Monday 1 August 2011

What I Did On My Holidays: Two Finds, A Belated Spot and an Exhibition

1. In The Bookshop in Wirksworth - where, as usual, half a dozen items seriously tempted me - I found a volume I didn't even know existed: a King Penguin edition of Cowper's Diverting History of John Gilpin, illustrated with typical dash and brio by Ronald Searle. You can see the pictures online here.

2. In Whitby, I not only ate the best fish and chips of my life - at a quayside restaurant misleadingly called The Magpie Cafe, where long queues outside signal the quality of the food within. But the big surprise was that the Magpie not only has a good wine list but also, by way of aperitif/digestif, that versatile nectar Pineau des Charentes, both white and red. Mind you, I say versatile, but last time I tried to get a Pineau as a digestif - in a somewhat swanky restaurant in La Rochelle - I was summarily refused and advised/ordered to drink something else. Clearly I had broken the laws of gastronomy - but a Pineau is actually very good after dinner.

3. In Derbyshire, belatedly, I saw my first Small Coppers of the year. Disappointingly, I hadn't seen a single one of these little beauties back in the sunny spring, and wondered if I was going to draw a blank with this far from uncommon butterfly, so it was a great delight to spot the first, basking prettily on a hedegrow leaf.

4. We made our way home by way of Castle Howard, which I had never visited before. For the most part, I found the interiors as oppressive as they are impressive (and was appalled by the repainted ceiling of the great dome, a terrible piece of work). The grounds, though, are full of wonders - and, in the house, there was a fascinating exhibition devoted to George Howard, the 9th Earl of Carlisle. A friend and patron of many of the great names of late Victorian art, he was also an accomplished, if patchy, painter. Some of his portraits, and the oils he painted on his travels in India and the Middle East, are very fine.

And now I am back from my northern jaunt, as ever feeling better for having escaped the Great Wen and discovered that there's another England out there, a rather friendlier and more relaxed one.


  1. I love a drop of pineau too Nige! never had the red version though - a chilled glass goes wonderfully as a digestif at christmas with a slice of christmas pud or some stilton!
    Perhaps the rude waiter in La Rochelle was trying to denigrate pineau in favour of the more local Pommeau

    Saw lots of small coppers on a chalky down in wiltshire at the weekend, one of my favourite butterflies

  2. Very helpful piece of writing, much thanks for the article.