Thursday, May 31, 2012

A real Corker of a day - 26 May 2012

This was the first weekend of summer weather, after all the cold and rain (we had been told it was, up to this week, the coldest May for 400 years). So we, and probably half of London, headed for the coast.

The particular place on the coast we planned to visit, was Abbotsbury, the only place in the world where you can walk amongst a colony of nesting mute swans. Originally an abbey, the swans were used for food but are, apparently, very unappetizing as they taste like mud. Today it is the only privately owned herd of swans in the country and the moulted feathers are sold to Lloyds of London to be made into quills for recording events in the Casualty Book of vessels that become total losses.
Between mid May and mid June, the signets are hatching, so it was the perfect time to visit. We hoped to be there for feeding time at mid-day, and timed it perfectly, despite taking the scenic route, which was half of two different circular tours.

The first tour was based around Shaftesbury, starting for us at Fonthill Bishop. The fascination of this part of the drive, is the gatehouse. This is a massive Gothic arch across the road, which is all that remains of a huge Gothic palace, built by William Beckford, who inherited his fortune age 10. He was too impatient to wait for his palace so corners were cut, and the lack of proper foundations caused the house to collapse (rather like a certain parable!).

Shaftesbury was the perfect morning tea stop, with lovely Tudor tearooms, abbey ruins, and picturesque cobbled Gold Hill.

We left this tour here, and travelled a few miles west to pick up another scenic tour based around Sherborne. We had visited this stunning town some years ago, but it is definitely worth another visit.

From here we went straight to the swannery, in time for feeding. There were lots of swans sitting on nests and family groups with plenty of newly hatched signets.

First stop on the new tour was Cerne Abbas. This is the second giant figure cut in a hill side near the south coast. Last year we visited the Long Man at Wilmington, about 120 miles (by road) east of here.

Just north of here was Mintern Gardens, worth a visit, as the rhododendrons were still looking good.

An amazing route along a collection of minor back country roads took us to another stunning stone house at Montacute. En route, we visited a castle-like church at Bradford Abbas, and the absolutely fabulous village of East Corker.

Montacute is also a lovely village, and the House was almost empty of visitors, they were obviously still at the coast! This Tudor house is wonderful, as are the large formal gardens.

It was time to enjoy the highlight of the tour, and visit Sherborne. We enjoyed walking around, and looking out unsuccessfully for a hotel with an available room. It was several villages later, before we found a hotel to stay in. The choice was good, The Talbot in Iwerne Minster had a comfortable room, and we enjoyed an excellent feast of tapas for dinner.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Weekend walks – 19 & 20 May

Despite the dull, cold weekend, we made the most of the days and walked to points of interest in the Chilterns.

 Saturday was spent walking around Great & Little Hampden, enjoying the woods, wildlife and wild flowers.

 On Sunday we went further west to the area around Hambledon. This is one of the small gems scattered across the Chilterns. With a beautiful church (surprisingly large for the size of the village), and an appealing collection of houses.

 Nearby is Greys Court, which we visited to see their 120 year old wisteria vines in flower. Sadly, due to the cold, heavy rain and hail, the plants are looking their age, and very few flowers have survived. 

After discovering the remote woodland reserve at the end of a narrow road, the Warburg manned Visitor centre comes as rather a surprise. Here too the bluebells, were rather a poor showing, I think all the flowers are suffering.

 A mile away from here in a very remote feeling valley, is Stonor House. This house, less than an hour from central London, seems very peaceful, and a complete escape from modern life.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Forest of Dean - Sunday 13 May

Our hotel was near Monmouth, which we explored before setting out to join the rest of the MG club.

 The MG run started from Goodrich Castle on Sunday morning. The castle claims to be one of the best preserved medieval castles in England. The castle is on the English side of the border, guarding against the Welsh.

 The run took us around the Forest Dean, with some nice towns, lots of trees with fresh green leaves, and large pockets of bluebells. We finished at the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Weekend in Wales – 12-13 May 2012

The annual MG Y Type Spring Run was based in Goodrich this year, on the border with Wales. This seemed a perfect opportunity for one last visit to Wales.

Straight off the M4 motorway is Caerleon. This small town is built among the remnants of a Roman border town. They have done a wonderful job of bringing the Roman baths back to live, with use of clever lighting, and projected swimmers using the pool.

Nearby are the remains of the Roman barracks, and an easily identified Amphitheatre.

From here, our tour took us to Abergavenny, and we had difficulty finding a park, we wondered at all the visitors. It turned out to be market day and all the neighbouring towns must have been visiting.

The town is well worth a visit too, We started with the ruins of the castle, which has a gruesome history. The founder visited in 1176, and invited all the leading locals to a Christmas banquet.. While they were enjoying his hospitality, William de Breos ordered his soldiers to kill them all. He obviously didn't have a grasp of the true meaning of Christmas!

St Mary's Church is the same age as the castle, but still complete and standing. Inside are some handsome marble tombs, but the most interesting item is the largest wooden sculpture in the UK. The reclining figure of Jessie is carved on a section of a hollow tree, and is part of what was once just the base of an even larger sculpture of the tree of Jessie.

The large indoor market was very appealing, so not surprising so many people were visiting.

Not far from here, but in a very remote spot, is White Castle. This was one of three English castles controlling the Welsh border. We really enjoyed the calm and peaceful spot, very different from the days when it was in use!

We were hoping for a cup of tea, but surprisingly, this remote attraction does not have a tea-rooms. We asked advice at the ticket office, and were recommended 'to visit the Chinaman' near the second castle of the fortified trio.

We found his tearooms, and would have loved to have stayed the night (it's also a B&B). The lovely old stone house overlooks gardens and an appealing valley view. The tea and apple scone were just perfect.

Grosmont castle is nearby, and this one has free entry, as it is slightly more ruined than White Castle. Once again, a really dramatic statement on the hillside above the town.

The last town we visited was Llanvihangel Crucorney. This boasts the oldest pub in Wales, so we had to call in for a drink. It was once a courthouse, and we checked out the holding cell, and the beam where criminals were hung. Certainly the most atmospheric place we've stopped in for a drink.

Across the main road is Llanvihangel Court. This had a sign outside advertising tours. We thought it was another courthouse, and it may have been once, but now it is a Tudor home, and so liveable and homelike, we were captivated. It is probably is the most appealing historic house we have visited. Full of wonderful period furniture, but totally delightful and felt like a home.

We were the only two on the tour, so we had a personal guided tour by the owner, who mentioned a ruined abbey up a nearby valley. We decided we had just enough time for one last visit, before the evening MG dinner.

The road up the valley was very narrow, and we were delayed by a constant stream of traffic coming the other way. When we finally reached the ruined Abbey, it turned out that the crowds had been at the Black Mountain challenge. Fortunately, by the time we made it there, the crowds had nearly left, and we were able to experience the abbey atmosphere.