Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Few Days In May - Part One - The Journey West

Better fill you in on what we've been up to over the past few months: -

One of the highlights of our year is a trip the Smallholders and Garden Show at the Royal Welsh Showground near Builth Wells. Due to tight finances, we had to give the show a miss in 2008, so this year we were determined to make the most of it. We had even booked our accommodation in January when rooms were at cheap rates.

Rather than a mad dash down the M4 there and back, we like to take our time and use a more scenic, less traumatic route. As we were setting of on the Friday morning, the first part of the journey was on motorways – the M25 and the M40. Outside of the rush hour, the M40 is quite a pleasant drive. From Beaconsfield onwards, Red Kites can be seen soaring and swooping, and as you leave the last remnants of High Wycombe behind you, the road goes through a deep cutting made in the chalk hills of the Chilterns. Suddenly, before your eyes is a view of the Thames plain towards Newbury and Oxford, and in the distance lie the hills of the Cotswolds. You are through the Gateway to the West and there’s no turning back!

These days, rather than get held up in the Oxford Ring Road, we take the motorway to a junction further and drop down to the A40 on the western edge of the city. A few more miles and we’re in the Cotswolds and really feel like we’re on holiday.

We always make a point of breaking our journey in Burford. It was voted the 6th best place to live in the world by some high end business magazine survey, and it’s easy to see why. Beautiful buildings and surroundings, yet everyday life is still catered for on the High Street – among the antiques, artworks and restaurants, there’s a grocers, chemist and newsagent, plus a well-stocked cook shop, which is more than can be said for the likes of Southgate near us.

Just before we reach the outskirts of the town, there is the garden centre – one of the best anywhere. There is a huge range of plants, always in the best of health, a great selection of seeds, bulbs and all the bits and bobs needed to grow them. Being in a posh area, the other stuff sold in the garden centre is a far cry from the usual tat. The food area is stocked with good local produce, including beer & cheese. The cookshop is great, full of useful and great looking gear. The most downmarket brand in the china department is Emma Bridgewater, and they’ve even added a mid-century modern stand in the antiques department. And very nice, clean, warm and well-appointed loos - an essential on any epic journey.

A very nice place, and yes, you wouldn’t mind living there.

After a wholesome lunch in the restaurant, a sneaky look round the toyshop, and a quick look round the refurbished Shepherd’s Hut, we set off on the rest of the journey, taking in Stow on the Wold, the delightfully named Upper Swell, Tewkesbury and Ledbury before reaching Hereford where we would be staying.

Shortly after leaving Tewkesbury, our route passes by my second favourite building – a derelict barn. Made of bricks, laid out in intricate patterns, which had obviously been the vernacular style as there are similar barns in use nearby, I wish I could find out what it looked like when it was intact and in use. Above all, I’d like to think I wasn’t the only person who wanted to make sure the building could be saved.

Our journey then took us over the lower reaches of the Malverns and finally into Herefordshire. We made a detour just after skirting Ledbury to visit Poultry Park, chicken breeders just outside Newent. I wanted to see a few of the breeds kept there – especially Cream Legbars, famous for their blue eggs, while I was making the decision as to which breeds to keep at home.

The place was well laid out, with each poultry house given over to one breed. Outside the house, there were two large grassy runs, one in use and the other recovering. The birds looked healthy and clearly happy with the space they had.

The breed runs were situated round the outside of the field, and the inner had a seating area, plus gardens laid out to show how hens could be kept in a small area – one had the hens roaming over a lawn, one with them in a moveable ark placed on vegetable beds and the third in a fixed enclosure at the back of a more formal garden. An interesting place to visit, even if we didn’t come away with any birds.

We left Poultry Park at closing time, and, as luck would have it, just as the rain started. So we headed towards Hereford and our hotel, and after a very good meal in the pub next door, we settled down for an early night ahead of an early start.

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