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The monsoon arrived in the new year with the south and west coasts being hit by a series of storms sweeping in from the Atlantic and torrential rain causing bad flooding throughout the South of England, the Somerset levels once again being under water. We missed the worst of the storms here in Bridgnorth but the River Severn was in flood, as you can see from the above photo, with water coming down from the Welsh mountains. We are safe from any flooding living in the high town 100 feet above the river.
We had another quiet and typically English new year celebration. We did hear one or two fireworks but what with horizontal rain outside we were not tempted out. We had a nice roast duck dinner with a bottle of Poully Fumé then saw the new year in with Jules Holland and a glass of Shampoo, retiring to bed at about 1am.
So far this year we have had two minor troubles and are waiting for a third! Our soundbar just stopped working and was returned to the lovely Argos who could not replace it as it is no langer manufactured so they refunded our money. We ordered a different one on line and were told we would have to wait a month for delivery.
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The internet is a great way to get on the net.
Bob Dole 1923 -
On the first Saturday market at the other end of the High Street with a full shopping trolly, a wheel fell off so we had to struggle back carrying it between us. A new one was delivered by an online retailer in a couple of days. They really have online retailing sorted since we started doing it way back in the last century! We were sent an email on the morning of the delivery saying the new trolley would be delivered between 11:53 and 12:53 even giving us the van drivers name! Sure enough and bang on time I opened the door and said good morning to Bob the driver when he handing me our new shopping trolly!
The good news was that Bath Rugby began the New Year on a high note and that we have three prospective buyers interested in Harmonie! We are travelling over to Belgium during January to show them over Harmonie.
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We booked a flight from Birmingham to Maderia in early May intending to walk the levadas. For the unitiated these are a series of irrigation channels cut into the steep mountainsides which you can walk along. There are an estimated 2500km of such channels and the island is rich in wild flowers during the springtime when we arrive. We have also booked an old hotel in the centre of Funchal and intend using the local buses to get us to the walks which are rarely circular as the levadas contour around the mountains. We anticipate hiring a car for a few days to fully explore the island.
The sales are in full swing and even the internet suppliers are getting in on the act. I couldn't resist the CBSO sale which offered 33% off the price of all tickets if you booked two concerts so I did.
Our trip over to Belgium was to check on Harmonie and to remove three months accumulated dirt and mould. After a dose of the magic "Shipclean" she was back to her usual pristine self! Two of our potential buyers turned up just after I had finished which was opportune and we finished up having dinner with them at Lily's Chinese restaurant in Somergem. Lily was pleased to see us and presented us with New Year gifts, mine being what she described as Chinese Porto which turned out to be a sweet white wine and the ladies gift was a manicure set.
I inflicted the Chinese wine on our Belgian friends Andy and Liz who visited us the next day for afternoon tea with their friends Karen and Mark who is the Hotel manager on a Holland America cruise liner. Mark is a bit of a handy photographer and here is a link to his web site where you can see the results from his numerous cruises around the world.
On our return from Belgium we stayed a couple of nights with Les and Sal in wonderful Worthing and travelled to Chichester to the cinema where we saw Last Vegas, a hilarious comedy starring Calvin Klein, Michael Douglas, Robert de Niro and Morgan Freeman who stage a bachelor party in Las Vegas when they are all in their seventies!
Daughter Rebecca took us to visit Fort Nelson. This is one of a series of Forts built around Portsmouth in the 19th century, the idea being that the naval dockyards could be defended against a French attack from the land. The theory was that the French, who had a much larger army than the British, could land along the coast and attack the dockyards from the land. A monument to Lord Nelson was built after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 on Portsdown Hill overlooking Portsmouth so the fort that was constructed nearby was named after the great man. It is now part of the Royal Armouries museum containing a huge collection of all types of guns and there is free admission. It was well worth a visit and I was reminded that my father lost his hearing firing some of these anti-aircraft guns at enemy aircraft during WW2.
I have been around computers since mini computers in the 1970's so I thought that the scammers had no chance with me but I was wrong!
I had a call from a guy who spoke poor English but we have all had problems with understanding "Bombay Sid"!! He said he was Microsoft authorised and claimed he could speed up my internet connection as my computer contained many hidden files which were affecting it's efficient operation. He demonstrated this by getting me to run a program from the command line showing how these files were affecting performance and allowing hackers to use my internet connection. These were not virus's but were files that spyware, malware and anti virus programs could not detect. He was a techie who seemed to know what he was talking about. The deal was that they would clean the computer of these files, renew the Microsoft warranty and provide support for 12 months for £10.
That set warning bells ringing but I went along with the process and he downloaded software which allowed him to control my computer remotely. He then asked me to send the initial fee by Western Union which I did but my credit card was refused as was my debit card. He then suggested I pay them electronically so I went into my bank on line, forgetting that they could see everything I was doing. After the penny dropped I called my bank and asked the reason for my credit and debit card being blocked. I was told they suspected a scam when I tried to transfer £192 via Western Union at which point I requested they cancel my credit and debit cards and block my internet bank account which they did, confirming that nothing had been debited up until then.
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The scam I wrote about above I subsequently reported to Action Fraud who confirmed that this was a recent scam and knew all about these particular scammers methods. I gave them all the details of my experience and they said it was unlikely there had been any corruption of files as their sole purpose was to extract money but that I had followed the correct procedure. I have had several phone calls from the scammers since and have just terminated the call without conversation as Action Fraud advised this was the correct action.
As you can see if you compare the photo below with the one at the top of the page, the River Severn continued to rise and for the first time since we came here burst it's banks. Further South there was extensive flooding below Gloucester and the Somerset levels are still under water. The government has bought in the Army to assist but the locals say the Navy would be more appropriate.
Some wag has penned some alternative words to the old Adge Cutler Wurzels song "I got a brand new combined harvester" which I replicate below:
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The end of January saw us once again at Symphony Hall in Birmingham and the CBSO with the young Japanese conductor Kazuki Jamada. Fauré's gentle Pelleas and Melisande suite began proceedings then came another youngster, Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi, to give us a fantastic rendering of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Symphony Hall's great organ introduced the second half with Vidor's Tocata played this time by a British youngster, Stephen Farr. This was just to get him warmed up for the main event, Saint-Saëns - Organ Symphony which almost literally brought the house down!
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The River Severn continued to rise and the flooding became serious. Not to us who are in the high town but in the low town several properties were below the river level and cars were abandoned.
It was impossible to walk the Severn Way upstream as the football field and part of the golf course was flooded. Downstream the meadow below the town was largely under water and the caravan park on the other bank below the bypass bridge was also flooded.
What is normally an island below the town bridge with a park and a bowling green became submerged as did all the Rugby pitches upstream and the forecast predicted worse to come. The adjacent map shows the extent of the flooding with the main road North to Telford also affected.
Further South the bridge at Bewdley was closed due to safety concerns as was the main bridge at Worcester causing traffic chaos.
I blame global warming of course but then, like our politicians, I blame everything I can on that phenomenon (tongue in cheek)! One thing is certain that if we are going to get this sort of rainfall more regularly, then the government has to invest much more in flood prevention schemes.
Even if global warming is the cause and it is the fault of man, we can not expect to solve that in my lifetime with a few wind turbines and even more political windbags! We need some fast practical acion to protect those at risk from more flooding in the immediate future.
There is a bloke from the environment agency cruising up and down in a powerful inflatable and that is repeated along the length of the river reporting on the various river heights so they can produce impressive data on what is happening and predict what might happen on their web site. As nice as that is I think the money would be better spent preventing the flooding in the first place.
These temporary flood barriers that they erect are just sticking plasters and permanent barriers should be put in place. They might even have to bring back dredging on the Severn as the locals reckon there was never any flooding when the river was regularly dredged and it is very heavily silted here now and very shallow. Of course it used to be dredged to keep the navigation open but not anymore.
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We had a visit from our friends the Palmers who battled the Somerset floods to visit flooded Bridgnorth and sample the wonderful selection of fine ales available at a fraction of the prices down south! Whilst showing them around the town I noticed that St Leonard's church was open so we had a look inside and you will find a description on the Bridgnorth page.
We also had another visit the weekend after from one of our Scottish friends, Murdo Macleod, who had needed the Samaritans due to the recent poor performance of the Scottish Rugby team. Fortunately Scotland managed to beat Italy by one point after a drop goal by fly half Duncan Weir with only 10 seconds left in the game so he is off the valium now! We celebrated a win by all the UK teams with a few pints of Hop and Stagger in the White Lion, a nice meal in the Thai Arts Restaurant and more pints in the Old Castle. The other rugby news is on the link above.
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Another concert by the CBSO saw us at Symphony Hall in Birmingham again. We popped into a Strada next door a full hour and a quarter before the concert began to be told that they could not serve us in that time. How long does it take to serve a pizza? There are plenty of restaurants to choose from close by so we nipped into an Indian we knew and they fed us in half an hour!
The concert had a Russian theme with young conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov from St. Petersburg in charge of proceedings. It began with Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain followed by a piece neither of us had heard, Variations on a Nursery Song by Hungarian composer Ernst Von Dohnányi. The nursery song turned out to be what we know as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and to hear the great pianist Peter Donohoe play this concerto was a delight and bought a few titters from the audience as he began to play!
The main event was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 which I doubt has one bar in the whole piece that is not melodic. Everyone walked away from the concert humming the wonderful theme and we both drifted off to sleep with it buzzing around our brains on our return home.
We needed a couple of new skylight covers for Harmonie which were specially made for us by Wilsons at Kinver. We collected the covers on a bright spring morning and decided to visit Kinver Edge and it's rock houses at Holy Austin. It is said that the first occupant of a rock house here was an Augustine Friar who lived here as a hermit in the 16th century and was called Austin which was how it acquired it's name, however, the local National Trust guides assured us it he did not give his name to any local car manufacturer!
There was certainly an established community here in 1777 which was the first written record of the people who lived here and the 1861 census records 11 families in residence. By the time of the second world war the rock houses had a town gas supply and mains water but no sewerage facilities so that they were eventually abandoned in the 1950's and 60's. A tea room remained open for a while but the site eventually became overgrown and the National Trust took it over in 1964. By the late 1980's the site had become unsafe so the Trust together with local people launched a restoration project.
Work began in 1990 to rebuild the upper cottages which are now the tea room and in 1996 the lower level was restored to how it was in 1900. This was followed by an adjacent cottage being restored to how it was in 1930.
Because of it's display of geological formations, Holy Austin has now been declared an area of special scientific interest.
There were three levels of houses built into the rock but some can not be accessed due to a colony of Lesser Horseshoe Bats having taken up residence! With the closure of the local Ironworks in 1881 the community were reduced to just three dwellings which is when the rest began to fall into a state of disrepair.
One of these families were the Fletcher's and they were painted in their house by Alfred Rushton in 1901 (see above). In 1872, Ann Edwards, known as "Soft Annie" for her simple ways, murdered her new born baby in the privy at her aunt and uncle's rock house home, Joseph and Sarah Fletcher. On the grounds of mercy, Ann was acquitted of the crime on the grounds of insanity at the Staffordshire Assizes, living out her days in an asylum.
The Fletcher's house has been restored from Rushton's painting (above) which still hangs in the Kinver Constitutional Club. The photograph above shows how that same restored room looks today.
Holy Austin Rock's other claim to fame is that it may have inspired J.R.Tolkien to invent the Hobbits for his Lord of the Rings novel. Tolkien lived in Birmingham at the time and Kinver was a popular destination as a light railway had been built from Stourbridge to Kinver which connected to the Birmingham tram lines so he could be out in the clean country air within two hours from where he lived.
We walked up onto Kinver Edge and round the iron age fort at the top. It was nice and sunny but still quite misty so the views were restricted but on a clear day you can see the Lickey, Clent and Malvern hills down in Worcestershire, and the Shropshire Hills to the West from it's broad summit of 164 metres altitude.
Stokesay Castle is a building I have admired for many years in photographs and it was on my list of places to visit in Shropshire. On a perfect early Spring morning we set off on the 20 odd miles drive down to Craven Arms where the castle is situated.
The land was first purchased by a wealthy local wool merchant, in fact he was a master of the Kings wool and drowned at sea on his way to trade wool in Bruges. His name was Laurence of Ludlow and he had built Stokesay at the end of the Anglo-Welsh wars by 1291.
It is a moated and fortified manor house, possibly the best example of it's kind in England. Certainly the prettiest group of buildings you are ever likely to encounter with the half timbered gatehouse, fortified towers and little church. This is an English Heritage site and we were persuaded to take out membership as there is a cluster of English Heritage sites in and around Shropshire so for £58 for 15 months subscription providing free entry for us both to over 400 properties seemed quite a good deal. We can also take the grandchildren in free as well!
I would have liked to have told a little more of the history of Stokesay but Sue left the book behind I bought about it! The castle survived the English Civil War when the commander of the small royalist garrison surrendered without a fight and even though parliament decreed it should be destroyed they never did. It did fall into disrepair and was restored in 1850 when a local lady prevailed on the then owner to make repairs.
Sue's chilblain's were playing up so we abandoned plans to walk up the hill close by and instead drove up through Craven Arms and turned off left towards Welshpool, coming up the other side of the Long Mynd where we admired the view of the Shropshire Hills towards the Welsh Border and watched the hang glider boys throwing themselves off the edge.
On the other side of the valley I could see the long ridge of Stiperstones and the rocky quartzite Tor's along it which is Shropshire second highest hill at 536m.
I suggested we extend our journey to visit Stiperstones so we soon found ourselves in the car park at the base of the hill where we climbed to the highest point on the Manstone Rock. The Tor's were exposed by glaciation during the last ice age and a slightly lower but more vertical one is known as the Devils Chair. Legend has it that the Devil and his cronies gather at the Devils Chair while witches gather at Manson Rock on the longest day of the year.
Wild Edric was a Saxon nobleman who resisted the Normans until his defeat in 1070 and if you should see his army on Stiperstones one dark night you will know that England is in danger!
We had a quick visit over to Eeklo for a Yacht Club working weekend and to show some potential buyers of Harmonie around, staying on board for a week before returning. The French ferry company gave us a magnum of wine on this trip!
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If men had to have babies, they would only ever have one each.
Princess Diana 1961 - 1997
Our Belgian friends Liz and Andy plus Andy's Mum and Dad took us to Lily's Chinese restaurant and Dad paid. Always appreciated! Liz is going to have a baby so Andy is going off to sea! Very wise and congratulations to you both.
Peter Harris and myself were engaged once more in painting the "English Gate" before he sailed off to Zelzate to have a new gas hob fitted in Ebenhaezer and we helped him retrieve his car. Sue and I gave Harmonie a spring clean and continued with the usual painting. We also arranged for one of the club members, who is a joiner, to repair the wheelhouse ceiling lining which has come adrift from the steel roof.
Another little job was to remove all the black plastic from the master bedroom porthole windows. Why we did not do that before now I can not imagine as it has become a totally different space with lots of natural light. The new skylight covers from Wilsons fitted perfectly.
Wolverhampton is not a place you would think of for a day out but the National Trust has a couple of interesting properties there which are worthy of a visit.
Moseley Old Hall was built around 1600 by Henry Pitt in the traditional half timbered fashion of the time and, when it fell into disrepair, a brick exterior was subsequently added hiding the original, something Australians would now call "brick veneer"!
I have written about the English civil war where many battles featured in the Midlands area. With the defeat of the royalists by Cromwell, King Charles 1st was executed in 1649 while his son and heir, Charles 2nd, was absent in France but the Scottish parliament then proclaimed him the rightful King of Great Britain and Ireland.
Charles II then took himself off to Bonnie Scotland where he raised an army of 16,000 to challenge Cromwell.
From the tower of the cathedral on 3rd September 1641 he watched this army defeated at the battle of Worcester. He was then on the run with a price on his head as he sought to evade Cromwell's troops searching for him.
He first headed North to Boscabel on the Shropshire Staffordshire border where he famously hid in an oak tree which became known as the Royal Oak. Large numbers of Pubs have taken their name from this tree and a descendant of the original tree still exists!
It was after this episode that on 8th September 1651 Charles made his way to Moseley Old Hall where he slept in a bed for the first time since the battle and the very same bed is still there along with the priests hole where he hid from Cromwell's troops who visited but did not search the house. He never the less felt unsafe and left the house on 10th September.
After a six week journey through England, Charles eventually found a ship at Shoreham on the South coast to return him to France where he remained until the death of Cromwell and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
Charles benefactors at Moseley Old Hall were the house owners, the Whitgreave family and Father John Huddleson, the family priest who cared for the King and was in later life to administer the last rites on the King's death. In the attic of the house is a chapel where from the window there is a good view of the Knot garden below. These gardens were developed in Tudor times from a collection of Box hedges and miniature trees.
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On the way back to Bridgnorth is another National Trust property from a different era, Wightwick Manor. The house was gifted to the trust in 1937 by Geoffrey Mander who was Liberal MP for Wolverhampton East. The house was built in 1887 by Geoffrey's father Theodore in Tudor Revival architecture and is furnished in the Arts and Crafts movement style with William Morris furnishings and design features, Rosetti and other pre-raphaelite paintings and textiles.
We could wander freely around the house which, although huge, was a very livable and homely space which still has apartments for the Mander family. In the Great Parlour a grand piano was being played and you were invited to try your hand on the billiard table. In the garden the daffodils were in full bloom and the Yew hedges neatly clipped.
The Manders company was in Victorian times the largest paint manufacturer in the British Empire which diversified into specialised printing inks, the company being broken up and sold off in the late 20th century. Geoffrey Manders was regarded as an enlightened employer for his day providing various welfare benefits for his workers that are today regarded as normal.
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This warm spring weather is good for garden centre profits to which we have contributed. We now have runner beans, broad beans, chillies and sweet peas planted out in containers under a cloche and Gardeners Delight tomato plants on the kitchen window sill awaiting frost free days. Several of my favourite hardy fuschia varieties are transplanted in various parts of the garden together with a miniature standard rose bush. The expenditure culminated with strawberry plants transplanted in several ceramic pots that were lying around the garden unused together with a blueberry plant which Sue could not resist. If they all flourish we are certainly going to enjoy the eating in our first summer ashore for many years.
About 16 miles upstream of Bridgnorth is the Wrekin, a steep sided whaleback hill rising to a height to just over 400 metres. Viewed from the North or South it appears like the shape of a volcano but it's geological origins are not. There is a popular expression here in the Midlands that if you take the long way round to get to your destination you have gone "all around the Wrekin".
It probably acquired it's name from the Roman city at Wroxeter nearby which in Latin was called Viroconium Cornoviorum and we set out one morning to visit both.
Legend has it that a giant called Gwendol Wrekin ap Shenkin ap Mynyddmawr with a grudge against the town of Shrewsbury decided to flood the town and kill all its inhabitants. He was on his way there when he met a cobbler who persuaded him to dump his spadeful of earth which became the Wrekin!
The hill runs from Telford in the North, almost to the River Severn in the South and is about 2 miles long. We began at the Telford end, walked through the woods along the base of the hill before climbing up the very steep Southern end and walking along the top where you are some 300 metres above the Shropshire plain and could clearly see the Malvern Hills on the horizon some 40 miles South.
At the top is the inevitable Iron Age fort, thought to be the tribal capital of the Cornovii tribe who the Romans defeated prior to building their city at Wroxeter in the early part of the 1st century AD. Someone had planted a load of daffodils at the top which made a pretty picture but there was a cold West wind blowing which limited our time at the top.
We walked back down the Northern end of the hill, not so steep as the ascent, with a fine view of Telford and back to our car before driving on "round the Wrekin" and down the ancient road of Watling Street to Wroxeter.
Watling Street is thought of as a famous Roman road but it was here long before the Romans arrived in around 40 AD. It was used by the ancient B's for centuries before and was the scene of many battles between those tribes and the invading Roman armies. It led from around Dover to London then on to Wroxeter, continuing North to Chester and the Scottish border. The Romans paved much of it but it was probably named by the Anglo-Saxons as it was the road they defined as the border between Wessex and Danelaw in the treaty of Wedmore after Alfred defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in 878.
We drove along the line of this ancient road which passed through the centre of Roman Wroxeter, once the fourth largest in Britain after London (Londinium) St. Albans(Verulanium) and Colchester(Camulodunum and Watling Street connected them all.
The city was always known about and after the Romans left progressively deteriorated with many of the buildings stones robbed and used for construction elsewhere in the area. Eventually abandoned, only the remains of the cities public baths remain for the modern visitor which were excavated between 1912 and 1914 but one wall known as "The Old Work" somehow survived almost intact.
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I was out in the garden minding my own business when a honey bee stung me under my chin. Having inflicted pain he did not fly away but continued to buzz around me with intent so I retreated indoors. A little later I stepped outside and was immediately attacked again, this time followed into the house with the bee buzzing round my head where Sue managed to get him away from me and I killed him with an egg slice!
I have never before been attacked by a bee and the next day the reason why became apparent when a swarm appeared on the garden wall near where I was stung and my neighbour was also attacked by a bee! Bees swarming is a natural process when the queen leaves the hive before a new queen is born and the way the population is increased but if the swarm loses her in the process then they can become aggressive.
A trip to the British Beekeepers Association web site gave me the telephone numbers of several beekeepers who will collect swarms of which there were several in our area and we soon had Brian the Beekeeper on site trying to persuade several thousand bees into his box.
The swarm was clustered around rose and wisteria stems growing along the top of the wall which, after several unsuccessful attempts to get the bees into the box, had to be cut away and the box inverted on the top of the wall where the bees happily settled in, the lid put on and the box removed, leaving us with a few lost and aggressive blighter's who we hope will eventually leave us!
Bees swarm naturally in the Springtime but these were unusually early which was possibly due to the very warm winter weather this year and they may have lost their queen. There are also large numbers of very big bumble bees around which are not aggressive and should not be confused with honey bees which are very much smaller. Bumble bees will not normally sting you unless you threaten them, are good pollinator's and should be left alone to do their good work as they are under threat.
We had a visit from Tom and Rebecca with the youngest two grandchildren and treated them all to a day out on the Severn Valley Steam Railway. The line runs 16 miles along the Severn from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster. A group of railway enthusiasts formed a society in 1965 to purchase the line and acquire locomotives and rolling stock. Their first task was to restore the track between Bridgnorth and Alveley which had been closed since 1963. After the line between Kidderminster and Alveley ceased to operate commercially, more money was raised to purchase that, the present line finally reopening to passengers in 1974 as far as Bewdley and finally to Kidderminster in 1984 where it connects with the national rail network.
We had 'Freedom of the Line' tickets which allowed us to get on and off trains for the whole day and also gave us free entry to the Engine Shed at Highley. We caught the 11am train from Bridgnorth to Highley which took about half an hour hauled by locomotive 7812 'Erlestoke Manor', resplendent in green GWR livery and polished brass funnel, a 7800 Manor class youngster built in 1939 for the Great Western Railway.
There were eight steam locomotives on display in the engine shed in addition to the LMS Royal Carriage used by the late King George VI who used it to travel the country during WWII.
I liked 'Gordon' best, a big blue WD class engine with red wheels, built in 1943 for the Longmore Military Railway. This class were built in Glasgow on the cheap for the war effort and 'Gordon' was running for SVR for many years until his boiler failed. The ladies liked the little Welsh narrow gauge engine 'Sir Hadyn' best closely followed by 'The Lady Armaghdale' which masqueraded as 'Thomas the Tank Engine' and is in need of a new boiler.
There is also a restaurant, gift shop, children's play area and picnic place at Highley where we ate our lunch before catching the 12.54pm hauled by 2857, a GWR 2800 class locomotive built in 1918, to Bewdley for ice creams and sat beside the river in the sunshine in this nice little Georgian riverside town.
The 2.36pm to Kiddlyminster was hauled by 4566, a 4500 class GWR tank engine but in black British Railway livery, built in 1924 and the photo is of him arriving at Bewdley station. The short journey to Kidderminster passes a wildlife park where you can see the Elephants and Rhino's free of charge from the carriage windows.
After a look around the station with it's museum and miniature railway, 4566 hauled the 3.40pm back to Bridgnorth taking about an hour. Here I was, back to my boyhood train spotting days on the platform of Taunton station! All I needed was an anorak when Tom and I decanted to the Railway Tavern to sample delectable pints of Hobsons and Bathams sitting in the sunshine on the platform train spotting!
The SVR have quite an operation and their engineering division here in Bridgnorth have several more locomotives in the course of repair and restoration. They own even more steam and diesel locomotives which are on display around the country and house and repair others for various owners and preservation groups.
Following a quick visit to the Old Castle for a pint of Timothy Taylors Landlord having acquired a raging thirst climbing the hill from the station, we repaired home feeling mellow to find roast chicken just cooked by our loving wives and the honeybees all gone from our garden!
The next day saw us at the Black Country Museum at Dudley. We were last here more than a decade since and apart from it being much greener it was little changed apart from the trams and trolly buses not being operational, they said due to maintenance work but I think it was more likely to save money.
The present museum can trace it's history back to 1966 when Dudley council set up a Black Country section in their museum department but it was not until 1976 when the West Midlands Council began land reclamation that the idea of an open air museum began to take shape.
They installed tram lines and overhead cables for the trolly buses to take visitors from the entrance to the canal basin where electric powered narrow boats take visitors into the tunnel to view the old stone mine workings. Old houses and foundries were demolished and rebuilt on the site from the surrounding area to create a little early 20th century working town with blacksmiths, chain makers, a steel rolling mill and a working narrow boat. Small shops complete with their shopkeepers which were disappearing were recreated, even a pub, two fish and chip shops and a fairground. An old drift coal mine has been re-opened and you can take a walk underground if that takes your fancy.
'Stour' pictured on the left is a wooden "tank" boat built in Uxbridge in 1937 to carry oil and petroleum products. She worked between 1939 and 1955 carrying cargo between Stanlow refinery at Ellesmere Port and the Shellmex depot then until 1966 carrying tar byproducts to various gasworks from Midland Tar distillers.
Throughout 'Stour's' working life the Beechey family lived and worked aboard in her tiny aft cabin and you can go aboard and experience what it was like to live in such cramped conditions.
On Good Friday we visited Lichfield, situated about 16 miles Northeast of Birmingham and just off Watling Street, which has the only English Cathedral with three spires. This was the scene of the early battles of the English civil war in 1643 when the city was a Royalist stronghold. The first skirmish was won in April by the Parliamentarians despite their commander Lord Brooke being shot and killed by a sniper from the top of the Cathedral's spire.
The Royalist's returned the next month with 3,000 men under the command of Prince Rupert and defeated the Parliamentarians who escaped with the Cathedrals treasures.
A final siege took place in April and May when the Parliamentarians returned under the command of Sir William Brereton and bombarded the Cathedral which sustained much damage including the collapse of it's central spire. Despite King Charles 1st urging his troops to hold on they surrendered on 10th July.
In 2009 the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold and silver yet found was discovered in a field near Lichfield. It was eventually purchased by Birmingham City Museum who will open a separate gallery later this year to display it once they complete cleaning and restoration work. In the meantime the Cathedral has a small selection on display in the Chapter House together with the Anglo Saxon St Chad Gospels, reputed to be the second oldest book in Europe dating from about 730. The oldest is the St Cuthbert's Gospel dating from 698 on show in the London Library whereas the St Chad Gospels book is still in active use by the Cathedral.
On Easter Sunday we heard a continual roar of engines coming up the hill past our house. It was the Shropshire Annual Vintage Tractor Road Run which was organised this year by Bridgnorth Vintage Machinery Club and attracted an entry of 520 tractors from 26 different UK counties.
The event has been run on Easter Sunday now for 25 years and raises money each time for local charities which this year was for the Midlands Air Ambulance. The High Street was closed and the tractors processed down the wrong way, passing a vintage fair with kids rides before returning to the Stanmore showground. In the afternoon they were going all round the local villages but it was cold and wet so expect there were a lot of unhappy tractor drivers.
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The bees are back. A swarm settled in the tree next door and was there for four days. Once again I was out in the garden minding my business erecting my runner bean canes when I was stung twice on the forehead then chased into the house with bees round my head. Two of our neighbours were also stung and although they have had bee problems here in previous years, everyone says they have never known bees to be so aggressive.
Swarming can be controlled so I assume that there is some local beekeeper who is not doing a very good job. The swarm then moved across our garden to the satellite dish in the garden the opposite side and Brian the Beekeeper was called to remove them, meanwhile my face looks like I have been in the front row of a Rugby scrum! A few days later they were back again.
At the time of the year when bluebells are at their best we went out in search of them. We went over to Wenlock Edge where we found them in abundance but not on the best day as it was cold and overcast.
We drove to the National Trust car park between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton and walked along the top of the edge. In addition to bluebells there were lots of cowslips, violets and wild garlic around which gave the atmosphere a culinary smell that did not please Sue who hates anything smelling remotely of onions!
We also found a wild orchid known as a marsh orchid, just one flower stem and a bit of a misnomer growing on the top of a limestone ridge!
Wenlock Edge runs for 30km from Ironbridge in the North to Craven Arms in the South and the National Trust owns just over 12km of it to date having collected it since 1982.
|Quotes 'wot I like:|
On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble,
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.
A.E. Housman 1859 - 1936
The edge is also an important geological area and you can find fossils in the exposed rocks. It has been quarried along it's length for centuries but this has largely ceased and timber based industry seems to have been established in the old quarry workings. So on the Northern side of the edge you have the natural limestone cliff and on the Southern side, the quarry.
Major Thomas Smallman was a Royalist Officer during the English civil war who lived at nearby Wilderhope Manor. When on horseback and carrying important Royalist orders to Shrewsbury he was chased by Parliamentary soldiers. Rather than surrender he rode his horse over the edge of the cliff. The horse was killed but he ended up in an apple tree only slightly injured and continued on foot to Shrewsbury where he delivered his orders. We passed by the place known as Majors Leap where he was supposed to have leapt off!
This page is coming to an end as we are shortly off to Madeira for a week which seems a good time to begin a new chapter.