Monday 17th October 2005
My return to Manchester turned out to be a little more stressful than I’d hoped. I was booked on a 12:30 pm flight and, as is my habit, was at Heathrow soon after 10:00 am. I obtained my Boarding Pass courtesy one of those new-fangled self-check-in screens and, flushed with the success of mastering that, joined the queue of 40 or so to check in my bag/s.
Some ten minutes later, as I was gratefully surrendering my large and somewhat overweight suitcase, I was informed that the flight had been cancelled because of heavy fog and that I would need to join another 40 plus queue to determine when the next flight with an available seat might be and obtain a fresh Boarding Pass.
This turned out to be at 3:00 pm, but to compensate for the delay British Midland graciously provided me with a £3.00 voucher for “refreshments” – enough for an indifferent cup of coffee and a small bottle of water!
Needless to say, mine was not the only flight to be cancelled, and the chaos that resulted from all air traffic being suspended until 11:30 am had to be seen to be believed. In fact one of the tabloids I saw later in the day had headlined its front-page report wih “PLANE CHAOS”. Although we were boarded for a 3:00 pm take-off, the queue to the take-off point was such that we didn’t actually get off the ground until 4:00 pm.
Regrettably, Roger had to cool his heels too at Manchester Airport because my later flight’s arrival time hadn’t been updated. Not surprisingly, I was delighted to get back “home” and enjoy another of Denise’s great dinners.
Most of the week that followed was in the nature of rest and recuperation which had more to do with getting rid of a pesky and persistent chest congestion than with recovering from the rigours of research and/or sightseeing sorties in London. And perhaps being inexplicably unable to access the internet either by wireless or dial-up probably didn’t do me a lot of harm either. I even read a couple of books!
Lest I leave you with the thought that it was all R&R, we fitted in a number of outings ranging from shopping at M&S to “warmify” my wardrobe for the chills of Boston and the Highlands, to pubs for such comfort food as “Steak & Ale Pie” and to parks to stretch our legs in pleasant surroundings. Armed with a list of car supermarkets Roger had identified as being likely to have what I was looking for, we also went car-buying last week.
I am, as a result, the “keeper” (owner to you, Colonials) of an almost mint-condition 2003 Renault Clio auto. It was far and away the best value we saw – a factor that should help when I come to resell it in six to nine months time.
And, before you ask, this is where I plan to go on my first Clio excursion:
Wednesday 26th October 2005
I picked up the car on Wednesday and on Thursday set off for a ten-day sweep south before Roger, Denise and I head off to Rome. First stop was Little Moreton Hall, which Pat and I had visited on a previous trip. It’s a moated, timber-framed house dating from the 1500s and, with justification, is one of the most photographed of the National Trust properties.
What had appealed to us then was the “warmth” that comes from it being a home – albeit with little or no furniture. It still feels that way. I had hoped to have lunch there but was beaten to it by another of those 40 plus queues – well perhaps not 40 – but enough to persuade me to press on to Beeston Castle, also in Cheshire.
What a contrast! This is one of those ruins of which there is little if anything surviving, and is perched atop a rocky crag that is reached only after what the guide book described as a “steep climb”! How right that was. On the way up I paused a number of times ostensibly to admire the view but, in truth, to ensure that my breathing was in long rather than hot pants! But having made it up there, I’m glad I did – not so much for the castle itself as for the views of the surrounding countryside, views which, it has to be said, were helped not a little by it being a beautiful sunny day.
Then on to the “Alvanley Arms Inn” in Cotebrook, where I was to spend the night. Roger, Denise and I had shared lunch there on Tuesday – Steak and Ale Pie and a pint of Bitter for me, if you must know – which of itself was reason enough to return.
But adjoining the Inn is the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre of which the Inn proprietor is also the driving force. I arrived there about 4:00 pm in the hope that I might be able to take the tour of the centre and get some photos of the “gentle giants” for Carolyn and Tony.
After the heavy rain the previous day, it was suggested that the depth of the mud might hamper not only my progress but also entry later into the Inn and that I should try again in the morning. As I might have known, the morning was grey dismal and wet, and the mud, I understand, deeper.
So I had to forego the tour and settle for postcards. Oh, and before I forget, the evening meal was great, the bed comfortable, and the full English breakfast (including black pudding!) of a sufficiency as to make lunch unnecessary.
Friday 28th October 2005
I left Cotebrook soon after 9:00 am in driving rain which, whilst it washed out my plans to visit Shrewsbury, lifted sufficiently for me to visit “Stokesey Castle” in Shropshire.
Mind you, from what I’d heard about it, I’d have visited anyway. Despite its name, this was a fortified manor house rather than a castle and, as such, shared much the same “warmth” as Little Moreton Hall.
The self-guided tour was enhanced by a really good audio commentary – something that is much more commonly available now. I spent nearly three hours there – and enjoyed every minute.
Then a brief visit to Ludlow to visit the Castle, admire “The Feathers Hotel” (from the outside) and replace my mislaid umbrella.
As I had planned to spend a couple of days in Herefordshire I had booked 3 nights at a pub – again recommended by Roger and Denise – at Weobley, about 10 miles NW of Hereford. The “Salutation Inn” dates from about 1500 and, as the lumps on my head can testify, boasts the low doorways of the period. The room is large and comfortable and overlooks the village green – which, because of the thickness of the walls and the slate roof – is where I have to go to get any mobile reception.
The lunch and dinner menu is not at the economy end of the spectrum but, despite the paper napkins and chain-store cutlery, I can see why the pub has earned an AA “rosette” and a mention in the Michelin Guide.
From personal experience, the Welsh lamb, crème brulée, seared scallops, pheasant, come highly recommended – by me!
Saturday 29th October 2005
On Saturday, a grey but fine day (at least until late afternoon), I roamed a little – with a loop SW across and back the Welsh border to Hay-on-Wye which, like Ross-on-Wye, is a book lover’s paradise. If the number of people and the difficulty of getting a parking spot are any indication, there are plenty of book lovers hereabouts. It was just a great place to browse.
Then down through what would, on a fine day, justify being called the Golden Valley to Kilpeck, SW of Hereford, to visit an early church with the most remarkably well-preserved stone carvings. Another photo opportunity!
Thence to Hereford where I had hoped to visit the Cathedral and view the “Mappa Mundi”, but was frustrated by the complete absence of parking of any sort within half a day’s march. I perhaps should have known better than to try on a Saturday. I’ll just have to go back.
Probably just as well as it turned out, because the heavens opened up again just as I got back to the pub – and they’ve stayed open until mid-day today.
Photos: My first SE England Sweep – 27th to 29th October 2005