Wetwang Welcomes Careful Drivers!

Good morning! Hope you’ve all had a great week. Mine has been uneventful apart from commencing work on re-editing and formatting Erinsmore and having to go to the hospital for a blood test. Although, that was a little bit traumatic. Despite stabbing both my arms multiple times it proved impossible to get any blood out of me – think I must be dead – so they had to take it from my hand, which was uncomfortable and has caused my hand to swell and bruise rather nastily. Treated myself afterwards to a frothy coffee and an enormous butterscotch and pecan Danish pastry for being ever such a brave girl.

So, last week, where did I leave you? Oh yes, I was falling asleep on the first night in our holiday cottage up in Yorkshire, listening to the rain hammering down on the skylight and hoping things would get better and that it would at least stop raining. Well, when I awoke next morning after sleeping like the dead – I was in my old bed after all – (anyone who didn’t read last week’s blog might want to pop back and quickly do so, it’s okay, I’ll wait) – and because I’d had a reasonably early night after the journey from hell to reach our destination – when a three-hour journey takes nine hours it takes a toll on you – I woke up early at 6:30am feeling rested and refreshed.

We had planned to go to nearby Castle Howard for the day, but when I opened my eyes the rain was still pounding down and sounded set to last, so I hastily rearranged plans in my head. I’m one of those people whom when I’m awake, I’m awake, and can’t lay in bed doing nothing. I thought about reading for a bit, but was itching to be up and doing stuff, and I was desperate for a cup of tea, so I quietly got up, washed and dressed. Trying to not make any noise in an echoey, open-plan cottage was a bit tricky, and I soon heard Miss F moving about as I was trying to get out a mug and put the kettle on without waking her.

Deciding she was also wide awake and famished, an early breakfast seemed in order and then we’d plan what to do with our first day. Nothing else would do but a full English, so I set the bacon to grill and went to put hash browns in the oven. No baking trays, not one. Putting them on a Pyrex lasagne dish, I noticed there seemed a dearth of cooking equipment full stop, and not even being able to find a frying pan, we had to have our eggs poached instead of fried. Hmm, bit of a nuisance.

The rain was still belting down, so we donned our waterproof jackets and stout shoes and drove the five minutes down the road to the park and ride carpark for York. Now, I love park and ride. If you’re going into a large city for a look around, lunch and maybe a light bit of shopping, then why would you try to drive in, find a parking space and pay an outrageous amount for the privilege. No, park and ride all the way. Only costing us £3.50 to park our car for the day and pay for bus fares for us both into the city centre and back seemed an absolute bargain.

I know York very well. I’ve been there countless times and in fact the last holiday Miss F and I had had was five years previous when we’d rented a house in the heart of the city and spent the whole week exploring everything York has to offer, which is a lot. So, when the bus dropped us off, I knew exactly where we were and how to get to where we wanted to go. It was still early, only 9:00am and we were the first people into the Castle Museum. If you ever get a chance to go to York, I can’t recommend paying the Castle Museum a visit highly enough. It offers amazing value for money, bear in mind this was five years ago but it only cost £10 for us both, plus I’d made sure I had a good supply of 10p pieces as there are a variety of wonderful old slot machines. For a mere 10p you can watch the last rites of a convicted prisoner standing on the gallows, then the wonderful moment when the trapdoor opens beneath his feet and he hangs over the gap to an accompanying mournful bell. Deliciously ghoulish.

The Castle Museum is a museum about people and life. There are room sets showing you the living space of a family in Tudor times, Regency England, Victorian times, the time of the Coronation of Elizabeth II and a cosy looking crofter’s cottage. There are exhibits about household appliances through the ages, the history of birth, death and marriage, familiar products and medicines. Childhood toys through the ages, clothing, employment and leisure facilities. All crammed together in an eclectic and mind-blowing random assortment, it is fascinating and fun, and the absolute best way to spend the first day of a rain-soaked holiday.

There is even a reconstructed Victorian street in the heart of the museum, complete with a stuffed horse pulling a hansom cab. There are old shops you can go into, and there was a workshop going on in the old sweetshop. We had a go at making peppermint creams which we were able to take away with us, yum. Wandering around the street, taking our time, peering into all the windows, the museum was beginning to fill up a bit and we no longer had the place to ourselves.

A gentleman in authentic Victorian working man clothes approached us and asked if Miss F would care to be a temporary rat catcher. He had been paid by the city to catch rats, he explained, and if she would help him, she would get three gold coins for every rat she found. As the gold coins were of course chocolate ones, she eagerly agreed to help and dragged me off to look for rats. A frustrating ten minutes later she was in despair, when I suggested checking out the rather scary looking public conveniences, because if rats were going to be found anywhere, it was there. Scrabbling around in the dark corners, she gave a crow of triumph and pulled out a fine looking, big black rubber rat and we went to look for the rat catcher so she could collect her reward.

Afterwards, we wandered out to visit the reconstructed eighteenth century mill they have in the grounds of the museum, and discovered it had stopped raining, the sun had come out and it was showing promise of being a nice day. We sat down on a bench in the sun so Miss F could eat her wages. She looked at the empty wrappers.

“I wish I’d kept the rat now,” she murmured. “He was a very nice rat.”

When we finally left the museum at almost three in the afternoon – nearly six hours entertainment for £10, what value for money! – we agreed we weren’t hungry, just peckish. A French patisserie close to the museum seemed perfect, and Miss F was soon happily consuming a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of cake the size of her head, whilst I contented myself with a big frothy coffee and a cheese scone.

The streets had dried up, it was a lovely afternoon, so we walked off our treats and looked in the windows, taking our time and enjoying not having to be anywhere or do anything. We did a little shopping, some treats we fancied and a couple of things I’d forgotten to bring, then wandered back to the bus stop. There was an Argos store opposite and I took the opportunity to buy a frying pan and baking tray, to use whilst in the cottage and to take home with us because we did need new ones.

Then we caught the park and ride home. Back at the cottage, we opened the backdoor to let the evening in and Miss F went to the fence to say hello to the sheep that were mooching about in the field at the bottom of the garden. I heard her chattering away and assumed she was talking to the sheep, then suddenly there was a little girl at the back door with her asking if Miss F could go and swim in their pool, followed swiftly by the owner of the cottage who’d been looking out for us to return so she come and enquire about our journey and check we’d settled in okay. Confirming that they did indeed have a pool and Miss F was welcome to come and play in it with her own children, Miss F dashed off to get into her swimming costume and I made coffee for us.

The owner was lovely, very open and friendly. As we drank, I unpacked the day’s purchases to put away and she looked surprised when she saw the frying pan and baking tray. Explaining that I hadn’t been able to find either that morning, it was my turn to be surprised when she showed me a “secret” drawer at the base of the cooker filled with every type of cooking tin, tray and pan I could ever need. Boy, did I feel stupid.

She left, I prepped dinner, then poured myself a glass of wine and settled down in the small garden with a book to enjoy the evening and wait for Miss F to come home. Birds twittered in the blue sky above, the sheep looked at me and chatted amongst themselves, the sun was warm on my face, my wine was very cold and very crisp, and the book was interesting. What more could anyone want?

We ate dinner, watched TV and played some games, then Miss F went to bed and I watched a film on TV – with the sound off and the subtitles on, of course – although I kept nodding off and missing bits. And that was the first day.

Beautiful Castle Howard

The next day dawned gloriously sunny with a wonderful blue sky and the promise of a fine, summer day. We had breakfast and I packed us a picnic. We were off to Castle Howard. A mere ten-minute drive away, Castle Howard is one of the largest stately homes in Britain and is absolutely beautiful. Set in acres of garden and parkland, with lakes and water features, there is enough to keep you busy for a whole day, which is why I packed a picnic. If it looks familiar, it’s because it’s where the TV drama “Brideshead Revisited” was filmed in the late eighties, and as we drove down the long driveway and the house came into view I kept humming the theme music, until Miss F threatened to stay in the car if I didn’t stop.

How about this for a garden shed?

We spent a whole wonderful day there. Luckily, Miss F and I like doing the same things and exploring old and historical places always makes us happy. We found a wonderful space under a tree by the river to eat our picnic and walked miles around the parkland, before driving home in the late afternoon to find a little girl sitting on our doorstep waiting for Miss F to come and play.

Giving her permission to go and have fun with her new friend, I unpacked the car and tidied away our picnic stuff, wondering what to do about dinner, when suddenly Miss F was back with an invitation from the owner and her family to go over for a barbecue. What a lovely surprise that was. I took over some wine, and spent a very pleasant and chill evening, eating and drinking and chatting with the family and their lovely friends, whilst Miss F ran about with a hoard of children and dogs and had a marvellous time. And that was our second day.

Monday dawned, and the weather was not quite so hot but still nice, so we decided to do a proper beach day and drove to nearby Scarborough. Again, park and ride, because why not? When you’re a stranger to an area it makes sense instead of trying to find somewhere to park and getting stressed out about it. Scarborough is a lovely, traditional British seaside resort famous for its waffles. I hadn’t brought a picnic as I didn’t want to carry it around with me and I knew there’d be plenty of food there for us to forage on.

There was Punch & Judy on the beach, which we watched while eating massive Mr Whippy ice creams with a chocolate flake of course. There were donkey rides and Miss F begged for a go. Even at only 12 she was a tall girl and her feet practically dragged on the sand. I felt sorry for the donkey.

We walked with out feet in the ocean, dangling our shoes by their laces, then had to sit in the sun until our feet had dried and try to brush all the sand off from between our toes. We ate seafood on the seafront and had a portion of chips between us, hot and squishy, with lots of salt and enough vinegar that it formed a puddle in the bottom of the tray. We walked all the way along the front, then turned around and walked all the way back. We ate candy floss, well, Miss F did, I can only ever abide a taste of it as it’s so sweet. Bit like sugar infused loft insulation. The seagulls wheeled and cried overhead, and music pumped from every arcade. Tempted into one by the bright lights and ringing bells, I changed some money and we played on the Tuppence Shove, rolling our 2ps down the slots to try and knock down the big piles teetering on the edge.

Finally emerging the losers, we found during the hour we’d been in there that the skies had clouded over and it was getting dark. Only dressed in light, beach clothing we shivered and even though it was only 3pm I made the executive decision to start heading for home. We still had a way to walk back to the park and ride, then had to wait for a bus, and then it would be almost an hour’s drive back to the cottage. It got colder and colder, Miss F was shivering in shorts and a thin t-shirt, so I wrapped my jacket around her, and we practically ran the last bit, reaching the bus stop just as a bus pulled in.

Safely back in the car, I was indicating to turn out of the carpark when the heavens opened. Monsoon season again, the wipers were working overtime and the car steaming up as I desperately turned the heating up on the windscreen full blast to try and clear the condensation.

Back home, Miss F went off to have a shower and get changed whilst I made us dinner, then we settled down to another evening of TV and games as the rain once again lashed down outside. And that was the third day.

Next day the weather had turned foul. The sky was black and heavy, dense rain was pounding down. A day trip anywhere was out of the question, so we once again pulled on warm clothing, sensible shoes, waterproof jackets and caught the park and ride into York. I’d exchanged some Tesco loyalty shopping vouchers into tickets for the Jorvik Viking Centre in the centre of York, and a cold, rainy day seemed the perfect time to use them. It was early, and luckily the queue for it wasn’t too long and was still under the protective awning. I have seen the queue snake all the way around the building and back again and had warned Miss F if it was that long we’d have to go and do something else. After a ten-minute wait we were in.

Remember how I told you what good value the Castle Museum is – £10 for six hours entertainment. Well, the Jorvik Viking Centre isn’t. Over £30 for the two of us to get in – thank heavens for Tesco vouchers, and we were in there for about 90 minutes. Yes, it’s interesting, and the highlight of the experience is climbing into these mechanised carts which then take you back in time to a reconstructed Viking street, complete with waxworks inhabitants, sounds and even smells. Ahh, the heady aroma of an eighth century latrine pit, lovely. But that only takes about twenty minutes and even with taking our time over every exhibit and looking at everything, it was still only coming up for eleven when we emerged into a cold, dark day. The streets were flooded, the rain was hammering down in Biblical proportions. Any moment I expected to see an ark go floating by. It really was horrible, and all around were miserable and soaked tourists, not dressed adequately and shivering in the cold.

I’d also swapped some Tesco vouchers for meal vouchers to use in Bella Italia restaurants, and deciding an early lunch was in order, we splashed off to find one. Despite being early, when we found it there were hardly any tables left but being only two of us the stressed looking waitress squeezed us in on a little table in the corner by the front window. So, we could watch the rain pound down and drenched people hurrying by clutching their umbrellas.

We were both hungry and I’d exchanged lots of vouchers as this was to be our main treat meal of the week. Miss F chose a big burger with all the works and I went for a steak and all the trimmings, requesting it be rare, as rare as possible.

We waited a long time for our food, they seemed to be short staffed and the whole restaurant by now was crammed to capacity. When our food came, Miss F’s looked delicious, but my steak was the colour and consistency of an old shoe. I poked at it. Miss F looked horrified.

“That steak looks horrible, mummy.”

“Yeah, it does look a bit tough, they’ve overcooked it.”

“Are you going to complain? Get them to make you another one.”

I looked around the restaurant. Our waitress was currently being given a hard time by a group of four people who’d walked in and wouldn’t believe that she couldn’t just “squeeze them in somewhere”. She seemed to be the only waitress on duty, and other tables were demanding the poor woman’s attention. Everyone’s tempers fraying due to the bad weather.

“No, it’s fine,” I decided. “I’ll just eat what I can.”

I ate everything else on the plate. The fries were good, as were the mushrooms, onions rings, grilled tomato and salad. It was just the steak I couldn’t eat. So tough I couldn’t even cut a piece off, I gave up on it. Miss F couldn’t finish all her chips and peas, so I helped her out.

When the waitress eventually came back to collect our plates, she looked at the abandoned steak, curled up on the plate like an old flipflop that had been left too long in the sun.

“Oh, your steak.”

“Yeah, sorry, I tried but I couldn’t even cut it, let alone eat it.”

“You ordered it rare, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

She poked at the steak and pulled a face.

“That doesn’t look very rare, more cremated. Why on earth didn’t you send it back? We’d have done you another one.”

I shrugged. “You looked like you had enough on your plate, and it’s fine. I ate everything else, so I’ve had enough to eat.”

“We’ve got two chefs and three waitresses off with this wretched flu thing that’s doing the rounds, so things are a bit crazy in here today,” she admitted, and cleared our table and went to get the bill, taking my vouchers with her.

When she came back, I was stunned to find she’d only charged me for our drinks – both our meals not appearing on the bill.

“You were so nice about it,” she said, handing our vouchers back to me. “Not many people would have been so understanding, so thank you. At least now you can have another meal with your vouchers.”

It just goes to show, sometimes having a little patience and empathy for the other side of the picture, can reap its own rewards. Although, I did leave a bigger tip than I intended.

It was only 2pm but it was as black as pitch outside. The temperature had dropped drastically, and the streets were flooded with running streams of water. We decided to go home. Once back in the cottage, we changed out of our wet things and I lit the wood burner and the candles that were dotted about. Miss F found Lord of the Rings on Sky movies and we settled down in our cosy haven with the sound of the rain lashing down outside and the comforting pop and crackle of the fire inside. Not being very hungry, we snacked it for dinner and watched movies until it was time to go to bed. And that was the fourth day.

Next day I’m happy to say with the typical capriciousness of the British weather all the nasty rain had gone, the sky was once again blue, and the temperature had risen – promising a balmy summer day. In the cottage were several leaflets about local places of interest and we’d picked out a Tudor manor house called Burton Agnes to explore. Once again, I packed a picnic and we set out in high spirits to see what adventures awaited. It was about a 45-minute drive and on the way, we drove through some beautiful countryside and villages, including Stamford Bridge, which given our love of history we found very interesting. For those of you unfamiliar with British history, Stamford Bridge is where the Vikings invaded in 1066, aided and abetted by the king’s brother who believed he should be on the throne and not his brother Harold. King Harold had to march his men all the way up to Stamford Bridge, where he thrashed his treacherous brother’s arse in a major battle. His men were exhausted, but when the shock news came that the Normans had invaded all the way down on the South coast, Harold had no choice but to march his battle knackered men all the way back down and throw them immediately into battle against William the Bastard of Normandy.

Of course, Harold lost, but it does make you wonder. If his brother and the Vikings hadn’t invaded or hadn’t chose that particular time to invade. Harold and his men would have been fresh and ready for their battle against the Normans at Hastings and they probably would have won. The Norman conquest of 1066 would never have happened, and Britain would have stayed under Anglo-Saxon rule. Everything would have been different. Makes you think, doesn’t it, how the fate of millions can rest on the decision of one man.

We drove on, enjoying our journey, but as we left one village, I happened to notice the village sign.

“What was that? What was this village called?”

“Wetwang, mummy. It’s called Wetwang.”

I nearly drove the car off the road. What a brilliant name. Of course, technically it’s not rude, but it really sounds like it should be.

We reached Burton Agnes and parked the car. A beautiful Tudor manor house set in acres of quirky gardens and woodlands, there was a giant chess board and other games to play in the grounds. The house was interesting and there were woodlands to wander around with lots of interesting wooden sculptures on display by a local artist, including a whole family of wooden owls of varying sizes peering out of the branches of a tree.

Lovely Burton Agnes

There was a pretty water feature with some unusual modern artwork in the middle of it, and an ancient apple orchard with picnic benches where we sat and ate lunch. A lovely little gift shop was worth a poke about and we bought presents for grandparents and some homemade sweets for us. And that was the fifth day.

Next day was our last day, so we set off early for the hour-long drive to the coastal town of Whitby. The drive was magnificent through the purple heather moors and my little Nissan became like the little engine who could as we chuffed our way up one steep hill – with Miss F threatening to get out and push – flew down the other side, and then did it all over again.

Again, park and ride, and we arrived in Whitby just as the town was opening up to visitors. We poked about the old shops and found a second-hand book shop where we spent some time and pennies. We clambered up the hill to the abbey and admired the view, before coming all the way back down again. We wandered down to the harbour and saw a boat advertising trips around the harbour. Miss F wanted to do it, so we did, and a pleasant hour was spent cruising around the headland. Landing back at the harbour, we both realised we were starving and that a decision had to be made. Have an ice cream and a late lunch or admit defeat and find somewhere nice for lunch now, even though it was only 11am.

Lunch now, we decided, and headed back to a quirky looking café we’d seen called The Magpie that offered a great looking seafood menu. Not realising how popular it is and what a tourist attraction it is, we slipped in because it was only 11am and there were only two of us so we could be squeezed into a little table in the corner of the window. I was surprised how full it was already, then turned my attention to the ten-page menu – all fish and seafood and all looking fantastic – while the friendly waitress went to get our drinks.

“Look, mummy,” Miss F hissed. “Look outside.”

I looked outside. A queue a good ten-foot long was now stretching away from the front door of people eager to get in for lunch. I looked around the packed restaurant, “good luck” I thought smugly and sipped at the one glass of wine I was allowing myself – after all, it was our last day, I’d be eating a lot and not driving for a good few hours – and carried on perusing the menu.

If ever you find yourself in Whitby and you like fish and seafood, I can’t recommend the Magpie enough. Unpretentious, friendly and reasonably priced. It’s all about the food, and the fish is fresh, as locally sourced as possible and beautifully cooked. But go early or be prepared to wait.

After our wonderful long lunch, we mooched about a bit, then headed back to the park and ride, mindful of the hour drive back and the fact we had to pack and clear the whole cottage that evening. I was also painfully aware we were facing that drive home in the morning, and I will be honest, I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Nine hours to get here. How many was it going to take to get home?

Back at the cottage, we set to together and sorted and packed as much as we could into the car ready for the morning. Not very hungry after our mega lunch, we finished off all the snacky things we had left, leaving ourselves exactly what we needed for breakfast. One last film on Sky movies, and then we both turned in for an early night. And that was the sixth and last day.

Next morning it was fine and dry, not too hot and not too cold. Relieved at all the packing we’d done the night before, we had breakfast, did a last trawl through the cottage to make sure nothing had been forgotten – I’m a sod for forgetting charging wires – and we were on the road by 8:30am, leaving a nice bottle of wine, some chocolates and a warmly worded thank you card on the kitchen table for the lovely owners who’d made us feel so welcome.

It was an amazing drive home. The roads were clear, and we hit Bury St Edmunds just after eleven, unable to believe how different it had been to our hellish journey up. We’d had a wonderful holiday. Maybe to some my reports of bad weather and freakish rainstorms sound nightmarish, but we dealt with them and found things to amuse us and simply being together and not having to rush or obey strict routines made it a real break. Having the time to wander about and play games, and even just watch films by a roaring fire and candlelight was a treat.

When I consider how little the holiday costs me – the accommodation was free, I used about £50 worth of petrol during the whole week, Tesco vouchers paid for entry to the Jorvik Viking Centre and our meal in Bella Italia ( and we actually brought those home with us again). Yes, we paid for entry to Castle Howard and Burton Agnes – but Miss F was still a child, so it wasn’t too bad and provided us with two days-worth of entertainment. And yes, we spent money on food, but we would have had to eat at home anyway and I brought most of it with us. By taking picnics where we could and restricting buying food and drink out, we saved money, and I still had £200 left over from the sale of my bed which paid for everything.

We both have wonderful memories from that holiday, and still talk about it fondly, and that is the mark of a truly superb vacation.

Hope you’ve enjoyed going on holiday with us, and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Julia Blake

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