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Friday, 31 May 2013

The walk to the station or England's green and pleasant land!

On Wednesday I went to Bristol by train to visit a friend convalescing at home following a hip operation.  As it was a lovely morning I decided to walk to the station along the disused railway line - the route I usually take into town - but continuing along its length to the far side of the town where the station is.

 My walk took me just under an hour and was very scenic and peaceful.

 How different it used to be when this tarmac path was a railway line complete with steam trains puffing dirt and smoke and noise into the atmosphere.... it is a real oasis of calm and greenery.

It was a good job I had enjoyed the sunshine and my walk as when I reached Bristol it was grey and mizzling and I was glad that my friend lives only a short walk away from the station!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Memory Lane

WARNING:  This is a long post with lots of photos so you may want to skip through it or not bother with it at all - I am writing it as much for myself to look back on as to share so haven't cut it down as much as maybe I should for you all!

Those of you who have been following me for some time will perhaps remember my posts about my life when living with my grandfather in the Forest of Dean - having had a long held wish to go back and visit some of my childhood haunts from my time there in the 1950's we finally made it last week!  I had thought of going by bus but Mr M wanted to come with me but not on the bus so we took the car.  We arrived at our hotel - nothing luxurious but the only one from which we could walk to the places I wanted to revisit - and having had a cup of tea and put our belongings in the room allocated we decided to walk to Cinderford via the little road called the Ruffit a distance of just over a mile or so.

I don't remember the views being so beautiful but maybe as a 10 year old I wasn't as impressed by views as I am now.

 We reached the top of the road where Grandfather's house was - still with the old sign on the wall - how pretty it will look when all the clematis Montana comes into bloom.

And here is the cottage - it bears little resemblance to how it was having been extended and rendered where once it had been a soft worn stone and where is the pretty front garden with its lilac trees - one a double white and the other a pale mauve - smelling so wonderful, the little patch of grass with its blue and white bells growing at the edges?  The pretty Virginia stocks blooming in their sugar almond colours by the front door?  Where the shabby little green painted gate and the shared path between the two cottages and what of the long shared garden to the left of the pair of cottages?  Now it has been built on and where once were the elder bush I made a house under and the rambler roses, the rhubarb which as children we used to pick and eat raw and the little house at the top end where in times past Grandfather used to keep his pig (long before my time of course but the little building made a good place for playing house)?  All gone now!

We walked on past and down the road turning back for a last look at the house.  How narrow the road seems now but I could still see us children playing hopscotch and skipping there and hear the shouts as we played.  On down the road past the houses of Ruth Kirby and Valerie Dobson, past the houses of the Giles family (you may remember my story of going with the Giles children to their caravan for a holiday one time) - where are they all now? - to Belle Vue Road where we turned right towards the town.

 Here is the cinema not much altered it would seem and where we used to go on Saturday mornings for the children's film shows.

Here the sweet shop (the little blue one here) where we as children would go to buy a few sweets - they were still rationed so it was only a few - usually a couple of ounces in a white paper bag with its corners twisted as the lady dextrously twizzled it to close it.

 On down the road I passed the Miners Welfare Hall where as children we used to go for Christmas Parties and so on and where I was always fascinated by the notice on the wall prohibiting jitterbugging and wondered what that meant!

Next I came to the site of my old primary school now a small modern housing estate!

And on the opposite side of the road the Grammar School I then went to - the buildings were still there but it is no longer a school.

Having had a brief wander round the town - no sheep roaming the streets nowadays as used to be the case back in the 50's - and wondering if that might have been the newsagents a schoolfriend's parents owned and looking at the dilapidated state of the Swan Inn which another friend's parents ran back then but now sadly in the process of being repossessed we wended our way back the way we had come.

Enjoying the views again.

Down this pretty lane with the sound of sheep baaing in the fields and birdsong overhead.  The hedgerows filled with wildflowers just as I remembered and I picked a stem of Herb Robert which used to be one of my mother's favourite flowers along with a sprig of Forget-me-not in memory of her though I needed no flowers for how could I ever forget her?  And during these few days I thought what a shame it is that we don't ask enough questions or take enough interest in things when younger rather than leaving it all until there's nobody left to ask!!  I kept thinking "I must tell Mum about this or that and ask her....." before realising it's all to late now!

Back in Littledean we walked down to the little chapel where my mother's mother is buried in the churchyard behind it...

... and I remembered the many times we visited to put flowers on the grave.  I couldn't find the grave as there had never been a headstone and even if there had many of the stones on untended graves had been moved to the wall at the side to enable the grass to be mown.  But the same quiet atmosphere was over all especially in the early evening sunlight: the same ivy clambering over the walls and the patch of nettles at one end.

The following day dawned bright and sunny again and we decided to walk down to Popes Hill to see what had become of the house which had been my mother's grandparents' home and where my grandmother was born and spent her childhood and which my mother and I frequently visited back in the 50's to see my mother's uncle who was living there.  Turning back as we left Littledean this was the view.

We walked down past Littledean Jail now a museum but back then still a jail and soon turned off the main road and onto a narrow lane called the Slad which runs parallel, at the start, with the main road as you can see here.  We walked along enjoying the sunshine and listening to the little brook in the field to the right still tumbling on its way to who knows where.

This was a lovely walk as on one side were bluebell woods and we turned up this little path for a few yards to enjoy the carpets of blue - I think we were just in time though as they were just beginning to go over by now - and to enjoy the absolute peace and quiet apart from the birdsong the sound of sheep and an occasional cockerel somewhere.

Continuing along this road we came out onto a more open aspect ...

.... and came across the B&B we had hoped to stay at when we researched this trip some time ago but never actually did anything about it.  Recently we had discovered the website now a blank - it seems the couple have finally retired being well into their seventies (we spoke with them as they were in their garden when we passed by)  but what a stunning location it would have been wouldn't it?

We didn't take advantage of this seat but what a wonderful place it would have been for a rest perhaps with a flask of tea and a little something to go with it!  I was about to say and a book but who would want to sit reading when there was such a fabulous view in front of you?  No maybe the book could wait till later!

Turning onto the road where the house we were looking for is situated we walked towards it here.

The building doesn't bear any resemblance to the one I remember visiting with my mother when we used to make this walk to visit her uncle living there alone in the 50's but the gate looks the same as ever though obviously not now in use to judge by the grass .

Whilst I was taking photos of the gate and generally looking round the lady who lives there now was in the garden and we spoke - she was thrilled to know that I was someone who remembered the house from nearly 60 years ago and invited us to have a cup of tea and to talk about the property she has lived in for about 4 years.  We spent a very pleasant hour or so sitting in her lovely garden sipping tea and chatting and then she showed me inside the house too.  It had been a single storey building when they had bought it and she was interested to hear my memories of how it had been as a 2 storey place when I used to visit.  This photo is of the little orchard behind the house where I sometimes used to play whilst my mother stood talking to her uncle though it wasn't as well cared for back then.  I was glad, as I am sure the earlier occupants would have been, that the gardens were being so well cared for and that the house was now well loved an no longer almost derelict as I remembered it.

In the afternoon having walked back to Littledean and had a sandwich lunch in the pub there we went to visit the Dean Heritage Centre - this time by car and not on foot.  This was an interesting afternoon as we wandered round and looked at so many things which were of interest to me as though not a Forester myself by birth I might perhaps claim some of that honour by virtue of half my genes!

I loved this little cottage on the site and was immediately taken back in time as the kitchen was very like the one I remember at Grandfather's house as was the rest of the cottage complete with damp patches on the ceilings!

The situation of the Centre is very picturesque as you can see.

Later we went to Westbury on Severn to check out a pub where we might perhaps eat that evening and peered through the railings at the lovely gardens of Westbury Court....

For some reason I always used to think that this was the Workhouse which my mother's aunt and uncle used to fear so much and I wondered why they wouldn't want to live here but I have since discovered that the workhouse was at that time just up the road from here and not somewhere one might want to end up at all though it has since been demolished and new houses built on the site which only goes to show how unreliable memory can be!

Having done the things I wanted to do it was now Mr M's turn to choose where we went on Friday and he chose Gloucester.  We went on the bus using our bus passes since the bus stop was right outside where we were staying.  People everywhere were so friendly and the elderly lady who was also waiting there told me she went every Friday to do some shopping - she also said she was 84 and very spry she looked too!  It was a lovely half hour journey through wonderful green countryside past fields of sheep and orchards of apple trees, all in blossom, and in places our route ran alongside the River Severn and seen from the top deck of the bus all the more interesting than from a car.  This picture was taken from the bus as we approached the city centre.

This intriguing clock was above an old shop there and depicts Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales along with Old Father Time in the centre and on the hour they strike the bells. 

We wandered round to the historic docks which must have been quite something in their day to judge by the number of warehouses.  These lovely houseboats were at the end of one area and had lots of pots of shrubs and plants set about like gardens.  That is the cathedral in the background.

Back in the city centre we discovered a story I hadn't known before - it seems that the tall white shop on the right here used to be a tailor's and it was here that the story on which Beatrix Potter based her children's story The Tailor of Gloucester actually happened.  Apparently the tailor had a commission to make a coat for the mayor of Gloucester and when he left the shop on Saturday evening the coat was cut out and ready to sew but when he returned on the Monday the coat was made up all but for one button hole to which was pinned a note saying "No more twist" it was a mystery to him how this had happened (it seems it was his apprentices who had sewn the coat for him) and particularly fortuitous as it was an urgent job and he had wondered how he might complete it in time.

Opposite the shop is this narrow lane at the end of which is a pretty little shop... the Beatrix Potter  store and museum as hearing this tale she based her story on it and set it here in this lovely little building near the cathedral.

Isn't it cute?   Packed with all things Beatrix Potter plus free entry!

Through the archway to the cathedral a lovely building whose foundation stone was laid in 1089.  It seems that in 1216 King Henry III was crowned here as a young boy just 9 years old and in 1327 the funeral of King Edward II took place here and his tomb is inside the cathedral so it can certainly claim royal connections.  I was interested to see that the tomb of Edward II was covered with grafitti which according to the notice along side was done by the boys of the Kings school hundreds of years ago - boys will be boys it seems even back in the 1600s!!

The cloisters had some fabulous fan vaulting.

Whatever one's views on religion I am always amazed at the time, effort and craftsmanship which went into these old religious buildings.  How long did it take them to build a place like this and how many stone masons were involved I wonder.  How many died in the effort high up on the rooftops?  Did any of them live to see the finished building or did they then move on to do their stone masonry somewhere else?

Of course there is always a cat somewhere and this one was sitting in the cathedral close where I had a chat with him!

The bus trip back was every bit as pleasant and the outward one and we enjoyed the scenery along the way - so much greenery, so many lilacs in full bloom and always the River Severn not far away.

We finished off our last day with dinner at the Red Hart in Blaisden recommended to us by the lady who so kindly gave us tea in her garden at Popes Hill the previous day.  What a gem!  Pity we hadn't known about it earlier as the food was delicious, service excellent and prices very reasonable and all a far cry from the pub food where we were staying which although copious and OK was real pub grub and almost always included chips!

I am so glad we finally made this trip down memory lane and really enjoyed our few days away - we were so lucky with the weather too it could have been really miserable if it had rained all the time.  Now I just hope I will be as lucky later on in June when I set off on another of my bus pass trips.