As the title suggests, this year’s birthday celebrations have been especially memorable. Loyal reader, read on...
Even before the celebrations began today, I had a rather unexpected birthday-call the previous evening. The phone rang, and I didn’t recognise the number that came up, nor the voice at the other end. The mystery voice immediately sprang into singing ‘happy birthday’. After the serenading had finished, the voice asked: ‘do you know who this is?’ and i thought I did, but the phone number didn’t fit. After a bit of head-scratching (an increasingly regular occurrence these days!), I guessed correctly, as It turned out to be the evergreen Reg Whellock, a member of the OCA , whose 100th Birthday party we’d been to a few weeks’ ago! These days, I’m a cynical bugger, but I’ve got to say, I was very touched that he took the time (and remembered) to ring me.
The Day of the DoDO
The postman was early, so I was enjoying reading through my cards much earlier than I’d planned. Thanks everyone - an enjoyable collection, some traditional, some rude and some weird in roughly equal proportions! And some great presents too. I also had a even more good wishes this year (compared to last) via Facebook and Twitter - details later in this Blog.
In the evening, we headed off to The Derngate, to see the 7.30 performance of One Man, Two Guvnors. The Play itself had already been in the West-End, and everyone we had spoken to said it was very good. We weren’t sure what to expect, and the opening scenes appeared to suggest a rather straightforward production with more than its fair share of laughs. That was good enough for me, but my expectations were about to be exceeded in every way!!! I won’t spoil for those who’ve still to see it, but rest assured, it is REALLY worth the trip. I have never laughed so much in my life, and I’m pretty sure there were one, or maybe two occasions, where Ann nearly wet herself!
It was packed a little later - Honest!
Most definitely the funniest Play I have ever seen! Just one word of warning - maybe don’t choose to sit in the first three rows!
Birthday Weekend - Saturday Ann has planned a surprise trip somewhere in the UK, complete with a hotel stop-over! I wonder where it’ll be?
Well, 120-or-so miles later, I found out, as we arrived in Monmouth. It was a bit of a grey day, but the quaint shops and quite a few men dressed up in English Civil War costumes made all of it a lot more interesting - and weird!
First stop though was The Punch House and a date with a Full English (even though we’re in Wales)
First Stop - Breakfast!
Full English, or Full Welsh???
Scenes around Monmouth High Street
The Royal Monmouthshire Regiment HQ
Nice View from the Monnow Bridge
Men Guarding the Monnow Bridge
Then it was off to National Trust’s The Kymin a few miles away, but along some of the twistiest roads I’ve ever been on with lots of blind bends - not the the best roads for a car with such a long bonnet! The NT property was certainly the highest NT property we’ve ever visited! and it was well worth it - if only for the view from the top, across Monmouth and the Wye Valley. The location has two buildings - one is a sort of monument to British Navy, opened by Nelson in 1802 - in effect a Temple. The other, a small folly, called The Round House, and built in the late 1700s consisted of two floors, with a small windy staircase connecting the levels. The buildings themselves are surrounded by open woodland, making it the perfect spot for a picnic and/or a country walk. All-in-all, a rather quirky but beautiful area - and well worth the slightly hazardous car journey ascending to the summit!!
The Naval Temple at The Kymin
The Round House Folly at The Kymin
Views to Die For!
On the way back to car, it was then I noticed we’d acquired a nasty dink in the front grille area!
Damn, that won’t be cheap to fix! There’s a lot of paint area to have to blend in! Ahh, the joys of motoring!!!
With our breath well-and-truly taken away by The Kymin, it was time to head for the next part of my weekend surprise, and our base for the next couple of days - The St Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club in Chepstow.
Wow! This a massive sprawling mass of hotelness! So large in fact, we couldn’t find the entrance (but did have fun not killing any golfers in their buggies who were dominating the roadway, during the attempt).
Inside was a very grand affair, all oak panels and oversized table lamps,! Although by the time we’d got to our room (what felt like miles from Reception!), a sense of ‘ordinary-ness’ was setting-in based on the look and feel of the corridors and our room. ‘326’ had a goodish view across the Golf Course and sported an ultra comfy bed and a large wide-screen TV, but the bathroom was badly in need of a refresh, and the mini-bar was the modern sort that we’ve seen in a lot of hotels recently - empty!, but at least that encouraged us to get to the Bar a little earlier than planned!
A nice touch though was that the Staff had left me a small box of chocs, with a hand-written note wishing me a happy birthday.
We attempted to book a table in the main restaurant for tonight, but it was full - clearly, guests who are staying at the hotel, aren’t given any preferential treatment. That’s slightly unusual in my experience. No matter, because of the hotel’s size, it had another large restaurant on-site, and we managed to squeeze in there for 7.15.
Well, the restaurant experience was pretty good. The menu punched well-above its weight and the Waiter, very professional and attentive - by 8pm, the place was packed (and that’s always a good sign) and the staff were kept busy. Ann chose the Chicken, and I went for the Lamb as our mains, but we did each manage to squeeze in a starter too, and in my case, a dessert (Blueberry Cheesecake) - Oh, and a bottle of wine too!
By 9pm we were both slightly pissed and collapsed in one of the many comfy settees in the lounge! And there we stayed until
Weather permitting, tomorrow we’re heading for Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey and Symonds Yat, crashing out at 7pm for my official Birthday meal The Crown at Whitebrook (that’s just been awarded its first Michelin Star!)
Birthday Weekend - Sunday
A lazy morning that began with a cuppa in bed and then down to breakfast. The Restaurant was packed (considering it was a Sunday), and the staff coped with the gazillions of guests really well. We think the extras were staying over from the Wedding event yesterday.
Then, after a hearty fill, it was back to the room to gather up our bits and pieces for a cultural day out. When we got back to the room, there were two swans on our bed!
And what could be more surprising than Swans on your bed? We were soon to discover it was actually pigeons-in-the-tree-above-your-car! As we approached the Jaguar, we both noticed that it was looking fairly discoloured in several places. On closer inspection, it became clear that it was much worse. In my 40 years of driving, I have never seen a car with so much pigeon-debris on it. They’d managed to miss the cars on both sides, and their precision-pooping had smothered the bonnet in about six places, and the roof, and the boot too! Yuk! Clearly the pigeons had been out for a night on the town, and got stuck into a berry-vindaloo.
We all know that the way NOT to clean the car in these situations, is to attack it and quickly rub hard, so after forty minutes-or-so, and with Ann now an official car-cleaner, we had gently softened the mess and wiped it clean. Luckily I also had some ‘bird wipes’ in the glove-box to finish of the job. Now where’s the shotgun???
After yesterday’s episode with the dink in the front, someone has definitely got it in for the car!
And so, it was back to the itinerary.
I’ve not been here before, but Ann visited here over 30 years ago! We love old castles (even more than we hate pigeons), and it was great just wandering round and soaking up the ambience.
Then it was off to Chepstow Town. A lovely place with cobbled streets and vibrant displays of begonias and other plants. Nice!
Then, after sampling the delights of Chepstow, it was back in the car for our next destination. On arrival, two things became immediately obvious. First - parking was a nightmare, with even the overflow car-park 99% full. Second, the temperature was now much hotter, hitting almost 22 degrees (in late September!!!). Neither of which stopped us enjoying this old place - it’s in remarkable condition, given its age, and there is plenty of it left to enjoy!!
And, after all this culture, what better to take a break and stop for lunch at the Pub opposite - The Anchor Inn.
Fruit - One of my five-a-day
The final part of our whistle-stop tour was Symonds Yat, a local(ish) beauty-spot with stunning views. But we didn’t make it. After negotiating even narrower roads than yesterday, we couldn’t find it at all! After nearly mowing down a local in the narrowness of the road, he was still willing to let us know that we were at the wrong one. Ehh?!?!
Apparently, there are TWO: a Symonds Yat EAST and a Symonds Yat WEST - and we were at the other one! If the streets weren’t already narrow enough, we now had to turn round, and that’s when I first noticed the ‘road narrows’ sign. This was impossible! as we were already in a road that was only narrow enough for one car, and one local, and now things were about to get even narrower! I had a strong feeling it was going to be a long journey - in reverse - back to road junction. Have you seen the view out of the back of an XKR???? limited doesn’t even begin to describe it. It couldn’t get worse could it?
Of course it could! There was now a car coming from the opposite direction, heading towards us with some determination. Fortunately, a local driveway had just enough space for our new found - and closest - friend to shoehorn his car into, and eventually, after some clever moves, we passed each other with a cheery wave and a joint sigh of relief!
All this proved that we didn’t really know the local terrain at all, and heading for the OTHER Symonds Yat, was almost certainly going to offer us the same driving challenges. We bottled it - and headed for the nearest petrol station, then back to base.
The Crown at Whitebrook
Our final stop for my Birthday celebrations was The Crown. The name suggested it was a Harvester, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! This was a VERY classy restaurant in the middle-of-nowhere, where a few days ago was awarded its first Michelin Star. This, officially, was my birthday-meal and from the moment we stepped through the small front entrance, the Restaurant didn’t disappoint!
This was a posh place, and doing good business, considering it was a SUNDAY night. OK, the portion-sizes wouldn’t have kept a mouse alive, but that wasn’t the point - every course was a taste explosion and presented in a way where it was almost a shame to disturb it! This was an operation at the top of its game, where they didn’t put a foot wrong all evening. Table-cloths and napkins ironed and starched within an inch of their lives (these days, I know about these things!), and Waiters who put the customer at the heart of the dining experience 100% of the time. Set the wow-factor to 11!
And by 10pm, we were done, so we slowly navigated the Jaguar back through the impossibly narrow lanes, arriving back at the Hotel just after 10.30. It’s been a very enjoyable surprise Birthday (and I don’t normally like these sorts of surprises!), and one that I’m sure we’ll still be talking about in years to come.
We check out of the Hotel tomorrow - checking back into normality, just after lunch. Another year older - and perhaps wiser too!
Good Wishes and Gifts
Carey, Clive, Abigail and Madeline
David and Val
Gill and Chris
Ian and Sharon
Ian and Ann
Jo and Janet
John and Sue Merrell
Kerry and Tanya
Margaret and Alan
Neil, Debbie, Alfie and Frankie
Nick and Celina
Paul and Karen
Ralph and Karen
Roger, Jane and Oliver
Rosi, David, Rhiannon and Jack
Roy, Susan, Janine and Lauren
Sally, Amie and Zak (x2)
Steve and Helen
Sue, Paul and Ben
Tom and Julie
Trish, John, Sean and Conor
Via Social Media
Ann – Red Shirt/Blue Shirt/Xeryus Rouge/Gerry Anderson Limited Edition DVD and Book
Bev - Book: Super Graphics
David and Val – Book: Doctor Who - 100 Objects
Denis – DVD: Man in a Suitcase/ DVD: The Saint (Colour Series)
Jo and Janet – Bottle of Champers and a Pub Voucher
Nicki – DVD: Enigma - Remember the Future/DVD - Randall and Hopkirk, Box Set
Paul and Karen – Bottle of quality Red and Moisturiser
Rosi, David, Rhiannon and Jack – Set of Coasters and and a salt & Pepper set for the Kitchen
Roger, Jane and Oliver – DVD: Strange Report/DVD: Dark Skies/DVD: Lone Gunmen/CD: Sarah Brightman - Classics
Tom and Julie - Coasters for the Kitchen + Bottle of Prosecco