Chapter 10 - Shrewsbury, Oswestry & North Wales

Monday 18 August
Sutton Coldfield, where we are making our base, is so central and ideal for making day trips. Today we drove to Stratford-on-Avon via Warwick. Decided not to 'do' the Warwick Castle as we would need a full day for that, but had a stroll down the very old cobblestone street leading up to the castle, and a walk through a very pretty garden on the river Avon beside the castle. Had lunch in the park and then drove on to Stratford.

It wasn't a great day for wandering as it was very grey and showery. We used the 'park-and-ride' service which was very useful - no parking fee and just a small fee for the bus which travelled frequently in to the town. Lots of interesting old buildings and many touristy shops to look at. We loved Ann Hathaway's cottage with it's very worn stone floors, ancient paneling, low ceilings and very pretty cottage garden.

Wednesday 20 August

After a quiet day on Tuesday, we drove again to Shrewsbury to revisit the Archives where we found some interesting details of George Fulcher's life. Jane's Gt Gt Grandfather George was the Master of the Union Workhouse at Oswestry for 39 years and died while still in that position, when he was 69 years old. His wife, Mary, was Matron during that time.

It was amazing to be able to read the original old Minute Book of the Board, and find there details about his appointment to the position and then later the news of his death. After our eyes started to glaze over from so much reading we set off again and headed for Bishops Castle, the village where Jane's Great Grandfather James Thomas Fulcher (son of George) was born.

A beautiful drive through tree canopied lanes and narrow streets that may have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. Bishops Castle is a quaint little village perched on the side of a hill. It was rather late in the day and raining but we found the entrance to the old National School where George Fulcher once taught and explored some of the quaint little shops, including one where hand crafted furniture is still made.

We drove home through quite heavy rain after having remarked that 'it doesn't seem to ever rain heavily here!' It mostly just seems to drizzle and there are often frequent weather changes throughout the day.

Thursday 21 August

Today we have been to Oswestry where George & Mary Fulcher had spent so many years in the employ of the Oswestry Union, as Master and Matron of the Morda Workhouse. We were hoping that we might find some evidence of the Workhouse Building.

After driving through the town, not too sure what we were looking for, we called in to an Information Centre just off the Motorway where we found a couple of very helpful ladies. We couldn't believe it when these ladies from the Tourist Information Centre were able to produce photos, which they photocopied for us, of the original building and were able to tell us that the building had been destroyed by fire about 20 years ago and that one small part of the building was still standing. Of course, we then returned to Morda via Oswestry to find what remained of the building and to take a photo. Before the fire the building spent many years as a hospital.

We called back to the Mile End Tourist Info Centre to thank Lynn & Sue for the great help they had been to us, and to enlist their help to book us into a B & B for the night.

They booked us in to the most scenic B & B we have yet visited, high on a hill overlooking the beautiful Ceiriog Valley in North Wales. Riv Carter, a retired Bank Manager and very gracious host of the 'Fron Frys' B & B (www.fronfrys.co.uk) made us feel very welcome and comfortable. The other couple staying there were Aussies from Sydney, Geoff & Mary, who were staying for two nights. They had stayed a couple of years previously and enjoyed the location so much they decided to return. The four us went to the local village pub 'The Oak' at Glyn Ceiriog where we enjoyed a meal of Welsh lamb.

Friday 22 August

Said good-bye to our new friends and set off to the town of Chirk, where we had a quick look at the Chirk Castle. Unfortunately it didn't open till lunch time so we kept going as we had lots of Wales still to see.

We drove through the Snowdonia National Park and down to Portmeirion but decided not to stop. Portmeirion village is on a private peninsula off the Snowdonia coast and was built between 1925 and 1972 by a Welsh architect. There are shops, restaurants, gardens and beaches and 70 acres of woodland so I'm sure it would be very interesting to visit but we decided we didn't want to pay to go in when there are so many 'real' villages to explore throughout the countryside of Great Britain.

We made our way a little further down the coast to Harlech, where we stopped for lunch. Harlech is another hillside town with an imposing castle and has extensive views over the coast of Wales.

As it is still holiday time there are lots of holiday makers about and the holiday parks that stretch along the coast must be enjoying full occupancy. The weather wasn't good so I guess they were deserting the beaches for the near-by towns. There were several holiday camps each with rows and rows of holiday vans lined up along the beaches - didn't look very inviting to us but no doubt people like to come to the beach for summer holidays.

We continued south for a while but tired of the dreary weather and decided to visit Powis Castle, near Welshpool, on our way home. Had some trouble finding the Castle as the National Trust sineage to the castle was not clear from the direction we were coming. Eventually found it but unfortunately too late to gain entry to the castle. The gardens were still open so we wandered in to take a look at the beautiful terraced gardens which stretch down to the bottom of the hill.

Sunday 24th August

Before we left Australia we decided it would be a good idea to join The National Trust(http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk) as there are so many interesting and beautiful homes and gardens managed by the Trust. We are pleased with that decision as we have been able to visit a variety of homes, castles and gardens that we might otherwise have missed. It would be impossible to see them all, of course, but we have certainly enjoyed those we have managed to visit.

Calke Abbey is in Derbyshire not very far from Birmingham so that was our target for today. On the way we noticed a sign advertising a 'Rolf Harris' Exhibition so stopped to have a look. The collection of his latest paintings was very impressive -if we'd had a spare £20,000 or £30,000, there were a couple that we could easily have bought. £400 would have bought a limited edition signed print which was a bit closer to the mark, but we resisted the temptation.

On to Calke Abbey which was acquired by the National Trust in the 1980's and has been preserved in the condition in which it was found, somewhat worn and faded from it's former glory, but what a magnificent estate it must have been.

Originally set on the site of an Augustinian priory, Calke Abbey was never actually an Abbey, but the name was given to the house in 1808 - nearly 300 years after it stopped being used for religious purposes!

The house passed through many different hands, until it landed with the Harpur family, who held on to the house until the 1980s, by which time it had fallen into a state of disrepair, the family finding it difficult to maintain and soaring debts saw the house donated to the National Trust.

Several members of the Harpur-Crewe family were ardent collectors of stuffed birds, shells, cartoons etc, and their huge collections are still on display in Calke, along with a great number of paintings and fine pieces of furniture, including a great four poster bed with magnificent drapes and bedspread.

The extensive walled gardens and orchard can be approached through a tunnel from the deer park. The tunnel ensured that guests at the home would not have their view of the landscape disturbed by gardeners walking past.

There is another tunnel from the house to the stable area which passes through the cellar and the Abbey's brewery, where large quantities of beer were brewed for the benefit of the estates thirsty workers.

Tuesday 26th August

As it was a Bank Holiday in the UK, with expected heavy traffic everywhere, we stayed home for the day on Monday and on Tuesday drove down through the Cotswolds, a beautiful area of England with distinctive honey coloured sandstone cottages.

As is our usual custom, we avoided the highways in favour of the more quiet country roads and lanes. Quite by accident came across the Cotswold Farm Park where there were many families unloading picnic baskets from their cars and wandering across the park. We wondered why, so investigated further. Apparently, what began as a hobby has now become a 'survival' area for many rare breeds of farm animals that are facing extinction through the fads of 'improvers' over the years. Unfortunately we didn't have time to spend at the Farm Park but it looked like a great place for families and one we would take the time to visit if ever we had the chance again. (www.cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk)

We stopped also to see the remains of the Chedworth Roman Villa, another National Trust property which includes the remains of a bath house and other Roman buildings, including wonderful examples of original mosaic floors, all of which were uncovered after being discovered quite by accident back in 1864. You can see more at www.chedworthromanvilla.com

We continued down to Bath where we met Jane's cousin Helen's daughter Julia and two of her children. After a cup of coffee with Julia we then went into the city centre for a look around the beautiful and interesting old city. Bath is famous, of course, for the Roman Baths that were built around Britain's only hot spring. The city is centred around the spring and the beautiful Avon River winds through the city. The houses, all in traditional honey coloured sandstone, cling to the hills fanning out from the river valley below.

Friday 29 August

After a couple of quiet days which included a visit to the shops at Sutton Coldfield we decided to visit the Ironbridge area again and to have a look at the Coalport China Museum where fine English chinaware was manufactured between 1795 and 1926. Old buildings, including kilns used to fire the pottery, are still standing and original examples of historic china are on display. There are usually several demonstrations of traditional ceramic techniques happening at the museum, but since it was the end of the school holidays, it was rather quiet and there were only a couple of demos to see.

Also housed at the Coalport Museum is the shop and glassmaking viewing gallery of Jonathan Harris. His contemporary and classical designs are unique, each piece being signed and dated, (www.jhstudioglass.com) and examples of his work can be found in The British Museum, The National Gallery and specialist retailers and galleries.

We intended going back to the village at Ironbridge which we had seen only briefly previously, but took a wrong turning and instead found ourselves at the delightful market town of Much Wenlock. We were fascinated by the name so stopped for a stroll through the town. What a delightful place with a splendid local museum and some great shops including the gallery 'twentytwenty' (www.twenty-twenty.co.uk) displaying some stunning pieces of woodwork, ceramics, jewellery and paintings.