Go Ape – Challenge No 39

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This 50@50 challenge was a total surprise on the day, and I had been quite nervous as it approached wondering what my son Matt had planned for me.  Growing up he was an absolute joy ( well most of the time) as he loved being outside either climbing, running, walking, cycling or playing sport…..however mostly he was climbing.  In Matt’s eyes our homes were only any good if the garden had a decent tree to climb in them.  Therefore when we pulled up at Go Ape at Leeds Castle in Maidstone it could not have been more appropriate.

https://goape.co.uk/days-out/leeds-castle

As I have said before I am blessed to have my children grow up into wonderful adults and one reason I am so proud of Matt is because of his supportive and encouraging nature.  When we have been on holidays in the past and we have had waterfalls to jump across, ledges with steep drops to walk along or any adventure to undertake he is always there for me with a kind word, a steadying hand or a pat on the back and he has done this since a young lad.  There is no fuss or drama, just a solid, steady presence which I have come to rely upon.  I now see him doing the same with my daughter-in-law and grand-daughters ( Iyla is already another budding monkey).  However I wondered this time if his expectations of me outweighed my ability and even his coaxing abilities!!!

BUT NO!! There is life in the old girl yet.  As we suited up I realised the men would be having by far the worst of it 😂 ( although I was covered in bruising the next day) and after a fear inducing, brief training session we headed into the tree canopy for the aerial assault course.  It took 3-4 hours and was at times quite physically gruelling ( for an overweight, under-tall and physically not at her peak individual such as myself).  However, this was all blown into insignificance by the fun we had.   We both absolutely loved the zip lines.  It was so hard to just step off the ledges and ‘hope’ you had clipped on correctly and that the ropes would take your weight but, my goodness, the adrenalin of then whizzing through the air, past the trees and out into an open meadow and then back under the tree canopy was fantastic.  It’s not often you can scream with joy in a public place but I certainly made the most of this opportunity!!!!! And that gentle ” am I going to have to push you mother”  in my ear was the only encouragement I needed to take that initial plunge, after that I was away.  Towards the end there was the Tarzan swing which crashed you into a cargo net and I was genuinely worried I would not be able to climb up it but I did not take the easy route, with Matt’s encouragement I gritted my teeth and worked my little legs and arms until I got to the top and onto the platform.  He then flew across providing acoustics which resonated around the woods and scrambled up with ease like a contestant on Gladiators ( my genes are in there somewhere).

At the end we agreed that it was a great course, higher up than it initially looked, challenging and fun for the fit and providing less taxing alternatives for the less able.  We would both do it again at the drop of a hat and would absolutely recommend it unless you don’t like heights.  It was so nice to spend some 1:1 time with my son as life has a general habit of getting in the way and this really was such a great choice of challenge.  

Simply the best fun…thanks Matt 🐒

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Kayaking the Dordogne – Challenge No 50

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So, at last, I hear you say….something approaching a proper, physical challenge.  And you would be right, when my friend Megan did this last year she thought to herself this would be the perfect challenge for Claire, a physically demanding three hour kayak, balanced out by the stunning scenery along the Dordogne (and the assistance of some of her rather gorgeous family  if things got too much) and a tasty Fench picnic.  I jumped at the chance but sometimes things are just not meant to be….

Our trip suffered numerous setbacks which were totally out of our control (personal sorrow, freak meteorological flooding and,the French being the French, various strike actions) so our new challenge became….just to make it to France!!

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I have known Megan for about 20 years now as we met when our children were at St Philips playgroup and we are both ‘cup half full’ people so hit it off instantly.  Therefore even though we had to shorten our trip and ditch the kayaking ( the Dordogne was flooded so not allowing kayaks on the water) we both still knew we would have a great time…which we absolutely did.

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We were staying at a beautifully converted house, near the town of Gourdon and a five minute walk away from Megan’s brother-in-law and his family who were extremely hospitable, beautiful people. Megan also had family and some other friends staying with us so there was a ‘party’ atmosphere which was wonderful.  We ate at a fabulous restaurant which only opens when pre- booked and all the courses included fresh herbs or flowers from the small but brilliantly packed restaurant garden.  We had a pizza chef come in his van to the house and cook what are undoubtedly the best pizzas I have ever eaten, to celebrate Megan’s brother in laws birthday ( duck pizza being a speciality of the region..inspired) and a bar-b-que, like no other…where the mushroom starter had been foraged, the meat cooked were huge steaks which I don’t even know how to describe and the fish was fresh and fabulous, all washed down with wine and merriment.

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However, there were two particular highlights to the trip.   Firstly, we had an amazing day trip where Richard (Megan’s son) kindly drove us to visit beautiful towns like Domme, La Roque Gageac ( where we looked at the doomed kayaks and I dipped my toe in a swollen and very fast flowing river) and the stunning Rocamadour.  I had no idea how breathtaking the scenery would be.  And the icing on the cake was a boat trip as promised…however this was rescheduled to Gouffre de Padriac, a subterranean river ( 103 m below ground ) which opened into the most awe inspiring cavern imaginable….you can undertand why they call them underground cathedrals. As the last visitors we had the pleasure of enjoying it’s majesty in silence for a while which I will not forget for a long time.

http://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/mobile.php

The thing I enjoyed most though…France itself.  Where we stayed was rural, tranquil and idyllic.  I sat in the garden watching more butterflies than I have ever seen in one place, buzzards were flying low overhead; there was birdsong including cuckoos, hummingbird hawk moths in the sweetest smelling honeysuckle and….wait for it….I saw Hoopoe!!  Poor Megan had so many conversations interrupted by me jumping out of my chair to look at something or other…..she had great patience with me.  In addition the surrounding area and towns are beautiful, the food so tasty and it is packed with things to do.  So Megan we may not have kayaked on the Dordogne but you gave me something much greater….a whole area of France to re-visit, and explore (Carcasonne especially), new friends and wonderful memories 🇫🇷

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Cake Baking Workshop – Challenge No 38

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So as I have mentioned previously My 50@50 challenges are also a chance to spend quality time with people who are important in my life; and they don’t get much more important than Kate, my daughter.  Aging has benefits as well as drawbacks and one of the greatest things is watching your children grow, flourish and become wonderful adults which I am lucky enough to to have done.  However, they have also turned out cheeky and so both Kate and Matt decided to keep their challenges as a surprise for me ( which secretly I loved)

Kate and I both enjoy baking and watching cooking programmes and even though she now lives in Londin we still message each other throughout entire episodes of the Great British Bake Off.  I introduced her to Delia Smith and Mary Berry and she in turn introduced me to Lorraine Pascale and online recipe searches.  She is a much more adventurous baker so I was thrilled when she said my challenge was to go on a cake baking workshop together.

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The day started well with a great breakfast ( although Kate’s porridge…see above..looked suspiciously like a pudding) in Canterbury before we headed out to the Canterbury Baking School.  We were lucky enough to have booked in half term so as it turned out we were the only people on the course.  If I say that our day with Vicky was quirky and chaotic, it is in no way a criticism and in fact it enhanced the enjoymeant of the days baking.  We chose what to bake, there were no fixed recipes ( which I found scary and totally out of my comfort zone as I religiously weigh and follow recipes) we laughed, baked and I learnt new skills.  

We made a pear frangipani (pre-cooked photo below) with a pastry base which was brilliant as I had never caramelised pears before or made a frangipani, and certainly had not made my own pastry for a very long time.  It was great and the end result was wonderful, especially the fruit aspect and could happily be used as either a pudding or an afternoon cake.

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We also made what I dubbed a ‘St Clements’ cake ( from the old nursery rhyme) as the main flavours were clementines and lemons…see photo below.  This was a flour free cake, using instead semolina and almonds.  Whilst the taste was great ( improved greatly by drizzling lemon juice with sugar over the top) I guess this is the risk you take with winging it when baking because the density was not quite right…too heavy and dry.  I would try a no flour cake again though as I really enjoyed the unusual texture…and adding poppy seeds ( which I turned my nose up at) was inspired…but I think a recipe for me to follow will be called for next time.

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We had fun chatting about Paul Hollywood ( this school mainly has bread making courses), overcoming a slight mishap I might have had with some pastry (no one told me it was a loose bottom pan!!!!!!!), me then reminiscing about cookery lessons at school with my friend Michaela and generally learning and baking together.  

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At the end we got to try Vicky, our tutors bakes, together with some of her Kamut bread (which was totally amazing) and figure out how on earth we were going to get four cakes home…without tins…knowing we were off to the Rum Bar in Canterbury first.

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I really can’t remember laughing so much ( although not always when and why we were supposed to be …..my daughter is truly incorrigible) in a long time and I had such an enjoyable day with Kate.  I am thrilled to have passed on a love of baking to her in the same way my beloved Mum has passed it on to me and to be able to share time in a kitchen like this was a real joy.  I will certainly be moving outside my comfort zone next time I decide to bake and am pleased that the grateful recipients of our bountiful offering seemed rather pleased too.  Thanks Kate ❤️

Attend a flower Show – Challenge No 17

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As I approach the ‘two months to go mark’  the challenges will now be coming thick and fast so expect to be overloaded with blogs until completion date.  It’s all so exciting at the moment and my life is quite a whirlwind hence this blog being written a tad after the event.  This 50@50 challenge was a personal one.  Most/some of you will know that I love gardening (probably when I have been boring you about it lol) but I have actually only ever been to one garden/flower show and that was many years ago, before I had the bug, when my father-in-law, Colin, and his wife Tina, took me to Hampton Court which was amazing.  Approximately 15-20 years has passed since then and I have followed Chelsea on the TV and intended to go, but never quite got around to it….until this year!!

I took advice from friends who had been and got there early ( I know, very unlike me!!), so I  was queuing at  7.45 am for doors opening at 8am.  I then headed straight for the 26,000 hand made poppies which were in the front of the Royal Hospital.  It was visually stunning, each individual and personal poppy made a moving tribute; but collectively it had such a strong impact.  I was glad I was able to enjoy it peacefully and reflectively.

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From there I went to the Pavilion which was virtually empty so I strolled around enjoying the variety of exhibits.  Particular highlights were the florists entries ( I surprised myself here) which were carnival themed, but to me looked more like stunning tribal headdresses, such intricate work,  vibrant colours and amazing flower combinations.  I also decided that irises and clematis were the flowers/plants I most wanted to take home and put in my garden and the protea would be my exotic choice.  Below is the link to this year’s RHS plant of the year, and I am afraid I disagreed with the judges verdict…by far the most stunning flower in my opinion was the chrysanthemum ‘ Rossano Charlotte’ ( see photo below) although I would be very happy to have the winning clematis in my garden any day of the week.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/2016/Articles/chelsea-plant-of-the-year-2016

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It was by now mid-morning, the sun was shining and so I stopped for a pick-me-up pimms and did a bit of gardening celebrity spotting before heading to the main show gardens.  I could go on endlessly here and wax lyrical about plants, sculptures etc but will instead condense it to this:- (although I will add that I did no research before I went so each garden was fresh to me which had both positive and negative results)

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  • my favourite garden was the Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital (photo above) which gave me goose bumps when I laid eyes upon it, before I even knew anything about it.  It was tranquil, spiritual and used trellis with patterns and holes to give height and form but without feeling enclosed.  The sculptures were vast but blended gently within the foliage and planting which was not crowded or false and together this achieved a real garden with a sense of serenity; and I am still in awe, I have no idea how it was done….skill and vision beyond words.
  • my other favourite was The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, (photo below) which initially I was not fond of but which drew me back later again and again, each time trying to understand it a bit more. It was not my traditional style but I ended up loving it.
  • my least favourite was ( sadly as I wanted to like it) Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrods Eccentrics British Garden….everything I hate in a garden…novelty, mechanics, all about the build rather than the plants = yuk!!!
  • my favourite planting scheme was purple and white with a hint of orange…I may have to find a corner of the garden to experiment with this.
  • best part of the show other than the gardens – by far and away it was the sculptures…I felt I was at an art gallery.  They were truly amazing and at every corner…how I wish I had the spare £10-100,000 they cost ☹️
  • wish list…. Affordable sculptures, clematis, and seating (which blends rather than stands out and entices me away from the weeding).

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It was an amazing day where I met interesting enthusiasts to chat with ( even though I went on my own), it provided me with enough inspiration for another 5-10 years and had constant surprises like the pimms tents at every corner, the music in the park, the artisan shops, and my favourite batik artist selling her work (Jane Hickman).  I ended the day with a ride on a red double decker bus back to the station and once home I shared my photos (another great thing was that this is a photographers dream to visit) with fellow enthusiasts. The latter has had a rather splendid result ………..I already have tickets booked for RHS Chatsworth 2017 (and lovely company to attend with….thank you Debbie and Nicky) which means I could not be happier.

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