Sunday, 19 August 2018

It's vintage, darling!

It's the last episode of my Salopian (*) travelogue, and goodness me, have I been procrastinating! After all, once I've come to the end of this post and push publish, that's it! Point final, as they say in French.

So, other than scrolling through my photos of our last two days and halfheartedly making a few collages, this post wasn't getting anywhere near ready, as the words, which usually keep flowing once I start typing, seemed to remain stuck in my keyboard.

But there is nothing for it: it has to be done, so I'd better get my act together and get on with things!

Thursday saw us driving down to the lovely town of Ludlow, give or take half an hour from our cottage.

This wasn't our first visit by any means: we'd been there at least twice before when we were holidaying in the neighbouring county of Herefordshire between 2008 and 2010.

It was another gorgeous Summer day, but while the temperature was just bearable in the sun, we mostly sought shelter on the shady side of the town's picturesque streets.

A vibrant market town today, Ludlow's roots reach back to medieval times. Made rich by manufacturing and trading of wool and cloth, by the 16th Century it had become a major administrative centre, governing Wales and the border counties.

Today, it has a thriving high street, packed with independent shops including butchers, bakeries, delicatessens, as well as all manner of clothes and arts and craft shops.

There are quite a few charity shops too, which obviously were well browsed: I managed to find another maxi frock, which I will be showing you later, and some jewellery.

Ludlow also has a lively market, which has been a cornerstone of the community for over 900 years. Today, a general market is trading in and around Castle Square six days a week.

On the second and fourth Thursday of every month, the hugely popular Ludlow Local Produce Market is being held here, showcasing the fresh local food and drink which Ludlow is rightly, and proudly, famous for.

Built by the Normans in the 11th Century to repel a Welsh invasion, Ludlow Castle is one of the town's finest attractions. 

Having visited the castle before, however, we limited ourselves with a walk on the delightful footpath skirting its walls.

After walking around the castle's perimeters, we arrived back in Castle Square and made our way back through the town for a visit to St. Laurence's Church.

Tucked away down a small alley, the church is a haven of peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the town. 

St. Laurence's, which was first started in 1199, was largely rebuilt in the 15th Century. 

Its nickname, The Cathedral of the Marches, reflects the importance of Ludlow in the turbulent Welsh Marches region, but also its impressive size (it is said to be one of the largest parish churches in England) and its rich furnishings.

There's magnificent medieval stained glass, as well as a wonderful array of memorials, the majority dating from the 16-17th Centuries.

The chancel is a treasure of medieval stalls, many with misericords. These 'mercy-seats', made to help support priests while standing during long services, have wonderfully carved undersides. 

These are carved in a range of subjects including mermaids, a witch, and a dishonest ale-wife: indeed, most of the misericords depict women unfavourably! Here are just six of the total of 28 intricately carved designs.

After a restorative cup of coffee and some huge brownies, it was back to our cottage, where for the purpose of this blog, I changed into my new-to-me, charity shopped maxi frock!

Friday was our last day and we were feeling a bit morose. It was quite hot so, thinking of the long journey ahead of us on Saturday, we ditched our original plan of going for a proper hike on the Long Mynd. 

Instead, we went to Wales! Welshpool is only half an hour's drive from our cottage and known as the gateway to Mid Wales, a busy market town situated in the Severn valley and surrounded by glorious Welsh countryside, yet only a few miles from the English border.

We sauntered along its High Street, diving in and out of its many charity shops, when suddenly we came across Park Lane House, which had a display of vintage clothes in its entrance.

Stepping inside was equal to entering vintage heaven and, my heart beating faster and feeling quite lightheaded at the sight of it all, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Vintage and period clothes and accessories were jostling for space and shouting for attention. I could have easily spent our entire two week holiday in there and still not have seen it all.

This is Ashmans Antiques and Old Lace (for some reason my brain automatically inserts the word arsenic before old lace), which was established in 1975.

Presiding over this shop full of drool-worthy vintage is its owner Diane Ashman. This formidable lady, who is in her seventies, made us feel quite at home and encouraged us to take as many photographs as we liked.

Surely the pictures speak for themselves!

I was quite overwhelmed but obviously I couldn't leave without making a purchase, which I will show you at the end of this post.

After signing Diane's guest book full of raving commentaries, we bade our goodbyes, vowing to return next year.

After lunch, we briefly walked along a stretch of the Montgomery Canal, and visited Powysland Museum, housed in a restored warehouse on the canal wharf.

Apart from displays on the archaeology and social history of the old county of Montgomeryshire, there are displays on a wide variety of topics, including some covetable vintage memorabilia.

I'm sure you'll agree that the Bakelite television on the bottom right actually belongs in Dove Cottage!

Before returning to our car, we lingered over cappuccinos in the Royal Oak hotel, where we had another encounter with Diane, who'd walked in for a drink with a friend. I promised her I would send her an email after publishing my post, so that's what I will do in a minute.

So, that was our holiday! I can't believe it's all over ...

But before I go, here's the dress I bought at Ashmans! Rather lovely isn't it?

(*) relating to or characteristic of the English county of Salop, now known as Shropshire, or its inhabitants.

Linking my new-to-me maxi dress to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Escape into the shade

Languishing at the bottom of my mending basket was this gorgeous cotton piqué Summer dress.

It had been there for many months and, all but forgotten, it was starting to feel quite sorry for itself.

I'd found it on a rail at a flea market back in April: when I spied its blowsy green flowers and bottle green flower buttons, I couldn't hand over my € 2 fast enough. Needless to say that I was somewhat put out when I tried it on at home and found it to be a bit wide on top.

I pinned it this way and that but, without any proper sewing skills I was at a loss as how to make it fit. I wasn't ready to admit defeat, though, as it was really a rather lovely frock!

Enter the heatwave. In my struggle to find things to wear, I was suddenly reminded of the poor frock, which must have felt like a voodoo doll by now, what with all the pins. As I thought it would be perfect for the kind of weather we were having, I dug it out and put my thinking cap on. No mean feat, as I was feeling as if I was having one giant hot flush, which was rather counterproductive for my already muddled brain.

But, Eureka! What if I just moved the buttons a bit more to the left? As it's already closing asymmetrically, nobody would be any the wiser, surely!

After putting my plan into action, I am happy to say that my efforts have paid off.

By now it was Saturday (I'm lagging behind, so I'm talking about two and a half weeks ago here), and we had a brief respite from the heat. It was still warm enough to wear the dress but thankfully the temperature had dropped to below 30 degrees. Time to go for a little walk!

The park was looking decidedly past its best by now, its lawns all dried up, with hardly a blade of green to be found, and with most of the summer flowers in the herbaceous borders already on their last legs.

A gusty wind had brought some much needed oxygen in its wake, so I was feeling a bit giddy.

Walking into the direction of the little wooden bridge, the resident geese starting honking for a handout, so Jos went back to our car to get the leftovers from our picnic. They're quite greedy buggers!

Any excuse for a spot of charity shopping, especially as one of our favourite shops is only a two minute walk up the road from the park.

I pounced upon these navy and white shoes, as I used to own a pair of these before, found at a flea market back in May 2016 and worn until they fell apart.

Then there was a whole armful of bangles, and a huge wooden fish brooch.

Finally, these two new-to-me skirts, both already worn in the hot days which were still to come.

The green and blue one on the left looks like it was handmade, while the wide skirt in browns with a hint of orange on the right is by Roberto Collina and made in Italy. I'd never heard of the brand before, but some quick googling revealed that it must have retailed at well over € 100,-  Somebody must have had money to burn!

Here are some of the other outfits I wore to combat the heat.

Would you believe it was the first time I wore this gorgeous sleeveless blue and white maxi, which I picked up for a song at Think Twice about a year ago?  I'm wearing two of the bangles from our charity shopping trip on Saturday, while the belt was previously found at the same shop. Orange was my colour of choice for the rest of my accessories: a necklace which came from a defunct vintage shop, and a brooch and ring from various flea markets.

This 1980s does 1950s frock is a long time favourite and with its wide, swishy skirt, such a joy to wear, particularly on a hot Summer day. I'm wearing the same belt as above, and opted for turquoise and red accessories. You can catch a glimpse of my new red Gabor sandals, a recent sales bargain and super comfortable.

I've got some catching up to do, so fast forward to the next weekend. With the temperature cruising towards the low thirties again, we went in search of some shade.

I dressed in this sky blue cotton Seasalt frock, bought in Wales several years ago. Its sailing boat print never fails so cheer me up. Lovely as it is, it does have a downside, which prevents me from wearing it more often: it is an absolute nightmare to iron.

The celluloid seagull was one of the first brooches I bought from the Brooch Lady. It's quite delicate, so it only comes out to play once in a blue moon.

The straw bag, with its blue flower appliqué, came from Think Twice and was all mine for € 2.

The shade we were after was found in the municipal park of a nearby town. Landscaped between the wars, it's got several so-called French pools, which are connected by rills. It was quite disconcerting to see that the majority of them were completely dried up.

The resident waterfowl had congregated in the heart of the park, where some water was still to be found, even though here too it wasn't exactly plentiful.

We'd brought a picnic, which we ate sitting on a pyramid of tree stumps in the play area.

Sufficiently cooled down, we visited one or two charity shops on our way home.

We didn't expect much, but still came away with another head plaque for our wall of heads, two gravy boats from one of the Boch series we are collecting (priced at € 0,25 each!) and some more new-to-me tops, all costing € 3 or € 4.

Oh, and I might have bought this vintage dress as well!

My next post will be the last one in my series of travelogues. I hope you'll join me again then.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Four go to Attingham Park

We're well into August now, and it is beginning to feel a bit strange blogging about our holiday back in June. With the passing of time, those early Summer days have taken on that dreamlike quality, and looking back at these halcyon days feels like looking through a pair of inverted binoculars, shrinking them into rose-tinted, feel-good memories.

But I haven't finished my story yet, so once more I'm climbing into my Time Machine, this time setting the controls for the Wednesday of our second week.

The date had been pencilled into our diaries for over a week: a visit to another National Trust property, called Attingham Park, an 18th-century mansion and estate.

But I said date because that's exactly what it was! It wasn't just the two of us visiting Attingham Park, you know! Well, some of you know already, having read all about it in Vix's blog post back in June.

Indeed, our partners in crime for the day were these two lovely people: Vix and her partner, Jon!

But back to Attingham Park. It was just over half an hour's drive from where we were staying, but typically our journey got just that little bit longer as, in spite of our satnav's excellent instructions, we managed to drive past the entrance. This meant we had to keep on driving along the retaining wall of the estate until we finally arrived at a road leading off to the right, where we were able to turn around.

Then, there were some stubborn cows blocking our way in the middle of the driveway. These are part of the herd of heritage and rare breed cattle who graze the lawns of Attingham Park, and who belong to the tenant farmer of the estate's home farm.

Having finally made it to the car park, we waited at its entrance until a couple of minutes later Vix and Jon's van came trundling along.

As Vix had already blogged about the estate, which she visited on her birthday last year, we were kind of expecting to get a guided tour, but they both kept insisting that this was their first visit until they saw the gorgeous Grade II listed Regency bee house (top right).

That settled, we set off for a walk through the grounds, starting with the beautiful Georgian walled gardens which, apart from extensive kitchen gardens with original glasshouses, contain colourfully planted borders, the ones lining the main path hedged with the purplest of lavenders.

The walled gardens were established in 1780 to provide food for the estate and, in fact, the gardens as well as the apple orchard containing 160 trees and over 37 varieties of apple, still produce flowers for the mansion, as well as the fruit and vegetables used in the café and tearoom. You can even buy some of the freshly harvested produce in the Stables Shop.

Now, you are probably wondering what we're all staring at here? It's something that's making us smile, that's for sure!

Well, no longer keeping you in suspense, it's a tree sculpture in the orchard, carved from a tree stump and possibly representing James and the Giant Peach.

Surrounded by acres of parkland, there’s plenty of space to stretch your legs, as there are miles of walks around the estate.

The landscape you see at Attingham today was designed by Humphry Repton, the great landscape designer of the late 1700s and early 1800s, who was commissioned by Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick, in 1797 to work on proposals for his land at Attingham.

We decided on a leisurely walk around the estate, which at first took us along a path through the woodland, the quiet only pierced by the non-stop chattering of us girls, the boys following quite a few paces behind us!

Coming out of the woodland, an unusual rope bridge awaited us. This took us over the river Tern and to the entrance of the Deer Park.

Fallow deer roam the deer park and have been doing so for over 200 years, but we didn't spot any.

But wait: both Jon and Jos thought they detected some movement in the far distance among the ferns and bracken on our left: one of the deer raising its head, perhaps. Having no binoculars on us, it was hard to be sure.

Now and then, we were treated with a tantalizing glimpse of the house on our right.

The many ponds are a haven for wildlife of all sorts, from ducks, swans and otters to dragonflies, at the same time serving as watering holes for the freely roaming herd of cows.

Eventually we ended up crossing a lovely stone bridge with a weir while we were heading back towards the mansion for a spot of lunch.

Afterwards, we made our way to the mansion to explore its three floors at our own pace.

Only five generations of the Berwick family lived at Attingham, but they left an impressive and enduring legacy of love and neglect, as their fortunes rose and fell.

The mansion was built in 1782–85 by Noel Hill, 1st Baron Berwick, and designed by architect George Steuart. Inside, the mansion is divided into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ sides, with rooms decorated accordingly in different styles.

The elegant Georgian drawing room is furnished with 18th century Italian furniture, some of which is said to have belonged to Napoleon's sister (above, bottom right).

The Boudoir, decorated with gilded cupids and other symbols of love, was created for the 1st Lady Berwick, as her own intimate space in the feminine wing of Attingham (above, top left and below, bottom left).

In some of the rooms, several items of vintage clothing were on display; These were of course greatly admired by the girls! I could definitely see myself in the blue 1960s number on the bottom right.

The 2nd Lord Berwick and his wife were big spenders, so much so that two bankruptcy auctions had to be held to clear their debt. Part of their extravagance was the picture gallery, a flamboyant room designed by John Nash, with its glass roof, which apparently is always leaking.

A magnificent circular staircase off the picture gallery, also designed by John Nash, leads to the upper floors of the mansion, the huge mirror on the landing inviting some creative photography on Jos's part. Such a pity Vix had just stepped out of the frame, as we would all have been in the photo on the top left. 

The rooms on the first floor are left unfurnished. In fact, they are still being renovated: a slow and painstaking process which, as part of the Attingham Re-discovered project began in 2006, focuses on carrying out conservation-in-action, in full view of the public, rather than behind closed doors. Some of the rooms have exhibits about the history of the family or offer glimpses into the archives.

Our tour of the house completed, we were in need of some refreshments, after which, alas, it was time to say goodbye.

But not before Jon had persuaded one of the National Trust staff to take a photo of all four of us together. I'm sure Vix won't mind me pinching that photo from her blog ...

But the day wasn't over for us yet! We were all set for the drive back to our cottage and started following our satnav's instructions, even though we were a bit mystified that it made us drive in the opposite direction. It was only when we had literally driven around the block that we realized we'd forgotten to enter our destination, so it was trying to take us back to Attingham Park!

We stopped in a lay-by, rectified our mistake, and drove on, when suddenly we passed Wroxeter Roman City on our right.  It would have been silly not to stop for a visit, so we did.

Once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, today the most impressive features of its fascinating ruins are the 2nd century municipal baths and the remains of the huge wall dividing them from the exercise hall in the heart of the city. 

Over the road, which is the final stretch of Watling Street Roman road, is the new Roman Town House, constructed as part of Channel 4’s "Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day".

What better place for a close-up of my frock? This was the maxi I'd picked up in a charity shop two days before. I was happy to find it, as I hadn't packed nearly enough summer frocks, and was running out of things to wear. Who'd have thought we would have such marvellous weather, anyway?

I'm taking my maxi dress to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!