Day 14 – Northumberland and those Romans

I was out of signal range for about 24 hours and am now sitting in a parking bay writing a quick belated blog beneath this HUGE welcome!

Last night amidst strong winds and scattered showers I travelled towards a small town called Haltwhistle. Here I would follow a rough farm road 3 miles inland to stay overnight at a B&B farmstay.

Before getting there I visited a very informative visitor’s Centre at Cawfields which featured a great 3D film on this amazing Hadrian’s Wall and the life of a common roman soldier at this bleak northernmost outpost to the Roman Empire.

I learnt some latin in the classroom – ‘knowledge is power’

And after enlisting in the army headed out to find Hadrian’s Wall. This was once huge – 3 metres? – high, and spanned the narrowest breadth of Britain

It was thrilling to stand where the romans had an outpost 2000 years ago.

I got back in to the car and headed to my farmstay wishing I had a 4WD to negotiate the rough road.

After 5kms of this I found it – outside of signal range.

Last night I made my own dinner from salads bought at service centre off M6, and settled in listening to rain and watching the ENTIRE series of BBC Pride and Prejudice. Bliss!

This morning I had my muesli and swung out to go north – enjoying the huge expanse of rolling Northumberland hills and plains.

In 1.3 hrs I’ll be in Edinburgh!

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Day 14 – Burnley and a catchup with friends

And here I am settled at Burnley with my good friend Libby – and Dotty – her husband Andrew comes home later.

If you don’t hear from me for a while it’s because I’m catching up.

Here are the moors I crossed to reach her home.

Day 13 – and now I’m sitting down with the Brontes in Haworth

I didn’t find Darcy – I found Heathcliff! Shucks!

Actually, it would seem I’ve landed some fabulous places to stay despite myself. Leaving the green and purple hills of Sheffield and the Peak district I rolled on to the M1 and pushed north today, heading for a place called The Weavers Guesthouse in an unknown town of Haworth. How was I to know I would almost be staying at the Bronte’s parsonage which is directly across the car park behind me.

I drove up in to Yorkshire in increasingly murky weather, an appropriate condition to see the Moors in. Did I hear “Cathy? Cathhhhhyyyyyy?” In the wind? Maybe.

Please squeal along with me when my GPS directed me around the corner and down a cobbled street. My B&B was at the top but needed to circle to come back up and park in the car park behind. I had stepped back in time nearly 200 years.

Having some time to spend before check in I went in to the Apothecary cafe and ordered the lunch special of Yorkshire pudding.

The view from my window was:

Next I negotiated the cobbled street and up to the Parsonage museum to see just how the Brontes lived and where Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were written. I get goosebumps thinking that I am walking just where these sisters all shopped and lived.

Here is just where those books and others were written:

They paced around that table discussing their stories.

The rest of the house is full of memorabilia. It is hard to believe how short their lives when you consider the impact of their work. Charlotte lived the longest and watched her brother die of drugs and alcohol at 31, her four sisters of consumption or tuberculosis, her mother of cancer.

There are letters and ink pots and quills and even the blood-flecked handkerchief belonging to Anne (only 28 when she died).

It was all very fascinating and quite moving. That was Charlotte’s dress in the cabinet. I could have fitted my hands around the waist. If I go back through the stones I would be a phenomenon of towering stature.

After paying homage to this incredible family I pulled my hood up over my head and set off for my car, where I listened to my audiobook until the B&B opened. It is 5 mins walk from the Parsonage!

I am thrilled at my lodgings.

They look out from first floor directly on to the cobbled street.

I’ve been out for a wet walk and unearthed some more treasures like this Apothecary shop:

There in the time of the Brontes and no doubt where many a cure was hopefully sought.

This vintage shop my sister would love:

This sheep in the art gallery:

And this gorgeous prospect:

I’m coming back in the morning to investigate these when they open.

Day 12 – a step into Elizabeth Bennet’s world

Yes, today has been all about Pride and Prejudice. 20 mins from where I am staying are the rising hills and rocky formations of the Peak district. To my delight a copy of the book rests on a shelf in my room.

This morning, after sorting breakfast out in the cupboard outside my room, I set off to stand, like Lizzie, contemplating life from a jutting promontory.

I feel I captured it perfectly, although if you look closely you will see MY shot has a row of parked cars in distance, and my contemplations were disturbed by a rowdy group of children readying to hike just beyond my self-timer on tripod. Still, it’s the attitude that counts.

I, like Lizzie, then felt obliged to search out Pemberley – aware that Mr Darcy was absent – and set off (towards Chatsworth). Who knew, he might turn up!

I passed heather on the fields, narrow lanes, leafy glades and 30 mins later my GPS guide proclaimed ‘arrived!’ Sadly, no vehicle traffic allowed so I continued down to the village of Baslow and parked in a pay and display there. I had just enough money for two hours and silently congratulated myself on the small size of parking lot and desultory groups preparing to come too. I truly would have the place to myself with perhaps a housekeeper to show me around.

The walk was promising – over a wee bridge and past a thatched cottage.

At any moment I would be on the tree-lined drive. Brisk walkers and groups of people with dogs straining on leads passed me (do ALL English people own dogs? – just asking). Around the corner my excitement notched up.

Surely – any minute now – that broad facade would swing in to view. But no. To my chagrin I was told by a passerby that it would be over 2 kms to the house! I quickened my pace, remembering last night’s Eton’s Mess and e v e n t u a l l y in the far distance could make out a haze of monumental size and shape. I sat for a while to catch my breath.

Soon I could make out a tiny stream of cars constantly gliding up the hill to the carpark below the huge building. You can imagine my dismay to realise I had approached from the back AND could have parked closer! Comforting myself with the thought that Lizzie walked to the village herself, I slowly – and painfully (sciatica) – approached the entrance. Here I purchased a sausage roll and drink and sat down to contemplate the grounds and the long snake of cars.

Refreshed, I paid to view the garden and was relieved to find a ‘train’ inside the gate. I was on it before you could say “MrBingley”.

Finally! Pemberley as I remembered her!

I did beg the train driver to take a wee diversion back to the village but he thought I was joking. A light rain began to fall which made the train an even more exemplary choice.

Back at base I entered the shop and there, at last! Was Mr Darcy. Sadly not the real one.

Ah well.

Taking Jane Montague’s advice I purchased an ice cream and strolled for a bit, then headed out to make the long trek back to the car. I have never been happier easing in behind the wheel. But I LOVED Chatsworth!

On to find the other familiar place from the book – not far away is Haddon Hall ‘the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages.’

From within these walls they filmed aspects of the inn where Lizzie and the Gardiner’s stayed, and where that letter about Lydia was delivered. More importantly, this elegant manor with worn flagstones, faded ancient tapestries, and sparse original carved furniture has been preserved and added to since the 11th century. It was much smaller than Chatsworth but I welcomed the smaller crowds and the warmth of the hosts and helpers.

The original approach to the manor was by foot up a steep path in the corner by the garden.

Stunning views!

A very interesting ramble:

The garden was wildly lovely:

The glass panes looked very old:

It was now 3.30 – and I was beat. On sudden impulse I decided to eat at the manor restaurant with an early dinner instead of going out tonight. Good choice! Here is the view from my window and here what I ate:

All in all a wildly satisfying day immersed in the world of one of my favourite books. I need to mention that the first place I drove to this morning were the Redmires Reservoirs – series of three deep pools that supply water from up in the hills above Sheffield. They are fed from various small streams in the Moors.

Goodbye Darcy! Be there next time!!

Day 11 – Sheffield

The day started with the usual sturdy breakfast at the Hilton with my friend Glyn Blythman, some farewells with friends setting off for home, and then a trip in Glyn’s car to Birmingham airport to pick up my rental car. This airport is the first one I’ve encountered with no free drop off – you pay £3 to go to a nearby siding. We both hastily hugged goodbye and I rattled inside to the Europcar booth.

At the booth I went through the lengthy ritual of declining insurance (my travel insurance covers the car) declining the upgrade for xxxx£ – and finally, (confronted with a bill twice the amount quoted on my online booking,) declined the GPS navigator in favour of using my trusty iphone app. At last I left with the keys to a compact diesel manual shift car, and walked the 10 mins to the rental carpark.

It took a while to adjust seat, work out how to start the car without an actual key, and set up my phone. Nevertheless, the audible directions did not come on, so with beady eyes darting from screen to road I managed the hair-raising trip away from airport to the M1 and beyond. After half an hour I pulled in to a service area and prised my fingers from the wheel.

Here I had a healthy lunch of salads and a coffee.

An hour later I pulled back on to the motorway and headed towards the Peak district. My GPS was set to a town in heart of it called Bakewell, and no small amount of the incentive for choosing this target lay with my memory of a bakewell tart.

I glided off the motorway and in to leafy forest and a slight rise in ground which steadily increased. It was lovely. To my surprise Bakewell is a large market town in the heart of the Peak scenic area. The carpark was busy – I later found that Monday is market day – and I paid for parking and set off into town over a bridge covered in locks and keys, as in Paris.

Before long I’d found Bakewell Bakery and a table in the patio. I asked for tea and a scone and enjoyed a very pleasant break swatting at wasps but biting down into clotted cream. I am not sure why UK scones are always hard, crumbly and cold – but the cream goes a long way to make up for that.

Once back on the road I was thrilled when my now audible voice on Apple maps (I changed from Google) led me on a tiny winding path towards Sheffield through the beautiful hills and dales of this area. I could hear the strains of the music from Pride and Prejudice when Keira Knightley stood on a rocky tor and gazed into the valley beyond.

And wait! Was that a Highland coo and calf?!!

At its peak the heights were covered in purple heather and rocky outcrops and for a moment transported me straight to the Highlands.

Tomorrow I hope to investigate these places more closely.

I drove down into the suburbs and found the ivy covered house where I’ll be staying two nights. It is all very salubrious here with a large bedroom, kitchen nook and shared spacious bathroom. I met both my hosts and their two dogs and had a brief lie down.

At 6.45 I walked 6 minutes away to the corner pub ‘The Loxley’ where I gave my order to a disinterested blonde bar maid.

Trying to stick to the healthy option I ordered a Mediterranean chicken salad but received the chicken and bacon one instead.

It was very nice. All would have gone swimmingly for my figure if I hadn’t ordered the Eton’s Mess, which fortunately is blurred so you can’t see how bad it was. I ate it all.

I have now returned to my room to watch some Netflix.

Bon nuit!

Day 9 and 10 – Birmingham

This was a full on weekend enjoying the fans and stars of Outlander in the Hilton Hotel (haven’t seen the outside world since Friday lunchtime).

There were very strict filming and photography rules in place so you won’t see as much as I COULD have taken. My words will have to do!

I am ensconced in a comfortable dble bed room in a distant wing of the hotel, which has meant my walking has increased hugely ( judging by the level of pain in lower back).

Downstairs a huge group of Outlander fans from Europe, America, Pacifica and the UK are milling around in the vestibule and bar area. Final farewells are happening and some diehards are heading towards the hall for the third night of partying.

Friday night we gathered there to welcome four of the stars of the show – Lauren Lyle, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Lotte Verbeek and Ed Speleers.

After a brief introduction they left and the party began.

Saturday was a jam-packed programme. Some earnest souls frantically bought as many of the photo sessions and autograph-signing as they could and possibly never visited the bathroom all day. I paced myself and only bought two photo sessions and one ‘meet and greet’ but still found it a task to move between the Q&A sessions and extraneous activities.

There was a LOT of queuing:

I managed a photo with Ed who plays Stephen Bonnet in the show –

Then had to rush to sit in on Q&A session with Steven Cree and Lauren Lyle. These two are born comedians and very relaxed on stage.

There was time for a brief lunch outside before I scuttled along to sit at a table with 16 others – joined by Maria at one end and Lotte at the other. For twenty mins we chatted to both and it was my favourite part of the weekend. No photos allowed. Got to ask Lotte about the blood bath which she loved doing, and Maria about her experience acting without looking at the other actors. Both were great to talk with.

Straight after that they headed into hall for Q&A and I collapsed on my bed briefly.

At 3pm another Q&A with David Berry, Duncan Lacroix and Ed Speleers took place that was lively indeed. They all rib each other mercilessly.

Straight after that we lined up in long queues for autographs – these were free for first one so I dragged out my Gabeaux Tapestry book and prepared to use it for this purpose. The lines were SO LONG that by 6pm when I had booked a table for dinner with Glyn, I’d only managed to get Steven’s, Lotte’s and Maria’s. Ne’er mind I thought,

Enjoyed a refined pork dinner with Glyn in a fairly empty restaurant, and at 8pm headed back to hall for the costume competition. (People were still queuing for signatures).

This was the funniest part of the event. All 7 of the stars of show were judges and sat at table together heckling and commenting as each costume paraded forth.

The favourites were a gigantic mis-shapen dog (Rollo) and the redcoat he attacked,

And a pair of women in skin coloured outfits with body parts on display who called themselves ‘Murtagh’s Wetdream’ to Duncan’s utter delight. I did not know where to look.

When a woman swathed in a flowing robe came out after ‘The Bacara’ was announced, knelt down and cast it off. I wasn’t sure what to expect. It certainly wasn’t the blood red body suit she wore, which got Lotte standing up to give her a standing ovation.

A refined ‘gentleman’ in wig and pastel satin 17th century pants and jacket minced out and bowed to a delighted David Berry – ‘Lord John’s friend’.

Those were all wonderful. There was a bee train which was called ‘It all started with a book’ – mobile library with the people dressed in book covers from series.

After we recovered from the costume competition we moved on to the party – a DJ playing while many got up to dance.

Sunday started – for me – with another photoshoot and one that I was front of the queue for.

Duncan was happy to hug a kiwi – which was about all I managed to get out.

There followed Q&A from Lotte (which I missed) then from Steven Cree which I attended. This is one man who could have chatted for an hour without any questions or prompting!

I had a brief break and then went straight back in to hear David Berry and Maria Doyle Kennedy.

Both of these two were generous and gracious. Love them.

I missed the last Q&A and managed dinner before the closing ceremony. (Can’t seem to change font back sorry)

In amongst the programme there were many opportunities to meet with fans from around the world. One or two had bought my books and so I did my own mini-signing ceremony.🤣

There was a good kiwi contingent there as well.

All in all a very worthwhile trip across the world to attend.

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 …