Sunday 20 September 2015

Worcester, Worcestershire

We were meant to go to Leominster (pronounced Lemster by the locals), just a 25 minute drive from Ludlow, but when we got there it was closed as it was a Sunday.  Therefore we just popped into to a Wetherspoons and had a very functional Sunday lunch.  Our plans were pretty much scuppered, so after a quick look on Google maps, I found Worcester was a 45 minute drive away (A44).

The drive to Worcester was quite eventful for all the wrong reasons.  Firstly we were running low on petrol and the petrol station in Leominster had run out of unleaded petrol.  We had no idea where we could get petrol and hoped that we had enough to take us to Worcester.  So I decided to drive at a sensible speed and turn off the air-con to Worcester to conserve petrol, which is a complete anathema to me.  Thankfully there was a petrol station Bromyard, so crisis was averted and I could drive at my usual just-legal speed.  The other event was the terrible thunderstorm we had to drive through.  The rain was so heavy the road was a grey blur and the windscreen wipers were at warp speed.  When the rain had cleared up, it was so warm you still couldn’t see the road as it was steaming.  By the time we got to Worcester I was soaked through with sweat and could have drunk a pint of gin and tonic.
We parked at the multi-storey at Crowngate shopping centre and as it was a Sunday it was just £1 for the day.  The centre of Worcester is pedestrianised so that helps to make shopping a little more pleasant.  The shops in Worcester are typically mainstream and just what you would expect in a city centre.  However when you get off the beaten track it gets more interesting with independent shops and intriguing places to eat and drink.

On a Sunday, charity shop opening hours can become a bit hit and miss as they rely on volunteers.  Thankfully in Worcester many of the charity shops were open.  St Richard’s Hospice shop on St Swithins Street was a particular gem, as not only did it have a community cafĂ© but also had an excellent book section with two older ladies busily processing stock.  I love a good second hand book shop and I could have spent a good hour browsing its shelves.  I’m sure having a university nearby helps boost the diversity of the books in this place.  They also stock vinyl which was a great distraction for Neil.
If you like architecture then Worcester is a great place to visit as there is a lot to see: Tudor – check; Georgian – check; Medieval – check; and even 60s brutalist – it’s got it all. Visually it’s an interesting place and, maybe it’s just me, but I did find some of the architecture reminiscent of parts of central London.  This place would definitely make a fine film location.
We really didn’t know what to expect when we came to Worcester.  Sometimes the Midlands conjures up image of 60’s concrete shopping precincts and whilst Worcester does have a tiny bit of that, it’s packed full of centuries of architecture which is a delight.  All in all, I definitely want to come back here again, as not only is it a pleasant place to visit but also I reckon you could have a good night out here with the amount of bars and restaurants we found.  

Sunday 6 September 2015

Ludlow, Shropshire

We were meant to go to Hay-on-Wye for a couple of days but couldn’t get booked in anywhere, so I looked at the map and spotted Ludlow. There were two things I knew about Ludlow – one, it has a castle and two, it has a reputation for good food. I thought we might as well give it a go just for the food. 

Getting to Ludlow requires a bit of a trek on the A roads as there is no direct motorway route to the area.  So after having a pit stop in Whitchurch, we continued on the A49, zooming past Shrewsbury and onto Ludlow.  It seemed to take forever, but our patience was rewarded with a nice cottage in a lovely country town.

We’d booked a cottage called Bromley Court for a couple of nights.  It was a mini cottage as the building had been split into two apartments of sorts.  Our apartment had a kitchenette and lounge, with stairs to a roomy bedroom and bathroom.  It had low beams and as we’re both tall we had to be careful not to knock ourselves out.  The kitchenette didn’t have a cooker, but had everything else so you could make sandwiches and drinks, and the owner of the apartment supplied a continental breakfast which was very handy.  It had on-street parking outside and made a great base to explore Ludlow and Shropshire.  It was really good that we could have cottage style accommodation without having to book it for a full week.  Our favourite things about the place were the owner’s two cats.  Ceefer, a big black cat, was very friendly towards us and allowed us to stroke him.  Ellie, the female cat, was shyer but very cute and didn’t get on well with Ceefer. 
Ludlow is rather hilly, but I should have guessed this beforehand as it has a castle and they are normally built on hills.  We had to practically hike up the hill to get to the town centre as it was that steep.  The town itself is a rather lovely country town with lots of “oldie worldie” buildings you would expect to find in that chocolate box version of England.  Lots of black and white buildings and a hodgepodge of architectural styles which shows the evolution of the town.  Every nook and cranny of this town is packed full of places to explore.  You do have to be careful not to get hit by a car though as the pavements are narrow and often it’s easier to walk on the roads.

There are plenty of little independent shops in Ludlow and I was particularly pleased to find Abode, an interior design retailer.  It sells lots of lovely items for the home and most importantly is an Annie Sloan’s paint stockist, so I was able to stock up on paint for a DIY project.  Just off the main street Neil managed to find a record shop called Mod Lang in a side alley.  They stocked lots of second hand vinyl records and to say Neil was in his element was an understatement.  I lost him for about an hour as he worked his way through the 7” singles.

There are plenty of pubs to try out in Ludlow.  Some of them are fancy, with equally fancy prices.  Others cater for the passing tourist trade.  The Rose and Crown is a lovely little place tucked away in a little courtyard. Bizarrely one pub called Ye Olde Bull Ring Tavern holds a bingo night on Sunday nights for the locals.  I’ve never seen a pub so full and yet so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.  We had to practically whisper our order to the bar person.  Thankfully there was a beer garden out the back, so we could at least talk to each other. 
The weekend we were in Ludlow was the final weekend of the Ludlow Fringe Festival.  Part of the festival was a folk event at Ludlow Castle and there were rumours that Robert Plant, yes the same one who sang with the rock behemoth Led Zeppelin, was guesting at the festival.  However after listening to some of the music you could hear outside the castle walls, we knew this wasn’t the kind of festival for us.  Folk music certainly isn’t for me – having been forced to go to a folk gig in the 1990s by friends – I could not be persuaded to go.  It did turn out that he made a guest appearance at the festival, about 10.50pm when quite a few of the festival goers had left to relieve their babysitters.  At this point we had gone to the Church Inn for last orders.  Still there was no amount of drink you could have given me to sit through the 5 hours of folk music preceding his appearance.

Ludlow on a Saturday night is a genteel affair, with older people frequenting the pubs, and teenagers drinking and chatting with friends outside the castle walls.  A group of teenage girls joined up with a group of lads and they shamelessly told them “we weren’t going to talk to you if you didn’t have wine”.  At one point there was a bit of drama when a middle aged lady in floods of tears was escorted from the folk festival by her friends.  Apparently she was upset over her divorce.  Another older gentlemen was complaining to his companion that he felt “obsolete”.  This was better than an episode of Eastenders - well most things are these days.
We went to two food places in Ludlow – The Church Inn and Chang Thai.  The Church Inn specialises in pies, so Neil was rather excited about this prospect.  They did a wide selection of pies, but by the time we ordered, many of the pies had sold out.  In the end what we had was fine, but we were disappointed their pies were of the puff pastry lid variety.  We’ve been spoilt in the past with full pastry pies from the likes of Pieminister, so puff pastry lid pies no longer cut it for us.  On the other hand the Chang Thai was a delightful experience and we enjoyed their food thoroughly.  I find Thai food a safe option these days as you can’t go too badly wrong with it.

Obviously we checked out all the charity shops and I was pleased to find out this middle class town wasn’t ashamed of them.  The town had developed a charity shop trail complete with map.  Neil didn’t find any vinyl records to his tastes in the charity shops, but that was fine as he’d found lots in the record shop.  The good thing to note about Ludlow is that most of the charity shops are open on Sunday too.  Visiting towns on a Sunday can be a hit and miss affair with shop openings, but on the whole Ludlow is open.

We were genuinely surprised to find out how lovely Ludlow was and were pleased with our accommodation too.  There is plenty on offer in this town and the surrounding areas.  It’s worth checking out what’s on at the art centre or when the next festival is on, as they have lots of different events throughout the year.  It’s great to see the locals are really passionate about this town and work hard to keep the place interesting and vibrant. We’ll definitely come back again.