Our Travel blog
Tuesday 20 September
Today we had the task of moving Alison’s son to his new digs in London, ready to start college in a weeks’ time. The first job was to load up Mavis, which I achieved thanks to years spent playing on the early computer game Tetris. The objective was to fit different shapes into a space, filling as much of it as possible without any gaps. This is pretty much how I packed Mavis, although in the computer version if you are successful lines disappear to give you more room, in Mavis I stacked and crammed; then re-stacked and stuffed and then I remembered Dom was coming too and would need somewhere to sit so I had to start over.
Finally I stood back to admire my handiwork. “Ooh, well done dear” Alison said upon seeing my triumphant loading, “How is it secured?” she added in a more quizzical tone. “Secured my precious? We’ll be with it the whole time” I retorted and made to leave until being gently but firmly held with my elbow by Alison who now posed her next query in a more assertive tone. “What I mean is, when I brake, what will prevent approximately 3 tons of boxes, shelving and kitchenware from shooting forward … and while we are on the subject, what will stop the ironing board from decapitating Dom?”
So that, gentle reader, is why when we arrived at Dom’s new room my first task was to remove a spiders web of Gaffer Tape from the van where I’d taped everything to everything else, and in the process quite a bit to myself. While I busied myself carrying in boxes and picking up supplies from a nearby Asda Alison helped Dom unpack and make his room homely. She picks up the story below:
When I moved to Colchester in 2013 the hardest thing for me was to leave behind my family and friends, and the most difficult of all the goodbyes was the one I made to Dom. He said to me once that “I grew up and you left home” which I suppose is strictly speaking true but the decision to remain in Cambridge was Dom’s to make for himself. At 19 he was a grown up and he wanted to stay with his friends, he had a job and after the purchase of a flat in a small Cambridge village, he had a home of his own. He took on the responsibility for the flat very well and had a real pride in his home. Early this year he decided that he wanted to return to college and pick up his education. So here we were dropping him off at his new digs, this son of mine who at 22 is not a baby but a grown man, who has lived independently for the last 3 years, who has street smarts and a quiet confidence but somehow, leaving him in London in a room in a shared house, not knowing another soul was, I think, harder than leaving him the first time. At least in Cambridge he had family and friends, but here I was leaving him completely alone. We made the best of the room for him and took him out for dinner, all the time being positive and upbeat about the new opportunities and the excitement of living in London. Inside I was a bit of a mess if I’m honest. Driving away was so hard but my tears were mixed with a fierce pride. I know he’s going to be fine. No matter how independent your kids are saying goodbye is never easy.
Wednesday 21 September
After the emotional turmoil of yesterday and an overnight stop in Cambridge we scooted off to Buxton in Derbyshire. We’ve always been attracted to the elegant Georgian spa town, with its imposing Crescent, formal Pavilion Gardens, grand hotels, prim houses, majestic Opera House and charming nooks and crannies. It sits in a bowl through which the River Wye runs, passing under the main high street in a culvert and emerging to race through the Pavilion Gardens before cutting west, tracing a path through informal wooded banks to the edge of the town. Buxton was known to The Romans as Aquae Arnemetiae, or “Waters of Arnemetia” as they had dedicated a shrine here to the Goddess Arnemetia. Doubtless they were attracted to the site by the warm springs, which bubble out of the ground at 28 degrees Celsius. The spa has brought visitors to the town ever since as have the clear natural mineral waters. Filtered through the surrounding hills the Buxton water still pours out of an ornamental tap in the town, from which people come from far and wide to fill their water bottles. The old water works in the town have been demolished; Buxton Water now comes from a new plant nearby and is a subsidiary of the giant Nestlé Corporation.
According to the official town website Buxton is “At 300m above sea level the town is the highest town of its size in England” which strikes me as a nebulous and somewhat pointless claim for a town with so much more to offer. Unless two towns occupy exactly the same amount of land or have exactly the same number of inhabitants (the site doesn’t make it clear what they mean by size) then surely every town in the UK is the highest, or lowest town of its size in the UK? Maybe at the time of writing this I’m just in an awkward and pedantic mood. We came to Buxton with the aim of buying a flat to winter in, intending to let it out next summer when we go back on the road, but things didn’t quite go the way we’d planned. For all its allure we would end up leaving Buxton in a sombre mood.
Tonight though we parked Mavis up at Grin Low, in a Caravan Club site situated in an old quarry. I had to drive out thoughts of Jeremy Clarkson and the other two muppets from Top Gear filling it in while we slept in their bid to rid the world of caravans. It was actually an enchanting position with a jagged wall of rock behind us, fields nibbled by sheep rolling upwards towards the stark moorland of Axe Edge. Up to our left above the quarry were Bronze Age burial mounds and crowning the highest point Solomon’s Temple. But more about that tomorrow.
Thursday 22 September
We walked into Buxton as planned and spent much of the morning looking in estate agents windows and, finding one that had several in our price range we arranged some viewings for Friday morning. Feeling that we’d accomplished something we went to a café for tea and cake. It was a pleasantly robust little place, cheerful staff and utility furniture, nothing dainty but clean with all home produced fare. One of our weaknesses is caramel shortbread and we opted for two slabs with our tea. They arrived with a thud on the table, which sagged under the weight. These were not delicate portions of fine shortbread topped with sweet sea salted caramel supporting rich Belgian chocolate. These were slabs of dense shortbread with a mass similar to lead, gooey sugary caramel and chocolate so thick it took several attempts to crack it. Each was a good 4 inches square and almost as tall. We chomped through them lost in a world of estate agents blurb extolling the virtues of flats that ‘you had to see inside to appreciate.’
Fearing our insulin levels were now off the scale we elected to walk back via the country park leading up to Solomon’s Temple. We strolled through the elegant side streets of Buxton, passed the secondary school and into the wooded country park. We made way for a bus load of Chinese tourists to descend from the sylvan paths, delicately picking expensive footwear through the leafy floor and filing into the gift shop or the toilets, ignoring the increasingly impatient pleas of the tour guide to re-board the bus. Once they’d dispersed we made our way up steep uneven steps and along a path that wound round the hillside, ever rising under the canopy of tall trees. The light from the sun was pale, diffused through autumn leaves, the path mulchy with rotting vegetation, still moist from yesterday’s rain, the air still with a humid woody smell. Up we climbed through mature woodland of Beech, Ash, Elm and Sycamore with Willow, Birch, Hawthorn and Rowan around the edges. I looked that up by the way, I cannot tell one tree from another. Apparently there are lots of birds too and abundant other wildlife. We saw a dog. After more climbing we reached open sky and entered an uneven pasture of grass kept short by cows grazing. The hillside had once been the domain of ‘pudding pie’ kilns where limestone was burnt to make lime for mortar and fertilizer. Up here on the summit the stone was quarried, the land pitted with the scars of old workings leaving deep hollows and bare rocks that rise from the grass, standing stark against the skyline, and from the centre of a Bronze Age burial mound the tower that is Solomon’s Temple.
The present tower was built in 1896, a replacement for an earlier one constructed by Solomon Mycock a local farmer, landowner and inspiration for many juvenile puns on his surname. It’s a round, two story high turret that looks like the corner of a child’s toy castle. Its function seems to be ornamental, although judging by the state of the ground floor the local cows have found a use for it as a toilet. The view from the top is, well, much like the view from the ground it’s built on but slightly higher. From the bleak looking Axe Edge to the South, turning to your left you can gaze around 360o taking in landscape mutilated by quarrying, undulating fields stretching away to a hazy horizon, ugly modern works, lonely farms, a railway viaduct, the sprawl of Buxton with its domes and spires, hills grazed bare, sparse woodlands, remote stone farmhouses, the old drovers road to Macclesfield that slices into the edge of hills pocked with old mine workings, the River Wye cutting a deep channel through the rocks and then back around to lush green hillocks and up again to Axe Edge in its stark purple beauty.
Satisfied, we walked back to Mavis across the hill and into the old quarry, full of anticipation for tomorrow’s viewings.
Friday 23 September
We met our guide for today’s viewings and were given a walking tour of Buxton in charming and candid company. Four flats, one possibly habitable under duress and three increasingly squalid hovels, the last of which shook under the constant flow of traffic grumbling up the steep A6. We walked back with the agent into town and he was a mine of interesting information, pointing out where old shops had been, old roads, where it’s liable to flood and such like. We nodded and said “Ooh” and “gosh, really?” in all the right places but inside we were lost in our own thoughts, busily trying to fit ourselves into any of the apartments we’d just visited. We left our host in town and retired in a glum frame of mind, took temporary refuge in a tea shop and sifted through our options. Over a cuppa we decided that Buxton probably wasn’t going to be for us, the whole point of trying flats was to avoid having a mortgage and if all we could afford was damp rooms with tiny kitchens and extortionate service charges then we’d have to think again.
We left Buxton in a despondent frame of mind and drove passed the cottage at Flash where we honeymooned last year and into the town of Leek. We decided on the journey to have a look around and liked what we saw. We bought a picnic lunch to eat en-route to Shallowford where we were due later for a weekend with friends. Over lunch, overlooking fields outside of Leek we surfed the internet on our phones and looked at properties in Leek. We could clearly get more for our money and so we decided to explore the opportunities. Delaying our arrival at Shallowford by a day we went back into Leek and after an assault on every estate agent we could find we set up some viewings for Saturday morning.
We stayed at the nearby Blackshaw Moor site after bagging the last available pitch. We’d stayed here before when we did a walk around The Roaches so it was familiar and welcoming. We spent an evening soul searching, deep in our thoughts about what may transpire and if Leek’s more encouraging house prices were too good to be true. Tomorrow may be make or break for our plans.
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