Sacre Coeur

Surrounding streets have more than the Cathedral to excite the senses –

Majestic!

Architecturally a wonder!

Pilgrimage site for countless Catholics!

Always someone cashing in – not a fan of the lock habit. But the street performer is always mesmeric.

Panoramiv View a bit too hazy

Paris……Day 1 Montmartre

After the challenges of English rail strikes –

. Lancaster train cancelled

. Very kind Train Station Master organised (and paid for by Avanti West Rail) a taxi to take me to Preston to catch an alternate train

. Finally got a First Class seat….but no water in that front carriage for some reason, so there was no food service…..just 2 bottles of water

. All seemed to be going well to be arriving to catch the Eurostar to Paris when there was a diversion to Milton Keynes and a 15 minute addition to the already tight arrival time.

. Very generous fellow passenger was heading in the direction of St Pancras Station overground when we finally arrived at Euston, so he bustled me along a short cut and I made the passport and customs queue for Eurostar 5 minutes before they closed…..phew.

. Very comfortable ride with a quinoa salad and chicken roulade meal to help pass the time……lovely countryside, and arrived into Gare du Nord on time.

. Well, it looked doable on the map, but the 3 km hike uphill to the Caulaincourt Hostel bang smack in the middle of Montmartre was a challenge with the weight of the backpack and the weariness settling in….. but I was determined.🙋‍♀️

. Made it to room #20 down 2 sets of stairs and luxuriated in the single room with squeezy but very welcome shower. Took me a while to realise the toilet was across the hall. 😄

So am now settled in for the week and after a coeliac’s least favourite continental breakfast without fruit or any cheese or meats…….orange juice and berry tea and I braved the cornflakes which I will regret later…….I prepared the walking route for the day. The steps below are taken from my bedroom window and indicate the slow and steady pace to come.

This is why I am walking the cobblestoned streets rather than on a bus or in the Metro….so many gems that can easily be missed.

The first sighting of Sacre Coeur, St Peter’s and my next meal…..missing my eggs.

Trying to avoid tourist crowds and scammer havens is difficult when such magnificent buildings are calling…….so have devoted a whole blog to it. After the subdued hush of the Cathedral I continued the loop back up the hill and carefully imprinted the banks and phone shops on my brain to visit tomorrow – many things are closed on Mondays.

Familiar images of Parisien apartments blend with contemporary art; and global franchises sit alongside genuine Montmartre one-offs. Recent COVID restrictions have seen many closures just like other cities everywhere.

And with my meanderings in Montmartre bringing me back to Rue Caulaincourt, I carried on to the rather sobering famous Cemetery – such a collection deserves a blog of its own….and so it shall. Plus my local Supermarché…with cheeses to make my heart flip!

Anyone coming to Paris needs to have this peaceful hilltop sector firmly on their list….especially in Autumn.

Alone in Lancaster

Lancaster was meant to be a base for visiting bookshops and interesting attractions in a 360 degree radius over a week in the Lancashire region. It came into my trip planner via a Book Trail which I found on the internet. Damn map makers who condense distances into convenience for small brochures…even with the detailed research of my LSM (Long Suffering Mate) around the oddities of train and bus schedules, the distances and circuitous routes around the Trail were beyond challenging. However, having found a budget accommodation online, and studied the maps and schedules, it seemed a challenge yet doable. So it became part of the itinerary.

Lancaster had never been on our previous routes, and it was a fresh field of untapped adventuring. So after the adrenalin of the Wigtown Festival and the pleasures of the Dumfries railway station (see previous blogs and sprinkle your comments liberally), I arrived in Lancaster last Sunday. Without knowing the streets, I chose a taxi ride to 28 Thurnham Street. It was a short ride. Each day since I have walked the 12 minutes through the town cbd to the station and have become as much a local as the market sellers in the Town Hall Square on the way. I even found a few short cuts….and have astounded myself that I have not really been discombobulated too much.

The cynical questioning of the taxi driver on that first day probably should have rung a few bells, but it wasn’t until I keyed in the entry code and then saw that my allocated bedroom was about 2 feet (yes they still measure in old money) from the front door, and the bedroom window was at street level……by the time to hit the hay, the road noise was so intense (on a Sunday night) that I was rummaging for my ear plugs. Then a face mask became an eye mask to block out the glare of the street light outside the window that would be handy at a Sports Arena for a night game. So the unpacking and organising my digs for the week done, I explored the kitchen….a high rating! Shared bathroom up two flights of steep steps……much lower rating. But the towels were big and fluffy. But nothing to put into the fridge. So it was off to find some groceries, and orientate myself. All good. Thank you Sainsbury’s.

Monday was a ‘ get to know the City Centre Day’. Quite a few bookshops….and lots of shelves to browse. A reasonably accurate map and a very pleasant chat at the Information Centre at The Storey was a great start…and the hot chocolate and gf toastie in the Print Room Cafe was a great way to start the week. The first adventure was at the nearby Castle and the start of a week-long quest to discover the stories and trail of the Witches of olden days.

Love the plaques and historic references the UK does so well. Builds the history so quietly and visually identifiable.

With each day’s bus and train schedules firmly imprinted on my itinerary, I was looking forward to heading off to the radiating destinations until the weather decided it was going to throw a hissy fit on the Tuesday and it was a rescheduled rest day for reading and catching up on sleep and flexibly redesigning the following days. Wednesday was trying to track down the Atticus Bookshop and the Assembly Rooms quirky gems, books, costumes and gifts at The Emporium…interesting but no sales and drizzling skies.

Mundane searches for money and street food were interspersed with tracking down interesting lanes and buildings….as much as Lancaster needs a mighty good cleaning of its major tourist attractions, the architecture and inner city buildings are fascinating. St Peter’s Cathedral and the prestigious schools, the different levels of houses, and the gardens and Monuments all tell a story of the city’s industrial past and its contemporary livelihood.

Train strikes on 5th and 8th definitely threw a giant spanner into the works, and the schedule was never consulted again. Ambleside day with sun peeking through was glorious – see An Amble Through Ambleside blog. An absolute delight! The online sessions from the Litfest were craftily sourced and professionally presented……..Julie, the Director, was a delight and gave her time for a director to director chat and generously donated a couple of their publications to Word Fest Toowoomba. The environment theme is definitely drawing a good crowd to the wonderful new releases and their authors. Details will be shared jn the Word Fest Toowoomba website newsletter soon.

So today with no trains running, and Sedbergh off the menu, the postponed walk to Williamson Park and the coppiced woodlands, Ashton Memorial, Butterfly House and getting closer to the Witches Trail made for a morning of discoveries…….and am building a good picture of the witches’ stories.

Lancaster has a mix of very disadvantaged residents, as well as a rich history and a thriving arts and foodie culture. It has been a week of reflection on many fronts, but fingers crossed for a smooth train trip to London in the morning before changing to the Eurostar across the Channel to Paris.

The Bookshop – Wigtown

Shaun Bythell – author of 4 books sharing the idiosyncracies of customers, local characters and Captain The Bookshop cat. Remainders of the Day is his latest, and I have held back my urge to get it sooner than the post can send it to Australia, but as Amazon and Kindle are absolutely verbotten in The Bookshop, I have resisted.

Shaun is a diarist, and assured me during his generous interview, that he had never read Bridget Jones’ Diary and any similarity is pure coincidence……you can see his consistent format of how many customers, and daily takings and any special notes re new book inclusions or quirky incidents or customer conversation absurdities or frustrations thread throughout his four books and until the large fanbase decides they have had enough of his wit and his subtle sarcasm, he will keep his daily jottings jotted.

nicky

Elouise – A new young asset to the staff, and wearing the bookish uniform with the very pleasant and ‘put her hands on the exact Biggles book I was after’ Nicky on the day I dropped in, this 15 year old part-timer is an up-and-coming author herself. Winning the Whithorn Trust Award, Elouise, as part of The Kist festival, co-delivered a session on Bishops, Bones and Burials. Animating former faceless inhabitants of medieval Withorn via uncovering skeletons and bringing them back to life, there will be a strong future in the creative arts world for this YA talent. Congratulations!

Nicky went above and beyond to process my order to be sent home and Shaun, despite being his birthday and not being 100%, was a gracious host. This is definitely a book lover’s must do destination,

And Captain the acclaimed shop cat sauntered through the front door as I was ordering my books to be sent back to Oz. My fangirl moment was complete!

An Amble Through Ambleside

This was the day of tripping dreams :- the rain held off; the trains and buses were running and on time; the roads were well–signed and I didn’t get lost; and I found all the bookshops and museum on my list and shouted myself a delicious Thai lunch.

Lancaster is a pretty good base from which to explore, and trains were not on strike, so it was a short sector to Oxenholme where it was a simple platform change to head to Windemere. From there the Stagecoach Bus took the scenic route along the Lake Windermere and past the ‘way out of my price range’ huge homes and ivy covered stone wall fences until we came into Ambleside. Life was looking very bright and the sun was peeking through mostly grey skies.

I was immediately drawn to the cleverly designed and signed shop fronts, the narrow footpaths and the delicious choclates and cinder toffee (honeycomb). After a few days of wet, windy weather and train strikes, I could feel my face beaming – must have looked a bit crazed, but I didn’t care. So the pic snaps were a reflection of my beaming.

The first bookshop was a great mix of books and maps about the Lakes District and local mountaineering and hiking attractions. Gavin was a very knowledgeable helper and it has an amazing range of jigsaws and gifts, including the famous Ducks. Lots of books and toys to keep holidaying fun afloat…..see below. Although Gavin couldn’t help with my quest to find Dan Richards’ The Outpost, he directed me to Fred’s Bookstore up the roa

Slow window shopping meant I discovered quirky signs, appreciated the mill wheel and river, and smelt the delicious aromas coming from the bakeries and many cafes. The mountaineering/hiking/boating theme was very much catered for by the many outdoors clothing shops – though the determined and brisk walkers on the narrow footpaths indicated that perhaps it was more fashion features rather than functional purchasing.

Fred’s didn’t have my book either but I enjoyed checking out the very well-equipped shelves, and deciding which clothes to discard to compensate the weight for my purchase – I know! It wasn’t meant to happen on this trip, but I was weak.

Ambleside is an amazing town. Great history, grand houses, churches, loads of different types of accommodation and cosy coffee shops, and the Armitt Museum. Named after the three Armitt sisters, this Museum and Library is a great asset to the culture of the area. I spent ages looking and learning about the sisters, the children’s beloved writer Beatrix Potter and her detailed wildlife illustrations, the local mountaineering history and rescues and the life and local ties of the poet William Wordsworth via the very professional exhibitions.

Sigh….I am losing more clothes as I gained another couple of books on the Armitt sisters and their many contributions to Ambleside 😄

After a couple of ambling hours I enjoyed a delicious Thai Pad at the Tuk Tuk endowed restaurant before reversing the bus/train/train back to Lancaster., with grateful thanks to the very clean bathroom facilities at Booth’s Food Store and Cafe at Windemere.

Ambleside is a definite for the small group tour.

The Armitt Centre

So it was back to Lancaster and an amble past the Quaker Meeting House while refecting on a perfect day over a strong traditional ginger beer.

The Kist – Wigtown

Having enjoyed years of following the life and times of Scotland’s International Booktown, Wigtown in Galloway’s south-western border region, and having spent a heart-pumping visit to its streets pre-COVID, I was super excited to see that its Autumn Festival – The Kist, was being held in October, and that my Bucket List Book Adventure itinerary could easily accommodate a visit! Memories of Reading Lasses’ home made cakes, and children’s bookstore Foggie Toddle, as well as the wit and cynicism of Shaun Bythell’s The Bookshop online sessions had helped through the dim isolation days, and the chance to return during a positive festival was too much to pass up.

So I found myself and my highschool chum from Queensland Australia, J, now a Glaswegian resident, tootling down from Dumfries on a mizzling Scottish day (which became a wild and windy day) in her shiny red sportscar. Sadly the GPS decided the scenic route through the forestry logging road was more our style, so it was more of a heart-thumping drive for the valiant J than was anticipated. Bloody great pothole and some racing driver manoeuvres later, we sat in the Riverbank Cafe in Newton Stewart watching the river rise rapidly, and enjoying a calming brew – very reminiscent of Australian comfort food and decor of the Country Women’s Association (CWA).

J’s nerves had not been calmed by the search for my pre-booked accommodation at Barholm’s at Creetown, a short distance across the water, but a more circuitous route by land. Having found the friendly Jenny to let us in to the digs, and the intrepid J set on her way back to Glasgow, NOT via the logging route, I watched the rain pelt down in this tiny corner of Scotland and settled into the cosy room. But how to get to Wigtown the next day for The Kist? The information that a fellow festival goer was also staying there sparked hope, and a note on the door of Number 4 yielded a great result. Liz, the potter, was exhibiting at the festival and was so generous in extending a lift the next day. Public transport in Creetown is like chasing unicorns, so this was a fabulous solution. Liz the Lifesaver! What a fun, talented potter, and a lover of previously lived experiences in Australia, and a lively conversationalist…..BINGO!

Wigtown boasts a wonderful array of bookshops which cater for every genre and taste for book lovers and to have access to them as well as the Farmers Market and the quality Craft and Artisan Market (The Kist) all on the same weekend was a treat of huge proportions – and almost overcame the disappointment I had when I realised that this was the closest I would get to running the hottest bookstore in the world….The Open Book. This phenomenon where you can run the shop for a week as part of the airbnb deal has seen the waiting list blow out to 3 plus years, so I had given up on this.

So to enjoying every minute of The Kist!

Seeing the absolute top quality of the goods inside the marquee was quite dazzling and my purchases were only hampered by my backpack weight limit. Congratulations to the organisers and the exhibitors…what an absolute joy to wander around the town, watch the views across the countryside, admire the architectural highlights and of course escape into its many bookshops.

Even the cancellation of a couple of my pre-booked sessions and the lingering yellow-warning weather didn’t dampen my spirits. I dropped in to see how Liz’s sales were doing during the day, admired her beautiful handcrafted pottery and its subtle cobalt blue, and found some classic silver ear rings for my family back home. The standard of the artists was outstanding.

My sessions with great authors and performers were very different across the day. The first and the last were the absolute standouts. The rush of being in a Yurt with Dan Richards listening to the frailities of human endurance and hearing Jack Kerouac’s voice come through Dan’s work, The Outpost, was such an inspirational start to the day’s program. HIGHLY recommend his works. Nice to be warm in the yurt too.

Everything throughout the day was very entertaining and thought-provoking. From the analysis of the perils of today’s political slides towards Facism Sarah churchwell’s comparison to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind , to Mairi Kidd ‘s We are all Witches lead me to seek out more writings around the witch hunts and male misongyny.

I also slipped in a pre-arranged interview with Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop. Shaun was unwell, and on his birthday too, but was very generous of his time. I had my fan-girl moment, but that is all in the next blog…..

The final session I attended made my day. Harry Baker is an acclaimed poet and nationally awarded poetry slammer. I had a keen interest in this as a Poetry Slam is going to be a potential item in our Word Fest Toowoomba program for 2023. Harry is sensitive, funny, super-talented and engaging! He had overcome public transport and weather challenges to get there and was humble and appreciative of the mesmerised audience. I loved it! Once I get home I will be contacting him to see what online options we might be able to create.

Both Liz and I had bought tickets for the night time Open Mic session, but chose to eat dinner at Cobwebs cafè and our conversation over the seafood chowder and traditional battered fish and chips meant we chatted and missed the session before driving back to Creetown.

What an amazing day! Outdid all my expectations and I met an amazing new friend!

My Favourite Railway Station – Dumfries, Scotland

Having become a quite adept solo traveller….despite nerves and a distinct lack of sense of direction…. I have seen many railway stations on this BLBA (Bucket List Book Adventure).

No beating around the bush – Dumfries is a standout!

With a quality monthly Sunday Farmers market, a sense of history and a great little café and beautifully tended garden, clean facilities and a very helpful staff member, this is a 5 star station.

Short and sweet….Dumfries wins hands down!

Same Time Next Year…….fingers crossed

If proposed plans to bring a book/garden/food small group tour eventuate as planned this will be a surefire part of the itinerary……the underlying purpose of the Bucket List Book Adventure.

Dumfries House south of Glasgow in Scotland is an absolute treasure. Whether you are pro-Royals or not, King Charles has worked a minor miracle in getting significant supporters on board to establish The Princes Foundation here. To restore the house, find and reestablish the original furniture and collected pieces in the house itself, and bring training of young people to the local area has been no mean feat. So this stands as a great example of fully integrated skill building and a finished, yet evolving, product which will endure long into the future.

A very special House Tour

As well as the publicly guided tour of the Blue Room with its unique Chippendale Boudoir piece, its chandelier and blue brocaded chairs and sofas; the various bedrooms and the reception areas used by the Earl of Butte and the generations of family inheritors, we were given exclusive access to the Library with the generous Evan Samson – Events Manager – immaculate and so accommodating. This is part of the quest to provide a very different small group tour to 12 or 14 adventurers late August/ early September 2023.

The interest areas of food, gardens and books are all integrated in this quite stunning venue, and already the ideas for guest talks by local chefs, gardeners, authors and house guides within the stunning setting is underway. Accommodation and food are 5 star.

Making contacts with the popular Boswell Festival Curators and the local providers is a delight I am much looking forward to.

Exciting idea are flowing and working with Wendy Allen, the expert in the travel industry, will mean something absolutely unforgettable in a UK itinerary. Word Fest Toowoomba is proud to be offering this opportunity as the culmination to our forthcoming 2023 festival of storytelling and oral literary gems…….the full festival program and the invitations (and itinerary) to be part of this exciting tour will be released by December.

Here is just a taste to whet the appetite. https://dumfries-house.org.uk

Wye, Wye,Wye and Welsh Life Village

Hay on Wye has so much to explore

This blog is to encourage others to visit and enjoy it as much as I did. Having beautiful cousins Babs and Derek to drive me from Rhoose was such a bonus. They were not as keen on the book side of things, but found a cosy cafe for a rest and cost-free toilet while I ambled around.

Booktown Books, Antiques and Collectibles, Historical Monuments etc……images are very powerful and I need to regather my energy for the days ahead, so here is the picture gallery.

Tribute to Richard Booth for his vision, stickability, castle above and progress…

Off the back of the King of the Castle’s vision are the other quirky, cute, hard-working businesses and architecture. Great town to visit!

And more….

Bucket book list #3 done.

Next it was off to St Fagan’s Welsh Life Village………closer back to Barry and the south coast of Wales.

From replica houses in 50 year increments of chronological changes in size, lighting, furniture, hygiene and food raising, to larger village structures such as the Unitarian Church with its minimalism, to the imposing Workmens Institute, and all the infrastructures needed for families of bygone ages to thrive. Really needs many hours to take it all in. The local blue brie and typical oatcakes were very welcome from the store. Enjoy the village visit.

Wye oh why?

The first Book Town was the brainchild of Richard Booth, igniting interest and visitors back to the flagging town of Hay in the beautiful River Wye valley close to the English border. Now it is a vibrant creative arts town with a beaut bookish vibe. AND the first Book Town on the Bucket List Book Adventure.

Even the car park invites visitors to recycle their books.

With his Castle and the Richard Booth Book Store, his impact on the revitalisation of the town can’t be overstated. History meets his story.

I lost count of the number of specialty bookstore, antique and collectable shops, cafes and cosy accommodation offerings……yes, it is book heaven. I’ll let the images build the picture….and the Why of my visit.

Made it!