Sometimes my planning is not of the best, and I am sure if someone traced my journeyings back and forth across Britain it would look like a spider’s web. Just thinking of that I remembered reading about the effects of various drugs on the ability of spiders to construct precision webs, and I think my trail would look a bit like the one which had too much caffeine !
Sometimes I wonder about researchers. Which benighted student thought that experiment up, and I wonder who funded it?
So having gone from Herefordshire up to Cheshire, I then travelled down to the Cotswolds before needing to go back to the Midlands to have the MOT on Thebus ready for our jaunt over the waters. As having made the effort to get to the continent, I don’t want to have to return in February to get the MOT up to date.
But I seemed to have been on the road without the opportunity for mains electric and a chance to open the slides for a through clean up so I decided to take a break at the Caravan Club site in Malvern and booked in for three days. Also it would give me the chance to meet up with another couple of friends before departing the home shores.
And guess what. Almost as soon as I was settled I got a bad headache and flu symptoms. Now it could be that I had picked up a bug, as there are certainly quite a few around this year, but also I remember Sally up in Shetland telling me to stop and take a break from travelling every three or four days as it is quite stressful being always on the move and never quite knowing where one is going to spend the night. And really I couldn’t remember when I last had a break, so maybe it was my body saying ‘slow down and get some R&R’. Anyway I more or less took to my bed for 24 hours and after lots of sleep, water and homoeopathy I was feeling better.
Unfortunately the friends I had arranged to meet also had illness, though worse than mine as Betty had come down with Shingles. Horrid! I remember Mum having it and she was really ill for weeks. So our planned dinner together had to be postponed to another time.
But I was pleased to have a little holiday from travelling – that sounds almost perverse – but a change from anything one does all the time feels like a holiday !
While on the site I spotted a converted truck. I knew from my researches before I bought Thebus that it was a Prison Truck, as they make good conversion vehicles – usually with low mileage and an excellent maintenance history, plus good insulation. Ian, the owner was outside washing it down as I took Phoebe for a trot round the site and we got chatting.
He has made a terrific job of the conversion, and intends to go overland to Africa in it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Biddulph Grange. Although it had stopped raining just as I arrived at the gardens the skies were overcast when I looked round the gardens that morning. I just had a feeling the day would brighten and I waited in the carpark. Sure enough by late afternoon it was glorious sunshine – so I went for another walk round the gardens – don’t photos look so much better when the sun is out. One of the joys of motor homing – I just went home while I waited for the sun to come out !
Mind you delaying my start made it dark and late for travelling but I am getting so much better in heavy traffic even though my America headlights are notoriously dim. So it was off down the motorways towards Tetbury. Well just outside actually. As the sunny weather of yesterday afternoon was promised to stay on, I wanted to take a look at the autumn colour at the National Arboretum at Westonbirt.
The autumnal colours of the trees probably weren’t at their height, but once again a sunny day, quite literally, puts a shine on everything. And so far this season we had been lucky in that the hadn’t been a lot of high winds, which of course take the leaves as soon as they colour.
The National Arboretum is run by the Forestry Commission and has over 2500 different types of trees from round the temperate zones of the world. Planting was started in the 1850’s by Robert Halford, the owner of the Westonbirt estate, and it covers 600 acres and has 17 miles of mobility accessible paths. I couldn’t take Phoebe into The Old Arboretum area so I explored that alone in the morning, then after some lunch I took her on the lead to Silk wood, a semi-natural ancient woodland with added exotic plantings for extra colour and interest. Dogs are allowed off the lead as long as they are under control, but Little Miss Phoebe’s recall is not reliable enough at present. But we had a good time and she is learning to trot alongside the mobility scooter very well. I miss my dear old Phoebe and her lovely ways, but Little Miss Phoebe has taken the overweening sadness from my mind. Mainly as she is so lively I really don’t have time to think anyway ! At the moment Little Miss Phoebe takes a lot of watching as we proceed, but in the future when she is grown I think she will be an excellent ‘walking’ companion. Sadly the longer walks became too much for Phoebe as she grew older, and she had to be left in Thebus, which I was never happy with.
I must say having the scooter in working order is ace. There is no way I could have seen this on foot, and even in my younger days the walking would have been a challenge. I noticed quite a few looks of envy from the able-bodied but middle-age plus generation when they see me on it.
Some still photos below for those who don’t have a strong internet connection.
The last of the rain just cleared away as I arrived bang on eleven o’clock, and expecting the gardens to be busy (I much prefer to have fewer people around) I hurried in. The scooter once again was on form, though it turned out the majority of the garden here needs to be explored on foot. I have to say the scooter did make it a more pleasant visit as I could use it on the long paths and save my walking strength for where it was needed. I think I heard the lady behind the counter telling someone there are 450 steps in the gardens, but having gone round I am surprised there are so few. It certainly felt there were many more.
But the gardens were WELL worth the effort. If they are not the best I have seen then I certainly took the most photographs which must say something. The autumn colour was just beginning to show, but I would think it will be even more stunning in a week or two. In fact it looks the sort of garden which would be a joy to visit at ANY time of the year.
I can’t add anything to the photographs I took but this is what Wikipedia has to say :-
Biddulph Grange was developed by James Bateman (1811–1897), the accomplished horticulturist and landowner. He moved to Biddulph Grange around 1840 and created the gardens with the aid of his friend and painter of seascapes Edward William Cooke, whose father-in-law owned one of the biggest plant nurseries of the day. .
The gardens were meant to display specimens from Bateman’s extensive and wide-ranging collection of plants and are a rare survival of the early Victorian period. They are compartmentalised and divided into themes: Egypt, China, Italy etc
The property had a chequered history and ended up as a Hospital – the gardens becoming badly run-down and neglected and the deeply dug-out terraced area near the house around Dahlia Walk filled level in order to make a big lawn for patients to be wheeled out on in summertime. For the best part of a century the gardens decayed, visited only by passing vandals and, more rarely, intrepid folly-hunters.
In 1988 the National Trust took ownership of the property and its gardens, which have now been nearly fully restored, including a long work digging out the Dahlia Walk area archaeology-style to find forgotten features.
I have included the still photographs below if you want to take time to look at them
After a lovely morning at Siddington I was given a few suggestions as to where to head next, and top of my list was the Blue John Mines.
Sometimes when I decide what I am going to do in the next two or three days I get way too over optimistic. And so it was today – I think my plan involved the Blue John Mines, a couple of National Trust Houses and Gardens, an Aeroplane Museum and probably a some other things as well. Needless to say even the most casually laid plans of Susan and Thebus…..…!!!!
We left Siddington just after lunch, and guess what? the Blue John Mines seemed much further than I anticipated. We had to go up one of those endless long winding banks – I am sure I have travelled this road before, and when I got to the top and took a little clip which I called Top of the World. The weather was a bit overcast this time, so I will put a link to the last one, If it isn’t the same place which I am pretty sure it is – then it is close enough to pass muster.
The road then follows over the tops and past the Cat and Fiddle before descending into Buxton which is apparently the highest town in England. This is what Wikipedia has to say on it
famous for its scenic views across the Greater Manchester conurbation, the PeakDistrict National Park and the Cheshire Plain, and for its many bends. It is extremely popular with motorcyclists, and is often classed as the most dangerous road in the UK.
It might be a bit bendy but certainly not the most fearsome I have travelled, but it did take us time and the day was wearing on so I stopped to google what Buxton might have to offer and decided to take a look at the caves there instead of travelling on. And a very interesting tour it was too. The rock formations there are spectacular, and unsurprisingly the caves have a history of human occupation from at least the Bronze Age. There is some evidence that there may have been a shrine here in Roman times, and much later in the 15th C it is reputed that it was the lair of a robber – named Poole, hence its name Poole Cavern .
It became a tourist attraction early on and it is said that Mary Queen of Scots visited when she was being held nearby. It was officially opened as a show cave in 1853 by the landowner – The Duke of Devonshire, who improved the access and in 1859 installed an early form of gas lighting, which was still in use over a hundred years later.
The cave system extends much much further than is possible to see at present, but a large rockfall has barricaded the remaining chambers. It was certainly far enough for me to walk into the bowels of the earth, especially as Phoebe was going to need some exercise when I got back
I have been training her to trot and run along side my scooter, so we took the opportunity of going up into the woods behind and above the caverns to afford her some fresh air. I am not confident enough with her recall to risk letting her off the lead. She is of course still not much more than four months so it would be too much to expect her to reliably return when there might be an opportunity of playing with other dogs. Not that many other dogs are keen on playing with her. I think half the problem is that she looks the size of a normal dog but behaves as a four month old puppy behaves, which is boisterous play with pushing and paws. So other dogs are not sure how to react. She hasn’t learnt the manners of a grown dog, but is too big to put in her place that easily other than with a cross snappy bark. Still – it will all come with time.
There is an interesting tower at the top of the hill over the caverns, but it would have been a long way for a puppy there and back, so after a nice trot we went back by which time the day was nearly over. I would have liked to taste the waters at Buxton but the town seemed surprisingly busy and parking Thebus in such circumstances is alway difficult. After a couple of failed attempts I decided to leave the rest of Buxton for another time.
So I pulled over and did some more googling. Having just been down one cave I was less interested in exploring another one quite so soon and it sounded at though The Blue John Mine had rather a lot of steps. The air craft museum was not open on Monday and neither was one of the National Trust places. So I decided to head back, taking (by accident) the even narrower and more bendy route towards the other of the National trust properties
I had located a caravan site fairly near and though I had phoned a couple of times there was no reply so Idecided to take a flier and arrive, but from gathering gloom we went into complete darkness. I lost my road again, and seeing a large layby pulled over to assess the situation and try phoning again. No reply and the layby looked at least somewhere I could stop so I settled Phoebe and myself down for the night.
It rained heavily that night and I woke to rain. Viewing gardens in the rain is not my idea of fun and we had internet access so I settled down to see what the day might bring. Before long my old ‘Rain Before Seven’ mantra came true and I set out arriving just as the gardens opened at eleven.
Many years ago, probably sometime in the 1960’s I went to the Three Counties Show at Malvern with my parents, and, as on every visit there Mum took me into the Women’s Institute tent. As well as Jerusalem and Jam they are known for their beautiful handicrafts, and they also produce a good range of booklets explaining techniques. That year there was someone making Corn Dollies. I was fascinated and with my pocket money purchased a small booklet and went home to practice. I did make quite a few, but nowhere near as many as I was to see later on in the day when I visited the lovely half timbered church at Siddington for their Harvest Festival.
We started out from the farm in the grey light of early morning as I was unsure as to where I might be able to park. I had looked at GoogleEarth and although there was a drive and carpark by the church Thebus is pretty big and I didn’t want him taking up all the space at what was likely to be a well-attended service. Not far from the church was a layby, and all being well that was where I intended to park up. Driving though the misty morning there across the fields was the huge bowl of the telescope at Jodrell Bank that we had visited last year.
Across the fields it is not easy to get an impression of how really huge it is when you are close up. If you want a quick reprise of last year’s visit
We arrived at Siddington and the layby proved quite adequate so I unloaded the scooter which seems in good form at present and working reliably. The little church there is beautiful, and would be worth at visit at any time of the year, but during the autumn their annual harvest festival sees the church stunningly decorated with over a thousand glistening, golden corn dollies, all painstakingly crafted by one wonderful man – Raymond Rush.
Raymond moved to The Golden Cross farm next door many years ago where he farmed and kept a dairy herd – Cheshire is famed for its rich grazing. He raised his family there and I was privileged to meet all four generations, the product of sixty years happy marriage with his lovely wife.
Apparently some fifty years ago he saw an old East Anglian farmer making a corn dolly and was so impressed with its delicate, intricate beauty that he started making them himself and the first two Necks of Corn were used as decorations at that year’s Harvest Festival. They were there as decoration again this year, but now joined by over a thousand others, making the most stunning display.
The top two Necks of Corns bung either side of the window are the first ones made by Mr. Rush
The church itself is a delight. Mentioned in the 14th Century, was definitely in existence by 1474, and probably still has its original rood screen. By the early 19th Century the half timbered construction was suffering under the weight of the stone roof tiles and was encased in brick, but what a charming picture it presents. And I don’t think I have ever seen such wonderfully cared for churchyard and grounds. A real credit to all involved.
Inside the church was warm, plus there was a warm welcome from the friendly congregation.
The young trendy vicar – well young and trendy from my viewpoint – gave a lovely sermon using his own Parable of the Compost, and we all rousingingly joined in with the new version of We Plough the fields and Scatter. (This part of Cheshire is still very much a rural farming county)
We plough the fields with tractors, With drills we sow the land; But growth is still the wondrous gift Of God’s almighty hand. We add our fertilizers To help the growing grain; But for its full fruition, It needs God’s sun and rain. All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above, Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all his love.
With many new machines now We do the work each day; We reap the fields with combines, We bale the new-mown hay. But still it’s God who gives us Inventive skill and drives Which lighten labour’s drudgery And give us better lives. All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above, Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all his love.
He only is the maker Of galaxies and stars; Of birds and beasts and flowers, And any life on Mars. Atomic powers obey him, Yet still the birds are fed; By him our prayer is answered: Give us our daily bread All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above, Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all his love.
We thank thee then, O Father, For life so rich and good, For seedtime and the harvest, The wealth of daily food. No gifts have we to offer Such as thy love imparts, But what thou most desirest: Our humble thankful hearts. All good gifts around us Are sent from heaven above, Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord For all his love.
After the service there were tea and cake in the marquee outside.
Then I was invited back to Raymond’s charming farmhouse to meet his family.
Even the path from the church to his garden was a Parable in Stone, once more the work of Raymond’s artistic talent, backed up of course by his hard work.
His was almost a fairy-tale family home. Orchards with chickens, a productive veg plot and a profusion of cottage garden flowers. Antique furniture in the house and a wonderful workshop full of interesting historical memorabilia and overflowing with corn dollies.
Plus. of course. four generations of Raymond’s family.
All thriving under Raymond’s beneficent gaze.
This is a Youtube clip of the photographs. It is best viewed full screen on Youtube in high definition
Having had a lovely time with friends in Herefordshire I suppose I thought Little Miss Phoebe might like to renew friendships with her family in Cheshire, plus there was something which had been on my list of ‘Things I want to Do’ up there. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to drop by her original home and maybe she could have a game or two with her sister and cousin.
Olivia was once again kind enough to collect me from the nearby farm campsite also fed me and Phoebe for the day. Thank you so much Olivia!
Phoebe’s sister had left a couple of day before on her trip to her new home in Barbados, but her cousin three weeks younger was there and Phoebe had a great day playing games of tug-and-chase, and pat-a-cake with those enormous paws.
But she was much more respectful towards her Grandma and Grandpa who live in the house.
Look at the size of Grandpa
The big boys – her brothers from last year gave her a good loud barking at, so she kept a sensible distance from them also.
Mum was back in season so they only got a chance to say hello through the gate. In between all the activity she managed a few naps, either on the settee (cheeky monkey) – which, by the time she and her cousin were on left very little room for Olivia
Or once they were asleep she curled up bedside Granny and Gramps.
This is Grandpa trying to sit on my lap
I wonder how big Little Miss Phoebe will be when we next make it to Cheshire?
From Great Witley it was no distance at all to travel towards my old home and hopefully have time to meet up and chat with some friends. Unfortunately I missed seeing a few who were out when I called, or were on holiday or sadly ill – I will catch them all next time round, but I had a lovely time with those I did get to see.
As did Little Miss Phoebe who totally wore out a young farm sheepdog and spaniel. I was expecting the opposite, but after about three-quarters of an hour of her playfulness one was trying to escape into the house, and the other had hidden under a garden bench from where Phoebe was trying to hook him out, and when she didn’t succeed Phoebe got under with him and jumped all over him some more. Arrrggghhhh! She is just so energetic.
Sadly a friend’s father had passed away but it meant I was able to go to the Memorial Service, which was a celebration of his life at the pretty little chapel nearby – although there was sadness it was also a joyful service, with well known and uplifting hymns, rousingly sung by the large congregation.
I had time to catch up with some of the lovely people who had helped me over the years at my old home and it was good to see them again and talk. Plus we had an excellent Fish and Chip Supper.
I have to say I have travelled a good way round the British Isles, but for general prettiness and lovely views in all directions I think the Worcester and Herefordshire borders and running on towards the Welsh Border country take some beating.
But I am certainly not ready to settle down again yet!
Having arrived quite late at Witley Court I had been just in time to pop up to the Tearooms for a cuppa and slice of cake and still catch the last display of the fountains playing which took place at four in the afternoon.
The Tearooms by the Church are a delightful place, I would think especially on a warm summer’s day when one could sit out in the extensive and beautiful gardens. As we were late in the year and late in the afternoon I decided on sitting in the conservatory full of well tended plants, but even better Phoebe was allowed to come with me. And she seemed reasonably well behaved whilst I enjoyed a lovely pot of tea and the best slice of fruit cake I can remember having. The lady who runs the Tearooms is charming and very helpful
Little Miss Phoebe at just over 4 months old.
As the Great Witlley Chuch was only open until four I decided to spend the night nearby and return next morning to view the church at leisure
It was the interior of the church at Great Witley which had so impressed my father so strongly, and it was the interior of the Church there which was imprinted on my early memories of the place. It truly is a stunningly decorated space. When he first saw it the decorations were not as splendidly pristine and glowing as they are today. Even now when the whole of the area is well tended the moment one opens the doors it is like entering another world. How much more so in the 1950’s when surrounded by rack and ruin the interior was still breathtakingly beautiful.
This is what the Church there has to say about itself
The church, now almost fully restored, displays a splendour which is unique amongst country churches in Britain, with exquisite gilded decorations throughout, numerous paintings by Antonio Bellucci, ten painted glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, highly decorative carving and a large monument by Rysbrack.
It also has a fine organ, its case being from the instrument on which Handel played.
Many musicians consider its acoustics for music to be as fine as any building of its size outside London.
Once again I can do little more than let the photos speak for themselves.
The road from the Vets in Stourport leads out towards Knightwick and past the ruins of Witley Court
Back in the 1950’s my father often travelled along the road from home towards Stourport, passing the, then, derelict and overgrown ruins of Witley Court. He was fascinated, and one day took the time to stop and look round (things were so much more relaxed in those days) Having seen what was possible of the overgrown ruins he went round to the side and discovered the entrance to Great Witley Church – and what he found when he opened the doors to go inside surprised and amazed him to such an extent that after school that evening he took us back as children to see it. That early memory has stayed with me – so I was interested to go back and take a look.
My childhood remembrance of Witley Court really was of some stonework sticking out from above a tangle of overgrown scrub trees and brambly weeds, and lots of signs saying Danger – Keep Out, and probably Trespassers Will be Prosecuted. Having just read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I had not only got the words Persecuted and Prosecuted mixed up, but had mixed the ideas of the book and words up in my childish mind and thought that to be Persecuted somehow meant “Off with their Heads’ which I felt to be a somewhat extreme punishment for trespassers – but what did I know of the Adult World and its Legal System.
The gardens are now managed by English Heritage who have cleared the ruins of the surrounding undergrowth and restored the wonderful fountains.
After our Vet’s appointment I didn’t arrive until the afternoon but as most of the earlier part of the day had been rainy I don’t think I missed much. There can be few things more dreary than walking round gardens in heavy rain.
But now the weather had lifted and I went in. I shall let the photos do the talking.
Below is a video clip of the fountains playing. Really rather fine I thought……….
Back at Stourport I was kindly allowed to park up at the Marina there, and spent a pleasant couple of nights in amongst the boats.
We had a nice steak at the club house on the night of our Balloon Trip, then the next evening I took Sally and Mikey – an old friend of her’s, to one of Sally’s favourite restaurants – The Wagon Wheel at Grimley. I have to say I really like their food, plus the warm ambience of a restaurant which is always busy and very well run by a Father, Mother and Daughter team – of course there may be other family members involved but those are the ones I have met!
The menu may be a bit of a blast from the past, but non the worse for that. Lots of steaks in rich creamy sauces all flambéed in chafing dishes by the maitre. Silver service from dinner-jacketed waiters, and a good selection of veg including all the old favourites like cauliflower cheese and gratin dauphinoise. Dishes I knew and loved in the seventies. AND a wonderful sweet trolley with good size portions of those stalwarts such as Creme Brûlée, and Green Figs. I have to say every time we have visited I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and come away feeling I had eaten enough to last several days, but in a pleasant way.
Back at The Marina Sally and Mikey stayed on to the enjoy live entertainment at the Club House, but using Little Miss Phoebe as an excuse I slipped away for a quieter end to my evening
On the Sunday Sally and I took Phoebe along the riverside – hopefully for us to walk off some of last night’s excesses – following the banks of the Severn towards Stourport. But then we undid any good by enjoying a lovely Sunday Roast Beef Dinner at the carvery of a riverside inn, which even served my favourite cider – Westons. The weather was still kind and the temperature warm so we sat outside – an idyllic spot made more memorable by the glorious sunny autumn day.
When my lovely old Phoebe had her final illness I had taken her to Sally’s vets at Stourport, and found there is just enough room for me to park Thebus outside their surgery without actually causing a complete blockage to the traffic. So it seemed sensible to take Little Miss Phoebe to them for her second lot of injections.
And now she was due to have her Rabies Injection and get her Passport completed so she will be able to travel with me. We got booked in, and everyone at the surgery was surprised at how she had grown. The injections were done, and I also took the precaution of getting her a kennel cough spray, as lovely old Phoebe had suffered so very badly when she was exposed to kennel cough. Sometime dogs can have a reaction to the Rabies jab afterwards, but everything was sorted with no apparent problems so that was all good.
Back in Thebus I hadn’t really thought about where I intended to go next, and knowing that the road we were on was difficult for turning round, I thought we might just as well follow the road and see what there might be to do in that direction. And in fact there was somewhere I had been meaning to visit for a very long time,
Some time ago Sally and I decided that a Balloon Trip would be a wonderful thing to do. It had been booked for earlier in the year, and we should have flown (is that the right terminology for a balloon trip) just a day or two before the Bristol Balloon Fiesta, but unfortunatley it was called off because of poor weather.
I took a chance and rebooked us all on an early October date with an evening flight – partly because the day is often warmer by the evening and partly because the difficulty of getting Sally’s family there on a morning would have been almost insurmountable. In the event we were pretty late in arriving anyway and the phrase that drifted across my mind was ‘Herding Cats’. The launch site was the centre of Worcester Racecourse, and though we were very late, fortunately there were so many of us booked on the flight that the pilot was kind enough to hold on until we got there.
The re-booking had worked in our favour and in fact we really couldn’t have had a much better day for our trip. There was not enough wind to cause the take-off to be cancelled, but just enough to carry us up-up-and-away over the tops of the Malvern Hills to land in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside at Mathon.
But back to the beginning not the end of the flight.
The balloon was laid out on the ground and the basket was on its side.
It was a large wicker construction divided into four sections plus a piece in the middle for the pilot. Niner, Sally and I were the first to get in. It was strange, as basically you lie down, but with your bottom on the seat and your feet in the footwell. As the balloon is gradually inflated the basket rights itself and you find yourselves seated in an upright position, though not allowed to stand until the balloon is well off the ground.
Lying on our backs waiting for take off
I did manage to get some piccies out through the small openings in the sides of the basket which are footholds to assist with climbing in – which is what the passengers on the other side had to do once the basket was upright.
Once all the passengers were in an were seated the pilot added more hot air to the balloon and called to the groundsman to release the ropes and we started to rise, it seemed quite slowly at first, but when we were given permission to stand and look out over the rim of the basket it was surprising how far we had already risen from the ground. Then more and more quickly up into the skies until the waving figures below were hardly distinguishable.
The evening was perfect, even if there was a little haze on the far horizons. We drifted Westwards and although our pace seemed slow the view of the ground beneath was changing all the time and it was fascinating to identify places and roads one knew.
Some of our group were a bit fazed initially but before long everyone was enjoying the experience.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Someone standing outside their house gave us a lovely wave as we passed.
I asked the height not long after we had taken off and it was around 2200 feet (can’t be bothered to translate that to metric, but basically pretty high).
We crossed the Severn Plain towards the range of the Malvern Hills
Then we were rising higher and higher as we lifted to clear the tops of the Malvern Hills,
Drifting into low cloud which speckled the camera lens with water droplets
The slowly descending as our pilot looked for a suitable landing spot
A large field was selected and I have to say I was amazed at how gently he bought us down – the basket lightly grazing the turf before touching down and not even tipping over.
Before we were down people who had been watching our descent arrived to see we weren’t hung up in their trees, and a young family cycled from nearby to join in the evening’s excitement.
The fitter young men were sent off to control the deflating balloon, then the rest of the passengers clambered, or in my case, were helped out, and we were back on terraferma
The balloon had its remaining air squished out of it and was folded up back into its huge carrier bag, then a couple of bottles champagne opened for a toast all round before a minibus arrived just as it was getting dark to take us back to the launch site
A most enjoyable experience, made even more so by the skilful pilot and the stunning weather.
It was a communal Rabbit Stew on the menu that evening cooked all afternoon over the open campfire, and although some of the ‘wild’ campers were not quite ‘wild’ enough to try the stew I thoroughly enjoyed it, and went back for seconds. Thank you CampervanAnnie.
Then off to Stratford upon Avon for a three day Adventure Overland Show. But first a fill up with LPG. I must be getting better at driving Thebus, but still not confident enough to ignore directions from well meaning guys. Someone just walking past the small (very small and very tight actually) filling station was so insistent on seeing me back, and even though he was directing me into the wrong bay he banged so dramatically on Thebus sides, that in the end I relented and pulled in where he wanted, meaning I could only fill one of the tanks and not the two I had intended. Oh Well! A little more confidence building needed I feel.
Then I took a little detour to photograph an Inn Sign that I had passed on my White Horse wanderings, and which had taken my fancy.
The Rose and Crown
Clever Interpretation I thought !
Then a horribly long journey owing to the incessant traffic. I would have preferred to have started out earlier, but I needed to fill with LPG and the nearest station was not a 24 hour one. Never mind we arrived eventually to a lovely welcome by the organisers. I was camping this time with another group met over the internet who had links with the Overlander Club who ran the show. And what an interesting show it was. Lots of lovely trucks and interesting folk to chat with. I think I will go again next year if I am around. Apparently it then travels on to Germany for a reprise and if you pay for one you can go to both! Might be interesting to travel in a Convoy!
The show was a real mish-mash of ancient land rovers, spanking new four-wheel drives, a car which had travelled overland to India driven by a young woman, strange tent-come-vehicles, brand new and very expensive looking yurhts, second hand aluminium kettles and pans, to a £7 box of ‘Environmentally Friendly Firelighters’ or as I would know them – ‘Some morning sticks in a glossy printed box’.
Great fun and far more to see than I actually got to look at, and there was a programme of events throughout the show of folk talking of their experiences and giving advice.
I will let the photos give you some idea of what there was to see.
Thebus looking especially shiny after Karl’s attentions, and that’s after a few hundred miles of travel
Luxurious tent selling those must have items for the traveller.
Such as Morning Wood £7 a box. Still you can afford it if you have the tent
Land rovers with roof tents
This almost looks like something which should have been at the Steam Punk Fair
I took quite a shine to this one and got the details !
These were the Specs.
Here it is from the side
And this was the inside
This lovely couple had travelled everywhere with their two children, now grown and with rigs of their own
They had met up as a family at the show
Looking out over Stratford Racecourse was on old railway carriage, now apparently a cafe. Must visit another time
That night was a Super Moon and a Lunar Eclipse. This was when I went to bed.
And this was when I got up again at about 3.30 to see the eclipse.
My photography skills are not up to much but it was a fascinating sight, and well worth getting up for.
English Heritage have not yet closed the old trackway, known as The Drove, which passes close to Stonehenge, though they have left the access with such fierce water filled pot-holes at one end and such badly overgrown trees at the other that most folk would be put off entering. I chose to run the gauntlet of the fiercesome potholes. Poor Thebus bottomed out more than once, and in fact his steps since then have been out of commission, but we made it in and even managed to turn round, no mean feat with a thirty foot bus and not much wider track.
I was camping out with a group of folk I knew via the internet and it proved to be a relaxed and friendly gathering of ‘Wild-Camping Motorhomers’ plus a motley selection of the sort of folk you might expect to find at such an event. Rewind my life a couple or more years and I really couldn’t have imagined myself being here. There were various converted horse boxes, buses, and miscellaneous vans of every description – and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Thebus from Stonehenge
I parked up facing Stonehenge, and what a view I had last thing at night and first thing in the morning. The stones ‘close’ at five and don’t reopen until nine in the morning, so the view is just as it would have been without the 1.3million plus folk who traipsed round it annually.
View from Thebus window
The group I was parked up with were relaxed and friendly and it made the stay even more pleasant. Someone had bought wood, so there was a lovely roaring wood campfire each evening, which was welcome as the autumn evenings are getting more chilly now.
English Heritage open the gates to the stones as soon as it is light enough to see safely. I had checked the time of the equinoctial sun-rise and it was not due until just after quarter to seven. I did not want to be out in the cold for too long, plus, once again my scooter was playing up, so I would have nowhere to sit once I started out – so I lay in bed as others trouped up to the stones, and left at about quarter past six which I estimated would give me plenty of time to walk to the stones before sunrise.
My timing was good, and this festival probably only had a few hundred or so particpants, not the thirty six thousand when I attended the Summer Solstice back in 2014, so there was a far better chance of seeing round the stones.
Druid checking his Facebook Page
Couple who had a Handfasting Ceremony just at dawn
Archdruid – and his dog?
Enjoying the ceremony
Steam Punke Druids?
Welsh Druid ?
It truly is an atmospheric place, and even with the odd assortment of people there one could revel in the fact of being at a place where for thousands of years our forebears had stood at the same time of the year to watch the same sun rise over the same horizon.
And once again the lines from a Clive Anderson poem set to music by Pete Atkin went through my head
A razzle-dazzle kind of glamour in the sky
Than just the glimmer of a star nearby and bright
Its better with the music, and it’s one of many of their works that will often drift through my mind at odd appropriate moments.
Some time after I found this poem, which I liked and thought rather apt
The Sun, by Mary Oliver.
Have you ever seen anything in your life more wonderful
than the way the sun, every evening, relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills, or the rumpled sea, and is gone– and how it slides again
out of the blackness, every morning, on the other side of the world, like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils, say, on a morning in early summer, at its perfect imperial distance– and have you ever felt for anything such wild love– do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure
that fills you, as the sun reaches out, as it warms you
as you stand there, empty-handed– or have you too turned from this world–
The road climbed steeply up towards the last horse I visited which was on the side of Hackpen Hill. Fortunately there was a reasonably large carpark up at the top on the old Ridgeway behind the horse, and I was able to to squeeze Thebus in.
Then Phoebe and I took a walk down from the summit of the hill to stand between the horse’s ears and look out at the wonderful Wiltshire countryside.
I did keep Phoebe on her lead as there were cattle grazing in the field and although she has learnt to come when I call if there is something more interesting then the connection between ears and brain seems to get switched off, even when I change her name to – Cheeeeese !!!!!
We managed to get back to Thebus just before the rain came down, so it was lucky to have had such a fine day with the weather. As the evening was now drawing in, as well as the rain coming down, everyone else in the carpark was clearing off, so I decided to stay on in hopes that the next day would bring good weather for a walk along the old ridgeway track where I would be able to let Phoebe off her lead for a good run.
Next day dawned wet and dismal and no-one came to visit our wet and windswept parking spot, but towards the afternoon the sun came out and Phoebe and I went for a romp (well one of us anyway – the other just managed a slow walk – I will leave you to guess which was which!)
While I was parked on the top of Hackpen Hill I got a message from a group of folk I have met via the internet and learned they were parked up at The Drove by Stonehenge in order to see the Autumn Equinox at the Stones – one of the four days a year that English Heritage relents and allows us to actually view our own heritage without paying for the privilege.
So I decided to tootle on up there. Actually, when I think, it would have been down there!
Getting up early I was able to enjoy the stones in total solitude as they loomed eerily out of the silent mists, then a drive though the centre of Marlborough where the early morning market traders were setting up their stalls for the day, and off to find our first White Horse
There are eight white horses carved into the sides of various Wiltshire hills and I intended to find all of them. I would have thought Wiltshire might have made a good list of their locations and perhaps an easy route for viewing them, but if they have I didn’t discover it. Perhaps they are too blasé with the amount of pre-historic sites around to pay much mind to their white horses. Okay, the earliest seem to date from the mid eighteenth century which at three hundred or more years is an mere infant compared to Avebury, but even so they are stunning landscape features.
I remember seeing my first Wiltshire White Horse many years ago, just suddenly appearing as I rounded a corner, and being amazed and impressed. And that seemed to be how I found most of them this time. They just suddenly seemed to materialize, completely unexpectedly, even when I was expecting to see them – if that makes sense.
Any information I managed to glean simply gave the village they were near, and maybe a suggested viewing point i.e. best seen from the A5 – but it was all so hit and miss that I still had the excitement of finding them one by one.
I certainly wove a tortuous route back and forth across Wiltshire as I sought them out, passing through or by Avebury and Calne several times, as well as Marlborough and various other of the Wiltshire towns.
I won’t put the photos in the order I found the horses, as I feel the first was the most disappointing of the ones I saw. And number eight was so difficult to locate, plus parking Thebus anywhere near proved so very tricky, that I decided to give up and you will have to be satisfied with seven and a picture from Wikipedia. In any case the missing one is supposed to be the least impressive anyway as it is difficult to find a good viewing angle due to the treeline.
This first one pictured below was the one that had surprised me all those years ago – and I find it just as delightful now.
Westbury White Horse
Alton Barnes White Horse shows well from quite a distance
Alton Barnes Horse
Alton Barnes White Horse from the Canal Bridge in the village
Broad Town White Horse above, looking a little sad at present
Pewsey White Horse was quite difficult to find, and other than some helpful advice from a local lady out gardening I doubt I would ever have seen it. She also advised me to turn round and come back up the same road, and foolishly I listened to Strict Lady who blithely told me to carry on the lane I was on. ‘Oh Err Missus’ ! would have been bit of an understatement, and I am still not sure how I escaped. Once again the power of prayer proved its worth.
The Hackpen Horse (below) showed well from a distance, and as the road climbed to the top of the hill behind it we were able to park up and walk down to the figure and stand between its ears to take in the stunning views of the surrounding countryside
Hackpen Hill White Horse
View from Hackpen Horse
Chevril White Horse (above) with some small figures on the brow of the ridge to give a size comparison.
Devises Millennium White Horse (above) I think my least favourite and for some reason obscured from view by the concrete works from most angles – Still a good try for the 20th Century !
The last one – Marlborough White Horse which is also known as the Preshute White Horse – is on a shallow slope behind Preshute House, part of Marlborough College.
This was it in 2001according to Wikipedia, though apparently the trees in front of it have grown quite a lot making it even more difficult to see. I couldn’t even park Thebus anywhere near, and in the end gave up the idea of even trying to find it .
One of the things I enjoy about my travelling life is not having to make plans.
Before I thought about travelling I liked to know well in advance where I would be going and when, but today for instance, having done my Wing Walk and relaxing afterwards with a cup of coffee I was asked where I was off to next. And I really hadn’t a clue.
Going back to Thebus I fired up the laptop to decide where might be a good place to visit next. And seeing that Avebury was not too far that seemed like a good place. I had driven through it a few times in the past, but it is quite a tricky to park there, plus I was normally on a mission to somewhere else. So it was on my list of ‘Places I must go Back to when I have More Time’ – and now I really did have the time so we set off.
On the way we passed the enigmatic Silbury Hill. The current thinking is that is was a viewing platform for the ceremonials assumed to have taken place in the area.
Silbury Hill in Wiltshire
My Wing Walking hadn’t taken place until after lunch, so by the time I had come down from my metaphorical and physical high, had a chat, given Phoebe a run and decided where I was going it was fairly late before I even started out. The autumn days were drawing in as the Equinox approached, and by the time I arrived it was nearly evening.
The village shops were closed
Village Shop Avebury
Old Farmhouse in Avebury Stone Circle
I thought it would be nice to have a meal at the local pub, especially as the internet informed me it was ‘dog friendly’ so Phoebe was put on her lead and we walked through the stone circle. Though I took a few photos in general there were so many folk milling around I felt all the atmosphere was lost and decided to stay over and see what the morning would bring.
Arriving at the pub sadly all the tables in the bar (the only dog friendly bit) had reserved signs on them, but I had a Ginger Beer, which was very nice and Phoebe had some water from the bowls specially put out. By now the rain had set in and there was no chance of eating at the table outside either, so it was back to Thebus to see what we had in the larder.
The next morning dawned very misty, but I did get some shots of the stones looming through the mist.
Huge Stones right up against the highway
Taken from the road – two huge stones
You can see how large they are by the crow on top and the large Wiltshire Horn Sheep standing nearby.
Avenue of Stones leading to Avebury disappearing off into the morning mists
As I was in Wiltshire I decided a trip to see all (or as many as I could find) of the Wiltshire White Horses would be good.
It had taken so long to make it to Powis Castle that I had to hurry on down to Cirencester to be there in time for something I had booked after seeing the Wing Walkers at Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
Feeling unconvinced anyone would be foolish enough to want to ride on the top of an aeroplane – okay I had seen old films of daring ladies standing and waving from plane wings back in the 1930’s in the earlier days of aviation, but surely Health and Safety would stop such foolishness nowadays?
A quick Google proved that not only were young ladies still doing it, but somewhat older ladies – like me – could still also book in to do it. I phoned Breitling Wing Walkers and they said the season was nearly finished but there were two more possible dates for this year. I chose the first and booked in – explaining that though less than totally mobile I was very determined, and given enough time I was willing to try clambering up onto the wing if they would allow it. The response was that it would be the pilot’s decision as to whether I was safe to fly, and to come on down in September – which was where I was headed, stopping only for an overnighter at Pask Farm, and to cook hardworking young Sally a meal after her long, long days work.
Next morning I set off bright and early though I wasn’t booked in until the afternoon so there was no particular rush. I had both the Sat Navs on again and sometimes if started in unison I felt they were about to burst into song. Once again they disagreed as to the best route, and after the problems of the last two days I went with Strict Lady’s advice. And once again it was the wrong choice. She decided to take me up a very narrow, very windy, very steep, very tree-lined, little lane. I think it was just to get the adrenalin flowing for later on in the day. It was beside the Bathurst Arms and I would guess went straight up the side of the Cotswold escarpment, and if it didn’t it certainly felt as though it did.
The sign at the bottom cheerfully informed me, after I had turned, that it was ‘Unsuitable for Long Vehicles’ – which is a fairly vague statement, though having driven it I would agree that whoever had written it had got the general idea.
We survived the excitement and found ourselves at the top of the hills on an immaculately kept private airfield blessed with beautiful far reaching views out to the surrounding Cotswold countryside. Thebus was squeezed into a corner of the carpark and Phoebe taken out to ‘stretch her legs’ and meet some of the aircraft. She was not tooooooo fazed having seen quite a few flying monsters at Sleap Airfield, though probably not quite so near or quite so low as these.
There were several of us to go up that day, most having turned up with friends or relations to watch, and I was asked several times who I had come to see!
In between flights I wanted to test whether I would be able to make it up to the top wing of the plane. It involved getting onto the bottom wing, stepping into the cockpit (and not touching the edges) Then by standing on the passenger seat one had to put a foot back and up to a very small section of safe standing, balance for a bit before clambering in between the wings, then back onto the topmost wing where the harness is mounted.
There was no way I would even get up to the bottom wing. But someone fetched a box and from the box I could clamber onto the bottom wing. Stepping from the bottom wing onto the passenger seat was not tooooooo bad, but when it came to getting my heel onto the tiny triangle of safe standing surrounded by glass-work I thought I was stumped, plus being able to launch upwards from there to the second wing was just totally beyond my capabilities. Sadly I had to admit defeat.
A very pretty young lady wing-walker was standing on the top wing to encourage me up, and the two pilots were standing behind, after a bit of mumbling a tentative suggestion was made that I was given a ‘bunk-up’ – and I mean that in the Oxford English Dictionary definition, i.e. A helping push or pull up – not the Urban Dictonary definition!!
Anyway I lurched upwards at such a rate everyone was worried I was going to be propelled forwards and straight over the wings and over onto the actual propellors. But fortunately not, and having made such a concerted effort to get me up, there was some thought of just strapping me in and taking off there and then, but somehow I was not mentally prepared, and I was glad I scrambled down again. Plus I hadn’t completed the forms signing my life away (in insurance terms anyway)
Back to earth I filled in the forms which confirmed me as a team member of the Super Aerobatic Wing Walking Team, put on my Wing Walkers T-shirt, and was given the safety kit which consisted of a pair of ear plugs and some googles. Asking if I would be warm enough up there (I had expected at least a flying suit and crash-helmet) it was thought I would be okay, but I did take the precaution of putting on a nice thick cardigan. When I mentioned this afterwards a younger friend seemed to think it highly amusing that anyone even used the word cardigan, let alone wore one, but I have to say I am a confirmed cardigan addict – though (like my Grandma before me) they MUST have pockets!
So with my ‘flying kit’ on it was back on the box for the scramble through the wings, plus another ‘bunk-up’ and I was strapped in and ready to go.
The plane taxied over the grass, turned, did a bit of revving up and then we were off. And it was up up and away.
When I booked in I somehow imagined it would be a take-off, quick circle of the airfield, just to say you had done it, then back to earth again. But NO! We took off and immediately banked and turned, circling the airfield and climbing high before whizzing back down towards the ground. Then banked round again, wheeling and diving over the group of on-lookers, all madly waving as we zoomed by – first overhead, then sideways on, then banking to the left, then the right.
I have to say it was certainly thrilling. The force of the wind, especially on the dives quite literally took one’s breath away, and it was so windy I thought my googles had been blown off. The whole experience lasted about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, but as with anything like that it seemed far longer.
Just before you leave they fix up a small camera, and I imagined it would give a view of my flight, but in fact it was trained on me – I presume to see that you have not passed out, or are having a heart attack.
The guy who had gone up before me kindly took some photos with my camera whilst I was up there, and Little Miss Phoebe, who had been tied to the fence post whilst I was gone was certainly pleased to see me back down to earth again.
These were the photos taken from the ground
And if you want to see my cheeks flailing in the wind – these are some from the wing camera
We finally got to Powis, and sensibly I followed the large brown tourist signs rather than listening to either of the Sat Navs.
I have to say the approach lane was narrow, and when I finally got to the entrance gates I was unsure if we would make it through, but thankfully there was a National Trust gardener just passing so he measured it up with his boots and decided – yes we would. Fortunately the wing mirrors cleared the tops of the gate posts, as there was only a couple of inches to spare either side.
The carpark was big, though they made me park down at the bottom leaving quite a steep climb if the scooter refused to oblige, which after a few abortive attempts it did, and had to be reloaded onto the lift
Having got this far at such an effort I decided I would do my best to have a look round as much as I could manage, and started out with my stick. Although I am slow I am so very much more mobile than when I first started out on my travels. Before I wouldn’t even have attempted to look round – though I have to say the walk up the steep carpark alone looked challenging. Fortunately the guy in charge of parking had seen me struggling with the scooter, and as luck would have it just as I started for the castle the little bus which takes the less-abled round the grounds was passing by and he waved it down for me.
Excellent – I was delivered to the gates with only flat walking and the stairs involved in the castle to worry about. As with many of the National Trust properties cameras are forbidden inside so I will need to rely on my memory (which having visited so many beautiful properties tends to get the places jumbled up)
But outside cameras were fine, and I have to say the glory of the place is in its gardens and grounds, and I was fortunate in having a sunny day to look round – the day before having been very mixed and rainy, so perhaps my visit had been delayed for a reason.
Even so I was hesitant about trying for the lower levels of the gardens, but on being told I could get another lift back from the tearooms at the far end I chanced it, and I am so pleased I did. The views back to the castle were stunning, and once down the steep path it was all reasonably level with only a few flights of steps to contend with. Of course it would have been lovely to explore all the terraces as well…… but…… I was content with my day!
So! Having escaped from the small lanes by Cilcain, I was off to Powis Castle but first I found myself in need of some LPG for the tanks.
I have a really useful little internet site saved on my favourites, which not only gives map locations of all stations selling LPG but gives the most up-to-date prices per litre, together with opening hours, and in some cases contact details. Useful for me if I need to phone ahead to check access, though I have to say most of the people who work at garages seem to be unaware of what the height restrictions on the forecourt canopy actually are.
The worst I encountered was at an ASDA somewhere in Wales where they allowed you in to the incredibly tight space they had allocated for fuel, then there was a right angle turn before you needed to turn back on yourself to see the height restriction – which, of course was not only too low for Thebus, but there was not enough space to turn him round and get back out. So that involved a horrid reversing manoeuvre. As it was in my earlier days of driving, and before I had a sensible reversing camera fitted it was a hideously stressful manoeuvre. Fortunately for me there was a goods’ vehicle driver who was able to give me directions otherwise I might have ended up demolishing some of their infrastructure.
In those early days of my travels I was upset to find that most folk would not help if you needed someone to see you back. I imagined it was just churlishness on their part, but I now realise that most are too frightened to help, and you need someone who is used to larger vehicles. Though my confidence has increased, and left to my own devices and not hassled I seem to be able to get out of most situations (Thank You God!!)
So having put in the post code to the new Sat Nav – off we set. I have to say it seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, but we did finally arrive, filled up, then set off for Powis Castle. Yet again the journey seemed to go on and on, and as by now the day had almost gone I spotted a half reasonable layby and decided to park up for the night.
On my way I had passed a shop, which I would have loved to take a photo of – The Shop at Knockin but we came on it too quickly with traffic behind. Still our layby had potential, and although it was on a busy and straight road, once the rush hour traffic subsided we had a peaceful night. There was even somewhere to take Phoebe for a bit of a rampage around to tire her out a bit.
Little Miss Phoebe having a sit down after a good run round a stubble field
Next day we set off again for Powis Castle, but this time I put on both the Sat Nav’s and the two ladies wanted me to go in completely opposite directions. I decided to stick with the ‘new lady’ as in my opinion ‘Strict Lady’ had let me down far too often in the past. In the event ‘New Lady’ was wanting me to turn up every small road she came to, and I realised something had gone wrong. Getting out the book of maps it was ‘Strict Lady’ which was advising me correctly, and off we went back through Knockin, and this time fore-warned I managed to stop and get a photo of The Knockin Shop
The Knockin Shop
The Knockin Shop
And I finally worked out what had been confusing the new Sat Nav. On my Tom-Tom if you wish to return to the main menu you simply tap the screen. On the new Sat Nav if you tap the screen it sets it as a place on your itinerary. Lesson learned. Day wasted? No I would have never passed The Knockin Shop again and been able to take a photograph 🙂
Next day I made an early start as I was not sure how narrow the lanes would be approaching what was to be my first stop of the day – to see the ‘Angel Roof’ at Cilcain Church.
Now I am trying out a new Chinese SatNav which is purely for lorries, so having entered all the parameters for Thebus I set off with complete confidence – as it turned out totally misplaced! We were starting out from a carpark where lorries are not allowed, so one needed to accept that one was happy with being in forbidden areas. This was a bad move on my part as once I had agreed I was prepared to drive anywhere, my ‘new lady’ happily took up the challenge of taking me by the shortest route – literally come Hell or High Water.
The lanes got narrower and narrower and eventually a road sign announced that there was a bridge ahead with a 6ft 6 in wide limit and as Thebus is about 8ft 8 in plus wing mirrors that didn’t sound like a good idea. The turning to the lane was on a bad Welsh bend so they had thoughtfully placed the warning sign just after you had committed yourself to turning down it. And once committed there was little opportunity to turn Thebus round, though turn him round I had to after checking that the road I was on really did lead to the narrow bridge.
Fortunately there was another route in Cilcain – though rather a circuitous one, but we arrived eventually, only to be told the village was unsuitable for large vehicles. My experience of stone built Welsh villages made me somewhat wary, so I parked up and unloaded the scooter. For a little while now the scooter has been a bit awkward on the controls, but we made it to the church and with a series of stop-starts I managed to turn round and make it back – loading up again by releasing the lock mechanism and manually pushing the scooter onto the ramp. But I am getting ahead of myself
Cilcain itself is a lovely little village.
Though on my entrance to the churchyard I wondered quite what the figures on the bench were about !!! Shades of The Wicker Man ?
The lovely old church is charmingly situated, but its exterior doesn’t prepare one for the magnificence of the roof inside
Angel Ceilings are mainly found in the East of the country and I was surprised there was such a fine example at a small country church in North Wales, but reading the literature it seemed that this very beautifully carved roof was purchased at the dissolution of the monasteries where it had been the ceiling of the Refectory at Basingwerk Abbey.
It is a very beautiful example, with wonderful, almost life-size Angels – assuming of course that Angels are about our size.
I am sure I read somewhere that the Norman font was discovered in Victorian times during a church restoration, in fragments and buried some 6ft deep beneath the altar, but I now I can’t find any real reference to it. But it does look in remarkably prisitne condition for something so old.
I was really keen to find the Roman Shrine to Minerva, which dates from the early 2nd century and is the only monument of its kind in Western Europe which remains in its original location.
I had a map to find it, but that was not very helpful (or probably more likely, I am not very good with maps). I asked several people, many of whom were obviously locals, but no-one had even heard of Minerva’s Shrine, let alone knew where it was or how to find it. Then a passer-by overhearing my enquiries pointed me in the right direction and what a wonderful place it was – if one has the imagination to see it for what it was and what it must have been when the Romans sailed up the Dee from Rome or beyond and gave thanks and offerings for their safe arrival at the shrine nearest to their landing. The name Dee is thought to come from Deva – River of the Godess.
Chester is the highest navigable point of the River Dee, which rises in Snowdonia, and this was the river I had crossed far beneath me on the squally day I took a barge trip over the Llangollen Aqueduct.
The shrine itself is carved into a rock outcrop in the green banks bordering the river, and unsurprisingly is not particularly easy to make out, but having had nineteen hundred odd years of wear and erosion from the Welsh rains I think it is in pretty fair condition, and it was a pleasure to see it there where it has always been and should remain.
Next to the shrine is a small ‘cave’ known as Edgar’s Cave. I would imagine this would have been where offerings honouring the goddess were left by grateful travellers, or travellers who were hoping for a safe voyage. Just imagine leaving Chester to sail for Rome in a small galley. No wonder they left offerings and prayed for safe arrival.
The shrine stands beside the route of the old main Roman road into the fortress of Deva from the south. Minerva was the Roman goddess of war, knowledge and craftsmanship, and is often depicted with her attributes of helmet, shield, breastplate, and spear, but in this instance, she is shown in a simplified form, standing in a representation of a temple, though I say this from reading about it rather than begin able to make the figure out with my own eyes.
The ‘fireplace’ looking structure in a different coloured stone was erected in the 19th C. to offer some protection to the carving.
Then back across the bridge – this is how it might have looked in Daniel Defoe’s time
I took some time exploring the river banks and what I could reach of the old city walls.
The city has done a good job of making the river bank a pleasant place, and I would think Chester would be a good city to live in, smallish, but very vibrant.
Then a lovely walk along the river bank past the weir where a flight of cormorants were alternately fishing and drying their wings.
One has to wonder what nature was about when it created a gulp of birds (gulp is another collective noun for cormorants, and a rather apposite one I feel) which make their living by diving for fish but apparently don’t have waterproof feathering,
And up past the pretty bandstand to the pedestrian suspension bridge to Queen’s Park a lovely area
A missed opportunity in Chester was a ride on the miniature railway in Queen’s Park, which was not operating when I was there, but the beautiful park in which it is situated with its view out down over the Dee was a treat to walk round, and watch folk feeding the very fat and very friendly grey squirrels. In all my life I have never seen so many squirrels in one place
This is what Wikipedia has to say on Chester and The Dee :-
At Chester the river passes and around the Earl’s Eye(s) meadow. In the vicinity of Chester the riverside is used as a recreation area with a bandstand, benches and boat cruises, being crossed by four bridges. The first is the Queen’s Park Suspension Bridge, which forms the only exclusively pedestrian footway across the river in Chester. The second is the Old Dee Bridge, a road bridge and by far the oldest bridge in Chester, being built in about 1387 on the site of a series of wooden predecessors which dated originally from the Roman period.
Above the Old Dee Bridge is Chester Weir, which was built by Hugh Lupus to supply power to his corn mills. Throughout the centuries the weir has been used to power corn, fulling needle, snuff and flint mills. The same weir was used as part of a hydro-electric scheme in 1911 with the help of a small generator building which is still visible today, used as a pumping station for water since 1951. However the first water pumping station here was set up in 1600 by John Tyrer who pumped water to a square tower built on the city’s Bridgegate. It was destroyed in the Civil War but an octagonal tower built in 1690 for the same purpose lasted until the gate was replaced with an arch in the mid-18th century.
On this weir is afish pass and fish counting station to monitor the numbers of salmon ascending the river, and also a weirgate for navigating the weir at spring tides. A little further downstream stands the Grosvenor Bridge which was opened in 1833 to ease congestion on the Old Dee Bridge. This bridge was opened by Princess Victoria five years before she became Queen.
The other side of the Grosvenor Bridge is the Roodee, Chester’s race course and the oldest course in the country. This used to be the site of Chester’s Roman harbour until, aided by the building of the weir, the River Dee silted up to become the size it is today. The only curiously remaining reminder of this site’s maritime past is a stone cross which stands in the middle of the Roodee which exhibits the marks of water ripples.
I didn’t get to see the stone cross, as I wasn’t sure where I was allowed to walk, but maybe if I return I will go looking.
Then past the outlying ruins of an ancient church, still in use but vastly reduced in size during the reformation.
And onto the Roman Arena. Now apparently the centre of a roundabout overlooked, somewhat sinisterly, by a Travelodge, the Roman Stone Altar facing it dedicated to Nemesis !!!
Then zig-zagging back across the country I was off to meet up with some other RV’ers at the Retro Show held each year at Burtonwood, When I visited the show last year I was impressed by how everyone had taken the time to dress in keeping with the theme, and now having got the bit between my teeth, and having bought a nice little hat from Octavia Frocktonaut’s Hat Ornamentology stand at the Steam Punk Fair I was well prepared.
I thought I looked just the part and rather elegant, but was cut down to size by my brother’s email comment – All you need is the long cigarette holder, and you can look like some psycho killer from Agatha Christie, “He used the wrong knife to eat his fish, he just simply had to die!”
Crossing the country from Lincoln to Liverpool I went via Stourport and dropped in to see Sally and we took Little Miss Phoebe out for the day HGV driving, all good experience for a little puppy. Previously she had been scared of the big noisy lorries, but seemed to take it in her stride after a day in one, hopping in and out of the cab at all the various stops and motorway services – well actually being lifted in and out by Sally, who declared she was getting quite a lump to move.
Karl gave Thebus a wash down in the yard and he looked so good (Thebus – not Karl) that when I arrived at the show folk kept asking if I had changed his colours!
After the weekend at Burtonwood I decided to see a few things that I had missed on my trip round North Wales and Anglesey last year after leaving the Buttonwood Retro Show. So it was off to Chester. Although I had visited Chester back in the seventies it was just for a walk round the centre one afternoon. I enjoyed seeing The Rows but as it was forty or more years since my visit I thought it was about time for another stop-by.
Luckily there is a carpark just on the outskirts of Chester where motorhomes are allowed to stop (Full Marks Chester!) so I was able to park up and take a leisurely tour spread over a couple of days.
My first stop was a restaurant – The Chefs Table – which has been receiving good reviews, and I had a delightful lunch there. I am not one for taking photographs of my food – somehow that seems a bit passé – but the tuna starter was so very pretty I couldn’t resist.
It tasted good too – and the lamb for the main course was only surpassed by my own home-grown Black Welsh Mountain Lamb and Raymond Blanc’s Milk Fed Pyrenees Lamb at Le Gavroche.
Just opposite the restaurant by where I had parked my scooter I spotted this interesting stone in the old city walls. Somehow it looks like an odd old face….. or is it just my imagination.
Suitably fortified with good food I sallied forth for a look round the city of Chester and in particular The Rows. I wondered if I would be able to get up easily, but although they are quite hard to spot there are various ramps giving access for the scooter, so I was able to explore very well indeed.
The Rows in Chester are unique, and nothing precisely similar exists anywhere else in the world. They date from the medieval period, and their origin is uncertain, but it is possible they were build on the ruins of Roman buildings. They consist of a series of covered walkways of shops and business premises and even houses on first floor level, whilst beneath at street level is another set of shops and premises. There are Rows in each of the four main streets of central Chester, and in some areas they have stone undercrofts or crypts on an even lower level beneath the buildings.
This – according to Chester – is the most photographed clock in the world, though I would have thought that Big Ben on the Houses of Parliament would have given it a run for its money
And what about this for a shopping ‘mall’
Some of the network of overhead Rows. What a place to make a film! So incredibly atmospheric
View from one of The Rows out to the opposite Rows and High Town
The Rows are incredibly atmosheric, a real step back in time so it was a most enjoyable afternoon.
Next there was something I particularly wanted to see, which was an old Roman Shrine to Minerva.
Okay, I don’t know what it means either, but I had heard about the Kustom Kulture Show which is now held at Lincoln County Showground, and it sounded fun, though I had no idea what to expect.
In the event it was fun, and I am still not sure what it was all about, other than to say there were some fantastic vehicles on display, lots of folk who were happy in their own skins (some quite literally) and doing their own thing. There was even a wedding there in the marquee with the couple spending their honeymoon after in a vintage caravan on the site.
I had a great time, and I think I will just let the photos do the talking and if you need to know more then book in for next year and see for yourself.
By the way – this was me getting into the spirit of the occasion
And that is Little Miss Phoebe’s lead in my hand, not an instrument of correction 🙂
I thought I would need to keep Little Miss Phoebe away from other dogs until she could have her final injections at twelve weeks old, but the type she had been given meant that we only needed to wait two weeks, so it was off back to Stourport to see the vets who had been so good when my lovely old Phoebe was getting towards the end.
But first I had promised to help out at the farm once again for the Bank Holiday Open Days. Phoebe would be safe as it was only Sally’s Dalmatian, Lara, at the farm and she was up-to-date with all the necessary injections. It was quite amusing to see Little Miss Phoebe’s face when, having spent a few days at the airfield and knowing what to expect in the way of scenery when Thebus’ door opened, was amazed to find a completely changed view when we arrived back at Pask Farm. But her puppyish inquisitiveness soon overcame any reticence and I am sorry to say that poor Lara took quite a chasing around, as did Miss Jones the cat – though she stayed well out of reach of Miss Phoebe’s flailing paws, a compliment returned in full as Miss Jones’ paws had some sharp little scratchy bits fitted to the ends!
Sally christened the new puppy Paws Almightly after an early morning visit when Little Miss Phoebe joined Sally and Lara on the bed.
Whilst I was staying at Stourport I took a real tumble. For years the arthritis in my ankles has meant I cannot flex my feet. Add the arthritis in my knees and the result is my toes often drag on the ground rather than being daintily picked up. Not paying full attention I walked over a hosepipe which brought me crashing down hard onto both knees. I followed through with my head, landing on the bridge of my nose then my forehead before skidding a little way across the rough road planeings of the carpark. Ouch!
I have to say I felt pretty shaken and wondered if I had broken my nose, but although everyone was for taking me to A&E I didn’t feel inclined to sit around for four or five hours just to be told to go home and take things easy and should I experience any headaches, or disturbed vision to come back, as I thought I could just as easily give that advice to myself. Though I did take lots and lots of homoeopathic remedies (so there Billy from Lovely Stornaway) and I KNOW it helped as you will see from the photos of me not long after. Anyway I felt moved to take my first ‘selfie’ – so if you have never met me and haven’t seen any photos of me (as you might have gathered I am not keen on having my picture taken) this was me the day after my fall
On the Pask Farm open day I had to keep apologising to various frightened small children, and explaining it wasn’t permanent, or at least I hoped it wouldn’t be.
Then it was off to see my brother and his family before heading off to The Kustom Kulture Blast Off Extravaganza at Lincoln.
This is her at nine weeks old – taking an interest in her new surroundings
We were parked up just past a row of hangars, some with six or more planes inside
On weekends the airfield really comes to life when the owners 150 odd private hangars come to primp, preen, polish and play with their ‘Big Boys (well mostly boys) Toys’.
And some wonderful playing we had as well. Someone had just purchased another plane for display flying and had a terrific practice session over the club-house which is based in the old 2nd World War Observation Tower. He took off and even before gaining any real attitude performed a barrel-roll, then zoomed up vertically into the air, sort of hung there spinning clockwise, then plummeted down to earth in a 90 degree dive. There were lots more manoeuvres but my camera skills were not up to following his high speed antics.
Throughout the day there was a seemingly endless parade of interesting light aircraft coming and going from the field in front of the clubhouse.
One in particular was a very rare 1st World War German plane. Someone said it had been crated and forgotten until found and lovingly restored.
And a very colourful Russian plane turned up to show everyone its paces.
Even the cars were interesting
And there was a nice little onsite museum, free to enter, showing some of the history of the airfield and those who had lived (and died) there
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A terrific experience all round, and certainly a good one for Little Miss Phoebe, who although at first perturbed by these noisy overhead flying monsters, soon settled to the idea. Her first taste at becoming a well-seasoned travel dog.
I stayed over until the Monday morning, and, after Strict Lady deciding the best route on our way to the Balloon Fiesta would be right through the middle of central Bristol I thought I would find a better route myself on the way back, with the result it took us nearly an hour to find the right road. Some day I must write an Apologia to Strict Lady, as looking back she has got (or gotten as our American cousins would say) me out of more trouble than she has ever ‘gotten’ me into. But of course it’s the times when one is let down that one remembers, not the many thousands of times one has received uncomplaining directions through tricky situations.
So having finally escaped from Bristol I headed up the motorways to Cheshire, and it took a surprisingly long time due to road works, heavy traffic and a series of accidents, but finally we were getting near, and as evening fell I was tucked up in the same farmhouse campsite I stayed when I had visited to see the new ’puppy’
Tines of a Hay Wuffler against the sunset
Next day Olivia called to collect me and after a nice lunch and some more playing with the dogs and puppies, Little Miss Phoebe and I were safely delivered back to Thebus, where I popped her into her training cage and set off back down to the Midlands to introduce her to my family and Sally et al.
After a bit of initial crying and whimpering (the puppy not Sally or the family) she settled down to sleep the journey away. It must be strange to be dragged away from Mum, brothers and sisters, home and all that one has known and carted off by a stranger. Though at least not a complete stranger as thanks to Olivia I had been able to visit and play with her quite a few times, and I know she recognised my voice on my return as she was the first up and over to the gate of the run when I called to them.
She managed the quite long journey without a wee, and on being popped outside as soon as I pulled up performed, so I felt we had started on the right track. I had bought some puppy training pads, but she seemed to be happy with going outside, so in the event only one was taken out of its pack, but never even used.
Lara – Sally’s Dalmatian – was less than impressed with this bounding bundle of energy, though at least she was only half the size of Lara, which gave Lara the chance to put her in her place when she got a bit too full of herself.
Next day there was lots for Phoebe to see as we made the rounds of the pigs, ducks, chickens, geese, goats, ponies, cows, sheep and turkeys who live at Pask Farm, not forgetting the cat who was used to terrorising all and sundry, humans and animals, and spent its time wailing at Phoebe, who, having been brought up with cats knew enough to stay well out of claw’s range. As it was still the school holidays brother Mike brought his family over to meet the puppy and we had a lovely sunny afternoon at the farm.
So having shown off the new member of our travelling troupe I set off for Sleap Airfield, by kind invitation. The idea being that as Phoebe had only received the first of her puppy vaccinations it would be an ideal place to park up well away from other dogs, whilst we waited out the next couple of weeks before she could receive the final injections that would establish immunity to those nasty canine diseases.
Again a longish journey for young Phoebe, but once more she behaved well and waited until we had arrived and we had no accidents. Tony, who lives at the airfield permanently showed me all round the perimeter of the field and its criss-crossing runways, and suggested the best places for parking up to be away from the potential of meetings with other dogs, and I chose a nice spot right at the far corner near the end of one of the runways, where if I was quick I could photograph some of the interesting planes coming in to land.
Unfortunately it must have been near to a very active wasp nest, and it was that time of year when the wasps change from being useful insect catchers, to freeloading sugar-eaters. If you have never thought about the change in waspish behaviour you might be interested to learn about their life cycle.
I was going to write it out, but not being a hundred percent certain whether the Queen wasps were mated in the autumn before hibernation or in the spring after I googled it and found this nice page, which not only explains it well but has some picces
Anyway we were inundated with the rather bad-tempered little beasties, which somehow even managed to get in through the insect netting on the windows. And of course I didn’t want Little Miss Phoebe investigating such interesting buzzy things and getting a sting on her nose, or even worse in her mouth, and I myself had a sting prior to starting my journeys which resulted in a hosptial visit and now I am supposed to carry an epi-pen so I gave them all a welcome they might have preferred to avoid, and both Little Miss Phoebe and I remained un-stung!