Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wool Towns - 23 August 2009

Castle HedinghamAs a total contrast to yesterday, we set out from London in the opposite direction, and did a tour through the pastel plaster-coated villages of Suffolk. The tour started at Castle Hedingham, which is both the name of the village and the Norman Keep, which has the largest stone Norman arch left in the world. The Keep gives an idea of life in Norman times. The village, below the Castle, is delightful, centred around the large church.

KentwellThen on through the very attractive villages of Clare and Cavendish, to Long Melford. As the name implies, this is a long and narrow town, and at one end are two Tudor grand houses. Behind the stunning church, is Kentwell, our first stop.Kentwell This is a huge imposing Tudor house, which has been altered by subsequent owners, and most unusually, even has new alterations by the current owners. The house is open to the public, and you can literally wander throughout most of the house in a very relaxed and unsupervised fashion.

Over the road is the much more conventional Melville Hall. Melville HallThis house is also still lived in, but under the care of the National Trust. The owners have kept the imposing traditional interiors, so the overall feel is conservative, in total contrast to their near neighbours. Long Melford church
The tour then took us to Lavenham. This is a stunning town, and like all the others visited today, was involved in the wool trade. This created great wealth and prosperity in the middle ages, which accounts for the fabulously ornate churches each of these relatively small towns have.

LavenhamLavenham was the source of 'Lavenham Broad Cloth' making it a world renowned weaving town but when the industrial revolution took place, rivers were required to power the new looms. Lavenham had no river, and the hand looms were not competitive in the new markets. The town died, and was left in a time warp, which now makes for a very appealing town of half timbered buildings.Little Hall, Lavenham We visited Little Hall, which was restored by identical twins in the 1930s. These twins had an interesting connection with New Zealand, as they volunteered in the Great War, and served at Gallipoli. One, a Colonel and the other a medical Major. The Colonel had Anzacs serving under him, with which he had a love-hate relationship. He loved their natural skills as soldiers, but hated their informal outlook and their reluctance to conform to army discipline.

Little Maplestead churchThe final stop of the day was totally unassociated with the wool trade. Little Maplestead is an unpretentious small town, which has a round church associated with the Knights Templers, who established a hospital nearby. The benefactor who funded the church, saw the style on his own trip to the Holy Land on the Crusades.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wealdon Wanderings - 22 August 2009

High RocksSometimes we come across a place which appears to be a remnant of the Victorian era, and our first stop on the AA tour of Sussex, was exactly that: High Rocks is, just as the name suggests, 10m high rock outcrops that were left behind after the ice age. It was a popular Victorian excursion from Royal Tunbridge Wells on the new railway line. We loved it, and really felt we had stepped back in time; from the £2 entrance fee to the Victorian inscriptions on the rock faces.

Scotney CastleThe tour took us through Royal Tunbridge Wells, with it's attractive shopping street – The Pantiles, on to Scotney Castle. We last visited in 2001, and new since then was the opportunity to look at the 'new' castle, built in 1846. The house appeared much older, and was really worth a visit. The 'old' castle is definitely old, and is now the perfect garden backdrop behind the moat.

SissinghurstThen through the very picturesque town of Goudhurst, a must visit, if in the area, to Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. Once again the old Tudor buildings, are a perfect background to the gardens. The gardens are more formal than Scotney, and full of roses.

Sissinghurst Castle GardensA drive through Cranbrook, a lovely town in Kent where Murray's forbears came from, took us to the highlight of the day – Great Dixter garden. This house was originally built in the mid 1400s in the dense forests of The Weald. Today it is set in stunning gardens, which are an absolute riot of colour. The house itself has been extended with a 'new' Edwardian wing. We were able to see the Great Hall, which is the largest surviving timber framed hall left in England. Sissinghurst Castle GardensBoth the house and garden are definitely worth a visit, and would rate as one of the most enjoyable visits we have made recently.

As the heather was still flowering on the hillsides, we drove back over The Weald and decided to fit in a 7-mile walk based around Pooh Bridge, on our way home. The warm summer evening was a perfect time for the walk, which took us throughGreat Dixter Hundred Acre Wood, through the town of Hartfield and back to Pooh Bridge. Although not the original bridge that Christopher Robin played pooh sticks from, it is in the same place, and suitably strong for all the visitors who come from all round the world. By the time we reached there, all the tourists were long gone and we enjoyed a solitary game of pooh sticks. Hartfield

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shires in the Sun - 16 August 2009

Oldest & newest MGs on runWe joined the Bedford MG Group for their inaugural Pilgrim's Run. This took in many villages in the shires north west of Bedford. The run overlapped another tour in our AA book, so we combined the two, to make a full day out.

None of the villages would win prizes as “most picturesque in class” but, nevertheless, provided a pleasant backdrop for a relaxing drive on a very lovely summer's day.
At the end of the run, we returned to Willington, to visit the largest dovecot to survive in the UK, which along with the stables are all that remain of the property of Sir John Gostwick, a member of Henry 8th's Court, and now comprise the only two National Trust properties in Bedfordshire.
Wilington churchWilington dovecot

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Crooked lanes and crooked chimney - 15 August 2009

St Mary's StudhamSt Mary's RedbournNo alpine passes, no autobahns; it was back to gentle slopes and winding country lanes as we meandered around Hertfordshire today. From Redbourn on the old Roman Watling St and climbed to the dizzy heights of the Dunstable Downs before dropping down to Lilley. From there we set off on a 5-mile walk through the grain fields that seemed to stretch on and on in all directions.
This was the first time that one walk had taken us through wheat, barley and oats. Part of the walk used the Ickfield Way, Britain's oldest road, first used in neolithic times so predating the Roman Watling St by quite a margin.
Crooked Chimney PubGrain fields
The Crooked Chimney Pub was a novel place to stop for a meal and from there we were able to take a short walk along a public footpath through the grounds of a stately home opposite.
Brocket EstateBrocket Hall

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

And back to where we started - 9 August 2009

BruggeThe camp site had no shop and nor did the local village which meant we could not let the tent dry while we ate breakfast, so we were on the road bright and early crossing from Germany into Luxemburg, stopping at the first motorway services as the fuel is cheaper in Luxemburg. Clearly this is well known as every motorway services we saw in Luxemburg was jam packed full of vehicles.
Refueled in both body and vehicle we crossed Luxemburg and into Belgium for the long run back towards Calais.
To break the tedium we stopped in Brugge for a short time to renew our acquaintance with this delightful city. We had last visited in October 2002 and were very taken with it, so this stop was to see whether our intitial impression was still valid after 7 more years of exposure to European cities; it was.
Oostende beachOostende harbour
Oostende cathedralWe had been told that Oostende was worth a visit and since it is basically on the road between Brugge and Calais we made another stop there. It appears to have been faily comprehensively flattened in the war and rebuilt in a most hideous fashion. It has all the worst features of British seaside resorts without any redeeming features that we could find apart from some patches of decent sand. Definitely not worth a repeat visit in a few year's time.

A tall ship leaves portThen on to Calais; a ferry, and the run home from Dover. We were a little early at the ferry, and the ferry was running a little late. This gave us time to use the last of the Eurpoean sunshine to dry the wet tent and ground sheet on top of the open car, much to the amusement of our conservative neighbours.

Up the Mosel - 8 August 2009

BeilsteinThe snorer in the next tent woke us early so we decided to make an early start to the day so got up and headed for the showers. We had not walked more than 20m from our tent when we felt the beginning of a totally different sort of shower; so it was a mad dash back to the tent to get it down and packed away as soon as, and as dry as, possible.

A misty morning Mosel momentOur next intended stop was a picture-postcard village on the banks of the Mosel, called Beilstein. We enjoyed a coffee in a dry cafe while waiting for the rain to pass and then wandered around the town which would look much more attractive in the sun, than in a foggy mist.

Trier CathedralWe swapped from bank to bank, following the Mosel upstream and stopped off again at Zell for another wander and coffee before heading further upstream to Trier. Although a Cetlic settlement for 1300 years before the Romans arrived, it was Constantine who really put it on the map. He made Trier the capital of the Western Roman Empire and built a massive Basilica and huge bath complex.

Porta NigraThe symbol of the town is the Porta Nigra which is the most impressive Roman fortification in Germany and has survived only because a pious Greek recluse lived here and a monastery in his honour was founded there along with a church. The huge structure is held together without mortar, using iron pegs to join the stones.

Roman bathsConstantine's Basilica is the largest intact Roman structure outside of Rome and is really very impressive. What remains of Constantine's bath complex is also amazing and it is a pity that more of it has not survived the ravages of time and scavengers.

Cathedral alcove ceilingFurther still up the Mosel we found a very humble camp site with the bare minimum of facilities, not the most impressive last memory of German camping. By contrast, our last German meal was very memorable. In the little village by the camp site was a Guest house that also had a restaurant. Given the number of cars outside it was clearly popular with the locals; we soon found out why.

Trier town squareWe enjoyed a wonderful meal with a non-tourist price tag and the wine even came from the restaurant proprietors own vineyard/winery.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Down the Rhine - 7 August 2009

RudesheimRudesheimRudesheim was described in one guide book as “a nostalgia trip for geriatric tourists” and really only has one “cute” street to its name; and a very cute, narrow, street it is; but it really is not worth making a detour to see compared to many of the other lovely towns we have seen on this trip.

RudesheimNevertheless we paid our tourist homage and left behind some tourist Euros for our morning coffee; then left to head down the north bank of the Rhine.

Our first stop was at Marksburg Castle, one of the three authentic medieval castles in the area; most of the others dotted along this Marksburgsection of the Rhine have suffered romantic “modern” 18-19th C updates. Marksburg is presented and furnished as it would have been 500 years ago, and you are allowed to take photographs inside, which is most unusual; and it was as we were taking one of the photographs that the time and date of 12:34:56 7/8/9 passed quietly by.

MarksburgThe Castle tours are only in German but we had a guide book with the salient features described for us so we were not too disadvantaged, apart from the fact that the German tour guide was cracking a lot more jokes than our English guide book, judging by the reactions of her audience.

Leaving the Rhine at Koblenz we changed river valleys to the Mosel and headed off upstream to the next castle that was tucked away, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere, but apparently on an ancient trade route. It is well worth making the detour to find The Rhine: Castles and CruisesBurg Eltz as it is in a choice position situated on a rocky promontory in a wooded valley with a river running around three sides.

The castle has been in the same family for 800 years or 33 generations and way back, when the family split into three branches they decided to build the castle with three family Burg Eltzdwellings in a roughly triangular fashion on the top of the rock and live in a communal fashion. The castle was very progressive with “en-suite” bathrooms in ¼ of the 80 rooms, many of them flushed with rain water. They had glass in the windows when glass was still very expensive and so on; they lived very comfortably for the times and remained unconquered for most of their history.

The climb back from Burg Eltz to the car park was rather Cochemwearying on such a warm afternoon so after dropping back down to the banks of the Mosel we stopped at Cochem for a wander around and some much needed refreshment. Cochem is an overly touristy town so we crossed the Mosel and pulled into a campsite on the bank of the Mosel at Bruttig-Fankel.