Posts Tagged ‘Shropshire’

We’re going to very cautiously try some limited blogging. The reasons this has fallen off are numerous:

1) too busy
2) exhausted
3) writing about the traveling that makes me exhausted makes me even more exhausted and cranky as well
4) I lost the use of my regular camera back in March and I really dislike the substitutes I’m working with. An iPod and a cell phone aren’t the same thing and I despise spending an hour doing nothing but re-sizing photos to upload to a website with limited space.

What we’ve been up to since June:

  • a week in the Lake and Peak District
  • trip to Ireland
  • Bear played tour guide with friends from America for about 3 weeks
  • college friends from America came for about two weeks
  • long Birthday weekend on the Jurassic Coast
  • went to London several times including a show (We Will Rock You)
  • a week in Cornwall
  • family from American came for 10 days which included 4 days in Paris

Geez, I got tired just typing that.

Bear kindly made breakfast and wisely brought a Diet Coke along as well. I was dragging after a kind of long work week but it had ended really well and we went to see Catching Fire on Friday night for our Nando’s date. (The movie was really excellent, btw.)


He had picked out some sites around Shropshire that we hadn’t hit on previous trips and it’s easy to talk me into going to Shrewsbury. First, we went to Wall to see the Roman site of an encampment that had been an outpost there. It was a wall. As in, you find the Roman baths in Bath and the wall in…Wall.



On the way back to the car pack, I spotted a library in a phone booth. Really.


Then we made a quick stop at the White Lady Priory which is like a related site to the bigger Boscobel House.


When Charles II made an ill advised attempt in 1551 to reclaim his throne (his father Charles I having been executed in 1549 during the English Civil War, thanks Cromwell), he lost big at the Battle of Worcester and had to hide out before escaping back to France.


The first place he hid was at the White Ladies Priory and then moved over to Boscobel House which was owned by a family of Catholic sympathizers. (It seems not very many people liked Cromwell as he canceled Christmas, literally). Fortunately, for Charles II to blend in, the Penderel family were all very tall as he was.


We signed up for the tour of the house after some confusion about when it started. They said 11:30, I checked my watch and said, Oh, 5 minutes, great, and they said, no, 47 minutes. Turns out, that’s precisely how long the tour takes. Not sure why they thought  the duration was what I meant, but there you go–welcome to England.



We also got to see the famous Royal Oak which Charles II hid in for a day as a part of his escape attempt while the soldiers and dogs were searching for him below. The oak has suffered recently, having been struck by lightning in 2000, so Prince Charles came back to help plant a sapling from an acorn of the original oak and it’s growing well.

Royal Oak

Royal Oak

After a snack and some drinks, we headed over to Lilleshall Abbey another Augustinian abbey where Bear climbed to the top of a tower without telling me and scared the crap out of me.

Lillehall Abbey

Lilleshall Abbey

Bear in the tower, all is clear

Bear in the tower, all is clear

View from the tower

View from the tower

Moreton Corbet Castle was next, and it did deserve the castle title at one point although it looked more like a decimated manor house.

The most interesting thing at the castle

The most interesting thing at the castle

We stopped by Haughmond Abbey which is completely sealed at this time of year, but that didn’t stop us from going to Buildwas Abbey (also in Shropshire) so we’re getting credit for that one.

At that point, food seemed like a good idea so we headed into Shrewsbury which is a surprisingly good place to find food. However, you also have to pay for parking and all I had was a paper ten pound note which won’t help you when you have to go to pay and display.

A note about Pay and Display. That’s the term for putting money in a meter, getting a paper ticket, putting it on your dash, then inevitably having a misunderstanding and getting a ticket later. If I were crazy enough to permanently move to this country, I would open a strip club and call it Pay and Display. I’m so serious. The girls would dress like cops and meter maids. You think I’m joking.

We were turned away from several restaurants at 3 p.m., places with several open tables, and finally got tired or walking around and feeling cold and hungry. The last waiter was nice about it and said it was because the kitchen was slammed with simultaneous orders, but I wasn’t very impressed with their management. He was being cheerful and laughing, but said, “Well, there’s a McDonald’s one street over” which sort of snapped something and I said, “We’ve been here two years and haven’t eaten in one yet so I think we’ll keep holding on.” Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you want to eat at McDonald’s.

We wound up at the Loch Fyne Seafood Grill which seemed delighted to see us, promised “there would be room at the inn” and found a window table right away.

However, we did have a small revelation, besides that you just have to keep walking and asking and asking to find anywhere to eat. Like British drivers who do not move over when you’re trying to merge on to the highway, British diners do not believe it’s their responsibility to scoot their chairs up to let you through to your adjoining table, even when the hostess is there and asking them to do so. The woman in question simply stared at me uncomprehending and didn’t budge. We’re just lucky I could go on tip toe and squeeze behind her and then she still stared at me like she had no idea what I was up to. Bear’s theory is that when you’re from a tiny island, then you don’t have much space but you really feel protective and want to retain it. We’ve had this happen also in Waitrose when people simply block entire aisles with their carts and look at you like you’re the crazy one for trying to ease by them.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to catch up with the backlog of photos or that I want to since it makes me tired just to look at, but at least here’s proof that we’re not dead. 🙂


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Bear had concerns that I would be able to make it up in time for our early departure, which seems very odd to me. I start work every day at 6 a.m. so getting up all of 20 minutes earlier than usual is hardly what I would call cause for concern. Nevertheless, three alarms were set, warnings were given and all went like clockwork. Juliet even got a little outside time in the garden, which she chose to spend huddled despondently on the sidewalk leading to the gate, AKA “the Path of Righteousness”.

Bear had planned the trip, so it was a surprise for me as we went westward through Coventry and Birmingham (most famous, to me at least, as the town where J.R.R. Tolkien grew up).  Along the way, I learned all kinds of interesting things from Bear, most of which need to be fact checked. 1) The Romans were like the Oakland Raiders compared to the other tribes which were like high school football teams (sounds true). 2) Nicky Minaj is either Bahamian or Panamanian (she’s from Trinidad). 3) Alicia Keys played an assassin a movie and had a much larger butt back then (she did play an assassin in Smokin’ Aces but I’m not in a position to evaluate her butt).

You want to tell her that her butt is too big?

You want to tell her that her butt is too big?

The highlight of the drive was my discovering that Bear had switched our thermoses by accident and he spent 30 minutes drinking my tea before I sipped out of my own thermos and found it was a giant mocha coffee (not what I had in mind). “I thought there wasn’t enough sweetener,” he said in a perplexed tone. How in the world you can’t tell the difference between Lady Grey tea and a Nescafe mochachino is beyond me.

Our first stop was at a remote stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, southwest of Shrewsbury, just a few miles east of the Welsh border. We had to go off-road a little which might sound difficult to do in a Mercedes. It is.

I don't always go off-road, but when I do, I do it in a Mercedes E-320 sedan with positronic supershift.

I don’t always go off-road, but when I do, I do it in a Mercedes E-320 sedan with positronic supershift.

The sheep farm had some nice roads in place though so we got fairly close before having to park and hoof it up the last hill crest.

For some reason this reminds me of the "One Tin Soldier" song

For some reason this reminds me of the “One Tin Soldier” song

But it doesn't really hold up when there are a few other stones still left.

But it doesn’t really hold up when there are a few other stones still left.

We also spotted a man on an ATV herding sheep, which is something like herding cats but with more wool involved.

Next was Clun Castle on the Welsh Borderlands. It’s unusual because the keep, build in the 1200s, is set into the side of the earthworks mound actually instead of sitting on the crest.

The car park was by a nice little river which formed part of the natural moat.

The car park was by a nice little river which formed part of the natural moat.

The hill is surrounded by a natural moat made out of a good sized stream and you have to hike up a fairly steep rocky path to come up and actually see the remnants of the castle.


Clun Castle was constructed just before 1300 and went into disuse sometime in the early 1500s. For once this had nothing to do with Henry VIII.

Don't worry, you're safe -- his jeans look like they're pulled up from here.

Don’t worry, you’re safe — his jeans look like they’re pulled up from here.

The best part of climbing around the ruins though was the fact that Bear’s jeans are completely falling off him and he could only make it about 200 yards before they would work down to mid-thigh (once making it to his knees). OK, not everyone will find that as interesting as I do.

Looking out onto the Welsh borderlands

Looking out onto the Welsh borderlands

The second best part of Clun Castle was a 24 hour public toilet. You simply cannot take anything for granted in England. I travel with a roll of toilet paper just in case we have to make a dive behind a hedge row. (These are often referred to as privet hedges which makes me wonder if there’s a connection to the term privvy. But then, as my professor Jared Klein was fond of saying, “Etymology is the science where the vowels count for nothing and the consonants for very little.”)

We had been to the area before when retracing a lot of the action from the Brother Cadfael books, which I adore. John likes them too, having seen the TV movie adaptations with Derek Jacoby, but has trouble remembering things and keeps referring to him as Brother Cadbury.

Note: Clun Castle is not related to the Cluniac monks or, sadly, to George Clooney.

Stokesay Castle was next , which is really more of a fortified manor house, but had some great historical information and was very well set up and presented.

Not sure who picked the color for the gatehouse. I'm sure it's authentic.

Not sure who picked the color for the gatehouse. I’m sure it’s authentic.

After some discussion in the car park about whether or not we were actually supposed to pay or not (as it turns out, you pay and get refunded at the ticket office).


The interior of the great hall complete with window seats, an octagonal hearth stone.


Upper solar with windows to peer down into the great hall to keep an eye on the festivities.

Back in the gift shop, I spotted some books from the Horrible Histories series. Recently, the author Terry Deary made some unfortunate remarks in The Guardian about libraries and that there was no longer any need for them, they were irrelevant, and his logic stemmed from the fact that he makes only 6 p per book and that fee is capped off eventually when it lends through a library versus 30 p with no cap when the book sells. His exact quote was that libraries “have been around too long” and are “no longer relevant”. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000.”

And even more terrifying, the authors opinions about libraries and historians.

And even more terrifying, the authors opinions about libraries and historians.

Or. Or, Mr. Deary, today’s kids could all go on a torrent and just rip it for free off the ‘net. I’m sure they know how.

And then Dr. Marc Morris, an author who is an actual historian and knows his stuff, got involved.

Dear Terry DearyI’ve just started reading your book, Stormin’ Normans. I’m only up to page 10, I’m afraid, but then I’m a slow reader.You describe the site of William the Conqueror’s first battle, Val-es-Dunes, as being ‘on the Norman border with France’. It’s actually just outside Caen, nowhere near the French border.

You say that William died a year after 1085, i.e. 1086. He actually died in 1087.You say that Henry I’s only son died in 1119. The correct date is 1120.You say that William’s queen, Matilda, was only 127cm tall. This is a modern myth caused by misreporting. The French archaeologists who examined her partial remains actually concluded she was 152cm (about 5’).

You say William was buried in a cathedral he founded in Caen. There is no cathedral in Caen. William founded an abbey.

I’ll get back to you again when I’ve finished the rest of the book. But in the meantime, I can’t help wondering: do you think you should have spent more time in the library?

best wishes
Dr Marc Morris

Thank you, Dr. Morris. In case anyone is wondering, Terry Deary has posted some follow up remarks which only dug the hole that much deeper.

“I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.”

Wow. Apparently he hasn’t been to the Leroy Collins Leon County Public Library anytime since 1993. But then he was quoted in 2010 as saying that historians are “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians” so maybe he didn’t want to be mistaken for one by going to a library to do research?

That’s a shame — I had been planning on giving a set of his books to my godson for his birthday, so that’s 60 p per book that Mr. Deary will not be seeing, although I doubt he’s losing sleep over it.

But not to let that put a damper on the day, I left the gift shop unencumbered and we headed on to the second half of the day. To be continued…

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For a little background, I am a huge Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) fan, particularly of the Brother Cadfael mystery series which I started reading as a teenager back in the late 1980s. I had listened to them all on audio book several times as well after reading them, plus I watched all 13 of the Derek Jacobi filmed adaptations on video. I also read some of her other work, particularly the George Felse series which had some really remarkable insights into human nature (thinking particularly of the ending of Death and the Joyful Woman).

In addition to liking the time period of the 12th century and the English setting, I always enjoyed Peters’ underlying good faith in human nature although she wasn’t naive and she never skirted around the evil in the world and the complex areas in between (The Sanctuary Sparrow). It charmed me that she usually had a pair or two of star-crossed lovers in each mystery and generally things worked out well (so long as one of them wasn’t really the killer).

I remember distinctly in the winter of 1993 when I wasn’t doing very well to put it mildly and I had just made it to the Christmas break in library school. I was exhausted but nothing seemed to make me feel any better or more rested. I went to the public library, my first real break in months, and I found a copy of The Hermit of Eyton Forest on audio, read by Stephen Thorne. I also had a new jigsaw puzzle and I knew somehow that if I could just take a day or two to listen to this book and do this puzzle in peace and quiet that everything would be OK again. Peace washed over me in the library, but it was more than that. It was the feeling you get when you’ve been lost and are starting to get scared but then you spot  road sign you recognize and suddenly it’s OK because you can find your way home again. (in fact, things actually got worse after that, but they did improve in the end and I’ve always ascribed at least a part of that to Ellis Peters for some reason.)

So here we were, headed into Shrewsbury in the West Midlands, which was the site of all the Brother Cadfael mystery novels, to see the abbey where he had lived as a Benedictine Monk, and then visit the castle and see the town and walk the historic roads. I was ludicrously excited and so was Bear since he had watched the movies with me. He had found four driving maps to the area which took you through the countryside to see the surrounding towns also that had played a role in the books and let you see the River Severn and the surrounding countryside plus some puzzled sheep.

"'s not Tuesday, is it? Cars only come on Tuesdays."

On the way, we detoured to the Iron Bridge site which is in the World Heritage UNESCO listings. The bridge was forged in the 1779 and is set in a pretty stunning manner over a river that fuels the power plant in the gorge.

Iron Bridge

River Severn in the Iron Bridge Gorge

The town is fairly small but with several museums devoted to the bridge and the iron works.

They'll let anyone have a visa these days.

Checking for friends and relatives who need bail.

We headed into the first loop of one of the driving trails and it took us along the sites from The Hermit of Eyton Forest and we stopped at Buildwas Abbey along the way.

Buildwas Abbey

It wasn’t open but that never exactly stopped Bear.

We headed on to Much Wenlock which had a Cluniac priory and a nice audio tour. Belonging to the English Historical Society is a lot of fun because you just whip the card out and everything is free, and what’s even more fun is the surprise and then approval on the faces of the workers when they hear your accent but then you have the card.

Interior area of Much Wenlock Abbey

Fairly large remaining wall of the Cluniac Abbey

While the monks had nothing to do with these topiaries, I do think this one looks like a little 'munk

And there's a bear to go with the 'munk

We had spotted something earlier, a very strange little creature called a Wenlock. It turned out to be the Olympic mascot and it looked suitably unidentifiable so there was no way whatsoever to be offended by it. We asked the girl at the priory what a Wenlock was and she explained that Wenlock the village was the site of where the modern Olympics had evolved through the efforts of Dr. William Penney Brookes, so when it came time to pick the mascot for the 2012 London Olympics, they named the little oddball Wenlock.

Wenlock and Mandeville, Olympic mascots

We followed the rest of the driving trail which brought us back to Wroxeter, the remains of a Roman town.

Excavated foundations of the public bath

Looking across at the remaining wall of the bath

It was pretty chilly by then, so Bear pulled out the balaclava which makes him look like a terrorist but it does keep him warm and you can shove the audio guide speaker into it.

Terrorist Tourist

We also got to tour the experimental archaeological reconstruction of a Roman townhouse which the BBC was building on the other side of what had been Watling Street, the remnants of which are still under the modern road. I had first read about Watling Street while researching a book on Robin Hood and I knew that the street had run through Nottinghamshire back in the 12th century, but I had no idea how ancient it was.

From the Roman townhouse

By the way, God bless the English Historical Society people for selling hot drinks in the shop and also having biscuits on sale so we could do a makeshift tea because there was too much to waste time on lunch.

We headed into Shrewsbury itself to see the abbey and got great parking. (I lit a candle in the abbey, not for parking although that was a miracle, but for someone I love very much and I learned later that they had a significant moment that week which is a wonderful step in the right direction for someone who deserves it very much.)

The abbey is formally known as the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, and it was the site of the Benedictine monastery that Brother Cadfael belonged to back in the mid-12th century. Much of the monastery from that period has been knocked down, but the main nave still stands. We met some nice abbey guides who seemed interested tat we knew some of the background and they took us around while I bought a guide to Shrewsbury through the events of the Brother Cadfael books

The finished end of the nave (half the original length of the church)

And the western end with a little more of the original stonework

Most importantly, I got to see the stained glass window that had been dedicated to St. Benedict in memory of Ellis Peters and her writing. I realize this makes me sound like an enormous nerd, but she meant a lot to me and when she died in 1995, I felt like I’d lost a friend. It meant a lot to me to see the city where she spent much of her life and the church she wrote about.

St. Benedict's window

The pane showing the dedication to Edith Pargeter

We took the guidebook that I bought at the abbey and went on the walking routes all over the market town to see sites that were mentioned in the Cadfael books so we had fun tracking those down. We walked all over Shrewsbury, to the English bridge and through the abbey gardens, and through the market and high street and found that it’s a really bustling little town with a lot of nice architecture and an interesting feel to it.

English Bridge

Abbey Gardens

View down one of the many climbing roads, busy with people on a Saturday.

We finally made it up to the castle which was closed for a private function. (Not exactly sure how that works.). I did however get to see Laura’s Tower and took a picture for her!

I can't believe she never mentioned this to me...

Me and Laura('s Tower)

We ate at an Italian place off of High Street and walked all over to see St. Chad’s church on the way back to the abbey and our car. My Chad may not think he’s a saint but I’d nominate him anyway.

Old St. Chad's, as opposed to the new St. Chad that I work with

We drove down to the church of St. Giles which was also the site of a leper colony feature din the books (The Leper of St. Giles and some others) and then went on a second driving trail that took us through the Welsh Marches and into Wales itself.

I would’ve taken more pictures but it’s really hard to pull over when there’s less than a single lane to drive on to begin with! We saw the Chirk aqueduct and then went down the Ceirog valley and through some tiny villages, taking a lot of wrong turns, until we made it back.

(I didn't take this--it was getting to dusk when we made it towards Wales, but it really was that beautiful.)

It was a little stunning that all of that took less than 12 hours even including the drive over. It was a really special day since I’d wanted to see Shrewsbury for over 20 years. I have to confess that I’ve never read the final Brother Cadfael book, Brother Cadfael’s Penance, because it came out just before the author died. In a way, I just didn’t want the story to end and I’d read that she wrapped everything up, as if she knew she was nearing the end of her life. I suppose I need to get it out now and finally say goodbye myself, but I know I’ll see her someday and be able to tell her then how much her work meant to me.

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