Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Greenbelt 2011 - Dreams of Home

We've been back from Cheltenham a few days now and it feels like we've never been away. I really love Greenbelt but it is always over too quickly and this year was no exception. The weather was a bit of a let down this time round, it has to be said. Torrential rain on Friday evening meant that we bottled out of Billy Bragg on the main stage and sought shelter instead in the Jesus Arms where we encountered assorted ASBOites. We rolled out around one-ish, significantly later than anticipated. There were sporadic showers all weekend, which, apart from the Friday evening, tended to be light, fine rain but the worst of it was that it was ridiculously cold for the time of year. However, you can't let the weather spoil the weekend and we made the most of the event.

The content of our Greenbelt took on a more political flavour than usual. We listened to Faisal Islam, the Economics Editor of Channel 4 News who clarified the finer points not just the national but the global economic crisis. He later took part in a panel with three others. We also attended a talk by David Loyn, the International Development Correspondent for the BBC, who raised interesting points about what shapes the news as we see/hear it and how the nature of news is changing with the advent of social networks. The talk which affected me the most this year was brought to us by Palestinian, Salim Shawamreh who was speaking on behalf of ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions). He invited the audience to imagine what it would be like to have your house demolished, something which he has experienced not once but 4 times. It is an utterly horrendous situation. Recognition of Palestine as a state would certainly be a move in the right direction to resolving the plight of the Palestinian people and the UN will be voting on this issue next month. William Hague is undecided as to how the UK will vote so there is still time to lobby MPs. So, Esther McVey can expect something in the post! The only talk I attended of a spiritual nature was by Padraig O'Tuama. I was intrigued by the name of the talk, Our Lady of Greenbelt. As a Catholic, I struggle with Marian spirituality. On the one hand, I think that many of my fellow Catholics can have a tendency to deify Mary and understand why Protestant Christians can accuse us of 'worshipping Mary'. On the other hand, I always think that Jesus must get a bit hurt the way some not only disregard but actually insult His mum. I know that sounds simplistic and childish but it is the way I think about it. I must admit, Padraig left me feeling much happier about Mary's role and my attitude towards her, which is the last thing I was expecting.

We took in more music than usual with Soweto Kinch, Gentlemen's Dubb Club, Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Duke Special, Idlewild, Kate Rusby and Ron Sexsmith. Phil had spent most of the last few months looking forward to seeing Ron Sexsmith and we weren't disappointed. We had originally planned to stay over until Tuesday, but this plan was scuppered when Phil discovered that Ron was on at 7pm on Monday I had to miss the Unthanks and Mavis Staples...oh, well, you can't have everything. Probably some follow-up music purchases are in order.

Sadly we didn't get up in time for the Greenbelt Communion this year which is a shame. But we managed to get to the Blessed service at 5.30 on Friday evening to support Metanoia featuring Robb and Dr Ruth. If only all masses could be like that one. We also managed to get to a service by our friends at Sanctuary Bath - a late one at 11.15pm but a very relaxing and focused end to the day.

The trouble with Greenbelt is that it is so packed with activity and punctuated with conversation, it seems to be over so very, very quickly. Oh, well, there's always next year!

Friday, August 26, 2011

All Set for Greenbelt 2011!!

Well, overall, the weather looks pretty abysmal and actually rather typical August Bank Holiday weather. So I suppose sunny intervals are good. Can't see it, though.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 7, Sunday 14th August

All too soon, our little odyssey was drawing to a close. On the last morning Phil informed me that he was going to take me to Eyam. When I was about 14 years old, I saw a TV play called 'The Roses of Eyam' which told the story of this old Derbyshire village, whose inhabitants put themselves into voluntary quarantine when the bubonic plague broke out there in 1665. The story has stayed with me, haunted me, since the play was aired in about 1976. It was only when I picked up a leaflet on our trip to Bakewell that I realised Eyam was in Derbyshire.

After breakfast we set off through the countryside on the short journey to Eyam. There is a small museum there, of which a major part is devoted to the re-telling of the story of this small community, faced with the outbreak of the plague. It dealt with the experiences of individual families which really brought home the tragedy of the events which took place. Personal stories were backed up with cold statistics, the day by day record of named deaths over a number of months. Sobering stuff. It was a relief to get outside again into the Sunday morning sunshine. As you pass through the village, you pass the cottages where the first deaths occurred and the churchyard where one of the victims lies buried. The people of Eyam still live with the daily reminder of the events which took place there. Lovely though the village was, I didn't take out my camera - it seemed inappropriate, somehow.

Our final stop before home was Buxton, traditional spa resort. The elegance of earlier days is evidenced in the attractive architecture of the Crescent, the Baths (now a smart shopping arcade), the hotels, the opera house and the Pavilion Gardens. We were both pretty tired and agree that perhaps we need to give Buxton another visit to really do it justice. However, we did spend a very pleasant hour in the beautiful gardens, watching the world to by and listening to a brass band playing in the bandstand. Bring back brass bands in our parks - an essential part of a wonderful cultural tradition!

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 6, Saturday 13th August

We were feeling a bit jaded on the Saturday, given the unexpectedly long journey from the Forest of Dean...I'm still convinced that Sat Nav Lady deliberately took us the long way round! On that basis, we decided to remain fairly local to the campsite. After breakfast, we took a hike into Bakewell. Bakewell is a pretty little town but quite busy. There didn't seem to be a great deal there apart from a few tea shops and the usual abundance of outdoor clothing/equipment shops. We enjoyed scones with jam and cream with tea and were pleasantly surprised at the cost. We departed having bought traditional Bakewell puddings. Mr Kipling must have hijacked the idea when he started making Bakewell tarts. The pudding has a base of flaky pastry rather than shortcrust and has no icing on the top. They were quite nice, if you like that sort of thing. I'm not a huge fan of things marzipanish but it was still pleasant enough...and when in Bakewell! I felt sorely tempted by the smell of the chips from the local chippy but we opted instead for a Cornish Pasty to munch on on the way back to base. Very nice, too!

Still feeling tired after some tea and Bakewell pudding, we did the unthinkable and pulled the bed out for an afternoon snooze. Later we took a stroll down the the very pretty local village, Ashford in the Water. We hoped to eat out, but to be honest, everyone there seemed a bit posh! I felt decidedly under-dressed even for the pub where the local cricket team were having post match beers. I suppose it was the Saturday night thing but there are times in life when my latent inferiority complex kicks in...I really hate that in myself. Nevertheless we had a lovely walk and went back to have another go at the old 'instant barbecue'. Instant has a hollow, ironic ring to it. It seemed like many hours before the feeble little coals managed to cook through a couple of burgers and sausages but we got there in the end. Flushed with our infinitesimaly small victory, we ambled the 7 or 8 yards to the pub!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 5, Friday 12th August

All too soon it seemed that it was time for us to pack up and move to our last destination. Before leaving, I went to take my last shower and prepare for the journey ahead. I went through the ritual - at no time is ritual more important than when you are in a communal shower block -have I got my shower gel? Have I remembered all of my clothes? Is my dirty underwear suitably secured inside my other things so that it doesn't fall out while I am crossing the field back to the van? Anyway, content that all was intact, I exited the shower cubicle...and there is some woman, naked as the day she was born apart from her towel, draped about her head turban style. Well, I don't think I am particularly prudish, but I have no stomach for other people's nudity so soon after breakfast! I mean, actually, there was plenty of room inside the cubicles to dress before leaving. Not only that, the door to the block was wide open and you wouldn't have had to try too hard to see in from the field, or children could have come in with their mums. I have decided she must have been a bit of an exhibitionist. Really, some people!

Before departing the Forest of Dean altogether, we opted to take a run out to Symonds Yat Rock. What can I say? The view was absolutely breathtaking and we spent a little while drinking it in before taking one of the short walks through the forest. My old mum always used to say that you should always leave the table wanting more and it was with a certain heaviness of heart that we wandered back to Maggie for the next leg of our mini-tour. Clearly the Forest of Dean was as reluctant to let us go as we were to leave. Sat Nav lady led us a merry dance as we tried to leave the area. Time and again we seemed to encounter road signs declaring "Symonds Yat 2 miles". I wondered if we would ever get to our destination. It took us much longer than we had anticipated, but finally, after being dragged through town after town, we arrived on the edge of the Peak District. The drama of the landscape was a breath of fresh air after driving through urban sprawl. Before too long, the skies turned a dark, sinister grey before the heavens started to open...

Maggie struggled a wee bit over the hills but finally brought us safely to our destination, Greenhills campsite just outside Bakewell. Tired and weary, we opted for a pizza delivered to the site for dinner and we washed it down with a long cool drink from the site pub, a welcome diversion at the end of a tiring day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 4, Thursday 11th August

One thing we did notice at the 'eco-reception' was that they sold very reasonably priced bacon baps. Why go through the hassle of cooking in the van when you can just buy a breakfast? This gave us an early getaway for our first stop of the day, Clearwell Caves, an old iron mine. I figured that we would have a rainy morning so we might as well go underground. What you see is what you get with old mines/caves, but what I liked about this place is the fact that it is open to the public as the result of somebody's passion. Amazing to wander through these extensive caves and reflect on what would have been someone's working life, in those dank, dark surroundings. Special emphasis on the use of children in the mines. However, even in the little cafe, there are paintings on the wall of the miners who worked there so there is still a strong sense of the community that was. Usual over-priced sarnies (paninis, natch!) but a nice selection of homebaked cakes. We nipped back to Maggie in the car park and knocked up a few sarnies and just bought coffee and cake which we ate outside at the picnic tables.

By this time the rainclouds were beginning to give way to warm sunshine so we decided to nip down the road to Puzzlewood. Puzzlewood is a smallish wood but it is an incredible place - straight out of Tolkien. In fact, it is considered to have been a possible influence on Tolkien's depiction for Middle Earth. I can't really describe it that well as it is like nothing I've ever seen. Suffice it to say it is a mix of moss, exposed tree roots, rocks and pathways and as for the rest, you will have to visit it yourself. I wish I had taken my kids when they were kids as they would have loved it. It's not an attraction for anyone with mobility problems and it is rather slippy underfoot if there has been recent rain.

After an active day, we returned to the site for a relax and early dinner followed by a walk in the forest and a Harry Potter DVD (with continental chocs and a bottle of rose).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 3, Wednesday 10th August

Time to pack up in Much Wenlock. We went into the town to take a few photos of the buildings. I resisted the temptation to take a photo of Phil outside Bastard Hall as it looked like a private house. One last stop before we left was the ruins of Wenlock Priory (English Heritage) ...before the rain started again! Fortunately the Priory was not very busy so we were able to spend a fair amount of time there before the showers set in.

Our next stop was the Forest of Dean and the journey was remarkably smooth until we had almost arrived. Sat Nav Lady started to get her knickers in a twist when we didn't take turnings which she was clearly imagining. Anyway, we finally arrived at Forest Holiday's Christchurch. I must admit, it took me a little by surprise as it was just down a little road from an average suburban street - I was expecting something a little more 'foresty'. A delightful eco-friendly looking log cabin housed the reception and shop sold a range of organic goods and a surprisingly healthy stock of wines. My eyes wandered over the chilled wines and spotted not one but an extensive range of champagnes - not your bargain basement cava, but Mumm, Taittinger and the like. None of the wines were priced, not even the Kumala's and other supermarket staples, all of which made me feel a tad uneasy. I have been brought up to think that if you need to ask the price you probably can't afford it.

Once we were pitched, we decided to get dinner sorted out. What is camping without a barbecue? We had brought a couple of those disposable barbecues with us so his nibs set about the manly work of lighting the barbecue. Unfortunately, the wind had got up a bit and this proved rather more difficult than anticipated. In the end, we resorted to frying our burgers but Phil would not be defeated and managed to barbecue the sausages. After dinner we went for a walk in the, now more evident, forest.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 2, Tuesday 9th August

I surprised myself by getting up and showered early which meant we could get an early start for Ironbridge. We drove through the town looking for a long stay carpark not realising we had passed it on the way in..d'oh! The car park was at the entrance Dale End Park which was notable for the fact that it cunningly conceals a bloody great power station. Take note, town planners in the rest of the UK. A few trees can go a long way to covering up an eyesore. Ironbridge has a pleasant riverside of shops and cafes and as we walked, the sun decided to put in an appearance. It was still early and so there weren't that many people about, which suited us down to the ground. Feeling rather peckish, I got a pie from Eley's world famous pie many world famous pie shops, how come I've never heard of any of them? The pie was rather good, but an extra mouthful or two wouldn't have gone amiss for £2.30. What swung the deal for us with this shop was the name - we pondered if there was a family connection. We had a little walk around, had an ice cream and decided we'd pretty well seen all we wanted to since we were not in a museum mood.

The day was still young and hours to fill. This is the situation where the National Trust membership really comes in handy. A browse through the handbook and you can usually find somewhere close enough to visit for free. And so to Dudmaston, ancestral home to...someone or other! Every NT house has something about it, it's own particular character. We entered the property via the orchard which was in full fruit. There were picnic tables and a cafe and we made a mental note to have tea and cake there later. We had full sun now but given the unpredictable nature of the weather, we opted to sample the delights of the gardens before going into the house. And what a garden! At the rear of the house was a truly splendid and well manicured garden, with pathways beyond into woodland. The lawn was gently terraced, leading down to a magnificent lake. In this truly tranquil setting, I managed to persuade himself to have a lie down on the grass while I did my bus snooze in the sun, bolt upright with nodding dog tendencies. Then, refreshed by the idyllic setting, we decided a walk was in order. We followed the signs to the Dingle (not in Liverpool!), a little woodland walk and then on to the 'Big Pool' walk around the lake taking a full 45 minutes. At one point we chanced upon the biggest number of geese I have ever seen in one place! A bit scary, in fact, but we escaped unscathed.

Once we got into the house which has a number of works of art of note. The last owner, Lady Labouchere, inherited the place from an uncle who wished it to go into the hands of the National Trust. She herself was a trained botanical artist and had a collection of botanical art. Her husband was an Ambassador to Belgium and to Spain. He had a fairly impressive collection of modern art. There is also a connection to Charles Babbage somewhere! By now, tea in the orchard was calling. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Dudmaston.

Dinner that evening was at the George and the Dragon in Much Wenlock.

Maggie on Tour 2011: Day 1, Monday 8th August

This year we decided to do mini tour in Maggie, our VW T4 camper van. We have been away in her before but it has tended to be just one centre. We are creatures of habit and have a tendency to stick to what we like but this time we decided to go to a few places that we've never ventured to before. We didn't have a lot of time - just 6 days, but we picked three new places that we thought were do-able.

On Day 1 we finally managed to set off for Much Wenlock in Shropshire at about 2.30 arriving about 4pm - typically disorganised and wanting to do all kinds of jobs before leaving! Anyway, by the time we arrived, the town was shtting up. Much Wenlock is a pretty little medieval market town with a more recent claim to fame in that it is reputedly the birthplace of the modern Olympic movement thanks to local 'mover and shaker', William Penny Brookes. That said, it is a bit of a sleepy corner of the world with just a couple of pubs, tea shops and a 'world famous' butcher's shop. We managed to grab an ice cream before the shop shut, just in time for the rain to start.

A drink was in order to start the holiday off so we wandered into a pub which had a nice looking beer garden in a courtyard off the street. The rain started again so we took shelter under a giant parasol, covering a few tables - one of the advantages of smokers being shunted outdoors is that there are more shelters. We had only sat down two minutes when an elderly couple sat on the next table. We started to chat casually and it turns out they live in Caldy! You can't escape, can you?

We decided to take fish and chips back to the campsite for tea. There wasn't much to recommend the food as the fish was over-battered and the chips were like warm-ups from lunch. Typical for Chinese chippies, I find - they seldom seem to have never mastered the art of chip frying. Perhaps we should have opted for Chinese. Anyway, hunger-wise we were in scabby horse territory so we ate until satisfied.

We stayed at Sytche campsite which is walking distance from the centre of Much Wenlock. Very clean and well kept. We would certainly go there again.