Travels with myself – 1 New England in the Fall – Bar Harbor and out to sea

September 22nd 2004   Massachusetts – New Hampshire – Maine
I discovered that packing after a two day stop is just as hard as packing after two weeks!  I’ve had all sorts of advice over the years about this; about rotating clothes in your suitcase so that you don’t ever have to hang up more than a couple of items, about packing things in cubes, etc, etc but it all seems like rather a lot of effort.  Still, I was ready for the 8am departure and a 281-mile journey today, stopping at Portland for lunch and then on to Bar Harbor.

There was another brief stop at “Perry’s Nut House”, a tourist stop in Belfast, Maine, to sample various nuts and fruits.   Perry’s has been a  feature on Route One since 1927.  According to Wikipedia, it even had an advertising jingle in the 1950s which went:
“Pack up the kids. Jump in the car. Drive to Perry’s Nut House and there you are. Right on the coast, Route number 1, Belfast, Maine. Oh golly, what fun!”
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Back on the road, the scenery was magnificent, both along the coast and inland.  Various scenes as we came around bends or as bays came into view, made me gasp.  From time to time we saw groups of trees where the leaves had already changed to red.  This is exactly what I came to see – and what I remember seeing on the holiday programme so long ago – and I hoped that we would see many more of these as we headed inland later in the week.

Bar Harbor is a small town on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County.  Our motel was some distance outside the town, so they drove us in on the bus to look around and get something to eat.  It is a beautiful little town.  At low tide a sand bar from the town to Bar Island is exposed.  Although it’s wide enough to drive a car across, this is not allowed. But the sandbar is a popular place just to see what is uncovered when the water retreats.  It was a pleasant warm evening, so we walked to the marina at the end of Main Street, where we saw the boat which was going to take us whale watching the next day.

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Sunset over Bar Harbor

September 23rd 2004  More Maine
I got up to a lovely clear blue sky. We set off at 8:30 to visit the Acadia National Park, just outside Bar Harbor.  First of all, we drove up Cadillac Mountain (named after Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer, who has also, famously, given his name to a car).  At 466 metres, this is the highest mountain on the east coast of the United States.  We were allowed to get out for the most tremendous views of Bar Harbor, its bay and islands.  It was freezing cold in the strong wind.  We had a tour of the national park and stopped at Sand Beach, where my feet and jeans were soaked through not moving fast enough as the waves hit the shore.  Then the Thunder Hole, where the sea rushes up a narrow gap in the cliffs and makes a loud noise (not quite thunder on that day) when it strikes the end of the gap.

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The view from Acadia National Park

We headed back to Bar Harbor where there was just time to have some lunch – today the pleasure of a simple cheese sandwich and a coffee – before we boarded the boat for our trip to (hopefully) find the whales. 

I joined another member of our party, Mary, whose friend had sensibly decided to stay on shore.  We were heading 25 miles out into the Bay to look for whales.  We flew along at 30 knots and it was absolutely freezing, despite wearing everything warm which I had brought along plus a waterproof.  I began to hope it was going to be worth it.  We were looking for “spouts”, which is the air that whales force out of their lungs when they exhale.  I must add here, before anyone gets any ideas about my breadth of knowledge, that we were accompanied by an excellent naturalist who was there to map whale sightings rather than simply entertain a group of tourists.  They were so knowledgeable that they could identify the species of whale simply from the shape of its blow.

The first to be seen was a Northern Right Whale.  We were told that, at the time, there were only 300 of these amazing creatures left in the world, so it was a tremendous privilege to see one.  We waited for it to come back from its dive and saw it breaking the surface several times before it dived again.  We waited 12 minutes before it came up again and it waved its tail before finally diving for a second time.  In all, we saw it dive 3 times, then we dashed off (more freezing wind) to where they expected to see different species and here we saw 3 finbacked whales, (sadly another endangered species) again quite close.  There is a strict code about how many vessels should approach any whales encountered in the bay and the guides were in constant contact with other boats to advise of where they could sail and to plot the sightings.

I think no-one really wanted to leave but, eventually, we had to turn back towards the shore.  Mary and I took refuge on a lower deck with a cup of cocoa.  In all, we had been at sea for about three and a half hours – a fantastic experience.  We were back at the hotel with only about an hour to spare before going out for the evening.  I had hoped to swim (this always used to be one of my “things” on holiday – swimming every day whenever possible) but I opted for an hour spent in my warm bedroom instead.  I have quite a long spell of video of this trip.  Most of it is simply of grey sea or sky.  Even when I could see a whale with my naked eye, I found it impossible to control the zoom and I was mostly zooming in on a bare expanse of sea where a whale had just dived but I did capture two of them swimming on the surface, plus one amazing tail slap.

At 6pm we set off for our lobster restaurant.  It was so different from the previous one, big and airy, clean and efficient, with a magnificent view across the bay.  We started with mussels and then I had halibut which was delicious, followed by blueberry cake (even more delicious).  Everyone who had lobster said that it was much better this time, fresher I think, and you could ask for a waiter to come and take it apart for you if necessary (I have regrets here I should have been a bit braver and gone for the lobster).

Altogether a wonderful day!

Travels with myself – 1. New England again

The main problem with these few early holidays is that they were in pre-digital photo days. Being fairly disorganised, I can’t find all my photos and I am certainly missing a whole film’s worth of this holiday. (They kick in within the next day or two).

September 20th 2004 Massachusetts
This morning the tour manager asked the solo travellers to identify themselves and tried to pair everyone up, although some didn’t want to. There was only a handful of us and the one woman I had really thought I might like to be paired with wanted to sit on her own. In my eagerness to be friendly, I said yes and so I spent the rest of the holiday travelling with Mr Le, a Vietnamese American with a very heavy accent and no sense of humour. He was kind and polite, took me to lunch at the end of the holiday and sent me a Christmas card but I wished I had protested and spent my tour with a double seat to myself. As it was, I spent a lot of the time with my head in Hillary Clinton’s autobiography.

We set off for our sail around Hyannis Bay. Luckily, the choppy seas we saw yesterday as we drove along the coast had calmed down and the sail was very smooth. The coast is littered with beautiful buildings, including the famous Kennedy compound, the holiday homes of members of the Kennedy family. I understand that the main house was donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States in 2012.

Back on dry land, we headed for Plymouth (also known as Plimouth). We stopped to view Plymouth Rock, which was just that – an unimpressive lump of rock in a cage – and then onto the Mayflower replica. After a crab sandwich for lunch at the “Lobster Hut” we re-grouped and set off for the site of the original 1620s settlement. (This place is usually referred to as Plimouth as that is the spelling used by William Bradford in his history of
the colony. In the 17th Century, spelling was a lot more fluid than it is today – and nobody cared. Tell that to Ofsted).

People dressed in 17th Century costumes were working in the settlers’ village and in the Native American village. They talked to visitors about what life was like in those days. The weather was improving, so it was very pleasant to wander around for a couple of hours.

It was, though, a bit lonely and gave me time to think about what I’d taken on. The coach was just about full, with people from all over the United States (It’s odd to think that there is such a vast amount of your home country to see, never mind setting off overseas). There were also travellers from Australia, for whom this tour was just a part of their overall expedition, there were travellers from other European countries and, of course, the ones who had been on my incoming flight. There were lovely people, there were miserable people (some of whom often seemed to be sitting behind me complaining) and my kind Mr Le of course, but I hadn’t yet met anyone with whom I could really share the experience.

Finally, it was back on the coach and off to Boston. It was a relief to be staying two nights and I decided to unpack. On my way out to get something to eat, I met Edna and Mary from Bolton and they invited me to join them. It was a lovely evening, so we walked through the centre of Boston past Boston Common and the park and then back to bed! Tonight, I only have one huge bed, not the two I’ve had previous nights.

September 21st 2004 More Massachusetts
The sounds of the Phoenix Nights theme music on my phone woke me up at 4am. There was no-one there when I answered. So annoying! I decided to treat myself to room service for breakfast and I wasn’t disappointed. It was like a full English and then some, with added maple syrup. Not surprisingly, I didn’t eat anything until our meal out in the evening. Today we started with a tour of Boston. It’s a beautiful city, small by the standards of major American cities. With a population of around 685,000 (2017), it is the 21st largest city in the United States. The local guide delivered facts and jokes which you felt he had told a hundred times before. We walked to Old North Church at the highest point in the city. In 1775, when British troops, who were occupying Boston, set off to march against Concord or Lexington, the “Patriots” in Boston signalled from this church to Paul Revere, who made his legendary ride to Lexington to let them know that the British were coming (many years before the claim began to be repeatedly made at the Oscar ceremonies).

We also drove by The USS Constitution, which was named by George Washington and is the oldest US commissioned ship. Launched in 1797, this ship is still active and aims to promote the role of the Navy in war and peace through education.

With an afternoon of shopping and rest, followed by more shopping and more rest, we set off for dinner at the No Name restaurant on the waterfront. I was still feeling the effects of my epic breakfast, so opted for a modest salmon fillet rather than the “top of the bill” lobster and, seeing many of the others struggling with theirs, I was glad that I did. Then we were treated to a magical view of Boston from the 50th floor of the Prudential Center (very modest by today’s standards of skyscraper but then very exciting). There were views right across the city, including, not too far away, a baseball game in progress.

Travels with myself – 1. New England in the Fall 2004

September 18th 2004 – Manchester – New York
5:30 am in a B&B close to Manchester Airport.  I was awake already so there was no need to worry about oversleeping.  My host hadn’t been too enthusiastic about taking me at 6:30 am but he did turn up and, by 7:30 I was arriving at Manchester Airport for my flight to New York.

The flight was bumpy and we arrived through grey clouds and rain.  There was an enormous queue through immigration and customs.  This is a recurring theme, it seems, of holidays in the US.  My son-in-law was once detained by immigration officials and asked about his “frequent” visits to the Middle East (he had visited Morocco once and Egypt once but no Middle Eastern countries at all).  His eventual release had something to do with him being a train driver!

I eventually met up with 10 other Cosmos travellers and we drove through New York in a stretched limo, down 5th Avenue, through Times Square, past Radio City and the Rockefeller Centre, to the Sheraton on 7th Avenue.  By the time we had checked in, it was late afternoon and I decided that I would head out to have a look around and get something to eat. By chance I met two others from my party who asked me to join them.  I can remember looking up and being overwhelmed by the buildings.  They seemed somehow oppressive.  After walking for several blocks, we had our first experience of plus-size portions at Brennigans Irish restaurant and bar.  After consuming chicken strips the size of girders and a refreshing beer, we walked back via Broadway and I retired to get ready for the trip to begin in earnest. This was a trip which had been on my bucket list since a long-ago TV holiday programme.

September 19th 2004 New York – Rhode Island – Massachusetts
Next morning, we met our Tour Manager and set off down Madison Avenue, past Central Park, through the Bronx and on to Interstate Highway 95, heading for Newport.  The 50+ seater coach was almost full (only one bag allowed in the “hold”, any others you had to stow inside as best you could). 

It was chilly despite the sunshine – a sting in Hurricane Ivan’s tail I was told.  We passed beautiful houses with manicured gardens and then arrived at the Vanderbilts’ country “cottage”.  “The Breakers”, built in the late 1800s is one of the grandest of Newport’s “cottages” and the Vanderbilts had gone all out to find the best architects, designers, painters, etc, to create a beautiful house (except for some disgusting wallpaper in the bedrooms).  I’ve bought some odd things in gift shops over the years, but I still have a little mug with the words “Votes for Women”, which I bought at “The Breakers”. We then drove up the coast to Hyannis on Cape Cod.

I think that I hadn’t quite grasped the significance of a holiday which included very few meals.  I had already eaten lunch alone and now I had to look for somewhere to eat again.  I found my way round the rear of the hotel, to a TGI Friday where I had my first seafood meal and a large (and I mean large) beer.  I found my way in the dark back to the hotel.  It didn’t feel strange. I was OK.  In bed, I watched the Emmys and managed to stay awake until 11pm.

This wasn’t my first holiday of the year.  I’d had a last-minute invitation to visit family in Bahrain.  But being chauffeured around Grand Mosque, the Souk, the new Grand Prix track was a whole different thing from finding my way in the dark on my own.  This time, I was really dipping my toe in the water of solo travel.  My local travel agent wanted me to dip my toe in a great deal more water – suggesting that I might like to try a cruise, where there are “gentlemen on board who are there for the sole purpose of dancing with the single ladies”.  But I decided that certainly was not for me. I have never been on a cruise and am slightly anxious about a very low-key river cruise in Italy which I have booked for this summer.  Neither have I danced with any gentlemen on any of my trips!

The Richard connection

We experienced three days of very unusual February weather, when we walked or sat out in the sunshine, before it began to revert to what we have learned to expect of winter months – grey, damp, cold and windy. The temperature in Northumberland was in the high teens and it reached 20ºC in some parts of the UK. We don’t know what this means as far as global warming is concerned but it’s not the first time that we have had glorious warm weather during our Feb/March holiday.

On Thursday I escaped the rain as I wanted to take the opportunity to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who have recently moved to the north east. There was the added bonus of meeting their new grandson 😍

We left for home on a grey, drizzly Friday. En route, we visited Seaton Delaval Hall which is a grade 1 listed country house near Whitley Bay.

The Delaval family were gifted the land when they arrived with William the Conqueror at the time of the Norman conquest. It passed through the family for many generations with varying degrees of success and failure, wealth and bankruptcy. The family’s wealth came from glass, coal and iron.

In 1728, a fairly modest house was replaced by the existing building which was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh. Unfortunately in 1822 while the family were staying at their other house in Norfolk, the central wing was gutted by a fire which was said to have been caused by birds nesting in the chimneys. The fire spread from the south east wing through to the main central wing, which housed the family’s accommodation. Repairs were attempted at various times but the central wing remains as an empty shell with just the roof replaced. However, even with its fire-blackened walls, damaged statues and lack of ceilings, it is still a magnificent building. In later years, the west wing, which had previously been the servants’ quarters, was used by members of the Delaval family as their family home.

Along the way, one member of the family (John Hussey Delaval 1728-1808) was granted a baronetcy. Due to the rules of primogeniture, the baronetcy and the family seat were eventually inherited by a branch of the family whose name was Astley. (I heard today of a move to stop this outdated (was it ever fair?) rule throughout the aristocracy, as the royals had already abandoned it before any of the Cambridge children were born).

During the 20th century some restoration work of the west wing was completed and eventually the 22nd Baron Hastings, Edward Delaval Henry Astley moved there to live and stayed until his death in 2007.

We were shown around the house by some extremely knowledgeable National Trust volunteers. As we were being told about the 22nd Baron Hastings something clicked in the back of my mind: “My husband knew Lord Hastings”, I said. And so he did! When Richard was Social Work Director of the British Epilepsy Association in the 80s and 90s, Lord Hastings was the Association’s President.

I have a letter which I found when going through my photographs, from Lord Hastings to Richard after he left the British Epilepsy Association.

Lord Hastings said: “You have done a splendid job and it was fraught with difficulties over a long period, but you stuck to it and saw it through some very traumatic situations. It is understandable that you should feel the need of a change but you will be a great loss nevertheless and I’m sure that you will be very much missed by everyone. I wish you the best of luck in your new post and send my warm thanks for your services to BEA. Yours sincerely Hastings”.

The 23rd Baron Hastings, wishing to preserve the future of the Hall and encourage greater public access, entered into discussions with the National Trust and it came into the possession of the Trust in 2009. The buildings have been open to visitors since 2010 and major work is now underway, which is being funded by the Lottery Heritage Fund. The aim is to preserve the fire damaged parts of the building as they stand and to renovate the west wing. In addition, huge works are being carried out right across the grounds in the hope of making this a family friendly destination in years to come.

The Cuthbert connection

It’s coming to something when the only piece of post I have today is from a company trying to sell me hearing aids, with some free batteries to tempt me! Still, the trees where I walk every day with the dog are beginning to bud, as are the shrubs in my garden. I have a single miniature daffodil too!

I was surprised to see just how many buds and flowers there were in Northumberland when I went to stay last week. (You see I do have an exciting life sometimes). There were lambs in the fields too. The main pleasure of this time away was being with friends, some of whom I’ve known for over 60 years. I enjoy the company so much and one of my friends is very good at arranging small trips for us. All of us used to enjoy walking and the first time we got together we walked a section of Hadrian’s wall. Now though, most of us enjoy a short walk and leave the couple who are still very active to stride off without us.

The week was so interesting that I thought I would tell you a little about it before going off to talk about my travels further afield.

Our first surprise was a visit to the Chillingham wild cattle. This is a small herd of about 120 white cattle, which live in a park next to Chillingham castle. Their exact history is unclear and varies according to who is telling it but it is generally accepted that they have had a pure undiluted gene pool for at least several hundred years. They’re not husbanded except to give them a little extra feed in the winter and are not visited by vets. Nevertheless, the herd continues to grow!

The ground cover isn’t snow – it’s snowdrops!

We stayed at the Lindisfarne Inn, which is only a mile or so away from the causeway to Holy Island. Last time we were here, we walked the causeway but this time we were happy to be driven!

The causeway, just as the tide is receding

I was interested in finding out more about St Cuthbert, because my father was named after him. He was an Anglo-Saxon born in 635AD to parents who were Christian converts. He entered Melrose monastery at the age of 16 and was eventually appointed Prior of Lindisfarne (Holy Island). At the age of 41, he decided to become a hermit and left to live on one of the Farne Islands but was persuaded to return to Lindisfarne. But after only two years he resigned and returned to his life as a hermit where he died in 687AD. The monks brought him back to Lindisfarne and buried him.

However, that is not the end of the story. Around 200 years later, the monks evacuated Holy Island in the face of Viking invasions and took his his coffin wherever they went until it was eventually laid to rest in, what is now, Durham Cathedral.

So that is St Cuthbert!

Lindisfarne Castle

I will save the final story until tomorrow….

Where do we go from here?

Well, children. I’ve told you as much as I know (or can remember) about where my family came from, when and where I was born and how I grew up. And, from your point of view, of course, how I met that most important man who became your father.

Do you want me to go further, to talk about the four years we had together before any of you were born? Even the days of your own lives that you don’t remember?

Maybe you want to fill in your own memories. I know you often remember things I have forgotten and vice versa. I need you to let me know.

In the meantime, I’m going to write about my travels. Starting with New England in the Fall……

The REAL summer of love!

I’m still looking through my boxes of photos and yesterday came across some which Richard and I took when we visited Austria to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. There is one photo of a bunch of flowers he had bought me and a card with a big heart on it (I’m sure I’ll have the card somewhere).

I’m glad that Valentine’s Day is over for another year. I find it the hardest day to deal with but I loved finding that photo because, together with some Valentine cards I have found, it reminded me of what we once had together.

So, it’s a while ago since I wrote about meeting Richard, in 1968. We had met in early December, spent the evening talking, eating the meal he had prepared (pork chop, mashed potato and peas) and inhaling a lot of cigarette smoke. And he had asked me out again! I can remember waiting outside the Odeon cinema in Bradford thinking “Well it was nice while it lasted”, before he turned up late, as usual. We ended up going to see a film called “Interlude” about a doomed love affair! I don’t remember anything about it but it had a rather melancholy but hopeful song as its theme

“What seems like an Interlude now
Could be the beginning of love”

It became “our song” at least for the time being. (The singer was Timi Yuro). We must then have had a long, earnest and esoteric conversation as I returned home to my little flat a day or two later to find a love letter tucked in my letter box. (I still have it, children).

After that, we grew closer – until university closed for the Christmas holidays and he disappeared with his friend to London and a holiday job in HMV.

Richard was in the second year of a degree in social work. He lived with two other students in a maisonette not far from the city centre. One was his partner in deciding to date every girl at the Central Library. He was not happy when Richard met me, or when my friend dumped him after she discovered he was married. I always felt that he resented me and he tried his best to split us up, even while we were planning our wedding. The other student was barely seen.

Children, you are all well aware of the notorious “Satisfaction Guaranteed” T-shirt, worn under a lacy blue shirt! He used to wear that when he was a DJ in the “Gatto Bianco” night club in Bradford. I was only invited there on a couple of occasions. In fact, I wasn’t included in many of his evening outings with the group of friends (mostly students, I think) who went out drinking most nights all over West Yorkshire. We did once visit a club in the Merrion Centre in Leeds. It was after I had passed my driving test and bought a car. I drove about 5 of us over there. It was absolutely neon! I spent the evening chatting to a lovely man (one of Richard’s non-uni friends) who was persona non grata with his family of local industrialists because he was gay. When we left, I quickly realised that I did not know how to make my way out of Leeds in the dark. I was stationary at a traffic lights, unsure which way to turn, when a police car pulled up beside me. I apologised for not moving promptly away when the lights changed. He said “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to put your lights on miss?” I think that was my only brush with the law in nearly 50 years of driving!

Richard had an eclectic taste in music and, while my favourites had moved on from the Beatles to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, he introduced me to so much more. He bought me a Nina Simone album for my birthday but I also got to know Captain Beefheart, Janis Joplin, The Beach Boys, Hendrix, Leonard Cohen and many more. Unfortunately, Richard’s and his friends’ taste for partying meant that the university didn’t see them very much. Instead of sitting his end of year exams, Richard stayed awake for several days, causing him to collapse and be admitted to the uni health centre. He emerged determined to make a fresh start and opted to change degrees and begin the second year of a degree in economics and geography when the new year started in October.

Although I loved the independence of having my own flat, I had discovered that being in an old Victorian house meant spending a fortune on heating and, besides, the kitchen was damp. So, in early 1969, my best friend from the library and I decided to apply for a flat in one of the new tower blocks being built near Bradford city centre. The flats were mired in the building scandals of the late 1960s, which resulted in a local architect, John Poulson, being jailed for corruption. Completion was also delayed as a result of the collapse of a 22-storey block of flats in London in 1968. Four people were killed and many injured when a gas explosion tore through Ronan Point, causing load-bearing walls to collapse. Eventually, just the first two floors of our flats were declared safe, while the upper 14 floors were strengthened. (The towers were eventually filled, after several months. When we returned to live in the north in 1986 after our sojourn in Berkshire, we were horrified to see that the flats were already boarded up and were demolished soon after).

By the time the flats were ready in the summer of that year, Richard had already proposed and so, it was really the three of us who moved in. (Children, I have spared you the “too much information” that might outrage your sensitivities but I have to say that your father and I were rather ahead of our time and lived together, albeit in secret – my family certainly weren’t aware!). I still feel guilty that my friend moved out and found somewhere else to live, just a few months later as we began to plan our wedding.

We planned to marry in December but eventually decided that we would bring it forward to October. There was no reason not to! I had no parents to plan for me and Richard’s family lived at the other end of the country so we got on and planned it and paid for it. We planned it small! Richard was a regular patron of a Chinese restaurant in the centre of town, so we decided to hold it there, although we stuck to English food. The cost was 6/- (30p) a head! I wanted to be married at a church in the parish where I grew up, rather than my new parish, so had to pretend that I was still resident at my aunt’s in Bingley. My dress was bought in a sale in a Bingley dress-shop. That was half price and cost 18 guineas (£18 18s or £18.90p). My library friend’s father, who was a baker, made our cake.

The day before the wedding we were rushing around decorating the church, delivering the cake to the restaurant and collecting our outfits. It was very fraught and, I think, we were both tempted to call the whole thing off! Still, it went ahead on 4 October 1969. My very tall cousin Alan walked me down the aisle (it’s hard to believe that I used to be scared of him when I was a tiny girl and he was just a teenager). My library friend and an old schoolfriend were bridesmaids and Richard’s brother was best man.

We had already planned for a honeymoon in France at Christmas, visiting my friends, so we went to London for a long weekend. We left on an early evening train (no such thing as evening “do’s”). The weather, which had been beautiful on the day, continued warm over the weekend and we wandered around parks and shops, we ate at a Russian restaurant and we went to hear Jose Feliciano.

And that, children, was the real summer of love, as claimed on the invitation to our 30th wedding anniversary party…………….

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