I highly encourage you to keep a journal of where ever you travel. Reading through mine, I find that I get the same feeling as when I was actually there. There are so many little notes of things that I had forgotten and my journal takes me back so clearly in my mind. Today in the Pacific Northwest, as many areas of our country, it is unusually cold. -9 this morning! Reading through my journal, I’m back on a May day driving through the gorgeous Gloucestershire and Shropshire countryside with my friends and enjoying every moment of it.
May 7th, 2005
After breakfast in our gorgeous, light filled conservatory we are on the road to visit a couple of Royal Heritage sites in Shropshire. The first is Boscobel House.
There is a guided tour and our tour guide reminded me of John Cleese! The house has a very interesting history of Charles II hiding out here after his father was beheaded. He was defeated in the Battle of Worcester by Cromwell’s men in 1651 and went into hiding. He used disguises and many safe houses before fleeing to France, later returning to restore the monarchy to England in the 1660’s.. He hid in a massive oak tree in the adjacent forest, now dubbed “The Royal Oak”. He also hid in the house and you get to go into the attic hiding place on the tour. The house is fully furnished with paneled rooms and secret hiding places.
Here is a small except of what Wikipedia says about the current situation of the oak tree:
The tree standing on the site today is not the original Royal Oak, which is recorded to have been destroyed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by tourists who cut off branches and chunks as souvenirs. The present day tree is believed to be a two or three hundred-year old descendant of the original and is thus known as ‘Son of Royal Oak’.
In 2000, Son of Royal Oak was badly injured during a violent storm and lost many branches. In September 2010, it was found to have developed large and dangerous cracks. The 2011 season opened with the tree surrounded by a wooden outer perimeter fence to ensure the safety of visitors.
I love that, “the Son of Royal Oak”! Sounds like a movie sequel:) After leaving here we tried to stop at a pub for lunch, but I had forgotten that so many places close for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We keep heading south back toward Ludlow and stop at Stokesay Castle. We started the tour but didn’t quite finish, so we decide to go back the next day. Besides, the castle serves a cream tea and since Suzanne and Peg haven’t had an authentic cream tea yet, we have to come back! On the way out we ask one of the men working if he can recommend the best fish and chips place in town. You just have to try the foods that a country is known for, and it’s always best to ask a local.
He told us to try The Clive which is a modern restaurant in a very old building. Not really a fish and chips place, but definitely worth stopping for! We found it and it actually had a sign with two different names, it’s also called “The Cookhouse”. It turns out that there is a fabulous chef and the menu was varied, fresh and healthy with innovative combinations. I Googled it and this restaurant has now become a B&B and has been awarded two AA rosettes as well as an entry in the Michelin Guide. Very impressive and glad we got to go in the beginning! We easily found our way back to our comfortable cottage for a movie and rest.
After breakfast we walked up the hill for a visit to Ludlow Castle. For some reason the tour was closed, but there is an old car show on the green and since we are all married to car guys we take some photos. I love Morris Minor cars, so much style. I can never remember the name and have to ask my husband. I always want to call them Major Minors!
We went to a great little antique shop in town and I find another Toby Jug to add to my collection. I really wanted something of a quintessential British token of my visits and when I picked up a small one on my first visit I decided to buy one for every time I went. Twice I didn’t find or forgot, so my lovely cousin Linda brought me two large jugs when she came to visit us here. I cherish these and I look at them often.
After this we hit the road and went back to finish our tour of Stokesay Castle. It is a lovely medieval castle that was finished in 1291 and remarkably has scarcely been altered. I really like the massive open hearth great hall. The view is absolutely amazing. We had the promised cream tea and took a short drive across the bridge into Wales and made a circle back towards Ludlow. We saw a sign for a garden tour and turned in to check it out. It looks like a good one but it’s too late today, so home we head to Ludlow and the Rose and Crown pub for some fish & chips. Back at our cottage we put on our PJs and watched the VE Celebration in Trafalgar Square and then a movie. What a fun day!
We are up and off early today for a long drive to Newport Pagnell, about 3 1/2 hours it was. Some of Peggy’s family are from this area. The country is gorgeous! As always, food comes first so we have a very nice lunch at The Swan Hotel, then set off to find the church. We stop in a shop that sells old photos of the area and Peggy is able to buy a book about the local history. We are all looking in the graveyard for her family name of Gurney but no luck. The church is closed today, but Peggy asks someone who is about and they graciously allow her to go inside and take a look. It makes the long drive worth it for her to be allowed to do this. It’s such an emotional connection. We did go to a small village close by called Stone. Peggy had some family information about this village as well and we were rewarded with a Gurney grave, although not an old one, but still photo worthy. She has a new name to research and who knows, maybe she’ll find a cousin that still lives there.
Went back and got some provisions at the market and Suzanne made us another lovely dinner. It’s just so nice to snack on local cheeses and a bottle of red and talk and laugh together. Afterward we watched “About a Boy” and ate another national favorite, Victorian Sponge. We all saw this on “Calendar Girls” and had been wanting to try it. I wrote in my journal “a very light cake with a layer of cream filling and a thin layer of jam. Pretty darn good!”
We got up and made a traditional English breakfast with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms and walked up to town to buy some fresh produce for dinner. We want to be prepared in case we get back late. Found a local potter in town and I fell in love with a blue spoon holder. It sits next to my stove and every time I take a spoon out of it I think of this trip. I love mementos of holidays and for me it’s usually glass or pottery.
We got in the car and drove over to Witley Court, another British Heritage site. I love that you can go onto the British Heritage website and order a pass to see all of these different historical places for a fraction of the cost of going separate! Plus, especially if you’re a foreign visitor, you aren’t aware of so many of these properties, but they’re worthy of a visit.
Witley Court was one of the great country houses of the Midlands. It was built in 1655 and today is a very beautiful ruin from a fire in 1937. The grounds are just breathtaking and we found the church on site really interesting and unusual, as far as the churches that we’ve seen. It has a very high vaulted ceiling with gold gilding throughout. The ceiling has spectacular paintings and the windows are painted in enamel of the Ascension. The windows are older than the structure and were brought from London during the blitz if I remember correctly. The colors are as vibrant as they must have been when first painted in 1719!
We drove home had a lovely dinner and then turned on the electric fireplace because the nights were chilly. We stuffed ourselves with delicious baked goods that we brought home from DeGrays bakery and cafe here in town. They make a mean chocolate eclair!
Today we set off to see the garden that we didn’t have time to visit before. It’s called Stockton Bury Garden and I’ve already covered it extensively in my previous blog about gardens. All I can say is if your are interested in gardens at all you don’t want to miss this one. We had to get back to the cottage and meet the owner to settle our bill. We have stayed in this house for 5 nights with only a $50 deposit,that would not happen in America! She turns out to be a wonderful woman and we enjoyed chatting with her. She called us later to give us directions on the best way to get back to Gatwick.
Our last night here and we went to a restaurant called the Courtyard and then walked around Ludlow church. A beautiful Norman church with amazing windows and carvings. Back at the cottage we re-pack and watch “Bridget Jones Diary”. This is our last night here and it’s been an awesome week, one the three of us won’t ever forget. Ludlow is a great town for tourists and shouldn’t be missed. Thank you to my mother in-law for suggesting it.
Our last morning at Stone Cottage, so sad to leave, it’s been so perfect and comfortable. Ludlow couldn’t be more welcoming or a better place to stay and explore.
Breakfast, load the car and then head south, deeper into the Cotswolds. The man from next door came to chat with us as we were loading the car. He has a walled garden that is off of the parking area of this cottage. I asked him if we could take a peek and he told us to “wander at leisure”. So sweet. It’s a beautiful garden with loads of plants, an ancient tree and an espaliered wisteria that runs the entire length of the wall. Such a nice way to end our visit.