Travels by myself – 5 France

And now for something completely different….

I’ve written about my love of France in my family history blog. I visited there so many times – as a teenager, a newlywed, with my family and, latterly, with just my husband again. I had already been once, by myself, to spend new year with our friends, travelling by Eurostar.

After my trip to Kenya and, egged on by my friend, I planned a trip that would cover most of the summer. I didn’t want to impose myself upon them for the whole of this time so set about looking for somewhere to rent. In the end it was my friend who found a converted barn in the village where they live and the owner was willing to let me have five weeks for the price of four! I’ve been to the village so many times and I knew exactly where my summer home was going to be.

So, after a lot of planning and three trips back into the house. I was on my way with a packed car, heading for the Dover ferry. I allowed myself plenty of time to drive from Yorkshire but I made good progress and had plenty of time for stops. I’ve had sufficient experience of embarking and disembarking, so that was not the worry. It was the moment when, after creeping along behind all the cars from the ferry, they begin to peel off and, all of a sudden you realise that you are on your own! But, thanks to my trusty satnav, I managed to find my way to my hotel.

Next morníng, said satnav guided me down the motorways to my little village in Champagne (the place not the drink). The only problem when driving on your own is having to jump out at the Péage because you’re on the wrong side. It doesn’t endear you to the French drivers queuing up behind you. But I arrived, calm and relaxed and feeling a bit like a 19th Century lady voyager.

I spent a couple of days staying with my friends before moving into my house – just in time for my first visitors. Sure enough, I was due to have a constant stream of family and friends who had decided it would be good to come and see me. And, to be honest, I was really looking forward to it! The pace of the holiday was fairly gentle, with leisurely walks and drives in the countryside and visits to old friends and familiar places but there were a few stand out events and I’ll write about those next time.

Travels with myself – 4 Kenya A Huge Disappointment and a Bit of a Fright!

I don’t quite know what has happened to my desire to write in recent weeks. It may be that I have taken over as chair of governors at my local school and am having to put more time and thought into that. Or that I have been thinking about my next holiday, coming up in February 2020 and have been a bit apprehensive at the thought of setting out on my own again after having the support of family around me in Rome this summer. (I know this isn’t rational because I have been to the tented camp before and they have taken excellent care of me. But I don’t want them to feel that I am a burden – a ‘difficult’ guest because they are afraid I might fall). Or, maybe, my brain is just going into hibernation. Anyway, here goes…..

There’s not really a lot to add really. The early morning and afternoon safaris continued and our patience was eventually rewarded when we saw a lion and lioness away from their pride, ‘courting’ and, another day a lioness and her cub walked across the road just in front of our jeep. At the end, of ten days, the safari holiday came to an end and most of the group went home. Just a few of us travelled down a long and bumpy road to spend a few days at the coast near Mombasa.

We stayed at a pleasant beach resort called ‘Southern Palms’, where we mainly lounged around, walked on the beach, swam in the pool and enjoyed the excellent food and drink. We did, however, have a day out to visit Mombasa. The contours of the coast mean that the easiest way to travel into the city is by ferry. We visited Fort Jesus, built in the 16th century by the Portuguese but subsequently taken over by Arabs, then the British before becoming a national monument and being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. From there we did the usual tourist tour of markets, etc and travelled along Moi Avenue to see the famous tusks which were installed to mark Princess Margaret’s visit in 1952.

Moi Avenue (they’re not real)

On reflection, I’m not sure what I was expecting and I surely can’t have imagined that they were real but I was terribly disappointed by the sight of aluminium plates fastened together by studs! Still, they are very imposing.

The only other happening of note was the great fire! I was woken around 1am by a noise which, at first, I thought was fireworks. I jumped out of bed to look out of the window and it only took a few seconds to realise that there were no fireworks but that the thatched roof of the building opposite ours (another block of bedrooms) was on fire! I rushed out of the room and banged on some of the adjacent doors. People were starting to move and, after throwing some clothes on, I was about to leave with my friends when we realised that everyone else seemed to have taken the time to pack their suitcases. So it was back into our rooms to do the same! The fire spread across the rooftops towards the main reception building, which was was between the two bedroom blocks. The guests all gathered in a grassy area between the two buildings. We had no idea what was going on as far as firefighting was concerned but eventually the flames began to die down. We were served cups of tea by the staff and were reassured that we were quite safe – and so we were!!! I phoned our poor tour manager who was very surprised to be woken at 3am but, to his credit, he drove from his home over an hour away to check on us. As our rooms were undamaged, we were able to go back to bed and, eventually, go back to sleep.

When I got up, breakfast was going on as if nothing had happened. We discussed with our tour manager whether to move. Our rooms were not touched, the pool was available and it looked as if the hotel needed as much support as it could get. Three out of the four of us decided to stay on. And so our time at the Southern Palms drifted slowly to a close. I made it home with my gorgeous wooden birds, which still have a home with me.

After I arrived home, I was watching my local TV station and saw a family talking about the “dreadful fire which left us all in tremendous danger with little help from the hotel staff”. The events they described were not as I remembered but, try as I might, no-one was interested when I phoned the TV station to tell them what had really happened! I shouldn’t have been surprised because, at the hotel, we had all overheard people saying that they would exaggerate and lie about what had happened in order to get something out of the hotel or their holiday company. In truth, the only people who suffered were the hotel employees who were laid off because there was not enough work for them. It left a bad taste in my mouth! I was delighted to receive a lovely bunch of flowers from Saga holidays.

I am now in London with my grandson (aged 15)! Who is looking after whom?

Travels with myself …. and family: Italy Part 2

The following day we walked to the Colosseum via the Victor Emmanuel monument. This monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy also contains the tomb of the unknown soldier. Begun in 1885 the monument wasn’t completed until the time of Mussolini, who added various fascist symbols which were removed at the end of World War II.

The Colosseum is really something to behold. There is huge restoration work being carried out now and, although this acted as something of a distraction, we could still imagine what it would have been like to arrive there as a person or even animal about to appear in the arena or indeed one of the baying crowds who would sit in increasingly precarious positions up the sides of the surrounding amphitheatre, which held 50,000. We imagined that we would be plebs perched near the top of the building a long way away from the arena and without the benefit of today’s TV screens which make sure that everyone can see what’s happening on stage. (That was an uncomfortable thought but we felt that, had we lived in that time, we would have been there).

Yet again we dodged the queue and, after buying our tickets, were directed to a lift which took us up to the upper levels. The view was amazing and you could imagine just how people were caught up in the excitement. At the same time we were horrified at the thought of what they were excited about. Down on the ground floor again there was so much work going on that it was difficult to see the original arena but you could look down to where the animals and the gladiators and the prisoners were kept until they made their way into to the arena. As you leave there is an interesting exhibition which has been put together with artefacts, information sheets, pictures, statues etc.

We set out late the next day and arrived just in time for a picnic lunch in the Piazza del Popolo, on the steps of the Egyptian Obelisk, cooled by the mist blowing from the surrounding fountain. (I thought we Brits were good at stealing artefacts from other countries, but the Romans certainly set us an example! We saw obelisks all over Rome). After lunch, we looked around one of the churches in the square and then retired to a cafe, where we argued as to whether we should take a taxi and ride up the steep incline to the Borghese gardens or whether we should walk. I’m afraid that Yorkshire thrift won over sense and, between them, they pushed me, in the heat, to the top of the hill, where we were relieved to see golf buggies for hire. If only they had been based at the bottom!! We spent a pleasant hour exploring the gardens (the third largest public gardens in Rome) by buggy and made our way to the Villa Borghese, which was commissioned in the 17th Century by Cardinal Scipioni Borghese and is now an art gallery. We had not booked a visit, so we simply admired it from the outside.

I was a little concerned about the j0urney, by wheelchair, back down the steep hill but my son held on to me and we arrived safely back at the piazza. We stopped for a drink on the way ‘home’, where we were treated to a dinner made by my son and his girlfriend. (A benefit of ‘home’ being outside a tourist area was that we were surrounded by little supermarkets.

Friday was going to be spent looking at antique shops but most were closed and their owners seemed to have disappeared for the summer. So instead of having a purpose today we mostly just meandered the streets and enjoyed taking in the beautiful buildings which kept surprising us around every corner. At the beginning of our meanderings we booked tickets for a concert advertised as three tenors and a soprano, so we eventually returned to our apartment to get changed for our great evening out. While we were waiting for the concert venue to open, someone came out and expressed the concern that I would not be able to to park my wheelchair in the aisle, so would I mind sitting at the back? (Yes! Another free ticket). We were a little surprised but pointed out that I could walk a short distance in order to sit alongside the other members of the family. When we went inside, we discovered that we were in a fairly small church, at least it seems small compared to the enormous churches we had been in throughout the week. Not only was the church small, the audience for small too. And not only was the audience small but the ensemble of entertainers had shrunk to one tenor, a soprano and and a string quartet. Nevertheless we enjoyed the concert of everyone’s favorites including: “Nessun dorma”, “La donna e mobile”, “O mia babbino caro” and “O sole mio”. Afterwards we had a lovely meal and on the way back discovered the exquisite Chiesa del Gesù, a church dedicated to St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, just in time to view it before it closed.

Our final full day found us meandering again and revisiting some of our favourite sites from earlier in the week, including the Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. On Sunday we packed and endeavored to eat up the food mountain which we still had in the fridge. We walked along the road for a coffee and a snack (arancini, the favourite of, Sicilian detective Inspector Montalbano). It was just starting to rain when my son noticed our transport arriving and we had to hurry back. By the time all the luggage was loaded we were in the middle of an absolute downpour! Once again I was help through the airport by the wonderful assistance team and delivered into the aircraft via an amazing mobile lift system. After the short flight home we caught the bus back to the car park and thanks to my my foresight in writing down the exact space where the car was located, we got off at the right stop and were heading back to south London.

We spent the next day, in temperatures matching those in Rome, enjoying the garden which my son and his girlfriend have been working on all summer. There were no direct trains on the east coast due to to major engineering works taking place over the bank holiday weekend so I travelled home on Tuesday.

I loved my first visit to Rome. I loved all all the historic sites we visited and the beautiful buildings, churches, squares and idiosyncrasies of the city. I loved being with other people for a change especially as I have not been on holiday with my son since he was a teenager (he’s 40 now). I’m especially grateful to him for suggesting that we could go on holiday. After falling and badly breaking my arm earlier in the year, I had cancelled the solo holiday I had booked many months before and wasn’t expecting to have a holiday at all this year. My holidays are usually planned months in advance and doing something last minute, if you can call 3 months last minute, is not something that I would usually contemplate. So thank you, Jonny, if you are reading this!

And now, full of renewed confidence, I have already booked a holiday on my own for next year!

Here are some fairly random photos. As I explained last time, I didn’t take many photos myself, so I thank my son for these. Not sure where they all are (except for the Colosseum obviously) but they are different from last time!

Travels with myself …. and family: Italy Part 1

The last couple of weeks I’ve not been thinking about Kenya because I have been in Rome, with my son, his girlfriend and her parents.

We met there on a Sunday, my son and I travelling from London, his girlfriend from a singing festival in Slovenia and her parents from a holiday with some of their other children.  My son and his girlfriend are big fans of AirBnBs and they came up trumps again with a lovely large apartment which was remarkably close to many of the places that I, as a first-timer, wanted to see.

Our first evening stroll found us visiting the Castel Sant Angelo (which I thought was quite reminiscent of Broadcasting House) and then the Piazza Navonna. It was busy – but not overcrowded – with people strolling in the more comfortable evening temperature. (In fact everyone else strolled, except me, as my son was sensible enough to hire a wheelchair for the week for me). We had a pleasant meal at a pavement restaurant and retired for the night exhausted from our travels.

The following day it was decided that we would visit Vatican City, only twenty minutes or so from our base. We began with a visit to the Vatican Museum. The whole party was astonished as, with the wheelchair at the helm, we were ushered past long queues which were barely moving. Once inside, I and my “carer” were given a free pass and we were treated with great kindness throughout our visit. There was such an enormous variety of art on display, including roman and greek statues, centuries of sacred paintings, hangings, paintings, liturgical objects and vestments. Then, of course, the buildings themselves, which are so beautiful.

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I had been warned that queues to the Sistine Chapel would be nigh on impossible but, once again, we dodged them as we were routed in totally the opposite direction to the crowds, evenutally entering via the exit! Once inside we were left to view the ceiling in peace (no photos allowed unfortunately). Finally we made our way to St Peter’s Square and when we had taken this in we just made it into the Basilica. The beautiful sculptures took our breath away.

Having been out all day we stopped on the way home to eat at another pavement restaurant. So many to choose from!!

Tuesday was another day of discovery. Our first visit was to the Pantheon. In my ignorance, I was not aware that behind the imposing facade is a beautiful and functioning church. We were treated to a group of priests singing plainsong, which reminded me of my time at school. From there we headed for the Trevi Fountain via a break in a small square for a light lunch. It was the beautiful but it was difficult to get close. The fountain was also guarded by whistle-blowing officials to prevent any suggestion of a repeat of the paddling scene from “La Dolce Vita” or that anyone was helping themselves to the coins. I’ve read that about €3000 a day is now collected from the fountain and given to charity. We arrived bottom of the Spanish Steps and looked up at the Trinità dei Monti. There was no suggestion by any of the party that they would attempt to climb the Steps. Instead we rested at the bottom to take in the sights, including the Keats and Shelley House.  Keats spent the last days of his life staying there and it’s now a museum.





















That evening we walked up to a restaurant near our apartment. We were treated to some delicious food, none of which was what we had intended to order. We each found ourselves eating something quite different, suggested by our waiter!

I have to admit that almost none of the photos of Rome are my own.  I was too low down in my wheelchair and so they were taken by my son.  Consequently, I don’t remember where some of them were taken.  But I do know that the top three are from the Vatican Museum (where there is a caste of The Pietà) and the bottom two are at the Trevi Fountain (where we returned later in the week after dark).




Travels with myself – 4 Kenya

2nd June 2007
A grand day out! We left Voi and drove back towards Nairobi before turning left into Tsavo West National Park. The scenery is quite different from Tsavo East, with mountains, valleys and vast plains. Eventually we had a fantastic view of Mount Kilimanjaro rising out of the clouds with snow on the top (Sadly the photo doesn’t do it justice).


After a long drive through the Park we arrived at Mzima Springs.  The source of the water flowing into the Springs is in mountains to the north and it flows underground for about 50kms before emerging at this waterhole.  As the water flows away from the springs it is collected in pipes in order to provide Mombasa and east coast towns with fresh water.

















I also climbed down into a viewing chamber built into the river bank. I watched fishes swim by, but was somewhat disappointed that the hippos had cancelled their “Dance of the Hours” performance. Afterwards we drove off to a local lodge for lunch. It was on high ground and had a fantastic view across a huge valley. The long drive back took us through a rhino sanctuary within the park. The 36 rhinos were free to wander across hundreds of square kilometres, so it was no surprise that we didn’t see a single one! In fact it was rather lucky as I was asleep for most of the drive home.

3rd June 2007
It was a grey and cloudy morning when we set off to visit Lugard’s Falls, which is still inside Tsavo East.  It rained on and off all the time and most animals were staying well under cover.  The falls were formed when the Galana river was forced through volcanic rock, carving a path narrower than its own width and creating a number of waterfalls.  The patterns in the volcanic rock were fascinating.




















Below the Falls, where the river widens again, we saw hippos bathing and a large number of crocodiles, which shot into the river all together.  We could see more crocodiles lying on a rock, eating what appeared to be a buffalo carcase.  As we drove back, the rain poured down but our driver, always on the lookout for wildlife, spotted two lions with black tipped ears a fair distance from the road.  We watched them for some time and were joined by other jeeps until, eventually, someone realised that these were not lions but termite mounds!!  Our poor driver was teased mercilessly by his colleagues.

In the afternoon we had a talk from the Assistant Head of the Kenya Wildlife Service. He spoke about a new programme of funding which would be used to protect wildlife.  Also, he spoke of the Kenyan government’s fight to persuade Botswana and South Africa from legalising the sale of ivory in order to control their elephant population, while Kenya was still struggling to build its own.  In fact, in 2007 Kenya called for a 20 year moratorium on ivory sales.  Just this year (2019), some southern African countries have been trying to get the ban lifted.  At the same time it is estimated that about 30,000 – 38,000 elephants are killed illegally each year across Africa.



Elephants visited “our” waterhole each evening


Travels with myself – 4 Kenya

31st May 2007 – 1st June 2007
There is no time for a sleep in when you go on a game drive holiday! Animals are at their busiest from first light until mid-morning when the heat drives most of them to find shelter. So, by 6:30 we were on our way into the park.  Tsavo East is one of the oldest and largest parks in Kenya at 13,747 square kilometres. It opened in April 1948 (nearly as old as me!).  The buses had their side flaps rolled up and the roof rolled back (although we were told not to stand up with our heads out of the roof unless given permission by the driver).  As in all places of potential danger, the driver’s voice was law!

On that first visit; on my first visit to a really wild place, I was amazed by just how many different animals we saw.  There were dik-dik, gerenuk, giraffe, impala, waterbuck and a pride of lions! A herd of elephants crossed the road just behind us and, although we stopped to gaze in awe, our driver had to keep his eye on the matriarch because she was very nervous and flapping her ears. We arrived back around 8:30 and then it was off into the bush for our breakfast, which seemed very exciting. I made my first visit to the pool and the water was perishing! During lunch we were visited by a herd of elephants which came down very close to the waterhole. After another spell by the pool it was time for the afternoon game drive from 4pm until dusk at around 6:30. There were more new animals this time – buffalo, zebra, ostrich, mongooses (who were living in a pile of stones near the road), warthog, hartebeast and elland. On arriving back I noticed the waterhole was again being visited by a huge herd of elephants.

On the red, red road 

Nervous mother, nervous passengers!


























What I didn’t know at the time I’m but I’ve learnt since because I’m such a passionate viewer of nature programmes, is that the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully reintegrated over 100 orphaned elephants, raised at their centre in Nairobi, back into the wild herds of Tsavo National Park. More than 25 calves have been born to orphaned elephants which are now living back in the wild.

And this was the pattern of the days when we stayed close to Tsavo East. Sometimes we saw lots of animals, sometimes not so many. They don’t come out to order! I filled the time between the game drives with visits to the pool, reading or going for a massage which was very cheap (about £5) and very good!


Impala, which are sometimes known (rather unkindly, though for obvious reasons), as “nature’s McDonalds”!

Travels with myself – 4 Kenya

28th – 30th May 2007
We were lucky enough to already have a television in 1954 when Zoo Quest with David Attenborough arrived on our screens. From the start I was a fan and, as I grew up, I began to dream of being his assistant and going on his travels with him. I think I was a little bit in love with him. But in those days I would have had to be a very determined girl to make that come true and perhaps I wasn’t very determined. Still, I never gave up on the dream to travel and in 2007 I was on my way to one of the places that I had visited many times by way of the nature programmes I’ve watched over the years.

There’s something to be said for setting off on a Monday. My work was finished, I had a clean house and I was packed in plenty of time. The flight was without incident, other than seeing Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in Casino Royale.

We landed in Nairobi early in the morning but, by the time we left Jomo Kenyatta airport, the rush hour was in full swing and we had a very slow journey to the Jacaranda Hotel. Our first view of wildlife were the marabou storks perching on the trees by the roadside. Our tour manager said that we could go on two trips that day but I was so tired that I decided to go to bed instead. I always regret that I missed a visit to the famous David Sheldrick elephant orphanage. It wasn’t quite as famous as it is now and I didn’t really know what I was missing. In the afternoon I went to the Karen Blixen Museum which is situated in the house where she used to live. It’s not a big museum but it contains a lot of the original furniture and pictures together with some items from the set of “Out of Africa”. The house is set in beautiful grounds which cover many acres.


After tour of the house we were taken to a nearby giraffe conservation and breeding centre. There were giraffes there of different ages and they were all very friendly. You can feed them and they carefully take the food from your hands with their soft, gentle tongues. Back at the hotel we spent the evening getting to know each other.



This was another Saga holiday (my third) and was my first and only singles holiday specifically for people who travelled alone. There were fourteen of us altogether, twelve women and just two men. I’ve never had any problems finding people to chat to or or share a seat with on the coach, so I’m not sure why I chose this particular holiday. Perhaps it was just going at the right time.

We were woken up next morning at 6:00 ready to get on our way for 7:30. We were spread between three minibuses which we were going to use all week for our game drives. We were on our way to a game lodge in a small town called Voi, on the edge of Tsavo East National Park. It took 7 hours to drive there. Some of the roads were horrendous and bumpy but we eventually reached a stretch of new road running between the Tsavo West and Tsavo East national parks. Here we saw zebra feeding near the roadside and a troop of baboons.

When we arrived at the game lodge, we were met by dancers and given a cooling, fruit drink. After lunch it was pouring with rain! The evening passed with a “welcome cocktail party”, while we sat above the waterhole, which was reached by a pier built from the lodge’s main building. We only saw birds that night, although we were to have many much larger visitors on other evenings.

Those who can, teach – 3

I remember my aunt telling me a story aabout someone in my family who saw Charlotte Brontë walking to church on her wedding day. I had spoken about it with my cousin, while we were doing the family research together and we were never sure whether we should believe it. But now we know that it was at least possible.

My great grandmother, Sybil, was a schoolmistress at the National School in Haworth in 1854, the year that Charlotte was married to Arthur Bell Nicholls. The school was started by Charlotte’s father Rev Patrick Brontë and subsequently overseen by the Rev Nicholls.

James was appointed Headmaster by Rev Nicholls in 1855. Sadly, by the time he arrived Charlotte had already died of hyperemsis gravidurum (extreme sickness during pregnancy).

We don’t yet know whether James and Sybil came to this school straight from their training colleges or if either of them had a spell teaching elsewhere. They were both listed in the 1857 Post Office directory of Haworth. Sybil was still listed by her maiden name, although they did marry during that year. Anyway, during the space between the 1851 and the 1861 census they had both arrived in Haworth married and moved on.

We’re trying to fill in some gaps with the help of the Brontë Society and another small charity which looks after the old school room. James went on to have a long career teaching in schools around Bradford and I am going to research that at the City Archives and Central Library.

After that short return to the family story, it’s time for more travels. Finally, at the age of 60, I was heading off to do something that had been my dream for over 50 years!