Holiday in Shropshire – 30th July to 6th August 2011
Saturday 30th July
It’s been almost nine months since we last went away for a few days. In between then and now, it’s been an eventful few months.
Two years ago we spent a week staying on a farm up on the border of Wales and Shropshire and, as we didn’t get away last summer due to the arrival of Emily, we decided to revisit some of our old haunts.
Accordingly, we packed the car and set off this morning at around 9.30am.
We had a good run up the M40 before hitting some traffic on the M42. Two lanes were closed, apparently due to the tarmac being burned and needing to be resurfaced. (We later found out that a car the same as ours had caught fire!)
Eventually we managed to squeeze past and continued on with our journey before reaching the Little Chef at Hagley just after 12pm.
Unlike our last, disappointing, visit to a Little Chef, this time the service was exemplary. The staff there were both friendly and helpful, the food was served quickly and it all tasted delicious.
After lunch, I gave Mum a call. She was travelling up by train to Yorkshire to stay with my sister’s family for a week and was at that stage just passing through Peterborough. Fortunately the trains were behaving themselves relatively well.
Before long, it was time to continue on to our destination at Penoffa Farm near Evenjobb.
Eventually we arrived at around 3.15pm and found the house almost as we had remembered it from our last visit – including the sheep in the field opposite!
The wooden chalet accommodation consists of three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Downstairs is a lounge/dining area, kitchen, shower room and utility room. Outside, within an enclosed garden, is a decking area with table and chairs, a BBQ and a hot tub.
As we had been unable to shoehorn much in the way of food into the car, we ended up heading to Knighton to Harry Tuffins to stock up. Harry Tuffins is an amazing shop that seems to sell almost everything. At its heart is a well stocked supermarket. There are also additional ranges including homewear, toys, garden equipment and even larger goods such as televisions and washing machines!
Having stocked up, we repaired back to our house and enjoyed a tea of muffins and cake.
Later, we watched the draw for Qualifying at the 2014 World Cup.
Sunday 31st July
After something of lack of sleep overnight (mainly due to the heat) which led to me camping on the sofa from about 4.30am, we were all up soon after 7am.
It was a cloudy morning and we decided to visit the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre. Located in Craven Arms, this offers an exhibition centred on the history of Shropshire, as well as a variety of outdoor landscapes to explore. In addition, there is a reasonably extensive shop and also a restaurant conveniently located at the end of the exhibition.
Shropshire Council seem to specialise in minimising the amount of directional signs that they use around the area. Once we finally reached Craven Arms, it was still somewhat tricky to locate the Discovery Centre.
Once there, however, the girls enjoyed the various ‘hands-on’ aspects of the exhibition, although I found it difficult to see how the ‘3D balloon ride’ fitted in overall. The projector could certainly have done with a few more lumens as the whole display seemed extremely washed out!
The careful positioning of the restaurant duly served its purpose and we enjoyed some drinks and very tasty shortbread.
Outside, we explored generally overgrown paths that were ill-suited to buggies and eventually stopped for a picnic lunch.
After leaving the Discovery Centre, we decided to stop off for a visit to Stokesay Castle. Stokesay Castle is actually something of a misnomer as is actually a fortified manor house. We enjoyed visiting while we were in Shropshire two years ago and today’s visit was also worthwhile.
As well as seeing numerous swallows which use the ready access and shelter of the castle’s rooms, we also partook of some of the excellent cakes on offer and enjoyed eating outside on a slightly warm and muggy afternoon.
Afterwards, we popped in to see the church featured in the picture above, which is almost in the grounds of Stokesay.
Eventually it was time to return back to our chalet at Penoffa Farm to enjoy a tea of bacon and eggs.
Monday 1st August
Following a better night’s sleep, we set off on another cloudy morning for Croft Castle, owned by the National Trust.
We joined the National Trust back in October last year, whilst staying down in Weymouth for a few days and as Croft Castle is relatively close to our accommodation in Shropshire, we decided to pay them a visit.
We spent some time wandering around the scenic grounds which include a delightful walled garden as well as extensive lawns and an old church. Croft Castle also has a good population of house martins and we spotted numerous nests as we made our way around the building.
Eventually, it was time to adjourn to the restaurant for an early lunchtime snack and a coffee.
We were able to sit outside, albeit under cover, to enjoy our food. It proved to be an opportune time as we experienced our first drizzle of the holiday. The rain didn’t stop the girls enjoying some time in the castle-themed play area – although Rebekah did hurt her back after coming off of the slide rather fast!
With lunch out of the way, we were able to look around the house and we enjoyed looking at some of the old furniture. One of the rooms was lit by candlelight to show how it would have looked in the 1780s. Sadly, with modern health and safety precluding the use of real candles, they had to make do with modern equivalents which slightly tainted the whole effect.
After leaving Croft Castle in the early afternoon, we stopped off briefly in Leominster to pick up a few items before arriving back at Penoffa at around 4pm to allow plenty of time to cook a roast dinner. During the preparations for this, I helped out by peeling and chopping my first ever carrots!
During the evening, Sarah took Rebekah and Holly into the hot tub for the first time on the holiday. The girls enjoyed the experience, although Holly was slightly reticent at first, and not really a big fan of the bubble jets!
Later, with the girls asleep, we were able to sit outside on a relatively warm evening and enjoy a glass of wine with the backdrop of sheep baaing in the field opposite.
Tuesday 2nd August
Today we paid a visit to Ludlow, another place that we last went to when we were up in Shropshire two years ago.
Ludlow is an ancient market town that is in many way the epitome of an English town with its mixture of medieval and more modern buildings, narrow roads and castle. Ludlow castle is first referred to by chroniclers in 1138AD.
Unfortunately, as lovely as it is, it is still guilty of the same poor signposting that seems to afflict Shropshire as a whole.
After driving around the town a few times, we eventually found a car-park reasonably close to the town centre that offered 10 hours of parking for the princely sum of two pounds!
We walked into the town centre passing Spar on our way to the castle. When we had last been in Ludlow, this site had been occupied by a recently defunct Woolworths. It was good to see that the new owners had seen fit to retain the tiling of the capital ‘W’ at the entrance, denoting Woolworths.
Leaving Spar behind us, we headed into the castle which was much as we remembered it.
Ludlow Castle is excellent for children and has all kinds of rooms and passages for them to explore, as well as spiral stairs right up to the flagpole on the keep.
This time, I had two children to escort up the ramparts as Holly insisted on joining the expedition aloft. Emily was more interested in beginning her lunch than looking around the castle so Sarah stayed below while I proceeded upwards with the other two.
We paused for a picnic lunch in one of the purpose-built, large gazebos that are positioned close to the entrance and the girls enjoyed watching a man cutting the wide expanse of grass within the castle, on a sit-on mower, as they ate.
Following a final exploration of the remainder of the castle, we headed out to the market area outside, only to find a strategically positioned ice-cream van parked. Judging by the numbers sitting in the sunshine and enjoying ‘99s’ and ices, I’d say that he had the ideal location on a hot day.
We looked in a few shops and then spent some time looking around Ludlow Museum which has plenty for children to look at and learn about.
On our way back to the car-park we stopped off at a large Co-op to pick up some essential supplies before heading back to Penoffa to enjoy chicken pie.
After dinner, we wandered down the drive of the farm to visit the sheep in a nearby field.
Later, again with the girls in bed, we were able to enjoy another al fresco glass of wine, on a warm and balmy evening.
Wednesday 3rd August
Today we decided to venture over to another National Trust location, Berrington Hall and arrived at 10am sharp, in bright sunshine, the first visitors of the day.
Berrington Hall was built around 1780 and consists of a large manor house set in expansive grounds.
On arrival we found the front lawn had been given over to various outdoor games including croquet, a giant Connect 4, quoits and a large drafts game. We indulged in a couple of games before heading off on the easiest of three walks around the ground. This included visiting the lake, Berrington Pool, which was the final landscape design of Landscape Architect Capability Brown.
To reach the lake, we had to walk through various fields of sheep containing mature oak trees. There were a couple of steepish slopes which were quite heavy going pushing a buggy and we were glad that we hadn’t left it any later in the day to complete the walk.
By the time we returned to the house, it was approaching lunchtime and we were able to sit outside in the quadrangle and enjoy food from the restaurant.
After lunch we went on a ‘Below Stairs’ tour. This consisted of two ladies in period dress showing a large party around the dairy, the laundry, the Butler’s accommodation and the cellars. All of the rooms were set up as they would have been originally and both Rebekah and Holly enjoyed listening to the explanations and descriptions of life in the ‘olden days’ and Rebekah even helped out with a demonstration in the laundry! Emily soon lost interest however and we later met up with Sarah enjoying a cold drink in the shade.
Following the tour, we found the Walled Garden which wasn’t as large as the one at Croft Castle, but still impressive. There is also a separate part which is devoted to vegetables and also includes a large play area which seemed popular with younger members of the family!
After a short visit to the ubiquitous shop, it was time to head off to Knighton to stock up on BBQ food at Harry Tuffins before returning back to the farm.
Once ‘home’, we enjoyed a BBQ on the decking at the back of the house on a warm, sunny and slightly muggy evening.
The placid evening was later somewhat dissipated when Emily was sick at around midnight. There followed a somewhat disturbed night.
Thursday 4th August
After something of a lack of sleep due to Emily being under the weather, we were up slightly later and didn’t manage to get out of the house until almost 10am.
The persistent rain falling did little to enhance the slightly jaded mood as we made our way to Shrewsbury.
Given the late start, we ended up heading straight to the Little Chef at Shrewsbury, our planned stop for lunch. This is one of the ten Little Chefs in the country that have been rebranded and now offer an updated menu as well as enhanced decor. Being something of a lifelong fan, this was my first opportunity to visit a revamped restaurant and I was keen to see how they would perform.
Perhaps my expectations were a little too optimistic, but sadly the experience was not quite where I had hoped it would be.
They were all relatively minor things – the staff came to take our drinks order twice, the waitress spilled some of Rebekah’s drink after bringing her orange juice instead of apple, Holly’s chosen main course was unavailable despite an almost empty restaurant and the fact that it was only 12pm, the staff were slow to collect the empty plates etc…
None of the above could detract from the quality of the food offered, which was excellent. Unfortunately the minor quibbles somewhat sullied the experience and I found it a little disappointing that given the huge steps made with the food and rebranding, that the minor etiquette and customer attention to detail was slightly below what I would have expected.
With Emily still unwell, we cut short our lunch, dispensed with pudding and headed for the Park and Ride at Meole Brace.
The girls enjoyed the novelty of travelling in by bus and once in Shrewsbury we decided to make our way to the local Tourist Information where Sarah was able to source a Walk-In NHS Centre to take Emily to.
It was a twenty minute walk and an hour’s wait once we were there, but it was worth us having gone. It turned out that Emily had some form of virus and was running a temperature of 39.9C! Calpol was prescribed and dispensed rapidly afterwards.
We walked back into town pausing briefly for a drink and cake at Caffe Nero on the way to the bus stop.
The Park-and-Ride journey out of Shrewsbury was punctuated with some impressive crying from Emily, and the journey home was given over to maximum ventilation to try to bring her temperature down.
Emily seemed somewhat better by the evening and it seemed that the Calpol was doing its job successfully.
Friday 5th August
We had a better than expected night with Emily and woke feeling reasonably refreshed to enjoy our final full day in Shropshire.
This morning we drove to the scenic village of Clun, another highlight of our holiday two years ago.
By the time we arrived, Emily was asleep in the car, so I took Rebekah and Holly and we clambered up to view the remains of Clun Castle. The castle dates from the 11th Century and was built to defend the English border in the Clun valley. There is little remaining now although the views from the top of the hill overlooking Clun are quite spectacular.
Clun was due to celebrate its annual Carnival on the day following our visit and preparations seemed well in hand with various marquees springing up in the grounds of the castle.
Clun itself is a large village that in many ways has been left untouched by modern life. Aside from the Costcutter, all of the other shops are local independents which really enhance the feeling of community about the place.
In one window there were a number of old photos displayed including Clun Women’s Institute, the local Fire Brigade and the Clun Carnival. It’s easy to imagine that life has remained more or less the same for the last fifty years or so. In many ways it harks back to a golden idyll where life moved more slowly and everybody knew everyone else. I think it’s a wonderful place.
After lunch we drove through the other villages featured in the local saying – Clungunford and Clunbury, Clunton and Clun are the quietest places under the sun.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch beside the river at Leintwardine and the girls enjoyed seeing sticklebacks in the river.
After lunch, we drove to Knighton and had a look around the shops in the town. It seems that even these rural outposts are not immune to the recession. At least one shop that we visited two years ago is no longer trading now.
Whilst in Knighton, we made our final visit to Harry Tuffins before heading off to Presteigne.
Presteigne is smaller than Knighton and has a good range of independent shops. I enjoyed leafing through some old maps in an antiques shop while we were there, trying (without success) to find one of the Maidenhead area.
The girls also had a play in the park that we visited last time we were there.
Later, after completing some of the packing for the trip home, we returned to the Victoria Fish Bar to pick up some takeaway fish and chips for our last main meal in Shropshire.
Saturday 6th August
Following another somewhat disturbed night with Emily, we had our breakfast and prepared to shoehorn all of our luggage into the car.
By the time we had checked and rechecked that we had all our belongings and stopped for a quick photo or two, it was 10am – our allotted time to leave.
We stopped off in Presteigne briefly on the way home and then drove back along the A44 through Worcester before picking up the A424 and stopping off at the Burford Little Chef for lunch.
We’ve eaten here several times and each time we visit it seems that they could do with at least one extra pair of hands on duty.
We arrived at 1pm to be told that there was ‘at least a 30 minute wait for food’. The girls were happy enough to have a break from the car, and make use of the play room at the Little Chef.
We were seated and given drinks relatively quickly, but the food ended up taking around 50 minutes to arrive.
As Little Chefs go, the Burford branch always seems busy – and today was no exception. The food was very tasty and well presented and the staff seemed efficient at keeping tables clear etc. We decided to have puddings as well and ended up being there for almost two hours before eventually arriving home around 4pm.
How do you sum up a week in Shropshire and judge the success of a holiday?
We all had a great time visiting the different places while we were there and it was excellent to be able to spend time together as a family doing things that are out of the norm of our humdrum lives. For me at least, that marks it down as being successful, and, while it’s good to be back home, part of me yearns for the freedom and beautiful scenery of Shropshire.