Category: Libraries

Winchester – the walkable city

Winchester was once the capital of England. As a regular visitor to this small city, I have walked almost every where there is to walk in Winchester. The beauty of it is that one moment you are on a bustling high street and the next walking through the calm water meadows. If you are feeling energetic climb to the top of St Giles Hill for magnificent views of the city and beyond.

Royal connections

Winchester is steeped in history. Henry VII had a castle here where his first son, Arthur, was born. Yes that Arthur, he of the knights of the round table Arthur. The Castle is at the top of the town. At the the bottom of the town, near to the Almshouses and the park is a statue of King Alfred who in 871 AD was crowned King of Wessex and established Winchester as his capital.

Dedicated to God and the public service

Winchester College was established in the fourteenth century by self made man, William of Wykeham. I am not sure how many Bishops or politicians they educate now, but that was his vision at the time. As you walk around the city on the weekend, you will see the groups of handsome rich young men dressed like Harry and Wills. The younger boys will be at a pizza joint with visiting parents. At over 35k per annum to board at this school, I guess pizza is all you can afford.

Literary connections

Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral. The house she lived in on College Street is not open to the public. You can however visit her house in Chawton just 17 miles from the city.

Keats wrote Ode to Autumn whilst in Winchester. There are also Sherlock Holmes connections.

Winchester Discovery Centre  is worth a visit. It houses the library, a gallery with regular exhibitions and a café and shop, where you can buy the book, Look Up Winchester.

Look Up Winchester

The book Look Up Winchester is the perfect book to take with you on a walking tour of Winchester. Available from the Library or the Winchester Cathedral shop for £6.99 this is how they describe the book.

A fascinating book taking you on a tour of Winchester’s historic High Street – from an unusual perspective…

Authors Rodney Graham and Christopher Newberry thought it a great shame that some wonderful architectural details are missed, simply by people never looking up! Above the High Street shops is a wealth of wonderful history; and as well as looking at the features of the buildings, the book also tells the captivating stories behind the facades.

The book comes in a handily-sized small format, perfect for carrying with you as you stroll down the High Street – looking up

Nothing to add. It survived my book cull. That is a good enough reason to buy it.

The French Connection

Every time I go to Winchester I hear people speaking French. Over lunch in the pub on my last visit I met two girls from Paris. You will come across market traders over from France for the day. Many of the waiting staff in the many gastro pubs are French.

The French love Winchester. It is a day trip for the French as much as the English in the south may pop to Dieppe on a day trip. This is because the city is easy to navigate in a day, there are lots of good places to eat and the markets are so very good.

Which neatly brings me to –

The Markets

I think Winchester has some of the best Market Days in the country. The local council have worked with local and some not so local traders to build these markets and they are now a very popular with local people  and visitors to he city.

The Council provide the gazebos, and the pitches are of a reasonable rate. The arguments I have heard from some councils (Sandwell I am looking at you) is that market traders take the custom from the regular shop keepers on the high street. As the occupancy rates of shops is high in Winchester, as is the number of independent stores and coffee shops, this does not seem to be the case. It also makes the shops up their game to be honest. There is no room for complacency when customers have a choice.

Gets off soapbox and continues writing…

The Farmers’ Market is held on the second and final Sunday of each month. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest farmers market in the UK with between 80 and 95 stalls. Go early and have breakfast, get your provisions and then have brunch. Some days they have cookery demonstrations. All traders are from Hampshire and the quality is very high, organic meat, game, beautiful heritage vegetables and homemade bread and cakes. There are no plastic bowls of cheap veg here.

You can however get bowls of veg (cheap but of the highest quality) from the store in front of Marks and Spencer. This stall is one of the many that you can find at the General Street Market. This runs along the high street, with food stalls and local coffee shops to stop by for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

The Art and Design Market is held on the third Sunday of each month between March and December. Lots of Vintage and Bric a Brac, great for browsing and buying unusual items, such as old cameras and typewriters.

There is also a Christmas Market held in the grounds of the cathedral. It is not as big as the many German Markets in England, yet its location is second to none.


I am not a shopper. I try not to buy stuff. Winchester however, has enough quirky independent shops to keep my browsing habit happy. The staff at Mistral are simply the best. Friendly, helpful, not pushy and the music is good. It is the only place that I actually enjoy clothes shopping. If you like the big chains, they are here, including Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Primark. However, I urge you to check out the smaller retailers both in the shops and on the markets. Many of these are not on the main high street in the centre, so you do need to leave the main shopping area. If you like Vintage and Retro this is the city for you. More information about shopping can be found here.

The best way to find these is to wander off the main street and explore the city. Who knows what else you will find? There is a particularly good book shop in the Kingsgate area of the city, near to the college.

Leave the city behind

Step off Bridge Street for a moment and you are on the bank of the River Itchen. Winchester City Mill owned by The National Trust sits atop of it, using the power of the river to turn the millstones to grind the flour.

Or you can walk along the river by taking the steps next to The Bishop on the Bridge. This route takes you past The Almshouses, toward The Bishop’s House and then over the water meadows at the rear of the college sports ground. After a 20 minutes peaceful river walk you will arrive at The Hospital of St Cross, a group of Grade 1 listed buildings, dating from 1132. I have walked to almost everywhere in Winchester, yet, despite walking along the river many times I have never been here. That is something I will put right on my next visit.

Food and Drink

I have my favourites in Winchester. For breakfast or brunch it is always Black White Red, opposite the library. They understand brunch. The eggs are perfectly poached, the avocado is smashed and the bacon is free range. Offering healthy juices and granola, pancakes with maple syrup, and the full English, they have breakfast covered. They are open all day, but I have only ever been there in the morning, but if the wine and food in the evening are as good as their coffee and eggs in the morning, you are in for a treat. I am particularly fond of this place as this is where I met a lovely gentleman who inspired me to write this about loneliness.

Addendum January 2017 – Black White Red has now changed – my new favourite brunch venue is Forte Kitchen. Perfectly poached eggs.

There are a number of pubs in Winchester as you would expect. My two favourite are locally run No. 5, part of The Ideal Collection, and a Fuller’s pub The Bishop on the Bridge. The food at the Bishop is hearty pub food, while the food at No. 5 is possibly less pubby, concentrating on locally sourced, seasonal produce. I would drink beer at the Bishop and wine at No.5. Both have good outdoor space.

After dining at either you can cross the road to The Black Bottle for some wine tasting.

The Black Bottle: where new and familiar red, white and rosé wines are available by the glass. A selection of 32 of our 140 strong bottle cellar are dispensed through our Enomatic dispensers. Each of  our four machines hold 8 bottles with machines dedicated exclusively to red and white varieties. This means that at any one time we have a wide range of red, white and rosé to sample by the glass.  Our machines are individually  programmed to serve our specific varieties of wine at their optimum temperature: an ambient room temperature for reds and a gentle chill for whites and rose, allowing all of our wines to express their flavours fully.

A quirky place, with 5 rooms over 2 floors, you load up your token and choose your wine from the Enomatic dispenser. You can also buy wine by the bottle but the dispenser is much more fun.

My most recent discovery is El Sabio a Spanish restaurant that has been in Winchester since 2008. The tapas were excellent as was the organic wine. I will definitely be returning.

Other good places to eat are the recently refurbished Ghandi for Indian food, although I have only ever had take out, and the relatively new Palm Pan Asia which was recommended to me by people I shared a table with at The Black Bottle. There is also The Black Boy a traditional British pub, decorated with an eclectic mix of art, clutter and taxidermy.

Where to stay?

I used to get to stay in The Grade II listed Tudor House  when family lived there, and only recently have had to stay in hotels in the city.  I have stayed at No.5  which is comfortable and city centre based so while handy for the shops and dining options, there is some traffic noise and it is a very lively pub on Saturday evenings. There is also The Black Hole which looks every bit as quirky as The Black Bottle. For other places to stay, the Visit Winchester website has lots of suggestions. From caravan sites, B&B and Hotel Du Vin, there are plenty of options.

Addendum January 2017 – Most recently I have chosen to stay at The Premier Inn. Although slightly out of town, has plenty of free parking and you can still walk to the centre of Winchester from the hotel. Soundproofed rooms and very comfortable. 

It does quirky

I hope this has been useful for anyone thinking of visiting Winchester. I love the city. I find something new on each visit. Yet it is so compact, you could cover a lot of ground in one day. And you can’t help loving a city that does this. Even the street furniture is pretty.

One Mans Trash….

AKA the recycling centre. Regular readers will know that I have spent a fair bit of time in the past few weeks, recycling my stuff. I heard the centre in Winchester ‘rescues’ good quality items and has a little shop. On this visit they had a perfectly good piano, doors, a toy car and some interesting furniture.  The only other place I have seen this is at Brecon, where I picked up some Wedgwood China. And the bits they can’t sell they use to decorate the garden. One mans trash is another mans treasure. A great place to pick up some vintage items at rock bottom prices.

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You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one. (Imagine. John Lennon)


I recently changed my Facebook header picture to this and was a bit taken aback by a comment someone made about it.

 Friend :I’m impressed .. thoughts normally alien to your philosophy I think.

Well I didn’t think so. This Is how the conversation went. (abridged version)

Me: Really? You can’t just wait for something to happen. Some action needs to be involved to change things. Don’t get me wrong, I think people need to stretch what they think is possible, be open to and embrace change. Too many people limit possibility by believing they can’t change their life.

Friend: Wow .. amazing philosophy .. you are on form tonight
I thought I always was.
After a restless night, following this exchange two days ago, I started making some notes at 3 am on the ipad that lives by my bedside. I have edited them, you may be relieved to hear, but not as much as I thought I would have to. Rambling at 3 am it seems is a good thing for me to do. I called the ramble Dream Plan Go and that was going to be the title of this post, then discovered someone had beat me to it. Put a link to it as it is a useful resource. And sharing is a good thing.
So here is the abridged version of the rambling mind of an insomniac…

Planning or dreaming.

Both. Dreamers plan, planners dream. Nothing is achieved without planning, then taking action. Yet sometimes you have to wait to see what happens… go with the flow somehow, and notice.

Those that just plod on, accept what they think is their lot, are neither dreamers or planners. Nor are they waiting to see what happens, they are not noticing what is happening in the universe.

They don’t see beyond what their life is. If you don’t have dreams, your life won’t change. If you can’t see beyond what your life is now and what it could be like, (dreaming) and then work out how to make this dream  a reality by planning then putting a date on it, taking steps toward that goal, it won’t happen.

Someone who doesn’t know me very well remarked on my profile pic that this was different to my usual philosophy. I don’t think it is. Yes I say that you have to dream to change things, be the change, believe things can be different, and I guess maybe part of me used to dream of a different life and thought it was not possible and now I know it is as I’ve surrounded myself mostly with people who made their dreams a reality.  Dream plan do. Because you have to take action.


My dream is to see more of the world. House sit to save accommodation costs and have luxury accommodation and live like a local not a tourist. But I want to be a tourist sometimes, join tours, go,on safari. Be with groups sometimes and other times not. Discover food in India and SE Asia and Melbourne and Broome WA, lie on a hammock and read and climb mountains. But those dreams won’t come true without planning.

What do I need to do? Create as mood board?
Plan year ahead? When where? Melbourne. Dates already in diary.

What have I done to achieve the dream?

Downsizing to save money and be debt free was a dream. Planning was to sell house buy a small one, as a base and an investment and use cash to travel.

Sometimes life throws curve balls that can mess with dreams and plans. So dreams of downsizing and driving through  Europe last summer were changed due to a request in January to be a house sitter in Melbourne for June and July 2015. My dreams didn’t change, but I noticed the opportunities and went with the flow. And then made plans.

The trip to Melbourne made us both (me and my husband) realise how much we wanted more travel in our lives and not wanting a big house that was draining our resources of both time and money. The house was sold. In reality that had been the plan all along, I had been decluttering and staging the house for a while. Since February 2012 to be precise.


Stuff and life got in the way. These needed addressing, important stuff. I noticed this and worked through them. This stuff, my mom dying, my depression, the impact that clearing her clutter had on me was, in the end, my road to recovery. I promised my kids that they would never have to deal with my clutter. I recognised that I had the same traits to hoard. I noticed, I worked through it and I wrote about it – this was my Prozac, the writing.

What are the dreams? Let’s capture them and write them down.

Dreams of a camper van and living in Crete. No plans made yet. Because of a relatives serious illness. But the dream is still there. Parked for now.

Invite to Melbourne again eats up summer holidays already. Yet I love Melbourne so I don’t mind and I already knew that this is where we would be. And Greece in the summer is too hot. So we may go in spring or autumn.

Not Dreaming

Some will not have those dreams. Just excuses. ‘I could never afford to go to Australia’ (same person then buys new car/bigger house/designer clothes or a 2 week AI holiday that costs more than the flights to Melbourne). Or they have the dream but don’t put a date on it.  ‘I want to go to India/France/Weston ‘someday’. A dangerous word, someday.

It’s about choice. And self limiting beliefs and buying the lie. That you have to work defined hours for 40 years and get a pension and then finally be free from the shackles of work.

work 224x300 - You may say I'm a dreamer


If you hate your job change it. Leave it. I did. I didn’t have a plan mind you. But it was making me so unhappy, it was making me ill. I walked away over 10 years ago from a job with a big firm, best thing I ever did.

This time I do have a dream and few plans… apart from for the house to be fixed up and to be in Australia by July 11.  I have been playing with IKEA kitchen planning tools to work out how to make a small space. I found a builder through social media networks, my she shed  will be in the garden in 10 days time. I am looking at tours in Australia either side of the Melbourne house sit. And some other house sits in Australia.

Drop the not from cannot. I can do it I choose not to.

  • Why won’t you do leave/change your job?
  • You say you cannot afford to? Why not? How could you afford to?
  • There are no other jobs to apply for? Really? Have you looked?
  • Do you have to work the same hours? Could you work fewer hours ? Have you checked?
  • Stay inn your job perhaps and then use the spare time to dream, plan and go.
  • If you could do anything on the world what would it be? What do you need to do that?
  • Write them down. Now you have a beginning of a plan. From a dream to a plan.
  • What do you need to do now? Research, tell people? I find that helps to make things happen. Put a date on it.

This is what happened for me, true stories.

I was interviewed for a much wanted post for the library service, delivering The Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme.  The fact that it was a 18 month contract was great for me, not a problem, because I said I would go travelling at the end of the contract. Told everyone that was the plan. So I had to do it.

After leaving my job with the corporate firm I wrote everything I wanted from a new job. Top of the list was no commuting followed by part time. And I got  it. Not a perfect job and only for a year but it opened up opportunities. I met people who are still in my life. That experience led me to my next job, and eventually to my second favourite job ever (the library service) and that (and great managers and work colleagues)  enabled me to build on the skills I had in community development.  All to be ready to do what I did in my most recent and best job ever.

And all of this started years before this when feedback from an interview was that I needed more experience in community work. I listened, I noticed and I planned. I went and got the experience and 5 years later, the same organisation who gave me that feedback (the library service) employed me.

I am a multipotentialite – I just didn’t know it.

Yes I have had a lot of jobs in my lifetime. Between the ages of 22 and 28 I had 8 (eight) jobs. In those 6 years I graduated, I got married and had a baby, rented one house and bought two. Then moved with my family to Birmingham, to a job in Birmingham which I secured after a brief conversation on the platform of Green Park Tube Station. Just counting up I seem to have had 16 jobs (I think) since 1981. Recently discovered there is a word for what I am. Multipotentialite. It was a relief to discover that it is not just me. It is ok not to have one true calling. Because, before seeing this I was concerned that I may be a bit flaky.

It is ok to ask for help

For my  last job I sought help from friends who helped me put a good application together. I recognised the need for an objective person to help me identify and recognise my skills and achievements. I had not worked for 3 years, I’d had a bereavement, I had lost confidence, I had been ill.

Ask for help. Listen to those who know you.

And ask those who know the you now, not the person you used to be.

Or someone who doesn’t know you at all. A life coach perhaps. I met my coach because I did something different to what I would usually do. I went to Nettlefest. Then I went to Conscious Camp. I noticed. I was ready to leave the safety of the chrysalis, my comfort zone, the blanky I had wrapped myself up in for too long.

list for lisa 2 225x300 - You may say I'm a dreamerAfter two group coaching sessions, I then had one to one coaching via Skype with Lisa Cherry Beaumont. Suffice to say the end result was as if that all those post its I had all over the place about what I wanted out of life, that were indicative of my chaotic life, were now all on the same page. Yes a curve ball changed some of those and that was a good thing.

When I had a house selling dilemma Lisa got me to write in down and put a date on it. And yup, spot on everything on that list ticked.

Where to start?

What skills do you have? What skills do you need to learn? What skills are transferable? What skills do,you have and don’t use at work? It could be cooking, sewing or writing? What skills do you have and never use? What do you love doing? What, when you are doing it, makes time fly?


This morning, after re reading and editing  the brain dump that is the body of this post,  I was thinking I need to plan out how I want 2016 to look. Not a New Year Resolution list, more a dream, plan, do list.

A 3 am outpouring of all that was going around in this brain is all well and good but I need to write down what I am going to do, vision it. And put a date on it.

I have been occupied with chores and a personal issue that needs dealing with for most of the day and so the planning was parked. Sometime life is like that, stuff needs to be done. Right now. An unplanned drink with friends resulted in getting useful advice about said issue. One that needs to be resolved before any plans can be made for almost anything else, particularly travelling. That done I come home and decide that this post needs to be finished and log on and and of course check Facebook and…

discover that my lovely life coach has posted a link to a year planner.

That my friends is the universe working for you. Notice the signs.

Going with the Ebb N Flo. A digital detox at Newbiggin by the Sea.

Forget what others have said about the North of England. It is not grim or grimy, it is absolutely stunning.

Newbiggin by the Sea

I was already aware of how beautiful the countryside is in the north of England. I have travelled to the Yorkshire Dales regularly as my husband has family there. I enjoyed a youth hostelling and walking holiday with my school in the Lake District back in the early 1970’s and have revisited this area many times since. The furthest north I have been is Gretna Green, after some mad idea to hitch there with fellow uni friends when on a field trip in The Lakes. But I had never been to Northumberland, and it was time to see this part of the country.

A work colleague of my husband has renovated a house in Newbiggin by the Sea, as a holiday let, and we were to be the very first guests. They were still in the process of putting a few finishing touches to the house and we agreed to give honest feedback about our stay there.  And so, in late September 2014, we travelled for a good four hours up the M1 and A1 to explore the area for a few days.

I didn’t know much about Northumberland. The owners had asked us to collect information of what to do in and around Newbiggin by the Sea, to inform future guests. My husband was more familiar with the area, but had not been there for over 50 years. We were on a mission to cram as much as possible into five days. Our son had also decided to come with us. While we didn’t have small children to entertain, keeping a 22 year old gamer who doesn’t do National Trust, happy in a house without wi-fi, cable tv and Netflix, would be a challenge.

As we drove past Gateshead, The Angel of the North welcomed us. Visiting this was on the to do list and we decided to save it for the return journey, when we were less travel weary.

Angel of the North

The house we stayed in is on the main road into town and is at the end of a row of terraced houses in a quiet residential area. From the outside it is an average house in an average terrace. Yet once inside this cosy house, you know you are on your holidays.

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Ebb N Flo has been decorated with a cheerful sea-side theme, with a mixture of modern and vintage furniture, which I loved. Even the garden shed had been painted like a bright beach hut.

The beach hut shed

Despite being close to the road, there was no traffic noise as it is double glazed. There was a selection of games and DVD’s for rainy days, a well appointed kitchen, with dishwasher and washing machine, if you wanted to self cater and wash clothes (I was on my holiday, I wasn’t there to wash and cook). A stairgate and high chair are also available. One dog is also welcome and dog towels are provided.

Main bedroom

The beds were extremely comfortable, with good quality mattresses. The bathroom is compact, with a good shower over the bath and plenty of storage space.

The bathroom

As soon as we had unloaded the car, we crossed the road and stretched our legs with a walk along the longest promenade in Northumberland.

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This is less that a minutes walk from the house. Golden sands, and the perfect place to walk a dog, jog or cycle or take in the view.

Gazing out to sea

Newbiggin by the Sea, is as I have just discovered, (I didn’t do much research before the trip) is a Portas Pilot town. I should have guessed really, given that I was involved in the bid that Bearwood made to become one of the pilot towns. I remarked when we were there that the town looked as if money and love were being poured into it to regain its former glory. There is an art trail and a number of independent retailers, including an excellent and friendly butcher.


A bakery.


A green grocer.


And a number of quirky shops selling various vintage bits and bobs.

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A lovelie indie cafe.


This was my favourite hair salon.

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This barber offered free wifi.


A couple of pubs on the high street were closed.

Closed Pub

This was a former library.

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This is the current and much neglected library.


And sadly I think this may close when the superduper new combined library and leisure centre being built in Ashington opens. Indeed this and the Since writing this I have found out that there are plans to develop a new landmark building in Newbiggin-by-the-sea. This includes the building a new library (great news) offices and apartments on the site of the derelict pubs.Thankyou Sue (owner of Ebb n Flow for pointing this out. More on this can be found here.

Asda still remains the biggest threat to Newbiggin by the Sea thriving, and it needs more than Mary Portas to help it survive. If locals and holidaymakers decide to use this instead of these wonderful independent retailers, then they will struggle to stay open. And this would be a shame. Local people and tourists need to use the indies or lose them altogether.

The Old Ship

Looking for somewhere to eat, we popped into a pub on the sea front, that promised bar food. No, they didn’t do food, but we could get a take out and bring it in to the pub to eat if we wanted, the barman, who was polishing glasses with a grimy cloth and informed us. I looked around the pub and decided that this would not be a good idea. Not one pub in the town looked welcoming. Newbiggin by the Sea needs a decent pub, it deserves a decent pub. On the sea front, this one could be the one. If someone has deep pockets and is ready to take a leap of faith in the town.

One of the two customers, told us to go to ‘The Italians’, and pointed vaguely into town. The dog belonging to the other customer, licked my shoe. We wandered back to the promenade and met a couple walking a dog. The dog came from Birmingham, and was altogether better behaved than the shoe licking dog. We had chosen the right people to ask for directions. Sensible people who were not in the run down pub and who had been to Birmingham to buy a dog. They pointed us in the right direction.

Another independent trader in this little town, Due Fratelli offered a three course meal for £6.50. It has an open kitchen and friendly staff. The food we had was fair to good. I suspect if we had gone for one of the special fish dishes, rather than the meal deal, we may have been more impressed. It met the need of feeding three hungry, travel weary adults. The garlic flatbread was excellent, the house wine was above average, the decor was tired and uninspiring and they still think giant pepper grinders impress.

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Newbiggin by the Sea offers everything you need for a base to explore. And there was a lot of exploring to be done. Castles, Roman Forts, Lindesfarne, boat trips, Hadrians Wall, Book shops and stunning coastlines were all there, waiting for us. As were some excellent fish and chips. Let the great northern adventure begin.

Ebb N Flo is a lovely, well appointed, clean, comfortable and convenient place to stay. I cannot fault the house, its location and being close to the sea is always a winner with me.

The view from the kitchen

The view from the kitchen window may not have been of the sea, but it cheered me all the same.

If there is a downside, it is the lack of wifi. I am still not sure if this is a good thing, as most of us benefit from a digital detox, or a bad thing, as I am so used to having information at my finger tips 24//7. While I didn’t check out if the library had wifi, I know that Asda has free wifi, as does the Sapphire Enviro 400 bus to Newcastle.

Sapphire Bus

The bus also has somewhere to charge your devices. So if you really need your digital fix, catch the bus to Asda. Just don’t shop there. Or go visit the barber, he is an indie after all. What did we do? We played Scrabble.

What about you? Is wi-fi a deal breaker when booking a holiday home? Or is a digital detox and not being able to check your work email a good thing? I would love to know your thoughts on this.

California Dreaming – Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

As we headed south toward Monterey on our Californian road trip, we noticed how the landscape seemed to suddenly change. We were driving across a vast dark, almost menacing plain, which was such a contrast to the colourful pumpkin patch,

Pumpkin Patch
Pumpkin Patch

rolling hills and vales we had driven through earlier that day. 

Fields around Salinas
Fields around Salinas

Once settled in Monterey we sifted through the leaflets in the motel reception for ideas of what to do in the surrounding area. We thought we would only be staying one night and move on south after visiting Carmel (Phil was convinced we would bump into Clint) but that was not to be. There was so much to do in the area.

I discovered we were not far from where Steinbeck was born and raised and, having recently read Of Mice and Men with my Make Friends with a Book group, I was keen to visit.

We headed back to Salinas, a town surrounded by the dark and never-ending fertile plains we had driven across the day before.IMG_1741

And immediately I understood how this landscape would have influenced Steinbeck’s writing. There were people still toiling in the fields and digging up vegetables by hand just as George and Lennie had. This was a farming system that seemed very labour intensive.

Steinbeck was no stranger to such work himself, he worked on the farms in his summer holidays. I am sure he met people then who would become the basis of some of his characters.

I cannot say I liked Salinas. It was a featureless town built on a grid. The car park was full of big station wagons with number plates like this.


It was a gritty place with gritty people. A real contrast after San Francisco with its hills and Bay Area. Yet near to the National Steinbeck Center art was fighting back.

And I discovered that in addition to the gritty novels that he wrote Steinbeck was famous for, he was also a traveller. He had lived in England for a while and had also been on his own road trip of America, documented in the book Travels with Charley.


He had a pretty cool vehicle to travel in.

We had lunch in his former home, which I wrote about in this post Lunch with Steinbeck Dinner with Forrest.

The National Steinbeck Center is definitely worth a visit. I just wished I could share the experience with my friends at Bleakhouse Library who I had shared Of Mice and Men with in my Make Friends with a Book group.

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And I definitely agree with this.IMG_1703

Happy birthday John Steinbeck. 112 on February 23rd 2014.

I have just discovered that in two days time it is your birthday, whilst looking up the links for this post. Synchronicity, perhaps?  The Celestine Prophesy, which helped me understand this concept is also about travelling. And it has just occurred to me that I will be looking at camper vans on your birthday. Not planned, only because I have won free tickets to the Caravan and Camping Show. Perhaps it is meant to be? So, that like you, I can go on another road trip. 

California Dreaming – sunshine, seals and death in Santa Cruz

IMG_1677We were searching for the motel we had booked in Santa Cruz and were totally lost. It was called The Bay Front InnIMG_1623which ought to have been clue but we couldn’t find the bay. We were in the middle of residential housing, no map, no Sat Nav just a name of the motel. That is how we pretty much planned our road trip in California.

Then I saw this.

If you are lost ask an librarian
If you are lost ask a librarian

Ask a librarian!

What a lovely guy, not only did he give me directions to the motel, being a friendly Californian (is there any other type?) he also recommended somewhere to eat too.

Santa Cruz pier
Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf

The restaurant he had told us about Oliatas was on the wharf and the food was amazing.

There were lots of birdsIMG_1605and a great vantage point to view Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz boardwalk
Santa Cruz boardwalk

We noticed people staring down under the pier and, being curious, went to see what they all found so fascinating.

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A dorm for seals.

The next day, we took a walk along the cliffs where there were some pretty amazing houses, including this one. I am not quite sure if having a replica of your house, in your house, isn’t a bit spooky though.

Then we saw this.

I have written about meeting the guy who drives around Santa Cruz before in Life Begins after Normal. I wished we could have stuck around longer and got to know him better, as he was a fascinating person. But other events took over the day.

While we were chatting to campervan man a woman ran over and screamed at us to help her. She had returned from her run to find her partner slumped in the drivers seat and apparently unconscious. Campervan man was the calmest there, made the phone call to the emergency services, organised people to get the man out of the car while another guy did CPR. We were helpless except to comfort the poor lady. Of course he was dead, I think we all knew that.

I am sure and hope it was quick and painless. And this was the last thing he saw.IMG_1662

Once the emergency services arrived we went around the surf museum and we spoke with another couple who had also been involved there and had been the last to see him alive. We were all a bit shocked about everything we had seen. To say that we were subdued is a understatement and I don’t really remember much about the museum except that it was in a lighthouse. IMG_1658

Before we left Santa Cruz we went down to a beach side cafe for lunch, reflected on what had happened and realised how lucky we were, and that life is indeed short. Which is why we were making this trip.

Campervan man drove past and honked his horn and we waved.

He says he wants to be president one day. I would love to see that! Mind you right now, I reckon he needs to come over to the UK and take over our government. Life may be a bit more fun then!

Have you been to Santa Cruz and have you met the campervan man?

State Library of Victoria

Books are the plane, and the train, and the journey

Today I visited the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. It is stunning. We joined the guided tour of the dome. Again, like so many of the free things to do in this beautiful city it was just us and the guide.


In recent years, Victoria invested a substantial sum of money to refurbish the beautiful building. Money well spent.

The quote is one of the many on the walls of the La Trobe reading room which is beautifully furnished, and is one of the quiet reading rooms.

Not that any of them are noisy as such, just full of people and life and free wifi and a chess room! And Ned Kellys’s armour.

Its archives include comic books





It holds over 1.5 million books too.


I’m glad it was part of my journey.

New Zealand in a campervan – great campsites, rubbish wifi, first reflections

Well we are in New Zealand now. Lost three days here due to QANTAS, nuff said.

Not blogged due to rubbish expensive wi-fi on excellent campsites,

or lack of time at excellent, FREE wifi hotspots at NZ libraries and info centres.

Free WiFi yay!

Lovely country. Will reflect more when I have time, right now in camper, in Blenheim, post wine tasting! It’s raining.

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Paid too much for wi-fi so must use it!

Today visited a little museum that hosts Peter Jacksons Aviation hoard and a vintage car museum. Then chilled over wine tasting and great food at Wither Hills vineyard. Lingered all day.

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As I’m on the effing iPad will post photos separately. Don’t get me started, Apple!

Three years later and I am adding photos to this post!

Love NZ. Love WETA xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Can’t post photos at WETA!! Saw some props from The Hobbit.

Highlight was a visit to The Roxy where we dined and saw a film with the co owners!

Got to see Oscars and BAFTA awards. Yay.

Plus other stuff. Wellington. Rocks.

What a difference a day makes

Time to get organised

I realise I was feeling a bit down yesterday, but hey using this medium to get it out there must be part of the cure. And some pretty cool advice came back, currently re visiting the to do list using triangles for bullet points, to be coloured in when task completed.

Also the Shambrarian in me is resurfacing, not the beer bit, yet, so all my paperwork for the trip is filed in labelled plastic folders,

Duplicates have been made, money has been moved around to spread the risk and the 4 new pin numbers for our travel money cards, which will be hell to learn, have been recorded discreetly. If I do forget, my son has been instructed as to where the paperwork is. I’ve even made copies of passports and laminated them and emailed a copy to myself, just in case.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with numbers, yet I sailed through English and the Humanities. Even now, if writing numbers, I need to get them checked because I know I have problems with numbers

Transferring money today was quite stressful as I had to use a card reader, remember a PIN, enter another number in the card reader, which then generated another number to enter on the PC. The you get verified by visa asking your pass word……. Grrrr.

To get me in the mood to do the mental work required, much of today has been spent finding the bedroom floor! All travel packing has been transferred to the spare room, what we don’t need has been put away, surfaces have been cleared and dusted. I even cleaned the windows. This, for someone who loathes housework, is a major achievement. The study has also been cleared, some filing cleared, some, ahem, put out of sight and Christmas presents put in a box to be sorted tomorrow.

New Zealand Coins
Image by yum9me via Flickr

Next job, on the list is to return my library books. On the way I’ll pop to the Post Office in the hope they have USA and NZ dollars. Worst case scenario is to get them at the airport! Not well organised, but I have lost 10 days in the count down due to putting my head in the sand.


As I’m doing this on my iPad and still learning how, I have inserted a totally inappropriate (to the blog) photo, of my two cats Mel and Sue,  which helped cheer me up yesterday! Must add to the to do list….learn about photo library on iPad!