After our three-week exile, we have returned to Gloucestershire. But not yet to Cheltenham.
It is a pleasure to be staying tonight in a house made of stone of a lighter colour than ever we saw in the North. Driving down from Wakefield this morning, we stopped at Ecclesfield, a dark church both inside and out, but its scale and grandeur a reminder of the days when the parish was more than twice as large as Sheffield. We paused also for a wander around the gardens at Renishaw, dominated by a magnificent display of hydrangeas. (My photograph was taken from the lawns in front of the house, the view seeming to indicate a remote setting, but the trees hiding power lines and other indications that we were on the edge of a big city.)
Getting back into the car, the M1 traffic contrasted rudely with two such oases of calm.
Continuing our quest for Yorkshire treasure, we have just returned from Wakefield and the Hepworth Gallery. Brilliant! As a building it knocks the new Cheltenham extension into a cocked hat. And what other British artist of the 20th Century has such a shrine in their home country, around which so much other excellence is assembled?
Earlier we visited Salts Mill, which must have one of the most extensive arts-related bookshops in the country, not to mention all those Hockneys. And the magnificent Yorkshire Sculpture Park, with its eclectic mix, the majestic Moores (today is his 116th birthday) standing out from the crowd. A heady experience.
Starting off uphill to Sledmere, where we didn't linger, we drove via Malton to peep at the new Stanbrook building works. After a happy chance chat with the Abbess, it was off to Coxwold, to the Pottery. Alas Peter the potter has died, so potless we moved South-West to find lunch, birdlife and other solace at Harewood. (It was Caroline's first visit.) A Henry Moore exhibition was a bonus.
Signs of Le Grand Depart remain everywhere, not least the massed marigolds at Harewood. Having all but climbed the Cow and Calf rocks, we now overlook - from our B&B - the River Aire.
Few farmers have pretty gardens. Where we are tonight is an exception. We are drinking tea in considerable comfort in one of the many "rooms" of the garden of our B&B at Manor Farm, here in the Yorkshire Wolds, not a cloud in the sky. It followed on from lunch in another pretty, but smaller garden further East, at Lockington; and a wander around a third, huge garden where we stayed last night at Normanton-on-Trent. None, however, appears to be organic.
A bit bleary-eyed, I awoke this morning as the ferry crossed into Plymouth Sound. Reclining seats aren't my favourite place for sleeping, but mine served. It was a dawn worth waking earlier for.
The sky clouded over as we biked up the fairly deserted city streets towards Central Park, near where we had parked the car. By 10ish we were on Edmund's boat in Bristol; at 1, we stopped near Twyning to eat our sandwiches, and around 4 we were drinking tea outside the Charles I Coffee House in Newark.
Bidding goodbye to our musical hosts at Keranot, we biked off this morning in no great haste back to Roscoff, sticking to the roads which abound. This tractor driver assumed we were lost when I paused to photograph him and his two colleagues, planting cabbages in nifty fashion. The fields all grow vegetables in this Léonard land.
Tonight is our last night at Keranot. We shall miss our gite, with its sparrows and the swallows and martins swirling around our little terrace and diving through the barn door opposite. We shall also miss the 10pm sunshine on our lane. Yesterday's stormy weather cleared the air, but it was 32 degrees in Morlaix this afternoon, so we are happy to be back here in the relative cool - and away from the traffic. Actually we rode into Morlaix along empty side roads for the most part: there are many of them, all in good nick - a calvaire at every junction. Leaving our bikes at the station, we walked across the amazing viaduct. My photograph shows the arches, and one of the pipes draining water from the track high up above.
I am still struggling with my Hudl camera - or rather cameras. (Do I really need two?) Caroline forgot her glasses, so had to bike back down "our" lane to fetch them, giving me this opportunity to have another try.
Incidentally, one of our perennial gripes about going on holiday was how feeble the bulbs were in other people's bedside lights. Now, thanks to tablets, it's no longer a problem.
Were there a best kept hamlet competition in Leon, Keranot would never make the short list. It consists of some half dozen houses at the end of a no through road, the steep route down to the mill now impassable except on foot. As the sign indicates, cars need to make a detour. We walked down the other evening, discovering amongst the trees a secret garden wedged between the Koad Toulzac'h river and the mill race. M. Louis Lapous still mills, but not wheat: only oats. His creme d'avoine seems widely known around Finistere. (No more room in our panniers though!)
Specs recovered, we cycled off to Saint-Thegonnec for lunch with friends who live on the coast. Upon entering the Restaurant du Commerce, its car park replete with white vans, I felt some 40 pairs of workmen's eyes trained on the four of us.
We stopped here en route for Pleyber-Christ this morning. It was not something you would do if you were in a car: too much kerfuffle. But easy as anything when biking. The fountain, long a ruin, has now been rescued, and is presided over by a smiling, bearded stone Christ. It could be mediaeval, but isn't. We saw a similar sculpture yesterday in Guimiliau church, a Flight into Egypt which we were surprised to see dated 1992.
A garden flourishes beside the fountain, with a blue hydrangea: its petals have gathered on the cobwebs beneath Jesus' outstretched arms. The massive slate-topped bench to the right indicates this might be a minor place of pilgrimage, or at least the destination for a Sunday walk.
Five pine trees stand guard over a calvaire at the junction just adjacent, one of half a dozen we passed on our short ride today. (There are 30 in "our" parish alone). But this one differed: in place of a backing group (often a Virgin and child), there were two ensembles, one either side - a Pieta and a man and a boy. One of the series of excellent drawings on display in Pleyber-Christ church indicates the boy is leading the blind St Herve. [How do you do accents on a Hudl?]
Caroline finds it hard to resist a pottery, and today's (chez M. Bourel) was a goodie it seems. Despite full panniers on our bikes, we somehow have to accommodate two new mugs on our way back to Plymouth on Saturday.
The ride to Lampaul-Guimiliau turned out to be easier than I expected. Not a single car passed us, as I can remember. After the pottery visit, we ate very well at Hotel des Enclos, and liked the Parish Close and church more than the better known ones at Guimiliau itself, nearby. But the hot weather continues, and two churches are quite enough for today thank you.
We just avoided colliding with a funeral at Lampaul-Guimiliau: three of the mourners sat at the next table in the restaurant. The priest was the same as said mass at Saint-Thegonnec on Sunday. "How many churches do you serve?" I asked him. "Four of us look after 23," said he.
This European association of associations exists to promote religious buildings as vehicles for a living Christian community to use for prayer. I came across it for the first time today, here in Brittany when a badge-carrying young woman at Sizun asked whether we would like a guided tour of the beautiful Parish Close. She was spending the month there as a volunteer with SPREV, the French member association of Ars et Fides. No bible bashing is very much the rule of the game, she told us, having solved a number of tricky art historical puzzles for us with ease and charm.
My photograph shows our jolly, saxophonist landlord, even more bemused than me by my Hudl camera.
The four kms. from our gîte to the nearest shop (in Saint-Thégonnec) seemed - from England - likely to be a challenge for those like us without a car; but the hills are gentle, and when you've nothing else to do it's a doddle. Approaching every decent-sized settlement in Brittany, we have come across cycle paths anyway, and the roads are pretty empty.
Before mass this morning, we explored the parish close, one of the finest of its type (we read). In the basement of the ossuary we came across a painted oak "entombment": besides the usual characters surrounding Christ's body, there are three angels, one clutching the nails and crown of thorns. It's the work of a Morlaix man, Jacques Laispagnol, completed in 1702.
My photograph shows the upper storeys of a café below Saint-Thégonnec church.
After a smooth crossing, we landed in a deserted Roscoff at breakfast time and made off towards coffee, croissants and the parish church's Renaissance belfry. Notre-Dame-de-Batz Croas was open, so we went in to explore before our cycle South. This alabaster bas-relief is one of a group of seven originally - now reduced to five: two were stolen - made in Nottingham in the late 15th Century. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost is shown descending on Mary and the Apostles.
Why, I wondered, were there still 12, Judas being dead? Ah, I see from Acts that Matthias was chosen to replace him before Pentecost.
From Withiel, we drove off this morning to lunch at the Finnygook Inn above the sea at Crafthole. This pub's name apparently commemorates the murder 300 or so years ago of a double-crossing smuggler by his partners in crime.
From there it was a short hop to look at St Germans church, before crossing the Tamar to find a parking place for our car, while we are away for our week in France.
The weathervane sits on a former pub in Withiel, the Old Pig and Whistle.
It was warm enough for me to surf at Booby's Bay this afternoon, though I didn't stay in long as even in the shallows I could feel the rip. Happy memories of family holidays and picnics with our old Withiel friends!
On this, our first day in Cornwall, we have been cycling gently, in preparation for the coming week on our bikes in Brittany. From Withiel, we went West along a pretty valley as far as Rosenannon. I then climbed up to St Breock Down to avoid returning the same way, whizzing back down to our temporary home just as the rain started.
This is just one of a handful of kids we watched enjoying their goaty playground at Tregolls Farm.
After a couple of nights in London and two more in Hampshire, we were back in our home county today for the second 70th birthday lunch in three days. En route, I collected three more church exteriors for my web collection: Gloucestershire churches now number more than 150. (This one is St Mary, Bibury.)
Crossing the car park at Bibury Court with a university contemporary, I was gifted the opening for my speech in favour of our mutual friend: "I gather," he said, "that you are giving the eulogy." As it was, our host considerably upstaged my post-pudding contribution to the proceedings. "We are a grandfather," he announced before the meat course - his son having just texted from hospital that his wife had been safely delivered of twins.
We are away from home for three weeks, having let the house to a Spanish family. The ten of them arrived from Stansted in a hired bus late on Thursday evening. We immediately had the feeling they were going to make themselves at home, which was reassuring after all the effort to get things ready for them - as well as packing for our trip.
After a night in Worcestershire, we are now in South London for a couple of nights. Today, we went to the Matisse cutouts at Tate Modern and called to glance at Smiljan Radic's 2014 Serpentine Pavilion. My photograph was taken, however, on our first visit, to the throbbing Brixton Art Fair: I enjoyed this as much as either of the more prestigious cultural stop-offs.
I was stopped in my tracks somewhat when chatting to a foreign-sounding exhibitor: seeing me with a camera strapped across my chest, she asked me innocently: "Are you exposing yourself?"
The high spots of last night's choral concert came in the first half, given a cappella by the Merton College Choir under Ben Nicholas (late of this parish). A taste each of Tallis, Victoria, Palestrina and Robert Parsons, followed by four Marian antiphons by four women composers. Of these, Kerry Andrew's Salve Regina stood out, though - as with Giles Swayne's Missa Tiburtina - I disliked the musical scrabble of "in hac lacrimarum valle".
80-odd voices in Gloucester Cathedral make a big sound, which is not always needed, in my opinion, for as subtle and mysterious a work as Duruflé's Requiem. Nevertheless, both chorus (three choirs combined) and soloists were magnificent. My photograph shows Ben Nicholas applauding organist Carleton Etherington, cellist Guy Johnston, mezzo Esther Brazil and baritone Nicholas Morton.
Not a good evening for Brazil though. I caught up later with the first half - it was enough - of their 7-1 defeat in the World Cup semi-final at the hands of the ruthless Germans: the crowd of 67,000 (mainly) stunned to silence.
This was the title chosen for a delightful harpsichord and cello recital at Owlpen yesterday afternoon. In use for the first time as a Cheltenham Festival venue, the 19th Century Holy Cross church is perched above the essentially 16th Century manor house - a picturesque ensemble featured in many photographs. As Nicky Mander, our generous host pointed out, music from the Baroque period finds an echo in the terraced garden with its stone steps and yew hedging, falling away below the house. (Pevsner records that it was laid out in 1723.)
The anniversaries were those of C.P.E. Bach (300th birthday, 8th March last) and Rameau (died, 12th September 250 years ago). Besides music by each, the duo performed pieces by a contemporary Italian, Lanzetti: new to me - I liked it best of all.
An enchanting programme, with brief, but infectiously enthusiastic introductions from cellist, Jennifer Morsches: she banished nearly all my feelings of discomfort from sitting in that penitential pew.
Nonetheless the four of us in our party were content to be able to adjourn to Owlpen's Cyder Press Restaurant for tea (and excellent coffee cake); so winding up il pomeriggio culturale as our Italian friend Adriana put it. My photograph shows her in a post-concert discussion over the French harpsichord, the hand of its player, Bruno Procopio, resting upon it.
The last time I met Nicola LeFanu was at a performance of one of her mother's works in Goldsmiths' Hall - in the late 'Sixties or early 'Seventies. That she is now regarded as a well-established composer in her own right was made abundantly clear from the reception a full house gave to her new music drama Tokaido Road at the Parabola Arts Centre yesterday afternoon.
An operatic equivalent of the road movie, it combines the words of Nancy Gaffield's prize-winning collection of poems with projections of Hiroshige's woodblock prints and Wynn White's contemporary photographs; balletic mime with spoken dialogue and bel canto singing, and a score for six very assorted Eastern and Western instruments that wafts exotically overall.
The pilgrim's dilemma, of when and whether to keep moving on was particularly evocative for me having walked through such distractingly beautiful places in April - divided (like Hiroshige's way) by rivers, the Danube and Rhine in my case.
LeFanu's work, which lasts an hour or so, followed a first half dedicated to classical Japanese pieces for sho and koto, and recent works by Howard Skempton for the same two instruments and oboe. I went along apprehensively, and mainly because I thought Mini would be interested. (She was.) Quite apart from some entrancing instrumental sounds, the staging and singing of LeFanu's work were exceptional: a festival highlight surely.
It's curious how a mask can alter one's appearance so completely. Here's our granddaughter, on our visit to the local museum this morning. I'm not sure which of us enjoyed it more.
I'm also enjoying "Mr. Tibbits's Catholic School", a memoir about the staff of St Philip's, the prep school where the late Roger Taylor worked for many years.
Written by Ysenda Maxtone Graham (a name that sounds as if it's the unlikely result of an anagram), it was published in 2011 by Slightly Foxed - three years before Roger's death: I hope it pleased him to read, "What was it about Roger Taylor that made him such a great man?" (despite the past tense). Five affectionate pages follow, answering the question.
The book made me laugh a lot. Here's an instance: St Philip's broke every prep school record for being beaten [at games]... Sports masters tried to be as upbeat as possible in their reports. "As 0-3 defeats go, it was one of the best I've known."
Caroline and I have between us collected quite a gaggle of Godchildren. It's nice when we have visits from them. Last week, Caroline's Godson and his newish wife came to stay: yesterday, my violinist Goddaughter arrived for the night, our reason for booking tickets for the concert I mentioned. She's been at another this morning, before joining us for lunch in the garden afterwards.
A great pleasure, but I was sad to reflect on how small a part I had had in her musical flowering: yesterday was the first time I had ever taken her along to a concert.
Dropping off at the Pump Room, I saw Festival Director Meurig Bowen, who handed me a copy of his 70th Anniversary Festival book: it's a beautifully put together assembly of all the programme covers over the years - plus a few photographs at the end (two by me).
Nicola Benedetti performs a lot at this year's music festival, swelling the coffers nicely as a result. Her reputation is well founded on the evidence of tonight's concert in a packed Town Hall: I haven't heard such compelling chamber music-making in a long while. Even the long Brahms Quartet at the outset more or less held my attention. A new work for piano trio by Arlene Sierra followed, helpfully trailed by the composer in an interview with the cellist. After the interval came the Shostakovich Piano Quintet, a thrilling performance!
"Do not bid me remember mine end," urges Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2. Ignoring his example, I reflected this morning that the Adagio sostenuto at the heart of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" might do quite well for my funeral. Only, at 15 minutes (more or less minimum), it's of course grotesquely too long.
In Steven Osborne's performance, however, this was far from the case. Never have I found myself taking this sonata so seriously. It was the climax to a majestic recital - early Schubert and lateish Beethoven, all written within about a three-year period. The packed Pittville Pump Room responded appropriately, and we emerged into the sunlight to enjoy a picnic on the grass with friends - and afterwards a wander over one of forger Forbes' bridges across the lake towards a source of rather good ice creams.