A whole village owned by the National Trust!!

Yes, the National Trust owns a whole village in Kent called Chiddingstone although if you blink, you really do almost miss it. It’s only when you explore further from the road that you discover a castle, beautiful grounds with the clearest lake I’ve ever seen (amazing reflection!) and the Chiding Stone. This stone has many myths around it but one is that women who nagged in medieval times were brought there to be publicly berated! A small small post office/tea room/shop and a pub too! So, I’ve now checked out two National Trust places as a paid up member so I need to visit one more to tick this off my ‘challenge’ list.

I’ve also been tweeting with a new account @bucketlistsarah so do follow me on there as I’m sharing my thoughts of things to do this year.

Oh….and I found somewhere special to have afternoon tea…..Highclere Castle which is known to millions as Downtown Abbey. Tickets brought for me and hubby to go there in July 😍

First trip out as a National Trust member

A few years ago, I think joining the National Trust was the first sign of firmly being in ‘middle age’! But I think that more young people have joined over the years or at least that’s my excuse as I’m still not ready to accept the ‘middle aged’ bit quite yet! I know the National Trust announced a few months ago that it now has over 5 million members which is impressive. So, at Christmas, hubby and I decided to join and today was my first use of our membership: a trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. Built in the 14th century and surrounded by a moat, it sits in stunning countryside. Just, wow! A lovely, if not rather cold, afternoon. Another two trips to National Trust places and I tick off another of my ’50 list’.

Plans to see the Diet Coke Christmas lorry didn’t work out due to having the flu but it’s a new year and time to plan this year’s trips to Cornwall and Northumberland…..oh and Eastern Europe too.

Pulled a pint behind the bar!

beer

In the past week, I managed to tick off another challenge……pull a pint behind a bar. Just like the time in my 30s when I asked a policeman in the middle of Leicester Square, London if I could sit in the back of his police car, it just goes to show that people are often more than happy to help if you explain that you’d like to do something.

Last week, I was out for dinner with friends and got talking about my challenges. The restaurant was fairly quiet and when I read out to them about having never pulled a pint behind the bar, my friends and I though it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask if I could and the waitress was more than happy for me to do it. My first attempt was rather funny as it appeared as if I had filled the pint glass with milk! So much head and really not a lot of beer! But my second attempt was far better after being shown how to pull a pint properly. So, yay, another one done!

Next week, I’m planning on seeing the Christmas Coca Cola lorry down in Brighton which I am just buzzing about!!!! Am very excited about that one and I’ve also emailed a group about doing some voluntary work with adults who have learning difficulties, Down Syndrome, etc. My plan is to do at least 50 hours and with the group meeting one evening a week, that’ll be me set up for the next 6 months or so. Still waiting about the ukulele lessons but, with 2017 nearly through, I feel as if I’ve made a good start. 2018 will hopefully see a bit of travel going on!

Thursford Christmas Spectacular…..amazing!!!!!

It is clear to see why the Thursford Christmas Spectacular tends to get booked up months in advance!!! If you like Forty Second Street, Top Hat, River Dance, etc., and REALLY like Christmas, it’s well worth the trek to the Norfolk village. The grounds are turned into an old fashioned Christmas scene with quaint shops and a trip around Fantasy Land with moving penguins, polar bears and bears makes you feel like you’re a child again!! In all, over 6,500,000 lights are used. And then there’s a 3 hour show!!

The show involves West End standard performers with top notch dancers and singers in glittering costumes. The organist on the Wurlitzer has been as Thursford for the past 37 years and 40 years at Blackpool tower. The juggler was surprisingly impressive and the compère was hilarious. It was a super long day getting there and back but we’ll definitely go again next year. Wow wow wow!!!!!!!!

Doing the Hallowe’en thing at Hell-fire Caves, Buckinghamshire

And they say that daytime TV is bad for you! Yes, I often have the TV on when I’m at home and it’s literally in the background as I spend hours (and I mean hours and hours) writing reports for my job. I do worry sometimes when my husband and kids say goodbye to me in the morning as I sit on the sofa only for them to come back hours later and find me sitting in exactly in the same position. I do move! And I HAVE been working! But I find that having ‘noise’ around me helps me concentrate.

Anyway, in the last couple of weeks, there was some BBC1 programme to do with antiques and they did some filming from Hell-fire Caves in Buckinghamshire. Now, if you haven’t heard of the Hell-fire Club, it was a group set up in the 18th century for high profile people (especially those in politics) who wanted to participate in immoral acts. So, the caves were created for such meetings to be held away from prying eyes. And, when I saw it on TV, it seemed like an interesting place to venture over to as one of my 50 things to do before I turn 50 is to go in a cave. But I panic in closed-in spaces like lifts, small rooms, etc and so this would be a challenge that would be taking me way out of my comfort zone.

With it being Hallowe’en in just a few days’ time, I thought it would be packed but thankfully it was quiet. Hell-fire is a network of caves cut into the Buckinghamshire hillside and the sides of the cave were clammy. It was kinda disconcerting how there were ties on the cave roof to stop it from collapsing! I have to admit that I did scream a couple of times! Naturally, it was very dark in there and I didn’t notice that there was someone in front of me until he moved….. very embarrassing when I had to then apologise for screaming in his ear! And there were families there out of my eye-sight where the dads thought it’d be fun to scare their kids by making them jump and scream…..and me!

So, I’m really pleased I went. Being self-employed and super busy, I always have reports to be written and it’s the first time in about 4 years that I’ve nothing to do!

Day 6 in France: back in Calais but I had a blast!

The only thing left that I wanted to do was to go up to the Pink Granite Coast but, with it bucketing down with rain when I woke up, I thought I could just take my time to head back to Calais and start the journey home. Another deciding factor was that I didn’t fancy finding myself in the River Rance by the holiday home! Reversing each day out of the short driveway, tow path and about 3 feet of verge has been tight, even with my rear view camera so doing it in the dark early tomorrow morning wouldn’t have been much fun!

Before coming away, I had visions of learning to cook, watch Call the Midwife and starting my new Open University module…I didn’t do any of these! Thank goodness for microwaves and jacket potatoes!! And I never did find the tin opener for the soup I had brought with me and I only found the dinner plates last night….don’t ask!! I’ve a long way to go if I wish to become a domestic goddess. Hubby has said that we could order in an Indian takeaway tonight…..I’m hungry!

But, with French radio on, I found myself picking up the odd word here and there on the news. It’s funny how your ears start to tune into a language and you realise that you still remember some parts of your GCSE French, even if I scraped a grade C! It was a blessing to have British tv on in the evenings that helped to fill the silence in the house, even if it was Danny Dyer in EastEnders! I thought that Dermot O’Leary on the radio at Dover port on Saturday morning would be the last British voice I’d hear all week.  I strung together no more than about 4 French words, most notably ‘fromage et jambon’ in the cafe and ‘ce n’est pas ma maison’ to the lady who came to read the water meter at the holiday home before I left. We were both using our phones to try translate what we wanted to say which we found very funny! And we never found the meter!

Having never lived alone (I went straight from living at home with parents to the church for our wedding to the honeymoon and then to our house), I got on surprisingly well with me!! I think a holiday alone needs some patience and acceptance for who you are and I’m quite used to my own company working alone. But I will be so so glad to walk through the door to my hubby and kids this evening!

So, in pursuit of my 50 challenges, I next need to follow up on having ukulele lessons and find a project to do 50 hours of voluntary work. Whilst it’s great to have space, I miss being part of a team so time to make some changes with my work when I get home. Even if I stay self-employed, I need to do something non-work related where I’m getting out of the house every week.

Would I go on holiday on my own again? Yes…..but I’d much prefer to go away with others. Time to plan the 2018 Eastern Europe road trip with hubby and ‘Amsterdamage’ with Ellie ❤️❤️❤️

Day 5 in France: the medieval town of Dinan

The last time I came to Brittany was when I was 11 years old on a school trip and I know that Dinan was one of the highlights although I couldn’t remember why. Well, now I know!! This millennium-old town is full of top heavy wooden buildings on cobbled streets and walking round takes you back to yesteryear. After a walk round and a bite to eat, I ventured down to the port of Dinan where riverside restaurants and bars tempt you in! And then a boat trip on the River Rance to Lehon through one lock. English commentary too. Now, time to chill!!

                              

Day 4 in France: The Palace of Versailles

           
Something I wanted to do on holiday was to visit a French palace or castle. There’s a castle about an hour away from here (Josselin) which looks perfectly pleasant but if I’m going to do something cool, I need to push the boat out…..and drive. It wasn’t until I woke up after a solid 11 hours’ sleep that I just thought ‘Come on. Let’s just do it’. It took around 4 hours to get to Versailles and the last part of the journey wasn’t fun!! A confusing road system despite the sat nav, armed police outside the palace and just the mayhem. But I got there and I’m very glad that I did.

The palace is beautiful with every wall and ceiling adorned with art. I think it may be reasonably quiet as I didn’t get there until around 3pm but it was packed. There are audio guide so tell you about its history and you can see the gardens too. So, I’m really glad I went and it’s another thing ticked off my list.

With today being the midpoint of my holiday, it made sense to do the long drive but the next couple of days will be nearer to ‘home’. I still have some plans but they’re weather-dependent and tide-dependent. There are also lots of tourist things that run only to the end of September that would have been good. There is an attraction nearby which basically links to a deep seated fear of a particular animal and I’m so terrified of this animal that I can’t even write the name here. Yeah, a massive fear!! Would be incredible if I actually confronted this fear of this animal which isn’t something you’d normally see in England. Still deciding how brave I am!

Still haven’t mastered any notable cooking so I think I will be coming back 7lbs lighter which wouldn’t be surprise after all the walking!

Day 3 in France: shopping, a zoo and Mont St Michel 😍

Sometimes on a Sunday evening at home, I wish a large supermarket is open so that I can pop in to get some essentials but it turns out that shops in France just don’t open on Sundays or, if they do, they close by lunchtime. So I thought I was going to battle crowds at the hypermarket at 10.30 on a Monday morning but it turned out to be ever so quiet. However, within moments of qwalking in, I just knew that Mike would be very glad that we don’t have this hypermarket at home. It sells everything!!! I was actually very reserved and frivolous purchases extended only to a couple of stationery files as you can never have too stationery. But I might go back later this week. And meat…..well, they sell everything which is made very clear through the pictures of the happy animals just above where their dead counterparts lie….horse, rabbit, duck…. I bought some blue Gouda cheese (and I mean Chelsea Football Club blue) which I’ll take home with me and eggs that have come from some animal. Not sure which 🤔

Bourbansais Zoo


Next stop was a visit to Bourbansais Zoo……and I got to see a red panda which was my number one animal I wanted to see. Feeding popcorn to the goats was cool and I saw lions, lynxes, wallabies, meerkats, otters…….
Mont St Michel


Oh wow. Well, I got the photo so that’s part of another challenge met. The streets make you feel like you’re on the set of Harry Potter’s Dragon Alley and it’s just pure magic. Having got the free shuttle bus from the car park, I thought I’d upgrade to a horse drawn carriage on the way back. Met three American ladies who were really lovely and in fact invited me to dinner….bless!!!

Day 2 in France. Wobbly night but great afternoon :)

It turns out that a fridge-freezer has the capability to make you think you’re about to become the latest statistic for the local police force. Yesterday evening, I could hear a series of knocking sounds coming from behind me….at gone 10pm….at a glass door where people can walk up the terrace and see what I’m doing. I froze, fearful that this isolated house would be easy pickings for a robbery or such like. As Mike guessed when I phoned him (and starting thinking that this solo holiday malarkey was a bad plan), it was the fridge-freezer. Phew!! I have to say that as night fell, I found myself rattling around the house which sleeps 6 people and wondering whether I would have been booking a touring holiday…perhaps down to Andorra stopping off at various places. I’d booked a large house as I wanted to feel like I could breathe and not be in a tiny cottage….but I woke up feeling better.

First, I had clients who flew up from the south of France to see me so I can now say that I’ve gone international!!! Most people seeing this will know that I’m a special needs consultant (www.smdyslexia.co.uk) but I’m now fully booked until February, hence my need to get away ringing phones and enquiries. The people today were amazingly charming and a joy to be with ❤
Valley of the Saints, Carnoet


And then I was off exploring. I travelled to one of my ’50 things’….the Valley of the Saints in Carnoet which is an art installation of 1,000 French saint statues which is being dubbed France’s Easter Island. There are roughly 300 so far and it was pretty good even though I was fighting the rain and the muddiest car park! One of the photos in particular shows the scale of the statues.

Saint Malo Grand Aquarium in, er, Saint Malo

     

But my favourite part of today? Saint Malo Grand Aquarium. Oh….wow!!!, I mean, sharks, sea turtles, jelly fish, piranhas, etc., etc., and the smiliest ray!!! But I’m declaring a last minute ’50 things to my list…..challenge my claustrophobia. I, Sarah, went in a submersible that may not have gone that deep but I was under the water for what felt like 15 minutes. It was a typical ride where you clamber on as the carousel continues to move but I then had to go down a narrow staircase to a dark round room where I was on my own, looking out at the seaside through the port window. As my family knows, I’m terrified of tunnels and, where possible, I hold my breathe until I’m under direct daylight. So today was a biggie.

‘Home’ now……X Factor tonight and I’ll set out on my adventures in the morning x