Monday Bit late posting this been too busy to upload the photos!
Having finished the opera, had the birthday party and packed totally inefficiently, we are off on holiday to the tiny village of Upper Arley, and our home for the week,
Arley Tower, a sandstone castellated cube overlooking the river Severn and the Severn Valley Steam Railway.
Despite many trips to Shropshire and Herefordshire we have never been near the Severn Valley Railway, and A is very excited that the station is just over the pedestrian suspension bridge.
We arrive two hours early owing to the school holidays having started, and paying attention to the sat nav; the most relaxed drive to the Midlands I have ever experienced. We case the joint, eat ice-cream at the local post office, talk to the local cat and wander past the not very exciting pub to the station and along the river bank (in beautiful meadows full of butterflies) to check it all out. As the time nears 4pm we trundle round to pick up the keys and at last have possession of our little castlette.
Apparently built out of spite to spoil the view (which it does- pretty it isn’t, it reminds me of Pippin Fort) it none the less has views of the river from the roof, where there is a table and couple of chairs. We at once throw open windows and doors and take a cup of tea on to the roof. The roofscape of the next few houses is enchanting, with multiple ages of chimneys and tiling. Our tower has rather an odd modern extension with felt roof and wood clad walls, however this houses a very good kitchen with all mod cons, and an equally substantial bathroom, so not complaining.
This low down, even on the roof there is no phone signal, so we walk up to the top of the hill, and sit in the churchyard with exquisite views and manage one bar, to send texts to various people who need to know we have arrived, or are away.
We usually holiday in Landmark Trust properties, but this is our first stay with the Vivat Trust, which is a similar but much smaller outfit. Comments in the visitors book suggest that their other properties are grander and more comfortable. I could be tempted!
There is a tonne of tourist leaflets in the cupboard and I do my ritual go-through, looking for things we might do, although our main plan is to walk and /or get on the train most days.
We are meeting our friend L in Bridgnorth. Because the earliest train isn’t very, we decide to walk to Highley, the next station up the line, along the Severn Way. The weather is lovely, the river is deep and fast, the flowers are in bloom, the anglers are obese and sweaty. We watch the first train go through as we walk, and wave vigorously, and then trundle on to Highley. Of course there is quite a bit of waiting around, but the station is attractively got up and we don’t mind a bit sitting on the platform and reading all the enamel signs.
The train eventually arrives and we get a compartment to ourselves, replete with sprung horsehair, upholstered in uncut moquette in a rhubarb colour with abstract cream pattern. There is nothing more nostalgic than the noise of a steam train pulling out of a station. A, of course, given her extreme age (!) grew up with steam; I can just about remember the occasional steam train coming through our station when I was very young, but it was remarkable, and only happened if the diesel engines were all playing up. It doesn’t matter, though: a real train is a steam train.
We arrive in Bridgnorth and decide to complete our antiquated journey by walking down to the bottom of the cliff and getting the cliff railway (a sort of truncated 50’s bus on a winch) to the top. We then seek out lunch, trying a number of places that were too hot, too busy or too carnivorous before settling on Cinnamon on the Cartway, which produced adequate if not very inspiring lunch. From there we went for a meander about the town, meeting the charming cats who act as vergers at St Leonard’s Church, keeping company with anyone with a sandwich.
The surroundings of the church are very pleasing, an old grammar school, alms houses, and several ancient buildings of less municipal antecedents, and a great view. We then walked to the church the other end of town, St Mary Magdalene, which was designed by Thomas Telford, and is classical with pleasing pillars along the front, but not very exciting inside. Immediately next to the church are the remains of the castle: one corner of the keep leaning and a very worrying angle. Apparently after the civil war it was blown up to prevent it being used again, but they didn’t make a very good job of it. The castle is in a park, which also holds a bandstand and war memorial and more begonias than seem healthy. Virulent red rivers of the things hang from baskets on every available surface, they froth from every bowl and bed; and we have just missed the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The whirling teacups are being winched into position for the journey to the next fête, the puppet theatre is still playing a wheezy tune, but the curtains are drawn. A solitary bear, dressed as a nurse, sits on a blanket on a small patch of lawn not infested with begonias, with a first aid kit beside her.
We walk back to the station to meet L, and find her looking relaxed and cheerful having got back only three weeks ago from several months up a mountain in Spain getting ordained as a Buddhist. This does not stint her enthusiasm for gossip or tea, and we end up back at Cinnamon for cake, and their excellent view, until they are mopping the floor around us. We leave before they ask us to, and wander back to the park for more chat. A man is practicing his juggling moves, and a woman sits at the next bench with a large black washing up bowl beside her. There was an explanation, but I won’t blunt the image with it.
We saunter back to the station in time for the last train back to Arley, and have to remember to get into the front of the train, as the platforms of most of stations are too short for the length of the train. We eat dinner and fall asleep on the sofa, and go to bed at nine.
It has been in my mind that as we are so close to Kidderminster we might go and investigate A’s Kiddey ancestors. There are several leaflets from the Kidderminster historical society in the cupboard that suggest it might have something to recommend it, but my instinct tells me Kidderminster is an unattractive hole. It does however sport the nearest shops of any size and we need bread and salad, so we drive in to investigate. And lo, Kidderminster is indeed a dive. Roland Hill the originator of the penny post was born here, and apart from being a centre for carpet manufacture (what A’s ancestors did) that’s its only claim to fame. It is pound-shop land, but at least they have a reasonable fruit and veg shop and we find a traditional sweet shop so I can indulge my aniseed addiction.
We decide we will not explore further, and head back to Arley, where we walk up the hill to the Arboretum.
What a lovely spot. I don’t know much about trees, but they are big and imposing, and we have an enjoyable chat with one of the gardeners.
A peaceful place, and well supplied with places to sit and admire the view. A small selection of poultry including very free range guinea fowl given to hysteria, complete the staff. We wander back to eat lunch on the roof, and then set off for L’s recommended garden, Morville Dower House Garden.
What a fabulous garden! It unfolds from one historic recreation to another, Elizabethan knot gardens, Plat gardens, Cloisters made from yew; nutteries, orchard and wild garden; ancient roses, poppies and allium; vegetables canals and wooden posts. The house itself is severe and friendly at the same time. I found myself wistful, what wouldn’t I give to live somewhere like this? the hall is stuffed with books- my kind of house.
There is a large grey cat on the raised back doorstep, Bill, who is 22 and deaf and spends most of his time asleep. Katherine Swift who created the garden is dishing up teas with jam made from fruit from the garden. We try damson, greengage and blackcurrant; they are all wonderful but the greengage is the best.
Katherine gives us details of where we can buy seed for the beautiful deep purple sweet peas in the garden, and we buy her book.
We amble back to the car via the church, St Gregory’s. This pleasing Norman church boasts some unusual wooden carvings of the evangelists. I’ve had fun with my new camera today, (thank you A) macro photos of flowers and bees, pushing up the ISO for interiors of the church, generally playing with the settings.
Back to the tower and cracking open the fizz on the roof, we watch a nuthatch shimmying down the Scots Pine that overhangs the roof terrace. A great end to a satisfying day.
We take our morning cup of tea up on to the roof. It is already warm, and perfect weather for a walk; a Little Egret flies up the river.
We set off before nine towards Bewdley from Arley, along the banks of the Severn. It gradually gets hotter and we get sweatier. We both get bitten by insects, A swells up immediately, I, unusually, do not.
We pass the reservoir where crows sit on park benches, and the beautiful Victoria Bridge, a superb example of iron work from Coalbrookdale. We fail to find Northwood halt, where we had thought we might get the train, but don’t mind: we are enjoying the steady purl of deep water moving quickly, and there are enough trees to provide shade at intervals. I spot a kingfisher whisking upstream low over the water.
We arrive at Bewdley before the first train would have got us here, and very glamorous it looks, stretched out along and rising up from the river in Georgian splendour; it reminds me of the set of wooden houses I had as a child. It is hard to imagine that those buildings along the riverfront endure floods up to their windowsills.
We stop for a reviving ice-cream at Gallery Ten, and investigate suitable lunch venues, and options for dinner in Friday… this involves a complete circuit of the town which has some lovely architecture and some unimaginative lunch menus. For some reason we can’t find my preferred option, the Colliers Arms (it turns out its not IN Bewdley, but in Clows Top, just outside, something we only discover when we get back to Arley and dig out the leaflet. ) I am intrigued by a sign pointing up an alley that says ‘old pals’ shelter’. It sounds like something to do with a Pal’s regiment, but why would they need a shelter? I imagine a retreat for ancient dogs whose old men have passed on, and have a picture of elderly lurchers and border terriers, sitting about the fireplace, with pipes in their mouths, reminiscing. Very Louis Wain. We turn into Lax street, which disappointingly is nothing to do with loose morals, but a corruption of the Danish for Salmon. I’d always wondered about gravlax, so now I know.
All along the quay there are names (of boats?) set in brass letters and little plaques saying what commodities were landed there: Salt and Sugar, Raisins, Sherry, Madeira, Port and Brandy… it sounds like a recipe for Christmas pudding.
We end up having lunch in the excellent museum, which is free, and under interpreted in a satisfying make-of-it-what-you-please way. The building is an old shambles, and rich in brick arches and places to sit and consider. We each have a well-filled sandwich then check out the books in the next-door charity shop, with some success.
We walk back across the bridge and round to Bewdley station, where we get the steam train to Kidderminster, have a glass of beer in the station pub, talk to the station cat, and come back again; this time all the way to Arley, where A gathers up the only Guardian in the post office, and we retire to a shower each and ginger-beer shandies on our roof terrace. While searching the map for Clows Top, my eye falls on the outskirts of Kidderminster- and The Heath. This is where A’s Newcomb ancestors lived, on what turns out to be the Habbersley Road, not Haggerley as I had it written down. I wonder if Cambridge House still exists? We will go and investigate!
We wake to rain, which dies out quite fast, but we decide to check out the Heath on the way to Clows Top to investigate the Colliers Arms as a potential dinner venue. There is nothing on the Heath that looks like it’s old enough to be the Newcomb house. There are two large modern estates so probably it is under one of them. We find the Colliers’ Arms which is no longer a pub, and as a café serves food only til 5. However it seems to still be run by the same outfit, and there is a small farm shop selling local produce including eggs from the hens out back. We buy eggs tomatoes and fresh bread. It looks promising for food, but not suitable for us today.
We drive back through Kiddey and out to Kinver Edge. A sandy heath, replete with adders (though we don’t see any), rising to a ridge with splendid views and an iron age fort; and buried somewhere beneath us, rock houses built into caves in the sandstone, but can we find them? The National Trust obviously don’t expect people to approach from above and haven’t bothered signing the route. We eventually make it, having made several false starts down steep slopes which we then have to reclimb. The stone houses are enjoyable, but not worth the hassle of finding them. We walk along the ridge and back to the car. We are starving for lunch and try out the café just by the car park, a cavernous hangar, completely deserted. I start in on the bread bought at the Colliers, and we drive round to Bodenham Arboretum in the hope that they have a café and are still serving lunch. They do and they are. They also have a charming black and white cat hovering at the entrance who greets us as long lost friends. We have an excellent lunch, marred only by the chairs by the lake being rather wet.
We come back to our tower and collapse, then go out to walk the far side of the river down to Victoria bridge so we can film a steam train going over. I know, anoraks; but they make such a lovely noise! There are amazing wild flowers all along the river bank: rest harrow, comfrey, hemp agrimony, hop trefoil, hairy vetch, cranesbill, soapwort, chamomile.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011