Boudica’s last stand

Since using and now living in the van our mornings are pivoted on Ken Bruce’s Pop Master. Personally I’m not a big fan of his. His presentational style always seems a bit detached, almost ambivalent to those he interviews. But (like University Challenge) we do love Pop Master. C is much better at it than me. I generally score three – that is three points, not three questions right – whereas she’ll often score in the teens. It’s the same for University Challenge. I just somehow can’t imagine Roger Tilling shouting out “Royal Military College of Science, Ladley” more than once during the show. I am, however, a good guesser. I can logic my way to somewhere close to an answer (note close), but that doesn’t make me Stephen Fry. C on the other hand (no degree and rubbish A-levels, a blurred period of her life) does well with history, literature and, after eight years at Wells, classical music. “Of course it’s Beethoven, can’t you tell by the darkness of the tone?”

My point is if we’re ready for the day or on the road by Pop Master then we are doing well. Yesterday was such a day. We had decided to stay in our very own paddock and walk up onto Oldbury Hill, dropping back down to the canal for a amble home. A shortish walk. Armed with picnic, rug, gay tea (we’ve developed a liking for herbal tea and that expression was coined for me when I worked with the UN in Sierra Leone – maybe more of that at some point) and binos we set off ‘all backpacks and icepicks’ for the day’s trek.

C's bum, again

C’s bum, again

The weather was cooler, but with some persistence the sun said hello throughout the day and, in many ways, it was imageperfect walking weather. We found the hill easy (it’s all this training) and then picked up the Quarryman’s Trail, an initially poorly marked route through the woods of Hartshill Country Park, round some huge lake-filled quarries and eventually down to the canal. We chatted about stuff, looking at saving for a trip next autumn maybe to see the Jones in the US or backpacking from Singapore to Hanoi. By the time we got to the canal we realised that ‘short’ wasn’t really an apposite adjective for the route we’d chosen, but at least the trudge home was along the gradientless canal.

It was less busy than yesterday and slightly less tidy. There were more live-in boats, rather than retirees boats, the former inhabited by people eking out a living rather than the latter who have time and money to add extra gilt lettering, polished brass and overflowing baskets of flowers to their brown ale palaces. It reminded me of the stretch of the Kennet to Avon east of Bath which is teeming with live-aboard, dingy narrowboats decorated with rusty bikes and slightly dodgy herbs spilling over onto the towpath. These people ought to get a job. Oh. Not sure I can say that anymore…

But it was still effortless on the eye and there were plenty of primary coloured boats manned by happy souls to acknowledge as they put-putted their way down the canal. For the historians we passed, allegedly, Boudica’s last stand against the Romans. The Battle of Watlin Street (AD 60/61) finished her and the Icenis off and she was either killed or committed suicide close to where we stood.


We got back mid-afternoon (7.6 miles in all) and worked hard at doing nothing for a couple of hours. C read and I got out my watercolours, something which I have not done for over eight years. We both went for a run back down the canal where C had an exchange with a couple of dogs. The owner of boat saying “don’t worry they’ve had their tea”. #side-splitting. I followed the same route directly afterwards with a view to having a chat with the comedian if the same thing happened. I’m ok with pets (we inadvertently have a cat at one point) but don’t take too kindly to owners of dogs who think they have a right to frighten passer-bys. A friend of mine was hospitalised by a dog in Greece whilst out running and I was ankle-nipped by a little dog in Brissol whilst running last year. All I could do was stand still and shout at the bloke: “you’re effing dog just bit me – he just bit me….”. I bet the dog was called Charlie.

Back on task. Supper was something out of Aldi’s freezer compartment, chips and salad. And we finished off listening to half an hour of The Blind Assasinimage on the pocket cassette player (plus JP’s liddle, tiny, roundy speaker) I bought from a car-boot in the Spring. It was its first outing and v pleased we were with ourselves. It’s a good book as well, narrated by CJ from the West Wing, which all adds to the continuum of our current life.

Today Chris and Kelly. So I’d better get on and post this as Pop Master’s only a couple of hours away.


our new carpenter

our new carpenter


We couldn’t find any pigs. But the day took us one step closer to getting into this groove. Stand by: there may be a few piccies.

The cycle ride to Tamworth was a round trip of 26 miles. Now we all know that we have e-bikes, but to be clear (for the last time) we do have to peddle. The little people manning the electric bits only match what we’re up to and they get told by a computer how hard to work. And today we hardly used the e-bit at all. Indeed we both came back with full batteries.

one of the many bridges

one of the many bridges

Sanctimoniousness over with, it was a great bike ride. The Coventry Canal is beautifully kept and seemingly used by private narrow boats, rather than hired ones driven by t-shirtless, tiddled holiday makers meandering down a straight canal; the ones who invariably only bring back seven-eights of the boat (I know, because we’ve done that). Today the canal was awash with immaculate narrow boats, each individualised with fancy gold writing, stylised pictures of romantic places and with more hanging baskets than the Wells’ National Trust shop (this imagery will only work on selected readers, I know). The boats are driven by white bearded, industrial men with oily hands and purposeful baseball caps. They’re diligently supported by cha-making women who know their place and are not, under any circumstances, allowed to drive the boat. Ok, not all of them, but you get the picture.

Half way to Tamworth the canal widens and in the speckled sunshine, flanked by trees and accompanied by a white gravel path we could have been on the Canal du Midi (ooh, just got really excited as we may be heading in that direction in the autumn..). We passed boat makers, big houses, long-term moorings, lots of

awash with boats

awash with boats

anglers angling and more bridges than you could shake a single span at. In the villages and towns we cycled by pubs, bits of industry and the backs of people’s houses; most had made an effort to look like they owned that bit of the canal and made it all the more attractive to gawp at.

We sort of circumnavigated Tamworth (the canal bypasses the town) until we found an appropriate cycle path. Striking for the town centre we ended up in the park which was another gem. Laden with flowers, teeming with adults and children having fun and topped off with a motte and bailey castle, Tamworth was showing us its very best. We had our picnic in the park, foraged for a few bits in Aldi and then, with slightly sore bottoms, cycled home again. Interestingly C’s bottom was slightly more sore than mine which surprises me. She has more padding than me and I would have thought that was to her advantage. But you can’t fathom women.

Tamworth Castel

Tamworth Castle

Quarry Farm paddock

Quarry Farm paddock

Back at Quarry Farm we moved into the paddock where, well, we made ourselves at home. We had the field to ourselves, views over the canal, had a visit from a fox and generally felt very privileged to be able to do what we are doing.

mrs fox...

mrs fox…

look closely: C is knitting

look closely: C is knitting

Supper was left overs from the fridge and we finished off watching The Tourist on Film 4 (Angelina Jolie….great actress, from every angle). Actually we didn’t see it all because the battery tripped just before the end and we lost all power. This is something I need to sort, but to save ourselves groping around in the dark we made ourselves look particularly attractive by donning our head torches. The excitement of camping….

We’re staying here another day because we don’t have to be anywhere until tomorrow night (Chris and Kelly – my old Ops Officer and his wife) and it is pretty lovely just where we are.

Today I feel a walk coming on. And if anyone knows what happens at the end of the Tourist, let us know.

Canals vs Rivers

An admin day yesterday. We needed to go to Nuneaton to pop into Hinkley and Rugby BS to sort some mortgage stuff. H&R, with just six branches, must be one of the smallest BSs in the country – but they do offer a great service, although to speak with an advisor you do have to go to Nuneaton. We parked in Lidl (important info for those on a budget as parking is free and we can generally find a space to fit in our six metre maisonette). We reminded ourselves why TK Maxx was losing its attraction by sampling the Nuneaton branch and then made our way to Quarry Farm, another CL just outside Atherstone (£5, no electric).

Quarry Farm's yard

Quarry Farm’s yard

Quarry Farm couldn’t put us on their paddock as it was due cutting, so we’re parked in their farmyard next to another paddock with accompanying horses. Mid-afternoon, feeling a bit tired, we decided to walk down the Coventry Canal, just a hundred metres from the farm. It was another inspired choice. In dappled sunshine we wandered down

ignore the hats, admire the canal!

ignore the hats, admire the canal!

another one of Britain’s wonderful canals. They’re so much better than rivers? First you can always walk down them; so often our river frontages are owned by our monied brethren who do not, under any circumstances, want riif-raff like us enjoying their views. Second they nearly always have traffic – we saw three or four narrowboats pootling along and twice as many moored. Third, unlike rivers where towns and cities are built onto them always showing their best sides, canals are cut deep into urban areas, like a knife through uncooked pastry. You get to see the backs of things, you can peer into people’s lives where they weren’t really expecting you to look. And there’s industry aplenty which fascinates both C and I. There’s this furtiveness about canals in towns and cities which ticks our boxes.

We got back after a couple of hours, had an obligatory beer (I’m going to post on what we eat and drink at some point, so I’ll leave the detail) and then took a couple of plastic bags and reaped the local blackberry harvest to have on our cereal. We sat outside (again) to eat supper, spagetti walnutandbaconie, and paused after our last mouthful to watch the house-martin acrobatic team (definitely not g*ts) practice their manoeuvres directly above our heads. At the end of which C said “do you think we should become Druids…?”

Today we’re cycling down the canal to Tamworth to see the pigs.

Ladleys are expert selfies...

Ladleys are expert selfies…

Wider than a mile

We woke to a distinctly chilly 21 degrees and decided to stay with Gary (big chap, dicky heart, owns the place, talks a lot – feel as I know him well already) for another day. There was a coldish wind and the odd bit of whispy white stuff in the sky that made it more England than Entebbe. C dressed for breakfast accordingly.

hoddie dressed appropriately for breakfast

my hoody dressed appropriately for breakfast

Today we decided to go for one of our walks.

Our version of the Severn is more estuary than river. We were lucky enough to live in a pretty big house in the shadow of the old Severn bridge (you know the one where you are disencouraged to cross without needing to borrow money from a relative); our garden backed onto the river. Here the Severn is constantly brown with mud and silt. ‘Wider than a mile’, slow moving and banked with fossil ladened cliffs it is majestic and calm. Just down the road from us was the Ferry pub where, until the bridge, you could ferry across to meet loved ones from a different county. [Technically we lived in England as Wales actually starts on the other side of the Wye a stone’s throw away – but I really can’t be bothered to explain how that all happens].

Anyhow. Our walk would drop us down five hundred foot into the Severn valley where we could walk along its banks and ooh and ahh at the Severn Valley Railway. We had big ambitions to walk up the valley to a country park, but were pragmatic enough to know we would make it up as we went along. After fried egg and toasted muffins we took Gary’s advice and walked through Eymore

beautiful (C's bum, not the dappled floor)

beautiful (C’s bum, not the dappled floor)

Wood which blanketed the route right to the valley floor. It was a fabulous walk. This huge mixed woodland, its floor duveted with nipple-high strong green bracken, could have been anywhere we have ever walked on the continent. The sun lit up patches of the bracken and we were warm and content. When we got there the Severn was quintessentially English, snaking through a wide rolling valley with anglers angling and dogs….well, playing about in the water.

We stopped at Upper Arely to eat our picnic and decided then, as the sun was petulantly letting us know that it was up there, we would abandon the river at this point and do a circular route back up through the woods. Good choice. By the time we got back, and having found the 500 feet that we lost on the way down (and seven and a half miles later), we were definitely in need of a cup of tea and a sit down.

...on the way home

…on the way home

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur. I remember going for an amble into the next field and trying to rationalise where we were. I am clearly still emotionless as, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t begin to understand what this all meant. I couldn’t get truly excited by it. I did come to the conclusion that I was very relaxed, but it wasn’t all consuming. My mind was more empty than full of philosophical thoughts and I felt, at this point, that this was as good as it was going to get (as my mind has never been empty – well apart from after a couple of bottles of Chablis with AW in the olden days).

For the record we had some undefined fish cake thing for supper and watched a documentary on the Red Arrows which was surprisingly good. ‘Cos as we all know: they may all go up diddly up up, but they’re still all g*ts.

Moving on today, You have a good one.

Where do we do our washing?

We love this place. I think in the space of ten minutes we drove through three counties, but somewhere just west of the Black Country bounded by the M5 and M54 is wonderful mixed countryside of rolling hills, sharp valleys and quaint villages with names such as Much Wenlock, Monkhopton, Cleobury Mortimer and Trimpley (where we are now). I’ve already mentioned the red brick, but in the sunshine it mellows and because the buildings are old the brick has lost its sharpness. Everywhere feels like home. And, perhaps typical of even a slightly slower pace of life just a few miles north of the M4, the villages and gardens are well tended. The whole place feels loved.

Yesterday we ventured to the shops. Ikea, Decathlon, TK Maxx and then foraging in Asda. Why Asda? Because, other than Aldi (our clear favourite), it’s inexpensive and the stores are generally big enough to get everything you need. We’re becoming less and less excited by TK Maxx and Ikea is great if you want to either buy a piece of reasonably robust, practical furniture, a quirky thingumabob which you really don’t need, or mix with fellow fashionless middle-class people looking for inspiration; I’m sure everyone’s sitting rooms now look the same. (But we all agree their meatball, chips and red fruit sauce is the meal of the decade).

Decathlon is a French mega sports store. They abound on the continent but are splattered sparingly around the UK. They sell everything which raises your heart rate (well nearly everything) and on the face of it are our kind of shop. However, we have never managed to buy anything at these stores. C picked up some cheap cycling shorts and put them back. I checked the current price of our v nice inflatable kayak and was disappointed that it is now cheaper than it was two years ago. Other than that…..

can you see seven counties?

can you see seven counties?

We drove the thirty or so miles to Trimpley and another CL on top of another hill with outstanding views over (allegedly) seven counties. Both of us went for a run, C made pork curry (with accompanying poultry guests), we watched two episodes of the West Wing and asked ourselves when would this holiday end?

nobody here but us chickens

nobody here but us chickens

Oh. Good news. I definitely have two readers. One has asked that I put a map on the blog so they can ‘know where the hell you are’; and the second wants to know where we do our washing. I’ll work on the first. To the second: we’re coming round your place this afternoon.

On yer bikes

We decided to stay at Norman’s (the CL site) a day longer. There are a couple of NT properties close by and the weather looked set to remain fabulous. And, not needing to be anywhere until late next week, we could.

Attingham Park is like any other country house. It is Palladian grand, set in

Attingham Park

Attingham Park

acres upon acres of parkland and is furnished with huge paintings of inbred ancestors, fine silver, immaculate porcelain, chippendale furniture and well-meaning but somehow slightly annoying volunteers who give you the history of a gilded clock in the shape of a pineapple even if you only really wanted to whizz through to the loo. (We love them). The difference about Attingham for us is that it was a 26-mile round trip on our e-bikes away.

So in Mediterranean sunshine and Dordogneque landscape we really enjoyed the cycle and got back, via the Spar, at about 5ish. On the way we passed Viroconivm an English Heritage Roman Village with s*d off sized arch which, in this weather, could have been just outside Naples. But lacking in chattering and smoking Italians and missing coach loads of Japanese tourists taking photos with their iPads it was a fleeting thought.

We finished off with pork somethingorother (one of my specialities) listening to Desmond Carrington play oldies on Radio Two. We drank slightly less alcohol than we had been doing and went to bed very happy teddies.

Today we move on. The van’s pretty much packed (it’s about a 20 minute job if the bikes aren’t in the boot). We’re off to Ikea and Decathlon in Birmingham and parking tonight at an as yet undecided site. We should probably get on with that.

Oh, thought you might like the view from our bedroom window at 5.30 this morning……

here comes the sun, dah-de-dah-de

here comes the sun, dah-de-dah-de

All angles and curves

A simple holiday day yesterday. After a slow start of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (ate outside – we have pretty much eaten every meal outside; it must be raining unexpectedly heavily in some foreign corner somewhere) we togged up and walked down into the Ironbridge gorge. C and I are always slightly over prepared for these sorts of expeditions with walking shoes, picnic, plenty of fluid and emergency beacon. Rebecca and Steven, on the other hand, were in flipflops and borrowed baseball caps.

It was a perfect day. It was warm, reasonably quiet, the sun picked out the



Victorian red-brick houses that nestled in the trees all with overflowing hanging baskets, we stopped for a pint in a pub overlooking the Severn and had a picnic at a small site on a disused railway with the trees acting as parasols. We walked back up out of the gorge, soaked ourselves in a garden sprinkler that was watering the pavement and let Rebecca cook sausage casserole for supper.


The picture below is our house for the foreseeable future. As you can see everything is in the right place. It’s all angles and curves and with wheel covers and stripy window covers (made by C with backing blue sheet material ‘borrowed’ from Plumbtre – thanks Sally G) it has every known home comfort gizmo. I show you this because on the other side Rebecca is making supper on a single ring electric hob. She is a good cook and the food was lovely. But the war zone the surrounds the preparation is too unpleasant to photograph and you may be eating your lunch….. Safe to say that it took me some considerable time and an industrial quantity of oven cleaner to realign our Karma.

They left first thing this morning for London. Later they are off backpacking from Marrakech to Madrid.

We never had that opportunity… we are now getting out own back.

our home

our home