Monday, September 17, 2018

A grand day out!

Scott’s Grotto is... well, a grotto, and this one was built by the 18th century poet John Scott in the town of Ware, neighbouring Hertford. It’s open every Saturday and bank holiday from April to September, for just two and a half hours. It has an interesting history which has led to it now being situated between two modern houses in a residential street. Passing through a gateway in a tall, wooden fence, you go down steps to the grotto entrance.

It’s not a huge grotto, and it only takes about fifteen minutes to walk around it slowly with lots of stops to admire the seashell-studded walls in the chambers. You then go around it again because you can. A torch is essential!

It’s fascinating and beautiful.

There’s a summerhouse nearby where Scott chose to write his poetry, though he also worked inside the grotto on occasion – an odd, dark choice, I would have thought!

Grace and I went there on Saturday with Nome and Jess. It’s only a half-hour drive from St Albans. Before we went, however, we paid a visit to Aylett Nurseries’ Dahlia Celebration. I’ve not really been a dahlia aficionado before, but their garden changed my mind entirely. The rows of so many different varieties were quite stunning.

It was indeed a grand day out!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A smiley event

Regular readers will know about the FoodSmiles community garden project Naomi started back in April 2014. On the day it was launched, the half-acre plot - donated by the farmer owner - had been untouched for years, and was very daunting,

but the new members of this collective worked long and hard to turn it around, with the help of a number of generous donors, particularly St Albans' Aylett's Nursery.

Last Sunday, four years on, they held a Harvest Festival celebration of the past year's success. a good number of the large team that work the plot attended, along with local mayors and members of the public.

It was a lovely event. They'd had festivals like it in previous years, but we'd always been on Kantara at the time. This was our chance to celebrate with them. Said the Maiden provided music in three sets, there was lot of food - much of it home-grown - and local ale. Nome had put together a treasure-hunt around the site, in the style of the professionally-produced ones she and Ed and Grace and I have done before.

I was amazed by the great progress they'd made since the last time I saw the garden. The poly-tunnels are full of tomatoes and other less hardy crops, and the out-door beds are a delight. The workers receive a regular basket of the produce, the size of the share being related to how many hours work per week they sign up for, and the baskets have been plentiful and varied. FoodSmiles were at the Mayor’s Pride Awards at the end of March, and came away runners-up in the Environmental Champions category - a great achievement.

On the boating front, even if we were able to be back on Kantara now, we'd not be able to go anywhere. Some weeks ago, we got mechanic Colin onto the matter of our leaky fuel injectors. He and others had tried in vain to stop the leaks, so now it was time to have them reconditioned. Colin removed them and took them to a company that are set up to do the job. Their expected charge was £40 per injector - there are four of them. He came back to me a week later with the news that they'd actually cost four times that, and that it might well be that new injectors would be cheaper, or only a little more expensive. I contacted a Barrus dealer and asked them for a quote. £230 each plus VAT! The job's back in Colin's hands now, and we're going for the refurb!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, painting's all done on the hall, stairs and landing, wallpapering will be completed today, the carpet man's coming to see us soon, and the plumber's been briefed. The utility room's only small, so it won't take us long (though we've said that before...!)

The header of this blog says something about "living the dream". We're back to dreaming it now!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Tourists in our own city

Imagine hour after hour of decorating. Preparing paintwork for painting. Painting it; undercoat, first coat, second coat. Hall, stairs and landing; ceilings, coving, skirting boards, eleven doors and door-frames. And a loft hatch and frame. And then we decide to strip and re-wax the pine dining table and eight beech chairs. Daft, or what?

Okay, so some of you won't be imagining it. You'll be remembering doing the same kind of thing. And you probably won't be thinking what a jolly good time you had doing it. If you are thinking that, we envy you.

We'd had enough. On Friday, we got on the bus, using our bus passes for the third time, and got off in St Albans City centre. We had just three shops to visit very briefly, then we stopped off at Naomi's Incredible Edibles community food garden, situated just outside the Civic Centre and the Alban Arena.

The plot before Naomi and friends started work on it.

Work commences...

Early days...

The official opening earlier this year


Nome was away on holiday, so we wanted to make sure that everything there was okay, that it didn't need watering or tending in any other way. All was fine. We picked some beans and tomatoes that needed to be picked, replaced some name labels, and moved on to the nearby Town Hall.

We've lived in St Albans for decades, but since we've been spending most of each year on board Kantara we've missed out on a number of changes. The most significant of these, in my mind, is the development of the Victorian Town Hall.
St Albans Town Hall is one of the city's landmarks. Grade II listed and situated alongside the Market Place, it is at the centre of the city. Built in 1831, the venue presents an impressive Palladian façade, painted cream and decorated with a columned first storey balcony.
What has always been for us a rather grubby, dingy lump of history has now been brought to life by a very bold and creative renovation.

How it was in 2016, before work had started.
It was far grubbier at the turn of the 20th century!

It is now the St Albans Museum and Gallery. And it is impressive. The exterior's been lifted with a new coat of paint, but hasn't been altered structurally. Inside, however, it's a different story. With a display, real and virtual, of the history of the city from its earliest known settlement, several dynamic display areas, a café - food can be eaten on a large paved area outside the entrance, or in the old courtroom - and a shop, it's well worth a visit.

The underground cells have been opened to the public. Several of them have been very nicely converted to public toilets! The upstairs grand hall, which has for decades been used for public and private functions, despite its run-down demeanour, has been given a gleaming new lease of life. I wish I'd taken photos!

We were getting hungry, so we made our way down past the cathedral, past the 1,000 year-old Boys' School (once attended by Steven Hawking amongst others of fame and fortune) and through the park.

 The Gate House

It had been my original plan for us to visit The Fighting Cocks for a pint before having lunch at The Waffle House.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks dates back to the 8th Century. The pub you can see today was built in the 11th Century. St Albans Cathedral and grounds are just across the road and there are tunnels stretching from the beer cellar to the Cathedral, apparently used by Monks. Cock fighting took place in the main bar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hence the name of the pub.
Time was getting on, however, and hunger prevailed over our desire for a beer, and the Cocks doesn't have nearly such a good menu!

It's a short walk from the ancient pub through the park to the Waffle House. The buildings are very much older than the restaurant, but that's been there for ages, too, and we'd never been there before. Another new experience was having to wait twenty minutes to be seated, such is its popularity.

The waffles were delicious. Two replete hours later, we strolled leisurely back into town, this time up Rome Land Hill and George Street, stopping off to look into the antiques and curios shops. We used to live very close to the city centre, but I really felt as if I were a visitor, a tourist on this occasion. It was odd, but I'm sure it added to the enjoyment.

Today's Sunday, and we've been feeling too indolent to do any work. Tomorrow... sigh.