Friday, November 28, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 12

Grasmere Lodge has a rather more formal approach to things than your regular shack in that you congregate for a drink around 7 and then have dinner in 8, most likely eating in groups. We were a bit unsure about this because we’re lousy in such situations, but it ended up as yet another fine evening. We went first for a stroll on a nature trail that surrounds the lodge, taking forty-five minutes or so; it was a very nice walk, but it soon started to rain and we ended up drenched. On the way back we walked through a field of horses, some of which started following us, so we have the new marker of being stalked by cows, sheep and horses all within the same day. Anyway, we soon dried off. On Friday night, as I mentioned, we were the only guests, and the only other people around for dinner were the former operators and continuing part owners, Olly and Vicky Newbegin, up here for the special Cass weekend I described before. They mostly live in Christchurch, so we had yet another extended conversation on that topic, among many other things (not least, Olly’s memories of his first visit to the US in his 20s, seeing Miles Davis and John Coltrane perform on the same night, and other musical wonders; subsequent Internet searching suggests he could also have talked at length about his amazing Porsche collection, but we never got there). Several hours went by most easily. Then we returned to our wonderful room and drank more wine. I stood outside by myself for a while in the darkness, enjoying the sense of total exclusivity and uniqueness, which our home city can’t really provide for all its own marvels.

The great thing about a place like Grasmere is that you express a wish and then everyone applies themselves to making it happen. We said that for our last day we’d like to take a good scenic walk, maybe five hours or so, and then everyone launched themselves into figuring out what would be the best route, the appropriate accompanying logistics and so on. In this particular case it became almost a family project – the current and former operators, Tom and Olly, both drove us out to the starting point; five hours later, Tom brought his partner and baby daughter along when he picked us up (after dropping in on the Cass bash). They’d selected a track which wouldn’t be too affected by the previous evening’s rain nor by the predicted westerly winds, called the Hog’s Back Trail, leading to a tiny village called Castle Hill (which Olly apparently had a hand in founding – the more we hear about him, the more he sounds like a benign local Godfather). It was a perfect choice, not just for the reasons stated, but also because it complemented the other fine walks we’ve taken – somewhat drier terrain, with a feeling of clay and gorse, but also with plenty of woodland stretches; a somewhat softer grandeur to the landscapes, but again with mesmerizingly designed skies (just look at the photos). We only saw a handful of other walkers, but there were plenty of mountain bikers, especially as the day went on. It wasn’t a particularly tough walk in terms of ups and downs, but still tired us out well enough.

The lodge chef, Jean-Pierre (they have an actual French chef called Jean-Pierre) made us a lunch which even included little quiche-type things that he’d cooked that morning; I’m telling you, they were really on top of everything. The only trouble was that by the time we were ready to eat it, the wind was picking up despite their best planning efforts, so we had to wait a while to find the right spot. The New Zealand climate is a bit of a puzzler. You often go through huge temperature swings; on today’s walk for example we eventually found a sheltered spot to eat our lunch, and ten minutes later my fingers were white and twisted as if on the verge of frostbite. But almost as soon as we started walking again, I felt overheated and had to take my jacket off (there’s a lot of putting on outer layers, then taking them off, then putting them on again, etc.) I mentioned before the ease of sunburning – apparently New Zealand has the highest skin cancer rate in the world. On at least five days during the trip we’ve felt moisture in the air in a density which at home would be a certain sign of rain in the immediate future, but here it's always receded without coming to that (our luck with the weather continued to the end; apparently things got much worse in Christchurch on the day we left). But it’s hard to make sweeping statements about a country based on two weeks, no matter how engaged you think you are. Someone at work had said to Alison that one of her prevailing impressions of New Zealand is of all the people walking barefoot in the street. We haven’t seen that at all.

By the way, the Chronicles of Narnia films were apparently shot close by, and so was a British production of The Lost World, at which time Bob Hoskins and James Fox stayed in the lodge for a month or so (haven’t asked if that’s the extent of the celebrity guest list). The only issue today was that the Internet wasn’t working this morning, with the serious consequence that I couldn’t take a look at Ozu in our room. However, while waiting for it to be fixed, I found that I could get online by sitting in one of the library areas (I think the place has three such areas, where people might play pool, chess or board games; watch TV (the rooms don’t have them); or read such books as the Coz’s Fatherhood (to take an example which, by divine providence, I found in my eyeline). Anyway, I monitored Ozu on and off for half an hour or so, and he never moved from the same droopy position on the bed in the little dog space. I haven’t seen him in the big dog space for days, which I take to mean that he’s given up on trying to keep up with them, and that he’s just grimly sticking it out before he gets to go home. Which won't be too long a wait as a percentage of his entire stay, but unfortunately still isn't particularly close if he's counting the hours…

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