A day older than yesterday
What a spectacular landscape awaited us as we drove out of the city in a vaguely northerly direction, heading for a couple of places my Hero had earmarked from our guidebook.
The light was magnificent; bright, bright sunshine and clouds with personality, if you know what I mean. I was on the lookout for a windmill to feature in a photo, but they were always on the wrong side of the road or behind a tree. It would have been a cliche anyway, wouldn’t it?
First place on our list, De Menkemaborg came with a rare two stars in our Michelin guide, so we had high hopes. It opened at 10 and since we turned up at about five past, we expected to find everything running. But it wasn’t. All doors were lcoked and the place appeared closed.
Around ten fifteen, two smiling gentlemen arrived full of apologies. Their coffee had tasted so good, their chairs were so comfy…would we forgive them for being late? Well, of course. The people here have been so delightful, so charming, we have felt veery much at home. We chatted about his forthcoming trip to Manchester to watch a Champions League match and I hoped he wouldn’t say kind things about Brexit and stuff, because it would only start me off again!
Squinting into the sun, we made our way over the moat across a wooden bridge to the front door. We had instructions to ring the bell when we got there.
I pulled the handle. Did it ring? I didn’t hear anything. Shall I pull again? It’s always the dilemma, isn’t it? I decided I would try a second time and almost as soon as I did, a smiling lady opened the door and said “I heard the first time: It rings upstairs”. Aaaagh! But she was fine and accepted my explanation that I had hoped to hear the bell myself, taking the opportunity to try it herself then. She claimed she had never tried it before!
We entered a smart hallway and chatted to her for quite some time about the Cotswolds, the countryside around Groningen and Menkemaborg itself. Another delightful encounter.
Now, during the next hour or so I took more than a hundred photographs of the most beautiful interiors, each one really well staged to suggest the family had just stepped out. Someone had designed this with a real eye for detail, enjoying the opportunity to tell a story and to enlighten us about life in those days. Not everything here was original to this house. Much of it had been bought in from other nearby sources. But it was accurate and attractive.
So, though I could fill the next few pages with photographs of the things which caught me eye, I will exercise a little restraint!
It’s incredibly hard!
Perhaps leave it for now with an autumnal scene from the scullery, of the vegetables left by the gardener for lunch? Because the garden awaited us too.
It was equally stunning and walking through this tunnel of pear and apple trees, we admired the work of just four gardeners. My word, they have their work to do!
There are several formal gardens and a maze and those we saw suggested that topiary and training fruit trees must be someone’s superpower.
Menkemaborg deserves those two stars, for sure. We loved it!
Whilst chatting to the lady in the house, she asked where we were headed next, suggesting that if we’d not been there already, then the smallest harbour in the Netherlands would make for an interesting stop. So my Hero reset the satnav for Noordpolderzijl and off we set.
This rich arable landscape is so very much like Holderness, where my Grandad’s family farmed.
Eventually, at the end of the road, we could see a structure. Our guidebook recommended the cafe here too, claiming it was worth a visit for their rum-flavoured fruit cake alone. Hmm…it was nearly lunchtime!
We parked the car and got our bearings. The large sluicehouse dominated the scene.
Standing on top of the dike, we could see where we had come from and the long canal that had paralleled the road the whole way.
Looking north, out to sea, we could see the channel through which, at high tide, ships could approach this, the smallest harbour in the Netherlands. Right now, at low tide, there was nothing doing!
If we squinted our eyes and looked really carefully, we thought we could see the Dutch West Frisian and the German East Frisian islands out there beyond the mud of the Waadensee, but perhaps we were imagining it!
It was time to step inside t’Zielhoes we thought, for a cheese toastie and a piece of that Waadentaart. Very good it was too!
We loved it here and were so pleased the lady had suggested Noordpolderzijl as a destination!
As we left, we noted the changing light. We were heading for another house, somewhat like this morning but a little different in style.
It’s serious ploughing season here.
Time to clear drainage channels too. We passed several teams of machines going through the process of cutting back, opening up and clearing water courses of all sizes.
We admired the traditional style of homes here, each one distinctive and beautifully kept.
And yes, a cliche maybe, but I couldn’t resisit.
If you did a bit of triangulation you could work out the location of our final stop for the day.
Fraeylemaborg is another manor house, rather similar in scale and size to Menkemaborg but somewhat older.
It’s laid out similarly too, with small arrangements in each room. But whoever designed these vignettes lacked the eye and the skill of the person at Menkmaborg. Perhaps too, we were tired? For whatever reason, Fraeylemaborg didn’t quite do it for us.
It didn’t help that a contemporary glass artist was exhibiting some of his (her?) work in the house. So there amongst the historical bits and pieces are modern glass pieces which we found to be distracting.
Never mind. As we drove back to Groningen in the late afternoon, we chatted about the lovely day we’d had in this ethereal landscape.
It was a pretty good way to celebrate being a day older than I was yesterday!