Bits & Bobs ……

We have been at home since we returned from the cruise in the Caribbean and time seems to have flown by awfully quickly! We are now heading back to the boat and Belgium.

Thought I’d give a little update of what we’ve been doing back at the ranch….

Last year I mentioned the House Martins that obviously enjoy visiting the buildings at the Mill – they return each year to nest and rear their young. I love to see them swooping in and around the place but they sure make a mess! Some of our number decided enough was enough this year and brought in the heavy mob to fit wires along the eaves to deter the birds from building their nests. Others did not wish to deter them given that we live in the country.

I decided on a low key approach….. meet Olly…. and me dangly discs ….. apparently the RSPB suggest strategically placed sparkly Christmas decorations!

The proof of the pudding will be in the renewal of the nests …. or not!

Adrian and I visited Lisa and Freddie in Lincoln and went to visit the newly opened Bomber Command museum which was interesting and in keeping with our visit to Ypres last December. For anyone visiting Lincoln, especially with kids, it is certainly worth a look.


We also then made our annual trip to Southwold to polish Tom’s plaque on the pier – unfortunately Tom’s dear friend Pat was unable to accompany us as he is none too well. We took the opportunity to visit Lavenham in Suffolk en route – really super medieval town which grew rich through weaving in the 15th & 16th centuries. There are many beautiful old beamed buildings, not least of which is the Guildhall, which now houses the town museum.


We stayed in the Swan hotel with its superb beamed dining room!


We had a quiet but very wet Easter – I think the river came up higher than Adrian has ever seen it before! Can really be beautiful to look out over the water meadow behind the houses and see gulls, geese, swans and ducks enjoying the additional water feature. The decrease in road traffic also makes for a peaceful few days! Many ignore the road closure signs and we have had several water logged vehicles left in our car park over the years. Not this year I’m glad to say.


If you ever go to Southwold look out for Tom’s plaque on the pier …..


Cruising the Caribbean

We returned home on 15th January – just time to get the washing done and the cases packed before flying off to the sunshine of the Caribbean to cruise the Windward islands on a tall ship!


The Royal Clipper is a steel-hulled five-masted fully rigged tall ship used as a cruise ship. She was designed by Polish naval architect Zygmunt Choreń, for Star Clippers Ltd. of Sweden.

Length135 m     Weight5,000 tons   

Capacity227 passengers (Max)  Crew106

Royal Clipper is an great for people like us, who aren’t big on cruising, but adore sailing. Billed as the world’s largest full-rigged sailing ship (it’s got a Guinness World Records certificate to prove it), this five-masted beauty is a throwback to another era. Built in 2000, it’s modeled on the Preussen, the largest and fastest deepwater sailing ship of its day. The freight-carrier set sail in 1902, but suffered an early demise eight years later, after a collision with a steamship left it broken on the cliffs of Dover. Do look up Royal Clipper on Youtube!
After a couple of days in Barbados to settle into the delightfully warm climate and to adjust to the time difference we joined the Royal Clipper on 27th Jan for a week’s absolute bliss – can’t describe how much we enjoyed it!
Visited:   Rodney Bay, St Lucia;   Deshaies, Guadaloupe;   Falmouth Harbour, Antigua;   Besseterre, St Kitts;   Terre de Haut, Iles des Saintes;   Anse d’Arlet, Martinique;  Returned to Bridgetown, Barbados.
 We met some great people; ate lots of good food; visited some beautiful places; did some silly things. But the sheer beauty of the sails being hoisted to the strains of the  “Conquest Of Paradise” by Vangelis  is unbelievable! That first evening we drank champagne up on deck as the crew worked away and the ship sailed off majestically!






Beer and masks….

Apologies for another late blog……..

We returned home on 15th January but squeezed in a little touristy stuff just before we left.

Since we have been rather enjoying the Belgian beers, we decided to make things a little cultural be visiting the Bourgogne de Flandres micro brewery in the centre of town. They only produce 1000 bottles a day but obviously hosts lots of tourist visits – all the staff are geared up for both beer production and tourist ‘education’!

The logo for the beer is a representation of the cathedral which you can see from the brewery! And no brewery visit would be complete without a tasting! Bourgogne de Flandres has become our favourite beer!


Always amazed to see the tourist boats literally careering around the waterways of Bruges!


The other event that we saw was the visiting Venetian masked procession, pure spectacle!


Flanders fields

We wanted to visit the WW1 sites and so on Thurs 21st Dec a small group of us went on a guided tour of Flanders Fields. Philippe & Sharon are the owners & guides of Quasimodo, a local tour company, and friends of Diana & Chris. Really was an excellent tour and Philippe’s level of knowledge was outstanding.

During the entire war period, from 1914 up to 1918, Ypres was the scene of some of the most important battles in the first World War, later referred to as the Great War.

The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of the heaviest battles during the Great War.

In the trenches all around Ypres extremely bloody battles were fought.
Many of these battlefields have left their traces in the landscape around Ypres and there is a strong sense of maintaining these sites so as to honour those who died and to remind mankind of what happened 100 years ago.

We started off by visiting the German cemetery at Langemarck. The bodies of many German soldiers who died in Belgium were repatriated – those who remained were buried in mass graves. This cemetery was in sombre contrast to the allied cemeteries – black plaques in the grass and black granite pillars bearing the names of those interred there. German cemeteries are tended by visits from German soldiers every few months.

Tyne Cot Cemetery: 

The largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. The Commission ensures the cemeteries are lovingly cared for and that records of those buried are maintained. As the photos show, the day we visited was grey and misty – atmospheric and in keeping with the place.

There is a suggestion that the name of Tyne Cot was given by the Northumberland Fusiliers, seeing a resemblance between the many German concrete bunkers, or pill boxes, on this site and typical Tyneside workers’ cottages (Tyne cots).

Total burials11,965, of which 8,369 are unnamed


Bunkers and Craters:


Hill 60:

This site was anonymously  purchased after the war and given to Belgium in order that the site could be preserved and not ‘dug up’ and developed because of the number dead never recovered from the site. It is a sobering place. Nature is reclaiming the site with trees and bushes but the bunkers (both allied and German) remain.


The Brooding Soldier:

There are cemeteries to all the allied forces including ANZAC and Canadian. The Brooding Soldier memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included fighting in the face of the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front.

The Brooding Soldier- . Frederick Chapman Clemesha sculpture.


Unearthed ammunition – the Iron Harvest:

Farmers continue to unearth shells, bombs etc and Belgium has to manage the process of making safe at considerable cost to the country. It is not expected to be complete for many many years.



Essex Farm Cemetery & Field Dressing Station:

The Field Dressing Station, very close to the front line, was the first medical treatment and assessment centre for wounded soldiers. They walked, were helped by other soldiers or brought out on stretchers. The help available was pretty basic, some were sent onto other facilities or repatriated. But many did not survive and were buried in the Essex Farm Cemetery alongside. There is a grave to a 15 year old – alleged to be the youngest soldier – but there are known to be others so young who died.



In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.   Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCraeMD (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I, and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields“. McCrae died of pneumonia near the end of the war

Menin Gate:

No visit to Ypres and the Flanders Field sites would be complete without attending the evening Last Post Ceremony at the imposing Menin Gate in Ypres – memorial to 55,000 missing soldiers.




On board at Christmas – mark 2!

Christmas 2017 saw us on board Piedaleau in Bruges, but on our own this year since all the kids were busy doing their own thing! Moored at the Flandria Boathaven it has been a very different, but enjoyable Christmas. Easy drive here, lazy mornings, sightseeing, lots of good food and drink with other boat owners here and at The Coupure Boathaven.

A small group of us went to Esme (Diana & Chris) for early champagne, a superb restaurant for lunch on Christmas Day followed by a little silliness on Piedaleau – pass the sprout parcel! Really nice day.

On Boxing Day we were on board Bella Fortuna, playing even sillier games and eating delicious curry – Voirrey and Andy are excellent cooks and such good hosts.

We took a day trip by train to Ghent with Voirrey and Andy to do a Christmas market comparison ……. on balance I think we preferred the one in Ghent because the streets are wider so there is more room to walk – Bruges seems to be rammed with tourists all the time! Met Kate and Dave on Victor & went to Amadeus for lunch – a ribs restaurant with fantastic Art Nouveau decor.

New Year’s Eve came round and we set off for the market square with Tim and Jo (Maria of Zandam) for gluhwein and brahtwurst prior to midnight. Wrong! It was all eerily quiet – hardly anyone on the streets – market stalls all shut – just one open selling gluhwein (so we had a couple) and another selling Belgian frites (so we had some of those too!) And then to add insult to injury, we were told that the fireworks had been cancelled because of the winds!!

So we repaired to a bar on Tim’s list of good local hostelries, picking up a group of young Brits en route, and Diana & Chris from Coupure arrived with their guests mark & Amelia.  So we all proceeded to have a great evening! Somewhat too many beers, lots of good music and some bopping! Excellent start to 2018.



Couldn’t tarry too long in bed on New Year’s Day ‘cos we had a boat race to attend! Every year in the Coupure they hold a paper boat race (rules are A4 paper and sellotape only but otherwise the design is up to you). About 6 boats were entered – Chris ‘s boat took a detour away from the finish line so that left it open for Mark to get blown into first place with his creation – HMV Amelia!

Gluhwein and soup to follow before returning to recover on Piedaleau, followed by an early night. Who knows we may enter  boat ourselves next year!!

On board at Christmas

I see that I have been very remiss in that I never posted my blog for last Christmas (2016) – so, somewhat belatedly, here it is!

In line with Lisa, Freddie & Liam’s unanimous request we spent Christmas on board Piedaleau at Port aux Cerises, south of Paris. A bit of a logistical challenge, to say the least, to get everyone and everything there, and back, but we did it! And we all had a brilliant Christmas!

Adrian and Liam went from Hemel Hempstead as the advance party – to get the boat warm, fill water tank, get the shopping and visit the neighbours! Lisa, Freddie and I arrived a couple of days later from Lincoln. I did it in 2 hops – down to Folkestone (where we stayed in an horrendous cheapie hotel!) and then over to France the next day. Made it easier both for me and for Freddie. So we were all on board on the 23rd and boat decoration started in earnest.


On the 24th we had a really enjoyable day in Paris. We went to the Sacré Coeur Cathedral and then onto Montmartre. In the square Freddie chose a lady artist to do his portrait and sat as good as gold while she worked. We all chatted whilst this was happening and Lisa proudly showed her Freddie’s artwork on her phone. I really believe that she, & a neighbouring artist were impressed with his pictures. Both said they expect to wellcome him in the Place de Montmartre in years to come….

Then we needed crèpes as sustenance before visiting the Musée de Montmartre. Adrian and I had done so in November and really liked it as a small, local museum. Everyone enjoyed it – Freddie partiicularly liked the silhouette paintings and the video of the ladies of the Moulin Rouge doing the Can-Can! And then a real highlight ….. an exhibition of Bernard Buffet which Freddie loved – literally running from room to room to show everyone his favourite pictures. There was hardly anyone there so this was fine, and it was so nice to see him excited & interested. He has received numerous art presents this Christmas so hopefully his interest will continue for some time to come. And to round off the day everyone got to choose something special from the chocolate / biscuit shop at the bottom of the hill. Back at the boat we had our now traditional Christmas Eve raclette dinner.

I now have 3 Freddie masterpieces at home – the latest (my Christmas present) is ‘The Sun & Moon’ which is very reminiscent of a pottery piece my mum did not long before she passed away. Thought of it immediately I saw Freddie’s picture! Lisa even produced coasters from Freddie’s pictures for everyone for Christmas

My Christmas pressie from Adrian is a 1930’s lithograph by Bernard Buffet that we found in a real ‘oldie worldie’ print shop on the banks of the Seine in November. It was one of those crowded shops where you really cannot imagine how the owner knows where anything is – you have to move into spaces in order for him to reach things. The picture has pride of place in my new dining room.

Back to Christmas Eve – Lisa and Freddie sprinkled reindeer food along the pontoon so that Père Noel would know where to find us on board!


Christmas Day itself was lazy and great fun – the cooking a little of a challenge but everyone seemed pleased with the outcome. For those who don’t realise it, we don’t have a traditional oven on board, just a halogen oven thingy. Its fine but not too easy to keep things separate when juggling both vegetarian and meat eaters!

Boxing Day was a hoot! Andy and Voissey (Bella Fortuna) & Graham and Jill (Francoise) came round for drinks! Andy came dressed as an elf, as you would! and we played rather silly games – ‘reindeer antler hoopla’ is hilarious, particularly after a few glasses.


A festive scary trip to the Catacombes under Paris was our family treat on the 27th. So pleased we’d got the tickets online beforehand as the queue seemed to be least 4 hours! Thank goodness we didn’t have to do that! The Catacombes were interesting but can’t say I’d feel the need to go again – been there, done that!

We were all due to leave on 29th and come back on the tunnel at the same time. Unfortunately a little problem with the electricity supply from the pontoon meant we couldn’t trust the boat to underfloor heaters but needed to winterize her properly. So Liam came with me in my car and we came home via Hemel! The tunnel was even more chaotic than coming over and the UK border control were wary of us – 2 adults and 2 youngsters all with different surnames….. We had some explaining to do and both Freddie & Liam were asked separately as to who was who. Just shows that they are taking security more seriously, thank goodness.

Adrian stayed on the boat to do the winterizing. He didn’t leave until nearly 3pm on the 30th so was shattered when he got home at 10pm! But we did it and we all agreed that it was great fun and a real one-off Christmas!

Sorry again that this is so late but I am sure Jill Budd will be amazed that I finally got around to it!








Frankie (my sister) told me about the ‘Begijnhof’ that she visited in Leuven some years ago; sounded interesting so I thought I’d find out a more whilst we are in Belgium …….

The terms begijnhof (used in Flemish part of Belgium) & béguinage (used in French part of Belgium) relate to the areas where women who were part of an early women’s movement lived; there are begijnhofs / béguinages in many Belgian & Dutch towns – many now are major tourist attractions. We visited several and I thought this would make for an interesting blog.

The origin of the Béguine movement is debated, but, around 1150, groups of women (eventually called Beguines) began living together for the purposes of economic self-sufficiency and a religious vocation. The Béguine lifestyle swept across Europe during the 12th & 13th centuries. It is believed to have begun by the widows of the Crusaders. These women resorted to a pious life of sisterhood following the death of their husbands, rather than accept another husband (if indeed one could be found) or return to live under their father’s roof. Some came with their children. Single women also opted to join; some could not find, or perhaps did not want, a husband or to be dependent on their families.  All these women sought an independent, secluded existence devoted to charitable deeds, but not bound by formal religious vows.

Around 1230 these holy women had started to be called “béguines”, a term that was most likely initially used pejoratively, but whose original meaning is lost to history (sometimes attributed to Saint Begga patron saint of beggars, but not universally accepted). Some of these groups of women formed separate, walled communities called begijnhofs or béguinages outside the city walls. The biggest béguinages housed thousands of single women, a remarkable feat in medieval Europe.

The Béguines committed to chastity & to live by the rules of the community but they did not commit to poverty and they could leave at any time, unlike those taking religious vows.  Many were quite well off, and could support themselves; others worked in order to pay their way and to live independently.

In the beginning, clerical attitudes towards Beguines were ambivalent. The groups were religious and the women were dedicated to chastity and charity, which could not be condemned in any way. The fact that they existed, and existed without men, (except for priests and confessors to lead them) was suspect to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. For this and other reasons, many Beguines came to be known as heretics and were persecuted as such. Though they were never an approved religious order, they were at one point granted special privileges and exemptions customary for approved orders. The Church, however, did not approve of their lack of permanent vows. Women were not supposed to have that much freedom! What is particularly interesting about the Beguines, unlike most who were considered heretics, these women considered themselves orthodox, but still Béguines. Some strongly identified themselves as such and while in court testified to that effect, demonstrating self-identification with the group. Yet the group was diverse and is hard to define. This diversity was due in part to the geographical distribution as well as to the individual autonomy of each community.

The last béguine Marcella Pattyn died in 2013, and with her the movement that had lasted for hundreds of years.

Béguinages, now empty of béguines, still exist in most Belgian and Dutch cities, with their medieval houses, tight alleyways and bleached walls. The béguinages where the béguines lived and prayed – ‘cities of peace with architectural & urban qualities’ – have become centres of tourism, and oases of peace in the heart of bustling cities. Many have been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.


Adrian and I have tried to visit the Béguinages in the various Belgian cities we have visited. At each one we see different things and learn more about that particular Béguinage and the life of the women who lived there.


The first major Béguinage we visited was at Turnhout.

Founded before 1340; UNESCO World Heritage site 1998.



You could see that this was originally situated outside the city walls. Unfortunately the area was undergoing major works when we were there, so that the general feeling of the place was affected. Most of the houses here are occupied (general housing) and the Church at the centre is still a focal point. There is a lovely little museum which we visited and got talking to the Chairman of the League of Friends. He was extremely knowledgeable, passionate and welcoming.

The women here decided the rules by which they lived, elected their Mother Superior and supported themselves by developing various cottage industries – laundering the ecclesiastical robes of all the surrounding parishes; making the communion wafers (both large and small) for the area (there was even an estimate of the number they made!); lace making; providing education to local poor children and, of course, caring for the sick.

The béguinage covers quite a large area with a wide courtyard & the Church towards one end. The museum is housed within a pastor’s house & aims to show how the béguines lived, supported themselves and practised their faith. The last Mother Superior died in 2002.




Outside what would have been the mediaeval town walls a network of narrow twisting streets with a convent and Church. Many of the old houses and the convent were being renovated. Lier lace making (cross between embroidery and crochet) was one of the main industries and it is still practised by a local group of enthusiasts.




The béguinage area is a thriving, slightly off beat part of the city! Weekly flea markets take place through the twisting streets and a central attraction is the Het Anker brewery which was started by the béguines in 1369, and was their major form of income! Now brews Carolus beers …. and whiskey!




Ghent – Béguinage of Our Lady at Hoyen


There are 3 béguinages around Ghent. We visited the ‘small béguinage’ – it was huge! Entered through a stone archway off a fairly main street, you come into a large, walled, open, peaceful area. The béguinage was started in 1235.

The oldest part is the courtyard, with baroque Church and surrounding houses & convents with walled front gardens. Streets around this area were added later and have now been renovated for social housing and much work continues.



Beside the kanaal & ‘pool of love’ the béguinage is arranged around a large courtyard with spectacular plane trees & the Church. Unusually there is an order of nuns still living here and they have adopted the béguines’ style of head dress.

A museum is housed in a corner house complete with small cloister and well.

Strange to hear the tourist boats running up & down the just outside the window!