Monday: Volkswagen Tiguan SE Nav 2.0TDI (150hp), Nottingham to Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Tuesday: Bentley Continental GTC (convertible) V8S, Melton Mowbray to Leicester; Jaguar XE R-Sport 2.0D (180) auto, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Wednesday: Volkswagen Transporter LWB 2.0TDI (150hp) 4Motion, Oldbury, West Midlands to Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk
Thursday: Vauxhall Combo van (a re-badged Fiat Doblo), Bolton, Greater Manchester to Flint, North Wales
Friday: two Vauxhall Combo vans, Bolton to Flint, North Wales.
We went to see a production of Top Hat last week – the musical based on the 1935 film of the same name (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, famous tunes by Irving Berlin). But this was no ordinary theatre visit because the venue for this glitzy, humorous song and dance fest was rather special. Hidden away in the grounds of a south Leicestershire country house hotel, the open air Kilworth House Theatre is a magical place to see a show. A gently sloping field equipped with picnic tables leads down to a lake and a small but beautifully formed wood. The theatre itself is situated in a clearing in the woods and, to reach it, you walk through the trees on a board walk strung with lights. What an entrance – quite a sense of, er, … theatre. It is difficult to refrain from sprinkling this post with the adjective “magical” (I’ve already used it once) but it truly is. Someone has obviously waved a magic baguette over Kilworth to create a unique place where the atmosphere is wonderful and the real world is easily forgotten.
When enjoying the show, you are not entirely exposed to the elements as a modern steel structure supports a sail-like tarpaulin roof to keep the worst of the elements off the substantial auditorium and most of(!) the stage. But look to each side of the stage and there are just trees for walls. And enjoy the show you will, because the productions at Kilworth are truly top class – London West End quality in a better setting. We first went four years ago and are kicking ourselves for not getting round to it before. They put on two musicals every summer and, so far, we have seen Anything Goes, Singin’ in the Rain (it rained!), West Side Story, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Kiss Me Kate. I think the Daily Telegraph once described Kilworth as British theatre’s best kept secret. So, I’m spilling the beans.
Our ideal Kilworth House Theatre evening starts with a picnic in the grounds which is quite the done thing. For our visit last Friday, I had it all planned but unfortunately the fickle British weather was against us and we had to abandon those plans. However, let’s pretend we did have our picnic which consisted of the following (sounds a bit posh but would have been dead easy):-
- A salad of lightly smoked salmon fillet, slivers of fresh orange (i.e. segments without the skin) and watercress drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice. The salmon is the sort you have to cook (although you can sometimes find ready-cooked), not traditional “raw” smoked salmon.
- Home made potato salad – new potatoes, snipped chives, mayonnaise plus the vital ingredient – Greek yogurt. The Greek yogurt lifts the whole thing from just being potatoes in mayonnaise. Ordinary natural yogurt may do, especially if you are Turkish (I haven’t tried it myself).
- Home-grown cherry tomatoes. One of the few things we grow in our garden with moderate success. I’ll let you off if you buy them.
A zingy Sauvignon Blanc would probably have washed the above down nicely. However, the lack of a picnic did not spoil our evening as the show was fabulous, despite the downpour throughout most of the second half. Thank goodness for that roof – that’s a definite plus over Cornwall’s admittedly more spectacular Minack theatre where you are completely exposed.
The musicals are not the only entertainment put on at Kilworth. In between or usually after the musicals’ run has come to an end in late summer/early autumn, they sometimes have a few one night stands – comedians (e.g. Ken Dodd, Jasper Carrott, Paul Merton) and music acts (e.g. Hollies, Paul Carrack, The Manfreds) and many tribute bands like Talon (the Eagles), Björn Again (ABBA), UK Pink Floyd Experience. In the winter there is also indoor entertainment in the hotel’s Orangery (usually combined with a dinner).
What’s the definition of an optimist? Someone who hopes that The Jam will one day re-form. I know, it’s impossible. However, I did see the unsubtly named “From The Jam” live at Kilworth four years ago. The Jam’s original bassist, Bruce Foxton, former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki (who has worked with loads of big names in rock) and a bloke doing a passable impersonation of Paul Weller. They were absolutely brilliant. This was an All Mod Cons anniversary tour so they played that classic Jam album from start to finish then just about every other Jam hit you can think of. So, if you are a pining Jam fan, get along to see From The Jam – it’s 90% there.
When setting out on a long walk, it’s always a good thing to have a significant objective or reward to look forward to. A tea room voted the third best in Cornwall for the last two years isn’t a bad objective. We didn’t know about the accolades heaped upon this little gem until we got there, so it was quite a find although it’s not actually a tea “room” at all but read on. Things don’t get much better than walking along Cornwall’s rugged north coast in fine weather, drinking in the spectacular scenery and sea air. So, if you happen to find yourself in the Padstow area, try this (almost) six mile walk for yourself and search out the fabulous Rest A While Tea Garden in Hawker’s Cove.
We parked in the car park overlooking Trevone beach to the west of Padstow then struck north along the South West Coast Path. Although the walk is “only” six miles, bear in mind that coast paths do tend to go up and down quite a bit and this stretch of the South West Coast Path is no exception. You are however rewarded with wonderful views from the clifftops – looking down into rocky inlets or out across the sea as far as the eye can see. The path takes you up the west side and round the top of a small peninsula to a dramatic headland known as Stepper Point near to which a “daymark” tower was built in the early nineteenth century as a navigational aid for sailors. You also pass a more modern coastguard lookout before heading down the east side of the peninsula into the estuary of the River Camel where a few golden beaches catch the eye.
It’s when heading south alongside the River Camel (still on the South West Coast Path) that you need to keep your eyes open for signs to the Rest A While Tea Garden. The signs direct you up a narrow track past the back gardens of a small row of old coastguard houses. And one of these gardens is the Rest A While Tea Garden, just 50 metres off the main coast path. It is literally someone’s small back garden covered in decking, where orders are placed – and food and drinks served – through the kitchen window! There is no indoor seating (in fact there is not even a back door) so a visit to the Rest A While is weather dependent. There is also (officially) no toilet but if you ask, the staff will send you round to the front of the row of houses and into number 7 where the owner keeps his front door (and loo) open for Rest A While customers.
Our reward for completing the first part of our walk (roughly 3.5 miles from the start) was a light lunch which turned out to be less light than intended. It started out well – my wife and I had tuna mayonnaise jacket potatoes (perfectly cooked, crispy skin, plenty of tuna, two portions of Cornish butter, decent bit of salad with dressing) and my daughter had homemade tomato and basil soup. Then came the cake …. oh boy. The world’s largest slice of chocolate cake (very, very good) and the best lemon drizzle cake I have ever tasted. I have never had warm lemon drizzle cake before but I think that’s what made the difference. That and the incredibly soft, moist sponge. And the plentiful, tangy drizzly stuff with which the cake was laced. And the sea air. And the view.
Suitably fed and watered, we waddled on down the coast path for almost half a mile until coming to a tropical looking, white sandy beach (nearly empty) stretching out to our left – Harbour Cove. Here the coast path turned inland for a couple of hundred yards but when it turned south again, we left it and kept straight on up a track to a parking area. We carried on through the car park and up the track before turning left on to a small road. Looking to the right at this junction, we could see the Lellizzick farm house where they also serve teas – one to try another day! After almost half a mile, the road took a sharp turn to the left but we didn’t. Instead we went straight ahead on to path which took us back to the west side of the peninsula and back to the coast path. Here we turned south and re-traced our steps back to Trevone.
Trevone has its own friendly little bay and sandy beach so after a satisfyingly tiring walk, there was only one thing to do – bodyboarding!! Fantastic. Stayed in the water for about an hour doing my impersonation of a twelve year old.
If the Rest A While Tea Garden sounds like your sort of thing then you can also walk there from Padstow. It’s about two and a quarter miles from the north side of the harbour (you could drive but that’s cheating and you won’t have earned your cake). On your way you will pass the Doom Bar, a sand bank created – according to legend – by the lovelorn Mermaid of Padstow to imperil sailors. In modern times, it has given its name to a very popular Cornish ale. This cult beer was created in Rock just across the river from Padstow, where the cask version is still brewed. However, the bottled version has proved so popular that it is now made 270 miles away in Burton-Upon-Trent!
Just vans this week but one of those took me to Le Mans and back for the second time in seven days! I didn’t want to give “my” trusty Peugeot Boxer back after our adventures together:-
Sunday to Tuesday: Peugeot Boxer (very)LWB 2.2 HDi (130hp), Leicester to Le Mans to Leicester to Aston Martin, Gaydon to Rugby where it was bye bye Boxer
Thursday: Fiat Doblo van 1.3TD, West Bromwich to Lewes, East Sussex
Never underestimate a modern vehicle. The prospect of driving almost 200 miles in a dull looking van with a silly name and only a 1248cc engine would be unthinkable to some. And this was a very basic van – no aircon and it had wigglesticks to manually adjust the wing mirrors (which is quite rare these days). But myself and two colleagues all agreed that our Fiat Doblos dobbled along surprisingly well. No problem at all sitting reasonably quietly and comfortably at 70mph on all five motorways between the West Midlands and Lewes on the south coast. When we collected the Doblos, all three had zero miles on the clock – first time I have ever come across that. Bizarrely, all three of us arrived at our destination at more or less the same time having followed exactly the same route but one van had six fewer miles on the clock. I forgot to ask my colleague whether or not he had driven the last three miles backwards (although I suspect it’s a myth that the mileage goes down when you reverse in a modern vehicle).
My second trip to Le Mans went smoothly apart from the return trip through the Channel Tunnel. Coming back the day after the end of the 24 hour race, I joined a constant stream of British cars on the autoroute heading for the Channel crossings. In fact it was a bit of a mobile motor show. Various exotic cars, sports cars, classic cars, boy racer mobiles and a Honda Jazz from Chipping Sodbury. Result: chaos at the Tunnel but I did get a nice text from Eurotunnel apologising for the delay.
These two trips to Le Mans were my first experiences of using the Channel Tunnel. Apart from that last return leg, it was fast and efficient but if you are driving long distances either side of the Channel, there is still a strong argument for the ferry. Especially on that last crossing, I would have been glad of a decent break, a hearty meal and the opportunity to stretch my legs properly whilst breathing fresh sea air. Instead, I was stuck inside a tin box with air of dubious quality and had to stop for a break on the motorway after leaving the train anyway, thus negating some of the time saving (the ferry crossing takes about 55 minutes longer than the train). Eurotunnel definitely has its merits but the ferry does too!