Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Three

8th May 2013

Although Norm had visited Blenheim Palace more than a few years ago, his memory of it was more than a little vague. That being the case, what else was there to do but go? For those who have been there the Palace and grounds are all you would expect from the name “Palace” – which we understand is unusual in that it is the only non-royal or non-episcopal country house in England to hold that title. We thought you should know that!
While the rooms and their furnishings were magnificent, we spent most of our time there exploring the Churchill Exhibition. We both found it fascinating – encompassing as it does, not just photographs and official documents but a sizeable collection of letters – the most poignant of which were those that, as a youngster, he wrote to his parents. He comes across as an extremely lonely boy craving for parental affection that he seemed never to have been given.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
8 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire – 8 May 2013

Churchill’s Grave, Bladon, Oxfordshire

We were sufficiently enthused by the Churchill Exhibition to visit the nearby Bladon village church, where Winston, Clementine and any number of other members of the Marlborough family are buried. That someone whose importance to Britain was so great is buried here (where his parents and brother, Jack were buried) rather than somewhere grander, says much about how important his family was to him.
A day or so earlier than our visit, a floral tribute had been placed close to his grave by the members or descendants of the Dutch Resistance Forces. He seems better remembered in Europe than at home!

With some reluctance, we bid farewell to the “Falkland Arms” for our relatively long drive, via Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton, to Maesbury Marsh, in Shropshire and the “White House”, which was to be our home for the next six nights. We arrived in driving rain and cold wind after driving into the wrong “White House” next door. It was only when pulling in to the right place that Norm remembered that the “our” White House was a brick house – with not a hint of white about it. Duh!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Wightwick Manor is unusual in that, in 1937, its owner, Geoffrey Mander MP, persuaded the National Trust to accept a house that was just 50 years old. It really is a lovely Victorian manor house in Arts and Crafts style, set in superb gardens.

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands
9 May 2013

The house interiors feature original wallpaper and fabrics by Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris, along with Pre-Raphaelite stained glass, paintings, and objets d’art. It is designed in a mock-Tudor ‘Old English Style’, with brick and timber-framed whitewashed walls under a tile roof.

The Great Parlour, Wightwick Manor, West Midlands
9 May 2013

…and it was quite a find – helped not a little by an informed and informative guide. Well done National Trust.

We were warmly welcomed by Isobel on our arrival and shown to our light and airy bedroom – adjoined as it was by as spacious an en-suite bathroom as you are ever likely to find! It was, in fact, larger than the bedroom! We later met Ross, our joint host, who was our waiter, wine-waiter and raconteur extraordinaire. Regrettably the weather that greeted us on arrival continued for almost all our time there and prevented us exploring the garden which, in more clement times, would have been a great spot to chill out after a busy day’s touring.

Over the next five days we did, however, enjoy Ross and Isobel’s hospitality and relished the hearty breakfasts and just scrumptious dinners for which the “White House” is recognised. Our dining experiences were made even more enjoyable by being served in the light-filled conservatory. Not surprisingly perhaps, we chose to “eat-in” every night – and on no occasion were we disappointed. Each morning, we enjoyed our post-breakfast perusal of the extensive Dinner menu and found some difficulty making a choice from so many tantalising dishes. Particular favourites included the Sole Meuniere and the Vegetarian Haggis but every dish we tried, be it an amuse-bouche, entrée, main or dessert, was a tribute to Isobel’s cooking – and truly five star.
No wonder the “White House” is listed as a “Gastro” Bed & Breakfast.

To complement Isobel’s culinary skills, Ross was the quintessential “mine host” whose gregariousness, ebullience and quick-wittedness kept us mightily entertained. We thoroughly recommend the White House as a wonderful base for exploring Shropshire and beyond – and, if you are so inclined, acquiring a reason for later dieting regimes.

10th May 2013

Off into Wales today – and Llangollen in particular. Our introduction was not encouraging – not because of the town, but the bitter cold – to the point that Norm had to buy some warming gloves – for, if he remembers correctly, the princely sum of about $8.00 from a recycle shop recommended to us by a Camping, Shooting, and Fishing shop in the main street.
This really was a tourist trip day. First we caught the “Llangollen Railway’s” Heritage Diesel Railcar to Carrog – about 12 km from Llangollen.

Our Heritage Diesel Railcar Llangollen, Denbighshire
10 May 2013

Regrettably, it wasn’t the right day for a steam experience. We nonetheless enjoyed a picturesque ride in prime seats behind the driver.

Photos: Our trip on the Heritage Diesel Railcar, Llangollen, Denbighshire – 10 May 2013

It was a most enjoyable experience – and one we would recommend, but only when the weather was warmer. It was perhaps for this reason, that on our return we beat a hasty retreat back to the “White House” to thaw out.

The following day dawned more brightly and we felt sufficiently confident of our weather forecasting skills to return to Llangollen to take a Horse-drawn Barge Trip to see the Horseshoe Falls. As the trip didn’t leave until 11:30 am, we had time for a leisurely walking tour of what really is an attractive small town. As you’ll see from the photo of the Morris Dancers performing outside the Tourist Office, taken as we made our way to the wharf, the weather was still fine.

Morris Dancers, Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013

It didn’t last and by the time it came to board, it was raining quite heavily. We could only feel for the poor horse and its handler having to brave the intermittent wet – and the cold – for the two hour return trip.

Our Barge awaits us… …and our horse, Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013
The man-made “Horseshoe Falls” – courtesy Thomas Telford
Llangollen, Denbighshire
11 May 2013

Photos: Our trip on the Horse-drawn Barge to the Horseshoe Falls, Llangollen, Denbighshire -11 May 2013

We agreed with the reviewer who described this as “possibly the most beautiful length of canal you will ever see, and the horse drawn trip is definitely the most peaceful and relaxing way to see it”. We could only agree.

With the weather looking a little kinder again, we set off for a couple more attractions, Valle Crucis Abbey and Eliseg’s Pillar. By the time we got to the abbey, the cold wind had returned and we were forced to use it more for shelter than the in-depth tour it may have deserved. We also made it to the Pillar, via a cow-pat strewn path. But we did get to them both, steadfast tourists as we are.

Entrance – Valle Crucis Abbey, Llantysilio, Denbighshire
11 May 2013