Wednesday 6th January 2016…the Black and White Villages of Herefordshire



20160106_145324.jpgWednesday 6th January was a day over in Herefordshire on the Black and White village trail This fits in with our ‘trying to do a few good things in the Midlands’ before we disappear down to Cornwall…we’ve already had a couple of day trips to Lincoln (my vote images-1.jpegfor best city or small town in the UK..fantastic place, full of interest), and Lichfield (surprisingly buzzy and we didn’t see a single piece of litter or graffiti…is that a record?), and Worcester (bit of a disappointment due to sixties and seventies planners who in my opinion deserve shooting……still the cathedral was incredible). So, to today….the drive across to Herefordshire is quite long, but after Worcester there is very beautiful countryside to enjoy. We started off with a quick walk around Leominster a typical market town with lots of nice buildings but with a run-down feel to the shopping centre which spoiled the experience somewhat. You can’t help but agree with Bill Bryson that everything is there in these sort of historic towns to make them amazing but it needs investment and care to fill empty shops, do buildings up, spend money on cleaning and presentation etc etc…..there just doesn’t seem the will to do it.

Before we set off on the trail, we had lunch at the 11509-2015-07-16-13-15-374151riverside inn at Aymestrey a lovely pub in a lovely spot on the banks of the river Lugg. Usually a quiet, slowly flowing trout stream (the pub has its own beat) it was in full spate, fast and angry, terrifying in fact. Service terrific, enjoyable meal. Last time we were here also doing the B+W trail (1970’s), we were served by the then owner who sat with us for a nice chat afterwards. While enjoying our meal I recounted to F the background to the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (well as much as I could remember from revising on the Internet the previous evening . The site of the battle is just nearby. We actually were unknowngiven a guided tour of it on one of our Manchester Grammar School History trips (1960’s) so that brought back pleasant memories. Setting off from the pub, we first visited Kingsland which is well worth adding to the trail, and there we popped in to Border Oak who will make an oak-framed house for you…something we have always been interested in and surprisingly good value. Unfortunately the show house was being re-decorated so we just came away with a load of brochures. Highlights of the trail in the afternoon for us were Kindersley 20160106_153138church with its Stuart monuments where we peeped over the wall at Kindersley castle (open only occasionally), the amazing Great Oak of Eardisley which is over 900 years old and worth a major detour let alone the small one involved, Pembridge whose 20160106_154419church has a truly remarkable detached bell tower (one of the most impressive structures you could wish to see…..great oak beams which look indestructible), the village shop in Pembridge (where we were given a super warm welcome, the log fire built up for us and a nice cup of tea provided….we bought local bread and Shropshire Blue cheese, but the cakes, pastries and meals looked delicious), and Eardisland supposedly the prettiest village in Herefordshire (but who’s to say!). A brilliant trip on a cold and dark day which certainly didn’t spoil the fun for us…if you haven’t done the trail, do make time.

First thing in the morning and last thing at night (i.e. in bed) I have been reading ’Dictator’ the last novel in the trilogy by the inestimable Robert Harris on the unknownlife and times of Cicero. Having it in hardback makes the pleasure all the greater. This was finished by me with great regret on Sunday 10th January. What a marvellous insight into ancient Rome the books give, based on seemingly immaculate research and helped along the way by real experts in the period. History deserves the touch of a novelist now and again to hook us into the times. Lots of great things in this last volume. About a third of the way through I did think it would stumble towards the end, as most novels do, but no I was proved wrong. The intensity and involvement were maintained to the last. Lots of things to remember too…one famous Ciceronian quote “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” How true. We are our books. And the fascination of finding out that Cicero’s secretary Tiro was an inventor of shorthand and that his ‘&’ and ‘NB’ and ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g’ are with us still. Just the sort of fact Bill Bryson would appreciate. And one of Cicero’s most meaningful quotations, justifying my lifelong study and interest “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Brilliant.

Unknown-8.jpegMy daytime reading has for a while been ‘Everything She Wants’ a biography of Margaret Thatcher. This is a wonderful read quite in the mould of Robert Caro’s masterful life of Lyndon Johnson – further instalments of which serious politicians wait for with bated breath. Both writers are so skilled and so on top of their brief that we feel we are living their subject’s lives with them……if you are at all interested in Politics or how the world gets to where it is now, I can’t recommend either of these highly enough. It’s going to take me a few weeks to finish. Because it was in reach however I haven’t been able to resist also dipping into the tactile ‘The King’s Will’ by Suzannah Lipscomb, so this is currently on the go as well during the day. Don’t know whether ‘dipping’ is a bad or a good habit…I’m also dipping into my ‘Digame’ (‘learn Spanish’ book), and various ‘Learn Ancient Greek’ books (trying to bring back to life my school course) and ‘Caesar’s Commentaries’ (in Latin and English). This is fine as long as I make progress and don’t feel the pile of books is pressurising me (as the piles of e-mails used to pressure). One form of dipping that is alright is what I have just done which is pick up a book at random and read it during the boring bits of the Man United match on TV. So, I had an excellent read of the whole of the section on unknown-1Tewkesbury in Alec Clifton-Taylor’s splendid ’Six English Towns’. Must go there again soon. Tewkesbury, not Old Trafford.

Finished ‘The King’s Will’ by Suzannah Lipscomb this week (10th January). What a marvellous book this is. Such a good historian, Suzannah who has been to Warwick to speak for us on a couple of occasions, used the work of Prof Eric Ives, one of our customers now sadly dead, as a starting point. Using, however, a wealth of research, and being unafraid to dish other historians’ conclusions (I was unknownparticularly glad to see her pick up David Starkey for a number of his erroneous statements), it is not only History at its best but it is a fascinating tale that rattles along, with the added bonus of being, despite its small size, a sumptuous edition. It adds much to our understanding of what Henry was really like and what he wanted to achieve. One of those, to me, rare books that you just want to read again. I also finished unknown-2by Donna Leon one of her better novels. Because they are set in Venice they are always very atmospheric, and her characters are drawn very well. I do like and admire Commissario Guido Brunetti with his two hour lunches, visits to plenty of coffee places and bars and his early finishes when it suits…..he still gets the job done! A lesson for all people who are tied to the daily grind of computer, emails and early starts and late finishes. This one had a theme connected to art thefts and disposals….there is nearly always something interesting going on.

May 2015….Binley Woods, Warwickshire


Whilst we remain in limbo in Binley Woods, Coventry having retired but not yet sold our house, we do try and get out each day and our most frequent activity is walking in the woods just behind the house…..what an amazing site they are in Spring, just a riot of flowers. Hopefully these pics give some indication of how beautiful the woods are, and they will be a main regret in leaving the area. The walk, which we vary, usually is about 3 miles. We do like the pig on the adjoining farm!




April 2015…..Brandon Woods, Warwickshire


There are several woods behind our house in Coventry, the main one being
Brandon Wood which ‘lies about 6 km east of Coventry and covers a total area of 178 acres. It was quoted in the Doomsday Book as woodland in 1086 and is now a designated Planted Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS).

Since 1981 it has been maintained and improved by voluntary workers from the Friends of Brandon Wood and is now reverting to natural broad-leaved woodland.

Nationally, it is the first designated Community Woodland and was purchased from the Forestry Commission for £130,000 in 2000 by the Friends and is managed by the Trustees.

Brandon Wood will remain in the hands of the community in perpetuity’.

We walk though the woods several times a week and throughout the seasons, and in early Spring we are rewarded with a spectacular display of flowers….20150416_153132.jpg20150410_191728.jpg




One of our favourite watering holes which lies half way between our two bookshops in Warwick and Kenilworth, and was therefore an ideal spot to unwind and discuss the day’s activities is the Saxon Mill which has a wonderful Avon-side location and a working mill wheel. Our choice location on a nice evening is the little wooden bridge connecting the mill to the opposite bank..20150423_173631.jpg

Here is F. on the bridge with drink in hand. You can just see the evocative ruins of Guy’s Cliffs House in the background which is a 10 minute stroll along the river. You end up opposite the house and the cave about which this romantic legend is told…..

‘Guy’s Cliffe was a longtime favoured haunt for hermits, the first recorded being an unknown Christian who afforded “spiritual comfort” to Guy of Warwick around 929 AD. According to legend Guy was a Saxon thought to have been born in Warwick or possibly Wallingford. He fell in love with Felice the daughter of Rohund, Earl of Warwick. He was told to prove himself before gaining her hand and so embarked on a series of adventures. He slaughtered an enormous dun cow which was ravaging Dunsmore Heath and a dragon which was terrifying Yorkshire. He fought Turks and brigands until it was finally agreed that he should marry Felice. However, after their marriage, he immediately set off for the Crusades and won countless battles against the Saracens.

Guy returned to England when the Danes were besieging King Athelstan at Winchester and demanding the surrender of England. It was agreed that the decision should rest on a single combat between the English and Danish champions. Guy, who had forsaken his previous bloodthirsty life and become a penitent palmer, agreed to one more battle against the Danish champion, Colbrand. Weary as he was, he fought and killed Colbrand and then resumed his life as a pilgrim. He returned to Warwick and received daily alms from Felice who did not recognise him in his penitent’s robes. Guy lived for some years in a cave in a hole in the rocks by the river bank at Guy’s Cliffe and, when he felt death to be approaching, sent his wedding ring to Felice, telling her that she would find him dead in front of the altar in the chapel of the hermitage. Felice followed his instructions and was so grief stricken upon realising that he was her husband and was now dead that she flung herself from the cliff adjoining the hermitage (Felice’s Leap).’

The view from the bridge looking the other way is equally charming. We were sitting in the first-floor restaurant once with this view and we saw a mother duck sitting proudly on a nest on the group of rushes you can see. Three chicks were having a brief trial swim around the reeds. The mother called. Two chicks got straight back onto the nest. The other one didn’t. After a while it tried to get back and the mother sent it packing! Eventually it sneaked up the back way…….so all ended well.

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Problems of Retirement?


Google ‘Problems of Retirement’ and you’ll get depressed…..Everything from ’99 Retirement Problems’ (you’d need to be retired to have time to read it…) to ‘Bullying Is A Growing Problem In Retirement Communities’ (so now you know). We (the missus and I, (Frances, hereafter F, and Keith) felt we deserved retirement after a lifetime doing many things, but most recently running two bookshops, so I thought I might spend a year or so doing a blog mainly for my own benefit assessing what we did during retirement and whether it was ‘worthwhile’. There may well be lots of reading, but I suspect it will be that plus many, many walks, plenty of seaside trips and lots of visits as we are moving to Cornwall hopefully within the next few weeks. My thoughts will run over the period 2016-2017, but we have already been retired about 6 months, so what have we found are the problems of retirement? Our simple answer, as for many people, there aren’t any! The first question each day is what time to get up, and from that point on it just gets better and better.

So, what do we seem to do most days? I get a cup of tea in bed for F (which she says is a great luxury), and then she gets breakfast for us…porridge with honey, then toast and marmalade. Whilst still at the breakfast table we do, from the book, a Times Large General Knowledge crossword (there are usually, although not always, a couple of clues for which we have no idea of the answer). We then normally go on our daily walk. Usually this is through Brandon Woods at the back of our house and then through Piles coppice on the way home, a total of about 3.1 miles, or we walk through New Close wood to Combe Abbey and back again or, if it’s very muddy everywhere, we walk around our own locality of Binley Woods looking at what’s for sale and any external home improvements we like the look of. We always pick up our copy of the Times on the way home, and then over a cup of tea I do the daily Times concise cryptic crossword plus the super fiendish Sudoku plus the word wheel (help where necessary from F with the first and last). Hopefully this will help stave off dementia for a short while. A bit of vacuuming and tidying is followed by lunch (which since retiring we have very successfully made the main meal of the day), and then reading up to the time ‘Flog It’ and the ‘Antiques Roadtrip’ are on TV! Evening is TV and/or reading, plus a smaller meal. Bed is towards midnight with half an hour or an hour’s reading. Conclusion – too much TV, but very pleasant. At least one day a week we visit somewhere, a new town or National Trust property, or museum. And, certainly before Christmas, we undertook a lot of extended trips…..three to Cornwall, house-hunting, two to see our son and daughter-in-law in Lausanne, one to see our daughter and family in Edinburgh, and one to see F’s sister in Barcelona.

When you run a bookshop, time and again you will hear ‘Oh, it must be really nice to own a bookshop, I’d sit and read all day’. Well it’s a good job these people don’t run bookshops, as it’s a difficult, complicated, onerous and busy life in which you have to be commercially hard-headed and with no time for reading, not whilst you’re at the shop anyway. So, for two literary people like us who have worked hard for a modicum of reward, it’s a tremendous relief to have the opportunity to sit and read all day if we want. And we do want. Since I had the best Christmas present ever in a pile of books from a list of my own choosing, I have plenty to read at the moment. And one present duplicated a title I had already read, so we took it to the local Waterstones to see if we could swop it, and we ended up with four or five more books! It only took me a few days over Christmas to read Bill Bryson’s ‘The Road To Little Dribbling : More Notes From A Small Island’. It was one of those books you just can’t put down and unknownhilariously funny to boot. His original ‘Notes From A Small Island’ was the most enjoyable of all his books, and now this is up there with it. Yes, he is now a grumpy old codger, but so what? We (and certainly I) know where he is coming from. And his many grumbles too often hit the mark. I also read Phil Rickman’s ‘Midwinter of Tunknownhe Spirit’ over Christmas, mainly because it was set in Hereford. Location is often just as important as character or plot in infusing a novel with depth. This one has an unusual plot all about the Diocesan Exorcist and the relationships between folk at the Cathedral (this latter, however, nowhere near as good as Trollope). I enjoyed it more than I thought, and most of the characters were beyond wooden and therefore believable.