Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Fabulous Fun weekend on Dartmoor

The Magic Roundabout in Hemel, courtesy Google Maps

Good journey to Luton, all timed to perfection. The space left in the boot could have been made to measure for Dad and Elizabeth’s suitcase, bundled them in and away we went, to Berkhamsted, via the ‘magic roundabout’ in Hemel which is a set of mini roundabouts in a circle so as long as you treat each little roundabout properly you can go either way round the big one in the middle! Very confusing for the unwary! 

Tring High Street courtesy Google Maps
Berkhamsted is where I went to school and my Father was brought up, so a bit of a trip down memory lane. Lovely, but far too big a lunch before discovering that the real reason for being there was no more: the gentleman’s outfitters, with trousers to fit my father has gone! So off we went to Aylesbury and spent a thrilling hour in M&S, the three of us running around, one trying on, and the shop assistant watching in amazement and leaving us to it! After a successful mission, he would be allowed to go to the Saturday night party, the reason for their visit to the UK. 

Richard, Brian, Trisha, Elizabeth and Jackie
We headed off to Tring, my old hometown, so more memory lane visiting, before arriving with Trisha an old family friend with whom we spent a lovely evening over a very good curry. The following morning before setting off I had a play with Trisha’s computer to enable her to access her emails again, I’m sure she was thrilled with the 516 to go through, received since March, Brian ‘tweaked’ the front door and Trisha spent 10 mins sorting out my shoulder which has been painful since we were in Sumatra! All in all a good visit all round! 

Passing Stonehenge on the A303, courtesy Google Maps
Off to Dartmoor, assuming we’d arrive middle of the afternoon, by the time we’d queued to drive past Stonehenge and hunted for a petrol station on fumes it was later than we expected, just in time for a cup of tea before Iain and Bev pulled into the carpark, shortly followed by Helen and Ian. Time for the first pint then, before a quick walk for Monty, bumping into Phil and Sue just arriving. Slightly later on the scene were Manu and Crystal, but they had had to be towed back to Birmingham before getting the car repaired and setting off again!

Outside the Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton, Dartmoor
Getting ready for Saturdays walk
We had been allocated our own room in the pub which is probably as well – we were that group that you hate, very loud, lots of laughter and lots of beer drunk. What did we talk about? Who knows. Did we enjoy ourselves? Immensely!

Phil says 'This way', ignored by Helen, Jackie, Crystal and Iain
Against my better judgement we were sharing with Helen and Ian and Monty dog. I was expecting something to get chewed but he behaved beautifully, only snuffling in my ear once each morning! Saturday am, slightly jaded, but we have been much worse, everyone ate the full, slightly overcooked and jolly expensive breakfast and off we set, out on the moor. Lovely walk accompanied by Bev to begin with before she turned round to wait for us in the pub. Monty had a great time splashing about in the stream, and Helen got sunburnt legs, no one elses legs varied from ‘pale and interesting’ (though a couple of heads and necks were slightly toasted) but somehow Helen may be the only one with a tan! Back to Bev in time for a fabulous cream tea, it’s hard to beat clotted cream! Quick pint on the way back in the pub with the fire that has been burning for 175 years, fortunately it has very thick walls too so was, surprisingly, a pleasant temperature before back to the Drewe Arms for a power (or Powell in honour of Phil and Sue) nap and another evening of fun and frivolity accompanied by the ‘Captain Pugwash’ folk duet (they weren’t called that, but the music was very much like it) in the bar next door and later in the ‘snug’ just for us.

Phil and Sue leading, followed by Crystal, Brian, Jackie, Helen, Iain and Ian
Crystal and Phil do a 'selfie'
A shorter, but longer than expected, walk by the river the following morning meant we missed getting to Ledbury in time to walk the dogs. However they, the cats and Richard and Judith all greeted us joyfully, fortunately though all expressing this in their own ways! It would have been a bit embarrassing if Richard rather than Fred the cat had crawled all over my lap purring and dribbling after all!

Bev, Iain (wedding next year!), Ian, Sue, Helen with Monty dog, Crystal, Phil, Jackie and Manu
Jackie, Manu and Phil
It was like coming home, talking nineteen to the dozen catching up and really getting to know the dogs. We had met them all before, but only at the beginning and end of the last sit as they had gone to France with Richard and Judith. This time they are staying with us, which is all a bit more of a challenge keeping an eye on and control over four big dogs galloping through fields chasing pheasants and dashing through the woods like mad things is not what we are used to!

Happy days! Crystal, Jackie, Sue, Phil, Helen, Ian, Manu and Monty dog
First walk we did with Judith, and met Rob with the scaredy springer spaniel which was good, he knows we are in training too, second walk we did on our own while they were poised to answer the phone and leap into action and third walk this morning we did on our own, as they departed for the airport at 03.30 this am! All has gone well so far, we met the lady with three Labradors, one of each colour, this morning which was fine, and all dogs have come back when called after realising that the pheasant they were chasing through the field was not going to be caught! 

And happy Monty too!
All we have to do now is keep this up, and avoid being trailed by little Charley cat who wants to go for the walk in the woods with her friends the dogs but has much shorter legs and a tendency to get lost, she has been away for three days before finally being found needing to be put on a drip, and has been hit by a car on previous excursions, so we really do have to ensure she gets shut in! Keep everything crossed for us!

'Old climbing buddies' Brian and Phil discuss the route
Preparing the food for the dogs is the other thing that is a ‘whole new ballgame’, none of this handful of biscuits in a bowl, oh no, pet mince, raw chicken wing portions, leftover cooked meat, stock, cooking oil and raw carrot (for the older two) mixed with some biscuits after being gently heated in the microwave, just to take the chill off! They probably eat better than a good proportion of the UK and they are a delight on it!

Monty dog needed the odd helping hand over the stiles
Manu standing on a small hill, but because he's so short it looks huge!
Our very expensive but very nice Cream Tea at the Two Bridges Inn. Jackie, Helen, Bev, Iain, Ian, Phil and Manu. They put the cream on the scone first, followed by the jam in Devon apparently. Most of us disagree, but Bev made such a thing about it they think she's now a Devon hater and should go to neighbouring Cornwall

The remains of Montys lead after he had chewed through it while we had our Cream Tea
Monty a little disconcerted that Jackie had climbed into his bed in the back of his car!
Back in Redmarley D'Abitot and the view over the golden meadow interspersed with poppies from the end of Judith and Richard's garden
Asleep indoors on a red hot afternoon in Redmarley. Max on the left, Flora upsidedown, Muffin under the table and Brian with Oscar
Can Oscar really be comfortable?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Making use of ourselves in Solihull

Steph gets stuck in
It's probably time we did something for someone else and who better than for my niece Steph and husband Sam in their new (to them) house in Dickens Heath. With the team of Denise and Paul (grandma and grandad), Steph and Sam and with three month old Rory and Twinks the cat as audience we set to work. 

Fence repairs
Much preparation had already been done by them all (and was still to be done after we had left), so our help was useful (and extremely tiring - we're just not used to it, how do they do it?), but a mere blip on the mountain of work done and to be done. Working in a team is always fun, singing along to old songs that S&S had never heard of, tuneless whistling, oh the neighbours must have loved it! 

They seemed impressed with my fence repairs that did go very well and presented few problems, but didn't deserve the lavish praise, just wait till Steph sees the plant trampled under my foot, well, it did look like a weed to me! Walls bashed and electrical sockets fitted and then up to the loft with Sam to fit a loft ladder, some electric lights up there and floor board half of it for storage. Always good to spend time with people and particularly Sam who I didn't know that we'll, you find out such interesting things. Found out he even applied to join MI5 (am I allowed to write that?) but turned it down in his own mind (before they turned him down by letter) due to the poor Civil Service salary pay. 
Hard working Paul
'Did you want be a spy?' I asked and would the package have additional perks like an expense account that paid for vodka martinis (shaken not stirred), chips for the casino and use of a company Aston Martin as per James Bond. Apparently not. Amazing what you find out while sitting amongst wood shavings and loft insulation while bashing you head on unnoticed beams of wood (why do they put so much of it in odd placed up there?). Meanwhile downstairs there's Rory to be fed, walls and ceilings to be painted, step ladders to be climbed up and down innumerable times, gloss paint to be applied, songs to be murdered and, oh, is that Twinks' little paw prints across that newly painted window shelf. 

Sam in the newly boarded loft with his vacuum cleaner!
All in all, great fun, good to catch up with everyone and three days of hard work. With muscles aching (two days after we finished) we're getting ready to drive to Luton airport to pick up Jackies dad and Elizabeth, here for a weekend party, we'll see them for one night out before, before going on to Dartmoor for a drunken weekend of walking and laughter with our friends. And my head is still feeling a bit dull from our night out at the pub last night with Jackies mum Pauline in our home village of Alvechurch. Such a busy life!

Head massage for Rory from Jackie
Tea break and Rory feeding time

Evening glass of wine to celebrate

Friday, 19 June 2015

Sooty the Sweetie Cat

Again, not much to report, running has taken a back seat as after doing three consecutive days while at Helen and Phils Brian has had a painful knee on and off, plus we found our gym cards that we got after our first trip and return home. This allows us free attendance to various council gyms at various specific times so we've been making full use of the local gym!

A narrowboat negotiating the locks at Tardebigge
We had a visit to Gill to meet up with Sam the dog and Keith the cat who we sat for last year and were one of the reasons for coming back this year. Our fortnight with them had already shrunk which opened the door for a weekend away with a fab group of people next weekend and for five days back near Ledbury with not just the five cats but the four dogs too! We are looking forward to this but are slightly nervous (any help or advice you can give us Robyn, gratefully received!) 
The reservoir built to fill the 'water thirsty' 36 canal lock flight
Keith the cat had a bit of an adventure the other week when he fell from an upstairs window and damaged his pelvis, this was not putting us off, but that in conjunction with putting out her back (not ideal when going away sailing) and water appearing through the kitchen ceiling means Gill has decided not to go away. We were more than welcome to stay anyway, and there was a Housesit near Telford for the weekend, but Abi where we are at the moment has said "just stay" she is coming back today as she has an appointment but will go back to Malvern again tomorrow. What a very nice lady. We are also back here after Ledbury so if we want to leave anything here.....

A little robin watches us walk by
Apart from Gill we also visited Fiona, James and Brian's three grand daughters and had the rundown on their cat and two rabbits, the TV and the hot tub for when we sit for them in July. I also had another lovely afternoon with Alex drinking coffee and chatting!

A lock, the lock drainage mechanism and the old white lock keepers cottage
Mr. & Mrs. Duck
Yesterday we took advantage of the weather and went for a walk. We started at Tardebigge and walked up twenty of the thirty six locks that comprise one of the longest flights of locks on the canal in the UK, meeting many narrowboats with tired looking people, lots of whom were foreign, just here on their holidays.We then headed off cross country on a very pretty walk before returning to the canal, feeling a bit like a pair of crocks, Brian with his dodgy knee and arthritic toe and me with a painful Achilles' tendon. The excitement on the walk was a field of young cows, very friendly and interested, but big, bouncy and a little scary as they followed closely behind us through their field, kicking up their heels and galloping about! Perhaps we were over sensitive, but a friend from the mountaineering club was air lifted to hospital last month with 12 broken ribs after he and his dog upset some cows on their walk!

Mr. Swan came quite close but not close enough to break my arm!
So another gentle week, but enjoyable nonetheless, looking forward to an evening with Abi tonight, but who will Sooty spend the night with? Us in the main bedroom or Abi in the spare room!

Tardebigge tunnel. 530m long with no towpath. Passage before powered craft was by lying on top of the narrowboat and 'walking' along the top of the tunnel. The canal was completed and opened in 1815, 200 years ago at the time Wellington was fighting Nelson at the Battle of Waterloo!
St Bartholomews church. Built in 1775 and restored in 1879. It replaced an earlier church dating from the 11th century that collapsed in 1775
The Victoria restored interior of St Bartholomews
Environmentally conscious farmers
The scary cows. We walked through their field surrounded by them running and jumping around us. As we climbed over the stile in the centre they were all around us, Jackie went first while Brian waited in amongst them for his turn trying not to show fear!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Hall Green (The Shire, Hobbiton Mill and Old Forest?)

The references to places in JRR Tolkien’s books The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings reflect that we’ve been to Sarehole Mill (the Mill at Hobbiton in his books) and Moseley Bog (possibly the Old Forest), situated in the old area of Sarehole (possibly The Shire), now part of Hall Green, Birmingham.

Stepping stones over the River Cole
Just a short walk down the road from where we’re looking after Sooty while Abigail is on holiday we walked off Sarehole Road and down a track between houses to the River Cole and a little green world of trees , wild flowers and grasses and a row of stepping stones leading across the river, feeling a world away from the busy city suburb with hardly a house in view. A little track through the woods led us to the ford on Green Road, only about 150mm deep at the moment so easy for cars to get through, then on through fields to the old Mill.

The ford on Green Road
Sarehole Mill
Although it’s quite suburban round here now you really can get a feel for what it was like in Tolkiens day and it’s well worth a visit. The mill dates from the eighteenth century, although there has been a mill on the site since the sixteenth, and was used by the famous industrialist Matthew Bolton in the eighteenth century for scientific experimentation, but its main use was for grinding grain, for which it did until 1919. 

The Mill from across the millpool
After it closed it became derelict and was scheduled for demolition until, in 1969 the local community, including JRR Tolkien successfully restored it, handing it over to Birmingham City Council as a working mill. We visited and saw grain being ground into flour between two millstones driven through huge wooden gears from the wooden water mill, still being turned by water power.

Machinery at work
264 Wake Green Road
In the 4 years Tolkien lived in the area he stayed at Gracewell Cottages on Wake Green Road, situated at the back of the mill, near to Moseley Bog and he apparently played in the mill and bog and it was these experiences that apparently gave him the inspiration for his famous books, now made into films. 

Wake Green Road 2015....
His house in Gracewell Cottages is now number 264 Wake Green Road and is a private house, but I imagine we did the same as hundreds of other people and walked down there to take a photo of an apparently ordinary traditional house on a fairly busy city road. We walked down the road a bit to take a photo of the road from the same spot of a photo from the year 1905 showing it as a country lane (much to Jackie’s excitement – not!), the houses are still recognisable if now more modernised.

...And how it looked in 1905
Moseley Bog
Moseley Bog is a nature reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is made up of both wet and dry woodland together with patches of fen vegetation which has developed on the site of an old millpond. It’s a splendid place and access across the wetland is on railway sleepers and a wooden walkway that weaves through the woodland, making it a great little walk.

More Moseley Bog
We carried on along Wake Green Road to continue our walk along the River Cole, passing some old ‘prefabs’. Just after the Second World War 500,000 prefabricated houses were erected all over the bomb damaged county as temporary houses, until permanent brick built houses could be built. Their design life was 10 years, but many of them lasted into the 1970’s and beyond and I remember a whole estate near to where I lived as a child that were demolished in about 1965. 
The prefabs on Wake Green Road
These ones in Wake Green Road are some of the last and I believe they are now listed buildings and cannot now be demolished as they are examples of a past housing style. We did note the asbestos roofs, probably best left untouched and they now look very cold and dated, not the best accommodation! There’s about a dozen of them in a row and at least half of them looked unoccupied – prefab accommodation anyone?

Sooty cat taking a drink from the running tap
We walked as far as Trittiford Mill Park on the edge of Yardley Wood, near where I once lived, looked for a cafĂ©, couldn’t find one so returned along the river through the woods, past the school outing and returned ‘home’ after enjoying an ice cream on a nice sunny and warm afternoon. Can’t believe the weather forecast for the weekend is cold, windy and heavy rain, it’s so warm and pleasant today!

Look at this old map from 1900. Sarehole Mill is in the centre, there is nothing but green fields all around

Now look at this one from 1930. Sarehole Mill is still in the centre, but now its surrounded by suburbia. The house we are staying in is on a road at the top of the map just right of centre