Sunday, June 24, 2007

Arden tour - 24 June 2007

Anne Hathaway's CottageWe spent the night near Alcester, and having found an excellent circular driving tour starting at Alcester we set out to follow the route. According to the BBC weather forecast, we were in the only fine spot in the country.

Mary Arden HouseWe were able to complete the Shakespeare houses during the tour, as we first passed Anne Hathaway’s house; Shakespeare's wife’s family’s home. William and Anne's marriage was an unusual union: she was 26 (well and truly left on the shelf for those days) and William a minor at 18. When they married, she was 3 months pregnant, presumably a local scandal. Mary Arden HouseThe tour of the house was most interesting, the guide a fund of the origins of old sayings, and the “cottage” garden an absolute delight.

Next on the tour was Mary Arden House and Palmer Farm. Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother. Although she was the youngest of 8 girls, as her father's favourite, she inherited the farm. Welford-on-AvonThis is a fascinating place to wander around, as is Palmer's Farm, next door.

Chained libraryOn with the tour, we visited a number of very picturesque villages, not at their photographic best on such a dull day though. At St Peter's in Wootten Wawen the church still houses a rare chained library.

Edstone AqueductOne interesting side visit was to the longest aqueduct in England. This is made from cast iron plates, and passes over a road, river and 2 train lines.

The final stop of the day was Ragley Hall. This house was built in 1680, and must have been very modern for it's day. Ragley HallThe tour ended in a large hallway, painted by a mural painter over 14 years from 1969 to 1983. It was fascinating to see a new and fresh mural on a grand scale, incorporating family members in an epic depiction based on the Temptation of Christ and the riches of the world.

The Bard was here - 23 June 2007

Harvard HouseStratford-upon-Avon is one of the most dramatic (as well as touristy) towns in England, with many fine Tudor buildings.

As we are going to The Globe theatre next month, we felt a little background research on the play’s author would be in order. Although touristy, the Shakespeare heritage sites are well worth visiting. Shakespeare's birthplaceThey offer a good deal where, for £14, you can purchase a discounted ticket to visit all of the remaining houses connected to Shakespeare. Nash House
We started with Shakespeare’s birthplace and home when growing up; next were the houses owned by his two daughters; and, thrown in for good measure, was Harvard House - connected to the founder of and now owned by Harvard University. All houses were Tudor and all different. Hall's CroftWe particularly like Hall’s Croft, house of one daughter and her Doctor husband. All houses included interesting facts of the Shakespeare’s life and times.

Although the day was showery, the weather forecast suggested that the showers would clear away by 5pm so, as we were only two days past the longest day, it was no problem starting out on an eight mile walk at 5pm. But for the first time ever, we got ourselves lost and, by missing a turning, basically walked around in a large circle. AlcesterThis took us back to the track we had come on from Alcester so we retraced our steps to the starting point and ended up in the right place eventually. Alcester is well worth a visit, and we relaxed in one of its many pubs and had an excellent dinner to celebrate our safe return.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"... in an English country garden" - 17 June 2007

Malvern HillsHaving had the sky washed clean on Saturday, we knew our planned walk on the Malvern Hills would have stunning Views. The undulating ridgeline makes for a wonderful walk with extensive views to both sides. We walked from Wyche Cutting to the British Camp, the remains of an Iron Age Fort.

From here we drove to Bredon for a village walk. This picturesque riverside village also has a Cotswold stone Medieval Barn.


Father's Day was a bad time to try and have lunch at the newly restored NT owned Fleece Inn. After queuing for some time we settled for a drink only.

Hidcote Manor GardenFrom there, it was a short drive to Hidcote Manor Garden. Having seen them in spring and late summer, we wanted to see them during the rose and cottage garden season. As always they were lovely.

KiftsgateBut even better was the neighbouring garden of Kiftsgate. These gardens are built down a hillside with clear views to the Malvern Hills we were walking on earlier.

Snowshill Lavender FarmAs our lavender is looking brilliant at home, we decided to journey home via the Snowshill Lavender Farm. Although early in the lavender season, these were looking great, especially against the now stormy skies.

Snowshill ManorSnowshill village is another lovely Cotswold’s town. We were too late to get into Snowshill Manor, but the garden here was also looking lovely.

Hideaways - 16 June 2007

Moseley Old HallAfter an 11 a.m. appointment in Birmingham, we threaded our way across Birmingham to the NT property of Moseley Old Hall. There had been heavy thunderstorms during the last two days, so we were glad to be inside on a tour of the house during a downpour.

After losing the Battle of Worcester in 1651, King Charles II sheltered here, aged 21, 9 years before he returned as King. We saw the bed he slept in, complete with original bed hangings. Moseley Old HallThere was a priest hole he also hid in when the Roundheads came calling. It was during this escape that Charles hid in an oak tree, this episode being the origin of the phrase “Royal Oak”.

From here we continued on to Kinver, to finally see inside the Rock Houses, Rock House at Holy Austin, Kinver Edgewhich were closed when we visited in April.

They are really interesting and although only two rooms are furnished; they still give the effect of what it would be like to live here. We could see the heavy rain clouds over Birmingham, but on the hills it was fine.

We decided to risk the weather, and set out on an eight-mile walk. The air was crisp and the views superb. The turning point in the walk was a country church and we listened to the bells pealing as we crossed the fields towards it. The public footpath went through the churchyard and right past the front door. Country churchOrdinarily this is not a problem but we did feel rather out-of-place tromping through the massed wedding guests, them in their finery, us in our shorts and boots.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shrewsbury -10 June 2007

Haughmond AbbeyWhile the morning was still cool, we did a walk that passed Haughmond Abbey and skirted round then over Haughmond Hill.

A short distance away was the site of a battle six centuries ago and immortalized by Shakespeare in Henry IV; an excuse for another short walk here, around the battlefield.

ShrewsburyShrewsburyBy this time the day was getting warm and we had a look around Shrewsbury, a very attractive town built inside the horseshoe shape of the River Severn. It is full of Tudor style buildings.

Our lunch stop was the equally attractive village of Much Wenlock.

BridgenorthNot far away is another town we would recommend: Bridgnorth. It also has a historical High Street, in the middle of which is the Town Hall - open to visitors. They claim to have the best Victorian stained glass windows in the country.

BridgenorthThere was another reference to Shakespeare in one set of windows, and we even found New Zealand in a set of windows commemorating Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

FunicularBridgnorth is made up of two towns: the High town with all the important buildings and the Low Town beside the River Severn. Linking the two is the oldest funicular railway in the country.

DudmastonThe final stop of the day was Dudmaston. This country house has an interesting collection of 20th century modern art, left to the National Trust along with the house by the last owner. The garden is lovely and spacious.

One of the families that previously owned Dudmaston was the Darbys, nicely rounding off the weekend that had started with the Ironbridge where Abraham Darby first used coke to make cast iron.

Ironbridge - 9 June 2007

The iron bridge at IronbridgeOur previous visit to the Ironbridge UNESCO World Heritage Site, near Shrewsbury, was in June 2003. It has taken some time, but we finally returned to finish our visit. They sell ‘passports’ for all the attractions that do not expire and since some attractions were closed during our last visit we felt duty bound to go back and ‘collect the set’.

Ironbridge was the crucible of the industrial revolution, as it was here that that the technique of using coke instead of charcoal for Tile Museummaking cast iron was invented, and here that the first 'iron bridge' was constructed in 1779. The bridge stands today, still proudly displaying the sign indicating that it was private property and that tolls applied to all; officers, serving soldiers and even the Royal Family.

We visited the Jackfield museum of tile making. Tiles were very popular in Victorian times and many of London's Tube Stations were lined with tiles made in the Ironbridge valley.

Tar TunnelNext stop was the Tar Tunnel. Originally dug as a canal link the work was halted when they encountered a seam of natural bitumen so instead of using the tunnel for barges, the bitumen was sold and then the tunnel was abandoned and sealed off.

Pipe MuseumFinally, we visited the Broseley clay pipe factory; this was surprisingly interesting. The owners simply closed the doors 40 years ago and walked away, leaving all their machinery and paperwork. A self-confessed ‘anorak’ enthusiast was demonstrating the process of making clay pipes. He has a collection of 14,000 pipes. If you see an old clay pipe in a movie, (e.g. Amazing Grace) he probably made and supplied it.

Acton Burnell CastleA short drive took us to Acton Burnell. This small village has the ruins of a castle built in the 13th century. A walk through wheat and barley fields took us to another smaller ruined house.

Wheat fieldWe spotted a possible dinner venue on the way to Shrewsbury. Despite looking rather shabby in our walking clothes, we were given a lovely table by their open French doors, and enjoyed a lovely meal: a great find in rural Shropshire.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ratty and Mole - 3 June 2007

BoatyardThe river level had dropped by the end of Saturday and the river was re-opened to navigation so we booked a small boat for the morning hire period: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Wyton ChurchThe river was magical so early in the morning and, to start with, we had it entirely to ourselves. We passed two churches; right on the water's edge, and continued our journey to the sound of church bells.

We cruised down-river, all the way to St Ives, so were able to boat under the bridge we had walked over the day before. St Ives' Chapel BridgeThree of the four locks on our journey were against us and the river was still running at higher than normal flow so we were half an hour late returning the boat, but the hire people kindly did not charge us extra. The River Great OuseGiven the queue of people standing in the boatyard, the hire people were probably overjoyed to have the boat back to satisfy another customer.

The River Great OuseAfter lunch on the riverbank, we travelled south to Buckden. In this is a very attractive village we discovered Buckden Towers, a residence of the Bishops of Lincoln from 1186 to 1842. We were able to walk over the dry moat and look at the Tudor buildings around the courtyard.

Buckden TowersThe list of famous residents and visitors included Henrys III and VIII, James I, Edward I, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Wolsey, Catherine Howard and Catherine of Aragon, who was imprisoned here by her disgruntled hubby.

From there we wended our way to Little Paxton, where we did a walk around a nature reserve that has various lakes made from old gravel pits.

Down by the riverside - 2 June 2007

HuntingdonIn contrast to the cold, miserable, wet weather we returned to last Monday, Saturday’s forecast was for a fabulous summer day, in fact the temperature rose over to 30 degrees.

We had accommodation booked at Huntingdon, so decided to hire a boat to cruise the River Great Ouse. We couldn’t believe it when we arrived at the boat yard in glorious sunshine to be told the river was in flood and closed to navigation. This was the second time we had visited this area hoping to hire a boat; the situation was identical first time around.

Houghton MillInstead we explored, on foot, some of the towns that we had hoped to boat through.

Huntingdon itself has a nice market square, but most interesting was the Cromwell Museum. Oliver Cromwell was born here, grew up and had his schooling in this town.

Downstream we re-visited Houghton Mill and ate our picnic lunch by river overlooking the mill, a great spot on a summer’s day.

Next stop was St Ives of “when I was going to St Ives” fame. This is very picturesque and the bridge, built in 1426 is one of four “Chapel” bridges surviving in Britain. The pilgrim chapel is at the centre pier.



Further downstream is Holywell: an ancient ring village. This lovely quiet town has a number of beautiful thatched cottages along the river. Because of the high water level, the road outside the thatched pub was under water.
BluntishamEnough driving, it was time for a walk. There are many circular walks along the length of the River Great Ouse. We chose a 4.5 mile walk taking in two towns and a stretch along the riverside, which fortunately was along a stop-bank as either side of us we could see extensive flooding.

GodmanchesterStart and stop point was the small town of Bluntisham where they have a weather station recording temperature and barometric pressure. The graph was visible through the glass case and although the barometer seemed to be dipping slightly, the temperature was rising through 32 degrees.

GodmanchesterWe finished the day with a picnic dessert at Godmanchester, another extremely charming riverside town.