Cruising the Dutch Waterways and a visit to the Keukenhof bulb gardens.

Two chocolate Easter bunnies were on top of the cheeses

 

My garden is beginning to show signs of Spring.  I have purple crocuses, white snowdrops and yellow winter jasmine adding  touches of colour.  But  I am reminded of the old song “when it is Spring again, I’ll bring again tulips from Amsterdam”.  Before I met my husband I went on a barge holiday along the Dutch canals and I think Bill must be bored of my tales of visiting an Edam cheese farm, a Delft tile factory and several quirky museums. I also remembered the strange smells from the many small workshops along the canals.

The canal going through the town
Canals are very much a part of Dutch cities

Three years ago at about this time of year I was indulging in one of my favourite winter activities. I was looking through travel brochures and I spotted an advertisement for a cruise on the Dutch waterways including the canals, part of the river Rhine and even across the Zuidersee.  When I read that the boat would be my namesake “the Lady Anne” and that the trip included coach travel from Bristol, I was sold. Luckily my husband was easily persuaded to join me.

The Trip

We caught the coach to Arnham sailing on the cross channel ferry between Dover and Calais. My heart always lifts when I say goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover. We boarded the Lady Anne, an old canal barge  in Arnham and found our very small cabin.  There was time to view the very sobering Arnham world war museum and hear the story of the disastrous “market garden” expedition where so many young lives were lost.

We were all  disappointed to learn that we would not be able to cross the Zuiderzee as promised due to high winds. The Zuiderzee is a large lake which was left when the Dutch drained  part of the Iselmeer to make more farm land.  The captain decided instead  to sail to Enkuheizen  and moor by the Zuiderzee museum 

The open air museum contains a large number of old Dutch houses which have been rebuilt and furnished to show a vanished way of life and is very popular with children.  We were also taken on a coach trip to see one of the new towns that was built on the reclaimed land. There is a saying “God made the world but the Dutch made Holland”. It was very difficult to imagine that the land we were walking on was under the sea fifty years ago. Enkuheizen itself had been a fishing village and there were a lot of remains of the sea fishing industry.

We also had coach trips to Delft and the Het Loo royal palace. The Het Loo royal palace was the home of the Dutch Royal family until it was given to the state on the death of Queen Wilhelmena

A peacock is showing off his feathers #Het Loo palace
A peacock displaying in the stables of the Het Loo palace

 

Luckily the Lady Anne was able to travel through the canals and down the Rhine to Amsterdam.  It was very pleasant to sit on deck and watch the Dutch people go about their business. We noticed how neat and clean everywhere looked. There were also a lot of ducks and other water birds. We had a chance to explore some of the Amsterdam canals before we returned by coach to Bristol

Amsterdam deserves its own blog post but we had come to see the Spring flowers.

The Keukenhof Gardens

Smelling the tulips
Smelling the tulips

The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens.

The Keukenhof gardens which are opened between March and May claim to be the best Spring garden in Europe. They were established seventy years ago as a showcase for Dutch bulb growers. For 2019 it is estimated that  seven million bulbs have been planted in over 79 acres. The Netherlands are the world’s largest exporter of Spring bulbs and over one hundred growers plan their displays in Autumn. The grounds are immaculately landscaped in a variety of styles and there is even a windmill you can climb to get a panoramic view of the whole park. Growers   also display their latest wares in a series of large pavilions and you can of course buy bulbs to take home.  We were able to spend a long time ambling through the park admiring the bulbs and also enjoyed a good lunch in one of the restaurants.

The countryside around also looks very colourful with a patch work of tulip fields where flowers are grown for market.

 

 

A bed of yellow daffodils beside the lake.
Daffodil beds along the lake
I found this you tube video of
The Keukenhof gardens by Drone

 

Bob Woodward, founder of Clicsargent

The charity logo is young lives against cancer

A photo of the staff of the Clic shop with Mr. Woodward.
I was able to take a photo a few weeks ago when Bob visited our clicsargent shop to buy his Christmas cards. Bob Woodward is second from the right.

I suppose most people in England have heard of clicsargent  a charity that supports children and young people with cancer. But I wonder how many people know the story of the remarkable man behind its foundation.

Robert Woodward was born in 1934 close to where I live in Bristol  and was a former pupil of the  junior school, Dr Bells  which my older children attended.  He left school at 14 and became a builder.  He  must have shown an early flair for business as he was able to set up a very successful property  development company with his brother.

However his life changed  when his son also called Robert was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 1974 at the age of eight.  At that time the outlook was bleak.  Most children who got cancer died. Robert was treated at Frenchay hospital near Bristol and Bob and  his wife Judy spent a lot of time talking with other parents at the hospital.  They lived close by but they realised that  other parents were sleeping on the hospital floor to be near their children. They also learnt at first hand the practical, financial and emotional problems parents faced coping with a child with cancer. Sadly Robert died at the age of 11.

The origins of Clicsargent

Despite their own difficulties they decided to help. Bob used his own money to buy and furnish a house the parents of the sick children could use.  Clic cottage was built as a home from home in the grounds of the hospital.  He also founded a charity to raise funds to help with the costs of caring for children with cancer:  Clic which is short for cancer and leukaemia in childhood.

From its small beginnings in  Frenchay it has grown to be one of the largest children’s cancer charities in the country. As well as ten clic cottages where parents can stay while their children are being treated for cancer, it also funds specialist nurses and gives financial grants to families in difficulties. It now also supports teenagers and young people with cancer.

In case you are wondering the Sargent part of the name comes from a merger with a similar charity founded by the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent.

The charity still continues its mission to be there for the 12 children in the UK who are diagnosed with cancer each day.  Thankfully nowadays the outlook is much brighter eight out of ten children and young people diagnosed with cancer survive. Find out more here Clicsargent

The Woodward family suffered further tragedy when a younger son who had Downs syndrome died at the age of 4. This led Bob to become CEO of a second charity the starfish trust, which funds care and support for children suffering from  other life limiting illnesses and disabilities.  The starfish trust has been pivotal in providing six specialist hydrotherapy pools, a meningitis research laboratory  and a technology centre for disabled students.

Bob received an OBE from the Queen in 2014 and even had a Great Western railway engine named after him. In 2012 he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Frenchay.

Sadly Bob lost his own fight against cancer last week but I was able to take his photo when he visited our shop just before Christmas to buy his Christmas cards.

This shows three volunteers in the store room. I am in the middle
Volunteering in the Fishponds shop

The clic Fishponds shop

I have been volunteering a couple of mornings a week for about 10 years in our local CLIC shop. Bob decided to set up shops to raise funds and our shop in Fishponds was number one. We are naturally proud of this.  The charity has raised over one hundred million to support children and young people with cancer  and our shop has raised over a million pounds in the thirty years it has been open.

It is always good to hear from people who have been helped by the charity. One of our former volunteers is  a young woman who has survived childhood leukaemia. She was given a computer by the charity. This enabled her to continue her school work at home and eventually obtain a place at university.  A couple of years ago our shop was badly damaged in an arson attack and Melissa was chosen to cut the tape to reopen the shop.

Melissa who had cancer as a child cutting the ribbon to reopen the Fishponds clic shop
Melissa reopening the Clic shop in Fishponds in 2017

Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

Croeso I Cymru  Welcome to Wales

This week Bill and I went on a coach trip to the royal  mint at Llantrisant which is near Cardiff in Wales.  I have been a coin collector for a number of years and was keen to learn a little more about how they were made.  The visitor experience centre was opened in 2016 and cost nine million pounds so we were hoping for an interesting visit.

History of the Mint

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The first British coin

Coins have been minted in England for over a thousand years. The earliest coin found with a London mark has the head of King Alfred.  From about 1100 A.D. coins were minted inside the tower of London and  until 1970 coins were still minted in London at a site close to the tower.  However the government decided to introduce decimalisation. In 1971,  pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound  and  a larger site was needed to produce the new currency.

The site chosen was  in  South Wales. It may not have been a coincidence that James Callaghan the chancellor of the exchequer was M.P. for the nearby city of Cardiff. The new mint at LLantrisant was opened 50 years ago in 1968  and over 200 million coins were struck in preparation for D day.  At the time I was at university at Bangor in North Wales and I remember the excitement of getting the new coins. Predictably people were less impressed when they found that prices tended to go up.

Visiting the mint

Gromit covered with new pence.
Still on the Gromit trail. This one has been covered with new pence.

The royal mint is on a 35 acre site and is the largest in Western Europe.  It has an interesting visitor centre which is open every day from 9.30 A.M. to 17.30 P.M.  Tickets cost  a rather hefty  £13.50 for adults and £11.00 for children and  a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £40.00.  Concessions and group rates are also available.  There is free parking and a small café.  It is four miles from junction 34 of the M4.  For more details click here:  The Royal mint visitor experience

Part of the energy used is generated by a wind turbine painted to resemble a daffodil, the Welsh national flower and named Delilah in honour of Sir Tom Jones who was born nearby.

Our visit

After a security check we saw a short film which introduced the new range of coins for this year.  New coins depict Paddington bear and James Cook as well as a series of 10p pieces with letters of the alphabet. There will also be a commemorative coin with “New Pence” like the original decimal coins.

In the next room our guide showed us a display of tools used to mint the coins. She  also pointed out  some of the details we should  look out for when examining our change. For example the two pound coins have an appropriate slogan round the edge. The London underground £2.00 has “Mind the gap”.

Next we glimpsed a little bit of the production process. I was a bit disappointed to learn that no British coins will be struck this week. Demand has dropped considerably with the increased use of debit and credit cards. However the mint produces currency for about 60 other countries and we were able to watch Egyptian pounds being minted. Our party were  suprised to learn that coins are packed in cardboard boxes ready for transport.  For obvious reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the production area.  You will also never see a lorry with Royal Mint on the side.

After the factory tour we had time to explore the exhibition area.  The mint also produces medals. All the medals for the 2012 London Olympics were made at the mint and copies were on display. There was also a cabinet devoted to the most famous master of the mint Sir Isaac Newton.

The mint has a small shop where you can purchase collector coins and other souvenirs including the largest chocolate money I have ever seen.

Our visit took about two hours including coffee and  rather tasty Welsh cakes in the café.

A famous car

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The Penny lane mini.

In 1967 the Beatles released the single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields forever. Two minis were covered with old pennies to promote the record and this one has been carefully stored and preserved for 50 years.

Christmas lunch at Avon Valley Railway Station

20181211_111011This year our French group decided to have Christmas lunch at Bitton railway Station.

This railway was part of my childhood.  I remember sitting in boring lessons at school and watching trains pass along the line. The Avon valley railway line which was part of the Midland rail network ran from Bristol to Bath and connected up with the Somerset and Dorset railway known affectionally as the S and D or slow and dirty. It took people on day trips to the seaside, to places like Bournemouth and Weymouth.

However in 1960’s the government decided that the car was the future and closed a lot of branch lines including ours. For many years the tracks and stations were allowed to decay. However we were fortunate our line between Bristol and Bath was turned into a cycle track by Sustrans. The thirteen mile path is very popular with both cyclists and walkers and also provides an important wildlife corridor.

A group of volunteers bought Bitton railway station which dates from the 1860’s and decided to reopen part of the track. They now run trains over a three mile stretch including crossing the river Avon. The volunteers host special events such as Santa Specials, Thomas the Tank Engine days, murder mysteries and Grandparents days.  If you want a present for the man in your life they can even learn to drive a steam train.

The Railway Buffet

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The volunteers  also reopened the station buffet and use two converted 1950’s railway carriages  named Margaret and Rose to serve meals. Our U3A French group decided that it would make an unusual venue for our Christmas meal.

We enjoyed a very good  lunch with all the trimmings in Rose and we were even able to order a glass of wine  If you are visiting the area at other times of the year you can get a good range of reasonably priced snacks and drinks.  You can also enjoy a full English breakfast followed by a walk along the river towards Bath.  For locals it is a popular place to take visitors. For the more energetic the cycle track leads to the former Green Park Station in Bath which now houses a number of stalls where you can buy snacks or crafts. The station has free car parking.

On a personal note I am pleased to report that 2018 was a very good year for me. As well as starting this blog, Bill and I celebrated our ruby wedding after surviving 40 years of married life, our youngest son Christopher married his school friend Lorna and our second son Martin and his wife Kirsty presented us with our first grand daughter. I wonder what 2019 will bring.