Day 8 – Birmingham

Just arrived at Birmingham Hilton Hotel for the Starfury Highlanders 4 convention. I think I’m the only Kiwi/Aussie rep so far.

Awoke this morning in Ludlow to a glistening morning after heavy rain.

We toasted, tea-d, showered and headed off for Birmingham mid-morning. At one point passed this splendid vista of three counties:

Raining on and off in Birmingham but as we are ensconced in the hotel it won’t matter.

Met up with lots of new faces, and many familiar ones from past visits. The Outlandish UK ones and I enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea and I have returned to await the evening programme.

More tomorrow!

Day 7 – last day at Ludlow

A cup of tea in the garden was how I started and ended this last full day here. A neighbour’s homing pigeon’s do regular circuits of the row of houses which made for an interesting difference to my usual start.

These gardens are delightful and very jigsaw in how they fit together. The one directly down from my window is the neighbour’s on the right. A wee path leads down to where this house’s one opens up. The neighbour on left walks down a narrow channel to the back where her portion opens up behind the successive neighbour’s garden. It gives an impression of interlocked community and other gardens overlap into each other.

Glyn and I set off to go to Hereford, our goal the Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the known world, printed on vellum and housed at Hereford Cathedral.

The cathedral was huge – always larger than anticipated when viewed from inside looking up. Lots of sleeping stone effigies in various states of recline. One fine marble example had the indignity of a pile of plastic folding chairs and noticeboard stacked up against his left leg. His hands were lovely:

The stained glass windows were from many periods, it seemed.

And these gates:

Here’s a bird’s eye view:

And on to the real reason we’d come- the Mappa Mundi!

  • You can just make out England in bottom left corner. I searched in vain for New Zealand.

The real map – when we came to it – was beautiful! In the centre is Jerusalem, at the top is heaven, and the known world scattered around the edges. It was kept behind wooden doors in a frame for centuries. A sort of spiritual guide of the world.

Just past this you walk through doors into an ancient chained library. THIS was how books were studied and kept in very early times. This library, including the shelving, was original and contained an amazing range of ancient books.

Out in the light again, Glyn and I had tea (and I had cake) and recovered. Then we set off to visit her daughter’s family. They live not far away in a rambling farmhouse, with chickens, dogs, caravans and a thriving vegie garden. Son-in-law is making a caravan work studio for his wife to make her amazing range of linen apron and apron dresses from. The two grandson’s have a gloriously varied garden and environ to play in.

It was the closest to The Darling Buds of May I have yet seen.

Onwards we went to see the oldest site in Herefordshire: the Neolithic Arthur’s Stone. This is an ancient burial mound of five thousand years ago!!! Still barely excavated!

The view of the valley rolling away in a patchwork haze from our vantage point was glorious.

Back to the narrow leafy lanes and home:

A brief rest upstairs and then four of us had a delicious salad and sea bass al fresco dinner outside. Grandson no. 1 who is 14 is staying and it was good to meet him today as well.

Topping dinner off was blackberry crumble made by Chris out of the fruit dangling along the fence beside us. Perfick!

Day 6 – Ludlow (and Hereford)

This is the beautifully crafted gate (made by Chris) at the Georgian townhouse I am staying at this week. If you walk through the garden little evidences of his artisan smithying are evident.

My favourite place to sit – and Glyn’s- is the table in the back garden surrounded by the vibrant welter of flowers, birds and bees. Blackberry vines have provided enough fruit for a pie tomorrow night, sweetpeas are just coming into flower, and fat bees are pushing around the flowerheads in busy crowds.

When I exclaimed over the fine metalwork, Chris presented me with two different items to keep:

And something called a Solar Eye which when placed correctly on windowsill can tell you when the middle of the day is.

We took advantage of the fine weather to wash and hang out clothes. Had coffee and croissants in garden. Then Glyn and I set off to have a quick look at Ludlow town.

I purchased some Italian linen tops from a street vendor, sampled cheese, admired the abundant summer fruits, and revelled in the quirky architecture.

Satisfied with our purchases we drove off towards Hereford to visit Angela Sasso, a fellow Outlander fan. (30 mins away.)

Here is a panorama of Ludlow as we left it:

Upon arriving at this country house, we saw another woman being dropped off by taxi, and were pleased to see another fellow Outlander coming for lunch too. Four nations were represented: Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA.

Angela is a great cook, and plied us all afternoon with a range of courses, starting with a glass of soda/juice out in the garden, then inside (when a shower came over) a avocado and shrimp cocktail. Then a salmon surrounded with many accompaniments – boiled potatoes, beans, olives, roast peppers, tomatoes etc. But wait, there’s more! A cheese board next of local cheeses and pears/celery/crackers. Finally THE most delicious lemon slice and cream. All washed down with copious amounts of rosé.

The conversation was lively and bounced around many topics ending with many recommendations for books to read that I have made careful note of.

It was particularly nice for me to meet Julie, an Australian single who is travelling solo to many different countries for extended periods of time and hear her stories.

Finally, sated, Glyn and I returned to Ludlow and a relaxing evening with Chris and Bree, sipping tea in the evening light in garden then watching a little television.

Day 5 – Malvern to Ludlow via Ledbury

I am reminded of The Darling Buds of May (an excellent English tv series from the 80’s) as I drive around the countryside here in the last throes of summer. When I waved goodbye to my charming host in Malvern this morning a light rain was falling.

Having some time before I needed to return the car I drove through the Malvern hills to the market town of Ledbury.

What is not to like?! Even better I easily found a park and set off to appreciate the fine Elizabethan architecture and quirkiness of the town.

Truth to tell, whilst my eyes were roaming the delicious scenes in these photos my craving for a decent espresso coffee had reached fever pitch and great was my joy when I saw this in front of me:

I was inside in a jiffy and partaking of these soon after:

Refreshed, I turned back towards Worcester and drove the 30 mins it took to reach the car hire place, returning my trusty white car. Glyn and Chris Blythman and their enthusiastic pup, Bree, a Patterdale, awaited me in their car for the drive back to their home in Ludlow.

I am cosily installed upstairs overlooking the jigsaw of gardens below, all tended lovingly by the Blythman’s and neighbours.

It has been wonderful catching up with them both – Chris is an artisan blacksmith, and Glyn is my Outlander friend, who met her husband through their interest in re-enactment groups back in the 90’s. (?)

Glyn drove around Ludlow after an afternoon nap, reacquainting me with layout of the town – and castle where Arthur and Catherine of Aragon first lived and where Arthur died – his brother Henry VIII taking over both kingship and wife.

We returned to enjoy a wine and then superb steak dinner in the drowsy light amid the bees and birds in the back garden.

Even Bree was worn out.

It has been relaxing to mend a hole in my long pants whilst chatting over coffee inside, but the pull of the cosy bed upstairs with its freshly ironed sheets has proven too strong to resist.

Tomorrow is another day …

Day 4 – a day and night in Malvern

Disaster struck briefly this morning when I chipped a corner off my molar on the muesli I was eating! I’ll have to enjoy my upcoming gourmand experiences on 31.75 teeth.

After a leisurely start I packed my car and glided reluctantly out of the Cotswolds, taking the back roads and skimming the top of Toddington to reach Worcestershire in no time at all.

Because I had a day before me I thought I’d explore the Malvern Hills area, little realising that my B&B for the night was right there!

I started with Little Malvern – spying what must be Little Malvern Priory amongst the trees.

It being 10am the first consideration was a coffee and so I followed my nose but found myself frustrated. I googled ‘Malvern’ and ‘coffee’ and was given directions to St Ann’s Well cafe. That looked promising!

The road grew increasingly narrower and bendier and at one stage a very tight left turn saw me propelling my small car up a dirt driveway into private property. A lengthy 20 pt turn later and I rejoined the route but it still lead me to a dirt goat track of a road that I feared my ability to return from.

So I headed downhill into the town proper:

Steep streets, a huge cathedral-type building that turned out to be a school, a priory, but no parking. I eventually found a pay and display and walked into the main street, tempted to go to the Cafe Nero.

But no! After all this effort it needed to be local – so I sweated uphill and around a corner to a place called Rebecca’s Cafe (I think).

It was certainly quirky and unique:

Dead flowers in front window, crotcheted bacon and eggs on a plate, tupperware-type containers with the blurred outlines of home made cakes. Too late to back out now – and being only the second customer – I ordered a piece of Victoria Sponge and a big latte. I listened in vain for the sound of coffee beans grinding – and was unsurprised when a latte of filtered coffee and frothed milk accompanied my cake. Sigh. I’m sure the tea and scones are excellent.

Anyhoo, I set off on a bit of an explore – into the priory grounds:

There I read some gravestones – always interesting to me – coming from a country where we don’t have any prior to early 1800s.

I then returned to the car, found a Waitrose supermarket, purchased some salads and fruit and drove towards the Little Malvern Priory to have a picnic lunch in the carpark.

Small note: Why is it so hard to find a cafe in UK that sells salads along with pastry and bread items? They do an excellent job with the salads at supermarkets but never in a sit down place.

I was the only car in the park, so after lunch I took myself across the road to peruse the priory. A line of gravestones straddled the pathway – from centuries past to the current day. The most poignant being:

Ahead the cool entrance to the 11th century priory loomed.

I made my way inside, feeling pleasantly surprised by the welcome signs, open doors, and headphones with recorded message about the building. It is an active church, an invitation to make use of the kitchen to make tea or use the toilets prominently displayed. Inside the heavy wooden door the chapel is lofty and has some splendid Medieval stained glass windows – featuring Henry V.

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Then I meandered a bit more and finally wound my way to my B&B for the night. This is a comfortable room on ground floor with futon bed. My friendly host, Rumana, welcomed me in to join her and a friend with a cup of tea and homemade cake.

Still feeling the effects of jet lag I had a couple hours nap and set off for dinner at the Nag’s Head – not far away.

My pork medallion’s were tasty and I enjoyed the lively atmosphere around me. I’m now ready for bed again.

Tomorrow: Ludlow!!

Day 3 – Still a step back in time in Lower Slaughter

I’m glad I chose to linger two nights in the same place. You can never really tell how good or quirky a place is until you get there – so it’s a risk. Most times I’m pleasantly surprised. I sure landed on my feet with this B&B.

After a scattered night’s sleep caused more by the adjustment of my body clock than by the luxurious bedroom I inhabit, I slipped down the stairs to the huge kitchen and a place setting just for me. Richard heated a croissant for me while I had muesli and fruit. Perfect.

In addition I had the endearing company of this Jack Russell – Douglas.

I set off early for Bourton-on-the-water, hoping to miss the crowds – and I DID, for a while. A lazy Sunday morning setting by the stream was all I’d hoped.

I wandered around until I found coffee and nibbled my sausage roll and sipped a Flat White in meditative silence.

Going out to sit in the park and await the 10.30 opening of cycle hire shop, I watched coachload after coachload of (in this instance) mostly Asian tourist pouring in to the tranquil setting from the path from the carpark. It made for an interesting way to pass the time seeing the tight little groups rush by clicking photos and holding up their hands for selfies with the ‘v’ symbol raised.

At 10.30 I was fitted with one of the spare men’s bikes – a simple model with a seat I later discovered kept slipping down to the nub. All the women’s bikes are too small!!! Setting off with clear instructions for how to get to some good routes I found myself repeatedly lost and on what were clearly not cycleways but barely used tracks.

Now don’t laugh – this is what my Map Your Ride route looked like when I finished.

I never did make it out of town but I covered a lot more ground than if I had been on foot AND had free parking behind the shop. All for only 11 pounds.

With the bike returned I set off to celebrate by eating a Cornish pastie and lemonade.

It was only a 5 minute drive back to Lower Slaughter so I kept going through the village and checked out Upper Slaughter and some of the tiny leafy roads in the vicinity.

Before long I was re-entering Lower Slaughter from a different direction and seeing what I’d missed yesterday.

Sooo very pretty.

I headed home for a nap, feeling unaccountably queasy for some reason, and curled up on the bed for a few hours. The nausea subsided and I forced myself out to see the village on foot.

When I rounded a corner and found the Mill I was impressed.

Home again I hopped straight in the car and found the pub in Bourton that offered Sunday roasts. Sadly no tables outside, no roasts left, no real atmosphere but I settled inside to my chicken and chips, feeling the sticky table pull at my skin whenever I lifted my arms. See – it’s not all good.

Things perked up when I strolled along the stream-side afterwards, and bought an ice-cream called a Union Jack to lick on a bench in the cool evening breeze at 8pm.

Now I’m home in the living room writing this up.

Tomorrow: Worcestershire.

Day 2 – Heathrow to Lower Slaughter

After a good amount of sleep I headed downstairs at Park Inn for the extensive and substantial breakfast they provide. That (I told myself) should set me up for the day.

Then it was off via two shuttle buses to Eurocar depot where my Vauxhaul Economy manual drive awaited me.

Now the hard bit: plunging on to the fast moving motorways leading out from London in a manual car. The further I went the more relaxed I felt as roads veered off and narrowed and became country lanes. Finally I diverted and decided to see Oxford. The plan was to see the Bodliean (sp) Library if poss. However, the closer my intrepid Google narrator brought me the more bicycles and teeming crowds surrounded me and I had to park so far away I changed my target.

Just down the road was the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings used to gather. (C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and friends). I slipped inside and ordered a half pint of ale and revelled in the knowledge I was in their familiar haunt.

After a walk along this street and back I set off for Bourton on the Water, to see about hiring a bike tomorrow. Once again, the main part of this picturesque town was seething with tourists and locals – some kind of fair? – and no parks. Mental note to just turn up and hope on the morrow.

I drove on to the Slaughters and was delighted to see the little hamlet of Lower Slaughter was pretty and there was parking!

A moment later I was strolling beside a shallow stream, seeing groups of people sipping tea and beverages under umbrellas on this mildly warm day.

Naturally I joined them.

As I sat there the church bells began to ring out and I captured the moment a wedding party emerged across the road.

Bliss!

I made a reservation for dinner here at Slaughter Inn and set off down the road to my B&B which is five minutes walk away.

What a pleasant house and host awaited me.

After a two hour snooze I roused and walked back for dinner: Lamb and vegies.

For the first ten minutes I had the restaurant to myself, but it filled up even as I did.

I’ve sat on the garden seat you can see through the window and then wandered home.

Perfect start to the adventure!

On t’other side of world at last

Descended out of clouds at lunchtime today and am now in the familiar terrain of the Park Inn, Heathrow. Have bought SIM card, showered, slept, and feeling somewhat more myself, am hunched groggily in bar downstairs partaking in soda & lime and small plates of nibbles.

THAT was a loooong journey. 12.5 hours to LA, 2.5 in transit, 10 hours to Heathrow. Still, I’m pinching myself that I am here at last.

Slainte!

At LA in transit

I highly recommend business class if you can get upgrade. Sitting a bit the worse for wear in LA transit lounge but the first leg was bliss.

And plane landed in middle of tarmac and we bussed to customs. Now about to bus to plane for long leg to London. Not business class.