Sunday 30 July 2023

July never seemed so strange

While I've still got a couple of installments of this year's Shropshire travelogue up my sleeve. I felt it was time for another break and a catch-up on what the month of July had in store. After all, we've almost reached the end of the month by now, and I've got a backlog of photos reaching all the way back to its first week. It's been a strange month for me, to say the least, filled with lots of work - some of which involved the pleasurable yet exhausting task of preparing for and participating in this year's flea market - and little play. 

Apart from that, the weekends have been either too hot or too wet to go for any walks, so that unfortunately I can't share any adventures in that direction with you!

Luckily, I've been wearing clothes, and we've even made the effort to photograph some of my lovingly created outfits. For a start, there are no less than five of them for you to enjoy in this post ...

Initially, grey skies, a blustery wind and the odd shower were our lot in the first week of July, with the mercury not climbing higher than the low 20s. Thursday promised to be another one of those days, but eventually 24°C was reached, which made it a tiny bit too warm for the vintage Diolen dress I'd selected from my wardrobe that morning. The nylons I'd started the day with were therefore soon removed to prevent overheating!

The dress was an old Think Twice find, of course. I just love its cheerful blue and yellow pattern, its notched collar and its neat tie bow! 

The belt used to be my Mum's, while both the white early plastic moulded flower brooch and the yellow perspex ring were flea market finds. My yellow beaded necklace came from Belgian haberdashery and accessories chain Veritas.

Speaking of the latter, I'd been swooning over the orange necklace on the top left for months but, cheapskate that I am, I simply couldn't justify its € 24,99 price tag. As the week marked the start of the Summer sales here in Belgium, I thought I'd nip into the shop to see if it had been reduced. I'd told myself I'd be happy with 50% off, so when I saw its sales price of € 4 I couldn't be happier. What's more, I bought the necklace on the bottom right, the bangles and the suede belts with a hefty reduction as well. 

By Friday, the temperature was on its way to 30°C. I counted my lucky stars that I was able to take the day off before my colleague's three-week holiday would put a temporary stop to all that.

In spite of the high temperatures, I was determined to tick a couple of domestic tasks off the list so, helped by Jos, I made a start with deep cleaning the bathroom and kitchen and chasing away the colony of dust bunnies who had taken up residence there during our holiday.

Afterwards, I changed into this breezy skirt and top combo. The eagle-eyed might notice that I was already wearing one of my sales bargain necklaces!

The tiered cotton skirt was a sales bargain too, picked up in C&A last Summer. The top is charity shopped King Louie. In fact, apart from the stretchy belt - a naughty retail buy - the rest of my accessories, and even my red and orange sandals, were charity shopped as well.

The garden, meanwhile, is well on its way to becoming an impenetrable jungle, but at least the Hydrangeas were still looking as fresh as the proverbial daisy that weekend.

The low 30s were easily reached on Saturday, the perfect weather for something sleeveless and breezy.

My vintage cotton piqué dress with its moulded flower buttons was a € 2 flea market find back in April 2018. Sadly, it turned out to be a bit roomy for me, so it was gathering dust until, many months later, I had the brainwave of using my limited sewing skills and move the already asymmetrically closing buttons a bit.

When Jos saw my outfit, he thought the belt belonged to the dress, but it doesn't: it just happens to be a perfect match. The pink butterfly brooch and plastic ring were both found on the high street, while the beaded necklace came from a long-gone vintage shop. The black sandals were € 4 Clarks from a charity shop many years ago. 

The moth must have been wooing my butterfly brooch, as it kept looking in through the kitchen window, where it obligingly posed for me.

Most of the day was taken up with dragging boxes full of clothes from the back of the built-in cupboard in our bedroom, going through them with a fine comb and selecting items to sell at my flea market stall. After giving some of the lucky few a quick once-over with the iron, here's my carefully curated rail of dresses, skirts and blouses. 

These, by the way, were all snapped up at charity shops or in the Think Twice sales and the majority has spent at least some time in my wardrobe before falling out of favour.

There was a slight drop in temperature on Sunday, but in spite of the sun's absence, it was still warm and humid at 27°C, which culminated in a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

Again, cotton to the rescue with this button through polka dot skirt and patterned sleeveless top, both of which were charity shop finds. The top with its black ribbon trim followed me home from Shrewsbury in 2019.

Apart from my turquoise chunky plastic ring, everything was found second-hand. The brooch was part of a haul from a Carmarthen antiques shop in 2017.

My journal insists that I did some more flea market prep, washed my hair and finished writing a blog post. I also finished by latest read, Lucinda Riley's The Angel Tree which, to be honest, I wasn't completely enamoured with.

That reminds me that I haven't shared the books I've been reading in a long time, so here's a little round-up. 

Although no easy reads, both William Boyd's Sweet Caress and John Boyne's The Heart's Invisible Furies were pretty memorable.

Jonathan Coe's Middle England was my holiday read. 

I'd just finished the John Boyne and was looking at some likely candidates to take with me. As I was idly paging through the book, the names of the Shropshire towns of Bridgnorth, Much Wenlock and Shrewsbury leapt out at me, which instantly cinched the deal. 

It's the third novel in a trilogy, following The Rotters' Club (2001) and The Closed Circle (2004), both of which I have read and loved. Published in 2018, it has been heralded as a "Brexit comedy": the novel explores the experiences of the characters from the earlier novels against the backdrop of the major events taking place before, during and after the Brexit referendum. An interesting read but definitely not his best in my opinion. That said, I wasn't too keen of its predecessor, Number 11 (2015) either.

Moving swiftly into the month's second week now, which started with a continuation of the weekend's high temperatures.

My colleague was on holiday now, so that I was once again on my own. On top of that, Jos and I had decided that, although he would still be driving me into Antwerp in the morning, I would be taking the tram part of the way home. Well, what can I say but that we'd picked the wrong moment and that the tram to my particular destination wasn't running on Monday. As a result, I arrived home late and terribly sweaty in spite of my sleeveless cotton frock.

The cotton shirt dress with its funky floral pattern was a Think Twice sales bargain back in June 2017. Apart from its obvious attraction, there was a label announcing the fact that its previous owner was an Ann(e) too, so of course it had to come home with me!

It's one of my favourite Summer frocks and, looking back at its previous outings, it seems I always wear it with the same orange and pink accessories. 

In order not to bore you to death, I'll be sharing more of that week's outfits with you in a later post.

However, I couldn't possible not show you my latest lunch break finds. The green squiggly striped Rayon one and the white Diolen one with its mixed floral and geometrical pattern were found at two different Think Twice shops on two consecutive days.

Melting Pot, a vintage-per-kilo shop, is always worth a visit even if I often come away empty-handed. No such thing that day, as I instantly pounced on the groovy floral maxi dress by the French Virginie label. You'll be seeing me wear this one very soon!

But for now, it's goodbye from me ... and goodbye from her! After six months, Bess has discovered the little hidey-hole at the bottom of her beloved scratch post. Just look at that cheeky face!

Wednesday 26 July 2023

To the Marches

A mixture of sunny spells and clouds was on the menu on Sunday the 18th of June, and although the temperature would only climb to a moderate 23°C, it felt humid and sticky, as if rain was imminent. 

 Fortunately, the latter only materialized when we were back at the cottage, as obviously we had plans.

Last year, we spent the in-between Sunday in Ludlow, a gem of a town just over half an hour from the cowshed. As we'd had such a lovely day back then, we decided to repeat the experience, which had included a rummage in the handful of charity shops which were open on a Sunday, a picnic and a walk.

So, after a pleasurable drive through the hilly South Shropshire landscape, we grabbed what was possibly the last parking spot in the edge of town Upper Galdeford car park. From here, a short walk brought us to the Bull Ring, where the stunning timber-framed Feathers Hotel (above), whose origins go back to 1619, never fails to halt us in our tracks.

Reacquainting ourselves with the town, which we've visited many times before, we walked into the direction of Castle Square, dashing in and out of any charity shops which had opened their doors. Although we left most of them empty handed, Jos managed to find this flashy pair of mirrored clip-on sunglasses in the local Oxfam shop.

Instead of bringing a picnic, we had planned to grab a bite to eat, but the places which piqued our interest were either closed or full, so that in the end we gave up and bought sandwiches from the local Spar on Castle Square and found us a bench backed by the castle walls.

We briefly toyed with the idea of visiting Ludlow Castle, but decided against it and just walked around the perimeter of which might be one of the finest medieval ruins in England, built by the Normans in the 11th Century to repel a Welsh invasion. After all, we're never far from the Welsh border here!


Hardly a day goes by when there isn't a market of some kind taking place on Castle Square. We were in luck as the Antiques and Collectors fair going on that day was obviously right up our street. It's on every 1st and 3rd Sunday, should you be interested.

We happily browsed the many stalls full of treasure, my first buys being the brooches made from old pottery shards on the bottom left. And I couldn't possibly walk past a display of vintage brooches on another stall, from which I selected the ones on the top right. My final purchase was the mystery object on the bottom right, which is a Bakelite darning mushroom!

On our way back, we passed Nina & Co., a collective shop in Church Street offering vintage fashion and decorative antiques. Here, I showed much restraint, until I was wowed by the Welsh tapestry handbag on the top left. 

The weather on Monday the 19th of June initially looked like a repeat of Sunday's, but turned out to have more sunny spells as well as a couple of showers in store for us. It was only a measly 17°C when we stepped out of the cowshed, so I went back inside to don a pair of tights. However, the mercury would eventually climb to 22°C, which at one point made me regret my decision.

We were off to Wales once more, to visit our 5th National Trust property, described by them as a "magnificent medieval fortress of the Welsh Marches". They certainly weren't wrong!

Completed by Marcher Lord Roger Mortimer in 1310, Chirk Castle near Wrexham, about an hour's drive from our cottage, is the last Welsh castle from the reign of Edward I still inhabited today.

Entrance is via Home Farm, where we sat out in the courtyard with a drink (mine a sparkly elderflower) to get our bearings. From here, the castle can be reached by walking 200 meters up a steep hill, the pathway taking you up through a wooded area. The less nimble can take a mini shuttlebus which runs up and down throughout the day.

On our way up, we made a short diversion to the recently established kitchen garden, which has a small orchard with picnic benches and vegetable plots with a range of vegetables in season that are sold through the shop.

The exact function of the semi-ruined hexagonal tower half-concealed behind trees is unknown but the most likely explanation is that it once served as a dovecote, the date of construction predating the mid-18th century.

Some potted history of the castle while we continue on our way! 

Started in the late 13th century, Chirk Castle was never planned as a family home. Instead, it was one of several medieval Marcher fortresses along the Welsh-English border, built to keep the Welsh under English rule. 

In 1282, when the English King Edward I defeated the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, he established the new Marcher Lordship of Chirklands. The Chirklands were granted to Roger Mortimer in recognition of his service in King Edward's wars against the Welsh and the Scottish, after which he built Chirk Castle in the late 13th century.

The castle then regularly changed hands between some of the most important men of the ages, usually granted to them in recognition of service and taken away again in disgrace. 

Sir Thomas Myddelton I was born in 1550, son of the governor of Denbigh Castle. With little hope of inheriting his father's position he left to make his fortune in London, which he did with remarkable success. In 1595 Sir Thomas bought Chirk Castle for £5000 with the intention of turning it into his family seat. In 1612, the castle passed to his son Sir Thomas Myddelton II.

In 1910 Thomas (Tommy) Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden, fell in love with Chirk Castle, and negotiated a lease with the Myddelton Family, which continued until 1946. In 1946 Tommy left Chirk Castle and retired to his Scottish estates, dying that same year.

Chirk Castle has been owned and managed by the National Trust since 1981.

Almost there now! As it was past midday by now, we found a shady bench at the back of the castle to have our picnic of sandwiches loaded with big chunks of vintage Cheddar!

The final stretch of the uphill path circles the castle until the entrance is reached.  Here, a 17th-century stone bridge and archway lead you into a lovely courtyard, where an open door on the right-hand side beckons to explore the castle's interior. 

After leaving our walking sticks behind in the care of a volunteer - and almost forgetting to pick them up again later - we entered the ground floor Cromwell Hall, formerly the Servants' Hall.

Cromwell Hall, created in the 1840s by A.W.N. Pugin, with its curious mix of the medieval and the classical, doesn't fail to impress. 

The striking piece of folk art on the bottom left shows a view of Chirk Castle bordered with oak leaves. Dating from 1858, it was presented to the Myddelton family by William Roberts, the porter at Ruthin Castle, which was another family property. It was made by inlaying ebonised oak with delicate slivers of bone.

Contrasting with Pugin's neo-Gothic fantasy, the elegant neoclassical Grand Staircase was constructed in 1777-8 by Joseph Turner.

On the landing is an eight-foot elm and yew section of a pipe designed to carry London's first clean water supply completed in 1613 by the New River Company, founded by Sir Hugh Myddelton.

The State Rooms - Dining Room, Saloon and Drawing Room - were also created in a neoclassical design in the 1770s, but later Gothicised in the 1840’s, only to be returned to their classical elegance from the 1930s onwards by Tommy Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden.

He and his wife Margherita, a fabulous party organiser and soprano singer, hosted glittering house parties in the 1930s, with Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, Augustus John and a stream of musicians and actors on their guest lists. Today, the table is set out as if to receive such luminous guests, with 18th century Bohemian glasses and a fine mid-19th-century dinner service from Strasbourg.

The Saloon (above, top left and right, and bottom left) is another curious mixture of Turner's neoclassical style and Pugin's neo-Gothic. Turner's ceiling features scenes from Greek mythology, while the deep blue background and gilding were added by Pugin. 

On the bottom right is a glimpse of the Drawing Room which has similarly stunning blue and gold ceilings partnered with a sparkling chandelier. In a watercolour painting of the Drawing Room from 1862, the walls were covered with a red wall covering rather than the subdued wall paper that currently hangs in the room, which makes it somewhat plain when compared to the Saloon next door.

The imposing 30-metre Long Gallery fills the whole length of the East Range of the castle. 

One of its many treasures is the Kings Cabinet, traditionally said to have been given by Charles II to Sir Thomas Myddelton II in 1661, in thanks for his role in the Restoration of the monarchy. 

The 17th-century Dutch cabinet is made of ebony with tortoiseshell inlays and internal silver mounts with oil paintings on copper showing scenes of the life of Christ, the latter made in the Antwerp studio of Frans Francken the Younger.

The heavens, which had been darkening and threatening rain, had opened and dropped their liquid load while we were exploring the castle. Thankfully, it turned out to be only a short-lived shower and patches of blue had started to appear even before we'd made our way back outside. As exploring the gardens, and making our way towards the Hercules sculpture, which you might just be able to make out between the trees on top of the grassy incline (above, top left) we breathed sighs of relief.

But first we had a peek inside the Servants' Hall, and stopped for a round of cappuccinos and shortbread in the café located in the castle's historic kitchens on the other side of the courtyard.

One of the main attractions of Chirk castle are its award-winning gardens complete with clipped yew trees, rock garden, terrace, rose garden, pond and topiary, with  stunning views over the Cheshire and Shropshire plains. 

The gardens date back to 1657 but the view seen today is more reflective of the 18th Century when the garden and parkland was landscaped by William Emes.

In the 19th Century yew topiary, hedges and wrought iron gates were introduced, and then, under the guidance of Lord Howard de Walden in the early twentieth century, the celebrated gardener Norah Lindsay created a magnificent herbaceous border on the Upper Lawn.

Dotted around the formal gardens, there are several bronze nymph statues sculpted in the early 20th Century by Andrea Carlo Lucchesi.

Soon more clouds appeared and rain seemed once again imminent. But then we spotted what looked like the perfect shelter halfway across the lawns!

Hawk House was built in 1854 to an E.W. Pugin design. Originally a conservatory, Lord Howard de Walden added a thatched roof, to house birds of prey.

E.W. Pugin, by the way, is the architect son of A.W.N. Pugin who was responsible for Cromwell Hall. 
Pugin Jr. designed countless of churches and cathedrals, primarily in the British Isles. However, commissions for his exemplary work were also received from countries throughout Western Europe, Scandinavia and as far away as North America. We visited one of his works in Belgium, the Castle of Loppem, back in 2021 (see here).

We waited out another short-lived shower here, then proceeded towards the Farnese Hercules made in the workshop of John Nost (actually Jan Van Nost, as he was Flemish, born in Mechelen in 1655),  commissioned in June 1720. 

A striking lead figure set on a sandstone pedestal, 1.81 meters high, naked and leaning on his club draped in lion skin, he now looks out east towards Chirk village.

Hercules, however, is currently in his third location within the gardens. First of all, he was placed, a companion to another sculpture of the god Mars, at the entrance to the Castle itself. 

As part of William Emes’ work on the landscapes at Chirk, Hercules was removed from his original location to a prominent spur within the woodland of the estate. The fate of his companion statue is unknown, but overtime Hercules got "lost" in the woods, only to be rediscovered in 1983. He was installed in his present location in 1987, as an integral part of the eastern vistas to and from the castle and the gardens. 

We bade goodbye to Hercules, made our way back down the slope towards the garden and took the path leading us back to Home Farm. 

Purchases were made in the second-hand bookshop, while a browse in the shop in search of some thank-you presents for our loyal cat sitters, also yielded the felted daffodil and poppy brooches for my collection.

And with that, we've come to the end of another day. Please do tune in again for the next installment, in which we exchange country for town again, in a couple of days.

Thursday 20 July 2023

On the edge

After a brief interruption to catch up on life back on the hamster wheel, it's high time I continued with my Shropshire travelogue. As we weren't even a week in at the end of episode # 3, I'll have to get my skates on, I suppose. A quick glance at the calendar tells me that in just over six weeks' time we'll be packing our bags again for our yearly sojourn in Belgium's west country. So near, and yet so far away ...

So, let's get cracking with the 4th installment, shall we?

It was Friday the 16th of June, and it promised to be another scorcher, with forecasted highs of  26°C. Thursday's blogger meet-up at Attingham Park had sapped our energy somewhat, so we slept just that little bit longer, finally managing to drag ourselves out of the four-poster just before the clock struck half past eight.

Due to the late start, we decided to postpone our original plans to visit the Rock Houses at Kinver Edge, a National Trust managed site which had been on our list for many years.  

Instead, we thought we'd drive over to one of our favourite Shropshire towns and do nothing more strenuous than go for a stroll and a mooch around the charity shops.

En route, we stopped at the top of the lane leading away from our little valley to take a photo. The cowshed is part of the huddle of mostly farm buildings nestled below the elongated plateau known as the Long Mynd.

The Shropshire town we were honouring with a visit was Bridgnorth, a 50 minute or so drive from our valley. This delightful town of two halves, with High Town perching on a sandstone cliff overlooking the Severn and Low Town along the river's banks, had been on our itinerary during all three of our previous Shropshire holidays as well.

We decided to start our visit in Low Town with a treasure hunt and a spot of lunch at Old Mill Antiques. We stumbled upon it by chance back in 2018, when we'd whizzed down from High to Low Town on the Cliff Railway. Sadly, any whizzing up or down the famous funicular would have been out of the question now, but more about this later. 

Instead, we made our way there by car, our Satnav declaring we had arrived when we were in the middle of negotiating a roundabout. There was nothing for it but to drive on and away from the town until we were able to park, have a look at Google maps, and drive back the way we'd come. Well, what can I say other than that we hadn't reached our holiday's quota of getting lost yet ... 

Having finally made it to the antiques centre, we oohed, aahed and meh'd over the stock crammed into every available nook and cranny, making only one purchase - the figurine on the top left - after which we had lunch in the on-site Alice in Wonderland themed café.

Hunger pangs sated, we hopped back into our car and continued to High Town. The weather had become sticky and stifling by then, so that even a rummage in the charity shops lining the town's High Street proved to be a bit of an effort. Pickings were therefore very slim: I only found a pair of chunky plastic rings, in orange and purple.

One of the highlights of every visit to Bridgnorth is strolling along Castle Walk, which runs from the Cliff Railway's Top Station, past St. Mary's church and onto the landscaped Castle Grounds, and offering breath-taking views across the Severn Valley.

Sadly, however, most of Castle Walk has been closed off. Bridgnorth Cliff Railway itself was closed back at the end of December until further notice pending the rebuilding of the Castle Walk retaining wall. Although the part of the wall nearest to the Cliff Railway was completed by June, the scaffolding for the next section of wall needed to be supported from the tracks for safety reasons. See this photo courtesy of the Cliff Railway's website. Oh well, next year, perhaps?

We were only able to access the stretch of Castle Walk near Castle Grounds, where the Castle Keep is all that remains of the once vast Norman castle. As a result of a botched attempt to blow up the building by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, the Castle Keep now leans at a precarious 15-degree angle, which is three times greater than the Tower of Pisa!

I was very excited to finally become a member of the Bandstand Appreciation Society. Sadly, I found out that this is a replacement of the original Victorian one, which was taken down in 1940 so that its metal parts could be melted down for the war effort.

The war memorial is listed Grade II and was designed by Captain Adrian Jones and erected in 1920. The life-size bronze soldier is dressed in the uniform of the Shropshire Light Infantry and is shown in the act of throwing a grenade.

While Jos took a breather on a bench, I explored the garden, running up to the railing overlooking the Severn Valley Railway station when one of the steam-hauled trains whistled its imminent arrival . A ride on this award-winning heritage railway is yet another thing we'll have to come back for.

Then we returned to the car park, crossing the road to Sainsbury's for a food shop before returning home. Well, our temporary one anyway.

Saturday the 17th of June dawned grey and drizzly, which was a bit of a turn-up for the books. But our weather app said it wouldn't last and that the mercury would climb to 23°C once the clouds had lifted.

Our destination for the day was the one we'd postponed on Friday, the Rock Houses at Kinver Edge. As Claire and Gareth only live about 15 minutes away, we'd agreed to meet up with them.

I'm pleased to report that for once that pesky weather app got it right as, apart from a brief and brisk shower just minutes after we'd driven off, it would be dry and fairly warm for the rest of the day.

Our journey once again took us into the direction of Bridgnorth, before proceeding towards and through rural Staffordshire. After passing through Kinver, we spotted a sign directing us to the Rock Houses, so we turned right although our Satnav kept insisting on a left turn, and parked in the layby car park just minutes before Claire and Gareth's red beetle rounded the corner.

Living so close by, they know the area well, and often walk on Kinver Edge, a 250-million-year-old sandstone escarpment with sweeping views over Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire from the ramparts of an imposing Iron Age Hill Fort.  Additionally, Kinver Edge has a network of cavernous houses carved into its three rocks. 

When Claire and Gareth offered to take us on a walk encompassing the legendary Nanny's Rock, we jumped at the chance. As I'd been reading up on the area, I'd come across quite a few references to these atmospheric caves, which apparently were poorly signposted and thus not straightforward to find.

Nanny’s Rock is an unrestored rock house carved into the sandstone. It used to be called "Meg-o-Fox-Hole" and it is thought that a lady called ‘Margaret of the Fox earth’ used to dwell here until her death in 1617. But who was she? Legend has it that she was a reclusive woman who could cure your ailments and tell your fortune and might therefore have been considered a witch. Later occupants were Sarah Evans (1820) and Nancy Evans (1830), the latter perhaps having been responsible for the name Nanny's Rock.

Whatever the case, I was enchanted at first glance. When I posted the above photo on Instagram, Claire commented that it looked like a pair of fearsome eyes emerging from the ground ... Well, it does, doesn't it?

It was definitely worth the scramble to get up into the cave where the layers of rich red sandstone were etched and scoured with decades if not centuries old graffiti, among them the creepy Scream mask on the top left.

I love the photo Claire took of Jos and me on the foxglove lined path leading up to the rock.

The National Trust was given 198 acres of Kinver Edge in 1917 in memory of Thomas Grosvenor Lee, a Birmingham solicitor born in Kinver. Today they care for close to 600 acres of this special landscape.

A brass relief map at the north end, presented by the local Rotary Club in 1990, points to a selection of the world's major capitals, in addition to less distant landmarks. The Malvern Hills, 30 miles (48km) to the south, and the Long Mynd, the same distance to the west, are visible on a clear day and, at times, it may be possible to see the Black Mountains, over 45 miles (72km) away. 

But for all its breathtaking views, the main interest on Kinver Edge lies below the summit, in small houses carved into the rock.

After having safely deposited us back on the car park, Claire and Gareth bade us goodbye and, as it was well after 1 pm by now, we ravenously devoured the sandwiches we'd brought for our picnic.

Then, a short walk to the east of the car park took us to the National Trust managed dwellings at Holy Austin Rock. Legend has it that it was named after a hermit who lived near the site. 

Kinver Edge was home to England’s last troglodytes or cave dwellers. In fact, people lived here until they were persuaded to swap their caves for local council housing in the mid-1950s, leaving a 400-year legacy behind.

They led comparatively comfortable lives, away from society and surrounded by nature: their water came from the deepest private well in Britain and the easy-to-carve sandstone made house renovations simple: inside space was determined by how much sandstone could be dug out. Rooms could therefore be larger and ceilings higher than in the cottages and back-to-backs of towns.

The earliest record of people living here is in 1777 when Joseph Heely took refuge from a storm and was given shelter by a "clean and decent family". 

By 1860, 44 people were living across 11 houses at Holy Austin. Word got out about this Black Country beauty spot, and from 1901 a new light railway – Britain’s first cross-country tramway – ushered visitors into an area that was being trumpeted as the “Switzerland of the Midlands”. The inhabitants served teas from their rock homes to visitors. A café continued here until 1967, long after the last occupants had moved out. This legacy continues today – the upper level of houses have been restored as a tea-room.

It was in the 1980s that plans were drawn up to renovate the houses to their original state, a task achieved with the help of postcards from 100 years earlier. 

The rebuilding was completed in 1993 and the site was again occupied, this time by a National Trust custodian. While this house is private, the interiors of the lower rock houses can be visited daily during the Summer months and on weekends and selected days off-season.

Visitors may be surprised at just how cosy the houses feel. The combination of thick sandstone and fireplaces kept them warm in winter and cool in summer, while in many places interior walls were plastered and whitewashed. 

Today, Holy Austin Rock has also been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its sandstone, which was formed from solidified sand dunes in the Permian era, 250 million years ago.

We ended our visit with a welcome drink in the tearoom, which mainly has outside seating offering extensive views over Kinver and beyond. While Jos found us a suitable table, I joined the queue leading into the tiny serving premises. This being a Saturday afternoon, it was understandably doing a brisk trade.

On the way back to the cowshed, we stopped at the 12th Century St. Mary the Virgin church in Enville. Well, we just had to, hadn't we, as there was a sign telling us to slow down!

Enville, and the Enville Estate in particular, is one of Claire's favourite places to walk, and she has, in fact, blogged about this particular church here.

It totally slipped my mind to seek out the three graves belonging to the ancient order of The Knights Templar which she mentions in her post, so that's yet another reason to return to this area which has truly captured our hearts.

I did manage to capture the alabaster tomb belonging to Thomas Grey and his wife, Anne, who died in 1559, and the organ which came from St Leonard's church, Bridgnorth and was given to the church in the 1970s.

The interior was in semi-darkness until the lights were switched on by a man in shorts and t-shirt, who told us that, in spite of the lack of dog collar, he was actually the vicar. He was quite chuffed when we told him we were from Belgium, and pointed out some of the church's highlights, including four 15th Century misericords or mercy seats.

Having said our goodbyes to the vicar, we continued our journey back to Shropshire, whose boundaries we had left a couple of times already by now.  

Would we cross the border into other counties and countries again in the week to come? You will find out if you join me again for the next episodes of my travelogue!