Eiffel Tower or part of it Paris France

Eiffel Tower lower part Paris France


Thoughts of Provence on a English Winters Day

My thoughts have been diverted from finishing my latest book to the sunny beautiful region of Provence. I have written in my book THYME FOR PROVENCE about the gorgeous expanse of lavender around the Abbey at Senanque just north of Gordes but it is worth pointing out some other areas that should be on your ‘must see’ list if you are a lover of this beautiful fragrant plant. I appreciate that there are many people for whom a visit to Provence must be made in the lavender season as it is crucial to their experience of the region. My wife Niamh is one of those people.

Our old friend the village of Banon is a good starting point. Around this village are some magnificent lavender fields and a climb to the church at the top of the village will reveal it in all its stupendous glory. If you briefly go out of the village on the D950 in the direction of Forcalquier you can stop and go down one of the minor roads on your left and experience driving as if you are in a lavender field. There are some fantastic photo opportunities.

After that you can then go back through Banon and take the D950 to Revest du Bion and I am afraid in writing this section on Provence’s most famous and beautiful product that it is difficult to stop using all the usual clichés but this route is truly spectacular at this time of year. It is also not a busy route and is usually missed by most of the lavender tourists.

Moving on by the D950 over the plateau to Sault we passed mile after mile of gorgeous Lavender fields. You will find little here in terms of civilization but then you may suddenly come across a roadside stall that begs you to stop. These stalls will be selling honey and specifically lavender honey. Be warned the produce is not cheap but quality of this standard has to be paid for and it will be a delight to you. This is a spectacular drive via Reveste or you can also experience more of the same sights and smells going via St Christol and these routes should not be missed. Sault, perhaps the unofficial lavender capital, is the most incredible destination for views of the lavender fields because you can easily attain the height needed to look down on the patchwork quilt of fields. This road the D950 and the area to the south east of Banon however are I feel probably as good as it gets if you are a lavender junkie.


Most generic tourist guides will generally say to go to Sault if you want to see the lavender and that is certainly true but this lesser known and very quiet route of the D950 is quite incredible. Field after field of vibrant colours, the air heady with the scent. The expanse of lavender carries on endlessly on the D34 to St Christol and on to Lagarde d’Apt. Quite a quantity in this area also grows wild so your conscience stays clear when you find some lavender to take and dry for home. This route and region are not to be excluded from your travel plans. We were there at the height of the tourist season and we barely neither passed nor saw any other vehicle on the drive around this circuit. Dropping down from there (around 3000 feet) to St Saturnin gives you the most stunning panoramas and a deep sense of thanks for being inside your car as you pass the exhausted cyclists breathing in from oxygen cylinders on their way up!
Before leaving the subject of the area around Sault I would also mention that if you have the time or really it is well worth a special trip at any time, there is the most dramatic of gorges on the way back down towards Mazan from Sault. There is no lavender on this route but it will give you an interlude you will never forget. Instead of staying on the D1 take the D942 towards Monieux and onwards and you will find this lesser known gorge – Gorges de la Nesque. It is barely mentioned in most guide books but I will not attempt superlatives about this gorge but just encourage you to take this route if you have a head for heights and a love of spectacular scenery.

The area I mentioned south east of Banon going towards Forcalquier has another claim to fame for you lovers of all things fragrant. It is the interesting site that is used by L’Occitane to gather and distill their lavender that they use in the products that grace their outlets around the world. It is very old worldly in appearance, like an old farm in the American plains and not seeming at all to be high tech. If you stumble upon it be sure to get out of your vehicle as you get the most intense concentrated aroma of lavender that you will ever experience. There are as Niamh unfortunately discovered no free samples on offer.
You can find lavender all over Provence but for us this area I have described is the best you will experience and you can for the most part enjoy it in solitude. It is worth a trip in its own right.

Free book on Amazon- Ancestry & Genealogy

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Researching my Ancestry Genealogy book – Solving problems Part 1

I eagerly tore apart the envelope from the Records Office as I knew the contents should be the key to opening up my search for my wife Lorna’s family line. Inside was the birth certificate of Alice Hatton, the daughter born to George Hatton and his wife in 1916. This is Lorna’s Grandmother. The name on the certificate that would actually cause me more extensive research than I could possibly imagine was of the mother of Alice – Lily Stanford. Up to this point I had been unable to find the name of George’s wife, no wedding certificate of marriage appeared to exist but it had been clear that all of his children were probably with this same woman. Within minutes I was online and searching for Lily. It would be a very long search.

The only record I had up to then was the 1911 census and that named Lily Hatton as George’s wife and she was said to have been born in Preston, Lancashire. Searching now with the maiden surname it was clear that there was not a Lily or Lillian Stanford ever born in Preston. In the entire country there was only one Lily Stanford, a girl born in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria in 1888. I had nothing to link George with her but she was the only possibility – could I prove it to be correct?

I had already encountered problems with the line of George Hatton and this is a cautionary tale of not taking family information at face value but checking it out properly before embarking on extensive research. Initially I did not have the first name of George Hatton but family members recalled an Evelyn Hatton who was a daughter of George and therefore a sister of Alice, Lorna’s Grandmother. When you are starting out on your research you need to take a step back and not be so keen and eager that you act on the first piece of information you find or are given. Evelyn Hatton I easily found as a child in the 1901 census and therefore my assumption was that this was the line and armed with the names of the parents I was off and running in search of the family line. In my eagerness I had not realized as I really should have done that this Evelyn Hatton was at least 10 or more years too old to have been Lorna’s Auntie Evelyn. I spent several weeks compiling the family tree from this 1901 census starting point and did it very successfully going back for around 100 years. The only snag was that it was the wrong Evelyn and therefore entirely the incorrect family line. I made an excellent job of tracing it all accurately on someone else’s behalf but it was all complete nonsense as far as Lorna’s line was concerned. Family genealogy can be very frustrating. By all means use family information but check it thoroughly before accepting it as fact.

The frustration continued as I did eventually find what had to be the correct line with George Hatton as although I could take his line back I could not take it anywhere on his wife Lily’s side. She was a person that in the records did not exist.  Within a few weeks I had obtained the 1914-18 war records of George. They also contained reference to his service in the Boer War in South Africa. In the 1901 census George is on home leave, listing himself as a single man and a member of the West Yorkshire regiment, living with his father. These war records would muddy the waters even further regarding George and Lily. In the records as a soldier he lists as he is obliged to do his marriage and children. He states, and in the event after more research this is correct, that he marries in Preston in 1897 and all the exact dates and witnesses to the event are given. His wife he claims is Mary Hannah Stanford, not Lily. As Lily would have been nine years old at the time of this marriage, George was clearly attempting to deceive. It was now time to trace this part of George’s life. By searching the marriage records I found that George Hatton had married Mary Hannah Grime (a distant cousin) at that Preston church in 1897. I sent for the marriage certificate and if you are doing similar, quite involved research then these certificates are invaluable. They are also much cheaper and readily available now as you can have them available to download in a matter of days rather than obtaining a paper copy.

Going back to the war records it is obvious that George is trying to cover his tracks. As his next of kin he states this to be Lily Hatton but there is an attempt to blur that first name, perhaps his story to the officer is that Lily is a pet name of his for Mary Hannah – you can only speculate. The names of the children are correct but none are born prior to 1906 meaning that George had gone (on paper) nine years into the marriage before staring a family. As George and Lily had six children in a relatively short space of time this was unlikely. The marriage to Mary Hannah Grime was George’s only marriage, it was short and tragic as Mary Hannah did have a child while George was in South Africa but it was not his and the child died in infancy.  This information came from the online parish records at https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/ and these were invaluable in much of my family research. Similar records are available in most counties and many of these records are now available on Ancestry of Find My Past etc..  Also most counties have a family history society and these can be extremely helpful as I found particularly with the one in Cornwall based in Truro.

This research method is from my new book – A Bullet for Life – Love, Conflict and Family Survival – an amazing tale of family history from a military perspective and the effects of that service on the family. Please enjoy it


Is Paris more Beautiful in the Rain?

This feels like a good subject to ponder as I publish my new book about Paris although I have a feeling I will be writing more about Paris in the future – the story is not fully told nor has it ended. At the end of ‘Midnight in Paris’ Gil and his new love Gabrielle head off to a new beginning and they walk across the Seine on Pont Alexandre III unconcerned by the falling rain, in fact to them ‘Paris is more beautiful in the rain’. Whether Hemingway ever shared the same romantic vision of Paris we do not know though somehow I doubt that he did.

Paris in the Rain

So, the question remains – Is Paris more beautiful in the rain? I can say that I am a considerable authority on the matter as I have been caught in many a heavy downpour in the city. Paris is quite an open city and it is really a matter of chance as to whether you may find any shelter and that may also cloud your judgement on the matter. The rain does certainly offer a different perspective in Paris and it changes in character more than anywhere else I have been when the streets and probably you are very wet.

The first time we were caught in the rain was on the Champs-Élysées and the downpour came on very suddenly. We were crossing over, a difficult manoeuvre at the best of times, from Ladurée to the opposite side when the heavens opened. By the time we had crossed and hid beneath a tree we were extremely wet. Strangely though it did not seem to matter to me and with my photographers eye I felt compelled to reach for my camera and capture the moment. Niamh was not quite so enthusiastic and she ran across the pavement and into H & M, not quite so romantic as she can go in an H & M store anywhere but I stayed to watch the rain on the street. I captured a moment and it was one of my favourite shots of Paris so it was so far so good as regards my feeling about the rain in Paris – it looked atmospheric to me that day. I caught up with Niamh who was standing in a small puddle of water in H & M and she was unimpressed.

Niamh was equally unimpressed the second time we got a Paris soaking. On arrival at the Gard du Nord the weather was grey but mild and fine. I suggested that as we were early we could walk to our hotel located just off the Rue Rivoli. We were near to the Hotel de Ville when the cloud burst came and my reputation for forecasting the weather was shattered. As we came into the square a loud commotion started up. All we could see was a throng of people in the square holding placards, shouting and blowing ear splitting horns. Police were manoeuvring them quite roughly towards one corner of the space and right past where we had entered the square. We wisely stepped back but there was no cover from the rain and also no way of retreating or going forward. After what seemed an age we managed to sneak behind the last line of Police and away down the side of the square and threaded our way to our hotel and a hot shower. Not a terribly romantic moment.

Soaking number three was one I describe more fully in the book when we emerged from Invalides Metro station to a very open air view of Les Invalides after a journey from Montmartre – not one of my better plans. We ended up in Les Recruitment Café in a state of total dishevelment and I can say without hesitation that it was the wettest I have been fully clothed. The same applied to all the party I had led there. I did not ask them whether Paris was more beautiful in the rain.

The fourth time was more of a fine drizzle – if you are English you will be aware of the expression ‘ you know – the fine stuff that wets you through’. To be honest it had been a bit of a miserable trip weather wise but we could not allow the elements to spoil our fun. The Tuileries are a must and even though the rain was gently falling we had to go to the gardens. Just by the Musée de l’Orangerie we paused and looked at an extraordinary sight of the clouds coming down so low that two thirds or so of the Eiffel Tower has ‘disappeared’ giving the impression that it was still under construction. The view over the Place de la Concorde to the tower was an unmissable photo opportunity and a unique view of a familiar sight. Even Niamh was close to conceding that Paris could be more beautiful in the rain but alas we were again exceptionally moistened and ran to the Orangerie to dry out and enjoy once again Monet’s masterpieces.

Finally our last major encounter with the Paris rain was on a later trip with friends. The weather for the most part had been excellent but on our last morning before heading back to the Gard du Nord it was a dark, wet and filthy day. The leaden skies looked set for the day, proper summer cricket weather as we English would reflect. Perhaps Niamh and I were beginning to get this ‘Paris in the rain’ thing. The others stayed at the hotel playing cards but we intrepid explorers decided that we were going out, not to be cheated out of our last day in Paris. So that is what we did. We were wet by the time we got to the Metro La Motte Picquet Grenelle and we stayed wet for our entire trip. We were safe under cover on Rue Rivoli sheltered by the street arcade and enjoyed the shops and cafés, buying a touristy bag with Paris and Eiffel Towers stamped all over it that we still have in use today. This helped to keep our purchases fairly dry as they were suffering in the damp conditions. Wetter still, we headed through the Tuileries for one last time and then back on the Metro to the hotel. Our friends took one look at us and were incredulous that we were actually laughing and they despaired at our madness in going out in such a deluge. We though had finally got it, perhaps, just perhaps Paris is more beautiful in the rain.

Now it has to be said that I am not the best judge of this. I have lived most of my life in the North of England. I spent the first part of my life in the small town of Darwen, Lancashire. This is in a valley and was known for its cotton and paper mills that dominated the landscape. These are industries that need water, lots of water if you are following my drift. The town is overlooked from the moor above by a tower built to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. There is a saying that ‘If you can’t see the tower it is raining and if you can see it then it is going to rain’. That is a fairly accurate view of the Darwen weather.

So is Paris more beautiful in the rain? Well, I think you can see that I am clearly not the man to make the final judgement, my senses are impaired. You will just have to experience it for yourself.

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