Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Staffordshire, Running and Houses

We've had quite a busy few days of late, which makes a very pleasant change. First of all, we took a trip down to Edinburgh to celebrate Valentine's Day with our great buddies - minus Janus who, despite being a vocal Valentine-basher over the years ("Oh no - even when I have a boyfriend I won't want to celebrate" heh heh heh) decided to go for a lovey-dovey night with her recently affianced. And fair enough. It was a lovely evening of wine, women and song, at Café Marlayne on Fishmarket Close. (Ok, not song). The service was a bit dodgy, with long waits for food, and one French waiter who positively yelled the orders at you when he brought the long awaited plates, regardless of whether you were in the middle of a conversation or not. Most annoying. But all my food was good, and with such amusing company it was fine to be leisurely. I haven't giggled so much since the last time the Cheese Board were congregated, reminding me that the true heart of our little band lies in those 5 other girls with whom it all began. We toasted Janus in her absence, then got down to serious chuckles.

Next day, Fisher and I jumped in Helga the Golf and headed south, via a house we thought had some potential. It didn't, and the fact the woman was desperate came across very strongly in her offers of tea, coffee, then food, then her first born. None of which we wanted. It was all rather sad, as she had a husband in a nursing home and was clearly only selling because of straightened circumstances. It was a big, old family home, abounding with memories, and the sour face of her daughter as we poked disinterestedly around showed just how miserable it all was for the family. The daughter did perk up when we mentioned we had two cocker spaniels in the car, but only for a brief moment.

Anyway, with house a no-go, we headed for the M6 via a very fine traditional Scots café in Lanark ('Blethers') where we fuelled up with full Scots breakfast and tolerable coffee. Lorne sausage is a very strange thing, though. Give me haggis any day.

It was a long but straightforward drive, and once we got off the M6 we were able to take in the true delights of the countryside in which Brother and Gaura have bought their new house. The peaks came upon us unawares. We drove up a long hill, cackling at the cyclists and feeling their pain, and then, at the brow of the hill, we were confronted by a great, jagged peak of dark grey rock, sprouting from the hilltop like a crown. A few miles further on we found the new pad - a traditional 3 bedroomed farmhouse, with stunning views over the surrounding countryside. At about 500m above sea level, the first thing we noticed when we got out of the car was just how arse-achingly cold it was! A piddle to the fact we'd just travelled some 250 miles south - it was Baltic! We shivered our way from car to front door, remembering with some horror that Brother had been having some problems with the heating ... but no worries. It was toasty warm inside, and after fond greetings, we settled in to have some 'poo, give the dogs a run in the field, and yammer. We then went out for supper at a nearby pub, and were confronted by the American-sized portions now becoming prevalent in England. I could only manage about a third of my sirloin steak, as the chicken liver starter had been enormous and I didn't leave enough room - as usual.

That was the start of us eating our way round 3 counties. Next day began with breakfast in Buxton, at an amiable café where they seemed to add scrambled egg as a flavouring to butter - which tastes divine, but is far too rich. We then did a little shopping at Leek market, in search of a plug to fit a Belfast sink and some beds - neither of which were forthcoming. We had some coffee in a scary pub in town, then pootled back to the house. Brother and Fisher had a ride in Elsie the Merc (only 2 seats), to pick up coal and logs (neither forthcoming - something of a theme for the weekend) while Gaura and I chatted. Then followed a long spell playing Backgammon, reading, and falling asleep in front of the astonishingly efficient gas fire, which didn't exactly meet with Brother's approval.

"Let's go on a pub crawl!" he suggested. This was greeted with dead silence, followed by me saying "hmmmm ..."

I didn't exactly fancy going round the countryside, one of us unable to drink, the other getting steadily more sozzled, in a succession of Staffordshire/Derbyshire/Cheshire pubs (their house is right on the border of all three).

"Riiiight," Brother grumbled, and proceeded to fall asleep in front of the fire while Gaura and Fisher played backgammon and I read the dreadful but compelling Simon Scarrow book 'The Generals' about Napoleon and Wellington.

Some hours later, fuzzy-headed from being indoors too long, we headed out to the Three Horseshoes for grub and a pre dinner drink. ("Shall we go out and get a pre-dinner drink?" I suggested, at 8ish. "Oh God let's get a drink," Brother responded, like a drowning man grasping a passing strand of bamboo.) The Three Horseshoes proved to be quite a large place, with a pub, buffet, and bistro all under one roof. We went for the bistro, and had a very good meal with a bottle of Sancerre. After much conviviality we returned home and went to bed.

Rock on!

Sunday dawned (yeh ... right! When was the last time I saw a dawn?) crisp and sunny, much warmer than before, and we were glad we'd decided to save our walk for the last day. Fisher took the car down to The Roaches Tea Room (I know! Who'd call an eatery that? I know it's after the nearby rocks, but still!) and ran back. She had to walk up some of the mighty hill, but fair play to her, I say.

I gave the dogs a romp in the field, while Gaura and Brother fielded a neighbourly visit from some locals, who'd brought them a welcome cake (home made!) and then kicked them out. (Brother and Gaura kicked out the visitors, that is. Not the other way round. That would have been a bit forward.) While we were enjoying the beautiful sunshine and view, Fisher came jogging up, so after she'd showered and changed we were ready for our walk.

It was a lovely 2 mile stroll, with only a couple of map moments and some stunning scenery as we went over the brow of the hill. Below is a picture that is not our walk - but is of the area, so you get the idea.

We saw rock climbers tackling some of the peaks, and it looked pretty easy, even by my standards. God, it's been ages since we went to A Vertical World - we really must go back.

The walk finished at the Tea Rooms where we had Sunday lunch. I had decent enough lamb, while Fisher wasn't so lucky with her beef. I think they used a silverside, so it was tough and dry. Still, the starters were nice - if basic, and my banoffee pie was just gorgeous.

We rolled ourselves out of the tearoom, into the car, and went quickly back to the house to pick up our stuff before heading back home. It was a terrific weekend, and a truly beautiful area.

Back home, I avoided the scales like the plague. I'd managed to knock off 6 pounds before leaving, but having eaten my way through 4 counties (if you count Edinburgh) I was pretty sure it would all be back on again. Determined to get myself back on track on Monday, I headed to Tentsmuir and ran 5 miles - the furthest I've run for a very, very long time. It was tough on my knees as they don't appreciate supporting my juddering bulk over any kind of distance, but I was relatively pleased with my time of 57 minutes. (Officially, according to Fisher's old and bollocks sat. nav it was 59 minutes, but it measured exactly 2.5 miles out, then decided to cut me short on the way back, so I ran a bit extra just to make sure - and I'm pretty positive it was right on the wy out, so I'm taking my time ...

... aaaaag. Booooorrrrriiiiiing! I did it in 57 minutes, all right?!!??)

Anyway. I was ver' ver' pleased and proud of myself, even though my knees creaked like an old galleon on the high seas all the next day.

Speaking of the next day - we went to see a house! And we loved it! So, today, we've got a note of interest in, and will hopefully be making an offer before long. We've got the survey going ahead tomorrow, fingers crossed, which will tell us how much the place is worth. But fuck me! It's almost a grand to have a survey! If we don't get this place, I'm not sure I can cope with paying any more surveyors. I'll be too poor to actually buy the house.

We also went to the gym. I did 5k on the running machine, although I had to stop and have a rest after 1.5miles because my lower tummy was killing me. I suppose I had 3 or 4 minutes rest, then went back to it. The first 1.5miles I did in 14.30, the second in about 16.30. If I'd not had the rest, it would be my fastest ever 5k, but I can't exactly say that, can I? If I'd not had the rest, I wouldn't have kept up the pace, and the point would be moooot.

Moot is such a good word. I should use it more. Even when it's moot.

Aaanyhoo - after my run, I did 6 miles on the gym bike. 5 of them were on hill setting, going from 5 to 20. The last mile was on 5. Maybe 4. At this point I was gasping pretty badly, and a girl in a pink top and perfect make-up came and sat on the bike beside me. As I gasped, a great cloud of nasty, cheap perfume swirled into my lungs and I nearly choked. Or chundered. Not sure which was closer. Anyway, after five minutes of light cycling and fiddling with her iPod, she decided she'd had enough and moved on to the running machine, leaving me to breathe once more.

So that was today. Put a note of interest in for a house, went for a run, walked the dogs, did a supermarket shop, wrote this.

I'm off.