (having done the Irish Expedition) and with Christmas approaching the feet began to itch again and I decided to spend several hundreds of pounds to claim the free night. Living where I do you have to travel the length of the country to get to the Channel ports before you can even think about a continental trip.

But where to go and what to do? Not long ago I discovered the joys of the stroopwafel, but it was a rocky road to enlightenment. I first saw these for sale in the local Lidl and called “caramel wafers”. Now the caramel wafers I was used to were chocolate-covered fingers made by Gray Dunn or Tunnock’s, easy to eat and quite delicious. The Lidl variety were circular, devoid of chocolate and rock-hard. It was not a pleasant experience eating them at all. Recently, though, I came across the secret but I can’t remember how! What you do is make a mug of your favourite hot drink (sweet like tea, coffee or chocolate – definitely not savoury like Bovril) then sit the wafer on top like a lid for between 3 and 4 minutes. The heat and steam from the drink softens the underside and the caramel filling whilst leaving the top layer fairly crisp. The transformation is amazing and they are super delicious. If you try this, three things will happen:

  1. You will rise up and call me blessed.
  2. You will return to Lidl and buy as many as you can.
  3. You will never, ever, eat these caramel wafers in any other way.

However, with reference to (3) No. 2 Son Andrew tells me you can microwave a couple in a bowl then add ice cream. I have not tried this.

Just as I’d like to eat a croque monsieur on French soil, so I decided to pursue a stroopwafel on Dutch soil. So it was on to Google maps to find a convenient place on the other side of the Dutch border. I reckoned it would be an easy drive from Dunkirk (my favourite landing place in France) through Belgium and into the Netherlands. And so it proved. From Dunkirk to Ternouzen was about 90 miles and would take less than 2 hours.

Dunkirk - Ternouzen

But then, as Rabbi Burns was wont to point out, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.” Idly perusing Google maps threw up an intriguing, alternative destination, and what was originally planned to be no more than a day trip became something altogether different.

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It’s a long way to Tipperary

Thursday, 11th September 2014

How could I resist that title? Cashel of the Kings is in County Tipperary, Éire (Ireland), and it took all day to get there. The first step was to drive north from the Travelodge to the P & O terminal in Bootle. After check-in right on the 08:15 deadline (the signposting could be better) and driving up the ramp into the bowels of the MS Norbay I climbed the two flights of stairs (no lift on the Norbay) to Reception to pick up my cabin key.

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After a look around the spic-and-span en-suite cabin and facilities it was off to the dining area where the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast was being served.

Afterwards it was out on deck to see the ship slip her moorings and head for the Irish Sea. The layout of the ship is such that there’s no forward view so I can only show you where we’ve been. Here we are leaving the berth and turning to port to enter Langton Lock:

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The dock maintains a constant water level but the Mersey is subject to the rise and fall of the tides. So the ship had to enter the lock, drain out the water then exit the lower gate once she was at sea level. Here are two pictures showing the ship dropping down to the level of the Mersey (look at the building off the port quarter – the one on the right of the picture, for you landlubbers).

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Here we are exiting the lock into the River Mersey:

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After a few minutes sailing downstream we passed Seaforth and Blundellsands to enter the Irish Sea:

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There was then an opportunity to catch up on some sleep in the cabin. After a refreshing couple of hours, a millpond-smooth crossing and high tea, I was back on deck to watch the approach to our berth in Dublin Port. The exit and entrance being at the stern of the ship we had to reverse in:

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Disembarkation at 18:00 was a breeze, and soon I was driving through Dublin’s fair city. The romance quickly evaporated in the evening rush hour (although “rush” was never possible) and it took a full hour to get out of the city and onto the M7 motorway. After that it was pedal to the metal and a dash down to Cashel where Josephine and Liam were ready to greet me at Copperfield House. After being show to my room and settling in there was time to wander the short distance into the town centre and get my bearings. Then it was back to the B & B and a restful night. I’d arrived!

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Féile Fidelma

Wednesday, 10th September 2014

Féile Fidelma? Being translated from the Irish, it is “the Fidelma Festival” and I can see a word of explanation would be in order.

The Cheerful Ladies at my local library look after me very well. They know what books I’m interested in and will frequently suggest I try this, that or the other. So it was, many years ago, that I was introduced to a series of books by the renowned scholar and prolific author Peter Berresford Ellis writing under the pseudonym “Peter Tremayne”. These books, the first appearing in 1994 and of which there are now 25, feature Fidelma who lives in 7th century Ireland and is sister of Colgú the King of Muman (Munster). She is also (at least initially) a religieuse, and therefore often referred to as “Sister Fidelma”, as well as being a highly-qualified dálaigh. A dálaigh is an Irish lawyer able to appear in court, to sit in court as a judge on occasion, and also to investigate crime. Together with her husband Eadulf, a Saxon whom she first met at the Synod of Whitby, she is therefore the central character in a series of mediæval whodunnits.

The books have maintained a very high standard over the 20 years since their first appearance, with not one potboiler amongst them, and as a result the International Sister Fidelma Society was formed in America by David Robert Wooten.

In 2006 there was sufficient interest in the books for Cashel Arts Fest (“Cashel of the Kings” being Fidelma’s home town and from which Colgú governs his kingdom) to organise the first Féile Fidelma. This proved to be so popular (in no small measure due to Seamus King and his happy band of pilgrims) that the event has been held biennially ever since.

I was sufficiently interested in the Féiles to consider going myself, but for one reason or another (OK – indolence) the opportunities passed by. This year, however, with time and strength to do it I’ve made the necessary arrangements and here I am in Liverpool’s dockside Travelodge waiting to board the ferry to Dublin Port at the unearthly hour of 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

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