Midlands Holiday 2021

by Marion Chessell

Preparations
The original plan was to go back to Malta for two weeks in August, but, in view of the uncertainties about Covid tests we decided to cancel and leave it for another year.

A road trip around the Midlands doesn’t sound very exciting but that was what we decided to do.

In view of the difficulties Roger has with stairs, we booked Premier inns for our road trip as they have accessible rooms which are either on the ground floor or accessible via a lift, and they are generally bigger rooms too.

We also hit on the idea that taking out a year’s membership with the National Trust might be a good idea. As we go through this narrative you will see how successful that was!

The day we set out, our landlord came to do the arranged odd jobs in the bungalow and the window cleaner came. It was a bit hectic ! However, it was quite handy as I gave the window cleaner half a dozen eggs that I didn’t know what to do with because they might go off by the time we got back.

The drive itself was through some of the lovely country we have in East Anglia. Ok we don’t have any motorways, lots of “A” roads, which is quite slow going but they do go through some interesting places.

Lincoln

The first overnight stay was at Lincoln in an IBIS hotel which we had been to before. The last time we were there was the day we moved out of our Bungalow in Lincoln when we were enroute to live in Malta!

However, we found that the hotel needed some serious attention. Doors didn’t shut properly and needed a hefty bang. It was also quite noisy with people standing close to our downstairs room talking loudly! It was dirty along the skirtings in the corridors and rooms. As I said not particularly good.

Roger was just changing his trousers in our room before we left and there was a knock on the door, and without waiting for an answer a cleaner opened the door.

We were not happy bunnies! We had a Bit of a chat with the manager on the way out.

The Hotel provided breakfast and while there I found some fellow geocachers who were attending an event in Lincoln, so I had a bit of a geocache chat – as you do.

We were meeting our friend Penny for a meal that night at our favourite gastropub in Lincoln – The Swanholme where we had a lovely meal and catch up.

The next morning we popped in to Brownhills, the motorhome showroom, for a quick look at the second hand vans as we have a thought to maybe have a camper van again. Not the right time of year to be looking!

Stockport

We travelled through to Stockport via Matlock and Buxton in Derbyshire, finding some really good cafes on the way. Butter Fingers at Matlock and The Hydro in Buxton, which had an excellent range of gluten free options and also for our readers with canine companions, a doggy menu.

The main reason for visiting Stockport was to see my son Tim and his wife Alex who we hadn’t seen for some time, due to covid restrictions. Tim had arranged to do a BBQ but the weather forecast was not favourable, which is not unusual in that area.
He cooked a meal for us indoors which was a very good Gluten free lasagne. We also met Daisy, their Maltese Terrier puppy. She was from Romania and had been cared for by Alex’s sister, until she was old enough to travel.

We stayed at Manchester Handforth Premier inn. It was one of the older ones where we actually had a door key!

The day after visiting Tim and Alex the first National Trust property was visited. Quarry Bank is a Cotton Mill which had an Apprentice house and the main Mill as well as extensive gardens. What a great place, despite the rain.

In the apprentice house they took children from Workhouses to have a 10 Year apprenticeship at the mill. Some of the children from the apprentice house stayed after the ten years and lived in the nearby village called Styal.

Had the weather been a bit better we probably would have walked through to Styal. The Café at Quarry Bank was quite good, and they had Gluten free options too. This is a similar experience in all the National trust properties we visited.

We then moved on to the next location that afternoon/evening

Stoke on Trent

I have done training around here and I have to say that we have never had much luck in this area.

Trentham Gardens Premier inn was situated opposite a small outlet shopping area which was actually quite good. The hotel itself was very busy. During the holiday period Premier inns had changed their checking in time from 2 pm to 4 pm to allow for the extra cleaning. We found however that our room still wasn’t ready when we arrived just after 4pm so had to wait.

After a busy dusty day we decided to have a shower and when we came out into the bedroom area we found that the carpet along the adjoining wall with the bathroom was wet, it wasn’t a bit damp it was really wet. Reported it to reception and went to have a meal at the Harvester restaurant which was great. On our return they moved us to another room which was fine. The Stoke on Trent Jinx strikes again!

The following morning, we chose to have breakfast at the Toby Carvery. The price of the actual buffet style breakfast was reasonable, but we paid extra for tea and coffee. No gluten free bread available, ‘We don’t do that”, an uninterested waitress told us. We had to wander around finding cutlery which she had forgotten to give us. Bit of a disappointment over all.

The next National Trust property was an estate called Biddulph Grange Garden which had a great collection of different garden areas including a Chinese garden, a walled garden, and a wooded area. Fabulous place and great for photography. Weather was considerably better. After having a good meal at the restaurant, we had a snacky tea in our hotel room. Did quite a lot of walking that day and some climbing which Roger coped with really well.The following day was spent travelling to Ironbridge. The Coalbridge museums were first. Excellent café on site. Good use of the industrial buildings. Visited the iron museum and Enginuity.

Then drove through Ironbridge where we saw the actual bridge but could not park anywhere nearby, as is often the case with iconic structures!

We didn’t know it at the time but I’ve read since that in February 2020 Ironbridge gorge suffered from a flood which was caused by a couple of storms. The Coalport museum and Museum of the Gorge were flooded and had extensive damage. We didn’t visit these as there were so many possible places to go.

The next stop in this area was Blists Victorian Village which was excellent. They had the shops, pub and some of the industrial buildings to look around with authentic Victorian goods on display in the shops. We had a fish and chips from the chippy which was cooked in beef fat so we decided to share one as the calorie content of having one each would be horrific!

The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site (The first in the UK) and I must say the whole area is impressive and gives the visitor a great insight into the industrial revolution. We felt suitably educated and entertained.

The next day we were due in Binley, Coventry. Again, it wasn’t far so we went to a National Trust site on the way. This time it was Shugborough Estate. Quite a lot of walking here as it had a house set in extensive gardens and a farm covering several acres. The family who owned the estate originally had travelled extensively and this was reflected in the art and treasures in the house.

Coventry

I’m afraid that we couldn’t get too excited about Coventry. The Premier inn was fine and there were good facilities nearby. Our breakfasts were in Morrison’s supermarket which wasn’t great but was very much cheaper than the Premier inn breakfasts we could have paid for.

We decided to go into the centre of Coventry to do a bit of shopping. After a long wait at the park and ride, Coventry seemed very bitty and messy. The meal at Wetherspoons in Coventry was equally not up to much and the choice of food was limited (for Gluten free) fine if you like burgers, club sandwiches and chips lol.

My Dad had been involved with clearing the debris of Coventry Cathedral when it was bombed in the second world war and I was interested in seeing the old site and the new Cathedral. The signage was poor and we did not actually get to find the Cathedral. Very disappointing.

Coughton Court was the next National Trust Property which had a fascinating history. It was owned by the Throckmorton family who were Catholics. George Throckmorton was involved in the divorce of Henry V11 and Catherine of Aragon. He favoured the queen and there is a hand embroidered Ephod on display which was said to have been made by Catherine and her Lady in waiting. It also played a role in being a safe house for the instigators of the Gunpowder plot in 1605.

We were relatively close here to Roger’s friend Roger, (yes that is correct) who lives in the Wiltshire countryside just outside Swindon. So we took the opportunity to pop over and see him.

The next day we were moving on to our next location, so we took a detour to see our friends, David and Gillian’s in Lutterworth near Leicester, on route to our next hotel. Catching up with friends made the trip to Coventry area well worth doing!

Milton Keynes

You may ask – why did we decide to stay in Milton Keynes? Well we wanted to visit Bletchley Park.

The Premier inn was at Furzton Lake which is probably the most pleasant location we stayed in. Furzton Lake was a clay pit but was developed in 1980’s to make a basin for flood waters that developed in the area. It has a cycle/walking path all the way round which we made use of. The circular walk is easy going and is 1.6 miles long. It is also used for fishing.

A good “ Hungry Horse” restaurant was next door which supplied us with a good breakfast at a reasonable price.

Bletchley Park was a great day out once we found it. They were doing roadworks in the area which made for an entertaining ride around trying to go a different route to actually get to the entrance.

The way Bletchley was laid out made it look as if the people working there had just popped out for lunch. The main house itself had some lovely ornate ceilings. It gave you a really good idea about the working conditions there.

Roger enjoyed the talks about how the enigma and Lorenz machines worked and looking at how they were developed. He also saw some early computers that he remembered using in the military.

I tended to be more interested in the “human” side of it all. Information about the people who worked there, how they were recruited. Really interesting place.

One little snippet I thought was quite amusing is that they had a Lorenz machine on display which they actually bought from the ebay internet site. Lorenz was the machine used by German high command in WW2 and was more complex than enigma. The machine came to light at a house clearance and an eagle eyed person realised the significance of the machine when they saw it for sale.

The impressive thing also was that there were a number of volunteers working at Bletchley trying to renovate and get the old computers and machines to work, a real labour of love and enthusiasm.

The following day we went into Milton Keynes to do some shopping. There was a big centre there and I needed a new suitcase for work as I had worn out the old one. Massive place, and the suitcase was obtained.

We tried to have a Nandos but they were only doing takeaways. We found a Noodle bar type place which did an excellent sweet and sour.

Our next location was Peterborough so the day we were moving on we popped into the Museum of computing, which was actually on the Bletchley Park site but ran by a different organisation. Roger had a go on a virtual reality machine which was the inside of the lunar landing command capsule.

We saw some of the early machines such as ZX81 (Do you remember those?) Acorn machines and also some of the early calculators. An interesting place for Computer enthusiasts.

Peterborough

We went to Peterborough because we wanted to go on the Nene Valley railway. Simon (my other son) had bought us railway experience tickets for Christmas and we wanted to use them there. However, I forgot to take the ticket with me (It was sitting at home under my computer). We went on a ride anyway on a Swedish train called Helga and will be back to use the ticket!

We like railways run by volunteers who are very friendly and really enthusiastic about their trains. I am of course well-travelled on trains as I use them to get to work, but I do enjoy them. Good for photographs too as we had time to get out of the train at various points and hop back on again after taking a couple of shots.

I had arranged to meet my niece who I hadn’t seen since she was a child. We met at the restaurant attached to the Premier inn. They were good but had run out of some of things on the menu.

Had a good chat and catch up with Melissa and her Husband, Rob so it was well worth doing. Breakfast in this location was at Morrison’s, which was not good. The second day we went to Asda which was much better.

We also took the opportunity the next day to visit Patricia, my sister in Law who lives in the middle of nowhere, near Wisbech. Had another good catchup and then went on to find a meal.

I found on google maps a restaurant called “House of Feasts” which was just off the main A47 road near Eye. We had an excellent meal there, superbly fresh cooked, with local ingredients. Looking it up later, this particular place was owned by Chef Damian Wawrzyniak, who has cooked for Royalty and was the head chef at London Olympics 2012. We had breakfast there the next day. We will be returning!

Kentwell Hall

Leaving Peterborough for home we decided to go via Long Melford in Suffolk to visit Kentwell Hall. It is a privately run Tudor Manor House with a moat.

They do special interest occasions, schools events, weddings. It has had a colourful history and more recently it was used for evacuees in WW2 as well as a small army camp in the grounds.

When we visited it was part of a living history Tudor event. The re-enactors lived at Kentwell for the whole week living in the Tudor style.

There were many occupations from the period represented such as Blacksmiths, Potters, hat makers. The food was cooked over open fires as it would have been in Tudor times. The costumes were really good and the people explained their trades, in olde English from the times, and engaged with visitors. It was a really good day. The manor itself was very impressive with formal gardens and woodland.

It also presented a lot of good photo opportunities. It was a good day out to end our holiday. One place we would definitely consider going to again.

Summary

Overall, Foodwise the service, availability of food and cleanliness in the Franchise/ supermarket/chains has been poor. I know they are cheaper but it should not compromise the cleanliness and overall service.

The independently run National Trust places, have been excellent. I wonder if some of it is because they rely more on local produce whereas the others are relying on food coming from further away. Since Covid 19 lockdown and Brexit the larger concerns seemed to have really struggled with reopening. It will be interesting to see if this changes or whether Brexit and Covid 19 have highlighted difficulties that already existed.

We returned to Oulton Broad having had a good 2 week break and visited some really interesting places. Catching up with friends and family was also great.

A selection of photos from our trip

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