Carol and Norm’s Britain and Brittany
16th April to 27th May 2013
Our most recent foray overseas was every bit as good as we’d hoped.
As I’m not sure if we had mentioned in earlier epistles – of the paper as well as the electronic – form we took this self-drive tour at a much more leisurely pace, staying six nights in country coaching houses, pubs, inns and the like in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Shropshire. All have been different and, in their own way, delightful places to stay – and, as it has turned out, to eat. We are now totally enamoured of the benefit of having a central base from which we can comfortably reach the places we want to visit – and, after a day’s touring, coming back each evening to what have turned out to be genuinely warm welcomes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On arrival at Hertz depot at Manchester Airport, we were told that the car we had booked and paid for three months earlier was not available!! The agent tried, unsuccessfully, to convince us that a VW Golf was a medium sized car and seemed surprised that we were not happy to tour for a month with one large suitcase in the boot and the other on the back seat!!! With some reluctance, we were offered an exchange for a “larger” car the following day – and we ended up with a practically new VW Jetta and some belated apologies.
We spent the first couple of days in Manchester where our old friends, Roger and Denise live.
Here we stayed at 11 Didsbury Park, a quiet town-house hotel in Didsbury where we were welcomed like old friends – which is what we are really, having stayed there every time we’ve visited Didsbury over the past six or seven years.
We spent the morning of our first day at the local Tesco buying a simple mobile phone on a pre-paid basis – and stocking up on some other essentials like wine. We ventured into Manchester city itself next morning by bus – and window-shopped for as long as we were able to stand the “spring” temperatures and accompanying wind and rain. On our return journey to Didsbury, we managed to get the front seat upstairs on the double-decker – and our ride “home” was almost an adventure in itself!
As if to ensure that we were adequately fed before our foray into the country on the following day, Denise cooked up a veritable “feast” for lunch. Accompanied as it was with the appropriate wines – and water, of course – we gave Roger as much help as we could to do it the justice it deserved. And I’m sure we succeeded. Thank you both.
To start our central England circuit, we headed for Yorkshire – and the Loftsome Bridge Coaching House in Wressle, near Beverley. On the way we called in at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – 500 acres of rolling countryside which prompted one reviewer to write: “Probably the finest exhibition site for sculpture in the world.” Be that as it may, we meandered for as long as we were able in the bone-chilling cold of Britain’s late spring (that we later found a pain, in every sense of the word) for as long as we were able, taking in just some of the range of sculptures on offer. Here are a few:
…and whilst not exactly sculptural, these two could only be described as just beautiful living exhibits.
Oh, and the park has one of the best gallery-style shops we’ve visited. We could have spent lots there – but, regrettably in hindsight, resisted temptation. We succumbed to the temptation of just beautiful Tomato & Basil Soup and Crusty Bread in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Restaurant – and, given the chill of the rural setting, why not?
Loftsome Bridge Coaching House – as was all our accommodation – was chosen on the basis of being central to the areas we wanted to visit and one that had positive reviews. As it turned out, they all lived up to – and, in some cases – surpassed our expectations. In any event we were warmly welcomed on the Sunday afternoon of our arrival and shown to our truly spacious lodgings in the former stables. A complimentary basket of fruit awaited us which, was replenished every day – a hospitable touch that we really appreciated.
The hotel is very much in the country with all the benefits of traffic-less quiet and rural outlook that we were looking for – and, as a bonus, had a view over our very own lake with resident geese and three new goslings.
Favourite amongst the places we visited in Yorkshire were
- York Minster, of course,
- Nunnington Hall (and both for its wire & willow horse sculptures and wonderful “Carlisle Collection” of miniature rooms in the attic);
- Brodsworth Hall and Gardens (and the “Duty Calls” exhibits recalling how the house, its owners and staff were impacted by WWII 70 years earlier);
- the Rudston Monolith (2000-3000 yrs old) in the grounds of the early Norman “All Saints” church there; and
- Burton Agnes Hall & Garden (and its wire & willow geese) and, not least, the masses of daffodils that surrounded the property.
Another “stately home” visit was to Beningbrough Hall where, in addition to the house and gardens there was a National Portrait Gallery exhibition where we took the opportunity to “commission” a portrait. And here we are – in appropriately period dress:
Although our visit to Hardwick Hall promised the benefit of using our English Heritage card for the “old” Hall and our National Trust Card for the “new”, the warm welcome of the English Heritage staff at the “old” Hall was insufficient to counter the bitter cold of what is a roofless ruin – and we fled to the warmth of “new” Hall. That either hall exists is courtesy Bess of Hardwick, about whom, whether you want it or not you’re going to get a “potted” history:
Bess of Hardwick, as history recalls her, rose from humble origins to become one of the most powerful people in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. She married four times, each time gaining more wealth and her fourth husband was the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the richest and most powerful of the English nobles of the time. For many years the Shrewsbury’s were responsible for the guardianship of that unhappy Queen Mary Queen of Scots.
The story is that Bess had a furious dispute with her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and in 1584 had to leave their home at Chatsworth. She came to the Old Hall at Hardwick and largely rebuilt it as a place for her to live. However, when the Earl died in 1590 her finances became much more secure and she immediately began the construction of the ‘New’ Hall. The Old Hall was abandoned and gradually became a ruin.
With its massive windows and fine proportions, it is an impressive statement of the power and wealth of its creator who made sure the statement was made quite clear by having her initials ES carved on stone letters at the head of the towers! The hall was notable for the size of its windows and the amount of glass used, which was far more than in similar houses of the period.
For us, the “new” Hall was just as you might have expected from the status of its owner, a statement of wealth and power – and really quite cold in the other sense of that word.
Then on to Norfolk – and our home for the next six nights – The Bedingfeld Arms at Oxborough. Again a warm welcome in what is the village’s “local” pub. We had a spacious comfortable room on the first floor overlooking fields behind the hotel. As visitors from “down under” we found the room very cold and were grateful when someone showed us where the heating controls were and turned them on.
Over the next five days, we relished hearty breakfasts (including, again, black pudding for Norm) in the bar and appetising dinners in the restaurant. On one evening when the restaurant was not open, a dinner reservation was made for us at a nearby pub, “The Berney Arms” at Barton Bendish – and this was absolutely delicious.
In Norfolk, as in Yorkshire, the evidence of spring being six or so weeks late was still frigidly clear – bare hedgerows and trees, but daffodils everywhere, even on median strips. All very fine, but we could have done without the unwelcome addition of those chilling winds.
But brave colonials that we are, we soldiered on. High on our list of favourites would be
- Blickling Hall (it looks every bit the 16th century stately home it is);
- the late gothic Paycocke’s House (with its stunning woodcarving and elaborate panelling inside, and tranquil cottage garden outside);
- And, how could we forget Sutton Hoo and its treasures?
Sutton Hoo is the site of two 6th- and early 7th-century cemeteries. One contained an undisturbed ship burial including a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artefacts of outstanding art-historical and archaeological significance, now held in the British Museum in London. Fortunately for us – and other visitors – replicas of many of the treasures are displayed here, and what treasures they are.