Saturday, 31 May 2014

Montreuil sur Mer - the citadel

Saturday evening brought an unexpected treat. I had known that May 17th was the 'Nuit européenne des musées' but hadn't done any research to see if anything was happening in Montreuil. Whilst walking the ramparts we spotted this sign and thought we'd drop in and have a look.

 We were incredibly lucky that the English guide (sadly we never got his name) was at a loose end when we arrived so we enjoyed own personal tour of the citadel.
The original gate house
We were invited to try out the bricole which is a military engine for throwing stones, usually manned by women. I thought the word familiar, could it be connected to 'bricolage' or D.I Y. and apparently yes. They were often hired to other towns or castles in need of defence and so had to have the ability for a quick de/re-construct. Four people were needed to hurl the stones (for demonstration purposes our one was plastic) and I was fine until told to run backwards to avoid flailing ropes. Not an easy manoeuvre.

The bricole

It is one of the few fortified castles where you can see how the building developed over the centuries. Many old castles are pulled down and rebuilt with the original stones but at Montreuil they just kept adding. I had to be dragged away from the carved grafitti, some of it as early as the 13th century, which had been preserved when soil had been used to fill in parts of the battlements as protection from cannon fire. When it was cleared out dozens of images were found, including the cross of Jerusalem, horses and the medieval game of 'nine men's morris' or Merrels as it is known in France.


Cross of Jerusalem
9 men's morris

Fleur de lys

There is a particularly fine wooden barn which, although having been repaired over the years, shows how timber construction was carried out. You can see how the marks were used to locate the right beams.

Particularly interesting in this centennary year was the exhibition explaining the role that the citadel, and indeed Montreuil, played in the 1914-1918 war. There were hospitals for the French, Belgians & Indians and in 1916 the citadel became G.H.Q. The exhibition is in the area that was used as the communications hub and runs until October. I would certainly recommend a visit.

Sunset at the citadel

Montreuil just kept giving and on Sunday morning we were able to spend our last couple of hours at the book fair.

Montreuil sur Mer book fair

 And we loved this menu which we found on our last walk round town.

Menu for ditherers - Le Jeroboam restaurant

After such a lovely weekend even Dover looked attractive!

Dover harbour


The apricot jam is delicious!

Home made apricot jam - gorgeous!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Montreuil sur Mer - part two

Saturday was such a glorious day that we decided to stay in town and have a foodie day but first was a walk around the ramparts to choose a suitable picnic spot (never go on holiday without access to plates, cutlery and a bottle opener!)

Well tended vegetable plots

This spot was a possibility

The walk was followed by a restorative coffee and then we hit the market. This is held every Saturday morning and has all the stalls that you expect to find including the one selling the outsize lingerie. Andrew was tempted by the paella but did not succomb.

Serious buying
These beautiful tomatoes went into the basket, swiftly followed by a punnet of local strawberries.

They tasted as good as they looked

I also bought a couple of kilos of apricots to take home so I could make a few pots of jam. I was nearly swayed by the melon offer, particularly when I overheard the stall holder ask the woman buying when she would be eating them so that he could select varying degrees of ripeness for her. The same thing happened to us at Cascus where the owner asked us when we would be eating our cheeses.
How can you choose from all this?

An excellent choice by the owner

After the market it was into the boulangerie and charcuterie for bread, celeri remoulade and a pot of chopped up vegetables in  mayonnaise before heading off to our picnic site.

Lunch time view

We've never made a visit to Le Touquet or Montreuil without seeing a car rally. There were two different ones on the ferry and on Saturday the Singer St.Omer to Ypres three day rally rolled into town. I think that they must have been using out of dates maps as to my knowledge it is only about 58 kilometres between those two towns and Montreuil would have taken them way off route but not three days. Still the cars were gorgeous and very shiny.

They do come in other colours


As you may have gathered there is a lot going on in Montreuil and there is one last post as we were lucky enough to be in town for the 'Nuit européenne des musées'.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Montreuil sur Mer - part one

Part one I hear you moan! I can see that you fear endless posts about our weekend in France, page after page of photographs of us drinking coffee, meals we ate and oh so funny people that we met and will never see again. Rest easy dear reader, all I'd like to do is share a favourite town with you and say that you don't have to venture far across the channel to become immersed in 'la vie francaise'.

Last weekend was our wedding anniversary and as we had, at last, finished the winter project of the bedroom, we decided a short break was in order. One of our favourite towns is Montreuil sur Mer, although it is no longer by the sea as the river silted up many centuries ago. Situated in the Nord Pas de Calais region it can be reached within an hour from the channel ports making it a perfect place for a short break. Famous for its cloth industry in the 11th to 13th centuries and in a perfect location for trade from the south to Boulogne and Belgium the town grew wealthy. But the silting of the river, counterfeit cloth, the Hundred Years War and finally plague. took its toll and the town slid gently into decline. It wasn't until the 19th century that things started to improve and the town was of supreme importance during the first world war.

Roof tops of Montreuil

On this trip we stayed at the Hotel des Hauts which is just off the main square. I think we  first stayed there over 25 years ago but it is in a perfect location, has a lovely courtyard and the staff are very friendly. We arrived Thursday afternoon, dumped our bags and headed out for a glass of wine and a spell of people-watching before an excellent meal at Le Clos des Capucins. If there is one thing I struggle with in France it's being vegetarian, there has usually been a barrier in restaurants. It's not that restaurant owners aren't helpful, they often delightful, but rarely do they see past an omelette or a goat's cheese salad. At Le Clos they have a vegetarian option, and it was good!

In case you were wondering the second course was cooked in a wok
I did go for dessert, settling for a créme brulée. Little did I know that this was in the very fashionable 'three ways'. Yep three of them! Ordinary, pistachio and chocolate. I waddled back to the hotel.

Now, as I promised at the beginning this is not a blow by blow account of our trip, so I'm skipping Friday as we spent most of the day in Le Touquet. Oh alright then - just one photograph!

The very distinctive architectural style of Le Touquet
One of the reasons that we like Montreuil so much is that it is a everything you want in a French town. Yes it is very pretty but not everything is picture perfect.

Only the French can make shabby shutters look attractive!
It has all the shops you need for normal living: a small supermarket; a couple of charcuteries/traiteurs; several bakers; hardware shop; chocolate shop (essential!); florist; cheesemongers; hairdressers; a vet; a weekly market and a lot more beside.

Andrew can never understand why French towns have so many florists. Or hairdressers.
Several visits were made here

The name? Victor Hugo only stayed here for half a day but set 'Les Mis' in the town. Each year there is a son et lumiere production in the citadel.

So I think that's enough for one post. I hope that I've whetted your appetite and you'd like to see more. I'll leave you with a view from the ramparts.

Montreuil sur Mer

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Of mud and herbs

A friend has recently moved house and on the first sunny weekend decided to get the garden into shape for summer. I was horrified when she told me that she had got rid of all the herbs as she doesn't use them, "what's wrong with the mixed dried ones in a pot?'

The first thing I did when we moved was to plant a herb garden, I can honestly say that there is rarely a day when something doesn't get picked either by myself or Andrew.

Sunday - chives in the scrambled eggs, rosemary with the lamb.
Monday - thyme with mushrooms and an assortment of leaves in the salad
Tuesday - more thyme but with baked cherry tomatoes and bay leaves with lentils

I could go on!  I still have some gaps as my tarragon has failed and I would like more thyme varieties.

The herb border
The foxgloves are a bit of an aberration. When we moved in the border had foxgloves and hollyhocks, which grew to 5 feet or more and blocked the view from the window. This border is south facing and dry, perfect for herbs so the existing plants had to go, however the foxgloves keep appearing. I have resigned myself to their presence as they probably would have been planted in old herb gardens for their medicinal properties.

And now for something altogether less attractive! The last week or so has been quite wet but has not stopped the Sunday dog walk session. Buddy, trainee guide dog, enjoys mud. When I say enjoys, he really enjoys it. I'll let the photographs tell the tale.

First the puddle was carefully selected
Then a good roll
Followed by a shake

Then off to see Mortimer
Who was not impressed
So another roll
Finished off with some wet grass
But Mortimer is still unimpressed!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

An English bank holiday

Having spent the last few weeks gadding about and enjoying ourselves we thought we'd better knuckle down to some work during the latest bank holiday. Lawns were mown, borders weeded, an over-flowing laundry basket was emptied and so much dust was vacuumed that the Dyson over-heated and had to have an overnight rest.

Mortimer was delighted to be reacquainted with trainee guide dog Buddy who he hadn't seen for a month.

I won!
I started a new project, restoring this old filing cabinet that will be perfect for t-shirts, scarves and other assorted apparel.

I tried out a new recipe on Andrew - Middle Eastern falling apart lamb. The photograph is courtesy of The Times as it was a race between my camera and Andrew's fork. I lost.

Middle Eastern falling apart lamb - courtesy of The Times

Andrew laid the carpet in our bedroom, with a little help.


But all work and no play...

So late on Monday afternoon we downed tools and headed for the beach. It was a good time to go as all the traffic was leaving Old Hunstanton as we arrived. Evidence showed it had been a busy day.

Footprints in the sand
But by the time we arrived it was much quieter.

There were quite a few sandcastles.

Very decorative
Hoping for a bone burial site
We ended the day with fish & chips on the green, complete with a seaview.

A typical British bank holiday (without the rain!).

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The bee auction

It's been an usually active social life here at Nelson House over the last couple of weeks. Easter saw us in London, followed by Andrew's birthday and then last weekend visiting friends in Surrey. Roger is an amateur bee keeper and Saturday coincided with the annual West Sussex Beekeepers bee auction. Now I have always had a soft spot for bees and have secretly harboured a desire to keep them, so thought this would be an ideal opportunity to learn more.

The auction was held at the Brinsbury campus, part of  Chichester College, near Pulborough. There were over 300 lots, all spread out over the car park. Lots were varied as you can see from the photographs (apologies to any apiarists if I've used the wrong terms!)

Bee hives
Skeps - used for collecting swarms
Used for melting bees wax
Bee hive 'extensions'
Inspecting the lots
Mortimer on bee look out duty
The auction underway
In the end we bought nothing, apart from a lovely pub lunch and some honey flapjack, but I was quite enthused about bee keeping and had a good look at Roger's bee hives. He also kindly sent me away with a bee book and some catalogues.

Roger's hives (and yes their garden is gorgeous)
Apart from bee related activities we did a lot of walking with the dogs. Ben was happy (almost) to share his space with Mortimer.

Move over!

And yet again Mortimer found more water to splash about in.

Water dog
So once we returned home I did some bee related searches and have put our names down for a taster day in the summer. Watch this space!