Looking to the future, we decided to go house hunting in Cheshire. I would like to be within striking distance of Manchester where I come from, with its magnificent facilities, and Cheshire adjoins it and is the epitome of rural England. I have looked at thousands of houses on-line and know we can find one somewhere in Cheshire which will allow us to free up a bit of capital and give us a bit of leeway in our plans (mainly travel and going out – theatres, concerts etc). We weren’t scouting particular houses but looking broadly across the whole county to assess where we would like to live. I booked a converted barn for a week which looked great in Sawdays which is usually very reliable, and so it proved. We were greeted by Martin, who farms the land, and one of his lovely dogs Beth. Martin was a great host for the whole week and gave us lots of good tips on where to go.We settled in very quickly and were soon enjoying the March sunshine….and on our first evening we drove to the local pub…the Swettenham Arms…just what the doctor ordered – a nice gastropub with good ales.Outside, across the car park, was the church of St Peter’s which is very unusual and interesting with its stone build, but with a brick tower….unfortunately we never got around to visiting it. Another time.On our first full day we set out from our cottage in the grounds of Kermincham Hall past the pond and down its long drive which gave us a feeling of grandeur every time we used it, and…..first of all explored Middlewich a historic town with its name suggesting a salt town and being the middle salt town in fact between Northwich and Nantwich. The Romans first mined salt here, and it was mined and processed til fairly recently. In reality the town itself apart from an attractive area by one of the three canals….and by the green surrounding the church…was a bit of a dump – very poor High Street with downmarket shops and giving a depressing, run down feeling. Reminiscent in fact of many towns today.Our mood lightened considerably however when we went next to Sandbach, a peach of a town. The first great thing about it was free parking. To the two of us who have run shops in several places it is a no-brainer. But councils everywhere seek to bleed town centres dry with heavy rates and support for out-of-town developments and the results are as obvious as they were in Middlewich. We hit upon a lovely hotel for lunch – a gastropub and boutique establishment, The Wheatsheaf. We ordered something light and settled down to read our newspaper and do the crossword between us. Forty minutes later, having completed the crossword but without food, I caught the eye of a member of staff and explained we were waiting. She could not have been more apologetic and efficient. Our open sandwiches and thrice-cooked chips appeared in no time. She explained that our order had been lost in a staff handover. Inexcusable of course, but I was gobsmacked when she again apologised and said we would not have to pay anything. Now that is, in the end, good customer service par excellenceSatisfied and satiated, we strolled through town and discovered it was market day with lots of good food stalls….but we were more taken with the buildings….. many of which were traditional Cheshire Black and White…The church and its grounds were exceptionally lovely…surrounded by Black and White houses on all sides…and the pub opposite the church Old Hall where we called in for a quick half was amazing, believed to date from 1656 and once the residence of the Lords of the Manor of Sandbach. It is absolutely magnificent.The centre of the town is picturesque with its cobbles, more Black and White houses, good pubs on all sides (!)…..and a lovely Deli (amongst many other fantastic Independent shops in town)…..and there were two impressive and massive Saxon stone crosses dominating the square. They are elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion, and probably date from the 9th century. They were originally painted as well as carved, and they are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses. Later we found several towns and villages that we liked very much, but none of them matched Sandbach, our likely destination? Anyhow, next stop was Nantwich. We had been before to have a chat to the local bookshop owner. It was as pleasant as we remembered. Again a great church and a pretty close surrounding it….The streets were full of atmosphere and with a wonderful range of Independent shops again…and everywhere seemingly unspoilt and well cared for…. Even the multiples were well hidden.And the range and quality of the buildings and streetscape was exceptional …One thing that wowed us was this boulder. The inscription reads that it was found during the building of the by-pass, is 400 million years old, and is probably from of all places Dumfries in Scotland, having been carried here by glacial action. Incredible. Having decided to look at a range of new houses here, we had a delightful walk along the river….It was a long walk so we were glad of a suitable place of refreshment back in town..A terrific medium-sized town but not quite as lovable as Sandbach was our conclusion.That evening we walked to the Swettenham Arms across three fields, by the nascent River Dane, sliding across the occasional fence to avoid the mud, and getting back just before sunset….
No two ways about it gardening can be hard work and because of the weather we have started early this year. My son helped dismantle the rotten pergola but then there was still a lot of clearing up to do. A new one should be in place in the next month or two…Apart from that, the garden is lovelier than this time last year. I really enjoy the benefits of global warning (if that is what they are).And it’s the same in our lanes…primroses and daffodils out, and wonderful days for walking (when its not raining that is)….Let’s hear more about the benefits and really make them work for us……..
Having just seen an episode of Flog It! from Mount Edgcumbe, and as it was such a nice day that is where we headed. The views on the coast road come from left and right….in this lay-by Plymouth is over the Sound to our left and to the right is Tregantle fort which had its red flag out signifying live shooting.Sometimes you believe you are surrounded by a landscape of water with the sea on one side and numerous creeks and inlets to the side, in front and behind…We started off at the bottom end of the Edgcumbe estate with a drink in front of the fire at the Edgcumbe Arms. This then steeled us to face the cold but beautiful day.First stop the Orangery…We then made our way along the coastal edge of the estate taking in various temples and follies….One of the gun batteries showed how strategically placed Edgcumbe is – looking out over Plymouth Hoe, and one of the many very good information boards showed the location of an amazing number of shipwrecks in this part of the Sound. I would have thought that when you had made these waters you were safe – but apparently not!The path took us through various parts of the garden which we hadn’t seen before…and we noticed our first burst of Camellias….This is ‘Milton’s Temple, c. 1755 – a circular Ionian temple, with a plaque inscribed with lines from the poem Paradise Lost, “overhead up grew, Insuperable heights of loftiest shade…..” John Milton, (1608–1674)’.The walk was not without its efforts, but all very worthwhile and we saw very few people indeed which was good.I intended to climb this folly I think for the views but on approaching it I noted some very serious snogging going on at the top level, so I left well alone!From here I tried out my panorama mode….not too bad……and it was just past here that we noted that the grounds do contain the National Camellia Collection….what a cheering sight on this winter’s day……..Back at the house we visited the Stables area where all the trades used to be located – the blacksmith, wood turner and so on, all the buildings now used by independent crafts people……The house itself is not open until April….We made our way back to the car along a splendid avenue of trees……..Days like this, cold and clear, remind us of winter days in York……they should be enjoyed to the full.
Looking at our local map we saw that there was a potential new walk from Duloe, the next village to us. It did have some rather sharp contour lines, but looked promising. There are no public footpath walks from St Keyne, our village, which is a shame, although we do constantly walk along the lanes. Anyhow, off we set. First of all there were some rather lovely catkins decorating a few trees at the start of the walk. Then, after crossing the dry bed of a little stream….we walked through an orchard which belongs to Cornish Orchards well-known now throughout the country for their cider and other drinks. We must return when the blossom is out, and then later see the apples themselves (maybe a bit of scrumping?). We descended sharply to the valley bottom through Duchy land to a little hamlet of holiday cottages. Unfortunately as we reached the road……. …….someone yet again had blighted the landscape with uncaring dumping of litter. Who are these people? Well, on the way back up to Duloe on the lanes I noted a discarded outer of Carling Lager, and scattered for a mile or so along the hedgerow I counted about 10 cans of Carling. Idiots all these people.There was a rather nice cottage on the way up which had a lovely rustic gateway which added to the view…..I do so like the gates and stiles and crossing points you see on country walks and often take pictures showing the huge differences in regional styles (not a pun!). I really would like to write a booklet for the Shire series of esoteric books. One day, perhaps.We noted some wildflowers in bloom, and when we had finished our walk I drove to the edge of Duloe……. to take a picture of a clump of daffodils that have been in flower since December…..this bank where they are is full of daffodils in Spring, so I am frankly amazed at this one clump with no sign whatsoever of any others….perhaps a very early variety anyhow.Other things are blossoming at this time in Cornwall…here a camellia and…… ….in our own garden this azalea has been in flower since at least early December, probably November.Well, we did our 8000 steps, but I don’t think we’ll be in too much of a hurry to do the walk again. It was a little uninspiring……