Question: What could be better than sitting outside on a summer evening having a picnic and listening to live music?
Answer: A leisurely walk around the East Front Gardens of Hampton Court Palace with your best friend: laying a rug on the lawn to picnic with a glass of Champagne, before listening to a world renowned musical performance in a magical setting.
Hearing John Wilson and his Orchestra playing during a televised performance of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, encouraged Paul to reserve tickets for their performance at The Hampton Court Palace Festival, this summer. Our 6 pm arrival allowed plenty of time to wander about the spectacular and historic East Front Gardens, appreciating the dry weather, beautifully planted flower beds and fountains, the iconic building and its exciting ambience.
Enough meandering, inclement weather had led us to forego bringing a picnic: the scent of Italian pizzas drew our attention as we spread ourselves and the travel rug over the well kept lawn. We were soon relishing the stone-baked pizzas that tasted as well as they smelt – delicious with glasses of champagne from the nearby tent.
Moving the large number of people from the outside grounds into the Palace took time and, by 7.45 pm the public was being urged to enter the Palace for the fifteen minute walk through to the Tudor Courtyard.
Tiers of seats faced the specially made stage while white clouds scudded over an atmosphere of anticipation. The players arrived, a few at a time; the familiar sounds of violins and other instruments tuning up encouraged latecomers to quickly find their seats. An air of expectation settled over the audience.
The orchestra was ready. Applause increased as John Wilson walked briskly across the stage. A celebration of MGM Film Musicals had commenced.
We were not disappointed. The repertoire included music by my favourites, Cole Porter and Gershwin, among other talented composers: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Andre Previn. Special guest vocalists Anna-Jane Casey and Matt Ford added glamour to the occasion. The disappearing sun emphasised lights shining on the red walls: special musical touches and unusual fun sounds from percussion players brought gaiety, while blankets to cushion the hard seats and maintain warm legs, provided outdoor comfort.
As an internationally renowned conductor and arranger, John Wilson and his personally chosen ensemble were well able to turn what could have been a tricky situation into an amusing incident. Thirty minutes into the programme, a chilly wind whistled across the stage, lifting sheets of music without favour before depositing them willy nilly, around musicians’ feet. John Wilson made fun as the wind repeated its performance on several occasions: pausing the orchestra between arrangements, to allow one of the drummers to retrieve and replace the important musical scores.
By 10.15 pm the programme had reached its finale, drawing another special evening in the iconic Hampton Court Palace environment to a close.
Paul introduced me to The Hampton Court Palace Festival soon after we met. His favourite blues guitarist, Eric Clapton, was appearing with his band. Complimentary champagne in the Waitrose hospitality marquee, and the ‘Star Clipper’ bag purchased during a solo holiday to the Caribbean before I met Paul, encouraged lively conversation with other guests. Afterwards we set up our picnic on the lawn to consume smoked salmon, prawns, and our own special bottle of champagne, in the warmth of the June heat-wave. My first Festival – an introduction to Eric’s music in this spectacular setting – remains a special memory.
The vision of vast miles of sand dunes – stretching for miles across the desert – was fresh in my mind as our feet sank into the soft sand, still warm from the disappearing sun.
Shadows lengthen as dusk falls
‘The desert is wonderful,’ I thought, feeling its magical beauty. Smoke was rising over the white walls of the renovated fort, bringing an enticing smell of spices and meat: it reminded our hungry tummies that soon we were to experience a ‘typical Bedouin evening.’
‘I bet they don’t have many authentic bedouin here, it’s an opportunity to get money from the tourists,’ said Paul. ‘Let’s see,’ I replied as we passed three or four camels, their mouths loosely tied, reined and ready to ride, their pommelled saddles resting on brightly coloured blankets.
‘Choose a camel, it is safe. The herder will make the camel kneel while you get on,’ said Mohammed, our driver and guide. There were a few comments about camels having bad breath or biting, but several people took up the opportunity. Paul and I declined. We had ridden camels in Tunisia, afterwards feeling sorry for the restrictions imposed on them
‘The camels resting near the vegetable souk in the Buraimi Oasis, having crossed the desert with their Bedouin owners – when I was there in 1967 – had a far more interesting life,’ I whispered to Paul.
‘Something smells good.’ We sniffed the air. Dinner was cooking in huge metal cauldrons attended by men in crisp clean robes. One pot contained white rice, another was full of chicken flesh and vegetables, simmering in a deep orange sauce; the distinctive spicy aroma of curry blew in all directions on the evening breeze. An attentive chef proudly spoke. His few English words were difficult to decipher but, moving his arms in a wide circle, he indicated that the main dish was a whole lamb. It had been cooking since early morning in the authentic Bedouin manner – in an underground oven. He stepped back to lift the oven top, allowing hot air laced with the delicious fragrance of herbs and spices to rise up above our heads.
Walking past the male cooking domain, we reached an Arabic lady wearing a black hijab. She was seated in a circular area, making flat bread, or pita, her nimble hands making it look easy.
Nearby, on a long table were containers of fruit juice, water, or camel’s milk that I enjoyed so much I had a second cup. The waiters were informative… explaining that camel’s milk is very rich, and warning that it could cause belching…. and farting! Later, I was glad it hadn’t had that effect on me….. and so was Paul!
I learned that camel’s milk contains more vitamins than cow’s milk, including vitamin C, protein and fat, whilst being lower in cholesterol, enabling Bedouin to survive solely on camel’s milk when travelling long distances through the desert. Wondering whether it made them belch or fart, I remembered that in Arabia it is courtesy to belch loudly after a meal: a mandatory sign of pleasure, so probably they welcomed this effect.
The lamb had been removed from the underground oven; slices piled high on a serving platter looked tender and appetising. Waiting our turn, we discovered people were from various countries: France, Italy, the US and Australia, many English, and our friends from Brazil. The majority spoke English and they had been collected by car or taxi from various hotels in Dubai city for this desert sojourn. The mood was friendly and expectant. Acknowledging the commercial side of such an evening, most felt it would be fun as well as offering an insight into Bedouin life.
Pita bread making area
Young men carried trays between the food preparation and dining areas. With our new Brazilian friends, we sat at a wooden table beneath a green awning held in place with rope and poles. Exclaiming at the fantastic array of side dishes appearing, we waited no longer and helped ourselves. Various group members verbalised their appreciation::
‘The pita bread we saw being made tastes so fresh, great for scooping up these deliciously tasty dips.’
‘Hummus, tabouleh and dips I don’t recognise.’
‘Salads with unusual herby flavours.’
We licked our fingers before realising finger bowls also were on the table.
Using her skewered kebab to point at the stuffed vine leaves, another Brazilian lady joined in. She had little English: ‘Delicious, perfect.’ She kissed her thumb and forefinger indicating her appreciation of this varied Bedouin spread, continuing:
‘I must stop eating. I won’t have space for the main dishes,’ rubbing her generous expanse of tummy.
‘Me neither,’ rubbing mine.
But we did have room and those dishes were splendid, especially the succulent lamb with mouth-watering flavours. To complete the meal Arabic coffee was poured from hand-made brass coffee pots into small porcelain cups that, without handles, resembled large egg cups. Finally, plates of small Baklava – very sweet cakes – were brought by the waiter.
By now it was dark. Off centre between the two dining areas flaming torches were being lit and placed around a raised platform; local musicians materialised when we weren’t looking and a male dancer in local dress with long leather boots, leapt onto the stage, brandishing a sword above his head in time to the musical beat. After a while he changed the sword for a wooden imitation rifle that he whirled around his body, up and over his legs and up his back in a typical Bedouin dance.
A stone built building protected by the fort wall housed male and female toilets: white porcelain with flushing and running water, sinks, taps and paper hand towels. Surprised, I commented:
‘I imagined they would be simple sand squat areas, or chemical toilets in a wooden shack like those provided for the Abu Dhabi Defence Force in their tented camps, in the 1960’s. But that might have been taking authenticity too far!’
Away from the light, the dark night sky was full of stars. Outside the white fort walls, listening to the desert silence, we stood a while, picking out the Plough, Jupiter and Saturn shining clearly and twinkling, enjoying this quiet moment together.
The fast sound of gypsy music grew louder as we returned to see a dancing lady in a brightly coloured blouse. Her bare feet beat the stage as she flicked her long tiered skirt from side to side and back to front. The rhythm increased with the booming beat until she bent forward from the waist with her head so low that her long brown hair reached the ground. Her head swung swiftly from side to side, her hair whipping about. The movements gained momentum, her feet beat faster and louder, hands quickly clapping, arms twisting, as she reached the final crescendo, throwing her head back to rounds of appreciative applause.
The air was cooling, the evening breeze picking up. At our table some of the Brazilian contingent had left, making their way towards the parked vehicles outside. Those remaining sat, eyes closed, leaning against each other. I supposed Paul was chatting somewhere. Whilst waiting I took a walk, committing to memory the night scene: once flaming torches around the stage now dead, burnt out; busy waiters in white shirts – less fresh than when the evening had started – collected screwed up paper serviettes and other debris from the fast emptying tables. There, in the central area, I spied Paul. He was sitting askew on one of the cushions that formed a comfortable rectangle, smoking one of the Shisha, or hubble-bubble, pipes set out and ready for use.
‘Everyone’s making for the Land Rovers,’ I said.
‘That was very pleasant,’ Paul spoke softly. ‘A relaxing five minutes,’ rising slowly from the cushion.
‘Five minutes?’ I replied, chuckling. ‘More like twenty, you looked as if you were in a trance….and I have evidence,’ tapping my camera. We laughed.
While Paul had been experimenting with the shisha, the evening had been winding down. It was time to reposition our head-gear and return to our classic 1950’s open Land Rovers to speed through sand dunes lit only by headlights.
Arriving back at the entrance to the Reserve, we swiftly swopped vehicles. It was warm and comfortable inside the People Carrier. We were driven along deserted dual carriageways on our way ‘home.’ Tall buildings stood either side, until the tallest building in the world and symbol of modern-day Dubai – the Burj Khalifa – appeared on the horizon, and we were returned safely from the Bedouin’s desert encampment to our modern glass skyscraper hotels.
Footnote: In 1999, to preserve the desert habitat, 27 sq km had ben set aside for the Reserve by the Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum: 70 Arabian Oryx were released and 6000 indigenous shrubs and trees were planted. Also, in 1999, the Al Maha Desert Resort with spa pool was built. In 2003, to protect the remaining desert landscape, 225 sq km was allocated to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum was appointed Chairman. http://www.ddcr.org/en/
Ten Land Rovers drove into the desert each carrying between six and eight passengers in Arabic headgear. The drivers took different routes up, down, round and through the sand dunes. We saw no more than the occasional vehicle, giving the impression that the desert belonged to us. Arabian Oryx lifted their heads as we passed, unperturbed by the dust cloud flowing out behind.
Reaching a rendezvous point, we left the vehicles to clamber up the steep sides of sand dunes, the better to gaze across the desert as shadows lengthened and the sun settled lower towards the horizon. Desert shrubs and trees indicated the presence of water beneath the surface and later, on our way to dinner, the driver stopped to show us various examples of native vegetation.
Barely giving us time to clamber back into our Land Rover, the driver roared off. ‘He’s in a…
Our much-anticipated holiday started on Christmas Day. We flew Business Class via Emirates to Dubai, the first stop on our six week break. Paul and I were looking forward to our first local tour – a trip into the desert to watch the sun set over the sand and dine Arabic style in a deserted fort.
A driver, whom we later learned was called Mohammed, collected us from the Hilton Hotel in Dubai Creek, expertly steering the People Carrier along busy dual carriageways, modern roundabouts and road junctions. ‘I wonder whether we’re the only ones going,’ I whispered to Paul. ‘It’s overkill using this size vehicle if that’s the case!’ Paul joked. The upper part of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, was visible in the distance. It reminded us of our disappointment at being unable to secure a reservation to visit this iconic building.
This is to let you know that I am continuing with the story of our special holiday that started on Christmas Day in 2014 and ended in February 2015 after visits to Australia – Perth, Sydney, Cairns – and New Zealand – Auckland, Waiheke, Rotorua and Lake Taupo. So lots of writing for me!
A little time has passed since I started dianesdaysout with details about our first stop-over. As a reminder, I have up-dated and am re-publishing the three posts about the Dubai desert trip. Currently I’m working on Part 4, the Dubai Creek area.
Leaving Dubai, we continue to Perth where we were amazed by the ancient trees and plants in Kings Park botanical garden and the funny creatures living on Rottnest Island – not the humans!
Thank you for following dianesdaysout Comments or suggestions are welcome and noted, and adjustments made where relevant.
Our friends in Swanage gasped in disbelief when they heard a restaurant called ‘The Pig’ was opening in the area. ‘We wondered who would possibly want to eat there,’ they told us. ‘But we were wrong, it’s so popular we haven’t been able to get a table since it opened last year.’ Luckily they had reserved a table well in advance for our lunch together.
We met with time to look around the kitchen gardens in the sunshine, noting the well-tended vegetable, fruit and herb beds from which – we later learned – the chef uses as many ingredients as possible. Anything not locally grown or reared is sourced within a 25 mile radius, giving rise to the name: The 25 Mile Menu. Dotted about the grounds quaint buildings offer boutique accommodation and, nearby, free range chickens were having fun scratching around a cliff-top field.
Wooden tables and benches, and more comfortable seats, faced out to sea. We paused a while, looking across to our right at the Old Harry Rocks located at the most easterly point of the Jurassic Coast. A few thousand years ago the chalk of the Old Harry Rocks was part of a seam connected to the Needles on the Isle of Wight, to our left. The seam gradually eroded. Today the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rock and the Needles are divided by the sea.
Feeling hungry, we made our way towards the main building where our table was laid ready in the Greenhouse restaurant: the mis-matched white handled knives suited the shabby chic country style. Dishes change daily and available ingredients offered plenty of choice. The scallops were especially tasty, available as a starter or main: our New Zealand Marlborough 2013 Sauvignon Blanc a superb accompaniment.
After lunch we walked through some of the ground floor rooms of the historical building that was built as a gothic fantasy in 1825 for the local Tory MP George Banks and his family of fourteen children. Today the Grade II listed building is leased from the National Trust who oversaw the year-long restorative work. We had to look carefully at the outside of the building to find the new wing before taking the path towards the beach.
The view over Studland Bay probably encouraged Churchill, Eisenhower and King George VI to come here in June 1944 to watch the troops practice the D-Day landings. Real ammunition was used and mined booby traps, that had been laid against invasion, had to be cleared. Being thirty metres in length and having concrete one metre thick all round, ‘Fort Henry’ is the largest and strongest observation post built during the war.
May 2015. The threat of removal has frightened our wisteria floribunda into flower. Located in a prize position in the corner of our raised patio for the last six years, it had produced no more than three flowers a few years ago. The prized plant was in full bloom when purchased as a birthday gift from my eldest daughter, twining happily around its supports. It was all downhill from there.
I provided it with a tall metal support (in anticipation) and several bags of John Innes and top soil were dug into its allocated area. This plant was to fulfil my life-long dream of owning a beautiful flowering wisteria. I loved and nurtured it, watered it profusely through summer droughts, applied granules and liquid feed and checked it anxiously through snowy cold winters.
Each spring its progress was monitored, every new shoot closely watched. But it looked nothing like the happy flowering wisteria we saw growing up complete fronts of buildings with thick stems entwined in loving hugs. Our Wisteria had many leaves and long thin tendrils that waved this way and that in an effort to find another plant or tree to grab: like a wayward child it was difficult, untidy and unruly.
Acknowledged experts in the pruning and growing of wisteria, having one that covers the rear wall of their home, our friends from Derbyshire arrived to assist. Plastic ties were obtained and Paul joined the happy band of enthusiasts, carefully following advice as to which tendrils to attach to the purpose-built trellis and which to chop: how to arrange the growth to ensure a good cluster of blooms that surely would grace us the following spring. A vain hope. I lost enthusiasm but Paul dutifully followed our friends’ directions for two years, last year telling it ‘You have one more spring, if you don’t flower then you’ll be dug up, you’re such a waste of space!’
Many plants in our garden have been presents and remind me always of the givers so, not wishing to give up on this present from one of my daughters, I checked its label and realised that the floribunda variety of wisteria is not as vigorous as the sinensis type. Perhaps we were spreading its energy too far. With little hope that the following spring would be any different to previous ones, in desperation I removed all growth on the east fence, leaving only that on the south facing fence. Thereafter we gave the wilful wisteria little attention.
You can imagine our surprise and delight when we returned from our winter holiday to find buds appearing on all parts of the remaining plant. These photographs, taken with my Canon Ixus 155 compact camera, show the result. Yippee!
We found a charming teashop in Poole. For a change to travelling by car, we had taken the bus from Bournemouth Square that brought us to the bus station on the outer edge of town. Heading towards Poole Harbour through previously undiscovered areas we came across a small teashop: so inviting, we could not pass by.
Tea was brewed in small individual teapots, also used to adorn the walls. The scones, made by Marie a joint owner of the teashop, were served with jam and cream and tasted as delicious as they looked. Paul opted for his favourite – a large slice of Victoria sponge cake, declaring: ‘It’s every bit as good as my Mum used to bake.’ Praise indeed!
Marie and Lara were attentive and friendly, without being invasive. We learned that ‘The Little Teapot’ is family owned and run. Marie is delighted when holidaymakers find her traditional shop with its speciality teas and home-baked cakes. But excellent coffee and savoury dishes that include a mezze sharing platter, salads, paninis and toasties, all made fresh to order, make it more than a teashop. Open all year round, it is not surprising that it attracts local people as well as visitors to the area. A framed award on the wall is well deserved:
5 stars Tripadvisor – 2014 Winner – Certificate of Excellence
‘The Little Teapot’ is located at the waterfront end of the High Street, opposite the Antelope Public House, just round the corner from Poole Quay. We thoroughly recommend a visit.
We left our timeshare apartment and turned right towards the five metre high sculpture situated high on the East Cliff overlooking the sea: three planes in red glass, their stainless steel smoke trails having glass discs in the Red Arrow colours, red, white and blue. The sculpture was designed by pupils from the Kinson Primary School in Bournemouth, in memory of Flt Lt Jon Egging, who sadly crashed after the Red Arrows display at the Bournemouth Air Festival in 2011.
Walking towards Bournemouth town, we passed the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. Its unusual design, visible from Bournemouth pier, reflects the style of its owners, Annie and Merton Russell-Cotes, who worked closely with their architect John Frederick Fogerty. The result, in 1901, was a unique yet comfortable home providing an ideal backdrop in which they could display artefacts collected during their world-wide travels, including Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Japan. Following their tour of Japan in 1885, the objects shipped back to England filled over a hundred cases and are recognised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) as one of the most important Japanese collections in the world.
The ‘Urban Renaissance’ café (no admission charge if you are visiting only the cafe) provides some of the best coffee in Bournemouth. Whilst there, sample one of the absolutely excellent freshly baked croissant supplied by their sister café in Boscombe. Finally ladies, whether or not you have a need, be sure to visit the quirkily decorated toilet said to have been used by Lily Langtry, actress and Mistress of King Edward V11, known as the ‘Lily Langtry Loo.’ Check opening hours: http://www.russell-cotes.bournemouth.gov.uk
Approaching Bournemouth pier, we were disappointed to find the building work due for completion in Spring 2015, was not finished.
‘It will be a vast improvement on the building monstrosity here previously.’
‘At least we can weave our way around to reach town.’
Despite the on-going use of machinery in the Lower Gardens, spring flowers were pushing out, encouraged by the tardy sun appearing late in the afternoon. Sunshine encouraged tourists into the balloon that was anchored in the Lower Gardens, now high above us, affording its occupants a fine view for twenty miles around.
Hungry and seeking to eat before returning for a quiet evening in the apartment,we discovered Harry Ramsden’s fish restaurant open for business on Undercliff Drive, East Beach. Its location overlooking the beach, friendly greeting and interesting 1920’s décor with black and white Charlie Chaplin film playing on the far end wall, encouraged us to relax over a glass of acceptable house white. The meals were equally fulfilling, light and tasty batter perfectly complemented our large cod with mushy peas and well-cooked chips. We had no space for desert. On the return we were glad of the uphill walk to our apartment, thinking it might help keep our weight down!
I do plan to continue blogging about our holiday earlier this year, to Dubai, Australia and New Zealand but – new to blogging – it is taking me a while to get to grips with the mechanism. Also I would like to blog about current activities, so here is my first blog about one of the Healthy Walks organised by Elmbridge Borough Council. There are walks on every day of the week: short walks for people recovering from illness; longer 8 or 9 mile walks for the fit and energetic, and distances in between: 3-5 miles particularly suits my ability and time available.
My favourite walks finish at a café for coffee or small lunch, almost mandatory! Leaders plan the route, bring first aid equipment and ensure the necessary health and safety forms are completed. Louis and Gillian became leaders on the Elmbridge Borough Council Walking for Health programme specifically to offer walks that include dogs. Louis is the leader and Gillian brings up the rear with their rescue dog Shayner trotting alongside.
In mid March I joined Louis and Gillian’s Towpath and Desborough Island walk. We met at the Riverhouse Barn in Manor Road, Walton-on-Thames, where Louis and Gillian noted everyone present and any health issues. The weather was crisp but dry as we set off, a group of about twelve walkers.
We walked by ‘River House,’ at one time the home of Sir Arthur Sullivan, the composer who became famous through his collaboration with William Gilbert. Their best known compositions include ‘HMS Pinafore,’ the ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘The Mikado.’ The landscaped gardens of ‘River House,’ with established trees and shrubs, were left in Trust for local people, so we followed Louis along the winding path and down the steps to reach the towpath. Just past the historic Anglers pub I noticed swans near the jetty, giving credence to the name of the nearby Swan public house.
The day was brightening as our group continued along the towpath towards the new Walton Bridge. JMW Turner painted the river looking towards the Walton bridge in 1805 and a ferry is known to have worked at this crossing in the 17th century. Five bridges followed, with over thirty years of debate taking place before the latest, sixth, Walton Bridge was opened in 2013. This is a tied arch, single span bridge. The removal of the piers of the previous bridge allows wider river views and enables easier navigation for boats, rowers and other river pleasure seekers.
Opinion is divided as to the choice of the bright cream colour for the new bridge. Someone said that it is a colour easily seen by flying swans and birds, to prevent them flying into the structure, in which case it is a good choice: whatever the reason, I like the colour and the new one is a vast improvement on the old dilapidated bridge.
We continued past the marina, under the bridge, pausing to admire a pair of proud ducks and their ducklings on the river bank at Cowey Sale, an old river crossing site before the first wooden bridge was built.
Desborough Island was created when the Desborough Channel was cut in 1935 by the Thames Conservancy, who named it after Lord Desborough the Chairman of the Board. This cut made the river journey much shorter by avoiding that part of the Thames that wound around Shepperton and Halliford.
Today members of the Shepperton sailing club and other pleasure craft may be seen in fine weather, cruising around these meandering bends. There are two narrow bridges from the towpath to the Island. We crossed over the bridge farthest away, continuing along the footpath beside a bend, taking us close to the Shepperton side of the Thames.
We paused to look across at the sailing club yachts. Nearby a beautiful white house is set on a sloping lawn. Whenever I pass this house it appears empty so I daydream about who might own such a property but spends little time there. We chatted as we walked, making new friends: in twos or threes, some solo, as we progressed along the footpath, on to an overgrown section where the path gets little sun and is often muddy. Eventually the path opened onto a narrow tarmac road that led us back to the second bridge where we took the steps down to the Walton side of the river.
The sun was stronger on our return: geese, swans and ducks waddled about on the grass beside the river bank, the occasional ‘quack’ telling their friends to move, as they proudly showed their brightly coloured plumage in the bright sunshine.
Returning under the bridge, we passed beside the marina where I noticed a haze of green at last appearing on the willows, usually the first in leaf, buds now plumping out.
We arrived back at the Riverhouse Barn, ready to change out of our walking shoes before ordering coffee and toasted sandwiches for lunch, that we ate whilst sitting at tables outside in the sunshine.