THIS WAS NO COMMON RIDING

TRAVEL
Recently, a mate asked how many times I had been to Britain and/or Europe, and when I answered ’20, he said I should write a book.
I’m not in the mood for that, and for those who follow this website, you will be aware that I regularly post stories from those travels.
But, having had time on my hands because of the ‘Chinese flu’ forcing restrictions on us, I thought I would file a 20-part series on those trips, under sub-headings.
TRIP 16
2014
PURPOSE OF TRIP
My first European holiday as a retired old bugger. My wife, Marie still worked, but she got time off to accompany me. Main ‘targets’ were the Common Riding festivities at Hawick, in Scotland, and a four day, Loire Valley walk in France.
COUNTRIES VISITED
ENGLAND, SCOTLAND, FRANCE
FIRST THING OF NOTE THAT I CAN RECALL
ENGLAND
A walk in Kensington Gardens, waving to the palace, without getting a response.
SCOTLAND
Exiles night at Hawick Town Hall. I was a gate-crasher, given I have no Scots blood. But local, Elliot Gibson got me in, and it was a tremendous occasion, mixing with people from all over the world, who could trace their roots back to Hawick.
FRANCE
A walk around National Stud Farm at Arnac-Pompadour, in Central France.
SCENIC HIGHLIGHT
ENGLAND
North Yorkshire Coast, near Whitby
SCOTLAND
Queen’s View, Loch Tummel, near Pitlochry, Perthshire. it is believed to have been named after Queen Isabella, the 14thC wife of Robert the Bruce, who used the spot as a resting place on her travels.
FRANCE
Wooded, rolling hills countryside near Treignac, Central France.
HISTORIC HIGHLIGHT
ENGLAND
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London. Marie and I did a guided tour of this faithful reconstruction of the Globe, which opened in 1997. We also did a tour of the Royal Albert Hall.
SCOTLAND
Forth Rail Bridge, Queensferry. Love the way the bridge’s awesome girders arch over Hawes Inn in Queensferry. The old town is featured in Robert Lous Stevenson’s novel, ‘Kidnapped’.
FRANCE
16thC Chateau de Beauregarde, on the edge of the Russy Forest, Loire Valley. Renowned for its gallery of portraits.
FIRST MEAL THAT I CAN RECALL
ENGLAND
Fish (cod) chips and mushy peas at Anchor Pub, Southwark, London.
SCOTLAND
Ham salad at Hawick Town Hall on Exiles Night.
FRANCE
Set menu at our hotel at La Tour, near Uzerche in Central France, including duck pancakes, sirloin steak and fois gras salad.  
MOST MEMORABLE MEAL
ENGLAND
Dover Sole at the home of Andrew and Sandy Varley, Sandsend on the North Yorkshire Coast. My wife was the chef, after we bought the fish in Whitby.
SCOTLAND
Shetland Mussells (Marie), Cullen Skink (moi) at Railway Bridge Restaurant, Queensferry. Cullen Skink is a thick soup, with haddock one of the ingredients.
FRANCE
Cassoulet, ‘Comte Roger Restaurant’, Old Cite’, Carcassonne. My wife and I were hosted by ASC Carcassonne Rugby league Club directors (the president was a doctor)  thanks to their coach, Laurent Garnier, who we knew from Brisbane. Laurent has an Australian wife. Earlier we had visited Stade Domec, to see the statue of France’s most famous rugby league player, the late Puig Aubert, who I had met in Carcassonne in 1978 and again in 1989.
FIRST PUB/BAR STOP
ENGLAND
Gloucester Arms, South Kensington. Two lagers, both terrible – flat and warm. The Poms do real ales well, but not lagers. This was a hot day, and I felt like a cold beer.
SCOTLAND
Wetherspoons, Hawick. It was the Conservative Club last time I was in the town.
FRANCE
Bar Brasserie Les Ramparts, Pompadour, in the shadow of the town’s great castle.
MOST MEMORABLE BAR/PUB STOP
ENGLAND
450 year-old Leathern Bottle Pub, Lewknor, Oxfordshire, on the edge of the beautiful Chilterns. Lots of cars parked across the road, because the ‘tube’ to London and Oxford leaves from nearby. Lovely soup (pea and ham, Marie; leek and potato, moi) on a bleak Spring day.
SCOTLAND
Stein Inn, Waternish Peninsula, on the shores of Loch Bay, Isle of Skye. When Marie and I walked in, the sun was shining and there were great views. When we walked out of the intimate, traditional bar, we were enveloped by sea mist and could barely see more than three metres.
FRANCE
Bar Felix, Carcassonne. A real rugby league hangout.
ONE SPORTING EVENT
ENGLAND
Cricket match between touring team from Carey College, Kew in Victoria and Sedbergh School, at Sedbergh in Cumbria. 
SCOTLAND
Hawick Common Riding horse races. A huge, well behaved crowd.
FRANCE
Watching World Cup soccer in Le Mulligan’s Tavern, Villeneuve-sur-Lot. The closest I got to a live sporting event in France. Germany took a 1-0 lead over France ,while I was there, and the locals grimmaced.
EVENT OTHER THAN SPORT
ENGLAND
Farce, ‘Jeeves and Wooster In Perfect Nonsense’ at Duke of York’s Theatre.
SCOTLAND
Traditional Scots night at grand Athol Palace Hotel, Pitlochry. Quite moving, and the host was hilarious.
FRANCE
Jazz night at Hotel Auberge du Centre, Chitenay in the Loire Valley. A female singer and a male guitarist.
MOST UNUSUAL EXPERIENCE
ENGLAND
A visit to Eyam, the ‘plague village’ in Derbyshire’s Peak District. We were taken there by friends, Cliff and Jane Rodgers. ‘The Plague’ spread to the village from London in the 17thC, via a box of clothing. The villagers elected to self isolate, to save surrounding villages from the disease. Out of an estimated population of 350, 250 died.
SCOTLAND
Joining in the communal singing and drinking at ‘The Hut’, during the Common Riding Festival at Hawick in Scotland’s Borders District. An amazing morning, one I shall never forget. You can see it on ‘Youtube’. The Common Ridings Festival celebrates the capture of an English flag in 1514 by the youth of Hawick, and also the custom of riding the marches, or boundaries of the common land.
FRANCE
Rugby league journalist, Herve Girrette interviews me at Gilbert Brutus Stadium, Perpignan. He was told about my background as a rugby league writer in Australia, and the fact I was something of a Francophile.
1 Marie Ricketts at France’s National Stud Farm
2 Steve Ricketts at Whitby
3 Queen’s View, Perthshire, Scotland
4 Cricket in Cumbria at Sedbergh School. The locals (batting) are playing Carey College, from Kew, Victoria, Australia.
5 Horse races Hawick, Scotland
6 Marie and Steve Ricketts at Chateau de Beauregarde, Loire Valley.

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