Monday, 23 June 2014

If it's June it must be another cultural-awareness-raising-English-language-practising-on-tour-residential

Eva samples Beer

In 1992 Bridgwater twinned with Uherske Hradiste…but it was a close run thing as at the same town the South Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice also made a similar request. That’s how popular we were. We had of course already committed to UH so on June 18th that year we became the first British Czech post velvet revolution twinning. But that didn’t stop the boys and girls from Budvar keeping up their Bridgy link. Every year since then they’ve sent over their students on tour programmes which we’ve called ‘Practice your English in England’.  The main conspirator in all this is English teacher and anglophile Eva Kordova and this year naturally they came again. 

The easiest way to Somerset from the Czech Republic is flying from Prague to Bridgwater International Airport (Lulsgate, Bristol) – but sometimes the cheapest is Prague to one of the London airports. So this time , spotting a cheap flight to Gatwick, Eva chose that one. Which meant myself and fellow councillor Ian Tucker, who has already circumnavigated the globe  on numerous occasions as a matelot, drove up one bright Summer  morning to collect them and bring them back to the land of loveliness itself. Well, after a winter of rain a bit of sunshine was rather welcome.

Lost Czechs
Minehead and Chips

Stopping for a break at the Avebury stone circle – the only stone circle with wifi in the middle of it (c/o the pub there) we reached Somerset by mid evening. Minehead in fact. There’s a lovely youth hostel there. Badgers feast off the remnants of your evening meals, deer wander fleetingly through the forests and squirrels join you for breakfast.

That first night however we had fish and chips. That saved cooking.  And where better to eat them than on the sea wall looking directly at Port Talbot. 

Found Czechs
Dead Bohemians Ditched

The following day we sent them all off on a trek over Exmoor to Dunster –which they liked – so we thought we’d  set them an orienteering challenge and give them a few maps and loose them on the Quantocks. Which was exactly what happened. We lost them on the Quantocks.  Well it seemed a good idea on paper. Starting at Lydeard Hill and with Dead Woman’s Ditch clearly marked as a destination it just meant you had to follow the contours and you’re there. So they didn’t. They descending crow like in a straight line, which took them down into thick forest, a wooded and streamed valley  and several hours longer than we hoped.

Finally, while the Quantock ponies had almost completely eaten Ian’s minibus, they appeared from the opposite direction. Phew. Not lost after all. And what better reward than an afternoon’s shopping in Bridgwater. 

IQ levels put to the test
How do you spell France?
Next up on the British cultural tour was a pub quiz. The kids of course weren’t pub age but the ‘quiz’ is becoming a fad in modern Czecho so we thought we’d run one for them.  And to make it more interesting each of the 4 Czech teams was provided with at least one English Cultural Attache – of varying degrees of helpfulness. The Czech kids joined in enthusiastically and competitively…and in the great British spirit of things. Cheated.  Well, of course in my day we never had phone apps that could recognise the name of a tune just by humming into it… mixed feelings on that one….should people be able to use ALL modern options at hand?? Marathon runners be given Triumph Bonnevilles? Wrestlers be given chain saws??  Not sure . The Juries out. (is it eckerslike the cheating little sods).

So after a lovely traditional British chilli in pitta bread meal provided by Purple Spoons Kate Gardner (which hopefully they choked on whilst fighting back the spasms of guilt) it was off back to Minehead.

Interesting places to see as Ian prevents a child crossing

The crooks and nannies of Dorset
One of the best things about Bridgwater is how  ideal it is for visiting other places. From Bridgwater we could easily taken in Wells and Glastonbury  and even get down to the South Coast for a swim in the  (still too cold for them) English Channel as it forms the cosy Jurassic nooks and crannies of Lyme bay. The little port of Beer has a very well equipped youth hostel. And that doesn’t just mean a telly where we could watch the world cup. Although it did. And we did. A perfect self catering kitchen where we  cooked a traditional English meal of largely Mexican origins and let them wander off to Branscombe in case any ocean going cargo ships had beached and could be pillaged clean by the ‘finders keepers’ locals.

Then it was further west. A sunny drive to Plymouth, which had a nuclear submarine paying a visit. Luckily, one of ours. If the Czechs ever built any nuclear submarines – look out Slovakia!! (well, keep your eyes open for periscopes in the Danube, Bratislava maybe…)

Enter the Squirrel....
Dartmoor or less
Hotter and sunnier even was Dartmoor. A perfect place to be in gorgeous blue skied sunshine and summer warmth. Dropping the group at Postbridge, stocking up with supplies from the local shop (there is just one, and it is ‘local’ – they even slapped clotted cream on my ice cream-but don’t tell Jana) they headed off along the river Dart until they joined us drivers at the nearby (but not too near) Bellever Youth Hostel.

Bellever is a very well situated hostel right on the edge of the forest, alongside the river and slapbang in the middle of the moors. They pride themselves on their closeness to nature. They even have a ‘wildlife viewing area’ well, a ‘window’.  Ian was able to engage them in conversation for most of the night with his tales of seafaring adventure, battling the 3 nosed spiny terrorfish of Guatemala, boarding  ship to ship with cutlasses in mouth, grappling hooks tight in the rigging. Well, they didn’t know at the time it was a French cross channel ferry.

'Wildlife viewing area'
London and out

And then it was all over. Well for us anyway. We drove them up to London  (stopping at Bath en route) and left them at Holland Park – another well located hostel and the most central of the YHA stock. Good for them for the many walking tours of London they’d mapped out for themselves for the next few days.  Sadly, it’s going to be closing soon.

These cultural-awareness-English-language-practising-on-tour-residentials have been a feature of  Bridgwater International for over 20 years now and remain ongoing, open to any Nationality and a good way to get to know Britain. So diaries are open for the rest of this year , next term and 2015.

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