Saturday, 14 July 2018

High and dry

We were now almost half way through our first holiday week and, although the weather forecast for the next days looked very promising, Wednesday's weather was looking rather dismal.

Maximum temperature would be 17°C, they said. There was a 40% chance of rain, they said. Oh dear, nothing for it but to dig out my first pair of floral trousers again.

To liven things up, I added a floaty, frilly blouse I grabbed from a reduced rail in H&M just days before our holiday, and which I'd chucked into my suitcase at the very last moment.

Talk about a floral punch! If I'd worn this to Powis Castle, I'm sure it would have confused the gardeners.

Expecting it to be cold, I put on a red cardigan and, for good measure, I wore my charity shopped raincoat for the first time.

Little did we know that in our valley below the Long Mynd, the temperature was always a few degrees lower than average.

We were off to Bridgnorth, about 30 miles away, which is a town of two halves, High Town and Low Town. But more about that later.

Claire from Diary of a penny pincher had kindly supplied me with the post code of a Long Stay car park in High Town, which saved us the trouble of looking around for a decent spot to park.

From there, we sauntered through the town, wandering in and out of the charity shops lining the High Street

There were quite a few picturesque timber-framed buildings, including the Town Hall set on high brick piers, which interrupts the traffic flow in the High Street.

Here I am trying to blend in with the black and white buildings and the flower shop at the same time

As the temperature had considerably exceeded 17°C by then, I was already regretting putting on all these layers and not wearing a dress.

We'd been running late that morning, so soon our rumbling stomachs reminded us it was time for a spot of lunch.

The basket was picked up in one of the charity shops we'd visited, and already came in handy for stashing away the unnecessary layers of clothing we'd been discarding. We didn't fancy carrying it for the rest of the day, though, so we briefly returned to our car and left it - and my coat - behind.

Bridgnorth, or to be more specific, High Town, sits high on a sandstone cliff, with spectacular views of Low Town and the valley. The town is divided by the River Severn, Britain's longest river, and the two parts are linked by seven steep sets of steps and a Victorian funicular, Bridgnorth Cliff Railway.

After the one linking Lynton and Lynmouth in Devon, which we took in 1997 and, more recently, the cliff railway up Constitution Hill in Aberystwyth, it goes without saying that we wanted to add this third funicular to our curriculum. Ha, doesn't that sound grand?

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted the sign on the bottom, pointing to The Looking Glass, a shop selling vintage clothing, jewellery, handbags and hats!

Needless to say, I had to stop and browse and I may even have bought the cotton floral frock I'm holding up for inspection. I would have liked to browse some more, but the shop was somewhat in disarray as the owner was preparing for a vintage fair. Also, that Cliff Railway was calling us!

"If you approach the High Town by the cliff railway you feel you are being lifted up to heaven."  ~ John Betjeman

The oldest and steepest inland funicular railway in the country, it was opened in 1892, and is making the short, dizzying journey between High Town and Low Town at least 150 times a day.

The railway operates two cars on parallel tracks. Connected by steel ropes, the carriages serve to counterbalance each other - as one rises to the top station, the other runs to the bottom station. The cars are now powered by an electric winding engine, but were originally driven by a system of water balance, each carriage carrying water ballast in a tank beneath the passenger compartment.

Look at that view and, gulp, isn't that rather steep? But there was nothing for it, as Jos had already bought our tickets, so legs trembling just a little bit, we hopped in and minutes later, hopped out again in Low Town. There was nothing to it, really.

And what did we do once we were in Low Town? Look up at High Town, obviously, where the tower of St. Mary's church, built by Thomas Telford in 1792, is dominating the skyline.

Then we crossed the busy bridge over the River Severn and, looking backwards, had a splendid view of some old advertising on the right, taking in the entire side of the building. Apparently, Ridley's Seeds is still trading in Bridgnorth’s livestock market today.

Continuing our walk past some noisy roadworks, we turned a corner and what did we spy?

Old Mill Antiques Centre has antiques and collectibles spread over several floors and, if money was no objection, I wouldn't have minded taking home one or two of those Clarice Cliff items. In the end, we did find something much more affordable to add to our kitchenalia collection: a 1930s enameled Lucie Mabel Attwell wipe clean household wants thingy, complete with its original pencil.

After much needed refreshments at their café, we retraced our steps across the bridge and made the return journey on the cliff railway.

Back in High Town, we continued on Castle Walk, passing several sets of steps down the cliff.

The panorama which opens up here, of Low Town and the Severn Valley beyond, is quite breathtaking. It is said that Charles I once described it as 'The finest view in all my Kingdom.'

A little exaggerated, perhaps, but still a lovely view.

Our aim was to check out another of Bridgnorth's curiosities, the Castle Keep. This is all that remains of the once vast Norman castle and, as a result of a botched attempt to blow up the building by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, It now leans at a 15-degree angle, three times greater than the Tower of Pisa!

We sat for a while in the landscaped Castle Grounds, before returning to our car, and driving back to our cottage.

Another day well spent, and quite a few treasures found as well!

Taking my floral combo over to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Castle in the Sky

After the excitement of our blogger meet-up on Monday, we opted for a relaxed day on Tuesday. Not venturing too far from our adopted home, we hopped over the border with Wales - we were, after all, in an area called the Welsh borders - for a visit to our first National Trust property.

Trundling along the quiet country roads in a leisurely fashion, we soon passed a sign welcoming us to Wales. We could easily have missed it, were it not for the road markings, in which the Welsh word "ARAF" suddenly appeared next to the English "SLOW", and the bilingual road signs. But such is the erratic nature of the border here that in a matter of minutes we were welcomed back to Shropshire! Talk about confusing. Our destination was well and truly in Wales, though!

Perched on a narrow ridge above its world-famous terraced gardens, and offering spectacular views across the Severn Valley towards England, Powis Castle was originally built as a medieval fortress in about 1200 by Welsh princes.

The drizzle which, interspersed with some sunny spells, had accompanied us on our journey, increased to a steady downpour once we'd parked and were making our way to the castle's entrance. 

Before visiting the castle itself, we had our first glimpse of the garden, a breath-taking panorama, with its backdrop of hills and fields all but obscured by fog.

Powis Castle was adapted and embellished by generations of Herberts and Clives who, over four centuries, transformed the castle into a grand family home, furnishing the castle with fine furniture and paintings.  In fact, the present Earl of Powis still keeps an apartment here.

There is also an extensive collection of Indian artefacts, which are displayed in the Clive Museum. These were brought home by Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India, and his son, Edward, and were obtained during their service with the British East India Company.

Powis Castle is full of exceptional portraits, the majority of which record the fascinating history of the family over the last 400 years. These are currently the subject of an exhibition, with works by prominent artists such as Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough. But the centrepiece of the exhibition is one of the National Trust’s recently acquired treasures – a Jacobean miniature portrait by Isaac Oliver (1565-1617), featuring Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, who was a statesman, poet, diplomat, musician and knight. 

As a result of the exhibition, the castle's halls and rooms could not be fully admired, as the portraits required them to be quite dark, while in others, the state bedroom, for instance, the carpet was rolled up and displaced furniture marred the view of the opulent state bed in its alcove.

Photography was not allowed and much to our surprise, there wasn't even a guide book on sale, except one for the garden. 

On our way out, however, I did manage to take this photo of the servants' bells in the basement.

After lunch, we descended into the garden, but not before giving you a brief glance at what I was wearing. 

My second pair of floral print trousers came out of my suitcase.  I wore it with a green short-sleeved jumper and a hot pink cardigan. On top, my trusty green holiday raincoat, although it had stopped raining by now.

George Herbert, great-grandson of Clive of India, inherited the title of  Earl of Powis along with the castle and estate in 1891.

Together, he and his wife Violet focused on remodelling the castle, which included introducing electric lighting and a state of the art hot-water central heating system, while Violet persuaded George to let her manage and improve the garden.  Violet’s Edwardian garden with a croquet lawn, flowering borders and meticulously trimmed fruit trees, is still one of the garden’s highlights today. 

Influenced by Italian and French styles, the garden retains its original lead statues, and the Italianate terraces and formal garden contain imaginative and colourful herbaceous borders.

The terraces at Powis Castle are said to be the finest surviving example of a 17th century terrace garden in Britain. The exact date of their construction is unknown but is thought to have begun in the 1680's.

Above the Top Terrace, with its magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, is the yew topiary, which Powis Castle is renowned for. The fourteen yew trees, named “the tumps”, were planted in the 1720's. 

Below these are a series of niches in the terrace wall. These would have been for the display of busts, but are now displaying a series of potted plants. 

The second terrace is the Aviary Terrace, which once had fruit and vegetables growing on it.

Above the orangery is a pathway with a balustrade from which time-weathered statues of shepherds and shepherdesses are gazing down upon the garden below.

Finally, the Orangery Terrace runs in front of the orangery, which was built to overwinter citrus fruits, now a cool and rather empty room housing a number of potted plants.

On either side of the orangery is a pathway lined with abundant and colourful planting. We took our time exploring and admiring the flowers. As I love poppies in all shapes and sizes, I was particularly enchanted by this delicate strawberry and cream one, which was just being visited by a busy bee.

Just off the formal gardens are a number of buildings, including a semi-detached half-timbered cottage. The cottage to the left is named “The Bothy” and is a National Trust owned self catering cottage available for rent. With all the visitors to the garden I'm sure it's not as quiet as our own little cottage, though, and presumably a lot more expensive!

At the bottom, behind the formal garden is the Fountain Garden, an addition made by Violet, and replacing a kitchen garden which she considered unsightly.

We thankfully made use of the deckchairs displaying The National Trust's emblem, which were set out on the lawn.

From this vantage point, and accompanied by the meditative tinkling of the fountain, we contemplated the red-stone castle perched proudly on its ridge, clashing and at the same time blending in with the vivid greens provided by the layers of garden.

In 1912, Vilolet commissioned the spectacular wrought iron gates near the fountain garden as a present for George’s birthday.

Above the gate is the Powis coat of arms, and surmounting each pillar is a wyvern (a legendary dragon-like creature), one of which is holding a severed hand in its mouth.

In the 18th century, an informal woodland wilderness was created on the opposite ridge. 

The Wilderness ridge is in complete contrast to the rest of the garden and is the perfect place for a woodland walk. Further exploration should reveal an ice house, sculptures hiding in the trees, and the graves of much-loved family pets, but our weary feet were making us take the shortest route.

We stopped to admire one last time the castle when it appeared in a gap between trees, rising like a mirage above its terraces and gardens.

Then it was time to return to our car for the drive back to our cottage at the other side of the border.

Please do tune in for more travel stories in my next post!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Of sheep and hills

In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I'm having recurrent nightmares, in which I've accidentally left my camera at home, giving some indication as to how important taking photographs is for me.

In the old days before blogging, I would now be clicking through my photos in preparation of creating a digital scrap album as a reminder of our holiday, which I stopped doing about two years ago when it transpired that my favourite online software was no longer available.

Before that, in the even older days, I'd be eagerly waiting until my precious photos - rolls and rolls of film - were developed, after which I'd be wielding real life scissors and glue for the messy business of making an actual album, which would include anything from entrance tickets and leaflets to candy wrappers.

Do I miss these days? Yes, and no!  I do love having the albums to browse through once in a while, but at this point in my life, I prefer to use my blog as a well documented travelogue.

As I already gave you Chapter 2, let's get back to the beginning, shall we?

We arrived at the cottage which would be our home for the next two weeks a bit earlier than planned, as our journey had been completely without hick-ups.

Byre Cottage, where once cows sought shelter from the elements, is part of a huddle of farm buildings nestling in a valley between the Long Mynd, a large, long heath and moorland plateau that forms part of the Shropshire Hills, and Adstone Hill.

Adstone, as the handful of buildings is called, is reached by the narrowest of hedged country lanes, and is about one mile from the nearest village. It is also about half an hour's drive to the nearest supermarket. Reportedly there should have been a village shop for essentials, but we didn't make the effort to find it.

Apart from our landlord, a friendly but rather timid man whom we hardly ever saw, our nearest neighbours were the sheep which grazed the hilly fields surrounding our cottage, their melodious bleating a soothing soundtrack.

Having spent so many holidays in our Welsh cottage, it was only natural that our new abode would be held up for comparison, but I can tell you that Byre Cottage compared favourably, especially as it was more spacious and generally better equipped.

There was room to swing a whole army of cats in the kitchen/dining room, which led onto a small terraced area outside, with seating for two. Then there was our bedroom, which had a wardrobe with plenty of hanging space, and which did not contain an ordinary bed but a four poster!

After we'd made ourselves comfortable and had a meal, we went for a little walk up Adstone Hill, soaking in the quietness and magnificence of our surroundings.

When we woke up the next day, Sunday, it was to solid grey skies and a bit of drizzle. As we couldn't wait to get started, this was a bit of a disappointment, but never mind.

First it was time for a proper fry-up, as Jos is a dab hand at making English breakfast.

Thus fortified, we were ready for our first adventure: we decided to explore the small town of Church Stretton, about 12 miles away, on the other side of the Long Mynd.

Along the way, we passed through our nearest village, a tiny place called Wentnor, which has a pub, a pretty little church and a red post box keeping a rare red telephone box company.

After skirting the Long Mynd, we arrived in Church Stretton, where we parked and paid for a ticket, minutes later realizing that parking was free on a Sunday. Typically, the silly machine didn't complain when we put in our money!

Soon it started raining again, so we escaped inside Stretton Antiques Market, situated in an early 1900s red brick warehouse, where we browsed the stalls laid out over several floors.

Nothing really took our fancy, but as it was lunch time by then, we made use of the on-site tearoom.

If at first there seemed to be a break in the clouds, they had now gathered to create a solid grey blanket and it wasn't long before the showers turned into a steady curtain of rain.

The town's charity shops, which mercifully were open on a Sunday, offered some respite, and our first purchases were made.

While Jos found a straw hat, I came away with a Phase Eight raincoat, two brooches and a vinyl case from a range Celia Birtwell designed for Boots in 2009.

Ditching our plans for a short walk, we then dived into a café for coffee and cake, after which we decided to call it a day and return to our cottage.

Setting our satnav for the return journey, we were mystified when the blasted thing made us drive in the other direction. When we started climbing and then bumped over a cattle grid, I knew we were in for an adventure of a different kind. Instead of skirting the Long Mynd, we were now driving right over it.

With the rain and low-hanging clouds diminishing our view, we continued our precipitous ride on a one-track lane which climbed ever higher until, thankfully, it swerved away from the sheer drop on our right, at which point I quickly hopped out to take some photographs with my phone's camera.

We thought we'd seen the worst, but how wrong we were! Suddenly there was a hairpin bend and the road started going downhill at a rather alarming angle, again with a steep drop on our right. As if that wasn't bad enough, a car suddenly appeared from the opposite direction. Obviously there was no way we could pass each other, so Jos made several attempts to back the car uphill. It comes as no surprise that I, a long time sufferer from vertigo, was getting a panic attack. In my mind's eye, I could see our car making a tumble over the edge, in which case I would never get to meet Vix and Lynn ...

But all's well that ends well. The other driver eventually took pity on us, and swiftly backed his car  downhill to a passing place, so that we could continue our journey unharmed. Phew!

Needless to say, we made it safely back to the cottage, where I insisted on posing with my new found treasures in the rain.

That raincoat really was the best buy ever, as the weather gradually started improving once I'd bought it. Nevertheless, I'm taking it, and my floral trousers to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.

But more about that in my next travel posts!

Monday, 2 July 2018

The day we met in Chester

It was with great reluctance that on Saturday morning we said goodbye to Shropshire, where we spent what must have been our best holiday in many years.

The weather, for starters, was in complete contrast to last year's Welsh washout. After a false start on our first day, which was gloomy with some persistent showers, it gradually got warmer until we were treated to a veritable heatwave in our second week.

But let's make a little jump to our second day first.

It was the Monday of our first week when we got up early to make the one and a half hour or so journey to Chester for a most exciting event: the long awaited blogger meet-up with Vix and Lynn and their partners, Jon and Philip.

Needless to say, I'd been counting down the weeks and days and finally the hours until 11 o' clock that morning.

When at about 9 am we set our satnav and drove off, in my mind's eye I was imagining two other cars doing the same from different directions, to arrive at our designated meeting point, Chester's Upton Park and Ride, at approximately the same time.

As the hours became minutes and we were nearing our destination, I was getting quite nervous: what if they didn't like me?

Then, while driving through a residential street, our satnav, the silly thing, declared that we had reached our destination. Luckily, I'd come prepared and, after following signs to the famous Chester Zoo, we made it to the Park and Ride with minutes to spare.

We were the first to arrive, but soon our fellow travellers, who'd had the same problem, arrived in convoy. I can tell you, it felt quite surreal to see Lynn and Vix, whose blogs I've been following for years, get out of their respective cars.

It turned out that there had been no need for nerves, as we hit it off right away.

Lynn did seem to be a bit put off that we weren't the same size, which scuppered her dreams of living next door to each other and raiding each other's wardrobes!

After taking photographs - in case we'd forget later - and exchanging of presents, we hopped on the bus which would take us to the town centre, the girls sharing the naughty bench in the back.

Obviously, there wasn't the time for proper sightseeing, but what I did see out of the corner of my eye looked enticing enough to warrant a return visit.

We decided to explore the town's plentiful charity shops first, with Jos following us around, trying to capture us all in action, which wasn't an easy task with us darting around and chattering away.

But we were all too excited and the goods on offer too bland and expensive, so that in the end I was the only one who didn't leave empty handed.

I considered buying this cute little clutch, but baulked at the price, then spotted these emerald green, Italian made heeled jellies, which looked brand new, were only £ 3,95, and exactly my size!

By then, hunger and thirst directed us, guided by the app on Jon's phone, to the nearest Wetherspoons for a spot of lunch, where we were introduced to this legendary establishment's delights.

After a lengthy lunch, there was still time to visit Chester's vintage shops. Here, Jon's app did let us down, but with the rudimentary town map I'd printed off the Internet and accompanied by lots of head scratching, we finally managed to find Bridge Street, Vix and Jon leading the way through the grand looking Grosvenor Shopping Centre.

After a disappointing first shop, we did manage to find some reasonably priced true vintage in a shop called Soho's, which was located upstairs in the magnificent old black and white building you can see above.

Although a lot of oohing and aahing took place, again I was the only one making a purchase.

Both Vix and Lynn insisted on taking a photograph, so thank you girls!

All too soon, it was time to make our way back to the bus station, where we asked a chap to make this photograph of the six of us together.

Imagine the ensuing hilarity when said chap turned out to be our bus driver!

Back at the Park and Ride, we said our goodbyes with heavy hearts, vowing we will do it all over again next year.

Back in our cottage, we excitedly opened our presents, feeling as if Christmas and our birthdays had come at the same time.

Vix and Jon's  included a pretty Summer frock and jacket, a copy of The Face dating from 1980, with my then idol Siouxsie on the cover, and a brooch I'd admired on Vix's blog for me, as well as a Think Britain apron, flat cap, pocket square and Tootal scarf for Jos.

Lynn and Philip's presents came in one of Lynn's famous Doodly Bird bags, and included books and magazines (which I forgot to photograph), a scarf, brooch and earrings, a gorgeous handmade wall hanging and a sweet little photo wallet and miniature grooming set for Jos.

This was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday, and my heart still makes a happy little jump whenever I think about this day, which by now is already an unbelievable two weeks ago.

And, as we were all visible on a Monday, I am linking Vix, Lynn and myself to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.