Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Instructions for a heatwave

I can't believe we've been back from our holiday for two and a half weeks already!

If it weren't for the fact that I'm still reliving it by blogging about the things we've done, our holiday would by now be a distant - albeit gold-framed - memory!

The weather had been even hotter here than in the UK, so that we returned to a house with a bedroom which felt like a sauna and a garden that had clearly seen better days.

The birds had stripped our white currant bush of most of the translucent pink tinged fruits, but we were able to harvest a bumper crop of ruby red gooseberries just in the nick of time.

I had to go back to work almost straight away, after two days of frantic unpacking, doing several loads of washing, catching up on my blog reading and churning out my first holiday post.

My first day back at the office could have been frantic as well, but I was quite unfazed by the chaos awaiting me after the relaxing holiday we'd had. Plus, I was wearing Vix's brooch pinned to my light cotton frock, which acted as a kind of armour, as it reminded me of the time we spent together.

I also switched to a new work handbag. Not that new actually, as I'd already snapped it up at Think Twice months ago. It's deadstock, in pristine condition, and roomy enough to stash away all my paraphernalia, including my much-needed pair of sunglasses, which my old handbag didn't have room for.

Posing in the glare of the sizzling hot July sunshine doesn't make for the best of photos, but I was determined to show you some of the outfits I've been wearing. Unfortunately, this could only be done after work, when the sun in our back garden was as at its brightest, bleaching out colours and casting unflattering shadows.

First up is this ethereal dress, which provides an elegant silhouette with its longer length and pleated skirt. 

You can have a closer look of it here.

I'm surprised it was still looking quite fresh after a day at the office and my commute on a hot, stuffy tram, where I'd tried to keep relatively cool by frantically waving my fan. Other people were doing the same, but using a variety of papery items they happened to be carrying. I was intrigued to see one man using a flyer with a photograph of Nick Cave by renowned photographer Anton Corbijn, who is currently having an exhibition of his work in Antwerp!.

Fast forward to Friday of my first week back, when I was wearing separates for a change. The lightweight box-pleated skirt was picked up at Think Twice last Summer. The King Louie blouse, equally lightweight and adorned with a bow tie, was charity shopped, as were the bangles, beads and sandals, while the mother-of-pearl brooch was a flea market find.

I've had the raffia bag, which also came from Think Twice, for many years. It's my current bag of choice for carrying my packed lunch, some fruit and a drink to work.

It was too hot to do anything much on Saturday, but wilting away inside the house wasn't an option either.

We hadn't been to the park since May, so that was our destination settled, going for a little walk to see what had changed.

Hemerocallis and Inula helenium were out in full force, but I gave it my best shot to compete with their fiery colours.

The sleeveless shift dress, in a waffle fabric, came from a long-gone vintage shop. 

I made a beeline for the same dress in green at a flea market back in May, but as I couldn't try it on, I left it behind thinking it would be too tight. I've regretted not buying it ever since, as it turns out it was exactly the same size as this one. And it was only € 6 to boot! I know, I can be quite silly at times.

The wicker and leather handbag was bought in Wales two Summers ago and while I can't remember where the yellow beads and plastic bangle came from, the chocolate brown and white bracelet was bought on a charity shopping spree in Wellington, Shropshire last month. 

After being out of action for a while, they'd reinstated the ornamental stone fountain and, even though it is still somewhat in disrepair, it was nice to hear water tinkling and gurgling again, providing some imaginary coolness on this hot day.

This prompted me to do a little dance (as one does), and then I had to do it all over again, as Jos wanted to catch the silliness on camera. 

I love the contrast between the manicured lawn on the right and the abundant wildflower meadow on the left but, even though all is looking quite lush at first sight, the effects of the relentless heat of the sun and the lack of rain are clearly starting to show. 

Our favourite charity shop is just across the road, so we went for a brief rummage. What are the chances of finding a Summer hat in a colour coordinating with my outfit? Weirdly enough, there were two of them, hanging side by side.

A lady was admiring my hat, adding that it would go with a dress she'd just bought. When I pointed her in the direction of  its twin, she declined, saying that her neighbours would think she'd gone mad if she started wearing a hat. Some people!

Me, I'm just following nature's example. I'm such a magpie when it comes to colour. If people think I'm mad, then so be it. I'd much rather be considered mad than invisible.

Of course, the hat wasn't the only thing that caught my eye. 

With the weather forecast showing no mercy from the heat, I'm in need of some colourful cotton tops to wear with my summer skirts. I knew that this particular shop would not disappoint, and I was right.

This loose-fitting, peasant style blouse was a no-brainer, with its fresh green colour and subtle white flower print with a hint of orange.

I wasn't looking for another skirt, but how could I possibly pass up the opportunity? This rather exotic fruit print midi skirt, in a crisp, lined cotton, was only € 4.

There, I'm dressed, for under € 10: isn't charity shopping the best?

In my next post, I'll be continuing my travelogue with another visit to a Welsh property and a significant improvement in the weather.

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!