Tommy Simpson and our Ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Mont Ventoux from outside of the village of Bonnieux Provence France

From early on in my life I have always had a fascination about the career and death of the British cyclist Tommy Simpson. In my youth I was a keen cyclist, but I never cycled competitively. I had one of those ‘Can you remember where you were when JFK was shot?’ moments in 1967 when Simpson died that July day during the Tour de France on his ascent of Mt Ventoux. I do remember exactly where I was when Kennedy died. I was in a fish and chip shop in Darwen, Lancashire – my hometown. I clearly remember my parents and everyone around being very shocked.

I vividly recall when Simpson passed away. I was in Blackpool, Lancashire on one of our ubiquitous summer holidays. I was listening in my earpiece to a cricket commentary on my transistor radio when a newsflash interrupted this very English scene flowing around in my head. I think importantly for me though it was the death of Tommy Simpson that was the first one in my life to really registered on my consciousness – how could such an athlete just die?

Simpson, it seems, contributed to his demise due to his response to the extreme pressure to succeed that surrounds the Tour de France, this pressure of course continues to this day. Sadly, it was ever thus that ways were being found to enhance a rider’s performance in the Tour. It was concluded that he also had done so, and this had made him unknowingly go beyond the limits of endurance, a point of no return. Due to having been quite debilitating ill in the previous days of the Tour a tragedy was the inevitable consequence.

He was, despite joining in with the culture of the times in striving to be better at any cost, an immensely popular figure. In England he was revered as an athlete which was unusual for the somewhat minority spectator sport of cycling. What I am saying really is that he was not a soccer playing superstar but through strength of character and that determination to win he had broken through the barrier into much wider popularity. He certainly had with me. I had followed his career avidly and for that reason his death was a massive event in my life. The modern comparison for my son would be the death of Ayrton Senna.

When travelling in Provence I had always looked up at Mt Ventoux, you must do as you cannot miss it, always thinking that I must go up there and pay my respects. Simpson’s memorial is constructed where he fell, just one kilometre from the summit on the route going up from the village of Bèdoin. I decided it was high time that I made the pilgrimage and so we set out first of all for Malaucène.

Malaucène market Provence France – a village at the base of Mont Ventoux, a start of the climb on the Tour de France

We did not go up Ventoux straightaway as there was a morning market in the town and we spent an hour or so browsing around. As usual we were unable to resist the temptation to buy. After a coffee in the market square, we finally set off to start to make our way up Ventoux via the route D974. The road is quite steep even in the initial stages leading from Malaucène, a summit route also used on the Tour. We reached a service station appearing like an Alps chalet, but we passed it by and pressed on towards the summit and our goal for the day. Even early on in our climb up the mountain by car it is clear that to do this on a racing cycle must require a certain quantity of superhuman strength – and a touch of madness. Without condoning it you can see that many would resort to assistance from whatever source available to try to deal with this immense pressure placed on them by the Tour de France. I cannot comprehend how anyone can attempt this at all but on this day there are a few amateur cyclists, some equipped with oxygen, attempting to emulate their heroes from the Tour. I am not sure how sensible it is to try – but try they must.

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Ascending Mont Ventoux – we never made the summit

Our car is new, a Skoda Octavia top of the range diesel model with the larger engine and has never missed a beat in all the time I have owned it as a company car. It has taken us the nearly one thousand miles from the North of England with ease and for the last week we have toured around the area without it offering complaint. The car is in the peak of condition. We round some zig zag bends and bizarrely at a couple of points I have the sensation of going downhill. I have had this feeling occur also in the English Lakes at higher altitude when your car seems to be almost cruising uphill with minimum power being applied. I am sure there must be a scientific explanation of this phenomenon. We carry on climbing quite slowly as I need to concentrate as we hesitantly reach somewhere around 4500 feet in altitude.

It is around this point on the climb, near the summit and then close to our objective of Tommy Simpson’s memorial that something very strange starts to happen with our vehicle. The car becomes very unresponsive and does not gain any further height with ease, becoming extremely sluggish. You sense that the engine has the signs of overheating and I half expect to see some smoke coming from under the bonnet. This is a quite disconcerting sensation, but worse follows in that it now appears to be that most of the mechanics of the car are starting to shut down and not responding to my control. This was quite scary as we were at a high altitude with serious drops going down from the side of the road. I did not feel I was in control of the vehicle even though I was only progressing the car at an exceptionally low speed. I decided to ease the car over to the mountain face side of the road and it did so very reluctantly. I must admit I was shaking and extremely stressed by this, as was Niamh.

There was no possibility of me trying to continue up the mountain road as my nerves were completely shot. It was essential in view of what was going on with the mechanics of the car that we try to get back down the mountain safely. Sadly, I would be thwarted in getting up to Simpson’s memorial, but discretion is as they say the better part of valour. I tell Niamh to get out of the car while I try to attempt to turn the vehicle around to head back down the mountain road. I have visually checked the engine etc. and nothing seems on face value to be mechanically amiss with the vehicle. The car really does not want to move but eventually I do manage after about a twenty-point turn to safely get it pointing in the opposite direction and Niamh reluctantly gets back in.

We start to retrace our steps down Ventoux and come immediately to a sharp turn. I brake and there is absolutely no response from the pedals. Fortunately, at this gentler part of the decent we are not going too fast and I negotiate the bend which then straightens out to a long steeper descent. Again, I try the brakes and – nothing! I manically pull on the hand brake and point the car to the mountainside and eventually bring it to a stop in a small ditch by the side of the road. Our nerves have been through the wringer and back again. At this point we both get out and now see our car as a demented enemy, no longer the faithful friend that has served us so well thus far. The only plan I can think of is that we bide our time and let the car completely cool down and then hesitantly and conservatively try again. This is what we do and when I am happy that we have left it long enough we get back inside.

Heading cautiously down the long descent the brakes are not perfect by any means, but they seem as if they will get us back to Malaucène if I take considerable care. We slowly but surely do this, and it was an incredible relief to get back down and park in the commune, get out and have a double expresso and mop each other’s brow. I had been thwarted in my plan for the day but worst of all we had got ourselves into a profoundly serious position on that climb. We felt that it could easily, so easily have ended with a far worse result. I have no explanation as to what occurred with the car on that mountain road. The altitude inducing a reaction in the car to that height was the only thing that I could put it down to.

What made it completely bizarre was that when we got back in the car and travelled all the way back to Mazan where we were staying, the vehicle drove and responded perfectly as it always had done previously. I could not take it to a garage as there was nothing to look at – it was fine. It drove perfectly for the rest of the week and on the long journey back to England. It was indeed time for a bottle of wine or two. I never got to Tommy Simpson’s memorial and reaching it is still on my ‘to do list.’ I will get there, probably without Niamh. I will pay my respects to my childhood cycling hero, but I will do it with profound respect for this dangerous mountain and I will do it with care and talk kindly to my car on the way up.

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Chocolat filmed in the quietest film location village in Burgundy

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Flavigny-sur-Ozerain – L’Ange Souriant Chambres D’Hotes

Chocolat

This destination is one of our favourites – Northern Burgundy. It is a much neglected part of France from a tourist standpoint. To the north is Champagne with its landscape of gently rolling vine covered hillsides. The towns of Champagne are steeped in wine making history and the money coming into the area keeps it looking expensively maintained. It is an area that will always delight but just to the south is a less travelled region that is more warts and all in its presentation. The towns are just that little more untouched and authentic, the countryside rural and pure, not quite manicured to within an inch of its life as in Champagne. It is a region that produces fine wine, wine that other than Chablis rarely reached the supermarkets of the UK. These wines are well worth finding when your car has an empty boot. They are astonishingly good value.

We are going to start this leg of our road trip in a small village in the French department of Côte-d’Or, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. When you are asked to name one or two films set in France then the usual suspects come to mind. ‘A Good Year’, ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’. If I ever asked the female friends of my wife then they always seemed to come up with ‘Chocolat’, the film based on the novel by English Author Joanne Harris. Starring Johnny Depp, Juliet Binoche and Judi Dench it was a popular addition to the genre. I have to say at the time of our travels I had never seen it of knew anything of the storyline. I certainly was not aware of the film location in France. Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is the setting for Chocolat and that is the village where our bed and breakfast accommodation is located. Somebody told me that film fact by the way, because you would not be aware of it when you are staying there. This rural village is just that and resolutely determined to stay one. There are no indications that it has a claim to fame, no signposts designating the places featured in the film. Certainly, there are no souvenir shops. I doubt you could even buy a bar of Chocolat. This would never be allowed to pass in England. If even an advert is filmed in the smallest of towns or villages in England they would certainly make sure you knew about it. You are absolutely not going to get the T-Shirt in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.

I cannot say I am disappointed at that. I like my locations in France to stand on their own, keeping their individual charm. Flavigny does not disappoint on first view of the village from the Northern approach road. It looks the quintessential Plus Belle Village de France as you take it in from a distance. I pull the car over on the rise with the village beyond emerging out of the lush green countryside. The dominant feature as is the case in most French villages, however small, is the church spire. Abbaye Saint Joseph de Clairval is a particular stand out example and I should have realized, features in the film. It is a promising first impression.

Entering the village, we make our way slowly along the main street and cannot miss our clearly signed accommodation – L’Ange Souriant on Rue Voltaire. I am writing this in Covid lockdown times and of course most things are closed anyway but I suspect that this establishment is no longer trading which is a shame. It would be one of the most enjoyable places we stayed at in France, despite its modest pretentions. As I have mentioned this an extremely famous village, Hollywood superstar famous. Strangely no one seems to have told it. From entering the village, we have not encountered a soul. The first person we see is our host and then again that is not straight away by any means. She is not around when we arrive, so we have to wait, explore a few side streets winding around the property. Disturbing the slumbers of a couple of cats is the best we can achieve in bonding with the locals. Finally, the lady we are waiting for comes around the corner with her three young children. The school run accomplished she warmly greets us and apologises for not being here for our arrival. She sets the tone for our visit, and we are immediately part of the family.

Her home follows the usual style of furnishing in rural France. In our bedroom large solid chunky furniture dominates our space. Throughout Burgundy and other parts of France it seems that furniture is handed down from generation to generation. Dark wood fixtures may be well out of fashion in England but not here in France and it is always oversized. It is an extremely clean and well cared for space though and the overall atmosphere is homely and generous. Having unpacked we are welcomed into the family space, the owners three children doing their homework. As always in France little excuse is needed to offer a guest a glass of wine and our delightful host continues that tradition with a lovely light Burgundy.

Soon it is time to go in search of food, a typical Burgundy auberge perhaps in another picture-perfect village. We head out through the village gates and into the expanse of countryside beyond. The light is already gently fading with the sun just obscured by the cloud on the horizon. It is a gorgeous view and completely tranquil. As we drive down the narrow lanes and pass-through various villages it becomes readily apparent just how tranquil it actually is. Apart from the odd cat and assorted cattle in a field there is no other sign of life. Despite it being dusk very few lights are flickering in the villages and although there may be an auberge sign or two gently swaying in the breeze the attached restaurants are resolutely closed. So too are any village shops. Except one that we eventually stumble upon after driving around for around an hour. Our French evening meal feast is a couple of slightly past their best chocolate croissants and a bar of chocolate all washed down with a cheeky little half bottle of sauvignon blanc of dubious parentage. Still, being able to gorge on this feast back at the village sat by the church in the deserted town square, peace all around, it is not a bad end to the day.

Flavigny-sur-Ozerain – A quiet corner of Northern Burgundy

We explore a little more on the following morning, but Flavigny is just a pleasant, quiet Burgundian village. There is no ‘Chocolat’ tourist trail, no souvenir shops where you can buy your ‘Chocolat’ Chocolate. It is a village were the local life goes on at its slow unconcerned pace. We saw a man tinkering with a car down a side street at what I presume passes as the local garage. An old lady wanders across the church square to talk to a neighbour. That is about it really. The French do not really do celebrity transformations of their villages and that is the same story throughout Burgundy and much of France. As you tour the Burgundian countryside you pass through so many lovely villages, many are incredibly famous throughout the world. The wine villages around Beaune such as Pommard, Aloxe-Corton, Gevry Chambertain, Vosne-Romanie and so on are names to conjure with. However, when you arrive at these villages there will be just a simple village sign as there is on entering any village in France. These villages have remained small and undeveloped and if you are expecting any sort of fanfare announcing their important status then you will be disappointed. In fact if anything they discourage any additional attention. I for one am happy with that and the countryside of Burgundy remains very unspoilt and is much as it has always been. The only drawback is that because they do not overly put themselves out for the hungry tourist you can find even in summer if a restaurant only opens Wednesday to Sunday, lunch only, then those are the hours and even if there are coachloads of ready customers those hours will not change. Bring a sandwich!

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Cycle by the riverside in Noyers Burgundy France

Flavigny does have its charm even if you are a disappointed ‘Chocolat’ tourist, which I am not. The old walls and gateways to the village are well worth seeking out as is the area around the church. Its charm as a filming location is obvious and although a stroll around the village will be uneventful you will encounter one or two villagers and the welcome is friendly. At the entrance to the village is the one claim to fame that the villagers will acknowledge with genuine pride – the Anise of Flavigny shop and manufacturers. It is in the Benedictine Abbey in Flavigny that this tasty little treat has been made since 1591. Always produced according to the same ancient recipe, each individual aniseed is still patiently coated in thin layers of a secret delicately flavoured syrup. To the villagers sharing a sweet with a hidden aniseed at its heart is symbolic of love itself. Having a pedigree going back through more than four centuries of history, this is one of the oldest brands in France. They do last a long time so a couple of their attractive tins for the winter are a welcome addition to any store cupboard or the car glove box. One thing however, even in this shop, you are not going to find and that is a bar of Chocolat Chocolate or a Aniseed Chocolat here in Flavigny. There are no souvenirs to be had of the film location. All the better for it really, we enjoyed the quiet and to wander round the village with my camera was a photographer’s dream – no cars, no people.

Our stay at our chambres d’hôtes here in Flavigny was extremely pleasant and we bid adieu to our host and her charming children following another copious breakfast. At least this was a regular source of food for at least one of our daily meals here in rural Northern Burgundy. Flavigny is a charming village but please bring a packed lunch if you are not coming in July or August.

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A Day in…………Port Isaac Cornwall

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Port Isaac harbour from a view on Fore Street

Port Isaac is a small fishing village that tumbles down to the sea at a narrow cove on the North Cornish coast. Although certainly not short of tourists we found this area delightfully by passed by most visitors as they speed along the coastal roads to Newquay, St Ives and other hotspots of Cornish tourism. No doubt this area suffers also from the second home syndrome that so rightly annoys the locals, but this part of Cornwall retains a more authentic feel of community. Port Isaac certainly felt vibrant and alive.

It is a fairly long but gentle stroll from the main car park to the start of the older part of Port Isaac. Then the incline changes from gentle to steep. There is another car park on the way to the neighbouring Port Gaverne that is closer to the harbour, but it is smaller and often full.

On our stroll down to the harbour we are confronted with Port Isaac’s more recent past. Outside a relevant property there is a tour guide and his flock of Doc Martin devotees enjoying tales from the filming of that popular TV series. A good percentage of today’s visitors are in Port Isaac because of the Doc Martin show. It is an enduring reason for people to arrive in the village, seeking out the filming locations. I must confess that I have never watched a single episode. Whether that deserves an apology I am not sure but I sense I am in a minority of at least one just now. Cornwall is a mecca for film producers and this particular production is extremely popular.

We pass a couple of the ubiquitous, but welcome, pasty establishments. As always in Cornwall the claim of a particular outlet will try to surpass that of its neighbour. The finest pasty in all of Cornwall is for you to decide but you will not be wanting for advice along the way. Port Isaac, like many small harbour villages, boasts some attractive artist studios and independent gift shops. On the way down Fore Street (do all Cornish villages have a Fore Street?) two catch the eye – Secrets which has a variety of artwork and artisan creations and Martin Dempsey Gallery just a little farther down the incline. Distractions abound as we slowly make our way to the harbour. Along the way as a keen photographer I am drawn to the occasional opening offering a panorama of the harbour and out to sea. It is an attractive and quite dramatic setting for a fishing community.

The harbour landing area is called ‘The Platt’. It is quite unusual in that it is very much a beach landing for the vessels and the catch would be hauled up the incline of the Platt. Lobster pots give a clue as to the popular catch for the village. Fresh fish is sold just yards from the sea at ‘Just Shellfish’ by the Platt opposite the RNLI station. A young lifeboatman was touting for contributions but as I had my RNLI cap on at the time, he allowed me to be exempt. It is a charity I am happy to support. Living in Weston Super Mare I am aware on a nearly daily basis just what incredible work they do. As for some of the people they have to ‘rescue’ at WSM – well, words fail me!

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Port Isaac Harbour from ‘The Platt’

Port Isaac is not pedestrianised, it cannot be as it is a working harbour and village. One consequence of that is the beach landing area is used as a van park for the businesses in the village. Now, as a photographer I have to say that this does impact on the view. But, this is not a Cornish Disneyland, people live and work here. Fore Street is the main road in Port Isaac, but it is like most streets in the village, extremely narrow. As we got to the harbour a white van was starting back up the hill, coming to the first sharp turn up the hill. I have to say that I thought this to be the definition of optimism. I was proved correct as he met another van coming downhill around the same corner and they ended up face to face. That took some sorting out but I assume an everyday consequence of trying to make a living in this cramped space. The aptly named Squeezy Belly Alley is just off the harbour and you can see if that description would apply to you. I was fine.

I always feel self-conscious about exploring the narrow streets of a village like this. People live here and perhaps do not want people gawping at them, especially with a camera. However, tourism is vitally important to the village and on balance tourists will want to explore if they are to spend money in the village and hopefully the locals are not overly disturbed. I take a couple of photos along the lanes and then run away quickly.

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Port Isaac Street with pretty Cottages

Directly facing the Platt and with views out over the harbour is one of Nathan Outlaw’s Michelin starred fish restaurants. This one is quite small, serving a few tables only. At the beginning of his career he worked with well known fish chef Rick Stein in Padstow, Cornwall. He has gained a fine reputation. One of those chefs that people seem to not have a bad word about, and he is popular locally – he doesn’t appear to be a knife throwing chef shall we say. He is firmly based in Port Isaac after having his flagship restaurant in Rock for several years. I love fish and cook it often at home. We have enjoyed Rick Stein’s restaurant several times and his style is to keep it simple and fresh and that is just perfect for us. I am undecided about whether I want my fish restaurant experience to be in the style demanded to gain a Michelin star. I need to try it to see whether Nathan Outlaw’s extra attention to precision detail is for me. Maybe next visit.

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The landing area called ‘The Platt’ at Port Isaac Cornwall

Fore Street leads back up to re-join the SW coastal path, just close by the Cornish Cove tearoom. This path is well worth the detour, leading to the even smaller Port Gaverne. The path gives excellent views over Port Isaac sea entrance. The cliffs opposite show signs of caves having been formed at the base. Not that I shall be exploring. Visiting in early spring means you get the delight of seeing the abundance of spring flowers on the cliff sides and that is true throughout Cornwall at this time of year. The path leads to the other car park for Port Isaac and the start of the road down to Port Gaverne.

Halfway down to the beach is a welcome seat offering a spectacular view over the cove. The cove is narrow and on first view a treacherous place to bring a boat into. Fingers of rock jut out into the cove and the entrance is narrow and in fierce weather would have needed exceptional skill to navigate. Port Gaverne was once a thriving port and during its time of importance for fishing the catch would have been mainly pilchards. You sense that would have been a tough life, even tougher than the life the fisherman of Port Isaac just around the headland would have endured. Today, it is a perfect spring day. On the rocks leading to the cove entrance brave swimmers are taking advantage of the calm sea and leaping off the rocks for a spot of wild swimming. I watch admiringly but with no wish to join them.

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Port Gaverne Cove Cornwall

Time now to make our way back. Above the car park on the left is another art gallery – Cliffside Gallery. A beautiful gallery to enjoy, featuring artwork, textiles and more. Opposite just higher up the road is Nathan Outlaws new restaurant ‘New Road’. It reminds me that we have still not bought any fresh fish and the thought of walking all the way back down to buy at the harbourside is not a tempting one now. Just farther along is a fish oasis. A small inviting café called ‘Fresh From The Sea’ does indeed live up to the claim in the name. It sells fish in addition to serving a few tables inside and outside. We could have stayed for the ‘Sole in a Bun’ but instead buy some fresh sole to cook later. It turns out to be the most wonderful fresh pieces of fish I have tasted in a long, long time. What a brilliant place and well positioned at the top of the hill rather than below.

So ends our day but the fish in the evening with a chilled glass of wine will round of a excellent Day in ………Port Isaac.

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View towards Grasmere Village from the Grasmere Lake path

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A Day in………Whitby, Yorkshire

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Whitby Church and Abbey ruins across the harbour

A Day in ………..Whitby

Whitby – a name synonymous with a number of cultural events and iconic characters. I will endeavour to write this short piece without referring to the obvious. I shall try but it will be difficult. You see I go to Whitby for none of them. I also am not a fan of that deep black gem so beloved by Queen Victoria and her slavish Victorian devotees. Let us see what else Whitby has to offer the discerning visitor – yes, I will mention fish and chips.

The finest and certainly the most atmospheric way to arrive in Whitby is by steam train on the North York Moors railway from Pickering. A summer service now takes the preserved train all the way rather than terminating at Grosmont. Coming slowly into the station gives time to take in the surroundings, the estuary, the abbey ruins on the hill and the scent of lunch coming from the fish and chips being eaten by the waterside. The train takes you right to the heart of the town and you emerge with a view of the century old swing bridge over the River Esk. Depending on the time and incoming or outgoing vessels you may have to wait before taking the first steps up to the abbey. It is worth the time spent as the bridge always attracts a crowd and is remarkably quick in getting the boats to the other side.

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Swing bridge allowing access at Whitby Harbour Yorkshire

The abbey is the place to start on your visit to Whitby. There are many distractions along the narrow streets that must wait until later before you arrive at the foot of the Church stairs, a climb of 199 steps. Depending on your age and fitness level you may find that you feel every one of them by the time you reach the summit. If you can manage the climb, it is well worth the effort, even if only for the view.

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The steps leading up to Whitby Church and Abbey ruins

St Marys Church, parts of which date to the 12th century, is the landmark you come to first and has an interesting churchyard to stroll around. An air of sadness envelops this meander through the headstones as you become aware of the high price paid by the families of Whitby in search of the seafood that the town is famous for. Whitby fish and seafood is still as fine a delicacy and although still a highly risky industry to be involved in the fisherman today are kept far safer than in these times past.

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Whitby Abbey ruins on the hill above the harbour

Whitby Abbey dates to the sixth century and although ruined now it is an impressive sight, attracting many visitors. A good number come with an obsessive interest in that cultural icon we will not mention. Now owned by English Heritage, you can visit the ruins, but you may feel that it photographs more to your liking and for dramatic effect from a distance. The original abbey must have been a stunning building set on the headland, before Henry VIII had it suppressed by his right-hand destroyer Cromwell. What an effect that had on this tight knit community can only be imagined but it has left Whitby with an incredible monument that still dominates the town either from approach or from the harbourside.

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Henrietta Street Whitby – Fortunes Kippers smoke alongside these tightly packed terraces

The view from the church gives a clear outline of how the town is set out around the harbour. Although not terraced streets in the style of the Yorkshire mill towns, Whitby does make the most of every available space on the hillsides. Like the mill towns it is set in a valley, this one with the Esk river running at the foot of the two steep sided parts of the town. In one of these terraced streets, now beautifully restored Henrietta Street, you will find that star of every celebrity chef tour of Britain – Fortune’s Kippers. For 150 years the all-pervasive aroma of smoked kippers has drawn people to this small building. I suspect for some the pervasive smokiness may be an issue but maybe they rather should be thankful that the intensive whaling industry that made Whitby famous is no longer processing those monsters of the sea for oil. Mind you they would need a larger building than Fortunes. You would have to love the smell of smoking fish to live around this thriving business but it a famous part of this fishing town and intends to remain so. Kippers for lunch – they are happy to oblige.

It may take some time to make your way back to the swing bridge. Plenty of shops along the way and there may be a market around the old town hall. Once back over the swing bridge you have a couple of choices. As a keen photographer I would normally head up Flowergate just to the right from the bridge to check out the Victorian photography of Frank Sutcliffe. Sadly, the gallery is now on-line only so let us continue our tour along the harbourside. Do check out his photography however for a taste of how Whitby used to be.

A busy harbour is to your right, and you will have seen many children excitedly searching for crabs or any other crustacean they can snare in their tiny nets. The harbourside is a curious mix of attempting to be a mini tourist trap with an arcade or two but also catering to the seafood lover or those in search of a Yorkshire pint of beer. Oh, and there are references to those ubiquitous tourist attractions that again we will not refer to. This lane along the harbour delights however and is a thriving part of town as well as giving excellent views across the harbour leading your eye to the abbey ruins.

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Whitby Harbour with Church and Abbey ruins on the far hillside

Now, ever since the visit of a certain Rick Stein, there is always a long row of people to negotiate a path around as you make your way to the harbour mouth. Magpie Café serves what he described as his favourite British dish and ever since this café has been a mecca for the lover of fish and chips. You can argue long and hard as to whether Magpie Café serves the very best, but they are always busy, so the queue may have you searching for easier pickings. We will come to the establishment that served me the best I have had in Whitby.

The harbour entrance is a dramatic feature of Whitby with the dual lighthouses giving a firm indication of the way in for returning vessels. Taking a stroll to the end gives you a sense of how it must have been for those sailor’s wives as they waved their menfolk off on a perilous journey to the fishing grounds. Do not try this in a raging storm.

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Whitby Harbour entrance with twin lighthouses

Retracing your steps, it is a steep climb to the top of the headland on this north side of the harbour. As you make your way up a lesser-known feature of Whitby is spread out on the seaward side – yes, Whitby has a fine beach stretching northwards along this North Sea coast. Most visitors stay in the town around the harbour and estuary, but this beach is a lovely spot to bring the children. It has all the features you expect of a seaside town including donkeys of course.

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Whale bone reminder of Whitby’s past seafarers

At the top of the headland is a reminder of Whitby’s whaling past. A whalebone arch frames the view back over the harbour to the abbey ruins. On top of this headland are several terraces and crescents that contain architecture that give a sense of grandeur to the hotels and guesthouse that populate this part of town. It takes very little imagination to see in the mind’s eye the Victorian bustle of this area as people arrive in Whitby with their horse and carriage to stay on the North cliff hotels.

A short stroll along these terraces leads you back into town. Along Silver Street you will find the imaginatively named Silver Street Fisheries. I have tried a few fish and chip restaurants in Whitby over the years, but this is my favourite. To be fair you would struggle to be overly disappointed in Whitby, but I can recommend this one with confidence.

Silver Street has Flowergate running along the end of the street. Flowergate can be explored for its many shops and cafes before you wind your way back to the harbour and swing bridge. With a nod to Captain Cook across the harbour it is time to take the steam train back to Pickering. A grand day out indeed.

So, I managed to cover a day in Whitby without mentioning Dracula, Jet, Goths, or Steam Punk – Oh, sorry!

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Sailing ship entering Whitby Harbour Yorkshire

Spend a Day in ……….More UK Locations

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French Travel Book series and New book Off the Autoroute

Travelling in the UK – A Day In……

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View towards Grasmere Village from the Grasmere Lake path

Enjoy some travel thoughts from these English towns – I will add more over the coming months

Go to the full story ……A Day In …..

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In search of Hemingway and Midnight in Paris – The Full Story

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This is the FULL chapter from my book ‘A DREAM OF PARIS’

I know many of you have enjoyed the excerpt so here is the chapter in full

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Restaurant Verlaine – Ernest Hemingway’s workplace Paris France

One of the most evocative books about Paris could be considered to be Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’. If ever I need inspiration to write about Paris or to make plans for another visit then that is the book that clinches my mood and motivation. It works every time for me even though you do have to take some of his Paris memoir writing with a reasonable sized pinch of salt. He paints such insightful but sometimes harshly unsympathetic portraits of the characters from the era, the writers and artists that dominated ‘20s Paris. Describing the life and ambiance of the city at that time period so well – he constructs a painting in words. His portrait of F Scott Fitzgerald made me laugh, cry and wince at the astonishingly eccentric tales he recalled. Yet it is a book that has such a depth of sadness too. Like my taste in music it appeals to my melancholic side – as my daughter says; ‘the sadder the better’. Certainly there is a sadness surrounding the future aftermath of Fitzgerald and Zelda’s tragically short lives spiralling downhill shortly after these events. It is though the final chapter of a book that was written just before Hemingway’s lonely death nearly forty years detached in time from the events in the book that conveys his deep regret. He threw away the happiness of his life in Paris with his first wife Hadley and their young son. There is not always something better around the corner, often what we already have is all we need for our contentment. It is a book that can be a Parisian guide but today we have something more visual based on his work.
The Woody Allen film ‘Midnight in Paris’ is themed on Hemingway’s book as any cursory read of it will establish. Really though it is a film that does more for the Paris tourist board than any amount of advertising. It is a love letter to a great city. The film recreates the times of the 20’s that Hemingway so eloquently describes, an era that the film’s main character Gil adores as he is bewilderingly entranced to be transported back to that time. Adriana, his new muse, prefers La Belle Époque but he cannot understand wanting anything more than to be experiencing the lively writing and arts scene of Paris in the 20’s. I am with him on that, but really all the book and the movie do is to convince you that Paris is the finest city in the world. When I arrive at the Gard Du Nord on the Eurostar from London then my current era waiting outside the station is just fine by me. The filming locations for ‘Midnight in Paris’ are well documented and in fact Hemingway makes a fine job of that. So if you want to follow them all it is easy to do in our smartphone era. I will take you through on a mixed journey, some of the places in the film that I love. Also bring in some parts of Paris that historically are so very interesting and should be part of your visit. If your time in Paris is all fine dining then you are missing out on a broader experience.
If you are going to start on a history and writing tour of Paris then I suggest it begins on the steps of the church of St Etienne du Mont, Place Sainte-Geneviève, 75005. The actual steps used in the film where Gil waits for the time travelling car and his famous hosts are just around to the side of the church. From here they look down Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève, the road up which the car approaches. It is a supremely evocative location and it is worth taking the time to search out on the internet a photo taken on 22nd August 1944 of armed resistants just coming down from the area of the steps at the height of the struggle to liberate Paris from the German occupiers. Historical fact and fiction can be found being enacted side by side on the streets of Paris and in your imagination. If you go back around to the front of the church onto Rue Clovis and head towards the Latin Quarter by turning right onto Rue Descartes you will come to a small but perfectly formed restaurant – La Maison de Verlaine. The clue is in the title but it was not a happy place when Verlaine died there in a miserable state as a result of his alcoholism. It is also a building where Hemingway rented a small attic room and took himself off to write in peace and seclusion. There is a delightful story in his book about the goatherd taking his flock every day past Hemingway’s building and milking the goats to order as the locals emerged with their containers. It is certainly an evocative street. We have eaten on the terrace at this restaurant of an evening and the food is excellent. The location is pure Paris left bank so don’t let me stop you going. Just a little farther up is Place Contrescarpe which again features in Hemingway’s life and times in Paris. This is a place where he describes almost with affection the bar humming with the pungent smell of bodies and drunkenness. It is a vivid portrait you can almost sense the reality of from the page.

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Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève

Today it is a lively square and to sit and eat at a table (we ate overly large portions of Greek food one night at L’Ile de Crete) gives you quite a show as life quite literally revolves around you. It is a place that is perfect for riding a motorbike around and around or posing in an open topped car. A ready supply of onlookers at the cafes and bars will either admire you or stare in total disdain.

Around the corner at 74 Rue Cardinal Lemoine is the building that houses the small apartment that the Hemingways lived in from 1922. He describes their lives here so affectionately despite the way Hemingway cultivates a lifestyle of relative poverty as a writer that seemingly is always relying on the odd cheque arriving for an article he had submitted.  The area still retains a character today but back in the 20’s it was a place far removed from the modernity and chic of Paris today. They were clearly a very happy family unit in this lively area.

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Place Contrescarpe Paris

Retrace your steps back towards Place Contrescarpe and look out for Rue Rollin on your left, a street that leads through to Rue Monge. This route is worth the detour for a couple of reasons. Rue Rollin makes you feel as if you are in a provincial town rather than a city like Paris. To me it almost felt like a street in Burgundy, a town like Beaune. The real surprise of Rue Rollin comes at the end as you emerge onto Rue Monge. There is an extraordinary exit. It is a cul-de-sac for cars but there are two flights of steps either side of the street and these go down a beautiful frontispiece facing the street. This is bedecked with plants and flowers and if you are here at the right time of year with everything in full bloom it is a gorgeous photo opportunity.

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Rue Monge Paris Metro Station at Night

Once you are onto Rue Monge and if you have an interest in architecture, particularly art deco then it is worth a short walk across the road. Start heading to the right, finding the Metro station Monge. Admire the front of the Metro with the beautiful ironwork on the entrance. A great photo shot in black and white. Go back the way you came and stay on that side of Rue Monge for a genuine unexpected surprise. It may be that you are completely unaware that Paris has its own Roman amphitheatre, a genuine one from the first century AD. Neither did I until some years ago when we stayed at a hotel on Rue Monge – Hotel des Nations St-Germain and very pleasant it was too. Across the street there was a sign above a passageway at No. 47 Rue Monge over which was a stone carving of a Roman soldier’s helmet. The sign said ‘Arenes de Lutece’ but there was certainly no great fanfare accompanying it. As you watched from the window of our hotel the daytime scene of people busying themselves with the business of getting to work and school, watching the tourists making their way down to the Seine and the Islands, you hardly ever saw anyone going through the gateway. If you go to the front of the entrance way there is a little more information (in French) as to what lies beyond. Looking down the short passageway it has to be admitted the prospects are a little unpromising. However it is definitely worth stepping inside. As you emerge into the light the area gives off the appearance of a small park, perhaps a children’s play area and here you may well encounter some youngsters playing soccer.  Unmistakably though you are now in a very well preserved, compact Roman Arena. It is a pleasant space, away from the traffic noise of Rue Monge. It is a place where people may sit and read or just stroll through on their way to work. It will have very few tourists so please make a visit. When you return home you can amaze your friends with this discovery and your knowledge of hidden Paris.

Time to move on with a pleasant stroll down Rue Monge and then left onto Rue des Ecoles until you come to Rue Racine on your left. The goal of this walk is to reach Polidor restaurant, certainly a Hemingway destination and this historic building was heavily featured in ‘Midnight in Paris’. Even if you are not going to dine here (cash only – no cards) it is well worth a look and again bring your camera (or these days your phone).

Before we get to Polidor it repays a few moments pause outside the Restaurant Bouillon Racine previously known as a Chartier Restaurant. This is a building of Art Nouveau splendour both outside and in and is in fact listed as a historical monument of Paris. Apart from boasting a fine reputation for its food it has another much darker claim to fame. One of the most extraordinary verdicts in a French murder trial came after an event that took place in the street outside this restaurant. On May 25th 1926 the President in exile of the Ukrainian National Republic, Symon Petliura was assassinated by a man named Sholom Schwartzbard. He claimed to have lost all 15 members of his family in Jewish pogroms in the East. This was a horror that he held Petliura personally responsible for. Schwartzbard made no attempt to flee from the scene nor did he in any way claim that he was not responsible for the murder. Despite the cold hard facts of the evidence he was acquitted by the French jury basically on the grounds that his actions were justified. In effect such a man as Petliura had no right of protection because of his alleged crimes. It is not a verdict we would expect today but it is one that had been argued previously and it has a place in French history. It is still a verdict that resonates today with the animosity between Ukraine and Russia. The prosecution at the trial put forward that Schwartzband was in fact a Russian agent and that view holds good to many Ukrainians even now. There is plenty of interest on the streets of Paris and it always repays the effort of seeking it out. On the left hand side as you continue along Rue Racine you come to Rue Monsieur le Prince and there is the venerable Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor.

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The period exterior of Restaurant Polidor Paris


This eating place is a throwback to the times of Victor Hugo and of course Hemingway and the contemporary artists and writers. The interior is little changed from the days Hemingway would have patronised this restaurant. It plays a central role in ‘Midnight in Paris’ although it has to be said there is not a sign of the laundromat that Polidor transforms into. This is a restaurant to savour with a menu that is right out of the Belle Époque and they have no intention of changing any time soon thankfully. The exterior is a remarkable throwback to another age and one of the finest photo opportunities in Paris. You may have to be more sociable than usual and share a table.

From here it is a relatively short walk to the Boulevard St Germain and on to three café/restaurants that are synonymous with the writers of Paris. Brasserie Lipp is often referred to by Hemingway in ‘A Moveable Feast’ and it takes little imagination today to place this establishment in its historical context. It always feels very 20’s/30’s to me and certainly sets the mind racing as you contemplate the stories the tables could tell. Hemingway famously goaded the ‘friends’ he had cruelly portrayed in his novel to come at an arranged time and shoot him at a Brasserie Lipp table. Across the road are the two famous cafés that always seem to be in competition for clientele and of course they are.  They have historically competed for the favour of writers and artists down the decades. Some preferred to sip a coffee for hours and write at a table at Café de Flore and some at Le Deux Magots. Some fell in and out of favour with their regular haunt and interchanged the two. Today it is a must see destination for many and plenty of visitors are happy to pay a coffee price that would have horrified Hemingway and others who were allowed to sit and write for a few centimes back in their day. It is undeniably an experience and just once maybe it is worth the cost to watch the world go by. You can have that world just wondering if you may be a ‘someone’ which of course you are to your family and friends. It is a little game to play for a pleasant moment in time.

I have only scratched the surface of artistic Paris and the historical gems that are to be found. I do encourage you to do more research and have a clear plan before you go. There is so much to see and experience beyond the obvious. You will take so much more away with you in memories and knowledge if you dig deeper than the ‘tourist’ sites. It also depends on how far you wish to walk and for that reason it seems the right time to bring this chapter to a close. Be assured however that there is far more than I have portrayed waiting to be discovered.

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Entrance to the beautiful Place Dauphine Paris

To finalise I will take you back to the river and the Pont Neuf at the very tip of the Île de la Cité. As you go over the bridge coming to around the midway point of the island you find a narrow street on the right. Going through this entrance way the narrow road opens up into a most beautiful space – Place Dauphine. For me this is a very favourite spot in Paris, a quiet place with many relaxing cafes and restaurants intertwined between the gorgeous apartments. It is leafy and tranquil yet but a stone’s throw from the noisy hordes congregating around Notre Dame. It is clear that few tourists even know this is here and selfishly long may that continue. It is a delightful space and to eat here or just enjoy a coffee is a joy. The pretty cobbled streets of Place Dauphine inevitably appeared in ‘Midnight in Paris’. If you go and sip a coffee at Restaurant Paul at number 15 Place Dauphine you can if you close your eyes just hear the gentle sound of the horses hooves drawing the approaching Belle Époque carriage along to the terrace. You can certainly imagine that scene. The ambiance of this square has retained its charm effortlessly down the decades – a place to savour and to relax.


Hemingway burned his bridges with his ‘friends’ in Paris, cruelly portraying many of them as characters in his novels, making no attempt to hide as to who he was basing his writing on. Most of all he discarded the woman he loved and lost the stability of the family he had around him. He has left a romantic portrait of Paris that is portrayed in ‘Midnight in Paris’ and like much of the best art and music this is a legacy based on the suffering of the tortured artist. His footsteps make for an interesting walk through this quarter of Paris. I could walk farther but I am as my friends have complained perhaps a little over active in that department. So I will consider a wider audience and end my tour sitting at the terrace of Restaurant Paul – but tomorrow is another day.

I hope to convey just what these people meant to us and how Paris bound all the best of memories together but it is a slower process. As I said Paris is throwing up too many ideas and I think it will produce two books rather than one. Just adding my love of its history to the book gave me a challenge to fit it all in. I have a passion for the time of the occupation, perhaps because I know that I would have been personally caught up in all its horror had I been living in Paris back then. I find it fascinating and hope to convey that a consideration of those events should not be overlooked by the visitor. No, Paris unlike Provence cannot be based around wonderful long lunches, it needs more effort for a visitor to get full value from a visit. I loved the writing and research for this book but despite Hemingway dwarfing me as a writer I do possess something he relinquished – I can write of Paris without any regrets.

This full chapter and other meanderings through Paris are in my book : A DREAM OF PARIS available free on Kindle Unlimited

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Les Deux Magots Cafe at the heart of St Germain Paris

Come to Paris with my Dream of Paris Memoir
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Tommy Simpson and our Ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Mont Ventoux from outside of the village of Bonnieux Provence France

From early on in my life I have always had a fascination about the career and death of the British cyclist Tommy Simpson. In my youth I was a keen cyclist, but I never cycled competitively. I had one of those ‘Can you remember where you were when JFK was shot?’ moments in 1967 when Simpson died that July day during the Tour de France on his ascent of Mt Ventoux. I do remember exactly where I was when Kennedy died. I was in a fish and chip shop in Darwen, Lancashire – my hometown. I clearly remember my parents and everyone around being very shocked.

I vividly recall when Simpson passed away. I was in Blackpool, Lancashire on one of our ubiquitous summer holidays. I was listening in my earpiece to a cricket commentary on my transistor radio when a newsflash interrupted this very English scene flowing around in my head. I think importantly for me though it was the death of Tommy Simpson that was the first one in my life to really registered on my consciousness – how could such an athlete just die?

Simpson, it seems, contributed to his demise due to his response to the extreme pressure to succeed that surrounds the Tour de France, this pressure of course continues to this day. Sadly, it was ever thus that ways were being found to enhance a rider’s performance in the Tour. It was concluded that he also had done so, and this had made him unknowingly go beyond the limits of endurance, a point of no return. Due to having been quite debilitating ill in the previous days of the Tour a tragedy was the inevitable consequence.

He was, despite joining in with the culture of the times in striving to be better at any cost, an immensely popular figure. In England he was revered as an athlete which was unusual for the somewhat minority spectator sport of cycling. What I am saying really is that he was not a soccer playing superstar but through strength of character and that determination to win he had broken through the barrier into much wider popularity. He certainly had with me. I had followed his career avidly and for that reason his death was a massive event in my life. The modern comparison for my son would be the death of Ayrton Senna.

When travelling in Provence I had always looked up at Mt Ventoux, you must do as you cannot miss it, always thinking that I must go up there and pay my respects. Simpson’s memorial is constructed where he fell, just one kilometre from the summit on the route going up from the village of Bèdoin. I decided it was high time that I made the pilgrimage and so we set out first of all for Malaucène.

Malaucène market Provence France – a village at the base of Mont Ventoux, a start of the climb on the Tour de France

We did not go up Ventoux straightaway as there was a morning market in the town and we spent an hour or so browsing around. As usual we were unable to resist the temptation to buy. After a coffee in the market square, we finally set off to start to make our way up Ventoux via the route D974. The road is quite steep even in the initial stages leading from Malaucène, a summit route also used on the Tour. We reached a service station appearing like an Alps chalet, but we passed it by and pressed on towards the summit and our goal for the day. Even early on in our climb up the mountain by car it is clear that to do this on a racing cycle must require a certain quantity of superhuman strength – and a touch of madness. Without condoning it you can see that many would resort to assistance from whatever source available to try to deal with this immense pressure placed on them by the Tour de France. I cannot comprehend how anyone can attempt this at all but on this day there are a few amateur cyclists, some equipped with oxygen, attempting to emulate their heroes from the Tour. I am not sure how sensible it is to try – but try they must.

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Ascending Mont Ventoux – we never made the summit

Our car is new, a Skoda Octavia top of the range diesel model with the larger engine and has never missed a beat in all the time I have owned it as a company car. It has taken us the nearly one thousand miles from the North of England with ease and for the last week we have toured around the area without it offering complaint. The car is in the peak of condition. We round some zig zag bends and bizarrely at a couple of points I have the sensation of going downhill. I have had this feeling occur also in the English Lakes at higher altitude when your car seems to be almost cruising uphill with minimum power being applied. I am sure there must be a scientific explanation of this phenomenon. We carry on climbing quite slowly as I need to concentrate as we hesitantly reach somewhere around 4500 feet in altitude.

It is around this point on the climb, near the summit and then close to our objective of Tommy Simpson’s memorial that something very strange starts to happen with our vehicle. The car becomes very unresponsive and does not gain any further height with ease, becoming extremely sluggish. You sense that the engine has the signs of overheating and I half expect to see some smoke coming from under the bonnet. This is a quite disconcerting sensation, but worse follows in that it now appears to be that most of the mechanics of the car are starting to shut down and not responding to my control. This was quite scary as we were at a high altitude with serious drops going down from the side of the road. I did not feel I was in control of the vehicle even though I was only progressing the car at an exceptionally low speed. I decided to ease the car over to the mountain face side of the road and it did so very reluctantly. I must admit I was shaking and extremely stressed by this, as was Niamh.

There was no possibility of me trying to continue up the mountain road as my nerves were completely shot. It was essential in view of what was going on with the mechanics of the car that we try to get back down the mountain safely. Sadly, I would be thwarted in getting up to Simpson’s memorial, but discretion is as they say the better part of valour. I tell Niamh to get out of the car while I try to attempt to turn the vehicle around to head back down the mountain road. I have visually checked the engine etc. and nothing seems on face value to be mechanically amiss with the vehicle. The car really does not want to move but eventually I do manage after about a twenty-point turn to safely get it pointing in the opposite direction and Niamh reluctantly gets back in.

We start to retrace our steps down Ventoux and come immediately to a sharp turn. I brake and there is absolutely no response from the pedals. Fortunately, at this gentler part of the decent we are not going too fast and I negotiate the bend which then straightens out to a long steeper descent. Again, I try the brakes and – nothing! I manically pull on the hand brake and point the car to the mountainside and eventually bring it to a stop in a small ditch by the side of the road. Our nerves have been through the wringer and back again. At this point we both get out and now see our car as a demented enemy, no longer the faithful friend that has served us so well thus far. The only plan I can think of is that we bide our time and let the car completely cool down and then hesitantly and conservatively try again. This is what we do and when I am happy that we have left it long enough we get back inside.

Heading cautiously down the long descent the brakes are not perfect by any means, but they seem as if they will get us back to Malaucène if I take considerable care. We slowly but surely do this, and it was an incredible relief to get back down and park in the commune, get out and have a double expresso and mop each other’s brow. I had been thwarted in my plan for the day but worst of all we had got ourselves into a profoundly serious position on that climb. We felt that it could easily, so easily have ended with a far worse result. I have no explanation as to what occurred with the car on that mountain road. The altitude inducing a reaction in the car to that height was the only thing that I could put it down to.

What made it completely bizarre was that when we got back in the car and travelled all the way back to Mazan where we were staying, the vehicle drove and responded perfectly as it always had done previously. I could not take it to a garage as there was nothing to look at – it was fine. It drove perfectly for the rest of the week and on the long journey back to England. It was indeed time for a bottle of wine or two. I never got to Tommy Simpson’s memorial and reaching it is still on my ‘to do list.’ I will get there, probably without Niamh. I will pay my respects to my childhood cycling hero, but I will do it with profound respect for this dangerous mountain and I will do it with care and talk kindly to my car on the way up.

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A Day in………Whitby, Yorkshire

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Whitby Church and Abbey ruins across the harbour

A Day in ………..Whitby

Whitby – a name synonymous with a number of cultural events and iconic characters. I will endeavour to write this short piece without referring to the obvious. I shall try but it will be difficult. You see I go to Whitby for none of them. I also am not a fan of that deep black gem so beloved by Queen Victoria and her slavish Victorian devotees. Let us see what else Whitby has to offer the discerning visitor – yes, I will mention fish and chips.

The finest and certainly the most atmospheric way to arrive in Whitby is by steam train on the North York Moors railway from Pickering. A summer service now takes the preserved train all the way rather than terminating at Grosmont. Coming slowly into the station gives time to take in the surroundings, the estuary, the abbey ruins on the hill and the scent of lunch coming from the fish and chips being eaten by the waterside. The train takes you right to the heart of the town and you emerge with a view of the century old swing bridge over the River Esk. Depending on the time and incoming or outgoing vessels you may have to wait before taking the first steps up to the abbey. It is worth the time spent as the bridge always attracts a crowd and is remarkably quick in getting the boats to the other side.

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Swing bridge allowing access at Whitby Harbour Yorkshire

The abbey is the place to start on your visit to Whitby. There are many distractions along the narrow streets that must wait until later before you arrive at the foot of the Church stairs, a climb of 199 steps. Depending on your age and fitness level you may find that you feel every one of them by the time you reach the summit. If you can manage the climb, it is well worth the effort, even if only for the view.

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The steps leading up to Whitby Church and Abbey ruins

St Marys Church, parts of which date to the 12th century, is the landmark you come to first and has an interesting churchyard to stroll around. An air of sadness envelops this meander through the headstones as you become aware of the high price paid by the families of Whitby in search of the seafood that the town is famous for. Whitby fish and seafood is still as fine a delicacy and although still a highly risky industry to be involved in the fisherman today are kept far safer than in these times past.

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Whitby Abbey ruins on the hill above the harbour

Whitby Abbey dates to the sixth century and although ruined now it is an impressive sight, attracting many visitors. A good number come with an obsessive interest in that cultural icon we will not mention. Now owned by English Heritage, you can visit the ruins, but you may feel that it photographs more to your liking and for dramatic effect from a distance. The original abbey must have been a stunning building set on the headland, before Henry VIII had it suppressed by his right-hand destroyer Cromwell. What an effect that had on this tight knit community can only be imagined but it has left Whitby with an incredible monument that still dominates the town either from approach or from the harbourside.

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Henrietta Street Whitby – Fortunes Kippers smoke alongside these tightly packed terraces

The view from the church gives a clear outline of how the town is set out around the harbour. Although not terraced streets in the style of the Yorkshire mill towns, Whitby does make the most of every available space on the hillsides. Like the mill towns it is set in a valley, this one with the Esk river running at the foot of the two steep sided parts of the town. In one of these terraced streets, now beautifully restored Henrietta Street, you will find that star of every celebrity chef tour of Britain – Fortune’s Kippers. For 150 years the all-pervasive aroma of smoked kippers has drawn people to this small building. I suspect for some the pervasive smokiness may be an issue but maybe they rather should be thankful that the intensive whaling industry that made Whitby famous is no longer processing those monsters of the sea for oil. Mind you they would need a larger building than Fortunes. You would have to love the smell of smoking fish to live around this thriving business but it a famous part of this fishing town and intends to remain so. Kippers for lunch – they are happy to oblige.

It may take some time to make your way back to the swing bridge. Plenty of shops along the way and there may be a market around the old town hall. Once back over the swing bridge you have a couple of choices. As a keen photographer I would normally head up Flowergate just to the right from the bridge to check out the Victorian photography of Frank Sutcliffe. Sadly, the gallery is now on-line only so let us continue our tour along the harbourside. Do check out his photography however for a taste of how Whitby used to be.

A busy harbour is to your right, and you will have seen many children excitedly searching for crabs or any other crustacean they can snare in their tiny nets. The harbourside is a curious mix of attempting to be a mini tourist trap with an arcade or two but also catering to the seafood lover or those in search of a Yorkshire pint of beer. Oh, and there are references to those ubiquitous tourist attractions that again we will not refer to. This lane along the harbour delights however and is a thriving part of town as well as giving excellent views across the harbour leading your eye to the abbey ruins.

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Whitby Harbour with Church and Abbey ruins on the far hillside

Now, ever since the visit of a certain Rick Stein, there is always a long row of people to negotiate a path around as you make your way to the harbour mouth. Magpie Café serves what he described as his favourite British dish and ever since this café has been a mecca for the lover of fish and chips. You can argue long and hard as to whether Magpie Café serves the very best, but they are always busy, so the queue may have you searching for easier pickings. We will come to the establishment that served me the best I have had in Whitby.

The harbour entrance is a dramatic feature of Whitby with the dual lighthouses giving a firm indication of the way in for returning vessels. Taking a stroll to the end gives you a sense of how it must have been for those sailor’s wives as they waved their menfolk off on a perilous journey to the fishing grounds. Do not try this in a raging storm.

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Whitby Harbour entrance with twin lighthouses

Retracing your steps, it is a steep climb to the top of the headland on this north side of the harbour. As you make your way up a lesser-known feature of Whitby is spread out on the seaward side – yes, Whitby has a fine beach stretching northwards along this North Sea coast. Most visitors stay in the town around the harbour and estuary, but this beach is a lovely spot to bring the children. It has all the features you expect of a seaside town including donkeys of course.

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Whale bone reminder of Whitby’s past seafarers

At the top of the headland is a reminder of Whitby’s whaling past. A whalebone arch frames the view back over the harbour to the abbey ruins. On top of this headland are several terraces and crescents that contain architecture that give a sense of grandeur to the hotels and guesthouse that populate this part of town. It takes very little imagination to see in the mind’s eye the Victorian bustle of this area as people arrive in Whitby with their horse and carriage to stay on the North cliff hotels.

A short stroll along these terraces leads you back into town. Along Silver Street you will find the imaginatively named Silver Street Fisheries. I have tried a few fish and chip restaurants in Whitby over the years, but this is my favourite. To be fair you would struggle to be overly disappointed in Whitby, but I can recommend this one with confidence.

Silver Street has Flowergate running along the end of the street. Flowergate can be explored for its many shops and cafes before you wind your way back to the harbour and swing bridge. With a nod to Captain Cook across the harbour it is time to take the steam train back to Pickering. A grand day out indeed.

So, I managed to cover a day in Whitby without mentioning Dracula, Jet, Goths, or Steam Punk – Oh, sorry!

Alt="Photo of sailing ship in Whitby harbour Yorkshire"
Sailing ship entering Whitby Harbour Yorkshire

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Alt="French travel book series and Collioure harbour photo"
French Travel Book series and New book Off the Autoroute

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