Our Travel blog
Friday 12 August
Good friends of ours run Shallowford Christian retreat centre. Operating in the Diocese of Litchfield it’s a rambling old house with semi-formal gardens and sprawling meadows. In a quiet location in rural Staffordshire near the town of Stone, Shallowford is probable best known for hosting Izaak Walton’s cottage. Izaak was an author whose best known work The Complete Angler was first published in 1653. He was born in nearby Stafford and as an adult lived and worked as an ironmonger in London until 1664 when he ‘retired’ to Shallowford in a move prompted by the Royalist defeat in the Civil War, a time when many Royalist English gentlemen sought retreat into less volatile countryside. He thereafter spent his time wandering around the countryside, mostly it seems in a quest to impose himself upon eminent people of the day, clergyman and gentlemen who liked angling, presumably taking copious notes over the brandy as he wrote well received biographies for them, collectively known as Walton’s Lives.
After yesterday’s late night drive we enjoyed a lengthy lay-in and emerged from Mavis to bright sunshine and were whisked off to the local pub for lunch with barely any resistance from us. Later we set to catching up on news and gossip before meeting the other couple staying for the weekend and who were undertaking some serious gardening at the centre. Alison cooked everyone a stupendous meal, her own recipe of Red Thai salmon and rice, before we retired to the lounge for a convivial evening and a game of shuffleboard.
Shuffleboard is apparently a pastime much favoured by the Dutch, somewhere just behind competitive tulip racing and growing windmills and narrowly ahead of recreational pharmaceuticals. Or something… whatever, it was great fun until I started losing. Fortunately Shuffleboard isn’t encumbered by random drugs testing so Alison was able to imbibe the red wine with careless abandon.
Saturday 13 August
We awoke mid-morning with the sun peeking through silvery clouds scurrying overhead and restless trees swaying in the wind. Also swaying and windy was young Alison on her way to the bathroom, a vision of faintly green tinged loveliness. “Morning my precious, how’s the head?” I cheerily announced. I‘m not sure about her reply from behind the rapidly slamming lavatory door, something about a duck I think.
Later, in full ruddy health courtesy of Mavis’s extensive on-board pharmacy, we went over to Ilam near Dove Dale where we met up with more friends of our hosts and accompanied them on a walk to Dove Dale stepping stones and then up the lofty pinnacle of Thorpe Cloud. Well, as lofty as 300 or so feet up is. Not a long walk but steep and the views over the surrounding countryside were magnificent.
From our elevated eerie we could see back to Ilam Hall, a lump of dark gothic sandstone standing proud of the shadowy woodland of Ilam Park, sitting in a broad curve of the River Manifold. Panning left were parched fields of pale green and gold enclosed by dry stone walls tumbling down into the vale below. Where the terrain made arable farming impossible sheep grazed on grassy hillsides cropped short by their constant attention. In the sun burnished fields on the broad valley floor cows lay or wandered sluggishly, picking at the grass here and there and watching walkers pass by with drowsy eyes. We could see where a significant amount of the flat ground has been colonised by visitors; farmers’ fields repurposed to provide for campers or cars, windscreens twinkling below us in the sunlight, reminders that Dove Dale is a tourist heavy area. In many ways it represents the best of the Peaks in one handy place, the tranquil meadows, gurgling river, picturesque stepping stones, broad deep valleys, rock formations to scramble up, caves and the light toil up Thorpe Cloud or nearby Bunster Hill for the more energetic. It was via Bunster Hill that we returned to our hosts and enjoyed a rather splendid al-fresco communal supper of Paella.
Driving back we passed through a cloud of dust from the harvest in a neighbouring field. It reminded me that when we started our adventures in April the crops we walked or drove past were barely showing and now we’re approaching full cycle with the harvest. Our days on the road have mostly been spent outside, as close to the rhythms of nature as we’ve ever been, responsive to the temperature, clouds, wind, sun and our environment in a way we’d never experienced flitting between home, car, office and supermarket. It’s also a reminder that our summer tour is drawing towards a conclusion. We’ve given thought to how and where we winter but so far have reached no solid conclusions beyond wanting to continue the adventure next year. It’s this very lack of planning too far forward that’s been so stimulating for us, but by the same token we realise that winter in Mavis is impractical and the pragmatist within is beginning to rise up and exert some control over our inner bohemian.
Sunday 14 August
Sunday was once observed as the day of rest, but today we agreed to help in the Shallowford garden instead. Fortunately for me this meant real manly gardening – uprooting ancient pampas grass, lopping trees and generally doing butch stuff with absolutely no finesse required. Alison on the other hand delved into path clearance in the style of a painter of fine portraits, diligently removing every last blade of errant grass, spot of moss and decaying leaf with delicate precision. The results were a stiff back for Alison and lacerated arms for me. All in all a fine days’ work we felt.
Jobs done we left in the afternoon after fond goodbyes to friends old and new and made our way to one of our favourite spots in the whole of the UK. But more of that tomorrow.
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